§ [Relevant documents: The Ninth Report from the Defence Committee on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1993, HC 869 of Session 1992–93; Eighth Report from the Defence Committee on Royal Navy: Commitments and Resources, HC 637.]
§ Madam Speaker
Despite the fact that this is a two-day debate, I have to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches made between 6 pm and 8 pm.
I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand that you selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, which had to be tabled before the House rose in July if it were to be debated. Today, I tabled an amendment having the support of several other hon. Members, which I hope you will study and consider for debate tomorrow, so that my amendment also may be voted on tomorrow evening.
§ Madam Speaker
I am always willing to consider motions that right hon. and hon. Members put on the Order Paper. I spend a good deal of my time each morning doing precisely that.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1993 contained in Cm. 2270.I welcome the opportunity today to talk about the issues raised by the White Paper, "Defending our Future", which was published earlier this year. As the House will be aware, the three months since that White Paper was published have seen momentous events in many parts of the world —events that are of direct concern to the security of this country. It is therefore right and proper that, on this, the first day on which the House is sitting following the Recess, we should be addressing defence, which is the fundamental concern of any Government.
"Defending our Future" makes clear in a way that we have never done before how we go about defence planning. It sets out the results of a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, and the tasks that those forces are likely to be asked to carry out. It reflects internal work that shows, through the detailed identification and listing of various military tasks, that we have at present the right balance of forces to undertake those tasks.
"Defending our Future" shows also the adjustments that we have made over the past 12 months to bring our forces into line with changes in the international situation. The increase in infantry, the ordering of the helicopter carrier and the confirmation of the Eurofighter are all improvements in capability that will be required in the future, which will enable us to balance our capabilities with our commitments.
This is not just an intellectual exercise. It is fundamental to our confidence in the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force that we know that we have the resources to enable them to carry out the tasks expected of them, to carry them out not only adequately but to the high standard of effectiveness and success that this nation has come to expect.
28 The armed forces are, of course, in the middle of the biggest reorganisation of their structure and size since 1945. It is a formidable task, and it applies with equal significance to the Ministry of Defence itself. There have been suggestions recently that we have more civil servants in the Ministry of Defence than fighting men in the armed forces. That is incorrect. Current plans envisage armed forces of some 240,000 while the number of civil servants will fall to 135,000 and keep falling as efficiency improves and other reforms are implemented. I shall set out a number of areas in which our policy has been developed since the White Paper was published, but I shall first say something about recent developments in Russia and the continuing crisis in the former Yugoslavia.
We shall never forget the scenes that we have recently witnessed in Moscow. I was in Moscow when President Yeltsin brought to a head his long-running confrontation with the Russian Parliament. Since then, he has been forced to take action against those who were using violence to exploit Russia's fragile democracy for thoroughly dangerous and non-democratic ends. No one in this House would welcome the sight of a Parliament building under fire and ablaze, but let there be no doubt about what was at stake. The Russian Parliament was a discredited and undemocratic body, and its leaders were preventing progress towards full and free elections of the kind that we understand.
Russia is now at a vital stage in the development of its democratic institutions. That is why the Government have been steadfast in their support for President Yeltsin as he guides that country through its historic transition from Soviet-style institutions to a new modern constitution. That is the process of democratic reform, and we are committed to it.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Before the Secretary of State gets carried away with his own propaganda, should he not be aware that the Russian Parliament was elected in a free election, exactly as President Yeltsin was elected, and that the Parliament worked with him to defend the country against the attempted coup in 1991? Is it not the case that what is happening in Russia is the destruction of parliamentary democracy, an end to freedom of the press and the wholesale arrests of people who dare to speak out against the market policies of President Yeltsin? Should there not be a slightly more even-handed approach by western Governments towards what is happening in Russia?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman should be well aware that the Russian Parliament was elected under the old Soviet constitution. I should be astonished if anyone, including him, were to describe that as a democratic electoral process. President Yeltsin, however, was elected on a one man, one vote, basis by the Russian electorate, and submitted his policies to a referendum of the Russian people. The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that fact.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Does the Secretary of State agree that the Russian Parliament, however it was elected, is more democratic than the House of Lords up the road?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am not certain that I want to make such a comparison, but the other place in this country is subject to the democratic wishes of the elected Chamber; I do not believe that the Russian Parliament could claim such a status.
29 At the same time, the events to which I referred remind us that we are in a period of unprecedented uncertainty, and that the progress that Russia has made is based on fragile foundations. Russia risked a reversal of the positive steps that she has made down the democratic path. Had it happened, the people of Russia would have lost the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of a free and democratic society.
Such a development would have brought into power an unstable and profoundly undemocratic Government, by no means sympathetic to the West, and with controls of formidable arsenals of nuclear and conventional weapons. Even worse would have been the implications if the Russian armed forces had divided their loyalties between President Yeltsin and Vice-President Rutskoi, with the danger of Russia slipping into civil war.
It is therefore vital that we underpin our support for the democratic process by continuing with our programme of defence co-operation with Russia, and with central and eastern Europe. We have taken a number of initiatives, including the offer of assistance to Russia with military resettlement, a key element in trying to minimise disaffection among the large numbers of military personnel who will need to find employment in the civil economy. While in Moscow, I signed a protocol with the Defence Minister, General Grachev, on co-operation in that area. The United Kingdom will also provide assistance to Russia on the safe transportation of surplus nuclear warheads.
More widely, we have signed memoranda on extensive programmes of defence contracts with the Czech Republic, with Hungary, with Poland, with Slovakia and, most recently, with Ukraine, where, during my visit to Kiev, I also signed an agreement on co-operation. We are also developing a defence relationship with Albania, with the Baltic states, with Bulgaria and with Romania.
It cannot be stressed too much to the House that, in the past, during the period of the Warsaw pact, although there were occasional contracts at the political level, very few of the military of any of the Warsaw pact powers had any personal contact with their western military colleagues. At one stage, I asked General Grachev how many NATO Ministers he had met before the end of the cold war, during his whole career; he said, "None." That emphasises the huge work that needs to be done to show the Russian military—a very powerful force in the contemporary affairs of that country—co-operation with the west and the proper role of the armed forces in a free and democratic society.
§ Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)
Obviously, I approve of everything that my right hon. and learned Friend has said about the Soviet Union, and especially about helping the Russian army to run itself down. However, I hope that he will say something later in his speech about the inevitable need to help people in the defence industries in this country, which will, inevitably and rightly, be run down, to transfer their skills—sometimes very high-grade skills—to the civilian sector.
§ Mr. Rifkind
That is, of course, already happening in a substantial way. I do not for a moment believe that we can direct the private sector companies on how they go about the process of adjustment. However, we can pay tribute to the way in which defence industries, even at this time, have identified substantial export opportunities. Many have diversified in a variety of ways. It is for them to take on 30 board the responsibility of adjusting their companies to the new international situation and to the likely demand for their products.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
Does the Secretary of State realise that no one is asking him to direct the defence-related industries when he is asked to safeguard, in the national interest, the long-term capacity of the British defence-related industries to be able to supply Her Majesty's forces, in exactly the way that he would want, for whatever tasks they are called to fulfil? With that in mind, does he not think that it is necessary to renew the five-year explosives, propellants and related products—EPREP—procurement arrangements? Does he not think that it is necessary to establish a proper strategy for defence diversification in partnership with Royal Ordnance?
Does not the Secretary of State accept that the European Community's KONVER programme is applicable to defence-related industries in Britain? They could use that programme profitably and productively to national advantage, they could save jobs and they could sustain the level of dependable production in the way that the forces would want, if only the Government would willingly participate in such arrangements.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I have two points for the right hon. Gentleman. First, the main way in which defence industries' interests can be safeguarded is by rejecting the £6 billion cuts in our defence expenditure for which the Labour party conference called. That would so devastate defence industries throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom that I hope that the right hon. Gentleman condemns such a policy.
The second area on which I must respond to the right hon. Gentleman is that it must be for the defence industries themselves, as private sector companies, to develop their strategy for dealing with the interests of their companies and of their shareholders. The idea that the Government can somehow take the lead in such a matter goes quite against the whole philosophy that this country has experienced over the years. Any alternative approach would be disastrous for the interests of those companies, suggesting a degree of interference that is quite incompatible with their private sector status. The right hon. Gentleman should take that into account.
§ Mr. Rifkind
No. I must continue my remarks.
Assistance to Russia is not driven by altruism alone. It is squarely in our national security interest that we foster friendly defence links with our former adversaries in the east. It is simply not enough to wish them well: we must be ready with practical help.
There is also much talk of expansion of NATO itself. The issue will undoubtedly be discussed at the forthcoming NATO summit, which will provide an excellent opportunity to reaffirm at the highest level that NATO, and the transatlantic link that it embodies, is indispensable to European security. The alliance remains the focus for stability across Europe. When we come to consider the future size and shape of the alliance, we must not be tempted into hasty or ill-thought-out decisions but must consider carefully all the ramifications of such a step.
Our overriding concern should be to ensure that, whatever steps we take, they do not unintentionally create 31 new divisions within Europe. Above all, we must strive to find ways of enhancing the security of all European nations —the alliance's existing members, the countries of central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, including Russia itself. Russia as a democratic, peaceful, open society is the great prize to be won. If that is achieved, it will enhance the security of Europe as a whole.
I shall now turn to developments in the former Yugoslavia. While the search for peace continues, we remain committed to playing a major part in the humanitarian effort. Our battalion group in Bosnia has continued with its task in difficult and often dangerous conditions. Since the operation started last year, it has escorted 1,541 convoys, delivering a total of 70,000 tonnes of aid, despite the fierce fighting which has raged between Croats and Muslims in central Bosnia around Vitez and Gorni Vakuf, where our troops are based.
There have been several incidents in which the warring factions have fired at or near British troops and installations, but only one recent incident has resulted in a relatively serious injury to a British soldier, who is now recovering in the United Kingdom. I can reassure the House once again that British forces are entitled to use all the considerable firepower at their disposal should they come under fire—as they have had to do several times in recent weeks.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and I have recently visited British forces in the area. My hon. Friend will, I know, give the House an account of that visit later in the debate. I can only say for myself that what we are achieving in Bosnia—securing the delivery of aid against all the odds, often through the exercise of improvised street diplomacy in very threatening circumstances—ranks among the highest achievements of the British armed forces in recent years.
§ Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West)
Does the Secretary of State accept that survival rations for the people of Bosnia are not getting through in sufficient amounts? My hon. Friends the Members for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), and for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) and I spent three days in Sarajevo last week. We were told by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials that although the survival—I emphasise "survival"—rations per day were 600 g per person, with the onset of winter people are receiving only between 200 g and 300 g.
May I suggest that the policy is not working? The idea that Sarajevo is a safe haven is a cruel joke against the people of Bosnia. Shells are falling. We visited the hospitals. People are killed and wounded. With respect, the policy is a failure.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman will want to reflect on the conclusion that he reached. The reality is that, but for the aid programme that has been implemented, hundreds of thousands of people who are alive today would be dead. That is the simple fact.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that of course perfection has not been achieved. In the middle of a civil war, it would be remarkable if all the aid got through to every person who would benefit from it. The hon. Gentleman may be right to say that, in certain localities, some of the aid has been prevented from reaching its 32 destination. But to suggest that therefore the policy has failed is a wicked misrepresentation of all that has been achieved in the past year.
§ Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)
Sarajevo is supposed to be a UN-protected safe area. How is it, then, that the UN can stand aside and watch 500 shells fall on Sarajevo in a single day, and that, even in a quiet period, about 150 shells can land on a supposed UN-protected safe area? Is that not a failure?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The United Nations can operate only under its present mandate. At present, it is there in a humanitarian role. It has shown remarkable skill and persistence and has achieved success in getting a vast amount of aid through to those who need it. In each area where there have been problems, they have required patient diplomacy, considerable personal courage and great persistence. In the vast majority of cases, that aid has got through, as the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) would be the first to confirm.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman maintain that argument were he a citizen of Sarajevo?
§ Mr. Rifkind
If I were a citizen of Sarajevo, I would be conscious not only of the huge amount of aid that had arrived in the city, but of that which had not yet arrived. I would quite properly refer to both.
I take no exception to hon. Members commenting that not all the aid has got through, but I part company with the conclusion that the policy has failed because only between 70 and 80 per cent of the aid has reached those for whom it was intended, rather than 100 per cent.
One must take into account the fact that, in a civil war, that is a pretty remarkable achievement. One need only compare what the UN has achieved in Bosnia in humanitarian terms with what has not been achieved—hardly even attempted—in Angola, where just as vicious and nasty a civil war is going on, to appreciate what a remarkable amount has been achieved.
With the onset of winter, the UN's humanitarian task in Bosnia will become all the more important: and this winter threatens to be more difficult than last for the victims of the fighting. The mildness of last winter's weather is unlikely to be repeated, the position on indigenous supplies is much worse, and people's health is poorer.
We shall continue our humanitarian work this winter. The Government will replace the current battalion group when its tour of duty ends in November. The Prince of Wales Own Regiment of Yorkshire will be replaced by the 1st battalion of the Coldstream Guards. The squadron of Light Dragoons will be replaced by another squadron from the same regiment, and the Engineer squadron will be replaced by a similar unit from 38 Engineer Regiment. All the units which will be returning have served with great distinction, and the House will want to join me in congratulating them.
All the new units will serve for six months. I should also add that the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force continue to support embargo operations and to police the skies over the Adriatic and Bosnia, and that RAF and naval aircraft and helicopters play a key role in delivering humanitarian aid and in casualty evacuation.
I will now discuss wider defence policy matters, starting with nuclear issues. "Defending our Future" confirms the 33 Government's belief, in common with our allies.in NATO, that nuclear forces will continue to play an indispensable part in preserving peace. We would be foolhardy in the extreme to ignore the continued existence of the large arsenal of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, or the possibility of proliferation in the future.
The Trident programme remains on course: I am pleased to announce that the first submarine, HMS Vanguard, was accepted into Royal Navy service on 14 September, and Victorious was rolled out on 29 September. Construction of the other two submarines is proceeding well.
I hope that, when the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) opens the debate on behalf of the Opposition, he will condemn, in the most unambiguous and unequivocal terms, the policy of his party at its recent conference when it called for the immediate cancellation of Trident and the ending of our nuclear capability.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I note that the hon. Gentleman confirms that that is what he intends to do, and we look forward to judging how unequivocal and unambiguous his statement is, particularly given his own part in the work of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, an organisation that he has never yet confirmed that he has left.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said that we need Trident and other nuclear capabilities in case there is a threat from Russia and the former Soviet Union. Would he care to educate the House about how he seeks to deter a threat from a country with which, as he boasted just a few minutes ago, he has signed a defence co-operation agreement?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I would not suggest that there is any threat from the current Russian Government—of course not. We have extremely friendly relations with a democratic Russia. The right hon. Gentleman should just imagine, however, what might have happened if President Yeltsin had not won his recent confrontation. Imagine if Russia was today ruled by Mr. Khasbulatov and 11,000 strategic nuclear warheads were under his control. Imagine if such a Government sought to reassert their control and authority over the newly independent republics of the old Soviet Union, sought to threaten the Baltic states and to undertake other acts of adventurism.
The reality is that Russia remains a huge military nuclear super-power. At the moment, it has 11,000 strategic nuclear warheads; even if, in 10 years' time, it fully complies with all its obligations—which we are sure, under President Yeltsin, it would wish to do—it will still have more than 3,000 strategic warheads. Therefore, unless the right hon. Gentleman can predict with confidence the future of Russia, his remarks cannot be taken in the way that he would wish.
§ Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme)
My right hon. and learned Friend has stated the potential threat with which the former Soviet Union could confront us under different leadership.
The Conservative party, like Conservative Governments, traditionally has regarded its prime raison d'etre as the defence of the realm. Will my right hon. and learned Friend explain how, after 14 years of Conservative government, national security expenditure has increased 34 by £1 billion while social security expenditure has increased in real terms by £29 billion? That is more than the entire defence budget.
If the Chancellor must look for areas in which to cut expenditure, should not he look first at the abuse of social security?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I do not wish to comment on what the appropriate level of social security expenditure should be. One can point to the effective way in which the Government have been responsible for the defence of the realm during the past 14 years. Conservative Governments have never treated defence lightly, and I believe that they never will.
The White Paper has also confirmed our commitment to maintaining an effective long-term sub-strategic nuclear capability. I told the House some months ago that we were considering how best to provide this once the WE177 free-fall bomb is withdrawn from service. Our considerations were completed during the recess, and I am able to announce our conclusions today.
A sub-strategic capability remains necessary, because a potential adversary might gamble, under certain circumstances, on our reluctance to launch an all-out strategic nuclear strike in response to his aggression. It is vital, therefore, that we possess the ability to undertake more limited nuclear action, to be able to deliver an unequivocal message to an aggressor that he must cease his aggression and withdraw or face the risk of even greater damage. A sub-strategic capability forms an essential link between conventional and strategic forces, as part of our clear demonstration that aggression of any kind is not a rational option.
The United Kingdom's sub-strategic capability is currently provided by the WE177 bomb carried on Tornado dual-capable aircraft. In the mid to late 1980s, we saw the need to enter into the early development of a sophisticated stand-off weapon which would be able to penetrate the increasingly effective Warsaw pact defences, and which would replace the current bomb. The type of system we began to examine is known as a tactical air-to-surface missile, or TASM.
The security circumstances have changed fundamentally since then. As a consequence, we have concluded that our previous requirement for a new stand-off nuclear weapon capability is not a sufficiently high priority to justify the procurement of a new nuclear system in the current circumstances. Instead, we will plan, after the WE177 eventually leaves service in the long term, on exploiting the flexibility and capability of the Trident system to provide the vehicle for the delivery of our sub-strategic deterrent.
The Trident system is undetectable, reliable, and accurate in its delivery and can carry our sub-strategic as well as strategic capacity at little additional cost. That is set against what would be the high cost of developing a new system. We have no doubt that it will be admirably suited to the additional role.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
My right hon. and learned Friend is announcing an exceedingly important decision, which will effectively end the historic role of the Royal Air Force as the primary instrument of at least sub-strategic deterrence.
Why have the Government come to a different conclusion from the defence strategists of France, the 35 United States and Russia, as those countries have an air-launched capability that they wish to retain? Why are we doing so at a time when nuclear proliferation is a manifest threat, and when all sorts of tinpot dictators can get their hands on nuclear weapons? Is my right hon. and learned Friend saying that the threat of Trident is the appropriate response to them? Is not the right response a flexible and visible dual-capable system such as an air-launched weapon?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The present capability of the Royal Air Force can continue, under present plans, into the next century. I am not announcing a proposal that is about to be implemented. The WE177 carried by the Tornado aircraft is due, under current plans, to continue in operation, with the Royal Air Force responsible for its sub-strategic capability, into the first few years of the next century. I am referring to what is likely to be the sensible and desirable way of dealing with our long-term requirements over a much longer period.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) also referred to the circumstances of other countries. He will be aware that in France, which for a number of years has had its nuclear weapons provided by land, sea and air, serious consideration is being given to reducing nuclear potential by one whole category.
We must take into account the fact that it is right and proper that we should adapt our nuclear policy to the very changed circumstances that exist in the post-cold war world. We must get the balance right. We must recognise that there continues to be a potential serious threat from other nuclear powers, and that we must therefore retain our nuclear weapons and our capability to respond both at the strategic and at the sub-strategic level, but to say that we can do so only using the same type and range of weapons that were necessary during the worst years of the cold war would not be justified—nor would that be a proper use of the resources that we have in terms of our other priorities.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I understand my right hon. and learned Friend's comments about nuclear weapons, but is he saying that the Royal Air Force will not be in receipt of a stand-off weapon capability for conventional delivery? I hope that he is not, but if he is, let me just remind him of the Fairey Battles that had to attack bridges in 1940 because then, too, we had the wrong equipment and the wrong aircraft.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I can assure my hon. Friend that my remarks refer to nuclear weapons, not conventional weapons: I am not announcing any change of policy with regard to future plans for the conventional capability of the Royal Air Force. I am referring purely to its nuclear capability.
§ Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)
May I welcome the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) back after his illness?
It seems to me that there is a little confusion here. As most of us in the House understood it, the tactical air-to-surface missile was to be the same missile, irrespective of whether it carried a conventional or a nuclear warhead. Is the Secretary of State telling us today that that missile has been cancelled, and therefore that the conventional system that would have accompanied the 36 missile for the RAF has also been cancelled? I cannot interpret his remarks in any other way, and clearly the hon. Member for Tayside, North has made the same interpretation.
§ Mr. Rifkind
What I am saying is quite clear. In the 1980s, we had been considering meeting our future sub-strategic nuclear requirements by means of the tactical air-to-surface missile system. We are no longer planning on that basis. The matter has been reviewed over the past year, and my announcement today is limited to our sub-strategic nuclear capability. I do not think that I can make it any clearer than that.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned balanced forces. Does he not agree that, having implemented "Options for Change", which produced a considerable cut in our conventional forces—in some cases going further than was perhaps strictly practicable—it would be fatal at this stage to make a further cut, of the order of £1 billion, in those conventional forces?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The White Paper published some months ago clearly stated the kind of commitments that we have and the way in which we are meeting them. Clearly, in any deliberation concerning future policy, we must examine responsibily and comprehensively both our armed forces' commitments and the best way in which we can meet them. Those are matters on which it is quite proper that there should be an on-going debate.
§ Dr. Reid
I am not attacking the Secretary of State, but this is one of the most important announcements that he will be making today. It seems to me that he is confusing the warhead and the missile. TASM was a tactical air-to-surface missile. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has told us that he proposes to cancel the sub-strategic nuclear warhead. Is he cancelling the missile —yes or no?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am making no announcement today other than with regard to our nuclear capability. If I wished to make further announcements, or if we had reached further conclusions, I would be happy to report them to the House, but I have nothing else to tell the hon. Gentleman about that subject.
Although we shall not proceed as previously planned with a new stand-off weapon to replace the WE177, we remain committed to safeguarding our national capability to design, develop and produce nuclear weapons in the future. It is important to recognise that judgments made now about circumstances in the next century must inevitably be provisional. We shall therefore continue to keep our sub-strategic requirements under review, in close consultation with our allies in NATO, so that we can respond, if necessary, to future changes in the international situation.
I should mention the underground nuclear test conducted by China on 5 October. Given the background 37 of restraint in testing by the other nuclear powers, we find the Chinese action regrettable. A ban on nuclear underground tests that is not observed by all nuclear powers is of little value. We are committed to working constructively for a comprehensive test ban treaty, which will make a genuine contribution to non-proliferation.
The prospect of an effective test ban treaty in the not too distant future is one aspect of the new environment into which we are moving. Indefinite extension of the non-proliferation treaty in 1995 would be another very positive development. Regrettably, there are also new risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including the possibility of the illegal production of chemical and biological weapons, and we must ensure that our plans, along with those of our allies, are effective in countering them.
§ Mr. Rifkind
No. I must continue.
The development of our forces to respond to the changing international situation concerns not just our regular forces but also our reserves. "Defending Our Future" makes it clear that we regard the reserves as providing an invaluable contribution to our defence capability, and that we have been involved in a series of detailed studies. I am sure that the House will welcome a report on what has happened since the publication of the White Paper.
We have decided that the time has come to make arrangements to deploy reserves much more widely in operational roles in peacetime. Last week we published a consultative document, "Britain's Reserve Forces: A Framework for the Future", setting out our concept in more detail. The proposals in it provide a basis for consultation, and comments and views from all those with an interest will be welcomed. I will mention three important areas covered by that document.
First, the reserves will have, under our proposals, the opportunity to signify their willingness to be deployed on or in support of operations, in circumstances where compulsory call-out is not justified. That will be managed through a ready reserve list. Such reserves might be used in peacekeeping or humanitarian operations. It will be entirely voluntary, and responds to a long-expressed wish by the reserves for more frequent use of their skills.
Secondly, we propose two new categories of reserve: a high readiness reserve, consisting of individuals who would voluntarily assume an increased call-out liability and who would receive an extra bounty; and a sponsored reserve, consisting of civilians working in defence support areas such as industry, who might agree to take on a volunteer reserve liability.
Thirdly, and particularly important, the document looks at the impact of those proposals on the tripartite relationship between the Government, the reservist and his or her employer, and puts forward some ideas for change.
The proposals in the new document form a policy framework for the use of reserves. Their implementation would require primary legislation, for which we hope to be ready to seek parliamentary time in the 1994–1995 Session.
Our work on the operational requirement for the Army's reserves, and hence the size and shape of the Territorial Army, is continuing. I am conscious of the uncertainty that that causes the Territorial Army, and I assure the House 38 that an announcement will be made as soon as our proposals are ready. I am ensuring that those conducting the review include persons with current experience of the TA, in order that its conclusions will be sound and sensible.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
Obviously, many Conservative Members welcome the involvement—albeit limited—of small numbers of reservists with our regular forces. However, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the review that he mentions will not carry credibility if it is led by regular officers simply going through the same process of nominal consultation—as has been the case in the past? Does he agree that the only way in which recommendations on the future size and shape of the reserve forces will carry any credibility in those forces will be if the review is seen to include at the highest level at least one outsider with direct reserve experience?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I very much agree with the thrust of what my hon. Friend says, and am taking special care to ensure that those involved in conducting the review include persons with the experience to which he refers. It is also important that the views of those active in the TA should be known not simply after the recommendations are announced or conclusions drawn, but at this early stage. I am, in a number of ways, inviting comments to be fed in at an early stage to ensure that it is not simply a review of reserves by regulars, because I am conscious of the need to ensure that the final proposals emanating from the review are seen to have looked at those matters in the full knowledge of the important work that the reserves do and their capability of achieving much more in the future.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those proposals can be part of a cohesive defence strategy only if there is no arbitrary cut of £1 billion on 30 November? Will he assure us that he will resist, knowing that he has the support of his Back Benchers in doing so, any such fatuous proposals?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Making arbitrary cuts would never be a sound and responsible way to conduct defence policy. It is important to ensure that any proposals for defence resources take full account of the armed forces' responsibilities and their ability to carry out those responsibilities effectively.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
We should like an assurance from my right hon. and learned Friend today that he will make it clear to the Treasury that, in welcoming the proposals to enhance the role of the reserve forces, it will not use it as an excuse to degrade the quality of equipment and training of the regular forces.
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point. Clearly, it is important to see that the reserves have a role consistent with the skills that they have acquired over the years. They have been anxious to ensure that those skills are used. My hon. Friend will remember that, during the Gulf war, there was considerable frustration that reservists who had undergone a great deal of training, devoting a lot of time to it, were not being fully utilised. The current legislative framework makes that difficult, and it is therefore desirable to change that.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
In view of the serious deterioration in security in Northern Ireland after the announcement about the agreement with the Sinn Fein 39 leader, Gerry Adams, is the Secretary of State aware of the terrible atrocities carried out in both sections of the community by terrorists operating from both sections of the community and the vilest murders going on in the streets of Belfast? Will he assure the people of Northern Ireland that the part-time category of the Royal Irish Regiment will not be run down at this time?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the appalling behaviour of sections of both communities in carrying out terrorist activities. Both full-time and part-time members of the Royal Irish Regiment have a viable and continually crucial role to play in enhancing the security of the Province, and the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that.
In June, I set out our plans for the future of the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Auxiliary Air Force. The proposals were explained in detail in two consultative documents which we issued to interested parties. We received a good number of responses with both favourable and critical comments.
