HC Deb 28 February 2000 vol 345 cc33-126

[Relevant documents: First Report, Session 1999–2000, on the OCCAR Convention, HC 69, and the Government's response thereto, HC 224; Second Report, Session 1999–2000, on the Ministry of Defence Annual Reporting Cycle, HC 158; Sixth Report, Session 1998–99, on the Reserves Call-out Order 1999 and Progress of Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 860, and the Government's response thereto, HC 220 of Session 1999–2000; Seventh Report, Session 1998–99, on the Strategic Defence Review: Defence Medical Services, HC 447, and the Government's response thereto, HC 221 of Session 1999–2000; Eighth Report, Session 1998–99, on the Committee's Major Procurement Projects Survey: The Common New Generation Frigate Programme, HC 544, and the Government's response thereto, HC 222 of Session 1999–2000; and Ninth Report, Session 1998–99, on Defence Research, HC 616, and the Government's response thereto, HC 223 of Session 1999–2000.]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [22 February], That this House approves the 1999 Defence White Paper (Cm 4446).—[Mr. Hoon.]

4.9 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Doubtless your office will have told you about this. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is unlikely to be able to be here. What is the technical situation regarding moving the amendment?

Madam Speaker

The mover does not have to have his name attached to the amendment. Any hon. Member can move the amendment, but I note that the hon. Gentleman has already spoken in the debate, so it will have to be someone who is to speak today.

4.10 pm
The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar)

I pay tribute to the late hon. Member for Romsey, Michael Colvin. Hon. Members of all parties will, I know, be shocked and saddened by the news of the tragic fire at his home last week. The House will recall that he served with great distinction as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence from 1995 until the general election in 1997, and continued to play an important role in the Committee after that. Indeed, hon. Members will recall that only last Tuesday, on the first day of this debate, he spoke for 25 minutes and remarked that he had been sorry to leave the Committee. We are all saddened that his contribution is lost not only to the Committee but to the House, and our thoughts are with his family.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

With your indulgence, Madam Speaker, I would like to follow that up and say how shocked and horrified Conservative Members were to see the pictures and to understand, finally, by the weekend, that Michael Colvin and his wife, who were both much liked in the party, had perished in the fire. It is especially poignant for me as I listened with interest to his speech and had a small conversation with him afterwards about some points that he raised and also about his hopes and desires for defence and his involvement in it, notwithstanding the fact that he was no longer to be on the Select Committee.

I agree entirely with the Minister's comments. Michael Colvin was liked and respected throughout the House, and especially by his friends and colleagues. During the past few days I have read in newspapers that he never made it to ministerial office, as though that were some badge of dishonour. I am sure that it was not meant like that, but I want to say for the record that, for us in the House and for the general public, being a Back Bencher who is good at the job is just as important as being a Minister, if not more so. That is a badge of honour that he takes with him.

Mr. Spellar


Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)


Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)


Madam Speaker

Order. We are in debate, so the Minister must respond to one intervention before taking another. We must carry out our proceedings properly here.

Mr. Spellar

I am sure that the House fully endorses the comments of the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith).

Mr. Campbell

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I associate myself with the tributes that have been paid from both Front Benches. Michael Colvin was a man of great personal charm and distinction. I had the honour to serve with him on the Defence Committee for seven years, during which time I got to know both him and his wife. We will remember him in his prime last Tuesday. His passing is something that the whole House will regret very deeply.

Mr. Spellar

The late hon. Member for Romsey was prominent not only in the Defence Committee but in the Council of Europe, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) is also a prominent member.

Mr. Terry Davis

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. As he said, Michael Colvin was a member of the delegations to both the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. As leader of the delegation, I offer the sympathy of all its members to the family of Michael and Nichola Colvin.

Michael Colvin was highly respected in the House for his knowledge, expertise, experience and interest in defence matters. In recent years, as a member of our delegation, he had become equally respected at international level. Indeed, very recently he was elected the leader of federated group of Conservatives and Christian Democrats in the Western European Union Assembly. That was evidence of the respect in which he was held by the members of the Conservative and Christian Democrat groups. He was also widely respected by members of other political groups.

I served on the same Committees as Michael Colvin and we got to know each other through travelling together to meetings. He embodied the saying that, although people on the other side of the House may be opponents, they are not enemies. The whole delegation will also miss Nichola Colvin, who often came with Michael to our meetings and took a great interest in the work of the delegation. She was a lively person and we shall all miss both of them very much.

Mr. Spellar

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State opened the debate, he outlined how we are moving ahead on the objectives of the strategic defence review. I shall fill in some of the details, describing the problems that we have faced and the considerable efforts that we have made to rectify them, as well as relating how they tie in with the Government's broader objectives and how we are breaking down departmental barriers to achieve real results.

I had hoped—and still hope—to spend some time dealing with personnel issues and highlighting our successes with our policy for people. However, I shall have to divert briefly to deal with some of the nonsense generated by a media facing a dearth of news last week with Parliament in recess.

Let us be clear that there are problems with some programmes. Let us also be clear that the structure that we inherited in 1997 was not satisfactory for dealing with them and did not get the best out of the Ministry or industry. That is why we brought in smart procurement, which is starting to have an impact. It does not resolve all the problems overnight, but let me put them in perspective.

We have had a number of reports identifying weaknesses with the SA80, some of which date back to the Gulf war. There have been a number of modifications, but that is the case with all weapon systems, including the much-vaunted M16. We await a report shortly on further improvements after extensive tests and shall move rapidly on those findings, but the SA80 is still a capable and particularly accurate weapon.

On Tornado upgrades, we all recognise that there is a constant battle between improved systems to detect planes and improvements to avoid detection. That can involve new planes or upgrades to existing planes. The systems work at the edge of electronics and information technology. It is true that the new GR4 needs more work to integrate its system. It is not true that we do not have a capability to use smart bombs. We do, as we demonstrated in Kosovo.

We are also addressing problems with the Army's battlefield communications systems. We have never denied that the existing Clansman radio system was past its sell-by date. There have been a number of reports on that, including from the Defence Committee. It was an excellent system when it was introduced in the 1970s, but it is long overdue for replacement by the Bowman system.

Bowman was 75 months late when we inherited it in 1997 and slipping further by the day. That is the sort of slippage that smart procurement is designed to avoid. We have stopped the culture of delay and slippage and have managed to reverse some of the delay on Bowman, bringing forward the delivery of the personal radio element of the project. We applied a specific, short-term solution for operations in Kosovo by procuring state-of-the-art communications systems for our forces off the shelf. That ensured that our forces had the capability that they needed at the time that they needed it.

We are not just solving existing problems. Our closer partnership with industry, through smart procurement, has enabled us to save money that can be spent on new and increased capability for our armed forces. The Government have embarked on a massive programme of investment in new, world-beating equipment. In the past few months we have announced the construction of the airborne stand-off radar system, early development contracts for future aircraft carriers and destroyers, more Seawolf and Rapier air defence missiles, an upgrade of engines for the RAF Harrier aircraft and the development of the new multi-role armoured vehicle. That amounts to £1.7 billion of investment. It is the clearest possible demonstration of our commitment to make sure that our armed forces are equipped to the highest standards.

That investment in world-class equipment—the envy of many other forces—will revolutionise our front-line capability. The Apache attack helicopter will transform the British Army's battlefield capability. The Challenger 2 tank is already doing so. Eurofighter will provide the RAF with a capability that it has previously only dreamed about when it enters service in 2002. Work has already started on the design of the future aircraft carriers, the first steel has been cut for the new Astute class nuclear-powered submarines and our attack submarines will be equipped with the Tomahawk land attack missile.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. Across the board, the Government are introducing new equipment that will revolutionise the reach, punch and mobility of our armed forces.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

When does the Minister expect to be in a position to announce the choice of missile for the Eurofighter?

Mr. Spellar


Then we had the nonsense about ships being tied up over Christmas. I should certainly hope that ships were tied up then, so that our sailors could spend that period with their families. It was also said that our ships had been told to travel slowly as a cost-saving measure. The Royal Navy has a responsibility to manage its fuel and public money carefully, and ships are instructed to travel at the most economic speed, as needs dictate. Those instructions are laid down in Queen's regulations, which state: Except when exercising, or where for other reasons a high speed is obligatory … the most economical speed … is to be employed when making passage from port to port or between harbour and exercise area. Those instructions were last updated when the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) was Armed Forces Minister.

I want to make it clear to the House—and in particular to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and to the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton)—that no additional instructions on the speed of Royal Navy ships have been issued by the Government. No changes have been to monthly fuel allowances, nor to the normal travelling speeds of Royal Navy ships. However, I also assure the House that ships on operational tasks will always be allocated enough fuel, and will travel as fast as they need to.

Understandably, there has also been much in the media recently about the current situation in Kosovo. I know that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) intends to speak on that subject, Madam Speaker, if he catches your eye. We remain concerned about the continued level of violence and tension in Kosovo, and committed to securing a peaceful and fully integrated society. In consultation with the Foreign Office, we are providing 30 Ministry of Defence police officers to the international police force of the United Nations mission in Kosovo. That will be the first element of a total of 60 extra UK police officers, in addition to the 60 who are already serving with UNMIK.

I must also deal with the wildly alarmist media reporting today about the Armed Forces Discipline Bill. It is nonsense to suggest, as one of the tabloid newspapers did rather hysterically this morning, that it gives soldiers a new right to sue their commanding officers. Like anyone else in the country, members of the armed forces can sue someone—including their commanding officer, or the Ministry of Defence more generally—for false imprisonment. That right is already based in common law, not legislation, and is not newly introduced by the Bill.

We have approached the Armed Forces Discipline Bill in a way that upholds service discipline. The proposals in the Bill have been carefully developed, with the services, specifically for that purpose. We have made it clear that because of the need for operational considerations to remain paramount, the Bill has been designed to work in all circumstances. It also preserves the authority of the commanding officer.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on the question of discipline. What are the circumstances surrounding the recent court martial involving Leading Radio Operator Mark Johnson, who was found not guilty of sexual harassment? Before the trial, the Ministry of Defence had agreed to pay compensation amounting to tens of thousands of pounds to the Wren involved in the incident. What sort of precedent does that set for armed forces discipline? What does the case say about the future interaction between discipline and the rights of armed forces personnel to take action outside the services?

Mr. Spellar

It would have helped if the hon. Gentleman had given me notice of the details of that question; I might then have been able to give a more considered reply. I shall give him it in writing.

Having been diverted to deal with media hype, I shall now turn to the main theme of my contribution this afternoon—how we are looking after our people.

This Government came into office determined to place people at the centre of British defence policy and planning. We did so because of what we ask of our service personnel—ultimately, we may require them to sacrifice their lives—and because, following the end of the cold war, defence had not been properly adapted to the realities that we face today. So we launched the strategic defence review, which quickly identified that, as a Government, we must get right the way we look after our single most important resource—our people.

The strategic defence review White Paper acknowledged that when it stated:

The challenges of the future will make it even more critical that we are able to recruit and retain the brightest and best for the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence. Hence, our policy for people remains our highest priority short of actual operations, because without the right people, we cannot achieve all the other things necessary to modernise Britain's defence. People are the bedrock of that capability. Without them, all the high-tech kit in the world will never fulfil its potential. Because service families are directly affected by what happens in the front line, we are doing more for them too.

Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)

At the end of the previous debate on defence last Tuesday, my hon. Friend was cut off in full flow. He had been about to reply to the points that I had raised, and I hope that by the end of today, he will be able to reply properly, because they involve people, and that is what matters.

Mr. Spellar

It sounds extremely painful. As I was going to say to my hon. Friend at 7 pm last Tuesday, I take on board his points on the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, Fleetlands. I am looking into the matter; we will be in correspondence with him about it and also with the representatives of the workers concerned.

Last year, 25,000 people joined the armed forces, making it the best recruiting year since the beginning of the decade. That achievement was all the more remarkable, given that it took place against the backdrop of a strong and healthy economy and the lowest unemployment figures for 20 years, thanks to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Some 16,000 people joined the Army, some 5,000 joined the Royal Navy and approximately 4,500 joined the Royal Air Force. That is a tribute to all those involved in recruitment.

Recruiting people is good, but retaining them for longer remains a challenge. Last year, because we recognised the impact that the operation in Kosovo had on the home lives of service personnel, we introduced further enhancements to the operational welfare package.

We increased the free telephone allowance for people deployed on operations from 10 minutes to 20 minutes per week, having already raised it from 3 minutes the previous year, and we have dramatically increased e-mail availability. We have also taken significant steps to ensure that the telephones actually work.

We introduced guaranteed periods of leave for those returning from operations. This means that personnel in the Army who have been away on operations for longer than six months will get 20 extra days leave when they get home.

We have been determined, too, to modernise the facilities available for our personnel when they are away from home. However, the key to retention is also keeping commitments at a manageable level. Wherever possible, we are reducing overseas commitments as rapidly as we can. We have already brought back significant numbers of personnel from Kosovo and Bosnia—more than 10,000 in all. In the Gulf, we have more than halved the number of personnel deployed during the past year or so, from a peak of 3,000 to 1,200. In the Falklands, we have reduced the size of the garrison from more than 2,000 to about 1,650.

We have a trial under way to help get satellite television to ships at sea that are fitted with the appropriate receiver equipment. In addition, we are planning to upgrade the communication infrastructures in Portsmouth and Devonport naval bases so that Sky and terrestrial television are available to all ships and submarines alongside.

Internet e-mail facilities are now fitted to all capital ships, frigates and destroyers and a growing number of minor war vessels. On average, aircraft carriers receive up to 1,000 messages a week from families and friends of the ships' companies. That has been very well received; it is clearly a significant growth area, to the extent that internet terminals have been installed in all naval community centres and sailors and families advice bureaux, so that relatives without computers at home can exchange e-mails with those serving in ships equipped with the facility.

Another important, and sometimes forgotten, aspect of retention is recognising the impact that service life can have on families. That is why we set up the service families task force, because not all the issues that we would like to address fall within the control of my Department. The service families task force is about working closely with other Departments in a joined-up way to address the particular problems of access to education, health and employment experienced by service families because of their necessarily mobile life style. In particular, I pay tribute to my fellow Ministers in other Departments who have provided valuable impetus to progress.

The task force has already achieved some notable successes. In education, the needs of service children are now recognised in the code of practice on schools admissions. As a result, Service Children's Education, a Ministry of Defence agency, is now in attendance on 16 local admission forums in areas where there are large numbers of service children.

In health, 24 incentive schemes have been established to encourage national health service dentists to take on service families as patients in areas where they had great difficulty in finding places in NHS practices.

In employment, we have made it easier for service spouses to claim jobseeker's allowance where they have to give up their job when their service partner is posted.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Will the Minister report on the number of persons recruited for the defence medical services and the number who have left, or have given notice of premature, voluntary retirement, since the Government proposed, in December 1998, to close the only tri-service hospital at Haslar?

Mr. Spellar

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence will deal with that point in his reply.

We have also streamlined claiming procedures for child benefit for service families moving to and from Northern Ireland, to reduce the delays that some had experienced. I am pleased to announce that the Department for Education and Employment is taking action to ensure that the children of service personnel will now be eligible for student loans, with effect from the academic year beginning in September 2000, irrespective of where their family is, or has been, posted.

We are determined that our forces should be more representative of the society that they exist to defend, and should be able to recruit the best across the board. I am pleased to report to the House that the armed forces continue to make good progress in equal opportunities.

The three services are working hard to convince more young people from ethnic minority communities of the advantages offered by service careers; recruitment figures are rising significantly. More than 70 per cent. of the posts in the Navy and Army, and 96 per cent. of the posts in the RAF are open to women. I am sure that hon. Members were pleased by the positive media coverage of the recent open day of the Household Division at Windsor, at which the Army was able to announce a big rise in recruits from ethnic minority backgrounds.

I now turn to the contribution our reserve forces make to operations. They have consistently provided about 10 per cent. of the manpower for the UK contribution to NATO operations in the former Yugoslavia, since operations commenced in December 1995. At present, more than 800 reserve forces personnel are engaged on operational duties in the former Yugoslavia and at other locations at home and overseas. All have been volunteers, and many have completed more than one tour of duty. I am pleased that they speak highly of the reserve mobilisation facility at Chilwell and of the services that it provides.

When I visited British forces personnel in Bosnia at the end of January, I was able to meet a number of reservists, all of whom are making a valuable contribution, working hand-in-hand with our regular forces. They all told us that they found what they were doing worthwhile; it was also clear that their contribution is highly valued by their regular counterparts.

Only last week, 88 reservists returned from an operational tour of duty in Kosovo with the Royal Green Jackets. Those soldiers came from an enormously wide range of occupations—a chauffeur, a postman and a sawmill worker to name but three—and all had contributed fully to the great success enjoyed by the Royal Green Jackets in doing their difficult job in Kosovo. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in thanking all those involved.

In our debate last week, the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green suggested that, because a high proportion of the members of the Territorial Army deployed in the Balkans are infantry, our decision on the future size of the TA infantry was clearly wrong.

In fact, the proportion of infantry required in the Balkans is slightly lower than the proportion of TA infantry in the TA as a whole. The reason why the proportion of infantry actually mobilised is higher is because of the shortage of other, more specialised arms. Thus, rather than showing our decision on the TA to be wrong, the hon. Gentleman demonstrated why we were right to increase the emphasis in the TA on the more specialised arms.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

That is an extraordinary argument to make on infantry, because the Government cut the engineers in the TA by an enormous and equivalent proportion. The engineers are doing operational tours of six months on and six months off because of the demands on them in the Balkans.

Mr. Spellar

We should look at the increase in the other specialised arms—where we need to focus our emphasis and to direct equipment.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Will the Minister reconsider his figures, in view of the fact that he has stated that 40 per cent. of the soldiers in the TA and reserves deployed to the Balkans in the first nine months of last year were infantry? As he knows, the infantry form only about a fifth of the whole TA. Will he also tell us why the signals, whom he quoted as an example of expansion, have experienced a substantial cut in the number of their permanent staff?

Mr. Spellar

The emphasis on equipment is moving towards specialities such as the signals. The hon. Gentleman realises the difficulties that we have in the full-time forces and in the reserves because of the expansion of the communications industry. We need to focus on the specialised arms because we need to redress the balance. His point demonstrates the validity of our case rather than the contrary.

Of course, it is not only the Army that relies on the support of its reservists. There are currently some 200 reservists working on full-time reserve service alongside their Royal Navy counterparts, filling gaps and relieving stretch both ashore and afloat. Often they are the face of the Royal Navy in the community.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Spellar

No, because I fear that we shall overemphasise one point. Certainly, during the November ceremonies, reservists fulfil the role that I have described at innumerable sites all over the country.

Mr. Duncan Smith

It is a bit rich for the Minister to mention something that I said in last week's debate but fail to deal with exactly the same point when it was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). I said that 40 per cent. of the Territorial Army's deployment had been infantry and the Minister knows that that figure does not lie with the proportion of infantry in the Territorial Army. Will he now answer the point that my hon. Friend and I have made?

Mr. Spellar

The point is that we need a higher percentage of the reserve forces who come from the specialised arms. We very much value the contribution made by the infantry, but we want a greater contribution to come from the specialised arms. That is precisely the point and that is why we shifted the emphasis in the TA more towards the specialist arms rather than to the infantry.

Mr. Tom King

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Spellar


I now come to the Air Force. We have recently concluded trials of reserve aircrew as part of our strategy for introducing reservists to the front line. We have sought to ensure that their training and specialist skills are relevant for the front line. I am pleased to tell the House that the trials have been a considerable success and that 57 of the 72 reservists trialled achieved a level of aircrew competency appropriate for the front line. That is no mean feat. Those aircrew will help to address any shortages of regular crews for peacetime and operational tasks. We have implemented schemes to employ reservists on Hercules and Puma aircraft, and work is in hand to employ reserve aircrew on all other aircraft types.

We do not rely only on the willingness of individual members of the reserve forces and their families to volunteer for service. We also depend upon the support of their employers. We will continue to work to secure and keep their support. To date, more than 6,000 employers have committed themselves to be supportive employers. We recognise that it is not always easy for a business when a key member of staff is away, and we are most grateful to those employers who are able to release their staff.

Of course, employers also get a good deal from employing reservists. Their military training gives them skills and qualities that benefit the companies for whom they work. Both employers and the Territorial Army Voluntary Reserve Auxiliary Committee were fully consulted about the TA mobilisation study.

I have already paid tribute to the excellence of our front-line forces. However, we all recognise that they could not do their job without thoroughly reliable logistic support. Our armed forces must be provided for across their full range of requirements in the field.

The strategic defence review concluded that we need a better, more streamlined, and more joined up way of providing support to the front line and, since the newly created chief of defence logistics took on budgetary and management control of the current single service logistics areas 11 months ago, excellent progress has been made in creating a new unified logistics organisation.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I agree with my hon. Friend that the logistics systems that the British armed forces use are very efficient and effective. Has he considered how effective they can be in providing humanitarian assistance, which is increasingly demanded around the world? In particular, what sort of assistance can the British armed serves give rapidly to Mozambique?

Mr. Spellar

My hon. Friend will recall the considerable assistance that we were able to provide in Belize and Guatemala because we happened to have forces in theatre in that region. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development outlined today, there is a problem about the distance to be travelled and the time scale for providing help to Mozambique. Discussions regularly take place between our two Departments, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and international agencies, and co-ordination and communication have improved considerably. However, we should recognise that constraints are imposed by the physical location of equipment.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

The Minister speaks of constraints, but are they not largely of the Government's making? If they had fulfilled their intention of acquiring heavy lift cargo aircraft for the Royal Air Force, the helicopters could perfectly well have been put on board and been in theatre in Mozambique within 24 hours.

Mr. Spellar

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his experience, knows that even in that context the matter would not be that simple. We are considering heavy air lift. We also have vessels in the Gulf, but I am advised that it would take some six days sailing to get them into the area. In Belize, we were able to take ready rapid action, which was welcome, because we had assets in the area. He would recognise that that is not always the case and rapid reaction is not always feasible.

The new unified logistics organisation will assume full responsibility for logistic support to all three services on 3 April this year. Its goal is to free up resources from the logistic area while still delivering first-class support, to help to pay for increased front-line capability.

Mr. Hancock

Will the Minister confirm that the White Paper establishes that the SDR contained financial flaws that are now coming home to roost? The commitments that the Government have made do not match up with the financial resources available to the MOD to deliver on them.

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree with that interpretation. I am describing the way in which we are delivering SDR precisely by using our resources and assets more efficiently and effectively to provide investment for our armed forces.

The chief of defence logistics has inherited a dedicated and professional work force. He is now building on that solid foundation to provide logistics worthy of our armed forces in the 21st century. The main opportunities offered by the creation of the defence logistics organisation will come from managing on a defence-wide basis. That will allow a new, defence-based approach to the delivery of outputs. Defence logistics means one inventory, one management system, one business improvement programme and one process, with joined-up systems to support joint forces. Achieving all that must enhance, and not undermine, operational support during the transition process.

I shall highlight some of the considerable progress that has already been made since the creation of the defence logistics organisation. After less than 12 months, the DLO is driving forward a major improvement programme under the umbrella of the lean support chain initiative. That programme not only incorporates the best of the previous single services joint support initiatives but takes forward a number of new ones.

Lean support will introduce a step change in stock holding and in repair and maintenance practices. More than 40 business improvement projects are envisaged, half of which have already been started. Key initiatives include adopting a vendor-managed inventory for vehicle parts, a more systematic review of repairable holdings and development of joint relationships with suppliers to drive down costs.

Stock holdings are also being reviewed with an intention to move towards a demand-led system. That will be based on the assumption that stocks should be held only when they cannot be regenerated within the readiness time of the forces that they support.

Integrating similar systems will be a key part of making cost-effective support possible. Integration will provide for greater commonality of approach across the defence logistics area, enhancing efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

Will the Minister explain why, in the drive for cost-effectiveness, his Department has for nearly 18 months stonewalled Repaircraft plc in my constituency, which has offered a far more effective means for the CVR tank life extension programme, and has refused to offer the company a chance to tender for a contract that has been given almost exclusively to Alvis Vehicles Ltd?

Mr. Spellar

I shall certainly look into that matter.

Mr. St. Aubyn

The Minister might have answered my letters by now.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. Hon. Members cannot take a conversational approach to the debate.

Mr. Spellar

I do not recall sending a letter, but one may have been sent by one of my predecessors. I shall consider what progress can be made. We greatly value the contribution made by small and medium-sized enterprises within the defence industrial base. Equally, however, we consider arrangements for through-life support, which often involve prime contractors—although they sometimes employ smaller contractors to fulfil part of the work. We shall need to look at the matter, and I undertake to write to the hon. Gentleman on it.

We are achieving the provision of more effective support through application of sensible processes and common practices across defence logistics. The defence logistics organisation is also a major player in the implementation of smart procurement. Increasing emphasis is being placed on whole-life cost estimates, with the DLO pioneering an approach that will provide better advice to the integrated project team and MOD decision makers.

We need joined-up information and joined-up systems. Those are essential to the delivery of the best possible service to the front line, implementation of lean logistics, success in driving down the level of stocks held, and achievement of delivery of stocks as far forward in the supply chain as possible. That underlies the MOD's determination to drive forward the e-business agenda and to be at the forefront of modernising government.

If we are to support our front-line forces in the way that they deserve, we will need steadily to transform our business, join up the MOD's internal business electronically, replace inefficient paper-based systems and deliver a lean logistics support chain. We need to create a single view of our inventory, track assets to and from the front line and around the repair loop, deliver material exactly where and when it is needed, and create transparency in identifying where in the supply chain value is added.

That is why we place such a strong emphasis on the introduction of the defence electronic commerce service—DECS—which will be provided as a commercially managed service under a public-private partnership. We hope to announce our preferred partner in the next month, and to start to roll out our programme in the summer. DECS will provide us with an electronic gateway to our trading partners—indeed, it will be the very environment in which we shall share business with them—so that the MOD presents a modern e-business face to the world.

Such services will help to fulfil one of the SDR's central themes: to make every pound spent on defence count towards our front-line capability, which in turn contributes to defending Britain's interests worldwide. We should not forget that we can do that within a budget of only 7 per cent. of the public purse. There has been too much waste in the past and we are putting that right, not least through smart procurement and the improvements to logistics that I have mentioned.

Let us not forget what the money buys us. It buys us world-class armed forces which, man for man and woman for woman, are the best in the world. It buys us state-of-the-art equipment—such as Tomahawk, Apache and Eurofighter—which is the envy of most other forces. It buys us the ability to intervene as a force for good throughout the world, such as in the Balkans, the Gulf and East Timor. It gives us confidence that our interests and our people are protected around the globe 24 hours a day, 365 days a year—indeed, 366 days this year. That represents an outstanding achievement and says much about all personnel in the Ministry of Defence—service and civilian alike.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be the Armed Forces Minister and to be part of a ministerial team that is delivering good management of our defence. That is why I have no hesitation in commending the White Paper to the House.

