§ [SECOND DAY]
§ [Relevant document: The Seventh Report from the Defence Committee of Session 1995–96, entitled 'Statement on the Defence Estimates 1996', House of Commons Paper No. 215.]
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on amendment to Question [14 October]:
That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1996 contained in Cm. 3223.
Which amendment was: to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
'declines to support the policy of the Government as set out in the Statement on the Defence Estimates 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'—[Dr. David Clark.]
§ Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.4.40 pm
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. James Arbuthnot)
It is an honour for me to continue this debate on the "Statement on the Defence Estimates". Before I do so, I am very pleased to be able to tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has today announced that Her Majesty the Queen has approved the appointment of General Sir Charles Guthrie as Chief of the Defence Staff, in succession to Field Marshall Sir Peter Inge, in April 1997.
As the Government's principal military adviser, the post of Chief of the Defence Staff requires an individual with personal qualities and abilities of the highest order. As he has demonstrated throughout his long and distinguished career, General Guthrie has enormous ability, admirable personal skills and a tremendous record of service experience and leadership, and is much admired throughout the armed forces. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in congratulating General Guthrie and in wishing him well when he takes up this appointment.
In his opening speech yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence stressed the importance of our continuing drive to achieve value for money in defence, concentrating resources on the front line, arid of our support for the front line. Today's armed forces face new challenges. We are in an era when, as the late Manfred Woerner once said:We have less threat, but less peace.612 More than ever, the services must be extremely flexible and very resilient, with highly capable equipment.
The major investment in equipment made by the Government means that our forces have never been better equipped to meet that challenge. Already in service is equipment such as the Sandown single role minehunter, and such equipment is a world leader in its class. The AS90 self-propelled gun is another world leader, and the Harrier family of aircraft is still the most potent of its type in existence. The decisions that we have made in the past 18 months will add enormously to our ability to deploy our forces flexibly and with great power across the range of scenarios that they may have to face in the future.
We are fully committed to maintaining the worldwide reputation of our services for professionalism and excellence. The quality of our people is undoubted, and, wherever they serve, their skills are acknowledged by allies and by new partners in central and eastern Europe. I pay tribute to all the men and women who serve in our armed forces—whether in the tragic ruins of what was once Yugoslavia, the windswept landscape of the Falkland Islands, the heat of the Gulf or the streets of Northern Ireland. They require and deserve no less than the best equipment that can be provided to meet their needs.
That policy allows them not only to perform the demanding tasks we require of them efficiently and effectively, but can mean the difference between life and death. It is because of the importance that we attach to the equipping of our forces that I wish to devote this speech to our procurement policies and to the vision we have for procurement in the future.
Since the early 1980s, we have seen a revolution in our procurement practices. Chief among those was the adoption of an aggressive competition policy, placing contracts on the basis of best overall value for money. That policy has benefited the taxpayer, the services and, in world markets, British industry. Reviewing those initiatives in its report "Procurement in the 90s", the National Audit Office concluded that our systems wereessentially sound and compare well with defence organisations overseas".The House will he aware that, earlier this year, we responded positively to the report entitled "Aspects of Defence Procurement and Industrial Policy" by a joint Select Committee on defence and trade and industry matters. In parallel, my Department carried out its own review of its procurement policies. At the heart of our study was a concern that the unbridled pursuit of competition without regard to the supplier base might, over time, threaten both the capacity and the capability of the UK defence industry.
It is self-evident that, if we are to continue to benefit from our competition policy, we have a vested interest in ensuring that our supplier base is efficient, effective and capable of meeting our needs—not only in the short but in the longer term.
§ Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)
The Ministry of Defence has given a contract to Racal for radar, and there has been a great deal of disappointment not only in my constituency but in the Lothians generally. That is particularly true because GEC Marconi, through its purchase of Ferranti, has been the leader in radar 613 equipment for Her Majesty's forces. Is it possible that Racal got the contract because it gave money to the Conservative party?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Although I recognise the hon. Gentleman's stalwart work on behalf of his constituency, I am a bit disappointed that he mentions the treatment of a distinguished defence company in that manner. He implies that those who advise the Ministry of Defence are no more capable of distinguishing proper from improper behaviour than he suggests Ministers are. That is an unworthy suggestion, although I do not think that it is one that he would normally make. I hope that he will reconsider it.
We concluded that value for money should remain the cornerstone of UK procurement policy, and we concluded that competition was critical to the achievement of that objective. We are committed to the benefits of competition, unlike the hon. Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar). After his speech last night, I am particularly pleased, and a bit surprised, to see him in the House today.
Competition has inspired innovative design and manufacturing change, driven down prices and improved the performance of defence equipment. By encouraging industry to be more efficient, competition has enhanced the competitiveness of UK industry abroad and has contributed significantly to sales success in foreign markets. In itself, that is a positive contribution to sustaining our defence industrial capabilities.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
Has the Ministry of Defence any plans to order replacement vessels for that section of the fleet that is, by and large, concerned with fishery protection duties? Does not the Minister agree that the crews of those vessels perform sterling work, but that in some instances they are crewing aging vessels?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. I should like to write to him in detail. That would be a more satisfactory way of responding than answering off the cuff.
We also concluded that we should give more systematic consideration to defence industrial factors in reaching future procurement decisions. We have always taken industrial factors into account in our procurement processes, but we concluded that we needed a more systematic approach, defining more explicitly the criteria against which we assess the benefit of seeking to retain defence industrial capability. We have carried that work forward with the Department of Trade and Industry in recent months, and the equipment announcements made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in July are testimony to the extent to which we have embraced that approach.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Is not the Minister saying that, with their new definition of interest, the Government are recognising at last that the market cannot rule on defence procurement, not only because Governments are the major purchasers, but because 614 British industry and much of European industry would otherwise be swamped by competition from the United States?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I said that we had always taken industrial factors into account, but that we needed to do so more systematically. Before the hon. Gentleman attacks the benefits and consequences of market forces too strongly, perhaps he ought to clear his remarks with his own Front Benchers, and with the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson).
Our approach, along with our continued pursuit of the more commercial procurement policies which have proved so successful in past, will ensure that we can provide our armed forces with capable equipment which represents real value for money. However, we are never complacent, and our procurement practices continue to evolve.
For example, we spend some £1 billion a year on high-volume, low-value items—mainly spare parts—with a large number of firms. That carries a disproportionately large administrative cost compared with the value of the items. We are therefore changing the purchasing process to cut out much of the paper-driven bureaucracy. In particular, in line with best practice in industry, we shall introduce electronic data interchange to handle all the activities between ordering and bill payment.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
Before my hon. Friend moves away from the subject of the procurement of sophisticated equipment, I should like to remind him that, 20 years ago, it was decided that three shipbuilders—Vickers, Cammell Laird and Vosper Thorneycroft—should be designated warship builders. In recent years, we have come dangerously near the point at which only one shipbuilder is available. The contract for Fearless and Intrepid was dealt with on a NAPNOC—no acceptable price, no contract—basis. Does my hon. Friend have a view on the ideal number of shipbuilders which should be available to undertake large, sophisticated shipbuilding?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I am pleased to say that we continue to have a good, competitive shipbuilding market in this country. My hon. Friend implies that the award of the type 23 frigate order to Yarrow may undermine competition in our shipbuilding market. We do not consider that to be true. We have every confidence that Vosper Thomycroft, for example, will continue to be a strong and vibrant shipbuilder able to offer competition into the next millennium. That is why it is part of the consortium to produce the common new generation frigate. I am sure that my hon. Friend will regard that as good news for his constituency and for the interests of defence.
We obviously need to work closely with industry to ensure that we can exchange and share data to our mutual benefit. That will help the introduction of new initiatives such as concurrent engineering on programmes, for which we are seeking to cut the time scales in our procurement process without increasing the risks to the Ministry of Defence.
Over the past year, the Ministry has been working with the Confederation of British Industry to formulate guidelines on how a system of partnering might work in Ministry of Defence procurement, allowing both sides to respond to change, to benefit from innovation, to minimise costs and to maximise service development.
615 We shall also test all capital expenditure against the framework of the private finance initiative. We do not have no-go areas, and no minimum level of expenditure is set. Inevitably, not all projects will be suitable for the PFI approach, but the Government and industry are interested in exploring options. Deals covered by the initiative worth more than £200 million have already been signed, and £2 billion-worth of further projects is being considered.
The world strategic situation has changed beyond recognition in recent years, and no less is true of the defence industry. Defence remains big business, but defence expenditure cannot support all the manufacturing capacity or jobs that it once did. Industry has had to adapt to a much reduced global market for its products. It must compete ever more vigorously to survive, with new players in the international market seeking the same goals.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Before the Minister leaves the issue of the global market, I should like to ask whether he intends to say anything about the policy on land mines. Does he recognise that General Sir Hugh Beach made a powerful case to the all-party land mine group that any mines exported should be of the detectable type, not the relatively undetectable mines which anaesthetise huge areas of agricultural land in the poorest countries of the world?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I agree that mines should be detectable. We should like any land mines which continue to exist to be of the self-destructing sort, so that they do not pose the dangers to civilian populations which we have seen throughout the world. That is one reason why we have been in the forefront in providing money—nearly £20 million—for the clearance of land mines throughout the world. It is also why we have embraced the concept of abolishing all land mines.
There is a balance to be drawn between the protection of our forces and the protection of civilian populations throughout the world. We do not believe that civilian populations are at risk from the responsible use of land mines, such as that practised by our forces, but we believe that the benefits of a global ban on land mines—if that can be achieved—outweigh the benefits of land mines in the protection of our forces. We very much hope to find an alternative solution to the protection of our forces in the near future.
Yesterday, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said that British industry was underperforming. I could hardly believe my ears, but then he said it again. He was quite wrong. British industries have restructured to meet the challenges that I have set out, often doing so before their European counterparts. Our companies are now in a competitive position, reporting growing order books, reducing overheads and healthy profits.
Much of that is due to their own laudable efforts, but I believe that some of the impetus has come from the competitive rigour, so deplored by the hon. Member for Warley, West, of our domestic procurement approach. I cannot pretend that the process has been painless. Many jobs have been lost as companies have adjusted to changing markets. That is regrettable, but I believe that the industry's future is now much more secure. It has reduced capacity without sacrificing significant capability or profitability.
616 That reduction in capacity—but not in capability—has often been associated with mergers and acquisitions. That has been less marked in Europe than in the United States, where there has been major restructuring, with the creation of giant corporations such as Lockheed Martin International, which has combined sales worth more than £20 billion. In Europe, the defence industrial scene is far more fragmented, but the rationalisation process is now starting to transcend national frontiers with acquisitions and joint ventures. We welcome that, where the results are sensible commercial alliances across national boundaries. Notable examples include GEC's joint venture with Matra on satellites, GEC-Thomson on sonar and Dowty-Messier on landing gear. These arrangements reflect the commercial recognition that the domestic markets of single European countries are simply not big enough to sustain major companies into the next century.
§ Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)
Does my hon. Friend agree that commercial interests are best served by demonstrations by our armed services of safe and competent usage of equipment? On that basis, does he agree that there must be an element of RAF low-level flying in Scotland, where we probably take more than our fair share? Does he also agree that RAF air traffic control services must be kept at a high level? Will he join me in commending the safe operation of the Scottish airways by the RAF air traffic controllers at Prestwick?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of preserving low flying, a capability that can be preserved only with actual practice. I also agree with him about the professionalism of both the military and civilian air traffic controllers. I take my hat off to them for the way in which they perform their stressful job. The safety of our airways must be—and will remain—paramount.
UK industry is now well placed to make a full contribution to the rationalisation—
§ Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)
Before the Minister leaves the subject of air traffic control, will he answer the question posed yesterday on the subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who unfortunately cannot be here because he is at a Western European Union meeting? My hon. Friend asked about the privatisation of the national air traffic control service and the attitude of the Ministry of Defence towards it. Will the Minister also answer the question that I hoped was going to be asked by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), about the maintenance of the facility at Prestwick?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State answered that question yesterday, and I have nothing to add to what he said then.
UK industry is now well placed to make a full contribution to the rationalisation within Europe—and indeed elsewhere—that will undoubtedly occur in the coming years. There will be scope for some transatlantic rationalisation and the development of strategic partnerships. The Rolls-Royce acquisition of Allison engines and the British Aerospace collaboration with McDonnell-Douglas are cases in point. In the short term, however, major opportunities lie across European 617 boundaries. The relative scale of US and European companies does not lend itself easily to a partnership of equals.
There is no escaping the fact that United States expenditure on new equipment, spares and ammunition is more than double that of all the European NATO countries, and seven out of the top 10 defence companies in the world are American. If Europe is to meet this challenge, rationalisation of the industrial base across the continent is essential. My right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) yesterday referred to this, and I hope to answer some of his questions in what I am about to say.
The House will have heard that the Government believe that it is for industry to make commercial decisions about future markets and industrial partnerships. We do not want the Government to decide industry's future on its behalf. What we can, and should, do is provide the climate and the opportunities in which such linkages can succeed. As I have mentioned, we must recognise and take account of the industrial consequences of the procurement decisions that we make.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
Have the Minister today—and the Secretary of State yesterday—in effect announced a new policy?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
All this means that we must accept an increased level of mutual dependency in meeting procurement needs by agreeing joint requirements. Defence co-operation is no longer just a political option, but an economic necessity. We have many good examples of previous and current co-operative programmes, but we now need to build on these to create structures and processes that offer value for money, while helping rationalisation of the industrial base.
We have made it clear that the adoption of a more commercial approach to future co-operative programmes and their supporting structures is essential. We need to avoid wasteful practices that only serve to distort the market and reduce the economic benefits to be derived. In the past, the obvious benefits of collaboration—increased standardisation, inter-operability, shared development costs, longer production runs and reduced unit costs—have been diluted by working practices contrary to the needs of efficiency and effectiveness.
In future, we should procure from the most efficient supplier—not the one who happens to make up that element of any particular country's work share based on an anticipated level of investment in the project. We cannot subsidise unnecessary duplication of facilities to satisfy purely national, rather than economic, needs. We want taut commercial management, with responsibility for the co-ordination and delivery of the programme to time and cost vested in a single prime contractor. We do not want—we cannot afford—the overhead expenses of large multinational project offices. We need lean organisations, with no international duplication of staffing.
It is against that background that the UK has been contributing positively and constructively to the creation of a European armaments agency that offers the potential for achieving the sort of efficiency improvements and 618 administrative savings that we should all desire. However, we are still some way from its realisation. In answer to the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), my remarks today are drawing together some points that have not been drawn together in the same place. It is important that I do that.
We believe that, where nations can agree to common requirements and procurement policies and practices on individual projects—or, indeed, classes of equipment—they should do so. The plans of France and Germany to create a joint armaments framework offer a new channel for a worthwhile and meaningful co-operation in policy and practice. We are working with them—and the Italians—to bring this to fruition.
Some hon. Members may be concerned that, in the creation of a European defence armaments agency, or the quadrilateral armaments structure, there is a move towards protectionism and the establishment of a Fortress Europe mentality. That would be a total misunderstanding of the Government's vision for the new structure. It is not in our interests—political or military—to do that.
This Administration believe passionately in the benefits of open and competitive markets, and strongly value the transatlantic link that has served the security of us all so well during the past decades. The simple fact is that a strong and vibrant European defence industry with expertise in many leading edge technologies is in all our interests.
Our industries must develop quality products that are both affordable and exportable, and which compare favourably with the best in the world. We will not achieve that in an introverted, isolationist European context. We need to take the measure of what the world has to offer, and match or better it. That will generate the domestic and overseas sales essential to the continued well-being of our industries. Our market share of the world's defence markets highlights the need for trading nations to develop openly and competitively.
§ Dr. Godman
In relation to the safety of crews, has the Ministry any plans to order replacement vessels for the aging ships that service Trident submarines as they enter and leave the Firth of Clyde?
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
The Minister has made some interesting points about the European armaments agency, and I did not disagree with much of what he said. I understand, however, that that body is to hold a critical meeting this Friday, and that the French and the Germans are arguing that any country that signs up to the agency must then place its orders with European countries. Can the Government elucidate the stance that they will adopt at that meeting?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
It is difficult to conduct international negotiations across the Floor of this Chamber or in public, as the hon. Gentleman will understand. I would rather not be tempted, if he will forgive me.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
The Minister knows that I have taken a considerable interest in this matter with him for a long time. How will the 619 competitiveness of British defence equipment in world markets be enhanced by the activities of the European armaments agency? To whom will the agency be answerable? How will it be funded? Will it not be located in Bonn, not the United Kingdom, which has Europe's premier armaments industry? What are the benefits? Experience with the NATO management agency for the Tornado and with the NATO Euro-fighter management agency shows that what we need is not more bureaucracy but a more commercial approach to procurement.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I was just coming to bureaucracy. The agency about which we are negotiating may well be the catalyst for the sort of rationalisation of industry that I discussed earlier. We in the United Kingdom face defence industries in the United States, and increasingly in south-east Asia, which are getting ever larger. There must therefore be further rationalisation across the borders of Europe and the borders of the rest of the world to gain the benefits of large scale which United States industries already enjoy.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
A moment ago, the Minister mentioned the transatlantic connection and the need for open and competitive markets, both points with which I agreed. Does he agree, though, that the transatlantic link could be further strengthened if British defence manufacturers believed that there was an open and competitive market in the United States?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I totally agree. I have argued in the United States and in this country for a two-way street. I recently wrote an article in which I said that, to some extent, there is a two-way street between the United States and Europe, but that, unfortunately, more traffic flows in one direction than in the other. That is not sustainable in the long term, because all the traffic will end up at the wrong end.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
It is not good enough to write articles. How does the Minister intend to deal with the problem of American protectionism? Does he not understand that American companies can make loss-leading bids for procurement contracts with the MOD in ways that can destroy key parts of our defence industrial base; while British and other European companies are not allowed to compete for similar procurements in the United States? The hon. Gentleman cannot just shrug that off as a matter for article writing. It is a point that will have to be dealt with.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I do not shrug it off—that is absurd. I talk to industry in the United States; I talk to senators and congressmen, as do my ministerial colleagues. We try to persuade people in the United States. The same applies to European industries: protectionism is not in the interests of United States industry or of European industry. It is a question, rather, of continually persuading those who in the past have argued in favour of protectionism that it will not help them—
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Well, we are arguing strongly against it, and we believe that we are beginning to make some 620 headway. The world is a mutually dependent place; it is a shrinking and a changing world too. A Fortress America would be just as damaging as a Fortress Europe.
The United States is a major market for UK and other European defence goods. To stop American products competing to meet our requirements would ultimately be self-defeating for us, but, as I told the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), there must be reciprocity—the two-way street should be just that. Governments must commit themselves to keeping defence markets open and avoiding the damaging but tempting voices of protectionism. It helps no one.
We have proved our credentials in the results of recent competitions, in which we have, in turn, been accused of a lack of concern for the United Kingdom's and Europe's industrial base and of an anti-American Anglo-European preference. Neither is correct.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
I accept everything that the Minister and Opposition Members have just been saying, but will he use this opportunity to give credit where it is due?
In the world market for defence products British industry does extremely well, because it is competitive and has a technological edge. Can my hon. Friend confirm that more than half the American orders for defence hardware placed with overseas countries come to this country because of the competitiveness of British industry and the quality of our products? What is more, they come here because of the important north Atlantic alliance. which is underpinned by co-operation between British and American companies.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
To someone with the expertise of my hon. Friend, I can only say yes.
The recent Farnborough air show epitomised the healthy competition through excellence that exists in the global defence and aerospace sector; it also showed the United Kingdom's leading role in that sector. I pay tribute to the success of our defence industries in today's highly competitive overseas markets. Exports of defence equipment benefit both the country and the Ministry of Defence. They support about 90,000 UK jobs, and in 1995 they brought home about £5 billion-worth of business—almost 20 per cent. of the world export market.
It is our overall defence export objective to maintain and build on this performance over the next five years. We are well on the way to achieving that in 1996. The MOD benefits directly from the sale of equipment overseas through the payment of commercial exploitation levies, where we have helped to fund development. It also benefits indirectly from the lower unit costs which result from the spreading of overheads.
For these reasons, it is appropriate that we continue to give full and vigorous support to British industry in pursuit of overseas sales prospects. That is a vital ingredient of success. Industry's assessment is that, in recent years, some 70 per cent. of the total value of export sales would not have been achieved without assistance from the Defence Export Services Organisation. We will continue to help British industry to compete for success in this important marketplace.
As well as developing our procurement policies, we have also made enormous strides in improving the organisation for procurement. Our service men and 621 women need to know that, in the Procurement Executive, they have an organisation no less professional and expert than themselves. It is an organisation which, at its new headquarters in Bristol, can realise its full potential. The new Procurement Executive will save about £100 million a year in running costs alone. The organisation has 35 per cent. fewer staff than in 1990, and has halved the number of people in the very top management levels. That very much reflects the reality of "Front Line First", under which savings such as those can be ploughed back into defence expenditure elsewhere—including, for example, back into the front line. It is our aim to ensure that the Procurement Executive remains nothing less than the best defence procurement agency in the world.
Over the past year, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined yesterday, we have seen a commitment to providing equipment as efficiently as possible. In February, we announced an order for a further three type 23 frigates from Yarrow, valued at £400 million. In July, we announced the decision to order replacements for HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid from GEC Marine, worth about £450 million. In March, the contract was let for the Apache attack helicopter from GKN Westland, representing the most important element of the Army's forward equipment programme and an investment of £2.5 billion. In February, new support vehicles—both utility and battlefield ambulances—were ordered from Land Rover, worth some £200 million.
Recent decisions for the RAF represent one of the largest packages of equipment procurement with the purchase of the Nimrod 2000 from British Aerospace, Storm Shadow from British Aerospace and Matra Marconi, and GEC Marconi's Brimstone, with a total value approaching £4 billion and sustaining around 5000 jobs in the UK. Those decisions will bring jobs and support industry throughout the United Kingdom.
For the future, we look to continuing work on the new batch 2 Trafalgar nuclear-powered submarines and the collaborative common new generation frigate for the Navy; the multi-role armoured utility vehicle for the Army; and the assessment of bids for the future medium—range air-to-air missile-one of the key armaments for the Eurofighter and for the RAF.
The House will recall that my right hon. Friend made an important announcement in respect of the Eurofighter at last month's Farnborough Air Show. I wish to repeat that the Government are committed to the production investment, production and support phases of the programme, subject to the satisfactory conclusion of the relevant memoranda of understanding and contractual negotiations. I hope that our German, Italian and Spanish partners will be able to make the same commitment soon. We will be working to avoid any further costly delay in this vital programme.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday that the equipment we were providing to our armed services was world class. That is because our armed services deserve no less. They are widely respected, and I would go so far as to say they may be the most professional armed services in the world.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
No, I am winding up.
622 Look at the job our armed services do. They save lives worldwide with sensitivity and courage, they protect the nation at home and our interests abroad. In that job they represent the people of this country, and they are identified with every man, woman and child. That is why we are so proud of what they do, that is why our armed services have the full commitment and support of this country, and that is why, under a Conservative Government, we will continue to give them the support and commitment they need and deserve.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I must remind the House that Madam Speaker has placed a limit of 10 minutes on all Back-Bench speeches between 7.30 and 9 pm.
§ Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)
I thank the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, and heir presumptive to the baronetcy, for his contribution. It is my pleasurable duty, in view of his announcement, to extend the congratulations of the Opposition and, I am sure, of the whole House to Sir Charles Guthrie on the announcement today of his appointment as the next Chief of the Defence Staff from April next year. That news will be warmly welcomed because Sir Charles Guthrie has served his country well through the Welsh Guards, the British Army on the Rhine, Aden, Special Forces and 22 SAS. I am sure his best years of service are ahead of him, to the benefit of the British armed forces and of this country. I notice from his "Who's Who" entry that he is also a member of the Beefsteak club—I did not know that before today—which presumably means that his appointment had the full support of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. We look forward to that appointment next year. April and May will be an interesting two months—new Labour, new Government, new Chief of the Defence Staff.
On a sadder note, I also wish, on behalf of the Opposition, to express my personal regrets and condolences to the family of Warrant Officer James Bradwell, who died in Northern Ireland. He was the first service man to die there for two years and the first since the ceasefire ended, but we should not forget that he was the 653rd British service man to die for the cause of his country and of peace in that unhappy Province. When we pay our condolences at his death, we give testimony also, symbolically, to the other men and women in our armed services who have served their country and sacrificed themselves on land, on the seas and in the air.
On land in Bosnia, British troops are foremost among the United Nations troops; they have managed to preserve at least a semblance of civilisation, not to mention hundreds of thousands of lives in that war-torn country. On the sea, the Royal Navy serves not only in the Adriatic off Bosnia but in the Gulf, with the Armilla patrol and in its activities against drugs, in which it stands silent sentinel to the values of civilisation.
In our preoccupation with Bosnia, we should not forget what a powder keg the Gulf is. Saddam Hussein—as the Secretary of State for Defence mentioned, correctly, yesterday—will use every opportunity to tease and to 623 probe the defences and the will of the United Nations and the west. The fact that there are some 30,000 United States troops, some 200-plus combat aircraft, 25 surface ships and two aircraft carriers in the Gulf is numerical testimony to the dangers that lurk there.
We also pay tribute to the constant patrolling by the Royal Air Force in the United Nations designated areas over Iraq and in Bosnia. We have, of course, supported the Government in almost every operational decision that they have taken over the past decade, not because it was expedient to do so but because it has been right. We supported the United Nations protection force, UNPROFOR, when it went into Bosnia, despite the fact that we—together with Back Benchers on both sides of the House and some Ministers—occasionally despaired about the lack of clarity in the objectives and guidelines.
Thankfully, that lack was remedied to some extent with the implementation force and we have made plain our support for the follow-on force, in principle, should it happen. Of course, we wish to see all our major allies involved on the ground and in other areas, but we will give support to British participation under United Nations auspices and as part of NATO.
I wish to add one note of caution. The tasks that have been completed so far in Bosnia, complicated though they were, have been relatively easy, in terms of definition and implementation, for a military force. The tasks have involved separation of forces, patrolling borders in Bosnia, and so on. When the winter snows melt in Bosnia and we reach the next stage for the follow-on force, it will be more difficult to clarify the roles of that military force, because it will have to cope with the return of refugees and, perhaps, social unrest. We must be clear to avoid the mistakes that were made a few years ago, and we must not allow the military to be sucked into what are essentially civilian policing operations. Nevertheless, with that qualification, we pay testimony to our troops.
In these two days of debate, we must be clear that, whatever criticisms are levelled, it is not our service men and women who are on trial but their political masters. Here they are, arrayed in front of us and all together for once in a defence debate—the top brass of the political world in Britain.
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who I hope can manage to avoid hot flushes today when criticisms are levied, is fresh from his television spectacular. I hope that everyone saw those 58 minutes on television. The programme, "The Top Brass", was an amazing success—an amazing risk.
I enjoyed the 56 minutes of the programme that were devoted to the life and times of Sir Nicholas Soames. I am glad that the Secretary of State was allowed a walk-on part—or was it simply his picture in the background on the walls of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces?
Having been somewhat eclipsed on the television arena, the Secretary of State had to find himself another stage. Last week, there was one by the seaside. We all saw that week-long, bizarre spectacle.
§ Mr. Gallie
It is all very well to joke about the activities of Conservative Members, but the 624 hon. Gentleman made a serious point a few minutes ago. He suggested that if widespread catastrophe occurred in Bosnia—with perhaps people dying all over the place—the armed forces would step back. That would be against the wishes of my constituents who have written to me in great numbers on that issue and on Rwanda. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify what he said?
§ Dr. Reid
Yes. With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, I was saying exactly the opposite. Where military tasks are involved, it is appropriate that the British armed forces should be present, and it would have the support of the whole House. But if increasingly the task is to solve disputes between neighbours about who is entitled to go to what house as the refugees return, which is clearly a civilian policing task, we must make it clear that the objectives, rules of engagement, aims and use of the armed forces are limited to tasks that are compatible with their experience and within the practical possibilities of military implementation.
The armed forces must not become a secondary substitute for civilian police forces, especially as we shall have at least four indigenous police forces in the three areas, plus the central police force. My comment was not meant as a criticism of our armed forces. It is a worry that Ministers will have and will be keen to avoid.
May I return to what I was saying about the Secretary of State? At last week's conference, he intelligently discussed almost everything except defence. That was in keeping with the bizarre nature of the conference. I do not know what the message was. Naturally, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the highlight of the conference for the first two days. We were constantly told that he did not have an enemy in the world. He has no compulsion to find enemies as he seems to be hated by all his friends, so he does not need one.
The Prime Minister again tried to send out a message of leadership on defence, as on everything else. If I were a prime ministerial adviser, I would despair. Nice man though he may be, he seems to find it impossible to summon from within himself the directional leadership that this country desperately needs. I often think that, had the Prime Minister been leading the Israelites out of the desert, he would have returned down Mount Sinai with the ten suggestions rather than the ten commandments.
§ Dr. Reid
We are indeed, and the essence of any defence force is command, control and leadership. I was pointing out that, from the top, that has been lacking for the country as well as for the armed forces.
The man in charge of defence, the Secretary of State, has come hotfoot from his production on the Bournemouth stage of the adaptation of Cromwell's "Put your trust in John, but keep your powder dry". Last year on the stage, he called in aid the SAS and the special forces; this year we had the adoption of Fabian tactics, which was to keep the powder dry until after the next election.
We are not sitting in judgment on our armed forces; we are not even sitting in judgment on what the Tory party did on defence at Bournemouth. We are sitting in judgment on the two Tory parties represented in front of 625 us. To use military acronyms, we have the OTT and the NTS—the old Tory toffs and the new Tory spivs. A deal has been concocted between them on defence, as on other issues, to try to cover up that division.
Over the past two days, we have talked of trying to build a consensus on defence. No one should think that a consensus on defence means that we do not criticise each other or that we agree on everything. It means that we agree on a framework to lift national security above party interests and the interests of factions inside parties, which is precisely why I made the point about the division within the Conservative party. I shall outline the areas on which we agree before discussing the areas on which we have massive differences.
§ Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)
If the hon. Gentleman is interested in rising above party politics, will he congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his excellent and statesmanlike speech at Bournemouth? Will he join my right hon. Friend in congratulating the 9,000 British troops with IFOR in Bosnia, who have delivered on disarming and separating the forces and on a successful election in September?
§ Dr. Reid
All right, just for the sake of consensus, I do so on both counts.
There are matters on which the House can agree, some of which have been mentioned already. They include the rationalisation of our reserve forces, which has been undertaken by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. He consulted widely beforehand, gave some thought to the detail and listened to criticism from ourselves and others. On that basis, we gave the legislation a fair wind.
Again, this year's aims and objectives of the Ministry of Defence, as outlined in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1996", includes the obligationTo provide the strategic direction on behalf of Her Majesty's Government".All I can say to that is hooray, but we should not have had to wait 17 years to find that strategic direction is one of the objectives of the Ministry of Defence. It should have been an objective at the start of the Tory Government, not in their dying months.
Progress has also been made on joint operations. It makes sense to have joint training of helicopter pilots from all three services. The establishment of a joint permanent headquarters is a significant advance in operational capability, and I am grateful for the access and briefings that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces gave me on that matter. But even where both sides of the House have agreed on those trends, the Government have found it impossible to avoid the incompetence that has marked so many of their ventures.
A number of the ventures relate to their approach to joint service activities—for example, the tragic and shambolic plans for the joint staff college, which seems to be in a constant state of flux. The sell-off of the Greenwich naval college was decided on the basis of figures which, on investigation, the Defence Select Committee subsequently found to be inadequate and incomplete. The Secretary of State was forced to do a U-turn on his plans for the unfettered right to sell off the college willy-nilly to whomever he chose.
626 We then found that the plans to site the joint college at the Army college at Camberley were delayed by a lack of suitable accommodation. Temporary resiting to the air staff college at Bracknell was then accompanied by an announcement that private funding would be sought not only for the extra accommodation needed but for the whole staff college project. With the best will in the world, and trying to be as non-partisan as possible, I believe that, if we manage to reach a general agreement on consensus, it will be difficult to sustain it, given such shambolic incompetence in what should be a relatively simple decision.
On the subject of the joint rapid deployment force, we welcomed the Secretary of State's announcement 18 months ago. We welcomed his reannouncement of it three months later and we welcomed his third announcement. At the time, I said that the only rapid things about the force were the rate and consistency with which it was being reannounced.
As soon as the force was set up in August, the Secretary of State made yet another announcement. A press report stated that Britain's elite rapid deployment force was to lose an entire battalion of paras just three weeks after its launch because of huge overstretch. The rapid deployment force, which was not formed too rapidly, then had no one to deploy. In the face of such incompetence, we have difficulty maintaining cross-party consensus on essentially good ideas.
We have complained that, even when the parties agree on issues, the Ministry of Defence must be constantly goaded or prompted into action which must ultimately be taken and from which it could derive some credit if it did so without being badgered. Hon. Members have mentioned some examples. The MOD was goaded constantly to respond adequately on the issue of Gulf war syndrome. I do not question Ministers' sincerity on that issue: they are in a difficult position, as they must be judges regarding what happened, prosecutors when seeking evidence about what might have occurred, and then defendants, as ultimately they will be liable if it is found that something went wrong.
Nevertheless, Ministers should have realised earlier that important issues regarding our obligation and our loyalty to service men and women will not go away. If we find that there was negligence initially or subsequent negligence in investigating the matter, leading to accusations of a cover-up, Ministers must take the strongest possible action.
The MOD was prompted to take action about the treatment of our service men and it has been pushed to adopt a rational view regarding service women. I do not know exactly how much we have paid out to pregnant service women, but it is more than £50 million. If the MOD had listened to those who warned of a problem, we would have been spared the indignity of treating women in that fashion and saved £50 million in hard-earned Treasury money, which could have been spent on much-needed equipment.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
The hon. Gentleman's argument would carry more weight if he did not speak for a party that is committed to adopting the 627 social chapter, which we opted out of in the Maastricht treaty. It would impose more rules and regulations across all sectors of British life.
§ Dr. Reid
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I wish that he were sure of his facts. The social chapter specifically excludes the armed forces and therefore is not relevant to my point about pregnant service men and women. [Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am trying to be politically correct—as my party knows, I have a long history of political correctness.
The matter of the Commission for Racial Equality was raised yesterday. No one suggests that the ministerial offices of the Crown are filled with racists, but there is something wrong when the Commission for Racial Equality must threaten to drag the Ministry of Defence through the courts to force it to implement plans with which the MOD says that it agrees. Despite the comments of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the truth is that the MOD was over a barrel due to its tardiness in making advances on the question of recruitment from ethnic minorities. It was an abject surrender. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) described the MOD's backdown to the CRE as the first unconditional surrender by British forces since Yorktown.
Despite that, we have much to be proud of. As the Minister said, we are blessed with the quality of our service men and women and, similarly, of those involved in our manufacturing industry. Two weeks ago, I was privileged to visit the Royal Armoured Corps with Sir Charles Guthrie to view Challenger 2. It is a marvellous example of British engineering which is manned by skilled, highly trained crews from the Royal Armoured Corps. I will not go so far as to say that it floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee but, for something that size, it is an impressive example of British engineering and martial skill.
Our manufacturing record is, however, continually marred by the Government's apparent incapacity to produce the goods on time and at cost. I do not blame the MOD entirely, but several weeks ago I was interested to read one of its press releases about the Phoenix spy plane. Hon. Members probably know that the plane is extremely effective but seldom comes back in one piece—which somewhat limits its operational usefulness. It is like a boomerang that goes only one way. The press release stated:We now have confidence in the cost-effectiveness, tactical performance and reliability of the system to meet the army's requirements".The plane is now expected to be in service by 1998, which is great—except that it was due in service in 1989. The MOD is proudly boasting that equipment which is seven or eight years overdue will be delivered in three or four years.
We do not blame the Government for every delay. However, any objective observer who examined the pattern of consistent delays would conclude that it was the only area where the Government appeared to have a strategy. I am reminded that Napoleon once instructed Bourrienne not to open his letters for three weeks and, after that time, expressed satisfaction that most of the correspondence had resolved itself. I have a feeling that the Secretary of State is adopting a Napoleonic strategy to defence procurement: if we delay indefinitely, the need will go away. But it will not.
628 Similarly, we do not blame the Government for every cost overrun—we know that there are technical difficulties and updated requirements. However, at the end of the day, we seem to spend much more on almost every project—except Trident, of course. The Minister spoke about that at great length today. I do not know whether he is good with figures. I know that he is a Chancery lawyer—I discovered that before he came into the Chamber. I do not know what that is—perhaps it is someone who defends chancers, which would explain why he is at the Ministry of Defence. The Minister is certainly not good with Roman numerals, since he spoke to me recently about our proud role in winning world war eleven.
I think that the cost overruns are due to something in the system rather than to the personal inadequacies of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. At least tonight we can welcome the fact that he referred to the system of procurement. He mentioned data information systems and the need to bring the three services together. That is a great idea. However, by chance I met a man on a train who worked in that area and he told me that the three computer systems were incompatible. I pass on that information from someone at the coal face; I do not know whether it is accurate.
We agree on many issues. There is no major difference in our views on NATO: it is the cornerstone of our policy. We believe in developing the Western European Union and that it should not be part of the European Union.
§ Dr. Reid
Anything that the Conservatives say that makes sense. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to belong to a party that has a knee-jerk reaction of saying black every time someone says white, he is entitled to do so. I want to belong to a party that is capable of analysing the real world and of reaching rational conclusions and that is prepared to agree with anyone who has reached the same conclusions on the basis of the same analysis. I am not ashamed of that; we have operated in that way for some considerable time. We support "Partnership for Peace", the domestic joint service operation and the combined operations with our allies abroad, all of which should be the basis for common agreement.
There are, however, two major obstacles to the development in Britain of a consensual framework on defence. The first is the fact that the Government refuse to have a real review of the pattern of overstretch, which has placed an intolerable burden on ordinary service men and women. Not only is the situation not improving, despite constant promises, but it is getting much worse. Ministers speak as though the problem had been revealed to them suddenly from on high. I have only one simple point to make: if the demographic curve shows that the market for people joining the armed forces—people aged between 18 and 24—has plummeted, it may come as a surprise to the Government, but it was predictable about 18 to 24 years ago.
Anyone could have read the runes of the coming drop in demography. We warned six years ago from the Opposition Front Bench that there would be just such a shortage of recruits. As all hon. Members know, we are now 4,000 short of the establishment figures even for forces that would be overstretched had they attained those figures.
629 Overstretch is not just a matter of a fall in the demographic curves. It reveals astonishing complacency and incompetence by successive Ministers. Recruitment has been constantly undermined by the closure and reopening of Army recruitment centres, the closure and reinstatement of regiments and the MOD's constant chopping about and incapacity for forward planning. Over the past 10 years, Ministers have introduced the concept of stop-go planning into the Ministry of Defence. That is the first problem we have in developing a consensus, and it is one of the reasons—not the only one—why we insist on a real strategic security review and why we will carry that out in government.
The Government have failed in a second crucial area: by imposing their ideology of privatisation and contractorisation as a dogma on the services, they have undermined organisations bound together by the ethos of collective cohesion. Group loyalty may mean nothing to the unfettered free marketeers; it means everything to those whose lives depend on it. It does not show up on a profit and loss account or feature in an accountant's log, but the ethos of the military group is still a vital, permeating, irreplaceable asset for the operational effectiveness of our forces.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)
May I clarify one point for the hon. Gentleman before he goes any further? We do not regard the Government as having any consensus with the Labour party on any single defence issue. Will he give one example of a reform of the type which he is talking about that has undermined the cohesion of the armed forces, bearing in mind that, in my view, the new management strategy, for example, has been the greatest single liberating measure ever achieved to allow the services to run their own affairs?
§ Dr. Reid
I will answer both points directly. The Minister rejects any attempt to make national security a matter of national consensus, above party politics. Most people in this country, including those in the armed services, are sick and tired of the yah-boo politics conducted in the House over national security. People are desperate for politicians of all parties to put aside their petty partisan differences when it comes to our national security and to put country above party. They will have noticed that any attempt by us—no matter how constructive—to build such a consensus, is rejected.
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, he will not be in a position to offer consensus or otherwise; the governing party next year will offer that consensus, and that will be the Labour party.
§ Dr. Reid
When I have answered the Minister's second question. The hon. Gentleman would not like me to be discourteous, and the answer will be of interest also to him.
The Minister asked me for an example of contractorisation undermining the cohesion and effectiveness of the armed forces. The contractorisation process for the maintenance of RAF aircraft is such an 630 example. It was put out to tender and won by a private company—I spoke to RAF mechanics who were bitterly disappointed about that. The private company undercut the RAF, which was allowed to tender in that particular station, but was told that, even if it won, it would have to keep to the establishment numbers agreed in "Options for Change" and defence cuts studies—in other words, even if the RAF won the tender, it would still have to lose it.
The RAF can be undercut by a private company that can make a low tender because it does not have to train mechanics or pay them the wages of the RAF. It does not have to do that because it recruits RAF-trained service men who have been made redundant and are on a pension from the MOD, so the same people do the maintenance on Royal Air Force aeroplanes for a private company. Five years down the road, there will be no RAF-trained mechanics on the base, because the RAF lost the tender, but nor will there be trained mechanics in the private company, because it put in a low tender.
§ Dr. Reid
The Minister says that I do not know what I am talking about, but I am telling him what I was told by the people involved. We shall find out who is right when we have to pick up the pieces after the shambles created by the dogmatic imposition of free market values on a service that believes in collective loyalty and group cohesion. If Ministers do not understand the importance of that to the armed forces, they do not understand anything.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The hon. Gentleman has been his engaging and entertaining self. He speaks about consensus and about group cohesion and refers to a prospective Government, whose members I presume he imagines lurk on the Opposition Benches, but what about the amendment that stands in the names of his hon. Friends who sit below the Gangway? That is, manifestly, totally distinct from his policy and that of his Front-Bench colleagues. If he cannot achieve consensus even within his own party on fundamental security issues, how does he hope do it in government?
§ Dr. Reid
On the last point, the hon. Gentleman, who is an intelligent man, is sufficiently semantically aware to know that there is a difference between consensus and unanimity. [Laughter.] The cynics laugh. I read somewhere that cynicism is the crutch that intellectual cripples sometimes have to lean on as a substitute for intelligence.
I do indeed seek consensus. Is that consensus to be built around the position proposed by a small number of my hon. Friends tonight? No. Do I reject their views? Yes. Have I anything in common with the main thrust of their views on defence as expressed in the amendment? No. Is their view in accord with the Labour party conference decision? No. It is totally in opposition to the views of the Labour party conference, the parliamentary Labour party and the party leadership. I cannot be any plainer.
On contractorisation, I merely say one thing, because I cannot put it better than Basil Liddell Hart put it some 50 years ago when he wrote:living in an atmosphere of soldierly duty and esprit de corps permeates the soul. whereas drill merely attunes the muscles.631 Basil Liddell Hart got it right. It would be to everyone's benefit if the Secretary of State for Defence paid a little more attention to Basil Liddell Hart than to Mr. David Hart when taking decisions inside the MOD.
Another obstacle to consensus is the Government's response to entreaties—[Interruption.] The Minister of State for the Armed Forces is shouting—I think he said "Insane!"—from a sedentary position. He will get his chance to put his case later, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but he has already made it plain: not only will he not seek agreement in the House on anything, but he will reject it outright from the beginning when it is offered.
It is relatively easy to identify the challenges that face the armed forces in this country. We know that the type of threat has changed. We know the problems that are occurring in the developments in Russia. We know about changes in the military architectural structure. All those things are talked about constantly. There are, however, one or more deep social changes that no one has yet faced up to, but future Governments will have to face up to them, because although they are not the most obvious changes, they are profound in terms of their effect on the armed forces of this country. They are changes in society. I shall outline three of them, because as far as I am aware they have not been mentioned.
The first is perhaps the most obvious: the general perception widely held by the public that the threat has gone. I agree entirely with what the Secretary of State said at length yesterday. The threats have not gone. In many ways, there are more threats now than before. War is not cost-free, despite the experience of Bosnia. Whatever we say in the House, the general perception among the public is that the threat has gone. One reason for the successive cuts in defence budgets over the past 10 years is the fact that, when the Cabinet has to decide how money will be allocated, it reflects what the public feel, and the general impression is that the public do not feel that defence should be a recipient of large amounts of money, because they do not perceive that there is a threat. Therefore, all of us who do perceive it have a duty to join together whenever we can to combat complacency among the public. That is the first great social change to which we must attend.
The second change is in the personal experience of most people in this country. I give one fact to the House. In the 20 years to 1964, 6.5 million British people had been through the armed forces. Some 30 years ago, 20 million families had personal experience of, links with or empathy with the armed forces. In the 20 years to 1994, the figure was only 500,000. In 20 years' time, it will be around 300,000. In other words, contrasting 30 years back and 30 years forward, for every 100 people who have experience or empathy with the armed forces, there will be only three. That is the second great change that we cannot ignore. If we do, we do so at our peril.
The third change is in cultural attitudes in society: the growth throughout the 1980s of unfettered individualism—Thatcherism at its worst. There has been some discussion of what benefits we may have gained from Thatcherism. We could discuss that all night. We certainly gained one huge social deficit as well: the idea that the individual should enrich him or herself irrespective of what happened in the rest of the population, the idea that the biblical merit of the good samaritan lay not in good deeds but in the fact that he was 632 rich—a sort of biblical yuppie. There was the idea that one had no obligation to anyone else, because "society" did not exist.
§ Dr. Reid
I am using the words of the Secretary of State's mentor. It is no good him telling us that it is disgraceful. He was standing behind her, cheering, when she was telling us that, for 10 years.
Not only is that completely at odds with the ethos of our armed services: it is a destructive worm at the heart of our social and cultural attitudes in Britain. Thank God people are moving back from it.
Taken together, those three changes mean that, in terms of personal experience, empathy and cultural attitude, the gap is growing between the value system of the population in general and the ethos and life style of the armed forces in particular. How do we begin to face those challenges? Every hon. Member who has the armed forces at heart knows that they are challenges.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
The hon. Gentleman has made one or two very good points, but I do not agree with his third challenge. As he will know, I served in the armed forces in the late 1980s. He mentioned the tremendous selfishness of the 1980s. I was commanding some of what are termed "Thatcher's children", and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that those young men were just as good as young men had been 10 or 15 years before. They were excellent. They were honourable, loyal and, decent, and they looked after other people. They responded to all the things that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, so he must agree that his third challenge is a load of bunkum.
