§ [Relevant documents: The Defence Committee has reported on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995 in its Ninth Report of Session 1994–95, HC 572. The First Report from the Defence Committee on the Defence Estate, HC 67; the Fourth Special Report containing the Government's Reply thereto, HC 318; the Fifth Report on Defence Costs Study Follow-up: Defence Medical Services, HC 102; the Sixth Special Report containing the Government's Reply thereto, HC 641; the Sixth Report on Defence Use of Civilian Transport Assets and Personnel, HC86; and the Seventh Report on Reconnaissance, Intelligence, Surveillance and Target Acquisition, HC 319.]
§ 5.5 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Portillo)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995 contained in Cm. 2800.It is an honour for me to open this debate on the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995". The Government will take this opportunity to respond to the Defence Select Committee's report.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) on becoming Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, in succession to my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), whom we also congratulate.
We ended the last Session with a debate on the former Yugoslavia. In July, things looked pretty desperate. The Bosnian Serbs had overrun the United Nations safe areas of Srebrenica and Zepa. Our television screens were full of harrowing images of death and destruction. Gorazde, where British soldiers of the Royal Welch Fusiliers were based, was threatened. Much has changed.
At the London conference, called by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, we achieved what until then had seemed impossible. The international community found a new resolve. The Bosnian Serbs were told in clear terms that further attacks on the United Nations safe areas would be met with a decisive military response.
The UN Generals Janvier and Smith took timely action to reduce the vulnerability of the UN forces. Their success in withdrawing the Royal Welch Fusiliers from their exposed position in Gorazde was a particular relief to us all.
Following the Bosnian Serb attack on Sarajevo marketplace, NATO began an air campaign. British planes carried out a significant share of the bombing raids. Let us hope that the Bosnian Serb generals now understand and will not again doubt the resolve of the international community.
The improved position on the ground has enabled the UN Secretary-General to reduce the size of UNPROFOR. As a result, we will bring home most of 24 Air Mobile Brigade later this month, but we shall leave their heavy equipment and some maintenance personnel to facilitate a rapid return to theatre if necessary. The presence of the brigade has played a vital part in making clear to the 46 Bosnian Serbs our determination to enhance the effectiveness of UNPROFOR and to provide additional protection to British troops.
We would not be where we are today without the continued commitment of UN and NATO forces from many countries. The House will wish to pay tribute to their courage and professionalism.
Our special tribute must go to the British forces—the front-line troops deployed in hazardous locations, such as Gorazde; those on Mount Igman, with the multinational brigade, where our batteries have been involved in action in defence of the Sarajevo safe area; all the key supporting forces and the Royal Navy ships in the Adriatic; and the air men and women of both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, who have served with such distinction, particularly those who played a part in the air campaign and who have flown humanitarian aid into Sarajevo. Quietly, sensibly and steadfastly, they have been getting on with what needs to be done in the former Yugoslavia.
I should like to recall the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), who told the House on 29 April 1993 that the Government's key aims were to prevent the conflict from spreading, to relieve humanitarian suffering and to provide a framework for a political solution.
We have met those objectives. We have prevented the conflict from spreading into a wider Balkan war. We have reduced the killing and made a major contribution to relief, and we have played a leading role in the peace process, notably by our membership of the five nation contact group.
The United States initiative launched at the end of August may have brought us to the brink of a peaceful settlement. I congratulate Dick Holbrooke and Carl Bildt on their tireless efforts leading to the ceasefire of 12 October.
The alliance may now face a new challenge. We are already engaged in planning for a peace implementation force. It will be NATO-led, and NATO forces will provide the core; but we would expect other nations to play their part. Russia, in particular, should have a substantial role. Good progress was made in discussions between NATO Ministers at Williamsburg earlier this month.
The headquarters of the Allied Command Europe rapid reaction corps—the ARRC—will play a key part. As NATO's only deployable corps HQ, it is vital to the success of any ground operation. Britain provides the commander and some 60 per cent. of the staff. I am confident that General Sir Mike Walker and his team will rise to the challenge.
NATO's role in Bosnia helps us to focus on the alliance's development in the future. The Government welcome the very useful report recently produced by the Defence Select Committee.
The NATO Defence Ministers in Williamsburg had a good discussion on NATO enlargement. NATO has recently published the results of its work on the "how and why" of enlargement. These are now being presented to partners, and Defence Ministers will collectively consider the next steps at the NATO meetings in early December.
Those will be important decisions. History teaches us that we should not give security guarantees lightly. Furthermore, operations in the former Yugoslavia have shown NATO's unique central role in the maintenance of 47 security and stability in Europe. Nothing should be done that would undermine the alliance's military effectiveness. We cannot afford ambiguity or political gestures. We must say what we mean, and mean what we say.
There are other complex issues. NATO's relationship with Russia, the relationship between France and the alliance are important matters that need to be discussed frankly. I hope that the debate will not be sidetracked into theological argument. We should take note of developments on the ground. I welcome the involvement of French forces in operations in the former Yugoslavia, including in the proposed NATO implementation force; and I welcome the close co-operation between NATO and Russia, to the point where discussions are under way with the Russians on their possible participation in the implementation force.
In other words, the former Yugoslavia problem is obliging NATO to find practical solutions to the involvement of French forces, and to the question of relations with Russia, even though some of the institutional arguments remain unresolved.
At the time of this debate last year, the ceasefires in Northern Ireland had only just been announced. The security situation has improved dramatically since then, and the progress made during the past 12 months gives us hope. Every day without bombs is a gain; every month without bloodshed is a blessing. It may be that, month after month, the quiet momentum of peace will become unstoppable, and all men of good will must hope for that.
However, we cannot relax our guard. Terrorist organisations continue to train their members, and have significant stocks of weapons and explosives with which they could resume the violence at short notice. Nor has violence disappeared altogether from the streets of Northern Ireland: punishment attacks go on, and intimidation continues unabated in some areas. The marching season showed us that relations within the community remain highly volatile. There were arson attacks on churches, chapels and Orange halls throughout the Province. Those incidents are not to be compared with the large-scale terrorist atrocities of 18 months ago, but they cause fear in the population. They are not acceptable in a civilised society.
As always, the armed forces have adapted to the demands made of them in this sensitive period. Our first duty is to ensure the safety of the people of Northern Ireland. We have been able to respond to the improved conditions by relocating two major units to their home bases, and more relocations may become possible if peace continues to develop. Troops will accompany the RUC wherever it may encounter hostility, but in areas where routine support for police patrols has ceased many soldiers have now returned to barracks. That has allowed them to take part in exercises, both in the UK and abroad, and to train for their primary roles.
IRA-Sinn Fein has said that peace may break down if it does not get its way. If it does break down for that reason, IRA-Sinn Fein will not be forgiven. Our service men and women have done an outstanding job in Northern Ireland, and have shown great bravery and dedication. The task has fallen mainly to the younger soldiers—corporals and lance-corporals—who have had to make split-second decisions on which people's lives have depended. The 48 qualities that they have displayed—discipline, self-restraint and sheer professionalism—bring distinction to our armed forces. They will continue to work tirelessly in support of the RUC, and we shall remain vigilant until a secure and enduring settlement is in place.
The five years since the end of the cold war have been years of upheaval, as we, with our allies, have adapted. Nuclear exchange today is much less likely, but we face increased uncertainty. We can expect continuing calls on the United Kingdom to support conflict prevention, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid missions—and, on occasion, to join a coalition to reverse unacceptable aggression. Those crises may arise with little or no notice. We cannot predict with certainty who will be involved in the response, but we can predict that those missions will arise some distance from the United Kingdom.
Over the past five years, we have reviewed our defence strategy. This year's statement sets out our intention to set a steady course for the future, building on the changes that we have made. It does not propose, as the Opposition motion does, another defence review. My Department has clear aims and objectives, which are set out in this year's statement. They are to ensure that we have in place the strategy and the defence capability needed to protect our security and that of our dependent territories; to contribute to the promotion of British interests overseas; and to help to maximise our international influence and prestige.
§ Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)
The Secretary of State speaks of the need to safeguard British interests overseas, and also of the need for adaptation. Since I last asked him about it, has he reflected further on the serious problems that arise from our country's disproportionate commitment to the export of arms? Has he considered the miserable humanitarian consequences, and the destabilising geopolitical effects? Has he also considered the dangers to our economy of our shrunken manufacturing base being so dependent on a particular sector of the export market, which is itself shrinking? Will he accept Labour's proposal for a defence diversification agency—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough to know that an intervention consists of one question, not six.
§ Mr. Portillo
I note that the hon. Gentleman has become no less verbose following his transition to the Opposition. We are discussing the qualities, such as loyalty, that characterise our forces and it is interesting to see the hon. Gentleman rise in his place. I have reflected upon Britain's most successful industry in terms of exports, upon the rights of countries to provide for their self-defence and upon the marriage of those two interests. I have spoken about the right of countries to buy arms to defend themselves and a country that is well able to export defence material to them.
§ Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
The Minister speaks about Britain's successful arms industry. Does he regard as part of that success the fact that this country supplied arms to the former Yugoslavia which were almost certainly used in the recent conflict?
§ Mr. Portillo
Of course arms will be used by people when they think that they have to protect themselves—that is an inevitable consequence. I do not know whether 49 the hon. Gentleman is one of the 37 signatories to the Opposition motion that calls for the cancellation of the Trident programme and the reduction of British defence spending to the average of the European Union. It was noticeable the week before last when the Labour party stage-managed its conference that it was able to avoid any debate on these matters. But as soon as Labour Members get back to Parliament the wild men take over. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and his many allies in the House for showing the true face of Labour and its wish still to be a unilateral disarmer.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Before the Secretary of State leaves the subject of nuclear weapons and Trident, would he briefly explain to the House and the country why we are spending up to £30 billion on nuclear weapons that can destroy life and humanity as we know it? Against whom are these weapons fuelled and aimed? What is the great threat to this nation that requires a weapon that can destroy the planet?
§ Mr. Portillo
If it were within the rules of the House I would happily cede all my time to the hon. Gentleman to make a speech about nuclear disarmament so that our people could clearly understand that the policy of a vast tract of the Labour party is to get rid of nuclear weapons. There are now nuclear weapons states in the world and there will be more in future. Britain has provided a nuclear umbrella not only for her own defence but for the defence of Europe. Many countries have benefited from that umbrella and have enjoyed a peace that they would not otherwise have had. I should like the hon. Gentleman to make as many speeches as he can proclaiming that the true policy of the Labour party is to do away with that unilateral nuclear defence.
§ Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)
While my right hon. Friend is reflecting on the Government's successful defence policy, and in particular the nuclear component of that policy, will he say whether the Government will continue to support our position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council? Will he also reflect on the fact that that lot on the Opposition Benches would put that in jeopardy?
§ Mr. Portillo
Of course I support continued membership: this Government always will. It is appropriate that Britain should play such a part in world affairs. It brings us great prestige and influence and heavy responsibilities which we are happy to fulfil.
§ Mr. Portillo
I shall give way to the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), who has been rising for some time, and then I should like to make some progress.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
As the Secretary of State is concentrating on the nuclear issue and as the Government are signatories to the non-proliferation treaty, will he tell us in simple terms the Government's attitude to the French nuclear testing in the south Pacific? Do they have a yes or no attitude? I ask that particularly in the light of the Minister's scepticism towards Europe.
§ Mr. Portillo
If the world is to benefit from the nuclear umbrella that is provided by the taxpayers of Britain, France and the United States, it is important for the world to know that nuclear weapons are effective. That is how 50 deterrence is achieved. We in Britain do not feel a need to test our weapons to have certainty about that, but we make no judgment about whether the French are in the same position. However, we applaud the fact that the French have made clear their intention to sign, after this series of tests, the comprehensive test ban treaty.
This year's statement gives a full exposition of the policies about which I have been speaking. It makes clear that the proposals for restructuring our front-line forces under "Options for Change" are complete. To implement our policies, the fighting strength and capabilities of our front-line forces need to be maintained. If their commitment is reduced, we intend to use the resources that are released to help to reduce overstretch, to increase training for war and to support other high-priority tasks.
The Defence Select Committee rightly expressed concern about overstretch in our armed forces, drawing particular attention to the operational tour intervals in the Army and especially in the infantry. The Army is currently heavily committed to operations. Some 23 per cent. of the field Army is deployed on operations with another 10 per cent. preparing for or recovering from them. Because of that, this year we shall not be able to meet our target of an average operational tour interval of 24 months for infantry battalions. On the basis of current commitments, the average for 1995–96 will be 20 months.
I am conscious of the impact of that change on soldiers and the effect upon them of separation from their families and of uncomfortable living conditions. It is a tribute to our armed forces that those deprivations are endured without affecting morale or operational capability. But we are not complacent and our target for average tour intervals remains 24 months. I recognise that it would never be possible rigidly to enforce such guidelines. None the less, I hope that the House will welcome the assurance in this year's statement that even if, as we hope, the Northern Ireland situation allows us over time to reduce our commitment to the RUC, it will not lead to cuts in fighting units. The Government intend to commit to defence the funds that are needed to preserve and properly equip our front-line capabilities.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
My right hon. Friend spoke about overstretch. He will be aware that one of the paradoxes of "Options for Change" was that while we were reducing the number of regiments we were concerned about demographic change and the reduction of about 30 per cent. in the age group pool from which we recruit. Even at the lower levels there could be considerable problems with recruitment, and recent news shows that that could continue to be a difficulty. Will my right hon. Friend or the Minister of State for the Armed Forces say what the Government intend to do to meet that recruitment challenge?
§ Mr. Portillo
My hon. Friend the Minister of State will be happy to deal with that but I should like to comment on it. There is a public perception that because the number of men in our armed forces has been reduced we do not need new recruits. I should like to take this opportunity to correct that impression. We do need recruits because we are not getting enough of them at the moment and the armed forces continue to offer a wonderful opportunity for young men and women. I hope that that opportunity will carry across the airwaves to young people who are thinking about a career in the services.
51 My Department continues to drive down costs, eliminate waste and improve efficiency. Headquarters staff numbers will continue to decline dramatically. "Front Line First" will save more than £1 billion a year by the end of the century, and the Department's efficiency programme has produced over £3 billion of efficiency gains in the past 10 years.
The changes that have been set in hand will continue to have their effect over the next few years. There is exemplary commitment by the services and civil servants to driving down costs and a willingness to embrace change, even though it can be personally disruptive. We must grasp enthusiastically the opportunities to manage our defence effort better. "Front Line First" has shown how a rigorous approach can enable us to invest in modern and capable equipment.
The Tomahawk land attack missile provides a vivid example of the enhancements in capability that were made possible by the savings achieved through "Front Line First". I am pleased to announce that the required approvals have been granted by the United States Administration and Congress and that we are therefore today placing an order for the missile. Tomahawk offers a capability that is suited to the world that we now face. It can carry out long-range precision attacks against selected targets with minimum threat to our forces and a low risk of collateral damage. Its long range and high accuracy will give us a highly effective means of persuading a potential aggressor to desist from unacceptable activity.
Last July we announced our intention to establish a joint rapid deployment force. I can now provide some more detail. We foresee a greater demand in future for operations mounted quickly to demonstrate our national purpose or the will of the international community, to stabilise a rapidly deteriorating situation or to protect the interests of our people. The joint rapid deployment force will be a key part of that and we have set a number of goals for the force.
The force will be joint, bringing units from all three services together in an effective formation of up to reinforced brigade strength with supporting naval and air components. It will be able to undertake a broad spectrum of missions and will be capable of being used either as part of a national response to a crisis or as part of an international coalition, whether brought together by NATO, the Western European Union or the UN.
The force will be able to respond quickly, with units held at the necessary readiness and, in responding, it must be able to bring the right range of skills to bear. Those goals are demanding. Units assigned to the JRDF must be manned, trained and equipped to meet them. Most of all, they will need clear leadership—leaders who are able to bring together a wide range of skills with new ways of thinking and working where required.
An implementation team will be set up under a Royal Marines brigadier to establish the JRDF by 1 August next year. The force, once formed, will be under its own chief of operations. It will be based on a core formed of 5 Airborne Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade. It will be underpinned by our national contingency forces, from which units will be assigned to the JRDF in rotation.
Speed of deployment and mobility in theatre will be vital. The JRDF will be able to draw on RAF transport aircraft, assigned support and battlefield helicopters and 52 our specialist amphibious shipping. We shall examine possible enhancements to that shipping and also the charter, lease or purchase of suitable civil shipping and cargo aircraft. The new force will greatly improve our ability to respond quickly and effectively to contingencies. Our goal is to create a force with the power to influence events.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
What my right hon. Friend has said is welcome, but will he elaborate a little on where the resources—manpower and money—are to come from? Is it simply a case of the existing forces of the three armed services having yet another role to perform?
§ Mr. Portillo
Clearly, I am not in a position today to make announcements on resources. I am talking about the process of bringing our armed forces up to date to meet the new range of threats in the world and ensuring that we train and man existing units for rapid deployment. Making available to our armed forces units that can be assigned quickly and deployed in theatre seems a welcome step forward.
§ Mr. David Shaw (Dover)
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that, if the new rapid deployment force is to be headed by a brigadier of the Royal Marines, there could be no better place to locate that force's headquarters than at the Royal Marines school of music in Deal, which, it has been announced, might be closing next April? Will he accept that Deal is probably the nearest place to any future theatre of war in which to locate such a headquarters and the fact that we have an airport—Manston airport—just up the road? It is a former RAF airport and could therefore be expanded and improved in times of emergency to deal with the activities of the Royal Marines—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I should hope that an hon. Member who expects the Marines to come back to his constituency will respond to a little discipline occasionally.
§ Mr. Portillo
My hon. Friend has been assiduous in representing his constituency on military matters and I congratulate him on getting in his bid so early.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
I wish to pursue a little further the matter of the rapid deployment force. Does it involve the use of forces already stationed in Germany as part of the rapid reaction corps?
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
The Secretary of State cannot dodge the question asked by two of his colleagues. We are dealing with defence estimates yet he says that he cannot state whether there are to be new resources for the rapid reaction force or whether we shall be recycling soldiers, sailors and airmen who are knackered.
§ Mr. Portillo
I answered the question but the hon. Gentleman was too busy preparing his next question to listen.
I have spoken of NATO's role in the former Yugoslavia. NATO is, and will be, the bedrock of our security. No other organisation can provide an effective security guarantee backed by the political and military structures to put it into effect. NATO has made it plain 53 that its forces are available to support United Nations missions and it provides the vital link between Europe and North America.
For NATO to work well, European countries must show their ability to work together and to pull their weight—[Interruption.]—as I said at Blackpool last week. There are numerous European contributors to United Nations operations in Bosnia. Again as I said in Blackpool last week, we have found ourselves in combat alongside excellent forces from France and the Netherlands on the slopes of Mount Igman.
Organisations other than NATO have much to contribute. This is an important time for the Western European Union, which is being developed to take on the tasks defined in the 1992 Petersburg declaration—humanitarian crises, disaster relief, peacekeeping and other crisis management missions. For this, we believe that the WEU needs to develop its operational capabilities so that it is able to mount effective operations. That will be a priority during our presidency of the WEU from next January.
The arrangements that are put in place must not, however, undermine NATO or the transatlantic link. Our goal is to build WEU capabilities that are compatible and not in competition with those of NATO. Those capabilities must be credible to the outside world and we must be able to rely on them to work in practice. We have therefore adopted an approach to the development of the WEU that examines tasks of which it should be capable and addresses the gaps that need to be filled. We want to build genuine military effectiveness.
We sincerely hope that the debate on defence at next year's intergovernmental conference will not get side-tracked into theological debate. Institutional tinkering cuts no ice with aggressors. No Bosnian Serb militiaman will be deterred by abstract talk of European defence vocations and perspectives.
§ Mr. Portillo
I want to finish my point.
The Government's aims for the intergovernmental conference are clear in terms of what we want and what we cannot accept. Our yardstick will always be what is in the interests of Britain's and Europe's security. What we want is an intergovernmental conference which promotes a European Union that is outward-looking, not introspective, and which helps to build a practical European defence capability so that all European countries can take on their proper share in building security in their continent and further afield.
As the Government say on page 17 of the defence estimates, however, what we cannot accept from the intergovernmental conference is a merger of WEU into the European Union. The European Union includes countries that are neutral, and it would be positively damaging to Europe's wider interests if we put in place new defence hurdles for prospective EU members in central and eastern Europe.
Nor, again as we said in the defence estimates, should there be in defence matters any of the involvement of the European Commission or the European Parliament that occurs elsewhere in the Union's structure. Decisions on the deployment of British armed forces must be taken by the sovereign British Government. No decisions should be taken that would limit our freedom to act in defence 54 of British national interests. There is no justification for separate European armies which would be wasteful and which would undermine NATO.
Britain has a leading role to play in the world, for the benefit of our own people and for the good of the international community. We are a global power and an important European power. We can and will use our position to influence the development of Europe, not to create defence structures where the defence policies of individual nations are subjugated to a supranational European body, but to enable nation states to work together to build security and stability in Europe.
As we debate defence, let us not forget that our nation retains global reach. We will continue to be a major participant in world affairs, using our assets and experience for the benefit of the world community. We can draw on our long experience of political stability and a tradition of moderation. We are also a responsible nuclear power. We are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Uniquely, we are a leading member of NATO, the European Union and a Commonwealth that covers one third of the people of the earth.