4.48 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

Before I say anything else, it is right for me to observe—it will not have escaped the attention of many hon. Members on both sides of the House—that something is profoundly wrong. The Secretary of State for Defence is not here, and has absolutely no excuse for not being so because the Government decide the legislative programme. Moreover, his absence follows a discourtesy on the first day of our debate last week, when the Treasury Bench was left bereft of any Defence Minister for certain periods, which brought forth a well-deserved rebuke from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

Get on with it.

Mr. Davies

I will not get on with it; this matter is vital, not merely to defence but to the entire proceedings of our House and, indeed, to our constitution. Not a month—scarcely a week—goes by without a reminder of the contempt with which the new Labour Government treat Parliament. They have become so arrogant, so bloated with their enormous majority, that they no longer care what Parliament thinks or does.

It is clear that the Secretary of State for Defence has no interest in what might be said this afternoon by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, be they Back Bencher or Front Bencher. That is a disgraceful state of affairs. Unless we record our sense of outrage at how the House is being treated, the Labour Government will continue to get away with such behaviour.

Mr. Spellar

I might have expected that sort of approach from the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), whose views on Europe are known, but, given his views, I am sure that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) will be pleased to learn that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has had to attend a meeting today with his fellow European Defence Ministers. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is extremely important that my right hon. Friend is there to represent our interests, or has he already been taken over by his hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green?

Mr. Davies

The Minister has got it completely wrong, and I am amazed that the Labour Government have Ministers who are so unsure of their duties. Ministers' duties to the House of Commons take absolute priority over all other duties.

I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for Defence had considerable notice of the meeting in Portugal, which he apparently prefers to attend this afternoon. He could easily have had a word with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Commons and rearranged today's debate. Perhaps these events are merely the product of new Labour incompetence: if so and if, at the last moment, the Secretary of State found himself caught short, he should at least have apologised to the House.

Mr. Tom King

May I reinforce my hon. Friend's comments? I complained officially about the timing of the debate, because it was most unsatisfactory that the first day should be on Tuesday and the second today. I was told that the timing could not be shifted, because it fitted in conveniently with Minister's other engagements and would enable them to attend.

Mr. Davies

My right hon. Friend underlines the sorry state of affairs to which the House has come after two and three quarter years of Labour government. In addition, I was pretty shocked to notice that the Minister for the Armed Forces would not take an intervention from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who is an extremely distinguished former Secretary of State for Defence. That, too, makes it absolutely clear that the Government do not want to listen to what Parliament has to say, especially not those Members of Parliament who know a great deal more about the subject than they do.

The right approach to the debate is to look at the strategic defence review itself. The first paragraph of the first chapter states: The Strategic Defence Review … By modernising and reshaping our Armed Forces to meet the challenges of the 21st century … will give our Services the firm foundation that they need to plan for the long term. This country has a right to expect action that accords with those brave words. The events of the two and three quarter years of Labour government make it clear that those words are the ones by which the Government will be condemned.

Instead of creating a "firm foundation" for our armed forces by "modernising and reshaping" them, the Government are in the process of losing control over the important procurement programme. As the first day of our debate made clear, they are quite incapable of formulating any clear policy on two essential strategic matters: the ballistic missile issue and the future of Trident. In addition, they have committed themselves to a budgetary process, which, if continued, will mean that the armed forces face a diminishing flow of resources in years to come. That can only lead to the fatal emasculation of our defence capability.

I have said that the Government are in danger of losing control of the procurement programme. In spite of the complacent words uttered by the Minister for the Armed Forces this afternoon, I insist that my statement is strictly accurate. It is not my judgment—I have been in my present role for only three weeks. It is the judgment that emerges from the National Audit Office report into the defence procurement programme, which makes it clear that something nasty happened to the development of the procurement programme between 1997 and 1998. That is shown by a graph. The average delay in the 25 major procurement projects, which was 32 months in 1993 and which fluctuated but never went up or down by more than 10 per cent. from the mean until 1997, has risen since the Government came to office and is now 43 months—a rise of 20 per cent. and much the biggest rise in the series.

In case the Minister is inclined to argue that that is due to the fact that certain new projects have come into the programme and the comparison is therefore unjust, the National Audit Office anticipated that. Paragraph 3.9 on page 28 of the report states: For those 10 projects common to the 1993 and 1998 Reports, estimated slippage has risen from an average of 36 months to 57 months. That represents an even worse state of affairs.

If the Minister is minded to argue that those are all technical issues and that Ministers cannot be expected to go into the workshops and work on the lathes, or go into the labs and sort out complicated technical problems—"Not our fault, guv"—the typical line from the Labour Government, let me quote to him from paragraph 3.11 of the report, which states: Since 1993, four factors have dominated delays: technical difficulties, budgetary constraints, project definition and the collaborative process… Comparison between years shows that all factors now give rise to more delay than they did in 1993, but that the "technical difficulties" factor has grown by only around 10 per cent., while the other categories show delay increasing by up to 100 per cent. Those other categories are budgetary constraints, project definition—or rather, failure of project definition—and the failure of the collaborative process, all matters on which there has rightly been a great deal of press comment recently.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that between 1993 and 1997, the Conservative party was in government?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman had better read the document or listen to what I am saying. He will see that there were fluctuations in the delay, sometimes up and sometimes down, until 1997. The fluctuations were never more than 10 per cent. from the mean. After 1997, there was a qualitative jump. The hon. Gentleman cannot get away from that.

Moreover, the National Audit Office comments: In other manufacturing industries, "time to market" has generally shortened as new technology has facilitated design and development processes. Figure 17 shows no such trend is evident in defence procurement. It is clear that there is a serious problem in defence procurement, and the Minister's complacency in his speech this afternoon was thoroughly unwarranted and inappropriate.

I shall deal with some of the matters that the Minister covered—for example, the SA80 rifle. It is true that the SA80 rifle has been around for a long time and was originally procured by a Conservative Government. A Conservative Government recognised that there were problems and, between 1995 and 1997, set out an investigation programme, the results of which were available to the present Government.

What have the Government done about it for the past two and three quarter years? Nothing at all, because apparently they consider the rifle a thoroughly satisfactory weapon. Only last week, when the Secretary of State for Defence graced the House with his presence, he described it as a capable and highly accurate weapon—[Official Report, 22 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 1393.]

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He might have referred to the Defence Committee report of June 1993—again, while the Conservatives were in government. That report stated: This delay could have had disastrous consequences and we look to the Ministry to ensure that it does not happen again. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what happened between 1993 and 1997?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The project was originally conceived under the previous Labour Government. The great question is what this Government have done and whether they acknowledge that there is a problem since they took office in 1997. They appear to believe that there is no problem and that the rifle is a capable and highly accurate weapon. Last week, the Secretary of State said that it may have some problems in extreme conditions, but Kosovo does not constitute extreme conditions. It is not an arctic, super-hot or tropical area.

The Minister should listen to our troops, who have to use the SA80. I hope that the Minister read an article in The Times on Saturday, which quoted a 26-year-old lance corporal, who said of the SA80:

To be honest, it is useless, it falls apart on you. Another lance corporal, aged 23, agreed:

There are terrible malfunctions. Everyone knows it is a weapon that you couldn't rely on in a real war. The article continues:

The British squaddies were frustrated because yesterday morning they were given an order not to discuss the SA80 with the press after revelations in The Times yesterday. That is sinister. The article goes on: At first they refused to talk about the weapon, which was strange because the British soldiers in Kosovo usually have an opinion on everything. But by last night, they were ready to speak out. "It's weird, because in the past they always told us to say to the press what you think is true," a squaddie said. "This is the first time in Kosovo that they have told us not to talk to the press. Clearly, the Government are extremely worried about the matter and are trying to prevent the views of our troops in Kosovo from being heard.

Does the Minister believe that The Times invented those quotations? If he believes that, he should say so. If The Times did not invent them, we are considering an extremely serious matter. The Minister should consider what he will do about it. He should come to the House to explain the action that he will take instead of trying complacently to slither over the matter.

Mr. Spellar

Before the hon. Gentleman suffers a paroxysm of over-excitement and hysteria, I must point out that if the weapons system is so deficient, he should take up his criticisms with the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who was formerly an Armed Forces Minister for a considerable period of time. The deficiencies, which are apparent in extreme heat and dust, were revealed during the Gulf war. There were questions about whether the deficiencies constituted systemic weaknesses or isolated problems. Perhaps it took too long to decide.

More recently, major work was undertaken between our experts and the manufacturers, Heckler and Koch. They are also working on a remediation programme, about which they will report. We are taking action, but if the hon. Gentleman believes that the weapons system is deficient, and not a capable and highly accurate system—as the Secretary of State rightly describes it—that has some problems, he is criticising the previous Administration.

Mr. Davies

It is a disgraceful abdication of responsibility for the Minister to claim that, although he is Minister for the Armed Forces, the problems lead to the door of previous Governments. As for my becoming excessively excited, does the Minister know what happens in battle to a soldier whose rifle jams? Is not that an appallingly serious consideration? We should take it extremely seriously and the Minister should tackle it. He should be in a position to come to the House to explain the measures that he will take to prevent such a tragic outcome.

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman's position is extraordinary. If his accusations are justified, he is claiming that, between 1991 and 1997, his colleagues sent British troops into engagements with defective equipment. If that is what he is saying, he criticises the previous Administration. The system has considerable merits, but also deficiencies. We and the manufacturers are doing something about it.

Mr. Davies

So far, the Minister has completely failed to say what he is doing about that, but the House and the Army are entitled to know. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Defence will tell us a little more when he sums up the debate.

Mr. Hancock

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman later. I must continue, because the SA80 is one of the issues that have attracted an exceptional amount of media interest. There are many more. What about the Tornado GR4 upgrade programme? I wrote to the Secretary of State when the BBC broke the story last Wednesday, but of course I have had no response to my letter or to parliamentary questions on other procurement matters that I tabled some weeks ago. I shall set out the perfectly reasonable questions on this matter, to which Parliament is entitled to an answer.

Is there any truth in the BBC's report that £1 billion of taxpayers' money has been spent and that the effect has been not to upgrade but to downgrade the GR4s, because they cannot operate the laser smart bomb mechanism? When did those problems come to light? In the media last week, the Government appeared to say November 1998. Was that the moment when Ministers became aware of them? If so, what action have the Government taken since? After all, that was 18 months ago. Is a business plan in place to address the problem? If so, may we know what it is? Can we also be told the additional cost of remedying whatever deficiencies have emerged? Who will pay that—the taxpayer or the contractor? Those are straightforward questions.

Mr. Spellar


Mr. Davies

I shall give way, but we do not want some new Labour gimmick, slogan or brush-off. We want serious, businesslike answers to serious questions.

Mr. Spellar

I hoped that I had done that in my opening remarks, but I shall amplify them. There is a constant battle between those on the ground who are trying to detect aircraft with radar systems and aircraft that are trying to avoid detection. Development is constant as technology advances. Therefore, to improve the aircraft's stealth capabilities, major complicated work is being undertaken to upgrade from GR1 status to GR4.

Mr. Davies

I know that.

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman says he knows that, in which case his remarks are even more extraordinary. That work is at the edge of electronic and information technology. It is absolutely right that, towards the end of 1998, there were some difficulties in integrating the new radar systems and the thermal imaging and laser designation technology. As a result, the Ministry of Defence and the manufacturers have been working together on proposals to rectify them, and they believe that they are on the way to achieving that. The programme is still within the time frame and the budget of the original proposals.

Furthermore, we have always retained the GR1 capability for TIALD bombing, as we showed in Kosovo. At that time, had we reached a point at which there was a danger of not having sufficient aircraft as a result of the upgrade programme, we would have slowed down.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I suspect that the House is beginning to forget who is addressing it. These remarks are very interesting and know that the question needs answering, but the Minister will remember that he is intervening.

Mr. Spellar

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

For that reason, the programme will be on time and within budget, as far as we can ascertain. It will deliver that capability, once we have the work done. That happens in upgrade programmes regularly.

Mr. Davies

The Minister is entirely to blame for last week's media outcry. Had he volunteered that information to the House, as he should have done, there would have been no need for the press to cause such a great stir because we would have known the facts in advance. I hope that he takes that lesson on board.

Mr. Thomas Graham (West Renfrewshire)


Mr. Davies

I am being generous, but I shall give way. Then I must press on.

Mr. Graham

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I was interested in the point that he made about sending letters to the Ministry of Defence and not receiving a reply. As the Member of Parliament for West Renfrewshire, I represent Bishopton royal ordnance factory. I am sick and tired of writing letters to arrange a meeting to which Ministers do not reply. The Minister told me last week that I would have a meeting. It has been a full week since then, and hundreds of workers in Scotland still face the dole. Enough is enough. It is time that the MOD replied speedily to Members' letters.

Mr. Davies

We could hardly have had a more revealing intervention than that.

I shall move on to other procurement programmes that have not yet been the subject of a press outcry, but perhaps they should be. We may get some clear answers this afternoon—but maybe not. One of them is the TRACER programme. It is said that the United States has withdrawn from that programme. Is that correct? If so, where does that leave the TRACER project? Will we proceed with it ourselves, and if so, what will the incremental cost be? If not, what will we do about a new generation reconnaissance vehicle? What are the Government's plans?

This is an extremely important matter and, once again, Ministers are reluctant to give Parliament the facts and to give an account of themselves as they are required to do in a parliamentary system. We shall draw our own conclusions from the fact that the Minister is not leaping to his feet now to give me an answer.

What about BROACH? Will the Minister confirm that Lockheed Martin have been awarded a contract for the penetrating warhead for the US air force air-to-air cruise missile system, despite a 1998 memorandum of understanding with the Department of Defence that made it clear that British Aerospace was the preferred contractor? Is that true? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) seems to think that this is extremely funny. He seems to think that military procurement, the waste of taxpayers' money and the question whether all these elaborate promises in the document are a lot of eyewash are funny. I suppose that he is one of these new Labour politicians who think that one can survive on a diet of spin doctoring. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a serious matter. We are discussing the future of our defence forces and the circumstances in which men and women wearing uniform will be exposed and at risk of their lives in combat.

Mr. Hancock

On the question of spin, I am interested in the spin that the hon. Gentleman attempted to put on the SA80. Is he aware that, in 1993, section and platoon commanders considered that, had the enemy put up more resistance in the Gulf, casualties would have been suffered because of weapons stoppages. The Conservative Government's response to the Defence Committee at that time was that: the criticisms were carefully investigated. It was concluded that stoppages were largely attributable to incorrect maintenance … Some units had not been employing the correct lubrication and cleaning procedures. The hon. Gentleman and the Conservative Government accepted that cleaning materials were responsible for the gun going wrong. Is he seriously telling us that all the blame is now on the Labour Government's shoulders? That cannot be right.

Mr. Davies

We know perfectly well that, when the Government are really in trouble, their Liberal Democrat allies try to come to their rescue. That was a completely irrelevant intervention. I have already stated that that weapon had a number of problems that the Conservative Government addressed. In any case, even if that were not so, it is irrelevant to the responsibility that the present Government bear for the armed services of the nation and for the equipment procurement programme. If the Government wanted to argue that this was such a hopeless weapon that it should be junked, they could have done so when they came to power. Instead, they not only took over the programme, but they have gone round saying that this is a capable weapon. They believe in it, but the troops in the field clearly do not.

Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

No, I shall not give way at the moment.

New Labour and its Liberal Democrat allies may not want me to talk about BROACH, but I intend to do so. Is it true that a contract has been awarded to Lockheed Martin in breach of a memorandum of understanding with this country? Is it true that the performance specification was reduced at the last moment by Boeing and the Department of Defence to allow the Lockheed Martin weapon to compete? British Aerospace had, in good faith, been working for years on a more sophisticated double-stage warhead. It that true, or is it not?

Is it true that the Government themselves are so upset and humiliated that they have instructed Sir Robert Walmsley and our ambassador in Washington, Sir Christopher Mayer, to protest? They have not told Parliament about it, but apparently they are instructing our ambassador in Washington to make a great fuss. If it is true that we have been treated in this fashion, where does that leave the much-trumpeted agreement signed in Munich by the Secretary of State for Defence and the Department of Defence? Is it not worth the paper on which it is written, or is it a legally binding obligation on the United States Administration? Has it been ratified by that Administration? Has it been ratified by Congress? Let us have some answers on BROACH.

I could speak about a good many other procurement programmes, but I shall deal with just one: the joint strike fighter programme. I can see that the Minister for the Armed Forces is not enjoying this; he is trying to engage in a completely artificial conversation with his neighbour, the Under-Secretary of State, in the hope of getting out of answering my questions.

The joint strike fighter programme is extremely important. There is a rumour abroad that, although we shall be sharing the full range of our vertical take-off and landing and very short take-off and landing technology with the Americans, they will not be sharing the full range of their stealth technology for the aircraft with us, and the aircraft made available to us will therefore be stealthed to a lesser degree. In other words, our aircraft will be less effective, and our pilots more vulnerable, than their American counterparts. Is that correct, or is it not?

I warn the Minister that, if that is really the line that the Government intend to pursue, such invidious discrimination would be an obnoxious, humiliating and unacceptable solution.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am listening to all the questions that my hon. Friend is asking, to which he is receiving no answers. Is he aware that, like the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham), I wrote to the Ministry more than three months ago about a company in my constituency and its attempts to bid for a tender for a contract. I have still received no more than an acknowledgement from the Minister and his Department. Is that not yet another example of the way in which none of our complaints are treated seriously?

I cannot judge the cost to the Ministry, but I know that the contractor that it has chosen is charging more than £500 for each of the plastic straps, while my constituency company would charge only 54p. That is how lacking in smartness the Ministry's procurement programme is.

Mr. Davies

That was another revealing intervention, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for it.

Providing a firm foundation for national defence, which the Government have promised to do, means being absolutely clear about the key strategic issues of the future. Last Tuesday—and, indeed, in Defence questions—my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) made it plain that the Government do not know where they are going in regard to anti-ballistic missile defence. That is extraordinary, for a host of reasons. One is that this is one of the great issues of the moment; another is that we may be implicated directly in any United States ABM defence programme because of the Fylingdales facility. The third is that, most extraordinarily, the Secretary of State actually said during Defence questions on Monday: the United States Administration have made it clear that one of the specific considerations that they will take into account— in relation to ABM defence—

is the reaction and attitude of the allies.—[Official Report, 21 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 1224.] President Chirac has made absolutely clear where he stands on the issue, as was pointed out last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green. The Government seem incapable of doing the same.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)


Mr. Davies

If the hon. Gentleman is going to tell us what his Government's attitude is to ABM defence, and what they are saying to the US Administration, I will give way to him. I see that he is not going to answer, so I am afraid that I am not giving way to him. However, I will give way to any Minister who cares to set the record straight.

Equally, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) made it clear on Tuesday, the first day of the debate, that the Government are not playing straight with the country, or else are not clear in their own mind about their attitude to our nuclear deterrent. He asked the extremely pertinent question: are the Government still committed to the Kaufman doctrine, which came in when the Labour party abandoned unilateralism in the 1990s—the doctrine said that we would keep our nuclear weapons so long as anyone else kept theirs—or have they gone to something rather different?

The Ministers of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Members for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and for Neath (Mr. Hain), used a very different formulation recently; it was also quoted in last week's debate. The hon. Member for Leicester, East said: When we are satisfied with progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons, we will ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in negotiations.—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 36W.] That is extremely different. It may be that the Government are prepared to give up our nuclear weapons while some other countries have nuclear weapons; that is the essence of it.

The Secretary of State for Defence made a slightly different formulation. He added the phrase, "give up our nuclear weapons without endangering our security interests," but that is a subjective, not objective, criterion. It means that, if a Minister determines that our security interests can allow us to give those weapons up, we will do so, so there is complete obscurity. There is complete muddle where there should, above all, be complete clarity. Deterrence depends on clarity and credibility, and it is one of the most primordial aspects of defence policy.

Not only is the Government's defence procurement policy in a mess; not only are they incapable of formulating clear strategic long-term policies, contrary to the promises that they glibly make in their documents, but they are presenting the country with a long-term budget plan for defence that makes it absolutely clear that they will be able to fulfil none of their aspirations.

The figures are graphically set out in the Library document on defence statistics, which shows that, in 1999–2000, the current financial year, defence spending in real terms will fall by 3.4 per cent; that next year it will fall by 0.1 per cent.; and that the year after, 2001–2002, it will fall by 1.8 per cent. There is that cumulative fall in the resources to be made available to defence in real terms.

There is an even bigger fall in the share of gross domestic product that goes on defence. By the end of the Labour Government's term of office, it will be down to 2.3 or 2.2 per cent., which is the European average. That includes countries such as Luxembourg, Denmark and Belgium, which are not famed for their enormous defence effort. That is something that the Government cannot get away from. They are trying to get away from it in the most bogus fashion. First, they say that there will be efficiency gains. That claim was completely exploded by the Defence Committee, which showed that the Government not only do not have a list of the supposed efficiency gains, but are trying to claim as an efficiency gain—I think that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) discovered it when he was on the Committee—the closure of RAF Ash. My hon. Friends the Members for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) discovered during the Select Committee proceedings—which are all in the excellent report—that the Government were trying to claim, as an efficiency gain by them, savings from the closure of RAF Laarbruch by the previous Government under the "Front Line First" proposals. It is obvious that the efficiency gains are bogus.

Anyone with a business background will recognise the inexorable logic of it. The Government cannot go on achieving efficiency gains indefinitely at an arbitrary level—they say 3 per cent. per annum—because there are diminishing returns for efficiency gains. And one certainly cannot make efficiency gains with a declining budget, because declining budgets cause diseconomies of scale. The Minister's point on efficiency gains was, therefore, thoroughly bogus.

Before the Minister says that the previous, Conservative Administration also cut defence spending—I know that he will try to make that point in reply—I remind him that the previous Administration faced a fundamental and structural change in the threat that we face: the collapse of the Warsaw pact and the end of the cold war.

Mr. Brazier

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Davies

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not give way, but I am trying to move matters on.

The Government have faced no such structural change, let alone threat reduction. On the contrary, in the past two or three years, the world seems to have become a more dangerous—not less dangerous—place. We have had Desert Fox, Kosovo, East Timor and other developments that could not possibly have been predicted. Against that background, the course on which the Government have launched themselves is thoroughly irresponsible.

We have a Government who are incapable of managing effectively their procurement programme; who are unwilling—even if they were able, which I doubt—to give clear information to Parliament on essential matters; who find it impossible to define their own strategic views on key issues, such as anti-ballistic missiles and use of nuclear weapons; and who are providing a financial future for the United Kingdom's armed services that will constrict ever further the resources that our forces need for the future. They are not a Government with whom it is safe to leave the future of our armed forces or of our national defence.

5.26 pm
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I was touched by the generous obituaries offered by my colleagues for our good friend Michael Colvin. He served on the Defence Committee since July 1992. In 1995, he became the Committee's Chairman, and, after the 1997 general election, he served as my deputy Chairman. Last month, he left the Defence Committee. The death of Michael and his wife is a tragedy not only for his constituents and his constituency association, but for Parliament and the House of Commons Defence Committee. I should like to express the Committee's commiseration and sadness.

Michael Colvin's contribution in monitoring the Executive was immense. He was obeyed, even in a trench or in a tent. He was so elegant, but also so wonderful—partly because of his military background—in expressing to members of the military how much the Committee empathised with them. He was a splendid Chairman.

I was not able to hear Michael Colvin's final speech, in which he complimented the Defence Committee almost as though he were describing the end of one phase of his life. He said: I am sorry to have left the Committee.—[Official Report, 22 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 1444.] If only we had realised that not only had he left the Committee, but that he would be leaving Parliament and life. The death of Michael and his wife is a matter of immense sadness to me. I am still stunned by the news. However, his memory will for ever live strongly and positively in my mind.

Michael Colvin always stressed the Committee's importance in providing, and always sustaining, constructive criticism and consensus. A couple of months ago, a friend of mine, who is not of the Government, said to me, "Tell me, George, what's DERA?" I explained that it is the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. He asked, "How will the Government come out in your report on it?" I winced. He asked, "How about the Territorial Army? Your Committee has been pretty hot on it. How does the Government come out on the TA?" I not only winced, but grimaced, and looked even more ugly. He ran through a list of Committee reports, which are either forthcoming or already published, and, on each subject, he asked, "How does the Government come out on it?" Each time I said, "Pretty awful." Finally, he turned to me and said—I shall expunge the expletive—"George, whose blanking side are you on?" That was the ultimate compliment, because it showed that our Committee had put aside political partisanship. We did not say what the Opposition or the Ministry of Defence wanted us to say. We told it like it was.

Many of the reports produced under Michael Colvin's chairmanship were very critical of the Conservative Government, and that tradition, which began 20 years ago, is being maintained. He paid tribute to the staff, the advisers and everyone involved with the Committee, and we are all deeply grateful.

I shall not follow the example of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies). My voice would not allow it and I am not on stimulants. I shall propose a new word for the dictionary: the verb "to Gazza", meaning to attempt to inflict physical damage on an adversary and end up maiming oneself.

I am delighted that many of our reports are tagged. I was in Moscow when the debate took place last week, but I note that there were 54 references to our Committee, almost all of them very favourable. Our report did not include Kosovo, on which we are producing a major report; the European security and defence identity, on which we are producing a substantial report; or any detail on equipment, because we are producing a major report on that. What we did was good, and I am proud of it.

In our report, we discussed defence reporting to Parliament, which has certainly improved in quantity, and we are asking for an improvement in quality. We expressed some reservations about the Secretary of State's comment that the White Paper might not be produced annually. We went into enormous detail on overstretch. A previous report said: In terms of broad policy, there is little new in the … White Paper and expressed the hope that there would be more in the next one. But that enthusiasm and aspiration were not realised. That was a 1985–86 report. Some White Papers have lacked content.

Our report goes into great detail on overstretch, undermanning and the difficulties of recruitment and retention. I look back and see an enormous number of reports in the past 20 years commenting on just that. One said: It appears self-evident to us that matching resources to tasks is becoming increasingly fraught, stretching both crews and vessels to unwise levels even during peacetime … It is our view that this shortcoming poses a serious, and potentially fatal, threat to the long-term security of this country. That was not our most recent White Paper report, but one from 1992–93. The criticisms of overstretch have been made many times before.

Mr. Brazier

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. George

No, I am so sorry but I have only 15 minutes. I am so very, very sorry.