I am able to announce today that the proposals have been confirmed, and will now be implemented. There was considerable support for the broad thrust of our proposals, which points the way to a move to closer integration with regular forces and to abandoning roles that are no longer relevant.
Sadly, we shall need to disband next year the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service, and No. 1339 wing and No. 2623 squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force regiment, as no relevant new use can be found for them. I pay tribute to what they have achieved in the past. There will be a properly managed rundown of all the units concerned, a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) in his capacity as honorary inspector general of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
Those proposals, taken together, will eventually put the reserves in a position where they have the right organisation, the right equipment and the right legislative framework to make a better contribution than ever before to the defence of the country. That will be our aim in the months ahead.
The search for economy and efficiency in the use of public resources concerns us all. The Government believe that work should be done in the public sector only where it can clearly be shown to be more cost-effective, or where proven operational reasons rule out transfer to the private sector. The defence programme is certainly not exempt from that.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I will give way to my hon. Friend in a moment.
One particular example of working with the private sector where we have also had significant success has been the introduction of commercial management at the royal dockyards at Devonport and Rosyth. The current private-sector management arrangements were introduced in April 1987. The Government established these arrangements because, in order to improve value for money, increase efficiency and maintain the effectiveness of the fleet while improving the performance of the dockyards, three main areas had to be addressed.
40 First, a clear customer-supplier relationship had to be established between the fleet and the dockyards; secondly, the dockyard accounting system had to be reorganised along commercial lines to improve cost analysis; and, thirdly, dockyard management had to be released from civil service constraints and given the freedom and authority to conduct dockyard business in a commercial environment.
We are satisfied that those initial objectives have now largely been achieved. The National Audit Office and the Select Committee on Public Accounts have noted that the dockyard operators have cut costs and improved efficiency. At the same time, both dockyard contractors have achieved some success in diversifying into other markets.
The contracts under which the dockyards are currently operated apply until 1996 at the latest. The Government acknowledge and endorse the view of the Select Committee on Defence on the desirability of making early progress on arrangements to succeed the contracts. Now that the refitting proposals that I announced to the House on 24 June have been confirmed, progress can be made on the future arrangements.
In the light of advances made under commercial management since 1987, we are proposing to seek competitive tenders from the private sector for the sale of both dockyards as separate and independent commercial entities. Such a move would be a logical progression from the current arrangements and would make possible further benefits for the Royal Navy, the taxpayer and the yards. In particular, it would allow much greater freedom and flexibility for the dockyard businesses to be conducted in a truly commercial environment, would encourage private-sector investment in the dockyard infrastructure, and would allow greater scope for a major diversification into other markets.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
It is in all our interests that Rosyth dockyard becomes competitive, and my right hon. and learned Friend has already pledged that the refit work for all Sandown class minehunters will go to that yard. Does my right hon. and learned Friend feel that, to ensure that the prices that Rosyth tenders are competitive, Vosper Thornycroft—which actually built both Sandown and Hunt class ships —should be allowed to quote for a proportion of the work?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Consideration is being given to who might be allowed to tender for the Sandown class work. Perhaps, if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will be able to expand on that in due course.
Our aim is to provide a reliable refitting capability for the Royal Navy, which maximises competition and achieves best value for money for the taxpayer, while ensuring that our strategic requirements will be safeguarded. We expect to invite offers from industry early next year, in order to achieve timely implementation of appropriate follow-on arrangements to the current management arrangements. We believe that there will be a substantial response to such an invitation.
I can also confirm the Government's commitment to a substantial programme of allocated surface refit work for Rosyth. The Government have not ruled out the possibility that some form of contractual commitment relating to future refitting work could be included as one of the matters for negotiation with tenderers for the future management of Rosyth.
41 At the same time, we will be seeking the greatest possible improvements in productivity and efficiency at both dockyards, to safeguard the interests of the taxpayer and the Royal Navy, and to achieve an effective and competitive structure for non-nuclear refitting. Naturally, to ensure competition, it would not be the Government's intention to permit both dockyards to be sold to the same bidder.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
What the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about the possibility of contractual arrangements for the work to be allocated to Rosyth will be received with great enthusiasm in Rosyth—and, indeed, in Scotland. Has any thought been given to how these contractual arrangements might be enshrined in the new arrangements for the management of the dockyard?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Anyone responding to the Government's invitation to tender for the dockyards will wish to discuss with the Government the allocated programme, which .is for the nuclear submarines to be refitted at Devonport and the surface ships at Rosyth. The sale of the yards will be an opportunity for these matters to be discussed. The precise details of any contractual arrangements will be the subject of future negotiations.
All the important issues, of deployment or equipment or the management of defence, would count for nothing if it were not for the continued excellence of the men and women who serve in the armed forces.
§ Mr. Rifkind
No, not at the moment.
It is that quality that underpins everything we do. I should like today to say something about the way we recognise the achievements of our service personnel through the honours system.
When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced earlier this year certain changes to the honours system, which has been approved by Her Majesty the Queen, he said that it had been decided to end the distinction between those gallantry awards given to officers and those to non-commissioned ranks. We have now completed our review of how that principle might be reflected in practice, and I am now able to announce the new arrangements.
The current system recognises different degrees of danger and risk to life and limb by considering four standards, or "levels", of gallantry in the field. They are headed by the supreme award for valour—the Victoria Cross—and reach downward to the mention in dispatches. I propose to deal with the four levels in that order.
The Victoria Cross, which is available for award in recognition of truly exceptional gallantry and the greatest heroism, may be awarded to all ranks of Her Majesty's forces. It requires no change, and will remain our highest award, exactly as now.
The second level, for conspicuous gallantry and great heroism, is currently represented by the Distinguished Service Order for officers, and by the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Flying) for non-commissioned ranks. In future, conspicuous gallantry and great heroism will be recognised by a new award, with a 42 new title that has yet to be decided. It will apply to all three services and, like the Victoria Cross, will be open to service men and women of any rank.
The DSO will continue in being, but its purpose will be the recognition of exceptional service in positions of substantial responsibility for command and leadership during active operations.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I ask the Secretary of State, as the son of a man who was awarded the military medal for bravery in the field: is it the case that other ranks will be denied the DSO?
§ Mr. Rifkind
What I have said is that there will be a new award for gallantry and .heroism, and it will be available to officers and non-commissioned ranks. So far as the DSO is concerned, it will continue in being, but its purpose will be the recognition of exceptional service in positions of substantial responsibility for command and leadership during active operation. In the vast majority of cases, it is clearly an award for command and leadership, and will apply to persons who are officers.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I should like to complete the point.
The DSO has always been recognised as an award that recognises leadership qualities. That has been taken into account in the past, and it is right and proper that such an award should continue.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
My right hon. and learned Friend will be pleased to know that everyone in the services with whom I have spoken will welcome the statement about the DSO. There has never been any doubt that it was an award for leadership, usually in difficult and trying battle conditions. Quite properly, it should remain that way.
§ Mr. Rifkind
At the third level—currently represented by six separate awards—it has been decided that the most suitable means of recognising gallantry and bravery at sea, on land and in the air, would be by award to all ranks of the decorations which at present are restricted to commissioned and warrant officers only—the Distinguished Service Cross, the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Finally, the award "mention in dispatches" is currently available to all ranks in all three services. That award will be retained, but will be reserved as an expression of commendation for gallant conduct on active operations. A new award, to be called the "Queen's Commendation for Valuable Services" will be introduced to cover the large number of cases where mention in dispatches has hitherto been awarded for reasons other than gallantry in the field —for example, service in technical and administrative posts within an operational theatre. Awards of the revised mention in dispatches and the new Queen's Commendation will be announced in the London Gazette and accompanied, as now, by a certificate and an emblem to be worn on the ribbon of the appropriate campaign or service medal.
The changes will come into effect at once, and will not be subject to retrospective action. I am sure that the House will join me in welcoming the changes, which will ensure 43 that the way that we recognise gallantry from the men and women of our armed forces takes into account only the nature of the service that they have rendered, and not the rank of the person involved.
Discussion of gallantry awards makes us all recognise what is fundamental to all considerations of defence.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I do not want to diminish the importance of medals for gallantry, but will the Secretary of State answer a question about jobs? On 2 September, I wrote on behalf of my Ayrshire colleagues to ask for a meeting with a Minister about the situation of Jetstream in Prestwick, because announcements about redundancies were imminent. Not only did the Secretary of State refuse to do anything, but the Minister of State refused to meet us. Some 630 job losses were announced at Prestwick.
Will the Secretary of State ask the Minister to meet Ayrshire Members of Parliament so that we can discuss possible ways to save jobs at Prestwick? Some possibilities are available. For example, the Ministry of Defence should be using British aircraft—
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am aware of the Jetstream aircraft. I remember, some years ago, visiting the factory at Prestwick and I pay tribute to the quality of the aircraft. However, there is no Ministry of Defence requirement for such an aircraft at the moment. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement would be happy to meet Ayrshire Members of Parliament, but I would not want to give rise to false expectations.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)
I know that my right hon. and learned Friend earlier paid tribute to the civil servants who do such a marvellous job for the forces. Will he comment on press speculation that the north Bristol Procurement Executive building is about to be cancelled, because my constituents have been told about three times that they will definitely be moved? They would be only too pleased to save defence money by staying where they are.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The project to which my hon. Friend refers will, once it has been implemented, save substantial sums of money for the defence budget. That is why the project was approved not only by the Treasury but by the National Audit Office, which went into the matter in great detail.
My hon. Friend was quoted in a newspaper as referring to what he claimed to be 150 empty Ministry of Defence properties. I know that he will be as pleased as I am to learn that that is incorrect. We have looked at his list and only six—not 150—of the properties on it are in the possession of the Minister of Defence. All of them, if they are empty, are up for disposal. If my hon. Friend knows of anyone who would like to buy them, I would be only too happy to take that matter forward.
§ Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)
I wish to raise a matter that is of great importance to 500 people who work for the Royal Ordnance factory in my constituency—the explosive propellants and related products agreement, 44 known as EPREP, which was announced to the House by the Minister of State in January for a second five-year period.
I understand that that went out for competitive tender in July, and that the Royal Ordnance factory won the competitive tender at a lower price than was originally envisaged; but that the second, five-year agreement, with the security and continuity of supply that it would involve, has not yet been signed by the Ministry of Defence. My constituents wish to know whether it will be signed, and they would be grateful if my right hon. and learned Friend could enlighten us.
§ Mr. Rifkind
It is, of course, important that the armed forces have the ammunition supplies that they require. We are close to coming to a conclusion on that matter. I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed, and hope that we shall be able to go forward with the project at an early date.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I want to draw my remarks to a conclusion, because many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.
We rely on the actions of the men and women who serve, and who sometimes have to suffer, in order that our freedom can be guaranteed. Those of us responsible for the management of defence have a duty to those men and women. We must ensure that they are required to perform only tasks for which they have sufficient manpower, good modern equipment and a clear and realistic statement of their aims. It is our intention to ensure that we continue to meet those needs.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
I beg to move, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:'believes that the Government' s plans, set out in the Statement on the Defence Estimates, Cm. 2270, do not effectively address the long term security needs of the United Kingdom; congratulates local authorities, trade unions and progressive defence companies for their work on defence diversification; calls for the immediate establishment of a Defence Diversification Agency; welcomes President Clinton's decision to continue the moratorium on nuclear testing; calls for the early signature of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty after 1995; and demands that the United Kingdom fully participates in moves to enhance international peace and security, in particular by strengthening the United Nations.'.It has not gone unnoticed that we are debating the 1993 defence estimates within five parliamentary weeks of having debated those for 1992. Having heard the Secretary of State's speech, which I thought was somewhat lacking in content, I feel that he has not made the best use of his time.
It does not take a genius to work out why the Government are in such haste. They are rushing through the debate because they know that, in the Budget next month, the Chancellor will announce further defence cuts. I emphasise that it will be the Chancellor making the announcement and not the Secretary of State for Defence. The cuts to be announced in November are Treasury-led and the Secretary of State knows that he cannot justify them in defence terms. By the tawdry measure of 45 scheduling an early debate, he is hoping to avoid a properly informed parliamentary debate. We shall not let that happen.
The Opposition accept that, with the changes in the world scene, notably the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact, there is a case for a reduction in defence spending, but any reduction must be justified only on defence criteria and not on the passing whim of the Treasury. The defence criteria must be determined only after a full-scale defence review and in consultation with our NATO allies. That is the sensible way forward and I regret that the Government will not accept it.
I have a few remarks that I trust will find consensus across the House. In the early 1980s, when I was a deputy defence spokesman for my party, I came to know and appreciate the skill and work of the men and women who contribute to our defences—the members of the armed forces, those involved in administration and research and those who work in our defence industries. Collectively, they play their part admirably in ensuring our security. If anything, my admiration of those people is even stronger now. My experience over recent years has served to reinforce my impressions. We are well served by them all.
I specifically included the defence industry workers, for they are often forgotten. Their skills produce the wherewithal by which our armed forces carry out their jobs and duties so well. In recent years, more than 100,000 have lost their jobs and it is a scandal that the Government have done practically nothing to stop them being thrown on the dole queue. We argue not only that it is morally wrong for the Government to do so little to find alternative employment for the men and women who have served Britain so well over the years but that, as a nation, we cannot afford to lose those skills. They will be essential if we are to rebuild our shattered industrial base. That is why our amendment places so much emphasis on the call for a defence diversification agency.
Over the next 12 months, I hope to arrange a series of meetings across the country on defence diversification, building on the new consensus that is emerging not only in trade union circles and local government but in the defence industry. It is a matter of deep regret that the Government have washed their hands completely of any planning, or any assistance, to help the defence industry to diversify. They call it free market enterprise, it is not enterprise; it is dogma.
Across the Atlantic, the Americans, with their defence conversion commission, show us how to give help and ease some defence workers into civilian occupation. It is a matter of deep regret that our Government will not help. Governments are helping also in Europe and the EC has made money available under KONVER. Regrettably, the Government will not play a full part in that effort.
On this point, let me press the Secretary of State again on the issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock)—the EPREP order. It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to say simply that he expects to announce a decision soon. As I understood it, he announced the decision some time ago.
That is how I understood it. That is how the House understood it and that is how the industry understood it. Why has there been the delay? The Secretary of State must have seen the letters that I have seen, in which British Aerospace says that unless that order is forthcoming soon, it will have to implement redundancies and possible factory closures. When are we to get that announcement 46 —or must we wait for the Treasury again? When we get the answer, will the order be for five years or not'? I would willingly give way.
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Jonathan Aitken)
The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that the tender has not yet run out, so the anger that he is voicing is perhaps a little overdone. We regret that there has been a delay. On the other hand, it is perfectly reasonable, in the present public expenditure climate, for there to be extra scrutiny of an important order. No one is suggesting that the armed forces will not have the ammunition that they require when the order has been settled.
§ Dr. Clark
As the Minister knows, in February the Minister announced the projected five-years buy for the various ammunition projects. It was understood by Royal Ordnance that an order was to be forthcoming. Does not the Minister understand that if those firms and factories close, we might not be able to meet the demands for ammunition of our armed forces? I do not need to remind the Minister of the Gulf war, when we were almost forced to rely on the Belgians to supply shells, and the fact that they refused to supply them to us.
We cannot and should not be dependent on overseas companies for such vital things as ammunitions. It is critical that the announcement is made soon so that any fear or concern that may be felt by British Aerospace and its workers can be allayed as soon as possible.
I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to our service personnel and especially to those serving in conditions which can he best described as theatres of war, such as the streets of Northern Ireland, the skies of Iraq or the mountains of Bosnia. We should never forget that they risk their lives daily in our name. I get angry with those uninformed armchair pundits who question the efforts of our troops in Bosnia. Let there be no doubt about the dedication of those troops. Many more civilians would have lost their lives in that troubled land. I accept that all the aid is not getting through—we all accept that—but that is no reason not to continue to try.
The troops of all nations struggling against the odds to get humanitarian aid through deserve the praise of us all. The skill of the Royal Engineers in building a 50-mile road across the mountains over one summer, which will be the sole route into central Bosnia this winter, is simply staggering. The Sea King helicopter pilots who fly mercy missions and who risk being shot at from all three sides show amazing fortitude and courage. Their colleagues who fly the Sea Harriers demonstrate similar skills and daring as they fly missions over treacherous mountain terrain.
On the ground, in that inhospitable environment, the troops show incredible discipline as their daily tasks involve risking their lives. Already Corporal Edwards has lost his life and, in other incidents, other soldiers have been wounded, sometimes seriously. On my second visit to Bosnia at the end of September, I had a vivid reminder of the danger. I was in Vitez when Private Paul John Jones of the Prince of Wales Regiment was hit in the throat by shrapnel. We was within a centimetre of death and it was only the skills of the Army medical staff in Vitez that saved him. He is now in hospital in Woolwich, and I know that I speak for the whole House in wishing him a full recovery. 47 Such incidents bring home the dangers facing our troops as they serve with honour and distinction under the blue hats of the United Nations.
Let us not forget, however, that Bosnia is only one of the many conflicts that are being waged throughout the world. I have witnessed comparable tragic events in Nagorno Karabakh, and my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) reported a similar situation in Georgia. Having such highly professional and experienced forces, as well as being members of the United Nations Security Council, means that we are likely to face increasing demands to contribute more to future United Nations operations.
The collapse of the Soviet Union may have reduced the nuclear threat to the west, but it has not left the world without conflict. We have witnessed the outbreak of scores of local wars, many civil and all especially nasty, in which thousands of innocent civilians have died. Clearly, if all warfare is to be avoided, it is incumbent on us as politicians to seek all ways in which to do it. Indeed, it could be argued that that it is the nature of our profession. In a sense, war occurs only when politics has failed. We ought to remember that war can resolve little in the end and usually it is politics that resolve the problem.
In the past few years, there has been welcome progress in reducing the number of weapons of mass destruction, notably chemical weapons. However, there is still a long way to go, especially in efforts to achieve a nuclear-free world. I was delighted to speak at the recent annual meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly in Copenhagen in support of a resolution to seek ways in which to achieve the objective of a nuclear-free world. The resolution concluded with the aim:To study ways in which an international deterrent regime could be brought about which would allow the reduction of nuclear weapons in a co-ordinated fashion so that national arsenals can be reduced to a minimum level or even totally abolished"—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but I was pleased that that resolution was passed unanimously and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) on moving it so effectively. I was also pleased that every Conservative Member voted for that resolution, which demonstrates support for negotiated nuclear disarmament, is not confined to Labour Members.
At the last general election, Labour argued for a battery of measures which would help us on the road towards the elimination of nuclear weaponry. That, we emphasised, would be done through multilateral negotiations and untilelimination of those (nuclear) stocks is achieved, Labour will retain Britain's nuclear capability, with the number of warheads no greater than the present total.That was in our manifesto in 1992. It was our position at the last election and it is our position today, as was reaffirmed at the party conference in Brighton when a resolution was passed declaring:Conference reconfirms the Labour Party's commitment to the ongoing negotiations on strategic nuclear forces with the view to their eventual world wide eliminationThat is the position of the Labour party. The Secretary of State asked me about it and I hope that he understands it.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would explain to a rather incredulous House and an even more incredulous country how he reconciles that motion with another passed by the same conference—which he has 48 not yet mentioned—calling for an immediate abolition of Trident nuclear weapons. Why is he so reluctant to comment on that?
§ Dr. Clark
I thought that I had made it clear that at the last election we said that we would retain Britain's nuclear capability—which is Trident—with a number of warheads no greater than the present total. The motion at the party conference attracted no more votes than it did last year or the year before. The reality is that we will keep Trident.
Our vision of a nuclear world is enshrined in article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty and in UN resolutions that were passed as long ago as 1946, which were signed and supported by Conservative Administrations. We all know that a world of general and complete disarmament is a difficult goal, but it is a goal which we must not abandon. In recent years, we have advanced more rapidly towards our commonly held desire. One welcome sign of our advance is the chemical weapons convention that commits Britain and many other states to rid the world of chemical weapons. Surely, if that can be achieved for chemical weapons, it can eventually be achieved for nuclear weapons.
Another welcome development has been the decision of the new United States Administration to maintain the moratorium on nuclear testing. We hope, and we urge, that, despite the recent Chinese nuclear test, which we deplore, the United States will continue the moratorium. The House should applaud the recent agreement between Russia and the Ukraine to get rid of all nuclear weapons on Ukrainian soil, in line with the recent strategic arms reduction talks treaty.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
The United States is continuing the moratorium, the Chinese want to continue testing and the British Government want to resume testing. Will my hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State what the difference is between China's nuclear policy and ours?
§ Dr. Clark
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question. I shall pass it on.
Much has been done in recent years to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament—mostly, I am afraid to say, by other states, but there are steps that the Government could be taking to speed up the advance. They could, for example, begin by freezing the number of nuclear warheads on Trident. Why are they increasing the number from 192 on Polaris to 512 on Trident? Why not freeze it at the same level as Polaris, as we would? As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said, what is the difference between our policy and that of the Chinese?
The Government have been dragged along by the United States and have put pressure on the Americans to resume nuclear testing, yet we know that testing is not necessary for our Trident weapon and, as the Secretary of State announced today, the nuclear warhead of TASM will not be proceeded with, so there is no need to test that. I hope that the Secretary of State will join the Labour party in supporting a moratorium on testing.
§ Mr. Rifkind
May I clarify the point, because I know that Labour Members are very concerned about it? TASM is a nuclear system which is no longer being proceeded with. The continuing references to conventional stand-off missiles do not refer to TASM, which is a quite separate system that will continue in the RAF's programme.
§ Dr. Clark
I am grateful for that clarification. As I understand it, the Secretary of State is saying that the complete TASM system, which he claims is purely nuclear and has no dual capacity, will not be proceeded with. That means, therefore, that there will be no stand-off facility for the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that there is a quite separate proposal that continues as part of the Royal Air Force's programme for a conventional stand-off missile. That is nothing to do with TASM, which is purely nuclear-related.
§ Dr. Clark
So the Secretary of State is saying that a conventional air-to-surface missile will still be available to the Royal Air Force. I thank him for that clarification, and we shall see whether it is repeated in later debates.
Will the Secretary of State take the argument a stage further? Will he adopt, for example, the objective of signing the comprehensive test ban treaty by 30 September 1996, as the United States Government have? Will he propose that the French and Chinese Governments agree to mutual transparency arrangements for nuclear forces similar to those due to be adopted by the United States and Russian Governments under the START verification agreements?
Finally, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman hold serious discussions with all five nuclear states about an agreement to end the production of fissile material for military purposes? If we could get movement on those three points, it would take the argument a long way forward.
The House knows Labour's historic commitment to the United Nations, which is enshrined in clause IV of the Labour party's constitution. We have always had our concerns and criticisms of the United Nations, but they have always been used to support our calls for reform. In the past few years, our belief in the United Nations has grown stronger and our position was set out recently by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), when he said:Our commitment to a strong United Nations must be the foundation stone of our foreign policy.Our defence and disarmament policies should be seen as one method of achieving a more secure world and a safer future for Britain, but we should recognise that there are many others. We need to overcome the gross economic imbalances and the environmental degradation that the world currently suffers, because they also threaten Britain's long-term security. No amount of military might can overcome those challenges. We need a comprehensive approach to the problems that recognises that the use of force should always be the last resort.
For decades, the world was scarred by the cold war. The war is over and there has been no victor. In our debate in the next two days, we should reflect on that fact and on the new situation. Confrontation between the east and west has gone: it must not be replaced by conflict between the north and south.
The world is faced with a new set of diverse opportunities and challenges to strengthen peace and security. The time has come for fundamental changes at the United Nations if it is to respond effectively to those challenges. We need to recognise that the role of the military in United Nations operations has increased and that it is likely to go on increasing.
50 All those factors should cause us to reconsider the deployment of British forces in support of UN operations. The great importance of our membership of NATO means we must go back to Brussels and Mons to discuss with our allies the role of NATO in a strengthened UN. Clearly, we need further discussion on this issue. I hope that at the January 1994 NATO summit, which the Secretary of State mentioned, a detailed and comprehensive redefinition of NATO's relationship to the United Nations can be agreed. This is a matter of growing urgency. Many hon. Members have heard critics say that NATO goes either out of area or out of business. I hope that, in three months' time, all NATO members will, in the words of the preamble to the north Atlantic treaty,reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.NATO needs to re-examine its proposed force structure to make it more relevant to United Nations requirements, and we may need to reconsider the role of the rapid reaction corps, in which we take such a lead.
But it cannot be left to NATO: Britain must put forward its own views. The House will know that I, on behalf of the Labour party, made a number of proposals to strengthen the UN. The establishment of a military planning group and a modern communications group were both ideas which I proposed in the House on 21 January 1993. In July, I repeated the proposals and I was pleased to see that the Government, in a letter to the Secretary-General 11 days later, supported some of the ideas.
Much progress is still to be made on this front. We need to consider what Britain can do short of providing fully formed units. I believe that we could do much more through the deployment of small numbers of staff officers and monitors for the United Nations at headquarters and operational level. In this way, our experience of peacekeeping, which is unique in the world, could be made more widely available to United Nations commanders in the field.
The House knows that Labour fully supports the deployment of British troops in Bosnia. We said in June that if additional British troops were required for the implementation of United Nations plans for safe havens, they should be provided. In the event, they have not been requested, but let me make it clear that I do not accept the view that the use of military force is the only way to solve the conflict in Bosnia. Britain has a role to play, but no one apart from the people of Bosnia can bring lasting peace to the area. We know that, once a final peace settlement is achieved, its implementation will require additional British troops. The Secretary of State will recall that as long ago as 20 April I indicated that we should meet that new commitment, while fully recognising the financial and human needs involved.
§ Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that Labour Members, such as the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks), who advocate sending in troops immediately are wrong?
§ Dr. Clark
I am not saying that at all. I should have thought that, on this issue, the hon. Gentleman would be wise not to try to introduce party politics as hon. Members from both sides of the House share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks). I made the Labour party's position clear. We have always argued that British troops should have been sent to help to get humanitarian aid through. We argued that for a full six 51 weeks before the Government were persuaded. We also argued at the appropriate time that some of the Serbian positions should have been bombed.
We have also argued that, if requested, British troops should go to the safe havens. Together with my hon. Friends the Members for Motherwell, North and for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), I visited one safe haven this summer. Thankfully, it was being effectively managed by 10 United Nations troops, who were doing a superb job. Troops are not always needed. However, if they were needed in that capacity, they should have been sent.
We shall probably need about an extra 5,000 British troops if a peace agreement is signed. We should not hesitate to send troops to try to bring some peace to that troubled country. As those troops are all volunteer forces, we must pay particular attention to the human cost involved. If we increase our United Nations commitments, that will increase the number of unaccompanied tours and put further pressure on service families. I hope that, at some stage in the debate, the Secretary of State will reaffirm his commitment to achieving an average 24-month gap between emergency tours of duty. I also hope that he will join me in telling service personnel and their families that military operations in support of the United Nations are not simply about helping the international community. Our forces are working with the United Nations and are doing a great deal to strengthen Britain's long-term security.
The Prince of Wales Regiment has been transferred from Germany straight to Bosnia, and I find it strange that the troops serving in Bosnia—a theatre of war where they are constantly shot at—receive less pay than they did when in Germany. Their families are still in Germany, where they have family commitments. It is absolutely outrageous that the troops in Bosnia get less pay than when they were in Germany. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider that issue and take action on it. I must make some progress as I have spoken for too long; I think that the House is unanimous on that issue.
