HC Deb 05 July 1993 vol 228 cc19-34 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

The House will be aware that every year the Government publish a Defence White Paper, which sets out their policy and plans for the future and describes the activities of the armed forces in the Minister of Defence. This year's White Paper, called "Defending our Future", is published today. We are also publishing the United Kingdom defence statistics for 1993, and a separate defence statistics bulletin showing expenditure on research and development.

I have taken the unusual step of announcing publication through a statement in the House because, although the White Paper includes the traditional information, I believe that the approach that we have taken in "Defending our Future" is a new departure, and that much of the material in it is particularly significant.

That applies in two respects. First, "Defending our Future" reports on the adjustments to the "Options for Change" force structure, taking into account recent changes in the international situation, and presents that force structure as an integrated whole.

Secondly, it then shows, in a way which has never been attempted before, how each of the elements of our armed forces can be matched to the various tasks which we require the armed forces to carry out. That matching of forces to tasks is crucial. The two must be in balance if we are to avoid wastefulness on the one hand and overstretch on the other. I believe that the analysis which we set out, which is an entirely new and ground-breaking approach, shows that that balance is being achieved.

The force levels of the armed forces are kept under constant review. We are regularly analysing the international situation, evaluating the threats which we face, and making sure that we have the right mix of forces to meet that threat. It is a continuous process. It is not something that we do every year, stopping our planning while we do it. Since last year's defence White Paper, we have continued that process of adjustment. Our conclusions are set out in detail in "Defending our Future". This afternoon I will describe the most important elements of what we are proposing.

The international situation continues to change, and in a number of very important respects the security of the United Kingdom has been enhanced in the past two years. In certain other areas there have been new demands on our armed forces. "Defending our Future" addresses both considerations.

I refer first to the improvements in our security and the implications for our force structure. Russia remains the largest European military power and it retains significant forces for its own defence; but it is also well disposed to the United Kingdom, its offensive capability has dramatically reduced, its equipment serviceability has deteriorated, and its defence industry is in decline. Since 1991, the Soviet Union has ceased to exist and Russian forces have now largely withdrawn from Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states as well as from eastern Europe. At the same time, we have made great progress in establishing mutual trust with our former enemies.

That means that a major external threat is even more unli8kely to re-emerge in the foreseeable future than seemed likely in 1991, and this makes it sensible for us to make some reductions in the levels of relevant forces that were particularly aimed at countering the Soviet threat. Equally, the changed strategic situation has demanded that we confirm a series of enhancements to our capability in other areas. Let me begin with the reductions.

For the Royal Navy, the rapid decline in the size and operational activity of the former Soviet submarine fleet means that there is no longer the same need to sustain the current level of anti-submarine operations in the north Atlantic; nor is there the same need to patrol the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom gap.

We therefore plan to reduce the submarine fleet to 12 SSNs and to withdraw the Upholder class of four conventional submarines from service by 1995. We are examining the relative merits of their sale, lease, or storage. The reduced risk in the north Atlantic also means that the surface fleet can meet its tasks in peace and war, including our contribution to NATO, with a force of about 35 destroyers and frigates.

For the Army, we have decided that our requirement for indirect fire anti-armoured weapon can best be met through procurement of an air-launched weapon. Already, the United States and Germany have withdrawn from the MLRS 3 collaborative programme, and we will follow them at the end of the current phase.

For the Royal Air Force, the reduced threat of air attack to the United Kingdom means that a force of 100 Tornado F3 fighters will be fully capable of defending the United Kingdom and meeting our commitments to NATO's reaction forces. This is a reduction of 13 aircraft, and the force will be reorganised into six squadrons rather than seven. There will be no change in the number of Tornado GR1 aircraft.

We have also decided that, for similar reasons, there is no short-term requirement for a medium surface-to-air missile, but there is likely to be a longer term need and we are continuing our studies into those options. There is a clear operational justification for each of those reductions, which otherwise would not have been agreed.

I turn now to the other side of the picture—the enhancements to our current force structure that are appropriate to respond to new challenges and potential threats. The past 12 months have shown an increase in the number of operations, both in Europe and the wider world, in which our armed forces might be involved in conflict.

There is a need to ensure maximum flexibility and mobility for our armed forces in the modern world. In the White Paper we present measures that will improve our overall capability to respond to the changing situation, some of which have recently been announced to the House.

For the Royal Navy, we recently announced procurement of a helicopter carrier which will enter service later in the decade and which will significantly enhance our amphibious capability. No such dedicated carrier has been available to the Royal Navy since 1985. We are also proceeding with project definition of the class of ships to replace HMS Fearless and Intrepid.

