§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Betts.]
§ 1.1 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)
This, the second of our three annual themed defence debates, follows our recent debate on defence personnel issues. During that debate, hon. Members noted the widespread deployment of our armed forces personnel. We have thousands of British service and civilian personnel deployed overseas—from the Falkland Islands to Kuwait; from Kosovo to Cyprus.
During the last year—as so consistently in the past—the performance of our armed forces has been exemplary. Whether supporting the police in Northern Ireland, delivering aid to Mozambique or keeping the peace in Indonesia and in the Balkans, they have made a real difference and have been a real force for good.
I am all too conscious of the demands we make of our service personnel and of the dangers that they face as a result. In that context, I regret to have to confirm to the House that one of the unarmed United Nations military observers detained by rebel forces in Sierra Leone is a British officer. We understand that he is safe and well; his next of kin have been informed. No other British citizens have been detained. Negotiations are taking place on the political and diplomatic fronts to secure the safe release of all those detained. I am sure that the House will understand why I cannot give more details at present.
The House has rightly paid fulsome tribute to the dedication and professionalism of our service men and women, and of our civil servants who support them. I am sure that no one will object if I repeat my appreciation of the quality of our personnel and of the exemplary work they do.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
I apologise for not being in the Chamber when the Secretary of State began his speech; the previous business was completed more quickly than I had anticipated.
As the right hon. Gentleman will understand, it is sometimes thought that deployments with the UN are almost an easy life. However, what he has just told the House makes it clear that they are often extremely difficult and dangerous. I associate myself with the appreciation that he has expressed on behalf of the Government, and hope that the person who has been apprehended will be released speedily.
§ Mr. Hoon
I am most grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's observations. Events in Sierra Leone emphasise the point that such operations must be approached with maximum care—they involve the full range of skills of our armed forces. We are working at every level to secure the officer's release.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
As the Secretary of State is aware, the history of the Sierra Leone affair is lengthy and difficult. In the light of this disaster—seven peacekeepers were killed yesterday—does he think that it might have been better to have paid more attention to what Peter Penfold and President Kabbah appeared to want to do? They wanted to employ—dare one say?— 303 mercenary forces to put down the rebels in the first place. The UN operation does not seem to have worked too well; it appears that the elected president at the time was keen to employ Sandline.
§ Mr. Hoon
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, until very recently the operation in Sierra Leone had been remarkably successful and was achieving results. Certainly, there have been difficulties recently which the international community is seeking to address. I am not sure that his suggestion would necessarily have helped to improve the situation.
Our previous debate was about how personnel are deployed and managed. This debate is about why they are so deployed, why our armed forces are spread across the globe and why they are so actively engaged in the modern world. In each and every case, there are strong and specific reasons for the deployment of British forces. Indeed, it is a measure of the quality of our forces that they are able to operate as successfully as they do in circumstances where the political environment is often fluid and complicated.
However, the underlying reasons for the deployment of our forces are usually quite straightforward. As a member of the United Nations Security Council, as a leading member of NATO, the European Union and the Commonwealth and as a comparatively wealthy nation that depends on free trade, Britain has clear responsibilities for, and interests in, peace and stability. The practical imperative is clear: our prosperity depends on trade and on peace and stability, so preserving a peaceful, stable world is clearly in our immediate interests. The United Kingdom is fortunate that it does not at present face a military threat. Home defence is not an issue in the same way that it was for much of the last century. It would take some considerable time for a direct conventional military threat to the United Kingdom, or to western Europe as a whole, to re-emerge. I am pleased to be able to say that we see no sign of such a re-emergence, although we must retain the ability to reorganise our forces should that change. For the moment, Britain is fortunate to occupy a peaceful corner of an otherwise troubled world.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Although the immediate environment around the United Kingdom may appear to be peaceful, things can change rapidly. In an era of expeditionary warfare, our armed forces need to be properly equipped and, above all, to have air superiority to be able to conduct any operations. In that regard, is it not imperative that the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft be equipped with a gun as a standard fitting and that the gun is not simply bolted on as and when the circumstance requires?
§ Mr. Hoon
It is important that our forces are equipped to face the types of battles that they will face in the future. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has relied on rather antiquated newspaper reports about the benefits of cannon in second world war dogfights. It is highly unlikely that aeroplanes as sophisticated as the Typhoon would be engaged in such contacts. Indeed, if they are engaged in a direct conflict with another aircraft, they will be equipped with very sophisticated missiles that will be the effective means by which they are successful.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that all modern air operations—from Vietnam to 304 those in the middle east, particularly involving the Israeli air force—have demonstrated that the secondary armament of cannon is most important and that a residual dogfighting capability is necessary? Can he therefore quash rumours in the press that the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft will be equipped only with air-to-air missiles? If he does not, there will be grave disquiet in informed circles.
§ Mr. Hoon
I have suggested that we assess the armaments that are required on a sophisticated aircraft according to the nature of the threat that it will face. In the modern world, to defeat an attack by an aircraft on equipment such as the Typhoon, the appropriate armament is a sophisticated air-to-air missile.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I had not planned to intervene at this stage. However, as we are discussing this subject, it is perhaps a good point at which to clear the air. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the reports, will the Secretary of State undertake to reconsider the issue? As I understand it, the even more advanced F22 is designed with a cannon, which every air force that I am aware of considers to be a necessary part of its inventory. Unless the Royal Air Force is aware of a secret change to the threat, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the matter so that the issue does not rebound over the next few weeks in different reports in different newspapers?
§ Mr. Hoon
It would not rebound in different reports in different newspapers if there were sensible observation and comment on it. We keep these matters under constant review. We always ensure that our equipment is the best and that it is designed to deal with the sorts of threat that our armed forces face. We shall carefully examine the appropriate requirement.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
The Secretary of State is being generous in giving way. As he is talking about damaging and debilitating comment, can he dissociate himself from comments that are apparently attributed to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who appears to be approaching the issue of the choice of missile entirely from the point of view of economics, and not from that of capability?
§ Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)
May I pursue the point about damaging press comment? Is my right hon. Friend aware of the damage that has been caused in Scotland by the unfortunate comment from the Ministry of Defence that no British shipbuilding yard is capable of 305 building roll on/roll off ferries? That comment was not helpful and was presumably designed deliberately to undermine the United Kingdom offerings. Will my right hon. Friend make a clear statement that he believes that Govan Shipbuilders Ltd. on the Clyde is capable of building those ships?
§ Mr. Hoon
I am delighted to assure my hon. Friend that that is the position that the Ministry of Defence has adopted. There is no doubt about the capability of shipyards throughout the country to construct roll on/roll off ferries and to engage in the sophisticated programme of building about 30 warships that we are planning in future years. I shall be looking to British shipyards to supply ships to fulfil that exciting forward programme. I am confident that shipyards throughout the United Kingdom will benefit from the programme.
As I was saying, we benefit from stable democracy, good government and strong economic development. It is in our interest to see that stability established more widely. We also have a wider responsibility to those in less fortunate circumstances to help secure peace, stability and democracy, and to ensure, wherever we are able, the furtherance of basic human rights. There are many ways of doing that other than by resorting to military force. Diplomacy, aid and advice are crucial. Military action may ultimately be required. However, the military has an important role to play long before we reach the point where armed force becomes necessary.
