§ [First Day]
§ [Relevant documents: Fifth report, on the Reserves Call-Out Order 1998, Etc. (HC 868); sixth report, on the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (HC 621); seventh report (also the eighth report from the Trade and Industry Committee), on Aspects of Defence Procurement and Industrial Policy (HC 675); and eighth report, on the Strategic Defence Review (HC 138-I).]4.20 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)
I beg to move,That this House approves the conclusions of the Government's Strategic Defence Review (Cm 3999).Events in Kosovo have underlined yet again the fact that the modern world poses difficult and complex problems for the international community. They have also demonstrated that the British people are, by instinct and inclination, internationalist. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has already made a statement about the situation in Kosovo, and, as he told the House, the crisis is far from over. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the international community are taking care to ensure that President Milosevic lives up to his undertakings.
The House will join me in recognising the critical role played by the brave men and women in our armed forces, and the sterling efforts made by everyone in the Ministry of Defence who was involved in averting a humanitarian catastrophe in a benighted region of Europe. Two weeks ago, I met Royal Air Force personnel at Gioia del Colle air base in Southern Italy, who stood ready to take action against Milosevic as part of NATO's air operations. Let me tell the House that they did not relish their task, but they were determined to carry out their duty had Ambassador Holbrooke's mission failed. They, like the rest of us, will have applauded his success. Mr. Milosevic should be under no misapprehension that they stood ready to act if he failed to come to terms. They remain there primed for action should he renege on his agreements.
That was the second time this year that I have had to contemplate giving orders to the men and women of our armed forces to risk their lives in action to face down the unacceptable behaviour of dictators who defied the collective will of the international community. In February, it was Saddam Hussein; today, it is President Milosevic. Tomorrow, they will be ready again. Our armed forces are a vital part of our armoury in helping to enforce the rule of law in an unstable world. Their response to the call in the Gulf, in the Balkans, in west and central Africa and elsewhere is a living demonstration of the policy that underpins the strategic defence review that I ask the House to endorse tomorrow.
We as a nation are not prepared to stand idly by. When it matters, we want to make a difference, and we are prepared to take a lead in doing so. That is not a question of abstract philanthropy. We have international responsibilities that it is right for us to discharge, but we also have hard-nosed interests in a peaceful, stable, prosperous and democratic Europe, in a peaceful, stable, prosperous and democratic world. We will not achieve 969 this goal by staying at home and wringing our hands. That is why British forces are committed to operations in support of our interests, commitments and responsibilities in the Balkans, Cyprus, the Gulf, Africa and a dozen other places throughout the world.
Wherever they are around the world, our armed forces can be proud of the uniform they wear. I am glad to tell the House that I have decided, following discussions with the Chief of the Defence Staff, to adopt a more open approach to the wearing of uniform in public. Our current policy requires service personnel travelling off base to be in civilian clothes unless they are in a military vehicle. We will shortly promulgate guidelines to allow service men and women to choose to wear uniform as they go about their normal business in our cities, towns and villages, subject to the local security situation. That will, I believe, enhance the public's awareness of the armed forces, and will be widely welcomed, especially by the services and communities with traditional service links.
Of course, making a difference internationally will not always involve our armed forces. Difficult and complex problems require a multi-faceted response, and crisis prevention must always be better than crisis management. While it would be neither sensible nor realistic to involve British forces in every international crisis, our armed forces are a vital means for Britain to play its part in the international community. Without the ability to project, use and sustain an effective military capability in the world's trouble spots, wringing our hands is all that we would be able to do in some crises.
The ability to make an effective military contribution is what counts. Past events in the former Yugoslavia and in Somalia have demonstrated graphically what can happen if armed forces are used ineffectively. They become part of the problem, not the solution. We would be asking our young men and women to take undue risks for uncertain gains, which I am not willing to do.
I turn for a moment to the disgraceful leak of the strategic defence review White Paper in July, which I considered an affront to this House. I promised to report to the House the outcome of the inquiry that I ordered. I have done so fully today, in a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) which is now available to the House.
After extensive investigations, it has not been possible to identify the individual who leaked the White Paper, which is a matter of the greatest regret to me. However, the House will wish to note that the inquiry concluded that it was leaked to the Opposition Front-Bench team and that subsequently copies were made within the House and made available to journalists. Conservative Members expressed much outrage at the leak, but I regret to say that, in spite of that, the Opposition Front-Bench team refused to speak to the independent investigators.
§ Mr. Hugh Bayley (City of York)
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, back in the summer, the Conservative Front-Bench team promised to co-operate in every way possible with the leak inquiry? What assistance did he get with the inquiry from them?
§ Mr. Robertson
I did not conduct the inquiry. It was conducted by independent investigators appointed by the 970 secretary to the Cabinet. I am as bemused as my hon. Friend that the Opposition Front-Bench team, who made such a fuss at the time, first agreed an appointment with the independent investigators but later refused to meet them.
The leak was a gross discourtesy to Parliament, and, as Secretary of State, I apologise to the House once again. The House will draw its own conclusions about the way in which the White Paper subsequently found its way on to the front pages of the newspapers.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)
Will the Minister tell the House to how many inquiries into the leak of Conservative Government papers the Labour Opposition of the time gave any help? Was there a single inquiry instituted by a Conservative Government into the leak of Government papers that came into the possession of the Labour party in which the Labour party told the investigation who was responsible for the leak?
§ Mr. Robertson
I am responsible only for the current Government. I cannot recall—perhaps you, Madam Speaker, will agree with me on this point—any previous leak of a White Paper in which Opposition Front Benchers received the document the previous evening, but did not indicate to the Government that it had been found.
I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) to the occasion when, under the previous Government, the Daily Mirror received a leaked copy of the Budget the night before the Budget speech was due to be made. In the name of honour and decency, and to his eternal credit, the editor of that newspaper handed back the documents to the Government, because he thought that that was in the interests of the country as a whole. Had Opposition Front Benchers learned from that example, the people would have greater regard for them.
The strategic defence review was launched to give Britain the means to make a difference. It does not commit us to being a world policeman, but it does enable us to play an effective part in international solutions where we choose to become involved.
Let me make it clear: we were building on success, not on failure. Our armed forces have a record that is second to none. Their people and much of their equipment are still the best in the world, as are the civilians who work throughout defence—our fourth service. However, when in opposition, our view was that modernisation and enhancement were needed in key areas; that people had to be given higher priority; and that defence needed a coherent vision to revitalise it to meet the challenges of the 21st century. That analysis was fully confirmed as the review progressed.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
Speaking of modernisation, will the Secretary of State comment on the article that appeared in The Herald today? It refers to fact that approximately 45,000 people who are serving abroad because of their involvement with the armed forces might not be allowed to vote in the Scottish elections next year. In the process of modernisation, can a system be introduced to allow those people to participate in the democratic process?
§ Mr. Robertson
I, too, was interested to read that article this morning. It may well be that the problem has 971 to do with the fact that the rules applicable to local government elections apply to the Scottish Parliament elections that will take place next year. It is a matter of concern to me, and is already the subject of investigation.
I am determined that all members of the armed forces, wherever they serve, at home or abroad, will have the right to vote in next year's elections, in the same way as they have the right to vote in general elections. Their future and the future of their country will be determined by those elections, and I am sure that they will want to vote. I doubt that many will want to vote for the Scottish National party, but time will tell. The electors in Scotland turfed out every Conservative Member of Parliament, and thereby proved their intelligence. I believe that they may go on to prove it again next year.
Since I announced the outcome of the review to the House in July, it has gained good notices, both at home and as far afield as Los Angeles and Tokyo. One senior NATO official described the alliance's reaction to our proposals as "qualified rapture". I welcome that support, but I am aware that it is not enough to set the right course. What really matters is to see that course through. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, was right, in the Committee's admirable report on the review, to emphasise the importance of delivering on our commitments.
§ Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)
In considering the review, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will address the position of the Territorial Army. I know that many representations have already been made on the subject, but I shall add my voice, because we in the north-east are in danger of losing up to 1,000 jobs. I understand that there is little value to be gained from transferring the headquarters from York to Edinburgh. When considering responses to the review, will the Secretary of State examine that issue so that we might retain the Territorial Army headquarters in York and also save some TA units in the Yorkshire area?
§ Mr. Robertson
The future of the Territorial Army was considered as part of this review. The modernising and updating of our armed forces could not neglect the valuable role that the Territorial Army plays at present and will play in the future. That is why we not only made proposals in the review—which I stand by—but said that the eventual configuration of the Territorial Army would be the subject of detailed and widespread consultation throughout the country. We are undertaking that consultation at present.
I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to express their views in the course of this two-day debate about individual TA units in their constituencies. We shall listen to those views, and also those expressed in the letters that we receive in the meantime. I want to ensure that the Territorial Army is usable, relevant and better integrated into the British Army. I want its value to the British Army to increase in the future as the role of the Army changes.
As to the decision about the eventual location of the headquarters in York and Edinburgh, the Minister for the Armed Forces is considering that issue in detail, and will make a statement in due course.
§ Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)
When the Secretary of State considers integrating the Territorial 972 Army into the Regular Army, will he bear in mind representations that were made to his hon. Friends, to me and to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) when we participated in the armed forces parliamentary visits scheme during the summer recess? There are implications in terms of promotion opportunities for NCOs in the Regular Army, because many senior NCOs are appointed to assist Territorial Army units. Will the Secretary of State consider the possible negative impact on morale in the Regular Army if senior NCOs do not have the opportunity of being posted to TA units?
While I am on my feet, will the Secretary of State also accept my representation not to close the TA unit in Camberley, which is one of the main homes of the British Army?
§ Mr. Robertson
I note the hon. Gentleman's constituency point, and we shall also bear in mind his wider point. The matter has been raised with me as I have travelled around the country, and it is an interesting and potentially important point.
The hon. Gentleman referred to morale in the Regular and the Territorial Armies. I believe that it is linked strongly to the role and the relevance of the Territorial Army today. If those serving in the Territorial Army do not believe that their roles relate to the world around them, morale is inevitably affected. That is one explanation of why the Territorial Army currently loses 30 per cent. of its new intake within the first year. We have had to address that issue while considering the future of the Territorial Army and how we can make it much more usable.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is considerable disappointment in the north of England that we are being asked to bear a disproportionate share of the proposed cuts in the Territorial Army. Will he undertake to consider carefully the representations on that point? I know that he will have received many of them.
§ Mr. Robertson
My hon. Friend's point is also made by others. He refers to an initial proposal that showed where changes in the Territorial Army might be made. We have listened to representations that have come from the north-east, Scotland, Wales and elsewhere about the ultimate configuration of the Territorial Army. We have laid out the principles on which we shall base the eventual decisions, and they were agreed with the Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Associations throughout the country.
We believe that the ultimate decision, which my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will announce in due course—he will expand on this issue at the beginning of tomorrow's debate—will be in the interests of both the Territorial Army and the armed forces as a whole.
I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) one fact that we should bear in mind—the strength of the UK's Regular Army is 110,000, so a Reserve Army of 60,000 might be slightly disproportionate to the full strength of the British Army. 973 We are suggesting a figure that makes sense to the Army, the country and its defence. We hope that the ultimate configuration will be right.
§ Mr. Robertson
I want to continue with my speech. The hon. Lady has already intervened. The Minister for the Armed Forces, will deal with this matter in greater detail tomorrow.
I hope that, during the debate, my ministerial colleagues and I can demonstrate that we are already working towards the implementation of this review. The Minister for the Armed Forces will tomorrow set out the work that is being done to implement the vital policy for people on which so much depends, and he will also speak on the modernisation of the reserves. As I have said, modernising and strengthening the role of all the reserves—the Royal Auxiliary, the Air Force, the Royal Naval Reserve and the TA—means making them better trained, more usable and therefore more relevant. That is one of the most important initiatives in the review, and one in which I know the House is interested. We have not made decisions on the detailed implementation of the review, and when we have, I shall make a firm statement to the House.
My aim today is to set out to the House the thrust of the review, and to respond to the important points made by the Select Committee on Defence and others. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, the Chairman of the Select Committee, has been here all along. He is not in his usual seat, but he has an eagle-eye view of what is happening, and he is watching the wastes as the debate takes place.
I shall deal with some of the points made in the Committee's report, and I thank it for producing such a thorough and thoughtful assessment, much of which I agree with. The report has made an essential contribution to the wider debate on security, which I am keen to encourage. It has rightly highlighted several issues on which more work needs to be done. I am glad that the Committee has welcomed the review asa positive advance in formulating a defence policy for the beginning of the new millennium".The Committee missed the target with one assertion—that the strategic defence review did not consider the wider security context for defence, and that we therefore now need another strategic security review. Let there be no doubt—the foreign and security policy framework on which the defence review was based was a comprehensive and Government-wide re-examination of the international and domestic context for defence now and well into the next century. The idea that the strategic defence review was a narrow exercise in examining defence only in 974 traditional terms might be a reflection of the way in which such work was done in the past, but it bears no relation to the way in which we now do business.
§ Mr. Colvin
In the context of what the Secretary of State has just said, is it not regrettable that the strategic defence review did not seriously consider two aspects that are exercising the minds of our European partners: the common and foreign security policy, and the need to try to find a European security and defence identity? No doubt many hon. Members are not keen on either of those important matters, but the review should at least have considered them, and made a straight statement about the Government's policy on them.
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Gentleman is very knowledgable about this subject. The Government's view on the common foreign and security policy and how it relates to European defence was determined definitively at the Amsterdam summit and in its conclusions, which have now been passed into British domestic law. We have a comprehensive view of the role of the European Union and the Western European Union, and the European security and defence identity of NATO. It is now necessary to make sure that those roles and identities work, which the defence review has set about doing.
We must make sure that the European security and defence identity inside NATO is operational, which is the big challenge for NATO in the lead-up to the Washington summit. The challenge for the Western European Union is to take on the tasks that it has been given by the Amsterdam treaty and effectively to use its new powers. The challenge for the European Union is relevantly to apply the common foreign and security policy to events in Europe where there is no need for the United States or Canada to become involved. Far from ignoring that crucial dimension, it has been at the very heart of our policy.
One of the key recommendations made about our review by other foreign partners has concerned the way in which we have dealt with those critical issues for European countries, and found a solution. Many countries are following our example and our review process to find a better remedy for the future.
We did not simply consider the foreign and security framework; we took a broader view of defence. The Committee rightly drew attention to emerging risks such as information warfare, the problems of dealing with so-called asymmetric responses to our conventional capabilities, and the challenges that are posed by new technologies. We dealt with all those issues in the review. The strategic framework will change, and this is not a static defence review fixed in stone for ever, so we shall, throughout Government, continue closely to examine those issues.
975 I do not want to dwell on what the review is not, because I want to remind the House what it is about—a robust long-term vision for defence.
§ Mr. Robertson
I have been generous in giving way up to now, and I should like to make progress before doing so again.
The review is about a new emphasis on what I have called defence diplomacy—making the most of opportunities to build mutual international understanding and confidence. It is about forces that have the greatest utility in dealing with today's risks but are robust against the widest possible range of eventualities tomorrow. They must have the ability to adapt should the world change, and be able to deploy quickly, operate effectively and sustain and support themselves in difficult environments. They must be usable and relevant across the crisis spectrum.
In practice, that means a series of enhancements to build a capability fit for the next century. Those include capable joint rapid reaction forces with substantial firepower and protection, and the new strategic airlift and sealift needed rapidly to deploy those forces. They include also the vital logistics, engineering and communications assets required to support those forces once they are deployed. We shall add 3,000 personnel to the Army. We shall have a sixth deployable brigade for the Army, and we shall develop an air manoeuvre brigade centred around the awesome capability of the Apache attack helicopter.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)
As the Secretary of State knows, 5 Airborne Brigade is readily deployable at a moment's notice, but the Select Committee has suggested that the new Airmobile Brigade will be infinitely less so. For example, one squadron of Apache helicopters may require 220 support vehicles. How quickly will the Secretary of State be able to deploy the new air mobile force, which is important for the policy projection that he has in mind?
§ Mr. Robertson
That was considered in great detail during the review, and I am confident that our opinion, to which the Army strongly adhered, will be proved right in practice. We believe that the configuration that we are proposing makes the most sense in terms of readiness, deployability and the wider issues of sustainability. The new configuration for the Army will make it best able to deal with future threats and crises.
Some people will always disagree. Some people can question any defence proposal. Plenty of people, retiring when still young, can express their views about these subjects in another House of this Parliament or in the newspapers, but the comprehensive view backed up by the General Staff in the Army was that this was the best way to proceed. That is the key authority for recommending the review's conclusions to the House.
A significant investment is called for in enhanced medical support, including the acquisition of a 200-bed casualty-receiving ship and the creation of a new regular ambulance regiment. Between now and the year 2001–02 we shall spend an additional £140 million on defence 976 medical services alone. I am sure that every hon. Member recognises the folly of defence costs study 15, which led to widespread demoralisation in defence medical services.
We also need a restructured, modern, relevant and usable Territorial Army. We need to extend our power projection capability by fitting all our nuclear-powered attack submarines for the Tomahawk cruise missile. There are plans for new, larger aircraft carriers and a joint Navy and Air Force unit to operate from them.
We need a significant change to our procurement practices which, I am confident, will enable us to obtain, more rapidly and more cost-effectively than ever before, the equipment we need.
§ Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
On procurement, my right hon. Friend must be aware that, in 1996–97, the 25 largest United Kingdom military projects had a total cost overrun of £3 billion. How can he use the results of modernisation research to modernise the management of military projects to ensure that such overruns do not occur?
§ Mr. Robertson
Quite dramatically. I ask my hon. Friend to study the strategic defence review and to read the supporting essays—especially the essay on procurement reform. This is one of the most radical and dramatic changes to the way in which we purchase military equipment, and I believe that it will attack the roots of the problems that my hon. Friend identified.
As a taxpayer and a representative of taxpayers, I find such cost overruns offensive. As someone in charge of the defence of the nation, I am embarrassed and offended that, over the years, we have wasted so much money on equipment that often comes too late to be used, and does not work when it comes. We must set about dealing with that, and that is precisely what the defence review sets out to do.
It is one thing to set about putting new procedures in place, but another thing entirely to make them work. I am absolutely committed as an individual—as is my Ministry as an institution—to ensuring that we get to grips with the problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) has identified, and I believe that we have one of the best chances of doing so.
§ Mr. Robertson
I will not allow a pleading game initiated from the Opposition Benches, however desperately hon. Members want to get in. I have a duty to the House of Commons—
§ Mr. Robertson
No. I will not give way, so the hon. Gentleman may sit down.
977 A policy for people is a key part of the defence review—a policy that will contribute directly to our military capability by looking after our most valuable asset.
This is the first ever defence review to have the public and private support of the chiefs of staff. I suggest that it is the first ever defence review to increase, not cut, the strength of the Regular Army, the first ever not to abolish any Regular Army regiments, and the first ever not to abolish any Regular Army bands. I believe that that is some achievement.
Modernising our armed forces has meant taking tough decisions. Modernisation is never painless, and the recognition by the chiefs of staff that force structures and equipment priorities had to change speaks volumes for their willingness to take the longer view. That longer view includes the recognition that, for the foreseeable future, most operations will involve some type of force projection, whether deterring threats to our allies in NATO, supporting peace and security elsewhere in Europe, dealing with dictators such as Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, or playing our part in humanitarian operations in Africa and elsewhere. However, that does not mean that we have ignored the possibility that direct threats to the United Kingdom could re-emerge. Flexible, high-capability forces, both regular and reserve, would be as essential in those circumstances as they are today.
While large nuclear arsenals and risks of proliferation remain in the world, our minimum nuclear deterrent remains a necessary element of Britain's security. Our work on information, asymmetric or unconventional warfare, biological threats, ballistic missile defence and other new technologies is designed to ensure that we shall not be taken by surprise if and when the threat starts to change.
An area where work continues is the risk to British forces deployed overseas.
§ Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)
The Minister must be aware that he and I have been in extensive correspondence on the nuclear issue since the review was announced. In the light of what he said about the state of the world that we have to live in, why did he feel unable to commit Britain to a no-first-use position on nuclear weapons?
Will my right hon. Friend also explain his comment to the Defence Select Committee about the sub-strategic use of nuclear weapons, where it might be possible to use them if we felt that that was not likely to provoke a response? I had some difficulty in identifying which part of England or Britain might be considered a target that would not provoke a nuclear response if we were on the receiving end, and I wondered who might—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. This is far too long for an intervention, and the Secretary of State is conscious of the fact that many hon. Members are trying to speak in the debate.
§ Mr. Robertson
I know that my hon. Friend disagrees with party policy on this issue. I know that, quite honourably, he takes a different view from the one that was expressed in the election manifesto on which he was 978 elected—and the draft election manifesto that was endorsed by more than 90 per cent. of Labour party members. He is perfectly entitled to do that, but it does not make him right.
Instead of going into all the details now, may I give my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) a flavour of what the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said in a letter to me, which I received in July, about the strategic defence review? He said:your decision to reduce by one third the UK's stockpile of operationally available nuclear warheads … is an important step towards the general disarmament envisaged in Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and at a time when developments elsewhere are subjecting it to considerable strain".He concluded:Such decisions confirm the high opinion in which all of us here hold the contribution your country makes to international peace and security.Therefore, perhaps my hon. Friend should hold close to his heart the view taken by the Labour party in its manifesto before the most recent general election—which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Britain, as the election result shows—and consider it yet again.
§ Mr. Robertson
Not now, because of the time.
Work continues on the risk that biological and chemical weapons pose to British forces deployed overseas. In July, in addition to announcing many measures that would immediately be taken to correct inherited shortfalls in our defensive capabilities against those weapons, I said that I had in hand a detailed review of the longer-term actions necessary to ensure a coherent UK response to these threats. I shall shortly report fully to the House on the conclusions of that review. In the meantime, I have agreed with the United States Defence Secretary that the United States and the UK should establish a formal programme of co-operation on the threat posed to our forces, especially by chemical and biological weapons.
I am satisfied that the package produced by the Ministry of Defence meets Britain's security needs at a sensible price, and that the sums underpinning it add up. We have produced a more balanced, better focused and affordable programme.
Meeting our 3 per cent. annual efficiency target is essential and will be a tough task, but our track record over the past year and a half is excellent, and I am confident that we shall again rise to the challenge. To help to ensure that, I have set up a team to look across all defence in order to encourage new thinking, co-ordinate progress and oversee implementation of the review as a whole.
The Select Committee and others will, of course, scrutinise closely the process of implementing the review. Let me help them in their work by suggesting some of the key areas on which I too shall concentrate.
We must deliver our "policy for people". The Select Committee is right to identify that as a major touchstone of the review's success, and the Minister for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), will have a good tale to tell tomorrow.
979 Joint service co-operation and integration will be vital to maximise the military output from defence, improve our ability to support the front line and release resources through harmonisation, standardisation and economies of scale. We are pressing ahead on the joint rapid reaction forces, and the other front-line initiatives. One of those is the formation of a joint Royal Navy/Royal Air Force Harrier force to be known as Joint Force 2000, the headquarters of which will form within RAF Strike Command in the near future.
Likewise, we are making good progress on our plans for a joint logistics organisation. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), will have a little more to say on both those matters when he speaks later in the debate. He will also have something to say about the smart procurement initiative, on which I touched in answer to a question.
In all this, I and my ministerial colleagues will be taking a direct role. We are determined that the atmosphere of openness and co-operation that characterised the SDR should continue throughout the implementation process. We must not pretend, however, that we can implement the SDR in isolation from our allies. Kosovo is a reminder of that, if we ever needed one. That is why our work in the modernisation of NATO's strategic concept will be so important in the run-up to the summit next year.
We must work with our friends to turn European rhetoric into practical defence co-operation, enhance the UN's ability to conduct peace support missions, and maintain the multinational interoperability on which our continuing operational success depends. Will our task be easy? Certainly not. Will we achieve our objectives? Yes. Will the outcome be good for Britain's defence? I am certain that it will be.
The real test will be our ability to deal effectively with the events that all Governments confront. Today's agenda—Kosovo, the Gulf, maintaining our engagement with Russia, dealing with the security consequences of economic crisis, Northern Ireland—will all be difficult enough, but perhaps the greatest test of the SDR will be its ability to deal successfully with the challenges that we cannot yet even predict or think about.
