§ Mr. Speaker
I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. As I have said previously, many right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. Although this is a two-day debate, I hope that we shall have brief speeches today.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is obvious that an amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition must be called. However, there is a further amendment on the Order Paper that has much support in the House and in the country as a whole. This support is not confined to the Labour party or any other party. It would seem right that hon. Members who agree with the amendment should be able to vote upon it. This has happened in the past. Amendments that were tabled on prices and incomes policy, for example, were debated and voted upon. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to reconsider your decision not to select the amendment in the names of 13 of my hon. Friends and myself. We shall then be able in general terms to support the official Opposition's amendment and vote specincally on an amendment that some of us consider to be of the utmost importance.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to support the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). It appears that the amendment in his name and those of his hon. Friends is closer to the policy that was approved at the Labour party conference two weeks ago. Is this not an example of the twin-track approach of the Labour party on defence policy?
§ Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is stated specifically on page 466 of "Erskine May" that Mr. Speaker will select the most important amendment. That was a ruling given by one of your predecessors in 1919, Mr. Speaker. Given the decision of the Labour party conference on defence policy, the comments of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) demonstrate that his amendment is more important than that of the official Opposition.
§ Mr. Speaker
"Erskine May" states also that Mr. Speaker makes his selection and gives no reason for doing so. I cannot help the hon. Gentleman in that respect, but I will try to help him by ensuring that he is able to make his case during the debate.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Younger)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1988 contained in Cm. 344.Due to pressure of other business in the House, today's debate on the statement takes place five months after it was published, but that has given hon. Members of all parties time to digest the report on the statement by the Select Committee on Defence. As we have come to expect, 911 the Committee has produced a thoughtful and thorough report, and I am sure that the whole House will wish to express its gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) and all his colleagues on the Select Committee.
The theme of this year's statement on the Defence Estimates is the maintenance of security in a changing world. The House needs no reminders of the signs of change. Nineteen eighty-eight has seen the start at long last of a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the beginning of the removal and destruction of a complete class of nuclear missile. We have witnessed the beginning, perhaps, of a new era in relationships between East and West.
Those momentous events present us with opportunities for greater security in Europe. They are opportunities we must grasp. Equally, we owe it to the people of this country to explain what the risks are, and to test the avowed intentions of the Soviet leadership by their deeds and not by their words. We owe it to our people to ensure that we do not sacrifice our hard-earned and long-term security for easy and deceptive short-term gains.
Over the past nine years, the Government have carried out our promise to strengthen Britain's defences and to achieve verifiable arms control agreements. If we had followed the siren call of the unilateralists, represented on several sides of the House, today there would have been no intermediate nuclear forces treaty and no removal of the SS20 missiles. In contrast, the Opposition parties have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. The Labour party's policy of unilateralism has guaranteed its defeat in two general elections. Today we find that the Labour party has not one but two defence policies.
I must confess that I have great sympathy with the point raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) a few moments ago because, as he rightly pointed out, two alternative amendments have been tabled in the proper way. There is the strange situation that the amendment which has been selected is supported by the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues, but is not the official amendment of the Labour party of which the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) is the leader, and that another amendment, which has not been selected, represents the official view of the Labour party. That puts hon. Members in considerable difficulty in knowing where questions should be raised and to whom their attacks should be directed.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) has not helped very much, because in a speech to the North Atlantic Assembly a short time ago he pointed out that by the time the Labour party comes into office again— whenever that is, although he appears to know—there will be little money left to save on the Trident programme, even supposing that the right hon. Member for Islwyn carries out his undertaking to scrap it and decommission it right away. Unfortunately, that is in complete conflict with the second of the amendments which, as I understand it, is in tune with the official position of the Labour party, which is to scrap Trident and use the money saved on welfare.
I hope that it may be possible for discussions to take place during the next few weeks and before tomorrow between the various parts of the Opposition so that they can decide, and give us all some indication, which policy we are to counter in this debate, by whom it is supported, 912 and the view of the Leader of the Opposition, who has been placed in an enormously uncomfortable position today.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that point, will he draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is no amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the leader of the Liberal party? My right hon. Friend has rebuked the Labour party, but will he not add some further rebuke to the Liberal party, the position of which on defence is every bit as confused as that of the Labour party?
§ Mr. Younger
Not for the first time, I am greatly indebted to my hon. Friend for putting his finger unerringly on another difficulty, which I confess I had not noticed. He is right to say that no amendment has been tabled in the name of the Liberal party, but if I understand correctly, that party has ceased to exist—or it has ceased to exist until next year's conference of the Social and Liberal Democratic party decides on its name. That is one difficulty, but the other difficulty—I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this to my attention—is that the official defence spokesman of the Social and Liberal Democratic party is not in his place. I hope that that does not mean that he is unable to be here or that he is ill. However, it is unusual for the official spokesman of any party represented in this House not to be present for a major debate—indeed, the only major debate that we have on the Estimates per year.
§ Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)
The Secretary of State for Defence is a joke today. He realises—and I realise— what my party's policy is on defence—[Laughter.]It is not a laughing matter. It is serious. People in this country are behind us and support what we want to see happen. Why does the Secretary of State not agree with the American and Soviet Union policies of getting rid of nuclear weapons, instead of hanging on to them like him and that woman at No.10? The Soviets and the Americans are achieving Labour party policy.
§ Mr. Younger
I am greatly indebted to the hon. Gentleman for his joke this afternoon. It reminds me of the pleasant fact that I had the pleasure of speaking after him when he made his maiden speech. I recall saying then that I hoped very much that we would hear him often. I did not realise how important that was and how much I would appreciate it today. We can hear a great deal more from him on that subject and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Islwyn will be glad to hear from him on that.
§ Mr. Haynes
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have listened to what the Secretary of State has said about the speeches I make here. I have made many speeches here, but he has not been present to hear them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order; it is a point of information.
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is being unduly moclest. I have heard many of his speeches and enjoyed all of them.
913 There is clearly a large unilateralist policy on the Left of the Labour party and we must recognise that. There is also still unilateralism by stealth among the leadership of the party that the right hon. Member for Islwyn represents. Neither of those two policies provides Britain with a credible defence policy in a changing world. Today, only the Government have any sound defence policy which balances the opportunities and the risks and ensures that we can meet the challenges of the 1990s effectively.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
The Secretary of State has said that he is meeting the challenges. How does he meet the challenge of the 132 non-nuclear nations which have signed the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty and which have called on the United Kingdom to carry out the treaty that we signed under clause 6 to get rid of our nuclear weapons? Does the Secretary of State not support those 132 non-nuclear nations?
§ Mr. Younger
As the hon. Gentleman says, we are signatories to the non-proliferation treaty. We not only believe in it and support it: we actually implement it. We have been major supporters of the effort to make the first ever reduction in nuclear weapons, about which I will say more in a moment. That is an immense success and is due entirely to the policy followed by this Government and our allies abroad.
We need to be clear about the nature of the changes taking place in the Soviet Union. President Gorbachev has clearly decided that a lessening of external pressures and distractions is required if his programme of internal reform is to succeed. To that end, he must reduce the costs of Soviet foreign policy by abandoning the old and failed policy of intervention and confrontation. The Government have been unstinting in welcoming the greater signs of openness and reform within Soviet society. Unfortunately, we cannot infer from those signs that Soviet leaders have renounced their foreign policy ambitions.
Despite all the talk of interdependence and reasonable sufficiency, and despite the reductions in intermediate nuclear forces under way—which I welcome warmly— there has been no noticeable slowing down in any sector of Soviet military research, development or production. That is borne out today by the latest edition of "The Military Balance" produced by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, reports of which appear in this morning's newspapers.
For example, in the Soviet Union, new submarines are being completed at the rate of one every six weeks. Each day, two new aircraft and eight new tanks roll off the production lines. The Soviet chemical warfare capability remains the largest and most comprehensive in the world. Therefore, we ignore the Soviet Union's military capability at our peril. Soviet leaders may have ceased threatening to bury capitalism, but they show no signs yet of throwing away the spade.
Responding sensibly and safely to changes in Soviet policy is a major challenge for NATO, but the way to meet that challenge is clear. NATO has a well tried and tested security strategy supported, I remind the House, by all members of NATO, whatever may be the political complexion of their Governments. It remains solidly based on the twin and complementary principles of the Harmel 914 report. They are that the Alliance should maintain sufficient military strength and political solidarity to deter aggression and that, at the same time, NATO should seek a more stable relationship with the East in which we can find political solutions to underlying problems. We should adhere to those principles. They have proved their worth. Indeed, the INF treaty is a triumphant vindication of our policy of negotiation from a position of adequate security.
The treaty was a major milestone in at least two ways. For the first time, an entire class of nuclear missile will be eliminated. Secondly, the Soviet Union has accepted the need for asymmetrical reductions to reflect imbalances in force levels and for intrusive verification as an essential part of arms control. To those who fall for the idea that the Soviet Union should get credit for the treaty, I commend the essay in the statement outlining the history of the negotiations.
The fact is that the treaty is very similar to that composed by NATO in 1981. We should not forget, for instance, the claims made early on by the Soviet Union that a rough equivalence in intermediate range systems existed. Similar claims, with as little basis in fact, are now being made in the preliminary rounds of the conventional stability talks. However, the Alliance held firm despite a succession of tactical ploys by the Soviet Union and despite the unceasing efforts in this country of the Labour and Liberal parties and CND to weaken our resolve and our negotiating position.
No amount of sophistry can disguise the fact that the INF treaty is a triumph for NATO and the result of a NATO initiative. Similarly, Western proposals have provided the basis and agenda for the other arms control negotiations. Our priorities are: a major reduction of 50 per cent. in the strategic nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union; an agreement on the establishment of a stable and secure level of conventional forces in Europe, in which our aim is to concentrate on the dominating and destabilising Soviet military presence in Europe, with its capability for large-scale offensive action and its readiness for surprise attack; and not least, a global ban on chemical weapons, with adequate verification.
The arms control process depends crucially on openness about military activities. We therefore welcome the limited moves towards Western standards of openness shown by the Soviet Union. Those Western standards are exemplified by the United Kingdom's policy of maximum openness about chemical warfare. We abandoned our offensive chemical weapons capability in the late 1950s. Since then, we have provided detailed information about our former production and stocks of chemical weapons. The exchange of visits between the chemical defence establishment at Porton Down and the Soviet chemical weapons facility at Shikhany followed a British initiative and was a significant move forward.
However, many questions and concerns still remain. It is clear that the Soviet definition of openness remains, even now, very different from ours. In any arms control process, confidence is essential to underpin an effective agreement. We need much more frankness from the Soviet Union about its chemical weapons activities before we can say that we have that confidence.
The arms control journey will be long and complex, but we have a clear idea of our goals and priorities. Reducing the level of armaments cannot be safely an end in itself. Our objective must be to preserve, and if possible enhance, our security at lower levels of armaments. That will be 915 difficult enough as things stand in any of the areas under negotiation, but it will be impossible unless we as an Alliance maintain our defences, keep our forces—both nuclear and conventional—modern, effective and up to date, and provide the resources necessary to that end.
The NATO summit in March set that out in the clearest possible terms. The summit also reaffirmed the Alliance's continuing common purpose and solidarity. Ours is not a static Alliance. It has evolved over four decades. It was founded in the dark years immediately after the last war. The American military presence on this side of the Atlantic bolstered western Europe as a bulwark against Soviet military power and subversion, and it encouraged the Europeans to make a stand against Soviet ambitions.
At that time, European nations were emerging from the war with demobilised or shattered forces. They could barely scrape together at that time 15 divisions to face the 100 or so across the iron curtain. Those 100 were backed by war industries at full stretch and by the political will to use them to further Soviet aims.
Since then, the European members of the Alliance have expanded in number and in the forces that they contribute to the common defence. Today, we in the Western Alliance can muster about 80 divisions. Something like 90 per cent. of the military manpower and an overwhelming proportion of the tanks, artillery and aircraft stationed in Europe in peacetime and provided by the Europeans. Therefore, we have made major advances in strengthening what has come to be called the European pillar of NATO.
Nevertheless, recent pressures on the United States to reduce its trade and budget deficits have breathed new life into the debate about burden-sharing within the Alliance. Although we must expect the United States to look again at its range of commitments in the light of changes in the world, I am sure that the American commitment to the defence of western Europe will be maintained.
The American contribution of a strategic guarantee backed by a substantial military presence in Europe remains vital to the Alliance's security. Furthermore, it is no more provided out of charity than is our contribution to forward defence in Germany, for Europe represents a vital interest to the United States. Moreover, all our Alliance partners are agreed on the importance of relating any force reductions to solid progress in arms control negotiations.
But we must ensure that the costs and risks of Alliance membership, as well as the benefits, are shared fairly among its member nations. This principle has always been at the heart of NATO, and reflects the fact that it is a free partnership of 16 sovereign nations. We need to take further steps to strengthen the European pillar as a means of strengthening the Alliance as a whole—not, as some would propose, to create a European security identity distinct from the Alliance. That remains neither a desirable nor an achievable aim.
While there is no doubt of the commitment felt by European members of the Alliance, some member countries devote a disappointingly small share of their national wealth to defence. They should give particularly careful consideration to increasing it to levels closer to the NATO average, and we must all consider how we can further improve our contributions to the common defence from the resources available.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
On the question of burden sharing, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the 916 American Congress in particular is made aware of the contribution that this country and other European countries are making— by way, for example, of bases such as Diego Garcia, the sovereign base areas in Cyprus and out-of-area activities such as the Armilla patrol and many others? When I was in Washington, I found there a profound ignorance of what many European defcnce forces are doing around the world to help and bolster up their American allies.
§ Mr. Younger
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I, too, have found, whenever I have had the opportunity to talk about this in America, that audiences are usually amazed by how much Europe does for its own defence. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that extremely important point. It suggests that, while expressing our efforts more clearly to Congress and to others in America, we must all consider how we can further improve our contributions to the common defence.
European nations are already striving to strengthen their contribution through the revitalised Western European Union and through the Independent European Programme Group. The United Kingdom assumed the presidency of the Western European Union in July. We shall use the period of our presidency to strengthen co-operation among European nations and encourage practical contributions to the common defence. We shall also work to secure a satisfactory outcome to the negotiations on the entry of Spain and Portugal into the organisation. The Western European Union also played a key role in co-ordinating the presence of European navies in the Gulf in the last year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) just mentioned.
We are also seeking actively to extend bilateral links with our European allies, as they can make an important contribution to strengthening the Alliance. In particular, we are examining a number of proposals for closer co-operation with France and the Federal Republic, covering a wide range of defence business, and we have recently agreed to establish a joint study with the Federal Republic to consider how the close links that already bind us can be further developed within the Alliance framework.
European nations have a special role to play in the basing of theatre nuclear forces. These forces give vital support to the Alliance strategy of flexible response. As with other forces, they must be kept properly structured and up to date. That is nothing new. It is part of the enduring responsibility which a full and active member-ship of the Alliance carries with it. Decisions on these matters will be taken as and when required, and will be reported to the House at the appropriate time.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
My right hon. Friend referred to the role of the Western European Union. Does he accept that the North Atlantic Assembly consists not just of the WEU nations but also of the Americans and the Canadians, which means that NATO as a whole is represented in that assembly, that it ought to be encouraged to reflect the political will of the Alliance to as great an extent as WEU and that it ought to play as great a part as WEU?
§ Mr. Younger
I agree with my hon. Friend. The North Atlantic Assembly is another useful forum in which to explain to our friends across the Atlantic how much the Europeans are doing, and vice versa.
§ r. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
My right hon. Friend will remember that he and the British Government most kindly hosted a WEU symposium on research co-operation within Europe in the military sphere. Is my right hon. Friend able to report to the House that any progress has been made on implementing its recommendations, which were contained in the Vredeling report to the Independent European Programme Group —that there should be a single permanent secretariat for the IEPG and a common research fund for military research within the IEPG nations?
§ Mr. Younger
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I remember the symposium very well. I shall be in a better position to answer his question in a fortnight's time. Another meeting of IEPG Ministers is to take place in Luxembourg in about two weeks' time. Good progress was made at the last meeting, but we are still awaiting final decisions. However, we are working very much along the lines that my hon. Friend has mentioned. I hope to be able to report to the House before very long that further progress has been made.
To get the greatest benefit from these developments and improvements, we need well trained and highly skilled people. We expect a great deal from our service men and women and from the civil servants who work with them. Happily, they always seem to be able to meet our expectations, but we must not take their efforts for granted.
Consider, for example, the range of professional skills that they must demonstrate—from the traditional skills of the battlefield to state-of-the-art knowledge of electronics and computers. The Army alone has no fewer than 150 different categories of employment. No other work force in the country can match the range of skills and of training available in today's armed forces.
Consider also the diverse tasks that we ask our service men and women to undertake, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances. We have had many occasions in the past year to admire the skill and efficiency with which they perform their operational duties. Nowhere are these qualities more apparent than among the personnel from all three services who support the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. These qualities have been demonstrated in the light of the recent upsurge in violence which has brought tragedy to so many families, both service and civilian.
We are all aware of the great personal courage that it takes for the security forces to discharge their duties in the hazardous circumstances of the Province, but we should not forget that these duties also require of them enormous patience, discipline and professional expertise. Our troops there face a ruthless enemy who deliberately brings death, destruction and misery to all the people in the Province, to their own community as much as anyone else. Our service men's contribution in enabling the ordinary law-abiding people of Northern Ireland to go about their daily lives in peace is beyond question. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in expressing our admiration and appreciation to those many thousands of service men and women who continue to serve us so well.
A similar level of professionalism has been shown by the men of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary who have been carrying out the Armilla patrol since 1980 in tense and trying circumstances. The reduced tension in the region means that 918 conditions are now right for the Armilla patrol to move away from closely accompanying British merchant shipping to patrolling the areas of the Gulf most used by British shipping, but we are not reducing the size of our naval forces in the Gulf, and we shall continue to provide protection for British merchant shipping for as long as a significant threat to their safety remains.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Does the Secretary of State still feel that there is a significant level of danger to British shipping in the Gulf, in view of the decisions taken by Iran and Iraq? How many foreign ships have re-flagged to the ensign in order to take advantage of the Armilla patrol, which many Opposition Members think has been using the British Navy as a mercenary force? Would it not be appropriate to ask some of those countries that have re-flagged to pay part of the cost of the Armilla patrol?
§ Mr. Younger
I am always grateful to anybody who offers to pay any part of the costs of what we do, but I must resist that temptation in this case. A very small number of countries have changed to British or to British dependent territory flags. The British Armilla patrol has been prepared to accompany only British-flagged or owned ships. In doing so, it is interesting to note that the Armilla patrol has escorted in and out of the Gulf more ships than all other countries added together. As the Armilla patrol is supporting only British shipping, that is a remarkable contribution to the British shipping industry, to our interests overseas and to the rights of world shipping to use international waters. It has been a very fine chapter in the long history of peacekeeping by the Royal Navy.
It is our duty to ensure that we provide the equipment and support that the services need to undertake their multifarious tasks, consistent with operational and value-for-money considerations.
Our defence budget, at £19,215 million this year, is among the highest in NATO, both in absolute terms and in the share it represents of our national wealth. The cash increases in planned provision published in the last public expenditure White Paper enable us to consolidate that past real growth and to maintain our defence spending at a level almost one fifth higher in real terms than 10 years ago. We can thus carry through the necessary modernisation of our strategic nuclear deterrent.
The Trident programme remains on course for entry into service in the mid-1990s. However, the bulk of the real increase in defence spending has been devoted to improving our conventional forces. Since 1978–79, we have spent some £21.5 billion more on defence than would have been the case if expenditure had been kept at 1978–79 levels. Of that increase, only £2.5 billion has been spent on strategic nuclear forces.
We have yet to reap the full benefits of that investment. I can cite various examples of major items of equipment ordered for delivery during the next few years. Twenty-seven of the 64 major vessels ordered for the Royal Navy since 1979, almost two thirds of the 500 aircraft ordered for the RAF since 1979, the bulk of the new armoured personnel carriers for the Army, a further regiment of Challenger tanks, three multiple-launch rocket system regiments and a new air defence regiment equipped 919 with the Starstreak high velocity missile have still to be delivered, although they have been ordered and are currently being produced.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
The Secretary of State has made claims about the Government's shipbuilding programme that were made, again and again, by his predecessors. It is easy to make such claims—even in this House—and avoid close examination, much less analysis.
The plain fact remains that under this Government the ordering rate for new vessels has been only 1.6 per year. Because of the attention paid to the effectiveness and size of our fleet during recent years, all hon. Members must be aware that even to retain a reduced surface fleet of about 50 calls for an ordering rate of three ships per year. How can the right hon. Gentleman get around those two figures? The Government's record stands at 1.6, against the three ships required to carry out Government policy.
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Gentleman knows a great deal about these important matters. It is not surprising that the ordering rate during the past few years has been lower than usual, because we are changing from one type of frigate to another, and there is always a pause when changing to a new type. Of course, the number of ships ordered per year is only one factor in keeping the size of the surface fleet at the required level, which is about 50 destroyers and frigates. The Select Committee clearly said that the required number was, in fact, 2.6 and not three as the hon. Gentleman suggested.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that, through a combination of new ordering of ships and keeping old ships operational until the end of their useful life, we intend to maintain the destroyer-frigate force at about 50 for the near future. I hope that that is the assurance that he seeks.
The fleet is benefiting from a substantial programme to keep our surface escort force up to date, with 10 frigates currently on order. Those include the three new type 23 frigates ordered in July from Yarrows. They will provide a major improvement in our anti-submarine warfare capabilities. We expect to invite tenders for more of those ships next year. Our ability to counter the submarine threat in the north Atlantic will be enhanced further by the three nuclear-powered fleet submarines and four type 2400 Upholder class conventionally powered submarines that are on order. Major programmes are continuing to update the fleet's air defence and mine countermeasure capabilities, and to improve underwater weapon systems and sonars.
The Army's contribution to forward defence in Germany is being strengthened by the formation of 24 Airmobile Brigade, bringing a new degree of flexibility to 1(BR) Corp's operations in NATO's central region. An additional Challenger regiment is in place, and Saxon and Warrior armoured fighting vehicles are being deployed. The most modern equipment, including the SA 80 rifle, the LAW 80 anti-tank weapon, the S10 respirator and battlefield thermal imaging systems, is steadily being introduced. That programme will greatly improve the Army's capability, especially its mobility and firepower. We are continuing to examine both an improved Challenger and foreign options as possible replacements for the Chieftain tank.
