HC Deb 26 January 1988 vol 126 cc181-260

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

4.9 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)

Just over 175 years ago, the Duke of Wellington said: The country must have a large and efficient army, one capable of meeting the enemy abroad, or they must expect to meet him at home. After successive years of growth in the defence budget, and in the capabilities of the Army, the British soldier is better equipped, better trained and more highly professional than he has ever been. I am confident that the Iron Duke would immediately recognise the same great fighting spirit that is to be found in the British Army today as it was in his time.

The development of the Army must be considered against the wider background of East-West relations. The intermediate nuclear forces treaty, which was signed by the United States and the USSR last December, is a milestone, especially because of the precedent that it so clearly establishes for asymmetrical reductions and intrusive verification regimes which will he of central importance as we move forward to discuss conventional and chemical arms control — both sectors in which the Soviets have clear advantages.

The Alliance strategy of extended nuclear deterrence and flexible response remains unchanged. All the necessary ingredients of flexible response — strong conventional forces, theatre and intermediate nuclear forces, and strategic nuclear forces — remain in place and, as before, the potential aggressor faces a range of possible NATO reactions to aggression which he cannot calculate with precision in advance, and which face him with unacceptable risk.

It is right that, with the treaty signed, closer attention is focusing on the conventional disparities. We must recall that the central security problem for western Europe has been, and remains, the massive military power of the Soviet Union in central Europe—especially its capability to mount an invasion of western Europe at short notice.

The Warsaw pact continues to modernise its conventional and nuclear forces facing us in cental Europe. By any standards, its superiority is substantial —twice as many soldiers as NATO, more than twice as many main battle tanks, three times the artillery, twice as many tactical fixed-wing aircraft and several thousand assault and ground attack helicopters.

Nor is it simply a case, as some have claimed, of Warsaw pact quantity opposing NATO quality. In recent years, the Warsaw pact has made very extensive improvements to its conventional forces, concentrating in particular on enhancing the firepower and mobility of its offensive systems, such as tanks and artillery. For example, improved tanks are now appearing in the group of Soviet forces in Germany fitted with explosive reactive armour, which pose a significant extra threat, as the armour is more difficult to penetrate. The T64B and T80 are equipped with a 125 mm smooth-bore gun, which is capable of firing anti-tank guided missiles as well as conventional rounds.

More effective helicopters are also appearing, with two new attack helicopters about to enter service. The number of heavier calibre artillery pieces based in eastern Europe is roughly double what it was in 1981. The 152 mm howitzer not only uses a more effective conventional round, but is capable of firing nuclear rounds.

At the same time, the Soviets' concerted development of the infrastructure of command, control and communications will enhance the flexibility and quicken the reaction time of the Warsaw pact forces, increasing their capability to make rapid and deep offensive thrusts. Its possession of a wide spectrum of chemical weapons remains a most significant threat. It is unmatched on our part, thus giving its forces a considerable potential advantage in the light of our inability to respond in kind to a chemical attack.

Those factors, together with the potential aggressor's ability to select the time and place of attack to achieve an overwhelming local superiority, presents a formidable challenge to NATO forces committed not to be the first to use force. The British Army of the Rhine makes a major contribution to NATO's response to that challenge.

The centrepiece of the Army's contribution to NATO and the forward defence of the United Kingdom is its role in the central region within the Northern Army Group known as NORTHAG. BAOR consists of 1st British Corps and supporting elements to provide the necessary logistic support. The BAOR peacetime strength is 55.000, and that will be increased to 56,000 by the end of the decade. BAOR is the most tangible evidence of the Government's continued commitment to the forward defence of Europe. Three armoured divisions, containing seven armoured brigades, an airmobile brigade and substantial numbers of supporting corps troops, ate in place in peacetime.

On mobilisation, the numbers in BAOR would he increased to more than 150,000 by the movement, from the United Kingdom to the Federal Republic, of 2nd Infantry Division, containing one regular infantry brigade and two territorial infantry brigades, and other units.

The NORTHAG area covers northern Germany, roughly from the Ruhr to the coast. Within that area 1st British Corps is responsible for a 60-km wide sector of the front. The Commander-in-Chief BAOR also carried the NATO appointment of Commander NORTHAG.

Since the adoption of the strategy of forward defence and flexible response by NATO in 1967, NORTHAG has planned to fight its defensive battle as far to the east as possible. But continuing improvements in Soviet firepower and developments in its military doctrine have led to its placing great emphasis on the concentration of forces to achieve surprise and local superiority.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

With regard to BAOR, has the Minister seen the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General which was issued by the National Audit Office a week or two ago? Does he accept that there is room for economies in BAOR, as is suggested in the report? Will he say whether he thinks that that is the case?

Mr. Sainsbury

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is normal to wait until the Public Accounts Committee has considered the report arid responded in the normal way through a Treasury minute. We should not anticipate what the PAC has to say on that subject.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Does the Minister have a view on the matter?

Mr. Sainsbury

The hon. Gentleman is asking me to anticipate the PAC's report. As he is a member of the PAC, that is a rather surprising request.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am not asking the hon. Gentleman to anticipate a report of the PAC; I am asking him to respond to a report that has been produced by the National Audit Office, which makes a number of statements. I am asking for his comments.

Mr. Sainsbury

The National Audit Office's report will be considered by the PAC, which presumably will then give its views. When it has done so, as is the convention, the Government will respond.

A new concept for the defence of the NORTHAG area has therefore been devised to respond to the new developments in Soviet firepower and changes in its military doctrine.

The essence of the new concept is to place greater emphasis on the selection and defence of the most vital areas, the employment of reserve formations, tactical flexibility and mobility and close co-operation with allied air forces. Limited penetration into NATO territory would be accepted to expose the flanks of the enemy to a variety of counter-moves using reserve formations. That does not imply any abandonment of the principle of forward defence, which remains a fundamental tenet of NATO strategy. Nor does it imply a willingness to abandon West German territory to an invader. But it recognises that force improvements to the various national corps, including 1st British Corps, will permit the adoption of a more mobile tactical concept within the overall strategy of flexible response and forward defence.

The new concept places increased emphasis on the need for strong armoured reserves. In order to strengthen 1st British Corps reserve, 6 Brigade, which at present has two non-mechanised infantry battalions only, will be converted to an armoured brigade, starting in April this year.

Over the past four years, 6 Brigade has been carrying out an extensive trial as an airmobile formation. Such a formation provides a highly mobile force strong in infantry anti-armour weapons, which can be moved by RAF support helicopters at short notice to respond to an enemy penetration. It can delay such a penetration until the main armoured reserve can be brought to bear. The trial has fully validated this concept and has shown the potential for further development of airmobile operations. It has therefore been decided to transfer this important role to 24 Infantry Brigade, which is based at Catterick and is part of 2 Infantry Division.

Unlike 6 Brigade, 24 Brigade will be specifically organised and equipped for its new primary role. It will incorporate an Army Air Corps regiment equipped with Lynx helicopters in the utility role and fitted with TOW missiles in the anti-tank role. The brigade depends for its effectiveness on RAF support squadrons. RAF Puma and Chinook will provide the support helicopter lift until the 1990s, when EH101 enters service and becomes the brigade's prime mover. Six Brigade, working with helicopter squadrons from RAF Germany, has already demonstrated the outstanding operational results that can be produced by close inter-service co-operation. The developmeent of an airmobile force for use in the central region of Europe from the present early stages on into the next century presents a challenging and exciting new role for the Army.

I must also mention two exercises that took place in BAOR. Exercise Keystone provided an opportunity for the United Kingdom-based 2 Infantry Division to practise its operational role in BAOR in conjunction with elements of 1st British Corps and troops from Belgium and the Federal Republic of Germany. Some 19,000 men travelled to BAOR for this exercise, of whom some 12,500 were members of the Territorial Army. The exercise demonstrated not only their commitment and enthusiasm but also their professionalism and expertise, which enables them to fulfil a front-line role alongside regular soldiers

Some 7,000 British troops were among the 78,000 troops who took part in Exercise Certain Strike, in which 3rd US Corps practised its deployment from the United States to continental Europe, as would happen in war.

The exercise demonstrated the ability and determination of the United States to reinforce Europe in war, and the extensive allied co-operation at many different levels of command. The exercise was under the command of General Sir Martin Farndale; and this was the first time that such an exercise had been run by a non-American. It proved to be an outstanding success from every point of view and in particular it fully validated the NORTHAG concept to which I have already referred.

Exercises also provide an invaluable opportunity to test the reliability of our equipment. I am glad to say that recently the Army has received a large amount of new equipment. Over the first eight years of this Government the Army programme has been expanded by more than £4 billion in real terms at 1987–88 prices. That excludes expenditure directly attributable to the Falklands conflict. The greatly enhanced strength and capability of our forces, especially the front-line units, are the results of the massive investment.

Of course, that does not mean that we will not face difficult choices in the future. It will always be necessary to establish relative priorities in our forward plans, as part of our normal planning process. The improvements that have already been made to our forces, however, are evidence that we are getting the decisions right. Whereas BAOR had eight armoured regiments in 1980, by the end of the decade there will be 12.

There will be a third air defence regiment, equipped with the new high velocity Starstreak missile. Six Brigade, following its successful trial in the airmobile role, will from 1988 be re-equipped with Challenger and Warrior and return to its former mechanised status and 52 Field Squadron Royal Engineers will be moved in 1989 from the United Kingdom to RAF Bruggen in Germany. It will be our first in-theatre airfield damage repair squadron and its presence will considerably improve the operational availability of our aircraft by ensuring that the runways and other facilities on which they depend are kept open during hostilities.

The bulk of the increase in resources, however, has gone on new equipment. I should therefore like to say a bit more about what that money has bought and is buying for us — not simply with a recitation of new items of equipment coming into service, but by setting the items in their operational context and against the background of our continuing aim of achieving greater value for money in procurement.

Taking armoured vehicles first, deliveries for the fifth Challenger regiment will shortly be completed. Tanks for the sixth Challenger regiment are on their way and those for the seventh have been ordered. A replacement for the remaining Chieftain tanks is now under active consideration. Ten battalions-worth of Saxon armoured personnel carriers and 13 Warrior infantry combat vehicles have been ordered. Most of the Saxon battalions are already in service and we expect nearly three Warrior battalions to come into service this year. With its Chobham armour, Challenger is among the best protected main battle tanks in the world and we are engaged in a major programme to improve its main armament and fire control systems to preserve and enhance its capability to engage and destroy enemy armoured vehicles.

I am happy to say that the infantry have not been neglected. With the introduction of Warrior, not only do we have a vehicle that is the result of a highly successful competitive procurement; we provide our infantry with greater protection, greater mobility and, with the Rarden 30 mm cannon, greater firepower. The introduction of this very capable vehicle will enable our infantry battalions to work more closely and effectively with our armoured regiments. The infantryman's indivdual weaponry has also been improved. The introduction of the SA80 rifle has given him a weapon which is lighter and more accurate than the SLR, and which uses the standard NATO calibre of ammunition.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

I have just had a meeting with my local regiment, the Queen's Regiment, which is on its way to Ulster. The men were re-equipped with the rifle just six weeks ago. They were telling me that, so successful is the new weapon, on the ranges their proportion of marksman and, indeed, ordinary passes has been transformed.

Mr. Sainsbury

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, which confirm what I was about to say. The new weapon is popular with the soldier and impressive improvements in marksmanship have been achieved where the rifle has been used in place of its predecessor. Whereas an average of 8 per cent. of recruits would reach army marksmen standard using the SLR, the figure for the SA80 is 50 per cent.

In addition, this year will see the introduction into service of the LAW80 anti-tank weapon. This man-portable one-shot launcher will enable a single soldier to destroy the most advanced Soviet armed vehicles.

On air defence, I have already spoken of the new Starstreak missile. It is a highly capable weapon which will provide effective point defence of key units and installations against a wide range of air threats. A number of our existing Rapier area air defence missile systems are being updated to improve their night and poor weather capability, and our planned introduction of Rapier 2000, with its eight-rail launcher and improved ECCM, will represent a quantum jump increase in this capability area. We also plan to introduce the air defence alerting device which, by giving early warning of an air threat, will enable our missile crews to get into action much more quickly.

The creation of three multiple-launch rocket system regiments will vastly increase the firepower of our artillery and will enable our forces to engage targets and interdict movement behind the enemy's forward battle area with heavy firepower.

However, before the Army can fight its enemy, it must find him, and on the modern battlefield it is not enough to wait for him to appear in one's sights. We have therefore ordered a new medium range surveillance and target acquisition radar to replace the old ZB298 battlefield radar, and the Phoenix remotely piloted air vehicle for surveillance and target acquisition is due to be introduced in the next few years. Both these systems, incidentally, were procured after successful competitions had been held.

In the mobile battle, the importance of command and control functions will be heightened by the speed and fluidity of operations. The Army's major investment in command, control and communications in past years has been designed to meet this requirement. It has given it, for example, Ptarmigan, a mobile secure trunk communications system which proved its worth in the recent major reinforcement exercise, Certain Strike, when its ability to handle a vast quantity of messages reliably and rapidly, and so enable commanders to respond quickly and surely to events as they develop, clearly demonstrated why that and other systems like it are known as force multipliers.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he explain to the House whether Ptarmigan is compatible with other systems used by our NATO allies, or do we have a series of systems which are not compatible arid which, at present, do not dovetail together but simply work as separate entities?

Mr. Sainsbury

The intention is certainly to have as much inter-communication ability as can be contrived within our own forces—the next one I am coming to is the Wavell system — as well as between forces. Incidentally, it is interesting that during exercise Certain Strike the performance of Ptarmigan was particularly praised by the Americans, who saw it in use for the first time then. Ptarmigan has cost us about £1.25 billion. Similarly, our air defences will be considerably enhanced by the introduction of ADCIS, another command system designed to enable fire units to engage enemy aircraft more effectively.

Alone, the main items of equipment that I have highlighted represent an expenditure of well over £6 billion by this Government on equipment for the Army and are themselves only a part of the wider programme of development and purchase that we have undertaken and are continuing.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the Minister say a few words on this interesting contract BATES, battlefield artillery target engagement system, or words to that effect? Will he tell us what is happening in terms of the investigation by Ministry of Defence police into Marconi on that contract? Will he give us an assurance that no obstruction will be placed before the MOD police in carrying out those inquiries and that it will be made most clear to the Director of Public Prosecutions, when finally the report on that and other Marconi contracts is placed before him, that the Government expect a prosecution?

Mr. Sainsbury

The hon. Gentleman is always ingenious in finding moments to raise points which he finds of particular interest. As he knows, we have had exchanges on this issue before. He knows that the MOD police in this inquiry are acting under the direction of the Director of Public Prosecutions, so questions on that matter would be for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General—[Interruption.] In an inquiry of this nature, the MOD police act under the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is, of course, answerable to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

I was talking about the £6 billion expended by this Government on equipment for the Army. That is only part of a wider programme. Examples of other recent orders are thermal imaging sights and new NBC protective equipment. The new generation of military bridging ordered last year is another example of a successful procurement where the application of competition has yielded estimated savings of 26 per cent. of the final cost. We expect to place orders for 16 Lynx light battlefield helicopters in the near future, which will provide additional support for airmobile operations now to be conducted by 24 Brigade.

I do not say that any of that is extraordinary, or that the last year, by itself, stood out in any special sense from those preceding it. Military programmes are planned so that expenditure is spread from one year to the next, each year being in itself only one step in the continuous process of keeping the Army's equipment up to date.

Although much of the equipment that I have mentioned is being deployed with our forces in Germany, a great deal is also going to equip the 60,000 soldiers engaged in the vital task of defending the United Kingdom which, of course, is a vital role. The United Kingdom also provides key ports, airfields and other operational facilities for the assembly, transit and launching of reinforcements to the NATO forces on the continent. We plan to hold later this year a series of military home defence exercises, within the separate Army districts, to test defences against sabotage or attack.

Many of the men committed to home defence are Territorial Army and Home Service Force personnel serving alongside regular reservists and Regular Army personnel. The continuing build-up in the strength and capabilities of our reserve forces demonstrates the importance we attach to home defence. One important initiative last year was the establishment of the National Employer Liaison Committee, to give independent advice to Ministers on measures needed to maintain the support of employers for members of the volunteer reserve forces of all three services.

I am pleased to be able to inform the House of the recent decision by the States of Jersey to provide on Jersey, at local expense, a Territorial Army Royal Engineer field squadron as their contribution to the defence of the British islands. I am particularly glad that this contribution will consist of a formed unit made up of citizens of Jersey. As such it will be a valuable and tangible witness to Jersey's commitment to defence and of its resolve to pay its way. Setting up a unit from scratch can be a lengthy business and there are dangers in seeking to go too fast. However, Ministry of Defence experts will give the advice and assistance required to ensure that an effective field squadron will be established in Jersey as soon as is practicable.

I am sure that the House will wish to join in paying tribute to the men and women who give up their free time to train for the defence of this country. This Government will continue to support all efforts to recruit and sustain the Territorial Army so that it can fulfil its role in the Army's order of battle.

The services' commitment to Northern Ireland continues to be substantial. The Army, including, of course, the Ulster Defence Regiment, together with the Navy and Air Force, carry out a vital role in supporting the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the fight against terrorism. I am sure that the whole House will join in expressing our admiration for the way in which our service men and women perform that difficult task with dedication and bravery in the face of dangerous and trying circumstances. It is a tribute to the professionalism of all involved that they maintain steady progress in bringing terrorists to justice and thwarting terrorist acts of murder and destruction. One measure of that is the fact that in 1987 over 250 weapons were found and nearly 10 tonnes of explosives were found or neutralised — the highest total since 1976.

Sadly, there has been a price to pay for those successes. During 1987, 11 soldiers were killed and 26 wounded in terrorist attacks. Eight of those killed and nine of those wounded were members of the UDR. The fact that all the UDR dead were murdered while off duty speaks volumes for the courage of the men and women who continue to serve even in the face of a relentless threat to their lives both on and off duty. We must not forget that that threat continues even after they leave the regiment. A former member of the UDR was murdered in June—he had left the regiment in April.

Mention must also be made of the bravery of the bomb disposal teams, who were last year called to over 1,300 incidents. The courage and skill of our service personnel serving in Northern Ireland are highlighted by the fact that in 1987 they won 88 awards for gallantry, including two military medals and 76 mentions in dispatches.

The Army has also continued to provide two additional battalions over the past year to enhance the flexibility of the security forces in countering the terrorist threat.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

Is it correct that the bomb disposal team has been used on the other side of the border?

Mr. Sainsbury

I have no knowledge of such an event. If the hon. Gentleman has some suggestion to that effect, perhaps he could let us know the circumstances in which he thinks it occurred.

As I said, the Army has continued to provide two additional battalions over the past year to enhance the flexibility of our forces. The need for those additional battalions, together with the level of service support as a whole, is kept under constant review. There are currently over 10,000 regular and some 6,500 UDR personnel in Northern Ireland, and we retain the capability to reinforce at very short notice should that be required.

Last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that he had, with the Chief Constable and the GOC, reviewed the deployment of the security forces in the Province. As a result of this review, a new brigade headquarters will shortly be established, to be concerned with the border areas, leaving the existing two brigades responsible for supporting the RUC in the rest of the Province. As part of the ceaseless quest for new and better ways of tackling violence and banishing the spectre of terrorism from Northern Ireland, I believe that these new arrangements will make a valuable contribution.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Can I ask the Minister about the allegation made by Mr. Frank Turner on "QED' that he supplied army equipment, including berets, to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and that they were delivered to Ulster by van from a site in Kent? Will the Minister explain to what possible use he believes RUC personnel would want to put British Army equipment, other than covert activity?

Mr. Sainsbury

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could let me have more details about this allegation. I am not familiar with the details of the suggestion that there was delivery to Northern Ireland.

Turning now to matters further from home, we maintain a number of garrisons overseas—including, of course, our forces in the Falklands. Britain also provides military training and advice to many countries, particularly in areas of the world where we have traditional ties. The scale of Army military assistance has been growing steadily in recent years and now totals 360 service men on loan service in 23 different countries. In addition, many more service men are used on short-term advisory visits.

The nature and type of military assistance varies widely. Sometimes the personnel are integrated into the armed forces of the country concerned. In Belize, Brunei and Oman, for example, we have made available a number of personnel for operational and command appointments. The trend, however, is towards largely training and advisory roles for our loan service personnel, working in self-contained teams which concentrate on the development of one or more aspects of military organisation or training. These teams may vary considerably in size and in the scope of their activities, from personnel on longterm loan to short-term visits by advisory teams such as the REME team that visited Mauritius and the infantry team that trained members of the Royal Lesotho defence force. During the last year, an Army team has been helping to train the new Gambian army and bring it up to its full establishment.

We have also provided personnel in support of sales of British defence equipment, including those to Saudi Arabia, and a team is now established in Indonesia in support of Rapier sales. It is often necessary to provide this training to back up sales of the United Kingdom's advanced defence technology on which so many jobs in Britain depend.

The Army has again given valuable help to the civil community in 1987.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Are Defence Ministers happy about the efficacy of the end user system? There have been various undertakings to review it, particularly in view of arms finding their way to the markets of Peshawar in Pakistan.

Mr. Sainsbury

If the hon. Gentleman knows of cases of misuse, perhaps he will let me know about them. However, he will be aware that it has been the practice of successive Governments not to comment on such issues.

In the wake of the storms in October, service men, and the Army in particular, provided over 5,000 man days of aid, and some 700 vehicles were employed in tasks ranging from the clearance of fallen trees from roads, railways and power cables, to the delivery of meals to old-age pensioners, and the provision of generators to hospitals and farms.

Army personnel were also involved with the provision of medical support and general administrative assistance in the aftermath of the tragic sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise at Zeebrugge early last year.

Our explosive ordnance disposal teams continue to clear both munitions left over from the last war and devices planted by terrorists. Of more than 3,000 incidents which were reported, one of the most spectacular was a 1,000 lb world war two bomb discovered near Tower bridge, in Bermondsey, on 29 June, which required nearly two days' work by the Royal Engineers to make it safe. The calm courage of these men deserves our highest praise.

The Royal Engineers were also involved in disaster relief operations in the Cook Islands, Vanuatu and Bermuda. The Queen's Gurkha Engineers assisted the Royal New Zealand Engineers with rehabilitation work in the Cook Islands following cyclone Sally in January. In March, they also produced a team, supplemented by sappers from the United Kingdom, to help in the aftermath of cyclone Uma in Vanuatu. In Hong Kong, the Queen's Gurkha Engineers cleared 1,000 tonnes of mud and boulders in 17 hours after a landslide blocked a road at Kwai Chung in July. A Royal Engineers officer also advised the authorities in Bermuda after hurricane Emily in September.

In conclusion, as I have said, the Army's main role is to form part of the United Kingdom's contribution to NATO, but it may be called on to perform other tasks, for example, the defence of British interests overseas. A soldier may be required to confront terrorists in Northern Ireland, to train to fight in the jungles of Belize or the chillier climate of the south Atlantic, to help restore hurricane damage on a remote Pacific island, or to aid the civil community a t home. The skills required to meet this wide range of demands calls for physical fitness and mental flexibility, and the highest degree of professionalism, training and dedication. The last 12 months have witnessed a fair, but by no means untypical, test of the flexibility of our soldiers in dealing with unexpected challenges, as well as the complete spectrum of operational tasks and training. We can rightly be proud of the Army's achievements.

4.45 pm
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

The Minister paid tribute to the professionalism of our armed forces, the Territorial Army and the reserve forces and, I am glad to say, especially to the bomb disposal units for their bravery and professionalism. I join him in those tributes. As his speech showed, the British Army still carries out its duties and tasks in many different parts of the globe, from Ireland to Belize and from Berlin to Hong Kong. However, as the hon. Gentleman recognised at the beginning and end of his speech, the British Army is now, in the main, a European army and perhaps more of a European force than either the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy.