The 1992–93 report also says that our case that chronic overstretch will be the normal state of affairs within the Army unless the Government's restructuring proposals are modified does not rest on the assumption that the additional deployments in Northern Ireland and Bosnia will themselves necessarily be extended. Those are very critical comments on what happened under the previous Government, so the idea that the crisis began on 2 May 1997 is so absurd as to be laughable.

Our Committee has made critical comments on the defence cuts, but those did not begin on 2 May 1997. If we had continued the downward spiral of defence cuts from 1983 to 1997, there would be nothing in the defence budget to spend. The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford should examine carefully what happened before he became defence spokesman and before the Labour Government came to office.

Our Committee said: Our concern that there might be difficulties in managing the Defence Budget into the 1990s has as a result of our inquiry turned into the strongest suspicion that there will indeed be considerable difficulties leading to cancellations, slowing-down of acquisitions and the running-on of equipment beyond its economic life-span. The evidence we have received from the Ministry has not allayed our fears. That was from a 1984–85 report. Another quotation is: We cannot recommend the 1996 Statement on the Defence Estimates to the House unless Ministers make clear in the debate that this year's Statement will not again be undermined by further defence cuts in the 1996 Budget or by any other means. The Committee chaired by Michael Colvin said the following in a report on defence spending in 1996–97: The case for the restoration of some of the cuts made as a result of Options for Change and Front Line First is well made, but we are now promised instead a period of stability at the present level of funding. We insist that the defence spending plans set out in the 1996 budget must at least be maintained in real terms in future years. Any further reduction would jeopardise the defence of the realm. That was when the Conservatives were in government.

Much has been made of the Government's procurement failures by the press, Opposition spokesmen and service men. Headlines over the weekend included "Ministry of Disasters" and "MOD bungles cost taxpayers £6 billion in 10 years". Looking at the last National Audit Office report published under the Conservative Government, I came to the conclusion that the delays were long and the situation was serious. The argument of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford is on a par with Jack the Ripper blaming the police for not having solved his crimes.

For the hon. Gentleman's benefit, I have devised the A to Z of Tory procurement policy, showing what the Go0vernment inherited and have to deal with. It starts with Apache, which is a long programme. The first one will be delivered in 2000. Having visited Pristina airport, I have some questions about how effective they are. The AWACS—the airborne warning and control system—offset agreement also comes under "A". The situation was hopeless. "B" stands for Bowman—a disaster that began under the previous Government.

"C" stands for the common new generation frigate. It was cancelled—thank God—after bad management by the previous Government. The ships automated command system—CACS—was reported on in 1986–87 and it was rubbish. The 1990–91 report refers to HMS Challenger—a sea bed operation vessel that was flogged off. "D" stands for DROPS—the demountable rack off loading and pickup system. That was a scandal that we had no time to investigate.

"E" stands for EH101, which was a story of delay. Eurofighter was expected to be introduced to service in the mid-1980s, but it will be 2005 before the first squadron is introduced. "F" stands for Foxhunter radar. Concrete was stuck into a Tornado's nose to simulate the radar. "F" also stands for Fearless and Intrepid, which were introduced in 1965 and 1967. The Defence Committee said in 1984–85 that it was about time that they were replaced Albion and Bulwark will come into service in 2003.

"G" stands for the GR1 and GR4 Tornado. The Tory response is "not our fault". "H" stands for Hercules replacement, the C130J, which was a bit of a disaster. "I" stands for Istar intelligence, which was criticised. "I" also stands for the improved UK air defence environment, which was the subject of a very critical report in 1989–90. "J" stands for JSTARS—the joint surveillance target attack radar system. We should have bought that for ASTOR—the airborne stand-off radar.

"K" stands for KFOR, which has had many equipment failures. "L" is for LAW80, which is a wonderful weapon, but unfortunately the Russians developed a new tank and the missiles bounced off them. It was the fault of the previous Government. "M" stands for the merchant marine for defence purposes. This Government have remedied the chaos.

"N" stands for Nimrod 2000. If the air frames last their full lifetime, they will be older than me. "0" is for HMS Ocean. It was a compromise that could not continue when it went out on its first voyage. "P" stands for Phoenix, which should mean coming out of the ashes into the sky. The previous Government reversed that classical trend. "Q" is for the married quarters and their sale. I am ashamed. "R" is for Rapier field service C. It was not a success initially. "R" also stands for the reliability and maintainability of defence equipment, which the 1989–90 report said was extremely disturbing.

"S" is for the SA80 rifle. Again the story is "not our fault". I defy anyone to look at the situation and say that it was not the Tories' fault. "S" also stands for Sea Harrier, whose mid-life update criticised it for being very slow. The Sea Wolf and Sea Eagle missiles also received criticism.

"T" stands for Tornado. Its 1968–69 feasibility study found that it was a good aircraft that had taken a long time. That is more than can be said of the Tornado F3 upgrade, done by the private company Airworks, which almost destroyed half the Air Force. "U" stands for the Upholder class submarine, a good vessel flogged off to the Canadians. "W" stands for Westland—enough said. "X" stands for the unknown examples that must exist, but which I could not remember. "Y" stands for Yarrow, which was almost destroyed by the previous Government's policies. "Z" stands for Zircon, the satellite about which information was withheld by the previous Government.

I hope that I have partly convinced the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford that year one, when all chaos began, was not 1997. It is wrong to put the blame in one place; the matter is too complicated. I hope that smart procurement has addressed the issues seriously, and that the imperfections manifest to anyone willing to read about them will be reversed. Only time will tell.

I commend the report of the Defence Committee to the House. It is an extraordinarily good report, bearing in mind the number of staff and advisers that helped in its production. I am excessively proud of it.

Those of us who go to the funeral or memorial service for Michael Colvin will have heavy hearts. We will thank him profoundly for all that he did, and remember him and his beautiful and vivacious wife very fondly.

5.42 pm
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

I am pleased to follow the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). All hon. Members will appreciate his warm and sincere tribute to Michael Colvin, a dearly loved colleague whom the House will miss very much. Friday morning's announcement of the tragic deaths of Michael and his wife will have shocked us all.

It is an extraordinary feeling to begin the second day of a debate without Michael Colvin, whose contribution to the first day's proceedings was exactly what one would expect—well informed, concerned, and passionately interested in the subject. It is a measure of his standing in the House—he became Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence in 1995, and so had to speak for hon. Members of all parties—that he had just recently been made chairman of the European group. That was typical of the respect and admiration in which he was held.

It is one of the sadnesses of this House that awful accidents from time to time happen to people whom one has got to know extremely well. For example, over the door into the Chamber, I can see the coat of arms of another colleague, Airey Neave, whom we lost 20 years ago. We shall remember Michael Colvin as an hon. Member of outstanding quality and integrity.

As a former Secretary of State for Defence, I have tended to observe a certain self-denying ordinance or reticence when it comes to taking part in defence debates. It is eight years since I handed over my responsibilities, and the present Secretary of State is the fourth since I held office. I was intending to welcome him to his post, as this is the first time he has taken part as Secretary of State in a debate on the defence White Paper. It is a pity that he is not here. The report from the Select Committee on Defence is sufficiently important to merit a two-day debate, and I hope that, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman will realise that he should have been here for this important occasion.

I complained officially about the days chosen for this debate. I was told that these were the only days when Ministers could attend, and that the debate was being arranged to suit their convenience. I do not think that the Secretary of State's absence shows courtesy to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence who, like me, had reasons for not speaking on the first day of the debate.

People such as the hon. Member for Walsall, South and I can occasionally contribute; we have been here before. A lot of the problems are not new—there is a desperate continuity about them—as the hon. Gentleman very fairly said. When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I had to grapple with the demands that I made and the problems of overstretch that they caused our forces. If I asked for another battalion for Northern Ireland, the challenges and difficulties that I knew that would pose were clearly put to me by Lord Younger, the then Secretary of State for Defence.

It is important that Ministers take seriously the contribution of right hon. and hon. Members. For example, there were lessons to be learned about the SA80 after the Gulf war. I remember hiring an Antonov aircraft in the Gulf war and the debate that that launched about the need for improvement of heavy lift. One looks around and wonders why it is not possible to make rather faster progress. We have moved all the way from the Gulf war to the Mozambique statement this afternoon, when the access to heavy lift would certainly have made a significant contribution in humanitarian terms. The problem is still unresolved.

My concern is that the Ministry of Defence faces some serious problems. I congratulate the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence and his colleagues on an excellent and interesting report. They did not mince their words. I think that the Chairman may have decided that he would in his speech recover some ground with his colleagues. The hon. Gentleman talked about the concerns of the Select Committee in a number of areas.

I congratulate the Secretary of State; he has been the recipient of very rapid promotion in the Government. However, I do not think that it has been a promotion for the Ministry of Defence. I do not recall a time when the Secretary of State for Defence was the most junior member of the Cabinet. I happen to believe that that matters, and I think that it will matter in the comprehensive spending review, when the pecking order and the weight that the various Secretaries of State carry will be very important.

I also have some sympathy for the Secretary of State. There is an illusion that Lord Robertson left behind a golden legacy after his time as Secretary of State for Defence. He has lived up to Lord Callaghan's comment about Chancellors of the Exchequer. There are two kinds—those who leave in disgrace, and those who get out in time. I would certainly put Lord Robertson in the latter category. He may have got out in time, but he has left his successor some difficult problems, which the Select Committee report spelled out.

In the time available to me, I should like to comment briefly on the European situation—the European security and defence identity. The attempt to bring defence within the European Union is not new—it was going on for all the years I was at the Ministry of Defence. I remember the attempts of the Franco-German brigade and the French to seduce us away from the military structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. There is much to be said for closer European co-operation in defence matters. There will certainly be areas, as we know, in which the Americans do not want to get involved. However, the issue must be handled with great sensitivity and care. I have heard enough exchanges across the Chamber—quotes from Strobe Talbott, and so on—trying to justify either side's position, to know that it has been handled rather clumsily, and that there are real risks and worries about it in Washington.

We are talking here about NATO and about the Ministry of Defence. There is another element, not directly part of the MOD, in which our connection and very close relationship with the United States is essential to the security of our country. I will say no more about it, but as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I know the value of that intelligence link. If there were too casual an approach to the Americans, and the impression were given that everything we wanted that was otherwise available from the United States could be found in Europe, that would be a very dangerous state of affairs.

The Chairman of the Select Committee is right to point out that overstretch is not new. The matter was of great concern to me when I was Secretary of State. When we considered the "Options for Change" White Paper, we tried to establish two-year tour intervals. However, because of a sustained period of unreasonable demand—as the Select Committee pointed out in a telling phrase—the situation is now vastly more critical and damaging than I can ever recall.

We are told that the average nights out of bed are now 31 per cent. for the First Armoured Division, and that the Royal Engineers and the Royal Signals Corps now have tour intervals of six and seven months. We can always get the Army to do something for a short time—its members will always stand to attention—which is one of the great wonders of our services and a tribute to them. However, we cannot expect them to undertake such duties over a sustained period. The overstretch problem must be corrected. It was described by the Select Committee as the most urgent one facing the armed forces.

Various considerations come into play. We all pay tribute to the quality of our armed forces. That is built partly on good organisation, but especially on good training. If we have to cancel training exercises, because of stretch and the budgetary pressures, we shall be living on borrowed time. We shall be sending our armed forces into situations for which they will not be properly trained. That is extremely serious.

There are real problems of recruitment and retention. Recruitment is looking better, but retention is worrying—as the Minister pointed out. However, what hit me between the eyes was the statement made by the Secretary of State that we should reach full complement by 2005—in five years' time. When anyone told the former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, that a project would not be profitable or rewarding in years one, two and three, but that it would be viable in years four and five, she used to say, "Years four and five never come". To say that there will be a full complement by 2005 actually means that we shall not be up to full complement in the next three years. That is as far as one can honestly forecast. That statement was extremely worrying.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. King

I am up against time, so I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for not giving way.

The Select Committee talked about irksome duties. I examined that matter in Northern Ireland. The amount of time that regiments spend on guard duties for themselves takes away from their operational time. That matter is worth further consideration.

In Prime Minister's questions, when people criticise cuts in defence expenditure, I have occasionally bitten my tongue when the Prime Minister makes the extraordinarily silly remark that, in effect, "You made cuts, so why can't we?". That is as relevant as if a tailor cut a suit, made some adjustments and removed some cloth, and then someone else said, "I know exactly how to be a tailor; you cut a bit off everybody's suit," so he cuts a bit more off. There is a right size and a wrong size.

At the end of the cold war, we made reductions under the "Options for Change" White Paper. That was right. We reduced the number of our forces in Germany. That was right because the Germans would not have wanted so many of them to stay there. At that time, the Labour Opposition were calling for far greater cuts. However, we cannot keep on making cuts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell)—in last Tuesday's debate—made the point that efficiency savings can be made once, perhaps even a couple of times, but they cannot be made year after year. What is an efficiency saving? It is the determination of the Treasury to obtain 3 per cent. more, with no idea of where it is to come from. The Treasury are active enough to spell out exactly where cuts should be made and to challenge different programmes. However, at the end of the day, there is the wonderful catch-all that the figures are agreed—but it still wants 3 per cent. on top.

As the Select Committee pointed out, the proportion of Government expenditure on defence now is as low as it was during the appeasement era of the 1930s; and any further cuts would cause the whole strategy to unravel. The reason I wanted to contribute to this debate what little background and experience I may have accumulated during the years that I held certain responsibilities is that the defence situation is as grave as I have ever known it. That is partly because of an admirable willingness to help in some troubled and tragic parts of the world.

However, the pressure on our armed forces cannot be sustained. They are overstretched and underfunded. The basis on which the forecasts have been made—especially with the built-in efficiency savings—means that the programme will be unsustainable and it will unravel. When that happens, I do not know how easily we will ever redeem it.

5.56 pm
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

For several years, Michael Colvin was president of the Palace of Westminster rifle club. I am captain of that organisation. The Members and staff who belong to the club would not forgive me if I neglected to add their tributes to the sterling service that Michael gave for a long time.

Many tributes have been made—they were stunning; I do not have the eloquence to match them. Michael and Nichola did not need eloquence; they were eloquence and elegance personified. They displayed great humanity, compassion and care for everyone who crossed their path. They will be greatly missed.

I apologise to the House for my absence on the first day of the debate. With other colleagues, I was taking part in four days of consultations at NATO, in Brussels, with the North Atlantic council and the European Parliament, on NATO matters. Most of my comments today will be made from a NATO point of view; I am vice-president of the NATO parliamentary assembly and vice-chairman of its defence and security committee. I am also a member of the joint monitoring group of the permanent joint council.

Before I went to Brussels, I spent 10 days in America visiting the east and west coast with the NATO parliamentary delegation. We were bombarded on two issues: national missile defence, which has already been referred to as anti-ballistic defence; and, of course, the European security and defence identity—ESDI. It is ironic that the Americans criticise us for not consulting them on ESDI and we criticise them for not consulting us on NMD.

I thought that our task with ESDI would be fairly easy, and that I would only have to explain to those fairly myopic Americans that the matter was simple; they had asked us to carry it out over a period of time and we were doing exactly what they had prompted us to do. Certainly, since the first meetings that I attended—in Antalya in 1987—they have said every year that we have to do better in Europe. However, when we did better, they criticised us. I thought that to explain that would be sufficient.

It was not, however. The anxiety was too strong. It was only when we visited the Rand Corporation on the west coast that I found people saying the same things as me. I heard the same views as I had expressed on the Hill, at the White house, at the National Security Council and the State Department. It was only then that I realised that I had not considered the matter closely enough. I had to get inside the minds of the Americans to find out where their anxieties came from.

Any anxieties that the Americans may have had about Europe were made infinitely worse by the comments that Baroness Thatcher made on a visit there. Some of her views were very reasonable. For example: As the Kosovo conflict showed, and as the figures for defence spending confirm, European defence capabilities are lagging dangerously far behind those of the United States. That is eminently sensible and perfectly accurate. She added: This is particularly true in the vital area of military technology. That point is as plain as the nose on one's face and it is absolutely right.

However, Baroness Thatcher said that there would be a problem because The impulse towards developing a new European defence and separate European armed forces has little to do with the fact that Europe is cutting its defences while America is increasing hers. It has even less to do with any serious European response to the global dangers of proliferation, which can only be properly met by ballistic missile defence. I am afraid that a big question mark must be put against that view. She added: No. The real drive towards a separate European defence is the same as that towards a single European currency—namely the utopian venture of creating a single European superstate to rival America on the world stage … This has been a long-standing French aspiration. That is not only lunacy, but it is dangerous lunacy. It is also grotesquely inaccurate, as was her remark that it was superficially splendid that Europe had taken an interest in its own defence.

Such comments are less than helpful if one is seeking to develop a more mature alliance within NATO. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) was also less than helpful when he quickly followed that visit with similar remarks. They do not help relations with America and they certainly do not help them with the French.

America and France have a particular relationship, as we do with France. An American Congressman passed me a note in Brussels last week which said that the French had forgiven the Germans for defeating them twice in the past century and for suppressing them, but they were unable to forgive the Brits and the Yanks for liberating them on each occasion. There is a degree of humour and, I suppose, of accuracy in that comment, but it does not help to come out with nonsense that exacerbates relations.

As the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said, there is no doubt that we must treat the ESDI proposals with great sensitivity because the Americans are greatly concerned about, and do not fully understand, them. They are afraid of the role of the European Parliament and the European Union and they would like to know the difference between one and the other. The Commission is also hanging around and the Americans do not understand its role—but why should they be any different? I myself sometimes do not understand the difference between the various bodies. However, the Americans are afraid that that form of democracy will intrude into their defence commitments and responsibilities. What they need are clarity and transparency.

The Americans are not the only ones who want clarity and transparency. When I returned from America, I attended a briefing by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which was held for our delegations to NATO, the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. I found even greater and more specific anxieties among my colleagues of all parties who are members of those bodies. If British delegates to the Council of Europe and to the Western European Union have even stronger anxieties about the ESDI proposals than do the Americans, we can be sure that the delegates to those bodies from other countries will have similar anxieties. It is therefore most important that we open up the debate to the most transparent and comprehensive exchanges.

We are told that Mr. Solana and Lord Robertson meet twice a month for breakfast. I am pleased about that; I am sure that it does wonders for their well-being. However, I am not sure what it does for compatibility between European nations, non-NATO European nations, non-European NATO nations and our American cousins and the Canadians. There is much that must be made plain and laid out on the table, and we must begin to do that in an open and candid manner.

One of the suggestions that I wish to make is that all NATO nations—whether European or not, and whether members of the European Union or not—should be given a droit de regard. Regardless of their size, all NATO countries—from Iceland to the United States—should have that right, but no NATO nation should have the right of veto. That is important; it might not be a bad starting point.

If Europe is to mean anything as a collective defence entity without north American elements, we shall have to place less emphasis on territorial defence forces. That will immediately cause people to become a bit anxious, so let me be clear about what I am saying. We all seem to have our own national form of Swiss guard to defend our own national form of Vatican. That is the best way I can think of to express my point. What is required is a much heavier emphasis on a combined and balanced joint task force capability. Until we achieve that—with each national Government having sovereignty over its own forces but agreeing to come together to operate in a combined fashion—we shall have much to worry about.

I do not know whether national missile defence was mentioned on the first day of the debate, but its mission statement says that it is a development that will protect the 50 states of the union. However, the concept relies on three early warning stations, with many others feeding off them. One is in Shemya off the Alaskan coast, and it is American. Another is at Thuli air base at the north of Greenland and it is Danish; while the third is at Fylingdales in north Yorkshire—not a million miles from my constituency or that of any other hon. Member.

The Pentagon thinks that there is a credible threat. If there is a credible threat, there must be a credible attack. If any attack is to be credible, what are to be the primary targets? By definition, the early warning stations must be among them. So hon. Members will have to persuade their electorate and their constituents that they may be targets in the defence of the 50 states of the union. There is nothing new in that. People in Fylingdales in north Yorkshire have known that Russia has had them in its sights all along.

However, there is a bit more to it now. National missile defence is not aimed at Russia or China. There is no problem there; we have a stand-off and that is great. It is aimed at rogue states and mad scientists. The system is aimed at Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong II—and who is the fellow in Libya? [Horn. MEMBERS: "Gaddafi."] The system is aimed at Mu'ammar Gaddafi and anyone else we can think of who might command some authority in a rogue state.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

Ron Brown.

Mr. Cook

I did not realise that he had such potential, although one never knows what might happen in Scotland these days.

We tell our constituents, "We have an agreement with the Russians, and the Chinese are no threat, but the lunatics could well be directing intercontinental ballistic missiles at your warning station." We will have a problem selling that to the electorate.

Furthermore, it does not matter whether or not we have an early warning station because a missile has to take off, travel and re-enter, and somewhere along that path it has to be identified and met "bullet on bullet", as the Americans say. That means that we must be able to detect it very early. If the missiles meet in transit and the strike is effective, there is the potential for serious fall-out, whether the missiles have a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon. We all know of the problems caused by strontium 90—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has had his time.

6.11 pm
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)

I shall be brief because I know that other hon. Members want to speak, not least my hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who each have extensive military facilities in their constituences.

Before I turn to the White Paper, I want to deal with the situation in Kosovo. As the Minister for the Armed Forces said, I was in Kosovo two weeks ago. On Mitrovica, there is no doubt that the basic soldiering skills that we employed in our sector of Kosovo were not employed in the northern sector. The basics of searching a flat and installing decent roadblocks—activities that, sadly, we have 30 years' experience of in Ulster—were not done by the French in that sector, and there was a large build-up of arms that have been used.

There is a wider problem in Kosovo in that our forces rather ambiguous remit, which the UN mission in Kosovo police will also have when the full complement arrives, means that frequently when criminals are arrested, they are held for one or two nights in detention and then released. I hope that the Government will assess the problem and that the UN will get to grips with the fact that people who have committed serious crimes need to be kept in detention, because that is not happening at the moment.

I turn now to the White Paper, which is a rather limited document. We hoped to have something approaching a progress report on the strategic defence review, but sadly we did not get that. We welcomed the SDR's emphasis on an expeditionary strategy, rapid deployability and mobility. We have seen from the Kosovo crisis that the assumptions made in the SDR were true. However, the expeditionary strategy that underpins the SDR means that our forces must be kept in a high state of readiness so that they can respond quickly to a crisis.

Many hon. Members have mentioned the problems of strategic lift, which has not been addressed with enough urgency. At present, we could not deploy the joint rapid reaction force quickly enough to meet the likely requirements of the new strategic environment. As the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said, we cannot even get helicopters to Mozambique.

The MOD urgently needs to pursue new options for the short-term strategic airlift programme, because the progress of the long-term programme is halted by a lack of progress on the short-term programme. The SDR committed the UK to a force projection strategy, so we need the ability to project force, and fast. We do not have it.

Since the publication of the SDR, 4,500 troops have continued to be deployed in Bosnia, and we have undertaken operations in Kosovo, East Timor and Iraq, as well as deploying an extra 2,000 soldiers to Northern Ireland during last summer's marching season. Overstretch is perhaps the most pressing problem facing our troops, and the White Paper has not addressed it satisfactorily.

In the period leading up to the performance report, two major UK exercises were cancelled due to operational over-commitment, and a further eight NATO and UN exercises had to be cancelled because troops scheduled to take part in them were on operational deployment. That is bound to have a negative impact on our forces' training and morale. Cancellation of exercises can quickly reduce capability because forces need to be trained in all aspects of war fighting. Britain's armed forces can maintain their status as among the best in the world only if they continue to be trained to the highest levels.

The MOD has spent millions on its recruitment policy in the past few years, and as the Minister said, the initiative has had some success. In 1996–97, the RAF's intake was just 2,684, and that increased in 1998–99 to more than 4,000. However, there is still a large gap in all services, particularly the Army, between the trained requirement and the trained strength of the force.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the right hon. Member for Bridgwater mentioned the disparity with reference to the Secretary of State's remarks last week. The trained requirement of our Army is 105,300, but the total strength in 1999 was only 99,700. The Secretary of State said last week that the requirement will be achieved by 2005, but many people believe that it will take far longer—31 years was suggested.

I suspect that the problem is not so much recruitment as retention, and we should consider why people leave the armed forces. There is no point in investing large sums in training personnel if they decide to leave a couple of years later. The recruitment level for fast jet pilots, for example, is now running at over 100 per cent. of the target, but the retention level is well below the target. It would cost the Government much less to offer sensible, practical retention measures than it does to maintain the current situation, which is obviously causing a huge strain on our defence budget.

We have to examine the underlying factors that are causing service men and women to end their careers. As hon. Members have already said, personnel are increasingly expected to spend prolonged periods away from home on operational duties. That problem is not new, but it is increasing and it is not about to change. We therefore need to concentrate on ways of keeping morale high among our troops, improving conditions for service families and maintaining a constant standard of training for our personnel across the board.

Measures must be taken to improve morale and make sure that our investment in our personnel does not go down the drain. Relatively small enhancements in welfare support for service personnel and their families can cause a disproportionate increase in morale. We welcome the extension of free telephone calls for personnel and the introduction of periods of post-operational leave, which compensate personnel who have had to leave their families for extended periods. We welcome the service families task force and the learning forces initiatives, but there is still much more to do. The SFTF meets on an ad hoc basis and is not particularly accessible to service families.

In the continuous attitude survey for service leavers, the most frequently cited reason for people leaving the services was the effect of service on family life. In the 1999–2000 Christmas and new year period, 35 per cent. of the Army's trained strength was serving abroad, which is an increase of 3,500 personnel on the same period the year before.

There are no minimum consistent standards for the provision of welfare for our service families. The families of the 1,400 personnel based at the Warminster garrison can use two playgroups, a creche, a mother and toddler group and a youth group. However, the families of the 7,698 personnel based at Catterick have no such facilities.

First and most importantly, the MOD needs to build welfare into its policies as a key target and set minimum consistent standards that can be applied to all our garrison bases. The SFTF needs to meet much more frequently and should revamp its priorities to include measures such as a national audit of base facilities, to ensure that there is a common standard throughout the country. It should appoint a families officer for every base to ensure that proper advice is given on jobs and local schooling and housing.

It would be all too easy for the Government to cut into those already fragile welfare support networks and educational and recreational facilities in trying to meet the much-talked-about 3 per cent. efficiency savings, which were also mentioned by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater. We all know the problems associated with the Government's 3 per cent. annual efficiency savings. My main concern is that what the MOD might classify as an efficiency saving is, in effect, a cut. Two exercises have been cancelled this year due to constraints. That will affect our training and morale.

As costs are cut in response to budget reductions, the Government have been unable to produce sufficient evidence that they are not simply doing less with less money. The 3 per cent. efficiency savings have been described as challenging. It is time that the scheme was abandoned, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife said last week.