A great deal of effort is put into what my predecessor termed "defence diplomacy". That is using our defence assets to build and promote stability and democracy by providing training, education and advice. That is an excellent example of the Government's approach. We are using our defence resources actively and with imagination to make long-term investments in peace and stability. We have provided additional funding to reflect the importance that we attach to these tasks. However, defence diplomacy can work effectively only in the process of joined-up government. The Ministry of Defence continues to work closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development to this end.
Success in this area is often unspectacular—successful diplomacy is often the story of the dog that did not bark. The measure of our success will largely be conflicts that did not happen and trouble that did not occur. However, we should not forget the positive aspects of defence diplomacy: increasing respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Sometimes, unfortunately, diplomacy fails. Our commitment to the maintenance of civilised conduct in world affairs is put to the sternest test—our willingness and readiness to use military force.
No one should doubt the Government's determination to do what is necessary in times of crisis. This year, we plan to spend about £22.8 billion on defence. By any measure, that is a significant sum. We are spending every pound for a good reason. We are determined that Britain should have world-class armed forces with a mix of capabilities that allow us to be engaged and active on the world stage. These are armed forces that are capable of 306 deploying and sustaining themselves over long distances and capable, should the need arise, of war fighting at the most demanding level.
§ Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)
The Secretary of State says that he plans to spend £22.8 billion on defence. However, that budget will not cover his existing commitments, so he has had to cancel exercises and the cannon on the Typhoon. He has had to hold up procurement programmes and leave the Army without crucial spares, but it is still more than 8.000 service men and women below strength. Would he not be in more serious financial straits if he had those 8,000-plus troops?
§ Mr. Hoon
I shall deal with some of those points in due course. However, let me make clear to the House and the hon. Gentleman that we have no difficulty in fulfilling our commitments in a challenging programme. Previous Governments have always faced the fact that judgments about commitments have to be made, consistent with the amount of money that a country can afford at any given point in its history. That is always the case and, in the unlikely event of the hon. Gentleman occupying my position, he will have to face up to that with rather more sophistication than simply talking about needing more money or cutting commitments. Perhaps Opposition Members will explain what commitments they would cut, if that is how they would resolve the problem.
I shall shortly talk about our commitment to ensuring that Britain's forces are a force for good around the world.
§ Mr. Robathan
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned defence commitments that we have trouble in fulfilling, and defence diplomacy. Given the situation in Zimbabwe, does he not think that having British soldiers run training schemes there probably sends the wrong message to the Government and people of Zimbabwe?
§ Mr. Hoon
It does not. British forces are present in Zimbabwe as part of a training force for southern Africa. Their responsibilities extend beyond Zimbabwe, where they have conducted sophisticated training that has benefited the Zimbabwean armed forces. If the hon. Gentleman has followed the situation in Zimbabwe carefully, he will know that the armed forces have continued to make a stable and mature contribution to Zimbabwean society, which may well have something to do with the training that they have received from British forces. There is therefore good news from Zimbabwe, and it is important to put that in the right context.
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
Given the points that my right hon. Friend has just made, will he join me in welcoming the establishment of a defence diplomacy scholarship scheme at Shrivenham, which seeks directly to influence the conduct of civilian and military personnel worldwide in peacekeeping and other operations?
§ Mr. Hoon
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. That is precisely the kind of example of defence diplomacy that I was describing. From their time in office, Opposition Members will know that young men or women who come to the United Kingdom on such scholarships tend to give their country of origin the benefit of experience that they have gained here, and do so throughout their service 307 career and sometimes beyond, into government. There are several examples of people who have taken advantage of such scholarships and ended up in prominent positions in their own countries. Those scholarships therefore have long-term benefits. I accept that it is sometimes difficult to define the tangible benefits of such schemes but, in the long term, they bring enormous advantages to the United Kingdom.
The Government are committed to the modernisation of our forces and to ensuring that they are structured and equipped to perform the most demanding tasks. In addition to the strategic defence review restructuring, we have embarked on a substantial programme of re-equipment and modernisation, representing a huge investment in our forces. Every year, we spend some £10 billion on equipment, yet some people still accuse us of looking for defence on the cheap. Let me make it clear that that is nonsense. Certainly, we want to be efficient and make every pound spent on defence count. However, we do not and will not compromise on the equipment with which we provide our forces. It is world-beating and will remain so.
As evidence of that, we are in the process of fitting all our attack submarines with the tactical land attack cruise missile, the TLAM, which was used to great effect during the Kosovo campaign. It is the envy of almost every other navy in the world; currently, only the Americans have it. We will have an enhanced stand-off precision-strike capability in Storm Shadow, an air-launched cruise missile. Only a few weeks ago, I attended the roll-out of the first Apache attack helicopter for the Army. We recently signed a contract worth about £60 million to provide more than 100 new all-terrain vehicles for 3 Commando Brigade.
We are undertaking major programmes to modernise existing equipment. Both the air defence and the ground attack variants of the Tornado are being improved. In the longer term, we have a collection of major programmes, such as Eurofighter, the future offensive air system, the future carrier-borne aircraft, two new aircraft carriers, the Astute class of nuclear-powered attack submarine, the type 45 destroyer, the future strategic tanker aircraft and the airborne stand-off radar. Those will all result in significant enhancements to the capabilities and utility of our forces.
Nevertheless, looking ahead must not distract us from the capability of our forces today. They operate with world-class equipment. For example, the Army has recently deployed to Kosovo with the Challenger 2 tank, which represents a quantum leap in standards of performance and reliability. At the other extreme, the clothing of our deployed soldiers is better than it has ever been. That is not just my view: it is the view of men and women in our armed forces with whom I have spoken.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On the Challenger 2, may I say first that I did my national service with the regiment that now operates the tank, and I have been told that it is extremely effective? That is good news.
My right hon. Friend is a careful and scholarly lawyer, so he might not care to comment on an issue arising in connection with Kosovo, but I should like to draw his attention to the article in The Sunday Times of 16 April, which appeared under the byline of Lois Rogers, "Ailing troops sue over Balkan war syndrome". At some point in 308 the debate, may we have an answer stating what action the Ministry of Defence is taking? I understand that soldiers who served in former Yugoslavia plan to sue the Ministry after suffering chronic health problems, which they believe are caused by Balkan war syndrome. The case involves 12 people, 11 of whom are serving service men.
§ Mr. Hoon
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments about the Challenger tank, and I look forward to discussing with him the details of his national service, because I can, no doubt, learn a lot from him in that respect.
On the issue of the newspaper accounts that appeared on or around 16 April, I have to say that I have read only those accounts, nothing more. My Department will consider carefully the legal submissions made to us, and we shall respond with a course of legal action, should we judge that to be necessary. I am sure my hon. Friend understands why I do not wish to comment further at this time.
§ Mr. Hoon
All Governments experience problems with the range of equipment used in the course of fulfilling their defence responsibilities. We have acknowledged those problems and, where we can, are taking decisive early action to solve them. For example, the difficulties of the SA80 rifle have been well documented, but we are taking action to address them.