920 The RAF's major modernisation programme is well under way. Two thirds of the strike attack version of Tornado are now in service and the first two squadrons of the air defence variant have formed during the last year. The first squadron of the improved Harrier, the GR5, has started to form. Since the statement was published, the Government have signed a memorandum of understanding for the full development of the European fighter aircraft. That is a major step towards providing the RAF with the next generation of air defence and offensive support aircraft. The Government remain determined to continue to provide the resources necessary for effective defence and to ensure that we get the best value for these substantial sums of money.
During recent days, there has been a good deal of speculation and rather wild allegations in some parts of the press and from some Opposition Members about the sale of Royal Ordnance to British Aerospace last year. I should like to put the record straight. The fact is that we held an open competition and BAe won it. What it bought for £190 million was the business as a going concern, with its weaknesses as well as its strengths. It is all very well to speculate about the profits that BAe may or may not make from developing the sites at Enfield and Waltham Abbey, but the minuses must also be taken into account. For example, BAe faces substantial costs in reproviding the Enfield and Waltham Abbey facilities elsewhere; the company has embarked on a major rationalisation programme which will lead to costs for providing equipment and for redundancy; many of the sites being disposed of will need a good deal of decontamination work before they can be developed; and BAe also took on existing contracts at Royal Ordnance, whether profitable or not.
The benefits that might be derived from any property development depend very heavily on whether planning restrictions for the areas concerned are relaxed. All these factors have to be weighed together, and that was the commercial judgment made by BAe and the other competitors when framing their offers. The Government, as advised by their merchant bankers, Rothschild, believed that the price obtained was very fair. Indeed, it was almost twice the £100 million that Rothschilds advised would have been obtained had we floated the company. That is the answer to all those who try to take one aspect of a perfectly genuine sale while ignoring all the other facts that led to a balanced judgment, after competition, with the best price being obtained for the public purse.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, one of the important Royal Ordnance factories is in Scotland. Will he confirm that it was always open to the Government to reject any offer, even that made by British Aerospace? Therefore, the responsibility for losing finance and resources for the nation, which will now accrue either directly or indirectly to British Aerospace, lies with the Government.
§ Mr. Younger
There will be no such effect. It was, of course, the Government's decision to transfer Royal Ordnance to private ownership. It is well known how that was done—through competition, with the best price being taken. That fact cannot be denied. The hon. Gentleman knows that the objective—which looks like being attained —is to produce a more profitable, more successful Royal 921 Ordnance that can export more successfully. That will be of benefit not only to the country but to the company's employees.
§ Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the staggering difference between the value of the land when it was sold to British Aerospace and the value of such land if it is sold now? Will he confirm that the excuses that are being given—namely, the distinction between what is called the use value of the land and the market value of the land, which is the get-out for the Department now—are a step backwards for him a reconversion to Marxism?
§ Mr. Younger
I am not sure about the last point. The hon. Gentleman would be much more of an expert on that matter than I am. On the first point, the clear fact is that consideration of the value of the business as a whole took all that into account. Even if it had not, there was an open competition in which everybody knew all the facts, and the best price was taken.
On his second point about land values, I remind the hon. Gentleman that land values can be affected by many things, one of which is whether land has planning permission. Much speculation has centred upon making exotic calculations about land values without planning permission and assuming that planning permission might be granted. The disposal of land also depends on the condition of the land. Because of its condition, some of this land, if it were to be disposed of, would require quite a lot of money to be spent on it. I hope that that has answered the hon. Gentleman's question.
This year's statement outlines the measures in hand and the successes so far to ensure that resources are used effectively. Civilian staff numbers are now down by over 40 per cent. from 1979 levels. The Department is adopting a new management strategy. By the early 1990s, we shall have a system of budgets for running costs operating in all parts of the Department and in commands. Managers will have greater freedom with approved budgets to determine how best to meet their objectives, for which they will be accountable. We have set ourselves ambitious annual targets for improving the efficient use of resources. These improvements may be secured either by reduced input for the same output or increased output for the same input.
In response to the "next steps" initiative, we are examining two possible candidates for agency status—the Meteorological Office and the non-nuclear research establishments—and how they could provide us with a more responsive and more effective service. Another key element in our strategy is the continued pursuit of a more commercial approach to equipment procurement. The benefits of the more rigorous approach to competition are already apparent. An indication of the savings to be obtained is given by the 11 examples quoted in the statement, which will yield savings of over £100 million, and the competition for this year's order of type 23 frigates obtained significant savings over earlier prices.
We are also redeploying service manpower to enhance operational capabilities. Since 1981, the proportion of Royal Navy personnel serving in the front-line or immediately in its support has increased to 70 per cent. About half the savings of 4,000 uniformed support posts, under the Army's "lean look" programme, have now been 922 achieved, to the benefit of front line units, and the RAF has saved some 1,700 uniformed posts in the support area over the past four years.
In its report on this year's statement, the Defence Committee expressed concern about the defence implications of reduced spending by my Department on research and development. I can assure the House that the primary objective will continue to be to ensure that sufficient R and D resources are provided to meet essential defence needs.
§ Mr. Banks
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps if there had been a bit more R and D, scientists and military personnel would have known the size of rifles. I understand that 42 million bullets were bought from India, and it turns out that the rifle bore does not match the size of the bullet. Is that true? How much has that cost the British taxpayer? What is the shelf life of a bullet?
§ Mr. Younger
I understand that the ammunition in question is no longer satisfactory. I also think that the hon. Gentleman may unwittingly be scoring one of his celebrated own goals, because it was ordered and obtained by the last Labour Government.
The decisions earlier this year to participate in full development of two major collaborative programmes, the European fighter aircraft and the Trigat guided weapon system, are clear proof of the better use of R and D resources.
On the reduction, it has to be recognised that the nation's resources of qualified scientists and engineers, and of skilled manpower to support them, are not infinite. While meeting our essential defence requirements, we must also ensure that the successful working of the civil economy is not hampered. Appropriate restraints on Government-funded defence R and D spending are necessary to free resources for civil work, but companies will be encouraged to offer technology that they have developed for civil purposes when tendering for defence equipments. This approach implies no change in our criteria for selecting new equipment.
Our policy will continue to be to secure the best long-term value for money in national terms in procuring the equipment needed by the armed forces for their tasks. In most cases, that will involve national programmes of development and production or collaboration with our allies. In some cases, as in the past, we shall find that best value is obtained by turning to a foreign supplier.
I entirely share the Select Committee's view that the effects of the constraints on defence R and D spending must be carefully watched, and any disadvantages minimised. My Department fully recognises the need to support and to have access to sufficient R and D to maintain effective defence, while avoiding a situation where such demands might hinder the long-term economic development of the United Kingdom as a whole. Other Departments besides my own will play an appropriate part in this, in particular the Department of Trade and Industry as regards the impact on civil R and D effort.
The House will of course recall that British industry, with the energetic encouragement of the Government, has itself had notable export successes this year, particularly with the memoranda of understanding that we have 923 concluded with the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. The total value of export contracts signed in 1987 was some £3.5 billion.
On the more general point about the defence budget, the House will understand that I can say nothing at this stage about the 1988 public expenditure survey, beyond reaffirming the Government's commitment to a strong and credible defence policy.
The Select Committee recognised that, in the 1987 survey, the Government allocated extra resources to defence over those planned in previous years. This provided broadly level funding in real terms until 1990–91, and some necessary room for manoeuvre in the programme. But there will always be, as we have said, difficult decisions about priorities, of the sort faced every year, and by all Governments, in the course of the usual planning cycle. It may be necessary to make changes at the margins of the programme, to allow for cash pressures, to offset necessary enhancements in capability elsewhere in order to construct a sustainable, balanced programme.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I shall not delay his concluding remarks. In view of what he has said, and in view of the fact that 50,000 Territorial Army troops are committed to the British Army of the Rhine, will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the phase 2 enhancements for the Territorial Army are progressing well and are safe from cuts or whether they, too, will be within the remit of "further consideration"?
§ Mr. Younger
All items in the programme are under consideration at all times, but the expansion of the Territorial Army has gone extremely well. We should like to see it go further, but we require better recruitment and better retention of people in the Territorial Army to get the numbers that we wish.
We have already had to face some difficult choices. We would have preferred, for instance, to buy eight AWACS aircraft, but we had to conclude that we could afford only seven at this stage. We have had to conclude that we should not fit a 360-deg radar to Royal Navy Lynx mark 8 helicopters. Undoubtedly there will be other difficult choices, but we shall maintain all our main defence roles and commitments, as this year's statement makes clear.
§ Mr. Douglas
Surely the Secretary of State will make some comment about armed forces' pay and the fact that, in 1989, in Scotland in particular the armed forces will have to pay the poll tax. What provisions are being made for some consideration of that and the removal of the anomalies involved?
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Gentleman has raised a point that has nothing to do with armed forces pay. The armed forces will be treated the same as every other citizen with regard to the community charge. I do not think that they are likely to be treated in the same way as the hon. Gentleman appears to be planning to treat himself—by not paying it.
The world is changing with regard to arms control. It is changing in a way which presents this country and NATO with new challenges and opportunities. The best means of pursuing those opportunities is to remain faithful to policies which have proved their worth and develop them to meet the new challenges ahead.
924 We will seek, as we have done, to move to lower force levels, but the journey will be a long one and will be undertaken with caution. The West's need to maintain its security by preserving and modernising the structure, range and equipment of its forces will continue.
In their first defence White Paper, the Government pledged to restore our defence effort to the level needed to give the best possible guarantee of safety and peace, using the most economical means possible. In this one, the Government continue to pursue a programme which has been proved to be successful and has been designed to fulfil that pledge.
§ Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:'believes that the plans outlined in the Statement on Defence Estimates, Cm. 344, and in particular the Government's acquisition of Trident which is neither British nor independent, are already having a deleterious effect on the conventional defences of the United Kingdom, especially the Royal Navy surface fleet, and on related defence procurement industries; calls upon the Government to cancel Trident and use resources to secure our non-nuclear defences and to work actively for the reduction and abolition of nuclear weapons in Britain and elsewhere and the adoption by NATO of a strategy of No First Use; applauds the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty by the Governments of the United States and the Soviet Union and would be opposed to any nuclear arms deployment which would undermine the effectiveness of that Treaty; welcomes the progress being made towards a Chemical and Biological Weapons Ban Treaty, and the anticipated 50 per cent. cuts in ballistic missiles which would result from the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks; and further believes that the Conventional Stability Talks will provide the means whereby NATO and Warsaw Pact troop numbers can be asymmetrically reduced, forward troop deployments can be withdrawn, and short-range ground and air-launched dual capable systems can be eliminated.This debate is long overdue. It is five months since the White Paper was published and we are now more than half way through the period of estimated expenditure. I realise that part of the delay is due to the time required for the Select Committee to prepare its report and its commentary on the report. We welcome the report and the helpful, if at times somewhat understated, criticisms that have been made.
Our contention is that after nine and a half years of Government the time has come for a comprehensive defence review that will take account of the budgetary crisis that the Secretary of State skated over in his closing remarks. The review should assess the impact of the cost of Trident on the rest of our defence provision and place Trident in the context of the emerging arms control consensus between the two alliances. It should also consider how we should respond to the challenges made to many of the assumptions upon which the flexible response theory and nuclear deterrent are based.
In the light of the INF treaty and the confusion that exists between the Government and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany about the time and nature of the modernisation of short -range systems, these matters must be looked at in a cool way. We will endeavour to raise them this afternoon, but I hope that the Secretary of State will bear in mind the words of one of his predecessors, when he said:We have a choice. Either we can continue to pretend that there is no problem, that we can wish away the threat or 925 imagine that the United Kingdom can somehow sustain, replace and enhance its operational effectiveness without a fresh look at how we perform our tasks—what we are doing, and why—or we can continue to drift down the path that led… to cuts".—[Official Report,19 May 1981; Vol. 5, c. 160.]That statement was made in the House by the former Secretary of State for Defence, Sir John Nott. The task which he set himself, and from which he had to back down, is one that the Government, nine and a half years into their period of rule, should look at again. There are a number of problems which must be dealt with and which would strengthen the hand of the Secretary of State in his battle with the real chief of defence at the moment, namely, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
Mr. O' Neill
I should like to carry on, but I shall be happy to let the hon. Gentleman speak in a moment or two.
Since 1984–85, and including this year, 1988–89, defence spending has fallen by 7.1 per cent. in real terms. That may be greater if inflation continues to rise above 4.5 per cent. and the spending outturn falls below the planned level. It is likely that the real reduction over the past five years will be about 8 per cent. I quote those figures from the work of such people as Professor Greenwood at Aberdeen and Dr. Channers at the University of Bradford. They are people from varying positions in the political spectrum but who, as defence economists, come to pretty much the same conclusions. Their work has suggested that up to 1991 the budget will stabilise around its current level, but that will depend upon the Treasury allowing an increase in the MOD cash limit to compensate for higher than expected inflation projections. If that does not happen, we can expect defence cuts during the next three or four years of about 1 per cent. per annum in real terms.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that defence spending by the Government since 1979 in real terms has increased by 20 per cent.? Will he tell the House whether the Labour party, if it were ever elected, would continue defence spending at the same level?
§ Mr. O'Neill
I confirm the first question. I shall reply to the second question in the course of my remarks.
The decline in certain critical areas of the budget is in large measure due to the expenditure on Trident during the past three or four years. As expenditure on Trident increases, with the accompanying rise in personnel costs, the funds for conventional equipment will continue to fall. Non-Trident expenditure on new equipment will have fallen by 26 per cent. between 1984–85 and 1988–89, and is likely to fall by a further 10 per cent. up to 1992. Spending on spares and repairs, excluding Trident, will have fallen by 15 per cent. in the five years up to 1989. By June 1991 more than 50 per cent. of the Trident budget will have been spent, with another 10 to 20 per cent. contractually committed. By 1992 it will be in excess of 60 per cent., with savings from the cancellation amounting to between £1 billion and £3 billion. Even in those circumstances, the saving will depend upon the contract interpretation.
926 I say to my hon. Friends who have an alternative amendment that they are deluding themselves if they believe that cancellation of Trident would release countless billions for social expenditure. My contention is that the deleterious effect that Trident spending will have on our conventional defences will require such a response that little of this money could be released from the defence budget in the early years of a Labour Government.
The Select Committee on Defence has pointed out that the difficulties of measuring the cost of replacing equipment in terms of generation-on-generation costs are often far in excess of what even the most sophisticated statistical tools at our disposal can predict. I shall repeat the examples quoted in the Committee's report. A type 22 frigate costs four times the price of the Leander that it replaced. The Challenger tank costs two and a quarter times the price of a Chieftain, and the Sea Wolf costs three and a quarter times the price of Sea Cat. In paragraph 2.11 of its seventh report the Select Committee says:There is no reason to think that the effect of this phenomenon is declining; indeed, in the areas of highest technology there is every reason to believe that it is increasing substantially.It is not the equipment that forms the basis of our defence; it is the quality and morale of our service personnel.
§ Mr. Leigh
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the need for a review of defence policies. Will he review his own defence policy? Does he recall writing in 1988 in the "Journal of European Disarmament" that he was opposed to END's over-emphasis on human rights in eastern Europe? He said that if it came to a choice between reducing the threat of war and defending human rights in eastern Europe, he knew which course he would take. Will the hon. Gentleman also tell us whether he still believes that the Labour party's commitment to nuclear disarmament is greater than ever? Does he belong to that wing of the Labour party that wishes to consult the British people, or to that wing that wishes to ignore the wishes of the British people? Perhaps he could come clean.
§ Mr. O'Neill
I was mistaken in letting the hon. Gentleman intervene. I appreciate that, as a lawyer, his capacity wilfully to misrepresent statements is a way of life. My first point is that I do not believe that the process of disarmament negotiations should be unnecessarily involved in questions of freedom and civil liberties at the same time. That is a dangerous precedent that clutters up discussions, and that is something that is accepted by all those who are seriously concerned about the prospects for arms control. I am whole-heartedly behind the present moves to reduce the threat of nuclear war on the continent and throughout the world.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) interrupted me as I was trying to raise the matter of the pay and conditions of service men, to which the Minister did not refer. I welcome the Government's implementation of the pay review board award. That was necessary, and it is desirable that we seek to treat our troops as fairly as possible. However, it should be borne in mind that, under the new budgetary arrangements, any increase in the amount contained in the Supply Estimates, over and above that increase estimated for inflation, will have to be borne within the defence budget. An inflation 927 rate of 6.5 per cent. is mentioned, and that means that we are talking of an RPI of 4.5 per cent. We know that that is a gross under-estimate of the ultimate rate of inflation.
This year the Ministry has already overspent its budget for food and accommodation by some £230 million. An ever-increasing element of the defence budget will be accounted for by enhancements to pay and conditions. Unfortunately, such enhancements will be paid for by resulting inadequate equipment and reductions in supplies. Such enhancements must be found within the budget, and they will be at the expense of the kit and conditions under which service people must work. Since 1983 the pay awards to the services have been underfunded by the MOD to the tune of £725 million.
Such is the disenchantment with service life that, in certain critical areas, such as air crews, we are training fewer pilots than are leaving the service. All too many high-grade technicians are leaving the naval technical staff and they are exactly the type of people whom we wish to retain to man our high-tech frigates in the 1990s.
I am surprised that no one has referred to the previous Labour Government and the days when recruitment was lower and resignations were higher. I accept that that took place, but unemployment is now twice as high as it was in 1979, yet we still see valuable people leaving the services at an alarming rate. In constituencies such as mine, male unemployment is still sticking at around 20 per cent., and in some of the villages young adult male unemployment stands at 40 per cent. We do not need to be reminded that unemployment is still the best recruiting sergeant.
We look to the future with some concern, because the Government have not properly taken into account the fact that that cohort of the population between the ages of 16 and 19, who account for about 80 per cent. of recruitment into our forces, will fall from 1.8 million, as recorded in 1987, to around 1.3 million in 1994. I concede that in Germany the population change is more dramatic, but it has established a plan that will take it through to the year 2000 that will accommodate that change. Germany already operates a system of conscription, and we are not talking about such a system. The Government must take into account the changes in the age groups within the population and the reduction in the birth rate, not only in terms of military planning, but because of their effect on the labour market. The cost of such planning must be borne by the defence budget.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I wish to refer to what the hon. Gentleman said about the problem as it affects Royal Air Force pilots. Does he accept that the requirements for a modern fast jet pilot are much higher than they were some years ago? The numbers volunteering have not dropped. The problem is finding sufficient numbers of the right quality, and that means aptitude as well as everything else, and included within that is attitude. It has been most difficult to find sufficient numbers with the right attitude. This is a qualitative problem rather than a quantitative one.
§ Mr. O'Neill
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's great interest in the works of W. E. Johns, and I recognise his experience in such matters. However, fewer pilots are joining the RAF than are leaving it. It is not just a qualitative problem, and I believe that the hon. Gentleman's comments are a slur on those recruits that are taken on. I accept that the rigour of the training is 928 considerable, but we should consider how to keep those men on whom we have spent so much money and training and who are so valuable to our defence effort.
Population figures are important and the Ministry should anticipate that problem. Perhaps we shall hear something about this in the debate. The pay and conditions of the armed forces are important, and will become increasingly so as there are greater and greater pressures on the labour market.
We recognise and welcome the work that has been done in the "tail to teeth" programme, which is a useful and helpful enhancement of the armed forces. We also recognise and pay tribute to the work of the Territorial Army. We hope that the programme that the Secretary of State instituted a couple of weeks ago will be a success. There have been problems with the TA, and research has shown that its image and conditions have not been as good as they might have been. The Government are now learning a lesson that has been spelt out to them by Members on both sides of the House since they took office.
§ Mr. Conway
The hon. Member has been reasonable in his remarks, and I am grateful to him for giving way. During the course of the recent election campaign his leader made a commitment to expand conventional forces to counteract what his party was saying to the public about nuclear forces. Given that that commitment still stands —notwithstanding the other amendment tabled by some of the hon. Gentleman's recalcitrant hon. Friends—and bearing in mind the reduction in the number of adult males available for military service, how does the hon. Gentleman marry those two precepts? He rightly says that the Ministry must think about this problem, but, given the commitment that the leader of his party has made, where will those young service men come from? Is he not actively saying to the young British public that the Labour party stands for the reintroduction of conscription?
§ Mr. O'Neill
I do not believe that there is any basis for that argument. I believe that it is the Government's responsibility to anticipate the dramatic drop in the number of young people who will be available for recruitment within the next five years. That drop will, I hope, be accompanied by a change in the labour market, and any Government taking office in 1992 will have to address that problem. It is incumbent upon the present Government to consider it.
Some of our allies have had to extend conscription and that is fair enough as they have more pressing problems than our own. That has been the German solution, but it is not the British solution. It is not one that I would advocate, and I do not believe that any of my hon. Friends would be prepared to support such a solution. I am not suggesting that the Labour party considers that there is any possibility of the reintroduction of conscription, but the Government have a responsibility to come up with a solution. The Government are making estimates about what they want to spend within the next three to four years, and we are entitled to know what plans they have regarding recruitment. We do not know their plans at present, and surely it is one of the items that should be included in a defence review.
§ Mr. Duffy
In the face of inquiries from Conservative Members about what a Labour Government would do, is it not helpful to put on record what the Labour Government did in 1978–79 in respect of these two matters 929 with which my hon. Friend has dealt at length? The Secretary of State for Defence is smiling, but I wonder whether he is aware that the Labour Government removed the pay claim from the defence budget. They entered into a commitment to increase defence spending by 2 per cent. I know that that was a NATO sanction, but the understanding was that it would be for conventional equipment. That is the record.
§ Mr. O'Neill
One must take refuge when one can.
I have dwelt on the cost of personnel, where economies cannot be made. Greatest savings can be made in procurement, and the Government's solution, as I am sure we shall hear tomorrow if not later today, is competitive tendering. That means that, instead of the old cosy relationship between defence manufacturers and the Ministry, where a figure was set for a contract and an additional percentage provision made for increased costs —the cost-plus approach, as it was known—we now have competition between suppliers, and the lowest tender wins. Naturally, if the Government continue to think that the cost is too high, they re-tender, forcing the price down further. That happened with the contract for the latest batch of type 23 frigates.
But that is only half the story. When the Secretary of State does not have the money, or when it is earmarked for something else, it is only too convenient for him to delay the process by requiring a new round of bids. That has the effect of forcing companies into corners, and in shipbuilding it leads to a beggar-my-neighbour, and uitimately a beggar-myself, approach. That is evidenced by the difficulties that both Yarrow and Swan Hunter had in meeting the challenge of the contracting process for the type 23. As a consequence, both the design teams and the work force must be declared redundant.