The smart procurement initiative was one of the three main themes of the strategic defence review, and was seen as a way of making procurement "cheaper, faster, better", with savings of £2 billion to be guaranteed over 10 years. Although we appreciate that the bulk of those savings will be made towards the end of that period, there seems to be a lack of clear evidence of any significant progress as a result of SPI. The proposed savings have been described as unrealistic by some military leaders.

Major procurement projects are running, on average, 43 months late, and costs overran by £1.3 billion in 1998 alone. Only two projects are expected to meet their original in-service date. As has been mentioned, the National Audit Office report found that 60 per cent. of equipment accepted by the MOD did not meet the operational requirements, and identified £60 million of costs over a five-year period associated with such equipment.

We have heard much in this debate about Tornado and the SA80. The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) made some exciting comments about his A to Z. It is true that the problem is not new, but we see more and more examples of military blunders by the MOD. Eurofighter costs have overrun by at least £1.36 billion, but it is due to enter service in 2002, three years behind schedule. Challenger 2 cost £1 billion more than expected.

I have seen both weapons in the past few weeks, and they are impressive, but we must get things right, and there is little evidence that smart procurement is enabling us to do so. I should make it clear that I and my colleagues hope that SPI succeeds, but we need to know the criteria by which to judge its success. The Government need to tell us soon, so that the House and the country can make an informed judgment on whether it is working.

In last week's debate, the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham) spoke with his usual passion about the proposed closure of the Royal Ordnance factory in Bishopton in his constituency. It appeared that he wanted a meeting. Other hon. Members have also claimed that questions and letters have not been answered.

The White Paper calls for the retention of British military capability and intellectual property rights. The site in the hon. Gentleman's constituency is the only one in the country of sufficient capacity to enable significant integration of Royal Ordnance facilities. Some of the documents that have been leaked—I have seen some of them—suggest that if Bishopton closes, we shall have no alternative but to buy our propellants from either Alliant in America, at greater cost, or Somchem in South Africa, with all the security implications that that would entail. I hope that the Minister will make a significant comment on the issue.

Our armed forces risk their lives on our behalf in extreme operational circumstances, but in return we so often give them substandard equipment, cancelled training exercises, poor living conditions, long periods of separation from their families and poor operational welfare support. We expect the best from our service men and women, and in return they should be able to demand from us the best possible equipment, training and support. The White Paper is little more than a public relations exercise. There is a glaring absence of detailed defence analysis and no real interest in the progress of the SDR. It is a sad document. Our armed forces deserve better.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I remind the House that there is a 15-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

6.24 pm
Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

Inevitably, there have been several references to Michael Colvin's last speech in this House a week ago. In it, he dealt with several points, including the European security and defence identity. The same issue was raised by my on. Friends the Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson). I shall concentrate on the ESDI and deal with two aspects of it.

The first aspect was mentioned by several hon. Members. There has been much talk about the risk of damage to our relationship with the United States of America. Often, not enough attention is paid to the risk of damage to our defence relationships with other European countries. There has been reference to the effect of the ESDI on our relationships with Iceland, Norway and Turkey—members of NATO that are not members of the European Union—but we have developing defence relationships with other countries that are members of neither the EU nor NATO.

In the Western European Union, this has been a most interesting aspect of what has happened during the past 10 years. The WEU is not restricted to the 10 member countries, or to 15, 18 or 21 countries. Altogether, it increasingly involves 28 countries. As all members of our delegation to the WEU Assembly know, debates there include representatives from the Parliaments of those 28 countries. Indeed, we understand that, at the meetings of the ambassadors every two weeks, high-level discussions occur between not 10, 15, 18 or 21 but 28 countries. As a result, there is a gradually developing and evolving defence relationship, which should be welcomed.

Many hon. Members recognise that Europe constitutes more than the 15 member countries of the EU or the 15 plus the six applicant countries whose negotiations are a long way down the road. In fact, at least 28 countries are recognised as being in Europe and want to be involved in peacekeeping operations. Many have sent contingents to operations such as those in Bosnia and Kosovo. Indeed, the operation in Albania a few years ago involved contingents from countries that are in neither the EU nor NATO.

In development of the ESDI, there is a great risk of excluding such countries. That is not to say that we should oppose the ESDI; we should ensure that countries that have become gradually involved over the past decade in our defence arrangements, particularly peacekeeping, continue to be involved—and more and more deeply—because we can benefit from their contributions. They include several that only 10 years ago were among those that had signed up to the Warsaw pact, and, indeed, some that were part of the Soviet Union. We can only gain from their increasing involvement in security and defence arrangements in Europe.

When dealing with the issue in his winding-up speech on Tuesday, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces missed the point. It is clear, after reading carefully his remarks in Hansard, that he was talking only about non-European Union countries that are members of NATO. There is a wider Europe, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence will describe what the Government propose to do about all 28 countries and not just the 15 member states plus Iceland, Norway and Turkey. Important though those three countries are, the others also need to be considered. That brings me to the second aspect.

The involvement of the countries to which I have referred not only at intergovernmental level but in the Assembly of the WEU is beneficial not only to us but to them. Members of their Parliaments attend meetings, take part in committees—as well as the Assembly—and engage in discussions, debate and sometimes arguments with us and our allies. They feel that they are getting to know us; it is a confidence-building measure. Their parliamentarians learn that we are not bad people and we begin to realise that their concerns are genuine, to understand them and to think about what can be done to provide reassurance. There are great benefits to be derived from the involvement of Members of Parliaments on a genuinely pan-European basis.

A further benefit arises from the fact that the WEU Assembly provides the sole form of democratic or parliamentary scrutiny. I emphasise the difference between scrutiny and accountability. Most of us are pleased that the Government have emphasised that, under future arrangements pertaining to the ESDI, accountability as far as the British Government are concerned will be to the House. However, that is not the point. The point is that there should also be parliamentary scrutiny of the joint institutions and the provision of assets for the ESDI. That cannot be done by the House—even its worthy Select Committee on Defence. It should be done jointly, collectively and co-operatively and involve the representatives of the Parliaments of other countries.

I am not arguing that the WEU Assembly should be preserved in its current form. There are many things wrong with it and it could be improved. Members of the delegation could make several useful suggestions to improve the functioning, the membership and even the name of the Assembly. However, that is not the point. The point is to ensure that, with the development of the ESDI, parliamentary scrutiny continues. That means scrutiny by Members of this Parliament and Members of the Parliaments of all the countries involved with the ESDI and those that are associated with its peacekeeping tasks and provisions.

I urge the Government not only to ensure that our colleagues from countries that are not members of NATO or of the EU continue to be involved, but that there is a machinery for co-ordination and liaison and that joint scrutiny of joint institutions is preserved, extended and developed at pan-European level.

There has been severe criticism of the WEU, but, after a few years as a member of the WEU Assembly, I know that, if the WEU has failed, its failure is not a failure of the Assembly, but a failure of the intergovernmental relationships within the WEU—the decisions that have or have not been taken by European Governments. The biggest problem faced in European peacekeeping operations has not been the failure of equipment or of the people who serve in Europe's armed forces, but the failure of Governments' will to use them.

6.33 pm
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

I join right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House in expressing my condolences to Michael's family and my deep appreciation of all that he did. The quality of his that stands out most in my mind is not his expertise, but the quiet way in which he expressed his views and the strong resolve that lay behind them.

I hope that it will not bore the pants off the House, but I, like both previous Labour speakers, want to talk about the European security and defence identity. With the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), I have visited large chunks of America as part of the NATO parliamentary assembly and, in Brussels, met members of the EU committee on foreign affairs, common security and defence policy—we have had a real going over.

In last week's debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) expressed, with his customary intellectual vigour, the considerable doubt felt in this country and in the United States about the real meaning and objectives of ESDI. The name itself begs many questions. If I were to refer to the British defence identity, I might be asked whether I was discussing an idea—strong on vision, weak on substance. The change of name from the European security and defence identity to European security and defence policy—that is what we are supposed to call it now—is welcome, because it will help us to measure the extent to which the EU means business.

I confirm what the hon. Member for Stockton, North said about a common thread running through our discussions with representatives of Congress, the State Department, the Pentagon and all the think tanks that we visited: what is ESDI? They asked whether it was concerned solely with directing a new structure, rather than with getting down to the hard core of defence expenditure and genuine collaboration. Underlying those doubts, the question put to us at every meeting was whether we could provide reassurance that Europe's long-term intention was not to detach itself from the United States and so weaken, and ultimately dissolve, the NATO partnership.

In last week's debate, hon. Members quoted European sources that supported the concerns expressed by our American friends. We should not doubt that the feeling of unease is not confined to a small minority of Members of Parliament or of the general public, but is experienced by the people of many other countries, including the United States. The people we met sought reassurance about a European resolve to maintain NATO that went beyond mere words of comfort. In short, Europe's intentions will carry conviction only if Europe addresses its defence deficiencies.

If there is little sign of a resolve to increase defence expenditure—I do not know whether any country intends to do that—the United States expects that, at the very least, current weaknesses will be redressed through better use of existing resources. That is not too much to ask. It means avoiding unnecessary duplication and poses a challenge, not only to Governments, but to defence industries on both sides of the pond. The defence industries in both America and Europe face the same problem of trying to decide who should pay for what and who should supply what.

As our late colleague, Michael Colvin, who served the House with great distinction, said last week, the United States is not alone in expressing such concerns. As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) pointed out, the new structure will affect the non-EU members of NATO and EU members who are not members of NATO. The decision has been made, but it is only fair to remind our American allies that the end of the cold war gave rise to a demand for a re-evaluation of NATO's role, our role and that of all the other countries; there had to be a change. NATO's adaptation included recognition of the need for, and greater support for, a more coherent and distinct European defence contribution.

After all, at NATO's 1996 summit, it was intended to build an ESDI within the alliance. Simultaneously, a revitalised WEU became the defence arm of the EU and the European pillar of the alliance. What happened? The WEU was called on to undertake only a few relatively modest operations. As the right hon. Member for Hodge Hill asks, whose fault was that? Was it the fault of Governments? In retrospect, it was a grave mistake. A revitalised WEU might have led to effective co-ordination and strengthened Euro-NATO co-operation, without arousing many of the anxieties and doubts about the EU's long-term intentions.

Since that time, the treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam have provided further evidence of the determination to have a more active and coherent European common security and defence policy. As we know, that led to the appointment of Javier Solana as the EU's high representative, and the incorporation of the Petersberg tasks. Initially, those had been adopted by the WEU; we took them over. That initiative, preceded by the St. Malo declaration between Britain and France, implicitly and effectively bypassed the WEU and made it clear that Europe would develop the capacity for autonomous action, backed by its own credible military capabilities, where NATO was not, as a whole, engaged. I know from my visits to the United States that that came as quite a surprise to those in the US Government. It was mitigated to some extent by British officials, who said that it implied no radical change.

It is little wonder that at Cologne in 1999, the EU took historic steps towards establishing its own military capabilities for the first time, and at Helsinki the EU asserted that, prior to an EU decision to conduct EU-led military operations where NATO as a whole was not engaged, there would be a NATO right of first refusal. Can the Government confirm that they are right behind the concept that NATO should have the right of first refusal—a point raised by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) last week?

Should we be highly critical of the EU decision to deploy 50,000 to 60,000 troops? It is difficult to be critical, provided that that does not result in a split between the EU objectives and those of NATO. Some US policy analysts have asked whether the prospect of EU missions without NATO participation is an indication that the creation of ESDI within NATO has failed. How else, they argue, can one explain why NATO's EU members would support the creation of a distinct defence capability within the EU? We have embarked on a mission in which, like it or not, the UK can and should play a constructive part. It is not enough to be critical.

Finally, on national missile defence, I agree with the hon. Member for Stockton, North. It is easy to dismiss that as a nationalistic, isolationist reaction of the United States to an undeniable threat. However, I believe that we should proceed cautiously. Such a decision should not be taken hastily. My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green was right to put the matter on the agenda for discussion, which should take place calmly, recognising that it has important implications not only for the United States, but for our own security.

6.42 pm
Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)

There has in the past been a stereotyped view of the defence community as pickled in the values of 40 or 50 years earlier, introspective, and so ignorant of changing circumstances and suspicious of new ideas. Whatever the truth in the past, that stereotype is far from true about our Army, Navy and Air Force today. They are part of the mainstream of life in Britain and probably the most effective military force in the world.

Ministers are to be congratulated on the policies set out in the White Paper, which are family friendly, promote the education and training of individuals and provide for equal opportunities without discrimination. Life in the services is seen as either a long-term career or a constructive and attractive period of personal development for young men and women.

Not only is that policy the right way to treat people, but it is good for service morale and recruitment. Making our armed forces an integral rather than a detached part of British society results in their being better understood and appreciated by the people whom they serve.

There are bound to be differences between service and civilian life, but a determination is expressed in the White Paper to compensate for the adverse differences and to be a good employer for service men and women and their families. We can all endorse with pride what is being done on our behalf as employers of the nation's armed forces.

The strategic defence review, which is the foundation of the White Paper, was far from ignorant of changing circumstances. Major war in north-west Europe, which for 40 years was the primary focus of military planning, training and technology, is the least likely operation, now that the cold war has ended. As the White Paper states,

in the post-Cold War strategic environment we are increasingly likely to face new and often unexpected operational challenges. Those changed circumstances are essentially in two categories. The first involves nuclear and, to some extent, biological and chemical weapons. The second requires conventional armed forces to be able to deploy quickly to unfamiliar places, to deal with unpredictable situations, usually acting in concert with allies. I shall discuss these two sets of circumstances in the remainder of my speech.

The White Paper is virtually silent on the large numbers of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons that are still ostensibly part of the defence arrangements of the US and Russia, and to a lesser extent of Britain and France. The progressive reduction of these nuclear armouries, which was foreseen in the START treaties, has stalled, with little disarmament achieved or foreseen. The reduced sense of urgency brought about by the end of the cold war is false security. A new initiative is required.

That impasse has also undermined the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Progress in nuclear arms reduction by the US and Russia was an important inducement to smaller countries to forgo nuclear weapons. Now, as the White Paper makes clear, under the heading "New threats and challenges", dangers from the continuing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their potential delivery systems are a notable cause for concern. The missile launches by India and Pakistan last April are particularly disturbing.

The White Paper goes on to refer to the threat from maverick states using weapons of mass destruction as part of a terrorist arsenal in what are called "asymmetric threats".

All that frankness in the White Paper is admirable, but nothing is said about what should be done. The belief is expressed that

no significant ballistic missile threat to the UK and its interests will exist for some years. That is comforting, but should not we be using those years to prepare some defence?

Have not we come to a time when we must recognise that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty may fail, and that it would be wise to prepare for that? In the only reference to any counter-measure to a maverick attack, the White Paper states that

the US are consulting closely with us on their plans to improve their defences against a projected limited inter-continental ballistic missile threat from proliferators. It is all rather offhand, as though we were trying to humour the USA.

The scheme proposed by the US has been dubbed "son of star wars" after the scheme once proposed by President Reagan in order to keep out a soviet missile attack. That project collapsed because of expense and the likely technical infeasibility of countering a mass attack by the full menagerie of nuclear weapons, and because, if successful, it would have created instability in the east-west strategic balance.

That does not necessarily discredit current US proposals directed at keeping out two or three missiles, not a mass attack. If some such system could be successfully developed, it could underpin rather than undermine the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. States that do not yet possess nuclear weapons might be offered protection under the shield if they renounced them. The system would not be hostile towards Russia. Indeed, Russia and the European Union might share the same protective umbrella.

There is no basis for saying that the current US proposals are the right answer, but the threat exists. It is identified in the White Paper and by the US Government. It should not be ignored. The phrase in the White Paper—

the USA are consulting closely with us— hardly sounds like a dynamic search for a solution on our part. It behoves us in Europe, just as much as the US Government, to seek positive means to counteract a threat from maverick states and to underpin nuclear non-proliferation.

I shall move now to my second category of operations, in which conventionally armed forces need to deploy quickly to unfamiliar places, to deal with unpredictable situations in concert with allies.

In this context, the European defence identity agreed at the Helsinki European Council is to be welcomed. It provides for a highly mobile force to be drawn together from each country's NATO forces and enables action to be taken where US interests are not involved. Similarly, the joint rapid reaction force, bringing together army, navy and air force contributions, is a positive response to the new circumstances that must be the focus of defence planning.

However, I am puzzled by the role of the 386 Challenger 2 main battle tanks in any operation that requires rapid deployment by sea and air. Challenger 2 is likely to be precluded from many operational areas simply because available bridges will not take its weight. Are not heavy main battle tanks unsuitable for rapid reaction forces? If they move by sea, they arrive after airborne troops; if they travel by air, the required aircraft are immensely expensive. When they arrive, by whatever means, their range and manoeuvrability is limited.

What is the role of Challenger 2 in the next 10 years? What will rapid reaction forces do for armoured support? That may not be an easy problem to solve, but the White Paper should acknowledge the difficulty and the need to revise Army force structure for the new role.

The essence of the new flexible operational concept is what the White Paper describes as deployability. Without means of deploying fully equipped forces quickly and easily, the new strategy cannot be implemented.

The proposal to provide a six-vessel strategic sealift through a private finance initiative with the industry is imaginative. Given that contracts can be exchanged next year, it makes good sealift capability relatively quickly.

Existing RAF transport aircraft are all old and need replacing. They are unsuitable for a key role in the rapid deployment of forces. The White Paper currently gives no estimate of when the problem will be overcome; it simply promises a decision in the near future. That is a relaxed approach to the pivot of the strategic concept.

Without urgent replacement of the RAF's transport and refuelling aircraft, a strategy of timely flexible response is not an operational reality. Paragraph 40 of the White Paper makes that point, albeit a little less starkly. It states:

We cannot ö deploy the JRRF quickly enough to meet the likely requirements of the new strategic environment. If that profound weakness is to be overcome within current defence spending, it may mean some revision of RAF or perhaps naval force structure. If so, how much RAF strike attack and offensive support capability is to be given up to provide essential improvements in the RAF's strategic lift?

That question cannot be left to various factional interests in the Ministry of Defence to fight about. It requires not a manana approach, but "action this day" if the new defence strategy is to be fully operational in the near future.

The main Royal Navy contribution to flexible deployment appears to be two of the three amphibious ships, Fearless, Ocean and Intrepid, with some contribution from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Those ships can be moved to the area of operations as an emergency develops and sit over the horizon without political commitment to an operation until the last minute, when their impact can be immediate. The diplomatic and operational advantages are not matched when forces move by air. Any future ability to redeploy forces is likely to need a combination of strategic airlift and amphibious capability. They are complementary, not alternatives.

The White Paper is excellent in setting out policy on defence personnel and is to be applauded for that. Its analysis of the new threats to this country is frank, far-seeing and in keeping with the world as we perceive it. However, it is unsatisfactory in establishing how and when we will be in a position to implement the new strategy.

The White Paper suggests a rigid attachment to existing force structures that precludes reallocation of resources and reorientation of forces to match the new strategic concept. That is shown by the incompatibility of Challenger 2 with the new strategy and the inability to restructure the RAF to put greater emphasis on modern transport aircraft.

The strategy cannot be implemented by retaining unchanged the equipment and force structures of the cold war and adding demands to fulfil the new strategy. The new strategy demanded radical rethinking. The reconfiguration of the armed forces to match the strategy demands no less.

While the armed forces go through that process of readjustment, it is right for the House to be kept regularly informed of progress. I support the view of the Select Committee on Defence that there are strong arguments for an annual defence White Paper.

6.55 pm
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

I start by joining colleagues from both sides of the House in paying tribute to Michael and Nichola Colvin. Michael Colvin chaired the Select Committee on Defence when I was Minister of State for the Armed Forces. His courtesy and consideration, as well as his firmness and profound knowledge, had a deep impact on me. We all mourn the loss in the most tragic circumstances of someone who brought great expertise to his subject. I shall not say anything further; the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who is the current Chairman of the Select Committee, said it all.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Many tributes have been paid to Michael and Nichola for their work in Parliament. I inherited most of Michael's former constituents, and I want to place on record that the kindness that Michael and Nichola showed me and continued to show other new candidates was exceptional. It can truly be said of them that they were

lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.

Mr. Soames

I could not do better than that, and I am sure that my hon. Friend speaks for all of us.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his prompt flight back from Portugal. It is astonishing that he was not here for the beginning of the debate, which is one of the most important defence debates of the year. His absence was a gratuitous insult not only to the House but to the armed forces. However, it is good of him to spare us a little of his time this evening.

I pay a warm tribute to the armed forces, especially service families, and to the civilian staff of the Ministry of Defence who work alongside service men and women and without whom the show could not go on. We owe them all a great debt.

Having read the extremely inadequate and deplorably produced White Paper, which makes no effort to make defence or its problems interesting, exciting or relevant, and consists of a turgid series of essays, the Secretary of State's first task is to get more money. As he knows, there are unacceptable shortfalls in many of the top-level budgets. It is disastrous that the right hon. Gentleman should have to cancel exercises, and that the fuel allocations for ships are not substantial enough. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said, on top of real cuts in the defence budget, 3 per cent. efficiency savings are not sustainable or realistic after the substantial savings that have been made year after year, including during the time when my party was in power.

I am delighted that recruiting is improving, but significant problems remain. They will prove difficult to overcome. Retention remains a serious and unresolved issue. I hope that the Government now understand that what seemed easy in opposition is a relentlessly difficult problem. Related problems include the critical issues of morale, families, married quarters and pay, especially for those on active service, and the perennial problem of busy, overstretched armed forces and the difficulties consequent on that.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) that the Select Committee report is damning. I hope that the Ministry of Defence will pay careful attention to it. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) rightly pointed out, the Government's problem is that the strategic defence review was claimed to be an exercise in matching resources to commitments. However, as we warned at the time, resources have been cut and commitments have increased. That was calculated against an unpublished Foreign Office baseline, which, like the so-called ethical foreign policy, becomes less credible by the day.

I hope that the House realises—and that Ministers will come to realise—the ghastly damage that the Treasury has wrought on British defence interests in the past few years, including when we were in power. It has behaved towards the armed forces as though it were determined to undermine them—and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater rightly said, it is not far off doing so. The Secretary of State must fight the battle for them and see off the Treasury.

I want to say a word or two about kit. There are major problems in the procurement budget and the report of the hon. Member for Walsall, South laid out a saga of the most serious problems that have occurred over the years. I make no attempt to explain them—the contracts are immensely complicated and very difficult—but I warmly congratulate him on the way in which he handled some buffoon called Stourton on the "Today" programme the other day. He giggled like a schoolgirl as he tried to persuade the hon. Gentleman that the SA80 and the Tornado were the most difficult problems in the procurement budget when many others are far more serious.

I am not an expert and I do not understand some of the technical and complex difficulties, but the House and the public should be aware that most of our equipment is excellent: soldiers have never had better or more suitable clothing; the Challenger 2 main battle tank is the best of its type in the world; the Warrior is the most superb battle taxi and the vehicle of choice for all infantry on the battlefield; the Apache helicopter is the most formidable piece of equipment; and the AS90 gun is a fantastic and remarkable piece of kit, as is the light gun. It would be ridiculous for the public to run away with the assumption that the forces' kit is in a parlous state, although there are some serious deficiencies.

The SA80 rifle represents an unhappy state of affairs, but that is being rectified. I do not wish to brag, but I am an extremely good shot with a rifle and I have, on many occasions, pumped large numbers of rounds straight into the bull with an SA80. It has problems, but they are being fixed and it is a good piece of kit. It is bad news for the House to be under the impression that our soldiers' equipment is wholly inefficient. It is not, but there are glaring omissions and they have to be sorted out.

I understand from the Secretary of State's remarks that he intends to make changes in the way that training is carried out. I make no complaint about them—I do not know what they are—but I want to say a word or two about training and discipline, which are very important. It is true, not an idle boast, that the British Army is, man for man, the best fighting force in the world. In the Falklands, in the Gulf and, most recently, in Bosnia and Kosovo, its enemies and allies have been truly amazed at the fitness, determination, courage and professionalism of British soldiers. Why are they so good? The answer is simple and, I suspect, not well understood outside the armed forces. In no other army in the world can a soldier depend on the men around him in the way that one can in the British Army.

From Waterloo to Alamein and from Goose Green to the Euphrates and Kosovo, British soldiers have proved time and again that they can face tremendous odds and triumph. If one asks a solider what is the key to that confidence, he will immediately answer, "Training and discipline." It is therefore a matter of the first importance that the system that produces young men and women of that calibre must not be altered in such a way that it produces but pale imitations of what is required. Ministers must not drag the Army into being a mirror image of the society that it serves, for the services have a totally different and separate ethos—one of discipline and service. Ministers must realise that, however disagreeable it may be to contemplate, the essence of military training is to prepare soldiers to fight in a bloody, frightening and exhausting war.

Young men and women may need to be called on to use all their reserves of physical and mental stamina. They therefore require intense physical training, drill and strict discipline. That sometimes leads to people wanting to leave the forces. That has always happened and always will, but among those who remain will be those who will be able to cope with the exceptional demands of modern combat. The danger that faces the Army in making changes to training is that if it gets it wrong, those who come through the system will not be up to the task.

On the question of Europe, I want the Government to know that the proposals and the way that they are being handled represent very bad news indeed. Let us start at the beginning. None of us disagrees with sensible, useful, straightforward co-operation on defence matters with our European partners. We all favour that, and Europe should do more—the previous Administration were clear about that—but our activities have to remain very real. Therefore I must ask for assurances, as I have not yet had them from Ministers, that the proposals will not lead to the undermining of the cohesion, unity and credibility of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. We regard the proposals as they stand as dangerous.

I wholly agree that we have hidden behind United States military power for too long. It would welcome Europe doing more, but our efforts must be for real and not what has become standard, windy European rhetoric. I do not believe that our Government want a European army, although clearly Mr. Prodi does, and they need to amend title V of the European Union treaty explicitly to rule out the involvement of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice and thus retain full control of our armed forces, enabling us to make the arrangements that we want with the countries with which we want to make them. It is clear that we need to press ahead with those arrangements in a sensible framework, but it is extremely important that we acknowledge and understand the concerns being expressed by our friends and allies in the United States. One cannot but be conscious of the deep unease of some knowledgeable and experienced Senators and Members of the House of Representatives and it is essential that the Government persuade them of the case.

The plan, I gather, is to create a force of 60,000 men on 60 days' notice, but the Government must define its tasks much more clearly. Crisis management could well mean real fighting, in which case what is the arrangement for reserves? I hope that the Ministry of Defence is thinking carefully about the hazards as the fighting effectiveness of ground forces—which represents a problem because of the nature of multinational operations—must not be undermined. Achieving that effectiveness is much easier for the Navy and the Royal Air Force. How many men will be in training behind the 60,000 for roulement purposes? The point that has to be made is that the new proposals need to be low on rhetoric and high on substance, which is a thoroughly non-European proposition.