There is still much to be done. We need more multinational training for UN-type operations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. We need to train with our new friends in eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States as it is likely that they will be increasingly involved together in United Nations operations. We should remember the valuable work being carried out by other regional security organisations in other parts of the world, such as Liberia.
There are many lessons to be learned. One lesson to be learnt from Bosnia is that we must increasingly bring together civil agencies and the military. They have different objectives and different ways of achieving them, and difficulties sometimes occur because of misunderstandings. It is important that we try to do what we can to minimise such misunderstandings.
Labour welcomed the establishment of the United Nations arms transfer register. However, we believe that it must be improved as quickly as possible. The incorporation of new types of weapons as well as some types of dual-use technology should be agreed at next year's review of the register. Talks with our EC and NATO partners about agreed restrictions on defence exports are also vital. I understand that the Government have some 52 difficulties on that issue and know that they will resist the proposals because of their concern to try to cover up the export of arms to Iraq.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) has recently been back on the rack. His attempts to blame civil servants for his mistakes have caused justified outrage. He and I both know that it was not the fault of his officials or the intelligence service, but his fault and his alone.
§ Mr. Corbyn
In September 1988 my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and I, together with a number of peace organisations, met the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) in the Foreign Office to discuss the gas attacks on Halabja and Kurdish people in Iraq. We pleaded with him for a total arms embargo on Iraq because of the destruction of human rights and Kurdish people in Iraq. He was well warned by experts in our delegation, including people who had suffered in Iraq at the hands of Saddam Hussein. The right hon. Member chose to ignore that advice and apparently went ahead with arms sales to that country.
§ Dr. Clark
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He has a long record of interest and involvement in such issues in Iraq and throughout the world. I think that the House will note the issues that he has raised, which supplement the argument that I was trying to advance. I do not want to personalise the issue, as it did not involve only the right hon. Member for Bristol, West.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Is not the position worse because, at the same time as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and others were urging the Government to impose a total arms ban on Iraq in 1988, the Government were secretly relaxing the guidelines and deceiving the House of Commons by failing to tell it what they had done—as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster admitted to the Scott inquiry a few days ago?
§ Dr. Clark
My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. Over recent years, he has consistently argued and tried to raise the issue at the Dispatch Box in order to reveal the Government's position. I am sure that his stance will be vindicated by the Scott inquiry when it reports. The Secretary of State for Defence also bears responsibility. He is a qualified lawyer and is supposed to respect the principles of justice. What justice did he have in mind when, on 22 November 1992, he signed the public interest immunity certificate that could have jailed three innocent men who risked their lives trying to serve this country? That was unforgivable and the Secretary of State should try to explain his position.
Our constitutional arrangements are based on the fact the Ministers are supposed to be responsible for Government policy. In practice, today's Ministers never accept responsibility. They blame foreigners, trade unions and a Labour Government who lost office 14 years ago. Now they even blame their own civil servants. Next they will be blaming the fairies at the bottom of the garden. The Government and Ministers do not have the principles of those such as Lord Carrington and Sir Thomas Dugdale who resigned as a matter of honour.
One of the great myths of British politics is that Conservatives are sound on financial planning—nothing could be further from the truth. In defence, as elsewhere, their figures never really add up. The funds budgeted for in 53 the reports were never sufficient to meet the Government's post-"Options for Change" plans. Originally, the Government had envisaged an increase in defence expenditure in coming years rising from £24.2 billion in 1992–93 to approximately £25 billion in 1995–96.
However, the 1992 autumn statement last November provided for a decrease to £23.2 billion in 1995–96, which was widely recognised as an optimistic figure. In reality, the figure will be less. Without a full defence review, the Government will find themselves in increasing difficulty with their crisis management approach, so aptly described on 17 June 1993 by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) as "butchery behind closed doors."
Of course, we have been here before. We were here in the 1980s when, by managing and massaging our activities, we got by. It was achieved by flying fewer hours, spending less time at sea and generally training less. That penny-pinching approach meant that two thirds of our forces in Germany had to be stripped of equipment to provide enough support for the one third of the British Army of the Rhine that fought in the Gulf war.
Now, the situation is different, with postings to areas such as Bosnia becoming much more regular occurrences. Men's and women's lives are at stake, and we cannot afford any slackness on this occasion. We must not allow what happened in the 1980s—although we got away with it then—to happen again in the 1990s.
The answer is blatantly obvious, as the Secretary of State admitted in coded remarks in his speech to the Tory party conference at Blackpool. We cannot continue to perform every defence function. Some specialisation is essential. We need a full-scale defence review so that we can work out which areas of activity we do not need to undertake ourselves.
We are a member of NATO and it is essential that we work alongside our NATO partners in determining what specialisation Britain should adopt and what can reliably be left to our allies. I know that there will be difficult decisions ahead, but I welcome the challenges that we will face.
The debate has quickened of late as it is becoming more and more apparent that the Chancellor is demanding ever more cuts—even greater than the Secretary of State had envisaged. The cuts are deemed essential by the Chancellor to help to offset the massive financial deficit which the Government have created through their mismanagement and incompetence. In a sense, the fact that the Treasury has landed Britain in such a mess only adds to our case that it should not be the determining voice in the shape of Britain's security. Having made such a mess of the management of the economy, the Treasury cannot be trusted with our defences—one hates to think of the long-term damage that it could do.
Almost every country in the west is cutting its defence spending following the collapse of the Soviet Union—understandably so. What is needed in Britain is a full defence review, for which we have been calling for years. Only with such a review can we assess the threats to Britain's security, and only then can we shape our defences accordingly.
§ Mr. Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)
I begin by declaring an interest; I have a consultancy with W. S. Atkins, which does a certain amount of work for the 54 Ministry of Defence. I have no doubt that I shall be working with other defence contractors in the future as well.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his latest White Paper, which spells out much more clearly than before what our forces are doing. That means that, when it comes to negotiations with the Treasury, we shall be able to ask what commitments should be dropped if there are to be further reductions in defence expenditure.
As one who devoutly believes that public expenditure should be cut, I find it difficult to stand here and say that cuts should be made everywhere but in defence. Those of us who want the public sector borrowing requirement to be reduced without raising taxation surely have to accept that the Treasury has a hard task ahead of it at the moment.
I should like briefly to deal with the effect that reductions in defence expenditure will have on our defence industries. The fact is that our exports are running at record levels. We broke the 1992 level, itself a record, early in 1993. Adding defence export figures to MOD spending figures—I admit that this is not a direct like-with-like comparison—shows that demand, in terms of orders for defence equipment from British manufacturers, is at a record level. It is important to bear that in mind when we recall that there certainly have been redundancies in some defence industries. Of course, certain British defence manufacturers are not benefiting from the record levels of demand, but it is important to remember that, including MOD spending and defence exports, demand is higher than ever before. Before we start getting too agitated about diversification, we should always recall those facts.
I wish to talk today about our commitments. In real terms, the defence budget has been declining ever since 1984, with the probable exception of the blip to cater for the Gulf war. We must therefore be careful about continuing to load our armed services with more and more commitments. Since "Options for Change" was announced in July 1990, two more roulement battalions have gone to Northern Ireland, there has been the commitment to Bosnia, and there was the commitment to the Rapid Reaction Corps as part of our commitment to Germany. We have thus been committing our troops fairly heavily around the world, leaving ourselves with little flexibility.
If reports in the papers are to be believed, this view appears to be shared by the Foreign Secretary and by the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Northern Ireland, who seem to think that there should be no further reductions in defence expenditure. I am sure, however, that they would be the first to accept that the PSBR needs reducing, so perhaps they will volunteer compensatory reductions in their own budgets so that defence can be left untouched. As a realist, I must say that I consider that unlikely.
We must therefore seriously consider asking the Treasury to look into public expenditure survey transfers which reflect the services being received by the Foreign Office and the Northern Ireland Office, to the value of the troops that they are using. We have no defence interest in our UN commitments—having large numbers of men tied up on the green line in Cyprus or in monitoring in the Sinai desert does nothing for the defence of this country. If the burden of expenditure were transferred to the Foreign Office budget, that Department would be given some incentive to reduce our commitments around the world. As 55 we know from bitter experience, it is easy to get involved in UN commitments and extremely difficult to get out of them.
If we believe in delegated financial responsibility, it is quite logical to talk in terms of Departments paying for the troops they use and having a financial incentive to reduce their numbers or to find other ways of paying for them. Many jobs in Northern Ireland, for instance, currently carried out by soldiers could be performed by others. If the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had to pay a per capita sum for his troops, he might look differently at the most economical way, say, to guard the Maze prison—a job that could easily be done by locally recruited Ulstermen, and far more cheaply. That would also reduce unemployment in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
My right hon. Friend's suggestion is extremely interesting. Does he agree that, if that happened, the strategic needs that Britain faced in the future would be driven as much by the Departments that he has mentioned, among others, as by the Ministry of Defence?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am coming to that. The prime job of the Ministry of Defence, a job for which it is well qualified, is the defence of the United Kingdom. I should be very worried if the Foreign Office were given even more input into strategic decisions than it has today—
§ Mr. Garel-Jones
Surely my right hon. Friend will accept—although no one disputes the ability and commitment of our armed forces to defend the kingdom and its interests—that one of the weaknesses of the past has been that Governments have never had the mechanisms to make strategic decisions about what and whom we are defending ourselves against. Surely my right hon. Friend accepts that not just the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but other political elements in the kingdom could make a valuable input to strategic decisions, which have to be taken before we can decide on troop and equipment requirements.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this interesting topic. We would be in some danger if we had to identify enemies all the time. As an insurance policy, it is wise to keep a wide range of technologies and defence capabilities. We never know where the next threat to our national or overseas interests and the security of these islands might come from. Before the Gulf war, some people might have said that there was no longer any need for so much armour, but in that war we fought the first armoured battles since 1945 defending our interests. We must also look carefully at commitments that overstretch us in areas where our direct interests are not so well served.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Does my right hon. Friend recollect that during the Falklands war some people questioned the use of the Harrier aircraft and its function? Does he agree that if we had not had that aircraft we could not have fought the Falklands war?
§ Mr. Hamilton
That is right, and the Nott review, which took place shortly before that conflict, had ambitions radically to reduce the Navy. If those proposals had been implemented we might not have been able to fight that campaign.
56 It is not possible distinctly to analyse future problems and say where the next threat will come from. That is why, in broad terms, it must be right to keep a range of capabilities. I disagree with the Opposition, who say that we should think about specialisation. The broad range that I propose will inevitably narrow under financial pressures, but it is nonsense to talk about a review because that could not predict any clearly identifiable future threat. We must maintain the insurance policy of a defence industry and maintain the technologies that are needed in sophisticated warfare.
If we do not look hard at the commitments in which we are becoming engaged, we shall be in danger of having more and more people playing a role in a peacekeeping army, which would be to the detriment of many of our high-technology defence capabilities elsewhere.
I wholeheartedly congratulate the Government—and President Clinton—on not being drawn more closely into the conflict in Bosnia. I do not understand reports that President Clinton is blaming the British Government for somehow thwarting his ambitions in Bosnia. He should learn a lesson from what is happening to his troops in Somalia, where the enemy is much less sophisticated and is fighting in less favourable territory than the factions in Bosnia. I am glad to see Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen nodding at that, although they have just said that we should bomb the Serb positions in Bosnia. That would lead to us being drawn into military conflict throughout Bosnia, and in a very short time we should be fighting not just the Serbs but the Croats and the Muslims. The carnage that we would suffer would be nobody's business.
§ Dr. David Clark
I should like to correct a misunderstanding. I said that there was a time when bombing Serb positions might have been effective. That time is probably past, but the threat of bombing had a major effect on the Serbs and played a large part in getting them to agree to the ceasefire in late July, which lasted until recently.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I shall follow that through. If we had taken the Opposition's advice about bombing Serbian artillery positions earlier this year, we would have needed a United Nations mandate to carry it out. It is highly likely that, during the time that it took to get the mandate, the Serbs would have removed the artillery. Even if they did not, bombing would not have destroyed it all. Even if all that artillery could have been bombed out of existence—and that would have required a degree of precision bombing that I do not think anyone possesses—what would have happened? The Serbs would have resorted to guerrilla warfare of the type taught by Tito.
Yugoslavia always thought that the main threat was from the Soviet Union, and the Yugoslav national army knew that it had no chance of fighting it out on the plains of Yugoslavia. Therefore, on the day that Yugoslavia was invaded, that army was to take to the mountains and fight a guerrilla war. Bombing would have led to us being drawn into a horrific guerrilla war and, irrespective of the number of troops sent in to try to pacify Bosnia, they would all become bogged down and would suffer appalling casualties.
57 We must think carefully before increasing our commitment to Bosnia. The British battalion group there is to be congratulated on its fantastic operation and minimal casualties. It is a miracle that we have not suffered more.
I regret that we have been drawn into the war to the extent that we have. What interests do we have in a civil war in Bosnia anyway? Bosnia has been given saturation coverage on television, to the exclusion of many other civil wars. I concede that, the conflict there is much nearer to home than any other, but television seems to include news from there in every bulletin. That is done to the exclusion of the civil war in Angola, about which we hear almost nothing, and where casualties are much higher. We hear almost nothing about Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia or Azerbaijan. If there were more balanced reporting of civil wars in other parts of the world, there would be less of a desire to do something about Bosnia.
Despite the magnificent efforts of our troops, we must face the agonising and difficult issue that, throughout the conflict, we have been feeding the warring factions in Bosnia. United Nations commentators are rather reluctant to accept that massive stores of United Nations foodstuffs in Bosnia are held by the militia. Therefore, we have removed from the people who want to do the fighting in Bosnia the boring logistic problem of feeding their troops, because that has been done with United Nations food. The aid that we have given to Bosnia may have prolonged the conflict and more people may have died than would have done so if we had had nothing whatever to do with it.
§ Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman says. He was a Minister until recently. Is he suggesting that we withdraw British troops from Bosnia?
§ Mr. Hamilton
No, I am not. This is not the time to do that, but we must keep the matter under review. The hon. Gentleman pre-empts what I was about to say. I am worried that there is still the possibility that our commitment to Bosnia may increase and additional troops may be drafted in. Even if that is just to police a peace settlement, its effect on our other commitments is a matter of great concern. We could not put in a large force for more than six months without drastically increasing the burden on our already overstretched troops.
The Secretary of State will say that, if that ever happens, he will try to get a guarantee that our troops would not be there for more than six months. As we know from bitter experience, it is easier to send troops in under a United Nations mandate than it is to get them out.
The real difficulty with our troop commitments, especially with the Army and with RAF support helicopters, arises from our commitment in Northern Ireland, where 19,000 troops are tied up in a massive peacekeeping operation. Of course, I fully accept that that is not under the auspices of the United Nations. While I was the responsible Minister, I found no problem with single soldiers being prepared to undertake that task, but it is hard on married soldiers who have done repeated roulement tours in Northern Ireland. We must never forget that we have six Army battalions in Northern Ireland at the moment and that there is a debate about the support needed there. That gives us an idea of the impact on an Army that now has 40 battalions.
I should be happier if there were a direct relationship between the number of terrorist incidents and the number 58 of troops in Northern Ireland, but I can find no such correlation, so we must think hard about whether the number of troops is absolutely necessary and whether, to give ourselves more flexibility, we should consider a withdrawal programme for some of the roulement battalions. I am talking not about peremptory action but perhaps withdrawing one battalion every six or 12 months. That would give us more flexibility if we wanted to undertake peacekeeping operations elsewhere in the world.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that it is not just a question of relating the number of terrorist incidents to the number of security forces in Northern Ireland, but of ensuring that more terrorist incidents lack success? It we contemplate withdrawing some of the armed forces from Northern Ireland, we shall place those who remain in greater jeopardy.
§ Mr. Hamilton
There is no evidence to support the hon. Gentleman's view. The number of casualties among the armed forces in Northern Ireland has reduced recently. When we last withdrew troops from Northern Ireland, after the hunger strikes, there was no evidence of any rise in the number of casualties among the armed forces. As the hon. Gentleman knows, many other factors contribute to incidents of violence in Northern Ireland, not least intelligence and the capability of the security forces to disrupt terrorist action.
I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would agree that the talks that have been dragging on for such a long time have created great uncertainty, and the very fact that they are inconclusive makes the position worse. The longer we continue to talk to Dublin, the more we give the IRA the impression that with one more push we will leave altogether. At the same time, we unnerve the extremists among the Protestant paramilitaries, because they think that they are about to be taken over by Dublin. While the indecision in the talks continues, we are feeding terrorism. I would be much happier if the whole process could be brought to a conclusion one way or the other. At least that would remove the uncertainty about the future.
As I have said, the number of terrorist incidents in Northern Ireland cannot be attributed solely to troop levels. Many other factors come into play—
§ Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)
I am interested in many of my right hon. Friend's theories, but I have some difficulty with what I perceive to be contradictory arguments in the context of Northern Ireland. If he is suggesting that there should be a phased withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland, what sort of message would give to the IRA and other combatant units? I cannot reconcile that with his suggestion that with one more push the IRA might misinterpret our motives. Will my right hon. Friend clarify his argument?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am happy to do that, and I will start from the beginning. Northern Ireland is our biggest peacekeeping operation, and it has led to massive overstretch in the armed forces. It leaves us little flexibility to do anything else, yet the demands to become involved in peacekeeping activities elsewhere are insatiable. Therefore, we must think hard about the area in which our commitments are heaviest—and that is Northern Ireland —if we are to have the flexibility to do anything anywhere else.
59 I take my hon. Friend's point that, if we were to withdraw one battalion, IRA propaganda would claim that as a victory. However, when we put two additional battalions into Northern Ireland that did not make the slightest difference—it did not persuade the IRA that our commitment was so total that it should give up its activities. I have doubts about signals and their effects. Anything that is done in Northern Ireland is claimed as a victory by one side or the other. We must be convinced that the troops there are useful, and some correlation between the number of terrorist incidents and the number of troops might help in that process.
It could be said that, if we had flooded Ulster with 100,000 British troops a long time ago, that would have sorted out the problem. However, we all know that whether the number of troops is 100,000 or 19,000 there will continue to be terrorist incidents—and there are many reasons for that. We must be quite clear that there is not a free option to continue to increase our commitment to Northern Ireland because that simply reduces our capability to do anything else.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again, but the message that he should be sending out from this House is that, while contemplating the possibility of reducing the number of armed forces in Northern Ireland, he does not expect that to be done unless there is some compensatory activity. For example, the courts must be more stringent in the way they deal with terrorist crimes. We need to dismantle the command and control structures, and we may have to accept internment to do so. If the right hon. Gentleman makes those points clear, the message going out from this House will be better understood.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but the last time the number of troops in Northern Ireland was radically reduced, after the hunger strikes, none of those commitments was written in as compensation for that reduction. One point that worries me is that, if anything goes dramatically wrong in Northern Ireland—such as riots on the streets and the security position getting out of hand—we increase the number of troops there. That adds to our current difficulties.
We appear to be operating a ratchet system. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgewater (Mr. King) was Defence Secretary in 1987, he sent two battalions to Northern Ireland on a temporary basis. They are still there. Those of us who have observed the position dispassionately have come to realise that it is very easy to put more troops into Northern Ireland, but extremely difficult to get them out again.
We must bear in mind the prime objective of defence expenditure, which is to keep a wide range of capabilities to deal with a threat that we cannot clearly identify. It may be a threat to our interests—such as the Gulf war, which demanded the most sophisticated defence equipment and the highest capability that the world could possibly imagine. We do not know where a threat to the security of these islands or to our interests elsewhere will come from, so it is vital that we maintain our capability.
One question that is constantly raised is our continued membership of the permanent five—the United Nations 60 Security Council. Indeed, the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) raised it during a radio interview at lunchtime today. It is nonsense to talk about Britain leaving the permanent five. The only way to do so would be to vote ourselves off.
The greatest risk we run is that the permanent five will be diluted by becoming the permanent seven or, eventually, even the permanent 10 by the addition of other members. There is no way that we can come off the permanent five unless we ask to do so.
The Foreign Office has gently fed the paranoia that our international standing will deteriorate unless we become involved in endless peacekeeping activities throughout the world. We must nail that complete load of nonsense. From our present involvement in Cyprus and in other places, it is clear that we play a major role in peacekeeping operations. We have nothing to be ashamed of, and I wish that people would stop talking about our membership of the permanent five being under threat if we do not become involved, because that is unutterable nonsense.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
The theme of the right hon. Gentleman's speech is that we must inevitably reduce costs. There is a cost—a price tag—attached to being a member of the Security Council's permanent five. Part of that cost is our involvement around the globe. Would it not make sense to cease being a member of the permanent five and to save the cost of our involvement in those operations?
§ Mr. Hamilton
That is also a load of nonsense. Another member of the permanent five is China, which has never been involved in any peacekeeping operation anywhere in the world, at any time. It is nonsense to say that there is a price to pay, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to say so, by raising that point in his intervention. If we wanted, we could remain a member of the permanent five and do nothing anywhere in the world other than in the United Kingdom, and remain a member until we voted ourselves off.
There is also some suggestion that our membership of NATO might be threatened. I find that particularly remarkable so shortly after the Gulf war, when we defended the interests of many European members of NATO—which were much more directly threatened than our own, in that they all depend on imported oil. Any suggestion that our membership of NATO is under threat is also complete nonsense.
§ Mr. Brazier
Surely the logic of my right hon. Friend's excellent points is that we need a strategic review of the possible dangers facing this country because the lack of such a review led to our defence agenda consisting largely of peacekeeping and other peacetime operations.
§ Mr. Hamilton
If we had undertaken such a review, intelligence could not have told us that, only days after my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State announced "Options for Change", we would be involved in the first major armoured war since 1945, with an armoured division being sent to liberate Kuwait. We were not in a position to forecast that, and we do not know the direction from which the next threat will come. That is why all talk of a review is absolute nonsense. Our intelligence is not good enough to see into a crystal ball and recognise the next threat.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
If popularity were any measure, the merits of a defence review would appear to be unassailable—if not in the mind of the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton). In recent weeks, the notion of a defence review has acquired the support of a phalanx of recently retired generals and of a parcel of Conservative Back Benchers, who produced a pamphlet published in the summer—and such a review has for some time had the support of Opposition parties.
A culture has grown up in which, faced with any difficult defence decision, there is apparently an irresistible urge to call for a defence review. We must place that demand in a proper context. A review will not provide answers to difficult questions. If anything, it will only highlight and identify questions that require to be answered.
The point was made during an intervention in the right hon. Gentleman's speech that a defence review in isolation is meaningless, because defence policies are not a political end in themselves but the means by which political objectives are sought to be achieved. Therefore, any such review must necessarily embrace the foreign policy objectives of the United Kingdom as a medium-ranking power.
The proper way to proceed is to establish our political objectives, assess the military resources necessary to meet those objectives and then allocate the financial resources necessary to provide the military means of achieving our political objectives.
The United Kingdom cannot escape a debate on the financial priority that is to be accorded to defence spending. In the aftermath of the cold war, it is right that we should consider how much we are willing to spend on defence. We must do so against the background of a fairly firm understanding of the proper approach.
Defence expenditure cannot be immune from scrutiny in a period of retrenchment in public spending. Nor is it sensible to approach a reduction in defence expenditure according to a mechanistic formula. It is sensible to make maximum use of existing political and military alliances in helping us to reach conclusions.
In that regard, I have considerable sympathy for the notion of common procurement and force specialisation, which we could most easily achieve through NATO. The right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell sets himself against force specialisation, but when he acknowledged that financial pressures will continue, he rather undercut his own position. If one accepts that those pressures will continue, surely a point will be reached at which it will not be possible for us to provide the full range of capability.
We should explore also nuclear co-operation through a much closer political relationship with France. That appears to be occurring, because there are hints from time to time in the technical press of discussions between the British and French Governments. That is a way in which we might achieve a substantial reduction in that large component of defence expenditure accounted for by the provision of an independent nuclear deterrent.
We must use alliances to help us to manage the peace as we intended to use them if we had ever had to go to war. The right hon. Gentleman has done us all a service in recent days by showing a willingness, freed of the shackles of office, to think in radical terms. He has allowed his mind to range widely. I was not present for his lecture at the 62 Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, but I am told that the heat was considerable—and that not all of it was generated by the right hon. Gentleman.
We all have an obligation to suggest ways in which we believe that it may be possible to achieve a reduction in expenditure without prejudicing the United Kingdom's interests and security. I mentioned the notion of closer nuclear co-operation with France.
We should accept that minimum nuclear deterrence—which is the doctrine that now drives our nuclear provision —can be provided at levels far below those for which the Government have apparently planned. If 192 warheads on Polaris provide an effective minimum deterrent, surely we do not need 512 warheads on the Trident system that is to replace Polaris. There is a substantial opportunity for a reduction in warheads, which must carry through to a reduction in costs.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a good point about co-operating with France, which I am sure would be an excellent way of saving a great deal of expenditure. However, the French might not be so willing to share in that expenditure. After all, they opted out of NATO many years ago and have yet to opt back in to the command structure.
§ Mr. Campbell
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman stays closely in touch with such matters, but there have been extremely encouraging signs recently of a willingness on the part of the French once again to become part of the integrated military command. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who is in his place on the Treasury Bench, can tell the hon. Gentleman that discussions have begun between the French and British Governments on the possibility of nuclear co-operation.
The hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind the fact that, when General Morillon was sent to Yugoslavia, he was supported by the northern army group headquarters of NATO. Although this is only anecdotal evidence, General Morillon was heard going around paying considerable tribute to his NATO headquarters. It would be wrong to minimise the difficulties, but the signs are now more positive.
The Secretary of State received a rather less generous welcome than he deserved for his announcement about the tactical air-to-surface missile. The decision that he announced is entirely sensible, and one which has been argued for with considerable force by my colleagues, and also, from time to time, by some Conservatives.
The Secretary of State assisted the debate considerably in confirming that a conventional stand-off capability is to be maintained for the Royal Air Force. Some of us remember the controversy that surrounded the low-level bombing using the Tornado GR1 in the Gulf war. The need for a stand-off capability was acutely identified at that time. The House will largely be relieved to know that the Government have not abandoned something which many of us regard as extremely important.
We must ask ourselves about the political justification for continuing to station in Germany the present number of United Kingdom troops. We fought very hard for the political advantage within NATO of the command of the allied Rapid Reaction Corps, which was thought to be a reflection of the important part played by the United 63 Kingdom in NATO. In this period of financial retrenchment, however, can the political advantage that we derive be justified against the expenditure?
Like the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, we must ask what is the correct level of deployment in Northern Ireland, without in any way prejudicing overall security. It is surely right to ask what task presently carried out by the military could not just as effectively be carried out by the civilian authorities.
Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I believe that we should question how many tank regiments the United Kingdom is likely to need in the future.
Only a few weeks ago we finally passed the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993. I think that it will be not Calais but Maastricht that will be engraved on your heart, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Title V of the Maastricht treaty contains the proposal for a common foreign and security policy. In a period of substantial financial retrenchment, it is right to consider the extent to which acceptance of some of the principles contained in that part of the treaty would assist us to maintain the security of the United Kingdom.