§ Dr. Reid
Far from contradicting me, the hon. Gentleman reinforces everything that I said. I said that unfettered individualism existed outside the armed forces. People who joined the armed forces out of a sense of public service, who rejected the denigration of the idea of public service, who believed that the individual should make sacrifices for the group, who rejected Thatcherite values, were the very people who joined the British armed forces, and they are still there. Those values are deep inside the British armed forces, and we must ensure that we help to build a bridge between civilian attitudes and those of the armed forces.
There are two ways to do that: the first is to have a vision for Britain's role in the world, in which our armed forces play a significant part. I believe that the Labour party can create such a vision. We believe that, at home, individuals have responsibilities to their neighbours. We believe that that is the same abroad. We believe therefore that we have not only rights on the international stage but responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is to create a world order out of the chaos, and the British armed forces throughout their history are uniquely placed to contribute to that role.
The second is to start to restore a trend, which is already moving in the direction of the beliefs that we hold, in the culture and attitudes of people in this country outside the armed forces; to raise again the idea of public service as a public good rather than as some left-wing 633 Utopian wishy-washy social work idea; to say again that public service is good for the country, not only inside the armed forces but outside; to talk of social responsibility as well as social rights; to raise again trust, honour and integrity as obligations that we owe to each other in society.
All those elements have survived in the armed forces, and they should—and, I hope, will—be encouraged outside. It is time to restore the elevation of public service and social responsibility as well as individual rights outside. The time has come to restore pride in our armed forces and our country. Neither the current Secretary of State nor the Conservative Government are capable of doing that, but within a year there will be a Government who will, because the Labour Government will make that a key priority.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid)—who speaks on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, and long may he continue to do so—but I do not know where he has been in terms of visiting Her Majesty's forces if he thinks that they lack a sense of pride and purpose. I defy anyone who has visited the British Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in their different deployments worldwide to come away with such a misguided opinion. It is just baloney, and the hon. Gentleman should know better.
The hon. Gentleman has done his best to be consensual today and he assures us that if, by mischance, the Labour party wins the next general election, there will be a consensus within his party.
§ Mr. Churchill
The hon. Gentleman now qualifies that by saying that he will seek a consensus within his party. He will have an uphill struggle because on the matter of defence, and above all on nuclear defence, his party is split from top to bottom, no matter how hard the Leader of the Opposition may try to paper over the chasm.
I warmly welcome the announcement of the appointment of General Sir Charles Guthrie as Chief of Defence Staff. He is a first-class soldier, and I have no doubt at all that his will be an excellent appointment. I also pay tribute to our armed forces whom, as a member of the Select Committee on Defence, I have the privilege of visiting at so many locations in so many of their roles world wide. One thinks especially at present of our forces serving in Northern Ireland and those in Bosnia where, together with our allies, they are holding the ring and bringing back some semblance of normality and peace to that strife-torn land.
It is a regrettable fact that, one year in every four, our great ally across the seas, the United States, takes leave of its senses and indulges in an unashamed 12 months of electioneering. It becomes quite impossible to get any coherent response, let alone leadership, out of the United States during an election year. In the case of Bosnia, that risks being all too tragic, because the President has committed himself publicly to the withdrawal of US forces from IFOR in the former Yugoslavia before the year is out.
634 Were that to happen—I very much hope that it will not, and that the matter will be reconsidered as a matter of urgency—it would pull the rug from under the allies who are doing so much to bring peace back to Bosnia. It would make vain all the efforts that the international community, and not least our armed forces, have made during the past four years to try to bring Bosnia back from the brink.
It is essential that a successor to IFOR, with US participation, should go forward and that that should be announced at the earliest possible moment. It may be on a reduced level. That is not important. What is important is that the United States is there and that it forms part of the alliance engaged on the ground in Bosnia. However much, as Europeans, we may regret it, it was the adherence, involvement and commitment of the United States in IFOR, which was so conspicuously absent in UNPROFOR, that completely changed the perception of the local warring factions towards the international community trying to bring them back from the brink.
I am conscious that time is limited and I will confine myself to just a couple of further topics. As has already been said, our armed forces are unquestionably the finest in the world. But without the proper equipment, even the finest cannot give of their best. No single item of equipment which is due to enter service in the immediate future is more important than the European fighter aircraft. It is not only an important exercise in defence co-operation within Europe, but it is at the heart of the future capability of the Royal Air Force.
We now hear ugly rumours that Germany is minded to wreck co-operation in that area by drastically stretching out the time scale of procurement for EFA in order, we are told, to enable Germany to meet the criteria for joining a single European currency to which Chancellor Kohl has committed himself, despite the fact that it is likely to cause a drastic split within the European unity so painfully built up over the past 40 years.
As was perceptively observed by the late Julian Amery—a former Member for Preston and for Brighton. Pavilion, whose loss we keenly mourn—France seeks to appease Germany in its every move and sits like a mahout atop the ears of the German elephant, vainly and ineffectually seeking to steer the elephant in the direction that France wishes it to go. That is not happening, however, and it is most regrettable that, unlike the British Government, our German allies should not take on board the importance of co-operation in this vital area of European defence. By their actions, they threaten to wreck the fledgling co-operation that has been developed in recent years in that area. I trust that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, as well as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, will bring home to the German Government just how important we regard that particular joint venture.
On more than one occasion in the past, I have been minded to criticise my party's Government for not doing enough on defence. As the election approaches, however, there can be no question but that the greatest threat to the effectiveness and capability of Britain's armed forces comes from new Labour. Its proposal for a comprehensive review of defence may sound reasonable enough to the uninitiated, but every time there is a defence review it is the Treasury that wins and the armed services are forced to beat an undignified retreat. In Labour hands, a defence review can only mean massive defence cuts.
635 In the six years up to 1994, the Labour party conference voted to reduce Britain's defence expenditure to the European average. That represents a cut of £4.5 billion—equivalent to the abolition of the Royal Navy. That cut, combined with Labour's antipathy to defence sales to many foreign countries, could threaten vast numbers of the 400,000 defence-related jobs in Britain. Only last year, the Transport and General Workers Union—which I believe sponsors the leader of the Labour party—proposed at its conference to slash defence expenditure by no less than £18 billion. What the Labour party could do with the remaining £4 billion in terms of national defence, let alone co-operation with our allies, I just cannot fathom, but new Labour is split from top to bottom on the defence issue.
We are assured that new Labour is different from old Labour, but who are new Labour? Eighteen of the 24 members of the shadow Cabinet in the Commons were opposed, at various times, to Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. At the height of the cold war, nine of those 18 called for Britain's withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and for the expulsion of American forces from their British bases. Theirs is a party divided on the essentials of defence. It is divided on Trident, on Britain's independent nuclear capability and on maintaining a strong and effective defence posture. What faith can the armed forces, let alone our allies, have in such a motley, inexperienced and divided crew?
§ Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) down that line. I will merely say, "Old Tories, old misrepresentations".
Mine will be a short speech which I believe will be greeted with enthusiasm by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I want to bring constituency problems to the attention of the House and especially the Minister of State for the Armed Forces.
During the autumn, I attended various ceremonies on the closure of RAF Carlisle. Some fine tributes have been paid to the base's work in the past 58 years and I wish to add mine tonight. I still argue that it was wrong to close the base, but the decision has been taken and the base will cease to be operational by the end of the year.
In the RAF debate in June, I brought two problems appertaining to the base to the Minister's attention, and I am glad to say that he was accommodating on both of them. One was the plan to store bonemeal from culled cows at the base, which was adding insult to injury. The other was that the Ministry of Defence had reneged on its decision to go into partnership to develop the base. Since then, however, through the Minister's good offices, there has been a policy change and we are getting along with the base's development.
There are still, however, two contentious issues. One is of a material kind and affects the base's future. The second is symbolic. It needs to be brought to the Minister's attention so that he can perhaps change his mind.
The first is on the former RAF base's development. We are fortunate that many companies are interested in purchasing or leasing sites on the base. We need to put the infrastructure in place. Everything was going reasonably well. We made a Konver bid and we scored high on the points system. We were told unofficially that 636 it was likely that we would receive £1.1 million to develop the infrastructure, as would the scheme in Chorley. That amount was not exactly what we needed, but it was satisfactory.
Since then, due to objections from authorities that were not considered, I understand that it is all back in the melting pot. I should be grateful if the Minister could use his good offices to reconsider the position. I know that the Department of Trade and Industry is the lead Department on the issue, but the Ministry of Defence clearly has an important part to play.
§ Mr. Soames
I do not have that information here tonight, but in the light of what the hon. Gentleman has said, I will look into the matter tomorrow and have a reply for him on the Members' letter board within 48 hours.
§ Mr. Martlew
I was hoping that the Minister would say that. I remember him being courteous to me on many occasions—or I think I remember.
The other problem is one in which the Minister has direct authority, and I hope that he will be as considerate on this one. It concerns the gate guardian at RAF Carlisle. As hon. Members will be aware, most RAF bases have a redundant military aircraft outside the base. RAF Carlisle had a McDonnell Douglas Phantom, which was appropriate because RAF Carlisle was a maintenance unit that kept all the American spares.
The local aviation museum, which is based at Carlisle airport nine miles away, made a request either to purchase the Phantom or to have it on permanent loan, and I wrote to the Minister asking whether that was possible. The answer was that, because it was an American aircraft and the American Government maintained the disposal rights of any redundant aircraft, it would not be possible without the Americans' permission.
I wrote to the American embassy in London, which assured me that it would probably consider the transfer favourably if the Government went through the correct channels and asked the embassy for the transfer. I wrote to the Minister, who said that the transfer was not possible, that it would cost too much money and that that was not the way forward. He regretted the decision and acknowledged that the base's 58 years of service to the nation was an outstanding achievement, but he still would not take that decision.
I cannot understand that attitude, because, nine miles away, there is RAF Spadeadam. Anyone who knows the history of the British ballistic missile or the British space probe will remember that the Blue Streak rocket was tested at Spadeadam. It is now a base for electronic warfare, but it is an RAF base. It could easily keep an eye on the Phantom—not that anyone is going to steal it—and there would not be any expense.
I understand that the gate guardian is to be transferred to RAF Sealand, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). I wish RAF Sealand all the best and I am sure that it is a good base, but I regret that our gate guardian is being sent there. First, it is an insensitive decision, because, five years ago, RAF Carlisle lost more than 100 avionic jobs to RAF Sealand. Secondly, like all other bases, RAF Sealand already has a gate guardian—I believe that it is a Hunter fighter—so it does not need an extra one. The expense of 637 taking the plane, which will have to go by road, from RAF Carlisle to RAF Sealand will be far more than keeping an eye on it at the Solway aviation museum.
The Minister has already been obliging on one occasion. There is a symbolism here that he cannot brush aside. It is important for the future that he decides that the Phantom will stay in Carlisle, that it will be looked after by RAF Spadeadam and that, over the years, we in the region will be able to look at that plane with pride to remind us of the 58 years of fine service that RAF Carlisle gave to the nation.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
I echo the closing part of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence's speech yesterday, in which he rightly said that there is a serious danger that Bosnia could teach us the wrong lessons. He said that, as recently as 1991, we found ourselves facing, wholly expectedly, a high-intensity war in which we had remarkably light casualties, but which involved an enemy with large quantities of highly capable equipment.
I was talking that morning to a gentleman—whose name I shall not mention because he has no opportunity to reply, but who is a well respected commentator on diplomatic and military affairs—who told me that the Government had got it all wrong and that the solution to squaring the circle on military budgets was to stop "refighting the cold war", to stop buying highly expensive equipment such as the European fighter aircraft, which he was convinced we would never use, and instead to focus more heavily on the sort of equipment that would be most useful for Bosnia and other peacekeeping operations. He mentioned the shortage of suitably adaptable light armoured vehicles.
In the last century, after we had defeated Napoleon, there was a strong feeling that the armed forces had a variety of roles, including exploring the world and policing our incipient empire, but that fighting a high-intensity war of the era would not again be necessary. Frankly, we had a pretty rough time of it in the Crimea, but that was relatively small compared with the shock that we got in 1914 when we had an army that was designed only as a back-up for a colonial police operation. It was an army of brave, disciplined people, but with none of the modern equipment of its enemy. It is not an exaggeration to say that if the Admiralty and the Navy estimates had been treated in the way in which the War Office and the Army estimates had been treated by the House for a generation, we would have been in serious danger of losing the first world war, perhaps fairly early on.
The truth is that armed forces do not exist to deal with the here and now: that is not their principal purpose. However important the situation in Bosnia, however anxious we may be to contribute to the crisis in Rwanda, however urgent the various demands on our military manpower in peacetime, the prime purpose of the armed forces is to deal with the crisis that arises only once in a generation—it may not arise for 50 or 60 years—when there is a threat to the continued existence of the nation.
There is a nasty whiff of history about the events taking place in the ex-Soviet states. Twice in the past 200 years the largest power in Europe has imploded economically 638 and politically, its armed forces have felt humiliated and the price of bread on the streets has risen. One was post-revolutionary France; the other was Weimar Germany. [Interruption.] I shall gladly give way to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, as he obviously wants to say something—no, he does not.
I support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's comment that the prime requirement is to maintain a capability to participate in and deter a high-intensity war. When we look at what has happened in the ex-Soviet states and at the situation in Russia, whose leader is on his sickbed, we should worry about the potential for things to go badly wrong. On a visit to Russia last year, I met the leader of the communist party in that region, who came to power there a few weeks after my visit. I am afraid that our visit to provide political advice to his democratic opponents was a complete failure. He was a most impressive guy. The last words he said to me as I left that meeting were, "Mr. Brazier, you must not imagine that you, in the west, can disassociate yourself from what is unfolding in this country. Just remember the panic you had in the west because one nuclear power complex in Ukraine went critical 10 years ago. Think of the scope for things to go wrong in a country with 40,000 nuclear weapons." Neither post-revolutionary France nor Weimar Germany had nuclear weapons.
The serious problems that could threaten our vital national interests are not just the other side of what used to be the iron curtain. There is a dangerous stand-off between Israel and the Palestinian people, which could destabilise that end of the Mediterranean. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein—a man who is sitting almost on top of the bulk of the world's oil supplies—is once again throwing his weight about. Iran is developing a nuclear programme. Indeed, the Iranians largely financed the successful North Korean nuclear programme.
We do not know when the next threat of a high-intensity war will come. We do not know whether it will be in six months, six years or 16 years—but I would put money on its not being 60 years away. The Secretary of State is right to say that the maintenance of a high-intensity war fighting capability must remain the core of our defence programme and must never turn into a collection of peacetime commitments, even though some of them, including Northern Ireland, are vital to our national security. Two issues stem from that. First, when deciding how much we can take on—in particular, the decision, which is very close now, on our future role in Bosnia—we must ask not only whether we can play such a role within an affordable resource base, but how far it will compromise, through overstretch, our ability to maintain that core war fighting capability.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend's comment emphasises the divide across the Chamber. We have heard from the Labour Front Bench that one of the first things a Labour Government would do on coming to office would be to hold a defence review. None of the Labour Front Bench speeches included a clear statement about the criteria for that review. The Labour party is not keen on spending more money on defence. I shall not refer to party conferences again, but it is certainly not proposing any more money. Moreover, there is a terrific appetite on the Labour Back Benches for more and more peacekeeping operations. I suspect that the core requirement for a high-intensity capability with world class armed forces whose prime role is to defend the vital interests of this 639 country within our principal alliance would be progressively eroded and undermined if the Labour party was ever to take power.
In the closing minutes of my speech, I should like to focus on personnel issues. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces is replying to today's debate. The Government have undoubtedly given us the tools, particularly in the past few months. They have given the armed forces a series of extremely important orders. The three Air Force orders made in the summer came on top of earlier orders for the Apache, the medium-lift helicopters, the Hercules, the three new frigates and the amphibious ships announced in July, but we still have serious concerns about personnel matters.
I welcome the fact that recruitment is beginning to pick up a little, but overstretch has become a serious problem. The Navy's commitments have increased by one third in the past 10 years, while the number of warships has fallen by one third. The result is that our ship crews are working twice as hard. One hears again and again of examples of overstretch in the Army. I recently heard of a soldier who has spent three consecutive Christmases away from his family. If that soldier does not get back from Bosnia in November, this will be his fourth Christmas away. People understand the need to make such sacrifices. None the less, numbers are becoming extremely tight.
I would like to make four points about personnel, and I am sure that, as ever, my hon. Friend the Minister will listen to them. First, one element of the Bett report is causing enormous disquiet in the forces—it has been mentioned to me by several people at different levels. It concerns the prospect of job reviews across the three services.
A little of that occurred under the Labour Government in the 1960s, and there was endless hassle and argument over, for example, the relative merits of a tank commander and an engineer section commander. Re view caused much disquiet and unhappiness. The idea that we should extend it across all ranks in the forces and begin to determine a much larger proportion of the pay packet by people's individual jobs rather than simply their rank and how long they have held it may appeal enormously to those who are management consultant minded, but it is deeply unpopular in the forces and a recipe for instability. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that the idea is best buried.
The second personnel issue is about rents. The Ministry has made some welcome changes to its proposals to sell off married quarters stock It is no secret that I was opposed to the measure, but I welcome the fact that the site exchange option has been dropped. I also welcome the appointment of Sir Thomas Macpherson as chairman of the Annington trust. Nevertheless, the biggest single factor that will affect the ordinary MOD tenant next April will be whether they receive another swingeing rent rise from the Armed Forces Pay Review Body.
§ Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the extra cost incurred by the Ministry of Defence—it is hundreds of millions of pounds—now that the married quarters have been sold off will be clawed back from the service families by doubling or tripling their rents over a period of time?
§ Mr. Brazier
No, I will not make that allegation because it would not be true. There is a clear commitment 640 that service rents will be fixed by the AFPRB. After discussions between it and the Bett committee, which are minuted in Sir Michael Bett's report, and after reading the AFPRB's last report, it seems that it needs some steering from Ministers. We cannot become neutral on the issue of accompanied service in the two mobile services—the Army and the Air Force. It must surely be right to fix rents at a level that creates an incentive to officers and senior NCOs to keep their families with them.
I understand that there is a worrying trend among middle-ranking—and even some fairly senior—officers of leaving their families behind when they are posted to Germany or on tours to Northern Ireland. I have been told, although I have not been able to confirm it, that a brigade commander who is about to take up his post in Germany is leaving his family behind. I am not being critical of the individuals concerned, but there is something wrong with the incentive structure when that is happening. When young soldiers' wives in Germany see their husbands go off on unaccompanied tours to Bosnia, they want the reassurance that the wives of the command structure go too.
The matter is extremely important and I put it to my hon. Friend the Minister that, even if it means slightly smaller salary rises, the Government should ask the AFPRB to fix rents at a level that will provide an incentive to keep military communities together by encouraging accompanied service.
§ Mr. Viggers
May I remind my hon. Friend that commanders who are offered service housing suffer a penalty if their wives spend more than a certain number of nights a year in their quarters? That often means that the commander will encourage his wife not to be there most of the year but to live elsewhere and to visit only on special occasions. Does he agree that that is disadvantageous to service discipline abroad?
§ Mr. Brazier
Yes, I thoroughly agree.
The implication in the Armed Forces Pay Review Body report and the Bett report that we should be neutral on whether we have accompanied service as we move towards what they regard as fair rents less a discount—a discount of 38 per cent. is built in for the disadvantages of service life—seems totally wrong. I strongly suggest that the Government should try to fix the allowance structure and rents especially to encourage accompanied service.
My third point on personnel concerns reserves. The House has heard me speak at some length on this subject, as I know has my hon. Friend the Minister. There have been two very important advances this year. The welcome Reserve Forces Act 1996 will make it much easier for people such as those serving in the reserve force in Bosnia to do so flexibly. In addition, the announcement that the reserve forces will have a bigger say in their own future with the appointment next year of a reservist on a part-time basis as the next director of reserves is also welcome. I hope that my hon. Friend has some news on when that appointment is likely to take place.
Having read the report from the Pentagon on the role of reserves, and considering it has managed to save so much money by finding so many more roles for reserves. who after all cost less than a fifth of their regular counterparts, I cannot help feeling that reserves must be 641 part of the key to ensuring that the best equipment remains affordable. Whole categories of activity have been taken over by reservists in America, ranging from legal services and aerial rescue services to two thirds of their airlift capability. We are doing some of that, but we could do much more.
My final point on personnel concerns almost the only point with which I agreed with the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid)—indeed it was almost the only point that was raised in all Opposition Members' speeches with which I agreed. It concerns the staff college. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is deeply concerned about the issue and that he is taking a close personal interest in it. The armed forces, and the Army in particular, are deeply worried by the uncertainty about the staff college. Even if it is impossible in the short term to find a tri-service site that is big enough and usable, the present temporary arrangements cannot continue indefinitely. It would be much better to send the Army back to Camberley, where it has some of the best purpose-built facilities in the world, than to allow the uncertainty and the temporary arrangements to continue.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was absolutely right to confirm yesterday that it is the Conservative party that believes profoundly in the core capability of our armed forces to defend us and deter a high-intensity war. He put his money where his mouth is by placing a number of essential orders over the summer. I urge the House to approve the defence estimates.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
In the first part of his speech, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) was desperate to manufacture threats. We were told during the cold war that the Soviet Union constituted the greatest possible threat. We are now told that there are much worse threats. It seems that any excuse—the country can go to ruins—can be used just so long as we buy the next weapons system.
The cold war led to a nuclear arms race that brought the world to the brink of destruction. The stock of those weapons, upgraded by this and other Governments, still has the potential for vast destruction. With the cold war over, there is an opportunity for significant nuclear disarmament, but it is being squandered by the Government.
It is a scandal that this country's nuclear weapons policy has not been properly revisited. Britain should not be basing its defence policy on nuclear weapons. Many distinguished British defence experts such as Lord Carver agree. The Government's deterrent argument does not stand up, except for the Saddam Husseins and other nuclear proliferators, who can use exactly the same argument as that deployed by the Secretary of State yesterday simply by deleting the word "Britain" and inserting the name of their own country.
The nuclear weapons programme has sucked up far more resources than has ever been acknowledged. It costs far more than has been declared. Nuclear weapons are the biggest single hidden cost in British history. Such opacity continues today, and even some senior Opposition Members believe the Government's line that, by the next election, 98 per cent. of expenditure on Trident will have 642 been completed. That is plainly wrong. Ninety-eight per cent. of procurement or capital costs may have been spent or committed by then, but that ignores the running costs, which may double or treble the procurement costs over the next 25 years, not to mention the decommissioning costs.
To get some idea of how much nuclear weapons really cost, I tabled a series of parliamentary questions, asking why British defence expenditure is so much higher than that of the average of other European members of NATO. First, I asked what were the main functions carried out by our armed forces which were not carried out by those of other European members of NATO. On 16 April I was told that those functions were the provision of the so-called nuclear deterrent, overseas garrisons and support for the General Officer Commanding (Northern Ireland). That seemed a useful start. I then asked what was the estimated annual cost of each of those functions.
On 17 May I was told that maintaining the so-called nuclear deterrent should cost no more than about £200 million a year, that overseas garrisons cost some £360 million a year to maintain and that the General Officer Commanding (Northern Ireland) cost some £525 million a year—a total of some £1,080 million annually.