That tough value-for-money approach is seen in other areas where competitive tendering is inappropriate. The recent contract with British Aerospace for the ROFs munitions and supplies showed that macho-negotiating can reduce a price from £700 million to £400 million. It could be argued that since British Aerospace is a monopoly supplier it is reasonable to protect the taxpayer, but it is neither reasonable nor prudent for the Government to impose a price and cost regime on a supplier such that the surplus capacity—it was recognised that the ordnance factories were always required to meet increases in demand in time of crisis—would be threatened. That is yet another example of the shortsighted short-termism that so characterises the Government's approach to our industrial base and to procurement generally.
It is certainly true that the way in which the privatisation deal with British Aerospace was finally concluded resulted in an improper valuation of the real estate. We are told that the possibility of getting changes in planning permission was not taken into account. I defy the Secretary of State to give us more than 10 instances from the period when the present Secretary of State for the Environment has had planning appeals before him for the change of use of development land and he has refused it. If there has ever been a Government who are a soft touch 930 for property developers, it is this one. For the Secretary of State for Defence to hide behind such a feeble excuse ill becomes his office and his responsibilities.
§ Mr. O'Neill
I have already given way four times, which is a reasonable amount, and I must proceed.
I hope that the Public Accounts Committee will investigate the propriety of the whole privatisation and that the Select Committee will examine the impact of a reduction in capacity on the ability of British Aerospace —the only realistic supplier—to meet our needs in a time of hostility. According to the White Paper, the Navy has sufficient stocks of fuel, spare parts and ammunition to meet NATO requirements, but even now plans exist to eliminate shortfalls. In the somewhat convoluted language of paragraph 310 of the White Paper we read that, although we meet NATO requirements, we do not satisfy the MOD. The Army's performance is not set out so explicitly, but it is stated that substantial resources are devoted to ensuring that adequate supplies of war materials can be obtained. Does that mean that targets are being met? The RAF already meets NATO requirements for virtually all war stocks and has plans to remove the remaining shortfalls.
British Aerospace is being required to cut its capacity because of the strictures of a contract which in the short term may be of advantage to taxpayers, but in the long term may be our undoing. If we strip away the gloss of the Secretary of State's remarks, clearly there are shortages in all the services, and we can only shudder at the problems that could arise. The RAF is merely another example of where the Government pursue value for money in the short term, but will sacrifice the defence of the country in
The Secretary of State gave cast-iron assurances in the House to the work force of the ROFs that their jobs would be safe after privatisation, but he now says that that is not his concern but the responsibility of management. If the management alone were to blame, perhaps we could expect some condemnation from him about the way in which those to be made redundant heard that they would lose their jobs. At six in the evening they switched on their television sets to discover that their jobs were to disappear. Neither the trade unions nor the work force, in any shape or form, were informed on 6 October. The Secretary of State says that it is not his fault or responsibility, but he was responsible for privatisation, for selling the factories to British Aerospace, for the price he accepted and for the deal which enabled the company to reduce capacity and sell the land. He will be responsible, too, for the lives of the service men, which could be endangered if the forces do not get the munitions that they will require in times of hostility.
The picture is similar for other MOD privatisations. We have seen disastrous job losses at Devonport, where more than 5,000 people will have to leave the yard by 1990. The Secretary of State knows my concern and that of the whole work force on this issue. The unions and I appreciate his willingness to meet us and hear the case, but I must say to him what we said in his office: urgent attention must be given to the diversion of additional work to the yard—the Southampton is an obvious case. I realise that it is still somewhat early, but I hope that the work that Devonport has done in the past will be taken into account and that it will be given a fair chance of getting a share of 931 the work. The Secretary of State must take another look at the docking and rental charges, which he conceded were unreasonably high and impose an unfair burden on that yard.
§ Mr. O'Neill
Despite the Secretary of State's nods and sympathetic noises, action must be forthcoming speedily, because a yawning gap will open between the time of the new development and the need to close existing facilities quickly. He owes it not only to the Navy, which has been served so well by the yard, but to the work force and the people of the south-west who have depended on the yard for so long.
The problems that procurement presents for the Government are primarily due to the absence of any coherent strategy. Sadly, the only threat that can be discerned is the attempt to postpone decisions for as long as possible. The MOD is the biggest single customer of Britain's manufacturing industry. It has three responsibilities: to ensure that taxpayers' money is wisely spent and to obtain the best possible kit, to ensure that British industry gets the best possible chance, consistent with taxpayers' interests to meet the needs of the armed forces, and to enable United Kingdom suppliers to plan ahead and so arrange their research and development and productive capacity as to meet future demands in peacetime and war.
We read in The Sunday Telegraph,which on defence matters is never 100 miles away from the truth, that we are considering the purchase of a tank from the United States. Will the Minister who is to reply to the debate tonight deny that the Abram M1 tank will be bought off the shelf without even the prospect of production under licence? Will the Secretary of State tell us whether he is satisfied with the fact that AEG and Ferranti are competing over the contract for the European fighter aircraft radar, which is not so much a fight between AEG and Ferranti, but a fight to the death between Marconi and Ferranti, and possibly our last opportunity to have a presence in the new generation of radar systems? Would the Germans or the French behave in that way? I very much doubt it. They have a sense of what one may call undue nationalism about the defence of their industries. But they certainly do not sell the pass in defence procurement, as the British Government do.
The British defence industry is demoralised, despite its success in selling abroad, which success we welcome. The first thing that defence contractors tell us about is the difficulty of obtaining consistency and forward planning from the Government. Just as the deployment of our men and materials requires planning and the development of our new equipment requires foresight and research, so we need strategic thinking for the defence industry to restore the confidence of the managers who run it, the people who work there and the armed forces, whose lives will depend on it.
Behind all the distortions to the budget lies Trident— the weapons system that we do not need, that we cannot afford and that will hardly be ours if it arrives. We know from the Select Committee report that problems have arisen with the capital works at Aldermaston, which will be two years late. The Committee was worried about the implications of those problems for the Trident warhead 932 programme, which would have repercussions for the three other SSBNs that will enter service in the second half of the 1990s.
Equally important is the problem of staffing at Aldermaston and Burghfield because of low rates of pay. The Committee concluded in paragraph 90, in the light of all the prevarication, the misleading statements, the half truths and the economies with the truth from the mouths of officials and others:We consider that the MoD can have little cause for complaint if future assurances are not taken at face value.Trident is the most prestigious programme which the Government are backing, we believe wrongheadedly, but the watchdog of the House—the Select Committee—has said, in the light of the assurances that it has received from the Government, enough is enough and that it will no longer easily take their word for it.
§ Mr. O'Neill
The hon. Member for Hampshire, Elast (Mr. Mates) shakes his head. Perhaps the Chairman of the Select Committee chooses his words injudiciously when trying to achieve ambiguity in his reports and in trying to ensure unanimity. The hon. Gentleman may not understand what he is saying, but I understand the report all too clearly to mean that he and his colleagues are sick and tired of the short change that they have been getting from the Government in respect of that area of the Trident programme.
The production of the warhead is the only part of the programme that is distinctly British. In almost every other area the work is done under licence from the United States. Last year the Secretary of State said that the warhead was made entirely in Britain, although the Select Committee states at page 22:The purchase of elements of the re-entry body and certain warhead-related components within it are mainly incurred in the U.S.Not only are the missiles American, but the guidance system has been purchased from the United States. The only part that is British built will be the fissile material, which we are having difficulty obtaining at present. Sadly, we are years behind with the construction of buildings and the recruitment of staff, and although we may have the boats we shall certainly have to wait for the warheads.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) discovered when he visited King's Bay in Georgia earlier this year, the Trident D5 missile pool will provide us with "drawing rights". We shall be able to obtain equipment as and when required, but we shall have to take missiles back there for servicing and the whole process will take about 18 days. If there is a war —I sincerely hope not—we can only hope that the Russians give us three weeks' notice before launching any nuclear weapons.
So much for our independent deterrent. Apart from the problems that are being caused to the services as a whole, the problems of the Navy are manifest in the declining size of the fleet. I had hoped that the Secretary of State would give us the latest figure. In a previous debate we had a running total on a daily basis. One day officials gave the Select Committee a figure, and the next day junior Ministers told us that the figure was slightly more, but that it might be slightly less depending on what happened. Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us whether it is about 50 or under 40.
933 We must take account of the Armilla patrol, on which I welcome the Secretary of State's remarks. It has done an outstanding job in difficult circumstances. It is no secret that that is not the easiest place in the world in which to work. I hope that in the very near future, when circumstances allow it, the Secretary of State will consider bringing back some of our men, because the conditions in which they operate are not only dangerous but, in the context of the climate, extremely uncomfortable. We owe that much to the men who have displayed such fortitude and professionalism throughout the operation.
The size of the fleet was the subject of a major report from the Select Committee this year. Referring to the previous report "The Way Forward", the Select Committee said:The philosophy underlying that paper has been quietly discarded without being replaced by a Ministerially approved coherent long-term plan for the Navy.It came out in evidence to the Committee that the confusion derived from the fact that if the Navy wished to participate in a forward maritime strategy, its contribution in more traditional terms to the campaign in the south-western approaches might be limited to a surprising extent.
Yet the entire purpose of the northern maritime strategy has been the highly provacative aim of taking out a large section of the Soviet fleet that is based in the Kola peninsula. It was somewhat inelegantly described by a former Under-Secretary for the Navy in the United States as bearding the bear in its lair. There are grave doubts in the mind of the Norwegian Government about the good sense of having this highly provocative presence in northern waters.
§ Mr. O'Neill
The hon. Gentleman has experience in some matters relating to the armed forces, but the Navy is not his specialist subject, so I shall not give way.
The White Paper seems to suggest that the Soviet threat is reducing in the northern waters, because it says that Soviet naval deployments away from home have been reduced steadily during the past two years. It is time for NATO to reconsider that provocative and potentially destabilising strategy which, in purely national terms, debilitates and confuses our contribution to the overall maritime strategy of the Alliance and causes alarm and misgivings among the people whom it is supposed to protect—the Norwegians.
NATO is reconsidering its approach to the modernisation of short-range weapons. The March meeting of the NATO Heads of Government was somewhat confused in its intentions. The Prime Minister's view of what was decided was very different from that of Chancellor Kohl. Perhaps that was because he got to President Reagan the week previously and stitched up the entire deal. He said that there would be no modernisation of short-range weapons in the foreseeable future, which means beyond the West German elections in 1990 and well into the 1990s.
Furthermore, the Germans are most reluctant to replace theatre or tactical weapons. The reasoning for that is clear. No one who lives in either of the two Germanies wants nuclear weapons which, if fired, could either land in his own country or endanger the lives of his family who 934 live on the other side of the border. Even the French, whom we normally associate with the level of bellicosity to which the Prime Minister seeks to aspire, have now recognised that the use of such weapons from within France could result only in their landing in the Federal Republic. The fallout from Chernobyl in central Europe has left an indelible mark on the minds of the people who live there. They now recognise the dangers of blitzkrieg, whether nuclear or conventional.
It appears, from what we have heard from the Secretary of State today, and from repeated statements by the Prime Minister, that they do not begin to realise the political sensitivity of the issue on the continent of Europe. The simplistic and wrong-headed notion that the use of small nuclear artillery shells in the face of massing troop formations will result in the troops' withdrawal, and not retaliation, is incredible.
As we approach the conventional stability talks, the Government should open up a debate on the concept of flexible response. When the upper rungs of the ladder are about to be reduced by half because of the strategic arms reduction talks, when the middle rungs have already been removed, and when many do not want the obsolete bottom rungs replaced, should not Britain, which has its own strategic missiles and 55,000 troops in the firing line in Germany, take a lead in making the first step towards European disarmament by advocating a policy of no first use of weapons for our Alliance? If such steps were taken, we should be seen as a nation that was interested in disarmament.
It is becoming all too obvious that in the management of the post-INF environment Britain is collaborating with the United States in the building up of compensatory systems in Britain. An article in tomorrow's edition of the New Statesmanwill show that the F 111 will be kept in this country for the foreseeable future and that it will soon be equipped with long-range air-launched systems. Indeed, on 5 March this year, the Washington Postcarried a report that some 50 F 111 Gs will be based in Britain under an agreement between the United States and Britain, which was made at a private meeting in Norway last year following the NATO meeting there.
That is contrary to what the Secretary of State told the Select Committee on Defence on 18 May, in paragraph 58:no … proposals have yet been made".I realise that when the article appears tomorrow that will be the time for someone to respond, but we in the House are all too well aware that the last people who ever get to know about the deployment of other people's weapons in this country seem to be Members of Parliament. It seems that the first to know are those in the United States, who enjoy the benefits of freedom of information legislation and a press that is a great deal freer and more independent than are sections of the British press.
We are seeing the undermining of the spirit, if not the wording, of the INF treaty. That shows a form of irresponsibility that could endanger many of the discussions on which so many of us place such optimism and hope. Instead of rehearsing the old arguments about the Soviet build-up, does the Secretary of State agree that he cannot have it both ways when he complains about increases in Warsaw pact armaments while at the same time he does nothing about the offers and overtures that Mr. Gorbachev continually makes and to which the Prime Minister never responds? Surely we do not have to wait 935 until we have a good grip of the United States' skirts before we start talking to the Soviet Union. We should be doing it now.
Mr. Gorbachev has pulled off one propaganda coup after another, while we are cast in the role of warmongers. Of the 13 initiatives that Mr. Gorbachev has taken since 1985, some are important and some are irrelevant, but none should have been rejected out of hand. For example, the offer to look at Krasnoyarsk in return for Fylingdales may be absurd, but when we start obtaining serious discussions about listening stations one would think that it would be of some interest to the country that is the host for that facility in our Alliance.
A NATO Assembly paper of September 1987, written by one of my colleagues in the SPD, Karsten Voigt, stated:Like it or not the initiative in arms control is being taken by Secretary Gorbachev. It is therefore incumbent on the Western Alliance that as a matter of urgency itAs another German, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, said:
- (a) determine what it actually wants from Arms Control
- (b) exploit every avenue with the Soviet Union on how to get there."If there is a chance after 40 years of confrontation there could be a turning point in East-West relations, it would be a mistake of historic dimensions to let it slip away because of habits of thought which expect only the worst from the Soviet Union.Discussions on the conventional stability talks mandate will soon be complete. I hope that we shall play our full role in those sessions and that both sides will take the lessons of the mutual balanced force reduction experience.
With regard to the chemical and biological weapons ban talks, some fiexibility would stand us in good stead. One of the interesting points about the White Paper is that it makes no reference, in the area of the chemical and biological weapons ban, to the role of the United States. It is as if the Government do not wish to mention the United States' reluctance to accept our proposals on unchallenged inspections. I hope that credit is given to the sincerity of Soviet intent on that matter and that the Government will find ways of taking advantage of Soviet willingness. If we cannot get a global ban on chemical weapons, at least we should try to proceed to a NATO-Warsaw pact agreement. If we dig in our heels too deeply for a global ban, we could be in danger of allowing the best to become the enemy of the good.
In other areas, the Soviets have shown a willingness to consider asymmetrical cuts. The first display of such cuts was the INF treaty, when the Soviet Union gave up far more than we did. Superiority in numerical terms would appear to be in the Soviets" favour, but in force comparisons we must avoid bean counting. The threat assessment paper provided by the Western European Union stated:Sometimes divergent, even contradictory, estimates of Soviet forces or equipment used in public statements by different allied national authorities can only detract from the credibility of the estimates".That did not come from anyone on the peace wing of the Labour party; it did not come from anyone on the war wing of the Labour party, if one wants to designate it in that way; it came from one of the coolest of the cold warriors in the House, the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) who, unfortunately, is not here, but who, as rapporteur for that WEU committee, made a reasonable and fair point.
Perhaps it is unfortunate that the International Institute for Strategic Studies report, voluminous and 936 valuable as it is, was published today, so that we did not have enough time to look at the nature of the balance. We should avoid over-simplistic bean counting. We should seek the publication of the net assessments, which are presently classified but which are available to NATO Council members, so that we can find out the true picture of the balance between East and West. We should avoid the mistakes of the tank counting, where we still include 23,000 Soviet tanks built before 1947.
We need to look not only at the quantitative matters, but for qualitative contributions to arms reduction that can be seen by the Warsaw pact, by showing willingness to modify and progressively eliminate many of our provocative forward strategies such as the air-land battle plan and deep strike. Those suggestions are being made in a context that involves the UK both independently and as a member of the Alliance. We in the Opposition recognise that there are opportunities for initiatives and new thinking.
The ownership of nuclear weapons and the substantial contribution that we make to NATO are supposed to give us a seat at the top table. In his speech to the Tory party conference the Secretary of State praised the Prime Minister as the leading statesman of the free world. If that is so, she can claim credit for a great deal: the sorry state of Britain's defences, the underfunding of our convention-al defences, our distorted Trident-led priorities and our slavish commitment to outdated doctrines of flexible response—all of which stand in the way of lasting peace and disarmament.
I ask those of my hon. Friends who have signed the other amendment to support the official Opposition amendment. If they do not, they will show themselves to be out of touch with the feelings of the breadth of the Labour party and of the millions of our supporters across the country. They will be cast in the same position as the Conservatives, who refuse to participate in the process of disarmament unless it suits their purposes and their distorted view of the world.
In Scandinavia, in central Europe, in the two Germanies and in the Warsaw pact an historic opportunity is opening up. That is why the outdated and outmoded thinking that lies at the heart of these Estimates must be changed by our amendment and why, before next year, the Secretary of State or his nuccessor must institute a wide-ranging review of our defence commitments and of where we shall find the resources to meet them.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)
This is the first defence White Paper debate to take place since the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) was catapulted into his present office by the somewhat quixotic early-morning departure of his predecessor. I congratulate him on the way in which he has mastered some of the complexities of a wide-ranging subject. I should like to say that he has mastered his brief, but, nice chap though he is, it is beyond him or, I suspect, anyone else. To speak for the Labour party on defence matters is an almost unmasterable brief. Nevertheless, I wish him well in what must be the most uncomfortable seat in the shadow Cabinet.
Before I come to the substance of my remarks, I want to say a word about the rationalisation of the Royal Ordnance. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for 937 Clackmannan spent so much time talking about that, or that the loutish tendency behind him shouted and screamed at him—anything rather than talk about Labour's defence policy. There has been no foul or fix. I think that I am right in saying that it was Sir John Nott who first tried to move Royal Ordnance in this direction when he was Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) had a go at it, too. Nobody wanted it then because it was unsuccessful, unprofitable and inefficent. The changes made over the years were enough to persuade some people that it was worth buying. It was put out to competitive tender and went to the highest bidder. One or two of the other bidders might well have been preferable customers, but the going rate was assessed in fair competition and paid.
That is the end of the matter, except to say that, sad as it is when jobs are lost—that is always sad—the following must be said. The Ministry of Defence has just let another contract of about the same quantity, guaranteeing the same amount of procurement over the next five years; Royal Ordnance, in private management, will do that with 2,000 fewer people. There is a moral in that for us all: under public ownership industry is not efficiently run, and that is the beginning and the end of it.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the kind remarks that he made about my Committee and the report that we produced on the White Paper. As the hon. Member for Clackmannan constructed most of the first half of his speech around what we said, it seems that the Committee got the balance about right. In the nine months of its existence in this Parliament the Select Committee on Defence has had a busy year. We produced nine reports on a wide range of subjects. I hope that they are of help to the House and show that we are genuinely trying to do the job that we were set up to do. We have visited troops in Northern Ireland and in Belize. We have been on a carrier in the North sea that was taking part in an exercise, and, most recently, we visited exercise Teamwork in north Norway—a large NATO amphibious exercise. That was all in addition to introductory visits to the three headquarters—Wilton, Northwood and High Wycombe. So it has been a busy year for the Committee, and I am grateful to my colleagues on it for the extra work that they put in to make all the visits and reports possible. I know that I speak for them all when I say that we are grateful to the staff who worked so hard to allow us to produce the amount and quality of reports that we have issued.
There have been nine reports, some more controversial than others. I suppose that the one that hit the headlines the most was the one about the surface fleet. A number of my hon. Friends will no doubt speak about the Royal Navy's capacity, so I shall confine myself to saying that, despite the MOD's reply to that report, I see no reason to change a word of it. I hope that the fruits of what we have done, culminating in the acknowledgment by the Secretary of State that our estimate of the ordering rate required was correct, and his commitment to meet it mean that what was a challenge—it was not a crisis—to the Government's intent has been properly met.
I shall confine my remarks to the widest issue in the White Paper and the report that we wrote on it—the size of the budget and its forward commitment. That obviously presents the greatest difficulty. It will not have been lost on 938 the House that certain talks have been taking place in seaside towns—perhaps even in London—in the past week or so. I do not believe everything that I read in the press, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend has had to fight robustly for the funds that he thinks he needs to carry out the job that the Government have given him. If my spies are correct, I think that he is not doing too bad a job fighting defence's corner.—[An HON. MEMBER: "Could do better."] Let us wait and see what emerges. Time will tell how successful he has been. This is a serious matter and we should not laugh about it.
If my right hon. Friend has been locked in mortal combat with the Chief Secretary, I hope that when he went to see him he took with him not Mr. Gorbachev's statements but some of the reports that our Committee has produced over the years. We are establishing a track record of making forecasts that are more often right than wrong. In our report on the White Paper of 1985–86 we said:The principal conclusions we draw from our survey of the defence budget … to 1988–89 are:——that following the ending of the commitment to annual growth of 3 per cent.there would be a slight reduction. That is now common knowledge. We further saidthat management of the budget and improved efficiency alone will not avoid consequent cuts or delays, particularly on equipment;—that there is a risk of an adverse effect on operational capability, but not in itself amounting to the ending of a major role or commitment;—that any further economies will have a direct effect on capability".Some of us suggested that from about 1989 onwards the hard decisions about which the Secretary of State has told us almost every time he has visited the Committee would become pressing and would have to be taken.
That is why it is so important that, even though the atmosphere is better and siren voices are saying and will say in this debate that now is the time to stop spending on defence, that Mr. Gorbachev is a nice man and that the Russians do not intend to threaten us further, we must still look at what they do, not at what they say. It is against the background of my right hon. Friend's remarks about the Russians' rate of build and their daily increasing offensive capability that we must set our needs for a defence budget. Although my right hon. Friend could never have said that to us, this was a crunch year.
It is important for all of us who care about our country's defence not to slip from the very high standards that we have set ourselves for nearly a decade. That is why I am certain that common sense will prevail, if it has not already prevailed. We look forward to hearing that our commitments will be met not because of some arbitrary increase or decrease in budget but because the Ministry of Defence is determined to get the best value for money. The procurement executive is doing that and saving millions of pounds. We have a team of Ministers determined to see our commitments, some of which are growing while others, mercifully, are receding, carried out by fighting troops of all three services backed by a Government who are really behind the job that they are doing.
