HC Deb 10 May 1994 vol 243 cc143-4
6. Mr. Gill

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to be in a position to make a statement on "Front Line First".

Mr. Rifkind

I expect to be able to make a statement on the outcome of the defence costs study before the House rises for the summer recess.

Mr. Gill

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend would be the first to agree that far more important to the armed services than reviews and studies is an undertaking that there will be adequate funds for them to discharge their responsibilities in the future. Given that defence is the essential insurance policy that this country cannot afford to be without, would he consider it unreasonable to spend no less than 10 per cent. of national annual expenditure on our defence forces?

Mr. Rifkind

Clearly, the expenditure that is made available must be related to the commitments of our armed forces. There is a clear contrast between Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Opposition. The Government have given an unequivocal assurance that there will be no further reductions in the fighting capability of our armed forces. The Opposition have given no such assurance in relation to the defence review that they wish to initiate, which would presumably result in serious and savage cuts to the fighting capability of our armed forces.

Mr. Macdonald

Given the emphasis placed on contractorisation as part of "Front Line First", will the Secretary of State give a commitment that he will not approve any major reduction of the facilities at the Royal Artillery range in the Hebrides, but that a full contractorisation study will be made to realise some of the benefits that could be gained through contractorisation in the Hebrides?

Mr. Rifkind

I am very conscious of the significant and substantial economic importance of the range to the local community in the Hebrides. Clearly, all options are being considered as to the best way to ensure that the needs of the Army are met. In those studies, we are also conscious of the wider implications for the local community.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that when the decisions are made on "Front Line First" and the statement is made, the statement will be primarily concerned with the back-up forces? In examining the contribution made by the Air Training Corps and the Air Cadets, as was mentioned earlier, is it not important to recognise the contribution that they and the other cadet forces make to the community at large? It is cheaper to keep good youngsters good than to try to make bad ones good.

Mr. Rifkind

I recognise that the cadet forces have performed a valuable role in giving an initial experience of service life to young people, who quite often go on to a career in the armed forces. They also ensure, even for those who do not to on to a career in the armed forces, a wider awareness of the important role played by our uniformed personnel in the wider interests of the nation.

Dr. David Clark

Is the Secretary of State aware that the concept surrounding "Front Line First" is dangerously outmoded because modern armed forces operate as an integral whole and any change in logistical support will vitally affect operational capabilities? With that in mind, will he scrap his current flawed and piecemeal approach, follow the example of our allies and have a full defence review so that we can truly meet the security needs of this country?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friends should welcome the clear statement that the hon. Gentleman has just made. What he is calling for is a defence review that would be able to cut the fighting capability of our armed forces. That is a clear implication of the freedom that such a review would have under a Labour Government. Her Majesty's Government, on the other hand, have made it clear that we have no intention of making any further reductions in the fighting capability of our armed forces. That is the clear distinction between Government and Opposition on that issue.