For the Army, I recently announced an increase in the planned size of the infantry to take account of our new commitments, and our intention to retain two additional battalions and increase front-line strength by 5,000. We are also considering how best to equip the Army's six Challenger I regiments, over and above the purchase of 127 Challenger 2 tanks which we have already announced. I will make a further announcement in due course.

I am able to announce today that we are placing an order worth some £75 million for over 400 new medium load carrier vehicles. That will enable us to deliver ammunition quickly to forward locations in support of our new AS90 self-propelled howitzers, and provides a good example of the practical steps we are taking to enhance the mobility and flexibility of our forces. We have also invited tenders for a future attack helicopter, which will substantially enhance the Army's anti-armour capability.

For the Royal Air Force, "Defending our Future" confirms plans to replace or refurbish part of the Hercules transport aircraft fleet. We also intend to procure a substantial number of additional support helicopters to increase the flexibility and mobility of our armed forces. The Eurofighter 2000 is now secure, and will be the cornerstone of the RAF capability in the future, and we have plans to upgrade the Tornado GR1's operational capability.

Those adjustments, taken together, represent a shift in the overall capability of our forces. We are reducing capability where the threat to the United Kingdom has itself been significantly reduced. We are gaining capability in those areas where we believe we will be required to act. Changes to particular capability areas need therefore to be seen in the context of the whole programme, and our security policy objective.

For example, our plans to reduce anti-submarine and air defence capabilities must be viewed alongside improvements in areas such as Army manpower, the new helicopter carrier, armour and anti-armour, and air transport helicopters—all key elements of the mobile, flexible and well equipped forces which we shall need for our future security needs. Choices always have to be made. It is my view, and that of the chiefs of staff, that we have made the right choices to enable us to face up to the challenges which confront us.

I turn now to the major innovation set out in "Defending our Future". I mentioned at the beginning of my statement the new analysis that we have undertaken of the way in which our armed forces carry out their commitments. "Defending our Future" includes unprecedented detail about the rationale for our current and planned force structures and activities.

During the cold war, defence planners dealt with a relatively simple equation, one side of which was the monolithic threat from the east. In the post-cold-war world, that certainty has vanished to be replaced by a broad spectrum of risk and uncertainty. The defence planner needs more sophisticated tools to ensure that the programme really is providing what such a fluid strategic setting demands.

We have therefore identified broad policy areas within each of the defence roles set out in last year's statement, and within each of those the specific military tasks, 50 in number, which the armed forces are required to undertake. We have then identified with some precision the force elements—for example, the number of infantry battalions or frigates or aircraft—required to meet each task.

All that is set out, in full, in the White Paper. It gives Parliament and the public an insight we have not had before into the purposes for which we use all the elements of our armed forces. It highlights the balance which currently exists between commitments and resources. It also shows clearly how changes—for example, a decision to take on a new United Nations commitment or the approaching obsolescence of an item of equipment—may affect the detail of the programme. There are many valuable conclusions to be drawn from the analysis. Let me give a few general examples.

First, our analysis has also shown us how our defence needs are influenced by national commitments unique to the United Kingdom. Most of our European partners do not have commitments analogous to our responsibilities in Northern Ireland and to our dependent territories; nor, except for France, do our European allies maintain a national nuclear deterrent. The cost of those activities amounts to more than £3 billion a year. That has to be borne in mind when comparisons are made between levels of defence spending.

Secondly, the analysis also shows the value of NATO, and the benefits of sharing the financial burden of our collective security of the defence of Europe. If NATO disappeared and we had to insure on a purely national basis against major external threat, we would almost certainly have to spend a great deal more money than we currently do.

Thirdly, another valuable insight is the overlap between the types of forces needed for the defence of Europe and the types of forces needed to contribute to our wider security interests—through United Nations operations, for example. The kind of mobile, flexible, well equipped and trained forces, with true war-fighting capabilities, that we provide for our NATO commitments have proved equally suited to operations in the Gulf and in Bosnia—the Tornado and Sentry aircraft and the Warrior armoured personnel carrier, for example.

But the most significant overall conclusion is that the planned force structure is capable of meeting all the tasks we require of it. At the same time, we must, of course, ensure that its high quality of manpower, equipment and support is mantained; and I have touched on a number of the major items in our foward programme that will help us to do so. We must also watch carefully to ensure that we maintain the balance we have achieved between our commitments, our force levels, and the resources devoted to defence. Again the analysis will help us to do so.

I do not expect the House to comment in detail on this material today—but I hope, by publishing this analysis, that our defence debates will be even better informed than in the past.

