§ [Relevant document: The Seventh Report from the Defence Committee of Session 1995ߝ96, entitled 'Statement on the Defence Estimates 1996', House of Commons Paper No. 215.]
§ 4.9 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Portillo)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1996 contained in Cm. 3223.I welcome the opportunity for the House to debate the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", and the Select Committee's report. I also want to report to the House on developments since the House last met.
It is common ground that Britain's armed forces are highly disciplined, professional and effective—a credit to themselves and to the nation. That high regard has been sustained by their work in Northern Ireland. Few other armed services could have dealt with such a delicate situation so well. They provide security and reassurance to the Province, without being heavy-handed. The private soldier and the non-commissioned officer handle provocation with exemplary self-control.
Throughout the ceasefire our forces remained alert, aware that it could end at any time. Now that it has ended they face again the bomb, the mortar and the sniper's fire.
The House will condemn the bomb attack on HQ Northern Ireland. It was savage and it was intended to plunge the Province into a mayhem of terrorist action and counter-action. It cost Warrant Officer Bradwell his life, and the House will be thinking of his family, and all those who were injured, to whom we extend our sympathy and our respects.
I do not wish to rush to comment on how security was breached. The Royal Ulster Constabulary is conducting a criminal investigation and the Army is mounting a security investigation in parallel. The Army has applied new measures that it thinks necessary, and I want it exhaustively to analyse the evidence from Monday's bomb, to draw final conclusions about what happened and what can be learnt.
Through so many years of violence, the terrorist has not shaken our resolve—not the resolve of the people of Northern Ireland, nor of those on the mainland, nor of those in the armed forces. The political process demonstrates that reconciliation can be achieved between those committed to democratic means. Change can be effected, but only if it is the will of the people of Northern Ireland. The armed forces remain there, supporting the police, so that, in Northern Ireland as in every other part of the United Kingdom, the people can determine how they are governed.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
May I ask the Secretary of State a question of which I gave his office notice on Thursday 10 October? Has his Department—he is not responsible because it happened many Secretaries of State for Defence ago—considered the case of Colin 479 Wallace? My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and I were rubbished from the Dispatch Box in several Adjournment debates for saying that which the Court of Appeal now upholds. Should not the Ministry of Defence consider the lessons to be learnt from what has happened to Colin Wallace?
§ Mr. Portillo
I will be happy to think about that issue. I do not wish to rubbish anything that the hon. Gentleman says today or on any other occasion, but nor do I want to give off-the-cuff answers about a complex subject. If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise with me—perhaps by letter—issues that he believes arise, I will be happy to consider them.
In the first days of this month, another matter touching the well-being of our forces has also been in our minds. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces announced that we now know that organophosphate insecticides were more widely used in the Gulf than we had thought. Some were bought locally and used to control insects that might have posed a risk to health. I regret that the House has been given misleading information in answers that Ministers have given in good faith on the basis of advice.
As our first concern is the health of our veterans, the records of those who have attended the medical assessment programme are being re-examined, to see whether using insecticides provides a clue to their condition. More broadly, the Medical Research Council will take it into account in making its recommendations on the research programme on Gulf war health.
We shall also examine minutely who used the sprays, what safety procedures applied to the spraying and whether they were complied with. Until those steps have been taken, I believe that we should all be cautious about making links between that important new information and a broad range of health complaints which may or may not be linked and may or may not constitute a syndrome. The Minister of State and I are determined to get to the bottom of this matter.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
Will the study also give consideration to whether organophosphates and the anti-malarial treatment given to our armed forces may have had some link to this syndrome?
§ Mr. Portillo
Yes. Let me distinguish between two things: there are people who are sick; there are medical conditions. We have a new piece of information, and we need to see whether there is a link between it and people's medical conditions. We also have a much broader study to undertake; the Medical Research Council is giving us advice as to what form it should take. It certainly needs to be broad, and it needs to investigate the incidence of illness among veterans and compare it with the incidence of illness in the population in general. It must also take into account all possible factors and the links between them.
As the Gulf conflict demonstrated, our armed forces remain equipped to play their part in enhancing security and defending our interests world wide. An important change for Britain will occur in 1997, when sovereignty over Hong Kong is transferred to China and the British garrison withdraws. Asia Pacific is important to us. The 480 United Kingdom is the largest European investor in the region, and the second largest exporter of goods. It is also the biggest exporter of invisibles.
The region has its fair share of potential trouble spots. In recent months there have been tensions between North and South Korea and China and Taiwan, and between nations that dispute the sovereignty of islands. Britain can play a part in urging restraint and in urging a peaceful resolution of disputes, and by maintaining a reassuring presence.
In Asia Pacific as elsewhere the reputation and standing of our armed forces is high. We will continue to participate in combined training and will send our largest ever contribution to next year's Exercise Flying Fish, organised by the five-power defence arrangements. We shall improve our links with Japan and with United States forces in the Pacific. We will maintain the Gurkha battalion in Brunei.
To our many friends in the region, our message is clear: we may be leaving Hong Kong but we are staying in Asia Pacific.
§ Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)
On Britain's interests in Asia Pacific and the peaceful resolution of disputes, has the right hon. Gentleman noted the award of the Nobel peace prize to Bishop Belo and Jose Ramos Horta? Is he aware of Jose Ramos Horta's testimony in the Grand Committee Room of this House and in Liverpool Crown court that British Hawk aircraft, sold by Britain to the Indonesian regime, are being used in the repression of the people of East Timor—a repression of peculiar, indeed genocidal cruelty? Does he understand that if ever the Government could get away with affecting ignorance of the atrocities being perpetrated using these and other British military exports, they can certainly no longer do so? If the right hon. Gentleman will not condemn these practices by the Indonesian Government and forthwith announce a ban on any further sales of arms or military assistance to them, he and the Government must stand condemned in the dock of international opinion—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. That is a very long intervention. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that interventions are meant to be short.
§ Mr. Portillo
We are having a two-day debate, and I would have thought that if the hon. Gentleman had a speech to make he could have saved that intervention until then.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Opposition defence spokesman, who has made it clear that these aircraft lack the range to attack targets in East Timor? Perhaps that spokesman would like to have a word with his Back Bencher.
§ Mr. Portillo
I have no evidence that Hawk aircraft have been used against the population of Indonesia, but there will be many—not least in my hon. Friend's constituency—who will be interested to hear that members of the Labour party are leading a campaign that would have serious consequences for the people of this country, based on what I regard as very flimsy evidence. This Government have a great concern for human rights and will always consider any evidence that is produced.
481 Some events over the summer reminded us of challenges to international order and British interests. Conflict between states and peoples continues to be a threat. Ethnic and territorial disputes are always with us. We cannot abolish greed, intolerance and extremism. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles can only further heighten instability. Saddam Hussein remains a serious threat to stability, and he is for ever probing our resolve, testing us to see how far we will let him go.
An important legacy from the Gulf war is the United Nations Special Commission, which has done excellent work to require Saddam's compliance with UN resolutions on the elimination of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Throughout the commission's years of operation Saddam has lied and cheated, using every ploy to maintain his deadly programme. In 1991, the United Nations adopted Security Council resolution 688 against Saddam's repression of the civilian population. No-fly zones were established over northern and southern Iraq. We have 400 personnel, tornadoes and VC-10 tankers helping to enforce the no-fly zones.
The Iraqi military build-up this summer and the subsequent attack on Irbil could not go unchallenged. The Iraqi mobilisation was large scale: 45,000 troops and more than 300 tanks. We fully supported the United States' action against Iraqi missile sites and agreed that United States aircraft could use the facilities at Diego Garcia. Following the American action, Iraqi troops were not heavily involved in the further KDP advance on Sulaymaniyah. The extension of the southern no-fly zone to the 33rd parallel enables more effective monitoring of compliance with UN Security Council resolutions, and prevents Saddam from using air bases and aircraft over most of Iraq south of Baghdad. That sharply reduces his ability to use force against his own people or his neighbours.
As the House knows, much larger numbers of British forces have been involved in Bosnia.
§ Mrs. Clwyd
Does the Minister agree that the policy, such as it was, was a complete shambles because it consolidated Saddam's foothold in northern Iraq and did not dislodge him in any way? What is the Minister's concept of a safe haven, because the people of northern Iraq no longer understand that concept?
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Lady seeks to broaden the commendable initiative of safe havens, which was undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to include a concept that we have not been in a position to guarantee: the safety of all Kurds in northern Iraq. We have not been in a position to bring about that broader concept. She asked me what we have achieved. First, we achieved the realisation in Saddam's mind that if he mobilises vast numbers of troops there will be a reaction—certainly from the United States and Britain, and from allies and partners too. Secondly, as I said in 482 my speech, Iraqi troops were not then involved in the further advance of the KDP towards Sulaymaniyah. Thirdly, Saddam has lost something important: the ability to operate his aircraft over almost half his country. That is not only a humiliation to him but a considerable military impediment, should he try to mobilise for an attack either on his own people or on a neighbouring state.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
My right hon. Friend spoke about the new dangers that we face in Iraq and our continuing commitments to Bosnia and other parts of the world. Does he agree that it is only right that we ensure that our armed forces have the best equipment possible? News over the weekend has therefore been worrying. The chairman of the German defence committee says that the Germans will drag their feet over the Eurofighter 2000. My right hon. Friend knows my constituency's involvement in the production of the Eurofighter 2000. Will he use his influence with the Germans to ensure that they do not drag their feet over their commitment to the Eurofighter and restate his commitment to that valuable project?
§ Mr. Portillo
I do so happily. My hon. Friend is an assiduous champion of the project. We are determined to press on with it and we would like to see the Germans and our other partners participating in order to get it under way quickly. I shall make some considered comments on the subject later in my speech.
As the House knows, much larger numbers of British forces have been involved in Bosnia, first as part of UNPROFOR and now with the peace implementation force, IFOR. IFOR's success in separating and disarming the factions has enabled us to reduce British numbers to around 9,000 troops on the ground and 500 elsewhere. That includes some 1,200 reservists, who are making a crucial contribution. We remain the second largest IFOR contributor.
IFOR troops helped to ensure that the Bosnian elections in September took place peacefully. They verified the location of every polling station and ensured that they were in safe areas with free access. On election day, they were ready to guarantee freedom of movement and to provide security. Afterwards, they supplied logistic support to the counting of votes. A number of hon Members have told me of their experiences as election observers and the pride that they felt as they saw how British forces helped to conduct those peaceful elections.
The overall land operation has been admirably led by General Sir Michael Walker, who commands the headquarters of the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps. That multinational, but largely British-manned, headquarters has been a huge success. It has been in Bosnia for almost a year and will shortly begin its handover. Our forces in HQ ARRC will be home for Christmas.
The United Kingdom also leads the multinational division in the south-west sector of Bosnia. It has successfully presided over the largest transfer of land under the Dayton agreement and has firmly established itself with the local communities on both sides. It has brokered agreements between the factions, while ensuring strict compliance with the military provisions of Dayton. Many colleagues in the House have admired the way in which British forces have conducted themselves.
483 Since April, the division has completed more than 210 projects funded by the Overseas Development Administration at a cost of £5.7 million. Utilities, schools and hospitals have been rebuilt, roads have been repaired and new light industry has been set up, providing tangible benefits for the people of Bosnia from the peace agreement.
The international community will not abandon Bosnia in 1997. The primary focus must be the continuing civil operation: there is no purely military answer to this difficult political problem. The overarching political strategy of the international community needs to be put in place over the next two months and the London conference in early December may put the seal on it.
A continuing military presence may be part of the strategy. If so, we expect it to be NATO-led, like IFOR. NATO Defence Ministers, meeting in Bergen in September, set in train contingency planning for a range of possible mission objectives which would each imply different force levels.
We are anxious that a strategy, and clear objectives flowing from it, should determine whether to send a new force and, if so, of what size. We should avoid decisions on the nature of the force being taken before that strategy is in place. However, if there were to be such a force, our policy is that Britain should continue to play an important part.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
My right hon. Friend rightly pays tribute to the work of our forces in Bosnia, particularly in the area of civil reconstruction. He will know that the Royal Engineers, substantial numbers of whom are based in my constituency, have played a part in that work. Will he bear in mind the fact that the active duty tours of specialist corps, such as the Royal Engineers and the Royal Signallers, are occurring ever faster? Does he understand the overstretch to which that leads within those specialist corps?
§ Mr. Portillo
I understand that. The balance of skills required in the armed forces has been changed by events such as Bosnia and the demand for engineers is much greater than we predicted. I do not know whether life will continue to be like that, but we shall certainly bear in mind the lessons that we have learnt from Bosnia. If it looks as though that operation, or others like it. will continue, we shall have to weigh the implications for the balance of our forces. I join my hon. Friend in the tribute that he paid to the Engineers.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
When the Secretary of State discussed the possibility of a follow-on force, he chose his language scrupulously. He was careful about precisely what he said, but can he confirm that, if the international community in general and NATO in particular conclude that there should be a follow-on military force, the United Kingdom will be part of that force?
§ Mr. Portillo
Yes. Although the hon. and learned Gentleman did not ask, I shall volunteer the information that the United States also needs to be part of that force.
The IFOR operation has reinforced respect for NATO and underlined the importance of American participation in European security. Perhaps most strikingly that: has been true in command and control, in which an American contribution has been shown to be indispensable.
484 Few people now believe that a European security and defence identity should be developed outside NATO, and Britain is working with our allies to increase the visibility of such an identity within the alliance. I believe that we have carried the point that there can be only as much identity as there is capability. European identity rests not so much on institutional changes as on European nations being able to perform military tasks.
NATO is embarked on creating combined joint task force headquarters. It will do the contingency planning and establish the infrastructure to allow the alliance to respond rapidly to a crisis by dispatching a multinational force.
As part of the debate on European identity, it has been agreed that were there to be an operation involving only European powers, the Western European Union could exercise political control even though the assets of NATO would clearly be involved. That agreement gives a new role to the WEU, which I welcome. It reinforces British reasons for wishing to ensure that the European Union does not absorb or subordinate the WEU. European Union political direction over NATO assets is inconceivable.
The alliance is making progress with reorganising its command structures. If that reorganisation can be satisfactorily resolved, it could pave the way for France to play a full part in the revised military structure. The British Government warmly welcome that prospect; it would be an ideal background for NATO's decision next year on which countries from eastern and central Europe will be the first to join NATO. That timetable will be stuck to.
NATO recognises the importance of ensuring that those applicant countries who will not join then do not feel isolated or ignored. Indeed, the same is true for those who are not applicants, such as Ukraine and Russia. NATO will wish to thicken its contacts with such countries, especially by developing the programme called "Partnership for Peace". Britain has put forward ideas to make its activities more effective.
The strategic thinking that has led NATO to the concept of a combined joint task force has led us to focus also on joint tri-service activity, rapid reaction and power projection. Those are the themes of the 1996 White Paper and I am grateful to the members of the Defence Select Committee for their positive comments.
The Joint Rapid Development Force became operational on 1 August and it will markedly improve our ability to undertake a wide range of short-notice missions. In July, the capability of the permanent joint headquarters at Northwood was evaluated in Exercise Purple Viva and it came through with flying colours. On 1 August, it was declared fully operational and began to take on live operations. It currently has responsibility for our contribution to IFOR; current operations in the middle east; disaster relief; and the day-to-day management of overseas commands.
Even with 17,000 troops committed to Northern Ireland and a large force in Bosnia, we were able to send 12,000 troops to take part in Exercise Purple Star in April and May. That exercise was an early test for the PJHQ and involved elements of the JRDF in the largest combined United Kingdom and United States deployment since the Gulf.
The formation of the JRDF required us to reassess our priorities and to continue the shift in our planning away from cold war configurations. But that also reinforced my 485 belief that we should get on with placing orders for the new assault ships for the Royal Navy. Albion and Bulwark will replace Fearless and Intrepid.
The Government are committed to providing the armed forces with the manpower and equipment they need to undertake the tasks that our defence policy places on them. The Government have made it clear that the big upheavals in the armed forces are over. We shall continue to provide the stability that our armed forces need.
The outturn for defence spending in 1995ߝ96 was £21,522 million, an underspend of £203 million. I had anticipated an underspend of £500 million, but that was reduced as suppliers' performance increasingly met our original expectations.
Last year the defence budget was set at £21.9 billion in 1997ߝ98 and £22.6 billion in 1998ߝ99. We were able to commit ourselves to continuing the investment in defence equipment that permits our armed forces to provide the operational capability that we require of them. We are committed to providing the resources necessary to sustain the front line. We have world-class armed forces. As long as there is a Conservative Government, they will be provided with world-class equipment.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Against that background, and given the Secretary of State's statement about stability and underspend, may I take it that in no circumstances will the national air traffic service be sold, which would have a direct effect on service control? Presumably the matter has been discussed in considerable detail with the heads of the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Portillo
The service's future has been a matter of discussion and I am not in a position to make a statement about it today.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
Shortly before the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the Secretary of State mentioned world-class equipment for our armed forces. Will he comment on the F3 Tornado that crashed just off Blackpool beach on the first day of the Labour party conference? Is he able to confirm that it was the pre-certification trial flight of the first of the 14 aircraft that have been damaged by defective contractor work carried out by Airwork Ltd. at RAF St. Athan? Three of 17 aircraft have already been written off. If the damage to the aircraft that crashed at Blackpool was so serious, does that mean that the other 14 aircraft will be written off? How does that square with the Government's willingness and desire to provide world-class equipment for our armed forces?
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Gentleman is getting rather carried away. The aircraft was being flown by British Aerospace. A consequence of that is that any investigation comes, I believe, under the Department of Transport and not under the Ministry of Defence. However, the investigation must be properly conducted. It does no one a service to rush to conclusions.
The aircraft was one that had been serviced badly by another contractor, but British Aerospace would not take up into the air any aircraft unless it was satisfied that it 486 was airworthy. The hon. Gentleman is leaping to conclusions. I am not sure what vendetta he is trying to conduct.
The House had already risen for the summer recess when the Government announced in another place three important decisions on missiles and aircraft. Each led to large orders for British companies. I am grateful for the support from hon. Members which the decisions attracted.
British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce won their bid to build Nimrod 2000 as the new maritime patrol aircraft. To be able to detect and hunt the new generations of stealthy submarine is essential to a maritime power like Britain.
We chose Storm Shadow, the air-launched cruise missile from British Aerospace, for the RAF, and Brimstone from GEC will meet our requirement for an air-launched anti-armour weapon.
These orders total nearly £4 billion and directly sustain about 5,000 jobs. The people whose livelihoods depend on them will view with dismay the motions submitted to the Labour party conference calling for defence cuts, and the motion on today's Order Paper calling for cuts and the abandonment of the nuclear deterrent, which has been signed by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), the hon. Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and the other usual suspects.
The Labour leadership responds predictably by pandering to its left wing. The Labour leadership offers our forces the bleak prospect of a defence review. There is no need for one. We have made the adjustment to the end of the cold war. Our smaller forces reflect that. But one cannot take a peace dividend more than once.
Labour's refusal to commit to anything more than a defence review makes the defence community highly suspicious. Labour is committed to spending increases in a number of policy areas about which its Back Benchers feel passionately. However, it is perfectly clear that Labour Back Benchers do not care about defence at all. Indeed, many want it cut. Defence would be a soft touch for a Labour Government and easy pickings for a Labour Chancellor.
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
The Secretary of State speaks for a Government who have unilaterally deprived this country of all its sub-strategic nuclear capability without negotiating any comparable reductions by possible hostile powers. Will he confirm that the conventionally armed stand-off missile is capable of being fitted with a nuclear warhead—which, I believe, is what the French intend to do? Were it to be fitted, would we retain any aircraft capable of using it in such a role?
§ Mr. Portillo
The right hon. Gentleman is incorrect: we have not given up our sub-strategic capability. Indeed, we have deployed the Trident submarine fleet with a sub-strategic capability. We shall stop using the WE177 free-fall bomb for that purpose in the near future. Cruise missiles could carry a range of warheads, but the British Government do not intend to equip our cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
As the Secretary of State has at last got round to the issue of nuclear weapons, will he tell us for what purpose this country wishes to retain such weapons, given the danger 487 that they pose to the rest of the world? What is the Government's response to the World Court judgment concerning the legality and safety of and the environmental damage done by the manufacture and possession of nuclear weapons? Does not that judgment give us the opportunity to start down a road of peace rather than following the road of continual nuclear arming and rearming?
§ Mr. Portillo
A Government with less resolve than the present one would take any opportunity to disarm the country. Under this Government, the country does not want to take that opportunity. The Government will maintain nuclear weapons because we need to maintain a deterrent that keeps this country safe. Nuclear weapons have not been uninvented in the rest of the world; indeed, they are proliferating and being developed by other states. I do not propose that this country should stand naked before such a threat to its security and survival.
Would Labour commit itself to beginning production of the Eurofighter, which is so much wanted by the Royal Air Force? I have made it clear that the British Government are ready to proceed. We are working with our partners, trusting that they, too, will be ready to move to the next stage. If it is to have good export prospects, the aircraft needs to be produced without further delay. If collaborative projects are to offer European nations a competitive alternative to buying American, we need to improve markedly on our performance to date.
Part of the answer for the future may be industrial restructuring in Europe. There are important opportunities for British companies, a number of which are in pole position. The Government have made clear their willingness to offer political support to mergers or joint ventures that make industrial sense, enhance the world competitiveness of industry and safeguard indigenous capabilities required for the effective support of our armed forces.
Part of my duty as Secretary of State is to ensure that the defence budget is spent in ways that maximise value for money in the front line and its support. The House debated thoroughly the question of the sale of the married quarters estate—
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
On the subject of the Eurofighter, is not it ironic that that example of European co-operation—perhaps one of the greatest examples of such co-operation in recent history— is being endangered by the Maastricht convergence criteria, which have put pressure on the German budget?
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
The Secretary of State will be aware that John Weston of British Aerospace foresees the creation of a single European defence company by the end of the decade as the only means of withstanding the weight force of the United States mega merged companies. In his Farnborough 488 speech in early September, the Deputy Prime Minister endorsed that view. Is that also the view of the Secretary of State for Defence?
§ Mr. Portillo
Collaboration in Europe serves two purposes. The first is to provide competition against American products in the short term. In the longer term, America and Europe will face strong competition from the far east. In both instances, European industry must strengthen itself to face the competitive challenges that lie ahead. [Interruption.]I am sorry, did I miss the hon. Gentleman's point?
§ Mr. Anderson
The point that I made was that in Farnborough the Deputy Prime Minister appeared to endorse the move towards a single European defence company by the end of the decade. Was he speaking with the concurrence of the Secretary of State for Defence?
§ Mr. Portillo
The point that I made—which I make again and rest on—was that the Government want to give political support to changes in Europe that are industrially driven. Industrial logic should dictate the formation of industries in Europe, not political diktat. Clearly, we are in for a period of change.
§ Mr. Portillo
Absolutely. Nothing that I have said about European collaboration should be held to be exclusive. British companies also have important joint ventures with American companies. It is extremely important for British companies to maintain the flexibility to operate with partners in both continents—and, indeed, even more broadly than that.
On European competition, we face the problem that the United States has production lines for its armed forces which are 10 times as long as the production lines of any one European country. We should think about how to restructure and produce collaboratively so as to have longer production runs. We must do better than we have done on Eurofighter, because the delays are making the product uncompetitive.
I was about to say that the House debated thoroughly the sale of the married quarters estate. Over the summer, we achieved an excellent sale. We exchanged contracts with Annington Homes on 24 September for a sale price of £1,662 million, which significantly exceeded general expectations.
Annington does not wish to exercise the site exchange option during the first 25 years. As that has been a cause of some anxiety, I hope that that decision will increase further the House's confidence in the sale. Sir Thomas Macpherson, a distinguished ex-soldier and chairman of Annington, has expressed clearly his understanding of the importance of family security to the serving soldier, sailor or airman. His support for the integrity of the patch matches my own. Such issues are important if we are to 489 recruit and retain the right number and quality of personnel. The Select Committee on Defence has expressed its concern on that issue too.
