HC Deb 17 October 1995 vol 264 cc166-252

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on amendment to Question [16 October]:

That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995 contained in Cm. 2800.—[Mr. Portillo.]

Which amendment was: 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'.—[Dr. David Clark.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

[Relevant documents: The Ninth Report from the Defence Committee on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995, 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.]

4.44 pm
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)

I welcome the opportunity this afternoon to speak to the Government motion. Before I start, I must say something about the speeches yesterday by the two Opposition spokesmen on defence, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew). Before I do, I should like to apologise to the hon. Member for South Shields for wrongly mentioning that he had not moved the motion. He had moved it so I was wrong to say that. All of us, however, who heard those speeches found them to be truly disturbing and, perhaps, an exceptional revelation because they demonstrated an inherent triviality, a total lack of understanding and an apparent lack of any concern for the big and complicated issues that dominate defence today.

Of course, we understand that the Labour party is on difficult ground. It is wedged between very real internal splits on defence, astonishing superficiality and ignorance and, in the case of the hon. Member for Carlisle, an almost hopeless naivety combined with an unhealthy obsession with something called sexism.

It is plain that Labour simply does not understand the armed forces. It has no vision and no strategy for defence; its views are null, void and invalid. Labour is, in short, wholly unconvincing and, as every sensible person in the land knows, it could not and cannot be trusted with the defence of the realm.

Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)

While the Minister is in an unusually apologetic mood, may I ask him whether he is correctly quoted at column 115 as saying that this party, of which I am a member, has for the past four elections been "entirely unilateralist and pacifist"? Is he correctly quoted? Would he like to amend that remark or, if not, would he repeat it outside the House?

Mr. Soames

I was referring to the manifestos and not to the honourable exceptions, such as the right hon. Gentleman, who have always championed the cause of multilateral defence.

One of the recurring themes of yesterday's debate was the many expressions of pleasure at the success of the VE and VJ day celebrations. This is an appropriate occasion for us to reflect on what has been a most significant and poignant year. The whole nation came together to remember how much we all owe to the wartime generation and the armed forces were able to pay their own tribute to the past in a series of dignified and extremely moving ceremonies.

The House was able to pay its own unique and touching tribute through Madam Speaker. Some 57 world leaders gathered in London to mark the end of the war in Europe. It seemed that the entire nation paused in solemn and grateful reflection for the two-minute silence on the evening of 8 May.

I think, however, that the images that will rest longest in many of our minds were those of VJ day—of the millions of poppies drifting down from a Lancaster bomber and of the rank on rank of veterans, no longer the forgotten army, marching past Her Majesty in a seemingly endless stream. It is unlikely that there will ever again be a parade of such pride and distinction as when the nation united around the person of the sovereign to give due honour to worthy pride and still, in many cases, to remember unforgettable and inconsolable sadness.

I had the honour when in Ottawa a few weeks ago, on my way to visit our troops training at Suffield in Canada, to unveil a stone plaque at the foot of the Canadians' beautiful and impressive national war memorial. It was a tribute from all the people of Britain to the 111,548 heroic and selfless Canadians who gave their lives in the cause of peace and freedom in two world wars. It was a small but truly heartfelt token of the solemn gratitude, respect and admiration of the British people to the Canadians for their supreme gallantry and almost incredible endurance in circumstances which today are almost beyond the call of modern imagination.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the declining band of people who served in the far east were particularly touched and impressed by the remarkable dignity of the VJ celebrations? Will he assure the House that the Government will not forget them in the future, particularly those who were prisoners of war of the Japanese?

Mr. Soames

I am sure that my hon. Friend will remember that one of the central points of the celebrations was the tribute and promise parade when just such a promise was made and just such a tribute was paid.

All the countries that fought alongside us are bound together with us still to this day by sometimes hidden but nevertheless profound ties of blood and sentiment which have stood the test of time. The message of the commemorations is that we must ensure that the awful sacrifices of our forebears and their courage, comradeship and sense of purpose are put to good use in this disorderly and dangerous world. The VE-VJ celebrations showed that their actions still command to this day the wonder, the reverence and the gratitude of the British people.

The House will, I know, wish to congratulate the world war 2 commemoration team at the Ministry of Defence on its wholly remarkable work in staging many of these unforgettable events.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

May I tell my hon. Friend how much his presence in Portsmouth was appreciated during the course of the commemorations and how much I endorse what he has just said? In Portsmouth, they do not feel forgotten any longer.

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. One of the highlights of the commemorations were the celebrations for the forgotten fleet. I pay tribute to the town of Portsmouth and all those who organised what was a deeply memorable and moving parade and one which I shall never forget.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

When the Minister pays tribute, as he rightly does, to all those who fought, suffered and died in the last war, is not it necessary for us to remember that we were collaborating with other countries to defeat fascism and, though many of us may have many reservations about possible developments in the European Union, many of us were sickened by the sort of xenophobia demonstrated by the Secretary of State for Defence in Blackpool last week? Surely the last thing that we want to do is to create such anti-foreign and anti-European feeling which causes such deep offence abroad, and rightly so.

Mr. Soames

That was a uniquely foolish and stupid point to make, my having paid a lasting tribute to all those who fought beside us, and particularly in front of my right hon. Friend who had himself done exactly the same thing yesterday. But I suppose it comes of giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

I come now to the quite exceptional range of activities in which the armed forces have been involved during the last year. Given both the events of the last few months and the quite extraordinary achievements and efforts of the British forces in the theatre, I will start with the former Yugoslavia. All told, there are currently some 8,000 personnel from the United Kingdom on the ground in the former Yugoslavia. About 3,000 more act in support of United Nations and NATO operations.

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State paid a handsome and warm tribute to the part played by the British forces in the United Nations and NATO operations to make Sarajevo safe for the civilian population following the brutal marketplace attack on 28 August. Twenty eight British aircraft—Tornado F3s, Harrier GR7s, laser-designating Jaguars, and Sea Harriers from HMS Invincible—all played their part in this the largest air operation in the alliance's history.

On the ground, 19 regiment Royal Artillery, the Highland Gunners, from the rapid reaction force, provided vital support from their positions on Mount Igman. They have now been dug in on Mount Igman for more than 80 days—a truly impressive example of toughness, endurance and resolve.

In central Bosnia, British forces remain at the forefront of the United Nations efforts to sustain the peace between the Croats and Muslims. That work is not as exciting to the media as air strikes and, as such, is more often than not overlooked by them, but we should be in no doubt as to its importance. It too is a difficult and sometimes extremely dangerous task. We saw the steadiness and courage displayed by the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the 24th of foot, during the hostage-taking incident in May this year.

For almost two years now, peace, albeit a fragile one, has existed between the Croats and Muslims in central Bosnia. British forces have been absolutely key in sustaining and nurturing this. They have helped to reconnect water and electricity supplies, to mend roads and to rebuild schools. They are working with local people and they are slowly helping them to take back control of their own lives and, with skill and patience, they are quietly laying the foundations for a lasting peace.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

As the Minister is describing our involvement in the former Yugoslavia, would he care to comment on the fact that we supplied many of the arms which almost certainly have been used in the present conflict?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman entered into a rather futile discussion on those lines last night which I do not propose to continue.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Does my hon. Friend agree that to carry out those and other important tasks the strength of regimental tradition is most important? Does he further agree that it does not help troops if they are second guessed by an army of accountants and experts in Whitehall when they need reasonable discretion on the ground under their own officers, commands and orders? Will my hon. Friend look favourably on many of the points made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) about the excellence of our troops and the importance of supporting that excellence?

Mr. Soames

There was a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said in the debate last night with which I profoundly disagreed and there were a number of things with which I wholly agreed, as my hon. Friend knows, one of them being that the regimental system is the backbone of the British Army. I have to tell my right hon. Friend, even though I know that it will come as a terrible shock to him, that there is no question of anyone second guessing commanders' choices and decisions on the ground. Commanders make their own choices and decisions within the orders that they are given. My right hon. Friend, with his background, before he felt that he had to leave these places of high authority, will know that the Royal Welch Fusiliers sustain themselves in their hour of trial with years and generations of experience and loyalty, and that no other regiment in the British Army would have been more fit to be under seige than the 24th of foot.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Soames

No, I must continue.

In the Adriatic, the Royal Navy continues to play an important role. Her Majesty's ships Brazen and Glasgow are enforcing the arms embargo and trade sanctions—

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Having served in a famous regiment himself, I am sure that my hon. Friend needs no lectures from me on the regimental tradition. But is he aware that the Bett report, which he defended last night, says at paragraph 7.13 that the proposals would not be compatible with the existing regimental system?

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend seems to have difficulty understanding that the Bett report is not a settled piece of Government policy. The Bett report is a consultation document which, as we have tried to explain to the hon. Gentleman, is being considered at some length by many working groups within the Ministry of Defence. Some of the recommendations in the Bett report will not see the light of common day and some will. It is an excellent piece of work which is considered by all three services to be worthy of the most serious consideration.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I acknowledge everything that the Minister has said about the excellent work that has been done by the British forces in UNPROFOR over the years. I have seen some of it for myself and I know that the British troops are as keen as any to play their part in peacekeeping and in protecting humanitarian aid. Can he therefore explain to me why his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told me that the British forces deployed on Mount Igman were not prepared to do what their French counterparts were doing to protect British humanitarian aid convoys?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman took up more than his fair share of the debate last night. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman made a perfect nuisance of himself at a time when we were extremely busily engaged. [Interruption.] I acknowledged last night the admirable work that the hon. Gentleman has done with Edinburgh Direct Aid. I applaud what he did, but I do not share his interpretation of the events that he describes.

In addition, the Royal Navy Carrier Group, which currently includes Invincible and Boxer, remains on station to provide support for the British contingent if necessary. Earlier in the year, I was delighted to return to Bosnia; as always, I was extremely impressed by the work being carried out by our forces in their peacekeeping role.

I visited Gioia del Colle in Italy, where the Jaguars and Tornados are based. From Italy, I flew on to Illustrious before visiting the Royal Highland Fusiliers in Vitez, the household cavalry regiment in Maglaj, the Royal Welch Fusiliers at Bugogno and men of the Royal Engineers at a number of locations. I was also delighted to visit the detachment of 845 Naval Air Squadron with its Sea King helicopters based at Split. That squadron has played an unbelievably distinguished role, taking part in many life-saving operations, often in the most hostile and difficult conditions, and they deserve great credit.

Further east, it is easy to forget that a significant British presence has remained in the Gulf region since the expulsion of Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Would my hon. Friend be good enough to clear up a point that he made in his winding-up speech yesterday? He said: Not only have we not gone too far but there … will be further cuts and attempts to keep down the cost of the way in which we do our business."—[Official Report, 16 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 115.] Will my hon. Friend confirm that he agrees with the Prime Minister, who said that there would be no further cuts in the overall defence budget in the future, and that his remarks were aimed solely at cutting, within the overall budget, areas that he thought could be cut without jeopardising the front line?

Mr. Soames

I made plain what I meant in my speech last night. I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that I am well aware of what I said. What I said, and what I meant, was that the Ministry of Defence is a very large organisation that can never be complacent about bearing down on its costs. Its administrative costs, like those of any major organisation, will need to be ruthlessly trimmed at all times, in order particularly to preserve—as the Prime Minister said—the integrity and stability of the front line. I meant nothing more and nothing less than that.

I have just returned from visiting the Royal Air Force squadrons deployed as part of the coalition operations Provide Comfort and Southern Watch. Those operations enforce the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq in support of United Nations Security Council resolution 688.

There is no doubt about the need for continued vigilance in regard to Saddam Hussein. As the House will be aware, Ambassador Ekeus issued a report to the UN Security Council last week. He confirmed that Iraq is still far from complying with UN resolutions. For the first time, we have a detailed catalogue of Saddam Husseins's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. The report includes shocking details of Iraq's biological weapons programme. It is vital that the international community continue its stand that Iraq must comply with the Security Council resolutions. Until then, it is clear that Iraq will remain a threat to the region and to our strategic interests.

Alongside our coalition partners—the United States, France, Turkey and our Gulf allies—we have worked to enforce the no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq. To date, the Royal Air Force has flown over 12,000 sorties aimed at deterring repression of the Iraqi people, observing military activity and policing the no-fly zones.

The no-fly zones present dangerous conditions and a testing environment. The men and women whom I met at Incirlick, Dhahran and Riyadh are playing a vital role in keeping the pressure on Saddam Hussein. They have won the admiration and respect of their coalition partners for their bravery in daily flying into a potentially hazardous and very dangerous scenario. It is a measure of their guts and pure determination that the RAF's operational mission success rate stands at over 96 per cent.

Six Tornado GR1s and one VC10 tanker are deployed to each operation. They fly an average of 17 operational flying hours a day; in all, there are some 200 sorties a month. These operations underline the importance that we continue to attach to monitoring activities in Iraq. They send a clear message to the Iraqi dictator that we will not tolerate any repetition of the adventurism and disregard for international law that he has previously displayed.

The House will recall—with pleasure, I am sure—the rapid and emphatic international response to Saddam's provocative action last October. The spearhead battalion and additional Tornado aircraft were deployed to Kuwait within 48 hours.

Those two operations, Provide Comfort and Southern Watch, are truly formidable, and the people of this country can be very proud of the RAF's contribution.

As the House knows, the United Kingdom has continued to be a leading contributor to peacekeeping operations. At the time of last year's debate, a British contingent 600 strong was about two thirds of the way through a three-month deployment to Rwanda. Logistics specialists had made substanial improvements in the force's supply organisation, and 23 Para Field Ambulance gave crucial and brilliant medical care to returning refugees, many of whom owe their lives to those young men and women. A field squadron from the Royal Engineers and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers helped to reconstruct Rwanda's shattered infrastructure. It was a model deployment of its type, and we were pleased to be able to help that suffering and sad country in some way.

Elsewhere in Africa, between 8 February and 3 March this year the destroyer HMS Exeter joined an international task group to protect the UN forces withdrawing from Somalia. More recently, a British logistics battalion of some 650 personnel returned from a three-month deployment to Angola, where it set up the logistics infrastructure for the United Nations Angola verification mission. All three services were represented in that thoroughly joint operation in the British contingent, which was supported by the royal fleet auxiliary Sir Galahad.

By the time that it left in early August, the battalion had established and handed over to the United Nations a fully comprehensive system for receiving, storing and distributing supplies to peacekeepers in the field. Their contribution to the crucial early stages of the operation has been warmly praised by the United Nations commander, and they deserve the greatest possible credit.

The services also provided extensive assistance in the Caribbean during a recent spate of natural disasters. On 20 July, the West Indies guard ship Southampton and the royal fleet auxiliary Oakleaf were diverted to Montserrat when volcanic activity started on the island. Experts and advisers were also sent from the British military advisory and training team in Barbados to help prepare for a possible evacuation. A small team from the Irish Guards arrived shortly afterwards, with men from the Royal Marines fleet standby rifle company who were later deployed to provide internal security assistance for the Royal Montserrat police force, while men of the commando logistics regiment were deployed to Antigua to help prepare for any evacuees. The units involved were also able to help clear up in the aftermath of the hurricanes Luis and Marilyn.

It is easy to describe the operations that capture media attention—however fleetingly—but it is not only service men and women deployed on those operations who support our defence interests overseas. I want to mention two groups of people who hold very responsible and important assignments, yet rarely receive any credit. I speak first of the 119 attachés and defence advisers, and their wives, who support our defence interests in 71 countries around the world. That is vital work for our wider national interest.

Secondly, more than 400 personnel from the three services are employed in an advisory or training capacity in 24 countries and territories. They are a critical factor in cementing good defence relations, and in helping our friends to provide for their own security and that of the regions in which they live.

But, of course, it is close to home where, over recent years, the most sacrifices have been made. In the past 18 months, there have been some wonderful changes for the better in Northern Ireland. When I first visited the Province, the ceasefires were a new and uncertain development; in succeeding months, hopes and expectations of a lasting peace have grown steadily as people have become used to living without the terror of the bomb and the bullet. They will not lightly forgive anyone who returns to violence.

All three services have made an outstanding and incalculable contribution over the past 26 years to the Government's endeavours to maintain law and order in Northern Ireland and to restore normality. In particular I should like to single out for mention the contribution of the Home Service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment and their forerunners in the Ulster Defence Regiment. Their sacrifices over the years and their continued bravery deserve our unqualified admiration and respect.

As Armed Forces Minister, it is one of my greatest pleasures and one of my primary duties to visit as many units of the armed forces, and the civilians who support them, as possible. I have in the past year managed to visit over 50 different service units both here and overseas. They have included visits to command headquarters of all three services; operational RAF stations; ships of the Royal Navy; and regiments both on their home bases and deployed on operations and overseas.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

I know that the Minister has visited both RAF bases in my constituency. Will he take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men who so tragically lost their lives in the Nimrod accident in Canada? In paying tribute to all who work in related defence areas, will he perhaps tell us when he expects the inquiry to be completed, since speculation brings no consolation to the relatives?

Mr. Soames

First, I wholly endorse the sentiment behind the hon. Lady's question. Secondly, I thank the Canadians for the unbelievable help they gave our military staff in Ottawa, who were under great pressure and handled the matter with distinction and sensitivity. Thirdly, I praise the hon. Lady for her unstinting support for the RAF, whose members regularly tell me how grateful they are for her support.

As to the board of inquiry, these matters take a very long time. There is no intention to delay on our part: only a resolve to get to the bottom of events and to find out what happened.

I had the great pleasure a few weeks ago of going to Canada to visit the training areas of Suffield and Wainwright, where we train nearly 20,000 British soldiers a year in the most high intensity end of the land battle. These are exceptional training areas; they provide the most exacting conditions, not only for live firing but for use of the tactical engagement simulation, which has revolutionised Army training and which will continue to do so.

The House should be extremely proud of the way all three services have managed, even in a period of prolonged and easy peace, to maintain the highest possible standard of training at the high intensity end of conflict. Were it not for this, the forces would not be nearly as good as they are at peacekeeping operations. It is because of the strength, discipline and skill that they derive from training hard that they can undertake peacekeeping operations so successfully. We are resolved at all costs to maintain these skills.

I have also tried wherever possible to spend time at some of those units that are perhaps less in the limelight than some of our front-line troops but who nevertheless make an invaluable contribution. Places such as the Army school of catering—

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

I bet he enjoyed that.

Mr. Soames

I did indeed. It is safe to say that they laid on a very good show. Such places as the Defence Clothing and Textiles Agency would perhaps not spring immediately to mind for someone planning a programme of service visits, but to visit them gives one not only a feel of the enormous depth and breadth of skills but an indication of the exceptional size of the areas of business in which the services are involved.

In debating the activities in which the armed forces are currently engaged, the focus will tend naturally to be on our regular forces. So I welcome this opportunity to reiterate the Government's wholehearted recognition of the vital contribution that the reserves make to our defence capabilities. We are very lucky in this country to have so many splendid people who are prepared to give up their time in these vital tasks.

Earlier in the year, a composite company from the Territorial Army was deployed to the Falkland Islands. The deployment was a great success and it is likely to be followed by others. In addition, members of the Territorial Army continue to undertake short periods of service to fill vacant posts in units deploying on operational tours and exercises.

The numbers vary from day to day. But let me give the House a snapshot. On 30 September this year there were two reservists serving in support of the enforcement of the no-fly zone in northern Iraq, and 82 supporting operations in the former Yugoslavia. Wherever they are and whatever they do, they make an invaluable contribution.

What of the future? Over the years, the reserves have adapted to meet changing circumstances and commitments and have become experts in a wide range of skills. I want to leave the House in no doubt of our absolute intention to maintain sizeable reserve forces, and of our commitment to enhancing their role within the one-army concept. On 30 March this year, I announced the publication of "Strength in Reserve". We were delighted with the response: 504 written responses were received. Most supported our proposals. I know that many reservists have responded enthusiastically to the policy of using reserves more flexibly, and that they welcome the opportunities that the new legislation will offer them.

Having covered both the regular and reserve forces, I must take an opportunity to thank the Department's civilian work force for its vital and irreplaceable contribution. Much has been asked of it, as it has of the services, in driving forward much needed and important changes in the structure and organisation of the MOD, in improving the quality of service, and in achieving greater efficiency.

Civilian staff fill crucial roles. The caricature of the civilian at the MOD is one that I, having served there for a year and a half, deeply despise. They provide invaluable support in every theatre and operation in which they serve. The rationalisation of the way in which the MOD carries out its activities, as set out in "Front Line First", is steadily being achieved and they are playing a full part during this great period of unsettling change.

Civilians do all this notwithstanding the massive upheaval for many hundreds of individuals and their families who are necessarily being redeployed to different areas of the country, or transferring with their work to agencies and to organisations within the private sector, or regrettably facing unavoidable redundancy.

We are very fortunate with our civilian staff, and I want to pay a warm and sincere tribute to their work at all levels of the Ministry of Defence.

I should now like to bring the House up to date with a number of important matters on which we have recently made decisions. The first of these concerns the Royal Marines units currently based in Plymouth. Following detailed consultation, I have today, with my right hon. Friend, decided that the Commando Logistics Regiment, whose living and working bases are currently split between Seaton and Coypool in Plymouth, and 59 Independent Commando 'Squadron of the Royal Engineers, currently based at Seaton, should move to Chivenor.

This arrangement will produce savings of about £2 million a year in running costs for the Royal Marines. More importantly; however, there will be significant operational and administrative advantages. At present the scope for training of both units is limited. At Chivenor it will be possible to fit both units, which are in many respects interdependent, to live, work and train together on the same site with modern, well appointed facilities.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

As a graduate of the parliamentary armed forces scheme with the Royal Marines, may I wholeheartedly welcome the Minister's announcement? Chivenor is the station that never closes. In that regard, will my hon. Friend ensure that the aviation facilities remain available, since it will be useful to be able to deploy C130s and helicopters into the station?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who honourably wears two hats in this context. He is a former RAF officer who was attached to Chivenor and thus understandably resentful about being made to give it up; but he is also a graduate of the Marines armed forces scheme. I endorse what he says. There is no plan to degrade the runway; and we shall be in consultation with the Department of Transport as to the best way forward.

Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)

The community of North Devon will warmly welcome the Minister's announcement. The RAF has always enjoyed a close relationship with everyone in North Devon, and I have every confidence that the same warmth of welcome will be given to the Marines when they arrive.

I also echo remarks made about the future of the runway, about which we are all very anxious. If any shared use of the runway can be found that would make it viable, that would be to the benefit of all.

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was in his constituency not long ago speaking for the young man who will be replacing him in the House after the next election and I was left in no doubt as to the level of support that exists. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I know has always been supportive of the services.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) will know that Chivenor is an outstanding base. It has wonderful facilities—I pay tribute to the Royal Air Force for the excellent facilities that it left behind there. As I have said, I understand its resentment at having to give Chivenor up, but Chivenor has gone to a good home and I know that the Royal Marines will love and cherish it.

The second decision concerns the base porting arrangements for royal naval vessels. All royal naval vessels are now base ported at one of the three naval bases, Portsmouth, Devonport and Faslane.

Against the background of the successful outcome of the "Front Line First" studies, we have been considering what arrangements should apply to the landing platform helicopter HMS Ocean, which, for the benefit of Opposition Members, is a ship, when she enters service in 1997 and to the planned replacement for the current landing platform docks, HMS Intrepid and HMS Fearless—they are also ships. We have also considered whether any consequential adjustments might be necessary to the existing plan for other vessels.

After detailed consideration, I have decided that HMS Ocean should be based at Devonport and that she should be joined in due course by the planned replacement LPDs. We conclude that there are clear operational advantages in concentrating the amphibious vessels in Plymouth in close proximity to Royal Marine commando units based there. I can also confirm that the planned move to Portsmouth of five type 23 frigates and of some minor war vessels is proceeding.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Although I am grateful to my hon. Friend for keeping me informed of developments on the helicopter carrier and the LPD replacements, will he confirm that he has taken full account of the focus of Royal Marine activity in Whale Island in Portsmouth and also of the availability of the amphibious training ground in Browndown in my constituency? Will he confirm that putting replacement ships in Plymouth, Devonport as opposed to Portsmouth, will not in any weaken the Royal Navy's commitment to Portsmouth?

Mr. Soames

I am completely happy to give my hon. Friend, who has done so much to support the Royal Navy in Portsmouth over the years and to whom I know it is grateful, my absolute assurance that Portsmouth will remain central to the Royal Navy's operating requirements. This is a sensible and natural move. I am wholly behind it and it is completely the right thing to do. I acknowledge the wonderful facilities at Portsmouth and I have no doubt that fine use will continue to be made of them.

I deeply share the concern and distress of people in Plymouth who have been through a difficult time. Eighteen hundred marines will remain in Plymouth, even though the Commando Logistics Regiment is moving out, and I hope that the people of Plymouth will be pleased by the announcement that it will become the centre of amphibious excellence in the Royal Marines. I share the words of my hon. Friend about the importance of Portsmouth.