Armed with this information, I then asked for the latest official comparisons between the UK's expenditure on defence and the average expenditure of the other European members of NaTO. The answer given to me on 12 June was fascinating. It showed that we spend three times as much on defence in purely financial terms as the average for our European allies. When those figures are calculated as a proportion of gross domestic product, it turns out that the declared expenditure for the three extra roles is a fraction more than 0.1 per cent. of UK GDP. Bearing in mind the fact that the UK spends 3.1 per cent. of its GDP on defence, and that the European average is 2.3 per cent., roughly 0.7 per cent.—or £5 billion a year—of UK GDP is still effectively unaccounted for. Incidentally—this relates to the ten-minute Bill that I introduced earlier today—£5 billion is 32 times the sum needed to reduce class sizes to 30 pupils in every school.
Where has this money gone? The major roles not undertaken by other European armed forces have been taken into account. Assuming that there is no major fraud in the Ministry of Defence, the money must be being spent on something. I suggest that a fair chunk of it goes to support Britain's nuclear weapons infrastructure. It is time that the Government came clean about it. It smacks not only of excessive secrecy but of poor management.
Eighteen out of 21 major defence projects examined by the National Audit Office had slippage on their in-service dates. I put that down to poor management. The NAO reported that 23 major defence projects had increased in cost to the end of last year by a total of £695 million, the equivalent of another four and a half years of reduced class sizes. The fact that there was supposedly no protective equipment in the Gulf for personnel spraying pesticides when a simple facelet—never mind all the chemical warfare equipment—would have been adequate was surely, again, poor management.
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces said on television that, if British business were run like the armed forces, the British economy would be like Japan's. I disagree. Any business run by an MOD-type of incompetent management would have called in the receivers years ago.
643 A classic example of poor management by the MOD has to be the replacement of a single aircraft. On 16 May 1995, a Nimrod aircraft crashed into the sea off the coast of Scotland following engine failure. This was not one of the famous maritime reconnaissance aircraft so often used for fisheries protection or search and rescue operations, but a version of the Nimrod called an R1 which entered service in July 1974 but was not publicly acknowledged until this decade. Until the crash, there were three of these aircraft in service.
The Nimrod R1 was designed for a specific role—to fly close to Soviet airspace so that the Soviet air defence radar would track it. In doing this, the R1 would gather information useful in helping the Royal Air Force V-bomber force to penetrate the Soviet radar screen to deliver nuclear weapons. In recent years, two significant things have happened to change that scenario. First.. the Soviet Union, like the cold war, no longer exists. Secondly, the RAF will no longer carry nuclear weapons from 1998.
It therefore came as a surprise to discover, as I did through parliamentary questions, that this wasteful Tory Government are planning to replace the crashed aircraft at a cost of some £30 million. In addition, the new aircraft and the two existing ones are to be upgraded through a programme called Star Window, at a cost of another £30 million. That is on top of an annual running cost of more than £7 million for 51 Squadron which operates the R1. Millions of pounds are to be spent on this cold war relic. No announcement was made to Parliament about it—the information had to be dragged out of the MOD. What is the money for?
The Ministry should be more open about what the aircraft might be used for—E60 million is a high price to pay for a cold war dinosaur. While I am dealing with openness—
§ Mr. Brazier
I have been trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. He mentioned a cold war dinosaur. Many of his colleagues have been saying that we should be doing more about the problems in Iraq and should be more concerned about the massacre of Iraqi civilians by Saddam Hussein. Highly capable aircraft are necessary to do that, so is the hon. Gentleman in fact saying that we should not be involved at all but should leave it to the Americans?
§ Mr. Corbyn
Does my hon. Friend recall that, even a year after Saddam Hussein carried out the Halabja massacre, the British Ministry of Defence was sponsoring the Baghdad arms fair? That was a naked attempt to sell British arms to a regime that had already massacred Kurdish people in the disgusting attack on Halabja and which was already perpetuating the most appalling human rights abuses. The Ministry of Defence put arms sales ahead of its concern for human rights in Iraq then, and I believe that it is doing the same in other parts of the world, including Saudi Arabia, now.
§ Mr. Cohen
My hon. Friend is right. I have not heard any Labour or, indeed, any Conservative Member suggest 644 that another Gulf war operation should be mounted against Iraq. I think that that answers the hon. Gentleman's point.
During a debate on the RAF on 2 May 1991, I raised the question of low flying during the Gulf conflict. I said then:the problem did not relate to the bravery of the pilots, which was beyond argument; the problem related to the tactics laid down by the Ministry of Defence."—[Official Report, 2 May 1991; Vol. 190, c. 484.]I argued that low flying was the wrong technique to be used in the circumstances. I was criticised for saying that both by my Front-Bench colleagues and by Conservative Members.
Over time, how ever, more information has become available, most notably from Sir Peter de la Billière, the British commander in the Gulf war. He said that the MOD did not want to abandon low-level attacks, as thatwould impact on the RAF's strategy developed for Europe.Sir Peter had wanted to abandon low-level attacks because the casualty rate was too high, but had been overruled by London. He had particularly harsh words for an individual he described asa senior officer in the RAF",and feels "extremely resentful" aboutthe authoritarian way he tried to impose his view.John Keegan, the defence editor of The Daily Telegraph, wrote in that paper on 14 January this year that the senior officer who exerted his authority over Sir Peter wasacting under the influence of a doctrine that had lost its point.Keegan concluded his article by saying:Doctrinal rigidity is a defect of which armed forces must cure themselves at all costs.Alan Clark, replying for the Government in the 1991 debate, said that the United Kingdomhad the only air force capable of positive runway denial on Iraqi airfields".—[Official Report, 2 May 1991; Vol. 190, c. 521.]That was patently incorrect, as Sir Peter said in his book on the war. Sir Peter also stated that Chuck Homer, coalition air force commander,considered our method of operation a pretty crazy one in this environment".While it is odd for me to agree with a Gulf war commander, I feel a certain comfort in having my then unpopular views vindicated.
The weapon used in the Gulf by the RAF to attack runways—the JP233—is to be replaced, although there is no word yet about exactly what will replace it. Will the Government learn the lessons of the Gulf war and choose a system that will not be dangerous to the pilots who, one day, may have to use it?
The other issue that must be taken into account in replacing the JP233 is that of anti-personnel mines. Considering the international uproar in recent years, I hope that the Government will ensure that any anti-runway system considered does not include anti-personnel as a part of it—as the JP233 does. My fear is that Ministry of Defence inertia will lead to the same mistakes being made, and that the JP233 replacement will have the same faults and the same mines as the JP233.
645 In next year's debate on the defence estimates, my colleagues and I will be speaking from the Government Benches. I hope that a change of Government will also lead to a change in Government culture—for greater openness and fewer mistakes, much less money wasted and fewer immoral decisions.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen)—who is, even now, being congratulated by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). Occasionally the hon. Member for Leyton and I tour galleries and exhibitions together as members of the all-party arts and heritage group, and I much enjoy those visits. I must, however, say that he is profoundly mistaken and totally wrong in most of his comments in this debate. I speak not only of his comments on the Gulf war, but, particularly, of those on the cold war.
The hon. Member for Leyton seems to have learnt absolutely nothing from the end of the cold war. He seems not to have realised that plans have been found, and confirmed as authentic, for the invasion of western Europe. That was the purpose of the Warsaw pact armies. Those armies were not there because they enjoyed it, but for the purpose of invading western Europe. There was, and there still is, no doubt about that. I am sorry that he has learnt nothing from the collapse of the Warsaw pact.
§ Mr. Soames
My hon. Friend will be aware that the 7th Armoured Brigade recently conducted a major exercise in Poland, which I visited on several occasions. On two occasions I met the general who would have commanded the Polish army in the event of such an operation against western Europe, and he was quite free in telling me exactly what their tasks were. Those tasks were exactly as described by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Robathan
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, but, unfortunately, the hon. Member for Leyton refuses to believe them. He believes that all those Soviet and Warsaw pact officers were cuddly teddy bears, merely enjoying themselves in eastern Europe.
§ Mr. Cohen
The hon. Gentleman is again making the point that I ascribed to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier): that the threat from the Soviet Union in the cold war was the greatest that it could possibly be. But the Soviet Union and the cold war no longer exist. Why do we need all these new weapons systems now?
§ Mr. Robathan
The hon. Gentleman has made my point for me, because, before the end of the cold war, he was asking why we needed nuclear weapons systems. He asked that then, and I am sure that he would admit it.
It is always interesting to see the second amendment on defence debates. The second amendment on today's Order Paper is supported by 7.5 per cent. of Labour Members. One Labour Member in 13 is willing to go on the record—never mind those who are not willing to go on the record—as saying that they supportthe call for the scrapping of Trident as an essential step towards eliminating nuclear weapons world-wide … and to end the United Kingdom's involvement in the conventional arms trade".646 The Opposition have the nerve to call Conservative Members divided.
Yesterday we listened to the shadow defence spokesman, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), berating the Government for making cuts in defence expenditure and saying how a Labour Government—God forbid—would have done better. It was unfortunate that he could not see the glum faces on the Opposition Back Benches behind him, as Conservative Members could.
§ Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)
Is the hon. Gentleman implying that he is in favour of an arms race?
§ Mr. Robathan
I have said nothing of the kind. I am not in favour of an arms race. I am saying that I am in favour of the good defence of this realm, as are all Conservative—but, sadly, not all Opposition—Members.
The debate has, as always, ranged wide over defence matters. My hon. Friend the Minister will know that I have not always been in 100 per cent. agreement with Government defence policy, and that I have viewed with regret reductions in the armed forces over the past four years. I fear that we may yet live to regret those reductions. I am, however, delighted that there is now a firm commitment that there will be no real cuts in the defence budget in this Parliament. Defence has taken huge cuts in this decade, and the cuts in no other Department could compare with those cuts. The defence budget should now be exempt.
I should like to speak briefly on the subject of Gulf war syndrome. I am not a doctor or a scientist, but I was in the Gulf during the war and speak from some limited personal experience. There were some very unpleasant injections against anthrax and bubonic plague. Vile pills were administered, and, more conventionally, one was expected to take paludrin against malaria. The Gulf was astonishingly cold, often very wet, and, inevitably, we got very dirty. I was in a staff job, so I spent very little time digging trenches, which makes one very dirty—[Interruption.] One might say "idle".
Gulf war syndrome may exist, and it certainly needs to be investigated. It is a very serious matter, as the hon. Member for South Shields mentioned yesterday, and all members of the armed forces deserve to be looked after properly if they have contracted anything during their service. For that reason, I welcome the research programme that will be overseen by the Medical Research Council.
The Gulf war was, however, a war, and one must ask what priorities an army should have in war. Yesterday an hon. Member mentioned out-of-date gas mask canisters. The important test is whether those canisters were still working, and not the date that was stamped on them. I have been known to eat out-of-date food from supermarkets, as I am sure all hon. Members must have done.
The desert can be notoriously dirty and full of flies. All manner of disease, such as typhus and dysentery, is spread by flies. On many occasions in past campaigns, casualties and mortalities from disease have been much higher than anything the enemy inflicted. Surely, therefore, the need to ensure a healthy and protected force must have been very high on the list of priorities.
647 Some of the accusations and claims that are being bandied about seem, at best, to be disingenuous. I smell a co-ordinated campaign by lawyers looking for a bandwagon—which is not to belittle the sufferers of various illnesses. Those illnesses, however, do not necessarily confirm the existence of a Gulf war syndrome.
Yesterday I spoke to a friend who had been very ill on his return from the Gulf. He is still serving in the Army and is now, I am delighted to say, fully recovered. He believes that he caught a very debilitating viral infection in the Gulf from being near a sewage works. He took two years to recover from what doctors believe was post-viral fatigue. He told me, first, that he was very well cared for by the armed forces, which is gratifying. Secondly, however—notwithstanding his two years of illness—he told me that he does not believe that he had Gulf war syndrome, if such a syndrome exists.
The nature of Gulf war syndrome seems to change. Organophosphates were not mentioned, at least within my hearing, until very recently. Organophosphates seem to be very dangerous, and I have certainly heard anecdotal evidence from sheep farmers in my constituency in Leicestershire which leads me to think that I would not like to deal with such a substance.
During my military career I spent much time in the tropics, and I recall machines—known as swing fogs—which spread pyrethrum around tents, buildings and people. I understand that swing fogs were particularly effective against flying insects, and I believe that they were used also in the Gulf.
My unit ran a prisoner-of-war camp in northern Saudi Arabia, at Al Quasumah. We had 8,000 prisoners of war pass through the camp, and there were approximately 600 British soldiers there. The weather was getting hotter by the middle of March, but there was never any real disease in the camp, which is a tribute to the high standards of hygiene imposed. The Iraqis came in unhealthy. Some of them had lice, often they were dehydrated and undernourished, and they were certainly dirty and demoralised.
I particularly remember seeing one rather pathetic child of 16 or 17 who had been shot in the foot by an officer on his own side to instil discipline. We fed them, we watered them and we gave treatment to them. I think we sprayed their tents as well—I am sure that we must have done—and we sent them on their way smiling. I have photographs to prove it. They certainly seemed healthy when they left.
I do not know what spray was used around the camp, but I understood that it might have been an organophosphate called malathion. As a precautionary measure against disease, we burnt the camp, but, as far as I am aware, no Coldstream guardsman who was guarding the camp has complained of having Gulf war syndrome.
I remember being told when I was an army cadet as a boy that Army tea had bromide in it to reduce sexual urges. Other hon. Members may recall that. Will my hon. Friend the Minister tell me whether that is true and whether I have drunk any bromide?
§ Mr. Soames
Not only is it true, I understand that it is compulsory in the Conservative party today.
§ Mr. Robathan
I thank my hon. Friend for that. Sadly, it did not work in the Army and nor does it work in the Conservative party, if reports are true. It certainly did not curb the excesses of the rude and licentious soldiery.
648 During 15 years in the Army, I was exposed to CS gas at least a dozen times. It was part of training. I am now told that it is terribly dangerous—too dangerous to be sprayed in the face of criminals. It was not too dangerous to be used on soldiers in training. It was not pleasant, but I do not seem to have suffered any ill effects and my eyesight is still relatively good, as I can see all the Liberal Democrats sitting on the Benches opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"]
During my service, I was subjected to endless injections. Some of them were very painful, especially the gamma globulin injection for hepatitis, which was delivered to the bottom. On exercises abroad, colleagues of mine went down with malaria, leishmaniosis, leptospirosis and other unpleasant diseases. They were real, identified diseases. I fear that that is part of military service and travelling abroad. Those colleagues were extremely well treated and cared for and, when necessary, were given drugs to combat the diseases.
What is Gulf war syndrome? We need to know what it is and whether it really exists. There is a lingering suspicion in my mind that it is a litigious ploy by cynical lawyers in the United States, and some here, using the suffering of others as a means to their own reward.
I welcome the defence estimates, and I particularly welcome the research programme into Gulf health issues, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and others will not be influenced by the high-profile and opportunistic campaign on Gulf war syndrome.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Bromide or not, I believe that we are right in thinking that the wife of the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) is expecting a happy event in the next month or two. We therefore wish them well.
I should like to raise five issues succinctly. Thanks to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I was able, with a delegation from this House, to visit Nepal in January. We went to see Gurkha training at Pokharra. I was able to raise the subject with Sir Charles Guthrie—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid)—when we were invited by the Army board to its first meeting in Edinburgh, where it was most welcome.
I should like to ask the same question of the Minister as I asked of Sir Charles Guthrie: what do the Government see as the future of the Gurkhas? The official view in Nepal was that they valued the relationship greatly and wanted it to continue. Given the economic situation in Nepal, there are many reasons why it should be continued. What is the Government's policy?
I also have a sub-question in brackets. In his opening speech yesterday, the Secretary of State for Defence referred to Exercise Flying Fish. I do not say that I am necessarily unhappy about it, but what is the assessment of the effect that it will have on the Chinese? We are told that it is the biggest exercise to be held in Asia for a long time. What precisely is the purpose of it? Is it just all about the Gurkhas in Brunei and our relations with Singapore or Malaysia? How will it be interpreted in Peking? It could be an expensive and provocative exercise in terms of China.
My second question concerns the Ministry's policy on prisons and land. I think that my hon. Friends from Scotland know that all sorts of rumours are flying around 649 that Ministry of Defence lands will be made available at relatively cheap prices to those who are to run prisons on a private basis. I refer particularly to the Kirknewton site. I do not know whether the rumours are true, but the question ought to be referred to, possibly by letter. There must be a clear policy on Ministry of Defence lands if they are to be sold off, particularly for private prisons—a concept which some of us find totally wrong.
My third question concerns the case that I raised with the Secretary of State during his opening speech. He gave a serious answer, promising to look into it. I refer to the case of Colin Wallace. The difficulty is that the great great grandfather—ministerially—of the Secretary of State is probably responsible. Present Ministers and civil servants have inherited a problem from long, long ago. But-this is a very big but, and a House of Commons point—how is it that, at this stage, information can come to light which persuades the Court of Appeal to give a judgment which, frankly, bears out what my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and I were trying to tell the House in 1989 and on 12 February 1990, at column 114?
In an Adjournment debate on 27 June 1989, my hon. Friend and I were savagely rubbished by the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten). One does not object to being criticised in this House, but to be criticised so ferociously and in such a derogatory manner when it turns out that the Court of Appeal is upholding precisely what we were trying to say really is a bit rich. I have with me the wad of questions—heavens, there are more than 200 of them! If hon. Members, asking the right questions—spot-on questions—receive answers which turn out, in the view of the Court of Appeal, to be inadequate, how can we be persuaded that proper attention is given not to the odd buckshee question but to repeated, detailed questioning?
That brings me to my fourth issue, which concerns what happened in the Gulf war.
§ Mr. Soames
Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me if I see to it that he receives a reply on the matter of Colin Wallace from the Home Secretary? I am not able to deal with the issue. Also, may I reply to him on Kirknewton by letter, because I do not have the facts at my fingertips?
§ Mr. Dalyell
There ought to be a Government reply. I have never been difficult on the subject of which senior Minister replies. It is an area between the Northern Ireland Office, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence. I would find it totally acceptable if the Home Secretary, as a senior Minister, responded. The matter has reached a stage at which the Government should give an undertaking that the Home Secretary, rather than a junior Minister, will consider it.
On the question of what happened in the Gulf war, I refer to a letter sent to a number of hon. Members on 4 October by the Minister for the Armed Forces, which stated:We have now established that certain OP pesticides (other than malathion) were also used in the Gulf: these were dimethyl phosphorthionate, diazinon and azamathiphos. We are conducting urgent investigations into the extent of use of such pesticides and I will write to you once we have a clearer picture on this.I am loth to criticise what happened in the Gulf, because it may be that everything was done in a hurry. In addition, I do not doubt the good faith of Ministers—other 650 than to ask, what on earth were their scientific advisers doing in relation to these questions? Almost anyone with a knowledge of chemistry knows that there should be a red alert as soon as these substances are involved, and people should have been saying, "Hey! What's this?"
I am not being wise after the event, but the chemicals involved ought to have sounded warning signals. Why, after all this time, did they not send such signals, in the light of the questioning on the matter? I return to a point that I made during the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell)—if there had been a hot situation in Iraq in August or September 1996, heaven help us. Are we sure that the same thing would not have happened? It is no good covering over the past, because we want to know what will happen in the future.
Paragraph 7 of the Minister's letter states:We are now urgently re-examining the records of those who have attended the medical assessment programme and have exhibited a specific range of symptoms to establish whether or not their health is likely to have been affected".I think that that re-examination ought to have taken place many moons ago, but I accept that the Minister for the Armed Forces will report in good faith everything that he knows to the House.
I wish to refer to a minority view on what we ought to do about the situation in Iraq, but it would be inappropriate for me to argue the issue in detail as I have in Adjournment and other debates. I think that we ought to remove sanctions forthwith, and talk to them. However, it is legitimate to ask in this debate how long the Tornado patrols will continue. I fear that, sooner or later, there will be an attack from Iraq or—more likely—a malfunction. These things happen, as we know; something similar happened just off Blackpool during the Labour party conference. Heaven help us if there is a malfunction in the desert.
Defence Ministers ought to have listened to what Flight Lieutenant Nicol—a pilot who was shot down in the Gulf—said on Radio Leeds, during a programme on which I and the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) were invited. We hope that, if there was a malfunction, pilots would eject. If they eject, we hope that they land without losing their lives. They would then almost certainly be captured, and my fear is that they would be paraded with maximum television coverage, with CNN in attendance, through the streets of downtown Baghdad.
What do we do then? I hope that we will not automatically threaten the kind of missile attack that was talked about in August and September, because that raises all sorts of questions about our obligations to the UN. I register extreme unhappiness about any missile attack on Iraq—let alone those that are not agreed by members of the Security Council.
The justification for the previous operation in 1990—whether one agreed with it or not—was that it was a UN operation. It is a different matter when one goes ahead on the basis of Anglo-American decision-making. What is the Government's attitude to operations not agreed by China, the Soviet Union or France, for heaven's sake? When there is that kind of unhappiness among other nations, are we justified in going ahead with the Americans?
Having been to Iraq—rightly or wrongly—three years after the Gulf war, I can say that we are getting ourselves into a position where we are simply being hated by a 651 whole generation of a people with whom we had far better trading relations than the Americans had. People ought to remember that the best trading partners in the Arab world for Britain were the Libyans, against whom we have sanctions, and the Iraqis. It is very little skin off the noses of the Americans commercially that sanctions are imposed on those countries.
Finally, during the recess, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and I asked for Parliament to be recalled when it looked as if there was to be another Gulf war. We asked the Prime Minister this question:To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his letter to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and the hon. Member for Linlithgow of 9 September, if he will state the conditions in which he believes the public interest requires Parliament to be recalled, with particular reference to the involvement of British personnel on active service".The Prime Minister replied:A decision to recall Parliament depends upon the prevailing situation. It is made after consultation with colleagues and through the usual channels."—[Official Report. 14 October 1996; Vol. 282, c. 649–650.]Some of us think that, as soon as it is clear that this House might be sending British service men into military action, the House of Commons ought to be recalled to discuss the matter before any irrevocable steps are taken.
§ Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)
The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) is a very good reason why nobody can trust Labour on defence, as he—along with 20 colleagues—signed an amendment calling for one-sided nuclear disarmament that would, in effect, render this country totally defenceless.
I take issue with the opening remarks yesterday by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who painted a bleak picture of poor morale in the services. That is simply not the case, as I have seen for myself.
I am now a third of the way through my parliamentary armed services scheme, attached to the Army. I must say that it has been an eye-opening experience. I have always been a great admirer of our armed forces, and I have never doubted their great professionalism, but to see it in practice is a humbling experience. I do not believe that anyone realises how hard they work. The pace is killing, with back-to-back training, exercises, deployment and retraining. Those magnificent men and women are deeply committed, and are proud of their work. As a result, they are the flag carriers for Great Britain plc all over the world.
In a deeply dangerous world, with many interests of our own to protect, besides our commitments to international forces, are we perhaps asking too much of our services and giving them too small a share of the national budget? After all, the services are an extension of our foreign policy. Our men are deployed in a broader range of tasks promoting our interests than at any other time in the past 50 years. But commanding officers tell me that "can do" has reached its limits. They cannot ask more of their men, because there are simply not enough hours or days available. Overstretch is being caused by asking too much of them and giving them an ever reducing share of the budget in real terms.