I am confident that we have produced the right framework to achieve this. In the SDR, we have given the armed forces and all those who work in defence a robust vision for the next century. Together, we are now putting that vision into practice. At a time when Britain's armed forces are once again in the headlines as a force for good in the world, I am delighted to be able to commend our work and the motion to the House.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:welcomes those aspects of the Strategic Defence Review which build on Conservative policy and which take forward jointery and rapid reaction capability; but deplores the proposed cuts in money, men, ships and planes; notes that, far from being foreign policy led, there are no clear foreign policy objectives, that defence spending between 1996–97 and 2001–2 will fall by £2,166 million in real terms with inevitable consequences for capability, that the Territorial Army is to be cut by almost one third, that the RAF is to have fewer planes and the Royal Navy fewer submarines and surface ships; seriously doubts that the planned replacements for aircraft carriers 980 will ever be built by a Labour Government; believes that the problems of over-stretch and morale have not been adequately addressed; and deplores the fact that the armed forces will be asked to do more in a dangerous world with fewer men and less equipment.The strategic defence review assumes thatthere is no longer a direct threat to Western Europe or the United Kingdomand thatthe risks to international stability seem as likely to come from other factors: ethnic and religious conflict; population and environmental pressures … drugs, terrorism and crime.Only a dangerous optimist would expect that scenario to last for 17 years. For the time being, the assumptions are probably right. The east-west strategic rivalry that dominated the global security environment for more than 40 years has been fundamentally altered. It is tempting to assume that we now face no serious threat to our national security, that crises are somewhere in far-away countries and that, in the words of the White Paper, we can respondwhere we can and when we choose".Did the end of the cold war really bring a new dawn of world peace? Some 38 countries now possess ballistic missiles. Many nations have some form of cruise missile. Several states have or are developing weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. Potential adversaries still include large states with powerful militaries whose future is uncertain, like Russia, or whose intentions are unknown, like China. New traditional threats to peace have emerged: Kosovo, tensions between Iraq and the United Nations, nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan, and the impending delivery of Russian air defence missiles to Cyprus.
As a result of Richard Holbrooke's successful diplomacy, Kosovo has, I hope, ceased to be a potential source of conflict, but that is still far from certain. Will the Secretary of State ask one of his Ministers to tell us today or when winding up tomorrow what provisions have been made for the emergency evacuation of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe observer force? Does he think that a United Nations resolution is necessary to permit its evacuation by armed force—something that we all realise may become necessary?
The Government's handling of Kosovo has been an object lesson in how not to do it. The fault has mainly been in the Foreign Office.Speak softly and carry a big stickwas Teddy Roosevelt's advice on foreign affairs. "Carry a twig and shout" seems to be the motto of our student union Foreign Secretary. Bluster and bombast have characterised his handling of the situation since the spring.
Like many others, I have lost count of the final warnings that he issued to Milosevic before going totally silent in mid-July. During that time, Milosevic reversed all the KLA gains and apparently murdered hundreds of people while making thousands of others homeless refugees. Milosevic knew that Britain did not at that time have international agreement for military action. He knew that NATO was not united and that there was little immediate possibility of a UN resolution. He had the measure of our Foreign Secretary, but the whole world now has his measure. Although I welcome the outcome of Richard Holbrooke's mission, I must say that the Foreign Secretary is lucky that the United States has rescued him from the consequences of his own belligerent rhetoric.
981 Britain's armed forces are taken seriously by the world. They are among the best, and threats to use them must not be made lightly. By sounding off before he had the support of our allies, the Foreign Secretary not only closed off some of his own options, but put NATO's credibility at stake.
The list of potential flashpoints in the world is a long one: the Baltics, the Balkans, the Ukraine, the southern rim, Turkey and Greece, the middle east and south-east Asia. Rogue states such as Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq and North Korea pose a new kind of threat in an age of weapons of mass destruction. The situation in Russia could develop dangerously for the west. Our security is challenged by non-state organisations and individuals like bin Laden, perhaps armed with chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons. They pose a different, but no less real, threat than the Warsaw pact.
The review has not dealt at all convincingly with the possibility of developing a ballistic missile defence. That may be feasible against a rogue state in a way that it never was against the Warsaw pact. The review says that any such decision would be premature and that we shall simply "monitor developments". However, the possibility of a missile attack on a west European country by a rogue state or terrorist group must be faced. The Select Committee says:the SDR's reticence on this subject represents a missed opportunity.
With all that as background, this is surely not a time to reduce our defence capabilities and to configure what we have as though its sole task will be to support peacekeeping operations and defend western interests outside the NATO area. Commitments cannot be predicted.
I am concerned about the Government's apparent desire to act as a sort of global policeman, interfering in countries where we do not like the Government and generally being "a force for good". That seems to me to be a return to a sort of liberal imperialism, and I caution the Government about such an approach. It must sound deeply patronising to most of the world, as became apparent in India after the Foreign Secretary's ill-judged intervention there. Quite apart from that, we no longer have the military might to pursue such a policy.
Recent conflicts have only too often demonstrated the damage and humiliation that can be inflicted on first-world armies by third-world tyrants, and how much easier it is to get in than to get out. The fundamental purpose of Britain's armed forces is, and should remain, to defend Britain's vital interests.
The Government promised to modernise and reshape our armed forces. Many of their proposals build on what we began when we were in government—the concepts of joint operations and rapid deployment were started by us. We agree that the nature of modern warfare demands that we fight as a joint team. I am delighted that the Government will equip our forces with Eurofighter, Challenger 2, Apache and other projects, which were all begun by us.
The new Navy-Air Force combat helicopter and Harrier commands, and the joint logistics organisation, are interesting ideas and we look forward to seeing how well 982 they work in practice. Similarly, I welcome the plan to form a 400-man nuclear, chemical and biological reconnaissance regiment, although I note that it appears to be solely to assist and defend deployed British forces. The review makes no mention of the possibility of an NCB attack on the United Kingdom. I am also delighted with the plan to build two new aircraft carriers and to equip them with a new fighter. When I responded to the strategic defence review in July, I expressed doubt that the Government would ever build them and was assured by the Secretary of State that they would. I was also asked by a senior naval officer—no doubt at the Secretary of State's request—to stop raising those doubts as it was very unhelpful. I thought for a moment that I was being a little too cynical—that is, until I saw the Ministry of Defence's contract bulletin of 9 September. That official Ministry of Defence document was issued six weeks after the review was published and it invites companies to tender for a project to refit the existing carriers. It says:Studies are required to assess the affordability of the CVS class"—that is, the existing three aircraft carriers—for conversion to operate and support … the Anglo-US joint strike fighter. If identified as the most cost effective option, the conversion would be expected to extend the operational life of the vessels for a period of 10 years from around 2012 to 2022.Where will the two new aircraft carriers be? It is distinctly possible that we shall not get them until 2022, so what price the Secretary of State's commitment now? He is actively considering extending the lives of the existing carriers well beyond the date when he told the House the new carriers would be in service. Clearly, there is absolutely no commitment to build the two new carriers. The Royal Navy has been comprehensively misled, and the House and the public have been misled.
§ Mr. George Robertson
I know that the hon. Gentleman is new to the job, but does he accept that that precise notice in the contracts bulletin is routine practice and that, when the previous Government were in office, for every major procurement decision there was a sensible requirement to ensure, for value-for-money purposes, that every option was tested? For every procurement decision for which the hon. Gentleman was taking credit a moment ago, those options were all tested. Had they not been tested, the National Audit Office would have been on the Government in a flash to ensure that things were done properly.
§ Mr. Maples
If it is only a formality, why was it not done before the Secretary of State gave the House a commitment to build the carriers? If he is examining the option to extend the lives of the existing carriers and goes ahead with that, he will be unable to build the new carriers. When the Secretary of State made a statement to the House on 16 July, did he know about that? If so, why did not he tell us? Why did not he tell us then that he was examining that option as an alternative to building the new carriers? If he did not know on 16 July, I presume that the idea came to him later. [Interruption.] This idea is important. It may not interest the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), but it interests many people outside the House. It is inconceivable that that option was not discussed as part of the review, so it must have been imposed on the Secretary of State after 16 July, probably by the Treasury.
983 There has been an uninvited guest throughout the SDR in the person of the Chancellor. His fingerprints are all over it. Just six weeks after the publication of the review, he is insisting on examination of the new option of postponing the new carriers for a further 10 years. As we suspected, the Government are not committed to new carriers, and I reiterate my belief that they will never be built by this Government.
§ Mr. Sayeed
My hon. Friend is right to say that this is an empty promise from the Opposition—[HON. MEMBERS: "From the Government."] I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Government made an empty promise to build two new carriers. According to the SDR, the in-service date for the new carriers is 2012, and there is no money in the MOD's long-term costings for those carriers.
§ Mr. Maples
In the light of this debate, it is quite understandable that my hon. Friend should momentarily confuse the Government and the Opposition, but he reinforces my point. The good faith of the Secretary of State has been compromised and I seriously doubt whether our armed forces will believe such commitments from him in future—not because they do not trust him, but because they will now have realised that he is not in charge. The Chancellor is in charge, and the defence budget has become the Treasury's contingency reserve.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
My hon. Friend spoke about the Treasury's fingerprints, but it has left footprints, if not boot marks, on the suggestion that £700 million will be raised from property sales. Does my hon. Friend know that the MOD has just frozen all the sales because it has not yet done its homework to find out what it can sell? Portland was about to be sold but has been taken off the market while the MOD tries to decide whether there is a better way to make more money from those sales.
§ Mr. Maples
My hon. Friend may anticipate that, when we discuss the Territorial Army, I shall suggest that that is entirely what motivates the Government—the desire to raise money from the sale of premises.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
As the Secretary of State keeps pointing at me as one of his predecessors—he seeks to draw comfort for his argument by so doing—I thought that my silence might be misinterpreted. I find the case that he made extremely interesting. The invitation has gone out to tender for the possible life extension of the existing fleet and the existing carriers, and the decision has already been taken to build new carriers. As the tendering process is extremely expensive for companies, have they been assured that their costs will be refunded? Have they been told that they are merely taking part in a Treasury exercise, or is it a serious invitation to tender, in which companies will be expected to carry their own costs and to submit the best price for the work?
§ Mr. Maples
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The contracts tender document published on 9 September goes into elaborate detail about what is required. It says that indications of interest are required 984 by 6 November, so it was obviously thought that it would take companies a couple of months to respond. The Secretary of State should come clean—
§ Mr. Maples
I have already gone into what it is for—[Interruption.] All right, if hon. Members want it again, they can have it again. On 9 September, six weeks after the Secretary of State promised the House that the Government would build two new carriers, he issued invitations to tender for a refit of the existing carriers to extend their lives from 2012 to 2022.
I know that the Secretary of State is not good at knowing where his own documents are, but if he wants this document afterwards, I shall give him a copy.
§ Mr. Maples
It is a published document. I do not accuse the Secretary of State of having been careless with it.
As the economy turns down and the Government's over-optimistic assumptions about public spending crash into reality, the Chancellor is to conduct further raids on the defence budget. Nothing could better illustrate where the Government's priorities lie and that the Secretary of State is not master in his own house. The only way that I can see of getting those new carriers completed is to build them at Rosyth—the Chancellor would at least have an interest in their construction. [Interruption.] When one catches the Government out blatantly misleading the Royal Navy and the House of Commons, one is likely to get a little carried away.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that he must watch where his parliamentary language is going. It is not in order to accuse a Minister of misleading the House, and the hon. Gentleman is skirting on the borderline of what is improper.
§ Mr. Maples
While on the subject of the Chancellor's involvement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I was told that I was skirting on the boundaries of what was acceptable.
On the Chancellor's involvement, let us digress for a moment on the little matter of the multi-million pound refit planned for HMS Spartan. There are five Swiftsure class submarines; two have completed refits, and one is due to be completed in 2000. Each refit has cost about £200 million, and the boats will serve, on average, a further eight years before being decommissioned. HMS Splendid was due for refit at Devonport in 2003. That refit has been cancelled and the boat will be decommissioned instead. That leaves us with HMS Spartan, which is due for refit in 1999. Guess where? Rosyth.
Even though HMS Spartan will still be decommissioned in 2006, only four years after its refit, that refit is to go ahead. Forgive my cynicism, but I cannot help wondering whether the Government would be spending £150 million-plus on this refit for only four years of extra service if the work were being done at Devonport.
985 The Chancellor has not only raided the defence budget for £1 billion and forced the extension of the existing carriers' lives for 10 years, but has made sure that a major contract planned for his own constituency will go ahead when any rational consideration would have called it into question. If the Secretary of State thinks that I am being overly partisan, I am sure that he will have noticed that the Select Committee came to exactly the same conclusion at paragraph 229, which states:We remain unconvinced"—that is diplomatic language for what I have said—that a refit for HMS Spartan, to be completed only four years before her decommissioning, represents good value for money for the taxpayer.I must tell him that I have referred that matter to the National Audit Office. Perhaps he would like to rethink the decision before it asks for his files.
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
Does the hon. Gentleman disagree with the allocated programme commitment that was made by the previous Government and that this Government have had the decency to confirm? Does he believe that the previous Government's decision to award the Trident refit to Devonport was cost-effective, given the National Audit Office report? Was he, or has he been, chairman of the public affairs company that was involved in promoting Devonport's interests during that refit decision? Does he recall the previous Chancellor's decision, six weeks after defence expenditure was confirmed, to announce a further £646 million of defence cuts?
§ Mr. Maples
I have absolutely no problem with the allocation of work, and I have no problem with HMS Spartan being refitted at Rosyth. If HMS Splendid were being refitted, I would have no problem with it being refitted at Devonport. What I have a problem with is that, when the previous Government made those decisions, HMS Spartan was to serve for a further eight years. It is now to serve for only four, but the Government are going ahead with a refit that will cost £150 million-plus, for four years of extra life. That seems to be a bad decision. The dockyard is in the constituency of either the Chancellor or the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire)— I am not quite sure which. With a boundary change, it has moved from one to the other, but both of them have an interest in it. This is a bizarre decision, and, were HMS Spartan to have been refitted at Devonport, I suspect that the contract would not have gone ahead for four years of extra service.
Serious cuts in capability are planned in the strategic defence review. Defence spending between 1996–97 and 2001–02 is planned to fall in real terms by £2,166 million, or about 10 per cent. There are to be two fewer hunter-killer submarines, three fewer surface frigates and destroyers and fewer mine counter-measures vessels in the Royal Navy. There are to be fewer fast jets in the Royal Air Force and massive cuts in the Territorial Army. In this more dangerous world, we are to ask our forces to do more with less—less in the way of ships, planes and men.
I am especially concerned at the proposed cuts in the TA. I note that the Select Committee agrees. It regards the cuts as misconceived and states, at paragraph 268: 986The cuts in the Territorial Army infantry, engineers and yeomanry are shortsighted. The Territorial Army are still a valuable resource as long term insurance against the unexpected, and re-roling should be considered before cuts. We urge the MoD to reconsider the level of cuts proposed.In all seriousness, I say to the Secretary of State that he has made a mistake. I hope that he will look at this again in the light of the proposals that are sitting on his desk or are about to land on it. I think that he is making a damaging decision.
With a small professional Army of only 110,000 men, as we have at present, there should be a general reserve, not only to support the Regular Army, but to build on in time of crisis. If the armed forces are not to become a world apart, they need strong links with civilian society. The TA provides those links.
Plans for TA cuts have been examined in extraordinary secrecy over the past few weeks. TA staff have been forbidden to talk to local Members of Parliament; a TA officer who gave me a modest amount of advice has been reprimanded for it; the Secretary of State banned all serving personnel from attending any of my "Listening to Britain" meetings; the Secretary of State—[Laughter.] If Labour Members think that those meetings are so unimportant, why did the Secretary of State go to the trouble of banning anyone working for the MOD from attending them?
The Secretary of State, I suspect, has been shocked at the public hostility to his plans—no wonder he wants to proceed in secret—but we shall make sure that every TA centre that is threatened with closure knows about that threat and we shall fight those cuts in every town, every city and every county where the TA is under threat.
Not only will the overall cut be damaging, but there appears to be a lot of political interference. Despite the Secretary of State's best efforts, I am glad to tell him that I have a copy of the new schedule, and a very interesting story it tells. A third of TA centres are proposed for closure, and that will end up with the TA being concentrated in cities and large towns with virtually no presence in rural areas. There will be only two centres in Norfolk and Suffolk, and only three in the highlands and north of Scotland. That is not a national footprint.
The schedule refers to "Rundolph" house; perhaps that means Randolph house in Warley. I do not know whether it is in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), but it must be close. I wonder how he engineered a reprieve, because in the first set of proposals it was designated for closure. Now it is, miraculously, to stay open. By contrast, the TA centre in my constituency, Stratford-on-Avon, which was to stay open in the first review, is to close. I did not know that I had offended the Secretary of State so badly as to bring this retribution on my constituents, but closing the TA centre in Stratford-on-Avon would be damaging—there would be no TA centre between Worcester and Coventry. I know that they are an awful long way from Scotland, but there is quite a long distance between the two. We shall be asking the Secretary of State, in the strongest terms, to reverse this change.
The fingerprints of the Chancellor are all over this, too, because when he sprung his last-minute demand for efficiency savings on the MOD, more money was needed. The TA has—surprise, surprise—provided a pot of gold 987 that no one had thought about. Those cuts in the TA are driven not by strategic considerations, but by the desperate need to raise cash by selling off TA premises. Cuts in the TA will save about £70 million a year, which is a relatively small sum in the MOD budget, but sales of TA property will raise hundreds of millions of pounds, and that is what it is all about.
The SDR seems to be more of a review of the management and configuration of our armed forces than a review of strategy or defence policy. There is little or no attempted rationale for the strategic stance adopted, and the Select Committee appears to share that concern. It says that the SDR is dominated by a vision of the United Kingdom as a force for good in the world, that that focus may had led to neglect of the level of insurance needed for home defence and that that may need rebalancing. I do not believe that the SDR's conclusions will last for long, and I expect that frequent updates will be needed to take account of the changing international environment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) will deal with procurement issues, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) will deal with overstretch and personnel issues; I shall deal briefly with our relationships with our allies. Apart from defence of our overseas territories, are there any circumstances in which we would be prepared to act militarily without the support of allies, particularly the United States? At present, the answer seems to me to be a resounding no.
There is much talk of a European defence identity, but such aspirations have been cruelly exposed in regard to both Bosnia and Kosovo. Both have shown that Europe is incapable of undertaking such operations on its own, without United States involvement. That is so even when France and Britain—the only European countries with expeditionary capability—are united, as they appear to have been over Kosovo.
Those who talk loudest of such a European capability are often those with little or no capability of their own. The Maastricht treaty established a foreign and security pillar. We have tried to breathe an identity into the Western European Union, and have talked a good deal about common procurement; but is not the reality, in fact, American?
Somewhat by chance, NATO reinvented itself in Bosnia, but, once again, under the leadership of the United States. The limits of the willingness of the new NATO to act have been tested again in regard to Kosovo. Probably rightly, we are reluctant to suffer casualties in pursuit of peacemaking, even if we will take the much lower risks involved in peacekeeping. Even the willingness of the United States to do that was severely shaken by its experiences in Somalia.
I was amazed to read—perhaps the Minister of State will deny this when he speaks—that the Government are considering merging the WEU into the European Union, not for any good defence purpose but as a kind of Euro-sop, to make amends for not being in the first wave of the euro. If that is true, it is pathetic. Our country's defence alliances are apparently being played with like political pawns in the Government's never-ceasing quest for the good opinions of others, regardless of the nation's true interests.
The WEU has a useful potential role, but not as part of the European Union: that would exclude Norway and Turkey, two vital NATO allies. History teaches us 988 that—in Henry Kissinger's memorable phrase—international stability can come only from equilibrium or domination. There is, as yet, no new world order but, if there is to be one, surely it will be American for the foreseeable future. Europe's role will be subsidiary, and should be supportive. While European co-operation at all levels is vital, the context for our defence partnership must be NATO, and cannot be the European Union.
My primary concern remains that we are in danger of being over-optimistic about the threats that we may face. Conflict is the history of mankind, and history has not ended. We may not, thank God, be facing a massive nuclear exchange or a major tank war on the north German plain, but the threats that we face will be dangerous, challenging and unpredictable. The foreign policy agenda can change overnight. We shall continue to need first-class armed services, with the best possible equipment, if we are to be able to secure our national interests in the future.
The reductions in spending and capability proposed in the strategic defence review are serious, short-sighted and Treasury-driven. There will be further instalments, and we can no longer have any faith in the Government's commitments to build new carriers. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I sincerely hope that we in western Europe will live in peace and security, without the need for armed defence of our vital interests, but history tells us that that is unlikely. When the day comes, the Government and the country will regret these cuts, and it will fall to a future Conservative Government to put our defences back on a sound footing.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
Any Stranger stumbling into this afternoon's proceedings will have the impression that the House is greatly divided on the issue of security. We have heard criticisms of the Government's nuclear policy; indeed, we have heard a number of criticisms from the Opposition. I must say that, as I have listened to speeches and interventions, my desire to be non-partisan has been sorely stretched, but I must fight to resist making more than the odd criticism myself. If I am going to be objectionable to the Government I should, in the interests of fairness, be objectionable to the Opposition as well.
I spent a great deal of time between 1979 and 1997 fighting and, in virtually every instance, failing to achieve the objectives of the Select Committee on Defence, in resisting virtually every cut that was introduced from 1979 onwards. I would greatly object to the flogging off of Territorial Army centres, but that criticism should be seen in the broader context of the flogging off of the Ministry of Defence housing estate to a Japanese corporation.
I must tell the Government that I am very unhappy about the reduction in our strategic submarine nuclear force from 12 to 10, but I was equally critical of the reduction from 29 to 12 by the Conservatives in the last few years. I also object to the reduction in the number of frigates and destroyers from 35 to 32, as I objected to the cuts from 65 to "about 50" and then to "about 40". I wish to be reasonably even-handed in expressing my anger at the cuts that have been made.
I believe that there is a consensus, despite the noise. As an Opposition Member, I was roundly condemned by a colleague when I argued for such a defence consensus. 989 If that colleague comes into the Chamber—he is not here at the moment—he may object as he did then, but I think that there is far more agreement on what has emerged as a result of the strategic defence review. I am, however, sick of reviews. I have seen more reviews than the theatre critic of the Evening Standard, and I do not want to see any more. Since I have been here, I have seen the Mason review, the Nott review, "Options for Change", the Rifkind mini-review, defence cost studies and the elongated strategic defence review. On behalf of the armed forces and the Defence Committee, I urge this and any future Government not to produce more reviews.
I suspect that the Secretary of State slipped in a lengthening of the procurement life of our Invincible class carriers because, between now and 2022, there will be a Conservative Government. I suspect that, having seen what has happened to the elongation of the process involving HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid, he is merely assuring the House that some alternatives will be available if any cuts are made. One of the principal arguments of the Defence Committee report is that we are watching carefully for any backsliding, under any Government, in regard to the future security of the carrier programme.
I am pleased that some nice remarks have been made about the Committee's report. I have invited Walsall's consumer protection department to investigate the quality of the Defence Committee's three volumes and their price, as compared to the three rather thin volumes of the SDR. I must concede that the SDR is far prettier, that the paper is better and that the production is probably better, but, in terms of value for money, I urge those with money to spare to invest in our three volumes. If their enthusiasm persists, they can then turn to the SDR.
I do have a criticism of the Secretary of State. Regrettably, the Defence Committee report did not attract great attention. If the Secretary of State was accusing the Conservatives of leaking the SDR, I only wish that the Conservatives on the Defence Committee had leaked our report; we might then have received rather more publicity than we did. If there are any Defence Committee leaks in future, I am afraid that I shall have to put my hand up. Having spent 14 months producing a scintillating report, I was rather unhappy about the indifference with which it was met.
If I were a cynic or a conspiracy theorist, I would say that the Secretary of State or one of his advisers—no doubt in the Box—knew Kenneth Starr, because our report was produced on the same day as his. The subject of defence, however, does not secure the same universal enthusiasm as the behaviour of the President of the United States.