Last month, I also confirmed that the Royal Naval air station at Portland would close by 1 April 1999 and that the restructured naval support command headquarters would be relocated in the Bath-Bristol region.

During the Army debate in February, I confirmed that, as a result of savings from the defence costs study, we would be able to increase the number of front line army units by re-rolling the Royal Armoured Corps Training Regiment. I have decided that that regiment—the 9/12 Lancers—should be located at Swanton Morley in Norfolk.

As my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has announced in a written reply earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), we have selected Rosyth 2000 Ltd. as our preferred bidder for the purchase of Rosyth naval base. My hon. Friend the Minister will make a full statement towards the end of today's debate.

I have spoken at some length of the activities undertaken by our armed forces, both overseas and in the UK and I am extremely sorry to have spoken for so long and grateful to the House for its indulgence. I have a few more things I want to say.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

The Minister mentioned Rosyth and the future of the naval base but he will be aware that, in the past months, there has been considerable speculation about the refitting of submarines and surface ships, and a decision that had previously been taken as between Devonport and Rosyth has appeared to be under review. Will he be a little more unequivocal about that than Ministry of Defence spokesmen have been able to be in the press in the past two or three months?

Mr. Soames

I hope that hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me if I do not stretch into that issue, which is not within my responsibility. My hon. Friend the Minister will, however, be dealing with that tonight and, I know, will be glad to mention that.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Is my hon. Friend going to say anything at all about the cadet forces?

Mr. Soames

It is about the only thing that I am afraid I am not going to have time to discuss. I wish to talk about a number of other things and my hon. Friend and I know what they are, but we simply have not time for everything and they got a good canter last year.

We have formidable armed forces and we must ensure that we can continue to recruit and retain people of the same high quality for the armed forces of tomorrow. It is against that background that Sir Michael Bett's independent review of service career and manpower structures was commissioned. We are now studying its wide-ranging recommendations and I note the concern expressed in the House yesterday by a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends. That work is being taken forward in a number of major and detailed studies and our aim is to have completed the work in time to make a definitive statement on the way ahead in the spring of next year.

There is one important point of doctrine that I should stress publicly in the House. This is a good moment for me to stress this and I hope that I will have the support of the Opposition. My ministerial colleagues and I are determined to pursue joint operations and joint working wherever we can and wherever it is sensible to do so. That represents a sea change in the way in which the Department and the armed forces conduct their business.

This year's White Paper includes special features on the most visible expressions of that change: the permanent joint headquarters, the joint rapid deployment force, on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a further announcement yesterday, and the joint service command and staff college. Those projects are all being implemented and we look forward to the activation of the PJHQ and the joint rapid deployment force next year. Over time, they will bring about a marked change in the way in which we conduct our business, in the way in which our young officers are trained, in the way in which our units operate together, and in the way in which our forces are commanded. All those will be changes for the better.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)

Has the Minister read the report in yesterday's Independent which casts doubts on the estimates of the cost of the establishment of the joint service college at Camberley? Are the estimates contained in the paper presented with the defence estimates that there will be substantial savings still correct, and can the target date of 1997 be achieved, given that the Independent indicates that that is unlikely?

Mr. Soames

I do not wish to elude the question, but I have not read the report. A good deal of work is going on on that project and I will gladly examine the points that the hon. Gentleman makes and let him know. I am afraid that I returned from abroad only yesterday.

Those projects are not an end in themselves. The move towards joint working does not end with them—quite the opposite. This is not just some passing politically correct fad that will go away. In future, joint working must underlie everything that we do. The concept of joint operations will dominate.

In the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere, we can see that the missions on which our armed forces will be engaged will require them to operate jointly. "Front Line First" showed us how joint working can both improve their effectiveness and cost us less. In future, therefore, our goal is to inject joint working from the cradle to the grave in military doctrine, in training and exercises, in operations, in the way in which we approach decisions on the projects on which we spend money, and in administration. In short, we think that we have to think and act jointly.

I want to conclude by saying a few general words about the services and again I apologise for speaking at some length—[Interruption.] I am getting on with it. I hope that our country still understands how proud it should be of our armed forces and of the way in which they carry out their duties, often in difficult circumstances and sometimes in dangerous conditions in this country and abroad. It is sometimes said that the services are reluctant to change—that is a favourite hobby-horse of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew). That is not the impression that anyone receives who knows the services or works with them. I know of no other institution in Britain that has so readily and willingly adapted throughout its time to change. A journalist recently remarked that as so many other British institutions seem to be undergoing an almost total systems failure only the armed forces have maintained a high degree of credibility and a unity of purpose and performance. He went on to say that he believed that their "can do" attitude seduced and impressed a country that, somehow too often feels that it cannot.

We live in a period of revolution—social, technological and political. That is extremely uncomfortable and it destabilises people. The organisations that survive revolution need to be imaginative, courageous, adaptable and flexible and need to bring in new ideas. Those are, above all, the qualities of the modern service man and woman. I hope that the House will listen to what I am saying because it is important.

In their standard of personal conduct and respect for the law, in their team work, cohesion and trust and in their highly developed sense of duty and obligation they are an institution which is wholly unique in this land and are a priceless and golden asset, for not only the defence of the realm but the vigorous promotion of Britain's national interest all over the world. I believe that their qualities are almost unique and it is important that our fellow citizens understand what makes up the traditions and institutions of the British armed forces rather than the complete caricature suggested by the hon. Member for Carlisle last night. They are so admired because of their comradeship, team spirit, loyalty and true but never jingoistic patriotism. The emotional, intellectual and moral qualities—

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soames

No I will not.

The emotional, intellectual and moral qualities which lead people to put their lives on the line are there for all to see on almost every occasion one cares to choose.

What I think sets the services apart from all the other institutions in the land is the general exceptional qualities of its leadership. I know that the hon. Member for Carlisle finds those qualities offensive. We are lucky with the young men and women whom we are able to recruit, but they would be largely ineffective were it not for the exceptional standards of leadership that the forces have retained.

Potential officers in all three services are trained to be fit, resilient and inspirational young leaders who will accept discipline and danger, discomfort and separation and who can lead in peace and, more importantly, in adversity with true professionalism and a real understanding of and care for those whom they command.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soames

No I will not.

I am confident that at all levels and all ranks the services will continue to produce such men and women and I am sure that they will learn, as did their parents and grandparents, that at some time in their career they may have to depend on their colleagues and comrades for their very survival. Above all, they will develop a willingness to do things that are wholly contrary to every natural instinct because of a binding and, in modern terms, an almost magical unselfish commitment to others as well as to their families, their regiments, their queen and their country.

The Conservative Government have kept British forces strong. Their reputation is unmatched by any other armed forces in the world. They are truly formidable and it is our solemn commitment to the nation that we must and will stay strong because Conservatives know that there is no other way to defend and preserve British ideals and the British way of life.

In our armed forces we are blessed with men and women of a quality not found in any other institution in the land today. What is more, we know that the nation values them for what they are and not for what the Labour party would want them to be. The Government will maintain armed forces which will continue to be highly trained, highly motivated and at the forefront of technology. This year's statement on the defence estimates explains how we will achieve that.

We will all listen with care and interest to the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) as he sets out how the Labour party would set about the defence of the realm. The nation knows that the defence of the realm can never be safe in the Labour party's hands, old or new, and I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Government's motion and to reject out of hand the Labour amendment.

5.34 pm
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Before I call the Opposition Front Bench spokesman I must apologise because at the beginning of the debate I failed to inform the House of the fact that Madam Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on the speeches of Back Bench Members between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

I recognise the importance of this debate to many hon. Friends and Conservative Members. I know that many of them want to participate and I will do my best to ensure that Front Bench spokesmen do not take up much more time.

I found the final part of the Minister's speech offensive. He tried to slur the reputation of the Labour party by suggesting that it is unpatriotic. That is unworthy of someone holding his office. In a quieter moment I think that the Minister will reflect on those comments and realise that they should not have been said during the debate.

Throughout its history the Labour party has supported the British armed forces—(Interruption.]

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

The Minister talked about round objects.

Mr. Fatchett

The Minister finds it easy to speak from his position on the Front Bench. He should recognise that what he said is offensive to some and what he just said is offensive to many of those who have given their lives or who have made a contribution. Literally thousands or millions of those people will have friends who are Labour supporters and they will not believe that the Labour party is in any way unpatriotic. It was unworthy of the Minister and the House for him to make that comment.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Would my hon. Friend care to reflect on the fact that at various times during his speech today the Minister appealed to the Opposition to join him in certain aspects while, at the same time, engaging in that rather cheap, silly and certainly over-simplified party political hacking which is best reserved for the annual Conservative conference? It is not only insulting but it is illogical when he chooses to seek enjoinment.

Mr. Fatchett

I agree totally with my hon. Friend, but I will move on.

Mr. Bill Walker

It would be nonsense for anyone anywhere to suggest that someone is unpatriotic simply because they support or vote for the Labour party. What must be addressed is which Government and which party look like doing the best by the armed forces. The record demonstrates clearly that the Conservatives are better.

Mr. Fatchett

It is rare for me to compliment the hon. Gentleman on a statesmanlike intervention. He set out the terms of genuine party political debate. We will argue that the record of the Labour party and of Labour in office refutes the allegations made. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) set out the debate in the right terms.

I should like to pay tribute to the forces and the role that they play. I join the Minister in thanking those involved in the commemorations for VE day and VJ day and I should like to remember all those who made sacrifices during the second world war. I agree that we must not just see those sacrifices in a vacuum. We must recognise that they were made for a political, purpose, which was to preserve freedom and democracy. While we enjoy freedom of speech in the House we must recognise that others made sacrifices so that we could have this debate today. The lesson for all of us is that we must be vigilant in our attempts to preserve and strengthen democracy. That is the lesson from this century.

Like the Minister I wish to thank the forces who are playing their part in 24 countries around the world. I shall not go on the Minister's Cook's tour and I have not had an opportunity to visit all those troops. However, we recognise the contribution that they are making. I share with the Minister his views on the prospects for peace in Northern Ireland and on the changing character and atmosphere of the Province. We hope that the peace process will continue.

There were constant references to Bosnia during yesterday's debate. I thank our troops for the contribution that they have made in that country. We all know that the issue of Bosnia has divided each side of the House and that great passions have been roused. Three key points came out of the references to Bosnia in the speeches of all my hon. Friends and some Conservative Members yesterday.

The first point is that without the military intervention of the United Nations and NATO, humanitarian relief for thousands of people in Bosnia would not have been secured. We are grateful for and proud of our country's contribution to that. Secondly, it is fair to argue that because of our intervention we have been able to prevent the fighting and war in parts of the former Yugoslavia from spreading to other parts. That is a success for which we must be grateful.

I am sure that all hon. Members will agree with the assertion that I am about to make on the third point, which opens up substantial political debate. As politicians, we have a responsibility to define the role that UN and NATO troops must play in every theatre. The difficulty with the operation in Bosnia is that we have not always been clear about whether we have been talking about a peacekeeping or a peacemaking role. When we look back at the history of Bosnia in a few years' time, I suspect that the lesson we will learn is that we should have been clear in our own minds about exactly what we wanted the troops to do and then back that politically. On many occasions we have given way to pressure, which has meant that the political message and the political direction have not always been consistent.

I give the Minister of State an opportunity to do something that he should have done earlier—to withdraw his churlish remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). My hon. Friend has a proud record of helping to bring relief to many people in Bosnia, and doing it in a way that no other hon. Member has done. It was very wrong of the Minister to refer to my hon. Friend as someone who made a nuisance of himself yesterday on the question of Bosnia. The Minister should look at my hon. Friend's speech yesterday and withdraw his remarks. I give him the opportunity to apologise to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Soames

I have absolutely no intention of apologising to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). I have to tell the hon. Member for Leeds, Central that he has confused peacemaking with peace enforcing—a mere detail, but one that he might wish to consider.

I must point out that I have already paid a handsome tribute to the hon. Member for East Lothian. He surely cannot want me to do so every five minutes. I said that he had done well in Bosnia. I am not prepared to enter into an argument across the House about who said what about whom because I am aware that he was stuck in a difficult position in Bosnia. However, that does not alter the fact that he did very well. If I was him, I would stop banging on about it.

Mr. Fatchett

I gave the Minister an opportunity to make a gracious apology. He failed to do so and the House will have noted that.

The key point about the Bosnian experience and, indeed, many of the other experiences to which the Minister referred, is that they have occurred under the auspices of either NATO or the UN. There has been co-operation, there has been dual command and there have been joint operations. In his speech yesterday, the Secretary of State referred 11 times to the need for international co-operation; 11 times he spoke about the benefit of international institutions and countries working together to meet the need of common security.

Anyone who had the opportunity to listen to the right hon. Gentleman's speech at the Conservative party conference in Blackpool last week must have wondered what happened during the week since then. Yesterday, it was a speech was written by civil servants but delivered by the right hon. Gentleman. Last week, it was a speech written by an immature young person and then delivered to a Conservative party conference. The right hon. Gentleman made crude appeals to nationalism and jingoism to improve his personal political standing in the Conservative party.

We are aware of the argument that is taking place. Indeed, we saw it earlier. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), the man who really did challenge for the leadership, the man who dared—not the man who quoted the SAS, but the man who dared to challenge the leadership—came here this afternoon to represent one wing of the Conservative party and to try to claim the ground from the Secretary of State on the question of who is the real champion of the right in the Tory party. Is not it the truth that Opposition Members have a greater regard for our armed forces and our national security? We will not allow internal party arguments or internal party ambitions to deflect us from important national issues.

The debate and division in the Tory party was out in the open last night. The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) made an important speech which is worth quoting. In referring to the Secretary of State's Blackpool speech, he said: 1 … feel that that was not the time for him … to make some of the comments that he made … The fact remains that the people whom he criticised are our allies within NATO and the Western European Union."—[Official Report, 16 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 109.] It is not just the hon. Member for Wyre who has criticised the Defence Secretary. Criticism has also come from Lord Gilmour, someone who should not be dismissed lightly by Conservative Members. In the past, he has spoken on defence issues from the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Conservative party. What did he say about the Defence Secretary's Blackpool speech in last Friday's Evening Standard? He said: No prominent member of a mainstream political party in any other western European country could have made Portillo's speech. Even the Italian neo-Fascists might have shrunk from it. The point is that the Secretary of State debased his office in his speech last week.

Mr. Bill Walker

Has the hon. Gentleman ever heard German Ministers speaking? If he has, he may wish to withdraw what he has said. He should listen to what I have to say, which will be very anti-German with regard to the Eurofighter 2000. I do not think that that is anti-European; I think that it is defending British interests.

Mr. Fatchett

The point that I made is valid. The Secretary of State's speech, with its cheap jingoism, was very damaging to this country.

Mr. Soames

When are we going to hear about defence?

Mr. Fatchett

The opportunity to hear about defence was at the Tory party conference last week, but the Secretary of State did not utter one word about defence—it was a bid for the leadership of a faction within the Conservative party.

Why is the Secretary of State's Blackpool speech relevant? When the Minister talks about our armed forces, he should realise why it is relevant. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Wyre said that he had received many letters and he quoted one from an ex-service man. I shall quote it again. He wrote: 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"— the Secretary of State's— remarks about 'soldiers willing to die for Britain but not for Brussels' particularly offensive."—[Official Report, 16 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 109.] Those are telling and important words. It was not just that parent, an ex-soldier, who found the Secretary of State's remarks offensive; many people throughout the country and many serving troops found them offensive.

Of course, the Minister of State tried to defend his boss. Some of us had the advantage of watching the news last week and seeing a clip of the hon. Gentleman's face when his boss was speaking. It was that picture from the defence debate that I will take away from the Conservative party conference. I will be fair to the Minister: the look on his face was one of utter disgust. His reaction to his boss's speech was similar—

Mr. Soames


Mr. Fatchett

Let me finish this point. His reaction to his boss's speech was similar to the reaction that he would have if a bad meal were placed in front of him. He did not like it. He did not like the smell of it. He did not like the feel of it. He did not like the texture of it. Of course, he is ambitious enough to clap at the right points. What he did not do, but what the Prime Minister did, was to lead the clapping for what was one of the most disgraceful jingoistic speeches that we have had at a party political conference.

Mr. Soames

I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would tell the House when he intends to give up this childish and idiotic rant. He has been speaking for 15 minutes. He has not said one word about anything to do with defence, or the future of defence, or any of the big issues facing this country, and has done nothing other than indulge in a really pathetic and hopeless attack on my right hon. Friend. Will he please let us—and as he thinks the wider country—know what the Labour party is going to do? Will he share with us his vision about the defence of the realm and how he proposes to bring forward the many reforms which we understand that the Labour party has in mind? Or does he not have any visions? Is that the humbug that he is hiding behind?

Mr. Fatchett

We seem to have hit a raw nerve. It is quite clearly the case that the hon. Gentleman would like to join me in condemning his boss's speech, but finds it difficult to do so—and I can understand the reasons for that.

Let me cite one final quotation about the Secretary of State's speech. It was probably the most important of all. I have been unfair to the Secretary of State for Defence. There were people at the conference who applauded the speech and one former Cabinet Minister praised it. Sadly, he has left the Chamber, but he made an intervention earlier. The right hon. Member for Wokingham praised the speech and I shall use his words. He referred to the Secretary of State's speech in the following terms: They were lighthearted remarks, rabble-rousing remarks, which worked on the day. That is praise indeed from the real leader of the right of the Tory party. It is interesting that the only praise that could be given to a Defence Secretary's contribution to an annual party conference is that it worked on the day and it was rabble-rousing.

What is important, what yesterday's debate showed and what the Secretary of State's speech showed is a great difference between the reality of the defence agenda and that speech in Blackpool. In speech after speech yesterday one crucial point was made: for the past 50 years or more, Britain's defence has been best served in partnership with others on the basis of common security.

It is against that background that Britain and other countries will take decisions about the future of NATO, its role and its membership, about our relations with Russia, and about the future of the Western European Union. Taking decisions in that way is not about abandoning Britain's interests. Nobody wants to do that. On the contrary, it is about furthering British interests and security in partnership with others.

If I could offer some advice to the Secretary of State for Defence, it would be this: his contributions to the debates about the future of Europe and our defence and common security will be much better received if he relates to the important agenda implicit in yesterday's debate—the debates about the common security of Europe, the future of NATO, and the WEU—rather than, as he did at Blackpool, spend time trying to knock down futile, false propositions. That is simply a waste of time.

There is an important debate; there is an important agenda. What was clear yesterday from everyone who spoke in the debate was that we need to define Britain's defence interests very obviously in co-operation and collaboration with others. The fact that we are having a false debate about any other proposition amazes me and it is a total waste of time. We should not be going in that direction.

When the Minister pretends, as the Secretary of State tried to do again yesterday, that Labour would somehow give up our sovereignty on defence, it is no more than a cheap party-political pretence which bears no reality to what the party has said and bears no reality to the way in which political decisions are made.

Mr. Soames

As the hon. Gentleman is talking about co-operation—he is finally beginning to get into a little of the substance—would he tell the House which of the candidate countries for NATO he favours in the next stage of NATO enlargement?

Mr. Fatchett

We have always made it clear—

Mr. Soames

Which countries?

Mr. Fatchett

Oh come on. If the Minister would listen to the answer he might be able to make a more sensible contribution. [Interruption.] The crucial decision should not be made with an atlas and a catalogue at this stage, but by looking at the criteria and the way in which that decision will be taken. The criteria concern common security, our ability to contribute to that common security, our ability to preserve and safeguard democracy in the countries which may become NATO members, the ability of those countries to contribute in military terms and their ability to make that contribution economically. Those are all clear criteria which the Labour party has set out. It would be against—

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Fatchett

I shall in a minute. Again, it will be on the criteria that we shall make a judgment about future NATO membership. I realise that the Minister knows too much and that he does not have to listen—we recognise that from his speech—but if he did listen, he would find out that we have clearly set out our criteria and we are very keen to ensure that the debate is about democracy, economic expansion and human rights in eastern European countries. That debate must be sensitive to the requirements of Russia and the needs of the people of the eastern European countries. We have made that argument many times. If the Minister wants to reduce that to a list, it shows that he has very little grasp of his office.

Mr. Hardy

Since the Minister is interested in the list of countries, would my hon. Friend care to put to him the following question? Does the Minister fully endorse the view of Her Majesty's Government in welcoming into associate membership and involvement in the WEU a whole list of east European countries which sought that relationship to achieve security guarantees that neither this country nor any other European country can properly fulfil at the present time?

Mr. Fatchett

My hon. Friend raises a point with which I am sure the Minister will deal in his reply. My hon. Friend is also right about the article V guarantees. Indeed, we have made that point clearly in the criteria that we have set out.

In the discussion about co-operation and national interest, there is one area in which the Secretary of State could speak on behalf of the British people and British interests more clearly and define his contribution in that direction. I speak of the importance of the defence industries and those who work in them. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) spent a good deal of time on this issue yesterday and I shall certainly not delay the House by repeating those points. The key elements, however, which we all recognise and understand, are that the industries are important in their technology, skills and in the contribution that they make to Britain's industrial base.

We want to know from the Minister whether it is true that the Secretary of State prefers an option to buy off the shelf. If that is true, it means that, almost invariably, we will buy American to the cost of British industry. Is there no strategic view coming from the Ministry of the British defence industrial base interest? Will the Minister give us some indication tonight of whether there will be at some point a clear statement that the off-the-shelf approach is not the Government's approach and that they recognise their responsibility towards the defence industries?

We also know that there will be more European collaboration in procurement. How will we secure the UK interest in that? How will we manage those projects? Again, there have been no comments from Ministers and no clear policy statements, yet key British interests are involved.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement—he is new to his job and I congratulate him on his appointment—cannot have been helped by the Secretary of State's speech last week. In considering European collaboration projects, how will British industrial interest be secured against a background of other European countries feeling that they have been subjected to personal criticism by the Secretary of State for Defence? How are we to defend British jobs, companies, technology and skills? Those are the key issues to which the Minister must relate, yet there is no strategy on it at all. Yesterday, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State for the Armed Forces scoffed at Labour's idea for seeking ways in which we could diversify from military into civilian production. Is not it a shame that on yet another issue of such importance—Britain's industrial base—the Government have no ideas?

The notion that everything can be left to the marketplace is comfortable to state but it is irrelevant to the needs of the British people. We need a strategy. No one in the Labour party is saying that the conversion process will be easy, but, if we do not try to make that move and to preserve the skills, the technology and the scientific base, we shall lose important national assets that should not be wasted.

Our stance on diversification is ringing a chord not only with the companies involved but with the people who work in the industry. Again, we have the right agenda. The Minister said yesterday that there was a need to be forward looking, but he has not dealt with the important issue of Britain's industrial base.

The Minister of State spoke yesterday of the need to manage the Ministry of Defence's resources better. In his speech last week, the Secretary of State said that it was his task to convert waste into weapons. There is certainly a great deal of waste in the MOD which could be converted. A great deal of taxpayers' money could be saved by better management. Let us consider the waste permitted by the Government over the past few months.

The privatisation of the MOD housing scheme, which I believe was the brainchild of the Minister of State, cost the taxpayer £5 million in consultancy fees alone. That was money wasted. Some £6.7 million was spent on consultants at Devonport and Rosyth, but, as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said, there is still uncertainty at the bases and no decision has yet been taken about them. I hope that such matters will be cleared up in tonight's winding-up speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields yesterday quoted the National Audit Office report which shows that all major projects are delayed and overspent. The Government need to take seriously the notion of turning waste into weapons. They need to save on the waste which is costing taxpayers so much and which is a further indictment of the Government's record.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields also mentioned yesterday that there was much criticism of our European partners in virtually all the speeches at last week's Conservative party conference. However, when there is an opportunity legitimately to criticise our European partners the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are quiet. The nation recognises their silence on and tacit support for the French nuclear tests. I put it on record again that we condemn those tests. Our position is absolutely clear, and we speak for the people of this country and for the people of Europe and elsewhere.

In his winding-up speech yesterday, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces let slip a comment that worried one or two of his colleagues. He said: 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."—[Official Report, 16 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 115.] It seemed to my colleagues and me, and to some Tory Members, that the Minister was flagging up more defence cuts. It is no wonder that concern had been expressed in some earlier interventions. The Minister must tell us tonight whether what we suspect is true.

The reason why I raise the issue now is that whenever we argue for a defence review—one that will take account of the substantially changing world to which the Minister referred and of Britain's commitments in Europe and to the United Nations, and one which will examine overstretch in our forces—the Government criticise us and say that such a review would merely cause uncertainty. Once again, that shows the Government's arrogance. They believe, although the British public certainly do not, that they have got it right every time. The reality is that they are not prepared to face the consequences of a new world and new decisions, which are what make the prospect of a defence review so exciting.