"Defending Our Future" is a comprehensive account of the Government's defence policy. It rightly describes the tasks of the armed forces and the civil servants in the Ministry of Defence. I pay tribute to the outstanding way in which they carry out their duties. It also breaks major new ground in terms of open government. Never before have commentators on defence issues has such access to the defence planner's perspective. I hope that the House will understand and appreciate the seriousness of this endeavour, and I commend it to the House.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

I thank the Secretary of State for his "Statement on the Defence Estimates" and for accepting the argument, which the Labour party has advanced over the years, that more information on planning in the armed forces should be available to us. We do indeed appreciate this—especially the Secretary of State's acknowledgement of the role that our forces will have to play under the aegis of the United Nations. Opposition Members take this matter very seriously. Indeed, it is included in the Labour party's constitution.

However, what the Secretary of State has announced is merely a small step, and is in no way a substitute for a full defence review, which would enable an assessment of the threats and the challenges to Britain's security to be made, so that our armed forces could be reshaped accordingly.

The Government's statement is long on presentation, but short on commitment; long on planning, but short on strategy. We have had fine words, but where's the beef? In reality, there will be increased demands on our armed forces, but they will have fewer tanks, fewer ships and fewer men and women. Nothing has changed: the overstretch will go on.

When will the Secretary of State shake off his indecision and take some decisions? When, for example, will he confirm that he has not yet made up his mind on a new nuclear bomb for the RAF? Does he not realise that he will have to cancel this eventually? Why cannot he do so now and save £3 billion?

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm also that he cannot make up his mind about the decision concerning Challenger 2 tanks? We need to know whether he intends to upgrade Challenger I or replace it with Challenger 2.

Why cannot the Secretary of State make up his mind about support helicopters? Is he not aware that our armed forces are desperately short of helicopters? Does he not recall that one of his predecessors, as long ago as 1987, announced the Government's intention to place an order for 25 EH101 support helicopters? After six years, is the Secretary of State incapable of making a decision?

What about our conventional submarines? How and why are the four Upholder class submarines to be disposed of, even though they cost us almost £1 billion to complete and are not yet in service?

These are questions to which we need answers. We need decisions. Today was decision day for the Secretary of State, but we have not had decisions.

The Secretary of State referred to the need for a non-proliferation treaty and for a comprehensive test ban. Will he now join Labour in welcoming President Clinton's wise decision, over the weekend, to extend the ban on nuclear testing? Why is the right hon. and learned Gentleman being so churlish? Does he not accept that this is a major step towards renewal of the non-proliferation treaty in 1995? Will not the Government welcome it?

Why does the Secretary of State treat the defence workers of Britain in such a cavalier and callous manner? Does he not appreciate that more than 100,000 of them have lost their jobs? The right hon. and learned Gentleman doe not seem to care about them. Why does he persist in refusing to establish a defence diversification agency, which could help in the transition from military to civilian jobs? These skills are too valuable for the nation to lose.

The Opposition accept that there is a case for reducing the amount that we spend on defence. With the end of the cold war, virtually every country in the world is doing so. But it must be done with management and planning, and the criteria must be those of security and defence, and not simply demands from the Treasury, which are what the Government have adopted as their criteria. Strategy and savings can go hand in hand, but they must be balanced.

Today, we have had "Options for Change" mark 2. "Options for Change" mark I cut service manpower and today we have had cuts in equipment. When are we to expect mark 3, which will cut commitments?

The Secretary of State talks of "adjustments", but the adjustments that he has discussed today are no substitute for a full-scale defence review. The Conservatives have got Britain's defence into such a mess because they persist in that folly. It will remain in a mess until we have a full defence review.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) asked me about Challenger tanks, support helicopters and submarines. He will appreciate the fact that, if Labour's policy of a £6 billion reduction in defence spending were implemented, there would be none of any of those for the armed forces, now or at any time in the future. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on that fact.

On Challenger tanks, the various rumours and reports about possible reductions in the number of armoured regiments or armoured reconnaissance regiments are incorrect. We have no proposals to make any reductions in the number of armoured regiments or armoured reconnaissance regiments. We are considering the best way to meet the modern requirements, in terms of their tanks, of those regiments.

We have reviewed the question of support helicopters and can confirm that there is an enhanced requirement for them to ensure mobility and flexibility for the Army's needs. I hope to make a fairly early announcement on precisely how we intend to implement that matter. We have said in the White Paper that we are considering options such as the sale, lease or storage of the Upholder submarines, and that will be taken forward.