This country is incredibly lucky with its armed forces. The Secretary of State has a high responsibility and we all pray that he gets it right.

7.8 pm

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

I add my tribute to the late Michael Colvin and his wife. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) eloquently put into words much of what those of us in the House who knew him have been feeling over the past few days. I have happy memories of visits to the Balkans made with Michael and my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), when we saw all those qualities that have been mentioned. He was well informed, committed and determined, and he communicated those qualities with the greatest charm, which endeared him to people not only in the House but everywhere in life.

We have limited time this evening and I want to deal with two subjects: the defence budget and the European defence policy. After my experiences over the past 18 months and before, I pay tribute to the dedication, loyalty, commitment and professionalism of our armed forces. I have always believed that, too often, they are asked to carry more than their fair share of the burden of this nation's defence and foreign policies and its values and standards. I certainly feel that today. They are trained to be effective, to take orders and to act on behalf of others, and, in my experience, they do so without protestation. However, I believe that we ask too much of them and we must carefully consider whether our policies are the right ones and how we can carry them out.

I have been a little disappointed by some of the debate because party politics have entered into our discussions. These issues are far more important than short-term political bickering. The defence of our nation is crucial to our population. Politicians of whatever colour have a great responsibility for the defence of our people, and should not allow themselves to be diverted by short-term political bickering.

I realise why the Conservative party argues that the Government are not doing enough, that they are not acting in time and that there are not enough resources. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South said, it is as though history began in May 1997. We should debate the far more serious issues that face us rather than make points across the political divide.

Politicians throughout the world have a great responsibility not to demand more from their armed forces than they are able to deliver, in whatever country they are deployed. Politicians have too often forgotten the well tried military doctrine that when considering whether to make an intervention, we must first decide whether it is a just cause, whether it can be won, what the costs will be in resources and especially in people, and whether they will be proportionate to the other considerations. Those tests are too often ignored by the international community. Decisions have been taken in good faith with the best of intentions—to defend democracy wherever it may be—without taking the time to assess the consequences over a period and how we will be judged against those tests.

The international community has not yet understood that decisions must be taken much more quickly than they were taken during the cold war, which lasted for 30 or 40 years. In those days, before an intervention took place much thought was given to the consequences. The west thought about what the Soviets or the Chinese would say, and whether it would add to or ease international tension. If we were to act without the United Nations, we thought about the response of the other side. If we were to act within the United Nations, we considered what we had to take on board before we went to the Security Council for its approval.

There was time to consider those matters during the cold war, but now we often do not have that luxury. When faced with an aggressor, an oppressor or someone who is acting against the interests of democracy worldwide, we often have to make a much more speedy decision. The international community must give greater thought to these issues in the various forums, whether it be the United Nations or NATO.

A principal consideration is whether we have the resources to prosecute an action for a cause that we feel is just. We often forget that over the past 10 years, £7.7 billion has been taken out of our military budget. Similar figures have been taken out of the budgets of other countries with which we have alliances to defend democracy. I am not sure whether any more can be taken out of those budgets to enable us to defend democracy and to intervene when we believe it is necessary.

That is not an excuse for not making efficiency gains. I think that we can make efficiency gains. There is a learning curve, and there are better ways of doing things—logistics, stock control and other important activities of our military forces can be made more efficient. Improvements can be made, and the incentive should be that the MOD is allowed to keep any gains for investment in whatever it believes to be important in the years ahead, and which Parliament endorses.

There is a much deeper question to consider than the short-term party political bickering. If, over the next 10 years and beyond, we face the same amount of requests for intervention that we have had over the past 10 years, will we be able to fulfil the task that we have set ourselves with present resources, even with the gains that we may obtain from efficiency savings? I have grave doubts about that. We may not be able to make the right decisions on what needs to be done to obtain justice and to defend democracy, because we will know that we do not have the resources to carry through a just war—it must be won and the cost must not be disproportionate. We must think about the safety of the people on the ground taking the military action. Considerations about training and preparing for the future are crucial, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said.

NATO and European Union countries, and all countries that believe in a democratic world, will face those problems in the period ahead. The House must take more time to consider this issue—it will be one of the items in the Budget in a few weeks time.

My second point is whether there should be a European security identity. I agree with the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) that a European security identity does not convey much, but a European security defence policy does. I am disappointed, but I realise why some members of the Conservative who veer to the right or who want to appease the right try to make everything travelling in a European direction appear to be alien to British democracy. Those who take that view have misjudged the importance of a European policy on defence, which is to cement and reinforce the cross-Atlantic policy on defence.

There are two views of Europe in the United States. One is that Europeans are going down their own track, want to do their own thing, will break away from the alliance and will have their own policy, even furth of Europe, as they say in Scotland. They are worried about that, as strong believers in NATO. Other Americans say that it is high time that Europeans, some of whom have stronger economies than the American economy, pay a bit more to defend democracy worldwide, and make a bigger contribution to NATO. When one visits Washington, the inevitable question one is asked is, "What does the defence of Pristina have to do with the defence of Texas?" That must be explained.

Europe must recognise that in this interrelated world, if Europe makes a larger contribution to the defence of the democratic world that will not weaken or break up the NATO alliance, but will strengthen it. I do not believe that NATO can be strengthened in the long run unless Europe—that crucially includes the United Kingdom—is prepared to make a greater contribution.

Those are the key issues that affect us. We must ask ourselves not whether there should be a European security policy, but how we can make that policy effective. At what pace should change take place? Who will contribute which capability, and will there be specialisms? How will the troops who will serve Europe and NATO be commanded? What will the political management structure be in the longer term, especially as more countries join NATO and the European Union? What are the implications for the procurement of equipment? How will future suppliers of equipment accommodate the need for a greater integration in the use and consistency of that equipment? How can non-NATO European Union countries make a contribution to particular efforts? How can non-EU members of NATO make a greater contribution to Europe's defence?

Those questions are crucial, and hon. Members who are interested in foreign policy and defence matters should concentrate their minds on them rather than have a futile and somewhat anachronistic argument about whether there should be a future close linking of armed forces in Europe. Surely common sense tells us all that, if we have common goals in a democratic Europe and if we are to maintain that political integrity, we shall often have to have a pretty common view of how things should develop in this world.

We understand why the Secretary of State had other commitments today, and we are very pleased that he is able to attend the debate. In the period ahead he will have to deal with many of these crucial issues, and more.

We look forward to the Government's response. The Government have my support for the strategic defence review, which I believe puts us on the right road towards meeting a number of the demands to which I have referred. There will be hiccups, but I think the House continues to believe that the defence of the nation is above party politics, and will give support where it is due to the Government of the country.

7.21 pm
Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

As always, I shall be extremely brief.

With the death of Michael Colvin, the House has lost one of the dwindling band of Members who have served in the military and seen active service. That is a loss not just to the House, but to the armed services. It is not the Government's fault that no Minister—indeed, I think, no member of the Government—has served in the military; that is an inevitable effect of the peace dividend and the victory that was won in the cold war, partly through the steadfastness and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform over 50 years. I think, however, that because of the Government's relative inexperience in these matters, it behoves them to connect more closely with the military at all levels—not only with service chiefs, but all the way down—and to listen to what they have to say.

On Saturday morning, I shall address the annual convention of RAF wives in Tidworth, and on Saturday night I shall address a gathering of specialists from the defence medical services. I wish that I could convey to both groups the message that I knew their concerns were being attended to, and that I knew attention was being paid to the problems of overstretch from which both have suffered. I am not sure I can do that, but I know that the world in which I have operated in past years—the world in which I have seen the British military close up at the sharp end, performing magnificently; as I have said before, they are the best little army in the world—is much more dangerous than the more predictable world in which I grew up, when people trained initially not on an SA80 but on a Lee Enfield rifle.

Today's edition of the Daily Mail contained a remarkable piece by General Sir Peter de la Billière about discipline, and the possible effect of the Armed Forces Discipline Bill on the armed forces. While I am grateful to the Liberal Democrats for lending me one of their seats on the Standing Committee, I shall speak not for them but for myself, and for what I believe to be the interests of serving soldiers.

These are important issues. We have a duty of care, as service chiefs have a duty of care. It is vital that we exercise that duty, and I trust that we will. Ministers have produced for us, on paper, their smart procurement, their new programmes and their new formations. That is fine, but they must also pay attention to some of what is already in place.

I make no apology for referring again to the deficiencies and unaccountability of the MOD's own police force, which is a problem that must be addressed. Ministers must look at the handling of the Tony Geraghty case, the handling of the Colonel Wylde case and, above all, the handling of the Stankovic case. It is two and a half years since that man was arrested. He was never charged, and the investigation cost, officially, £266,000. In fact, it cost more than £1 million of taxpayers' money in terms of the time of serving officers and the sacrificed alternatives—that is, the work that they would otherwise have done.

At the end of it all, the man is still serving. His career is mined; he has spent all the money he has, and some of the money he does not have, to try to defend himself; and what has he got back from the armed forces—from the Army legal fund? Not one penny. I should like to hear from the Secretary of State how Major Stankovic will be compensated, and, if he is not to be compensated, what that says to us about the duty of care.

Last Friday I had the honour of addressing cadets at Sandhurst: indeed, the honour not just of addressing them but of listening to them. What fine young men and women they were—a little older than their predecessors of a generation ago, because 80 per cent. are college graduates. They are prepared to serve: they are prepared to make sacrifices and commitments, and to face the dangers. We, the employers, must be worthy of them. We must have a system that is worthy of them—and I am not sure that we have such a system.

7.25 pm
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

declines to approve a defence policy which has been used to make war upon innocent civilians in Iraq and Yugoslavia under NATO command, contrary to the provisions of the United Nations Charter, without any explicit authorisation by the House of Commons elected to exercise democratic control over the Government of the day, which involves the use of cluster bombs, and which is based upon the possession of, and threat to use, nuclear weapons, which have been declared illegal by both the International Court of Justice and a Scottish court. I apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who cannot take part in the debate because his wife is in hospital and he is with her.

Because of the shortage of time, I intend to speak about only two issues, the proposed national missile defence system and Kosovo. In June this year, President Clinton will make a decision on the requirement of an NMD system, intended to protect the United States from a limited number of ballistic missiles that it believes might be launched by rogue states such as Korea and Iran. Clearly, if such a deployment went ahead it would have far reaching implications for many countries, including ours. The most immediate implication is that the US would contravene the anti-ballistic missile treaty as it stands, which I think should concern us all.

At a recent meeting of NATO parliamentary members in Brussels, it was clear that opinions in the US about the proposed modification of the treaty differed greatly from those in Europe—and it was not just the French who were alarmed. Russia, of course, has a major interest in the treaty, and its initial reaction to the change is hostile. By contrast, both the Senate and the House of Representatives have approved it by huge votes. The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution supporting the "inviolability and integrity" of the treaty, which I consider fairly encouraging, but it is clear from the votes in the US that the Americans are determined to go ahead with some form of national missile defence system. That means that the rest of the alliance, and, indeed, the wider international community, need to engage in a serious political dialogue with them.

From a NATO point of view, this is not a good time to start tearing up treaties. That would put stress on existing treaties, stop START 2, and almost certainly lead to a new arms race. As most of us would agree, the ABM treaty is the cornerstone of arms control. I also think we are entitled to ask the United States why it wants to proceed in this way. Countries in Europe will be left with no defence, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook)—although I am afraid that his speech was truncated for reasons of time. It is worrying that the United States will be able to deploy nuclear weapons that could be intercepted above our heads, in the stratosphere. Science tells us that we will be perfectly safe, but having observed science during my many years on this earth, I am not terribly convinced. I certainly need more convincing.

We should also consider the perceived threat from North Korea, which can barely feed its own people. Would it not be better to intensify the diplomatic efforts that are already being made to return it to the family of nations? Another rogue state that has been mentioned is Libya, but we have just resumed diplomatic relations with Libya, and the news from Iran has been rather good of late. Iraq is struggling to survive. We should question the threat, and ask whether it is really serious.

What about the long-standing theory of deterrence? Why does it not work for rogue states? I do not think that there is a threat from there, but clearly they would face complete annihilation if they targeted any western democracy. It leads us to ask who is pushing the buttons on that one. It is time we had a debate in the Chamber, because it is not only the Opposition who want to know the Government's attitude to the ABM treaty. I would like to know it as well; I think that other Back Benchers would too.

I turn to Kosovo. I have read the debate last week. I could not be here as I was in Brussels with NATO, but I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who suggested that Kosovo is on the brink of disaster. I am on record as firmly opposing the Government's going to war with NATO against Yugoslavia. I said that it would make things far worse for everyone in Yugoslavia. I personally think that I have been vindicated by the appalling events that have unfolded since NATO conducted its so-called humanitarian war—a war to end ethnic cleansing, which did not start until the bombing started, and a war in which NATO decided to become the air force for a bunch of terrorists.

Mr. Keetch

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Mahon

I am sorry, I have only 15 minutes and I do not intend to give way.

The terrorists were led by Agim Ceku, the ethnic cleanser of the Krajina, and Hashim Thaci, a man with blood on his hands who has successfully organised the cleansing of more than 250,000 Serbs, Montenegrins, Roma, Bosniaks, Jews and others from Kosovo, under the nose of KFOR troops, who are there supposedly to protect them.

In October, I too visited Kosovo. I found that, apart from Bernard Kouchner, everyone on the ground agreed that that ethnic cleansing was organised by the Kosovo Liberation Army under Thaci's command. That view is reinforced by a growing body of evidence from sources such as Amnesty International, whose latest report at the end of December said that

violence against Serbs and other minorities (including moderate Albanians) was still increasing and pointed to a failure by the UN Mission to protect human rights. Amnesty is concerned that the UN Mission and KFOR appear reluctant to take steps to bring the KLA to justice. There have been nearly 500 murders since KFOR took over Kosovo and thousands of house burnings, yet not a single KLA leader has been referred to the war crimes tribunal. Why? During that period, there has been no statement to the House about what has been happening to the minorities. No serious Government-initiated debate has taken place.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe report on human rights violations in Kosovo, which was published in December, confirms that, since KFOR entered the province in June, there has been a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign. The report says:

Kosovo Serbs, Roma, Muslim Slavs and others have been targeted by elements of the Kosovo Albanian population for expulsion, harassment, intimidation, house-burning, abductions and death. It highlights two horrific trends; the targeting of vulnerable elderly Kosovo Serbs and the increasing participation of juveniles in human rights violations, underlining the growing intolerance that has emerged within the Kosovo Albanian community. The report contains many witness statements concerning KLA involvement in the violence both before and after the demilitarisation deadline of 19 September, including most recently by members of the so-called Kosovo Protection Corps.

The OSCE concludes that, despite denials by the KLA leadership,

it seems clear that the extent of KLA involvement is of such a nature and scope that the question of explicit or tacit involvement by the leadership require close examination by the International Community. I could not agree more.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has confirmed that 250,000 people have been driven out of Kosovo since June. The historian Paul Polansky, who lived among the Roma in Kosovo between July and November last year, has documented the discrimination against Romany people by the UN, NATO and major aid agencies. After calling attention to a lack of medical facilities, food and security, he was threatened with expulsion by the very agency that had invited him there: the UNHCR.

Polansky points out that, prior to NATO's war, the Roma lived in integrated settlements. Now they are being ethnically cleansed because of the colour of their skin. The eminent broadcaster and journalist Jonathan Dimbleby confirmed what is happening to the Roma, under the noses of NATO, in the excellent television documentary "A Kosovo Journey." Those who supported the war should watch it.

The Jewish leader, Cedomir Prlincevic, president of the Jewish community in Pristina, was driven out by the KLA when two dozen armed men broke into his family's apartment. He says:

My mother who is 80 years old suffered a heart attack because it reminded her of 1943 when Hitler's SS units broke into her apartment in the same way. It is a bitter irony that while the rest of Yugoslavia remains a genuinely multi-ethnic society, in Kosovo, where NATO presides, attempts to create an ethnically pure state by terror is proceeding apace. We need a debate on what has been happening there while NATO has been in charge.

The House must debate the situation in Mitrovica, where some remaining Serbs appear to be making a last stand. In October, I visited Mitrovica bridge. I talked to our forces and to French forces. I have talked to other people since. Everything I have read and everyone to whom I spoke in Brussels last week supported the view that the latest trouble in Mitrovica was started when the KLA threw a grenade at a UN bus and killed two elderly Serbs. Then the Serbs killed the Albanians. We then got the stand-off and the big push at the bridge.

I disagree with the Secretary of State, who said that the incident was good natured. It did not look like that on television. We should thank our soldiers for their very good efforts at the bridge to stop what could have been a very nasty situation.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

I want to make it clear that I was quoting the colonel who appeared on television. He used the expression "good natured". I did not have any independent view of the events. I rely simply on what he saw and described.

Mrs. Mahon

It did not look like that on television. We should stop casting aspersions at French troops, who have had a terrifically difficult job.

What did surprise me—it is worth mentioning—is the fact that Lord Robertson, now Secretary-General of NATO, almost went into war mode when that event occurred. It is wrong that the Albanians have had to leave their homes—let me get that on the record—just as it is wrong for anyone else to be ethnically cleansed, yet we have heard no statement about 250,000 Serbs and other minorities being expelled. There have been no notions of regret there.

Now Kouchner suddenly wants to reintegrate Albanians. I believe that, with that integration, the KLA will go back into northern Mitrovica. The Serbs will again be expelled or killed. There is no doubt about that. Reintegration is wrong at this time. It seems that the Serbs are not allowed to defend themselves at all. All of a sudden, there are big meetings when it happens to the Albanians.

The French, who, as I have said, have had a most difficult job, have been seen as too pro-Serb. We should remember that, the other week, two of their soldiers were injured by Albanian extremists. If that carries on, sooner or later, some of them might be killed, so they deserve our admiration and should not be smeared. As I have said, Kouchner is determined to move Albanians back across the river. I think that that will be a disaster.

Even more dangerous is the situation on the border between Kosovo and Serbia. I recommend that my hon. Friends read Jonathan Steele's article in The Guardian today. Of course, he is no friend of the Serbs. He supported the NATO bombing and still does, but he points out:

The new trouble spot is the south-western corner of Serbia which is largely populated by Albanians. Former members of the KLA have started to operate in the border villages, carrying guns, wearing paramilitary uniforms and attacking Serb police in an apparent bid to provoke a Serb reaction and NATO help. If that scenario sounds familiar, it is because exactly the same situation prevailed in Kosovo before NATO intervened. What is more, the same—successful—tactics have been used before, after which NATO became the KLA' s air force.

I should like to give Stephen Glover the last word on the subject. In an article entitled "How we are aiding the ethnic cleansers", he wrote in Saturday's edition of the Daily Mail:

Despite assurances, the truth is that despite the high-flown rhetoric about a multi-national Kosovo, NATO has disgracefully failed the Serbs—this has been a dreadful betrayal as well as a denial of the Serbs' human rights. He continued:

American sources within NATO are up to their old trick of demonising Serbs—accusing those in Mitrovica of receiving guns from Belgrade as though they might be expected to defend themselves with pea-shooters—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. Time is up.

7.41 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Perhaps because both my grandfathers were parsons, I feel moved to preface my remarks with a text. It reads:

I remind the House that the defence of the realm is the paramount responsibility of any Government. Defence policy cannot be determined by Treasury diktat ö Will he— the Secretary of State—

stand up to the Treasury and demonstrate Britain's lead in Europe by reversing the damaging cuts in the defence budget? We owe that to our armed forces, which remain the best in the world.—[Official Report, 22 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 1448.] Those wise last words are the ever-relevant and classically fitting parliamentary epitaph of our late hon. and gallant Friend, Michael Colvin. His political wisdom was a measure not of his specialist knowledge alone, but of his profound personal experience, human sympathy and understanding, and willingness to listen as much as to speak out.

Michael bore his military professionalism lightly. His formative years as a cadet at Sandhurst, and later in the Grenadiers overseas—at Suez, in Cyprus and in Berlin—set him apart as someone who spoke only when he knew his subject. Few of us understood the international and industrial dimensions of defence better than he did.

The phrase defence diplomacy is often used today. Michael, and his inseparable Nichola, made friends for Britain wherever they went. Their untimely and tragic death impoverishes all of us.

Just recently, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force proudly celebrated its 75th anniversary. In my own constituency, the reformed 600 (City of London) Squadron held an impressive parade at its home base, at Royal Air Force Northolt. The parade was to mark its reformation from the merger of No. 1 and No. 3 Maritime Headquarters Units of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

Only last Thursday, 24 February, Hillingdon borough council awarded the freedom of entry to the borough to Royal Air Force Northolt. The year 2000 is the 60th anniversary of the battle of Britain, in which Royal Air Force Northolt played such a heroic part. The battle of Britain would not have been won without the auxiliaries, who constituted one third of the pilots engaged.

When I hear that the Royal Air Force is 20 per cent. short of fast-jet pilots, I wonder whether the lessons of Air Force history have been learned. I am not being churlish. No. 1 Maritime Headquarters Unit of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force did a marvellous job, and its previous commanding officer, Wing Commander Edna Partridge, was an exceptional commanding officer of it at RAF Northolt. Belatedly, the importance of wider use of reservists to British air power is being recognised—in headquarters manning at home and overseas, ground defence, intelligence, helicopter support, aeromedical evacuation, and, last but not least, flying duties.

I remember making my maiden speech, 30 years ago, on getting the Royal Auxiliary Air Force flying again. Sometimes a political idea has a long germination period. I was therefore pleased to hear the Minister of State make it plain today that auxiliary pilots will now be able to fly again in all aircraft types. I believe that no service specialisation should be precluded to the auxiliaries. They are so cost effective.

I hope, too, that we shall see more Royal Auxiliary Air Force-formed units again. I think that 600 Squadron is a very good example of such a unit. I see the Minister nod. In Scotland, 603 Squadron has recently reformed. There are, therefore, precedents for such units.

I suggest that we start with heavy lift transport aircraft. One of the best legacies of the previous, Conservative Government was the Reserve Forces Act 1996. I suggest that we use that legislation to employ the Ukrainian heavy lift Antonov 124 aircraft of an existing British air carrier, manned by auxiliaries under the sponsored Reserves scheme. The aeroplane has double the payload range of the Boeing C17 and can carry seven Apache helicopters, to the C17's three. I doubt whether the Royal Air Force, with its budget, could find more than two C 17s—which is hardly a viable inventory.

As for the A400M, it does not have the volume to take even a single main battle tank. The Antonov can carry two such tanks. The A400M also would not be available until 2007. I believe that the Mozambique floods have shown us the clear necessity for the United Kingdom to possess a heavy lift capability now.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

I am very concerned that the hon. Gentleman is willing to throw away 62,000 jobs in the United Kingdom. I agree with him on the Antonov 124, but just wonder whether he has considered the fact that the A400M is being designed to meet the procurement need, and that carrying a battle tank is not one of the requirements.

Mr. Wilkinson

I understand that, and shall try to amplify the argument in the remaining remarks that I have to offer the House.

The transport fleet should be based on two types—the existing C-130J, which has a huge British industrial component, and the Antonov. To do so would leave funds to spare, to maintain the Royal Air Force's fighting capability with the joint strike fighter, which will be crucial to re-equip both the Royal Air Force Harrier fleet and the Royal Navy's Harrier aircraft—which are now operated jointly, under Joint Force 2000. It would also enable funds to be available for more support helicopters, which we need right across the board for all three services, not least for the Royal Marines, to replace their commando Sea King helicopters. Moreover, the Eurofighter Typhoon—if it is to be an effective fighting aircraft well into the next century—will require a beyond visual range air to air missile system.

I regard those capabilities, put together, as more important than providing funding for the A400M. If Airbus Industrie needs to develop new projects, I suggest that the funding should be devoted to the A3XX rival to the Boeing jumbo jet successor.

In short, the Government's rhetoric on the Royal Air Force Reserves needs to be translated into ever more vigorous action. However, the Government are making tentative steps in the right direction. I am pleased about the formed units starting again, and that more personnel are being recruited. More can and should be done. Sometimes, we forget the wealth and diversity of skills and talents in the civil community, waiting to be deployed, especially among the youth who perhaps have insufficient opportunities in the big cities in which they live.

This is the information age—the electronic age. There are skills aplenty in those fields in the civilian community that could be deployed in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. If we do so, the service as a whole will benefit and the current overstretch of Royal Air Force personnel will diminish.

7.50 pm
Mr. Jamie Cann (Ipswich)

Conservative Members have talked about capability. I believe that the strategic defence review and the White Paper have led to a capability that we have not had for many years, and certainly for two decades: the ability to be on the ground in brigades, serviced and covered by air, in two different theatres for six months at a time. The overstretch caused by Northern Ireland has prevented that for a long time.

I welcome the fact that, after about 20 years, we have stopped pretending that we have aircraft carriers and are proposing to replace the Fearless and the Intrepid with craft that will carry up to 40 or 50 aeroplanes. A lot of Conservative Members have talked for a long time about replacing them, but they never got round to doing it. Labour has nothing to apologise for in its defence programme.

Unlike the odd Conservative Member and some Labour Members, I am proud of what we have done in Bosnia and Kosovo. I am proud that we were prepared to step in and stop genocide. I am afraid that I do not worry too much about minor losses—it is a terrible thing to say—among civilians, when we prevented hundreds of thousands of such losses, getting people off the mountainsides and back to their homes in Kosovo. It is only a shame that between ourselves and the United Nations we have not managed to get as many people home in Bosnia as we should have by now; but that concerns not the defence forces but the way in which we organise ourselves in the European Union and the UN.

Neither the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) nor anyone else in the House has ever managed to tell me what else we could have done. We intervened and saved lives, and I am proud of that. Some lives were lost but, unfortunately, since the days of jousting in about 1300, it has been impossible to fight a war without some civilians being killed. Who can tell me that we as a nation and NATO as a whole did not do the absolute maximum, at the risk of our own people's lives, to ensure that as few civilians as possible were killed? I am sorry that some colleagues are not as proud as I am of what we did.

The anti-ballistic missile treaty has been mentioned. I am not sure that it has anything to do with the White Paper but, as the subject was not ruled out of order, my response must also be in order. The Americans are proposing to tackle a distinct threat posed by the fact that nations such as Libya, Iraq and Syria, through technology developed in China and North Korea, will soon be able to put a missile into this country. That missile could contain a nuclear warhead, chemicals, nerve gas or whatever else someone such as Saddam or Gaddafi can come up with.