The Government are introducing cuts by stealth. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) spoke yesterday about the number of armed forces personnel. The defence estimates show that in the past decade alone, at 1993–94 prices, there was a 30 per cent. cut in defence spending. That may have been necessary—we are not arguing about that—but the cuts were made by a Government who have not had the courage to face their own Back Benchers or the armed forces and talk logically about Britain's defence needs and foreign policy requirements. In this, as in so many other spheres, Labour would promise an opportunity to consider the changing world to which the Minister referred, an opportunity to match Britain's role in the world with Britain's defence requirements, an opportunity for us to have a defence base driven by foreign policy requirements and a real assessment of Britain's needs in the world. That is what is exciting about a defence review.

Despite the cheap patriotism that Ministers like to use, the fact is that, because the Labour party is thinking about these issues and knows the way forward for Britain's defence and foreign policy, the people of this country trust us. That is why we shall form the next Government and take, the crucial decisions about Britain's future defence needs.

6.6 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I begin by paying tribute to the previous Secretary of State for Defence, who has now moved to the Foreign Office, on his three difficult years in that post. He handled the difficulties extremely well and fought the armed forces' corner. In his absence, I welcome the new Secretary of State to his first defence estimates debate.

In my three and a half years as a Member of Parliament, I think that I have attended all our defence debates. As I said, it has been an enormously difficult period. I hope that there will be no further turbulence but instead more certainty and, dare I say, more stability. We need a period of positive progress and I therefore welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's announcement of the joint rapid deployment force and the Tomahawk and other equipment procurement.

In looking forward to stability, we should be honest about the unhappiness of the past three to four years, which was characterised by the plethora of volunteers for redundancy, as mentioned yesterday by, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans). We should now encourage a reinstatement of the previous high morale in our forces and fulfil our commitments to them. The Prime Minister promised last year that there would be no further cuts in the armed forces or in defence spending, and that promise was also made by the previous Secretary of State. I would welcome further reassurance tonight that there will be no further cuts in funding other than those already proposed in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates". Real-terms reductions have been planned and I accept them but now is the time to reiterate that there will be no further cuts.

I believe that the cuts went too far. For example, I do not think that there are enough infantry battalions in the Army. Indeed, the previous Secretary of State agreed and reprieved two battalions a year ago. I still believe that there are not enough but I trust that I shall be proved wrong. Similarly, I am not happy about decisions such as that to scrap the royal yacht but I do not think that it materially affects the ability of the armed forces to fight a war.

The results of the uncertainty and unhappiness of the past three to four years remain, which is why I stress that we must restore the high standards of which my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has spoken. For instance, yesterday the Secretary of State mentioned recruiting. Quotas for recruiting are now adequate, but unfortunately it is difficult to get recruits to come forward. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces acknowledged yesterday that the number of recruits for the infantry, the artillery and the Royal Armoured Corps is inadequate, and it is time that we stressed that fact and encouraged further recruitment by all means including, if necessary, pay rises above the rate of inflation.

Last week, there were various articles in the press that I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to dismiss later, suggesting that Gurkhas are to take over the role of British troops. I mean no criticism of Gurkhas, who are excellent soldiers in their own way, and have a history of loyalty and service to the British Crown, when I say that it is not a happy state of affairs to have non-British soldiers, indeed mercenaries—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not denigrate the Gurkhas in any way when I say that they are troops paid to fight for us. As I have already said, they are excellent troops. I pay tribute to them, but they are not as flexible as British troops—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House must settle down.

Mr. Robathan

The idea that Gurkhas can do everything that British troops can do has been acknowledged for many years as unlikely. For instance, Gurkhas are not fighting—or rather, not on the streets—in Northern Ireland, because it is not deemed sensible to place them there. They are not as flexible and they cannot replace British troops. I am sure that the Minister will address that problem, and I hope that he will be able to reassure me.

One cause of uncertainty hanging over the United Kingdom's armed forces is the Bett report, which was mentioned yesterday.

Mr. Bill Walker

Before my hon. Friend deals with the Bett report will he tell me whether he, unlike the Opposition Members who were laughing at him, has direct experience of military activity and of leading troops of different kinds? We know that they have none.

Mr. Frank Cook

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The generalisation made in that intervention is insulting to the House—

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

And quite untrue.

Mr. Cook

And, as my colleague says, it is totally untrue. I ask the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) to withdraw the implication of his statement.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair. There was nothing out of order in what the hon. Member for Tayside, North said.

Mr. Robathan

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have served in the armed forces as, I know, have many other hon. Gentlemen. Indeed, I have served with the Gurkhas within the past five years, and they are excellent troops—

Mr. Mackinlay

In their own way.

Mr. Robathan

They are super troops and I love them dearly. However, they are not British-speaking troops, as is painfully obvious. I do not know why the Opposition should find it difficult to accept that. They should look up the word "mercenary" in the English dictionary and discover what it means. The Gurkhas are paid to serve the British Crown, just as the excellent Swiss troops still guard the Pope.

One cause of uncertainty that hangs over the United Kingdom armed forces is the Bett report. It has been mentioned before, and I do not intend to speak in great depth about it. However, I emphasise the fact that the armed forces are different. They are not Tesco, British Telecom or any other business; there can be no profit.

We can encourage efficiency—which I am sure hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House would wish to see—but the ultimate test is in war. So far as I know, there are few complaints about the armed forces not being efficient. Certainly they could be more efficient, but they are well respected. I quoted the Minister of State's grandfather to him last February, so I shall not do so again, but those words should be marked well.

Sir Michael Bett's report, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said so much, considered the armed forces, especially the Army, in peacetime. That is not appropriate, because the armed forces exist for war. The hierarchical rank structure might seem odd in British Telecom, but it does not seem odd in a battle. I fear that the Bett report may strike at the very heart of the ethos, the fraternity, the spirit and the comradeship in the armed forces. It is not necessarily appropriate for a civilian business man to try to organise an army. Certainly BT is not more respected than the British armed forces. So I trust that Ministers will consider the consequences of the Bett report carefully before introducing its recommendations.

Many people wish to force the armed forces to be like the rest of society, and to allow homosexuals to be service personnel. That is a rather contentious subject, upon which the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has commented in the past. My own view is that such a change would turn common sense on its head in a desire to be politically correct. Are we to sacrifice the efficient defence of the United Kingdom for the sake of political correctness? Political correctness may not be peddled on the Government side of the House, but it is peddled by the Opposition.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

My hon. Friend may care to consider something before he makes his point. I shall seek to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall be brief. My hon. Friend should consider how much it costs the Ministry of Defence to hound out perfectly good decent soldiers, not for reasons of misconduct during their military service but for being rather than for doing. My hon. Friend should be careful.

Mr. Robathan

My hon. Friend has his own particular point to make, and I look forward to hearing it later. I served in the Army for 15 years and met some people whom I suspected were latently homosexual. There were also one or two sad cases, which I greatly regretted, involving courts martial—for actions, not for "being", as my hon. Friend describes it.

It may surprise some people to know that most soldiers were extremely tolerant. They were not—to use a rather contrived modern term—homophobic. Indeed, they were quite happy serving with whoever, and they certainly regretted the courts martial, as I did. But they did not want to share a shower or a lavatory, a trench or a bed, with somebody who might be interested in them. Women have separate facilities, and it is not so unreasonable to say that men, too, should have their privacy respected in different facilities.

There are quite enough difficulties with women when sex rears its ugly head, as has been well reported in the press, and I do not think that one needs to exacerbate the situation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go and have a cold shower."] I notice one or two Members laughing. Will they tell us whether it is official Labour party policy to allow homosexuality? I believe that the hon. Member for South Shields said that it was not. Or did he say that it was? I cannot quite remember.

It would not improve the armed forces to allow homosexuality. I advise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the other Ministers to defy the judges and political correctness, even if the sensibilities of a few people are offended.

The major operation of the moment is taking place in Bosnia. God willing, we may now have a lasting peace there, in which case I congratulate all involved, including President Clinton and the British Government. However, fighting continues in north-west Bosnia, and it is a peculiar state of affairs, about which many hon. Members are slightly unhappy, when United Kingdom soldiers and aircraft support, or by their actions seem to support, the territorial ambitions of Croatia. Not many hon. Members would say that President Tudjman leads a democratic government.

My view is that all three sides in Bosnia are culpable, and all three have committed atrocities, but for now I shall concentrate on Croatia and say that 18 months ago its forces were bombarding Mostar and killing Bosnian Muslim Government troops, and civilians. Now the regular Croatian army is fighting in Bosnia—a campaign aided, albeit perhaps unwittingly, by NATO and RAF soldiers and aircraft. That is not a conflict that we understand, and it is not a conflict of which we should be part.

Mr. Raynsford

The hon. Gentleman certainly does not understand it.

Mr. Robathan

I suspect that I understand it rather better than the hon. Gentleman who made that rather foolish intervention.

About two weeks ago, while I was abroad, I heard on the BBC World Service that the United Nations had referred to a Bosnian Government action as "treacherous". I think that I am right in saying that. Should we really risk the lives of our service men in such an action? I think not, and I acknowledge that I was wrong to applaud the decision to send troops.

Our other major operation is in Northern Ireland. Last week, an old flax mill in west Belfast that was my home for five months was knocked down. I am delighted that the battalion based there has been withdrawn and I hope that troop numbers continue to be reduced, as my right hon. Friend mentioned. Having soldiers who are not gainfully employed hanging around in cramped barracks is likely to cause difficulties rather than assist in the peaceful maintenance of law and order in Northern Ireland. We must keep our internal security training, but the sooner the Northern Ireland garrison is returned to pre-1969 levels, the better. Battalions can always return quickly if they are properly trained.

I congratulate the Government on their Northern Ireland policy and on reducing force levels, especially since there seems to be a great deal of opposition from some people in Northern Ireland who, I suggest, are wrong in the matter. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have jobs which anybody would be proud of, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that it was an honour to open yesterday's debate. I look forward to his being Secretary of State for Defence for the foreseeable future, and I know that while he is there, he will defend the best interests of our armed forces to ensure that they remain the envy of the world.

6.20 pm
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

With others, I am intending to vote against the White Paper tonight and I want to give the electors of Chesterfield, the House and my colleagues the reasons for that. I am in fundamental disagreement with the defence and foreign policies of the Government, and I would like to devote my comments to that.

I was in the House during the big arms programme of 1951, and I heard Aneurin Bevan—who resigned from the Government on that occasion and was no supporter of the Soviet system—say that he did not believe that the Soviet Union ever intended to invade western Europe. I agree with that. I do not believe that the Soviet Union had either the will or the capacity to invade western Germany, move into France, take over Italy and then come to London. But enormous sums of money were spent on building up resistance to the Soviet Union. The real reason for that was very simple; if we pretended that we were about to be invaded by the Soviet Union, anyone who criticised the Government could be described as an agent of the KGB or of the Kremlin. It was a political campaign.

At any rate, NATO was built up to deal with that matter, and that included the build-up of nuclear weapons to which I shall refer in a minute. Looking at the difficulties the Russian army had in Chechnya, I wonder whether the expenditure undertaken by NATO was at all appropriate. I hear that Willy Claes, the Secretary-General of NATO—he may be, for all I know, about to be replaced for other reasons—has announced that now that communism is over, Islam is the great enemy of the west.

There is a picture of the crusades in St. Stephen's Hall, and we must be careful that we do not fall into the habit of believing that we now need all these weapons to protect ourselves from Islam. A holy war or, "jihad", would be very dangerous, although I understand that many Governments find it necessary to have a foreign enemy. Nor do I believe that the Bosnian Serbs justify our defence budget.

My second point in that context is that we cannot afford the present level of weapons. I have had the national defence budget divided by the population to help me to understand the matter, and it appears that every family of four is spending £40 a week on weapons. The Government should knock on any door and ask whether the occupants feel more threatened by an attack from the Bosnian Serbs or by the possibility that they might fall ill without medical treatment being available. The veterans who fought on D-day and who go to hospital now are told, "We are afraid that it is not worth treating you, Sergeant Bloggs. You are 75 and it is not worth giving you a new hip." That is where the threat to security comes from.

We should look at Japan and Germany, countries which we have not allowed to re-arm. Why have they done so well? Why are they selling us cameras and cars when we are supplying military equipment through the arms trade to other countries? While I cannot anticipate what the next Government will do, I do not believe that any incoming Government, faced with pressure to improve services, will be able to say that the defence budget is sacrosanct. It cannot be sacrosanct. We are about to send 15,000 people to Yugoslavia as part of a peacekeeping force. If we can house 15,000 British soldiers in Yugoslavia, why can we not house the people who live in cardboard boxes in London? Our priorities will have to be considered in that context.

My third point is—from the point of view of public deception—the most important of all. We have not had for many years—since atomic bombs could be dropped by Vulcan bombers—an independent British nuclear deterrent. I speak with some authority, as I was the Minister in charge of Aldermaston and I know what I am talking about. When the Americans supplied us with nuclear weapons, we allowed them to control our security services and they allowed us to pretend that we had an independent deterrent.

We do not have such a deterrent, and that is what Zircon was all about. We could not fire our so-called "independent deterrent" without the Americans switching on their satellite system. It has been a miracle of misrepresentation, that 10 general elections have been fought on the question of whether we should retain that which we have never had. I am disappointed that the Labour party has suddenly come around to accepting the need for a weapon with nine times the killing power of Polaris while denouncing the French for testing their weapons. I strongly doubt whether the computer testing of our weapons will give the reliability that is alleged. On those grounds, I shall go into the Lobby against the Government tonight. I think that an awful lot of people will share my view, although I do not know how many will join me.

I come now to the Government's foreign policy, which is more important, because all defence policy has to be related to the Government's foreign policy objectives. What has happened—I thought that someone must mention this—is that NATO is replacing the UN. We had a great celebration of the UN in the summer, and I remember the excitement I felt as a young pilot coming back from the war when I read, in the charter of the UN: We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind". I believed in that, but I now find that NATO has taken over. The basic principle of the UN was the power of unanimity, but the Russians have now been pushed to one side as the Americans, following the end of the cold war, have taken control of the Security Council.

In the case of Iraq, a so-called "alliance" or coalition of partners was supposed to have been involved in the operation, but of course it was American dominated. The subject of sanctions has been raised, and 500,000 children under five have died in Iraq because of sanctions in the past five years, according to figures produced by international aid agencies. Twice as many children under five have died in Iraq as died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I cannot support such a policy, and I do not support it.

Reference has been made to Bosnia, and I tried—together with my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—to get the House recalled to discuss the matter. We could not get the House recalled, although the decision to participate in the bombing of the Bosnian Serbs was taken in direct contravention of what the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said during the summer, which was, "We do not intend to get involved in the war."

I wish to spend a moment on the matter, because there is a lot of background detail. Yugoslavia was occupied by the Turks for many centuries, and was then a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. During the war, the Croats had the fascist Ustashi regime, which is now being recognised again by the Croatian Government. The German Government broke up Yugoslavia, and Herr Genscher—the former German foreign minister—said that the greatest achievement in that period of the German foreign office was to break up Yugoslavia. Why? Because the new Germany wants to extend its power in the Balkans.

As Croatia and Bosnia were allowed to leave Yugoslavia, an argument could be made—although I am not in favour of any such disintegration—for the Bosnian Serbs to be allowed to leave. Why should Bosnia be allowed to leave, but not the Bosnian Serbs? We have gone in to provide humanitarian aid, and I support that. I have said time and again in the House, and I shall say it again, that all that we can do in a civil war is provide an embargo of weapons, humanitarian aid and a peace table. It is a civil war in Bosnia, and we must not pretend that the war is an act of international aggression. Instead of providing an embargo, aid and a peace table, we have taken part in the most murderous assault by NATO, with which the Minister is proud to associate himself. That assault brought the Bosnian Serbs to the peace table. But if the Bosnian Government are not satisfied, they may say that unless NATO continues the bombing, they will not come to the table. NATO has become an instrument of the Bosnian Government.

I believe that the story will be different in the end. I think that Croatia will take over Bosnia, and that the Bosnian Serbs will probably move in with Serbia. We are seeing a partition of Yugoslavia between Croatia and Serbia, and the pretence that we are there to defend Bosnia's Muslim multi-cultural Government is quite untrue.

I shall give one or two other reasons why I shall vote against the Government, although I do not want to take up too much time. The arms trade is the most criminal trade in the world. It is worse than terrorism because it is sponsored by Governments. It is worse than AIDS because it is sponsored by Governments. As the House knows, Britain has supplied weapons, as has America to a greater extent, to both sides in most conflicts, just as at the time of the crusades the European arms manufacturers supplied weapons to Saladin and Richard I. That came out at a recent seminar in Cairo.

The arms trade uses conflict to test weapons. Then when the weapons are used, they send in peacekeepers and say, "Have a ceasefire." The ceasefire allows arms manufacturers to find out which weapons worked best. That is what happened in the Falklands war. The Exocet proved to be so successful that it is now widely sold.

If we look at the world seriously—I try to do so—we find that the way in which international finance causes countries to cut their public services to satisfy the demands of international financiers creates poverty. Poverty is one of the greatest causes of war, as is unemployment. There were 6 million unemployed in Germany before the last world war. That brought Hitler to power. People who are unemployed are frightened and look for a strong leader. A strong leader, or would-be strong leader, always finds foreign enemies. Hitler found the Jews. The Secretary of State found all foreigners. Anyone who has read "Mein Kampf'—as I did in my teens—and the life of Mussolini could not mistake the roots of the ideas that came out of the Conservative conference. If we do not deal with the problem of world poverty, we should not be surprised if it leads to conflict. If it leads to conflict, that means more weapons. If it means more weapons, it means less money for development. So the policy is wholly misplaced.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) will be called to speak. He will talk about the cancellation of third world debt, which I support. Do not tell me that it is not possible to diversify from weapons production. At the end of the war, within 18 months we moved 4 million or 6 million people from producing weapons into producing houses. I remember when the Beaufighters stopped coming out of the factory in Bristol. About eight weeks later prefabricated houses started coming out of the factory. Do not tell me that we cannot diversify. Of course we can, if we plan so to do.

We should also seek to reduce our defence expenditure. I cannot see any reason why there are British troops in Germany. I hope that the peace process will result in the withdrawal of all British troops from Ireland. The purpose of the peace process must surely be that.

I have put my arguments without making any reference to the Ministers who have spoken because I do not believe that our debates are improved by turning to the level of abuse that we have seen. I said that yesterday in my tribute to Lord Home and I say it again. The issues that face Britain are formidable. It is not possible to have law and order without social justice. It is not possible to have world peace without international justice. It is not possible to have either while we devote so much money to the weapons of war and neglect the real threat to people's security, which is that they do not have a home, a job, education or health or they do not have dignity when they are old.

Throughout the world, the gap between rich and poor is widening. There are 1,300,000,000 people in the world without a clean water supply. Half a million women die every year in childbirth for lack of proper resources and 35,000 babies die every day from poverty-related diseases. When will the country and the Parliament face those questions? If we go on thinking that a few more weapons or a few more soldiers will solve the problems, we will make worse the very problems that we should besolving.

6.33 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. The House knows of my interests, and particularly my Royal Air Force interests. That is one reason why I am wearing my tie today. I notice that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is wearing his tie. I welcome that because, as another member of the Volunteer Reserve, I too wear my tie with pride.

I assure the right hon. Member for Chesterfield that he is not the only Member in the House who remembers 1951. Some of us remember it vividly. There was another war going on at the time, called the Korean war. The right hon. Gentleman may have overlooked it when he talked about the need in 1951 to improve the capability of our armed forces. He was right to say that, when the war ended, we thought that war was over. We all rejoiced, and the Americans went home. The United States military left the United Kingdom and left the bases. It was not until 1948 and the problems in Berlin referred to as the Berlin airlift that the United States returned to the United Kingdom.

In 1951, we had to spend more money because the Royal Air Force, among other services, had to train new people to take on the tasks. I remember vividly how the training regime in the RAF had to be stepped up again to train new pilots and air crew, because we thought that the Chinese intervention in Korea would lead to a much greater war. That was the reason for the planning at that time.

The House will note that I do not make the criticism that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield makes of the Labour Government. The truth was that we faced an extremely tortuous and difficult situation. No one really knew what was going to happen in Korea with any certainty. The fact that the Chinese could have become much more involved was one reason why we had to have adequate air crew available to meet the envisaged possible needs. The same was true for the rest of the services.

Of course, we all know that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield is the real voice of Labour. It is not the new Labour that we keep hearing about. His views on nuclear weapons are of long standing. He has never changed them. That is to his great credit. When one cares deeply about something, one should stand by it. I know that the right hon. Gentleman does. I do not doubt the integrity of his position—I just disagree with it. That is an entirely different matter.

When the right hon. Member for Chesterfield touched on the break-up of Yugoslavia, I found myself agreeing with him. It was Germany's precipitous recognition of Croatia that brought about the break-up of Yugoslavia. Germany took that decision without consulting its European allies.

Is it anti-European to make that comment? Am I being nasty? Am I being hideous? Of course not. If one is talking among friends, one must tell the truth as one understands it. I said in an intervention earlier that I would be making some comments about Germany. I did not intend making a comment about Germany in relation to Croatia, but the right hon. Member for Chesterfield gave me that opportunity. He and I are in agreement.

I am also in agreement with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield—this may get those on my Front Bench worried—that regimes and politicians under stress at home will try to find foreign enemies. I am concerned about the unstable situation in the former Soviet Union and parts of the Islamic world, where there is undoubtedly a proliferation of weapons. In the former Soviet Union in particular, there is a proliferation of nuclear weapons, and some nuclear capability will exist in Islamic countries in the foreseeable future. So it is wise—I put it no higher than that—to retain a capable deterrent.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield, like myself, spent quite some time flying aircraft for the Royal Air Force. He will recollect that, if we had had sufficient Spitfires and Hurricanes available, we might have been capable of deterring Hitler in 1938. They were the deterrent capability at that time. The Germans believed that their Luftwaffe was invincible. They believed that it could take them anywhere they wanted to go. If we had had television and all the pundits that we have today, we would never have fought the battle of Britain, because they would have told us that we could not possibly have won.

Mr. Benn

Galtieri attacked a nuclear power: Britain. Saddam Hussein attacked three nuclear powers: America, Britain and France. Where was the deterrent then?

Mr. Walker

They never attempted to use a nuclear capability against nuclear powers. I drew attention to Spitfires and Hurricanes because, had we had a deterrent capability in the south Atlantic—had we had the aircraft carrier squadron that Dennis Healey withdrew—we would probably have had a deterrent capability. [Interruption.] I say that as a passing reference. Dennis Healey withdrew the aircraft carrier squadron from the south Atlantic. It was part of the east of Suez policy at that time. Some of us remember what actually happened because we were there. Those who were involved cannot be told the fairy tales that we sometimes hear today.

Mr. Hardy

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walker

I give way to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a high regard.

Mr. Hardy

Does not the hon. Gentleman recall the fact that the iron lady removed HMS Endurance just before the Argentine invasion of the Falkland islands, and was warned by hon. Members on both sides of the House of the consequence of that withdrawal? Is that not more apposite than a reference to my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Healey?

Mr. Walker

It was an unhelpful act, which contributed to that. But if we could have deployed an aircraft carrier squadron, carrying aircraft that a proper aircraft carrier would carry with an over-the-horizon radar capability, Galtieri would undoubtedly not have taken the chance. I simply draw attention to that point.

May I return to the matter of foreign enemies? Given the unstable regimes and conditions in countries such as the former Soviet Union and Islam, it is wise for us to retain a nuclear capability and a conventional deterrent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) made some scathing comments about the Bett report. I agree with Ministers to a degree. While aspects of the Bett report may be helpful, many other aspects want throwing out, as they have nothing to do with a military capability, leadership, or what is required under active service conditions.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the reserve forces, and I endorse what he said. We must now look seriously at beefing up our reserves. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) is sitting behind me, because I am about to say something which he and I have been trying to get the Government to agree to for years: the Royal Air Force Reserve should have a flying capability. An opportunity could arise if we are to deploy the rapid reaction force. A reserve squadron could and should have done that job.

I welcome the ceasefire agreement, such as it is, reached in Bosnia. Like everyone in the House, I pay credit to the professionalism, quality and courage of our Army, Navy and Air Force. The House will not be surprised that I wish to draw attention in particular to the Royal Air Force and its pivotal role in Bosnia, particularly in reaching the current agreement. Its contribution, which was made in harmony with the United States and our other NATO partners, was pivotal in producing those results. The operational task of the Jaguars and Harriers in delivering laser-guided bombs is an example of professional flying and great capability. The tankers and early warning aircraft, which also played a role, are often undervalued, but very necessary in combat conditions.

I also draw attention to the critical and vital part in the military jigsaw played by the transport fleet, which rarely gets credit for what it does. I am always amused when people talk to me about buying foreign aircraft. What short memories they have. How could we ever have won the war without the Dakota—the DC3, for those who do not know what it is? We should not forget the remarkable and often dangerous sorties carried out by the Chinook helicopter crews, particularly those attached to 24 Air Mobile Force.