The hon. Gentleman asked about nuclear tests in the light of President Clinton's announcement. Historically, this country tests less than any other nuclear power. We have carried out an average of one test a year, which is far fewer than France, the United States, Russia or China. Only with testing can one ensure the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons. If testing is not to continue, it will be necessary to develop computer modelling and simulation techniques but we cannot yet be certain that those methods will provide the information available from underground testing. Clearly, that needs further detailed consideration.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman came up with his usual call for a defence review, which masks the bareness, the nudity, of Labour party policy. Whenever the House asks the Labour party how much it thinks should be spent on defence, we are told that that will be considered by a defence review. When we ask the Labour party how many battalions, frigates or aircraft are required by the armed forces, we are told that that will be the subject of a defence review. When we ask what the commitments of the armed forces should be, we are told that that should be the responsibility of a defence review.

The hon. Gentleman's view and that of the Liberal party remind me of a remark that Voltaire once made—that the Opposition are like a eunuch, knowing what they want to do but not know how to do it.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

I welcome the new format of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has produced today. I particularly welcome the new way in which the size and structure of the forces are linked to the Government's commitments, internationally and to defend our own country.

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that the Defence Select Committee feels that, in some aspects, our forces are overstretched at the present level of commitment, and we are looking for improvements to be made in specific areas. However, he is absolutely right to make that specific statement linking the two, and I look forward in future to ensuring that commitments do not outstretch resources.

In that context, I see no prospect of our being able to cut the commitments that the Government face in the short or long term to secure our country's future. That being so, it must follow that the Treasury can make no further cuts in resources to the funds made available to the Ministry of Defence. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will convey the feeling of myself, the Defence Select Committee and many of my colleagues to that effect.

Mr. Rifkind

I thank my hon. Friend for the welcome that he gave to the White Paper's general presentation. There has been some incorrect speculation in the press, and I can confirm that the resources available to the Ministry of Defence are, and continue to be, those announced in the public expenditure survey last year. Contrary to some suggestions in the press, no further reduction has been imposed on the Ministry of Defence.

It is right firmly to link resources, commitments and the other ways in which the armed forces carry out their requirements. Our commitments in some sectors have been reducing. Over the past year, there has been a reduction in our military presence in Cyprus, and we are in the process of reducing our military presence in Hong Kong. We have also indicated our intention to withdraw from Belize. There have been a number of such reductions. However, the overall link between resources and commitments must remain the test against which we judge any proposed changes in capabilities or assets for the armed forces.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I wish that the Chancellor had made this statement, as his fingerprints are all over the document which we have yet to see. The Secretary of State says that the White Paper breaks new ground, but that ground was broken in the 1920s and 1930s, when British forces were run down to a level that ultimately proved to be dangerous.

I hope that the Secretary of State's White Paper reflects the dangerous environment in which we live, and that he has provided adequate forces to meet all contingencies. If the Royal Navy found it difficult to meet its commitments with "about 50", how will it meet its commitments with about 30 frigates and destroyers? The right hon. and learned Gentleman will go down in history as the Secretary of State responsible for reducing the Royal Navy to the lowest number of capital ships—ships of the line—since 1689.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman's final comment is historically inaccurate. If he studies the records, he will discover that, in the 1820s, after the Napoleonic wars, ships of the line were reduced from 98 to, I think, 23—a figure far lower than the Royal Navy's current or expected strength.

The real test that must be applied involves the tasks expected of the Royal Navy. The hon. Gentleman will know from my earlier remarks that we believe it right to reduce the number of submarines and frigates because of the dramatic reduction in the threat previously posed by the Soviet naval forces. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of defence matters, would seriously question that there has been dramatic reduction of potential naval threat from Russia or the former Soviet Union. That is the operational basis on which the changes have been made.

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to know how the Royal Navy is to carry out its current commitments with the frigate/destroyer fleet of about 35, he has merely to read the White Paper, which says exactly how that will be done.

Mr. Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the fact that the White Paper shows that our forces are aligned with our commitments is welcome? However, does he also accept that the scales are pretty finely balanced, which should make him reluctant to take on new commitments? My right hon. and learned Friend should constantly review where we might lose commitments, including Northern Ireland.

Mr. Rifkind

My right hon. Friend is right to say that there is not a lot of unused capacity in the armed forces. The White Paper shows that, as has always been the case, our armed forces carry out many tasks on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, and we do not have forces dedicated to unexpected contingencies or crises. All our forces which might be used in a crisis are used for other roles in peacetime. That is right and proper, and is the policy carried out by every other country. It is important that that point should be understood.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's literary reference is well taken, as there is more than a hint of Dr. Pangloss about himself.

