§ [Relevant documents: First Report of the Defence Committee on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1992 of Session 1992–93, HC 218; Fifth Report of the Defence Committee on Army Commitments and Resources: the Government's Response and Army Manpower Statement of 3rd February 1993, HC 731 of Session 1992–93.]
§ 4.7 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
I beg to move,
That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1992 contained in Cm. 1981.
I very much welcome the fact that some Opposition Members below the Gangway have tabled their own amendment to the motion. I congratulate them on their clarity and consistency and I can only regard it as unfortunate that the official Opposition appear to have departed from their previous views without having anything to replace them. This is an opportunity for the House to discuss not only last year's White Paper on the defence estimates but a range of other defence issues.
I begin by paying a personal tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) who, until very recently, was a most distinguished Minister for the Armed Forces and who, for a number of years, made a valuable and important contribution to the well-being of our armed forces, something which I believe will stand the test of time.
It is important that the House should have opportunities not only to debate these matters but to do so in a well-informed fashion. We shall soon be publishing the next defence estimates—the next White Paper—which are likely to be before the House in early July. I hope that it will be possible to debate that White Paper more quickly than it has been possible to debate this one, especially because, although I do not wish to anticipate the contents of that White Paper, I believe that the House, the armed forces and the country as a whole will find it a very informative document which will provide much information that has not before been made available to the House or the country and which will seek to present all the work of the Ministry of Defence in such a way as to make a substantial and important contribution to the proper discussion and understanding of the role of the armed forces, the tasks that they have to carry out, the way in which they meet their tasks, various elements of the forces' structure and how the very large resources available to the Ministry of Defence are used.
I begin by reporting to the House the situation in Bosnia and the role of our armed forces in the former Yugoslavia at the present time. May I offer what I am sure are the congratulations of the House as a whole to those members of our armed forces who appeared in Her Majesty's honours list recently and who received well-deserved recognition for the work that they have been doing in that country. Those who received awards for gallantry and for exceptional leadership deserve to be especially proud of what has been achieved.
The Bosnian Serb rejection of the peace plan, developed by Lord Owen and Mr. Vance and accepted by the Bosnian Croats and Muslims, has been a serious setback to the achievement of a negotiated political settlement, which offers the only prospect of an end to the conflict. Sooner or later, the Bosnian Serbs will have to come back 1006 to the negotiating table. Sanctions against Serbia will be applied vigorously until she brings an undoubted influence to bear to that end.
In the meantime, in the absence of a settlement, fighting has worsened between Croats and Muslims in central Bosnia where the British battalion group is deployed as part of the United Nations protection force in its humanitarian task. As the House knows, that task is the provision of protective support for humanitarian aid convoys, under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and for convoys of released detainees under the auspices of the Red Cross.
In the past week there have been serious incidents involving our forces. Last Thursday, 10 June, near Kiseljak, six British personnel were forced out of their Spartan vehicles at gun point and robbed of their weapons and their equipment. Last Friday morning, 11 June, near Novitravnik, British forces had to open fire in self-defence against Bosnian-Croat troops who engaged them while they were protecting a Muslim convoy. On 11 June a sentry at Vitez fired in self-defence at a sniper and there is reason to believe that the assailant was killed.
Those are serious and disturbing incidents. The United Nations and British commanders will make whatever changes they consider necessary in their procedures and dispositions in the light of developments on the ground and will have the Government's full support. For their part, the Government have kept and are keeping the safety of our forces under constant review.
Even before the incidents that I have described occurred, I announced on 10 June new measures that we were taking to ensure that we were ready to provide additional protection for our troops if that became necessary. For several months we have maintained contingency plans to provide additional protection for our forces should circumstances warrant it, through both maritime and land-based assets. To complement those existing arrangements, I announced that a number of Army units and individual officers and men were being placed at readiness to move to the former Yugoslavia at short notice to proyide a range of options should the need to protect our forces make that necessary.
We have placed at readiness a range of capabilities that can be drawn on selectively according to the needs of the situation. No troops are being sent to the theatre at this stage, apart from a small number of personnel who will be required for ground-to-air command and control functions in connection with the provision of air support. HMS Ark Royal remains in the Adriatic sea with her Sea Harriers and Sea King helicopters embarked. We hope that it will not be necessary to deploy those capabilities, but the Government will not hesitate to reinforce our battalion group if required, either to enable it to continue with its current task or to assist with the withdrawal of United Nations forces if it came to that.
As we have already made clear, the units that we have on standby would not be sent to undertake any new mandate. We are already a leading contributor to UNPROFOR's Bosnian command and there are more British soldiers in Bosnia than there are from other United Nations countries. It will be clear to the House that British troops are fully committed in fulfilling their current humanitarian task. The provision of additional forces to enable the safe areas concept in Security Council resolution 836 must be a matter for other nations. We very much hope that those resources will be forthcoming.
1007 The safe areas concept is part of the joint action programme agreed between the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Russia and Spain in Washington on 22 May. Implementing the concept is an important immediate step to help stabilise the situation on the ground, relieve suffering and create an improved climate for further work to achieve a negotiated settlement. Neither Britain nor the other co-sponsors of the resolution regards safe areas as a permanent solution or an end in themselves.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
Even as we debate the matter, at least one of those safe areas, Gorazde, is being subjected to continued aggression by Serbia. My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned Croatia and the Muslims. Will he emphasise the fact that great brutality is still being perpetrated by the Serbs in Bosnia?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I have to confirm that fact. There have been incidents of brutality involving all communities in this ghastly conflict. I acknowledge my hon. Friend's comment that Serbia has a particular responsibility and has been involved in a number of the most serious incidents.
Safe areas are a temporary measure to help to create a climate in which renewed efforts to help a lasting and equitable peace can make progress, building on the work of Lord Owen and Mr. Vance. The Security Council resolution has given UNPROFOR a mandate in six areas: to deter attacks; to monitor the ceasefire; to promote the withdrawal of military or paramilitary units other than Bosnian Government units; and to occupy some key points on the ground in addition to participating in the delivery of humanitarian relief.
The resolution authorises member states acting nationally or through regional organisations or arrange-ments to use air power in support of UNPROFOR carrying out its mandate in and around the six designated safe areas. NATO has agreed to take on the task in support of, and in close co-ordination with, the UN as an extension of its current operations to enforce the no-fly zone. I announced on 10 June that the Government have offered a squadron of Royal Air Force Jaguar aircraft to participate in such an operation. We are closely in touch with NATO about the detailed arrangements for the operation and I shall keep the House informed.
The House will want to join me in paying tribute to the courage and professionalism of all our forces involved in operations in and around the former Yugoslavia. We are well aware of the impressive scope of those operations. Royal Navy ships and Royal Air Force aircraft are taking part in operations to enforce sanctions against Serbia and the arms embargo against the whole former Yugoslavia and to enforce the no-fly zone in Bosnia.
§ Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)
How effective is the increased effort to tighten sanctions proving to be? That is germane to the question whether there should be more or less military intervention.
§ Mr. Rifkind
Sanctions are having a very considerable effect on the Serbian economy. President Milosevic sees the effect of sanctions as very damaging to the economic prospects of the country. There is massive inflation, vast unemployment and a huge fall in manufacturing production. That is, in part, why Mr. Milosevic sought to 1008 persuade the Bosnian Serbs to support the Owen-Vance proposals. The sanctions will continue until we can be satisfied that sufficient progress has been made.
The battalion group that has been involved in our humanitarian operations has been very successful and can claim to have been responsible for the saving of many tens of thousands of lives. Those who advocate the lifting of the arms embargo in favour of the Muslims or intervention against one party or the other must realise that to do so would bring the humanitarian operation to an end. I repeat, however, that we shall not hesitate to take whatever steps may be necessary for the safety of our forces and the House can rest assured that this is, and will continue to be, our paramount consideration.
The possible participation of South Africa in the anniversary celebrations of the Royal Air Force has given rise to some interest in the House and in another place. I am pleased to announce that South Africa will be invited by the Royal Air Force benevolent fund to send a transport plane to attend the Fairford international air tattoo. South Africa's association with the Royal Air Force is long-standing. Indeed, the RAF's existence as a separate service owes much to Field Marshal Smuts. We have, therefore, concluded that this association should be marked with the participation of a non-combat plane in the air tattoo to mark the RAF's 75th anniversary year.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Does the Secretary of State think it entirely appropriate to have a South African military presence in this country when South African armed units are attacking Government positions in Angola in defiance of a United Nations resolution and of the clearly expressed wish of the Angolan people for peace?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The involvement of the South African navy in the recent services relating to the battle of the Atlantic was warmly welcomed by all shades of opinion in South Africa, including the people most representative of black opinion. We are now in a new situation and it is right and proper for us to respond in the way that I have described.
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)
I do not wish to expand much further on the point, but just to establish the facts clearly for the record, during the second world war a vast number of South Africans volunteered, against the wishes of some of the more Boer elements in South Africa, to come here and many lost their lives on behalf of this country. The whole point of the commemoration is that it is about those people, not about what may be going on politically today.
§ Mr. Rifkind
That is absolutely correct. We can never forget the contribution made by those brave South Africans, many of whom sacrificed their lives. When we are commemorating the history of the Royal Air Force it is right and proper that that contribution should be taken into account. As my hon. Friend says, that does not represent a political comment on any contemporary difficulties that may be continuing in South Africa today.
We are all conscious of the fact that the armed forces are going through one of the most radical reorganisations since 1945 and I pay tribute to the people, both civilians and members of the armed forces, who are having to 1009 supervise a difficult period of transition and who are doing so with the customary spirit and dedication that we expect to see in the armed forces.
I note that some Opposition Members, although not Front-Bench Members, have tabled an amendment calling for a major reduction in our defence expenditure, echoing the calls of the Labour party conference for defence expenditure to be drastically pruned. When those hon. Members say that our defence expenditure should be reduced to the level of that in other European countries, perhaps they have not fully examined what the other countries with which one might most easily compare the United Kingdom spend on defence. For example, when one compares the defence expenditure of the United Kingdom with that of France and Germany one finds an almost uncanny similarity in the total sums made available. Expressed in pounds sterling, United Kingdom defence expenditure in 1992 was about £24.4 billion; that of France was £25.8 billion; and that of Germany almost exactly £24 billion. An almost identical amount was being spent by those three major countries. Furthermore, the United Kingdom has some special responsibilities, such as our commitment to Northern Ireland and our continuing obligations to defend our dependent territories. The responsibilities associated with our being a nuclear power —a factor that we share with France—also have to be taken fully into account.
We have also seen a dramatic improvement in the ability of the United Nations to meet various international challenges and it is well worth remembering the increased contribution that the United Nations is making to easing some of the problems of security and peacemaking in various parts of the world. Since January last year, when only 12,000 United Nations forces were involved in various operations around the world, the figure has increased so that today about 60,000 United Nations forces are engaged in United Nations operations. That increase has profound implications and it is now time for the United Nations to consider whether at the heart of its activity it has sufficient military advice and personnel to assist the Secretary-General to develop and co-ordinate the many military operations with which the organisation is associated. Increasing attention needs to be given to that question.
It is also important to ensure that countries invited to contribute to United Nations operations should not be expected to be committed to supporting the United Nations in any particular theatre for as long as support may be required. Sometimes that may involve a period of many years—for example, we have now been in Cyprus for more than 25 years—and it is not realistic to expect the small number of countries which provide the bulk of United Nations support to give such an open-ended commitment on an ongoing basis. Much more sensible is the principle of rotation, as that enables another country to be brought in for a period of time, thereby helping to spread the burden in a realistic and sensible way.
I want today to make some very important comments with regard to the use of our reserve forces, because I believe that they have a crucial contribution to make and I know that they are a matter of considerable interest to many hon. Members.
1010 I know that the House will join me in paying tribute to the contribution that has been made over the years by members of our reserve forces. The willingness of men and women to give up their spare time to serve the Crown has been warmly welcomed and on many occasions has proved to be vital.
In March 1992 we issued an open Government document on the future of Britain's reserve forces which set out proposals for the more flexible use of reserves, permitting their use in a wide range of types of operation. That document proposed legislation in the 1994–95 Session and we have that objective firmly in mind. Since that document was issued, the change in the international situation has provided us with the opportunity to introduce new roles for the reserves. At the same time it has become clear that standing reserve forces are no longer required for certain current roles.
Against that background we have been looking in detail at the structure of the reserves of all three forces. Today I shall be announcing the results of our detailed deliberations on the future of the Navy's reserves and our latest proposals for the RAF reserves. We are also re-examining the operational requirement for the Army's reserves and hence the size and shape of the Territorial Army. I shall be making a further announcement on that later in the year.
Before I come to the detail of our proposals on the Royal Navy and the RAF, there are a number of basic principles which I should set down and which underpin our thinking on all three services. First, I must place on record my personal commitment to the future of our reserve forces. Reserves in all three services will play a continuing crucial role in providing support to their regular colleagues.
Secondly, I believe that we should bring up to date the roles of the reserves where they are no longer relevant to our changing defence needs. It is in no one's interest, not least that of the reservists themselves, that they should be expected to carry out roles which, although vital in the past, no longer require standing forces. That would breed frustration and disillusion.
Thirdly, and most important of all, I believe that the time has come to make arrangements to deploy reserves much more widely in operational roles in peacetime. I regard this point as particularly important. In the past, with only a few exceptions, we have called out reservists only at times of heightened tension or in war. We are now moving to a world where the possibility of major confrontation is less than it has been for many years, but where the demands placed on our forces for peacekeeping and related tasks have never been greater. Furthermore, I know of the frustration felt by many reservists that their skills were not used during the Gulf war, when their American counterparts were deployed in such large numbers. Today, hundreds of Canadian volunteer reserves are serving in Cyprus, Cambodia and Somalia; and in the former Yugoslavia Canadians are joined by hundreds of Danish reserves.
I can see no reason why we, too, should not plan to deploy our reservists in peacetime. I am therefore looking in detail at the possibilities, particularly as we consider the proposed new reserve forces legislation. One specific idea is that we might use volunteers from the TA to form units or sub-units to contribute on a planned basis to operational commitments undertaken by the regular Army. The feasibility of attaching a composite TA 1011 infantry company composed of volunteers to regular units undergoing United Nations tours is being examined, with a view to running a pilot scheme in late 1994. I shall say more about this when I come to report on the future of the Territorial Army later in the year. I regard it as a very significant and welcome development. I want similar opportunities to be available to naval and air force reservists. I believe that in this way we shall ensure that the reserves are given more relevant, more important and more fulfilling jobs to do and that the link between reserves and regular forces will be strengthened thereby.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
I am sure that the announcement that we have just heard about the enhanced role and status of the Territorial Army service overseas will be warmly welcomed on both sides of the House. Can my right hon. and learned Friend reassure the House that, in the further consideration that he is giving to the role of the TA, he will give consideration to the concept of ever-readies, which has often been advanced in the House, so that we can see across the broad stream of activity the TA playing an even greater role in helping to sustain our armed forces?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Any use of the reserves for operational roles in peacetime must be based on the fact that they would be volunteers —they would have made it clear that they were keen to be used for such a role if it should become available. Over the next few months, we will be working on the detailed way in which the objectives will be translated into specific structures to bring that about.
I come to the detailed proposals for the future of the Royal Naval Reserve. The proposals to which I am about to refer are, of course, subject to consultation. No final decisions will be taken until the process is complete.
First, I should make it clear that we have no plans for changes to the Navy's ex-regular reserves, other than to match the greater opportunities for women within the Royal Navy to the same reserve liability as their male colleagues. Currently numbering some 24,000, those ex-regulars would, if necessary, provide the great bulk of reinforcement to the Royal Navy. Each year, some 2,000 highly trained personnel leave the Royal Navy and provide a readily usable pool of ex-regular reserves. Any degradation of their skills can be recovered through refresher training.
For the naval volunteer reserves, the proposals are the culmination of studies that were announced to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell on 24 July 1991. The main aim of those studies was to achieve closer integration of the Royal Naval Reserve with the operational activities of the Royal Navy. As hon. Members know, the Royal Navy's volunteer reserve forces comprise the Royal Marine Reserve, the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service. The principal role of the Royal Marine Reserve is to provide training reinforcements to bring the marine commandos to full war strength on mobilisation. That is an important and continuing role. We have no current plans for changes to the Royal Marine Reserve.
Two of the major roles of the naval volunteer reserves during the cold war have been the defence of ports and anchorages and the manning of the Naval Control of 1012 Shipping organisation. Those tasks have been undertaken jointly by the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service.
The Royal Navy has reviewed the continuing need for those tasks and concluded that the scale and immediacy of a perceived threat to the western alliance has reduced to such an extent that it is no longer sensible to earmark discrete forces for them. In the extreme circumstances of a rise in tension and a direct threat to this country, there will be sufficient time to provide such forces by an appropriate expansion, if necessary, of the Royal Naval Reserve or regeneration of the ex-regular reserves. The end of that requirement removes the need for 710 Royal Naval Reserve personnel and all but 135 of the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service ratings.
After careful study, we have concluded that there are no other roles that would he suitable for the RNXS and that such a service of 135 would be too small to he viable. Accordingly, and with considerable regret, we have concluded that the RNXS, which came into being only in 1962, should be disbanded and its training units closed. In making those proposals, I pay tribute to the loyalty and dedication of members of the RNXS over the years—this cannot be over-emphasised. However, I know that the RNXS would not wish to carry on with tasks that the tide of history has left behind. There will be an opportunity for up to 135 RNXS personnel with suitable skills in Naval Control of Shipping to join the Royal Naval Reserve to provide a capability for possible short-notice deployment overseas.
We have considered the impact on the reserves of developing technology. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the field of mine counter-measures. Our River class of minesweepers fleet, which provides the basis of the current Royal Naval Reserve seagoing role, was designed to counter deep-moored mines as well as a specific Soviet threat. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, that mine threat no longer exists. The minesweepers fleet has no other mine counter-measures capability and has been overtaken by advances in other aspects of mine counter-measure warfare and technology. Accordingly, we propose to withdraw those vessels from this role and the Royal Naval Reserve.
The task of deep-water mine counter-measures will be assumed by our modern mine counter-measure vessels such as the Sandown class. Such modern vessels are highly technical and require the crew to be at a high state of training readiness to be prepared to meet their operational commitments. It would not be possible fully to man the vessels with Royal Naval Reserves. However, under our new proposals, members of the Royal Naval Reserve will be able to serve on these vessels.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
I follow the argument of my right hon. and learned Friend and accept the logic of what he says about the River class minesweepers. However, the next step in his chain of logic would be to confirm that there will be further orders for Sandown class minehunters. Does he accept that the need for mine counter-measure vessels has not diminished worldwide and, indeed, that the kind of threat facing us in the so-called new world order requires mine-hunting capacity? Will he confirm that the orders intended for later this year will be forthcoming?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I thank my hon. Friend for his understanding approach to the reasons that have led to this decision. We expect to go out to tender shortly in respect of the Sandown class minehunters. We intend to ensure that they will be available as soon as they are operationally necessary. I hope that that reassures him.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
Both sides of the House will welcome the timely decision that the Secretary of State has just announced in response to changing world circumstances. Will he now tell us what change he will make to our nuclear capability in response to the changing world situation? Does it make any sense to continue as we are doing and not only retain our present nuclear weapons, but increase their size, numbers, range and power?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am not sure that that is relevant to the role of the naval reserves, but, as the hon. Gentleman intervened to ask the question, I remind him that we have already announced the ending of all nuclear artillery, the use of Lance missiles and the use of tactical weapons on naval vessels.
§ Mr. Rifkind
We are committed to Trident and rightly so because it is based on our perception of what is the minimum deterrent required to ensure the protection of the United Kingdom. We have no intention of departing from that policy.
§ Mr. Rifkind
If I may, I shall return to dealing with the Royal Naval Reserve.
The Government fully accept that serving in Royal Navy ships lies at the heart of the Royal Naval Reserve, underpinning its ethos and recruiting. I am happy to announce that this role will be developed so that it encompasses all types of Royal Navy ship. We are proposing that a dedicated seagoing branch of some 500 personnel be set up, training in all types of Royal Navy ships, not just mine counter-measure vessels, and employed at sea wherever appropriate, as an integral part of the fleet. Additionally, smaller numbers of Royal Navy Reserves will assist in the logistics area, in submarine operations management and on aircraft maintenance. In future, Royal Naval Reserve training will be more closely sponsored by the appropriate Royal Navy organisation.
The net effect of these changing roles is that the Royal Naval Reserve will reduce from 4,700 to about 3,500. Eleven units will close, but a new unit based in HMS Bristol, the harbour training ship at Portsmouth, would be created which would offer the opportunity for RNR personnel from HMS Sussex, HMS Wessex and HMS Southwick to transfer. In future, 13 RNR units, to be retitled "Reserve Centres", will be sited throughout the United Kingdom. We will try to find alternative employment in the Ministry of Defence or other Government Departments for some 200 civilian em-ployees, some part-time, who will be affected, but this may not always be possible.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
I appreciate what my right hon. and learned Friend has said today. It is important for the Royal Naval Reserve to have an active role rather than one, of which I had experience, in the naval control of shipping. Can he say something about 1014 HMS President, which has been an important landmark in the City and a good recruiting and training centre? Will that unit be retained?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. The opportunity for members of the Royal Naval Reserve to train with the Royal Navy on all types of warship at sea is an important step forward and will be widely welcomed. I cannot give my hon. Friend an immediate answer to his question, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who will reply, will certainly respond to that point in due course.
I turn to our proposals for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Again, the end of the cold war and the manifestly reduced threat to the United Kingdom has a significant impact, particularly in relation to the direct threat to our airfields. Accordingly, we have concluded that it is no longer necessary to retain No. 1339 Wing, equipped with Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns and Skyguard radars to protect RAF Waddington and RAF Coningsby.
As hon. Members will know, our proposals under "Options for Change" will lead to the cessation of flying at RAF Honington. The Royal Air Force Regiment depot will move to that station from RAF Catterick. There is, therefore, no longer a requirement for the wartime specialist ground defence currently provided by No. 2623 (East Anglian) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment. Notwithstanding the fine service that those units have given over the years, they no longer meet a defence need.
We have also reviewed our previous plans to expand the Royal Auxiliary Air Force defence force flights. Again. circumstances have changed so radically that it would be unwise to proceed with that expansion before the results of the service's wide-ranging review of its long-term requirements are known.
While those changes represent reductions in the auxiliary air force, I am delighted also to announce our proposals for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force to take on a new role, with auxiliaries filling about half the posts in two regular squadrons of the Rapier air-defence Missile force. Recruiting is expected to begin next year in the areas around RAF Leuchars and RAF Leeming and the new units should be complete by 1997.
To simplify call-out procedures, which will require the introduction of the new legislation I mentioned earlier, we propose that that part of the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve which has a war role should be amalgamated with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, producing a more streamlined organisation for war. That would not affect the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve training posts associated with the air cadet organisations and the university air squadrons.
Taken together, those proposals will lead to a net reduction of about 180 auxiliary air force posts. That is about 10 per cent. of the current strength of the RAF reserves.
The naval and air force proposals that I have announced will be of interest to a great number of hon. Members and to many people throughout the country. Accordingly, I have set out the proposals in some detail in consultative documents which I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses and which are also being sent to organisations known to have an interest. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I have written to 1015 those hon. Members whose constituencies are affected. Further copies of the documents are available in the Vote Office.
§ Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)
Bearing in mind the fact that this is the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Air Force, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to join me in congratulating Dowty Aerospace Propellers Ltd., for which many of my constituents work, on being selected to supply high technology and all composite propellers to the Lockheed Corporation? I understand that the Dowty propeller will equip the C130-J Hercules aircraft and that the order run may be about 500 aircraft sets, worth about £150 million. Does he agree that that is a great boost for British industry and shows that we are still a great engineering nation?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am glad of this opportunity to congratulate Dowty on that success, which is a tribute to the excellence of our aerospace industry. As my hon. Friend will know, the Hercules C130-J is a candidate to replace our existing Hercules aircraft, which have given valuable service for over 25 years.
The proposals that I have announced today will be subject to consultation with the trade unions where civilian employment is affected. We shall continue to liaise closely with the territorial, auxiliary and volunteer reserve associations and the national employers liaison committee. The consultation period will run until 30 July. Thereafter, having considered any and all comments received, we will announce a decision on the proposals in due course.