Fifty-five thousand troops live in West Germany with their families and are committed, first of all, to the defence of the Federal Republic as part of NATO. Obviously, many troops based in Britain would rapidly be transported to the central front if war broke out in that part of Europe. The Minister spent some time on this point, and I shall concentrate on the Army's commitment to NATO and consider how that commitment may change as the political realities in Europe change over the next few years.

The Army's duties and tasks in Europe, and the military strategy that governs its operations, are affected by a number of factors. Some of them are wholly within the British Government's control, some of them are partly within the British Government's control and, frankly, some of them are totally outside the British Government's control. As always, the Army is dependent upon the money that the Government provide for it from the budget and, as the House well knows—the Minister mentioned this — is increasingly dependent on the modern equipment that that money can buy.

The Army's strategy is affected, not by the military strategy that the Government might wish to lay down, but by the strategy of NATO. Almost since the inception of NATO that strategy has been substantially fashioned by political and military priorities as seen in the Federal Republic of Germany. The Army's role in future is bound to be affected by the political relationships between the super-powers and by the consequences of any arms reduction agreements, both nuclear and conventional, that may be reached between the super-powers and also between the members of NATO and the members of the Warsaw pact. The Minister mentioned briefly the conventional arms talks.

The Minister did not say very much about money, and one can understand that. Last week's public expenditure White Paper confirmed what we all know. The "Statement on the Defence Estimates" made it clear that expenditure on defence over the past few years has been declining, is now declining and will continue to decline, certainly until 1990. Some have estimated that that reduction comes to about 2.5 per cent. in real terms. That is on the basis of what I would describe as the general rate of inflation, but since the cost of defence equipment, often, although not entirely, because of technological advances and changes, tends to increase faster than the general rate of inflation, the reduction in expenditure must be, and is, greater than 2.5 per cent.

While general defence expenditure is now declining, expenditure on nuclear weapons is apparently increasing rapidly. In 1979–80, expenditure on nuclear weapons to which the Government admit — official expenditure —was about 1.5 per cent. of the defence budget. This year that expenditure is 4.7 per cent. of the defence budget, and it is rising rapidly — an increase of 300 per cent. Of course, that is not all the expenditure on nuclear weapons; it is only the expenditure of money wholly and exclusively on nuclear weapons. As I understand it, there is no apportionment in the official figures of expenditure on nuclear and conventional matters. Therefore, we are seeing a decline in the total defence budget, but a dramatic increase in the money spent by the Government on nuclear weapons, at the expense of our conventional defences.

The Minister is responsible for procurement, and he spent some time dealing with equipment. Over the next few years, as the Government well know, much of the British Army's present equipment will have to be replaced, at a considerable cost. The Minister said a lot about tanks, but not what we wanted to hear. The reality is that 900 old Chieftain tanks will soon have to be replaced with new Challenger tanks. Some people unkindly say that many of the old Chieftain tanks emit so much smoke that they can be seen coming miles away. I do not know about that, but the total cost of the replacement of those 900 old Chieftain tanks at today's prices has been estimated, in the press at least, to be about £700 million. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us whether that is a reasonable figure.

I want to press the Government on their intention about replacing the old Chieftain tanks. Are they still thinking about buying new tanks, either from the United States or from the Federal Republic, or are they committed to placing that order with, in effect, the royal ordnance factory in Leeds? If that order is not placed, it will be a devastating blow to our defence industry. It will mean the closure of the old ordnance factory, now under new management, and would have a considerable effect on subcontractors in Britain's defence industry. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us a little more about the Government's intentions in relation to tanks.

The Minister mentioned briefly light armoured vehicles. As I understand it, many of those—the Fox and Ferret reconnaissance vehicles, the AFV432 personnel carrier, and some of the older Scorpion tracked vehicles —will have to be replaced. What are the proposals for the replacement of many of those vehicles?

The Minister said nothing about the so-called self-propelled howitzer. The SP70 has already cost the British taxpayer £88 million in an abortive multinational exercise. What will happen now? Will the order be placed with the United States? I believe that Vickers at Barrow and Vickers at Newcastle have put proposals to the Government. What is the Government's intention? Can the Minister at least tell us that the Government intend to buy British and to provide the Royal Artillery with the self-propelled gun that it requires and needs?

On expenditure, I raise again the Schleswig Holstein question. Perhaps I should leave that to my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley South (Mr. Hughes), who knows exactly whether Schleswig Holstein is in Denmark or in Germany, but there is a commitment to the defence of Denmark and Schleswig Holstein, and 16,000 British troops are part of that commitment. Some people —General Sir Frank Kitson is one—believe that in terms of NATO that commitment is more important than even the commitment to Norway. I do not know about that, but it is certainly an important commitment from which the Government have been trying to resile over the past year. They have been trying to move away from it and to cut down on it. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us exactly what is happening. Are the Government still negotiating through NATO with the Danish Government on that important NATO commitment?

The kind of equipment that the British Army needs obviously depends to a considerable extent upon NATO's collective strategy, which must be influenced by NATO's perception of the intentions of the Soviet Union—whatis described as the threat — and by the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Minister touched upon the INF agreement and uttered a few ritualistic sentences at the beginning of his speech about how flexible response was still completely sacrosanct. I wonder why the Minister felt it necessary to make those remarks. Perhaps there is some doubt or concern about it. Frankly, I do not believe that the concept of flexible response and forward defence is realistic any more. I have always believed that it was obsolete, and certainly after the INF treaty it is becoming more exposed and unrealistic. As I have said, it owed as much, if not more, to political factors in West Germany than it often did to sensible military doctrines.

There is nothing very flexible about a strategy which envisages a battlefield nuclear war in central Europe which follows about eight to 10 days of conventional hostilities. It never seemed to me a sensible military strategy, and it certainly was not flexible. After the INF agreement, that strategy is even more unrealistic.

The Prime Minister was right to call a meeting of NATO Heads of Government before President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev meet in Moscow later this year. As I understand it, there will be such a meeting at the beginning of March, and I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that when he replies. The Prime Minister wants a meeting, but she shows no signs—there was nothing in the Minister's speech, but perhaps that is too much to expect—of bringing any new thinking to that meeting. The Government are still completely wedded, as we have heard, to the concept of flexible response, despite the fact that one important element, one important rung on the ladder of flexible response, has been removed by the INF treaty, and despite the fact that there is now deep hostility, on the Right and on the Left, in the Federal Republic of Germany to battlefield nuclear weapons.

That hostility is not merely based on the fact that Germany has to accept nuclear risks. Of course, Germany has to accept nuclear risks, as do other countries in the Alliance. The hostility is based on the fact that the battlefield weapons are located solely in West Germany, on German soil, and there the nuclear war will be fought. Those weapons are the weapons most likely to be used first under the NATO strategy of first use of nuclear weapons, and they have a short range. As Chancellor Kohl's personal adviser, Dr. Werner Ruhe—we have given this quotation before and I do so again—recently said: The shorter the range, the deader the German. Dr. Ruhe could also have said: "The shorter the range, the deader the British and American soldier," because this is not just an issue for the Federal Republic; it is an issue for the 55,000 British troops located and based in Germany. They will be affected by the use of battlefield nuclear weapons, the present range of many of which is such that they would not carry the shells anywhere near the inter-German border if the war were being fought on this side of the border. So it is an issue for us, but there no new thinking is coming from the Government.

New thinking is also required—the Minister touched on this, but no more—because NATO will soon have to enter into a new and different round of negotiations on conventional arms, and, I understand, it still has only a very hazy idea of how it will approach those negotiations.

The Prime Minister must make up her mind. She is obsessed with nuclear weapons; she loves them. She is obsessed with Mr. Gorbachev; she loves him. But he wants to get rid of nuclear weapons by the year 2000. The Prime Minister loves Ronnie, but Ronnie thinks nuclear weapons are immoral. She tried to act as an honest broker between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev, but neither believes in mutually assured destruction, and neither really believes in the metaphysics of nuclear deterrence. The Prime Minister must get her act together, or Mr. Bernard Ingham must get her act together, because at present the British Government do not know what the approach to these matters should be.

I turn to the negotiations on conventional weapons. Obviously, these negotiations are bound to affect the British Army, the role that it has to play and the weaponry that it will need in the future. The negotiations give the West the opportunity to improve still further the political dialogue between Eastern and Western Europe. They provide us with an opportunity to remove the mutual fear and distrust that have existed between Eastern and Western Europe almost since the end of the second world war. They also give us an opportunity to secure significant reductions in those Warsaw pact weapons which NATO and the NATO Governments have publicly maintained they are concerned about and which have provided—at least in public—the justification for many of NATO's nuclear weapons.

If the Governments of the NATO Alliance still persist—we had an echo of this in the Minister's speech—in exaggerating Warsaw pact superiority in conventional forces, a matter on which the Government have been one of the most cynical and shameless offenders, the Alliance will find itself, if it keeps on trying to believe its own propaganda, in a terrible tangle in the conventional talks. It will fail to secure the reduction in Warsaw pact forces and weapons which it says it desires, and which I hope it really desires, and it will have lost another political initiative in Europe to Mr. Gorbachev. For the reality is that while there is Soviet supriority in some weapons, it has never been as great as Ministers have tried to make us believe.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

There is set out in the admirable White Paper on defence—with true Tory logic, covered in blue, which I am glad of—a table giving a comparison of NATO and Warsaw pact forces, a table with which the right hon. Gentleman will be familiar. Is he now disputing that? Is he disputing the fact that the Russians and the other Warsaw pact countries outnumber us in tanks on the central front, with 16,700 as opposed to 7,800 NATO tanks? I do not concede that Ministers exaggerate the disparity. It is set out in the White Paper, and I have never heard it disputed before.

Mr. Davies

I have a great regard for the hon. and learned Gentleman, but he should not quote the last defence White Paper, because it was really merely an election manifesto for the Conservative party.

Sir Antony Buck

Answer the question.

Mr. Davies

I shall deal with the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. There are on both sides of the House hon. Members who are members of the Western European Union. Perhaps I may refer the House to a recent assessment by WEU. These are difficult comparisons and assessments, which depend on geographical territory and so many other things, but I believe that the recent WEU study has come as close to a realistic and sensible comparison as has been attempted so far.

That assessment uses a military comparison in what WEU describes as divisional equivalents, taking account, of course, of the differences in size between the Warsaw pact and NATO divisions. The Warsaw pact has 104 divisional equivalents which are deployed on the central front or which can be readily mobilised, including those in European Russia. NATO has 76 divisional equivalents. That is a Warsaw pact advantage of less than 1.3 to 1—nothing like the 3 to 1 advantage that military men tell us is thought necessary for a successful offensive across the Elbe, across the inter-German border into western Europe.

The report, which is very fair, also emphasises other factors which must be taken into account, factors which the White Paper of course does not emphasise. As the House well knows, the capacity to wage war depends primarily on industrial strength and technological skill. If we take merely the seven WEU countries—the United States is not a member—we see that they have a far greater gross national product than the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw pact countries, and they certainly have greater technological sophistication.

Let us talk about those tanks. The WEU assessment is that the Warsaw pact has a numerical advantage in tanks of 2 to 1. I would accept WEU's analysis before I would take one from the British Government just before an election, when obviously they were trying to heighten fears on defence.

Sir Antony Buck

The figures are much the same.

Mr. Davies

It is no good the Minister saying that the Warsaw pact tanks are a lot better now than they were a few years ago and that they have the marvellous reactive armour. I read about that the other day. I should not like to be in a Russian tank faced not only with Western explosives but surrounded by Soviet explosives as well, because reactive armour is just packages of explosives round the tank, so one gets blown up twice—once by one's own explosives, and once by those of the other side. So let us not hear too many blood-curdling speeches about reactive armour, which was invented by a West German in 1971. He could not sell it to NATO — and quite properly so.

Therefore, let us take the quality of those tanks into account. Forty-one per cent. of the total NATO tank force consists of 1980s models. The Soviet equivalent of the modern American M1 — I hope not the one the Government will buy to replace our existing tanks —makes up only 3 per cent. of the Warsaw pact total. Nearly half the Warsaw pact tank deployment are 1940s models. As the report points out, NATO scraps its own tanks or sells them to third countries. The Warsaw pact, with the long tradition of tank warfare within the Soviet general staff and the love of tanks, keeps its old tanks in service.

When it comes to anti-tank weapons, the report concludes that NATO has considerable superiority and far greater sophistication.

I return to the talks on conventional weapons. Over the past few months there have been a series of statements by Mr. Gorbachev, which have perhaps not always been fully reported in our newspapers, showing quite a shift in previous Soviet attitudes and putting the new talks on conventional arms reductions on quite a different footing from the previous talks, which have dragged on for 14 years without any progress. It is no good the Government thinking that they can postpone all the decisions until the conventional talks are concluded, because the existing talks have been there for 14 years and there is no problem.

These talks will be different. In Prague on 12 March Mr. Gorbachev said, in effect, that he was prepared to accept — although he may not have been conceding—that reductions in conventional arms would have to be made by the side that had the advantage. He indicated his readiness to remove elements of what I would call inequality, for which the jargon word, which we have to use, is asymmetry. He was prepared to accept that if there was asymmetry the side that benefited from it should give up its advantage.

On 18 March, in east Berlin, he said something else. A few years ago, if an Opposition Member had mentioned twice in his speech what the general secretary of the Soviet Communist party had said, there would have been howls of derision from Members on the Government Benches. Now they listen respectfully and intently. What their innermost thoughts are I do not know, but they have to listen, because Mr. Gorbachev is a bosom friend of the Prime Minister and, as she has told us, she trusts him implicitly. So I make no apology for quoting what a close friend of the Prime Minister said.

On 18 March, in east Berlin, Mr. Gorbachev proposed talks on conventional arms reductions from the Atlantic to the Urals. In effect, he accepted the view of many in Europe that stabilisation of the military situation required that the western military regions of the Soviet region be included as well. Of course, that also has implications for western forces and western materiel located far behind the central front area of the Soviet Union.

On 11 June the Warsaw pact, in a communiqué, stated that the military doctrines of both sides should be based on defensive principles. Again, no doubt that would bring howls of laughter from many military audiences. Perhaps I should quote what Mr. Gorbachev said on 19 December in a conversation with Franz Josef Strauss. He is reported as saying: On the whole, it is necessary not simply to agree on eliminating imbalance, but to reduce step by step the military potential down to the level required only for defence and insufficient for waging offensive action. Hon. Members may not believe that that statement was significant. It is perhaps easy to dismiss it, but, as our Defence Ministers know very well, bearing in mind what Soviet military leaders have written over the years about strategy, especially in Red Army publications, and bearing in mind, too, the views of all generals everywhere throughout the ages about strategy, that was a remarkable statement. I hope that NATO leaders will realise that they are embarking on something different. The conventional arms reduction talks will not be easy if NATO fails to react constructively and imaginatively.

How much scope there will be for balanced reductions of forces on both sides I do not know. It is difficult to say. It will depend on the negotiations. Someone suggested a trade-off of tanks for fighter bombers. I do not know about that. Others, such as Senator Sam Nunn, talk about withdrawing troops behind each side of the inter-German border. I do not know. I concede that in the end the Soviet Union may have to accept some asymmetrical reductions in certain weaponry, such as tanks and artillery.

In his reply to the debate, can the Minister tell us whether the artillery operated by the British Army in Germany, which can fire conventional and nuclear shells, will be included in the conventional arms reduction talks? At Question Time today I asked the Secretary of State whether British Tornado aircraft carried nuclear bombs, conventional bombs, French air-launch cruise missiles or American air-launch cruise missiles, and whether those aircraft, or fighter bombers—however they are described—would be included in the talks. We received a very hazy answer. Perhaps we can leave that question for another debate, but let us have an answer to the question about artillery. Are all the artillery pieces, whether they fire nuclear or conventional shells, to be included in the talks? I do not see how they can be excluded, but let us have it confirmed by the Minister, because no doubt the Ministry of Defence has been involved in drawing up the complicated negotiating brief for the talks within NATO.

To secure asymmetrical reductions in Soviet forces, there are a number of proposals that NATO could and should put forward. Mr. Gorbachev cannot carry his general staff with him in getting rid of two thirds of his tanks without a quid pro quo from NATO. First, I believe that NATO should be ready, within the context of an agreement, and not outside it, to drop the whole idea of follow-on forces attack and to reject firmly the nonsense of Air/Land Battle and Air/Land Battle 2,000. Secondly, NATO, and in particular the British Government, should agree to hold simultaneous, multilateral talks on the mutual reduction and elimination of battlefield nuclear weapons.

There is no logic in the Government's position. We have been told time and time again that these weapons are needed to destroy concentrations of Soviet armour. Why not talk about them at the same time as the negotiations aimed at reducing those concentrations of Soviet armour?

The Prime Minister had better think about that. The political repercussions in Germany will be considerable if the Prime Minister and the other NATO Heads of Government are seen to be opposed to talks about their removal. The one thing that unites Franz Josef Strauss and Herr Honecker is the belief that these weapons should be removed by mutual negotiation. It is no good Western commentators and politicians making speeches accusing Mr. Gorbachev of trying to drive a wedge between the Federal Republic and its NATO allies, and then giving him such a splendid tool with which to do so.

NATO should be prepared to renounce its policy of first use of nuclear weapons. Again, as it has been explained to us, that policy was meant to compensate for the imbalance that was perceived in conventional weaponry. As I have tried to argue, it has become increasingly unrealistic, even more after the INF agreement. An agreement to reduce conventional weapons asymmetrically makes first use unnecessary. Therefore, why not offer no first use to secure better Soviet reductions in conventional forces?

The British Army will always do its duty proficiently and professionally. The Government have a corresponding duty to provide it with the wherewithal to do so, but they also have a duty to fashion their strategy in such a way that the British Army is not put in a position where it can be annihilated on the battlefield.

5.19 pm
Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

I hope that the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) will forgive me if I do not follow his many trains of thought. I shall not deal with broad strategic issues, which seem to me to be more relevant to a debate on the White Paper than to a specific debate on the Army. This debate is in response to an assurance given when the Ministry of Defence was reorganised so that there were no longer Ministers for individual services. I was doubtful about the reorganisation, but we were given the assurance that there would be debates on the individual services so that we could focus on the affairs of each of the armed forces in turn.

Although many of the points made by the right hon. Member for Llanelli apply to a strategic debate rather than to a debate on the role of the Army, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with some of those points when he winds up.

This is the first time that I have heard doubts about the figures set out in the White Paper as to comparative forces and the balance between NATO and the Warsaw pact countries. I have not previously heard doubt cast on the tables dealing with the balance of forces, set out on page 62, annex A of the White Paper. A gloss can be put on them, suggesting that the quality of our tanks is superior, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with that serious allegation that the figures are wrong, because the figures are important, and I have not previously heard them disputed. The Warsaw pact countries have, on the western front, no fewer than 16,700 battle tanks, whereas NATO has 7,800. Opposition Members are putting in doubt significant figures, and I shall be obliged if my hon. Friend will deal with that issue.

One advantage of a single-service debate is that we are able to home in on each of the armed forces in turn. I am proud to represent a constituency that has a substantial Army presence. The main barracks are distributed between my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham), who is, I know, equally proud to represent a constituency with military connections. We both take considerable interest in what happens in Colchester in regard to units that are based there permanently and visiting "resident" battalions.

No one who has had the opportunity of meeting our young soldiers at first hand could deny their enormous quality. All hon. Members will agree that our soldiers are extremely fine young men and dedicated professionals. It is up to us to ensure that they are given proper equipment. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to dispose in due course of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Llanelli.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I have been able to observe at first hand the military units in our constituencies. As a former Minister for the Royal Navy, and chairman of my party's parliamentary defence committee, with the co-operation of the Ministry of Defence, I have been given the opportunity to visit our armed forces in many theatres, and I value those opportunities.

Undoubtedly, the most difficult task of our armed forces is the sustained burden that they bear in Northern Ireland. All our armed services bear a burden there, but the Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary bear the main burdens. I do not believe that any armed forces but ours could have sustained, with such self-discipline and with such propriety, those enormous burdens for such a prolonged time. From time to time a young soldier may overstep the mark, but that is hardly surprising when one considers what they have to put up with in Northern Ireland.

I have been in an armoured personnel carrier and have been driven along the Falls road, being stoned all the way. I have seen something of the burdens that our armed forces have to sustain. When hon. Members debate the armed forces, we should always pay proper tribute to the burden sustained by our armed forces in Northern Ireland. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would endorse that.

We admire the professionalism of our armed forces in their role in Northern Ireland and in BAOR. I look forward to my hon. Friend dealing with the question of equipment there. Such superb young men as our armed forces deserve the best equipment. I hope that the Front Bench will give us an assurance about that.

I have had the opportunity to see our armed forces in many parts of the world, through the co-operation of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I have visited them several times in Northern Ireland and I have also been to Belize. That was an interesting venture. I saw our armed forces in operation in a place that the soldiers described in very unparliamentary terms. The climate there is not idyllic, but it was a fascinating visit. The presence there of our Harriers is significant. Our battalions there have the opportunity for valuable training in jungle conditions, and they undertake it with great professionalism.

I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with the issue of recruitment into the Army and tell us about current trends. I should like to know how many applications are being received for premature voluntary release and whether there is an outflow. When our Government first came to power, there was a massive outflow from what could be called the middle management of the armed forces. Sergeants, colour sergeants, lieutenants and captains were getting out of the forces—perhaps, as a former Navy Minister, I can use the expression—at a rate of knots. The first thing that the Government did was increase pay in the armed forces, and that helped to stop the rot. I should like to know the current situation for recruitment into the Army and applications for premature release from the armed forces.

Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)

I share my hon. and learned Friend's concern about the way in which the forces were paid under the previous Administration. It is a great feather in the cap of the Government that we have honoured all the Armed Forces Pay Review Body awards. I hope that we will continue to do so. Does my hon. and learned Friend share my concern that during the past three years there has not been full funding from the Treasury for the pay awards? Indeed, there has been a cumulative deficit of 11 per cent. Does he agree that it is time that the Treasury took that on board? If the forces are properly paid, that will be at the expense of the defence equipment budget.

Sir Antony Buck

I have considerable sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will wish to deal with that point. The Government are entitled to considerable credit for dealing with armed forces pay immediately on coming into office. They did not even wait for the Queen's Speech. I remember raising the matter with the Prime Minister. I said that I hoped that in the Queen's Speech the question of armed forces pay would be dealt with. She said that it would not, and I looked cross, whereupon she said, "We are not waiting for the Queen's Speech; we are announcing it tomorrow." So it was done at once, and that was quite right. But now things have dropped back in the way that my hon. Friend has just indicated, and I have no doubt that in winding up the Minister will wish to deal with the matter.

In conclusion, I reiterate that I enjoy having an Army constituency to represent. I reiterate that we in the House are, and have cause to be, enormously proud of the sheer professionalism of our armed forces, including the Army. We are under a duty to see that our soldiers are superbly equipped, and I hope that the doubts which have been raised about that will be dealt with by my hon. Friend at the end of the debate. We who give our troops a very difficult task to do are under a duty to debate Army affairs regularly and to pay visits to the troops.

I hope that, with the co-operation of those on the Front Bench, those who are particularly concerned with defence matters will continue to be able to benefit from visiting our armed forces. Strangely enough, in a masochistic sort of way, the troops like being visited by us politicians. We give them such difficult tasks that the least we can do is pay close attention to the admirable feats which they are performing on the nation's behalf.