The White Paper tells us two things. The first is that there is still no clear overall political judgment by the Government of what the United Kingdom's military role should be as a middle-ranking power. Secondly, if we are to have access to capability and to maintain our security, is not that most likely to be done through far greater military and political integration in NATO and the European Community as part of the integrated defence policy that the Maastricht treaty clearly contemplated?

Mr. Rifkind

On the hon. and learned Gentleman's opening comment, it is better to be candid with the House than to seek to avoid the consequences of our policy. That is what the hon. and learned Gentleman does, because he knows that the Liberal party called for a 50 per cent. reduction in our defence forces.

Mr. Menzies Campbell


Mr. Rifkind

Yes, the hon. and learned Gentleman is right—it was a rubbish policy. That is why he is so embarrassed by it.

He also has the nerve to call for political and military integration within NATO. Where has the hon. and learned Gentleman been for the past 40 years? The United Kingdom defence forces could hardly be more integrated within NATO than they are at present.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on producing a much improved defence White Paper. We all recognise that it is difficult to accept change and to match resources to changing commitments. However, many of us on this side of the House, while understanding the difficulty of accepting change, recognise that we are fully stretched. We do not want my right hon. and learned Friend to return to the House next year to say that, after making agreed changes to meet new commitments, or changes in commitments, he has to announce further cuts.

Mr. Rifkind

I acknowledge my hon. Friend's comments, and he is right to emphasise that commitments and resources must remain closely interlinked. We will continue to seek more value for money through improvements in efficiency and other such changes. However, there is inevitably a limit to that which can be achieved by that means. Where that can be achieved, it is well worth pursuing.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

The Secretary of State deserves our thanks at least for more information, but he receives some minus points for the way that it has been presented.

For example, the right hon. and learned Gentleman managed to include in the active fleet eight, not six, type 23 frigates, which could not be used on the Armilla patrol anyway. He has managed to include also Fearless as an assault ship, which could not put to sea tomorrow if we had a major war on our hands. From my brief reading of the White Paper, the Secretary of State seems to have included some questionable assets—but I assure him that I shall be studying it in much more detail.

Mr. Rifkind

It would be fairly absurd not to make any reference to ships currently in refit as assets available to the Royal Navy. Of course they are not available when they are in refit, but when one is determining total numbers, one takes into account the fact that refits are required for every ship at some time in its life.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his statement will come as a bitter disappointment to journalists who wrote about defence cuts before they knew the facts? In fact, there are no cuts in resources in the statement.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we need no lectures on defence from the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, both of which are dedicated to dangerously damaging cuts? When allocating resources, will my right hon. and learned Friend remember always that 95 per cent. of our trade goes by sea, and that, however capable the Royal Navy's shipping units may be, we need sufficient units to be credible in defending our trading interests?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree. The Royal Navy will remain, after the United States navy, probably the most effective naval force in the world. It is a powerful force in terms not only of its ships and assets but of the naval skills and experience of those who man those ships. The Royal Navy performs a number of roles in the national interest, and I believe that it will continue to be able to do so with all the professional excellence that the nation has come to expect.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

Given United Nations bungling, I compliment the Secretary of State on the choice of title for his White Paper, "Defending our Future"—rather than the future of foreigners. May we assume that priority will be given to defending British interests and British citizens? It is to be welcomed that the Secretary of State has resisted any cuts in infantry strengths, particularly in the light of unwise statements made over the weekend by at least two ex-Ministers.

Mr. Rifkind

The defence of the United Kingdom and of its citizens must always be the first call upon Her Majesty's armed forces. Of course we look forward to the day when it will be possible to reduce the number of battalions in Northern Ireland in a responsible way. In judging when that is appropriate, we shall be guided by the important work that the armed forces are doing in Northern Ireland, and the importance of ensuring that the battle against terrorism is won.

Mr. Robert Hicks (Cornwall, South-East)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is probably greater uncertainty in the world today than at any time since 1945, and that, however good the planning of the link between resources and commitment might be, it might not always work out in practice? Is he aware of the increasing unease, especially in the Royal Navy, that that unfortunate set of circumstances might occur?