Sir Michael Bett's independent review of the services' manpower, career and remuneration structure focused on some of the issues. In July, I informed the House that much work was still required on the detailed options contained in it. There are complex issues to be considered, and we are taking the necessary time to get them right.
It is no part of Government policy to recruit below establishment. We want to see the Army's shortfall of 4,000 made good. We recognise the impact of excess cadreisation on effectiveness, and the consequences of a shortfall in numbers for tour intervals—and hence for family life. Pushing up the numbers is a top priority for the Government and for the Army board. One of our enemies in that effort is a false impression that numbers in the armed forces are in decline and opportunities with them. It is not so. The forces are recruiting and they offer to young people the prospect of great experiences and a fine career.
Today no employer offers a job for life. The services can give more assurance about job security than most. Few other jobs offer the range of experience provided by the armed forces; nor the opportunities for teamwork, personal development, leadership, responsibility and excitement. It is a wonderful career for a young person. Anyone who enlists will be joining an elite of fine people who work to defend us and our values, and who are seen by the world to be doing so with enormous skill and professionalism.
I end by reverting to the subject of NATO, with a word of caution. NATO was formed to provide collective defence and, as it evolves, hard defence must remain its core. There is a danger of learning the wrong lessons from Bosnia. The situation was risky and NATO has had a great success there, but, in the event, we have faced no major attacks on our forces and therefore no test of NATO's fighting capability.
Not all future operations will be like that. As recently as 1991, against Iraq, we were involved in high-intensity conflict, against a huge army with enormous quantities of armour, a stock of chemical weapons and some capability in ballistic missiles. It is not difficult to imagine another such conflict, but as time goes by the missiles and the weapons of mass destruction will be vastly more effective. Therefore, we should not assume that all future conflicts will be like the Gulf, with a small number of allied casualties. We could in time face a highly capable adversary.
NATO must not go soft on defence, nor must it be lured into seeing itself as primarily a peacekeeping organisation. The non-alliance countries which have made a valuable contribution to IFOR have had a valuable experience of operating with NATO forces, but they have not yet experienced what NATO is. NATO must remain ready for high-intensity conflict, with all its members committed to collective defence and to sustaining the military capabilities needed for it. The alliance must be capable of rapid and effective response to serious threats to its security.
490 Britain under this Government will be a dependable ally. We will live up to our responsibilities and provide to national defence and to the alliance highly capable forces trained and equipped to meet any threat that might be presented in modern warfare.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:'declines to support the policy of the Government as set out in the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1996; condemns the instability caused to Britain's armed forces by Government mismanagement; recognises that the UK defence industry is a strategic national asset in both defence and economic terms; notes that the shortfall in the strength of the British Army numbers 4000 personnel; is concerned that the resulting overstretch is undermining the morale and operational effectiveness of the armed forces; condemns the manner in which the defence forces and defence industry are being run down in an ad-hoc and piecemeal way; recognises that the armed forces and defence industry require a long-term strategic overview which can only be achieved through the establishment of a strategic defence review; condemns the continued financial waste and mismanagement by Ministers; urges the Government to take action to address the world landmine crisis and to ban the export, import and transfer of all forms of anti-personnel landmine; urges a positive approach to the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty negotiations; and congratulates the work carried out by British forces in the defence of Britain and her interests in helping to maintain international stability in peacekeeping operations throughout the world.'.Over the past few years, I have had the honour of meeting many members of our armed forces both here and abroad and those who support them in the Ministry of Defence and, indeed, the defence industry. The commitment and the skill demonstrated by those people in the service of their country is vital to our overall defence capability.
The expertise and resourcefulness of the men and women who serve in our Army, Navy and Air Force is recognised world wide. Whenever the United Nations requires help, its first port of call is invariably Britain. It is a matter of pride—I know that the Secretary of State agrees with me—that at one time last year more British troops were serving in United Nations forces than troops from any other nation. Currently, our troops are serving, and contributing their knowledge and prowess, in no fewer than 33 countries. That is a matter of pride. I pay tribute to their dedication and commitment, which often truly goes beyond the call of duty. That was tragically brought home to all of us last week when we heard of Warrant Officer James Bradwell. I know that the whole House will join me and the Defence Secretary in condemning the cowardly attack on the Lisburn Army base. Our thoughts are with James Bradwell's family and his loved ones.
I also pay tribute to the people who often do not get any recognition: members of the reserves—more than 1,200 of whom are in Bosnia—and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, who ply the seas, ensuring that our Royal Navy is able to sail. We really are most fortunate to have them, as I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree.
Since taking on the shadow defence portfolio, I have striven to establish consensus, wherever possible, on issues that affect Britain's defence and our security. The Opposition have done that because we believe that it 491 should be possible, in many spheres, to strike a bipartisan approach on many of the fundamental issues. Furthermore, many of the decisions that we are taking today will have far-reaching implications, running into many decades to come. Many of the questions to which the Secretary of State alluded—the expansion of NATO, perhaps planning the next attack aircraft for the second quarter of the next century—are matters that different Governments may have to handle. We in the Labour party are willing to offer a consensual approach on the critical matters that affect the security of our country.
In that spirit, I shall make a few comments in support of certain issues in the Defence White Paper. In paragraph 106, emphasis is placed on the need for "collective defence", a point with which the Secretary of State concluded his speech, and a point with which the Labour party concurs whole-heartedly, as I shall try to demonstrate. Labour is completely in agreement with that strategy. The days are gone when we could do everything alone. We are proud that it was a Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, who was the key player in the establishment of NATO, an alliance which, as the Secretary of State agreed, has stood the test of time for more than 50 years. I look forward to the expansion of NATO, as my party says in its documents.
In a sense, the whole thrust of Labour's policy, as outlined in our policy document, is that a secure Britain can be best guaranteed in a secure world, and with the end of the cold war it is imperative that we seek to establish international stability, not only through NATO but through other avenues, such as the United Nations or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
I also support the White Paper's arguments in paragraphs 127ߝ28 against the European Union having responsibility for Britain's defence policy. Again in our policy document we state quite clearly—I shall quote it to the House so that there can be no misconceptions—Labour does not support the establishment of a European army or proposals to give the European Union a military competence … We believe that efforts to develop a common defence policy should concentrate on strengthening the Western European Union as the European contribution to NATO.I believe that, with that statement, we are not very distant from the Government.
For that to be realised, however, our European allies must begin to take defence, especially the necessity of spending adequate resources, more seriously. To put it bluntly, NATO can do very little without the involvement of the United States. The UK and France may have considerable resources, but even our actions are limited without American intelligence and airlift and sealift capabilities.
We may have had the force structures in Europe to fight a static conventional war against the Warsaw pact, but we are ill-equipped for the future task of peacekeeping and peacemaking, or indeed any challenge to our sovereignty and our soil, to which the Secretary of State alluded. There is no point in European Union countries bemoaning the fact that American troops are everywhere, even in Bosnia, when those same countries refuse to allocate resources. Rhetoric without action does not make for credible defence. That is the lesson of the century.
The size and might of the United States military machine cannot be over-emphasised. It has personnel and equipment capabilities on a scale that Europe simply 492 cannot match. This summer I had an opportunity to spend a little time with the American military, seeing its capabilities and hearing about its plans for the future. Its defence capability is quite awesome and that was graphically brought home to me as I flew into San Diego. In that port alone, I counted more United States naval vessels than are in the whole of the Royal Navy. That shows the commitment and capability of the United States.
In many spheres, the United States is a decade ahead of we Europeans and the gap is widening, especially in intelligence gathering, man-surveillance, information technology and logistics, air and sea transport. Although the American budget may have been reduced—it is interesting to note that it is rising again this year—the United States still spends twice as much on defence as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy put together. Our defence capability would be greatly weakened without active American participation in NATO. When defence is being discussed at this year's intergovernmental conference, that fact will constantly need to be recalled.
In turn, the Americans often quote Bosnia as an example of where the Europeans have failed, and they are correct. Too many European nations lack the will and especially the resources to solve the problem. The US involvement following the Dayton accord and IFOR has moved the process forward and I am delighted that British forces have played such an important part in UNPROFOR and IFOR. All three services have played a crucial role and we are proud of that.
§ Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)
My hon. Friend mentions Bosnia and the Secretary of State also spoke about the crucial role of the Americans there. Does my hon. Friend agree that the lesson to be learned is that if America did not play a role in Bosnia it would be impossible for European powers to play a constructive role in that country? If that is the lesson to be learned, should we not pay some heed to the future possibility of a European role in another conflict, perhaps in an area in which America was not prepared to play a role? Does my hon. Friend agree that we might want to prepare for that eventuality?
§ Dr. Clark
I understand the thrust of my hon. Friend's point and I know that he was in Bosnia observing the elections. The whole purpose of strengthening the role of the Western European Union within NATO is so that it can undertake in future those roles in Bosnia that we were not able to undertake. In the Petersberg approaches, as it is commonly known, we should be able to act as a European pillar of NATO to carry out such functions without relying on the Americans.
As the IFOR mandate draws to a close, I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that he intended to try to ensure that, if there is international agreement so to do, British troops would play a part in IFOR 2 or whatever it is to be called. As he knows, that is also my view and after my last visit to Bosnia in May-June, I communicated to the House and to the Minister my view that that is exactly what we should do. However, given our other problems, almost 10,000 troops there are too many and we should consider a brigade size of 5,000 to 6,000.
Such is the consensus that I agreed with virtually everything that the Secretary of State said in the first 38 to 39 minutes of his speech. However, it is what he did 493 not say that causes us great concern. Although we seek consensus, we also have the right to be critical of many aspects of the Government's approach such as the absence of strategic planning; the dominance of short-term and ad hoc decision making; the mistreatment of the interests of our armed forces—for example, through the sale of housing estates and the response to the Gulf war veterans—and the indecision and vacillation over the Devonport and Rosyth royal dockyards. Such matters annoy us and make us critical of the Government.
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have been guilty of gross mismanagement in connection with Rosyth dockyard and that it is completely unacceptable that the Secretary of State made no announcement today on the proposed privatisation of the dockyard although we were assured that a statement would be made by September last year?
§ Dr. Clark
As my hon. Friend knows, I have had the pleasure of visiting Rosyth a number of times with her. She has fought hard and doughtily for that dockyard. Some months ago, the workers and management at Rosyth drew up plans to go forward and it is not good enough for those people to be kept on a piece of string by a Government who seem incapable of making a decision. I plead with the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to make an announcement about that, and especially about Rosyth dockyard, in his winding-up speech so that the workers and management there will know where they are. It is important that the process of rebuilding that community is started quickly.
Conservative Members used to claim with great pride that theirs was the party of defence, but the record in recent years shows that it is the party of defence cuts. As a percentage of gross domestic product, defence spending has been slashed by the Government by some 46 per cent. since its peak in 1985. Rumours persist that more defence cuts are to come in this year's Budget in an attempt to fill the black hole in Britain's public finances. Of course, we have seen this before and should not be surprised.
Just 12 months ago, I remember the Prime Minister thundering, if he does thunder, at his party conference, "No more defence cuts under me." Just 12 months ago, I remember the House approving a defence budget of just over £22 billion and Conservative Member after Conservative Member expressing concern about the level of spending and calling for no more cuts. However, just six weeks later, the Chancellor announced in the Budget further cuts of £700 million. Therefore, it is no surprise to see that the Select Committee on Defence, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), concludes its good report by stating:We cannot recommend the 1996 Statement on the Defence Estimates to the House unless Ministers make clear in the debate that this year's Statement will not again be undermined by further defence cuts in the 1996 Budget or by any other means.Although I listened carefully to the Secretary of State, I heard no such commitment. I hope that the Minister will give the House that commitment in his winding-up speech, otherwise I expect those hon. Members who serve on the Select Committee on Defence and others to join us in the Lobby. I hope that Ministers will respond positively on that issue.
494 I was not surprised by the Select Committee's reaction because in the debate on the defence estimates on 17 October 1994, 1 warned the House that there was a shortfall in the Government's spending plans for defence for the financial year 1996ߝ97 of some £2 billion. In the end, the Government could make up the shortfall only by cutting defence spending by £700 million and selling off the married housing estate for £1.6 billion. If one adds up those figures, the total matches the amount of underspend referred to by the Secretary of State. What a way to run the defence of our country!
The large cuts in defence spending have resulted in large reductions in service manpower. Since the end of the cold war, the Conservative Government have cut the size of our armed forces by a third. It is worth recalling the claim in the Conservative party's 1992 election manifesto that Labourwould devastate our armed forces by cuts of at least 27 per cent., which would lead to huge job losses".It was not a Labour Government who made those cuts, but the Conservative Government.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. Is that the reason why so few Conservative Back Benchers are here today? In my 18 years in the House I have not seen a defence debate take place with so few Conservatives waiting in the Chamber to speak. Are they covered in embarrassment for the reasons that my hon. Friend is so eloquently outlining?
§ Dr. Clark
I am trying to be consensual, so I will not follow my hon. Friend's comments. However, the House will have heard what he said.
I enjoyed the Secretary of State's speech to the Conservative party conference last week. It was a huge improvement on last year's speech, and I am glad that he has listened to the advice given by not only the Labour party but the professionals and his right hon. and hon. Friends. He was wise not to talk too much about defence, and he was on much stronger ground when launching his bid to be the leader of the Tory party after the election. I know that I speak for the whole House in wishing him well in his efforts to be the Leader of the Opposition. He has our full support.
The Secretary of State got carried away by his own eloquence in one part of his speech and informed the nation:Dogs bark, birds sing, and Labour Governments cut defence".He forgot the truth—that the Government have cut our Royal Air Force by 38 per cent., our Royal Navy by 31 per cent. and our Army by 28 per cent. That is the real record of the Conservative Government on defence. Before anyone tries to jump in, I must state that it is a matter of record that each post-war Labour Government has spent a higher percentage of GDP on defence than the Conservatives. The record is there to be seen and to be judged.
The problems have been exacerbated by the manner in which the Government have approached the cuts. There has been an unco-ordinated series of ad hoc and piecemeal cuts based not on a military or strategic rationale but merely on the demands of the Treasury. The result has been a mismanagement of our armed forces on a scale never seen before. What type of Government can reduce 495 our Army by 28 per cent. but then find that they have a shortfall of 4,000 troops? It takes a special kind of genius to achieve that—and, of course, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), is in charge of the armed forces.
While troop numbers have been reduced, our troops have been involved in more operational duties throughout the world—33, as I have mentioned—than at any time since the end of the second world war. The Government have made the cuts but increased our commitments. The Secretary of State rightly said that there are about 10,000 British troops in Bosnia, and almost double that number are in Northern Ireland. Almost a third of our Army is tied up at any one moment in just two theatres of operation. Equal numbers of troops are training to go to those theatres and equal numbers have just returned, needing rest and recuperation. That overstretch is one of the most serious problems affecting our armed forces today.
§ Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)
Does my hon. Friend agree that now that the Ministry of Defence service stock has been sold and the money passed to the Treasury, the lease-back arrangements that will cost hundreds of millions of pounds per year are in effect a defence cut? Would he welcome—as I would—a statement from the Government on what they will cut from the defence budget to pay for the leasing back of those properties?
§ Dr. Clark
I shall make a little progress, and give way later.
The problem of recruitment and retention is particularly acute. It is unbelievable that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has not foreseen this problem, and I wonder what he has been doing. Any demographic analysis will have shown a reduction in the pool of potential recruits, 496 but Ministers have ignored that. By their cuts to our armed forces, the Government have not only lowered morale but reduced the attraction of pursuing a military career.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the services find themselves in a difficult position because they are trying to recruit the high-quality young men and women who are also being sought by the burgeoning British industry? What measures would he adopt to improve recruitment to our armed forces that the Government have not adopted?
§ Dr. Clark
Let me make one general point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I shall answer the Minister by making some positive suggestions, which may surprise him. Five of the best areas for recruitment into the infantry in this country are the northern counties of Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and Teesside.
§ Dr. Clark
The hon. Gentleman is correct, but I am referring to the King's Own Border Regiment. In those areas, there are still massive levels of unemployment among the under-25s. In Tyneside, the figures are between 10 and 20 per cent. It is remarkable that our armed forces have been unable to attract recruits from those traditional areas.
Let me try to give some reasons for that, because the Minister has challenged me on this. By their failure to recruit from all sections of society, the Government have made the problem worse. Labour has long argued that insufficient effort is being expended on recruiting young people from the ethnic minorities. [Interruption.] The Minister may disagree, but he should know that that is the case—he has been hauled before the race relations board.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Gentleman—as he did on "Newsnight" the other night—is falsifying my position most disgracefully. Would he care to withdraw his final remark? I have never been hauled in front of the race relations board.
§ Dr. Clark
I withdraw the personal allegation. The hon. Gentleman has not been called before that board, but, as he knows, it found the Ministry of Defence wanting and is undertaking a monitoring exercise—the report is due in March next year—such is the level of concern.
The Minister's arrogant attitude explains the problem with recruiting from ethnic minorities. The newspapers repeatedly carry reports of cases of racial bullying in the forces. The latest involved a black recruit being forced to carry a spear. I am sure that all hon. Members on both sides of the House find that almost incomprehensible. I think that the Minister is saying that I am barmy—I do not know if that is what he said—but does he deny that there is racial abuse in the armed forces? Does he deny that that recruit was forced to parade around with a spear? I am giving him an opportunity to deny it and if he does not do so, I must take it that that is the case.
Clearly, standard recruitment requirements need revising. Does the Minister realise that, unless a special dispensation is given, any recruit with a debt in excess of 497 £750 is barred from entering the services? That debt includes a mortgage, a car loan or a student loan. That is pure nonsense. The hon. Gentleman nods his head. I can assure him that I went into the matter carefully with a recruitment officer from one of our major regiments only last month.
Are Ministers aware that, unless both parents were born in Britain, Ireland or the Commonwealth, a dispensation has to be given for a son or daughter to be eligible for recruitment? I think that I am right in saying that the Secretary of State would not meet current recruitment criteria and yet no one would doubt his pro-British sentiment. The children of European Union citizens should be good enough for eligibility for recruitment to the British Army.
The Government have been far too complacent about recruitment and retention—an attitude that has led to the problems of overstretch. I have talked mainly of the Army, but I am thinking also of the Royal Navy. We have a proud naval tradition. Ninety-two per cent. of our goods come to and go from this country via the sea and 400 ships dock in Britain each day.
§ Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)
I fear that the hon. Gentleman is shedding crocodile tears. Would he be kind enough to spell out exactly what he means by a comprehensive strategic review, bearing in mind the fact that six successive Labour party conferences have voted for a reduction in defence spending of £4.5 billion, which would mean no force levels?
§ Dr. Clark
I shall come to the substantive point of the hon. Lady's intervention about the defence review. As regards cuts in defence spending, that is old hat in the Labour party. There was insufficient interest in the issue in the constituency Labour party for it to be debated for the past two years.
Let us move on to the Royal Navy and a matter that Conservative Members will not be comfortable with. We have only 27—not 35—operational frigates and destroyers and the average age of our support ships is 18 years. Not a single new one is being ordered. Even new procurement orders have been delayed. The Horizon frigate will not now come into service until 2006, even if it is on time. There is a gap in frigate cover. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to read the comments of Captain Richard Sharpe—an acknowledged expert in naval matters—in Jane's Fighting Ships about the Government's approach to the Navy. He says:Someone needs to cut the Gordian Knot of overwhelming national complacency before the damage becomes irreparable if it has not already happened.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that I am one of the hon. Members who constantly 498 calls for additional defence expenditure. On the basis of what he has been saying, will he confirm that he, too, will be calling for additional defence expenditure?
§ Dr. Clark
We have always said that we will provide whatever resources are necessary for the defence of Britain. That is what we said at the last election and that is what we shall say at the next. The hon. Gentleman is knowledgeable and interested and he has a lot of background experience in the Royal Air Force. He knows, as I know, that things are far from comfortable in the RAF. He knows that, because of lack of spares, on many occasions only six out of 48 Tornado GRls are available, and that those fly only because others have been cannibalised. Equipment delays have caused all sorts of problems and one has to wonder whether the loss of so many aircraft in the past 12 months is in some way related.
In a letter to the Daily Mail in May, the Gulf war hero Right Lieutenant John Nichol suggested that overstretch was a major factor in the increase in accidents.
§ Dr. Clark
Thanks for the accolade, but do not call me that yet.
John Nichol—a respected RAF pilot and hero of the Gulf war—wrote:Our aircrew are trying to achieve more with fewer resources, being stretched to a point where safety is compromised.Those are not my words, but the words of an expert.
When I talk to the men and women of our armed forces, time and again they say that they are being asked to do too much with too few resources.
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. James Arbuthnot)
We have still not heard an answer to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker). Is the hon. Gentleman committing himself to additional expenditure? He is accusing the Government of cutting resources. He can fudge as much as he likes about expenditure being whatever is necessary, but is he committing himself to additional expenditure?
§ Dr. Clark
I do not think that the cavalry has come to the Government's rescue. Let me say it again. At the last election, we pledged that we would provide whatever resources are necessary for the defence of Britain. I think that that is pretty clear and in a moment I will say how we shall reach a conclusion about what is necessary for the security of our nation.
One of the criticisms of the Government by politicians on both sides of the House and certainly by professionals in the military has been its failure to grasp the very nettle that the Government raised about taking key strategic decisions. It is remarkable that, of all the countries in the world, we are the only one that has not had a strategic defence review. The Government played around at the edges. We know that the Government had "Options for Change"—although they initially failed to involve the chiefs of staff in that, such was their confidence in them.
Later, the defence costs study was announced not by the Defence Secretary but by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As I have told the House before, it was a 499 defence costs study, not a defence needs study. What else could we expect from the Government? Decisions are made not on strategic or defence criteria but mainly on criteria demanded by the Treasury.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Will my hon. Friend ask Ministers again whether they intend to go ahead with the privatisation of national air traffic services, even though there has been no consultation with the RAF or the civil aviation authorities? Only those who seek to make enormous amounts of money for themselves from privatisation have been consulted.
§ Dr. Clark
My hon. Friend raises a pertinent point. It was not good enough for the Secretary of State to avoid answering the very direct question that she put to him earlier. I hope that the Minister will address that. I hope that it is not another example of selling the nation's assets to the friends and bankers of the Conservative party.
A Labour Government would be prepared to face up to the responsibility. We shall establish a strategic defence review. We have made it clear in our documents and discussions that the review will not be a cost-cutting exercise. It will report within six months of its establishment and will provide not only a blueprint for our security but stability for our armed forces and defence industry. On top of that, Labour will institutionalise long-term strategic thinking in the MOD. That is critical and I wish that the Government had faced up to that reality. Without it, there can be no strategic plan to the size and shape of our forces.
§ Dr. Clark
It is the opposite of the situation that prevails under the Government. The armed forces complain that they have no sense of direction. They do not know what is being asked of them. They know only that they get more and more commitments, based on no strategic plan, with fewer and fewer resources.
§ Mr. Portillo
Is the hon. Gentleman claiming that the armed forces and the chiefs of staff favour a defence review?
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
Does my hon. Friend accept that a sensible, properly conducted review would not only serve this country's interest but might provide material with which we could persuade our European partners to carry a fairer share of the burden? Unfortunately, over the past few years, the Government have seemed most reluctant to do anything to persuade them to change their approach.
§ Dr. Clark
My hon. Friend again makes a powerful added argument for a strategic defence review.
500 I know that the Government will not have it, but many members of the armed forces feel let down by them. There are many examples, such as the treatment of our Gulf war veterans. I heard what the Defence Secretary said about that. For three and a half years, we have argued that the Government have a moral duty fully to investigate the occurrence of illnesses among our Gulf war veterans. It is a moral duty because we asked our soldiers to serve in that conflict. We must do all that we can to ascertain whether there is something wrong with those soldiers. If we have to send our troops to the Gulf again, we would owe it to them to be able to give them assurances about their health.