5.31 pm
Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

The hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) is very experienced in military matters and his views are respected by hon. Members throughout the House. He happens to be an old political sparring partner of mine from our student days at Cambridge and we have clashed very often on wide issues. I should like to take up some of his points, but I hope that he will forgive me if I do not deal with the wider issues that he has dealt with.

I share his views on the quality of our soldiers and I want to take up that point, although I suspect that I shall be a bit more critical of the Army and of the Ministry of Defence than he has been. I want to speak about bullying in the Army, but first I want to comment briefly on the British nuclear test veterans, because I understand that the National Radiological Protection Board report will be published on Thursday and of course it is a matter of great interest to see what that says about the Army and events in the past.

Cabinet papers published recently under the 30-year rule indicate that the safety of British soliders who participated in the Pacific island nuclear tests was not a high priority in those days. Regardless of the conclusions of the NRPB report, which is basically a statistical exercise, I think that the only way to remove the searing sense of injustice felt by the nuclear test victims is to have a judicial inquiry into their claims. I hope that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to the holding of a judicial inquiry.

I wish to speak about the difficult question of bullying in the Army, because, although progress has been made, we are nowhere near solving the problem and much remains to be done. Army bullying became a public issue in 1987 because of the revelations of vicious, cruel and degrading conduct, which was proved at courts-martial. The humiliating ordeals suffered by some soldiers shocked the public and posed serious questions for the Ministry of Defence.

We all want and need tough, well-trained, disciplined soldiers. We are proud of the Army, but we have to recognise that the power structure of the forces and the type of training required to produce tough soldiers create fertile soil for bullying. Officers, commissioned and noncommissioned, rightly demand an automatic response to authority. The close community life within units creates an admirable esprit de corps, but at the same time it readily breeds intolerance of individualistic behaviour or of someone who is felt to have let the side down. These are vital factors in army life, but they are reasons for vigilance against bullying, not for acceptance of it.

The recruits of today are not the 18-year-olds and upward of wartime Britain; they are 16 and 17-year-olds, youngsters who join to escape unemployment, learn a trade and make a constructive contribution. They have the right to civilised treatment along with tough training and their parents have the right to an army that takes over parental rights and exercises them with the care and attention the parents themselves would put into it.

Paradoxically, bullying has remained a public issue partly because of the Army's praiseworthy, vigorous attempts with courts-martial to stamp out the worst excesses of brutality by NCOs and sadistic initiation rights by soldiers themselves. It is a paradox, but it is true, so the MOD should be praised for what it has done with courts-martial, but that has kept this issue to some extent on the public stage.

In addition, the abolition of section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 — and I pay tribute to all those who played an important role in that—led to a new interest in personal ill treatment, which resulted in many letters being sent to me. Significantly, it was often parents who wrote. Even more significantly, many wrote anonymously or were unwilling to have their names revealed.

I will quote from a letter from a mother who wrote about the bullying of her son and explained why she and her son were unwilling to be identified. She had discussed the question with her son, and he had argued that to relate those events which have happened, are happening and also those of which he is aware would, if not in themselves actually identify him, certainly throw suspicion on all those concerned. She went on to say the following: It became distressingly obvious during the course of his leave that he is deeply troubled. He, unusually, was quiet and did not speak of the Army or his new units as I would have expected. What did come out of one conversation however is that he has two NCOs who are blatantly abusing their rank. His real fear of the consequences if he breaks the silence is more acute than I had ever imagined. That letter, written with such vivid honesty, goes some way towards explaining why, on this issue of bullying, anonymous letters cannot be dismissed, as they usually have to be, otherwise the truth may remain obscured by fear.

I appreciate, of course, that some people may exaggerate and that some may even fabricate a case, as happened with the letter about the Queen's Dragoon Guards. I would like to repeat my apology to this fine regiment for naming it before investigations were made, and I would add that the Army has shown itself to be as gracious in accepting apologies as the House of Commons customarily is.

So I accept that a few of the letters are unsound. Nevertheless I have received and sent on to the Ministry of Defence an outpouring of deep anxiety and acute concern.

The response of the Ministry of Defence has been admirable but, in my view, inadequate. The Under-Secretary of State has categorically stated that bullying is not tolerated in the British Army, and I welcome that categorical statement. The Adjutant-General, Sir David Mostyn, has been equally firm and has told all commanding officers of the need for continued vigilance and for firm disciplinary action when ill treatment or bullying is proved. I warmly welcome these actions by the Minister and by the Adjutant-General, and undoubtedly there is now more vigilance on the part of commanding officers and their staff. Yet the advances will be only temporary if comprehensive action is not taken.

Just as a doctor cannot cure unless he diagnoses correctly and understands the nature of the complaint, so the Army will not eradicate bullying unless it recognises the whole spectrum of unacceptable behaviour and until it appreciates that bullying and fear go hand in hand. Fearful young soldiers—and nobody knows how many there are—need an impartial, independent person such as an ombudsman to whom they can turn. The Ministry of Defence apparently believes that this would have an adverse effect on the Army's own efforts to look after its soldiers. I disagree. The good COs, whose immediate responsibility this is, will continue as they do now. The less effective ones, who are oblivious of what is going on or condone mistreatment, could be jolted into early preventive action.

I propose an ombudsman not as a panacea—there is none available—but as the best and most important step that can be taken in the present circumstances. There may be resource implications, but a message should go from this debate to the Secretary of State and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that cash must be found for new initiatives to eradicate bullying from the Army. The welfare of the men is as important as the maintenance of machines.

I hope that, when he replies to the debate, the Minister will feel able to assure the House that he will reconsider my proposal—and tell us of any other constructive proposals that he may have in mind—and thereby signal a shift in gear in the Ministry's attack on bullying in the Army.

5.44 pm
Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

The whole House will have listened with great care to what the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) has told us about bullying in the armed forces and particularly in the Army. I was very glad to hear him say that he appreciated what the Ministry of Defence was doing to ensure that this type of behaviour was completely eradicated from the services. It has no place there and it must not be allowed to exist. We must expect that commanding officers and others will always be vigilant in this regard, and I would expect them to be at the forefront in this.

I am not entirely convinced that the right hon. Member's suggestion of an ombudsman is right, because, if officers and warrant officers are doing their job properly, such a person should be entirely unnecessary. I hope that this action by the Ministry of Defence will ensure that we have seen the last of the bullying in the armed forces for a very long time to come.

We must, of course, keep the matter in perspective and recognise that bullying happens elsewhere too. I heard not so long ago of similar cases in the fire service, and it certainly happens among apprentices in other trades and businesses. But it is unacceptable behaviour in the late 1980s and it must not be allowed to exist anywhere. I am therefore delighted that the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South has, after considerable study, acknowledged that the Ministry of Defence is taking the matter extremely seriously, and we hope that that is the end of it.

I also listened with great interest to what the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) had to say, particularly about the role of the Army in Germany. When he opened the debate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary used a quotation from the Duke of Wellington about how much more acceptable it was to have our forces fighting battles on foreign soil than on our own. We must not forget that. Our forces are in Germany principally to defend us here and not to defend the Germans. The defence that they provide for the rest of Europe is incidental to their defence of this country, which is why they are there.

The Minister then went on to talk about nuclear weapons and mentioned no first use. I want to address my remarks particularly to this subject and to the nuclear deterrent. Since the last debate on the Army we have gone a considerable way towards removing certain nuclear weapons from the field of battle, and we all, I think, accept that that is a good thing—that the sooner this can come about, the better. We will, however, be quite wrong not to acknowledge our debt to nuclear defence over the past 45 years, during which time we have had some extremely good defence on the cheap. It has cost us something like 10 per cent. of our national defence budget to save a very considerable sum on conventional weapons. If we had not had that type of defence, our expenditure would undoubtedly have been much greater.

If, as we approach 2000, we expect nuclear weapons to form a much less important part of our defence, we must address ourselves to the alternatives, one of which is national service. One of the advantages of nuclear defence is that we have been able to rely on a response which meant that, if we were attacked in any way, we could and would be prepared to respond with nuclear defence. That is why it is so important that we do not agree to no first use. If we accept no first use we must have parity in conventional weapons.

The right hon. Member for Llanelli said that he did not agree with the figures given in the Government's White Paper for the forces held by the Warsaw pact countries, as opposed to those of the NATO Alliance. He felt that the enormous disparity in those tables was inaccurate, and not nearly as great as shown. I do not share his belief. I think that the figures are accurate and I shall listen with interest when my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate. I hope he will be able to say more about that.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Would the hon. Gentleman accept that what my right hon. Friend was saying was that there is a difference in numbers, but that the quality of weapons on both sides needs to be taken into account—as well as other strategic and tactical matters of disposition of weapons. If one audits the quality of the weapons in that way, one sees a much closer parity of conventional forces on either side.

Mr. Thorne

I accept that those factors must be taken into account. Nevertheless, there is still an enormous disparity; we must be aware of it and ensure that we compare like with like. The right hon. Member for Llanelli ridiculed some of the recent developments in the Soviet army. I cannot go along with that, because I felt that he was not comparing like with like. So one must be careful; the White Paper shows an enormous disparity, which is a cause for considerable concern.

I am far from satisfied that we have the necessary arrangements for carrying out adequate verification of nuclear weapons. We all remember the scenes on television not so very long ago that showed what happened to a major in the United States army who was prying too closely in his capacity as a verification officer examining Russian installations. He was shot dead by the guard. If that is what happens in Europe, what can we expect of verification in the enormous areas covered by the Soviet Union? That is a serious problem.

We must also bear in mind chemical weapons —nuclear weapons verification alone is not enough. Whatever we do, we must examine the alternatives and thank our good fortune for the high quality of British service personnel — regular and reserves. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir. A. Buck) has already given credit to those who serve in the services part-time, as well as doing their daytime jobs. However, we are losing a good deal of talent because of the enormous demands placed these days on young people who are trying to match the capability of those in the regular forces. I am delighted that the Home Service Force can offer an alternative which is less exacting than the Territorial Army. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to make good progress in enlarging that force as soon as possible, because we must build up our reserves in that way.

People with experience of life in the armed forces are now disappearing because national service went so long ago. To make up for that, we must try to keep the talent we have and ensure that as many people as possible have this type of experience. Between the two world wars many people had real experience of the Army and kept us in good shape for 1939—largely at their own expense—by learning about military affairs. But we are short of such experience now, so we are not as well off as we were in 1939.

The reserve forces that we have are of extremely high calibre, but the number of people who have basic knowledge is diminishing, and I want that problem addressed. Many of our NATO allies still retain national service; those who do it carry forward their experience, which can be revised at fairly short notice.

In some countries that do not have the nuclear deterrent, particularly in Scandinavia, there is not only national service but, following that, a home defence force, so that people are posted from national service to home defence units. Until their sixtieth year, they are expected to serve in civil protection units. That is normal practice in Scandinavia and it ensures that such countries have a reservoir of personnel with the necessary knowledge and experience.

I was delighted to hear the Minister announce that Jersey is to recruit an engineer unit. I hope that Guernsey will not be far behind and will make its contribution in the near future.

People who serve the country in the armed services have a special job and we should be especially grateful to them. While they protect us from every eventuality, we owe them a great deal of care and should look after their interests. My hon. Friend the Minister will remember that, just before Christmas, I raised the matter of armed forces pensions for people who left the services at a time when there was a pay freeze. One of the examples I gave was that of a lieutenant colonel who was retiring. If he had retired two years earlier as a major, he would have drawn a considerably higher pension than the one he eventually received.

A number of service personnel were asked by the Government of the day to stay on in post because there was a shortage in their discipline, and they readily agreed to do so. When they were eventually asked to go, they found themselves considerably worse off financially. We should not allow that to continue. We should not say that it was perpetrated by a Government of a different political complexion and that it was an example of what happened when the other lot had their chance. We should be prepared to correct the matter now and ensure that no one is penalised because he carried on serving his country and is now drawing a lower pension, not for one or two years, but for the rest of his life. That should be corrected as a matter of urgency, and I hope that my hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues will support my demand to the Treasury as soon as possible.

I turn now to the future of the Gurkhas. For more than 170 years, we have had the support of the Gurkha units in the Army. My hon. Friend the Minister knows that the Select Committee on Defence now proposes, at my suggestion, to carry out an inquiry into the future of the Gurkhas. This is a new departure for the Committee because Select Committees usually report and criticise the Government for action that they have already taken. This will be the first occasion on which the Select Committee on Defence will be investigating a matter and publishing its conclusions in advance of any decision by the Ministry. I hope that that works well and that my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Ministry will find it helpful. Indeed, I hope that they will be able to act upon the Committee's report, which I hope will be published later this year or early in 1989.

I make a special plea that, when my hon. Friend replies, he says something about the role of the helicopter in the Army. If our forces are to have a modern infantry role we must match what has been done by other armies in NATO and in the Warsaw pact. Undoubtedly, we have been extremely economical with the number of helicopters that we have deployed. However, if we were honest we would have to admit that to fulfil our commitments we need about 100 additional combat helicopters to make up for the existing deficiency. I realise that to economise in such a way is an easy option, but we must consider this matter carefully. We must ensure that we are not cheating on our defence by inadequately providing ourselves with the necessary equipment. I hope that my hon. Friend will give careful consideration to this matter and I hope that he has happy news to report.

6.1 pm

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

To begin with, I should like to mention two constituency issues that are of considerable concern to the people of Woolwich.

The first relates to the long-running saga about the headquarters building of the directorate general of defence quality assurance. That unit has been based at Woolwich Arsenal since the 1960s and it has survived a substantial period of review and examination concerning possible relocation. Many of us felt that the uncertainty about the headquarters building had been settled a couple of years ago when a final decision was given that it would stay at Woolwich. Indeed, a great deal of work had already gone into providing architectural drawings and designs for a new office building within the Woolwich Arsenal complex.

Unfortunately, after the present Secretary of State took office, he decided that, before making a major financial investment, it was prudent to examine other possible locations for the headquarters of that important operation. I perfectly understand that, but the difficulty has been that that decision has put the whole thing back in the melting pot. We have had a further period of considerable uncertainty. I am sure that the Minister appreciates that that uncertainty has had a worrying effect on the work force and the management. I hope that an early decision is reached. Indeed, I hope that that decision will be in favour of retaining defence quality assurance at Woolwich. When the Minister reviews the matter and makes the crucial decision, he must bear in mind the generations of service that the people of Woolwich have given to the Army.

The second local issue is the state of military buildings of historic interest. Sadly, many of those have been allowed to decay and are in an extremely poor condition. Indeed, they are a terrible indictment of our neglect of some of our important history.

I pay tribute to the Minister for the Committee that he has set up to consider the problem. I am aware that that Committee has already visited the Woolwich area and I am extremely glad of that. I believe that it would be helpful to the House if the Minister could tell us how it will be possible to preserve the buildings and, in some cases, to bring them back to the state and condition that they deserve. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us how we shall find ways of using them for the community's good and how we shall retain such an important element of our heritage.

Mr. Dalyell

Has the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to visit Fort George? Although I agree with the hon. Gentleman in general terms, the Ministry must be congratulated on its part, along with other conservation bodies, in the restoration of Fort George.

Mr. Cartwright

I have not had the opportunity of seeing Fort George. In my constituency at the Woolwich Arsenal there is a wonderful piece of restoration, the brass foundry, which is one of the original Woolwich Arsenal buildings. Unfortunately, that building is simply used for storage by the National Maritime museum at Greenwich. That beautiful building is not available to the public. I want all such buildings to be preserved and maintained but also, as far as possible, available for the public to enjoy. They are part of our heritage.

We must consider future recruitment and manpower arising from the problems of demography. I have already raised this issue in previous Army debates. There is widespread understanding that the numbers of young men in the population has been declining since 1981 and will continue to do so. Indeed, by 1996 the number of 15 to 19-year-olds will be 77 per cent. of the present level and only 73 per cent. of the 1981 level. The number of young men will not rise above 80 per cent. of the present level until the end of the century and, as far as it is possible to predict, will never return to the current level. That poses a major problem for the armed forces because they must recruit a higher proportion of young people to maintain their present level of manpower.

The recruitment drive will occur at the very time that there is other competition for skilled manpower from other employers. Without doubt there will be problems for the armed forces. They will have to face the problem of the extra cost involved in improving the pay and conditions of those whom they employ or face the problem of simply not having the necessary manpower. That problem does not affect this country alone; it affects a number of western European countries, in particular the Federal Republic of Germany. However, those other countries have conscription and have been able to tackle part of the problem by extending the period of conscription. Such an option is not open to us. It will be interesting to know the Government's views on this matter and their proposals to deal with a problem that will be with us until the end of the century.

We must consider battlefield nuclear weapons and their strategic place given the changing circumstances that we face after the INF treaty. We all understand that the impending removal of longer and shorter-range intermediate nuclear weapons will inevitably concentrate much more attention on short-range tactical nuclear weapons, especially battlefield systems.

In the past few weeks there has been some interest, and indeed excitement, about the Montebello decision. I am rather puzzled by that because I do not believe that any of us who followed the Montebello discussions were in any doubt about what had been agreed. At Montebello there was a clear agreement to reduce the number of NATO warheads in Europe by 1,400 to a total of 4,600 by 1988. However, there was an accompanying agreement that the reduced stockpile would involve modernisation and that the weapons that were retained were to be improved to provide greater range, improved accuracy, better survivability, better safety and security. In other words, the argument was that we would have a smaller NATO nuclear stockpile in Europe, but that it would be safer and more effective. I find it hard to argue with that general approach, which seems to make absolute sense. When one applies the general principle to individual weapons systems it is sensible to review the situation against the present background because, after the INF agreement, the prospects are different from those apparent in 1983 when the Montebello decision was taken.

I have always felt that battlefield nuclear weapons are the most dangerous of all nuclear weapons, because they are uniquely designed for war fighting. They cannot be referred to, or regarded as, weapons of last resort. They are there for use in a battle and — this applies particularly to nuclear artillery—they are based very far forward. That means that decisions about their possible use would have to be taken at a very early stage of a coventional conflict. For those reasons, battlefield weapons inevitably lower the nuclear threshold. There are many examples of military men who have taken the view that, once that threshold has been crossed, none of us knows what will flow from it.

I can, therefore, understand the argument that we must follow the first two zeros—the zero agreements on the longer-range and shorter-range intermediate nuclear weapons — with the third zero, which encompasses a negotiation on the battlefield and short-range systems. However, as we have been reminded by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), the military argument for battlefield nuclear weapons is that they have a deterrent effect, and that they prevent the massing of Soviet armour on the central front. There is, therefore, a natural reluctance on the part of the military to negotiate those weapons away when the perceived threat remains.

Like the right hon. Member for Llanelli, I am attracted to the idea of linking progress in negotiations on battlefield nuclear weapons with progress in negotiations on the conventional arms front. That strikes me as one way of ensuring progress. However, I cannot be quite as optimistic as the right hon. Gentleman appeared about the prospects for the conventional arms negotiations. We know that the new forum to discuss those issues will be very different from that of the MBFR. It will cover a very much wider area, from the Atlantic to the Urals. Its general approach — to try to secure stability and security, at lower levels of arms deployment — is one that we would all endorse, but I do not believe that we should underestimate the problems.

There has been some difference across the House about the issue of Warsaw pact superiority in terms of conventional defence. It is hard to dispute the existence of that superiority, but its extent is a matter for legitimate debate. One of the difficulties is the method by which the relative strengths are calculated. There is at present no agreed basis on which such calculation might take place. I have recently seen a study by the Atlantic Council of the United States, which set out the problems of trying to agree a basis for calculating the strength of each side in Europe. If we consider NATO and the Warsaw pact, for example, we do not count France and Spain in the NATO forces, because they are not part of the integrated military command. However, it is hard to expect the Soviets to assume that there will be no assistance to NATO from the direction of Spain and France. If Spain and France are included in the figures, that will add some 20 divisions, some 2,000 tanks and 700 tactical aircraft. Whether those countries are to be included is thus a very important issue.

If there is to be conflict in Europe, it cannot be assumed that the non-committed or neutral nations will sit quietly on their hands and play no part in it. The Swedes, the Finns and the Swiss have effective forces which must be involved to some extent in the calculations. There is also the question of what proportion of the forces are to be counted. Should it be only those in place in Europe, or those that are capable of being transferred into Europe in time of conflict? Should it be only troops in active service, or should reservists be included?

There is also the issue of equipment. Front-line forces no longer equip their men; they man their equipment. Equipment is obviously extremely important. The question has already been raised in the debate of what sort of tanks we should count. Should it be only modern, effective tanks, or should we count the aging systems held in reserve? Should we count defensive as well as offensive systems?

Those are all difficult issues, and, as other hon. Members have said, it is a question not only of quantity but of quality. As many systems have not been tested in warfare, it is very difficult to judge the quality of one tank or one aircraft against that of another, and it is certainly difficult to assess the quality of individual forces. How, for example, do we judge Spanish and Portuguese forces against Polish or Romanian forces? There are also the problems of the back-up of defence industries, the geographical asymmetry and so forth. I am merely trying to argue that, when we approach the difficult issue of conventional arms negotiations from the Atlantic to the Urals, agreeing the forces belonging to each side that are to be counted in those negotiations is far from straightforward.

That leads me to believe that, while there is certainly a case for linking the negotiation on battlefield nuclear weapons with progress in conventional arms control, it is likely to be a lengthy process. We must recognise that some European countries are so anxious about the destabilising effect of nuclear artillery, in particular, that they would much prefer to see those systems taken out and negotiated separately from conventional systems. We must be clear about what NATO strategy is to be. If there are divisions within the member nations of NATO, they will undoubtedly be exploited by the Soviet Union.

There is a wide measure of agreement within the NATO Alliance that the security of Europe, for as far ahead as we can see, depends on a mix of nuclear and conventional deterrence. The problem for NATO is to decide and achieve the maximum agreement on the balance between the two, and the make-up of the individual parts of that deterrence.

It would be useful to hear the Government's views on this important issue, and also to hear how they intend to influence the development of a NATO negotiating position in the testing time that lies ahead.

6.16 pm
Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) on representing his constituency interests so well. I should like to take up many of his points during my speech, because I have considerable sympathy with them.

We now have a professional and efficient regular Army. However, the necessity for conventional forces has become more important — we hope because the dangers of atomic warfare are gradually receding. We must always remember, as the hon. Member for Woolwich pointed out, that until we are sufficiently strong we must retain our present strength until the reduction is complete. We must retain superiority.

To be efficient, an army must first be mobile, and secondly, as the Minister said, it must have proper communications. Those communications, however, must not only be between units of our Army; they must also be between our allies in other NATO armies.

The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) doubted the relative strengths of the two forces, and also called into question the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1987". I do not believe that all this matters. The hon. Member for Woolwich spoke of France and Spain's inclusion, and that of non-committed nations, and the age of Soviet equipment. Most people would agree, however, that the Soviet side has a considerable force, which is very much stronger than the NATO Alliance, together with France, Spain and any other nations. That is unquestionable.

I do not think that it matters whether equipment is old or new, or whether or not it is behind the Urals. The balance is loaded against us. We have to start off with that premise.

Our Army is called upon to perform many duties. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir A. Buck) referred to Belize and the Falklands, and we have forces on loan to various parts of the world. They have a varied and interesting role to play. The worst role is that in Northern Ireland, where our forces work in conjunction with the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I believe that the bomb disposal people are the bravest of the lot. To defuse a bomb in cold blood is one of the bravest things a man can do. It is easy to go over the top but it is much more difficult to do something in cold blood. The Minister paid a tribute to the people who devote their lives to that task. The Army in Northern Ireland does a good job but no army can ever do its job if its hands are tied. Therefore, one has to give our soldiers some latitude.