The Americans want to put a missile site in Alaska with 100 interceptors that can stop that happening to them, and they are prepared, if we pay our share, to put the same facility in northern Europe to stop it happening to us. I believe that £3 billion spent over 10 years among all the EU states is not a bad investment to stop anthrax being spread in Southwark, for example, where I live in London.

The proposal has nothing to do with Russia or China. Russia has 4,500 ballistic missiles of which perhaps 1,500 are operational. The scale of operation that the Americans are proposing cannot stop those, but it can stop the rogue missile: if five interceptors are fired at it, one will probably get it. The proposal is eminently sensible and we should go along with it. I am sure that if the people of Halifax were told about it seriously—if any press were attending this debate, for example—they might even agree to it, too.

People have talked about a nuclear strike. We are not about to launch a nuclear strike against Baghdad—we are a civilised nation, for goodness sake—but we have to take defensive measures against rogue states. Nuclear strikes have not happened for 50 years, with the Mexican stand-off between huge powers—I was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for one whole year—and, frankly, that has served us well.

I think that we should arm all our 10 submarines with Tomahawk missiles. They should be offshore supporting every task force that we have. They can reach 500 miles inland, and 80 per cent. of the world's population and nearly every capital city other than Moscow are in that range. They are a wonderful back-up for our forces.

I believe that the strategic defence review and the White Paper were right and that the Defence Committee was right to support them. Those who would call the Falkland Islands the Malvinas at the first disagreement are wrong. Both Government and Opposition Members should support the motion.

7.59 pm
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

I join others in paying a brief tribute to a remarkable colleague. Michael Colvin was the last member of the Defence Committee to have served in action—coincidentally in an operation in which my father took part. He was a distinguished colleague, a very kind man and a good friend to many of us on both sides of the House. The way in which he and Nichola died is, as many have said, a tragedy that the whole House mourns.

The White Paper states:

the principles and conclusions of the Review— the strategic defence review—

are proving as robust and well-founded as we expected them to be ö the success of our forces in Kosovo shows this. I shall argue that our experience in Kosovo and the equally important operation in Chechnya point to the opposite conclusion.

The original SDR document said:

there is today no direct military threat to the United Kingdom or Western Europe. Nor do we foresee the re-emergence of such a threat. That contrasts with a document published last year by the United States commission on national security, set up by the President with the support of Congress, which says:

America will become increasingly vulnerable to hostile attack on our homeland, and our military superiority will not entirely protect usöStates, terrorists, and other disaffected groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction and mass disruption, and some will use them. Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers. What a contrast between the complacency of the SDR and the realism of the American approach.

I wish to argue that, for that fundamental reason, the SDR was wrong to put all our eggs in the basket of an expeditionary approach, and that that approach, such as it is, is much too narrowly focused. At the end of my speech I shall touch briefly on the three horsemen galloping through the armed forces: budgetary cuts, the European security and defence identity and political correctness.

The White Paper makes much of Kosovo. It is too early to judge the success of the operation, although I share many of the concerns that some Labour Members, including the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), have expressed about it. However, two aspects of the Kosovo operation are relevant to the future of our armed forces.

The first is that if Slobodan Milosevic had held out for another two or three weeks and we had had to go in, we would have been in dire straits. We would have had very quickly to persuade at least three of our major allies, including America, to join us in that operation. Those who are aware of the delicate state of relations between the White House and Capitol Hill at that time will understand the considerable difficulties that that would have entailed. The French and Germans were also showing little enthusiasm.

For Britain, having to send in troops would have meant calling up between 15,000 and 25,000 reservists, many from units threatened with cuts or in the course of downsizing—a dreadful word—as a result of the outcome of the SDR. That hastily slung together force—originally designed for a different purpose as a peacekeeping force—would have been sent in with winter coming on within weeks for a task for which it was ill equipped. We were very lucky that Milosevic collapsed when he did.

That brings me to the second aspect, which is Russia's role. Whatever the balance of factors that led Milosevic to cave in, there is no doubt that Russian pressure was one of them. We miserably failed to acknowledge that. Indeed, had General Jackson obeyed his orders from Wesley Clark, we would have gone out of our way to humiliate the Russians.

I have been privileged to go to Russia twice in the past four years. During my visit last year with the Defence Committee, I was struck by how bitter and marginalised Russians across a range of political views feel. We have moved from Kosovo dominating television news to Chechnya dominating it. There is some truth in Russia's accusation against us of hypocrisy. Of course we are right to criticise some of what has happened in Chechnya, such as the barbaric looting of some civilian areas and villages long after any fighters have passed through and the treatment of some of the Chechen prisoners. However, at no point have I heard loud voices from the west acknowledging that, as the legitimate Government, the Russians were entitled to restore the rule of law in Chechnya, which was the greatest centre of the organised crime that now controls almost half the Russian economy.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Brazier

I cannot because of the time constraint.

We killed 500 innocent civilians, which was a remarkably small number in the circumstances, in our bombing of Kosovo. When we criticise the Russians for the 30,000 civilians whom they have killed in Chechnya, let us remember that, while there have been many deaths that should not have occurred, they did not have the benefit of smart bombs and they had to fight in much more difficult territory—built-up areas that could not be overcome simply with air power.

Faced with blanket condemnation from the west, Russian foreign policy is moving into three grooves, all of which would be familiar to some extent to analysts from the 19th century. The first is a resurgent fear of the west. I supported the reunification of Germany, but the Russians can see NATO creeping towards them and they hear Mr. Prodi say, as he did in Latvia last week, that we should extend article 5 to members of the European Union. He said:

Any attack or aggression against an EU member would be an attack or aggression against the whole EU. What message does that send to Russia about the Baltic states joining the EU?

The second strand developing in Russian foreign policy is that it is looking for friends where it can. Even a year ago, analysts were openly talking at cocktail parties in Moscow about the fact that Russia was selling nuclear and other technologies of mass destruction to third world countries, most notably Iran. The third strand is that it has become clear that the one thing that distinguishes Chechnya from Kosovo and the western attitude towards Belgrade from the western attitude towards Moscow is that one country has nuclear weapons and the other does not. That has been noticed in Washington, where it is believed that 28 third-world countries will have a nuclear capability in the next five to 10 years.

I am proud to serve under the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Defence Committee. In his excellent speech to the Royal United Services Institute after the strategic defence review, he said that we had not yet seen a strategic security review, which would have to address the problems of "asymmetric" threats: terrorism, possibly using crude chemical and biological weapons ö the other weapons which the weak may choose to deploy against the strong. He went on to point out: SDR has not sufficiently addressed the problems of dealing with asymmetric threats or the critical role that reserves should play.

We should remember the Japanese subway bombing. A similar event could happen in our underground, involving thousands rather than dozens with the effective use of chemical weapons. For nearly 30 years, up to 18 battalion-sized units—we only have 40 infantry battalions in the regular Army and 15 in the Territorial Army—have been stationed in Northern Ireland. That should remind us of the dangers of a serious terrorist threat armed with weapons of mass destruction against this country. Yet the Government, for the first time, have offered the House estimates that specifically rule out defending the home base for the foreseeable future.

In America, 177 units of the National Guard have been formed with a specialist nuclear, biological and chemical monitoring role. Behind their 10 regular Army divisions, there are 13 National Guard divisions. Those divisions can be used for home defence, supplying the vast manpower-intensive effort involved in searching for terrorists. They can also be used—and this brings me to my secondary point about the shape of our expeditionary capability—to back the United States' expeditionary capability. At this very moment, the American sector in Bosnia is under the command of the National Guard's Black Horse Divisional Headquarters, from Texas.

National Guard and US Marine reserve units have also been used to huge effect in the Gulf and in subsequent operations, supplying tanks, artillery, fast jet fighters and engineers. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) on his comments on the Royal Auxiliary Air Force; we need some flying units to be formed, and then we will be in business.

Our armed forces are in danger of becoming great at fighting wars elsewhere, but unable to protect the home base. Also, however, our ability to sustain an operation at a distance is extremely weak, as to do so requires reserves of manpower, equipment and formed units. The European defence initiative is supposed to be sustainable for only a year, and that just about epitomises the muddle in the thinking that produced it. Finally, I shall say a few words about the three horsemen that I mentioned at the outset. Much has been said about the figures that show the collapse in funding, but a few examples will show how bad the situation is. The programme of exercises has been greatly cut—inevitably—because of overstretch, but there was too little money left in the budget even to fund the few remaining high-intensity exercises that were planned.

I have spoken about the married quarters problem for 13 years, on and off, and the House has heard me with tolerance. A total of £l1 million has been taken off the married quarters repair programme, so what message does that send to our armed forces families?

At a dinner in Chatham last week, I was told of one result of the pursuit of efficiency savings. The authorities there are unable to repair the gymnasium, with the result that only half of it is in operation. What does that say about the fitness of our soldiers?

The second of the horsemen is the European security and defence identity. Several hon. Members have spoken so well on this subject that I shall not repeat their words, but I would remind the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson)—who has left the Chamber—that although many Americans would welcome European countries doing a bit more with regard to defence, they do not mean engaging in separate operations, but that we should spend a bit more. While the ESDI is going on, most of our continental partners are still slashing their defence budgets. Most notable among them is Germany, whose defence spending has been reduced to 1.3 per cent. of gross domestic product.

There is no money, we are getting increasingly tied into a muddled relationship with Europe, and the last of the three horsemen, the ethos of the services, is under attack. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) put the problem so well that I shall not repeat his words, but I have a question for the Government, who want to give the armed forces the values of today's civilian society. Do they think that those civilian values include physical fitness, discipline and self-sacrifice? Yet, without those values, an army is nothing.

8.14 pm
Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

I want to take up the point about the European security and defence identity. Members of the Select Committee on Defence visited Brussels three weeks ago. From our discussions, and the contributions made by Ministers in evidence sessions, it was clear that there are two versions of the ESDI. The first is the paranoid, hysterical version that we have heard from the Opposition Benches, both Front and Back. The second is the real version, and can be found in the transcripts of the documents dealing with the Petersberg tasks.

The ESDI is about crisis management, and getting better use of resources in Europe. At NATO and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, we were told that it was not a question of extra resources. The problem was that, although 2 million troops are available in Europe, it is not possible to deploy them in such a way that up to 40,000 will be available at any one time. The ESDI will ensure that 50,000 troops will be capable of being deployed, for a period of six months, after which another group of the same size will be available for deployment. That rotation will mean that there will need to be about 150,000 troops available for deployment or for sending to operational theatres in the continent of Europe.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) has already referred to the need for some European countries to shift away from the mentality of territorial defence. With existing resources, it should be possible for various countries to achieve a much more effective deployment of military forces. British military experts and their counterparts at SHAPE are trying to work out the mechanics involved in that.

I am pleased that the Government are at the forefront of the initiative, and are telling other countries that we will continue the contributions that we have made to operations over recent years. The French have also contributed to various operations, although to a lesser extent because their conscription system makes involvement more difficult for them. The initiative will require a significant change in the way that the German armed forces work, while other countries will also make a contribution.

That second analysis of the nuts and bolts of the ESDI contrasts sharply with the hysterical words of Tory Members.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gapes

No, I do not have time. I may give way near the end of my remarks, if there is some time left.

There have been interesting contributions from Conservative Front-Bench Members. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) is just about to leave the Chamber. I do not mind if he does leave, but—judging from a remark that he made today and from his speech last week, which I read carefully—he seems to be advocating a breach of the anti-ballistic missile treaty.

That position is not taken by the American Administration, but by the right wing of the Republican party. The division in the United States over national missile defence or theatre missile defence is clear. The Clinton Administration consider that any changes to the treaty must be brought about either in ways that are consistent with the existing ABM treaty, or which are agreed after negotiations with the Russians. Up to now, the Clinton Government have not advocated a unilateral breach of the ABM treaty.

America's Republican-led Congress has passed resolutions that did not make President Clinton completely happy, but the nature of the American political system meant that he was forced to go along with them. I am worried lest statements made in this House or elsewhere in western Europe are seized on by right-wing forces in the United States that are unilateralist and which oppose the coalition and the international agreement. The right wing of the Conservative party therefore fosters the global unilateralism of the right wing in the United States, with the aim of undermining the transatlantic co-operation that those of us who are Atlanticists—whether of the left or the right—wish to foster to build the collective security that will be so important to the European continent in the future.

I am very pleased with the report from the Defence Committee which I have joined only recently. It highlights a number of areas of concern. It raises issues about which there is more for the Government to do. However, at least we have, for the first time, an itemised breakdown of ethnic recruitment to our armed services. The Select Committee has been pressing for such a breakdown for 15 years. We can see that the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are not doing very well, and need to do better. We can press for a strengthening of recruitment so that our armed forces can reflect more accurately the society that they serve.

I should like to take up the point of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) by saying that I believe it important that our armed services have more women and a more representative cross-section of people, not just at the level of the ordinary squaddie but right the way through the structures. When we, like the American armed forces, have a Chief of the Defence Staff who is from an ethnic minority, we will be able to say that we have eradicated the problems that have arisen over many years in armed forces recruitment and retention.

Dr. Julian Lewis

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. On a lighter note, and by the same token, would he say that the fact that we had a female Prime Minister means that we eradicated the problem of women's representation in Parliament?

Mr. Gapes

I do not wish to go down that road, except to say that I had far more confidence in General Colin Powell and his judgment, both military and political, than I ever had in Baroness Thatcher's.

There are some difficult and worrying developments. Paragraph 47 of the Select Committee report points out that arms control and disarmament have not gone well over recent years. We have seen the failure of the Americans to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty. We have seen the potential difficulty regarding a growing proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the tests in India and Pakistan. The non-proliferation review conference that is due to start in April will, as I understand it, be extremely difficult. Pledges made a few years ago about measures for further disarmament are not being fulfilled because of the United States and Russia not ratifying the START 2 negotiation treaty. That means that we have a blockage—an impediment—to any further development of nuclear disarmament negotiations. That is a very serious problem, and if there is a breakdown in the relationship between the United States and Russia over the anti-ballistic missile treaty, that augurs badly for the future not just of the relationship between those two very powerful countries but of European defence and security. The issue needs further consideration in the House, and I am pleased that the Select Committee has said that it will be given that consideration.

Finally, I concur with all the remarks made about Michael Colvin. I did not know him as well as some other people did, but I always found him a most amenable and intelligent man. He is a great loss to the House.

8.24 pm
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

To continue in the same vein as other right hon. and hon. Members, I associate myself with, and endorse, the tributes that have been paid to Michael Colvin. He and Nichola were good friends to me for 25 years or so. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I grieve at their death and I shall miss them very greatly indeed.

I shall be selective and brief. When the Secretary of State opened the debate on Tuesday, he eulogised smart procurement. In reply, a number of my hon. Friends expressed the grave doubts and cynicism that exist on these Benches. To any dispassionate, objective observer, many aspects of procurement under this Government remain profoundly unsatisfactory—a sorry and all-too-familiar saga of delayed decisions on programmes that are essential to the effectiveness of our armed forces and, almost invariably, massive cost overruns. Although the Government talk of modernised systems of procurement, the supporting evidence is very patchy. With chapter 5 of the White Paper in mind, particularly the recognition of the interdependence between nations and companies mentioned on page 44, I shall focus on just two procurement programmes. I acknowledge that what I say will be coloured by constituency interests.

The Eurofighter Typhoon enters front-line service in 2005. It will be armed with Raytheon advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles—AMRAAM. These are to be superseded from 2008 by the new beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile—BVRAAM. Bids for the BVRAAM were submitted to the Ministry of Defence as long ago as May 1998, and the overdue decision has yet to be announced. Given the £16 billion investment in the Eurofighter, few people would deny that it is essential that the aircraft is equipped with the best possible missile to ensure that it can provide future air supremacy and superiority for our forces. Obviously, the possession of the best possible missile will considerably boost the aircraft's export potential.

It was precisely to meet that end—to provide the best possible missile—that Raytheon Systems Ltd., Shorts Missile Systems and the Basingstoke-based Thomson Thorn Missile Electronics, teamed up with a wide range of other British and European companies. They offer the extended-range air-to-air missile—ERAAMplus. I wonder whether it has been sufficiently appreciated that ERAAMpIus can be provided for about half the Ministry of Defence BVRAAM budget of £900 million by merging the BVRAAM requirement with the ongoing United States AMRAAM development programme. That would be a good start for a Government seeking to make £2 billion in savings over 10 years through smart procurement. It would bring the United Kingdom full access to United States air-to-air technology, as well as ensuring interoperability in future coalition operations, for the simple reason that the United States uses ERAAMplus.

What interests me from a constituency point of view—many other right hon. and hon. Members share this interest—is that about two thirds of the work for the ERAAMpIus programme will be undertaken in the United Kingdom. If we throw on top of that the 50 per cent. of work that will be done in the United Kingdom for the American missiles and the export potential, it can be understood why the ERAAMpIus programme will create and sustain some 3,000 jobs in United Kingdom companies.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Does my hon. Friend understand the risk of fitting a foreign missile to a domestic aeroplane? The United States might withhold supply of the missile if we wanted to sell the Eurofighter Typhoon to other countries.

Mr. Hunter

I am well aware of that argument; as my hon. Friend knows, it has been well rehearsed. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not pursue it again, because of the shortage of time. I acknowledge that it is often made.

There is a second programme in which it will be interesting to see whether the Government put into practice the policies and principles on procurement set out in the White Paper. I refer to the procurement of a successor identification friend or foe system. It is widely acknowledged that Raytheon Systems in Harlow—not in Basingstoke—has been at the forefront of that technology for more than 50 years. The company has put together a bid that offers immense advantages to the UK defence industry as a whole. About 85 per cent. of all identification work would be done in the UK; there would be 45 UK subcontractors, five of whom would—hopefully—be in Basingstoke.

Those two programmes—the extended-range air-to-air missile and the Raytheon SIFF solution—would bring substantial advantages to the UK defence industry as a whole. It will be interesting to see whether the Government can live up to and deliver the expectations that they have raised.

I make my concluding comments in the light of chapter 4 of the White Paper, "People in Defence". In relation to Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State said that

the Government cannot and will not contemplate anything that suggests any equivalence between the security forces and terrorists ö there is no way in which such equivalence would be acceptable.—[Official Report, 22 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 1397.] Those are reassuring words. I hope that they carry weight. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence realises that the Government have created a credibility problem in relation to those matters. The present, interminable inquiry into the shootings in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday is offensive to the Army and unnecessary. Initially, it was to have been held under conditions that would have endangered the lives of soldiers on duty that day. It is a public relations gimmick designed to appease Irish republican terrorism and is thus a disgrace.

The Government have already shown that, to appease terrorism, they are prepared to play politics with the honour of a regiment and to sacrifice the magnificent RUC. My accusation is that, as they have already shown such disdain and disregard for some of those in the forefront of the fight against terrorism, they have only themselves to blame if some people fear that they are capable one day of doing the same again, even if it is not their declared intention at present.

8.32 pm
Laura Moffatt (Crawley)

I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate. I cannot possibly make my speech without saying a word or two about Michael Colvin, whom I considered to be my hon. Friend. He was a delightful Member. I speak on behalf of women Members, because my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) and I were the first two women ever to serve on the Select Committee on Defence. After more than three decades, the Committee was a boy zone—to say the least—so it was a tricky one for us to join. Michael Colvin was delightful. He complimented us on our contribution to the Committee not only in the Chamber, but privately. I shall never forget that, because he made our service to the Committee much more special—he made us feel valued. I shall remember him always. I cannot imagine the pain that his family is going through.

When one joins the Defence Committee, one comes with no baggage; one has no preconceptions—unfortunately, one has no experience either. However, through that Committee I have learned much about the work of the defence industry and of our forces. It has been the most rewarding part of my work at the House of Commons and has given me an enormous grounding. I have learned how much the world of defence is changing. When I hear hon. Members talking as though defence and our armed forces should be kept in aspic—they should never change, develop and modernise—that seems a great shame. I find it fairly astonishing that a Government such as this, who are prepared to meet the challenges of a modern world, are greeted with derision.

Although I do not have enormous experience of the subject, I am aware that the view that everything terrible with defence procurement has happened since 1 May 1997 is complete and utter nonsense. Those who give evidence to the Defence Committee put that argument to bed very quickly. We have faced difficulties with defence procurement over the past two decades and we now have to reap a terrible reward.

If our armed forces are our most precious commodity, they need to be valued. There is no question about that—we must ensure that they are valued. From the visits that the Select Committee has made, we know that they like to be busy, but that they do not want to be overstretched. They like to be rewarded for what they do, and they do not want us to undervalue them. Therefore, it is important that we understand their needs. That is the challenge.

I have listened to speeches in the House that have suggested that it could undermine our armed forces if we were ever truly to embrace equal opportunities in relation to race, ethnic origin, religion, gender, social background and—this is the most difficult for hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, to accept—sexual orientation. I do not know how many Members have heard of, or are fans of, the comic Ali G. He is truly wonderful and I advise them to obtain his video "Ali G Innit". Major General Kenneth Perkins MBE, DFC appears in it and Ali G asks him, "What about gays in the armed forces?" One of the most decorated members of the armed forces says, "There have always been gays in the armed forces. If you want to make a problem of it, there's going to be a problem. If you don't, it'll be fine." That is the best way forward. Given the advice that officers in the armed forces have been given, the challenge can be met and we can have armed forces of which we can be proud and which are still able to carry out their duties.

Recruitment is on the increase and my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces has told us how well we are doing on that. Retention remains a difficulty, although the problem is not as bad as it was. We have seen all sorts of ways in which retention can be improved. They include helping families—an issue in which I am especially interested—improving education for people in the armed forces and extending leave after they have been away. All those measures will help with job satisfaction and will make being in the armed forces more worthwhile.

On a recent visit to Kosovo, I was amazed to see the awful conditions in which some of our men and women lived. I was there for only a couple of days, but if I had to live in those conditions, I would have given up long ago and come home. Our armed forces were living under canvas and using chemical loos. The Committee Clerk, Carol Oxborough, and I were so cold one night that we could not sleep, but we did not dare complain because of the awful conditions in which our service personnel were living. Did they once complain about what they were doing? They did not, because they felt valued and were working in the community.

We heard much in the press about the dreadful delays in the provision of temporary field accommodation. However, we spoke to members of the armed forces about that accommodation and they told us that they did not want to stay in it. They said that they liked being where they were in the heart of the community. They could protect and assist people and do the job for which they were trained. It is important that we make our armed forces feel that they are doing the job that they want to do.

Like most Members, I am interested in people in the armed forces, but I came to the subject of defence through having to deal with procurement issues in my constituency. I have listened to the debate and it seems that the procurement industry is changing enormously. Some say that, in the next decade, we will have only three major defence companies in the whole western world. If that is true, it makes complete nonsense of the old allegiances, and we can no longer sustain arguments about whether everything that the Americans do is wonderful or whether all our actions are wonderful and we should ignore the Americans.

I sound a word of caution about the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency: the MOD should ensure that DERA follows its advice on procurement, and no action should put that at risk.

I turn now to defence medical services, on which I have most empathy and feel most pain. As a nurse, my visit to Royal hospital, Haslar, which was under threat of closure, and my understanding of how those people were feeling will remain with me, although I completely support the view of the MOD and defence medical services. The situation reflects what is happening in the NHS throughout the country. More than 70 trusts are having to make decisions to ensure that all their people work on one site and that they get the right expertise and mix of cases. All those issues were affecting Royal hospital, Haslar, as they affect Crawley hospital in my constituency, so I can empathise with the staff at Haslar and their sense that everything would fall to pieces if the hospital closed.

There can be a bright future for the defence medical services, and that future must be with the new centre for defence medicine. However, I urge the MOD not to delay in setting up that centre, otherwise there will be no confidence that the defence medical services will have the expertise and training that they need to care for members of the armed forces. Their difficulty will be getting the right case mix, making sure that secondary care is working and ensuring that personnel get the specialist care that they need to operate in the field.

I very much hope that, if ESDI goes ahead, it will apply to medical services. I should like there to be much more co-operation in peacekeeping and in conflict resolution, so that there are centralised hospitals with staff working together, rather than each nation having its own hospital. Medicine is a universal language and translates easily into joint working. If ESDI means anything, it means an improvement in our medical services, not only in secondary care for people here but in the care of those in the theatre of conflict.

8.43 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

This has been an extremely interesting debate, and like everyone else I should like to start by paying my tribute to Michael Colvin. As many hon. Members have said, he was an outstanding and unfailingly courteous man. Unfortunately, I could not attend last week's debate because I was dining with a senior RAF officer, but I read Michael Colvin's contribution and it was, as ever, extremely well informed. He had immense knowledge and a deep love of the subject, as well as a deep love of his country and the countryside.

I had the great pleasure of staying a night with Michael Colvin and Mrs. C—as he always used to refer to his wife—at Tangley house, which they adored. It was not only a lovely house but a lovely home, where two wonderful people lived. It is a great loss for the country, the constituency and the House.

As several hon. Members have suggested, the White Paper is rather short, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) said, it is not very well put together at that. By contrast, the Select Committee report is extremely informative. It is packed full of information that is notably absent from the White Paper and which is normally set out by the MOD when it produces the defence estimates. It is a shame that that was not forthcoming in the White Paper.

The deficiencies in the White Paper are more than amply made up for by the report of the Select Committee, under the leadership of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). The report is a damning indictment of the Government's handling of our defences. Above all else, it is clear that there has been a relentless decline in the Treasury's commitment to funding the services to the extent necessary to match the Government's aspirations of playing their part on the world stage. There is no doubt about the commitment of our troops, but there is doubt about the Treasury's commitment to sustain the required investment in order to ensure that we are able to deploy our troops when the Government wish to do so. It is apparent that that is what the Prime Minister, who wishes to project power, wants.

It is a matter of great concern when the Select Committee concludes that the finances of the Ministry of Defence are inadequate and continually declining. By contrast, the United States defence budget is increasing, although levels among our continental partners are mostly on the decline, too.

It is important that we are able to raise investment so that there is the necessary training, because we cannot predict our obligations. The one thing that we know in matching resources to commitments is that we do not know what our commitments might be. If we want to ensure that we are ready to meet unexpected commitments, we must will the means by which our assets can be made available and our resources suitably deployed.

I shall make one brief comment on Europe. I do not think that there is a great deal of disagreement across the Floor of the House about the need for European countries to get together to ensure at least some co-operation, so that if European countries, including ourselves, wish to become involved in some situation, but the United States does not, we have the means to do so.

There is nothing revolutionary in such a suggestion. Indeed, in her famous Bruges speech in 1988, my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Thatcher, with whom I had the privilege of working, said:

It is to NATO that we owe the peace that has been maintained for over 40 years. She went on to say that it was important that European nations commit themselves to strong defence. At the time, of course, we still faced the Soviet threat. She continued:

We should develop the WEU, not as an alternative to NATO, but as a means of strengthening Europe's contribution to the common defence of the west. That point has been echoed by several of my hon. Friends. To go further, allowing the European Union to drive a wedge between ourselves and the United States would be damaging and must be resisted. Therefore, I do not support Mr. Prodi's desire for a European army. There is a world of difference between the comments of my right hon. and noble Friend and what Mr. Prodi is saying.