There may or may not be a Gulf war syndrome but there appears to a concentration of unexplained illnesses among our soldiers who served in the Gulf. Three and a half years ago, I called for an independent medical inquiry and a full epidemiological study to examine the allegations. Three and a half years later, Ministers are still dragging their feet. It is clear that the Government had made up their mind before any medical research had been undertaken. That is the action of a Government who are not committed to the welfare of our armed forces. It was only after concerted pressure from veterans' groups and from the House that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces conceded and established an epidemiological study this January. It is a scandal that such grudging and limited action has been taken more than five years after the Gulf war.
Last week, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces wrote to the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee to point out that an error had been made in evidence given by the Ministry about the Gulf war. Concern was expressed about the use of organophosphate chemicals, about which I learnt much when I was handling the agricultural portfolio and which have had a devastating effect on many sheep farmers. Many of the symptoms associated with those chemicals have been experienced by Gulf war veterans.
I read carefully what the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said. He accepted full responsibility and in December 1994 told the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin):I advised you at the time"—note the use of the personal pronoun—that one OP pesticide was used to treat Iraqi prisoners of war and that, while OP insecticides were available to British Forces in the Gulf, they were not used.The Minister discovered that that information was wrong. In my exuberance, I may have offended him and I apologise. I retract the comment that I made about him but I want to challenge him on several specific points. He knows, or should know, that that information was wrong because an Army document of 31 March 1991 headed, "Post Operational Report: Hygiene—4th Armoured Brigade", made it clear that organophosphates had been used.
Will the Minister confirm that paragraph 1 of that document begins:The theatre requirements were misinterpreted causing confusion, this lead to a half hygiene section being wrongly deployed to BAOR"?501 Will he further confirm that paragraph 3 states:Soldiers SOP"—standard operating procedure—
Equipment—inferior issue to junior ranks … NBC canisters had expired, no bergens"—rucksacks—
issued, soldiers had to locally purchase this essential item"?The next paragraph states:
No hygiene equipment was sent to theatre with the deployment of the fourth brigade.Perhaps the Minister can now understand why I was angry. He should have read that document, which should have been available for him in his red box in December 1994 with the memorandum that went to the Select Committee.
§ Dr. Clark
First let me make this important point.
The truth is that at no time was personal protective equipment issued to those troops applying the insecticides—often organophosphates. Furthermore, orders were given that nuclear, biological and chemical suits should not be worn for insecticidal spraying since that would undoubtedly have led to a degradation of the equipment. In other words, the integrity of the equipment was placed above the safety of our soldiers. I do not apologise for my anger, but I apologise for the words I used against hon. Members. If that information was withheld, however, what else is being withheld from the public?
§ Mr. Robathan
The hon. Gentleman raises a serious matter which needs a full airing. Can the hon. Gentleman please inform the House who wrote the report and what rank he held? That report contains serious, devastating comments, but if it was just written by one person, who perhaps did not have the full facts at his fingertips, it is important to know that. If it was written by someone in a more senior position, that is also important to know.
§ Dr. Clark
I know that the hon. Gentleman served for a period in the British Army. In the past, he and I have discussed senior non-commissioned officers, and I know that he shares my great respect for them and that he holds them in the highest regard. That document was written by a sergeant in the 4th Brigade who was responsible for hygiene. It was repeatedly drawn to the attention of the majors in command of that particular detachment and it was submitted as an official paper on 31 March 1991. I have made my point and the House can judge on it.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
Is it not a fact that not only was there evidence in the documents that my hon. Friend has cited, but, had a proper investigation been conducted, the evidence from individuals who were directly involved and responsible would also have been made available? The real gravamen of the charge against the Government is that no political directive was issued for a full investigation that should have been conducted earlier on. If there had been, not only the documents quoted by my hon. Friend but evidence from individual witnesses would have become known.
§ Dr. Clark
My hon. Friend once again explains clearly my concern and that of so many other Opposition 502 Members. I must say that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has accepted personal responsibility for the issue on a number of occasions because he is involved in resolving the problem. He has repeatedly told me that he considers it a personal issue and I know that he cares about it, but we have a strong feeling that the Government have not treated the problem with the same thoroughness and commitment as the United States forces have.
§ Dr. Clark
I have gone on far too long and I must make some progress.
Earlier, I was challenged about Labour's policy on the defence industry. Let me make it clear that a Labour Government will order Eurofighter, if the Government have not gone ahead and done so. I hope that by then they will have done so, and, unless the Secretary of State tells us about an early general election, we expect that order to go ahead. We have always supported the Eurofighter and we believe that our RAF needs it. If it needs it, it must have it because if we are to send our young men and women up in aeroplanes in dangerous areas, they must have the very best equipment.
It is a bit thick for the Government to hint that the Opposition are half-hearted about Britain's defence industry. I must admit that we have a different approach from the Government on the defence industry. We have made that quite clear. The Tories' hands-off approach continues to fail Britain, with our defence industry under-performing time and time again.
Labour believes that our defence industrial base is a strategic asset for our defence effort and economy. It is a preserve of high-tech innovation that Britain cannot afford to lose. It is for that reason that, two years ago, we published our document, "Strategy for a Secure Future" in which we argue for a coherent strategic review of our defence industry. Such a review has been warmly welcomed by every defence factory that I and my team have visited in the past two years. It stands in sharp contrast to the charade that masquerades as the Government's approach to the defence industry. It therefore came as no surprise to read a recent Government document for Britain's submission to the United Nations arms register, which candidly described their position as:the United Kingdom does not have an industrial strategy which aims to develop such a capability".That is the Government's comment on our defence industry. There we have it, clear and concise: there is no strategy for the defence industry. No wonder that on 29 June The Economist reported that, since the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot)became procurement Minister a year ago, policy has appeared to lurch in all directions.We now know why that is the case—the Conservative Government have no strategy for our defence industry. What a critical time to have no strategy, when Europe is crying out for a new order. We could take the lead in Europe, but no, our Government are not prepared to do that.
Over the years, the Conservative Government have proclaimed that they are the party of strong defence. People actually believed it, at least some of them did, but the Government are believed no longer. They have simply slashed defence spending while continuing our 503 commitments. Overstretch is the order of the day. By their failure to conduct a strategic defence review, by their obsession with privatisation and by their inability to plan long term, they have shown not only their incompetence, but that the security of Britain is no longer safe in their hands.
§ Sir John Cope (Northavon)
First, I endorse the tribute paid by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the Army and other services in Northern Ireland. As the House knows, for a short while I was security Minister for Northern Ireland and I saw the work of the armed forces at first hand. My right hon. Friend was right to emphasise the role of private soldiers and the junior non-commissioned officers on whom a particular strain is placed when on duty. Of course, the recent murder of the warrant officer in Lisburn makes it absolutely clear that everyone in the armed forces is at risk.
We have just listened to a speech from the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) in which he started by calling for a bipartisan defence policy. For the bulk of his speech, however, he departed from that theme. I found the content of his speech and that of the official Labour amendment contradictory. The amendment starts off by criticising instability in defence policy, but then calls for another review. Whatever else is required, it is not another great review. We all know, however, that that is Labour's only defence policy, and has been for some years.
Later, the hon. Gentleman tried to give the impression that he would increase defence spending without actually saying that. I take it that that means that he does not have the permission of the shadow Chancellor to say anything of that sort. Instead, like some of his colleagues in the shadow Cabinet, he tries to give the impression that he would increase spending, without saying so. If those on the Labour Front Bench wish to carry conviction on defence matters, they need to be much more specific than the hon. Gentleman has been.
The only clear Labour policy is that set out in the other Labour amendment, which has not been selected, standing in the name of the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) and 20 of his right hon. and hon. Friends. It reveals that the call of the hon. Member for South Shields for consensus and a bipartisan approach falls not merely on deaf ears, but blocked ones in his party.
The policy put forward in the second amendment is at least coherent and consistent, but it is misguided and wrong. It also makes clear the difficulties that a Labour Government— should such a thing come about—would encounter. Twenty Labour Members are fundamentally against Labour's official defence policy—and that is when we are still in the run-up to a general election, when Labour Members are supposed to be behaving themselves.
Among other things, the second amendment would stop all conventional arms trade from the United Kingdom. My constituents who work in the aerospace industry will note that carefully, and I shall not be reticent in pointing it out to them. Governments have an important part to play in selling arms, and their attitude to the trade matters. The amendment also mentions diversification and retraining. The idea that British Aerospace or Rolls-Royce can be taught something about civilian sales is ludicrous. Both 504 companies have large, effective civilian aerospace business and do their expert best to ensure that it flourishes.
The main subject that I wish to talk about is defence procurement. My right hon. and hon. Friends have often heard me extolling the benefit of programmes in which I have a constituency interest through Rolls-Royce, British Aerospace and the many other smaller suppliers in this highly complex industry. I wish to mention briefly some specific programmes. METEOR is an excellent European system that has been offered in response to the RAF's air-to-air requirement—SR(A) 1239. It will go extremely well, both operationally and industrially, with the Eurofighter 2000. The announcements in July, to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred— particularly those relating to Nimrod 2000 and the conventionally armed stand-off missile—were welcome, but there was a nasty day or two in July when it seemed that there might not be an announcement and, instead, a great rethink of the parameters and a change in the rules.
The bidding process is incredibly complex and expensive for the companies involved. It would have been wrong on two grounds to change the rules at that late stage in the competition. First, it would be grossly unfair and highly damaging to the companies taking part to make them waste money tendering for a contract that, eventually, was not awarded to anyone. Secondly, it would ultimately cost the Government more. The tenders for their next contracts—whatever they might have been—would inevitably have had an extra safety margin built in against the possibility of the Government abandoning the operation. For many firms, the additional risk of tendering in the face of such a threat would not make it worth while. It is important that the Government—in their own interest and in the interest of value for money—retain the integrity of the tender process.
Value for money is extremely important—as an ex-Treasury hand, I am concerned about it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was responsible for the spending side when I was at the Treasury—I was helping to raise the money. When people talk to me about public expenditure and Government money, I think about the companies that we were pressing for VAT and the difficulties that we had extracting it from them. I also think of the pleas that are always made to Treasury Ministers at this time of year about the difficulties that the tax burden creates for the public, companies and employers.
The first duty of the House is to safeguard the public purse. The money that we extract from taxpayers must be spent wisely. The tendering process is important in that context. We all realise that it is difficult for the Government and the armed forces to decide which weapons and equipment they will need and be able to afford many years ahead when they come into service, and to stick to those decisions to the end. That is what should be done as much as possible if we are to secure value for money. I know that Ministry of Defence Ministers realise that, but there was a day or two in July when it seemed that the Government collectively might not have realised it.
As the Ministry of Defence is the largest single customer of British industry, it should also be the most intelligent. The future of a large section of British industry, as well as the future of British defence, depends 505 on it. What is more, if British industry does not continue to flourish, we will not be able to afford British defence, which would have damaging consequences not only for Britain, but for the world. I agree with the tributes paid to the British armed forces, who carry out fantastic work and are a fine example to all.
I wish to make two general points about the defence procurement process. First, when asking for tenders, it is important to allow the supplier the flexibility to achieve the effect required by different methods that may be more effective or better value for money. A good example is the anti-tank missile. In the summer, different companies proposed different methods of achieving the same result. Another example involves air mobility. I do not want to dwell on the future large aircraft today, although the Minister knows that I am a strong supporter of it both for industrial reasons—it is important to Airbus Industrie in my constituency—and for defence reasons. It is a good example of what I mean by setting the parameters by the results to be achieved. In this case, the result to be achieved is the movement of military personnel and hardware from one place to another by air. The FLA can carry more and bigger items much further than the Hercules airframe—whatever else may be done to it.
The Ministry of Defence needs to allow industry to consider the concept from start to finish, not just the individual parts, if it is to obtain the best results when letting contracts and inviting tenders. I recently had a brief conversation with my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement on the logistics aspect and was encouraged by his reply.
My other general point on defence procurement involves co-operation between our companies and overseas companies. As we have heard today, both the European and American defence industries are being radically reshaped in response to technology and the global challenges facing all industries. It is important to retain competition among suppliers, and it will undoubtedly become more difficult to do so globally, let alone within the United Kingdom. The Government should not attempt to set down a strategy for British industry, as the hon. Member for South Shields suggests.
Individual companies have to work it out for themselves, but the restructuring of the various individual industrial companies is mirrored by the Government's behaviour and by the collaborative purchases—as is shown in table 10 on pages 66 and 67 of the defence White Paper. It shows the procurement projects across the three services involving collaboration with other countries. Some 26 projects involve collaboration with France; 23 projects involve collaboration with Germany; 20 projects involve collaboration with the United States and 14 projects involve collaboration with Italy. The combinations are different; each project is different— which is as it should be—and a patchwork is produced. Hence the efforts, which I applaud, to try to co-ordinate the operational requirements more efficiently and more systematically. Co-ordination of the requirements—and hence the purchasing—obviously helps to secure value for money and is also in the interests of British, European and all industry.
The western European armaments group, operating under the Western European Union, does good work. In the White Paper and elsewhere, discussions are reported 506 about a European armaments agency. Before anyone gets excited, that is not an initiative of the European Union or anything of the sort, and will not have the same membership. Key members would be the United Kingdom, France and Germany. On a transatlantic basis, there is the NATO conference of national armaments directors.
I hope that those initiatives are developing fast and that, tonight, we shall hear something about the progress that has been achieved in them and about what is expected for the future. Whatever we do, the defence business will continue to be multinational. Joint and parallel decision making by Governments and by armed forces—both ours and those of our allies—is therefore essential.
I add a postscript on a completely different subject. Tonight, we have heard little about the reserve forces. I recently visited one of our local Territorial Army units, as I do from time to time, and I was delighted to find that the new arrangements for it, and for the reserve forces generally, have been well received. The increased professionalism of, and the greater opportunities for, TA soldiers and the other reserves, are excellent.
When I was in the Territorial Army many years ago, its professionalism resulted from the fact that most of us had done national service—we had served in the forces full time. Although, when I was in the TA, continuing service was voluntary, doing a little of one's national service in the TA had been compulsory. That has been gone for a good while, which makes it much more difficult to sustain the professional quality of the reserves. I was therefore glad to find professionalism high, partly due to the Reserve Forces Act 1996—a piece of legislation that we considered recently and which is an important step forward.
§ 6.1 pm
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
I start by referring to a couple of subjects that were mentioned earlier. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) spoke forcefully and fluently; I was delighted to hear his speech. I dissented from him on only one minor point. He said— I hope that he will correct me if I do not quote him accurately—that Europe cannot afford to spend the same amount of its resources on defence as the United States does.
§ Dr. Gilbert
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree entirely. I also happen to think that this country does not spend enough on defence. We, as a European Union, have started bragging to the Americans that we have a larger gross domestic product than they do, yet we continue to rely on them to defend us. It is no surprise that the Americans get a bit shirty about that from time to time. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his clarification, and I 507 am confident that he will be diligent in persuading our European allies to live up to their responsibilities in those matters.
I intervened during the speech by the Secretary of State regarding the unilateral abandonment of this country's sub-strategic nuclear capability. I believe that I can say without danger of being corrected—I am sure that Ministers are listening, so let us see whether they trip me up—that only in the most recent defence White Paper was there any mention of Trident being used in a sub-strategic role. I should be grateful to hear from any Minister, or any hon. Member, of a scenario in which they envisage using Trident in a sub-strategic role.
What would have happened in the Gulf war, had Saddam Hussein decided to use chemical weapons, not against his people, but against the forces that were invading his country? Is it the Government's position that we would have responded with a Trident attack on the Republican guard or Iraqi front-line troops, or would we have sent a Trident into Baghdad or Basra? As soon as one considers those propositions, their ludicrousness and the disproportionality of any such deployments become immediately apparent.
This country has been, or is in the process of being, unilaterally denuded of any sub-strategic nuclear capability, and in Europe that capability will shortly repose solely in the hands of the French.
The main theme of my speech is NATO enlargement. It may come as a surprise to some of my friends in this place, among whom I may have a reputation for being a hawk, that I view NATO enlargement with considerable dismay and concern.
I hope that the Government will give an assurance that any discussions about NATO enlargement will take place country by country, and not by groups of countries; in other words, that there will be no suggestion that, for example, the Visegrad group of countries will be considered as a bloc for admission, but individual countries will have to meet the criteria of NATO membership before they are considered.
This question remains, however: should the geographic expansion go ahead if a decision is confirmed? Should it include Poland, Hungary, or the Czech Republic? Most people consider those to be likely candidates. What about Slovakia? Should NATO eventually include the Baltic states? Once one starts to consider the ramifications of one or two of those possibilities, which I shall discuss, the difficulties soon emerge.
One aspect that has not been considered is the enormous cost to the existing members of NATO of further expansion. If one expands NATO, by definition one expands the remit of article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty, and that article refers to common defence. Common defence means nothing without an infrastructure, and without reasonable commonality of weapon systems and, above all, of communications equipment. No one can seriously believe that Poland, the Czech Republic or Hungary—let alone the Baltic states— are in an economic condition to make anything like a proportional contribution to the costs of that extension of NATO's capability towards the east. It follows that those contributions will have to be made by the existing members of NATO, and from that it follows—
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
My right hon. Friend may be well aware that the United States Department of Defense 508 commissioned a study from the Rand Corporation in relation to the most likely applicant countries—Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic—and that the study's conclusions, published this year, were surprisingly favourable. As I understand it, those countries are aware that there are costs and have said that they are prepared to pay those costs. Indeed, they query whether the Rand conclusions are inflated, because they are based on United States comparables rather than the actual costs in the Visegrad countries.
§ Dr. Gilbert
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that extremely interesting analysis, but I remain persuaded that the additional costs will have to be borne proportionally by the existing members of NATO and will have to be found from existing defence budgets.
I am also concerned about certain geostrategic considerations. The first is the reaction of the senior members of the armed forces in the former Soviet Union—the generals. We all know that generals do not necessarily dictate policy, but it was interesting to note that General Lebed recently came to Brussels and made some mild remarks about the possibility of NATO expanding towards the east; as soon as he got back to Moscow, however, he sang a very different tune.
In the former Soviet Union, the morale of the armed forces is very poor. In that I include the land forces, the tactical air forces and the surface fleet. By winning the cold war, we hoped to see the end of revanchist nationalist Governments in what was the Soviet Union. It would be a serious miscalculation on our part to provoke public opinion in that country by deploying NATO troops on the eastern borders of these candidate member countries. That would send all the wrong signals to Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus. It would give them the impression that we still regard them as possible enemies, at a time when we are trying to woo them into the comity of western civilisation and culture.
If we start increasing the size of NATO, moreover, we shall immediately dilute its decision-making power. It is difficult enough to get decisions taken within the 16 member countries; once NATO is enlarged to include the three or four most likely member states, the problems will be infinitely worse. After all, we are not talking about countries with similar value systems, such as Sweden or Finland; we are talking about countries that have had dictatorships for more than 50 years. It would therefore be very difficult to keep the decision-making process as satisfactory as it is at the moment.
NATO, with enlargement, would face additional costs, a dilution of its decision-making powers, and conversion from a successful defensive alliance to a generalised security arrangement.
It might be argued, alternatively, that we should offer these countries non-aggression treaties. That, too, would be extremely dangerous. NATO should not try to give security guarantees which it is in no position to honour. The Poles have still not forgiven the west, especially Britain and France, for the guarantee that we promised them, but never delivered, in 1939. They are still extremely bitter, and it would be absolutely wrong to offer that sort of guarantee again.
The idea that this House would approve putting the lives of British troops at risk—quite apart from the logistical problems—in order to protect Estonia's eastern border is pure moonshine.
509 we need to continue energetically to develop confidence-building measures with the Russians and to develop the "Partnership for Peace": not to try to expand NATO in an easterly direction.
Most Russians these days no longer see a threat from the west. They used to think there was one, just as we used to think that there was a threat from the east. Their view today is that the west is yesterday's problem, the south is today's problem and the east is tomorrow's problem—none of which makes it advisable to push NATO further east.
Some people opine that we must not allow the Russians, especially their generals, to dictate our policy. That is the language of the cold war. It is, rather, a question of deciding on the most sensible policies that will enable us to live in peace with the former members of the Warsaw pact.
Some say that it does not matter what the Russians think because they are now militarily incompetent. People draw attention to the performance of their land forces in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Morale is low and they have had virtually no new equipment for years. Before we become too self-satisfied, however, we ought to remember the state of the British Army of the Rhine at the time of the Gulf war, when we had to cannibalise just about every piece of kit that moved in order to make a modest but none the less worthwhile contribution. In terms of equipment and logistics, the Gulf war seriously stretched our capabilities. And in military terms, it was not a war but an incident.
We may be tempted to congratulate ourselves on the state of the Russian surface fleet, which is now virtually invisible. The Russians should be grateful for the fact that they have got rid of that incredibly expensive incubus, a burden laid upon them by Admiral Gorshkov. The Russian surface fleet was never relevant in any possible Warsaw pact-NATO conflict. I can remember how unhappy it used to make the navy department in the MOD, but the United States admiral who used to be in charge of Naples, C in C South, never worried when the Minsk and the Kiev were prancing around the western Mediterranean or coming around the north cape. What did worry him was when those ships returned to port. The admiral knew perfectly well that, in the event of a conflict, the Russians would never risk their high-value surface fleet units at sea. So we should be careful about congratulating ourselves on the loss of that Russian capability.
The Russian tactical air forces are still the beneficiaries of some excellent new aeroplanes, although I was recently told that their fast jet pilots get between 15 and 30 hours' flying time a year. It is clear that a modern tactical air force cannot be sustained in that way.
There are other areas, however, where the successor states of the Soviet Union retain a major capability— ballistic nuclear submarines and hunter-killer SSNs. In many ways, they are the equivalent of the most modern American submarines, and they are probably more capable than the most modern British ones in terms of how deep they can go, their modernised missiles and their silence. Those are not the only criteria, I am well aware, that establish a submarine's effectiveness. Computer software is also very important and the Americans are still well ahead in that sphere.
510 The fact remains that these forces are being well trained. They are rehearsing their role, their morale is good and, as far as I know, the officers and men are being paid regularly. The same is true of their land and air-based strategic nuclear forces, which are both getting new kit— land-based missile systems and sophisticated long-range bombers. Moreover, there must be at least a question mark over whether the Russians are trying to develop a biological warfare capability. I make no allegation that they are doing so, but I insist that we simply do not know. Not so long ago, when the Russian leadership was not telling us the truth about the Russians' capabilities, there were suspicions that they were.
Another subject on which I should be grateful for a response from the Minister, if not tonight, then by way of a letter when he returns to his office, is the development of non-lethal warfare techniques. I referred to the matter in the Chamber a couple of debates ago, but did not even get the courtesy of a note from the Ministry of Defence, which I thought was a bit poor, either saying that I had got it all wrong or at least giving me an anodyne response. The Americans take the matter seriously and have already had a Department of Defense directive on it. I believe that they have a current programme of investment of some $37 million or £25 million in a private scheme to study the matter and have tried out the weapons in areas such as Somalia. Some of the weapons are pretty diabolical because they end up blinding instead of killing men and women, but other techniques are worthy of study because they can immobilise both electronic and moving equipment, and aeroplanes.
One of the great advantages of non-lethal warfare techniques, other than minimising the risk to human life, is that they reduce the escalation of conflicts and create far less collateral and physical damage to the environment in which they are used. I am not yet convinced of their usefulness, but it would be valuable if the Ministry of Defence were to set up a study. Perhaps it has and I do not know about it, but I read nothing about such a study in this year's defence White Paper. I am prepared to be corrected if there is such a reference.
The Government would do a great service to the whole country if they were to set up a serious investigation into that matter. I hope that, whether they do so or not, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields will give a commitment on behalf of the Labour party that, once we come to office, we shall give high priority to setting up a study into the possibilities of developing non-lethal methods of warfare.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
It is always a pleasure to listen to the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) in a defence debate because he speaks with a wealth of experience. His remarks on the former Soviet Union and the expansion of NATO were extremely relevant to today's debate on the possibility of a Labour party strategic review, the Government's views, the intergovernmental conference and a common foreign security policy. I acknowledge what he says about the current state of the Russian army. An army that has not been paid for six months or, in some cases, a year, and where soldiers' families must become blood donors to find the money to live, shows that the position is serious and we should not ignore it.