That is the criterion by which I feel sure my right hon. Friend carried on discussions with his colleagues. It is axiomatic to say that they have listened to a sensible argument. The worst argument of all, the worst decision, would be for us to come down from our plateau of efficient 939 operation of defence forces for the sake of a ha' porth of tar. We must allow the defence budget the money that it needs to fulfil these commitments.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I regret, Mr. Speaker, that you were unable to select the amendment standing in my name and the names of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Some Conservative Members may think that, because some of us are passionately in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament, we want to leave our country without defences. I have great memories of what war did to my family. I had an uncle in the first world war who refused to fight with weapons and decided to become a medical man in the war. He was killed in battle and received the Military Medal as a result. My father was wounded three times in the first world war. His leg was shattered and to his dying day he had difficulties with that war wound. Many of my uncles were involved. None of my brothers were involved in the second world war, because they were dead by the time it started.
Not unlike some other hon. Members, I did not have a gallant and wonderful war. I spent four and a quarter years in the RAF and like many others I was lucky to survive. I have always regarded the time since the end of the war as borrowed time. It has been a bonus to continue to be alive. I make those points because many people who take the stand that I take have been accused of not believing in the defence of our people and our country. That is absolutely untrue. I was proud to be in the Royal Air Force and I am proud to have been in the Royal Air Force Association since the war. I am not saying that we are not concerned about the future of our people. It is precisely because we are concerned about it and about the future of mankind that we take our point of view.
I think it was Arthur Koestler who said that once the atomic bomb was dropped the whole nature and character of war was changed. He said that we no longer lived in the situation that we had before that bomb was dropped. That is true. I do not know what hon. Members who were alive at the time felt when that bomb was dropped. I remember the horror that people felt about a whole city being practically wiped out and about all the people who were killed or maimed. I remember the horror of the second bomb. From that time, we have lived under the shadow of the atomic bomb and we must think in those terms.
I note that the Government clearly see the changes that are taking place in the Soviet Union. Their White Paper says:We are now at last beginning to see signs of change in the Soviet Union, reflected elsewhere in Eastern Europe. At home, Mr. Gorbachev has set in train a series of wide-ranging reforms. Abroad, he has argued the need for 'new political thinking in the nuclear and space age, and has laid stress on the growing interdependence of the countries of the world community.That is right, but I have never believed that the Soviet Union wants to dominate the world. Over the years I have been one of the greatest critics of the internal regime in the Soviet Union. I would never have wanted to live in a society where the state apparatus and the party machine dominate the lives of everyone, and in which there is no free discussion, dissent and argument. If I had lived in such a society, I would probably have been one of the first people to find out what the inside of a Russian 940 concentration camp was like, because I believe passionately in free debate and discussion. If we do not have that, life is not worth living.
As I say, I have never believed that the Soviet Union wants to dominate the world. We have reached the present position precisely because over the years people in the West took the view that Soviet troops and armour were ready at any moment to march into and dominate western Europe. The Soviet Union marched into various parts of eastern Europe because it wanted to create buffer states. The Soviet Union suffered—my God, how it suffered—in the second world war, in which 20 million of its people were destroyed. The Soviet Union will never forget that war. We would not be here now—certainly I would not be here—if the Soviets had not lost so many people, because we would have been living under a German fascist dictatorship.
§ Mr. Heffer
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way. I do not want to break the flow of my argument.
At one time, I was the only Opposition Member who attacked the Soviet Union for going into Afghanistan. I was the first Opposition Member to say that I did not agree with what happened in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union was wrong, and I argued all the way that it was wrong. Now that the Soviet Union has recognised the stupidity of going into Afghanistan and is withdrawing its troops, are we suggesting that it is about to land massively in Britain, in Westminster, with armoured troops to dominate this country? It is an absurdity, and the Government have gone part of the way to accepting that it is an absurdity, so why are we not going the rest of the way? Why are we to be stuck for ever with this?
The INF treaty has not changed the position very much. It has changed, but to what degree? At the height of the cold war, we argued that it was vital for us to get rid of nuclear weapons, but when we began, on an international scale, to reduce such forces, we said that we did not need to get rid of our nuclear weapons because it was being done on an international scale. It is even more important now that we do it than it was in the past. It underlines the argument that we were using. It does not detract from the point that we were making: that is the real issue.
Earlier, Conservative Members sneered when I asked whether our second amendment was to be selected, and they asked which side of the Labour party I was on. I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) talked about a peace party or a war party. I do not believe that anybody in our party is in the war party, and I have never believed that. I do not believe that any member of my party wants to see warfare or to see nuclear weapons or is, in any case or at any time, in favour of nuclear weapons. There is an honest argument about how we get rid of those nuclear weapons. It is not a question of whether we are in a war or a peace party. We all want to get rid of nuclear weapons.
Sometimes, Conservative Members want to get rid of nuclear weapons, but at the same time they want to build them up, back those who are making them and get more and more of them. I have been disgusted by the Prime Minister. She goes around the world making wonderful speeches. Repeatedly in this House, she has said how much 941 she welcomes what Mr. Gorbachev is doing in the Soviet Union and how she welcomes his openness and how she can do business with him. Then she says that we should not trust the Russians or believe what they are doing, and that we must continue to build up our nuclear weapons. In the last part of his speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan was right to say that, while the United States of America, together with the Government, is rebuilding and developing nuclear weapons—with which none of us agree, which we do not want and which we are exposing—it is also saying how much it is in favour of what is happening in the Soviet Union.
Such people should remember that Mr. Gorbachev and those like him who want to get rid of nuclear weapons so that the Soviet Union can build its economy on a new basis, rather than on a war basis, need the assistance, sympathy and support of everyone because the generals and the Right wing are looking over their shoulders. They do not want changes; they want things to go on as they have been. The Government have been helping such people by taking the attitude that they have taken.
My party conference had a serious debate on nuclear weapons, and not for the first time. Ever since the first party conference I attended, 30-odd years ago, we have been having that debate. I remember us debating it, and the rank and file—I suppose I will have to put it in those terms—won the debate on one occasion, when Mr. Gaitskell was there. He got that decision knocked over in the next election. [Interruption.]We make decisions in our conference. We do not go along and cheer the great leader, or leaderette, or whatever she is called. We had that debate, and we have been having it consistently, and we did not arrive easily at our decision. It took us a long time and much argument and discussion, but we finally came to that decision. I am delighted that this year my party conference reiterated a policy decision that we have now had for a number of years.
The second amendment is in line with that decision. We tabled that amendment before the Labour party conference reaffirmed the decision, so confident were we that the decision would be carried. We had no hesitation in tabling it. We are arguing for the cancellation of Trident. I did not quite understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan meant when he said that practically all the money for Trident had been spent, so that we were deluding ourselves. It is always a good idea to read the relevant documents before coming to debates such as this so that one knows what they say. On page IV of its third report, the Select Committee on Defence says:The programme continues to include a substantial contingency provision—£1,251 million or some 20 percent. of the remaining expenditure … As far as the progress of the Tridentprogramme is concerned, the conclusion of the Comptroller and Auditor General in July 1987 is still valid".I know that this was written in April of this year, but it was still valid then.
The Committee report continues:the bulk of the expenditure still has to be incurred, and the sterlingcost of the US part of the programme is vulnerable to any future unfavourable movement in exchange rates. The US missile development programme is significantly more advanced than the United Kingdom Trident programme and there is no indication of any US problems which would jeopardise the UK programme. However, some sources of risk to the UK programme remain, particularly in the 942 building works and AWRE capital programmes and also as a result of shortages of specialist staff in MoD weapons system software".The point is:the bulk of the expenditure still has to be incurred".The Committee also says:Thus expenditure during the coming two years will be £1,866 million, or on average £77.75 million a month.What could we do with £77.75 million a month if we cancelled Trident straight away? We could use that money to help the Health Service or other services, and some of us do not believe that, having got rid of nuclear weapons, we should use the money saved for building up the conventional side of the weaponry. I shall rest my case on this point.
§ Mr. O'Neill
I am grateful for the comradely fashion in which my hon. Friend has addressed my remarks. However, I should point out that the public expenditure White Paper published in January this year says that by 1991–92 all but £1.8 billion of the cost of Trident will have been expended. We shall have to take it that the Government will continue until then. These were the figures that I was using, and we shall have to agree to disagree on our sources.
§ Mr. Heffer
That often happens with disagreements, but, even on the basis of those figures, we are arguing that it should be cancelled. If the Government remain in office, it will not be cancelled, but even the figure given by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan could be put to good use instead of being spent on weapons of destruction. Let us just think about that. All the money that we use on those weapons is sheer waste. How wonderful it would be to provide people with decent homes——
§ Mr. Heffer
Exactly—with education. My hon. Friend is making my speech for me. He is absolutely right on all those points. That would be wonderful, instead of using the money on weapons which, in the end, may never be used and which, after a period, will go out of existence because they will be outmoded. Let us think of the money that could be used to help people—that is our argument. That is why we shall continue to argue that case and why I regret that I shall be unable to vote for the amendment tabled by the official Opposition. I have set out what I believe in and what my party believes in, and we shall have to look seriously at the official amendment. At the present moment, I should not like to say what I will do.
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I have great respect for him, but I profoundly disagree with him on defence and with the amendment to which he has put his name. He suggests that the money spent is wasted. It is not wasted. That "defence" money has preserved peace in Europe for the longest period that Europe has ever had. It is not wasted, for the same profound reasons that caused the previous Labour Government to maintain a nuclear deterrent. Those reasons are valid today and were put forward by a Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported.
I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman's patriotism. His popularity is self-evident, judging by the way his billets doux are coming in. His patriotism—I hope to have his 943 attention—is not in doubt, but Conservative Members and probably a majority of his hon. Friends think he is profoundly misguided. It is sad that he is seeking to deal with yesterday's situation. As a result of the unity of purpose between many Opposition Members and Conservative Members, Europe has experienced its longest period of peace, and we are all devoted to maintaining that peace, although we disagree about methods of so doing.
In one respect this is a sad occasion because Sir John Biggs-Davison, the late Member for Epping Forest, is not here with us this evening. I hope that I will be forgiven for mentioning him because I was with him in Angola just before his death and, looking back through past Hansards,I see that he has made valuable contributions to our defence debates. For Conservative Members, he was the acceptable face of the Royal Marines. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), the ex-Royal Marine who leads the Social and Liberal Democrats, is not entirely acceptable to us.
My hon. Friend and I were together in Angola in difficult circumstances. That trip will no doubt be billed as a parliamentary jolly, but it comprised two middle-aged politicians—my hon. Friend suffering from cancer and the effects of chemotherapy treatment and myself with minor ailments, such as back trouble and others that I will not mention in such a serious debate—in a grass hut in Angola. All hon. Members were fond of and shared respect for my hon. Friend, and they will be glad to know that we learned a great deal and had a great deal of fun. Sir John laughed so much about the marvellous instructions for the outside lavatory facilities next to the grass hut in which we slept. There was a "thunderbox" with a straw hut about it. The firm instructions were, "Before you sit down, look inside to make sure there isn't a snake or a scorpion there." That was perhaps the acceptable face of a parliamentary jolly.
We watched the UNITA forces—this is perhaps a little more in order than my last remark—tackle an assault course with great vigour; vigour worthy of the Royal Marines of which our former hon. and gallant Friend was a member. As they came over the assault course, robust non-commissioned officers were firing, "Bang, bang, bang," at their feet. We both stepped forward to look at this as we thought they were firing blanks. We were told to step back quickly because it was live ammunition and it was nearly a case of two Members of Parliament being shot in the foot by their friends, although I shall not comment on that further.
That was a classic occasion and John came back undermined, no doubt, by the chemotherapy that he had undergone, but invigorated in spirit by the trip. He stayed on for a little while in South Africa, but I had to come back. It was a matter of enormous distress to all of us that, because his health had been undermined by the treatment and the robust time that we had had, he succumbed so rapidly to pneumonia and other ailments. The sympathy of the House goes out to his family as the regard in which he was held was not confined to Conservative Members or to the Royal Marines, but extended to Opposition Members and to those who were not of his political persuasion. They all respected his integrity.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, when he winds up the debate, will deal with the future of the amphibious capability of our armed forces. That was dear to Sir John Biggs-Davison's heart and is dear to me and many other 944 hon. Members. We must now decide whether Fearless, Intrepid and other parts of our amphibious capability should be maintained and, if so, how. Perhaps the Minister will be able to update the House on how that will be done, as the devotion of hon. Members on both sides of the House to the Royal Marines is considerable.
That matter concerns our local and domestic, but very important, capability, I should like to mention next a broader matter before dealing with other matters involving our forces. This is our first debate without Lord Carrington as Secretary-General of NATO and it is appropriate for the House to pay tribute to the work that he has done.
§ Sir Antony Buck
I see the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy)—like me, a former Navy Minister —nodding agreement.
We should pay tribute to what Lord Carrington has done in the defence sphere over so many years and to his important work in NATO. It is not an easy task to keep together a disparate organisation such as NATO with so many different constituent members.
The only matter over which I have had a minor disagreement with Lord Carrington—"quarrel" is perhaps too strong a word—was over the geographic limitation of the operation of NATO. I have always thought that there was something to be said for recasting N ATO as the shield of the western world—a world with western values— rather than confining it to the geographical guidelines of NATO. There has been flexibility of approach through the establishment of special deployment forces which can go outside NATO, but I should be glad to hear from the Minister about the Government's thinking on this aspect of NATO's affairs.
Best wishes and firm support go out to the new Secretary-General of NATO, to Mr. Wôrner, certainly in toto from this side of the House and, with respect, in the main, from Opposition Members too. It is appropriate that we send—this is the first opportunity that we have had to do so—a message of support for and confidence in the new Secretary-General. It should be an exhortation of encouragement to him and an affirmation of our support.
We are extremely lucky that there is such tremendously high morale in the armed forces. Some hon. Members have suggested that there is disunity and demoralisation, but that is not so. I have no doubt that if a Labour Administration were returned, the morale of the armed forces would plummet. I accept that there is not a monopoly of concern about defence matters on the Government Benches for I know that Opposition Members care about defence. The difficulty is that in the Labour party there is a substantial minority whose defence policy is akin to that of many Scandinavians—fortunately, fewer now—which is to send a telegram stating, "We surrender."
§ Sir Antony Buck
We have debated the issue in my constituency, where I found that there were unilateralists who took almost precisely that view. I accept that they were few in number.
§ Sir Antony Buck
The hon. Gentleman is a Whip, and no doubt he has engaged in a more accurate count of those in his party who take such a view. I concede and hope that there are not very many.
§ Mr. Banks
On invitation, I shall visit the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency on any occasion, if he will have me, to debate the issue. He must understand that what he has suggested is not the policy of the Labour party. It is not even the policy of those who say that we should not have nuclear weapons, that we should relinquish them unilaterally. We believe that the country is best defended by being united within. We shall not merely send out a surrender note.
§ Sir Antony Buck
I am delighted to have that exhortation of support for firm defence policies. I accept that the hon. Gentleman takes that view. Unfortunately, a minority—I am prepared to accept that it is a small minority of those who have allegiance to the Labour party —do not take that view. I shall be delighted if the hon. Gentleman will come to my constituency. If he does so, my majority will zoom. I shall be delighted to have him in my constituency at any time.
We should all be proud of our armed forces. It would be inappropriate, however, if I were not to say a word about Northern Ireland. I do not think that any armed forces other than ours could have sustained the Northern Ireland burden. Certainly no other armed forces could have sustained it with such forbearance and expertise. A message of support for the activities of those in our armed forces should go forward from both sides of the House. Their self-restraint and performance is something of which we should all be proud.
I see our armed forces being maintained at the present level. It is important that we ensure that they are properly and fully equipped with the latest equipment, whether in the Navy, the Air Force or the Army. We must have an assurance to that effect from my hon. Friend the Minister when he replies. I am sure that he is as determined as my right hon. and hon. Friends to see that they are so equipped in future.
I represent a garrison town, and I have been in close touch with the armed forces over many years. I know that they are in good heart. We must ensure that they are sustained by a continuation of proper support by way of equipment and otherwise. If my hon. Friends the Ministers are in difficulties with the Treasury, they had better inform us fairly soon. There will be many supporters of maintaining a proper level of defence expenditure. That may not be sufficient to provide everything for which the Chiefs of Staff ask, but we must ensure that the efforts of the armed forces are sustained by the provision of first-class equipment. That is their entitlement. I am sure that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will be determined to ensure that that happens.
Meanwhile, I thank my hon. Friends on the Front Bench for what they are doing. They are maintaining the credibility of our defence effort within NATO and they are giving just sufficient support to our armed forces to ensure that their superb expertise is supported by being equipped with the finest equipment at all levels. They are entitled to that.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
Despite the fundamental differences on defence policy that have been revealed in the debate, there will be general and widespread satisfaction that it takes place against the background of much more encouraging East-West relations than we have seen for many years. We have the historic INF treaty and the progress towards a 50 per cent. cut in strategic missiles. There is the prospect of an early start to conventional stability talks. These talks offer the prospect of securing what surely all sides want to see— greater stability of security at lower levels of military deployment.
Although we welcome the progress that has been made, we must not fall into the trap of assuming that everything before us will be plain sailing. Despite the much greater sense of realism and pragmatism that Mr. Gorbachev has shown, the removal of the threat of Soviet conventional military superiority in Europe will not be easy. NATO is correct to define its negotiating position on the conventional stability talks as concentrating on the aspects of Soviet military power that are threatening to western Europe and that give rise to fears of a surprise attack.
The NATO concept of equal ceilings that limit the numbers of tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and artillery on both sides is a logical response to the current situation. If it is agreed, it will reduce much of the unease that is now felt in western Europe. The removal of the threat of Soviet armour would at the same time remove the most powerful military justification for short range and battlefield nuclear weapons. That is another argument for following up the current NATO priorities.
To persuade the Soviets to accept ceilings of 90 per cent. or 95 per cent. of NATO's current deployment will involve them accepting massively unequal reductions. Despite the INF precedent, that will not be easy. We shall not see the swift progress that some might have us believe. In the meantime, we see no obvious evidence of any slowdown in the Soviet military build-up. Therefore, it seems prudent common sense that we remain on our guard. We must maintain effective levels of defence and deterrence, while negotiating as toughly as we can to secure reductions of arms on both sides.
We have all watched the Secretary of State's spirited rearguard action against the Treasury with great interest. It seems to have taken place in hotel bedrooms and elsewhere. We are aware of the problem of the defence budget. We do not know how successful the right hon. Gentleman has been, but we know that, however successful he has been in his negotiations with the Treasury, it will not be the end of the story. Pressures on the defence budget are here to stay.
The Secretary of State has often made it clear that difficult choices must be faced in making the best use of available defence resources. Some of the choices will undoubtedly affect the capability of our forces to carry out the tasks that are assigned to them. The Government have consistently refused to review existing defence roles. They have consistently declared their determination that they will all be maintained. As the Select Committee on Defence states in its report, which is before the House, the question is how well this can be done, not whether it can be done. That seems to underline the widespread fear that defence resources are now being stretched too thinly to meet too many commitments.
947 The pressures are increasing. Each new generation of weapons systems will cost at least twice as much in real terms as those that they replace. We have the additional problem of manpower costs. For example, the cost of service pay and pensions has increased by 30 per cent. since 1984.85. Expenditure on equipment within the defence budget has fallen this year from 45.5 per cent. to 43 per cent. There is a risk that it will fall to a still lower percentage because of the pressure on manpower costs.
As other speakers have pointed out, we shall soon have to face the emerging problem of demographic changes— the time bomb that has been ticking away for years. In the early 1990s, the number of 15 to 19-year-olds in the population will be down by 30 per cent. When I have referred to that in previous defence debates, Ministers have said that they are well aware of the problem of demographic change, but that it can be dealt with by ensuring that the pay and conditions of the armed forces keep pace with those provided outside.
In response to that assurance, I would point out that competition for the available young people in our population will be very fierce in the 1990s and beyond. We shall need substantial pay increases to keep pace with what is offered in civilian life, so that we ensure adequate levels of recruitment and, more importantly, retain those trained personnel—key personnel—who will be in demand by civilian employers. Not only pay but conditions of service and the general quality of life in the armed forces will have to keep pace with improving opportunities in civilian life, if pressure from wives and families is not to persuade more of our key personnel to leave the armed services.
The prospect is of continued and growing pressure on the defence budget. The Government have produced one welcome response—a tougher and more commercial approach in the relationship between the Ministry of Defence and defence contractors in an effort to obtain better value for money in defence spending. I welcome that, but I cannot believe that the savings produced will be enough to bridge the gap between demands and resources.
It cannot seriously be argued that cancelling Trident would produce substantially extra resources to improve conventional defences. We can debate how far advanced the Trident programme is now, or how far advanced it will be by 1991. Cancellation now would not release massive new resources to improve conventional defence; cancellation costs would involve the nation in a massive waste of public money in converting half-built submarines into some other purpose and in scrapping the warhead production at Aldermaston—and that is in addition to the costly impact on employment levels throughout the defence industry. There is no magic solution in the cancellation of the Trident programme.
The one ray of hope in a fairly gloomy resource prospect is that all NATO members are facing similar problems. That has reactivated the old interest in burden-sharing and in rationalisation within the Alliance. The impetus comes from the United States, which is determined that Europeans should shoulder more of the burden of their own defence. That is not a new argument from the United States, but it is being presented with much more force because of the anxieties about the United States budget deficit. That American determination has been expressed in many different ways. For example, the Taft commission has toured western European capitals 948 twice during the current year. There have been attempts in Congress to make United States defence spending conditional on greater Allied defence efforts.
Clearly, the problem will not go away, and we must take it seriously. It is sometimes presented too simplistically. Deputy Defence Secretary Taft, for example, recently split the 16 NATO nations into four divisions based solely on an arbitrary assessment of the level of their defence spending. The counter-argument from the Eurogroup is equally predictable. It is true that Europeans provide 90 per cent. of NATO's manpower; 95 percent. ofitsartillery; 85percent. of its tanks; and 80per cent. of its combat-ready aircraft. It is equally true that, in mobilisation strength, 7 million troops could be provided by the Europeans, compared with 3.5 million by the United States. However, such arguments do not cut much ice with the American nation, which is convinced that it is carrying too much of the burden of defending Europe and that it should be showing rather greater interest in other parts of the world.
There is a need to break out of what has been a fairly sterile argument about input figures for defence spending contrasted with output figures of force levels. NATO's secretary-general, Manfred Wörner, warned us in July this year that theburden sharing debate must not be allowed to degenerate into a numbers game or a trans-Atlantic slanging match".That: is sensible advice. There is no point in wasting a great deal of time and effort searching for some magical equity between each of the Alliance partners. That would be as elusive as searching for the philosopher's stone.
