§ [The Defence Committee has reported on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1990 in its Eighth Report, House of Commons Paper 388 of Session 1989–90. The Fourth Report of the Committee on Reliability and Maintainability of Defence Equipment, House of Commons Paper 40, and its Seventh Report on Rapier Field Standard, C, House of Commons Paper 273, are also relevant.]3.36 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1990 contained in Cm. 1022.
§ Mr. King
Perhaps I can start with a measure of agreement across the House. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) complained last year about the late publication of the White Paper which resulted in the House not being able to hold this debate until exactly four months later, on 18 October. He said that it was high time that the defence estimates were published at the beginning of April. I hope our achievement of 2 April is agreeable to him. I am sure that the achievement of this debate within a reasonable time is for the convenience of the House. At a time of rather fast-moving events, it is desirable that there should not be too big a gap. I appreciate that this has resulted in some pretty energetic work by the Select Committee. I know that the House will be grateful to the Chairman and members of the Select Committee for ensuring that their report is available for this debate.
We have two days for this important debate. I am opening the debate. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will wind up today's debate. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will open tomorrow's debate, and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement will conclude it.
As I have mentioned my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, perhaps I could say one word which will result in great despair for those who live on conspiracy theories, and may ruin half the speech to be made by my hon. Friend. I hope that I shall be excused for putting one or two facts on the record. It is quite clear to both of us that somebody is engaged in trying to drive wedges between us. I can say with the full authority of my hon. Friend that we feel singularly unwedged about it. Let me mention a few facts. No matter how many times people are corrected, the media reports still long to cling to the conspiracy theory—which one does not mind about if it helps to sell newspapers—but if there is a secret back room plan it is important to deal with it and put it on record.
To deal with an old story, before Christmas my hon. Friend put before me a paper concerning certain matters relating to defence procurement. I arranged for the Prime Minister to see a copy of it. Since then, my hon. Friend's interesting work and that of others has been carried forward in the work that we have been doing on Options for Change. Of course, that has involved my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, together with my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence 688 Procurement and other Ministers, defence staff, under the leadership of the Chief of the Defence Staff, and the Office of Management and Budget.
I should like to put on record our appreciation of the way in which that work has been carried through—very difficult and important work at this time. I make it clear also that the chiefs of staff have been involved and are aware of the detail of the work, as is right that they should be. I am sorry if I have spoilt circulation for one or two journalists in this matter, but it may be helpful to put the record straight.
I now refer to the quite remarkable developments that have occurred since we last met for this debate.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend before he begins the main part of his speech. As he may have some announcements to make, and looking to the future of the changed situation, does he recognise that the Ministry's work, to which he has referred, should not be dealt with just in an administrative manner? In due course, if there are to be major changes, my right hon. Friend may wish to present a special White Paper for debate by the House.
§ Mr. King
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not give way because I have quite a lot to say. It is a two-day debate and I hope that hon. Members will excuse me if I do not give way too often, in the interests of giving other hon. Members a chance to contribute to the debate.
We last debated defence estimates eight months ago. It is interesting that, on the very day on which we debated the defence estimates—18 October—Mr. Honecker resigned. President Ceausescu was still in power and still had a further two months in office. The Berlin wall was unbreached. Of course, there were imminent signs of change in Europe. There have been substantial advances towards German unification, and free elections in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. We are less clear of the situation in Romania, but undoubtedly there are substantial changes indeed. The Soviet Union has agreed that its forces will be out of Hungary and Czechoslovakia by the middle of next year.
As well as the developments in eastern Europe, there have been profound developments in the Soviet Union itself. At this time last year, we were aware of the strains of nationalism in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Perhaps the full implications of events in Lithuania and developments in the other Baltic states were not so apparent, nor were they in the Ukraine and certainly not, as has perhaps been the most dramatic event of the lot, in the republic of Russia itself and the emergence of Mr. Yeltsin as the new President of Russia. Dramatic developments have taken place, and the west has been seeking to respond to the need to carry forward much of the work that is already under way.
The House knows that we readily embarked on negotiations on conventional arms reductions in Europe and the talks in Vienna. We had high hopes that we would perhaps have had an agreement by now. When I was in Moscow in May I began to wonder whether there would 689 be agreement at all this year. After the summit between President Bush and President Gorbachev, there is a real prospect that that matter is now back on the rails. Obviously, we are all anxious to see an early agreement. Strategic arms reductions talks are continuing towards, we hope, a successful conclusion, although with difficulties, as are negotiations on the reduction of chemical weapons. All that is intended to lead to a summit in the conference on security and co-operation in Europe.
When preparing for the debate, I had the opportunity of reading Marshal Yazov's response to what is clearly the Soviet Parliament's Select Committee on Defence, which contained various proposals about the changes that might take place in the Soviet Union. Perhaps that is the ultimate confirmation of the recent changes in the world.
As I have said, this is a time of remarkable changes which obviously present major problems, challenges and concerns for our armed forces. All hon. Members realise the uncertainties that they face. In my discussions with other Defence Ministers, especially with Marshal Yazov, but also with the French, German and Italian Ministers and with all our colleagues in NATO, I am always conscious of the difference between a conscript army, the members of which challenge why they should have been enlisted, and our position, with our volunteer armed forces, the members of which have made their careers a commitment to this country's armed forces. They are concerned to know what the future may hold for them. I should like to make absolutely clear my full understanding and concern for them, which is shared by my colleagues.
In the past year, our armed forces have not only been concerned about their future in a changing world but have been facing problems and challenges because of the security threat, especially in Germany. Given the latest news on the tape, this is an appropriate time for us to express again our appreciation not only of the resolution of our own armed service men, and of the efforts of our police and security services, but also our appreciation of the efforts of the police of our colleagues in NATO, Europe and the United States. Since we last met, arrests have been made in all those countries, all of which make their contributions with ever-closer co-operation. As can be shown clearly by the events of last weekend, when terrorists dodge backwards and forwards across borders, there is obviously an important need for close co-operation, and I express my appreciation for receiving it.
Since our last debate, the armed services have continued their dedicated work in Northern Ireland. In my comments, I am including not only the work of our own armed forces, the resident battalion, the roulement battalion, but also the brave men of the Ulster Defence Regiment who have tough and dangerous work and who live and work in an exposed situation.
I thank also our forces in the Falklands, Cyprus, Hong Kong and Belize and refer to the continuing watch of the Armilla in the Gulf. I thank all those in so many places in which my colleagues and I have had the chance to meet our armed forces during the past year. The resolution and good humour of our armed forces was at no time clearer than when they answered 133,000 calls during the ambulance dispute. They were not carrying out their normal role, but at a time when people were trying to find 690 opportunities for criticism, when asked to help in an emergency and in an unexpected and unsought task, the Army responded willingly and readily and discharged its responsibilities most capably.
The tribute that we pay so readily to our armed forces is mirrored by the admiration and respect in which they are held throughout the world. No small part of Britain's image in the world or of the relations that we are able to hold with so many countries can be traced to the number of countries which ask us to help them to train their Army and armed services. At present, we have training missions in no fewer than 33 countries. I shall visit the latest addition in the near future. President Nujoma has asked for assistance in training the Namibian armed services. That is a tribute to our armed services. We have 5,000 military students here from 110 countries. Students from two thirds of the countries of the world have been among the 50,000 military students who have been to this country in the past 10 years. I put that fact on record as evidence of the contribution made by our armed forces. The most sincere tribute that we could receive is international respect for their quality.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Will the Secretary of State comment on the report that a high-level military and diplomatic delegation is visiting NATO from Japan and explain what that is about? Are we establishing military relations with the Japanese?
§ Mr. King
I cannot comment on that because I was not aware of it. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, with his ability to identify such interesting items. I thank him for drawing the matter to my attention, and shall take note of it.
Not the least of the problems that our armed forces have faced in recent months is a particular and immediate one, that of this year's Ministry of Defence budget. The Select Committee challenged me about this when I gave evidence on the defence estimates. I told the Committee about the problem that we faced due to the impact of inflation. I said in May that inflation was costing us a further £350 million in the current year. The forecast of our expenditure that I have now received suggests that the problem is likely to be worse than that. Therefore, we have introduced a temporary bar on most new commitments while we examine what savings should be made in this year's expenditure. I know that the House is aware of that.
I have set in train some short-term changes at the margin of the defence programme to reduce expenditure. They have largely been decided and announcements will be made as appropriate, including some procurement changes that will be announced by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement this evening. Those measures should allow the general restraint on new commitments to be eased by the end of the month. But each new commitment will be closely scrutinised to ensure that we stay within our cash allocation for the current year. That modification in the arrangements will help to protect the essential and proper day-to-day activities of the services. In considering which short-term measures to adopt to reduce expenditure, we have, where appropriate, sought to have regard for the emerging picture from the "Options for Change" work, about which I shall soon speak.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
The Secretary of State mentioned that short-term changes had already been 691 decided. Will he tell us about them today, or will the Minister of State for Defence Procurement let us know about them tomorrow, if that is when he is to speak?
§ Mr. King
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to what I said. I said that they will be announced as appropriate. If they are appropriate for announcement in Parliament, that will be done. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will speak this evening and comment on some procurement items. We shall be anxious to explain each of the measures in the appropriate way. I hope that that takes account of the comment in the Select Committee's report that it was essential that any changes in defence expenditure should reflect a planned and orderly process of matching commitments and resources. I hope that it will be seen that that is precisely what we have tried to do.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that none of the short-term changes will involve delaying payments to suppliers? [Interruption.]
§ Mr. King
That was a nice intervention, as always made in a constructive way, from not the most alert hon. Member. I am merely checking the facts because I am concerned about that and we have a problem with the computer—[Interruption.] All suppliers have been notified about that and Sir Peter Levene has been discussing the matter with them for a long time. There are special arrangements for small firms. The Ministry of Defence Procurement Executive is changing its computer —that is why I am answering very precisely the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg). There will be a period when no payments are made. That period is being kept as short as possible and all the companies involved have been notified about it. In my desperate attempt at accuracy, I thought that I should put that on the record. Subject only to that unfortunate but unavoidable point, the answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes.
I turn now to the background against which this debate is taking place. I have already referred to the tremendous changes occurring in central and eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. It is generally understood that the Warsaw pact has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. In military terms, that means that after the withdrawal of Soviet forces and the implementation of the reductions in conventional arms envisaged at Vienna, it will be difficult to imagine any conventional attack of any strategic size by the Soviet Union across NATO territory.
Nevertheless, those who, like me, have access to intelligence reports continue to be highly conscious of the large and continuing investment in arms and equipment in the Soviet Union. It is a staggering thought that even now, in the fifth year of Mr. Gorbachev's time in office, the figures show that one new nuclear submarine is being launched every six weeks. Two aircraft, six tanks and one missile are produced every day. Marshal Yazov has said that the emphasis is now on quality rather than quantity; that is certainly borne out by this year's parade in Red square, which revealed one new main battle tank and one new heavily armoured infantry combat vehicle of very high quality. The Soviet navy received a record tonnage of new surface ships in 1989. These ships are larger and more 692 powerful than their predecessors and have longer range, more accurate missiles. The aircraft carrier Tbilisi is on trials in the Black sea at the moment; the Riga is being fitted out; and the Ulanosk is under construction. The Flanker and Fulcrum high performance fighters which are now being developed for aircraft carrier use will considerably enhance the air defence capabilities of the fleet.
It is against this background that certain changes are taking place: for instance, the removal from Hungary of a squadron of about 40 Flogger aircraft, which have now turned up in the Kola peninsula and been reclassified from the Soviet air force to the Soviet naval air force. I mention these aspects because Marshal Yazov responded to what I shall call a select committee:The fulfilment of the package of measures to improve the quality parameters of armed forces' effectiveness, mobility and economy will continue. The reorganisation of branches of the armed forces and the technical re-equipment of troops and fleet force will be completed.All that means a continuing enhancement of the real military capability of the Soviet Union.
The numbers themselves seem to show a reduction. This year about 46 ships and submarines have been scrapped, but all but one of them was more than 30 years old, so in terms of capability and up-to-date weaponry the Soviet Union maintains a significant range of armaments.
We trust and believe that the intention to use such weaponry is, under the present leadership, as slight as could be hoped. However, we should never forget, when considering our defence arrangements, that the situation can change as long as armaments remain.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
In the estimates that the right hon. Gentleman presented this year, after the important changes to which he has alluded, he has come up with a bigger defence budget than the one that we discussed last year. Does he think that the Russians would be entitled to interpret that as a continuation of the threat to them? For how much longer are the military on both sides to be allowed to control budgets on such a scale when the money is needed in the Soviet Union and here for more pressing social needs?
§ Mr. King
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has not done his homework and has not listened to what I said earlier. This year the armed services are facing the biggest cut in real terms that they have faced for a long time. I have explained that we had to have a moratorium and are now having to move into a period of tight constraint. That is because there is great pressure on defence expenditure, and there will be a significant reduction of more than 3 per cent. in real terms this year. The right hon. Gentleman will find that that compares favourably with other NATO countries with which on previous occasions he sought to compare us.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the world remains an unsafe place, especially when some countries in the middle east have access to chemical and biological weapons and in some cases nuclear weapons and also have the delivery systems for them?
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. When one looks at the wider world, one sees that the biggest problem at present, which no doubt worries the Soviet Union as well as the western powers, is 693 the degree of proliferation and the variety of missile and warhead capabilities. There is no doubt that we need to consider those aspects when looking at out defence plans.
Before I speak about the approach that we should take under the "Options for Change" exercise, it is worth reflecting on the mixed advice that is received by the House. I understand that the Opposition may attack Conservative Members of the Ministry of Defence for being divided. As the Opposition have two contrary amendments on the Order Paper, it takes a certain conceit to seek to raise the issue of division on this side of the House. It will be interesting to see whether the hon. Member for Clackmannan draws attention to the divide in the Opposition.
In each of the last two defence debates alternative amendments were tabled by the Opposition. One was from the Opposition's Front- Bench spokesmen and the other was from the Labour majority. That majority is ignored in the House. I intervened in last year's debate during the speech by the hon. Member for Clackmannan to ask whether 4 million votes at the party conference would be totally ignored. Judging by the way that he avoided the question, it is clear that they were.
Because they are divided, the Opposition do not make any worthwhile contribution. That seems to confuse the newspapers. I made an unkind criticism recently of one or two media reports. A wonderful letter appeared in the press from a lady called Meg Beresford, the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I do not know who was responsible for the version that appeared, whether it was "The Grauniad" in full flood or whether the lady got herself into a bit of a muddle. The letter was about TASM—tactical air-to-surface missile—the sub-strategic nuclear weapon, and it stated:CND is concerned that a Labour Government can reach the Soviet Union from Britain and would throw an almighty spanner in the works of current arms negotiations.I do not think that we have discussed the range of a Labour Government, but that is an extremely revealing misprint.
The armed services deserve a consistent approach, clear leadership and honesty. In their recent policy document the Opposition said that they would look for reductions in Britain's defence spending far beyond anything envisaged at last year's Labour party conference in Brighton. The hon. Member for Clackmannan seems to have forgotten the way in which Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen and the Leader of the Opposition tried to mobilise the conference to vote against that motion. They were defeated by a majority of 2:1. Our having been told in last year's debate that that would not be Labour party policy, it now appears in the Labour party's policy document. We know what it means. If the hon. Gentleman does not know, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will tell him. It means coming down to the average. It means taking £5 billion—some would say £9 billion—from our defence expenditure. Is that Labour party policy? It has appeared in the policy document. Are we to take it that that is Labour party policy? It will not do for the hon. Gentleman to say, as he stated in a speech to the SPD —the West German Social Democratic party—on 11 June, that" 694the opportunities for disarmament have never been greater and Britain must take as much advantage of them as possible.It should be remembered that that does not apply to any individual pledge where trade unions and jobs may be involved. That disarmament pledge does not apply to the European fighter aircraft; nor does it aply to ECR90. If it does, I shall be grateful if the hon. Gentleman will intervene to tell us whether the pledge, which is based on the greatest opportunity for disarmament, will mean unemployment in Edinburgh for the Ferranti employees who are working on ECR90. What is the position to be? We are seeing a dishonest approach. The Labour party is trying to ride every horse at the same time if there are votes to be gained by so doing.
There is a more responsible approach to these matters. We are facing enormous changes, and these must be recognised in our defence policy. I have been struck by what happened at the end of the first world war. The then War Cabinet adopted the 10-year rule. It decided that in framing revised estimates it should be assumed that the British Empire would not be engaged in any great war during the next 10 years and that no expeditionary force would be required for that purpose. The House knows the history of the 10-year-rule. It was extended and it lasted from 1919 to 1932. The House knows also of some of the legacies and implications that flowed from it. Wise men make mistakes and fools repeat them. That is a wise understanding. Wise men can make mistakes, and it is the fools who repeat those mistakes.
In 1934, Winston Churchill said:Wars come very suddenly. I have lived through a period when one looked forward, as we do now, with anxiety and uncertainty to what would happen in the future. Suddenly something did happen—tremendous, swift, overpowering, irresistible.I trust that we shall never see such a comparison again. I say that on the very day of the 50th anniversary of "L'appel", the call by General de Gaulle, when France —surprised, caught unawares and defeated—started her fight back. I think that the wisdom of not making long assumptions for the future could not be more clearly underwritten.
§ Mr. King
No. I have given way once to the right hon. Gentleman.
It was a leading member of the right hon. Gentleman's party—I think that he will recognise these words of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)—who said:Once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders.
§ Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel)
My right hon. Friend is right in drawing attention to the need to look ahead for a decade. Does he accept that in understanding the problems better we must recognise the long time scale involved in obtaining the so-called peace dividend? Things that are coming to fruition now represent decades of research and development and industrial development. With the best will in the world, we cannot switch off the tap as quickly as some would urge.
§ Mr. King
It is with pleasure that I congratulate my hon. Friend on his knighthood, and I agree very much with his first wise remark in his new status; I know that 695 there will be many more. I would not wish to follow my hon. Friend, but Marshal Yazov himself said that the positive changes have not yet become irreversible and that the military danger persists. That remark came in a speech that he made in Red square, and we hear it much echoed. Defence is not something that can be turned on and off like a tap. We know how grateful we have been on occasions in our history for having trained and properly armed forces available at times when we have suddenly needed them. It is part of our current consideration to ensure that, if situations and circumstances change, we can make an appropriate response.
By the end of this year we could, if all goes well, have in place some of the most far-reaching changes in Europe's defence and security that we have witnessed since NATO itself was established. We could have a united Germany in NATO, an agreement to reduce conventional forces in Europe and the prospect of negotiations on further reductions, substantial Soviet withdrawal from eastern Europe in train, and a CSCE summit. Those are our hopes, if they are not yet realities.
That situation requires us to rethink what should be NATO's strategy in those circumstances—preserving what is vital for secure defence while adapting to the changed threat and the new situation. That is precisely what we have been doing in the nuclear planning group in Canada, the defence planning committee in Brussels and the North Atlantic Council, and what we shall be doing at the next NATO summit in London in two weeks.
Against that background, we shall also need to consider the forces that we in the United Kingdom will need over the next decade. It is a time to think ahead and to prepare for the future—though we cannot of course take our decisions in isolation. They will depend in good part on the wider arms control negotiations in which NATO will be involved.
Even if all our present hopes are fulfilled, the essential core of our defence needs will remain. We will still need to maintain our independent nuclear deterrent, because we know so well that conventional weapons alone cannot deter war. On the strategic level, that means not only Polaris and then Trident, but the associated frigates, submarines and minesweepers that ensure their safe deployment. As part of NATO's policy of keeping an appropriate mix of conventional and nuclear weapons, we shall maintain also sub-strategic nuclear capability.
We shall also need to maintain the forces and equipment necessary for the direct defence of the United Kingdom. That means air defence aircraft; surface-to-air missiles and the necessary warning and control systems; naval forces, especially to combat the threat of hostile mine laying, and maritime patrol aircraft; and sufficient forces for military home defence. Separate from that, we keep in mind the force levels required to sustain our contribution in Northern Ireland.
We shall need adequate forces to meet our commitments in the wider world outside Europe. I have in mind not only our existing commitments in the Falklands, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Belize, Hong Kong and Brunei, but the need to respond appropriately where circumstances demand. That may be with some or all our NATO allies and alone, if necessary, in defence of direct British interests. In some places that requires a specific garrison, and in others it can be met by a strategic reserve capable of rapid deployment, whether inside or outside NATO. We do not, necessarily need separate forces under those 696 separate headings. For example, some of the sea and air mobile elements of the forces in the United Kingdom designated for the reinforcement of British Forces in Germany can have roles outside Europe as well. That is obviously true of other capabilities, such as frigates and aircraft.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about flexibility, equipment and frigates. I know that he recognises the importance of the helicopter in the levels of defence forces which might be arrived at after negotiations. I am well aware that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement is to make a statement, but the right hon. Gentleman will know of the anxieties in my constituency and within the armed forces that that flexibility and manoeuvre should be supplied by EH101 aircraft. Therefore, will he reaffirm the words that he used on 7 June on BBC television when he said of the EH101:I have made it clear that I see that as an important component in our defence arrangements; I want it to go forward.? Will he reaffirm that in advance of a more specific statement which is perhaps to be made later by the Minister?
§ Mr. King
The right hon. Gentleman's constituency is not the only one in which that matter is of some interest, although of course, as Secretary of State, I have no constituency and I hope that that is clear and that no one will accuse me of an improper remark. I confirm what I said as recently as 7 June. My hon. Friend the Minister is likely to say something on that matter.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
Is it the Government's intention to maintain the surface fleet at the same number of vessels as last year?
§ Mr. King
I do not have any comments to make on specific items. I am seeking to put before the House the approach that we are adopting, and we shall take the House as much into our confidence as we can. I appreciate that right hon. and hon. Members, especially those interested in defence matters, have listened carefully to what I have said, and will have understood the significance of some of my remarks.
§ Mr. King
Will my hon. Friend excuse me if I do not give way as I do not want to take up too much time?
The obvious area where we hope there will be scope for some changes and redeployment is in Europe. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we may seek to reduce our forces stationed in Germany, in the context of successful arms control negotiations and agreed changes in NATO's strategy. Obviously that is one of the main areas that we are considering, covering not only our four divisions in British Army of the Rhine, but also RAF Germany. That is not just a question of scale. If our stationed forces are smaller, then they will need mobility and flexibility and a balanced capability. But they would not need so much fixed infrastructure—bases and depots—on the present scale. As part of that, we are also studying the implications of the changes in eastern Europe for our reinforcement capability for NATO's northern region, where we have extensive commitments, from Denmark up to northern Norway. We are looking at what response may be appropriate to the reductions in the size but also to the 697 modernisation of the Soviet navy to which I have already referred, bearing in mind the crucial importance of transatlantic reinforcement and the importance of our seaborne supply routes.
However, while NATO may rely relatively more on reinforcement by sea as well as air, the volume of reinforcements may be reduced, with smaller forces on both sides in Europe and there may be greater opportunity to exploit longer warning time. All those factors have to be considered when considering options for future Royal Navy and RAF maritime forces.
§ Mr. Speed
A few minutes ago, my right hon. Friend was talking about out-of-area commitments and working with our NATO partners. Does he consider that NATO will have a role out of area or does he consider that the Western European Union, which worked so well in the Gulf two and a half years ago, has an important role out of area?
§ Mr. King
No. My hon. Friend correctly referred to the Western European Union and its role in the background to the Armilla patrol. Western and world interests were affected by the war between Iran and Iraq, and it was necessary to protect the free world's supply of oil and its shipping lanes. That does not presage an out-of-area concerted role by NATO.
In all this we must not forget that, even after recent unilateral reductions, the Soviet Union continues to deploy very substantial and very powerful forces which are continually being modernised and kept up to date.
In looking at the options for change we are seeking a proper balance between the front line and support, not forgetting the basic infrastructure for our armed services such as housing and base facilities.
§ Mr. Marlow
By implication, my right hon. Friend has said that we shall be faster and more flexible and that our forces could be used in different parts of the world. That implies that the balance of aircraft and helicopters will be far greater and the balance of armour lower. In those circumstances, and as heavy-lift and troop-lift helicopters will be a more integral part of the Army, has he considered the possibility of moving them from the Air Force to the Army?
§ Mr. King
I read the Army debate and I noticed that my hon. Friend made exactly that point to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I have no further comment to make. At the moment we are not considering that proposal.
We must achieve a proper balance between the front line and support and we must also get the right balance, so far not achieved, between manpower and equipment expenditure so that we have well-motivated people with the kit to match the task. We must recognise that, with the demographic pressure that we face, it will be increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the present numbers of regular personnel. It is far better, if necessary, to have reduced numbers of properly manned front-line units, 698 which reflect the changed commitments and risks of war, than to try to do too much. The transition to those new structures and maintaining them properly will inevitably involve costs, which will be a charge on the savings that we can make initially.
Much work is going on now to ensure that any changes will not disrupt the essential future of our defences. In carrying that forward we are guided by two other critical considerations. The first is our duty to ensure that as soon as possible we inform those most affected in the armed services, throughout the Ministry of Defence and the defence industries about any proposals. Secondly, it is critical to remember that at all times our duty to our allies in NATO is to ensure that we keep in close concert with them.
We shall want to ensure that Britain has the forces it needs for the defence of Europe and for its interests elsewhere in the world, including the training facilities that we are able to offer so widely. We shall want to ensure, too, that those forces have the equipment and the spares and supplies necessary to train effectively. We must be able to provide secure defence against any threat in the future while taking account of the extremely important and significant security changes in Europe we have seen in the past year.
