§ [Relevant documents: The Defence Committee has reported on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994 in its Sixth Report of Session 1993–94, HC 68. The First Report from the Defence Committee on the Programme to Replace or Refurbish the Hercules Transport Aircraft, HC 118; the Third Special Report containing the Government's Reply thereto, HC 511; the Second Report on the Progress of the Trident Programme, HC 297; the Third Report on the Progress of the Eurofighter 2000 Programme, HC 222; the Fourth Report on RAF Commitments and Resources, HC 252; the Fifth Report on the Implementation of Lessons Learned from Operation Granby, HC 43; the Fourth Special Report containing the Government's replies to the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Reports, HC 660; and the Eighth Report on the Defence Costs Study, HC 655.]4.26 pm
§ Madam Speaker
Before we commence the debate on defence, which is a two-day debate, I want to tell the House that there is a great deal of interest over these two days and that hon. Members will be very fortunate if all those wishing to speak are called. I do not intend to impose any discipline on lengths of speeches—today, at any rate. I am looking to the House to impose its own discipline on itself. Therefore, I ask hon. Members to limit voluntarily their speeches to 10 minutes so that I shall be able to call all hon. Members who want to speak. I ask the Secretary of State to move the motion.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand from your just calling the Secretary of State that you are not selecting any amendments at this time. I seek your guidance on a point of order because I understand that Her Majesty's loyal Opposition has tabled—it is not yet on the Order Paper—a reasoned amendment to the motion. Could you give us any guidance on whether you will be selecting that amendment tomorrow? There is a series of—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I have got the point. I am certainly not selecting an amendment today. Of course, I am quite at liberty to select an amendment tomorrow. When it is on the Order Paper for us all to see, I shall make my views known to the House.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994 contained in Cm. 2550.It may be of some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) to know that the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) quite satisfactorily represents the views of the Labour party. I have no doubt that we shall, in due course, hear the official spokesman, as opposed to the unofficial spokesman for the Labour party, explain why he greets that amendment with total enthusiasm, representing as it does the views of his party conference.
We are today officially debating the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", which was published some six months ago. The events of the past six months explain 37 and demonstrate clearly why it is crucial in the modern post cold war world to have armed forces that are flexible, mobile and able to respond to the very curious world in which we now live, with unexpected developments and quite historic changes.
In just the past six months, we have had not only the Iraqi crisis, which the House has just examined, but major developments in Bosnia, with the closure of the border by President Milosevic, the historic developments in Northern Ireland and the necessity to send certain forces to Rwanda. Each and every case either had significant military implications or had the potential at some future date to have significant military implications.
Three main themes emerged from the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" and I should like to comment briefly on each of them. The first major theme drew attention to perhaps the most important initiative that NATO has brought forward recently, the "Partnership for Peace" initiative. It is of historic significance and, since it was launched in January of this year, some 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine and others, have joined the "Partnership for Peace".
I should like to comment briefly on that initiative because I am aware from various articles that I have read in the past few months that certain people, not so much hon. Members, but certain journalists, have made snide comments about the "Partnership for Peace". They have suggested that it is an inadequate response to the post cold war world and that the fact that it includes Russia and Ukraine as well as central European countries shows that it is purely a cosmetic exercise. They have also said that it is an inadequate substitute for enlarging NATO itself. Those serious accusations are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of European security now that communism has collapsed and the Soviet Union no longer exists.
The first requirement that "Partnership for Peace" represents is a recognition that we must not either directly or indirectly allow a Europe that was divided by the iron curtain for 40 years to be replaced by a new Europe with some other division, however unintended, which could have profound consequences. The security of Europe is indivisible. We therefore need to develop a security framework that has relevance not just to the members of NATO or to the countries that might join NATO, but to Russia and other new democratic countries which have a significant contribution that they could make either for good or ill to the security of Europe.
One of the great strengths of "Partnership for Peace" is that it provides a framework that incorporates Russia as well as central European countries. It has an essential dynamic within it whereby the precise relationship between NATO and any individual country will evolve over the years to come. In certain cases, that will lead to membership of NATO—I have no doubt that NATO will enlarge in the years to come—but, equally, for some other countries that participate in "Partnership for Peace" it is difficult, if not impossible, to envisage membership of NATO, even in the long-term future. Therefore, it is necessary to have a framework, which is what "Partnership for Peace" represents, which enables NATO to develop a significant relationship with each and every one of those countries.
Some mocking has been made of the fact that we have joint exercises with Russia or joint training with Russia or Poland or other new countries. I believe that those who 38 mock those developments do not begin to understand their significance. One of the great tragedies of the cold war period was the almost total lack of contact between the military of the Soviet bloc and NATO. I remember that when, two years ago, I first met General Grachev, the Russian Defence Minister, I asked him how many NATO officers he had met before the end of the cold war. He said that he had met none. If that was true of someone of his level it remains even more true of the many tens of thousands of middle-ranking officers. One of the great strengths of the joint exercises, exchanges and other similar activities is that they enable contact to be made between many tens of thousands of middle ranking junior Russian officers. That enables them to understand how the military operate in a democratic society and how western values should be relevant to their own situation. I believe that such exercises are an important initiative.
Last week, I visited the three Baltic states. The United Kingdom is making an important contribution towards the formation of a new Baltic battalion, which will be available to the United Nations. It has decided to conduct its operations in the English language. We are directly and indirectly playing a leading part in training the armed forces of those three new independent central European states. That is a matter of considerable pride.
One of the messages of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994" was the development of "Partnership for Peace". The second message was the fact that we are approaching the end of the transition to the new force line structure which began under "Options for Change". That has been a very difficult change, but it is one that is now approaching a period of stability.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
Before the Secretary of State departs entirely from "Partnership for Peace", does he agree that nothing would have been worse for the integrity and strength of NATO than to open membership to countries to which politically it would have been very difficult indeed to extend the collective right of self-defence contained in article 5 of the NATO treaty?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Membership of NATO is not just membership of a political alliance; it is membership of an integrated military structure. We must ask not just what additional security new countries would receive, but what contribution they would be able to make to the collective security of the alliance as a whole. Only when an intended member could deal with both sides of that equation would potential membership be a reality.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
If this welcome European-wide development takes hold solidly and firmly, could it lead to a reduction in the British Army presence in Germany, especially the armoured units?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I believe that we have already indicated our policy in that respect. The British Army of the Rhine is already being reduced from more than 60,000 to about 23,000. We have no intention of bringing that down further. The most important reason for that—and this explains also why the United States is maintaining 100,000 troops in Europe—is the point that I made a few moments ago: NATO is an integrated military structure. That means that the troops must train together and be in the habit of working together if, in the event of a crisis, they are expected to fight together. That requires a 39 physical co-location. We and the German Government believe that that is important to ensure that NATO remains a credible and coherent alliance based not just on good intent and good faith, but on collective military training.
I said that the second main theme of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994" was the work, which is now drawing to a conclusion, on reforming our force structure. A year ago, we said that we did not intend to make any further reductions to the fighting strength of our armed forces. In the "Front Line First" initiative earlier this year, we demonstrated that that was a policy which we could deliver. Indeed, we have been able to enhance fighting strength in a number of important ways.
I shall return to that point later, but I emphasise that one of the themes for the rest of this Parliament will be the fact that the Government now offer stability so far as the fighting strength of our armed forces is concerned. The Opposition, because of their commitment to a review which would be the first initiative of a Labour Government, are offering nothing other than at least three years of continuing uncertainty about the force structure that would arise under a Labour Government.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
Is the Secretary of State assuring the House that, after the next election and if there were by accident to be a Conservative Government, there would be no defence cuts in the lifetime of the next Conservative Government—if there were to be one?
§ Mr. Rifkind
We are now approaching the completion of a very important change in the armed forces consequent upon the end of the cold war. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last week, we have now reached the end of the big upheavals. We are saying that we believe that we now have a force structure which deals with the situation that has arisen after the end of the cold war. I shall return to this point later, but I can tell the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that we are not contemplating any further cuts in battalions, regiments, ships and aircraft. That is not subject to a review, as it would be under the Opposition who make all those matters indeterminate for the foreseeable future.
The third theme of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994" is the sheer quality of our armed forces and the contribution that they make around the world. I want to remind the House of what we said at the beginning of the document. These two sentences are perhaps the foundation of our approach to the armed forces:The United Kingdom remains one of the world's most formidable military powers. Only the United States, Russia and France"—as well as the United Kingdom—can deploy as broad a range of capabilities as the armed forces of the United Kingdom who, in terms of their experience, training, leadership and esprit, are the match for any in the world.
That is a bold claim for a relatively small country to make, but if there is any doubt about the validity of the claim that I have just made, one has only to contemplate where else in Europe, Asia, Africa or Latin America one can find a country that has not only armed forces of the size of ours—many countries have larger armed forces—but our capabilities, our experience and our ability to 40 deploy in various parts of the world in pursuit of a wide range of interests. That is something which the Government intend to maintain.
I refer now to certain specific parts of the world where our armed forces are operating. I shall comment only briefly on Iraq because the House has just heard a full presentation of the situation there. The House has been made aware of the quite significant assets that we have in Kuwait at present.
One of the points that I should like to draw to the attention of the House is that the spearhead battalion has responded to the circumstances there, and as a consequence we have asked the First Royal Anglian to become the new spearhead battalion which will be in reserve for any new crises that may arise in any part of the world, in order that the presence of 45 Commando in Kuwait should not have removed our ability to deploy quickly and effectively if any new problem needs to be dealt with.
I have noted also reference in certain newspapers to the fact that, as a result of the need to get our forces to Kuwait, the training of those who use Hercules aircraft or who use aircraft for other purposes might be affected. Of course, that is the case. The whole point about training is that it must not be allowed to take precedence over a real operational requirement. If we have a real operational requirement, as we have had in the recent past, inevitably it must have implications for training, but of course operational tasks are often the best training that the forces can receive, so that will be no loss to them.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
The Secretary of State will be aware that many of his colleagues on both sides of the House have been receiving representations on sickness allegedly contracted during the Gulf war. Indeed, there was a Channel 4 "Critical Eye" programme, "Quick War, Slow Death", which purported to show several cases that looked very genuine. Is the Ministry of Defence taking the issue seriously? If so, what developments can we expect?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Of course, we take those matters seriously. On several occasions, those who believe that they have suffered medical consequences as a result of participation in the Gulf war have been invited to identify themselves and to give such evidence as they have of their medical condition. As far as I am aware, all the inquiries that have been made so far have not substantiated those claims. A relatively small number have contacted us. Each case has been investigated and there has been no evidence to support the claims that have been made, but we continue to be willing to examine any such allegations to see whether they are supported by reasonable and acceptable medical evidence. It is a medical question, which can therefore be properly assessed.
I now refer to the situation in Bosnia and in former Yugoslavia. Since the publication of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", there have been a number of important developments: the contact group map and the attempts to persuade the Bosnian Serbs to accept it, the decision by President Milosevic to break with the Bosnian Serbs, and the decision of the United States Congress to say that it would propose the lifting of the embargo if the contact group map was not accepted by 15 October.
The United Kingdom has at no stage been in any doubt as to the proper approach to the arms embargo. The position that we have taken has also been taken by France and, as far as I am aware, by all the countries that 41 contribute to UNPROFOR—indeed, it is the view that has been taken by most countries around the world. It is not possible to lift an arms embargo and, at the same time, continue to believe that UNPROFOR could carry out its task in a non-partisan role, seeking to bring peace in that country. That remains our view.
We were particularly pleased that the Bosnian Government, having given careful reflection and consideration to what might happen if the embargo was raised, came to the conclusion that, after all, they did not wish to recommend that the embargo should be raised at this time. I am sure that that was a wise judgment on their part. One must recognise that, if the embargo were raised, inevitably UNPROFOR would have to withdraw. That would expose Gorazde and the other enclaves to any attack that might then take place, and the effects of lifting the embargo, certainly in the short term and, in our view, also in the long term, would simply bring more warfare, suffering and hardship to the people of Bosnia and prolong the conflict rather than bring it to an end.
I am aware that there are some who argue that although we should not raise the embargo now, we should be prepared to give a commitment that we shall raise it in six months. The same arguments that I have just mentioned would be likely to apply in the same way at a future date. Obviously, events move on and one would have to look at the circumstances as they existed next April, but I find it difficult to believe that the basic argument would have changed fundamentally.
On British forces in Bosnia, the Royal Highland Fusiliers will complete their handover from the Second Royal Anglians in November. I pay great tribute not only to what they have achieved but to the excellent leadership that General Sir Michael Rose has given them and the United Nations as a whole during his period in Bosnia. He has demonstrated exceptional qualities in the best traditions of our armed forces, and that has enhanced the reputation of our armed forces, as one would expect, around the world.
It is also worth remembering the broad role of UNPROFOR in Bosnia. Events move on, and as events move on so the role has significantly changed. In addition to escorting humanitarian aid convoys, British forces have played an important role in implementing the Muslim-Croat ceasefire in central Bosnia by patrolling confrontation lines, manning weapons collection points and liaising between the parties. British engineers have continued to play an essential role in keeping open key supply routes, and last month succeeded in constructing a badly needed Bailey bridge over the River Neretva in Mostar, which has been widely acclaimed. In addition to the ground forces, our sea and air forces in the Adriatic have served with equal distinction.
That is a record of service of which we can be proud, but we can also properly pay tribute to the sacrifices that our armed forces have made. Sadly, we have had the tragic deaths of eight British troops through action by the warring parties. Last month, we also saw the sad loss of four more soldiers as a result of two separate road traffic accidents. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering our condolences to the families of those brave men and in the recognition of the sacrifice that they have made in pursuing a noble objective.
It would be right and proper to comment on developments in Northern Ireland. That matter is clearly of profound importance at present because we are all 42 conscious that we are entering into an historic phase with regard to events in the Province. For more than 25 years, the armed forces' largest and most important peacetime commitment has been within the United Kingdom itself, in Northern Ireland. Their role has been to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary in countering violence by republican and loyalist terrorists and to assist the return of normality to Northern Ireland. They have carried out that role with considerable success.
The terrorists have not succeeded in achieving their aims through violence. Despite terrorist activities, most people in Northern Ireland have been able to lead relatively normal lives in recent years. That that is so is due in large measure to the resolute and professional way in which the security forces have carried out their duties over the years. The RUC and the armed forces supporting them have together seized vast quantities of weapons and explosives and made thousands of arrests of suspected terrorists, both republicans and loyalists. Their actions have prevented countless terrorist attacks and saved many members of both communities from murder or maiming. It is no exaggeration that the actions of the security forces have preserved the very fabric of society in Northern Ireland.
I regularly visit the armed forces in the Province, and every time I do so I am reminded afresh how easy it is to take for granted the extent of their daily contribution on behalf of the community there. For 25 years, young soldiers have had to face every day the possibility of terrorist attacks in a wide variety of forms. Young privates and junior NCOs have carried the greatest part of the burden. They have had to face daily the awesome responsibility of making split-second decisions on which their lives and the lives of others have depended. Those on roulement tours have been required to work a 16-hour day for six months on end, in spartan conditions, with only a nine-day break in that time. They have been expected to act with impartiality and politeness to all those whom they meet on the streets, regardless of the provocation that they may receive and the danger that they face. Some 300,000 service men have served in Northern Ireland over the past 25 years. It is an enormous credit to their training, discipline and character that the vast majority of them have carried out their duties—they are still carrying them out today—to the highest standards.
We do not pretend that there is a military solution to the problems in Northern Ireland. The problems are, essentially, political ones that require a combination of political, social, economic and security measures to resolve them. The Government have made strenuous efforts on all those fronts, and there are grounds for believing that we are making progress.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
May I join the Secretary of State wholeheartedly in his tribute to Her Majesty's forces, both the regular Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary? Does he agree that it is necessary to make it possible for the utmost vigilance to be maintained by the security forces to guard against any resumption of violence or surprise attack, given that it is always possible to do those things as long as any terrorists retain arms?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I pay a sincere tribute to him for the statesmanlike way in which he has contributed towards 43 the prospect of real peace in the Province—a contribution which I believe has been widely applauded by all sections of the community.
Clearly, the Government have been greatly encouraged by the Provisional IRA's announcement of a ceasefire. There have now been no terrorist attacks by the IRA for more than six weeks. We are also encouraged by the announcement last week of a ceasefire by the loyalist paramilitaries. We very much hope that all those groups intend a permanent end to violence, and we are assessing whether we can yet make a working assumption that that is so.
In any case, we cannot and we dare not assume that now or in the near future there will suddenly no longer be a need for military support for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. All the terrorist groupings still retain a substantial capability for carrying out further acts of violence without notice. It is a matter for the Chief Constable and for the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, as the operational commanders, to judge how their forces should be deployed in the present circumstances. However, the Government must ensure that they have the necessary resources available to ensure the security of the people of Northern Ireland.
We shall continue to keep force levels under review to ensure that they are appropriate. I very much hope that in time the security situation will permit us to reduce force levels, but it would be irresponsible to do so prematurely. As we have made clear in the past—and I quote from the "Statement on the Defence Estimates":As soon as the terrorists on both sides renounce violence, and fully demonstrate their commitment to doing so, the armed forces will progressively be withdrawn from the streets. They will then return to their peacetime role, so that normal policing can resume throughout Northern Ireland. But, in the meantime, the armed forces will continue steadfastly to support the RUC for as long as the terrorists make it necessary.That was said six months ago; I can confirm that we stand by those commitments today.
However, that does not mean that there is no scope for flexibility. As the House will be aware, a number of measures have already been taken to reduce the profile of the armed forces in Northern Ireland but without reducing security or vigilance. The GOC Northern Ireland, with the full agreement of the Chief Constable, has taken steps to make the posture of the military patrols appear less aggressive to the public. For example, for some weeks now, soldiers have been patrolling in regimental headdress without camouflage cream, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has announced the reopening of a number of closed border crossing points. Those measures have been welcomed by many ordinary members of the public in Northern Ireland.
In the coming months, provided that the terrorist threat permits, the GOC, in consultation with the Chief Constable, intends to implement further measures to reduce the impact of the armed forces operations on the ordinary people of Northern Ireland. We all look forward to the restoration of normality in the Province. I can 44 assure the House that the armed forces will continue to play a full part in the restoration of normality by whatever means are appropriate.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
Bearing in mind the fact that there was a permanent garrison of British troops in Northern Ireland before the present trouble started in the 1960s, and there had been for many decades previously, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that provided and if a settlement is reached after the present negotiations, there is no possibility that British troops will not continue to be garrisoned in Northern Ireland after that settlement?
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend can be reassured because, of course, there is the Royal Irish Regiment, whose home is in the Province. It is important that that regiment will continue to have that intimate role as part of our armed forces.
It can never be normal for soldiers to be deployed on streets of the United Kingdom. Our aim is to remove soldiers from the streets of Northern Ireland, but when it is safe to do so and not a moment sooner. I believe that that is what the public would expect of us.
Finally, I refer to the "Front Line First" study and the consequences, which we announced in July shortly before the House rose. I thank the Select Committee and its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), for the work done and its report on the "Front Line First" study, which was published recently. I welcomed in particular the reference in paragraph 4 toa package of measures … elegantly cobbled together".We do not always expect such recognition of the elegance of our policy from the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Rifkind
Yes. Of course, nothing is perfect in this world. If it can be elegant only by being cobbled as well, that is something that I shall have to live with. I noticed that the Select Committee said:As a one-off exercise, the Defence Costs Study has unquestionably been of some value in identifying savings: but the temptation to treat it as the beginning of an annual round of such exercises must be firmly resisted.I tell my hon. Friend and other members of the Select Committee that I have no intention of responding to that temptation. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be reassured by that.
I acknowledge—and the Select Committee pointed out—that there are uncertainties, unpredictabilities and difficulties about a number of the recommendations in the "Front Line First" study. It is a massive study, which covers a vast range of issues. Of course, at this stage there must be a question mark over some of the conclusions and figures. We have deliberately gone out to consultation so that we can respond to some of those concerns.
§ Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme)
Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House how much of the £750 million that has been identified in the "Front Line First" study as savings is being recycled into defence, rather than going back to the Treasury?
§ Mr. Rifkind
As my hon. Friend rightly says, we have identified the means of considerable enhancements. For example, we have announced the development of a joint rapid deployment force; we have indicated our interest in 45 acquiring Tomahawk cruise missiles; we are responsible for a major expansion of training in both the Air Force and the Army; and we have also decided not to put into mothballs certain aircraft and ships that had been planned for that purpose. That is a whole series of enhancements in addition to the other changes that I have been able to announce.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I cannot give my hon. Friend a figure. However, we can give figures for each item, and they add up to a considerable sum. Of course, they are not one-off sums; they are recurring costs. Most of the things to which I have referred have an on-going cost but are affordable partly because of the savings identified in the "Front Line First" study. That study was not only of benefit to the taxpayer but has resulted in a transfer of resources to the fighting edge as it affects our armed forces.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I shall continue for a moment and then I might give way to the hon. Gentleman.
There were three main characteristics in the way in which we approached "Front Line First", which made it a significant initiative. The first was our determination not to cut the fighting strength of the armed forces. Indeed, we were determined to enhance it wherever possible, and we were very successful with that. I note that the Select Committee said that while it acknowledged that there were to be no direct effects on fighting and strength, it was concerned that there might be some indirect consequences. I assure my hon. Friend and other members of the Committee that we intend to be scrupulous in ensuring that neither directly nor indirectly will the fighting strength of our armed forces be weakened by any of the recommendations.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to look again at the proposal which one understands is before him to reduce by more than half the strength of the Royal Marine Reserve and by almost half the strength of the SAS Reserve?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I assure my hon. Friend that no proposal has come to Ministers on either of those matters. The Royal Marines expressed a desire to review their strength to see what they required. That was not part of the defence costs study. It did not arise out of the same initiative. It was something that the Commandant General of the Royal Marines said to Ministers that he wished to do. I await the recommendations of the Royal Marines. We shall respond when we hear what they believe to be desirable.
The second main characteristic of the "Front Line First" study was the involvement not only of the chiefs of staff, who were intimately involved throughout the process, but of middle-ranking officers responsible for many of the support activities. We invited them to give us the benefit of their ideas and experience. We were delighted that more than 3,000 proposals which we were able to take into account came to Ministers. There were no sacred cows on this occasion, but the consequence of that has been that we have had to recommend the closure of several establishments and a significant number of redundancies, which although not in front line activities were nevertheless painful to many hon. Members in 46 respect of their constituencies. I have a constituency which is affected in that way because of the proximity of the Rosyth base, so I am conscious of the difficulties that the recommendations mean in terms of jobs and the future of certain support organisations.
We are now into the period of consultation. The three-month formal period of consultation ended on Friday of last week, but we have stated that we have every intention of showing maximum flexibility. Certain consultative documents have only recently been published. Two have been published today. Of course, proper time will be available for consultation on those documents.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
My right hon. and learned Friend will know that I have a copy hot off the press of the consultation paper, for which I have been asking all summer, on the air station at Portland that is due to move to Yeovilton. I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend has given 45 working days or nine weeks for consultation. I thank him for that. Will he give an absolute assurance that the skimpy figures, which I am afraid are too small even to read in the document, will be expanded completely? I know that my constituents want to take an active and constructive part in consultation. I think that we have a strong case to put to my right hon. and learned Friend to suggest that he can make his savings elsewhere.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I am delighted that he wishes to respond constructively. I look forward very much to hearing the particular points that he might wish to put to us so that we can consider them in due course.