511 Military interventions often take place not because of generals but because of the internal collapse of a country's economy. Argentina was standing by ready to invade someone; it did not care whether it was the Falklands or Chile. Eventually, the collapse of the Argentine economy led to an external adventure that cost us dear. So when the European Union develops plans for a common foreign and security policy, it must realise that the word "security" does not just mean defence; it means helping to develop the economies of those countries with which we may one day be at war if things go seriously wrong.
I endorse the opening remarks of the Front-Bench spokesmen on both sides, particularly their expressions of disgust at the breaking of the ceasefire by the IRA in Northern Ireland and their messages of sympathy to the family of Warrant Officer Bradwell, who sadly lost his life in the Lisburn bombing. I also endorse what was said about the performance of our forces serving in IFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was fortunate enough to be in Bosnia during the recent elections and saw their work at first hand. I certainly endorse what has been said about our reserve forces. In all future operations, our reserve forces will clearly play an increasingly important role. I particularly applaud what our Royal Army Medical Corps territorials are doing to support our other forces in Bosnia.
I endorse what the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said about the need for consensus in defence matters. The Defence Select Committee, which I currently have the honour to chair, has always succeeded in that respect. We never need to vote on matters. We always have full agreement on our reports, which is more than can be said for some Select Committees. It is often as well to leave a matter on the table and not reach a conclusion, as we did in the case of Gulf war syndrome and the married quarters proposals, with the reservation that we can always return to those matters at a later date once more information is at hand. I was sorry that the hon. Gentleman's call for consensus lasted for only the first third of his speech.
The hon. Member for South Shields said that we need to study again the requirement for air lift and sea lift with regard to overseas operations. When the Select Committee meets on Wednesday one of the proposals that I shall put forward is for an inquiry, in what remains of this Parliament—we shall not have a very long Session—on the question of generic heavy lift, because we must look at land, sea and air. We cannot mount overseas operations with a rapid reaction force when we must wait for Ukranian or United States ships to come and move our forces. So I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that.
§ Mr. Dalyell
May I ask the hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Select Committee, a factual question? At what stage were the concerns to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) referred, relating to Sergeant Anthony Worthington, environmental officer in the Gulf war, brought to the attention of the Select Committee when it discussed Gulf war syndrome?
§ Mr. Colvin
Without looking at the record, I cannot say. But I do not believe that that matter was brought to the Select Committee's attention. The Minister of State may have more to say on that matter when he winds up this evening, but I shall return to it later in my speech when I discuss Gulf war syndrome.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Without being partisan, as a long-standing member of the House of Commons I find it lazy and idle 512 of the Ministry of Defence, when asked specific questions, not only in the House repeatedly by a range of Members from both sides but by the Select Committee, not to come up with that kind of information. It is an appalling treatment of Parliament, for which Ministers must be responsible.
§ Mr. Colvin
It is important to know what one is looking for. In the case of Gulf war syndrome, new evidence is coming to light all the time on both sides of the Atlantic. The Americans are having exactly the same difficulty as the Ministry of Defence. I shall return to the matter later in my speech and try to assist the hon. Gentleman.
As to the Labour party's offer of a strategic defence review, the hon. Member for South Shields revealed a clue about its proposals. I wrote down his words. In answering a question about defence cuts, he said that a Labour Government would spend whatever was necessary for the defence of Britain—I think that he used the word "Britain", which may be a subtle disguise for retrenchment from overseas. Lord Healey, as Secretary of State for Defence, was responsible for reducing Britain's overseas commitments. I hope that any future Government—of whatever political complexion—will continue to honour Britain's commitments regarding our worldwide investments and interests, including our commitments to our allies. My only other comment about the hon. Gentleman's speech is that he may come to regret his unfortunate remark that our armed forces are "under-performing".
The Defence Committee's report on the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" was published, as usual, shortly before the House rose for the summer recess—we must ensure that hon. Members have something constructive and interesting to read at the beach. The Committee's main conclusions were that our armed forces were managing to meet their commitments but that the strain shown by factors such as tour intervals, shortage of training and serviceability of equipment demonstrated that in an emergency they would be hard pressed to operate effectively at a higher level of activity or undertake any additional operational commitments.
The report reminded the House of the Committee's repeated warnings about overstretch in the Army since the "Options for Change" exercise. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that, if many new demands arise, we will probably have to make some choices. His words may prove prophetic sooner than the Government expected, especially in light of the recent tragic resumption of violence in Northern Ireland.
§ Dr. David Clark
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy. I must correct him as he clearly misheard what I said. I said that the Conservatives' hands-off approach continued to fail Britain, with our defence industry under-performing. I hope that he accepts that that is what I said.
§ Mr. Colvin
I thank the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that point. We can read Hansard tomorrow to see precisely what was said.
I believe that the Committee was correct—I am sure that the House will endorse its view—to state that the United Kingdom must retain the capability to mount high 513 intensity conflict at strategic, tactical and operational levels anywhere in the world while maintaining the quality of life of our service men and women. The Committee fired a shot over the Secretary of State's bow in its conclusion—it is already on record because the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for South Shields, mentioned it during his speech, but I shall explain the details.
The SDE 1995 contained plans for defence spending of £66 billion in the three years to 1997ߝ98. However, buried in the Budget details we found cuts of £900 million over three years. Those cuts were partly disguised by a promise to carry over some of the underspending of previous years. However, the Committee's report shows that the net effect would be a reduction in defence spending of £686 million in real terms over three years.
As many hon. Members have said, the 1995 SDE offered stability following the adjustments required by the ending of the cold war. Further cuts in defence spending in this year's Budget would deny our armed forces that stability and would not be acceptable to anyone. I trust that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has succeeded in fighting his corner against the annual Treasury onslaught. In case he has not, I must inform him that the Committee plans to hold a meeting the morning after the Budget statement at which he may explain the Budget's impact on the nation's defences. I hope that it will not be necessary to convene that meeting, but I agree with other hon. Members that even a nod and a wink from the Front Bench today would be welcome. Perhaps the Minister will reassure us in his wind-up speech that the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" that we are agreeing today will remain in force after the Budget.
Although our armed forces do their best to perform whatever tasks are given to them, there are obvious examples of strain. Two thirds of Army units deployed in 1995ߝ96 did so within 24 months of a previous tour, which is a breach of the tour interval target. The MOD expects average tour intervals to deteriorate further this year, with the average for the infantry falling to 20 months. That is bad for morale, it affects families and is therefore bad for recruiting—it is little wonder that the infantry is short of soldiers.
Reduced expenditure on spares has contributed to the decline in the serviceability of RAF fighter aircraft. The recent Army exercise in Poland was the first full brigade size field training exercise for five years. The two new amphibious ships have been delayed by 17 months due to what is described as "budgetary constraints", while £40 million has been spent to keep HMS Fearless operational. There are many other examples of urgent equipment orders being pushed to the right, as they say, in order to comply with the Treasury's insistence upon cuts.
The published version of the "Major Projects Report" for 1995 gives more details. The batch 2 Trafalgar class nuclear-powered submarines are 28 months late. The Bowman combat radio system, which will replace the Clansman, has also been delayed by 28 months. The BR90, which is the Bridging for the 90s project, is six months late on each of four projects. In 1995, the Trigat 514 anti-tank weapon was delayed by 24 months, making a total delay of 60 months. The Rapier field standard C has been delayed by 12 months.
§ Mr. Miller
In challenging the Minister to make a statement to the Committee the day after the Budget, does the hon. Gentleman believe that the batch 2 Trafalgar class submarines will not go ahead? Is he satisfied that the project will go ahead?
§ Mr. Colvin
I am as satisfied as I can be. However, I am concerned about its timing. Many orders have been placed which, thanks to Treasury constraints, have been edged to the right. If a wife wants a new kitchen, her husband might say, "Yes, darling, of course you can have it." However, if there is not enough money, he could delay, perhaps by saying, "I couldn't get the one you wanted," or, "The colour scheme is wrong." It could be pushed into next year's household budget: we all know that it can be done.
§ Mr. Colvin
I take the point. Such delays deprive our armed forces of much-needed equipment and add to industry costs. Although it may help the Treasury to balance the books this year, it will add to the long-term costs.
While on the subject of defence industries, I draw the attention of the House to the equipment section in the Committee's report. During our visit to Washington last June, we studied the state of the so-called "two-way street" regarding reciprocal sales and purchases of defence equipment between the United Kingdom and the United States, particularly the extent to which United Kingdom companies get offset defence business from US companies when our Government buy American. The two-way street when the Government came to power was about 15:1 in favour of the United States. During 17 years of Conservative Government, that ratio has improved, but it is still 2:1 in favour of the United States and that is too much.
Since the end of the cold war, there has been an enormous restructuring of defence industries on both sides of the Atlantic. That restructuring has hit the United States defence industrial base much harder than it has hit ours, because we were restructuring anyway. There has been a dramatic loss of jobs in the United States.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) earlier referred to the question of diversification and conversion in the defence industries and he picked up a point made in the Opposition amendment. The United States of America has thrown $300 million at the conversion of its defence industries with not a single dollar in return. It has been a complete waste of money and is not the way to use public funds.
Another factor is the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Russians' desperate need for foreign currency. They are flooding world markets with defence hardware, including Kilo class submarines and even Scud missiles. That is dangerous and it is also bad for our overseas sales prospects.
While in Washington, we met Dr Paul Keminski, who is the Department of Defense Under-Secretary for Acquisition and Technology. We had an interesting 515 discussion and Dr Keminski gave every indication that the United States is beginning to have a change of heart about what is known as the "buy American" policy. He saw the advantages of an open market for defence products. He told us of 20 equipment programmes that offered opportunities for co-operation with the United Kingdom and he held out exciting prospects for research and development programmes.
Dr Keminski also told us that because of the shrinkage of the US defence industrial base, it was difficult to obtain competitive quotations within the United States and his Department had to look to Europe, and in particular the United Kingdom, for competition. He wanted the business to start further upstream—in other words, research and development programmes would be open to United Kingdom bids as well as to American companies. The Americans intend to spend $45 million in 1997 on 34 such projects, and Britain is already involved in a third of them. It is therefore doubly important that the Ministry of Defence should react positively to the call from the Society of British Aerospace Companies for Government help with demonstration programmes, because otherwise we run the risk of losing our technological lead.
One big question is whether the United States and the United Kingdom are becoming more protectionist. Both countries are in an election mode and there is a tendency for orders to be placed at home. We see that in the United States at the moment. We have heard calls from Congressmen on the hustings for an expansion of the "buy American" policy. In the UK, we want to see a better balance of transatlantic trade in defence hardware and the Government's decisions on the Nimrod replacement and the stand-off missile and anti-armour weapon for the RAF are welcome examples of that.
The key to the Nimrod replacement is the opening up of world markets, because there is a market of some £9 billion waiting for a replacement maritime patrol aircraft. Japan, for example, wants a jet maritime patrol aircraft that can fly higher, is pressurised and has a longer range, and the co-operation between British Aerospace, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas may assist our access to that market. This product has tremendous prospects.
If I may wear for a moment my constituency hat rather than my Select Committee hat, I wish to seek support for the United Kingdom's two leading military communications companies, Siemens Plessey Systems and Racal Radio—both of which have facilities in my constituency—in their bid for the MOD's Bowman contract to succeed the Clansman communication system. Their bid meets all the MOD's requirements and the companies have already spent enormous sums of their own money on the development of the project. The companies are British and they would create some 6,500 new jobs if they won the contract. The tremendous export potential would mean still more jobs.
Earlier, the subject of Gulf war syndrome was mentioned. We have heard much about organophosphate pesticides in recent years, but not usually in defence debates. They are now on the agenda. Ten days ago, my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces revealed that those pesticides were used more widely in the Gulf than was previously thought and he corrected evidence that had previously been given—not by him, but by an official—to the Defence Committee. That is an example of open government, because there was no pressure on my hon. Friend and he voluntarily came 516 forward with the information. The Select Committee was pleased to have it although we want to know why it has taken so long for the Ministry of Defence to review the records of all the environmental and operational conditions to which British forces were exposed in the Gulf. We will consider any new evidence and I welcome the offer from my hon. Friend the Minister to meet the Select Committee with his officials to review the welcome and major research programme that will be undertaken into Gulf war syndrome. In particular, we wish to know more details about the epidemiological survey and the Medical Research Council's intentions.
Since the House last sat, the Ministry of Defence has also announced the successful bidder for the married quarters estate—the consortium led by Annington, which has some distinguished military figures on the board. Annington's expertise as a property management company will be more important than the nationality of the various financial institutions that have put up the money. The Select Committee produced an interim report in July and we will consider the details of the sale. Service families will welcome the deletion from the scheme, for the first 25 years at least, of the site exchange option, because it had caused considerable uncertainty.
The sale has not been a tremendous public relations achievement for the Ministry of Defence and, combined with the rise in rents, it has made service families very unhappy. The onus is now on the Ministry of Defence, the Defence Housing Executive and Annington to demonstrate the benefits of the new arrangements, not least the upgrading of the existing service accommodation and the preservation of the integrity of the "patch".
Before I conclude, I will say something about the future of NATO and may take up what the hon. Member for South Shields said, but first I wish to mention one other procurement matter. The Warrior has given stalwart service in Bosnia and it has been the envy of all our allies, which demonstrates the enormous export potential for that vehicle. GKN needs an interim order to maintain the skill base at Telford, where the Warrior is manufactured. The company has made an imaginative proposal for the supply of Warriors in the mortar vehicle role to replace the old, slow F-432s. The mortar proposal is based on the private finance initiative and no payments would need to be made until 2000. That should please the Treasury. It is vital that the production line of the much respected Warrior is maintained. It is the flagship product of GKN Defence and I hope that the proposal wins favourable consideration from the MOD.
When my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement winds up, I hope that he can tell me whether he has had any further thoughts about the decommissioning of our nuclear submarines. At the moment, the plan is to leave them alongside at Rosyth for the half-life to take effect and to remove the radioactivity in due course, but other nuclear reactors exist. For example, questions have been raised about a small reactor used for training purposes at Greenwich and I would like to know my hon. Friend's thoughts on the decommissioning of that facility.
In conclusion, I shall consider the question of NATO and European security. NATO has now become, de facto, the enforcement arm of the United Nations, but—as we have seen with IFOR—our forces and those of our allies are far more effective when they can operate without the encumbrance of the dual key that was one of the 517 disadvantages of UNPROFOR. It is interesting that many of the forces now deployed in former Yugoslavia are from non-NATO and even ex-Warsaw treaty states, which are all doing their best to prove their worthiness with a view to joining NATO. There is no doubt that there are countries in central and eastern Europe that feel isolated and in a security vacuum. NATO membership remains a principal objective for them. It is important that NATO extends its horizons beyond the strict terms of the Washington treaty. The principal question is not whether NATO wants to expand but the manner and pace in which it does so. To embrace those suitably qualified European countries that want to join the organisation is both necessary and desirable. In the long run their membership will enhance European security. The alternative of leaving a security vacuum in central and eastern Europe is unacceptable.
I doubt whether any of the potential new members could bring positive military benefits to NATO. NATO membership must mean full membership.
§ Dr. Gilbert
The question is whether we are expanding NATO to enhance our security or to enhance the security of the new candidate member states. The countries that are the most qualified are those that least need their security enhanced, whereas the countries that most need their security to be enhanced, such as the Baltic states, are those that are least qualified. Estonia, for example, has a terrible problem. It has a population of 1.5 million, no means of self-defence and 600,000 Russians.
§ Mr. Colvin
The right hon. Gentleman's point is valid. What he says proves that there should be no associate membership, no half membership and no semi-alliance status. A new member country will enjoy the rights and privileges of membership of the alliance and must share to the full its political and military obligations, including the mutual security obligation—the so-called article 5 guarantee of the Washington treaty.
There are 65 NATO headquarters around the world. There has been some discussion about restructuring and a reorganisation. The NATO Secretary-General, Mr. Solano, has recently been floating the idea of reorganising NATO's structures in the western Europe, Mediterranean and Iberian Atlantic area, as part of moves, perhaps, to bring Spain and France within NATO's integrated military structure. His suggestion that NATO might close down GibMed and the command centre on the rock of Gibraltar as a precondition for Spain joining the integrated military structure of NATO is, I believe, both premature and probably wrong.
When the Select Committee was examining the southern flank of NATO we, its members, visited both GibMed to see the facility within the Rock and NATO IBERLANT in Portugal. We were more impressed with the Gibraltar facility than with IBERLANT, where soon after our arrival the lights fused and the entire command system went down.
If there is to be any reorganisation, the command centre at Gibraltar should be retained and not the other one, even if that means that Spanish service personnel might one day be helping to man the command centre within the Rock. The long-term benefits to Gibraltar as a NATO base 518 would be significant. There would be the opening of the frontiers on a permanent basis, and there would be no more obstruction by the Spanish authorities. That would be very much in Gibraltar's favour.
As I have said, the members of the Select Committee visited Gibraltar as part of their southern flank study. The possibility of threats from north Africa must be reassessed before we start changing the existence of NATO structures within the region. There seems to be a crescent of crisis stretching all the way from Afghanistan to the western Sahara, with trouble all the way. There is a proliferation of arms along with a growth of fundamentalist tendencies and the collapse of some economies. There is trouble there which NATO will have to address. The security of the Mediterranean is becoming much more important. As the Russians find oil in the Caucasus the route for it will be out through the Mediterranean at the Straits of Gibraltar. That stresses again the importance of Gibraltar.
The problem that I have outlined calls for an extension of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to cover north Africa so that we might try to help the economies of countries in that area and thus prevent from arising the circumstances that could trigger the military adventures to which I have referred. If the OSCE, which has 53 members already, is too cumbersome for that purpose, perhaps a southern partnership for peace, as suggested by the North Atlantic Assembly, could be set up.
Whatever is decided, Britain will continue to play its part. British forces will demonstrate their quality, as they are doing now while deployed on active service in 33 countries worldwide. I welcome the opportunity to pay them credit for a job well done. I trust that the resources that are being promised to them in this year's estimates will not be plundered, as they were last year, by the Treasury.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
I welcome the opportunity to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, of which I am a member. He presides over our proceedings with great elegance and considerable ability. However, his domestic analogy in relation to the postponement of procurement projects, which he likened to persuading one's wife that she should not have a new kitchen, found him treading on dangerous ground. I have met Mrs. Colvin and I would not like to be the man who stood in the way of her new kitchen. I suspect that the truth is that the hon. Gentleman does not stand very much in the way of anything that Mrs. Colvin wishes to do.
§ Mr. Campbell
No. The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside was on dangerous ground and I am on even more dangerous ground. It is time to move on.
We pay tribute in this debate every year to the armed services wherever they are called upon to serve. Over the years, as the tension ebbs and flows in Ulster, it has been obvious to us all that the lives of men and women serving on our behalf there are more or less at risk. Last week, at 519 Lisburn, once again there was injury and death. As has already been said, a brave man, Warrant Officer Bradwell, died in the course of serving his country.
We have an obligation to protect such men and women to the utmost of our ability. In the aftermath of the events at Lisburn, we must ask ourselves whether we are satisfied that, in that case, we did. It is extremely serious that terrorists were able to penetrate the security of the Army's headquarters in Northern Ireland.
I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that there are Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary investigations. It will be in the nature of those investigations that hon. Members will not be entitled to know all that is discovered. Nothing would be more foolish in an investigation of security to make all the elements of the investigations public. I hope, however, that in due course the House will receive an assurance from the Secretary of State, or the appropriate Minister, that a full and comprehensive inquiry has been carried out. I hope also that if there are lessons to be learnt from that inquiry, those lessons will be learnt and that all the necessary steps will be taken.
§ Mr. Mans
I am certain that the hon. and learned Gentleman agrees that a full inquiry should take place. Does he agree also that it was entirely inappropriate for Channel 4 News, when it reported the incident a day or two ago, to show on screen a complete plan of the barracks at Lisburn, and sensitive buildings in it, so anyone might know exactly what existed there and where to go?
§ Mr. Campbell
Anything that reduces the security of those who continue to serve on our behalf in Northern Ireland is to be deprecated. It was an editorial judgment which I certainly would not have made.
Towards the end of his speech, the Secretary of State reminded us, correctly, that in Bosnia NATO had not been seriously tested. In the Gulf war, to which the right hon. Gentleman also alluded, we were not seriously tested either. It is important to realise that the capacity to continue to fight a high-intensity conflict depends on adequate numbers of men and items of equipment and clear political objectives. One of the reasons why we have been successful in Bosnia is the number of men and the quantity of equipment available and the clarity of the political objectives—in sharp contrast to those of the previous four years under the aegis of the United Nations Protection Force.
It is important to realise that, if we maintain our high-intensity warfare capability, modifying our troops and our approach to peacekeeping or peacemaking may not be easy, but such changes can be made. If, on the other hand, we maintain our forces and equipment at the peacemaking and peacekeeping level, it is impossible to move from that to the level of high-intensity warfare.
It is the proud boast of Canada that its troops have participated in every United Nations peacekeeping operation since they began. However, as a consequence of that wholly laudable commitment, the configuration of Canada's armed forces has been geared to peacekeeping and peacemaking, so that its capacity to fight high-intensity warfare has been substantially eroded.
It is no secret that I, along with some of my hon. Friends, believe in far greater integration with our European partners in defence matters. Nothing that has 520 happened in the past year—since we last debated these matters—has persuaded me otherwise. I say again, as I said then, that these issues will be driven by economics rather than by institutions. Against the background of reducing defence budgets in Europe, we shall be able to maintain a range and depth of capability only by greater co-operation. It has at last been recognised that the European defence industry must be much more cohesive so that it can compete sensibly with the much larger and more powerful defence industry of the United States.
Common procurement and force specialisation will, of necessity, be the way ahead for European defence. We already have common procurement in the Eurofighter— to which I shall return in a moment—and in the common new generation frigate. Operational co-operation already takes place: the Franco-British air group, Franco-British nuclear co-operation—which, I am led to believe, takes place at a higher and more detailed level than is publicly known—the recently formed Dutch-Belgian joint naval command, the new Franco-Belgian naval accord, the Eurocorps and the Anglo-Dutch amphibious force are the components of organic policy development.
Let us be clear and lay a myth. No country will give up the right to determine when and where its troops will fight. That is a responsibility that national Governments and national Parliaments can never vacate, nor should they. Imagine France, with its proud military history, agreeing that a determination as to how and when French troops should fight should be made elsewhere. Imagine Germany, cautiously emerging from the constitutional presumption against its forces operating outside its boundaries, agreeing that such decisions should be made elsewhere.
Will the European security and defence identity develop further? Of course it will, and for the reasons that I have already given. On these occasions, I am always reminded of the remarks made in May 1994 by the Foreign Secretary who, as Secretary of State for Defence, was quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying that the evolution of an EC defence policy was an inevitable consequence of Maastricht. Later that year, the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), spoke to the Franco-British Council and called for practical co-operation in European defenceputting our military assets … at the service of European defence".Since those days, the emphasis of the Government's language has changed from time to time, no more so than when they are under the influence of the sea breezes of seaside conference towns. The march of events and the pressure of economics remain inexorable. In my judgment, the development of a European defence policy is an inevitable consequence with which we shall all have to learn to live, however enthusiastic or unenthusiastic we may be about the concept.
During the summer, the Prime Minister told us that we had a moral duty not to take too much of citizens' resources by way of unnecessary taxation. This is an interesting philosophical issue. Does that moral duty create a higher obligation than the obligation to provide for the aged, the sick and the poor?
I have a moral question for the Prime Minister. Why does this country continue to permit arms exports to Indonesia? Hawk jets, Scorpion tanks and water cannon are already exported, and further exports are being 521 contemplated. There is evidence that the water cannon have been used in Jakarta against pro-democracy demonstrators.