Neither I nor my colleagues in the Government are insensitive to the challenges and difficulties we face in making this transition. At the beginning I referred to the incredible changes that have taken place and the challenge that they pose to us. Some things change, some things endure. The proper and adequate defence of our country, whatever the circumstances may be, is one that must endure.
§ 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:'condemns the Government for its failure to take proper account of, and make constructive responses to, the new conditions created by the welcome emergence of the new democracies in Eastern and Central Europe and the prospective unification of Germany; calls upon the Government to play a positive role in the reassessment of the future of NATO strategies including flexible response, and to participate effectively and constructively in the processes of negotiated reduction of nuclear and conventional weapons; deplores the failure of the Government to undertake effective assessment of and preparation for the impact of the potential change in defence needs on defence-related industries and on Her Majesty's Forces, and the possible savings and alternative uses of money currently allocated to the defence budget; and calls upon the Government to participate actively in the development of a new and durable system of security from the Atlantic to the Urals.'In some respects the Secretary of State has stolen my opening remarks in so far as, in the past, we have complained about the lateness of this debate. It is true that no time in the past eight months would have been the right time to hold this debate. The date on which last year's debate was held marked the end of an era, but little did any of us appreciate the significance of the brief report on the news agency tapes that Honecker was to retire.
Certainly, only the most neanderthal Marxist can mourn the passing of state capitalism in eastern and central Europe. We can only marvel in joy and anticipation at the flair and imagination with which so many of the eastern and central European Governments are addressing the new challenges. For people with little 699 experience of government, apart from the years they spent as unwilling guests of their predecessors' prisons, they have brought forth an almost endless stream of new ideas and proposals—for the demobilisation of foreign troops in their countries, the demilitarisation of their territories and the establishment of a new security order in Europe. Their motives are clear. The political oppression of the past 40 years has been supported and buttressed by the intrusive presence of armies of occupation, and by the crushing of any widespread form of popular opposition by troops in Poland, East Germany and Hungary in the 1950s, and a decade later in Czechoslovakia. For the past 40 or so years, those armies have been the mainstay of the repressive regimes.
It is to the credit of the incoming Governments that the transition has been carried through with a patience and understanding of Soviet concerns that we cannot but admire, whereas the response from NATO has been at times slow, confused and mixed. From the Federal Republic has come a series of measures and often radical initiatives. Foreign Minister Genscher has continued the dialogue of ostpolitik, finding ways in which to help his neighbours; with Government encouragement, German businesses have blazed a trail through eastern Europe. The Dutch and Belgian Governments have not only supported that policy, but drawn rapid conclusions from the new military situation in central and eastern Europe. The British silence has been almost deafening.
The Foreign Secretary tried to make a bid for freedom when he addressed the Conservative Political Centre in Wroxton on 20 January. He spoke ofturning talks into tractors … The enormous prize of a CEF agreement would be a 50 per cent. cut in tanks and artillery and the withdrawal of 300,000 Soviet troops stationed in eastern Europe … it was remarkable that under the CEF agreement all armed forces covered would be demobilised.Unfortunately, there was to be no bright new dawn. By the next morning the rubbishing process had started, and an article in The Independent said:the PM will resist pressure for cuts.But, of course, there was no rift between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. The position was further confused by a denial in the same newspaper by the Secretary of State for Defence, who said that not only was there no defence review, butMinisters were adamant that the perception of a reduced threat from the East would not be sufficient to support cuts in spending".However, in this rapidly changing Europe, within two weeks the same Secretary of State said, when answering defence questions:we shall continue to examine options for change" —[Official Report, 6 February 1990; Vol. 166, c. 748.]
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
What cuts in which defence programmes would a Labour Government make?
§ Mr. O'Neill
If the hon. Gentleman waits, he will have an answer to his question. If he does not like what I am saying, he should try to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. We know that he takes a brief interest in these matters, asks a question and then leaves the Chamber. I shall give him an answer in my own time, and in my own way.
There have been further references to the options for change. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces, indeed, went so far as to refer to the "Options for Change" review. By degrees, we are hearing an admission that a 700 defence review is in hand. However, we have react of the slightly less cautious approach of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. Whether he is supposed to favour massive cuts will emerge during the debate. Certainly, the figure 32 will doubtless feature—whether it refers to infantry battalions or frigates. It is no magic figure—I see that the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), nods in agreement. Only two years ago to the day, one of those alleged to be participating in the "Options for Change" exercise—Mr. Mottram, of the Ministry of Defence—admitted that the number of frigates available was 32. That figure may have been plucked out of the air, but it has some substance.
If the country could be defended by 32 ships two years ago, one can imagine that the Ministry of Defence and the Admiralty would be sufficiently relaxed about the matter. By way of compensation, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement attempted to reassure the Royal Aeronautical Society last week when he advocated the conversion not of swords into ploughshares but of an airbus into a bomber. In a world where conversion normally has a different meaning, only a British Tory Government and the present Minister of State for Defence Procurement could be so out of step.
The argument about confusion reigning in the MOD would be laughable were in not for the impact that it appears to have had on morale at different levels. According to yesterday's Observer, defence chiefs are being called ostriches by their junior officers, and the Prime Minister, in spite of her enthusiasm for a strong defence, now quite clearly refuses to believe that the defence budget need cost us about £21 billion a year.
While the Secretary of State is paralysed by indecision, caught like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming car, there appears to be total confusion in the Ministry. Yesterday's Observer said that the defence chiefs wanted a meeting with the Prime Minister. Such peaceful picketing usually occurs under Labour Governments; it certainly shows that the present Government are in no position to lecture anyone in the House about the nature of the housekeeping of the defence budget. We have already heard this afternoon from the Secretary of State the admission that finances are in such a shambles or, alternatively, the Government's handling of the economy is in such a shambles that they are incapable of entering into new defence requirements and capabilities over the next six weeks or so.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman just two questions. First, does he believe everything he reads in the Observer, and, secondly, at some point will he explain Labour's defence policy?
§ Mr. O'Neill
At present we are debating the defence estimates and the Government's White Paper. I believe a fair amount of what I read in the Observer, though have some doubts about Mr. Watkins' judgment at times, and those who read that paper will know what I mean.
The way in which the Government are trying to cover up for their financial incompetence and maladministration of the defence budget requires far greater explanation than has been given today. We are not concerned only with the handling of the money available to the Ministry of Defence. We recognise that the Secretary of State is still relatively new to his office—he has held it only for some 10 701 months, so not all the financial problems are of his making. The Government's approach to the broader strategic considerations and the fact that the Government, and particularly the Prime Minister, had such difficulty in responding to the prospect of German reunification are far more worrying. We know that she moved from her gut anti-German position to putting her faith in the four-plus-two talks—her emphasis not mine. In the early days of discussions about what would happen about the reunification of Germany, the Prime Minister immediately sought to take the initiative away from the German peoples and to return it to what she regarded as the victorious allies. Certainly, she did not realise that the GDR and the FRG were not going to wait for the approval of the Grantham Germanophile before they set about uniting their two states. That meant that the full strategic implications of the changes in eastern Europe were lost to her for quite some time. Certainly no one was allowed to consider any prospect of change in the doctrines of flexible response and forward defence.
It took the Prime Minister until 7 June this year to concede publicly in a speech to the North Atlantic Council that circumstances had changed, but even then it was a grudging admission. She quoted the defence planning committee, which said:The implementation of a CFE Treaty will virtually eliminate the possibility of a surprise attack.She noted that it referred only to a surprise attack. She could even envisage disarmament becoming rearmament:that plough shares could become swords.When a Government such as the Federal Republic's are so preoccupied with the problems of reunification, cannot we expect the other major European contributor to NATO to come up with something original? We have yet to see the Prime Minister giving any form of leadership to the debate or any new thinking being offered.
The Prime Minister admits that there may be troop cuts, but says that we shall continue to keep nuclear weapons up to date and based forward. Those weapons will be neither nuclear artillery nor a follow-on to Lance, on both of which she has been vetoed by the American president. Does that mean that we are talking of new, modern and up-to-date nuclear weapons, successors to the WE177? Will they be on British planes? Have the Germans agreed to their forward deployment? Has any other country been sounded out or agreed to accept them? Will we buy American? Or will we co-operate with the French, in which case how shall we be able to guarantee that there will be no strings attached, as France is not a member of the nuclear planning group or the military committee of NATO? If we do not co-operate with the French, will we pay for the project ourselves and, if so, where will the £3 billion come from?
No other European member of NATO is prepared to accept those weapons. The Federal Republic has expressed its opposition, the low countries are against them and the Italians have shown their reluctance about having more bases in their country. How can we have flexible response without flexibility?
Flexible response grew from NATO's concern about the alleged Soviet conventional superiority, western reluctance, both political and economic, to match its superiority in men and materials and the availability of 702 relatively inexpensive, smaller yield and shorter-range nuclear weapons, which it claimed, if used sparingly, could deter the Warsaw pact from invading western Europe.
I have never been convinced of the practicability of the concept of limited nuclear war. I certainly have doubts about the role of tactical nuclear weapons in deterring war. Despite the Government's assertion, there is no clear consensus among historians about whether tactical nuclear weapons played any role in persuading the Soviets not to invade.
The only sub-strategic weapons that will be open to the alliance will be airborne ones. With in-flight refuelling, they will be capable of penetrating so far into the Soviet Union, and with such impact, that the strategy involved in their threatened use is fraught with difficulty.
Some of the Secretary of State's difficulties about letters written to The Guardian may be attributable to the fact that the writer has no connection with the Labour party but is one of the defence thinkers of the Liberal Democrats. As far as I can see, they are welcome to her.
The simple argument that the Americans advanced in the past for the presence of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe is that if there are no nukes there will be no troops. The United States must be reminded that if its ambitions are to be fulfilled, and if the cuts that the Senate and the House of Representatives want are to be made, the argument of "no nukes, no troops" has less resonance when we are dealing with such smaller numbers.
The changes are not only of significance for nuclear war fighting; the forward defence will have to be changed, which, as the Secretary of State said, will have consequences for the role of the tank and infantry.
§ Mr. Speed
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Soviet Navy has several nuclear-powered submarines in service and being built, which cannot effectively be destroyed by conventional high explosive. Would he, therefore, maintain our nuclear depth bombs, which are carried by Royal Navy aircraft and maritime patrol aircraft, or would he get rid of them?
§ Mr. O'Neill
I was here when that question was last asked, and my predecessor was somewhat set adrift by it. We were then able to establish that increasingly the use of nuclear depth charges by the Navy was going out of fashion. They were no longer regarded as a justifiable weapon.
They also destroy vast tracts of the sea, which makes it very difficult, in any kind of maritime engagement, to continue communications and business. They are as much a problem for those who use them as for those who are attacked by them. There is little strategic use for them, and I cannot say that any of the navies of the alliance would use them in times of conflict.
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)
To return to the hon. Gentleman's point of "no nukes, no troops", if there were to be a Labour Government, and an American president said that America would maintain the nuclear umbrella over Europe only if there were bases for American nuclear weapons in Europe, would Britain provide bases for such weapons?
§ Mr. O'Neill
The response to that question would have to depend on the circumstances. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman asked a legitimate question and I have no objection to answering it. As and when NATO has the 703 opportunity to consider such a request it will do so. A Labour Government would not believe that such weapons would he helpful, and would argue against them within the alliance. Apart from this Government, no country in Europe is prepared to consider a location for them on the continent of Europe. It is not a question which is likely to arise.
The Secretary of State outlined his thinking on the question of tanks and helicopters. No intimation has been given of the consequences for tanks and, consequently, of the enhanced importance of helicopters. If the number of tanks were to be reduced by agreement, with the possibility of the British forces having as many as every other country, that would have serious consequences for Challenger 2, though not necessarily in terms of the project. If, however, fewer units are produced, the cost is likely to rise.
There is still some time before the Challenger 2 development programme has to be assessed. I hope that before then the Secretary of State will give serious thought to the consequences of purchasing reduced numbers. I hope that he will also reconsider the position that he has adopted on providing assistance to single product companies that find themselves without the market that they had anticipated. The employment consequences for Vickers, in Leeds, Newcastle and other places in the north, will be very serious. The Government may disagree with the Opposition about diversification, but this is likely to be the first real taste of the implications of the defence cuts. I urge the Minister to consider this argument. It is not the same as the one deployed in the recent past.
§ Mr. Sayeed
Does that mean that the Challenger 2 tank replacement would not be part of the 25 to 40 per cent. defence reduction in a Labour Government's spending?
§ Mr. O'Neill
The hon. Gentleman puts figures on cuts that have yet to take place. As far as I know, he, CND and some of the more exotic fringes of the Labour movement have been the only ones to try to impose figures of that nature.
I am certainly at one with the Secretary of State. I am not going to put price tags on cuts that may or may not be available to the—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)
Will my hon. Friend comment at this point not only on "exotic" figures but on the study by Cambridge Econometrics which shows that over the next decade a 50 per cent. cut in defence spending would lead to a reduction in unemployment of 520,000 and to an increase in our gross domestic product of £10 billion?
§ Mr. O'Neill
I have read that report. It contains a fairly major qualification: that if there are appropriate programmes of diversification and regional assistance, then the suggested consequence and results could happen. The report is very heavily qualified on that point. Another significant aspect of it is that, by and large, the assumptions on which the Government see opportunities for defence cuts tend to come from opportunists who are driven by negotiation and arms control rather than by the individual actions of a United Kingdom Government ignoring the other requirements that could be imposed by the decisions of our allies and ourselves.
704 The paper is of some substance and contains useful information, but a lot more work needs to be done on it than my hon. Friend hinted at in his question.
§ Mr. O'Neill
I have answered the question and I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman can check with Hansard that I have given way considerably more to Members on both sides of the House than did the Secretary of State.
The Minister will be anxious to tell us what his intentions are regarding tanks. He seems to be prepared to tell everyone else. We look forward to hearing them.
As for the number of battalions, we will have to wait and see whether there is a precedent for 32 battalions, as there is a precedent for 32 frigates. It is clear that the new mobile force structures will have to be established as international units. The helicopter will be an integral part of that process. If there are to be reductions and reorganisation—perhaps the Minister of State for the Armed Forces would like to comment on this tomorrow —I cannot see the regimental structure being relevant in its present form to the strategic needs of the Army. I recognise that that will be significant to recruitment, but if it is not done we might have more chiefs than Indians—more officers than men.
Previous Secretaries of State have said that we can have any kind of internal reorganisation, as long as it does not affect cap badges, but the nature of the cuts that will be introduced before the general election will have an impact on cap badges and the regimental structure. That will require Opposition Members to think very hard.
I read in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday about this and the Argylls campaign. It was one of the most popular petitions ever organised in Scotland. It was so popular that people signed it two, three, four or five times. It was a cause celebre at the time. The size of the armed forces that we may well be arriving at by negotiation and arms control will lead to considerably fewer opportunities for the kind of regimental structure that we had in the past. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that possibility because it is important. If he chooses to rule it out, we shall be interested to see what structure he will introduce when the opportunity arises. The House should be made aware of this matter at this early stage, as it will have quite dramatic effects on recruitment.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)
So that hon. Members can be sure that we have understood the hon. Gentleman correctly—we shall certainly have to look at changes if there are to be reductions in the medium or long term—did I hear him say that he believes that, as a result of the changes, we must do away with the regimental system?
§ Mr. O'Neill
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking me that question. I shall clarify the point. I was saying that there may be a substantial reduction in the number of regiments. There may be a further combination, and that will not be an easy process for any Government. Frankly, I am surprised that the Secretary of State did not allude to that matter. Anxieties about cap badges are major considerations and should be raised in a debate of this nature. Although we are looking at this year's figures, we must look towards the future in our tacit discussion—if that is not a contradiction in terms—of the options for change.
§ Mr. O'Neill
I am not responsible for the lack of intelligence among Conservative Members.
It has been made clear that RAF Germany will have a diminishing role in the new set-up and that there will be reductions in the RAF. As the provision of air cover is reduced, there will be a case for bringing a number of aircraft home to the United Kingdom and putting them into storage. We shall have to examine pilot recruitment. I should imagine that new and lower targets will be set. Certainly, if there are such developments, it will be incumbent on us to consider expanding the RAF Reserve. United States experience in that matter has been useful. It was able to recruit several airline pilots, many of whom had been in the armed services. Airline pilots could be encouraged to join the Reserve. With the use of simulators and so on, they should be able to maintain their service skills.
The significance of rapid mobility to bring troops from the United Kingdom should be met in some respects at least by the use of civilian aircraft. Savings would be involved. The use of civilian aircraft is analogous to ships being taken out from trade to be employed within the maritime strategy. For the Navy that is a more difficult matter. Although it offers possibilities, naval arms control is a considerable way down the road. The United States believes that the maritime contribution is central to its concepts of power projection. That means that we are a long way from serious cuts.
We should be examining the future programme for type 23 frigate orders and stating more clearly than we have already what the successor to that craft will be. The Government, along with others, have already withdrawn from the Euro-frigate programme. There is wide agreement that it does not really matter how hulls are shaped—I understand that that is the rationale behind the withdrawal from the Euro-frigate—and that it is the hardware placed in the hulls that is important. We are probably now able to look at less complicated systems for a less demanding range of duties than we have had in the past. Perhaps we could have several less complicated and therefore, I hope, less expensive craft built in the latter part of this century.
All such cuts should flow from the CFE negotiations and related talks. The Vienna talks on conventional forces are nearing conclusion, but there are complications involving aircraft definitions. Surely it would be preferable to get an agreement on matters excluding aircraft and thus enable Gorbachev to return to the Soviet Union with a positive achievement from the talks as soon as possible.
I was one of those in the previous debate who welcomed the inclusion of aircraft by President Bush. He insisted that they be included in last year's summit. That has proved to be a difficult matter to get round, and it would be preferable, therefore, for us to recognise the difficulties that are involved in getting agreement, and set the matter aside and accept that the best need not necessarily be the enemy of the good in every case. That would enable us to start work on further reductions in conventional arms and to expand the range of the talks not only to 50 per cent. cuts but to the elimination of all ground-based short-range nuclear weapons in Europe. We recognise that those weapons are now regarded as surplus to requirements, but it is important that they are removed by negotiation and 706 by the appropriate systems of inspection and verification that are implicit in arms control negotiations. As Gorbachev said, agreements without inspection and verification are largely worthless or at least dangerous. It is crucial that we recognise that, if we wish to get rid of such weapons, there is scope for negotiation and for appropriate schemes of inspection and verification.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)
I am listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman's thoughtful speech. I hope that people will go out and buy "Looking to the Future", the Labour party's new proposals. The Labour party has specifically said that its defence policies have been entirely vindicated, yet the hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that unilateral nuclear disarmament is now out and that there should be negotiations. If his party's policies have been vindicated, will he say something about the deep cuts in defence spending that have been presaged by the Labour conference, if not by the Labour Front Bench?
§ Mr. O'Neill
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has started reading the new Labour party document. I should like to hear from him when he has finished it.
There are prospects for sizeable advances on short-range nuclear forces in a relatively short period when the CFE talks reach their second stage. Certainly, the progress that has already been made in Geneva is to be welcomed. Perhaps the Government would be willing to meet the Soviet request and participate in the next stage. Perhaps the Government will not be in power at that time because it will probably take some months at least for the United States Senate to ratify the treaty. It would be a tremendous shame if the Government's refusal to consider participating in the next phase of the strategic arms reductions talks process were a major obstacle to the completion of the present talks.
The possibilities that I have raised so far have two attractions. First, they provide a reduction in tension and contribute to further stability and, secondly, they afford us the opportunity to reduce defence spending. As the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said on the BBC "Today" programme on 31 May:The most successful economies are those that spend the least proportion of their GNP on defence. The reason for such low levels are historic and geographic, but the attractions that defence cuts offer for other forms of consumption are self-evident.
In the past, we in the Labour party may have exaggerated the attractiveness of such cuts, but it is clear that, as the perceived threat diminishes in the public mind, willingness to fund what becomes considered to be excessive defence expenditure also diminishes. There are two problems in getting involved in the numbers game, and one is the fact that the negotiations are not yet complete—though we can anticipate their general direction in financial and strategic terms—and the other is the MOD's excessive secrecy regarding defence costs.
A major drawback of the competitive tendering process has been the increase of commercial confidentiality, so that the unsuccessful companies do not get essential information. Indeed, in the "Today" programme to which I have referred, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said that the "Options for Change" reviewcould not be conducted in public, the materials are highly classified … very, very secret".707 That is certainly the case in the United Kingdom, but it appears that in the Federal Republic of Germany, the United States and the low countries, defence committees are given tremendous access to information. I believe that the Chairman of our Select Committee on Defence includes France in that list. I realise that this is something that he feels strongly about because, although he may have access to the information, it rarely appears in his report in any form other than a collection of asterisks. The Government's undue secrecy in such matters prevents us from producing the clear and detailed statements that the public would require not only from an Opposition, but, more importantly, from a Government.
Therefore, I hope that once the summit in London is concluded, we shall begin to get the information that we require so that we can establish the options for change and how much they will cost. The Secretary of State spoke at some length about "Options for Change", but did not tell us when the process would be completed; when the document would be published; whether it will be in the form of a Green Paper or a White Paper; whether it will be published before or during the recess; whether the result will be announced at the Tory party conference or whether we shall have a debate this Session. Those are all legitimate points and I hope that at least one of the Ministers —perhaps the architect or author of "Options for Change", who is to reply to the debate—will be able to tell us at least when the rest of the story will get out of the bag, if he cannot tell us the contents.
We do not believe that cuts are the sole source of stability. Indeed, the deployment of the forces and their composition are just as important. The doctrines that have been adopted by NATO and the relationship between the alliance and the Warsaw pact are of crucial significance. This is why the conference in Paris of all the 35 nations in the CSCE process is so important. We must recognise, however, that CSCE is, at present, a very limited concept. It has no administrative structure. I understand that it does not even have a telephone number.
We must get agreement from NATO, the Warsaw pact and the neutral nations on the establishment of a task force to explore the requirements for overseeing the inspection and verification of the CFE cuts; for exploring the confidence and security building measures between neutral, alliance and pact and former pact states covering the Baltic and Black seas, as well as exploring the possibilities of resolving disputes such as the Hungarian-Romanian border dispute.
That task force should be supported by top-level staff and given tight headlines to work to. It should have some responsibility for co-ordinating the diversification of the defence industries and the destruction of a number of the materials that are now the subject of disarmament discussions.
I note that in the Army debate the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said that Britain had already made a contribution in terms of the peaceful uses of plastic explosives, such as the blowing up of tanks. Indeed, perhaps the single and most pressing need is to help the Soviet Union to get on with the business of dismantling its tank corps. The Soviet Union also needs assistance in providing housing for the armed service personnel who are being demobilised at the moment.
There are a number of areas in which all the European countries, both the neutral countries and those of the western alliance, could help the countries of the east.
708 Following the talks in Paris, the CSCE in its new form could be of tremendous assistance. Although it is probably premature to talk of a "new defence architecture"—and we are certainly not going to talk of an architecture that is built in reinforced concrete—for the moment at least, we should talk in terms of some form of scaffolding that can traverse the two sides of Europe. We need to be able to adjust such a structure and to assist in that process.
It is likely that NATO, with a diminished military role, will have an advantage. As an organisation, it continues to enjoy the support of its member states and to have a coherence. But it needs to recognise that, while the threat has diminished in terms of intent, the capability remains. The threat has all but disappeared since the Soviet Union is no longer prepared to wage a war it cannot afford and will not win.
But we have to guard against triumphalism. The Soviets and the neutral states, along with the new democracies, are all entitled to their say in the establishment of the new European order. The eagerness of some to seek out new threats outside Europe and to pursue them at any cost must not be allowed to develop.
Of course, as a trading nation, we have interests, but we must guard against the post-imperial fantasists, who would have us donning our pith helmets and charging out east again.
The tasks of the new European order are there for all to see—the establishment of common security; the building up of trust between the peoples of Europe; and the protection of civil and economic liberties. In the period after the second world war, Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin helped lay the foundation of those aims in 'western Europe. I fear that it will take a change of Government before Britain will make a similar contribution to the next phase which will embrace our whole continent.
The defence White Paper is ample evidence of this Government's failure to appreciate the scale of the new challenge and, in particular, the prospects for a Germany united and free. For the Government's adherence to the old strategic thinking; for their grudging participation in the great armaments negotiations, and their secretive and half-hearted talk of defence cuts; and, most of all, for their inability to contribute in the way that we could to the creation of a new European order, I call on my hon. Friends to support our amendment.
§ 5.6 pm
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)
It was a great pity that the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) spoilt his interesting remarks with some rather stupid rhetoric at the end of his speech. I do not know who caused him to do that; I hope that it was not him, because we feel that he is much more sensible than that. If, as he said, it takes a change of Government to get a decent defence policy, I must advise him that that certainly could not be achieved by a change to a Labour Government.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made it clear that he is not proposing the abolition of the regimental system. Although we may need to make some adjustments to it in the future, it is wrong to suggest that we would ever want to organise our military forces in any way other than the system which has not only served us well, but which is the envy of every army in the world. All armies wish that they 709 had a regimental system like ours. For all that that system may have one or two faults and inflexibilities, it is the finest thing that we have and we had better stick to it.
I add my thanks to those that have already been given to the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House for arranging this debate at such a timely moment and for the fact that the White Paper has been published. We have not returned to what happened not only last year but the previous year—before my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) became Secretary of State for Defence—when the defence debate was held in the autumn when all the steam had gone out of it and when the White Paper was stale news. It would be to everybody's benefit if we could make constant efforts to hold the debate at this time every year. I say that with a certain amount of masochism because the timing presents my Committee with a hell of a problem in agreeing the report, taking evidence and printing it in time for the debate. As always, I am extremely grateful to my colleagues who serve on the Select Committee on Defence for all their hard work.