However, the problems need to be kept in perspective. Let us take as an example the recent media stories about the Lynx rotorhead. Yes, there is a safety problem and, yes, it affected the availability of the aircraft—but it has not stopped us meeting key operational tasks. For example, only last week, HMS Manchester's Lynx operating in the Caribbean helped local police to locate drugs on Montserrat. The aircraft are still flying and still fulfilling their operational responsibilities.
Too often overlooked is the fact that, day in, day out, our forces are properly equipped to do the job they are required to do. The Government would never settle for anything less. We are, naturally, aware of the costs: building and sustaining world-class armed forces is an expensive business that requires sustained and significant investment over the long term. That is what the Government are engaged in. Defence is not an activity in which we can afford to cut corners.
As was so eloquently described by right hon. and hon. Members during last month's debate, there is a human cost as well. Being engaged, as we are, on the world stage asks a great deal of our armed forces and of their families. We have faced problems with overstretch. Last July, some 47 per cent. of the trained Army was preparing for, on, or recovering from operations. Such a level of commitment takes its toll on the personal lives of the armed forces and of their families. We were determined to do something about overstretch, and as a result the figure is now about 27 per cent.—lower than that which we inherited in 1997.
We have achieved this reduction in overstretch by reducing commitments where we sensibly can, and by thinking imaginatively about how we manage the commitments that remain. As my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces told the House last month, we have 309 awarded a £20 million contract for the installation of a new telecommunications network, which will free 260 Royal Signallers from their Balkans commitment by the end of this year.
There is more we can do—and are doing—to reduce or ameliorate the pressures on our personnel and their families. For example, for the first time in 50 years, we are planning to increase the size of the Army by more than 3,000 posts, but we will not opt out of playing our part internationally. Our resolution has been demonstrated during the past 12 months when we have deployed, often at very short notice, to places such as East Timor and Mozambique.
In East Timor last September, we contributed almost 300 personnel to the United Nations-backed international force, deployed in response to growing concerns about the humanitarian situation there. In Mozambique, RAF Puma helicopters and Royal Navy Sea King helicopters operating from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort George delivered almost 1,000 tonnes of humanitarian supplies after devastating flooding in that country. At the same time, we have maintained a significant presence in the Balkans.
It is hardly surprising that events in the Balkans have been prominent. This time last year, we were engaged with our NATO allies in a remarkable contest of will with Milosevic. It was a resounding success. Our convictions were shared by our NATO allies and by many other countries. What we did was necessary and it was right. To have successfully returned hundreds of thousands of refugees to their homes and to be rebuilding the society in which they live is a magnificent achievement, and one of which we can justly be proud. This is what our defence and security policy means in practice: making the world a better and a safer place.
The situation in the Balkans is by no means resolved, but we should not underestimate the real success of the international community in changing things for the better. Dealing with such deep-seated problems as exist in the region will never be easy, but we are now seeing significant progress.
§ Mr. Dalyell
There is the problem of 280,000 Serbs who are now refugees from Kosovo. That is the figure given by the UN agencies; the Serbian Government figure is 350,000. It is a human tragedy.
§ Mr. Hoon
I agree with my hon. Friend to this extent: the primary purpose of our activity in Kosovo was to preserve the possibility of a multi-ethnic society. We are determined to create such a society in Kosovo, in which it is safe equally for Serbs, Roma, Albanians and other ethnic groups in the province.
The changes in Croatia are a good illustration of what can be achieved by the combination of democratic forces within a state, and a co-ordinated approach from the international community. Croatia's election results were a clear example of the rejection of ethnically based policies by the Croatian people. In Bosnia, the recent municipal elections were notable not just for the lack of violence, but for the continuing decline of extremist ethnically based parties. Progress there is not as rapid as in Croatia, but it is encouraging none the less.
310 In Bosnia our troops are continuing to do a vital job in fostering the conditions for democracy and the return of refugees to their homes. There is no doubt that that is a success story. Those who predict failure for our efforts in Kosovo should take note.
The 6,000 or so personnel whom we have committed to the Balkans region as a whole are a tangible measure of the depth and seriousness of that commitment. Our personnel are making real improvements to the everyday lives of people in the region and to the prospects for long-term peace, stability, democracy and economic revival. We should not, nor will we, walk away from those commitments.
The recent history of the Balkans could be characterised as the aftershocks of events that happened more than a decade ago. They are a painful reminder that the post-cold war world moves on, and moves on apace. Our defence policies must respond to those changes.
We have entered a period of uncertainty, rapid change and increasingly diverse challenges. The world is increasingly multi-polar, with new and shifting centres of power and alliance. Where, in the past, internal divisions or dissent have been suppressed by autocratic rule, violent disorder can flare when central control weakens, as happened in the Congo, yet we can hope that in some cases such instability represents a period of transition to new, more liberal and more stable regimes.
However, there remain many fundamental underlying causes of conflict in the world. Exclusion—political or economic—has been at the root of many recent internal conflicts, as in Algeria and the great lakes region of Africa. Ineffective or corrupt government increases the risks of instability. When combined with various demographic and environmental trends those factors are likely to generate increasing instability and strife in many regions. Almost by definition they are likely to be regions that are least able to help themselves. In such circumstances it would be sensible to expect increasing calls on international bodies to manage crises and prevent human suffering.
Our direct national interests will not often be at stake in such crises—there will be no immediate practical imperative to become involved—but we must face the fact that, in an increasingly interdependent world, ultimately our political, humanitarian or financial interests can be affected. Coupled with the political and moral expectations of western electorates, we will see continued, if not increasing, involvement in coalition peace support operations. Today, both our freedom to act and the expectations and pressures on us to do so, quickly and decisively, are greater than ever.
We shall be acting in an environment where we will face novel and unexpected operational challenges; a world where the threats that we may face cannot always be measured in conventional terms.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
May I remind my right hon. Friend that, much closer to home, many thousands of troops are still stationed in Northern Ireland, which is entirely understandable given the serious security threats posed by Continuity IRA and Real IRA, as well as loyalist paramilitaries? My right hon. Friend is actively engaged with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in looking at reducing numbers where it is at all possible. May I suggest to my right hon. Friend, 311 as I have done to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that the military lookout tower in the square at Crossmaglen, known locally as a crow's nest, should come down? It serves no useful purpose, other than helping with the recruitment to those dissident IRA groups.
§ Mr. Hoon
We look carefully at our commitments in Northern Ireland. We were able to make some reductions last year, but any decision about any kind of installation in Northern Ireland is entirely dependent on the security situation on the ground. On that, we receive advice from the Chief Constable and from the General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland, and, where we can, we act upon it. The Government are determined to pursue a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland because it will allow us to reduce our military commitment there, which will allow a normalisation of the situation in that part of the world.
One area that we are watching with great care is the development and proliferation of so-called weapons of mass destruction, and their means of delivery. Some states will continue to seek to acquire these weapons—in the face of international condemnation—to try to threaten and coerce their neighbours and the international community as a whole. The relative cheapness and simplicity of biological and chemical weapons can make them a tempting proposition and result in regional arms races.