Once such equipment leaves the United Kingdom, we have no control over its use, no matter what undertakings have been given. Are we prepared to accept the word of an Administration who say that they will not use equipment for a particular purpose, when at the same time they are engaged in the brutal suppression of the civil rights of the people of East Timor? I feel that, given Indonesia's ever worsening record on human rights, it is wrong for the United Kingdom to continue those exports. I say that as one who has supported British Aerospace, both on the Eurofighter and, more recently, by my robust opposition—along with other hon. Members, some of whom are in the Chamber—to the suggestion that we should lease in F16 aircraft rather than embark on the mid-life update of the Tornado. I will take no lessons from anyone about the need to assist British Aerospace, but I do not believe that the future of that company depends on, or should depend on, the export of Hawk aircraft to Indonesia.
If the debate has underlined anything, it has underlined the need for a general election. On the Conservative side of the House there is complacency, while on this side— perhaps the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) will not be cheering quite so much in a moment—there is caution. If we are to have a fundamental, full-scale strategic defence review, we must accept in advance that if it throws up circumstances in which an increase in expenditure is required, we must be prepared to make that increase and spend the money. That is the part of the jigsaw constructed by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) which has never been entirely clear.
If I have another criticism of the debate, it is the remarkable absence of any long-term thinking—perhaps that is due to the closeness of the general election. During the summer, the Canberra commission on the elimination of nuclear weapons published its report. Hon. Members may not agree with everything in that report, but it represents a detailed analysis of the steps that could be taken to achieve multilateral nuclear disarmament. No one has so far seen fit to refer to that.
We are left with the conclusion that the Government tend to stagger from one public expenditure settlement to another. It is true that announcements were made in the summer about the replacement of the maritime control aircraft, which I support, the conventionally armed stand-off missile and the anti-armour missile. I seek the assistance of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement on a technical point. As I understand it, the anti-armour weapon on the Apache is the Hellfire, whereas for fixed-wing Royal Air Force aircraft it is to be Brimstone. Have we lost something by not using the same anti-armour weapon both for rotary wing and for fixed wing? If not in this debate, perhaps the Minister might advise me by letter whether there is anything in what I just said.
We also know that the operational effectiveness of the armed services has been inhibited by a shortage of spares, reduced opportunities for training and a lack of manpower. For example, for the Royal Air Force, 522 expenditure on Tornado spares has fallen by one third, resulting in the cannibalisation of aircraft. In December 1995, six out of 36 aircraft at Brüggen were serviceable.
I understand from the announcement in the White Paper that we are coming home from Germany. When I suggested that last year, Ministers dismissed it. Now it is Government policy. It makes good financial sense.
On spares, I sometimes feel that we have not learnt the lesson of the Gulf war, to which the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) referred. It took three armoured divisions in Germany to produce one that was capable of going to war in the Gulf. We should have taken that serious lesson into account. After "Options for Change", so considerable has been the draw-down in forces that there is no reservoir from which to draw. In relation to spares, I believe that our situation is dangerously fragile.
On recruitment, the Army is only now recovering from the mistakes that were made during "Options for Change". Manpower shortage inevitably exacerbates overstretch. In the spring of 1996, 25 per cent. of the Army were deployed, while 11 per cent. were either preparing for, or were on leave after, operations.
I was glad to hear the Secretary of State confirm that if there is a military follow-on force in Bosnia—a follow-on force to IFOR—the United Kingdom will be part of it. I think that today is the first time that that commitment has been made publicly. There was, however, one caveat. He said, in response to my intervention, that a United States presence was also necessary. He did not specify whether he meant a United States presence on the ground or a United States presence by offering or contributing assets of another kind.
I am in no doubt that IFOR's effectiveness has been as a result of the United States' presence on the ground. It seems to me that if we are to have an effective and successful follow-on force under the aegis of NATO, a component from the United States on the ground will be fundamental. We must not have a return to the morass, over which UNPROFOR was obliged to preside, of ambiguous objectives and inadequate resources.
On the Navy, only reduced deployments in the Adriatic have allowed the achievement of the guidelines that apply to time spent in home port.
One had a sense that there was a touch of Dr. Pangloss in the Secretary of State's speech—all is for the best in the best of possible worlds. I hope that he will not regard it as overly personal if I say that, outside the ranks of the adoring blue-rinsed matrons in the Bournemouth conference hall, not many people believe that; certainly not the Defence Committee, which was unanimous in its conclusion that no more reductions in expenditure are tolerable. One might put the question slightly differently and say: if further cuts in expenditure are to be effected, tell us which commitments are to be abandoned.
The emergence of the use—much more widely than was appreciated—of organophosphates in the Gulf has been mentioned. It is fair to say that Ministers have not been slow to criticise their critics on this topic, but I believe that the House will be united in a desire to ensure that we do the best for the veterans of the Gulf conflict, and that we do the best that we can to ensure the fullest investigation of the contribution, if any, that ssthe extended use of organophosphates has made to the condition of those who now claim to be suffering from Gulf war syndrome.
523 I have a number of questions that I wish to put to the Government. They are not for answer today, but they should lie at the very heart of the investigation and, in due course, the information should be given to the House. The first question is simple: who gave the instruction to use organophosphates? At what rank was the decision made? Were civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence aware that organophosphates were being used? If so, at what level within the Department? Were detailed instructions issued to minimise contact with service men and women? What investigation was carried out to determine whether it was safe to use organophosphates in the amounts in which they appear to have been used?
Was the MOD aware of the contents of the Health and Safety Executive's written guidance of 1987, which clearly identifies the risks attached to the use of organophosphates? I am no clinician, but are not the symptoms of organophosphate poisoning, as set out in that written guidance, remarkably similar to the complaints of those who now claim to be suffering from Gulf war syndrome? Why has this information emerged only now? Will the Government publish all the documents that contain information relevant to the use of organophosphates in the Gulf?
Finally, can we now be satisfied that we have all the information? As I have reasonably been prompted from the Labour Front Bench, what did the Government know and when did they know it? That is the crucial question, which, at least in Mr. Richard Nixon's case, proved very difficult to answer.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I did not want to interrupt the flow of his argument. Is he aware that there is an historical parallel to this, which is as unpleasant as it is apposite? Work by the national poisons laboratory in this country revealed that, around 1987, organophosphates were used as a poison against Kurds in Iraq by the Saddam regime? It was commonly known at that time just how dangerous they were, and on that occasion they were put into the bread of very hungry people who then unwittingly ate them and subsequently died.
§ Mr. Campbell
The hon. Gentleman has the advantage in that that information serves to underline the fact that the use—or abuse—should, in an ideal world, have given rise to very considerable apprehension.
§ Mr. Dalyell
May I add to the hon. and learned Gentleman's very pertinent list of questions just one more? What use was the information that the Department now has put to in August and September of this year when preparations were being made for—heaven help us— further action in the Gulf? British troops were being prepared for possible further action during the summer recess. Were they in any way the beneficiary of the information and experience that the Government should have brought to the House?
§ Mr. Campbell
The hon. Gentleman's question stands on its own merits. I do not need to add to it. There is now no immediate procurement project more important and significant than Eurofighter 2000. It is important for the Royal Air Force, British Aerospace and, indeed, Europe. It is important for the RAF because that 524 force requires an agile fighter, and Eurofighter was designed to the highest standards to meet that requirement. It is important for BAe because that company requires to work and to produce at the cutting edge of the most modern technology. Its future and that of the British aircraft industry depends not entirely on the success of the Eurofighter programme, but in substantial part. It is important for Europe because Europe requires a successful joint procurement programme that involves European industry. That is clear beyond any question—the preliminary skirmishes between the European defence industrial base and that of the United States give a clear foretaste of the industrial battle that is undoubtedly to come.
The failure of the Eurofighter project would damage all three of the interests that I have identified and make even more difficult the path towards the future offensive aircraft. A collaborative programme in Europe would be much more difficult to mount successfully against the failure of Eurofighter. The question that must be asked is: if Germany withdraws from the programme will the United Kingdom proceed with that programme in concert with the other partners?
I have already bemoaned what I have described as a lack of long-term thinking. The issue of multilateral nuclear disarmament should be addressed by the House and the Government. We have successfully concluded a non-proliferation treaty and, although it is not in the form that everyone would have preferred, the comprehensive test ban treaty has attracted more than 100 signatories and supporters.
Another long-term issue that we should consider is ballistic missile defence for the United Kingdom, because a proliferation of missiles is being sold by manufacturing countries which are insufficiently fastidious about their customers. The House—certainly the Government— should bear such long-term considerations in mind.
At the beginning of my speech, I said that it was customary to praise the men and women who serve in our three armed services. That is more than a ritual, more even than a convention. During this Parliament, they have served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and many other theatres, and their loyalty and professionalism are a lesson to us all. They give of their best and, sometimes, as we saw last week, they have to give of their lives. They deserve the very best that we can give them.
§ Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)
It is an honour and a privilege to follow the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). In particular, I agree with what he said about those who serve in Northern Ireland because my brother is currently serving there. I congratulate him on his remarks about the rather extraordinary speech by the Opposition defence spokesman, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) about a comprehensive, strategic defence review. The hon. Gentleman would say neither what would be in it nor what would be out of it and spoke about commitments without saying what they would be. He totally failed to persuade us that any defence review that has ever taken place has done anything other than cut defence expenditure, often without sufficiently reducing the commitments that went with the cuts or detailing the commitments. 525 Recently, we have heard much from Labour about the priority of education. As the father of two sons of nine and 11, I am passionately concerned about that area of our responsibility. In the 1920s and 1930s, both Austria and Czechoslovakia had enviably well-educated societies, as did part of Belgium. If we do not have the will to find the funds for strong defences, we shall end up as the world's best-educated slaves. History teaches us that it is never safe to relax our guard. A nation that does not have the will to provide for its defence is no longer a nation but a collection of communities. A nation that spends much more on social security than on national security has lost its will to survive or to influence for the better the world around it or the lives of those who live within it. One could look at modern Belgium and, soon, Holland to illustrate the point.
This year, we shall spend 13.4 per cent. of our gross domestic product, or more than £90 billion, on social security as against 3 per cent. of our GDP on defence. That is a decline from 4.5 per cent. of GDP in 1979. It is relentless year by year and there is a further 0.3 per cent. cut this year—and that from a Conservative Government who are committed to defence. I say that not to make a party political point, although I may make some later, but because I know that some Opposition Members, of whom the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East is one, are desperately concerned and committed to defence and to the services. Should another party come to power, it might find even greater difficulty than Conservative Back Benchers encounter in trying to keep the Treasury's hands off the defence budget.
The world is more dangerous today than it was during the cold war. If anything, our forces are more likely to be called upon to protect British lives or interests and to place themselves in harm's way than during the period of the cold war. Although the danger of an all-out nuclear war has receded with the changes in eastern Europe, the escalation of nuclear proliferation—the sale of highly advanced weaponry to highly unstable militaries, let alone third-world countries—means that almost any conflict is capable of becoming high intensity, if not nuclear, at very short notice. The Gulf war demonstrated that but luckily it did not result in great damage to our forces.
To the bleeding hearts brigade in the Opposition who hanker for defence cuts on the one hand and for our troops to be sent to prevent massacres, ethnic cleansing or civil wars in a League of Nations dream world on the other, I say that that is hypocritical and morally indefensible. The call is to, "Send your own family but do not send mine, ill-equipped and overstretched, into those situations." That is what our troops would be. To the Chancellor and those Treasury civil servants who are cynical about defence expenditure I simply say that if they fail to provide the money now for military deterrence—as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East has said, that must include money for a joint anti-ballistic missile defence system—when the first new generation Scud that is fired, or even threatened to be fired, from a container ship in the Mediterranean or from the Atlantic approaches, it will be not just their families that they have endangered nor they who will curse them.
Those threats are real and we must find the money to protect our country and our forces from them. The Prime Minister has promised a period of stability for our armed 526 services and, therefore, for the defence budget. I urge the Government and the Secretary of State for Defence in particular to ensure that neither the Chancellor, or the Treasury, nor anyone else undermines the Prime Minister's commitment.
We face an exceptionally unstable period made worse by the seemingly inevitable instability that is caused by the failure of the European Union to adjust its institutions, ambitions and strategies to take account of the accession of the Warsaw pact countries and the reunification of Germany—a country that is now the size of France and west Germany combined. It is not for nothing that the Russian tone has changed and that General Lebed now refers to the new German fourth reich.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and his Department on the highly successful bilateral exchanges and visits between Russian and British officers and other personnel which have taken place since the last debate on the defence estimates. I urge him to do all that he can to continue to expand those bilaterally and within the "Partnership for Peace" or the North Atlantic Council frameworks, especially in view of the pressure in some quarters for the expansion of NATO. His Department's success in developing training exercises in Poland and, hopefully, soon in Ukraine is greatly to be applauded and one might dare to hope that if those in Ukraine succeed and are repeated, perhaps joint disaster relief, peacekeeping and even counter-terrorist training may ultimately be possible in Russia, too.
The Secretary of State and his team must also be congratulated on their success in resisting the Treasury's insidious attempts to undermine the Prime Minister's undertaking and that of the Secretary of State's predecessor by delaying or indefinitely postponing the announcement of any of the three major equipment orders that he announced at the end of July just before the House rose. They were the orders for 21 maritime patrol aircraft with Nimrod, costing some £2 billion, to British Aerospace; for the conventionally armed stand-off missile—CASOM—with Storm Shadow to British Aerospace Matra, which is a welcome order in terms of Anglo-French armaments co-operation; and for the advanced air-launched anti-armour weapon with Brimstone to GEC-Marconi.
The value of those orders to the respective services, to the proper equipping of our forces and to employment in the defence industry is even greater than the substantial figure of some £4 billion involved. Of course I am delighted that Lucas Aerospace in my constituency will benefit from some of those orders. It would be remiss of me not to mention again—as our previous debate on the defence estimates preceded the decision—my gratitude to Ministers for selecting Land Rover for the Army ambulance and TUL-TUM—utility truck—orders at the beginning of the year.
Friends in the Royal Navy will welcome the further batch of three type 23 frigates, but would no doubt give it a warmer welcome if Ministers could speed up the resolution of the problems with the battlefield communications software on those ships so that they can play their full part and exploit their potential. Doing that would relieve the pressure on other ships. Everyone in the Royal Navy, and no doubt everyone in the Marines, will welcome at last the finalisation of the order for Albion and Bulwark, the replacements for Fearless and Intrepid. Linked with the order for HMS Ocean, that at last puts 527 flesh on the bones of a strategic emphasis on flexible intervention and interdiction forces. With the acquisition of ro-ro ferries, the amphibious role has been enhanced.
The only minor cloud on the increasingly sunny picture is my concern that, following the withdrawal from service of HMS Polaris, or the last Polaris submarine—I can never remember which it is—our nuclear deterrent is now based, if only temporarily, on the two new Trident submarines alone. I assume that that means that they will be constantly deployed—with all the resultant strain—but that the decision was taken on the basis that that could be done without harming the effectiveness of our deterrent because the boats were so new and so early in their service life. However, it poses some awkward questions on which I would be grateful for a comment from my hon. Friend the Minister the Minister of State for Defence Procurement in his winding-up speech.
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us that he has a greater than usual number of conventionally armed SSNs available on deployment in the period before the two further Tridents come into service, or that he will be exploiting the flexibility of the submarine-launched cruise missiles. Better still, he might say that he has brought forward the order for the further five batch 2 Trafalgar boats. I hope that my hon. Friend will allay my concerns, if not during the debate, then by other means. My right hon. and hon. Friends have made a good start on the pledge made at the time of both "Options for Change" and the defence cost studies that our forces would be leaner but better equipped. They deserve to be congratulated on that.
All hon. Members interested in defence pay close attention to equipment orders because of their value not only to the services but to jobs in their constituencies. The aerospace sector alone employs some 134,500 people, and the defence industry, and its value in terms of jobs and exports, is a national asset. Such an asset would be threatened by Labour's defence review because such a review would be bound to take six months, if not longer. In addition, who can remember a review that did anything other than reduce defence expenditure and orders, let alone manpower? We would have to postpone crucial orders during the period of the review at great hazard to all those whose jobs depend on the sector.
Finally, on this topic, I make a plea to my right hon. and hon. Friends to ensure that the whole equipment sector is thought of in a strategic sense when decisions on orders have to be taken, rather than there being a concentration on the benefit to one or other of the major companies. I speak as someone with companies such as Lucas Aerospace in my constituency.
The last matter on which I will touch is manning and overstretch. That was mentioned at length by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), so I shall not dwell upon it. The Select Committee has identified a number of specific areas to which my hon. Friend the Minister will respond in his winding-up speech. Overstretch in equipment terms is demonstrated by reduced serviceability and readiness. That manifests itself as an operational issue where making savings on spares and reducing ammunition levels can and probably has seriously impaired the safety, effectiveness and fighting capability of the services. Cannibalisation is neither cost-efficient nor manpower-efficient, and I strongly urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to set up a 528 team to examine that concern and make any changes deemed necessary before the problem becomes dangerous or an embarrassment.
It is now generally recognised that the Ministry of Defence's recruitment and manpower policy in implementing "Options for Change" was in some respects wrong, particularly with regard to the recruitment of school leavers. The Army in particular is still under-recruited by 4,000, but I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces for his recent efforts in that matter. Undermanning means that companies and battalions are not up to strength, and that places greater burdens on those who are serving— particularly in Northern Ireland. It also places strain on the time spent on training, and thereby impairs the effectiveness and ultimately the safety of those who serve.
My right hon. and hon. Friends will be concerned that we are still failing to meet the Army's objective of a 24-month interval between emergency tours. With the stalemate in Northern Ireland likely to deteriorate before it improves and with the prospect of a speedy withdrawal from Bosnia becoming even more remote, there can be no prospect of events alleviating the position. I hope that my hon. Friend has further plans to remedy the problem which he can share with us in his winding-up speech. I have been relieved to see a much more proactive recruitment drive for the British Army in the media in recent months.
Finally, I add my remarks to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside and of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East concerning our troops serving in Bosnia and Northern Ireland. It behoves all of us who take part in these debates to recognise that it is one thing to sit and speak in the comparative safety of the Chamber and quite another to serve in extremely dangerous and uncomfortable positions. I hope that we all do not forget that we owe them not just a debt of gratitude but an obligation to ensure that they can perform their duties with the right equipment, planning and supplies at all times to make their jobs as safe as possible. I commend the estimates to the House.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
I rarely get the chance to take part in defence debates, and I have been honoured to listen to the carefully measured speeches that have been made. I came here because I thought that the Secretary of State—who is so against the idea of a strategic review of the needs of our armed forces and of the United Kingdom—would lay out in considerable detail how he saw the future of this country and the amount of money that was to be spent in this important field.
I was—to put it mildly—deeply dismayed that at no point did the Secretary of State raise the question of the proposed privatisation of the national air traffic services. It was agreed that the privatisation of NATS was not only going to be difficult to carry out, but would have enormous implications because it was not only a civil service, but a service that was fully integrated with the Royal Air Force. The service has a direct impact on the training patterns of the RAF and the way in which the service is organised.
It was clear that if the privatisation were to go ahead, a number of urgent steps had to be taken first. The Select Committee on Transport, which looked at the matter in 529 great detail, said that there was already enormous turmoil and change in the air traffic control services. There was a move afoot for the Civil Aviation Authority to move NATS from West Drayton to a new purpose-built building at Swanwick. The civil service had made it clear that it understood the implications of the dual nature of air traffic control.
The Select Committee said that before any decisions on privatisation were taken, certain basic safeguards would have to be accepted. First, it is vital that the United Kingdom retains two air traffic control centres. One does not need to be particularly brilliant to work out that a nation with a great deal of air traffic but only one basic air traffic control centre will get into great difficulty if anything goes wrong at that centre. There would be a danger of crashes across the United Kingdom. That would concern not only British traffic but traffic coming from all points of the globe. It was essential, therefore, that the Scottish centre as well as the centre in Swanwick near Southampton be retained.
Furthermore, it was clear that because of the changes the RAF had taken a value judgment—a very useful one—that it should carefully integrate much of its work with that of the civil air traffic controllers. They have always worked in tandem, but there were physical barriers and there was always a division. It became clear during the move that the services were prepared to take on board not only the need to work just as closely with civil air traffic controllers, but to integrate the work in such a way that they were all working superbly.
Suddenly, in the middle of all that and at short notice— less than three weeks ago—the rumour began to circulate that a new Civil Aviation Authority boss, coming in with great expertise from an industry that has nothing to do with air traffic control, had considered the matter and decided that we needed privatisation.
Conservative Members, who have made so much of the fact that we should protect the defence budget from the predations of Treasury Ministers, might like to know that there is a clear sign that the new reversal in policy comes directly from the Treasury, not because anyone has studied air traffic control operations and said that they need to be organised differently but because the Treasury is looking to pick up £600 million in a short time frame through privatisation because it wants the money before the next general election.
The Select Committee on Transport considered the matter and took evidence. The airlines do not want the services privatised. No one who knows anything about the matter believes for one minute that one can deal with the real needs of British defence or aviation by privatising an important and fundamental service. It is not like water, where one could blackmail people into making a profit. This service is fundamental at every level of our life and it needs to be properly organised and protected.
I saw the Minister with responsibility for aviation in another place. He was extremely courteous and explained, in his carefully chosen words, that the Department of Transport believed in "collective responsibility". I did not go to public school. I am sorry to say that, like a lot of people, I went to a state school. To me, that phrase means one thing—that someone else has taken decisions to which I am not a party and of which I do not approve. 530 That is exactly the case at the moment, but it is worse than that. It is now being suggested that Swanwick will be the only centre and the Scottish centre will be closed or will have just a shell operation, with all the facilities concentrated in Swanwick. Anyone who does not understand the risk that that presents to both civil and defence aviation is not taking a responsible attitude.
Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of privatisation, to do such a thing would put at risk civil and defence aviation throughout the United Kingdom. The only way that the system could be maintained would be, for example, with some kind of contract with other national aviation centres. Is that what the Government want? Is that what they have decided? Why did the Secretary of State not take the opportunity to tell the House? He was here today. We have heard today how Ministers care about keeping the House informed. Why have they chosen not to do so? When I asked the Secretary of State, he had nothing to say. Indeed, he looked embarrassed.
The reality is that Defence Ministers should have asked and answered a number of important questions today. Do they intend to reinstate the privatisation of national air traffic services? If so, who has been consulted? The Select Committee on Transport criticised the Ministry of Transport last time because of its lack of consultation. Who has been asked for their views? Does the list include the chief of staff? If that has happened and the Government have accepted the move, on what basis have they done so?
Is it true that the air traffic control services and software installed at Swanwick are not capable of dealing with the new traffic and show dangerous signs of being unable to deal with the services that they will be required to deal with, with an existing oceanic centre and the Scottish centre, and without having to face up to double the normal traffic? Is it true that the Treasury is so desperate for money before the next general election that it intends to push the measure through the House by next February?
Is it true that the Treasury does not like the idea of a management buy-out and therefore wants to bring in someone else? Who is this magical someone? Who is to have total economic and political control of the airlines of this country, not just in times of war but in times of peace? That is what we are talking about. We are talking about a small island with crowded air space and a limited number of areas in which we can train our forces. We will be faced with a privatised service, run for profit not for defence and not in any way responsible to the House, as it should be.
If that is what we are facing, the Secretary of State is not only in clear dereliction of his stated duty but has a responsibility to explain to the House how he got into this position. Those questions should not merely be asked but answered. Clearly, the Secretary of State had no intention of telling anyone what had happened until the decisions had been taken. That is unacceptable. It is simply another example of a Government who have no sense of national pride or duty and who do not understand that defence does not mean handing over control of one's air space to someone else, but knowing what is going on in one's area irrespective of the pressures.