Last but not least—sadly, it is often overlooked—we must recognise the vital top-cover role of the Tornado F3s. Other NATO air forces were unable to take on that task, as they could not provide top cover at night. The role that the RAF's F3 crews and aircraft carried out with such distinction should be acknowledged.

We should also remember the contribution of the ground crews and staff of Logistics Command. Like many of my hon. Friends, I have often wondered what "Front Line First" is. It is uncomfortable to be in the front line if one does not have the ammunition required to carry out one's task, so the work of Logistics Command was very important. Its staff often worked long hours, with frequent absences from their home base. I have received letters, as have other hon. Members, about the concerns of their wives. I simply say that they are right to be concerned and to contact their Members of Parliament.

On the replacement aircraft and replacement programme, I want first to look at maritime patrol aircraft. The Nimrod has been, and still is, a super aircraft in that role. It has done a remarkable job, and is one of the most popular aircraft in the Royal Air Force. Air crew love the Nimrod. I make a plea this afternoon for a thoughtful and considered debate to evaluate and properly assess the respective types under consideration to replace the Nimrod. I do not want next year's decision to be pre-empted.

I make that plea because I have no wish to see a repeat of the public and high-profile campaigns that took place during the Hercules replacement programme. Those did nothing for the candidates and little to make the work force affected any happier, particularly as many of the scare stories circulating at that time have been found to be overstated. They caused concern and made many people in the industry feel insecure. It does not help to tell people that their jobs are at risk because of something that may happen in five or 10 years' time. I hope that we shall have an in-depth debate, but not lots of scare stories.

The Eurofighter 2000 is critical to the future requirements of the Royal Air Force. I deplore German attempts to delay the programme and obtain what I regard as an unfair share of the construction work. The Germans have deliberately tried to delay the programme because their entry-into-service date differs from that of the Royal Air Force. Moreover, they have reduced the number of aircraft which they originally committed themselves to purchasing. The only country that has kept to its original commitment is the United Kingdom. As we are buying the lion's share of the aircraft, it is only right and proper that British factories should have the lion's share of the work.

I find some of the comments made by German politicians particularly nauseating. Am I allowed to say that, Madam Deputy Speaker? Am I being anti-European or anti our allies? It is the job of German politicians to suit their own needs and ends, but, as a British politician, it is right that I should criticise them, especially as Britain is honouring its commitments on the Eurofighter 2000. If the United Kingdom is to have a design and construction capability in the future, the Eurofighter 2000 programme is vital. Therefore, we are honouring our commitment; the Germans are not—to name a name, Volker Rühe.

In an earlier intervention, I asked Labour's Front-Bench spokesmen if they recalled any European politicians making comments that I might judge to be anti-European. I repeat the name: Volker Rühe. He was saying what he judged would appeal to the German electorate and, more importantly, to his party's supporters. It was all right for him to do that; perfectly in order. After all, he is a good European. I am not a good European.

Let me remind the House that some of us remember what being good Europeans meant. As many of us remember it on the Government side as on the Opposition side. Loyalty, chivalry and the other qualities that go with being in the military do not belong to any particular individual or party. Britain has those qualities in abundance across all sections of society. We were good Europeans twice this century.

I recently went to a conference with politicians from Europe and other parts of the world. The Speaker of the Belgian Parliament was making comments about the British not being very good Europeans. I said, "Excuse me, you are from Belgium, that wee country between Germany and France. Have you ever visited the war graves? If you do, you will find Macdonalds, McGregors, Campbells and Frasers and, if you look carefully, you will find a few Walkers as well. You say we are not good Europeans. We gave you your freedom with our blood. That is the kind of good Europeans we are."

The Eurofighter 2000 is important to the United Kingdom. I do not have to remind the House that the Belgians would not give us the ammunition we required during the Gulf war. People talk about what is required to be a good European. I believe that the blood of my relatives is sufficient evidence of what being a good European is.

I come now to a subject about which I care deeply—this will be no surprise to my hon. Friend the Minister—the cadet forces. Again I have to declare an interest, because I am the honorary president of the Air Cadet Gliding Organisation, which is a voluntary organisation.

During defence costs studies, the volunteer officers, staff and parents of the air cadets were exposed to many months of uncertainties. A 50 per cent. cut in the budget was originally proposed. I thank my right hon. and hon Friends on the Front Bench, and their predecessors, for their support for the cadet forces and for recognising their responsibilities in that respect. Without their support, the uncertainty would not have been removed.

We were relieved when we heard what we thought were the decisions of the defence costs study, only to find that there is something called "Defence in the Public Eye" rumbling around the corridors of Whitehall. I understand that proposals—I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will note this—that involve air and other cadets being required to raise more funding for themselves are being considered. In real terms, that means that air cadets would have to raise more than the £3 million that they already raise each year by their own efforts.

The adults who give up their time to run the cadets do so largely because they have specific knowledge and skills to impart. In my experience, they do not have specific knowledge or skills in fund-raising. That is not what they are there for. They would find themselves in competition with other good causes, many of which are experiencing difficulty in raising funds.

The proposal is wrong-headed and unwise: our cadet forces exist because the volunteer adults, officers and instructors are prepared to give of their time to do the tasks they have accepted. If we ask them to become fund raisers as well, I judge that we will lose many of our adults, which we can ill afford. I hope that Ministers will engage their minds as they did during the latter part of "Front Line First", when they came up with some helpful answers, for which I thank them.

I have again to declare an interest in considering the rationalisation of the defence estate. The Air Cadet Gliding Organisation has 28 units scattered throughout the country with both powered and conventional gliders. They require airfields from which to operate. With the reduction of Royal Air Force airfields, and with some airfields being transferred to the Army and other services, it is important that we have some meaningful arrangement about how volunteer units are going to be deployed.

I am concerned about northern England, where—it may interest some hon. Members from northern England that I commanded a volunteer unit at Dishforth many years ago—the volunteer unit at Catterick may have difficulties. Can the Minister give me an assurance that consideration will be given to the needs of air cadets, and especially the volunteer gliding schools, so that the voice of the air cadets will be heard during the rationalisation? Once the airfields have gone, it will be too late to try to find somewhere else; that is what happened to the unit at Dishforth, which closed 21 years ago and has not reopened. That is a plea from the heart.

The volunteer gliding schools are close to my heart. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) told the House that he had given 18 years of service; I have given close on 40 years of volunteer service. In my time as a pilot and instructor, one of the things that gave me the greatest joy was seeing 16 or 17-year-olds going off on their first solo flights. It gave them an uplift that one has to see to understand. It is part of character development. It is a real challenge; if they make a mistake they could easily kill themselves. Such youngsters are never likely to steal a car for kicks, because they have had the thrills, excitement and challenges. That is what sending them solo achieves. That is why airfields are critical at a time when we hear so often of the troubles of young people.

The House knows also of my interest in the scouts. I believe that the scouts and cadet forces contribute massively to the well-being of our young people, and we must recognise that.

I hope that Opposition Members will not feel that I am making my plea this evening because the cadet forces are military organisations; it is the good that the youngsters do for the community afterwards that pays back the nation. More important, it is easier to keep good kids good than to make bad kids good, and much less expensive. That is why I believe that the air, Army and sea cadets, supported as they are by the Ministry of Defence, are a massive contribution to the well-being of our people.

Several hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I must remind the House that Madam Speaker has decided on a limit of 10 minutes for speeches between the hours of 7 and 9.

6.59 pm
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Govan)

I am grateful to be chosen to speak while there are still shop stewards from the naval building yards of Yarrow, Barrow and Vosper here to listen to the debate. I want specifically to raise with the Minister of State for Defence Procurement the procurement of the type 23 frigates, the batch 2 Trafalgar submarines and the landing platform docks. I want to raise with him not simply the question whether those orders should be placed, but the timing of the orders.

I accept, as all of us do, that, in the past, much defence procurement was far too cosy. I believe, however, that it has now become, in many ways, far too rigorous, and that the Ministry of Defence is not taking into account the full enormity of its influence on the suppliers as, effectively, a monopoly purchaser when there are far fewer orders, both in this country and for export purposes.

The Ministry needs to recognise more than it does at the moment that the shipyards need a flow of work to ensure that they retain the vital skills that will enable them not only to meet Ministry requirements at present and in the immediate future, but to tender for export contracts now and in the future. It is not reasonable for the Ministry of Defence to postpone the placing of orders and to expect privately owned yards to retain full work forces on the understanding that an order might arrive at some time in the future.

There has, of course, to be competition for tenders, but if the tenders are not being awarded timeously, it is not reasonable to expect the employers to retain substantial work forces when there is no work for those people to undertake.

The Ministry must enter a much better partnership with the private sector shipyards to ensure that capacity is retained. If capacity is lost, there is no guarantee that we shall be able to turn to the French, to the Germans, to the Italians or to the Spanish in future and ask them to build ships to our requirements or to our time scale. If the capacity is lost, it will never return. The orders must be placed to ensure that there is a work flow, rather than placed simply to suit the cash flow of the Ministry.

The Ministry of Defence and the Government have been correct to focus on the idea of national champions when going for export orders, and I very much welcome that. I hope, however, that, given that there is a recognition that so much is based on personal contact, especially in the third world and in the middle east, the Government will take into account the possibility—they may wish to concede no more than this—that there may be a change of Government.

I hope that the Government will ensure that there are Opposition Members who are well aware of the nature of the contracts and who have had the opportunity, in a bipartisan way with the Government, to form links with possible suppliers to ensure that the links are not broken in a way likely to be detrimental to British industry and to the possibility of winning foreign orders, if there is a change of Government.

I say that in an entirely non-partisan way, and I hope that the Government will accept the suggestion in that spirit. The proposal was put to me not by an Opposition Member, but by the shop stewards when we met them this morning. Obviously, many of them support us politically, but they recognise that a change of Government might result in loss of opportunity if there was disruption in the negotiation of contracts.

I hope that the Government recognise that export orders can best be gained on the backs of orders being placed by them. The credibility of yards often depends on their having obtained orders from their own Government. The sooner, therefore, that orders for type 23 frigates are placed, the better placed United Kingdom yards will be to bid seriously for overseas orders.

I hope that the Government recognise the needs of our industrial base. I am aware that I do not need to repeat my next point to the Minister. After all, we were told yesterday that 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."—[Official Report, 16 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 97.] I do not know whether that was just an appeal for promotion from the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham). I am sure, however, that these issues do not need to be repeated.

We want orders to be placed now, not simply to be rolled over because the Government want to create space in the public sector spending requirements for tax cuts. If yards close as a result of orders being postponed because the Government have sought to save money for tax cuts, the Tory party will truly be placing party before country, and placing short-term electoral needs before the defence of the country. I hope that the Government will consider that point seriously, and that they will move forward as quickly as possible to place orders, especially for the type 23 frigate.

I hope that the Minister will also be prepared to look seriously at whether our reduced civil shipping capacity is sufficient in terms of being able to call up from trade all the vessels that might be required in time of war to move the appropriate equipment overseas. There is a grave worry that the British mercantile marine is becoming so depleted that it will not have the capacity in time of war or in time of need to shift heavy equipment overseas, and that we shall be forced to depend on what can be taken in the spot market and what can be taken from allies—who may not be our allies in those circumstances. I hope that the Minister will reconsider that point.

The next issue is far more political. I, like many others, very much resent the way in which the Government have, today and on previous occasions, cast doubts on the Labour party's commitment to the defence of this country—as if, in some way, it was the preserve of the Conservative party. It is noticeable that there are two deserters from among the Ministers who were here when those statements were made. Given that the boundaries of their seats have been redrawn, they have chosen not to fight but to flee the field of battle and to seek pastures new—in one case successfully and in the other case, not yet successfully.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. James Arbuthnot)

On a purely personal point, the hon. Gentleman may like to confirm with his hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), who is sitting here, that my seat has completely disappeared, most unfortunately. Luckily, I have been fortunate in being selected for another constituency.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Although this is a fairly broad debate, it will not encompass constituency arrangements and rearrangements.

Mr. Davidson

The Minister's defence is very poor, given that the entire seat has probably not disappeared. Is he saying that there were no survivors whom he wished to continue to represent? Is he saying that there was nobody at all left? Have they all been decanted to the new constituency?

Mr. Fatchett

They are victims of friendly fire.

Mr. Davidson

Yes, perhaps they are. I rest my case on that matter. The "brightest man in the House" would no doubt beat me if it came to an exchange on the matter.

I hope that the Minister will take the points I have made into consideration, and that he will announce later today that he is placing an order for type 23 frigates as quickly as possible, so that Yarrow can get the order and keep its men in work.

7.7 pm

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)

It gives me great and belated pleasure today to welcome the announcement on orders for the support helicopter, the Tomahawk missile and, above all, the attack helicopter for which many of my hon. Friends have been pressing for so long. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and his predecessors promised, our armed forces are now among the best equipped in the world, to the benefit of our country, our service men and, of course, our defence industry, even if, sadly, we have not always provided the prime contractor.

I saw Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen squirm yesterday at the bizarre intervention by their new and raw recruit, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth). Old Labour, which still believes that British defence policy revolves around what I have heard described as pay, pregnancy and poofs, may welcome him to its bosom, but, luckily, new Labour has sound men who are not shy of recognising that more than 400,000 jobs are dependent on our defence industry, which has an export value of no less than £5 billion and which makes up the largest export sector of United Kingdom manufactured goods.

I am proud to have in my constituency a distinguished company, Racal, which has proved its record throughout the world. It continues to lead the world in certain technologies, such as Racal Radio, which presently holds 25 to 30 per cent. of the tactical radio market outside the United States.

However, the defence industry faces increasing pressure at home and abroad from foreign competition. Its contribution to the United Kingdom's balance of payments, employment and skills base must never be underestimated. In that context, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces knows, I have long been concerned about the staffing levels of British embassies and the number of defence attachés, which is small in comparison with the United States and France. France has now overtaken us to become the second leader in the field.

I have therefore been pushing for an enhanced role for defence attachés which involves the closest possible co-operation between the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry. I hope that the Government will stick to the yardstick of satisfactory access to the host nation which also involves the right rank structure. I hope that senior serving officers will be used in such roles so that they can talk to Governments at the right sort of level in order to promote British industry.

The latest "Statement on the Defence Estimates" has another cosy, comforting subtitle, "Stable Forces in a Strong Britain". The snag is that, by definition, the armed services are needed primarily to maintain or create stability elsewhere, particularly when British interests are at stake.

Stability has hardly been a well-known feature of service life through the ages. It is not expected. But after three major reviews in three years, it is high time for a period free at least from extra turbulence. I am sure that the House will want to protect the quality of life of service men and women and their families who put up with so much disruption.

I believe from my continuing links with the military—I declare an interest as a reserve officer—that there is an increasing and worrying trend outside the forces to equate life in the armed forces with civilian jobs. The distinction is in that very sentence. A job can never be the same as a way of life and there are considerable dangers in regarding the services as a business to be managed rather than led. We want our armed forces to be run not by managers but by leaders—people with flair and initiative. Unless we attract and, above all, retain good-quality recruits, the fine reputation of our troops worldwide will be prejudiced, and the very qualities that we so admire—their efficiency, skill, bravery and, not least, their special brand of humour—will be less evident.

Service men endure long periods of training and often mundane and repetitive tasks offset by deployments to dangerous troublespots around the world at minimal notice. It takes a particular kind of person to cope with that and it was profoundly disappointing to hear the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State yesterday that the long-promised 24-month tour interval is yet to be achieved, despite the welcome reduction in tension in Northern Ireland.

In those circumstances, it is hardly surprising that, even at a time of high unemployment, there is a marked shortfall in recruitment. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench not only to be aware of the problem but to continue to emphasise and promote the variety and sort of challenges that soldiers relish—from higher formation training, which sadly has been curtailed recently, to training units in more than 20 countries spreading expertise and good will; from high intensity capability to humanitarian relief work.

Soldiers are very good at disguising their worries about change and its effects on their career prospects. No one expects operational stability, but the time is ripe for at least stability of funding after defence cuts which have resulted in expenditure falling below 3 per cent. of GDP.

I make no apology for concentrating on the human aspect of service life, because unless that is addressed our capability is reduced, and how well we are now using that capability. I welcome the significant British presence in the ACE rapid reaction corps and the announcement of the joint rapid deployment force. However, the mind boggles at what sounds like multi-hatting at a level never before experienced even by our own flexible and tolerant forces—national, NATO, UN and Western European Union roles no less. If rationalisation is needed anywhere, it is certainly needed there.

I share my right hon. Friend's resistance to the WEU's aspiration to be the defence arm of the European Union as well as the European pillar of NATO. Events in the Gulf and Bosnia have demonstrated yet again, firstly, the powerlessness of the United Nations, in the absence of a command structure, properly to respond to crises which blow up in this turbulent post-cold war era; secondly, the absurdity of the dual key arrangement in Bosnia, which paralysed NATO for months, undermining its authority, prolonging the conflict and costing many lives; and, lastly, the need for American commitment and leadership. As Winston Churchill once said, the United States will always do the right thing once it has exhausted all the possibilities. We must be thankful for that and the American role in NATO.

Let my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State continue to resist a defence union as firmly as we resist economic and monetary union. The time is not ripe, and may never be, for either. Close co-operation with other countries in common cause, of course, but, as one of the foremost powers for good in the world, we owe it to our service men and to our country to reject any constraints on pursuing our national interests as a sovereign state.

7.15 pm
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I must begin by explaining why this year's debate on the defence estimates is so important to me. It comes at the end of a year in which we have commemorated the 50th anniversary of the dreadful destructiveness of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and of Nagasaki; a year in which we have also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the ending of the war in Europe and in south-east Asia. It also comes at a time when we have celebrated the 50th year since the birth of the United Nations.

If one puts this debate in an even wider context, it takes place at a time when we have supposedly turned our backs on the era of the cold war which so disfigured the way in which we saw other people in society; the common strands of interest and the common threats to our survival. It comes at the end of a year in which the world, or most of it, signed up to an indefinite extension of the non-proliferation treaty. It comes at the end of a summer in which there has been worldwide condemnation of the French nuclear testing. It is the first time that I have ever encountered a significant number of British people positively shopping for what they described as "non-nuclear" wines. It comes at the end of a week in which Professor Joseph Rotblat, the nuclear physicist, was awarded the Nobel prize for campaigning, throughout his life, for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

If one tries to locate all those huge events—the seismic shifts in public understanding and what is happening in the world—against the contents of the Government's "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995", or the Minister's comments as the estimates have been presented to the House, it is almost impossible to detect that sense of seismic shift that has taken place. That missed opportunity in this year's debate is a matter of great sadness to me.

One can still see a change from last year. There is greater talk of the Government finding efficiency savings or streamlining, but there is no strategic rethink of what defence and common security are fundamentally about. I would argue that this year's "Statement on the Defence Estimates" makes us more rather than less insecure than we were last year. I want to set out the four reasons why I believe that and why I shall be voting against the estimates tonight.

The first reason relates to the nuclear vacuum in relation to Ministers' opening speeches. During the entire period of the Government's life they have recognised that they no longer have a sustainable argument about a nuclear deterrent. What they do have is a nuclear dependence. They are increasingly dependent upon a logic that is not only obsolete but extremely dangerous. It is an obsession beyond the dimensions of rational debate, and beyond any recognition of the huge costs of missed opportunities. These are both the costs involved in cutting conventional defence services and the wider social and economic costs that society must bear as a result of the obsession with nuclear weapons.

I was greatly relieved by the comments of Field Marshal Lord Carver, who—putting his view in a very technical way—said, "The trouble with nuclear arms is that we do not know what the bloody hell they are for. We cannot use them independently; we can't even run them without the help of the USA. Indeed, no sane person would use them at all."

During the summer, in slightly more diplomatic terms, two more military experts expressed their views. Professor Sir Ronald Mason, who was the Government's chief scientific adviser between 1978 and 1983, said that it was fairly clear that we were "over-egging the pudding" in relation to the arguments in favour of nuclear weapons. He went on to argue that the cost of operating and refitting the Trident submarine would be between £40 billion and £50 billion during its lifetime, and that we could save £10 billion by not ordering the final Trident submarine—or the whole amount, if we mothballed the lot. The same argument was then put by Sir Nigel Bagnall, Chief of the Defence Staff between 1985 and 1989.

The House should remember the scale of those costs when discussing other decisions in regard to where savings are to be found—whether the subject is the defence estimates or other social and economic programmes. This makes Greenpeace's estimate that Trident would cost £33 billion during its lifetime seem positively modest.

For me, the problem with the nuclear weapons programme is that we still refuse to address the fact that such weapons are almost entirely irrelevant to the resolution of any conflict. Certainly they have been irrelevant to the resolution of any conflict in my lifetime. I suspect that they will be irrelevant to the resolution of any conflict during the lifetimes of my children or their children. We shall, however, continue to pay a huge price for the obsession with an obsolete system of defence. It is a distortion of our language that we still presume to speak of nuclear weapons as though they were part of a sensible defence and deterrence strategy, and I feel deeply ashamed of the fact that we do so in the House.

Beyond that psychological dependency, I have a second reason for voting against the estimates. The Government refuse point-blank to condemn French nuclear testing, at a time when the public are appalled and the international community is outraged. What have the Government done? Have they been outspoken in their condemnation of the French? No; they have been "out to lunch" on their indifference. I know that the Government are not used to speaking with the support of the majority of the British public, but I should have thought that, given that only 3 per cent. of the country's population supports the actions of the French, even Polly would have had the sense to take the kettle off this silent support. France's actions are internationally frowned on, and it is a source of despair that Britain remains silent when other countries have spoken out much more courageously.

Why are we doing this? I believe—and this is the third reason why I will vote against the estimates—that we are moving into a new era of Anglo-French co-operation in the development of the next generation of nuclear weapons. I say that with reference to documents that have already been made available to the House. According to the Defence Committee's second report on the progress of the Trident programme, the Ministry of Defence has been talking actively with the Americans, and the French, on how to co-operate effectively in the use of …facilities at the Atomic Weapons Establishment as part and parcel of the business of exercising and maintaining proper stewardship of … nuclear weapons". The report adds that stronger links could usefully be forged with France who, with untested new warheads, are more anxious to test than are we, and who may indeed recommence doing so following the elections in 1995 unless suitable alternatives are available. Indeed, the UK may itself learn from this co-operation". This year, in its eighth report, the Committee provided an update, saying: Last year we urged greater co-operation with the US and France in non-nuclear testing. MoD reported on some technical discussions with the French on issues related to nuclear weapons stewardship such as hydrodynamic experiments and computer simulation. Progress has not been swift … Whilst Britain would want to retain a capability to test independently, an efficient use of resources may involve some specialisation … there may be considerable potential for the French and Americans to be invited to conduct work at Aldermaston which may go some way towards filling the void created by a CTBT"— a comprehensive test ban treaty.

What is that void? It is spelt out on page 77 of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates": The United Kingdom's capability in nuclear warhead science and technology is principally vested in the Atomic Weapons Establishment … at Aldermaston". Discussing a "streamlined technical programme", the statement says: It would, however, also necessitate changes … in our ability to develop new warheads which may be required in the future. So, whereas in the past we have used a very small number of underground nuclear tests to provide a cost-effective means of maintaining capabilities, we are now looking to a further enhancement of 'above ground' experiments"—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am afraid that the 10 minutes are up.

7.26 pm
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

I hope that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) will forgive me if I do not follow his speech. I want to pick up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), and, in the short time available to me, to concentrate on the costs of the MOD's ban on homosexuals serving in the Army.

This is not a speech that I particularly want to make, and it is probably not a speech that many of my hon. Friends particularly want to hear, but it is a speech that I think needs to be made—if for no other reason, simply because Ministers ought to be aware of the financial costs of the current ban.

First, let me pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), the Minister of State, for the positive and helpful way in which he has responded to representations that I have made for a number of months. I also thank him and the Ministry for agreeing to set up an internal review, in the light of the recent High Court judgment and the views of one of the judges. I hope that the review will be genuinely independent; I must say that I was a little concerned by some of the comments by one or two senior members of the armed forces that I read immediately after the announcement of it.

If the review is to inspire any confidence in the Select Committee that eventually considers its findings in the House during this year, it will need to be seen to be genuinely independent within the MOD. I would prefer a much wider review, but I am nevertheless grateful to my hon. Friend for the action that he has taken.

I should like the ban to be rescinded. I do not think that we should wait for the High Court or the Appeal Court, for the review being set in hand by my hon. Friend, for the House to have to consider the Select Committee report or—worst of all—for the European Court. I believe that, in this day and age, the ban is morally wrong.