Those are threats that all NATO allies—indeed all responsible states—must address. NATO has collectively taken up the challenge with its weapons of mass destruction initiative, launched in Washington last year. Last year, also, we published a paper that set out how the UK addresses the threat from biological and chemical weapons.
What we said in that paper remains true. The Government will go on working to strengthen the clear international consensus that possession of biological and chemical weapons is wrong. We strongly support measures to prevent their proliferation. We are committed to improving the effectiveness of the relevant conventions and export control regimes. We wish to see the completion of negotiations to strengthen the biological and toxin weapons convention before the review conference in 2001.
For as long as those weapons remain a threat we must be prepared to defend against them. We, and NATO as a whole, are committed to ensuring that our deployed forces are appropriately equipped, trained and organised to overcome the challenges that they might face. Those measures contribute to our efforts to deter potential proliferators, by persuading them that they will not gain advantage by acquiring or threatening to use weapons that the international community has renounced.
We understand the United States concern about the threat posed by ballistic missile proliferation, and we have been in close contact about the role that it envisages for national missile defence in its response to the threat.
The US recognises that NMD poses difficult and complex issues. Several key factors need to be addressed before it decides whether to proceed with deployment. They include the views of NATO allies, and the need to preserve strategic stability and the viability of international treaties. We welcome the fact that the US is taking those factors into account.
312 The question of any amendment to the anti-ballistic missile treaty to accommodate NMD is strictly a matter for the US and Russia, as parties to the treaty. However, we have made it clear to them that we continue to value the strategic stability that the treaty provides. We want to see it preserved. We welcome the intensive discussions that are now in progress between the parties. We believe that they can ultimately reach a successful conclusion. The United Kingdom wants international debate on the issue to be conducted in a calm, considered manner, whereby concerns can be properly aired and addressed.
Much has been written lately about possible sites in the UK as part of the proposed NMD system. Let us be clear: the US is considering only a limited system and it has not yet finally decided to proceed even with that. We are in close touch with the US on all aspects of its proposals. However, reports that we have agreed to host elements of the system are wrong. We have not decided because we have not been asked. If we receive a request, we will of course consider it very carefully.
I would like to make clear our position on ballistic missile defence. Our national programme of work, and feasibility studies shortly to be started in NATO, will enable us to continue to make informed judgments on whether to invest in such capabilities in future.
It is important to remember that there are four elements to our response against proliferation: arms control, preventing supply, deterring use and defending against use. In the immediate focus on NMD, we must not lose sight of the importance to all responsible states of continuing to pursue with vigour a comprehensive response to the threat posed by the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and their means of delivery.
That proliferation is a further example of the widespread changes in the strategic scene in recent years. The need to adapt to this changing world was at the centre of our strategic defence review. We identified a need to create more flexible, more capable and more deployable forces. That is exactly what we are doing.
Progress in implementing the review's conclusions has been excellent. We have already implemented many of the key decisions. They include establishing a pool of joint rapid reaction forces, forming the Joint Helicopter Command and Joint Force Harrier and establishing 16 Air Assault Brigade. Those are exactly the sort of capable, flexible, deployable forces that we have identified as vital to the future of defence.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
Two points arise from the Secretary of State's comments on ballistic missile defence. First, will he confirm whether there is a shift in Government policy from that which his predecessor espoused? His comments imply that.
Secondly, the Secretary of State mentioned the four elements of reaction to proliferation. In the past two or three months, evidence has suggested that, despite sanctions, Iraq is close to being capable of producing a missile and a weapon of mass destruction. Does not that make it much more important—if not urgent—for the Government to make their position on ballistic missile defence clear? Otherwise Iraq will not feel deterred from going ahead.
§ Mr. Hoon
I expressed the Government's anxieties about proliferation and acknowledged that the US is right 313 to want to defend itself in the way that it proposes. However, it has not yet made a decision. There has been no shift in the Government's position. An evolution of thinking in response to the issues is inevitable. It is taking place in the US as well as in the United Kingdom and among NATO allies. It is important to conduct a calm and measured debate. We welcome the fact that, since last year, the US has involved NATO allies in evolving the thinking on difficult and potentially dangerous matters. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and assure him that the Government will respond appropriately when and if the US decides to deploy national missile defence.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The Secretary of State is making some significant statements. If the United States were to procure a system to deploy a national ballistic missile defence, would not it be remiss of the United Kingdom not to participate jointly in such a system because it would be a cost-effective option that would have operational as well as economic benefits?
§ Mr. Hoon
The hon. Gentleman, understandably, invites me to travel much further down the road than it is necessary to go now. As I have said, we are in close contact with the United States. As its thinking evolves and as ours matures and develops, we shall perhaps have to address such matters, but we do not have to do so today. Unless and until the US decides to deploy even a limited national missile defence, there would be no great value in considering those issues, although I am sure that appropriate think tanks will welcome his thoughts on the subject.
We in the United Kingdom have taken great strides to ensure that the support provided to those forces will be the best we can provide. The new Defence Logistics Organisation will ensure that. Smart procurement is already showing how it can achieve significant reductions in the costs and time involved in bringing equipment into service, such as £200 million off the lifetime cost of the Challenger 2 tank and up to five years knocked off the time between main approval and the in-service date for the future offensive air system, which will provide a day and night long-range offensive air capability to replace that currently provided by the Tornado GR4.
We are leading the way among NATO and European nations in rebuilding and restructuring our forces for the operations that we expect to face in future. We cannot afford to be alone in that restructuring. Future operations are almost certain to be conducted in coalition with our allies and partners. Such operations will not succeed if they have not also restructured their forces. It is right that Europe should occupy a significant place on the international stage that reflects the continent's political and economic weight. However, a place at the top table brings obligations and responsibilities. In terms of its military capability, Europe is simply not up to the job in certain key areas.
The debate on European security and defence was launched by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about 18 months ago. The Kosovo crisis threw into sharp relief the gaps in European capability and gave added impetus to NATO's defence capabilities initiative. It is only right that Britain should have taken a leading part in 314 developing that work. The European defence initiative will ensure that, collectively, Europe's armed forces are capable of meeting their responsibilities. From the start, we have focused on the practicalities of improving Europe's military capability so that we can better contribute to NATO and are able to take effective action when NATO as a whole is not engaged.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
I apologise for not being present for the beginning of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Will he tell us what practical steps he is taking to encourage those capabilities, given that European defence spending is decreasing? How can the Germans increase their capability, which needs to be dramatically increased, if they are cutting their defence budget?
§ Mr. Hoon
That is a wholly plausible excuse.
The specific answer is that we have concentrated on the capabilities because too many European nations are still organised to face the threat from the Soviet Union—a threat that fortunately no longer exists. We are emphasising the need to reorganise those forces along expeditionary lines, as we have advocated in the strategic defence review, so that they can rapidly enter the field. That is precisely why, at the Helsinki European Council last December, all EU leaders committed themselves to meet a challenging target for collective capability. That headline goal requires EU member states to be able, by 2003, to deploy rapidly and sustain up to 60,000 troops, capable of undertaking the most demanding crisis management tasks.