My hon. Friend the Minister talked about the central front. I was a little worried about that. He said that the central front may move but that it will not affect West Germany. That causes the conundrum to which I have referred before. There is the difficulty of what East Germany would do if West Germany was invaded and what West Germany would do if it was called upon to invade East Germany. We do not know. I have talked to officers in the West German army and their views differ according to whether they have relatives in East Germany. It is an unknown factor with which we have always to reckon.

My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the importance of search. He was a soldier and he knows the importance of reconnaissance. He knows how important it is to find out where the enemy is. I was interested in the new devices he mentioned and in the communications systems to which he referred. I want to emphasise the importance of being able to communicate not only between units of our own forces but between the units of other forces in western Europe.

My hon. Friend mentioned the T64B and the T80 tanks. That illustrates — I am pointing this out to the hon. Member for Woolwich—the fact that the Soviet army has been developing a large number of techniques which add to its capability and which, to some extent, replace the old tanks that are going out of service.

The Russians have an immense reserve force. I believe that they have about 1 or 2 million active reservists on their reserve list. The Russians have historically always had a large reserve army. Even in Tsarist days, Russia was full of people walking around in uniform. Perhaps they simply liked the uniform.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the Challenger tank. He said that 5th and 6th regiments would be coming into service, followed by the 7th. I am worried about tank replacements. The Army wants 500 new tanks at a cost of £700 million. When choosing a tank we have to balance two factors. First, there is the question whether they will be produced in this country, and, therefore create employment, which is important. Secondly, it is necessary to have a tank that is efficient and which has parts that are interchangeable with those of our allies. When one goes to war it is essential to have interchangeable parts. If one breaks a sprocket and the tank breaks down and if other units do not have appropriate spares, one will find that the tank is out of use. I should like to see us producing a tank in the United Kingdom that has parts which are interchangeable with our NATO allies. That applies to weapons as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who also has military experience, mentioned helicopters. The infantry is becoming more mobile and is better able to operate with tanks. I hope that it is also on the same wireless frequency. That is important. The Saxon and the Warrior are useful but the helicopter is, as yet, under-employed.

I should like to ask the Government how they are getting on with chemical agent monitors. I should also like to ask how they are getting on with regard to nerve gas. We know that the Soviet Union has 300,000 tonnes of chemical and biological weapons. It is essential that our Army has sufficient protective clothing to use in the event of the Soviets embarking upon chemical or biological war. As they have such a superiority, I am sure that they may be tempted to use it.

The importance of our reserve force is immense. We have to have a good Territorial Army. The hon. Member for Woolwich pointed out the importance of demography. We cannot have conscription so we have to increase our Territorial reserve forces. There is one thing that holds us back. It is easier for people who work for large firms or conglomerates to take time off to participate in Territorial Army activities, but it is difficult for the self-employed or those working in a small business. We have to find some inducement to get those people to give up their fortnight's leave. Perhaps we should give them some extra leave in exchange. It is of national importance. They are providing a service for their country and, incidentally, for their company because they are learning discipline and many other things.

I was a little worried about the issue of women. During war we have all seen the importance of women in the armed forces. I understand that there are not enough people to train them, and I am worried about that. Women can do so many jobs. Home service is important and the Government have not paid sufficient attention to it. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister has announced that there will be a 20 per cent. increase in the home service.

I do not want to take up any more of the House's time, but there is one more issue to which I would like to refer. It is the purely domestic problem of the rebuilding of Victoria barracks in Windsor. I was told in a parliamentary answer on 4 July 1985 that completion was due for 1989. So far, the drains have been completed and there is some grass planted in the centre barracks. I do not know whether that is to prevent it from being used as a car park. As a garrison town and the home of the Sovereign, we have a duty to rebuild the barracks. My own regiment, the Household Cavalry, has an extremely good barracks there. It is right that the Footguards should have their barracks in Windsor. Traditionally, the monarchy, the Household Cavalry and the Footguards have been located there, and, as a Household Cavalry man, I should like to see the Footguards back in Victoria barracks at the earliest opportunity. I hope that when my hon. Friend replies to the debate he will say a few words on that matter.

6.30 pm
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

If people have the energy to read the debates that we have had on this subject in the House over the past 10 years, they will notice a remarkable transformation in East-West relations. I was a Member of Parliament in the mid-1970s. It was the era of détente. As we proceeded through the 1970s we heard here and outside a shrill hostility to the Soviet Union. The emergence of the cold war was reflected in debates in the House throughout the 1970s and up to the mid-1980s, and until recently there has been confrontation between the parties and a perception of East-West relations on the part of the Government reminiscent of earlier and sadder periods.

If anyone had predicted a year or so ago what would happen in East-West relations, he would have been dismissed as being amenable to psychiatric treatment. The changes in East-West relations have been truly remarkable. We are living in exciting times. The problem lies in achieving a proper sense of balance, not being carried away by euphoria and devising security policies for countries within the Alliance that will be valid a decade hence. That is exceedingly difficult to achieve in any circumstances. We are living in fluid times, so the problem is even more difficult.

We are living in an era of change. We have seen the signing of the momentous intermediate nuclear forces agreement, which I hope will be ratified by the United States Senate. If the circumstances of SALT II were replicated, the consequences for NATO would be catastrophic. Existing trends in the Senate give one cause for optimism that it will ratify the agreement.

We have seen a decline in the rhetoric of confrontation. There have been unprecedented developments in the Soviet Union. We have heard much talk about further arms control negotiations in the pipeline. Most important of all, we have seen, in many countries in the Warsaw pact and in NATO, old-established principles of security being re-evaluated. Political parties with established principles of security are having to re-evaluate them in the light of changing circumstances. Much is in a state of flux with regard to security policy.

Changes in the Soviet Union impinge on NATO. The main thrust of my speech will be about how these changes will take place, be assessed, recognised, accommodated and adapted within the NATO Alliance, which most hon. Members wish to see survive, because it is the essential principle of our security policy.

Since Mr. Gorbachev's accession to the post of General Secretary, he has made some remarkable changes in Soviet domestic society, which now appears to have primacy over foreign relations. The words glasnost and perestroika have almost entered the English language. One must ask to what degree those reforms will be successful. We must ask whether the extremely impressive rhetoric that we have heard from the Soviet Union on defence and foreign policy will be translated into concrete action. There are signs of a transference between rhetoric and action, but it is dangerous to take too many decisions based on a reaction to what Mr. Gorbachev is saying. We must observe what is being done.

I advise hon. Members to read a book that was recently written by a Frenchman, Michel Tatu, who is probably the leading Kremlinologist in Europe. He argues that we should hope that the Gorbachev reforms will be successful, but he cautions that Mr. Gorbachev might fail. One problem that Mr. Gorbachev has with his "cabinet" which our Prime Minister has not is a degree of opposition. Therefore, it is by no means impossible that those reforms in domestic politics and international relations will be negated. It is by no means certain that Mr. Gorbachev will be around in five or 10 years' time to continue his policies. While I support a positive reaction to his initiatives, it is important not to become too carried away. Even if the Soviet Union becomes less revolutionary and less proselytising, as it appears to be doing, a non-revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Soviet Union can still pose a threat to the West. One must not become too carried away by developments in the Soviet Union.

Let us hope that Mr. Gorbachev's impetus is carried forward. Let us hope that the era of détente, in which he has played a major part, survives and that we do not return to the position of the 1970s, when the era of détente lasted a few years but dissolved. We must hope that this era will survive into the 1990s and beyond.

Equally important changes are taking place in the United States. With regard to foreign policy in the 20th century, the hegemony of Europe was undermined. It was not possible for European powers to achieve a balance of power that inhibited one of its own from securing dominance. That led to the reluctant incursion of the United States into European politics in the first world war. It then stepped back and left us to our own devices. Once again it became necessary for an external power, the United States, to remedy the balance of power which did not preval in the second world war. After that, the United States remained behind and became a global power—the protector of Europe.

Circumstances are changing, and the international balance of power is changing. No longer do we have the super-power hegemony that prevailed for much of the post-second world war period. The United States has neither the economic resources nor—among sections of Congress and the public—the will to remain the global power in the 1990s that it was in the 1960s and much of the 1970s and 1980s.

The problem with which we are faced, not only in NATO, but in Japan and other countries which have an affinity with the United States, is how to manage this decline. The Americans deny that there is such a decline, but the United States is clearly faced with the problem that faces us perennially—there are too many commitments for its diminishing resources. If its presence around the world will not be as complete as it was, we either say that the vacuum will not be filled, or that the rest of the democratic world will have to adjust to the fact that the United States will not be performing — many people welcome this — the global role that it has hitherto played.

Anyone who has talked to Congressmen will be aware of the growth of isolationism in Congress, which reflects and partly fuels the growth of isolationism in the United States. Therefore, it is important to ask the American public the inescapable question: is NATO still in the United States' interest? Is the maintenance of a large nuclear and conventional commitment to Europe still in its interest? Most people here consider that the answer is a very clear yes. We must he aware that changes are taking place as a result of that reorientation in the United States.

There are changes taking place in Europe. We are no longer economically, politically or militarily as prostrate as we were when NATO was founded. Europe's GNP is very impressive compared with that of the United States and of the Soviet Union. In future Europe should, and must, do more to secure its own protection than it has in recent years. It is important that we point out to the United States that the development of the concept of a second pillar of the Alliance must be seen within the context of NATO. It would be wrong to give the United States the impression that Europe is ganging up on it, because that would lead eventually to a diminution of the American presence, which we should try hard to avoid. Most members of the Government and most Opposition Members would argue, not for unarmed or semi-armed neutralism, but for Europe's playing a more significant role and having a greater impact on decision-making in NATO.

Changes taking place in the rest of the world impinge on NATO. For example, medium-rank powers are developing nuclear weapons, and wars are taking place which the super-powers cannot control. Anyone who thinks that the future of the world lies in the global competition between the Soviet Union and the United States is not paying due heed to the break-up of those powers' empires and to the emergence of new medium-rank and smaller powers outside their control.

All those changes are having an impact on NATO. What will NATO be in the 1990s? Will it survive? Will it have withered away because the threat to western Europe and the United States will have evaporated? I suspect not. Will NATO have outlived its usefulness, or cracked as a result of internal, if not external, pressures? Those of us who are inclined to support NATO are constantly lamenting the problems that it faces. Some have an apocalyptic vision of the future and envisage the collapse of NATO under the weight of crises. However, NATO has always been able to resolve crises. One must hope that external and internal circumstances give NATO the opportunity to reformulate its policies on nuclear weapons and conventional forces and to readjust its decision-making procedures. If the Alliance is to have the vitality to survive the difficult years ahead, it is critical that it should undergo a re-examination and modify substantially its policies and structure.

In the late 1980s NATO requires the emergence of a new Harmel report and an organisation of wise men to map out its future over the next few years. The Alliance is in considerable need of restructuring. Will there be changes in its nuclear policy? Despite the critique of the policy of flexible response, no serious alternative has yet emerged to replace it. The advantage of the policy lies precisely in its flexibility and ambiguity. The concept of flexible response has more or less served us for a number of years. If it is to be replaced, much more research needs to be carried out. It is easy glibly to say that flexible response is out. It is far more difficult to provide something in its place.

If one element of flexible response has been impaired as result of the INF agreement, it is surely important to strengthen its conventional element. The irony is that, although we have heard much from the Minister about what is being done to enhance our conventional capability, and while it is easy to detect the rhetoric of improvement throughout the Alliance, the reality is that, given the financial pressures on all Governments, it will be exceedingly difficult to maintain our conventional capability, let alone expand it. All Governments face that problem. We need to re-examine our reliance on nuclear weapons and realise that arms control negotiations, if sensibly pursued, will diminish the requirement of first use, or indeed early use, policy. However, that can be an expensive option, because it will mean a considerable improvement in our conventional capability.

I hope that NATO will seek, not only an accommodation with the Soviet Union but ways of reconciling the security policies of different parties within the member countries of NATO. I am worried about the disharmony that exists within NATO. In recent years the various Socialist, Social-Democratic and Democratic-Socialist parties in the NATO countries have put forward an approach to security that is at variance with established NATO policy. I hope that the present state of flux will give NATO the opportunity of a rapprochement with the political parties that helped to found NATO but which have diverged from its policy. That rapproachement needs to be found, because unless security policy is underpinned by substantial political support it becomes vulnerable.

The changes that take place in future will include developments in arms control. Perhaps the INF agreement will make Isaiah's hope of beating swords into ploughshares look a little less unrealistic than hitherto. However, one thing is fairly clear. The 14 European nations that belong to NATO do not have identical arms control policies. Two of the 14 counties are nuclear powers; a number of the others permit nuclear weapons on their soil; others will accept nuclear weapons in time of crisis; and some do not accept nuclear weapons, but accept American nuclear protection. The different perceptions of nuclear weapons are reflected in different attitudes to arms control.

One thing is fairly obvious. With the possible exception of the French Government, the Governments of European NATO countries wish to be perceived by their electorates as working for arms control agreements. Arms control has come to be seen as an integral part of security policy, but beyond general attitudes towards arms control policy the Reykjavik near-agreement 18 months ago had quite a profound effect. European Governments largely wish to ensure the continuation of the policy of nuclear deterrence which remains a bedrock of Alliance security.

For Europe, in practical terms, that means pursuing 50 per cent., not 100 per cent., reductions in strategic systems. It means accepting— albeit reluctantly in the case of a number of Governments— a zero-zero INF agreement. It means deferring negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons and, for most European Governments, it means taking conventional arms control negotiations very seriously. According to an American ambassador, Jonathan Dean, Europe has concluded that the East-West confrontation has passed its peak and is in decline, a decline which should be hastened. Coupled with anti-nuclear sentiment among the public and many opposition parties, NATO Governments will continue to face important challenges and the need prudently to balance arms control and defence policy.

Conventional arms negotiations are clearly inevitable. We have heard much about the balance of power and the conventional balance in Europe. There is only one thing more dangerous than overstating Soviet capability, and that is understating it. The problems are immensely complicated. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) eulogised the report of the Western European Union. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), the author of that report, must be very pleased, as this is one of the few occasions on which something that he has done has attracted support from an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. However, I might add that that report was not accepted by the Assembly of the Western European Union.

One can pick any report on the military "balance" that apparently sustains one's own argument. My view is that Soviet conventional superiority is considerable and that any arms control negotiations take that into account. It is not a question simply of head-counting—or rather tank or ship-counting—because it depends largely on where the weapons are situated. A fact that has not emerged yet is that it is not simply a matter of saying, "How many do we have? How many do they have? What is their quality?" The key question is where the weapons are located and the length of time that it will take to achieve the military balance at the point of contact that looks quite neat in a journal.

The geographical problems of getting the reinforcements from North America are far more formidable than the problems that the Soviet Union faces in moving conventional forces from other parts of its own territory. There are great problems in conventional arms negotiations which I hope will be surmounted.

One contentious issue is that of out-of-area activities. For the West, the United States has been the world's policeman — a role that it picked up with some reluctance from the United Kingdom in the 1940s and 1950s. However, that role is coming to an end and it is important that we should be prepared for that. That is not to say that the United States will not remain a global power. It means that the United States will rely more on its allies, either within treaty organisations, such as NATO, or with the countries with which it has bilateral treaties.

It is dangerous to hide our faces from what happens outside the NATO area. That does not mean that Europe should have the will to wander anywhere throughout the world — clearly, military power directed at a problem can make that problem infinitely worse — but it is important that we realise that if we want to have an influence on United States policy outside the NATO area we can do so only if we have capability, presence and involvement. As a result of the South-West Asia impact study, one way was devised in which Europe has agreed to take some compensatory measures. If the United States acts out-of-area there will be some support, such as over flying rights.

What has been happening in the Gulf is very important. In the United States last summer, when hysteria was at its height, many Congressmen had the idea that the Armilla patrol had been operating in the Gulf since 1980. The fact that some had just suddenly discovered the Gulf meant that they were oblivious of the fact that allied Governments actually had naval bases in the Gulf region. Even a report from the Pentagon, written by Mr. Weinberger, did not mention the fact that the Armilla patrol had been operating in the Gulf since 1980. Pressure built up during the early summer. Many people in the USA saw European involvement in the Gulf as almost a touchstone for continuing to have American support troops in Europe and for NATO.

Therefore, it was wise of Europe to react in the way that it did. One suspects that if one asked why various European nations committed naval forces to the Gulf, the answer would be that it was less for the protection of their own shipping, and more for political purposes — to placate the United States and prevent the growth of hostility towards Europe from reaching such a point that it would have disastrous military consequences for NATO.

Of course, forces could not be sent there under the auspices of NATO because, under the treaty, NATO's terms of reference would preclude that. Therefore, the Western European Union and unilateral and bilateral decisions to commit ships there were resorted to. The Gulf operation by Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy, together with the fact that although West Germany's constitution apparently forbids out-of-area activity it is compensating by sending ships to the Mediterranean, is a belated recognition of the fact that events outside the NATO area can have serious ramifications for Western Europe, not simply in terms of buying off American opposition, but because what happens out there affects us.

Therefore, it is important—it may be unpalatable to many people—that we do not exclude the possibility of further action out of area. I hope that Europe never has the remotest need to operate outside the NATO area. It is as much as we can do to operate successfully within that area. However, we need a capability that may have to be deployed, although that does not mean that it will be deployed.

I do not know how the Government will sustain their commitment to NATO nuclear modernisation, replacing Nimrod, and deploying forces throughout the world, with so many of our naval and armed forces units in the Gulf and the Falklands. One wonders how the Government will manage the increasing commitments with diminishing resources.

We have been in NATO since 1949. I hope that the day will come when that Alliance will be superfluous, but I suspect that it will be needed for many years to come. We must play our part as a nation in that Alliance, deploying our resources competently and efficiently. However, that Alliance, which has served us well, is undergoing change. I only hope that we have military personnel, politicians, diplomats and others who can manage those changes well. Unless those many changes are properly analysed, accommodated, resolved and a restructured Alliance devised for the 1990s, the potential danger for the European members of the Alliance are severe. Therefore, I hope that the changes will be well managed and that our Alliance will he as vital and necessary in the 1990s as it has been since 1949.

6.56 pm
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

As the House knows, there are massive numbers of forces personnel in my constituency. In fact, the Army has two bases at Lulworth and Bovington, where the armoured corps has most of its tank ranges and trains many soldiers in the use of armoured personnel carriers and armoured vehicles generally.

Close to my constituency—looking after my western border — the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) contains the rifle range at Chickerell. In addition—although I would not want to be ruled out of order by mentioning it at any great length—we have a naval air station on Portland as well as the Admiralty research establishment which has many Ministry of Defence procurement jobs. Therefore, south Dorset is quite crowded in terms of numbers of service personnel.

As a man of 40, I have little experience of armed forces matters. I am glad that that is so and that so many of our countrymen have not needed to fight for their country or be called up. All hon. Members have paid tribute in this debate to the dedication of the young men and women who are training for a conflict that we hope will never happen. However, in a constituency such as mine, with a large number of forces personnel so close to civilians, the further we are from a conflict, the more little moans start and become greater moans.

I have already been contacted on various occasions about problems such as rifle ranges. My hon. Friend and I have several excellent forces' rifle ranges within hearing distance of our constituencies. It is not long before people start wondering whether so much ammunition should be fired and whether family Sundays should be disturbed. Blast damage may be involved. Apparently, if a double glazing unit fails in south Dorset, for many years there has been a ready pound from the Ministry of Defence to put it right, but occasionally the Ministry resists that. The public seem to think that the Ministry should always he ready to pick up the bill.

In a debate last week, we considered the problems of gun clubs and self-loading rifles. Many of my constituents trained with the forces and, after leaving, wished to pursue their skill in arms as civilians. A good point made to me by some of those people is that gun clubs have always been able to train people and keep them up to the mark with the normal service rifle. If the measure that we debated last week is enacted, we would prohibit rapid-fire weapons, which tend to be the standard issue of NATO army forces, so they would not be able to train with that weapon. We should consider that point in respect of our home affairs.

Although there have been excellent speeches from both sides of the House in this debate, I find it strange that there is such unanimous support for NATO. It is the first time that I have heard a speech by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). He said that we would all prefer not to have the NATO Alliance, but that we realise that we will need it for decades to come.

Before I became a Member of this House, I had to listen to members of the Labour party—I do not know where they are today—who constantly denigrated the fact that we are part of NATO. One would have thought that the two alliance parties would accept that NATO is part of our defence strategy, yet they have been arguing about whether to include NATO in their constitution. The Liberal Benches are empty, yet for most of this afternoon's debate 20 per cent. of the SDP was present, including 50 per cent. of the Owenite wing. It may he uncharitable to say that, because the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) have strong constituency interests in this matter, they would favour a strong defence alliance, but it is something which needs to be said.

Opposition Members have commented on the quality of Soviet forces. Our forces are extremely fine and it is interesting to note the quality of our peacetime professional Army. I went behind the iron curtain when I visited Czechoslovakia. Things tended to be badly run and looked very scruffy until one saw a member of the Czech or Soviet armed forces. It would be wrong for us to think that they are just a lot of vodka swilling conscripts who could not launch an armed attack. The quality of their forces is very high and is given great emphasis in that society.

I have not been involved with the armed forces, so I did not worry too much about our defence strategy until I was asked to go and speak, in debates with self-styled peace campaigners, against prospective Labour parliamentary candidates and prospective Liberal candidates. I came out of those debates very fearful for the future of our country because those people seemed to dismiss the necessity of good defensive forces to deter attack and ensure that we do not get into a hot war.

I am almost 41 years old and I have never felt the threat that I am about to be called up and brought into military service, but one need only look around the world and analyse the various conflicts to know how they started. Almost without exception, from Adolf Hitler to the latest conflagrations in the middle east, they started when one side felt that it had overwhelming superiority and could rush its forces into another country.

I agree with the concept that, if we want peace, we must prepare for war. When they are in their listening campaign, Members of the Labour Front Bench should listen to many of their dyed-in-the-wool supporters. I distinctly remember carrying out a survey, not as a member of the Conservative party, which involved a couple of guys in Halifax market. I questioned them about their commitment and what they wanted out of life. They appeared to be natural supporters of the Labour party, but I discovered that they had been in the armed forces and were involved in the Falklands conflict. They were absolutely certain that, if there was an armed conflict in which British soldiers were involved, they wanted Margaret Thatcher to lead the country. The Labour party is alienating a part of its possible electorate by not assuring those people a proper defence of the country.

Defence has implications for employment, and the Ministry of Defence has a massive role to play in this. I have lived in the north of England and now live in Weymouth in my constituency. In my constituency, employment is a difficult matter because we are so far from the lines of communication. Traditionally, the Ministry of Defence has always been there and, despite small difficulties, it is very welcome. It is a matter of great concern that, as a result of studies regarding the Ministry's procurement arm, it might suddenly move many people, thus creating great difficulties within the constituency. As we heard earlier, the Ministry of Defence must consider the greater good of the community.

The Ministry of Defence must reconsider its regional policy. Many of the jobs in the armed forces are created in areas which have almost no unemployment. There can be great difficulty in housing people in high-cost areas when it would be much better to base those people elsewhere.

I wish to mention a very poignant reminder of times gone by — prisoners of war of the Japanese. When I came to my constituency, I was approached by a number of people who, many years ago, had had to fight for their country and were captured by the Japanese. They had suffered a great deal and their health was permanently impaired as a result of diseases contracted in the jungle, where they were cruelly imprisoned. As they grow older, they are now suffering even more. When the war was over, decisions had to be made about compensation to which people were legally entitled. The Japanese should think seriously about what they could do unilaterally to help those people who, frankly, still hate them. Those people have a growing need for recompense.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

What does the hon. Gentleman think about the British Government's assistance to the Japanese, for example, in sending them plutonium from nuclear reactors? Given what he has just said, does he think that that is a sensible policy?