What we need, above all, is a rational debate, and the present rather febrile atmosphere is singularly unhelpful. The heated atmosphere of a public expenditure round is hardly the best means of arriving at sensible and systematic decisions about the United Kingdom's long-term defence needs.
As we know, nuclear weapons occupy a substantial proportion of our budget. It is right to question that expenditure, for financial reasons. Does it place an undue burden on the budget? Some people have a superficial attraction to the argument that by renouncing nuclear weapons we could solve the problems of the defence budget at a stroke. I reject that argument, because it takes no account of committed expenditure.
We should also question nuclear weapons for more fundamental reasons. They have no intrinsic merit. The theory of their deterrence is, if I may be forgiven for putting it this way, exploded if they are ever used; their worth lies only in what they prevent.
An independent nuclear deterrent for the United Kingdom is justifiable only as an assurance policy against the possibility of any withdrawal or dilution of the United States' guarantee for Europe. The level of insurance commonly depends on the level of risk. The risk is very much diminished, so minimum deterrence is achievable at lower levels than seemed possible in the past. However, the risk has not been eliminated and, until then—if that time ever comes—we shall need to retain the insurance.
Surely we should also actively endeavour to reduce the risk through support for the non-proliferation treaty, for a comprehensive test ban treaty and even for START 3, involving the five permanent members of the Security Council. In a practical sense, we should perhaps encourage Ukraine to implement START 1 and offer as our contribution to reducing the risk an undertaking not to deploy any more warheads on Trident than those on Polaris, which it is to replace.
It is clear that those of us who support the maintenance of the independent deterrent have something of a job on our hands to make a positive and persuasive case for its retention because public opinion is rather different from 64 even three, four or five years ago. We shall not win that important argument merely by mouthing the outdated slogans of the cold war.
We should take account of the fact that the United States' attitude towards us, at a fairly high level, is not always entirely favourable. In Congress on 28 September, Senator Dale Bumpers, a Democrat from Arkansas, said that he did not think that the United States should keep footing the bill to keep the line open for the D5 missiles, which American does not need, merely in order to accommodate the British. We must acknowledge that the United States' willingness to provide us with such weapons, which goes back to Harold Macmillan's agreement with President Kennedy, may not necessarily continue.
I deal now with British forces in United Nations operations. NATO should operate as a subcontractor to the United Nations, so that command and control remain with NATO, using established systems which have been tested by exercises and, as was recently pointed out, in the Gulf.
It is necessary to establish some principles if British forces are to be involved. Clear political objectives must be laid down by the United Nations, and agreed by NATO. There must be clear and appropriate rules of engagement laid down by NATO and agreed by the United Nations, and there must also be unambiguous exit criteria, so that one knows when one has succeeded and when it is time to go, but one also knows when one has failed and it is time to go.
Such operations should command domestic political support, which will depend on the public's perception that the cause is just. I should not like to have to stand here at the moment to try to persuade British domestic opinion that it would be right to send United Kingdom forces to Somalia.
Time is short, but I wish to mention procurement. The onus of showing why the EH101 utility helicopter should not be purchased for the support role has now passed to the Ministry of Defence. It is six years since Lord Younger announced the intention to buy 25 of them, and the intention has never been withdrawn. It is surely a matter of sadness to the House that the Dutch have recently decided to purchase the Cougar, a decision which, in the minds of some, may have been influenced by our Minstry of Defence's lack of enthusiasm for the EH101.
In relation to the Army in particular, I am left with the strong feeling that the tasks that it is most likely to face will be of low or medium intensity, whereas the balance of arms that we still propose reflects a requirement to fight a high-intensity war. Given the lack of any direct threat to the United Kingdom mainland and our inability to move large numbers of tanks and artillery because of our lack of strategic transport, we must ask whether the balance is justified.
It is clear that the decisions we take now will have irreversible consequences for a long time to come. I doubt very much whether, in defence terms, a watershed quite as acute as that which we are now experiencing has been experienced in the past. If given up now, some capabilities would never be recovered, because the pace of advance in technology is so swift. If we have a reduction here or a postponement there, the coherence of our policy will be destroyed. That is likely to be more damaging than a set of coherent, related decisions about what we believe we require. That is one reason why we need a review of the kind to which I have already referred, but there is another reason.
65 We owe it to the men and women of the armed forces —to whom I, along with others, pay my tribute this evening—whose lives are at risk rather more than our own, to see that they have set for them clear political objectives, that they are provided with the means to which to achieve that objectives and that they are not asked to meet commitments for which the resources that they are given prove to be inadequate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind hon. Members that Madam Speaker has ruled that speeches hereafter, between 6 pm and 8 pm, should last 10 minutes and no more.
§ 6.9 pm
§ Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)
I declare an interest as non-executive chairman of GEC-Marconi.
I claim that the present security situation is as dangerous as it has been at any time this century. I say that despite 1914 and 1940, because our country was heading into world wars in those years and, however uncertain the outcome, everyone knew what they had to do and who the enemy was. Now, no one can be sure who the enemy is or will be. We have had the certainty of being opposed for 40 years by the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact. With their collapse, we now have uncertainty and new conflicts breaking out.
Before I turn to the United Kingdom and the problems and implications of that situation for us, I will say a word or two about central and eastern Europe. I have had several contacts recently with political leaders in the so-called "Visigrad Four" countries—Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. They are all concerned about their lack of security; they have no cover. We should all agree that the present vacuum is unsatisfactory. I must ask whether the answer is to extend membership of NATO. I am not so sure.
First, the new entrants would have to be clear about and accept the mutual support concept of NATO. Unless that concept was watered down, which would nullify the strength of the alliance, Polish forces, for example, might be called into action because of a NATO-related problem in, for example, Portugal or Norway. There is a tendency to view NATO as a guarantor or as a protector without taking into account the broad mutual nature of the relationship.
Secondly, NATO must consider Russia's attitude. Any action that weakens moderate opinion in Moscow by fanning the anxieties of the military cannot be good news. Perhaps it is better to encourage the Visigrad countries to develop regional security arrangements which can be linked both to NATO and to Russia and which recognise that future conflicts are likely to be ethnically based border squabbles rather than the classic cold war frontal assault. In any event, the Visigrad countries need to rethink their defence doctrine away from their role as junior partners in the Warsaw pact towards an entirely new, perhaps citizen army, philosophy.
I now turn to the United Kingdom. My most fundamental concern is that after 40 years of NATO certainty, with widespread political support, there is an urgent need for the Ministry of Defence to sell the case and to present the arguments that will enable that support to continue. Public regard for the armed forces is higher than that for any comparable institution in our country. Their dedication and professionalism are much admired. That 66 has been linked to an acceptance of their role and is reflected in the majority support in the country for the retention of nuclear weapons, for example.
Now that the threat to our territorial integrity is less obvious and immediate, it is necessary to emphasise that the threats to our economy and to our way of life could be mounted several thousand miles away and would not necessarily involve assaults by tanks and by aircraft on the United Kingdom. If the challenge is to prepare to make important contributions to UN forces or to NATO out-of-area forces, the challenge must be taken up and answered in full.
Our forces must be well enough balanced and trained to be able to contribute to international operations, but they must also be capable of responding in circumstances in which only the United Kingdom is involved. Clearly, such occasions will decrease as we relinquish the remnants of empire. However, I have today the gravest doubts about whether the United Kingdom is capable of mounting such an independent operation. The current overstretch is far too great and there is the usual problem of politicians failing to grasp nettles.
The present position is the biggest change of scenario since NATO began. Now, if ever, there is an unanswerable case for a review. In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton), I refer not to a review within the Ministry of Defence, but to an overall review of exactly what the Government's strategic targets are. If such a review had taken place, a different view would have emerged about, for example, ballistic missile defence.
We have the curious paradox, that although the Soviet Union is no longer seen, understandably and correctly, as a direct threat to us, there is the possibility—nay, certainty —of the acquisition of such weapons by many extra countries that will not need to deliver them in the numbers or with the accuracy on which the Soviet Union used to call. At the very time that the threat could, in a sense, be said to be increasing, we are deciding to reduce our capability.
Any review would need to take a look at the widespread use that can be made of reserve forces. I am sure that there will be widespread interest in and approval of the announcement today by the Secretary of State about new roles for the reserves and about new legislation to come. However, the underlying position gives cause for serious concern.
There is a real fear that the Army board, to pay for the welcome addback of two Regular battalions, will recommend cutting several Territorial Army battalions. If that is so, it will be a mistake and extremely short-sighted. The volunteer reserves are an outstanding example of a highly motivated and professional group of people. They are extremely cost effective and can and should be used in a variety of home emergency relief roles. For every £1 million spent on defence, the country gets about six and a half times as many trained volunteer reserves as it gets regulars.
The Ministry of Defence still places undue reliance on the ex-regular reservists, many of whom are out of date, unfit, unco-operative and resistant to recall for anything less than world war. In contrast, the volunteer reserve is highly motivated and brings many relevant skills and qualifications from civilian life. To put it into context, savage cuts in the TA would be equivalent to the cost of five or six tanks. We are talking about minute sums in the 67 overall context of the defence budget—a tiny proportion. If the signal goes out from the House during this debate or during the next few weeks that volunteers are not welcome, they will drift away and the nation will lose a priceless asset.
All armed forces need to be properly equipped and supported if they are to do their job properly. The British armed forces buy a large proportion of their equipment from United Kingdom companies. Equally important are the working relationships and understandings between industry and Government Departments, never better exemplified than in the combined campaign on Eurofighter, the essential project which occurred at this time last year. However, as the budget pressures continue, I urge that the need for co-operation and the level of co-operation are, if anything, intensified.
One other area causes industry great concern—the reduction in military support for export sales. The United Kingdom has 20 per cent. of world markets in military sales, which is very important for the Ministry of Defence and very important in the United Kingdom balance of payments. The breadth and experience of British operations over many years has given our forces a high reputation for excellence and training and has meant that they have tested and operated equipment in a variety of climates.
Logistic support and training packages run by the Government are essential tools to aid in the winning of contracts. They are now in jeopardy because of budget cuts. The availability of military escorts was down at the recent exhibition and the cost of exhibiting was higher. The opportunities to demonstrate British equipment during Royal Naval deployments were reduced by about 70 per cent. last year. The 1992 task group, for example, deployed in the far east, will not be repeated this year or next year. The dedicated Army sales teams have been cut by 30 per cent. in the past two years. Military training places for foreign customers have been reduced and the numbers of service attaches and overseas advisers are being reduced.
The only people who rejoice at that are our competitors. To them will go the contracts, the jobs and the balance of payments advantages. That cannot be right for UK plc. What is needed is a Government-wide directive to the Ministry of Defence to provide for that essential dimension of activity. The Government should make due allowance in the MOD budget to make that possible.
The support and esteem enjoyed by the armed forces in Britain depend on a full understanding and consensus about their mission. The Government must have a full review in the light of the greatest change of circumstances in 40 years. They must consider ballistic missile defence, the correct use of the reserves, full-scale industrial co-operation and support for exports. Above all, if the Government believe that the United Kingdom can no longer sustain a Falklands-type operation on our own, the British people should be told loud and clear.
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their good wishes during my illness and on my return.
I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) in his call for a review, 68 for this is a debate about the defence of the realm, the security of the country, and the men and women who both rely on and provide that security. In the time available, I shall concentrate on arguing that the Government's policy is creating not security but insecurity—the insecurity of a maritime nation with its Navy cut close to the limit, and the insecurity caused by the Government's treatment of service personnel, civilian employees and the half a million people employed in the defence industry.
The House will not be surprised to learn that I shall make particular mention of Rosyth naval base and royal dockyard. In his speech to the House on 24 June this year, which, unfortunately, I missed, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said:there is no connection between jobs in the royal dockyard and in the naval base at Rosyth."—[Official Report, 24 June 1993; Vol. 227. c. 546.]I have news for the Minister. If there are no ships, there will be no naval base, no dockyard and no jobs. I give right hon. and hon. Members four examples of the way in which the Government are aparently failing to recognise those connections.
First, the defence estimates show that the number of destroyers and frigates has fallen from 44 in 1990 to "about 35" in current plans. The number of mine counter-measure vessels has fallen from 38 in 1990 to 25 in current plans, with a note saying that it will fall below even that figure for a period. Now we hear rumours of a further £1 billion of defence cuts. It is no wonder that the people of Britain are worried about their security. It is no wonder that the work force of Rosyth dockyard do not believe the promise of allocated surface ship work.
My second example is the work of fisheries protection. In paragraph 318 of the defence estimates, the Ministers stated that the Government had examined the possibility of contracting out fisheries protection, but had decided to continue it with the Royal Navy in 1993–94. That is hardly a secure future for the service personnel and civilians involved in fisheries protection work at Rosyth. What security is there for anyone in a contract which has less than a year to go? As the Select Committee says, the fisheries protection service should remain with the Royal Navy. The estimates say that the training and experience that it provides is invaluable, especially for young commanders.
My third example of the insecurity created by the Government's defence policy is the proposed disbandment of the Royal Naval Auxiliary Reserve. I listened with interest to what the right hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton had to say about the reserves. I recently went out on a training exercise with the Royal Naval Auxiliary Reserve at Rosyth. I was impressed by the skill, enthusiasm and commitment of those men and women volunteers. The Government should foster such qualities in the civilian community, not repay such loyalty with disbandment.
My fourth example of the insecurity which surrounds so much of the Government's defence policy is the announcement today about the complete privatisation of Rosyth and Devonport dockyards. While I welcome the early announcement of the future of the dockyards by the Minister and his assurance that they will not be sold to the same bidder, I certainly do not welcome the decision to privatise rather than to renew the present agency management arrangement. Privatisation will cause more insecurity. It will disrupt the combination of Ministry of 69 Defence control and commercial management. Why change it? What benefit will there be to the nation and to the defence of the realm? Privatisation will not bring jobs or value for money. It will not advance opportunities in competition and it will not improve defence or freedom.
The privatisation of the dockyards makes it even more important that they are treated equally and that they both receive contractual guarantees of work. For the Government to talk about allocation of ships to Rosyth is not enough, because the only place in the list of forced restructuring where they use the word "about" and create uncertainty is in the references to the number of frigates and destroyers. It is not enough, because, after the broken promises on submarine refitting, neither the Rosyth work force nor the Select Committee believe any promises. It is not enough because, if the Government are serious about healthy competition and avoiding a monopoly, they must give binding guarantees of 12 years' work to Rosyth dockyard to attract commercial interest from bidders.
The insecurity of the dockyard is reflected throughout the defence industry. Where there are ships, naval bases and dockyards, there is a concentration of defence industry. So, in Fife, we have 160 companies employing 14,000 people and more than another 7,000 people who are either service personnel or Ministry of Defence civilians. Since the Government's announcement about the dockyards in June, Rosyth and Devonport have lost more jobs between them than the Government said that they would lose by the end of the century. That makes it even more vital that there is a defence diversification policy.
I welcome the commitment which Ministers gave lo the trade unions to enter into a dialogue with trade unions, employers and other interested parties and discuss an industrial policy. That is a crucial recognition of the need for such a policy. Again, I cite Rosyth royal dockyard, which previously had the largest training base in Scotland. It trained half of Scotland's manufacturing apprentices. This year, it has taken in a mere 25. That speaks loudly of the need for proper defence diversification, especially in institutions and organisations of which the Ministry of Defence has been the main employer for so long.
I see from the time that, although I wish to say a great deal more, I must conclude. As it is a matter of considerable public concern, I mention the presence of the decommissioned submarines at Rosyth. We want to know just what will be done with those submarines, especially if the yard is to be privatised and have a nuclear facility available. The people of the area feel strongly that, if they are not to receive the nuclear refitting work, they do not wish the decommissioned submarines to remain there.
The people of Fife, of Scotland and of Britain are concerned that the Government's defence policy consists of a ship captained by an insecure Prime Minister, steered by a questionable Chancellor and supported, below decks, by a motley collection of Treasury pen pushers and bean counters. What a crew.
The debate offers the Government the chance to make some decisions—the right ones. Instead of closures, allocations and privatisation, we want guarantees. We need a secure future for the dockyards. Instead of unemployment, we want productive work. We need a planned Navy and a full-scale defence review.
§ Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)
It is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), whom we all respect for her courageous fight back to health. We welcome her wholeheartedly back to her place in the Chamber. She displayed her usual eloquence, although I would not agree with everything that she said.
I am tempted to range more widely in a debate on defence than in one relating to a single service. Given the time available, however, and the risk of straying into matters that have serious implications for the conduct of foreign policy, as my right hon. Friends the Members for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) and for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) have ably demonstrated, it is prudent for me to confine my remarks to matters concerning the Royal Navy and my constituency.
For centuries, Portsmouth has been at the sharp end of decisions relating to our national defence forces. While every citizen has an interest in keeping our defences at a level that properly preserves our security and protects vital British interests, many people in Portsmouth live with the immediate consequences that any changes in defence spending has on their jobs, livelihood and the prosperity of the area.
People have grown to look, with good reason, on Conservative Governments as the most trustworthy to provide the money and political support required to maintain our forces at responsible levels. They are right to distrust the Labour party which, despite the postures of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), voted at its conference to cut £7.5 billion from the defence budget. That cut is worth more than the amount spent on any particular service.
When the Liberals dare to debate defence at their conference—and it is not often—or when they happen to be present in the Chamber, they are no better than the Opposition. They have never reversed the 1990 policy commitment—it was not merely an objective, as they have since attempted to argue—to reduce our defence spending by 50 per cent. It is hard to believe that they had made such a commitment when one hears them speak about jobs and prosperity in Portsmouth, Yeovil or Devonport, but that is the nature of the beast: as many heads as a hydra.
Reasonable savings must always be made wherever possible and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State identified some today. He exploded a few myths as well. In this Parliament, however, the Government must stand against any further cuts to the defence budget which are judged as an easy option compared with confronting sensitive and overblown expenditure in other areas.
I do not believe that there is any room for further cuts in the number of frigates and destroyers. That cannot be envisaged either immediately or within a reasonable time scale when we consider their sea-going duties. I am rather worried about the new term "extended readiness". In practice it seems to mean extended unpreparedness—short of mothballs, but hung in the wardrobe all the same. I do not want to see more and more ships entering that state, but that seems to be the risk in the future.
We cannot reasonably stretch either crews or ships any further than currently envisaged and still expect to meet our commitments and keep morale as high as it should be at all times in any fighting service whether at war or in 71 peace. Morale is the crucial ingredient, because it is much more difficult to keep morale high in times of relative peace, as at present, while ensuring that forces are constantly prepared, whenever duty calls, to fight.
Anything that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces can say to reassure me that a destroyer and frigate capability of about 35 ships will be properly backed up with real orders, particularly to replace the type 21 frigates as they go out of service, will be welcome to me and to my constituents. I hope that the next batch of type 23s will soon go out to tender. I agree with the findings of the Select Committee report that that will be a crucial test of the Government's intention to maintain a proper frigate force for the foreseeable future.
I also want definite advances to be made on the replacement of Fearless and Intrepid, the latter still in Portsmouth in preservation by operation—another of those terms which mean out of service—after several years. I also believe that Vosper Thornycroft has a good case in pointing out the need for further orders of Sandown class minehunters to be placed as soon as possible. I should not need to remind the House that the minehunting capability is vital to protect our Trident strategic nuclear deterrent —we have been told today that it will also have a tactical role—to guard against terrorist threats and in terms of overseas deployment. It is sensible to keep abreast of technology and to have a sufficient number of vessels to meet requirements.
In common with the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West I also want fishery protection to be retained as a service supplied by the Royal Navy. That represents a sensible use of men and ships. I seek an assurance as soon as possible that that vital service will be retained beyond the guaranteed period of 1993–94. I hope that those responsible for our affairs agree with me about the importance of that.
The future of the Royal Marine band and the training facilities for bands may not seem an important matter in comparison with some of the great issues that have been aired today, but it is not unimportant to those concerned. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce), my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State spoke about the good use to which redundant MOD buildings are put if they are not put up for sale. The Royal Naval detention quarters at the naval base in Portsmouth will soon be closing. That building will be difficult to sell for civilian purposes because of its site. The Royal Marine school at Deal is likely to close on I April 1995 and I believe that the RNDQ building at Portsmouth could be an ideal substitute. People may ask why: the largest Royal Marine band, a 102-piece band, is based in Portsmouth, as is the Royal Marine command.
That proposal is food for thought and should be added to the other issues that I have raised—as briefly as possible in order to set a good example, if nothing else—and that food for thought should feed action on the several issues that I have raised.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) spent one minute rubbishing the Labour party and nine minutes rubbishing his own Conservative party, which makes the balance just 72 about right. I should point out to him, and to those foolish constituents who voted for him, that I studied the statement on the defence estimates made by the Labour Government in 1978 and at that time there were almost 70 frigates and destroyers. We now have 36, which, according to me, is equivalent to "about 30" rather than "about 40". Perhaps the record of the old despised Labour Government was not quite so bad as the hon. Gentleman and his many colleagues have argued.
I am sick of being taunted by Conservatives. Over the years they have attacked the Labour Government for being soft on defence. Now that they have been in government for a while, they attack the Labour party by citing various conference decisions. Defence expenditure is set to fall to 3.2 per cent. of gross domestic product, which is below the average expenditure of 4.9 per cent. under the Labour Government of 1974–79. If the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South would like to tell me what type of Navy he will be able to get for 3.2 per cent. of GDP, his constituents and many people in the Chamber will be delighted to know.
We have heard from two former Defence Ministers who have now entered the ready reserve. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), can lick his lips in the knowledge that there is life after the death of dismissal or resignation. No doubt a nice little consultancy or directorship is awaiting him; perhaps he should get his bid in early.
The right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) went off at a gallop, as one would expect bearing in mind the constituency he represents. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said that he had made some good points in the final two minutes of his speech; considering it lasted 15 minutes, that is about par for the course. The right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell set an example that other Ministers of Defence should follow. They should all have a truth sabbatical; in other words, they should disappear to the Back Benches and tell the House what they manifestly failed to do when at the Dispatch Box.
If the right hon. Gentleman had had the gall to tell the people of Northern Ireland that he wanted to reduce the Army in the province by one infantry battalion per six months, he might not have been welcome in Northern Ireland. He did not seem to know what he wanted British forces for. Like Frederick the Great, he has a wonderful Army but he does not want it to serve out of the area. He does not want it to serve on behalf of the United Nations, and he does not want it to serve in the United Kingdom. Why have armed forces at all? Let us hire them all out to Group 4 and dispense completely with the Army, the RAF and the Navy.
When the right hon. Gentleman talked about overstretch, I thought, "What an asset Archie would have been on the Defence Committee when we were arguing about that subject." He was the Minister who regularly gave the Committee one bland statement after another about how it would be all right on the night. We would have adequate forces, he said; the Committee was exaggerating the threat to British forces and we could certainly mount another operation such as the Gulf. The right hon. Gentleman should re-read those statements; he may be rather amused.
Politics is about myth, and myths rarely correspond to reality. We have seen many myths bite the dust: the Conservative party was the party of economic efficiency, 73 of financial planning, of the family, the party in whose hands the national health service is safe, the party of law and order. The final myth to bite the dust is that the Conservative party is the party of defence.
The Government are to reduce defence expenditure to 3.2 per cent. of GDP and that has been approved by Conservative Members. The cuts of £I billion that are apparently to be announced above the "Options for Change" reductions—those were bad enough—do not reach the figure of 3.2 per cent. Conservative Members who are bleating now about a reduction from 4 per cent. to perhaps 3.7 per cent. will experience more heartache before the Government achieve their target of 3.2 per cent.
I have always wondered how the party of appeasement, of Munich, of Suez, of Duncan Sandys and of Blue Streak and Blue Steel has managed to retain its reputation as the party of defence. Perhaps the reductions that they are about to make will finally nail that lie. It is amazing how the Conservatives are always reluctant to use the "defence review" term. There have been defence reviews before; in 1957 under Duncan Sandys, that was a total disaster, and in 1981 under Sir John Nott. "Options for Change" was another total disaster.
Perhaps the Government, as many Conservative Members have said, should have a defence review. It would not result in people being turned into stone or into salt. It is a sensible thing to do. Let us recognise that resources are limited, that threats and risks are changing, and let us bring a degree of congruence so that the resources available and the forces at our disposal are matched with the risks and responsibilities. A defence review should not be done by stealth. "Options for Change" was obsessively secretive, and experience has shown it to be ludicrous anyway.
I am impressed by what has taken place in Scandinavia on defence matters. The parties in what is called the defence agreement participate in a study commission consisting of Members of Parliament, Ministers, shadow Ministers and outside experts. They produce a report that is adhered to by all parties. We should bring some consensus back into security matters and try to dispense with some of the rhetoric and the obnoxious politics which I myself have been temporarily a party to.
I have been an hon. Member for 20 years, and, throughout that time, I have been taunted by Conservative Members on defence matters. However, if we look back to the Labour Government in 1979, we see that Britain had a merchant marine. We had 70 frigates and destroyers, and almost 30 submarines. The latter total is now to go down to 12, and the Ministry is unashamedly hawking around four Upholder submarines. How does one hawk around four submarines? Does one stand on a street corner, whispering, "Do you want to buy a cheap submarine?"
In this turbulent world, we require more than 12 submarines, and that was recommended by the Defence Committee. I would urge hon. Members to read the Committee report carefully, and with more seriousness than they would read any Government defence statement. The report will give a greater understanding of the Committee Members' agreement that the way in which the Ministry of Defence has operated is subject to criticism.
Ministers lectured Committee Members, and we trained our guns on the Secretary of State in two reports that have been produced today. Like some Nintendo character, the Secretary of State jumped over us. Far from being in front 74 of us, he was standing behind us. He was hiding behind us, hoping that the Defence Committee would do the dirty work with his chums in the Treasury.
Clearly, defence expenditure is going down. We are living in a different world, from that of four or five years ago. But it is still a dangerous world, and if defence expenditures are to be cut, they should be cut rationally. The cuts should not be sporadic, or episodic responses to external economic pressures. That is the way that Governments—and not just the present Government—have operated. The results are disjointed politics which mean that our forces cannot do the job with which we entrust them. How close we were during the Gulf war to having that salami-slicing tactic ruthlessly exposed.
If defence expenditure is to be cut, let it be done honestly. Let it be done to ensure that our forces retain adequate weaponry to meet their commitments. I hope that there will be agreement on the matter. Perhaps some of the dissent that has manifested itself in House of Commons politics during the past 10 years will be reversed. We must have full faith in our armed forces and give them the resources that they require. I believe that they are not getting those resources under the present Government.
§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
It seemed that a consensus was emerging in the House until the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) addressed hon. Members.
In his recollections of 1978, the hon. Gentleman seems to have completely forgotten what has happened since 1978. Since then, the Conservative Government have taken the decision—against the wishes of the Opposition—to deploy cruise. The Government have also taken the decision to deploy Trident. The combination of those facts and the determination of the other western countries to see of the Communist threat has led to the changes that have come about in the former Soviet Union and in eastern Europe. If that is not a great defence success—it was achieved without a single shot being fired—I do not know what is.
Credit for those achievements must be laid fairly and squarely at the door of the present Government. The Conservative party, and not the Labour party, has the reputation of being ready to defend the country and ready to spend whatever money is necessary to do so.
I welcome the fact that we live in a different world and that we can now act more flexibly and look to divert money into other areas of expenditure. I must congratulate my hon. Friends at the Ministry of Defence on ensuring that the Treasury's demand for a £3 billion cut in Royal Navy expenditure has been kept to £1 billion.