§ Mr. David Shaw (Dover)
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for finally publishing today the consultation document on the Royal Marines school of music in Deal. However, not only are the financial figures just four skimpy pages at the back of the document, but the people of the communities of Deal and Kent have agreed through the local authorities that an independent firm of accountants should be retained to go through the figures. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Ministry of Defence is prepared to allow access to the figures that are not given on the four pages so that people in the community can see what the real figures are? It is not acceptable to keep the figures within the Ministry when the Ministry has made so many mistakes with the figures for Deal in the past.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I hear what my hon. Friend says. Obviously, I shall seek to respond in the way that he requests. He has not specified which particular figures he would like access to. Therefore, he will not expect me to give a blanket answer. When we hear what figures he would like to have access to and if they appear to be relevant to the real issues, I will try to be as helpful as possible.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. I knew that he was not discriminating against me. He dealt earlier with aspects of procurement. The replacement of the Hercules is important to the British Aerospace plant at Prestwick and other British 47 Aerospace plants. I hope that the Secretary of State will not be influenced by the knocking advertisements by Lockheed in the newspaper. There was one again today. I was worried when I received a reply from the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, which suggested that a decision would be rushed by the end of the year. That would not allow the future large aircraft to be properly considered. I hope that the Secretary of State will give an assurance that no decision will be rushed and that the FLA will be properly assessed and considered.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I assure the hon. Gentleman that Government policy is not determined by the contents of advertisements. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will comment in greater detail on the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman. I assure him that we shall not be rushed into any decisions. We will take decisions based on the operational requirements of the Royal Air Force and the armed forces.
I shall briefly refer to the joint rapid deployment force, which is one of the important initiatives that we announced as a consequence of the "Front Line First" study, and which we are able to take forward because of some of the savings that have been identified.
The reinforcement of Kuwait is just the latest in a series of examples of threats to security that have required the deployment at short notice of elements of our sea, land and air forces. Such operations play to the strength of our professional, experienced personnel and allow them to make a contribution greater than mere numbers might suggest. In July, I announced a number of measures that would further enhance all three services' capabilities for contingency operations. I should like to comment on the joint rapid deployment force.
As "rapid deployment" implies, the land elements of a rapid deployment force must be light while still able to protect themselves, and at high readiness, with a capability for strategic deployment by air or in dedicated specialist shipping. Hence the focus on the airborne and commando brigades, although in principle any element of our contingency forces could be drawn on to contribute to a JRDF operation. The rapid deployment force will rely heavily on the support provided by air and maritime forces, particularly for firepower and mobility. Operations in which it is involved will place emphasis on the need, if necessary, to apply force or to demonstrate the ability to use force quickly and with maximum effect, perhaps in order to save lives, as in service evacuation, or to forestall the escalation of a crisis, as in the reinforcement of a dependent territory. It may also be deployed in advance of heavier forces, to demonstrate intent or to secure an airhead or port.
Such tasks are demanding, and made all the more so by their diversity and the impossibility of predicting the exact combination of mission, environment, threat and allied involvement that will be encountered. The keys to success will lie in the co-ordination and confidence gained through extensive joint training and effective, interoperable communications and equipment.
Implementing the concept will not require fundamental changes to be made in the order of battle. The British armed forces already have more experience of joint warfare and are better prepared to meet the demands imposed by it than most of their counterparts. The JRDF 48 will enable us to target resources for training and equipment to best joint effect. In that context, some £50 million to £60 million in total will be spent on the communications enhancements that I announced in July. The major element of that will start to arrive with units from 1996, and most will be in place by 1997.
The 3 (UK) Division and 3 Commando Brigade headquarters staff are already working closely together on joint planning of training and exercises and in future they will co-ordinate their training wherever possible. Those efforts, combined with the communications enhancements to Headquarters 3 Division and the RAF Tactical Communications Wing, which I announced in July, will be built upon in the years to come as an essential complement to the development of the new, permanent joint headquarters.
Before I conclude, it would be remiss of me not to mention briefly the Labour party policy on defence. I shall mention it only briefly because there is no policy, so it is unnecessary for me to detain the House terribly long. We have been conscious that in the past couple of years the Labour party, in a desperate attempt to appear respectable on the subject, has sought to avoid any commitments that would antagonise either its party supporters or the public. But those two objectives are irreconcilable, as we saw in Blackpool two weeks ago.
Not only the Government or the Conservative party hold in contempt the Labour party's position on defence. I shall draw to the Labour party's attention the remarks of people who might normally be thought to be sympathetic to or objective on its point of view and would like to put the best interpretation on whatever it might say. For example, on 22 July there was an editorial in The New Statesman and Society commenting on the "Front Line First" study, which had a mixed reaction in the press. That editorial praised the Government and condemned the Opposition. It stated that the Labour party
in Parliament opted for the path of least controversy. In effect, it decided not to have a defence policy. In place of a policy, Labour has taken on a set of attitudes and tactics. David Clark repeats his call for a defence review with such regularity that things are now beginning to fall off the walls from sheer ennui. What would be reviewed in such a review; what Clark himself thinks; what Britain's defence relations should be with the United States and the European Union—all these questions are left unasked and unanswered … It will have some difficulty convincing voters that it is indeed fit to govern. The problem now is not the policy, much less disagreements over it. The problem is that there isn't one.
§ Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)
The Minister said that he was coming to the end of his speech, but I should not like him to do so or to launch into flights of party political oratory without at least mentioning the issue of training. He will be conscious of the important recommendations in the defence costs study about the future location of the tri-service college. He will also be conscious of the real anxieties of people in Greenwich about the future of the Royal Naval college. The Minister probably shares those anxieties because he is a trustee of the Greenwich hospital estates. When will the study produce recommendations and what assurances can the Minister give the House that he looks forward to preserving not just the important naval college and its fine achievements, but its buildings for which he has a personal responsibility?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said and in due course, when we reach a 49 conclusion, we shall respond to his points. However, he will not distract me from the issue with which I was dealing, although I know that he would like to do so.
I have shared with the House the views of The New Statesman and Society on Labour's lack of policy, and I shall now move to The Guardian, that other well-known reactionary newspaper which would normally be thought sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman. On 14 July 1994 after the Government's publication of their proposals, Mr. Hugo Young wrote:There is no field in politics in which Labour is less convincing than defence. Its conferences vote for massive defence cuts, its spokesmen can barely admit that a single job should disappear. Although this may not be quite the economics of the madhouse it defines the statesmanship of the nursery.The Independent on Sunday published a brief editorial that is relevant to the Opposition. It stated:Labour has called … for a full scale review of Britain's defence commitments … But it is no use Labour pretending that it can be done without loss of jobs and much consequent pain. And it is no use pretending that it can avoid hard choices in this or any other area.The editorial, written in July, went on:If he does become Labour leader on Thursday, Tony Blair should act at once to stop the kind of wet and vapid thinking that did his party so little credit last week.The Leader of the Opposition did become leader of his party in July, and since that time the total thinking vacuum has continued.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I shall happily give way to the hon. Gentleman because I think that he more clearly represents the views of the Labour party than his Front-Bench spokesmen.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The Minister spoke about unanswered questions. On 27 November 1992 I asked seven questions. The fifth one was:will the Government confirm or deny that Mark Thatcher and a Saudi Arabian middle man involved in the deal, whose name was Wafic Said, paid income tax on money which they earned from the Al-Yamamah deal?"—[Official Report, 27 November 1992; Vol. 214, c. 1104.]If the Minister intends to indulge in such cross-party talk, perhaps he will explain the exact role of Mark Thatcher.
§ Mr. Rifkind
Mark Thatcher is neither a member of the Labour party nor, as far as I am aware, a member of the Conservative party, so I do not intend to be distracted by the hon. Gentleman.
It may just be that for the first time for two and a half years we are about to hear the makings of a Labour defence policy. I appeal to the Opposition spokesman not to give us nonsense about his calls for a defence review. Everyone knows perfectly well that Labour believes not in the defence review but in the necessity to avoid saying anything on this subject that will antagonise anyone either now or during the remainder of this Parliament.
If the hon. Member for South Shields does not believe my claim about that, he should simply state Labour's policy on whether we should spend more on defence, spend what we are spending now, or spend less. The Labour party does not need a review to determine that. Do we have the right number of battalions or should we have more or fewer, or does it depend on a review? [Interruption.] Do we have the right number of ships? Should we have more or fewer or does that also depend on a review? Have we the right number of aircraft or do 50 we need more or fewer, or does it depend on a review? If the hon. Gentleman says that it depends on what commitments we should enter, perhaps he will give us Labour's view on those commitments. Perhaps we are not to be told about that for another three years until after a review.
The Labour party is a disgrace to the armed forces and to the national interests of this country. Unless the hon. Gentleman can rescue the reputation of his party in the next half hour, his party will rightly continue to be held in contempt.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
I shall begin by making a few observations which I hope will find consensus in the House. Over the years, I have come to respect the dedication and skills of all those who are involved in protecting the security of our country. The sheer professionalism of the men and women of our armed forces is second to none. I include in that our reserves and the oft forgotten men and women who serve in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Those who are involved in the necessary administration and planning are often ignored, but our defence effort would flounder without their contribution.
The sheer brilliance of those involved in defence research is renowned throughout the world, and workers in the defence industries also deserve our gratitude. Time and again, they have shown that in an emergency they can more than rise to the occasion. Collectively, they have played their part admirably in ensuring our security. In view of the novel difficulties that have been created by Tory mismanagement of defence requirements over the past few years, my admiration for them is even stronger.
My experiences in visiting Bosnia and Northern Ireland and bases in the United Kingdom and elsewhere over recent years have served to reinforce my impression. As the Secretary of State for Defence has said, the task of the forces in Northern Ireland is now, we hope, ending. One of my most unnerving experiences was to be on foot patrol with soldiers in west Belfast, and the contrast between that experience and the soldiers' good nature will remain with me for ever.
Those who take part in the valuable humanitarian missions that we are undertaking at sea, in no-fly zones and on the ground throughout the world deserve the gratitude of the whole House. I am sure that we are all well served by those people. On behalf of the House, I should like to express condolences to the families and friends of loved ones who have lost their lives in Bosnia. Twelve British service men have lost their lives there in tasks which have saved thousands of innocent civilians.
§ Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the decision two weeks ago at the Labour conference to scrap Trident would throw 4,000 people in Plymouth out of work overnight? What are we to make of the fact that the only Labour amendment on the Order Paper "supports the call" to scrap Trident? We 51 know that Opposition Members are weak on defence, but what do they have against the city of Plymouth which I represent? [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. I hope that the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) will withdraw his sedentary remark.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
Perhaps you would tell me what the sedentary remark was, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am sorry to have to say that I thought I heard the hon. Gentleman use the word "rat". Will he confirm that he did not use that word?
§ Dr. Clark
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) demeans himself and the House. I am trying to pay tribute to the men and women who have served us so well in the past—yet he interrupts in the middle of my speech to make a cheap party political point. It has been reported to us that he has also been telling his constituents that the amendment on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is the Opposition's official amendment. That is not the case. We are debating the order under normal practice.
It is nice to see the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) joining us. Having failed to get healthy food when he was at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—
§ Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) to deny that the only amendment on the Order Paper is the official Labour party amendment? There is no other amendment. How can it not be an official Labour party amendment when the Members who tabled it are all official Labour party candidates elected to the House?
§ Dr. Clark
Your knowledge of the procedure of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and our knowledge of history confirm that what has happened is the usual procedure. Indeed, this is what happened last year. When a debate is held on the first two days after our return from the summer recess, any amendment must have been tabled on the day that the House rose. Of course, various things happen during the course of a three-month break and we need to keep our options open to ensure that we can debate everything that is relevant and pertinent to the time. I wish that my admiration for those who serve in our forces and in the defence industry could be shared by 52 the Conservative party. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) has just shown why it cannot be.
The truth is that the Government have mishandled our defence and cannot be trusted with our security. They are a Government without a coherent defence strategy and with a Secretary of State entirely in the hands of the Treasury. If there were need for proof of that, we had it just 12 months ago. It was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech last November—not the Defence Secretary—who told the House about the proposed shape of our armed forces and the further cuts in defence spending.
If the Secretary of State still claims that he runs his Department, can he explain why he did not tell the House last year that cuts were to be made very quickly? It might be assumed by the more cynical and by those who follow these matters that, perhaps, he was not aware of any unrest on his Back Benches. Perhaps he was not aware of a letter signed by his Back-Bench colleagues, which was delivered to the Prime Minister on 26 October, saying that enough was enough, that there could be no further cuts and that if there were, they would not be supported. That resulted in a headline in the Evening Standard.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
Is not it a fact that the £750 million savings asked for were widely exceeded by the then Ministers of State for Defence Procurement and for the Armed Forces? Is not the balance of that money being invested in front-line materials for front-line troops? Is not that what the armed forces require? Did not the suggested savings come from the armed forces? Would the hon. Gentleman have done otherwise?
§ Dr. Clark
The hon. Gentleman's question was also asked by the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill). Unfortunately, there was no answer—[Interruption.] At this moment—although this might change very soon—I am not the Secretary of State for Defence and unfortunately I am not running the budget for the defence of this country.
Will the Secretary of State now tell us about his future spending plans? Can we be sure that there will be no further cuts? It was reported that at the Conservative party conference he said that there would be no more defence cuts. However, if we look at the small print of his speech we see that he did not actually say that—he said that there would be no cuts in our fighting capacity. The two are not necessarily the same. Nor do we accept his definition of fighting capacity. We are worried that the former Defence Minister, the right hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Perhaps it is a case of gamekeeper turned poacher or protector turned persecutor. We shall have to wait and see.
Last year, the Ministry of Defence was ordered to find further spending cuts, hence the defence costs study otherwise known as "Front Line First". Of course, that title was dropped when we asked the question, "When wasn't it front-line first?" Of course, the results of the study were announced under the protection of much delayed defence orders—most of which had been announced more times than the economic recovery.
The results of the cuts were not painless, as the Secretary of State has tried to tell us. They included the sacking of 11,600 uniformed men and women from the Army, Navy and Air Force. It was not an increase of 53 3,000, as the Prime Minister told the Tory party conference; it was a decrease of 11,600 service personnel. It meant an 11 per cent. fall in RAF manpower and the closure of two out of three service hospitals. We now hear of the possibility of buying into a private hospital in Glasgow to make up the shortfall.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I saw the press report about that, but the hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers. We cannot prevent any hospital from showing an interest, but it has already been explained to the hospital in question that it is unlikely that it could meet the needs of the armed forces because of its geographical location. The idea came from the hospital, not the MOD.
§ Dr. Clark
In view of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks, I take it that he is guaranteeing that no MOD money will be used to buy places in private hospitals. I take that to be Government policy.
Other results of the study include the merging of both headquarters and helicopter training centres and the closure of depots and supply stores, based on a decision that spares could be ordered just in time. The Defence Secretary gave the impression that he had universal approval from the military chiefs. That is not quite the case. The First Sea Lord, Sir Ben Bathurst, said on the BBC "PM" programme on 14 July:none of us are under any illusion that there is a certain amount of risk in this programme".I feel that Sir Ben was flagging up his disclaimer if anything should go wrong.
On the same programme, the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Michael Graydon, went even further, saying:
within my service, and indeed all the services, there are large numbers of civilians who are crucial to our front line who will also be made redundant.I emphasise the words,crucial to our front line".They hardly accord with the Defence Secretary's bland and misleading assurances that the front line is not affected by the defence costs study.
Of course, I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not volunteer to do the study. During our debates last year, he did not explain that, because of the cuts made in the armed services there were surplus stores wasting taxpayers' money. Nor did he tell the House that there were thousands of unnecessary officials in the MOD, all just sitting there being paid for no good reason. Yet this year we are told that great savings can be made in the budget by closing stores and sacking staff. This year—and from now on, we are assured—we are told that the MOD will look for waste on a continuous basis. Why now? What has it been doing for the past 15 years if it can now find £750 million of genuine savings? The right hon. and learned Gentleman assures us that they are genuine. What have the MOD and the Government been doing for the past 15 years? Of course they know that much of those savings are not real.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
Nineteen eighty nine was 15 years ago. The iron curtain was lifted in 1989 and new circumstances then arose. That is the base date for reform of our armed services.
§ Dr. Clark
Yes, but even 1989 was five years ago, and five times £750 million would have been a big saving. The Government have been cutting since 1985.
54 The Secretary of State claimed that his proposals do not reduce the fighting strength of our armed forces, but his premise is fundamentally flawed. Does the Secretary of State not realise that in modern warfare, close integration of the front line and logistical support is fundamental to military success? Was he not advised at the start of the Gulf war that 77 per cent. of Challenger tanks in the British Army of the Rhine were unavailable due to lack of maintenance and of spare parts?
We are now expected to believe that spare parts are not needed in any quantity and that depots can be closed. The reality is that logistics and front-line capability are inseparable. In Bosnia today, it is estimated that the ratio between combat and logistical support is one to one. I warn the Government that they may not have five months' notice, as they did in the Gulf conflict four years ago.
We are told that millions of pounds can be saved by not storing parts and that we can rely instead on just-in-time production. Just in whose time? In Saddam Hussein's time? The crisis in Kuwait that started two weeks ago threatened a new Iraqi invasion within hours. If that had occurred, when would the Government have ordered the necessary spares? When the invasion took place? A week later? A month later?
§ Mr. Rifkind
If the hon. Gentleman wanted to comment on that aspect, he might at least have done the House the courtesy of reading the report, in which we made it explicit that we do not believe that just-in-time principles as they apply in industry can apply to the armed forces, precisely for the reasons just mentioned. Therefore, we make no such comparison.
§ Dr. Clark
The Secretary of State knows that and says it, but still he goes ahead, which is why we condemn the Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that his policy does not make sense, yet he continues to pursue it.
The manner of the Government's cuts is frightening and irresponsible. We can be sure that it will not be MOD or Treasury Ministers who will face the consequences but service men and women at the front line. Government policy on spares may be appropriate for Tesco, the Co-op or Sainsbury, but it is not appropriate for front-line services. The Government should not only say so but act against implementing that policy.
Any progress in wiping out inefficiency must be welcomed, but it astonishes me that while 18,000 men and women will lose their jobs so that the Treasury can save £750 million, there is massive MOD waste. it is unbelievable. Would anyone have noticed that £250,000 was spent on refurbishing—not buying—one air chief marshal's house if that matter had not been raised in my parliamentary question in February? How can the MOD lose track of £6 billion worth of stores? Why is it that almost all the £2.8 billion saving on the Trident programme is a result of efficient American rather than United Kingdom work? As the Public Accounts Committee report showed, in the UK there is a real cost increase of £761 million just for facilities on the Clyde.
After all the MOD checks, why did the National Audit Office find telephone lines that were not only never used but were proclaimed not to exist—yet have cost the taxpayer £10,000 a year every year since 1985? I know that the Secretary of State has friends in BT, but that is pushing too far. 55 I predict that in the months ahead we shall find more waste and more fraud. I will not say much about fraud, but the Secretary of State knows that there have been very unfortunate incidents of fraud involving millions of pounds of MOD money and the loss of jobs. The whole approach is unacceptable.
Earlier, I said that defence workers deserve our gratitude and admiration for their skills and loyalty. Our defence workers have built aircraft for the RAF, tanks for our Army and ships for our Navy, and they have done us well. Their skills and expertise have also given the UK major export opportunities in countries as defensive as the United States of America. Much of the work on head-up displays for the F16 and on the stealth aircraft was a result of the skill of our research and defence workers.
Instead of rewarding those workers, the Government seem to do all they can to ensure that skills go to waste in the dole queues. Government policies have made 200,000 defence workers redundant. At times, one gets the strong feeling that the Government regard this country's defence workers as the new enemy. Swan Hunter fought hard to stay open. That company's work impressed its customer—the Royal Navy—in terms both of its timeliness and quality. A strongly motivated work force provided our forces with equipment that will provide British security well into the next century. After all the months of struggle, it is shameful that the Government have done nothing to help Swan Hunter's work force to continue their work and, even by quibbling over £700,000, have allowed that highly efficient work force to slip away from a deal. What happened to Swan Hunter is happening to other factories and workplaces throughout the country.
While most countries recognise the need for a defence industrial base, the British Government do not. The right hon. Member for Thanet, South admitted in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts):Generally, we do not have a conception of a defence industrial base.What an admission. The Tories are content to let our defence industry disappear as if it had no relevance to Britain. The Government ought to act. There ought to be a proper regional policy, to ease any downsizing in defence orders. A defence diversification agency should be established, which could retain our defence workers' skills and techniques and materials, to help revitalise Britain's shattered manufacturing base. Partnership between industry and such an agency would encourage business change and would help to utilise a work force who have done great things in Britain.
Does not the Secretary of State have any conscience about the effect of his ill thought-out cuts on communities as far apart as Exeter, Rosyth, Eaglescliffe, Pendine, Devonport and Kirkcudbright? A proper regional policy is needed.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Can Labour's defence spokesman explain to the House why his party should be considered the defender of defence-related jobs when it is still Labour policy to bring our defence expenditure down to the level 56 of our west European allies and to abolish the Trident nuclear programme? Labour's policies would have a far more devastating effect on defence jobs.
§ Dr. Clark
Labour's annual conference unanimously passed a resolution that rejected the re-ordering of British defences according to any rigid financial formula. We said that whatever is required and whatever resources are needed for the effective defence of our country will be supplied. I hope that is clear. I have looked at the history, because I heard the Secretary of State for Defence, at the Conservative party conference, claim that the Labour party could never be trusted with defence. So I worked out the annual percentage of gross domestic product on average spent by Labour Governments since the war, as compared with Conservative Governments. I must advise the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) that, under a Labour Government, on average some 6.45 per cent. of GDP was spent on defence whereas the Conservative Government are spending 5.8 per cent. It is no wonder, then, that military men throughout the country tell us that they always do better under a Labour Government rather than a Conservative Government.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
Will the Opposition spokesman tell the House how much as a percentage of GDP the Labour party will spend on defence if—unfortunately for the country—it wins the next election?
§ Dr. Clark
The hon. Gentleman made his point as though the Conservatives have made no cuts. It is interesting that if one looks at the cuts in British defence made under this Government, one sees that they will bring us down to the average of our European allies without any problem. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman knows, but, in real terms, on the Government's projections, defence spending will be reduced by 40 per cent. towards the end of the century. What we have said, and I will say it again, is that the only way forward is to have a proper defence review where we can assess the risks facing our country and then reshape our policies accordingly.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
I am most interested in all these military men up and down the country who are telling the hon. Gentleman that the armed forces would be so much better off under a Labour Government, because I remember being in the armed forces under a Labour Government. I remember the pay rises that never quite seemed to happen, or which amounted to about half a packet of cigarettes. I remember, too, that, no sooner had all my friends, with whom I joined, got in, than they started to leave. Will the hon. Gentleman reassure us that—God forbid—should there be another Labour Government, we will not have the same situation that we had between 1974 and 1979?