Mr. Bruce

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but since the second world war the Japanese have been exemplary in showing that they do not wish to use nuclear weapons and things of that nature. One might have expected a country with such enormous economic power to have pushed for military might, but, to a great extent, it has said that it wishes to remain peaceful, and I welcome that. However, that section of the British community which has suffered at their hands would consider that recompense from the Japanese, who they feel harmed them greatly, would outweigh greater recompense from the British Government.

I welcome the Army's attempt to achieve better understanding with the community through open days, community work and so on. Members of Parliament on both sides of the House should talk and listen to the armed forces to find out what their work is about.

Finally, I must reiterate that there should be all-party support for NATO. Clearly, there will be differences, certainly between nuclear and non-nuclear policies, but the message should go out from a united House of Commons that we will defend ourselves and ensure that we play our part in maintaining the peace of the world.

7.11 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Last week I received the latest edition of "Courage" from the War Widows Association of Great Britain and I was struck by its chart of pensions to war widows in Europe. Britain came near the bottom of the league.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) asked how much the Ministry of Defence pays in pensions to war widows and he was told that a Falkland widow receives the grand sum of £2,709 per annum. The Government are incredibly mean in that respect. Dutch war widows are three times better off than their British sisters and German war widows receive even more than the Dutch.

A letter from the War Widows Association of Great Britain last week says: It is with some concern that this Association learns that, due to an error in the Retail Price Index, pensioners were underpaid last year. Though this is being remedied by a grant of £8 per head next month there will still be a small balance —£9 million—over. We understand that it is suggested that this sum may be given to charities. Surely this could be better used to help elderly war widows—some of whom have only their war widow's pensions. In 1985 the association suggested a small increase of about £2 a week which would incur a further expenditure of only £5,200,000, but that was rejected out of hand by the Chancellor.

The association goes on to say: Could not some of this surplus £9 million be used to help those elderly war widows? Some of them have had no holiday for years—and others have never had a new winter coat. This is a sad reflection on this country's care for them. Without their husbands' sacrifices where would this country be today? That is a terrible indictment of the Government's treatment of war widows. Last spring, the Dutch war widows donated clothes to British war widows. What a disgrace. What meanness from the Government.

The situation of war widows is especially bad when it is compared with the wholesale waste in other areas of the Government's defence programme. I mentioned many examples of that in the recent debate on the Defence Estimates. Hundreds of millions of pounds on individual projects— billions of pounds in total — go down the drain. Let me repeat a few examples that relate to the Army. When the SP70 artillery project was scrapped by the Government £200 million went down the drain — £100 million straight from the British taxpayer. A pittance from that would have made the war widows better off. The Government appear to be considering the procurement of an alternative to the SP70 artillery system which is likely to cost as much again—£200 million.

BATES—the Army's artillery command computer— has incurred expenditure of at least £200 million and is going nowhere. That is double the original estimate and costs are still rising substantially, yet it is nowhere near completion. That really is a case of Marconi milking the Ministry dry. The Ministry is a pushover for defence monopolies in such matters. It was reported in the press that the Ministry of Defence is currently investigating £3.5 billion of public expenditure. That is the sort of privatisation that the Government is going in for. It is robbery from the public purse.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Is it not better to cancel a project when it is clear that it is not getting anywhere, rather than do as the Labour party did when it was in power, and keep going on with something that clearly will not reach a conclusion and so waste even more taxpayers' money? The Nimrod project is a classic example of that.

Mr. Cohen

Vast amounts were wasted on the Nimrod project by this Government. The Government spend £200 million before they even consider whether a project is leading anywhere, and that is a scandal. Such money would be much better spent on the war widows.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Does my hon. Friend accept that a disturbing feature of these lavish contracts, which would be criticised by every Tory Member if a local authority were carrying them out, is that distinguished generals and admirals join the boards of many of the companies concerned, as do senior civil servants, permanent secretaries and deputy secretaries from the Ministry of Defence, which perhaps facilitates some of those contracts?

Mr. Cohen

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am particularly worried when a top civil servant, who has been involved in a waste of money, now has a senior auditing position under the Government. He must come forward with results, or some of us will not be very happy.

Let us compare the waste in land and housing with the meanness shown towards war widows. The Ministry of Defence has 16,000 empty houses. Nearly 20 per cent. of its housing stock is empty and a quarter of that has been empty for over a year. Yet Britain has a homelessness crisis. The Ministry of Defence has over £50 billion worth of land. That is at 1982 values and we know what has happened to the value of land since 1982. Prices have rocketed. No one can tell me that some of that land could not be released for homes and hospitals. Yet, far from being satisfied with its existing land holdings, the Ministry of Defence is trying to get more from the National Trust and other owners of beauty spots in Wales and Cumbria.

Another big source of waste is the Falklands, now costing £400 million a year. Some of the money now going down the drain could have been used to resettle those living on the islands. They could have had about £1 million in their pockets and the taxpayers would still have been saved millions of pounds. But the Government have made no attempt to reach an agreement with the democratic Government in the Argentine or to reach a settlement, perhaps one by which those living in the Falklands could have stayed, while we were relieved of that enormous, ridiculous cost.

When hon. Members try to tackle the waste of money they receive an irresponsible response from Ministers. For example, I asked the Government to list all their overspending of £1 million and more. "No way" was the reply, "but we report to the Comptroller and Auditor General when it goes over £250 million." What nonsense, and how irresponsible of the Government not to report to hon. Members when there is overspending on projects. The sum of £1 million is still a sizeable amount.

As I have said, the Ministry of Defence is a pushover for the defence contractors, and it seems to me that it is a pushover for any speculator, to judge from the report about its attempts to move to Millbank. A speculator bought the property just before Christmas for £80 million, and because he could not use it for housing he decided to rent it to the Ministry for £20 million a year. Either there is something corrupt going on in the Ministry of Defence, to help out a speculator who probably helps the Conservatives at general elections, or it is totally incompetent. That money could be put to much better use. That waste must be compared with the appalling meanness to the war widows.

In the short time available to me I want to go on to the question of battlefield nuclear weapons, which very much affects our armed forces. If such weapons were ever used our armed forces in the front line would annihilated. That is why the Germans do not want them; they would be annihilated as well. Even if only one or two of those weapons were used, the rest of us would be irradiated to a much greater extent than happened after Chernobyl. Yet the Government are surreptitiously and stealthily expanding the numbers of battlefield nuclear weapons.

A British American Security Information Council report published this week shows that in the mid-1990s —arising from the Montebello agreement reached four years ago, about which the Government have been extremely disingenuous—there is to be a big expansion, including an increase in the number of battlefield nuclear weapons.

It is worth getting some quotations from the report into Hansard to show how the Army, for example, will be affected. Under the heading Short Range Ground Launched Cruise Missile", we read: According to its presentations to Congress in 1986, the US Army is continuing to develop the Joint Tactical Missile System with the US Airforce to be fired from the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MCRS). 'Joint Tactical Missile System (JTACMS) is a deep strike cruise missile being developed jointly with the Air Force. The Army systems 'will be superimposed on the existing MLRS force structure."' The report adds that In 1987 the US Department of Defense sought to lift the Congressional prohibition on a nuclear warhead for the JTACMS, Therefore there will be an increase in the number of those missiles for the Army.

With regard to warheads, the BASIC report refers to the programme called "Follow-on-to-Lance". It says: In 1987 the US Senate lifted its ban on the study of a nuclear warhead for the Army Tactical Missile System … According to Senator Kennedy lifting the prohibition 'allows the Army the possibility of developing a nuclear ATACMS"— army tactical missile system— 'as a potential follow on to the Lance-tactical missile' so as to have more theatre nuclear capability in Europe.

The report also talks about artillery, a matter that directly affects the Army. I wish I could read out to the House the whole of an extensive part dealing with enhanced radiation or neutron weapon capability that could be used in the new artillery warhead that is to be produced. The Americans are pulling the wool over people's eyes, because they define their enhanced-radiation-capable shells and other components as not being enhanced radiation weapons. However, they will have neutron bomb capability in the W82 shell, a 155 mm projectile that the Government are pressing on with.

What we see from such reports is that certainly no reduction in nuclear weaponry is planned, despite the intermediate-range nuclear forces agreement, which gives the impression of achieving reductions. The Government are not interested in reductions. They want to have compensatory measures and much more. They never put before the British electorate that they would have a massive build-up in the guise of modernisation. By the mid-1990s there will be, according to the report, a huge stockpile of about 4,600 new nuclear weapons in Europe, which will enable the Government to get rid of some of the obsolete stock. Those new nuclear weapons will be much more dangerous and deadly in many ways. They will be more devastating and more accurate, but, more worryingly, they will be more usable. That is what the Pentagon report entitled "Discriminate Deterrence" is all about. The International Herald Tribune said of it: Highly accurate nuclear and conventional missiles have reduced the possibility of an all-out Soviet assault in Western Europe but increased the risk of limited nuclear strikes, possibly involving the superpowers in Third World conflicts, according to a Pentagon report. To maintain stability, the report says, the West should concentrate on high-technology weapons capable of delivering surgical nuclear strikes. The Herald Tribune goes on, quoting Mr. Fred C. Ikle,Under-Secretary of Defence for Policy, that: 'Improving U.S. and Soviet ability to knock out military installations with long-range, small-warhead nuclear weapons adds up to the most important military development since World War II…The 30-year revolution in accuracies has more cumulative impact than the initial qualitative leap from conventional explosives to the A-bomb'. The newspaper adds that the Pentagon report says that The West … must turn to those 'politically usable' nuclear weapons". That is the approach the Government are taking alongside NATO and inside NATO, with their change from the more obsolete weapons to the new ones—making them more usable, more likely to be used.

There is another great advantage to such weapons. They are excluded from the arms talks, so the Government can get away with it. If the weapons were ever used it would be appalling for our Army and dangerous to the world, and they are not what the people of the West want in any case. As a first stage we should be going in another direction, guaranteeing no first use of these battlefield nuclear weapons. That would help the mood for a nuclear reduction agreement and stimulate the Soviet Union to make concessions.

Then we should begin negotiations in earnest for battlefield nuclear zero in Europe. We can get an agreement. It would have to be asymmetrical, as the INF agreement was. In the INF agreement the Russians gave more. In this case we would have to give more because we rely more on battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe. We also want them so that we can use them in the Third world. A battlefield nuclear zero agreement could easily go hand in hand with cuts in conventional forces. Again, such an agreement would be asymmetrical, with the Russians giving more. They have offered to give more but, because we are keen on using battlefield weapons, we have not taken those negotiations seriously.

We could get agreement in both spheres with extended joint verification procedures and restrictions on military manoeuvres. Large-scale attacks by either side would be impractical. That would be a major step towards peace. That would be the way to release the vast amount of unproductive resources currently wasted in propping up entrenched military vested interests. Those resources would be released for the worldwide welfare of mankind. That would be far better than the nuclear narcissus approach and the macho military role which the Government so eagerly promote. The Tory nuclearphiliac approach is inappropriate for the real needs of the people.

7.31 pm
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I am delighted to be able to make a brief contribution to this year's Army debate. It is a very interesting debate. We have had the geopolitical overview from the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), which I found interesting; indeed, I have much in common with his views. We have had from the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) his theories of forced resettlement of Falkland islanders. Were such an idea to be mentioned in connection with many parts of the world, I suspect that it would not be a popular view for the hon. Gentleman to express. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I do not attempt to follow the hon. Gentleman's arguments with regard to nuclear forces because I wish to take a few minutes to discuss a matter which is fairly parochial and relevant to my constituency.

During the debate on this year's Defence White Paper, I paid tribute to the Royal Engineers in this, the bicentenary year of their royal charter. If I do not repeat my plaudits this evening, it is simply because such repetition would be otiose. However, the corps plays a most important part in the life of my constituency. I was pleased that my hon. Friend, in opening the debate, referred to the Royal Engineers' considerable contribution throughout the country and throughout the world during the year. In Kent their help through the heavy snows of last January and through the effects of the hurricane in October were invaluable. My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson), who is in his place, would also like to pay tribute to the Sappers for their efforts at that time. We also applaud their courage and skill shown in their work with the disposal of explosive ordnance.

The matter which I wish to raise with my hon. Friend is bound up with that great military establishment, the Royal School of Military Engineering at Brompton in my constituency, and with the former royal naval dockyard and base at Chatham, which is also predominantly in my constituency. The matter which is greatly exercising the concern of my constituents and of my local authority, Gillingham borough council, is in stark contrast to a point made by the hon. Member for Leyton—the disposal of land declared to be redundant to the Ministry of Defence, in whose tenure it has been vested for almost 300 years.

On two occasions I have shared my concern and that of my constituents with my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, lichen (Mr. Chope) in his role as Under-Secretary of State for the Environment responsible for the Property Services Agency. As a result of those debates on 15 December 1986 and 10 April 1987 my hon. Friend visited my constituency on 29 April last year to view the land in question. In so doing, he followed in the footsteps of my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), who visited the same land when he was Under-Secretary of State for Defence. My aims and efforts in articulating my concern have been simple, and I shall come to that in a few minutes.

First, I must define the areas of land for which the Ministry of Defence and the PSA, acting as estate agent for the Ministry, have expressed predatory planning aspirations. There are presently extant and at different points in the planning process three planning applications for residential development, and there is the likelihood of a fourth application on different pieces of the same large area of land in the Ministry's tenure. I say tenure rather than ownership, because the PSA has continually been challenged to prove the Ministry's title to the land and has consistently refused so to do, leading to the suspicion that the Ministry, aided and abetted by a prevaricating and obstructive PSA, may have doubts about its ownership and, therefore, its right to sell the land.

The land constitutes different parts of the Brompton Lines conservation area, which was scheduled in 1965 by the Government as an ancient monument. I need not remind my hon. Friend that circular 23/77 assures us that it is Government responsibility to ensure that ancient monuments are preserved.

The three planning applications for residential development relate to land known respectively as the Great Lines, Lower Lines and East Camp, and the Garrison No. 2 sports ground. The first application has been refused by Gillingham borough council and is now the subject of an appeal. The second application is likely to be approved, subject only to the PSA agreeing the access conditions put down by the council.

It is the third application, concerning Garrison No. 2 sports ground, which is causing a great deal of trouble and concern locally. This sports ground was declared surplus to the Army's need in 1978 and was leased to the borough council for 10 years. Since then 10 sports clubs have played cricket, hockey and football in some 300 matches a year and it is an important sports facility in the area. With no consultation, the PSA served minimum notice on 7 September 1987 that the lease will not be renewed when it expires on 8 September 1988. The notice was followed smartly on 14 October by an outline application for residential development on approximately 6.25 hectares of this mature sports ground on which county cricket and, indeed, hockey of international standard have been played in the past and may be played again this year. The council will determine this application next week. It is likely that this determination will be in the negative.

I do not wish to rehearse again, because it would be tedious for the House, the arguments I have rehearsed with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I certainly do not want to get into the complicated legal position which is being searched out by the council. My reason for raising the matter today is the frustration which I and the council feel at the hostile planning applications being submitted by the PSA on a scatter-gun basis, without sensible consultation with the council.

There is much land in the tenure of the Ministry of Defence, as one would expect in a town so closely associated with the Royal Navy and the Army for almost 500 years. The people of the Medway towns are pleased to have served and hosted the forces of the Crown for so long. They have a very great affection for the Royal Navy and for the Sappers. They have also enjoyed the great open space provided in their tight urban environment by the Brompton Lines. That is why they are resisting the development of the Lines so fiercely.

I wish to bring to my hon. Friend's attention the difficulties that arise in the matter of land disposal out of the split responsibility between the Ministry of Defence and the PSA. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can say he has declared, as he is bound to do by the Government's policy, land redundant to the MOD's needs, but my conflict is with the PSA over the manner by which it seeks to dispose of the land. The PSA, for its part, claims that it is acting only as the Government's estate agency and is bound to seek the best price for the land, and that involves probing the development potential of the land.

The problem is that neither the MOD nor the PSA seems to be prepared to sit down with the local council and consider the matter in the round, to discuss all the MOD's landholdings likely to be surplus to the Army's needs, and to agree a comprehensive plan for development., or otherwise. There is even a perfect vehicle for such consultation, the inelegantly abbreviated SMALC—the Services Medway Area Liaison Committee. However, the PSA, which is present or represented at SMALC meetings, seems not to want to view the holdings in the round. Indeed, the recently appointed PSA consultants, Messrs Edward Erdmann, rejected just such a strategy at a meeting with the council only last week.

The problems Gillingham is presently encountering with the PSA in the matter of the disposal of land surplus to MOD needs arises from an unwillingness of PSA, and perhaps MOD, to consult with the local community. I suspect that that may apply to other areas were the MOD may be seeking to dispose of land for which it no longer has a use.

I conclude by inviting my hon. Friend to commit his Department, in co-operation with PSA, to opening a thorough-going review of land, surplus or likely to be surplus to the Ministry's needs, with Gillingham borough council, Rochester-on-Medway city council and Kent county council, thereby avoiding a bruising war of attrition which may well lessen the affection of the Medway towns for the services. For those of us who take pride in having the Army as a highly valued constituent, that would be a sad day indeed.

7.42 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In my experience in relation to the disposal of land, the Ministry of Defence has been very constructive and helpful, although it may vary from one part of the country to another. I have to put it on record that I have had nothing but helpful letters from the Minister and his colleagues on individual cases. I stick to my view that the services have handled individual matters with compassion and good sense.

With reference to what was said about heritage, I wish to congratulate the Department on what it has done at Fort George and say that the Scottish command seems to be running extremely satisfactorily under the distinguished tenure in office of General Sir Norman Arthur, who has been a great success as GOC. I also believe that bullying has been greatly exaggerated in the papers. It is very rare. The level of civilisation in the services is increasing, and it is unfortunate that one or two incidents have been highlighted in the press. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) in paying tribute to the bomb squads.

I have given the Minister short notice of a question about what happened at Porton, and the problem of the Building Design Services and the contaminated vaccines. I understand that more than £1 million will be paid to the Ministry of Defence, because the Building Design Services did not meet DHSS standards or United States Department of Defence standards. I have long been interested in Porton. Can the Minister say something about that?

I made an intervention in the opening speech in relation to end user certificates. I shall say exactly what concerns me about arms exports. Arms are finding their way through Asia and certainly to the Afghan border. My hon. Friends the Members for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) and for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) came back with pictures of British Blowpipes. Yet again, the question arises as to how they got there and Government policy on that issue.

In regard to arms exports, I draw the Minister's attention to the remarkable television programme, the dispatches programme, "Gunning for Government". It raised the case of 60,000 Indian rifles. I have one precise question. Mr. Frank Turner is central to the problem which is well-known to the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. Do the Government accept what was said in the programme? Was there a special relationship with named personnel in the Ministry of Defence? If the Minister cannot answer that question, perhaps he can write to hon. Members about it. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) are extremely active about this matter, and I am asking for a letter to try to establish the facts.

I speak about military intelligence with some anger, because last night I saw the Prime Minister, in her interview wth Mr. Dimbleby, say that ordinary people wanted to keep the nation's secrets, and implied that the press and certain politicians did not. I certainly yield to no one in wanting to keep the nation's secrets secret in so far as they relate to potential enemies. I have never believed in parading the nation's secrets just for the hell of it. But there is another side to that when so-called secrets relate not to potential enemies but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) put it, to our own people.

I do not think that the Prime Minister can blame anyone other than herself for that. She insisted, against the pleas of the Civil Service, on making a statement on Anthony Blunt. She insisted on making a statement on Sir Roger Hollis against the wishes of senior civil servants. Sir Charles Cunningham and Sir Philip Allen and other senior civil servants were quite appalled.

Many of the present troubles go back to 23 April 1985, when there was an ambiguous statement on the late Sir Maurice Oldfield. I was a friend of Sir Maurice Oldfield —I do not pretend to have been a close friend—and I can say that, whatever hon. Members think about intelligence chiefs, Sir Maurice Oldfield, more than any other man, kept Britain out of the Vietnam war by persuading Harold Wilson that it would be unwise to accede to Lyndon Johnson's request "to put in a battalion of bagpipers". Sir Maurice Oldfield was, at that time, head of the intelligence services for the far east and knew a great deal about Indo-China, and — according to my then boss, the late Dick Crossman — was instrumental in persuading Harold Wilson not to accede to the American request.

Against that background and more, in the summer and earlier, I encouraged Anthony Cavendish to write that now notorious volume. I certainly shall not quote from it. The issue is the alleged illegality of military intelligence against our own people. That is why hon. Members raised this afternoon—Mr. Speaker will undoubtedly make a judgment on it—what was said in the courts: Sir John Donaldson, Master of the Rolls, yesterday said that law-breaking by the security service … was in the public interest and the courts should take a pragmatic view about its activities. It is silly for us"— he said in the Courts of Appeal— to sit here and say that the security service is obliged to follow the letter of the law. It isn't real. And he said further that it was essential in the public interest for MI5 officers to break the law in some ways and that such breaches could, or would, never be prosecuted.

What is the Government's attitude to this? I think the sooner they make a statement to the House the better. It is a double public issue. It is, first, a question of in what circumstances the security services break the law. It is also the rather different question, which would be out of order in this debate, of the Executive versus the House of Commons, because it becomes a matter of House of Commons rights. It affects Government Members as much as Members of the Opposition. It is a central issue as to the rights of the House, because Parliament is supposed to make the laws and no one, we thought, had the right to break the law.

The doctrine that has been promulgated by the Master of the Rolls is entirely new and I think that someone had better make a statement on it pretty soon.

On Cavendish, I am concerned about one thing. He talks about the smears by the intelligence community on Ted Short and there was the whole question of the forgery to his bank account which did such harm at the time. Those of us who were here in the mid-seventies know how damaging it was. There were smears on Harold Wilson and, indeed, on Ted Heath.

I am no admirer of Peter Wright. On behalf of the National Executive Committee of the Labour party at my party conference, replying with the authority of the National Executive, I referred to Peter Wright as in many ways a fantasist. But these goings-on do not arise only from all that Peter Wright has written. There is also Colin Wallace, whom some of us who started by being very sceptical tend to believe, and this was echoed by a far more heavyweight figure, Anthony Cavendish.

So I really do think that there has to be a public inquiry, not least in the light of the remarkable book "An Affair of State" by Philip Knightley and Caroline Kennedy, which really is spine-chilling in its implications. It is a description of the Profumo affair, which certainly dominated the House of Commons when I first arrived here. It is a defence of Stephen Ward.

Incidentally, I am making a very non-political speech, because I think that every one of us, as a Member of the House, must look at these things in a very objective way.

I go on from that to raise another issue which is connected, and that is the intelligence services' role in what is alleged to have been the destabilisation of the Australian Labour Government. I am not making a party political issue of this, because there is none to be made. The truth is that it was an Australian Labour Government and a British Labour Government, so this is a House of Commons issue as far as the security services and military intelligence of this country are concerned.

I first became interested when I went to Australia, to Woomera and Innisfail, in 1969 and first learnt of the importance of Pine Gap. I am giving away nothing because a lot of this is in print in a remarkable book "The Ties that Bind", by Jeffrey Richelson and Desmond Ball, on intelligence co-operation between the United States and the Commonwealth countries, including Australia and New Zealand. There is no question of trying to use names that have not already appeared in print. The issue is that a duly elected Australian Prime Minister was tossed out of office, and the allegations are that British military intelligence was instrumental in getting rid of Gough Whitlam.