In conditions very different from that of the cold war, we may need fewer men and women under arms, but their quality, their training and their equipment must remain world class.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:`declines to support the policy of the Government as set out in the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995; condemns the continued instability in the armed forces caused by the Government's failure to establish a long-term strategic overview; notes that this undermines the morale and operational effectiveness of the United Kingdom's armed forces and fails to prepare the United Kingdom for the challenges of the post cold war world; calls upon the Government to establish a strategic defence review; deplores the way that United Kingdom defence capabilities and installations are being run down in an unstructured way instead of the Government seeking to manage the worst effects of change on communities and individuals through a defence diversification agency; urges a positive approach in the negotiation of a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and the immediate ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention; condemns the Government's financial mismanagement and waste in defence; congratulates the excellent work carried out by British forces throughout the world and expresses pride in their continuing presence in United Nations peacekeeping operations.'.I want to begin my comments in this annual debate on defence in a consensual manner and pay tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniforms of our armed forces with such distinction. I want to link with them the civilians who work with the Ministry of Defence, but whose work so often goes unrecognised. In paying tribute to the skill, resolution and sheer professionalism of those men and women, I am conscious that they operate in 24 countries throughout the world and also in Northern Ireland, and that they are away from their families for too long a period.
I am especially conscious of the good work that those men and women have done in Bosnia. Like the Secretary of State, I have witnessed that, but many people in this country are not aware of the value and extent of their work in bringing together communities and helping new civilian regimes to emerge. I know that at this moment, 55 when they are likely to swap their blue berets and helmets of the United Nations for the steel helmets of NATO. their task may become even more dangerous—but that task will be all the more necessary if we are to effect a peace in that nation.
This year of 1995, as we recall the victories in Europe and Japan against fascism 50 years ago, is an especially poignant year. The ceremonies marking VE and VJ days gave us all an opportunity to express our thanks to those who played their part in securing those victories. It is appropriate to remind ourselves that we have a duty to ensure that the sufferings and sacrifices were not in vain.
Indeed, as we view the events of 50 years ago from our modern day vantage point, one fact is often overlooked, even though it is so strikingly obvious—that for centuries until 1945, European countries had fought each other as a matter of course. Now, it is inconceivable that Britain would go to war with Germany, that France would wage war with Spain and that the people of Belgium, Holland and Denmark would fear the military might of Germany. The reason for the changed position and the current stability is, quite simply, the creation of international institutions such as NATO and the EEC, now the European Union.
That may be an obvious statement, but I regret that the Secretary of State appeared not to take it on board. I thought that his speech today was largely reasoned; I thought it subdued. It was not so much a tactical retreat as a rout. I do not know who brought pressure to bear upon the right hon. Gentleman, but certainly wiser counsels have prevailed and the House has benefited from that.
However, I must make the point that at last week's Conservative party conference, the Secretary of State caused offence to and angered many people in this country. In his speech he delivered what I regarded as one of the most disgracefully nationalistic rants that I have ever had the great displeasure to hear. I was simply appalled to learn that his speech had not only been approved by the Prime Minister, but had his full and enthusiastic support. The Prime Minister must take the blame for the damage caused by that speech, both at home and abroad.
That speech did do damage. At home, it attracted criticism from Lord Howe, Sir Leon Brittan and the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Carver [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) may laugh at the former Chief of the Defence Staff, but the Opposition believe that his opinion is worth listening to. Abroad, there was criticism—some might say expected—from the European Commission, through its President Mr. Santer. However, I recall that it is the same Jacques Santer who was the Prime Minister's chosen man—the right man, at the right time, in the right place. He is the Prime Minister's chosen man, but he could not take the Secretary of State's speech.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman has tried to excuse his speech as a knockabout conference floor piece of oratory, but that cannot obscure the menace and danger that it harboured. We needed only to listen to his jingoistic tirade to realise how misguided is his idea of the role of the armed forces.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that during my 56 period of service I never met any British service man who was doing other than serving for Britain. I never met any French service man who was doing other than serving for France. The same was true for other countries. Indeed, the German prisoners who were under me also said that they were fighting for Germany.
§ Dr. Clark
I do not really follow the hon. Gentleman's point. We are objecting to the way in which the Secretary of State abused his position and twisted and abused the values of patriotism that are held dear by Members on both sides of the House. It is an affront to the House to see the national flag of this country used so recklessly to further the political ambitions of one man.
§ Mr. Portillo
I was waiting for the hon. Gentleman to come to the point because I was not sure to which part of my speech he was objecting. I have now discovered that it is his view that I abused patriotism. I did not make the sort of speech made by the Leader of the Opposition about VJ day. I did not stand up and say that on VJ day I observed many veterans on the march calling out that they were Labour supporters. I would have thought that any man who aspires to be the leader of this country and attends a major national ceremony, but who comes away from it to tell his conference that he saw only Labour voters—where the rest of us saw veterans and heroes—has a lot to learn.
§ Dr. Clark
The right hon. Gentleman should realise that patriotism does not mean that we hate our enemies and it does not mean that we are anti-foreign.
It is not only the Opposition, eminent people and the general public who have been offended by the right hon. Gentleman's outburst; the armed forces are seething about his speech. One senior officer is reported to have described it as a prostitution of the armed forces reputation in the name of short-term political gain. To try to hijack the courage and commitment of the SAS for the right hon. Gentleman's self-seeking Rambo-style propaganda shows the depths to which he will go.
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)
The hon. Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had raised nationalistic issues concerning European defence and the formation of a European army. Does he agree with the remarks by Chancellor Kohl on 20 September when he said that he intended that there should be a defence union in Europe by 1999? Does he consider that to be a relevant threat?
§ Dr. Clark
Chancellor Kohl has nothing to do with the British Labour party. He is more closely linked with the Conservative party, I may say. The leader of the Labour party said in the House on 1 March—I shall speak slowly for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman—that the possibility of a European army was not on. He said:We do not—the leader of the Labour party said this—We do not favour a European army".—[Official Report, 1 March 1995; Vol. 255, c. 1059.]Is that clear? I hope that it is.
§ Dr. Clark
Perhaps I could continue.
57 Not only were the armed forces and the general public offended or sickened; what really got home to most people was the attempt by the Secretary of State to claim patriotism for the Conservative party. The right hon. Gentleman needs a history lesson before he tries to wrap that around us. We in the Labour party are conscious of patriotism. We accept that no one party has a monopoly on patriotism. But does not the Defence Secretary recall those dark days of 1940, when our backs were up against the wall, and we had the war Cabinet of Attlee and Greenwood from the Labour party, with Halifax and Chamberlain from the Conservative party, and, of course, Winston Churchill as the Prime Minister? In May 1940, in a critical situation, the proposition came before the Cabinet of whether to sue for peace with Hitler. Two Cabinet members in favour—
§ Dr. Clark
I could do without the comments of my hon. Friend. With Chamberlain and Halifax from the Conservative party, by three votes—those of Churchill and the two Labour Members—to two, it was decided that this nation would not bow to the yoke of fascism. We do not need any lessons on patriotism from this Government. We have never used such information before, but if they ask for it, we will use it.
I return to the main point that I am trying to make. I hope that I have got it across to the Defence Secretary. It is simply: we in the Labour party accept that men and women of all political persuasions, of all political parties, gave up their lives so that we—the right hon. Gentleman and myself and every other hon. Member in the House—may live free from the shadows of fascism and the Nazis. Ever since then, this House has been united in protecting that freedom. Successive Defence Secretaries from all parties have argued for it, because we have been determined that those shadows should never darken Britain again.
Partly to try to ensure that such events did not happen again, over 50 years ago we formed the Atlantic alliance. The Secretary of State will be slightly embarrassed because the headquarters of that organisation is based in Brussels. That organisation brought the peoples of North America and Europe together, and upon that stability our freedom has been built. We had the same aims of security, stability, unity and freedom. It is a sad day when Britain, which has for so long been a major player in NATO, has a Secretary of State who does not seem to appreciate that point.
§ Mr. Key
The interesting ramble that we have sat through has merely served to point out—the hon. Gentleman quoted his leader in affirmation of the point—that the leader of the Labour party agrees with the Secretary of State for Defence. That seems to be the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. When he says that nobody is interested in or believes in what the Secretary of State for Defence said, I wonder whether he has spoken to any one of his constituents over the weekend. My constituents have not being telling me how upset they were with the Secretary of State—absolutely the reverse.
§ Dr. Clark
Well, we will see when the election comes what the hon. Gentleman's constituents are actually thinking. We have talked about history, but let us talk about current affairs and the leader of the Labour party. We have made it quite clear that we are not in favour of 58 a European army, nor will we give up Britain's right of veto on defence and security issues. I hope that that is clear. May I read out the document which was passed at our conference? I shall read it very slowly and I shall say it only once. It said:Labour does not support the establishment of a European army or proposals to give the European Union a military competence.Is that clear? I do not think that it can be made clearer to anyone who has anything between their ears.
§ Mr. Portillo
But if the situation is so very clear, why did Pauline Green, the leader of the socialists in Europe, Labour Member of the European Parliament for London North, table a motion, which was voted for by Labour Members of the European Parliament, calling for the application of qualified majority voting to foreign and security policy? Why did all Labour Members of the European Parliament vote for a merger of foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs into the main structure of the European Community, where of course the European Court and the European Parliament would have influence? If that is the policy of the leader of the socialists in Europe, why is it so very different from the policy of the leader of the Labour party?
§ Dr. Clark
The right hon. Gentleman knows that his own party, the European People's party, supports the social chapter, yet he does not accept it.
I stand by what I said. The party conference and the Labour Front-Bench team have said quite clearly that we do not support the establishment of a European army or proposals to give the EU a military competence. I hope that that is clear. I wish that the Secretary of State would stop tilting at windmills that do not exist. He is simply becoming the Don Quixote of British politics by so doing.
I know that the Secretary of State will claim that he was being patriotic. He was not. He was being xenophobic and nationalistic. I am minded of Richard Aldington's comment. He said:Patriotism is a lively sense of collective responsibility. Nationalism is a silly cock, crowing on its own dunghill.That is something which the Secretary of State may well take on board.
One thing is clear, in spite of the Secretary of State's views, his professed patriotism does not extend to procurement decisions facing Britain. He is all words and little action in that respect because in recent years the Conservative party has shown that it prefers to buy foreign equipment wherever possible. It has bought planes from the United States, ammunition from Israel, fuses from Italy, bribes and all. That has been this Government's record when it comes to supporting the British defence industry.
I sometimes wonder what the Government have got against the British defence industry. For example, why have they got such an obsession against Land Rover?
§ Dr. Clark
I shall give way in a moment. Why did the Government go against the bid for light vehicle replacements from Land Rover in preference to the Reynolds Broughton RB44? The Australians went for the British Land Rover and it has been very successful. What did we buy? We bought Reynolds Broughton. Will the Secretary of State confirm that all 846 of those vehicles are unroadworthy? They have had to be taken off the road. 59 Not one of them can be used, yet they were chosen in preference to the British Land Rover. Will he also tell us how many Austrian vehicles he has had to buy to replace and make good those 846 vehicles which he had to take off the road? That is the sort of behaviour that we get from the Government when it comes to procurement from British defence companies.
§ Mr. Jenkin
If the hon. Gentleman is going to make a speech on behalf of the British defence industry, is not it incumbent on him to distance himself from the comments of the party's newest recruit, who seems to be part of the old Labour party, determined to wage a vendetta against the defence industry by preventing it from exporting legitimately? Would the hon. Gentleman make it quite clear that the Labour party would not wish to restrict sales of arms overseas, which are a great export earner and provide significant employment in my constituency?
§ Dr. Clark
We have made it clear that, so long as one accepts article 51 of the United Nations charter, every country has the right to self-defence, so they obviously have the right to acquire weapons for that purpose. We have said that, but equally we are not in favour of selling arms to repressive regimes and we are not in the business of selling arms that might be used against other countries or, indeed, against our soldiers. If the Government and their Conservative predecessors had been more transparent, we would not have had the Scott inquiry or the difficulties that resulted.
The point that we are trying to make is that we need a strong British defence industry if we are to match our national and international commitments. I happen to believe that, if I ask a British man or woman to go out and serve in a United Nations force on behalf of Britain, those people have the right to the best equipment. I happen to believe that in many cases, that best equipment is British. It is sad that the Government have no strategy for the defence industry and, indeed, actively threaten our ability to protect British forces.
The United Kingdom defence industry is facing a period of unprecedented change. The Government have done nothing to try to help it to manage that change. The social price is enormous: 350,000 defence redundancies in recent years. They were all unplanned. There was no attempt to manage the change. Thousands of people with high-tech skills which we as a country can ill afford to lose have simply been thrown aside. The Government's complacency shows in how little esteem they hold the defence sector and the communities that are dependent on it.
It is because we believe that it is in Britain's national and economic interest to have a defence industrial base and because the Tories have inflicted such damage on it that we have launched our own strategy for a secure future for the defence industry. Opposition Members believe, unlike the Government, that the British defence industry is a strategic part not only of our defence effort but of our manufacturing capability. We will work with the defence industry to identify technologies in which we lead the world and to ensure that they realise their potential.
I sometimes fear that we have missed so many opportunities. The liquid crystal display unit on all lap-top computers and calculators was invented here in Britain by the Defence Research Agency, which is publicly owned. 60 Yet there was no one to realise its potential. Billions of pounds and thousands of jobs have been lost to Britain because of that failure. That is why we will establish a defence diversification agency funded from within the existing defence budget which will make a significant contribution to realising those opportunities. We believe that there is a future for British industry.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman has just said. He said that he was working with the defence industries. Is he aware that not one single defence manufacturer supports the idea of a defence diversification agency?
§ Dr. Clark
I am sorry. The hon. Gentleman has obviously not read the evidence from GEC to the Trade and Industry Select Committee. It came out openly in favour of a defence diversification agency. The hon. Gentleman nods his head. He can go and look in the records. It is clearly stated in the evidence to that Select Committee. Other companies have told us that they support the idea.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
My hon. Friend has been generous in giving way. Would he like to remind the Government party that it is not the Labour party which has dissipated all the industrial base of the Royal Ordnance factories and, for the first time since King Charles, left us without state ordnance?
§ Dr. Clark
I am grateful for that intervention. I know how much my hon. Friend fights for her constituents who work at the Radway Green plant and how much she has fought not only for her constituents but for Britain. It is much appreciated. I know that it is a matter of regret that so many jobs have been lost at that plant.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
I know that GEC has said what the hon. Gentleman has reported that it has said to the Select Committee, but has the Labour party studied what has happened in the United States of America? It has thrown $300 million at the funding of a diversification agency and got nothing in return.
§ Dr. Clark
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands. The American experience was to establish a defence diversification commission. It was not to be a permanent body. It was a commission to determine how the rundown of not only the defence industry but defence bases should be managed. I must say that the USA has managed the change much more successfully than we have in Britain. I happen to believe that we can learn a great deal from the work of Secretary Gottbaum and the people in the department.
§ Dr. Clark
No, I am not prepared to give way. I have given way on so many occasions that I am not prepared to give way again.
I have set out Labour's ideas for the defence industry. I should now like to raise an issue which has come to prominence in recent weeks; it is the Secretary of State's decision to examine the possibility of leasing or purchasing F16s from the United States to replace our Tornado F3s. In parenthesis, I am conscious that we lost about 18 of our F3s at St. Athan when the privatized 61 company wrecked them. I am also conscious that in turn we are to lease 24 to the Italians. Nevertheless, we understand that the Secretary of State is considering that particular option.
It appears that the plan was considered some time ago, but was rejected on the ground that it could lead to the demise of the British aerospace industry. However, its author seems to have resurrected the plan, which appears to have found fallow ground with the new Secretary of State. That should not be surprising, given the fact that Mr. David Hart produced the report and Mr. David Hart is the Secretary of State's independent adviser. He has made no secret of that.
It would appear that the decision is not the only procurement decision in which Mr. Hart has taken an interest. For example, in 1993, in an article in The Spectator magazine, he expressed his views clearly. It made uneasy reading for the UK defence industry because it argued that British defence firms should become little more than metal bashers for United States companies. In the same article he unfavourably compared the men and women of the Royal Air Force with those of the Israeli air force. So it is little wonder that the armed forces are seething about the influence of the so-called independent adviser—Rasputin, as I gather he is called within the Department.
Does the House think that Mr. Hart's remarks rest easily with the patriotism and commitment which the Secretary of State enounces so much? The point that I want to get out of the Secretary of State is simply this. A number of people are deeply concerned that Mr. Hart has access to confidential information from British defence companies. I wrote to the Secretary of State just a month ago on this very issue, as he knows. He has replied to me only today. It is a helpful reply as far as it goes. I asked what security clearance Mr. Hart had. The Secretary of State wrote:Mr. Hart has been subject to the checks necessary to permit him from time to time to have access to classified information. Mr. Hart fully understands the need to safeguard all information given to him in his Departmental role and that this should not be used for any other purpose. Mr. Hart provides independent advice to me in only a small number of areas where the Department is in negotiations which may lead to a procurement contract. If he were to have a financial interest in one or more of the firms in negotiation for such a contract, I would expect him to declare it and would reach a view on his involvement in the light of this declaration.
§ Dr. Clark
My hon. Friend says, "Very cosy." I find that the letter has been written with circumspection. It does not contain the guarantee that I and the House would want on the matter. Has the gentleman signed the Official Secrets Act? Is he bound by it? Does the Secretary of State guarantee that this man uses information only for the purposes of the Department? We have a right to ask that question and to have the answer to it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]
I presume that the appointment of independent advisers such as Mr. Hart is justified on account of their business experience and business skills, but I am afraid that, on examining the Government's record, one finds that they do not appear to have been very successful.
Let us consider the record. Let us take, not our figures, but those of the National Audit Office. In May this year, the National Audit Office major projects report analysed 25 of the Ministry of Defence's largest projects. 62 Twenty-three of those projects had forecast cost increases of £645 million. Ninety per cent. of the projects had failed to reach their original in-service date, with an average slippage of three years. That is the business efficiency of the Government—and we could go on and on.
One example is the official services residences, to which the House drew attention. Curtains alone in one house cost £33,000. We know that the service man was scapegoated and sacked, but the budget holder of that specific project was not even disciplined. We might consider other matters, such as the £4 million spent on the other 11 residences.
We might take as an example the collapse of the Government's privatisation of married housing stock. That privatisation fell apart, but only after the Government wasted £5 million on management consultants. Or we might consider the privatisation of the royal dockyards in Devonport and Rosyth and the fiasco there. Only two bidders emerged to tender—the two companies that were already operating the sites—and that after £6.7 million of our money had been spent on management consultants. It is not business men who are running this country; it is management consultants.
I hope, before I leave the subject of the two dockyards, that the Secretary of State or his Ministers will reinforce the commitment today to a two-dockyard solution. I urge the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to confirm later that past promises made about pensions, redundancy entitlements, conditions of employment and work load in the event of the sales going ahead will be honoured. I also wonder when those contracts will be signed.
We expect more from the Government. However, if we consider the Secretary of State's Blackpool outburst—using his words, strippingaway all the waffle and fudgehe represents the real agenda of the modern Conservative party. It is a highly dangerous agenda. Whereas Conservative and Labour Defence Ministers since the war have tried to achieve security, the present Government only add insecurity.
The Secretary of State mentioned another defence review. Well, I wish that there had been a defence review; there simply has not been one. We are about the only country in the modern world that has not had a full defence review since the end of the cold war. We Opposition Members are committed to having one, because we believe that, if one is trying to plot and measure what is needed from our defence forces, one needs to have a review that is based on defence inputs, not on Treasury inputs.
In 1993, the Ministry of Defence established the defence costs studies. The Secretary of State is quite clever. I noticed what he said today. Interestingly, he has changed the terminology—he is back to "Front Line First" again. It used to be called defence costs studies. That is the official title—not defence needs studies, but defence costs studies. He knows, better than anyone else does, because he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury at the time, that that was a Treasury-induced defence project. The tragedy is that we have no long-term planning for our military.
The former Defence Secretary, Sir John Nott, provided a damning indictment of the existing system's failure to undertake long-term planning when he described the Ministry of Defence as being 63like a huge super-tanker, well captained, well engineered, well crewed, its systems continuously updated but with no-one ever asking where the hell it is going.Where the hell is it going?
Now that the cold war is over, it is crucial that that MOD supertanker has a new captain and a redefined sense of direction. That is why we need a strategic defence review, and that is why the new Labour Government will establish such a review. We shall do so because it is necessary if we are to protect the long-term national security of Britain.
We find that the only opposition comes from Conservative Members. The military say that they are on our side; the experts are on our side; almost everyone is, because they understand the logic of the case. The only people who disagree are, of course, members of the Conservative party.
I shall now discuss the Government's failure in another respect—the lack of an international outlook. I ask them, when will they bring forward for ratification the chemical weapons convention? I make the promise that I have made in the past: let them bring it forward and consult with us. They will have a fair wind from the Opposition. It need not take a long time to do that.
Similarly, why do the Government persist in opposing a ban on the trade in anti-personnel mines? The Secretary of State knows that the international conference broke down last week and he knows the damage and injury that those mines cause. Why will he not support a ban in the trade of those anti-personnel mines?
Now I shall discuss the biggest piece of hypocrisy of all, concerning nuclear testing. As the House knows, we have a long-standing commitment to end all nuclear testing and we have pledged to take a positive attitude towards negotiation of a truly comprehensive test ban treaty. We argue that because we know that nuclear testing is unnecessary. The work can be done by laser testing and in laboratories, and it is for that reason that President Clinton took his brave stand recently.