NATO technicians were reported to be hard at work on a burden-sharing formula as long ago as 1951. We do not have a lot to show for their efforts in the intervening 37 years. That is partly because rationalising our defence efforts depends on political will, and there is an understandable fear that national sovereignty will be threatened. Faced with current pressures, we cannot go on with unseemly arguments about who is spending most, who is doing most and who is freeloading. We need a rational assessment on who can do what best on behalf of a united NATO Alliance.
Within the Alliance, we now have a NATO executive working group which is examining the roles, risks and responsibilities within the Alliance to try to improve our collaborative defence effort. That offers us the opportunity to make some real progress at long last. The aim was well defined by Professor David Greenwood of Aberdeen university in a paper that he produced earlier this year for the North Atlantic Assembly, which stated:The Alliance must look to the distribution of tasks among its members, to remedying the fundamental inefficiency that exists because each member seeks to maintain a broad spectrum of national military capabilities. In short it must contemplate some measure of role specialisation—an intra-Alliance division of labour in the performance of roles and missions, based on the comparative advantages of different countries in different forms of defence provision.That involves some loss of national sovereignty, but the days when any one European member of NATO could provide on its own the full range of defence capabilities have long gone. All European nations within NATO now face the same problems: growing pressures on defence budgets, falling manpower resources, and the growing and powerful United States insistence that Europeans must do more to defend themselves. The logical response is to grasp the opportunities provided by closer European defence 949 integration within the NATO Alliance. The aim must not be to try to replace the United States effort but to complement and supplement it.
We have talked about these issues for many years. We cannot now escape the need to get on and do something about them. I urge the British Government to accept a leading role in seeking to establish a genuine and effective European pillar in NATO.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
I think that I agree with almost everything that the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) has just said. His remarks about NATO's role concentration are sentiments which all of us, whether working for the Western European Union, NATO or the Government Front Bench, accept. All of us in NATO must do a great deal more to bring that about because, as has already been said, resources are limited.
This debate is bizarre because there are two Opposition amendments—or, rather, there is an official Opposition amendment and another Opposition amendment. The Opposition Front Bench are speaking to what is apparently not official Labour party policy. It is certainly not its conference policy. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) made a moving speech on the second amendment. I did not agree with most of it, but I was certainly impressed by the thoughts, the philosophy and the undoubted feeling behind it which, as I understand it, represents the Labour party's conference policy and the policy upon which he and many others will no doubt be fighting the next election. I do not know what the great British public will think of all that, but I do not think that that is a constructive attitude for an official Opposition on such a fundamental subject as defence.
I turn to more constructive thoughts. I congratulate the Select Committee on Defence, of which I used to be a member, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) and his colleagues on a number of excellent reports, including that relating to the White Paper and the one relating to the Royal Navy and the surface fleet. Over the years Select Committees on Defence have asked the Ministry of Defence questions about the numbers of ships, the budget and the squeeze on resources that they forecast several years ago. They did not always receive answers that were relevant or carried a great deal of weight.
At the end of the day, the way to cut expenditure is either to cut commitments or, as the hon. Member for Woolwich said, increasingly to have role concentration in concert with our allies. Under this and virtually every Government since the war, we have successively increased our commitments while at the same time we have restricted and denied the resources to meet those commitments. I need only state some of the commitments for that to be self-evident. They include the British Army of the Rhine, our forces in the south Atlantic and out maritime and air forces in the eastern Atlantic. They also include the Armilla patrol and offshore patrols for oil and fisheries protection; also, as I am sure my right hon. and hon. Friends saw, a Ton class minesweeper which patrolled off Brighton as part of the security for the Conservative party conference.
950 We have many commitments in different parts of the world as well as to NATO. We are not entirely fulfilling our NATO commitment, and in that we are not alone as no other NATO country is doing so. However, we know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence now faces a major and important battle with the Treasury for the last tranche of expenditure that he deems necessary. He deems it necessary, I deem it necessary and I believe my right hon. and hon. Friends deem it necessary.
I must tell my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and his team in the Treasury that at this stage I do not wish there to be unilateral disarmament for the United Kingdom by stealth from the Treasury Bench, for the following reasons. First, there are problems with personnel. The hon. Member for Woolwich and others were right to highlight that. There are not simply problems with pay or conditions of service. Increasingly, nuclear watch keepers, technicians and pilots face real competition from the outside world. For example, a pilot who may be a squadron leader or a lieutenant-commander is aware that his salary cannot compete with that offered by, for example, British Airways or KLM. It goes further than that.
Whether we like it or not, there have been profound social changes in this country and in the western world. We have heard much about family life, which for many people means spending evenings and weekends at home, enjoying a regular existence from nine to five and spending a lot of time with one's wife and children. Undoubtedly, there are problems with particular aspects of service life stemming from foreign travel and long periods at sea. We have heard about the sea-shore ratio today with more of the Navy's front line spending more time at sea. That causes many difficulties, which reflect pressures and forces on our young men and women. Even if they have been trained in the services, they do not stay in the services or give a full return for their training.
We must address that problem, which is not unique to this country. Every NATO country which does not rely on conscription for its full professional forces faces that problem. Reference has also been made to the demographic time bomb. That problem has been grossly underestimated by the Ministry of Defence, by British employers and by others.
There are problems also with equipment, and reference has been made to a figure of about 50 frigates and destroyers. That figure has not been plucked from the air. The Select Committee on Defence examined the issue very carefully. It is an important figure. It represents a minimum required to fulfil our national and NATO commitments. It is a rock-bed minimum to fulfil our NATO force goals, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues are aware.
About 50 really is not good enough. There should be 50. Fewer than 50 will not be good enough to support the present rate of shipbuilding of type 23 frigates. With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, for whom I have a great deal of time, it is no use saying that we can run on some of the existing ships. A Leander frigate has 100 more crew than a type 23. That is wasteful of skilled manpower and very expensive. The chief petty officers, petty officers and junior officers are the people we find it difficult to retain at present. There are also heavy costs involved in running those old ships, which are steamships compared with the modern gas turbine type 23.
951 It may be argued that we can run the type 21 and type 42 destroyers longer. All those ships were designed in the 1960s. The Leanders were designed a decade before that. If the Falklands showed us anything, it was that we must have state of the art technology to deal with a state of the art battle. The type 23 is designed for that. It is designed to be our state of the art anti-submarine platform.
The present very low rate of shipbuilding is no good for commercial shipyards, which are important. We must keep that capability. It is also no good for the maritime activities of Rolls-Royce. Although it has an excellent export record, it needs to continue to supply the Royal Navy. It is also no good if we want to maintain the number of ships that the Select Committee stated was vital.
The problem with equipment goes further than the Royal Navy. The tank situation is a scandal. I am worried that we may have to go abroad for tanks. The present electronics and optics of existing British tanks are not good enough. It worries me that we have to withdraw from international competitions because our tanks are not good enough to compete with tanks of other forces. Select Committees have referred to that problem in the past.
There are areas in which we do not do our service men or ourselves a favour by pretending that all is well. We must modernise our tanks and have the minimum number of ships to carry out our capabilities. The same thing could be said about helicopters and aircraft.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) has already referred to the long-delayed decision about an amphibious capability, on which the whole future of the Royal Marines rests. The amphibious capability will not just provide a future for the Royal Marines; it is right for NATO's northern flank and everything that we are supposed to be doing in that important part of the world. The continuing uncertainty about that capability is not doing much good for the Royal Marines, the Royal Navy or for our partners in NATO in that part of the world.
§ Mr. Mans
Does my hon. Friend agree that he has put his finger fairly and squarely on the dilemma regarding role specialisation and buying equipment from this country? He mentioned the importance of role specialisation earlier, yet he has just referred to the importance of buying a new British tank.
§ Mr. Speed
With respect to my hon. Friend, I did not refer to the importance of buying a British tank. I said that I was very unhappy because it looks as though we may have to buy a tank from the United States or Germany. I believe that we should have an indigenous armoured fighting vehicle and tank capability in this country. I am certain that we need a new tank for the next decade. If it cannot be provided from our resources, at least I hope that it can be built here, even if it must be from a design from abroad.
Our first priority must be to get the kit and equipment, which must be among the best. It cannot be second best. I was greatly impressed by the Leopard 2 and Abraham tanks. If we can produce a British tank as good as those —and I hope we can—fine, but time will not wait. There is also a constraint on money, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is aware of that.
Mention has already been made of the real problems posed by Gorbachev's era of perestroika and glasnost. Many people make the point, which was perhaps 952 encapsulated in the speech made by the hon. Member for Walton, "Don't worry. We can afford to cut our defences. We can afford to give up our nuclear and other capabilities because all is now going to be right with the world." If that is so, why are the Soviets continuing with an enormous tank programme? Why the Oscar 2 and the Typhoon 2 submarines? The Oscar 2 submarine is not even a strategic nuclear missile submarine. It is designed to attack surface ships. It has on board cruise missiles and SS19s with a range of about 240 nautical miles. The Oscar 2 submarine is 510m long and nuclear-powered. It is virtually unsinkable by conventional weapons.
Why are the Soviets building two nuclear-powered conventional aircraft carriers? Why are they building submarines of the Akula class, one of the quietest submarines in the world and extremely difficult to detect? When we look at what is happening we see no sign, despite all Mr. Gorbachev's words, that, on military procurement, the Soviet Union is cutting down its expenditure on submarines, aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery and tanks. The Soviets are still building overseas bases in Syria and elsewhere, notwithstanding Mr. Gorbachev's speeches about closing down overseas bases and withdrawing to the Soviet Union. That is not happening at the moment.
We need at least an extra £1 billion to meet the problems faced by our armoured fighting vehicles, our amphibious capability and the frigate force. The Ministry of Defence could save considerable sums of money in a number of areas. If there were an office reduction programme in line with the dockyard and workshop reduction programme, there might be quite a saving on real estate and people. The Ministry of Defence has offices dotted all over London—some leasehold, others freehold —that must be costing a great deal of money. We all know how high office rents and capital values are in London. Does the Ministry need all those offices? We have heard a great deal about the diminishing number of admirals, generals and air marshals who are needed for the shrinking number of aircraft, ships and tanks, but what about the square feet of office space? That is one exercise that ought to be carried out.
Secondly, do we really need—all within 100 miles of each other, and within commuting distance of London —Farnborough, Boscombe Down and RAE Bedford—all very valuable real estate? They are doing an excellent job, but the functions of all three could be concentrated on two sites and one could be sold off. The mind boggles at its capital value. It would make the Royal Ordnance factory sales seem a mere bagatelle. Substantial sums of money could go into the Ministry of Defence coffers and be used for the sort of jobs that my hon. Friends and I want to have done. Getting rid of these large capital commitments has revenue implications. I suspect that a great deal more could be squeezed out of the Ministry of Defence's real estate, but that there is not very much more to be squeezed out of the front line, whether it be the soldiers, sailors and airmen or the dockyards and the support facilities. I ask my right hon. Friend to have a really good look at that point.
However, even if the Ministry of Defence sold one of the airfields or got rid of three major office blocks tomorrow, that would not solve the short-term problems. I hope that the Treasury has been listening to this debate and that it will give to my right hon. Friend the extra money that he needs this year. We are far from being out of the wood. The Alliance needs to do a great deal more, 953 not least to make sure that we have a strong hand to play within the Alliance in the conventional disarmament talks that have hardly yet begun.
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
Yesterday evening British television showed American technicians destroying physically, under the scrutiny of Soviet observers, the first cruise missiles to be removed from Western Europe. I am certain that ordinary people around the world felt a degree of satisfaction and enhanced security at the sight of those pictures. This unprecedented step towards real nuclear disarmament is symbolic of the profound changes that are taking place around us— changes which, while superficially described in the White Paper, have clearly not impinged on the thinking of the British Government.
We are witnessing nothing less than the crumbling of the old post-war order, with its cold war certainties and rigid policies. New thinking and new expectations are challenging established totems, which would have been unheard of even a few years ago.
In the Soviet Union signs of change are increasingly evident, despite what Conservative Members have said, in the new language of modernisation and democratisation. New thinking is challenging accepted ideas not only in internal Warsaw pact relations but in the ideas of security and defence. The stranglehold that the concepts of "deterrence", "strategic superiority" and "parity" have had on super-power thinking show signs of weakening. In his book "Perestroika" Mr. Gorbachev speaks of amending the USSR'sstrategic concepts to gear them more to the aims of defence".In his public statements he speaks of "reasonable sufficiency" as a military goal. According to United States military experts, this represents a fundamental shift from a military doctrine of offence to defence.
I suggest that Soviet willingness to make asymmetric cuts in military forces could allow a restructuring of the armed forces of both NATO and the Warsaw pact so as to preclude surprise attack. It is a shift in thinking that is clearly advantageous to the West, offering, as it does, the solution to the British Government's frequent assertion that it is the imbalance of conventional forces that determines the need for nuclear weapons. But where in the White Paper and where in the statement that we have heard tonight are the Government's plans? Where are the Government's responses to these remarkable new ideas? Perhaps the Secretary of State will enlighten us.
In the United States, too, a re-evaluation is going on, largely precipitated by its changing economic role in the world. Faced with a decline in economic pre-eminence, the United States is confronting an enormous budget deficit at the same time as there is a challenge to its world view. Recent reports suggest that the Pentagon is aiming for cuts of around $227 billion, so it would not be surprising if the $150 billion poured every year into NATO by the United States is receiving sharp scrutiny and demands that European countries should contribute more towards the costs of NATO.
Many of the signals coming from the United States are contradictory, but few doubt that America's increasing 954 interest in the nations of the Pacific rim and its strategic interests worldwide will lead to a re-evaluation of its European role.
These discussions are echoed in Europe, not least in the Western European Union. The successful conclusion of the INF treaty has raised many questions about the kind of defence that is needed in Europe, ranging from suggestions of a third European nuclear super-power to proposals for an ultimately non-nuclear Europe.
What is the British Government's response to these times of change? I shall give two examples. Last November the Prime Minister stated:What I think we have to watch is that there do not grow up substructures in Europe which could have the effect of undermining the links across the Atlantic.In May, the Secretary of State for Defence said:We have been looking at perestroika and at the speeches of Mr. Gorbachev and we have not found much which justifies any decrease in our efforts to keep up our defences.The Government are in the forefront of opposition to change. I can express it no better than a man who, I believe, may be a friend of the Conservative party, Christopher Coker. In his recent publication, "Conservatives and Defence," he writes:The ignorance, complacency and ill-placed sense of moral and intellectual superiority of the Conservatives have prevented them from observing the changed nature of the strategic environment. As a result, they have failed to devise policies which would enable them to deal with the reality now confronting them. It is the Tories who now appear to be encouraging the most dangerous trends of all.The Government fear, above all else, the collapse of the old post-war, cold war order—an order that gave Britain an ostensible role as a major power, a role that has never had much substance and that masks Britain's real place in the world as a middle-ranking power. Yet the Prime Minister persists in an old-fashioned subservience to the United States that not even the Americans want. There is no special relationship, other than that of dependence. Britain is dependent upon the United States for the construction, delivery, maintenance and, indeed, use of the so-called independent nuclear deterrent. Our defence policy continues to be formed on false and nostalgic premises.
I had hoped that some of the new thinking might just have crept into the "Statement on the Defence Estimates," but I found none. Instead, the White Paper devotes only a few paragraphs of grudging acknowledgment to Gorbachev's reforms and the importance of the INF treaty, followed by pages of traditional cold war nonsense about the Soviet desire to impose their will upon the world. The immense frustration engendered among Opposition Members by such attitudes is shared by many of our European partners who recognise that the British Government are standing in the way of better East-West relations. The Italian Prime Minister obviously felt that recently when he sarcastically told Britain's Foreign Secretary that the European Community could not wait for the Soviets to adopt Victorian values before talking to Mr. Gorbachev with one voice.
The White Paper—and, indeed, the Secretary of State this evening—makes the time-old assertion that NATO strength brought about the INF treaty. The fact is that that treaty came about largely through the persistence of Mr. Gorbachev, who called NATO's bluff by accepting the zero option originally proposed—and it is on record— precisely because NATO believed that the Soviet Union would never accept it. In practice, the Government's 955 response to the INF treaty has been mealy-mouthed. As far as we can glean—and we have only a dribble of information—the Government are wholeheartedly com-mitted to a so-called modernisation programme that will allow compensatory deployment of new nuclear systems. That will make a mockery of the pictures on television last night and will circumvent the INF treaty. The new plans will bring in United States sea-launched cruise missiles under NATO control, develop new air-launched stand-off missiles, upgrade nuclear artillery systems with weapons of longer range and higher explosive power and deploy more United States nuclear bombers. With those new systems following so soon after the INF treaty, no breathing space is being allowed to test out new thinking and to allow for the consideration of less confrontational developments.
Perhaps the Secretary of State could tell the House why that is happening and why, in the defence Estimates, there is no explicit mention of the cost and implications of those new weapons systems. In particular, why are the Government showing their indifference to the peace process by their enthusiasm for modernising short-range nuclear missiles, even though—as my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill:) said—the German Government are so clearly opposed to such modernisation?
The Government also appear to have back-tracked on one of their policies. Their lukewarm support for a comprehensive test ban treaty has now been reduced to support for the principle of such a treaty. Perhaps the Secretary of State could say why, together with the United States and France, Britain voted in the United Nations against resolution 42/26B last November, which called for a cessation of nuclear testing. The resolution was supported by the Soviet Union and it was passed in the United Nations. Since then, several countries have called for an amendment conference to be convened to discuss converting the partial test ban treaty, to which Britain is a signatory, to a comprehensive test ban treaty.
Will the Government now give a more positive response to that initiative? Will the Secretary of State say whether they will back the call for an amendment conference? I guess that it is more likely that he will tell the House, yet again, that verification is a problem. I must tell him that it is now commonly agreed that seismic tests can detect explosions down to a threshold as low as 1 kilotonne. Even if he cannot bring himself to believe the scientists, he might at least acknowledge that by the time any such treaty were concluded the rapid advance in technology would mean that verification would satisfy even him.
It is clear that the Government's policy offers nothing new or radical, just more of the same old incantations that we have heard from the Conservative Benches tonight. Yet, no matter how loudly the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State keep chanting those messages, they cannot arrest changing perceptions. Even Conservative Members appear not to be immune. In a recent poll almost half of the Conservative Members who replied expressed support for Gorbachev's declared objective of a nuclear-free world by the year 2000, and 98 per cent. showed support for the START proposals for a 50 per cent. cut in strategic systems, despite the implications for Britain's purchase of Trident. The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) has displayed previously unsuspected radical tendencies with his call for a Europe free from short-range nuclear weapons and a tank-free central Europe. Furthermore, in a recent Gallup 956 poll, 61 per cent. of Conservative voters were opposed to modernising nuclear weapons and wanted more negotiations for further reductions. The Government are way out of step with the wishes of their supporters, let alone the country.
Instead of nostalgically clinging to outdated ideas, Britain should be in the forefront of post cold war thinking. That is our major challenge. Although it may be hard for Conservative Members to understand, we are dealing as much in the realm of ideas as in arguments about hardware. As the recent Brundtland report said,We must learn to think globally and in a long-term perspective. We share the responsibility for a common future. We must change our perceptions so that sustainable development and the conservation of our planetary heritage comes to the forefront.We can no longer afford the luxury of simple nationalism and of ignoring the effects of our actions upon our neighbours. National security no longer means just protecting our nation from the threat of invasion. It must mean dealing with the much greater and more real threat of environmental disasters—global warming, ozone layer depletion and acidification of forests and lakes. Those are the real threats, not some archaic ideas about Soviet hordes sweeping across Europe.
Our future foreign and defence policies must be based on notions of common security, not just national security; of respect for different ideologies and cultures, not primitive fear of difference; of breaking down the barriers that lead to concepts of the enemy, not setting them in concrete. In any society based on notions of peace and justice there can be no place for weapons that depencl on a threat to destroy the world. Nuclear deterrence is no longer a credible policy. As Olaf Palme stated in his report,States can no longer strive towards strengthening their security at another's expense. It is only possible to achieve it through joint effort.Unenlightened self-interest lies at the heart of the Government's policies. It is no wonder that their enthusiasm for arms reductions is so lukewarm. The Government are not, and never will be, the party of multilateral disarmament or, indeed, any sort of disarmament, because their ultimate goal is not the denuclearisation but the renuclearisation of Europe— preferably with, but, if not, without, United States involvement. In contrast, the Labour party knows that many concrete steps could be taken now to further disarmament and that many are already on the agendas of other west European countries and of the Soviet Union. Most are viewed with suspicion, if not hostility, by the Government.
Within NATO, we could make a major contribution to the peace process by divesting ourselves of British nuclear weapons. We could join the majority of non-nuclear NATO countries. We could encourage other countries, notably West Germany, which are already uneasy about modernisation and NATO dependence on nuclear weapons, to move towards a non-nuclear policy. Within NATO, a timetable could be set on a step-by-step basis for a reappraisal of NATO's strategy and a meeting of the proposals that were made in the Soviet Union.
As part of that new thinking, it is inevitable that we loosen our ties with the United States and plan our future within Europe. However, it will benefit no one if Western Europe were to replicate super-power relations by becoming a third nuclear-based power. It is already worrying that the Western European Union is committed 957 to increasing harmonisation of Europe's security based on nuclear weapons. The alternative, supported by everyone in the Labour party, is to build on the INF treaty, fully to exploit the opportunities of nuclear and conventional arms reductions and to move towards a vision of common security. As a spur to such efforts, I suggest that the House remembers that we, the Americans, the West Europeans and the Soviets hold hostage the majority of the people on this planet. They suffer destitution, poverty and early death as a direct or indirect result of our policies.
The Government are ill-equipped to deal with these challenges. They have no new ideas. They are becoming isolated in Europe because of their inflexible stance on nuclear weapons and their cold war mentality. They are an obstacle to progress on arms control agreements and to the growth of peace and mutual understanding in Europe, which is what our people want and what the White Paper fails to serve.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
I have never agreed much with what I have heard the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) say. She told us tonight—I wrote it down—that she thought the INF treaty had been achieved because Mr. Gorbachev had called NATO's bluff. That is the most arrant piece of nonsense that I have heard for a long time.
I must begin by apologising to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and to the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). I was unable to be in the House for the last few minutes of my right hon. Friend's speech and for the early part of that of the hon. Member for Clackmannan. I am sorry, as I should have liked to have heard what they said.
I agreed with my right hon. Friend when he emphasised that we must not lower our guard in the NATO Alliance at this time and that we must maintain the policy that has led us to be able to look to a more peaceful future because of the strength that we have maintained. I wish that my right hon. Friend had had a little more time. He might have said a little more about the need for taking public opinion with us. The majority are with us at the moment. I disagree with the hon. Member for Deptford. It is crucial that we continue that process in the years ahead.
All hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have welcomed the international efforts to reduce the numbers of weapons of destruction around the world and to move to a greater degree of arms control. We have heard about the range of current discussions. I refer to discussions on the already agreed INF treaty, to the discussions on the proposed 50 per cent. reduction in strategic nuclear weapons, to the forthcoming discussions on conventional arms reductions and, finally, to the discussions on chemical weaponry. I shall express my concern about the events that would face us if we were to have a successful conclusion to all such talks and where such a successful conclusion would leave the Soviet bloc.
A successful conclusion to all the talks could leave the Soviets almost as potent a military force as they are now. If that is so, we must always remember that Mr. Gorbachev's years in power are finite and that there is no reason to suppose that the old and the cold in the Soviet Union will not be reinstated in power. I shall mention each 958 of the four sets of discussions that are taking place and state where their successful conclusion could leave the Soviet Union.
First, I refer to the INF treaty. Of course we all welcome it, but its agreement constitutes only a tiny part of existing nuclear weaponry. In any case, as we know, it covers only land-based weapons. Again, as we know, Warsaw pact countries and the NATO powers are fast developing alternative weapons to fulfil their roles. A successful conclusion to the INF treaty does not greatly dent Soviet armoury.
Secondly, I refer to the START discussions. I am sure that we would all like to see a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic nuclear weapons. Even if such a reduction has not been achieved by the outgoing Reagan Administration, it would still leave a massive Soviet weaponry overkill with the 50 per cent. of weapons that would be left. In the event of a successful START agreement, the Soviets would be only marginally less a military threat in the hands of a more malevolent regime than the existing one in the Soviet Union, and we should not forget that.
Thirdly, I refer to the discussions that we hope will shortly begin on conventional arms reductions. They are the most important part of current international diplomacy. Conventional weaponry matters are of the greatest urgency, given the huge Soviet advantage in tanks, artillery and submarines, to which my right hon. Friend referred. At the moment the signs are that the Soviets may well be prepared to talk of heavy asymmetric reductions to move towards parity in conventional weaponry. Of course, we must realise that a considerable part of their huge conventional advantage is in the form of outdated equipment, particularly tanks, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Clackmannan. That advantage is also partly manifest by gross Soviet troop overmanning.
I was recently in the United States with my colleagues from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. We were told of an American estimate of Soviet conventional forces in the western part of Europe. They could be reduced by 30,000 tanks—I think that is near the figure that the hon. Gentleman used—and by 150,000 men without impairing the strike power of Soviet forces in Europe. We must remember that, even if we can agree on substantial Soviet conventional arms reductions on a massively asymmetric scale, their strike power would be only marginally reduced.
Fourthly, I refer to the discussions on chemical weaponry that are taking place between East and West. There has been far too little discussion of, and attention paid to, the threat of terrible weapons that are almost as horrific as atomic or nuclear weapons. Again, the Soviets have a huge advantage. We have seen in the recent Iran-Iraq war what devastating agents of death they can be.
In the United States one can meet many people who will say flatly that an agreement on chemical weaponry is impossible either to monitor or to verify. That means that the capacity for cheating is immense.
In this fourth sector, again we have the prospect of a so-called successful conclusion to the current discussions, but it could still leave us with a massive Soviet threat.
To sum it all up, under Gorbachev the Soviets give us cautious grounds for real hope and optimism. That hope will increase if more agreements can be made and, most important, if we can see at last a reduction in the flood of Soviet defence spending and construction in preparing its military machine. It is now, and to a greater extent in the 959 years ahead, that it is essential that we are not carried away on a flood of complacency on the back of mass public euphoria within the NATO Alliance countries. We must never forget that we have reached this point of optimism only because of our refusal to budge from a position of strength in the years ahead. As my right hon. Friend said, if the strategy of the NATO countries had followed the lines that the hon. Member for Deptford advocated we would not have had a sigh of a chance of reaching an agreement of that sort.
We are already seeing within NATO some of the backsliders acting as though one swallow does make a summer. I shall take as examples some of those countries that have abysmally low defence spending as proportions of their GNP. Canada, with its miserable 1.2 per cent. of GNP, is already opting out of its responsibilities on the northern flanks. Spain is seeking to banish the 401st Air Wing. Denmark is refusing access to ships which it suspects might be carrying nuclear weapons. Already we are seeing this false euphoria, which we should resist. The United States, which no one could possibly call a backslider, is demanding more equitable burden sharing. Given the size of its deficits and the need for the new Administration to deal with that, it is hardly surprising that it should be seeking to reduce its NATO responsibilities and get others to step into the breach.
I have tried to show why it would be insane to reduce our defence capacity by more than we are forced to do by the current encouraging arms reduction talks. There is a massive job to do with public opinion. All of us who believe in the principles proposed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State must do everything possible to explain why we must not throw away our strong position, which has led to such promising prospects.
I commend to the House the recent report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs entitled "The Political Impact of the Process of Arms Control and Disarmament", which I was happily involved in producing. The report attempts to explain that reduced defence budgets are not just around the corner. If we can demonstrate to the public that defence spending must be kept up in the years ahead, I believe that we can continue to progress towards disarmament, a fairer balance in arms between the great nations and a greater prospect of peace.
I read in the press that my right hon. Friend is still negotiating in the horrors of the annual PESC round, which I remember so well. It may be that, like the prisoner at the bar, he will be hauled before the Star Chamber court. I remember being in that most uncomfortable position for several years. On at least two of those occasions I think that my right hon. Friend was one of the judges. Therefore, my right hon. Friend is well experienced in arguing and dealing with that rather intimidating body. I hope that he will not give in and will demand that defence spending is not ruthlessly cut. I am sure that is what the Treasury is seeking to achieve, because its great desire is to wish to cut everything in sight. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that our defences are not reduced, because that would be fatal at this time.
§ 8.6 pm
§ Mr. Ted Garrett (Wallsend)
I was not surprised when the Secretary of State chided Labour Members on the Labour party's defence policies, because I do not understand them either. I am concerned that, in the 960 struggle within the Labour party, no one will lose sight of the essential need to defend this country—sometimes at a heavy cost. Nothing remains static in this world. The role of the armed forces is to defend this nation in its hour of need. We never know when that need will arise. In my lifetime, as in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), desperate situations have arisen.
I was in the Labour party before the war as a young Socialist, and I used to think I was a militant. I was looked upon as being rather odd because I supported the Churchill stance on rearmament. As an apprentice, I worked in an armaments factory. We used to make 25 lb field guns and light tanks with two-pounder guns and anti-tank weapons which were useless. They were pea shooters. However, with the grace of God, this nation was able partially to rearm at the outbreak of the 1939–45 war. Had we not done so, none of us would be here today as democrats.
I have always considered it my paramount duty to look at the practical side of life and—perhaps I lack the intellect —not get too involved in the intellectual discussions on nuclear rearmament or non-nuclear arms. I am disappointed with some of those who have spoken. When we are dealing with nuclear weapons, we should realise that we are not dealing solely with the Soviet-United Kingdom-American complex. How do we know that China, India, Pakistan, Iraq or Israel cannot release a nuclear weapon next week? Until that threat is negotiated away during such discussions as have been mentioned, we must face the reality of having a counter-threat.
I know that what I have said may be unpopular with some of my colleagues in the House, but it is an inherent gut feeling that my constituents in the north have. The vast majority have that gut feeling. One of the problems that faces the British Labour movement is that it cannot convince the electorate that it is a party that is prepared to defend this nation.
Having made those points, I will come back to the bread-and-butter issues.
I have been impressed by the arguments that have been made to keep the Corps of the Royal Marines intact—the House should remember that it has been threatened with abolition since 1981. It is difficult to see how morale can be at its best within that group of professional soldiers.
I have a special interest in the case of Swan Hunter, which is in my constituency. Studies have been made of the aviation support ships that will carry troops. Troop-carrying helicopters would be those ships' main capability in the event of or need for an assault. The Fearless and the Intrepid, both assault ships, are nearing the end of their lives and I was interested to learn that consideration is being given to extending their lives.
Before this two-day debate ends, I hope that the Minister will give us some idea how we are progressing in placing contracts for aviation support ships. Preferably, there should be one for Swan Hunter. In the long run, would it not be possible to consider building two, or possibly three, more assault ships if the Royal Marines are to remain a fighting unit and the unit with responsibility for NATO and the northern waters? We need such ships. It should also be borne in mind that Swan Hunter built the Sir Galahad to replace the one that was sunk, and that therefore it has the knowledge and expertise to carry out such contracts.
961 I draw the Minister's attention to page 52, paragraph 516, of the statement. I am heartened to realise that some of my worst fears about the publicity given to the armed forces because of various pranks, horseplay, bullying or whatever one may like to call it and which got into the media and were given prominence have not been realised. The paragraph appears to suggest that the adverse effects of such behaviour have not been as bad as expected. I trust that the Minister can assure me that that is correct.
Contrary to some views expressed, morale has been slightly sapped within the armed forces at this time. I think that one of the problems is that some of the units are over-stretched. For example, I would like to know whether all the infantry battalions are up to their strength of 650; I would be surprised if they were. I would like to know how many soldiers from those battalions are sent on training courses or exercises, thereby undermining the capability of those battalions.
As for welfare, I want to know how service men are to combat the rise in house prices when their terms of contract are ended and they must look to the market to find alternative accommodation. This applies to all ranks, from brigadier down to the ordinary corporal or fusilier. What financial assistance can be provided to put them back in civvy life and to help them compete in the house price market?
In view of the time, I shall cut the further remarks that I had intended to make. I hope, however, that the questions that I have put will produce reasonable replies from the Minister.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)
The House has heard two remarkable speeches tonight from the Labour Benches, both sincere and both genuine. The hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) made those speeches. I can only say that the views that have been expressed by the hon. Member for Wallsend are those that are expressed to me by genuine Labour voters, who say that they cannot vote for Labour candidates who espouse views like those expressed by the hon. Member for Walton.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
I shall not give way, because there is not much time and many hon. Members wish to speak.
I welcome what the hon. Member for Wallsend has said. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), who is not with us at the moment, said that we are isolated in Europe on the question of nuclear deterrence. Alas, she has failed to read the common platform which was adopted by the Western European Union:We are each determined to carry our share of the common defence in both the conventional and the nuclear field, in accordance with the principles of risk- and burden-sharing, which are fundamental to allied cohesionThe hon. Lady has also failed to recall that Spain and Portugal wish to join the WEU. To my knowledge, Spain does not have a Conservative Government and to join the 962 WEU it must subscribe to The Hague platform. Spain is desperately anxious to join, and we are anxious to have it within the WEU.
The hon. Member for Deptford is right in one thing when she says that Britain is isolated in Europe, but she got it slightly wrong. The hon. Lady should have said that British Socialists are isolated in Europe because one has only to watch the faces of other European Socialists to see that our Socialists are out on a limb—I exclude the hon. Member for Wallsend.
It is at least 10 years since I last spoke in a defence debate. I used to be a member of the Defence Committee along with the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert). In those days, the Defence Committee did, as it does now, a first-class job. Alas, I do not notice some of those same views coming forward tonight from the Labour Benches.
I have the great privilege of having followed my friend Sir Frederic Bennett in leading the United Kingdom delegation to the WEU. I am glad to see the references to the WEU in the White Paper, particularly in this year when Britain is in the chair of that organisation. I must say as firmly as I can that what is now being done by the Foreign Secretary and by the Secretary of State for Defence is setting an example to all who have to follow in the chair. They are making the organisation work effectively.
The WEU was very much like the sleeping princess. It was created in 1954 and virtually slumbered for 30 years except for the interest expressed by the parliamentary Assembly of the WEU. Its reactivation in Rome was designed to create a European pillar. It was intended not to be a rival to NATO, but to complement NATOs work. It should be borne in mind that France is an active participant in the WEU, which she is not in NATO, and that France played a major role in the reactivation of the WEU.
The two major events which are referred to in the Statement on the Defence Estimates and which are extremely important are The Hague platform, which bound all the members to the defence of their partners at their borders, and the use, if necessary, of nuclear weapons. Those are extremely important binding undertakings agreed by the sovereign nations who are members. One may say that those are just words, but how have those words been translated into action? They were translated into action during the recent troubles in the Gulf, when all the nations of the WEU joined in the minesweeping operation. That even included the non-naval nation of Luxembourg, which made a financial contribution to the operation and was thus involved with her other partners in this vital work.
The WEU's action in the Gulf shows what can be done in a very difficult situation. Many of us were aware that that conflict held the seeds of a third world war.
Now the WEU awaits the accession of Spain and Portugal. When my hon. Friend the Minister replies tonight, I hope that he can say that, when the ministerial council meets next month, it will be able to say that it endorses the accession of those two countries so that the parliamentary Assembly of the WEU can welcome them as full members later this year. There has been a great deal of delay on this issue, not by United Kingdom Ministers, but by Ministers generally. The parliamentary Assembly has wanted Spain and Portugal to join us for well over three 963 years, but only now, under the British chairmanship, is real progress being made. I hope that this will move fast enough for the decision to be taken at the November meeting.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that, had those who espouse the cause put forward by the hon. Member for Deptford in her previous incarnation, been successful, there would have been no INF treaty. What worried me was the view in the United States that the INF treaty was not good for Europe. I was glad, as a member of the presidential committee of WEU, to go to the Hill and talk to Mr. Taft, representatives and senators in order to convince them of the urgent necessity of ratifying that treaty. WEU played an important part in convincing the Americans of the need for an early and substantial ratification.
During our visit, we heard clear evidence from a Congressional sub-committee and others that, whoever wins the election next month in America, the burden-sharing issue will not go away. We have a responsibility because Europe has signally failed to get over in America the message of what Europe is doing in its own defence. I hope that attention will be turned to spelling out loud and clear the message that Europe is doing more than its fair share. It is satisfied to do it, but we do not want it said in America that we are hiding behind what the Americans are doing. We are in the forefront, doing an enormous amount, but the message is not getting across.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who is a colleague of mine on the WEU delegation, has already told us that, whenever one talks in America about what WEU is doing in its own defence and what NATO is doing for Europe's defence, it is greeted almost with amazement. Few people understand either the depth of commitment of the Europeans to their own defence or the financial sacrifices being made by a vast number of countries.
I have one slight quarrel with my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling). He was absolutely right about the role of Canada in NATO under a Liberal Government, but the present Conservative Government are making massive efforts to reverse that disastrous trend. They are moving as fast as they can with increased expenditure to try to bring Canada closer to what should be an acceptable level. The sudden volte-face of the new Democrats is interesting. They no longer say that they will pull out of NATO at once if they win; they realise, unlike the Labour party, that that is not popular among those whom they expect to vote for them.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
Some Labour Members wish to pull out of NATO, and we know it.
Otherwise, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State deserves our full support for his efforts to get value for money in his Department. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford made clear, we still need to make better use of Ministry of Defence assets, many of which are unused or under-used, and more attention needs to be paid to cost overruns and to the constant specification changes which have bedevilled many of the major projects that the Ministry has tried to initiate over the past decade. [Interruption.]I leave aside the bullets ordered by the Labour Government, which were mentioned earlier in the debate.
964 I look forward to my right hon. Friend trying to decide quickly on the new generation of battle tank. It is better to have something which is available and practicable than to continue hoping for Utopia, because Utopia ain't going to come, whether in the world of commerce or in defence. We need something to replace our aging tanks as quickly as possible.
It has already been said, and I make no apology for repeating it, that we owe a real debt to those who serve in our armed forces. I am glad to know that, at least on this side of the House, we give full, unqualified support to them, whether they be marines or members of the SAS doing a difficult job in Gibraltar.
§ Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)
I should like to express to the House the anger, resentment and concern of my constituents at the recently announced closure of the Royal Ordnance factory at Bishopton. Anger and resentment at job losses are commonly felt emotions in my area which, in recent years, has suffered major closure after major closure.
Everyone associates Renfrew, West and Inverclyde with the closure of the Talbot car factory at Linwood—a company which was bolstered by public funds but which deserted more than 5,000 of my people and then sold its assets to realise as much money as possible from a community which served it well for so many years. Coincidentally, the assets of Talbot at Linwood were largely sold to foreign countries and Talbot consolidated its profit base at its factories abroad—a familiar tale when one stops to consider the background to the closure of the ROF in Bishopton.
But while the community has barely recovered from this massive closure, it has had others heaped upon it. There was the closure of India Tyres at Inchinnan, Prescold at Hillington, Levi Strauss in Inchinnan, and massive reductions in staff at Rolls-Royce, Chivas Regal, Babcocks and a host of small factories. So the litany continues, leaving my constituency with one of the highest levels of unemployment in Scotland.
It is against the background of a community beset by job losses and with little hope that my people are trying to come to terms with the effect of the closure at Bishopton. It is against that background that the work force at Bishopton accepted loyally, and with no small measure of trust, the privatisation of the ROF when it was bought by British Aerospace. They recognised the Government's philosophy, the drive towards the free market and the abandonment of the underpinning of key defence industries through social ownership, and, with their new owners, they set themselves the task of working productively to make the new arrangements work. The work force accepted new production targets, they co-operated in decreasing unit costs and helped to implement new flexible working conditions. The installation of new plant and methods of working commissioned by the company received the full support of the workers. But it is that sort of work force in a specialised industry which demands high skills and commitment. The workers take pride in their service to the defence of their country. The industry is renowned for the long service of its employees and it has an exemplary industrial relations 965 record. To many, working at ROF Bishopton is more than just a job. It is a way of life for them, their families and the community.
To that group of loyal servants came a new employer, British Aerospace. I have the annual report of that company for 1987. It boasts wide success in many aspects of its operation, not the least of which is its relationships with its employees. It states:The commitment to business objectives which stems from employee involvement strategies is a key feature of the company's employment relations policy. 1987 has seen further development of the Company's communications practices which provides the business awareness upon which such involvement can be built. Joint problem-solving and consultative forums are increasing in number and impact, thereby increasing the opportunities for employees to contribute to business decisions.The workers at the Royal Ordnance factory at Bishopton embraced that generous spirit of participation. Indeed, several other hon. Members and I joined the union and management at Bishopton at a meeting which marked the involvement of the factory, its management and workers with elected members of the community. At that "joint problem-solving and consultative forum"—to use the words of the chairman of British Aerospace—there was no mention of redundancy, rationalisation, lack of profitability, rundown and closure. But, only a few weeks later, on 6 October, the rumours started. The very mention of closure was unthinkable to the work force and alarming to the community. Sadly, the rumours were confirmed the following day in a statement from the company announcing the closure of the factory at Bishopton with the loss of 1,200 jobs.
In sheer human terms, that was a breathtaking example of the callous and cynical indifference of a private company which, on the one hand, boasts about its positive relationship with its work force and Members of the House while, on the other, it prepares detailed plans to ditch 1,200 jobs and devastate a community. We are angry about the secrecy and deception of the company, whose representatives met us a few weeks ago, not in a joint problem-solving and consultative exercise but to pull the wool over our eyes while it prepared the destruction of a factory and a way of life.
We are even more angry about the deception of the Government, who have extolled the virtues of privatisation and alleged the efficiency of the market place and the freedom of enterprise while turning a blind eye to the effects of the closure on my constituents. The entire community will be affected. Behind the 1,200 workers who will be made redundant are 1,200 families who will lose an income and lose the dignity of employment. Behind the 1,200 redundancy notices that will be issued lies the shattered pride of a community which for generations has tried to acquire the skills necessary in this essential work. Behind 1,200 lost jobs are the innumerable training opportunities lost to our children—skills lost for ever to a country proud of the tradition of defending itself in times of crisis. Behind the 1,200 severance pay slips that will be issued lies an economic loss to the entire community, with small businesses already closing due to the lack of trade. The effects of the closure will be long-lasting and far-reaching.
The platitudes of the Scottish Office are insulting because we realise, just as the community has been shown 966 yet again in sharp relief, that the Government do not care about the individuals who make up the society that they are elected to govern. The Secretary of State has never suffered unemployment, as I and my constituents have. The Secretary of State has never had to survive on the poverty income that awaits the workers at Bishopton when they go on the dole. The Secretary of State has never experienced the numbing reality that, at his age, if he were made redundant from Bishopton, he would never work again. Yet that is the fate to which he and the Government have consigned my constituents.
The announcement of the closure not only pinpoints serious questions about the Secretary of State's personal competence to ensure that the country's defence is adequately underpinned by long-term strategic resource planning which is under the direct control of Her Majesty's Government, but lays bare the bankruptcy of the argument that privatisation is good for industry, for Britain and for our people. In one fell swoop, British Aerospace has shown us what loyalty the private sector has to our people, our defence and our industries. In one fell swoop, British Aerospace has demonstrated, first, that money knows no loyalty to this country; secondly, that profit respects no sense of national or personal pride; thirdly, that the balance sheet dictates all conscience and responsibility; and, of course, it has shown the country that the ever-seductive quick profit will undermine our security.
There can be many ideological arguments about public versus private, and academics and politicians may debate the legalities of corporate accountability. I have no doubt that in the debate we shall hear much about the adequate provision of the defence of the realm, but I say to the House, to the country and directly to the Secretary of State for Defence, "You cannot control what you do not own."
Of course, ownership has never been important to the Government, and the sense of ownership—of having a stake and a say in their jobs—which the work force at Bishopton has will be cast aside by the Government as surely as it has been cast aside by the accounting minds of the British Aerospace board. But was that not always the intention? Were not the circumstances surrounding the sale of the Royal Ordnance factories such that the Government wanted to press ahead with privatisation at any price?
What answers does the Secretary of State have for the questions asked in the Financial Timesof 5 March 1987, which allege that the Royal Ordnance factories were fattened up for sale? What answers does he have to the allegation, substantiated by the report from the National Audit Office last November, that the Royal Ordnance factories were sold at a bargain basement price and that land assets, which were never taken into account, can now be sold off at profits of many tens of millions of pounds —going not to the Exchequer but into the pocket of British Aerospace? Does the Secretary of State accept that, with the so-called sale of the Royal Ordnance factories, the Government did not just sell the family silver; they threw it away?
Can we expect a frank answer from the Secretary of State about these matters? When we examine not just the irresponsible actions of the Government in this affair, but the lack of foresight and the lack of commitment to Scotland—where the right hon. Gentleman once served as Secretary of State—I think not. If the Secretary of State is suffering from the episodes of selective amnesia that often 967 assail Ministers of this Government when they change responsibilities, let me remind him of a speech that he made in his constituency in November 1986. In that speech he attacked the Labour party's defence policy. The terms of his attack may have been fresh to his constituency then, but they have been repeated by him so often and so monotonously that their meaning may escape the notice of the House now.