Nearly 300 people have been discharged from the armed services since 1990 for the crime of being gay. Almost all of them were discharged not because they committed any act of homosexuality while engaged in their duties, but simply for the crime of being gay. No one knew; they were shopped—I know all about that. They were shopped by newspapers, by jealous friends, by people outside who wanted to make trouble. Not once did my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State doubt the courage of all those brave fighting men who fought in the Gulf war and in Bosnia.

The Minister of State might like to know that only a few weeks ago half a dozen airmen—four navigators and two pilots—were discharged. They had been serving this country, putting their lives on the line in Bosnia flying Tornados. We have heard repeatedly from Ministers and hon. Members in this debate about the great courage and the selfless acts of duty exhibited and performed by members of our armed forces in the defence of this country. But if some of them happen to be gay, even though they are not indulging in any gay practices—I agree that that would be unacceptable on active service—it is a different story. They are discharged simply for the crime of being gay. Three hundred of them have been discharged for that crime in the past five years.

Goodness knows how much all the investigations have cost, but I have an estimate that it takes one man investigating a regular soldier who is a suspected homosexual 34 days to complete his investigations on behalf of the special investigations branch; and the total cost of all investigations between 1990 and 1995 is estimated at £7 million.

These investigations are degrading, immoral and wholly unnecessary. While the current ban persists, a person found to be gay should at least be honourably discharged and not put through these degrading hoops.

The training costs of all these service personnel must be horrendous. I do not know what it costs to train a Tornado pilot or navigator, but it must be a great deal of money. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, formerly the Chief Secretary, can ill afford to waste money training people to replace others who are perfectly good at their jobs. No Conservative Member doubts the bravery of those who serve in the armed forces. No one doubts that the half dozen men recently discharged from the RAF fought for their country and put their lives on the line.

Next come the legal costs of the cases currently before the High Court. I would ask the Minister to bear in mind the fact that, ultimately, if this House does not resolve the issue, these cases will end up in the European Court. I suspect that all hon. Members know that that court will rule that this is discrimination, and we shall have to give way. I do not want the laws that we control to be made for us by the European Court, whose judgments usually involve average compensation for cases of this kind of about £50,000. The Secretary of State and the Minister of State, like the Chief Secretary, can do their own sums and realise that millions of pounds will be involved.

I tell the House: this ban will end. It may end if there is a Labour Government; but as there will not be a Labour Government it will end for other reasons. I do not want it ended under duress from the European Court. I want it ended because, as my hon. Friend said earlier, the Army is well capable of coping with change. Hundreds of homosexuals serve in today's Army; some of them are hunted down, others are not discovered. Most of them are congratulated by my hon. Friends; most have tributes paid to them by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby—but most of them are never known. If they are gay, they keep it quiet. They do nothing stupid and they serve their country with distinction. I find it perverse that someone like me can serve in Her Majesty's Government but not in Her Majesty's armed forces. That is ridiculous.

7.34 pm
Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) on the powerful, impassioned and effective arguments that he adduced in support of his proposition. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson), however, I want to confine my remarks primarily to procurement issues, not just as they affect my constituents—although they do—but more generally too.

I am concerned about how the Ministry of Defence handles major procurement policy matters. The MOD cannot continue to have it both ways. It cannot, on the one hand, say that it is its policy to retain an effective United Kingdom industrial capability and, at the same time, allow major procurement programmes to slide ever further behind schedule.

My hon. Friend the Member for Govan referred to the batch 2 Trafalgar class programme, which provides a vivid illustration of the problem. The batch 2 Trafalgar class submarine programme is nearly two and a half years behind schedule. The main reason for that delay, as the former Minister of State for Defence Procurement, the right hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), said in the Navy debate in February, is that the Government wanted to generate a competition for the prime contractorship of the programme, and paid GEC tens of millions of pounds to put together a rival bid for it.

I believe that the Government's policy is inconsistent and does not bear serious analysis. In addition to the industrial damage that the delay is likely to cause my constituency, and the shipbuilding industry in general, it is also legitimate to argue that there will probably be operational implications for the Royal Navy. The batch 2 Trafalgar class programme is designed to replace the aging Swiftsure class; many of those submarines are nearly 20 years old. The extra two and half years delay now built into the programme may have an effect on the Navy's ability to maintain an operational fleet of 12 strategic submarines nuclear, even though I understand that that is still Government policy. If possible, I should like the Minister to reassure the House today that the delay will not have such an implication for the Royal Navy.

There can be no further delay or slippage in the ordering of the batch 2 Trafalgar class submarines. As I have said, the programme is already two and a half years behind. I do not expect the Minister to say today that he is about to order the submarines, but I do want him to say that there will be no further delay and that the Government will honour the timetable that they have proclaimed—to order the submarines, at the latest, by June 1996.

While we are on the subject of the Trafalgar programme, I would also like the Minister to assure my constituents who expect to build the submarines—I have no doubt that they will—that the Ministry will follow the practice that it has adopted for other major submarine building contracts such as Trident and release long-lead funding to allow some of the early steel work needed to construct the boats to begin at the earliest opportunity. That will not at a stroke close the gap opening up in VSEL's order book, but it will go a long way towards doing so.

In addition, therefore, to confirming the new timetable for the submarines, I want the Minister to confirm that the Government are considering issuing long-lead funding.

Secondly, we need to look seriously, in the context of major procurement contracts, at the Government's policy of maintaining competition as the principal driving force behind such contracts. It is becoming increasingly hard, especially at prime contractorship level, to secure competition for major programmes. As our industrial capability and our defence industrial base continues to shrink it will become ever harder to secure contracts exclusively through competitive tendering. In shipbuilding—my particular concern—competition does not apply to submarine construction, because VSEL is the only shipyard in the United Kingdom licensed to construct nuclear submarines. And we know that the Government no longer want to order any diesel-electric submarines.

Frankly, nor does competition apply any more to large ship construction either because VSEL, as the Government have acknowledged—this is a commonly known fact—is the only shipyard capable of building large vessels for the Royal Navy. Instead of forcing many shipyards to go through an abortive competitive tendering process which is entirely bogus, as we know was the case in relation to the batch 2 tendering programme, the Government should be much more upfront about the NAPNOC procedure—no acceptable price, no contract. That is a way of ensuring adequate value for money for taxpayers, which is a perfectly legitimate concern of Government.

On the issue of procurement generally, perhaps we could leave the final word and judgment on the Government's policy to the industry itself. On 21 March 1995, the Defence Manufacturers Association, in evidence to the Joint House of Commons Defence and Trade and Industry Select Committee, said: Sadly, the MoD procurement policies have, until now, done little of a positive nature to support industry's chances of retaining a competitive edge. I hope that the Government will give that view and comment from industry proper emphasis and consideration.

Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Govan referred to export promotion. I understand that the MOD estimates that the future UK naval shipbuilding requirement in the three remaining yards will be sufficient to support only 8.500 jobs in the UK shipbuilding industry. That is not enough to support even the existing reduced employment levels in the UK shipbuilding industry. Therefore, if we are to retain employment levels, it will he important for the British Government to get behind the UK shipbuilding industry and to support its export potential. The only way they can do that is to do what other European countries do: back effective winners. At the moment, however, it is not a policy of the British Government to back individual yards. Consequently, foreign orders are left to competition between yards. That does not happen in other European countries. The British Government need to get behind successful British yards and back winners in relation to export potential.

I am glad that the Government remain committed to the landing platform dock replacement programme because it will be essential if the policy of the Secretary of State for Defence for a rapid deployment force—his new initiative announced yesterday—is to be brought into being. Amphibiosity will be central to that. In turn, the LPDs are central to ensuring that amphibiosity.

The Government must make it clear again that they want to keep to the timetable for ordering the landing platform dock replacements. As I understand it, that should mean an award of contract at the end of this year.

I want to ask the Minister some direct questions about the landing platform helicopters. I understand that HMS Ocean was quite seriously damaged when launched earlier this month at the Kvaerner yard on the Clyde. How serious was that damage? Will it delay the commissioning of HMS Ocean and its coming into operation with the Navy? In particular, what implication might any further delay have for my constituents at VSEL who, under the contract to construct HMS Ocean, expect that ship to arrive in Barrow for fitting out early in the new year? Where will the work on HMS Ocean to repair that damage be undertaken? It needs to go into dry dock. Where will it go to have that work done?

The Upholders were referred to in speeches yesterday and today. The Minister will be aware that there are four Upholder classes. The entire fleet of Upholders is in my constituency awaiting the conclusion perhaps of an export agreement with the Canadian Government or some other purchaser. I hope that the Government will confirm that such negotiations are continuing to advance and that a prospect exists of an early agreement for a purchaser of the Upholder class to be found.

7.43 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Before you took the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) made a succinct and seriously responsible speech, an example commendably followed by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton). Sad to say, however, the Labour party has somewhat damaged its laboriously pursued aspiration for credibility in defence with a breathlessly long—16 lines without a full stop—and incoherent amendment urging the Opposition not to approve the defence estimates today.

The Labour party then doubly damaged aspiration for credibility with the extremely quixotic intervention of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who argued that Nye Bevan and others had no fear of the Soviet threat in 1951, an attitude not shared by Clem Attlee and an interpretation of history that is in total negation of the facts. Even from the perspective of that year, one could only have remembered what happened to Finland, the loss of the Karelia province and of the northern region to the Soviets, and the rape of the Baltic states in May 1940. The Soviet occupation of the eastern part of Poland was also part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

Also before you came in, Madam Deputy Speaker, the debate was illuminated by the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, whose speeches are never knowingly understated and today was no exception. His ebullience and bravura might have obscured the real problems that the armed forces face, especially in terms of recruitment and retention, and above all of the future role of our troops in Bosnia as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation implementation force. Luckily, those problems are self-evident and were well discussed by my hon. Friends during the debate.

The Minister of State is very good at talking up the reality and his remarks remind me of those of the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), who spoke with such pride about the United Kingdom punching above its weight—a phrase which, in military terms, candidly terrifies me. All I will say is that, mercifully, the "Front Line First" review has not gone as badly as I had feared, that the slogan—and I loathe slogans in defence matters—of "waste into weapons" is not misplaced, and that, by virtue of the savings in support, extremely important enhancements of our weapon systems and capabilities have been made.

The procurement in air and missile systems alone—more Chinook Mark IIs, the EH101 medium support helicopters, the Longbow Apaches, the C130 Js—will greatly enhance the mobility and flexibility of our armed forces, as will the submarine launch Tomahawk cruise missiles increase their reach and capability to strike.

I hope that there is sufficient leeway in our budgets for the vital procurement of a conventionally armed stand-off weapon for the Royal Air Force, a modern anti-armour weapon, the maritime patrol aircraft to replace the Nimrod and the Astor airborne stand-off radar system. We must therefore continue to attempt to save money and we have sectors in which important savings can be made.

It makes no sense that we should employ 11,903 German civilians to support our armed forces in Germany when bases in Britain are being closed such as Abingdon for the RAF, Chivenor, which is to reopen for the Royal Marines, Brawdy, which was closed but has been reopened for the Army, Finningley, Scampton and many others. The Royal Air Force can operate perfectly from home bases instead of from Germany and deploy rapidly to wherever it is needed.

The same argument applies to the Army. It is not even as if there are proper training grounds for our tanks in Germany. It is true that we are looking for some in Poland, but largely they have to exercise in Canada. There are 33,000 Army and RAF personnel in Germany. I understood their presence there during the cold war under the terms of the Brussels treaty, but it is now an anachronism and needs to be reviewed.

There are major savings to be made in procurement. The National Audit Office report on the Eurofighter programme needs careful study. We must never again involve ourselves in such a bureaucratic co-operative programme with an expensive management agency superimposed, a multiplicity of production lines, and so on. I trust that we will not make the same mistake for the new generation Horizon 2000 anti-aircraft frigate.

There is also the headquarters of the Procurement Executive at Abbey Wood which costs £400 million. There is also the £52 million that has gone down the drain to pay compensation to service women who became pregnant during their time in the armed forces and the risk that we may have to pay compensation to members of the armed forces who had to leave because they were homosexual. As the Chairman of the Special Select Committee dealing with the Armed Forces Bill during a previous Parliament, I must say that I profoundly disagree with the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) as, I suspect, do the chiefs of staff.

I can look at this only from a parent's point of view. Within their ranks the armed forces have many young people at a highly sensitive age when they are likely to be influenced by their superiors and I do not think that it is in any way appropriate for homosexuality to be condoned in the armed forces.

Our party needs to look resolutely to the future to present a defence programme which meets the needs into the next century. As my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said so eloquently yesterday, much more effective use should be made of the reserves of all three services. It is disturbing that the volunteer reserve element of all three services is reducing in size. With the reserve forces legislation, there will be an opportunity to revolutionise our use of reserve forces which will be extremely cost-effective.

We must improve the training of our armed forces rather than do it damage. I bitterly deplore the decision to sell off the Royal Naval college at Greenwich. I have suggested that it should be a tri-service cadet college to provide the discipline and grounding in science and military education that the regular officers of the future will need.

We must improve the mobility and flexibility of our armed forces. The joint rapid deployment force is a step in the right direction, but, in addition to the medium support helicopters and transports that we already have, we will need a strategic transport force. For my money that should be the McDonnell Douglas C17. We need the heavy lift as part of our capability to deploy the full range of our armed forces, including armoured fighting vehicles, rapidly to wherever they may be required. If our Government do that, they will have done well for the future.

7.53 pm
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Since the 10-minute limit on speeches still applies, I am sure that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) will forgive me if I do not follow his speech in detail. I would have liked to have dealt in more detail with the speech of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) so as to endorse, not for the first time, his call for consideration to be given to young people. The Government have done enormous damage to young people over the past 15 years and those activities should not be allowed to continue.

I would have liked to have mentioned hardware at some length, but I shall restrict my remarks simply to asking for an update on the F3. One view needs to be put which may not have been mentioned before. If we buy the American alternative, it will be twin engined but with only one air crew. If the F3 replacement is to be used on long sorties with several air-to-air refuellings, there may be a disadvantage to moving from the pilot and navigator to simply pilot operation. That is a small point, but the Minister will be aware that for many years Finningley in south Yorkshire trained navigators and one would not wish to see them becoming redundant, along with many of the others who worked at Finningley.

My main concern is that the Government seem to be adopting a preposterous approach. We have heard about the strong defence, strong Britain. Everybody has mentioned the speech made by the Secretary of State for Defence at the Tory party conference. There was another speech in which a prospective Conservative candidate was able to boast that he employed people at 89p an hour. It is no wonder they applauded him and it is no wonder that the same people applauded what The Daily Telegraph called the "ill-judged rhetoric" of the Secretary of State.

Yesterday's speech from the Secretary of State was more muted and reasonable. It was less aggressive. Perhaps someone has had a word with him and persuaded him that the SAS are not only tough but intelligent. They may be better at French and Spanish than the Secretary of State. They are capable and intelligent people.

The Secretary of State clearly has a great deal to learn and I hope that he listens to the Minister of State, who is rather more familiar with the British armed forces. Perhaps the Minister might persuade the Secretary of State to visit some operational RAF stations to have a look at the squadron programme. We have heard about the 24-month question for Army postings overseas, but the Minister is well aware that many of the air crew and essential ground staff in the Royal Air Force would greatly welcome rather less frequent postings overseas.

I know that the postings are for only three or four months, but I know of people who have done six or seven tours in the past three and a half years. That may be attractive to single young men, but when service men are married with children, the burden on their wives is excessive. It may be one of the factors in a problem to which the House should attend—the morale of Her Majesty's forces.

The morale in the Royal Air Force is higher than the Government deserve, given the sacrifices that it has had to make because of overstretch. I have mentioned strong Britain, but since the Government took office we have dropped from sixth to 16th in the world prosperity league. However, our commitments remain the same and the Government still wish to stride the stage of world affairs. They still wish to occupy a place on the United Nations Security Council. They still wish to play a leading part in NATO.

The problem is that the economic capacity does not match the political appetite. At the moment, the burden of that overweening approach by Her Majesty's Government is borne by a shrinking number of service men and it is not fair. The burden on the men and women in the services and on their families is excessive. If the Secretary of State wishes to take a tough line, let him take it with the Treasury to ensure that we are not placing too great a burden on our service men.

The Minister recognises how serious the burdens are. It cannot go on. We must match our commitments to our capacity or the Government will stand even more guilty of adopting a preposterous position.

Mr. Soames

Not for the first time in a defence debate the hon. Gentleman has put his finger on one of the most serious problems that we face in running defence operations. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that part of the Bett review which has been so maligned in the House in the past two days tried to square the circle by dealing with those matters in a formal way? I believe that Sir Michael Bett appreciated the difficulties.

Mr. Hardy

The Minister will forgive me, but I do not have time to refer to the Bett review. I want to make two more points, one of which it is extremely appropriate for me to mention.

I have been a member of the Western European Union for longer than anyone in the House and I have been heavily involved in the debates and committee work of that assembly for a long time. I recognise that it has, and must have, an important role in European defence. However, the Minister must understand that, as it stands, the Western European Union cannot fulfil the aspirations that both sides of the House have for it. It needs to be given a great deal more attention. I believe that the Council of Ministers has not yet given sufficient attention to the implications of the widening that has taken place over the past year. It is right to point out that, for all sorts of reasons, the Community is not capable of serving such a European role. Discussion must take place in a rather more mature way than has been the case in recent months. Britain cannot afford to be asked to punch more than its weight, as the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood reminded us.

The Government need to be rather more even handed. The taxpayer pays for defence. We all pay tax, regardless of the area of the country from which we come. However, the Yorkshire Post told us the other day, in a full and interesting report, about the closure of the RAF depot at Harrogate and the fact that the jobs had gone to Wyton in the Prime Minister's constituency. Also, the Army school at Harrogate is to be transferred to a southern coastal county. Many of us suspect that there is now a retreat of defence expenditure into Conservative political fastnesses—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, it certainly looks like that. Perhaps I am wrong, but the Government need to deal with the growing suspicion that defence expenditure is being concentrated in areas of Conservative political strength.

The other cause for concern is the excessive eagerness of the Government to contract out. I intervened on the former Minister of State for Defence Procurement in the RAF debate on 4 May and asked whether he accepted that the RAF had to retain sufficient capacity to be an intelligent customer. He said that he entirely agreed with me. What evidence has there been since 4 May that the services—in particular the RAF, which has to maintain high technological capacity—are being given that capacity? The former Minister said that that was why the RAF was to maintain capacity at Sealand and St. Athan, but what evidence is there that the Government accept the point that he made in the House several months ago? Is there not a real danger that the Government's commitment to dogma and privatisation is being taken too far?

This is an important matter because air crews must fly aircraft that have been serviced. They know that those who have trained in the RAF and are dedicated to the service are men of enormous technological skill. What guarantee has the House and the service that those skills will be retained and that the customer, the service and the taxpayer will continue to get value for money?

I have little faith that after 16 years the Government have demonstrated their fitness to maintain responsibility for the defence services. We need a change of heart and a more intelligent approach. The sooner we have a general election—which will at least save me from having to listen to Conservative dogma—the better.

8.3 pm

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye)

It is not often that I seek to speak in a debate on defence because I am one of those few hon. Members unlucky enough not to have a service base in my constituency—even though the towns of Hastings, Rye and Winchelsea were significant in the birth of the Royal Navy, as three of the original seven Cinque Port towns. If hon. Members want an explanation of why there were seven Cinque Port towns, I would have to explain that at some other time, as Madam Deputy Speaker would rule me out of order if I tried to do so now.

There is an active Territorial Army unit in my constituency, which has invited me to visit it soon. There is also an exceedingly large and enthusiastic group of service cadets. In this day and age, when so many people think that youth services are under threat, it is heartening to see such enthusiasm for the cadets in Hastings and Rye. Indeed, were it not for them and the TA, most of our moving Remembrance Sundays, and, this summer, VE and VJ days, would not have the significance that they have, given the emotional part that the forces play in our civic life.

One issue has recently come to my attention, although I am rather confused about it following the receipt of a letter this evening. I have just heard from some parents that the whole of the air training element of our local cadets is to be moved from RAF Manston, when it closes, to RAF Benson. Without making a plea for something to be done about the appalling condition of the roads in my constituency, I must point out that it takes at least four hours to get from Hastings to RAF Benson. Given the need for cadets to be in school, and the requirement that schools meet the high standards that we are now insisting on, it will be difficult to persuade schools to allow children to leave early so that they can get to RAF Benson and back in reasonable time. At weekends and during the school holidays, the facilities are used by organisations such as the Air Training Corps.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has told my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) that a Bulldog is to be sent to RAF Manston so that the cadets can get some flying time. That is splendid, but only until RAF Manston is closed. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement could clarify the matter so that I can assure the parents of the air cadets that they will have reasonable flying time. We have spent a great deal of time debating the need to ensure adequate recruitment to our forces, so we must remember that many recruits come from the cadets. If they are put off by the fact that they do not have the opportunities to go up in a plane, the RAF will suffer in the long term.

My constituency has more than those enthusiastic cadets. At the other end of the spectrum, the contribution that Hastings and Rye makes to our defence comes through exceedingly high-tech research facilities. One company, Computing Devices, was a key player in putting reconnaissance systems on the Tornados that were so successful in the Gulf war. Since then, technology has moved on at an ever-increasing pace. That company is now a world leader in digital battlefield mapping—so much so that the managing director recently led a presentation to the US Defense Secretary. We are at the forefront of technology in this highly important area of future effective reconnaissance.

One of the developments on which the company is making progress was used in the Gulf war and was effectively described by Frederick Forsyth in his novel about that war. I certainly could not better his description. Since then, there have been further developments. The key feature of the equipment is that from a very great height one can observe what is happening on a battlefield without—this might seem slightly silly—having to worry about the height of hills.

However, I understand that the Army is keen to develop its own digital mapping system. I am sure that 52 per cent. of the population will say that boys will be boys and boys will have their toys. Those of us who run household budgets know that the last thing to do is to allow those toys to put our budgets under pressure. Much of this debate has been about the pressure on budgets.

I have a vision of what the Army wants to do with its own digital mapping system. I can envisage an armoured personnel carrier or something of such size trundling out on to an open area which is not under attack and somehow putting up into the air all the kit that is required for observation on top of—perhaps—a telescopic line.

One of the key factors of such reconnaissance is that one needs a clear picture. If the wind blows, what happens to the quality of the picture from the top of that telescopic line? How high can the telescopic line go before it starts bending under the weight of the equipment at the top of it?

There are many questions to be asked, not all as simple and silly, but to me, the net effect could be that we are indulging in a potentially significant waste of public money. The quality of information coming from the aeroplanes involved in such surveillance is improving—I am sure—on a weekly basis and will instantaneously provide the Army with all the information that it needs without it having to develop its own form of battlefield digital mapping.

I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister could assure me that we will not see competitive research going on in an area in which we are already well ahead of the international field, especially as we are now emphasising. There is no point in wasting scarce public resources in duplicating, and duplicating inefficiently, research that is already going on.

I ask my hon. Friend again for reassurances that we will see progress, especially in negotiations with the Germans, to ensure that the Eurofighter goes into production and that the Germans' current demands for a higher percentage of the build to be allocated in Germany is resisted. Granting such a demand would, of course, take jobs from the UK and its defence industry when so much of the technical development and the excellence of the Eurofighter has indeed come from British companies and their brilliant research.

We have talked about a strong defence and a strong Britain. One of the messages that I have taken from this debate is that many people have not yet grasped that strong defence means high-tech defence. It is not necessarily the number of pairs of feet that can march behind the beat of the drum that matters, but ensuring that the armed forces have the best and highest level of equipment that can be developed to ensure that they are more efficient and more effective than the potential enemies that they may face—which in these hazardous days could be anywhere in the world.

I am glad for the sake of the companies in my constituency that we are, investing so heavily in high-quality research. Will the Minister assure me that we will continue to do so? Ensuring only that there are people to march to the beat of the drum is not the best way in which to ensure that we win a war.

8.13 pm
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)

I hope that the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) will forgive me if I do not specifically follow her remarks. I shall concentrate on two specific concerns: first, the future of defence staff training and secondly, the future of the magnificent and historic buildings in Greenwich, currently occupied by the Royal Naval college.

The two concerns are inextricably linked. Following the decision earlier this year to merge the three separate staff colleges into a single tri-service college at Camberley, we have witnessed the shocking and demeaning spectacle of a British Secretary of State for Defence hawking some of the country's finest buildings and one of its most historic sites around the world in search of a buyer. I entirely endorse the regrets expressed by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) about the proposed sale of the Royal Naval college.

We know that the Secretary of State is an ardent privatiser, but this proposed privatisation adds an entirely new dimension to what a former Conservative Prime Minister described disparagingly as "selling off the family silver". It is difficult to imagine any other country in the world possessing a complex of buildings of such quality and historical associations being prepared to sell off its national heritage in such a way—so much for the Secretary of State's absurd pretence in Blackpool last week to be standing up for British interests. "Do not mess with Britain", he might have said, but "would you like to make me an offer for one of our finest national monuments?"