If this was true, do the records show that it was known to any Minister of the United Kingdom Labour Government of the time, whom I supported? Precisely what communications were there in 1974 and 1975 between British and American intelligence on the security risks allegedly posed by the Whitlam Government? What communication was there in 1974 and 1975 between the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield, on the question of a security risk supposedly posed by the Whitlam Government? What is the role of the MI6 liaison officer at the Pine Gap base near Alice Springs? What is the role of the MI6 base at Kowandi, south of Darwin? Is the function of these bases fully known to the Australian Government? Did British intelligence at any time pass on information which was used directly to brief the Governor General in 1975, Sir John Kerr?

I must repeat that in no way am I breaking any kind of intelligence secrecy, because it is all in public print. That is an additional reason why, either in writing or in some other way, we should get an explanation from the present Government of what happened.

Tonight there will be a television programme on this issue by two remarkable journalists, John Pilger and Alan Lowery. Pilger is interviewing, among others, John Trento, who is a senior intelligence expert from the United States. Pilger says: What are some of the specific examples you would give to substantiate what you say? Trento: Well, how about a call from the CIA to MI5/MI6 saying we have a security problem in Australia? We have a security problem with the Prime Minister. He's endangering national security for the United States and the Alliance. What's the evidence? The evidence is he is making noises about our bases, he's making threats; those bases are absolutely essential to the survival of the Alliance. That plants a seed in the British intelligence community. Pilger: Are you saying that such a call took place? Trento: Absolutely. More than one call. Dozens of calls. It became a part of the policy. Now what caused the Brits to act? What caused the English to act? What caused Kerr to act? I don't think you could say the CIA forced Kerr to sack Whitlam, but I think that decisions were made that led to his sacking—based on what the CIA was telling the English. Pilger: You have it on good authority that those calls took place? Trento: I have it on authority at the highest levels of the US intelligence community that there was genuine concern over the loss of those bases. Pilger: So this is a direct implication of MI5 and MI6 with the overthrow of the Australian Government? Trento: No, I wouldn't call it an overthrow, they made a recommendation … Pilger: All right then, with the demise … Trento: They made a recommendation for the demise, yes. They made a recommendation. I think Whitlam was perceived as a danger. And in a way, it allowed a duly elected Prime Minister to be tossed out of office. It's all scary really, when you think about it. That is going to be seen by some millions of people tonight on ITV, and I think that there has to be some explanation from the Government.

Page 154 of "The Ties that Bind" shows that SIS calls to ASIS, the Australian intelligence services, were 697 in 1974, and by 1975 they had rocketed up to 1,211 reports. That again requires some explanation. What we are really talking about is the demise of the Australian Government. Somehow Parliament has to come to grips with this and give those of us who lived through that time some explanation.

Finally, I wish to raise another topic. In Lubeck, the north German port, in the second week of January, a lady called Christine Gabrella Endrigkeit was arrested on suspicion of having planted the bomb in the La Belle discotheque, which was the excuse given by the Reagan Government for sending aircraft and the excuse given by our Ministers for allowing American aircraft to leave British bases to bomb Libya.

I quote particularly the answer of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. He said: On the Berlin bombing, there is no evidence implicating Syria or any country other than Libya in the bombing of La Belle discotheque last April."—[Official Report, 24 October 1986; Vol. 102, c. 1505.] I can most succinctly put it by quoting from the International Herald Tribune of 12 January under the headline, "A Woman is Arrested in Berlin Disco Attack" by Robert J. McCartney, Washington Post Service: The police arrested a West German woman Monday who the authorities said was strongly suspected of having planted the bomb that exploded in a West Berlin discotheque on April 5, 1986, and killed three persons, including two US servicemen. Ten days later, the United States launched a retaliatory air raid on Libya. The US administration said that it had conclusive evidence that the Libyan government ordered the discotheque attack, in which 204 people were injured. But West German sources familiar with the case said that the new clues that had led to the woman's arrest have strengthened the suspicion that the discotheque bombing was carried out with Syrian rather than Libyan backing. In Washington, a spokesman for the State Department conceded Monday that new evidence suggested that another country might have been involved in the bombing of the discotheque. The woman arrested Monday, Christine Endrigkeit, 27, is suspected of having planted the bomb on the orders of a convicted Arab terrorist who has been linked by a court to Syrian officials in another West Berlin bombing, judicial authorities said. Investigators now find a possible Syrian connection more interesting than before in the light of the evidence implicating Mrs. Endrigkeit, a West German source said. US officials said Sunday that the latest revelations could cast doubt on the hypothesis that Libyans ordered the bombing of the La Belle Discotheque. If that is true, it has considerable implications for the quality of the military intelligence of this country. This House was absolutely assured, time and again, that the Government had complete evidence that the outrage in Berlin in 5 April 1985 was all about the Libyans, that they were absolutely certain of it; and that was the justification for the launching of those aircraft from Upper Heyford, Lakenheath and wheresoever. If we find that there was no such evidence, if it transpires that all these things that have been said about the manipulation of evidence by the Colonel Oliver North situation and other things appearing in the West German press are true, then we must think again. I have asked Ministers here why they think that they know better than the Bundeskriminalamt, why they think they know better than the Nachrichtungsdienst —German intelligence — and why they think they know better than the Verfassungsschutz — German home security.

If we are going to have this kind of certainty, that we know better than the authorities in West Berlin, it is high time that we started to produce our evidence.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

I apologise to the House—I have just come in—but I have heard what the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was saying. He will realise that his great ancestor, who founded the Royal Scots Greys, took a more simplistic approach, because when he invented the discipline of this Scots regiment he made 46 of the 50 offences punishable by capital punishment without trial.

Mr. Dalyell

I know that that ancestor escaped from the Tower of London, God bless him—one of the few to have done so — but that is not very relevant to this debate.

What is very important is that, if we are going to base major decisions, such as the bombing of women and children in Tripoli and Benghazi, on intelligence sources, we had better make absolutely certain that those sources are accurate. The Government ought to take the greatest interest in what has happened in Lubeck because, if it is shown that all this is about Syria but not about Libya, an explanation will have to be given to the House.

8.4 pm

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

Because of the time restriction, I shall limit my remarks to the role of the Army in Northern Ireland. I wish to pay tribute to the members of the security forces who operate in the Province, where they face a callous and implacable terrorist organisation. In opening the debate the Minister was very generous in his praise of members of the regular Army and the Ulster Defence Regiment, who serve the people of the Province. For the past two decades, soldiers as well as police have performed their duties with courage and restraint, despite terrible atrocities. Many regular soldiers and members of the Ulster Defence Regiment have been murdered in the course of the terrorist campaign, and members of the Ulster Defence Regiment have been murdered when off duty and at least some of them were murdered in front of their families.

It is not unnatural that, in the face of threats and provocation, some members of the security forces have responded angrily on occasions; but they are rare exceptions. The young British soldier who has served in Northern Ireland is a real professional and, perhaps because of his service there, he is a better fighting man than the soldier of any other regiment in any other part of the world. It is perhaps worth noting that there have been no allegations of bullying of soldiers serving in the Province. No doubt this is due to the camaraderie that is developed when they face the common enemy, the Provisional IRA or any other terrorist who might operate against service men.

The security forces operating in Northern Ireland have won the admiration of decent people everywhere, and I compare their methods to the authorised and unauthorised actions of the armed forces in Israel during the current riots.

The Provisional IRA has a powerful and skilful propaganda machine which spreads lies and allegations all over the world. Sympathisers are found in all places and all walks of life. They are quite happy to knock Britain and criticise the security forces in Ulster. That is why it is so important for the Army and for Her Majesty's Government to augment their information services with people well experienced in the media and public relations.

As I understand it, the Anglo-Irish Agreement was designed, among other things, as a manifestation of the united determination of the United Kingdom and Eire to work closely together to defeat the Provisional IRA. It is, therefore, nauseating to encounter hostility from Dublin whenever a soldier actually crosses the long, complicated and winding border separating Northern Ireland from the Irish Republic; a border which, I may say, is not always clear to people living in Northern Ireland.

For instance, a British Army reconnaissance plane accidentally flew across the border for a short distance into the Irish Republic at the end of December—that at least was the report. The incident, innocent as it was, prompted a vigorous protest from Dublin, which regarded the intrusion as a major diplomatic affair. In response to the protest, an apology was duly and humbly sent to Dublin from London.

I cannot understand the reaction of the Dublin Government. I thought that we were all fighting the common enemy, the Provisional IRA, which is a threat to Dublin as much as to this country. It is inexplicable that the Dublin Government should demonstrate such anger when an accidental crossing takes place by either a soldier or an Army plane. Such protests must cast doubt on the amount of co-operation that exists between the security forces on either side of the border. Indeed, it must alarm those who are responsible for security operations in Northern Ireland.

Security is deteriorating in the Province. I draw the attention of the House to the remarks made at the special news conference last week by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who issued a grim warning to the people of Northern Ireland that a new, terrible and horrible campaign of terrorism was likely to be waged by the Provisional IRA there—a terrorist campaign that would be funded and armed by Libya. Colonel Gaddafi has never forgiven the Prime Minister for allowing the United States air force, based in Britain, to be used for the bombing of Libya. I listened with great interest to what the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said about the Libyan matter. So, in addition to their own problems, the Ulster people must bear more horrible suffering.

The Libyan intervention puts the conflict in Northern Ireland in an international context. Terrorism is international, and the battle being waged in Northern Ireland should be viewed with concern by the other NATO countries and the United States of America. Each of them, as part of the defence of the Western world, should be urged to do everything humanly possible to counter IRA fund raising and propaganda in their countries. Money collected by Republican sympathisers in any of those countries—and in the United States in particular—will be used to buy bombs and bullets to kill British citizens and soldiers.

It is reported that four boatloads of arms, including SAM missiles, have been landed in the Irish Republic during the past year. Those armaments came from Libya, and I understand from press reports that they are now believed to be in bunkers waiting to be transported from the Irish Republic into Northern Ireland. It was only by chance that the boatload that was caught was discovered to have arms and ammunition aboard. That is extremely worrying. The French stopped the boat because they believed it was carrying drugs. Why did the intelligence service—we are all told that it is extremely good, and no doubt it has collected some good information over the past 12 months—not have information about those five shipments of arms?

Why have those stored arms not yet been discovered by the Republican Government in the Republic? What steps are now being taken to ensure that if any attempt is made to move them across the border they will be stopped by British soldiers? I do not have too much faith in the activities of the security forces on the other side of the border. If the Provisional IRA will soon have SAM missiles in use in Northern Ireland—that is a possibility—will the security forces there be able to deal with the new menace to helicopters, planes and ordinary civilian aircraft flying between Northern Ireland and Britain?

The Minister referred to the establishment of new headquarters for the Army in Northern Ireland to cover the border area. That was good news—it was released last week —but I want to know whether more soldiers will be provided for service in Northern Ireland to ensure that the new headquarters do not drain away soldiers from other parts of the Province, thus allowing the Provisional IRA to commit atrocities in areas that do not enjoy the same level of security.

This debate takes place after a massive bomb explosion in Belfast today. Yesterday the IRA attacked a police-Army patrol, and a police officer has since died as a result. Perhaps the Minister will look into a report that I have received that the missile that was thrown—reported on the tape as having been a grenade — was able to penetrate the armour plating of the Land Rover in which the police officer was sitting. Can the Minister tell me, either now or in a letter, whether the IRA has acquired armaments that can pierce the plating on Army and police Land Rovers?

During the Minister's opening speech I intervened to ask whether the bomb disposal team at times operated across the border with the consent of the Irish authorities. I believe that that is so, and I want to know how often it has been so employed with the consent of the Dublin Government.

Another matter for grave concern is the murder of contractors employed by the Army in Northern Ireland. The considerable development that was taking place in Palace barracks, Holywood, in my constituency, was brought to a halt last year when the contractors, a large United Kingdom company, pulled out after threats made by the Provisional IRA. Will the work be completed by the Ministry of Defence using the Army or local contractors? Will it be done by the original completion date? I assume that a penalty clause was included in the original contract. Have damages been paid by the international firm concerned for abandoning the contract? Can the Minister assist the House by saying whether the same contractor will be used in future for other defence work?

A word about the Territorial Army, in conclusion. Other hon. Members have referred to it today. I had the privilege of serving for some years in the Territorial Army, and I have nothing but the greatest admiration for the commitment of its men. I hope that the Government will always recognise and reward their efforts in the proper way.

8.17 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

This debate covers a wide range of issues to do with the Army. One of those is the fact that it is in control of tactical nuclear weapons, which is a serious matter because their use can escalate into a nuclear war, in which both sides are extinguished and the notion of the defence of freedom is illusory. We should remove them. They must not be used, and if people talk about the threat from the Soviet Union I remind the House that the Soviet Union is headed by a man who was greeted by the Prime Minister and regarded as a great leader. Special discussions were held with him when he came for a meal and a chat during refuelling at Brize Norton, when the Prime Minister poured lavish praise on him.

One cannot have it both ways: either the Soviets are a threat making invidious attacks on our defences — including, presumably, the Prime Minister's intelligence defences—or Mr. Gorbachev is the sort of leader that the Prime Minister describes. I would hesitate to be a member of the Government who criticised the Prime Minister's judgment, because such a person would not stay a member of the Government for long. When people say that we must have nuclear weapons against the threat, I point out that no member of the Government has yet been able to answer the question why, if it is so important for us to have nuclear weapons, 135 nations have pledged themselves not to have them in the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty instead of following our example and having them. How long will the United Kingdom go on, year after year, spending vast sums of money on Trident, on updating Polaris—at a cost of £300 million or so — and on retaining the deployment of Lance tactical nuclear weapons by the Army, while telling those 135 nations—I assume we say this—that it is good of them to sign the non-proliferation treaty and keep their promise not to deploy nuclear weapons? Those self-same nations keep asking the nuclear powers when, under clause 6 of the treaty, to which we are a signatory, we shall carry out our promise to get rid of nuclear weapons. Therefore, there is an overwhelming argument against the Government's deployment of tactical nuclear weapons and the development of Trident.

The members of the armed forces who control the weapons of mass extermination have onerous responsibilities. Should any loony in the Government give orders to fire such nuclear weapons I hope that such people would refuse. The Minister may think that that is seditious, but I believe that the threat of mass extermination is one of the most horrible, anti-humanitarian ideas that anyone can hold. Indeed, on that basis we criticised Hitler during the second world war. However, the nuclear weapons that we deploy have far greater killing powers than the gas ovens that Hitler used.

Given the onerous responsibilities of the members of the armed forces, what about giving them a few rights? What about giving them the right of representation? They should have the opportunity to put forward their points of view. Perhaps those views differ from those held by the Minister and perhaps those members of the armed forces do not wish to be used as pawns, given the possible use of weapons of mass extermination. What about giving them trade union rights in common with other workers? Even within the confines of the Government's legislation they have not yet made it illegal to join a trade union—they would like to, but that would fly in the face of the behaviour of every other civilised country throughout the world.

If the Minister thinks that such an idea is outrageous I shall quote, in support, a February 1984 report from the Common Market. I do not like the Common Market and I believe that it is a big burden around our necks. However, the Government subscribe to that organisation and the Government and the Prime Minister believe that it has manifold virtues.

The EEC report of February 1984 pointed out that some member states have provided professional organisations that have a right to be consulted, but have no negotiating rights. Those member states are Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. In the Federal Republic of Germany there is the right to form associations to safeguard and improve working and economic conditions … guaranteed to everyone and to all trades, occupations and professions … The right to form associations is therefore a fundamental right under the constitution. This right may not be restricted for soldiers by laws concerning military service In The Netherlands the report states: As in the Federal Republic of Germany, officials and servicemen are not entitled to take part in negotiations. However, the associations must be consulted when the legal status of servicemen is affected by ministerial rulings etc. A central consultative committee has been set up for this purpose with the Secretary of State as the chairman. It meets twice a month and discusses all legal conditions and provisions which affect servicemen and the policies, guidelines and general principles of the personnel programme. There arc subcommittees dealing with matters relating to the army, navy and air force which meet once a month For Luxembourg the report states: Article 11(5) of the Constitution of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg guarantees the freedom to form trade unions by law. 2. Servicemen are allowed to organise or join non-political unions. The majority are members of the Syndicat professionel de la force publique which is part of the Confedération générale de la fonction publique For Denmark the report states: Article 78(1) of the Danish Constitution gives the right to freedom of association. Pursuant to Article 85, this right may be curtailed for servicemen Paragraph 3 of the report concludes: Servicemen therefore have the same negotiating rights and the same right to conclude agreements as all other government employees. There are various groups of professional organisations for serving officers, reserve officers and serving soldiers. These associations negotiate on general pay and working conditions with the Ministry of Defence. They voluntarily renounce the right to strike. Therefore, the notion of trade union rights for members of the armed services — we are discussing the Army tonight — is not as outlandish as some Conservative Members would have us believe. Conformist Governments such as Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany and Luxembourg — all Conservative Governments — permit serving members of the armed forces to engage in trade union negotiating rights and join professional associations. Why should we not give this right to members of the British armed forces? After all, they have greater responsibilities and they may have larger areas of concern because they are conducting exercises, guarding, examining, and checking weapons that have a greater destructive power than anything we have ever known. It is not unreasonable to ask that we should listen to their representations.

The third modest item that I wish to consider is some rather curious expenditure item that appears on page 10 of the Defence Estimates for 1987, Vol. II. At the bottom of page 10 it discusses: Local administration communications etc. in the United Kingdom". The expenditure on those items for 1987–88 will amount to £1.5 billion. I find that extraordinary and I would like some more detail from the Minister—I do not mind if the Minister writes to me about this. Let us compare that sum with the war and contingency stocks, which are important should we embark upon a conflict. A number of Conservative Members have talked rather lovingly about war and the need for the armed services because of the possibility of war. As the phrases were rolled out there was an almost lingering affection for war. However, the war and contingency stocks for the Army amount to £139 million. That is a lot of money, but when one compares it to £1.5 billion for "Local administration communications etc." one wonders what sort of area those items cover. Is there anything secret going on or something subversive that we should know about? In view of the fact that the total defence budget is £19 billion, I am especially keen to know what the £1.5 billion has been spent on.

My hon. Friends have already mentioned some of the contracts that are connected with the procurement of equipment for the Army. They are right that those contracts are lavish by any standard. I hope that we will have greater scrutiny of those contracts. When people such as General Sir Harry Tuzo retire from the Army they are able to find comfortable positions on the boards of such contracting firms.

In the Exhibition Hall in the Committee Corridor at the top of the stairs there is an exhibition on UNICEF—the United Nations International Children's Fund. I picked up its pamphlet which stated that between 1947 and 1985 it had used $3.73 billion — roughly £2 billion. Our annual defence expenditure amounts to £19 billion. UNICEF has used its money for 373,000 health centres, 1 million schools and teacher training institutes, 770,000 child nutrition centres and 387,000 family and child welfare clinics. We have been talking about incredibly sophisticated defence equipment to guard against our mythical enemy. However, the enemy which the Government have postulated was met at Brize Norton and we are all chums now. In comparison to such sophisticated equipment and expenditure UNICEF has helped to install 876,900 water supply systems. The developing world is unable to turn on a tap to provide a supply of pure water. We should consider the supply of water a priority instead of the massive £19 billion that is spent by the services on the procurement of equipment.

There has been some reference to Northern Ireland, which is indeed an important subject. There are two forces in that sad Province. One is the police—the RUC—who are there as an impartial body, as are the police in this country, not committed other than to keeping the peace and the laws that our Parliament produces. The other is the Army, which is there to supplement the police, because the Government believe that it is necessary to control the division of opinion that has erupted over many years into a serious loss of life.

The role of the police is put forward as impartial: to keep the law, and to present people to the courts to produce justice. I am very concerned about this, even after the Attorney-General's statement yesterday that RUC members who had killed others were not being prosecuted. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) expressed strong reservations about that. Is it because the police and the Army have been mixed up?

I have in my hand a buying order from the RUC central stores in Sprucefield, Lisburn, county Antrim, to QED Design and Development Ltd. of Borough Green, Kent. The order is for a curious number of items — for example, parka jackets, British Army; trousers, Army denim, green; shirts, army, lightweight, green; face veils; and fatigues.

Why should the RUC want items that are standard issue for the British Army? This is a very curious set of events. Surely one of the means of keeping the police as an impartial force for law and order is to make them distinct and separate. I should have thought that one of the Government's policies was to keep the Army back from actual conflict: to diminish confrontation and introduce a civilian force, the police, to maintain law and order. Yet the police are ordering items of Army equipment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) asked a number of questions about those interesting items. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said: These items are for use in training or operations in the field where circumstances or bad weather conditions so require".—[Official Report, 15 December 1987; Vol. 124, c. 481.] We understand that members of the RUC need a raincoat in bad weather. But does the reference to training or operations in the field mean that they go out on operations disguised as members of the British Army? If that is so, Parliament should be told and the practice should be halted forthwith, because it is very dangerous for all concerned. Does it mean that members of the RUC were involved in some of those operations in Army uniform that Stalker was investigating when he was taken off his duties and the cover-up started?

I hope that the Minister can give a clear answer to the questions that have been raised. No such answer has so far been given to parliamentary questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington, who has followed these matters assiduously. There is, for example, the question of surplus weapons: what does the Army do with all those old guns that have been replaced with modern equipment to maintain it as an efficient fighting force? In the past, some of them were sold to QED Design and Development Ltd, which seems to have done a prosperous trade in the killing fields. Lucky QED obtained a contract to buy a number of pistols — several thousand, as a matter of fact — from the Ministry of Defence, that righteous Government body which has such good standards to which we can all subscribe.

QED obtained the contract. It was going to sell the guns and make a profit of about £450,000, which is not a bad deal. But then the MOD decided to change its policy, and I am asking the Minister what its policy has been changed to. We know that, before obtaining this contract, it sold surplus arms to dealers for its friends to make a fast buck selling arms anywhere where a profit could be made. That is the enterprise culture. It does not matter if people in other parts of the world are slaughtered: it is all part of the enterprise culture. Presumably, QED was not going to sell the weapons to be displayed as antique weapons in the front rooms of people living in Acacia avenue or Tunbridge Wells. It was going to sell them, possibly abroad, for use in killing people.

The changed policy may mean that the MOD has decided to sell all those arms itself. Perhaps it can make more profit. Perhaps the enterprise culture is now spreading to the MOD, which thinks that it will be able to sell all the surplus guns at a larger profit — which, perhaps, can be spent in the NAAFI. But what has the policy changed to?

We know that the MOD suddenly became sensitive about the issue. In order not to go to court, it decided that it would be better to buy off QED, which had a clear contract in its hand for the purchase of guns from the MOD. In the Estimates on Defence Procurement 1982–83, class I, Vote 2, is a curious item. It is not an item that the Government explained when they were saying to local authorities, "You cannot have money for social services. You are spending too much on education", and telling the National Health Service, "Be more efficient. Get consultants working faster in the operating theatres. Get more operations out—and, if people have to wait, hard lines." They did not say, in the background to all those cutbacks, that to stop a case from going to court they would give QED the profit that it would make on the purchase and sale of guns.

In the Estimates is an item: Settlement of a sale contract cancelled due to a change of policy … £450,000. That £450,000 was simply handed over because of a change in policy". I look forward to the Minister's explanation of those double standards. The Government cut local authority services — decent, worthwhile services that particularly affect the poor, the mentally handicapped and the generally needy in society — but, when it comes to the arms trade, there is a change in policy: "Do not let us fall out; let us not stick to our words; let us use the taxpayers' money to keep everyone quiet, and put in a little item about the settlement of a sales contract being cancelled due to a change in policy."

It is time that the Minister of Defence and the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Services gave us a few more details about the change of policy, and about how many more contracts have been dealt with in the same way. The MOD, with all its personnel—its thousands of employees — will not reveal to Parliament all the contracts below £450,000 which have been paid out due to a "change in policy". It would be very expensive to find that information. I suspect that that is bland economy with the truth. The Minister has an opportunity to explain that tonight and I hope that he will take advantage of it. I suspect that after remarks tonight people outside will be waiting with bated breath for that explanation.