We are living in a time of change, but I know that the Territorial Army as well as the naval and air force reserves will welcome our intent to use them more fully for operational roles in peacetime. This represents an historic change and is entirely appropriate to the new international situation.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
I am interested to hear my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks about the reserves. He seems to be announcing reductions in the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Air Force Auxiliary as a positive step which will enable the people concerned to take part in more regular activities. I put it to him that by manning Rapier squadrons half with reservists, those squadrons are likely to be undermanned because, needless to say, in many cases the reservists will have full-time civilian jobs.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I assure my hon. Friend that it will be done in such a way as to ensure that the operational requirements of the Royal Air Force are fully met. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise. It is inevitable that there will be some reduction in the size of the Naval and Royal Air Force auxiliary services and reserves if certain of their basic roles are no longer required.
We have approached the matter from the point of view of whether there is a continuing need for a particular function. I do not think anyone would argue that, for example, naval control of shipping or the defence of ports and anchorages requires a dedicated force in the circumstances that we now face. That is the approach that we have adopted. Wherever we have identified new roles that make sense and are relevant to the needs of the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy, we have been very willing to utilise those roles for such purposes.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
Dealing specifically with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and bearing in mind the increased role that Rapier squadrons are likely to have overseas as a result of the end of the cold war and the sort of peacekeeping operations that may have to be backed up by air defence or strike attack aircraft, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to say how those reservists will be able to go overseas with their squadrons in future to fulfil that role?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Reservists who are used overseas—this relates to my earlier remarks—will be volunteers. It will be for those who are willing, when they join the reserves, to be considered for such operational roles overseas to indicate that willingness and to be attached, I would expect, to units that may be used for that purpose. Then, should the circumstances so arise, they would be available. In broad terms, that is the way in which it will operate.
We have much work to do on that concept because this is the first time that we have considered using reserves, although many other countries do so. We shall be using the time in the coming months to prepare the necessary legislation and the pilot scheme that I said would be introduced in 1994, and translate this firm proposal into its specific procedural and other details, which will then take effect. I believe that it will be warmly welcomed.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
We have a clear lesson to learn from the Gulf war—clear at least to anybody who knows territorial soldiers, and I served with the TA for 13 years. Our former hon. Friend Neil Thorne, who represented Ilford, South, often raised the point in the House. It is that territorial soldiers should never be asked to volunteer twice. Calling for volunteers puts men, their employers and sometimes their families in an impossible position. Either a unit should be called out or it should not. Calling for volunteers places terrible stress on people. That is why the TA does not believe the document and is not happy with its content. It does not see it as a suitable way forward for using reservists in peacetime.
I would not dissent from some of the points that my hon. Friend makes, but he knows as well as I do that the TA has expressed a desire to be used in an operational role in peacetime. He knows it because he has urged that course on me on numerous occasions. What he and others who share that aspiration, which the Government endorse, can do is to help construct the precise structure which will enable that aspiration to be translated into practice. That is what we are seeking to do and I believe. that it can be done effectively.
§ Mr. Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend also accept that it is a complete travesty to say that all members of the TA are employed by large companies? That is not the position. They are often self-employed and sometimes they are unemployed. In those circumstances, they are grateful for the opportunity to serve. So it is nonsense to say that they will be withdrawn from their companies or that a disturbance will be created.
I accept that, and I am conscious of the fact that whenever I have visited TA units, the desire to be used in an operational role has been the single, most repeated request made to me. I suspect that hon. Members on both sides have often had that request put to them, for understandable reasons.
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)
I fear that as more reserve forces are brought in as part of a wider scheme, people will feel that their jobs will be in jeopardy because of the view of their employers. Will the Government remove from the unemployment figures the unemployed who volunteer for the reserve forces?
§ Mr. Rifkind
That is among the sillier suggestions that I have heard for some time. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's underlying point is that we must have close liaison with the national employers liaison committee, which represents the interests of employers who have a commitment to assisting the reserves. We shall be working closely with that body.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
I represent what was the Chatham Royal Naval base and there is considerable local interest in the future of HMS Wildfire, the Royal Naval Reserve establishment in Chatham. Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the 500 years of naval history behind that unit? That is where naval affection is now focused and there will be sadness in the Medway towns if that link is broken.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I understand my hon. Friend's point. I hope that he will take the opportunity, however, to read the consultative document that we have published today. If he believes that particular points have not been properly considered, I hope that he will not hesitate to make them known to me.
I do not wish to detain the House for much longer—
§ Mr. Rifkind
Not at the moment, but no doubt there will be other opportunities to give way to the hon. Gentleman.
We are all conscious of the fact that the ending of the cold war and the collapse of communism in Europe was a triumph for NATO. I also believe that it was a triumph for the defence policies that had been pursued by the Government and previous Conservative Governments. I do not believe that the Opposition Front Bench Defence spokesmen can take any great sense of pride in what has been achieved with the collapse of communism and the end of the Warsaw pact.
On most of the major issues that we have had to address and concentrate our attention on in recent years, including the unilateral defence policy of the Labour party and the use of cruise missiles, the Labour party has opposed the fundamental tenor of Government defence policy.
§ Mr. Rifkind
In a moment.
Opposition Members claim to be men and women of principle, but that is not supported by the charge sheet. Once upon a time one used to ask, "What did you do during the great war?" The answer was, "I survived." If Opposition Members were asked what they did during the cold war, they should reply, "I surrendered", given the way in which, in successive election campaigns and in the House, they have committed themselves to policies designed to reduce defence expenditure and abandon our nuclear deterrent. The way in which they have generally ignored our defence interests has been appalling.
The hon. Members who now make up the Opposition defence team claim that they are now reformed characters 1018 and that their past convictions should not be held against them. It is important to remember exactly what they said in recent years, because all of them, who now have defence responsibilities, have quite a lot of answering to do.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) is responsible for defence matters in the shadow Cabinet, but even to this day none of us knows whether he is still a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He has never been prepared to confirm that he has left CND and his reluctance to do so makes us wonder whether he is still a member of it.
The record of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on defence matters has not been much better. In 1982, during the Falklands war, he called for an immediate truce while the Argentinian forces still controlled the island. No doubt they would still control it if his advice had been accepted. In 1987, he called on the Government to cancel Trident in the light of international changing circumstances. We have never heard him confess that he was wrong to do so.
The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) also supported the cancellation of Trident and yet now claims to support a Labour party policy that seeks to ensure Trident's continuation. We must ask ourselves what are the policies and principles on which those Front-Bench spokesmen seek to put forward their arguments.
The position of the shadow Cabinet is just as doubtful. The hon. Members for Livingston (Mr. Cook), for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), three of its most prominent members, defied their leadership in 1990 by voting in favour of massive defence cuts to the level of the west European average.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell my hon. Friends that he intended to refer to them?
§ Mr. Foulkes
It is a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State has mentioned my hon. Friends and I would like to know whether he wrote to them to tell them what he intended to do. The three Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen on defence are here and are expected to be here, but has the right hon. and learned Gentleman had the courtesy to inform my other hon. Friends that he intended to mention them?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman knows the rules of the House as well as I do. He knows that I am referring to factual matters that are on the record and established and that, therefore, there is no need to follow that convention.
The reality is that three members of the shadow Cabinet have voted constantly for massive cuts in defence expenditure and sought to justify that. What about the deputy leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett)? As recently as June last year she was asked in a Fabian pamphlet whether she supported the views of the Labour party conference, which called for a massive reduction of £6 billion in defence expenditure. She replied:I have always taken the view that conference determines Party policy.1019 If that is the view of the deputy leader of the Labour party, it needs to be questioned and we require a proper answer.
§ Mr. Rifkind
No, because I have a particular point to put to the hon. Member for South Shields, the Opposition's spokesman on defence.
During the 1992 general election campaign, the then Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), offered the most novel policy of the Labour party on defence. He said that the Opposition would not negotiate away Britain's nuclear weapons as long as other countries had such weapons. I hope that the hon. Member for South Shields will admit that the meaning of that statement was clear. The right hon. Member for Islwyn said:a Labour Britain will keep nuclear weapons as long as anyone else has them.That appeared to be a clear, unambiguous statement. On 17 May this year, however, the hon. Member for South Shields, speaking on behalf of the Labour party, was asked to comment on matters involving Trident. He said:We would deploy and retain Trident, but if it got to the stage when we would consider it appropriate, we would enter Trident into the disarmament negotiations … we wouldn't give Trident away for nothing.That is very reassuring, but not entirely satisfactory. Presumably we would give Trident away for something, if not for nothing—something short of the total removal of nuclear weapons by countries that represent a possible threat to us.
The hon. Member for South Shields owes it to the House and, perhaps, to his own party to tell us whether he has changed Labour party policy. We wish to know whether he stands by the views of the previous Leader of the Opposition, who said that we would keep our nuclear weaponsas long as anyone else has them.Is that or is it not still the policy of the Labour party?
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
I am delighted to clarify the situation. The position is quite clear and it was laid down in words of one syllable, or almost, so that Conservative Members had a chance to understand, in our manifesto. It clearly stated that Labour would"in government partner the United States in negotiating to reduce"—[Interruption.] I am reading slowly so that Conservative Members can understand—
the world's stocks of nuclear weapons. We shall seek to involve the four former Soviet nuclear republics, together with France and China. Until elimination of those stocks is achieved, Labour will retain Britain's nuclear capability, with the number of warheads no greater than the present total.I hope that that is clear to Conservative Members. That was the policy of the Labour party at the election arid it is its policy today. That, too, is my policy, which I have reiterated time and time again. I hope that Conservative Members are able to understand words of one syllable.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman says that that is his policy, but it is not what he said in his major lecture at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on 17 May, when all that he was prepared to say was:we wouldn't give Trident away for nothing.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's clarification, which the House is also delighted to hear. We 1020 are delighted that the hon. Gentleman has confirmed today that the Labour party would keep nuclear weapons as long as other countries kept theirs. That is a small step for mankind, but a great step for the Labour party.
§ Mr. Wareing
It is clear from the Secretary of State's speech that he wishes to defend British interests, although he uses small party political points to do so.
The Secretary of State mentioned the Falkland Islands. I recall that the withdrawal of a British ship from those islands gave a signal for the Argentinians to invade. When will the Secretary of State talk about Belize, where the withdrawal of British troops was foreshadowed exactly four days before by a coup d'état in Guatemala? That was four days after some Opposition Members had warned the right hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) that Guatemala was not stable and that Belize's safety was not safeguarded. Will the Secretary of State address himself to the protection of both British and Belizean interests in the Caribbean?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I had a valuable discussion with the Prime Minister of Belize only last week and we are conscious of our obligations to that country. The hon. Gentleman should know—if he does not, I am happy to inform him —that the new Government in Guatemala have not stated that they take a different view of the independence of Belize—
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman says yet, as if there were an implicit threat. We have given the fullest protection to Belize and we are conscious of our responsibilities to that country. Belize is now recognised by and has diplomatic relations with Guatemala. Guatemala has withdrawn her claim to the territory and the idea that the United Kingdom should continue with a permanent military garrison in those circumstances is unrealistic. We have also said that, following the gradual withdrawal of the garrison, we shall continue to have a presence in Belize, as we intend to continue jungle training there.
The United Kingdom will continue to have the closest possible relations with Belize and with its Government. If the hon. Gentleman suggests that a permanent garrison is required, he must appreciate that that would be a most inappropriate policy to pursue.
§ Mr. Wareing
No agreement with former Guatemalan President Serrano Elias had been reached on territorial waters even before the coup. Who knows what could be in store in an unstable country where there was a great threat of a military takeover just a few weeks ago? Is the Secretary of State saying that he is certain that that threat has gone for ever?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The question is whether we choose to retain a military garrison in an independent state that has, at the moment, no claims upon its territory from other countries. We do not keep military garrisons around the world. We keep them in territories where we have an historic obligation or where there is a threat to a country's independence and integrity. The idea that, because of unresolved differences of view between two countries that do not involve the independence or integrity of either state, 1021 we should keep a military garrison on an open-ended basis is a grave distortion of priorities for any country, and particularly for this country at the present time.
I emphasise that we have no intention of abandoning Belize. The withdrawal of our garrison will be gradual and could be reversed if circumstances justified it. We have no reason to believe that the present Guatemalan Government have any intention of reopening some of the old animosities. If that intention were to change, we would have to take that carefully into account.
I shall conclude by saying—[Interruption.] I am conscious that I have been speaking for quite a long time. A number of hon. Members wish to speak and I hope I may be allowed to conclude.
The hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment and he will wish to speak to it. If he catches the Chair's eye, he may be able to put forward his views.
The Government are conscious that there are difficult challenges and problems for the armed forces of the United Kingdom to face. That is inevitable at a time when we are experiencing a reduction in the size of the armed forces. It is not a problem unique to the United Kingdom —clearly all NATO countries face similar circumstances. Dramatic changes are occurring in the former Warsaw pact countries which require considerable attention and cause severe strains.
There is no doubt that, at the end of that process, we will still be able to say without equivocation that the United Kingdom retains one of the most powerful, relevant and significant military forces both in Europe and in the international community. Our professional armed forces are held in the highest respect because of their professionalism, expertise and training. We remain committed to those standards and, while there will inevitably be difficulties over the next couple of years, I believe that we will come through that period and that our armed forces will continue to be a source of great pride and achievement to the British people.
§ 5.6 pm
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
I shall begin in a non-controversial manner by joining the Minister in wishing good will to our troops in Bosnia and in many other trouble spots of the world. I wish them well and hope that they come back to this country safely.
I wish to place the Labour party's gratitude to our service personnel on the record. They have demonstrated their dedication and professionalism on numerous occasions over the past year. We should recognise that, and also that we are extremely fortunate to have those high quality armed forces. The demand by such bodies as the UN for British forces testifies to their excellence and skill. We are fortunate to have them.
We are also fortunate to have the reserves, who give the country more time and effort than is reflected by the remuneration that they receive. We must remember also the thousands of Ministry of Defence civilian workers and the hundreds of thousands of defence workers who play a vital part in the defence of our country.
The Secretary of State announced far-reaching proposals for the reserves. We must study those proposals 1022 with care. I noticed that he did not get the resounding support that I think he had expected from his Back Benchers. We must study the small print of the proposals.
The Secretary of State announced the proposals in a positive way, but left many questions unanswered. Many of us feel that the decision is not strategic, nor is it based on defence requirements. It is based on a decision by the Treasury to screw money out of the Ministry of Defence. When he replies to the debate, I would like the Minister to state how much the proposal will save, or how much extra money it will cost. Will he also say whether there will be any further reductions in the size of the Territorial Army? Those questions must be examined carefully.
The Secretary of State's announcement, and the way in which it was announced, gave a new meaning to the "army of unemployed" in this country. The Secretary of State was dismissive of the problem of unemployed reservists. However, there are 3 million people out of work and a number of them are reservists. He pooh-poohed questions about whether those reservists will be available for work. I hope that he will address that question. The petty interpretation currently employed by the Government for people who are trying to do voluntary work does not bode well for the future.
The Labour party has called for this debate for the past nine months and, obviously, we now welcome it very much. We are conscious that we are discussing the defence White Paper for 1992 halfway through 1993. It is clear that none of the discussions or votes relating to the debate will have any impact on the defence estimates, which have already been passed by the House with our support. We are debating the Government's statements on the estimates—in other words, the Government's defence strategy. We understand why the Government have been so slow to hold a debate. It is ironic that we are debating these estimates now, when within two weeks we shall get the defence estimates for 1993. I hope that in future the Government will not treat the House in such a cavalier manner.
On examining the Government's statement on defence, I can say only that by their neglect and incompetence and through their sheer inefficiency the Government have mismanaged gravely the defence of our nation.
The reason why they have made such a mess is quite clear. They are simply unable to shake off their free-market dogma and come to terms with the demise of the Soviet Union. The Conservatives have never been adept at handling change. As one Tory wag once remarked, it is not that they are against change; they simply do not like doing anything for the first time. That is the Government's dilemma. The concept of planning is anathema to them, yet planning is absolutely central to defence. Thus, with the greatest changes in the security sphere since the end of world war two, they rejected a full-scale defence review in which the chiefs of staff were properly consulted. That has been the traditional method of reassessing our defence strategy and that is what should have been done on the breakdown of the cold war.
In a letter to the RUSI News Sheet of autumn 1991, Richard Mottram, a senior MOD civil servant, stated that the group that produced the first "Options for Change" proposals, while it did contain some military personnel, did not include the chiefs of staff. The most important reason for this was tohelp avoid … selective leaks to the media".1023 That is why chiefs of staff were excluded from the discussions on "Options for Change".
I find it disturbing that Government Ministers had such little confidence in their chiefs of staff that they actually agreed with that. What confidence can the House have in a defence policy that has been written without proper consultation with the military?
§ Mr. Mans
While I can understand that there was a compelling reason to have a full-scale defence review at the end of the cold war, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, with hindsight, that would not have been the right way forward? Events have moved so rapidly and in such unpredictable ways that any review at that time would already be out of date. With hindsight, was not Government policy at the time—to look at the situation and make the changes they did—the right one?
§ Dr. Clark
I can answer the hon. Gentleman in one word—no. The real reason is that the Tory party is dogged with dogma. Any defence review was out of the question, so the then Secretary of State decided to have his hole-in-the-corner review of defence which he grandly called, "Options for Change".
The irony is that in the past couple of weeks we have had the best explanation and description of that process in the diaries produced by the then Minister of State. Alan Clark. It is quite remarkable that he spills the beans and tells us what it was all about. He was very quick off the mark and presented his own proposals on 14 January which, in his own words, were "the lead document" and had the advantage that they were "only five pages long" as opposed to the cumbersome policies and documents put forward by the other parties. He describes in great detail what happened.How shrewd and good I was to get it in first",he writes, and talks about how he was beginning to win the battle in the Ministry of Defence. He says:I retoy with the idea of supplanting him,the then Secretary of Stateand promptly. Of course I should be in charge",he writes,handling the whole thing at international level. also Washington, Brussels. My present solution would be to move TK to Health".I shall not continue because he is rather rude about certain Conservative Members. He goes on to describe the critical ministerial meeting with the Prime Minister in the chair.
I set out my stall, named and costed a number of programmes which could be eliminated without any risk. This induced show intakes of breath from the military men but I could see Lawson and Lamont beaming with approval. Martin Farndale tried to come back at me, but the PM cut him off and she started on a quite well-informed (Charles's hand clearly in evidence) summary of the approach to the equipment problems, and the need for 'inter-operability' across NATO. When the Prime Minister said that 'further work was needed' I jumped in. It was now or never.
§ Dr. Clark
That is exactly the point. It does read like a book at bedtime. However, it is how the Government did their defence review. I thank the hon. Gentleman for making the point for me.
The book continues:
What a coup! … 'Well done Alan', said Lawson … We've made it! Single-handed, you and I are going to write the Review.1024 Those were the words of a player in the "Options for Change" review. It was really like Noddy land. As the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said, it was just like a book at bedtime. I suggest to the House that it was not a proper or sensible way to devise our country's defence.
§ Mr. Robathan
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the amusing interlude that he is giving us. Does he view Alan Clark as a reliable source of information? If he does, he has further proved that the Labour party is not fit to determine our defence. Surely Alan Clark can never be called a reliable source of information.
§ Dr. Clark
All I can say is that, to the best of my knowledge, Alan Clark is not a member of the Labour party; he is a card-carrying member of the Conservative party. He was a Minister of the Crown until he himself resigned; he was not actually sacked and, as he has produced the only account of "Options for Change", we must accept it as the true one until the Government describe precisely what happened.
§ Mr. David Young
Is it not a sad concern that the Government have not created a comprehensive review in order to meet the current situation which is resulting now in the loss of morale in the forces, the fact that forces are over-stressed and over-worked and the fact that Britain is not in a position to meet the day-to-day commitments that are forced on us by the United Nations and by the rise of nationalism? Are not the Tories avoiding their election commitment to provide the necessary resources for the effective defence of this country because they have never planned for such a defence?
§ Dr. Clark
My hon. Friend put the point so well that I might consider employing him as my speech writer. He is quite right that there is no strategy and that is why we are in the current mess.
After the bedtime stories, the then Secretary of State, who quite clearly came from the same military school as Blackadder, decided to produce one of Baldrick's cunning plans and, like all Baldrick's cunning plans, it has fallen apart.
Then there was the indignity of Ministers sneaking out figures just before the Easter break, so that the House could not discuss them, announcing that 5,000 extra personnel in the Royal Navy were to be sacked. That sort of action comes from having no strategic plan. There is not even a document "Options for Change"; only a parliamentary statement supplemented by newspaper leaks and Government announcements, which, perhaps, makes the point that there has been no strategic thinking.
As has been said, the great asset of the plan was supposed to be flexibility. But, critically, that means that there was no strategic assessment of our defence needs in the mid-1990s and beyond. There has been no attempt to match the shape of our forces to the threats and risks facing our security and our obligations to the world community. What we needed then, as now, was a full-scale defence review.
We all accept that we live in a changed world and that there will be reductions in defence spending. On 19 May, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement told the House that Britain would be making cuts of about 10 per cent. in the next three years. That adds up to a reduction of about 30 per cent. by the end of the decade.
1025 No one quibbles with the need for reduced defence expenditure. However, when expenditure is cut it is all the more important to get it right. The correct balance must be struck between our services and those of our NATO allies. Because the Government failed to have a fundamental review, we have seen repeated examples of crisis management and the associated over-stretch. Our armed forces have too many roles to undertake.
The Government cannot take decisions themselves. In the autumn of 1992, the Government told the people of Plymouth, in the local press, that they would announce before Christmas 1992 whether Devonport or Rosyth would refit Trident. Yet, here we are in June, still awaiting that decision. When will they make up their minds? When will they end the uncertainty? When will they put the people out of their misery? Or do they enjoy torturing people? It appears that the well-known inability of the Prime Minister to take decisions has infected the Secretary of State with a vengeance.
It is not only the lack of decision or strategy towards change that concerns us; it is the mistaken policies based on pure dogma, especially those of privatisation and contractorisation. That approach has cost this country dear. For example, there was the recent fiasco at St. Athans with the Tornado fighters, so ably highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). The House will recall that, under the Government's competitive tendering scheme, a £7 million contract was awarded to Airwork Services to refit the fighters. It is understood that the company so botched up the work and cut so many corners that the planes are now unfit for service. The cost of rectifying that will be about £6 million per plane—on a £7 million contract. Meanwhile, 18 crucial fighter planes are grounded.
I put it to the Secretary of State that if he had achieved the downing of 18 fighters single-handed in the last war he would have been awarded the iron cross personally by Goering. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has achieved the almost impossible, all because of dogma. That is not an isolated case. Tragically, there have been as many cases as there have been escapees under Group 4 —another example of the Government's dogmatic approach.
On 9 June 1993, the National Audit Office confirmed that the Minstry of Defence police are investigating a massive fraud involving shipowners and agents during the Gulf war crisis; an issue that we raised in 1991, for which we were ridiculed. While our troops were risking their lives trying to liberate Kuwait, the fat cats were busy milking the inefficiencies of the MOD. Excessive Commissions were paid, nearly all the charters were placed with foreign shipowners because the Government had destroyed the Merchant Navy and vast profits were made. It is small wonder that the Tory party received £7 million in their coffers from foreign business men, who have been richly rewarded.
There is not only fraud but inefficiency. The same National Audit Office revealed that almost £50 million out of £260 million was spent unnecessarily because of Government incompetence. The country paid the price then for Tory dogma, but that was not an isolated case. Only yesterday the Public Accounts Committee was severely critical of the Government over ship refitting 1026 contracts. It revealed that £224 million—these are vast sums—was wasted on refitting two nuclear submarines which were then decommissioned in the middle of the refit. What a disaster, what a tragedy and what a costly mistake for which the British taxpayer is having to foot the bill.
The tragedy is that the Government do not seem to have learnt the lesson. The National Audit Office, in its report, says that the chartering arrangements to the former Yugoslavia are so poor thatthe absence of suitable movements systems and expertise … could then have serious consequencesfor the supplies going to our troops. I shall not spell out the implications of those findings, but the Secretary of State must drop that dogmatic approach to all things and sort out the system once and for all because lives are literally at stake.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
Before my hon. Friend moves on from that shameful catalogue of inefficiency by the Secretary of State and his predecessor, will he add to it the case of HMS Victoria which has cost the taxpayer an additional £70 million, is three years behind in delivery and still does not have the defence systems that were intended for it? Will my hon. Friend press the Secretary of State to ensure that before the debate is concluded on Monday evening we have a full and frank disclosure of the circumstances behind the scandalous loss of public money in relation to HMS Victoria, know when the vessel will be completed and have a reassurance that it will have the defence systems for which it was originally designed?