The Secretary of State's action is all the more deplorable when one realises that he has a dual responsibility, not only as Secretary of State for Defence, but as sole trustee for the Greenwich hospital estate. It is worth summarising briefly what that involves.

Greenwich comprises a remarkable complex, including the Queen's house, the national maritime museum and the Royal Observatory, which are all managed by the national maritime museum. It includes the Dreadnought seaman's hospital and the Devonport nurses home, which are both now sadly empty—one has been empty for getting on for 10 years and is showing signs of serious neglect and decay. There are also the buildings occupied by the Royal Naval college, including the famous painted hall and chapel, the King Charles, the William and Mary and the Queen Anne's quarters, and the Pepys building and other associated buildings—one incidentally containing what I believe is the country's smallest nuclear reactor.

The very names of the buildings convey much of the history and significance of the site. The estate was originally a royal palace, in which both Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I were born, and was subsequently converted into a hospital and refuge for elderly and disabled seafarers—a foundation which celebrated its 300th anniversary last year. More recently, over the past 130 years, it has been a centre for naval training of the highest calibre, as all hon. Members who have visited the Royal Naval college will testify.

The site has been of fundamental significance to the Royal Navy for centuries. It was where Nelson's body lay in state after Trafalgar, and has also for centuries been associated with the development of navigational skills, presided over as it is by the observatory standing on the meridian line from which the whole world measures time.

The complex was built by the greatest names in British architecture: Inigo Jones, Christopher Wren, Webb, Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh, to name just five. It has been described by, among others, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, the previous Secretary of State for Health, as the British Versailles. One only has to pause to reflect on the likelihood of the French putting the palace of Versailles on the market to realise the enormity of what our Secretary of State is doing.

How did it come to this? A little over a year ago the Ministry of Defence decided to merge the three separate service colleges into a single tri-service college. There were essentially two candidates as sites to accommodate the new college: Greenwich, the home of the Royal Naval college and the Joint Service Defence college, and Camberley, the home of the Army staff college. The way in which the choice of the preferred site was made tells us—I am afraid—a great deal about how the government of this country is currently conducted.

As I highlighted in a debate on the Royal Navy on 16 February, the so-called consultation was characterised by obfuscation, secrecy, dubious and misleading figures, and tendentious interpretations, all designed to prove that Camberley was the best buy. The doubts that I expressed in the House, in correspondence with the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and, indeed, in a meeting with him at the time, were brushed aside, and the Government confirmed their preference for Camberley. Interestingly, in the light of the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) about the political geography of defence procurement, the preferred site is located in Conservative-voting Surrey, rather than in Labour-voting south-east London.

We learn, however, from yesterday's edition of The Independent that the figures on which the decision was based have had to be revised. It said in The Independent: Detailed studies into the cost of refurbishing the existing Army Staff College have disclosed that 'tens of millions of pounds' will be needed to carry out the work. The cost is substantially more than predicted in initial studies, raising fears that savings might not be seen until well into the next century. `There is a lot of teeth-sucking going on about the scale of the costs involved in the refurbishment of Camberley,' said a senior defence source. Alternative sites to Camberley are now under consideration to see whether greater savings can be made. And there are grave doubts whether the 1997 deadline for forming the tri-service college can now be met. In response to my earlier intervention, I was somewhat surprised to discover that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces had apparently not seen this report but that he has undertaken to look into it. I hope that he will, as a matter of urgency, and inform the House whether the claim was made in the defence estimates that substantial financial savings will be made by the concentration on one site and that the closure of the four existing colleges in 1997 can still be achieved.

I must also ask the Minister to recall that in his correspondence with me dated 10 February this year he said: you are right to conclude that the principal reason for the difference in cost between the Greenwich and Camberley options is the need for significantly greater capital expenditure in the early years at Greenwich. If the report in The Independent yesterday is correct and the costs involved in establishing the tri-service college at Camberley are proving to be substantially greater than previously estimated, it must call into question the validity of the assumptions which led the Government to decide in favour of Camberley rather than Greenwich. If, as The Independent implies, alternative sites are now being considered, I trust that Greenwich is among them.

In the meantime, Greenwich has been handed by the Secretary of State to the estate agents to be disposed of. Even worse has been the revelation that the Secretary of State intends to introduce measures in the forthcoming armed forces Bill to amend the Greenwich Hospital Act 1869 which governs the use of the Greenwich site. Section 7 makes it clear that the site can be used for the purposes of the naval service or any department of Her Majesty's Government". That remit would, of course, permit continuing use of the site by the Navy or the Ministry of Defence or any public service use—for example, heritage or educational activities sponsored by the relevant Government Department. It would not permit a private use of the premises and that, I fear, is the reason why the Secretary of State is seeking to change the legislation.

After the fiasco of county hall being flogged to a Japanese corporation that has left the building empty and appears incapable of using it other than as an aquarium, we have every reason to feel real anxiety about the intentions of the Secretary of State for Defence. Not surprisingly his actions have prompted a national outcry. People, not only in Greenwich but throughout Britain, have made it clear beyond doubt that they do not want our magnificent architectural and historic heritage treated in that way. What should be done?

The first priority must be a further examination of the cost and feasibility of using the Greenwich site for the tri-service college. I hope that the Minister will tell us a little more about the latest estimates of the cost of the Camberley option or, if he cannot, that he will return to the House and do so in the near future.

Secondly, the Secretary of State should immediately withdraw Greenwich from the estate agents' brochures and make it clear that the site will remain in use for appropriate public services within the terms of section 7 of the 1869 Act. If it is not possible to continue its use as a tri-service college, another appropriate public service use—either for heritage purposes, possibly run by the national maritime museum, or educational purposes—would clearly be appropriate.

The way in which the Secretary of State who, as I stressed, has a dual responsibility in this matter, has treated the Royal Naval college site in Greenwich over the past year has been deplorable but, unlike county hall, it has at least not yet been sold. The Secretary of State therefore has the opportunity to repair the damage and act in the national interest. I hope that we shall hear—

Madam Deputy Speaker


8.23 pm
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

I wish to refer to some of the issues raised earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). In the year of the 50th anniversary of the use of atomic weapons against Japan and the year in which the nuclear non-proliferation treaty has been extended, I make no apology for wanting to speak about Trident and nuclear disarmament.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty has been extended this year but that should not be a cause for complacency about the future. Nor is it any guarantee for the future. Some countries that have not signed the treaty almost certainly have nuclear weapons or nuclear capability—Israel, Pakistan and probably India.

The difficulty is that there is a fundamental contradiction in the United Kingdom's defence policy. We try to convince would-be nuclear proliferators that nuclear weapons are not an effective way for them to guarantee their security. In fact, we go further and suggest that nuclear weapons are not a legitimate way for them to protect their national security because those other nations cannot possibly be trusted with nuclear weapons. At the same time, however, we retain and extend our own nuclear capability. As long as we insist on the importance to us of nuclear capability we do nothing but strengthen other people's perception of possible gains to them in becoming nuclear powers, especially when they know from experience that being a non-nuclear power is no guarantee that threats will not be used.

North Korea is a case in point. I hold no brief for North Korea. None of us would wish that state to have nuclear capability. Since the 1950s, the United States had maintained tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. They were removed in 1992 but in 1994 the United States Senate was urging their reintroduction into South Korea. What are the North Koreans expected to do in that situation? How are they expected to react? That contradiction in US policy has been matched precisely by the contradictions in the United Kingdom's policy.

One simple but serious question has been asked a number of times in this debate but has been answered very dismissively as if there were no real question to be answered. That question is, what is Trident for? Is it for use in war? If so, where and in what circumstances might the United Kingdom use it? I can accept that there may be some logic in arguing that there are circumstances in which we would have to use Trident. I might not agree with that point of view, but there is an element of logic in it. However, the argument usually used is one of deterrence and the need to deter an aggressor. It is suggested that we have to be aware of the possibility of unstable regimes obtaining nuclear weapons. The trouble is that such an argument is merely an acceptance that proliferation will occur and is inevitable.

We would be much better off focusing on how to stop proliferation and how much more secure we would then be in the long term. I am sure that if proliferation occurs, sooner or later so will the use of nuclear weapons. The biggest danger of all is that proliferation will eventually lead to one or other, or both, the protagonists in a regional war having nuclear capability. There is certainly no record over the past 50 years that the theory of deterrence works in stopping regional wars.

We have now reached a point from which, over the next few years, there will either be significant moves towards the progressive removal of weapons of mass destruction or an inexorable proliferation. The question that we should be asking ourselves is how do we, in our defence policy, help to move that process one way or the other.

If we are serious about using Trident in moves towards disarmament—perhaps in multilateral negotiations—what are the best ways of going about it? Is Trident to be a bargaining counter'? There are two possible ways in which the United Kingdom might be involved in disarmament negotiations—as a participant in trading off, which is always a part of such negotiations, or as a broker in some sense. Is there a serious possibility that Trident—for all the massive destructive power in just one Trident submarine it is still only a tiny fraction of the weaponry in the United States and Russia—would carry real weight as a trade off or bargaining counter? What weight would we carry with Trident in those negotiations? I can see no possibility of our agreeing to reduce the Trident capability. After all, we have only four submarines when they are all in operation. At some point, even in that scenario, we would face the decision of going for all or nothing.

We should seriously consider the real alternative, which is to become the first major ex-nuclear power, with the moral weight that that would carry, and the ability to act as a broker that would come with it. We have seen in recent peace negotiations examples of the way in which non-aligned nations can become involved in those negotiations and act as brokers. Norway's role with regard to the middle east is an obvious case in point. Is it not time that membership of the United Nations Security Council is not so directly and obviously linked to membership of the nuclear club?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) spoke about the financial implications, and I do not have time to go through those again in detail. But I agreed with my right hon. Friend when he spoke about the possible impact on our economy, and related the sums that we are still spending on defence to what is happening in the other public services, with welfare cuts and so on.

I understand the position of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have defence industries in their constituencies, who are concerned about what will happen to the people who work there and about the efforts necessary for diversification and arms conversion. However, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield I believe that diversification can be achieved.

In our economy we have started to develop an unhealthy reliance on arms sales to countries that we know are unreliable and sometimes despotic. I am not proud of the fact that we exported £5 billion worth of arms last year although the world market was declining. Why, in that effort, did 10 times as much Government money go towards promoting arms exports as went towards promoting civil exports? Why is the British taxpayer subsidising those sales? About one fifth of arms sales are paid for not by the foreign Governments concerned but by the British taxpayer, sometimes through tax credits and sometimes through subsidies.

Who is being armed? In third-world countries violent conflicts are being fuelled, debts increased and social spending undermined. I do not believe that many British taxpayers want their money to be spent in that way.

We need more than a review of our spending priorities. We need a fundamental shift in our policies away from reliance on nuclear weapons. We need real cuts in spending and we need to do something about the arms trade.

8.32 pm
Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)

I shall not detain the House long. I start by congratulating the new Minister of State for Defence Procurement; I trust that he will enjoy his stay at the Ministry of Defence, which is a most enjoyable Ministry, and that he will ensure that we receive written answers to the questions that he cannot deal with in the time available at the end of the debate.

Yesterday the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, talked about the Gurkhas. I have not seen an official statement from the Ministry, so I should be obliged if we could be given an official notification if Gurkhas are to be recruited in the Parachute Regiment. If not, the story should be denied.

If Gurkhas are to be recruited, what numbers are contemplated and what terms are to be offered? I am asking much the same questions as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East. Will Gurkhas be employed on the same terms as the existing Gurkha battalions, or will they be paid on the same terms as British soldiers in the British Army? I foresee difficulties either way, if they are to be in a combined British-Gurkha unit. We should be told what structural organisation is proposed.

I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who made an extraordinarily eccentric speech. I take the view that the Gurkhas are admirable in any capacity in which they are prepared to serve this country. We are extremely lucky to have them, and I wish that we could increase the numbers of them who serve with the British forces.

I have one or two things to say about nuclear disarmament. It is beyond me how the Government have got themselves into their present position regarding nuclear weapons. When I consider the list of nuclear disarmaments that they have introduced in terms of weapons systems—I am not talking about the capacity of the Trident system—I am surprised that they have not been awarded honorary membership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Once we had nuclear depth charges; they have all gone.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)


Dr. Gilbert

Unilaterally, as my Front-Bench colleague helpfully reminds me. We used to have Lance nuclear artillery; that has gone too. For a time we had cruise missiles; they have all gone. Now we are getting rid of the free-fall bomb, without any replacement. So we have no airborne delivery and no land-based delivery system. We are reduced to Trident alone.

I do not accept that Trident is satisfactory as a sub-strategic system. It was never designed as such. I know that one can adduce arguments as to how it could be used, but I remain unconvinced. I ask the Government what would have happened if Saddam Hussein, whom we all now know had a biological capability, had chosen to use that capability against British troops in the Gulf? What possible response could the British Government have offered—sending a Trident to Baghdad? Surely Her Majesty's Government did not contemplate that course. Would they simply have relied on the poor British troops having to sweat it out in nuclear protective clothing, leaving them at a great disadvantage in operational conditions?

I am the last to think that we should allow an enemy to dictate our targets or the weapon systems that we use, so what I am saying does not constitute an argument for our procuring a biological weapons capability and using that against the enemy. But surely we must be prepared when we are dealing with people such as Saddam Hussein. It could be anyone else; it could be the Libyans next month, or the Algerians or the Iranians. We never know where we shall find ourselves. Whoever would have thought that we would fight a war in the Gulf? We cannot be reduced to having only one option—Trident—for a nuclear weapons system. I greatly regret what the Government have done.

Finally, what is being done and what attention is being paid in the Ministry of Defence these days to what the Americans call communications warfare? There is a serious body of thought in the Pentagon that suggests that the next war, if there is one, will involve few immediate casualties in battlefield terms, but will mean instead the total destruction of a country's communications systems.

I do not believe that the figures are classified, but I do not have them at my fingertips, so let us say that about 80 per cent. of the day-to-day communications of the United States armed forces pass through the public telephone system. I should be surprised if the proportion in this country were very different. What research is being done in the Ministry of Defence? Is the question being seriously addressed, both in terms of self-defence and in terms of our ability to deter other people? To what extent are our communications systems dependent on the Internet, and how vulnerable will that be'?

Have the Government had discussions on the subject with our American allies? If not, why not? What proposals do they have for our national defence in that respect, and what will they tell the British people about it? It is high time that we had, if not a White Paper at least a separate chapter in the annual defence estimates to instruct us what our plans are and how much they will cost. I have a nasty feeling that we are extremely vulnerable in that area, and I have yet to hear a peep from the MOD that it is aware of such matters. I do not have the pleasure of serving on the Select Committee on Defence these days. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I serve on another very enjoyable Committee instead.

These are serious matters, and there are more and more suggestions in serious journals on the other side of the Atlantic that enormous amounts of research are being carried out by the Americans—and, I surmise, by the Russians and other potential enemies—into the matter. I hope that the Minister will give some assurances on these important points either in his wind-up speech tonight or in any correspondence that he might address to me.

8.40 pm
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I shall not join in the ritual criticism of the Secretary of State for Defence's speech at Blackpool, other than to say that I think on reflection the right hon. Gentleman might consider that it was a rather fickle speech to make. I believe that most of his colleagues, privately, consider its contents to have been immature.

I want to address a matter that relates to the European Union, and I would ask the Minister to consider this point. It seems to me that membership of the EU provides an implied security guarantee. I genuinely want to know the Government's view on that proposition. It seems inconceivable to me that a member state of the EU could alone be subjected to external aggression, as that would not be tolerated by other members. It would break up the Union and frustrate commerce and the markets, as well as affecting the concept of European citizenship which, while one may or may not agree with it, is nevertheless an enshrined concept.

Membership of the European Union must mean that external aggression on one member state would be intolerable to the rest of the EU. I wonder if the Minister could state whether he concurs with that view? I raised this matter with a senior official at NATO recently who, to my surprise, took a different view. I was genuinely surprised by his opinion, and therefore consider that the matter needs to be clarified.

I wish to humbly, but proudly, speak on behalf of the Visegrad group of countries which aspire to membership of the west. I shall speak in particular, although not exclusively, about Poland in which I take a keen interest. I believe that that country should have its rights recognised by the UK and other western countries. I believe that Poland is currently being unfairly neglected.

Reference was made during the tributes to Lord Home yesterday, by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, to the fact that he thought that Poland had been dreadfully treated by successive Governments. In 1940, Winston Churchill said, The gratitude of every home in our island, in the Empire and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by the odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of this war by their prowess and devotion. Never before in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. About 17 per cent. of those "few" were Polish or Czech-Slovak pilots. I agree with Churchill that the battle of Britain was pivotal in the maintenance and defence of parliamentary democracy in this country and elsewhere. With that in mind, it is not inappropriate for me to draw attention to the fact that I believe that we have a moral obligation to those countries, albeit 50 years on. We have not dealt with those countries properly.

In the half-century from 1945, we said constantly to the countries of central Europe, "Look over the wall. Look how wonderful capitalism and democracy are." If some of our propaganda was to be believed, one would have thought that in the west the sun always shone and the rain never fell. After communism collapsed and the wall came down, they asked to join our club, but we said, "Hang on a moment." We then produced a load of reasons why we wanted to frustrate those countries' aspirations to be members of both the EU and NATO.

It is blatantly dishonest and shameful for us in the west to be frustrating the legitimate aspirations of those countries in central Europe which wish to join both NATO and the EU for a variety of reasons, one of which is the security guarantees provided by membership. Let us look at the excuses advanced for frustrating the admission of the Visegrad group of countries, and Poland in particular, into NATO. The first is the need for interoperability which, in simple terms, means that their bullets do not fit our muskets. There is more to it than that, but that is the broad excuse.

The second reason is the political dimension in the countries. It is suggested that the west is not certain that there is democratic-control of the military and that we are worried about the generals. That is an offensive argument, particularly in relation to Poland. A distinguished diplomat to whom I spoke recently said, "You have to see the posture of the generals at the war memorial in relation to the Minister of Defence." I would have thought that we would need a more sophisticated judgment than that. After all, there have been problems in the west with regard to the political accountability of the security services. I remember Watergate and the Elsberg papers, and there is presently a problem in Belgium about helicopters. We are not all whiter than white. There are established democracies now in Poland, the Czech republic, Hungary and Slovakia and, while I concede that there are problems, the so-called political considerations against their admission are bogus.

The political arguments and the question of interoperability were never raised when it came to Spain's accession into NATO. An abundance of Spanish generals at the time had been brought up as part of the Falangist tradition, but we decided that it was appropriate for Spain to be brought in. That was quite right, as I think that membership of NATO was one of the factors which led to the maintenance of constitutional democracy in Spain at the time of the abortive coup. I think that membership of NATO buttresses democracy, rather than frustrates it.

The real reason for delaying the accession of these countries—this is what makes me so angry—is that we are frightened of offending Russia. I do not agree with that, but it is a legitimate subject for us to debate, while the other reasons offered are bogus. Let us look at the question of Russia. In 1946 in Fulton, Missouri, Churchill said: From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across Europe, behind which we must refer to it as the Soviet sphere. Reluctantly, we must accept that there was a Soviet sphere. Hon. Members on both sides of the House and people elsewhere in western Europe now acquiesce in a Russian sphere of influence, or almost a Russian veto over the development of the legitimate aspirations of the parliamentary democracies in Poland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak republics. That is wholly disgraceful.

If hon. Members cannot be persuaded of the moral arguments for the early admission of those countries to NATO, I must say that naked self-interest dictates that Poland should come in. One need only get a school atlas to see its strategic location on the Baltic to the east of Germany. It has a large land mass, and a population of 40 million people. It has some of the best and most sophisticated armed forces in the countries of the former Warsaw pact.

Poland has no minority problems. I notice that the Select Committee on Defence has suggested that there are such problems. I have never heard such nonsense in my life. Of all the countries in Europe, Poland probably has the fewest minority problems. We should reflect on that, and I hope that the Minister will respond to my question regarding the implied security guarantee that comes from membership of the EU.

I am deeply concerned that there are only 12 fluent Russian speakers in NATO's headquarters. That is breathtaking. We are spending money in our defence review on teaching people in central and eastern Europe to speak English, and I applaud that. We ought to spend some greenbacks on enabling our own officers and NATO diplomats to speak, understand and communicate with the Russians. That is probably the best contribution we could make.

I am mindful of the problems of Russia, and I want to be sensitive towards the subject. In that same speech in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill went on to say: I have a strong admiration and regard for the valiant Russian people … There was deep sympathy and goodwill in Britain … towards the peoples of all the Russias and a resolve to persevere through many differences and rebuffs in establishing lasting friendships. That is absolutely right, but we do not do it by giving them a right of veto. That is a sign of weakness and foolishness. It is foolhardy in the extreme. It is not in the Russians' best long-term interests, or ours, at a time when things are unhappily decaying in Russia.

8.49 pm
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

I am grateful to be called, even as a tail-end Charlie in this two-day debate. In the few minutes that I have, I should like to go back to where we began the debate—with discussion of the notorious speech by the Defence Secretary last week in Blackpool. I wish to discuss the Europhobic tone of that speech. The reality of contemporary defence thinking is precisely the opposite of the direction in which the Defence Secretary seems to want the United Kingdom to go. The reality is that no serious person can contemplate Britain's defence needs today without concluding that, far from Europhobia, what we need is ever closer collaboration and co-operation in Europe, indeed perhaps integration in some areas, if that would produce practical, concrete benefits.

If the reasons for the need for co-operation have escaped the Defence Secretary, they can put up with some repeating, although more than one hon. Member has already made similar points in the past two days. There is first and foremost the increasing pressure on defence budgets. Electorates are increasingly unhappy with high defence spending in the aftermath of the cold war. They want to see some evidence of the peace dividend that we were all promised. That puts severe pressure on Governments to reduce or constrain defence budgets.

At the same time, the costs of defence procurement are increasing astronomically. The costs of research, development, manufacturing, and purchasing equipment in every field are skyrocketing because ever more sophisticated technology is now available. It is clear that we cannot opt out of those costs because we must keep abreast with developments, especially as our forces become numerically smaller. They must have the punch to carry out the job that we ask them to do.

For a country the size of the United States, with its economies of scale, those financial pressures are just about manageable. For the European nation states, however, the pressures have become intolerable. The fiscal crisis point has now been reached. That has been clear from debates in the House in the past couple of years in which we have discussed cuts in defence expenditure. The sooner we admit that we are at this crisis point and face up to the consequences of it, the better.

There are only two responses to the fiscal crisis which now faces defence establishments across Europe. One is to give up the unequal struggle and accept a second-rate future of fewer items of increasingly inferior equipment for ever smaller forces. I do not believe that we should go down that road. We have a duty to our service men when we ask them to endanger their lives on their country's behalf to provide them with the best equipment and support possible.

So the only right answer to the financial crisis which is pressing on defence budgets is ever closer co-operation within Europe. We have to extend and deepen existing methods for planning, developing and purchasing jointly the best equipment possible for the armies of Europe. We must also, as a consequence, but also on its own merits, co-operate ever more closely in matters such as training, military doctrine and defence policy. That is truly the only sensible way forward. Indeed, it is already happening to an ever greater degree. That is why the Defence Secretary's speech last week was not only embarrassing but utterly empty of content. All the trends are going precisely in the opposite direction to the one in which the Defence Secretary urged us.

The pressures for European co-operation are not only financial and economic. There is also a political and strategic need for closer European action. We have seen over the summer a resurgence of American diplomatic involvement and presence in European security matters in the former Yugoslavia. Thank God for it. It is to our collective shame as Europeans that we should have to look to the Americans not merely for military muscle but, I am sorry to say, for moral leadership in responding to the holocaust which has consumed a quarter of a million lives in the past four years in Europe.

There was no passage more empty in the Defence Secretary's speech last week in Blackpool than his vainglorious boast that we taught the Bosnian Serb generals that the slaughter of civilians will not go unpunished. It is clear that he has a short and selective memory. What about the slaughtered civilians of Vukovar at the beginning of the conflict? What about the civilians of Dubrovnik, of Omarska, of Srebrenica and Zepa? At each and every act of slaughter there was invariably a British Minister on hand openly and without apology washing his hands of any responsibility whatever. British Foreign Office and Defence Ministers repeatedly dismissed air strikes as ineffective and claimed that it would need hundreds of thousands of NATO troops to turn the military tide in Bosnia. It was a junior Foreign Office Minister who infamously flew to Sarajevo in 1992 to tell them that there was no seventh cavalry coming over the hill.

Four abject years of European appeasement led by this Tory Government cannot be absolved by one summer of American-led resolution. However, this belated American involvement should not blind us to the long-term trend, which is for Americans to become less and less inclined to be involved in European security matters to the same extent and more and more impatient with Europe's failure to deal with its own security problems.