Unfortunately for Britain's interest and international security as a whole, Ministers have not been enthusiastic about that. Indeed, they have been obstructive and negative and came round to the opinion to support a comprehensive test ban only when President Clinton told them that they could not test in the United States.
Only a few years ago, the then Defence Minister in the other place condemned President Clinton's moratorium on nuclear testing, calling it unfortunate and misguided. That is not the way to approach international negotiations. It is not the way to achieve the objects of SDE95, when the Government are committed to working towards a nuclear free world. That is not the way to achieve it. We wonder why the Government have had to be brought kicking to the table. We believe that the Government should drop their obstruction on the issue of nuclear testing.
As the Secretary of State knows, recently the issue has been strongly brought home to us by the French Government's decision to conduct testing. They have completed two nuclear tests in the south Pacific. Almost universally, the international community has rightly condemned the French test in the south Pacific. What response did we hear from the Government? A muted,This is a matter for the French Government".64 We, almost alone in the world, refuse to condemn the French testing programme. Britain's silence is a betrayal of our position in the international community and especially a betrayal of our friends in the Commonwealth in the south Pacific. Britain's shameful silence is nothing but an insult on top of the injury already done. It must be the first time that the Secretary of State has refused to take the opportunity to condemn one of our European allies. It is obvious that the Government will not take an international approach to our security.
The security of Britain can no longer be achieved by pillboxes situated at key points round our coasts, prepared to repel invaders. National security may need to be underpinned by military hardware, but it requires a wider perspective. Security can be achieved in the modern world only by international co-operation with our allies and the development of confidence-building measures with others.
With the end of the cold war, that needs vision. It is obvious today that the present Government lack the will and the vision, and that only a new Labour Government are fit and able to handle our security through into the new millennium.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romney and Waterside)
I was with the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clarke) 100 per cent. when he began his speech. I had hoped that, as he applauded all that our forces were doing overseas in the defence of freedom, today's debate about the defence of the realm would prove constructive and would rise above party politics. I had hoped to prove that in that regard hon Members on both sides of the House agree more than we disagree. But, alas, it was not to be.
The hon. Gentleman criticised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for too much patriotism and too much party politics. That is nothing new at a Tory party conference. I would hardly criticise my right hon. Friend for that. It seems to me to be rather better to wave the Union Jack at one's party conference than to sing the "Red Flag".
It is significant that the hon. Gentleman spent very little time speaking to his amendment. That is hardly surprising when it bears only six signatures in support. I think that the House and the world at large will be much more interested in the other amendment on the Order Paper standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), which has 37 signatures. It proves that the true heart of the Labour party is alive and well.
Today's parliamentary proceedings will not be remembered for the defence debate—they will certainly not be remembered for the speech by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for South Shields—nor do I think that they will be remembered for the statement on prisons. It is much more likely that we will remember today as the day that we paid tribute to an exceptional politician and statesman, Lord Home.
I remember moving a vote of thanks to Lord Home after he had spoken in my constituency. On that occasion, I said that it is often said of great men thatsome men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them".I said that Lord Home must be the only man who embodied all three and I think that the tributes paid to him today prove that.
65 I think that we should hear cries of, "Author, author!" in this debate. Where are they? The defence estimates statement for 1995 was published bearing the signature of my right hon. and learned Friend, the present Foreign Secretary, the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). The Defence Select Committee's response to that statement was prepared when my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) was Chairman. Both my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend have now moved to new responsibilities, and may I be the first to pay tribute to the work of my right hon. and learned Friend as Secretary of State for Defence.
This year's defence statement is robust and readable and it allowed the Select Committee plenty of time to comment upon it before the summer recess. My right hon. and learned Friend has already demonstrated his skills as Foreign Secretary and I am sure that he will he a most worthy successor to the distinguished line of statesmen who have held that very important office.
I have almost always spoken in previous defence debates, but today is the first time that I speak as Defence Select Committee Chairman. I thank my colleagues on the Committee for electing me to succeed my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster. I think that he will be a very difficult act to follow. As a direct descendant of Nelson, I rate him 100 guns-plus in his role as Committee Chairman. I certainly enjoyed the farewell party that we held in his honour, but I was glad that my name was not Hardy. We wish him well in his role as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The Defence Select Committee will sadly also be saying au revoir to our Clerk, Mr. David Natzler, who has kept us very well informed—and generally very amused—for six years. We welcome Andrew Kennon as his successor.
A number of other recent Defence Select Committee reports and Government replies that are relevant to today's debate are listed on the Order Paper. I mention in particular reports about the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Defence Medical Services, the Ministry of Defence estate, the defence use of civilian transport assets and personnel, and the reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition project. We are also conducting a joint investigation with the Select Committee for Trade and Industry into our defence industrial base, and it will report quite soon.
It is important to remember that today's debate may be the last opportunity for hon. Members to discuss defence matters before the 1996 intergovernmental conference. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say today that it is now "steady as she goes", and I hope that we will enjoy a period of stability as the option decisions work their way through the system.
§ Mr. Mackinlay
I take the hon. Gentleman's point that this is probably the last opportunity that we will have to discuss defence issues before the intergovernmental conference commences. Therefore, is it not a pity that the Defence Committee's report entitled "The Future of NATO: the 1994 Summit and its Consequences" and the proposed extension of NATO do not appear technically 66 on the Order Paper today, despite the fact that the extension of NATO is referred to in the defence estimates White Paper?
§ Mr. Colvin
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. However, there is nothing to stop hon. Members referring to that report, copies of which are available from the Vote Office. I certainly intend to refer to it later in my speech.
I cannot believe that the Opposition are serious about wanting to plunge our armed forces into another full-scale review. That is why I shall certainly not support the Opposition amendment as it appears on the Order Paper. It will take time—probably two years—for our armed forces to weather the turbulence of the current redundancies and to settle down to the new streamlined structures. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Pentlands said when he gave evidence to the Committee:The big decisions have been taken. The Government now intends to inject a period of stability into defence planning—and funding".I trust that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will note the word "funding" and let us hope that the White Paper lives up to its title: "Stable Forces in a Strong Britain".
Despite what my right hon. Friend has said, our Committee is still very concerned about the degree of overstretch in our armed forces. The Army's 24-month target for intervals between operational tours is barely achieved as an average, let alone a minimum; Her Majesty's ships regularly fail to meet the Royal Navy's harmony targets; and the First Sea Lord has expressed concern about the difficulty of regeneration. That has an effect on recruitment, which has been discussed previously.
The Committee is particularly concerned about how the Army and the Royal Air Force will recruit more people in the near future. We believe that there is currently a shortfall of more than 2,000 in Army recruitment against a target of 11,200, and I know that there is press speculation that the figure is more like 5,000 short. I hope that my hon Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will inform us of the true position in his wind-up speech this evening.
We have also noted reports of front-line undermanning, and we will be watching those matters closely. I endorse wholeheartedly what has been said already about our forces which are currently deployed on the front line in former Yugoslavia. They are performing a very difficult task with courage, skill and humour. They are undoubtedly the best troops in theatre. As to recruitment, the Committee is relieved to note that the Ministry of Defence's excessive reliance on job centres as proposed in the defence costs study has now been modified significantly.
I do not wish to steal hon. Members' thunder on equipment issues when they may have closer constituency interests than I represent. However, I want to mention four matters. First, I refer to the EH101 medium support helicopter. We stated in our report on the White Paper our concern, following MOD information conveyed to us, that the helicopter might not meet its "genuinely necessary minimum requirements". I am now quite satisfied that it does, and so too is the Royal Air Force. I am sure that the helicopters will give sterling service to the RAF and to the Army. I am pleased that in May, just a week after our Committee met the Italian Defence Minister, Italy at last ordered the aircraft.
67 Secondly, we have long expressed impatience over the slow rate of replacement of the old Royal Fleet Auxiliary tankers. I was delighted, therefore, to see in the Department's 13 December "Contract Bulletin", which is obligatory bedside reading for the Chairman of the Select Committee, that the MOD intended to issue an invitation to tender for the design and build in the United Kingdom of two large auxiliary oilers, presumably to replace the old 0 class vessels. Perhaps we could be told whether those two are to be followed by others and how the future shape of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is envisaged.
I hear what my right hon. Friend said about the joint rapid deployment force, which is a welcome and an essential military development in today's uncertain world. How will the force travel to its destinations without delay? We cannot always rely on thumbing a lift from our American allies. The "Defence Estimates" say on page 30 that in order to reduce deployment times the Government aretaking measures to improve the readiness of specialist shipping.It about time they did that. When I went to the Marchwood military port in my constituency to see off the dispatch of equipment supporting the 24 Air Mobile Brigade to Bosnia, it was travelling in American military vessels. Do we not need more LSLs, landing ships—logistics, such as Sir Tristan and Sir Galahad, costing about the same as an Apache helicopter? Surely they could provide the specialist shipping that we require.
Thirdly, we have again expressed our disappointment at the slow progress within NATO towards a solution of the identification friend or foe issue. We found it appalling that NATO forces still cannot operate together without significant risk of fratricide. We have been pursuing the matter for several years—since the tragic case of fratricide in the Gulf war. The MOD told us that in May that the United Kingdom hoped to make a formal decision on air IFF by the end of the year. I should like to know whether that is still on course.
Fourthly, there is RISTA—reconnaissance intelligence and target acquisition. Considerable publicity has been given to the problems of the Phoenix drone system that we set out in our report. We can only hope that, after years of scandalous delay and mismanagement, it is eventually delivered to the Army. If it is not, we expect the Ministry of Defence to seek some compensation for the waste.
We are also disturbed to discover how long it has taken for the long-outstanding requirement for a ground surveillance system to begin to be met. The United States deployed its new J-STARS aircraft during the Gulf war and there has been considerable pressure on the United Kingdom and our NATO allies to buy into that system. Is it being fully evaluated, and what is the United Kingdom's position?
I have already touched on personnel and, as usual, our report devotes a chapter to it. I have nothing to say on the Bett report as that document is out for consultation, nor on the sad saga of official service residences.
Our principal concern is services housing. We set out in paragraphs 8 to 10 the rather curious tale of how the idea of a housing trust foundered on arcane points of Government accounting. It seems that the plan is for the married quarters estate to be sold and leased or rented back. There is considerable anxiety throughout the 68 services as to how it will work in practice to ensure that families have suitable housing to move into when necessary at rents comparable to those currently charged.
The Committee spent considerable time and effort examining the far reaching implications of the defence costs study. We have reservation about defence medical services and the Royal Naval stores capacity, but generally the defence costs studies have been a success and nearly on target at £720 million of savings for 1996–97 and £1 billion per annum savings from the end of the decade onward. I am glad to see that around 90 per cent. of the savings already made will be added back to the armed forces converting waste into weapons rather than being plundered by the Treasury.
We were glad to be told that the new tri-service command and staff course will have 327 instead of only 240 students, with 98 from overseas instead of 60. I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm those numbers.
Our report on the Ministry of Defence estate called for a more rapid assessment and disposal of surplus properties and land holdings; and I hope that the new Defence Estate Organisation under its chief executive, Mr. Hurst, will bring that about. I also trust that our call for greater use to be made of private land for training is indeed being heeded as well as our conclusion that the use of publicly funded set-aside land for public purposes such as military training should he encouraged.
On disposals, I welcome the MOD's acceptance of the need for a flexible approach to timing, but I am anxious that the phrase in paragraph 31 of the Ministry of Defence reply to our report that the MOD is not funded to aid economic regeneration.
Defence land, as we stated in our report, is public land. We noted that simply seeking the highest price might well not be in the broader public interest. I hope that Mr. Hurst is empowered to permit sales in the public interest but may not raise the maximum cash return.
Finally, on the subject of the intergovernmental conference, may I draw the attention of the House to the memorandum on the United Kingdom Government's approach to the treatment of European defence issues at the IGC next year. It states that NATO should remain responsible for the defence of NATO territory under article 5 of the treaty of Washington and that the WEU should concentrate on strengthening the European pillar of the North Atlantic Alliance through the so-called Petersburg missions and I certainly support that policy.
Although there are initiatives to strengthen the WEU, the organisation should not duplicate NATO. Instead, WEU-led operations should be backed by existing NATO structures and resources under the proposed combined joint task force concept. In its report on the future of NATO, our Committee recommends that no country should be admitted to membership of the WEU until it is a full member of NATO and properly integrated into the NATO military structure. It is also significant that our Committee has WEU next on its list for inquiry.
I have no doubt about my right hon. Friend's robust views on national sovereignty over our defences, but the position of him and other Ministers at the IGC would be greatly reinforced by the backing of the House which I have no doubt they would get if we were given the opportunity to debate the matter specifically.
My right hon. Friend has got off to a good if rumbustious start. Nevertheless, no one doubts where he stands on European defence policy and I agree with him 69 on that. Attacking federalism is not the same as attacking our partners in Europe. I believe that he will find that most people support him. His philosophy and his policy, even if not some of his polemics, are with the grain of British public opinion and time will prove him right.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
It is a pleasure to follow the new Chairman of the Defence Select Committee. I thought that he was a bit party political at the beginning of his speech. If he continues that way, he will have difficulties in the Committee. However, I am sure that we will be able to proceed in a constructive way.
For the second year running I have spent part of the recess driving a truck in a humanitarian aid convoy to Bosnia run by Edinburgh Direct Aid. I want to speak about peacekeeping operations with particular reference to the former Yugoslavia and to examine wider aspects of European security.
I was in Bosnia from 21 August until 14 September, which was a particularly interesting time to be there. We have all seen the television images of wrecked communities and ethnic cleansing, but I can tell the House that it is something else to come face to face with the women, children and old people of Srebrenica who endured three unspeakable years under siege in what was supposed to be a UN safe area before being overrun, terrorised and driven into refugee camps around Tuzla. I mention women, children and old people because there were not many men of working age in evidence. We can only speculate on what happened to them.
It is something else again to hear incoming artillery in the densely populated town of Tuzla and to be exposed to sniper fire in the capital of Sarajevo. For me, it was bad enough to share the deprivation of electricity and water with the besieged people of Sarajevo for just two days. The fortitude and dignity of the long-suffering civilians of Bosnia—Moslems, Croats and Serbs alike—is truly awe-inspiring. I had been in Bosnia before but not as close to the sheer brutality of the conflict. I had the good fortune to be on the spot on and after 30 August, when the United Nations and NATO finally set about destroying the heavy weapons that had been randomly massacring people in the UN safe area of Sarajevo for the past three years. It was an exhilarating experience for me and it was even more exhilarating for the local people. They cannot understand why we waited three long years while 11,000 people died in Sarajevo, including 37 as recently as 28 August.
It remains to be seen whether western Governments and the British Government in particular have the commitment to see that action through to a proper conclusion. I found it utterly bizarre that Britain, a member of the UN Security Council, announced the withdrawal of our 24 Air Mobile brigade from Yugoslavia on the very day that Richard Holbrooke announced a ceasefire settlement that requires a substantially larger peacekeeping force.
The House will remember being recalled from the Whitsun recess on 31 May to debate the deployment of the rapid reaction force. We were told that the UN would get tough with the chetniks and that the new force would secure the road to Sarajevo, defend the remaining safe areas and protect humanitarian aid supplies. We all supported that proposal unanimously.
70 As a member of the Defence Select Committee, I hoped to see something of the British contingent in the rapid reaction force while I was in Bosnia. For whatever reason, nobody from that force could meet me officially—although I did catch sight of elements from time to time, including the 29 vehicles that were held up at a BiH Bosnian Government checkpoint at Gornji Vakuf for 17 days, which seemed to indicate a lamentable lack of liaison with the Bosnian Government.
I had a personal reason for wanting to know about the deployment of the British rapid reaction force artillery on Mount Igman. Our convoy was planning to drive into Sarajevo by that route, so I contacted the Secretary of State's office to say that we were looking forward to having the benefit of British protection on the Mount Igman road in accordance with the clear ministerial statement about the purpose of the deployment of 19 Field Regiment—the Highland Gunners—on Mount Igman.
I was truly amazed when the Secretary of State dispatched a Ministry of Defence civil servant to deliver a letter to me in Split, telling me that the Igman route should not be used by aid convoys but that we should take instead the route through chetnik checkpoints—where it is standard practice for the Serbian siege forces to impose outrageous delays and to steal up to half the aid consignments on convoys. If I had taken that advice, I would have been a prime candidate to be taken hostage when the air strikes started nine days later.
The Secretary of State, having deployed an artillery regiment on Mount Igman to protect aid convoys, was telling us that the British force would not protect that British aid convoy and that we should submit to delay and depredation by the chetniks. I was left with the impression that the Highland Gunners had been marched up Mount Igman by a worthy successor to the grand old Duke of York and that it would not be long before they were marched back down again.
Happily, that was not the end of the story. The UNHCR told us that it was keen that we should go to Sarajevo by the Igman road and that such convoys were routinely escorted by French UN forces—as they had been for some considerable time. I was able to drive 10 tonnes of food over an extremely bumpy and steep mountain track that had recently been a free-fire zone for chetnik gunners, and where Edinburgh Direct Aid had suffered casualties in April.
It was impressive to see American aircraft in action overhead and French tanks and guns firing at threatening positions. It was extremely reassuring to have a French armoured personnel carrier escorting every one of our trucks. But as a British Member of Parliament, I was left puzzled about the disposition of our own forces on the mountain. I know from personal conversations with British soldiers that they are keen to be as tough with the Serbs as they have been with the other parties, to help resolve the conflict. I pay tribute to all the British battalions that have served in areas of confrontation between Bosnian Government forces—the BiH—and the Croatian HVO forces. I say that with particular feeling because I know that the Croats are in many cases the unsung villains of the conflict.
The Bosnian people whom I met were extremely sceptical about the British commitment to a fair settlement. There is a feeling that the British Government want to appease the chetniks. I am beginning to fear that that suspicion may be well founded. My overall 71 impression is that the impetus of the British presence in UNPROFOR is not what it was during my previous visits to Bosnia. On the one hand the task of peacekeeping between the BiH and the HVO has largely succeeded and can be relaxed, which is welcome. On the other hand, the British contingent in the new rapid reaction force gives me the distinct impression of playing second fiddle to the Americans in the air and the French on the ground.
Why did the Secretary of State go to such lengths deliberately to mislead a British aid organisation about UN policy on the delivery of supplies to Sarajevo? Are the British Government in the business of appeasing the Serbs and backtracking from support for the UN mission in Bosnia? That might be consistent with some of the noises coming from Conservative Back Benchers in recent debates.
The conflict in Bosnia is a humanitarian catastrophe and represents a serious threat to that part of Europe. We cannot blame the Americans for finding it difficult to understand what is happening and being unwilling to commit ground troops. The fact that we have waited three years, while 200,000 people have died, for an American-led peace initiative is an appalling indictment of the European powers. Whether or not we like it, there are likely to be more and more problems in and around Europe in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse—problems that will be seen as European rather than Atlantic responsibilities. The time has come for a European security structure. If the Secretary of State thinks otherwise, he must be an idiot.
As national forces—particularly our own—get smaller and military equipment becomes more high-tech and expensive, there are greater and greater constraints on what can be achieved by national forces operating independently. This may not be the most propitious moment to say nice things about the French, after their outrageous tests in the south Pacific, but I believe that Britain and France are the obvious prime movers in a new European security structure. Perhaps it is natural for me, as a Scot, on the 700th anniversary of the "Auld Alliance".
The time has surely come to recognise that Napoleon Bonaparte died in 1821 and that Britain was closely allied with France in both the major conflicts of the 20th century and in the cold war. French and British military forces have a lot in common because of responsibilities inherited from their imperial past. The French have particular experience of short-warning, small-scale, long-range deployments to a wide variety of terrains and climates and France was the first European country to develop a rapid reaction force. That experience and history of willingness to intervene demonstrates a lot of common ground with our own forces.
I know that the armed forces of both countries would be keen to co-operate more closely for European security and UN-type operations. Indeed, I am pleased to learn from the defence estimates that French and British forces have been working together in 15 joint exercises despite the nationalist postures of both Governments. Of course, both nations are working closely together in Bosnia.
If we were in a closer military association with France, and perhaps with other European allies, we would be in a position to take the lead in areas vital for European security and to seek to co-ordinate nuclear weapons policy 72 to reduce warhead numbers and prevent any further nuclear tests. I am confident that we will move in that direction with a new Labour Government in Britain.
However, the Secretary of State for Defence seems to want to pretend that we can opt out of the problem of European instability. He is presiding over drastic cuts in our military forces where even our remaining infantry units are 5 per cent. under strength. His outburst in Blackpool last week was the speech of a Minister who is unfit to govern and destined for a long spell in the wilderness.
The really disturbing undercurrent in the Secretary of State's speech was the return to that old Tory character flaw of English nationalism and irresponsible isolationism. Lack of concern for far-away countries of which we know little contributed to the fascist victory in the Spanish civil war and was notoriously wrong in Munich in 1938. I fear that it could aggravate the situation in Yugoslavia now.
The refusal to take part in a new security framework for Europe would be wrong, short-sighted and completely out of tune with the historic sense of responsibility and duty of the peoples of these islands. We should be taking the lead to help establish that new framework, and the sooner the better.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
I will not seek to follow the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) down the path that he took. I should like to focus on personnel issues—on the men and women who serve in our armed forces. It is appropriate to dc so in view of the serious recruiting problems in the Army and the grim news that the voluntary redundancy programme in the RAF has been 100 per cent. over-subscribed.