I am proud of our report. We held more than 100 meetings directly, or almost directly, related to the SDR. During a hectic two weeks, when we had 11 sessions after the production of the SDR, we asked 2,476 questions—many of them very good questions. That, if not unique, is rather unusual in the history of Select Committees.
We travelled, we invited Ministers to attend and they attended. The result was a testimony to the efficacy of the Select Committee system which, I am reluctant to say, is probably one of the weakest Select Committee systems in the western world. I recently went to Georgia in the 990 Caucasus. Its Defence Committee is more powerful than ours, although I am delighted that the committees of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have less formal power than we do.
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
Does the Chairman of the Defence Committee agree that it is a matter of some regret that, given the centrality of foreign policy to this review, the Foreign Secretary declined our invitation to give evidence to the Committee?
§ Mr. George
I very much regret that, and I also regret that the shadow spokesman for the Conservative party, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), refused my request to attend.
§ Mr. George
The hon. Gentleman is sorely provoking me. I urge him to keep quiet for the next 10 minutes or so.
We produced a good report. Most people would argue that the SDR was necessary. Over the years, Governments of both persuasions have continually failed to match commitments and resources. Many of the cuts that were made under the previous Government were not preceded by the serious strategic analysis that has taken place over the past 12 months. We have had the most root-and-branch review of defence policy and the armed forces this century. However, I must take issue with the Secretary of State. The security and intelligence aspect of the SDR was less complete than I had hoped.
The fruits of the Defence Committee's labour in the form of our report will, I hope, provide for a lively debate, and will help us create greater interest in defence issues among the public. It is sad that the quality press does not have a greater number of defence correspondents, and that there is far less interest in defence matters than there was 10 or 15 years ago. Perhaps that is the price of greater consensus. I hope that one day, we shall have not only a reasonable consensus, but a high interest in defence matters, and that the debate in the past 12 months and the post-SDR publication debate will produce a greater awareness of security issues.
Our report was unanimous, which may seem rather strange given that the participants included my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen)—I am aware of parliamentary convention when I use the term "hon. Friend". We were occasionally close to having a vote, but we never had one. The strength of the report is largely due to the seriousness with which we undertook our task. Compromises were made, but I believe that our work will be appreciated.
We generally welcome and endorse this report, and many of its conclusions and plans for the future. However, we have identified a number of critical weaknesses and omissions or partial omissions. One of our criticisms concerns the proposals for the Territorial Army. The previous Government made equally stupid proposals to reduce the number of infantry battalions, but after enormous pressure, there was an add-back of two mergers. Four regiments were going to be merged, but were saved. That that should have happened was obvious. I hope that Ministers will not take the view that those who 991 argue for a stronger Territorial Army are either cranks or in the pockets of their local TA. There are sound reasons for some intelligent add-back.
The Secretary of State may ask where the money is to come from. Only 2 per cent. of the defence budget is allocated to the Territorial Army, and that is incredible value for money. We may remember how difficult it was for the previous Government to provide Steven Spielberg with 500 soldiers for his film "Saving Private Ryan". In the Normandy invasions, we had 21 divisions. This nation's desire to have a well-funded and sufficiently large professional Army has diminished, and we are not taking the opportunity to provide not just a greater footprint, but a greater capability for regeneration. I hope that the Government will reconsider, and I look forward hopefully to a more favourable announcement.
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, if the reasonable footprint for the Territorial Army were presumed to be one infantry company per county, it would require an add-back of only about 1,750 soldiers and a small increase in the amount of money that the Treasury would be sacrificing?
§ Mr. George
I have not seen those figures, but I have no reason to doubt them. I hope that the Secretary of State will see sense. It would not be to the Government's detriment to say, "Okay, we recognise that there is a case, so let's add back." One of the many things that irks me somewhat is the fact that the Government, the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence got together, produced a report, did a bit of listening and compromised, but once their decision was made, down went the flag and the thin red line formed a square. Anyone outside that who dissents from their view is fired on. It is not a weakness but a strength for the Government to listen to the arguments of the Defence Committee. If adjustments can be made, I hope that they will make them.
The Territorial Army can play an important role. I fear that the Government's proposals on asymmetric warfare—terrorism, the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, messing around with computers and kidnapping—are not the totality of the picture. What worries me is that asymmetric warfare is the weapon system of the dispossessed. Those are the poor man's and poor woman's weapons, and they will be used in the future. Even though the Government have said that there is no threat to our home base, more attention must be given to the matter of how we deal with asymmetric threats. Surely the Territorial Army will have a role to play, and that should be properly pursued and examined.
The SDR provided a rigorous framework for the consideration of defence and security policy, and we welcome what has been produced. I would have liked the initial section of the SDR on the foreign policy baseline to be published, but many people objected to that. The treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam, which we signed, have enshrined the new relationship between Europe and NATO, the European Union and Western European Union. As a rabid Atlanticist, and as someone who is totally committed to NATO and not in the van of those who argue for a European defence identity that either directly or surreptitiously excludes the United States—the Government are not in that camp, whatever might have been said—I would have liked to see rather more about what we are doing about a European defence identity. 992 The Defence Committee intends to return to that matter in a forthcoming inquiry into NATO's new strategic concept.
The Government were more open in this review than previous Governments were in earlier reviews, although openness is a relative concept. The defence review has built on what has gone on in the past, and the spin, twist or policy change is welcome. We now have forces capable of operating across a wide spectrum of locations and opportunities—from high-intensity conflict to peacekeeping or conflict prevention. I am pleased that the Government have said that there will be greater jointery, and that there has been a greater integration of the commands of the three services.
The Committee is delighted by the establishment of the new post of Chief of Defence Logistics and is pleased that the Government have said that two supply logistical chains will be necessary. These developments must be welcomed.
It is important that the carrier programme is on target. The Navy has given up a lot as part of the defence review. The Navy and other chiefs have had to accept some trade-offs. For the Navy, that means losing destroyers, frigates and submarines. There are enhancements in the form of Tomahawks, but the Navy is taking part in the hope that the carrier programme is continued and reaches fruition between 2010 and 2017.
Frankly, despite what may be said, I cannot see the Ministry of Defence remotely wishing to backslide on the matter. However, I do not have the same high enthusiasm for the Treasury's motives. The Committee has decided to conduct an annual inquiry, which we may call the potential backsliding inquiry. We will know exactly what stages are necessary throughout the procurement of the two carriers. If those tasks have not been started, or completed, we shall know that some dirty work is afoot and we will shout as loud and as long as we can to expose it. I am confident that that will not happen, but there is a long time between now and 2017 or 2020. I hope that the younger Members of Parliament who are here will carry on the fight, should it be necessary.
§ Mr. Gill
As well as being the Chairman of the Defence Committee, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) is the chairman of the all-party maritime group and therefore has a great interest in naval matters. Is it clear to his Committee exactly what commitment has been given up to allow the Government to reduce the number of surface ships, as they have done? It will not be lost on the Government that to keep one ship on a commitment requires at least one ship in refit, and perhaps one on passage. It follows that a commitment must have been given up. Is it clear what that commitment is?
§ Mr. George
We could hire Uri Geller as an adviser on making things disappear. The Navy has not been highly enthusiastic about losing three frigates, but that is part of the compromise. Even though the defence review was a new approach, there are elements of old approaches. Losing three frigates will impose potentially a great strain on the sailors who remain. They will have to sail long and hard, and they may see even less of their families than they do at the moment. However, that was part of the deal. All the chiefs signed up for it—nobody went public. The compromise was generally acceptable.
993 Ten nuclear-powered submarines to cover all the oceans of the world—bearing in mind that three or four of those will be in refit—and 32 or 33 frigates and destroyers means considerable overstretch. I addressed a US navy in Europe dinner on Saturday, where I was compelled to admit that the statistics proved that we were no longer the largest maritime nation in the world. I am afraid that the figure of 32 frigates looks puny when one realises the range of tasks. I hope that the decision was made on sound grounds and that my anxieties are unfounded.
§ Mr. George
No, I am sorry. I have spoken for far too long. I wish to make a few more points in winding up.
The question of the reserves has been misconceived. I hope that the package, which is finely balanced, will prove to be correct. The Committee spent considerable time looking at costings, and it would not require an enormous amount of wind to blow those costings off course. I hope that the Government's figures are sufficiently robust to survive what may happen. Many defence reviews in the past have been blown off course by war or—as may be more likely—economic circumstances. I very much hope that what the report has said on people will be delivered, and I think that the Government are sincere in their arguments. I hope that the overstretch we have seen in recent years will not recur, and that the Committee will look carefully at the matter.
On procurement, it would be wonderful to have smart procurement, having had un-smart procurement over the years. I argued truculently a few years ago that the best use of the naval college in Greenwich would be to establish a theme park for War Office, Admiralty and MOD foul-ups—I did not use the word "foul-ups". However, at the end of my study, I realised that the site was not quite large enough. I hope that we shall not see in future the procurement foul-ups that we have seen in the past. The Government are right to argue that they should look in a new way at the procurement of weapons systems. As has been mentioned, the cost overrun is unacceptable. I hope that the MOD will get it right.
Like every other defence review, the greatest area of vulnerability is the defence budget, which has reached an historically low level. Some hon. Members will dissent from what I say, but I believe that we have an obligation as Members of Parliament not necessarily to reflect public opinion immediately—although I suspect that public opinion is smarter than we are on the question of defence expenditure.
I was a Labour Member in 1982—just before the Falklands war—and I recall looking at polling data which showed that defence did not figure among the 20 issues affecting the population. Within a couple of days, it was the top issue and, at the 1983 election, it was deemed to be the second most important issue. I urge hon. Members to go back to their history books to see what a dangerous world we have lived in, are living in and—unless history has come to an end—will be living in.
Some may think that we can sustain a strong defence at a level of expenditure that is just over 2 per cent. I would argue that they are being excessively optimistic. During the last Parliament, the Defence Select 994 Committee—then chaired by my good friend the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin)—said that defence expenditure had fallen to such a level that, should it fall any lower, it would endanger the defence of the realm. If we wish our defence policy to be capable, any further cuts will be damaging.
We may wish to say to our constituents that we will settle down to a comfortable existence within NATO, as is enjoyed by Denmark and Belgium which, when they wish, join in. If we wish to be a force for good in the world, that will not be enough. It is not immoral to use our armed forces around the world to save people from being killed, as opposed to going around the world killing people. That may be a necessary role for our forces, and I am proud that they will be capable of doing that.
I urge all hon. Members to say that these should be the last cuts in defence expenditure, unless the Government have the guts to say that they will qualitatively change the nature of our armed forces. Perhaps the MOD was smart in making a pre-emptive strike against the Treasury by throwing money at it. I likened that to the villagers in "King Kong" hiding behind their stockades and sending out an occasional virgin in the hope that the monster would go away. [Interruption.] That may have been politically incorrect, but it was not meant to be.
I strongly argue that enough is enough. This defence review has done a very good job in reconciling commitments and resources, and in genuinely providing a set of forces that can meet most of our objectives, but if we come back a year from now, the world economy is blown off course and the Treasury says, "Oh well, let us have a few more cuts," and two years from now, we go down from 12 to 10 to eight submarines, or we cancel this or that, I hope that we will at least have the guts as a Parliament to say that the public therefore cannot expect us to do things that they had hitherto demanded of us. The Defence Committee says, "Eight out of 10 for the Government on their SDR."
When I made our presentation at the Royal United Services Institute, I said that we would be monitoring what is being done. I cited the words of a 1970s, early 1980s pop group, the Police, in which they said—as an aging rocker, I can recall the words—"Every step you take, every move you make, we'll be watching you."
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
I hope that the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) will forgive me if I do not follow him down the road of the metaphor of the sacrificial virgin because I fear that I might not be able to escape the charge of political incorrectness as easily as him, but it is worth remembering that, when in his party the tide of opinion was substantially against nuclear weapons, he swam with great vigour against that tide. Perhaps that is a measure of his political correctness, rather than his incorrectness.
I am sorry that he has just left, but I wanted to welcome the new Minister for the Armed Forces to these debates. He is rather more athletic than some of his predecessors, but I am sure that he will rapidly get the measure of our proceedings.
At the same time, I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), who was the Minister for the Armed Forces in his previous incarnation and, before that, the shadow Minister for the Armed 995 Forces. He made a notable contribution—sturdy and robust—and it is a measure of his sturdiness and robustness that he has gone to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and is apparently, even though he owns a Jaguar, doing his best to outlaw the use of cars of a particularly high cubic capacity. We shall certainly miss him from these proceedings.
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), if he has the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or the eye of any other occupant of the Chair tomorrow, will deal with personnel and procurement. Today I want to deal with some of the general issues that the defence review has thrown up, and with the Territorial Army, because that is an issue on which there is great concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House—and rightly so.
This defence review has turned out much better than could have been expected. Its reception was infinitely better than the Government could have expected. There is a curiosity, because the Secretary of State for Defence is unable to accept the public congratulations to which he is entitled. He cannot accept in public the plaudits of victory over the Treasury, because, to do so, he would have to concede that he has been engaged in a battle with the Treasury.
That would be a concession that the so-called foreign-policy-led review was at the very least influenced by the Treasury, so there is no public laurel wreath for the victor, but we can perhaps present our own in private, which the Secretary of State can wear in private, along with his CBE from the Federal Republic of Germany.
The defence review was memorable for its premature publication, but not for the clarity of the foreign policy objectives that the armed forces are being redesigned to support.
I think that I heard the Secretary of State say that those on the Opposition Front Bench with responsibility for defence declined to co-operate with the inquiry into the leak. If that be so, I hope that they will reflect on that decision, because I suspect that, not only inside the House but outside, some people will find it a surprising decision, and will attribute it to base motives, in the absence of any other explanation.
I had no part in those matters, but, if I had been asked to co-operate, I would certainly have done so. In a matter of the importance of the strategic defence review, it is the duty of all hon. Members to co-operate if an inquiry of that sort is set up.
The reader of the defence review document requires to show much diligence to find the detailed references to foreign policy on which it is said to be based, but, in so far as the review places a premium on flexibility, mobility, joint operations and rapid deployment, it must surely be welcomed. It is not the objectives of the review about which I have reservations, but the hopes of their implementation.
As the Chairman of the Defence Committee said, those hopes depend on defence spending. Defence spending as a proportion of gross domestic product will go down from 2.7 per cent. in 1998–99 to 2.4 per cent. in 2001–02, the lowest level in the history of the United Kingdom. When we look at the proposals in the defence review, it is clear that the savings depend on asset sales and efficiency savings.
996 Both are highly unpredictable, and can be blown off course by events entirely outwith one's control. Hazarding a proper budget for defence on the property market seems a fragile basis on which to rest so much that is good in the defence review. Obtaining 3 per cent. efficiency savings year after year will be more than challenging, as the Chief of the Defence Staff apparently described it to the Prime Minister. It will be miraculous if it can be done without affecting capability.
Those of us with an interest in these matters know that the enemy of sound defence is the mismatch between capability and commitments. The enemy of morale in the armed forces is overstretch of men and women and equipment. All the Government's financial assumptions will require to be accurate if we are to avoid those last two.
The Government still have time to rethink their proposals for the Territorial Army, which almost everyone with an interest in the matter, with the sole exception of the Ministry of Defence, believes to be misconceived and damaging to the defence of the realm. Why is it that, after nearly three months, the Government have not yet published and put into the public domain their detailed proposals? Is it true that there is a document circulating privately entitled "TA Restructuring", which sets out those detailed proposals? If so, why has it not been provided to the House of Commons?
Do the Government realise that the prevailing uncertainty has caused much damage to morale? What financial savings precisely do the Government expect from their proposals for the TA? How much do they expect to realise from the sale of TA drill halls and properties? What calculation has been made of the effect on recruitment to the Regular Army in Scotland, for example, if the rumoured cuts in the TA are implemented?
What account has been taken of the damage to the link between the military and the wider civilian community, which only the TA provides in so many parts of the UK? What assessment has been made of the value to the armed services in the minds of the public when there are disasters such as flooding, and TA units are visibly present and providing assistance? Are the Government seriously saying that there should be no TA engineers in Scotland? That is one of the rumours, based on leaks, of what the document contains.
§ Mrs. Ewing
The hon. and learned Gentleman has anticipated to a certain extent my question, but knowing of his interest in the RAF Leuchars command and the importance of RAF squadrons 236 and 237, which are based in my constituency and which played a major part during the flooding in Moray last July, does he accept that the Government are bringing forward proposals that will leave us with no engineers north of the M62?
§ Mr. Campbell
We cannot assert with confidence that that is precisely what is proposed, because our information on the matter is based on leaks and reference to a document that is not in the public domain, but one has only to visit any of the TA engineers' units—I have one in my constituency: 76 Engineers—to see how committed they are. One has only to visit them to see their skills, which are available to the civilian community in times of disaster. From the Government's point of view, I should have thought that this was an enormous 997 opportunity to create and maintain good will, which will be squandered if they say that there is no longer any scope for engineer units in Scotland.
§ Mr. Hancock
My hon. and learned Friend has made a strong case for Scotland, and I would be interested to know his opinion about the situation in Hampshire, which is interesting.
If we are to believe the report that is supposedly circulating in the Ministry of Defence, no Territorial Army units will be based in Aldershot, the home of the British Army, 50 per cent. of all TA units will be done away with in Southampton, and the unit in Winchester, which was praised on both sides of the House in a defence debate a few months ago, is to go. There will be a sizeable cut in the TA in my constituency. So there will be a 43 per cent. cut in Hampshire, the home of the British Army.
Is my hon. and learned Friend as optimistic as the Minister that there is still time to pull back from those horrendous cuts and the effect that they will have, not only on the morale of people in the TA but on the wider population they serve?
§ Mr. Campbell
I use Scotland as an illustration simply because it is the area that I know best, and because there are two TA units in my constituency—76 Engineers and the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. However, the lessons I derive from my personal experience seem to be applicable throughout the United Kingdom. I have no doubt that many hon. Members will want to draw on their personal experiences when arguing the general case for the Territorial Army, as my hon. Friend has done.
What importance do the Government attach to the voluntary ethos of the reserves? Do they not accept that the TA provides a low-cost military capability by way of an insurance in what we know to be an extremely uncertain world? Is not the truth of the matter that the proposals for the TA are driven entirely by financial considerations?
I suggest the following: the Government should postpone decisions on the Territorial Army for six months, open the books to public scrutiny and go back to the drawing board. As I said, there are two TA units in my constituency: 76 Engineers, based at RAF Leuchars, and the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry at Cupar. I have no doubt that other hon. Members have similar units at similar installations in their constituencies. Both those units have honourable traditions, and have made and continue to make a significant contribution to the life of the community and the defence effort. It would be a tragedy if they were disbanded. It would be bad defence, and also bad politics.
One question affects Scotland in particular, but has consequences for the whole of the United Kingdom. It arises out of the fact that the defence review does not refer to or give any decisions about the level of senior officer representation in Scotland.
Those who know Scotland will know that the Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland, FOSNI, the Air Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland, AOSNI—the most difficult of acronyms—and the General Officer Commanding, Scotland, for the Army provide an 998 important link with the armed services in the United Kingdom. The point that has a general rather than a limited application is that, at a time of constitutional change, when defence remains the responsibility of Westminster, such links are a visible and necessary reminder that we are a united kingdom.
The representational role played by those senior officers—for example during the general assembly of the Church of Scotland and the annual visit of the Queen—is sometimes inadequately understood outside Scotland, which is not simply a region of the United Kingdom but a part of it that has its own national institutions. By their representation at a high level, the services underpin those institutions.
There should be no watering down of those links, and no reduction of the level of representation in Scotland. Proposals to reduce costs by altering the seniority of representation in any service in Scotland would give the impression of a weakening of commitment to Scotland. The Army, Navy and Air Force in Scotland should be visibly and administratively commanded in Scotland.
§ Mr. Bayley
The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that one proposal being considered by the review is to merge the second division of United Kingdom Land Command, which is headquartered in York, with the Scottish district. He has powerfully argued a good case for the retention of a land command major-general in Scotland for the 2,600 regular troops there. As a spokesman who represents his party on defence policy throughout the United Kingdom, does he believe that there is an equally strong case for retaining a major-general to command the 10,700 regular soldiers in the north of England?
§ Mr. Campbell
The hon. Gentleman has been assiduous in promoting the interests of his community and constituency, and I certainly do not stand in the way of that. I have no access to the detailed financial costings on which sensible judgments could be made, but, if the Government are hell-bent on proceeding with the proposals for the Territorial Army, their obligation to ensure that the representation of the Regular Army is maintained at visible levels is almost certainly enhanced.
The Government should not be guilty of double distress—of reducing the TA throughout the country and also reducing the level of seniority of representation. We need both, and the essential link between the civilian and military communities is at grave risk of rupture unless the Government take a much more sensitive and—let us be overt about it—a much more political approach to the matters.
The intervention of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) was particularly apposite. I have recently done some research on the Scottish National party, because, as the House will know, there is soon to be an election in Scotland, and that party argues for an independent Scotland with an independent navy, army and air force. Those policies have been proclaimed from the correspondence columns of the Scottish newspapers, but not, apparently, until today, from the Floor of this House.
I have checked, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I hope that you will give the hon. Lady a warm welcome if she catches your eye. Since 1987, we have had a two-day debate on defence every year. To the best of my 999 researches, since 1987, the contributions made by SNP Members have been as follows: 18 October 1994, an 11-line intervention in column 156 by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), followed by a 10-minute speech on Rosyth in column 208; and, on 16 October 1995, when the hon. Lady joined us, she made a seven-line intervention in column 49 and, emboldened by that, an eight-line intervention the following day, in column 173.
A party that argues as strenuously as does the SNP for an independent army, air force and navy ought to be a little more robust in explaining the details of its proposals on the Floor of the House. The Scottish nationalists should not be the Scarlet Pimpernels of defence debates. We should not seek them here or seek them there. Sir Percy Blakeney is a rather curious role model for the SNP. Those who know Scottish literature will know that Quentin Durward would have been rather more appropriate.
I support an expeditionary strategy that has as its objective the fulfilment of the United Kingdom's treaty obligations, its responsibilities as a dominant member of international organisations, and the protection of its vital interests. Often, but not always, those will coincide with the interests of the United States of America, but there should not and cannot be an automatic assumption that that will always be the case. We must retain the right to exercise independent judgment.
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), who opened the debate for the Opposition, said that the United Kingdom was not the world's policeman, but the analogy is perhaps better expressed thus: if the United States seeks to be the world's policeman, the United Kingdom should not automatically be available as its special constable.
The costs that go with an expeditionary strategy are not only financial but political, and there may even be costs in casualties. We should not lightly embrace such a strategy without accepting that, if we carry it through in all circumstances, there will eventually be a time when we pay with casualties.
If we are anxious about public opinion, which obviously influences events, it makes little sense to press on with changes in the deployment of the TA or in the level of representation in parts of the country that will split the link between the civil and military communities.
If we are to have an expeditionary strategy, we must provide the equipment with which to implement it. I support—as I believe the whole House now does—the commitment to Eurofighter, although we now have to call it Typhoon, which is rather difficult for those of us with some memory of the second world war. It is a rather different aircraft, although the name is the same.
Heavy-lift capacity makes sense. I am intrigued to hear that we are to buy or lease C17s or the equivalent, because, as far as I am aware, there is no equivalent. I confess that the Secretary of State and I have been in a C17 together, on the ground at RAF Leuchars on Battle of Britain day. Without putting words into his mouth, it would be fair to say that we were both extremely impressed, although it was a pity that he had not brought his cheque book with him.
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon gets rather carried away on the subject of aircraft carriers, but there is a central point in what he says that is sound and 1000 substantial: if the new generation of carriers were not built, there would be significant consequences for our expeditionary strategy. If, as the Secretary of State says, we have to be able to go to the crisis rather than having the crisis come to us, carriers are essential, especially if we believe that we may not be able to rely on host nation support. Even with a mid-life update, Invincible and her sister ships cannot be expected to run on for ever.