Since the last defence White Paper debate in October, the Committee has visited Northern Ireland, in November, and the Falkland Islands, in December. Our report on the White Paper contains a number of references to the results of the visits. I should like to thank all those who welconed us on those visits and to pay our tribute to the service personnel—and especially to the families in Northern Ireland—who live and work in less than ideal conditions. Some infantry accommodation in the Falkland Islands is appalling. They are living in what are, in effect, little more than containers. I hope that progress on the new accommodation, particularly at Onion range, is progressing.
Paradoxically—it is always the same—the further we got from headquarters and from everybody else, the more uncomfortable the site and the more isolated it was, the happier the troops were. I have come to understand that phenomenon over the years, but it is remarkable and bears repeating. Those in the new, comfortable and sophisticated accommodation want to get home, while the others are perfectly happy because they feel that they are doing a proper job.
§ Mr. Sayeed
Does my hon. Friend agree that one thing that the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said which was correct was that the services are worried? Does he agree, as I found, that they are worried about the possibility of a Labour Government who would, according to the party's policy document, impose cuts of at least 25 per cent., and probably substantially more? The services require reassurance from the Government that they will not be sent to fight without adequate weapons and the ability to defend us all.
§ Mr. Rogers
While he is talking about service accommodation, will the Chairman of the Select Committee comment on the fact that, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) in April, the Secretary of State said that 710 unavoidable and essential repairs to service accommodation amounted to £323 million, and in an answer to me last week the figure had gone up to £360 million? The hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) said that troops seemed to be happier in the worst conditions, but does he think that the state of affairs implied by those answers is good?
§ Mr. Mates
My remarks related to troops on active duty in the Falkland Islands, and the argument holds ground. The hon. Gentleman should go to see them because he would then understand the context of my remarks. I am talking not about baths and showers leaking, but about the most primitive conditions where people think they are doing any essential job and are thoroughly happy doing it. That is a remarkable characteristic of the British soldier in service.
In Northern Ireland we were much impressed with what we heard and saw, particularly with the vigour with which the third brigade pursues its task of border security. I pay a sincere tribute to the men and women of the Ulster Defence Regiment, whom we visited when we were there, and whose job is possibly the most thankless of all in the services. That they can continue—most of them part-timers and civilian members of the community of Northern Ireland—to do that job knowing that their lives are at risk both on and off duty, at home, on holiday or wherever they may be, is nothing short of remarkable. I am glad to pay tribute to them for the way in which they carry out their work.
The Committee decided last winter to embark on an inquiry into the defence implications of recent events. We have finished that inquiry and will be reporting to the House soon, following our visit next week to Moscow and Berlin. Our report on the White Paper concentrates on, as it states,those aspects of defence policy which continue to deserve the attention of the House in the midst of dramatic changes.To put it in less grand terms, we have concentrated on the daily and weekly grind of Ministry of Defence life. I hope that it is helpful that we have done so.
Contrary to some reports, defence expenditure is not increasing. We tried to set out the complex picture in paragraph 2.2 of the White Paper, which I commend to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) if he wants to look at a complicated sum and talk about facts rather than dogma. This year is already a tough one. In 1989–90, the Ministry spent much of its accumulated savings carried forward from recent years. Inflation has been higher than expected, which has meant a real terms fall in defence spending this year compared with last of about £700 million. Some of that was anticipated, but most of it was not. Sir Michael Quinlan, the Permanent Under-Secretary, talks ofa very tight programme management problem.We have seen the six-week procurement freeze, which is a desperate measure, although not a new one.
For the next years in the planning cycle—1991–92 and 1992–93—plans suggest a small annual real rise, partly because £260 million extra was found for 1991–92 in the public expenditure White Paper. But the Committee is not confident that the sums for those years will represent an increase. As we state:Past experience does not inspire confidence in recent Treasury inflation forecasts … the planned small recovery in defence spending in 1991–92 and 1992–93 looks extremely susceptible to the cumulative effects of inflation.711 Inflation can eat away at the defence budget, although we are happy to congratulate the MOD on having managed for three successive years to keep rises in the price of defence equipment below the rate of general inflation. That is a tribute to successive procurement Ministers, and not least Sir Peter Levene, who has had an electrifying effect on the way that contracts are let within the Ministry of Defence and on competition policy in general.
§ Mr.Harry Cohen (Leyton)
Did not the Select Committee report that unreliable equipment in the armed forces costs the taxpayer £1 billion per annum? Why has the Committee made such a feeble attempt to get the Government to do something about it?
§ Mr. Mates
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should think that it is us who are being feeble. There is a report tagged to this debate on the reliability and maintainability of defence equipment which I commend to the hon. Gentleman. If he wants to make a speech on the subject and catches Mr. Speaker's eye, no doubt he will do so. That is a worrying factor to which I shall turn later.
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. Friend's point is that there is massive waste in defence spending. The Conservative party always criticises people for what, allegedly, they waste—for example, local government. But when my hon. Friend points out the savings to be made—Rapier overspent by about £300 million—why do we not have a clearer indication of the Government's acceptance that there is major waste in the defence budget?
§ Mr. Mates
I do not know why the right hon. Member for Chesterfield puts those questions to me. Has he read the reports which my Committee unanimously agreed, and which have been critical of such matters? The MOD is due to answer those questions and I am not sure why the right hon. Gentleman should criticise me for bringing the issues to the attention of the House. It is hard to take such criticism from people who do nothing but criticise any expenditure defence.
There is no doubt that there is pressure from the Treasury in the public spending round to lop off the odd £1 billion from the defence budget—it was ever thus—and leave it to the MOD to decide which pet schemes to abandon. A few years of that, some say, and the defence budget will be well down. That is crazy, and those who write and talk about it do no service to themselves or to the defence of this country. It is essential that any changes in defence expenditure reflect a planned and orderly process of matching commitment and resources, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. Arbitrary cash cuts and deliberate attrition by inflation make prudent management of the defence budget next to impossible.
In some senses, there will be little need to reduce service manpower because it is steadily reducing itself. The Committee has noted a shortfall from requirement of 12,342 in the services. The British Army of the Rhine is now below 55,000—the figure that used to be regarded as the floor. We looked at some of the measures taken to 712 improve retention. Everybody has his favourite scheme. I am concerned about the fall in planned expenditure on recruitment advertising, to which the Committee referred, and about the huge falls in advertising for the reserves.
The advertising budget for the Territorial Army is down 30 per cent. this year and that is difficult to understand when the reported difficulties in recruiting people to the services are so great. That does not seem to be a prudent saving. As we say in the report, the increases in the regular reserve, which simply reflects the number of people leaving the forces early and retaining a commitment. Few of those regular reserves seem to attend training, and Ministers should look carefully into that.
Women constitute about 5.5 per cent. of service strength. Wrens now serve at sea, and no doubt some of my colleagues will want to express their views on that. In any event, it is essential that the MOD keeps an eye on the effects of the decision. I also hope that Ministers will be able to announce that all the remaining differences between men's and women's pay and conditions of service will shortly be removed. There is no justification for any remaining differentials.
Because of MOD policy, we still do not know what proportion of service strength comes from the ethnic minorities, but we know from recruitment records that the proportion is very low. Only about 250 ethnic minority service personnel join each year—barely 1 per cent. of entrants. The Peat Marwick report was welcome, but the Committee calls on Ministers again to reconsider cap badge monitoring. There is nothing to lose from that and there could be much to gain.
As for procurement, we refer to the need for another auxiliary oiler replenishment vessel soon. I note that when the Duchess of York named the "Fort Victoria" in Belfast on 12 June, describing it as a "floating supermarket", the Secretary of State was reported as having responded to questions about further orders by saying,I am not sure I can afford this one at the moment.We hope that he can, and that a third one will be ordered soon.
The Committee also drew attention to what is not in the White Paper—in particular, the older Royal Air Force aircraft which will soon need expensive replacements: Buccaneer, Nimrod, Andover, and Canberra. We also mention the long pause in deciding whether to go ahead with a new generation of nuclear-powered fleet submarines and further diesel-electric Upholder class submarines.
The Committee also looked at merchant shipping. As the House knows, we have been studying the defence implications of the availability of merchant shipping for some years. The White Paper has a depressing and worrying situation to report. It accepts that this remains an area of concern for the United Kingdom and the alliance. In paragraphs 5.12 to 5.21 we examine the figures in some detail, and we are worried about the continuing decline in United Kingdom merchant fleet manpower and in shipping in certain categories. For instance, we depend on roll-on roll-off ferries being made available by our NATO allies. That is reflected in the fact that most of the ships chartered for United Kingdom national exercises were Danish roll-on roll-off ferries—none of the 29 ships chartered was British, although on NATO exercises most ships chartered seem to have been British.
Recent events may increase rather than diminish the importance of shipping for reinforcing our forces in Germany. The channel tunnel has obvious weaknesses as 713 a means of reinforcement, so we look to Ministers for a further sign that steps are being taken to reverse the decline in the merchant fleet and in merchant navy personnel.
The Ministry is now untied from the PSA for works services, so for the first time we had a duty to examine the MOD works programme—a formidable task. Nine per cent.£1.9 billion—of the defence budget goes on works and maintenance. The Ministry is a huge landowner, with more than 250,000 hectares of land and with comparable property interests abroad. Among the many construction and modernisation projects are a substantial number for BAOR and Royal Air Force Germany. Some of them may prove to be unintended presents for Germany, although there are clearly commitments which will have to continue, however long and in whatever strength we remain.
In paragraph 4 we recommend that the possibility of replacing the old barracks at Aldergrove in Northern Ireland be kept open; that would enable the previous balance of four roulement and six resident battalions in Northern Ireland to be restored which would reduce turbulence for service personnel in the Province.
The Ministry is looking for more land for training; so much is openly declared in the White Paper. We discovered that since 1987 freehold holdings for Army training areas and ranges had risen by 3,000 hectares. Sooner or later the Ministry will have to deal with the question of additional training land for forces withdrawn from Germany. Knowing as I do how desperately short the services are of training land, I add that this is a policy which, although it sounds strange, makes every sort of sense, and I hope that it will be pursued.
We have again examined MOD's new management strategy, which is reported to be proceeding well and on target for full introduction in 1991. With recent events in mind, it could hardly be introduced at a more vital or difficult moment. Tight budgetary control, the introduction of genuine performance indicators—on which we are obliged to report somewhat skeptically—and the setting of targets will all be needed if MOD and the services are to carry out what could be the most radical shake-up since the second world war.
Finally, the Committee looked at defence research and development which, like works and maintenance, is a major and mostly unregarded part of the defence budget. This year R and D will cost £2.7 billion, or 12.6 per cent. of the budget. As a Committee regularly examining defence equipment procurement projects, we are only too well aware of how the money goes. Government policy is to reduce defence R and D's share of the nation's scarce technological resources—at present it accounts for almost half all Government-funded R and D. But the figures suggest that civil R and D is planned to fall faster than defence R and D. We cannot entirely share MOD's confidence that industry is increasing its share of financing defence R and D. All this is taking place at a time when the four principal MOD research establishments are to be set up in 1991 as the defence research agency. We are worried lest innovative strategic research be squeezed out by an approach dominated by the agency's commercial remit, based on a customer relationship with MOD and others.
I have mentioned research and development at £2.7 billion; construction and works at £1.9 billion; 250,000 hectares of land; and 172,000 civilian employees. The list 714 gives some idea of the scale of MOD's budget and of the scale of reductions in public expenditure that could theoretically be achieved. It is also a measure of the sheer scale of the management problem that making these radical changes presents. We shall be looking in the months and years to come at the way in which the Ministry handles these matters.
I had intended to make some detailed comments on our two reports on reliability and maintainability of defence equipment and on Rapier, but as it is clear that hon. Members taking part in the debate have read them I shall leave the making of those remarks to them.
Speaking on my behalf—although colleagues may agree with some of what I say—I should like to mention the atmosphere in which these changes are taking place. My right hon. Friend was absolutely right: we could never have believed the speed with which recent changes have happened. Some are now saying that the pace will slow down and steady, so we shall have time to take stock. I venture a different opinion—I think that the process is likely to speed up.
Some of the positions that some countries are adopting in the negotiations are no more than that; I do not believe that they will bear examination in the light of those countries' experience. The Soviet Union is naturally uncomfortable about a united Germany being part of NATO. While trying to negotiate—not very realistically—that the military forces of the new Germany should somehow be associated with both NATO and the Warsaw pact, which does not make sense, the Soviets are also trying to negotiate guarantees of the presence of a large number of Soviet troops in the new Germany for five to seven years.
We may have to allow the Soviets a transitional period. I should be all in favour of our negotiating one, but I believe that when the time comes matters will seem very different to the Soviet Union. When there is a united Germany that is part of NATO and the European Community, and when that new Germany speedily brings the living standards of those living in what is now the German Democratic Republic up to western standards, as we know it will, it will become even more uncomfortable for the Soviet Union to leave such an enormous part of its armed forces sitting in Germany in those new surroundings. One hears of strains already; East Germany under the old order was much better off than Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania, exciting comment among the Soviet forces about the differences between the quality of life there and in the Soviet Union——
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I am interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, would say to the proposition that a united Germany might be governed by the SPD, which might have won an election on a platform calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from German soil, with the result that a united Germany was in neither the Warsaw pact nor NATO. What does the hon. Gentleman say about such a proposal, which seems to be gaining a great deal of popularity with people in East and West Germany?
§ Mr. Mates
Not for the first time I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that what he suggests will happen and it is therefore not fruitful to speculate on it. At 715 the moment both sides want the new Germany to be a member of NATO and the EEC. The European Community is the key to this matter. When the new Germany is formed—some people say that it will happen in a year while others say that it will take two years; I do not wish to make a forecast—it will start to become a western nation. There is no denying that and it is what people in East Germany want. That will not be compatible with being part of a military alliance of the old order of the Warsaw pact. I cannot see any free German wanting that.
I was speaking about the speed of change and how it will affect Britain and the other NATO nations as much as it will affect Germany. Contrary to what some people say, although there will be difficulty over a CFE-I agreement, it will happen because the Americans and the Soviets want it. Far from there being a pause, the pressure to move to another round of conventional troop cuts will be enormous. It may be partly because of the politics of the new Germany and certainly because of what I have said about the desire of the Soviet Union to withdraw its forces from the new East Germany because of the discomfort that the Soviet Union will face if it leaves them there for any length of time. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and his colleagues will turn their attention to that. Although we may have debates about the size of the Navy, the Army or the Air Force, over the next two or three years we shall see a relentless downward pressure on manpower on both sides. Provided that reductions take place logically and in sequence and are balanced, I am all in favour of them.
It is wrong for people to talk now about specific reductions. That is putting the cart before the horse. Unlike some Opposition Members, I do not believe everything that is said in the press. I am totally content with what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said about the debates that are taking place in the Ministry of Defence. If those debates were not vigorous I should be disappointed. People should argue their corners and at the end of the day it is up to Ministers to draw the arguments together. To talk of chiefs as ostriches because they are putting forward the points of view of their services is crazy and can only be said by those who do not understand the system in the Ministry of Defence. It may have many faults, but vigorous discussion and debate is certainly not one of them.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
The hon. Gentleman has sought to outline accelerating changes in continental Europe. Does the hon. Gentleman or his Committee think that the training grounds that are available in the United Kingdom may not be adequate in the near future?
§ Mr. Mates
I think that I alluded to that. We are desperately short of training grounds and always have been. We have never had enough and that is why we send troops to train in Canada, Kenya and Cyprus. That is partly to give them overseas experience, but it is largely because there is no way in which they can carry out in Britain the scale of training that can be undertaken in Canada. If we were able to offer such training in Britain, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents would complain loudest.
My last point does not deal with peripheral matters: it is at the heart of the debate. I said in the debate on the Army, and I make no apology for repeating, that when we 716 have gone through all these changes there is only one asset that counts and it is the people who serve in our defence forces. They are the people who matter and they must be able to find a career and a career structure for the next 10 or 20 years. We do not do them a service by giving potted examples of how to cut this, save that and change the other.
I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say that a rational look is being taken at the changes. I hope that that will be an urgent look because, as I have tried to depict, the changes will be fast. That brings us to what will inevitably be a political rather than a military conclusion about what we need to defend our interests. By "us" I mean the European Community and western Europe in general. We must decide how to defend our interests through the next decade and into the next century. We must decide how to structure our forces so as to provide a career for people, and we must equip them in a way that will help them to carry out their task. Those who are trying to do that backwards in the interests of cheap headlines do us no service at all.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
I hope that the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) will forgive me if I do not discuss in detail his remarks about the Select Committee on Defence. I do not mean any disrespect to him or to his Committee, but I wish to return to the speech of the Secretary of State for Defence who defended the Government's policy.
The Government's attitude and response to worldwide international events is grotesquely inadequate. The whole country must look at the Government's proposals to see whether we can get some better remedies and better prescriptions. That applies especially to nuclear weapons and the possibilities for nuclear disarmament, because those are the most important questions. To anyone who says that that is a peculiar way to think, I would say that President Gorbachev, who is rather popular in some quarters, takes the same view. He has said for years that we have to reach a time when we will be able to have full-scale nuclear disarmament.
The Secretary of State has presented a White Paper that does not deal with that matter at all. It does not mention the non-proliferation treaty. In a few months the Government will have to give their view on that. The Secretary of State looks puzzled, as if he has never heard of it. Perhaps he has not, because many members of the Government talk as if they have never heard of it and as if they are not proposing to do anything about it. Under the preamble to the treaty that we signed—and if we had not signed such a preamble there would he no treaty—we have an obligation to do our best to get rid of nuclear weapons. That is one of the reasons why other countries were prepared to sign the treaty. The Government have produced a White Paper in which that is not even discussed and they do not think that it is a matter of any significance. That is an absurd way to deal with what remains one of the major questions confronting the world. We have a much better chance of dealing with that question now than we will have in five or 10 years.
Anybody who doubts the significance of the squalid inadequacy of the Government's response should read what the Prime Minister said when she returned from Moscow after her meeting with the Soviet President. She 717 did not seem to have learnt anything from her conversations there. Perhaps I should withdraw that in one sense, because she made one reference which showed that she had learnt something which perhaps she should have taught her Ministers. I remember our discussions on the previous two or three defence White Papers. There was one two or three years ago which reviewed Soviet policy but did not mention that the Soviet Union had been on our side during the second world war and had suffered considerable casualties. It seems that the Prime Minister has at least learnt that. The right hon. Lady referred to the fact when she returned from her visit to the Soviet Union and made a statement on 12 June.
The Soviet Union and its President attach some importance to the fact that it lost 27 million people during the last world war. That, of course, has influenced its judgment on some of the issues that are now before us. I grant that the Prime Minister mentioned that, but the rest of her remarks suggested that she has learnt nothing from the events that have taken place and are taking place.
If we were to believe what the Prime Minister said, and if we and others were to act on what she said, we would be taking steps to intensify the risk of conflict, not to reduce it. In about six replies to questions the Prime Minister said:Wars are caused by the weakness of nations, not by their strength".—[Official Report, 12 June 1990; Vol. 174, c. 143.]Does the right hon. Lady think that that is an adequate description of what has happened over the past 20 or 30 years? If she thinks that other countries should take notice of what she says, she is, in effect, issuing an invitation to every country to embark on a huge programme of rearmament. There are some countries and some peoples who believe the right hon. Lady. I do not say that they do so because of the statement that I have quoted, but if they read what she says and take the same view, they will act accordingly. We know that the right hon. Lady has some strange pupils in her school for rearmament.
§ Mr. Foot
I doubt whether the first world war was caused because some nations were weak. It is much more likely that it was caused because some nations which had the greatest power thought, "If we do not strike now, other countries will become strengthened and will rise against us. We must strike first before that happens." In those fanciful days our fanciful methods of describing such matters had not been invented. We might have described what they had before the first world war as a strategy of calculated response. It was partly that which landed us in the arms race. It was in part the arms race, not the weakness of other countries, which led to the outbreak of the first world war.
§ Mr. Foot
We thought that we had that with the Dreadnoughts. We had some of the most powerful weapons in the world but that did not stop the war. It did not stop the calculation of what was going to cause the war.
718 The Prime Minister says—I suppose that some people must take some notice of her—Wars are caused by the weakness of nations, not by their strength.That is an invitation to every country to strengthen its weapons and to make itself stronger and stronger. It is an invitation also to take precautionary steps, if necessary, to prevent other countries from strengthening their weapons. That was the circumstance of the pre-1914 arms race which led to the first world war.
The war in 1939 might bear a closer relationship to what the Prime Minister said. Although the Secretary of State talked about these matters earlier this afternoon, it is a piece of cheek when representatives of this Conservative Government tell us how the second world war was started. More important than any comparative strength or weakness was the fact that Conservative leaders at that time—they had almighty power in this place with majorities as large as the present one—favoured the aggressors. They favoured Hitler. They favoured Mussolini in Abyssinia and the fascists in Spain. They gave them enormous power and encouragement. If anyone disagrees with me, they have only to read the authentic accounts of what happened. If they wish, they can read a book entitled "Guilty Men", which was published about 50 years ago. It wears remarkably well and is still extremely good. If anyone wishes not to accept the account which is set out in that book—it was published almost this week 50 years ago—let him read "The Gathering Storm", which was written by Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill's book says that it was the perfidy of a Government who were prepared to align themselves with fascist powers that led to the second world war, not the weakness or strength of nations. If Conservative Members do not like to learn these historical truths, let them read "The Gathering Storm", the first book which Churchill wrote on how the war happened.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
If what the right hon. Gentleman says is true, will he explain why the Labour party before the second world war voted consistently against an increase in defence expenditure to counter what was going on in Nazi Germany, and why his party voted against conscription before the war so that we would be unable to meet that threat?
§ Mr. Foot
I must refer the hon. Gentleman to the unchallengeable works of reference to which I have drawn attention. He will find the story and the arguments set out much more fully and much better in those works. If he reads them, he will learn exactly what happened and why it was more the alliance of Conservative Ministers with Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and the rest than any single factor that led to the outbreak of war.
Let us bring matters up to date. Let us consider some of the countries throughout the world that are accepting the doctrine that was espoused by the Prime Minister when she returned from Moscow. It seems that it is a doctrine which is now accepted by the Government. The right hon. Lady said:Wars are caused by the weakness of nations, not by their strength.Was she saying that we must all go and look for nuclear weapons? The dictator of Iraq is one of the Prime Minister's leading pupils. I am not sure whether the gun that was sent to Iraq was meant for full-scale nuclear weapons. No one has yet been able to discover whether 719 that was its purpose. I hope that someone will be able to do so in due course. If the Prime Minister thinks that her doctrine is correct, there is no reason why a British Government such as the present one should not be fool enough to encourage the dictator of Iraq to follow it. If that happens, what about the others? Gaddafi made a statement today on the same subject. In effect, he said that he was determined to have nuclear weapons. Under the Prime Minister's doctrine, that is a valid course to take. Why not? It is sensible of countries with interests to protect to say, "If the British Prime Minister says that this is the only way to protect ourselves, we might as well follow her doctrine." It is not an academic matter. It is an extremely topical one. If the horror of a third world war ever comes to us, it will be the result of failure to do anything about the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
I suppose that much the most dangerous place is the middle east. We have read about the trial of the Israeli citizen who did his best to try to tell the world about the Israeli weapon. Other countries are building up nuclear weapons as well. Gaddafi says, "If the others have these weapons, I must be allowed to have them, too." I have no doubt that the leaders of Iran think that they should have a nuclear capability, too, especially as the leaders of Iraq are arming their country with nuclear weapons. As I have said, it is not an academic matter.
The non-proliferation treaty, about which the Minister was sneering a short while ago, was signed for the reasons which I have advanced. About 10 or 15 years ago some wise statesmen said—this is one of the few wise things that has ever been done in the nuclear age—"We must stop the spread of these weapons." Indeed, that is the only way in which the race can be stopped. The Government are so little interested in these matters that they make no mention of them, even though three or four weeks hence they are supposed to go to a conference to present their views.
I agree that the future of Germany is likely to shape the future of Europe and much else, as it has done twice before in the lifetime of some of us. Let us suppose that a newly elected Government of a united Germany say—this has not been said yet, but if the Prime Minister's doctrine were accepted it could well be—"We want nuclear weapons on the same basis that the British Government demand that they should keep their nuclear weapons." Why should not a Government of a united Germany say that? What would be the British Government's response? Would they say, "Yes, that is fine"? The Prime Minister's reply would surely be, "The more the merrier." Her view is that the more countries which have nuclear weapons, the safer we all are. However, that would not be President Gorbachev's answer, or that of whoever may be the Russian leader over the next five or 10 years. One of the reasons why that wise statesman President Gorbachev has been raising that issue ever since he had the chance to do so is because he saw the perils. I am sure he recognises also the perils in respect of Germany.
What is the answer? The Minister of State for Defence Procurement is quite capable of giving answers for the Government even when he is not speaking for them, so I would be happy if he will tell us his own mind now. What if a new democratically elected German Government representing a powerful consensus of the country says, "All we ask is that we are allowed nuclear weapons on the same basis as the British Government"? The Germans have not done that yet, but if they do it would be wrong, in my opinion, for us to agree to such a proposition.
720 Long before that danger arises there should be a treaty, agreement and understanding about the abolition of nuclear weapons. I repeat that President Gorbachev has insisted on making the same point right along. He will put the arguments to the Government, even if they do nothing about answering them now.