I should like to concentrate on three points. The first is that it is essential that the Prime Minister's pledge that there should be no further cuts in defence should be honoured, and in a way that takes account of the rising costs of personnel. Secondly, the Bett report should be discarded because, if adopted, it would transfer our armed forces from a culture based on leadership and team spirit to a 1970s managerial one. Thirdly, I shall argue that we could achieve more within the existing budget if we made more use of reserves.
In the mid-1980s, defence spending averaged about 5 per cent. of GDP but by the year after next it will have fallen to 2.8 per cent. By all measures, expenditure on health and education has grown over that period, yet people talk about cuts. Social security expenditure has blossomed enormously—in fact, by more than the cut in defence spending. At a time when we spend a lower proportion of GDP on defence than does France, even ignoring the huge hidden cost of conscription in France, it is essential that we honour in full that commitment to defence spending.
Defence should be the first priority of any Government. When an angry general is topping the opinions polls in Russia, which still has 40,000 nuclear weapons, and when we hear of the proliferation of nuclear technology in unstable third-world countries such as North Korea and those of the middle east, it is time indeed to listen to the 73 people who paraded so proudly in the two parades this year and not make the same mistake as we made in the 1930s.
§ Mr. Brazier
Please let me make a little progress.
Overstretch of the armed forces has been repeatedly referred to already—for example, the fact that the Navy's tasks have increased by a third over a decade when the number of ships has fallen by two thirds.
When I visited a battalion of my local regiment in Northern Ireland, I discovered that a quarter of its men's families back in Canterbury were receiving counselling for debt or for marital breakdown. Morale is brittle. The forces desperately need stability, which brings me to my second point.
When the Government set up a commission to consider the career structure, manning arrangements and pay and allowances for our armed forces early last year, some of us were puzzled. It seemed to us that the armed forces were doing a good job on the reduced resources available. It was strange that we should consider reorganising them. When the report was published in April, appropriately close to April fool's day, it was immediately panned by the press and then forgotten. However, I understand that several dozen committees in the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces are considering its findings.
Michael Bett and his colleagues made a serious attempt to come to terms with the difficulty of the armed forces. They took a lot longer over their work than did Sir Patrick Sheehy on the police force. Nevertheless, I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to drop the report. It would be a disaster if its findings were implemented.
Ten years ago, I worked as the secretary of the English subsidiary of an international group. It had roughly the same number of employees worldwide as the armed forces, and we introduced proposals very similar to those that Michael Bett and his colleagues recommend. It was all there—performance-related pay, individual job appraisals and career banding.
Much of the civilian world is moving away from that approach to life. I remember the petty jealousies that resulted from the endless job assessments and the problems that were caused in that organisation. The impact of such proposals on the armed forces would be much worse.
The great Roman general Scipio said:Of all factors that make for success in battle, the spirit of the warrior is the greatest.My God, where would we be if we introduced such proposals into our armed forces? The commander of a ship or regiment is not some skilled technocrat who must be appraised each year to decide how much to pay him. He is a leader and a team player. That is illustrated by the Sandhurst motto, "Serve, to lead".
We have to remember that the armed forces are not there simply to do a job. Their ultimate purpose is not even tested in peacetime and involves self-sacrifice and the willingness to give all in a war. The young fighter pilots who risked their lives in the desperate weeks of 1940 while Britain teetered on the edge of the precipice into which the rest of Europe had fallen were not driven by performance-related pay and job assessments.
74 There is more to the Bett report and it is difficult to exaggerate how much damage it would cause. A throwaway line in the report admits that the proposals to settle service families would be incompatible with the regimental system in the Army. Are we to tell the Black Watch, which is currently serving in Pirbright, that it will now be regionally based in Surrey because there are not enough barracks in Scotland for all the Scottish regiments? Even if we adopted a regional basing policy and settled the Black Watch in Surrey, what would happen when the regiment was moved to Germany?
Let us consider applying the regional approach to the Royal Engineers. Is a sergeant who applies to do bomb disposal in Saffron Walden supposed to settle his family there and spend the rest of his career with the Royal Engineers in bomb disposal? The truth is that that approach has been used in the Royal Navy because the whole surface fleet uses two bases in southern England. The Navy can use that approach. For a committee composed of three civilians and an admiral to suggest applying that to the Army—
§ Mr. Brazier
—or, as my hon. and gallant Friend reminds me, to the RAF, which is spread all over Britain and has a substantial overseas base, is farcical.
The Bett report is wrong, but that is not to say that there is nothing that we can change on the personnel side. One major area of personnel policy needs a big change—the use of our reserve forces. In America, half of all uniformed personnel are reservists—even excluding regular reservists—and nearly two thirds of all fixed and rotary wing aircraft crew of the American air force and army are reservists. The Chairman of the Select Committee, in an excellent speech, referred to the fact that we had to hitch a lift with the Americans to get 24 Brigade to Bosnia. I believe that I am right in saying, too, that all the planes and ships that carried our troops were manned by reservists, who cost only one fifth the price of their regular counterparts.
Ninety thousand of the American service personnel who went to the Gulf were reservists. They included tank battalions in the US Marine Corps, fighter squadrons with the US Air Guard and an artillery brigade with the National Guard which won plaudits from our own Brigadier Hammerbech. How does our performance compare? We sent one aeromedical squadron of reservists and a few hundred individual reservists.
What is the state of our reserve forces? As a former reservist myself, I must inform the House that our regular armed forces—in spite of everything thrown at them and all the new challenges with which they have had to cope, and it has been an unsettling time for armed forces all over the world—are still in good shape. But our reserves are not. Their numbers are falling fast, among officers and other ranks. We have the worst wastage rate by far in the English-speaking world.
I have visited units in Canada, Australia and America and I have been able to see their exciting new ideas, directed as they are at almost all levels by reservist commanders. In Britain, the past four years have witnessed one mistake after another. Good units in the Territorial Army have been broken up and reorganised; bad units, for bizarre reasons, have been retained and sometimes even expanded. There has been a failure to get 75 to grips with the problems with trust hospitals encountered by the medical units, whose members can experience discrimination when applying for civilian jobs.
There has also been a failure here to take advantage of the opportunities available in the aviation world—opportunities that the Americans and, to a lesser extent, the Canadians and Australians have not missed. There have been slashing cuts in the training budgets of TA units, at the same time as we have maintained the costliest administrative overheads in relation to the size of the units concerned applicable in any English-speaking country—
§ Mr. Brazier
If the Minister disagrees, let him ask his own officials how many permanent staff instructors and civilians there are in a British infantry battalion, as compared with those in a United States National Guard battalion or a Canadian or Australian battalion. I have visited all four, and I can tell him that they all have fewer than Britain has.
If we want to turn the situation around, we need to square up to one central issue. We still have some excellent reserve units and a proud past. One thinks of the Green Jackets Brigade, which made Dunkirk possible. Two of the three battalions involved were TA. One thinks of the heroes of Kohima—the Royal West Kent territorials, who were virtually wiped out in the battle when we turned the Japanese army around. It can be done, therefore. Unlike our English-speaking cousins, however, we do not have a reservist directing our reserve forces.
Although the House has heard me make this point before, I should like to illustrate it with a small but colourful analogy. Let us liken our regular forces to the tremendous musical and orchestral qualities of the BBC's Radio Three, which is recognised worldwide for its excellence. In that case, the TA counterpart would be Classic FM. A recent survey showed that it is the radio station most listened to by Members of Parliament. It is a wonderful organisation, but run on a basis very different from the BBC's. Do colleagues really believe that Classic FM would be the success that it is if it was organised by the BBC? Of course not. Running a good reserve force, too, is a very different discipline from running a regular force.
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I am delighted by my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the reservists, with whom he and I have been much involved, but will he impress on the Minister the fact that if we are to make dramatic progress with the reservists—and we must—we simply must have a reserve forces Bill in the next Session of Parliament? I know that Ministers cannot anticipate the Queen's Speech, but the House should realise the importance of passing such legislation in the coming year.
§ Mr. Brazier
I am most grateful to my right hon. and gallant Friend and I thoroughly agree with him. Although legislation is necessary to make more interesting deployments possible, on its own it is not enough. We cannot legislate for team spirit, for unit spirit or for fighting spirit. Other changes are necessary, and they should be directed by a reservist director, selected from the TA, with access to Ministers and chiefs of staff. That 76 is what happens in every American state and in Australia and Canada, where nearly all the directors are part-timers with successful civilian careers.
Over the past few years the regular forces have undergone a series of unhappy reorganisations. Much of the pain has been inevitable, as it has been all over the world, following the tremendous changes and opportunities deriving from the fall of the Berlin wall. Now, what our regular forces need above all is stability. That has to mean stable funding, including provision for the real increase in personnel costs which cannot be avoided if we are to meet our recruitment challenges. It also means not implementing the Bett report, almost all of which would be harmful to the armed forces. Finally, it means buttressing the forces with high-quality volunteer forces. We have a number of such units that show what can be done, but overwhelmingly it is not.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not in his place, because some of what I am about to say directly concerns him. I envy him, because he has one of the best jobs in the Cabinet. In his daily political life he has to mix with and be responsible for some of the most dedicated and professional people in the United Kingdom. It therefore gives me no pleasure to say that his speech last week to his party conference was not worthy of his office. In spite of his efforts today, in rather more restrained vein, his speech of last week has largely overshadowed this important two-day debate.
In particular, I believe that the Secretary of State's references to the special services displayed a gross error of judgment. He has caused grave offence not just to the Special Air Service but throughout the three armed services, whose members are punctilious about maintaining that they serve the Crown, not any political party. There are strong signs of their considerable embarrassment that they should have been associated with what was essentially a political speech.
The references to the SAS were the more inept, since it is a regiment that deliberately shuns publicity. As recently as this summer the Ministry of Defence went to court to prevent publication of material that might be thought detrimental to the SAS and its procedures. A speech containing language to the effect, "Don't mess with Britain", is a speech containing the language of the saloon bar.
In his speeches today and last week the right hon. Gentleman made much of the Tomahawk purchase, of which I wholeheartedly approve. It is an additional capability that the United Kingdom should undoubtedly possess. But the Secretary of State would have made a much more balanced speech, then and today, if he had told his audience and reminded the House that we are about to reduce our submarines' capabilities in some respects. We are going to confine our nuclear-powered hunter-killer fleet to 12. The Upholder class, only recently commissioned, is being offered around to potential buyers. There was great disappointment in the Ministry of Defence over the summer when the Canadians decided not to take up what I understand was a most attractive offer, made to persuade them to take the submarines off the MOD's hands.
77 The Secretary of State mentioned the Apache helicopter. Purchase has been desirable or perhaps even inevitable since its outstanding performance in the Gulf war. In the course of the right hon. Gentleman's speech to the Conservative party faithful, and during his speech this afternoon, he made no mention of Eurofighter 2000, a European project involving Spain, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom. It is vital for the Royal Air Force and for the British aerospace industry. He made no mention of project Horizon, which will provide the successor to the type 42 frigate. The project involves the United Kingdom, France and Italy. It is another European project involving co-operation between European countries.
Why in neither speech did the Secretary of State not mention the Anglo-French air group? Why was there no mention of Anglo-French nuclear co-operation? These are illustrations of co-operation with the countries of Europe. If the foundation of the right hon. Gentleman's speech is to seek to establish the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and its Parliament and he does so by reference to what he says are possible political developments, surely he has an obligation to indicate the precise terms of the treaty of Maastricht. That was not done last week and it was not done today.
The treaty states that the European Union should assert its identity on the international scenein particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence.That is a pretty inadequate foundation for the rather extravagant language of the Secretary of State.
In an assessment of the defence role of Europe, why make no effort to analyse the current attitudes of the United States, especially among members of the Congress who were elected in 1994, who do not share the same vision of the transatlantic alliance as many of their predecessors? If we want to concern ourselves with the long-term future of security in Europe, one of the fundamental issues upon which we must pass judgment is precisely what are the long-term guarantees that the United States is willing to offer Europe.
The Secretary of State has told us that his speech at Blackpool was consistent with Government policy. That is an interesting observation. If he truly means it, it appears to some of us that his speech was not as consistent as he might have wished. In May 1994, the then Secretary of State, the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), who is now Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, was quoted in The Daily Telegraph. The quotation has never been withdrawn. It was to the effect that the evolution of an EC defence policy was an inevitable consequence of the Maastricht treaty.
The former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), said during a speech to the Franco-British Council in October 1994 that discussing European defence called forco-operation in practice. putting our military assets, our men, women and equipment, at the service of European defence, linked inextricably as the treaty of Maastricht provides with the Atlantic Alliance.The Government's memorandum, which was published on 1 March, recognises that there are circumstances in which Europe may have to act on its own. Indeed, at the 78 NATO summit in February 1994, the President of the United States assented to the notion of combined joint task forces.
Nowhere is there any proposal that suggests that Brussels should control the domestic defence policy of the United Kingdom. No political party in the United Kingdom is arguing for that. Above all, no one is telling Britain when and when not to fight. Instead of unfounded assertions about us being prevented from retaking the Falklands had some such policy been in place in 1982, perhaps the Secretary of State would have done better if he had told the Conservative party conference whether we would still have the capacity to mount an expedition of the same strength to retake the Falklands as we had 12 years ago.
The Secretary of State talks as if we have total independence. Everyone knows that the success of the Falklands campaign was based fundamentally on the intelligence resources of the United States, which were made available to the United Kingdom. Without those resources, the campaign could not have succeeded. The emphasis of political activity in north America and south America was an endeavour to persuade the United States not to make such resources available to the United Kingdom.
We should be having a discussion about the funding of defence budgets in Europe. There is a good reason for that. The United States wants to know precisely what contribution to burden sharing Europe will make if the continuing reduction in defence budgets continues. We should be asking ourselves how it will be possible to preserve a full range of capability. Does common procurement, force specialisation or financial burden-sharing provide a way of contributing to the maintenance of a full range of capability?
The truth is that we are not wholly independent in defence terms. Even as we speak we have given up our sovereignty. How have we done that? The answer is that we have entered into the treaty that establishes the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, article 5 of which provides that we are under an obligation if any one of the other 15 members is attacked to go to the support of that country, if necessary using nuclear means to provide that defence guarantee. That obligation extends to Greece and Turkey. If NATO were to expand further to the east, it would involve an extension of the guarantee to any country that joined the organisation.
That seems to reflect a substantial concession of sovereignty to NATO. Members of the Government lose little time, with some justification, in pointing out that NATO has been the most successful defence and military alliance of all time.
§ Mr. Llew Smith
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that in certain circumstances he would accept the use of nuclear weapons?
§ Mr. Campbell
I have made clear, as have Opposition Front Benchers, during defence debates over the past two or three years, that the nuclear deterrent remains part of NATO's defence policy. It is a nuclear deterrent that is governed by the two principles of minimum deterrence and use as a weapon of last resort. If the hon. Gentleman is asking me to repeat what I said a short time ago, I should say that any country that becomes a member of 79 NATO becomes subject to the NATO nuclear guarantee. That seems to be a pretty substantial concession of sovereignty.
I think that it is well known that for the foreseeable future I regard a nuclear deterrent as a necessary part of the United Kingdom's defence. But two practical questions arise that we might hope to hear something about. First, what steps have been taken in relation to the overspending at Faslane to ensure that it does not happen again? I note that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) is nodding her head. Secondly, what is happening at Devonport and Rosyth? Unconfirmed reports over the past two or three months have led to a great deal of uncertainty, which is deeply damaging to the morale of both communities.
When the Government tell us that they alone have been the proper guardians of nuclear defence policy, we are entitled to remind ourselves that back in 1988 they were arguing that we had to have a follow-on to Lance. They told us that we had to have a new generation of short-range nuclear weapons. The Opposition argued against that. What happened? The answer is that our view prevailed.
Even at the beginning of this Parliament, the Government argued that we had to have a tactical air-to-surface missile with a nuclear warhead. The Opposition argued against that, and the Government had to concede. Only in the course of the past 12 months, after the acceptance that Trident could provide a sub-strategic nuclear system, did the Government concede and accept the argument of the Opposition that there was no further requirement for the free-fall bomb.
Like others, I find the Government's silence over the French nuclear testing in the south Pacific difficult to understand. If the Secretary of State did as I understood him to do in the concluding part of his speech and to refer to that great association of peoples which is the Commonwealth, I wonder why it is that we have allowed ourselves to be so estranged from our Commonwealth partners, notably Australia and New Zealand, whose response to French nuclear testing has been robust and vigorous.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I am pleased to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman's loud condemnation of French nuclear testing, but not two minutes ago he was saying that he supported the retention and holding of nuclear weapons as part of an overall defence package. Does he not think that it is time to get rid of all nuclear weapons, and that the logic of all the opposition to French nuclear testing is also opposition to the existence of nuclear weapons?
§ Mr. Campbell
The logic of the opposition to French nuclear testing is that it is unnecessary. The degree of nuclear co-operation that already exists between Great Britain and France almost certainly makes it unnecessary. If I have persuaded the hon. Gentleman that we should embark on a campaign of multilateral nuclear disarmament, I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. Unilateral nuclear disarmament is unlikely to bring about an overall reduction in nuclear weapons, which put the world in great peril. I have argued—if the hon. Gentleman had been here on other occasions, he would have heard me do so—for a third strategic arms reduction treaty and for the UK to take a lead in 80 multilateral nuclear disarmament. Indeed, I have argued as vociferously as any that there should be no more warheads on Trident than on the Polaris system that it is to replace.
§ Mr. Campbell
No, I wish to make progress.
Central to the Government's stated policy is a desire to provide United Kingdom forces with the best equipment. That aspiration must be shared by every hon. Member, but it entitles us to ask some questions. When will the Royal Air Force get its first fully combat capable squadron of Eurofighter 2000? What is the up-to-date estimate of the cost of each unit? Is it true that consideration has been given to the leasing of F16s from the United States? What is the reason for that, and what would the cost be? What is the Government's prediction of the effect that such action might have on the possibility of exports? Will the decision to resume involvement in the future large aircraft programme be maintained? When will the next order be placed for type 23 frigates, and will all yards capable of building them be permitted to compete?
It was clear that the joint rapid reaction force, announced last week to a flourish of trumpets, was no different from that announced by the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands last year, and, indeed, which is referred to in the White Paper that we are debating this evening and tomorrow. There is a vital question to be asked and the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, asked it, but I should like to reinforce it. Who will provide the capacity for the heavy lift of that rapid reaction force? As we have heard, 24 Air Mobile Brigade experienced considerable problems in deploying to Bosnia. Is it true that more than half its helicopters were self-deployed—that they had to fly from the UK to Bosnia?
There is hardly a senior officer in all three services who will not tell one that morale is brittle. The services desperately need a period of stability. Some of "Front Line First" and "Options for Change" will not be fully implemented before 1999. I think that there is a universal view in the House that there should be no more reductions in defence expenditure. I say again what I have said on previous occasions: Northern Ireland and a political settlement in Northern Ireland should be no excuse for a further raid on the defence budget.
The right hon. and learned Member for Pentlands said, in justification of "Front Line First", that it was an effort to cut costs, not defence. But, for whatever reason, many Army units are now operating substantially under strength. Each of the 41 infantry battalions is under strength. In particular, they lack senior non-commissioned officers, the very backbone of infantry battalions. It is estimated that, by the end of the year, the Army will be 5,000 men and women short in the infantry, cavalry and artillery regiments. How many of those units have been earmarked for the rapid reaction force? It will not be much of an effective force if the units that make it up are depleted in number.
We hear also that the Parachute Regiment may be required to enlist Gurkhas because of its failure to attract sufficient recruits. If that happens, I hope that there will 81 be no distinction made in rates of pay and that they will be paid precisely the same as anyone else who serves in that regiment.
There are cries of early retirement among specialists in the medical services. We all know that naval overstretch, which is referred to less frequently perhaps than Army overstretch, has become a significant problem as a result of the Royal Navy's commitments in the Adriatic.
My central criticism of the Government remains that they have still failed to place their defence resources in a proper strategic context. We must ask ourselves what are our long-term political objectives and what is the defence means by which we shall best achieve them. We need, therefore, a proper assessment of both foreign policy and defence policy. Labour Front Benchers, who offer on these occasions the expression, "a fundamental defence review", should take account of the fact that, in service terms, this raises considerable apprehension and does little for morale. I think that more explanation of what is involved and over what period would certainly be in the interests not only of Labour Front Benchers but of the armed services themselves.
Fundamental to all of this is the view that we must provide adequate resources and, if necessary, be willing to increase expenditure. That would have got a bit of a cheer at Blackpool, but the fact that the Secretary of State did not say it tells us rather more about the Government's position than all the rhetoric that brought him a standing ovation.
§ Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme)
Much has happened since the House went into recess. The commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war were a fitting tribute to the hero generation who saved the world from Hitler.
One month before VJ-day, I drew to the Prime Minister's attention the scandal, as I saw it, of the derisory £100 annuity accorded to the holders of the Victoria and George Crosses in recognition of their acts of heroism. He was shocked to learn of this and undertook to consider the matter. How typical of the Prime Minister's caring nature and his patriotic instinct that he should move so promptly to rectify that injustice, and I should like to express my thanks on behalf of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association for his prompt action in dealing with it.