§ Dr. Clark
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's logic bears out experience in the armed forces, but let us move on. 57 In the next 12 months, the Government have the opportunity to secure British high-technology aerospace well into the next century and at the same time give the RAF a greater transport capability than it has ever had before. British Aerospace, as the Secretary of State for Defence knows, hopes to be involved with our European partners in the production of a future large aircraft; it would be virtually guaranteed the core work if the Government promised to buy a set number of aircraft with the accompanying spin-offs into the civilian field. The FLA offers airlift options for Britain that will give our armed forces more scope to react than ever before. With the FLA, the RAF could transport service personnel to Rwanda efficiently and cheaply rather than having to rely on the United States. Despite the many other advantages, including Airbus Industrie's promise to manage the programme, the Tories, yet again, are prevaricating.
The Tories claim that our Hercules transport planes are tired and cannot wait until 2002 to be replaced by the joint British and European alternative. Then they offer them for sale to the rest of the world. It makes no sense. Either the aircraft are exhausted or they are not. But if the Government are offering them for sale as going, flying planes, surely the time for their replacement is not now.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
The hon. Gentleman will understand that the RAF Hercules fleet is the hardest-worked fleet of that type of aircraft anywhere in the world, and that there is a limit to how long one can work any aircraft at that level over a long period. If the costs for the development of the FLA are in the projected area, as I understand that they are, of around £6,000 million, of which the British component would be around £1,000 million, where would the money be found by a Labour Government?
§ Dr. Clark
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Of course, if the planes are exhausted, they need to be replaced. But if that is the case, why do we offer 10 of them for sale? It simply does not make sense. If they are exhausted, why, in its evidence to the Select Committee in March 1993, did the RAF indicate that, in terms of fatigue, only three aircraft would be life-expired by 2000 and only 11 by the year 2005.
§ Dr. Clark
The hon. Gentleman says, "fatigue". I repeat, and I shall say it very slowly so that he may understand. The RAF indicated that, in terms of fatigue, only three aircraft would be life-expired by 2000, and 11 by 2005. If the reason for replacement is fatigue, as the RAF tells us, there is no urgency to replace them until after 2000, unless, of course, one puts them up for sale, which is precisely what the RAF has done.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Just so that the hon. Gentleman and I are not confusing each other and the House, an aircraft's fatigue life is not quite the same thing as its operational life, as required by the Royal Air Force. Ask any RAF engineer or pilot.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Does he agree that no decision should be taken on replacing the Hercules aircraft until the FLA feasibility study is completed? May I ask him also what conclusions he drew when he visited my constituency, where the wings for the airbus are made, and when he had discussions with management and leaders on the shop floor? I had the distinct impression that he thought that excellent work was done at Broughton, but he might like to share some of his thoughts with the House.
§ Dr. Clark
I thank my hon. Friend for giving up his time to accompany me when we visited British Aerospace at Broughton, which is in his constituency. What was impressive about BAe at Broughton, and indeed at Filton, was the way in which it had met the challenges on the shop floor and involved the work force in a constructive way—in a way in which modern management should operate—and the way in which it played its part in the airbus programme, which has been so successful. It is one of the great success stories of Europe in this decade. We have now obtained 30 per cent. of the market for that type of product. Bearing in mind the fact that, when just over a decade ago, it had no contribution at all, that is a marvellous contribution.
We do not want the Government to throw away that opportunity, because there is a carry over between the military and the civilian field. The skills, technique and processes which allow British Aerospace to build the wings of the airbus is the same technology that would be required for the FLA. We hope for the same success for the British workers and British companies. But I come back to the point that we believe that the Government should not rush into any decision. They should wait for the feasibility study to see whether the FLA is a viable concern and, if it is, we should back British industry and not just take the easy option and buy in American.
But when I talk about commitment to this country, perhaps I can move from the air to the sea, because the merchant fleet is one area that is neglected by the Government. Without sufficient numbers of ships, Britain will be unable to ensure that our forces can be moved cheaply, securely or quickly. The Government have crassly ignored the importance of a viable merchant fleet and allowed our shipbuilders to wither away as though they were irrelevant to our trade or society. They are wrong. In 1980, the Government inherited 13,000 British merchant ships. They have now reduced the number of ships available to the Ministry of Defence to a mere 139. Whereas in 1982, at the time of the Falklands, there were 49,000 merchant seamen, there are now 19,000. That is why we have had to resort to hiring expensive Danish or German ships. That is why there was fraud in the MOD. The Government have ignored the merchant navy. It is not only in terms of procurement, however, that the Government have let the country down; they have done the same in the international field of disarmament. 59 As the Secretary of State reminded us, over the past few years there has been a welcome end to both the cold war and the threat of nuclear war. Historic treaties to reduce nuclear weapons seemed to be the order of the day as the United States and Russia sought to outbid each other in a downward spiral of cuts. It is likely that, within just nine years, both Russia and the United States will have sliced their nuclear arsenals to a quarter of what they once were. That is admirable, but there is one anomaly: when Russia and the United States feel secure enough to cut their warhead numbers, why do we seek to increase ours? Why are we seeking to double the number of warheads on our nuclear submarines to 384? Why is that necessary?
The next Labour Government will deploy Trident, but we will not deploy it with more nuclear warheads than the Polaris boats have now. At a time when nuclear disarmament is the order of the day, it seems crazy to us for any Government to increase the number of nuclear warheads.
That leads me to another philosophical difference between us and the Government. It concerns the comprehensive test ban treaty. The United States, Russia and France are all pursuing testing moratoria, but what of Britain's position? When the United States first introduced legislation initiating a testing moratorium and seeking a comprehensive test ban treaty by 1996—a worthy objective—the British Government described it as "unfortunate", "misguided" and "unwise." They tried desperately to persuade the United States to resume testing, in order to allow Britain to conduct more tests in Nevada.
Fortunately, the policy failed: the United States has extended its moratorium, and the United Kingdom cannot test. We will watch the Government's negotiation position in Geneva closely, to ensure that they do not seek in any way to undermine or unnecessarily delay any progress towards a comprehensive test ban treaty.
§ Dr. Clark
Time is moving on, and I want to make progress.
Labour shares the Government's goal of achieving an indefinite and unconditional extension of the non-proliferation treaty at the special conference next spring. We believe that that will provide the soundest basis on which to secure further disarmament measures, and to prevent further proliferation. Of course we all accept that the non-proliferation treaty is not perfect, but—as such—we should encourage other states to join it.
If we are to succeed in preventing proliferation, as well as securing all those controls we need to persuade countries that it is not in their best interests to seek to acquire nuclear weapons; we must also demonstrate to the non-nuclear weapon state signatories to the non-proliferation treaty how we, as nuclear weapon states, intend to negotiate nuclear disarmament. Unless the Government reverse their complacent attitude and end their double standards, we shall jeopardise international efforts to reach a consensus on this crucial issue.
Let me now move from the strategic to the more operative end, and say a word about anti-personnel mines. They have been recognised as a major global problem by 60 all the development agencies in the world. There is a dire need for multilateral action in this respect, and again I must say that British leadership is sorely lacking. There are tens of thousands—millions—of such land mines in many very poor countries, causing an estimated 800 civilian deaths per month. But not only civilians suffer; occasionally, our own soldiers suffer as well. Two of our soldiers in Bosnia have tragically died because of land mines.
Some countries, given that evidence, have sought to change their export policies. The United States has extended a one-year moratorium on the export of all such mines; France has confirmed a ban on the sale of anti-personnel mines, as have Germany and other European countries. This Government, however, have again conspicuously failed to live up to international expectations.
The Government's excuse is the fact that some mines are equipped with self-destruct mechanisms. That is good, but I am afraid that those mines are not foolproof. Only the manufacturers believe their own claims that they are 99 per cent. effective. Military personnel estimate that the failure rate is 10 times that, while some charities that work in the third world disarming the mines believe that the true failure rate is between 15 and 20 per cent.
That means, for instance, that of the 9 million mines in Afghanistan, if all were self-neutralising and the failure rate was just 10 per cent., 900,000 would exist in that country alone for an indefinite period. That is completely unacceptable. The weapons are used in such countries in a deliberate attempt to terrorise the population, and consequently they should not be exported. A Labour Government will ban the export of all anti-personnel mines: that needs to be done in the name of humanity.
§ Dr. Clark
I know that the hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable, but I am anxious to make progress.
I was pleased that the Government signed the chemical weapons convention, but I was rather sad to note that they were hesitant about ratifying it. Why have they not done so? When I raised the matter with the Secretary of State for Defence, his response was far from satisfactory: he claimed thatwe hope to be among the first 65 states to ratify the Convention.The Government should not merely "hope"; they must be among the first 65 states, because only after 65 countries have ratified the convention will it come into force. We plead with the Government to introduce legislation allowing them to ratify it. The Opposition will give such legislation a fair wind.
The Secretary of State mentioned the NATO summit and "Partnership for Peace". We went along with much of his thinking. We have a clear understanding of the fears and aspirations of the countries involved—both Russia and the former Warsaw pact satellite countries; we are aware of Russia's worry that NATO could isolate it, and perhaps surround parts of it. It is clear, however, that "Partnership for Peace" has been a success so far. As the Secretary of State said, 23 countries have signed it; it has given something to all parties, and that must be built on.
"Partnership for Peace" can be seen either as a measure to buy time, or as a first step. We believe that the latter is correct, and we look forward to the day when some of our former Warsaw pact enemies are full members of 61 NATO. It is right that they should be: after all, they are part of Europe—it is hard to imagine Poland, the Czech republic or Hungary not being part of Europe—and they are democratic. There is no reason why they should not be NATO members.
The space given to us by "Partnership for Peace" must be filled with proposals to make Russia feel more and not less secure. Ultimately, however, we cannot allow Russia to dictate our security. I urge the Government to take a lead, and not sit passively on the sidelines; this is a complicated issue, but it needs to be pursued.
The Opposition fully believe in the importance of NATO, and the need to ensure its continuity and survival in a changing world. It has new tasks and responsibilities, but the role that it set out in 1949—to ensure that the security of Britain and the free world was protected—is just as necessary now, even in these different conditions. What worries us is that the Government are not giving the necessary lead. We are ideally placed to act as a defence bridge between north America and Europe, but that necessitates effort and energy, both of which the Government sorely lack.
Defence is one area in which Britain is still respected in the world and so it should be. We should be taking the lead in Europe to ensure that the new architecture of defence in Europe is effective, thought out and well planned. Obviously, we must increase Europe's contribution to the alliance, but at the same time we must ensure that we do not lose the strength of the United States.
Another role of our troops has been in United Nations peacekeeping missions, which the Labour party heartily endorses. Our commitment to the UN is enshrined in the rather topical clause IV of the Labour party constitution, which I hope will not be re-written in this respect. We believe that more should be done to give the UN the leadership and the support that it deserves. There is a need for reform and, in the 50th year of the UN, I urge the Government, as a permanent member of the Security Council, to take the lead in pursuing some active reforms.
In the RAF debate at the start of last year, I called for the establishment of a situation room operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week so that defence work could be co-ordinated. I am glad to see that such an operation room has now been established, but that is only a start. The UN also needs to develop an early warning capability to analyse and interpret intelligence.
We need to increase our training for UN operations and, of course, we should be arguing for the working effectiveness of the military committee at the UN and for the establishment of the post of chief military adviser to the UN Secretary-General. If we are going to fill the vacuum left by the super-powers, and if that vacuum is to be filled not by terror, but by the UN, as we all hope it will, there must be major reforms of the UN. I hope that the Government will be in the van in arguing for that.
At the end of the day, however, this defence debate is about our security. When one asks, "What about the future of Britain's security?" it is clear that the Conservatives are not sure. Until they conduct a defence review—and they will come round to the view that that should happen—there is no answer. The only answer is the Treasury.
62 In a recent speech, the Defence Secretary made it clear that the Government do not want to face up to a defence review. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear last year that he, and not the Ministry of Defence, decides Britain's defence commitments. That is no way to conduct defence policy. I advise the Secretary of State that, as long as he lacks a proper defence strategy, he will be in the hands of the Treasury. As long as he is in that position, he will find that the Treasury, like any blackmailer, will come back for more and more and more.
The position is more worrying if one considers the Government's own figures. After 1997, which just happens to be the last year for a general election, the Government will run into a shortfall of money available. According to the most recent estimates, there will be a shortfall of just under £2 billion in 1997, rising to an estimated £4 billion in 1999. A shortfall equal to more than one penny of income tax will still exist. How do the Government intend to square the circle?
We have argued—and we have never pretended that this is an easy option—that the only true way to protect our security is to have a full defence review. Only by that means can we assess the threats to our security and reshape our defences accordingly. That is not an easy option, but it is the only proper way to provide for our defences in the years ahead.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said at the start of his speech that there has been a period of change since the publication of the defence estimates. The first change that I should like to welcome is the new team that sits beside him on the Front Bench—new members of my right hon. and learned Friend's Cabinet grooming squad, who are faced with major challenges.
The first challenge is the awfulness of the Labour party's defence policy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) and I were just discussing the position of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who my right hon. Friend rightly said has an impossible job. I sympathise with that and with the fact that the Labour party wisely decided—although it was a pretty sublime discourtesy to the House—not to table an amendment to the motion. I understand that it is likely to be tabled tomorrow. The hon. Member for South Shields cited precedent—the Labour party did not table an amendment last year either. That was equally appalling. For two years running, hon. Members will have had to speak in these debates without the privilege of a Labour amendment before them.
§ Mr. King
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I wish to try to keep to Madam Speaker's strictures.
The argument of the hon. Member for South Shields is no more convincing now than it was last year. Hugo Young got it right in the quotation that my right hon. and learned Friend read out. The hon. Member for South Shields wisely declined to challenge or respond to the 63 invitation, from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, to set out more clearly what Labour defence policy might be.
§ Mr. King
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I want to make progress.
The Defence White Paper and the subsequent "Front Line First" statement carry forward the work on which we have been engaged since the total change of circumstance brought about by the end of the cold war. We have had the "Options for Change" programme, the "Britain's Defence for the 90s" White Paper and successive White Papers.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the progress that has been made. He will know of my feelings on the matter over the years. The proposals that we put forward at the start of the process were continually criticised and carped at from the wings. I pay tribute to the senior officers and senior officials who worked on the original programmes, which have stood the test of time remarkably well. No informed comment seriously suggests any major change to the schemes that we laid out or to the outline for our defence in "Options for Change", which was confirmed in the "Britain's Defence for the 90s" White Paper. The logical consequence of that policy is carried through into "Front Line First". Having determined what our capability is, we should ensure that our overheads are not excessive in relation to front line commitments and that we have the capabilities and resources that we need.
In his speech to the Conservative party conference, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that "Front Line First" would bring an end to the upheaval. That was a little premature. It may bring an end to the argument about financing levels, but we are in a period of continuing change. Many of the changes still have to take place and, sadly—as the hon. Member for South Shields fairly said—some jobs will be lost and some bases and installations will close. That, however, is the inevitable consequence of restructuring, which is essential if we are to ensure that we have effective, cost-effective defences.
At the time of the "Front Line First" announcements, I asked my right hon. and learned Friend to give an assurance that, having made further changes, we would have a period of stability in which those who work in our armed forces, in our civilian establishments and in the MoD could clearly see the basis on which we embarked on our policy and the destination. I am pleased with the statement that he made in that respect. However, I say to those people that stability will not mean fossilisation. It will not mean that there will be an opportunity to sit back complacently and say, "Now we can settle back with the present and agreed establishments." It will mean a continuing search for efficiency.
The hon. Member for South Shields asked how situations that could lead to waste could arise. Someone has compared the problem with painting the Forth bridge. When dealing with an organisation that consisted of 500,000 people and had a budget of £24,000 million, we face the problem of continually ensuring that there is no waste, inefficiency and, as there sometimes sadly can be, fraud—the hon. Gentleman mentioned that—in certain 64 aspects of the defence establishment. A continuing search for efficiency is the duty of everyone in responsible positions in the MoD.
Although I applaud the decision to introduce stability into the defence budget, some very difficult decisions have to be made. The lumpiness in the pattern of calls that will be made on the procurement budget will pose major challenges. We know that the largest call will be that made by the European fighter aircraft. My right hon. and learned Friend and I have had to fight very hard—not least with our German allies—to keep the project going. I am very worried by some of the stories that I have heard about cost overruns and the lack of progress being made with that scheme. I hope that everyone involved in it realises that many people fought very hard for the jobs created by the project and for the capability that it will bring. Management has a heavy responsibility to ensure that the project can proceed and be sustainable within the defence budget.
My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the added components of "Front Line First", such as investing in the future equipment programme. The hon. Member for South Shields referred to the number of stores that we need. He was quite right about the old Challenger 1 tanks and the problem of finding enough that could even roll out of the maintenance depots and reach the Gulf. I ordered the new Challenger 2 tanks and the Government have now placed a further, larger order for Challenger 2 tanks so as to ensure that our tanks work the first time and are not wholly dependent on maintenance depots.
I have already referred to the fact that our forces must be properly manned and properly trained, something that has caused a problem in periods of strain and stretch on the defence budget. We must maintain our capabilities. It is no good boasting of the number of our front-line troops if they are not of sufficient quality or do not have the training that they need.
I welcome what was said about the joint rapid deployment force. It, too, will be an important ingredient in dealing with the challenges facing us at the moment. I also welcome the comments on the approach to the Territorial Army in terms of our capability to reconstitute our forces.
The White Paper states:After 40 years of stability … uncertainty and unpredictability are … the norm.My right hon. and learned Friend wrote that before what was perhaps the welcome but most unpredictable event since the House last sat— the ceasefire in Northern Ireland. I am pleased that he gave the probable gross figure—300,000—for the number of personnel who have served in Northern Ireland—I had been wondering what it was. The ceasefire is greatly welcomed by everyone in Northern Ireland, including the civilian population, which has had to endure so much. It is, in itself, a tremendous tribute to those in the police and the armed forces who have served in Northern Ireland.
I shall not try to emulate my right hon. and learned Friend's admirable and eloquent tribute to the achievements of the service men and policemen involved. He gave details of what they endure—a 16-hour day on a six-month roulement tour, sleeping with their boots on, often in appalling conditions. The rules under which they had to operate mean that their achievement and commitment were remarkable indeed. 65 I endorse fully my right hon. and learned Friend's comment that, although there is a ceasefire, terrorist groups nevertheless retain all their military hardware and military capability. That means that there is a risk of a resurgence of violence, so there can be no question of our lowering our guard. However, in the short term, the ceasefire will help to reduce the pressure facing our service men and policemen.
The scale of our commitment and the burden placed on our armed forces and the Ministry of Defence mean that the possible changes could be substantial. It will be necessary to consider the consequences. We are now entering a period with an opportunity for less overstretch, but the risk is that our armed forces will face understretch. We have largely withdrawn from Germany and we are withdrawing from Hong Kong, and the question of opportunities for training arises.
§ Mr. King
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) correctly says that the best training in the world is operational experience. I saw our Royal Marines who came out of west Belfast and went to northern Iraq to clear the Iraqi snipers at the beginning of Operation Provide Comfort. On the basis of their experience in Northern Ireland, they had capabilities that the American soldiers and marines who went to Iraq at the same time simply did not have. Our commitment to Northern Ireland has been a strain and a stretch, but there is no question but that it has enhanced the capabilities and operational experience of private soldiers and young non-commissioned officers. It has been of considerable military benefit. We accept the importance of maintaining standards, and the challenge offered by the ceasefire is significant in terms of defence planning.
§ Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
Given his experience of Northern Ireland, what is the right hon. Gentleman's solution to the problem of understretch?
§ Mr. King
My point was that operational experience is the best training. There is no doubt that the frequency of the roulement tour, the experience of carrying weapons and live ammunition and the pressure and challenges faced by service personnel are difficult to simulate in peacetime training.
I referred earlier to properly manned and properly trained forces. The challenge facing us now is how best to replicate the training experience gained in situations such as that in Northern Ireland. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we are likely to become involved in more peacekeeping. The situations arising from that will be much more akin to the street scenes of Northern Ireland than to the circumstances of the Gulf war, which I experienced. Many people would now regard those circumstances as less likely to occur than smaller "brush fires" of one type or another, or civilian insurgencies and disaffection with which we may have to help, or the problem of areas such as Bosnia, which involve us in the provision of humanitarian relief in semi-military situations.
We must maintain standards for another reason. Some people may have thought that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State was boasting when he described our armed forces as arguably the best in the world. Let us consider our defence capability not just in 66 terms of its quality of equipment or training but of our position as a country in terms of our international posture and relations. The nations that can help in international situations are the United States, Russia, France and ourselves. One of those countries has to be the lead player. Other countries will join the team. In the Gulf war, in the end, 30 countries sent forces to play their part. However, other countries cannot operate in the United Nations unless they have leadership from one of the countries that I have named in any significant and challenging situation.
It is not just a matter of our national pride. There are those who are concerned about the situation in the world and who see that Britain needs to play a role. In that international role and in the ability to play our part internationally, it is important that we maintain our capability and our standards.
We have highly capable and well-led forces. Tribute was paid to General Sir Michael Rose. I saw General Sir Peter de la Billière in the Gulf war and General Rupert Smith, and now we have General Sir Michael Rose. The world is starting to see, in these rather more publicised situations, something of the calibre of leadership that we can offer and which exists in our armed forces. When the spotlight shines on such people, we see how well so many of them are able to perform and what a credit they are to our training and to the quality that we can bring to such situations.
I say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State that, faced with the challenges and the pressures, the plans that we have laid and that he is carrying forward, that he has reinforced with his statement on "Front Line First" and that he has carried through in the defence estimates show that we are providing for our country and that we are providing in a wider sense, for the international community and for the United Nations, a defence capability of which we can be extremely proud and which does our country great service.
§ Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)
I shall speak for a short time in view of the number of people who wish to contribute and I shall concentrate on a single subject—the future large aircraft. My plea is the same as that made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) in an excellent speech from the Front Bench.
The future of the British aerospace industry, especially into the next century, depends to a large degree on whether the FLA is ordered. When I talk about aerospace, I am talking about the last great manufacturing industry in this country. It provides 2 per cent. of British gross domestic product, 5 per cent. of manufactured goods and almost 10 per cent. of our exports.
The replacement for the Hercules must be an aircraft that can meet the needs of our armed forces. They are new needs following the end of the cold war. They must be able to provide a rapid response and to get our troops and equipment to where they are most needed as quickly as possible. The future large aircraft falls into that category. It is in itself a leap into the technology of the next century. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields said, it is important to remember that it is a new aircraft that incorporates the expertise and knowledge of the Airbus team, who have been exceedingly successful. 67 The FLA is unlike the C130J, which, whatever one says about it, is an old aircraft. It was designed and its air frame was built in the 1950s. Whatever is added to it, the air frame remains the same.
I referred to the new needs of the armed forces. The FLA will give tremendous advantages in relation to the payload. It offers 100 per cent. greater cargo in volume, a 70 per cent. higher than average payload per sortie and a 25 per cent. higher maximum payload and it has a 20 per cent. higher cruising speed. All those points are important. I am pleased that my good friend the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), who has moved to a new Ministry, is taking note of what we are saying in relation to this. I am sure that later we shall hear either from him or from the Minister of State for Defence Procurement in relation to the FLA.