The Government's response to the great, exciting and liberating events in Europe is quite inadequate. I have listened to a number of such debates in the House concerning the response that the west ought to give to the new, convulsive events in the Soviet Union. I recall again one of the most significant debates that ever I heard in the House, which occurred a year or so after the fall of Stalin, when the Prime Minister of the day, Winston Churchill, made his last speech as Prime Minister of that Government. In those days, I used to sit below the Gangway, where my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) usually takes his place. He is not there now, but his place has been taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore). It is an interesting vantage point. One can see best of all from there what the Government are up to, though one has to be a little careful about what the members of one's own Front Bench are up to as well. From that place, I witnessed the 1954 debate, when Winston Churchill made a very different speech from that which the right hon. Lady made when she returned from Moscow last week.
Winston Churchill's speech was made at a time when the assurances were far fewer and when the prospects looked much grimmer. He told the House, the country and the world that the horror, perils and intensified dangers of a nuclear arms race and of nuclear war were such that a huge effort ought to be made by the west to make the proper response to the Soviet leaders of those times—who were a good deal less liberal than their counterparts today.
He pleaded for the United Kingdom and the United States to respond in such a way that a real disarmament agreement could be achieved. He was stopped partly by the Foreign Office and partly by American intervention. If he had not been, think how the world could have been saved the epoch of most of the cold war. Of course, Winston Churchill brought vision and imaginative statesmenship to bear on those issues, but we have seen nothing of that kind from the present Government.
Are we, as a result of the west's failure, to see a great opportunity again trickle through our fingers, as it did in 1954 and on some other occasions? My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) has written that that was one of the great lost opportunities of the post-war world. It is all the more remarkable that my right hon. Friend should have said that in his book, because he did not say it at the time, and admitted as much. But some people did. Aneurin Bevan said it in this House—as did Churchill, speaking for the Government. If Bevan and Churchill had had their way, and had raised the debate above the lower ranges to its proper level, and if a proper response had been made to the Soviets, what horrors, perils and costs in human life we might have avoided.
We have another wonderful chance, yet all we hear from the Prime Minister is that wars are caused by the weakness of nations, not their strength. The sooner that the Government are swept away, the better it will be for the people of the world.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. There is much interest in the debate, and it will be helpful to all concerned if right hon. and hon. Members limit their speeches from now on.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)
That was a fascinating piece of rhetoric but it was basically devoid of fact. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) raised the spectre of a unified Germany asking for nuclear parity with, for example, Great Britain. Has he never heard of the 1954 Brussels treaty, which makes such a thing impossible? The right hon. Gentleman is fond of telling right hon. and hon. Members what he thinks they do not know, but he conceals the facts that he chooses to ignore. His whole speech was built on that basis, and showed that he has for years lived in a time warp. He still lives in the days of Aldermaston and the CND, but the world has moved on considerably since then. Only the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent could resurrect the discredited Gollancz yellow books.
What really matter are the contributions made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). At the heart of the debate is the future of NATO and of the Western European Union. Both hold the key to what may happen in the world. Clearly, the hon. Member for Clackmannan has not read the recent report adopted by the WEU which sets out Europe's place in the alliance and makes it plain that the retention in Europe of North American troops is vital. That report was unanimously accepted by communists, socialists, conservatives, liberals and Christian democrats.
The Hague platform also made it clear that the nations of western Europe believe that there is a need for the nuclear deterrent for a considerable time ahead. That platform was endorsed by socialist France and Spain, coalition Holland, and by other western European countries. In arguing that we should not have the nuclear deterrent, Labour Members are out of touch with the rest of the world. It is not the House and the Government who are out of touch but the Labour party. That is why it failed to win office on three consecutive occasions, and why it will fail on the fourth.
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
I do not suggest that my hon. Friend makes his point with insufficient clarity, but it is worth mentioning that at various stages in Labour's recent defence thinking it has been in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament in the face of a communist regime. As that regime is now highly unstable, and it is conceivable that there could in the future be a militaristic, introverted, nationalistic regime in the Soviet Union, it is interesting to pose the question whether Labour would still be in favour of nuclear disarmament.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
That would depend on what the Labour party thought would win the most votes at the time that it had to answer the question. Given the present defence policies advocated by the Opposition, there is no possibility that they will win another election.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his opening speech, there are no real signs of any reduction in conventional weapons by the USSR. There have been many promises and statements of intent—and I do not 722 doubt Mr. Gorbachev's intentions—but we do not have sufficient evidence of reductions, and until we have, we must not let our guard down.
Last year the Western European Union featured in the defence statement, as a result of the action in the Gulf and the aftermath of The Hague platform. I am sorry to see no mention of the WEU this year because the out-of-area danger still exists. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) said, we cannot afford to overlook that danger.
The future of Europe's security depends upon America and Canada continuing to commit forces to Europe. Had America not become isolationist after the first world war, it is pretty certain that there would not have been a second world war. We have to make every effort to keep American troops in Europe.
When Mr. Gorbachev addressed the Council of Europe it was interesting that he made it plain that he believed there was a need, as far as the west was concerned, for America to remain in Europe. He did not call for the removal of American troops. Therefore, we have to make America feel that it is wanted and needed to protect this continent.
Surely NATO must include a unified Germany, which is going to come, at whatever pace. The USSR is rightly anxious because of the 27 million people killed in the war —I shall leave aside the 20 million murdered by Stalin —and she has a right to be reassured that there is a way to protect her security. The USSR needs those assurances.
I have a specific question for my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who is to reply to the debate tonight. On the day that the East German Lander join the Federal Republic of Germany, under article 23 of the federal constitution the whole of Germany becomes part of the Western European Union, and all her allies in the WEU are obliged to defend her at the border. Do the Government accept that that is not a matter for discussion by the four-plus-two, but will automatically happen and that no documents need to be signed, as they were signed in 1954? I should like confirmation of that fact.
I have mentioned the Western European Union a few times because the Soviet Union has great respect for and a good relationship with it. The Supreme Soviet and the Parliamentary Assembly of the WEU have established annual visits for discussions and we found them to be most valuable when we were there about six weeks ago. At that stage we, too, were worried about the apparent stalling of the conventional forces in Europe negotiations. It was clear from talking to members of the Supreme Soviet that they had not yet satisfied the military as to what would happen to the military establishment. When one has granted virtually everything that the military establishment wanted for decades, one has to convince it of the need to make the sort of reductions required by CFE, or because of Mr. Gorbachev's promises. Let us consider just the withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Germany, Poland and Hungary. The Soviets have to face the problem of rehousing those soldiers when they return and that is why they must have the support of the military establishment.
Civilian members of the Supreme Soviet want to reach an accommodation with the west as rapidly as possible. NATO and the Warsaw pact have kept the peace in Europe for well over four decades. Now we need to build a new organisation to secure peace for both east and west. 723 The European Community has no place in that because it has no defence powers or obligations whatsoever. The only organisation which has a treaty obligation to deal with defence is the Western European Union.
We now face the prospect of success for the CSCE, but it lacks one vital factor—democratic parliamentary oversight. Proposals have been made at the Western European Union and the Council of Europe that parliamentary input should be built into the CSCE process. Whether it is for baskets 2 and 3 for the Council of Europe or basket 1 for the Western European Union is immaterial. What is not immaterial is the fact that something has to be done to make Governments accountable to the representatives of their national Parliaments. When one studies CSCE it is interesting to find that about 30 members are already either full or associate members of the Council of Europe, which leaves only half a dozen or so outside the council, and they could be brought in in a way that would be satisfactory to them. The Soviet Union is already a guest member of the Council of Europe, and it also already has an excellent relationship with the Western European Union. The confidence that we have established in those two organisations gives hope for the future.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Earlier the hon. Gentleman referred to President Gorbachev's address to the Council of Europe, which was an excellent speech. However, President Gorbachev also talked about the common European home at that time, and I should be interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman believes that that objective is attainable. If we start talking about a Europe which stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals, what will be the position of the United States with regard to the defence of Europe?
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg
Briefly, the answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question is that, as Mr. Gorbachev made clear in that speech, he recognises that there will still be a need for the United States to be associated with the defence of Europe. That was very clear from his speech and the hon. Gentleman was there to hear it, as I was. The common European house is not a new idea. It was originated more than 20 years ago by a distinguished Austrian statesman, and has been recreated recently by Mr. Gorbachev. I believe that it is attainable, but no one can prophesy the time scale. Indeed, if the hon. Gentleman and I had debated what would happen in Europe 18 months ago, and had predicted what has happened, little men in white coats would have taken us away, and that would probably have been the only time that the two of us would have occupied a common home.
Another aspect of out-of-area threats is that we cannot ignore dangers that come from outside Europe. I do not believe that the Soviet Union takes a different view on that issue from this country or from NATO. If the Soviet Union and NATO were to abandon all their nuclear weapons, the sole result would be that the Soviet Union, eastern and central Europe and the emerging democracies there and the west would be at the mercy of nuclear blackmail from Libya, South Africa, Israel or China—it does not matter where. Therefore, one has to retain the residue of a deterrent and that is recognised by both east and west. I hope that official spokesmen for the Labour 724 party in the House do not deny that, because it would be a tragedy if they were so out of touch as to say that such threats were not a real danger. We need to be alert.
Europe today is a very different place from the Europe of 12 months ago, when we considered the previous defence estimates and debated them. The hon. Member for Clackmannan, who opened the debate for the Opposition, was highly critical of the part that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has taken in unfolding events. He is entitled to say that sitting in the fastness of this country. Those of us who have been lucky enough to visit Poland and Moscow and to talk to the Hungarians and the East Germans who have experienced free elections know that they are united in their belief that it was the efforts of the Prime Minister and Mr. Gorbachev that broke the log-jam in eastern and central Europe. Anyone who denies that is, frankly, a fool and one hopes that the Labour party does not want to be considered as such.
The Opposition's hatred and dislike of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister must not allow them to deceive the public into believing that she has not played a major role in opening eastern and central Europe to democracy. Next year will see even more change.
In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), I pay tribute to him and the Select Committee on Defence for the enormous amount of valuable work that it undertakes when analysing defence issues which it then puts before the House. It is sad that we do not have sufficient debates on those subjects because defence issues are still at the heart of what makes this country survive. If we fail to match our intentions with our deeds we shall be in a sad way, but I do not believe that the Government propose to let the country down in that manner.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
It is legitimate to argue that, at this time, all the assumptions and doctrines that have sustained our domestic defence policy and that of NATO in the past 40 years demand review. I do not use the word review as a term of art because I must confess that I find the distinction between a "defence review" and the consideration of "Options for Change" somewhat metaphysical.
However the exercise is described, to be realistic it requires first an analysis of the threat, if any, an assessment of the means necessary to meet that threat and an estimate of the resources required to provide those means. Imposing a financial cut of £1 billion at the instigation of the Treasury or £5 billion at the behest of a party conference seems to be an inherently flawed approach, not least because we run the risk of raising the threshold of expectation among the public. We also run the risk of damaging the morale of the service men and women who are likely to be affected.
It is perfectly understandable that there should be a desire for the release of funds previously earmarked for defence to provide additional financial resources for health, education and social security. It has already been said, however, that that is not capable of being achieved by turning off one tap and turning on another. More profoundly, if we are to have a financial dividend out of the changed political circumstances, we want a permanent dividend. A unilateral reduction in expenditure can just as easily be reversed by a unilateral increase in expenditure. 725 The most lasting financial dividend arises best out of negotiated arms reductions, reciprocated by reductions in the arms of others. A peace dividend secured by agreement is much more likely to be a long-term one.
There are many uncertainties that are yet to be resolved. No one yet knows properly the cost of restructuring our forces to meet the changed threat. Who can say what will be the cost of the verification of the treaties that are currently in the course of negotiation? What will be the cost of making men and women redundant and equipment inoperable?
Sometimes the unreasonable expectations of the public are due to ignorance. We now know from what the Secretary of State has told us that we are holding this debate against the background of intense internal Government activity. The options for change, however, have been considered in cloistered secrecy and if the Secretary of State is pained by misrepresentation I fear that he has himself to blame. It should not be necessary at this time, in a democratic country of this description, to have the kind of off-the-record briefings which formed part of so many articles in this morning's newspapers in advance of this debate.
I believe that the document which some, with no regard for ministerial dignity or longevity, have come to describe as the "Clark Memorial" document deserves a much wider circulation. During the Army debate I invited Ministers to put a copy in the Library in advance of this debate so that we could all see its contents and consider the extent to which its logic is susceptible to challenge.
The internal debate in which the Government are engaged should be a public one because many of the questions that fall to be answered require an answer from the public. If £800 million is to be released by declining to build a fourth nuclear missile submarine so that more can be spent, for example—I offer it as no more than an example—on mitigating the effects of the poll tax on certain poll tax payers, does the public understand the implications for Vickers and for employment? If we save money on the surface fleet by reducing our programme of type 23 frigates, is the public willing to accept the consequences for Yarrow and Swan Hunter? Some may say that the answer to those and similar questions is diversification, but we know from the Soviet Union that such diversification takes time and can be extremely painful. If one diverts money to mitigate the effects of the poll tax, for example, that money will not be available for retraining or retooling.
The most regrettable thing is that the type of debate that we should be having in public is now taking place in the United States where the opportunity for freedom of and access to information is much more enhanced than any opportunity we enjoy. We deserve that opportunity, and it is a matter of profound regret that we do not have it.
Against the background of a lack of detailed information, it is dangerous to attempt to construct a blueprint either for our domestic defence policy or for that of NATO. It is fundamental that we preserve a common purpose in the alliance. The communiqué issued by Ministers after the Turnberry meeting reflected an entirely 726 different tone from that used by the Prime Minister when she addressed those Ministers and a number of other fortunate invitees, including myself, at lunch-time.
The distinguished United States architect of the alliance, George Kennan, argued in 1947 that the fundamental purpose of the alliance was to contain the belligerent forces of the Soviet Union until such time as internal developments and generational change led to a society and leadership which no longer sought confrontation with the west. If that was the fundamental principle upon which NATO was founded, that purpose has now been virtually achieved.
We now know that there is no longer a threat from a united Warsaw treaty organisation. It is rather curious, however, that in the past 10 days it seems that members of that organisation want it to continue, at least in some limited political role. We also know that the Soviet Union remains the major military power on mainland Europe. It is, however, subject to economic and ethnic instability and it would be unwise—I put it no higher than that—for us to assume for ever that no military threat of any kind to our security could come from the Soviet Union.
NATO needs a new purpose, and that thinking has begun, but thus far it has reached no more than vague conclusions. It is argued that NATO should become more political, but those who advocate that are surprisingly short of instances of how that new political profile should be etched.
NATO could give an effective signal to the Soviet Union, in particular, by embarking on a review of—and, preferably, a change in—several of the doctrines that have sustained it for so long. In July, at the instigation of President Bush, NATO is to discuss embracing the doctrine of no first use of nuclear weapons, which would constitute an extraordinary step. It will also discuss the question of flexible response.
As soon as the issue of short-range nuclear weapons became one on which political considerations had a profound effect, and as soon as it became clear that the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons would not be politically accepted by a unified Germany, a substantial hole was drilled in the doctrine of flexible response. If the first nuclear step is taken away, not a flexible response but an inflexible response is created: countries are driven much faster towards taking the next nuclear step.
I understand that NATO is to consider abandoning the doctrine of forward defence, at least in mainland Europe. That is politically necessary, as the doctrine would apply to countries which have broken free from the yoke of the Soviet Union, and which, in many cases, are expressing an enthusiastic desire to embrace the principles of parliamentary democracy that exist in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in western Europe.
In these changing circumstances, there is a risk that some NATO countries will feel less committed to the alliance. That requires sensitivity. Instructing a unified Germany that it must accept forward deployment of a tactical air-to-surface missile may produce not only rejection of the proposal, but a longer-lasting distaste for the alliance. If the price of keeping a unified Germany in NATO—and having that Germany accepted in that organisation by the Soviet Union—is to agree to a nuclear-free Germany, it is a price worth paying. Such a price would be consistent with what is now the only logical nuclear doctrine for NATO to espouse: that of minimum nuclear deterrence.
727 We know that NATO can play a vital part in the creation of a new security structure in Europe. There is debate about whether NATO should continue. I believe that, in the foreseeable future, there will be a requirement for NATO—for an alliance of 16 nations. However, we also require a structure that binds in the United States and the Soviet Union and enlists their weight in an organisation that will need to be able to resolve the disputes of which we have already had a foretaste in the emerging democracies of eastern Europe.
A paradox of the Gorbachev years is that as the uncertainty of a divided Germany has been removed the traditional ethnic uncertainties elsewhere in eastern Europe have been unlocked. We have seen a resurgence of nationalism—although not in its 19th century mode. There is uncertainty within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, of which Mr. Boris Yeltsin is an eloquent example. Whatever structure emerges for the security architecture of the new Europe, there will still be a place for NATO. Its place will be complementary to that structure, and not a substitution for it.
The Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), rightly pointed out that these—mainly procurement—issues must be seen against the background of the possibility of a CFE treaty: of phase 1 being signed by the end of the year, and of ensuring further pressure for a phase 2. They must also be seen against previous undertakings by Ministers that, if strategic arms reduction talks reached agreement on 50 per cent. levels of reduction, the Government would give consideration to the introduction of the British strategic forces in the succeeding strategic arms reduction talks.
It will he necessary to maintain the nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future, and that will have to be done through the medium of four submarines. There are proposals to deploy only three. Although some would say that they are arguing in their own interest, senior naval officers say that, if there were only three, there would eventually come a time when it would not be possible to deploy the deterrent. The notion that a submarine should be left sitting in the harbour and that only in a moment of crisis should it be put to sea is surely flawed: the mere act might well represent the kind of escalation that the existence of the deterrent on station is designed to avoid.
There must be reductions in the British Army of the Rhine. Arising from that, there must be a greater emphasis on mobility, which will require helicopters. Even if there had been no planned or suggested reduction in expenditure on defence, the funding of such an extension of the provision of helicopters would have to be at the expense of some other component of existing expenditure. The inevitable conclusion is that that expansion must be at the expense of tanks, either in principle or in numbers. I hope that, in his reply, the Minister will give us some information that will end the damaging and demoralising uncertainty about the Government's attitude towards the EH101.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that there would have to be reductions in the British Army of the Rhine. What would be the function of the BAOR in a united Germany? Who would it be there to defend us from—Poland, Czechoslovakia or the Soviet Union? Where will the front line be?
§ Mr. Campbell
The front line will be where it presents itself. Of course we all hope that there will be no necessity for conventional or nuclear war on mainland Europe. I fancy that if the hon. Gentleman were to address his question to the other members of NATO, he would find little enthusiasm for the notion that BAOR should depart completely from mainland Europe.
§ Mr. Campbell
I think that I gave the hon. Gentleman the answer that he deserved.
At present, there cannot be any justification for embarking on a replacement of the WE177 free-fall bomb by the United Kingdom by means of the SRAM-T or the French equivalent. I cannot understand the logic that suggests that that replacement is necessary now or in the future. If we move towards a doctrine of minimum nuclear deterrence, the existence of such weapons in the hands of the United Kingdom is surely unnecessary, and, at this moment, liable to give a wrong signal to those whose confidence—in theory, at least—we are trying to build on the other side of what used to be called the iron curtain.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman explain an apparent paradox in his remarks? He emphasises the need for the United Kingdom to continue to have a strategic nuclear deterrent with no fewer than four Trident submarines, but no level of nuclear deterrence under that retains any meaningful capacity. Without stand-off weapons, the sub-strategic capability of the RAF would be taken away.
§ Mr. Campbell
The hon. Gentleman has clearly not followed the logic of my argument. I argued for minimum deterrence. I cannot conceive of the circumstances in which the United Kingdom, acting unilaterally, would consider it right or appropriate to use a sub-strategic nuclear weapon on the mainland of Europe.
While accepting the need for four boats to ensure that the system is effective, there is no justification for the planned increase in nuclear capacity which would inevitably be brought about by deploying the proposed number of warheads on Trident. if the level of warheads on Polaris is effective, to increase that number simply because of a change in the system or a change in the submarines is wholly unnecessary and destabilising.
The Defence Committee has made some effective criticisms of the Government's policy on the ordering of the type 23 frigate. I need do no more than associate myself with those comments. However, "Options for Change" must surely include consideration of the important contribution which the surface fleet makes in western Europe by representing 80 per cent. of the contribution of the mainland European countries. There is a high degree of United Kingdom specialisation in naval matters, and it would be extremely unfortunate, and in my view unhelpful, to say the least, if that specialisation were in some way to be diluted or reduced.
Procurement must always be subsidiary to defence policy, which must be subordinate to the system of security which evolves for Europe. The bolder and the more lasting are the decisions made in Europe, the greater scope there will be for long-term reductions in domestic expenditure, and all the signs are that the prize is well worth winning.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
The debate has been remarkably low key. It has appeared perplexed and uncertain. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) meandered somewhat trying to adduce historic parallels that did not exist. Even my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was hypercautious and gave very little away. However, he said that the military capability of the Soviet Union remained formidable. He cited in particular the naval construction programme and the potential threat that it posed. I understand that my right hon. Friend will not wish to disclose in advance the contents of the review, "Options for Change". Yet it would have been helpful for the House had he been somewhat more precise about the general principles which he is trying to follow.
I shall divide my speech into three parts, like Caesar's Gaul. First, we must establish the aim and long-term purpose of any review. Secondly, we should set that review in the context of creating a stable and enduring security structure for out continent—and we can briefly examine what the structure might entail. Thirdly, we should try to define at least in outline the dispositions of a British defence policy and the related manpower and procurement policies to match.
We have heard next to nothing about the aims and objectives of any review. Clearly, the aim must be to eliminate, by means of a grand strategy involving every political, diplomatic, economic and appropriate military means at our disposal, the residual Soviet presence in central Europe. Within the shortest possible time scale. Soviet divisions should return home. I am sure that it is the wish of the Soviet soliders stationed abroad. General Secretary and President Gorbachev has enough troubles at home. There are plenty of roles for those armed forces in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Uzbekistan and Georgia, but there is no meaningful purpose in retaining a military presence in central Europe. We are really out to facilitate the process of Soviet withdrawal. That is the first cardinal and central point.
The establishment of those alien Soviet forces in central Europe and the perpetuation thereby of an inherently unnatural ideological order upon the people and nations of central Europe have prolonged the cold war for too long. How thrilling it has been to see the wall come down and, by the process of self-determination and democracy, the peoples and countries of so many central European nations restored to their true independent status.
What about the European security structures? First, there has to be an all-embracing structure, a reconciling edifice to bring together in a single concert of Europe the east, as represented by those residual communist regimes, the west and the neutrals and to provide an input for our north American allies, Canada and the United States. We have that structure in embryo—the CSCE process. There are understandable calls for making something more concrete out of that process and establishing a secretariat. But we should be careful and not try to adduce to the CSCE as an organisation, when it becomes one, powers greater than it will ever possess. There will be such great divergences of interest, outlook, allegiance and social systems between the 35 component nations of the CSCE that we can never expect too much from it, except for the key factors of reconciliation, better understanding, 730 building bridges and increasing confidence. As a forum for achieving those ends, it would be incomparable and we must work as part of the grand strategy to bring it about.
The second element must be the building of a truly strong and reliable European pillar of our western alliance. Again, we have it in embryo; we do not need to create anything new as we have the Western European Union which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), the leader of the British delegation to the WEU, reminded us, is the sole organisation in Europe empowered by treaty to assume defence responsibilities.
The great merit of the WEU is of course that it imposes clear obligations on its signatories. The obligation to come to the aid of another signatory if attacked is much clearer and more explicit than in the North Atlantic treaty. There is no possibility of evasion of its meaning and, furthermore, again as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate made clear, the Brussels treaty provides an option for signatories to come to the aid of another signatory where that signatory's interests are beyond the strict geographic limits of NATO. The classic example was the action taken in the Gulf by five WEU members of NATO working together in a WEU context. I was saddened that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dismissed the possibility of using such a WEU framework for out-of-area operations in the future, because there could be occasions when our European interests are not identical with those of the United States. NATO is not the appropriate body to conduct out-of-area operations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate said that the WEU is already a focus for central European countries who recognise that the Warsaw pact is useful only as a temporary negotiating framework for CFE 1, but beyond that is moribund or dead. They will still need a collective security framework because they will not feel secure on their own. They know that CSCE will not come to their assistance. Like the Pope, it has no divisions and, like the United Nations, it has no peace-keeping forces. They will still need the ultimate sanction of allies coming to their assistance if they are attacked.
That is why, to take one example, the Hungarians are interested in joining the WEU. It does not involve their becoming members of an integrated military structure, as NATO does, but it provides certain safeguards. As their political and instinctive interests and loyalties lie with the community of democratic, free nations of Europe, they rightfully aspire to playing their full part in the political development of Europe.
It was interesting that the Hungarian Foreign Minister, speaking earlier this month at the WEU Assembly in Paris, suggested that Hungary should apply for guest-status membership of WEU. He has asked for a delegation from the WEU to visit Hungary to examine that suggestion further. I would expect that where the Hungarians lead other central European democracies will follow, and they should be encouraged to do so. If we are seeking to establish a glacis in central Europe without foreign troops, the WEU is the ideal basis on which to work. I am confident that in time perhaps the Czechs and other central European countries will follow suit as they become truly democratic.
The third aspect of the European security framework is NATO. We are still, and will remain as far as we can 731 foresee, an Atlantic community of free nations. We will still need, as the Soviet Union remains the preponderant military power in our continent, to call in aid the new world to address an inherent imbalance in the old. That imbalance is redressed by two guarantees—first, nuclear, which we all understand; and, secondly, to some extent conventional, a residual American presence in Europe. I envisage in the longer term, as I am sure do analysts on the other side of the Atlantic, that the American presence will tend to be to the rear and to the flanks and not so much in the central front. Ultimately, the logic of events is for the withdrawal of foreign troops, both east and west, from Germany. When that happens, we will have taken a great step forward and there will then be no need for Soviet troops to remain in Poland. We will need NATO, which will continue to be basic to the underpinning of security in Europe.