Let us remind ourselves of the key phrases used by the Secretary of State in his attack. He said:Labour's Job Destruction Plan was not just bad for security but bad for jobs also. It could have devastating consequences for local communities but nowhere more so than here in Scotland.The right hon. Gentleman went further by coining phrases which, in the light of the giveaway of the Royal Ordnance factories and the closure of at least two vital factories, now take on a chilling reality. The "Job Destruction Plan" of which he accused the Labour party in 1986 has taken on a new and more terrifying meaning when applied to his actions and the consequences with which the people of Bishopton must now live.
But not only the people of my constituency will be affected. Every Member of the House should be aware that on 16 October 1988 a spokesman for British Aerospace said:There is no active consideration of sites other than those announced. Of course that doesn't mean there won't be further closures in the future as programme needs accelerate.Will the Secretary of State give us an assurance here and now that not only will he halt the closure of the factories that are currently under threat, but he will intervene to stop the closure of other Royal Ordnance units; or are we to believe, as is more probably the case, that his very own jobs destruction plan is well under way? If the cost of a quick profit, a fast buck, is a few thousand jobs, a few thousand lives and a few hundred communities, that is the inevitable price of the free market.
I have no doubt that what will come from the Secretary of State will be an increasingly callous and unconvincing speech about the free market and the Government's non-interventionist policy. He might well try to convince the House that he has no job destruction plan, but let me remind him of his photo finish at the general election. Few people in Ayr believed him then and no one in Scotland believes him now.
§ Dr. Godman
As my hon. Friend well knows, I have constituents working in the Bishopton factory. What he is seeing today, with the decision taken over Bishopton, is the continuing bad faith displayed by Her Majesty's Government towards the people of the lower Clyde. It is all of a piece—it is remarkable in its consistency. With Bishopton, my hon. Friend must remember Scott Lithgow. I am pleased that he referred to the fact that the Secretary of State sits ridiculously and precariously on a tick-tack of a majority. The Scottish people are out of tune with the Conservative Government on this and other issues.
§ Mr. Graham
With the decision at Bishopton, we see a further dramatic reduction in Scotland's share of defence procurement—and who wins? The south-east of England has benefited in the past, but now the company's recently announced plan to shift resources to America reveals another sinister aspect of the jobs destruction plan. All that is, of course, a far cry from the Secretary of State for Scotland last week at Brighton exhorting the Tory faithful 968 and businesses to come north to Scotland—presumably a land fit for profit. At Bishopton there is an immediate opportunity for the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Defence to stop more Scottish jobs being lost. If their words in Ayr in 1986 and in Brighton in 1988 mean anything more than empty political rhetoric, they will take action now to prevent the closure, with all its devastating implications for our people and industry. Let us not be mistaken: the wider effects on industry, on the broad private sector, will be substantial.
The National Audit Office, in its report No. 505 of 11 July 1985, described the defence sector asone of the largest purchasing organisations in the country as well as the biggest single customer of British industry.So what will be the multiplier effects of the closures in terms of jobs, people and communities? My people in Bishopton demand that the Secretary of State should intervene now to stop their jobs, their skills and their contribution being lost. Any hesitation, any inaction or any weak excuses can only be the final evidence to the country that the Government, with their profit motive, have no loyalty to British defence, British security, British industry, British jobs or the British people.
I have never heard anything so ludicrous in my life as British Aerospace paying £192 million when the real value is well over £1 billion. It is like telling someone who wants to buy one's furniture, "Here you are, you have bought my furniture. Take my house and garden for nothing—I'll throw them in."
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I commend to the House—I hope that the officials responsible will be congratulated—the presentation of the White Paper this year. Those of us who have studied White Papers for some time will remember when they were a dull and boring document. The coloured graphs and diagrams, and so on, make for much easier reading.
I propose to speak briefly on just two subjects, one because of its inclusion, and one because of its virtual exclusion. Although Westland has a much reduced work force in my constituency, I remain deeply interested in the future of the helicopter as a battlefield weapon. It is a subject on which I have spoken many times. I was therefore delighted to see the somewhat simplistic, but nevertheless heartening, diagram on page 24. Can it be that at long last the Army is beginning to appreciate the importance of the helicopter, both for moving troops on the battlefield and as an attack weapon? I say to my hon. Friends who have been discussing our amphibious capability that the helicopter can be used in that role most effectively. The simple landing platform that is required is much less costly than a purpose-built assault ship. Those who say, "But what about the weather?" will recognise that no seaborne assault can be carried out in weather conditions that would preclude helicopters from flying.
As part of the argument, occasionally it has been my practice—it will be tonight—to say a word about the vulnerability of armoured vehicles on the battlefield. That usually draws a stinging letter from GKN, which manufactures some of our new armoured personnel carriers, but it has just bought one quarter of the shares of Westland. It is ahead of the Ministry of Defence in appreciating that one can no longer turn a blind eye to one 969 particular arm in the complex modern battlefield. I shall quote from the press handout that was issued at the time of that important purchase:In Land Systems important changes are underway. These relate directly to the greater responsibility being placed on conventional land forces, and the increasingly sophisticated threats these forces will face. The response to this is revised land battlefield doctrines, which are moving towards closer integration of front line equipments, on land and in the air, to provide a strong, cohesive, highly mobile and flexible fighting force.How difficult it is to move the military mind. History is littered with examples of armies going to war equipped for the previous conflict and therefore at a hopeless disadvantage. The American experience in Vietnam showed to the world the way in which the helicopter can give the field commander flexibility to place his troops in the most appropriate position swiftly and safely and, similarly, to withdraw them as and when required. That the tank should remain the be all and end all, backed now by millions of pounds' worth of armoured personnel carriers, ignores the undoubted ability of even quite small infantry units to knock out tanks with hand-held weapons. If one includes the whole substantial armoury directed against the tank, there cannot be much hope that many will survive long on the modern battlefield.
I am therefore appalled to learn that there is now a debate in the Ministry of Defence about replacing the aging Chieftain tank fleet—at a cost of no less than £1 billion if the press is to be believed—solely with new tanks, wherever they may come from. I say to my hon. Friends who have been arguing the merits or otherwise of buying American that there is almost no item of defence equipment that cannot be bought more cheaply in America, but that is not a good argument for so doing. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will hear that message coming loud and clear from both sides of the House today.
§ Mr. Leigh
Does my hon. Friend accept that if we purchase a tank, the Challenger 2 tank made by Vickers probably has the best turret in the world, the best weapons system, the most robust hull and the best engine—the Rolls-Royce? Will he pay tribute to that tank, which is produced by a fine British company employing many thousands of people in Newcastle and Leeds in the most modern tank factories in the world?
§ Mr. Wiggin
As the gist of my argument is that I hope that the Ministry of Defence will not buy any tanks—or a great deal fewer than £1 billion worth—I shall not join in my hon. Friend's request, even though I am sure that what he says about that tank is correct.
If my doctrine is too revolutionary, as I suspect it is bound to be, what about splitting the money—half of it going on helicopters? That is a bad compromise, but it is better than going for a whole new generation of weapons that will unquestionably be out of date before they are in use.
I strongly welcome the creation of the air mobile brigade. Although the 25 EH 101 s ordered in the troop-carrying role will not be delivered until the 1990s, I am doubtful whether much air mobility is open to the brigade, in spite of its name. The aircraft to carry it about do not exist. Every autumn there is an exercise, after which 970 the generals express their wonder at the benefits of helicopters and then do little or nothing about converting that lesson into action.
I am sorry that Ministers brought to an end the exercise that they were conducting into the transfer of responsibility for helicopters from the Royal Air Force to the Army and the Navy. They stopped it because someone said that the change would not be economic. But this is not about economics: it is about operations. It is extremely difficult to expect ground commanders to trust their transport if it is run by a separate service. I hope that if, at any time, my right hon. Friend has a little money to spare he will reinstitute that study. He has only to talk to those involved in the Falklands and in exercises to hear them reiterate their need to have command of their own air transport.
Lieutenant General Sir David Ramsbotham, commander of the United Kingdom field army, is quoted as saying:The Soviets are ahead of us in their concept for employment of helicopters, having acted while we have been thinking.That says it all. If one asks the time in the MOD, one will be told that officials will conduct a study of the matter. Never has a decision of this importance been taken in such a lethargic and languid manner——
§ Mr. Brazier
I thoroughly endorse my hon. Friend's views about bringing air transport under the command of those who have to use it, but I put it to him that the Soviet Union has 35,000 tanks. It has some heavy armoured battlefield helicopters—about 1,000 Hind D and Hind Es —and some lighter ones, but its main effort is still in tanks, not helicopters. So, to some extent, we must look at what the Soviet Union is doing.
§ Mr. Wiggin
Just because the Russians are doing it, that does not make it right.
I referred earlier to an omission from the White Paper —the scant commentary on the Territorial Army. That is symptomatic of the way in which lip-service is paid to the value of the TA and of all the reserves by the regular services. When it comes down to finding resources and manpower to assist what is a substantial part of the front line, the contribution is extremely inadequate. The reserve and auxiliary formations, as shown in the graph on page 50 of the White Paper, take up 2.2 per cent, of the defence budget, less than 1 per cent. of services manpower and 1.8 per cent. of civilian manpower. For that, the Army obtains a third of its front-line strength—50,000 men in Germany alone—the Navy a substantial part of its minesweeping capability and the Royal Air Force a number of airfield defence units.
The report of the Reserve Forces Policy Board of the United States of America devotes 180 pages to a detailed analysis of all American reserve forces. I commend it as good reading for Ministers on their way to bed. It has much to say about the importance that the United States attaches to its reserve forces.
Increasingly, the Regular Army is providing commanding officers for TA units, few of which now have territorials doing that job. For reasons unknown to me, I have heard that these territorials cannot even draw the same allowances as their regular equivalents—I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will look into that. Honorary colonels are being appointed from the Regular Army or from the ranks of retired regular officers. No longer are 971 they distinguished local people with a TA background. Arms directors have too big a say in this. It is being seen as a nice little perk for friends in the Regular Army. I hope that Ministers who have the right to veto these appointments will examine that point.
My right hon. Friend appreciates the serious problems created by the large number of men who leave the service every year. He recently announced that he was spending £10 million on a recruiting campaign. I welcome his obvious determination to tackle the problem, but I doubt whether even this intervention will prove completely successful.
In recent years the Regular Army has argued that because of the importance of the TA its standard of training should be exactly the same as that of the regular forces. That is a fine idea, but it ignores the demands on the individual and his family—demands which eventually drive him out. Sadly, that is what is happening. Reluctantly, therefore, I suggest that, as numbers count, a somewhat lower standard of training after the initial period would be an acceptable alternative. Instead of spending £10 million on advertising, will the MOD think about the possibility of making the regulars responsible for recruiting the reserve forces? That would concentrate their minds greatly on making the TA attractive to the volunteer and would enable a considerably greater amount of time to be spent on welfare, families and on other things that help retention. It is significant that the American forces practise this and seem to have a much smaller problem of retention than we do.
We have already heard in this debate about the demographic problem that will shortly be with us. The expanded TA can help with it, and no stone must be left unturned to ensure its continued success. If my right hon. Friend is still battling in the Star Chamber for resources, I add my voice to those of my hon. Friends in saying that Conservative Back Benchers will be determined to ensure that our forces are thoroughly funded in all their aspects and maintained at their present high standards.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)
This has been an interesting debate, set against a background of constraints on defence expenditure. Several Conservative Members have alluded to the Secretary of State winning or losing battles. I suspect that, following a leak in the course of this evening, we shall read tomorrow in the press that he has partially won the battle. I do not know what figure to put on this: perhaps he or his junior Minister will give us one. Something below £1 billion—perhaps £900 million —is the figure that has been circulating as the amount that he has got out of the Treasury. If so, we should like to be told tonight, rather than reading it in the press tomorrow. I think that I speak for all parts of the House when I make that request.
We are worried about the problem of resources. In paragraph 2 of its fifth report the Select Committee said:When in 1986 the previous Defence Committee examined the Statement on Defence Estimates 1986, it concluded that, instead of the 'broadly level' funding expected in 1985, there would be a fall in real terms of between 4.5 per cent. and 7 per cent. in the period 1986–87 to 1988–89. Since then, defence spending in real terms has reduced from £18.5 billion in 1986–87 to £17.5 billion in 1988–89. We calculate that the cumulative real reductions in defence spending from 1986–87 to 1990–91 will total £3.2 billion. Historically, the effect of reductions in defence expenditure has borne most heavily on 972 the equipment programme; the equipment share of the budget has fallen from 46.3 per cent. in 1985–86 to 43 per cent. in 1988–89, and is now at its lowest in proportionate terms since 1979–80.[Interruption.] I do not dispute that. It is against that background that we view the Secretary of State's oft-repeated comments about tough and difficult decisions to be made. We know that those tough and difficult decisions are being made against the background of a commitment to maintain a strategic nuclear deterrent.
Hon. Members spoke earlier about people going to other constituencies to make speeches. During the general election, the Secretary of State came to my constituency and made a speech. I would welcome it if he came again, because that speech quadrupled my majority. Perhaps he should have stayed in Ayr, where his majority was reduced from about 7,000 to about 100. My constituency contains a vast number of workers, not on the base itself, whose work is directly related to repairing and maintaining the Polaris fleet. So far in the debate we have not heard anything about Polaris, certainly not from the Opposition. It is deplorable for the Opposition to put down an amendment to the defence White Paper and not mention Polaris. I shall deal with that later. There are constraints.
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence spoke about the vast number of reports—nine—that the Select Committee has produced. I shall confine my speech to Merchant Navy and Royal Navy matters. One of those reports was about the merchant fleet. There have been vast reductions in the merchant service, not just in the number of ships but in the important matter of the availability of British crews. I shall not weary the House by quoting from the report, but I should like to draw attention to paragraph 54 of the fourth report of June this year.
In that report, we dealt with reductions in the merchant fleet and in the personnel. Able seamen are very important, but so are cadets and training. We are an island nation, but we have no maritime strategy. It is farcical to reduce the number of British flagged vessels and Merchant Navy manpower and simultaneously to argue the case that if we have a conventional war somehow or other nations will help us with resupply and replenishment across the Atlantic. In his speech the Secretary of State did not mention that.
The Select Committee also produced a report about the surface fleet. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who is very knowledgeable about these matters, pointed to the defects in the ordering pattern for frigates and destroyers. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to come to the House in July and in a splurge of activity say that he has ordered three type 23 frigates from Yarrows. That is welcome but there has been a break because in the previous year no ships were ordered. I suspect that, unless he has won a substantial battle with the Treasury, next year no ships will be ordered.
We have seen cuts in our shipbuilding capability. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) spoke about that. I suspect that on the Clyde, unless we are very lucky and retain the very small yard with which I used to be directly associated— Appledore Ferguson, as it is now called—we will have one shipyard on the Clyde, Yarrows, wholly dependent on naval ordering. That yard is designed to build three type 23 frigates. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) drew our attention to the need to maintain shipbuilding capacity in the north-east of England.
973 If ordering is carried out in a feast or famine manner, not only will the Navy be dislocated but so will the reliability and performance of shipyards. It might be argued that certain things can be done in commercial yards, but we cannot re-create overnight the sophisticated personnel in naval shipyards. The Secretary of State should come clean. The Select Committee on Defence searchingly and patiently wheedled out the fact that it is not just a commitment to "about 50" frigates and destroyers but an indication of their operability and availability. I challenge the Minister who is to wind up to tell us the number of these vessels that are available now. It will be well under 50. It will probably be nearer the 40 mark.
My interest in the dockyards concerns the refitting and maintenance of the SSNs, the SSBNs and conventional vessels. The promises made when we discussed the privatisation or commercialisation of the dockyards, particularly Devonport, have been reneged on. In particular, the one relating to the core programme has not been fulfilled, and that resulted in massive reductions in the dockyard work force. To some extent, Rosyth has escaped that, but I have told my constituents not to be complacent, because if we run on with the Trident programme the facilities at Barrow will become a competitor in the refitting and maintaining of these boats. I pointedly ask the Secretary of State whether that is in his mind, that of the Ministry of Defence or that of Dr. Leach, at Barrow. I tell my constituents not to be complacent because, unless there is either a further commitment to SSNs or a further generation of SSBNs at Barrow, there will be problems. It is reasonable to ask for some clarification about that.
There is a problem about the nuclear waste at Rosyth. By the year 2000, it is likely that there will be 10 SSNs and SSBNs to be decommissioned. Rosyth has the first decommissioned SSN, the Dreadnought. There is no discernible plan within the Ministry of Defence to dispose of these boats. There is certainly a plan to take out the reactors and the fuel, but there is no plan to dispose of the hulls. The valuable resource at the dockyard ought not to be used to tie up the hulls of these boats until kingdom come.
The Select Committee has said that it expects answers about this point to be forthcoming before we next study the problem. It is not good enough to talk vaguely about plans when there is a real problem in disposing of these vessels. We cannot do what the United States does—cut up the vessels and bury them in the Nevada desert—nor can we dump them at sea.
I am utterly bemused when I try to discover what defence policy the Labour party is trying to evolve. It is credible to say that we shall run on the strategic deterrent, and it is credible to say that we shall get rid of it, and cancel Trident and decommission Polaris, because that runs on into the 1990s. Either of these policies is credible, but we cannot sell a halfway house. The British people will not buy something in between. As an old-fashioned shop steward, I do not believe that it is a useful negotiating posture to be on record as saying that one will not press the button while at the same time trying to fool the Soviet 974 Union into thinking that we shall use this deterrent as a negotiating ploy, either for strategic weapons or for some form of conventional weapons.
I am disclosing real difficulties, which have to be faced by my party. It is better that my party faces them now and comes to a considered and deliberate conclusion. My view is that this will be the last time—whatever the party—that we shall go through the pretence of kidding ourselves that we have an independent strategic deterrent. The boats and the warheads are ours, but the important part in between is totally American.
The decision to refit and maintain the missiles at King's bay is also a clear indication that, although we can take the missiles off the shelf when we have put them there, in a strict sense they do not belong to us. There is a rolling commitment which no one would accept in relation to a motor car. If someone wants a car repaired, after 10,000 miles, he does not say, "You can give me another one off the shelf."
§ Mr. Younger
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman of all people would know that that is exactly what much of industry does with cars all the time.
§ Mr. Douglas
Yes, but they do it on leasing deals. Is the Secretary of State saying that there is a leasing deal on Trident? One does not do that if one owns the facility. In this case, we are not getting something new; we are getting a refurbished item. I do not want to labour this point because it is generally conceded, unless the Secretary of State wishes to enlighten us.
We shall come up against this again in the year 2000. It is better for the Labour party to face this now, to say that we will be committed to ending the United Kingdom's role as a strategic nuclear power and to begin arguing that case to the British public. That is what I had to do in the last general election. I refuse to believe that people in Rosyth, whose employment is directly related to the issue and who voted Labour, are different from people in the rest of the United Kingdom. They cannot be convinced by the force of argument that the possession of a strategic deterrent is a waste and an attrition of our valuable resources—not only economic resources, but valuable, unique, costly and scarce intellectual resources. Some of the best people whom we have employed have been taken in by our continued possession of a strategic deterrent.
I do not know what will happen when people go to Moscow, but it would be preposterous for us to try to sell some wishy-washy in-between measure. We either keep the deterrent or we say to the British people, "This is the last time. It is our commitment to get rid of it", and come clean, particularly if we have a leader who is not committed to pressing the button. It is a different argument if we have a leader like the previous leader of the Labour party, who said, "If I have to press the button, it is a sign that the deterrent has failed." However, if we have a leader who says that he will not use it, there is no reason for anyone to negotiate.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
That was an honest statement from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas). I want to add my voice to those who have expressed concern about the alleged battle between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury.
975 I have no doubt that, since my right hon. Friend took office nearly three years ago, he has earned our confidence and we have respected his judgment. We have had three years of virtual standstill of budget in the face of the rising costs of military technology and manpower. We know that those three lean years have followed seven good years in which we had a much-needed expansion of our defences. Nevertheless, as we look to the future, we must be careful not to allow essential schemes for keeping our forces up to date to fall behind, as some of us suspect may happen.
There are three reasons. The first has already been mentioned. We do not know what Mr. Gorbachev will do, but we know that the conventional capability of the Soviet Union is strong and growing stronger and more efficient. Whatever may happen between the United States and the Soviet Union, we shall find ourselves playing a notable part in trying to get an agreement on chemical weapons and conventional arms. If we are to succeed, we must negotiate in strength, as we did during the INF talks.
After three years of standstill, I do not believe that what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is asking for is extravagant. The alternative approach would weaken the effectiveness of our forces and allow structural disarmament to take the place of a properly negotiated arms control treaty in which everyone gives up something.
My second reason for expressing the hope that we shall continue to be determined to maintain the effectiveness of our contribution to NATO is a political one. We all know that the United States is deadly serious—it is obvious that it is not bluffing—about the burden that it bears. It expects us in Europe to do more than we are doing already. I cannot think of a decision that would be more badly timed than for Britain of all countries to appear to be reluctant to shoulder its responsibilities now, before the election in the United States, and before the new President has taken his place.
My third reason for backing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is based on my belief that we should take no precipitate action following the burden-sharing debate. I believe that my reasoning is more positive than that which is based on comparisons between the spending of various countries. Burden-sharing will be a profitable debate if it is based on ascertaining how we can better organise the roles, risks and responsibilities of the different members of the Alliance. That is exactly why NATO has established a working party to examine the roles, risks and responsibilities and then to decide where there is a need for adjustments, and to make recommendations accordingly.
We know that the working party will report to the NATO Defence Ministers in December, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have to consider its report. That is another reason why I think that it would be wrong, out of respect for our allies, to undermine our current defence responsibilities in the interests of short-term financial criteria. We should not forget either —I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), who is the leader of our delegation to the Western European Union—our obligations to WEU members. We are obliged to defend a fellow member country at its borders if it is attacked. Any fundamental change that we may be forced to make if we starve our defence forces of the resources that are necessary for an adequat". modernisation programme will bring into question our reliability as a staunch member of the WEU.
976 I remind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that next month, in Hamburg, we who are members of the United Kingdom delegation to the North Atlantic Assembly, which I shall have the honour of leading, will be attending the autumn session. We shall be addressed by the Chancellor and Defence Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Supreme Allied Commander. The session will be attended by parliamentarians from all the NATO countries, including prominent Senators and Congressmen. I am sure that all those who attend will emphasise the importance of the occasion.