Meeting that goal means improving Europe's armed forces so that we are better able to assemble, deploy and sustain the right mix of forces for specific NATO or EU-led operations. That is about real world capability; it is not institutional tinkering and certainly not a matter of creating a European army. We in the United Kingdom will continue to give a lead.
§ Mr. Robathan
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way: he has been particularly generous in doing so.
I have here a quotation from Mr. Prodi, President of the European Commission. In February, following the Helsinki summit, he told The Independent:When I was talking about the European Army I was not joking. If you don't want to call it a European Army, don't call it a European Army.Mr. Prodi said that he was not joking. He means a European army.
§ Mr. Hoon
I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows enough about the institutional structure of the European Union to be aware that Mr. Prodi—I assume that it is the same Mr. Prodi—is a European Commissioner, and, as such, will have no responsibility for the arrangements that we propose. Those arrangements will be dealt with in an intergovernmental context. Like any other European 315 citizen, Mr. Prodi is entitled to his point of view, but it will not reflect the decisions that European Governments are making.
We want the European Union to draw on detailed technical support from NATO, while retaining political control of the process. That will avoid the establishment of wasteful duplicate planning systems.
§ Mr. Quentin Davies
Can we return to the question of whether there is any chance that the Helsinki commitments will be met? Is the right hon. Gentleman using every opportunity to try to persuade his European Union colleagues to increase their defence budgets, or is he not?
§ Mr. Hoon
As I have said, getting a force of between 50,000 and 60,000 into the field quickly is not strictly about the size of the budget; it is about reorganising existing spending. It ought to be possible for the United Kingdom to deliver a force of that size to a theatre pretty quickly, but other countries ought to have the same capability. The aim of the headline goal is to make them concentrate on that, and they all agreed to it. Our immediate task is to expand the headline goal into a detailed list of the required forces and capabilities. That will provide a sound baseline, enabling us to identify national contributions and to highlight overall shortfalls later this year. The work is going ahead, in a detailed and practical way.
Work to implement the headline goal can only help the implementation of NATO's defence capabilities initiative. It will strengthen Europe and, in so doing, will strengthen NATO. As European nations are better able to bear their share of the alliance burden, our relationship with the United States will be strengthened.
Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Atlantic alliance. Around that time, many predicted that the celebration would become a funeral wake, and that the alliance would break apart under the pressures of the Kosovo crisis. They were wrong: the alliance emerged strengthened, having demonstrated a remarkable ability to pursue a common purpose in difficult circumstances.
NATO, however, is not the organisation that it was 50, 20 or even 10 years ago. "Adapt or die" may be an over-dramatic clichébut there is a truth in it. With its new command structure, its force structure review, the defence capabilities initiative and a series of other changes, NATO has adapted effectively. Meanwhile, we in the United Kingdom are adapting to face the challenges of the new century. Practical experience over the past 12 months has shown that, like the alliance of which we are a part, we have made a sound and effective start. There is still some distance to go, but I believe that we have the right plans for making the changes we must make. I also believe that we are doing all that we reasonably can to ensure that we, and Europe, will be able to respond to the challenges that we can be sure will face us in future years.
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)
I join the Secretary of State in paying fulsome tribute to the members of our armed forces—regulars, territorials and the reserves—who play such a significant part in the capability, and the delivery of that capability, of which we are all justly proud. I also agree with what 316 the Secretary of State said about the unarmed service man who has been taken hostage in Sierra Leone. That is a timely reminder—as if we needed it—that members of our armed services are serving all over the world, and, in many areas, are serving in dangerous environments. I pay tribute to them. I hope that the service man will be released very soon and that his family will accept our hopes on their behalf.
As we take part in this critical debate, and with the debate raging about Zimbabwe, I am reminded of my time in our armed forces in Zimbabwe a number of years ago, when we took what was then Rhodesia through to independence as Zimbabwe. I watched then the way in which members of our armed forces behaved. It was an eye-opener, even though I was serving at the time.
For example, I watched, right out in the bush, penny packets of six or seven men, ordinary privates, with corporals or perhaps even sergeants, bringing in thousands of war-tested guerrillas, who had hated and were killing whites—regardless of their political opinions at that stage—with tensions running high. Individual members took decisions to lay down their rifles—their only protection, or so it may have appeared—to go out and to shake the hands of those people as they came in, which restored their confidence in our forces and in the forces generally. They were not following an edict or command from generals, colonels or commanding officers. Those ordinary soldiers took that initiative. I know of no other armed force in the world that can rely to such a degree on the initiative and capability of its members. I pay fulsome tribute as a result.
That brings one matter into sharp relief, and I must touch on it, although I do not intend to spend a lot of time on it. Why are we having the debate today? It is such an important debate. The Secretary of State is right to say that we owe so much to our armed forces; we do. Why, then, are we having the debate on a day when the country is clearly and rightly obsessed with what is happening in local areas and when hon. Members have priorities elsewhere? Many have said to me that they are upset about not being able to attend the debate. The Select Committee on Defence has, I understand, even supported an early-day motion to that effect.
I make simply the following point—I do not intend to debate the matter: will the Secretary of State please bring that to the attention of his colleagues in the usual channels and say to them, "Next time, defence deserves a better slot"? We do not get too many opportunities. For his sake, as much as for ours, the House deserves to have such a debate at a proper time.
The Secretary of State was right to talk about defence in the world in the light of the strategic defence review, because so much of what we do or do not do stems from what happened in that review. The Government were keen to stress that the review would be foreign policy-led. I was sorry to see the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), leave just now. I wanted to raise some questions with him, but no doubt we will be able to pursue those matters at a later date. It appears that during the review—I accept that the Secretary of State was not in his current post at the time—there was an absence of any foreign policy discussion and analysis; at least none was published or made available.
317 In its report on the SDR, the Defence Committee complained:the government's manifesto promised a "strategic defence and security review" … we are still awaiting the strategic security review. In a sense we have received a two-dimensional review of a three-dimensional world.The Committee's criticism was well founded because that foreign policy analysis is critical for us to understand not what we will always be doing in future, but what it is likely that we will be called upon to do.
For example, less than a year after the end of the review, the crises in Kosovo, in East Timor and in other areas, but particularly in those two, had erupted. They were not necessarily predicted. It is important to know what foreign policy input there was during the review on such dangers and difficulties. It is the commitments that flowed from the review which have created so many overstretch problems for our armed forces. The Secretary of State spoke about that. The failure to conduct such a wide-ranging foreign policy review has caused a huge problem for the armed forces.
Nevertheless, parts of the strategic defence review are welcome. Since becoming Opposition defence spokesman, I have made it clear that in the previous Parliament I was one of those who thought that, rather than simply considering our defence objectives in a piecemeal manner, we should have a foreign policy-led review. I make no bones about my position on the issue of such a review, on which there was disagreement on both sides of the House. It was right to have a review, and some of its aspects are welcome.
I particularly welcome the review's treatment of matters such as a joint command. It was absolutely right to deal with such matters, many of which were based on plans developed by the previous Government. It is right that such plans have been brought to fruition. It was also right to develop the concept of power projection, which entails having the capability to go to the parts of the world that pose threats to our interests or to those of our allies. The Opposition welcome without reservation such a capability.