Where does that leave the United Kingdom? First, as has been said many times, the nuclear deterrent is the ultimate expression of our determination to remain sovereign independent people. We cannot sacrifice it and remain true to our historic inheritance. I differ from the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-West (Mr. Campbell), because I think that there must be gradations of deterrence if the nuclear deterrent is to be credible, just as there must be gradations of conventional deterrence.
Secondly, we shall need to defend the home base with, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, an air defence system and appropriate coastal forces.
Thirdly, we shall need an out-of-area capability. It goes without saying that we shall need more air mobile forces, more intervention forces and more amphibious forces, with the mobility, firepower and ability to concentrate force on a decisive spot early. Those are inherent characteristics of air and sea power, and must remain part of our out-of-area capability.
I was somewhat surprised that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did not unambiguously declare that the United Kingdom will have a major role in the eastern Atlantic. As the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East made plain, because there will be fewer in-place forces the need for reinforcements and reserves will be greater. I see it as a vital interest of the United Kingdom, and a vital contribution to the defence of NATO and our continent, that we play an active and full part in the eastern Atlantic. For that purpose, as the Soviet submarine threat remains, we will need the highest anti-submarine warfare capability. Before too long, we will need a new generation of maritime patrol aeroplanes, but in the immediate future and now, we must equip the type 23 frigates with the helicopter they need—the EH101. A production order should be placed forthwith without delay. Our helicopter procurement policy has been dilatory and plagued by procrastination and delay, which has not helped our industry and has not facilitated the necessary modernisation of our armed forces.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, and perhaps the Secretary of State, went back to the period immediately after world war one and the 10-year rule. I refer them to Lord Trenchard and the manpower pattern that he established for the Royal Air Force, which stood the test of time and provided a basis for the expansion of the service in the middle and late 1930s, leading up to the battle of Britain. For our manpower, we will need a cadre of the highest quality—well-educated, long-serving 732 professional regulars, with every attribute of professionalism accorded to them and every emphasis placed on making the profession of arms worthwhile. I should wish to see not cuts in training at service academies but more training and more professional courses.
We shall need much larger reserves, and herein lies the key. I hope that we will have more warning time and the ability to build up reserves, which must be of all three services. We have a unique chance to put in place exciting Reserve opportunities for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, involving a worthwhile flying role for the Royal Air Force. The Air National Guard of the United States is a classic example. It flies the latest aircraft to exactly the same standards as the regulars.
Procurement in the United Kingdom has been a catalogue of errors and a long tale of many expensive catastrophies. Perhaps part of the cause of that is that Parliament has never exercised effective scrutiny—in his interesting speech, the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East referred to this—because we have no appropriation function and we shy away from taking on the Executive in this key area. Our reports are advisory and we often bewail the fact that the stable door of expenditure was left wide open and that the horse has bolted out of sight.
That is by the by. Perhaps Parliament is beyond redemption and beyond reform. Nevertheless, I would hope that we will grasp two lessons. We must press much more vigorously for a genuine concerted European programme of procurement with a common research fund, properly administered, with the whole common procurement process, through the Independent European Programme Group, answerable to Europe's directly-elected representatives on defence, the Assembly of the Western European Union. In this way a corpus of opinion will be created in Europe that supports collaboration, concerted operational requirement and common re-equipment time scales. I hope that that will be done and that it will be done soon. I know that Her Majesty's Government are active in their chairmanship of the Independent European Programme Group and that there has been much progress. The progress needs to be taken boldly forward.
The task that we face would be much easier had some of the difficult decisions been taken long ago. They were evident throughout the 1980s. In two books that were published in the 1980s, one in 1982 and the other in 1987, I referred to the fact that BAOR needed to be reduced. I spelt out the idea of reducing BAOR to one division, covering the clutch of Royal Air Force airfields west of the Rhine. It is possible for this to be done now as a first step towards a genuine withdrawal of foreign troops from Germany. As so often in European politics and security matters, the German question lies at the heart of so many of our problems.
If the Soviet Union can be encouraged to withdraw its forces from what is now the German Democratic Republic and from Poland, NATO can make commensurate withdrawals. That will make our continent a much safer place and, in the process, save us a great deal of money.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I remind the House of the earlier appeal for brevity.
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
There is on the Order Paper a most extraordinary motion that the House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1990. It was moved by the Secretary of State. I have never seen a man show less enthusiasm for a Statement on the Defence Estimates; he hardly referred to them, from start to finish. I suspect that next year's defence White Paper will look very different from that of 1990.
The timing of this debate, not for the first time, is wrong. I sincerely hope that the decisions of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement—I am glad to see that he is maintaining the tradition of a Minister of State making the decisions in the Department, particularly with respect to defence procurement—will not dribble out one by one, but that we will have them in a coherent form and that there will be another defence debate in the autumn.
It is no secret that I consider it essential that we keep NATO and that the United Kingdom keeps its strategic nuclear capability. I am delighted that my party seems to be coming to the view that three, if not four, of the Trident submarines should be retained.
What is the Government's intention in this respect? One idea that has been floated—I was startled to see it—is the possibility that this Government will reduce the number of submarines from four to three. I see that the Minister of State is nodding his head. I hope that that is a reflection of the Government's policy. I cannot imagine what the quick reaction alert time might be in certain circumstances. I do not believe that the British people would agree to a nuclear deterrent that could be activated at only a fortnight's notice.
We need to maintain a strategic capability for as long as every other country has one, and that will be for a very long time. The number of missiles per submarine, the number of warheads per missile and the amount of throw weight per warhead can come down. It is absolutely essential that we keep a minimum of four submarines.
The Warsaw pact is disintegrating; it appears that the Soviet Union may also be disintegrating. The possibility cannot be ruled out of civil conflict, or even of civil war, within the Soviet Union. Anyone who tries to foretell who will come out top in that tortured country is either a fool or a charlatan. Who will have control of the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal in the years ahead is not known. It is not impossible that more than one nuclear-capable sovereign state will emerge out of what is now the USSR. This is a further reason why the United Kingdom should not consider giving up its own capability.
Nor do I think—this is an even more unfashionable view on this side of the House—that we should abandon all our short-range nuclear capability in Europe. Some of the arguments that have been raised in this respect show a lack of logic. People often ask how on earth we could conceivably consider using these weapons against the newly democratic countries and populations of Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The only circumstances in which they could be used against those territories would be if somebody else in those territories had done some very unpleasant things to us beforehand. Those are the only circumstances in which we could consider using them. The logic of the argument is that, because those countries are now democratic, we could not possibly use our weapons against targets in their territories. Had we deployed those arguments between 734 1939 and 1945, the Royal Air Force could never have attacked legitimate targets in France, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, or any other country that was under occupation by a hostile power. Unfortunate though it is, we have to maintain the capability to strike targets in those areas.
On the conventional scene, this is where the greatest danger to peace lies, not only in Europe, but in the middle east, Africa and the far east. I do not ignore the very worrying spread of missile inventories and nuclear capabilities in some of the most volatile areas of the world. I remain convined that the main hope for future peace lies in conventional force reductions. These have to be savage and accompanied by inspection regimes that are capable of ensuring that there are no breaches of treaty agreements relating to stocks, training and defence manufacturing plants. We must press ahead with more confidence-building measures—a point on which I disagree with our American allies—because it is essential that they should cover naval as well as land forces.
The Soviet Union has just sent 2,000 of its most modern tanks east of the Urals. Who can blame it? That is a perfectly natural thing for it to do. It is sending not its old tanks, but its modern tanks. I do not know exactly how long it will take to bring them back, should it want to do so, but, if it chooses to do so, it would take much less time than it would to bring back tanks from Georgia or Texas.
I echo what has now become the commonplace of this debate and what I am sure will be the commonplace for many years to come. We must place every emphasis on mobility inside and outside Europe. We must develop a capability to deploy in a hurry, not just in British national interests but in NATO interests, the sort of interests that we were hoping to safeguard when we sent our minesweepers to the Armilla patrol.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred to the possibility of an SPD Government in Germany requesting all foreign troops to leave the territory. He may be right. I certainly think that he is right that there is the possibility of an SPD Government, but my hon. Friend would have been startled, as I was recently at a colloquium in London, to hear the comments of two senior members of the SPD, a former Minister and a spokesman. To my amazement, I heard them say that they thought that, in future, when foreign troops have left German soil, a united Germany should think of an intervention capability. One of them said—because of the circumstances, I am not allowed to identify him—"Of course you and the French already have this capability and have experience of it." When I asked whether the idea of deploying German forces, whether or not in support of other NATO countries outside the territory of the Federal Republic, would require an amendment to the German constitution, I was told that it would and that it would probably come to just that. I do not know whether that will be the case, but I certainly think that the House needs to bear it in mind that two members of the SPD, who would certainly consider themselves far to the left of me, are prepared to talk in such terms in a semi-public forum when abroad.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). It surprises me, as it may surprise him, where the cuts will have to fall. I shall not refer to them item by item because I would merely repeat what other hon. Members have said.
735 I must confess that I am revising my views on the value of the surface fleet. I particularly welcome the arrival of the new logistical supply ship Fort Victoria and I regret to say that we shall have to think again about convoys and about how to protect them. I can remember a former distinguished Conservative Secretary of State for Defence, Sir John Nott as he now is, standing at the Dispatch Box and telling the House, "We can forget about convoys—the days of convoys are over." That was a perfectly accurate reflection of the world only a few months ago.
We must emphasise our amphibious capability and the role of the Marines. I hope that there will be no thought of cutting the capability of the Royal Marines.
What has been happening in the past few months gives us an opportunity for drastic and collective rethinking throughout NATO. I emphasise the words "collective rethinking". The shock to public opinion of what has happened cannot be overestimated, and it will become increasingly difficult, and rightly so, to persuade public opinion of the need to maintain defence budgets throughout the western world at anything like their current levels. Therefore, we have an opportunity, if we could only take it, to get some rationality into the deployments of our land and naval forces and the relationships of those forces to their supply depots.
For example, extravagant amounts of naval assets—NATO naval assets—are floating round the Mediterranean. The relationship between BAOR's supply depots and the deployment of troops is idiotic, and the same could be said of most deployments of NATO troops in West Germany. If there are to be fewer troops and if more emphasis is to be placed on predeployment and the building up of munitions depots, I hope that the opportunity will be taken to get them all on a far more rational basis than there are at the moment.
The case for the European fighter aircraft becomes weaker every day. Here, as elsewhere, the pressure to buy American will become stronger unless we can get firm American agreement on staff targets and procurement decisions over the range of military equipment.
It is obvious that the threat from the Soviet Union is disappearing to the verge of invisibility. Although, as the Secretary of State may fear, the Soviet procurement programme, which has helped to bankrupt it, is continuing apace, morale in the Soviet forces is in a very serious state. The Soviet officer corps has no sense of purpose and no sense of mission. Desertions are on the increase and are likely to become more frequent, particularly as troops are used to suppress civil unrest, whether caused by troop shortages or ethnic tensions. In fact, if there is a threat —I rather doubt it—to peace in central Europe, it will probably come from elsewhere, for example, ethnic tensions in Romania and the possible disintegration of Yugoslavia. Many other tensions and dark forces are at work in the lands that have just liberated themselves or partly liberated themselves from tyranny. We need to remember that both European wars of this century started in central or eastern Europe. Alas, we cannot be certain that such things will not come to pass again, and that is why we must postpone giving ourselves the full peace dividend until the world in which we live is a much safer place than it is now.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome)
Hon. Members have just heard an honest, almost breathtaking speech by the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert). Many hon. Members would have been delighted if they could have made so eloquent a speech. If the debate is being held at a rather odd time, it is worth it to enable us to hear the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
Hon. Members knew that the Government would not be able to say anything startling or new in this year's defence estimates debate. If they had done so, it would have been premature and wrong, for caution underlies the expressions by the Government of today, and rightly so. The introduction to the White Paper states:our approach to defence must be based on being able to respond to a range of possible outcomes, not just the one we hope to see.Those words show a degree of wisdom that has been bred out of the bloodiest century of all time, and it is a degree of wisdom to which we would be wise to stick.
In all the euphoric talk about the end of the cold war and the so-called peace dividend that must follow, in the welcomes that we rightly give to the return of freedom and the great reforms that are appearing in country after country in eastern Europe, and not least the changes and possible instabilities appearing within the Soviet colossus itself, we must not be lulled into doing foolish things. We must cling tightly to the hard facts about the defence capabilities that still exist in Europe, in the eastern part of the world, and elsewhere. We must concentrate specifically on the weak spots where war could still result if the injustices that cause it are allowed to fester.
The only peace dividend that we can gain is the continued successful deterrence of war—not the few hundreds of millions of pounds that we might squeeze from the defence review for spending on more comfortable and sociable things. In the first half of the century the democracies fatally preferred the latter until it was too late, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier when referring to the fatal 10-year rule from 1919. If some people did want to buy off Hitler in the 1930s, it was because they were terrified of having another war. The last thing that the people of this country wanted to do was to go to war again so soon after the war to end all wars of 1914. I disagreed profoundly with the book of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) when it was first published, and have done so ever since, because he got the message wrong.
In the second half of the century, we paid our insurance premiums more regularly, and, with the tremendous support of the United States, we took advantage of the nuclear weaponry to do so. For more than a generation, we gained a peace divided—albeit uneasily, but emphatically. Whatever we do now, above all it must play a substantial part in the well-tried pillar of NATO that has been built up over the last half century. We must make our full share of contribution's to NATO's forces at whatever level the negotiations on conventional forces manage to agree. That message was put succinctly and effectively in the chapter on defence and security in a changing world in the White Paper.
I believe that the presence of British forces, as well as those of the United States, inside a united Germany—and more than just a few cadres for rapid reinforcement—is important for some time ahead. I am sorry to note that I 737 did not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) on that point. Whether we like it or not, there are still lingering fears about a united—albeit a democratic—Germany, even if it is inside NATO, which has one of the largest armies in Europe, not having any allied troops inside its boundaries for some years to come.
We may not have the same feelings about that in Britain because, mercifully, we were never occupied. That point was brought home to me in a small way only a month ago when I was privileged to address sixth forms of secondary schools in the part of northern Holland that suffered most grievously from occupation half a century ago. Sadly, those lingering fears among young people as well as old were only too apparent to me and surprised me. Among the searching questions that I was asked was, "What part will Britain play in Europe's future?" along with questions about my attitude to a united Germany and whether British forces should remain there.
I believe that British forces in Europe could have an ambassadorial influence as well as a military role for the time being, both in NATO and central Europe. They should remain there in some measure for some time to come. Just as I believe that it is too soon to be sure about all the possible outcomes in central Europe, I believe that the maintenance of an independent deterrent in the hands of a country that is not one of the remaining super-powers is vital because it gives the world another point of decision so that, should anything happen, another country with a reputation such as ours would have the power to make a decision and those who may be causing the trouble could not be certain of how we would react. It is important to maintain that threat of uncertainty given the conditions that might recur in future.
Those of us who have large defence establishments in our constituencies, which we are proud to represent, and those who have large work forces who work on defence contracts must be concerned—just as our constituents are concerned—about the outcome of any options that are selected. We await the decisions. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench—and, I hope, the Opposition Front-Bench team—will take carefully into consideration the feelings of those who have spent their long-term careers in the services or in working on defence contracts or for the industries that make some of these terrible weapons before making cuts too far, too fast.
I am glad that the White Paper acknowledges that progress has been made recently on the EH 101 helicopter. Many of my constituents are engaged in its development. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will soon announce a prime contractor because he knows that, in terms of future helicopter manufacturing in Britain, it is vital that the Ministry of Defence places a firm production order very soon. Until we have a full commitment from the Ministry of Defence for that remarkable project, a civil production order seems remote in today's world.
In the past, whenever peace appeared to break out, huge irreversible cuts were invariably made by the democracies of western Europe so that hard-pressed politicians could pay out a peace dividend to the hungry and the deprived. I ask the present political leaders of our country to note that this is the time to heed the lessons and 738 to be wary of making irreversible cuts in our defence forces in the short term. If they take heed of that, future generations will be grateful to them.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
A debate on the defence estimates inevitably falls into three parts: first, the technical debate among those with the greatest knowledge of the armed forces; secondly, the political debate about the background against which we are discussing the subject; and, thirdly, the financial aspect. If the House agrees tomorrow night—I hope that it does not—to this defence budget, every man, woman and child in Britain will be taxed £400 next year for weapons.
According to the Blue Book, when the Government of which I was a member left office in 1979–80, the budget was £17.4 billion and, in real terms, allowing for inflation, it is now £18.7 billion. Next year, it will be £18.8 billion, and in 1992–93, it will be £19.1 billion. Nothing has been said by anybody, including Ministers or serious commentators, to show that there is a greater military threat to this country and the west than there was 11 years ago. I cannot and will not vote—I hope that others will join me in the Lobby —for a defence budget that is unnecessary, wasteful and unacceptable.
If we vote, we vote for money. The real question is the assessment of what has happened in Europe during the past few years and since the beginning of the century, and what is likely to happen. There have been at least five quite different Europes this century. At the beginning of the century there was the Europe when Queen Victoria's grandsons sat on every major throne—George V of England, Kaiser Wilhelm II in Germany and Tsar Nicholas II in Russia. We did not hear much about human rights and civil liberties in Russia when Queen Victoria's grandson was on the throne. That was the pre-first world war imperial Europe, which I shall come back to, because some things are now being said that suggest that European leaders, east and west, would like to return to such a balance of European supremacy vis-a-vis the rest of the world.
During the first world war, two of the grandsons fell out, then there was the Russian revolution and a British intervention when we sent troops into Russia. That is not mentioned in the history curriculum that is being imposed on schools. But the 1920s and 1930s were characterised by a period when most western leaders hoped to overturn the Russian revolution of 1917. There has been some discussion in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) joined and anyone who reads the captured German Foreign Office documents will know that Neville Chamberlain supported Hitler. When Lord Halifax visited Hitler in 1937, he was instructed by Neville Chamberlain to congratulate Hitler on destroying communism in Germany and acting as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. It was not weakness to Hitler, but support for Hitler, that gave him his advantages.
Pre-war Europe was not a Europe of great democracy. Field Marshall von Mannerheim in Finland, Pilsudski in Poland, King Carol, King Zog, King Michael, Hitler, Mussolini, Salazar and Franco: none of them contributed to a democratic Europe in 1939. The theory that we are now going back to a pre-war Europe is, I hope, not right.
Then came the war-time alliance when Churchill and Stalin paid elaborate tributes to each other. As I have said 739 at many meetings—I believe it—the liberties that we have in Britain were partly won by the sacrifices made by the Russians in holding the Germans at bay. My generation will never be able to thank the Russian people sufficiently. In the period since the cold war I never believed for a moment that the Russians were just about to invade us, and that only nuclear weapons held them back. We can all look back at the cold war with the benefit of hindsight, and I do not believe in any of the other arguments put forward in favour of nuclear weapons. One such argument was that atomic weapons kept the peace to which I have referred. Another popular argument was "better dead than red." How many people in eastern Europe would have thanked us for applying that principle to them when they were in the process of developing democratic movements that allowed them to be alive and democratic at the end of that period?
To speak candidly, many of the Conservative party and others, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert), have not come to terms with the terrible problem confronting them, for they do not have a military enemy, which has been extremely convenient to the regimes in both the east and west. Anyone who has made the criticisms that I am making, as I have done for many years—I made my debut as a Front-Bench defence spokesman in 1957—could have been dismissed a few years ago as agents of the KGB. That was why the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) had the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament bugged by MI5. If one supported CND, one was considered subversive. That argument no longer applies, even in the Soviet Union, because the Soviets have no enemies threatening them. It will be difficult to come to terms with a Europe in which no military threat is perceived or accepted.
When the Berlin wall came down last year, the structures of the west, as well as those in the east, were outdated by that change. When I was a new Member in 1950, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was to be our great defence against the possibility of a Soviet threat, but that argument no longer applies. We need new security arrangements in Europe. One or two hon. Members have spoken about the CSCE process playing a part in that.
I was re-elected to the House in 1983, along with other Labour Members, on the policy that we put before the electorate of the mutual dissolution of NATO and the Warsaw pact. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent led our party into that election on the pledge that we would seek to dissolve NATO and the Warsaw pact. Like everything else, that policy was dismissed then, but we put it to the electorate then, and it is relevant now.
The point has been made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) that there is anxiety about a reunited Germany, not least in the Soviet Union, but also elsewhere. Reference was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East to the possibility of Germany having intervention forces. That country certainly has a capacity for nuclear weapons. I know that from visits I paid to Germany as Energy Minister. How is that Germany to be contained, like any other potential power including the Soviet Union, in a peaceful Europe? That can be achieved only by a European security treaty replacing NATO and the Warsaw pact. That possibility is 740 emerging in some statements from the Soviet Union. That suggestion was made in the amendment my hon. Friends and I tabled, but which was not called.
If it is true that there have been changes—as the Secretary of State said in a speech that fell short of showing the enormity of those changes—is it sensible that we should retain, modernise and contemplate the use of British nuclear weapons? The Americans will take away our nuclear weapons, and that will be the end of that. Already, in discussions with President Bush, Gorbachev has begun to say that in any arrangement, the Americans must stop supplying nuclear technology to Britain. We no longer have a capacity to produce nuclear weapons alone. Before we start telling people—as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome has just said—that nuclear weapons are the symbol of our sovereignty, we had better remind them that we have them on hire purchase from a superpower that will be ready to bargain them away in return for an agreement with Moscow.
I and many others would like to see a Europe in which troops and nuclear weapons were withdrawn from east and west—as Mr. Gorbachev suggested in one of his first speeches on disarmament. I do not want NATO to be a permanent force; nor do I think that the Russians could ever be content with the thought that NATO was part of a nuclear alliance that was potentially hostile to them.
If the Hungarians, Czechs and others would like Russian forces to leave their territories, we should also look to the day when American bases and nuclear forces leave our territory. I dislike the annual farce of renewing the Army Act when we say that if we do not pass the measure the standing army in Britain will not be maintained. We have a large standing army, but it is American, commanded by a President whom we do not elect and cannot remove. The only time that army has ever been used out of area was when President Reagan used it, not for NATO purposes but to bomb Libya. That is the danger.
I detect in some of the military and political speeches that are being made a desire to use the new Europe to re-create European hegemony over the Third world. We hear a lot about Islam and Islamic fundamentalists. I do not want to go back to the Crusades, but I can imagine circumstances in which a Christian Europe might arm itself against Islam and the Third world—the Europe that we had at the beginning of the century. Any attempt to use the recent changes for that purpose would be very dangerous. I know that I am looking a little far ahead, but anyone who wonders about fundamentalism had better listen to some of the born-again Christians in America, who have much in common with fundamentalist Muslims. Both have in mind a jihad—a holy war—to clear the world of their philosophical or religious enemies. These dangers must be taken into account.
At the end of the war there was a massive defence conversion. I do not know how many people were moved, as I was, from uniform to civilian life or from military to civilian production, but the operation was on a huge scale. It must be tackled this time with due regard to the interests of those who have committed themselves to the armed forces or who have developed skills in military technology. Conversion must be done in conjunction with them; our amendment describes urgent consultations with the trades unions and industries concerned about a practicable programme of defence conversion.
741 Hon. Members should not believe for a moment that this cannot be done. For a third of a century I sat as a Member for Bristol where the Beaufighter bombers stopped coming out of the factories in 1945 and three months later pre-fabricated houses started coming out of those factories. Defence conversion requires planning: the people who leave the forces must be housed and there must be research and development contracts for those who have been making weapons before they can move into medical technology and other areas.
Market forces cannot help with defence conversion because the defence budget is artificial. There is no demand for this equipment from individuals—granny does not have a sten gun, dad does not have a tank. It is the Government who demand weapons. Britain needs more industrial development now than at any time in its history because our industrial base has been neglected. The oil is running out. German money covers our balance of payments deficit, but it will soon be pouring into eastern Europe, where wages are lower. This country's economic crisis is acute. Whether this Government or the next Government do it, there must be a major reduction of expenditure and a redeployment of money and skilled people from defence to civil production to meet civil needs here and abroad.
Should hon. Members want to know what happens to a nation that does not waste money on defence, they should look at the success of Japan, whose televisions, telephones, motor cars, motor bikes and videos are in every shop in the world. We, by contrast, are the second largest supplier of arms equipment to other countries—including to both sides in the Iran-Iraq war.
Last year I moved a modest amendment calling for a reduction in our defence budget to the same level as that of our European allies in NATO. It, too, was overtaken by events. Even the policy review published by the Labour party speaks of cuts that exceed the aspirations of 1989. What I said last year was right and events have confirmed that, but now we must make cuts on a bigger scale.
This is the time to rethink the real challenges facing humanity. Our oldest enemies—poverty, disease and ignorance—and the new realisation of the environmental threat to the planet pose far greater threats than does the likelihood of the Red army arriving by helicopter and forcing us to listen to lectures on perestroika in Wandsworth, Streatham or Westminster. We need a major redirection of our efforts and resources; we need to mobilise public understanding behind the scale of the effort, of the money and of the research and development that will be needed.
Against this background the defence estimates are unacceptable. I beg the House to reject them and the Government to come back, as we demand in our amendment, with a better proposal that we can debate more seriously before the end of the year.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
I shall pursue a different tack, but I shall have no doubt about casting my vote against the Opposition's amendment tomorrow night. I do not go along with the idea of decommissioning nuclear weapons, or of dissolving NATO, or of closing United States bases in the foreseeable future.