Europe is rich. The European Union has a gross national product comparable to that of the United States. We have a bigger population. Indeed, we have more people serving in our armed forces than the United States. Of course, many of those people are conscripts, but many of them are regulars. According to the latest edition of The Military Balance published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Britain, France and Germany have between them 340,000 regular soldiers—not conscripts but regular soldiers. If one takes the regular armies of all the European states that are also members of NATO, which includes Spain, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Portugal, the total number of regular soldiers serving in the European Union is 490,000. That compares with the American regular army of 525,000. Although it is smaller, it is not so much smaller that it would not have an impact if it acted in a more cohesive, planned and co-ordinated way.

We have a duty to look after our security interests to a greater extent if we are capable of doing so. Defence dependency is a vice just as much as the welfare dependency that Conservative Members always talk about. As Europeans, we must get together and co-operate. The Maastricht treaty already commits us to precisely that. Article B commits the European Union to framing a common defence policy. The Government have signed up to that treaty and it is crazy to begin to draw back now. I agree with my Front-Bench colleagues—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)


8.59 pm
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

That was a great note for my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) to finish on, and it has been the unanimous verdict of most Opposition Members who have spoken.

This has not exactly been an all-ticket game, but the quality of the contributions has made up for that. Anyone who missed the debate missed something special: to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) impersonate Winston Churchill so well in a cockney accent was worth coming for alone.

I take this opportunity to welcome the new Minister for Defence Procurement to his post. It is fair to say that, in his relatively short period in post, his predecessor showed that he had some standing in the House because he recognised the strategic importance of the British defence industry. To some extent, we were sorry to see him go as he brought a great deal of common sense to discussion of the defence industry. Despite that common sense, he somehow managed to be promoted to the Cabinet. We shall miss him, but we trust that his successor will follow where he left off. I shall comment on the Minister for the Armed Forces later.

Tonight's debate has been not just about the 1995 defence estimates but an opportunity to examine the last five years of fairly dramatic change in the Government's performance. As the Minister for the Armed Forces said, during that quinquennium there has been a number of dramatic changes and challenges. First, the nature of the perceived threat changed radically away from the conventionally defined threat of intention and capability, which was obvious when we cast our eyes eastward, to a more complex series of risks—a plethora of risks—part of which arose because of the decline of the former Soviet Union.

Secondly, the demise of the Soviet Union seriously affected the conceptual framework and the operational premises on which major international institutions had long been based. For instance, it initially left NATO without an obvious raison d'être. On a global level, it left the United States as the only real super-power in the United Nations. Thirdly, those changes coincided with, and were symbiotically related to, changes or proposed changes in European defence architecture—a subject that obviously bores the Defence Secretary, who constantly refers to it as "theology". Apparently, it interests him only when it is a platform for attacking those wicked foreigners. Finally, there were increasing pressures on the defence budget for domestic and internal reasons. The Government's fiscal incompetence caused them to scurry around looking for cuts in any budget, and defence was regarded as an easy option.

Before I wind up the debate, I wish to comment on the individual issues that have been raised and also on the strategic issues that we feel are important. As I have already outlined, the challenges have been great. We admit at the start that they would not have been an easy task for any Government. Unfortunately, for the most part the Government have failed miserably to rise to that challenge. Whereas foresight, clarity, strategy and long-term stability should have been their objectives, they have produced incoherence and short-termism. They have been constantly reactive to the course of events rather than proactive in shaping events. The result has been, for the most part, muddle and incoherence.

Only this week, we had another prime example of the manner in which the Government have got us all into a muddle. We heard that our infantry regiments were grossly undermanned. The shortfall—perhaps we will have this confirmed tonight—is to be made up by drafting in the Gurkhas, a point made by several hon. Members.

I have the highest respect for the Gurkhas. I had the opportunity to spend some time in jungle training with them in Belize some years ago through the armed forces parliamentary scheme, which I again recommend to anyone who would like to undertake it to give them some idea of the ethos and spirit of the armed forces. I am sure that if the Secretary of State for Defence were to put in a late application he would be welcomed with open arms. [Interruption.] On reflection, I would not wish that on the Gurkhas; perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has already left. After all, they are not Europeans, so he might get along with them.

It really does take a bunch of geniuses—the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) referred to his "Front Bunch"—to contrive a situation where the Ministry of Defence has just got rid of 111,000 personnel, 42,000 of them soldiers, and end up short of soldiers. And it takes a peculiar sort of genius when we have 3 million unemployed in Britain to decide to make up the shortfall by recruiting people in Nepal.

The Government do not see the irony of the muddle they have got into or the logic of their position. They have spent the past five years denying that the infantry is overstretched; now they are shouting publicly that the infantry is undermanned. They do not have the mental capacity to put the two facts together. Let me help the new Minister with this great intellectual problem. I want to make it easy for him and to try to be helpful. Will he say after me, "If the infantry are under strength in numbers in relation to tasks, they must by definition be overstretched in tasks relative to numbers." I challenge the Minister to repeat that. I will give him a copy of the speech and he can study it overnight. It is nice to have been vindicated on that point.

There are some things in the Government's approach that we welcome. We welcome the increase in the awards to holders of the Victoria Cross. I shall not be churlish and say that it is not overgenerous because, after all, past Labour and Tory Governments have failed to deal with the matter.

We welcome moves toward joint working, the purple arrangements already mentioned by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. We also welcome the announcement tonight on Rosyth and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) for all the work that she has done on that.

We especially welcome what is now referred to as the long-range rapid reaction force, which was announced in Blackpool last week by the Secretary of State for Defence. We welcome it but wonder whether it is the same one as was announced in July in the House of Commons and whether it is a different long-range rapid reaction force from that which was envisaged 12 months ago in the last debate? If it is the same one, I am very impressed. To manage to deploy that announcement all the way from Westminster to Blackpool in only '12 months is a credit to the logistics corps in the MOD. If they continue at the same rate, I have worked out that they will able to announce its establishment again next year in Edinburgh or in the north of Scotland, and by God, that will frighten the earth out of our enemies.

The hon. Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for Wyre (Mr. Mans) may agree with me and many Labour Members that the level of contractorisation is worrying. Recently, I was down at RAF Valley. We take a pragmatic approach to the matter but would urge two elements of caution. Remember not to watch the minutes and lose the hours. A private contractor used, for instance, on maintenance of RAF aircraft may be able to put in a bid lower than can the MOD precisely because he is recruiting trained personnel who have been made redundant by the MOD. Five years down the road, if the private company has to budget for bringing in apprentices and if it cannot get them from the RAF, either the quote will go through the roof or we shall be left with a crisis.

My second point on contractorisation is that it is not sensible to understand the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I am glad that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces spoke with pride about the esprit de corps in the armed units. It is not an abstract concept of Queen and country that causes a squaddie at the bottom of Mount Longdon, having yomped for 16 hours, to go out freezing and to try to take that mountain from Argentines sitting on the top with night sights when he does not have any: it is the fact that he does not want to let down his mates, his family and his regiment. I ask the Government please not to allow the privatisation of units in the British armed forces ever to go in a direction that begins to undermine that morale.

Having welcomed a number of issues, I must say that the most current issue on which we separate from the Government is their attitude towards nuclear disarmament. I know that many Conservative Members wished to stand up tonight and to say how proud they were to see that the Labour party had put forward a concrete series of proposals within the context of a multilateral position towards nuclear disarmament. Time, however, obviously prevented any of them from having the opportunity to make that gracious gesture tonight.

We should still make it clear that we are different from the Government. On nuclear testing, we have long made plain our view that with the advent of computer simulation, nuclear testing is not necessary to secure the safety of our nuclear weapons. The Government obstinately refused to admit that until, basically, a moratorium was introduced by President Clinton. Is it not funny how often this Government suddenly discover a principled position when ordered to do so by the United States? Their reluctance to take such a position, just like their reluctance to criticise the French over nuclear tests, will on its own, even without the help of the Secretary of State of Defence at Blackpool, help to isolate us from the rest of the civilised world.

It is noticeable in terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty that many countries that supported the decision did so reluctantly and were deeply critical of the nuclear weapons states. Three of our allies refused to sign a joint European Union position because they were not satisfied with the record of Britain and France in fulfilling article VI treaty obligations to pursue disarmament. The future credibility and effectiveness of the NPT will be undermined unless this Government and one or two others start to deal with honour and pragmatism in pursuit of the nuclear-free world which the Government say, for the first time this year in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995", they believe in and wish to pursue.

One item that has not been mentioned in many debates but which was, I am glad to say, mentioned tonight by the hon. Members for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) is the cadet forces. Our cadet forces are rarely mentioned. Let us make it plain to everyone that they are not merely a means of recruitment for the armed forces. They fulfil a valuable and much-needed function in youth leadership and allow thousands of young people to develop character and leadership skills.

My wife and I recently had the opportunity to spend some time, courtesy of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces—I thank him for this—on what was called a challenge and adventure weekend. It was not an official cadets' activity. It involved groups of young people from deprived backgrounds, inner-city kids, who were at risk. They were not at risk in terms of the probation service; they were not kids who had offended. They were brought for the first time to the countryside—to canoeing, command tasks and challenge leadership. They were kids who had never before been given the opportunity to develop the potential within them. In many cases, they had been told by their teachers, by their background or by their families that there was nothing in them. The cadets are a much under-used asset.

Incidentally, for those who take an interest in racial and ethnic matters, many of the young people were from Asian backgrounds. They were boys and girls whose parents, of Muslim persuasion, were allowing them to go to the weekend, which they would not normally do, because the British Army was running it. There are thousands of young folk whose potential has been confined by circumstance or by background. The cadets are a grossly under-utilised national facility which I hope, if Labour is elected, we shall develop to an even greater extent as part of a new offer to a new generation.

I mentioned earlier the challenges that have faced the Government. Now that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has arrived—I have already welcomed the Minister of State for Defence Procurement—I take pleasure in welcoming the fart, if it is not too embarrassing for him, that he stayed at his post when all others were deserting the defence team. I say that because I believe that his continued presence will offer at least some hope to many in the armed forces who were verging on despair even before last Tuesday.

I know from many meetings throughout the country that the Minister's dedication and commitment and his persona—despite some of his rather aggressive tendencies towards us tonight—are held in deep respect. He has managed not only to be held in respect by the armed forces but, something which I thought was impossible for someone who is a Minister of State for the Armed Forces and a Tory, some of them actually like him as well.

However, we now have a genuine problem in defence. Of course, none of us likes to deal in personalities—which allows me to talk about the Secretary of State for Defence—but if the Secretary of State continues to make speeches in the way that he did, the persona and the message that is being conveyed will be inseparable.

Last week in Blackpool we heard of a fairy tale defence world, a sort of fantasy defence league, where Secretaries of State were resolute and resources plentiful, presided over by a new warrior king. Let me place the facts before the House. Before we disagree on our opinion, let us agree on the facts.

During the last decade the story in defence has been one of almost unparalleled reductions in defence expenditure. As a proportion of national income, the defence budget has fallen from a previous high of 5.8 per cent. to 3.9 per cent. five years ago to 3.3 per cent. It is now scheduled, under the present Government, to fall to 2.9 per cent. They have, and should be given credit for it, in practice carried out the Labour conference resolutions which they have condemned for many years.

As I have said, the defence budget is scheduled to fall. It means a cut in the procurement budget at the moment of 19 per cent. between 1991 and 1994 alone, while the defence budget will be cut by almost 30 per cent.—111,000 off manpower, 42,000 of them in the Army. They are, by any standards, staggering cuts. Anyone who cares to check what the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said last night will see that he confirmed that there are more on the way. That should not surprise any of us.

The man who inflicted those cuts on the armed forces was not the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. He constantly told us that he was fighting against them. We have had 16 defence Ministers. The Government have gone through more Ministers at the front here in order to cut the defence budget by 30 per cent. than Scotland has players in qualifying for the European championships. The cuts were not inflicted by the three Ministers on the Treasury Bench. The man who inflicted them, the man who cheered every regimental closure, was the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury—now Secretary of State for Defence. He is not on the Treasury Bench tonight. I do not know where he is. Perhaps he is out having a pint with Jacques Santer. The current Secretary of State for Defence was given a reward of promotion for having slashed the defence budget.

Perhaps "reward" is the wrong word. The problem and tragedy of the latest reshuffle from the word go is the obvious fact that a once-proud Department of State, particularly prided by the Tories, became a dustbin for the enemies of the Prime Minister. It became the Tory equivalent of the guardhouse. The Secretary of State was to be stuck there and the substantial figure of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces would sit on him, as has obviously happened between last week and this week. The news of the appointment was met with despair. Gone are the days in the Admiralty, the Royal Air Force and the Army when the telegram appeared with the stirring announcement, "Winston is back". Hon. Members may imagine the bemused look of despair which greeted the letter saying, "Polly has been appointed". It does not have the same resonance.

As if it were not an insult to the armed services, the hero of this story—I have not, so far, mentioned his name—is now trying to use them as a bridgehead into Downing street. Last week, he was on active service in Blackpool. In a speech variously described in a very generous fashion as guff, hyperbole, chauvinism, rabble-rousing, poncing and posturing—I have only checked the quality press, because this is a family show—he managed to demean himself, and to debase his party and the relationship between the armed forces and the Minister. No one really cares what he does to himself and his party, but he will not be forgiven for two things: one was the cheap attempt to exploit the armed forces for party political advantage; the other was the abuse that he heaped on our European allies.

Let it be known that Opposition Members—and, I believe, the vast majority of Conservative Members—completely dissociate themselves from the vitriol poured on our European defence partners. We pay tribute to those in Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Germany and elsewhere who have stood shoulder to shoulder with this country for the past half century, and our French colleagues who have acted with us on the political wing of NATO and in Bosnia.

Incidentally, one would think that after three months in post the Secretary of State for Defence would have been told by someone where the headquarters of NATO are, and where the supreme headquarters of the allied powers in Europe are. In case any of the Ministers do not know, it begins with "B". No—not Bradford, but Brussels.

There was only one consolation to be had from last week's speech. As is obvious from all the comments made on this occasion, no one takes the Secretary of State seriously. It is his own fault.

Mr. Winnick

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr. Reid

I am rather pressed for time.

It is the Secretary of State's own fault. Here was the hero who tried to commandeer "Who dares wins" as his personal slogan; but this is the hero who, when the challenge for the leadership was issued, sneaked to safety beneath the Cabinet table, daring to emerge only to order 40 more telephone lines—a strategic thought—presumably in order to be able simultaneously to assure up to 40 candidates of his own undying loyalty.

Here was the warrior who spoke with pride of our armed forces: the man who, from his position as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, slashed the defence budget and dictated a reduction in the regiments. Here was the braveheart who told us—this is the moving bit; this is where we get to the peroration—that we had to feel the passion for defence in our hearts, bones and guts. This is the man who refused to join the Army cadets—on aesthetic grounds, if you please. Presumably they did not have enough Christian Dior cap badges.

It is obvious that the right hon. Gentleman approached these matters with the zeal of a convert—the fanaticism sometimes shown by those who have just seen the light on the way to Camberley. I recommend the book that I consulted: it is called "Michael Portillo—The Future of the Right". His political biography has been written before he has arrived in Downing street. I found a marvellous phrase in the book, which is a study of Michael Portillo's development of his view on defence. When reading that phrase, I could not help reminding myself of the stirring words with which the right hon. Gentleman addressed the Blackpool assembled faithful. He said: Anyone, they say, is entitled to change his mind. Not about the defence of Britain, they're not. It was, therefore, with some surprise that I read on page 25 of the book: Malcolm Rifkind was the first Tory defence secretary never to have served in any of the armed forces, even as a conscript. Then his biographer, a man who had studied his life, added: Michael Portillo may well be the first former conscientious objector to be placed in charge of the nation's defences by a Tory government". Yet this former pacifist and conscientious objector now stands up and tells us: Anyone, they say, is entitled to change his mind. Not about the defence of Britain, they're not. What I attack is not the right hon. Gentleman's sincerely held beliefs about pacifism, although I have never held them, or his sincerely held conscientious objections, although I have never held them either—what I challenge is his right to demand that others should not change their minds and to describe others as wimps and cowards after having held the same views himself.

Mr. Bill Walker

At what age do young boys join the cadet forces?

Dr. Reid

If any Labour Member could be done down for believing in Santa Claus, the Conservatives would do it to him. His age does not matter. In any case, he held these views long after he left the cadets—in fact, until he went to Peterhouse—I have taken the trouble to read beyond page 25 of the book. The point is that people are sick and tired of a Tory Cabinet telling them to do as they say and not as they do.

Mr. Arbuthnot

As the hon. Gentleman is raising this issue with some force, has he asked my right hon. Friend whether the story is actually true, because he has assured me that it is not?

Dr. Reid

I made the naive assumption that the warrior king who dares would have the guts to come along tonight for his first defence debate and oppose me face to face while I raised the issue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] Installing telephone lines, perhaps.

All this could perhaps be excused on the grounds that the Secretary of State, as an hon. Member said last night, may be a sinner but is a sinner who has repented. So the standard apparently is that repentance is fine for those on one side of the House only. Another hon. Member put the speech down to immaturity, and indeed some things can be excused on that ground. After all, the Secretary of State for Defence is under 50, which I suppose qualifies him as a young Conservative.

There can be no excuse, however, for the right hon. Gentleman's degradation of the concept of patriotism, which has been mentioned by almost every Member who has spoken in the debate, including the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. [Interruption.] I am now honoured to be in the presence of such a man as the Secretary of State for Defence. I was just coming to the end of my speech and discussing patriotism. [Interruption.] I wish the Minister of State would stop briefing the Secretary of State. He fed him his lines all last week; he need not do the same again today.

I do not question the depth and sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman's patriotism—no one in the House does—what I question is the form that his patriotism takes. Patriotism is not naked chauvinism. It is not narrow nationalism. When it is reduced to a mere dislike of foreigners, it is baseless—

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Portillo)

Read the speech.

Dr. Reid

I have been reading it. I am quite prepared, unscripted, to take on the Secretary of State in debate anywhere, any time. He did not have the courtesy or the guts to turn up to hear my accusations, so he should not come in now and start shouting from a sedentary position.

Patriotism is a function of national unity, not an instrument of national division. It is not a monopoly of any party, social class or group. The next time, therefore, that the Secretary of State makes a speech in which he recalls the veterans, he should remember that people in here recall the veterans as well. On both sides of the House, we recall those who came from the dank jungles of Borneo, who burned in the searing deserts, and who sailed and sometimes drowned in the icy waters of the north Atlantic, and we recall them because we all have personal as well as patriotic reasons.

I recall Arromanches and Caen. I recall Nijmegen because my father fought there for this country with the Guards Armoured Division. I recall the Sicily landings, where his oldest brother died, and the invasion of France, where his youngest brother gave his life for this country. So do not tell us about patriotism or claim it as a monopoly: it belongs to all of us and everyone in the House has their own reason for remembering.

We remember, too, the forgotten army of everyone's speeches here. We have remembered those who died, but we have forgotten the ones who came home, the millions of service men and women who came back to this country after the war, who understood Churchill's caveat, if they had never understood it before, that there is no use ruling the waves abroad if one cannot flush out the sewers at home. They were determined that they would act together to construct for themselves, their children and their grandchildren a country that was marked by fairness, opportunity, decency and social justice, that they would construct together, all of them, all social classes, one nation bound together by the very rich diversity of the nation itself, united together in peace, in just the same way as they had been in adversity. That was their patriotic pledge and, if no one else in the House wishes to fulfil it, this party stands ready to fulfil it for their grandchildren.

9.31 pm
The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. James Arbuthnot)

We have just heard a generally enjoyable speech from the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid). It was based partly on a book that was untrue, but let that pass. It was also rather rabble-rousing, to take a phrase from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). It certainly seemed to have done the trick of the rousing at any rate, but there is one point that I must draw to the hon. Gentleman's attention: the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is not in a place that begins with a "B". It is in a place that begins with an "M" and it is not Motherwell; it is Mons.

Dr. Reid

I am sorry, but if the Minister checks he will find that the headquarters Of NATO is in Brussels. The headquarters of SHAPE—Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers, Europe—is in Mons. If he has enough time, I can run him through a better briefing than the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Arbuthnot

I have thoroughly enjoyed today's debate. I found it better than yesterday's debate. We have had some thoughtful and constructive speeches. It is the first defence debate that I have had the privilege of answering and I feel lucky and proud to be able to do so.

We had several important speeches. One of them was from my hon. Friend the Member Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), to whom I am grateful for his remarks about the Tornado and about transport crews. I agreed with much of what he said about Eurofighter 2000 and air cadets.

I agree with my hon. Friend and with the hon. Member for Motherwell, North that the cadets help young people to develop qualities of good citizenship. They are an important element of the country's voluntary youth movement and the Government recognise the enormously important role that they play in society. My hon. Friend will understand, however, that the cadets cannot be immune from the proposals for increased efficiency which the whole of the armed forces have. We have asked the cadet forces to consider how that might be achieved, but no decisions have been taken.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) made a constructive speech and I am grateful for much of what he said, not least his comments about our equipment programme. His comments about overstretch will be listened to carefully.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) talked about the shortfall in recruitment. I can confirm that we are considering using Gurkhas to fill shortfalls in other areas of the Army. No decisions have been made. We arc also looking at other ways of dealing with the shortfalls such as a vigorous recruitment campaign and the introduction of a re-engagement bounty.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Will the Minister give a commitment that if the Gurkhas are to be used in the way that he envisages, they will receive their full pension entitlement rather than the shortfall of pension that they receive now?

Mr. Arbuthnot

As I have said, no decisions have been made and, in any event, the difficulties that can arise as a result of using Gurkhas have been raised by the right hon. Member for Dudley, East and I agree with much of what he said.

My hon. Friends the Members for Blaby and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) disagreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) who made a distinguished and courageous speech about homosexuality in the armed forces. It is well known that my Department takes the view that homosexuality is incompatible with achieving the aims of the armed forces as it can undermine the good order and discipline that are essential for military effectiveness. This policy is not a matter of moral judgment but stems from a practical assessment of the implications of homosexual orientation on the unique circumstances of military life and, therefore, on combat effectiveness. The policy was supported by the Select Committee considering the Armed Forces Bill in 1991.

Earlier in the year, as the House will be aware, the High Court ruled on the exclusion of homosexuals from the armed forces. It confirmed that the policy was lawful and that any decision on its future must properly rest with Parliament. The High Court urged that the policy should be reviewed to take account of changing social attitudes and the experience of other countries where homosexuals are allowed to serve in the armed forces. In the light of that judgment, we decided to conduct the internal assessment of our policy, which is currently under way.

The aim of the assessment is to present a paper of objective evidence to the Select Committee considering the forthcoming armed forces Bill in order to assist in any deliberations on the subject. The assessment team is considering advice given to Ministers by senior military advisors as well as consulting service personnel of all ranks. It is also examining the full range of arguments put in the High Court together with the situation in the armed forces of other countries.

Mr. Michael Brown

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said and I thank him for his comments. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether the review will be prepared to receive information from those of us not inside the Ministry of Defence? Will it be possible for an organisation such as Stonewall or even for me to make representations during the internal review?

Mr. Arbuthnot

As I have told the House, it is an internal review but my hon. Friend the Minister of State will have heard what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Wilkinson

My hon. Friend is being most helpful and I welcome Her Majesty's Government's approach. It must be right for the Parliament at Westminster, after the next election, to make a decision on matters of such importance to our armed forces and to our country. Can my hon. Friend give an undertaking that it will be the Parliament at Westminster, during the passage of the armed forces Bill in the next Parliament, which will make a decision and that it will not be at the behest of the European Court if the matter comes within the jurisdiction of that body?

Mr. Arbuthnot

As I have said, it is for the Select Committee on that Bill to consider.

As always, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made a speech that I found fascinating. Like the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), he referred to the independence of our nuclear deterrent. Our nuclear deterrent is operationally independent and under the absolute control of Her Majesty's Government. The deterrent is committed to NATO except when supreme national interests require and we are not dependent on the United States to fire our nuclear weapons.

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford), in what I though was a slightly unbalanced speech, referred to the Royal Naval college at Greenwich. Following the decision to locate the Joint Services Staff college at Camberley in 1997, a marketing campaign has been in hand to seek an appropriate future use for the site by non-Government tenants. We are seeking imaginative but appropriate uses, which must be fitting to the history and architecture of the site and which will allow Greenwich to be appreciated by a wider audience.

I fully appreciate the importance of the site—a point that the hon. Gentleman rightly made. The site will remain Crown property. The marketing campaign will be concluded on 15 November, but the final decision will not be made until the middle of next year. The Defence School of Languages remains my Department's preferred occupant for the site if no other suitable non-Government tenant can be found.

The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) asked about the launch of the landing platform helicopter—the LPH. When it was launched on 11 November it sustained minor damage when the forward launch cradle collapsed prematurely. Repair of the damage is not expected to impact significantly on the programme.

One speech that I must deal with before moving on is that of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) yesterday. He asked me to meet a deputation about Raytheon, which I am happy to do. Perhaps at the same time we could discuss the other important issues that he raised in his speech.