The Government propose to order only two carriers, so they run the risk that one will not be immediately available at a time of crisis. The advantage of having three was shown towards the end of last year and through to February this year, when we were able to deploy a carrier to the Gulf immediately, and, in due course, to arrange for its replacement. A helicopter carrier, which is one of the alternatives being touted for use if one of the two proper carriers is unavailable, would not be an adequate substitute.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth
The hon. and learned Gentleman has declared strong support for the Government, except where they are falling short. He seems to be asking for more expenditure on the TA, and on more and bigger aircraft carriers. I wonder whether he is in the van of a convoy of Liberal Democrats, or whether he is out there on his own. Why did his party have no separate debate on defence at its conference? Is it Liberal party policy to increase expenditure on defence?
§ Mr. Campbell
The hon. Gentleman was out of the House for a bit, and we lost touch with his capacity for being partisan even in such simple exchanges as these.
§ Mr. Campbell
The hon. Gentleman is trying to patronise me and my party. We had a three-hour debate on international affairs and defence at our party conference, so the hypothesis on which his question is based is wholly inaccurate.
I believe that the current level of defence expenditure is right, and that there should be no more reduction. That is why I believe that, if the carriers can be accommodated within that expenditure, they should be, and that we should not make the marginal savings on the TA that have been proposed. To imperil our strategy for the sake of the sale of property or of efficiency savings would be extremely dangerous. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) can rest assured that, as long as I have any influence on my party's defence policy, I shall do my best to ensure that it is sound and makes common sense.
When it was produced, I criticised the document for its inadequate consideration of our defence relationship with Europe, which is dismissed in about 20 lines. Lo and behold, there are some stirrings in the undergrowth. So many reports appeared in one day that they could only be the result of some efforts at briefing, and it now appears that the Government are considering how Europe can improve its defence capability—and about time, too.
We need a Europewide defence review and a European security and defence identity that allows us to maintain an effective partnership with the United States—the bedrock of NATO—but is sufficiently developed to enable Europe to handle crises such as that in Kosovo. 1001 Of course we should be thankful for the contribution of the United States in present circumstances, but we should be ashamed that we need it.
At the very least, it is essential that we discuss with our European allies how our defence can be better co-ordinated. We are already engaged in seeking to establish better co-ordination of the defence industry in Europe; to do the same for defence itself seems to me to have an inevitable logic. If we are to have the confidence to embrace common procurement and interoperability, force specialisation may not be far behind. Nothing would be worse for the defence of Europe than individual countries unilaterally abandoning particular capabilities and making unjustified assumptions that others will continue to provide them.
§ Mr. Campbell
No, I want to make some progress.
Nuclear weapons were deliberately excluded from the review, which is entirely understandable in view of the embarrassment that unilateralism previously caused the Labour party; it was also absolutely necessary if Lord Gilbert was to be persuaded to join the Government: like old habits, old hawks die hard. The Government's policy, repeating that of their predecessors, is of minimum deterrence, regarding nuclear weapons as weapons of last resort. Those, indeed, are NATO's principles, but we expect a new NATO strategic concept in 1999, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, and that is bound to embrace a much-reduced reliance on nuclear weapons.
The Government have made some welcome but minor changes in the United Kingdom's nuclear posture. We welcome the restriction on Trident to Polaris levels—first called for, if I may say so, by Liberal Democrat Members, but the Government can do more: they can abandon the Moscow criterion, which says that we can regard a system as valid only if it can penetrate all the defences around Moscow; that is far in excess of the classic definition of minimum deterrence.
If the Government are, as they say, committed to our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, why do they give the impression that they are content to wait for progress between Russia and the United States? There are steps that we can take at no risk to ourselves to provide a productive and exemplary lead.
The review's consequences are far-ranging and wide-reaching, and some very complex and difficult issues will need to be resolved. For example, the relationship between the Chief of Joint Operations and the single service chiefs is a complex and novel arrangement which we shall have to consider extremely carefully to ensure that it works as intended. The single service chiefs could simply become force providers, with a momentum towards the unification of armed services, and I would oppose that. It is wise to recognise that the new relationship may bring such consequences. I am pleased that the Royal Air Force is to remain a strategic service, although there are those who argued both before and during the review that it should become a support service.
To be fair to the Secretary of State, he recognised that a proper analysis of defence requirements is a continuing exercise and cannot be simply a snapshot. The House will 1002 need to return to these matters, through the medium not only of the Select Committee but of the single service debates, which are frequently said to be under threat. I hope that, in the light of the importance of the review and its long-lasting consequences, we will hear no more talk of abandoning such debates, which give the House the opportunity to focus on the interests of a particular service and to make a critical analysis of the review's consequences for that service.
In recent weeks, we have once again asked the men and women of all three services to be ready to face dangerous and unpredictable events. But danger and unpredictability are facts of life for every service man and woman, and we sitting comfortably here should never forget that. Part of the ritual of these parliamentary occasions is the expression of our support for the armed forces, but it should be more than ritual: it should be an affirmation of our admiration for them and a commitment that, as they do their best for us, so we will do our best for them.
§ Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)
Like the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), I welcome the new Minister for the Armed Forces to the Front Bench, although he is not in his place at present. I wish also to thank the previous incumbent of that post. I am a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, as are my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) and my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn). The four of us travel around the country and abroad, and, wherever we have met the Royal Marines, they have mentioned their great support for the previous Minister for the Armed Forces. I do not wish to detract from the other members of the team, because they also get a mention, but the previous Minister scored a hit with them. It is nice for a Labour Minister to have such support from the armed forces. They are sad to see him go, but they are pleased that his replacement is just as good.
I wish to make one or two simple points. As the Member for Portsmouth, North, my interest lies especially with the Navy. We have our fingers crossed on the possibility that there will be only two aircraft carriers in the future, and I have had much correspondence on that point. It is a good idea to have two large aircraft carriers to deter aggression rather than to deal with aggression once it has started. If we could rely on that policy to run through, everyone would see the benefit of deterring aggression. That is worth pursuing, but we must have those two aircraft carriers.
§ Mr. Hancock
I also represent Portsmouth, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is also concerned that, for long periods in the past few months, all three of the current aircraft carriers have been alongside in Portsmouth dockyard. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) made the point that, if we are to have only two aircraft carriers, we must ensure that we are ready and prepared for every eventuality. Having only two may not be the answer to future problems.
§ Mr. Rapson
I am sure that my Front-Bench colleagues can answer that point well later. I hope to visit HMS Ocean, which has just come on stream, in Antigua in a 1003 few weeks' time with the other three musketeers from the armed forces scheme, and I am sure that it will provide a good back-up.
I worked for the Ministry of Defence as a civilian for 39 years before I became a Member of Parliament. I faced continual cuts in the defence budget. As a representative of Ministry of Defence employees, I oversaw the sad loss of 21,000 jobs in Portsmouth dockyard alone. In my establishment, I managed to avoid job losses, but unfortunately 200 jobs were lost after my election to Parliament.
§ Mr. Rapson
The hon. Gentleman comments from a sedentary position, but I saw the continual undermining of the defence industry by the previous Government, through cuts made for financial reasons. Our own strategic defence review contains a hidden cut, because an efficiency saving is required which amounts to 30 per cent. over five years. Although everyone in the defence industry feels that they can work with that, it is still a cut, and people in charge will have to reduce staff numbers to save money.
I am pleased with the strategic defence review, and grateful for the way in which it has been done. I also like the aim of having armed forces that will deter aggression. However, in the back of my mind I am still worried about the long-term future of people's jobs.
§ Mr. Rapson
I do not accept those figures. Other efficiency savings can be made. The view from inside the Ministry of Defence is that jobs need not be lost, because other efficiency savings can be made. We all know that there is still some fat to be trimmed.
I am probably one of the House's foremost experts on repairing and maintaining helicopters. That is completely useless to anyone else, and no good to me now, but I have worked on every helicopter that has been in service.
I look forward to the introduction of the first Merlin on 1 December. Unfortunately, I cannot go to Culdrose to see it, but it is a fantastic aircraft. As an engineer, I know that we overload aircraft, and the Merlin will have to be some aircraft to cope. However, we will have only the first batch of 44, because the second batch of 22 will not go ahead.
Although I understand the need for efficiency savings, it seems stupid to have a range of aging aircraft, with the stores having to carry spares and equipment for each type, instead of one type that can do all the necessary jobs well. In the long term, that would lead to savings. The second batch of Merlin aircraft should be considered, because we need to get rid of some of the old aircraft.
I was recently in South Armagh with the hon. Member for Lichfield, and we had to travel by aircraft because movement by road in the area was constricted. It would have been a disaster if we had been shot, because the parties' finances could not have stood the by-election expenses.
1004 We travelled by helicopter and, on one occasion, three aircraft broke down as we were waiting to be picked up. We ended up in an old Wessex, which was on its last legs, but I was prepared to repair it if it broke down. The services rely on all sorts of aircraft—the Lynxes, the Gazelles, the Sea Kings and the Pumas. They have had their day, and the Merlin would completely outshine them. I hope that we can concentrate on the Merlin and make it an aircraft worth having, so that other countries will be interested in obtaining it. That will enable us to make savings.
I also wish to represent views on the airborne stand-off radar system—ASTOR. I shall blatantly promote one of the companies in the competition, because it is in my constituency. I admit a slight interest, in that the company gave me a free ticket to Farnborough and a buffet lunch. However, I assure the House that I was not bought by that bribe, and I reveal it only because I feel embarrassed about it.
Lockheed Martin is based in the IBM buildings in Portsmouth, and its ASTOR programme has impressed me. The ASTOR team showed me the mock-ups of how the system will work. I was so impressed that I went into the subject in greater depth, and I found that the British engineering content will be retained. It is important to keep that expertise in this country. Some 2,000-odd jobs are tied to it, and they would be to the UK's benefit.
British companies are involved in the scheme, and I am committed to encouraging the Government to consider, in their balanced way, the outstanding advantages of retaining jobs, expertise and efficiency in our country and helping those companies for the long term. They were the client contractors for the Merlin programme, and virtually saved it during the seven years for which they took that responsibility.
I welcome the strategic defence review. It was long needed, and was based on foreign policy rather than cuts proposed by the Treasury. I applaud the Labour Front-Bench team for choosing to have two aircraft carriers, and I hope that they will be based in Portsmouth, which we claim as the home of the British Navy. I have asked for some suggestions to be considered when they are named. It is an affront, of course, for a politician, a democratically elected representative of the people, to suggest that the people should choose a name, but I have suggested that the carriers' names should have something to do with Portsmouth.
We cannot have an HMS Portsmouth, because of the tradition that the name of a ship that has done something wrong, or sunk without credit in battle, can never be used again. Unfortunately, "HMS Portsmouth" can never again be painted on a ship, which is strange in this modern age. I hope that the powers that be will give the ships names that are something to do with Portsmouth, although I have suggested that they should be called the HMS George Robertson and HMS John Reid. Perhaps the HMS Gordon Brown would be even more to the point. I am afraid that John Spellar did not come into it.
I should not like to have the American system of naming ships. They have an HMS Ronald Reagan, and I can think of a name cropping up by popular request from 1005 some quarters that would not go down well with the rest of us. However, there should be some public involvement in the naming of future ships.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
One constituency nearly adjoining that of the hon. Gentleman contains more Navy residents than the whole of Portsmouth. Perhaps Gosport would be a suitable name.
§ Mr. Rapson
I never cease to be amazed at the opportunities that the hon. Gentleman takes to get in. Whatever the name, I feel that it is old-fashioned to have a small clique in a closed room picking names that are not always relevant. I hope that my argument will upset that method.
Portsmouth has a great interest in the defence industry, but the strategic defence review has not resulted in many people coming to my surgeries to raise worries. Many shop stewards are pleased with how the review has gone. As a member of the parliamentary armed forces scheme, I have been able to live day in and day out with Royal Marines in the Arctic circle and Spain, among other places, and service people have been able to talk to us as friends. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley will confirm that they tell us the truth because they see us as friends. Mucking in together creates that camaraderie. They are comfortable with the review, and pleased with the position of the Royal Marines. We have had great feedback from them.
All power to the elbows of the Front-Bench team. We need an amphibious fast reaction force, and it seems that we will get one. The review is the best that we could get at this time, and I hope that it will improve as people respond to it.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson) on his speech. I am delighted to hear that he is a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme. When I first came to the House, half its Members or more had experience of service in the armed forces, many of them as regulars. The numbers are down now to single figures. Similarly, at least half those on the Conservative Benches in those days had experience of farming and land owning, and those numbers, too, are down to single figures. If ever there were a case for the retention of the House of Lords, it is that the upper House still has enormous experience in both those areas. I am, however, delighted that the hon. Gentleman is on the scheme. I shall make a strong bid to have him placed on the Select Committee on Defence. He is a dab hand at repairing helicopters and he may recall that, during some of our recent visits to Bosnia, the American helicopters constantly broke down so that we had to thumb a lift from British helicopters, some of which he no doubt had a hand in maintaining during his time in industry.
It is unusual to have a Select Committee report somewhat weightier than the White Paper into which the Committee was inquiring. That is precisely what we have here, however. The report runs to 177 pages of opinion and 551 pages of evidence. It is a magnum opus in Select Committee terms. I want to record the Committee's 1006 thanks to our staff who stayed on during August to prepare the report in time for hon. Members to take it to the beach with their buckets and spades so that they could be ready for our debate today.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, referred to the unanimity that the Committee managed to maintain. During our deliberations on the report, there was nearly a vote on the proposed aircraft carriers, but that arose over whether a newspaper cartoon might have been included in the report. There was a heated debate, as some hon. Members felt the cartoon to be appropriate while others thought that it was not right to include humour in a Select Committee report. I am afraid that the latter argument won the day.
The cartoon showed one of the proposed new aircraft carriers with the First Sea Lord and the captain looking over the bows while, down below, there were three rows of oars sticking out of the sides, as if from a Greek trireme. It seemed to us to say a lot about the strategic defence review, which contains a great many promises, but raises serious doubts about whether money will be available to keep them.
I shall pay the common courtesies of congratulating those concerned on the report before going on to what I hope will be regarded as constructive criticisms. The Secretary of State and his ministerial team can be congratulated on one of the finest governmental public relations exercises on record. Wide and intensive consultations took place, and there can be no criticism of the opportunities that many people were given to say what they thought. The question is whether those views were acted on, or whether the consultation process was no more than a PR exercise to soften us up for the report that would come after it.
The down side of such wide consultation, lasting 13 months, was a heightening of press speculation on the outcome of the review. Rumour ran rife, some of it pretty daft. The detailed contents of the SDR were leaked 24 hours before the Secretary of State's statement to the House: that was a great pity, and we have heard today what he has had to say about it. The initial reaction to the review was one of relief, and of a feeling that it could have been worse. Many of the press stories turned out to be highly exaggerated.
The fact that the defence budget now forms the lowest percentage of gross domestic product since the mid-1930s at 2.7 per cent.—and only 6.8 per cent. of total Government spending, 40 per cent. of which is on procurement—means that the Secretary of State must achieve his targets on efficiency savings, the sale of assets and smarter procurement to keep the Treasury happy.
We were repeatedly told during the consultation period that, when the SDR was published, it would be foreign policy led. However, there was no foreign policy White Paper before the review, merely the Foreign Secretary's mission statement. The failure to produce a White Paper first was a serious omission.
It has been remarked that the Defence Committee's report was published at the same time as the Starr report. A more unfortunate coincidence was the fact that the SDR was conducted during the Treasury's comprehensive spending review, which was published only one week after the SDR. The House is asked to believe, with no 1007 foreign policy White Paper and with the two reviews running concurrently, that it was not a Treasury-led exercise.
It is difficult to fault the principal assumptions underlying the SDR. I say "principal" because some of the other assumptions are wrong. The centrality of the North Atlantic alliance to Britain's security; the importance of remaining a credible nuclear power; the confirmation of Eurofighter; maintaining the quality of our armed forces; the maintenance of a full spectrum of war fighting capability; and those key principles of war, mobility and flexibility—going to the crisis, not waiting for it to come to us, as the Secretary of State said—are all fine.
I also welcome some of the new themes in the SDR such as the changes within the force structures and the move towards more joint force formations without creating a sort of purple single defence force. That would be a great mistake. It has been tried out in other countries and been unsuccessful. There is a welcome emphasis on personnel issues and management changes in the way in which the defence establishment operates. There is also the more explicit foreign policy focus in defence policy—although, alas, we did not see a White Paper before the review came out.
If there is one area in which Ministers got the review seriously wrong, it is their plans for the Territorial Army. Every speaker has picked up on that. The heaviest force reductions fall on the TA. The plan to cut it from 56,000 personnel to only 40,000, and the recent leaks suggesting that the MOD sees the need for only 7,000 territorials, is dangerous and disastrous, as our report says. I was interested to receive letters from Territorial Army units where people have read the report and written to us saying that hon. Members do not need to elaborate on what we feel the Government have got wrong—we merely need to read out the conclusions of the report. I shall not do so, although it is a pity that we cannot do as the American Congressmen do. They can go to the lectern in the chamber, say that they want something put on record and the whole thing goes in. I draw the House's attention to the section in the Defence Committee report that deals with the TA.
The Government's basic assumption that the TA's role is home defence, and that, because the British Isles are unlikely to be invaded in the near future, it can be cut to the bone, fails to take account of its role in supporting regular troops on active service. Those of us who have been to Bosnia to see our armed forces in action realise that the TA is an important part of those forces. Some 3,500 TA personnel have served in Bosnia, both in IFOR and UNPROFOR, often in specialist roles as engineers or medical services. They are a vital element.
§ Mr. Gray
My hon. Friend is right to say that many TA soldiers in Bosnia serve in specialist roles, but does he not fall into the Government's hands by suggesting that the TA's job is in specialist tasks such as medicine, gunnery and signals? The point about Bosnia is that there is almost no infantry battalion there that does not have up to a company of TA infantry soldiers serving in the front line as non-specialist infantry soldiers.
§ Mr. Colvin
That is an important point. When the Government review their decisions on the TA, they should consider the experience of Northern Ireland and the Royal 1008 Irish Regiment. There, TA units serve alongside regular battalions as part of the same regiment. It works well. The Government must think again about the future of the Territorial Army. If there was one thing that they could have done to create uncertainty, damage morale, harm recruiting and weaken retention, it was to propose decimating the TA in this way.
Reference has been made to local interests in the TA. I was at a community centre only last Friday where I met members of a local cadet force. They were seriously worried about what would happen to the TA unit on which their cadet force was based; it was going to go. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) noted that half the TA units in the city of Southampton, which I represent in part, are to go. That will seriously affect army cadet units and have a knock-on effect on recruiting. The Government must reconsider.
Although some hon. Members have suggested that this was a Treasury-led initiative because the Treasury wants to get its fingers on the proceeds of the sale of TA headquarters units, I believe that many of them belong to trusts. If sold, the money would not come to the MOD or the Treasury.
Although we are cutting our defence budget, our principal ally in NATO, the United States, has announced an increase of 10 per cent. in its defence budget. It is also recruiting reservists through the internet to fight computer hacking in high-tech cyber defence units to safeguard the Pentagon's information systems. On Saturday, The Daily Telegraph drew attention to the fact that the United States—having, like our previous Government, reduced its defence expenditure in the light of the collapse of the iron curtain and the new worldwide security scenario—is now seriously questioning whether it can cope with the diverse threats likely to arise today. The article states that there ismounting concern that American capabilities have dwindled dangerously, leaving the country ill-prepared to meet dangers posed by rogue states, weapons proliferation and rising instability in the post-Cold War era.If the United States is having serious second thoughts about the way in which it has cut defence expenditure, so should our Government.
While I am on the importance of high-tech, the internet and computer hacking, I note that that is one area in which the territorials could be called upon to help because they are more likely to have such expertise. A report to the Pentagon from a special commission set up by the President of the United States focuses on the vulnerability of America's information and telecommunication systems. It even warns about an electronic Pearl harbour. The report in Defense News of 12 October states:There is no doubt that computer and communications networks have become the soft underbelly of America's entire economic and security system.Today, most nations operate, whether in the military or in the civil sector, on an international electronic infrastructure; therefore, an attack on that infrastructure is an attack on all countries. NATO should put that matter on its agenda for its next summit, to be held in Washington, where NATO's new strategic concept is to be discussed, because the notion of cyber-attack on security and defence computer systems is truly worrying. The SDR does not take on board the more radical implications of the revolution in military affairs of which the microchip and smart weapons are a part.
1009 I realise that we have a credible nuclear deterrent, but does that mean that we can ignore defences against long-range ballistic missile attack? The United States is having second thoughts on that in respect of domestic defence. From newspaper reports, I understand that it now proposes to withdraw from the medium extended air defence system proposal for ballistic missile defence in Europe, in which its partners are Germany and Italy. If the US is pulling out because it has to concentrate its efforts on home defence, I wonder whether the time has come for the United Kingdom to consider going into that programme.
That leads me to the question of our defence industrial front. I congratulate the UK's industrialists on the way in which they have responded to the challenge of restructuring the European defence industry in order to compete internationally with the three giant American companies that have arisen from the US restructuring. I welcome the Government's lead in that respect and their establishment of the OCCAR body, which is doing a great deal to get commercial collaboration on major defence projects.
The seedcorn of defence industries is research and development, which can be funded either from a company's profits on the sale of defence products, or by Government. Our Committee was concerned about the proposals for the privatisation of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, in part or in whole. From reading between the lines of the SDR, I gather that DERA might be privatised in part. In the long-term budgeting, provision is made for the receipt of about £250 million in year 3, which seemed to us to indicate the partial sale of DERA.
Our Committee questioned the wisdom of that privatisation, because we felt that preserving DERA within the public sector would do a great deal to preserve its impartiality when carrying out evaluations and giving advice, and to win co-operation from other countries. There is a strong case in favour of companies in Europe collaborating and sharing their investment in research and development. From talks with Procurement Ministers at the Pentagon, I know that the United States, with fewer defence companies than it previously had, urgently needs partners in research and development and is willing to build on the two-way street of cross-Atlantic defence sales in terms of joint research and development projects with the United Kingdom.
Since the SDR was published, there has been escalating violence in Kosovo and the collapse of the Russian economy. As the countries of the former Soviet Union struggle to maintain domestic peace and their new democracies, they will flood international markets with military hardware in the scramble for the dollars needed to get their economies in order. There have already been reports that Russia has entered into a new arrangement with India to supply it with arms; I have seen a report that Ukraine is about to sell more than 300 tanks to Pakistan; and both Russia and Ukraine are supplying intercontinental missiles to countries that we would regard as being potentially unfriendly towards the UK.
The world is becoming increasingly unsettled. Britain's interests are world wide, as are those of many of our European partners. That is why I raised the question of 1010 the common foreign and security policy, even though I have severe reservations as to whether a European security and defence identity will ever emerge. The important point is that, whatever is done on those two fronts—incidentally, I strongly support the Government's decision in not merging Western European Union with the European Union—we must do nothing that will undermine the North Atlantic alliance, which remains the basis of Britain's and Europe's defences.
In three years' time, our defence budget will be 4 per cent. less in real terms than it is now. If the savings from smarter procurement, greater efficiency and the sale of assets are not achieved, the cut will be 8 per cent. Such a reduction in our defence resources would not be acceptable to the House, or to the people whom we represent. When the Secretary of State prepares his annual defence White Paper, will he include a progress report on how his savings targets are being met? Will he confirm that those savings, especially those arising from the sale of assets, will be retained by the Ministry of Defence, and not grabbed by the Treasury? The defence of the realm is any Government's first responsibility and, in the final analysis, the new Labour Government will be judged on their success in meeting that responsibility.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that, although this is a two-day debate, many hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. Unless speeches are shorter than they have been until now, many hon. Members will be disappointed.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Mr. Douglas Alexander (Paisley, South)
I rise to speak because of a strong constituency interest in the matters being debated. My constituency is home to 102 Field Support Squadron, Royal Engineers (Volunteers). As a result, I have taken a close interest in the strategic defence review, especially as it relates to reserve forces.