742 The speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) and by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) could hardly have contrasted more markedly—and I know in whose guidance I would place my trust. If the right hon. Member for Chesterfield honestly believes that the Japanese do not have a defence budget, he is sadly misinformed. They have the third highest defence budget in the world because they have such a high gross national product. So it is sheer illusion to suppose that Japan is a fine example of what the right hon. Gentleman was preaching. As ever, he is the master of the one-sided conspiracy.
§ Mr. Benn
I do not think it a conspiracy point to say that the Japanese spend a far lower percentage of GDP on defence than we do. I was not talking about absolutes; the Japanese have a bigger national income. Although this is not a debate about statistics, I believe that they spend far less—about a third as much as we do—on defence.
§ Mr. Key
They spend far less as a proportion of GDP, but that still leaves them with the third highest defence budget in the world.
I start from the point of view of a Member of Parliament who represents 12 military bases and all three services. I also have the honour to represent thousands of scientific and industrial civil servants. In the 70 or so villages around Salisbury that I represent there are people who have lived with the military for almost 90 years and who have profited much from the relationship with it. It is my overriding wish that any defence policy should have a close and constructive relationship with the villages, communities and people who work in the industry, and that that relationship should continue and prosper.
Times have changed rapidly, in terms not only of the great international issues but of the way in which Governments operate. They have become much more open. Civilians' expectations have also increased enormously. They expect much more consultation on and knowledge about military affairs, and that is entirely good.
In my community we have had a sad chapter in the shape of the development over the years of the training village in Salisbury plain—the so-called FIBUA, or fighting in built-up areas. That marked what I hope was a watershed—it is now water under the bridge—in respect of the lack of consultation and the creation of mistrust between the military and civilian communities in the area. FIBUA is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Sir D. Walters), and I am grateful to him for allowing me to drop in on FIBUA a week ago to see it in operation. It is undoubtedly NATO's foremost and best training facility for that purpose and I observed a Territorial Army regiment in training. In view of all the changes that are taking place in Europe, it will become a more important facility in future. The people in those areas must expect a level of co-operation and consultation with the Ministry of Defence that they have not always enjoyed in the past.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I have some knowledge of the areas about which the hon. Gentleman speaks because my parents lived in that area before they died. Is he aware that many people throughout Wiltshire are concerned about cruise missiles being taken around that county? Those people join many of the protests and demonstrations against the missiles. They were worried 743 about the number of telephone lines that were cut while cruise missiles were being transported and about the loss of civil liberties and rights during cruise missile exercises.
§ Mr. Key
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The fact that the people there elected me to this House gives the lie to his argument. The local branch of the CND now depends almost entirely on activists bussed in from Southampton and other cities. That is because most members of the CND in Salisbury have defected to the Green party.
I disagree with the Ramblers Association, which recently published its land grab theory about the Ministry of Defence. I have good relations with the local Ramblers Association. We have heard that the Ramblers Association nationally is concerned about public access in areas such as Salisbury plain and Dartmoor. Any Rambler who wants to walk across the live firing areas of Salisbury plain must be barmy. It was entirely for the protection of people that the Ministry of Defence went to substantial lengths to open an alternative series of footpaths, expecially along the northern end of the plain, to enhance access to the plain. Access by large numbers of people to areas such as that would not enhance the environmental quality of the land—quite the reverse.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about training areas. The Salisbury plain training area covers 93,000 acres, which is about the size of the Isle of Wight. About 60,000 acres of it are let for farmland, either under schedule I by which the land is farmed out and if the military damages crops the farmers are compensated, or under schedule 3, which means that about 50 grazing or grass cutting licences are issued for the plain. That is a significant contribution and gives the lie to the idea that the Ministry of Defence area is a no-go area for everybody at all times.
The Ministry of Defence, through the management of the defence land agent, has 6,300 acres of woodland on Salisbury plain, most of which is broadleaf. In the last 30 years the Ministry has planted 3.5 million trees on the plain. Co-existing with the military training area are 1,700 ancient monuments which are cared for by the Ministry of Defence in co-operation with the Wessex Trust for Archaeology and other bodies. I congratulate the Ministry on constructing that relationship which gives enhanced access to much of the plain for many people who are genuinely interested in it.
All our local squabbles must be placed in a national and international context. The Government must take account of events in eastern Europe. I welcomed the speech on 5 June by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces in which he outlined some of the options for change. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is right to stress the need for stability from the Urals to the Atlantic and to stand firm about the need for the continuation of NATO. I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is at one with the Prime Minister on that and that the Government will take a firm stance on Britain's defence.
A peace dividend sounds beguiling to us all, but it should be modest, gradual and well-planned in international interests and in the interests of my constituents. Any service man who is surplus to military requirements deserves far better than a place in the dole 744 queue alongside a former civilian employee of the Ministry of Defence who has been made redundant in return for the so-called peace dividend.
In recent years the civilian work force in the Ministry of Defence has had to be extremely adaptable. It has faced contractorisation and many defence reviews, especially in the context of the aeroplane and armament experimental establishment at Boscombe Down. That work force has had about 14 reviews of its future in the past 11 years or so; we urgently await the outcome of the latest review. Many hundreds of families are in suspense over their future careers and jobs.
The military machine could not operate without its civilian work force. Loyalty is at a premium, especially when war is declared. We need to think back only a few years to the civilian effort that went into the Falklands war. That old-fashioned loyalty could be taken for granted, but we would do so at our peril in terms of morale, efficiency, recruitment, training and skill. Many of my constituents who work for the Ministry of Defence receive low pay for the jobs that they do. Many of them are highly skilled and could rush off to Heathrow airport and service jumbo jets, but they stick with the Ministry of Defence and service fighter planes.
One of the problems for such people is the high cost of housing in that part of Wiltshire. There is great pressure on Salisbury district council and on many councils throughout the country which are the enabling authorities for housing. The council stock is diminishing, not least because of the success of the right-to-buy policy, and in many districts associated with military areas some 90 per cent. of new council tenancies are being allocated to people under legislation on homelessness. That means that only 10 per cent. of houses go to people on the waiting list and ordinary, decent, married folk in my constituency are for ever going to the end of the queue.
The number of Army families requiring accommodation as a result of homelessness in my area has increased from about 30 in 1985 to about 80 in 1989, and the problem is accelerating. Currently, about 20 service families are threatened with homelessness for various reasons and are awaiting the allocation of council houses. Of those, a quarter are two-parent families and three quarters are separated wives and children. My noble Friend Lord Arran has agreed the figures, but has said that each case must be considered individually. That will not do. The Government must have another look at the housing of our military personnel and at what happens to people when they leave the services.
First, we need an urgent review of the impact of homeless military families on the civilian community. Secondly, we must urgently consider the need for some sort of forces house purchase scheme. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is present because he has done a great deal in this respect. I will gladly do my best to persuade the Treasury to support the Ministry of Defence on this issue. The problem is exacerbated by ex-service families who are accepted into council housing as homeless. Of course, they have the right to buy on full discount after just two years, and that diminishes the rented housing sector even more. Thirdly, we should have an assessment of the impact on local communities of all local government services, including housing, social services and education. We must look carefully at the redeployment at home of troops and their 745 families from abroad. They will be welcome in the Salisbury area, as they would be in any military area, but we must ensure that there is proper planning for them.
Let me now deal with security. There is a double threat in southern England, first from IRA terrorists and more recently from animal rights terrorists. A balance must always be struck between the integration of defence and civilian families and the behind-the-wire security which may be an alternative. There is a balance for the families of service men between a relatively normal life on open camps and Fort Knox measures. The effects on recruitment and retention can be serious. Already soldiers are on guard duty at least one day a week. Of course there is no substitute for an armed and trained soldier on guard duty, but there are alternative measures. A massive sum has been spent on fencing, which is important, and I think that that expenditure should be increased. I hope that fencing will not become a victim of the temporary ban on new commitments that we heard about in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
There is controversy about private contract guards. I read the report of the Select Committee on Defence on the issue and I asked about the impact made by security guards. It is clear to me that the effectiveness of private contract guards depends on their training and supervision. Such guards can be extremely effective, but so much depends on better training and supervision.
I am worried that we have too many different police forces involved in security and the military. In my constituency there is the Wiltshire constabulary, the Ministry of Defence police, the military police in all three services, the British Transport police liaising with British Rail and travel arrangements, the Atomic Energy Authority police, who are sometimes involved, and the Ministry of Defence patrolmen, who have no constabulary power and are answerable to the commanding officers of their units. If we are not careful, we may find ourselves faced with order, counter order and disorder. That we would all wish to avoid. I hope that due consideration will be given to the proper co-ordination of police services to the military.
Much is said about wrongdoing in the name of animal rights. In my constituency is the Chemical Defence Establishment, where only 10 days ago one of my constituents was the subject of attempted murder. She is a veterinary scientist. Animal rights activists are not so much lovers of animals but haters of their fellow men, women and children. It is a great irony that veterinary surgeons are at the forefront of those working towards the limitation of animal experiments or their complete replacement. Apparently, that is irrelevant to some evil individuals to whom murder of men, women and children is acceptable in pursuit of their ill-defined cause. That makes them terrorists. They should be given no sympathy, aid or succour by anyone inside or outside the House.
The CDE is a remarkable and much misunderstood organisation. About 600 of my constituents work there. They all have families in the community which I represent. They protect British and allied service men and women from chemical and biological agents. Britain has led the world in abandoning all offensive chemical and biological weapons. Without the work of the Porton Down establishment, we could not give technical support to the 746 United Kingdom negotiators at the conference on disarmament at Geneva. We must achieve comprehensive and verifiable global bans on chemical weapons.
At Porton Down we have developed portable detectors and alarms, including a system for ships. The establishment has developed the most advanced respirator and mask in the world. It has developed the NBC suit, with anti-gas fabric and activated charcoal, which is now in service throughout the world. It has developed decontamination systems, methods of treating nerve agent casualties and a range of vaccines and antibiotics.
The civilian arm of Porton Down, in working within the CDE, not to mention the other arm, the centre for applied microbiology and research of the public health laboratory service, plays a major role in the detection of atmospheric pollution, in guarding against industrial and agricultural hazards and in developing methods of countering those problems. The CDE scientists lecture worldwide and publish in the open scientific literature of the world.
I must declare an interest as a member of the Medical Research Council. I feel strongly that the medical research community must be in no doubt that we in this place, like most right-thinking people, support the work that it is doing. There are many moral arguments in favour of what it is doing. Animal experimentation requires justification in terms of significant human gains. In the 19th century much legislation passed through the House that was designed to prevent cruelty to animals. It was enacted only because it was supposed that there was as a result a brutalising effect on human beings. That legislation was not placed on the statute book out of consideration for animals.
Why do animals need protecting today? First, there is the pain argument. Animals are conscious and feel pain. Pain is bad whether it is in animals or humans. That is the utilitarian argument. Pain can be justified when balancing individual harm against social good, but even such a utilitarian argument acknowledges that if there is benefit to humans of the sort that is produced in cosmetic experiments, which is regarded as trivial by most people, it is hard to justify the use of animals.
There is also the international dimension. It would be a cop-out to wash our hands of animal experiments only to see testing shipped across the world to other less scrupulous countries. There must be international action.
Secondly, there is the animal rights argument. If we allow animals to be experimented on in a way which we would not extend to humans, we could be accused of speciesism. That leads to deep philosophical waters in considering animal rights, the nature of them and whether animals properly possess rights. Most people would say that rights can be enjoyed only by autonomous individuals and that animals are thereby excluded. However, most humans have an intuitive feeling that not just anything can be done to animals and that they merit protection. That is the code that has been developed by hunters down the ages and throughout the world in many different cultures. Neither the argument of pain nor that of rights precludes experimentation, but neither argument licenses just any experiment for any purpose. That is why we must consider method and purpose.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Gentleman has only briefly touched on the morality side of the argument. One of the features that I found especially upsetting and obscene 747 about experimentation on animals at Porton Down was the use of live animals to assess the impact of high-velocity bullets. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that sort of experimentation is thoroughly unacceptable?
§ Mr. Key
No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. In representing my constituency, I have to give these matters careful thought. I must balance in my mind the arguments in favour and those against. In the example that the hon. Gentleman has presented, I came to the conclusion that the evidence of the benefits to mankind was enormous. Scores of lives have been saved in Northern Ireland as a result of the experiments which have been carried out at Porton Down. Scores of lives on the Falklands were saved because of that work.
I return to my point that we cannot do any experiment in any way. That is why the House enacted the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which laid down specific requirements. In determining methods we have to decide what constitutes paining and harm to animals, whether there are options and whether the experimenters are sufficiently skilled to reduce suffering to a minimum. We must then consider the purpose.
We can dismiss the allegation that no animal experiment ever has or ever will benefit mankind, but some benefits are too trivial to justify animal suffering. I think that we all agree about that. The possibilities of saving human life, eradicating disease and developing new surgical techniques are strong considerations in favour of undertaking research on animals. At Porton Down, to which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has referred, I believe that those criteria are met.
We must remember above all that defence is a partnership. It is a partnership with the NATO community. It is a partnership with service men and women and their families. It is a partnership with the civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence. Above all, it is a partnership with the constituents of each and every one of us. Let us never forget that it is they and our way of life that we are defending.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
The euphoria that has emanated from the events in eastern Europe has touched each one of us, and the apparent lessening of the threat of nuclear war in Europe is welcome. However, that euphoria must be tempered by common sense. Few dispute that the role of NATO has been paramount in maintaining peace in Europe during the past 45 years and that its deterrent effect has enabled us to arrive where we are today, in this period of hope and opportunity. That is not to question or detract from the significant part that Mr. Gorbachev played in making things happen now—but one would not have happened without the other. For that reason, we must continue to exercise caution. In other words, now is the time not for revolution but for the constructive evolution of our military strategy over the next 45 years and beyond.
It is irresponsible to speak of wasteful, unnecessary or unacceptable burdens when addressing the question of military spending. In an ideal world, one might be able to do so, but the lessening of conflict between the two major power blocs does not necessarily herald peace and stability worldwide. The implication that the USSR and its Warsaw pact allies were the only threat to stability is foolish and irresponsible.
748 As the events of the past week have shown, eastern Europe has a long and hard road to travel on the way to full social and political reform. In both the USSR and its former satellites, there remain significant elements who seek to reverse the process of democratisation. Any sign of wavering on the part of the United Kingdom or of NATO could give those factions the impetus to oust Gorbachev and other reformers. In their terms, such a reaction can be justified. They fear, perhaps as we should, that the ingredients exist that could yet lead to chaos in eastern Europe. They exist in the growth of narrow nationalism, which is the inevitable consequence of years of oppressive, centralised government, and from the opportunities presented by the changes that have taken place. We know the evils of narrow nationalism.
The European Community and NATO may have to confront at least one decade of new stresses from eastern Europe. The presence of a powerful and stable alliance of democracies, such as is enshrined in NATO, is more likely to encourage and sustain the movement to democracy in eastern Europe than to hinder it.
The potential for short-term turmoil in eastern Europe, together with the prospect of upheaval in southern Russia —and the growth there of Muslim fundamentalism—could destabilise further the already volatile situation in the middle east. The idea that Britain can somehow abrogate its responsibilities to world peace simply because the Warsaw pact has disintegrated is narrow-minded and confused. The notion that we can disregard the need for nuclear deterrence is also ludicrous, particularly when one realises that a number of countries having particularly unstable leaders possess the know-how to construct a nuclear bomb. The potential to employ and use nuclear weaponry must be deterred, as it has been for the past 45 years, by making it plain that aggression can expect to be met by comparable retribution.
However, in urging caution in terms of changes, I do not mean to imply that they cannot or should not occur. Rather, I urge that all changes be strictly in line with the needs of our military forces, with the role that we expect them to fulfil in a conventional NATO sense, and with the increasingly significant role that they must play in the fight against international terrorism—apart from the out-of-theatre peacekeeping duties that they will no doubt be expected to undertake from time to time.
The ever-widening gap in our defences is the size, strength and age of our surface fleet. I might have been encouraged by the Secretary of State's remarks about the Navy were it not for the fact that, year after year, our surface fighting ships grow more outdated. We are not building replacements for them quickly enough. Add to that the virtual disappearance of our merchant fleet and it must be acknowledged that, in an emergency, Britain would not have the capacity to move her troops and heavy equipment. How can the Secretary of State talk about flexibility and versatility in such a situation?
Is not now the time to examine the rate at which we replace obsolete ships and how we can provide an incentive for the merchant fleet? There is no easy answer when vast financial resources are involved, but decisions must be based on the most urgent and likely needs of our forces over the next decade.
I always feel proud when I hear a compliment being paid to our forces for the work that they do in Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to those indigenous forces which, year after year after year, have borne the brunt of 749 terrorist attacks. Here at home, one asks why, after 45 years of anti-terrorist experience—20 in Northern Ireland, but this country had experience of anti-terrorism long before Northern Ireland—are our forces still constrained by inadequate and outmoded resources? For example, we literally kill our own troops by forcing them to travel around their tactical areas of operational responsibility in armoured Land-Rovers—veritable deathtraps against the sophisticated and well-equipped terrorists whom they are fighting.
Adequate helicopter support is imperative in Northern Ireland. I have tried to put over that message in the House for the past seven years, but without success. Helicopters, with their greater flexibility and dramatically faster response times, are a necessity in anti-terrorist operations. That issue must be addressed now.
The potential of slow-flying, low-flying, low-cost, fixed-wing aircraft in photography and surveillance is not realised to anything like its true potential. I wonder why few are being used in Northern Ireland today. Why has there been no utilisation of low-cost remotely piloted vehicles in reconnaissance work? Used in conjunction with conventional patrolling, the potential for RPVs is exciting and can be life-saving. The more imaginative use of computers, to allow information to be collected, interpreted and disseminated to standard formats, would give our forces an advantage that they are currently denied. They have literally been left behind. They should be equipped with new generation computers capable of more than just churning out vehicle registration numbers.
Those are some of the points that I would have liked the Secretary of State to address. They are practical points that affect the day-to-day lives of those in our security forces. Ours is a peacekeeping Army of men and women doing a real job. They stand between us and the aggressors —between those who believe in democracy and the right of nations to self-determination, and those who would exploit and enslave.
Fortunately, we live in a more peaceful world than did our fathers and their fathers. If we are to improve on that for our children, we have to defend peace where it presently rules and work to create peace where strife presently exists.
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), and on this occasion it is a pleasure to echo the eloquent tribute that he paid to the security forces in Northern Ireland.
I am amazed that there is such a sparse attendance for such an extremely important debate. There have been some vintage speeches from both sides of the political divide and some most impressive comments. At this moment in our history and in the parliamentary cycle it is amazing that defence does not attract more comment and debate.
I found a number of the speeches tonight moving and interesting. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) made a most moving speech—and who can ignore the historical perspective which he brought to the debate? The right hon. 750 Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) made a speech which most Conservative Members agreed with, although that agreement was not echoed across the political divide.
The debate comes at a time of tremendous opportunity for my generation and for the older generation of right hon. and hon. Members. An extraordinary change has taken place since we last debated defence estimates, and it is now hard, if not impossible, to see the Soviet threat in the same light that past generations saw it or to imagine a Soviet attack across the central plain of Europe. Perhaps we cannot yet see swords turned into ploughshares, but we can see a new and different European order. The debate tonight is part of that opportunity for my generation.
The Government's strategy in exploring options for change is absolutely right. I understand the anxiety of people in the armed services who wish to know where they stand. Many highly-skilled soldiers, sailors and airmen, who have decided to devote the best years of their lives to defending their country, want to know what will result from current uncertainties for them, for their families and for their careers. I understand their anxieties, and all hon. Members accept that we owe a tremendous duty to them and to their families. However, we must now have a period of vigorous debate on the options for action in defence of our country in the light of the changed circumstances that we now face.
Those hon. Members who are familiar with the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) on this issue and have followed them, rather opaquely, in the press during recent months will be listening with great interest to his comments when he replies to the debate tonight. If what has been said in the press is true—though it would be most unwise to believe what one reads in the papers—many people will support the points that he makes.
I hope that this period of vigorous debate will continue until we know what range of options is available, and can make sensible decisions based on our country's needs.
Another matter, which is not inevitably party political but is nevertheless important, is the fact that the British people trust this Government—who have never shirked difficult decisions on defence—to find the right response to our changed circumstances. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said that defence costs us £400 a year per person. Many people would regard that as a good premium on this insurance policy. However, if he meant that there is now an opportunity to translate some of that funding into social services, education or health, no hon. Member would disagree.
The Government can be trusted to consider the issues seriously and to decide what is the best way to proceed. Two irrefutable aspects must be considered when the Government survey the matter. The first is the basic need for NATO and for Germany to remain within it. We derive great advantage from the American commitment to NATO and any move to decouple that would be extremely dangerous and unwise. We also benefit enormously from the integrated command structure that NATO provides. That may allow us to play a wider role through NATO than the role we have enjoyed so far.
The second aspect is the importance of our nuclear deterrent, and the Government and some Opposition Members have made a clear commitment to that tonight. In a dangerous world that insurance policy cannot be changed. I fully support the Secretary of State, who said that we intend to continue and put in place not only the 751 Trident programme but sub-strategic nuclear weapons, which are critically important to the seamless web of defence.
Since I completed my brief but enjoyable military service in the United Nations forces in Cyprus in 1975, it has always seemed to me that there is a greater role for the United Nations, and that the work done by UN forces has been consistently underestimated. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to see that a tribute is paid in the Statement on the Defence Estimates to the efforts of the United Nations in Namibia and Cyprus, and to its valuable work in Pakistan recently. In the light of changing circumstances, there will be opportunities for UN forces to play a wider role.
I welcome the emphasis in the estimates on the implementation of the CFE talks in Vienna, and on the control of chemical weapons, especially the common approach to the proliferation of such weapons and to proceeding with the complex and difficult work of verification. I hope that when the next White Paper is published substantial progress will have been made in both those areas.
A number of other strands are important when considering options for change. The first, and most important, is that we have to accept that the British Army of the Rhine is no longer the central engine of national defence. It is difficult to change procurement policies overnight, and it would be unwise to do so, but we must be conscious of what one might call the haemorrhage of ordinance: we continue to pump out the same hardware and military kit which has been the perceived requirement for NATO in Europe for a generation. It may not be needed in the future. When we look back in a year or two that money may be seen as a wasted investment. We should welcome the temporary bar outlined by the Secretary of State in his speech, but we should also be conscious of the significant changes taking place.
The second strand that we must consider is the importance of effective mobile forces, whether they are airborne or amphibious, which has been a common theme in the debate. The right hon. Member for Dudley, East mentioned the importance of the Marines and the Parachute regiment to mobility. We must recognise the tremendous change that has taken place, and the importance of the mobility and effectiveness of our forces, and consider a training and career structure which is relevant to that.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I have paid great attention to my hon. Friend's interesting and constructive speech. Does he include the brigade of Gurkhas within the mobile forces? Does he consider that it is important to retain a role for the Gurkhas beyond 1997?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend is right about the role of the Gurkhas, although it would be imprudent of me to speculate on their future role in isolation from other changes that may be made.
We must recognise that much greater costs may be associated with developing our mobile forces than hitherto. Such costs are part of the restructuring that will result.
It has not been clear from the statements to the press from service chiefs that the dangers of salami slicing the armed forces have always been readily conceded. If such cuts were made at any level in our defences to reduce 752 expenditure, that would be an absolute disaster and a great danger to morale in the armed forces. The smaller national armed forces of NATO must be a spur to specialisation. We must have a closer integration of weaponry and command structure within NATO. I hope that any future changes act as a spur to that.
It is also important to consider the role of the Territorial Army and that of the Navy and Air Force Reserves. One of the critical aspects to consider is that the lead time for reinforcing Europe is perceived by strategists to be very different from what it was a year ago. It is important that the role of the Territorial Army is greatly enhanced, as it has an important part to play as a reserve force and as part of a rapid reinforcement within Europe.
There is no reason why we should not now encourage our young people more actively than in the past to spend some time with the Territorial Army—the Swiss example should comfort us.
As part of the new scheme of things there is a great deal to be said for paying people in the TA far more than they have received in the past. We should make it an attractive force in which young people seek to serve. The benefits of such service would not be felt by those young people themselves, but would be a real benefit. As part of the new system under which our armed forces are managed the reservists must be given more training and a greater commitment. In the future, Regular Army units and TA units should be integrated so that the TA can give much greater support to the Army. We have already heard about the pain and anxiety that are likely to be caused by any cap-badge amalgamation. I believe that the TA could be extremely helpful in dealing with that problem.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has already demonstrated that we live in a dangerous world. Although the threat within Europe has diminished in recent months, the threat from the middle east to our interests there has grown even greater. As we look with growing concern at what is happening in the middle east we appreciate the threat that that poses to our strategic interests in Europe and Britain.
The changing international situation means that meeting our obligations and security needs will allow for lower costs for our armed forces. When assessing our security needs, however, we should look not for the peace dividend, but for ways in which to restructure our armed forces most effectively to meet the challenges of the future. It would be fortunate if, as a result of that, the peace dividend could emerge.
§ Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)
I shall try not to repeat the points already made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He has already dealt with the historic, moral and political reasons why the defence estimates should be rejected.
I want to approach this subject on a more mundane level. I believe that the House should reject the estimates because they are bloated and beyond the nation's capacity to sustain them without damaging our economic prospects. The same could be said about any of the defence estimates of the past 40 years because the underlying pattern that differentiates Great Britain from any other western European member of NATO is that we spend on 753 average 2 per cent. more of our national wealth on defence than we used to spend. That pattern has continued year by year, and decade by decade.