In Bosnia, where Her Majesty's forces have served with such distinction over the past three years or more, for once things seem to have taken a turn for the better and the chances of putting into effect a peace agreement seem to be better today than they have for a long time. The United States, at long last, has taken it upon itself to play a significant role, underpinned by its determination to use air power when required, in securing an agreement between the warring parties. I should like to pay a special tribute to Richard Holbrooke for his tireless work and exertions, which appear to be bearing fruit at the present time.
In Bosnia, in recent months, it has been shown how far a modicum of courage goes. The Serbs have been confronted with force, backed, for once, with determination by the United Nations and NATO, and it has been demonstrated that they are not 10 ft tall. We were told by armchair strategists, here and overseas and, 82 indeed, I am sorry to say, by Ministers of the Crown, that we could not use the air power deployed to the Adriatic and in the Bosnian theatre because it would be vulnerable to Serb missiles. When it was pointed out to them that, of course, the obvious preliminary was to take out the Serb missiles, we were further enjoined that that would not be possible because that would be taking sides in the conflict, that it would make the Serbs very angry, and that they might take the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), among others, hostage. That would indeed have been a serious matter.
That none of those predictions was justified was shown when we finally abandoned the futile policy of flying top cover with NATO aircraft. That did precisely nothing for months on end, except burn expensive fuel and waste the time of the air crews. When they were used, it was in singletons or as pairs in a very limited and ineffectual way. When eventually, in recent weeks, air power was used as it should be, it had a powerful and persuasive effect on the Bosnian Serb leadership. Now the surface-to-air missiles have been destroyed and air power has been demonstrated to be an important factor, alongside the deployment of effective artillery around Mount Igman for the protection of Sarajevo. The faint hearts who predicted that the results of such a strong policy would be disastrous have, I am glad to say, been proved wrong.
What a pity that the path of courage and the judicious use of strength was not taken months, even years, ago, at the outset of the conflict. The federalists of Europe might well ponder why it is only since the United States has taken a leading role in the conflict that we have had, as an alliance, the courage to use effective force.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
If the steps that the hon. Gentleman has outlined—I agree with what he has said—had been taken, say, three years earlier, what would have been the likely outcome?
§ Mr. Churchill
I happen to believe that, had the initial Serb aggression been recognised for what it was—aggression backed by Serbia—and had a firm policy been adopted of tackling the Serb military installations and command centres, many lives would have been saved and much misery would have been avoided.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has been accused—not least by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark)—of making a controversial speech in a place called Blackpool. It must be admitted that some of my right hon. Friend's statements were deeply shocking to certain individuals. Let me quote some of them.
My right hon. Friend said:By now I trust no one doubts that Britain, who has the patience to feed the hungry, has the will to confront the aggressor. We taught the Bosnian Serb generals that the slaughter of civilians will not go unpunished.To some, that will be a shocking message: the idea that we should actually identify the aggressor and go for him, rather than standing ineffectually between the two sides and imposing an equal embargo on the victim of aggression and the aggressor.
My right hon. Friend also announced—this must have shocked those who would like us to be propelled on a federalist course in Europe— 83to the European Court of Human Rights, who criticised the SAS action in Gibraltar, we send another clear message: don't give comfort to terrorists.That sentiment will be echoed not only on these Benches, but in the country at large.
As for our partners in the European Union, my right hon. Friend said:We will not allow Brussels to control our defence policy.Is the hon. Member for South Shields saying that a Labour Government—if the misery of one were ever to be inflicted on us again—would allow Britain's defences to be controlled by Brussels? I thought that he was at some pains to say that that was not the case.
My right hon. Friend said:With a Conservative Government, Britain will not join a single European Army … the foreign and defence policies of this country will not be dictated to us by a majority vote of a Council of Ministers.The Labour party's policy is to move towards majority voting—and no one has any confidence that it would resist the introduction of majority voting in the field of foreign policy and defence.
§ Dr. Reid
First, we are opposed to majority voting on defence. Secondly, we consider this an intergovernmental issue, not an issue for the Commission. Thirdly, we are opposed to a single European army, and will not move in that direction.
Despite the hon. Gentleman's pathetic attempts to defend the vitriolic anti-European speech of the Secretary of State for Defence, none of it has any basis. Everyone is surprised: who in the House of Commons actually wants this European army? The truth is that it was the camouflage for another anti-European speech by the Secretary of State. All that amazes us is the fact that the right hon. Gentleman feels a compulsion to go around the country like a small boy telling adults that he is not frightened of the bogey man, proving to everyone that he is more British than everyone else. Unfortunately, whatever his compulsion, he ends up merely being more anti our allies than anyone else, demeaning his party and bringing the country down in regard to the great issue of our allies in Europe.
§ Mr. Churchill
It seems to me that the burden of what the hon. Gentleman has tried to say is that he would like to persuade the country that a Blair Government would be as stalwart in fending off the intervention of Brussels in these matters as my right hon. Friend. I do not know why he is complaining about my right hon. Friend's speech; he ought to support it. Certainly, the overwhelming majority of people out there in the country would whole-heartedly endorse my right hon. Friend's sentiments: they would not be in the least shocked by the idea that British soldiers should fight for British interests. It is difficult to envisage the day when British soldiers will die for Brussels—and I do not believe that the House will allow British forces to be sent into battle on the say-so of majority voting in Brussels.
§ Mr. Churchill
When British soldiers are fighting alongside our NATO counterparts, they are doing so on 84 the authority of the sovereignty of this House of Commons. That is the way in which we intend to keep things, for so long as there is a Conservative Government. [Interruption.]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. I think that the House knows my views on seated interventions, particularly from the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Churchill
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. When "Options for Change" and the cuts involved were implemented, Ministers assured the armed forces and the House that thereafter there would be stability. Since then, we have seen the introduction of "Front Line First". That has a long way to go before its final full implementation. It is causing enormous upheaval and turmoil. Even while those changes are still in the pipeline, the stability of our forces is threatened still further with the Bett report.
I strongly share the view of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) on what the Secretary of State should do with that report. I recognise that much time and effort has been put into it, and it may be possible to use a few of its recommendations. The broad thrust of the report has no place in the future of Britain's armed forces. I strenuously counsel my right hon. Friend to heed the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The regimental system of the British Army, about which I do not need to lecture my kinsman and colleague on the Treasury Bench, is the envy of the world and it would be madness to tinker with it.
I warmly welcome the order for Tomahawk missiles and the earlier order for attack helicopters, but the manning and equipping of our armed forces are disturbing. In The Times of 12 October, Vice-Admiral Sir James Jungius stated:Senior officers tell us the fleet is dangerously overstretched. The Army would find it impossible to put a full strength division in the field without robbing the remaining units. The Air Force has no aircraft that are not obsolete and many are long overdue for replacement. Its only fighter aircraft, the Tornado, has significant deficiencies in that role. Reserves are at laughably low levels.A former Parachute Regiment Colonel Commandant, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Gray recently said:The Army is being stretched to breaking point. Units being sent to Bosnia are an amalgamation of various regiments because they don't have enough troops of their own.That is a serious problem that will not go away and needs to be addressed. No element is more crucial to the stability and strength of the armed forces than the stability of funding. In 1978–79, we spent 4.5 per cent. of GDP on defence. It rose to 5.3 per cent. in 1984–85 and this year it is down to 3 per cent. Two years from now it will be 2.8 per cent. While Government expenditure overall has increased by a staggering 70 per cent. in real terms since 1979, including a 108 per cent. rise in personal social services and an 82 per cent. rise in social security, defence expenditure has fallen in real terms.
It is reliably reported from Blackpool that the Chancellor is on the prowl for major budget cuts, across the board. Any socialistic equality-of-misery doctrine would be wholly inappropriate and unacceptable in the case of defence. There have already been deep cuts in the fabric and strength of our armed forces and I trust that those who hold high office in the Ministry of Defence will not tolerate any further reductions in the defence budget. Cuts will have to be sought elsewhere and I should be obliged if those holding defence portfolios will tell that to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
I can tell the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) that socialists do not believe in equality of misery: they believe in the relief of misery and equality of opportunity, which are entirely different matters. I congratulate the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) on his election as Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence. Since his election, he has been doing a splendid job, but he only borrowed my vote and if he continues to be beastly to my old Friend the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who is also my constituent, I might take it back.
I also congratulate in his absence the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who was a superb Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence and a credit to the House. I wish him well in his new appointment and I have written to him privately on those lines.
I whole-heartedly appreciate the efforts of the men and women of our front-line defence forces. I again agree with the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier)—this is becoming boring—because his comments on the Bett report were extremely well founded. I remember being in the fort at Crossmaglen when the discussion document finally got through to the men serving there. They did not like the prospect at all and, what is more, there was no place I could run to from that fort because the helicopter was not due back for two hours and we were not allowed out on to the street. It was only a marginally worse experience than having to tell my wife that I had been to Crossmaglen in the first place. She comes from Northern Ireland and the House should have heard what she had to say about my experience.
I should like to comment on the Government's procurement policies and outline my fears for my constituency. It is only just over a year since Gordon Foxley, a defence civil servant, was jailed for widely based corruption. Just one of his scams was that he managed to persuade the Army to stop acquiring artillery fuses from the Royal Ordnance factory at £6 each and to start acquiring from Junghans the DM111A fuses at £14.40 each. He also managed to persuade it to acquire the Borletti fuse from Italy. That fuse did not work in the rain and it could not work under battle conditions. We lost £12.9 million on the Junghans fuse and £15 million on the Borletti fuse. Much more important was the fact that 300 jobs were lost at a Blackburn factory, and those jobs have not been replaced. They were exported by the Government to Germany and Italy at great cost, a cost that does not even take into account the unemployment costs of those men and women who will not get their jobs back. That was all done in the name of efficiency of procurement.
As I was concerned about these matters, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence when it was suggested to me that there might be some problems with the contract for the 155 mm extended range bomblet shells. It was known that the Royal Ordnance factory at Birtley in my constituency was bidding but so were Giat of France—a wholly owned French Government company—Rheinmetall and TASS Industries of Israel. TASS Industries was successful in obtaining that order. That does not mean any immediate job losses, but it does mean that, effectively, in two years 14 jobs will be exported from Birtley to Israel. That is what we seem to be exporting these days.
86 I have not finished, because Birtley is one of the areas of highest long-term male unemployment in the north of England, which means that it has one of the highest unemployment areas in the country. Those people and their families are unfortunately destined to be a burden on the state for the foreseeable future. That means that you and I will have to pay to export those jobs to Israel when they could have been kept in this country. Birtley has such bad long-term unemployment that, although the employment office there fell under the Department of Employment's directive for office closures, I was able to persuade the then Secretary of State not to close it. My argument was based on the fact that it has such a high rate of adult male unemployment.
I now come to the bit that really worries me. I should like to quote from Jane's Defence Weekly of 2 September. An article by Carol Reed it is states:Privately owned RO and state-owned Giat are negotiating a merger of the bulk of their businesses, notably in ammunition, guns and vehicles and small arms, under a 50:50 joint venture.Why did I spend so many hours on the Standing Committee that examined the Bill to privatise Royal Ordnance when it looks as if half of it is about to be handed over to the French Government for nothing? It will not be done at no cost, because as a result of the merger factories will close.
As early as the middle of last year, a draft letter involving Mr. Chiquet of Giat and Mr. Weston of BAe Royal Ordnance showed that Chorley would be closed at a cost of £7.2 million and that the work would be transferred to Tarbes in France. Faldingworth will close at the cost of £2.2 million and will go to Montpertius in France. Birtley in my constituency will be closed at a cost of £21 million and the work will be transferred to Tarbes and Rennes. In France only two factories will be closed. I pity the poor people of Le Mans, where closure will cost £7.1 million, and of Salbri, where the cost will be £11.9 million. That means a total cost of £33.5 million, but that is only the cost to the Royal Ordnance factories, not the cost to the British taxpayer, because, as I said, Birtley has a very high long-term unemployment rate.
I have some questions for the Government. I think that every hon. Member received a copy of a statement from British Aerospace Royal Ordnance, which states:The MOD continues to take the view that ammunition as a commodity can be bought freely on the open market and does not consider the retention of a comprehensive domestic capability as a necessity.Does the MOD agree with that?
We are an island nation. I remind the MOD that during the Gulf war Ministers had in a similar act of folly transferred the production of 155 mm ammunition from Birtley to Rheinmetall in Germany, which could not make it and sold the contract on to a Belgian company. The Belgians would not supply our gunners with 155 mm ammunition for political reasons. The Government seem to be aiding and abetting British Aerospace in selling British jobs to France. What is more, they seem to be putting us in a position where we shall not be making bread-and-butter 155 mm ammunition for our guns—that means all our guns since the Abbot has been taken out—or tank ammunition if Birtley goes.
What contact has there been involving MOD civil servants or Ministers in connection with the proposed Royal Ordnance deal? What is the present status of the proposal? What will be the long-term cost caused by the 87 resulting unemployment? Will the Minister assure the House unequivocally that all categories of ammunition used by our armed forces will be obtainable from British manufacturers in the United Kingdom?
If I do not receive a positive answer to the latter question, it will mean that the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers will stand at the Dispatch Box and admit that, despite the jingoistic speech that the Secretary of State made at the party conference last week, he is happy to give away our strategic defence capability. Although it might be an artillery man who fires the shell at the enemy, that artillery man would not have the shell if it were not for the men and women in our factories making the shells or the men and women who transport those shells to the front line.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman and my sympathies are with him and his constituents. Does he think that he is making an anti-European speech?
§ Mr. McWilliam
I am not making an anti-European or pro-European speech. It happens that under the Maastricht treaty we are entitled to self-determination in defence matters. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields made the Labour party's position perfectly plain and I agree with it. My speech is geographical—we are an island nation and, if we are entitled to our own defence capabilities, we must be able to procure our own equipment. If we cannot make it in this country, we cannot guarantee its procurement from somewhere else. The last time a Conservative Government landed us in a position where we had to do so, we could not get it and had to borrow equipment from the Americans.
To judge by the Government's track record, we have a Government who have presided over a Ministry of Defence procurement system which, according to the courts, was corrupt—Mr. Foxley is in gaol. The contract to which I referred is the only one that I have been able to find out about; I do not know what else he was involved in. Ministers did not admit to any job losses, although they were obvious. The system was corrupt and inefficient and was not run in the best interests of the United Kingdom's defence. I am concerned only with defence.
I have no doubt that the Israeli shells were cheaper. It suits the Israeli Government to keep their factories open; it is necessary to do so because of the strategic position. I can understand why the Israeli factories would make a good, keen offer and undercut British jobs. However, I cannot understand a Government who say that it is simply a matter of market forces and inevitable-—hey are the Government who presided over the market forces which put Gordon Foxley in gaol and which provided the incentive for him to be corrupt in the first place. If procurement had been taking place under the normal procurement systems that preceded the open market—"buy it from anyone and to blazes with British strategic capability"—this would not have happened.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Davyhulme, especially when he referred to what my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields had said. I can come to one of two conclusions—either the hon. Member for Davyhulme had written his speech before he heard what my hon. Friend said or someone has fitted the hon. Gentleman with an implant that inverts the sense of everything that anyone 88 says. What he said that my hon. Friend said was the exact opposite of what my hon. Friend had in fact said, which is strange.
I welcome the part of the Secretary of State's speech that dealt with Northern Ireland. As someone who has family there and who spends a fair bit of time there I know that the change to a more normal society is to be welcomed and encouraged. Anything or anyone who interferes with the peace process deserves the condemnation of every Member of Parliament. However, we are not there yet.
We have to pay tribute to the forces serving in Northern Ireland. Oddly enough, they are serving in worse conditions than before. They are confined to barracks; they are getting some training, and that training is good, but it is not what it used to be and it is a trial to them. To hear the Secretary of State say that the emergency tour interval will again not average 24 months because manpower is not up to it must be dreadfully disappointing.
I stress that people are fed up with the implications of the Bett report, which is nonsense. I remember Sir Michael Bett when he was merely Mike Bett of the British Telecom board and I know some of the stunts that he tried to pull then.
Let us permit the morale of our troops to rise. Let us remove the threat of Bett, give them a period of stability and afford them with the dignity and support that they deserve for their splendid work for this country.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
We have heard one whinge after another about defence procurement and the lack of equipment. Following "Options for Change", we began to cut our defence forces, as many other countries also did. We then heard speech after speech saying that it was wrong and wicked, and there was the usual flannel about a defence review. "Options for Change" was a defence review.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
Yes, it was, and I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why it was. General Vincent and others master minded that very good review of the needs and strategy of the British armed forces and the tactics that would be required in a period following the end of the cold war. He revealed something vital; that we did not need such large forces—the country would not stand for it—and needed to reduce the manpower. In so doing, however, we had to end up with a force which was capable of being flexible and providing a rapid response and a force that was much higher tech. That scenario was replicated by the NATO chiefs of staff about a year later. There could not have been a keener or finer analysis of the needs of the armed forces of a democratic power playing a useful and important part in NATO.
We hear much praise of our armed forces' ability to respond, their courage and bravery, their equipment and the way in which they use it. That is not to say that there are no deficiencies. I had not intended to go into great detail about the equipment on order but I do not recall some Opposition Members arguing against the completion of the Vanguard Trident programme; nor did I note that they criticised the 1994 order of type 23 Duke class frigates.
89 In 1994, there was a substantial order for 44 Merlin helicopters. There was the order for the Army this year of the Apache helicopter. That was not done on the cheap. We bought it from abroad, but we made very sure—as we always do with procurement—that there was plenty for British manufacturers to contribute. There was also the order for the Army of Challenger tanks. Some of us do not agree that we need that number of tanks and would rather have more helicopters, but the order certainly provided plenty of jobs in Leeds. There is the update of the Tornado aircraft and the mid-life update of 142 support helicopters. There are also the 35 support helicopters ordered in 1994 and, of course, the Eurofighter programme.
On the question of procurement, I do not simply want to know the procurement practices for purely British forces, which are based on our own analysis of what we need out of our own resources—I want to know about procurement that we believe can be done on an international basis, such as the European fighter aircraft. We get into the awful position of the costs being shared between three or four nations, which leads to the sort of inefficiency, over-cost and bad development that there is with the EFA. A squalid row is developing between the Germans and ourselves about who should pay what and how much each should get from the sales of the aircraft when it is finally in production. I hope that the Government will concentrate on that area, rather than on all the other twaddle that we have heard today.
On balance, we have a pretty good record, but that does not mean that there are not some grounds for criticism of some of the impacts of the reduction in defence expenditure. I warmly support many of the courageous comments, made on the basis of detailed knowledge, by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), which was reflected in the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill). I strongly support the concerns that they expressed about the impact of overstretch. I have little doubt that that is having a serious and growing effect on morale. That is why today I welcomed enormously my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's statement that he understands the problem well and that there should be a period of stability to digest the problem. I also support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury about reservists.
The two main themes running through our debate today will have a vital effect on our strategy and on our future defence estimates. By chance, those themes were discussed by NATO parliamentarians at their annual autumn session between 6 and 9 October in Turin. That session attracted delegates from central and eastern Europe and from Russia. The first theme is European membership of NATO and the construction of the European pillar. The second is the enlargement of NATO to involve countries from central and eastern Europe.
There was a time when people questioned whether NATO had a future. However, I am sure that we all agree that since the end of the cold war NATO has proved itself to be remarkably flexible. Of course there have been mistakes, such as cost overruns, but NATO's flexibility is truly amazing. It has a future, but anybody who believes that also knows that national sovereignty is mixed in with that. What sort of loss of national sovereignty would there be? We know that in the changed world that we now face our North American allies will not always wish to be 90 involved in what we call non-article 5 military operations in Europe. They concede that there will be activities that European nations will want to conduct on their own—but, we hope, with the support of the supreme command.
European countries need to be better able to act together in peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and crisis management. That is why the Government support the strengthening of the Western European Union operational capability—something I strongly support—not as a separate organisation, but separable when it wishes to act in the interests of what we perceive to be basically a European problem. That is quite sensible.
Given the obvious limitations of the defence resources of all countries, if we in Europe are to act as the European pillar of NATO—acting on what we believe to be the interests of European countries—it does not make any sense to try to build up an organisation separate from NATO and which replicates the assets available to NATO. No continental western European country, whether or not in NATO—France not being in NATO—would be willing to support the resources that would copy what NATO already has. That is where the problem starts.
Some countries, in seeking a more distinct European identity, envisage a European pillar that would be separate. Some of them see the role of the European pillar drifting, in time, towards a tie-up with the European Union. Some see it as a federal tie-up. From the speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House, it is clear that no one wants a federal tie-up. Why, then, is there an argument? The French—certainly the Frenchmen I meet—always argue that in the end the extent of any sovereignty they surrender or any military activity in which they become involved must be a matter for France. Of course, in many ways the French want some significant reorganisation of their relationship with the European pillar of NATO. I think that, in the end, they would regard it as moving towards a European pillar of a united European Union.
What about the Germans? They take the view—perhaps this is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is suspicious—that, although their Defence Minister has said, without America stability never has been and never will be available; and the German commander of the Eurocorps has said:There is no intention of building up an autonomous European military structure in parallel with NATO.The German-American relationship is very strong at the moment. Nevertheless, as their Chancellor Kohl has said, Germany is pressing for a more federal defence structure.
I can understand why those who are suspicious of a move towards a federalist structure should make statements critical of such a move. They do not think that it will work. That is the distinction between those who say we should never discuss these matters in purely sovereignty terms and the impression that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gives that we want to act unilaterally. There was nothing in his speech to suggest that. He simply implied that there are people in Europe who want to move closer to a European Union that eventually would be dominated by a federal structure, which would be the end of the intergovernmental way that we structure our common defence responsibilities.