My right hon. Friend is trusted by other NATO Ministers as a Minister who fully comprehends the significance of NATO in clrawing up and funding our defence priorities. We fully support him in his arduous task of ensuring that Britain will continue to take its defence decisions with a full understanding of the long-term needs of the Alliance, which has for so long kept the peace in Europe.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
We have this round of discussions each year, and each year I feel some sympathy for the Secretary of State for Defence and his ministerial colleagues. We find that they are in the same dilemma each year. The Government seek to persuade the United States that we spend sufficient on defence, despite its protestation that a greater degree of burden-sharing is necessary. The Government seek also to persuade our NATO partners that we spend more than our fair share and that they must increase their contributions to equate with ours.
At the same time, the Government seek to persuade the Labour party that they are right to escalate expenditure on nuclear missiles and on the vehicles to deliver them and to spend less on conventional weapons and equipment. In doing that, they seek to persuade the electorate that all is well in defence provision—indeed, that all is so well that the Treasury can afford to stuff billions of pounds back into the pockets of the rich, who do not need the cash in the first place. While that contradictory melange is presented to the media, the Government seek to distract attention from those contradictions by knocking the Labour party. We have had plenty of attemps to do that today——
§ Mr. Cook
I shall continue. The hon. Gentleman has simply proved my point.
It is our job to examine the Defence Estimates. The need now is to put an end to all the posturing and to discuss properly the full range of defence issues in the light of changing technology, changing economy and changing global circumstances.
Before developing that theme, I should like to inform the House of my involvement this year as a participant and assessor in the pilot period of the Parliamentary Armed Services Trust. I shall try to explain the trust quickly, as I do not have much time. The scheme was started to try to give newer Members of Parliament more direct experience of the needs of the armed services, the duties we require them to perform, the equipment that we provide for that purpose and the conditions that they expenence. I understand that the scheme was dreamed up by the hon.
977 Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne). I pay tribute to him for his initiative and pay tribute also to the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces for the ready way in which the scheme was accepted and for the helpful and gracious manner in which his staff have enabled the three trying hon. Members—very trying in my case I am sure—to carry out our duties. The other Members are the hon. Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce). They are looking at the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, respectively. I was assigned to the 24th Air Mobile Brigade and have so far spent almost three weeks in total either working with that unit or with the units that support it.
The opinions that I express today have been well ventilated and truly discussed, and the examples that I use have been gleaned from exchanges on those occasions and during the many other defence visits that I have made this year. I could recount a list that would almost reach parity with that of the Select Committee on Defence. When I register my views and analyses today, I keep faith with commitments made to serving men and women of all ranks during many exchanges which have helped to make clear to service personnel, who were previously misinformed on the subject of Labour's defence policy—usually by a frequently mischievous and occasionally malicious media —what the Labour party really thinks on defence. The Labour party has always maintained that, if we are to consign young men and women to advanced areas of confrontation, we must ensure that they are adequately supported, fed, clothed, equipped, armed, trained and led. I have noticed tonight that some hon. Members, notably the hon. Members for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) and for Ashford (Mr. Speed), are not shy to admit that all in the garden is not lovely and that it is no good pretending that all is well. Serving men and women have not been slow to inform me of that.
In response, the Labour party maintains that we cannot expect full effectiveness and efficiency if there is a shortfall in resources and resolution. It is patent nonsense to formulate our strategy to resist the perceived threat from the Soviet bloc around a precommitment to a five-day reliance on conventional exchanges if we fail to ensure that the resources will last that long. Supplies of some munitions can be guaranteed for less than two days. Supplies of some fuel can be guaranteed for less than a day and a half and some spares, essential for mobility, are still awaited from suppliers in Czechoslovakia. I sympathise with the Minister. After all, procurement is his personal fiefdom, his personal forte and his bag. He must help carry the fight to the Treasury so that our services can be made ready to carry the fight to our attackers. I am sure that he has tried but failed, as others have failed before him, to get enough and to apportion it properly or in a way that would equip and empower our young men and women to fulfil the role that we require of them.
In leaving our young men and women short, do we expose them to an earlier death—God forbid—perhaps at the hands of our armourers as they launch our American ballistics in response to Soviet supremacy? Is this House happy to consign the cream of our youth to such kamikaze tactics? If it is, it had better make that clear tonight so that mothers and fathers can understand what is said and reform their opinions accordingly.
978 Apparent inadequacies can be more trivial, but in the day-to-day concerns of service personnel they can be more telling and immediate. By that I mean items like the new boot which was awaited with eager anticipation by so many units which considered it to be the answer to all foot problems. Those units which have it already would readily return to the previous issue tonight if given the preference, because it is bloody uncomfortable.
Issues of pay, allowances, accommodation and house purchase are even more telling for service personnel. As we have heard tonight, all those issues can cause resentment throughout the three arms of Her Majesty's forces, despite previous ministerial assurances that this year's review board would remove some of the causes for complaint.
Pay was always inadequate in the barrack room. It was ever so. However, comparisons between the military police and civil police reinforce the view that there are greater disparities between what is demanded of military personnel and the way they are rewarded and what is demanded in civvy street and how such a service is rewarded. Pay differentials were always said to be unjustifiable. However, comparisons between com-missioned pilots and non-commissioned pilots—and flying instructors, in particular—reveal what is wrong. Until I was forcefully told by a flying instructor from Middle Wallop, I did not know that non-commissioned flying instructors receive £6 a day flying pay, whereas a commissioned instructor receives double that. That anomaly is very difficult to explain, unless one falls back on traditional explanations of RAF flying supremacy over the Army Air Corps. Differentials in travel conditions, living overseas allowances and accommodation rates are sources of bitter comment. House purchase is patently most difficult for those military units required to move more readily than their comrades in the Royal Navy or the RAF who can more easily acquire property close to more stable garrison placements.
So many of the promises made by the review board this year have failed to keep faith with the commitments. The disillusion with review board procedure is widespread, and I must report that resentment runs deep in almost every unit that I visited. Early disengagement from service in the armed forces is clear evidence of that. As the Minister is aware, many units are suffering as much as, and some more than, 30 per cent. wastage per year. That is not fantasy. It is verifiable, and to some extent it is justifiable.
The change in circumstances related to strategic need vis-a-vis the East-West balance of power is also verifiable. That brings me to the main thrust of my comments and I want to refer to points made by the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) and his reports on reviews currently taking place within NATO. I hope to join the hon. Member for Wealden on some of those reviews. I am pleased that I shall be joining such a review next week when I attend a three-day seminar at the NATO defence college in Rome.
It is just as important that the Labour party should be able to explain to its political opponents, as well as to its political supporters, some of the subtleties of its quest for nucleardisarmament. [Interruption.] Somehon. Members find that amusing. One or two of them have been so misinformed as to equate the Labour party's views on disarmament with difficulty in amassing votes at elections.
I remind the House that in 1983 I was a parliamentary candidate for the first time in my life against someone who had been a Member of this House for 21 years. He was the 979 author of a pamphlet called "The Case for Cruise." He had regularly attended seminars in America, at which he had said why we should retain our nuclear stance. Despite his 21 years as a Member of this House and his nuclear commitment, he was placed third in the poll. I was placed first. There is no difficulty over acquiring votes while professing an anti-nuclear stance. We maintained the same unilateral nuclear disarmament policy in 1987. I stood as a candidate against even younger Tory opponents and even more vigorous middlemen but I increased my majority fivefold. Anti-nuclear policies do not lead to disaffection among voters in the north-east—at least, not in my constituency.
We should put an end to the posturing and consider all the options. It is improper and unreal to take any individual defence factor and to consider it in isolation. Nothing could be more dangerous. I hope to contribute constructively to NATO's strategic review and to put forward the nuclear disarmament view. If we approach the problem by considering the existence of the threat, its nature, size, the direction from which it may come, how we should prepare for it and how we should equip our young men and women and train them instead of considering the restricted amount of money that the Treasury is prepared to make available, we may be able to adopt a bilateral stance and go some way towards meeting our genuine defence needs.
This week I spent two whole days in Northern Ireland. I was in the Castlederg salient with the commanding officer, Light Infantry. I experienced at first hand some of the conditions that our young men and women have to tolerate. We are asking them to do a bloody awful job on our behalf. There appears to be no political solution on the horizon, yet the conditions in which those personnel operate are disgraceful, the hours that they work are unbelievable and the conditions in which they sleep, at least near the frontier, are unspeakable. Yet they are the lucky ones. They have a positive role to play, which they understand and perform admirably, brilliantly and with a determination and commitment that is indescribably exemplary. Along with them, in permanent resident postings, they have their families—young wives, many with young children, living on bases with perimeter wires that are totally secure. They are afraid to go out beyond the perimeter wires and into the broader community because of the kind of retaliatory action that may be taken against them by hostile communities. When I say hostile, I really mean hostile. It might be fine and funny to criticise the dilemma that the Russians face in Afghanistan, but it is sobering to experience the same degree of real, vile hostility within the United Kingdom.
I plead for a comprehensive review that will make us examine each and every condition that we foist upon the young people who give us good service. I refer not only to pay, pensions and the ability to leave the service after 22 years wishing to obtain a house in our society—conditions that do not condemn a regimental sergeant-major to take a job as chauffeur to a civic head simply because that is the only way that he can get council house accommodation —but to conditions that provide such people with the equipment that allows them to do the job for a little longer than the five days that we demand before we make a nuclear response. We must ensure that the back-up reserves that we offer them are adequate.
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare spoke about the TAVR. I must honestly report that some officers who 980 have been in charge of TAVR. units for as long as two years confidently tell me that there is no way that the men can do the job, that there is no way that they will turn up for parades on time, and that there is no way that they will accept rebuke for any sort of misdemeanour. Yet other officers have said that anyone who has suggested that to me is failing in his duty because it means that he has organised the training badly and not motivated the forces. I have no doubt that there is an element of truth in both those statements. I offer them to the Secretary of State because we must take the truth from both and ensure that we remedy any wrongs.
§ Mr. Cook
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to register the resentment that he obviously felt when he was a serving officer. During the past seven months I have spoken to serving officers, NCOs and rankers, and I am reporting what they have told me. If the hon. Gentleman does not want to accept that, I challenge him to join the Parliamentary Armed Services Trust, preferably in a branch of the services in which he did not serve, and listen to some of the criticisms. I am confident that he will hear even more than I heard.
I have asked for a review that begins from the basis of the need of our defence commitment, not from the greed of the Treasury, and from the need of the people who ask us to perform that role on their behalf. I ask for it to be carried out quickly and in conjunction with the NATO review.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State lbr Defence Procurement (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)
I welcome the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) on his first contribution from the Labour Front Bench during a defence debate. I am sure that most hon. Members were glad to hear his remarks about the armed forces parliamentary scheme and his experiences of it. I hope that the House will be grateful for his support for the members of our armed forces.
The hon. Gentleman expressed sympathy with my right hon. Friend and his Ministers, and we are glad of his concern for our welfare and his sympathy for us. However, the sympathy that we feel for him and his hon. Friends on the Front Bench who have to debate defence on behalf of the Labour party is a great deal deeper. Perhaps I should also welcome the first speech from the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) as a leader of what I must say appears to be a divided army. The hon. Members for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) and for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) would classify themselves among those who would sign "Bemused of the Labour party" when it came to what was, or indeed what was not, their own party's policy.
We heard a deeply sincere speech from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). Nobody who heard that speech would doubt his sincerity. What most of us doubt is the truth of the views that he holds. He may be in the majority in his own party but, as was pointed out to him by an Opposition Member, he is not in the majority in 981 the country, as the last general elettion decisively showed. I shall return to some of the comments from the hon. Member for Clackmannan.
Some issues were raised during the first day of this important debate, particularly matters relating to pay, recruitment and retention, which I shall leave to my hon. Friends the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces who hope to catch your eye tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.
Many hon. Members have commented on the possible outcome of the current PESC round and the implications for the Defence Estimates. I refer particularly to my hon. Friends the Members for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) and for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) in that connection. They and others will not be surprised that, on this important point, I cannot add to what my right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks. Equally, many hon. Members have spoken about the importance of obtaining for our forces the best equipment while at the same time getting value for money. My hon.*Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsburg) referred to that point. I hope that we shall not have to wait another 10 years for his next contribution to a defence debate.
It was Cato the Elder who was reputed to have used the same phrase in every one of his speeches, "Delenda est Carthago"—Carthage must be destroyed. In one sense at least, I should seek to emulate him by saying in every speech that I make from the Dispatch Box that value for money must be obtained. I think that "Utilifas ex vectigali publico maxime est capienda" would more or less cover the point. If I may return the vernacular—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Sainsbury
The sense is that value for money must be obtained. It is essential to extract maximum benefit from public taxation. I am sure that we would all agree with that sentiment.
One of the most important ways that we have of getting that drive for value for money in procurement is competition, and we are maintaining our sustained efforts to secure full benefit from competition. In 1983–84, the proportion by value of contracts let on a competitive basis was only 38 per cent.—that, of course, was up from the level that we inherited from the Labour Government— whereas, in each of the past three years, over half our business has been done by competition.
Naturally, we must expect variations in the figure from year to year, mainly due to fluctuations in the value of large contracts for items such as nuclear submarines, for which competition at the prime contractor level is not feasible. In such cases, however, we insist on the greatest possible competition for the award of sub-contracts.
Our drive to reduce the number and value of contracts let on a cost-plus basis has also been significant. The value of contracts let on that basis—cost plus percentage fee —fell from 15 per cent. in 1983–84 to only 7 per cent. in 1987–88. Each of those contracts is now subject to a cost ceiling, so that we are no longer entering into open-ended commitments.
Of course, because of the length of procurement cycles, it takes time for the full benefits of increased competition and our more commercial approach to work through.
982 Typically, it might take two to three years between the signing of a production contract and the receipt of and payment for the first piece of equipment arising from that contract, and it is only at that stage that the real savings are seen.
Underpinning our drive for greater competition are the steps that we have taken to provide ourselves with a greater choice of companies by seeking wherever possible to widen our supplier base. We continue to encourage small firms to break into the defence market, and the amount of direct defence business won by small firms is running at £1,000 million a year. That figure excludes the substantial sub-contract work that they also undertake. The efforts of our small firms advice division have encouraged several thousand small enterprises to seek out defence business. Our competitive base is therefore in very good health, and we shall maintain our efforts to ensure that it remains so.
The benefits to the defence industry of increased domestic competition are evidenced by its growing competitiveness in international markets. That is shown by our outstanding export record. Defence exports have tripled in real terms since 1979.
I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating our defence suppliers on their recent export achievements. Foreign sales represent a most valuable addition to the order books of United Kingdom companies, while the consequent longer production runs help to reduce the unit cost of our own purchases. In addition, some of the overseas sales enable the development costs of equipment, which are often very substantial, to be recovered from a much increased volume of sales. They also, of course, create a large number of jobs for British workers.
§ Sir Antony Buck
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be appropriate to pay a tribute to his own defence sales organisation and to the alteration in the attitude of the corps diplomatique, which is no longer orientated against sales? Therefore, trade is no longer a dirty word and many of our ambassadors are in fact orientated towards selling for Britain.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his comments. I shall be paying a tribute, as he suggests, later in my remarks, but what he has said is very true.
There are a number of other aspects of our drive for value for money to which I should like to refer, but before I do so I will respond to some of the other points which have been raised in the debate.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan welcomed our greater use of competitive tendering, but it appears that he was somewhat equivocal about the consequences of that policy. He seems to welcome lower prices, but he cannot accept the consequential adjustments of the resources, both men and materials, to the size for efficient production. Surely he cannot want the Ministry of Defence to subsidise and so perpetuate inappropriate or inefficient production, which seemed to be the tenor of some of his remarks.
§ Mr. O'Neill
What I was trying to point out was that there is a danger in adopting an unduly simplistic approach to competitive tendering. There must be some flexibility, which I have not seen in some of the Government's approaches to the problem. It is necessary 983 to have competitive tendering as part of a coherent strategy in terms of the Government's relationship with the defence industries.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
It may not be apparent to the hon. Gentleman, but I assure him that we bear in mind the long-term interests of the Ministry of Defence in our policy of competitive tendering. We are finding it the most effective way of obtaining value for money, and we intend to continue with it.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck), my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) and the hon. Member for Wallsend raised a question about our amphibious capability. I confirm that the Government remain committed to maintaining an amphibious capability in the longer term. My Department has just received the results of three feasibility studies carried out by industry that have looked at the option of replacing the assault ships Fearless and Intrepid. They will now be evaluated alongside a study completed last year that looked at the option of extending the lives of those ships. No decision will be made before next year, but it will be made in good time before the ships reach the end of their planned lives, which is not until the mid-1990s. We hope to make in the near future an announcement on the invitation to tender for the aviation support ship.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West sought an assurance on escort numbers—and I am happy to give it. Our commitment is to maintain a force of about 50 destroyers and frigates. We will order enough ships to sustain that size. I was glad to announce an order for three new type 23 frigates this summer and I look forward to announcing a competition for another batch order for type 23s next year.
§ Dr. Reid
Does the Minister recall that, during the Secretary of State's speech, it was pointed out that the ordering rate of 1.6 per annum is less than the 2.6 recommended by the Committee? The Secretary of State pointed out that part of this difference at least can be related to the quality of the new orders that are going out and to the quality of the new fleet. When it comes to a comparison of numbers, can the Minister explain how surface fleet quality should be an important factor in balancing those numbers, but that when it comes to comparing the number of tanks held between the Russian forces and our forces on the western front quality is apparently dismissed?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
Quality and quantity are both important, and they apply to our surface fleet. I refer the hon. Gentleman to what was said during our debate on the Royal Navy earlier this year.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
Time is running short; I must go on.
Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Clackmannan, mentioned the disposal of Royal Ordnance plc to British Aerospace. My right hon. Friend has set out quite clearly the competitive background to the sale of Royal Ordnance, but I would like to spend a few moments on the property aspects of this matter. As someone who was once an adviser on property management to Her Majesty's Government, I can appreciate why those who 984 are perhaps not familiar with the complexities and uncertainties of property development should be puzzled by the contrast between the price paid by British Aerospace and some of the sums quoted in the press as the value of the redundant sites. The fact is that some of those figures are highly speculative and take no account of the major offsetting costs which would have to be set against proceeds. In my view, those figures are likely to turn out to be greatly exaggerated.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
Wait for it. The hon. Gentleman has not been in the Chamber for most of the day, so perhaps he can wait for what I have to say.
The first and most important point is that the speculative figures that have been quoted appear to be based on what I believe to be totally over-optimistic assumptions about the planning permission that might be obtained for sites, which, although developed, are in the metropolitan green belt. They also overlook the considerable closure and transfer costs to which my right hon. Friend referred.
The speculative figures overlook the substantial costs that would be necessary to provide road access and services to the sites. They also overlook the costs involved in carrying out the cleansing and decontamination work that would be necessary in view of the long previous use of those sites for ammunition. They do not take into account the fees, expenses and delays that are inevitable in complex redevelopment proposals.
The information memorandum issued before the sale made it clear that major rationalisations would be required, and would be costly. Bidders were aware that there was the possibility of developing the Waltham Abbey and parts of the Enfield sites.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
A little earlier, the Minister said that he was an adviser on property management to the previous Government.
§ Mr. Rogers
Well, an earlier Government.
We accept that the Minister is an expert in property management. In that case, would he like to try to quantify the so-called offset costs that he and the Secretary of State have mentioned so nebulously? My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) demolished the Government's case on this issue. The only way in which the Government will be able to stand up in this scandal and to hold their head up high is if they can quantify the offset costs. When will the Government be able to do this?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
The hon. Gentleman is displaying the difficulty of those who are not familiar with the process of understanding the costs. Obviously, nobody would set about quantifying those costs—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked a question, so perhaps he will wait for the answer—without both a detailed study of what was involved and calling in the experts. One would first have to determine what planning permissions might be available. We do not know; nobody knows. Therefore it would be a waste of time to quantify the costs.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
The hon. Gentleman has had his say and there are many other points to be made. I strongly suggest to the House that the issue is different from that suggested by some Opposition Members.
The Select Committee raised an important point about its concern for reliability and maintainability. The Government, in reply to that valuable report, underlined how significant we believe these issues to be.
Good reliability and maintainability are the two key constituents of equipment availability, which would be crucial to our armed forces in any future conflict. Furthermore, improvements in reliability and maintainability reduce support costs, making it possible to transfer resources to the front line. With this in mind, we are now pursuing several initiatives in this area as part of our overall value-for-money policy. With competition now well established, attention is turning increasingly to the need for contractors to produce more reliable and more easily maintained equipment, on time and to cost.
To do this we have to base our procurement decisions on a sound assessment of both the initial purchase price and the through-life support costs, as the Select Committee said. It is important that we seek to place the onus for achieving the required levels of reliability and maintainability, along with the other requirements of the specification, on the contractor.
We are also seeking ways of making industry accept a greater share of the responsibility: there is a wide range of options, from reliability incentives to the provision of spares support on a fixed price basis. We are making a determined effort to ensure that industry realises that we are committed to achieving reliability, and it will be an increasingly crucial element in the control milestones we set for projects as they move through development into production and into service.
Our pursuit of value for money extends beyond equipment. The application of competition to the defence support services, as my right hon. Friend has made clear, has also allowed us to secure considerable gains in terms of enhanced efficiency and greater value for money. Excluding the royal dockyards, contracting out of defence support services has resulted in savings of over 13,000 posts and net annual savings of some £50 million since 1979. We shall continue with our drive to increase that annual level of savings.
986 Another aspect of value for money to which we are giving Department-wide attention is relocation, which we see as potentially a key factor in our continuous search for economy and improved efficiency. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford referred to an office reduction programme, which would find sympathy with many. I can confirm to the House that the relocation initiative announced by my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General in March is being energetically pursued as a matter of good management and best use of resources.
The successful transfer of 1,400 jobs to Glasgow under the 1979 dispersal programme is almost complete, and I am pleased to be able to report a high general level of satisfaction among those—about a third of the total number of staff—who moved north of the border. We are now examining a range of further relocation possibilities which, among other things, should significantly reduce the amount of work that must remain in London. It is, however, often overlooked that the majority of our civilian staff are already located outside London and the south-east, and this number will be increased still further.
The House will readily understand that extensive consultations are required before any final decision can be taken on the transfer of work to a new location, but this is an area of departmental management to which my right hon. Friend and I attach considerable importance. It holds out the prospect of a happy combination of useful gains in operational efficiency and substantial cost savings.
The wide-ranging search for better value for money through better designed and more reliable equipment, through better project management, through collaboration with our allies and through clearer and more flexible management arrangements is made effective by the hard work and skill of the people who implement it. As the Statement on the Defence Estimates makes clear, competition makes demands on the Procurement Executive's staff as well as on defence contractors. Therefore, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the commitment and skill of all those involved in helping to bring about these changes in industry——
§ being Ten O'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.