§ Dr. Clark
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the assiduous way in which he has gone about researching and publicising that scandal. Representing a constituency on the River Tyne—perhaps I should say River Teign, which seems to be the Prime Minister's way of describing it—I well remember the problem. It is a sore point. When I, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), have 800 constituents likely to be made redundant by Swan Hunter, it is particularly painful to realise that that order was deliberately turned away from the Tyne and given to Belfast. Therefore, I look forward to the reply to my hon. Friend's question and I hope that the Minister will be forthcoming.
Will the Secretary of State, or the Minister when he replies, confirm that last Friday, as questions were being asked in the House about the future of our troops in Bosnia and whether they should or could be evacuated, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Argos, whose light artillery, the Secretary of State told us when the naval task force was sent to the Adriatic, was critical in aiding the evacuation of our troops, was, almost to the minute, sailing into a military port in the south of England loaded with the very light artillery that the Minister told us was vital if we were to get our troops safely out of Bosnia? That is a serious charge and the Minister owes an explanation not only to the House and the country but to the troops in Bosnia who were told that equipment was available to help. Why was the RFA Argos brought home at that critical time?
The Minister may refer to Sea Harriers, but they cannot provide 24-hour cover. They are dependent on ground guidance, and are unable to reach troops in the split second that is sometimes required. If light artillery were in place, it could provide the cover needed. I hope that the Minister will remedy that serious inadequacy as speedily as possible.
1027 The Government threaten our defence with their incompetence, indecision and inefficiency—but also by their negative approach. Nowhere is that more clearly seen than in the comprehensive test ban treaty. The United States, Russia and France all agreed to a moratorium on nuclear testing. Only Britain and China disagreed. It is widely understood that the British Government's position is the hardest of them all, and that threatens the complementary non-proliferation treaty, which is due for review in 1995.
It is widely acknowledged that, unless there is progress with a comprehensive test ban treaty, the future of the non-proliferation treaty will be at stake. Why are the Government so obstinate? There is no need for further testing.
In a letter to The Independent on 18 February, four former ambassadors and senior civil servants clearly and explicitly made the case against nuclear testing. Many leading scientists in this country and overseas—including Lord Zuckerman, the former MOD chief scientist—take a similar view. The Government know the situation. In a letter to me dated 14 June, the Secretary of State wrote:At the first meeting of the NPT preparatory committee held last month, some countries made it clear that in deciding their own approach toward the non-proliferation treaty they felt it important to see progress being made towards aCTBT."
The Secretary of State cannot claim that he does not understand the argument. Why does he not act upon it? It is in the interests of Britain and of the whole world that the non-proliferation treaty is signed. Security is a far wider concept than defence. In a world of weapons of mass destruction, security is probably more vital than the narrow concept of defence.
A lack of leadership seems to characterise the Government, who constantly trail behind and are never in the vanguard. That is clear in the case of Bosnia in particular and of the United Nations in general. The Government have always lagged behind what is required in Bosnia, and people have lost their lives because of it.
The Labour party shares the Government's caution, but we have always argued and advocated a policy aimed at protecting non-combatants. Fortunately, we have been able to drag the Government along, but always slowly—and lives were lost in the meantime. If only the Government had acted earlier and with vigour, the consequences would have been much better.
As early as 7 August 1992 I called—on behalf of the Labour party—for United Kingdom troops to be sent to Bosnia to escort humanitarian convoys as part of the United. Nations effort, but we had to wait until 22 September before the Government decided to act. Why the delay? In December, the shadow Cabinet responded to my suggestion that the United Kingdom should advocate and support in the United Nations a no-fly zone over Bosnia. We had to wait until 1 April before Government support for such a policy was forthcoming.
When the House last debated Bosnia, on 29 April, I argued that United Nations safe havens should be protected by United Nations troops, and that if asked, Britain should consider allowing our troops to participate in that humanitarian role. We still await the Government's conversion. The six-nation declaration of 24 May that only United Nations troops will receive protection in safe 1028 havens almost beggars belief. Are not British troops there to protect non-combatants? They must be. That is their purpose.
Our defence industries play an integral part in our country's defence effort. We acknowledge that with defence spending cutbacks both here and abroad, there will inevitably be reductions in the numbers employed in those industries. We differ from the Government in that we feel that one simply cannot disregard the years of loyal service given by those employees. It is not sufficient to let the free market decide their fate and to throw them on the dole with the 3 million other unemployed.
In the past three years, the national press has logged 81,900 workers in defence-related industries as losing their jobs. That figure excludes thousands more job losses that have not been reported at a national level. Do the Government feel no obligation to those people? Why do they reject calls from this side of the House to assist those workers by establishing a defence diversification agency? The Governments of other countries assist their companies to develop into other markets and products. The dual use of technology may be difficult but it is not impossible. Other countries and other companies are achieving that. In Britain, many local authorities are endeavouring to assist in that way, so why do the Government shirk their responsibility?
This Government, in the words of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, are more interested in office than power. They are a Government without vision. They are a Government devoid of a leadership instinct. They are a Government for whom ideas seem too much of a burden. That is characteristic of all the Government's activities, but nowhere is it more clearly seen than in the sphere of defence. As a result, the very security of Britain is suffering.
§ Sir Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) attacked my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence for dogma, but I could hear in the hon. Gentleman's words echoes again of the Labour party's anti-nuclear stance. The strength of our nuclear arm was surely one factor in the collapse of the Warsaw pact. We stuck with it through thick and thin, despite criticisms, and with difficulty and expense—but I believe that that was the most sensible, worthwhile and peace-promoting activity that the Government undertook in conjunction with their allies.
I want today to draw attention to our reserves. This afternoon, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made some important announcements. The world scene does not give me any feeling of great peace or security. I have not added up the figures, but the other day I was told that there are no fewer than 28 armed conflicts currently raging in the world.
I do not see any great reduction in the threat from the former Warsaw pact. Many of those soldiers have nothing to do and are hungry, and many of the factories are still producing armaments in substantial quantities. Furthermore, the Governments that are supposed to have control of those countries—although they may or may not have control—are themselves insecure and unstable, and those countries are on our borders. Elsewhere in the world, the scene is no happier.
1029 I did not cast my vote in support of "Options for Change", because I believed that it was premature and too much. It must be sensible at a time when we are reducing our regular forces to enhance our reserves. There cannot be a strategist in history who would not acknowledge that as a sensible way to proceed. In fact, regular officers in command of our armed services, who are responsible for deploying their resources with the maximum effect and maximum economy, in their opinion, will always derate the reservist and say, "I would rather have a regular frigate than 10 minesweepers," or, "I would rather have a regular company than 10 Territorial Army battalions." I am afraid that that philosophy has been allowed to prevail again. I understand that the Territorial Army is undergoing yet further inspection, months after "Options for Change".
More than 10 years ago, when I was at the Ministry of Defence, I had the welcome and happy task of helping to expand the Territorial Army. We set targets that I considered somewhat optimistic on the whole; indeed, they were never achieved. For a number of reasons that I have given the House before, recruitment was never maintained at the desired level.
When the "Options for Change" figures were published, I had to say that I thought it realistic to set a reasonable and sensible figure, in terms of recruitment and equipment. Now all that has been overturned, and a further examination of possible economies in the TA is being made. Rumour has it that up to 14 units may be involved.
Perhaps I should declare an interest—not a financial one. I have the honour to have been appointed honorary colonel of A squadron of the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry, an amalgamation which—al-though, thanks to the common sense of the officers, it is proceeding happily—is far from natural.
The other day, I heard an ugly rumour that the MOD was thinking of abolishing honorary colonels; I sincerely hope that it was but a rumour. Although I well understand that the political power that such a collection of gentlemen can produce is sometimes uncomfortable for those sitting in Whitehall, I believe that they have a role to play, and that their abolition would be outrageous. In any case, I have not yet paid for my mess kit.
I think I heard my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State say that he had no plans to reorganise the Territorial Army associations. They, too, play a political role of a sort: they not only maintain TA buildings, but maintain the liaison between employers, serving -TA soldiers and the community in every area. I hope that the Territorial Army volunteer reserve associations can be preserved in their present form.
My right hon. and learned Friend spoke of consultation. I note that each of the documents published this afternoon, concerning RAF and Royal Navy reserves, has "Consultative Documents" in large letters on the front page. To me, however, that has the ring of something produced by the MOD. However many consultations may be proposed, there seems little likelihood of change.
If my right hon. and learned Friend genuinely intends consultation to take place, I hope that he will study carefully the paper that has just been produced by the council of TAVRAs; it has been sent to some of us in the 1030 past few days. The document, which is extremely well written, calmly argues the fundamental point that a reservist, if trained to carry his personal weapon, to conduct himself in a military manner and to understand the chain of command—in other words, to look after himself—can be useful in any circumstances.
The same applies to the seaman. The mine counter-measures training of the Royal Naval Reserve may not be so relevant to today's threat, but the fact remains that—for very little pay, and with very little reward—reservists were able to operate and navigate their ships, to look after themselves and to behave in a seamanlike way. They, too, would have been of asssistance.
I do not think that my right hon. and learned Friend can get away with hoping that he will not be criticised for his announcements about the RNR. The removal of no fewer than nine ships and 11 units, as announced in the document, deals a death blow to the RNR. It is ridiculous to suggest that re-enlisting 500 men in aircraft and submarine maintenance will produce anything like the present-day RNR. The truth is that the regular view has prevailed: "We will keep our regular frigates, and to hell with the reservists." It is a very sad day for the RNR; I deeply deplore what has happened, and I hope that what I have said will be counted as my contribution to the consultation.
I know that, in the next few months, Ministers' minds will be engaged by the question of the size and role of all the reserves. I emphasise the word "role". The regulars' favourite trick is to argue that there must be a role. Everything must be cut and dried: we must know exactly what this or that soldier will do when we go to war. One of the lessons of history is that almost never does a war obligingly come up to suit the staff college; wars are always unexpected and happen in the wrong place, the equipment is wrong and the soldiers have been trained in the wrong way. What, then, is wrong with training a reserve force? It must be sensible.
I believe that, last year, the reserve force cost the MOD 2.08 per cent. of its total expenditure. The Ministry cannot have anything cheaper than that. My regiment has 20-year-old vehicles. The standard of training is extremely high, and there is a good deal of enthusiasm; the pay, however, is minimal. If it were not for the enthusiastic way in which the soldiers are led, the MOD would be getting nothing for its money, but in fact it receives extraordinary good value. I hope that, one day, one of the Ministers will spare the time to visit us so that we can show him at first hand the excellent job that TA soldiers are doing.
I was interested to note that the hon. Member for South Shields mentioned the decision on the nuclear refit at Devonport. Although my constituency is about 100 miles from Devonport, the entire west country considers that decision crucial. There is no longer a justification for two dockyards the size of Rosyth and Devonport; at some point, hard decisions will have to be made. The sooner it is decided that Devonport shall be the principal dockyard for the south coast, the better: ultimately, that is what will happen, and if we go on dithering we shall simply waste a good deal of money and cause a good deal of ill feeling.
The west country is also affected by the question of the EH 101. I have often argued in the House for the provision of proper helicopter support for the British forces. As long as the RAF is responsible for supporting the Army, problems involving the allocation of money will arise— 1031 problems identical to those caused by the conflict between regulars and reserves. In 1987, Lord Younger—then Secretary of State for Defence—promised that the EH101 would be purchased in its utility version to provide medium heavy lift capacity for the British armed forces; nothing has been heard since.
We know that, because the so-called Air Mobile Brigade is about as mobile as the bicycle corps used to be because it has no helicopters, pressure is now building up. Experience of the Gulf and other such theatres—along with the experience of other armies, and the work of analysts—has shown that the British forces need a substantial helicopter enhancement.
The RAF was bemused by the offer of a cheap version of the Chinook, whose design is more than 30 years old. Of course it will pay the Americans to sell the British forces a cheap version of the helicopter: it will put our helicopter producers out of business, and in 10 or 15 years, when it comes to the next round, there will be no British alternative. The EH101 is technically an advanced helicopter, well capable of beating all its rivals. I accept that it is on the expensive side, but, if the RAF does not buy it, what hope have we of selling it anywhere else?
My hon. Friend the Minister may not be aware that the MOD made our aircraft industry a laughing stock in the recent Paris air show by revealing that MOD officials had inquired of the French Ministry whether it had any secondhand Pumas for sale. What on earth are we doing when something such as that happens? The EH 101 is a fine aircraft and we want a firm order—we have 40 in mind. Let us go ahead and show the world what we mean. That will be good for United Kingdom Ltd., because we will sell that helicopter around the world.
§ Sir Jerry Wiggin
Yes, and it is not only that. The reliability that will be built in—such as the non-vibration factors and so on—will commend that helicopter enormously.
The hon. Member for South Shields was complaining about decisions that had been delayed for months. This decision has been delayed for years, and it is time it was made in favour of the EH101.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
It is difficult to escape a sense that some of our deliberations this afternoon may be inconclusive because of the imminence of the publication of the estimates for 1993. For example, looking back at the Defence Committee's response to the 1992 estimates, it is clear that the Committee's observations about the submarine fleet are likely to be overtaken by events. The Government's proposals are likely to be available in a more detailed form in the 1993 estimates than in those for 1992.
In spite of that, a debate of this sort necessarily allows an opportunity for the discussion of a number of long-term issues. It was notable that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark)—he is no longer in the Chamber, because he has another obligation—began by 1032 asking for a full-scale defence review. There is never a defence review now that is not accompanied by the adjectives "full" and "scale".
A call for such a review was repeated this morning in the Scottish newspapers by Lieutenant-General Sir Peter Graham, the recently retired GOC Scotland. He has gone from that eminent position to lead the campaign to save the Gordon Highlanders. That may to some extent justify the view that, if there were to be a full-scale defence review, at least in the beginning, Mr. Alan Clark was sensible to consider that involving the service chiefs might not be wise.
The hon. Member for South Shields considered that the fact that it was thought that they might be the source of leaks was some sort of reflection on them. I should have thought that it was almost inevitable, in circumstances such as those outlined in the "Diaries", that leaks would have occurred, because there would necessarily be some inter-service rivalry. The hon. Member for South Shields was being, if not naive, perhaps a little disingenuous.
There is no doubt that Mr. Alan Clark believed that he was the progenitor of something in the nature of a review. However, it was clear when "Options for Change" was first announced in the House and spoken to by the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), that he believed that a defence review was not under way.
Tribute was paid earlier in the debate to the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton). I should like to add my congratulations to him on his tenure of office and to thank him for the courtesy that he displayed to me, particularly during the Gulf war. He was at pains on a number of occasions to ensure that I was aware of certain steps that were being taken by the Government so that the fullest information, consistent with security, was available to hon. Members of all parties.
The right hon. Gentleman conducted himself then and on many other occasions with a great deal of charm and courtesy for which I am grateful. I hope that we will hear from him frequently in debates of this sort, because he knows where the bodies are buried. He may be able to bring a perception to some of our debates that we would otherwise lack. If he is ever looking for battle honours, he may be able to claim, with some justification, that he served for a number of years in the Ministry of Defence with Mr. Alan Clark.
My criticisms of "Options for Change" are that there were never any options, there were never any choices and there was never any public discussion of the commitments, or the resources that might be made available to meet those commitments. I must say, particularly to those on the Opposition Front Bench—I do not excuse myself from this criticism—that it is far too easy to use the notion of a defence review as a shield against taking tough decisions.
There is no doubt that any Government of any political colour operating on the Treasury Bench now would face a series of critical and extremely difficult decisions because of the change in the strategic environment and reduced resources. It is important to realise that a defence review is not a solution. It is a means of identifying questions that will require solutions. I believe that a review is a better means of identifying those questions than any other, but it is important that one does not respond to every change in the defence environment by pretending to people in Harrogate, Rosyth and Devonport that, if there were to be 1033 a full-scale review, the difficult decisions involving their futures would be taken in a way entirely favourable to them.
Those of us who argue for a defence review have an obligation to make it clear that a review will be a more effective way of identifying the decisions, but that in the end, against the background of changes in the strategic environment and reduced resources, difficult decisions will have to be taken.
Another criticism of "Options for Change" is this. There have been substantial changes in the international security environment since July 1990. It would be surprising should there not be a change of policy to meet those changes. What policy decisions by any Department in July 1990, other than the Ministry of Defence, are still standing unaltered? The changes in the international security environment that I have in mind include Yugoslavia, the break-up of the Soviet Union, instability in the middle east and the extended role of the United Nations.
I do not believe that a middle-ranking power such as the United Kingdom can now maintain every capability, but I believe that an alliance can. Therefore, the significance of NATO and, in due course, the evolution of a common foreign and security policy within the European Community, is the means by which we may be able to provide the necessary range of capabilities. It was an alliance that met the Soviet threat. Alliances are now necessary to ensure access to the range of capabilities that the changing international situation may well require.
We must acknowledge that the driving force of a European security policy is financial as much as political, as is the reduction of United States forces in Europe. It was commonly believed that "Options for Change" was Treasury-driven, although that has been consistently denied by the Government. However, if, as is popularly believed, something such as "Options 11" is taking place, with the purpose of taking £4 billion over the next three years out of the Ministry of Defence budget, that can only be at the imperative of the Treasury, and cannot be the product of a strategic overview or some rational analysis of commitments.
Some weeks ago, Sir Richard Vincent. formerly senior commander in the United Kingdom and now a senior commander with NATO, exhorted the polititians to state what the clear political objectives might be in Yugoslavia before consideration of any commitment to further military resources. He was stating a truism but, like many truisms; it frequently has to be repeated. The same applies in defence policy.
We must have clear political objectives before we can determine what resources are necessary, but we must acknowledge that we do not start with a blank sheet of paper. Previous decisions of previous Governments have an influence over what we may do now, as do political commitments and historical responsibilities. There will always be a temptation to operate at the margin—to delay a particular procurement programme, or to make reductions in personnel, aircrafts or ships at the margin —because that is the easiest way to manage a reduction in defence spending. It is much easier to do it that way than to make difficult choices between, for example, size and 1034 quality. In the changing environment, I believe it will become more important for us to consider how we do something rather than how many things we do.
We must explore the question of force specialisation. I do not underestimate the difficulties of embarking on such a project. There would be opposition from the services and the defence industry and there would be political consequences within existing alliances, all of which would be mirrored in countries with which we sought to have a dialogue about force specialisation. It will, however, be essential to move in that direction because the financial compulsion will be overwhelming.
It would be too simplistic, especially in the light of the two opening speeches, to call for a consensus in the House, but we shall need some kind of general domestic political understanding of the direction in which policy is taking us because some of the decisions made will be irreversible. I cite an example which, as it did not happen in this way, might be thought to be neutral. If the Government had cancelled the European fighter aircraft, as they were under some pressure to do, the project would not have been reinstated. It is, therefore, very important that there should be a general domestic understanding of where policies are leading and what the consequences of certain decisions might be, perhaps not today or next year but in five or 10 years.
One matter in which consensus would be highly desirable is that of nuclear deterrence. I have never had any difficulty with the independent nuclear deterrent. I believe that for the foreseeable future it will be necessary for the United Kingdom to maintain it. I also believe, and have often said, that we need four submarines for that deterrent to be constantly available. However, I can see no justification for the deployment of any more warheads on Trident than on the Polaris system which it is to replace. Trident has twice the range, is much more accurate and is capable of being independently targeted.
I am not saying anything that the Minister has not heard me say before if I state that there is no justification for the tactical air-to-surface missile. We may just have persuaded the Government about that, but it is at least still a live issue. The TASM is the product of the old thinking which NATO has abandoned, the product of the doctrine of flexible response, nuclear war fighting, an effort to find a weapon that could cope with the massed tank formations of the Warsaw pact countries as they streamed across the inner German border.
§ Mr. Brazier
I am following the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument carefully. On that narrow point, what type of deterrent does he think we could provide to a third world dictator—many, some as near as Libya and Algeria, are close to possessing nuclear weapons—without TASM, because Trident would be very difficult to use in a third world scenario?
§ Mr. Campbell
I must take issue with the hon. Gentleman from a technical point of view. The evidence given to the Select Committee on that topic was that Trident is capable of being used in a sub-strategic role—one missile with one warhead. I do not believe that it is a realistic threat, and I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why in a moment, but if he is anxious to maintain a capability against the threat that he outlines, he could have it with the Trident system. In what circumstances does the hon. Gentleman conceive that the United Kingdom, acting 1035 alone without its allies, would consider the independent use of a sub-strategic weapon? I find it difficult to imagine such circumstances. Let me put the question in a slightly different way to reveal the nature of my thinking.
What additional increment of deterrence does the United Kingdom need beyond what is already available within the alliances of which we are a member and which would be provided by our own tactical air-to-surface missile? I cannot conceive that the additionality—to use a rather heavy-handed word which is often used in the Community—is justified.
§ Mr. Brazier
I understand what the hon. and learned Gentleman says about specialisation and looking within the alliances and I agree with his general point, but he must face the reality that America may not be here for all time. It is essential that at least one European country—it can only be ourselves or France—has the capability to deal with the third world scenario that we are describing. No one is likely to have the political will to use Trident against a third world threat. Trident is invisible. Whereas an aircraft can hover on the edge of a radar screen as a threat, a third world dictator could conceal Trident from his own people.
§ Mr. Campbell
I fancy that most third world dictators would conceal from their own people an aircraft hovering on the edge of a radar net—I doubt whether they would take prime time in downtown Baghdad to say that several European fighter aircraft were hovering just outside their airspace with tactical air-to-surface missiles.
We must assume—indeed, I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to concede this—that the NATO alliance will continue, and that it will continue as a nuclear alliance. One of the conundrums that we must resolve is the fact that the United States is anxious for Europe to take a greater role in dealing with its own defence but that, whenever it appears that it is more capable of doing so, the United States begins to believe that there may be no justification for remaining on continental Europe. If one is seeking a lock, or a means of binding the United States to Europe, it is more likely to be the nuclear element than anything else.
To proceed as I have outlined, with no more warheads on Trident than on Polaris, would be consistent with our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and certainly with the NATO doctrine of minimum deterrence or nuclear weapons as weapons of last resort. That is necessarily relevant to the issue of nuclear proliferation, which must surely be the most significant threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom from a nuclear point of view.
I do not believe that the risk is necessarily one of direct attack on the United Kingdom. A nuclear war between two parties in the middle east would have a profound effect on the United Kingdom even if we did not come under direct attack. The non-proliferation treaty must be used to the maximum. We must use diplomatic and economic means, too. I believe that the United Kingdom's good faith would be a potent weapon in the battle against nuclear proliferation.
To some extent, the hon. Member for South Shields covered my next point but it is worth repeating. It is the question of the United Kingdom accepting a moratorium on nuclear testing. There are reports today that the Clinton Administration may be about to resume testing in 1036 Nevada. This week, a report from the Clinton Administration is circulating which suggests that there will be nine tests before 1996, of which three are for the United Kingdom.
In answer to questions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell has made it clear in the past year that the moratorium had no significance for or application to the Trident system. If the United Kingdom is embarking on further tests, the implication is that they are for another warhead. Reports from Washington suggest that, with the three tests, the United Kingdom is seeking to test a redesigned warhead which would be fitted to a new sub-strategic system, either a free-fall bomb to replace the WE177 or, if the option is kept open, a tactical air-to-surface missile. I do not believe that that is in the interests of non-proliferation. Why should tests for the United Kingdom in Nevada be in the national interests of the United States of America?
As the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) hinted in his intervention, it is time to explore the issue of nuclear co-operation with our allies—the United States and France—all of whom, at one time, have strategic deterrents at sea. It would be possible to achieve an agreement by which, without giving up an independent deterrent, the alliance could maintain a constantly available strategic system. It would require the coordination of patrols and the integration of doctrine and procedures. Those are not insurmountable obstacles if we bear in mind the fact that Polaris is already committed to NATO, and that the Trident system will be similarly committed once it is brought into service.