During the past year, I have spent time with the Royal Navy as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme. I was sorry that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) was unable to join me, as she was also involved in much of the scheme. I learned a great deal from that experience and I wish to share some of that with the House tonight. We have heard in the debate and elsewhere much about the overstretch now being faced by the Army. The Royal Navy is also facing a significant overstretch in its resources.
I welcome the emphasis on mobility and flexibility in the White Paper, but that does not seem to be reflected in what is presently happening to the Navy.
75 The Royal Navy is a unique service: it can poise and loiter in international waters; it does not require overflight or basing rights; and it can pose a real and effective threat of blockading, policing or direct intervention, as dictated by its political masters. In particular, the aircraft carriers represent a wholly self-contained fighting capability, with their own fuel, ammunition, stores and equipment. They have demonstrated that most capably in the Adriatic, where they were able to deploy north or south as required. In August and September, the Sea Harriers embarked on Invincible met every single one of nearly 200 operational sorties with which they were tasked.
The carriers can be augmented with additional aircraft from the United Kingdom in a matter of hours—again, without the need to negotiate overflights, which can be particularly difficult for armed aircraft. The RAF apparently found overflight approval hard to come by even in the Adriatic—even in NATO's backyard.
I warmly welcome the logic of Options 2. I welcome the order for the new helicopter ship—although my worries in that regard were not helped by my reading of the brief prepared for Conservative Members, which refers to the new helicopter carrier as a replacement for HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid. I hope that that is an inaccuracy. Having been on an exercise on Intrepid recently, I know just how old the ship is, but just how effective a weapon it can be. It would be even more effective if we could build a brand new one in the north of England or in Scotland. We should then have a unique facility, giving us flexibility to augment our new role in the air mobile brigade as and when that was necessary.
The role of the royal naval forces in various conflicts from the Falklands to the Gulf war is relatively well known. Less well known is the 365-days-a-year role that they play as a British presence providing stability and influence, including commercial and trade influence, in areas of the world determined by the Government. The Royal Navy has had a presence in the Persian gulf for the past 13 years, which today comprises two destroyers or frigates assigned to the Armilla patrol throughout the year. The Navy has had a destroyer or frigate plus tanker continuously on station in the south Atlantic since 1982 and in the West Indies for at least the past 20 years.
I recently had the privilege of spending a week on HMS Cumberland in the West Indies—[HON. MEMBERS: "Lucky you"]—during which time, I assure my hon. Friends, there was a tropical storm and no sunshine whatever. That ship fulfils not only its traditional role of providing gunfire support to Belize but other roles in close co-operation with the Americans, from which we gain valuable operational experience for use against drug runners, and valuable information. I should very much like that role to be enhanced, possibly with a second ship.
Ships have also been assigned to the standing NATO forces in the Atlantic and the channel for at least the past 20 years, and in the past 12 months that commitment has been increased to full 365-days-a-year coverage. Since January this year, a carrier and two escorts have been in the Adriatic and a further ship has been assigned to the new standing naval force in the Mediterranean.
In the past four years, the number of ships has fallen from more than 50 to about 35, as announced in March this year. Under Options I, we would perhaps have gone down 76 to 38 ships, although with 10 out of service at any one time we should in fact have had around 28. Of the 35 ships that we are now discussing, one is permanently at extended readiness and approximately a further 10 are in refit, emerging from refit or undergoing development or new build trials. That means that, to meet the latest level of tasking, the operationally available ships are deployed to directed tasks for up to three cycles in succession.
Allowing for passage time to and from the area of deployment, that means that more than 50 per cent. of individual ship and people time is now committed. The Royal Navy is now therefore being stretched to the elastic limit and separation and turbulence are at abnormally high levels. That compares with the Army—about which we have heard so much—complaining about one deployment of six months every two years.
If we are to search for economies, there are two areas in which I think that we could make them within the defence budget. First, why does the RAF continue to fly half-empty VC10s to various parts of the globe, the service personnel on board mixing with a large collection of what appear to be cardboard boxes? All those passengers and all that freight could be shifted much more inexpensively as commercial traffic. I recently flew back from Washington on a VC10. Apparently the Navy budget picked up the tab for the journey from Belize to Miami and from Miami to Washington, even though it would have been much cheaper to fly us direct from Belize to Miami and from Miami home on a commercial airline.
It struck me as odd that the forces were paying for service personnel from Belize to fly from Miami to Washington and then to stay overnight in Washington when that personnel could simply have met the direct Virgin Atlantic flight from Miami. Why cannot we privatise the facility completely and get Thomas Cook to secure us a large block booking to take all our troops, sailors and freight all over the world?
Secondly, may I ask about our difficulties in providing spares? Spares insufficiency is now resulting in our ships having to go out of the line for extended periods, which cuts into the training programme. We have a large number of half-trained pilots waiting for helicopter spares to be available so that they can continue and finish their training.
There is no slack whatever in the Navy's programme. The dockyard refit extensions have had a domino effect on the whole Navy's programme, which has further aggravated the regime. Furthermore, although warfare skills pertinent to the area of deployment are finely honed, some warfare disciplines now cannot be sustained to the required standards if ships and other machinery are not available for training.
The Royal Navy is operationally lean and mean. It has led the way in the civilianisation and contractorisation of large sections of business in the support areas. There is, however, one respect in which it has not been pruned back, and that is among the higher levels of staff. The entire naval staff at the marine Ministry in France is about the same size as that of the Flag Officer (Naval Aviation) in this country. Why are so many people working in Whitehall when cuts are being sent down the line to facilities such as mine in Eaglescliffe?
§ Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) described the speech of the Secretary of State as lacking in content. It was also breathtakingly lacking in any analysis of our strategic and therefore of our defence needs.
I had hoped that when the Secretary of State referred to Russia and Bosnia he would broaden the debate to consider the interdependence of political and defence issues. I had also hoped that some consideration would be given to the interlocking relationship between military requirements and their supplier industries. Yet all that we had was the standard response that we should leave it to the companies —with not even an inkling of an understanding of the role of Government in managing the transition. The Government are fond of bringing supermarket expertise into their affairs. I think that it is fair to say that Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury's have a much deeper understanding of the need to maintain their supplier base than the Government have shown in defence matters.
I realise that the Government may feel to some extent constrained by ideology from taking the position that we might want them to with regard to their suppliers. But what ideological bar is it that constrains them from addressing the wider global issues? The nearest the Minister came to doing that was when he talked about the Labour party conference. One gets the impression that the Government take our conference far more seriously than they take the Tory party conference—and who can blame them?
Instead of moving to an overview, therefore, we moved to a housekeeping report that sounded like a rerun of the debates that the Secretary of State has been having with the Treasury. Frankly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be addressing the Chief Secretary to the Treasury rather than the House. "There has been a cut here and a cut there, a small change here and a small change there," he said. Given the dramatic changes that have been taking place around the world, it is quite incredible that we did not hear of some wider vision—perhaps even going back to the basic Clausewitz dictum that war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means.
Our defence configuration is or should be dependent on our assessment of our strategic means. Let me give an example. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), the shadow spokesman on defence, quoted Senator Lugar's dictum thatNATO is either out of area or out of business.With all the implications that that has for our defence configuration and our material requirements, I should have thought that the Secretary of State would, at the very least, have mentioned that. There was no mention at all. Nor did he mention the implications of our continuing commitments in Northern Ireland, the Falkland Islands or even the uncertain situation in Belize, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), where we may have to rethink our withdrawal because of the attitude of the Guatemalan Government. There was no mention of that.
Nor indeed was there any mention of our role in the United Nations—whether we can sustain our position in the Security Council. It would have been interesting to know how the Government envisage the future organisation of United Nations peacekeeping forces. What commitment is Britain prepared to make in respect of those forces? Do we, for example, envisage a permanent 78 structure, or are we considering ad hoc arrangements, sometimes through NATO, sometimes through temporary arrangements, even possibly with NATO-dedicated forces being temporarily detached, separated from their NATO commitment, and in that instance not under NATO jurisdiction?
Those issues are being discussed in the international defence community, but they were not discussed here this evening. All those questions have considerable implications for our armed forces, but the Secretary of State did not see fit to discuss them. Equally, there is considerable discussion of the future structure of NATO—other speakers have mentioned that. Should membership be widened to include countries in central Europe? What will the reaction of Russia be to that, and why do we seem to be going much more slowly than we were?
We must also reconsider the resource implications. What troops are we prepared to commit to such a realignment? How do our current proposals fit into that? What effective operational role do the Government envisage for the Western European Union, and what are the resource implications? Those matters are being discussed, but they have not been discussed here this evening.
What about the current attitude towards NATO of the new Administration in Washington? Frankly, I am astonished that, on a day when Secretary of State Christopher says that the special relationship is dead and Asia is more important than western Europe, and when President Clinton has been criticising our role in Bosnia, we do not even have a sign whether the Government have considered the question that is certainly being posed in Washington in respect of Bosnia, "You may not care about Bosnia, but do you care about NATO?"
I do not support military intervention in Bosnia—I have made that clear in previous interventions in the House—but I should have liked to see some sign from the Secretary of State that he had given that matter some thought and was prepared to lay out the options which could be considered by the House in our debate. But that has, after all, characterised his approach throughout.
I think that we should be fair and say that we do not underestimate the difficulties that the Defence Secretary is experiencing as he attempts to get out of the problems that have been created by the crisis at the Treasury. Any Secretary of State for Defence would be facing those. However, he is compounding his problems, I believe, by not being more open about them.
The House would be far more sympathetic to a Minister who said, "We recognise that resources do not match up to our current commitments, but until we have the budget deficit under control we have to take calculated risks". That is not an especially happy position to be in. It is certainly not a happy position for our armed forces, potentially facing very difficult circumstances. It would, however, be a far more honest approach to the House and it would enable us to have a proper debate.
By contrast, an element of party political argument kept creeping into the Secretary of State's speech. That may all have been good stuff in the 1983 and 1987 elections and in that period, but given the serious difficulties that we face now, in a rapidly changing world, frankly I think that it is an outdated approach. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that.
Let us consider where we spend the money that the Treasury will make available. With equipment, there have always been trade-offs on sourcing, location of expertise 79 and manufacturing. My hon. Friend dealt with the Government's deficiencies on defence diversification very adequately. However, 1 shall move away from the bangs and whistles of high-tech equipment and consider whether the MOD is looking after British interests elsewhere.
The experience with the new MOD office at Bristol, which has been mentioned in the debate, would suggest not. There the MOD ignored British companies and gave the £14 million cladding contract to a Swiss firm. Indeed, the job was tendered without a single British contractor being allowed on the list. I shall not discuss whether, with all the cuts facing the military, we need that new procurement office in Bristol. It is an extraordinary situation.
Peter Rogers, construction director of Stanhope, said —I think it sums up the views of many people in the building industry—Ii is a huge pity—no other country would do it".Can hon. Members imagine the French, German, Italian or any other European Governments taking such a position with regard to their own suppliers? It is no wonder that the Jubilee line seems to be going the same way.
When the Minister replies I hope that we get something better than the MOD statement to the press on the subject —that they followed all the procedures correctly. What a firm defence of British interests! I hope that the Minister will not rely on misrepresenting some of the reports on that industry. It may seem only a small contract, but it is symptomatic of an approach that needs to be rooted out of the Ministry.
We must recognise that morale among defence contractors, suppliers and much of the military has been severely weakened by the uncertainty that has been facing them and by the cuts that have affected them. Both groups have served this country magnificently and, frankly, they deserve better. They deserve what has been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House; a proper review of our defence priorities; a proper review of our commitments; a review of what we can pay for; and the needs that those will bring about. Not only did the Secretary of State not know the answer; frankly, he did not even understand the question, as the statement demonstrated.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)
I think it fair to say that some consensus has evolved on both sides of the Chamber about several issues that have been discussed since the Secretary of State made his statement.
Nevertheless, I should like to thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for a number of meetings that he held with myself and other colleagues about several defence topics that concern us. He has spent a great deal of time trying to explain the strategy and the difficulties that he faces. However, I wish to put it on record that I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), who spelt out in no uncertain terms his belief that the defence of the realm was the most important obligation of any Government. Furthermore, that obligation is central to Conservative philosophy and the Conservative party takes it seriously. As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, there is little point in having social security if one cannot ensure national security.
80 There comes a time, therefore, when those Conservative Members who have concerns about defence have to tell my right hon. and learned Friend that he is in danger of losing credibility when he suggests that further cuts can be made in a piecemeal fashion from the defence budget—especially if those cuts amount to yet another £1 billion.
Further, no Conservative Member and few Opposition Members would deny that when "Options for Change" was devised there was an agreement, by and large, among many people that times had changed and that we needed a new strategy for defence in the next decade. It was realistic, therefore, to consider what we could do to change the balance, and perhaps the size, of our forces if there was no longer a threat from the Soviet Union.
Since "Options for Change" was announced, however, the commitments and the threats that we face have patently changed. Far from being safer, it is, if anything, a more dangerous and complicated world for which we have to devise a defence strategy. Therefore, Conservative Members would argue that our defence commitments are likely to increase, not to decrease. When some of us called for a review of defence and foreign policy commitments, it was with the idea of recognising that defence commitments were likely to increase with those increased and more complicated threats; and that more defence involvement would probably come with increasingly active foreign policy commitments.
For example, troops may need to be deployed in a number of different spheres which were not planned, and for which no contingent supplies or plans were made during "Options for Change". Indeed I would go further. It is my view that the chiefs of staff who discussed "Options for Change" with the Secretary of State at the time were given a firm undertaking that, if there were further commitments than those that were obvious at the time, "Options for Change" would be reviewed.
However, were the Secretary of State, even now, to look carefully again at those commitments, he could only agree that the position has become more complicated, there are further commitments and therefore there will have to be a further review of "Options for Change". Whether those further commitments are in Bosnia, the Gulf, on the safe-havens policy, in Cambodia or even Northern Ireland in the future, they have led and are leading to serious overstretch and the damaging of morale both within the forces—not only in the Army but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) said, in the Navy —and, as we run down our procurement programme, within the defence industry.
A number of my colleagues share my concern that the White Paper simply does not address those increased commitments. We must recognise that defence spending cannot be reduced further. Indeed, we might have to recognise that, in certain circumstances in the future, it will have to increase and, with that in mind—I should not like it to happen at present—we must also recognise that France has decided that that time has come. France is increasing its defence budget by 3.6 per cent. and its equipment budget by 5 per cent.
How does my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State justify Britain's continuous decrease in the defence budget as against France's recognition—by the increase in its defence budget—of a more complicated world and a variation in threats posed to western nations'?
The Government's strategy does not add up, and the White Paper that they have produced does not address the 81 problem. I look forward to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench persuading Conservative Members with these concerns that there will be a more co-ordinated attempt to match equipment and men within the forces as well as the amount of money allocated to the defence budget with the likely commitments made for those forces in the foreseeable future. We cannot foresee everything, but we can plan appropriately and wisely. Recent planning has not been correct and insufficient emphasis has been placed on it within the White Paper. I look forward to listening to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to see whether they can persuade me that the matter will be dealt with in the weeks ahead and further changes made.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
As a former defence Whip who, with his Government counterpart, regularly had to march Members into the Lobby almost at bayonet point to participate in defence debates, I greet the imposition of the ten-minute rule with mixed feelings. It is nice to know that more Members are taking an active interest in defence, but it is galling to be restricted by the ten-minute rule, so I must make progress quickly.
First, may I register with the Minister my pleasure at learning today—I have not yet been informed officially but have, as ever in this place, learnt from the press—that the contract for electronic aerial warfare training has been awarded to the company that has said that it will operate from Teesside international airport. I am pleased, because it will bring a number of jobs to Cleveland and the north-east generally. I only hope that it will go some way towards removing the resentment caused by the non-delivery of the jobs promised with the quality assurance facility that was due to move from Woolwich. If the company goes on to win the contracts for in-flight refuelling, training and target towing, it may remove even more resentment in the future. Anyway, I shall present such a case.
It will surprise no one to learn that, as a member of the North Atlantic Assembly and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe's parliamentary body, I ensure that our fellow delegates from the emerging nations of eastern Europe know that I am an unrepentant socialist. Furthermore, I am an unreconstructed unilateral nuclear disarmer and a lifelong peace campaigner.
When I first heard the term "peace dividend", my heart leapt with great joy because I thought that it was a wonderful phrase and concept and that we would have a lot of fun with it. Frankly, we have had a little too much fun. I should now like to get my hands on the individual who first coined the phrase, because, male or female, young or old, black or white, I should like to strangle that person.
There was a great burst of enthusiasm at the time, but, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) and others have said, the world and the nature of the threat have changed. The threat is much less in degree but much more pressing in terms of deployment and distribution. We do not know from which direction it will come or what form its manifestations will take.
If we put ourselves forward as leaders of a rapid reaction force within or outside the alliance, we must have rapid reaction provision not only in equipment and planning but in rapid reaction politicians. The 1993 estimates do not have that stamp of rapid reaction authority 82 or thinking. They are totally imprisoned in old-fashioned concepts and out-of-date forms of preparation. We must forget about Trident.
I was astounded to discover today that the tactical air-to-surface missile is now the sole nuclear vehicle. I do not know how one explains that. To talk about replacing it, in a sub-strategic role, with a single warhead on a Trident missile seems to be an expensive way of delivering a knock-out blow. If the submarines are not at sea at the time, where will we fire it from? Devonport, Rosyth or Faslane? We shall give Devonport the privilege in the hope that it will reach the target.
The Treasury is exploiting the tacky phrase "peace dividend" and jumping on the bandwagon, hoping that no one will notice when it talks about reducing the defence budget by billions of pounds in the future. The whole concept is patently mad.
If we are to be the leaders within Europe and the alliance in terms of peacekeeping, may I point out that our military personnel have a good training ground in Northern Ireland, where they are trained not only for high-intensity exchange but for more sophisticated forms of political assessment. Sir John Walters, SACEUR No. 2, calls it the corporals' war. By that he means that a young man in charge of a section of eight or 10 men in a rural or urban area and faced with a real threat has no opportunity to refer back to the brigadier or colonel and ask for instruction, but must make an assessment there and then within seconds, deploy his lads and tell them exactly what to do.
It is a corporals' war. Such experience is precious and has stood our lads—and women—in good stead in Bosnia. Sadly, our allies do not have such experience. It is sad in one sense but fortunate in another. Perhaps we can defray to some extent our defence expenditure by offering that experience and training to some of our allies, at least within NATO. I do not suggest that we send the Bundeswehr to Belfast, but we could give it some in-tandem tranining with some of our unites that have worked there.
Year after year, Opposition Members have called for a defence review based on an assessment of foreign policy, commitment and liability. Now, in view of the £1 billion year-on-year cut that is in offing, and our projected role as leader of the rapid reaction cops within the alliance, we must be honest with ourselves and say that we cannot carry out that task without such a review. Either we undertake a review that starts with a full assessment by the Foreign Secretary, followed up by an analysis by the Defence Secretary, or we forget about the pretence that we have a leading role to play. We cannot have it both ways. Let us start again and be honest with one another.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) in his seat below the Gangway. Would that he had been sitting above the Gangway as a shadow Minister these many years. He is one of the very few Opposition Members whose claim to be a champion of the defence of the realm stands up to examination. The Labour party talks as though it is the party of defence; that is about as convincing as its claim to be the party of law and order.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For the record, let met point out that the Labour party sends its sons and daughters to fight for this country just like any other party.
§ Mr. Couchman
I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will add that time to my allotted 10 minutes.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's comments about our troops in Bosnia, and pay tribute to the enormous courage and skilful professionalism that they have applied to their tasks. Members of the Corps of Royal Engineers have been continuously among the troops in Bosnia, and a new squadron from 38 Regiment will be sent to replace the existing squadron shortly.
Those Royal Engineers will be trained, and continue to be trained, in my constituency. I was delighted to receive a letter on 21 July from my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces informing me that the only centre for training Royal Engineers in the future will be at Brompton barracks in Chatham in my constituency. It is as well that we in the Medway towns continue to take pride in the Royal Engineers towns because, sadly, the forces for which those towns have been a base for many years are getting fewer and fewer.
When I made my maiden speech in the House 10 years ago, it was to make a valedictory statement about the closure of Her Majesty's Royal Navy base and dockyard at Chatham; it was with great dismay that I heard my right hon. and learned Friend tell me today that the proposals contained in the consultation paper "The Future of Britain's Naval Reserve Forces", which he issued in June, were to be implemented and firmed up. He said that he had received much support for his proposals in that paper; I must tell him that there has been no support whatsoever in the Medway towns that I represent.
As a result of that implementation, with great sadness we shall see the closure of HMS Wildfire, which is the remaining link of the Medway towns with the Royal Navy. We had hoped that my right hon. and learned Friend would tell us that he had given consideration to the consultation exercise and had changed his mind about which units would close and which units would continue as Royal Naval Reserve centres, and that HMS Wildfire would be spared.
That is not to be, and it is therefore beyond any words of mine to persuade my right hon. and learned Friend to change his mind and convince him that he would get a very much better geographical balance by retaining RNR Northwood and RNR HMS Wildfire as the two centres for the Royal Naval Reserve in the south-east.
The Royal Naval Reserve has a very fine and active unit in Gillingham, based in what was the old apprentices' school for the Navy, HMS Collingwood. That building will not really become available for disposal, because it is situated between married quarters for the Royal School of Military Engineering, and no savings will be possible there.
Recruiting for the RNR unit HMS Wildfire has always been good. The jobs and training that it carries out are to continue for the Royal Navy Reserve, and I bitterly regret the decision that has been taken: it will mean the closure of that unit and the Royal Naval Auxiliary unit which also occupies Collingwood.
We in the Medway towns shall continue to support and cherish the Royal Navy. I fear however, that the volunteers now based at HMS Wildfire will not find it easy to transfer their training to HMS President in London. HMS President 84 occupies property on the north side of the river, and it will be difficult for people from my area to get there for training evenings or weekends.
The Medway towns depend for much of their employment not only on direct military personnel: they also have a substantial interest in the employment provided by our defence industries—including GEC-Marconi Avionics, which is the biggest employer in the towns, notwithstanding the substantial cuts of the past few years. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will be able tomorrow to outline some hopeful procurement decisions that have been reached.
We have received very little reassurance from my right hon. and learned Friend's opening remarks about the helicopter programme or the replacement for the Hercules. I urge my hon. Friend to give some assurances tomorrow that the long overdue decision on the EH101 support helicopter is about to be taken, and that he is looking with greater urgency at the replacement of the Hercules with, perhaps, the C- 130J Hercules aircraft. I hope that the attack helicopter for the Army, which is long overdue, will be speeded up and orders placed in the near future.
I was pleased to read reports in the press over the weekend that suggested that the Bell-GEC Cobra Venom is becoming a more attractive option than the Apache, because it is a great deal cheaper. I am sure that that will be taken into account during these difficult days.
It is always tempting to shy at almost every issue of defence. There can be few times when more issues have needed to be discussed.
A lady constituent of mine has suffered a marriage breakdown; I should like my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces to assure me that the Ministry of Defence will take more cognisance of the incidence of marital breakdowns within the services than has been shown in the case of my constituent.
The difficulties have arisen as a result of the over-strict and inflexible rules regarding, for instance, baggage that is sent to foreign postings and comes back, and the schooling of children of service personnel who are stationed overseas. I hope that, in the near future, those matters will be considered by the Ministry of Defence, as it has caused a great deal of disquiet and discomfort to my constituent. I believe that the time has long since passed for the Ministry of Defence to cease to look at ladies who marry service personnel as camp followers, which still seems to be in vogue.
With that, I should like to hand over to someone else, because we all have a lot to say on many issues.
§ Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)
Like many others who have spoken so far in the debate, I too, deplore the obvious hysteria and panic that is surrounding Government decisions on an issue as vital as defence. I deplore it because of the impact on the defence of the realm, but also because of the impact that it has on many of our constituents who now face uncertainty and a great deal of worry about their futures—nowhere more so than in my constituency, where a question mark hangs over the Royal Artillery testing and training range at Balivanich.
I know that the Minister for Defence Procurement visited the range recently and has not yet reached a decision about the review of the valuation ranges. 85 However, if a decision has been reached to downgrade the range or wind it down, it will be bitterly received by my constituents and throughout Scotland. Nowhere is more dependent economically on the work and the income that the base provides, not only in terms of direct, or even indirect, employment, but also in terms of sustaining the communications, ferries and the air networks that service those southern isles.
The Minister may further be aware that, when the range was introduced in the 1950s, it caused great social dislocation, as he might well imagine, given the nature of the community there at that time. There was much resistance there at the time to the installation of a major military base. However, once the base was installed, the local community began to work with it willingly and harmoniously. After having gone through that process, the local community is now faced with another prospect of major economic and social dislocation. I hope that that is something that the Minister will not contemplate.
I also agree with what was said earlier about the need for a proper defence review. I particularly agreed with what the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said about the need to conduct the review in a European perspective.
It is absurd that the member states of the European Community should conduct unilateral cuts in the defence forces, and try to salami-cut their existing forces to fit budget restraints, when they could much more sensibly sit around a table and try to work out how best to pool their resources to achieve a much more effective defence outcome. After all, the challenges that we shall face in the future are challenges that we shall share together, right across the Community, particularly after the ratification of the Maastricht treaty. That should be taken into account in our defence planning.
I agreed with the Secretary of State that defence forces have an important role in future, and that now is perhaps a more dangerous period than any since the 1950s. He was right about the consequences had the attempted fascist putsch in Moscow of a couple of weeks ago succeeded. It would have meant the rearming of many states now bordering Russia—Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states, and probably Romania as well. It would quite probably have led to war before the end of the century.
The fact that that putsch came so close to success shows us the importance of maintaining our defence forces, not just in the United Kingdom but in Europe as well. The dangers are not only potential. War is already taking place in Europe, in the Balkans. I disagree strongly with the claim by the Secretary of State that the policy of the United Nations and the European Community is a success. On the contrary. I regard it as almost a complete failure, and in many respects a sham.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) said during the Secretary of State's speech, he and I, and my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey), visited Sarajevo for three days last week. We were immensely disturbed by what we found there. Far from humanitarian aid getting through to the people of Sarajevo, they are getting only 200 to 300 g of food per person per day, which is only half of what the United Nations considers the minimum survival ration. Other enclaves such as Maglaj have received no aid whatever for three months. The first day that we were there, 150 shells fell on Sarajevo, killing two people and wounding seven.
86 I ask the Minister and the Secretary of State to consider what it would be like if 150 IRA bombs were going off in the centre of London every day, and whether he would have the temerity to call it a United Nations-protected safe area. This weekend, 500 shells fell in one day, and 10 civilians were killed. An important point is that each one of the shells is counted coming out of the Serbian gun barrels by United Nations monitors attached to Serbian forces for that purpose. They are counted out, they land in Sarajevo, they kill civilians; yet nothing is done to prevent it.
I believe that it is possible for the United Nations to do much more to help Sarajevo and Bosnia. It is not a question of resources; it is a question of will. The Government rightly consider it worth while to spend £.1.5 billion a year and station 18,500 soldiers in Northern Ireland to ensure that terrorism does not succeed there. A similar commitment by the Governments of the EC and the United States, acting together through NATO, would immediately transform the situation in Bosnia and would be fully justified.