Let us concentrate a little on the load that the FLA could carry. It could carry missile systems, artillery, logistic vehicles and, most importantly, armoured fighting vehicles, especially the Warrior and the Saxon. We all remember that in Bosnia, the Warrior could not be taken in by Hercules and it had to come by boat. The FLA would give that almost immediate response for which we are looking.
As I said earlier, jobs in aerospace are absolutely essential. When considering the alternative aircraft, we should look at the jobs that each would provide in this country. If we opted for the C130J—to take what has been said by Lockheed in the expensive advertisements in the press—the company claims that the project would engender 3,000 to 3,500 jobs. However, I suggest that, of those, only about 1,750 are direct jobs in aerospace. They are all very useful, but most are with the suppliers.
§ Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)
As the 1,750 to which the hon. Gentleman refers is probably exactly the number of jobs that would be created by that project in my constituency and within Lucas Industries, I should be grateful if he would take what Lockheed has said in its publicity quite seriously. There are, obviously, positive arguments on both sides of the debate. It would not be fair for the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that he will not do this—to rubbish the claims of the rival to support his own theory.
§ Mr. Hoyle
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course, I am not here to rubbish anyone. I am here to put forward the claims for the FLA. I am analysing the two options. I accept the claim of 3,000 to 3,500 jobs. but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will object when I say that about 1,750 of those are directly aerospace jobs. The rest—I have made the point—are extremely important because they involve suppliers to the industry.
Although Lucas Industries is in the C130J programme, it may get a double bonus if the FLA goes ahead—[Interruption.] I shall wait until the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) has finished talking to his colleagues. I am replying to the point that he raised with me. Lucas Industries may, of course, get a double bonus. I have no doubt that if the FLA goes ahead, Lucas will participate in it as well. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's constituency would suffer.
68 Again, I am being fair to Lockheed. Lockheed has said that the orders that it would place for about 120 sets would not be dependent on whether the British ordered the C130J or went for another aircraft. I think that the jobs of the constituents of the hon. Member for Hall Green are pretty well assured. I am not here to knock others. I am trying to conduct an analysis.
Up to 6,000 or 7,000 jobs directly in the aerospace industry may be created as a result of the FLA. They would be at the leading edge of technology. The jobs relate to the aircraft wings, which are very important. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) has had to depart. The jobs are very important to the Broughton plant in his constituency. The development and production of the engine will be important to Rolls-Royce and it is estimated that it could provide 1,000 jobs in Bristol. It is a core engine which will be shared between Rolls-Royce and Germany.
The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) talked about the position of our troops in Ireland. The FLA is important to Shorts in Northern Ireland. The company is very much in the forefront of aerospace technology and it would benefit greatly from a decision in favour of the FLA, as would 60 other companies.
Again, I hope that I am being fair to the Lockheed bid. The bid is firm for about 120 sets, as I understand it. Whether that would be extended to 400 sets or, indeed, to the 700 that Lockheed hope to sell, I am not too sure. If it sold 120 sets, it would provide about £360 million. But if the MOD then decided to order 30 C130J aircraft, once we had got in that £360 million, it would cost us £1 billion to pay for those aircraft. So, there would be a deficit of something like £640 million. If, as I say, the MOD ordered 50 aircraft, the deficit would be even greater. It would then cost us £1.7 billion and there would be a deficit of £1.34 billion. Therefore, those jobs would be provided at a cost.
If we had the 20 per cent. share promised to us in relation to the wings or the aero engine in the future large aircraft and if 300 aircraft were built, neglecting any exports, the deal would be worth about £5.5 billion to this country, which would be a positive contribution. If we were successful in exports as well and sold up to 700 FLAs overall, it would be worth £10 billion to the United Kingdom. So we are talking about very large sums.
There is another aspect to consider, to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields referred—our participation in the Airbus. I should not like to see us jeopardise that participation by not going ahead with the FLA. If we go ahead with the FLA, we will be partners in Europe with countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The alternative would mean that we would be absolutely dependent on the American sources, which would give the Americans a monopoly in the world market. The only alternative to American domination in that area is to go ahead with the European consortium.
I hope that, in reply, the Minister does not say that while we want to go ahead with the first tranche, the FLA will not be an available option to us. If we followed that line, it could mean that we would not be the major source in the consortium as would be expected. That would mean 69 double sourcing of everything, whether it be spares, pilots, or training, which would put Lockheed in the driving seat for the second tranche.
§ Mr. Walker
Will the hon. Gentleman address the point which the hon. Member for South Shields did not address? Would he expect the Ministry of Defence to pay the development costs of the FLA and, if so, what does he think is the likely figure?
§ Mr. Hoyle
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the cost to this country would be shared by the whole consortium. There would be no greater cost than the cost related to the Airbus, which has been an outstanding success. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that I was talking about the total deficit which would occur with the American bid. Whatever we paid in the first instance for the FLA, in the long term, if exports took off, we would be the beneficiaries to the tune of £10 billion. That is very important.
§ Mr. Mans
In answer to the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) about development costs, does the hon. Gentleman agree that one proposal that has been put forward by the FLA consortium is that, provided that the Royal Air Force comes up with a specific order at a specific time to a specific design criteria, it may be that, in a similar way to the way in which the Airbus 340 was developed, the costs of developing the FLA could be paid for outside the Ministry of Defence?
§ Mr. Hoyle
I could not agree more with what the hon. Gentleman has said. That would be extremely helpful. Of course, if it could be arranged in that way, it would be another plus factor for the FLA. What we are drawing on all the time—the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) was right to say it—is the expertise that has been developed while working on the Airbus. Costs would be cut because of the experience of the Airbus and we would draw on the knowledge that we gained from that civilian project. Not to go ahead, as I said to the hon. Member for Tayside, North, would not, I am sure, be amusing to all those in aerospace whose jobs may be lost. I am sure that that is not the intention of the hon. Member for Tayside, North and that that was not what was amusing him. Also, if we do not go ahead in the FLA project, our future role in Airbus will be put in jeopardy because the Germans are very keen to secure the wing design and they would be quite happy, having got the wing design of the FLA if we did not go ahead, to step into our shoes in future Airbus projects.
70 I say to the Minister that I hope that we will at least delay any decision until early 1995 when the feasibility study will have been completed. That is extremely important because a failure to delay the decision would be a body blow to the aerospace industry.
§ Sir John Cope (Northavon)
This is the first time that I have had the opportunity to address the House from the Back Benches in just over 15 years, and I am delighted to do so. One gets a better view from up here—perhaps a more all-round view. I am delighted to address the House because I am a strong supporter of our team at the Ministry of Defence. "Front Line First" was not only elegant, as the Select Committee on Defence said, but reflected the clear thinking of the Secretary of State.
I follow the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) in supporting the future large aircraft and in reflecting on that project. The Labour party spokesman, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who replied for the Opposition with a typically weak speech, if I may say so, said that the Government should not rush into a decision. Indeed, as far as I could see, he spent his whole speech telling the Government not to make any decision for ages and ages. He certainly advises the Labour party in that way.
But it is important to my constituency, as to others, what decision is made about the future transport aircraft for the Royal Air Force. We have a very large aerospace complex at Bristol, which is partly in my constituency and, centred on British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce, is the most complete aerospace complex in the country.
There are, of course, three sets of factors that affect the decision of which my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Ministry of Defence have to take account—the military, financial, and industrial factors. There are also three Departments of State involved which reflect those three factors: the MOD, the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry. All three should be involved in the decision. The factors have been canvassed at some length, but I shall comment on each of them briefly.
The RAF has started to argue relatively recently that its present C130s are worn out and that they must be replaced before the future large aircraft becomes available. Of course, the C130s were originally intended to last into the next century. It is now clear that they will not, at least not without refurbishment. However, it is also clear that they would last with refurbishment. If that is not clear, it has been made clear from the attitude of Lockheed. Lockheed has said, in its keenness to sell us some new C-130s, that it will take the old ones back, it will refurbish them—that is apparently its intention—and sell them on to other forces. That means that Lockheed does not believe that those aircraft have come to the end of their useful lives.
The RAF also apparently sees no reason to change the basic specification of the C130, in particular the size of the load carried. That is determined by the air frame, which was designed many years ago in the 1950s. Everyone who went to Farnborough knows that there is a vast difference between the load capability of the C130 and that of the FLA—that was obvious from the full-scale model of the FLA on show there. The Warrior and other similar vehicles, as well as guns and so on, would not fit into the C130, but would fit into the FLA. 71 Emergencies, such as that which arose in the Gulf last week, as well as events in Bosnia and Somalia, reveal that, in future, it will be important to have the ability to put forces on the ground with their proper equipment quickly. It is a grave disadvantage to have to send equipment by sea.
I happened to do my national service during the Suez emergency. I was in the artillery and my regiment was posted to Suez by air and our guns were sent by sea. Some of the vehicles got there, but we never did. In fact, for lack of air transport we had to leave some of our vehicles in Egypt when those personnel who did get that far came back. That is a wonderful example of why not to separate forces from their equipment. I am therefore extremely conscious of the difficulties caused by trying to put forces on the ground without their proper equipment.
It is difficult to assess the financial considerations behind any decision to go ahead with either the C130 or the FLA, partly because many negotiations and studies are yet to be undertaken, notably the feasibility study mentioned by the hon. Member for Warrington, North. Lockheed emphasises that the initial capital cost of the C130 is lower than that of the FLA, whereas British Aerospace argues that the lifetime costs of the FLA would be lower than those of the C130. Those lifetime costs are the ones that matter, because the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury should make their decision according to them. After all, the House will judge any decision on that basis. The experience of the lifetime costs of the existing C130s should be taken into account.
I will not believe that the RAF's revenue expenditure is under tremendous pressure as long as the university air squadrons exist in their present form. The overwhelming majority of people to whom those squadrons give flying training have no intention, let alone obligation, of entering the RAF. It would not want them if, later, they did decide to join. That flying training is very expensive as well as—to give away my interest in the matter—very noisy to some of my constituents. I am encouraged by paragraph 325 of "Front Line First" which speaks of civilian flying instruction at basic levels. I hope that that means that, in future, all the university air squadrons will confine their activities to organising civilian flying training for undergraduates who are expected to join the RAF. That could be done for a small fraction of the costs now incurred.
Another financial argument about the C130, which surfaced briefly during the proceedings of the Select Committee and earlier this afternoon, is that the timing of a decision on it would mean that its costs would take up some perceived slack in defence procurement expenditure before the coming of the Eurofighter and so help to smooth out the cash flow from the MOD. That argument should be dismissed at once. It is a giant version of the one advanced by departments that stock up with paper clips before the year end, based on the logic that that will preserve their expenditure base line. That argument should not appeal to the Treasury.
As a Treasury Minister, I was recently involved in the long-overdue overhaul of Government accounting. For too long, crude annual cash accounting, long since superseded in commerce, distorted Government financial 72 decisions. This summer's Green Paper on resource accounting, which is now out for consultation, marks the beginning of the end of that process.
The hon. Member for Warrington, North dwelt on the industrial factors involved in any decision. I agree that major advantages could be gained for British industry from ordering the FLA rather than more C130s. One can argue about the detailed figures, as the hon. Gentleman did, but there can be no doubt that far more high-quality work in particular is likely to come to Britain from a project that we help to manage than from permitting an effective world monopoly in the manufacture of this type of aircraft, based in the United States.
It is worth pointing out to the hon. Member for Warrington, North why the United States has had a monopoly for 30 years. We have travelled this route before, because in 1965 the Labour Government cancelled the HS681. That decision has left us at the mercy of the United States for the manufacture of such large military transport aircraft for the past 30 years. The excellent success achieved by Airbus Industrie has given us the chance to break out of that monopoly on military transport manufacture, just as Airbus has recently challenged the Boeing domination of civilian airliner manufacture, which seemed so complete.
Allies are extremely important militarily. That has been said so many times in defence debates that it hardly needs to be repeated. We are all obviously in the debt, in so many ways, of the United States, through NATO and right back through history. We have industrial allies, too, and these days we need them just as much as we compete in the world. If we chose an American aircraft, our companies would be taken out of the front line of European aerospace co-operation which has been so successful recently, particularly through Airbus Industrie. Those who are concerned about the effective management of co-operative projects should be reassured by the fact that Airbus Industrie is involved with the FLA, because it has already been so effective in the Airbus project.
An apparently seductive option exists to postpone the difficult decision on this matter by ordering a few C130s now and leaving the decision about the FLA for a few years. Such a course would be in danger of leaving us with the worst of all worlds. In industrial terms, it would show a half-hearted commitment to the FLA and would mean that we ended up with a poor deal for our industry and had little involvement in the project. Militarily it would also mean that in about 10 years' time we would end up with some fairly newly built C130s, sized for the 1950s, with at the same time too few FLAs designed for the next century. Such a course would be an error militarily and industrially and I do not believe that it would save us any money. Therefore, Ministers should—and I am sure that they will—look very hard at that decision.
Lockheed naturally wants to push us into a quick decision if possible because it wants us as a launch customer with regard to its new C130. It does not have the American Government, so it would like us as a launch customer. That would be good for Lockheed, but it would have the important disadvantage, which has already been stressed, of meaning that a decision would have to be taken before the Euroflag study becomes available. It would be premature to take the decision at that point. 73 When all the factors are considered, it would be wrong to replace an aircraft that still has life in it with a more souped-up version of the same thing, and which is now so old, instead of waiting for the better plane to become available. It would also be a costly mistake in this case for us to buy American and to damage one of our own world-class industries.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
Like others, I was much taken by the Secretary of State's reference to Hugo Young's article of 14 July 1994. Showing characteristic modesty, the Secretary of State forbore to tell us about the parts of the article which referred to himself— [Interruption.] I see from the Secretary of State's response to that observation that he is aware that he featured to some extent in the article.
During a fairly iconoclastic look at these matters, Mr. Young said:When this year's public spending was being hacked over last autumn, the Ministry of Defence thought it might have to lose £500 million from its next three-year programme. In fact it was told to find more than double that. Mr. Rifkind emerged shattered from EDX, the relevant Cabinet committee. The horse-trading between ministers showed he had no friends. Chancellor Clarke, a notorious envelope man, was quite content to pin him to a figure that was little more refined than the residual of every other spender's.Mr. Young has the advantage of not having to make such decisions and not having to shadow those who have to make those decisions. It is therefore perhaps easier for him than for others to strike out in all directions.
What has emerged so far from this debate is a general recognition that there has been a substantial period of change for the armed services and for the defence industry and, in both sectors, there is now a considerable desire for a period of calm and stability. Accepting that, I do not believe that that precludes us from continuing to conduct the necessary exercise to match commitments with resources. I rather favour the view of those who argue that simply to call for a defence review in all circumstances is not an answer to some of the difficult questions that we are bound to face.
Indeed, if a defence review is to have any value, it will provide not the answers but the questions. The answers will have to be provided afterwards. Such questions will have a point only if we ask them against the background of clearly stated foreign policy objectives. A review would have a point only if we were willing to increase resources if, on a proper review, we determined that our commitments required that.
To call for a review is simply only part of the necessary analysis if commitments and resources are to be properly matched. Ministers frequently say, "Well, we do this on an on-going basis." Many people—not least Mr. Young, as those who read his article might discover—are anxious about the fact that many recent decisions have not been predicated upon substantial long-term strategic thinking.
To embark on a study of the costs of defence is entirely sensible. However, it is not sensible to say that the commitments for which that defence is provided should be excluded. What comparable organisation with a budget of £23 billion, anxious to ensure that it was obtaining value for money, would not consider the relevance of what it was spending money on as much as how that money was being spent?
74 In his announcement on 14 July, the Secretary of State proposed the joint rapid deployment force and the procurement of Tomahawk cruise missiles. They represent an enhancement of capability. They are clearly designed to meet a commitment other than that of home defence. We do not acquire additional capability without an analysis of the need for that capability. By parity of reasoning, it seems that one should not reduce expenditure or capability without analysis of need.
If, as the Defence Select Committee concluded—reference has already been made to this—the defence costs study proposals will result in reduced stocks and a reduction in manpower margins and will extend the service life of some vehicles, what guarantee can we have that capability will not be affected? I accept that the Secretary of State told the House a little while ago that the MoD would bring the upmost rigour to such matters. However, if he had been standing here in the summer of 1989 and not 1990 and the same point had been put to him about the state of our armoured divisions in Germany, I have no doubt that he would have responded in precisely the same way.
The truth is that one knows the extent to which capability may have been affected only when one creates the very operational circumstances, to which the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) referred, in the context of enhancing the ability of individual soldiers. As has already been said, we are all aware that the Gulf war showed up the very sorry state of the equipment in some of our armoured divisions. It showed that we had insufficient ammunition for the 155 mm howitzer, which gave rise to the rather undignified exchanges that we had to have with the Belgian Government on that matter.
As the Secretary of State properly recognised, the Defence Select Committee has expressed anxiety about the fact that the defence costs studies might become an annual exercise. The Secretary of State gave a round "no" to that. We accept his word. However, if another Secretary of State for Defence is subjected to something like an annual exercise, some hon. Members—I put it no more strongly than this—would be particularly disappointed.
There is an important test. Will all the identified savings be available to the Secretary of State for Defence to spend as he thinks fit? The Secretary of State was asked about that and I believe that I am correct to say that he was unable to give an unequivocal affirmative. He referred to the Tomahawk programme and the rapid deployment force as additional capability that could be found. However, he did not seem to be able to say that everything saved as a result of the defence costs studies would be ploughed back in some other form into the defence budget.
Like many hon. Members, I have received extensive representations about installations that are the subject of proposals in the defence costs studies. I do not want to deal with them from a constituency point of view because I am well aware that other hon. Members have a very keen interest in these matters with regard to their constituents. However, I want to refer to one or two installations because they raise larger questions.
Also like many hon. Members, I have received extensive representations about the Eaglescliffe royal naval stores depot. My question—this is a question which all hon. Members might want answered because it may be our constituencies next—is why did it apparently take approximately six weeks to issue the consultation 75 document after the Secretary of State's announcement? Do not those whose jobs are affected deserve something better and more efficient?
Is not there a principle that, when decisions have such material consequences, it is essential that consultations should be seen to be more than simply ritualistic? As we know, the United States has an independent mechanism for determining such issues. It might be difficult to import such a mechanism into the United Kingdom, but any one of us may have to face a proposal with the same effect in his or her constituency. It is surely in the interests of all hon. Members and of our constituents that those matters are fairly and reasonably dealt with.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)
The hon. and learned Gentleman raises an important point as to the period of consultation and how long it takes to produce the papers. First, it is plain that if the papers are to stand up to the rigour of close examination, they must be properly put together. Some of the information is difficult to come by and it takes time to put it together. Therefore, because of the weight of work, some have taken longer than others.
Secondly, we have been extremely flexible about consultation and we shall continue to be so. The whole point of that is that consultation should be an entirely genuine process. All views should be garnered so that Ministers may consider in full detail what they have seen.
§ Mr. Campbell
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think me churlish when I say that I am much more heartened by the second part than by the first part of his answer. If, on one view of what he said, those decisions were taken when the necessary information had not all been assembled, it would give substance to the apprehension that many people have expressed about the way in which those decisions were arrived at.
An overwhelming case has been made against the closure of Rosyth naval base, from an economic standpoint—a case marshalled by Fife regional council, supported by the Fraser of Allander Institute. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), in whose constituency that installation is to be found, will want to say rather more about those matters, but I approach them from the point of view of what I conceive to be the important strategic issues. I begin by ignoring the rather arid discussion in Scottish newspapers about whether a base without ships can properly be a base at all. What is important is the nature of the activities carried on in the installation.
It is clear that once the minor war vessels go from Rosyth, the remaining defence functions will not then depend on any particular locational characteristics that Rosyth possesses. That is to say that they could as easily be done elsewhere. If, as we know, the two dockyards at Devonport and Rosyth are to be privatised, those defence functions that remain at the base when the minor war vessels go could as easily be carried out in the neighbouring dockyard. If that were so, the case for the retention of the base, if it is entitled to that description, becomes severely weakened. There is no doubt that if the Rosyth naval base were to be closed, it would almost certainly never reopen.
76 That has operational implications for the Royal Navy because it would severely restrict its ability to fulfil its obligation to ensure the integrity of the United Kingdom's territorial waters, an obligation which is recognised in the defence estimates. I have in mind particularly the oil and gas installations of the North sea and, of course, the important fishing industry, of which part at least is located in my constituency.
Strategically, closure of the base would assume that never again would there be a need for substantial naval operations in northern waters. I do not feel qualified or, perhaps more important, sufficiently optimistic about the obligations that the Royal Navy might face to answer that question unequivocally in the affirmative. These are not matters dreamt up by those who are anxious to preserve, the base at all costs; they are considerations which have been supported by Mr. David Greenwood, the director of the centre for defence studies at Aberdeen university, and they are also, of course, to some extent supported by the conclusions of the Defence Select Committee itself. The proposals for the base should be reassessed from both operational and strategic considerations.
There is another important point in this period of rapid and sometimes difficult change. In some cases, the long-term consequences for defence-based communities will clearly be extremely damaging. It is only natural that those consequences are causing considerable apprehension. There is a feeling that the Government have no strategy, no policy for managing that change and are content simply to leave it to the market. I choose another example—no doubt the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) will give a detailed account of it—a community such as Portland. How will the market cope with the economic and social consequences if the proposals for Portland are carried through? I find it difficult to conceive how that can be achieved.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
The hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned my constituency. Does he accept that it is much more sensible for the Government to use existing enterprise Departments such as the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Employment and so on? Although I shall always plead for more money and more help, since January our unemployment has been going down faster than that of almost any other area.
§ Mr. Campbell
If unemployment in the hon. Gentleman's constituency has been going down, that is something to be thankful for. I wish that it was true in Fife, of which my constituency forms part. I do not think that what he is saying is antagonistic to the view that, when there is a substantial closure with substantial economic and social effects, there should be a strategy for managing that change. In the United States, where capitalism reigns supreme, one of the first acts of the Clinton Administration was to establish an office for that very purpose. A further issue is dockyard privatisation, to which I have already referred. What assessment has been made of the economic and social consequences of that?
Reference has been made to Bosnia. I do not wish to detain the House long on that theatre of operations for our forces. Like the Secretary of State for Defence and, indeed, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, I think that any removal or relaxation of the arms embargo would be dangerous and would risk not only the achievements of UNPROFOR 77 and, in particular, the British forces who have serve in it, but the whole achievement of the United Nations in that difficult area.
Of course, the Government have a weapon that they can use if the matter is raised in the Security Council—the exercise of the veto. So far, the public statement on behalf of the Government is that, although they disapprove of any relaxation of the embargo, if the matter goes to the Security Council their intention is to abstain and not to exercise the veto. I cannot help thinking that, if the strength of their opposition to the embargo is as great as it appears, it would be more logical to use the veto than simply to abstain.
The performance of troops in Bosnia is conditioned to some extent at least by the fact that for 25 years our forces have kept a difficult and often dangerous peace in Northern Ireland. If there is a political settlement, which no doubt all hon. Members hope and pray for, it would obviously have the consequence of reducing the military obligation there, but I hope—I was encouraged to some extent by the Secretary of State's response to such matters—that it will not be regarded as an excuse for a raid on the defence budget. It would be an opportunity for us to make available to the United Nations the skills and techniques that we have learnt in Northern Ireland and about which the right hon. Member for Bridgwater was rightly eloquent.