I want to raise several other issues, and I shall be brief on each. It would be inappropriate not to mention the question of morale. Representing a military constituency, I am aware of the strains on families as a result of our troops continuing commitments. The Government ought to reflect on the issue. It is no good just saying that the recruitment figures are good news. They are welcome, but the Minister should be much more worried about the serious problem of retention. It is one thing to recruit new people, who have cost nothing at the point of arrival in the services, but a haemorrhage of people in whom a substantial amount of public money has been invested, who have undergone the training and are voting with their feet by leaving, is wholly different.

The fact that the Royal Air Force is short of 95 fast-jet pilots is indicative of the problems facing only one service. That the Army is about 5,000 troops below strength, with no likelihood of that deficiency being made up until 2005, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) explained, is also a serious matter.

The Government should reflect on the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) about the ethos of the armed services. I shall not rehearse all the arguments that I have made previously on the question of homosexuals in the armed forces and related issues. The hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) said that she thought that the services should reflect society. The job of the services is not to reflect society, but to defend this country, and they have been singularly successful in so doing. The armed forces are one of the few institutions in this country that command universal respect. There is a good old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't mend it."

There is grave danger attendant on undermining the ethos of the services. Service men and women are special people—they are the only people who write their contracts in blood, the only people who put their lives at risk day in, day out, doing their job for their country. It is appropriate that we should understand the values, ethos and traditions that form part of the services. All those members of the Defence Committee who have visited various military installations throughout the country know well the important role those values play in the services way of life.

I attended a boxing match in the Maida gymnasium in Aldershot last Thursday. Watching two regiments slugging it out was a remarkable experience. Theirs was a truly gutsy performance, and they displayed tremendous sportsmanship. Those qualities, which we have seen deployed on the streets of Kosovo, were demonstrated in that gymnasium.

I am concerned about the issue of rapid deployability. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) raised the question of heavy lift. The Government have a problem with the joint rapid reaction force, in particular the need for that force to be able to react rapidly. I am not sure that they have addressed the issue, other than by the commissioning of ships. It is absolutely essential that we achieve the heavy lift requirement needed to make good our commitment to deploy such forces rapidly.

If the Apache attack helicopter is to be a key part of that rapidly deployable force, and if, as the Defence Committee pointed out in a previous report, a regiment of 16 Apache attack helicopters brings with it no fewer than 220 support vehicles, I am not sure whether we have the rapid reaction force we ought to have. The Government must address that matter with greater speed. Two C 17s alone are not the answer to the problem.

The hon. Member for Crawley spoke about DERA, whose headquarters are in my constituency. It is not fair to DERA to leave it in a state of limbo. I and my party are opposed to the proposed public-private partnership. I am extremely concerned that DERA's research budget is being cut each year with no alternative being put in its place. The hon. Lady is right to say that DERA's job must be to provide independent expertise to the MOD, to ensure that the MOD is not ripped off by its suppliers.

However, it is also extremely important that DERA retains the confidence of the United States of America, with which it collaborates. As DERA's chief executive, Sir John Chisholm, has made clear to me, unless we put investment in research, we shall have nothing to offer the United States. DERA is in a state of limbo and we have to do something to resolve it. My preferred solution would be to scrap the proposed PPP and to restore investment in research to previous levels.

I have three final points. The first concerns Meteor—the beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile. As I pointed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), it is a local matter for me, as BAe Systems has its headquarters in Farnborough. I have seen what happened in the past when we have been at the mercy of the United States—for example, when a missile is supplied by the US on an air frame or platform made by us. We must make sure that we are not in the same position again, where the US Congress can veto defence sales from this country.

That brings me neatly to my second point—defence sales, which have not been mentioned so far in the debate. They form an extremely important part of our defence posture. Our domestic requirements do not provide sufficient economies of scale to enable us to get the production runs, save at prohibitive cost. The only way that we can get the best equipment from our factories for our own use is by promoting defence sales. That gives us not only the production runs, but the advantage of being able to help our friends. If our friends suddenly turn out to be enemies or become unacceptable, perhaps we should withhold sales of spare parts, as we should be doing with Zimbabwe. We should not sell that country a single further spare part.

Finally, I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said about the Bloody Sunday inquiry. I have friends and constituents who are former members of the Parachute Regiment and who were involved in that tragedy 30 years ago. It is grotesque that the Prime Minister has set up the inquiry entirely to appease republican sentiment in Ireland, and that the Ministry of Defence is spending vast sums of public money to cover the legal costs of the men seeking representation before the inquiry. What the Prime Minister has done is unfortunate and deeply damaging to everyone concerned. It has reopened old wounds and has no prospect of doing anything other than prolonging the trauma for many of those involved in the tragedy.

8.57 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

I know that others want to speak in the debate so, in view of the time, I shall limit my remarks to just one subject—cluster bombs and Kosovo.

I do not believe, however, that the subject of nuclear weapons has been properly aired during the debate. The United Kingdom, Russia and the United States are developing policies that make it easier to use nuclear weapons, or to use them earlier in a dispute. Whatever the contorted logic that has led to that policy position in those countries, I do not believe that the majority of people in the UK or the other countries favour a policy to facilitate the use of nuclear weapons. I hope that we shall return to that debate in due course.

On cluster bombs and Kosovo, the situation in the former Yugoslavia had got to the stage where military action was justified, but the methods whereby some of the military strikes were carried out were questionable. The decision to drop weapons only from above 15,000 ft meant that the risk of casualties among allied pilots was reduced, but made the number of casualties on the ground far greater. Many of those casualties were civilians.

The objection is a matter not just of policy, but of physics. From 15,000 ft there is an appreciable delay—30 or 40 seconds—before a dropped bomb hits the ground. That means that a bomb may move from its target because of unexpected wind conditions, or there may be a change of circumstances on the ground, such as movement of civilian trucks or trains.

That is not the only limitation caused by the physics. From 15,000 ft it was impossible for pilots to confirm absolutely that their targets were not civilian vehicles. That led to many casualties.

The use of cluster bombs added a further level of indiscriminate use of military force. It is clear that the RAF was not ready to use these weapons under the operational conditions of Operation Allied Force. That is apparent from the trials that had to be held at Luce bay on 6 and 7 April 1999. If the RAF had been ready, the trials would not have been needed. The greatest difference between using those weapons in Kosovo and during training is the height from which they are dropped. British cluster bombs—BL755s—were designed to be dropped from a much lower height than 15,000 ft.

The use of the weapons that we are considering had several consequences. The bomblets were scattered over a wider area than if they had been dropped from a lower height. It has also been alleged that deployment from a greater height meant that more bomblets did not explode when they hit the ground. That created an even bigger long-term hazard.

I have asked a series of parliamentary questions on the subject. The Ministry of Defence claimed that the height at which cluster bombs were dropped made no difference to their failure rate, which remained at 5 per cent. The RAF is not the only user of the BL755. Those weapons were sold to the former Yugoslavia and used by the Serbs against Croatia. The Croatian Government claimed that the failure rate for sub-munitions on the weapons used against them was nearer 7 per cent.

The difference between 5 per cent. and 7 per cent. may not seem great, but the RAF used more than 500 BL755s in the Kosovo operation. Each BL755 carries nearly 150 sub-munitions. The extra 2 per cent. would mean another 1,500 unexploded bombs in Kosovo.

It is important to make some form of independent assessment of the way in which the weapons behave in practice. No matter how good the case for military action, we have a moral duty to ensure that it does not have an appalling legacy.

The lessons of Kosovo must be learned. The use of cluster bombs should be properly and frankly assessed, and not whitewashed to justify the operation. I accept that the cost of reducing the risk to civilians may entail taking greater risks with the lives of armed forces personnel from this country and those of our allies. However, it is not right unnecessarily to slaughter many thousands of civilians because the risk to an individual pilot is slightly greater.

Doing the right thing is sometimes neither cheap nor without risk. However, that is the price for doing the right thing unless we are prepared to put more civilians, including those for whom we are supposed to be acting, at greater risk of losing their lives.

9.2 pm

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I join others in expressing my deep regret at the deaths of Michael Colvin and his wife Nichola. I knew Michael Colvin for nearly 30 years, from when he was first elected to Hampshire county council. During my time as leader of that council, he and the late former Member of Parliament for Eastleigh, Stephen Milligan, were usually the only Members of Parliament who readily supported the council when necessary. Michael Colvin supported many ventures in the county of Hampshire. He will be missed here, in his constituency, and in Europe, and I stress that Hampshire has lost a staunch supporter. I am sure that the county will at some stage want to record its regret at his death and its deepest appreciation of the part that he played in its life.

Michael Colvin made many interesting interventions during the time that I served with him on the Select Committee on Defence, not least in the battle to save Haslar hospital. He, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt)—who did not serve on the Committee—and I were instrumental in pushing through several of the final recommendations, which have left the door open for the Ministry of Defence to be able to save Haslar hospital. The Save Haslar campaign is very much alive, and it would be good to hear the Minister say something positive about the future of the hospital.

It is regrettable that I am speaking in a defence debate on the same day as I received a letter from the Minister for the Armed Forces that states that constituents' jobs are again on the line. In the letter, the Minister states that a review has identified efficiencies that can be made at the defence munitions depot as Gosport, and that up to 30 per cent. in manpower savings will have to be made in the next four months. That represents several hundred jobs in the Greater Portsmouth area—once again, jobs that we can ill afford to lose. Over the past century, they have been filled by men and women who have given loyal service in defence of the realm, and neither they nor their futures should be forgotten in the debate. The strategic defence review and the White Paper have come together, but they are littered beyond belief with financial inadequacies.

The Kosovo situation has been referred to today and last week. Like many Members, I have visited Kosovo more than once, and for a long time it has appeared to me that many people in that province see KFOR as the enemy. Sadly, as many Members predicted, the Kosovo Liberation Army will grasp any opportunity to push its political view. It wants a fully autonomous Kosovo, but if it cannot achieve that, its second-best option—which is probably the worst—is a Greater Albania. That may take longer to achieve, but it is the KLA's long-term aim. Any Member who has talked to representatives of those who hold the guns in Kosovo over the past few years knows that that is what they were fighting for and I believe that, before long, we shall be confronted with open hostility to our forces and others.

Lord Robertson recently made it clear to a meeting of the Western European Union at which all NATO Ministers were represented that 10 years was an optimistic appraisal of the time it would take to achieve any sort of solution in Kosovo. Once again, no real end-plan was in sight and no political solution offered, at either last week's NATO meeting or the WEU meeting the week before. That must be extremely worrying to everyone who cares about peace in Europe and in the world.

The lessons of Bosnia are there for us to learn, and those who have visited it recently will know that people have not put sectarianism behind them. There are still several different communities, investment goes into businesses on an ethnic basis—Muslims do not invest in non-Muslim businesses—and Bosnia consists of the old and the very young. All the well educated young people, who might have brought the country together, are long gone and many have no intention of ever going back. The same will be the case in Kosovo if we are not careful. Not enough effort has been put into thinking through the end result or learning the lessons of Bosnia. Sadly, a heavy price is still being paid.

I spent part of this morning with the Croatian ambassador and a constituent from a neighbouring constituency. We were talking to the Croatian authorities about the death of his son—a young British soldier serving in Bosnia who was killed when he was attacked by Serbs while on leave in Croatia. We were trying to get justice so that the British Army would represent the father at the trial, but sadly no help has been forthcoming except to transport him there. He needs advice about what is going on in the court. Why has he been unable to get greater assistance from the Prime Minister and successive Defence Ministers? For goodness sake, I ask the Ministry of Defence to give the family some peace of mind and the legal representation in the court proceedings that they desire.

The White Paper exposes a number of flaws in a range of topics. They are not discussed, but the Defence Committee report has exposed the deficiencies and, as Members have said, the evidence given to us provided a clear example of that. In one way or another, £20 billion of taxpayers' money has been thrown away and two thirds of the 65 major weapons systems valued at more than £10 million went over budget and were significantly delayed. The Bowman communication system was an absolute disaster—money haemorrhaged and we still have not achieved a satisfactory solution.

I was interested when the Minister of State talked about the success of the Tornado upgrade. At the beginning of his speech he said that upgraded Tornados had flown bombing missions to Kosovo and to Serbia and had dropped smart bombs.

Mr. Spellar

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hancock

The Minister shakes his head, but hon. Members should read Hansard tomorrow. That is not borne out by the evidence of people who spoke to aircrews who went to Kosovo. They did not fly modified Tornados with smart weapons on them in missions in Kosovo. If the Minister wants to intervene, I shall willingly give way.

Legions of times, disinformation has been the order of the day. The arguments over the rifle were ludicrous. The Conservatives cannot opt out of their responsibility for that. The issues surrounding the Eurofighter must still be causing great alarm in the MOD, given the overruns and delays on that project. Whether the plane will achieve what we expected as a military weapon is debatable.

Many hon. Members referred to individual procurement projects in which the MOD has been involved. I should like to raise the issue of the Charm project: a weapon that the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham), who spoke about Bishopton, would be keenly interested in, as are my constituents who work at Portsmouth Aviation, given the shabby way in which they have been treated. I still await with interest the response to questions that I have tabled.

The Minister failed to answer questions about training and exercises, either when he was challenged at the Dispatch Box or during his presentation. In the past 12 months, eight naval exercises, 20 army exercises and 12 RAF exercises have been cancelled. The Royal Marines deployment of 800 men to Norway to get much needed training has once again been abandoned.

No one has mentioned the two new aircraft carriers. We are led to believe that the JSF multi-role fighter will not be produced in the form first suggested. That will considerably change the design of the two carriers. Some hon. Members may be more concerned about the names of those carriers and where they are to be based—I make a plea for Portsmouth—but I believe that the important thing is to discover whether the MOD still intend to deliver on those two carriers for the Royal Navy. What type of planes will fly from them? If we are to believe the Americans, planes will have to have a range of at least 500 miles if they are to defend a carrier properly. What type of carrier are we going to produce, and what will that do to the budget?

The problem of morale will not be satisfactorily resolved. I accept entirely that much is being done in the MOD, but the real issue is how all this will be paid for. I was delighted that more is being done for family welfare, and I share the Minister's conviction in that regard. However, there is more to be done. Married quarters need to be upgraded, despite the fact that tens of millions of pounds are to be spent. The Government have been told that they need to spend hundreds of millions to bring that stock up to the required standard.

People will have to be paid well to remain in our armed services. The shabbiness of the White Paper and the SDR is that financing and commitments will not be matched. That will mean further overstretch, badly procured defence or a severe weakening of our personnel's ability to do the job that we want them to do. None of that can be right. We need a properly financed and planned defence strategy, with commitments that we can live up to and a personnel provided with the right equipment for the right job.

9.14 pm
Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

I echo the tributes paid to Michael Colvin, who was truly a gallant and honourable gentleman. I also express my deep sympathy to his family, and that of his wife.

Let me begin with people, and echo the tributes that have been paid to our armed forces. As the first line of the White Paper says,

Britain's Armed Forces are among the best in the world. They do us proud. I also want to mention the service families who, time and again, have demonstrated their commitment and support through thick and thin, especially during the past 12 months.

As the White Paper rightly says, the quality of our people is the single most important component of Britain's defence capability. Those people give us the critical edge that leads to success. I welcome the measures included in the policy for people: they must remain a priority, as the White Paper recognises. That is certainly the view of the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, who recently gave a presentation to the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies. It is published in this month's edition of the institute's journal. The general said:

expectations have been raised and if we do not deliver on people issues we will never again enjoy the credibility of the average Serviceman and woman. This is my number one priority, as without our people we are nothing. That says it all.

I also want to comment on defence support. I welcome the efforts that have been made to make smart procurement just that: smart, efficient and rapid. I am well aware that things were hardly efficient under the last Government, but I would not say that everything is perfect now. In my constituency, Rosyth dockyard has not been pleased by the delay in the decision on the Sonar 2087. Hon. Members will not be surprised that I will not allow a defence debate to end without paying tribute to the dockyard, to HMS Caledonia, to DERA Rosyth and to all the personnel involved, who are trying to give service to their country.

Mr. Blunt

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Squire

I am sorry, but I must decline, because I know that at least one other hon. Member wishes to speak.

The White Paper also deals with NATO and European defence. In the same presentation and article, entitled "Bringing the Armed Forces into a New Millennium", the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, said:

There is an argument that a strong, more assertive Europe will undermine NATO. I think that is wrong. A Europe that remains allied to the US simply because of its own weaknesses is of limited value. Europe's weakness to provide for its own security interests is more damaging to the transatlantic relationship than an strong Europe with the greater influence in decision making that would go with a greater military contribution to the Alliance. That puts the case brilliantly, as we would expect from our Chief of the Defence Staff.

Finally, I want to refer to the chapter of the White Paper that refers to a safer world. It focuses on some of the issues raised by Kosovo in relation to our strategy for the future. I look forward to a full debate on Kosovo, and the issues and lessons that it raises, when the report of the Select Committee on Defence is published, so I shall touch on only one or two points now.

The White Paper says that we should consider how we deal with the "asymmetric warfare" engaged in by adversaries who cannot compete in conventional warfare, and makes it clear that Slobodan Milosevic is a perpetrator of that form of defence. I give my full support to the whole area of defence diplomacy, particularly the outreach programme with Russia. Without going into detailed comments on some of our concerns about human rights abuses in Chechnya, all of us would agree that the Russian armed forces have been poorly trained and poorly treated for many years. It is in all our interests to try to improve that.

Again, I hope that we can have a fuller and specific debate on the whole area of international peacekeeping: the importance of humanitarian efforts, what should be done by the military and what should be done by civilian personnel. The problems in Mitrovica highlight and underline that well. I quote General Sir Michael Jackson, who in a recent journal highlighted the different roles that our soldiers are expected to play. He said:

We have soldiers living in Serb apartments where they are isolated. We have permanent guards in all Orthodox churches and monasteries without which they would be burnt and bombed. We even escort little old ladies to the bread shop to buy their bread, but on the way a Kosovar Albanian teenager will give the sign of throat-slitting to her face. In terms of what outside intervention in the sense of soldiers, and policemen and civil administrators can achieve, what this tells me is that there is a limit: we're talking about people's attitudes, people's perceptions. He sums up clearly some of the conflicts in peacekeeping efforts, but also how right we are to be proud of our armed forces. I again pay tribute to them. It gives pleasure to us all to see them putting their lives at risk to try to give life, safety and hope to civilian communities throughout the world.

9.22 pm
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

The previous time I spoke in a defence debate, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) accused me of having been got at by the Fleet Air Arm, and I happily admit that I had been, as Yeovilton is in my constituency. Since then, I have been got at by the entire Navy. I have been a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme and have spent a year being got at, from the First Sea Lord to the newest recruit. Therefore, I will unashamedly speak about the Royal Navy today, although briefly, I hope.

The Defence White Paper carries us very little forward from the strategic defence review, but it has reinforced the primacy of the navy's role in carrying forward the expeditionary policy, the platform for power projection, which the navy essentially provides for our armed forces. I was happy to have the opportunity to go to the eastern Mediterranean to watch and to join in amphibious operations during the summer on HMS Ocean and HMS Fearless. Indeed, it almost felt like home from home. I think that I met more of my constituents on HMS Ocean, on which 40 Commando was embarked, than I would normally in a surgery. That was in marked contrast to the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter), who accompanied me. He did not manage to find one constituent on the whole thing and thought that it was a set-up.

That reinforced the essential element of projection, which HMS Ocean as a ship and the amphibious task group could provide. It also reinforced the great danger that the MOD faces of being scuppered by the Treasury. The MOD's capital plans, which are encapsulated in the White Paper, may not come to pass. It is essential to have HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, which we will have, I believe, but it is equally essential to have the two new aircraft carriers. Undoubtedly, the Treasury is the greatest threat to those carriers.

I believe that, soon, the Ministry of Defence will be considering commissioning a second HMS Ocean, because the indispensability of that very important asset will very quickly be recognised. While I was on HMS Ocean, a standard joke was that there was no prospect of it coming back to Britain for Christmas, because it would never be more than a day's sailing from Podgorica. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) would have been disappointed if I had not mentioned Montenegro at least once the debate.

Nevertheless, we shall have to come to terms with the aspirations and ambitions of politicians, in the form of the Prime Minister and Ministers at the Ministry of Defence and at the Foreign Office, and with the capital that is available to us. Subsequently—if we are to do effectively the jobs that we want to do—some pretty important decisions will have to be taken, for example, on carrier-borne aircraft, which was mentioned earlier in the debate, and on the marinisation of an attack helicopter.

I should like also to deal briefly with the armed services' humanitarian role—which was dealt with earlier today, in the statement on Mozambique. I believe that we will increasingly be asking our armed forces to perform such a role, which is not a replacement for their primary role—to fight. A warship should not be put in jeopardy because it is carrying humanitarian supplies. Nevertheless, could we not do more to equip the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, including the RFA Fort George and the RFA Fort Victoria, with a better range of humanitarian supplies, to be included in their standard inventory and used in an emergency?

I also had the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland, to see the work that the Navy is doing there. I have only one question on that work, as I do not want to get involved in a discussion on the appropriate level of military strength in Northern Ireland. I know that serious consideration is being given to the future of the Northern Ireland patrol. If those ships—such as HMS Dulverton, which I had the pleasure of visiting—were not there, patrolling the area between the Carlingford Lough and Belfast and giving their assistance to the civil authorities in the Celtic sea, with what would they be replaced? Would they be replaced by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, by Customs and Excise, or by some other body? I do not think that it is possible to replace them.

I should like to take one very brief moment to mention a parochial issue, on which the Minister will not be able to give me a reply. Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton is very important to my constituency. I have failed to argue successfully for Joint Force 2000 to be based there, and failed to argue successfully for the Joint Helicopter Command to be based there. There has been investment in buildings there, but that is always worrying in the context of the Ministry of Defence, as we do not know what will happen next.

Could the Minister give me some indication of the future of RNAS Yeovilton, and tell me about the satellite station at Ikon, which causes almost more problems with aircraft noise than Yeovilton itself? Will the station be necessary after the Harriers move away?

As I know that the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) wishes to speak, and think that he has a couple of minutes to do so, I shall sit down.

9.28 pm
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

I should like quickly to deal with contracts and the need for jobs. The short-term heavy lift project is extremely important in that context.

The Antonov 124–100 would allow a £300 million saving, which could be used to fund the important contract for the BVRAAM system. We hope that a part of that contract will include the Meteor, which is important to constituents across the United Kingdom. The jobs that would be involved in the Meteor programme are crucial. If the programme does not proceed on an indigenous, European basis, we shall not only lose the expertise of those constituents, but be beholden to the Americans for ever. It is therefore important that the Meteor programme is favoured by the Government. I hope that Ministers will take on board that point.

The A400M is another very important contract. We are seven years away from delivery of that aircraft, which involves 62,000 jobs across the United Kingdom. The expertise necessary for the project has been used successfully within Airbus Industrie, and it could be transferred to a military use. The crucial factor is not the 62,000 jobs created by the A400M project, but the project's technology spin-offs, including wing technology, which could be used for the next generation of Airbus. The technology is crucial if we are to compete with the Americans and the giant size of the competing American company. If we do not back good old British procurement now, we shall really be beholden, once and for ever, to the Americans. There is nothing wrong in using the Americans, but there is a danger of losing our expertise.

I look forward to our two aircraft carriers being big enough to use Eurofighter, as otherwise we will be struggling, especially if all the other projects go out of the window. It is crucial to ensure that the carriers can take all our serving aircraft.

I hope that our thanks will go to armed forces personnel serving throughout the world. A big thank you goes to the Gurkhas and the Royal Marines who were sent to East Timor, and to the rest of our armed forces—the Army, the Navy and the Air Force—who are engaged in operations throughout the world. We must congratulate them.

9.30 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Many tributes have been paid to my honourable and gallant neighbour, Michael Colvin, and his wife. Because he was my constituency neighbour, I would like to add mine. Almost everything has been said that could be said, but I want to add one thing. We grieve, but there is something else: Michael and Nichola were just such fun. We should not forget that. With his unfailing courtesy, generosity, chivalry and cheerfulness in adversity, he was beholden to no man and to one woman: Nichola.

In all my nearly 17 years in the House, I have never known such concern and bewilderment about what is going on in defence. We have even managed to attract the attention of the tabloid press. That is unheard of for defence, in which matters normally swim along. This is not the short-term political bickering that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) said it was.

I thank the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) who, with his usual courtesy in following the conventions of the House, sent me a telephone message to say that he is not here because his wife is in hospital. We wish her well.

I accept that there has been huge progress in embracing changes and challenges. There have been challenges and changes in the ministerial team, too. The new Under-Secretary is very welcome to our debates, as is the Secretary of State. Will they measure up to their predecessors in the affection of Her Majesty's forces? Indeed, will they measure up to the warm affection and respect in which the Minister for the Armed Forces is held throughout the armed forces?

The Defence Committee, of which I was a member for some years, has produced a devastating report—one of the most hard-hitting of a hard-hitting series—overseen by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). It was so extraordinary that we will vote against the motion. We will do so in support of our armed forces, of their families, who follow the flag, and of thousands of scientific, industrial and administrative civil servants. We will do it as a warning to the Government that, in the strategic defence review, they raised great expectations—as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) said—that they are failing to deliver.

This is not party political bickering—there remains strong cross-party consensus on the importance of defence in the nation's affairs—but it would be a dereliction of our duty if the Opposition failed to say that enough is enough. We are not alone, as we have seen in the Select Committee report.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) set the tone by speaking of the gravity of the defence situation and the fact that the position is unsustainable. As the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) said in his excellent speech, we face an extraordinary situation in that there has been no progress report on the strategic defence review. I hope that he will have the courage of his convictions and vote with us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex used all his experience and passion in his excellent speech, expressing the doubts that a growing number of people have.

The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) spoke about his concerns. I am delighted that he will be serving on the Standing Committee considering the Armed Forces Discipline Bill. I shall be there too and I look forward to hearing his contribution. I look forward to seeing him at Tidworth on Saturday at the RAF wives conference—the airwaves conference. We shall have to work hard because, once again, there will be no Minister present in support of the RAF wives.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) has come to a judgment on a number of procurement issues. He has that luxury on the Back Benches. It is impossible for an Opposition Front-Bench team to come to a judgment on a procurement issue, because we know neither the financial details nor the security implications. However, we are fully briefed. We are delighted that we are kept on our toes by the remarkable British, north Arnerican and other defence procurement interests.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) saved me a great deal of time with his comments, particularly about asymmetric threats and chemical and biological weapons. I should like to echo his comments and amplify them slightly. The strategic defence review had just two paragraphs—numbers 101 and 102—on the subject. The joint nuclear, biological and chemical regiment has its headquarters at Winterbourne Gunner but is stationed at Honnington. We hoped that the document, on "Defending against the threat from biological and chemical weapons", would say something exciting, but it did not. It was another relaunch, taking the art of spin to new levels. It had 49 new words. It said that spending would be increased from £70 million to £80 million a year, but other than that there was nothing new in the glossy brochure.