The Minister should remember when he replies that the House has a right to that information. It has a right not to be bounced into something rapidly, with decisions being taken and the sale going ahead. The House will reject 531 many of the thoughts behind this absurd idea because it knows that it does not work. Ministers should at least have the honesty to try to justify at the Dispatch Box what they think they are going to do.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
I hope that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) will not mind if I do not follow her far down the road that she took. Suffice it to say that I am not quite as prescriptive as she is about the way in which air traffic control should be operated. There are plenty of small examples of military aircraft being controlled by civilians in the private sector. I hope that the hon. Lady has picked up that last point, which is important. Equally, it is important that we spend adequate resources on our traffic control to ensure that both airliners in the commercial sector and military aircraft are safe. The resources are important and in that respect I sometimes worry about the Treasury's short-termism in cutting capital budgets for the national air traffic control system only to discover that we have a crisis on our hands a few years later. Beyond that, I will not go. I want to concentrate on some of the earlier contributions to this excellent debate.
Over the past five years our armed forces have been asked to do more with less. I see that myself as a Reservist; I meet people in the Army and the Royal Air Force and occasionally in the Royal Navy. There is a fine line between expecting service men who joined because of their can-do spirit always to go that little step further— to complete the task properly, go where they are asked and stay up that extra hour at night or get up that extra hour early in the morning—and asking them to do too much, with too few people on the ground or in the air to carry out the task safely and properly. An element of frustration creeps into the system, particularly in the middle ranks, where people feel that they are not being given the tools to do the job or are apprehensive about personnel policies or about the latest study that they will have to analyse.
We have reached the point at which we can go no further in cutting resources and expecting our aimed forces to complete the tasks that we set them as effectively as they do now. Sooner or later, something has to give. We are beginning to see that now in the difficulty that we have in recruiting infantrymen. That has happened for many reasons and many hon. Members have mentioned it tonight, so I shall not go into the details, but it is one symptom of the problems that arise if resources are cut too finely. We are under-recruited at present in all three services, although by only a small amount in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.
I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to give us an idea, either in writing or later this evening, whether he thinks that under-recruitment will get worse next year or whether it has bottomed out, particularly in the infantry, and that the welcome steps that have been taken to improve it are having an effect. I should like the Government to go further and to reopen a few more of the recruiting offices that they have closed because they are an important shop window for the armed forces. They show that they are open for business rather than being closed to business which, I am sad to say, is the impression given over the past year or two.
It is also worth mentioning the Bett report, which has often been referred to in previous debates but has not come up so much today. Those of us who still serve, as 532 Reserves or as Regulars, would like the report to be put on one side for a little longer, to give us a bit more stability in the armed forces. I am sure that that would aid recruitment.
I said that we had gone far enough on spending. Some hon. Members will have heard me use this analogy before the increase—just the increase—in social security expenditure in the past five years is greater than this year's entire defence budget. That is worth reflecting on when it comes to priorities. In that context, I warmly welcome my party's commitment, made in writing at the party conference last week:Only the Conservatives can offer a period of stability both in terms of size and funding of the Armed Forces." It is on the understanding that that stability in funding means no more cuts that I shall be prepared to support the Government tomorrow night. That commitment is important because it shows that this party believes that the cuts have gone far enough.
I was interested when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned that last year's underspend was only £220 million, whereas last year we were told that it was likely to be in the region of £500 million and that that amount would be rolled forward to this year's defence budget. We were told that there would therefore be no cut in the actual amount spent in the current financial year. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to tell me whether, as a result of last year's smaller than estimated underspend, this year's outturn will be £280 million higher than estimated last year or whether there has been a £280 million cut from the figures that we were given then. Where have those cuts fallen, if they have occurred at all? Last year we seemed to be saying that we had not cut defence expenditure, because we had that extra £500 million, but now we are told that the underspend was not as large as we then thought.
Having said that, I warmly welcome many of the savings that have been made in the defence budget in the past few years because they have enabled us to meet our commitment to ensure that the services are properly equipped. We have had a number of orders, and I commend my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and others, who fought hard for those in the summer; that they achieved them was no small feat. They were all desperately needed and included the Nimrod 2000, Storm Shadow, Brimstone and replacements for Fearless and Intrepid. They have ensured that we shall have a viable defence industry in the foreseeable future as well as achieving the primary task of equipping our armed forces properly.
I am surprised that the Labour party constantly goes on about the need for defence diversification agencies. The fact is that as a result of the orders, companies such as British Aerospace are taking on staff. Many people will have seen the full-page colour photograph of Nimrod in the appointments section of The Times a few months ago, which clearly shows that the number of people employed in our defence industries has now bottomed out. We now have highly efficient defence industries that can look to the future with confidence, largely a result of the Government's commitment to the orders that I have already mentioned.
I also warmly welcome the Secretary of State's commitment to Eurofighter 2000. The comments in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express this morning were sadly 533 ignorant of the facts. It is not a European Union aircraft. It follows a number of other aircraft that we have built together with our European partners outside the European Union but inside NATO: the Jaguar, built with the French, and the Tornado, built with the Italians and the Germans, are two examples. Eurofighter is coming in with fewer cost overruns than those two aircraft and in real terms is cheaper than the Tornado when one considers what it can do.
The best indication of how good the aircraft is came in a comment made to me by a senior United States general, who said that if it had been produced on the other side of the Atlantic the United States air force would probably have ordered 1,000 by now. That is what the Americans think of the product and that is why it is a little sad that some of our national newspapers have not grasped the fact that it is a world-beating aircraft. One of the reasons for there being so much criticism of it is that the Americans are genuinely—and rightly—worried about its tremendous capabilities.
I should like to dwell on one or two other projects. I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give a decision within the next few months on the METEOR 1239 future medium-range air-to-air missile. It is a state of the art missile. When money is spent on a platform, sufficient money must be spent on the weapons on that platform to ensure that it is used most effectively.
I should also like to mention the future large aircraft project. It would be nice to know when we shall finally sign up to the European staff requirement. If we genuinely believe that the European part of NATO must be enhanced and we have an independent ability on this side of the Atlantic for strategic air lift, we need an aircraft of that sort. I am not saying that we must necessarily choose the FLA, but I should be interested to know whether any other aircraft is as cost-effective. I genuinely believe that current proposal to be good.
§ Mr. Mans
Again, I am receiving support from the Labour party.
I also very much welcome the fact that, should we procure the aircraft, it will be procured in a new and more cost-effective way, with much of the development money coming from industry. The aircraft will be procured as an airliner is procured by an airline rather than in the more ponderous way in which we have tended to procure military aircraft.
Over the past five years, our armed forces have had to undergo two defence reviews "Options for Change" and the defence cost study. They may not have had the word "review" in the title—there may be a reason for that; I do not know—but to all intents and purposes they were defence reviews. It might be worth while for everybody to admit as much. I should have thought that the worst way to restore stability in our armed forces would be to have another defence review, as proposed by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) in an article in The House Magazine this week. I understand that she was stating the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition.
534 I do not believe that any further defence reviews would enhance stability. They would do the opposite, making it harder for us to recruit the right calibre of people for the armed forces and making it harder for those people to do the jobs that we assign them.
If we are to have a review—or, more specifically, if the Labour party says that we should have one if it gets into Government—surely the country is entitled to know what Labour Members mean by a defence review. The document "New Labour New Life for Britain" contains fewer than 300 words on defence—shorter than the article by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West this week. That gives an indication of the priority attached to defence by the Labour party.
It is also significant that the photographs take more space than the text. The most significant photograph—I shall not mention the other two—is of a British soldier with a UN helmet. That clearly shows the defence priorities of the Labour party.
§ Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)
May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the text attached to the picture of the soldier, which he did not quote? It says:The British army plays a critical role in UN operations".I believe that that is agreed across the House, unless the hon. Gentleman disapproves of the involvement of the British Army in that role.
§ Mr. Mans
Not at all. I agree that, under certain circumstances it is right that British soldiers should be involved in UN operations. I am pointing out that the choice of a British soldier wearing a UN helmet rather than a NATO helmet shows the relative priorities attached by the Labour party to different aspects of defence.
Let me pass on. [Interruption.] All right, I shall not pass on. I am much more interested in knowing what the defence review will do. The British people will want to know. That is what elections are all about. If the commitments are to change, where is the list of priorities? Will we reduce our commitment to NATO? Will we withdraw part of the British Army from Europe? Will we shut the base in Cyprus and perhaps withdraw our commitment to the UN in separating the Greek and Turkish Cypriots? Are we to cut the Royal Air Force and perhaps combine some of its functions with our European partners? Are we to get rid of our amphibious capabilities in the Royal Navy?
Those are a few ideas, but Labour Members could easily tell us now. They have all the information. They can tell us what their defence priorities are for this country, but they do not want to go beyond the general statement that they want a defence review.
§ Mr. Miller
The hon. Gentleman was present when I intervened earlier on the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). As he is asking important questions, will he tell the House whether the Government will confirm the order for the Batch 2 Trafalgar class submarine? That is much more imminent than the issues which he is talking about, which are eight or nine months away.
§ Mr. Mans
I am not a member of the Government. [Interruption.] I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am as hopeful as he is that the Government will confirm the 535 order, but that is a different issue. He has raised a specific procurement order. I am talking about a political party's commitment to defence, which ought to be put before the public before the election is called.
I strongly believe that soldiers, sailors and airmen join the armed forces to defend this country, either directly or through NATO or other alliances, allowing the rest of us to go about our lives in peace. They do not join, in the first instance at least, to don a white helmet and keep apart warring factions in third-world countries. They carry out such peacekeeping roles well, but that should never become their primary task. I get the impression that Labour Members would like that to be our armed forces' primary task. I associate myself completely with the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who made that point at the end of his speech much more eloquently than I could. Our armed forces exist to defend us rather than to carry out peacekeeping role.
Finally, I am old-fashioned on expenditure on national security. I still believe, even in a post-cold war environment, that spending on defence should be the first call on the Treasury, not the last. Only when we have decided what we need to defend ourselves adequately do we cut up the remainder of the cake for the other, very worth while, public services.
§ 8.8 pm
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
I shall begin, as other right hon. and hon. Members have done, by expressing my sympathy for the family of Warrant Officer Bradwell, who was killed last week by terrorists. I am also deeply dismayed at the renewed bombing throughout the United Kingdom. We have to continue to hope that the wishes of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland for peace and justice may yet be realised. We in this House will do all that we can to achieve that.
As other hon. Members have said, the end of the cold war brought great uncertainty and insecurity to the world in which we live. In Europe, we are seeing a resurgence of aggressive nationalism that fosters bitter and deadly conflicts and instability. The peace settlement in former Yugoslavia is fragile. I think that it is holding only because of the excellent work undertaken by IFOR.
While the former eastern bloc countries clamour at the door of NATO and the European Union for full membership, Russia is politically fragile and volatile, and deeply suspicious of NATO's intentions, whatever Mr. Lebed may have said in Brussels last week. I agree with the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) earlier this evening on that subject. There is widespread concern about the regulation and control of Russia's nuclear arsenal, about possible conflict in the Ukraine, about the possibility of renewed conflict in Chechnya and about the Russian reaction to the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.
We dare not predict, even one day ahead, the next development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the middle east, which threatens us all—as the Secretary of State said, so, too, does the heightened tension in Korea. Other problems include the activities of Iraq, the recent deaths in Cyprus, the continued military build-up in Turkey and the conflict in Algeria where, in the past four years, between 30,000 and 40,000 civilians and military personnel have died. I have mentioned just a few of the conflicts that are creating instability on the international scene.
536 It is against that background that our armed forces, which have been severely cut over the past six years, now have more operational commitments throughout the world than at any time since the second world war. We are proud of them and of the way in which they continue to be admired and respected worldwide. Their achievements have all too often been hindered, not helped, by the Government's gross mismanagement of defence policy, which has led to widespread overstretch and lack of morale. Increasingly, the armed forces are no longer clear on their purpose and what they are there to defend, which is why the Opposition are so determined that there should be a strategic review to bring some stability and security.
I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing The House Magazine, on which the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) was commenting. I do not know who chose the photographs; I was not consulted, but was simply asked, at late notice, to provide 300 words. I disagree with the hon. Member for Wyre when he claims that the defence costs studies in "Options for Change" were defence reviews. My view—and certainly the view of my constituents, who have been heavily hit by the impact of those studies—was that they were Treasury-driven defence cuts. The comments of the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), and the comments made in the Select Committee's report on the defence estimates demonstrate the Committee's concern about the Treasury-driven nature of the defence costs studies and "Options for Change".
§ Ms Squire
I may not have been here at the time but, equally, I am not sure that the hon. Member for Wyre was present when my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) was explaining in detail Labour's policy and our desire for a strategic defence review. I am certainly not here tonight to pretend that the decisions— both short and long-term—that need to be taken are easy. I intend to refer later to some of those crucial decisions, such as the enlargement of NATO and the role of the Western European Union. We must recognise the need to achieve some clarity and the sensible matching of military resources and commitments, and the importance of bringing security and stability to both our service personnel and the civilian work force who back them up.
In that context, I do not think that hon. Members will be surprised if I say a few words about Rosyth, which has experienced another painful and turbulent 12 months at the hands of the Government's defence policies. It is easy for those cocooned in ministerial limousines and Whitehall corridors to ignore the harsh human consequences of their decisions. Ministers do not have to deal with grown men in tears because, after 30 years of loyal service to their country, they have been handed a compulsory redundancy notice. I want to pay tribute to the loyalty and commitment of all those who do not take the decisions, but who are placed in the firing line when it comes to implementing them.
537 Some of the statements in the defence estimates surprised me. For example, paragraph 538, which deals with civilian personnel, states:Retaining and motivating staff of the quality needed to maintain a major Department of Stateis a major priority. Ministers should try telling that to my constituents.
Paragraph 614 states that negotiations are continuing for the sale of Rosyth royal dockyard. It then uses the dreadful phrase:announcements will be made in due course.My right hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) and I, and those involved at Rosyth, have been hearing that statement constantly for the past four and a half years. The defence estimates continue:The Department has been seeking to improve the timeliness and quality of its reporting to Parliament".It has been dodging, diving and ducking crucial announcements and decisions. I agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who highlighted so well the way in which the Government are trying to deal with the privatisation of air traffic control.
Will the Minister of State for Defence Procurement at least answer tonight some of the crucial questions involving Rosyth—questions that have been raised with him over months, if not years? Where is the contract for the allocated programme for the work of Rosyth dockyard? What is the Government's intention in relation to the pension fund surplus? Why has the Rosyth 2000 project not been given a complete go-ahead? Why is the only definite statement that we have heard that the decommissioned submarines are to stay until 2012, which, as I have told the Minister, contradicts what we were led to believe by previous Ministers and Secretaries of State? We were led to believe that if the submarine refitting work went from Rosyth, so too would the decommissioned submarines. Unless the Government are about to announce a change of plan for submarine refitting, what safety and security measures will there be? If the Minister will not make an announcement on the proposed privatisation of the dockyard tonight, will he at least give us a definite date when his Department will do so?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I hope that the hon. Lady will agree that, when she met me to talk about the decommissioning of nuclear submarines, she accepted that the Government had not led anyone to believe what she suggests that they were led to believe, but that perhaps some people took certain meanings that they would have found more comfortable for themselves, so the Government have not misled anyone about decommissioning nuclear submarines.
§ Ms Squire
I appreciate the points that the Minister made at that meeting, but I suggest to him that, at the least, the Government have not made their policies and their view as clear as they should have done to people employed by the Ministry of Defence. It has certainly been believed at Rosyth that the Government had made commitments that, if the submarine refitting work went, so too would the decommissioned submarines.
538 The Ministry of Defence police and guards have not been mentioned. I welcomed the Select Committee's eighth report on those issues and shared its fear that reducing costs might lead to lower standards. Will the Government act on the Committee's recommendations and call a halt to giving commercial security firms further contracts for additional work until there is legislation to regulate such firms and lay down minimum standards?
I welcome the fact that the Select Committee has urged the Government to say that this year's "Statement on the Defence Estimates" will not be undermined, as it has been previously, by further defence cuts announced in the Budget.
I repeat some points about the Navy that were made earlier. I welcome the statement on the replacement of Fearless and Intrepid, but I fully share the concern of the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside and the Select Committee about the size of the naval fleet. I support the Committee's recommendation that the next "Statement on the Defence Estimates" should include a table on the strength of the fleet, giving a clearer picture of the number of ships ready to go to sea within 30 days. I support the Committee's concern about the need for more frigates before the common new generation frigate project Horizon enters service, especially if we are to retain industrial shipbuilding capacity.
That leads me to reinforce some of the arguments that have been made about how crucial our defence manufacturing industry is. The past few years have been a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty; defence employment has dropped by at least 47 per cent. since 1980. I welcomed the announcements that the Government made just before the summer recess in respect of Nimrod, the conventionally armed stand-off missile and some other defence procurement issues, because there was tremendous anxiety throughout the defence manufacturing industry that those decisions would be delayed. Such delays have led to the loss of employment, as is evidenced by the experience of the Kvaerner shipyard at Govan.
Given some of the arguments that were made about the Government's policy on defence procurement, I wish to highlight strong criticisms of that policy made in the report by the National Audit Office. They show why it is important to have a clear policy on defence procurement and on defence diversification.
I fully support the Eurofighter project, and I hope that the British Government will bring pressure to bear on the German Government to meet their commitments to support the project. Labour's policy on procurement issues, and on taking a lead in developing European partnership as well as developing technological exchanges with the United States, is spot on. We need a clear rationale, and we need a defence diversification agency to help us promote and develop research and development and education and training.
I am aware that many hon. Members wish to speak, and issues that I intended to discuss, such as the Gulf, have been ably covered. I shall therefore move towards a conclusion by mentioning some of this country's future security challenges, which have been discussed.
I began by highlighting some of the great instability that we face. One difficulty, referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East and others, is that we do not always make it clear, when we speak about the 539 defence of Europe, what we mean by "Europe" and how far to the east and south that definition should extend. Some Conservative Members appear to believe that Europe should end at Dover. I would say to those who take such an isolationist view that no country can realise its security objectives in isolation, and that Britain's interests are bound up with stability and security in Europe and a stable international environment.
I support the Government's commitment to NATO and its role in building security and stability in Europe in the wider field. We have witnessed the benefits of "Partnership for Peace" and several other mechanisms, especially in achieving wider military interoperability, which has been demonstrated by the implementation force in former Yugoslavia. We need to proceed with NATO enlargement, but to do so in a way that promotes and encourages peaceful behaviour among the would-be partners and does not create new barriers and divisions in Europe. Russia must be made to feel that she is a key player in that process, because not to do so will feed the enemies within her borders.
I support those calling for a continuation of the implementation force in former Yugoslavia, as obviously there is not sufficient stability there for economic and civilian development to progress if those forces withdraw. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) spoke about trying to ensure that the United States is not persuaded by its own isolationists to withdraw from committing ground forces to such operations.
In conclusion, we must ensure that the Western European Union is developed as the European contribution to NATO; we must continue to build on the joint task force approach; and we must push for an urgent review of the United Nations charter and organisation and the whole debate about peacekeeping and peacemaking.
There are many challenges ahead. I look forward to the "dishonourable discharge" of Conservative Members and the introduction of a defence and security policy for this country by a Labour Government, who will promote the unique role of our armed forces, build international peace and security, and restore the pride and morale of all who serve this country so well.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
All that I can say to the conclusion of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) is: heaven forfend that that should ever happen.
One of the intriguing aspects of taking part in a defence debate is that however many of one's lines may have been taken in the preceding four hours or so there is always a lot left to say. I do not intend to speak for four hours, hon. Members will be relieved to hear, but there are some things that need to be said which have not yet been said.
One can hardly represent a constituency such as Salisbury, which has more than 11,000 Ministry of Defence jobs, without drawing attention to some of the issues that confront its Member of Parliament and which I believe the House may wish to consider. I refer first to the new shape and role of Land Command, which has been successfully up and running now for the best part of this year. Its relationship with the rest of the military structure has been a huge success.
540 Salisbury plain training area is being increasingly used, and it has been managed with great sensitivity by the defence land agent and by the commanding officer of the Salisbury plain training area. Great sensitivity and ecological care have gone into its management.
The Royal Artillery at Larkhill has also played a notable role in the conservation of the Salisbury plain area. Boscombe Down has undergone huge changes to its function and role—as well as to its title, which seems to change every year or so. Still, we know it as Boscombe Down and I expect that the House will wish to know it as such too. It has undergone many changes of personnel and function, and those aspects remain under consideration.
It is always a source of mystification and annoyance to local people that Porton Down should be referred to as such when there are two discrete organisations there—the centre for applied microbiology and research, and the protection and life services division of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. All these add up to a significant defence science base of crucial importance to the welfare of our forces and to their success—linked, of course, to the defence nuclear, biological and chemical centre at Winterbourne.
Even the Royal Navy manages to get in on the act in my constituency, with the arms depot at West Dean. It would also be quite wrong to pass over the Tilshead cadet training centre, and the Old Sarum establishment, the headquarters of—among many other organisations—the Army Families Federation.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West mentioned MOD police, who are important in the Salisbury plain area, the military police and the MOD guard force. Following legislation on home service engagement, we also have the Military Provost guard service. Finally, if it is true that an army marches on its stomach, we have the NAAFI at Amesbury, which faces a challenging future under exciting new management.
Bosnia has already been mentioned many times, and I should like to concentrate on one or two of its family aspects. I was immensely proud to be a member of the OSCE observer team at the recent elections. One incident in particular encapsulated my pride in the IFOR troops, especially the British contingent thereof. It took place in a little village called Kljaci, not far from Travnik and just up the road from Vitez. When the polls closed at 7 o'clock in the evening and things were getting a little tense—no one was quite sure how the ballot boxes were going to get down to the town hall—there came the familiar rumble of a Warrior in the village square, heralding the arrival of the 1st Battalion Royal Green Jackets, who had visited the village five times in the course of the day, taking it in turns to have cups of coffee with the villagers and obtaining their complete confidence in the IFOR presence. They rendered the whole election process believable, free and fair to that village. I pay them my compliments; the incident sums up the important role of the Royal Green Jackets and other IFOR troops in Bosnia.
The Army Families Federation represents all who support the front line but who are at home coping with the problems faced by their spouses in theatre. I am delighted that the federation is so active in a practical and supporting role.
Only last Friday the wife of a soldier serving in Bosnia came to see me in my surgery with an appalling mess to sort out while her husband was serving overseas. It was a 541 bureaucratic problem of the sort with which we are all familiar from our surgeries. In addition to doing my bit to help, I was able to tell her to get in touch with the AFF, which has someone who can deal with her problems and give her the support that she needs so much.
The federation has brought several continuing problems to my attention. For instance, the telephone links between Germany and Bosnia are still not as good as they should be. That matters a great deal. Moreover, British families still feel that they are losing out financially while other nations' soldiers are making money out of being in theatre in Bosnia. I know that the MOD has a tenable explanation for that, but it still rankles with Army families.
Overstretch continues to present problems for families too. Some men come back from Canada or Northern Ireland and have to leave again almost immediately for a year, and there is no guarantee of stability when they return. I do not know how much more of this the families are going to have to take. Sometimes the family dimension is overlooked when the problem of overstretch is under consideration.
The Army Families Federation has also asked me to mention quarantine for pets, an issue about which I feel strongly. I have pursued it with the MOD and with Ministers in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The problem particularly affects Army families. Business men and diplomats can afford to put their pets in quarantine, and they have considerable freedom to decide whether to accept a posting overseas. Not so Army families, a number of whom have been to see me about this. They have bought dogs in Germany, or taken their dogs there, in the expectation of a two-year term—only to be relocated back to the United Kingdom within a matter of months. One family was then sent straight back to Germany. Meanwhile their pets languish, and children and parents alike miss them.
I strongly support moves towards inoculation, microchipping and passports for pets. We should perhaps start with a trial with the rabies-free island of Cyprus.