We will be able to make more realistic observations about procurement when we see the scope of the 1993 estimates. Although I do not agree with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) about the preference in favour of Devonport—which will hardly surprise him—I certainly agree with him about the EH101. The commitment, as he has rightly pointed out, was several years ago, and it has never been expressly withdrawn. The EH101 seems to fulfil the necessary requirements, and it is a United Kingdom aircraft with great potential for export sales.
There are some principles by which one should determine procurement issues. These are not my original thoughts but the distillation of a recent discussion with other members of the Select Committee on Defence, including the Chairman, the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who is likely to try to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, later in the debate.
We cannot run a procurement policy in which the Ministry of Defence does not accept that it has a responsibility for the defence-industrial base—a policy in which it is accepted that, while competition is desirable, it should be the subject of intelligent application, not slavish adherence. We should have a procurement policy in which the Government robustly protect the interests of the United Kingdom in joint ventures and, perhaps most significantly, our policy should ensure the best value for money for our troops, not necessarily for the Treasury.
Those are all issues to which we shall return once the 1993 estimates are published when we will be required to focus on all the issues that I have raised and more. I feel that we sometimes deal in abstracts in these debates, whereas the reality is that the defence of the nation and the protection of the United Kingdom's interests requires not only our political contribution on how those interests are 1037 to be preserved and that defence to be maintained, but on the skill, courage and loyalty of all three of our services, which are being shown, even as we have this debate, in a number of places throughout the world. We owe it to those men and increasing number of women to show that we are worthy of their commitment.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)
It must be a matter of regret that, in June 1993, we are discussing the defence estimates for 1992—almost a year after they were published and less than a month before the defence estimates for 1993. I know that Ministers are conscious of that and I look forward to our returning to a proper timetable. I hope that the 1994 defence estimates will be published next spring and that we shall be able to return to the system whereby they are published every spring and discussed, at the latest, in the summer.
Much has happened since the 1992 defence estimates were published. I should like briefly to remind the House of some of the more significant changes that have occurred. In the autumn statement last year, several hundred million pounds were sliced off the top of the defence budget for this year and the next two years. That has had a significant impact on our flexibility to respond to additional needs that crop up in the defence sphere and has made it extremely difficult for us to retain the defence capability that we need in an increasingly uncertain world.
Two battalions that had been under threat were reprieved, which was most welcome. Much less welcome was the fact that that was not specifically funded, and the danger is that the £80 million that it will cost will be offset in other ways, to which I shall return later. Although the reprieve is welcome, we are looking for more as the increasing demands of Bosnia and other United Nations commitments throw greater strain on our troops. That cannot be achieved under a defence budget that has no flexibility and is limited to what has already been assessed as today's need.
That is overshadowed by what has happened in Bosnia and by the threat of nuclear proliferation, which so far has been understated in the debate. The shadow Secretary of State read out the careful statement from the Labour party manifesto in what he described as words of almost one syllable. He did not reach a word as long as proliferation because nothing in the Labour party manifesto or in its planned statements dealt with the problem of the spread of nuclear weapons. The manifesto listed countries such as China, France and the United States and said that Labour would not remove our nuclear capability until those countries had done so, but what about the other countries that are now known to have nuclear weapons and the ones that are likely to have them in the near future? I think particularly of the Ukraine, Israel and North Korea, which must pose a serious threat to the stability of that part of the world and, therefore, a long-term threat to Britain and to the interests of our NATO allies.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Does the hon. Gentleman think that the development of the Trident nuclear missile system, with a fourfold increase in nuclear warheads compared with the existing Polaris system, is not itself an enormous proliferation and, indeed, a breach of the United Nations treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to learn that I do not agree. There is no doubt that Trident is necessary for our security. We cannot take it for granted that the former Soviet Union, in its break-up —[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman listened instead of interrupting, he might hear.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
The enemy could be any country of the former Soviet Union that is still armed with nuclear weapons. We cannot take it for granted that the currently benign leadership of Russia will continue. Anyone who looks at foreign affairs with the remotest degree of intelligence must accept that. The Ukraine is showing increasing reluctance to surrender its substantial nuclear arsenal to Russia, as it previously agreed. There is the danger of North Korea arming itself with nuclear weapons. There is a large number of nuclear weapons in Israel.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
As my hon. Friend says, there is the threat of Iran and Iraq, which are very close to having nuclear weapons. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who cannot see that we need a substantial nuclear arsenal to counter the threat of proliferation, is like a camel with its head in the sand.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I do not want to destroy his speech, but the only point that I should like to make in rebuttal is that roughly 170 countries—members of the United Nations—manage to live in peace and security without nuclear weapons, and many of them are not members of any alliance. Cannot the hon. Gentleman grow up and understand that nuclear weapons are a danger and that any firing of a nuclear weapon will spark off the most appalling holocaust that will kill all of us?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I find it extremely hard to answer such a fatuous point. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the NATO alliance has secured peace for western Europe. He says that there is peace throughout the world. I do not know whether he goes—[Interruption.].
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have had enough of that, and I shall get on with the serious speech that I intended to make.
I shall now deal with some smaller but not insignificant recent events, the first of which is the decision to withdraw from Belize. I believe that that decision is mistaken, not least because, as has been pointed out, Guatemala cannot be considered stable at the moment, and when a country is unstable that must throw doubt on whether any assurances given by the regime of the moment can be relied upon even in the short and medium term.
Our presence in Belize has an enormous value, way beyond the military element. It is welcomed by the Belizeans, by the United States and by the previous Guatemalan Administration—I am waiting to hear what the present Administration feel about it. I believe that, until we decided to withdraw, the United States, the Belizeans and the Guatemalans were all begging us to stay, but now that the Government have decided to withdraw, 1039 all those Governments are obligingly falling into line and announcing that of course they understand and they can perfectly well do without us. However, the troops and RAF personnel in that part of the world, and especially the guard ship stationed there, all play a significant role in anti-drugs operations, in bolstering the British presence in central America and in securing peace in that part of the world.
The withdrawal is short-sighted, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), who was until recently Minister of State at the Foreign Office, told other hon. Members and myself when we went to see him that it is all for the sake of saving £9 million a year at most. That figure does not take into account any increased aid that we might feel that we have to give to Belize by way of overseas development grants and so on so as to offset what will be lost by the withdrawal of our troop presence.
I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friends have decided not to withdraw altogether but to maintain Belize as a training area. The Select Committee on Defence will go there in December and when we return I shall report to the House what we find.
§ Sir Jerry Wiggin
My hon. Friend has left out one important factor—Belize is the only theatre in which British troops receive any training in jungle warfare. This will be the first time since the end of the second world war that no jungle warfare training is available.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I did not leave that factor out, because we are not withdrawing from the jungle training element; there will still be jungle training facilities in Belize. However, I doubt whether we have costed the true cost of sending people out to use those facilities and offset it against what we allegedly save by bringing people back regularly. I suspect that the decision represents a frantic effort by the Government to ease the emergency tour plot gap. Clearly, it will do that to some small degree.
The Defence Select Committee was in Cyprus a fortnight ago and I found there, as everywhere else we go, the troops are stretched to the utmost limit. Half our troops stationed at sovereign bases are not at the bases at all, but carrying out emergency tour plot operations in the Falklands. That means that they have had to take their families from this country out to Cyprus, and then promptly abandon them so that they can do a six-month tour in the Falklands, leaving their young wives extremely unsettled in Cyprus, in a strange place in which they do not especially want to be.
That is bad enough, but I am told that at least one unit will have to go away not once but twice during its Cyprus tour. That is an example of the difficulties that our troops face because of the shortage of infantry available to carry out all our tasks in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. My right hon. Friends in Government will have to tackle those problems.
The Select Committee on Defence will keep a close eye on developments in that sphere, and I shall not rest until the emergency tour plot gap is back to the 24 months that is supposed to be the minimum, rather than the 17 months that is the present average and the 10 or 11-month gap that can sometimes occur.
§ Mr. Wolfson
My hon. Friend was talking about families being abandoned for periods in Cyprus and other places. Does he agree that that has a deleterious effect on morale, and therefore affects a person's decision whether 1040 to remain in the services or to get out? Does that not represent a cost to the services to be offset against possible savings?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
My hon. Friend is right, of course. There is a distinct danger that morale will sink to the point at which we can no longer sustain the kind of troop forces that we need. That is especially important among those with specific skills, such as senior non-Commissioned officers. People of that age and rank tend to have young wives and children, and substantial family commitments. When we were in Northern Ireland, we saw evidence of the fact that if too great a stress is put on family life by removing too regularly the man of the house for six months at a time, it is the wife who finally puts her foot down and says, "I cannot put up with this any longer. You must leave the Army and find a better job so that you can be at home." One reason why service men are not leaving in greater numbers is the recession, so I fear that as we come out of recession we shall find it harder to keep troops with the necessary expertise, unless we can put that problem to bed.
§ Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)
Time and again, we have heard Ministers repeating the aspiration for a 24-month interval between tour duties. Has my hon. Friend or the Defence Committee seen any evidence that that aim may be achieved within the draw-down period to 1995?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I think that it is common ground that that will certainly not be achieved before 1995, and the Defence Committee has been unpersuaded by the Government's assurances from time to time that things will get better after 1995. I see no evidence in the detailed figures that that will happen, and it will certainly not happen if there are any other demands on our troops in other parts of the world—for example, if we have to increase our forces in Bosnia or honour some other United Nations commitment. I see little prospect of our getting anywhere near a 24-month minimum emergency tour plot gap in the foreseeable future.
I shall now consider how we are getting on with some of the specific points raised in the Select Committee's report on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1992. I shall concentrate first on equipment. We are still waiting to hear details of the update of the Challenger 1 tank fleet. There have been many promises that Challenger 1 would be upgraded and be close to being as good as Challenger 2, and substantially cheaper. That announcement was made two years ago, and so far as I am aware we are not close to implementing it. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will be able to make a statement on that when he replies to the debate.
Likewise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Western-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) said, the EH101 contract was promised by Lord Younger six years ago, and we are no closer to seeing that. It is time that a firm decision was made. I endorse everything that my hon. Friend said about the respective merits of the systems, and I hope that we shall not have to wait even as long as until the end of the year before there is a distinct EH I01 contract on the books and we know where we are going. The support helicopter role is critical to any future defence planning for this country, and at the moment we are a long way away from having anything effective in place.
1041 The Eurofighter, now called the Eurofighter 2000, is apparently on track now. When I last heard how the costings were going, I understood that I was being told that the cost was 13 per cent. less than that of the original European fighter aircraft; yet when I see figures showing how the costings are going, they rise inexorably, and faster than inflation. I hope that my hon. Friend will enlighten me as to how we are achieving a 13 per cent. saving on the original cost when the true cost of the project is rising at such an alarming speed. I have no doubt that EFA 2000 will be an excellent aircraft, and that we need it, but we must keep proper cost control and make certain that our partners honour their part of the deal, and we are not left holding the baby.
On naval matters, the Upholder class submarine is giving me cause for concern. I am not at all clear what the plans for it are. It is certainly true that we would not order that type now because of the change in the strategic needs for the Navy and the fact that nuclear submarines can fulfil most of the roles. None the less, we have got them and they are first-class submarines. I do not believe that we would get very much for them if we wanted to sell them. I look for some assurances that we will keep the Upholder submarines, keeping at least one of them operational, so that we have the skills necessary to benefit from the particular advantages that diesel submarines offer, with the rest being in a state of "extended readiness"—something on which I have commented before. We should have a diesel submarine fleet available when needed, particularly for coastal work.
With regard to personnel, the Committee has looked very closely at the housing and resettlement programme for those who have been made redundant. I look forward to hearing what further progress has been made on that front. I should also like to hear whether the Herford job centre is to be extended for two years, as we were told it might be. Everything that we have heard about the centre shows that it is doing a magnificent job in helping people who were in Germany to find jobs back home. I hope that the centre will be continued for as long as a need for it is apparent.
Pay is also very important. We have 1.5 per cent. for this year. The pay review body was not allowed to look at the merits of that award. I should like an assurance that it will be given back its remit to set the right level of pay for the armed forces, starting in 1994–95.
We also looked at the transitions work programme—paragraphs 4.23 to 4.25 of our report—and the £1.14 billion allocated in 1991 for new building and refurbishment. The Committee was worried that it was proving difficult to set up the programme within the time allocated and that money could not be rolled forward when it was not used. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would tell us how much was spent in 1992–93, whether the unspent balance was brought forward and how the £460 million allocated for this financial year, 1993–94, will be spent. As we said in our second report, either the money must be found to give the members of the services decent accommodation or they must be given more freedom to use their own resources to create it—in my view, that method is grossly underused. We have some magnificent people with magnificent skills in the armed forces, and too often they are prevented, in 1042 a way that is quite unnecessary, from using those skills to enhance the standard of their own accommodation. I hope that my hon. Friend will take a close look at that and give me the assurance that I request.
The Committee is concerned that the civilian element of the armed forces is not being run down quite as fast as the sharp-end element. There is nothing very unusual about that. When people are given the task of cutting back, it is most unlikely that they will cut back on themselves first. We were given assurances at our oral session that the civilian cuts would match the sharp-end cuts, but there are still, I believe, 135,000 civilians in the Ministry of Defence. It is by far the largest part that is left of any of the individual services, and I feel that the House would look askance were it to find that the civilian staff were not being run down in proper proportion to the armed forces.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
The Chairman of the Defence Select Committee seems to be categorising all civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence as boxwallahs in Whitehall, as it were, and part of the tail, not the teeth. Most of those civilians are involved in the repair or supply of equipment. I shall come to the role of some of them later, should I be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I can certainly reassure the hon. Gentleman that I do not want to give any false impressions. Of course, the civilians do an invaluable job in our armed forces. None the less, it remains true that the rundown has to be seen to be fair and balanced and the civilian element must be seen to be making the same kind of sacrifice as the rest of the armed forces are asked to make.
Today, we have had announcements about the reserves. I am glad to be able to welcome a great deal of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said. I specifically welcome the assurance that he has given the House as to his personal commitment to ensuring the future of our reserve forces. It is clearly essential, when our regular forces are being run down, that our reserve forces are bolstered. That is the only way in which we shall be able to maintain our long-term capabilities. My right hon. and learned Friend's assurances on that in general terms are most welcome, as is his statement about the widening of the role that can now he played by the Territorial Army and the other reserve forces. The TA has wanted for a long time to be given operational duties in peacetime, and I very much welcome its widened role.
I take some of the points that my hon. Friends have made about the difficulty of getting the detail right. I was pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend said that he was determined to have a consultation period and to make sure that the detail was agreed specifically by those directly concerned in the operation of the new system, so that none of the dangers and pitfalls that could flow from the change, if it were not properly handled, resulted.
I very much welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement that the details of the naval and RAF volunteer reserve forces that he has announced today are flexible, and that these are indeed consultation papers and not writ in stone, because I share some of the fears and reservations that have been expressed in the House today as to the consequences of some of the details.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), I cannot argue with the logic that says that we 1043 cannot have minesweepers which are obsolete and for which there is no proper role. It clearly must be right, therefore, to look again at the role of the Royal Naval Reserve, what sort of vessels it should have and what they should do. However, I am reluctant to accept, without looking at the matter in more detail, that it is right to remove all ships from the RNVR and to say that their only future role will be maintenance or land based, or, in the case of about 500, that they will be attached to Royal Navy regular ships. It seems to me that the RNVR role will be very difficult to maintain, as will the enthusiasm of the people who join it, if they do not have some kind of ships of their own. They need not be terribly expensive—for example, coastal patrol vessels or something small but up to date. In any case, we must look at that matter in detail. There is nothing to be gained by speculation today as to what might be the best way forward on that front.
I wish to make one point about the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve. Today, the Defence Committee went down to the Army Air Corps, where there is a very large TA flying reserve unit; 666 Squadron is made up entirely, as I understand it, of volunteer airmen, and they undertake 28 per cent. of all United Kingdom land force flying commitments that the Army Air Corps undertakes. If that can be done in the Army, why can we not have a flying reserve in the RAF? It is something that most other countries—certainly the United States—have. We have a great many people in civilian life with flying skills, which I am sure could be adapted and used to military advantage, and I do not understand why we have always turned our backs on the idea of looking closely at an RAF flying reserve. l hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench will adopt a more flexible and imaginative attitude to an RAF volunteer reserve than has been shown for several years. [Interruption.]
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am sure that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), who has his back to me, is nevertheless paying attention to every word that I say.
I turn finally to the other report which the Defence Committee tagged as relevant on the Order Paper—our fifth report, which we agreed yesterday and which takes forward the question of Army manpower, in particular infantry numbers. The Government's reply to our second report is attached.
I hope that hon. Members will take the trouble to read the Government's reply to our second report and our further Comments because, frankly, I am not happy with the present situation. Some of the answers seemed to me and other members of the Committee to be singularly weak. For example, the Government have claimed that, because the level of forces in Germany is being reduced, our commitments are likewise being reduced in parallel. That is simply not the case, because almost all our troops in Germany are at least double, triple or quadruple hatted.
The fact that our troops will not be in Germany does not mean that they will not still be used on emergency tour plots for United Nations duties, other duties, the rapid reaction corps and so on. The fact that they will no longer be needed in Germany does not mean that we will need fewer soldiers. The fact that they were there in the fore on 1044 paper—they were never there in fact, although they were there in paper strength—was a weak reply to our point about infantry numbers.
The same can be said about the emergency tour plot interval to which I have already referred. There is no doubt that we need to retain that as one of the criteria to examine when we assess whether the Army has adequate strength. The Government did not appear to be happy with that in their reply to our second report.
We welcome a broader approach to that matter because, if the emergency tour plot gap is taken globally, it does not reflect the true facts. Indeed, it understates the problems faced by individual soldiers, many of whom are on attachment from one unit to another and, therefore, have a shorter emergency tour plot gap than they would appear to have on paper if they had always served with the unit to which they are appended. I should like to see figures for nights out of bed on a much more specific basis than any that are available at present.
I refer to the add-back of 3,000 which was announced earlier. Of course, that add-back is extremely welcome. When we look at the details, it is difficult to find out exactly how those 3,000 come to exist. There are 1,300 added back for the two battalions and there is no dispute about that. However, if we look further, we discover that the 300 who will do public duty as increments to the guard battalions were already promised before the add-back, so that 300 is double counting. There are another 300 to cover an increase in the establishment of armoured regiments. That was already agreed in the autumn, so once again there appears to be double counting.
It is not clear whether we will reach the level of 119,000 that was promised. I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friends that that will be the case. I ask them clearly to tell the House whether those 119,000 are supposed to last beyond 1995 or whether it is planned to revert to 116,000 after 1995, because there seems to be no sign in any plans of any funding for the additional strength beyond 1995. That covers most of the major points that I wanted to make.
Before I finish, I shall mention the "Panorama" programme on the Atomic Weapons Establishment—in case anyone saw it. That was the most appalling piece of television that I have seen for some time. The programme grossly misled those who watched it. For example, there was a magnificent picture of members of the Committee getting out of their cars and going into Aldermaston. Members of the Committee were not being photographed —it was a lot of slimmer and much fitter gentlemen who leapt out of their cars, or, obviously, a lot of out-of-work actors. They ran from some smart limousines into a building that was alleged to be Aldermaston. In fact, my colleagues and I limped out of a large bus and hobbled gently into Aldermaston. There is no proper comparison at all.
Much more seriously, the programme makers claimed to have seen a leaked document to which the Committee was in the process of agreeing. It is true that the sentence that they produced was accurate. However, they photographed a document which, clearly, was not the report that it was alleged to be, but was a mock-up of a much earlier report from the Committee. Furthermore, I do not believe that the programme makers had seen the Committee's report, because, when it is published, they will find that there is more interesting reading in it than the innocuous sentence that they put in the programme.
1045 The most significant point is that the programme makers had another actor, who was purported to be a civil servant, announcing that the Committee had been deliberately misled by the Government. I am satisfied that we were not deliberately misled by anyone.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I shall give way in a moment.
I accept that there is a reluctance sometimes on the part of people giving evidence to us to disclose everything that we want to know. However, I can assure the House that on that visit there was absolutely no attempt deliberately to deceive the Committee and I am happy to report that to the House. Although there are matters in what we found that we will certainly continue to investigate, I am satisfied that there was no attempt deliberately to mislead the House.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I also saw the "Panorama" programme. I immediately knew that it was a reconstruction because of the slim figures who were meant to be the members of the Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, nevertheless, that the reconstructions with actors making some serious statements, the Health and Safety Executive official and the person reading a statement by a civil servant, and all the allegations about health and safety, raised some genuine concerns? It is clear from what the hon. Gentleman said that those concerns will be reflected in the report. In the light of all that, is not it unfortunate that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement did not take the opportunity of appearing on "Panorama" and dealing with some of those serious allegations?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
To deal with the hon. Gentleman's first point, it is right that some of the comments made by the Health and Safety Executive have resulted in further questions that need to be asked. The Committee reviews Aldermaston on an annual basis and we shall continue to do so. We will examine any serious points in detail.
To deal with the hon. Gentleman's second point, my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement was absolutely right not to appear on the "Panorama" programme. I would not have gone anywhere near it. Indeed, I suspect that one of the reasons why the programme came out in the form that it did was that the request by the programme makers to be allowed to accompany us into Aldermaston was turned down unanimously by all members of the Committee. I do not think that the "Panorama" report was fair, accurate or properly researched. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.
I have detained the House long enough. I have been the Chairman of the Committee for almost a year. I thank my colleagues on the Committee, all of whom work much harder than other hon. Members would undoubtedly give us credit for. It has been a useful year and I look forward to continuing the work of the Committee. I especially thank the staff who have worked extraordinarily hard to produce good and well-constructed reports for the Committee to vet and table in the House. The work that is done by the staff of the Select Committee on Defence and, indeed, all Select Committees is something to which the House should pay great tribute.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I too watched the "Panorama" programme, which seemed to raise a whole series of quesions that should be answered. I hope that the Committee's report, when published, will answer some of them.
It seems a little ironic that, increasingly, television programmes suggest that Government Departments and others are misleading people, yet the programme makers do not stick to what seems to be a basic principle—that they should make it clear that they are using library film from the past or reconstructions. It would be simple to show that at the bottom of the screen. If the programme makers expect other people to tell the truth, they should do the same.
There is an odd contrast in the House tonight between now and what happened earlier. During Treasury questions, there was a great deal of scrutiny of public expenditure and the Government's willingness to examine in great detail how much money is being spent on things such as invalidity benefit.
When we turn to defence, the Government's approach is wholly different. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) gave a long list of cases of mismanagement in which the Government seem able to throw money at problems without the same scrutiny. If we want good defence forces, as I am sure we all do, it is important that we exercise the same level of scrutiny over expenditure on them as over all other Government expenditure.
I turn now to the way in which the armed forces have reviewed the pay office. Part of it is within Tameside, in which part of my constituency falls. There was considerable concern at the Government's decision to centralise the pay office. I understand the Government's logic in saying that it is better for civilians to deal with pay. It is also logical to deal with it in one office rather than in five or six centres around the country. However, it is odd that the Government did not think through the whole process from the beginning.
The Government started to civilianise the activity in a series of different centres, and then centralised it in one place. To have recruited people for the past two years to the Ashton office, admittedly to process allowances rather than pay, and then, part way through the recruitment process, to announce that a new national centre was being considered alarmed my constituents.
Obviously, Tameside council was particularly concerned at the possibility of losing jobs from the area. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and other Members representing Tameside made representations to the Government. The right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) kindly saw the deputation. We were courteously received and the council made a good presentation.
However, part way through the presentation, it became clear that the Government wanted not a new site but an existing building. Sadly, Tameside could not find a new building for the pay office. We left a little disappointed, but, as representatives of Greater Manchester, we were well aware that there were many other empty offices in the area.
Rightly, Roy Oldham, the leader of Tameside council, got in touch with other leaders of councils in Greater Manchester, and eventually the alternative of Europa 1047 house in Stockport was proposed. We submitted the proposal and, much to our surprise, the Government, having half decided that the office would go to Glasgow, announced that they were having second thoughts and were considering the proposal.
§ Mr. Bennett
I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman's agreement that I am giving a fair precis of events.
There was considerable concern among the people who worked in Ashton when, at the Scottish Conservative party conference, it was announced that the office would go to Scotland. It seems to me and the stewards concerned that, despite what was supposed to be a financial appraisal of the situation, suddenly a political decision was made. I do not complain if decisions are made on the basis of wheeler-dealing and politics, but I am concerned when it is claimed that decisions are made purely on economic grounds, and it seems to me that the present proposals are not based on economic grounds.
