HC Deb 31 January 1995 vol 253 cc844-5
9. Mr. David Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the purpose and functions of the armed services.

Mr. Soames

The United Kingdom's armed forces operate in support of British defence policy, which is a key component of our wider security policy, the purpose of which remains to contribute to maintaining the freedom and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and its dependent territories, and its ability to pursue its legitimate interests at home and abroad.

Mr. Evans

If the lot opposite ever got away with devolution and broke up the United Kingdom, would the Scots and the Welsh be expected to defend themselves with leeks and haggis, or would the Scots ask the English to defend them out of English taxpayers' money?

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend, as usual, poses a difficult conundrum. The armed forces are, of course, the forces of the Crown, and the Crown is the golden chain which binds and secures the United Kingdom. The service of the Scots and Welsh regiments has been historic and heroic over the ages, and it would be difficult to contemplate any other arrangement.

Mr. Galloway

Is it a part of the proper purpose of the armed forces to send reserve Army officers, trainers and semi-detached military operatives to dictatorships such as the royal dictatorship of Bahrain so that they can observe people who are demonstrating for the democratic right to elect their own Government and to establish their own Parliament being gunned down or tortured?

Mr. Soames

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to know that Bahrain, about which he speaks in a such a loose and ignorant manner, is a force for moderation and good sense in the Gulf, and also that I was at Mons officer cadet school with the crown prince.

Mr. Gallie

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the recent review, "Front Line First", Scotland—perhaps with the exception of the Rosyth naval base—came out relatively well with respect to the retention of bases? If the Labour party were to attain its wish and establish a tax-raising Assembly which would create additional tax burdens, would it influence the Ministry of Defence with regard to the establishment and maintenance of bases in the future?

Mr. Soames

As my hon. Friend knows better than anyone, the Scots have for generations been the most marvellous providers of service men and women to the Crown. Plainly, Scotland remains an important and integral part of the defence establishment of this country, as it has important naval, air and Army bases. I can see no circumstances under which that could possibly alter. What matters to most of the people in this country is that the United Kingdom remains united.

Dr. David Clark

Has the Minister had the opportunity to see the recorded television interview with his right hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement, in which the right hon. Gentleman says openly and honestly that in the future there will be fewer ships and fewer aircraft"? How does that square with the solemn pledge by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence that there will be no further defence cuts?

Mr. Soames

My right hon. Friend certainly said no such thing. The new public expenditure plans—announced, endorsed and warmly welcomed by my right hon. and learned Friend—mark the end of upheaval in defence. We are now able to preserve our front-line capabilities to sustain and enhance our equipment programmes and the armed forces look forward with confidence to a brilliant future.