8.39 pm
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not attempt to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). I do not intend to talk about local authorities. I will return the debate to the Army, NATO and the nuclear deterrent, which I believe are inextricably linked.

A total of 95 per cent. of our defence spending is related to NATO. We provide 70 per cent. of the front line forces for the Atlantic and Channel commands and 56,000 men plus tactical aircraft for the central front. We need to maintain a wide range of nuclear and conventional forces to deter aggression on every front.

What aggression? Is there aggression? The history of the Soviet Union's efforts to expand its influence and the build-up of Soviet military strength in Europe make it essential that the West should not lower its guard. We must ensure that we do not unilaterally deliver ourselves into a less secure world. As progress in nuclear disarmament is made, so progress in making a more equitable match in the conventional arena must also be made. We are faced with an enormous preponderance of Soviet arms. We are outnumbered in tanks, tactical aircraft and artillery.

In those circumstances, is it right to spend money on Trident if it means that there will be less money available for the Army and the other armed services? We should bear it in mind that the money devoted to Trident would provide us with two more armoured divisions — 300 tanks. There are two points to be made. First, in terms of deterrence against aggression, the men in the Kremlin will not bite their fingernails in anguish over the retaliatory capacity of two extra armoured divisions. Secondly, without Trident we are exposing ourselves to nuclear blackmail, in which case we may just as well not have an army at all. Therefore, the answer is that we do need Trident.

My only misgiving is that four Trident submarines may not be enough. I would be happier with eight. The Labour party should ask our soldiers and the British Army of the Rhine what they think about a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament which would leave them facing nuclear weapons with nothing comparable in return. It would be like waving a fly whisk at a charging tiger.

I want to contrast the figures for NATO forces and Warsaw pact forces. In 1985, the Warsaw pact's total troop strength was 6.5 million, 80 per cent. of whom came from the Soviet Union. There has been an increase of 400,000 in 10 years. It is nearly 1.5 million more than NATO troop strength. The Soviet Union produces 3,000 new tanks a year and NATO produces 1,500. Faced with those facts, what does the Labour party do? It says that it wants to reduce our spending on defence to the European average. Our spending today represents about 5.5 per cent. of gross domestic product. The European average is 3.3 per cent. A reduction to 3.3 per cent. would mean a cut in our spending of 40 per cent. Is that enough for the Labour party?

I have seen nothing to persuade me that the Soviet Union under Mr. Gorbachev is any different from the Soviet Union under Andropov, Brezhnev or Khrushchev. It is true that Mr. Gorbachev has a nice smile and that Mrs. Gorbachev has a nice dress. Communism has neither.

We need our highly trained Army. We must find the resources to ensure that it can continue its admirable work. We must guard the integrity of NATO — that extraordinary free alliance of 16 free nations, each of which has seen for itself that its security is best guaranteed in conjunction with others. I pay tribute to the Army, to its highly developed quality, to the dedication of its men and women and to the vital role it plays.

8.44 pm
Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

Many problems facing the Army have been discussed in this debate. However, there is one issue that has, perhaps not unexpectedly, been given no attention. It is an issue of the utmost gravity and is just as important to the esteem with which our armed forces are held by the people of this country. I am referring to the ugly phenomenon of racism in the Army.

Many right hon. and hon. Members will have read the recent article in The Observer Magazine on Sunday 24 January. It exposed in the most public way yet the routine and institutionalised racism that exists in the armed forces. Some Labour Members have known about that for many years. We are grateful to the author of the article and the magazine for exposing what I suspect is only the tip of the iceberg. I call on black people in the services to contact me if they have any complaints to make about racism in the armed forces, however small.

There is nothing new about racism in the Army. It goes back many years. For literally centuries the United Kingdom has been happy to enlist black people to fight and die for this country but not to acknowledge their contributions or reward their courage in the normal way. The article says: NCOs in the Guards who say, 'We're not having niggers', do not know their own regimental history. There were, according to Sir Walter Scott, six black trumpeters in the Scots Guards in 1679; a black drummer fought with the Household Cavalry at Blenheim in 1704; and black musicians served with the Coldstream and Grenadier Guards up to the middle of the last century. That is some of the history of black people in the Army, but there is more.

How often, in reminiscing about the first and second world wars, is the contribution that black people made to the victory recognised? For example, according to The Times of 11 June 1919, during the first world war 1 million east Africans were drafted into the Army and 100,000 died as a result. More often than not they were used in the front line on the orders of white officers who saw them as expendable. The casualty figures are there for all to see. For example, in the King's African Rifles, of those killed, British officers numbered 66, British NCOs numbered 47 and Africans numbered 1,198. Of those wounded, British officers numbered 194, NCOs numbered 59 and Africans numbered 3,553. The total losses in east Africa alone were calculated at 300,000.

Similarly in the second world war, the British recruited in the Caribbean, India and Africa in large numbers and the casualties were similarly disproportionate. How many of them are remembered? How many of them were honoured with medals or decorations? The record will show that comparatively few received any honour.

For many years the contribution of black people has passed without comment, as in so many other areas of British society. Black people are confined to the ranks. They are seen, literally, as cannon fodder and forgotten when the need for them has passed. There are many recent examples such as the Asian Sapper, Pradeep Ghandi, from Brent who was killed in the Falklands war. How often is that mentioned in the discussions about the problems of our multi-racial society?

There is a serious problem in the Army which has been aired in the House in the past by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and others. To date that problem has been called "bullying". This House needs to be told by the Minister how much of it is really racism. Does the Minister know the meaning of the ugly term, "niggerbaiting"? I suspect that he does not or that he does not want to know.

The Army is not attuned to the problems of racism in its ranks. It would prefer to hide them under the carpet.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the most popular men in my regiment was Sergeant Mattatoga from Fiji? He was a coloured soldier who served with some distinction in my regiment. He was probably one of the most popular soldiers that we had.

Mr. Grant

If he was so popular, he should have been a colonel or another rank. There are individual soldiers who are able to progress, but the majority of them do not.

It seems commonplace that black soldiers are subjected to racist abuse and undisguised race hatred. According to the article in The Observer Magazine, one black recruit to the paras was asked by his sergeant: What are you doing here … nigger? I joined the Army to kill … people like you. The article points out that, of an estimated 5,000 black service men and women, there were a mere handful of black officers. There are very few senior black NCOs.

Black recruits are dissuaded from joining certain regiments, such as the Grenadier Guards. Although one black person has recently been allowed to join, I am told that he has been subjected to racial threats and abuse. The article in The Observer Magazine says: With the arrival last year of Private Richard Stokes at the Second Battalion Grenadier Guards it is now a token one. According to his white adoptive father, Brian, Private Stokes has had a nasty baptism, including a knife threat from a Welsh Guards corporal, who told him: 'We're not having niggers in the Guards, and an ugly moment when he arrived in Northern Ireland and every man in the mess walked out. The interviewer spoke to the soldier who said, "I'm not a racist." When he was asked why there are no black men in the Guards, the soldier said: the Guards protect the Queen and you should never have any black Guards because no black man can ever be a true Englishman. According to that independent research, that is the position in the Army. But what does it do about it? What does the Minister do about it? Do Ministers know what is going on? If they do, what are they doing about it? Are the Government encouraging racism by their silence in this regard?

What we need to hear from the Minister are some reasonably firm answers that something will be done. For example, I should like the Army to keep ethnic records on the promotion of black people. It keeps ethnic records with regard to recruitment. That policy should be extended to deal with promotion, discipline and other matters.

Black soldiers must contend with the insult or less experienced and less competent soldiers being promoted over their heads. The article in The Observer Magazine gave many examples of that.

Does the Minister know how many black soldiers have left the Army, disparaged and disappointed by its failure to promote them? Are there exit interviews on black service people that give the reasons why they left? We should like to know whether those matters are logged.

The Minister is prepared to do very little about racism in the Army. When he leaves the House tonight, he should return to his advisers and draw up a thorough strategy to deal with the problem; it should then be brought back to the House for discussion. It should include making racism a specific disciplinary offence and establish a proper complaints procedure that will protect the complainant from further harassment. That is unlikely to be achievable unless the Minister is prepared to ensure that specific officers are designated with responsibilities for overseeing the strategy to combat racism.

In the meantime, the Minister should not be surprised if black people stop joining the Army. They will no longer tolerate this sort of treatment in the Army, just as they are no longer willing to tolerate it in society.

8.54 pm
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this annual debate on the Army, although I do so with a certain amount of trepidation, conscious as I am of the wealth of expertise and military experience that surrounds me on these Benches.

My brief military service in the Royal Tank Regiment, and subsequently with the United Nations peace-keeping forces in Cyprus, afforded me a taste of Army life as a young commissioned officer, for which I shall always—at least in retrospect—be grateful.

I remember some specific, enduring lessons. I remember in particular my experience of the United Nations. As a force for keeping the peace, it is greatly underrated. In Sinai and Cyprus the degree of international co-operation and the ability to defuse potentially dangerous incidents all too often went unremarked. The position in Cyprus is much quieter now, but we still have nearly 1,000 troops seconded to the United Nations forces there, and to the multinational force in Sinai.

The support given by the British sovereign base areas in Cyprus to the United Nations forces there and in the Golan heights is essential to the United Nations effort, and is provided with the quiet efficiency, skill and expertise that one has almost come to take for granted from the armed forces. I gladly pay tribute to the work of the United Nations peace-keeping forces and the outstanding role that is played by Britain within them.

Since my brief sojourn in the Army, a great deal has changed. In 1976 the Army was deeply demoralised, underpaid and under-equipped. It is interesting to recall that in 1978 the total spent on the armed forces was £7.5 billion. This year it will he £18.8 billion. During the intervening period over 90 per cent. of the budget has been spent on improving the conventional defences of this country. Pay in the armed services is much better, but progress has not been achieved at the expense of the equipment budget. When I left the Army, less than 40 per cent. of the defence budget was spent on equipment. Next year, the comparative figure will be 45 per cent. There can be little doubt that the Government have taken the necessary steps to promote and secure our defence needs with a consistency of purpose, policy and philosophy that commands widespread support and acceptance across the country.

In assessing the role and needs of the Army and our armed forces, we inevitably focus on Europe. The centrepiece of our defence policy is deterrence and our role within NATO. Our main contribution to Europe's defence is through the BAOR. Europe today is, perhaps, in a greater state of flux and uncertainty about the future—and indeed of both nervousness and excitement at the possibilities that lie ahead—than at any time since the second world war.

The principal political characteristics of Europe have remained largely unaltered since the end of the second world war: a continent divided; the prospective battle lines well drawn and well known; and an Eastern Europe with clearly determined and defined goals and parameters. Many of us have felt a sense of security. After all, we have had Europe's longest period of peace under such an arrangement.

Three developments now challenge that state of affairs, and all of them may have a direct bearing on our future defence needs. All three could work equally to our advantage or to our disadvantage. Under Gorbachev, the clear thrust of Soviet policy is to reallocate some resources away from defence. With that policy change will come rising material expectations. The policies of glasnost and perestroika will significantly affect the relationship between Russia and her East European allies. Clearly, we need to approach Gorbachev's policies with an enlightened caution. If they survive and he succeeds, or vice versa, they will offer an opportunity to West Europe and NATO.

The second uncertainty lies in the future relationship between America and Europe. We should not forget that America's support for Europe is not set in concrete. The Americans spend about 7 per cent. of their GDP on defence, whereas we spend about 5 per cent. and the Germans spend about 3 per cent. It is interesting to note that the sum spent by America on keeping its troops in Europe is not unadjacent to the amount of its deficit. Rearmament spending under Reagan has not gone into Europe. It has gone into SDI and other projects not directly related to Europe. We should never take the American commitment to Europe for granted —especially in the year of a United States presidential election. Who knows what may be said or proposed between now and election day, on 8 November? We are indeed fortunate in the unflinching support that we have received from the Americans.

The third factor of change and flux in Europe to which I wish to draw attention is the state of the debate on the German question. In Germany, even Christian Democrat politicians have been reacting favourably to suggestions of a denuclearisation of East and West Germany. My hon. Friends and I who visited the German NATO forces last year could not fail to notice the intense interest in the German question and the inner-German border, stoked up by the change in Russian foreign policy, and the effect on that interest that the recent INF agreement and its potential successors have stirred in Germany. Of course we must take advantage of the new opportunities that now exist in Europe, but we must do so in the awareness of the absolute need to maintain the quality of our deterrent, no matter how the situation develops.

My second specific point concerns procurement. In recent years there has been a comprehensive modernisation of the Army's equipment. At the same time, one should be impressed by the initiatives being taken to secure better value for the taxpayer's money, in particular by the initiatives taken to promote greater competition, by the greater degree of co-operation and collaboration with our allies, and by the initiative to encourage small firms to compete for business. These three factors are extremely important.

The "Statement on the Defence Estimates" gives some interesting and, I find, rather disturbing examples of savings; for example, the competition for training missiles, where the price of the winning tender was 50 per cent. below the most recent non-competition-based price-50 per cent.! I accept that value for money in military procurement means something more than just price, but it is most important to open up competition in procurement, and it is long overdue. It came as little surprise to hear that the small firms advice division of the Ministry of Defence was approached by 300 companies registering an interest in competing within two months of that unit's being set up.

My final point concerns the Army's role as a trainer of the forces of friendly nations. The help that we give to Zimbabwe and Mozambique is well known, and I see from the Estimates that 650 servicemen have been involved in such work outside NATO in 23 different countries. Quite apart from promoting the stability of areas in which we may have national interests, by assisting with training and military advice we actively encourage and enhance trade —far wider than the arms trade—and commerce by this cost-effective and eminently sensible policy.

This debate takes place against the background of progress in the quality of our Army, progress in arms negotiations and optimism and opportunity in Europe. It is well timed.

9.3 pm

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton North)

Because of the constraints of time, I shall confine my remarks to one subject. As the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces is by nature an attentive man with an eye for detail, I would expect him to respond later this evening.

My subject is the allowance payable to service personnel for service overseas. The Under-Secretary will know that eight or nine weeks ago I visited Rheindahlen, Wildenrath, Munster and one or two other places. On that visit, I was saddened by the fact that the grievous resentment at some of the anomalous conditions related to the payment of the overseas allowance remained. I am even more concerned in that on a previous visit to Rheindahlen three years ago, that resentment was already evident. On our latest visit, we were told that a review was taking place.

I know that there are many complexities and I shall not rehearse them because we do not have the time—in fact, it could be the subject for a debate in itself. However, last night on television the Prime Minister made the plea to her interviewer that rather than set up a Royal Commission on the Health Service, which she has been looking at since 1979, because that would take too long, in the interests of speed she was ordering a review. Quite honestly, one is not giving express consideration if one takes more than three years to consider the allowances that are paid to overseas personnel.

Therefore, I am seeking some prediction from the Minister of what our service women and men, commissioned and non-commissioned, black and white, can expect by way of resolution of this grievous cause for concern.

9.5 pm

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement rightly drew the attention of the House to the arrival of the new T80 in the Red Army. With its 135 mm gun and reactive armour, I put it to the House that it is the queen of modern tanks.

I should like to speak on a subject that is critical to the future equipment of our own Army and, indeed, to our Navy and Air Force — the research and development establishments. I should like to point to what, in my view, is the one really woolly passage in an otherwise excellent White Paper. Page 48 states: the Government shares the underlying concern of those who fear that necessary investment in defence R & D may crowd out valuable investment in the civil sector … it would be regrettable if defence work became such an irresistible magnet for the manpower available that industry's ability to compete in the international market for civil high technology products became seriously impaired. Before I discuss the work of our defence establishments, especially the two related to the Army, I should like to explode that thesis. Just under one fifth of our national research and development expenditure is spent on the defence sector. However, we can consider a more basic statistic: the total proportion of graduates in science and technology leaving our universities in 1986 who went into Electronic Engineering Association companies, which do most of the work, was only 2.5 per cent. There is, indeed, a shortage of scientists and engineers in this country who choose to go into civil research and development. However, that has nothing to do with the fact that a small number choose to work in defence research and development.

From the Army's point of view, the two principal establishments are RARDE whose satellite MEXE produced the design for the most successful bridging equipment that the world has ever seen, and the Royal Signals Radar Establishment at Malvern, which is tri-service and has produced, among other weapons, the Rapier which, incidentally, resulted in £1.5 billion of exports.

Why are those establishments so vital for our armed forces? Although there are several reasons, I should like to focus on two. The first is blue sky research. In its excellent paper, published last week, the Department of Trade and Industry hit it exactly right in saying that the role of Government in research and development is to focus on the blue sky end. Whereas product development is best done by the private sector, very long-term research will not produce results for perhaps 15 or 20 years. We do not have companies in a pool as small as the United Kingdom economy that can afford to put large sums into such speculative work, but that is the work that will produce the products that our armed forces need in the 21st century.

The second reason why the research and development establishments are so critical — this is much more concerned with the here and now, or at least with the next few years —is because of the role that they play in supporting the project teams in the procurement executive. I have heard repeated attacks in the House on the Nimrod project. I wish to put it on the record once and for all that if successive Governments, both Labour and Conservative, had had the courage to listen to the Royal Signals Radar Establishment at Malvern, we would never have gone down the Nimrod route.

I welcome the Government's new competitive policy. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State because he had the courage to cancel the Nimrod project and, at last, get away from it. The Government's competitive policy will save us money and, indeed, has already done so in the past two years. These savings will remain possible only while we have the capability, through our research and development establishments, to remain an educated customer. We are getting better value for money and more equipment for what we are spending precisely because we are adopting this policy.

What has been happening in our research and development establishments? Over the past six years, we have reduced the number of scientists in the Ministry of Defence from 10,000 to 6,400. This is not necessarily a bad thing, if we avoid duplicating work done by our allies, but, alas, it is not the dead wood that is being pruned. Civil Service rules prevent that. Instead, because of the relatively poor pay, in many cases it is the brightest scientists who are tending to leave.

At the same time, extramural funding — funding provided by the Ministry of Defence in the private sector —has fallen by 15 per cent. Meanwhile, the Red Army is rapidly closing the technology gap and, in the case of the T80, has probably overtaken us. There is an economic point here too. At present, we buy 80 per cent. of our equipment from the United Kingdom and three quarters of the balance has a United Kingdom element in it. We export £6 billion in arms. The Government have every right to claim some of the credit for our successful growth in defence exports by making our private sector more commercial.

Although making the private sector more commercial has improved the shop window, resulting in a considerable improvement in our arms exports, the sad fact is that this is based on the money spent on research and development 10 or 15 years ago. With the cut in our present research and development funding, I fear that this will not be the case 10 or 15 years from now.

What am I proposing? I should like to suggest a route which would fit very well with the Government's sound policy of competitive tendering within the procurement executive and would be highly cost-effective. We should assure ourselves that, in every area where we are buying equipment, we still have the critical mass of skills available to be an educated customer. I am assured by our friends in industry that this is still the case in most areas, but not, alas, all. We should concentrate the rest of our funds in those areas where we have a proven record of success.

In areas where we have been less successful, for example, artillery, we should be willing to arrange swop agreements with our allies, so that—as the Government did successfully by exchanging Rolls-Royce engines for Goalkeeper engines—we can guarantee that, when we have to import foreign equipment because we cannot afford to develop it ourselves, we balance it with an extra export.

What about the structure that we need to support this policy? There appear to be two options facing the Government in respect of research and development establishments. We could leave the present, cosy Civil Service arrangements or we could go for out-and-out handing over to the private sector. I propose that we should follow a middle course and go for a trading fund. This would keep the research and development establishments together as centres of excellence. It would enable them to prune the dead wood because they would no longer be subject to Civil Service rules. It would enable them to pay market rates to their best employees and, most important of all, for those who are worried about the civil sector being crowded out, as suggested in the White Paper, it would give a concrete, market-driven incentive to those who manage these research and development establishments to sell the spare capacity in their facilities to United Kingdom companies. At the moment, all the money from selling that capacity goes straight to the Treasury. As a trading fund it could be credited to the establishment's own account defraying costs. That is a much more market-driven approach than setting up the wretched Defence Technology Enterprises which desperately runs about trying to look for spare ideas.

Let me end with a statistic. We should be grateful to the Americans. We should be aware of the fact that their trade deficit, about which our Treasury is so worried, is very nearly equal to the figure they spend on keeping their armed forces in Europe. They are keen on collaborating with us on science and there is no way in which our Treasury could more please the Americans than by being willing to provide a little money out of central funds to ensure that we have the research and development facilities that our armed forces need for the 21st century.

9.15 pm
Mr. Sean Hughes (Knowsley, South)

It is customary in debates such as this to pay tribute to the work and dedication displayed by the armed forces in these islands and around the world and I happily add my thanks to the gratitude which has been expressed tonight to all those who serve in our armed forces.

This year is the 300th anniversary of the so-called glorious revolution, which is seen as the cornerstone of our parliamentary democracy, not least by the acceptance of the principle that the Executive is provided with an army only with the consent of Parliament.

We see what happens in other countries, where the establishment cynically uses the army and the security forces to thwart or bypass the democratic process. We at least can take comfort from the fact that no such moves are even contemplated here.

I have an enormous respect for those who dedicate their lives to service in the armed forces. I may not always agree with the perceived view of their opinions, but I pay tribute to their commitment, dedication and loyalty. But it is the politicians who control our armed forces and it is they who are fair game whenever we come across their pomposity, arrogance or sheer stupidity.

This is the first Army debate of this Parliament, the third of the present Administration. Recently, the Prime Minister celebrated in distinctly regal terms the fact that "our" Government have lasted longer than Asquith's. Now Lord Liverpool's record is at stake.

I do not know what all the fuss is about. The Prime Minister passed Asquith's record some time in 1981. He had a single-party majority for only two years, whereas the Prime Minister has had one for almost nine years.

The Prime Minister's political longevity has one particular significance, and that is that it really is time that we started to discuss her Government's record against what the Tories promised, implied or preached in opposition or in the early heady days of government.

There seems to be a belief on the Tory Benches that they have cornered the market on defence, a view confirmed by some of the speeches that we heard this evening. Some Conservative Members seem to think that, because they represent the odd garrison town or have picked up the odd minor military title, somehow or other they are uniquely qualified to lecture the rest of us on our best interests in defence. It is time that belief was exploded.

One of the most obvious trends in the past three decades as regards the Army is the decline in manpower, despite the fact that the Minister, in his opening speech, referred to Wellington's strictures on the need for a large and efficient army. The Tory party's manifesto in 1979 expressed the aim to increase the strength of our armed forces. In 1983, that became an insistence on the need for strong conventional forces and in 1987 a promise to continue to increase the effectiveness of our conventional forces.

One might have thought that such loud promises to strengthen our conventional defences might have manifested themselves in arresting the decline in military personnel — but not a bit of it. So I began to think about what must be the reason behind the fall in numbers. After all, there must be a reason why the British Army now employs fewer privates than the total number of people, part-time and full-time, employed by the Sainsbury grocery chain.

In 1957, there were 233,177 privates. Ten years later, the figure was just over 81,500. That is easy to explain: national service had been abolished and our colonial commitments had been severely reduced. Countries such as Ghana, Malaya and Kenya had been granted their independence. By 1977, we were down to 67,613 privates. I suppose that we can explain that further decline: the previous decade had seen us shedding our colonial commitments to west of Aden.

But by 1987, the number of privates was down again, to 62,028. One might have thought that eight years of Conservative Government committed to strengthening our armed forces would have put a stop to the inexorable decrease in army manpower. One can hardly say that the shedding of colonial responsibilities was the reason — unless, of course, the granting of independence to the Gilbert Islands and the former New Hebrides accounted for the change.