The review has been supported by the chiefs of staff. It reshapes and modernises our forces on the basis of our foreign policy needs. The review was necessary and I support it. It addresses the changed realities of the post-cold war world. The Government have recognised that the Territorial Army should no longer be a force of last resort, to be used against a major conventional threat to the United Kingdom and our NATO allies; thankfully, that possibility has become more remote. As the review states:the main contribution of Reserves should switch from being insurance against a struggle for national survival to supporting Regular Forces' deployments abroad, both with individuals and formed units.The SDR suggests that the TA will in future be able to contribute to our ability to project military power abroad in pursuit of our foreign policy aims. One of the consequences of that approach is that the TA will have to be able to provide support to a full range of military roles, such as signallers, artillery, air defence and, of course, engineering capability. Against such a backdrop, I am convinced that a strong case can be made for the retention of the Paisley Royal Engineers whom I represent, without in any way undermining the integrity of the new approach to the reserve forces outlined by the Government.
1011 The military engineering capabilities of the 143 men and women based in my constituency are ideally suited to meet the challenge of becoming more integrated into our regular forces' operations. The squadron, which has a proud 110-year history, including service in Norway, Iceland, the middle east and France, has in recent years supported the Regular Army in operations in Bosnia, Canada, Cyprus, Kenya and Northern Ireland. A brand new TA centre in Paisley is under construction and nearing completion at a cost of £2.5 million. It will provide a state-of-the-art facility that is ideally suited to allowing the engineers to meet the new challenges of greater integration with the regular forces.
Yet there is a further aspect of the strategic defence review approach to the question of the Territorial Army to which I draw the attention of the House this evening. In the supporting essays to the review, the Government mention the vital work that reserve forces carry out in the civilian community. As an example of that vital work, the Government cite military aid to flooded areas. No one can over-estimate the importance of that work to my constituents. During the floods of 1994, which so badly affected Paisley, the 102 Field Support Squadron played a critical role in providing military aid to the civilian community in circumstances of great difficulty. Similar support was provided by the squadron to the citizens of Perth when the River Tay flooded. The squadron is regularly called upon to use its engineering expertise and equipment in support of humanitarian work. In recent years, the searchlights based in Paisley have been used in support of mountain rescue teams in Arrochar, Glencoe, Ben Lomond and Crianlarich. Those examples alone make a strong case for retaining such an engineering capacity in Scotland.
I believe that there is a compelling military and civilian case for retaining the TA squadron in my constituency without undermining in any way the new role for the reserve forces that the Government have set out in the strategic defence review. I urge my right hon. Friends to bear in mind those considerations over the coming weeks as they undertake detailed work and consider how the review will impact on individual units and communities.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
We heard today a nice speech by the hon. Member for Walsall, South or North—
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
Thank you. I am still getting oriented. I know where the hon. Gentleman comes from and I see a great deal of him in the NATO parliamentary assembly, where he rules the roost and bosses committees around. We know that he will always win because his arguments are full of good common sense.
In that context, I sometimes wish that we would pay a little more attention to the reports prepared not only by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) but by others in that illustrious assembly. Some of those reports are regarded objectively by the world community as the best-informed non-classified documents anywhere on the subject of defence and its economics. I hope that, when we next debate Government defence policy—especially 1012 when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of NATO next year—we will recognise that parliamentary assembly, which has provided much information and performed many worthwhile duties over the years. It has tried to involve other countries through "Partnership for Peace" and comprises associate members from eastern and central Europe, including Russia. The Visegrad countries have become full members of that assembly, which I am glad to report will meet in Edinburgh this year.
I admired the Select Committee report for its objectivity. It was fair and I think that the hon. Member for Walsall, South, the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, was also fair to the Government. We can agree with certain aspects of the Government's strategic defence review, but I shall turn later to the points of disagreement and to some of my suspicions about it.
I begin by referring to the historical context within which the hon. Gentleman viewed the report. He made an interesting comparison with previous occasions when Governments have revisited the strength of our armed forces, dating back to Napoleonic times.
Despite several unflattering comments, I should point out that I was not old enough to serve in the first world war. However, I grew up in the shadow of it. The report refers to a similar exercise conducted after the first world war to cut back the armed forces. That review proceeded and there was a mutiny in the Navy at Invergordon because the chaps were not being paid enough. Lloyd George decided eventually that the exercise could not continue and Winston Churchill persuaded the Government of the day to go no further because the armed forces were cut to the bone.
We did not begin to pick up the pieces until the 1933 report. The Royal Air Force benefited particularly from its findings and was able to provide the aircraft that saved us from national defeat in the battle of Britain. Service morale was not particularly good and the rundown of numbers and equipment in our armed forces was appalling. I saw the soldiers returning from Dunkirk and joined their ranks two years later. It is true that we were not as well trained as we should have been and that we lacked good equipment. Any good equipment that we had was sent to Africa.
I mention that point to emphasise that it is easy to cut resources. It is easy for Government bravely to grasp the nettle because they want to spend money on other things, assuming that they can turn on the tap again when they can afford to do so. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, it is a gamble to assume that we can preserve the efficiency of our armed forces and the quality of their equipment and training and hope that it will be paid for with efficiency gains and the sale of property. It is a gamble to assume that, within a few years, we shall be able to rebuild the loyalty of our armed forces to the cause, their discipline and the respect that they have earned from the people of this country.
Many hon. Members are present for this debate because they recognise the important links that exist with the Territorial Army. I recently attended a civic occasion in my constituency. It was a commemoration service attended by 100 or so TA soldiers. I talked to some of them and they were as keen as mustard. However, the regular officer who was in command said, "I don't think that I can do this next year. We will all be split up and the company will be reduced in number. It will be so 1013 spread out that I am not sure that I will be able to bring the men together." I think that we shall regret that consequence if we continue to assume that we are doing no harm to the TA and that it is only the front line that counts—when even that is being squeezed.
We are so short of men in Bosnia that we must draw upon TA infantry, not just specialists. The strategic defence review goes even further: it says that we must think in terms of compulsory call-out. Some members of the TA will accept compulsory call-out willingly as part of their duties. Some will welcome it as a release from their normal day-to-day jobs; they joined the Territorial Army to serve their country. However, the review refers to individual compulsory call-out. The Select Committee draws attention to the fact that, if individuals with specialty knowledge are called out, they will wonder why they are being picked on and their employers will question the policy of cherry-picking. Employers will say, "These people have special skills that are useful to my company and, although I do not mind if they are called out as part of a group when the country is in danger or there is a particularly serious problem to face, picking out one of my best engineers or someone with specialist computer skills says something about the way in which we are financing our defence force." I fear that that will put too great a strain on Territorial Army volunteers in the same way that, if we continue in this manner, we shall put too great a strain on our regular forces.
I do not wish to go into great detail, but I refer to a letter that I received from a person serving in the Green Jackets. He writes:We have 23 per cent. of our battalion strength from the ethnic minorities against a Regular Army figure of less than 2 per cent.Yet do we not all recognise that we ought to aim for higher figures? We are doing so in the police force, so why not in the armed forces?
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that that is the case all over the English-speaking world? For example, the National Guard has been far more successful in attracting Hispanics and others for whom English is not the first language than the American regular forces.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
That is true. It is thought that people will be brought together into hybrid groups. I was in a regiment that was converted from anti-tank to gunners—the machine gun battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. One may ask why I joined that regiment. The war had finished; I was born in Glasgow, which made me a Glasgow highlander. I had never known such a fierce bunch. Whenever we went through a town in Bangalore and other British troops were around, they fought them almost to the death. Of course, they all drank too much, but they had fierce regimental pride. It was an honour to belong to that regiment and I would have gone anywhere with those lads. They were the cocky wee Gordons, the pride of them all; the rest were rubbish. It is such spirit that keeps alive people's loyalty to their regiment. They talk not about the Army but about their regiment. Far too great a strain is being put on that.
I hope that we can make progress on ballistic missile defence, but the role of nuclear defence is just as important. I do not want to make mischief out of that 1014 because I know that it is a complicated subject, but it is dealt with in the essays in the second part of the strategic defence review. It says:There is no 'silver bullet' which will provide a complete answer to the risks posed by chemical and biological weapons. What is needed is a balance of capabilities, to deter, counter, and defend against the use of such weapons.Nothing in the strategic defence review explicitly deals with what role, if any, British nuclear weapons are to play in determining the chemical and biological weapons threat.
The only assurance that the UK gives concerning nuclear weapons is that we shall not use them against a non-nuclear state. However, if such a state is involved with another that has nuclear capability, it might be subject to nuclear retaliation. The International Security Information Service—to which I am grateful—points out thatone question for policy makers is why should aggressors who do not have nuclear weapons but who are contemplating the use of chemical and biological weapons be given an assurance that nuclear retaliation to such use is entirely ruled out?I should welcome a comment on that today or tomorrow.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
I can, perhaps, throw a little light on this matter. In the late 1970s, the Government signed positive and negative security assurances that committed us to giving assurances that we would not respond with nuclear weapons against countries that had non-nuclear mass destruction weapons, but no nuclear mass destruction weapons. I hope that my right hon. Friend is making the point—which I intend to emphasise if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that those assurances should be rescinded, particularly in the light of the fact that biological weapons have not been abolished, although that was supposed to have happened in 1972.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
That is an interesting point that must be followed up. The Secretary of State said that talks were going on with the United States to find out whether a policy can be developed to deal with that vexatious problem. In addition to the question of how we respond on that matter, there is the problem of the ballistic missile defence system.
Several hon. Members have referred to the European defence identity. The House will be aware, as the Secretary of State informed us earlier, that there has been a great analysis of the manner in which the European defence manufacturing industries should work together and copy the Americans by providing more effective and efficient defence manufacturing. We should heed the report and take that wise step. The Government welcome that and there is no dispute in the House on that matter.
The consolidation of European defence manufacturing industry is absolutely vital. The current structure is inefficient, today's markets are smaller and there is not as much money to spend on expensive weapons systems. I am also concerned about the growing technological gap between the European forces and our own, which makes it increasingly difficult to co-operate in important peacekeeping missions, let alone going to war. There are threats that European members of NATO could face that would demand our attention without us asking for, and expecting, American military support.
1015 The way in which the report is interpreted may be unfair, but it has led to speculation that its real intent is to prepare not only for a single defence market for manufacturing industry but for a European defence community responsible to, and run by, the European Union. The link between the WEU and NATO has been discussed, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) pointed out, if that move were made, the WEU would be no more and the relationship between Europe and NATO would be subject to change. That poses the question, whither NATO?
I meet people from the continent who study those matters carefully, and most of them are NATO-oriented, as they are bound to be when they come to the North Atlantic Assembly. Representatives of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe are not as NATO-oriented and are able to view matters from another perspective. They recognise that there is a European Union and a Common Market and that it could move into the field of defence.
Speculation on that issue has, in more than one responsible newspaper, encouraged the rumour that the Government, who for years have set an example in promoting international co-operation in defence, while simultaneously earning the reputation of being a member of the awkward squad in Brussels, might use that turn of events to get on-side with their European partners, particularly the French, and wave the green flag in favour of an EU common defence system. On 7 October, the Financial Times, which does not usually gossip, said that it thought thatthe Government is shortly to recommend that the European Union should take on a defence capability `in order', in the words of an unnamed senior official, `to offset the damage caused by Labour's decision to stay out of the first wave of monetary union'.The Conservative party could be criticised for not joining the Common Market right at the beginning, so I am not making a party point.
I do not know whether that speculation has any substance, but the forthcoming calendar of European high-level meetings suggests that there will be plenty of opportunity to add substance to the rumour, and it ought to be scotched. I would not put it past the Government, with their obsession with image, to take the opportunity to demonstrate that they are good Europeans. There are high stakes here and we can gain popularity with those European Union members who think that we drag our feet on co-operation.
On 24 and 25 October, there will be informal meetings. One dreads those, because people get indiscreet on such occasions. Those meetings concern the future of Europe and will be attended by the EU Heads of State and Governments, including the Secretary and State and the Prime Minister. On 3 and 4 November, in Vienna, there is to be the first-ever meeting of European Union Defence Ministers. I wonder what mischief will be got up to there, especially as Austria will host the event. The Secretary of State will attend. This will be a flyer, will it not? It will be the first time that we have had anything like it. On 17 and 18 November, in Rome, the WEU ministerial meeting will take place. Thank goodness Lord Gilbert is in place; we shall see how he gets on in that crowd.
I do not want to be mistaken, so I shall conclude. In my judgment, there are solid grounds for establishing a European identity which can, by working together, ensure 1016 agreement on our European priorities and our ability to meet them. In the WEU, we already have the mechanism to do things or suggest how we might be able to work together more effectively, and it is gradually developing a system described as separable from NATO but not separate, and capable of using NATO assets.
Most European countries belong to the WEU and see it as an organisation that can, and should be, encouraged. The First Commission on the European Union recently published a report in which it said that it haddiscussed … the development of WEU itself … it was again broadly agreed that WEU should be used as the vehicle for providing a stronger bridge between NATO and the EU.I attended a meeting in Florence, which was brought together by retired diplomats and a few generals. People thought that it was just a bunch of old buffers getting together, but they combined not only centuries of age but more than centuries of wisdom. I was interested to note that, in their draft conclusions, they said:A common European security and defence policy must include … the capacity to execute missions of the WEU-Petersberg spectrum"—peacekeeping duties and so on—as well as collective defence. Within this context, collective defence will remain NATO's core function, as NATO remains the essential forum for consultation amongtheAllies".And so say all of us.
For NATO, that obviously means improving the co-operative relationships that it has established in Bosnia with the United Nations, the WEU and the OSCE. The hon. Member for Walsall, South attaches great importance to the value of OSCE as a means of following up the work that is done by NATO and the UN, when it is trying to bring about and consolidate the peace that has been brought, temporarily, as a result of military intervention. He is absolutely right to do so. The many interlocking institutions set up since the end of the cold war can cause confusion. They get in each another's way, add to the confusion and make it more difficult to preserve the peace. I have no experience of this, but it seems to me that, as we enter the new era of the post-cold war, we are starting to learn, from our experiences in Somalia, the Congo, Bosnia and Kosovo, which of those organisations can best carry out the duties that we consider could be laid on them.
It seems to me that, in the end, if we are to think that the defence side is best accomplished by having a common European defence run by the EU, we are taking the most sensitive step of all. One cannot have an EU defence policy of the nation states of western Europe without first having a political union; and that seems to me to be a long evolutionary step to take. My judgment is that, if we want to move forward successfully into the next century, we should put our trust in the machinery that has shown itself to be adaptable. I would judge that adaptability of NATO, working with Europe through the WEU, to be possibly the best bet of all the measures that are suggested by those who think of alternatives, and I would go for it.
§ Laura Moffatt (Crawley)
I am delighted to speak in this important defence debate, and specifically on the strategic defence review. It is a very important debate 1017 Some people say that it is not relevant—that it is not a sexy subject, that it is not worthy of too much of our time—but, obviously, hon. Members in the Chamber know that that is not so.
Defence of the realm is a fundamental task of Government. It is vital for the House to address itself to looking after the well-being of our armed forces, the equipment that they need and the way in which the personnel are called upon to do the job. We are charged with the duty of ensuring that we examine those issues—on housing, health and family relationships—of ensuring proper progress with equal opportunities within our armed forces and of scrutinising equipment procurement and getting the best deal from the defence industry.
The list of issues is endless. That is the very reason that the review has been such an amazing feat. There has been a great sense of openness, with a couple of notable exceptions—I am sure that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence would like to elaborate. We have embarked on what I believe to be an amazing review. More important is the scale on which the forces have been consulted. That makes this strategic review very special. It has been widely welcomed from many quarters. It has given me, as a new member of the Defence Committee, the opportunity to get to grips with the wider defence issues facing us today, in the preparation of our response to the SDR.
In the short time allowed, it will be impossible to address all the subjects tackled in the SDR, so I shall concentrate on only three areas of concern that I should like to bring to the House's attention. I hope that the first will be properly remedied by the Government.
There is little doubt that the Defence Secondary Care Agency was dealt an almost fatal blow by the previous—Conservative—Government. In its third report of 1996–97, on forces medical services, the Defence Committee concluded:Staff shortages in the defence medical services are so serious that it is not clear whether it will recover".I saw the doctors, nurses and ambulance crew at work in Bosnia, and it is clear that the service must recover. Those doctors and nurses work alongside their national health service colleagues in peacetime, gaining the skills and experience that they need, but offer the added bonus of being able to mobilise in a crisis and continue their work in what can be very dangerous situations. I pay tribute to those reserve forces who work alongside their regular colleagues in delivering care wherever in the world it is needed. They should be nurtured and encouraged in their very special duties.
I was delighted that the SDR recognised the need to strengthen the medical services, not only in the Secretary of State's welcome statement at the start of the debate, but in the introduction to the White Paper, which says:the deep seated problems must be corrected".It is vital that we follow through with the necessary funds for this much-needed and much-admired service.
My second concern was expressed by the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), but I want to speak about the future of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. As a Member of Parliament in whose constituency are 1018 many jobs connected to the defence industry, I am committed to the agency's remaining independent. We should not have to operate without a strong defence industrial base on which our forces can rely. We must be able to equip our forces with the modern technology that they need. We have rightly witnessed the end of the production of anti-personnel mines, but many thousands of workers throughout the UK are involved in the very successful business of producing high-quality equipment to allow our armed forces to do their job on our behalf.
Many of those companies have been through enormous change already. They welcome the smart procurement initiatives. They rise to the challenge of the giant United States defence companies. They are taking on the difficult task of restructuring the European defence industry and they are determined to modernise.
I sound a word of caution about the public-private partnership of DERA. The Ministry of Defence and the defence industry must have complete confidence that evaluation and research are free from partial commercial pressure. It is essential to safeguard the integrity of the MOD in the task of procuring equipment. I ask that DERA remain independent.
In conclusion, I raise an issue that is crucial to the Government. They have taken a lead in the strategic defence review, as they have on many others issues. They have shown openness and honesty. To declare our defence stance, particularly in relation to nuclear weapons, is a strength, not a weakness. The Government have published the number of warheads and the amount of fissile material, which demonstrates their openness. I urge the Government to take the lead and reduce the nuclear threat to humanity. As they have stated so encouragingly:The Government wishes to see a safer world in which there is no place for nuclear weapons".That is a statement with which, I hope, none of us would disagree.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt). I agree with what she said about the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency and the regular and reserve medical services. She and I have tabled an early-day motion to speak up for the reserve forces in the south-east, who are among the most threatened of all. Under the present plans, we would end up with almost the smallest proportionate share of the reserves.
I congratulate the Government on one matter. I welcome the decision to look at the armed forces' opportunities in wider society, through what the press has labelled the GI Bill initiative and through the wider study of the problems from which armed forces families suffer in the civilian community. Sadly, the results on the latter score will be very modest unless there is a willingness, of which we have not yet seen any evidence, on the part of other Cabinet members to take action to give service families fair access to schools, health care and other public services.
That one cheer, or half a cheer, takes me directly to my central criticism of the strategic defence review—that, in so many other ways, it has lost sight of defence as a national, rather than a narrowly professional, issue. It has lost sight of what armed forces are for.
1019 As I have said in the House before, I left my post as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to campaign against the defence posture of the previous Government and, in particular, to call for a strategic defence review. I would have been the first Member in the House to cheer if this defence review had been what it claimed to be. Many of us feel, however, that it has missed the point of what our armed forces are for. Our Select Committee report states:The Government's manifesto promised 'a strategic defence and security review'… we are still awaiting the strategic security review".Rather defensively, the Secretary of State picked out a reply to that.
The Government seem to have bought the line from their professional advisers that defence is the business of providing well-equipped professional units to carry out certain overseas tasks, providing they do not last too long.
Let us take the Navy, first. I remember working a decade ago as secretary of the parliamentary maritime group to try to persuade the then Government to do something about the decline in our Merchant Navy. From a position a generation and a half ago, when we were the largest carrier by far in the world, we are now down to 1 per cent. of world sea trade. However, if we look back over the broad sweep of this century, the battle of the Atlantic—a battle on which the survival of this country as an independent democracy depended—was not won just by the courage and professionalism of the Royal Navy. The Merchant Navy had proportionately much higher casualties than the Royal Navy, and neither could have done its job without the reserves who were clearing mines around the ports from which they were operating, and without the largely civilian effort in breaking the Enigma code.
More recently, the Falkland islands could not have been recaptured without the many merchant ships that supported that task force, even in such a very short campaign, yet today we have a Government who have so completely given up on trying to revitalies our Merchant Navy—I do not defend the record of the previous Government on this—that we have bought—
§ Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West)
Can you tell us a single thing that you urged the previous Government—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The Chair is not involved in the debate. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would use the correct parliamentary language.
§ Dr. Naysmith
The hon. Gentleman says that he urged the previous Government to act to halt the Merchant Navy's decline. Can he tell us a single thing that the previous Government did which helped?
§ Mr. Brazier
There were some changes in the tax arrangements for seafarers which, from memory, cost about £30 million a year. There were also some rather larger changes in capital write-offs for ships. It was too little too late and I do not defend it, but the present Government have so despaired of doing anything about the Merchant Navy that they have bought six ships to carry an expeditionary force—just six ships, at a time when highly effective mines, deployable from civilian vessels, are widely available and extremely cheap. 1020 That comes just a few years after we abandoned our reserve mine-clearing capability in the Royal Naval Reserve. We must never forget that mines are the poor man's weapon against the rich man's navy.
The aim of defence should be to protect this country and its vital interests in short conflicts and also in long wars. It is nations that win wars, not just professional armed forces.
Our two most recent conflicts, the Falklands and the Gulf, were short. They were fought over open terrain with little civilian population. Those conditions were ideal for high technology deployed by professional armed forces. That is the sort of war for which generals like to plan. Most generals like planning for the last war anyway. Predictions about the past are easier than predictions about the future, as Churchill once commented.
§ Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)
With hindsight, had the generals planned for such a war? One never gets the war for which one has planned.
§ Mr. Brazier
The hon. Gentleman anticipates my point. Recent history is littered with examples of conflicts in which terrain has frustrated a reliance on high technology. What did high technology do for America in Vietnam? What did it do for Russia in Afghanistan or, more recently, in Grozny? In each case there was a large, hostile civilian population.
If we were to become involved in serious fighting in the Balkans—perhaps even in Kosovo—how many people believe that the magic wand of high technology would bring us a speedy victory? Air power and massed armour did not work for Hitler in the last war in the Balkans.
Of course our professional armed forces are extremely important. I am the son of a regular soldier and I have family connections with all three regular services. However, they are not everything. The wider population, through reserve forces for all three services and through related industries, such as merchant shipping, civil aviation and our munitions factories, are vital to provide sustainability in a major conflict.
With regard to the RAF, the Government have acknowledged that there is a growing shortage of fast jet pilots. In his testimony before our Committee, the Chief of Air Staff impressed us all with his grasp of the problem, but his recipes seemed to many of us to be unworkable. How many of us believe that there is a group of 18 and 19-year-olds out there who are willing to join the Air Force three years earlier, giving up going to university? How many people believe that RAF service will be more attractive to married pilots if there are even fewer turns at the desk jobs which give their families some sort of break from the long periods away from home, which are increasingly inseparable from squadron service?
The RAF is in danger of becoming involved in a battle of attrition with the civilian airlines. In the long run, it can only lose that battle, even if substantial sums are thrown at the problem. It is a little like trying to stick band-aid plasters on an open wound. Instead of waging that battle with its civilian counterparts, we should do what has already been done in America—go with the grain of the aviation industry and construct proper air formations, allowing the RAF to continue to benefit from the skills of 1021 fast-jet pilots after they have moved their main employment to airlines. That would allow us to capitalise on the millions of pounds that it costs to train each of them.
The armed forces must do what every other organisation in the civilian world is doing—make more, not less, use of part-timers, who are much less expensive. All the evidence from the English-speaking world is that part-timer sailors, soldiers and airmen work best in part-time units with reservist commanders because they alone understand how to balance military service with civilian employment. The initiative to recruit a handful of part-time reserve fast-jet pilots into the Royal Auxiliary Air Force will wither unless there is a proper reserve squadron structure and command opportunities for reservists.