In a time of peace our defence spending has, historically, been of the order of 2 per cent. of our national wealth, but in recent times it has fluctuated between 4.5 and 5.5 per cent. We spend a crucial 1 or 2 per cent. more of our national wealth on defence than do West Germany and France. Such spending decade after decade has had a weakening effect on our economy. That is clear when one compares our economic strength with that of West Germany, France or Japan. It is obvious that a nation cannot spend more than it earns on defence any more than, as we are continually told, we can spend more than we earn on pensions, health, welfare, or investment.
In the past 40 years the psychology of both main political parties has rested on the idea that, somehow, defence spending should be preserved and should continue to receive a disproportionate amount of the nation's wealth. Fortunately, the events in eastern Europe and President Gorbachev's initiatives now give us the chance to break out of that spending. Because our spending on defence is more bloated than that of any other western European nation, we have a greater opportunity of real economic gain and thus to modernise and rebuild the British economy.
The case that I have outlined is backed by solid academic research. In an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) I mentioned the Cambridge Econometrics study, which detailed the impact on the British economy if we reduced our defence spending to the same levels as that of the rest of western Europe—effectively to halve our spending. If we made such a saving it would release, this year, a little more than £9 billion to invest in rebuilding our welfare state, modernising the infrastructure of our economy and perhaps investing directly in industry, but that would necessitate a more enlightened Government. That vast sum of wealth would be released year by year and would represent a major shift in the resources of the British economy.
The Cambridge Econometrics study revealed the wonderful opportunities that would be open to our nation if we reduced our defence spending. It is true that such a cut would cause some dislocation as spending moved away from the defence industries, but one would still have to retain and retool those defence industries. The Cambridge Econometrics study, however, revealed that after a decade in which defence spending was cut by 50 per cent. overall unemployment in Britain would have been reduced by 520,000. When one took into account the jobs lost as a result of contracting the defence spending, there would still be a net gain of 500,000 new jobs. Despite the job losses, a far greater number of new jobs would be created simply because defence spending represents the least labour intensive form of public spending. That money would create more wealth for the nation if spent in other ways.
The Cambridge Econometrics group also studied the impact of such cuts in spending on our gross domestic product. It estimates that Britain's GDP would increase by £10 billion a year. That money could be used to enrich the lives of people in the public and private sectors. That 754 increase would also lead to a 5 per cent. increase in investment in which we have notably lacked in comparison with our major competitors.
Christopher Huhne, the economics editor of The Guardian, for some reason writing in The Independent on Sunday, pointed out that apart from the Soviet Union and America no other country has more to gain from the peace dividend than Britain. There is an obvious historical parallel with the France of the early 1960s. Then President de Gaulle decided to break with France's imperial tradition and to reduce dramatically defence spending to fund a major modernisation of the French economy. French defence spending, which until then had been as bloated as Britain's in relation to national wealth, was cut savagely throughout the decade. As a result, resources were released to modernise the French economy, which performed a major leap, overtaking the economy of Britain and relegating us to a position far behind France. We have never caught up.
Now, however, we have the same option. We could make major cuts in defence spending, and—by redirecting funds towards the modernisation of the British economy —find ourselves at the forefront rather than slipping further and further behind other modern European nations. I do not see why anyone should object to the economic case for defence cuts.
Who are our enemies? No one has seriously suggested today that President Gorbachev is about to invade western Europe, or Britain. According to the current opinion polls, he is three times as popular here as the Prime Minister. He would not have to invade; if he wanted to take over the country, he could come here and win the next election.
Given that no one expects a war with the Soviet Union, what other threats are seen by the Ministry of Defence? Some of the answers are hilarious. Spain, for instance, appears to be seen as a threat. Even we accept that a war with Spain over Gibraltar is unlikely; we are reducing the garrison and cutting military expenditure in the area. In any event, how could we have a war with Spain? The place is full of British holidaymakers, and pensioners who have discovered that they can get more for their money in Spain than in Britain.
The MOD also considers that another war with the Argentines over the Falkland Islands is a possibility. I doubt it; the outcome of the last war is hardly likely to encourage anyone else to invade. Indeed, the Argentinians seem willing to negotiate some kind of permanent settlement of the conflict, which would allow us to invest some of the wealth that we now spend on defence in the development of the region.
We are enjoined not to forget that we may have a war with Guatemala over Belize. If the British people were told that the current bloated defence expenditure should continue because of the possibility of a war with Spain, Argentina or Guatemala, I believe that they would question whether that was the wisest use of national resources.
We should not, however, talk merely of the scale on which we wish cuts to be made. Even Conservative Members, I think, will demand a reduction in defence spending. We need to ask, "From whom are we defending ourselves? What military machine do we require in the 1990s, and in the next decade?" What worries me is the suspicion that the real reason for the Government's resistance to major defence cuts is that they hanker after the idea of creating a Euro-force that can, for instance, 755 intervene at will if some third-world regime nationalises our assets, or makes a decision of which we do not approve. There is a danger that, with no real political debate in Britain or in western Europe, we shall slide into mimicking the United States—that we shall intervene anywhere on the face of the planet to impose political solutions on people who have the right to determine their own destinies, and to decide for themselves how their economic resources are to be used.
My criticism is not limited to the present Government; we see the same basic pattern in the defence spending of previous Labour Governments. In 1950, a Labour Government destroyed the country's chance of emerging from the recession that had been created by a major devaluation. The potential for growth, leading to a major reconstruction of the economy, was wrecked by the level of defence spending that was forced on Britain by the American Government because of the Korean war. Anyone who doubts that should refer to the details spelt out in an excellent biography of Aneurin Bevan, who led the fight against the wrecking of Britain's domestic reconstruction by the demands of the military machine.
In the end, the money that had been raised could not be spent fast enough, and remained unspent. Our prospects of domestic recovery had been wrecked by the military—and, sadly. by a Labour Government who gave in to pressures that they should have resisted.
In 1970, we discovered the key to the wreckage of all Labour's plans for the economic regeneration of Britain. After six years of Labour Government, Britain was still spending 4.9 per cent. of its wealth on defence. France was spending 4.2 per cent., West Germany 3.3 per cent. and Italy 2.5 per cent. Six years had been wasted, with one economic disaster following another, because of the Government's failure to make the break with the imperial past and get out of Suez—and east of Suez—quickly and decisively.
We saw the same pattern in 1979. After five years in office, Labour was still spending 4.6 per cent. of our national wealth on defence. France's expenditure had fallen to 3.9 per cent., Germany's was still 3.3 per cent. and Italy's was 2.4 per cent.
On what do we base the claim that we should spend more of our national wealth on defence than the people of West Germany, who stood face to face with the iron curtain? That is nonsense, as is the fact that we are still spending £4.4 billion on keeping our Army on the Rhine. Although, under an arrangement with the West German Government, the whole burden does not fall on the balance of payments, the effect last year was a deficit of £1.4 billion. The British Army of the Rhine is costing every man, woman and child in the United Kingdom £80. It must be phased out: its members should be brought back and retrained to do productive work and rebuild the British economy.
That is part of the attraction of defence cuts—personnel who are much in demand in British industry would be released. We hear many forecasts of a shortage of labour in the 1990s. Moreover, the private economy contains a large number of industries that are part of the defence sector: their employees include some of the most highly skilled workers in British industry, with the most modern equipment. No group of workers could be more important to us, if our aim is to retrain and retool, and to rebuild our manufacturing base. Those workers are needed to make the high-quality manufactured goods that 756 we are currently forced to import from West Germany, France, Japan and the United States. Every economic argument suggests that the time has come for a major break with the past—that we must divert the resources that are at present consumed by a defence budget which we know will never be used, and devote them to the modernisation of the British economy.
Earlier, I mentioned the difficulties of not living beyond our means. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, made a very good speech at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party last week. Many of us argued for more spending on a range of matters, but we were told, "A Labour Government will not spend more than it earns. It will not repeat the mistakes of the past, but will bring about real growth in the economy." I agree: I see no point in spending money that we do not have, and stoking up inflation.
If a Labour Chancellor is to exercise such fiscal rectitude, however, it is more important than ever for us to cut into our bloated defence budget to provide the funds that we need to recompense those whose pensions have been eroded so dramatically over the past decade, or to put money into the national health service. I do not believe that we shall be able to come to power and, simply through massive tax increases, restore the neglected welfare state. We must stop spending on other matters to release the necessary funds. Every argument points in that direction.
I make no apology for constantly returning to precise figures. I want to hear from the Opposition Front Bench firm commitments for a Labour Government to reduce the defence budget by about 50 per cent. over their five years in office. It should not be done in a manic rush to slash everything in sight, but through planning and consulting unions and employers and discussing how to retrain and reskill. If we do that, we can go to the British people at the next election with our plans to change the nature of the economy and to modernise Britain's welfare state and our neglected industrial base—without crippling increases in taxation for ordinary families and rising inflation, but simply by redirecting resources from defence.
Finally, there can be no question of our ducking the issue. It will not go away. We have to have precise and clear figures. If we thought that we could fudge the issue or hope that the Conservative party would not notice or that Fleet street, wherever it has dispersed to these days —The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express—will not remind us of that at the next election, we should be putting our heads in the sand. We need to go into that election knowing what we intend to do, that it is achievable in a five-year period and how we will use those resources.
There has been some confusion about the figure of £9 billion. The Secretary of State for Defence said that some people talk about £5 billion and other people talk about £9 billion and that there are two ways of calculating our defence budget. If anyone believes what is written in the defence estimates, I advise them never to go into business as they will not survive for long. They are largely a cosmetic exercise with a heavy dose of propaganda, as are every other nation's defence estimates. People put things in and take things out. We have heard all the Soviet defence expenditure being calculated in a different way from ours. We have heard that Soviet defence estimates include the cost of pensions for service personnel which are excluded from our estimates and we have heard about the cost of maintaining military estate roads.
757 When I mentioned £9 billion, I used figures from an authoritative right-wing source—the Institute of Strategic Studies, an organisation created by Conservatives throughout the world to analyse defence expenditure and make it generally comparative. Those figures lead to the conclusion that when we talk about cutting our defence spending to western European levels—at the moment it would mean a 40 per cent. cut, but given that almost every other western European nation is making bigger and more rapid cuts than we are the gap is opening up—it is clear that the figure is £9 billion and not £5 billion. The only way that one can reach the figure of £5 billion is to believe the Government's statistics. I do not believe that the Government's statistics on defence are any more honest than they are on unemployment and no doubt soon will be on inflation.
It is interesting that Conservative Members have made not one objection to the facts that I have laid before the House. I quoted facts which are not a matter of opinion. I did not get them from Tribune or any Labour party journal. They are economic statistics on which people in the chancellories of the world base their defence planning and expenditure. We should do well to consider the Institute of Strategic Studies' statistics. They demonstrate that if we talk about scaling down our defence to the same level as that of other western European nations, it would immediately give us in the lifetime of the next Labour Government a peace dividend of £9 billion. That would be the beginning that we need. A Labour Chancellor will need those resources to rebuild the British economy without taxing the British people to pay for it.
§ Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)
It is now 15 months since I raised the issue of search and rescue helicopters in the RAF debate. The Wessex search and rescue helicopters are now more than 30 years old and, as was demonstrated recently, they suffer from the logistic problems created by their lack of range. Increasingly, search and rescue helicopters are required to go further out into the Atlantic, and the Westland Sea Kings have that extended capability. A search and rescue order for Westland would enable the company to capture other overseas search and rescue orders for the Sea Kings. The interim results published by Westland a few weeks ago show that the company has just five helicopters left for delivery this year. My concern is that the lack of orders for the helicopter division will overbalance Westland Technologies and Westland Aerospace in my constituency.
As I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister knows, aerospace structure contracts are long-tail business requiring massive investment up front with profits flowing only in the later stages of a contract. That makes the position of the helicopter division all the more parlous and I hope that my hon. Friend will bear that in mind when making the announcement that he promised.
I apologise for introducing a parochial note at a time of such great international changes. I recently visited SHAPE and NATO, and I am certain that it is more important than ever that we do not accept the cellophane-wrapped sugar-candy proposals of the Labour party for a peace dividend that will leave the nation naked and bereft of modern nuclear weapons and efficient services.
758 I recommend my hon. Friend seriously to consider the suggestions I recently made to him about increasing the use of Reserve forces. I believe that we should return to county regiments, resurrected as volunteer forces. We should not sell HMS Intrepid and HMS Fearless when they are replaced; we should use them to raise a stand-alone volunteer capability for Territorial Army marines with amphibious capability; they should be crewed by Royal Navy Reserves.
So often the Regular forces have acted as a safety net for our reservists. We must convince chiefs of staff in the 1990s that Reserve forces must be encouraged to exercise in a more stand-alone capability with their own allocation of equipment.
I was particularly interested and pleased to learn about the investment made in our armed forces by Jersey, which, as part of its contribution to the defence budget, paid for a new Reserve camp on the Isle of Wight which will be used to train Reserve forces as well as regular forces for the south of England land force. I am sure that it is unique in the history of our armed forces for such a contribution to be made by overseas taxpayers.
The cost of adventure training in the new leaner, meaner services of the next decade could be contracted out to organisations such as the Ocean youth club, rather than maintaining sailing vessels in all three services. By such means we shall surmount the recruiting problems by the use of Reserve forces and we shall be able to deliver the so-called peace dividend politically while maintaining efficient fighting forces. It may be necessary to introduce a period of compulsory service in the Reserve forces. Above all, by maintaining our nuclear forces in a modern state of readiness, Britain will continue to enjoy the longest period of peace it has ever experienced. That is my hon. Friend's duty and our children's inheritance. It must neither be negotiated away nor starved of money. That is the challenge in the 1990s and I have no doubt whatsoever that only a Conservative Government can manage those conflicting interests and maintain a sound defence policy.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee is not present to hear me disagree with his views on the withdrawal of Russian troops from East Germany. If I may say so, as a mere donkey walloper, that is typical of the cavalry—if in doubt, charge. How can we expect Russia to withdraw 350,000 troops and to accommodate them in Russia when more than 17,000 Russian officers and men spent last winter under canvas inside the Soviet Union because of the lack of barracks?
How can we expect Russian generals and field commanders, who, as a result of President Gorbachev's sacking of 300 Russian generals, now have an average age below that of their NATO counterparts to accept an accelerated withdrawal when the best logistic estimates are three years using existing rail capacity to move out the ammunition, stores, fuel and vehicles in East Germany alone? How can we expect that to be completed sooner rather than later? When the bear's back is against the wall, the bear lashes out. The faster the pace, the greater the risk. Mr. Gorbachev is like a rodeo rider—he shows remarkable ability to stay in the saddle of a bucking bronco, but he has no control over the horse, he does not know where it is going and he cannot get off with any dignity. Now is not the time to cash in on our military muscle.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
The debate takes place in the most peculiar of times. I have been waiting for Conservative Members to say—perhaps the Minister will say something in his reply—that we should think back five or 10 years and remember the efforts made by President Gorbachev and previous Soviet leaderships to pursue policies of peace and disarmament, and all the arguments advanced by peace campaigners throughout western Europe in the past 20 years calling for nuclear disarmament and a rapid cut in arms expenditure and opposing the siting of cruise and Trident missiles in Europe. Those arguments have finally come to fruition.
It is sad that the Minister and many Conservative Members seem to be pretending that the Soviet Union is our enemy. I do not believe that it has ever intended to invade western Europe. That theory was put forward by NATO and the Marshall plan. Today, they are once again seeking to raise the spectre of some Russian menace. A country that lost 20 million people in the second world war fighting fascism is not about to embark on a war against anyone.
The great search for enemies continues. I understand that SHAPE headquarters is running computer models on whether Libya or another country in the middle east could match up to the size of the threat. There is a perpetual search for enemies to attempt to justify arms expenditure of £21 billion. Even by the rather glossy productions of the Ministry of Defence, the comparisons are awesome. Britain spends £21 billion on armaments, almost the highest in western Europe and the highest per capita of any comparable industrial country. Is it any wonder that social services are grinding to a halt and poverty is increasing continually? There is a direct correlation.
The Ministry of Defence has put much effort into promoting such expenditure on armaments and into exports to poor countries to prop up elitist regimes. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) mentioned the wringing of hands throughout western Europe about how appalling the Iran-Iraq war was, yet it was being fuelled by every industrial country in Europe, by selling the precursor chemicals, which were made into the most devastating chemical weapons by Iraq, by providing credit, by buying oil on the spot market that propped up the economies of those countries and, over the years, by selling arms to those two countries. The sale and export of arms create conflicts such as the Iran-Iraq war.
It is no strategy to continue promoting the sales of arms to countries that can ill afford them and should not have them because the needs of their people are far greater than the needs—[Interruption.] If the Minister wishes to intervene, I shall happily give way. I am saying, and I am sure that he will agree, that it is far better to consider the needs of the poorest countries rather than to force them to accept arms. The people of those countries certainly do not need them. The arms industries fuel conflicts rather than reduce them. That surely is a problem that we should be considering.
I spent a pleasant afternoon yesterday outside the Royal Naval college at Greenwich, which is a beautiful building, taking part in a CND demonstration protesting about the presence of, I believe, a nuclear-armed ship anchored in the Thames, only a few miles from this building. That ship is a threat, because if those warheads are set off it will spark off a nuclear war and because it is 760 a magnet to someone who may want to attack. It is a threat to every Londoner, because if fire broke out on that ship millions of Londoners' lives would be at risk. Despite repeated questions, the Ministry of Defence has refused to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons on that vessel.
The reaction of the people to whom we were talking was interesting. They agreed that Britain's expenditure of £21 billion could be better spent. Nothing could be more ironic than having this huge ship, with all its danger, might and cost, anchored in Greenwich, which this week has been told to cut its social services budget, its housing budget and its recreation programme. Councillors in Greenwich must this week decide which day centre for the elderly must be cut because of poll tax capping. It is absolutely obscene that so much is being spent on defence when there is such need so close.
I support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and other hon. Friends. It is the only amendment that offers a real possibility of achieving rapid reduction in arms expenditure and a strategy that looks beyond just creating a political role for NATO that will inevitably maintain, if not increase, a nuclear capability throughout Europe. It opposes what the Government and many Conservative Members continually talk about—the rather ominous term, out-of-area activities by NATO forces.
§ Mr. Corbyn
As my hon. Friend says, it is more jargon, but it is serious and dangerous jargon.
The last out-of-area activity by the United States was to use bases in this country—we are still awaiting the details of its arrangements for occupying those bases, which it did in 1948 without proper treaty arrangements—to fly planes to bomb people in Libya and kill children in Tripoli. Similarly, the French have used the Foreign Legion in North Africa to remove radical Governments and to prop up elitist regimes that are under threat. I foresee a dangerous trend developing, with a new era of European imperialism that maintains wealth for itself in Europe and uses the world debt crisis to impoverish the poorest countries. When there are rebellions in those countries against the low commodity prices and the investment of multinational capital, the iron force of that imperialism will fall on them, as the Government of Burkina Faso found to their cost when they opposed the economic strategies being imposed by foreign forces.
I find much of what the Government say in the defence estimates extremely depressing. Surely to God, at this time of all times, we need a different approach in the world in view of its problems, such as the growing pollution and impoverishment of two thirds of the world population, the growing destruction of the air and sea environment, of the forests and of the savannah grass lands and the damage to the environment throughout the industrial countries. Do we need a strategy that exports that pollution and poverty to other countries, or do we need a world strategy that reduces the resources spent on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and conventional arms and instead uses them to solve the world's environmental and social problems?
Unless we change our approach and strategy, the scenario of the last few months of French activities in Africa, or, in the last few years, the American 761 bombardment of Libya, will grow, because the United States now has forces in a number of central and south American countries. What are they there for? They are there to extend the influence of the United States and its interests in those countries.
Unless we change direction in the next 10 years—if we are still debating the subject then—we shall be debating the question of millions of environmental and economic refugees attempting to get away from the poverty and impoverishment of their countries that has been created by an economic system which continues that impoverishment.
There is now a chance to cut massively arms expenditure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has pointed out, if we reduced our arms expenditure—I look forward to a Labour Government reducing it by 50 per cent. over the first Parliament of that Labour Government—many of the United Kingdom's social problems would be solved; we could rebuild our economic base and play a role in the world that was of real benefit to the world and that would make us face up to the environmental disasters that we are approaching. Instead, we are going in for the myopic maintenance of a high level of arms expenditure, pretending that there are enemies who are about to invade when it is known that they are not. We are putting our heads in the sand and ignoring the realities of life around us.
At this turning point, with all the changes in Europe, now is the time for a real change rather than the nonsense of the imperial images of grandeur that are offered by the Government, with poverty for the people of Britain and of so many other countries.
§ 9 pm
§ Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)
It is the hope of most hon. Members that their speeches will stand up to examination in future years. To take part in this debate appears to make one peculiarly vulnerable in this respect: seldom, if ever, has a defence debate taken place in peacetime with the world in such a state of flux. I speak as someone who, when serving in BAOR, regularly took civilian visitors to see the Berlin wall. It never failed to move me or them, and never in my wildest dreams did I conceive that it would be removed within my lifetime. We live in exciting times. Nevertheless, there is a risk attached.
There are two themes on which I will concentrate—first, the battle that was won against unilateralism, and its aftermath; and, secondly, the battle that has yet to be won against terrorism and steps to combat this.
On the first issue, I doubt whether a single fair-minded hon. Member would deny the credit due to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and successive Secretaries of State for Defence over the past 11 years in their determination to negotiate from a position of strength within NATO. The events speak for themselves. The Soviet Union has been brought to its knees not by a battle on a conventional battlefield but by an economic battle, in an unsuccessful attempt to match the installation of sophisticated defence systems. However, now that the Warsaw pact is defunct, a reassessment of the position of 762 NATO and of Britain's role within it is clearly inevitable. It is doubtful whether this reappraisal will take place in a Europe which is significantly more stable than hitherto.
One hears from some quarters of nostalgia for the cold war, because at least everyone knew where they were. As every day passes, the fragmentation of the Soviet Union, under pressure from nationalist and ethnic feelings—so long suppressed—becomes more likely. Civil wars in the newly emerging democracies in central Europe and the Balkans cannot be discounted—there is precious little history of democracy on which to build—and border disputes between them may erupt.
Against this background, we have been prepared for further delay in reaching agreement on the conventional armed forces in Europe—CFE—negotiations.
If I were President Gorbachev I would have certain reservations about the presence of thousands of demobbed lieutenant colonels, let alone their troops, with time on their hands and without jobs, roaming around the Soviet Union. Some former Warsaw pact nations have even developed a sudden enthusiasm for inspection, not of a former enemy's force levels, but of force levels in the Soviet Union itself.
Overshadowing all that is the forthcoming unification of Germany and the formidable political, economic and military implications of that process. In the circumstances, I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues—indeed, if they need any urging—to adopt the utmost caution. Nothing is nore dangerous than instability. In the face of instability, we must retain, to coin a phrase, flexibility in response. If President Gorbachev falls victim to his own revolution, who can tell to what use the superiority of Soviet armour will be put?
Quite apart from our role to reinforce Europe, we have our out-of-area capability. Hon. Members have heard the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) describe that as jargon. Jargon it may be, but at least we know what we are talking about. We must maintain and protect British interests in a world that is still an inherently dangerous place, not least because of the spread of nuclear weapons to unstable countries.
For example, I hope that we will have reassurance from my hon. Friend the Minister of State that the vital and little-discussed importance of our supply lines across the world will not be neglected. After all, we rely significantly on imports. According to the best figures that I can find, we are only 75 per cent. self-sufficient in food and raw materials.
Recently it has become fashionable for sources close to the President of the United States to describe NATO as predominantly an expression of shared political ideals rather than a framework for a defence strategy. That seems to have been picked up on this side of the Atlantic. It must be a new theory. I doubt whether the United States felt comfortable with Portugal, Greece and Turkey when they were dictatorships within NATO. Indeed, the main influence for fostering democracy in western Europe was not NATO but the European Community.
It is my fervent hope that those statements from Washington are not a prelude to United States military withdrawal from Europe. The conference on security and co-operation in Europe—CSCE—which was well described by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), is all very well as a vehicle to give a sense of reassurance within the so-called common European home, but a continued American defence 763 presence is vital, with the British providing the historical link between the United States of America and the continent of Europe. I hope that that role will be developed, given our proven talents in the leadership of multinational military formations.
To meet the changed circumstances, we have the current "Options for Change" review. There are many who are better qualified than Ito assess the arguments that are filtering through from the inner circle, but I trust that consideration of such matters will be based on one principle. and one principle alone—the need to address a continuing, if diminished, threat. We need a balanced though smaller Army with a job defined first and funds made available. It would then be for the Army to come up with suitable detailed structures to achieve that aim. One sometimes feels that financial reductions may be recommended, but conclusions about the fate of specified infantry battalions and armoured regiments are made before the military implications are thought through. I trust that that is an illusion. In any case, I welcome signs from my hon. Friend the Minister of State of an enhanced role for the Territorial Army and Reserve forces and possible joint training exercises for contingencies which, after all, range from a major war to international disaster relief.
There are two relevant questions. First, do we have adequate strength? Secondly, do we have the right balance? If the answer to either question is no, we have gone about the task in the wrong way.
The second issue I wish to touch on is terrorism. The recent atrocities that were carried out by the Irish Republican Army in this country and on mainland Europe have highlighted the dilemma over security for our troops. I am conscious that I am making these remarks in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire. East (Mr. Mates), the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee.