Although I agree with the Select Committee's comments, I believe it would be helpful if Ministers assured us that this year's defence estimates will not again 652 be undermined by any more defence cuts in the forthcoming Budget. The importance of such an assurance cannot be overstated. For years, we have been cutting the allocation given to defence spending in real terms. The truth is that we went too far, and are now paying the price.
I appreciate the fact that we are now deeply committed to arms procurement, amounting to about 39 per cent. of our defence budget. That is most important in the modern world. The fact that we allocate to defence only a fraction more than the average NATO country is not a fair barometer, however. The fact is that our well-being depends to a greater extent on international trade and investment, which need protecting. In short, a military presence is an extension of our foreign policy, and it is short-sighted to cut our best British export.
I welcome the fact that underspend can be carried forward, but in the final analysis that just scratches the surface. Some of the money has already been allocated to procurement, but not all of it. There have been some unexpected savings.
I issue a special plea for more resources to be put into recruitment. We face a serious manning problem, and share colleagues' concern at the shortfall of 4,000 recruits to the Army. These manning problems do affect our operational ability; they also affect the stability of families, because so much more is being asked of the men already in the services. I am aware, too, that the Navy and the Royal Air Force face recruitment shortfalls.
The problem began when we made extensive cuts under "Options for Change" as a short-term economy measure, without recognising the long-term effects. One very damaging such effect has been on the Army's image, and hence its ability to recruit. It has been seen as a career in decline. We also cut money for the usual recruitment methods too severely: the closure of some high street recruiting offices, the ending of the junior leaders, and so on. I say: hats off to the present Adjutant General, Sir Michael Rose, who is a man not lacking in determination. But in my view he needs a bigger budget to enable him to tackle this problem boldly.
We must also return to high-profile advertising. We need more high street recruiting offices—I do not believe that leaflets in job centres are good enough. They are woefully inadequate. Employment officers in Sutton tell me that it is not their job to promote the services above any other career. We therefore need to market the modern Army. Schools must be encouraged to start their own combined cadet forces—I regret to say that very few have them. Careers officers and advisers should promote the armed services as a positive career instead of sidelining them. We need to show that life in the Army is relevant. What is more, the Army is an extremely good employer.
Joining the Army today means acquiring skills and training that may prove useful when the soldier leaves. I hope that it will be possible for soldiers to acquire NVQs in much the same way as people can in the police force. The false image of the infantry is that it consists of people with fixed bayonets charging around digging ditches. Wrong. The modern infantryman is a technical person, using complex weapons and vehicle systems.
The Army teaches valuable skills and habits, instilling discipline, motivation, commitment, loyalty and initiative—all qualities essential to future employers. Above all, the Army provides valuable support for young 653 people from broken families and disadvantaged backgrounds. It gives them a stability that they have never had before.
It is important to concentrate on methods of training. Some have become too rigorous and demanding for today's young people, who have grown up with very little sport. They arrive in the Army quite unfit and with poor muscle tone. They have lived lives of junk food and computer games. When I visited Bassingbourn training regiment, I discovered that the training timetable can be set back because of sprained muscles.
Perhaps it would be better to lengthen the training period to give young people to time to adjust to what is required instead of racing them along and creating serious problems. Ultimately, the result is what matters. Quite often, a young man who shambles into the Army wearing an earring and long hair surprises himself and turns into a fine soldier.
I am not talking just about initial training; high-intensity training is also of the utmost importance. In the course of my parliamentary armed services scheme, I visited the Army training unit at Suffield in Canada. The high-intensity training undergone there is clearly a must for a modern army. It is rigorous and demanding.
The soldiers spend three weeks out on the prairie night and day in all conditions—below zero in autumn and spring, or temperatures soaring into the forties in summer. The exercise is intended to simulate as closely as possible the real thing, within the bounds of safety. I certainly hope that there will never be any cuts in such training. I have watched the combined forces there wheeling across the prairie, engaging in live firing and generally charging around. I have seen how highly effective such forces can be.
At the same unit, adventure training is experienced, giving every young man the chance to see whether he can go beyond what he thought was his limit. I myself was put through a free-fall parachute jump. I never believed I could do it, but I did. I trust that this high-intensity training will be regarded as sacrosanct.
There is a danger that, with so much peacekeeping to be done, our military capability to fight a war may ultimately be damaged. Focusing too much on peacekeeping work might lead to a loss of fighting skills. There are likely to be many more peacekeeping missions, and soldiers will undoubtedly find them rewarding, but we must never lose sight of the skills needed for high-intensity war—skills that cannot be learned overnight. Such skills are an insurance policy for our future security. The threats are still out there, and we must always be prepared for them.
As we approach a general election, I hope that the electorate will study carefully the widely contrasting approaches to the defence of our country by the Government—the Conservative party—and old Labour, real Labour. The Opposition's commitment to a strategic defence review is a masquerade for radical defence cuts—we should make no bones about that—because they have a wide social agenda that must be paid for. Nobody can trust Labour, and it would be folly for anybody ever to think of doing so.
I am enormously proud of the Government for their commitment to giving our magnificent fighting forces the support they need. I have no doubt, and no hesitation, in supporting and approving the defence estimates.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
It has been an interesting debate thus far, but I cannot be the only person who was appalled by the sense of levity surrounding the contribution from the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) about the use of poisons in Iraq. The story coming out about the use of organophosphates in Iraq, and the damage done to so many people, resembles the measures used against the nuclear test veterans from 1955, whose case was ignored for so long. In too many such cases, the Ministry of Defence turns a blind eye and refuses to discuss the problem. It is not right that the House should be laughing and joking when such matters are raised.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) talked about the joy of physical education and forcing people to be physically stronger. She should think about some of the reasons why some of our young people have appalling physiques. Is it anything to do with the cuts in physical education in schools and the sale of school playing fields? Those policies have led to a lack of exercise or any opportunities for games for so many inner-city children.
Why do they sit in front of computer screens and televisions all day? Because the youth centre down the road has been closed because the Government will not fund it. We should be realistic—social problems are not solved by forcing people into the armed forces, which is the agenda that the hon. Lady appears to want.
This debate takes place at the end of the 20th century, after the horrors of two world wars and with another 20 million dead from conventional wars since the end of the second world war. What are we doing? We are talking about enemies and about arming ourselves for real wars. Conservative Member after Conservative Member has said that we must not concentrate too much on peacekeeping, because we must get ready for a war; but nobody has produced an analysis of the origin of any supposed threat.
From the experience of recent years, including the Gulf war, we must ask ourselves some hard questions. What were we doing arming Saddam Hussein? Why did we ignore the systematic abuse of human rights in Iraq, while we sold arms and military-related equipment to that country? We are currently arming Saudi Arabia to the teeth, even though we know that that country has an appalling and abominable record on human rights, which many in the House dare not mention, because they do not want to upset the arms market.
Our obsession with selling arms around the world is poisoning our attitude to human rights abuses. That is why I am happy to append my name to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), which suggests cutting defence expenditure, recognises the problems of the obsession with selling arms and specifically draws attention to the World Court decision on nuclear weapons and the problems and real costs of the continuation of the Trident programme.
I find it very sad that the Secretary of State for Defence did not once, in a lengthy contribution, utter the words "comprehensive test ban treaty"—unless I missed them—nor did he mention the problems surrounding the ratification of that treaty because of the attitudes of Britain and France. France undertook all those nuclear tests last year, and Britain is extending its nuclear capability 655 through the construction of the fourth Trident nuclear submarine and the potential arming of up to 512 warheads.
Surely now, at the end of the 20th century, we should urgently consider getting the nuclear comprehensive test ban treaty ratified and start on the total elimination of nuclear weapons, as envisaged by President Gorbachev more than 10 years ago. He sadly lost office later, and could be described as one of the many victims of the cold war.
This year, we have had an historic decision. The International Court of Justice in The Hague, on 8 July, made one of the most important legal decisions it has been asked to make. The question put before the court was:Is the threat or use of nuclear weapons in any circumstances permitted under international law?The court advised:In view of the unique characteristics of nuclear weapons, their destructive capacity and capacity to cause untold human suffering and damage for generations to come, their use in fact seems scarcely reconcilable with respect for the law applicable in armed conflict.It concluded:the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law, applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law.That decision is of profound significance. I find it depressing that the Secretary of State, despite my intervention, was unable even to refer to the decision of the International Court of Justice.
The court accepted that nuclear weapons would violate human rights and rejected the idea that environmental laws do not deal with war. In particular, paragraph 32 of its decision states that the general obligation on statesto respect and protect the natural environment … applies to the actual use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict.It accepted the view that, if the use of nuclear weapons is illegal, the threat of their use is also illegal. We see implicit threats of the use of nuclear weapons from the degree of arming—and indeed, from certain politicians at times, we hear explicit threats of the use of nuclear weapons.
The court also accepted that mere possession of nuclear weapons could be a threat. It accepted that nuclear-free zone treaties point towards eventual general abolition of war; that nuclear weapons are subject to the laws of war, specifically the non-use of weapons against civilians; that nuclear states are responsible for the incidental effects of nuclear weapons on neutral states; and that the five nuclear powers had failed to provide any basis to justify the limited use of nuclear weapons.
The court also declared that article VI of the non-proliferation treaty is an obligation on the nuclear states to achieve total nuclear disarmament. The court also refused to accept the case for the legality of low-yield nuclear weapons.
It is important to get those matters on the record. Some people have pontificated about the importance of the International Court of Justice, but when it says something that is not acceptable to the nuclear states they are strangely silent. I hope that the House will have opportunities to return to that matter in future, because it is important that we have that discussion.
Surely we will not enter the 21st century by preparing our capability for the total annihilation of the planet, when the real problems are the impoverishment of the south, the 656 enrichment of the richest in the north and the consistent environmental destruction brought about by a global trading system that will lead to the loss of all our livelihoods in the long run.
The defence estimates make much, as Conservative Members often do, about the sale of arms around the world. I mentioned earlier the question of human rights abuses in countries to which we sell arms. At the moment, many people are concerned about the situation in Indonesia. I was delighted when the Nobel prize was awarded to the bishop in East Timor and to José Ramos Horta for his work in opposing the illegal occupation of East Timor.
Sadly, Britain is a major arms supplier to Indonesia, and that fact is used as a diplomatic bulwark by the regime in Jakarta to continue to oppress the Timorese people. Hawk aircraft have been used to bomb Indonesian villages, and if anyone doubts my word, they can meet people from East Timor, who can give chapter and verse on what happened.
We then have the question of arms exports by this country, their subsidy by the Ministry of Defence, and the amount spent on promoting the sale of arms. We appear to be spending an inordinate amount promoting arms sales. Indeed, 750 people are employed by the Defence Exports Services Organisation promoting arms sales, while only 1,000 people are employed by the Department of Trade and Industry to promote the other 98 per cent. of British exports around the world.
Our obsession with selling arms around the world blinds us to human rights abuses. Because of the sale of aircraft to Saudi Arabia, the British Government are in no position to criticise what goes on there, any more than what goes on in any other Gulf state or Indonesia. We are in no position to criticise the destruction of Diego Garcia and the removal of people from it 30 years ago because of our obsession with the arms industry, arms exports and—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the ten-minute limit on speeches.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to speak in an important defence estimates debate. It will come as no surprise to the House that I have little in common with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). I shall approve the defence estimates before us as I believe that is the responsible position that hon. Members should take.
I wish to express my appreciation to the Secretary of State for the excellent equipment provided to our soldiers to allow them to fight aggressors and save lives, not only at home but worldwide. They are carrying out their duties with sensitivity and expertise. I join other hon. Members who have said that they are proud of our armed forces. I, too, am proud of their efforts.
This debate is overshadowed by the brutal and cruel murder of Warrant Officer James Bradwell as a result of the IRA bomb attack on the Army headquarters in Lisburn. I express my appreciation to all the men and women who serve in Northern Ireland with great expertise and tremendous courage in the face of a vile aggressor. No one can fully understand the pain and grief that 657 Warrant Officer James Bradwell's family experiences, except those who have been in the same valley of sorrow. No words will comfort his grieving family circle, but I trust that the expression of our sympathy will help them in the midst of their time of great bereavement. It was a dastardly murder, unjustified and blatantly sectarian.
It would be easy to leave our grieving at that and just move on, but the Government have a responsibility to bring to justice those who planned and perpetrated that carnage. The Ministry of Defence and the Government are responsible for explaining how such an attack was permitted to penetrate what was boasted to be the best protected Army headquarters in the United Kingdom. There is little point in spending vast sums of taxpayers' money on equipment and personnel if that manpower cannot be properly deployed to protect itself.
The blame for the attack cannot be placed on any soldier or mistake made in that Army base. It lies fairly and squarely with the IRA murderers, and that must be clearly stated. It also lies on the shoulders of their political masters, Adams and McGuinness. When Martin McGuinness was before the court in the Irish Republic in 1992, he said that he was very proud to have been the IRA commander in Londonderry, yet certain hon. Members wanted to parade Adams along the corridors of this House. Thankfully, the House was spared that incident and the nausea of witnessing the likes of those who will not utter a word of condemnation against the IRA murder gangs' activities but seek to hide under a cloak of some kind of democracy.
The Prime Minister has been strong in his condemnation of the bomb attack, as he should be; but the grave reality for him and his Government is that, had they heeded those who told them that the so-called "peace process" was started on a phoney premise and that it was a tactical move by the IRA to squeeze concessions from the Government, the security apparatus in Northern Ireland would not have dropped its guard. In that respect, the Government were foolish with the lives of their citizens in Northern Ireland. They relied on the groundless trust that they had developed with the Irish Government and through their contacts with IRA-Sinn Fein, which suggested that the IRA would not return to bombing Northern Ireland or to the bombing campaign on the mainland.
Well, the IRA has returned, and has returned with a vengeance. Instead of sobering up to the realities, the security forces and the civilian population are put further at risk by a policy of refusing to close the political door to Sinn Fein-IRA. The Government remain determined to bring the Provisional IRA into the process, despite the bombing. The bomb at Thiepval is not the first in the latest round of IRA bombings and, sadly, it will not be the last. The IRA will use any tactic—a phoney peace if that suits their game, or war—to achieve their goal of crushing the British in Ulster.
The Government have not faced that reality. They pretend that they can make a working assumption that the IRA means peace when it says it. They asked the IRA to say that there would be a "permanent" ceasefire, but it would not. The reality is that it could not say "permanent", because it did not mean it and had no intention of having a permanent ceasefire. I read a 658 document in this House at the time saying that the IRA had an agenda to which it was working closely, and that it was not a genuine ceasefire.
The Government continue to implement a softly softly security policy in the light of the peace talks in Stormont. The 100 security concessions made to the IRA—that is not my claim but is boasted in a document produced by the Northern Ireland Office—have not been retracted. One would have thought that the Government would withdraw every concession that they made to the IRA in the course of a phoney truce, but those 100 concessions still stand, and the demand goes on for more. Not only are the Government inviting more trouble from the IRA but, by such a policy, they are preparing the ground for it to destroy Northern Ireland.
Others are in that messy deal as well. The Government have given in to pressure from America, Dublin and the IRA to make a deal with the IRA. They want a settlement no matter what the cost. In the past few weeks, we have seen that the price must be paid. It was paid by Warrant Officer Bradwell. Sadly, if measures sufficient to meet the needs in Northern Ireland are not taken against the murderers, it will be paid by many others before this process is done.
To the Government, the present process is about one thing: getting the IRA to the table. Sadly, Her Majesty's Opposition are playing the same game. The process is about Sinn Fein-IRA and its needs and aspirations—everyone else is secondary. The process is not progressing the aims of the Union—which I believe in and which the Prime Minister has stated so many times—and it is not about achieving decommissioning. My constituents were very hurt when they heard that, if guns were handed over by the IRA or other paramilitary organisations as part of an amnesty in Northern Ireland, they would not be tested ballistically. For example, when my cousin was murdered—when the IRA came to the door—
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
Like the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), I honour the memory of Warrant Officer Bradwell. When I think about the emergency in Northern Ireland, I am filled with admiration for the professionalism and the discipline of the British soldiers in Northern Ireland. I do not think that any other nation could have coped with that challenge over so many years with such bravery, discipline and professionalism.
Two important aerospace factories and one RAF maintenance unit are located in my constituency and employ more than 4,000 people. Therefore, the Ministry of Defence and its Ministers have a huge influence, directly or indirectly, over employment and prosperity in the community that I represent. Ministers' decisions have crucial consequences in north-east Wales and in neighbouring Cheshire and Wirral communities. Ministry of Defence procurement can make or break the aerospace industry and clearly will decide the future of British Aerospace plc.
I turn first to RAF Sealand. I have explained my distaste for market testing as a commercial philosophy. However, as the Government insist on operating it, I am driven to state that RAF Sealand's in-house bid must win 659 against Brown and Root and GEC. Most of the United Kingdom's defence electronics industry wants RAF Sealand to remain under Government control, as whoever operates it has a stranglehold over the maintenance of most MOD combat systems. RAF Sealand maintains two thirds of RAF electronics work and critical Army and Navy systems.
I am pleased to announce that BAE Dynamics, Cossor, Racal Electronics plc, Lucas, Siemens and Shorts have joined the Sealand alliance to support the in-house bid. My 1,600 RAF constituents have achieved 35 per cent. more output with 14 per cent. fewer people. That is a brilliant achievement but, regrettably, £1 million was spent compiling the in-house bid. More money could have been saved for the taxpayer without the hassle of market testing.
I do not want to see more than 300 RAF service men forced to work under industry control. I think that there is a conflict of interest under market testing: does the service man do what is best for his line manager and the shareholder or what is best for the RAF and the taxpayer? That is the weakness of market testing. I state with great conviction that only the in-house bid enhances the Ministry of Defence's intelligent customer status. I am grateful to the Minister of State for Defence Procurement for his accessibility and his patience in allowing me to bring deputations to him on the matter.
The dark cloud of market testing has hung over RAF Sealand for more than two years. It has dampened spirits and impeded morale. There is good leadership at the base and co-operation from trade unions. With gritted teeth, they have saved the day so far. If the Government want RAF Sealand to remain a world-class outfit which supports the best flyers in the world, they must ensure that the in-house bid wins. If it works, please do not fix it.
I seek the Minister's help with another matter. Raytheon, a United States worldwide company, is located near RAF Sealand. The Raytheon service centre, which will remain after the other jobs are lost, would employ more survivors if the Ministry of Defence were to send its Dominee aircraft—effectively the Hawker jet—to my constituency for servicing. On behalf of my beleaguered constituents, I ask for Ministry of Defence contracts for the servicing of Dominee aircraft. If that were to happen, we could save many jobs and avoid compulsory redundancies.
Secondly, Ministers could assist by asking British Aerospace Airbus, which is recruiting across the runway from Raytheon Jets, to take on as many as possible of those who will soon be made redundant at Raytheon. l ask the Minister to use his undoubted influence in that area.
My third point refers to the future large aircraft. Has the programme moved forward? Has the European staff requirement set firm parameters for the aircraft in terms of size, shape, speed, range and propulsion—presumably turbo props? I believe that it has and I hope that the Minister will confirm that in his winding-up speech. Will the first delivery of the future large aircraft be made in May 2004, with a pre-launch phase from January 1997 to July 1998? I believe that that is so. Some 2,200 members of the airbus work force at Broughton in my constituency want some answers about that project.
When will the letter of intent from the eight future large aircraft nations become operative? It must be soon. What about work share? Will my constituents at Airbus 660 Broughton be asked to build the wings of the aircraft? They build the wings for all the airbus aircraft and they are brilliantly successful. I hope that they will benefit if this project goes forward.
Have the air forces of Europe endorsed the future large aircraft as meeting operational requirements and equalling the capability of the American C17? My constituents remain concerned about budgetary problems in France and Germany regarding the future large aircraft. Perhaps the Euro currency is taking precedence in those two countries—I do not know. However, if France and Germany do not get a move on, the Americans may slip in and offer the Lockheed C17 as an alternative. That would be a terrible blow to the project.
I ask the Minister to ensure that the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Trade and Industry are using all their diplomatic skills to get France and Germany to make an urgent commitment to that project. Do the Government believe that France and Germany will declare for the future large aircraft at their summit on 8 December? I hope that they will. They have dragged their feet so far and I think that the Americans are watching hungrily for their opportunity. If we went American again after the C120, my constituents would cry treason; they would have no patience with such a decision. My constituents want the British Government and the MOD to back a British, or at least a European, project.
My last words are to the Minister. I ask him to declare tonight, certainly before midnight, that the Government will order 40 to 50 of the FLA.
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
In the 10 minutes that I have, I had thought to address five defence themes for the next term of our Government. However, we have heard speeches of such importance that I cannot fail to respond to one or two points.
I have every sympathy with the argument of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) about the Raytheon jets facility. If the 32 Squadron HS125s that are stationed at Northolt in my constituency and have their third-line service elsewhere could be serviced at Hawarden, I should be delighted.
The speech of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) really brought home to the House the fact that the Labour party is not one party on defence. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are as one on defence, as they are on many things these days, but the Labour party is fundamentally divided within itself on the subject. The idea that the hon. Member for Islington, North and some of his hon. Friends are proposing about the merits of vulnerability is belied by all the experience of the past 20 years—the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets because the Afghans were so weak, the invasion of the Falkland Islands, the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, and the horrors perpetrated in Bosnia by the essentially Serbian-controlled Yugoslav national army—and yet Labour Members enjoin further vulnerability. The human misery that military weakness has caused should surely behove us to defend ourselves adequately.
The moving speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) brought home to us the reality of the situation of the people of Northern Ireland today. We are grateful to him and proud of the 661 loyal people of Northern Ireland. We also pay a warm tribute of gratitude to the warrant officer who was killed and to the many people who have made the supreme sacrifice in the defence of our country of Ulster.
We must get even further away from the Maginot mentality of static defence, the legacy of the cold war. We have done this to a large extent, but an armoured British division remains stationed in Germany with all the apparatus of a fixed military presence: the married quarters, the schools, the swimming pools, the gardeners, the mess stewards. In all—eliberately excluding the Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps—he whole apparatus costs the British taxpayer £943 million a year, of which £252 million is paid to locally employed civilians. We should be employing civilians in this country when so many bases are closing and so many facilities are folding.
With the money saved, we should be investing in extra mobility and flexibility, which are what war prevention requires. We have made some good investments: the C-130J, the EH101 medium transport helicopter and the improved Chinook mark 2. I hate to say it to my erstwhile friend— say friend because we came into the House together, although he sits on the opposite side—he hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, but what the Royal Air Force requires is not the future large aircraft, which will cost a great deal to develop, but the C-17— heavy lifter to take a main battle tank over huge ranges so that large loads can be deployed rapidly. I am pleased that the Select Committee, under the stewardship of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), is examining the issue of heavy lift.
Good investments are also being made for the Royal Marines: the landing platform docks Albion and Bulwark which are to be constructed, in addition to HMS Ocean with its landing platform for helicopters. Mobility is an important capability and we need to invest more in it.