I particularly want to raise with the Minister the problem facing many of my constituents who work in the pay office. They have been told that they can relocate to Glasgow but often their spouse also works. Indeed, by the nature of the pay levels, it is likely that both members of the household would work.
It is not much use to offer one member of the household the opportunity to relocate to Glasgow if it means that the other must give up a job. If it is necessary to recruit extra staff for the relocated office, if it eventually ends up in Glasgow, the Government should consider offering the new jobs first to the spouses of people who may be able to relocate if both could get jobs. Otherwise, the offer of relocation and of paying for people to move is an empty gesture. I am not satisfied that the relocation of the pay office to Scotland is the most effective use of resources.
Today, the Stonewall Trust has been in touch with me. It is concerned about a document it refers to as "Defense Counsel Instructions ICR M 2/87", which is supposed to deal with the question of homosexuals in the armed forces. The debate on this issue in the United States has not been particularly helpful, but if what the Stonewall Trust suggests in that document is correct, we are dealing with the issue in an even more squalid way here. Will the Minister ensure that there is a copy of the document in the Library so that Members can look at it? It may be more appropriate to deal with the issue in the debate on discipline in the armed forces late on Monday night.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) raised the question of nuclear tests. It is amazing that the Secretary of State could go through a long speech without mentioning that matter. I understand that we are in direct negotiations with the United States of America on whether we can carry out three more nuclear tests. If we are in favour of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the sooner we have an effective worldwide test ban, the better.
We have a moratorium which includes most of the countries involved. It is sad if there is pressure on the United States to start testing again. The danger is that, if the United States starts testing again, it will give an excuse to people in Russia and elsewhere who would like to carry out further tests. Certainly, some of the stories coming out 1048 of the old Soviet Union about the state of some areas where nuclear tests were carried out make it clear that it would be sad if more tests were carried out there.
There is no justification for it. We are told that President Clinton is proposing to Congress six further American tests and three further British tests. I do not know whether it is correct, but we are told that the Americans need to test the reliability of existing weapons. I cannot see why that is necessary. If they say that they will sign up to a comprehensive test ban treaty, there should now be sufficient scientific ways of verifying that weapons can do what they are supposed to do. Therefore, the tests are not needed.
Our argument is that we want not to verify the reliability of our existing weapons, but to develop the possibility of a new weapon of some sort or a modified form of the WE177. That is wholly in contravention of the non-proliferation treaty. I thought that we had signed it on the basis that we would not seek a new set of nuclear weapons.
It would be sad if the Americans agreed to start testing again. It would be particularly sad if they allowed us to carry out three tests, not to verify the reliability of our old weapon systems, but to develop a new system. If it is legitimate for Britain to plead that it needs a new system, surely it is legitimate for all sorts of other countries to plead the same. That would lead to the spread of those weapons. I therefore plead with the Government to stop begging the Americans to let us conduct more tests. Let us accept that, for the future of the world, no further nuclear tests are necessary.
We have Trident. Used with one warhead, it represents a sub-strategic nuclear deterrent. We do not need a new free-fall bomb. Let us say that, if we are to continue with nuclear weapons, the Trident system is sufficient, remembering that it can be modified for a sub-strategic role. In other words, we can stop wasting money on the development of more nuclear weapons.
I have always argued that we should go further and make it clear that, for non-proliferation purposes, we can do without nuclear weapons. In any event, let us say once and for all that we do not intend to put extra warheads on Trident missiles. The level of nuclear weapons we have, including Polaris missiles, is more than enough to provide us with a deterrent.
Given all the problems that exist on the Aldermaston production line, if we were committed to producing far fewer warheads, it might be easier to improve safety and production facilities there. We must consider deCommissioning our Polaris and other nuclear submarines.
The way in which we are cutting expenditure on defence is bound to be causing distress to the defence industries. That is why we must search for alternative jobs for those who are, or have been, employed in those industries. If the Government will not agree with some of the Opposition's proposals for the alternative use of large numbers of people involved in the defence industries, they should at least consider deCommissioning old nuclear submarines and the creation of new jobs.
We must give greater thought to the ways in which arms are proliferating worldwide. Particularly frightening are the number of arms from eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union that are being sold. As the hon. Member for Western-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) pointed out, there are 28 wars going on in the world. The more we can reduce the quantity of second-hand arms being sold, the safer the 1049 world will become. Perhaps we might consider buying some of those arms and dismantling them. That would be a better use of our money than some of the other activities that we are undertaking.
A sad aspect of not having a comprehensive review is that we have not examined the need for defence land in this country. I have often referred to this subject. The Ministry of Defence still argues that it needs more land for training purposes. Although I do not believe that that claim can be sustained, a proper view would enable us to see how much defence land is being used for training and whether more could be released, in this crowded island, for the public to enjoy for recreational purposes.
Considerable parts of the north Pennines are no longer being used for manoeuvres. As a result of past exercises, many unexploded weapons must be dealt with. I hope that they can be cleared out of the way and the land made available for recreational use.
I pay tribute to my many constituents who served with the Cheshires in Bosnia. It is important for us to carry out humanitarian roles in the world. They worked in extremely difficult circumstances, and we can be proud of the way in which they carried out their duties. We can be equally proud of those who replaced them.
§ 7.3 pm
§ Mr. Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the kind remarks that he made about me and my service at the Ministry of Defence. It was a great pleasure for me to work with my right hon. and learned Friend and my fellow Ministers. I also thank the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) for his kind remarks.
I congratulate the Minister of State, who now has what I consider to be the best job in Government. He is ideally qualified for it. He has already had some experience of working in Northern Ireland with our troops, and the fact that he brings his expertise as an accountant to his tasks at the Ministry of Defence will prove useful to him when he looks hard at some of the investment appraisals that are put before him. I am sure that he will find the job as enjoyable as I found it.
I shall concentrate on the major argument over defence expenditure, which is the balance between resources, capabilities and commitments. Traditionally, in the days when the United Kingdom was positively threatened by the Warsaw pact, we began our consideration of the position with the commitments that we needed to defend these islands. Those commitments were, in great measure, tied up with our membership of NATO and the joint security that we received by co-operating with our allies. In addition, we had overseas commitments, so we worked backwards and considered how much money we should spend on defence.
As the Secretary of State pointed out, we spend about £24 billion on defence. A similar amount is spent by the Germans and French. We must not overlook the fact that their economies are larger than ours, so as a percentage of the gross national product, they are spending less than we are. I have no argument with the size of the defence budget. There are good reasons why we spend such a large sum on defence, not least because we have a nuclear deterrent and continue to have a number of overseas 1050 commitments. We also have professional forces, and they have proved themselves to be—for example, in the Gulf —most effective.
Nor should we overlook the fact that we are living this year with a public sector borrowing requirement of £50 billion. It is therefore unrealistic to expect us to spend more on defence than we are spending today. Here I question the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), the Chairman of the Select Committee, who has constantly criticised decisions that the Government have taken. For example, he criticised the addback of two battalions and the fact that the increase in numbers of 3,000 was not funded.
There is no way in which any change in defence will be funded by extra money from outside, and it is unrealistic to expect otherwise. If we are to address the defence budget as a whole and claim that certain measures should be taken to increase our capabilities, we must find the money from within the defence budget. It would be unrealistic to consider the problem in any other way. The fixed point from which we should operate is that represented by the resources that are available.
What are we trying to achieve from our defence expenditure? It is important not to forget that the primary purpose of that expenditure is the defence of the United Kingdom. I am the first to acknowledge that the threat to this country has receded dramatically. The Soviet Union no longer exists, and the Warsaw pact has disintegrated. There are good reasons for thinking that the threats to Britain today are minimal.
But it is impossible to forecast the future, and we do not know what threats will emerge. For example, it is difficult to foresee where Russia will go—whether democracy will hold there, or whether it will become more threatening to its European neighbours—so the second priority of defence must be to keep our capabilities. That is a very expensive business indeed. I should be distressed if, because of other pressures in defence, we started to lose capabilities, such as our ability to wage anti-submarine warfare.
Anti-submarine warfare is no longer a great defence priority; Russian submarines are patrolling much less frequently, so the need to try to find them has radically reduced. We do not know, however, about future submarine deployment. We know very well that other countries are buying submarines, so we may be faced with great threats that we cannot foresee. I would be extremely concerned if we lost our anti-submarine warfare capability.
The Navy and the Air Force have great air defence capability—for example, the low-level bombing capability of the Tornado GR1s. Such capability is critical for the defence of the United Kingdom and that of our interests elsewhere.
We should remember that, when we talk about commitments, we are talking not about our commitment to defend the United Kingdom, but about our commitments to try to bring peace to different parts of the world and those to the United Nations. Our commitments are like a piece of string—they are as long as one wants to make them.
It is widely acknowledged that British troops are probably the best in the world. They are undoubtedly the best to undertake a peace-keeping, peace-making operation, because their experience in Northern Ireland enables them to deal with extremely difficult situations. 1051 That is why they were described in Bosnia by a well-known reporter as being "stunningly" the best troops on the ground.
Everyone wants British troops to play a role in the world, but we must limit our commitments, or they could serve in an unlimited number of theatres of war. Mention has already been made of the 28 different conflicts that are now going on. Are we to be involved in all of them? If so, our troops will be overstretched.
We must meet commitments according to our available resources. The defence budget of £24 billion will not increase. I certainly would not advocate, however, that it should be reduced dramatically. It is essential that we maintain our capabilities because, by the nature of defence, they are an insurance policy. We must, however, consider carefully the commitments that we may be asked to fulfil.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster criticised the decision to withdraw troops from Belize. If we do not constantly review our commitments, we will operate a ratchet—our troops will be sent all over the world. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State referred to Cyprus, where British troops have been stationed for the past 25 years. For some reason it is not possible to share the United Nations commitment in Cyprus with anyone else, but we have, finally, reduced the number of troops serving there.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I do not disagree in principle with my right hon. Friend, but he is slightly contradicting his own theme. He has told the House that we should assess our defence needs and act accordingly. In almost the next breath, however, he said that he considered that the budget of £24 billion was the one within which we must operate. Surely that must mean that we will have to cut our cloth to suit the financial limit that my right hon. Friend has artificially imposed upon it.
I accept that we must review our commitments regularly, but we are a member of the United Nations Security Council and we have enormous responsibilities in that role. Our international status and standing depends to a great extent on the magnificent work of our armed forces. My right hon. Friend should accept that we must have a degree of flexibility in a changing world. One cannot allow a Treasury ceiling of £24 billion to be the controlling factor on the size of our forces.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that point, because that is the nub of my argument: with him. It is totally unrealistic to expect any more money for the defence budget. A major outside threat to the security of the United Kingdom would have to arise for that budget to be increased. I do not foresee that happening in the next 10 years. It is therefore unlikely that the defence budget will increase beyond £24 billion. We must accept that figure and work back from it. The result is a tremendous pressure on commitments.
It is interesting to consider who is contributing to the operations in Bosnia. The French, the Canadians, the British and the Spanish have sent troops, but none of our other European partners have done so. For some reason, they seem to believe that the conflict does not involve them. We are being asked to carry an unfair burden. We should remember that one is never paid the full costs of deploying troops on behalf of the UN, so that costs the 1052 Exchequer money. We must ensure that our European partners play a larger role in the peace-keeping operation, especially if it is considered to be a European one.
We should not forget our major peace-keeping operation in Northern Ireland. That operation takes up 19,000 troops, many of whom are rotated and are part of the emergency tour plot, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Upminister referred. For every one battalion in Northern Ireland, one must decide whether one needs four or five others to ensure that the rotation works.
We must take a hard look at our other commitments. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster would acknowledge that our undertaking in Bosnia contributes to the pressures on the emergency tour plot. It is another arduous commitment.
Quite apart from the pressures on the British Army, I believe that there is no military solution to the problems of Bosnia. The military can only operate there as long as they have the basic agreement of the warring factions to do so. The second that we try to impose our will on those factions by military means, we will be drawn into a civil war. I do not want to talk about numbers, because there is no limit on the number of troops who could be sent to Bosnia. That would only mean that we were drawn into a long, bloody war, which ultimately we would lose.
We must try to disabuse people of the idea that all that needs to be done is to use air power to shoot up a few Serbian artillery positions. They believe that that would result, somehow, in a change in Serbian attitudes. That attitude would change—for a week. The Serbs would then regroup and change tactics.
We must never forget that Yugoslav defence under Tito was based on guerrilla tactics. The plan was to withdraw to the mountains and use weapons kept in massive underground arsenals, which still exist, mostly in Serbian areas. The plan was to harry any Russian attack—that is what the Yugoslays were worried about—from guerrilla positions in the mountains.
There is no way in which we can impose a military solution on Bosnia, and there are great dangers in thinking that we can. We have done a magnificent job of distributing aid under the present system. That has been achieved on the basis of the warring factions accepting the presence of our troops and not regarding them as the enemy. If we start thinking that, by reinforcing our troops, we can impose our will, we will be faced with an extremely disappointing reaction.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence for having kept us out of Bosnia. Long may that continue.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I am always pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, not least because it enables me to pay tribute to our security forces for the magnificent job that they do throughout the world, but particularly in my part of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland.
I am privileged to have first-hand experience of the work that the Army does, both in and out of uniform. I never cease to marvel at the restraint that our security services display in the most difficult circumstances. But of 1053 course, Northern Ireland is not, as we have heard this afternoon, the only place in which the security forces face great danger.
We have just listened to the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) speak about the Bosnian conflict. I want to mention the Royal Irish Regiment, which served as part of the force in Bosnia at the time that the Cheshire Regiment was there. It is sometimes forgotten that the Royal Irish Regiment has played a vital role in Bosnia.
My colleagues and I have a deep concern about our forces in Bosnia. We have been unable to detect any coherent policy governing how those forces might be able to protect themselves. We know that there is a fluid situation in Bosnia, and that it is hard to lay down specific terms under which our security services can operate. But it is wrong and dangerous for our soldiers to have to appear to improvise in situations such as occurred recently when British forces were protecting a large Muslim convoy.
When one hears of our soldiers being disarmed, one waits in trepidation for a real tragedy. Already, our forces in Bosnia have been forced to open fire. Yet we know that they are not there in adequate numbers to protect themselves in a similar situation. I fear an occasion when our forces will be overwhelmed, and I dread hearing each day about the situation in which they find themselves.
My party supports our nation's contribution to and participation in United Nations' operations. But that should not mean that we require our soldiers to operate in limbo. Nor should participation oblige us to guarantee further reinforcements for Bosnia. There are more wealthy nations than Britain which are not playing their part, and far too much of the burden has fallen upon our own forces.
It is always a grave matter to commit one's security services to a theatre of open warfare. It should not be done —humanitarian considerations notwithstanding [without a clearly defined military objective and adequate military competence in terms of their self-defence.
I listened to what the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said. I agree with him that we cannot force the warring factions in Bosnia into submission. The point that I am making is different. If our forces are providing humanitarian assistance, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to those forces that I do not believe has been met.
I was particularly pleased, and I know that the voluntary reserves will be pleased, to hear what the Secretary of State said about their opportunities to volunteer again for active service. But I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who rightly speaks against the need for the reserves to have to volunteer twice. That is patent good sense. We all know the first thing that happens when one volunteers and gets into uniform—one is encouraged never to volunteer for anything again.
A country with a finite defence budget should not be paying for the training of what is hopefully that very small number of volunteers who will always depend on others to respond in an emergency. Under the Secretary of State's arrangement, they could enjoy an exciting social and—irrespective of what some hon. Members may think—tolerably well paid hobby without any real commitment.
1054 I do not want what I have said to reflect on the vast majority of volunteers who have a solid commitment, but we know from experience that there are those who do not share that commitment. Under the Secretary of State's new arrangement, I believe that that problem will increase.
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) was more pessimistic, but I believe that worldwide conflict is unlikely to occur again within our lifetime on a scale that might have been expected no longer than four or five years ago. The likelihood of less widespread conflicts means that there is unlikely to be massive mobilisation. The volunteer reserves will not be called up in great numbers. Hence, a real and tangible obligation on every volunteer must be retained within the Secretary of State's arrangement for the reserves.
I shall briefly return home, to the situation in Northern Ireland. "Options for Change" specified the need to amalgamate the Royal Irish Rangers and the Ulster Defence Regiment. That caused considerable misgivings in Northern Ireland. My party, and I as the person with responsibility to speak defence, looked carefully at the proposal and we saw many benefits for Northern Ireland in such an amalgamation. If the Royal Irish Rangers had been lost, Northern Ireland would have been left, for the first time in hundreds of years, with no tangible and total integration within the military system of the United Kingdom. We would have been left without a line regiment.
The leader of my party and I went to the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, and discussed the amalgamation at some length. I received assurances that, when the amalgamation had taken place, the Ulster Defence Regiment as it was, or the Royal Irish Regiment as it is, would not be interfered with again, and there would be a period of stabilisation for at least a year. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Defence did not effectively get that message across to the General Officer Commanding and other senior officers in Northern Ireland.
The amalgamation was meat and drink to the armchair generals; those who have the ability to undermine the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland it signalled the diminution of the effectiveness and the size of what had been the Ulster Defence Regiment. Among sensible people, there was certainly a feeling that at least the part-time element within the regiment would be run down. That did not help matters.
A broken promise, even if it is done with the best intentions or through necessity, will diminish the confidence of certain sections of our community in Northern Ireland, and that section of the community will begin to look elsewhere for its protection against terrorism.
I do not want to exaggerate, but to some extent the present unease within what is loosely termed the loyalist population derives from the fact that people are not assured of their protection. It does not matter what we say or how often we tell them, they see things in practical terms. They see the diminishing of the part-time element within the Royal Irish Regiment, and they start to be afraid and wonder whether they should seek protection elsewhere.
The Minister must quickly ensure that the regiment, and particularly the part-time element, is sustained. One of 1055 the immediate ways he can do that is by finding a means of recruiting to the officer corps within the regiment, as it has been neglected.
It is a problem of 23 years of continuous service. The first paragraph of page 27 of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" relates to the amalgamation:A major objective is to create in the home service battalions an even more professional, effective and flexible security force, operating in support of the RUC and. in the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland.I suggest that the person who wrote that is extremely naive. What better professionalism, effectiveness and flexibility in terms of security can anyone show than to survive 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year in, year out, for the past 23 years in the face of determined terrorism with no rest and relaxation and no respite at home, at work in one's civilian job or on duty? That is what we face in Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, serving officers are being marginalised because they cannot do the battle training course or the assault courses the way they could 23 years ago when they first joined the regiment. Very few of their duties require assault course soldiery. They have to be mentally alert and place themselves directly between the terrorists and the ordinary law-abiding community and carry out their duties without alienating the extremely sensitive cornmunity in Northern Ireland.
It is wrong to say that, to make the Royal Irish Regiment home battalions more professional, they have to become Royal Marines, paratroopers or Royal Anglians. They need the confidence to continue on a day-to-day basis to do what they have done effectively for the past 23 years.
If the Minister will take note of what I have said and will consider the desperate need to recruit able young men to lead the regiment as we need officers, he will be doing a service to the military in general, because the Royal Irish Regiment plays a very important part in the day-to-day security of Northern Ireland. He will also be doing a particular favour to the people of Northern Ireland, for which they I can assure him will be more than grateful.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
I am sure that the House listened with respect to the honourable and gallant Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). I deliberately use that traditional form of address because he is an honourable and gallant Gentleman. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will have listened to his speech with respect and with careful attention because he spoke from the heart and with great knowledge and obviously he must be taken extremely seriously.
The hon. Gentleman ended his speech on a parochial note. I shall begin on one. The last time that we debated defence in the House, my county regiment, the Staffordshire Regiment, was under threat. I am delighted to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Defence and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) for at long last listening to the pleas which we made time and again from the moment when that ill-advised merger with the Cheshires was announced until finally my right hon. Friend came to the Dispatch Box and announced that the 1056 regiment was reprieved. It was most frustrating for me as I was off sick that day and could not respond. But I can do now and say how glad I am.
I have rarely been more moved or impressed than I was when I went in April with the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) to a special lunch put on by the Staffords to say thank you to those who had campaigned in Parliament and outside. One met there a group of young men who were remarkably dedicated. They were thorough professionals in the best sense of that word. I was not only thrilled that the Staffords had been reprieved, which was absolutely right and necessary, but I also saw those young men—officers and men—as the very epitome of British manhood.
There are few institutions in this country today that are regarded with unreserved pride and admiration. This place is not always held up for the admiration that it might be. There are very few in the professions who are regarded with unrelieved and unreserved pride. But I know very few people who have anything other than respect and admiration for our armed forces; for the professionalism and dedication with which they perform the most difficult of tasks, for the quiet, understated and restrained courage and bravery that they invariably display, which we have seen so graphically demonstrated in Bosnia in recent months. It is good to begin by paying that tribute.
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell is not here. He explained to me that he had to leave and he knew that I would be referring to him. But it is a pity to approach any defence debate from the point of view of Treasury figures. The absolute overriding duty of any Government, regardless of its political complexion, is to secure the defence of the realm. Our armed forces are second to none.
My right hon. Friend referred to a reporter. It was Kate Adie. I was in the Committee Room when she talked about the bravery and professionalism of our British soldiers and said quite unashamedly that no one could hold a candle to them. If one accepts that we are singularly fortunate in having such brilliant armed forces, always the arm of civil power and never anything else, and if one accepts that it is the overriding duty of any Government to secure the defence of the realm and its interests, one cannot and must not begin with a figure and fit everything within that figure.
Of course I was as delighted as anyone in the House at the end of the cold war; at the demise of the monolithic communist bloc. But I am as aware as anyone in the House that those old monolithic dangerous certainties have been replaced by something perhaps even more dangerous. Already it has been referred to this afternoon. Where once the Soviet Union existed as a monolithic nuclear power, regimented and controlled, there are now four nuclear powers, not very well regimented and controlled.
The danger implicit in that for the fragile peace of the world, a danger compounded by the fact that, within the decade, we may well see Iran and Iraq as nuclear powers, should make anyone realise that it is essential not to be dictated to by figures when one comes to work out the defence budget and the defence of the realm.
The Conservative party has much to be proud of in the way in which it has sustained the defence of this realm. We have a great deal to be proud of in the leading role that we have enabled our country to play in NATO during the past 14 years and before. But we must recognise—this was referred to in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who is Chairman 1057 of the Defence Select Committee—that Britain is a great power. It is a leading member of NATO. It is, after all, one of five permanent members of the Security Council. It is a member of the Group of Seven, the most important economic nations in the world. It has an important and pivotal role in the European Community.
Whichever way one looks at it, Britain is a great power and that brings with it responsibilities. I should like to make that the background of some remarks about a subject that has cropped up in every speech—the situation in the former Yugoslavia. I make no apology for raising that yet again. The House is a little fuller than it was at 3.30 am one cold December morning in 1991 when we first debated the situation in the former Yugoslavia. It was the first time that the House had discussed it.
To say "the House" is perhaps a slight exaggeration. I was here, as was my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The hon. Member who had the next debate on the Consolidated Fund was here, sleeping gently on a Back Bench somewhere. Mr. Deputy Speaker was in the Chair because Mr. Speaker Weatherill had had the good sense to go to bed. Someone was reporting from Hansard and I think that two people were asleep in the Public Gallery, and that was it.
§ Mr. Cormack
And a Whip.
I make that point because I want to say that at that time I and a number of others were saying that if only a united and resolute show of forceful resistance to what was going on in Yugoslavia were made, the problems that were then occurring in Dubrovnik—it was then a Croatian problem —would probably have been brought to an end and there probably would not have been an outbreak in Bosnia. What was needed, of course, was not massive forceful intervention, but a naval and air blockade. If they had been instituted we might have avoided all the carnage and horror and all the rape and distress that has followed since.
We must recognise that what has happened in the former Yugoslavia during the past 18 months is an indictment of the western powers, and the European powers in particular. Yes, we triumphantly won the cold war. Yes, it was a stunning victory. But in the first real test in this new disordered order that replaced those old certainties to which I have referred, we have failed.