I draw a parallel with the Territorial Army, which has been mentioned in almost every speech today. The Secretary of State said earlier that he was concerned about the 30 per cent. turnover in our Territorial Army, to which I have referred in many debates. I have often pointed out that the figure is much lower in the US National Guard, and in Canada and Australia. In those countries, the Territorial Army's counterparts serve in formed units designed to work as formed units, almost exclusively commanded by reservist commanders. However, one organisation that has a much higher wastage rate than ours—nearly 40 per cent.—is the US Reserve Army, which is separate from the National Guard. It is based on the very model towards which our chiefs of staff are trying to drive the Territorial Army—service support oriented, and with units designed as gap fillers for its regular counterparts.
America and Australia plan to deploy reserve combat units in action as formed units—the National Guard and the Australian Reserve Army. I have alluded before to the remarkable testimony which Brigadier Hammerbeck paid to the American National Guard artillery brigade attached to our division in the Gulf war. Incredibly, however, Ministers believe that British territorials should be used only for gap filling and supporting roles. Our pitifully small TA—less than half the size of its regular counterparts, although in the other countries that I mentioned, it is roughly equal—is to be still further reduced. Just as there was an exodus of the best people from the Royal Navy Reserve when its vessels were taken away and it became a gap filler, the same fate awaits the Territorial Army.
Not only will there be far fewer combat units—fewer infantry and armour and fewer engineers—but who do Ministers seriously believe will join an infantry battalion that is incapable of training at battalion level because it is spread over such a large area? Does the Minister for the Armed Forces, who has just arrived in the Chamber, seriously believe that good-quality TA officers will spend 10 or 12 years sacrificing their families and careers to rise to the height of company commander, only to command a company that will be pressed to produce a platoon-sized turnout on a training weekend?
With the reduction and emasculation of our remaining TA combat forces, how would we rebuild a substantial Army if, for example, the Balkans were to catch fire or the Russian threat were to re-emerge, or if, as the Chairman of the Select Committee said, there were an NBC—nuclear, 1022 biological and chemical—threat from terrorists? Let us remember that it takes at least 10 years in peacetime to build volunteer units with their officer and senior NCO structures.
On the subject of structure, I wish to say a word about the Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Associations, which get so little credit for administering all three of the reserve services, and all three cadet organisations. They were established by Haldane, who was a Liberal but, I believe, one of the greatest Secretaries for War of all time. The aim was to ensure that the recruiting and administration of territorials, auxiliaries and cadets were kept local and close to the civilian population, rather than absorbed by an insensitive regular command structure.
Those associations, whose membership is almost entirely ex-reservist, can draw on the many skills of their members, who are judges, accountants and property developers, to mention just a few, without being charged for those services. By being allowed to manage their own budgets, those organisations have proved far more successful than their civilian counterparts in the Ministry of Defence. I have seen evidence that that has led to jealousy and resentment among some civil servants, especially those who have so badly mismanaged parts of the armed forces estate. In many parts of the country, the cadets whom those associations look after are now the only uniformed presence.
My county, with 3 per cent. of the population of Britain, has many thriving sea cadet units whose entire regular backup is one sergeant-major from the Royal Marines. Without the south-east TAVRA and its Kent county association, the sea cadets would wither, as would recruitment to the Royal Navy. More than two fifths of our fast-jet pilots began their service in the air cadets, and more than two fifths of all recruits to the Regular Army started as territorials or Army cadets.
Instead of recognising the vital role of the TAVRAs, as the previous Government did, to their credit, this Government propose to place them in all but name under the command structure of the Regular Army. Quite apart from the fact that the Regular Army has nothing to do with the air and naval components, it means requiring a single TAVRA, corresponding to the relevant regular brigade, to provide a supposedly local presence from Berwick-upon-Tweed all the way down to north Lincolnshire. It makes a mockery of the local function of the TAVRAs. If the proposed changes to the TAVRAs go ahead and many TA drill halls are closed, the consequences for cadet forces will be devastating and the impact on regular recruiting is difficult to exaggerate. Recruiting may enjoy an Indian summer, with the recession coming, but where will it leave us in 10 years' time?
As I said at the beginning of my speech, the Government have lost sight of the principal purpose of defence, which is to provide for a sustainable defence capability for the nation as a whole in a dangerous world. In 1919, the chiefs of staff went to the then Secretary for War, Winston Churchill—indeed, they went over his head and lobbied the Cabinet behind his back—to try to persuade the then Government to disband the Territorial Army and focus Britain's forces on a small, highly relevant, all-professional expeditionary force. The world looked much safer in 1919 than it does today. Thank God 1023 that Churchill rejected that advice. In contrast, this Government plan to allow our elite professionals to march into the distance virtually alone.
§ Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who speaks with passion and conviction on this subject. I respect his concern for the well-being of the Territorial Army, about which he spoke with considerable authority.
The hon. Gentleman may not agree with my view that the strategic defence review and its publication are a considerable landmark in the evolution of British defence and security policy. He and his hon. Friends may not agree with all its recommendations and conclusions, but there are two reasons why they should be more positive about the SDR.
First, it provides us with a genuine basis for developing a new national consensus about Britain's defence policy. Its conclusions are sensible and balanced. It has correctly identified the major challenges facing the United Kingdom, and has tried to put in place the right configuration of forces to meet those challenges.
It is a matter of regret that Conservative Members have tonight, and on other occasions, excluded themselves from that new national consensus. In short, the Opposition have at times been guilty of succumbing to temptation. They have postured their way through the debate, and have developed the art of naked opportunism to a considerable extent. Some Conservative Members, especially in their comments about the territorials, were guilty of irresponsible scaremongering. I hope that those mistakes will be corrected when the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) winds up for the Opposition.
The second reason why the strategic defence review should be more broadly welcomed than it has been by Conservative Members is that industry and informed opinion have given it a warm welcome. The hon. Member for Canterbury, who is a distinguished member of the Defence Committee, rehearsed some of his concerns about the SDR, but it might be helpful to remind him of one of the central conclusions of the Defence Committee report, which I strongly welcome.
Paragraph 406 states:We join in welcoming it"—the SDR—as a positive advance in formulating a defence policy for the beginning of the new millennium. It provides a coherent framework within which our Armed Forces can be structured, and it consolidates and advances the changes in our defence posture that have been in train since the fall of the Soviet Union.That is the conclusion of the Defence Committee, but people would never guess that from some of the contributions from Conservative Members.
I shall also quote Gerald Segal, director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who is respected considerably in the defence community. On 8 July, he said:A cynical observer of previous British Strategic Defence Reviews could be forgiven for thinking these exercises are never strategic and rarely real reviews. But the SDR … is different. Britain now looks set to have a modern military prepared for the likely wars of the future … Some may wish to whisper it quietly, but the SDR will ensure that, at least for a generation, Britain will rank second only to the United States in deployable military power.1024 Those are considerable endorsements of the Government's strategy, and I should like to add my own endorsement to those of many of the speakers in tonight's debate.
I shall develop three issues, in the hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to respond positively. I am pleased that the review discusses the necessity for developing closer collaboration with the MOD and the defence industry. Listening to some Conservative Members in the debate and on other occasions, one reaches the perhaps reasonable conclusion that defence industry employment increased during the years of Conservative government, which were somehow a golden age for the defence industries of the United Kingdom.
The truth, as most hon. Members know from reading the literature or from their experience in their constituencies, is that almost the opposite is the case. From 1980 to 1997, defence employment fell by 50 per cent., so Labour Members are not inclined to take lectures from Conservative Members about their commitment to defence. Many of our constituents have experienced exactly the opposite.
The need for closer collaboration with the MOD and the defence industry is important, and I am glad that the SDR represents a step forward on that front. The smart procurement initiative will play a significant role in improving our procurement procedures, and the Government's commitment to developing a new defence diversification agency within the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency is especially welcome.
One of the tragedies of the past decade and a half has been the haemorrhaging of important skills from the defence industry; there was little support and encouragement from the then Conservative Government. In my constituency, 10,000 jobs were lost in the shipyard in five years, and there was little effective regional industrial policy to sustain the hugely valuable skill base in the Barrow and Furness constituency.
The same pattern of industrial vandalism was repeated right across the country, with vital skills being lost and the Government of the day shrugging their shoulders, claiming that they were impotent, that trying to develop a strategy would be uncompetitive and so on. Those arguments were unconvincing then, and I am delighted that the Government do not subscribe to them.
I hope that the proposals in the defence diversification agency Green Paper can be more broadly focused over time. I understand that, at the moment, the Government are primarily focusing the work of the defence diversification agency on existing DERA research sites. There is an obvious attraction in that—administratively, it makes sense—but the pattern of the past 15 years shows that job losses in the defence industry were not concentrated around DERA research facilities. They occurred in my constituency, in other parts of the north-west and in the south-east—right across the country.
I should like the new agency to focus its attention on the need to develop much closer partnerships directly with the private sector—the defence companies themselves. There is no reason why we cannot have diversification initiatives in those constituencies that have well-established research facilities in the defence sector. They may be in the private sector—for example, those within GEC Marine in my constituency or the 1025 computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacture facilities at the Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. yard in Barrow, which are among the best in the world.
There is no reason why, with a bit more imagination, we cannot develop proposals that will allow the new defence diversification agency to develop new initiatives with the private sector in constituencies such as mine, and to take forward the diversification initiative much more extensively.
A lot of comment tonight has been focused on the Government's commitment towards the Navy and, in particular, their decision to replace the Invincible class carriers. I am absolutely delighted by the cross-party support for the importance of the carriers and the replacement programme. It is clear from the thrust of the SDR that the emphasis in future defence policy will be on developing a more flexible and mobile—expeditionary—capability which recognises the important role of power projection. There is no question but that the Royal Navy can make a significant contribution to NATO, to the United Nations and to humanitarian work by developing and improving its amphibious capability.
The shipyard in my constituency is constructing two of the new assault landing ships which will enter service in the new millennium for the Royal Marines. We have recently completed construction of HMS Ocean, the new helicopter carrier for the Royal Navy, as well, but a key part of that amphibious jigsaw will be the carriers, especially the ability to operate fixed-wing aircraft.
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence introduced the defence review to the House on 8 July, he made it clear that the Government had decided to replace the two aircraft carriers, and that the in-service date was expected to be 2012. That news was very welcome in my constituency and around the shipbuilding constituencies of the United Kingdom.
I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the Government remain committed to that time scale, that nothing has changed in the meantime, and that the firm statement that my right hon. Friend made to the House and the evidence given to the Defence Committee, which questioned my right hon. Friend and senior officers, remains the Government's position—those carriers will be replaced, with an in-service date some time around 2012.
The other issue affecting the Navy is the strategic submarine nuclear fleet. Some hon. Members have expressed concern about the reduction of the SSN fleet from 12 to 10. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who chairs the Defence Committee, pointed out that the previous Government cut the SSN fleet by 60 per cent., from 28 to 12. On this score, we are again not inclined to take lessons from Conservatives about the need to maintain an effective SSN fleet. The point that has escaped some Conservative Members is that the new Astute class submarines, three of which will be constructed in my constituency, represent a significant enhancement of the capability of the Royal Navy's nuclear submarines.
I am encouraged by the fact that the Government have said in the SDR that they want to procure the optional two further Astute class submarines. That is a significant decision, and, although the number of SSNs might be falling by two, the fleet will be significantly enhanced by 1026 the addition of five new Astute class submarines, especially because they will be fitted with the Tomahawk cruise missile. That is an extensive improvement in the capability of our SSNs.
I understand that the decision to procure the additional two Astute class submarines is likely to be taken in 2002–03. There would be significant cost savings to the taxpayer and significant improvements in the efficiency of the SSN fleet if the Government reconsidered that timetable, and, perhaps with the industry, considered bringing the procurement of those submarines forward to 2001, rather than wait that additional 18 months or two years. I think that such an acceleration of the programme would give the taxpayer significant benefits, and I hope that the Ministry of Defence will consult the industry closely about it.
I want to say a little about the Territorial Army, about whose future many hon. Members are understandably anxious. I shall make two points, one about the Government's proposed reduction, and another quite separate point.
The 4th Battalion the King's Own Royal Border Regiment, in my constituency—an excellent regiment, well led and well motivated, which performs extremely well against any measurable yardstick—contains members who serve on a full-time basis for the regular forces. I have mentioned the matter that I am about to raise in correspondence with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, but I should like to point out to my hon. Friend the Minister—I welcome him to the Front Bench; I am sorry that I did not do so earlier—that a member of a Territorial Army unit that enlists itself full-time with the regular forces is currently not entitled to participate in the Army's pension scheme.
I do not think that acceptable or fair. It does not matter how long a member of the TA serves as a full-time soldier; he cannot have access to the Army's pension schemes. None of his service as a full-time soldier is regarded as pensionable.
We are dealing with some difficult issues relating to the future of the Territorial Army. Some Conservative Members have expressed concern about the implications for future recruitment and retention. I think that one of the issues that we should consider very carefully is the whole service package that goes with enlistment in the TA. I hope that a way will be found to extend access to the Army's full-time pension scheme to members of the TA who serve on the front line in regular units, because I do not consider it acceptable for them to have no pensionable service.
As for the review of the TA itself, I want to do as many other speakers have done, and make one or two comments about the TA in the county of Cumbria. I know that the unit concerned is also contained in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson). As I have said, it is an excellent regiment. I hope that the Government will seriously consider the option of a two-company solution to the reform of the TA in my county. I am thinking of units based at Workington and my constituency, Barrow, with detachments at Carlisle and Lancaster. I think that that would be sensible.
There are many difficult issues to address, and there are many strongly held views on what the Government are doing. Ultimately, however, we must work towards the best conceivable solutions—the best technical solutions, 1027 and the best wider solutions that will reinforce the connection between the Territorial Army and local communities. I have no doubt that, for the county of Cumbria, the new two-company solution—units based at Workington and Barrow, with detachments at Lancaster and Carlisle—represents the most viable future for the 4th Battalion the King's Own Royal Border Regiment.
§ Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)
I, too, welcome the Minister to his post.
Does my hon. Friend accept that people in Lancaster may have a slightly different view of the future of the 4th Battalion the King's Own Royal Border Regiment? Does he accept that the view in Lancaster is that the headquarters of the battalion should be in Lancaster, and that there should also be a company in that city?
§ Mr. Hutton
I recognise the strength of feeling that doubtless exists in Lancaster, and I am sure that, in due course, my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to make his own contribution. I certainly think that the battalion's headquarters should be in his constituency: I hope that will emerge from the review of the TA, and of the 4th Battalion in particular.
Those are the key issues that I wanted to mention, but I want to make one last observation. I believe that, in general, the strategic defence review represents a sensible solution to a difficult range of problems. It provides a balanced configuration of forces, it correctly identifies the main security challenges we face, and it puts the right emphasis on the need to develop an expeditionary capability—the ability of our forces to project themselves significantly overseas in out-of-theatre operations. Essential to all that strategy, however, will be the decision to replace the carriers.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to contribute to the first debate of the new parliamentary Session. It has been an interesting debate, featuring constructive speeches. I want to add my voice to those who have said that the Territorial Army appears to be under a degree of stress in the SDR, because I think that it can make a significant contribution to our armed forces, especially as formed units.
I shall restrict myself to one subject—the continuing crisis in the defence medical services. My starting point is the Defence Committee report of February 1997, which stated—on page xix of the preface—We can only report to the House our firm view that the state of morale at all levels of the Defence Medical Services is lower than we have ever encountered in the armed forces.Another sentence was quoted earlier by the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt). The report continues:We conclude that the staff shortages in the Defence Medical Services are so serious that it is not clear whether it will recover. It is possible that the military ethos of medicine in the regular armed forces has been destroyed.Those are extremely strong words, which I must say that I helped to write. They stress the importance of medical service to the armed forces, and the stress under which they were then placed.
The defence medical services are crucial. They save lives, they return people to the operating units, and they are, of course, crucial to good morale. That is why every 1028 ship carries a doctor or paramedicals, and why every four-man Army patrol—whether it be the SAS or patrols in Northern Ireland, as they then were—carries one man who is medically trained and has medical equipment.
The fact is that we did reach the position referred to in the Select Committee report, and we must ask how we reached that position. I am convinced that we did so because we had been so incredibly lucky in our recent confrontations. In the Falklands, we had tragic losses, but, tragic though they were, they were light compared with the size of the operation in which we were engaged. In the Gulf war, we were engaged in a kind of technical electronic warfare. We were all able to see on our television sets the way in which bombs were dropped down chimneys and cruise missiles turned left at the traffic lights. It seemed, in a sense, a war without risk: a war fought with electronic machinery.
Because of those two engagements—because of our incredible skill, yes, but also because of luck—it must have been quite difficult for defence planners and their Treasury equivalents, who monitor all Government expenditure, to justify large amounts of expenditure on the defence medical services. They must have felt that it was possible to save money. That is why the number of hospitals in the armed forces went from seven to five to three to one in five years; and that no doubt is why, while the armed forces were cut by 30 per cent. overall, the defence medical services were cut by 40 per cent.
Some of the savings were no doubt projected to result from a change in strategy. It was decided that, although primary medical care was needed at the front or in ships, secondary medical care—because of the improvement in communications—could be carried out at home, in the United Kingdom, in civilian national health service hospitals. I want to make two points about that.
First, it is impossible to guarantee that casualties can be moved away from the battle area: that is why it was necessary at Ajax bay in the Falkland islands to have a joint medical unit dealing with troops who were wounded there, as it was not possible to fly them back. Secondly, I am sure that, with the changing pattern of world danger, there will be more opportunities—which we should grasp—for free-standing medical facilities to be available to United Nations peacekeeping operations such as the one to which British medical forces contributed in Rwanda, without the contribution of other military forces at the same time.
I maintain that the argument that we do not need such large medical forces is fallacious. Let me back that up by saying that, as recently as the Korean war, we were losing—through the United Nations side—2,500 casualties every month. We should also look back to the Kuwait-Iraq Gulf war, and think of the thousands of soldiers who were killed in the slaughter that happened with the Iraqi withdrawal. We should also think about the empty wards that were planned to deal with the casualties that we expected to come back from the Gulf. It was a daunting experience to visit local hospitals and to hear about the plans that were being made for hundreds of casualty evacuations to be treated in UK hospitals. We should not assume that defence medical services will not be needed for casualties—perhaps in considerable numbers—in a future conflict.
1029 We also need our medical forces to be sufficiently large to withstand attrition. The rather optimistic assumption was made in defence cost study 15 that there would be no loss of life and casualties among medical staff, which unfortunately cannot be the case.
The crisis was recognised in 1997, but what has happened since then? Following defence cost study 15 in 1994, we established a core hospital for defence medical services. I am delighted to say that the Royal Hospital Haslar in my constituency was chosen, and there are military district hospital units at Derriford, Peterborough and Frimley. Those MDHUs were intended to provide the extra throughput and patient experience that doctors needed.
Another development in the past year has been the recognition of staff shortages in the defence medical services. The independent Review Body on Armed Forces Pay recommended an increase of 5.2 per cent. for ranks of major and above and 4.2 per cent. for ranks below major. The Government said yes to that significant pay increase, and then phased it in, so that pay increases were below the level of inflation. That has had a negative impact on pay.
A further development has been extraneous to the defence medical services: it has been the result of some rethinking within the national health service. It had been thought that a district general hospital would be viable with a patient catchment area of 250,000 people, but the new thinking is that such a hospital is viable only if it has a catchment area of 500,000 patients.
That may be merely a matter of fashion. The closure of my local hospital at Gosport was proposed because it was thought that cottage hospitals were out of fashion, but suddenly, as we campaigned against the closure, it became fashionable to have community hospitals. Gosport hospital was expanded and became a community hospital, which was more fashionable than a boring old cottage hospital.
As a result of those developments, there is a challenge to the Royal Hospital Haslar in Gosport, despite its being the designated core hospital. The nature of the challenge is clearly revealed in the business plan for the Defence Secondary Care Agency for 1998–99 and 1999–2001. On page 44, it says that the core hospital should work with the surgeon generalto establish the need for a core hospital and thence determine its essential characteristics.The Ministry of Defence is saying that one of the duties is to examine the need for a core hospital and to determine its essential characteristics. The timetable for implementation is that a paper should go to the chief of staff by the end of May 1998, and the document says that an action plan to protect Royal Hospital Haslar in the interim is necessary. Under risk assessment, it says:Planning uncertainty worst option for all DSCA staff.That is exactly where we are: we have the worst option.
Despite the fact that £35 million has been spent on Haslar in the past 10 years, that the medical defence college has moved in alongside, that doctors, nurses and other staff have been moved from the Cambridge hospital at Aldershot and from RAF Wroughton, and despite the concentration on Haslar hospital, we now find to our horror that the role of Haslar is under question.
1030 One of the reasons for the uncertainty is that defence cost study 15 recommended that Haslar should be increased from 230 to 300 or even 375 beds. That expansion has not occurred, so the studies of the economy of the hospital and the number of people who are treated give the impression that it is not efficient. A further factor is that the Portsmouth and South East Hampshire health authority, which has a budget of £230 million, £7 million of which it has to offset against the facilities provided by Haslar, recognises that the difficult job of running medical services in that area is made more difficult by the complication of having a military hospital at Haslar.
In its proposed reorganisation, the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS trust suggested that the Ministry of Defence might like to take two floors of an expansion of the Queen Alexandra hospital at Cosham. The reply was required by the end of August, but reply came there none, so the trust has proceeded with its private finance initiative bid without the support of the Ministry of Defence, and without knowing what the Ministry wants. I wish the health trust well in its bid, but it would have been so much better if the Ministry of Defence had made up its mind before the end of August.
The problem at Haslar derives from the fact that it is difficult to get accreditation of doctors as required by the royal colleges in all areas of medicine because of the insufficient critical mass of patients. For instance, ophthalmology is a single specialist faculty at Haslar.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth
What my hon. Friend is telling us is seriously alarming. I was told that the Cambridge military hospital in Aldershot had to close because it was no longer likely to secure accreditation to the royal colleges. If my experience in Aldershot is anything to go by, my hon. Friend should beware, because this is clearly the harbinger of the closure of Haslar.
§ Mr. Viggers
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a deeply concerning problem. After the decision, as part of the revision of medical services, to focus on one core hospital, that core hospital is now under threat. That threat must be resolved.
An even better example of the difficulty in obtaining accreditation at Haslar is in vascular surgery. I am told that four specialists are required to provide a viable unit, and there is an insufficient throughput of patients for that at Haslar. Similarly—merciful though it may be—there is an insufficient throughput of cancer patients to provide accreditation in that area.
What can we do about this? We must deal with the shortfall in patient throughput. The failure to expand Haslar has partly caused that problem. What is the way ahead? We must have a core hospital to retain the medical military ethos. People who choose to go into the defence medical services do so deliberately. They have a very special chosen role. Their skills are eminently transferable: they can walk away—many have done so. They can obtain higher remuneration outside the armed forces: they are better paid, and have a more relaxing life style.
Exceptional measures are required to keep our medical forces in the armed forces. It is not just the phasing in of a 5.2 per cent. pay increase; the problem is much more serious. Defence medical staff have a unique role.
I had the honour to speak at a Trafalgar night dinner at the Haslar hospital some years ago. It was moving to hear the message before battle given by Nelson to the fleet, 1031 and to hear the chaplain read the prayer before action—before the guest speaker had to speak to the assembled company. I served in the Air Force and in the Territorial Army—not in the Navy—and it brought home to me the need to preserve the best elements of tradition and comradeship, as well as sport and adventure, for medical staff in the armed forces.
I have visited the military district hospital units which, on the face of it, can provide the training that the armed forces need. The people there told me that they were getting on quite well, but that it was not what they had joined the armed forces for—every one of them said that. We must cater for the special need for medical staff in the armed forces. We must confirm Haslar, and build on it.
Some medical and surgical specialties are already fully viable. Others can be made so by providing incentives such as more attractive waiting times. I suggest that it could be possible to provide some support for transport and visiting. We need more cross-posting between Haslar and elsewhere in the civilian NHS. Some specialties will not be viable at Haslar, so links will be needed with other specialised units. Links are being developed with the burns unit at Odstock near Salisbury. Similarly, there must be more co-operation with Portsmouth, Chichester, Southampton, Winchester and other hospitals which are close enough for easy commuting to and from Haslar.