We also need to invest more in training. I shall mention just one subject—he future of staff and officer cadet training. Most armed forces are investing more and more in training while we are doing the opposite. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will think again on Greenwich. The fact that the joint staff training scheme has not worked gives us an opportunity to go back to this old issue and, surely, locate the tri-service staff college at Greenwich. I would also put a tri-service cadet college in that august setting as a lead-in to the individual service academies.
We also need to make better use of our Reserves, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said. I would add just one point about the opportunity afforded by the sponsored Reserve—the idea that contractors who are working for the support of the armed services can be mobilised in uniform in time of emergency or war. I hope, too, that the example set by No. 1 maritime headquarters unit of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force—located at RAF Northolt in my constituency—will be better followed. It provides support for the maritime headquarters at Northwood and I hope that it will provide support for the permanent joint headquarters at Northwood also.
My final point concerns procurement. If we are to have such small armed forces, they must be well trained and have an expansion capability with Reserves, but they must 662 also have the very best equipment. This is crucial for flexibility and mobility. I mentioned some of the programmes. We have seen from the Eurofighter episode how bedevilled with politics some of the European programmes can become. In the case of Eurofighter, the problem was the nefarious ways of economic and monetary union and the fact that the Maastricht criteria appear to be more important to the German Parliament than the modernisation of the Luftwaffe and of the three other air forces which require the Eurofighter 2000. It is a frightening prospect, which is why it is so necessary to retain the balance between European procurement and co-operation with the United States. Without that balance, we shall never have a competitive indigenous industry of our own.
I return to the theme that I touched on briefly in a question to my hon. Friend the Minister of State during his opening remarks about the European armaments agency which is to be developed from the Franco-German agency as a quadripartite agency, to which we are supposedly to sign up. I beg my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government to think carefully. Do we really need another bureaucracy? Co-operation across frontiers should not be driven by officials in Bonn and Brussels.
In any case, are the new officials to be drawn from NATO or the national defence ministries? How are they to co-operate with the conference of national armaments directors within NATO? The latter is supposedly harmonising operational requirements not just for four European members but right across the alliance to secure proper interoperability and the best use of resources. To whom are the officials to be answerable? Are not our American friends correct in assuming that there must at any rate be a predisposition to favour the European product over an American or other purchase?
Ministers must think very carefully. Is the multi-role armoured utility vehicle the right project to get the agency off the ground? We have good vehicle constructors in this country, including GKN, Alvis and Vickers.
I hope that those five points will be useful to the Government in their next term.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
This has been an extremely interesting debate. A number of hon. Members started with the point that I intend to make now. It is a matter that is particularly poignant, as I visited Lisburn barracks a couple of weeks ago only to find that a terrible tragedy occurred there just a few days later. It really does bring it firmly home to one, and my heart goes out to Warrant Officer Bradwell's family. It is an appalling tragedy and most regrettable.
I have had contact with people who have been affected by the bombs placed in the north-west of England, in Manchester and Warrington. When it gets that close to home, it makes one think very seriously about the issues involved. The Cheshire Regiment—my county regiment—is currently based in Ballykelly, and I often have discussions with the parents of young men who are part of that regiment and engaged in very important duties on behalf of the nation.
A number of points have been raised, but because of the time I shall have to leave them. I shall, however, praise Ministers on one point and personally thank all the 663 MOD people who were involved this year in the management of the armed forces parliamentary scheme. I have found the time that I have spent on the scheme extremely enlightening and would encourage hon. Members who have not had the opportunity of participating to do so. Because of age profiles, few of us will have had the opportunity to serve in the forces. Having been brought up in a military environment, and in later years living in Portsmouth, I thought it about time that I got on the other side of the dockyard fence to find out what was happening in the Navy.
I have been able to identify a number of matters about which the Government should think carefully. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) touched briefly on the unsung work undertaken by the Navy in the anti-drugs war—a real war of enormous proportions. I have seen the scale of the success recently achieved by the West Indies guard ship and the work that is going on in conjunction with Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, but it is an area of the Navy's activities that is hardly mentioned outside. If people are looking for ideas about how to promote a positive role for that force today, that is one war in which every family in the land would welcome our participation. I urge that consideration be given to that.
§ Mr. Soames
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the role of the West Indies guard ship, and I applaud him for raising the matter of drugs, but is he not aware that we already mention it? Every time the West Indies guard ship scores a coup, which is all too regularly, we make it very public and it gets good coverage, but anything that he or any other hon. Member on either side of the House can do to help to get the message across about the vital role that it plays would be hugely welcome.
§ Mr. Miller
There have to be a few things on which we agree across the Floor of the House, despite some of the rhetoric of the debate. The drugs war is an important war and one in which we must firmly engage.
One area that concerns me—I pressed this point a couple of times yesterday and found a less than satisfactory response—is the batch 2 Trafalgar class submarines. Given that we are now in an era when countries such as Iran are holding control over SSKs, we really must be much more positive about that part of our flotilla. Frankly, if I had been asked a couple of years ago about the future development of our submarine fleet, I would not, perhaps, have taken the same view as I do now, but when one considers the world ownership of submarines, one sees that that issue needs to be addressed firmly, especially given the comments made by military leaders of some countries who believe that the world is growing as far as their territorial ambitions are concerned, now that they have submarines in their fleet.
One thing that was apparent during every visit I made was morale. Much has been said about morale, and there are areas where improvements are undoubtedly occurring, but in the Navy there is undoubtedly one constant theme coming through the force—that of gapping. When vessels are back in their home port, facilities must be made to enable people not just to take shore leave but to take leave back at their homes with their families. This calls into question the legitimacy of the continued process of civilianisation. I can see that there are arguments in some 664 areas, but the MOD needs to think very carefully about the implications of continued civilianisation for morale. There needs to be a more positive approach to that.
There are logistical problems. There are serious morale problems. There are, for example, attempts to make a number of the bases a little more like home. I was somewhat concerned to discover, not a million miles from your own constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker, a McDonald's being built in Devonport. I hope that the MOD will insist at the very least that it serves British beef. Attempts are being made to improve morale, but they do not address the key issue of getting people back to their homes. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.
I shall make one blunt criticism about the Secretary of State's speech yesterday. He spent several paragraphs—I have just re-read it in Hansard—attacking the Labour party conference. I thought about that in the context of the very clear and concise speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), and the brilliant speech at the Labour party conference by a young mother from Chester who argued the case about the defence of this country in clear and concise terms. If one compares that with the activities of the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) on defence, where has he been on British Aerospace, Saighton Camp, Sealand, the Army pay office—on all the issues raised by my hon. Friend? That young mother has more knowledge in her little finger about the defence of this country than the hon. Member who represents City of Chester. I really hope that the Government will look more carefully at what is said at the Labour party conference before making such comments.
Last year, I was privileged to be part of a delegation, with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, meeting some folk in NATO. One of the great privileges of that was to be part of the early discussions with NATO about the eradication of mines. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the sterling work that he has put in. Commitments have now been made so that part of NATO's research and development budget will be directed towards the disposal of mines. That is a great credit to the Labour party. I do not think that there is an hon. Member in the House who would deny the unpleasantness of that weapon and the reasons why, in a post-war situation, we have to get them cleared up, particularly in some countries where appalling films are coming out about them. That element of our amendment tonight is particularly important and I hope that the House will take it on board.
There is so much more to say, but in 10 minutes one cannot cover everything. However, I hope that the Minister will take on board some of the observations that I have made, particularly with regard to the armed forces scheme, because they are worth considering.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) made a thoughtful speech, based on his recent experience of the armed forces, which I followed with keen interest.
Those of us who maintain contact with the armed forces through our constituencies, or perhaps through the Defence Committee or the North Atlantic Assembly, have 665 many people to thank for the time that they commit to briefing us and telling us of their activities. We congratulate them on their efforts. We are well served by capable and determined men and women demonstrating old fashioned qualities of discipline and reliability, every one of them skilled and well trained. They are people of enormous drive with positive attitudes. We expect a great deal of them, but we must be vigilant not to take them for granted, to take advantage of them or to impose on them unacceptable terms and conditions.
The word "overstretch" keeps coming up in defence debates. It is the jargon word for repetitive postings, disruption of family life, insufficient periods between postings to Northern Ireland, increased duty on watch when a ship is in port, or working long hours to keep aircraft in service.
Men and women join the armed forces for a job that is different and challenging. Commanders want it to be just that, and our task as parliamentarians is to back them and give them the resources to make it so.
We are coming out of a period of poor recruitment, which we knew was coming. Many hon. Members will know the acronym MARILYN, standing, scarcely credibly, for manning and recruitment in the lean years of the 90s. We knew that there would be a recruiting problem in the 90s. We must now do all that we can to ensure that recruits come into the armed forces and stay in. We must provide a first-class and stimulating career for young men and women, and a decade or so after they have joined we must provide an attractive continuing career for trained and experienced men and women.
Young men and women may accept anti-social postings, but men and women in their 30s and 40s, when they are trained and particularly valuable and skilful, probably with families, will leave if they find the imposition on them and their families too great. We must therefore provide sport and adventurous training, watch out for the symptoms of overstretch and provide resources to back the commanders.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) has just re-entered the Chamber. I listened to his speech with great interest. He is the acceptable face of Labour on the subject of defence and a companionable and popular Member. I listened to him carefully, and he made the ragbag of an amendment tabled by the official Opposition sound as if it refers to a review of overstretch. Of course, it does nothing of the sort. The hon. Gentleman criticised overstretch and then said that there must be, or should be, a review of overstretch.
The amendment says that there must bea long-term strategic overview which can only be achieved through the establishment of a strategic defence review",but we all know that such a review would be a review downwards, not upwards. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that he and his hon. Friends know that, if there were a defence review, it would result in a defence reduction rather than an increase. I defy him to deny that.
§ Dr. Reid
For the hon. Gentleman's elucidation, there are three general elements in any such review. The first concerns commitments to resources, and I encompassed overstretch within that; the second is the interweaving of foreign affairs and defence; the third is the interweaving 666 of trade and industry and defence. Those three elements would form the core of any defence review. With regard to expenditure, we made two things absolutely plain. First, we will spend what is necessary for the defence of our country and, secondly, as the hon. Gentleman will see if he reads our statement, such a review will not—not—be a cover for cuts.
§ Mr. Viggers
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I know the Labour party's defence record over the years, and I know the defence record of our proud party over the years. I maintain, and I think that the country believes and knows, that it is the Conservative party which believes fervently in defence and will provide the resources, as it is doing, to maintain proper defences.
In the few remaining moments of my speech, I want to focus on just one area of defence which is dealt with in two thirds of page 91 of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates"—medical care. Medical care is a crucial and central part of the teeth of defence, not part of the tail of defence. Primary care is in the front line of defence. One quarter of every army patrol is medically trained, and primary care is the responsibility of the single services, the Army, Navy and Air Force. It is a front-line operation, not a rear echelon one.
We must have quality, which we certainly have, but we should also have the quantity of defence capacity which will enable us to fulfil our responsibility in primary care and in secondary care. I see from the statistics section of the Statement that we have gone from 11 field ambulances and hospitals in 1975 to 12 among the regular forces in 1996, and from 15 to 18 in the Territorial Army in the same period of 21 years. That does not seem to equate to the facts as I understand them, which show that the numbers of hospitals, beds and medical staff in the armed forces have been reduced.
When I and my colleagues on the Defence Committee visit the royal hospital Haslar in my constituency next month, we will look carefully to ensure that we have the number of trained medical personnel available to fulfil the front-line function and the secondary function. We will want to know how many personnel will be available in the regular armed forces and how many will be available in times of emergency in the reserve forces, bearing in mind the reluctance of hospital trusts to encourage reserve commitment and my concern, which remains, that hospitals may be reluctant to appoint people to civilian appointments if they have a reserve commitment, thus weakening the reserve commitment to the medical section of the armed forces.
§ Mr. Viggers
My hon. Friend knows that I have three minutes remaining, whereas he will have some time at the end of the debate.
The second area of medical care is secondary care. I am delighted that, with the choice of the royal hospital Haslar as the tri-service hospital, backed up by Ministry of Defence hospital units at Derriford, Frimley Park and Peterborough, the area of defence training will be at the royal medical defence college and that HMS Dolphin has been identified as a suitable site for that location. HMS Dolphin is opposite the royal naval hospital Haslar and having the secondary care unit there will make it easy to interchange the teaching and the practical roles within the armed forces.
667 I am satisfied with the current shape of the secondary care agency as it is evolving. It is right that we should take account of the fact that changing medical and surgical techniques are leading to shorter hospital stays, that the increased transportation of armed forces personnel means that patients might be brought back to the United Kingdom and NHS hospitals more quickly than in the past, and that the choice of the Gosport area allows a wider range of patients to be seen by armed forces doctors who usually treat fit and young male personnel, whereas in the Gosport-south Hampshire area they have a wide range of patients on whom to practise.
For some 80 years, HMS Dolphin has been the home of the submarine service, and it was a great disappointment when it was decided that the submarine service would leave HMS Dolphin. However, Fort Blockhouse, the home of HMS Dolphin, has served the armed forces and the country for nearly 500 years. I am confident that, as we move on, it will provide an ideal centre for military medical excellence.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
I should like to touch on two problems: NATO enlargement and the new challenges facing Britain in terms of military procurement.
On NATO enlargement, it is traditional that, after the end of a great war, the loser enters a period of instability and turbulence. That is the condition that Europe now finds itself in. The cold war ended, perhaps, in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin wall and the great events in central and eastern Europe. We must deal with a Russia that is unstable and giving contradictory signals and extend that area of stability which is the NATO alliance and seek, so far as we can, to influence positively potential regions of turbulence beyond NATO.
We are coming to the point at which the future security architecture of the new Europe is beginning to emerge through the fog. Those outlines were delineated in September in the Stuttgart speech of Secretary Christopher, followed by that of German Foreign Minister Kinkel. Their aim is to try to keep as much movement as possible to preserve flexibility, yet to be sensitive to Russia's problems.
On that architecture, it is now clear that the terms of the first wave of NATO's enlargement will be known in the Brussels summit in December, followed by the meeting in late spring next year. Presumably on or near the 50th anniversary of NATO, in April 1999, that first wave will take effect. We know that the Visegrad countries, with the exception, alas, of Slovakia—because, under Meciar, it has slipped badly from the democratic way—will be among that first wave. We are less certain about whether Slovenia will be there and even less certain about Romania, but the shape of that first group is emerging.
Russia will then have to have its proper interests dealt with. That will mean that its concerns about the boundaries of the new NATO and of the conditions of enlargement will need to be considered sensitively without giving it a veto. That means, it appears, a new charter between NATO and Russia, in which Russia will be given a special status. That raises problems.
There are at the same time a series of regional alliances—not only Visegrad, but the Baltic sea and the Barents sea alliances and a series of positive bilateral 668 treaties that defy what has happened in history. Only last month, we had the Timisoara treaty between Romania and Hungary. Having served in the embassy in Hungary for some time, I understand the historic resonances of the problem over Transylvania. Russia is seeking to build up the Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe because of its status in it. There is likely to be a new directorate of the OSCE, which will be determined at the Lisbon summit in December, so the broad lines of that security architecture are looming through the mist.
The problem is those countries that, for a number of reasons, are not privileged to be in the first wave, or perhaps in any wave, of NATO enlargement. In history, they are the countries in the middle. One interesting perspective on European history is that either Russia or Germany is dominant and it is middle Europe where the problems arise, so the question on enlargement that I pose to the Government is: how will we seek to reassure and look after the interests of countries that will not be in the first wave? I think especially of the Baltics. A sensitive response is needed.
How much thought is being given, for example, to twinning NATO countries with the Baltics and others—the Bulgarians and Romanians? What effort will the Ministry of Defence make to go into those countries to assist in training? What will be the shape of a super-partnership for peace or other arrangements that will be reached? In terms of the Baltic countries, will we seek a new regional security structure and try to subcontract much of the work there to the Scandinavians, who have a geographic and historic relationship with the Baltics? We cannot leave that unclear. There must be movement to those countries that would otherwise feel isolated and neglected.
On the new challenges on procurement, my starting point is that the current problems were foreseeable, but were not foreseen by the Government. Historians will see that we have missed a series of opportunities in the real procurement challenges. Way back in 1994, Ernst and Young produced an excellent report that concluded that, increasingly, there were two axes in the west in military production: the United States and Europe. We have to make a choice. We must avoid fortress Europe, but unless and until European nations begin to pool and merge their resources, we shall opt out of the race to be prime contractors for the major projects.
Market forces will not do it. Even since that Ernst and Young report, which was based on pooling data of industrial concerns for a year or two before, there have been even greater signs of challenge from the United States—not just the mega-mergers, the Lockheed Martins and so on, but evidence of increasing United States pressure on third countries such as those in the Gulf. We see it now in respect of the fighter aircraft in central Europe, and on Hungary, Slovenia and Austria. There is pressure to take United States products rather than Europe's.
We have a choice. Do we seek simply to keep our options open? Do we seek to forget the challenges? Or do we seek to build a European defence entity that is not anti-America, but recognises that, if we do not, we shall be swamped by the size of the United States industrial machine? There are signs that we have more obstacle than most countries.
669 We accepted the value-for-money concepts of Sir Peter Levene, but they could be defined so narrowly in buying off the shelf—the C130-Js—that we would effectively avoid wider industrial and European perspectives. There have been some unfortunate remarks from Sir Peter Levene's successor about there being no polarisation between the United States and Europe. They appeared in the Financial Times survey on procurement in August. I hope that he was misquoted.
I must mention the signal that the Secretary of State for Defence gave in his speech last year, and the Government's posturing on Europe which gives a clear signal to our European partners that we are not serious about Europe. That is part of the internal squabble in the governing party which, alas, has unfortunate repercussions for Britain.
There are, however, some positive signs—not only the comparison between this year's "Statement on the Defence Estimates" and last year's and the Government's response to the excellent first joint report of the two Select Committees, but various things that have been said. Even the Secretary of State, with his known anti-European prejudices, is being dragged kicking and screaming to support Britain's interests.
I shall end just with these questions in relation to procurement. I accept that there were wrong signals, for example, on Apache and on the C130-J, but the batch of decisions on procurement in July were positive. The response—
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
I suppose I should be grateful that the Conservative party has run out of speakers, or some of my colleagues and I would not have been called. If we wait long enough, the time will come when Conservative Members keep out of the way. After giving a rhetorical flourish of criticism of the Labour party, hon. Members who have come to support their own Government have settled down to spend their time politely criticising them. Our debate on the defence estimates—the last before the general election—will give us, and more importantly the public, a chance to evaluate the truth of the Government's portrayal of themselves as a brilliant Government who are pro-defence and their portrayal of Labour as a party that comprises a bunch of pacifists who are unfit for office.
Towards the end of his speech, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement listed a number of procurement items that are to be ordered. In doing so he seemed to display the philosophy that the threat of a public hanging concentrates the mind. The imminent election has made the Government seek to give the impression that they have been funding defence projects almost ad infinitum, but we know that that is not so.
Any Opposition who neglect defence suffer the consequences: the Labour party deservedly suffered the consequences in 1983 and, to a lesser extent, in 1987. But Governments who neglect defence do so, not just at their own peril, but, more importantly, to the detriment of national security. I fear that the depth and nature of the defence cuts over the past 10 or 15 years have been to the detriment of national security.
670 I wonder whether the Government will attack the Labour party as they have done in previous elections. The Conservative party may be called the stupid party, but it is not that stupid. Its members must realise that they are on dangerous ground in thinking that the Labour party is the same Labour party as they faced in those halcyon days when the Tory party was identified with defence. If the Conservative party tries to make the defence issue one of confidence, it will suffer the consequences—I hope that it takes that course. I do not think that it will have the opportunity, as it had in 1987, of commissioning posters of soldiers holding their hands in the air in surrender. A consensus is emerging that the Labour party has become much better, while the Government have become much worse.
On the available evidence, with defence expenditure at an historic low and falling, it would be as sane for the Conservative party to proclaim itself the party of defence as it would be for it to proclaim itself the party of law and order when crime levels are at an historic high and rising. Labour is not the party of the 1980s. That period was an abberation for us in the same way—although it was less damning to the country—as the little holiday from realism undertaken by the Conservative party in the 1930s, which had disastrous consequences for this country and mankind. If the Conservative party wants to delve into history, I shall be delighted to join in an historical debate on defence.
The Labour party with which the Conservatives are now dealing is in the tradition not of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), but of the party that joined the coalition in the first world war and recognised the rise of Hitler long before the Government of Baldwin and Chamberlain. The Opposition brought down the Government who had brought us to the verge of military catastrophe while the majority of Government Members sat on their hands or supported the Government. It is the party of Wilson and Callaghan, who sustained the nuclear deterrent and maintained defence expenditure at a higher level than Tory Governments who followed them.
The Labour party has little to be anxious about. We have learnt the lessons of the 1980s. If the subject is to be raised in the election, the Labour party should do more than hope that it does not become an issue; it should go on the attack. The Tories will say that defence expenditure has slipped a little. Let us remind the public that, when Labour left office in 1979, the budget for that year was 4.9 per cent.—the average was 4.55 per cent. for that period of office. The budget has now declined to 3 per cent. and will probably fall to 2.6 per cent.
Therefore, the chasm that existed between this country's defence expenditure under the last Labour Government and the Thatcher Government and the defence expenditure of our European partners has, under this Government, narrowed to a fraction. Opposition Members who want to see defence expenditure fall to the level of our European and NATO partners should perhaps support the Government in the Lobby this evening, because the Tory Government have narrowed the gap far more than a Labour party conference would wish to have done.
The Select Committee on Defence stated that the defence budget had been trimmed consistently since the inception of "Options for Change". The Select Committee has frequently stated that it is unhappy with the process of cut upon cut. It said that there had been no period of 671 financial calm—just the opposite. No plan seems to survive the next public expenditure round. Every activity is reviewed and revised again.
The priority in the public expenditure survey 1994 must surely be, as never before, to leave defence expenditure well alone. That did not happen, to such an extent that our Committee has given a warning that, unless the Government can come up with something serious and state that there will be no further cuts of any kind, it cannot recommend the defence estimates to the House. The absence of Conservative Members on the Committee suggests that they are going to sit on their hands or endorse the Government's defence policy despite the commitment given.
I was recently in Portsmouth, which houses the little that is left of our Navy. I seem to see more boats marked Brittany Ferries than representing the Royal Navy—so many ships were available for sale. I spoke to people in the merchant marine—there is not much of that left. The Government's record on the Navy is appalling.
The Defence Committee has been told that things will be all right on the night and that perhaps it was overstating the case on overstretch. But we were right and the Government were wrong. We have received pompous lectures on Gulf war syndrome. I suspect that, the next time we meet, any Government representative will show slightly more humility.
As for procurement, we are all aware of a number of items that have arrived late, have not arrived at all or have arrived greatly over cost. Phoenix, endorsed by the Government, represents the Government: its life span is about the same. The Government first began to think about something such as Phoenix in 1980; we shall get it in about the year 2000. Phoenix and the Government are both much maligned, and deservedly so. They both crash frequently—the difference is that the Government rescued Phoenix, but the electorate will not rescue the Government.