There is no point in rescuing our reputations merely by heaping much-deserved praise on the troops. Yes, our troops have discharged themselves with marvellous fortitude and bravery. I have already referred to that. That no one can gainsay. But it is no good a politician saying that that is wonderful and all is right, because it is not. There has been a lack of cohesion and a failure to respond. An uncertain message has been sent about the effectiveness of the United Nations and of the European Community in dealing with such a crisis. The message that that conveys to warlords in many countries and to those who might become warlords in many parts of the Soviet Union is fraught with dire danger for us all.
There are various things that we can and should do. On 25 May I tabled, with the support of several of my hon. Friends, early-day motion 2082, which refers to the 1058 background to our failure and to the Washington accord, which had just been signed. We said that we had no confidence in that agreement.because it recognises, and thus rewards, unprincipled and brutal aggression and offers neither adequate protection nor reasonable hope to the victims of the worst crimes against humanity since World War Two.I commend that motion to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House because it sets out the position fairly well and makes the point that, with each failure, the situation has become more difficult to deal with. Something that began as an act of Serbian regression and that was not a true civil war has degenerated into a civil war, with Muslim and Croat fighting each other.
I have never advocated and I do not advocate massive ground involvement and unnecessarily putting lives at risk. However, I may say in parenthesis that when one talks to young men in the Staffordshire and in other British Army regiments, they say some very sobering things. I asked one group what they would do if they were sent to Bosnia. They replied, "We joined up to serve, and if we are sent we will go. We only hope that we will not have one hand tied behind our back, like our mates in the Cheshires." One of them said, "Sometimes, you get killed —but if you didn't recognise that, you would not join the Army any more than a young man would join the police." It is not that they court disaster and danger, but they know that it is there. I regret the emotive talk about body bags and so on, but I have never advocated mass ground involvement.
What can be done now? We can make one last supreme effort to get the parties together, but we can only do that successfully if the Serbs in particular know—although this applies now to the Croats also to a degree—that we are prepared to take more punitive action than the mere imposition of sanctions. One tragedy of the situation has been the invalidation by ourselves of the doctrine of deterrent. For many years we taught that one deterred by having something that one was prepared to use. In the case of the Serbs, we signalled from the word go that we would not use force of any sort against them. We should have kept them guessing and we should have been resolute. Hence my advocacy from the beginning of an air and naval blockade.
I do not know whether we can rescue from that carnage and despair something identifiable as a nation. We recognised it as a sovereign nation and we still do—its president was with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs at the beginning of this week. Some 200,000 people, and perhaps as many as 250,000, have died, and 2.5 million have been displaced. The statistics are overwhelming in their grotesque horror.
We can and must draw a lesson from that appalling catastrophe—that the old philosophy of NATO does not apply in the new world order. We have talked of rapid reaction and deployment and of fire brigade-type operations and forces. We must develop a new strategy to deal with situations which are far short of the threat of a world war but which are perhaps the beginning of cancerous conflicts that can destroy a nation. It is essential that we establish a group of Ministers from each of the NATO countries who should meet over the next few months, charged with the job of working out a strategy for the new, disordered world order.
1059 Britain has a remarkable contribution to make in that context, based on the brilliance of our armed forces, long traditions and ability to react. That tradition has never been and should not now be dictated to by Treasury figures. Of course, harsh decisions must be made on public expenditure—every right hon. and hon. Member recognises that—but the last thing to be cut should be that on which we all ultimately depend, which is the safety and security of the realm and its interests, which depend fundamentally on effective armed forces.
I was disturbed when I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster speak about the findings of his Select Committee, the length between tours that our troops are obliged to observe, and the young women in Cyprus who were left behind while their husbands went to the Falklands. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement is a man of sensitivity and imagination. I hope that he, too, was disturbed and will consider carefully the implications.
I hope also that my hon. Friend the Minister above all realises that real imagination and vision is called for in dealing with the problems that now beset us. I make no apology for giving my hon. Friend a boost and plug, because earlier this year he published one of the most remarkable, successful, well-written and brilliantly researched biographies of any living political figure. I refer to my hon. Friend's biography of Nixon. I read every word of it because I had to review it and I thought that it was excellent.
My hon. Friend the Minister analysed a man who, whatever his domestic and personal shortcomings, was in the international sense a colossus. We lack a colossus on the international stage at the moment. Perhaps my hon. Friend, through his important place in the Government and close proximity to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, will be able to play a part in fashioning just such another colossus because—by jove—we need leadership of that high order now in this dangerous world. If we are to supply it, or help to supply it from this country, we cannot do it with a defence budget that is so Treasury-dominated that real emergencies are neglected and real contingencies cannot be met.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) spoke with his usual sense and honesty in probing beyond NATO into a much more complex world. Such searching after the truth will pay dividends. The hon. Gentleman began by hailing his success in retaining his local regiment, and he is justly proud of its history and traditions. Such things simply cannot be bought, and the hon. Gentleman will sympathise with and understand the Scottish view of our regiments and their importance within Scottish culture and the Scottish way of life.
The cliche that we live in a rapidly changing world has now proved absolutely true. Cataclysmic events of historic significance have seemed to pile up over the past few years; only now have we an opportunity to stop and take stock of the significance of what has happened. The old, ultimate cold war opponent has disappeared, to be replaced by a multiplicity of potential trouble spots. Problems of an entirely different nature have arisen throughout the world. In that context, surely we need a new and fundamental review of defence requirements and configurations.
1060 The old United Kingdom strategy, dominated by the cold war and nuclear weapons, must now be either justified or altered to meet changed circumstances. Is the Minister entirely satisfied with the current nuclear defence strategy, or does he admit that those changed circumstances now demand a root-and-branch review of our defence requirements? Let me again make a direct plea to the Government to scrap the plans for regimental amalgamation in Scotland: given the increased demand for conventional forces, it makes less and less sense to destroy Scotland's highly successful regiments by amalgamating them. I support the contention of Lt-Gen. Sir Peter Graham that the British Army is already overstretched with its current commitments, let alone any extra duties that may arise after the implementation of the proposed cuts.
This is very much an avoidable error. Sir Peter says:There is a need for more Infantry in the British Army. There is acute overstretch and the proof is that the interval between operations should be 24 months but it is actually down to 15 months! … We are facing heavy commitments within a world situation which has changed … If 47 battalions cannot cope, I cannot see how 40 battalions could cope!Sir Peter is a military strategist, and I am not; but even I can see that conventional forces are being required on an increasing scale throughout the world, for both peacekeeping and other duties. The Government's policy is to supply even more nuclear weapons which cannot be used, while at the same time dismantling infantry regiments that provide the only effective method of operation. That is a gross misuse of resources, and a major policy error.
The Government have never really answered the point about overstretching: I hope that they will do so this evening. Their first response to the outright opposition to regimental manpower cuts was to halt reductions at 119,000 men rather than 116,000, as originally planned. However, there has been no increase or addition in the strength of either men or infantry battalions; nor are any proposed. In fact, there has been a decrease only marginally less severe than those orginally scheduled in "Options for Change"—hence the problems of overstretch, stress and strain and grossly reduced intervals between duty tours. Those problems will continue, as will unnecessary family separations.
The price of those regimental cuts will be paid by the families of soldiers who will experience stress owing to the failure of Government policy. If finance is the Government's prime motivation, I should like to hear from them the extra costs and burdens that will be placed on individuals, local authorities and the local economies of the highlands and the north-east of Scotland. Will they do anything to help with new housing, employment and the retraining of the soldiers who would have preferred to remain in their chosen profession? At what cost will this take place, compared with the continuation of the battalions that are required by existing commitments?
Again, the price of the Government's policy will be paid by individuals, families and the local economy, which will be rocked by between 500 and 600 redundancies in an already depressed economic situation. I have not heard the Government deal with that. The highlands and the north-east of Scotland will pay a heavy price for unnecessary regimental cuts.
Let me remind the Minister that the planned amalgamations affect an area whose population is 1061 relatively small. One person in 3,000 joins the Army through the Queen's Own Highlanders each year: one in 19,000 does so in London. The impact of the redundancies, and the need for homes, will be disproportionate if the amalgamation goes ahead. I have never understood the logic of axing the Scottish regiments, which are popular and up to establishment—especially when, even in financial terms, recruitment is easier to achieve and retention levels are far higher.
I believe that the Government should play to the strengths of the Gordon Highlanders and the Queen's Own Scottish Highlanders, rather than destroy traditions and loyalties that have existed for centuries. Such things cannot be bought, and, once destroyed, they will be gone for ever.
In addition to all that, Scotland has another problem. Now, the economic and unemployment threat of the Rosyth closure hangs over the local population. Lord Younger of Prestwick has said:Before a final decision is taken, I feel I must remind all concerned of a matter of good faith which is involved here. I fought long and hard, first as Secretary of State for Scotland and then as Secretary of State for Defence, to persuade public opinion in Scotland to accept, however reluctantly, that Britain's base for the nuclear deterrent would be at Faslane on the Clyde.One of the most powerful arguments which I deployed was that there would obviously be many jobs for Scotland associated with operating and maintaining the submarines. I know that many in Scotland would therefore feel badly let down if a major part of these jobs were now to be removed from Scotland.
I hope it will be understood that I would find it impossible to support such a move as my good faith would clearly be called into question.If the Government close Rosyth, they will break their former colleague's word. They will leave Scotland with the worst of both worlds: a country that faced all the nuclear dangers will have lost any employment or economic benefits.
§ Mr. Welsh
I was quoting the words of Lord Younger, who was responsible for the policy. I am saying that, if there is to be a peace dividend and if it is to mean anything, Rosyth should be turned into a model of employment diversification and investment for the future. It appears that the-Government have no such intention. I am saying that Scotland will get the worst of both worlds: we had the nuclear dangers, and it appears that, if this decision goes ahead, we shall lose the employment that such an installation would provide.
I am simply giving the Government a previous Minister's view. He believes that his honour is at stake. I hope the Government will listen to that view. I also hope that they will go beyond the nuclear issue, and ensure that there is real defence diversification and a real future for Rosyth. Closure of Rosyth would bring about economic devastation. I am very worried about the general trend in the Government's policy: they tend to close such installations, rather than maintaining a presence to allow 1062 change, employment and a future. Once they have gone, local economies are utterly devastated. The Government have employed that policy in many spheres; I consider it very short-sighted.
In December 1992, the Ministry of Defence issued a publication entitled "Information to Local Authorities and Emergency Services on Nuclear Weapons Transport Contingency Plans". The information was intended to help local authorities to plan for, and deal with, any accident involving nuclear weapon convoys. Ministry of Defence advice from that document is that people should be advised to shelter up to 5 km from the accident locus. According to Strathclyde region, it is simply not feasible to achieve that, given the methods available for informing the public. Similarly, MOD advice is that evacuation may be necessary up to 600 m. In heavily built-up areas that may pose extreme difficulties.
We are talking about a centre of Scottish population. There would be nowhere to hide if any such accident took place. The Public Information on Radiation Emergencies Regulations place a statutory duty on regional councils to provide information and advice to the public affected by a radiation emergency. I put it to the Minister that Strathclyde regional emergency and planning officer is so concerned about the implications of the MOD guidance that he has advised that he could not effectively carry out the advice or plan for the safety of the public in the event of an accident involving the transport of nuclear weapons. He asks that hazardous convoys be either removed or made safe. I should like the Minister to address this problem, because we are talking about the central belt of Scotland and the bulk of the Scottish population.
In transporting nuclear weapons through heavily populated areas of central Scotland, what guarantees can the Government give on the safety of the civilian population? Are they aware of the alarm felt, not just in Strathclyde but by other local government planning officers, about the impossibility of dealing with a real emergency? If local government officials cannot provide safe conditions or emergency help for their civilian populations, the Government must stop the dangers from arising. I remind the Minister that I am talking about officials without any specific political input. It is their duty to carry out such measures, but they cannot do so.
What steps is the Minister taking now to eliminate the dangers? His need to transport nuclear weapons is placing at risk the population of the central belt of Scotland. Before the end of the debate, will he make clear the response that he is making to Strathclyde and the other Scottish regions involved? Will he stop all such nuclear weapons transportation until it can be clearly and publicly demonstrated that the safety of the public is not compromised by convoy movements?
That is another illustration of Scotland facing the dangers of radiation, but not many of the benefits. [Interruption.] The reaction of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) explains why the Conservative party is being thrown out of Scotland. Our population has to live with those dangers and does not wish to do so. If the Conservative party listened to the Scottish population, this problem and the others associated with it would not exist. [Interruption.] The fact that the hon. Gentleman is not getting to his feet is symptomatic of why the Conservatives are being rejected by the Scottish people.
§ Mr. Brazier
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that, under the present distribution of regional aid, his country receives approximately 30 per cent. of the grants, although it has just under 9 per cent. of the unemployment. Talk about special pleading.
§ Mr. Welsh
The hon. Gentleman is on dangerous ground. The bulk of defence spending is in the south of England. Scotland has the gunnery ranges and other such facilities, but We real Government money and the real employment is in the south-east of England. The hon. Gentleman should not talk about subsidies. He has only to walk less than a mile from the House to London docklands to find out what subsidies really mean. I will not take such talk from the hon. Gentleman. His blinkered attitude towards Scotland is the reason why his party is being rejected by the Scottish people.
I know that other hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. There is a need for a fundamental review of United Kingdom defence policy to meet the changed circumstances and the needs of the late 1990s. My plea to the Minister is for the maintenance of Scottish regimental recruitment, the safety of the Scottish civilian population and the maintenance of employment in Scotland as the peace dividend allows new and unprecedented options for real change.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
I sympathise with the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) in his plea for the Gordon Highlanders and the Queen's Own Highlanders. I pay tribute to them, having served with both during my time in the forces. They are examples of Scottish regiments that have given long, proud and loyal service to the Crown of the United Kingdom.
To take up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), I remind the House of the old adage that the first duty of the Government is the defence of the realm. I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. He is doing a difficult job in difficult times. I pay particular tribute to his steady handling of the Bosnian situation. We hear many calls for intervention, such as "taking out the Serbian artillery", as if it could be done in a neat surgical operation with a scalpel. However, anyone who knows anything about high explosive knows that its use is not a neat operation. It spreads its destruction all around That is a reflection of the ignorance of defence that one finds in the House. That ignorance surprises me, having had a career in the Army. It is exemplified by those who call for intervention while, at the same time, calling for further cuts in defence expenditure.
That ignorance of defence is paralleled in the country. That is not surprising as it is nearly 50 years since the end of the second world war and 30 years since the end of national service. I should like to see the House raise the standard of debate and have a proper public debate about defence.
"Options for Change" radically reduced the armed forces in pursuit of what we call the peace dividend. We have had the dividend in terms of saving, but there has been a conspicuous lack of peace. Since the launch of "Options for Change", we have had the Gulf war, Bosnia and Somalia—another example of the "surgical" use of air power was seen there last night—and there have been many other United Nations operations.
1064 Since the announcement of the planned reduction in the armed forces, we have been faced with an increasing number of potential tasks and commitments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) said, with hindsight we can see that 1989 was the wrong time to review what was going on. We had seen the collapse of the Warsaw pact and the Soviet empire, but we had yet to see the breakdown of the Soviet Union. The world is now becoming much less stable and this is not the time to reduce our defences. Many have seen parallels with the 1930s in the instability in central Europe and in the difficult economic situation. Some time ago, I heard "Options for Change" defined within the Ministry of Defence as an "internal defence review". I must tell my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench that we must look again at all the assumptions behind it.
Last weekend, I went to the Queen's birthday parade—trooping the colour—where the second battalion of my old regiment was, sadly, trooping its colour for the last time before marching off into the sunset. It was a sad occasion. I will not make any special pleading for my old regiment. The decision to reduce the number of Guards battalions may or may not be correct. However, it was sad to see that that set-piece affair had only six Guards battalions instead of the eight that it had last year and in the year when I took part. Some people say that they are just ceremonial troops. That is nonsense. While the second battalion of Coldstream Guards marched into the sunset, the first battalion was being warned off for service in Bosnia. I have seen those troops serve in the Gulf and Northern Ireland.
I am not saying that the decision to reduce troops is wrong, but it does typify the situation. In that Guards battalion, as elsewhere, morale is inevitably very low, for many reasons, but particularly because of uncertainty. There has been a huge take-up of redundancy packages, even in a recession when jobs are difficult to find. We have not had great success in recruiting officers. The armed forces has always been a respected profession, but we cannot now recruit officers even in a recession.
I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will say that his Ministry of Defence advisers tell him that all is well, and that we are experiencing a little local difficulty. I am reminded of the divorce between staff officers and troops on the ground, as appeared to happen in the first world war. We are not in such a war, but there is nevertheless a divorce between the thinking of the Ministry of Defence and many of those in the front line.
I shall expand a little on the standing of the armed forces, a topic to which my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South also referred. Although we may not all have read it, the police sent us a survey on the standing of the police in the eyes of the public. The police received a rating of about 60 or 65 per cent., a rating of which they are justly proud. The survey also showed that the standing of the armed forces—the approval rating, or whatever one wishes to call it—was about 87 per cent. I wish that the House had an approval rating of 87 per cent. The armed forces are an admired and respected part of British society. They are an admired and respected institution whereas other British institutions have, frankly, fallen on hard times.
What will happen to the armed forces if good-calibre recruits are not attracted to become officers or join the other ranks? Their standing will fall and performance will 1065 decline. Morale is already at rock bottom and in need of attention, and things will continue to get worse. What type of armed forces do we want in the future? Do we want high-calibre, professional armed forces? If so, we need to raise the level of debate and put the subject into the public domain.
I assure the House that I am not a radical, although I may sometimes look like one with my long hair, but I believe that we need an appraisal. I do not want radical change, but we must not allow a valued national asset to be lost by default. That valued national asset is definitely under threat.
In a changing world, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is moving to consider defence as part of security. I approve because security is no longer a question of NATO versus the Warsaw pact. We need to consider the totality of security: defence against terrorism—some of it state backed—and security in foreign policy. Of course,war is a continuation of diplomacy by other means.Security policy should, therefore, be wider ranging than it has ever been. We need to consider the defence of the nation and of the national interest in that context. For those reasons, we must reconsider our strategic needs.
I fear that there will be further cuts in our armed forces by stealth. At the beginning of April, there was a reduction of 5,000 out of a total of 55,000 in the Navy. A 10 per cent. cut in the Royal Navy without proper debate is extremely disappointing. Last week, further cuts in the Royal Air Force were annouced, and today there has been talk of a reduction in the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. However one presents them, they are cuts in the armed forces, and we cannot ignore that. Our defences are deteriorating by stealth. We need an open, public debate.
I hope that the Minister will be able to answer several questions. Will future units be smaller but better, as we were promised in "Options for Change"? I hope that the Minister will asure me that, in the coming years, all units will be fully manned and up to strength. What are the implications for defence expenditure of the long-term costings for 1993 and the projected long-term costings for 1994? What are the implications of the current review of public expenditure? What will the public expenditure survey round bring? What effect will Treasury pressure have on the Ministry of Defence?
I deal now with the much vaunted Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps. Can we man it? Some people suggest rather glibly that it will be an arm of the Western European Union, but the WEU is an organisation without a command structure, control or communications, direction or intelligence. NATO has served this nation, western Europe and the world extremely well. For good or ill, the United States provides an enormous part of the command, control and communications network which runs NATO. I have visited most NATO headquarters in Europe, and I can assure the House that that is the case. The United States provides strategic lift. If we move to the WEU, will we provide the strategic lift. and from where will we get command, control and communications? My hon. Friends may disagree, but I suspect that the ARRC may be little more than a political statement, perhaps allied to the aspirations of some European politicians and some of our partners. It would 1066 be a tragedy if the ARRC were to become nothing more than words which can never be employed. There is little flexibility in it as currently constituted.
As I said, we should have a full, public appraisal of our strategic needs. The Army is overstretched because there is a mismatch of resources and commitments. We currently have 12 battalions in Northern Ireland. They are usually infantry but, following "Options for Change", we shall have only 42 infantry battalions and commandos, minus the Gurkhas, available for service in Northern Ireland. Maths was never my strong point, but I envisage some difficulty in managing 24-month tour intervals with 42 battalions. A 24-month tour interval looks increasingly unlikely.
My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned the reserve forces, but he should not regard them as an easy and cheap option. He spoke of professionalism and training. I welcome the further involvement of our excellent reserves in active duties, which can be offered to them as an incentive for their hard work. However, reserve forces are being cut. We won both world wars with our reserve forces and Territorial Army; they were not won by our regular forces. The British expeditionary force and the regular forces were slaughtered in the first world war and we then had to rely on our reserves, but they are now being cut. In these difficult times, it is essential that we do not cut them further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) noted how cheap reserves are, but they should not be regarded as a cheap option in peacetime. I agree that they cost much less than fully trained, pensioned soldiers, but if we want a professional Army and highly trained troops, we have to have professionals who are highly trained. That takes time; it cannot be done in a couple of weekends a year. I in no way want to criticise the reserve forces, because they are excellent, but they are not the solution to all our problems.
I heard that units would be half-manned by reserve forces. I have to say that that means that they will be undermanned. It is not a realistic option in which we should take pride. The reserves are not full-time personnel. Of course, some are on the dole and might welcome employment, but most of them are not. It would be disappointing if the Government wished to employ people without pension rights. They are not trained to the same standards, and it is futile to pretend that they are. If we want a reservist army, as some of our neighbours have, let us say so. We should look again at the whole question of our reserves and, for that reason, we should have a sensible, open and public appraisal of our requirements.
I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has the interests of the country and its defence close to his heart, but I would consider it tragic if such an able and committed Secretary of State were to oversee further deterioration in the state of our armed forces.
There has been a paucity of suggestions from the Opposition, but if we had an open debate it would allow more suggestions to be made at a more sensible, raised level. We do not want a debate at a financial level; we want to discuss the country's defence needs. What is essential for our defence? What sort of armed forces do we want in the long term?
Currently, there are threats all over the globe—it is not a safe world. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said earlier that we have just seen the 1067 most radical change in the armed forces since the 1940s, yet we have clone so without looking properly at our commitments and resources. We are seeing not so much salami slicing as butchery behind closed doors.
Ignorance extends to the general public, who expect the armed forces always to rise to the occasion, such as in the Falklands and the Gulf. We need to educate the public about what we can and cannot do. We cannot march into Bosnia with all flags flying and expect to be taken seriously. I remind the House of Kipling's "Tommy":Oh, It's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' `Tommy, go away'; But it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the band begins to play.We always turn to the armed forces in time of need. We hope that they will be there in future because the country will not forgive the House if the armed forces, including the reserve forces, are not able to rise to our need when the country is threatened.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) was absolutely correct to say that a strategic review is not the solution. However, at least after such a review we would understand the problems. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to arrange a proper strategic review of the defence of the nation. Only then will we understand and solve the very real problems facing our armed forces today.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
I have listened to most of the debate, apart from essential visits out of the House, and was particularly interested in the last two speeches. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for, Blaby (Mr. Robathan) saying that he did not think that the standard of defence debates was all that high and that there is some ignorance about defence issues. He joined the Secretary of State for Defence in criticising Opposition Members for what he alleged to be a lack of interest or of useful suggestions.
I certainly hope to put forward some ideas. Labour Members take a strong interest in defence, but Conservative Members sometimes misunderstand our interest. I hope that they will not take it unkindly when I say that perhaps they confuse their own interests in defence. From my experience of the armed forces, I know that they can certainly be said to represent the officer class, whereas for obvious reasons we tend to represent the other ranks. That is the nature of the way in which the Army is recruited—a point that was made by the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) in relation to the Gordon Highlanders.
There is a relationship between levels of unemployment and deprivation and recruitment into the armed forces. It is partly tradition, but partly the lack of alternative jobs. In areas of high recruitment there is a lack of alternative jobs, so naturally we take an interest in the people who are recruited into the armed forces because we want to ensure that they are used properly. I hope that Conservative Members will not take that remark unkindly.
I refer to the clash between some of the claims that are made in the defence estimates and the realities as they have emerged in the past month during the saga, fiasco or foul-up at RAF St. Athan over the modification contract for F3 Tornadoes, which has reached the media following the termination of the Ministry of Defence contract to refit the 18 aircraft. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) referred to this and I wish to point out 1068 what conclusions the Ministry of Defence should draw from the way in which the exercise has gone wrong and how it conflicts with the claims that are made in Cm 1981.