Mr. Rifkind

I accept the force of what my hon. Friend says. Considerations of the kind he mentions—the unpredictable nature of the post-cold-war world—require us to consider the need for armed forces that are more flexible and mobile and that can be deployed in circumstances that we cannot predict. Those enhancements have to be funded and, at a time of declining defence resources, it is sensible to identify the capabilities that are less necessary. Clearly, a potential Soviet naval threat in the north Atlantic has receded dramatically during the past few years, which entitles us to change the balance of our capabilities in the way that I have outlined.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman dodged the question put to him by my hon. Friend, the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) about nuclear testing, which the Government said 15 months ago was indispensable to the nation's security.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, now that President Clinton has banned British nuclear testing in Nevada, the pretence that Britain's nuclear capability is independent is exposed as a total sham? Will he also accept that, now that we have no Soviet enemy to aim nuclear weapons at, now that we have no American friend who will permit us to test those weapons and now that the French President and Prime Minister have called for a comprehensive international nuclear test ban treaty, it is about time that the Government took the initiative in the negotiation of such a treaty?

Mr. Rifkind

The United Kingdom's view on nuclear testing has not changed. We believed a year ago, and we believe today, that there are useful advantages in ensuring the safety and reliability of our nuclear weapons. If that is no longer possible, clearly the emphasis has to be on trying to identify whether simulation, computer modelling and other methods can provide comparable information. Time will tell whether that information can be provided in the same way, and we look forward to co-operating with other countries with that objective in mind.

Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North)

I respect and welcome the skill with which my right hon. and learned Friend has undertaken this revision of our military capabilities, not least because it involves contesting with many long-standing interests. When "Defending our Future" and the expenditure that it postulates are fully effective, how will our military spending, as a percentage of our gross domestic product, compare with that of our political allies and economic rivals in the European Community?

Mr. Rifkind

When "Options for Change" is fully implemented. we expect British defence expenditure to be broadly the same as that of France and Germany, as it is today. As a percentage, it will be slighly higher than that of a number of other NATO countries, but much of that is to be explained by our commitment in Northern Ireland, our residual responsibilities for dependent territories and —along with France—our nuclear status. In terms of hard cash spent on defence, British, French and German defence expenditure are almost identical and are likdly to remain broadly the same.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Footnote 5 on page 28 of "UK Defence Statistics", 1993 edition, states that there are 7,100 people in intelligence and investigation. Do we get value for money from them? How on earth could they have allowed a British Foreign Secretary to tell the House that the operation in relation to Kuwait was justified and proportionate, when we now learn that it would have done discredit to Abbott and Costello? These guys ran out of petrol and did not know where the university was where they were supposed to assassinate the former President of the United States. What has happened to British intelligence, and how could a senior member of the Government be so sure that the Americans were right?

Mr. Rifkind

If there was evidence available to the United States—and there was—that Iraqi intelligence was seeking to assassinate a former President of the United States, the American response, which was deliberately targeted on the headquarters of Iraqi intelligence, was appropriate.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Royal Navy and Royal Marines manpower figures already announced are unchanged by today's statement? Will he continue to treat with contempt Liberal statements on defence matters of this kind, bearing in mind that party's conference policy, which has never been reversed, for a 50 per cent. cut in defence expenditure, with the horrible consequences that that would have for manpower and equipment levels?

Mr. Rifkind

It is correct that the likely redundancies affecting the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force that were announced some time ago are unchanged by today's announcement, which we took into account when making those figures known. I understand that the Liberal party has never been asked to reverse the commitment to a 50 percent. cent. cut and the massive reduction in the size of the armed forces that would result from that policy.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

May I help the Secretary of State on matters nuclear? This year, his experts gave evidence to the Select Committee on Defence that testing was unnecessary and that all the safety assessments could be done mathematically by computer modelling.

The Secretary of State makes a plea about the unique nature of our defence requirement, while at the same time saying that our defence provision is structually sound. That might be true coming from the brass hats, but it is not true coming from the people on the ground.

The Secretary of State cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that this nation is an international leader in strategic requirements and allow it to be the leader of the Rapid Reaction Corps and maintain a seat on the Security Council, while still allowing the Treasury to beat him about the head and drive him into the ground in this way. The Government cannot have it both way. When will they stand up for one or the other? They should either relinquish the leadership of the Rapid Reaction Corps and their seat on the Security Council or put the Treasury in its place.

Mr. Rifkind

The time to contemplate such an unpleasant conclusion would be when we were unable to meet our commitments. As "Defending our Future" clearly shows, the Rapid Reaction Corps and the United Kingdom's other commitments can be met. When the present draw-down process is complete in 1995, there will be a significant extra availability of military personnel to deal with any unexpected occurrences. It is at this precise moment, when a number of battalions or regiments are amalgamating, that we have restricted availability of forces for any overseas commitments. That situation will ease over the next 18 months.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that a statement by the former Minister of State for the Armed Forces that the cuts could lead to a cut in the commitment to troops in Northern Ireland received wide coverage in the Province?