Nevertheless, the SDR also contained some fundamental flaws. In the past two years, it is the review's flaws that have become most apparent. The review, despite its seemingly good intentions, was Treasury driven and, therefore, became a cost-cutting exercise. The Ministry of Defence had to dress it up as a strategic exercise, rather than admitting that it was a process of saving yet more money.
As I said, the result has been to create a problem of overstretch and a crisis of retention. In recent debates, the Opposition have outlined the very damaging consequences to our armed forces caused by the savage cuts made to the defence Budget since 1997.
I should like to focus on two elements of the strategic defence review: omissions and mistakes in strategic planning, and the issue of whether our equipment and personnel capabilities are sufficient to fulfil our real overall requirements.
§ Mr. Davidson
In his exposition, will the hon. Gentleman make it clear whether he is committing the 318 Opposition to spending more on defence or—to reduce overstretch—to reducing commitments? Will he give us a clear and unequivocal reply on both those points?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I have always been absolutely clear on those points. Our position is that unless it is possible to reduce our commitments to a sustainable level, we shall of course have to increase capability.
If the hon. Gentleman wants me to go even further than that, I would simply remind him that the Government have been in power for three years, and tell him—unless he is about to tell me that there will be a general election in the next few months—that I cannot judge yet whether the Government have succeeded or failed in achieving their objective of reducing commitments. I also cannot determine yet how their failure to achieve that objective might impinge on costs. He should, however, mark my words: in the next few months, and before the next general election, the Opposition will produce a series of proposals dealing in detail with the points that he has raised.
The key issue is whether the Government have given up on the idea of reducing commitments to a level commensurate with capability, or believe that they can maintain both current commitments and current capability. I shall demonstrate that they cannot do the latter.
§ Ms Squire
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way—[Interruption.] I apologise; I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I always manage to get that wrong.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, from the mid-1980s onwards, the previous Government cut defence expenditure by one third? Does he also agree that there was a one-third cut in Army personnel, and that that was one of the major factors in the armed forces personnel shortage that the present Government inherited and have committed themselves to tackling?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
The Government have been intent on saying that Conservative Members have lurched to the right. However, as the hon. Lady has called me her hon. Friend, I am worried that we may have lurched so far to the left that our position will be untenable. Labour Members cannot have it both ways on that score.
Seriously, however, the hon. Lady maintains that defence budget reductions have created the problem. If that were so, why would she agree with the Government that a further £800 million annual cut will solve the very problem to which she referred? What effect does she think that will have on the families in her constituency who have members serving in the armed forces? It is no good the Government turning round after three years and saying, "We are in a mess, but it is still not our fault, and we are making it worse by making a bigger cut in the defence forces." It makes no logical sense. I wish that they would pack it up and get on with debating what their policy is really about.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
I was the person involved in making the adjustments to our armed forces at the end of the cold war. My hon. Friend dealt adequately with the childish point that has just been made, but it is worth remembering that during the time of those adjustments, we were assailed by the Labour party to make more cuts.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. One other point that is worth making—I was not 319 going to mention it, but I will now—is that at the previous election the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) will recall that the then Conservative Government pledged no further reductions in the defence budget. We said that there would be a period of stability so that we could assess the effect of the changes before deciding, finally, whether we had gone too far. That is the most powerful argument against the hon. Lady's point.
I want to begin the strategic aspect of my speech by talking about ballistic missile defence. Interestingly, the Secretary of State centred a large part of his speech on that and it is important to pick him up on it. He talked, rightly, about the problem of proliferation and about the Government's position. I must take him back to the SDR. Part of the problem was the SDR's complete lack of recognition of the nature of the threat, which was already being recognised across the Atlantic. When I read the SDR, I was amazed that it shied away from discussing, other than in a very small way, the effect of such proliferation continuing at the same rate.
All that flew in the face of available information which led the Rumsfeld commission in the Senate to indicate that the United States, at least, would face a direct threat from North Korea and Iran within five years. I remind the Secretary of State that the radius of the threat that brings the United States into target range from North Korea also brings the United Kingdom into target range, because the ranges go over the poles. I am happy to show the right hon. Gentleman a map that demonstrates why it is more than just a threat to the United States now and a threat to Northern Europe later; there is a much greater degree of overlap.
As late as last May, the then Secretary of State said:We are not in favour of developing ballistic missile defence systems. We are in favour of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, which was one of the … forerunners of arms control legislation.—[Official Report, 10 May 1999; Vol. 331, c. 10.]In the 1999 defence White Paper the Government started to chart a shift by saying:The SDR concluded that it would be premature to decide on acquiring a ballistic missile defence capability. We continue however with a programme of work to understand the technology needed for active defence against ballistic missiles both independently and with our NATO allies.
On three separate occasions in the past year, I have made comments or speeches pointing out that we need to give a lead in Europe, and certainly within NATO, and try to get others to discuss properly the viability and nature of the threat. It is interesting that, even in the past few months, information about the developing relationship between Serbia and Iraq does not seem to have forced anybody in Europe to think carefully about the implications.
Serbia has—and has had for some time—48 kg of weapons-grade uranium, and a recent report from the Mulholland Institute informs us that the only thing that Iraq lacks to make its nuclear weapon is enriched uranium. Those two nations are currently exchanging information and forming ties of friendship. That shows clearly that proliferation continues.
Even the inspectors now recognise that even while they were in Iraq, the Iraqis were happily gathering information and capability—ironically, through various market mechanisms—to enable them to produce weapons of mass destruction. That has continued throughout the 320 period of sanctions. What view do we take of the whole process of missile defence, given that there is a country that needs uranium and a country that has it, both of which have pariah status in the eyes of the rest of the world?
Arguably, if Serbia learned one thing during the Kosovo campaign, it was that taking NATO on with conventional weapons is simply not on. The capability has moved on so far that it might consider that the one thing that might have stopped the operation would have been the possession of a weapon of mass destruction, biological or nuclear, which could have created, especially for those who are close to Serbia, just the sort of tensions that we managed to overcome in the NATO alliance. That might have broken our unified front.
The Secretary of State made it clear today that there has been yet another shift in the Government's thinking—probably driven by the intelligence gathering of the Ministry of Defence—so perhaps they, at least in the person of the Secretary of State, are at last beginning to recognise that there is a serious threat that will not go away, and needs to be dealt with in a number of ways.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Neath, was here earlier, and I wanted to raise with him a matter that I will now have to raise in his absence. The Defence Secretary said on 21 March 2000 that he would look sympathetically at requests to upgrade Fylingdales, but on the very same evening, in another meeting, the Minister of State said that he did not likethe idea of a star wars programme, limited or unlimited.The Government are sending out conflicting messages. The Defence Secretary, driven no doubt by the MOD's understanding of the nature of the threat, is beginning to move towards what I would consider a logical position, while the Foreign Office, in the person of the Foreign Secretary, and especially his Minister of State, is absolutely opposed to the process.