It is as important for Europe that violence and terror do not succeed in the Balkans as it is for Britain in Northern Ireland. Nor can I any longer accept the excuse from Ministers that the military advice has been uniformly against any such intervention. I have it on reliable authority that two successive chairmen of the military committee of NATO have recommended and urged a military intervention by NATO in Bosnia. General Eyde, who was chairman of NATO's military committee, before the present incumbent, General Vincent, recommended early last year that 40,000 troops be put into Bosnia to prevent the situation from exploding.
A major upgrade in the airlift to Sarajevo is urgently required. Again, there is no question of capacity to do that, only of willingness. A comparison with the Berlin airlift of 1949 makes the point. To relieve Berlin at the height of the cold war, the west made 227,000 flights and delivered more than 2 million tonnes of aid over 462 days. The Sarajevo airlift has already lasted longer than the airlift into Berlin—more than 470 days—but in contrast has resulted in fewer than 6,000 flights, delivering only 63,000 tonnes of aid. Nothing could more clearly testify to the failure of will, and the consequent lack of effort to make a genuine attempt to break the siege of Sarajevo and the other Bosnian enclaves.
If we are to break out of the impasse in Bosnia and Croatia, and in the whole of the Balkans, we must do two things. First, we must initiate negotiations that deal not with Bosnia and Croatia separately but with the whole of the Balkans. Secondly, we must redress the balance of force between the various sides. If we do not do that by intervening directly, we should do it, as President Clinton has urged, by lifting the arms embargo. The problem will not go away.
§ Sir Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement on the Front Bench because, as he will recall, on practically the last occasion that the House sat before the recess, he was good enough to come here in the early hours of the morning to answer a debate on the EH101 utility version support helicopter. It seems as though 87 virtually nothing has happened, although nearly three months have passed. It is time that the decision was made. I am happy to see that one or two of my hon. Friends who were present for that debate are here again now.
My hon. Friend the Minister gave the impression that the internal dispute in the Ministry of Defence had been resolved and that the financiers had allocated the appropriate sums of money. Although I was sad to hear that the decision was to buy Chinooks, all was on course and we were expecting an announcement at the Army and Navy equipment exhibition, which would not only have given much pleasure to the west country but would have secured for the RAF the essential provision of support facilities for the Army, and probably also resulted in a substantial order for the helicopter from the Dutch.
I am sorry to say that the Dutch have now ordered a French helicopter and I am sorry to learn that, within the Ministry of Defence, old arguments are being deployed. We all know the financial difficulties that the Ministry is likely to face, as every other Government Department is likely to face, in the near future. My hon. Friend the Minister must be strong, and be sustained. Can we please have an early and positive decision? This has been going on since 1987. It is shameful that our forces should be deprived of that essential facility.
Not for the first time in these debates, I shall speak about the reserve forces. Since we saw the consultative documents on the naval reserve forces and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, both marked, in heavy type, "Consultative" on the front, those of us who have been through anything like this before knew that the documents spelled out the fate of the two reserves. I was sad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State confirm that he proposes to proceed as planned—that is, as planned by the regular officers of the services concerned.
I bemoan the fact that so few of our admirals, generals and air marshals have understood not only the professional capacity of the reservists but the important part that they play in the community. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) spoke of the essential contacts between the people of Kent and the Royal Navy through the Royal Naval Reserve. The ships have been taken away, the drill halls are being shut and the RNR as we have known it—I played a part in helping it to expand —is gone.
Furthermore, the Navy proposes to recruit some 500 part-timers to serve on ships at sea. I have no doubt that they will have a good time and earn good money while at sea, but they are not true reservists: they are substitutes, and there is a big difference. I detect here the use of willing people by the Royal Navy as cheap manpower. We must watch any such development extremely carefully.
I have heard an ugly rumour about the Royal Marine Reserve. I hope that it is not true. That is an exceptional part of our reserve forces. The men train virtually to the same standards as the regular Royal Marines and they are well recruited. In many cases, there is a waiting list. The reserve is exceptionally good value for money. I do not know whether it is possible to have any confirmation about its future, but I sincerely hope that the Navy is not tempted to tinker with that reserve force.
The reserves for the RAF were used in airfield defence. It may be argued that that threat is somewhat lessened, but 88 a locally recruited modest army on site who could get to know the area, the people and the ground concerned was always a cheap way to defend airfields. I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), whom I had the honour to appoint to a post as honorary chair or something like that—[HON MEMBERS: "Inspector general"?] Not quite that high in those days—the position was more modest.
I shall deal now with the Territorial Army. It must be particularly crazy to change that at a time when, as we have heard from Ministers and from many Back-Bench speakers, the regular Army is greatly stretched. We know that the Army has been forced, by sheer necessity of its duties, to restore two regular battalions. What nobody said at the time was that this would be done within the agreed budget, so the Army is looking around for finances and its eye has settled on the Territorial Army. Options for cuts of 5, 10 or 15 per cent. in its strength are being mooted.
It is astonishing how well morale in the TA holds up. However, in a volunteer army, morale is a fragile flower, easily affected. Among both officers and men there is great worry. Decisions are not being made when advertised and I thoroughly deplore that any economy in our reserves should be looked for at all, but more particularly that it should be looked for in the TA.
I have another point about manpower in the Royal Navy—or should I say womanpower in the Royal Navy? I have been told that a problem is beginning to arise with women serving at sea. We who are sceptical, and perhaps rather old-fashioned, always saw the decision to send women to sea as strange. The Royal Navy contract for serving Wrens did not require them to go to sea. However, now when a girl signs on with the Royal Navy, her contract requires her to go to sea if ordered to do so. As a net result, the ladies at sea are very young and have no rank structure or organisation to look after them. I understand that there was recently a frigate at sea with no fewer than 30 young ladies on board, the senior one of whom was a leading cook. If that is not a recipe for trouble, then I do not know much about morale.
I share the dilemma that several of my hon. Friends have expressed. We understand that we have to cut Government expenditure, but we know in our heart of hearts that there is no room for cuts in the defence budget. I have heard today comments from Labour Members that surprised me, because for once they were realistic. We live in a Europe as dangerous as ever and in a world probably more dangerous than ever, but there are people from the Treasury running around with red pens saying that there is such a thing as a peace dividend. I do not believe that.
We have heard talk about defence reviews. What is to be cut out? One hon. Member after another has suggested a defence review. What happens after a defence review—I remember one or two—is that things get cut out, but nobody has said, "Let us stop keeping the peace in Yugoslavia or Cyprus," or, "Let us pull the troops out of Northern Ireland." We all know that that would not be realistic and would not balance the power and need of Britain's position in the world today.
I did not vote for "Options for Change" and I believe that those of us who did not do so have been proved right. Being right does not always make one popular, but at least I had the satisfaction of my own conscience.
I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister that it is no good being threatening and saying that we will not support any cuts. Many of us, especially those who have been in 89 government, understand the difficulties that we are facing. However, I hope that he will send the message from Conservative Members to the Treasury that if, when the Government expenditure round is announced at the end of next month, there are serious and savage cuts in defence that enables us no longer to carry out our main duties, some of us will strongly question that—and probably in the Lobby.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
I shall refer to a few of what should be our international defence obligations. The first is the inhumane weapons convention, which we signed in 1981 and which deals with weapons such as napalm. Our troops could be vulnerable to it in Bosnia or elsewhere while they are peacekeeping. We signed that convention in 1981 but have not yet ratified it. That is a scandal and it should be ratified soon. Indeed, there is soon to be a review convention at which we shall not be present unless we ratify it.
A convention on the dumping of radioactive waste at sea will be held in London between 8 and 12 November. Over 20 countries have already said that they favour a permanent ban on dumping radioactive waste at sea. We have three decommissioned submarines at Devonport and another four at Rosyth which must be dealt with, but the Government have refused to rule out the option of disposing nuclear submarines at sea. They should do so in line with the convention, or at least explain their position.
My main point is that the Government are damaging the good relations between Britain and the United States. Of course, I am only touching the surface of that issue. The strained relations over Bosnia deserve a whole speech of their own and I cannot do that on this occasion. The Government are straining the relations by undermining the United States' efforts towards non-proliferation. In President Clinton's speech to the United Nations general assembly on 27 September, he said:I have made non-proliferation one of our nation's highest priorities. We intend to weave it more deeply into the fabric of all of our relationships with the world's nations and institutions … We will pursue new steps to control the materials for nuclear weapons. Growing global stockpiles of plutonium and highly enriched uranium arc raising the danger of nuclear terrorism for all nations. We will press for an international agreement that would ban production of these materials for weapons forever.As we reduce our nuclear stockpiles, the United States has also begun negotiations towards a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing … I renew my call on the nuclear states to abide by that moratorium as we will negotiate to stop nuclear testing for all time.Our Government are out of line with President Clinton on those issues. On the comprehensive test ban, for example, President Clinton has set a target date of 1995–96. The British Government have refused to endorse that dale and want to continue nuclear testing—they are perpetually lobbying in Washington to use the Nevada site to carry out more nuclear tests. Even in the face of problems with the Chinese, the United States is still trying to achieve that comprehensive test ban treaty. The British Government are trying to undermine those efforts.
The United States also has a policy on the issue of weapons grade fissile material cut-off. Its policy is to try to get a global ban on fissile material production for missile purposes. The British Government openly oppose that—or rather, secretly oppose it, because they will not be accountable for their actions—and want the material for their Trident programme. They should join the United 90 States to get that fissile material cut-off and at least declare their stocks and open them up to International Atomic Energy Agency inspection.
In his speech, President Clinton makes nuclear non-proliferation his top priority. The Government are again moving in the wrong direction. With the THORP scheme, for example, plutonium will be produced on a huge scale into the next century and that could be used by the nuclear terrorists to which President Clinton referred. There have been well-established reports of the United States Administration, the Pentagon and certainly the Congress being extremely concerned at the Government's approach to THORP. They would like to see it killed and it should be. It is a danger in relation to nuclear proliferation.
Trident is a massive proliferation in itself on a number of levels. With Polaris missiles, the United Kingdom had 96 warheads. Trident has a capability of 512 warheads. It has been reported that at the very least the MOD will have around 192 in future after retraining themselves. That is still double the proliferation that occurred with Polaris.
The former Minister, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton), who spoke earlier, told the House on 18 May:No decision has been made — Rut 1 suspect that it will be more than those that we are carrying on Polaris".—[Official Report, 18 May 1993; Vol. 225, c. 147.]The capability in numbers of fire power is considerably more than Polaris. That proliferation encourages the spread of nuclear weapons in other states.
One MOD spokesman in Jane's Defence Weekly pre-empted the Minister's decision about Trident becoming a sub-strategic nuclear weapon. It was described as being capable of giving a warning shot. That shot would be the equivalent of 15 Hiroshimas—some warning. Once that sort of power is introduced, one must ask, who is it aimed at and who do the Government think it will be used against? We deserve an answer if that is the potential weaponry that the Government are prepared to contemplate unleashing on the world. It fails to honour the Government's commitment under article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty.
Greenpeace has said that about £15 billion or more could be saved over the 13-year life of Trident if it were abandoned now. We should be taking advantage of that element of the peace dividend. The sub-strategic role of Trident is just as much a fraud as the Domesday role envisaged for Trident was disastrous.
We must have a peace dividend. The Treasury is right in that respect—although it is in favour of it for different reasons. We cannot run forces at cold war levels. We were told at that time that the position could not get worse, but that we needed that level of armaments. We no longer face the threat of the cold war and it is ludicrous to say that the position is more dangerous now than it was then. I said in 1989 at the end of cold war that we could save £50 billion within 10 years if we planned it properly. That was a modest target—I was criticised by a number of my hon. Friends for estimating that amount, but it could have been done with a proper defence review and by moving away from a nuclear defence strategy. Instead we have a chaotic, unplanned approach from the Ministry of Defence with almost more admirals than sailors.
The Financial Times of 13 September said:the number of Army privates and their equivalents in the navy and airforce fell by more than a quarter between 1980 and 1992. Officer numbers fell by just 1.6 per cent. over the same period. 91 The number of colonels and lieutenant-colonels rose … But nine out of 10 of those were privates; the number of commissioned officers fell by just 630. Over the same period, officers' pay rose by more than 170 per cent., while the pay of privates rose 138 per cent.A general now typically earns almost nine times the pay of a private, compared with seven times in 1980.Bad planning has led to the current chaos. We need not only the peace dividend but to meet our international obligations on non-proliferation and peace.
§ Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)
I welcome the fact that we are debating the defence estimates rather more punctually that we have in the recent past. What is a great deal less welcome, however, is the background against which the debate takes place, especially the widespread rumours of yet more cuts of frightening proportions in the defence budget.
There is general recognition of the necessity in the present financial climate to examine rigorously all aspects of public expenditure. I have the greatest respect for the ability of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to do so, but at the same time I am much reassured that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and his ministerial colleagues are being robust in rejecting any tendency to what I gather has been described as a move towards a hollow force.
The Conservative party has always regarded the defence of the realm as the primary responsibility of Government. That is not jingoistic rhetoric but plain common sense. To that extent, there will always be an element of special pleading for the defence budget, because unless we get that right, the security of the nation's interests is at risk and all other departmental budgets pale into insignificance. It is thus my fervent wish that this two-day debate will send clear messages to the Treasury in the lead-up to the first unified Budget next month.
I would be one of the first to acknowledge that it is the duty of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to challenge all the so-called spending Departments and I know that he will keep matters in proportion. It is probably true that radical examination of the Ministry of Defence's operation and expenditure has been postponed—and thank goodness it has been, or it would have been quite impossible to mount the successful campaigns in the Falklands and the Gulf. Reference has been made to the roles of the Harrier and aircraft carriers in the Falklands and of armoured regiments in the Gulf—east of Suez—of all places where they could have been deployed.
Many of us have never come to terms with some of the so-called logic behind "Options for Change", which was written three years ago in the light of the collapse of the Soviet empire but before the unforeseen Gulf conflict. Its proponents have stuck doggedly to the premise that the world is a safer place, which in many ways it is, but no hon. Member thinks that there is greater stability overall following the disturbance of the equilibrium of the former balance of power.
I should like to use the concept of stability as the theme for my following remarks. As a former regular soldier, I shall concentrate on the Army, but I am well aware that colleagues will speak for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force with much greater expertise. I am convinced that parallel arguments apply in each respect.
92 Ever since "Options for Change" the Army has been preoccupied with the painful process of reorganization—re-roling and relocating; amalgamations and redundancies. We have heard a good deal about such matters in the House in the past few months. But one thing was always apparent —that the objective was clear and the timetable was clear. The new shape was to be in place by 1 April 1995. It now seems that the assurances that were passed on to troops by senior commanders are being thrown into doubt. I find it impossible to convey to the House the catastrophic effect that this is having on morale in the armed forces.
Whatever misgivings there may have been about the policy—the traditional silence of the services is all too often wrongly interpreted as agreement—there was determination to make the reorganisation work. If rumours in circulation are based on fact, the effect of future uncertainty on the most professional Army in the world will be devastating.
There is an awful sense of deja vu about this debate. I make no apologies for raising yet again the basic problem of overstretch. I was most interested to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton), perhaps freed from the shackles of office, put a rather different interpretation on overstretch than when he was in office. I do not mean that disrespectfully, but perhaps that is one of the practicalities of politics. For a long time the existence of the phenomenon of overstretch was denied, but now it is part of the common parlance. It revolves around the matching of capabilities to commitments—
§ Dr. Goodson-Wickes
He may be educating himself.
In every recent defence debate, I have challenged the powers that be to prove their figures to be correct. I have given specific numbers to show a shortfall on existing commitments, let alone any additional and unforeseen ones such as Bosnia. My figures have never been disproved, yet as recently as the last sitting of the other place before the recess the Under-Secretary of State trotted out discredited statistics as achievable even before we withdraw from Hong Kong.
The truth is that a 24-month tour interval, if it were ever obtainable on the "Options" calculations, has been rendered impossible by the necessary increase in troops in Northern Ireland and by our Bosnian commitment. Who can tell what other events will rear their ugly heads in the next four years?
The effect on soldiers and their families is intolerable and I have seen it at first hand. What other occupations that are so rightly respected by the public, such as miners, nurses, firemen and policemen, would put up with the possibility of about seven and a half years' separation from their families in 15 years' workߞand all that, at the risk of lowering the tone of the debate, without overtime. It is all too easy to take the forces for granted, despite the high esteem in which they are held throughout the country. Is it surprising that service wives, who are supportive and tolerant to a fault, are now making their feelings known in no uncertain terms as their marriages and their children suffer?
Even given that worrying human problem, the financial restrictions on the Army are such that it is now apparently 93 impossible to train above unit level, which undermines the concept of a meaningful Army. Smaller will never be better if training cannot be conducted properly.
§ Mr. Brazier
The Canadian training facility is the most expensive for practising armoured warfare. Is my hon. Friend aware that the first of three extremely expensive exercises that were conducted there degenerated into farce because one had only a small number of infantry arid the others no infantry at all?
§ Dr. Goodson-Wickes
I entirely accept what my hon. Friend, who is very sound on these matters, says. I link his remarks with the speech that was made in the Upper House by my noble and gallant Friend Lord Bramall, which I recommend to the House and in which he developed the problem that arises if troops cannot be trained properly.
Even in the Gulf, it was sheer good luck that the 7th Armoured Brigade was able to train in theatre for six months before it went into action. Such luxuries are unlikely to be available again. The defence directory shows that all our units are at least double hatted, if not triple hatted, and the tolerance of our NATO allies may one day itself become overstretched. There comes a point when the position is untenable, both militarily and politically. That problem will be compounded once the recession is over and people with specialised knowledge in the armed forces redeploy their talents in a civilian context.
It would be foolish to pretend that there were not sectors in which economies could be made in the existing budget. I emphasise the phrase "existing budget" as I am not a member of the school which believes that we can talk about increasing budgets in present conditions. Economies can be made on top of the application of market testing and new management strategies that are already proving successful in lowering costs.
I shall now return to an issue which worries me and, I am sure, many other hon. Members. If we are to reduce defence expenditure to the lowest percentage of gross domestic product since about 1935, with all its historical connotations, we must be careful how we use our available resources. Therefore, will my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State concentrate on specific matters which merit careful study?
I welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend said about the scrutiny of civilian manpower in the Ministry of Defence, but I am as yet unconvinced by the figures. Based on a written question that I tabled in the House, I am certain that, on implementation of "Options for Change" the number of civilians in the Ministry of Defence would be reduced by about 20 per cent., in the Army as a whole, by about 30 per cent. and, most critically, in the teeth arms, by 40 per cent. Those statistics make me uncomfortable and I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to look at the figures again.
I suspect that nobody in the House would describe the former Member for Plymouth, Sutton as uninhibited, but Mr. Alan Clark said to me, after he had retired, that one issue he very much regretted never getting to grips with at the Ministry of Defence was the level of civilian manpower. I explicitly exclude highly specialised civilians who perform jobs that release uniformed soldiers to fulfil their jobs in the armed forces.
§ Mr. Colvin
We need clarification of the figures. This morning I read a report that, since 1979, the number of men and women in civilian clothes paid by the Ministry of 94 Defence had fallen by 45 per cent. and the number of men and women in uniform by only 16 per cent. Those figures may be partly due to privatisation and contractorisation —I do not know. We need clarification of the impact of privatisation and contractorisation on the reduction of civilian personnel.
§ Dr. Goodson-Wickes
I suspect that my hon. Friend puts his finger on the important point—the figures are jumbled because of contractorisation. We must make direct comparisons between the bare statistics relating to civilians in the Ministry of Defence and uniformed soldiers. We need further clarification and I should be grateful if the Front Bench team could provide that in the wind-up to the debate.
The second sector in which there is enormous scope for radical examination is that of the defence estate. I do not believe that the defence estate is as well run as it might be. I do not wish to develop that theme tonight, but it is one which extends from the possible rationalisation of headquarters at Northwood and Wilton, through land holdings within the Ministry of Defence, to cosy little functions which are carried out unchallenged, and for which the taxpayer has to pick up the bill.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State give the House an assurance that no further cuts will be made based on short-term expediency to balance a budget here and a budget there? Any cuts should be made strictly on military criteria. If anyone in the Ministry of Defence says that we have too many armoured regiments, I would immediately respond by saying that we have an inadequate number of armoured reconnaissance regiments. There should be a straight swap between the functions.
As has already been mentioned in the debate, the value of the Territorial Army and the reserve forces has been grossly understated. The cost of this country's reserve forces is about the same as that of running the national health service for three days. That cost is peripheral in the financial context and inconsequential in the wider sweep. To introduce it into the debate undermines the spirit of volunteering in this country, whether military or non-military, which is done for virtually nil personal return.
I welcome the consultation paper on the framework for the reserve forces. I believe that it is to be the subject of a future debate. I want an assurance from my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces that the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve Associations will be involved in the consultation, not presented with a fait accompli.
To quote my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, what is needed is for our armed forces, a priceless national asset, to have a period of stability. They cannot be subjected to continual chipping away so that they no longer provide a credible safety net for this country. Nor should Government policy—in the context of NATO, the United Nations and defence role 3—to contribute to promoting the United Kingdom's wider security interests through the maintenance of international peace and stability"—be prejudiced. Only if the policy changes—I profoundly hope that it will not—can a case be made for a defence review which would not be limited to the Ministry of Defence but would encompass the whole of foreign policy. Only in those conditions could that argument legitimately be advanced.
95 The Conservative party and the Government have reaffirmed their commitment to traditional values. Paper tigers have no role in this country's defences. As long as the United Kingdom has superb fighting forces which set standards for the world and has a permanent place on the United Nations Security Council, the world will be a safer place.
§ Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)
Anyone who is listening to our proceedings or who has an opportunity to read the report in Hansard tomorrow cannot but form the conclusion that the Government and Ministers have had a rough time from their Back Benchers—which they entirely deserve. There has been widespread concern, reflected on both sides of the House, about the way in which the Government are conducting defence policy and defence planning.
I have heard all the Back-Bench contributions to the debate, and not one Conservative Member has given unequivocal support to the Government's defence estimates. One reason for the outbreak of unanimity among Back Benchers in condemning Government policies is that a motion will be tabled in the House tomorrow in the name of the Prime Minister asking hon. Members to endorse the defence estimates. The problem is that none of us knows what the defence estimates are, as the figures seem to change from week to week.
It is clear from press reports—the Secretary of State had to concede the fact implicity this afternoon—that the Chancellor wants further unspecified cuts in the defence budget. We know that there are heavy cuts in the pipeline; today, the Secretary of State announced the cancellation of the TASM project, a decision, incidentally, for which he will have the full support of my party.
Underlying the difficulty in which both Conservative and Labour Members find themselves is the fact that there is a consensus that this is not the way to handle defence policy planning at a time of unprecedented change, when all the circumstances that used to shape defence policy and planning have been scrapped overnight with the end of the cold war and the dismantling of the Soviet Union.
These former threats have been replaced by other, equally menacing threats arising from the outbreak of ethnic violence in the states of the former Soviet Union and a worldwide increase in political violence of the sort regularly witnessed in Africa, for instance.
Against this background of unprecedented change and of a complete transformation of the threat facing the national security of the United Kingdom and our international allies, I wonder whether it is right to hand over the whole future direction of defence policy planning, lock, stock and barrel, to the Treasury. Of course, it is true that the Treasury will always have a decisive say, and we know about the Government's financial difficulties arising from the mess that they have made of the public sector finances. We also know about the industrial problems that they have created. All that has led to a diminution of Government resources, but no coherent strategic case is being made by the Government in defence planning—they are not carefully and cautiously scrutinising Britain's defence commitments.
96 I am not alone in suggesting that the opportunity has now arisen to undertake a more coherent and strategic review of our defence configurations. For example, the Select Committee on Defence's report says in its second paragraph:careful reading of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 93, which is subtitled 'Defending our Future', produces very little idea of which national interests are to be defended and where, in what order of priorities, and in the face of which anticipated threats or dangers.Instead, we are offered some saloon bar rhetoric, presented as a coherent "Statement on the Defence Estimates". It is not: it is mere rhetoric, more of which we heard from the Secretary of State this afternoon.
I do not want to embarrass the Conservative Members who recently produced a pamphlet on this issue. Many of them are present tonight, including the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), with whom I find myself, somewhat surprisingly, in complete agreement on this issue. To quote the pamphlet selectively—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I do him and his colleagues an injustice—The general public—and the armed services—are in a limbo … morale—is at an historic low point … A comprehensive review should take place—In short, a thorough and coherent strategic review".That is the view expressed by 12 Conservative Members, many of whom have repeated it tonight. There is thus concern on both sides of the House, motivated perhaps by different sets of priorities, because we do not believe that this is a sensible way in which to develop defence policy in the 1990s.
Where is the strategic analysis behind some of the changes that the Government have announced since "Options for Change"? I think particularly of the decision not to maintain in service beyond 1995 the four Upholder class submarines built by Cammell Laird and by VSEL in my constituency, at a cost of fl billion. In the 1993 defence estimates, the Government simply state that the case for deploying the Upholders has been removed by the changing pattern of Soviet SSN deployments—but that is slightly misleading, to say the least. The Government have themselves identified a whole range of other purposes and functions for this class of submarine besides patrolling the Greenland/Iceland/United Kingdom gap. So much for the Government's justification for scrapping the Upholders.
The taxpayer will lose as much as £900 million because of this decision, and it is transparently obvious to anyone who studies this fiasco that the strategic decision involved was driven solely by financial considerations. That is not the right way to proceed.
I believe that there is a consensus in the House that such events reveal the need for a strategic review of our defence commitments. Such reviews have been undertaken by Labour and Conservative Governments in the past—I think particularly of the outstanding intellectual case contained in the defence review conducted by Lord Healey in 1966. There is an obvious need for a defence review now, but unfortunately the Government show no signs of responding to that need.
If press reports are true, it appears that the Secretary of State for Defence is threatening to conduct a defence review to frighten the Treasury, but that is to put the issue in the wrong perspective. We should be developing a new consensus on defence policy for the 1990s. It would not be 97 very difficult to develop one, revolving around some of the defence roles identified in the estimates—particularly defence role 3, which I wish to discuss later.
We need to reconfigure our forces to face the new security situation of the 1990s. Regrettably, we are instead drifting along; there is a sense of a vacuum at the very heart of defence policy making. The Government are not properly discharging their responsibility to taxpayers, service personnel or those who work in the defence industries. We do not know where we are going from week to week.
There are some hard choices to be made—it would be foolish to pretend otherwise—but we cannot go on maintaining many of the pretences enshrined in the White Paper. We have to make a better job of matching resources to our vital national interests and new international responsibilities.
A recurrent theme of my speeches in previous defence debates has been the absence of any Government policy on secure employment in the defence industries. My constituency offers a vivid example of that. We have lost more than 7,500 jobs in the VSEL shipyard in less than three years—an unsustainable attrition of skills and expertise. If this country wants to maintain and develop a sensible SSN engineering capability it must do better than that.
Thousands of skilled engineering workers in my constituency have been forced out of their trade and are now driving minicabs or stacking shelves. No sensible industrial policy should force them into such a predicament. It is a ruinous waste of skills and expertise. No other western European nation would do this to its own people, yet our Government do not seem to care.