Whatever view one may take about the language—and I do not intend to go down that road—we blind ourselves if we think that there are not people in Europe who want to resist that process, just as there are people who want to 91 move down that road. Therefore, we must argue the case for our belief that a federal tie-up is the wrong way to go about matters. I do not doubt for one moment that a federal defence system is on the cards in the foreseeable future—perhaps within decades. We would have to go well down the road towards co-operation on a wide range of issues, and probably in a rather different world than we have today, before we could accept that sort of structure—one that was eventually accepted in the United States.
That is especially true as we have the system proposed by NATO, an example of its flexibility, of joint command task forces. As we have seen in Yugoslavia, such a force would enable the allies to work together more successfully—including, I might say, a French general.
If one goes to the NATO headquarters near High Wycombe one finds a stalwart commanding presence of a French senior officer. Obviously he does not want to work in the integrated command of NATO, but he is there, he goes through all the simulated exercises, and in due course one hopes that the French will work happily in that direction with us.
If we want to accept a joint command task force, it must be recognised that the ground rules on how to bring them into operation on a European-NATO basis, so that they could help the Western European Union, must be settled. We have to settle the dispute that still reigns and must still be decided about to what extent the supreme allied commander—an American soldier—has the final right of veto. I think that we can solve that problem, but I tell the House that one can talk until the cows come home trying to convince a Frenchman of it. We must overcome their suspicions on that score. We have to solve the problem, because, if it hangs over us for too long, it can only sour NATO and European relationships.
My final point concerns enlargement, which I think is broadly welcomed by hon. Members of all parties, but which also has its own problems. It is absolutely right that we should try to keep up the momentum. I know that the United States wants that. Certainly, as a prerequisite, we must work out an agreement with Russia. However I accept that we are not ready for enlargement. The worst thing that could happen would be to jump into the process too quickly. That is beginning to be appreciated by some of the central European countries which see that the partnership for peace proposals are not a placebo to compensate them for delaying entry.
One only has to consider the list of activities to promote closer military ties, facilitate transparency and national defence planning and peacekeeping to recognise the importance of partnership for peace. I received a note from the Hungarian embassy this morning. There are at least 23 areas in which the Hungarians have co-operated in the partnership for peace processes which were launched in 1994.
The future of the European defence identity and enlargement provide difficult problems for us, and they will be considered very carefully by our American friends. What concerns me more than anything is not the challenge to our statesmanship but the attitude of the new generation of Americans, especially the new arrivals in the Congress who have grown up since the reasons for NATO were established and acted on.
92 The American Government, their politicians, economists and business men, who I meet regularly, the guy in the street too, expect Europe to act more positively and to do more—not more as they did in the cold war, by spending more money on arms and putting more troops on the ground, but by doing more to work out our priorities, to prepare plans on crisis management, for peacekeeping and for peace enforcement, and for Europeans to settle their differences. It is a tall order, but so was the alliance in the making.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
Although I am glad to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), my speech will concern my constituency.
RAF Sealand in my constituency is now the RAF's only deep avionic repair asset. It supports the majority of the aircraft electronics critical to all three of our armed services, down even to a level as deep as that carried out in industry. During the Falklands and Gulf wars, and today in our operations over Bosnia and Iraq, RAF Sealand has played a crucial part in keeping our aircraft in the air. Time and again, the existence of RAF Sealand has proved crucial to our national interest. Yet it appears that the Government are hellbent on risking all of that by offering Sealand up to industry—possibly to the lowest bidder that comes along.
The debate on the market testing of Sealand has been going on for at least three years to my knowledge, and it will take at least another year to complete. There are clear signs in my constituency that that is causing enormous hardship and great uncertainty among those working there. That is their only reward for loyal, dedicated and very efficient service to the Crown. The uncertainty is also having a major impact on gaining future business from the many foreign manufacturers keen to use Sealand as their repair agency. It is all due to the long, bureaucratic and wasteful market-testing process, which is costing the taxpayer a large amount of money and reaping no obvious benefits at all.
RAF Sealand has a long history of continual improvement. I ask the Minister why such a strategic asset is not being set savings targets, benchmarked against industrial best practice, instead of exposing our armed forces to the risk, and the taxpayer to the expense, of such a flawed market-testing programme. I report that the unease and the anxiety at RAF Sealand is corrosive. There we have the jewel in the crown of the RAF avionic repair assets. We have a world leader in my constituency in Wales—why risk it? Why such an auction? Why risk a strategic national asset on the altar of what appears to be political dogma only? The Government must be faulted in this respect.
In our local newspapers over the past weekend, an advertisement was printed which affected the 1,500 uniformed and civilian employees at RAF Sealand. The advertisement said:Personnel for Support Contract RAF Sealand".It was inserted by Brown and Root Services. In effect, it was asking the people who work at RAF Sealand to apply for their own jobs against the decision on market testing which we know shall not be taken until next year. So 93 members of the work force, of whatever kind, are angry. The advertisement is scandalous and it has angered everyone at RAF Sealand.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
My hon. Friend may recall that, in a debate on the Air Force earlier this year, I suggested to the Minister that the Air Force should keep sufficient capacity to be able to serve as an intelligent customer. Would it not be reasonable to suggest that the one thing which should be retained is Sealand, not least in view of the fact that three years ago I challenged the Minister to visit my hon. Friend's constituency following a visit that I paid to Sealand?
There I met personnel who had managed, in a matter of days, to produce a gadget that allowed our Tornados to fly to the Gulf. The process would have taken at least 15 or 16 weeks in the private sector. If they had come from any other source, each of the gadgets produced by the men at Sealand over one weekend would have caused those Tornados to be delayed for 17 weeks. Is it not utterly irresponsible to take such action with regard to RAF Sealand?
§ Mr. Jones
My hon. Friend speaks with great authority on RAF matters and I know that the House knows that he is no mean navigator after spending some years alongside the RAF in one of the courses that he undertook. I was glad of his intervention, and his visit to RAF Sealand was well received.
Still with RAF Sealand in mind, I would like to refer to the astonishing possibility of our own Ministry of Defence leasing United States F16 aircraft. I hope that in any subsequent winding-up speech there will be some rebuttal of that possibility. None the less, all 1,500 in the work force to which I have referred are very worried that such leasing may take place. If a decision is made to lease American F16 aircraft and withdraw F3 Tornado aircraft from front-line squadrons, there could be a reduction in the work load at RAF Sealand which could lead to dozens of job losses if no replacement work is forthcoming. RAF Sealand could lose Tornado avionic work consisting of the electrical, instrument, radio and radar elements which make up the Tornado avionic package.
Leasing American F 16s or other aircraft could be more expensive than the Tornado mid-life update when all contributing cost factors are accounted for. So I would expect a full financial cost analysis and appraisal as well as listing of the unemployment costs of the loss of work and other social costs brought about by the cessation or severe curtailment of the Tornado work load.
§ Mr. Jones
No. Time is of the essence. I shall not give way in this constituency speech.
Britain's European partners in the Tornado project and especially the Italian air force, which is about to take delivery of its first Tornado F3, would not take too kindly to the British withdrawal from continued development of the aircraft. It must further place in doubt the commitment to the EF2000. The loss of the EF2000 would also spell the end of the British aircraft industry as designers and builders of original and indigenous aircraft.
Indirect costs associated with leasing such as pilot and ground crew training, necessary ground and support equipment required to operate the aircraft and spares provision will all need to be taken into account. RAF 94 Sealand's particular concern is whether the new aircraft's avionics will be serviced by the RAF to third-line level or, as is more normal with leased equipment, returned to the American manufacturer for servicing work. I urge the Government to make a speedy statement so that my constituents at RAF Sealand may be put out of their misery and anxiety.
The Minister will know that the Ministry of Defence flies some 25 British Aerospace 125s. He may also know that they are made in my constituency. He may not know that the Raytheon jet aircraft workers who make that machine face the loss of their jobs. Two years ago, the then British Aerospace workers who made the 125 were sold lock, stock and fuselage by British Aerospace to Raytheon, an American company. Now we face a desperate struggle to hold on to the remaining jobs at the factory where the 125 was and still is produced.
Instead of producing an aeroplane in the future, we have been asked to plan to be the servicing centre for the 125. Since the Ministry of Defence has more than two dozen 125s in its ownership, I suggest to the Minister most sincerely that the contract for the servicing of those aircraft should come to my constituency. After all, it was the British Government who permitted the sale to an American company of a British company which made a British aircraft. The consequence of that is not only a loss to Britain but the loss of many jobs in my constituency. Those jobs are arguably the most skilled and the best paid in Wales. Certainly, there could be no more loyal, able, co-operative and productive work force in the land.
I believe that I make a reasonable proposition to the Minister. I hope that, at an appropriate time, I can bring a deputation from my constituency to see him. I hope that it may be at the soonest possible time that is mutually convenient. The Minister nods assent. I am grateful to him. Will the Secretary of State for Defence or the Minister of State consider visiting the plant to see this magnificent machine now in production? If they did so, we would be very grateful.
I wish to make a point about the future large aircraft. It may not be known that my constituents are employed to the tune of 2,200 at British Aerospace Broughton, where they make the wings of the airbus. They were utterly disappointed when Her Majesty's Government decided to buy the Hercules rather than the FLA. I want an absolute guarantee from the Government that the FLA will be favoured in the next RAF tranche of transporter purchases. That would be a boost to my airbus workers, who assuredly would make the wings of the FLA, as they now do for the very successful airbus family.
If the Ministry of Defence backed the future large aircraft, my airbus constituents would have a very secure future. I want the Government to say that they will rejoin the FLA programme, without any ifs or buts. I remain anxious about the impression that we give to our French and German partners. They are sceptical about our commitment to the FLA. My fear is that France and Germany might exclude Britain from the FLA programme if we dither further. I hope to hear from Ministers a decision that would be helpful to British airbus workers. After all, it was Britain's Government who decided not to buy the European attack helicopter. That left our European allies somewhat dismayed.
Will the Ministry of Defence keep the British aerospace industry alive? It has the power of life and death over that industry. The industry has more skills and more 95 employees than any other British industry. The British aerospace industry has a magnificent record in exports, but without the Eurofighter 2000 and the FLA it is conceivable that the industry will bite the dust some time early in the next century. Our great rivals, the United States companies, have fatter research subsidies and a bigger internal market. It is a wretched prospect for Great Britain not to be able to continue to manufacture complete aircraft. It would be awful if we were reduced to subordinate parts manufacturers. That is a real prospect if decisions are not taken by Ministers in the near future.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) made some remarks, with which I agree, about the speech at Blackpool of the Secretary of State. What I found astonishing about that outrageous speech was the presence and attitude of the British Prime Minister alongside the Secretary of State as he made it. I was astounded when I saw our Prime Minister leading the applause. I wondered what the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), would have done had he been sitting alongside such a Secretary of State making such a speech. I believe that he would have pulled the plug. We have talked of Lord Home, who was truly a gentleman. I believe that, had he been sitting on the platform, he would have received that speech with icy contempt. Surely, all of us in the House will acknowledge that the Secretary of State did the defence industry and the interests of Britain a grave disservice.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)
For the past two or three years I have been hors de combat in terms of speaking in defence debates because I was parliamentary private secretary to the Defence Secretary. It is a great relief to be able to speak again in a defence debate. During that time, there have been tremendous changes, starting with "Options for Change" followed by the defence costs study. We have had a period of great instability. I believe that now we can look forward to a period of great stability. We shall soon be able to say that we have smaller, but far better, armed forces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) went through the forward equipment programmes for the Army. He mentioned Challenger 2, Apache and the AS90. He went through the forward equipment programme of the RAF and spoke about the European fighter aircraft. As for the Navy, he mentioned the landing platform helicopter, landing platform docks, Duke class frigates and the Horizon project.
Anyone who considers the defence equipment procurement programme will notice that there is a great deal on order, a great deal is arriving, and there is a great deal to look forward to. I therefore completely reject the remarks of some of my colleagues and some Opposition Members who said that the procurement budget has been very adversely affected. Quite the reverse is the case, and I am sure that, when the Minister for Defence Procurement replies to the debate tomorrow, he will say precisely that.
In my constituency, I have the chance to meet service men and women regularly, especially at RAF Marham. Marham is now a centre of excellence. It is the headquarters of the Royal Air Force's reconnaissance 96 capability. At the moment, 2 Squadron is on duty in Turkey at Incirlik on Operation Warden. No. 13 Squadron is on standby to replace it. Day in, day out, 39 Squadron flies over Bosnia, with its high-level photographic equipment. Those airmen have very high morale because they have jobs to do and they get on with those jobs.
If one looks round RAF Marham, as I do regularly, one sees for oneself the amount of investment that has gone into that air base during the past few years or so. Since the reconnaissance capability has moved there, two new reconnaissance intelligence centres have been built. There is now a mobile Tornado reconnaissance exploitation facility. I understand that, next year, a new tactical armaments squadron of 80 personnel will be set up at RAF Marham.
When one looks at any military base, one sees a great deal of change taking place, but much of it is in new infrastructure, new buildings and new tactics and techniques. If one goes down a road in my constituency one reaches RAF Sculthorpe, which has had a big question mark hanging over it for a long time, since the United States air force decided that it would be surplus to its requirements. I am very relieved that 24 Air Mobile Brigade will be using Sculthorpe as part of its training infrastructure, so it will not be too long before Apaches are flying in and around Sculthorpe. It will be a very positive military presence on that base.
Our local regiment, the Royal Anglians, has been in Bosnia recently. It has been in Northern Ireland and wherever it goes, it distinguishes itself substantially, and follows in the traditions of the Royal Norfolks.
Like every other hon. Member, I had a chance to attend a VJ-day parade in my constituency. On parade were very many Royal Norfolk veterans who had been prisoners of war in the far east, and to see those men who suffered so much during that period of captivity was greatly moving. It was especially moving to notice the complete lack of bitterness or resentment. Of course those former prisoners will never forget, but I find extraordinary what they have forgiven already, and the extent to which they have got on with their lives.
I also find it strange that although the Japanese Government made a small provision for the former prisoners of the allied powers—that was back in 1948—since then, nothing has been done although the Japanese economy has become incredibly powerful and strong. I do not think it is asking too much of the Government to put strong pressure on the Japanese Government to pay up just a little bit more to surviving prisoners of war and to widows of prisoners of war, because there are not many in this country and a small amount would go a long way to relieve their suffering.
§ Mr. Bellingham
I am very pleased to see the hon. Gentleman nod his head, because I believe that there is all-party agreement on that issue.
The morale and the commitment of the service men and women who are based in Norfolk or who come to Norfolk is high. I often wonder what they think of politicians, and I believe that most service men and women are deeply cynical and sceptical of politicians. If they have a look at the Treasury Bench, they see a young Secretary of State who, within weeks of going into that position, found himself having to take very difficult decisions in Bosnia. 97 Because of the competence and leadership that he showed on that occasion, he did himself no end of good and built up a great deal of support in the armed forces.
We have a Minister of State for the Armed Forces who is without doubt the most popular person in that job since the job was created and we have as a Minister of State for Defence Procurement a Member of Parliament who is probably the brightest person in the House, and someone of great competence.
§ Mr. Bellingham
He has very fortunately secured a nomination for a seat in Hampshire, which I am sure he will win handsomely at the next election, and he will remain in the job that he does so well after the election.
If those same service men and women have a look at the Opposition Front Bench, what do they see? They see four Members of Parliament who I think are committed, who are keen to do their best for the armed forces. However, I believe that they have difficulty in getting away from their past. One cannot run their names through the police computer, but one can run their names through the Hansard computer. If one has a look at the Hansard computer, one sees that they all do have a past.
Two of them, the hon. Members for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), were fully paid-up members of Labour Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. All four of them have signed various early-day motions in the past, on Nicaragua, attacking America.
Early-day motion No. 202 of December 1988, which the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) signed, sympathised with the demonstrations in Malta and Australia against the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal because it was apparently carrying nuclear weapons. He has signed endless early-day motions.
We look back and we read speeches that those people made in the House. In 1986, the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) was demanding that the Opposition proceed without delay in its national campaign against Polaris, Trident, cruise missiles and United States nuclear bases in Scotland. If one examines their past, one repeatedly finds previous convictions.
There were far too many signatures on wild EDMs, there was far too much support for zany, politically correct causes, far too much outspoken conduct in favour of anti-American organisations and too much in the way of misjudgment. However much their hearts may be in this now, one has only to point members of the armed forces at what those Members of Parliament have done in the past.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. Before he gets completely carried away with his trip down memory lane of early-day motions—I could quote many back at him—perhaps he could tell us what the Trident submarine system is for, why this country insists on possessing nuclear weapons and against whom they are aimed. The public as a whole need to know why so much of their money is being wasted on these appalling and, frankly, useless weapons, which can do nothing but enhance the insecurity of the world.
§ Mr. Bellingham
I am very interested by what the hon. Gentleman says. He ought to have referred to the document that I have in my hand, which we are debating 98 tonight, "Stable Forces in a Strong Britain", the defence estimates. It sets out the arguments for having an independent nuclear deterrent, for procuring Trident, in very great detail. I shall not repeat what is in the document, but I think that the hon Gentleman's questions should be addressed to the Labour Front-Bench spokesmen.
Those spokesmen ought to have a close look at a letter that was in The Guardian recently, from one Frank Allaun, who is president of Labour Action for Peace, and one Ron Huzzard. They were querying in great detail the announcement that the Government were going to spend money on the Eurofighter. They were asking questions about the Bowman contract. They were asking questions about the Trident contract and they were saying what the hon. Gentleman was saying. Their letter said:Who is the new enemy that justifies so much of this country's public expenditure being used for military purposes"?It is not very difficult to look behind the facade of the Labour Front Bench and to see people such as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and his friends such as Ron Huzzard and Frank Allaun.
§ Dr. Reid
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am sure that the whole House will appreciate the avid research that he has carried out to identify pacifists, conscientious objectors and anti-militarists. I commend to him page 25 of the biography of one of his colleagues, the Secretary of State for Defence. I shall briefly read two sentences:Malcolm Rifkind was the first Tory defence secretary never to have served in any of the armed forces, even as a conscript.Then it continues, on the basis of the evidence:Michael Portillo may well be the first former conscientious objector to be placed in charge of the nation's defences by a Tory Government.Can we look forward to the Secretary of State being outed as a conscientious objector by the hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Bellingham
There are sinners around who have repented, and my right hon. Friend has obviously repented through years of service to his party and to his Government. However, there are people behind the hon. Member for Motherwell, North who have not repented; they are nagging at his shoulder and trying to undermine all that Opposition Front Benchers are doing. Whatever Labour Front Benchers say about their beliefs now, I remind them that, while it is very easy to give up what they have believed in the past, upon coming to office it would be even easier to give up those things which they have taken on board recently and in which they have said that they believe.
However difficult the changes have been and however destabilising the last few years, members of the armed forces know that they can trust the Tories on defence. One of the reasons why they cannot trust Labour is that, in the past few years, we have seen Opposition Members waging a malicious and spontaneous campaign to undermine some of our military traditions. Time and again, Opposition questions on the Order Paper refer to service men and women and their sporting activities and official service residences, and to the boarding school allowance. The questions refer to officers in the armed forces who, for example, ski for their regiments, who play polo or golf on Royal Air Force bases and who might even enjoy a day's hunting in their own free time.
99 The hon. Members for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) and for Leeds, Central have put down hundreds and hundreds of questions about extra-military activities, and those questions have cost the Ministry of Defence thousands of pounds to answer. I think that that reveals a "little Englander" attitude. I believe strongly that, if members of the armed forces do not have those extra-military activities, their morale will suffer. I do not think that it is any coincidence that those regiments that win the live firing contests in Canada or those units in Germany that take on other NATO forces and beat them hands down are the same regiments that win the European Army skiing championships and polo and riding competitions. If we take away those extra-curricular activities, we shall undermine the morale of the armed forces.
That is why, when push comes to shove—as it will at the next election—I think that members of all three branches of the armed forces will realise that they cannot trust Labour. That is why I do not intend to trust what Labour has said tonight. I trust what is in the defence estimates, and tomorrow night I shall vote with Her Majesty's Ministers.
§ Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
I regard some of the criticisms levelled at Labour Front Benchers by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) as compliments, and I shall probably refer to them later in my speech.
I believe that it is correct that one of the first issues that we should debate in depth after the recess is Government defence expenditure, which this year is about £21.5 billion. However, if we examine the total figure since 1946, we are talking about defence expenditure of about £990 billion at current prices. The Government's defence expenditure is one of the most important issues that we face.
The debate will highlight the shortcomings of many Government statements, which will surely follow in the months ahead, announcing cuts in public services and welfare benefits. Each time such cuts are announced, hon. Members should ask why they are necessary. How can the Government justify their present defence expenditure while they inflict savage cuts in public services upon which the most vulnerable people in our community depend? Do the Government not realise that investment in those services would make life far more civilised for not just the most vulnerable but for each and every one of us, while investment in the nuclear weapons industry destroys that opportunity?
That opinion is shared by many senior Labour figures who five years ago voted against the leadership's desire to slow down the pace and scale of the arms cuts. My hon. Friends and others wanted to see those resources redistributed to social priorities instead—and that is the argument that I am putting forward tonight. The victims of the nuclear arms race are not just the victims of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but everyone who could have lived in a more civilised and dignified world if that money had been spent differently.
