HC Deb 10 May 1994 vol 243 cc147-9
11. Mr. Mackinlay

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made as regards Britain's capacity to meet her own defence needs and her political obligations and military contributions to international peacekeeping.

Mr. Rifkind

The Government are confident that our armed forces are fully able to carry out the broad range of operations that they currently undertake.

Mr. Mackinlay

Did the Secretary of State notice that, during the poorly reported Army debate last week, Conservative Back Bencher after Conservative Back Bencher spoke about the crisis of morale among our service men and service women and their concern about the arbitrary withdrawal of units? Is there not a need, demonstrated by his own colleagues, for a fundamental review of our armed services to match commitments with resources?

Mr. Rifkind

What I noticed about the Army debate last week was that, so unconcerned are the massed ranks of the Labour party in the interests of the Army, hardly a single Labour Member graced the Opposition Benches. I am also conscious that the Labour party can hardly speak with authority about those matters when the European socialist manifesto, personally signed by the Leader of the Opposition, calls for further reductions in the fighting capability of our armed forces.

Mr. Churchill

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time to sit down and reflect on whether it is appropriate that millions of hours of military and civilian officials' time and many more millions of pounds are being squandered in this ghastly Treasury-driven "Front Line First" exercise? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his time and that of his Ministers, his officials and the military brass would be better devoted to ensuring that our forces in the front line have the equipment that they require? Specifically, is not it unsatisfactory and unacceptable that British military aircraft should be sent into combat over Bosnia without the means of self-protection against missiles, which could be provided for a fraction of what has been spent by his Department on management consultants in recent years?

Mr. Rifkind

The second part of my hon. Friend's question was totally inconsistent and incompatible with the first part of his question. The whole point of the "Front Line First" study is to ensure—as I am sure my hon. Friend would wish—that resources within the Ministry of Defence are concentrated on the needs of the front line of our fighting forces in a way that I believe that my hon. Friend will applaud fully.

Mr. Home Robertson

While the Minister is seeking advice on those matters, is he absolutely satisfied that it is appropriate for him to be recruiting into his Department as a civil servant someone who has recently been a high-profile party politician in the city of Edinburgh?

Mr. Rifkind

As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, anyone who applies to the civil service for employment is assessed against exactly the same criteria, irrespective of his or her personal or political background.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Does the Secretary of State accept that, increasingly, the defence needs of the United Kingdom will be met by closer co-operation with our European allies? In that respect, may I congratulate him on his frankness yesterday, particularly in the rather febrile atmosphere of the moment, in acknowledging that a common defence policy was an inevitable consequence of the Maastricht treaty and that a common defence policy will be a key subject for discussion at the intergovernmental conference of 1996?

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. and learned Gentleman had fully acquainted himself with the facts, as he normally does, he would appreciate that yesterday the United Kingdom successfully insisted on ensuring that any development of European co-operation should happen within the framework of the Atlantic alliance. Any proposal for closer European co-operation that undermined that alliance would be unacceptable to Her Majesty's Government both now and in the future.

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