HC Deb 02 June 1992 vol 208 cc692-4
5. Mr. Viggers

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

Mr. Rifkind

"Options for Change" is a necessary reform which has its parallels in all NATO countries as well as in those of the former Warsaw pact. A number of announcements have already been made about the implementation of our proposals; I will continue to keep the House fully informed of progress.

Mr. Viggers

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Does he recall that when the Select Committee on Defence examined the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1991 it considered a range of defence procurement projects and concluded that if all the projects were to go ahead, that would lead to what the Select Committee called "a strikingly well-equipped Army"? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that procurement is now going ahead, confirming the Government's claim that although the armed forces will be smaller, they will be more flexible and better equipped? Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept—this concerns many people in my constituency who are armed forces personnel—that the armed forces continue to provide an excellent career opportunity?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct. The Select Committee referred to the fact that the Army should have available to it proper equipment of a high quality and it mentioned the Challenger tanks for the Royal Armoured Corps, armoured personnel carriers and other forms of equipment, all of which are at various stages of implementation. I warmly endorse my hon. Friend's final comment that a career in the armed forces still offers superb opportunities and can be a source of considerable fulfilment for the men and women coming forward to serve in the forces now.

Sir David Steel

A few moments ago the Secretary of State drew a proper distinction between peacekeeping forces and peace enforcing forces. Is he aware that hon. Members are concerned about the lack of capacity under the "Options for Change" scheme to engage in future peace enforcement activities, which is a crucial role for this country as a permanent member of the Security Council?

Mr. Rifkind

I hear the right hon. Gentleman's point. I remind him that at present there are 1,200 British forces involved in various United Nations peacekeeping forces in Croatia and Cyprus; they will also be in Cambodia and several other countries. I think that we have demonstrated our commitment to the United Nations and our ability to respond to reasonable requests from that body.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many of us who supported the "Options for Change" decision in the last Parliament, although we were well aware that we were cutting very close to the bone, would not be prepared to back any further cuts that might be suggested by the Treasury? Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that he has considerable support on the Conservative Benches for a bit of early firing in that direction?

Mr. Rifkind

I am naturally delighted to hear what my hon. Friend says. I accept his remarks both in the spirit and in the letter.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I welcome the Secretary of State's assurance that he will keep us informed of changes. When will he make a statement about the reorganisation of the medical reserves in the Territorial Army, bearing in mind the need to keep a strong medical team in the light of our experiences in the Gulf preparation and in the ensuring conflict?

Mr. Rifkind

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a date at present, but perhaps I may keep him fully informed as soon as that information is available.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is continuing widespread concern at the cuts in the infantry? Will he look again at that? Does he appreciate that the concern would be considerably reduced in Staffordshire if he reprieved the Staffordshire regiment?

Mr. Rifkind

I am, of course, aware that concern has been expressed in a number of different quarters. I acknowledge that it is very important to ensure that future force levels will be adequate to the tasks that we ask the services to undertake. I intend to keep that requirement firmly in mind.

Forward to