Will the Secretary of State make absolutely clear today the Government's view of the American position? Do they believe that national missile defence is the right response?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
Our position is clear. As the Secretary of State said earlier, we see that as part of a number of processes that are in train to control proliferation. The treaty-based obligations, which continue to be negotiated, are part of that. We are talking now about the problem with which the non-proliferation treaties have not succeeded in dealing, and that is states that are not deterred by those treaties from the possession of weapons of mass destruction—and the means to deliver them, whether by terrorists or by ballistic missile. Therefore, under the cover of those treaties, those states have developed such a capability. I mentioned Iraq's capability earlier, and that was developed during the interplay of those treaties. Of course we take the view that the ends should be achieved through negotiation and 321 treaty where possible, but at the same time we cannot wish away the reality of the need for another deterrent, which does not currently exist.
§ Mr. Hoon
The hon. Gentleman did not quite answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) about amendments to the anti-ballistic missile treaty. Does he believe that the treaty should be amended, and what should the British Government's negotiating position be in order to achieve that?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention back to what he said in his contribution. We are not signatories to the anti-ballistic missile treaty, so it is a matter for the USA and Russia, and how it should be amended is to be decided between those two powers. However—this is the important point—obviously we want to see a viable arrangement between the possessors of nuclear weapons, as exists now. I do not resile from that position, but we do not have a negotiating position within the ABM treaty, as the Secretary of State said earlier. Our view or his view on the matter can only be passed to either party, and will not affect any amendment to the treaty.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that the ABM treaty should be renegotiated if possible. He mentioned the Soviet Union, but I trust that he accepts that Russia is its appropriate successor—although I gather that that is not accepted in some parts of the US. I trust that he is not implying that he would be prepared to see the treaty abrogated if satisfactory conclusions cannot be reached through negotiation.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I did not say what the hon. Gentleman claims I said, so the intervention and my comments do not hang together. The reality is that the ABM treaty is a matter for its signatories, and they will have to make the decisions. We will want—so, I am sure, will the Government—some accommodation to be made between the Americans and those who are now responsible for the treaty after the break-up of the old Soviet Union.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
If such an accommodation were reached it would solve the problem. However, that may not happen, and we do not know the key position of the Russian Federation. Is it in a negotiating position and trying to get the best deal it can from the US, either in terms of defence or other matters, or is it absolutely against any form of renegotiation of the ABM treaty? In that case, is the hon. Gentleman prepared to countenance the abrogation of the treaty to meet US aims?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
These interventions from Labour Members are enlightening. We are beginning to see the real debate that will take place in the Labour party when it has to make a decision about nuclear proliferation and ballistic missile defence: there will be a return to the old days of the 1980s, when it had to make a decision about our defence against the Soviet threat using theatre 322 weapons. I repeat that the discussions of the ABM treaty should take place between the signatories to the treaty. I cannot begin to say what the Russian position on the issue is, other than what everybody reads in the newspaper. All I can do is draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to what took place in the discussions between the Prime Minister and Vladimir Putin when he was over here. Beyond that, I leave it to the hon. Gentleman's judgment, because I cannot pursue the point.
I hope that the parties reach an accommodation, but the key question is the Government's position on the growing threat. Do they believe that the threat is in line with the Rumsfeld commission report and that, within the next three years or so, we are likely to face a direct challenge from a state armed with such weapons? If that is the case, are the Government prepared to respond to that threat? We still have not reached that position.
§ Mr. Bercow
In the light of what my hon. Friend has just said, does he agree that it was untimely for the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), to signal, in a written answer given on 24 January this year, a growing interest in a readiness on the part of this country to negotiate away her nuclear weapons? Does that not underline the importance of the Ministry of Defence retaining control over policy in these matters, and not allowing the Foreign Office to queer its pitch?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I must say that there appears to be a clear difference of opinion between the two Departments, and that is dangerous. When one sends a conflicting message to a possible aggressor, it will invariably take the weaker message that says that we will do nothing because we are instinctively and ideologically opposed to doing anything else. Countries that want to possess those weapons will take their cue from the mood of the Foreign Office, not the MOD.
I shall end my discussion of the issue by mentioning an interesting comment by the Chairman of the Defence Committee, who said in August last year:Sooner or later, we will have to get off the fence and co-operate in developing a ballistic missile defence system.The Committee at least is beginning to realise that we face a serious problem.
The second aspect of the Government's strategic thinking that is weak and wrong-headed—and also impinges on the ballistic missile defence debate—is on European defence. That comment will not surprise the Secretary of State, who made great play of the issue, and I shall respond. The Government's approach started for very much the wrong reasons. In 1998, the Prime Minister was worried about what he perceived as a weakening of his influence in the corridors of power in Brussels, because of our failure to be part of the euro, and he decided to discuss a range of matters on which we might toss a little more into the pot to rebalance the loss of influence. We should have had some warning of what was to come, because the Financial Times reported in June 1998 that it had been briefed about the grandiose ambitions of the Government in Europe and that the UK favoured closer integration in defence as part of a plan to increase influence in Europe. Clearly, the Government were by then beginning to see defence as just another big-ticket item in the game of influence.
323 On that basis, the Prime Minister started his initiative with the French in St. Malo. We have debated what was said, and I shall not repeat that now, but the decision taken there marks not only the difference between the parties but the difference in approach to what is best for the defence of these islands and of western Europe. The result of that shift will weaken NATO, not create a more potent and balanced NATO, and make it more difficult for it to operate in the future.
The French continue to make it clear how they see the process working. However, their view is totally at odds with that espoused by the Secretary of State. Recently, Hubert Vedrine, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, made that absolutely clear in an interview with Ouest France, when he said:We aren't giving up the objective of making Europe a power in the world … that has driven us from the outset.That is no surprise to anyone, but the fact that it was said recently, in the middle of all the discussion and debate about the construction of the European strategic defence initiative and the common european security and defence policy is important.
Britain should be taking a lead in working with the United States instead of acquiescing in moves that will weaken NATO. However, I want to focus on the practicalities. The lesson that the Secretary of State said the Government had learned from Kosovo—the Government are constantly referring to it—is that the European capabilities were wholly inadequate, with the United States providing the vast bulk of the air assets used in the Kosovo operation.
The obvious answer was that our European partners should spend more on defence and upgrade their currently woeful capabilities. Here we see the Secretary of State at odds with his predecessor. Lord Robertson has said on a number of occasions, and certainly quite recently, that European countries need to spend more on defence; he branded them "paper tigers". However, the Secretary of State's response—he said it again today—was that European nations did not need to spend more, and needed only to refocus their defence expenditure. He wrote in a letter to The Times:Britain's Strategic Defence Review has shown that it is possible to make huge improvements in these areas through better use of existing resources. We are urging our partners and allies to use our review as a model for the modernisation of their own Armed Forces.
§ Mr. Soames
I am sure that my hon. Friend did not mean to create the impression that our European friends do not have good capabilities in some areas. Indeed, the French, the Germans and the Dutch have some extremely professional units that work very well with ours. Is it not correct that because very many of those forces are conscript forces that are completely unsuited to fighting and certainly to any high-intensity warfare, the change required and the time taken to get that change under way is so great that it makes the whole initiative quite meaningless in contemporary terms?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I agree with my hon. Friend. The German Defence Minister recently made it clear that conscription is perceived as a tool of social policy. It means not just membership of the armed forces, but meals on wheels and the like. It is all part of what they call binding the country together, and they do not foresee a major change. A falling defence budget without any major 324 change will mean less rather than greater capability. That is what Lord Robertson, the architect of the SDR, meant when he spoke about paper tigers.