Paragraph 322 of the estimates says:Contractorisation of support services continues to achieve savings in the RAF support area.Paragraph 313 refers to the aim of "total quality" in the merger of the Defence Research Agency with the directorate of quality assurance, which has also played a major part in this saga, as I hope to show shortly. It refers to the fact that the Government have appointed Mr. Littmoden, formerly of Marks and Spencer, as head of the merged agency to try to achieve higher standards of quality.
I am a great admirer of some of the work of Marks and Spencer in raising the efficiency of its textile suppliers. It was always said in management that only two bodies take a hands-on interest in trying to improve the efficiency of their suppliers—the Ministry of Defence and Marks and Spencer. They often compared notes and told suppliers, "You could be producing these goods at half the price if only you bought better machinery and did it this way. These are the places where you should be buying that better machinery. These are the people who you need to run it, and you could produce the same goods for us at half the price, make a bigger profit and we would both be better off. We will show you how to do it." Marks and Spencer went further and took shares in supplier companies. The Ministry of Defence obviously could not do that, but they were the only bodies that injected a drive to improve the efficiency of their own suppliers through a proper, active hands-on quality assurance directorate.
That was some 20 years ago when I was in the civil service, at which time I had interesting conversations with Ministry of Defence civil servants. The position seems to have deteriorated a great deal since because of the almost theological belief that the market will now do the job that active, hands-on, backside-kicking, engineering and value analysis expertise within the Ministry of Defence used to do. There is now total reliance on the market.
That was referred to by the Public Accounts Committee in its report, the first page of which says:We note that the Department generally rely on market forces to achieve value for money at the contract re-let stage and that they rarely prepare an in-house option to compare against bids from firms. We stress that this places a premium on maintaining effective competition between potential contractors, especially as the in-house staff who previously provided the service will often no longer be in post.Fortunately, the RAF St. Athan and Airworks Services saga had not gone that far. As a result, in-house staff who were not allowed to bid for the modification contract for F3 Tornadoes have already started some remedial work on the two mildly damaged Tornado F3s of the 18 that were referred to by the shadow Secretary of State. Thank God they are still in post and have not been dispensed with in favour of putting everything out to compulsory competitive tendering, contractorisation, privatisation or some other variant of the Government's theology-driven alternatives to in-house capacity for carrying out improvements, modifications or life extensions to key equipment such as very expensive aircraft, which at the equivalent price today would cost £25 million each.
What happened at RAF St. Athan? When the Department decided to have a life extension exercise for the F3 Tornadoes, because of the amount of service that they had seen, to see whether their effective flying life could 1069 be doubled—that was a sensible idea—the initial contract was given to British Aerospace. Again, the RAF was not allowed to bid. The contract appears to have been completed successfully on the first 15 aircraft. But British Aerospace lost the contract for the next batch to Airwork Services from Bournemouth.
The RAF still had not been allowed to bid, although I understand that it did a ghost bidding exercise, just to test, and that its estimate came out about halfway between the rather high British Aerospace price and the low Airwork Services price, which has now turned out to be such a bad bargain—although litigation may remedy that. For obvious reasons, I shall not go into that possibility tonight, although the Minister may want to say something about it later.
The Government had gone in for a low-cost option and it appears that in the specifications for the contract there was almost no check on how Airwork Services, or any other lowest bidder, would carry out the contract. The contract had been given to the lowest bidder, with all the attendant dangers that that firm might neglect aspects such as supervision, craftsmanship and a quality assurance trail. Would there be any longstop to ensure that the aircraft were modified to the proper standard, without collateral damage being done in the course of the work? No, there was no quality assurance trail at all.
RAF St. Athan sent warning signs to the Ministry of Defence quality assurance directorate, which was told, "It looks to us as though something is going wrong on the contract." Having been notified, the quality assurance directorate staff went to RAF St. Athan and asked to look at the firm's quality assurance certificate, the ISO 9001 —the international equivalent of the BS 5750 quality systems certificate. That certificate is proliferating like a plague throughout British industry; people refer to it as, "never mind the quality, feel the certificate". I do not think that I am being unfair; I am reflecting an opinion that is widespread throughout industry, including the service industries, about those certificates, which have little meaning.
The Ministry of Defence said, "If the firm has a certificate, we do not want to look at the aeroplanes. Has it got a valid ISO 9001? If the answer is yes, we do not want to look at the planes." The MOD staff went back to London satisfied that the certificate was in order. They did not look at the aeroplanes, so they did not see the damage being done by the inappropriate trade practices and inappropriate tools until four of the aircraft had returned to their operational bases at RAF Leuchars, RAF Leeming or RAF Coningsby. I am not sure exactly which bases were involved, but they were among the three bases where F3 Tornadoes are normally used.
The damage was not discovered until four aircraft had gone back, which means that by the time it was discovered the aeroplanes could have been used operationally, in training exercises over the Lake District or mid Wales, at 50 ft off the ground. I am told that, as the fasteners had not been properly refastened and so were loose, two things could have happened. First, a fastener could have worked completely loose and because damage had been caused around the engine intake area, a loose fastener could have been sucked into the engine and sheared off the blades of the turbine from the shaft, which would have resulted in 1070 catastrophic engine failure. Secondly, as there were a lot of loose fasteners around the engine intake area, the engine itself could have sheared off. The lives of the air crew and of civilians unfortunate enough to live in the area over which Tornadoes usually perform low-level training, and also the lives of livestock such as sheep, could have been threatened in those two ways.
I find that frightening, especially as it was an avoidable risk. As the hon. Member for Blaby and many other hon. Members have said, there are unavoidable risks in operating a defence establishment. People do not join the armed forces because they think it will be all ENSA theatre parties and so on. They realise the risks of getting killed. But one does not expect people, including civilians, to be killed because of inefficiency or incompetence, especially when warnings have been given halfway through the saga but ignored because of an obsession with dodgy quality certificates that were not worth the paper they were written on.
Eighteen aircraft have now been damaged. Four of them, which are at RAF Leuchars, RAF Leeming or RAF Coningsby, have been cleared to limp back to RAF St. Athan, rather like a squadron of Lancasters that hit heavy flak over Hamburg in November 1944 and just made it back to Britain. The Tornadoes can just make it back to RAF St. Athan. However, 12 of the aircraft at RAF St. Athan have been classified as "seriously damaged". Those words are from the Ministry of Defence official statement on the affair. Two have been classified as superficially damaged and those two will now be rectified by RAF St. Athan in-house staff. They are mostly civilian staff, but I believe that about 120 service craftsmen have been transferred from their duties back to RAF St. Athan to assist the staff there in the remedial works on the two aircraft that are mildly damaged.
The 12 other aircraft are so seriously damaged that I understand that they have not yet been cleared to be towed on the ground from the modification hangar into the storage hangar to be taken out of the way and left free for examination purposes so that other works can proceed. They are not safe to tow along the ground in case further damage occurs to the structure of the aircraft, the engine intake areas and the longerons—the lengthways engineering members of the aircraft around which it is constructed.
We understand that damage was caused by the classic type of corner-cutting that occurs when a contractor is under pressure to complete a contract taken on at a low price and he knows that there is no active quality assurances specified in that contract, because it is totally reliant on certificates of quality systems and no one will come along and say, "Never mind about the certificate. Are you doing the job properly?" The contract was totally reliant on the idea that since the contractor had the certificate he must be doing the job properly. However, if a contractor bids very low in order to get the work, under the pressure of competitive tendering, he is likely to skimp on supervision and on the quality assurance trail. Unfortunately, that is what has happened since the Ministry of Defence deliberately omitted, or forgot, to provide an effective quality assurance check of its own, despite the risks to air crew and civilians which could result from faulty work.
I understand that the faulty work arose from the use of power tools that were far too powerful in an attempt to dismantle the aircraft so as to get at the insides. Pneumatic guns were used to remove the fasteners that attach the side 1071 skins to the longerons and that created enlarged holes. When the fasteners were put back in there could not be a tight fit between the side skins and the longerons and that compromised the aeronautical integrity of the aircraft. An aircraft with loosely attached screws holding the sides on is not fit to do what an F3 Tornado is meant to do in combat—or in training, for that matter.
That is the alarming situation in which we now find ourselves. What can happen now? We have been talking about options for change, but what we now have is options for repairs at RAF St. Athan. We are told that three options are now being considered. The first is cannibalisation. We could use the F2 Tornadoes that are in storage because they have completed most of their natural flying life. Fortunately, their central fuselage section is almost identical to that of the F3, so the section of the F3 that has been damaged in the attempt to double its flying life could be ripped out and a cannibalised central fuselage section from an F2 in storage could be put in. That is cannibalisation. This would be done by the RAF Abingdon team, the so-called repair and recovery—commonly known as the crash and smash—team, which has moved down to RAF St. Athan.
Then there is reconstruction. This is probably the most expensive option and the one that, for obvious reasons, the German engineers who built the centre fuselage section of the Tornado F3 would prefer, because it would mean money for them. It would mean taking the aircraft or flying the centre fuselage section back to Germany and rebuilding it from scratch on the manufacturer's original jigs. Deutche Aerospace has recommended that that is what is necessary if the aircraft are ever to be restored to full fitness. Obviously, that is a very expensive way of going about it, but they say that that is the only way. One can say that the Mandy Rice-Davies rule applies here—well, they would, wouldn't they?—but they may be right; we do not know.
The third option is rectification, asking the skilled civilians and service men at RAF St. Athan to do the work. There are about 1,000 civilians, mostly skilled tradesmen and supervising technicians, and 3,000 service men of the same skilled type. It is not an operational RAF base; it is the RAF garage, as it were. They could be asked what they could do about the damage, which is that the depressions around fastener holes have been enlarged so that they are 25 times as great as the maximum tolerance allowed in the design of the Tornado F3. Maximum tolerance for damage round the screw holes is 0.02 mil, and the actual damage on these 12 aircraft, I understand, is 0.5 mil. The RAF could ask if there was a way of doing the job on the cheap, even if it took a long time.
We face other concerns as well, in that Airwork 's own future may depend on certain matters on which the Minister may touch. It is not the purpose of this debate to throw accusations at the staff of Airwork, some of whom may be constituents of mine. Throwing terms such as cowboys at either staff or companies is of no interest to me. We are talking about policy decisions here tonight.
Is there a lesson here for the Ministry of Defence? I believe that there is and it falls into several categories. The first is how one judges whether a firm is the right sort to take on this kind of work. What sort of professional indemnity assurance against the contract getting into trouble do they have? If it gets to the stage of litigation against Airwork, do they have adequate insurance to cope with a bill for the writing off of two Tornadoes, costing £25 1072 million when new, although they are certainly not new? Should one specify that a firm must be of sufficient financial standing or have sufficient indemnity insurance to cover that kind of damage? One has to be sure about that before giving a firm that kind of contract.
Can we also learn lessons as to how these contracts should be written? What sort of specification should be put in the contract in terms of quality assurance? One lesson is that we must not allow the further proliferation of, and over-dependence on, quality certificates, which tell very little about the quality of the job being done. Even though some consultant has given a quality certificate, hands-on quality assurance on the job is necessary to check that it is being done properly.
The greatest lesson is that it is silly not to allow the RAF to bid for that kind of work. I hope that that lesson gets home to the Minister. When all the decisions have been made about what kind of repairs to do, whether there will be litigation and, if there is litigation, whether it will get back the money that seems to have been lost over this, the most important lesson seems to be that common sense has gone out of the window in not allowing the RAF to bid against British Aerospace and Airwork.
In the whole thrust towards market testing, compulsory competitive tendering, privatisation and contractorisation, this was a market testing or contractorisation exercise that went one bridge too far. I hope that the Ministry of Defence has learnt its lesson from this fiasco.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) will forgive me if I do not follow him down that rather specialist road.
This debate takes place against the background of a considerable fiscal difficulty that has figured a number of times. Nevertheless, I shall follow earlier speakers in arguing for the matching of capabilities and resources.
I start by referring to a comment from a speech which my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) made in winding up the last debate on defence. He described in a very picturesque fashion visiting sites from which the Russian army had disappeared, and seeing great hangars for equipment that had been either demolished or taken away.
It is very easy to draw the wrong lesson from this. As far as I know, no serious military analyst believes that the forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation were capable of fighting a conventional battle against the forces of the Warsaw pact for more than a day or two. Our conventional forces provided a trigger for the policy of flexible response, which involved at a very early stage the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Even an enormous reduction in forces on the other side of the iron curtain would have left vastly greater forces than the NATO forces could have afforded a war against.
It is in the light of that observation that we have to look at the political situation now on the other side of what used to be the iron curtain, where we see, not one nuclear country but four; where we see a series of instabilities, some of which are getting worse.
I do not know whether it is true that Ukrainians are selling nuclear technology or whether it is true that Khazakistan is passing on nuclear technology to Iran, but we know that the spread of nuclear technology into the third world is a serious problem.
1073 If we look at the "Options for Change" exercise and, for a second, imagine that it is a properly balanced one—1 do not want to argue either way now—we realise that since then three things have changed on the threat side. First, the Soviet Union has broken up, so now there are four countries with nuclear weapons.
Secondly, another seven countries are on their way to becoming nuclear powers. Some of them are as close as north Africa and the middle east, and include Libya, Algeria and Syria. Those countries are not on the other side of the world. They are run by unstable dictators and will not necessarily respond easily to simple deterrence. They have not only nuclear weapons—they have built up chemical inventories and are developing biological weapons. Some also have enormous conventional forces. For example, Syria has more tanks than Britain and France put together. I mention those countries simply because we must not lose sight of the fact that they are close to home.
Thirdly, the commitments of the United Nations have grown. Ironically, this is the one that matters least from the point of view of the home base and the possible threat to the United Kingdom or our partners in western Europe. It is taking up most of our attention and a great deal of planning time of NATO and, indeed, the Ministry of Defence.
Since the options exercise, the problems have grown substantially. Resources have had one more round of cuts, and many of us are afraid that there will be another. I do not want to dwell on percentage reductions, because one can play all sorts of games against them—it depends on what one thinks they should be.
It is clear that the beans do not add up at present, and I shall give two succinct examples to show what I mean. The first is the rapid reaction corps. Its most important and most expensive training facility is at Suffield in Canada, where they practise combined training. The first three exercises this year turned into fiascos, because they were all done without infantry. We cannot talk about a rapid reaction corps: it cannot rapidly react if its troops are away doing other things, so they are not training for the role.
The other example is our amphibious forces. There is a case for having a strong amphibious capability. There is a case for saying that we, as a small country, cannot afford the capability to do such things. It is manifestly absurd to have the 80:20 ruling reversed and have all the overheads associated with the Royai Marines and the commando training.facilities—I understand that there are six generals. It is absurd to invest in a helicopter carrier that will have no capability at all. Without the two landing platform docks are the centre of any possible amphibious action, but which are completely clapped out at present. One of them is so clapped out that it would take the best part of a year to get it back into some sort of order.
We are finding all sorts of small problems. Cuts have been made to the money available for war stocks, which are already at an extremely low level. For example, in the Gulf, we exhausted our entire reserve of shells in a short time. The real problem is not peacetime overstretch, although it is a serious problem and I do not underestimate it. When I was canvassing on our married quarters patch 1074 during the local elections, I met a number of wives of senior NCOs who are leaving the Army shortly, having taken voluntary redundancy.
That is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the overstretch in capabilities. We are trying to maintain the capabilities to fight potential high-intensity wars against some of the serious threats on the one hand and resources on the other.
I follow other hon. Members on both sides of the House in saying that we need a genuine strategic review of defence policy and diplomatic policy. My simple question is: what alliance would tackle a nuclear threat in north Africa? Would it be tackled by some hastily cobbled together ad hoc combination? No rapid forces other than those of NATO have the capability at present. But under its charter, NATO is not allowed to tackle it. We need a strategic review. I know that other hon. Members want to speak, so I will not pursue that matter.
The changes to the reserves are welcomed in principle. For many years, many of us in the Territorial Army have said that reserve forces should be used in peacetime. However, there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it. If it simply means that regular units that need to be all regular will be padded out by volunteers, some of whom are simply unemployed, that is not a proper use for them, and they will not help the territorials in the long term.
The Canadians, who do a lot of this, have a Territorial Army that is in extremely poor shape. Its level of recruiting is worse than ours and its turnover is as great. The right model is the one used by the United States national guard and the Australians. Both of them have a much lower turnover than we do.
I shall make four specific points. First, roles for Territorial Army units must be sensible, not half-baked. It is absurd, for example, that a recce regiment in the rapid reaction corps is Territorial Army. Of course, such a regiment could not be there quickly enough—it would have to go first.
Secondly, all units must have the same liability. The situation into which we have slipped with some high liability soldiers and some with lower liability is absurd. The paper that has been produced suggests that we should go further, but that is unworkable. It will simply create a sea of paperwork and will mean that the command structure in Territorial Army units will be bypassed.
Thirdly, units must be kept at a reasonable size. There is no earthly point in having mini, three-company battalions, with no support weapons—nothing. It would be far better to have fewer TA battalions embracing the existing number of companies so that each unit is a worthwhile size.
Fourthly, the arrangements for call-out are critical. As I said in my intervention in the Secretary of State's speech, if one lesson is clear from the Gulf it is that if we need a substantial number of TA soldiers, it is unfair to ask them to volunteer a second time. The call-out must be done as the Americans do it, which is to call out a unit. It saves individuals problems with their employers. It is understood in countries where it is used. Nevertheless, I see the possibility of progress in his statement.
I end where I began. Yes, we have economic difficulties but, my God, we also have political difficulties abroad. There is, indeed, a frightening similarity with what happened in the 1920s. Then there was no serious threat visible, but there was a huge amount of political and nationalist instability. The difference between now and 1075 then is the nuclear element in the cocktail. We must not make the mistake of disarming too quickly and without a properly planned strategic review.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. In the 15 minutes available before the Front-Bench replies, two hon. Members hope to catch my eye. I sincerely hope that both are successful. I call Mr. Andrew Mackinlay.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
I take your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
First, I associate myself with the tributes paid by hon. Members to the men and women of our armed forces. I include in that reference the high regard that we all have for the parents of the soldier whose inquest was held at Wrexham earlier this week, who spoke proudly about their son and his service. We would want to associate ourselves with some tribute to him and to their courage and dignity.
I wish to raise one relatively small matter in the Statement on the Defence Estimates. It is a pity that annex A,. which sets out the details of the fleet, does not include ships which are used exclusively for harbour training. If it did, I could refer to HMS Caroline, which is the last surviving ship that served in the battle of Jutland. It is languishing in a remote corner of Belfast dock, when the nation should be reinstating it with pride because it is part of our maritime and national history. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us that it will be restored.
There is an omission from the estimates. The Government are still not doing enough for ex-service men and their widows and orphans. One of the first things I did on being elected to the House just over a year ago was to table early-day motion 2 which has attracted 70 signatures. It calls for the appointment of a Minister for war veterans and their widows and orphans. I regret that only one Conservative Member has signed it, although service men and women and veterans support the idea of a dedicated Minister to look after ex-service men, veterans and their widows and orphans.
Such an appointment would be welcome in view of the conflicts that, unfortunately, our armed forces still have to face around the world and in Northern Ireland, with consequential casualties. Moreover, our parents' genera-tion—those who fought at Dunkirk, in north Africa and the far east—are, in the nature of things, getting elderly and frail. It would be a good signal if there were a Minister charged with promoting and protecting their interests and working with the various voluntary organisations which, incidentally, also support the appointment of such a Minister. I am thinking in particular of the Royal British Legion. Most countries have a veterans Minister. I hope that will be taken on board by the Minister.
There is reference in the documents to the Ministry of Defence police. I am pleased to have touched base with the Ministry of Defence Police Federation, the members of which do gallant service in protecting military establishments, pursuing crime and reassuring members of the public, service men and their families who operate at Ministry of Defence establishments.
That federation is anxious on two counts. The first is the growth in the number of civil static guards who do not have constabulary powers. Not only does the federation see the use of those guards as a diminution of its members' 1076 role as police officers, but fear that it is a form of short-termism for which we shall pay dearly in years to come, particularly in terms of diminished security.
Secondly, the federation is concerned lest the changed demands on members of the royal military police following the decline of BAOR will act as a temptation for the Secretary of State to use them in lieu of Ministry of Defence police, although their functions are different, particularly in the United Kingdom.
The Ministry of Defence police deal with civilians and service personnel in relation to crime and other traditional police duties. The royal military police, certainly in this country, have powers to deal only with military personnel. I hope we may be assured that, even by slippage, there will not be a shift to using the royal military police in lieu of the Ministry of Defence police.
I intervened earlier in the debate to refer to HMS Fort Victoria. I raise the issue again because a scandal surrounding the building of that vessel has not been properly aired. That armed support ship was ordered in 1986 at a contract price of £127 million. It was to be constructed at Harland and Wolff in Belfast. Its cost has escalated out of control, to approximately £190 million, and its delivery is three years behind schedule. It is time for the House to be given a full explanation of what has gone wrong and who is to blame.
I mention it as one who is interested and proud of our naval and auxiliary fleet, as an hon. Member who is concerned with public expenditure and, unashamedly, as an Opposition Member. Had Labour been in power, Conservative Members would be going bananas at this scandal of delay and overspending. I hope that there will be full disclosure of what has gone wrong because the Government have presided over considerable waste in respect of HMS Fort Victoria. The vessel has not been equipped as was originally intended and Parliament and the public should be told why there has been a failure to deliver the craft in the way originally intended.
§ Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)
There is probably no part of the United Kingdom where the impact of the second world war lingers on more than in my constituency. Thousands of American service men arrived in Suffolk in 1942. Their stay then continues to be acknowledged throughout my constituency. Remembrance day is a joint Anglo-American service, and in the past 12 months many hundreds of United States ex-service men have returned. I have had the privilege of meeting some of them, and it was a poignant and moving occasion. I take this opportunity to salute them for their bravery and nobility of purpose in coming here all those years ago to see off the forces of tyranny and oppression.
To paraphrase my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, the long shadow of the cold war has been lifted to reveal smaller but intense shadows. No fewer than 21 civil wars are now taking place, even if television cameras tend to ignore most of them.
As important debate continues about the future of NATO and the Western European Union, the WEU. These are heady days. The former United States Secretary of State, James Baker, talked of NATO stretching potentially from Vancouver to Vladivostok. The simple fact, however, is that Europe suffers from significant military deficiencies, particularly in terms of intelligence 1077 and logistics. To put it bluntly, we have limited air transport capacity. We would not be able to mount a major airlift of troops. Last autumn, British troops were deployed to Bosnia in United States transport aircraft, because we do not have the required support capacity on hand.
It is true that my constituency enjoys significant economic spin-offs because of the 7,000 American personnel, plus dependants, at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, which my hon. Friend the Minister has visited. They put about £200 million into the economy. The relationship between those bases and the local community is, happily, not bettered anywhere in the world. The essential factor, however, is that that continuing United States presence in Britain and Europe is critical to our defence.
That relationship has had its tensions, but there is absolutely no question about the fact that, time and time again, it has been Britain and the United States that have promptly reacted, together, to events while, at times, our European partners have sat on the sidelines. The successful prosecution of the Falklands war would not have been possible without the considerable intelligence gathering support from the Americans.
Britain and Europe have legitimate security concerns in the middle east. The invasion of Kuwait threatened not only the stability of the region, but our oil supplies. Hon. Members may wish to remind themselves that Kuwaiti independence could not have been regained without American military power.
President Bush announced that United States forces in Europe would be halved to 150,000 by 1995; President Clinton is talking about reducing that number to 100,000 by 1996. The network of shared intelligence and signals appears, happily, to remain unaffected by those plans.
Part and parcel of this shared relationship, and still important to our security, is our independent nuclear deterrent. Whatever we think of the horrors of war, we cannot wish away nuclear weaponry. I hope that the British Government will continue to make it clear that, for us, a limited testing programme is important.
Most importantly, I urge the Government to press continually for recognition by the Americans of the importance of their presence in Europe. I am pleased that my constituency will, with the arrival of the new F15E fighter, host what many regard to be the most advanced tactical fighter currently in use. I am glad that we shall also continue to host the vital United States air force transport centre, now including the reconnaissance and special service missions. My constituents welcome that unreservedly.
Above all, my constituents recognise the importance of the American presence as a continuing guarantee of our security in a volatile and turbulent world. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to seek to ensure a continuing and substantial American commitment to the security of Europe, particularly as the new Administration in Washington formulates its defence goals.