The debate has given the House an opportunity to consider our defence strategy at a time of significant change. The Government are committed to maintaining the high quality, capable and properly equipped forces that we need to underpin our defence and foreign policy aims. In an age increasingly dominated by technology, proper equipment is vital. I want to take this opportunity to say something about our procurement policy, which is the key to ensuring that we get the best equipment and the best value for money from the defence budget.

Before doing that, I must do what my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces promised earlier today and refer to Rosyth. Following our decision that Rosyth should become a support establishment, we have been actively seeking to market the core industrial naval base area as a single entity for commercial port and related activities. A detailed assessment of the bids received is now taking place. I am pleased to tell the House that the Rosyth 2000 consortium has emerged as our preferred tenderer to progress the sale of the naval base by the end of March 1996. The consortium consists of the Bank of Scotland, Forth Ports plc, Scottish Power plc and the Babcock International group, with Evans of Leeds as an associated partner.

I am confident that the consortium has a credible business plan for the development of the naval base area and the expertise and financial resources to sustain regeneration in the longer term. It is prepared to make a substantial investment in Rosyth, with potential opportunities for the creation of new jobs. The new injection of capital will complement the investment that the Ministry of Defence has made in Rosyth over many years. I am satisfied that the Rosyth 2000 bid represents a fair return to the taxpayer for the sale of the site. Negotiations continue with Babcock International over the proposed sale of the adjacent dockyard. Our aim is to conclude those negotiations as soon as possible, but a decision on whether that transaction should proceed has not yet been made.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

I thank the Minister for giving some good news to Rosyth and to Scotland and for recognising the importance of planned economic regeneration to an area that is so devastated by defence cuts.

After 90 years of operation as a naval base, will the hon. Gentleman join me in paying tribute to all the naval personnel and civilian employees who have served this country so loyally and so well at Rosyth?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I will indeed. I also pay 'tribute to the hon. Lady for the close interest which she has taken in the naval base.

Since the mid-1980s, our policy has been to achieve value for money through the use of competition wherever practicable. My Department is the United Kingdom industry's largest single customer and we must ensure that we maintain a proper commercial relationship with our suppliers. The return of large sections of the defence industry to private ownership in the 1980s helped, as has our willingness to open up our requirements more widely to overseas suppliers, but competition has been the key.

The policy has produced real improvement for the taxpayer and for the armed forces. We estimate that competition has reduced the costs of procurement by more than £1 billion a year for equivalent output. It has given us a UK defence industry which is better placed to take on its competitors worldwide and win, as defence export orders averaging £4.5 billion a year over the past five years demonstrate. That has helped industry through the undoubtedly painful transition to the post-cold war world, but it has also allowed us to concentrate our resources on enhancing the capabilities of our front-line forces.

Of course not all of our current industrial capabilities are strategic. National self-sufficiency in armaments is not achievable.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen)

I would like to ask a question before the Minister moves off the point about competition policy. If competition policy is so important, will he reconsider the Government's decision to exclude Vosper Thorneycroft from the right to bid for at least part of the refit work on Sandown class minehunters—vessels originally built by that warship yard? At the moment, the yard is not entitled to bid for the work and therefore the Government will not know the realistic price for that work.

Mr. Arbuthnot

The hon. Gentleman again fights valiantly for his constituency. I shall obviously consider the point that he raises, but I do not think that it would be in the long-term interests of competition to agree with his immediate point. We need to identify which defence industrial capabilities we would prefer to sustain in the United Kingdom. We must ensure that we do not, perhaps for lack of proper thought, lose those elements important to the future health of the defence industrial sector.

We are part of a long-standing and close alliance. A degree of military interdependence has been a reality for decades. There is not a single major item of defence equipment in our infantry which is wholly British in origin. Not even the United States can realistically achieve total self-sufficiency in defence equipment.

We already take industrial factors into account in our procurement decisions—for example in offset or in industrial participation proposals. We do not believe that the size and shape of the UK defence industry should be primarily determined by Government. In that respect I completely disagree with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield who said: Do not tell me that we cannot diversify". Nobody has told him that we cannot diversify. But we do tell him that Governments are not well placed to direct that diversification. How industry is structured and what products it makes should be determined by commercial decisions within the market, subject of course to national and European regulatory authorities.

Our overriding aim must be to ensure that our armed forces are provided with the equipment which they need to conduct the whole range of missions that they face. In the changed security environment since the end of the cold war, it is less easy to predict where our armed forces will be deployed, who our allies will be, and what will be the capability of our probable opponents. Our forces need to be prepared and equipped to take on a wide array of tasks covering both combat and other operations other than war.

There has been an increase in the number of operations being undertaken, and that higher level of activity looks set to continue. Flexibility, mobility, combat power and utility will be key factors in determining force structures and equipment provision, and ensuring that we have the right military capability in both peace and war. We will continue to keep under review the commitments faced by our armed forces, the capabilities that they require and the resources available so that we can ensure that the services are equipped for their job and that we achieve best value for money in providing the necessary equipment.

While the overall defence budget is reducing in size, we have succeeded in reducing the costs of supporting the front line and cutting administration and headquarters costs. That has enabled us to plan on increasing the amount spent on equipment as a proportion of the total. Part of that success has been due to the defence costs study and we are on track for the implementation dates and the savings. We are confident that the £720 million a year of DCS-related savings that we have so far identified for 1996–97 will rise to more than £1 billion a year by the end of the decade. That is a remarkable achievement. The aim of the exercise was to ensure that every £1 spent on defence contributes directly or indirectly to our fighting capability. The DCS savings have enabled us to enhance our front line strength and contributed towards the excellent shape of our forward equipment programme.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that we have ordered conventionally armed Tomahawk land attack missiles. They will provide a significant addition to our military capability. Also, for the Royal Navy, we placed a main production order for Spearfish torpedoes with GEC Marconi last December. It is the most advanced anti-ship and anti-submarine torpedo in the world and it will replace the Tigerfish torpedo in all Royal Navy submarines.

We are continuing to modernise our fleet of destroyers and frigates with Type 23s replacing older vessels. We have received and are assessing bids for the design and build of a second batch of the Trafalgar class submarines—

Mr. Mackinlay


Mr. Arbuthnot

You wait. We are in contract negotiations with VSEL for the design and construction of the new landing platform docks for use by the Royal Marines and, looking further ahead, the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995" highlights our plan to introduce the common new generation frigate.

For the Army, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in July our intention to place a contract with Westland Helicopters for 67 Apache attack helicopters. For the Royal Air Force, the key equipment programme is Eurofighter 2000. We plan to take a production decision next year on this project which is intended to provide the cornerstone of our future air defence capability.

We announced last December our decision to purchase 25 C130J aircraft. The Hercules was the only new build aircraft available in the required time scale to meet the RAF's urgent operational needs and the contract was signed on 3 March this year. Quick progress is being made and the first aircraft is due to be delivered to the Royal Air Force by June 1997.

The Government and British industry are working hard with our future large aircraft partners to ensure that our criteria—that it is managed on a commercial basis and meets our requirements on price and specification—are met. We very much hope that the FLA will prove suitable to meet our requirement to replace the balance of the Hercules fleet and other possible longer-term air transport needs from the early part of the next century.

Mr. Mans

My hon. Friend mentioned—[Interruption.] Opposition Members are going to be disappointed. My hon. Friend mentioned the Hercules C130.J. Can he give us any information about the cost of that aircraft and whether the Royal Air Force will be paying any more for it than the United States air force?

Mr. Arbuthnot

One of the advantages of our procurement exercises and the foreign sales that we managed to procure is that we are able to tag on to the end of long runs provided by other air forces. I believe that that is precisely the case with the C130Js.

Our programme is outstanding and is evidence of our commitment to getting the best equipment that we can for the people at the sharp end. It means that we can provide the equipment that our armed forces need, but let us consider for a moment what the Opposition parties have in store for us. I begin with the Liberal Democrats. I listened with interest to yesterday's speech by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). I read it again today in Hansard and I must confess that at the end of it I was no clearer about what he wanted than I was at the beginning.

The Liberal Democrats have not troubled us with an amendment to the motion—presumably in order to leave themselves free to promote different policies in different areas of the country. However, their recent defence history is striking, because theirs is the party that called for a 50 per cent. cut in defence spending one month after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

Last year, the Liberal Democrats reversed that policy, calling for a comprehensive defence review. This is 1995—new year, new policy. Yesterday the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East attacked the Labour party for wanting a fundamental defence review—because, he said, it would damage morale. How right he was, but what will next year bring from the Liberal Democrats? We wait with bated breath.

However, we know what the Labour party wants. It wants to cut defence spending further. After all, where else would it find the money to pay for its spending? There is a limit to the amount that Labour could milk from the taxpayer and run up in credit. As has been said, "You can't trust Labour on defence."

We know that Labour is not satisfied with what has happened already as a result of the end of the cold war. The estimates that we are debating promise a period of stability for the front line, but we know that that is a promise that the Labour party would not honour, and that stability is not on its agenda—because, "You can't trust Labour on defence."

The Labour party calls for a full-scale defence review. Although the Liberal Democrats did not bother to table an amendment, the Labour party gave us the pleasure of two. The amendment tabled by the Labour Front-Bench spokesman calls for a review, and to see what that review would produce we need look no further than the amendment tabled by Labour Back Benchers.

There is something funny about that amendment. Yesterday it looked rather different, because then it was signed by 37 brave and honourable Labour Members who were prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and say what they believed even though that is forbidden in the Labour party at the moment. Today we see only 11 signatories. What are we to think? What has happened to the anti-nuclear 26? Have they all become nuclear overnight?

What has happened to the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), who yesterday made a courageous speech against his Front Bench and proudly nodded when asked whether he had signed the amendment? His name is not on the amendment now.

Mr. Llew Smith


Mr. Arbuthnot

Does the hon. Gentleman genuinely think today that what he said yesterday was a load of rubbish? It was, but what has happened to make him think so?

Mr. Smith


Mr. Arbuthnot

I know the answer. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces was more persuasive last night than even he imagined. When he was winding up the debate not even he thought that the result would be queues of Labour Members outside the Table Office desperate to establish their warlike credentials.

What are we to say about the 11 brave souls who are left? Clearly their chance of preferment is gone. "For you, the war is over." I salute them, because they, at any rate, are true to their principles, and they have the comfort of knowing that they represent the core of the Labour party.

What is left is an amendment that could properly be called an iceberg amendment—the tip of the iceberg. It sets out what the Labour party really wants to emerge from its review—not just 11 or even 37 people, but the heart of the Labour party. If 26 of them can suppress their feelings overnight so can 226 of them—because, "You can't trust Labour on defence."

The amendment says that we should reduce spending to an average of what the other western European countries spend—in other words, cut spending by one third. We also know that Labour wants to scrap Trident, because the amendment says so.

Labour's problem is that the British people are genuinely interested in the defence of this country. The Labour party's policy on defence is to keep it low-profile. It is not so much a policy as a desperate concern. I hope that the hon. Member for South Shields will forgive me for suggesting that the low-profile policy may be one of the reasons why he has the job of Opposition defence spokesman, because his name is not exactly household.

This year was the first year since 1989 that the Labour party conference did not pass a motion calling for defence spending to be slashed by a third. That was because the party did not dare put such a proposal to the vote at the conference because it knew what the result would be. It is not just the British people who cannot trust Labour on defence—not even Labour trusts Labour on defence. The Opposition do not trust themselves. We do not trust them. The people do not trust them. Let us have none of their amendments, none of their policies and none of them.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 262, Noes 301.

Division No. 215] [10.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Dewar, Donald
Adams, Mrs Irene Dixon, Don
Ainger, Nick Dobson, Frank
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Donohoe, Brian H
Allen, Graham Dowd, Jim
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Dunnachie, Jimmy
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Armstrong, Hilary Eagle, Ms Angela
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Eastham, Ken
Ashton, Joe Etherington, Bill
Austin-Walker, John Evans, John (St Helens N)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Barnes, Harry Fatchett, Derek
Barron, Kevin Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Battle, John Fisher, Mark
Bayley, Hugh Flynn, Paul
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Bell, Stuart Foster, Don (Bath)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Foulkes, George
Bennett, Andrew F Fraser, John
Benton, Joe Fyfe, Maria
Bermingham, Gerald Galloway, George
Berry, Roger Garrett, John
Betts, Clive Gerrard, Neil
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Blunkett, David Godman, Dr Norman A
Boateng, Paul Godsiff, Roger
Bradley, Keith Golding, Mrs Llin
Bray, Dr Jeremy Graham, Thomas
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Burden, Richard Grocott, Bruce
Caborn, Richard Gunnell, John
Callaghan, Jim Hain, Peter
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hall, Mike
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hanson, David
Campbell, Ronnie (Blylh V) Hardy, Peter
Campbell-Savours, D N Harman, Ms Harriet
Cann, Jamie Harvey, Nick
Chisholm, Malcolm Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Church, Judith Henderson, Doug
Clapham, Michael Heppell, John
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hodge, Margaret
Clelland, David Hoey, Kate
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Coffey, Ann Home Robertson, John
Cohen, Harry Hood, Jimmy
Connarty, Michael Hoon, Geoffrey
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Howarth, George (Knowsley North)
Corbett, Robin Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hoyle, Doug
Corston, Jean Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cousins, Jim Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cox, Tom Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cummings, John Hutton, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Illsley, Eric
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Ingram, Adam
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Dafis, Cynog Janner, Greville
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Darling, Alistair Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Jowell, Tessa
Denham, John Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keen, Alan Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Khabra, Piara S Primarolo, Dawn
Kilfoyle, Peter Purchase, Ken
Kirkwood, Archy Quin, Ms Joyce
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Radice, Giles
Lewis, Terry Randall, Stuart
Liddell, Mrs Helen Raynsford, Nick
Litherland, Robert Redmond, Martin
Livingstone, Ken Reid, Dr John
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Rendel, David
Llwyd, Elfyn Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Loyden, Eddie Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
McAllion, John Roche, Mrs Barbara
McAvoy, Thomas Rogers, Allan
McCartney, Ian Rooker, Jeff
McCartney, Robert Rooney, Terry
Macdonald, Calum Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McFall, John Ruddock, Joan
McKelvey, William Sedgemore, Brian
Mackinlay, Andrew Sheerman, Barry
McLeish, Henry Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McMaster, Gordon Short, Clare
McNamara, Kevin Simpson, Alan
MacShane, Denis Skinner, Dennis
Madden, Max Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Maddock, Diana Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Mahon, Alice Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mandelson, Peter Snape, Peter
Marek, Dr John Soley, Clive
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Spearing, Nigel
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Spellar, John
Martin, Michael J (Springburn) Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Martlew, Eric Stevenson, George
Maxton, John Stott, Roger
Meacher, Michael Strang, Dr. Gavin
Meale, Alan Straw, Jack
Michael, Alun Sutcliffe, Gerry
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Milburn, Alan Timms, Stephen
Miller, Andrew Tipping, Paddy
Morgan, Rhodri Touhig, Don
Morley, Elliot Vaz, Keith
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Walley, Joan
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Mowlam, Marjorie Watson, Mike
Mudie, George Welsh, Andrew
Mullin, Chris Wicks, Malcolm
Murphy, Paul Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire) Wilson, Brian
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Winnick, David
Olner, Bill Wise, Audrey
O'Neill, Martin Worthington, Tony
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wray, Jimmy
Parry, Robert Wright, Dr Tony
Pearson, Ian Young, David (Bolton SE)
Pendry, Tom
Pickthall, Colin Tellers for the Ayes:
Pike, Peter L Mr. Dennis Turner and
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Mr. Stephen Byers.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Ashby, David
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Atkins, Rt Hon Robert
Alexander, Richard Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)
Amess, David Baldry, Tony
Ancram, Michael Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Arbuthnot, James Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bates, Michael
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Batiste, Spencer
Beggs, Roy Forth, Eric
Bellingham, Henry Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bendall, Vivian Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Beresford, Sir Paul Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Biffen, Rt Hon John French, Douglas
Body, Sir Richard Fry, Sir Peter
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Gale, Roger
Booth, Hartley Gallie, Phil
Boswell, Tim Gardiner, Sir George
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Garnier, Edward
Bowden, Sir Andrew Gill, Christopher
Bowis, John Gillan, Cheryl
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Brandreth, Gyles Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brazier, Julian Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bright Sir Graham Gorst, Sir John
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Greenway, Harry (Ealing North)
Browning, Mrs Angela Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Grylls, Sir Michael
Budgen, Nicholas Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Burt, Alistair Hague, William
Butcher, John Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Butler, Peter Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butterfill, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Hannam, Sir John
Carrington, Matthew Hargreaves, Andrew
Carttiss, Michael Haselhurst, Sir Alan
Cash, William Hawkins, Nick
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hawksley, Warren
Chapman, Sir Sydney Hayes, Jerry
Churchill, Mr Heald, Oliver
Clappison, James Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Hendry, Charles
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Coe, Sebastian Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Congdon, David Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Conway, Derek Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Horam, John
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Couchman, James Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Cran, James Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Hunter, Andrew
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hurd, Fit Hon Douglas
Day, Stephen Jack, Michael
Devlin, Tim Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Dicks, Terry Jenkin, Bernard
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Jessel, Toby
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dover, Den Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Duncan, Alan Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Duncan-Smith, Iain Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dunn, Bob King, Rt Hon Tom
Durant, Sir Anthony Kirkhope, Timothy
Dykes, Hugh Knapman, Roger
Eggar, Rt Hon Tim Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Elletson, Harold Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Knox, Sir David
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Evennett, David Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Faber, David Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Fabricant, Michael Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Fenner, Dame Peggy Legg, Barry
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Leigh, Edward
Fishburn, Dudley Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Forman, Nigel Lidington, David
Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael Lightbown, Sir David
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Fit Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lord, Michael Shersby, Michael
Luff, Peter Sims, Roger
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Skeet, Sir Trevor
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
MacKay, Andrew Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maclean, David Smyth, The Reverend Martin
McLoughlin, Patrick Soames, Nicholas
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Speed, Sir Keith
Madel, Sir David Spencer, Sir Derek
Malone, Gerald Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Mans, Keith Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marland, Paul Spink, Dr Robert
Marlow, Tony Spring, Richard
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Sproat, Iain
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Steen, Anthony
Mates, Michael Stephen, Michael
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Stern, Michael
Merchant, Piers Stewart, Allan
Mills, Iain Streeter, Gary
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Sumberg, David
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Sweeney, Walter
Moate, Sir Roger Sykes, John
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Tapsell, Sir Peter
Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Neubert, Sir Michael Temple-Morris, Peter
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Thomason, Roy
Nicholls, Patrick Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Thumham, Peter
Norris, Steve Townend, John (Bridlington)
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Oppenheim, Phillip Tracey, Richard
Ottaway, Richard Tredinnick, David
Page, Richard Trend, Michael
Paice, James Trotter, Neville
Twinn, Dr Ian
Patnick, Sir Irvine
Patten, Rt Hon John Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Viggers, Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Pawsey, James Walden, George
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Pickles, Eric Waller, Gary
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Ward, John
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Powell, William (Corby) Waterson, Nigel
Redwood, Rt Hon John Watts, John
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Wells, Bowen
Richards, Rod Whitney, Ray
Robathan, Andrew Whittingdale, John
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Widdecombe, Ann
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Wilkinson, John
Ross, William (E Londonderry) Willetts, David
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Wilshire, David
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Sackville, Tom Wolfson, Mark
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Wood, Timothy
Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Tellers for the Noes:
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Mr. Simon Burns and Dr. Liam Fox.
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)

Amendment accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:-

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There seems to be some intimidation going on. There are gentlemen standing and preventing people from going into the Lobby opposite. They seem to be Labour Whips.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I see no intimidation anywhere.

The House having divided: Ayes 304, Noes 28.

Division No. 216] [10.17 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Alexander, Richard Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Day, Stephen
Amess, David Devlin, Tim
Ancram, Michael Dicks, Terry
Arbuthnot, James Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Dover, Den
Ashby, David Duncan, Alan
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Duncan-Smith, Iain
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Dunn, Bob
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Durant, Sir Anthony
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Dykes, Hugh
Baldry, Tony Eggar, Rt Hon Tim
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Elletson, Harold
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Bates, Michael Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Batiste, Spencer Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Beggs, Roy Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bellingham, Henry Evennett, David
Bendall, Vivian Faber, David
Beresford, Sir Paul Fabricant, Michael
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Booth, Hartley Fishburn, Dudley
Boswell, Tim Forman, Nigel
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Bowden, Sir Andrew Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Bowis, John Forth, Eric
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Foster, Don (Bath)
Brandreth, Gyles Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brazier, Julian Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bright, Sir Graham Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter French, Douglas
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Fry, Sir Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela Gale, Roger
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Gallie, Phil
Budgen, Nicholas Gardiner, Sir George
Burt, Alistair Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Butcher, John Garnier, Edward
Butler, Peter Gill, Christopher
Butterfill, John Gillan, Cheryl
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Carrington, Matthew Gorst, Sir John
Carttiss, Michael Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Cash, William Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Chapman, Sir Sydney Grylls, Sir Michael
Churchill, Mr Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Clappison, James Hague, Rt Hon William
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hampson, Dr Keith
Coe, Sebastian Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Congdon, David Hannam, Sir John
Conway, Derek Hargreaves, Andrew
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Harvey, Nick
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Haselhurst, Sir Alan
Cope, Rt Hon Sr John Hawkins, Nick
Couchman, James Hawksley, Warren
Cran, James Heald, Oliver
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Norris, Steve
Hendry, Charles Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Oppenheim, Phillip
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence Ottaway, Richard
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Page, Richard
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Paice, James
Horam, John Patnick, Sir Irvine
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Patten, Rt Hon John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Pawsey, James
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Pickles, Eric
Hunter, Andrew Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Powell, William (Corby)
Jack, Michael Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Rendel, David
Jenkin, Bernard Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jessel, Toby Richards, Rod
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Robathan, Andrew
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
King, Rt Hon Tom Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Kirkhope, Timothy Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Kirkwood, Archy Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Knapman, Roger Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Sackville, Tom
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Knox, Sir David Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Shersby, Sir Michael
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Sims, Roger
Legg, Barry Skeet, Sir Trevor
Leigh, Edward Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lidington, David Smyth, The Reverend Martin
Lightbown, Sir David Soames, Nicholas
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Speed, Sir Keith
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Spencer, Sir Derek
Lord, Michael Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Luff, Peter Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spink, Dr Robert
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spring, Richard
MacKay, Andrew Sproat, Iain
Maclean, Rt Hon David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
McLoughlin, Patrick Steen, Anthony
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Stephen, Michael
Maddock, Diana Stern, Michael
Madel, Sir David Stewart, Allan
Malone, Gerald Streeter, Gary
Mans, Keith Sumberg, David
Marland, Paul Sweeney, Walter
Marlow, Tony Sykes, John
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Mates, Michael Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Temple-Morris, Peter
Merchant, Piers Thomason, Roy
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Mills, Iain Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thurnham, Peter
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moate, Sir Roger Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Tracey, Richard
Monro, Sir Hector Tredinnick, David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Trend, Michael
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Trotter, Neville
Neubert, Sir Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Nicholls, Patrick Viggers, Peter
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Walden, George Wilkinson, John
Walker, Bill (N Tayside) Willetts, David
Waller, Gary Wilshire, David
Ward, John Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Waterson, Nigel Wolfson, Mark
Wood, Timothy
Watts, John Yeo, Tim
Wells, Bowen Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Whitney, Ray
Whittingdale, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Widdecombe, Ann Mr. Simon Burns and
Wiggin, Sir Jerry Dr. Liam Fox.
Abbott, Ms Diane Madden, Max
Austin-Walker, John Mahon, Alice
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Marek, Dr John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Bennett, Andrew F Mullin, Chris
Burden, Richard Parry, Robert
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Cohen, Harry Simpson, Alan
Corbyn, Jeremy Skinner, Dennis
Dafis, Cynog Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Gerrard, Neil Welsh, Andrew
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Wise, Audrey
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Lewis, Terry Tellers for the Noes:
Livingstone, Ken Mr. Harry Barnes and
Llwyd, Elfyn Mr. Eddie Loyden.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. Llew Smith

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister complimented me on making a courageous speech against nuclear weapons yesterday. I saw that speech not as courageous, but as sensible: I have no ambitions to destroy this earth of ours with nuclear weapons.

The Minister went on to say, however, that along with 25 of my hon. Friends I had withdrawn my name from the amendment. Will you confirm, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that none of us did so? The confusion seems to have arisen because the Minister does not understand the procedure. The six original signatories are named, as well as five additions—which means that more than 40 people signed the amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It may help the House if I remind hon. Members that the House's practice is to print only the top six names on a motion or amendment each day when it appears on the Order paper. Below the top six, only new signatories' names are printed on the second and subsequent days.

Sir Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that the House has no concessions or penalties that it can raise, but I find it rather strange that 28 Opposition Members are voting against a three-line Whip—and this is the party that would be king.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that that is not a point of order.