Will the Minister note that, when the former Minister of State, his right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton), mentioned Northern Ireland, he sidestepped any comment on that matter? Will the Minister rectify that by assuring the people of Northern Ireland that, although, under the policy of his right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell, the Ulster Defence Regiment and part-time soldiers met their demise, there will be no cuts in the troop commitment to Northern Ireland?

Mr. Rifkind

The men of the former Ulster Defence Regiment are now carrying out an extremely valuable and welcome role as proud members of the new Royal Irish Regiment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the new way in which they have been further integrated with the armed forces of the United Kingdom.

The precise level of our military presence in Northern Ireland cannot be static because, of course, it will change —sometimes it will go up, and sometimes it will go down. I look forward to the day when security will enable it to be substantially reduced, because that would be a clear mark of success in the battle against terrorism. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it would be reduced only if the security circumstances in our view were to justify such a course of action.

Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

While welcoming the greater transparency and openness in the White Paper, which will benefit the discussion of such issues in the future, I must express reservations about the statement on the Royal Navy and the future of Britain's few remaining warship yards.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that a new class of ships is designed to replace Fearless and Intrepid, and that it is not the Government's intention to replace those ships with one assault ship? Can he confirm that there will be no slippage in orders for the new class of submarines, the batch 2 Trafalgars?

When does he expect the next round of type 23 frigate orders to be placed? Will his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer come to the House in November with yet a further round of defence cuts that he will have to explain?

Mr. Rifkind

Coming as he does from Barrow-in-Furness, I thought that the hon. Gentleman might have at least preceded his comments by welcoming the helicopter carrier, and the benefit to employment that will result in his part of the country. We have concluded that it is right to take forward the project definition for the replacement of Fearless and Intrepid and, at this stage, we envisage two ships to replace them. Announcements about other procurement matters will be made in due course when we have something new to say. There are no changes other than those that I have announced.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

My right hon. and learned Friend's contribution to the proper discussion of defence priorities in this document is to be warmly welcomed, certainly on the Conservative Benches, where the only constructive discussion will take place.

Will he look closely at the shifting foreign policy objectives? There are many current concerns about the former Soviet Union, such as the potential destabilisation that may be caused by the movement of Russians outside Russia. There is also the problem of nuclear proliferation, especially in the middle east. We in Britain need to know that we have the resources available to meet those foreign policy commitments as and when they arise.

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with my hon. Friend. The situation in Russia is, at best, uncertain and there could be either beneficial or worrying developments. No one can predict how events may turn out. Russia remains a nuclear super-power and, even after it has fulfilled all its obligations under the START treaty, in 10 years it will still have more than 3,000 strategic nuclear warheads.

For reasons such as those, we have to maintain a strong defence, and NATO must continue to be the fundamental bedrock of our defence policy. That has been the guiding factor that has determined the sort of defence capability that we must continue to have long into the 1990s.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

In the context of the reduction of RAF Tornado squadrons from seven to six, will the Secretary of State confirm that there will be no implications for the development of RAF Lossiemouth as a key base in the deployment of and training in the use of those aircraft? When will he be able to announce exactly the further plans for the operational capability of the GR1s?

Mr. Rifkind

The particular squadron that will be disbanded as a result of today's announcement will be the No. 23 Squadron at RAF Leeming. Other matters will be reported to the House when we can give specific information.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)


Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

I am obliged to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his terse and trenchant statement, and suggest that, for the country's benefit—as the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) said—that is as far as we can go? May I suggest that he abandons the "about" theory next year? We are to have "about" 40 destroyers or frigates, which I am told means between 35 and 45—and presumably means 35. Thereafter, the figure will be 35, which I am told means between 30 and 45. If everything can be numbered correctly, why are destroyers and frigates, which will apparently be repaired and refitted at Rosyth, given such a vague assessment?

Mr. Rifkind

I echo the House's welcome to my hon. and learned Friend on his return to the House after his recent illness. We are delighted to see him in the Chamber.

I appreciate my hon. and learned Friend's concern about the number of frigates and destroyers. He will be pleased to know that, contrary to some press speculation, the 18 major warships which I said recently would be refitted at Rosyth are in no way affected by today's statement. We were, of course, aware of the contents of the White Paper when I reported to the House on the allocated programme that would go to Rosyth. In the consultation document, which we hope to publish later this week, the figure of 18 major warships will be confirmed.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

In view of the commitment of the Secretary of State and of the Government to a new non-proliferation treaty, how can we continue to try to develop a new free-fall nuclear bomb and the tactical air-to-surface missile system? Would it not be logical to abandon that attempt and to save money, which could then be used necessarily to increase our conventional weapons and conventional defence systems?