Our troops have become, perforce, probably the best counter-insurgency troops in the world. Those skills and techniques are clearly much more likely to be sought by the United Nations than the full-scale armour-based confrontation that we saw in the Gulf. Therefore, as our effort in Bosnia has been so outstanding, it is legitimate to say that a relaxation of the commitment in Northern Ireland would permit us to contribute even more if necessary.
The United Nations cannot be allowed to go on as it is without reform—here I echo to some extent the remarks of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). The United Nations requires better intelligence gathering, better organisation to provide military advice for the Secretary-General, a United Nations staff college to train in the techniques of peacekeeping, mechanisms to guarantee the quality of peacekeeping forces, assigned peacekeeping contingents from member nations which are able to move at short notice and, most important of all, security of funding. There have been occasions since 1990 when it has sadly lacked all of those.
Like other hon. Members, I continue to believe that, for the foreseeable future, the United Kingdom will be required to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent but that it should truly be a minimum deterrent. In accordance with NATO's nuclear doctrine, such weapons should be weapons of last resort. Their justification lies in self-defence against the use, or the threat of use, of nuclear weapons by others. We should bind ourselves to use them only in response to a clear nuclear threat and against military targets. We should say transparently that there will be no more warheads on Trident than the Polaris system which it is to replace—and, indeed, there may be fewer.
Perhaps the more significant nuclear issue that we must face in the short term is that of proliferation. There is a clear connection between the non-proliferation treaty and a comprehensive test ban treaty. Lord Carrington recognised that in 1982, when he pointed out that a test 78 ban would curb the development of new warheads and demonstrate the good faith of those powers possessing nuclear weapons to those who had, under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, surrendered the right to develop nuclear weapons. In that context, I do not think that one can pray in aid any more persuasive an authority than Lord Carrington, who was the Foreign Secretary at the time.
It will be for us to ensure that we fulfil our obligations under article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty, which binds us to negotiate to end the nuclear arms race. The comprehensive test ban treaty is an essential piece of the security architecture to help us towards that.
Different views on Europe were expressed in Bournemouth last week. It is worth reminding ourselves that, whatever those expressions of view may have been, the Maastricht treaty established a structure for a common foreign and security policy. Leaving aside political considerations, I am firmly of the view that economic considerations, as much as political ones, will drive this. The issues of interoperability, common procurement and force specialisation will be forced on to the agenda for financial reasons as much as political ones. They will not come about overnight; it will be a matter of evolution. If the Secretary of State for Defence was accurately reported in The Daily Telegraph on 10 May, theevolution of an EC defence policy was an 'inevitable consequence' of the Maastricht Treaty".We already see illustrations of it in the Anglo-Dutch amphibious force and in the Euro corps, to which units from France, Germany, Belgium and Spain are now assigned. Indeed, one might argue that the combined joint task forces agreed at the NATO summit in January are a further illustration of the development of that European defence identity.
I shall conclude by saying a word or two about procurement. The support helicopter and the Hercules replacement are important not only in themselves but because of the contribution that they make to mobility and flexibility. Indeed, one could argue that the fact that our troops are deployed in Kuwait at present is eloquent testimony to the fact that mobility and flexibility will continue to be important criteria against which we determine our defence expenditure and, indeed, our procurement decisions.
I do not want to get into the extended debate about the future large aircraft as compared to the C130J except to say that the Select Committee on Defence carefully considered those matters. Indeed, the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), may feel obliged to refer to some of them. I do not accept the view that we should simply cast aside the suggestion that we should procure some C130J aircraft now and wait until the future large aircraft comes on stream.
I hope that all hon. Members who have an interest in those matters will apply to the Royal Air Force for permission to fly in one of the existing Hercules fleet. I think that they will find that an extremely illuminating experience. The argument that the aircraft may have to be continued until the year 2002 or 2004, whether or not they are refurbished, will perhaps not be as strong at 5,000 ft as it is here in the Chamber.
The attack helicopter and the European fighter aircraft are important because they will maintain the quality of our capability. We have an obligation never to ask our 79 forces to go to war without the best available equipment. The European fighter aircraft was supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Indeed, I was one of those who was dispatched to Bonn shortly after the last election—in high style, I might say—to lobby our political opposite numbers.
The European fighter aircraft is fundamentally important to the aerospace industry, but its importance for the Royal Air Force cannot be underestimated. Therefore, I hope that the Government will have taken to heart the robust observations of the right hon. Member for Bridgwater. Too many hon. Members have invested too much time and effort, and I suppose emotion, in the European fighter aircraft for us to allow it simply to slide off the scale because of some difficulties with cost overruns.
Since "Options for Change" in July 1990, the debate in defence has largely been a financial one. There has been little effort to look beyond the next public expenditure round. Perhaps that was inevitable in the light of the state of the economy. It could be argued that defence cannot be exempt from what is happening in the wider economy. However, we now need to look further ahead in the debate. United Kingdom expenditure in real terms should not be cut further, and we should recognise that Europe might have to increase its defence expenditure if its security is at risk. Much of the optimism of the immediate post-cold war euphoria has gone. That now needs to be replaced with realism and some long-term strategic thinking.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)
I am delighted to speak in this debate. I am particularly delighted that, for the first time in the two years or so that I have been Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, I will not have to lambast my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench for their current policy.
I was pleased to hear that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence had read the Committee's report on the defence costs study, and I welcome what he said about it. I was less enthusiastic to learn that most hon. Members who have spoken so far, apart from the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who is a member of the Defence Committee, appear not to have read the report on the Hercules replacement because the conclusions that they seem to have drawn are wholly incompatible with the argument put forward in the paper we have published and the conclusions we have drawn. I shall return to that matter briefly in a few moments.
The Select Committee has published seven papers that are relevant to the debate. I hope that hon. Members will take the opportunity to glance at them because they contribute in a way that I do not have time to do today. We have published the defence costs study report, the Hercules replacement report, a report on the defence estimates, and reports on Trident, the Eurofighter, the RAF and Operation Granby. All those things are relevant to what we are now discussing.
Before I examine the highlights of three of those reports, I shall take up one or two of the points made by my right hon. and learned Friend. First, I shall refer to the NATO initiatives and in particular the partnership for 80 peace. The Defence Committee has spent most of this year researching a NATO report which we hope to make available to the House by the end of the year. Our research has taken us to Moscow and Kiev, and we have met representatives from virtually all the states in the old CIS and their neighbouring countries. We have seen people from the Baltic states, Georgia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I almost said Slovenia, but that is one country that we have not yet got round to meeting. I had the pleasure of skiing there last year, but that is not strictly relevant to the debate.
When we publish our report, we will certainly emphasise the importance of the partnership for peace on two fronts. First, it is a route into NATO for those countries that will eventually qualify for membership but have not yet reached that stage and, secondly, and at least as importantly, it will act in its own right as a link between NATO and Western European Union countries and those further to our east which are unlikely, for a variety of reasons, to be able to or wish to join NATO.
It is important that we do not extend the NATO cover in such a way as it threatens the feeling of security within Russia. We should not rush but move gently in the direction of extending NATO, while establishing a close rapport with Russia at least so long as it maintains the benevolent leadership that it currently enjoys. On that front, I welcome the joint military exercises that we are now carrying out with Russia and some other countries from that part of the world. I hope that we shall be able to extend that programme and increase it in the years to come.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made some comments about "Options for Change". Of course I welcome, as does the Defence Select Committee, the stability that has been announced and the fact that there will be no more major upheavals in the next—
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I believe what my right hon. and learned Friend says. I have no doubt that we will now enter a period of stability in our armed forces for which we have called for a long time but which has not been available since "Options for Change" was first implemented. The forces have gone through traumatic change. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in congratulating them on the way in which they have handled those traumas and responded to the enormous demands that have been put upon them.
I do not believe—this is a personal view, not one that is necessarily unanimous within the Defence Committee—that the Opposition's proposal of a review would be remotely helpful at this time, for all the reasons that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State gave. It would be extremely disruptive to launch on yet another review just when a period of stability can be offered.
There is a good paper on defence reviews in the Library which I warmly recommend. All the history of reviews of that nature shows that they have been disastrous. On every occasion, the basic facts on which the review was based changed, if not by the time the review was published, shortly afterwards. In the present situation, a review carried out a year ago would not have taken into account a likely renewal of violence in Iraq. A review carried out three or four years ago certainly would not have anticipated the events in Bosnia. I should not like to say 81 today what the position will be, where new conflicts might arise or what new demands might be made in three years' time when we have a similar debate in the House. I do not believe that a review of the type recommended by Opposition Members would be to the advantage of the country as a whole or the armed services in particular.
I now turn to the reports that the Defence Select Committee has published. First, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said, in our report on the defence costs study we expressed reservations about the possible consequences of some of the proposals on front-line capability, even though the proposals were aimed at the logistic follow-up. For example, we are worried about the potential risk of running down our stores too far and of lengthening the in-service life of vehicles. The life of vehicles might be taken to a point at which the vehicles ceased to be reliable. Although most of the vehicles in question are not front-line vehicles, some are and others are needed to supply the front line. It would not be safe to extend the life of those vehicles beyond a certain point. That will have to be watched closely. Likewise, the reduction in manpower margins could give cause for concern if it is not sensitively handled.
I bring to the attention of the House three other anxieties about SDE 94. The first is the emergency tour interval. It is clear to me—the conclusion drawn by the Committee as a whole concurred with my view—that originally the 24-month average, as it is now described, was intended by all those involved in drawing it up to be a 24-month minimum gap between emergency tours of service. Indeed, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Defence Committee, he initially said that himself. Only when I received a letter a few days later was that corrected as an inaccurate reflection of the facts. I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend was right in the first place and that when his bureaucrats corrected him they were putting a slant on the proposal which the chiefs of staff had not intended when they agreed the policy. I should like to see 24 months introduced as a minimum as soon as possible. I hope that that will become possible in the next couple of years. Whether it becomes possible in that time depends entirely on whether we can run down our numbers of troops in Northern Ireland. That is impossible to predict at this time.
Secondly, the Committee was worried about the failure to reduce civilian numbers in parallel with military numbers. Although in senior ranks that is occurring, the vast bulk of the civil servants are either executive officer or higher executive officer grade and in those grades no cuts whatever have been managed. Indeed, the numbers have increased. The explanation given to the Committee was that the extra personnel were needed to manage the cuts elsewhere, but I was not entirely convinced by that argument. There is a real worry that the move forward into agencies and devolution and delegation of responsibility across the nation could lead to a plethora of new jobs in local staff and administration. We could end up, as happened years ago when we reorganised local government, with precisely the opposite effect to that intended and find ourselves with far more civilian personnel in management roles and executive back-up than we intended or need. We shall have to watch closely 82 the tendency in any bureaucracy to spawn new jobs within itself. We shall have to make sure that they are reduced as currently planned.
My third complaint about SDE 94 is minor, provided that it does not reflect what is happening in other areas. For many years the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" included 2.5 per cent. of the defence costs for the security and intelligence services. However, there was absolutely no way of discerning that fact by reading the SDE reports. I hope that one of my ministerial colleagues will assure the House that no similar generic figures are tucked away in the current defence estimates which might be treated in the same way as those for the intelligence services. Apart from those matters, we welcome what is stated in SDE 94 and the defence costs study.
I wish to say a few words about Hercules, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) suggested that I probably would. Those who have called for a delayed decision on the Hercules replacement so that the FLA can be fully evaluated are wrong. They are wrong particularly because that would not allow us to replace Hercules until 2002 or 2005 in reality. There is no doubt that the current Hercules fleet cannot be merely run on and continue to provide the fleet that the RAF requires without a massive mid-line update.
It is an unfortunate fact that in 1993 at least half the Hercules in service were not in service at all because they were not airworthy or in active service. That position will deteriorate by 1998 and would deteriorate further if we were to take no action then. By 2002, the position would be intolerable. Until the aircraft have been stripped down, it is impossible to say what will be the maintenance costs of merely keeping the aircraft going in their present state. All our experience shows that it is much more expensive to do so than originally anticipated. It would almost certainly be more expensive to do so than to replace half the fleet in 1998 with Hercules, leaving the option of buying FLA when they are available six or seven years later. I endorse that recommendation by the Select Committee because it is the only way in which we can satisfy the need for flexibility and mobility in our armed forces over the next decade.
I am conscious of the time so I shall resist the temptation to cover the other reports or to add to the debate by speaking to the other issues that have been covered. I shall end by summarising what I believe to be the needs for the defence of the realm over the coming 10 years. As I have said, I welcome the fact that we are no longer on the downslip of cuts and that we can look forward to a period of stability. The armed services need that, and it is the most that we can ask of the Government at this time in view of the limitations on the amount of money that can reasonably be made available for our armed services.
However, the Committee has concluded—and I believe the conclusion to be correct—that the nation does not have the long-term defences that we are likely to require. At Bournemouth, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made two statements with which, sadly, I disagree. First, he said categorically that there will not be a third world war. That was a bold statement. I recall reading that the last time somebody made such a statement was in 1919 after the "war to end all wars". There is no real reason for us to feel confident that within our lifetimes this country will not be embroiled once again 83 in a major war, and our defence policy should reflect that assumption. The Foreign Secretary was mistaken in his base for our foreign policy.
To secure our long-term future we need about 10,000 more soldiers. As General Sir Martin Farndale rightly said, if we had that increased number we should be able to flesh out units without having to denude other units to reinforce active ones. We had to do that recently and will probably have to do it for the foreseeable future. Secondly, such an increase would enable us to give our troops the brigade, divisional and specific role training in which they have been sadly lacking over the past two or three years.
As the House knows, we had to use Royal Artillery personnel in Northern Ireland, and they and other specialist arms were taken from their specialist role and trained for an infantry and peacekeeping role in Northern Ireland, after which they had to be debriefed and retrained for Royal Artillery roles. As a result, there have been virtually no divisional infantry, artillery and cavalry exercises over that period. I understand that none is planned for the immediate future, certainly not involving all three services. We need more soldiers so that that can be done and so that we do not need to cadreise, as we have had to do, some of our units. A regiment that should consist of two battalions should have two battalions and the current habit of cadreising down is not adequate for our long-term defence needs.
The Royal Navy has 35 frigates and I congratulate the Ministry of Defence on fixing on that figure—even if it is far too low. As the House will recall, until now the complement has been "about 50" or "about" 45, 40 or 38. But the trouble with 35 is that only 24 ships are seaworthy at any given time. That is not enough, even for our peacetime needs, and it certainly does not allow the Royal Navy to carry out the role that it should fulfil of waving the flag around the globe. The value of the White Ensign to our trade and to the way in which our people are greeted in countries to which they go to sell our products cannot be overestimated.
We tend badly to underestimate the importance that people, and especially those in the far east where our trade will now grow rapidly, place on face, and a military unit from this country gives Britain face. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary once described it as punching well above our weight. On that occasion he was right: that is what we can demonstrably do, and we must make sure that we broadcast it where we wish to be seen.
Last, but by no means least, I shall deal with the Royal Air Force. There is much high-tech kit that the RAF should have, for example in avionics, to enable it to defend itself against ground-to-air missiles. We cannot afford to fit our squadrons with such equipment at the moment, and they need to be given the extra resources to enable that to be done.
Most important, within the next 10 to 15 years we will face a serious ballistic missile threat. I am not necessarily suggesting that a missile will be fired at us, but I certainly suggest that people who are perfectly capable of firing one at us and who might be stupid enough to do so will be equipped with such missiles. At the moment, they are not so equipped. I am obviously thinking of Libya and some other unstable middle east countries as well as other possibilities. We must embark upon the installation of a 84 ballistic missile defence system, and it must be done in conjunction with the Americans and with our European allies. We must ensure that, within the next decade, we are armed with such a system. We would grossly betray our duty to defend this kingdom if we felt, for whatever reason, that we had to make savings in that area.
There is still a great deal to be done before I can tell the House that I am confident that we have the defences that we need. However, I warmly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on the way in which he has set about defence costs studies and on the way in which he has limited the damage that Treasury demands have caused to our defences. I assure him of my personal support and, I am sure, of the support of almost every hon. Member in his endeavours to ensure that we have a stable future during which we can rebuild to the levels that are necessary to secure our freedoms.
§ Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
At the recent Labour party conference it was agreed that a future Labour Government should scrap Trident and link our defence expenditure to the average of other western European countries. That resolution is especially relevant to a debate on defence estimates of approximately £23,000 million. I shall give some estimates of my own. If we linked our defence expenditure to the average of other western European countries, we would make savings of about £8,200 million. As the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament shows, with those savings we could build 11,375 council houses; run 910 secondary schools for a year; maintain 8,736 home dialysis machines; provide water supplies for 1,820 villages in Africa; pay 54,000 nurses for a year; pay 36,000 teachers for a year; pay 1,822 hospital consultants for a year; support 305,760 hip or similar operations; and support a health and literacy programme for more than 17 million people in India. That could be done with just one year's defence savings.
Putting aside those savings, which would result from linking our defence expenditure in the way that I described, what of the savings from the so-called peace dividend since the mid-1980s? For example, military expenditure in 1984-85 was 5.5 per cent. of our GDP. Some 10 years later, in 1994-95, that has been reduced to 3.5 per cent. If we had maintained spending at the 1984-85 level, we should now be debating defence estimates of about £28,000 million. Therefore, the peace dividend is worth £5,400 million in the current year and £27,700 million over the past decade. What has happened to the peace dividend? It has gone the way of North sea oil—funding the unemployment programme.
Whether we are discussing our failure to link our defence expenditure to the average of that of other western European countries or our failure to benefit from the peace dividend, we have lost not only the opportunity to benefit from investment in the great services and projects that I have already mentioned, but all the skills, talents and creativity that have been used in preparing for war when they could have been used for peaceful purposes. 85 For me, that was best summed up by General Eisenhower 40 years ago, when he said:Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who are old and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone, it is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children.
The new Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), seems to find that funny, but I hope that he will respond to my point. Will he tell us: what is the use of Trident and who are the missiles aimed at? Who is the enemy? At one time, we were told that the enemy was the Soviet Union, but the Government have now admitted that our missiles are not directed at Russia and Russia has admitted that its missiles are not targeted at Britain or the United States.
In chapter 2 of the 1994 defence estimates, the Government recognise thatour defence policy must accommodate the continuing change in the strategic setting.The Government are right and it should, but unfortunately they have not responded to that continuing change. For many years, they told us that the Soviet Union was the enemy and that it was planning a nuclear confrontation with the west. I never believed that—indeed, I never even regarded it as a possibility. It was simply an excuse to justify our nuclear build-up. But at least we knew then who the Government believed the enemy to be. Will they tell us who the enemy is today and who the nuclear missiles are aimed at?
While the world has changed, the Government continue with the madness of nuclear weapons. Their defence policy has not accommodated the change in the global position. Does any hon. Member honestly believe that any country at this present time is planning a nuclear confrontation with the west? I have to say that even if that were to be the case, I could never accept the use of nuclear weapons because they are no defence, for they would destroy not only the so-called enemy, but the people and the environment that we were purportedly defending. Even if they were never used in anger, they have destroyed people's lives where uranium has been mined, by the fall-out from nuclear testing and from the cancers caused by the production and processing of nuclear explosives, such as at Sellafield and Aldermaston.
As far back as 1955, Robert Oppenheimer recognised the danger. When he was asked on American television whether it was true that humans had already discovered a method of destroying humanity, he replied:Not quite. You can certainly destroy enough of humanity so that only the greatest act of faith can persuade you that what is left will be human.What was true in 1955 is even more true today, with the tens of thousands, rather than hundreds, of nuclear warheads in existence.
If anyone doubts the dangers of nuclear weapons or the devastation that would result from, for example, nuclear fall-out, he need only consider the problems of the Welsh farms that are still affected by the disaster that hit Chernobyl eight years ago and from some 2,000 miles away. However, tragic as that disaster was, it would be nothing compared with a nuclear war. For example, Chernobyl's effects were like the Doomsday neutron bomb. Now abandoned, it was designed to kill people, plants and animals, but to leave buildings standing. The detonation of even the smallest nuclear weapon in the 86 world's vast arsenals would destroy all life around it, pulverise buildings and leave a haunted devastation. Let us not forget the psychological traumas still suffered by the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Even the grandchildren of the survivors are suffering trauma today.
The development of Trident also threatens the non-proliferation treaty. The all-party Defence Committee said in its latest report on what it called progress with Trident:Trident's accuracy and sophistication does—and was always intended to—represent a significant enhancement of the UK's nuclear capability. We have invested a great deal of money to make it possible to attack more targets with greater effectiveness using nominally equivalent explosive power.That makes a nonsense of the Government's claim that Trident is a minimum nuclear deterrent.
How can the increase in nuclear firepower that will be available with Trident be reconciled with the commitment in article 6 of the non-proliferation treatyto pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."?
In reality, Trident is a clear example of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and a violation of the non-proliferation treaty.
Why should the 160 non-nuclear power states that have signed the NPT give the nuclear weapons states unlimited carte blanche to keep their nuclear weapons for ever, without being able to use any leverage to ensure that article 6 is implemented? Why do the British Government recognise in their defence estimates some of the emergent security challenges as a result of—and I quote from paragraph 204—the
spread of conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction and large-scale environmental threatsyet still involve themselves in the obscenity of the arms trade, promoting those very same weapons of mass destruction and threatening that very same environment?
The Government are violating not only article 6 of the NPT, but article 1. I want to quote that short article, which states:Each nuclear weapons state, party to the treaty, undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoeverand I repeat, "any recipient whatsoever"—nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly or indirectly.Yet Greenpeace rightly points out that about 30 per cent. of the Trident initial procurement costs are being spent in the USA and it lists five key areas where the USA has given direct assistance in the production of the Trident nuclear weapons system.
That is not the only violation of article 1 of the NPT. The Sandia nuclear weapons research laboratory in the United States has designed aiming-fusing-firing mechanisms for all UK nuclear weapons—according to an admission by the vice-president of the laboratory, who was quoted in the American publication "Inside Energy" on 9 May. The Government policy on non-proliferation and the NPT is riddled with hypocrisy. It is a policy which demands of others, "Do as we say, not as we do." 87 The Government still see their role as wanting to rule the waves; they still see leadership in terms of military power. That is highlighted in their defence estimates when they proclaim:The United Kingdom remains one of the world's most formidable military powers. Only the United States, Russia and France can deploy as broad a range of capabilities as the armed forces of the United Kingdom.Surely there are other ways of being world leaders, as Norway's leadership showed in acting as honest brokers between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That is my estimate of the leadership that we should seek to emulate. That is the world role that we should play, not one based on nuclear weapons and a defence expenditure of £23,000 million. It is role and a defence expenditure which I shall vote against.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
It is good to hear the unreconstructed voice of the Labour party all over again. I look forward to hearing the Opposition Front Bench responding to that. I am only sorry that the new Leader of the Opposition could not be here to give his response. Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), I am delighted, unusually, to welcome the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I am delighted also that, in his words, no further defence cuts will be contemplated. I cannot speak for my friends in the armed forces, but I believe that they will be reassured by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last week and of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State today.
Stability is desperately needed. The successful defence costs study made by the former Minister of State for Defence Procurement, my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), largely identified sensible savings. My right hon. Friend deserves credit for his sympathetic handling and for the support and confidence of the armed forces that he gained during that study. It created great apprehension, but was generally accepted as worth while, and it produced a sensible and pragmatic result.