When we have repeatedly made these points in the House, we have been told by Ministers that we cannot develop a policy on diversification, because that would be telling defence companies what to do. We do not say that the Government should tell them what to do, but the Government have a responsibility to support the initiatives of many defence companies that want to preserve their engineering capabilities but recognise that to do so they need to move into new product areas.
There are a range of ways in which the Government can offer such support without the need for central direction —no one is advocating that. The Government can use their power and influence to support diversification initiatives by encouraging research and development, by the tax system and by other intelligent means. The Government are shirking their responsibility to many of the men and women who have contributed to the defence of this country for many years. That is morally unacceptable and economically insane.
There is no reference in the statement on the defence estimates to the problems of the defence industry. At least in the 1992 statement the Government had the courage to admit that there was a problem. They did not specify any solutions, but at least they identified the problems facing defence contractors in these difficult times. The Government do not have a strategy, and they do not seem to care what happens to the affected communities.
I have already referred to the situation in my constituency. It is with great sadness that I must report that last week another 300 workers at the VSEL shipyard were told that they had no future in the yard. That is a disgrace and it undermines the Government's claim that they alone 98 have a coherent strategy for success in employing people in the defence industries. They do not. Record numbers of defence industry workers are losing their employment.
I shall speak briefly about the future of the Royal Navy, not only because of my obvious direct constituency interest —the Barrow shipyard had built some of the finest ships ever to sail under the white ensign—but because it is clear that the Royal Navy has suffered disproportionately from the Government's programme of cuts. There must be some doubt about the effect of the cuts on the Navy's operational effectiveness. That is a particularly important issue given the importance of defence role 3 in the White Paper, especially in the context of the deployment of amphibious forces.
Today's Select Committee report on the future of the Royal Navy is timely, but it hardly amounts to an endorsement of Government policy in this area. Its principal conclusions could not be more critical of Government policy, and I shall refer to five of those conclusions. Paragraph 17 identifies financial constraints that are affecting the fleet's effectiveness. Paragraph 37 is highly critical of the Government's decision on the future, of the Upholder class submarine.
The Select Committee recently reported that the Navy needed six SSKs to maintain a viable diesel electric force in the submarine flotilla, but now there are to be no diesel electric submarines of any kind. I hope that the Government are at least prepared to consider the Select Committee's recommendation that at least one Upholder class submarine should be deployed with the Royal Navy.
Paragraph 59 says that the Royal Navy would be incapable of defending vital sea routes in time of war. We are a maritime nation, and perhaps the most damning criticism that a Select Committee could ever make of the conduct of Government defence policy is that the Royal Navy, the senior service, is incapable of defending this country's vital sea routes. That is a total indictment, if one were needed, of the way that the Government are conducting policy in this area.
Paragraph 48 expresses concern about the future of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and paragraph 11 highlights serious delays in procuring the next batch of type 23 frigates and says that that could threaten the ability of the Navy to maintain a surface fleet of about 35 frigates and destroyers. It is also clear from today's report by the Select Committee that the decision to order the next batch of type 23 frigates is at least two years behind schedule. For the shipbuilding industry, that is a ruinous delay, because skilled workers and design teams cannot be held together for that time without the prospect of orders.
Some Conservative Members, especially the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin), spoke about the need to proceed quickly with the decision to order two amphibious assault ships to replace Fearless and Intrepid. If Britain is to have an effective role in contributing to UN peacekeeping forces around the globe, which is important to this country, we must have an effective amphibious configuration. That will include not only the helicopter carrier that has recently been ordered, but the two replacements for Fearless and Intrepid. It would be impossible to deploy our forces effectively around the world, often in difficult areas and situations, without those two vital support ships. Those two ships are needed, and I hope that the Government will confirm, despite all the rumours about defence cuts, that those two orders at least will be sacrosanct.
99 Of direct interest to my constituents is the Government's decision on the future of the batch 2 Trafalgar programme, the replacement SSN fleet for the 21st century. We need at least six of this new class of submarine to maintain the bare bones of an effective SSN fleet, which is 12. There is concern among all hon. Members about whether the role and tasks of the SSN squadron can be carried out by 12 vessels. If there is any slippage in the ordering of the batch 2 Trafalgars or if there is delay—I understand that the Government are delaying the programme—or hesitation in deciding how many of those vessels should be ordered, it will have a negative effect on the operational ability of the SSN fleet.
I hope that, in his winding-up speech, the Minister will send a clear signal to my constituents that at least six batch 2 Trafalgars will be ordered and that there will be no further delay in the procurement of this vital new class of SSN submarine.
The future frigate programme is important to maintain the operational effectiveness of the Navy, and I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the Navy will be funded for a full one-to-one replacement of the type 42 destroyers. That will require a minimum order of 12. I should like to deal with other matters, but I shall not do so because other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate.
Defence policy is in tatters. There is no coherent view, and the Government are drifting from day to day and from week to week. The hon. Member for Canterbury was right to draw attention to the low morale of our armed forces, which is intolerable. Service in the armed forces is public service of the highest order, but that is not fully recognised by the Government.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. The winding-up speeches will start in about an hour. May we please have succinct speeches.
§ Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)
I shall try to comply with your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that I do not spoil the day for the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) when I say that, while I agree with much of what he said about the Royal Navy, I welcome the defence estimates. I also welcome their presentation. One could ask why the matching and balancing of commitments to resources has not been done before. The presentation gives rise to a different set of problems which, perhaps, are not wholly unexpected, and hon. Members are free to criticise the matching of commitments to resources as they feel appropriate.
Such criticism on my part is constructive. For example, the key diagram in the defence estimates showing the four structures in the mid-1990s admirably demonstrates defence roles 1, 2 and 3, which are best described as national, European and global. It also illustrates the huge overlap in commitments, because three carriers are needed in all three roles.
The division into three defence roles is interesting, in that roles 2 and 3 place NATO at the heart of making that commitment. We are right to question the role of NATO. Its key role is the defence of its members, but it has a 100 secondary, perhaps political, role of keeping the United States bound into a treaty with European members. That was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie).
Before widening NATO by admitting other countries, we must ask ourselves and them whether they are prepared to protect all NATO members and whether they guarantee to protect us at the same time. If the answer is no, enlargement must be put on the back burner and NATO must be prepared to refuse such applications.
We live in a troubled world. There are about 27 conflicts worldwide, and we face many threats. As was recognised in 1990 in "Options for Change", those threats are different from those of the past. There is no colossal threat from the Soviet Union and, as the cold war recedes, we need a change of style. We need defence across a broad spectrum and we must deliver diversity. In short, we need flexibility.
Like many others, I am concerned about the strategic future. If we have to make cuts, it is right to make them in the RAF. I have no difficulty with today's decision not to proceed with the air-to-surface missile, which has always been of limited strategic value. The Fleet Air Arm is quite capable of filling the gap, and in the 1990s the RAF looks like an increasingly inflexible service.
In recent years, the Royal Navy has been "dumped on" by both the other services, and such political activity in the Ministry of Defence is wrong. I do not quarrel with the decision to reduce the number of frigates, because the submarine threat that they were constructed to meet no longer exists. In future, we shall need mobility and flexibility, especially if there is to be an overlap between roles 2 and 3, the European and global roles that are set out in the White Paper.
Like other hon. Members, I welcome the construction of a helicopter carrier, but I believe that we also need more fixed—wing carriers. Let us consider two scenarios from role 2—the need to attack a difficult Mediterranean country such as Libya or Syria and, perhaps, a maverick east European country. Let us also consider two scenarios from role 3, the global role. Although a big "if" is involved, there is a possibility that we will need to deploy in South Africa at some time during the next few years. Although it is another big "if", we may need to deploy in Hong Kong. The RAF could cope with a strike in the Mediterranean, but not with a strike in South Africa or in the far east.
§ Mr. Martlew
Will the hon. Gentleman expound on his theory that we may need a presence in Hong Kong? Is he suggesting that we go to war with China?
§ Mr. Ottaway
The hon. Gentleman is wasting time by painting pictures to which I have not alluded. I am illustrating the sort of situation—and I said there was a big "if"—to which the RAF might have to respond. It shows that a flexible response by an aircraft carrier could meet strategic demands in both the Mediterranean and the wider area. The RAF could not meet all those demands.
§ Mr. Ottaway
I know that my hon. Friend is a supporter of the RAF, so I suspect that his intervention will not be helpful.
§ Mr. Walker
I assure my hon. Friend that I am more than a supporter of the RAF. Does he understand the point 101 that he is making about aircraft carriers? Has he carefully studied the cost of an aircraft carrier of the sort that the United States uses extensively? If not, his argument falls.
§ Mr. Ottaway
It was HMS Eagle, from 1966 to 1970. The modern aircraft carriers, without steam catapults, are a much cheaper option than the old fixed-wing carriers. Once a production line was under way, the costs would be significantly reduced.
There is resistance inside the Ministry of Defence to any strategic future for aircraft carriers. Certainly, none was deployed in the Gulf war. I read General de la Billiere's book "Storm Command". in which he explained why an aircraft carrier was not deployed. Frankly, I thought that it was a weak excuse. There is clearly in-fighting on the issue, but the Navy must riot be deterred in its wish to have a more flexible and mobile force.
I suggest that the strike capability of the RAF should be reviewed in the light of my remarks. We need greater flexibility in a fast-changing world. We need replacements for HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid—not by a helicopter carrier, but in addition to a helicopter carrier.
Many hon. Members have spoken of the folly of cutting our reserve forces. I have a Territorial Army unit in Coulsdon in my constituency and I know the commitment of its members. I have served in the Royal Naval Reserve so I know how valuable that force can be. My right hon. and learned Friend the Defence Secretary's opening speech left me slightly confused about the precise future of the reserve forces, so I would welcome any statement on that. Their greatest asset is their low-cost flexibility. When there is an overstretch in the budget and in requirements, as there is at the moment, the reserve forces are good value. It would be madness and action without any reasonable ground to make cuts in the reserve forces when the savings from doing so would be very modest.
I want to say a word on the deployment of Wrens at sea. A number of rather juicy stories have appeared during the summer. I shall quote one or two—such as the couple who deserted HMS Invincible because they fell in love on board ship. Another story stated:The Royal Navy was last night investigating a sex scandal after three Wrens and sailors were caught together on a ship moored off the coast of Britain.Another said:Sailors and Wrens on the aircraft carrier Ark Royal have been disciplined for cuddling.We can only speculate on what the captain's default list must look like when the regulating petty officer charges people with cuddling.
§ Mr. Ottaway
In a moment.
What on earth has happened to Winston Churchill's Royal Navy of rum, bum and baccy? I spent the summer on board HMS Battleaxe. The Wrens on board were competent, hard-working girls who fulfilled their role. However, I must ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces whether the MOD believes that the operational efficiency of the Royal Navy is impaired by the deployment of Wrens at sea. If so, that deployment should be reviewed, especially as the reason for that deployment 102 was manpower shortage in the late 1980s. That shortage no longer exists and we are now making Royal Navy officers and men redundant.
I believe that the defence estimates are realistic. They very much look to the future and the House should do so as well. I support the estimates.
§ Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)
I, too, shall try to observe your stricture on time, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The cold war may have ended, but as a constituent of mine said last week, "I do not feel any safer." At the same time, his job is under threat. Other hon. Members have argued about the changing nature of world security, but I wish to challenge the Government's policy of complacency and drift that is now undermining the vital industries that supply our defence needs.
In Plymouth and throughout the south-west, many people will be following this debate on the Government's spending plans with great interest, because it is the most defence-dependent region in Europe, with 187,000 defence-related jobs. Therefore, any reduction in defence expenditure will have a profound effect in our region.
The House will no doubt remember the recent battle for jobs at Devonport dockyard in my constituency, and at Rosyth dockyard in Scotland. It gave me great pleasure to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) tonight vigorously speaking out for her constituents. I was glad to see her in her place after a period of illness.
After losing 10,000 jobs in the past decade, Devonport felt great relief when it was awarded the Trident refit contract, believing that that would secure the majority of current jobs. Only three months after winning the contract, it was announced last week that the dockyard would shed another 500 jobs by April next year. Several hundred casual contractorised jobs will also go—and there is no promise that that will be the end.
I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will tell the House how the full privatisation that the Secretary of State announced earlier will secure jobs in the Devonport dockyard. Will he tell us how he can keep the undertaking that he made earlier this year to keep a controlling interest in the dockyard that received the nuclear refit contract, when he clearly intends fully to privatise both yards?
In other parts of Plymouth, the Royal Navy armaments depot has been run down, with the loss of hundreds of jobs. Manadon royal naval engineering college is to close in just over two years, with the loss of 200 jobs. The royal naval hospital has closed, with a consequent loss of jobs, and the casualty service that it offered to the local community has disappeared. MOD houses have stood empty for years while the city council struggles to find accommodation for people in the city.
Sadly, that is becoming an all too familiar story. The Tories keep telling us that defence jobs are safe in their hands, yet a few hundred people are laid off here, a naval hospital closes there and buildings are left deserted as the MOD ups camp and moves out with no consultation with the local community.
The truth is that, despite the reassurances from Ministers, thousands of people in the south-west—and hundreds of thousands across the country—have lost their 103 jobs in the defence industries. Jobs will continue to be lost unless we stop the futile arguments about which party would cut more defence jobs.
We must acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. A review of strategy and policy is urgently needed to manage future changes. Nobody now believes the Government when they say that defence jobs are safe with them—not just the 10,000 men and women who lost their jobs at Devonport dockyard in recent years but the thousands of service men and women who have given loyal and often gallant service to their country, and who find that their reward is to be handed a P45 and be given six months' notice of the loss of their accommodation, to enter a world of unemployment.
In the early part of this century, and certainly after the first world war, the south-west saw an increasing military presence. The region geared itself to developing and maintaining the country's defence needs, with a large proportion of its businesses undertaking defence work. In the last few years, the military have beat a hasty retreat from the south-west, leaving a trail of unemployment and desolation in their wake. There is no strategy, coherent plan or consultation with local people and businesses, to ensure that changing defence needs will not automatically bring more redundancies and mass unemployment.
§ Mr. Jamieson
Being more gallant than the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), I will give way to the hon. Lady.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
The hon. Gentleman's crocodile tears over so-called cuts in the defence industry ill suit him. How does he equate his claim with the fact that, for the fifth year running, Labour's annual conference passed a 27 per cent. cut in defence spending, which is the equivalent of £6 billion—more than is spent on any one service in any one year?
§ Mr. Jamieson
I regret giving way to the hon. Lady, because, as I suspected, her intervention proved to be inane. She ought to visit my constituency and remind the tens of thousands of people there who have lost their jobs in the defence industries that for years they have had a Conservative Government, Conservative city council, Conservative county council, Conservative Member of Parliament and even a Conservative MEP. But still thousands of jobs have been lost in my region. The hon. Lady should speak to my constituents about who caused the loss of their jobs. It was not the Labour party but Conservative complacency over the years.
The withdrawal of the military had a devastating effect on the south-west's civilian population. The capacity of our armed forces has been drastically reduced. Unemployment has greatly increased, and the skills base of companies and workers has been seriously eroded. In Plymouth, we have seen all that happen under the Conservatives.
I hope that some of the Tory Members representing constituencies in the south-west who have protested recently and in the past few days about defence cuts will 104 reflect their feelings in the Lobby—or will they, as is so often the case with south-west Tory Members, behave as lions in the south-west and as sheep at Westminster?
The Government are driven by short-term expediency, with no long-term strategy for defence plans and needs. My region has seen Ministry of Defence houses, Manadon college and industrial buildings sold off to make a quick profit—or more often, left to decay—without any consideration of the long-term use to which those properties could be put to the benefit of those left behind when the military pull out. That is why I join the many hon. Members who said tonight that there is a need for a full review of the country's defence requirements and for long-term plans.
We have been reminded tonight that we live in a quickly changing world. The problems and threats that confront us today are different even from those that faced us two or three years ago. Without some strategy, the Government will continue to make Treasury-led cuts in our military and defence industries, to the point where we will no longer have the resources or industrial base to cope with the changes that the future will certainly bring. If we allow our defence industries to continue their dangerous decline, it will not be long before we will be forced to import essential arms from competitors abroad, because our own capacity to produce them had totally disappeared.
There are a number of ways in which the Government could avoid that unthinkable situation and at the same time help safeguard the jobs of those who are still employed on defence work. It is essential that the Government have a diversification strategy, which would undoubtedly help to maintain our defence capability and to secure the development of skills and technology that would otherwise be lost.
It may not cost the Government much to establish such a strategy, but the overall savings to the country and to its economy would be enormous in the long term—and would be much cheaper than permitting the mass unemployment that has plunged our country deeply into debt.
Labour and other Opposition Members have advocated a diversification policy for at least a decade. The Conservatives have often looked to America for policy inspiration, notably in respect of defence and foreign affairs. I hope that they will take note of President Clinton's diversification initiative. The sum of $19 billion has been set aside to pay for retraining programmes, technology investment and economic development incentives to help companies and communities to convert from a defence economy to a civilian economy.
Contrast that with the actions of our own Government. In the defence industrial base debate on 19 May, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said that it would not be right for the Government to invent a diversification strategy, and that defence diversification is best left to the companies concerned, not to Government quangos. I hope that that statement will not impede the Minister's progress in Government, because diversification must be the only area of Government not run by a quango.
More worrying is the Minister's complete lack of understanding of the nature of our defence industries. It is sheer lunacy to suggest that market forces should be allowed to decide the fate of thousands of defence workers. The defence industry was artifically created by the Government, and it relies on the Government as its largest customer. The Government control the market, and as such 105 have an absolute responsibility to manage change, avoid mass unemployment and ensure the survival of capacity for future years.
It is ironic that we have a Conservative Government arguing that market forces alone should determine the fate of defence jobs, yet in America—which has the biggest capitalist free market economy in the world—the Government are spending billions of dollars on diversification, to convert defence industries to civilian industries.
It is time that the Conservatives accepted that their calculations or guesses about levels of defence spending are either hopelessly inaccurate or deliberately dishonest. There is an overwhelming need for the Government to adopt an open and honest policy on defence jobs and defence spending so that the people who work in the industry and those in local communities can plan ahead rather than being laid off at short notice with no prospect of finding other work.
Areas that are heavily dependent on defence must be given funding, either from the Government or from European sources. That is essential to ensure that the communities in which our defence industry is based can adapt to the loss of or changes in employment and the possible knock-on effects on the local economy.
For that reason, the Government should be 100 per cent. behind European Community initiatives such as the KONVER programme, which will release much-needed funds for areas affected by defence cuts. Until now, the Government have been rather half-hearted in their support for the scheme, although we could receive a total of £15 million of aid from it. It is therefore essential that the Government adopt a coherent strategy to ensure that we have the capability to react to any threat should the need arise.
If the defence needs of this country continue to be left to market forces, thousands more defence workers will lose their jobs. We need policies that will ensure that the skills, technology and research and development are transferred from defence to the civilian sector instead of being lost. Without planning, co-operation, investment and a coherent strategy from the Government, our defence industry will wither to the point where we shall cease to be able to respond to our military needs. If the future of our defence companies, defence workers and defence-dependent communities matter to the Government, the Government must act to protect them now.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
I declare two interests. First, I am a parliamentary adviser to Thorn-EMI and, secondly, as a participant in the parliamentary armed forces scheme, I had the privilege of visiting Belize last week under the auspices of 45 Commando Royal Marines.
The role of our armed forces in Belize is a classic example of how well-equipped British troops can maintain the territorial integrity and sovereignty of a weak and relatively poor Commonwealth country with a powerful neighbour which, although it now has diplomatic relations with Belize and has recognised its sovereignty, does not recognise its boundaries. I hope that the British Government will reconsider their abrogation of the defence commitment to Belize and will not only provide training 106 for our forces as envisaged but, if there were a change in international security in the area, would come to that country's defence.
I listened attentively to my right hon. and learned Friend's speech. If I may say so, I thought that it was rather meagre broth. All his colleagues wish him well, but our optimism would have been greater if he had defined the position beyond which he and his ministerial team would not retreat against a Treasury onslaught. That position was not defined, which makes one anxious about the level of the Government's commitment to defence.
My right hon. and learned Friend spoke of classless gongs among other things, but we need to know which equipment programmes are sacrosanct in the eyes of the Ministry of Defence, the force levels below which there will be no further diminution and the roles which will always be maintained by the Government. I am not against savings in the defence budget—far from it. Like some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I recognise the need for the Government to cut public expenditure, but I believe that greater cuts should be made in social security spending rather than defence spending.
If there are to be cuts in defence spending, two considerations can be identified immediately. The first is the boondoggle of the new Procurement Executive headquarters north of Bristol, which, I am told, is to cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
The second, and more important, is our stationing of 25,000 Soldiers and airmen in Germany. If the Government were to announce their intention to initiate a withdrawal from Germany, it would have a wholly salutary effect. It would eliminate the imbalance in our defence dispositions, and would signal to the Russians our belief in their commitment to withdraw their forces from the eastern parts of Germany by the latter part of, I believe, August 1994.
If the Russians reneged on that or stayed in the Baltic states, our phased withdrawal could be reviewed. However, I believe that we should declare our intention to withdraw, and that we should move to a strategy of "defense a tous azimuts", as General Ailleret, the former French chief of staff, described it—an omnidimensional defence strategy.
What would such a strategy entail? First, it would entail a nuclear element, because deterrence is paramount. For deterrence to be effective, it must be graduated deterrence. One cannot have just the upper component—a strategic delivery system or a quasi-strategic system, which is what the Government propose by replacing the tactical air-to-surface missile with a modified form of Trident. One has to be able to offer an appropriate response at every level of the threat in order to be able to deter.
Secondly, there must be the defence of the United Kingdom base, which will require effective air defence and defence of the sea lanes and contiguous seas, involving anti-submarine warfare, mine counter-measures, and maritime attack and maritime air defence.
Thirdly, we shall need appropriate intervention forces, either to intervene on the continent or to act in support of the United Nations or Western European Union, or, conceivably, further afield. That must mean an effective amphibious contribution with not just a landing platform, helicopters, but two new landing platform dock vessels, air transport—perhaps the C130J in the short term and, in the longer term, the Euroflag strategic freighter—and a sufficiency of helicopters, both utility helicopters and dedicated attack helicopters.
107 Fourthly, we shall need an expansion capability—sufficient reserves. I will not go on about that; other hon. Members have spoken eloquently. However, I believe that those reserves should include a flying element for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
Fifthly, there is the maintenance of a defence industrial base. To expand militarily in this uncertain world, one needs to expand not only manpower, but material, and to have the industrial capability to do so.
I must return to the element in our defence which I believe to be paramount and which has always been paramount for the Conservative party—our nuclear deterrent. The inviolability of our nuclear deterrent was something of which Conservatives were proud. It was the Opposition, both Labour and Liberal, who were unreliable about nuclear deterrence. I believe that, strategically, we Tories are now being unreliable, and I will say why.
First, an air-launched system, such as TASM, is the only one that is truly flexible. If we wish to remain a serious independent nuclear power on a par with France, regardless of any broader strategic or tactical considerations, to rely on Trident alone is unwise. To put all the country's nuclear eggs in one basket is to run the risk of being overtaken by advances in anti-submarine warfare, in mine warfare or in anti-ballistic missile defence, or of being hit by a sudden technical or mechanical failure.
Secondly, there is visibility. The mere deployment of aircraft that are known or thought to be nuclear-capable close to areas where a threat of chemical warfare or of nuclear attack exists is a clearer deterrent and a clearer signal to a potential aggressor than any submarine-launched system could be.
Thirdly, there is survivability. An air-launched stand-off weapon can avoid both anti-ballistic missile defences and anti-aircraft and surface-to-air missiles. Of course, it also constitutes a major insurance against global anti-missile defences.
Fourthly, there is credibility. If we can only threaten the ultimate—the launching of, in essence, a strategic system —it is not as credible a deterrent in any sense as aircraft.
Fifthly, air launched systems must be adaptable. They must be conventionally capable as well as nuclear-capable. The same cannot be said of submarines.
Sixthly, aircraft have the advantage of mobility. They can be deployed rapidly with air-to-air refuelling to the furthest theatre in a way that submarines cannot.
Last but not least, NATO's new strategic concept specifically calls for an up-to-date mix of nuclear weapons. If we rely on Trident alone, we do not have it.
We should realise that the signs are that our American friends are reducing, at least politically, their commitment to western Europe. It is not the time for us to diminish our defences. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will draw the appropriate conclusions.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
We are debating this year's defence estimates a short time after debating last year's defence estimates. That is slightly unusual. We are presented with estimates of £23,401,000,000, or 4 per cent. of gross domestic product. That is a small reduction on past years. In future years we 108 expect a much larger reduction, but it has not yet happened. We still spend 4 per cent. of gross domestic product on military expenditure through the estimates every year.
Tomorrow's order paper will include an amendment that I have tabled to this year's estimates. It calls for new estimates to be drawn up which reflect the need for massive reductions in spending and specifically requests that estimates be presented which bring British planned expenditure down to at least the European average, as a prelude to greater cuts in further years. Crucially, it calls for the establishment of an arms conversion agency to convert jobs in the arms industry to more socially useful work, the concellation of Trident, the decommissioning of nuclear weapons, and the ending of nuclear tests.
The whole strategy of the United Kingdom is wrong. There should be a serious defence review to examine the levels of expenditure. Britain is racked with a debate about the future of the social security system and the welfare state. Health service expenditure is constantly under threat as one local hospital after another closes. There is a decline in the standard of the normal infrastructure in Britain, from drainage to the railways and the roads and every other thing because as a country we have become obsessed with a high level of military expenditure and the direction of skills and research into military might that is not necessary.
In managing the changes in the industries of Britain, the Government have done nothing to look to the skills of those who work in the defence industries. Instead, the Government have allowed market forces to let rip. Thousands of highly skilled workers who in the past made aircraft or other forms of military technology, especially in avionics, are being made redundant. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) said, they are now mostly driving minicabs or queuing at the unemployment exchanges. It is mad. It is an evasion of all responsibility for the Government to say, "Leave it all to market forces; they will sort the problem out." Market forces will not and cannot sort the problem out.
We must have an arms conversion agency which will look seriously at the skills that exist, the investment that is being made, and the potential for making more socially useful products in those shipyards and aircraft and other factories. It is irresponsible to do anything other than that. The Government simply say that market forces will solve the whole problem.
Market forces are driven by the market and the desire of some people to make a great deal of money. If that money is made by selling off land—as in the case of British Aerospace and Royal Ordnance—that is how people will make the money. They do not give a damn about the skills of the people who worked in those industries. That is why the amendment that I have tabled argues strongly, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) argued, the case for a serious arms conversion agency that will involve those who work in the industry, local authorities and others. I hope that we shall get that in the future. I must say that, given this Government's approach, I very much doubt it.
Today's debate has revealed that, apparently, it has been decided to cancel the TASM project. If that is so, I wish that the Government at least had the honesty to make that clear. If it has been cancelled, my reaction would be, "So far, so good." The Government should go further, however, and look at the principle behind nuclear weapons.
I object not just to the costs associated with nuclear weapons and their development, but to the principle of 109 having them. Those weapons have been used only twice in war: in 1945, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and 60,000 people were killed in each city. Indeed, people are still dying as a result of those nuclear explosions, which were tiny in comparison with those that would be caused by the nuclear warheads available today.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)
They have not been used again because they have kept the peace.