However, I do not want to be accused of total pessimism. The number of privates may be down to 26 per cent. of the total 30 years ago, but at least my hon. Friends will be heartened to know that the number of generals is down to only 57 per cent. We should not be too cynical about that, because there are considerable market forces working in that direction. In the past 10 years, while a private's pay has increased by 174 per cent., a general's has increased by 246 per cent.,. which is not bad when we consider that 10 years ago a general was earning eight times what a private earns. That helps to put into perspective the statement in the Conservative party general election leaflet, "Our First Eight Years", that armed services pay has been restored to a proper level". It also helps to put into perspective some of the self-congratulation about pay expressed by some Conservative hon. Members early in the debate. But I digress.

It is not just the number of personnel that has failed to live up to the high expectations. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) mentioned in his opening speech, there have also been problems with equipment. I realise that the Government will bleat on about how they are spending more on equipment than we did when Harold Wilson or James Callaghan were in power, or probably more than would have been spent had George Lansbury or J. R. Clynes made it to No. 10. But that is not the point. We are entitled to judge the Government on their own standards, to judge them against the grandiose claims they have made.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli said, expenditure is declining and will continue to decline. Indeed, the City stockbrokers Kleinwort, Grieveson have forecast that between now and 1991 the equipment budget will fall by £240 million —and those will be the peak years of Trident spending.

Those factors, as well as some of the mismanagement that has already been referred to, will continue to diminish our forces' ability to play their NATO roles adequately. The quantity of new equipment will fall and the quality of existing systems will deteriorate. Shortage of time prevents my giving specific examples.

I ask the Minister to deal in his winding-up speech with the following two specific questions. First, were the further 16 Lynxes that he mentioned the same 16 as the Secretary of State announced last year would be purchased? Secondly, why is it only we and the Greeks whose army helicopters are run by the air force?

At the same time as the decline has been in progress — as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) discussed in a characteristically thoughtful speech — we have maintained a series of treaty obligations involving military assitance. I realise that it is unlikely that there will be a conterminous outbreak of crises in all the locations to which we are committed. But it makes one pause to reflect on the demands which could be made at any one time on our armed forces, especially if a crisis in any of the farflung regions coincided with a crisis in Europe. That is why it is impossible to embark on any meaningful discussion of the role of the Army without setting it in the context of NATO's strategy of flexible response. [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) will allow me to develop this theme for a few moments. I am advised that the object of the use of nuclear weapons in a restricted and restrained way is to induce the enemy to take the political decision not to proceed and to withdraw. Put more briefly but no less euphemistically, flexible response simply maintains the nuclear option. This is a concept which deserves wider discussion.

The received wisdom is that, if the Soviets were of a mind to attack, they would not need to resort to first use of nuclear weapons because of their superiority in conventional weapons. Furthermore, there is a perception that Soviet Russia would not resort to the first use of nuclear weapons also because the Soviets would be only too well aware of how it would affect them, having learned the lessons of Chernobyl. Consequently, NATO's flexible response should maintain the option to go nuclear in the face of a Soviet conventional attack.

If this is NATO thinking, it is little wonder that they will not agree to a no first use agreement, since we see ourselves under the flexible response strategy as the only people who would ever contemplate the first use of nuclear weapons. Whichever way I look at this, I cannot help but see flaws.

If our perception of the Soviets is that they would not use nuclear weapons first, because they have the intelligence to appreciate how their use of their nuclear capability would affect them as the aggressor, is it not conceivable that they might develop a perception of us, however wrongly, that we might just have the intelligence to appreciate how our first use of our nuclear capability might affect us as the aggressor? I understand that this is known as the concept of self-deterrence.

Of course, if both power blocs have the determination never to be the prime mover, even if they refuse so to admit, there would be some attraction to this flaw in the strategy. "O felix culpa," as the eastern hymnist wrote. I do not think there is anything fortunate about this point. There is the obvious possibility of nuclear retaliation. If we ever carried out our flexible threat, they might respond flexibly. If General de Gaulle could ask whether an American President was prepared to risk Chicago for Hamburg, we are entitled to ask whether the British Prime Minister is prepared to risk Liverpool for a breach of the reindeer fence at Kirkeness in northern Norway.

Even more significant in the context of the Army debate is the unchallengeable fact that any movement towards nuclear control or reduction must involve a reassessment of conventional weapons. Under NATO's strategy of flexible response, if we enhance our conventional weapons too much, we reduce the credibility of the nuclear weapon in flexible response. In the past, we on these Benches have argued that, given the finite nature of our military budget, if we pour £10 billion into Trident or whatever, we will not have the resources to modernise conventional weapons.

It is more ominous. It is not just a question of our not having the material wherewithal to spend on conventional weapons; we would not have the inclination or the desire to spend on conventional weapons. The popular perception is that, because of the conventional imbalance, NATO needs to maintain the option of first use of nuclear weapons, but the reality is that the Government do not believe that, even if we had a conventional balance, we could trust the USSR to stay on its side of the border. So even if we negotiated such a balance, that would not be in our interest, according to the logic of this strategy.

It really is an incredible concept. It is the perfect example of what Galbraith called convenient reverse logic, a logic which proceeds not from diagnosis to remedy, but from the preferred remedy back to the requisite cause.

The doctrine of flexible response flies in the face of what the present Secretary of State for Defence said to the House of Commons 20 years ago: It is absolute nonsense for anybody to say that it is impossible to imagine a conventional war. It may be very unlikely; it may be completely improbable; but it is certainly not impossible to imagine … Although I would say that at present I cannot envisage it, who can say that he could not envisage any form of conventional war in Europe in five, 10, 15, 20 years time?"—[Official Report, 10 May 1966; Vol. 728, c. 318–19.] It is now 20 years later. Is that the thinking of the Secretary of State? If it is, logically we should be working towards a conventional balance to prevent a limited conventional war. That runs counter to the logic of the flexible response, because it raises the nuclear threshold, and makes Europe safe, as one general quaintly put it, for a limited conventional war to be fought.

What precisely is the Government's position? What is the role of nuclear weapons? The hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North clearly does not realise that, for the third time running, the Government won the general election and it is their policy that we are debating.

Sir Antony Buck

The hon. Gentleman referred to me. I am looking for a clear response or a substitute policy to the flexible response. Such a policy has not been spelt out. The flexible response policy was adopted by an earlier Labour Government, and I have not seen a substitute for such an eminently sensible policy.

Mr. Hughes

In my part of the world, that would be called a cop-out. It is the duty of the Opposition to probe and explore what the Government are doing. That is precisely what we are doing. We have a right to ask whether the role of nuclear weapons in flexible response, as the Government tell the public, relates to conventional imbalance or whether it is the be-all and end-all of military strategy.

There has been a reference to glasnost. We could do with some glasnost from the Government. I remember listening to our much-maligned Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), speaking in Committee on the Arms Control and Disarmament (Privileges and Immunities) Bill about a new era of openness. When such a man speaks of openness he deserves attention. He is certainly a distinguished—some would say the greatest living—exponent of the art of open diplomacy. Sadly, he was speaking about openness with the Russians and not with the House of Commons.

I realise that, by their twisted logic, the Government claim credit for the INF agreement between the United States and Soviet Russia, to which they were not invited and about which they were not consulted. An endearing feature of the Government is that, while they consistently refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions, they have developed a singular capacity for claiming the success achieved by others. It is like the self-decorated south American dictators who luxuriate in the reflected splendour of their national team's World Cup success—but even they do not say that they scored the goals.

The House has a right to expect Ministers to be more forthcoming about the implications of the doctrine of flexible response. I believe that the soldiers in the lines also have that right of expectation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) referred to the problem of the overseas allowance for troops based in Germany. I hope that the Minister will address himself to that specific question, although it is yet another niggardly reduction that hardly bears out the patriotic glory speeches often made by Conservative Members at times of stress.

One area of concern, for instance, is that members of the Territorial Army who are out of work suffer cuts in their social security money if they do more than 16 mid-week drill nights per year.

Growing concern has also been expressed by members of both the Government and the Opposition about armed forces pensions and especially the pensions of widows of those who have served in the armed forces. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), as he rightly reminded us, raised this matter before Christmas, and the point was emphasised in detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). Here again there is a feeling that the Government could perhaps do more than they are doing at present.

The problem of bullying has also been raised, especially by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). It was also emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), who equated it with racism. Bullying, as we would all agree, is unacceptable wherever it is manifested, not least in the bizarre and extraordinary circumstances described recently. While we recognise that, as Kipling said, men in barracks do not grow into plaster saints, there is a feeling that something has gone wrong, somebody has gone too far, and responsibility is not confined to noncommissioned officers even if they were the most immediately involved.

Reference was made during Question Time to the Prime Minister's performance on "Panorama" last night. I want to refer to one sentence in that interview, when she said: You are not properly and adequately defended enough to deter an aggressor unless your things are up to date. Any potential aggressor will see that his are. What becomes obvious in debates such as this is that she is not considering the Army in that, but only the nuclear weapon. Fortunately, it has become equally obvious that hon. Members, both Opposition and Government, do have the Army in mind. That is why appreciation of the services has been expressed on both sides.

9.37 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Roger Freeman)

I very much admire the very witty debating style of the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes). I shall not follow him either in that style or in the sequence of the comments that he made, because I want to deal with the many questions that have been raised in the course of the debate.

Government Members — and I am sure that the Opposition join us in this — warmly welcome four additional contributors to the regular Army debates: my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce). We hope that they will continue their excellent contributions in the future.

The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) asked me a number of questions, which I shall try to answer. He began by saying that the rapid increase in expenditure on nuclear weapons since 1979 had been at the expense of expenditure on conventional armaments. He also said that he was not very good at mathematics. If he reflects upon the levels of expenditure in real terms since 1979, he will realise that his comment about expenditure cannot be right. Since 1979 the increase in real expenditure for the Army alone has amounted cumulatively to £4 billion. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement mentioned the many new weapons that had been introduced and will be introduced in the future. For the next three years, beginning on 1 April, we shall see level funding in real terms for the armed forces.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about tanks and the replacement for Chieftain. As well as reviewing possible overseas options, the possibility of an improved version of the Challenger tank is under discussion with Vickers Defence Systems. No decisions have yet been taken on the timing of a Chieftain replacement, and the Ministry is continuing seriously to consider both the improved Challenger and other possible options.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked me about the replacement for the Abbott self-propelled howitzer. We have sought and obtained proposals from four companies for a 155mm self-propelled howitzer to meet our most pressing national requirements. This will replace the aging 105mm Abbott gun. These proposals are currently being assessed in the Department.

The right hon. Member then raised the question of the role of the United Kingdom mobile force and argued that the Government were trying to renege on this North Atlantic Treaty Organisation commitment. We are looking at re-role-ing the United Kingdom mobile force, but it will he subject to the agreement of NATO, and I assure both the right hon. Gentleman and the House that there is no question of a unilateral change, and no question of reneging on that commitment.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked me when the next NATO Heads of State meeting will take place, and I am happy to tell him that it will be on 2 and 3 March. The right hon. Gentleman then asked about dual-capable artillery and whether this would be included in conventional disarmament talks. All Warsaw pact and NATO conventional ground forces in Europe will be covered by the talks, including those in the British Army of the Rhine, so the answer is yes.

The right hon. Gentleman then raised a very serious question about the validity of the White Paper, and this was also referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne). The Ministry of Defence has made a fair assessment of the number of conventional forces, both men and equipment, on both sides. The qualitative factors are, of course, difficult to assess, but the quality of Soviet armour and of Soviet equipment is improving all the time, and the somewhat complacent attitude of Opposition Members —or at least that is the conclusion one might draw—does not help in assessing the military imbalance.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North paid tribute to the professionalism of the forces and asked a number of questions about recruitment, as did the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright). I am encouraged to see that the current levels of premature voluntary retirement from the Army are substantially lower than in 1978–79, with the exception of certain specialist—

Mr. Cryer

More unemployment.

Mr. Freeman

No, the reason is that the Government have consistently honoured the awards of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. It is the consistent payment of proper pay to the armed forces that has reversed the situation that the hon. Gentleman's Government left us with. With the exception of certain specialist shortages, our Army is fully manned. Recruiting has generally held up well, and the average length of service has never been greater. In the past 18 months it has increased, for soldiers, from 4–6 years to just on six years. This is particularly reassuring and represents a vote of confidence in the Army. The improvement in retention is due largely to the recognition by those serving of the high priority given to fair remuneration, together with a policy of continued modernisation of equipment and improvement of the Army's combat capability. The 1987 recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body were accepted in full, and the consequent revised pay rates continued to maintain comparability with the private sector.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the demographic trend and how it would affect recruitment. He is right to draw attention to this, but we are convinced that our policy of fair pay, and of fair conditions and allowances, which have as great a role to play as pay itself, should ensure that we keep ahead of the game and cope with the demographic trend and the smaller number of youngsters available to join the armed forces. It is a matter that we are determined to keep closely under review.

I turn now to deal in a little detail with the point raised by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) about bullying. I think that the House would expect me to return to this subject as I promised in the debate on the Estimates. I know that this is an issue that has been of very real concern to the right hon. Gentleman, as it has to many hon. Members. It has been of equal concern to me and my ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, and to the senior commanders—both in the field and in the Department — who have responsibility for the welfare and well-being of the men and women who serve in the Army.

I have stated our position in previous debates. Bullying is a serious offence, whether committed by noncommissioned officers towards junior ranks, or by members of a peer group, soldiers towards each other. It forms no part of proper service life, and we are clear that it cannot be tolerated.

The Adjutant General and I have both met the right hon. Gentleman on a number of occasions, and I believe that he appreciates that we share his concern and have been determined to deal with the problem. We have been grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his interest in this issue. He has made a number of constructive suggestions, which we have examined very carefully. We disagree about the extent of bullying in the Army. Recent cases, and the media coverage devoted to them, have suggested that the problem of bullying and ill-treatment is widespread. I and my senior Army colleagues do not believe that to be the case. Since January 1986, in an Army that numbers some 160,000 regulars—including some 20,000 under training —only 100 or so cases of alleged bullying, intimidation or ill-treatment have come to light, and some of those have related to incidents that took place at an earlier date. In 19 of the cases, investigations are still continuing.

The charges in 35 of the other cases have been substantiated, and have or will result in disciplinary action. I make no excuses for these cases, which have included several serious and degrading incidents, but I hope that the sentences awarded by the courts martial, and reported in the press, will serve to underline my assertion about the seriousness with which the Army regards the issue of bullying and the determination that exists to stamp it out. In the remaining 48 cases that have been investigated—very nearly half the total—the Army's inquiries have not substantiated the initial charges or allegations. Therefore, I do not believe that these overall figures reflect an endemic problem. Nor do I agree that these cases are only the tip of the iceberg.

We are not, and cannot be, complacent, however. As I have said previously to the House, the exposure given to this issue over the last year, and the concern to which it has naturally given rise, has led to the most serious self-examination throughout the Army. In July last year the Adjutant General wrote to commanding officers throughout the Army, requiring them to examine their own units in relation to bullying and intimidation, and to report back to him in early December with proposals and recommendations, both to deal with any immediate difficulties and to help obviate such practices in the future.

I undertook in the defence debate last October to report the outcome of this re-examination and our proposed action after analysing the replies to the Adjutant General's directive. There remains some work to be done. As ever, in a tight defence programme, we have to justify very carefully any demand for new resources, and its relative priority. I know that the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South understands that. I can tell the House, however, the general thrust of our conclusions and the broad areas in which we intend to make changes.

The general consensus in the responses from commands is that bullying and other unacceptable forms of behaviour are not prevalent; that, to the extent to which they occur, it is partly because the Army reflects changing standards in the society from which it recruits, in which the young soldier may at the same time be less tough physically than his forebears and yet more inured to the concept of violence, assault, and alcohol abuse — for example, through television and films; that the Army, for its part, needs to re-emphasise its responsibilities for man management, and to foster in officers and NCOs a greater awareness of their supervisory duties. That is, perhaps, particularly the case in off-duty hours, because changed patterns of barracks accommodation, the increasing trend of married officers and NCOs to live out, and soldiers' wish for privacy off-duty have to some extent led to some falling off in the level of supervision.

Another conclusion is that, in some cases, it would appear that the process of pursuing cost-effectiveness and efficiency has produced pressures at some levels of staffing which we need to re-examine to see whether a shift in the burden of unit administration can be achieved, again with the aim of giving junior and middle-level commanders more time to concentrate on their task of leadership.

Finally, it is proposed that welfare support to the chain of command be re-examined. In recent years much has been done in this area in relation to Army families, and we need now to extend more of these improvements to the single soldier.

The changes that we shall be considering as a result of these broad conclusions centre on six areas. First, at the recruiting and entry stage, we shall be looking at the scope for extending the medical examination process, with a view to more thorough screening out at that stage of young men who may not be robust enough to cope with the toughness of military training. Secondly, we shall be re-examining our already careful selection and induction training of NCO instructors to see whether there is scope for further improvement. Thirdly, we shall be looking at the scope for reorganising administrative commitments in training units, to allow officers and NCOs to devote more time to their supervisory responsibilities.

Mr. Rogers


Mr. Freeman

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall finish.

This may mean that we need more junior officers and NCOs in the training depots. The individual training organisation is in any case the subject of a major study, which will take account of the conclusions I have outlined. Fourthly, we shall be considering the most effective deployment of our volunteers, who work with soldiers in army units. Fifthly, we shall review the content and degree of man management training on officer and NCO courses. More emphasis will be placed on that aspect, and we shall be revising the pamphlet that gives guidance on the principles and aspects of that skill. Finally, we shall formally ban all harmful initiation ceremonies.

I hope that that brief summary gives some suggestion to the House of the constructive way in which we are approaching this issue.

Mr. Ashley

The Minister has just made a major statement of policy and I warmly welcome the proposals made in response to the campaign because, although they may not be the complete answer, they are constructive and deserve to be warmly welcomed in all parts of the House. They will reassure the Army, and especially soldiers who have been bullied and their families. My interpretation of the policy is that it is a combined operation on bullying. When does the Minister expect to be able to implement the proposals?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I shall be pursuing all the recommendations—they represent a statement of policy—with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my other colleagues. We hope to make rapid progress.

Mr. Rogers

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Freeman

I am sorry, but I have only a few minutes left.

Mr. Rogers


Mr. Speaker

Order. One at a time. I believe that the Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South raised the matter of the Gurkhas. We have repeatedly made it clear that there is a continuing role for the Gurkhas in the British Army after 1997. We welcome the interest that is being taken by the Select Committee and will read its report with great interest.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of Army helicopters, as did the hon. Member for Knowsley, South. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement has spoken about the conversion of 24 Brigade to its airborne role. He also mentioned the intention to order 16 Lynx helicopters—the same 16 helicopters that we announced last year—and reminded the House that 25 RAF EH101 helicopters will contribute to the air mobility role.

The hon. Member for Woolwich spoke about the future of the Woolwich garrison. I am grateful to him for paying tribute to the establishment of the new historic military buildings committee and the work that it can do. Although the future of the quality assurance directorate is not a matter for me —it is a subject of discussion within the Ministry — I can tell him that one solution that commends itself to the committee is the partial sale of the site along the river front, including the grand store, which will release a listed, valuable building for possible residential use. The site would he put into the hands of new owners who had the funds and the energy and foresight to develop it for the greater value of Woolwich.

My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) asked about the Victoria barracks. My hon. Friend will be aware that the preparatory work has now been finished. Planning for the re-build is now almost completed and it is hoped to make a start on the site in September this year. If my hon. Friend cares to visit the site with me, and if we fix the date for I September, I assure him that that will have the effect of concentrating the minds of the planners most wonderfully. I look forward to visiting his constituency with him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South spoke about the use of ranges at the weekend. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) also raised this matter, and I owe him a written reply on the range safety working group. The use of ranges, particularly at the weekend by the Territorial Army, is safe and necessary. The Army wants to be good neighbours and if we come across legitimate complaints about noise we try to solve them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) raised some specific constituency issues. He rightly said that disposals were a matter for the PSA and not for me. However, we have developed a new policy within the Ministry towards disposals and that has been applied at Deal, Eastney, Gosport and Dishforth. We place great emphasis on forward planning, so that we know precisely when we are to get rid of a site and how much of a site is to be disposed of. We also believe in cooperation with the local authorities and taking them into our confidence about the future of the sites. We seek their views. I should like to join the long list of Ministers who have visited the Great Lines, Gillingham, and hope to pay it a visit very shortly.

I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), not only for his comments about Fort George and how the Army deals with individual cases, and for setting the subject of bullying in proportion, but for his kind remarks about the GOC Scotland. He asked me a couple of direct questions affecting the Ministry of Defence, and was kind enough to brief me beforehand about one of them. If I may, I shall reply in writing to those two specific questions about the Ministry of Defence, or one of my ministerial colleagues will do so. The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to have the answers to such detailed questions immediately to hand. His more general comments will, I am sure, be read with interest by other Ministers.

Mr. Dalyell

I asked only for letters.

Mr. Freeman

I shall certainly pursue the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) raised some specific security matters concerning Northern Ireland. I shall call them to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, and I know that he will respond in writing.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) suggested that we should look seriously at the introduction of trade unions in the armed forces. That, of course, was considered by the Committee on what is now the Armed Forces Act 1986 in the last Parliament, in which the hon. Gentleman did not serve. I had the honour of serving on that Committee, and I think that its conclusions were right. There is no demand for trade unions within the British armed forces, and no need for them. The hon. Gentleman cannot build a case on the limited examples that he cited. Our armed forces are politically independent. They have an independent pay review body, and there is no question of our introducing trade unions in the armed forces.

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) suggested that there was racism in the Army, and appealed to soldiers to write to him so that he could take up individual cases. I listened to his remarks with interest, and I shall read the Official Report tomorrow. However, I must say to the soldiers to whom he has appealed that that is exactly the wrong advice. They are British soldiers, and they should take up any allegations with their commanding officers. That would be far more effective and would be in the best interests of soldiers in the British Army, whatever the colour of their skins.

The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) asked me a specific question about allowances. I assume that he was referring to local overseas allowances, rather than to the more general package that has been under study by the MoD for some time. All that I can say about LOA — although I should be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and discuss any specific points that he would like to put forward—is that it is a mechanical system, a non-taxable method of compensating service men for the extra costs of living in Germany. It is determined automatically by movement in relative prices and exchange rate.

Other hon. Members — I believe that they included the hon. Member for Leyton — raised the question of war widows. Since 1985 the Government have been assisting the Royal British Legion in a scheme whereby war widows are helped to visit their husbands' graves overseas. Assistance is provided in the form of grants-in-aid to the Royal British Legion. By the end of March this year some 1,200 war widows will have benefited from it.

I am also pleased to announce that the Government's help in the scheme is to be continued for a further five-year period, from financial years 1990 to 1995. The grant for 1990 will be £169,000.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, South put a number of questions to me, including the key question about the role of the Army in Europe and the British Army of the Rhine. He failed to convince the House that there has not been a substantial increase in expenditure on conventional weapons in the BAOR. If he thought to make that case — perhaps halfheartedly — he failed to prove it. Cumulatively, an extra £4 billion has been spent on the Army.

The hon. Gentleman completely failed to argue that there is conventional balance between the Soviet and NATO forces. The House will have read the White Paper. The figures contained in it were produced by the Ministry of Defence to present a fair assessment of the imbalance of conventional forces and Conservative Members will support the Government in making adequate preparations to deal with that conventional imbalance. That means pressing ahead with conventional disarmament measures. Until those measures succeed, we intend that battlefield nuclear weapons should remain and that our—

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