The crucial point is the retention of Haslar as a centre of excellence. I have pitched my arguments on the basis of the importance of Haslar to the armed forces, as part of this debate on the strategic defence review. It is also true that Haslar provides much-respected facilities in my constituency. It is a much-loved hospital, with dedicated staff and superb facilities. Since it became clear that Haslar's future was not secure, I have received hundreds of representations, a high proportion of which came from former patients, who paid tribute to the treatment they received.
Page 44 of the business plan states:Paper to Chief of Staff by end May 1998.It is crucial that we resolve the issue quickly now. If it is not possible for Ministers to respond with an undertaking about the future of Haslar at the end of this two-day debate, we will be entitled to ask the Minister to agree to write or answer a parliamentary question—within, say, seven days—about the revised timetable if the chief of staff has not acted, as stated in the timetable for implementation on page 44 of the business plan. We are entitled to know what the changed timetable is. We must end the uncertainty, and confirm Haslar.
§ Mr. Hugh Bayley (City of York)
When I made my maiden speech in the House six years ago, I was followed by the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) who made some kind remarks on that occasion. I am pleased to follow his fine and informative speech in which he made some important points about the defence medical services—an issue in which I share an interest with him.
I congratulate the Government on the strategic defence review. It has been extremely well received within the armed forces and by our allies. However, I would like to concentrate on two issues which matter in my constituency, City of York, and in my part of the country, the north of England—first, the decision to restructure UK Land Command, and secondly, the new role that the Government envisage for the Territorial Army.
1032 My constituency has been a garrison town since the Romans were there. The last time that England was successfully invaded, in 1066, there were two great battles. One was in the north of England—five miles outside my constituency—at Stamford Bridge, which we won and successfully defended England. The second, of course, was in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster), and had a different result. The military tradition in York and the north of England runs very deep. The north of England provides 39 per cent. of all the recruits for the British Army, yet there is little representation from the top level of the Army in our part of the country.
The essays accompanying the strategic defence review confirm that the Army is considering reducing the number of districts and divisions in UK Land Command from six to three. I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, who has received a number of letters on this topic from me in the three months during which he has been in his job. He kindly met me to discuss the issues, and I thank him for his courteous and careful response to the points that I have made. I also wish to thank my hon. Friend's predecessor as Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), who also listened to and weighed carefully the arguments that I made.
There is a need to change the structure of UK Land Command, which was structured to deal with a threat from the east—from the Warsaw pact—which is no longer there. I am not sure that the three district and division structure is the right structure. I have a particular interest in the proposal to merge the Army's second division—with its headquarters in York, at Imphal barracks—with the Scottish district.
When he speaks tomorrow, I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to give the House the assurance that when he comes to make a decision on whether the merger of the second division and the Scottish district should go ahead—and, if so, whether the new headquarters will be in York or Edinburgh—he will make it solely in terms of what is best for the defence of the UK, both north and south of the border.
The strategic defence review was foreign policy led. It has been successful and has been praised because of that. I hope that it does not degenerate into a domestic policy-driven set of decisions on the final unresolved questions, such as the land command structure and the disposition across the country of the TA.
York has been shown to be the best location for a UK northern command in military terms because the vast majority of the soldiers who would come under the command of that northern division are in the north of England—most within a 100-mile radius of York. Although it is technically possible in an era of modern communications for a general to communicate and to issue orders electronically over great distances, in terms of building military morale and commitment it is important for a general to be seen out and about by the soldiers he commands. Logistically, it would be much easier if the commander of the northern division were based close to the majority of his soldiers.
I have listened carefully to the arguments from Scottish Members for retaining a General Officer Commanding, Scotland—a major-general commanding land command troops in Scotland. There are not enough soldiers in 1033 Scotland to make up a division on their own. There are 2,596 regular soldiers and 7,084 TA soldiers—altogether, less than 10,000. However, there are important representational duties that the General Officer Commanding has in Scotland—as we have heard today, these include the Queen's visit and Remembrance Sunday.
It has been pointed out to me that it would be wrong, or "unthinkable" as some Scottish Members have said—I see some hon. Members nodding—that Scottish soldiers from Scottish regiments could be put under the command of an English general based in York. I do not want to provoke cross-border conflict, and I accept the arguments. However, the respect that the Scots and their representatives in this House ask of the English and of English Members of Parliament as an important part of the maintenance of the Union needs to be reciprocated. The Union relies on a two-way traffic in respect, and we need respect from the Scots for English traditions, and for English military traditions in the north of England in particular. The Union will be maintained if there is healthy two-way respect.
§ Mr. Bayley
I welcome that comment, share it and reflect it. It is a sentiment that English soldiers have. We are a united kingdom and those who serve in our armed forces serve in the armed forces of the United Kingdom and are proud to do so. Sometimes they are posted in their own part of the UK, sometimes in other parts, but their commitment is to Queen and country, the whole country. However, if it is unthinkable that Scottish soldiers in Scotland could be put under the command of an English general in England, when there are some 2,600 regulars in Scotland, it should be equally unthinkable that the 10,700 regular soldiers who are based in the north of England should be put under the command of a general in Edinburgh.
Like his counterpart in Scotland, the general officer commanding the 2nd Division, with its headquarters in my constituency, has important representational duties. We have an important north of England Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the cenotaph at York, in which the military contingents are led by the general. On the Queen's birthday, York is a saluting base for the north of England. The general represents the armed forces on that occasion, during royal visits and on other important state occasions in the north of England.
There is only one general left in the north of England. Despite having less than 3,000 regular soldiers, Scotland has two generals. I am not saying that Scotland has too many generals, because there are 16 generals in London, with hardly more soldiers than there are in Scotland, eight in south-east England and 15 in the south-west, but there is only one in the north of England, the region that provides more recruits to the British Army than anywhere else in the UK.
1034 As part of the Army's recruitment strategy, the Army has a Keeping the Army in the Public Eye—KAPE—programme, but we will not keep the Army in the public eye if we remove the last remaining general from the Army's key recruitment ground. I accept the argument for a Scottish presence—a Scottish general in Edinburgh—but I say to Ministers: think carefully before abandoning the last general in the north of England.
Last weekend, civilian staff who work at the headquarters in York launched a website putting forward the case for retaining a divisional headquarters in York. In the first 24 hours, that website received 600 hits—600 people logged into it to look at the information. Dozens of responses have come from people not just in the north of England, but elsewhere, saying that they believe that the case for retaining the York headquarters has been well made. If a formal proposal were made to close the north of England divisional headquarters, many more representations would land on all our desks and certainly on the desks of Ministers.
There is one local issue that I particularly wish to put to the Minister. In 1995, the Conservatives decided to bring together all Army personnel functions into one centre, the Army Personnel Centre, based at Kentigern house in Glasgow. As a consequence, last year, 250 MOD civilian Army pay and records staff from York lost their jobs; the jobs moved to the Army Personnel Centre in Glasgow.
On paper, there were convincing arguments about the administrative benefits of centralising. At the time the decision was made in 1995 and subsequently in 1996, the then Minister for the Armed Forces gave clear indications to me that it was the MOD's intention to find an alternative use for the 20,000 or so square feet of purpose-built office accommodation in York that the pay and records staff had used. We are still waiting for a single job to move in.
I know, because I have put this point to both the Minister for the Armed Forces and his Labour predecessor, that there are still moves afoot to try to find alternative jobs to move in to the premises. It makes good common sense for the armed forces to do that because the offices cannot be let to some commercial user. They are within the security perimeter of Imphal barracks, which houses the divisional headquarters. It also houses the 15 Brigade headquarters and 2 Signal Regiment. It is not a site that is going to be got rid of by the armed forces and there is a huge amount of purpose-built modern office accommodation, which should be used and is a financial burden on the armed forces if it is not used.
The Army Personnel Centre in Glasgow has just published its first annual report for its first full year in operation. Sadly, that report reveals that the new personnel centre has failed to meet some of its performance targets. One performance target was to have a single site fully operational by now, which it does not have yet. Another was to have a new management information system, which it contracted in from a contractor, but the contractor failed to deliver and the contract was terminated. The centre also had a target of reducing operational costs by 23 per cent. A 17 per cent. reduction has been received, so there is a £2.2 million shortfall.
When the case was presented for the York offices to be closed and the jobs moved to Glasgow, the costings were on the assumption that the savings that the Army hoped 1035 for by the centralisation of the personnel centre would be achieved. They have not been. I know that the Minister is being presented with figures that argue for the removal of the divisional headquarters from York. He should look carefully at those figures. They will need to show substantial savings, which I know they do not, for the Minister to be sure that going ahead would actually provide savings.
The Government are absolutely right to envisage a new role for the Territorial Army. Let me leave aside for a moment the important work that is done by the specialists, the medics, the linguists, the signallers and the engineers, and talk about the infantry soldier in the TA.
Under the previous configuration, the TA was designed as a force to counter a threat from the Warsaw pact, a military alliance that no longer exists. It is clearly pointless and wrong to devote MOD resources to maintaining a force to counter a threat that is no longer there. I am glad that the Government have grasped the nettle and are proposing a new role for the TA, where its infantry arm will be slightly smaller, but better trained and better equipped to respond to the real defence threats that this country now faces.
Since Aden, the first TA infantry unit that was deployed on active service overseas as a pre-formed unit came from my constituency of York. It was a detachment from the 3rd Battalion the Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire. That unit, which has been followed by many other TA units since, is the model of the new TA that the Government are developing and which the strategic defence review envisages. There is a model in York and I hope that the Government will build on it.
On 19 September, I attended a ceremony at Imphal barracks—the presentation of colours by Field Marshall Lord Inge to the 3rd Battalion Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire, which is the TA battalion of my local regiment. I was horrified to learn during the presentation that those colours were likely to be hung up within a few months because the battalion is likely to be wound up as a result of the changed role of the TA and the soldiers formed into a new regiment together with TA infantry soldiers from west Yorkshire. As a consequence, two of the three TA centres in York would close. Since York was at the forefront of demonstrating what the new role of the TA might be, I ask the Minister—I realise that hon. Members representing constituencies throughout the country have asked him similar things—to think about the contribution that York TA soldiers have made, and can and will make in the future, if he ensures that TA soldiers in York have a real new role and that any reduction in the numbers in York is proportionate to reductions throughout the country as a whole.
§ Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)
The hon. Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley) made a strong case for York and the surrounding area. He made two points that are germane to the review. One was on the importance of keeping the Army in the public eye, which can be achieved differently in different parts of the country. The Territorial Army is very much the remaining public face of the Army in the highlands, and it is facing a 48 per cent. cut, which I would call not a slight but a major cut. Secondly, in a 1036 good warning to Ministers, the hon. Gentleman asked how robust were the savings projected from some of the reorganisations. In the past 20 years, there have been many reorganisations, but the savings achieved have never quite reached the levels expected.
The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) said that the strategic defence review had been welcomed. Had it been completely revenue neutral, it would have been welcomed far more. The signs of cuts and the projected efficiency savings in the review make one worry that not all the consequences have been thought out. By their very nature, efficiency savings tell us that the review has not worked out how savings will be achieved but wants them to be there at the end of the day.
The Ministry of Defence might take some time to consult the oil industry in my constituency, which has gone through a similar economic change. In the early days, the oil industry in the North sea was very much a cash-flow industry. It was a case of throwing money at the problem: the goal was to get the oil out of the ground and achieve the ultimate objective, regardless of the cost. Similarly, at the height of the cold war, defence was about achieving technical solutions and certain military advances regardless of the cost. During the oil industry's second phase, it realised that it had finite resources to spend and asked how it could spend them most efficiently. Much work has been done to turn the industry around, turning around the technology and driving home many efficiencies, finding effective new ways to work in the forefront of the industry's technology. To some extent, those lessons could be learned by and transferred to the Ministry of Defence, which is having to consider ways to deliver the same goals and objectives with a finite resource.
There is real concern about the Territorial Army in the north of Scotland. In many areas, it is the last remaining military presence. It is the only means of bringing the public into contact with the military and maintaining the idea of a military existence. As the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said, in the end it is nations that win wars, and not merely their forces. If we do not bind the wider community into the role of the military and give them an awareness of what it is about, we will have problems in a time of severe emergency when people wake up to the extra burdens on the community. Without such a presence, there will be recruitment problems. If a community has no awareness of the military, which is a different and distant way of life to many people outside—
§ Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
Does the hon. Gentleman therefore welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about wearing uniforms in the community, which, as an ex-regular service man, is the best news that I have heard from a defence spokesman in 20 years? It was bizarre that the spokesman for the official Opposition did not refer to that point.
§ Sir Robert Smith
I think that the Opposition will welcome it tomorrow. I am happy to do so today. My 1037 limited military experience was in the Royal Air Force cadets. If we were using a warrant, we were not allowed to travel if we were not wearing our uniforms. Obviously, we created a slight presence.
§ Sir Robert Smith
I was slighter in those days.
The wearing of uniforms will have an impact only if there are people in the area who can wear a uniform to travel about. That is the point that I was trying to make about the highlands, which the Government must consider seriously. The TA provides the majority of the uniforms in that part of the country.
Interestingly, the Minister for the Armed Forces circulated ministerially endorsed planning assumptions for the reorganisation of the Territorial Army. In the four pages circulated, the only criterion underlined reads:Geographical factors. Due attention should be given to the representation in the nations, regions and counties of the UK.When the Government consider the review of the TA, it is important that they also consider geographical factors and the fact that one cannot make the same cost assumptions in areas throughout the United Kingdom. In an area the size of the highlands and the north-east of Scotland, delivery per person recruited and used will be more expensive. Infrastructure support will be more difficult to provide. One cannot make the same assumptions in a sparsely populated area that can be made in a concentrated area.
The Government continue to make a solid commitment to the cadet force. However, one must recognise that, if the Regular Army has no presence, the cadet force must fall back on the Territorial Army. If the commitment to the cadet force is 100 per cent. cast iron, one must again consider the cost assumptions carefully. For example, the TA centre in Laurencekirk is projected to close; however, the cadet force is to be maintained and, as it currently uses many TA resources, the savings there do not amount to real savings. What is the marginal cost of maintaining a TA presence? The Minister will have to consider that point.
The hon. Member for City of York said that he thought that the cuts in the Territorial Army were okay as long as they were applied equally throughout the country. However, the feedback from each constituency seems to suggest that the cuts are too great and that they are not working there.
There has to be a point at which one feeds back into the loop at the Ministry of Defence. It may be that the overall cut cannot be achieved and, as the Chairman of the Select Committee said, there is no loss of face for the Government to say that they have considered the detail and decided that, when it comes to the crunch, part of the review cannot be implemented and the assumptions about how great a cut can be imposed must be changed at the centre.
§ Mr. Gray
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a reasonable footprint would be one infantry company per county throughout the United Kingdom? As I understand 1038 it, that would increase the number of TA soldiers required from the 7,150 projected in the review to only 9,000, so the cost would be very modest.
§ Sir Robert Smith
Before agreeing to any details, we would have to consider the technicalities of how the counties would work out in the context of the highlands, where we have had regional government for so long and where the implications might be fairly serious.
The Government talk a great deal about joined-up government, cross-departmental working and other such jargon. How much feedback has the Ministry had from other Departments, such as the Department for Education and Employment, about the effect of the TA cuts on their objectives of getting skills into the community and providing a more flexible work force and greater personal well-being?
I have met people in the TA on exercise, and many felt that they could take the experience of team working back to their workplace and expand it there. The TA provides hidden benefits to the economy and to society. Has that been taken fully on board in consultation with other Departments and has the Ministry of Defence fully recognised that wider role in the community?
The Government will not lose face if they say that, in the light of the technical realities on the ground, it is not possible to implement this part of the review without failing to follow the four pages of guidelines set out by the Minister for the Armed Forces in his assessment of how implementation should take place. I hope that the Government will reconsider their proposals and ensure that we have a TA that continues to thrive.
As the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, a TA footprint on the ground provides an insurance policy, and once the drill halls are sold and the network in the community is closed, the ability to recruit and to kick-start the system again is lost. Much could be lost for the sake of a very minor part of the review.
Has the Ministry of Defence ever found that a conflict that it was involved in fitted the model of its threat analysis beforehand? The TA is cost-effective and provides a lot of troops and flexibility for a little investment. It is worth preserving for the future.
§ 9.1 pm
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith), who made a very committed speech.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State deserves great credit. The review is unique, because it has been open and foreign policy led rather than being a Treasury-driven cost-cutting exercise. It is the first ever to increase, and not cut, the size of the Regular Army and to enjoy the whole-hearted support of all the chiefs of staff, both in public and in private. It is an impressive piece of work, and its inclusiveness is unique.
I wish to make some brief constituency points. In 1996, the work force at RAF Sealand in Deeside—the Ministry of Defence's leading electronic repair establishment—was market-tested under the previous Government's "Competing for Quality" strategy and won that market test with a very competitive in-house bid. It is successfully 1039 delivering a new and more efficient repair service under a service level agreement that is due to undergo competition again between 2002 and 2007. However, RAF Sealand is soon to be subsumed into the new defence aviation repair agency, which has the declared aim of being a trading fund by April 2001.
The Sealand work force are looking forward to the new challenge and recognise that they will have to deliver further efficiency savings over and above those generated from the market test, but they would greatly prefer to do that as an integral part of the defence aviation repair agency family rather than under the threat of a further market test in 2002 or later. Does the Minister not consider it reasonable at this stage to lift the threat of additional re-competition that is hanging over that loyal work force and to allow them to participate on equal terms with everyone else in the new defence aviation repair agency trading fund? RAF Sealand is now 1,700 strong and is of great importance to my constituency's economy. It has earned a positive reply to the request that it makes through me tonight.
On the subject of the airborne stand-off radar project, I hope that the Government will reassure me, and those of my constituents who are employed by Raytheon Systems, that the Ministry of Defence requirement for five ASTOR aircraft will be fulfilled. That capability is essential and is fully supported by the strategic defence review. ASTOR also has civil applications, such as monitoring oil spillages, natural disasters, smuggling and terrorist activities. The need for five aircraft is clear.
I ask the Government to note that the Raytheon ASTOR team solution would provide jobs in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. In these uncertain times, those jobs would be a real boost for local communities. I remind the Government that the radar on the Raytheon ASTOR team's solution has been tried and tested, and I hope that Ministers agree that the Ministry and the Treasury cannot afford to take risks with such a key element of the ASTOR system. The platform that Raytheon would use—the Global Express—is widely recognised as the best aircraft. Raytheon also has the only proven radar in its advanced version, which currently flies on the U2 aircraft used by the United States of America.
The future large aircraft is also mentioned in the review. Can Ministers confirm that no more than four short-term heavy-lift aircraft are envisaged in the review? What is the probable length of the lease and can Ministers guarantee that the lease will not turn into a buy? If a lease turned into a buy, it would prejudice the prospect of the 40 to 50 future large aircraft that are required to secure the desired share of the work for the United Kingdom, including work for my constituents at Broughton in making the wings of the aircraft.
I ask the Minister to give a status report on the future large aircraft. We have a new Government in Germany. What is their position on the project? Are the French now supporting the project? Does the Foreign and Commonwealth Office assist our Government on that issue on the continent? Are the Germans still flirting with the idea of striking a deal with the Ukrainians, who now build the world's largest aircraft, the Antonov? My constituents very much want to build the wings of the future large aircraft, because that would assure the future of their jobs into the next century.
1040 Many hon. Members have mentioned the Territorial Army. The new large and impressive drill hall at Queensferry in my constituency should not be closed. Twice a week, I see 40 cadets drill and train, effectively and with good discipline, on those premises. That is youth work of the highest order, in a locality with unemployment, social distress and increasing crime and drug abuse.
A Ministry of Defence document leaked to the Sunday Telegraph said that the drill hall was to close. It would cost as much to replicate it as would be saved by closing it. To close it would be nonsense. The public would not accept it, and the cadets and their fiercely supportive parents would not stand for it either. The hall also supports the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, North Wales police and countless voluntary organisations. My point for the Government is that, if it works, do not fix it. We have an excellent arrangement, and my constituency wants it to remain.
Let me mention briefly, but sincerely, the 3rd Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers TA. I want it to remain at its current strength. I gather that the official recommendation is to have one large battalion in Wales. That will mean headquarters in Cardiff—but there are already five headquarters in Cardiff. I ask for two small battalions in Wales. We need to retain our traditions in north Wales. There is a major unit headquarters in north Wales in Wrexham, and that means opportunities for our young people and for undergraduates from the universities and colleges.
If the Government want to set north Wales afire, let them put the headquarters in Cardiff. If they want to excite the forces of nationalism in north Wales, let them put it in the headquarters in Cardiff. If they want to baffle parents and volunteers, then Cardiff it should be. Again I say, if it works, do not fix it. I hope that Ministers will hear my plea.
My remarks are unashamedly constituency orientated. However, there are 3,600 British Aerospace workers, 1,700 RAF Sealand employees and 120 Raytheon employees in Deeside, and my constituency knows which way its bread is buttered. I want those establishments to prosper. Having more than 5,000 highly skilled and nationally important wealth-creating jobs gives Deeside a wealth-creating base in manufacturing and servicing that is unrivalled in Wales. I ask the Ministers to hear what I say.
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), who has spoken, as I shall, of constituency matters. The hon. Gentleman has a long, proud and continuous record of service to his constituents, and tonight's speech was no exception.
The review is vital to Fylde, which is the home of British Aerospace's military aircraft division, where 6,000 people work on such projects as the Tornado mid-life update, Hawk final assembly and Eurofighter. Skilled teams of designers, engineers, technicians and electronics experts also work hard on such projects as Nimrod 2000 and the beginnings of development work on the future offensive air system. Fylde is also home to a large military barracks at Weeton where regiments come and go. They all serve in difficult parts of our military terrain, so Fylde knows what it is talking about on military matters.
1041 The heart of the review is a proper focus on the people in our defence industry and our armed forces, and I, too, shall focus on that. Keeping British Aerospace and the projects that matter to people there in business and keeping together its teams of vital experts are important parts of the outcome of the defence review. Before I turn to that, however, I want to reflect on two facts.
The first has come up already tonight, and it relates to the cadet forces. I am the president of our Air Cadet Force, 2486 Squadron, which operates from temporary facilities at Lytham St. Anne's high school. The force hopes to find a permanent home, but in light of what many right hon. and hon. Members have said, it is worried about what is happening to the territorial forces. If the Government are interested in contributing to the development of young people, who sometimes come from the most difficult inner-city environments, they should know that the work of the cadet forces—particularly of the Royal Air Force—is vital. Without proper support, those young people will not have their enthusiasm and commitment properly recognised and rewarded. If the Government want top-quality recruits, they have only to look at those cadet forces. I put on record my sincere appreciation of the work of the chairman of our Air Training Corps squadron, Jackie Allen, and the officer in charge, Phil Massey, who give up a huge amount of their time to serve the interests of those young people.
In debates such as this, in which we look forward, we sometimes forget those who have fallen in the past. I had the honour this year of being with my local Royal Air Force Association at the launch of its wings appeal. It had managed to persuade the RAF to bring a Spitfire to Warton. We had the remarkable symbolic sight of the older fighter juxtaposed with Eurofighter Typhoon to remind us that, without the sacrifice of those brave pilots in the second world war, we could not talk today about projects such as Eurofighter 2000. However, the efforts of George Wigan, Eric Barrowclough and Dennis Rowland, of whom the House will not have heard, have, with those of their colleagues in the RAFA, raised £4,500 in Fylde for the welfare needs not only of victims of the second world war but of service personnel sadly no longer in the RAF. The House would do well to acknowledge and remember their contribution.
The Secretary of State has got away lightly this evening on finance. None of the projects that we have discussed, particularly in procurement, could be achieved without the necessary resources. It has not been one-way traffic with no one commenting adversely on the defence review. Defence Industry contains critical comment and states:New Labour's widely praised plans depend on economic buoyancy.That was written before the truth that Conservative Members knew but Labour decided not to look at had became apparent: the economy has gone flat.