§ Mr. Corbyn
That is not so. Those weapons have done nothing but create greater and greater dangers and cause many instances of destruction and cancer arising from nuclear testing. I am glad that the United States Administration are now trying to call a halt to nuclear testing, although the British Government want to continue with it. I hope that we shall have a total ban on such testing in the future.
The Government estimate that, so far, the capital costs associated with the Trident nuclear missile programme stand at £10 billion, but Greenpeace estimates that £16 billion has been spent. The Government also estimate that running costs of £5.7 billion have been incurred, while Greenpeace estimates that £15.2 billion has been spent. We are faced with the most incredible potential expenditure of £30 billion on that programme.
I must ask those who are devoted to nuclear weapons and to the Trident system: who is the enemy against whom this enormous firepower will be directed? Answer is there none, because there is no enemy in sight, but those people need to create one. For that reason, many research institutes look around the world for potential enemies against whom those awful weapons can be targeted.
If such a weapon is used at any time, the result is completely useless because it kills the people who fire it in as great numbers as those against whom it is fired. That was revealed at Chernobyl, and that explosion was tiny in comparison with the explosive power of current nuclear warheads.
We must take nuclear proliferation seriously. Trident represents the greatest proliferation and is contrary to the spirit of the non-proliferation treaty. We should call a halt to Trident now so that the money spent can be used for arms conversion while the money saved in the future could be used to rebuild the social infrastructure and industrial base of our society. That is far better than continuing with mass unemployment and the poverty that goes with it.
There is a poison surrounding the nuclear industry. I think of that poor man, Mordechai Vanunu, who is still in prison in Israel, in solitary confinement, because he dared to speak the truth about the Israeli development of nuclear weapons. What is being done to assist him in gaining his freedom?
The Government are poised to make a decision on THORP. I hope that they will decide not to go ahead with that plant, but I believe that its development is linked to nuclear missiles. I hope that we can turn our backs once and for all on the horrors of nuclear weapons and nuclear wars by cancelling Trident, decommissioning Polaris and declaring ourselves a non-nuclear country. That might assist any moral force that we might like to bring to the non-proliferation process. It would certainly do more in that respect than would be gained by developing Trident.
What hypocrisy it is for us to go around the world and say that we do not believe that anyone else should have nuclear weapons when, by the way, we have duplicated 110 fivefold the number of such weapons that we hold. That is nonsense and hypocritical. If we want to put a stop to nuclear proliferation, we should stop our own nuclear arms production.
We have been told many times that arms exports are the foundation for many jobs and potential prosperity. I would question the effect that high levels of expenditure on arms and defence-related research has had on British industry. We are less efficient and less advanced than those countries which have spent far less on arms development. Money invested in socially useful production would lead to better standards of living and a more harmonious society than that offered by the continued obsession with developing the arms trade.
There are those who say that the development of a revised version of Tornado or of the European fighter aircraft will create markets for the future. It is no good calling for expenditure for exports today if tomorrow we condemn Indonesia for bombing East Timor from planes that have been provided by this or any other country. The link between a high level of arms exports and abuses of human rights by the vile regimes which buy the weapons cannot be denied.
There are those who talk of the end-user certificate system. I draw their attention to an article in Defence News, issue dated 27 September to 3 October, by Alessandro Politti. The article describes the present situation in Italy. Following the scandal of illegal arms sales to Iran in 1987, a strict system of end-user certificates for the monitoring of sales was developed. That is apparently now to be cancelled to allow Italy to increase its arms exports. We have seen the effect of arms exports on Iraq. It is time that we called an end to arms exports and started to develop the more peaceful opportunities that are available.
The world is a troubled and divided place. I will conclude with this thought. As we speak, the poorest of the poor countries in the world are getting poorer. There is more unemployment, poverty, homelessness and hunger. Resources are being transferred rapidly from the poor to the rich. Most conflicts stem from poverty and from arguments about resources and power. If one tenth of the money that this country is putting into the defence estimates had gone to the people of Somalia and the other countries that were facing terrible economic strife in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps there would not be the awful conflicts in that region now.
We should be dedicating ourselves to a peaceful world, rather than arming ourselves for war upon war upon war. We should deal with the basic problems of the planet. I hoped at least that there would be a defence review. The review could look at what is, I believe, the unanswerable case for a large reduction in Britain's military spending to make an example to the rest of the world.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
It is good to hear that the voice of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is still alive and well on the Opposition benches.
A feature of the debate has been the common theme throughout, and if anything that will send a strong message to the Treasury. The theme struck by hon. Members should be welcomed by my right hon. and learned Friend the 111 Secretary of State and by his Ministers. If that unanimity continues, his arm will be strengthened in his dealings with the Treasury.
Although we welcome the new format for this year's White Paper—it was certainly much easier to understand —the House should be concerned that it was so late in publication. That meant that the members of the Select Committee had to get on their running shoes to digest it and produce a report. We have done so, and in time for today's debate.
It seems that a fundamental flaw in the White Paper, which was also the theme of many hon. Members during the debate, was the absence of an overall defence strategy. I would suggest that, when the White Paper on defence is debated in future, the Foreign Secretary should open the debate and not the Secretary of State for Defence. The Secretary of State for Defence should wind up the debate and comment on hon. Members' remarks.
My right hon. and Learned Friend's new proposition is that the defence of this country falls into three distinct roles. Role 1 is the defence of the realm and of our dependent territories. Role 2 is our obligation in a wider sphere to Europe and to NATO. Role 3 is our international commitment. If we accept that proposition, the third role needs to be defined clearly, and the best person to do that is the Foreign Secretary.
I am concerned that that role is not clearly defined at the moment. There have been calls for a full-scale defence review, but I contend that such a review should be taking place day by day and night by night. It should be constant; it should never stop. I also feel that it would reassure the House if, at the beginning of our defence debates, the Foreign Secretary explained in the broadest terms from the Dispatch Box precisely what our security role is in the world at large.
As regards role 3—our obligation to take part in United Nations peacekeeping and peacemaking activities—we, an international trading nation, have as great an interest as any country in world peace. That is why I believe that our commitment to take part in UN peacekeeping and peacemaking operations is very important to us. A study of the figures in the defence White Paper—and particularly in table 5—reveals that the resources in terms of men, materials and money being devoted to role 3 are zero. That means that such commitments can be fulfilled only at the cost of taking men, materials and resources from our commitment to role 1—the defence of the realm—and role 2. That is very dangerous, especially taking into account the fact that, this year alone, regional defence activities —which would come under role 3—are costing £3,700 million. Where are the money and the resources to fulfil that additional role to come from? That question urgently needs answering.
I welcome the rest of the defence White Paper. I certainly applaud its new format. I also welcome the remarks that the Secretary of State was able to make today. I am concerned, though, about the additional strains on our armed forces and on their ability to fulfil roles 1 and 2. If we are to start taking part in international peacekeeping commitments, we must bear in mind the strains that are being felt by service men and their families—especially those on emergency tours in Northern Ireland and Bosnia —and the profound effect on morale.
112 Morale is already low, and the impact of low morale on recruitment will be severe. If nothing is done, it will be not the Treasury but the lack of recruits that ultimately cuts our armed forces. I know from experience and from my postbag just how many families are concerned about the impact on morale.
No one has so far paid tribute to a certain lady called Annie Armstrong, the agony aunt in Soldier magazine, who died in May this year. I think that it is appropriate to do so at this point. Annie did terrific work on behalf of service men's families, and she will be greatly missed. I very much hope that someone with her courage and determination can don her mantle.
I want to say something about procurement. We have heard a lot of talk about the importance of our defence industry and the need to maintain our defence industrial base. I accept all that, and I realise that, as defence contraction takes place, there is a need to ensure that those factories still maintain viability so that they are there to increase defence output should the need arise. However, I totally reject the idea of Government intervention to help that.
In the spring, I visited the United States as a member of the Select Committee on Defence. We heard from the Americans about their plans for conversion, as they call it —in other words, diversification by the defence industries into civilian output. We have heard reference from the Opposition Benches to a figure of $19 billion, which the American President has committed to those proposals. We found no evidence that that was proving effective, and there was much criticism about the waste of resources. We have to think very carefully about that before we are even tempted to take such a path. It can be wasteful and counter-productive.
In conclusion, I shall mention the EH101 helicopter. In the early hours of the morning during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, I told my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement that I hoped that there would be no more speeches about the EH101 helicopter, yet still no decision has been made.
In Defence Industry Digest, which appeared on the bookstalls a couple of days ago, I saw a report which says:SUPPORT HELICOPTERS. The wait may be over. At the time of going to press, reliable sources were claiming that the MoD had finally agreed on the purchase of 25 EH101 utility helicopters for the Royal Air Force and moreover was pressing the Netherlands to order 17 of them.I know that the Secretary of State has been to Westland; he was there only last Wednesday. I hope that what he saw and heard will enable him to confirm that order. I also hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, in replying to the debate, will be able to confirm that the specification for that aircraft is exactly as required, which will make his job of confirming the order even easier.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) and I both serve on the Select Committee on Defence. There is a unanimous view in that Committee that all is not well in British defence policy, and the unanimous opinion that has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House during the debate is that United Kingdom defence policy is a shambles and must be put right.
113 We have the amazing situation in which we have the ability to destroy Moscow—and any other centre with anti-ballistic missile protection—in the certain knowledge that such an attack would achieve global destruction, but our armed forces are seriously overstretched in their efforts to keep peace in Northern Ireland and undertake humanitarian or peacemaking duties for the United Nations in Bosnia or elsewhere. Frankly, the notion of our leading role in the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps is now barely credible, and if it is barely credible now it will be even less credible if the Chancellor has his way with further cuts in the defence budget this month.
The idea that an independent British nuclear deterrent was strategically vital always was a bit far-fetched, but, as Russian tanks turn their guns on their own Parliament, it seems unlikely that our Polaris force has much influence on matters in that city today.
The Labour party was right to oppose the acquisition of the Trident system, and I wholeheartedly welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State for Defence today that the tactical air-to-surface missile programme is to be abandoned. The global destructive power of the Royal Navy is beyond our wildest nightmares, without any need to double it up with another generation of RAF nuclear weapons.
Some of my hon. Friends may be deluding themselves, however, about the potential savings that could be achieved by cutting the Trident programme at this state in our career. We have the damn thing, whether we want it or not, and we are committed to paying for it, so I urge the Government to save whatever they can by perhaps reducing the number of boats to be built, and by keeping patrols to a minimum.
Indeed, why on earth do we need to patrol under present circumstances? I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) that we should explore the scope for sharing a European deterrent with our NATO "colleagues" in France, but I recognise that there is not much money to be saved there—certainly not as much as some people would like to think.
As to the RAF and stand-off missiles, while I do not think that there ever was much justification for a nuclear-capable TASM, manifestly the RAF urgently needs an accurate conventional stand-off capability. We saw the kind of attacks that the RAF had to carry out in the Gulf and we should not expect our airmen to attack well-defended installations from close range in such circumstances.
Therefore, staff requirement 1242 should be a priority. The United Arab Emirates, God bless them, have paid for the development of an ideal family of stand-off weapons by GEC-Marconi to be manufactured in this country, employing not only some of my constituents but also some constituents of the Secretary of State for Defence. So there is a case for considering the acquisition of such weapons urgently, and I hope that the MOD will actively and urgently pursue that option.
I make that point because I am acutely aware of the instability prevailing in Europe and many other parts of the world. I also recognise the proper anxiety of our people that the United Kingdom should fulfil its role within NATO in helping the United Nations to deter and, when necessary, resist aggression and oppression in different parts of the world. We need our conventional forces and defence industrial base, but we are treating them disgracefully. The Select Committee has ample evidence 114 of overstretch in our forces. We have seen it over and again. We also have evidence of the need to sustain and, in some cases, augment our conventional capabilities.
I am concerned about naval ships—destroyers, frigates and particularly minesweepers. We should be looking at that area more. We should also consider the capacity of the RAF. Some hon. Members have referred to the need for a replacement of Hercules transport aircraft and helicopters. I am aware of the problem of the reserves, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) talked about the parlous state of employment in the royal dockyards and other defence industries.
I am particularly concerned about the continuing misery caused by overstretch in the Army. As a Scot, I take this opportunity to reassert the overwhelming case for retaining the Queen's Own Highlanders and the Gordon Highlanders. The addback that took place last year was manifestly insufficient in view of the task that we expect of our forces.
I am appalled by the ill-considered salami slicing being undertaken by the Ministry of Defence on the instructions of the Treasury. The House would not let a Labour Government get away with handling Britain's defence in that way. If the House is to do its duty, it will not let a Conservative Government get away with abusing Britain's defence, either. We have heard from both sides of the House again and again in this debate that we need a proper defence review. We should not restructure our forces purely on Treasury diktat. That is what the House should demand.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)
In his opening speech, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence spoke of the force restructuring that is taking place to reflect the end of the cold war and of the difficulty of predicting the future. There are new risks and commitments, but there has beer a further reduction in the risks to the United Kingdom even since we announced the details of our plans for force restructuring in 1991.
My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned the need to balance our capabilities with our commitments, which was a key theme of the White Paper "Defending our Future". May I begin by reviewing in more detail the commitments element of that balance. First, I pay tribute to the 24 hon. Members who have spoken in the first half of this defence debate. In their way they have all spoken with passion, and the country's defence is the stronger for it.
The global chart on pages 12 and 13 of "Defending our Future" gives an idea of the breadth of our commitments across the world: from forces conducting operations in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Iraq to forces deployed in central Europe to provide our insurance against the re-emergence of a major external threat in the long term; from the garrison in the Falkland Islands, all the way to exercises in Norway, from deployments in north America to our presence in Hong Kong. For each commitment there is an explicit policy rationale, which has been set out in chapters 3, 4 and 5 of the document.
However, that does not mean that policies cannot be changed or commitments adjusted. We keep all our commitments and their associated force levels under review. Indeed, in the past year or so we have seen a number of reductions in our force levels and overseas commitments.
115 Let me mention a few examples. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred to Belize, where our military presence is being reduced gradually to take account of the changing security environment in the region. In particular, Guatemala's recognition of Belize as a sovereign state in 1991, which was endorsed by the Guatemalan congress in November last year, has greatly changed the situation.
I can say from personal experience, from my visit to the British garrison last month, that the evolution of our presence in Belize is proceeding extremely well, with tremendous co-operation and good will on both sides. I was able to announce that, in January 1994, the Belize defence forces will assume responsibility for the defence of their own country, and by October 1994 our garrison will have been reduced to a training team of some 100 personnel. We envisage that those personnel will be joined by a company-sized training group of 120 soldiers, who will train on regular detachments throughout the year. That amounts to a total of just over 200 personnel, which is still a sizeable presence.
My visit brought home to me the skill and professionalism shown by our forces there, who are carrying out their tasks of preparing for the changes ahead with enormous dedication and application. That reinforced my experience of the professionalism of British forces elsewhere, a subject to which I will return later.
Our service men are clearly respected and are excellent ambassadors for our country. I hope that the House will join me in expressing our thanks and appreciation for a job very well done. Our service personnel on loan to the Belize defence force are working in a difficult and challenging environment and they are clearly doing an excellent job with great courage and good humour.
The challenge is no less great for the partners and families of British forces in Belize, who cope equally well and for whom I have the greatest admiration. It is a tribute to all their efforts that British forces continue to be made so welcome in Belize.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)
While my hon. Friend is on the subject of Belize, will he tell the House whether the British Government are prepared to guarantee the security of Belize after we have left that ex-colony? My understanding is that our present commitments run out in 1994 and I am sure that the Government of Belize will be pressing Her Majesty's Government—if they have not already done so—to continue to support them in the event of invasion. I would welcome my hon. Friend's reassurance on that.
§ Mr. Hanley
I know that my hon. Friend will be studying Belize in even more detail early next year. Being prepared to respond to changing circumstances means not only being ready to deploy forces where necessary, but, as in the case of Belize, recognising when the time is right for our forces to be withdrawn.
Our forces were sent to Belize and we took on the responsibility when it gained its independence 12 years ago, and we have carried on that responsibility. We were there because of the Guatemalan threat. Belize has come a long way since independence and is justly proud of its achievements and its hopes and aims for the future.
§ Mr. Hanley
I am coming to the answer. I am convinced that Belize will carry forward its responsibilities with maturity and determination.
I believe that the international community—this is a serious point, particularly for the people of Belize—and especially Belize's many friends in north and central America, share our pleasure that the relationship between Belize and Guatemala has improved. I am equally sure that the international community will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that Belize continues to prosper as an independent sovereign state. We will enter into discussions with those interested in the region to ensure that Belize is not let down. We do not let down our friends.
We have decided that we no longer need to retain an armoured reconnaisance squadron within the sovereign base area in Cyprus, and we have been able to reduce our force levels commensurately. That in no way implies a lessening of the importance that we attach to our presence there, but is a sensible reappraisal of what is required in operational and security terms.
Also in Cyprus, we have been able to rationalise our contribution to the United Nations force, reducing our numbers by almost half by the end of this year while maintaining our strong commitment to peace in Cyprus through the United Nations.
The House will be interested to note that our troops will be working alongside an Argentine contingent for the first time, which is a clear example of desirable and improved relationships.
As the House knows, the garrison in Hong Kong will be completely withdrawn by 30 June 1997. In the meantime, British forces are being reduced in stages as local forces assume responsibility for its former operational tasks. To that end we plan to reduce the number of infantry battalions in Hong Kong from the present three to a single battalion by September 1994. Units of all three services will remain there until its handover to China in 1997.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
As the Minister knows, the Hong Kong garrison supplies a small detachment to South Korea for ceremonial purposes, et cetera—whatever the "et cetera" means. Does the Minister's commitment on withdrawal from Hong Kong by 1997 mean that by then we should have resolved the armistice with North Korea and have signed a peace agreement?
§ Mr. Hanley
I think that we must solve one problem at a time. As far as the exact answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is concerned, I shall let him know what happens to that particular commitment. I imagine that it would be removed as the commitment to Hong Kong is removed.
We have also carried out overseas United Nations observer mission contributions in Western Sahara, Sinai and Cambodia. We have carried out our work there with great dedication. It is in line with our policy of entering into commitments for a limited time-scale and with the concept that such peacekeeping tasks should be shared between nations.
Other areas continue to make significant demands on our armed forces. In Northern Ireland in particular we continue to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the fight against terrorism. We have some 19,000 service men and women currently deployed in the Province, including some 18 units of battalion size in the infantry role. That constitutes the armed forces' largest peacetime commitment.
117 Much has been said in the House before now on the bravery and dedication of personnel serving in Northern Ireland. I believe that that is a subject to which we shall return regularly and keep at the forefront of our minds. I am fairly well placed to pay tribute to the people who risk their lives every day in supporting the RUC to ensure the preservation of law, order and democracy. After all, in 1992, six soldiers were murdered and a further 320 injured while serving there. There were more than 350 awards for gallantry and meritorious conduct. The Army's bomb disposal teams were called out on 1,544 occasions and neutralised some six tonnes of explosives.
In Bosnia, all three services are contributing to the distribution of humanitarian aid and the peace process as a whole. The battalion group in Bosnia has been a familiar sight on our television screens over the past year. Its white painted Warrior armoured vehicles have come to symbolise hope midst despair. Our soldiers have displayed remarkable professionalism and restraint in dealing with all sides of the internecine conflict in the former Yugoslavia. They deserve the unqualified thanks of the British people for what they have done.
Let us not forget the contributions of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in providing support to forces on the ground in Bosnia, in participating in the NATO maritime and air operations in the area and in playing a major part in the humanitarian airlift to Sarajevo. It is no surprise to me to see that, during his recent talk to the Royal United Services, Institute, General Morillon, the former commander-in-chief of the UN forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, paid particular tribute to the support that he received from the UK. contingent. The British forces in the former Yugoslavia are rightly held in the highest regard by all other nations involved. That was rnade abundantly clear to me during my recent visit to the region, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State referred in his opening speech.
I found my visit immensely valuable. I was able to see for myself the arduous circumstances in which British forces are carrying out their important tasks, assess at first hand the risks that they face, which are greater than I had thought, confirm that they do so willingly—far more willingly than I had thought—and to confirm that they have all they need to do their jobs, and see what they achieve.
My programme for the four days included a visit to the RAF detachment at Ancona and Gioia del Colle in Italy. I joined a Hercules relief flight into Sarajevo, where I had the brief opportunity to see for myself the appalling humanitarian situation. At Gioia, I visited our RAF Tornado F3 and Jaguar detachments and they are both performing excellent tasks. The Tornados fly around the clock in all weathers to retain the integrity of the no-fly zone over Bosnia and the Jaguars fly training and reconnaissance missions over Bosnia in readiness, if required, to carry out close air support operations.
From Italy, I moved to our forces in Bosnia and Croatia. I travelled by Warrior over the 55 km road between Tomislavgrad and Gorni Vakuf, which the Royal Engineers converted from a mountain goat trail. That that road was constructed in less than six months and now supports the vast majority of aid transported between Bosnia and Croatia is an incredible feat, to which the hon. Member for South Shields (I)r. Clark) rightly referred. The Sappers may feel that they are not the most glamorous part of our armed forces, but I can tell the House that, without 118 them, little aid would be getting through to central and eastern Bosnia and countless lives would be lost. They deserve our tributes.
There is no doubt that the task facing our battalion group in Bosnia and those who support it is particularly frustrating. Conditions on the ground vary from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour and there are times when little aid can be got through to those who need it. What was also, sadly, quite apparent to me is that there are hardly any innocent parties among the warring factions in Bosnia. Despite this, and despite the risks that our forces face daily, if not hourly, it was also clear to me that their mission remains viable overall. I am also confident that they have the equipment and support that they need to accomplish it. They want to do that.
I also had the opportunity to visit the men and women on board HMS Invincible, on station in the Adriatic. I was most impressed by the manner in which the task group is undertaking its mission. In Zagreb, I was able to have most useful discussions with Mr. Susak, the Croatian Defence Minister, and with General Cot, the commander of UNPROFOR. I was also pleased to have the chance to call on our British field ambulance unit shortly before its redeployment at the end of September after a total of 15 months in which British units have served in this role, and to thank it for a job well done. Throughout my visit, as with many of my visits in September, I was immensely impressed with, and very proud of, the attitude, professionalism and determination of our forces.
§ Mr. Macdonald
While he was in Zagreb, did the Minister receive any requests from UNPROFOR representatives for the field ambulance unit to be retained in position in Bosnia and Croatia, and, if so, what was his reaction?
§ Mr. Hanley
Our field ambulance unit was there for 15 months and the United Nations accepted that it would be exchanged for another unit. The Americans are now there. We have left behind, in a supervisory role, four members of the unit. The unit did tremendous work, but it was time for it to come home. I believe that that was the right policy. If the hon. Gentleman meant to ask whether people wanted us to continue doing the job, the answer to that question is yes, because there is no doubt that the unit achieved a great deal of good in Croatia.
The services, particularly those in Bosnia and Croatia, have tremendous leadership but the individual men and women there are tackling thankless and often frustrating tasks with the patience and stoicism that matches their skill and courage. Many of them are regularly in the public eye, but others in support roles are not. My visit to Yugoslavia made clear to me the tremendous professionalism and ability of our troops. Much is said about morale—in particular that morale in the armed forces is fragile—but when one sees members of the armed forces doing what they joined up to do, and when they know that they are saving lives and doing good, my goodness me, one feels proud of them.
It was also revealing, but not surprising, that the former Yugoslavia was a key preoccupation in Washington when I called in there on my return from Belize for discussions with members of the new Administration. I also had the opportunity to discuss the recent review of the United States armed forces—the "bottom-up" review. We discussed some equipment issues and we gained an 119 important insight into the United States views on NATO. The recent review reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to NATO and to stationing United States forces in Europe. That commitment is vital and it was clear from my talks that it remains a heartfelt commitment.
§ Mr. Hanley
There is not much time, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to make a small point, he may do so.
§ Mr. Martlew
I am grateful. The hon. Gentleman said that there have been 24 speeches today. When will he address the issues raised in them?
§ Mr. Hanley
The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) will also know that this debate goes on for a couple of days, so there is lots of time yet. I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman's more complete contribution tomorrow.
The hon. Gentleman interrupted me just as I was about to mention the special relationship that we have with the United States. The commitment of the United States to basing forces in Europe is vital and it was clear from those talks that it remains a heartfelt commitment. We do not underestimate the importance or value of that special relationship and will continue to work hard to protect it.
Whatever differences there may have been over Bosnia earlier in the year, Britain and the United States have agreed on a policy of trying to secure a negotiated settlement, while sustaining the humanitarian relief effort and working together to promote that. Many nations are trying to help in Yugoslavia and, of course, we should not fall out because we are tackling those difficult tasks together. That special relationship is vital to the security of Europe and is one reason why we have no clear enemy at the moment.
Another part of the armed forces that I was able to see was the west Indian guardship, which is now in the Caribbean. HMS Active is a marvellous frigate and I am grateful for the special welcome that the Americans give our ships when we visit Miami or Key West. I was left in no doubt about the admiration felt by the United States navy and coast guards for the professionalism of the Royal Navy and the quality of the ship and her equipment. Those comments also apply to HMS Cumberland, which has recently returned.
The House will be aware that United Kingdom forces continue to contribute to coalition air operations in the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. The House will also know that while operations in Northern Ireland and Bosnia attract the greatest media attention and are therefore what most people recognise about the armed forces, the forces also carry out a lot of unglamorous work. After all, sometimes the vital functionss that the armed forces are able to perform in the civil community in the United Kingdom are not recognised, but they should be. In 120 the past week, at the request of the Metropolitan police, following severe flooding in the home counties area, the Household Cavalry Regiment, which is stationed near Windsor, provided overnight shelter and breakfast to families who had been evacuated from their homes.
On the following night, at the request of the National Rivers Authority, soldiers from the postal and courier depot at Mill Hill turned out with vehicles provided by the Royal Logistics Corps transport regiment to fill sand bags. There are a lot of roles that we carry out—there are 50 in the White Paper. We carry out those roles with great dedication and use our forces efficiently and effectively.
In the few minutes left, I shall refer to one or two speeches made earlier. I shall, however, refer to some of those speeches tomorrow, should I continue to hold the floor.
One speech that I found especially interesting was that made by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). It was unfair of some people to say that his speech was not a typical Labour party policy speech, because exactly what he said and the motion that he has tabled for consideration tomorrow was carried by 79.923 per cent. of the party at its recent conference. Only 15 per cent. of the Labour party opposed his views. It was therefore interesting that the hon. Member for Islington, North spoke of the genuine view of the Labour party.
May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) that the future of the Royal Marines school of music is still under consideration and that the study will take account of the overall review of naval infrastructure and of the changing need for training of military musicians.
Also with respect to my hon. Friend, we have announced the numbers of frigates in the defence estimates. Seven type 23s are currently in service and a further six are on order. Further orders are planned, but no decisions have yet been taken on their size or timing. We hope to be in a position to invite tenders for a further batch of type 23s next year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) and other hon. Members spoke of our defence commitments. The figures are well known: my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and I announced them before we broke for the summer recess. Emergency tours will be 19 months for 1993–94, approximately 20 months for 1994–95 and could go up to 29 months in 1995–96.
We are considering our policy on reserves. My right hon. and learned Friend has issued a consultation paper and we should be grateful for replies from hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) mentioned batch 2 Trafalgar class SSNs. Following the completion of design options, studies are being considered on the way forward. Subject to the outcome, we expect to invite—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.