I shall not embarrass Ministers by listing the detailed deficiencies in the system, but it is not joined-up government. There is no tasking between the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. There are no secure communications between Honnington and Winterbourne Gunner. There is very little logistic support. Then, of course, there was the letter from Land Command to all commanding officers saying that chemical and biological weapons training at Porton Down was too expensive, so they should go elsewhere and fudge it on the cheap. The Government are neglecting our home defence and we have rumbled them. They should not be proud of that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) spoke with clarity and passion about the situation in Northern Ireland. I agree strongly with him. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) spoke about the declining defence budget and particularly about the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, the headquarters of which is in his constituency. It is crucial to the success and safety of our armed forces. The longer that the Government dither, the greater the number of questions that will arise and the fewer answers there will be.

The argument is moving backwards. DERA was a privatisation too far for the Conservative Government, largely on security grounds. We now have Lord Robertson's legacy—a £250 million promise to the Treasury that is putting at risk all that DERA stands for. Will we have a research DERA with a core function and 3,000 or 4,000 people plus a privatised DERA with 8,000 or 9,000 people? It is not that simple, as Ministers must realise. Just one example of that is at Boscombe Down. DERA's testing organisation is not a research body. Its purpose is to establish the fitness and airworthiness of military aircraft and systems, but it is facing three showstoppers. First, it cannot privatise without resolving the status of its military airfield. A public-private partnership implies new income, presumably from civil aircraft, but Boscombe Down is exempt from the air navigation orders. The second showstopper is that, whether the future of the organisation is public or private, there will be a need for a minimum investment of £150 million for new aircraft and systems, without which it cannot do its duty.

The third and by far the most important showstopper is that the testing organisation is currently working on the C130J, the Chinook and the Apache. Once again, the issue raises our relations with the United States. The 1,100 people at Boscombe Down include 180 uniformed personnel, who are at the cutting edge of flying operations. They are tightly integrated into trials teams. That raises two points. First, this is a military airfield, with military aviators and engineers. Secondly, it is imperative that there continues to be unfettered access to sensitive United States military and industrial bases. It is hard to see how that can be achieved under private ownership.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury also raised the question of families. I have never known forces families to be so angry. Normally, they follow the flag, they are quiet and they dislike disturbing the chain of command. They are loyal and they look after their own folk. So why, despite policy for people, has so much upset been caused to loyal groups such as the Army Families Federation, which is now becoming known as "Army Families Furious"?

A recent report from the federation stated:

There appears to be considerable ignorance at the level of the top decision makers of the strength of feeling that any further cuts in the Defence Housing Executive future funding would create among service personnel and their families. Every possible effort must be made to minimise the irreparable damage that this ignorance is doing to the morale of service personnel and their families wishing to live accompanied. If Ministers are sore about that, they should remember that I am merely the messenger. It is the Government who have the problem. However, we shall vote against this White Paper for other reasons too. A new doctrine is creeping into the Ministry of Defence. When the Secretary of State was considering the compulsory mobilisation of the Territorial Army to sustain peace support operations in the Balkans, he received advice from civil servants that included advice on funding. He was told:

The additional cost of the mobilisation of the engineering and logistics squadron would be of the order of £3.5 million, for which no provision exists at present. This is, however, one of the elements in the package of proposals aimed at alleviating the effect of overstretch on the armed forces currently being discussed with the Treasury. Any decision to mobilise would have to be dependent on agreement by the Treasury to meet the additional costs involved. I have asked around and discovered that this is the first time that a Government considering putting troops into action have said, "First we must ask the Treasury." That is a dangerous new doctrine.

Then there is the question of the substantial improvement in the number of recruits. Last week, the Secretary of State told the House that the Government

anticipate that full complement in the Army would be achieved by 2005.—[Official Report, 22 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 1397.] That appeared to be good news, but unfortunately, in another paper, the Army's head of personnel advised that it was more likely that full complement for the Army would be achieved only in 31 years. Whom do we believe?

As if that were not enough, we find the following chilling and terrible indictment in the report by the Select Committee on Defence on the Ministry of Defence's annual reporting cycle:

The cumulative evidence of cancelled exercises, delayed equipment programmes and of resources apparently insufficient to reverse the problems of overstretch and undermanning suggest that if the wheels have not yet come of the SDR they are certainly beginning to wobble alarmingly. The Department's finances should be rebalanced in the current Spending Review. Commitments and resources have to be brought back into line or we risk finding ourselves stumbling from one crisis to the next. That is why the Opposition will not support the White Paper tonight, and why we accuse the Government of a dereliction of duty. The Government might score a majority among Labour Members, but they will find that a lot of people are asking questions about their competence to run the Ministry of Defence and to conduct the future defence of this country.

9.44 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

May I offer my own sincere but, I am sure, inadequate tribute to Michael Colvin, a man whom I held in the greatest respect? I read his last speech with great interest on my return last week from a visit abroad, where I was supporting the Defence Export Services Organisation.

We have, with a few notable exceptions—rather than have interventions, perhaps people could just assume that they are among the notable exceptions—faced the usual barrage of whingeing from the Tory Benches. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) has left his flotation tank to join us again. He has perfected the whinge fortissimo. I have no military experience, but I felt for a moment this afternoon as if I were under fire—until I realised that, of course, the hon. Gentleman was firing blanks.

What have we not had this afternoon? We have had no recognition, even grudging, of the many advances that we have made in less than three years. We have had no apology for the Conservatives' collective guilt for the mess that we inherited in 1997. We have had no understanding that the world has changed and that we must follow suit. We have had no constructive thinking at all. The Conservatives are bereft of imagination and ideas; they can only carp and criticise from the sidelines, with their usual distasteful combination of crocodile tears and synthetic rage.

I should like, in the short time available to me, to try to answer as many as possible of the points that have been raised in the debate. First, I wish to speak about two issues that are my direct responsibility—medical services and housing. I cannot give the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) the exact answer that he would like on medical services, but I shall be willing to provide it in as accurate a form as possible in writing, if he so wishes. However, I can assure the House that, given my background in public health, I have every intention of devoting as large a percentage of my time as possible to getting the medical services back on track. Having looked at the evidence before me, I am quite convinced that that process has already begun.

Despite serious manpower shortages, the defence medical services are meeting all their operational commitments. Some reservists are being used in operational posts on a voluntary basis. As has been recognised by many speakers, the main problem is the retention of experienced personnel. Recruitment into training is generally satisfactory, but the direct recruitment of fully trained medical officers is difficult, and few have so far been recruited. We are, however, seeking new ways of meeting the regular and reserve medical manpower requirements. We are undertaking that work in close consultation with the Department of Health and the national health service.

Enhancing the operational capability of the defence medical services was an important theme of the strategic defence review. An additional £140 million has been made available for additional personnel and equipment over the four years from 1998–99 to 2001–02, with further funding continuing in subsequent years. As I have said, recruitment problems are a cause of continuing concern, but we are tackling them energetically and innovatively. When the centre for defence medicine opens next year, I am sure that it will provide a beacon with which to attract more and high-quality candidates into the service.

On service accommodation, there are problems. I hate to carp again at the Conservatives, but those problems are largely due to them and the fire sale that they held under the auspices, I believe, of the current hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo). We have been trying to remedy that state of affairs ever since, and have conducted several reviews of the situation. We have been requested to assess the feasibility of adopting a co-ordinated approach to the improvement of single living accommodation, which is already producing benefits. We have set up steering groups and surveyed the estate. Generally speaking, we have set out a platform from which to move forward.

The latest initiatives in Government procurement must be adopted in managing the improvement of the estate. Public-private partnership and prime contracting are considered to be the most appropriate procurement options for consideration. We are using private finance initiative arrangements to provide new builds for housing outside the Annington Homes-owned estate. Contracts placed to date are at Lossiemouth for 279 properties, Yeovilton for 88 properties—(Interruption.] I thought that that would get some attention. I shall write to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about his other points, because I do not have time to deal with them now. As I was saying, there are contracts for 145 properties at Cosford and Shawbury and for 164 properties in central Scotland.

Two further projects are under way. The first will provide accommodation for Bristol, Bath, Portsmouth and Shrivenham, and the second will be for Wattisham. The quality of housing provided through the PFI has so far proved to be very good.

On NATO and Europe, the United Kingdom has played a leading role in shaping a policy that will ensure that Europe pulls its weight, both in NATO and by allowing the EU to act when NATO, as a whole, is not engaged. We have ensured that the focus of the debate is on strengthening capability. Europe's armed forces need to be modernised.

On the basis of UK proposals, EU member states signed up to concrete defence performance targets at Helsinki. We secured agreement to an approach whereby a small capability to support defence decision making will be developed in the EU, while the bulk of capability for planning and conducting European-led operations will be drawn from the resources available to NATO.

The initiative will not undermine NATO, nor will it establish a competitor to NATO. Strengthening European military capability will strengthen NATO overall. The Americans support our initiative and have signed up, in NATO, to developing practical means of assistance, including the presumption that the EU would have access to NATO assets and capabilities. In Helsinki, it was explicitly stated that that does not mean a European army—we support that. Improving the quality of existing armed forces will allow us to put together the right mix for specific EU or NATO-led operations.

The hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) and others mentioned the problems posed by asymmetric warfare. We have had to address that matter, which causes great concern. The pace of the advance of technology is such that potential adversaries may conclude that they can hope to achieve their goals only through unconventional methods—that is what is meant by asymmetric warfare. We are alive to those threats. Forward-looking threat assessments inform our planning processes to ensure that we are adequately prepared to deal with asymmetric threats.

We are fully committed to nuclear non-proliferation and the goal of nuclear disarmament, as set out in the strategic defence review. We are working for a constructive non-proliferation treaty review conference. Nuclear proliferation remains a concern; maintaining the NPT is obviously essential to preventing proliferation. The next step is to begin negotiations on a treaty to ban production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons.

Much hot air and some good sense has been expressed on the US national missile defence system. The Government continue to value the anti-ballistic missile treaty and want it to be preserved. Amendments to the treaty are a matter for the United States and Russia. We hope that the discussions that are now in progress between those countries will reach a successful conclusion. We must remember that the treaty has already been amended twice. President Clinton will not decide on deployment before next summer. His decision will be based on the US analysis of the threat, technological feasibility, cost and international security considerations.

We monitor closely both the threat and the technologies available to guard against ballistic missiles. Our work will enable us to take an informed decision on whether to acquire such capability, should it become necessary to do so in the future.

Overstretch and undermanning have been a problem, especially when we were engaged in major operations in Kosovo—that is no secret. Several measures have been taken to mitigate the impact on service personnel of the present overstretch, including improvements to the operational welfare package. For example, there is now a guaranteed period of post-operational tour leave for those returning from operations. Recent enhancements to the families concessionary travel scheme give the families of personnel deployed on operations from an overseas base a wider range of choice when planning their return to the UK. Other improvements to the operational welfare package have been covered in detail during the debate, so I shall not return to them.

The subject of reduced commitment was raised. Where we can make reductions, we do so as soon as possible. We bring people home as soon as we can. The proof of that is that, between the spring of 1999 and the spring of this year, our numbers in the Balkans will be down by 10,000. We have also seen reductions in deployments in the Gulf and the Falkland islands. The percentage of Army personnel preparing for, committed to, or in recovery from operations was, at one stage, at 47 per cent., but it is now down to 28 per cent., which is lower than the figure that we inherited.

Recruitment is now buoyant. It is at its best level for 10 years in all three services. I am confident that we are taking steps to address the admittedly serious problems of the loss of trained personnel.

On the savings and benefits of smart procurement, we are continuing on track to deliver the savings target of £2 billion of equipment costs over 10 years. I can give the House examples of specific targets that are included in that. The integrated project team—IPT—for the sensors avionics and navigation system has identified 7 per cent. savings through life as well as time and performance improvements. The Brimstone IPT' s gain-sharing, on a running contract, with both sides saving from the flexible approach by the end user, has achieved a modest cost saving to date, with a potential for far more significant cost benefits through further application of the gain-share approach. The attack helicopter IPT has identified 30 per cent. savings in in-service logistics up to about £100 million a year. I could go on, but I think that I have given a flavour of the fact that smart procurement is working.

We believe that some form of private-public partnership for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency will improve value for money while retaining access to world-class science and research and encouraging greater agility and innovation. We must recognise that, in the modern age as knowledge expands, it becomes impossible for any single organisation to continue to cover every aspect of technological development. Choices have to be made and it is important that we get the best value for money and the best results from the investment that we are making, and will continue to make, in military research. DERA is a key to the provision of the United Kingdom's defence capability, and it is important that we get the right solution. For these reasons, we recognise the importance of allowing sufficient time to work issues through to provide confidence in the final decision.

Many other points have been raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) made a plea for compensation for Major Stankovic. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but that is not in our minds. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) praised auxiliary pilots and referred to recruitment in the auxiliary and voluntary sector. We certainly seek to improve that. I have a great deal of sympathy for what he said about the redevelopment of those squadrons.

Many other points were covered. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) is in his place, and I must thank him for offering me the use of his fatigues. They are probably the only set in the House that would fit me. I even enjoyed some of his speech from what I can remember—that is a first.

Many comments were made about procurement. Given the delicate situation that many of our procurement projects are in, it would not be proper to comment on them other than to stress that we shall take decisions as soon as is practicable. I know that, given the effort that is going into the matter, the correct decisions will be made at the appropriate time.

During our debates today and last week, the Government have set out to the House what we are doing to modernise defence and to make sure that our world-class armed forces are able to meet the challenges that they will face in the future, so that they continue to act as a force for good around the world. Recent events in Kosovo have shown once again how accomplished our service people are in going about their difficult work firmly and fairly. We owe them a great debt.

We are at the forefront of an ambitious programme of change. We are not doing that for the sake of it, but because reform delivers results. The strategic defence review is on track. It is already more than 40 per cent. complete and it is delivering results that will allow our armed forces to meet the challenges not of the past, but of the future.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 12, Noes 340.

Division No. 88] [10 pm
Dalyell, Tam Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Skinner, Dennis
Hopkins, Kelvin Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Llwyd, Elfyn Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Mr. John McDonnell and
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 348, Noes 149.

Division No. 88] [10 pm
Dalyell, Tam Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Skinner, Dennis
Hopkins, Kelvin Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Llwyd, Elfyn Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Mr. John McDonnell and
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.
Ainger, Nick Cummings, John
Alexander, Douglas Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Ashton, Joe Darvill, Keith
Atherton, Ms Candy Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Atkins, Charlotte Davidson, Ian
Austin, John Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Baker, Norman Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Ballard, Jackie Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry Dawson, Hilton
Barron, Kevin Dean, Mrs Janet
Bayley, Hugh Denham, John
Beard, Nigel Dismore, Andrew
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Dobbin, Jim
Beith, Rt Hon A J Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Donohoe, Brian H
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Doran, Frank
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Drew, David
Benton, Joe Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bermingham, Gerald Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Berry, Roger Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Betts, Clive Edwards, Huw
Blizzard, Bob Efford, Clive
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Ennis, Jeff
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Fearn, Ronnie
Brake, Tom Field, Rt Hon Frank
Brand, Dr Peter Fisher, Mark
Breed, Colin Fitzpatrick, Jim
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Flint, Caroline
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Flynn, Paul
Buck, Ms Karen Follett, Barbara
Burden, Richard Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Burgon, Colin Foster, Don (Bath)
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Fyfe, Maria
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Galloway, George
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gapes, Mike
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Gerrard, Neil
Cann, Jamie Gibson, Dr Ian
Caplin, lvor Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Casale, Roger Godman, Dr Norman A
Caton, Martin Godsiff, Roger
Cawsey, Ian Goggins, Paul
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Golding, Mrs Llin
Chaytor, David Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Chidgey, David Graham, Thomas
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Grocott, Bruce
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Grogan, John
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hain, Peter
Clelland, David Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clwyd, Ann Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Coaker, Vernon Hancock, Mike
Coffey, Ms Ann Hanson, David
Cohen, Harry Harvey, Nick
Coleman, Iain Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Colman, Tony Healey, John
Connarty, Michael Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Cooper, Yvette Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Corbett, Robin Hepburn, Stephen
Corston, Jean Heppell, John
Cousins, Jim Hesford, Stephen
Cox, Tom Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Crausby, David Hill, Keith
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms Margaret Moffatt, Laura
Hoey, Kate Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hood, Jimmy Moore, Michael
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Moran, Ms Margaret
Hope, Phil Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Morley, Elliot
Howells, Dr Kim Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan Mountford, Kali
Hurst, Alan Mudie, George
Hutton, John Mullin, Chris
Iddon, Dr Brian Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jamieson, David Oaten, Mark
Jenkins, Brian O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Olner, Bill
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) O'Neill, Martin
Öpik, Lembit
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Organ, Mrs Diana
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Palmer, Dr Nick
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pearson, Ian
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pendry, Tom
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Perham, Ms Linda
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Pickthall, Colin
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Pike, Peter L
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Plaskitt, James
Keeble, Ms Sally Pollard, Kerry
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Pond, Chris
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Pope, Greg
Keetch, Paul Powell, Sir Raymond
Kemp, Fraser Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Khabra, Piara S Purchase, Ken
Kidney, David Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Kilfoyle, Peter Quinn, Lawrie
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Kirkwood, Archy Rammell, Bill
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rapson, Syd
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Raynsford, Nick
Laxton, Bob Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Lepper, David Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Leslie, Christopher Rendel, David
Levitt, Tom Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Linton, Martin Rooney, Terry
Livsey, Richard Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Rowlands, Ted
Love, Andrew Ruane, Chris
McAvoy, Thomas Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McCafferty, Ms Chris Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McDonagh, Siobhain Ryan, Ms Joan
McGuire, Mrs Anne Salter, Martin
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Sanders, Adrian
Mackinlay, Andrew Sarwar, Mohammad
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Savidge, Malcolm
McNamara, Kevin Sedgemore, Brian
McNulty, Tony Sheerman, Barry
MacShane, Denis Short, Rt Hon Clare
Mactaggart, Fiona Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McWalter, Tony Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McWilliam, John Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Mallaber, Judy Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Martlew, Eric Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Maxton, John Snape, Peter
Meale, Alan Southworth, Ms Helen
Merron, Gillian Spellar, John
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Squire, Ms Rachel
Miller, Andrew Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mitchell, Austin Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George Tynan, Bill
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Vis, Dr Rudi
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Walley, Ms Joan
Stinchcombe, Paul Ward, Ms Claire
Stoate, Dr Howard Watts, David
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Webb, Steve
Straw, Rt Hon Jack White, Brian
Stringer, Graham Whitehead, Dr Alan
Stuart, Ms Gisela Wicks, Malcolm
Sutcliffe Gerry Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Taylor, Ms Dai (Stockton S) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Temple-Morris Peter Willis, phil
Wills, Michael
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Winnick, David
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Timms, Stephen Woodward, Shaun
Tipping, Paddy Woolas Phil
Touhig, Don Worthington, Tony
Trickett, Jon Wray, james
Truswell, Paul Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Wyatt, Derek
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Turner, Neil (Wigan) Tellers for the Noes:
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Mr. Mike Hall and
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Mr. Robert Ainsworth.
Division No. 89] [10.13 pm
Ainger, Nick Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Allen, Graham Campbell-Savours, Dale
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Cann, Jamie
Ashton, Joe Caplin, lvor
Atherton, Ms Candy Casale, Roger
Atkins, Charlotte Caton, Martin
Austin, John Cawsey, Ian
Baker, Norman Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ballard, Jackie Chaytor, David
Banks, Tony Chidgey, David
Barnes, Harry Clapham, Michael
Barron, Kevin Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Bayley, Hugh Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Benton, Joe Clelland, David
Bermingham, Gerald Clwyd, Ann
Berry, Roger Coaker, Vermon
Betts, Clive Coffey, Ms Ann
Blizzard, Bob Cohen, Harry
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Coleman, Iain
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Colman, Tony
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Connarty, Michael
Brake, Tom Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Brand, Dr Peter Cooper, Yvette
Breed, Colin Corbett, Robin
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Corston, Jean
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cousins, Jim
Buck, Ms Karen Cox, Tom
Burden, Richard Crausby, David
Burgon, Colin Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Cummings, John
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Darvill, Keith Howells, Dr Kim
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Hoyle, Lindsay
Davidson, Ian Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Dawson, Hilton Hutton, John
Dean, Mrs Janet Iddon, Dr Brian
Denham, John Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Dismore, Andrew Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dobbin, Jim Jamieson, David
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Jenkins, Brian
Donohoe, Brian H Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Doran, Frank Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Drew, David
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Edwards, Huw Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Efford, Clive Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Ennis, Jeff Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Feam, Ronnie Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Field, Rt Hon Frank Keeble, Ms Sally
Fisher, Mark Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Flint, Caroline Keetch, Paul
Flynn, Paul Kemp, Fraser
Follett, Barbara Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath) Khabra, Piara S
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Kidney, David
Fyfe, Maria Kilfoyle, Peter
Galloway, George King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Gapes, Mike Kirkwood, Archy
Gardiner, Barry Kumar, Dr Ashok
George, Andrew (St lves) Ladyman, Dr Stephen
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Laxton, Bob
Gerrard, Neil Lepper, David
Gibson, Dr Ian Leslie, Christopher
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Levitt, Tom
Godman, Dr Norman A Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Godsiff, Roger Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Goggins, Paul Linton, Martin
Golding, Mrs Llin Livsey, Richard
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Graham, Thomas Love, Andrew
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McAvoy, Thomas
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McDonagh, Siobhain
Grocott, Bruce Macdonald, Calum
Grogan, John McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hain, Peter McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Mackinlay, Andrew
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Hancock, Mike McNamara, Kevin
Hanson, David McNulty, Tony
Harvey, Nick MacShane, Denis
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Mactaggart, Fiona
Healey, John McWalter, Tony
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) McWilliam, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Mallaber, Judy
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hepburn, Stephen Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Heppell, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hesford, Stephen Martlew, Eric
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Maxton, John
Hill, Keith Meale, Alan
Hinchliffe, David Merron, Gillian
Hodge, Ms Margaret Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hoey, Kate Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hood, Jimmy Miller, Andrew
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Mitchell, Austin
Hope, Phil Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Moore, Michael
Moran, Ms Margaret Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Morley, Elliot Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Snape, Peter
Southworth, Ms Helen
Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon) Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Mountford, Kali Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mudie, George Steinberg, Gerry
Mullin, Chris Stevenson, George
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stinchcombe, Paul
Oaten, Mark Stoate, Dr Howard
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Olner, Bill Straw, Rt Hon Jack
O'Neill, Martin Stringer, Graham
Öpik, Lembit Stuart, Ms Gisela
Organ, Mrs Diana Sutcliffe, Gerry
Palmer, Dr Nick Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Perham, Ms Linda Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Pickthall, Colin Temple-Morris, Peter
Pike, Peter L Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Plaskitt, James Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pollard, Kerry Timms, Stephen
Pond, Chris Tipping, Paddy
Pope, Greg Touhig, Don
Powell, Sir Raymond Trickett, Jon
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Truswell, Paul
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Prescott, Rt Hon John Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Purchase, Ken Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Quinn,Lawrie Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Radice, Rt Hon Giles Tynan, Bill
Rammell,Bill Vis, Dr Rudi
Rapson, Syd Walley, Ms Joan
Raynsford, Nick Ward, Ms Claire
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Watts, David
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Webb, Steve
Rendel, David White, Brain
Roche, Mrs Barbara Whitehead, Dr Alan
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Wicks, Malcolm
Rooney, Terry Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Rowlands, Ted Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Ruane, Chris Willis, Phil
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wills, Michael
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Winnick, David
Ryan, Ms Joan Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Salter, Martin Wise, Audrey
Sanders, Adrian Woodward, Shaun
Sarwar, Mohammad Woolas, Phil
Savidge, Malcolm Worthington, Tony
Sedgemore, Brian Wray, James
Sheerman, Barry Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Short, Rt Hon Clare Wyatt, Derek
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Mr. Mike Hall and
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Mr. Robert Ainsworth.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Beresford, Sir Paul
Amess, David Blunt, Crispin
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Body, Sir Richard
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Boswell, Tim
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Baldry, Tony Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Brady, Graham
Bercow, John Brazier, Julian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter McIntosh, Miss Anne
Browning, Mrs Angela MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) McLoughlin, Patrick
Burns, Simon Madel, Sir David
Butterfill, John Malins, Humfrey
Cash, William Maples, John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Chope, Christopher May, Mrs Theresa
Clappison, James Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Collins, Tim Moss, Malcolm
Cormack, Sir Patrick Nicholls, Patrick
Cran, James Norman, Archie
Curry, Rt Hon David O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Ottaway, Richard
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Paice, James
Day, Stephen Paterson, Owen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Pickles, Eric
Duncan Smith, Iain Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Prior, David
Evans, Nigel Randall, John
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Redwood, Rt Hon John
Faber, David Robathan, Andrew
Fabricant, Michael Robertson, Laurence
Flight, Howard Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Fox, Dr Liam Ruffley, David
Fraser, Christopher St Aubyn, Nick
Gale, Roger Sayeed, Jonathan
Garnier, Edward Shepnard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gibb, Nick Shepherd, Richard
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Gray, James Soames, Nicholas
Green, Damian Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Greenway, John Spicer, Sir Michael
Grieve, Dominic Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Gummer, Rt Hon John Steen, Anthony
Hague, Rt Hon William Streeter, Gary
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Swayne, Desmond
Hammond, Philip Syms, Robert
Hawkins, Nick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hayes, John Taylor, Ian (Esher& Walton)
Heald, Oliver Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Taylor, Sir Teddy
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Horam, John Thompson, William
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Townend, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Tredinnick, David
Hunter, Andrew Trend, Michael
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Tyrie, Andrew
Jenkin, Bernard Viggers, Peter
Johnson Smith, Walter, Robert Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Wardle, Charles
Key, Robert Waterson, Nigel
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Wells, Bowen
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Whitney, Sir Raymond
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Whittingdale, John
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Wilkinson, John
Lansley, Andrew Willetts, David
Leigh, Edward Wilshire, David
Letwin, Oliver Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Lidington, David Yeo, Tim
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Llwyd, Elfyn Tellers for the Noes:
Loughton, Tim Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas and
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Mr. Peter Luff.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House approves the 1999 Defence White Paper (Cm 4446).