I turn next to procurement issues arising out of the Select Committee's response to the White Paper of earlier this year. Will the Minister of State for Defence Procurement let us know whether he has come to a conclusion about the future of the royal yacht Britannia? That is not of burning military significance but it is of great significance to many people in this country, to the Department of Trade and Industry, to our businesses and to the diplomatic services, whose members make use of the facility. The Select Committee had a great deal to say on the subject. I certainly hope that the successor to Britannia will be built in a British yard, will be run by the Royal Navy and will fly the White Ensign, fulfilling an important diplomatic and ceremonial role.
Another issue arose from the Committee considering the Armed Forces Bill on which I had the honour to serve. We learned from our visit to Greenwich—quite apart from the issues surrounding the future of the royal naval college and the buildings—that there is also the issue of the nuclear reactor affectionately known as Jason. Has its future yet been decided? Perhaps it has been put in quarantine.
A surprising problem faced by the military in the aftermath of the Gulf war and Bosnia derives from the fact that, for many years to come, in any fast-moving battle the 542 armoured infantry's effectiveness will be restricted by what is only a small element of the infantry's vehicles. It is clear from all the arms exercises that the FV 432, which is a mortar platform, is very slow. The whole Army has to go as slow as the slowest vehicle, which is the mortar platform. So either it goes without the mortar or everybody slows down. That seems crazy when we have staring us in the face a well-proven vehicle called Warrior. We need not invent it again but could simply put the mortars on the Warrior. We would then see a significant upgrading of our armoured infantry's capability. I hope that Ministers will consider the operational case for the Warrior, not least because it is made by GKN Defence, which is a significant part of the British and the west's procurement industry.
Will the Minister address some defence procurement problems? The first is the private finance initiative. May I put it in the context of Yeoman, the £2.5 billion project to replace Britain's military radio communications capability. The contract has cost tens of millions of pounds for the two companies concerned, Racal and Siemens, and decision time is only a couple of years away. A PFI initiative looks extremely attractive. It will be an immensely complex process and will involve converting 25,000 land platforms, including tanks and helicopters, to give them access to major data highways. The entire Army must be retrained. If we are to turn it into a PFI, we need some clues about how the Ministry of Defence is thinking about the Bowman project. Much could be gained from a PFI, but blind man's buff is inappropriate for a sophisticated procurement project like Bowman. The two Racal facilities in my constituency would like a clue about what the Ministry of Defence wants.
On export licences, British exports are undoubtedly being inhibited, particularly with regard to straightforward destinations for straightforward products. For example, Pains Wessex in my constituency took nine weeks to get a licence to export naval decoy rounds to Australia. It has a joint development contract with Saab of Sweden and has been doing the work for some three years, but the latest round of export licences took seven months to achieve. In the process, the Swedes felt discriminated against and could not imagine why they were causing so much trouble. There have been similar problems with Japan.
A fast track administrative system should be available for straightforward destinations and products. The DTI has been looking at the matter for a long time. It receives about 50,000 applications a year for defence export licences and rejects only a handful after a long period. Subject to the usual inspection and audit, and to severe penalties, there could be a self-licensing system for some exports. A grading system could be introduced in which grade A would involve the sale of non-offensive products to non-offensive countries, such as smoke grenades to Norway, Denmark or Canada; grade B would involve offensive products to non-offensive countries, such as high explosives to NATO countries; and grade C would embrace the sale of offensive products to special countries, which would require special treatment. In none of those cases would licences be granted to prohibited countries such as Iraq or Iran.
The other day on a wet Sunday morning I visited Salisbury plain. I congratulate the Government on their Youth in the Community initiative, and I thank the Home 543 Office and the Ministry of Defence for giving an important opportunity to young people in Wiltshire. I drove to Tilshead on Salisbury plain at the invitation of the Western Wessex reserve forces and cadets to attend part of a "challenger weekend". The chief constable of Wiltshire had kindly offered the services of his community officers to provide a link with those working among youths in our community who had strayed from the straight and narrow and received a police caution. The young people needed to be identified and their parents convinced of the value of such a project.
That was the first time that the Wiltshire Army Cadet Force had ever conducted such an event, but I am sure that it will not be the last. Twenty-four hours earlier, some 70 aggressive and spiky individualists had arrived on Salisbury plain. They were used to violence from other young people and adult's. They had virtually no concept of self-discipline and certainly no concept of group discipline. The cadet force instructors, together with youth and social workers, had spent 24 hours taking them from one Army establishment to another, with initiative tests and assault courses. They had been out on the plain during the night map reading—or not—in the dark, and observing regular Army exercises through image intensifiers. After a few hours' sleep, they had woken to be piled in the back of armoured personnel carriers and given some real action on the training area. When I arrived on Sunday morning I found the beginnings of a coherent group of motivated young people who, although clearly exhausted, were bubbling over with enthusiasm for what one described to me as the most exciting weekend of his life. They had been shown and had to learn what group dependency and discipline mean, and had learnt about self-esteem and respect for others. When they had arrived on the Saturday, they had refused to do what they were told by adults and had to be cajoled into taking basic safety measures. By Sunday morning, they were talking happily with their Member of Parliament and standing in a straight line while the lord lieutenant chatted to them quietly about the value of discipline. I congratulate warmly the Wiltshire Army Cadet Force on the success of its first "challenger weekend" and I hope that the Government will extend and expand their successful Youth in the Community initiative.
To hon. Members for whom defence is a critical issue, last year's defence budget came as a disappointment in the sense that it was less than we expected. A number of my hon. Friends have drawn attention to that and the Select Committee report spells it out. It was clear then, as it is now, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, with his inside knowledge of the Treasury, had fought successfully to claw back hundreds of millions of pounds and I congratulate him on that. I also congratulate him on tonight's speech and on last week's party conference speech. He has put down important markers about Britain's defence stance for the future in relation to NATO and Europe.
If the Labour party was hoping that I and other Conservative members of the Defence Committee would join them in the Lobby, they could not have tabled a sillier amendment to tonight's main motion. Wild horses would not drag me through the Division Lobby if the vote had anything to do with yet another defence review. Moreover, I have yet to meet a serving member of the armed forces who thinks that it is a vaguely sensible idea, and I meet thousands of them. The Prime Minister has 544 given me an assurance about our defence stance in a letter of 22 August, so there is no doubt that I will support the Government on this. Defence Ministers must know that we know that the problem lies with the Treasury, so I for one will turn my fire on the Treasury and the Chief Secretary as we approach the Budget. I shall look carefully to see exactly how far down the pile of press releases from the Treasury is the section dealing with defence. So my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench can rest assured of my unfailing support for their efforts to fight in the public spending round not only for no further reductions in the defence budget but for an increase in it. That is what my constituents not only want but expect from the Government
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
I remind the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) that, when arms sales to Iraq took place, there was no inhibition at all and Members of Parliament were not given straightforward answers to straightforward questions. While Ministers continue to shelter behind phrases like "disproportionate costs", I hope that the rules are tightly adhered to.
I spent much of September following closely events in northern Iraq. After 12 days in the United States talking to people in the White House and the State Department and members of Congress, I am convinced that they are embarrassed by the United States' response to events in northern Iraq. Although at the beginning we thought that the response was necessary, it turned out to be the wrong response. As I said to the Secretary of State earlier, the result is that Saddam Hussein has consolidated his position in northern Iraq. In 1991 we promised the Kurds and the Iraqi Opposition that we would protect them against invasion by Saddam Hussein, but that has proved to be a very hollow promise. We have no short, medium or long-term policy regarding Iraq.
I put one question to the Minister. When I visited northern Iraq in January in an attempt to arrange the release of prisoners taken by both sides during that country's unfortunate civil war, I discovered that both Kurdish leaders were ready to travel to Washington to sign the peace agreement. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan released 44 prisoners and both sides were anxious to travel to Washington to sign the peace agreement which was the culmination of discussions that had taken place in Ireland and elsewhere.
Upon my return from Iraq in January, I met a Minister from the Foreign Office and told him what the two Kurdish leaders had said. I also asked him to get Britain involved in the peace talks rather than allowing us to sit on the sidelines as the Turks had insisted. I thought that the Minister would take up my suggestion as both Kurdish leaders were in agreement: they said that the Americans were relatively inexperienced at dealing with the Kurds and that Britain had far more expertise in that area. They wanted Britain to be actively involved in the continuation of the peace process.
However, nothing was done: Britain was content to sit on the sidelines because the Turks objected to our involvement in the negotiations. What kind of country is prepared to allow the Turks to push it on to the sidelines rather than play an active role in the peace process and thereby avoid loss of life and heavy expenditure? The Americans told me that the peace agreement was held up 545 because Clinton was having trouble with his budget—the Republicans had pulled the rag from under him and the budget was frozen. What happened between February and August when the budget was unfrozen? In February, it would have cost $3 million to install peace monitors in northern Iraq, but in September it cost $200 million to send 44 cruise missiles et cetera to southern Iraq as part of an exercise that proved absolutely useless. It did not fulfil its stated objective to protect the Kurds in northern Iraq. What sort of value for money is that—$3 million in February compared with $200 million in August?
What did the British Government spend on that exercise and what is the British Government's attitude to the American response to the events? I suspect that Britain supported the US in a show of solidarity. At the time, I must admit that I was glad of some response from the British Government, but I was waiting for a further response and a commitment to fulfil our promise of 1991: to provide a safe haven and to protect the Kurds and the Iraqi Opposition from further incursion by Saddam Hussein.
That policy clearly failed and has been changed. When I asked the Americans at all levels what had caused the delay, they looked embarrassed. When I posed that question at one meeting, a former American ambassador approached me and said, "I can answer your question it was incompetence and ignorance." In that case, were we also incompetent and ignorant? We allowed the space of time between January and August to elapse and failed to seize the opportunity to bring about peace in northern Iraq.
One of those who chaired the negotiations said, "It may not have worked anyway." We do not know whether it would have worked; it may have, but we did not give peace a chance. That is a big failing on the part of those involved.
I turn now to arms sales. It is estimated that at least 100 wars have occurred since 1945, resulting in the deaths of more than 20 million people. As usual, civilians are the major casualties of those kinds of wars—women and children are killed in disproportionate numbers. There are at least 27 million refugees world wide and probably the same number of displaced people within their own countries. The former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, northern Iraq and Afghanistan provide recent stark reminders of civil war.
More than 1 billion people throughout the world—more than one fifth of humanity—live in abject poverty. In a world of plenty, lack of proper food and easily preventable diseases kill a quarter of a million children every week. The Brundtland report, which was hailed at the time, pointed out that major progress could be made in tackling four of the world's major problems—the lack of clean water, the destruction of tropical rain forests, the spread of deserts, and uncontrolled population growth— for the expenditure of less than one month's global arms spending.
Of course, wars will not end nor the world's problems be solved simply by industrialised countries adopting more responsible arms export policies. However, in many countries—including our own—if only a quarter of military spending were allocated to health, housing and education, we would be much better off.
546 Today the United Kingdom seems to be particularly proud of its record as one of the world's largest arms exporters. The United Kingdom actually promotes the export of arms at the taxpayers' expense through the Defence Export Services Organisation and export credit guarantees. DESO, which is a branch of the MOD, exists to promote and support British arms sales throughout the world. Its running costs amount to at least £16 million per year. In 1994, more than £3 billion worth of military equipment left the United Kingdom destined for other countries. In 1994, almost £543 million was provided in export credit guarantees for those exports. Scott illustrated only too well how export credit guarantees supporting the sale of arms can go wrong—for example, the £652 million that was paid in export credit guarantees to promote arms sales to Iraq. If we were to provide that level of support to civilian industries in the future, it would be better for the British economy and British jobs. The construction industry, for example, employs about 1.3 million people and that is about three times as many as the defence industry. Construction exports amount to about £4 billion a year, which is more than the total of defence exports.
Some people argue that if the United Kingdom will not sell arms to nasty dictators, someone else will. That may be true, but it cannot be ethical. We would not use that argument to support the state selling cocaine or child pornography. This country, which at least has some world reputation as a decent democracy, should not measure itself against such low standards.
Those who argue that jobs must be the main consideration must also look at the facts. In the 12 years up to 1994, jobs directly or indirectly dependent on the military industry fell by more than half, from 740,000 to 360,000. Of those jobs, 40,000 are directly dependent on exports and 40,000 are indirectly dependent. The Government underwrite arms exports by £1 billion a year. That is a subsidy of £12,500 a job each year and I am sure that many non-defence industries are rightly jealous of such support.
Even with the shrinkage in the number of jobs, the British economy is still more reliant on military production than any other in Europe, a specialisation which has proved something of a liability over the past few years as defence budgets have fallen. Given that the world market is set to decline by 20 per cent. by 2000, I think—and other people have made the same point—that the Government should develop a diversification strategy to avoid future job losses. That, of course, is the policy of the Labour party. The difficulty of shifting from making weapons to other products has been overcome in the past. Western countries adapted after the second world war and people went back to peacetime jobs.
For a start, we could stop the sale of arms to some of the worst regimes. Surely the United Kingdom could lead the world, as a major arms-selling country, if we just stopped encouraging and subsidising the arms trade in countries with the worst human rights abuses. Unless the main exporters of arms take a responsible attitude, there is every likelihood that major weapons systems will become the properties of countries which give barely a thought to human rights. One of the many lessons taught by the Gulf war is that international arms sales should never be governed only by commercial considerations.
The result of ignoring the morality of arms sales is now all too obvious, post-Scott. Arms are not like cars or fridges, since their function is to threaten or to kill. Their 547 export, therefore, must be considered with greater ethical care. Millions of innocent people have been killed in conflicts all over the world since 1990 and their deaths have been fuelled by the sale and export of weapons. As one of the world's leading suppliers, we must accept our responsibility for a deadly trade which ruins local economies, stunts development, increases regional instability and is responsible for massive human rights abuses.
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside)
The hon. Lady is probably the real voice of the Labour party and I could see her colleagues on the Front Bench squirming at some of her comments. I shall not follow her route other than to say that if the job had been finished in Iraq—in my personal view—the problems in northern Iraq today would be different. We did not finish the job and we are paying the price for that.
As the House knows, I have an interest to declare having served more than 40 years as a pilot and instructor in the volunteer reserve. I now hold an honorary appointment that gives me direct access to many aspects of RAF activity. I have recently spent a week flying at RAF Syerston and attending, at Cranwell, the making of a "This Is Your Life" programme about the life of the leader of the Red Arrows. My glider was used in some of the flying sequences, which was how I got in on the act.
I, too, wish to express my condolences to the wife and family of Warrant Officer Bradwell. It is sad that all the hopes that we had about Northern Ireland have come to nought.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's introduction to the debate and, in particular, I noted his comments about the armed forces' need for stability. We would all, of course, say "Hear, hear" to that and I would recommend that we would probably best serve that need by shelving the Bett report. It should be kicked into touch. If we are determined somehow to keep something happening, we could spend some time consulting the families involved. Perhaps that would keep things going for a while.
I have no qualms about the future of military housing. Ownership is not as important as use. I take that view about many things. I am confident that those running military housing will have enough knowledge of the Royal Air Force and sufficient background—I have in mind Sandy Hunter of the RAF, an old friend of mine— to look after the interests of the military.
I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench on the Nimrod replacement for the RAF and on the conventional stand-off weapon and the anti-armour weapon. We were told about the orders shortly before the House rose for the recess. I realise that it was touch and go whether we would get answers to our questions in time. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on getting things done before the recess.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) that defence should have first call on Treasury funds, not last. Defence of the realm is the first duty of any Government.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) talked about the new Scottish centre. I agree with her that there is a need for a new centre. Anyone who understands the operation of the national air traffic services, as I do, knows that the RAF has a substantial input.
548 I am not unhappy about the public finance initiative or privatisation. I support both approaches and the sooner we get ahead, the better. One of the problems with Government-run bodies is that funding is not available when required because the Government of the day will not allow spending from time to time. That is not the way to run the national air traffic services. That is why I welcome it getting into the private sector by one means or another.
It will not surprise my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to hear that, in the short time available to me, I wish to concentrate on a matter in which I have a deep interest—the Air Cadets and the Air Training Corps. I remind the House that the Air Cadets is both the ATC and the Combined Cadet Force Air Force Section— that is the RAF cadets of the Combined Cadet Force. It is often forgotten that there are two separate bodies.
I remind the House that the Air Cadet charter states that the object shall be topromote and encourage among young people a practical interest in aviation and the Royal Air Force; provide training which will be useful both in the services and in civilian life; foster the spirit of adventure and develop qualities of leadership and good citizenship.I further remind the House of the size of the Air Cadets. There are 34,000 ATC cadets, 3,500 probationers and 8,500 cadets in the Combined Cadet Force, RAF section. There are 46,000 boys and girls in the Air Cadets. In addition, there are 10,000 adult staff, of whom 4,250 are officers and adult warrant officers. The remainder of the adults are civilian instructors. That is a total personnel of 56,000.
It is worth drawing attention to that figure, so as to understand that the Air Cadets and its parent service are now about the same size. That helps us to understand that in many parts of the country the only light blue uniforms ever seen are those worn by the cadets and the volunteer adults.
My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench will know that there is a review of the Air Cadet Council under way. The council is the senior body of the ATC. It acts as an adviser to the Royal Air Force Board on ATC matters. It is not the senior body of the Combined Cadet Force RAF section, which has separate funding arrangements from the Air Training Corps.
I have no objections to the review of the council and its role, so I did not communicate views for or against the review when I was advised of it. I was, however, surprised and concerned when I heard that the Royal Air Force, through the personnel and training command, and Commandant Cranwell were to conduct a review of the public funding of the Air Cadet organisation. I was concerned about another review following so soon after the uncertainty of the defence cost studies, when Headquarters Air Cadets was moved from Newton to Cranwell, the AOC post of Air Cadets was removed from the Commandant Air Cadets to the Commandant Cranwell—a move to which I objected—and the budget was cut from £23 million to £18.7 million. The defence cost studies led to real cuts in air experience flying and to huge pressure on every budget, including public works and property budgets.
The civilian members of the Air Cadet Council and I recorded our concern about how fragile the morale of volunteer staff is during defence cost studies. Increasingly, many of them are questioning the 549 commitment of the Royal Air Force, at all levels, to the Air Cadet organisation—although not at the highest level, because I have no doubt that the Chief of Air Staff and the Air Force Board fully support the Air Cadet organisation. I have no doubt that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench also support the Air Cadet organisation, and I know for sure that those on the Opposition Front Bench do.
I warn my right hon. Friend that it will not be easy to sell this review to the adult volunteers. It will be essential to make it clear that this is not another device to cut the Air Cadet budget, because otherwise many of the volunteers may give up. At a time of increased crime among the young, it would be crazy to put at risk an organisation that, in the words of its charter, fosters qualities of leadership and good citizenship—and, boy, does it do that well. That is why I recommended to the Commander in Chief of Personnel and Training, Air Marshal Sir David Cousins, that the terms of reference and the make-up of the review team should recognise the fragility of adult morale, thus making it transparent that it is not a review to save money and reduce the Air Cadet budget and that savings would lead to an increase in the provision of flying and summer camp allocations.
The Bulldog replacement programme is a good example of where the proposed replacement aircraft will bring about substantial revenue savings. I want to see those revenue savings ploughed back into additional flying for the cadets. I have been promised that that is what will happen, and I expect it to happen.
I suggest that when an RAF base closes and is sold, part of the proceeds should be earmarked to cover the cost of rehousing the volunteer gliding schools and other air cadet activities. It is realistic to expect some of the proceeds to be used for that purpose.
I have also made a specific recommendation that one member of the review body should be an individual with substantial volunteer experience. Sadly, I have to report that too many middle-ranking officers of the regular service have little understanding of the ethos and motivation of volunteers. They are not merely service personnel who can be used as numbers when making calculations; they are individuals who have to persuade their families of the importance of the job that they do. It takes some doing to persuade their families that they should go every weekend to fly the cadets and the volunteer units. I have known people who do that for 10, 20—even 30—or more years, and I expect the pledges that were given to me at the Dispatch Box about the Air Cadet budget and the range of activities not to be put in jeopardy by the review. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench do not know in detail quite what the review involves; I am just alerting them to the fact that it is taking place and I want them to recognise that they have commitments that they are required to protect.
I wish to place on record my appreciation and respect for the way in which the United Kingdom military has handled the complex problems that arose from the defence cost studies and "Options for Change". In my view, there is not another military in the world that would have done what the UK military has done and carried out the many tasks that it has carried out during the same period. I wish to mention the leadership of the Air Force board—people 550 whom I know well—and in particular Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Graydon, the present Chief of the Air Staff. I doubt whether any other Chief of the Air Staff has ever had to deal with such complex and difficult problems affecting morale and equipment, and he has shown great leadership. He was the right man in the right job at the right time.
I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has come back into the Chamber. He will not be surprised to know that I have used most of my time in the debate to speak about the Air Cadet Force. I alerted his office to the fact that I would be doing so. I do not expect during the winding-up speech to get detailed answers to my comments, because they will take a little time. I just want my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to do what they have always done to apply their energy and wit to solving the difficult problems, if there are any, and to come back and tell me, "Bill, it's all right."
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
I was reminded today of the fact that the Government pride themselves on having concern for the interests of agriculture and the armed forces we had the private notice question earlier today about bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and now we are debating defence, but the Government's heartland has been clearly imperilled, as speeches from some hon. Members—loyal though they may be—will have shown.
I endorse the comments made by the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) about the Air Training Corps. It does a first-class job and those who give service to it deserve respect and commendation.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who opened the debate for the Opposition, referred to a letter in The Independent from Flight Lieutenant Nichol. I recall reading the letter and feeling that it was not terribly fair, because he criticised politicians across the board and senior officers. I acquit senior officers. The hon. Member for North Tayside paid tribute to Sir Michael Graydon and Air Marshall Cousins, who have had the most horrendous experience over the past few years in contracting the service to the point that it is hardly bigger than the Air Training Corps itself.
Gulf war syndrome has been mentioned in the debate. I did not hear very clearly the Secretary of State's comments about the use of insecticides, but it is more than five years since people were squirting insecticides to protect themselves, and I do not think that they will be able to recall how they used the insecticides after such a time span. It is a serious matter and I am delighted that the Government are taking it seriously, although I hope that they will not encounter great delay if they go into excessive detail about personal conduct.
What has astonished me most of all in the debate has been the reference to recruitment, or the excuse that was offered about burgeoning employment. My hon. Friend referred to recruitment in the northern counties. The coalfields of south Yorkshire have traditionally sent enormous numbers of young men into the armed forces. We certainly have not seen burgeoning employment opportunities. I would hate to call for the reintroduction of national service, as that would be ridiculous, but far too many of my young people could be usefully engaged in the services.
The problem of air traffic control, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) referred, is serious. Given that the 551 Government are in the last months of their life—they should have gone by now, of course—it is reasonable to say that the House and the country should be given a clear picture of the views of the MOD and of the armed forces. One shudders at the prospect of profit dominating safety and about the possible threat to security. Whoever operates or owns our air traffic control system will inevitably be privy to important information, often confidential, about the capacities and activities of the Royal Air Force, the Fleet Air Arm and the Army Air Corps.
Some Conservative Members might say that it is ridiculous to think that the Government would sell air traffic control to a foreign power. But who owned Matrix Churchill and who made the lathes which made the shells that were fired at the Air Force when it was engaged in the most hazardous missions in the gulf war? They were made in Britain with the Government's knowledge. The Scott report has bored people and has been forgotten, but we would do well to remember that security must be given rather more consideration.
I said that there was a case for a review not merely for British reasons but because we need to present to our European partners a reasonable analysis of the enormous contribution that this country has made to NATO and to European security. With the exception of France, our contribution is far greater than that made by anyone else. We should argue that those countries which are pressing for a European pillar often make no contribution and have no consideration other than the commercial advantage that they think they can get from developing the European defence industry if Europe goes it alone. Since the second world war, Europe has never been able to go it alone and it could not do so now, not because this country is at fault but because our partners who are calling for the European pillar have not made the contribution that we were entitled to expect as equal members of the alliance.