Mr. Rifkind

The whole question of the future of our sub-strategic nuclear capability is currently under consideration. I hope to be able to report to the House fairly soon on that matter. I do not want to add anything at present.

Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme)

However skilfully my right hon. and learned Friend may have dressed up his announcement today, is he aware that he cannot conceal the fact that it constitutes part of the relentless rundown in the capability of our armed forces from an already tiny base? Is he aware that it is especially a matter for regret that he has not been able to reprieve any more of the overstretched infantry battalions which still face cuts?

My right hon. and learned Friend has announced today that there will be further reductions in the front-line strength of the Royal Air Force. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) has just mentioned, the reduction from 50 destroyers and frigates a decade ago to about 35 is a matter for deep concern. Looking to the overall capability of our armed forces, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that we shall no longer be able to fulfil our capabilities, as we have in the past, if we ever have to fight a significant conventional war?

Mr. Rifkind

I cannot agree with my hon. Friend's conclusion. We believe that we would be able to defend these shores against the threat to which my hon. Friend refers. He must reflect on what changes he believes are justified in the light of the end of the cold war, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the removal of the Soviet naval threat from the Atlantic and the removal of any likelihood in the foreseeable future of a direct attack on the United Kingdom.

One cannot, of course, exclude the possibility that those threats, which have largely disappeared, might re-emerge at some date. However, they could not re-emerge overnight, but only over a considerable period. If there was any evidence that such a new threat was beginning to re-emerge, there would be a bounden duty on this Government, as there would be on all NATO Governments, to revise our defence capabilities.

In all honesty, we cannot argue that it necessary to maintain in the vastly different circumstances of the 1990s a balance of capabilities that was designed for the cold war. There is a need for greater flexibility and mobility, and that is why part of our planned enhancements which have been envisaged in recent years are to continue and are to be made available to our armed forces in the way that I have described.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

How many people will be made redundant by the armed forces as a result of the previous announcements by the Secretary of State and of his announcement today? As the figure will run into thousands, and as those people will be made redundant when millions of people are already looking for jobs, will the Secretary of State confirm that he has consulted the Secretary of State for Employment about the results of such redundancies? Have his officials talked and listened to Department of Employment officials about the employment results of his policy?

Mr. Rifkind

Redundancies in the Navy and the Air Force were announced in recent months. Today's statement has done nothing to change the figures as, obviously, we took those matters into account. I announced a proposed size for the Army of 119,000 some months ago and a large part of the draw-down has been completed. There will be a need for a third phase of redundancies on the basis of the orginal proposals that were announced some time ago, but that will not be changed by the White Paper.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

No one could accuse my right hon. and learned Friend of lacking presentational skills. He made—as any good lawyer would —the best of a brief which, at first sight, seems to be inadequate and driven more by the Treasury than by defence considerations.

Will he address the question of the mobility of our armed forces which has been raised by some hon. Members? He has not answered the question about support helicopters, or those about heavy lift air transport of a tactical and strategic nature. Does he agree that it is important that, if we are to fulfil our obligations to the United Nations peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts, we must be able to get men and equipment to the places where they are needed as quickly as possible?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree unreservedly with my hon. Friend. We have carried out a new assessment in recent months as to the likely need for support helicopters. That assessment has suggested that enhanced financial provision—greater than had been anticipated previously—is needed to ensure that support helicopter facilities will be available. That provision is built into our assumptions.

We are working on the precise identification of the type of helicopter that would be required, and we hope to come to an early conclusion. My hon. Friend knows that various options have been discussed recently. The need for a proper enhancement of support helicopters is accepted unreservedly.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

The Secretary of State has poured scorn on the suggestion of a defence review. May I ask him for a commitment that he will not allow British forces to go into any future situation where those troops would be overstretched, under-resourced and underfunded until there has been a defence review?

In view of the redundancies that are implicit in the statement, what discussions are the Secretary of State and his Department having with the DTI and the Department of Employment to ensure that areas that are dependent on defence contracts have other industries brought in, and ensure that the skill of men and women in the defence industries is not lost when they are thrown on the scrap heap?

Mr. Rifkind

The signs are rather encouraging. Over 70 per cent. of those who were made redundant from the Army during the past year have now found employment. The fact that that has been possible during a severe economic recession is a useful indicator of how valuable their experience has been. The hon. Gentleman should welcome that.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. We must now move on.

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