HC Deb 30 October 1990 vol 178 cc857-9
7. Mr. Cran

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what reassessment has been made of the options outlined in his recent defence review, in the light of developments in the Gulf.

Mr. Tom King

I have not reassessed my proposals in my statement on "Options for Change", since those proposals specifically addressed the need to retain sufficient defences to be able still to respond flexibly and effectively to new and unexpected threats.

Mr. Cran

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the international milieu is dangerous, that it has been in the past, and that it will be again in the future? Does he further agree that those who advocate making maximum use of the so-called peace dividend should sit back and consider what the ramifications may be in the future? It may well be that we would not be able to react in the same way as we have to the gangsterism in Kuwait. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend give a commitment to the House that he will fully consult service chiefs on any cuts that may be considered in the future?

Mr. King

I can certainly give that assurance to my hon. Friend. On 25 July I said: We shall therefore continue to need a robust defence capability as our insurance against the unexpected. I also said that the abilities and professionalism of our armed forces are not something that can be lightly discarded and then easily recalled when they may suddenly be needed."—[Official Report, 25 July 1990; Vol. 177, c. 470–72.] Anyone who has watched the skill and professionalism of the deployment to the Gulf of the seventh armoured brigade, of the Tornado and Jaguar squadrons and of the Royal Navy understands exactly what that means, and that is why this party and this Government will stand for the defence of this country, and make adequate provision to ensure that if those forces are needed they will go there properly trained and properly equipped.

Dr. Reid

When does the Secretary of State expect to be able to give us more information than hitherto on the implications of "Options for Change" for NATO strategy? What changes will there be to forward defence as a result of "Options for Change"?

Mr. King

As was made clear at the NATO summit, there will clearly be scope for change in forward defence, with greater mobility and greater flexibility likely to feature as the emerging strategy, which is under discussion at the moment within NATO, following the London summit. I shall not repeat it all to the House, but I set out the pillars on which the NATO summit agreed that the review should continue. Certainly there will be scope for change. Discussions are taking place now to see how we can adapt most effectively to the new situation while ensuring that we maintain strong and credible defence in Europe.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the lessons of the Gulf that comes through clearly is the need for Royal Air Force pilots to fly low and fast and to be able to do so in operational conditions at short notice? Is not that one lesson that we should never forget?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend is accurately aware of the needs of the Royal Air Force. What he says is true. Part of the capability of the Tornado GR1 fleet very much depends on its ability to fly low and to survive. It is essential, therefore, that if the fleet is asked to do that, it should have had adequate opportunity to train for it.

Mr. O'Neill

When will the Secretary of State produce the detailed figures that were so evidently missing from his 25 July statement? Does he agree that it is not good enough just to sit back after making that statement—that he has to anticipate what is likely to happen now that the conventional forces in Europe agreement is almost signed? Will there be a second statement before too long, which will include the figures and state what further defence cuts the Government think should be made further into the 1990s?

Mr. King

That is a bit rich. I remember that the hon. Gentleman told me at the time that he was surprised by how detailed my 25 July statement was. The work is going ahead. I shall give the hon. Gentleman a copy of what I said at the time. It spells out precisely what we regard as the Royal Navy's requirements in terms of numbers of frigates, the Trident submarine fleet, minehunters and hunter-killer submarines. I went right through the list. I shall not weary the House with in now; it is all in Hansard. That work is goind ahead without, I am pleased to say, amendment, even in the light of the new developments that we face. We put forward those proposals to ensure that the Royal Navy's requirements are met. That has to be compared with the Opposition's stance. Twice at their party conferences they have approved expenditure plans that would make quite impossible the present support that we are giving to the allied effort in the Gulf.

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