HC Deb 15 October 1991 vol 196 cc143-5
12. Mr. John Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received on his plans for the restructuring of the British Army.

13. Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his "Options for Change" programme.

Mr. Tom King

I have received numerous representations on the plans set out in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" and in the White Paper "Britain's Army for the 90s".

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a reduction in manpower in our armed forces places even greater importance on the quality of training and equipment to allow us to maintain a truly effective fighting force? Does he also agree that the existence of fewer forces in the infantry places greater importance—not less— on the future of the Territorial Army? Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the TA will be maintained?

Mr. King

I can certainly give the assurance that we shall seek to maintain a very effective Territorial Army. Consultation is taking place at present and I hope that we shall have more news well before the end of the year.

My hon. Friend's point about training and equipment is absolutely correct. Of course training and equipment are expensive and substantial funds are involved. We have looked carefully at the balance between numbers and equipment and that has been a very important consideration. We know that by our plans Britain's defence can be secured and that Labour's proposals for further cuts in defence expenditure, set out in the amendment that we shall be debating, will put the defence of our country at risk.

Mr. David Nicholson

Given the importance of supporting a flexible and mobile response, is my right hon. Friend aware that, in Somerset, there is a welcome for his recent order of the anti-submarine helicopter from Westland and an expectation that he will ensure that the Royal Marines and the Light Infantry are properly supported and equipped?

Mr. King

Having some distant knowledge of that county myself, I can certainly echo my hon. Friend's remarks. Moreover, my hon. Friend knows that no fewer than 350 contractors across the country will be involved in the order for the Westland helicopter. That underlines my point about our being prepared to invest in the defence of our country. We are prepared to do that. The Opposition call for further cuts, yet pretend to support every equipment purchase. That is blind hypocrisy on their part because they know that they could not afford it.

Mr. Turner

In view of the massive petition that was presented to Parliament yesterday on behalf of the Staffords, and in view of the powerful case that they have advanced, will the Secretary of State please reconsider his unpopular decision? I ask that on behalf of all the people of Staffordshire and the west midlands—[HON. MEMBERS: "And Cheshire"]—Yes, and Cheshire.

Mr. King

I obviously regret that the famous traditions of any regiment are affected by the changes, but they are inevitable in the proposals that we have announced. The hon. Gentleman had better have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench, because barely two weeks ago he announced that he thought that the Government's plans to reduce British troop levels in Germany did not go far enough and that Labour would consider a much smaller presence. The hon. Gentleman may believe that he would have a better chance under a Labour Government, but it is clear that it is Labour's policy that there should be fewer regiments.

Dr. Reid

Can the Secretary of State tell us what proportion of regular troops he envisages will constitute our contribution to the rapid reaction force? Can he confirm reports that the British contribution to the rapid reaction force may be as low as 60 per cent. of regulars? If it is as low as that, was that explained to our allies in NATO when we bid for the leadership of the rapid reaction force?

Mr. King

As we said yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will give those figures when he replies to the debate tonight. However, I noticed that the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) did not deny newspaper reports that his colleague, the hon. Member for Clackmannan, has called for bigger reductions in the British Army. The House can see for itself the hypocrisy of pretending to criticise our plans when Labour intends to go further.

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