We should consider also the skills, talents, creativity and sweat that have gone into producing nuclear weapons for war. Those precious human resources could have been 100 used to make life on earth far more dignified. We could develop medical science to combat horrendous diseases, find more efficient ways of feeding the hungry and develop energy forms that do not pollute but work in harmony with the earth. The list is endless. They are not mere dreams but a recognition of what is possible and necessary. A world that is threatened continually by a nuclear holocaust—which we can only begin to imagine—can never be free.
If our friend Bob Cryer had been alive today, he would certainly have participated in the debate. In 1981 he posed a question on that subject to which he did not receive an answer, so I am sure that he would want me to raise it again tonight on his behalf. He asked the Minister whether he could explain how nuclear weapons defend freedom and liberty when their use will be undertaken by a small elite and will lead to the mass extermination of the people of this nation and elsewhere. That question was not answered in 1981 and it deserves and demands an answer in 1995. My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) later advanced an alternative view. In 1986 he was reported at a book launch as saying that at the next election there would be a choice between two versions of patriotism, with the Conservatives willing to spend money on the Trident missile system and Labour dismissing the nuclear deterrent as obsolete.
I was recently privileged to address a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally in Trafalgar square. It was a privilege for me because CND—perhaps more than any other organisation—has campaigned consistently for a nuclear-free world. If any hon. Members wish to join it in that struggle—or if the membership of any of my hon. Friends have lapsed—they can do so by writing to 162 Holloway road, London.
The CND rally that I addressed was held to protest against French nuclear tests. One of the placards carried at that demonstration read "Liberté, egalité, fraternityé" and those words were replaced with "Arrogance, selfishness and indifference". Those words apply not only to the French nuclear tests but to those countries and individuals whose actions in supporting nuclear weapons—sometimes in the name of freedom, national security or whatever slogan seems appropriate at the time—threaten our beautiful world.
Editorials in the Observer, The Independent and The Scotsman have admitted to being somewhat perplexed about recent developments. The Scotsman stated:There has still not been any satisfactory answer to the question why Britain continues to enhance its nuclear potential with the Trident missile system, at a time when the major nuclear powers are engaged in a process of cutting down on their arsenals. Even by its own logic, Trident is a system without a purpose … there is no potential aggressor against whom such a system could be used.Indeed, nuclear weapons in general have been signally unsuccessful in preventing conflict".That was recognised as long ago as 1984 when Labour's NEC appointed a working party which published a sensible pamphlet entitled "Defence and Security for Britain". It included the following words of wisdom:We require a true defensive deterrence … a moment's thought would show that nuclear weapons which are the most provocative and aggressive weapons ever invented by man could have no part in such a genuine defence policy.We can take our own independent stance of de-escalation. Cancelling the absurd and dangerous programme is one such step.101 Of course that was right. If nuclear weapons are a deterrent, by definition they should deter, but how have nuclear weapons deterred all the wars since the end of the second world war? It is estimated that 25 million people have died in those wars. How have nuclear weapons deterred the war in the Falklands, the war in the Gulf and the present conflict in the former Yugoslavia?
Even if I thought that there were enemies in other lands plotting some nuclear confrontation with us, I could never agree to the use of nuclear weapons. Although I am not a pacifist, I do not believe that I have the right to take away from my children and, I hope in years to come, my grandchildren the opportunity of avoiding the mistakes of our generation and creating a better world.
I am interested to hear whether both Front-Bench spokesmen are willing to make similar declarations, and if not, why not. The editorial I mentioned in The Scotsman concluded:In this year of all years—the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—Britain should consign Trident to where it belongs, to the past.Others have arrived at similar conclusions. They include Sir Ronald Mason, the former chief scientific adviser to the MOD who chaired the working group that originally advocated Trident, and Sir Nigel Bagnall, former Chief of Defence Staff, who came out in opposition to Trident. The former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, apparently told Field Marshal Bagnall that he was wrong to criticise Britain's heavy investment in the nuclear industry when he raised the matter with her as long ago as 1985. Field Marshal Bagnall was right then, and he is right today.
It is worth putting on record how a large nuclear weapons programme can get completely out of hand if Parliament is denied the right to retain close scrutiny over expenditure on a regular basis. It should not be forgotten that the financial cost of Trident will not be £11.682 billion, as quoted in the Defence Select Committee report, but a figure perhaps five times greater after operating, refitting and decommissioning costs are taken into consideration. I made that point in last year's debate.
Any hon. Member who doubts that should consider what Sir Ronald Mason pointed out—that the lower construction cost figure ignores the lifetime cost which he put at between £40 billion and £50 billion. Can the Minister explain the massive discrepancy between that figure and the MOD estimate of £17.7 billion? I was interested to read an answer given in 1981 by the then Defence Secretary, now Sir John Nott, who said that the cost of the four Trident submarines would be between £4.5 billion and £5 billion.
I wish to make some comments on the role and the problems of the MOD Atomic Weapons Establishment, now contracted to the American company Root and Brown. On 14 August, the MOD made available to hon. Members via the Vote Office a document entitled "The Atomic Weapons Establishment—contractual indemnities". That is not a particularly exciting title, but the contents make interesting reading. The document states that the MOD could not find a satisfactory private insurance company to cover the operation of AWE, so it asked Parliament to approve the extension of indemnities to AWE to the year 2000 in four separate areas.
102 I object to the further attempt to dump on the taxpayer the cost of nuclear weapons and to my not being able to register my objection to the minutes, as they were made available to hon. Members during the recess.
Not only do the Labour party, campaigning organisations such as CND and Greenpeace and I have no faith in nuclear weapons, but neither does the insurance industry. In the past, some of my hon. Friends and I have often been critical of the insurance industry, but we know that it recognises a good deal when it sees one. Even the insurance industry has reached the conclusion that nuclear weapons are a bad deal.
I suggest that the Government have reached similar conclusions, or why did they choose to make the minutes available in the recess when there was no opportunity to debate and to scrutinise the figures? If no one has any faith in nuclear weapons, why do we not scrap them?
At the end of the month, the International Court of Justice will decide the legality or illegality of nuclear weapons. If that is not a good enough reason to scrap nuclear weapons, 24 October is the 50th anniversary of the birth of the United Nations. What better way would there be to recognise that day and to celebrate that anniversary than to scrap nuclear weapons of war?
Earlier this year, the 170-odd member states of the non-proliferation treaty agreed to extend that treaty indefinitely as part of a bargain whereby the nuclear weapons states agreed to show the utmost restraint in testing nuclear weapons before a nuclear test ban treaty was completed next year in order to convince non-nuclear states to agree to make the non-proliferation treaty permanent. China's restraint lasted for a full three days, and for France it lasted four months.
Since then, millions of people have signed petitions protesting against those French nuclear tests. Will the Minister take the opportunity to condemn those tests, and if not, why not? Some of my hon. Friends and I met the French ambassador to lodge our objections to the test. We asked the ambassador how the French could continue testing nuclear weapons. This also applies to the United Kingdom. How can we continue to maintain our nuclear weapons yet tell other countries that they should not go down the same road?
Does the Minister accept that, like the French, we are breaking the non-proliferation treaty by not engaging in meaningful discussions and negotiations towards nuclear disarmament as highlighted in the non-proliferation treaty? Our hypocrisy does not end there. Governments shed crocodile tears when they witness the victims of war abroad, but we often supply other countries with the arms to conduct those wars. The former Yugoslavia is a classic example.
I offer my congratulations to Professor Joseph Rotblat on being awarded the Nobel peace prize, having campaigned against nuclear weapons since 1944. The chairman of the prize committee said that the award recognised Professor Rotblat's campaigning work, but was also a way of highlighting the committee's opposition to not just French nuclear tests but nuclear weapons. The fact that the British Government launched the third Trident submarine last weekend is an insult to the Nobel peace prize and to the people of this world. I urge all hon. Members to vote against the defence estimates and, by so doing, to show their support for the winner of the Nobel peace prize.
§ Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)
It gives me great pleasure to participate in this debate. I hope that the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) will forgive me if I do not follow his particular path, which is profoundly and blindly misguided. However, the hon. Gentleman's speech was sincerely made, and I compliment him on it.
I identify with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir. G Johnson Smith) and with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) in respect of the Bett report. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench agree that, whatever the merits of some of Michael Bett's suggestions, it is one thing to run our defence services in a businesslike fashion but quite another to run them as businesses.
The pleasure of speaking in this debate is somewhat marred for me by the knowledge that this year's defence estimates represent a further fall in defence expenditure, from £22.32 billion to £21.72 billion, at a time when our commitments show no sign of easing but rather the reverse. The world seems a more dangerous and unstable place with each passing year. A simple analysis reveals that whereas in 1978–79 we spent 4.5 per cent. of our gross domestic product on defence, now we spend only 3.3 per cent.—a further fall of 0.3 per cent. on 1993–94. By comparison, we spend 13.4 per cent. of our GDP on social security—£90.6 billion or nearly four and a half times more, and half that figure, or nearly two and a half times as much, on health.
A nation that no longer has the will to find the funds necessary to defend itself is not a nation but a collection of communities. A nation that spends so much more on social security than on national security in its broader sense—I include part of the area that is the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary—is a nation that has lost its will to survive, not just its pride and sense of purpose in the world. That ultimately risks making the people of our nation the most healthy and well cared for slaves to other people's desires.
Despite that further fall in funding the White Paper emphasises that after five years' upheaval, retrenchment and cuts the Government are committed to a period of stability. The White Paper is helpfully entitled "Stable Forces in a Strong Britain"—a noble title if it could be but true. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary was Defence Secretary, he stressedthe Government's commitment to inject a period of stability in defence planning and expenditure.He went on to say that he had the Prime Minister's assurance that there would be no further budgetary cuts this side of an election or for a foreseeable time beyond. No less a person than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave an assurance that the period of reorganisation and retrenchment was behind us and that we could foresee a period of stability in our fighting forces and in defence spending.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will be able again to give that public, assurance and that they will fight hard to ensure that those public undertakings—especially that of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's—will not be compromised by a Chancellor with apparently little interest in this particular area looking for further cuts. I repeat my right hon. and learned Friend's words: 104to inject a period of stability in defence planning and expenditure.No debate of this nature would be complete without mentioning our commitment to Bosnia and the dangerous but valiant work done by our forces there. Many of my hon. Friends have touched on that matter. My own doubts about the wisdom of our original involvement are a matter of record. I do not hanker after the failed League of Nations as Labour Members do. I see only British lads laying their lives on the line for humanitarian reasons, when no real British interests are involved and no side in that brutal and uncivil war is conspicuous for its humanity. Bringing our forces out safely again has worried me from the start and continues to do so. I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's announcement to the House that he will be able to bring back at least some of our troops.
However, the continuing need for our military commitment, which will perhaps become more pressing should the present ceasefire hold and develop, brings to light some operational aspects on which I should be grateful for comment from my right hon. and hon. Friends when they come to wind up. The first and most obvious, given the stalling of the peace process in Northern Ireland, is the pressure that that commitment is placing on—and the shortages it is highlighting in the strength of—infantry units. That matter has already been referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith).
The pressure will be exacerbated by the slump in recruitment figures and I have no doubt that my hon. Friends will have devised a strategy to deal with the problem which I hope that they will share with the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has referred to the matter but some elaboration would be appreciated.
From a different perspective, Ministers will know that I was fortunate enough to spend some time, together with the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), with the Royal Navy as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme. Some of that time was spent in the Adriatic. Does my hon. Friend agree that the need to provide timely air support over Bosnia, unfettered by the uncertainties of host nation support and the vagaries of the weather, has again shown the flexibility, mobility and reach of the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers, at least one of which has been on station in the Adriatic since 1983?
Would my hon. Friend like to take this opportunity to assure the House that he plans sufficiently to fund the Royal Navy to permit the eventual replacement of the Invincible class and its Sea Harrier jump jets which, though much modified, were designed some 35 years ago. Would my hon. Friend go on to assure the House that the impact on the Royal Navy of having a carrier, frigates, destroyers and support ships constantly on patrol off Bosnia has been addressed in the Ministry's plans to build new ships, not forgetting the replacement of Fearless and Intrepid for other duties?
My hon. Friend has reported that the Royal Navy's pre-eminent prowess in anti-submarine warfare may have slipped due to the demands of NATO and United Nations duties, which has meant that sailors spend up to 16 months in a two-year cycle away from home. Does my hon. Friend agree that the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, which I visited on its way to be mothballed in Portsmouth, might now be reactivated?
105 I wish to make both a specific and a general point about procurement. As hon. Members know, such points often have constituency elements. I stand four square behind the Procurement Executive's value-for-money, best-for-the-job competitions and procurement decisions. A number of those decisions have been recently awarded to the American defence industry, some rightly so, and most recently, Tomahawk cruise missiles for the Royal Navy, the C 130J Hercules replacement and more controversially, given the £200 million of taxpayer's money invested in Trigat, the decision to go for the Apache helicopter.
The history of offset is not one of which the Ministry can be proud and I question the way in which the two-way street with the Americans is working and the way in which the American Government have launched frankly scandalous anti-competitive protectionist legislation at Lucas for trying to compete in their market. That makes one question the wisdom of further invitations to tender from American companies. To hear that my hon. Friend's Department is now considering leasing American F16 warplanes gives great cause for concern to Conservative Members, too.
I hope that my hon. Friend will consider in any review the greater interest of the future of the United Kingdom aerospace and electronics industry as a major net exporter. He may also consider the loss to the MOD of the valuable export levy on UK-funded defence projects. I hope that my hon. Friend will think long and hard on these lines as he considers the replacement of the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft or indeed the replacement of the Army battlefield communications system. He should not forget the way in which the Americans have treated British companies competing in their markets.
Finally, on a constituency note, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reconsider the Army ambulance replacement order and consider well the overwhelming advantage of the revised Land Rover submission—not the original version tested but that based on the X-D, which has already satisfied the most rigorous testing and is likely to be the mainstay of the Army's light truck fleet in the future. It is cheaper to buy, cheaper to run in terms of fuel, lighter for helicopter lift and preferred by the medics who will have to work in it. To buy from a foreign supplier, from a formerly neutral country which has yet to be integrated into NATO command and supply mechanisms, would send all the wrong signals at a time when even the Germans, important NATO partners of ours, are already buying Land Rovers for Interior Ministry duty—and will possibly go further, given the change of ownership.
I should like to end on a strategic note which I have already mentioned in the past. I refer to the case already made by one of the Minister's predecessors for an anti-missile defence system to deal with the Club Mad brigade who might aim such missiles at us. I hope that tonight the Minister will be able to give us some assurance that serious thought is being given to this and that research and development are taking place to equip us with such a system in good time to meet any threat that may eventually arise.
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
I am pleased 106 to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) and to support his comments about the Navy and the armed forces parliamentary scheme.
I have strongly agreed with those who have talked of the need to bring about a period of stability and to set a steady course for our armed forces and for the civilian industrial defence workers who have experienced massive change in the past few years. I too put on record my praise for all involved in the defence of our country and for the way in which our armed forces continue to set standards to which the rest of the world aspires. Wherever I have gone, to Plymouth, Rosyth or the Adriatic, I have found a strong feeling of insecurity among members of the armed forces—a feeling of anxiety not just about their families but based on uncertainty about the exact direction of the Government's defence policy and about precisely what role is envisaged for them.
I accept that we cannot just wave a magic wand and bring security and stability to the world, but I believe that we need a fuller debate on certain key issues such as the future roles of the United Nations, of NATO, of the Western European Union and of Partnership for Peace. We need, in short, a strategic overview.
I shall be brief because I am aware that some hon. Members have been sitting here for as long as I have today. First, I want to mention Rosyth naval base, which has had its full share of uncertainty and insecurity, compounded by the continual delay over the decision as to who the successful bidder for the base will be. I hope that the Minister will be able to give the base some good news, preferably by the end of this week, and that any decision will recognise that the site of the base is a public asset and that economic regeneration prospects should be considered alongside value for money.
Constant uncertainty has surrounded the future of both dockyards, which still await important decisions that have yet to be announced. So secondly, I would hope that the Minister can tell us today when he will be able to make an announcement; that by so doing he will be able to introduce some stability; that he will reaffirm the vital importance of both dockyards; that he will restate the workload guarantees given to both dockyards; and that he will reassure the work force that the promises concerning pensions and redundancy entitlements will be kept. I hope that he will state also that no change will be made to conditions of employment without negotiation and agreement.
That brings me to my third point, which concerns the whole future of our defence industry. The Government's refusal to adopt a specific industrial defence policy has chopped away work and led to economic devastation in defence-dependent areas. Are the Government prepared to recognise—they are, after all, the industry's major customer-that the defence industry is crucial both to our defence and to our general manufacturing base? Will they recognise that unless they act we may one day find ourselves without any competition, buying from a monopoly market and having no option but to buy off-the-shelf products?
Despite what is set out in the estimates some big questions still need to be answered given the turbulent world in which we live. The break-up of the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc has not led to more security. Russia is riven by all forms of corruption and internal conflicts. There are massive nuclear arsenals and there is the greatest fear about the extent of illegal export and 107 smuggling to provide weapons to countries that none of us would support. We are seeing ethnic conflicts, territorial conflicts and social and economic tensions, as most horribly illustrated by events in former Yugoslavia. Events in that country have enlarged the future role and purpose of the United Nations and made more important the relationship between NATO forces and the UN as well as the dimensions of peacemaking and peacekeeping.
I shall be brief because I wish to make a few minutes available to other hon. Members. I think that we are likely in the post-cold-war world to be confronted by many more security problems. We have an opportunity to restructure Britain's defences but unfortunately the Government have heightened insecurity by their failure to undertake a strategic defence review. They have tended, especially with the defence costs study, to go for a short-term cost-cutting exercise rather than a review based on long-term rationale.
As I have said, the big questions remain to be answered. Let us go ahead and try to provide at long last some stability and cohesion for all who are involved in the defence of our country.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
I start by declaring an interest. I am a pilot in the RAF reserves and have been for the past 18 years. Before that I was a pilot in the regular RAF for 12 years.
It is worth reflecting on the reduced representation of the armed forces in the House. We could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of Members who are now in the reserve forces. Probably about 15 per cent. of Members have served in the armed forces, compared with over 50 per cent. about 20 years ago.
I make that point because the armed services are in rather a special position. Unlike virtually every other body in every other profession, those who serve in the armed forces are not in a position to make their views known to the public when Governments change their minds and reduce the costs of defence or make various other changes. There is therefore a special responsibility on those who have spent time in the armed services to represent their views in the Chamber.
The lack of representation and the lack of ability of the armed forces to make their views known more publicly partly explains the lack of outcry two or three years ago when we had the last round of defence cuts. I am not talking so much about "Options for Change", which was essentially driven by the need to make changes following the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war. Although I did not specifically agree with some of the results of that review, I think that afterwards when further changes were made we got things about right.
I have in mind especially the two series of cuts that followed "Options for Change", the last of which has been termed "Front Line First". I would submit that those cuts were largely Treasury-led, not defence-led. They were Treasury-led two years ago in exactly the same way as other cuts were led 20 years ago under the Labour Government following the intervention of the International Monetary Fund.
It is slightly ironic that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury two years ago is now the Secretary of State for Defence, because clearly he is now having to come to 108 terms with his success two years ago at persuading his Cabinet colleagues to cut defence expenditure, to cut expenditure on national security, I would submit, before expenditure should have been cut on social security. We now appear—dare I say it running up to the next general election—to be cutting social security. I wish that we had taken that view a few years ago, because then perhaps we would now have slightly larger armed forces and more realistic expenditure on social security than we currently have.
The fact, though, is that the then Chief Secretary, who is now Secretary of State for Defence, got it right from a political point of view. There was not an outcry and we have now reduced expenditure for defence. The trouble is simple. Armed service men cannot complain about what is happening to them at the time, so, as they did 20 years ago, they vote with their feet a year or two later. Precisely what happened in 1977 is happening now in 1995. I shall not go into the details, because that has already been done, but I add just one more statistic to those that have been given about the under-strength of our armed forces. The Royal Air Force asked for 2,500 redundancies in its latest programme; 5,500 people put their names forward.
The three armed services are indeed concerned about what has happened to them. They are very worried, partly because they see the possibility of a Labour Government after the next election. It has already been confirmed tonight that we shall suffer another defence review if that comes to pass, and that causes a great deal of concern. Nobody will convince me, however genuine Opposition Front-Bench Members may be about supporting the defence industries, and, indeed, defence generally, that if they should get into office there would not be huge pressure from other members of the Labour party to increase virtually every other aspect of public expenditure.
The armed services are also worried about what they see happening at present. I would like to see—I have asked for this before—a clear definition of the "front line". If we had that, people in the armed services could see where they stand. The Secretary of State for Defence, for example, sent around a signal in August pointing out that he wants to maintain and support the front line and make the necessary savings elsewhere. But if one is a member of the armed services and does not know whether one is in the front line or not—it is not quite such an obvious question as it might appear—one does not know whether one is likely to be axed next or not. We need that definition.
There also needs to be an easing of the pressure on spending over the next two years. We are already spending slightly less than the French in terms of gross national product, and we are likely, in the next five years, to fall behind other members of NATO.
Not only that, but as hon. Members have mentioned tonight, I do not think that it helps the situation very much if we revisit the various arguments, as we seem to be doing over procurement of aircraft such as the F16. We have done that already. We have seen that it is more expensive. We really should get on and have the mid-life update of the F3. I recommend to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Ministers that they take professional advice from within the armed services. Although some people have said that it may, in some cases, possibly be eccentric, it may be an original solution to take views from people outside with no experience 109 whatever of military matters, or whose experience may have been some years ago. I do not believe that they have much to offer if we are to have stability over the next two years.