I am surprised—perhaps I should not be—that the Secretary of State did nothing to reassure us that his budget in the defence review, which is for only three years ahead, is bombproof against further dawn raids by the Treasury. Having been in the Treasury, I strongly suspect that the knives are already out and being sharpened. The Government are already telling us that education and health will be the priorities. That is interesting language 1042 because the Secretary of State talked about priorities in defence but was not prepared to back it up by referring to solid cash.
§ Mr. Jack
I must resist my hon. Friend's invitation. I hope that I am not being rude, but I have several points.
On one project that has been secured, Eurofighter 2000, I have a question for the Government. We are delighted with the work of the previous Government in securing the project, and I am delighted that the present Government have seen it through to the production phase, but what will they do to support the industry in furthering the export prospects of this remarkable piece of technology? Thank goodness we got the dotted line signed before the German election.
Much has been said about the technologies involved in various procurement projects. In a way, the defence review missed out. Kevin Smith, one of the managing directors of British Aerospace, in a recent edition of Defence Review, rightly noted:We ought to have not just an MoD strategy, but a defence technology strategy for the UK.I hope that, before this debate is out, we can have an assurance that the Government will go into more depth about the technologies that we need for the future. If companies such as British Aerospace and their growing band of European partners are to be able to plan properly for their future, and if we are to keep together the vital teams of very clever people who hold the technology, they need to know what is required and to be able to plan accordingly.
I have often felt that, in its own way, technology contributes to deterrence. The phrase I use to describe that is the deterrence of technology: if potential aggressors know that we have better systems, better kit and better people, they will think more than twice before deciding to have a go at us. Central to the question of retaining those talented groups of people, not only in BAe in my constituency, but throughout the United Kingdom defence industry, are projects such as the future offensive air system, which is in its infancy in terms of thinking, but which is utterly vital to the maintenance of a Europe-UK based technology pool that is at the leading edge.
Much has been said about another crucial project: the so-called joint strike fighter project. BAe, together with Lockheed Martin and other partners, is straddling the Atlantic on that project, which is important to carrier-based activity and to other aircraft with short take-off and landing capability. However, vital though that project is, and although it has the potential to open access for BAe to some technologies currently denied it, at the end of the day, such new technologies are not of BAe origin. By contrast, in the case of the future offensive air system, many of the new technologies—for example, the development of more stealth capability from a European source—will be our technologies.
It is that element that I regard as being absolutely vital, and I should be grateful to hear the Minister acknowledge that the Government distinguish carefully between the nature of the future offensive air system project and that of the joint strike fighter project. If we do not maintain technology bases within the United Kingdom and Europe, 1043 we shall be unable to attract the completion in terms of European partners in alliances that will be vital if we are to secure a technology and, subsequently, a manufacturing base for defence systems in Europe and so compete with the might of the big three manufacturers in the United States.
We have to maintain an element of co-operation across the Atlantic and I congratulate BAe and the previous Government on their action in respect of the Nimrod 2000 project, which did exactly that. British airframe technology and British systems integration excellence were coupled with Boeing's maritime surveillance systems. That is good, but we have to tackle the central issue of maintaining a technological base in Europe and the United Kingdom.
If the work, which I hope that the Government will continue to timetable, on the future offensive air system proceeds and a stealthier inhabited air vehicle becomes a real possibility, is there any chance that the arrival of such an air vehicle will affect the configuration of the final batch of Eurofighter Typhoon production? I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on that tonight.
One of the key elements in the debate has been smart procurement, but I remain somewhat sceptical that it will deliver the sort of savings mentioned. I was exposed to a civil aviation project, where Air Canada and Virgin negotiated with Airbus Industrie about a project on paper, the A340. They decided exactly what they wanted and, three and three quarter years later, on time, to specification and on payload, the aircraft appeared. That is in stark contrast to the C130J procurement programme currently before us: it is two years late and the product does not exist.
I wonder whether the Government will adopt the procurement philosophy exemplified in the A340 project—that of a true partnership with industry—or whether they will find it difficult to change the culture within the Ministry of Defence. Will they get away from the current competition-based philosophy to one of trust and partnership with industry? If they do not, they will not achieve savings. I support strongly the suggestion made earlier in the debate that we should have a progress report on how smart procurement is working and on the progress of the savings. If the savings are not made in time, it will be the undoing of the Government's proposal.
The future large aircraft project is vital for aviation in the north-west. That has been mentioned in the debate. I was struck by the endorsement in the report produced by Professor Philip Lawrence and Dr. Derek Bradman from the university of the West of England. The report was not sponsored by the industry, but it makes a compelling case regarding our future heavy-lift capacity and the future large aircraft. The Government should stand up and say that they will use smart procurement to secure that project and an Airbus-based new tanker fleet. Those projects are not at the margins of technology and the new smart procurement scheme could deliver the goods as far as the United Kingdom is concerned.
Getting the review right is vital for my constituents, for the United Kingdom and Europe and for our contribution to world peace. If the Government get it wrong, they can only blame themselves that they have put another TSR2 on their doorstep.
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
I have removed large chunks of my speech because time is very limited.
I follow the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) in expressing concern that Britain should retain the lead in the avionics industry. However, the Treasury-led defence policy of the previous Government did the industry no favours and did not assist it in developing a technological lead, in procurement or in securing the future of Britain's defence industry as a whole. I have listened with amazement to some of the comments tonight from Conservative Members who seem to have forgotten completely that, in the early 1990s, the previous Government reduced armed forces expenditure by more than one fifth and cut force numbers by 29 per cent.
I welcome very much the strategic defence review for which so many hon. Members on both sides of the House have called for so long. I welcome the level of consultation and involvement that is finally beginning to lift the iron curtain of the MOD at Whitehall. In the few minutes available, I signal my pride in, and praise for, the United Kingdom's armed forces. Whatever our differences, all hon. Members recognise our armed forces' reputation for professionalism and high standards, and are committed to maintaining that reputation throughout the world.
Focusing briefly on constituency concerns, I welcome the stability that this Government have brought to Rosyth dockyard by confirming its allocated programme of refit. However, I ask the Minister, first, to consider immediately moving the Ark Royal from Portsmouth, where it has been sitting for months on end awaiting refit, to Rosyth as an early Christmas present. Secondly, will he ensure that, in the face of increasingly fierce competition for shipbuilding and refitting work among those with maritime interests, a more open and co-operative approach is adopted?
I see that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) is in the Chamber. Although I defend Rosyth's and Scotland's interests, I believe that the last thing that we need is to go down the road of separatism. I cannot believe that anyone would think that a separate Scottish navy, army and air force is credible.
As to other matters affecting Rosyth, I have been lobbied by the MOD police who plead not to be reviewed yet again. They would like some assurance that that will not occur.
I pay tribute to the Rosyth naval stores depot, which is due for closure but welcomes the 18-month staged approach which allows alternative training and education to be developed so that, hopefully, people can find other jobs.
Recently, I made enjoyable visits to the Rosyth sea cadets and to the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service Rosyth association. I support the points that have been made about the importance of our volunteers and sea cadets.
I welcome the stability and the three-year planning cycle that the review has brought to defence industry, the efforts that are being made to rationalise European defence industry and the commitment to a defence diversification agency. However, I share hon. Members' concerns that, if the DDA becomes part of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, DERA should keep its exclusive British rights to the best brains in the country and should not go too far towards privatisation.
1045 I applaud the review and I welcome the good reputation that our armed forces maintain in spite of the efforts of politicians.
§ Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) spoke for almost everybody who has attended the debate when she reminded us that, whatever our differences, we have the greatest admiration for all the men and women who serve in our regular and part-time armed forces, the civil servants who support them and all those involved in British industry. They are regarded throughout the world as having the greatest reputation. Hon. Members must remember that, since 1969, 452 British service men have given their lives in defence of freedom and democracy, combating terrorism within the United Kingdom.
We all welcome the opportunity to debate the strategic defence review. In his opening speech, the Secretary of State mentioned that the SDR had been welcomed by a senior NATO officer with "qualified rapture", which is an interesting expression. I suspect that those in the military expected that, with an incoming Labour Government, they would be like a patient who was to have his leg amputated, and they were therefore quite cheery when it was proposed to cut off only one foot, but in the post-SDR euphoria, many of them are beginning to sniff the touch of gangrene.
The Government have made much of the review being open and having involved a great deal of consultation, which has been the case. However, many hon. Members know that we have had great difficulty in getting information out of Ministers. I was amused that in the review, Ministers point out that there have been many debates on the SDR. Those debates over the past 18 months were initiated by hon. Members: for example, the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) initiated a debate on defence procurement; my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) initiated debates on the Territorial Army, and I initiated a debate on the SDR.
Like the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), I should like to know when we might expect the single service debates on the Royal Navy and the Army. We had a single service debate on the Royal Air Force. Have the others disappeared down a parliamentary black hole?
The Labour party manifesto referred to a defence and security review. So far, we have had the strategic defence review, but there has been no wider review of security policy. That point was made by the Select Committee and its Chairman. On countless occasions, I and other hon. Members have asked why, if the defence review is a foreign policy defence review, as the Government have continually argued, there has been no foreign policy baseline. What is wrong in publishing such a baseline?
Many of us believe that, if the Government had had a foreign policy baseline, their policy towards Sierra Leone and the Balkans might have been more coherent. This afternoon, the Foreign Secretary might have been asked a very fair question: "What exactly is the Government's long-term strategy for the Balkans?" We do not know.
1046 The SDR was presented in one volume, with a separate volume of supporting essays and 41 separate fact sheets. Information must be sought among many documents. For example, there is no one detailed document on the defence budget, except for one page of four paragraphs on resources. Several hon. Members have pointed out that this appears to be an absurdity, given the importance of resources in terms of implementing the defence review. However, if one searched the press summaries, one did find some information on the costings of force enhancements not covered elsewhere.
I should congratulate the Select Committee on Defence on extracting some costings on a wide range of policy areas, from efficiency savings to extra money required for welfare. Those cannot be found in any Government document. Obtaining information about the defence budget is rather like being an accountant trying to pin down Del Boy and Trotter and Sons on their family business—almost impossible.
As the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), pointed out, between 1996–97 and 2001–2, defence spending will fall by £2.1 billion in real terms. That is not merely a debating point between the Opposition and the Government. I believe that most hon. Members realise that resources will be absolutely crucial for the Government in delivering the contents of their strategic defence review. They will be crucial to the major procurement projects that the Government have outlined.
Resources will be crucial if the Government wish to acquire not just two carriers, but the type of naval and air support package that goes with them; if they wish to acquire at the same time future large aircraft; if they wish to acquire all the various equipment for the Army; and if they wish to acquire the unglamorous but absolutely crucial logistical effort that goes into sending an expeditionary force abroad. It is not carping criticism to have doubts about that; the matter is fundamental to our national security, even without taking into account the problems that will be connected with maintaining our high-quality personnel. I am afraid that, even if we have the kit, if we do not have the excellent personnel whom our armed forces have at present, we shall end up in the second eleven.
Many of us believe that the strategic defence review has been about reducing defence expenditure and forces while maintaining our current commitments. Many observers have noted that our commitments have actually been expanded by things such as coercive diplomacy—to use the in phrase—and of course an expeditionary force capability. One is forced to conclude that our armed forces are being asked to do more with less. Moreover, if one talks to them, it becomes obvious that both regulars and reservists know that.
The whole SDR is based on a deal struck with the Treasury on efficiency savings. The SDR report admits that resources depend on an expanding economy. Well—tragically—it is no longer an expanding economy, as many of our constituents know. Britain is teetering on the edge of a recession. As recently as a fortnight ago, the Chancellor admitted that he would have to adjust growth forecasts, perhaps to 1 per cent. or less. There is a potential black hole of about £36 billion in the middle of the public finances. It is a downturn made in Downing street, and it will challenge Ministers. [Interruption.] Ministers smile about that, but many hon. Members 1047 present remember the defence record of previous Labour Governments. The track record in the 1960s and 1970s was not good. Perhaps as in the case of the Healey and Mason reviews, the Robertson review will end up with the Secretary of State having to come back to Parliament in a year with supplementary defence estimates forced on him by Government policy. That brings no cheer to any hon. Member.
The Ministry of Defence will have to implement the strategic defence review with restrictions on its budget. Rumours are already seeping out of the MOD that there is an interesting financial black hole in the long-term costing for 1999. Even with the projected efficiency savings, which have been described by the Chief of the Defence Staff as challenging, one is left in doubt whether the Ministry of Defence will be able to achieve its objective.
It is interesting, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) pointed out, that just at the time when the Government are effectively cutting defence spending, the United States intends to increase its defence spending by 10 per cent. Our major ally recognises that its armed forces are likely to be busier in the next decade and that the weapons needed are much more costly.
Several hon. Members have pointed out contradictions in the SDR. The SDR maintains that there is now no direct military threat to the United Kingdom, yet further on it states:There is an increasing danger from the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical technologies.The Select Committee rightly pointed out that ballistic missile systems and other weapons of mass destruction, as has been recognised by the United States Government, will pose a threat to us and to our allies. I ask the Secretary of State to reconsider the resources that he has allocated to that—an issue that we debated before Christmas, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) raised it in an Adjournment debate.
The muddle in Government thinking and the imbalance between resources and commitments have been laid bare in the debate by hon. Members in all parts of the House who have mentioned their concerns about the Territorial Army. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson), my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey, the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Alexander), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, the hon. Members for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), for City of York (Mr. Bayley), for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith) and for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) all expressed their fears about the Territorial Army.
Ministers claim that the reorganisation of the Territorial Army is predicated solely on making it modern and more usable. That is just not true. No one would deny that the TA, like other parts of the armed forces, must be prepared to face the threats of the future. It cannot be preserved in aspic, merely as a museum piece. Having spoken to serving soldiers in the Regular Army, let alone the Territorial Army, I and many others have concluded that the real drive behind the reduction in the TA has been the need to find money to fund the Regular Army.
1048 The MOD has failed to follow its own logical policy on the TA. A year ago, according to initial MOD policy documents, the TA was to have been reduced to about 5,000. Many people in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy saw the logical conclusion of such a reduction. Now the TA is to be reduced only to 40,000. How do Ministers explain that range of figures? As many hon. Members have asked, what criteria have been used in the restructuring of the TA?
There is a fight over resources, with the Regular Army fighting for every extra pound and Ministers having to respond to pressure to maintain a credible TA. We guess that about 150 TA centres will close to find savings, and about 20,000 TA soldiers, mainly from the infantry and the yeomanry, will be cut. The remainder will be cadre-ised into soulless holding battalions. If that happens, many of the remaining men and women who belong to them will leave the Territorial Army. The future of the TA has been subject to delays and leaks, which has had a major effect on the roll and on recruiting. The MOD is full of leaks—just like the SDR.
Ultimately, the SDR has been not just about administrative reorganisation and foreign policy, but about making our armed forces do more with less. The Opposition welcome many aspects of the SDR in terms of continuity over matters such as jointery, the continuing desire to get better value for money from defence procurement. I say to the Front Bench, "Welcome aboard reality. You have been out of step for the past 20 years and you have now rejoined mainstream thinking on defence policy."
The SDR, published in July, was a statement of intent. We shall now see a continual rolling defence review. I fear that, with the economy teetering on recession, the Ministry of Defence will be unable to manage its budgets and that there will be further cuts and possible humiliations. The Secretary of State will have to explain that to the men and women in our armed forces.
The Opposition welcome parts of the strategic defence review, but regret the fact that the Government have not been open in publishing the foreign policy baseline and that Ministers have failed to accept that most of the determinants behind the defence review have been financial.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar)
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have paid tribute to the work of the new Minister of Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), who made considerable contributions to these debates from both Opposition and Government Benches. I understand that he is having some difficulty in adjusting to his new role, as, whenever he goes on a bus or train and sees someone in uniform, he or she fails to salute him. He was a good team player, and has been replaced by another excellent team player in the new Minister for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson).
As shown by a survey in The Sunday Times, which said that the Secretary of State was the fourth most powerful man in the country, defence is an important issue. As we heard today, the strategic defence review has set the scene for our armed forces in the next 15 or 20 years. It has laid 1049 down a framework which will guide the shape of British defence well into the next century. It thoroughly merits a two-day debate and a full report from the Select Committee.
As usual in these debates, hon. Members have displayed considerable knowledge and interest. In closing the debate, I shall respond to a number of the points that were raised, although I fear that I shall be unable to respond to them all, and will have to deal with some in correspondence or tomorrow. Although I recognise the keen interest shown in reserves, most of the points on that subject will be covered by my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces when he opens the second day of the debate tomorrow.
I confess to some disappointment—no mention has been made of the 10 per cent. increase in the Navy and Air Force reserves.
§ Mr. Spellar
There has been no acknowledgement of the need to reshape the Army reserves for their role in the new strategic environment, ensuring that they are relevant, trained and equipped.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. Did I hear the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) say that that was untrue? If so, I must ask him to withdraw that statement.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman was frustrated because he was not allowed to get in. I accept his withdrawal.
§ Mr. Spellar
On the radio this morning, the shadow Opposition spokesman spoke about the use of the TA to fill gaps. That is important, but so is trying to avoid the gaps in the first place. It is ironic that the last big drops in TA membership took place precisely during the period when he was Economic Secretary to the Treasury. In the early part of this decade, TA membership went down from 86,000 to 59,000. Much as I should like to pursue that line, I must leave it to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces. I will say a few words about the most important changes to our organisation that we shall be making as a result of the SDR.
We expect future operations to be conducted increasingly on a joint basis, and, throughout the SDR, we have aimed to ensure that a joint approach forms a central part of all our defence activities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke about our plans for a joint Navy and RAF Harrier force, and mentioned our plans to take forward jointery in the area of logistic support.
On the joint Harrier force—Joint Force 2000—I am pleased to announce that the chiefs of staff have agreed that the force will form within RAF Strike Command under the command and control of a two-star Navy rear admiral. A one-star RAF air commodore, working to the 1050 rear admiral, will command the force on a day-to-day basis. We envisage that the headquarters will be operational in 2000, but our front line can operate only if the kit works. We have been making major strides in logistics.
§ Mr. Spellar
The service men involved would be extremely resentful of the implication that the appointments were not made on merit, but we will draw that to their attention. We absolutely deny that suggestion.
We intend to form three new defence agencies to support the front line: a new defence transport and movements agency to manage all our strategic movement, including deployment for operations; a single defence storage and distribution agency; and a single defence aviation repair agency to undertake deep repair and overhaul of all fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. The role of DARA was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), and my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson) mentioned the role of the Navy repair organisation, which he served for so many years. I especially welcome his genuine feedback from the shop floor and from the Marines. Both those sites—Sealand and Gosport—and Perth and St. Athan will play a major role in the development of the aviation agency.
In addition, we intend to form two joint force logistic headquarters to co-ordinate the provision of joint logistics support to deployed operations. To take forward the concept of joint logistic support, we are creating a new unified logistics organisation to replace the current separate logistics organisations of the single services. That will be controlled by a chief of defence logistics.
The CDL's role will be to deliver to the front line joint, cost-effective support that is responsive and reliable. Such integration will provide for greater commonality of systems and approaches across the defence logistics area. That in turn will provide the opportunity for strategic management of all logistics support, thereby enhancing efficiency and cost-effectiveness—in short, achieving better, more effective support through the application of sensible processes and common practices.
The first steps towards that goal have already been taken, with the appointment of the Chief of Defence Logistics (Designate), General Sir Sam Cowan, and his implementation team, led by a senior civil servant, Mr. John Oughton. I hope that there is no complaint about that from the Opposition. The team will be put into place by 1 April 1999, and the essential elements of the core headquarters will enable the CDL to assume budgetary and management control of the current logistics areas.
By April 2000, it is planned to have a fully integrated defence logistics organisation providing logistic support to the armed forces. That will be a change of the greatest magnitude and a huge challenge, but it underlines our commitment to achieving greater effectiveness in delivering military capability while securing better value for money. I welcome the interest in that shown by the Select Committee.
1051 More detailed points were raised during the debate. First, the speech of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) was interesting not so much for what it did say, but for what it did not say. There was no comment on why the Opposition did not co-operate with the leak inquiry or why they did not even turn up to it. Those points were put strongly by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and there was no response at all from the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon or from the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) in winding up.
§ Mr. Spellar
The Secretary of State made it very clear that it had been established that a document had got into the hands of the Opposition, and that copies had then been made and leaked to the press. They refused the opportunity to go to the leak inquiry and give evidence: that was stated clearly by the Secretary of State, and there was no response from the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
The Minister criticises Opposition Front Benchers. Does it occur to him that they were members of the very same Government who changed the criminal law to make silence capable of an adverse interpretation?
§ Mr. Spellar
I think I remember that the phrase used so often by their spokesmen at the time was, "Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear."
Equally misleading and wrong is the dead horse being flogged by the Opposition to hide their frustration about the widespread support for our decision to build a new generation of aircraft carriers. Those carriers were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), and by the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) and the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell).
Let me put the facts on record. First, there has been no change in the Government's commitment to this project. We need two large carriers to provide the Navy with a harder-hitting, more versatile platform for force projection operations, and we will make sure that the Navy has those two larger carriers.
During the SDR, we looked at other options, including life extension of the current vessels, and concluded that none of them met our requirements satisfactorily. No one in the Navy, the Ministry of Defence or the Treasury—or the Chancellor—has re-opened, or queried, the SDR decision, so we are now in the process of implementing that decision. As part of that work, we are doing what the Ministry of Defence has done since 1992 to demonstrate to the House, the National Audit Office and the taxpayer that we have selected the most cost-effective solution to our requirements.
We are comparing in detail the option that we have chosen with a "do nothing" option—abandoning carriers entirely—and a "do the minimum" option, which, in this case as in many others, constitutes a life extension programme. The contract bulletin simply asks for tenders to provide a study: we have a copy here. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon did not read out all of it. 1052 It talks of Invincible classfurther special refit cost studies.It uses the word "studies," which deals with the point made by the hon. Gentleman.
We are talking about a contract for a study. The MOD pays for the study, under the contract: I should have thought that was self-evident from the definition. It is standard practice, and it is unfortunate that the Opposition feel the need to engage in such scaremongering to hide their complete lack of any ideas.
As I have said, these were prudent Government arrangements, nothing more and nothing less, and exactly what was done before. I hope that we can now lay that canard to rest. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk has nothing else to say, so it is not surprising that he wants to keep on. Oh dear, oh lor': the trip to Eastbourne obviously did not do the hon. Gentleman much good.
A second myth propagated by the Opposition Front Bench was that decisions about the refit of HMS Spartan were made for constituency reasons. Here, too, the facts are fundamentally different.
HMS Spartan will be a key part of our attack submarine force until 2006: she therefore requires a refit, which will provide more than four years' operational service. It will not be a full refit, but it will involve refuelling and essential maintenance. The full refit that was originally planned was part of the programme for Rosyth, agreed by the last Government as part of the sale of the dockyard. Cancellation would have incurred charges, with no benefit to the MOD or the taxpayer, in the region of £60 million—plus £30 million for earlier than planned redundancy costs. The reduced refits will cost less than originally planned, and meet our operational requirements.
While on the subject of the Navy, I can reassure my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence that there has been no casting aside of peacetime tasks for the destroyer and frigate force. The Navy will be able to meet those tasks with 32 ships by managing the force more flexibly, so that deployments can be adjusted to match changing political and operational priorities. That will enable us to meet commitments in the Gulf, the Falklands and the Caribbean, and to provide a regular presence off west Africa and make regular deployments in the Asia-Pacific region.
We conducted the review in a remarkably open and inclusive manner. I am confident that, when we return tomorrow, there will be a similar consensus on the good sense of our proposals. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will be talking about our policy for people and our proposals for reserves. That will show the work that has been undertaken and the strength of the defence review.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you had a request by a Foreign Office Minister to make a statement tonight on the reports that 24 officers have been executed in Sierra Leone following courts martial? Twelve journalists are also under sentence of death, including a British national, Hilton Fyle, who is a former BBC correspondent. Given 1053 our considerable support for President Kabbah and his Government and our human rights policy, I am anxious that a Foreign Office Minister should clarify whether the United Kingdom Government have been able to make representations, opposing these executions and supporting clemency for those who are under sentence of death.
§ Madam Speaker
I have not been informed that, at this stage, any Minister from the Foreign Office is seeking to make a statement to the House.