The idea of the Government wrapping themselves in the flag and then giving over Ministry of Defence housing to a Japanese consortium is bizarre. There are some charitable aspects, and I suppose we must forgive and forget. The consortium representing the successful bidders contains one Scottish member, so we may have a Robert the Bruce close or a William Wallace street. We must forgive the Americans, so perhaps we shall have a street named after John Paul Jones, who successfully defeated the British Navy. But I resent the idea of an Admiral Togo or an Admiral Yamamoto avenue. If we are to give over things to those countries that fought us in the war, perhaps we should have a consortium of Zulus, Sikhs and Sudanese to complete the farce.
This evening I should have been at the annual conference of the Defence Police Federation. I am afraid that the Government's vendetta against it and the Ministry of Defence police continues.
On a more positive note, rather than let the GKN Warrior production line fade away, I ask the Government to hear the pleas that have been made by Members on both sides of the House and seriously consider the offer made on the GKN Warrior mortar proposal. If the Government want the production line to continue, they must take positive action.
In its conclusions, the Defence Committee said: 672We 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.That assurance has not been given. If Conservative Members are not prepared to give the Government the kick up the backside that they deserve, I hope that, at least privately, they have the courage to say that enough is enough, the cuts have gone too far and it is about time that we started building up our defences and not destroying them.
§ Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)
I fully endorse the tributes that have been paid by hon. Members on both sides of the House to the professionalism and dedication of the British armed forces. Service in the armed forces is public service of the highest order and we are lucky to have so many talented and patriotic men and women who are prepared to serve the United Kingdom in such a way. I especially praise the efforts of British service personnel in Bosnia who have made such a major contribution to the NATO-led peace implementation force.
I am sad that the Secretary of State for Defence chose to begin his speech yesterday by saying that Labour Members do not care about the defence of this country. That is not true. Patriotism is not the preserve of only one party in this House, and Labour Members are just as concerned as anyone else to ensure that this country is properly defended. We have always made it clear that, under a Labour Government, that will continue to be so. It appears that the Secretary of State has not learnt the necessary lessons after his abysmal speech at last year's Conservative party conference.
It is worth looking behind Ministers' bogus rhetoric to study their record in recent years of managing the defence budget. The Government have presided over massive reductions in spending that have often appeared random and unintelligible and have drawn criticism from the Select Committee on Defence, former service chiefs and the defence industry itself, which often has to pick up the pieces resulting from the delays and confusion that have come to characterise the Government's procurement policies about which I shall say a little more later.
I am relieved that Ministers are now urgently looking into the exposure of British forces personnel to organophosphate chemicals during the Gulf war. I remind the Minister about one of my constituents, Corporal Mervyn Gray, about whom I wrote to him on 10 June. Corporal Gray was clearly exposed to massive amounts of organophosphates during the Gulf war but, despite the Government's announcement of an emergency review of such cases, he has not yet had any new or fresh contact with the Ministry of Defence. I hope that the Minister has not forgotten him and will look into his case at the earliest possible opportunity.
§ Mr. Hutton
Yes, he has.
I shall confine the rest of my remarks to naval defence procurement and Government policy towards the defence industry as a whole. The defence industry is unique in 673 many ways. The Government are its only UK customer and have the power to determine in which international markets the industry can operate. That relationship means that the Government have a special responsibility towards defence companies which does not exist anywhere else in British industry. Sadly, that responsibility has not always been properly discharged. That has been especially true in relation to the rundown of defence spending in recent years.
Key procurement contracts are often the subject of chronic delays, with deadlines constantly being allowed to slip further and further behind schedule. That almost always results in further job losses in defence companies, as has sadly been so in my constituency at VSEL. A classic example of such delay was in relation to the batch 2 Trafalgar class submarine contract. Work was due to start in 1994. The contract has not yet been let. When will it be let? A gap of at least three years has opened up. It is worth reminding ourselves that the last contract for an SSN was placed in 1986. That 11-year gap is unprecedented in the Royal Navy's history.
The White Paper makes extensive reference to the Royal Navy's nuclear submarine capability and the Government's desire to maintain it. It is hard to see such a desire reflected in the Government's handling of such a vital contract. What will be the operational consequences for the Royal Navy of that delay? There have also been extensive delays in finally placing the contract for the landing platform dock replacements. I am delighted that that contract has been placed and that VSEL in my constituency won it, but it, too, has been characterised by serious delay.
The contract for two new auxiliary oilers will also be very important to my constituency. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that that contract will not be subject to similar delays, and that orders will be placed on schedule by the end of the year.
I share the hope of my hon. Friends the Members for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) and for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) that we should all be aiming to develop a new national consensus on Britain's defence policy for the new millennium. Like them, I suspect that Tory Ministers are not up to that task.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)
I shall keep my remarks extremely brief, because another hon. Member wishes to speak. I am sure that it will not go unnoticed outside the House that there have been more Labour Members than Conservative Members wishing to speak in this debate.
I want to make two simple points. I ask the Minister to deal in summing up with the important matter of service men who suffered from exposure to asbestos from the 1940s through to the 1960s. I repeat the requests that I put to him last year. First, he should find out how many such men are suffering—he can get that information from the War Pensions Agency. Secondly, what would be the cost of compensating those men at the same rate as dockyard workers are compensated? Thirdly, will he seriously consider some ex gratia payment for those men? If we ignore the dwindling number of men who are now dying, we shall continue a considerable injustice to men who are suffering seriously in the autumn of their lives.
674 Following the massive job losses in the dockyards, certain questions remain in respect of the privatisation of Devonport dockyard. We are, quite properly, asking those questions. First, should a dockyard that is so central to our strategic defence interests be in private hands? Secondly, could a privatised dockyard fall into undesirable or even hostile hands? Thirdly, can a dockyard working as a private company, with all the constraints that that entails, respond to sudden demands such as the Falklands or the Gulf war? I recall the response given to me two years ago by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who was then the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence. He said then that that was impossible.
The answer to my first question is largely dependent on the answer to the other two. Yesterday, the Minister asked my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) what is stability. I can tell him now what stability means to something such as our dockyard. It is a period of knowing where it is going; it is a period of knowing that there is a world of certainty; and it is when workers feel valued because there is a period in which they know they will have a job. Most of all, if the sale of Devonport dockyard goes through, it is a period in which the management and the workers of the company together can plan for the future not only of the dockyard, but of jobs in Plymouth.
I ask the Minister to address those important and essential matters. In particular, will he let us know when the negotiations for the D154 will be complete, so that the sale can be completed and we can move into a world of genuine stability?
I was delighted to hear the speeches made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields and other Members on the Labour Front Bench. They were excellent speeches and confirm that Labour is now the party of defence—the party that will ensure that our future defence is secure.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)
I shall be brief and focus on a single issue: the future of the incomparable buildings in Greenwich which currently house the Royal Naval College.
In previous debates on defence estimates and the armed forces, we have highlighted the way in which the Government took an unwise decision to close the Greenwich complex and move the tri-service college elsewhere on the basis of dubious estimates and suspect figures that suggested that the costs of relocating to Camberley would be less than those of retaining a college in Greenwich. It has now become clear that those estimates and the assumptions behind them were false.
The Government's proposal for the relocation of the tri-service college is now unravelling. Staff and those attending the college now face the prospect of moving into temporary accommodation at Bracknell with a huge question mark hanging over their future at Camberley or possibly at another site. That cannot be the right way to handle the training of our senior staff in all services. The question must now be addressed whether we should have a further look at whether Greenwich might provide the appropriate location for all or part of the tri-service college.
The Greenwich complex is an incomparable set of buildings. Any other country that possessed such rich architecture with such important historic associations 675 would leap at the prospect of using them as a focus for service training. Few other countries would treat such a priceless piece of heritage with the curiously cavalier attitude displayed by the Government.
This evening, hon. Members on both sides have asked whether Greenwich could not or should not perform the function that it has performed exceptionally well for the past 120 years—that of a service college providing high-quality training for senior staff in the armed forces in an incomparable setting.
The issue must be reopened, and there is good logic behind re-examining whether Greenwich is not the appropriate site for the location of the tri-service college. I hope that if the Government do not have the decency to accept the fact that they have disgracefully mishandled this issue in the past, the incoming Government, next May, will re-examine the issue to determine whether we can establish a sensible, proper basis for service training in the wonderful buildings at Greenwich.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)
First, I should like to say how impressed I and other Opposition Members have been during the past two days with the robust and informed debate on the state of our defences. I am thinking, for example, of the speech—made from a constituency point of view—by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford), and to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who dealt with a number of issues. What most interested me and other Opposition Members, however, were the references to consensus during the past two days, and the somewhat dramatic reaction of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to the question whether there should be a consensus on defence matters.
There is a case for consensus on the major principles of how we defend our nation, but that does not affect how the Opposition must criticise the Government in their management of our defence. The Minister will recall that he and I led in Committee for our parties on the Reserve Forces Act 1996. Throughout that period, there was no question but that there was general agreement on the major principles that lay behind the Act.
That is a good example of consensus, as are the comments that have been made during the past two days about our armed forces, which undertake a huge variety of tasks at home and abroad. Opposition Members pay tribute to the men and women in our three armed forces, wherever they serve—in Britain and Northern Ireland or abroad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) and the hon. Members for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) spoke of the new challenges now facing our defence forces. There are challenges in Northern Ireland, which has experienced the most tragic consequences in the past few weeks. There are challenges of the new weapons of mass destruction—which are still held worldwide, sometimes in the hands of unstable dictatorships.
We face the challenge of ethnic nationalism and political and religious extremism, such as we have witnessed in Afghanistan in the past month. There is the challenge of increasing crime and drug trafficking, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for 676 Ellesmere Port. There are challenges in a world in which, of 82 major conflicts between 1989 and 1992, all but three were civil wars.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) spoke about the enlargement of NATO. I was in Poland last week, and that country, among others, is very anxious to join NATO. We must, however, balance that with parallel agreements with Russia, which of course is still a major player in defence.
All these matters reflect the Labour party's view on what our policy should be on defence. My hon. Friends the Members for Walsall, South (Mr. George), for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) and for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) mentioned those important matters. The Labour party believes that we should play our role as members of the Security Council of the United Nations and of NATO in safeguarding the lives of many thousands of people across the world.
Two weeks ago, the Labour party conference once again emphasised Labour's commitment to the strong defence of our nation. The same conference committed Labour to working towards a nuclear-free world, but by a process of multilateral disarmament. We also realised that we need to keep our nuclear deterrent until multilateral agreements abolish the need for nations to keep weapons of mass destruction.
Although my hon. Friends the Members for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) hold their views with deep sincerity, those views do not represent the policy of the British Labour party. That policy was encapsulated in Blackpool two weeks ago in a conference resolution which clearly said that we are committed to keeping Trident until multilateral negotiations get rid of nuclear weapons from our planet.
The Secretary of State told his party conference—he repeated this yesterday—that Labour left wingers demanded the abolition of the nuclear deterrent and a drastic reduction in defence spending. He went on:The Labour leadership typically responds by pandering to them.I do not know whom he means by "the Labour leadership" in that respect. It is not the leader of the Labour party, it is not the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, it is not the shadow Cabinet, it is not the majority of members of the parliamentary party, and it certainly is not the Labour party conference. It is important to put on record the fact that the Labour party is as committed to the defence of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as the Conservatives are, if not more so.
All the great changes referred to by me and others show the need for the proper strategic defence review referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) yesterday and by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North this afternoon. On being elected to office next year, we shall undertake such a review, which we hope will take no more than six months.
Why should our country be any different from any other country in the western world since the end of the cold war? We need a defence review to ensure that we match our foreign affairs needs, our trade and industry needs and our defence needs. In a recent Lords debate on the defence estimates, Field Marshal Lord Bramall said that, were Labour's defence review to happen—I assure the House that it will—it would have to consider foreign policy and trade policy in conjunction with defence policy.
677 I also want to make it abundantly clear that the review will provide the resources necessary for the proper defence of this country. No matter what the hon. Members for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) have said, it will not be a device for making defence cuts, because it will be led by defence needs, not by the Treasury.
Why do we say that? Because the Government have done precisely the opposite during the past five years. Their problem is the way in which they have handled the inevitable changes. The cuts have been dictated not by the Ministry of Defence, but by the Treasury. Change has been incompetently managed, there has been no strategic rationale, and the Government have even managed to lose their picture collections. The years of change -have been dominated by waste and inefficiency, by cost overruns and by a damaging gap between resources and commitments.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), who is not here, made a good speech, in part. The bits which did not come from a Conservative central office briefing were sensible. Like other hon. Members on both sides, she referred to the overstretch of our armed forces.
In yesterday's debate, interestingly, the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) quoted what appeared to be a Conservative party document, which said:Only the Conservatives can offer a period of stability both in terms of size and funding of the Armed Forces.That, I suppose, is why, over the past six years, the Army has been reduced by 27 per cent., the RAF by 42 per cent. and the Royal Navy by 30 per cent., so that, at the beginning of the new millennium, our total armed forces will consist of about 210,000 men and women. The Army is now 4,000 under strength, and only seven of the 54 regiments and corps are up to strength.
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, who is here now, made a good speech yesterday. The Select Committee report says that soldiers are borrowed from other units, leaving themdepleted and less able to carry out their full training schedule.On the RAF, the report says:We conclude that at the present time the RAF is just about meeting its commitments while going through a period of considerable change.Today, the United States marine corps has more men than the British Army, more aircraft carriers than the Royal Navy and more aircraft than the RAF. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South referred to a number of interesting matters regarding the Navy. We are told by the Government that there are 35 frigates and destroyers, but that only 27 of them are operational. That figure compares with 69 in 1985.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South also mentioned the Merchant Navy. Some 92 per cent. of trade to this country comes by sea. While our merchant fleet has gone into sharp decline, the ships that move our troops and equipment to Bosnia and elsewhere have come from Germany, Poland, Malta and Ukraine.
The Minister knows that a ship used in Operation Purple Star—an operation that he applauded, as we all did, some months ago—from Ukraine was impounded by 678 American customs because it was unsafe. I have nothing against Ukrainians, but we must talk about their ships. Very often the Government are obsessed with price and do not consider reliability and quality. That is a theme to which I shall return.
Is it any wonder that the morale of our forces has been affected? In Bosnia—where we all applaud the work of our men and women—our troops have had their overseas allowances cut, while all other nations have offered bonuses and special compensation. For example, a British private soldier based in Germany who goes to former Yugoslavia loses £1,239 a year, while a German soldier gains £21,470 a year, tax-free.
There is a need for high motivation among members of our armed forces. They are men and women who have to put their lives on the line, and are not just civilians in uniform. When talking about the defence industry yesterday, the Secretary of State said that no employer offers jobs for life. But no other job involves sacrificing one's life for one's country. My fear is that the perception referred to by the Under-Secretary in another place—that the armed forces is an "industry in decline" with redundancies and uncertainty—has affected recruitment.
The hon. Member for Gosport referred to recruitment problems. In 1995–96, only 11,000 men and women were recruited to the Army, when 15,000 were required. The problem was that the Ministry of Defence pruned the intake of school leavers far too severely. There is no point in having a raft of sergeant-majors with no one to command, and that is what happened.
What on earth happened to the Bett report? The hon. Member for Canterbury and others have referred to the report, which was much trumpeted, cost a lot of money and made 150 recommendations. The Government accepted one that referred to four or five senior ranks. However, the Secretary of State—who had told the House that he and his Ministers would properly consider the report before the recess—said in a written answer on 24 July that more work was required on the detailed options, and added:It is likely that those will be set out in a report later this year which would provide the basis for an information exercise within the forces".—[Official Report, 24 July 1996: Vol. 282, c. 426.]Well, that is the end of that. The Bett report has been shelved—or, in the words of the hon. Member for Canterbury, "buried". There is not much difference, but what a waste of time and money over all these years.
I and my party believe that the Government have gone over the top in chapter six of the defence estimates document, which looks like a business manual. It talks about business plans, glossy charters and the bottom line—all that stuff. There is nothing wrong with being businesslike, and everyone agrees that there is always room for more efficiency and cost-effectiveness. But our armed forces are not private companies. They are not businesses. The Falklands war was not a business venture. Saddam Hussein was not a business competitor—he was an evil and determined enemy. That is what our forces are about—fighting wars and defending this country.
The contractorisation that goes with all this is most obvious in the Royal Air Force. We have witnessed the disaster of RAF St. Athan. We do not know how much money was wasted there—tens, or perhaps hundreds, of thousands of pounds. The Government are not prepared to tell us what went wrong. This afternoon, the Minister 679 of State for Defence Procurement said that he was in favour of "competitive rigour". I wish that he would be more rigorous about finding out about what happened at RAF St. Athan, and would tell the House how much it has cost the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), as always, raised the subject of the future of RAF Sealand in north Wales, where 1,300 aircraft technicians and 300 service personnel find their jobs are at risk because of the Government's doctrinaire insistence on market testing, even though RAF Sealand has consistently proved to be highly efficient.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) referred to the royal dockyards. I was in Devonport recently, and in Rosyth some months ago. Without question, the people who work in those dockyards want a period of stability, but have not been granted one. There has been delay after delay, postponed announcement after postponed announcement. I hope that tonight the Minister of State will be able to put our minds at rest in that respect.
This debate is essentially about the defence estimates, but it is not long until the Budget. We are told that the Treasury may intend to cut £400 million from the defence budget. That would certainly be in line with the indiscriminate cuts of recent years—and with the recent scandal of the sale of the married quarters.
The hon. Member for Canterbury said that service families were rightly worried about increases in their rents, and about their security of tenure. In Colchester alone, there is a 50 per cent. turnover in the married quarters; roughly 10 families a day move. We understand that the Ministry is giving no guarantees to service families about where they will live after the developers take over.
During the Lords debate on these estimates, one peer said:A deal which nets the Treasury some £1.5 billion and returns to the military only £l00 million to £200 million is not necessarily very attractive. Apart from that, I believe that the decision may be fundamentally flawed in purely commercial, not military, terms."—[Official Report. House of Lords, 12 July 1996; Vol.574, c.569.]That was said by a peer who voted for the Government. The truth, of course, came in the answer to the debate by the Under-Secretary, when he said:It would be idle to pretend that such a sum as we expect to raise would not be significant to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor as he shapes his Budget plans."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 July 1996; Vol.574, c.594.]There we have it. The whole episode of the sale of the married quarters was not about improving the lot of our armed forces or their dependants; it was about getting more money for the Budget before a general election.
The Government deny that defence decisions are Treasury led. In last year's statement on the defence estimates they talked about spending stability, yet between 1995 and 1998 nearly £700 million will be cut from the defence budget. In 1995–96, there has been, we are told, a £200 million underspend, which the Government described to the Select Committee as deferred payment for equipment and supplies. We know what that means: the Labour Government will have to pay next year. That, among other reasons, is why the Select Committee refused to recommend these estimates to the House of Commons. We entirely go along with the Select Committee in that.
680 Why on earth should we perpetuate the myth that the Conservatives are to be trusted with our nation's defences? They have reduced our forces to an all-time low. They have failed to match resources to commitments. They have wasted millions of pounds by their incompetence and bungling. They have betrayed service families in the married quarters affair, and yesterday they admitted that the House had been misled over the scandal of Gulf war syndrome.
Our armed forces have nothing to thank this Government for. The sooner the Government go, the better it will be—not just for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, but for the whole country.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)
It is my great privilege to close this important annual debate on the defence White Paper. Over the past two days, we have heard some perceptive and thoughtful contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I shall attempt to cover some of the points raised.
Luckily, I do not have to pass judgment on the speech by the hon. Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) last night, whose performance, as always, was so reminiscent, to those of us who love small, cuddly animals, of Basil Brush on amphetamines. The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) made, as he always does, a good and interesting speech, although most Conservative Members will have found it impossible to agree with almost any part of it; nevertheless, he had plainly gone to much trouble to present his case. I shall, of course, write to those hon. Members who raised questions. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will deal by correspondence with those questions that involved defence procurement, and any points that I miss tonight will be dealt with later.
The use of organophosphate pesticides in the Gulf has been raised by a number of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who served in the Gulf and made an effective and well-informed speech, and the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton).
It has become clear, as the House now knows, that organophosphate insecticides were used more widely in the Gulf than we had been led to believe. I regret that the information given to the Defence Select Committee and to other hon. Members in the past few years has proved to be incorrect. The answers, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State made clear last night, were given by Ministers in good faith, based on advice at the time. However, I fully accept that my Department should have known the correct position earlier, and I wish to stress to the House the great importance that I personally have always attached to the resolution of that complicated and difficult question and our determination to get to the bottom of it.
Our first concern is and must be the health and well-being of our service personnel who served in the Gulf. The use of OP pesticides may be a pointer to why some Gulf veterans are ill. We have already set about re-examining the medical records of all those who have attended the medical assessment process. The hon. 681 Member for Barrow and Furness mentioned the case of a specific soldier. I do not recall that case individually, but if the soldier has been through the medical assessment process and feels that he is still not being properly cared for, the hon. Gentleman must let me have the details at once.
I reiterate that we are determined to get to the bottom of the matter. We have commissioned a comprehensive investigation into the use of OP insecticides during the Gulf war and it will look urgently, and in the greatest detail, at the exact circumstances in which OP pesticides were used and the extent of their use. I shall report further to the House when that work is complete.
We continue to retain an open mind on the possibility of existence or otherwise of a specific Gulf war syndrome. It is clear that some veterans are ill, although I am encouraged by the story told by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby of his former comrade who was so ill and has been so well looked after. That is the experience of all those who have been through the service medical programme. We are anxious to find out whether the health of any of our Gulf war veterans has been affected by their service in the Gulf and the use of OP pesticides may be a factor that has affected a few veterans.
The House will be aware that we have, throughout our work on those health issues, been guided by the best medical advice available in the land. Hon. Members will recall that we asked the Royal College of Physicians to endorse the methodology of the medical assessment programme in July 1995. It approved our programme of work, but it recommended that we seek the advice of the Medical Research Council on a further detailed programme of research. The MRC has been given the latest information so that it can factor that in as it decides on a further programme of research into Gulf health issues. It has said that it will take the findings fully into account and that it remains on course to make its final recommendations to us on a programme of research to be announced next month.
The House will also wish to be reassured that we are in close touch with the United States authorities. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to his opposite number in the United States—US forces made wide use of pesticides, including organophosphates, during the Gulf war—about their programme of research into Gulf health issues. I assure the House that we shall take full account of any research that they have done on OP pesticides.
Let me make it clear that the Government are fully and wholly committed, as we must be, to the health of our service men and women. We fully understand the concerns and anxieties of those who are ill and their families, and we are determined to get to the root of this difficult and extremely complex question. The information on the use of OP pesticides is a new factor and may be a pointer. But I give you my personal assurance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we shall find out whatever there is to discover.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reported to the House on IFOR's achievements and the prospects for a lasting peace in the wake of the election. The standard of contributions to our debate, including those from hon. Members who visited Bosnia with the 682 Defence Select Committee earlier this year, has demonstrated the concern that the House feels for the future of that troubled land and the pride that we all share in the contribution that has been made by the British forces. I whole-heartedly agree with the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness and many others, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), who has been an immensely assiduous Chairman of the Defence Select Committee. He has been to Bosnia on many occasions with his Committee and has returned each time with a high opinion of the work and efforts of our troops.