As every business man knows, the home market is an important spring-board to export success. The defence industry is a great success story in terms of employment and technology, both directly and indirectly. Firms in my constituency that provide high-technology goods to the 1078 defence industry have seen their sales to export markets treble in the past few years. That has also increased employment opportunities.
A good home market is not only good for a firm's business and thereafter its employment and technology, but increases its standing abroad. Overseas buyers feel comforted by the size of a company in many instances. Even during the recession, there have been success stories in the defence export business in my constituency. Those companies would suffer catastrophically if ever the Labour party's defence policies were implemented.
I do not exaggerate when I say that the world needs Britain with an adequate defence capability. The country needs the defence industry for jobs, and also for high technology with its range of important spin-offs.
Time and time again, the instinctive love of freedom and democracy of the British people has been tested in adversity. We have never let ourselves or the world down. With that in mind, we must pursue a defence policy that is equal to our strategic needs. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to do just that.
§ Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
The last time I wound up a debate it was a debate on the Army. I suspected on that occasion that the Minister had come under friendly fire. This time, with the exception of two Conservative speakers, everyone has been sniping at the Minister. The first reason for the sniping is the fact that the estimates that we are debating will be superseded in a fortnight by the new defence estimates for 1993. We have had to wait almost 12 months for the debate. I understand now why the Government did not want a debate. There may not even be a debate on next year's estimates after today's events.
The debate today has not been about money. We are not to vote on whether the defence estimates are correct —-that has been done on the nod. The debate has been about the Government's stewardship of the defence of the country, and there is a credibility gap there that is every bit as big as the £50 billion budget deficit. The Secretary of State has not arrived in the Chamber yet—I presume that he will he coming back. He came to the House earlier today with a lot of bluster and attacked my hon. Friends and me. I was surprised that the Secretary of State was able to pin anything on me. I am classed as coming from the violent wing of the party, and he has done my credibility no end of good.
The only thing that the Secretary of State really said today was that there were to be cuts. When his remarks are distilled, they show that he said that both the naval and the RAF reserve were to be cut. He came to the House, attacked the Labour party and then cut the defence capability of the country once more. The Government do not want a defence review—that would never do, although nearly every Conservative Member and all Opposition Members called for one. We are talking about salami—slicing, as has been mentioned.
I had the pleasure of serving with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) on the Select Committee on Agriculture for many years. It was a special pleasure to hear the hon. Gentleman attack the Government. He did it very well, as one would expect from a former Defence Minister. He realised that there were going to be cuts in the reserves and he made it clear to the 1079 House that he found that unacceptable. The hon. Gentleman was also concerned, as are all other hon. Members, about the defence industry in the west country. It plays a major role in that part of England and the Government have no policy whatsoever for providing alternative jobs in the area. The subject of Westland helicopters was also mentioned, and I shall return to that later.
The Government have no idea of where they are going. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, Norh-East (Mr. Campbell) agreed with us on that point. Judging from what he said tonight, it would be difficult to get a bayonet between his policies and those of the Labour party. He must have been reading our manifesto. My experience of Liberals is that they usually carry bayonets anyway. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman was a little churlish to say that, although the Labour party wants a defence review, the Government are right to say that there would be leaks. I find it surprising that a member of a party that believes in open government should worry about leaks from the defence chiefs of staff. There should have been a defence review and the chiefs of staff should have known about it. There would have been leaks—they are part and parcel of the system—but if we say that we should not have a defence review because we are afraid of leaks, we shall never have one in future.
The hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) attacked Labour nuclear policy, but that was a smokescreen because he then put the knife into the Government. When I first heard the hon. Gentleman, I thought, "If I were a Conservative, I would want him to be a Minister," but it then became clear that he does not agree with Government policy.
The hon. Gentleman said that the saving of £9 million on Belize was not worth it. Central America is a very unstable part of the world, but it is extremely important. If we pull out, we shall find ourselves with the same difficulties that we had in the Falklands. I have not forgotten that the Conservative Government were responsible for the Falklands war because they withdrew the naval ship.
The hon. Gentleman did not agree with the short-sighted measure to reduce the number of battalions. He knows that we cannot meet our commitments and I am sure that he agrees that we should have a defence review. He is concerned, as we are, that the 1.5 per cent. pay increase to the armed forces will continue.
The Secretary of State does as the Chancellor says, and it is no coincidence that there are now rumours that defence was not part of the review being carried out by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who knew that the Secretary of State would give in without going to the star chamber. It would be wrong for the 1.5 per cent. pay increase to continue. As I explained in the debate on the Army, as those in the armed forces rarely have mortgages, that represents a cut in their wages over the years
Other right hon. and hon. Members have made valuable contributions to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) touched on a variety of important issues, some of them concerning his constituency. The only real support for the Government came from the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (M r. Hamilton), who is not in his place. We shall miss him towering over us at the Dispatch Box and I pay tribute to the honesty of his answers, which is not always the case with other Ministers. I disagreed with a lot 1080 of what he said, but we were on common ground with regard to ground troops in Bosnia. I wish him well on the Back Benches.
I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) about the Scottish regiments. He seemed to think that radioactivity would stop at the Scottish border. I represent Carlisle, which is the last city in England. When I look out of my window I see Chapelcross, the last nuclear power station in England. The hon. Gentleman seemed confused about the nuclear deterrent and keeping Rosyth, but I understand his problem.
The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) was devastating. The arguments he used against his own Government were based on experience, but again he called for a defence review, as did other hon. Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) must be congratulated on bringing to light the scandal about market testing at RAF St. Athan. The company concerned has done more harm to the RAF in one year than the Soviet air force did in 40 years. That is the result of privatisation. It is dogma ridden and dogma driven. Market forces are paramount. Whatever base one visits, one hears about market testing. I remember going to a real market in Hong Kong at 6 o'clock in the morning because Chinese chickens for British forces based there were being market tested. It is nonsense. It is dogma driven and we should take this as an opportunity to stop and reconsider.
In the olden days, when Ministers were honourable Members, someone would have resigned over the situation that my hon. Friend has exposed. However, that is not the case now. Times have changed. Anyone who has read Alan Clark's book will realise that. I have been doing a little reading of his work as well. It is not so much the content that seems to remind me of Ministers as the title. I am, of course, referring to his book "The Donkeys". I borrowed my copy from the War Office library, which shows how old it is. That is his famous book, for which he will be remembered, with the famous quote about British troops fighting like lions but being led by donkeys.
My experience of the armed forces is that all the donkeys have now left. The generals have left and have gone to work for the Jockey Club. Donkeys are stubborn, stupid creatures. Some may find them lovable, but they remind me of Ministers on the Treasury Bench—they do not have the ears, but I am sure that someone finds them lovable.
I say that because the Government have refused to have a defence review, which has led to overstretch in many parts of the armed forces. For example, we know that the Government will cancel the tactical air-to-surface missile, the sub-strategic nuclear weapon. They know it, the Royal Air Force knows it, but the Government are too stubborn to tell us. We do not know the future. They are not prepared to tell us. The 1989 White Paper said that the WE117 nuclear bomb could not continue beyond the 1990s. A Minister has since said that it will go into the next decade. We know that TASM is doomed. Why do not the Government say so?
There has been much comment about the European helicopter 101. I recently visited the Westland factory in Yeovil. It is a good aircraft. A promise of an order was placed in 1987 –sixyears ago—yet the Minister is still too stubborn to say where the Government will place that order. There is some opposition in the RAF, but 1081 sometimes Ministers have to lead; donkeys rarely do, but Ministers must. The west country needs that order if Britain is to continue to have a viable helicopter industry in the next century.
The Eurofighter 2000 is probably the most important technical and industrial project in Britain. The Minister told us in a recent parliamentary answer that the cost has gone up by some £250 million. We were told in January last year by Alan Clark—I presume that he was right—that it would fly at the Farnborough air show. It did not fly at Farnborough. It will not fly at Paris this week. We are not sure when it will take off. It has had two names, but it has not yet flown. If the Government do not get a grip on the project, bring the costs under control and bring it back on line, the enemies of that project, in this country and overseas, will come together, use that evidence and we shall lose it.
Will we get the larger share of the work? The Secretary of State said that an order would be placed for 250 aircraft, which will account for more than 50 per cent. of all orders that will be placed for it. According to the original agreement, that should mean that more than 50 per cent. of the work will be done in this country. I am not sure that will be the case, or whether the Government will buckle under German pressure.
It is a matter of concern that the Government are not prepared to listen and to re-examine issues. They seem to think only about elections. I am worried about the Government's statement today concerning reserves. I am a cynic when it comes to Government policy. They seem to be saying that they will use reserves instead of full-time troops. That is welcome in some ways, but I suspect that policy has nothing to do with giving the Territorial Army a greater role, but everything to do with making expensive professional soldiers redundant so that the Government can enjoy a cheaper option using part-timers. If I had not seen that happen in so many other areas, I might give the Government the benefit of the doubt.
The Secretary of State said that he would bring legislation before the House, and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) pointed out that a change had occurred. We do not want a repeat of the Gulf situation, in which reservists had to be asked twice to volunteer because employers would not release them. A Minister had to go into a huddle at Buckingham palace to ensure that those reservists could be sent. Legislation is needed to make it clear that reservists must go if required, be given leave of absence from their work and be guaranteed a job when they return. The unemployed who are called up to serve must be given a guarantee that they and their families will not lose benefits. The sooner that such clarification is provided, the better.
In the 1983 general election, a Conservative party poster depicted Labour defence policy in the form of a soldier with his hands up. Another used the headline, "Labour isn't working". In the next general election, a good poster for Labour would be one showing a queue of redundant soldiers, sailors, airmen, shipbuilders and workers from the west country with the headline, "Tory defence policy".
The Tories do not have a credible economic policy. Theirs is not the party of sound money or of law and order —and theirs is not the party of strong defence.
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Jonathan Aitken)
It is with some relish that I rise to wind up the first day of this two-day defence debate. It began five and a half hours ago with a wide-ranging speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, the highlight of which was his important statement on the future of our reserve forces.
The pantomime horse of the two Opposition spokesmen who began and ended today's debate could not think how to answer my right hon. and learned Friend's statement. At first, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) gave it a qualified welcome, but then fell back on a discreet silence after saying that he must wait and see. Winding up for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) seemed to regard my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement as a wicked Tory device to increase the dole queues. He had five and a half hours to work out that response. Between that gap of ignorant silence at the beginning and prejudiced misrepresentation at the end, it would have been a good idea to use the consultation period to learn the views of the public and of the reserves themselves.
We believe that our proposals represent a good way forward for the reserves in the new security atmosphere, which the reserves themselves will largely welcome because of the new tasks and roles that they will be given. Although I will not hesitate to give way to Opposition Members, I think that they should allow the consultation period to proceed: I believe that it will result in a welcome for the announcement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Aitken
I think that, in round figures, there will be a saving of up to £10 million, but all that will come out during the consultation period.
I am bound to confess that I have an advantage here. Because of ministerial defence cuts, the House now has only three defence Ministers; the Opposition, overstaffed as always, have four defence spokesmen. One Minister must therefore speak twice during this two-day debate and I shall be opening the Monday debate. It is possible that, because of the breadth and depth of some of the topics that have been covered today, they would best be dealt with on Monday: I am thinking particularly of nuclear issues, the European fighter aircraft and one or two other matters. However, I shall do my best to answer the points that have been raised today, in so far as that is possible.
The hon. Member for South Shields opened his speech —as he often does, courteously and correctly—by paying tribute to our armed forces and to MOD civilians. Naturally, I share his view. Apart from that common ground, however, I considered his speech a rubbish of an oration. It contained not a word of constructive thought or policy on the future defence of our country; it was one long whine and whinge about a so-called collection of scandals, which became markedly less scandalous on examination.
One of the first great scandals unearthed by the hon. Gentleman—it dated back to 1988; he was digging quite deep—related to the extra money that he thought had been wasted on submarine refits. Let me give the hon. Gentleman a history lesson. He will recall that, in the wake of dramatic events in eastern Europe in the late 1980s, we 1083 had to review the size of our planned nuclear submarine fleet. We concluded that a smaller fleet would be sufficient in the new strategic environment and I do not think that the Opposition disagree with that conclusion. In September 1990, following careful analysis, we decided to pay off two submarines, HMS Warspite and HMS Churchill. It was, of course, a difficult decision, in view of the expenditure already incurred on their refits; but our assessment showed that paying them off was the right decision and the best way of saving the taxpayer the maximum amount.
As the hon. Gentleman will recall, those developments were started by no less than the fall of the Berlin wall on 9 November 1989. That is a significant date: HMS Warspite's refit had begun in March 1988 and HMS Churchill's in April 1989. Planning for the refits had begun even earlier. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman foresaw the fall of the Berlin wall; I wonder whether he anticipated that we might need fewer submarines. I think that the Government made a sensible decision. There was nothing scandalous about it; in the long run, it was in the best interests of the defence budget.
So much for the hon. Gentleman's first scandal. His second was all about shipping fraud during the Gulf crisis. It would not have been the first or last conflict in which one or two people may have profiteered; I draw no conclusions, but that happens. Let us put the matter in context, however. The Gulf war deployment was the largest deployment of troops and equipment since the second world war, involving 46,000 personnel, 46,000 tonnes of freight, 87,000 tonnes of ammunition and 7,000 containers. It was our own internal audit investigation that uncovered evidence that there might have been some irregularities in the ship chartering process. We called in the MOD police fraud squad to investigate; the results of that investigation were passed to the Crown Prosecution Service in November last year. We cannot say more now for fear of prejudicing any prosecutions; but the notion that the MOD has been involved in some murky cover-up or scandal is not justified. I think that we did the only thing that we could do in the circumstances: we conducted a thorough investigation of what may have happened. I can say no more than that.
§ Dr. David Clark
As the Minister has denied my allegation of fraud, I presume that he is telling the House that there can be no prosecution.
§ Mr. Aitken
It is under consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service. For the hon. Gentleman to hold it up as some terrible scandal in which the Ministry of Defence is gravely at fault is nonsense and he should know that.
The hon. Member for South Shields may have been on slightly better ground with his third great scandal, which was the unfortunate episode of Airwork. [Interruption.] Before the hon. Gentleman gets too carried away with merriment, he will find that, at least partly, the laugh is on him. Both he and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) have misunderstood the situation. I do not intend to back away from its gravity, but we must get the facts right. It was blamed on market testing and theologically driven policies. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West seemed to be under the extraordinary illusion that we had put Marks and Spencer in charge of defence research. The chief executive of defence research is 1084 Mr. John Chisholm. Mr. Littmoden, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, is the MOD's advisor on market testing.
The contract which has given us so much trouble was nothing to do with market testing. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Carlisle said in his winding-up speech that it was about market testing. The contract is for a type of work that has been routinely undertaken by industry for many years. It has been our long-standing practice that a proportion of our aircraft repair and maintenance work is undertaken by industry. The RAF identifies those tasks which can sensibly be done in house and those —usually the longer and more specialised jobs —which can best be done by industry. Incorporating the fatigue modifications in the Tornado F3 fell into that category. Therefore, the question of an in-house bid from RAF St. Athan did not arise. It is off the beam to suggest that the aircraft industry cannot service the aircraft that it manufactures.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West should not lose sight of the fact that it was our prompt action that terminated the contract as soon as it became evident that it was being performed in an unsatisfactory manner. That demonstrates our commitment to meeting the exacting quality standards that are so essential for defence equipment, particularly aircraft where flight safety considerations are paramount.
§ Mr. Morgan
There are three mistakes in what the Minister has said. I did not say that this had not been done previously and satisfactorily by British Aerospace. Secondly, the Minister is not correct to say that the Ministry of Defence took prompt action. The RAF at St. Athan called in the quality assurance directorate which, as I said in my speech, merely checked the certificate without having checked any of the aircraft. Thirdly, on the question whether this was theologically driven, the Minister must face the fact that the Government have a general policy of, if it moves, privatise it. In this case, they did privatise it and now the aircraft cannot move.
§ Mr. Aitken
The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating considerably. We acknowledge that this is an unfortunate episode. A small number of Tornado F3s have been damaged, but not as seriously as some press speculation and the hon. Gentleman have suggested. The necessary work of surveying the aircraft and estimating the cost of repairs is under way and my Department will be claiming against Airwork in due course. With a claim and legal proceedings pending, we cannot go into detail, but I can assure the House—this is the important point raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West—that the RAF's operational capability is not affected by the small number of aircraft damaged or the delays to the modification programme. There are sufficient Tornado F3 aircraft to meet all our present commitments for the air defence of the United Kingdom and the detachment to enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia.
The fourth and last great scandal of the hon. Member for South Shields was that of the service chiefs who were not allowed to participate in the deliberations on "Options for Change" because of a fear that they may be the source of leaks. That was the hon. Gentleman at his most distorting. He must have read the letter from Mr. Mottram which appeared in the newspapers. It rebuts the hon. Gentleman's comments and makes the reverse suggestion. 1085 Some time ago the question was asked whether there were appropriate defence staff available following the 1984 reorganisation for the review. Mr. Mottram wrote:The answer is, it was. As my article briefly mentioned, the Options exercise was conducted under Ministerial and top management supervision by a small working group of central policy and programmes staffs. Three of its members were military and were selected on the basis of their jobs within the Defence Staff. This also produced a valuable spread of Service expertise involving a Vice-Admiral, a Major-General and an Air Vice-Marshal. Detailed analysis of possible options drew on the advice of the Service Plans divisions. The circle of those involved in the whole exercise in both the central and single-Service staffs was tightly drawn to enable a range of options to be looked at and often discarded on a confidential basis. This was intended to help to avoid the selective leaks to the media of the kind which can damage Service morale and indeed the reputation of the Services.In plain language, Mr. Mottram is saying that the service chiefs were called in—not the chiefs of staff, but their major representatives—and that they were involved in all stages of the discussions. No one was excluded because they might be the cause of a leak; they were brought in to avoid leaks, so the hon. Gentleman has got it topsy-turvy. That was his fourth dud scandal. Much of his speech had nothing to do with defence policy, nor did it contain any constructive ideas. It consisted of trying to rake up scandals out of pretty thin air and was a failure as a result.
May I deal briskly with one or two issues raised by my hon. Friends and others who have participated in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) mentioned the EH101. I can assure him that we are actively thinking about helicopterb procurement and support. We have, of course, taken note of what Lord Younger has said, but the paramount consideration is to meet the needs of the armed services with proper value-for-money procurement. He also mentioned the Paris air show. Although I do not rule out second-hand Pumas entirely as a small part of our requirement, it is well known in Paris and elsewhere that this Minister is a Puma sceptic. I have said as much at internal meetings and I repeat it to the House. To other hon. Members who mentioned the EH101, I can say that I very much hope that we can find the right price.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) had the intellectual honesty to say that a defence review would not mean the avoidance of difficult decisions. His words must have come as a terrible blow to the Opposition, who have for a long time used the defence review as a device to avoid forming a policy. I agreed with much of what the hon. and learned Gentleman said and I assure him that when taking decisions on procurement policy we of course take into account factors such as export prospects and industrial considerations as well as value for money. It has been helpful to have the views of the House on the wider issues in our discussions about the European fighter aircraft and other matters.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), the Chairman of the Select Committee, on the Committee's report on the defence estimates for 1992. I agree that the threat of nuclear proliferation has been underestimated. I heard what he said about Belize and I look forward to receiving his report later this year. He was right to emphasise the fact that we shall be keeping a training presence and capability there. I 1086 shall deal in a moment with the interesting clash between him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton).
I am grateful for the tribute that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) paid to the Cheshires who are his constituents. If I may, I shall write to him about his points about the pay office in Glasgow, which are primarily a constituency interest. I thank him for his contribution to the debate.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell made his first speech from the Back Benches for 11 years. He said in his resignation statement on 10 June, which I thought was a skilful blend of humour and loyalty, that his ministerial post from which he retired at his own request was one of the best jobs in Government. If I may return the compliment, I think that the Government were fortunate to have in that job for the past few years one of their best men. He gave us a timely reminder that defence is not an economic island isolated from the pressures of the economy in general or the public sector borrowing requirement. Defence tasks consist of the imperative, the desirable and the optional. One need only turn to the White Paper and read defence tasks 1, 2 and 3 to find that that is so. Yes, there must be limits.
There was an interesting debate, to which I shall perhaps return on Monday, between my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster and my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell. The Select Committee does the job of defence reporting without financial responsibil-ity and therefore, in a sense, has an easy task. It is easy for a slightly financially unworldly note to creep into such reports. Where to draw the line and where to get value for money is a profound theme and I shall refer to it later as it runs with several other speeches. Finally, may I say what good sound sense my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell spoke about Bosnia.
I was grateful for the tribute that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) paid to the security forces in Northern Ireland. I listened carefully to his constructive thoughts on the effects of the amalgamation and particularly to his point that recruits are badly needed for the officer corps. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will heed those points carefully and we shall take note of them.
I was moved by the tribute that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) paid to the dedication and professionalism of the Staffords, and he is rightly proud and pleased that they have been reprieved. I listened carefully to his analysis of the situation in the former Yugoslavia. He has shown consistency and great moral courage in his parliamentary stance. I have not always been able to agree with him. All of us are uneasy and unhappy about the dilemma that has faced the international community and we are profoundly distressed at our inability to bring peace to the killing fields of this civil war.
I agree with my hon. Friend that we must make one more effort to negotiate, but beyond that the new military strategy for the former Yugoslavia is very difficult territory indeed, as he recognised. He made me blush with his tributes to Nixon and he conjured up ghosts, but I was not able to hear a clear strategy that will be acceptable to the House and to the country, which is where we differ.
The hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) wants to scrap regimental amalgamations in Scotland. I am 1087 afraid that we cannot follow him down that path, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will have heard his strong views.
§ Mr. Aitken
I have only five minutes and I am trying to cover everyone who has spoken.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) seemed to be under the strange illusion that we are conducting our deliberations by stealth and behind closed doors. He used a vivid phrase about butchery behind closed doors. To use a military metaphor, I think that he went slightly over the top. Far from there being any stealth, we have, not counting defence questions, discussed the matter in the House on no fewer than 32 occasions since last year. That includes three single service debates, the debate on the defence industry, this two-day debate and 12 Adjournment debates. We shall try to answer his wide-ranging points in due course, but I am afraid that I cannot accept his thesis that we are doing butchery behind closed doors and that a valued national asset is being destroyed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) chided me for my optimism about the diminution of the threat, as I perceived it, from having visited former East Germany. I beg to differ with him on that point. There has been a great change in the strategic environment, which affects enormously our defence and readiness posture. Our defence posture for many years was based on the notion that the Soviets were coming, and now they are not. Our reserve forces, our state of readiness and the level of our procurement are influenced very much by that thought.
My hon. Friend was on weak ground with his amphibious forces point. We have ordered a landing platform helicopter vessel and are carrying out project definition studies on the landing platform docks, about which he was concerned. More careful thinking is going into our defence posture for the future than he seemed to give us credit for.
1088 I was glad that, in one of the final speeches, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) mentioned the great importance of the US-UK relationship. The constituency of Bury St. Edmunds, as he knows, is quite dear to my heart since I was born there and my father represented it for many years. Having lived in the arena of the American bases, I know what an enormous contribution they have made to the security of Europe and of the free world. On my way to my hon. Friend's constituency, I visited the American forces chapel in St. Paul's cathedral. There is a wonderful epitaph to those who gave their lives, which, if my memory serves me correctly, reads:They gave their lives defending freedom against the assaults of our enemies.That is really what the American relationship is all about. Its purpose is not just, as my hon. Friend said, to lift capacity, intelligence sharing and nuclear testing, important though those matters are. The United States' presence in Europe has been of enormous importance to our security and I was pleased that one hon. Member brought that out so skilfully.
I do not think that I have quite answered the question asked by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) about auxiliary oiler replenishment vessels. It is true that they have had a somewhat chequered history. As was made clear at the time, the decision to build a second AOR vessel, Fort George, at Swan Hunter was taken on the basis of wider considerations of the kind being urged upon me by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East —wider considerations than the bottom line on the tender.
However, in response to his specific question about the transfer of Fort Victoria to the Cammell Laird yard at Birkenhead, I can tell the hon. Member for Thurrock exactly what the cost to the Government was. It was nothing. A commercial decision was taken by Harland and Wolff—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.