I welcome the new Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). I should be grateful if he clarified one outstanding point from the defence costs study. What exactly will be the size of the Army after implementation and the current restructuring? I have read media reports of a British Army of 116,000, but I thought that it was to number 120,000. If the figure is 116,000, a further major reduction in manpower has slipped through and the troops reduced have not been reallocated to the front line as promised.
Although I welcome the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend, restructuring of the armed forces is continuing, although nearly complete. New conditions, new units, new regiments and new commanders must be got used to, and we must allow the new structure to settle down to allow new members to believe in the value of a career in the armed forces, and to allow morale and new regimental identities to be established.
For that reason, I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister two questions about stability. In the current public expenditure round, will any further reduction in 88 allocated defence spending be entailed? As my hon. Friend knows, defence spending has reduced from 5 per cent. of gross domestic product about six years ago to some 3 per cent. in the next financial year. That unique reduction is occurring in a declining security situation—as we have seen in the Gulf, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, northern Iraq and so on.
My second question concerns the Bett review, which is causing great concern. According to an excellent document published by the Library last Friday, information about that review is hard to come by. Lord Carver, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, recently said of the review:The effect on the morale of the services in every rank is potentially even greater and certainly more widespread than that of either 'Options for Change' or 'Front Line First'.The Bett review's terms of reference certainly give me no cause for comfort.
There are rumours of buying in yet further services from the private sector, which is a dangerous route to follow. There is to be further examination of private sector practice, but the armed forces are not a smarter uniformed and more disciplined version of Tesco or of BT, of which Mr. Bett is a former deputy chairman.
If the armed forces were driven solely by considerations of remuneration, nobody would join. It is one of the few professions from which one increases one's pay on becoming a Member of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Minister knows that from personal experience.
There is talk also of scrapping the boarding school allowance. Last month, I spoke to a friend whose son has attended nine different schools in 11 years because of my friend's moves and his wish not to send his son to boarding school. To say that life in the armed forces is the same as civilian life is ludicrous. The strains of service life will continue, as will the strains that it places on marriages and families. I know of excellent officers and soldiers who left the Army because of the strain on their marriages. The House must recognise the difference and the unique conditions under which members of our armed forces serve the country and the House.
Above all, I draw to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister a point that I have made before. Of all our institutions—the monarchy, Parliament and the police—only the armed forces have retained the respect and affection of the British public. They deserve that respect. Recently, the police themselves issued a report noting that they enjoyed a 69 per cent. approval rating from the public but that the armed forces enjoyed 85 per cent.
§ Mr. Robathan
That is not really worthy of the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, we are discussing the defence estimates. I am sure that he is capable, as I am, of reading the newspapers.
Mr. Bett's review may be full of radical, clever and commercial ideas, but it has the potential to destroy the standards, traditions and structures of the armed forces that are the reason for the regard in which the armed forces are held at home and abroad. It is precisely old-fashioned ideas of loyalty and service in disloyal and selfish times, and of discipline in our ill-disciplined society, which are behind the high reputation enjoyed by the armed forces. We tinker with that at our peril. We 89 should put at risk the very institution that the whole House—possibly with the exception of those seated on the back row of the Opposition Benches—wishes to preserve.
There is even talk of a one-rank structure. We are told that there is only one management structure in industry. If we do not offer decent careers to intelligent officers such as Sir Michael Rose—about whom my right hon. and learned Friend has spoken—we shall not attract intelligent officers such as him. Sir Michael is illustrative, but not unique. There are many highly intelligent, capable, well-educated and well-qualified people in the armed forces who serve willingly in present conditions for not great remuneration. I doubt whether they will be attracted by performance-related pay, single management structures or any other slick phrase better suited to a commercial organisation. I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister will comment.
Earlier, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State spoke about the level of troops in Northern Ireland. If—as we all wish, and God willing—the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister succeeds and the present ceasefire leads to permanent peace, troop levels inevitably will be reduced. I urge the Government to reduce the extra troops taken out of the 11th and 12th Infantry battalions early in 1992. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to return those two battalions as soon as possible, so that current overstretch may be reduced this year, not next year. While the ceasefire lasts, I do not believe that we need to keep those troops in Northern Ireland, and we can always reinforce if necessary.
Can my hon. Friend the Minister reassure the House that if Operation Banner ends altogether, the Government will not take the opportunity to reduce the Army still further? We have a tiny Army. I can imagine some bright civil servant—perhaps one sitting in the Box on my left—suggesting that those troops are no longer needed. That would be to miss the point. The situation has been overstretched 25 years. Northern Ireland was talked of in terms of emergency tours, extra to normal duties. I trust that peace will not be used as an opportunity to reduce the infantry or the Army yet further.
I refer briefly to the future of RAF medium-support helicopters. My sole concern is to see the best helicopter available flying for British armed forces. A medium-support helicopter is exactly that—one that provides support, usually to the Army. I am keen to support British industry, but when I attended the Farnborough air show last month, the EH101 appeared small and limited by comparison with the Chinook. I have flown many miles in Chinooks, and I know it to be an exceptional aircraft. I understand that the EH101 is designed for naval use and may be converted for use by the RAF. Recently, I saw the updated Chinook in Philadelphia as a guest of Boeing, and it remains an exceptional aircraft. I understand that Boeing has offered a minimum of a 100 per cent. offset for British industry on an order of six helicopters. My pilot friends tell me that they favour the Chinook. All I ask is that I hope that the Government will listen carefully to the users of those aircraft before they make their decision.
§ Mr. Soames
My hon. Friend raised a point about Mr. Bett. I did not wish to interrupt him when he was in full flow, but I can give him an absolute assurance that the work that Mr. Michael Bett is doing at the moment is 90 nothing like the work that my hon. Friend seems to believe that it would be. My hon. Friend must—I am sure that he will—give us the credit for not allowing any of the awful things that he surmises might happen to happen.
It is a serious and fundamental review, which needs to take place to ensure the continuation of the very circumstances that my hon. Friend and I want and know that we must have, to ensure that we can get the quality of people to continue to enter the services. I assure my hon. Friend that I am fully confident that Mr. Bett will come forward with sensible and clear proposals, which are not a cost-cutting exercise, but a clear framework for the future.
§ Mr. Robathan
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reassurance. I should say that most of the detail that I know about Mr. Bett comes from the Library document, which was issued last Friday, so I am afraid that my ignorance is based purely on research done here.
I cannot resist turning to the Opposition parties' views. It is hardly worth considering the cuckoo ideas of the Liberal Democrats, particularly since none of them is here at the moment, but I can well remember my Liberal opponent in the previous election—the only election in which I fought—saying that she thought that there were far too few soldiers in the Army at the moment and that there needed to be more soldiers, to the bemusement and amusement of her audience.
I refer now to Her Majesty's Opposition. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is not currently in his place, but I have told him that I would mention this. He earlier spoke on the subject of Kuwait. He made some pretty dramatic comments about the fact that Britain had armed Iraq and that it was all Britain's fault that there was a problem in Iraq in the first place. I do not consider that the UK is guilty of causing all wars, as he appeared to. He certainly blamed the UK, and perhaps Mark Thatcher, for Saddam Hussein's military might. His chippy hatred of the UK's industrial success and military determination is matched only by his gross ignorance. I served in the Gulf and saw the weapons that were used against us. Iraq certainly had some French aircraft. It probably had German chemical weapons. I did not see them, but I suspect that it did have some UK weapons. But the vast bulk of Iraq's weapons were, and remain, of Soviet origin. The tanks were T54s, T62s and T72s. The small arms were AK47s and every other variant. The missiles, as even the most ignorant member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament would know, were Scuds—not manufactured in the UK.
I should like to hear the hon. Member for Bolsover—and I hope that he will later speak on the matter—condemn Russia and the former Soviet Union for selling all those arms to Iraq, because that is what fuelled the war, not any actions by the UK. Indeed, by his comments earlier, I suggest that he damned not only his own country but the industrial work force, whom I so often hear Opposition Members say that they wish to keep in work.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Before the hon. Gentleman makes such statements, should he not read Timmerman's "How the West Armed Iraq" and, particularly, about how the French 91 Prime Minister Chirac took Saddam Hussein 70 miles out of his way to show him, boastfully, the latest nuclear development of weapons in Provence? So I do not think that countries other than Russia can escape responsibility.
§ Mr. Robathan
I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments, but I hope that he noted and did not completely miss the point that the hon. Member for Bolsover condemned the United Kingdom for arming Iraq. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will find us particularly blameworthy or culpable in the matter.
I welcome the position of the Government and look forward to reassurance on the points that I have made. I believe that the Government's statement today underlines the fact that the Conservative party is in deed and, as we always hoped, in reputation, the party of defence. I personally am very grateful for that.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
When I spoke about Rosyth naval base in the debate on the Royal Navy in February this year, I told hon. Members that the base felt that it was in the front line, that it was targeted for closure and that the Treasury guns were poised in its direction. Unfortunately, that prediction has proved true. But before hon. Members switch off and feel that they have heard it all before, I urge them to consider the lessons that I think can be learnt from Rosyth's experience, to consider the deficiencies of the Government's defence policy and their implications for the security of the country as a whole. I wish to highlight the way in which Rosyth naval base has been dealt with and the fact that that has created not strength, but weakness; not stability, but instability; and not security, but insecurity.
The first example of weakness is that concerning strategy, because there is a growing feeling among service personnel and the civilian work force that strategic and operational issues are secondary to Treasury demands. Where cuts fall can all too often be decided by personal bias and political interest.
I see that the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) is in his place. Certainly, when I visited Portland naval base, I got the clear impression that it felt that it was a victim of that approach. Having had the opportunity to go out on a Thursday war exercise at Portland, I seriously question why the Government decided to move operational sea training from what appeared to be such an excellent location. I know of other places that feel similarly aggrieved—for example, the stores at Exeter, the gunnery range at Kirkcudbright and, of course, Rosyth naval base.
I quote now from the minutes of the Defence Select Committee of 19 May 1994, in which the Secretary of State for Defence commented on "Front Line First" and told the Committee:I am very conscious of the fact that of course the whole purpose of support is to provide the necessary support for the front line and you cannot simply ignore one and pursue the other.
Yet it seems that strategic and operational advantages of operating minehunters, mine-sweepers and operational offshore patrol vessels from an eastern naval base are being ignored and that they have both direct and indirect 92 implications, as has already been mentioned, for oil, gas, fishery protection and the unpredictability of the world climate that we now live in.
I also highlight the fact that the base has been considered an ideal location for mine-sweeping training and that it is used for the joint maritime courses that have already been mentioned. Indeed, there was one in June, when the then commodore of minor war vessels at Rosyth said, in a local newspaper:Today's Royal Navy has to be ready to respond anytime, anywhere, more often than not at the drop of a hat.We still live in a world where turmoils can erupt quickly …We should never necessarily regard ourselves as being any safer this year than we were last year, emphasising the need for courses such as this to be taking place on a regular basis.He is now serving as the command officer of HMS Cornwall, off the coast of Kuwait. His words were indeed prophetic.
It is believed that the cuts that are proposed for Rosyth and elsewhere could weaken this country's extended readiness. It seems that there is a lack of substantial analysis of the strategic reasons for those cuts. Again, I quote from the sixth report of the Defence Select Committee, which says:The sort of blind cut imposed by the Treasury axe on expenditure in 1996/97 and beyond does not inspire confidence in the Forces and elsewhere in the process of public expenditure control.My second example of weakness in the Government's defence policy relates to the whole costings and consultation exercise. There has been a lack of sound financial information, investigation and analysis in the defence costs study. I echo some of the points made by other hon. Members, and welcome the news from the Secretary of State that the consultation period will be flexible and that more information will be available; but—here again, I am picking up points made previously—the fact that information was not available, and proper consultation could not take place, during the summer recess is unacceptable.
Let me again use Rosyth as an example. The consultation document concluded, apparently out of the blue,major savings are only achievable through complete closure of centres of operation".But there was no reasoning or evidence to support such a statement; there was no acknowledgment of the substantial savings–40 per cent.—made by the naval base over the past two years, and no mention of the strong possibility that extra funds would be needed to implement the Government's recommendations and to deal with the fear already expressed by the naval base commanders for both Clyde and Portsmouth that they would not be ready for the transfer of resources and facilities to them by 1996.
I feel that I should also mention the proposals for Pitreavie—which, as hon. Members will know, is currently the maritime headquarters for Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England and, indeed, the rescue co-ordination centre for the same areas. Only last year, Pitreavie was told that it would become a centre of rescue co-ordination for the whole United Kingdom; only in the last couple of years, £4 million has been spent on improving facilities there. We are now told, however, that it will effectively be closed, and that we in west Fife will be left with yet another unsightly hole in the ground—this time a reinforced concrete bunker, dealing with which could cost up to £2 million. 93 Nowhere does the defence costs study go into the real costs of transferring resources and dealing with redundancy, unemployment and the loss to the economy. That leads me to my third point about the weakness of policy, which concerns the treatment of people. A naval base, a gunnery range or a stores depot is not just some bit of land or stretch of water; it is an integral part of the local community. Yet it seems that the Government are ignoring a vital part of our country's defence—the people. They ignore the people's expertise, experience, commitment and loyalty. Increasingly, both service and civilian personnel are feeling undervalued, and their morale is low. That is certainly true of Rosyth, where people feel that five years of assurances and promises were simply broken by the Government.
The Government maintain that they have no responsibility to assist communities or individuals harmed by their decisions to close bases and reduce expenditure. I contest that. Hon. Members have already pointed out that other Governments see the matter differently: indeed, the prime example of a market-led economy—the United States—takes a very different view in its treatment of communities affected by defence reductions and closures.
As the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) has said, we in Fife have seen an independent report by the Fraser of Allander institute suggesting that the closure of the naval base would lead to a loss of £71.8 million to the local economy and a total job loss of 7,010 over a five-year period ending in 1996. Yet the Government's response—particularly that of the Secretary of State for Scotland—has been to play down the economic impact that closure of the base would have on the local economy. The right hon. Gentleman has been equally unwilling to acknowledge the impact that the closure of the Kirkcudbright gunnery range, in his own constituency, would have: it is the largest employer in the area. Let me tell the Minister that the burden of the peace dividend should not be borne so heavily by those who have given most to the country's defence over the years.
A fourth weak point is the Government's treatment of the defence industry. In paragraph 96 of its fifth report, the Select Committee states:The United Kingdom industrial base is a strategic asset and must be safeguarded accordingly. We believe that it would be unwise to rely entirely on even our closest allies to provide surge capacity as they have their own priorities and their industry may wish to supply their own national forces first.Against that, however, we have the tragic loss of a valuable national asset like Swan Hunter; we face the full privatisation of the dockyards, and we hear detailed debate about the replacement of the Hercules.
I assure the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) that I have read the Select Committee report on the replacement of the Hercules, and have taken a considerable interest in the arguments—admittedly, because I was given a particular personal interest by my valuable placement with British Aerospace as part of the Industry and Parliament Trust scheme. I have endeavoured to consider all the arguments for and against the replacement of the Hercules.
It has been said that it is not possible to wait even for the results of the feasibility study on the future large aircraft. If the position is that desperate, it demonstrates 94 the Government's failure to place orders for replacement military aircraft in sufficient time, and the weakness of their support for a key part of our defence base.
§ Mr. Mans
Given her remarks about her party's support for defence industries in the past, perhaps the hon. Lady would like to explain why we are in our present position in regard to the replacement of the Hercules. A former Labour Government virtually destroyed the aviation industry overnight when they came to power in 1964 by cancelling all three of the major aviation projects that were in progress at the time.
§ Ms Squire
I was not a Member of Parliament then, but I have certainly taken an interest in the lessons that can be learnt throughout the House about the timing and nature of key decisions on the defence industry and the need for equipment.
I hope that I have illustrated what I consider to be some of the weaknesses in the Government's current defence policy, and my concern about their continued refusal to carry out a strategic defence review rather than a succession of defence cuts. There has been widespread comment on that. Like the hon. Member for Upminster, I have read the House of Commons Library's review of previous defence reviews and their shortcomings. There is a widespread view, not just across the House, but in military and academic circles, that a full review of our defence objectives for the 21st century is needed.
I recommend to hon. Members a very good book that I read over the summer recess containing a series of articles by Lord Carver, among others. It considered what the options for Britain's defence policy in the 21st century should be. It is not only Opposition Members who are saying that now is the right time for a full review. I would not pretend that that would be an easy task or that it would not raise difficult and complex issues such as Britain's future role in world affairs and the future development of NATO, a common security and foreign policy and "Partnership for Peace". The Government must accept, however, that there is a real need for such a strategic review and that it is all too easy to try to eliminate the unnecessary and instead start eliminating the essential. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members who are serious about a strong defence will argue for a delay in the implementation of the decisions or recommendations of the defence costs study until such a review has been conducted and until the Government have accepted a greater responsibility for managing change, as that affects both communities and industries.
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Cornwall, South-East)
I understand the reasons for many of the views of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) on her region and on Rosyth in particular. Hon. Members will find that many of them will be reflected in my remarks.
With the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Berlin wall, 40 years of relative stability, particularly in Europe, have been replaced, ironically, by uncertainty and unpredictability. Undoubtedly, the removal of east-west tensions has been beneficial for the international community. There are, however, adverse consequences. Many of those have been referred to this afternoon. For a variety of reasons, they have manifested themselves in the 95 break-up of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and the resultant upsets and decisions, all of which have led to uncertainty and destabilisation.
I believe, therefore, that it was right that the Government, as a global power, should address themselves to the new circumstances. No one ever thought that that would be an easy task. Balancing our potential national and international commitments with our capabilities and the financial resources available has never been straightforward, as any hon. Member who has had any experience of Government will know. However, given the combination of greater uncertainty about our potential responsibilities and the financial restraints, it is probably more difficult to secure those objectives today than before.
It has meant in practice that both our armed forces and the essential back-up facilities and requirements have been subjected to considerable change. Here, I, too, pay tribute to all those men, women and their families who have been involved or affected in some way by the major changes in recent years. It has not been an easy period for any of them.
I wish to concentrate my remarks on the impact of the changes—both already implemented and proposed—on the Royal Navy and the Plymouth travel-to-work area. As hon. Members will know, Plymouth is a major garrison city. It has an Army presence, the Royal Marines, a royal naval base and the associated Devonport dockyard. The south-west is the most dependent of all United Kingdom regions on defence and defence-related economic activities. Since the mid-1980s, the region has lost thousands of jobs as a result of defence and defence-related cuts. The level of job loss is equivalent to about one third of the number of people currently unemployed in Devon and Cornwall.
Equally frightening is the fact that those stark job losses have meant a loss of spending power in our regional economy. The accumulated loss of income to our economy in the far south-west since the 1980s through defence changes is estimated to be in excess of £500 million. If that in itself is not enough for our fragile south-west economy to take, we now have the unwelcome prospect of a further loss of 800 jobs in royal naval stores and supplies—mainly at Devonport, but also in Exeter and Wrangaton—the proposed relocation of the Royal Marines from Plymouth, and continuing anxieties created by uncertainty over the work load level at Devonport dockyard in the next five years before the Trident refit programme takes effect.
It worries me that uncertainty still exists, despite the review and the various papers that have already been produced. Only this morning, I was informed that the Royal Navy's south-west communications nerve centre in Plymouth was likely to close within the next three or four years. That would have an adverse affect on the naval base and would mean a further loss of 100 service and civilian jobs.
I do not claim to be a defence expert. All I can do is evaluate the adverse effects that all those changes have had and will have on the Plymouth travel-to-work area, of which my constituency forms part. Hon. Members will agree that all this change has been both extensive and detrimental to our sub-regional economy. The local population can be forgiven for taking the view that the 96 changes that have been implemented by the Ministry of Defence, and which are probably Treasury driven, will inevitably be introduced in an isolated fashion, without regard to the net economic cost to the sub-region or their overall economic and social impact.
We all know that one of the problems facing this country is that our structure of government is very much vertically orientated. Every year, Departments apply to the Treasury for their budget for the following year. It is all done in a vertical manner and in isolation. It is only when various effects are manifest at the local level—or horizontally—that we recognise the full impact of any changes.
The Ministry of Defence's changes worry me. Plymouth is a major garrison town and will be affected significantly, but the full social and economic implications of the changes will not be recognised or taken into consideration until their adverse impact is felt, when it is, in effect, too late for any of us on the ground to rectify it.
It is even more galling to Devon and Cornwall to know that our cost-of-living index is some 8 per cent. above the United Kingdom average and that our gross domestic product is just 83 per cent. of that for the United Kingdom as a whole but that the Government's response to our structural economic difficulties, as manifested by the changes in our defence expenditure and requirements, is such that the budgeted expenditure of key Government agencies for Devon and Cornwall is just £51 million in the current financial year, whereas Scotland and Wales, which have similar structural economic difficulties, are allocated £530 million and £187 million respectively.
I conclude by emphasising to the Ministry of Defence team that the economy of the south-west is undoubtedly becoming increasingly fragile because of the rundown of defence and defence-related activities. It will be difficult for my region to absorb the proposed reductions that I have highlighted unless the Government make available appropriate financial support to offset the adverse effects. Unless I receive assurances from Ministers either that the further reductions in defence expenditure and facilities in the region are to be halted or that appropriate financial measures are to be introduced to offset the proposed reductions, my support for the Government tomorrow evening cannot be taken for granted. I do not say that lightly, but, having represented my constituency for the past 24 years, I am not prepared to tolerate this further blow to our regional economy as a direct consequence of decisions taken by my Government.
§ Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East)
The hon. Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) made a powerful and brave speech on behalf of his constituents. He has drawn the House's attention to the difficulties caused for communities that rely on defence-related employment when that employment is taken away. I shall take up that theme on behalf of my constituents, the people of Tyneside who rely—or relied—on Swan Hunter as the main pillar of our community's employment base.
When Swan Hunter was privatised by the Government in the mid-1980s, it was as a warship building yard. It was asked not to undertake merchant work and although it did do so—three small merchant orders, I believe—it was effectively wholly reliant on warship building. As 97 only Governments purchase warships, it was overwhelmingly reliant on the Ministry of Defence as its main customer.
Swan Hunter went into receivership in May 1993. It has staggered by for more than a year in the receivership of Price Waterhouse, completing three type 23 frigates for the Royal Navy. That work was completed to price and on time and was of excellent quality, despite the appalling circumstances.
I remind the House of the significance of Swan Hunter to the community that I represent. Prior to the yard going into receivership, its direct wages bill was more than £1 million a week and that money went into the local economy. More than 3,000 people could look to Swan Hunter for direct employment and a similar number could expect to be employed regularly working for sub-contractors—I dare say that a further two thirds of a million pounds a week poured into Tyneside's shipbuilding and ship repairing community through the weekly wage bills of those sub-contractors. In other words, Swan Hunter was an enormously important pillar of various local economies, especially those of east Newcastle, Wallsend, Jarrow and South Shields. All that has gone.