I carried out a survey for the WEU a couple of years ago about the capabilities of western European air forces and the results were quite surprising. For example, I found that there was a marked lack of all-weather strike capacity and a marked inadequacy in intelligence and reconnaissance and that most countries had no capacity whatever for air-to-air refuelling, which is an intelligent way to operate very expensive aircraft. There were many aircraft but some were obsolete and I suspect that many of them had not been flown frequently because the flying hours of the air crew were lower than those of our crews. One wonders whether many or any of them reached the level that NATO is supposed to require.
Against that background, one is entitled to argue that a more intelligent and mature approach is needed. That could be assisted if we carried out a proper strategic review. I often wonder what our Ministers are doing when they are negotiating with our colleagues. We are paying heavily and making considerable national sacrifices. Our young men and women are repeatedly sent out to engage in hazardous tasks in insalubrious environments to fulfil the international cause, to serve humanity and to help to secure stability and peace. Our partners, who have a great deal to say, do little except applaud us.
On another occasion in the House I may have mentioned the incredible debate in the WEU at the end of the Gulf war. I was the last speaker in that long debate and Lord Finsberg—who unfortunately passed away last week—and I took part in it from opposite sides of the 552 political spectrum. I think that the noble lord shared my view although he did not express quite the same irritation. I listened to, I think, seven Spaniards, six Portuguese, eight Italians and many others all rejoicing in jubilant triumph at this enormous victory. I was not popular when I said that those Parliaments had sent more parliamentarians to rejoice in the triumph than personnel to serve in the Gulf. From time to time we are entitled to speak out realistically because the current debate about Europe's future security is a serious matter. We are entitled not merely to punch our weight as members of the Security Council but to provide logical and, if necessary, firm arguments in the councils of deliberation of Europe during the next few months.
I am worried about the Eurofighter, as I have heard German Members of Parliament referring to the qualities of the Mig-29. It is a good aircraft, as are those produced after it. It would not require a latter-day Bismarck to see certain advantages in moving German aircraft procurement eastwards and leaving the rest of Europe with an inferior air combat capacity. That capacity would be inferior if the Eurofighter does not proceed. History can change rapidly, and a latter-day Bismarck may appear on the horizon. Britain must ensure—one hopes with the co-operation of other western European states—that it is not left behind as a result of short-term calculations. That is why I am delighted that the Labour party is strongly in favour of the Eurofighter, and has been for a long time. We recognise the economic and defence realities.
Many of today's transport aircraft are Hercules aircraft that—I have reminded the House before—entered squadron service in 1964. Those aircraft helped Britain in its east of Suez policy and they are probably being flown harder than ever before in former Yugoslavia. The Government recognise that they need to be replaced, and a partial replacement was agreed—following what seemed to be a fair compromise—with the purchase of part of the transport requirement from the new C130J. One assumed that the rest would come from the FLA, to which the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) has referred.
I am extremely worried because I went to Toulouse some time ago to be brainwashed by Aerospatiale. I asked when the aircraft would enter RAF squadron service if everything went according to plan. The company told me, but it also gave the members of the WEU defence committee a time chart that showed that the aircraft would enter RAF squadron service 12 months before it made its maiden flight. I pointed out that this presented a rather anomalous situation, but the company said that a great deal could be done with simulators. That is true, but they hardly provide an alternative to the actual experience of flight.
Given the cuts in the French defence budget and the uncertainty that exists, will the Minister tell us—or let us know by letter if it is not convenient to do so during the winding-up speech—what is to happen to the FLA? What will happen to it if it is delayed further than it might have been before the cuts that were announced a few months ago? That might mean that some of the Hercules that have been flying for 30 years in the RAF will have to continue for another decade. Those are the sort of questions that might be considered by a review rather than by the preposterous hand-to-mouth approach that the Government have operated for a long time.
553 As I said at the beginning, the Government have forfeited the support of the farmers and they ought to have forfeited the support of those involved in the services. There have been critical references to Labour Administrations, but I would point out—as did my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields—that the records of Labour Governments are superior to those of Conservative Governments. No Conservative Secretary of State has made the historic contribution to defence that was made by the noble Lord Healey in the 1960s when he provided the proper professional base for the armed forces to which many of them can still refer. I trust that the Government's gobbledegook of shallow and partisan insanity will not be repeated.
I hope that I have not spoken for too long— increasingly, I am of the view that we should have 10-minute speeches during defence debates.
§ Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)
May I, first, apologise to those hon. Members whose speeches I shall be unable to cover in the short time that I have to wind up? It is fair to say that the debate has been slightly more low key than last year's but, then again, so was the trailer at the Tory party conference. However, some things did not change. We still had a lot of shouting, bawling and unparliamentary language from the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, but we excuse him for that. He was probably still disoriented by the Prime Minister's recent attack on the old school tie.
Ministers and Conservative Back Benchers seemed to spend more time on the Back-Bench amendment than the selected amendment. They also seemed slightly out of touch with the current decisions of the Labour party conference. It is rather like the newspaper editor in "The man who shot Liberty Valance" who said, "If you have to print the truth or the legend, always print the legend."
That is probably why, for most of the debate, there were more Opposition Members than Conservative Members in the Chamber. It is also probably why the Secretary of State did not spend too much time at the Tory conference talking about his stewardship of the nation's defences. It is not surprising. He might have had to explain how in one year the Government have spent £500 million on redundancy and £100 million on recruitment and, as has been demonstrated in a number of speeches tonight, still got the figures wrong. It takes a special kind of genius to achieve that.
Let us consider the figures for the Grenadier Guards, for example. They are 84 short on their complement, yet they have had 40 redundancies in the past three years. Is that an effective way to keep the troops up to strength? Is it not a considerable cost to the budget?
At the Tory conference, and again today, the Secretary of State talked about possible Labour cuts. He has definitely learnt the value of diversionary tactics from the military. As Secretary of State, or in his previous incarnation as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he has been one of the cutters-in-chief. During the 1992 election, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said, the Government claimed that Labour would cut defence spending by 27 per cent.—yet they have cut it by 31 per cent.
554 Since 1990, personnel numbers are down 27 per cent. for the Army, 30 per cent. for the Navy and 42 per cent. for the Royal Air Force. Perhaps the Secretary of State, or the Minister in his reply, can tell us what further cuts the Treasury is demanding for next year. As the Secretary of State is well aware, it has been rumoured in the press that it will ask for £400 million. That is why the concluding paragraph of the Defence Committee report, which was amplified today by its Chairman, the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), and by the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), is so relevant and weighty.
It was remarkable that a number of Conservative Members attempted to dissociate themselves from their Treasury, as though it was a Ministry from another planet. Let us be quite clear—we have a Tory Treasury and a Tory Chancellor and they cannot escape responsibility for that, valiantly though the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) tried.
It is not as though our commitments are reducing. As has been said, a bigger percentage of the Army is involved in operational commitments than at any time since the second world war. In spite of the bluster of Ministers, we need a strategic review of the relationship between our capability and our commitments. In reply to the question posed by the hon. Member for Wyre, it is self-evident— it has been said by Conservative spokesmen—that such a review can be undertaken only when in government with access to the relevant information. In such a sensitive Ministry, that information can be available only to Ministers.
At all levels, and from a number of hon. Members, in the debate tonight we have heard of the problems of overstretch. Let us be frank; it is also widely reported that the Chief of the Defence Staff is incredibly worried about sustainability. Maintenance capability is a part of the problem. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) mentioned the Tornado accident off Blackpool. Thanks to the skill of the pilots, no one was injured. In spite of initial denials, it appears that it was one of the Tornados that had been damaged by the botched contract of Airwork Services. That is a salutary reminder that neither the work force nor the House have yet had a satisfactory report of the full cost of that fiasco.
We are also concerned about the continuing accident rate for our aircraft. Frankly, it is regrettable that the Ministry of Defence still appears to be considering each crash separately rather than having an overall inquiry. We have raised that matter before. By investigating each accident, it becomes all too easy to ascribe the cause to pilot error rather than to question other factors, such as lengthening training cycles and overstretch of personnel and machines. Rather than analyse those factors, the fundamentalist zealots in the MOD are plunging ahead with yet more privatisation and contractorisation.
It seems that the Government have adopted the simple mantra of their American Republican cousins: the Government sector cannot run anything. Nothing, and especially not the facts, will deter them. That runs disastrously contrary to the service tradition of our armed forces and of the civilians who work with and for them, yet still the Government plough on. RAF Valley has already been contracted out; Sealand, which has been mentioned several times by my hon. Friend the Member 555 for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), and St. Athan are in turmoil because of new tranches of privatisation. I reiterate what I said in the RAF debate on 6 June.We firmly believe that any decisions on contracting work must be determined by pragmatism not dogmatism. We shall impose a moratorium on new contracts while we evaluate the schemes that are currently in the pipeline."—[Official Report, 6 June 1996; Vol. 278, c. 745.]My hon. Friends the Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) mentioned air traffic control services. We understand that the RAF shares the concern about privatisation and the proposals to cut the number of control centres from two to one. Will the Minister say what is the attitude of the MOD and what the proposals would mean for military and civil air safety and for Prestwick in Scotland? The people who work there, and the RAF, deserve a reply tonight.
Sustainability also affects the defence industry. Unfortunately, neither the defence estimates nor the Secretary of State's speeches to the Tory conference and tonight recognise the need to back British industry in the way that our competitors back their industries—but what can we expect from a Government that considered the Austrian alternative to the Land Rover for the Army field ambulance and when Metropolitan police Volkswagen vans are parked in New Palace yard?
I was at Land Rover last Friday and the only problem there is getting round the site for the number of contractors' vehicles there because of all the building work that is going on. Huge investment is going into Solihull from the new owners. Is not it a shame that its German owners seem to have greater faith in Land Rover than did the MOD? Was not it also a great shame that there had to be such a campaign to ensure that the orders finally went to Land Rover? It is a world-class product and we should have been backing it.
§ Mr. Spellar
It required a Tory Back-Bench rebellion, Land Rovers parked in New Palace yard, uproar in the west midlands and consideration of the number of marginal seats there. What the hell were the Government doing even considering the Austrian alternative? No one else in the defence industry understands it.
§ Mr. Spellar
There was no proper alternative to the Land Rover. The hon. Gentleman should consider the practice of industry, which negotiates on the basis of preferred supplier status and works on partnership and open books. That happens increasingly in the defence industry around the world. It is happening with procurement policies in several other countries that actually back their industries and work in partnership with them. The Levene proposals have reached the end of their shelf life and we must find a new mode of defence procurement. The Government will not do it because they are attached to dogma. A Labour Government will do it because we will be looking to back British industry and work with it to get the best result.
The Secretary of State's speech at the Tory conference—he repeated the same formula today— employed a clever use of words. He rightly praised our 556 world-class armed forces and equally rightly said that they should have world-class equipment, although whether his procurement policy will achieve that is another matter. He very clearly did not say that it would be British industry that would provide the world-class equipment. Once again, he slipped away from the key commitment that British industry and defence workers are seeking that the MOD will back Britain and buy British first. That is what they want to hear, but they are not hearing it from Tory Ministers.
What about the extraordinary scenes that surrounded the award of the contract for the replacement maritime patrol aircraft—the RMPA—and the 1236 and 1238 missiles, which were referred to by the Secretary of State? I do not know whether to congratulate those on the Front Bench on having snatched the decision from their Tory Treasury colleagues at the eleventh hour or to castigate them for having let the situation deteriorate to such an extent. What I am sure about is that if we had not had a campaign in the country and rows in Parliament, the situation would have been allowed to drift and that contract would have dominated our debate today.
It is reassuring to know that pressure in the Chamber, not only from the Opposition but from Conservative Back Benchers, is able to have that effect, but it was extremely unsettling for the industry and the armed forces, not to mention the unfortunate Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs who got caught in the crossfire right at the end of the Session.
We have to look for a better way to undertake contracts and procurement. There are a number of lessons to be learnt from the RMPA and other recent contracts, the most significant being recognising the need for a shift in the system of defence procurement. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) suggested some of the areas that we need to examine in his thoughtful speech. Whatever one's view of the Levene reforms, it is self-evident that they have reached the end of their shelf life. The joint report of the Defence and Trade and Industry Committees pointed clearly towards a reformulation of policy, but the Government's response still fudged the issue. We need to take on board that report and what is happening in the real world. The Government are starting to edge towards doing that, but they cannot match their rhetoric. The replacement orders for Fearless and Intrepid had to be undertaken on a NAPNOC—no acceptable price no contract—basis because the Government recognised that mergers and reduced competition mean that we must bring about a change.
The defence estimates talk in fairly bland terms about Project Horizon, the common new generation frigate referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields. It is a joint programme with France and Italy but clear problems seem to be emerging. Britain still seems to be committed to 12 ships, but the French and Italians now seem to be down to two each. What does that do to the viability of the project? What about the delays, which are getting longer and longer? Can the Minister confirm that the first vessel is now due in 2006? Can he also confirm that the first type 42 destroyer that it is due to replace is scheduled to go out of service in 1999? What will be the effect of that gap? What extra maintenance costs will be incurred? Will those ships need a refit? What will be the consequences if that programme slips? Does the Minister recognise the great difficulties that have 557 arisen with the project? Is it not time that serious consideration was given to a fallback position? We await his answers tonight with interest.
Before the recess, we had the drama of the married quarters housing, which was glossed over by the Secretary of State today in just a couple of sentences. The Government business managers down the Corridor were so worried that they dragged out the biggest attendance of backwoods Tory peers this Parliament—a scene described in The Times asAn Iolanthe-style parade of hereditary peers.In that debate, regular attending peers from all parties shredded the Government's argument, but Ministers won the day with those who never heard or listened to the debate. We know that, in this House, the Whips' pressure broke the resistance of Tory Back Benchers. I wonder if, on reflection, they think they did the right thing.
The members of the Burma Star Association whom I met last month were not very impressed with the Japanese landlords of defence housing. I note that, in addition to Nomura, extra funds will be raised in New York. I simply ask, what is wrong with the City of London? Why are we having to bring in money from abroad? What is the secret agenda? Is it to bolster up the balance of payments and massage the figures? Will that money be included in the figures for inward investment? Was it a good deal for the services?
During the debate in July, Tory Back Benchers justified their ignominious retreat by referring to the £100 million to be spent upgrading the property to grade 1 over five to seven years, but last year alone the Ministry of Defence spent £165 million on married quarters works, of which £40 million was spent on upgrading—£40 million a year over five years amounts to £200 million, which is double the allocation from the sale. Clearly, there is no guarantee of additionality from the Treasury. The housing budget is part of the defence budget as a whole and is not negotiated separately—we cannot know whether we are getting extra money. It is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow— fool's gold—and there is no guarantee that the money is in addition to the budget.
We are not sure how much the Ministry of Defence will pay. The rental is linked to assured shorthold tenancy rents, which have rocketed up recently. The Minister believes that in future the rentals will grow in line with house prices. That is an unpredictable measure, which could claim an escalating share of the defence budget— all in the name of dogma and helping the Chancellor to balance his books in November. The capital value has gone to the Treasury and the unpredictable revenue charges will fall on the Ministry of Defence. That seems like a defence cut by any other name. There will be constant upward pressure on the rents paid by service personnel, which have already rocketed by between 10 and 25 per cent. in the past year alone.
During the debates in the summer, and again tonight, we promoted the idea of consensus on defence. The idea received half a welcome from the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside. The suggestion does not mean that there will be no arguments about implementation and competence. I can understand why the Minister of State for the Armed Forces is so sensitive about that—we will regularly advance those arguments—but in an 558 increasingly uncertain world environment it would be better for the country and for our armed forces if we were able to achieve a broad national consensus.
I understand the Tories' dilemma. They believe that the defence issue is a strong card for them in the election— they do not have many. They think that that card has played well in the past, but it is much weaker now, as tonight's debate has demonstrated. The Tories would gain more credit, both in the House and outside, if they took up our offer. In a triumph of hope over experience, we hope that they will, so that we can all give our defence industry and our armed forces the backing that they need and deserve.
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. James Arbuthnot)
Today's debate has been notable for the tributes paid on both sides of the House to Warrant Officer Bradwell—I echo those tributes and offer to his loved ones the condolences of the House expressed on behalf of the country.
This is a two-day debate, but right hon. and hon. Members may well raise important points that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and I will be unable to cover during our speeches. We shall write to all those whose points we have been unable to cover.
The debate opened with a speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and was followed by a speech by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) which was breathtaking in its rewriting of history. Before I turn to that speech—and I will because it was an important speech—I shall comment on the extraordinary speech that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar). He clearly abandoned the concept of competition and committed himself to buying British come what may—a policy that would be barking mad.
I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why we bought Land Rover. We did so because it gives us the best. Without competition, we would never have had such an excellent product at such a price. That is the value of competition— a value that the hon. Member for Warley, West seems prepared to throw away.
In his speech the hon. Member for South Shields criticised the instability that he suggested was produced by Government policies, but at the same time he called for a defence review. We know why he calls for an extraordinary defence review. He does so because he wants to mask the desire of most Labour Back Benchers—with some honourable exceptions—for defence cuts. Nothing would cause as much instability to our armed forces as a defence review. The hon. Gentleman has not been able to point to a single member of our armed forces who would like such a defence review. The Labour party's commitment is not to defence—it never has been and it never will be. We know that defence is not its priority. Defence under a Labour Government would always be the milch cow for their real priorities. Even the Transport and General Workers Union wants to cut £18 billion from the defence budget, and he who pays the piper calls the tune.
559 The hon. Member for South Shields did give an astonishing display of candour when he said that there was insufficient interest in the Labour party for the issue of Trident to be debated at the Labour party conference in the past two years—
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
He said that there was insufficient interest for the whole defence issue to be debated in the past two years.
§ Dr. Reid
The Minister has obviously been given another bad briefing, a year out of date. We said that the whole debate surrounding the decision whether to cut defence expenditure was so lacking in interest and had so little backing that it did not appear on the conference agenda. The Trident issue was debated and, for the second year running, multilateralism won the day, so Labour's position on that is the same as that of the Government. At least I have cut the Minister's speech short, so that he has more time to devote to the real subject of procurement.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
But that is not the point; the point is that Labour Members are keeping shtoom. Last year, 43 Labour Members signed an amendment to the motion in the defence estimates debate—an amendment calling for a cut in defence budgets and for the removal of Trident. This year, only 20 have done so, but that does not suggest for a moment that the other 23 have changed their minds. They have not changed their minds; and if they have, are we not entitled to ask why?
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) called for the removal of all nuclear weapons from British territory. Has he changed his mind? It would seem that perhaps he has; yet he has never said why. The hon. Member for South Shields once said that he would not be prepared to use a nuclear weapon. Has he changed his mind? It would be interesting to find out. And if he has, why?
§ Dr. David Clark
In 1981 I was deputy defence spokesperson for the Labour party, and I resigned when the party went unilateralist in the 1981 conference. [HON. MEMBERS "Wrong again."]
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
So why did the hon. Gentleman say that he would not use a nuclear weapon? Saying something like that destroys the deterrent.
I want to give the hon. Member for South Shields replies on the substance of some questions that he asked. He made an important issue of organophosphates and their use in the Gulf. I can confirm that the issue of the handling of the reports received by the Ministry of Defence and the reasons why they were not fully considered or acted on will be fully evaluated in the further work that we have immediately set in hand.
I very much regret that the information given to the Defence Select Committee and other hon. Members in the past few years has proved to be incorrect. The answers were given by Ministers in good faith, on the basis of advice from senior military and civilian staff in the Department. We are urgently examining the exact circumstances in which organophosphate pesticides were used and the extent of their use. Hon. Members will 560 understand that I would not wish to prejudge the outcome of that work, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will report further to the House when the work is complete.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The House of Commons might be forgiven for wondering why, when, as the Minister admits, the proper questions were asked, the Department or the Ministers—admittedly, previous to him—were so lazy, I repeat lazy, that they did not get the right answers years ago.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Yes, and that is the point of part of the investigation that is taking place at the moment. I fully accept that the Department should have known the correct position much earlier, especially in the light of anxieties expressed about pesticide use. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has commissioned a further investigation as a matter of urgency.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest— [HON. MEMBERS: "Wyre."] I apologise. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) referred to the future medium-range air-to-air missile. The assessment of bids is under way, and we hope to complete that assessment and to reach a decision around the middle of next year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre also referred to the defence budget, as did a number of other hon. Members. I can assure the House that the Government are committed to providing the armed forces with the manpower and equipment they need to undertake the tasks which our defence and security policies place on them. We will continue to provide the resources to sustain those capabilities.
While efforts to achieve ever greater value for money in defence continue, we have made it clear that, under this Government, the big upheavals are over. We have undertaken to provide a period of stability in the plans for our forces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), the Chairman of the Select Committee—
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I have only five minutes left and a lot of points to cover, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I shall be making a speech tomorrow, but tonight I should like to answer as many questions as possible.
My hon. Friend referred to the decommissioning of nuclear submarines. It is our policy to store decommissioned nuclear submarines afloat at the place where they are decommissioned until a decision about their final disposal is made. My hon. Friend also referred to Jason, the small teaching nuclear reactor at Greenwich. As part of future plans for the royal naval college site there I am pleased to confirm that the reactor will be decommissioned. The appointment of AEA Technology as project manager, and of Dr. Bryan Edmondson as independent safety adviser, illustrates our commitment to safety and openness during the process.
§ Mr. Nick Raynsford: (Greenwich)
The Minister will be well aware of the natural concern in Greenwich, which 561 will be the focus of world attention in millennium year, about the possibility of delay in the decommissioning, with consequential disastrous results if the work is still taking place at a time when the eyes of the world will be on us, with large numbers of visitors coming to see the historic buildings at Greenwich. What reassurance can he give the House that decommissioning will take place speedily so as to ensure that everything is completed safely by 1999?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I could not have announced the decommissioning any earlier than today's debate this is our first day back from the summer recess. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
My hon. Friends the Members for Romsey and Waterside and for Salisbury (Mr. Key) raised the important issue of the Warrior mortar. My Department welcomes the private finance initiative proposals from industry; I understand the commercial concerns that have led GKN to make its current proposals to supply Warrior mortar vehicles to the MOD. We take full account of relevant industrial considerations when making decisions about equipment, and we actively support GKN in marketing Warrior overseas. I have made it clear before to the House that Warrior is an excellent vehicle which has performed extremely well in operational service in Bosnia, just as it did in the Gulf. My Department will respond to the company shortly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) discussed deployment of the deterrent and the question of the two Trident submarines. Our current deterrent is provided by two Trident boats and by RAF Tornadoes carrying WE177 freefall bombs. We have always planned to have only two boats in service for a short period; the Trident fleet will reach four boats by the end of the century.
Next, recruitment, which was raised by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre, who asked whether we would have similar difficulties in the following year. I can give him details of the achievement targets that we have reached. Against the targets for the first six months of this year, the Royal Navy achieved recruitment of 89 per cent. for officers and 85 per cent. for ratings. Figures for the Royal Marines were 100 per cent. for officers and 84 per cent. for other ranks. The Army predicts that officer recruitment for the whole year will reach 86 per cent. of target. For the other ranks in the Army, recruitment in the first six months of this year reached 86 per cent. of target. The point is that it was an increase of 40 per cent. on the performance level for the same period last year. The most promising indicator was the increase in recruitment in the infantry, where 86 per cent. of six-month targets compared with 53 per cent. over the same period last year. The RAF is confident that it will have achieved a recruitment level of 90 per cent. of its target for both officers and airmen by the end of 1996–97.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury raised the issue of Bowman and suggested that blind man's buff was being played. The procurement executive, including the 562 Chief of Defence Procurement, regularly speak to the two consortia that have been developing systems to meet our Bowman requirement, so there is no question of blind man's buff being played. But I listened to my hon. Friend's view with interest.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) asked some important questions about the air cadet council. There is no question that the review is being undertaken as a cost-driven exercise. It is to look at the role of the air cadet council, and the RAF still attaches great importance to the role of the air cadets.
§ It being Ten o 'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.