The introduction of new security measures at military installations throughout the country was an obvious step, but I question certain aspects of that policy. Of course, its purpose is entirely defensive, but perhaps those measures cut off the Army from the community that it serves. Not only does service life imply risk, but there is the added danger that the terrorists will either upgrade the weapons used against military targets or shift their attack to soft targets. Unfortunately, it seems that the latter is already happening, with tragic results.
I understand that £30 million was allocated in 1989–90 to physical security measures, but I wonder whether such a sum would be better spent on intelligence. I recognise that this is a peculiarly difficult balance to strike and I do not expect my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to answer on the Floor of the House questions that relate primarily to the Home Office budget. However, I am confident that as a distinguished former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, whom I am pleased to see taking his place on the Treasury Bench, will give that matter due consideration.
As it is likely that more troops will be stationed in this country in due course, I am certain that there will and should be more contact between the Army and civilians. Given the unique good will that exists, perhaps a type of military neighbourhood watch scheme should be 764 considered as it could, at least, be an effective adjunct to barbed wire and chain fences. It is in the interests of all of us in the country that terrorism is defeated.
In conclusion, may I make the plea for early reassurances to be given to the armed services, which exist as much to prevent wars as to fight them—contrary to some of the things that we have heard from Opposition Members this evening? The armed services need to be told of the value that we place on their activities, and especially on their ability to adapt to the unexpected.
The level of recruitment may be satisfactory at present, but the retention of trained and experienced personnel is proving increasingly difficult in these changing times. Morale has been knocked in so many ways. The general mood of uncertainty has been aggravated by the postponement for nine months of the retention bonus scheme, by the moratorium on new contracts as a result of the unfortunate defence budget overspend, and by the ban on civilian recruitment for the more mundane tasks. It may seem a trivial point, but in an all-volunteer Army, a trained soldier should be doing what he has been trained to do and should not, for example, be cleaning the cookhouse.
The armed forces have no wish to be immune from the concept of financial accountability, which has been promoted so vigorously by this Government. In due course, there will be a peace dividend, allowing more resources for health and education and all the other issues that we recognise need the Government's attention. However, there is nothing more radical, in the true sense of that word, than the sense of security that comes from well-trained, well-equipped, well-housed armed forces, with reduced disruption of family life, and more contact with the community. That is the service dividend and I am confident that my right hon. and hon. Friends will not neglect it in the days ahead.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
As one who did his national service in a tank crew, with the 31st land infantry brigade, I should like to pay tribute to the brigade's commander at that time, General Victor Campbell, who died earlier this month. Victor Campbell was unfairly portrayed in the brilliant film, "Tunes of Glory", and was played brilliantly, as Colonel Barlow by Sir John Mills. However, it was an unkind caricature of a considerable man to whom many people have cause to be grateful.
I now make a complaint to the Secretary of State for Defence. As his parliamentary colleague for many years, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it was quite wrong that he did not ensure that the official Opposition and the Liberal party were represented when he went to Gallipoli. That broke all precedent. Two of my right hon. Friends, who are Members for Leeds constituencies, would have represented the Labour party with great distinction, as would my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). But there should have been a representative. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) should also have been asked. I hope that the representation at the Gallipoli commemoration is in no sense a precedent for such occasions.
While we are on the subject of anniversaries, I pay tribute on its 50th anniversary to something that is forgotten——
§ Mr. Tom King
The only request that we received was from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). We offered to arrange for him to attend, but he did not take us up on it. I cannot understand why he chooses to raise the matter at this time. In no sense—I deplore the idea—is the commemoration of Gallipoli a party political matter, and I certainly sought to respond to any request.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The offer to me was not to go with the official party or to have anything to do with it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
No, I am not wrong. No offer was made, as it certainly was when Jim Callaghan was Prime Minister or in Harold Wilson's time—my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) will correct me if I am wrong. But no offer was made to the Opposition spokesman.
My personal view is that I no longer see any need for this country to have a new battle tank. A long time ago I was a member of a tank crew. In the present context, I feel for tank crews and think that nowadays they would easily be "brewed up"—I think that is the right term. Is it not a fact that the Americans have under development a SADARM, a search and destroy armoured missile? There are heat-seeking missiles—doubtless the Soviet forces have them, too—against which a tank, however well armoured, would stand little chance.
The American weapon, which will certainly soon be developed by other countries, is designed to take out the most modern tanks. What is the Ministry of Defence's assessment of heat-seeking and other related weapons taking out tanks? If my argument is right, is it sensible to go ahead with the expense of a new main battle tank? The tank is heading for obsolescence in the modern European battle field. It is conceptually obsolete because we want defences that do not make the other side worried and create instability. The tank is basically an offensive weapon.
In his opening speech, the Secretary of State for Defence gave various figures on how we should take into account the fact that eastern Europe was not disarming to the extent that it was supposed in some countries. Are my statistics accurate or not? Is it not a fact that the Czechs have already cut their forces by 30 per cent., the Hungarians have cut theirs by 35 per cent. and the Soviet armed forces will be out of Czechoslovakia and Hungary by the end of 1991? Is it not a fact that 10,000 Soviet troops have already been withdrawn from Poland; that East Germany has reduced its forces from 165,000 to 100,000 in two years; that Soviet tank production has been halved; and that last year the Soviet Union cut its forces by 5 per cent.? My figures come from the CIA—[Interruption]— so perhaps I am all right.
Not only our so-called enemies but our friends have been making cuts. The West Germans have cut troop levels from 495,000 to 400,000. I want to associate myself with the arguments of my hon Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) on this.
What discussions have taken place about these matters with the chiefs of staff? I do not believe everything that I read about their not being consulted, but enough has appeared in the press to legitimise my question. I remember that when I was first a parliamentary candidate —the Minister of State, who is a military historian, will remember this well—Duncan Sandys carried out the 1957 766 defence review behind closed doors. It will be in the collective memory of the Ministry of Defence that that created great difficulty at the time of the 1957 White Paper.
What do we want? My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East suggested an end to BAOR. I say that BAOR could realistically be cut by a third within18 months and by two thirds in three years, bearing in mind the accommodation problem. I believe that the RAF in Germany should be cut forthwith from seven squadrons of Tornadoes to three—I refer to the GRI which is the strike arm, not to the interceptor arm which, as far as I know, is based in the United Kingdom. That would send a signal to the Soviets that we were serious about cuts. For the moment, we should keep in place the Phantoms, the interceptors, and the Harriers, the close air support.
I now approach a delicate issue that affects my constituency. The Secretary of State asked earlier what would happen in Edinburgh if there were any cuts in the European fighter aircraft programme. Is it not highly likely that the West Germans will cancel their participation in the EFA? If so, someone had better make contingency plans for the many skilled people in Edinburgh——
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Alan Clark)
The hon. Member must know that, thanks to the continuous and dedicated efforts of my right hon. Friend, the Germans have signed up for the relevant stage of the EFA contract. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman searches his memory he will recollect that.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In that case, many people in Edinburgh will be reassured; but were the Germans to cancel, we should have to make plans for arms conversion. Many people who are worried about their jobs will be relieved in the short-term by that assurance, if I have interpreted the Minister aright.
We must take advantage of the peace dividend, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East that we have to use it for the industrial base of the 21st century. Britain's security is economic and depends on reinvesting in industry.
The worst danger that we face would be the discontent of the peoples of eastern Europe if we were unable to help them economically. Some of us think that, without exaggerating and being too dramatic, the best thing that we could do for our own security would be to have some kind of Marshall-type plan for eastern Europe. Anyone who says that that is fanciful should contrast the treatment of Germany in 1918 with its treatment in 1945. Which is preferable? The treatment from 1945 to 1955 led to a far more stable West Germany than the Germany that began to go wrong before 1929.
In that context I refer to the Dublin conference which has just taken place. At that important conference, for the first time western and eastern Environment Ministers met to see what we could do to help eastern Europe overcome its monumentally appalling environment problems. Unless we have the wealth to solve that problem, we can do very little to help those eastern European countries. Some of us heard Carlo Ripa di Meana, the European Commissioner, say how important it was for the countries of western Europe to do something to help the east.
There are many other problems in which we should become involved in furtherance of the peace dividend. They are the conservation of energy and metals, projects for anti-corrosion, recycling technology, the problems of 767 winning metals from lower grade ores and the problems of creating efficient public transport. All those matters have far more to do with our security than the making of tanks or other military expenditure to which we seem to be committed. We need to return to the Op Macc—operation military aid to the civil community—schemes of General Sir Derek Lang and do what the United States corps of engineers did in the 1920s and the 1930s. They made a great contribution. We must think in terms of personnel and encourage many in the forces, and not only officers, to take university degrees so that those who remain in the forces can make a high quality contribution and be fairly certain of a welcome into civilian life when they leave. Otherwise there will be no career.
Speaking about his union members, Bill Morris, of the Transport and General Workers Union, said:Defence workers are proud people; they're not ashamed of what they do, they're highly skilled and very patriotic. But they haven't made a conscious decision to produce weaponry. Circumstances have taken them into it. They now see their future and security threatened as a result of world events. They are looking to the unions, and to opinion-formers and decision-makers to help them reshape the events which affect their lives and to give them a more secure future.My union believes that we have to make real demands of political parties.That is the demand that we must face. We must do something constructive for our armed forces.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)
I appeciate that there is only a very short time before the Front-Bench speeches are due to begin. I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for enabling me to make a brief contribution to the debate.
I commend to the House the report of the conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union at Bonn on disarmament. I shall not go into detail about it because there is not time to do so. It was a co-operative conference which was attended by delegates from throughout the world.
I appreciate the figures on our balance of payments to which the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) referred. I think that West Germany may lose about £10 billion. I look forward to seeing additional tank troops based in south Dorset. My constituency could do with the foreign exchange.
I have something sweet to put around the bitter pill, which involves the sea systems controllerate. About two and a half years ago I became aware that the controllerate in my constituency, at which there are about 650 jobs, was to be centralised somewhere near Bath. That sounded qute a good idea until it was investigated. I discovered that the employees at Bath were rather fed up with their tatty offices, at which there are 2,500 employees, and that they had a lovely plan to persuade the Ministry of Defence to build brand new offices for 4,000 employees. They persuaded a predecessor of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement that if the staff were cut by about 10 per cent. that would pay for the £40 million that the move would cost over 10 years.
That was a ridiculous proposal, yet £40 million has been set aside to increase the defence establishment by building yet more offices at Keynsham. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench to reconsider that arrangement. For about two and a half years reorganisation has been blighted within the organisation. I am sure that the controllerate could work 768 more efficiently. Indeed, a 10 per cent. staff reduction has already been made without moving staff through natural wastage. I do not believe that another three years of blight should be allowed to take place. Reorganisation is overdue and there should be a careful examination of what is happening. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to review the decision.
§ Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)
This could be the most important defence estimates debate for many years because of what is missing from the estimates and not because of what is in them.
We are on the verge of a major transformation of relationships between the states of Europe and between the super-powers, and that is not confined to diplomats. We must recognise that changes in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union—I hope that the debate will reflect this fact mean major changes within the United Kingdom and western Europe generally. The days when military force, or the threat of it, was seen as a credible means of solving international disputes are numbered. The ever-increasing opinion is that western Europe is no longer seriously threatened militarily. It will be increasingly difficult to convince the tax-paying public of Europe of the necessity to vote for defence budgets which are based on the assumption of an imminent attack by the Soviet. Union.
In an interview during "The World at One" on 14 April, Lord Carrington said:the truth of the matter is that if there isn't a threat or a very serious threat, from the East, there is no way in which public opinion is going to continue to support defence spending— and nor should it—on the basis that we have at the moment.Moreover, with an ever-decreasing threat, fewer and fewer young people will be attracted to the military as a career, because the values that it projects and represents are no longer considered appropriate.
Having twice been to the base on the Falkland Islands, I agree with everything that the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) said about the conditions there. They are awful and must be improved. I do not agree—this is only a point of view that is exchanged between us—that the soldiers are happy down there. Many of them dislike living in such conditions and being so far away from Port Stanley. I agree generally with what the hon. Gentleman had to say about the soldiers in the Falklands.
I do not wish to denigrate the Government's review of defence commitments before it is completed. It would be silly to do so. I hope only that the Secretary of State's "Options for Change" will be bold enough to tackle the major issue of civil-military relations. If it is not, the Government will create severe problems for the future, which the Opposition will not be afraid to address when we form the next Government.
As I said in the Army debate earlier this month, we do not like the secrecy surrounding the Government's current defence review. I hope that, when we eventually hear what they have decided, we shall find that their plans include not only consideration of the nitty gritty of forces structure and of procurement decisions but an open, objective assessment of the current and future military threats to Britain.
The Secretary of State acknowledged that the Warsaw pact is moribund as a military organisation, and that was 769 publicly accepted by the NATO defence planning committee at its meeting last month in Brussels, which the Secretary of State attended.
What of an attack by the Soviet Union? Last November, the Washington Post and New York Times published substantial parts of a leaked paper to the Defence Secretary that spelt out a new assessment by the United States intelligence community of the scale and nature of the Soviet threat. It concluded that there is no longer any justification for NATO maintaining its forces on readiness for a short-warning attack. The standard period quoted for a considerable time was 10 days, but the report said that the size and posture of the Warsaw pact forces meant that NATO would now have at least 33 to 44 days' warning of an attack, and possibly much longer.
When I attended Sealink in Anapolis last year—and I know that some Conservative Members were there, too —it was made clear that the major difficulty was getting men, munitions and other goods across the Atlantic, whereas the Soviets could trundle through eastern Europe using the railway system. When I put that to a senior retired admiral, he said that under present conditions he would much prefer to cross the Atlantic than try taking trains through the countries concerned to reach the German border. When I was in Moscow just before the Secretary of State, I put that point to one of the senior Soviet foreign affairs staff, and he said that if he had a choice, he would agree with the retired admiral.
It has been said for a long time that a threat would be posed by tanks coming through central Europe, but that does not take into account the fact that between Moscow and Germany there are some 50 nuclear power stations. The consequences of a tank battle in central Europe with that many nuclear stations around would be incredible.
The leaked report to the United States Defence Secretary addressed the nature of the Soviet threat before any of the cuts announced in Gorbachev's speech to the United Nations in December 1988 took effect, and before any of the massive upheavals in eastern Europe that occurred in 1989. Without the political and logistic support of neighbouring countries, a Soviet attack would be impossible. Many of the countries that Russian troops would have to trundle through have thrown out their old Governments and rejected Soviet domination. None of us regrets that.
According to the latest CIA threat assessment released on 20 April, at least three of the six tank divisions that Gorbachev promised in 1988 to disband have gone, as have three quarters of the 8,500 artillery pieces and 800 aircraft that he promised to cut. Soviet defence spending is in decline and morale is so low among Soviet forces that the USSR would have great difficulty in launching any attack, let alone a short-warning attack.
That leaves the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack. In what possible circumstances would the Soviet Union, which clearly has no intention and, more importantly, little or no capability now to attack western Europe with conventional forces, want to start a nuclear war?
We can now make the transition to a more mature form of international relations where the de facto situation of constant and deepening interaction between east and west 770 in trade, technology, culture and environment may be matched by the abandonment of the xenophobic nuclear chest-beating which has characterised the past 40 years.
The nuclear supporters would say, "But what about instability in the USSR?" The Secretary of State and I were in the Soviet Union at similar times, and we are well aware of what is happening in some of the states. People ask what the Soviet military would do if Gorbachev continued to squeeze them, or, what is worse still, if Yeltsin takes power and attempts greater cuts in the Red Army's resources, power and status. Would not there be a risk of a military coup? Again, we must be realistic. Even if the army took over, what could it do? It could not hope to turn the clock back, and since it could not hope to deliver economic reforms, it is a spent political force.
When I was in Moscow earlier this year I saw the immense economic and social problems which face the Soviets—by gum, they are immense. It is now obvious that the military could not solve those problems. The most that it can do is to delay the process of reductions in Soviet military strength—which it seems that it is doing—by slowing down progress in arms control talks and reducing the pace of some withdrawals from eastern Europe.
Even the CIA has publicly acknowledged that there is no danger of the Soviet Union reverting to the Brezhnev era, when the military's political power was at its height. When the director of the CIA expressed such a view to Congress earlier this year, it was much to the chagrin of United States Defence Secretary Dick Cheney, who was trying to persuade Congress to tone down its defence cuts, as a hedge against the hawks regaining control in the Kremlin. Some notable United States Sovietologists, such as Stephen Meyer at MIT, have recently been predicting that Gorbachev will appoint a civilian as Defence Minister later this year, for the first time in Soviet history. That will be another sign that the chances of the hawks regaining control in the Kremlin are nil.
Therefore, a Soviet attack on western Europe is inconceivable, even as a result of Gorbachev being deposed. What about the risk of nationalist unrest in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union? What if the problems of Lithuania or any of the other states become so great that they lead to widespread civil unrest and military intervention? Could not that lead to war engulfing the whole of Europe?
Even if Gorbachev decided to send troops to quell nationalist unrest, the chances of internal problems spilling over into a wider international conflict are minimal —there would be enough to deal with at home without risking a wider war. In such circumstances, what on earth could NATO do, other than to take diplomatic measures? The only possible contribution it could make would be to act as a symbol of political cohesion between states. Perhaps it could play a part in developing and promoting within Europe the type of political relationships and structures which minimise the risk of nationalist uprisings occurring in the first place, and which maximise the chances of solving problems when they occur.
§ Mr. Boyes
No, I have nearly finished my speech.
That would be a political function for NATO, but the Warsaw pact and NATO are military institutions, within which military solutions to political problems have always predominated. We need to make a transition to forms of 771 international politics in Europe that are not predicated on the ever-present threat of unleashing mass destruction. As long as we feel that we cannot trust each other, our attempts to solve serious political problems will always be based on threats of violence. If the institutions that we use to seek solutions are founded on the concept of political coercion by threatening violence, we shall have narrowed the options from the start. We are now approaching a time when there is no longer any role for military force in Europe, at least in the countries west of the Soviet border. Therefore, a symbolic display is fast becoming an empty gesture.
The Secretary of State said some kind words about the forces, which I endorse. We want the best trained forces with the most up-to-date equipment to meet the reality of any threat in the new and ever-developing situation. Fortunately, for those such as myself who are grandfathers, I now believe that our grandchildren will grow up in a Europe of peace and not conflict.
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Alan Clark)
What has made this debate particularly interesting has been the broad scope of contributions. However, I was relieved and disappointed that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was unable to make one of his lively and original contributions. The critical damage that he did to my career with the praise that he heaped on me during the Air Force debate was something that I hoped would not be repeated.
This debate has been utterly different from its predecessors in its content and setting. I quote:We are entering a new period in relations between east and west."—[Official Report, 12 June 1990, Vol. 174, c. 137.]In terms of military effectiveness and cohesion … the Warsaw Pact is effectively defunct now.We no longer think of them"—the countries of eastern Europe—as potential enemies or as part of a wider threat to our way of life".If anyone thinks that that is another example of the political recklessness of which I am so often, but so unjustly accused, let me say that I was quoting from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and again from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
The changing situation has had three consequences. There is a public expectation that expenditure appropriate to—and tolerated during—a higher level of tension is no longer required; that force deployment, structure and weapons procurement conceived in a virtually unaltered context for the past 45 years should now be changed; and that close consultation with our allies in NATO is required to ensure that such changes are effected in an harmonious manner that safeguards alliance cohesion. It is in reconciling those three elements that close attention, patient and constructive thought and a wide degree of consultation are necessary.
Of course I understand that the press is impatient as it must subsist on a day-to-day feed of information which it tends to draw mainly from its colleagues' clippings. For instance, I read at the weekend that the service chiefs—whatever that means—are calling not for my resignation but for my dismissal on the grounds that they disagree with what I was allegedly proposing and that they have not seen a report that I have allegedly written. I assume that the service chiefs are honourable men; at no time has any 772 of them expressed any dissent with what I proposed or asked to see the report that I wrote. Against that background, I can only assume that it would have been highly dishonourable of them to have briefed the press, so I am reinforced in my view that that piece in the press was pure invention.
§ Mr. Clark
I shall cope with interventions in a little while, but for the moment I should proceed.
This critically important subject has not only been widely debated in this place. We have had contributions from such distinguished academics as Sir Michael Howard, Professor Laurie Freedman and former serving officers such as Sir Julian Thompson. Today we have had a number of varied and constructive contributions from both sides of the House.
My right hon. Friend said that I would tell the House about two procurement decisions immediately that relate to Tornado aircraft and the EH101. As regards the EH101, it is more than ever important that the contractual arrangements are put on a sounder basis. Work that has been in hand to prepare a new overall performance specification for the helicopter has now been completed. We plan to invite tenders next month for the award of a prime contract for the completion of development and initial production of a Royal Navy variant.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) looks alert and poised, but I shall not give way to him, as he has not been in the Chamber for long.
The specification against which we shall invite tenders calls for the production aircraft to be fitted with the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM 322 engine to provide the extra power needed for the aircraft to fulfil its mission effectively. Work on integrating that engine in a development aircraft will now proceed.
§ Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)
I welcome my hon. Friend's important announcement, which is in the national interest as well as that of my constituents, and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) is in his place to hear it.
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that this engine, which was funded by his Department's support for a high-lift and heavy-lift capability, was on test with the American air force about three years ago? It has taken all this time to give it evaluation and certification. Without doubt the Australians did not wish to buy a unique engine, and therefore we possibly lost their order of 170 engines. We also lost the follow-on order to the Saudis of 200 engines. My hon. Friend's announcement, however, means that we will stand a good chance of winning the Canadian order for some 180 engines. Equally, we can hope to win the Italian order for 170 engines. It is a good announcement, but I wish that it had come a lot earlier, as that would have benefited British industry.
§ Mr. Clark
I appreciate my hon. Friend's views, and I am grateful for his welcome for my announcement. I am certain that the engine is right for this aircraft.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that, in constructing the short-term measures and in the continuing scrutiny of new commitments, we have used the emerging picture from the options exercise as a yardstick against which to assess individual issues. An example is the 773 eighth batch of Tornado orders. At present, I cannot foresee a place for additional Tornado aircraft in the programme. I have therefore decided not to authorise further work on that order.
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)
What consultations has my hon. Friend had, or will he have, with British Aerospace about the way in which his announcement will be handled? Can he give some reassurance to the thousands of British Aerospace workers in Lancashire who will be concerned about the implications of his announcement for future projects such as the European fighter aircraft?
§ Mr. Clark
I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are in almost continuous consultation with British Aerospace. As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), largely thanks to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in a series of discussions with our German counterparts, the future of that aircraft is assured throughout its development phase.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) made a number of points. The one that is most immediately relevant related to the main battle tank order. In spite of the highly personal view of the hon. Member for Linlithgow that there was no future for the main battle tank, which he based on his experience of serving in armoured vehicles 40 years ago, the combined view of both east and west staff is that there is a continuing demand for a main battle tank. The hon. Member for Clackmannan drew the attention of the House to the question of unit costs, which are likely to rise as numbers in the order fall. We are certainly aware of that and it is a factor in our discussions with Vickers. However, it is not yet certain that Vickers will win the competition, although it is proceeding through its various evaluation stages most successfully. We are well aware of where the thresholds exist and they will certainly be borne in mind should any procurement order result.
I recognise the wider issue of putting in place some imprecise Government machinery to cover manufacturers which are disappointed at not winning competitions and getting orders as a somewhat outdated socialist nostrum which the countries of eastern Europe are busily discarding. It certainly is not my role to second-guess the commercial judgment of those companies which, as has been widely recognised in speeches by hon. Members from both sides of the House, deploy very highly skilled work forces for whose labour and skills there is a high demand in civilian companies. How they decide to deploy those skills, if they have to shift from one form of production to another, is a matter which I am perfectly prepared to leave to their commercial judgment.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) always makes entertaining speeches. He tripped down memory lane quite extensively and reminded us several times of his book, "Our Guilty Men". When he spoke about nuclear proliferation, he displayed that special engaging Fabian naivety that is almost extinct except in elderly socialists of his generation. He believes that nuclear proliferation could be restrained by treaty, by a piece of paper indistinguishable other than at the closest range from the one that Mr. Chamberlain waved when he got off the aircraft in 1938 and for which the right hon. Gentleman in his book glibly and tendentiously blamed 774 the Conservative party. If a piece of paper could not prevent Germany from invading Poland and Czechoslovakia, why would a piece of paper prevent other powers from acquiring nuclear technology if they so wished? When my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) quite properly responded to a question about what would happen if a united Germany ever resumed certain activities by saying that it would be restrained by the 1954 treaty, all the Opposition Members burst out laughing, saying that treaties do not count for anything. Treaties do not count for anything when Opposition Members do not want them to, but they pin their beliefs on the non-proliferation treaty as a measure which will lead to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Opposition Members choose to ignore the fact that there are two categories of signatories to the nonproliferation treaty. Britain is among those signatories that already hold nuclear weapons and scrupulously and at all time abides by the provisions which prevent us from disseminating and imparting knowledge of how to construct nuclear weapons to parties other than those which already have the technology.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) made a radical and constructive speech emphasising the importance of the Western European Union. That organisation may grow in stature and importance. Many of the issues that he raised are more properly a matter for a wider debate on foreign affairs rather than one on the defence estimates. However, he made an important point when he touched upon the gradation of nuclear response, which is absolutely fundamental to rejecting the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) who, if he is not the leader of the Liberal party, certainly should be—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Yeovil bolted from the Chamber to catch the last train to Yeovil. I should have held him at bay and made him miss his train.
I get the feeling that the Labour party is still deeply uncomfortable about defence. It wants to avoid, at all costs, defence being effective. Its ideal is a lightly armed gendarmerie, staffed by graduates in social studies, that is answerable to an international agency, or, more sinister, a militia of miner vigilantes.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.