Theoretically, it would be possible to save the yard even at this very late hour, but that is unlikely to happen. At the end of the month, the very last type 23 frigate will leave for its sea trials and will not return to Tyneside. The remaining work force who are ensuring that the last ship is a credit to our community and to more than 100 years of shipbuilding tradition on Tyneside know that their contracts of employment will come to an end. Only security men will be left on the site, although a large part of it has already been sold to much smaller ship repair companies.
What has happened to Swan Hunter is a disaster for the community that I represent. It is a disaster not only for the people who work there but for those who relied on Swan Hunter's wages coming into the local economy. Swan Hunter's very existence maintained the economy of the community that I represent. To take it all away—and to do so this quickly—is not just a misfortune but a disaster.
There are things that the Government could do. The first and most obvious thing that they could have done was to enable us to carry out the helicopter carrier order rather than to place it elsewhere in Barrow and Govan. The argument has moved on and there is no going back, but there were other things that the Government could have done. They could have allowed the yard to reduce the number of employees but to survive; they could have placed the Sir Bedivere contract—a much smaller order—with Swan Hunter. The placing of that order with Swan Hunter would have triggered a bid for the yard by CMN, a foreign company. It believed that it could obtain work from overseas. In other words, it would not have taken work from other domestic shipyards, but would have still brought work to the Tyne. That would have provided a private-sector solution to Swan Hunter's problem, but the Government chose not to facilitate such a solution. When the Sir Bedivere was not placed at Swan Hunter, I thought in my heart that the battle for Swans was over.
CMN, however, came back with a further prospect of saving the yard. I was surprised that it did so, but all credit to it for trying and also all credit to the receivers, Price 98 Waterhouse, for doing everything that could be done to try to sell the yard as a going concern. I am not critical of CMN and I am not critical of the receivers.
I am, however, critical of the British Government. I think that the Government could have saved Swan Hunter if they had wanted to do so. They could have saved it by placing the Sir Bedivere in the yard. Even after that, they could have saved it by meeting CMN's request to undertake the frigate contract. The negotiations broke down because of a disagreement over price. The sum involved is about one third of a million pounds—that is the size of the money that was being haggled over on a contract of about £54 million. In the circumstances, I thought that the Government could have done something for the people of Tyneside. It would be the cheapest possible way in which to underpin the remaining employment at the yard, which involved about 1,000 people earlier this summer. Of course, the figure will go down to nothing by Christmas.
The Government were unwilling to do something and one is left to conclude that the Government wanted the yard to be closed. Certainly, the rest of the British warship building industry wanted to see Swan Hunter closed, partly because it regarded it as competition and partly because it believed that there was overcapacity in the industry and that this was an opportunity to get rid of some of that capacity permanently. This is a very hard way to do it.
The misery that will be inflicted on the community that I represent and on the communities of neighbouring constituencies will take an enormous effort to pull round. We are talking about male unemployment levels in communities such as Walker and Wallsend of more than 40 per cent. once the redundancy rounds are finally driven home. There is no alternative work. What about the rest of the employment base to which skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manual labour might have looked on Tyneside? NEI Parsons, a large engineering works just down the road, is the second largest private sector employer. It has just made a third of its manual work force redundant. The announcement came only three or four weeks ago. A further 600 people were made redundant in a community who had looked to the shipbuilding industry for employment.
The offshore oil industry is, as we all understand, cyclical and it is in a trough rather than at a peak at the moment, so employment levels at AMEC are very low. People who might have hoped to be taken on in neighbouring shipyards and who were even prepared to travel to Sunderland to work in the Sunderland shipyards cannot do so because the Government and their urban development corporation have already ensured that every single shipyard on the River Wear is closed. Perhaps one could look to the other great traditional employer in the north-east of England, the mining industry. Employment in the mines of Durham and Northumberland is there no more. This is an enormous, cumulative amount of unemployment for our community to have to absorb all at once, or at least in a very short time. We cannot do it.
We are now in a desperate strait. Things are so bad that there is no private sector solution that would help us through the problem. The only short-term solutions are public sector solutions or at least public sector-led solutions, so we have to ask the Government for help. We know that we shall not get it. The enterprise zone that was promised in May 1993 is still under discussion. It has not 99 appeared and its failure to appear is not only preventing new inward investment, but balking inward investment that might come to Tyneside anyway, because anyone who is thinking of locating on Tyneside will wait to see where the economically privileged area is before coming.
I was pleased to hear the announcement today about the new jobs for Cleveland and I was pleased for the people of Teesside. But that will not alleviate poverty and unemployment on Tyneside. The people of Teesside have their own difficulties and good luck to them with today's announcement. However, it will not help us and no one should pretend that it will. We need Government assistance. We need public sector investment, perhaps a local public project, as a matter of urgency and we need a competent economic development body for our area which can actually spend what little money there is wisely.
We do not need the uselessness of the urban development corporation on Tyneside. Throughout the whole Swan Hunter saga, it has at every episode made the wrong decision at the wrong time. It backed the wrong bids and refused to support the right ones. It failed to make the representations to Government that it should have made and it has made separate representations to Government that, frankly, no one else supports.
I say to the Minister on behalf of the community whom I represent that the people of Tyneside think that his Department has treated us scabrously. We feel that we have been let down and betrayed. People were willing to work their hearts out at the time of the Falklands war. Shipyard workers even went to sea as civilians with the task force as it sailed south to do their bit for what they took to be their country's cause. They were not made redundant, of course, until they came back. We have had more than 100 years' tradition of supplying the Royal Navy with first-class vessels. The people of Tyneside have not let their country down, but now their country is letting them down.
At the Conservative party conference, Conservative speakers said that the Conservative party was the party of the Union and the party of the whole country. I tell Ministers that that is not how it is seen on Tyneside. On Tyneside, people believe that the Conservative party is the party of special interests and special privileges and, increasingly, the party of the south of England, and of the suburban home counties of the south of England at that. If the Minister wants to disprove some of that, he can make an effective statement tomorrow night doing something useful for the people of Tyneside.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)
I have a great deal of sympathy for the heart-felt speech, with its plea, by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown). It is heartrending, of course, to think of all the communities who are affected by the big changes. Just the other day, my own newspaper had the headline:South Dorset to lose 4,500 jobs.
That is the number of jobs that the University of Portsmouth estimates will be lost through defence closures in my community over the next nine years. That seems like a reasonable number of people until one considers the total labour force in the area, which is only 100 about 20,000. The figure of 4,500 people out of 20,000 puts into context the real concern that communities clearly have.
If we get too despondent and avoid realising that positive things are happening, we may start to take the wrong decisions. I may give a few points to the Government before, probably, kicking them somewhere painful a little later in my speech. In South Dorset, there has certainly been a strategy for change. Since January, our unemployment has come down month by month. That is a result of the Government's decision to give Konver money, to give intermediate assisted-area status and to give rural development status. Indeed, the Government bid in Europe for money for roads and other things. Unfortunately, the Commissioner in Brussels, whose name escapes me at the moment—I think that he used to be a Labour Member of Parliament—decided to turn us down and to turn the Government down. We have the strategy there.
We hear so much from the Labour party about a defence conversion agency. I notice a colleague who was on the Employment Select Committee with me when we looked, on an all-party basis, at how communities should deal with the conversion from high-technology industries, such as defence, and how they should re-create the jobs. What was clear, and was common ground, was that the Government had a role in that, but that the role was in providing finance, as I have just described, to a local defence conversion agency. We have that in South Dorset. It is called the South Dorset economic partnership. As soon as I knew those problems were coming up, I had a meeting with the chairman of the local training and enterprise council. He immediately went into action and talked to all the local authorities and got the full backing of all the political parties to set up that partnership. So we have a group of people out there, demonstrating that South Dorset is the place to come to establish new jobs and to build. Certainly in the south-west, I know that every area that has such problems has set up some sort of defence conversion agency.
If the Labour party does not think that those agencies are doing the job right, please tell us. However, Labour councillors are, in the main, very much pushing the agencies forward, supporting them 100 per cent. and certainly not criticising them and the way in which they work. It would be helpful if the Front-Bench spokesmen of the Labour party told people what they mean by a defence conversion agency, because I believe that it is exactly the sort of body that we have set up.
I thought that I would have to berate the Minister for my not having received the consultation paper and, indeed, for not being given any time for consultation of the proposed closure of the air station. In fact, as I rushed into the House today, I found precisely that paper in my pigeonhole. Unfortunately, one of the pages was missing. I felt a little like the Front-Bench spokesman for the Labour party, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) must have felt when he was making his speech. We all know that he left the page behind on which there were any policies on what the Labour party would do for the defence of this nation. In fact, I now have the full copy and I have done something with the figures which I was given on a single sheet of A4 paper. The Minister will see that I have blown them up to four times the size so one can just about read the figures. But I have to tell the Minister that, unfortunately, the detail in the report is 101 not sufficient for us in South Dorset to make any positive contribution to that particular consultation exercise. I shall be talking to him in the very near future about greater detail so that we can see what is happening.
I know that the Minister will be told by all his staff that any time he makes a cut in anybody's back yard, the hon. Member concerned will come down on him and say that he cannot cut here, he cannot cut there; it is all Treasury driven. I am a rather strange guy. I believe, being an old works study guy, that one makes savings only when one goes to the guy at the top of the organisation and says "Look, here is a financial target. I will cut your figure, because the country cannot afford it. You now have to come back with the best deal possible for the taxpayer and get the best bang for our buck".
We are really disappointed in South Dorset, despite our trying to save the MOD money, about the way in which the MOD constantly comes forwards with schemes that are in the next four or five years to cost a vast amount of money, to be paid for by the very same taxpayer whom we are trying to assist. The latest proposals for the air station mean a capital expenditure of something ike £38 million. Of course, that is nothing to the £600 million that is currently being spent on building a new sea systems control and procurement executive headquarters north of Bristol; nor is it when compared to the £100 or £200 million that the Defence Research Agency is getting for remodelling itself. Indeed, it is nothing to the £40 million currently being spent in Plymouth to re-create facilities.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) who mentioned how excellent the flag officer sea training facilities were at Portland. I congratulate her doubly, because my constituents have constantly tried to bat on behalf of her constituents and it is the first time that I have heard somebody in the Labour party come forward and make such a positive statement. I have invited the Front-Bench spokesmen on many occasions to do that, only to hear that they would reinstate the facilities or stop the closure. I am afraid that they are very good at rhetoric, but not good at putting their hands in their pockets for the defence budget.
I shall briefly touch on the case that has been put forward for the air station. The 4,500 jobs that are likely to be lost from our economy have just been mentioned. That figure is really a loss of roughly 3,000 direct jobs and a 1,500 knock-on effect. My hon. Friend the Minister could, in a stroke, halve the problems of South Dorset by looking carefully at what is being suggested. I find difficulty in following the logic of the argument because I have known for a very long time that the air station would probably close in 2007, unless we could find another aircraft to base there. The document outlining the case is strange because it talks of keeping the Lynx helicopter going for another 25 years. I am not quite sure when the Lynx helicopter was first built, but from design stage, we are talking of a design and use life of around 50 years on the basis of the document. My understanding is that with its useful life and with the replacement of the Merlin helicopter coming forward and being designed on to our ships that the Lynx would be knocked out by 2007. Therefore, it is strange to see costings of 10 years and 25 years for that helicopter.
When I blew up the figures, another interesting factor was to find that the annual cost of maintenance of the air station would be £4.5 million. I do not know where that figure has come from. Ii has been spirited out of the air 102 as far as I can see. Certainly it was never mentioned when we previously considered the detailed figures involved in moving all the facilities on the air station when we closed the naval base.
In the staff costs, figures have appeared like magic. It costs £33 million to staff and run all the helicopters. The idea is not to reduce the number of helicopters, but, by magic, to move them from Portland, which is a purpose-built, single-type air station and shove them into Yeovilton. The staffing costs would then go down, it is said, from £33 million to £20 million. That is magic, it is wonderful. If we can do it, why not do it at Portland? It does not seem to be sensible. I certainly know that if we put everybody inside one fence, we may well save on a lot of guarding costs. But let us hope that in the not-too-distant future, guarding of bases can be reduced a great deal because of the peace which seems to be breaking out in Northern Ireland. Certainly, in the next five years, we should take that into account.
§ Mr. Mans
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the past, when attempts have been made to shoe-box units into larger units, whereas the actual costs of the move can be worked out in comparison to what would happen if they remained where they were, the estimated costs of what would happen when they were moved to the new base are normally under-estimated and, indeed, in the long run, there is not a saving at all?
§ Mr. Bruce
That is partially true, but my hon. Friend is being rather too kind to the Government, or perhaps I am being unfair to the Government. Perhaps I should say that we are too kind to the MOD about the estimates that it gives to Ministers, because invariably rebuilding costs are roughly double those in any estimates. The financial overrun on the rebuilding of the MOD's main building is equivalent to all the money that will be saved within the next 20 years by moving facilities out of my constituency. We must look carefully at what is happening.
All too often, we have been told that a stand-alone air station at Portland would be too small. It was not always a stand-alone station because it used to have a naval base next to it, but such is the logic that the MOD applies. We may be told that the tiny air station at Portland cannot stand alone, but that "tiny" air station employs 1,600 people. If those 1,600 people cannot cope as a stand-alone unit, there is no hope for any air station or air base.
If one uses the MOD's logic, one would end up putting all the MOD office blocks and all the facilities for air stations somewhere in the middle of the country—no doubt we would have to dig a canal as well to fit in all the ships—behind the same perimeter fence in order to save money. If one can save money by reducing staffing costs from £33 million to £20 million, the same savings should be made on everything.
A lot of time should be spent studying the proposal to close the air station. After all, we have five years before the plan is supposed to be put into operation, so I hope that the Minister can assure me that the proposal will be considered in great detail. We have lots of Portland stone down on Portland and very nice places for statues. I can think of nothing better than erecting a statue of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to commemorate him as the man who saved the naval air station in Portland by looking to save money for the Navy rather than spending it.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)
I appreciate the importance of this debate on the defence estimates and their importance to the nation. We spend £23.5 billion on defence and the nation would not be happy if we did not spend that money wisely. I was a little depressed by one or two hon. Members who seemed to boast about how much more we spend on defence in comparison with other countries, because we should spend just the adequate amount to do the job. We should remind ourselves that whatever we spend on defence means that less is spent on education, housing, pensions and other services that enhance the general quality of life. We must therefore spend money on defence wisely and efficiently.
It is my firm belief that when we spend money on defence we should, wherever possible, spend it on our own industries. I get depressed when I hear about defence contracts going abroad, particularly when they could easily be awarded in Britain. That would naturally improve our balance of payments.
We all recognise that, in a changing world, it is inevitable and only right that spending on defence should be reduced. My only criticism, as I have said before, is that I do not believe that we have been earnest enough about diversification. If we used our talents wisely, there would be numerous spin-offs. Let us remind ourselves that we have skilled people who are already trained and who have already cost the nation a fantastic amount of money. I fervently believe that the Government should give those people a higher priority.
I share the sadness of my colleagues who have described the downturn in the shipyards. What has happened to our northern shipyards is an utter disgrace. They do not deserve such treatment, not least because the Government's actions do not match the philosophy that is supposed to guide their proposed changes in defence spending. Ministers boast about the motivation and quality of our work force, but I find it baffling that we do not win orders against competitors. As a result of some of the shipyard closures, some of our highly skilled ship designers have transferred to foreign yards to complete work.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Employment and a few months ago I visited Finland. It is not a large country and it has a population of between 7 million and 8 million. When we visited the Helsinki shipyard it was bustling along with plenty of orders for naval work, foreign work and cruise ships. Even that very week those at the shipyard informed us that it had completed a 70,000-tonne vessel, worth $300 million, which was to sail out to America seven days later. I cannot understand how a small country like Finland can win such orders when our country, with its highly skilled and motivated work force, about whom the Government like to boast, cannot. I shall let that matter ride as the evidence is there for all to see.
There is talk about the possible replacement of the Hercules transport plane. That would be the last major contract for the aerospace industry in Britain. The Minister will be aware that I have tabled an early-day motion about the matter. In the three weeks before the summer break, 160 hon. Members from all parties 104 supported the thrust of my early-day motion which calls for support for the future large aircraft to be placed with British industry.
I am grateful for the two very good letters that I received from Ministers over the recess. However, just before the recess, I tabled a parliamentary question asking how many civil servants had travelled to Lockheed in America this year, and I am still waiting for a reply. I thought that I would receive a reply to that question within a few days, but I have not been told how many civil servants have travelled to America to talk to Lockheed about the contract in which I am very interested on behalf of British industry. After my comments today, and three months after I tabled that question, I might receive an answer in the next two or three days. However, this smells a little and I feel uncomfortable. Anyone would feel uncomfortable if they had received such treatment.
I am not criticising Lockheed and the Americans for their endeavours and the enthusiasm that they will exert to secure the contract. I recognise the validity and the importance that they place on securing a contract which is worth £12.5 billion. A Conservative Member said earlier that he went to Boeing to look at helicopters. I understand why he was invited to see helicopters at Boeing. It costs American firms who are in competition with us petty cash to invite Members of Parliament or civil servants to their companies.
We should ask why those American firms are doing that. Why are the Americans so enthusiastic? I recognise their enthusiasm, but we must be aware of what is happening to our industries in respect of which we hear stories of closures and massive job losses.
The FLA will be the prize. Some 7,500 jobs are involved. If people lose their jobs, and it costs £9,000 per person a year in unemployment pay, that is a big payroll which must be met by the Department of Social Security. In its big sell, Lockheed is claiming that 3,000 jobs will be created in Britain if it gets the contract. That is questionable. However, it is clear that if Lockheed wins the contract, there will be no Rolls-Royce engines.
§ Mr. Hargreaves
Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that the engine management systems will be made in this country by Lucas Aerospace in my constituency and that that will secure employment for probably 1,700 people?
§ Mr. Eastham
I am thrilled for the hon. Gentleman. There may be some 1,700 jobs in his area, but many thousands of people in other areas will not get jobs because of it. We must remember that.
It is obvious that the engines and the major part of the fuselages will not be built in Britain. I must remind the House that when we decided to discontinue Nimrod some years ago, we opted for AWACS—the airborne warning and communication system. When the Americans obtained that contract, we heard many assurances. We were told that there would be spin-off jobs if the Americans obtained the contract. My inquiries revealed that very few jobs were secured as a result of the AWACS contract going to America. I prophesy that the same will happen again. I understand the enthusiasm, as I have said. I just wish that there was such enthusiasm among our industrialists and the Government to make sure that we can compete on a level playing field. 105 Only six weeks ago, we saw great dishonesty with regard to Lockheed. There was talk about money and bribes being offered to other nationals to secure work. That is not on when it comes to honest competition. We have to be extremely cautious about how we conduct business.
The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) said that the Government were doing this, that and the other with regard to training, as though that were enough to solve the diversification problem. We have got it wrong; we should spend far more money—real money. Only two months ago, the Germans put aside 1.2 billion deutschmarks for aerospace research and development. That is the amount that we should spend. If we want to diversify, it is no good simply saying that we want to train some aero fitters and turners. The Government have to put up money for research so that we can secure contracts and develop modern technology to enable us to be highly competitive.
We must face the fact that the future large aircraft is the big one for our aerospace industry. Obviously, if we do not join the European countries that were involved in, say, the Airbus, the Germans and French will not buy a Lockheed; they will go it alone. We could combine with the Germans and the French, as we did with the Airbus, and provide a successful future for us all. We cannot stand in isolation in Europe. We must recognise the importance of a European partnership. This is an ideal one for us.
I have said before that one of our major problems is that we do not have a planning strategy. I remind the House that we no longer have a major British-owned car industry, major shipbuilders or a major computer industry. It is possible that by 2010 we will no longer have a major aerospace industry.
§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
Parliament's job, as we are constantly reminded, is not to run the country but to scrutinise those who do and to call them to account for what they do. Control of the budget, through votes such as the one on the defence estimates, is the mechanism by which we, as the elected representatives of our constituencies, can exercise that power. Tonight, the House must weigh up the balance of a package of good things and bad in assessing the impact of the "Front Line First" study, upon which the defence estimates are constructed.
On the one hand, of course, the study provides for some very good things, such as the replacement amphibious ships for Intrepid and Fearless and for the new helicopter assault ship, and the Trafalgar class submarines and the four new type 23s. People in Newcastle and Leeds will be much pleased by the order for 259 Challenger 2 tanks. On the other hand, however, as the Ministry of Defence admits, by the year 2000, 18,700 people will lose their jobs as a result of "Front Line First". That is more like 22,000 when one takes into account the number of temporary and part-time contracts. In my constituency, the Ministry of Defence forecasts 348 job losses at a depot where 570 people work at present. The forecast is based on complete closure, so the figure should be inflated.
It is less than one year since the defence costs studies were put in hand by the Secretary of State. The question therefore is whether the "Front Line First" study came first. After all, before that study, there was "Options For Change" in 1990, which reduced the number in the front 106 line. It reduced the number of frigates from 44 to 35, the number of conventional submarines from 10 to nil and the number of mine counter-measures ships from 38 to 24. The number of infantry battalions was slashed painfully from 55 to 40, and manpower in the armed forces was reduced overall by 18 per cent.
If, as I have been told privately by Ministers, some 70 per cent. of naval spares are never used, why was not that area exposed first for cost savings, rather than coming to light only when the most stringent reductions are forced on the Royal Navy? I will happily give way to one of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench if they will answer that question.
I must say immediately that I am a great supporter of the Royal Navy. Its great strength is that it can be poised on the verge of conflict, as well as committed, and can cover its withdrawal. It is an efficient, flexible and effective arm of diplomacy. I want the Navy to have the best equipment and a fleet size that makes it a serious player in international relationships. I welcome therefore the new ships and missiles that have been announced as part of the package.
To go with that, my constituents and I want the Navy to have the best back-up, and that is where we part company with what the Government are seeking to do by asking us to endorse "Front Line First". In Stockton, South we have the most advanced Royal Navy spares depot in the country. It was purpose-built in 1949 to hold the national stockpile of marine engineering equipment. It is in Eaglescliffe because it is halfway between Rosyth and the south coast ports, and it is close to the main engineering parts suppliers in the north of England. To quote from the consultation document, which was finally sent to us five weeks into the 12-week consultation period,it has been concluded that this role could in future be provided at lower cost by means of limited localised stock holdings adjacent to the waterfront.The four-page document does not set out how that conclusion was reached; nor does it consider any of Eaglescliffe's particular merits as a leading contender for the central stockholding facility envisaged by the study. As the Select Committee on Defence recently found,
there is continuing concern about the proposed changes in naval stores, and we intend to take oral evidence on the subject in the near future.Likewise, the four-page document makes no mention whatever of the operational requirements of the Royal Navy; it simply notes a possible saving of £50 million over the next 10 years. To put it in context, that is one-sixteenth of the £800 million overspend on the Trident base at Faslane—a 72 per cent. cost overrun. That shows the efficiency of some people with regard to organising budgets.
Let us examine the position a little more carefully. The loyalty of the civilian staff at Eaglescliffe to the Navy is unquestionable. They have the lowest recruitment and retention problems in the MOD. They were praised for their unstinting efforts during the Falklands and Gulf campaigns. The depot is not a collection of old sheds, as at some other spares depots. The stores have recently been completely refurbished at a cost of nearly £5 million. The depot has a purpose-built, air-conditioned computer suite, from which the computers have now been taken away and put in a 1960s prefabricated hut at Endsleigh. It has a new office block. It has a new gatehouse and new gatehouse 107 entrance. It has a new surgery. Recently, improvements have been made to the boilerhouse. It has a new RIDELS and REDAC computer network in all the offices. It has new information technology furniture. It also has recently set up a highly successful and dedicated market testing preparation team.