In July, I was delighted to have an opportunity to return to Bosnia to visit the UK units serving with IFOR. Like everyone else who has been there, I was truly impressed by the exceptional work that they have done. I was also impressed by the civilians involved in the outstandingly successful aid programme, which deserves great credit. I visited troops throughout the British-led multinational Division South-West, and it was clear that our people's firm, no-nonsense and thoroughly professional approach has gained the respect of all the parties and ensured their broad compliance with the terms of the peace agreement. From the busy divisional headquarters in Banja Luka to the small and sometimes extremely exposed detachments in isolated areas manned by young officers and very few men, all our people are making a remarkable contribution to the great success of IFOR's mission and all that it means for the future of NATO and events to come.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the importance of projects being undertaken in conjunction with the Overseas Development Agency. That work has been instrumental in sustaining and nurturing the peace, and has been a feature of the UK's contribution since the earliest days of UNPROFOR. Working with local people, British engineers and ODA staff are whole-heartedly helping them to rebuild their lives and communities. There has been wonderful co-operation between the Army and the ODA and much good has come of it. In that respect we have learnt many lessons for the future, which we shall apply to future operations. It is a pity that people outside do not realise the full extent of Britain's contribution to the aid programme and the remarkable way in which the ODA and the military have worked together.
I have time, alas, to dwell on but one small example among many. I visited a tiny hamlet called Jezero, in an area totally and utterly devastated during the conflict. A tiny health clinic there has been completely rebuilt by British engineers and the ODA. The clinic's one doctor and two nurses have been brought back and have been providing medical services to the 500 people who have now crept back into the area. That reconstruction effort, of which the clinic is but one tiny piece, encourages still more people to return to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and broken homes. The House should be aware also of the commitment that Baroness Chalker has made to the work in Bosnia, for which she deserves great credit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), in an extremely interesting and thoughtful speech-about 85 per cent. of which I agreed with whole—heartedly, which is about 60 per cent. more than usual—and the hon. Member for Motherwell, North said that it was too early to say what international effort would be required after the end of the IFOR mandate in 683 December. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday, it would be premature to take decisions today about a possible follow-on force to IFOR. However, it is clear that, if a continuing military presence were required in 1997, we would expect it to be NATO-led and that the United Kingdom would play its part alongside its allies. The House will be aware that contingency planning has been set in hand by NATO's military authorities and that this country is playing a full role. That will allow us to make properly informed decisions when the time comes.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
The Minister will recall that, in confirming that the United Kingdom would participate in such a follow-on force, his right hon. Friend added the rider that he thought that it was important for the United States to be part of such a force. Will the Minister confirm that the Government believe that the United States should contribute to that follow-on force in the form of forces on the ground rather than in any other way?
§ Mr. Soames
Yes, and every other member of NATO expects that to be the case.
Before I say anything about Northern Ireland—I lump together the comments of all hon. Members on that subject—I offer my deepest sympathy to Warrant Officer Bradwell's grieving family and to the other victims of the IRA's despicable attack on Thiepval barracks last week. Artificer Sergeant Major Bradwell was a first-class and highly skilled non-commissioned officer, in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He was simply doing his duty and his murder serves as a grim and tragic reminder of the risks faced by our service personnel every day.
I have been lucky enough to visit Northern Ireland many times as Minister of State. It is indeed the front line of the British armed forces' fight against a vicious and brutal terrorism. I never fail to be truly impressed by our soldiers' calm determination and steadiness—qualities that they have displayed in Northern Ireland for more than 27 years with great, and often heroic, distinction. I know that the House has particular admiration for the remarkable men of the home service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, whose unique commitment deserves the nation's unqualified respect.
Those men will not be daunted by last week's bombings; nor will anyone else serving in Northern Ireland, or anyone in Britain. It will stiffen their absolute resolve to combat terrorism in the Province until it ceases to be a blight on the lives of the people who live there and who want peace very much. The IRA is making yet another grotesque miscalculation if it believes that those wicked acts of violence will bend the will of a Conservative Government.
In our debate over the past two days, much has been said about the way in which our defence and security policies have a global outlook. However, we sometimes pay less attention to what that means in practice for our service men and women. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) enjoyed his time on the armed forces parliamentary scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) and many other hon. Members on both sides of the House have enjoyed it and have seen at first hand what the massive range of 684 deployments means for our armed forces. Rather than the crash and thunder that issue from the Dispatch Box in a set-piece debate such as this, we can learn about the ordinary, everyday lives of service men and women as they go throughout the world.
All around the world—not just in Bosnia and the middle east or the places that we hear about every day—Britain's armed forces are engaged in a range of operational and training deployments. I think it is important to highlight the extraordinary scope of our commitments and responsibilities and the remarkable way in which they are carried out. Tonight, 51 of the Queen's ships, together with six Royal Fleet Auxiliaries, are deployed to every corner of the globe, from the south Atlantic to Scandinavia, and from the Caribbean to Hong Kong.
HMS Edinburgh, a type 42 destroyer, with RFA Bayleaf in support, is in the Gulf on the Armilla patrol. After 17 years of providing reassurance to British shipping and playing a unique role in enhancing the security of our many friends in the Gulf, the Armilla patrol remains vital to the preservation of British interests in an area where we continue to maintain extremely important commercial, political and military relationships. No doubt all that would be reviewed in the Labour party's defence review, should it ever win a general election.
The type 42 destroyer HMS Exeter is in the south China sea, an area whose importance my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State highlighted yesterday. HMS Lancaster, a type 23 frigate, is patrolling the Falkland Islands. That is a potent symbol of our firm commitment to our dependencies in the south Atlantic. Her sister ship. HMS Argyll, is in the Caribbean, where among other things she plays a vital role in the international fight against drug trafficking in the region. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston stressed the vital role of the West Indian guard ship in preventing drug smuggling and how much we wish that a wider public knew of the success of these missions.
HMS Nottingham, a type 42 destroyer, is assigned to NATO's Standing Naval Force Mediterranean, and HMS Invincible is also in the Mediterranean, having recently participated in a major regional NATO exercise designed to improve interoperability and co-operation on land, sea and in the air.
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary Resource is at Split, where she has played a crucial role in support of our forces in Bosnia. I had the chance to visit the headquarters of the RFA in July, and I pay a warm and handsome tribute to the officers and crews of the RFA. Without them, the Royal Navy could not function.
In June, I visited the Royal Marine Commando training centre at Lympstone. I wish that the entire House could see the Royal Marines' fantastically high standards, both physically and in terms of their exceptional military capability, and also their superb esprit de corps. Today, elements of the Marines are conducting field-firing training in Cyprus, boat and beach training in the Netherlands and other exercises in Brunei and the United States. A fleet diving unit is taking part in a NATO mine warfare exercise in Turkey, and 40 Commando is luckily taking leave after an excellent tour in Northern Ireland.
Like many other Members, I have had opportunities to visit our submariners at Faslane. I wish to pay my tribute to the dedicated men who serve in both our hunter killer 685 and Trident boats, and before them on the Polaris vessels which served us so well for 30 years. We place on them and their families the most strenuous demands and they respond with demonstrable spirit and fortitude.
As the House will be fully aware, the Army's operational commitments are not limited to Bosnia and Northern Ireland. In Hong Kong, the resident Gurkha battalion will remain until next month, when it will move to the United Kingdom. I assure the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that he need have no anxiety about the Gurkhas. They are a valued and important part of our defence capability.
The Army continues to provide infantry and Royal Engineer forces in the Falklands, and closer to home we maintain a garrison of 3,000 troops in Cyprus to maintain the security and integrity of the sovereign base areas.
Tonight, elements of the Army are on exercise in Germany, Canada, Kenya, Jordan and Australia, and they have recently completed a major exercise in Poland. About 250 officers and soldiers serve in training teams assisting the armed forces of our friends.
As the House knows, the Royal Air Force continues to do admirable work in Bosnia, where six Harrier GR7 aircraft based in Gioia, together with a tanker, provide recce support for IFOR. The RAF also provides six Chinook helicopters, which have supported the ground forces. The support helicopter force has done a fantastic job in Bosnia and elsewhere, and I am delighted to mark it out tonight for its admirable work.
In the Gulf, we have six Tornado GRIs, supported by a tanker, which fly as the UK contribution to the southern no-fly zone, and over northern Iraq six Tornados are operating out of Incirli. Fast jets, AWACS—the airborne warning and communication system—support helicopters, transport and maritime aircraft are all involved tonight on training exercises both at home and overseas.
Everywhere I have been, I have been greatly impressed with the high personal standards of RAF personnel. The whole House should know that, this year, they have won a number of extremely important awards that confirm their skill and pre-eminence among all other air crew in the world. The House will particularly wish to congratulate the crew from 72 Squadron, to whom the Princess Royal presented last week the Edward and Maisie Lewis award for the most notable air sea rescue of the year, in extraordinarily difficult circumstances off the Falkland Islands.
There is no doubt that present demands made upon the three services are very heavy. My hon. Friends the Members for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), for Canterbury and for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) have all made that clear. Clearly, they are working to a high level of tasking, and that places real pressures on both men and equipment. I find morale, nevertheless, to be extremely good, but I am under no illusions, nor is anyone here, as to the pressures on service personnel and their families.
I take this opportunity to salute the service wives and their families, and take this chance to thank them for their tolerance and forbearance over the past 12 months. Each of the services is conscious of its obligations for the welfare of its dependants, and I pay tribute to the efforts of those service welfare organizations—from the Soldiers, 686 Sailors and Airmen's Families Association, to the Navy, Army, Air Force Institute to the Royal British Legion—who do so much to support those engaged in the defence of the realm.
I also endorse the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport about the great importance of the medical services. I am pleased that he is pleased about HMS Dolphin, and we shall continue to watch that situation carefully.
I would also like to thank all the civilian staff of the MOD, wherever they may be, who do so much to support military operations. Without them, the armed forces simply could not function. We greatly value and cherish our civilian work force, who have had to cope with formidable change. We are lucky indeed to have such loyal support from our civil servants, at all levels.
Many of the activities undertaken by our armed forces are connected with our allies and partners—as displayed in Bosnia, where we continue to play a central role in our development of closer relations with the countries of central and eastern Europe, where we have the closest possible and burgeoning relationships. We regard these as extremely important. A number of hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury and others, mentioned the importance of the enlargement of NATO.
The opportunity to exercise our forces in countries we used to regard as adversaries is one of the most tangible reminders of just how far we have come in such a short time. I visited the 7th Armoured Brigade on exercise in Poland recently and had an opportunity to see them exercising on testing and unfamiliar terrain with their Polish colleagues. That is surely a remarkably testimony—seven years after the fall of the Berlin wall and more than 57 years since the German invasion of Poland—of the strategic changes that the world has seen.
There are numerous poignant demonstrations of the depth of the defence relations that we have established in the region. A British Army brigadier is serving as special adviser to the Czech Chief of the General Staff. A British colonel is on attachment to the Latvian army as Deputy Chief of the General Staff. Both attachments have provided a permanent and readily available source of advice to their hosts.
The reserve forces continue to make a vital contribution to our defence capabilities. Reservists have been involved in operations in the former Yugoslavia from the very first deployments. All together some 1,700 reservists, the majority from the Territorial Army, have been called out. All have been volunteers and they have performed very well.
A smaller, but no less important, contribution is provided by members of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve who are serving in Turkey in support of the no-fly zone in northern Iraq. We are committed to using our reserves more widely and more flexibly. The Reserve Forces Act 1996 will enable us to do just that. The Act, which has been widely welcomed, updates the law on reserves and provides for their more flexible use, introducing important new safeguards for employers and reservists. This is a very important and useful step forward, and work is now under way to develop the necessary secondary legislation to enable the Act's new powers to operate.
687 I thank the hon. Member for Motherwell, North for his co-operation and that of his hon. Friends in the Committee in which that Bill was seen through the House of Commons. It was, I agree, an admirable and model way of doing the business.
§ Mr. Soames
No, I must carry on.
The House will also wish to recognise the wonderful work of the cadet forces. As well as giving many young people their first experience of the armed forces and the service way of life, they play an important wider role in our national life, helping in the development of qualities such as good citizenship, self-reliance and self-confidence. I am grateful to those thousands of adult volunteers and parents who give selflessly of their time to make cadet units an immense success. They are greatly valued.
A number of hon. Members have referred to manning, recruitment and morale. Some hon. Members have rightly expressed concern about levels of recruitment to the armed forces. I am glad to say that recruitment is picking up well. We are not complacent about it, but we are determined to carry on and to ensure that we maintain the good flow of recruits.
§ Mr. Soames
I will not give way.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in his opening remarks yesterday, said that the Bett review contained many complex issues and interrelationships which need to be carefully considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has also spoken of that matter.
I know that the House will agree that those are vital questions which need the most careful and detailed consideration. It is crucial that we take the appropriate time to get them right. More work is required and we will take all the time we need to ensure that we get the right answers. We shall not be rushed into making decisions and the exercise will take some months yet.
While the Labour party postures and poses, with its wholly unbelievable and unreal so-called defence policy, it mocks the ethos of the armed forces with its left-wing obsessions for all the ghastly politically correct nostrums that dominate Labour Members' lives. The Labour party will never be able to understand that the armed forces have a need to be different.
Socialists should remember in their prattling and wittering that, for the young service man and woman of today, the fundamental character of war will remain unchanged. Those highly trained men and women will have to take part in a terrifying contest of wills for which they will need to be highly trained and in which they will have to cope with extreme danger, in rapidly changing circumstances, amid conditions of chaos and uncertainty. Their skills and the quality of their leadership, weapons and equipment will be severely tested.
Such operations are sustainable only by men highly motivated by tremendous pride in their regiment, their corps, their service and their traditions. My hon. Friends and I do not believe that the Labour party has the first idea 688 what that means. It believes those things to be irrelevant abstractions, and it is clear that they neither appreciate nor understand us.
What the House heard last night from the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) was a fraud and a sham. A Labour defence policy consists of a succession of formulae designed to enable people who profoundly disagree to persuade themselves that they are in total agreement. It will not wash and the country will not buy it, because ordinary people know, as do Conservative Members, that Labour, old or new, simply does not care about defence. To Labour, defence simply does not matter. It is not a priority. But all the qualities that mark out the services as being so admirable and formidable are wholly inimical and entirely contrary to socialists' left-wing beliefs. They are entirely alien concepts to socialist Labour, old or new.
We on the Conservative Benches cannot and will not ever forget the spineless craven folly of the same people on the Opposition Benches and their reckless and grotesque flirtation with CND and other fellow travellers in the 1980s. When it mattered, Labour bottled out and chucked in the sponge. If Labour had been in power in the 80s there would have been no cruise missiles and no Trident. There might have been serious consequences to our national security. Labour proved then once and for all that it can never be trusted with defence.
This pathetic and wholly implausible attempt by Labour spokesmen to suggest that there can be consensus between us on major defence issues is not sustainable because of their record. I recommend that my hon. Friends remember that 18 of the 24 present members of the shadow Cabinet were formerly CND members. They are not to be trusted on defence. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the amendment and to vote for the "Statement on the Defence Estimates".
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 253, Noes 290.
|Division No. 214|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Bray, Dr Jeremy|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)|
|Ainger, Nick||Burden, Richard|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Byers, Stephen|
|Allen, Graham||Caborn, Richard|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Callaghan, Jim|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Armstrong, Ms Hilary||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Ashton, Joseph||Campbell-Savours, D N|
|Austin-Walker, John||Canavan, Dennis|
|Barnes, Harry||Cann, Jamie|
|Barron, Kevin||Carlile, Alex (Montgomery)|
|Battle, John||Chidgey, David|
|Bayley, Hugh||Chisholm, Malcolm|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Church, Ms Judith|
|Beith, A J||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Bell, Stuart||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Clelland, David|
|Benton, Joe||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Berry, Roger||Cohen, Harry|
|Betts, Clive||Connarty, Michael|
|Blunkett, David||Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)|
|Boateng, Paul||Corbett, Robin|
|Bradley, Keith||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Corston, Ms Jean||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Cousins, Jim||Jones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd SW)|
|Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE)||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John||Jowell, Ms Tessa|
|Dalyell, Tam||Keen, Alan|
|Darling, Alistair||Kennedy, Charles (Ross C & S)|
|Davidson, Ian||Kennedy, Mrs Jane (Broadgreen)|
|Davies, Bryan (Oldham C)||Khabra, Piara S|
|Davies, Chris (Littleborough)||kilfoyle, Peter|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)|
|Denham, John||Lewis, Terry|
|Dewar, Rt Hon Donald||Liddell, Mrs Helen|
|Dixon, Rt Hon Don||Litherland, Robert|
|Dobson, Frank||Livingstone, Ken|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Lloyd, Tony (Stretf'd)|
|Dowd, Jim||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||McAllion, John|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||McFall, John|
|Eastham, Ken||McKelvey, William|
|Etherington, Bill||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||McLeish, Henry|
|Fatchett Derek||McMaster, Gordon|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Fisher, Mark||MacShane, Denis|
|Flynn, Paul||McWilliam, John|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Madden, Max|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Maddock, Mrs Diana|
|Foulkes, George||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Fraser, John||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Fyfe, Mrs Maria||Martin, Michael J (Springburn)|
|Galloway, George||Martlew, Eric|
|Gapes, Mike||Maxton, John|
|George, Bruce||Meacher, Michael|
|Gerrard, Neil||Michael, Alun|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)|
|Godsiff, Roger||Milburn, Alan|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Miller, Andrew|
|Gordon, Ms Mildred||Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)|
|Graham, Thomas||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Morley, Elliot|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Mowlam, Ms Marjorie|
|Gunnell, John||Mudie, George|
|Hain, Peter||Mullin, Chris|
|Hall, Mike||Murphy, Paul|
|Hanson, David||Oakes, Gordon|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Harvey, Nick||O'Brien, William (Normanton)|
|Henderson, Doug||O'Hara, Edward|
|Heppell, John||Olner, Bill|
|Hill, Keith (Streatham)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Hinchliffe, David||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Hodge, Ms Margaret||Pearson, Ian|
|Hoey, Miss Kate||Pendry, Tom|
|Home Robertson, John||Pickthall, Colin|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||Pike, Peter L|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Pope, Greg|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Powell, Sir Ray (Ogmore)|
|Hoyle, Doug||Prentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Hughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N)||Prescott, John|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Radice, Giles|
|Hutton, John||Randall, Stuart|
|Illsley, Eric||Raynsford, Nick|
|Ingram, Adam||Reid, Dr John|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)||Rendel, David|
|Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Jamieson, David||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Janner, Greville||Rogers, Allan|
|Jenkins, Brian (SE Staffs)||Rooker, Jeff|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & D'side)||Rooney, Terry|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Timms, Stephen|
|Rowlands, Ted||Tipping, Paddy|
|Ruddock, Ms Joan||Touhig, Don|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Trickett, Jon|
|Sheerman, Barry||Turner, Dennis|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Tyler, Paul|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Vaz, Keith|
|Short, Ms Clare||Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold|
|Skinner, Dennis||Wallace, James|
|Smith, Chris (Islington S)||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Wareing, Robert N|
|Snape, Peter||Watson, Mike|
|Soley, Clive||Welsh, Andrew|
|Spearing, Nigel||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Spellar, John||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)|
|Squire, Ms R (Dunfermline W)||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Steel, Rt Hon Sir David||Winnick, David|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Stott Roger||Worthington, Tony|
|Strang, Dr Gavin||Wright, Dr Tony|
|Straw, Jack||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Taylor, Matthew (Truro)||Mr. John Cummings and Mr. Thomas McAvoy.|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan||Chapman, Sir Sydney|
|Alexander, Richard||Churchill, Mr|
|Alison, Michael (Selby)||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd)|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)|
|Amess, David||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Arbuthnot, James||Coe, Sebastian|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Colvin, Michael|
|Ashby, David||Congdon, David|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Robert||Conway, Derek|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Cormack, Sir Patrick|
|Baldry, Tony||Couchman, James|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Cran, James|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Bates, Michael||Curry, Rt Hon David|
|Batiste, Spencer||Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Day, Stephen|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Biffen, John||Devlin, Tim|
|Body, Sir Richard||Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Douglas-Hamilton, Rt Hon Lord|
|Boswell, Tim||Dover, Den|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Duncan, Alan|
|Bottomley, Virginia||Duncan Smith, Iain|
|Bowis, John||Dunn, Bob|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Durant Sir Anthony|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Dykes, Hugh|
|Brazier, Julian||Eggar, Rt Hon Tim|
|Bright, Sir Graham||Elletson, Harold|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes)||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Evennett, David|
|Burns, Simon||Faber, David|
|Burt, Alistair||Fabricant, Michael|
|Butcher, John||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Butler, Peter||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Butterfill, John||Forman, Nigel|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n)||Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Forth, Eric|
|Carttiss, Michael||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Cash, William||Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)|
|Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)||Knox, Sir David|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Kynoch, George|
|French, Douglas||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Fry, Sir Peter||Lawrence, Sir Ivan|
|Gale, Roger||Legg, Barry|
|Gallie, Phil||Leigh, Edward|
|Gardiner, Sir George||Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark|
|Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan||Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Gill, Christopher||Lidington, David|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Lilley, Peter|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Lord, Michael|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Luff, Peter|
|Gorst, Sir John||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (SW Cambs)||McCrea, Rev William|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||MacKay, Andrew|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Grylls, Sir Michael||McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Madel, Sir David|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Maitland, Lady Olga|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Malone, Gerald|
|Hannam, Sir John||Mans, Keith|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||Marland, Paul|
|Harris, David||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Haselhurst, Sir Alan||Marshall, Sr Michael (Arundel)|
|Hawkins, Nick||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Mates, Michael|
|Hayes, Jerry||Merchant, Piers|
|Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David||Mills, Iain|
|Hendry, Charles||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence||Moate, Sir Roger|
|Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test)||Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (Grantham)||Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector|
|Horam, John||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Needham, Rt Hon Richard|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Nelson, Anthony|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildf'd)||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)||Norris, Steve|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne)||Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley|
|Hunter, Andrew||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Ottaway, Richard|
|Jack, Michael||Page, Richard|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Paice, James|
|Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Jessel, Toby||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Pawsey, James|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Jones, Robert B (W Herts)||Pickles, Eric|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Key, Robert||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Rathbone, Tim|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Knapman, Roger||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Richards, Rod|
|Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)||Riddick, Graham|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Robathan, Andrew||Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangf'd)|
|Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Robinson, Mark (Somerton)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)||Thomason, Roy|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Ross, William (E Lond'y)||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Rowe, Andrew||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Rumbold, Dame Angela||Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy||Tracey, Richard|
|Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Tredinnick, David|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Trend, Michael|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Trotter, Neville|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Viggers, Peter|
|Shersby, Sir Michael||Walden, George|
|Sims, Sir Roger||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Waller, Gary|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)||Ward, John|
|Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Soames, Nicholas||Waterson, Nigel|
|Speed, Sir Keith||Watts, John|
|Spencer, Sir Derek||Wells, Bowen|
|Spicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)||Whitney, Ray|
|Spicer, Sr Michael (S Worcs)||Whittingdale, John|
|Spink, Dr Robert||Widdecombe, Miss Ann|
|Spring, Richard||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Sproat, Iain||Wilkinson, John|
|Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)||Willetts, David|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John||Wilshire, David|
|Steen, Anthony||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Stephen, Michael||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)|
|Stern, Michael||Wolfson, Mark|
|Streeter, Gary||Yeo, Tim|
|Sumberg, David||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Sykes, John||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Mr. Timothy Wood and Mr. Patrick McLoughlin.|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1996 contained in Cm.3223.