Finally, the Bett report is a good report, and there are probably lessons that we can learn, but if we intend to practise what we preach about stability, I strongly recommend that the Bett report is cast aside for the foreseeable future. The armed services are not an institution that needs huge reform. This is a sort of military Sheehy, and we know what happened to the Sheehy report. I sincerely hope that the Bett report does not go the same way.
I agree with much of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said last Tuesday about the future of Europe, but I also feel that that was not the time for him—in his position as Secretary of State for Defence—to make some of the comments that he made. He linked strong defence with an anti-European rhetoric, which I think is quite dangerous. The fact remains that the people whom he criticised are our allies within NATO and the Western European Union.
It would have been slightly better if my right hon. Friend's speech' writer had referred to the European Commission rather than Brussels, for reasons that have already been mentioned tonight. In our capacity as members of NATO, we defend Brussels. I do not want to elaborate on that point; let me simply read an extract from one of many letters that I have received from service men and ex-service men on this subject since last Tuesday:As a former regular officer with a son about to depart for Bosnia early next year either wearing a UN beret or as part of a NATO formation, I found his remarks about 'soldiers willing to die for Britain but not for Brussels' particularly offensive.The fact is that, if we have lowered our expenditure on defence, we must be team players in Europe in the context of NATO; and, if we have not, we cannot expect the sort of support that we have had from it in the past to continue in the future.
I have not been uncritical of the Secretary of State tonight, largely because of the representations that have been made to me by members of the armed forces past and present. I felt that, as a service man myself, I owed it to them to make their comments known. Having done so, I none the less wish the Secretary of State well. He enters his job at a difficult time, but I am sure that he has the energy and the intelligence to see it through, and I shall certainly support him in the Lobby tomorrow night.
§ Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
That speech of the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) was perhaps the most devastating that we have heard. A loyal Back Bencher read out a letter from a constituent—probably a Conservative: I know that there are many Conservatives in his constituency—which said what many of us felt. It said that the Secretary of State is not fit to hold his current position. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I am sure that that was the coded message that was being sent.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) on his appointment as Chairman of the Select Committee, but I was rather disappointed that he did not share the independence of mind exhibited by his predecessor. I suspect that, if his word is to carry any weight in the Chamber, he will have to be a little 110 more objective in future. It was his first speech in his new capacity, however, and I am sure that he will get the message and represent the entire Select Committee.
In a powerful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) expressed his views on Bosnia. He had spent half the recess helping innocent civilians in that sad country, so we had to listen to what he said. His point was that the British Government's commitment to British forces in Bosnia seemed to be on the wane, and that our soldiers out there were not playing the active part that many expected them to play.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) attacked the Government from beginning to end. I agree with much of what he said about the Bett report. [Interruption.] It appears that he does not realise that he was attacking the Government, but we understand.
§ Mr. Brazier
My attacks on the Bett report did not constitute an attack on the Government, because the Government have yet to respond to it. I was encouraging my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to reject it, which is still an option open to him.
§ Mr. Martlew
My recollection is that the hon. Gentleman attacked the defence cuts, what was happening to the reserves and the Bett report. He did not support the Government on anything, and at one point the Minister shouted, "Disgraceful."
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made a fine speech, in which he said that the Secretary of State was not worthy of his position. He went into great detail about the present situation, as one would expect from the Liberal party spokesman. I was happy to note that he is starting to come round to our position on a defence review. I appreciate that he entered a caveat, but perhaps in future we can iron out any misunderstandings. If I remember correctly, the hon. and learned Gentleman said in a speech a year ago that it would be wrong to have a defence review.
My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) made a powerful constituency case, especially in the context of RAF Sealand. I know a little about that base, because I used to represent a constituency with an RAF base and three years ago we lost work to RAF Sealand. Of all our arguments, the one that we could not put was about the quality of the work force at RAF Sealand, because it is excellent. Not only did my hon. Friend say that those jobs were being put in jeopardy because of dogma, but he spoke about the British defence industry in general and the effect of Government policy on his constituency and throughout the country.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) made the funniest speech of the debate, but the look on the faces of some of his hon. Friends suggested that they seemed to wish that he was still a parliamentary private secretary and unable to take part in debates. The practice of going into people's reputations and engaging in muck-raking was put to rest by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid). Perhaps we shall hear more tomorrow about that.
As always, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) made a sincere speech. I agree with what he said about the French nuclear tests and the points that he put to the Government deserve an answer.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) attacked the Government's plans for defence cuts and I think that he made a coded attack on the 111 Chancellor. It is strange that, when Conservative Members talk about extra spending on defence, they always talk about cutting social security, and I think that one or two of them mentioned education and health. Nobody ever says that we should not have tax cuts so that we can spend more on defence, but perhaps that will be put right tomorrow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfermline, West (Ms Squire), who always takes part in these debates, spoke about Rosyth. There is no doubt that over the years she has put up a rugged defence of Rosyth and has been proved right. I emphasise that because of the uncertainty we need an announcement about the date on which a decision will be taken on the dockyards. I have already said that the hon. Member for Wyre made a devastating attack on the Government.
Before I really start my speech I am sure that the House would like to place on record our acknowledgement and debt of gratitude to those who were remembered in the VJ day commemoration events that were held throughout the country in August. Unfortunately the House was in recess, or fitting tributes would have been paid at the time. As a Cumbrian Member, I will never forget the service that I attended in Carlisle cathedral on 20 August. I am delighted to say that the service was broadcast nationwide by the BBC and that the dean has received many letters of congratulation on the service.
Colonel Hodgson, formerly of the Border regiment, who proposed the tribute, encapsulated the spirit, the gallantry and the sacrifice that were made by those who fought the war in the far east. I hope that that service of remembrance and commitment has helped to reduce the anguish of those people who believed that they fought a forgotten war. There is no doubt that the traditions and determination that helped them to win through are there in abundance in today's modern Army.
That has been clearly demonstrated by all three services in their commitment to securing a peaceful settlement in Bosnia. We hope that we are nearing the end of that conflict. We should take pride in what our peacekeepers have achieved as part of the United Nations. We shall have to keep troops there for many years to come. I see that the Secretary of State has arrived dressed for the occasion. Perhaps he or the Minister will say something about the number of British troops they anticipate having to be kept in Bosnia as part of a peacekeeping force and for how long.
Fortunately, over the past year the ceasefire in Northern Ireland has held, and there has been a consequent reduction in troop numbers. We fully support the Government's determination to establish peace in Northern Ireland, and we hope that further progress will be made in that respect in the near future.
In the past 12 months, we have continued to reduce the number of people employed in our services. In 1980, there were 321,000; in 1990, there were 306,000; in August this year there were 229,000; and there has been a loss of 76,000 over the past five years.
The Labour party has always accepted that there needed to be a reduction in the size of the armed forces following the end of the cold war. We were rightly critical, however, when redundancy notices were sent to people on active service in Bosnia and Northern Ireland, which no doubt 112 did wonders for morale. We have heard several hon. Members, especially Conservatives, say that morale is brittle.
We are also worried about a Treasury proposal that could have a drastic effect on the forces' morale. It is proposed to impose income tax on all redundancy money, which would have a detrimental effect on the military and civilian personnel who have been told that they are going to be made redundant and given the job of closing their bases over the next few years. The Labour party wholly opposes the taxing of redundancy money. I hope that the Minister will take up the issue with the Chancellor, so that the proposal does not appear in the Budget.
A detailed analysis of the jobs that have been lost reveals a strange and illogical pattern. Over the past few years, the private sector has been getting rid of tiers of management, but it has been very different in the armed forces. Since 1980, there has been a massive reduction of 30 per cent. in what are termed the "other ranks", which always strikes me as a fine Tory term. The number of officers has been reduced by only 16 per cent., which does not seem to make a great deal of sense. Perhaps the Minister will explain the large difference. Is the MOD top brass protecting its own, or is the Tory party protecting the officer class?
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)
Do not be so wet.
§ Mr. Martlew
The Minister cannot resist. I understand that he has joined the chicken run. I find that surprising, but I am sure that his grandfather would have said, "Some chicken! Some neck!"
§ Mr. Mans
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. If one allows the private sector to carry out tasks previously performed by service men, one wants to be sure that the carrying out of those tasks is properly supervised from within the services. That may well explain the fact that the number of airmen, soldiers and sailors has been reduced to a greater extent than the number of officers in the three services.
§ Mr. McWilliam
It is all very well for the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) to say what he did, but why are there more admirals than surface ships?
§ Mr. Martlew
The point is made, and the same is true throughout the services.
Another matter that concerns me and the Select Committee is the apparent inability of the armed forces, and especially the Army, to attract new recruits.
On 3 February 1993, the then Secretary of State for Defence made a statement to the House in which he said that there would be an additional 3,000 troops. I am sure that hon. Members remember that, because there was rejoicing because we had saved two regiments. We were pleased that the Secretary of State had listened to us. That additional 3,000 would bring the total number of troops to 119,000 and was to be achieved by the mid-1990s. The statement was made with a big fanfare.
It is now October 1995, so I am sure that hon. Members would agree that this must be the mid-1990s—but what has happened? Figures supplied by the House of Commons Library show that there are currently 109,000 113 troops in the British Army, to which we can add 4,000 Gurkhas. It is another broken promise. Instead of 119,000 troops, there are at best 113,000, leaving a shortfall of 6,000.
The Government's answer is to take on more Gurkha troops. Perhaps they think that unemployment in Nepal is worse than in the United Kingdom. It is inconceivable that with 1.6 million unemployed under the age of 30—with 670,000 of those under the age of 24—the Government cannot recruit sufficient people to fill the vacancies in our armed forces. We must ask why not. They are relatively well-paid jobs that provide good training and are as secure as any job is at present. I am sure that the answer will not be found in the Government's scheme to employ Saatchi and Saatchi, their old friends, to produce an expensive and glitzy advertising campaign, for which I understand there will not be much change from £2.5 million.
Why do not our unemployed youngsters want to join our armed forces? Do they see them as old-fashioned institutions governed by petty rules and regulations? Or did the Secretary of State's speech at Blackpool make them think that the armed forces are sexist and racist? Do they liken the armed forces to being in prison? We could understand that, because the Home Secretary has said that to reduce crime among the young, the young thugs need military discipline in Army-style boot camps. What sort of effect does that have on would-be recruits? Join the Army and be treated like a criminal. I shall leave hon. Members to draw their own conclusions.
We should be appealing to the idealism of the young. I can think of no job that would give more job satisfaction than serving in the British Army peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, Rwanda and Angola, helping to save innocent lives. However, instead of appealing to the idealism of the young, the Government simply do not appeal to them at all. We must remember that, if we do not get good—quality recruits today, there will be poor armed forces tomorrow.
I mentioned earlier that people may perceive the armed forces as racist. There is no doubt that young black and Asian Britons think that, because only 1.4 per cent. of those serving in the British forces come from ethnic minorities. [Interruption.] Whenever I have raised that matter in the past, the Minister has moaned, just as he did a moment ago. He has said that the Government are carrying out ethnic monitoring and investigating the success of their equal opportunities policy. That ethnic monitoring and the equal opportunities policy have failed. The results are astonishing. The Select Committee on Defence said that the most significant outcome of the survey was that only 57 per cent. of all personnel replied. Fewer than 50 per cent. of senior NCOs in the forces replied. The MOD is of the opinion that 20 per cent. of the forms did not reach the personnel. The MOD did not know where 20 per cent. of its personnel were. That does not surprise me. It is the reality.
The failure of the survey suggests that, from the very highest level of command, there appears to be at best an attitude of indifference to racial fairness, and at worst racial tendencies. That cannot be condoned. The buck stops with the Minister. If he is indifferent, nothing will change, but if he is committed we can make a start on stamping out racism in the armed forces.
114 I shall mention briefly another situation that concerns me greatly—the way in which the Government fail to treat people in a decent manner. Let us go back to June 1994 when 25 of our top Northern Ireland intelligence personnel flew from Belfast to a conference in Inverness. The helicopter crashed in thick fog, killing all 25 and the four crew. Even after the extensive investigation, what happened is a matter of conjecture. It would appear that the board of inquiry did not find the pilot or the co-pilot guilty of gross negligence. That, I understand, was added later by senior officers who did not sit on the inquiry. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that.
I also want to talk about the situation concerning widows and dependants of security officers. Although the Minister has expressed condolences and sympathy, the Government are still talking about capping compensation, about not paying widows and dependants the full amount that they are due under the system and still hiding behind regulations. The future Labour Government will pay the compensation in full.
Are the Government prepared to lift the cap on the compensation for those people, or are they going to hide behind regulations to save a few pennies? Are they also saying to our forces that, when they fly on RAF planes, they are to be classed as passengers and should take out private insurance? If so, perhaps we should make a special deal with Thomas Cook.
I realise that time is getting on, but I know that the Minister is not too worried. He said to me that if he had only 10 minutes in which to speak tonight he would be very happy because he has to stand up tomorrow as well. He can take as long as he likes tomorrow so I am not really speaking in his time.
§ Mr. Martlew
Indeed, he would be very grateful if I were to continue until 10 o'clock—and if he does not he quiet I might do that. His Government have failed. [Interruption.] I shall draw to a conclusion.
I have taken the opportunity today to point out some of the failures. The MOD has failed to stand up to the Treasury, it has failed service personnel who have given loyal and unquestioning service, it has failed its civilian workers, it has failed the dependants of service personnel and it has failed our defence industry. Yet, in spite of it, we still have the highest calibre armed forces in the world, of which we are justly proud.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew). He is quite right to say that I did indeed agree with him that I would deal with as many points as I could in the short period tonight and try to deal with others in my speech tomorrow. I assure the House that points that are not addressed in my speeches will be dealt with by letter as we did last year. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his forbearance.
Today's debate—I dislike very much having to say this—has been distinguished by two singularly vacuous and futile speeches from the Labour Front-Bench team. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) is always extremely courteous privately, so I feel disobliging in saying that his speech was lacking in any vision or understanding and marked by a total failure to rise to the 115 level of events or to deal with the big issues in defence that were dealt with by my hon. Friends and by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). Indeed, the hon. Member for South Shields failed to move his amendment, so I assume that he will not seek to press it tomorrow night.
§ Dr. David Clark
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I moved the amendment at the beginning of my speech. I hope that the Minister will withdraw his comments.
§ Mr. Soames
I withdraw no such thing, Madam Speaker. It must be that the hon. Gentleman swallowed his tongue like a bad race horse. I am grateful to him for his tribute to the armed forces and the part that they played in the VE and VJ day celebrations. Apart from that, his speech was a second-class rant on the Labour party's apparent conversion to patriotism, which, if it is true, is to be devoutly welcomed. That is from a party which for the last four elections has been entirely unilateralist and pacifist. It had within its ranks some extremely unsatisfactory fellow travellers. The last six Labour party conferences have voted for unilateral disarmament. On that, as on financial matters, the Labour party is deeply and wholly unconvincing.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will deal tomorrow night with the procurement matters that were raised. What the hon. Member for South Shields said about service equipment, even allowing for the strong, honourable and consistent views that he has held on defence expenditure on equipment, was inaccurate and untrue. As a matter of recorded fact, by and large, over most of the area of their operation and business, the services have never in their history been better equipped. That is not to say that there are not deficiencies. There will always be deficiencies; there are always things that the services need to do their job better. However, by and large, in terms of kit, equipment, communications equipment, men and machinery, they are better equipped today for the extraordinary breadth of tasks that they are invited to undertake than they have ever been.
We can go on disputing the question of defence costs studies. Several of my hon. Friends and several Opposition Members raised the matter. The studies were not about cutting defence; they were about cutting costs. Anyone who believes that the Ministry of Defence runs its business so well that it cannot and does not need to cut its costs does not understand defence. It is not good enough for the hon. Member for South Shields to bore on about the Ministry of waste every time he makes a speech yet when a realistic attempt is made to cut the tail of defence spending, which needed a sledgehammer and an axe taken to it, to complain that we have gone too far.
Not only have we not gone too far but there have been and will be further cuts and attempts to keep down the cost of the way in which we do our business. That is not cutting the front line. It is not cutting the defensive capability of this country. All my hon. Friends who raised the matter have only to look to the reassurances given in the House and elsewhere by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister about the sanctity of the front line.
116 The hon. Member for South Shields raised the question of the F16s. It is important that I say something officially about that. We are considering possible upgrades to the Tornado F3 air defence aircraft. As a routine part of our evaluation process, we will naturally compare the costs of other options. We have therefore asked the United States for information on buying or leasing F16s and F18s. That does not reveal any lack of confidence in the F3, which is a highly capable aircraft. We routinely examine options for improving our equipment. The current exercise is an example of that. If we did not do so, the hon. Gentleman would rightly rate us as very poor managers indeed.
The hon. Member for South Shields raised the question of a defence review, which his party regularly raises. We do not see the need for a defence review. The strategic scene is changing so quickly and has changed so quickly that any defence review of the type mooted by the hon. Gentleman and his party would be wholly out of date before it was completed. Whether or not the hon. Gentleman chooses to be wholly partisan—and not look at it objectively, as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East has done—the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995" presents the Government's policy and strategy for defence with clarity and conviction. It would be impossible to do it more clear-sightedly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), whom the whole House will wish to congratulate on his election as Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, made an extremely interesting and valuable speech. He made many important arguments, which I do not propose to discuss now because there are far too many of them.
I shall merely mention two arguments that my hon. Friend made. First, he spoke about recruiting, and several of my hon. Friends made the same argument. Obviously—the hon. Member for South Shields is perfectly right—there are manning shortfalls, principally in the Royal Armoured Corps, the Royal Artillery and the infantry, as a result of recruiting problems and inadequate retention of young soldiers. We are tackling the shortfalls with a vigorous recruitment campaign, and have introduced a re-engagement bounty to improve retention.
There is a great deal more that we can and will do. However, to suggest to the House, and ask us to take it seriously, that the reason for a shortfall in recruitment is that young men and young women wishing to join the services are not prepared to accept service discipline and service life and find it to be and regard it as a racist and sexist organisation is fatuous and idiotic, calculated to harm and fool. It shows the total lack of ignorance and the total lack of understanding that the hon. Member for South Shields has—[HON. MEMBERS: "Lack of ignorance?"] It shows the total ignorance and lack of understanding that the hon. Gentleman has when it comes to defence matters. He must get off that subject and try to deal with the big issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) made an important argument about the joint rapid deployment force, about the question of lift. It is the key to the JRDF. As my hon. Friend well knows, a great deal of work is being done on that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had many meetings to consider those matters. When we have resolved that tricky—and potentially expensive—issue, we shall be able to tell the House the way in which we intend to handle it.
117 Most important, my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside mentioned service houses. He was right to do so. Understandably, there is anxiety in the services about the future of defence housing. The Defence Housing Executive has made an important and distinguished contribution to that matter. It is already bringing stability to those affairs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues continue to examine that issue, and we hope to be able to make a detailed statement about it shortly.
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) on his work and commitment to Bosnia. What he has done is wholly admirable. I cannot agree with some of the opinions that he expressed about the passage of what happened when he was there. We shall not go into that now: suffice it to say that I was in the middle of this extraordinary va et viens of correspondence.
As for 24 Air Mobile Brigade, it and a substantial element of it was withdrawn as part of a wider reconfiguration, at the request of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. It remains at 72 hours' notice to return to theatre, and can be back in theatre within seven days. Its whole architecture, and its ability to operate immediately when it gets there, will remain in place. Were it to be the kind of force that will he required for the implementation force, it would be not a very difficult matter to reconfigure them in theatre.
We noted the opinions of the hon. Member for East Lothian and those of other hon. Members on both sides of the House—those who favour and those who oppose further European defence structures. NATO has already adapted, and continues to adapt, swiftly to the needs of the new security landscape. NATO, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly said in his speech at Blackpool, and again in the House tonight, remains the absolute bedrock of defence of Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) always makes an important contribution to these debates and is extremely knowledgeable about those matters, although I find myself in profound disagreement with what he said about Mr. Bett. However, I wholly 118 agree with him about the reserves. He is quite right that the reserves have a very big role to play. We must find more and better ways to integrate them.
As a matter of fact, there are many reservists serving today, as my hon. Friend knows, on active service.
§ Mr. Soames
No, I will not give way.
Many exciting new opportunities are coming forward for the reserves with the new Reserve Forces Bill and, as my hon. Friend knows, we strongly hope to be able to have some good news for the House about that. I assure him of my personal commitment to the reserves. I take a good deal of trouble with the Territorial Army, and on Friday I am lunching with the Territorial Army colonels to discuss further some of the details. I do not recognise his description of morale in the services.
As usual, the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East made an extremely well-informed speech—indeed, I rarely disagree with him.
§ Mr. Soames
I know that I am not.
The hon. and learned Gentleman then made a number of points about Bosnia and Iraq, with which I have already dealt. He also raised the question of the Eurofighter. I make it plain that the Government remain wholly committed to the development of Eurofighter 2000, which will he the cornerstone of the Royal Air Force's future capability.
The hon. and learned Gentleman raised a number of points about type 23 frigates and dates of entry into service, with which my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will deal tomorrow night. The hon. and learned Gentleman then asked about the front line and a settlement in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made it plain that, were there to be a settlement—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed tomor.