So when the trade unions asked management what the costs of all these things were in April, the Ministry of Defence sent a one-line letter declining to answer them. When the management were pressed during the consultation period, they finally came out with several figures which added up to £6.7 million. Similarly, when Stockton borough council wrote to all Navy captains asking them for their opinion on the quality of the service offered by Eaglescliffe in my constituency, an order was sent from the Navy command to those captains saying that their answers should be "polite but non-committal".
Similarly, the four-side consultation document does not explain how the Navy's spares are collected and delivered, their usage rate, the percentage that are used at the base port or the average length of time spent in the base ports by our ships. Devonport, which has already received a mention from my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks), home of half the surface fleet and the refit centre for Trident submarines, is having its Navy spares depot reduced in size. That seems rather at odds with the general thrust of the study as a whole. Portsmouth becomes the new central depot, although it will not be a refit centre.
As we know, Rosyth has been promised half the refit work. All the submarine refits will take place at Devonport and the rest will go to private yards. How long do these ships spend in the base port these days? When I did my secondment to the Royal Navy with the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I found that ships' commitments had increased so substantially that crews were being trickle-posted to them on deployment along with spares. Under the harmony objectives, at least 40 per cent. of time should be spent at the base port. Yet between May 1992 and March 1995, the Defence Select Committee has found that several ships have breached the harmony principles in more than one category. HMS Invincible, for instance, has breached all three categories. Five other ships—Active, Chatham, Newcastle, Campbeltown and Cardiff—are also known to have breached the principles. The Defence Select Committee commented:It is a shocking comment on the extent to which the Navy's resources are stretched that even the Navy's relatively unambitious welfare targets are being constantly breached.So what is the position? Crews and spares are being sent out all over the world on deployment, as I discovered when I visited HMS Cumberland and found it picking up spares at Tampa Bay in Florida. Therefore, the spares are being freighted, presumably from Brize Norton but also commercially from Teesside airport, to pick-up points around the globe. Ships are spending so little time in base ports that even the First Sea Lord is complaining about the number of commitments for Navy ships.
Why, then, should Portsmouth be any better than Eaglescliffe as the national stockpile of marine spares? Eaglescliffe has better air, road and rail links and a proven track record as a centre of excellence. It has achieved BS5750—the only depot to do so—in its packaging 108 facility. It has been praised by the National Audit Office—the only depot to be so—for saving the Navy money. My constituents contend that it would be crazy and far from cost-effective to break up this centre of excellence, the best depot in the Navy, and move it to Portsmouth.
In his introduction to "Front Line First", the Secretary of State says that one of his two objectives is tospend every pound as efficiently as possible to minimise the overall burden to the public.So my second big question to the Minister is why not carry out the rationalisation of the depots by way of a straight competition between them and keep the best one? I will happily give way to him right now if he will tell me the answer to that question.
Lastly, I want to make a point about the way in which the whole exercise has been carried out. The Government are making the right decisions—sorry. Government is about making the right decisions for the country. [Laughter.] That is what it is about. Politics is about the difference between the perception and the reality of Government decisions. As we live in a parliamentary democracy, our Ministers must not only make the right decisions but be able to demonstrate to the public that that is what they are doing. Their credibility in the northern region is at a low ebb after recent events at Swan Hunter and the Government's failure to relocate the quality assurance unit from Woolwich to Stockton. Both decisions may be easily comprehensible, but they are not well understood in the north of England.
In a statement to the House on 14 July the Secretary of State promised three months' consultation. However, the consultation papers were not sent out until 19 August. For Eaglescliffe, Devonport, Exeter and Wrangaton the documents were all the same and ran to four sides of A4 paper. The figures making the case for the move to Portsmouth go no further than a simple table of potential cash flows. No information is given about the geographical location of northern contractors and there is no information about the number of ships whose base port is Portsmouth. There are 24, with eight moving from Rosyth.
Nothing is said about how £5 million is potentially to be realised from the sale of a 117-acre site. The figure seems to have been conjured from the air.
The documents were not sent to Teesside development corporation, English Partnership, City Challenge, the task force or the TECs in Stockton-on-Tees, all of which will have to pick up the pieces after the closure. There is nothing to show whether Portsmouth has the room to take the extra stores or whether it will be possible to adapt listed buildings.
If my right hon. Friend the Minister persists with the folly of closing the Navy's best depot—and I strongly urge him not to do so—how can he justify the far from open and generous way in which this consultation exercise has been conducted? I cannot wilfully agree to a measure that will needlessly put so many families in my constituency out of work, and I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the closure. If he does not, I cannot support him in the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
I welcome the new Ministers to the Treasury Bench. They are looking rather 109 happier than when I last saw them—on television at the Tory party conference. Four of them were on and they looked as if they were about to face a firing squad. However, I understand that there were 35 hostile motions at the conference, so perhaps that explains why they are looking happier in the House. In the light of the speech by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), they should not, become too happy, because three Conservative Members will vote with Labour Members tomorrow. I have been here long enough to know that what is said on the day does not often happen on the night, but we shall be watching, as I am sure will be the constituents of those three hon. Members.
The right bon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) made an excellent and thoughtful speech. He coined the word "understretch", which we shall hear often in the Chamber if the peace in Northern Ireland holds. The right hon. Gentleman said that understretch was as bad for the armed forces as overstretch and created its own problems.
My hon. Friends the Members for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) and for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) made a powerful case for purchasing the future large aircraft or for delaying the decision to replace the Hercules. They spoke not only in a military context but in the context of the dramatic effect that failure to order the FLA will have on the north-west.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made his customary knowledgeable speech and there was little in it with which we could disagree. The Liberals have no policy whatever. The hon. and learned Gentleman disagreed with us about a defence review, but he seemed to be speaking as a member of the Select Committee on Defence. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) would agree with many of the points made by the hon. and learned Member.
§ Mr. Martlew
He probably has at least one other job. No matter how small the party, there are usually obvious divisions.
The hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, disappointed me at first because he did not attack the Government—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has done so on many occasions. Perhaps one reason why he did not do so on this occasion was that at the Tory party conference the Secretary of State promised, or we think that he promised, that there would be no more defence cuts. If that is correct, much of the credit should go to the hon. Member for Upminster. However, I do not believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes the same view as the hon. Gentleman. It is obvious that there has been a major argument within the Conservative party. I think that the Treasury will have the last say, but we shall have to wait and see.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) made an excellent speech about Rosyth and about the broader context of Britain's defence policy. She made two points of particular importance, which were reflected in views expressed by other hon. Members tonight. One point was that there appears to be as much politics as reason in the decision to close bases. The other was that the consultation procedure is deeply flawed.
110 My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) made an excellent, if emotive, speech explaining the problems that 40 per cent. male unemployment brings to a constituency. The north-east is badly served by the, Government, but well served by its Labour Members of Parliament.
I make no apologies for reiterating 'a point that the Labour party continues to make—that we need a complete defence review. "Options for Change" and "Front Line First"—if that be its name—were not objective assessments of our defence requirements, but excuses for cuts. In reality, the United Kingdom's defence policy should be seen against our position in the world. It should be seen in the context of wider foreign policy issues.
There is always a danger—we have seen it in today's debate—of becoming enmeshed in the details of defence weaponry and force capability. The fact is that in many ways defence policy is the servant of foreign policy. Therefore, we need to look not only at our defence policy but at Britain's role in the world. Ever since the second world war, the main defence concern has been our support for NATO. While that is still important, the collapse of the Soviet empire has removed the threat to national security.
However, while the threat to national security is considerably diminished, we live im a far more dangerous and explosive world. Ironically, the cold war helped to reduce the number of local conflicts because there was always the fear that they would spread to global ones. Now, with the scourge of nationalism in eastern Europe, the rise of tribalism in Africa and the continuing unrest in the middle east, the problems facing the world are not only increasing but changing in character.
At this point, the United Nations is being thrust into a pivotal role in maintaining global peace. The question is, what is Britain's place in the new world order? Do we want to continue to have a permanent seat on the Security Council? The Labour party does and, I am sure, so does the Conservative party. Are we prepared to relinquish that to the Germans or the Japanese? It would be ironic if we did. Perhaps the fact that they lost the war is the reason why they are now in such a powerful position. If we are to play an important part in the United Nations, and I assume that Conservative Members are interested in Britain doing that, that implies certain responsibilities. If we are to be a member of the Security Council, we must use our forces in a peacekeeping role—and we do that better than anyone else. We have seen that in the past, and there are the current examples of Rwanda, Bosnia, Cyprus and Kuwait.
Many of the skills employed by our troops in a peacekeeping role were learnt on the streets of Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to the valiant service that our forces have given in difficult circumstances in Northern Ireland over the past 25 years. We must remember that 648 members of our regular armed forces and of the Ulster Defence Regiment were killed during that time. Their sacrifice allowed us to reach the position where we can at last have peace in Ulster.
What effect will a permanent ceasefire in Ulster have on the United Kingdom's defence strategy? I am disappointed that the Secretary of State did not outline his proposals for that scenario. Could we sit by and watch a situation unfold in which British troops were withdrawn from Northern Ireland without any thought of their future 111 role? The danger is that, without a defence review, their reward for 25 years of peacekeeping could be redundancy and P45s.
If the alternatives are more British troops being made available for use by the United Nations or British troops being made redundant, there is no choice. If they served the UN in a peacekeeping role, the question might be asked, "Who will pay?" We could argue about the UN military command structure, which many of us think is defective. We could argue about the lack of a robust reaction from UN troops when they come under fire. However, we cannot argue about the need for more peacekeeping troops under the control of the UN—and our troops are among the best in the world.
Earlier, I referred to the need to take foreign policy considerations into account in the defence review. It has become apparent to me that much of our defence procurement policy is influenced by the need to maintain our industrial manufacturing base. That has come about by previous Governments concentrating too many of our highly skilled, technical resources on weapons manufacture, in direct contrast to the Germans and Japanese, although there are historical reasons for that. The fact remains that those countries are not being hit by defence spending reductions in the way that our country is being hit.
The situation is exacerbated by the Government's failure to invest, or to encourage the defence industry to diversify. The Government have turned their face against diversification and have told the defence industry that they do not favour it.
The cancellation of major military projects such as Eurofighter 2000 would have a devastating effect on British industry, especially in the north-west. What was the Secretary of State doing, giving an interview, published in The Times today, in which he said that there could well be a possibility of cancelling the Eurofighter 2000? He can say that to The Times, but he did not come to the Dispatch Box to say it in this debate. It is disgraceful that the Secretary of State should even contemplate such a thing. The Labour party has always been in favour of the Eurofighter 2000 project. When I complained to previous Ministers about escalating costs and the delayed maiden flight, I was told that I was carping and that everything was under control. Now the Secretary of State says that we might not buy the Eurofighter 2000 and that the same goes for the EH101. In 1987, the Secretary of State's predecessor, George Younger, said that the Government would order it. Now the present Secretary of State is saying that, if the cost goes up too much, he will not order it at all. Perhaps if we had ordered it in 1987, the cost would have been a lot less. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) argued for Chinook. He said that he had been to Philadelphia and seen it. I hope that he takes the opportunity—perhaps he has—to go to Yeovil and talk to Westland and have a word about the EH101. It may not be as exotic as Philadelphia, but I am sure that he would be made very welcome.
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Roger Freeman)
I have sat silently throughout the debate. I will not be winding up this evening, but will do so tomorrow night.
112 I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would bear in mind the fact that there is nothing inconsistent in saying, as my right hon. and learned Friend has done, that we remain committed to Eurofighter 2000 and that we take very seriously Westland's proposals for a support helicopter, while saying at the same time that we want good value for money. The hon. Gentleman would be irresponsible if he said, "Purchase at any price."
§ Mr. Martlew
The fact is that it is seven and a half years since the Government said that they would buy the helicopter. Some £12 billion has been spent on Eurofighter 2000 already, and a large proportion of that money has come from the British taxpayer. The Minister now talks about cancelling the project. It is nonsense. I know that Ministers have written to the American state department to find out the American alternative. It is a disgrace that he should come out with threats like that.
In recent times, there has been intense lobbying about the replacement of the RAF's Hercules. One of the main and compelling points to be made by trade unions and British Aerospace—it is the one that I accept—is that 7,500 British jobs will be saved if the order for the FLA is placed. Failure to do so will threaten the long-term future of our civil aviation industry. We cannot take that risk. Because our manufacturing base is so weak, and because of the Government's failure to support diversification, I can see that, at some time in the future, we shall be in danger of supplying our forces with inferior weaponry, and putting their lives at risk just because we must maintain jobs at home. That terrible indictment of the state of the British industrial base is due to the policies of the Government.
Over the past two years, I have paid special attention to the personnel policies of the armed forces; I am sad to say that I find that many of the policies are still unacceptable and detrimental to their efficiency. It is intolerable that, to some extent, our armed forces are class-ridden, sexist and racist.
§ Mr. Soames
Will the hon. Gentleman do the House the courtesy of explaining in detail why he believes that the armed forces are sexist?
§ Mr. Martlew
The hon. Gentleman seems to accept that they are both class-ridden and racist, but he is worried about sexist—[Interruption.] I will happily explain. If the hon. Gentleman will give me an opportunity, I will come to it in my speech.
If one looks at the officer corps of the top regiments, one will realise that family background and the old school tie still seem to carry much more influence than does ability. I think that the Minister is living proof of that. The armed forces are conservative by their tradition. There still seems to be a general reluctance to accept women on equal terms. Several NATO countries moved towards expanding the role of women in their forces long before steps were taken in the UK to redress the imbalance of treatment. As far back as the 1970s, countries in north America and northern Europe were pioneering equal opportunity policies. In 1978, women were fully integrated in the US army. Belgium, Denmark and Holland followed in 1987. All those countries made the changes largely in response to equal rights legislation, 113 but the MOD is still technically exempt from section 85(4) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Thank goodness for the equal treatment directive from Europe.
§ Mr. Brazier
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that our two principal European allies, France and Germany, provide grossly inferior opportunities for women in the armed forces? The equal treatment directive to which the hon. Gentleman referred relates to those already in post; it has nothing to do with opportunities to gain uniformed posts.
§ Mr. Martlew
To be honest, the Italians are even worse: they do not have women in their armed forces at all.
Until 1990, all pregnant women were discharged at four months. The rules were not amended until 1991, following the victory of two former service women who sued and gained compensation from the Ministry of Defence. Much attention has been focused, especially by the Government, on the high levels of compensation in such cases; that only detracts from the real crime—the fact that women were dismissed in the first place.
Another point is the rank structure. I believe that the highest-placed woman in our forces has the rank of major-general. There are higher ranks, but no women hold them. Moreover, it is obvious that no women are present on the Conservative Benches tonight.
Having carried out research into the employment of ethnic minorities in the MOD, I have concluded that, from the highest level of command, there appears to be an attitude of indifference to racism and—at worst—possible racist tendencies. The Commission for Racial Equality recently investigated the MOD for possible racial discrimination following the recent findings of the Army board of inquiry regarding the case of a corporal. He had been given a new posting to the Life Guards, but, when it was discovered that he was black, he was sent to the Royal Tank Regiment. Following the findings, he was awarded £6,500 in compensation. When I asked the previous Minister of State for the Armed Forces what disciplinary action had been taken against the individuals responsible, I was told:Disciplinary action was not considered appropriate on this occasion."—[Official Report, 11 July 1994; Vol. 246, c.440.]We still have major problems in regard to equality in the armed forces.
In his speech on 14 July 1994 announcing "Front Line First", the Secretary of State announced that a considerable number of MOD bases would be closed–17 in all. He gave an assurance that full consultation would take place. We have heard what the Secretary of State means by "full consultation": a four-page document issued to hon. Members. I have personal experience of this. Before the announcement was made, I went through a six-month consultation period relating to the closure of RAF Carlisle—and, believe me, it was a farce from start to finish. The Government announced the closure on the same day that they announced that they would allow THORP—the thermal oxide reprocessing plant—to start reprocessing in Cumbria, just before Christmas.
The Minister had met the trade unions, and told them, "If you make the savings, we will save the base." The unions considered, and made some hard decisions; they decided that they could save the base and give the Government the millions that they wanted if they sacked 114 half the work force. They accepted that arrangement, but the Minister then changed the regulations, although he kept the consultation going. That idea of making the consultation last a little longer is fine, but this consultation continued for not three months but six months. It just so happened that, the week after the European elections ended, the Minister decided that RAF Carlisle was to close.
If the consultation period about which hon. Members are worrying, gets a bit near to Christmas, we should worry about the fact that the Government will make the announcement on Christmas Eve, and that it will then be hidden. The Government do not take consultation seriously; if Ministers want to change things, that is what they must do.
§ Mr. Martlew
The Minister should be careful; he will only have a five-minute speech, and he will be waffling for five minutes.
I am very conscious that we are discussing the defence estimates. This is an annual debate, in which we look back over previous years. In a 1962 debate, speaking for the Opposition, Harold Wilson said that every Secretary of State always has a "pet project". This Secretary of State has a pet project and it appears to be to leave our armed forces demoralised and our defence strategy a shambles.
We have had piecemeal policies of cuts, cuts and cuts, all designed so that the Tories can make one more cut. That, of course, will be in income tax and it will be introduced before the next general election. The Government's policy has nothing to do with the defence of this country; it is all to do with the political strategy of trying to con the voters into voting the Tories in for another term of office.
Do hon. Members believe the Secretary of State when he says that there will be no more defence cuts? Did they believe the Tories when they said that there would be no tax increases and that VAT would not be placed on fuel? It is just another empty promise.
Since 1979, six Tory Secretaries of State have spent £378 billion on defence and what we have today is a mess. The Government are tired and too stale and bereft of vision to have the responsibility to run our defences. It is time that the future of Britain was taken on by a party that is ready and able to meet the challenge. That party is the Labour party.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)
What a tremendous act to have to follow. This has been, as defence debates always are, a lively and interesting occasion. Profoundly held views have been traded on behalf not only of national but, rightly, constituency interests. With the agreement of the Labour party and, I hope, the approval of the House, I shall speak only briefly tonight since I shall begin the debate for the Government tomorrow and I hope to deal with a number of the points that were made by Opposition Members and by my hon. Friends. I will, of course, write to them at length if I do not deal with their points.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), whom I used to see, when in a previous incarnation at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, with his eyes popping out of his head in synthetic fury, is no more 115 convincing as a shadow spokesman on defence. Today in a vacuous speech, he showed a truly deep lack of understanding as to the realities of defence. I think that all hon. Members would agree that the constant, parroting call for a defence review, at a time when the security architecture of the world seems to be changing on an almost daily basis, is a pretty fatuous response to the challenges that defence faces, not only in this country but throughout the world.
The point that the hon. Gentleman made about defence costs studies was not only inaccurate but showed a want of understanding of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and this Department have achieved in putting back into the front line the enormous number and large range of improvements that are required and are to be warmly welcomed. We are improving resources devoted to training for all three services. We are increasing the strength of the Harrier squadrons and developing the new joint rapid deployment force with a sophisticated package of communications.
All those changes follow logically from the change to the size and shape of the armed forces that resulted from "Options for Change". They have built on the considerable achievements that have been made and are improving and seeking efficiencies, particularly in the support area, where a great deal of work was required.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), in a distinguished speech, supported my right hon. and learned Friend's work in defence costs studies. I think that all hon. Members will wish to pay a great tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that he did when Secretary of State for Defence, for the important work that he did when he was at the Northern Ireland Office and for the important plans that he laid on the building of this marvellous platform, which we hope will go forward to some form of agreement.
I endorse particularly the tribute that my right hon. Friend paid to all the service men and women and those officials who have done, and are doing, so much in the continuous search for efficiency and improvement and during the critical changes that are of necessity taking place as the Ministry of Defence conducts its business.
The hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) made an impressive presentation for his constituents and an industry that he knows well, on behalf of the future large aircraft. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has taken note of what he and other right hon. Gentlemen and some right hon. and hon. Friends who were keen to bring the FLA to the House's attention have said.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) has dropped his almost Trappist practices—his oaths of poverty, chastity and obedience—and returned to the Back Benches whence he recounted to us the three major factors—military, financial and industrial—relating to the FLA that he wished us to bear in mind. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will have listened with great care to what he had to say.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) noted the necessity of continuing to match resources to commitments. He is a lone voice of sanity on defence matters in his party, and I thought that much of 116 what he said was very sensible. As he knows, we remain committed to our armed forces being properly manned and well equipped and supported. It is wrong to talk in numbers, but I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) that the figure that he seeks is 120,000.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East criticised indirectly the defence costs studies. The exercises that have been undertaken and the way in which the defence costs studies have been structured may not be the ultimate answer, but the work undoubtedly needed to be done, so as to make savings to enhance the capacity of the front line and because of the necessity of a cultural change in the way in which the Ministry of Defence conducts its business.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, congratulated my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State on the work that he had done and, like my right hon. and learned Friend, emphasised the importance of the "Partnership for Peace". My hon. Friend welcomed the period of stability for which we have all worked and we all join him in congratulating the armed forces on the way in which they have coped with a period of considerable turbulence and change. It is interesting that the Select Committee, which is extremely active and covers assiduously the whole ambit of operation of the armed forces, has noticed how brilliantly the armed forces have coped with change.
My hon. Friend mentioned the intervals between emergency tours, which is a matter frequently discussed by the Select Committee and the Department. Clearly, things may improve, but it is unlikely that we shall see the day when the forces are not likely to be stretched. Indeed, I think that the forces themselves would regret it if that day were to come. I noted my hon. Friend's call for 10,000 new soldiers and very much hope that the Chief Secretary heard it, too. I also noted his views on the services needed for the future. We will consider his proposals in great detail.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster also mentioned ballistic missile defence, of which we have begun a two-year study. We are grateful for his support in this matter and hope to hear more from him.
The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), who, I am sorry to see, is not in his place, provided perhaps the only opportunity in the debate to hear the rampant voice of the Labour party in its true form. He is a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a proposer of the only official Labour party amendment on the Order Paper. It is unilateralist, anti-American and represents just about everything the Labour party stands for on defence.
The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent questioned the relevance of our nuclear deterrent and he said that there had been no peace dividend. There has been a wonderful peace dividend. The peace dividend is that we are living in, by and large, a period of peace. We maintain the minimum nuclear deterrent capability required for our security. Great uncertainties and great dangers remain and we have established a stable and secure framework for maintaining the peace. It would be an act of unspeakable folly lightly to dismantle it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby dealt at some length with the question of the Bett review. I hope that—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed tomorrow.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can the uncalled among us who have been here all day—I make no personal complaint—expect benign consideration tomorrow?
§ Madam Speaker
May I say to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that I have a very clear record here. The majority of hon. Members adhered to my strictures about keeping to 10 minutes or thereabouts. I have a record of those who did not do so, which is engraved on my heart. I have a record of the hon. Members who were in attendance for the whole of this day. I shall do my best to call them tomorrow. I assure the House that I keep very careful records and I know the hon. Members who took a great deal longer than 10 minutes today.