§ Mr. King
If it is still the case—my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—one of the problems with the French conscripts is that they cannot be deployed outside metropolitan France. If we are looking to deploy the more mobile force to which the Secretary of State referred, one of the real problems with some of the European forces is that they are simply not available. I certainly remember that significant elements of the French forces in the Gulf were from the Foreign Legion, the only troops that they were able to deploy there.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I intend to move on to that point. What is not in dispute, however, is the view that the defence capability of the nations of Europe is not good enough to match that of the Americans or to complement or balance NATO. That is the key. I want to talk about whether what is being proposed presents a solution to that problem, or whether, as I hope to be able to demonstrate, it is there for other reasons.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the topic of Lord Robertson, one or two of us Scots cannot recollect Lord Robertson telling the electors of Hamilton that there should be an increase in defence expenditure.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am not absolutely au fait with exactly what Lord Robertson said at the election, but I do not recall that a pledge to increase defence expenditure was part of his election manifesto. I take the hon. Gentleman's word that it was not.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I must make some progress, as I have given way rather a lot and I know that others wish to speak.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, The hon. Member for Leicester, East, has also made the same point as the Secretary of State that in essence, there is no need to increase defence expenditure, but they are at odds with the expert opinion provided by the International Institute for Strategic Studies which last October, in the Financial Times, said of the CESDP:Unless defence expenditure is allowed substantially to increase, the build up of a serious defence capacity will remain the stuff of communiqués
We have had a number of debates in the House about the development of CESDP as a political initiative, but today I should like to ask some serious questions about the military practicalities. Reading from the interesting paper produced by the Political Committee of the European Council, I note that the so-called "headline goal" is for the force to be in place by 2003. The report said that the force will be made of up to 50,000 to 60,000 troops and that it will be militarily self-sustaining with the necessary command, control and intelligence capabilities, logistics and other combat support elements. The force 325 may even have to carry out more than one operation at a time. The document further states that the force will undertakethe most demanding mission for at least one year.The committee noted that it would require an additional pool of deployable forces to provide replacements.
So what is the force for? The Secretary of State consistently attempts to talk it down. Apparently, according to the Government, it is meant to fulfil the Petersberg tasks and not much more. Those tasks involve peacekeeping and the delivery and co-ordination of humanitarian aid. That rules out a Kosovo-style intervention.
Furthermore, in his recent evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, the Secretary of State seemed to bend over backwards to tell us that the force would not have any particular organisation and that we should not get hung up on structures, as it was all just planning. Yet in France and Germany, in the European Commission and in Italy, as we heard earlier, it seemed to be a very different story. We have been through all the quotes time and again, but they seem to indicate that it is an embryonic European army or a Eurocorps. So who is wrong and who is right?
It beggars belief that we should be expected to accept from the Government that the EU and all its member states have embarked on four conferences, endless ministerial meetings, and talked ambitiously about this force of up to 200,000 troops, without believing from the outset that it required a structure and an organisation in its own right and was not just an ad hoc affair, as the Government seem to suggest.
§ Mr. Hoon
Let me bring the hon. Gentleman back to some degree of reality. He will know that that kind of planning process is routinely undertaken by NATO, as there is no NATO standing force. NATO consistently undertakes similar planning processes to deal with the scenarios that it might face. That is precisely the process that is being advocated for the headline goal. The hon. Gentleman really is making heavy weather of his Euro obsessions when he tries to see some structure lying behind the clear words of what has been agreed between EU nations.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
That is precisely at the heart of the issue. If, as he keeps trying to do, the Secretary of State plays down the idea until it is not about organisational structures, but is nothing more or less than what NATO gets up to, the big question is: why in heaven's name have we embarked on it in the first place, if it is already available and capable of being done within NATO?
I shall take the Secretary of State down that road in a moment, as I hope that he will intervene again later. What is the reorganisation for? That is the key question. The suggestion is that it is just an ad hoc arrangement but, given the existence of NATO, why do we need to create, through the EU, the structure that has been described? It would include states that have not been aligned militarily with us or with our allies, but exclude a number of states that have shown their commitment to the defence of western Europe even though they are not part of the EU. There is no logic to that, and the proposition makes no sense.
326 What will the restructuring achieve that NATO cannot? The Secretary of State referred endlessly to the use of NATO assets, as do all the documents, but what are those assets? The right hon. Gentleman said that they could be used as and when required, but only in EU operations. However, under the terms of the reorganisation, they would be entrusted to nations that were not members of NATO. Do those assets include the US heavy-lift capability, or tanker aircraft, or access to US satellite information—even though not every NATO member country gets that information? Do they include US electronic warfare capabilities or air defence suppression aircraft?
In military terms, such questions go to the heart of the purpose of the restructuring. The point has to be reiterated that a false assumption is being made about the foreign policy dimension. It is that the world view shared by Britain and our EU partners will allow us to operate militarily with them, but will also—somehow—separate us from the USA. The question remains, however: how would we square that? What purpose would it serve, if we are not going to intervene in situations such as those in Kosovo or the Gulf? If we are going to intervene in such situations, where would it leave us? For example, we operated not with France in the Gulf, but with the US.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
My hon. Friend is touching on an extremely important matter. The proposal is predicated on a difference of view between the European members of NATO and the US. Key US assets would be essential to the prosecution of an independent European operation. However, if the US authorities did not believe in the cause, why should they permit those assets to be drawn down?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
That is much the point that I am trying to make as I bring my comments to a close. NATO is sustained because it is a practical option. As events in Kosovo showed, NATO can deliver military force where it is needed and produce results in a military context. If NATO were no more than an ad hoc political arrangement, it would never have got past first base in Kosovo, as the Secretary of State knows.
What in heaven's name is the proposal about if it does not achieve the same status as NATO, but remains merely the ad hoc arrangement described by the Secretary of State? That is the problem. If what is created does not become a big structure, it will remain no more than a political smokescreen. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) noted, such a smokescreen would hide the fact that European nations would continue to cut their military budgets, thus reducing their capability. That in turn would place great strain on the NATO alliance, and would not solve the real problem, which is that more needs to be done, and done better.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
I do not agree that the proposal is a smokescreen. The hon. Gentleman makes a caricature of what has been proposed. There has never been any suggestion that the European component, in the foreseeable future, would be able to take over a matter as large as the Kosovo conflict. The US has exerted constant pressure for burden sharing in NATO and for Europe to assume a greater role. It is accepted that there will be problems at the edge of Europe, perhaps in the Balkans. For good reasons, the US would not wish to be committed 327 there, but Europe could play a role by taking on a so-called Petersberg task. Such an operation would be relatively small, and the key element is that NATO will always have first refusal on it.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has made my point for me. Why is Kosovo always quoted as the lesson that we have learned, when what we are saying behind our hands is that there is no talk of resolving the Kosovo problem? The issue at the heart of the nonsense peddled by the Government is that, in reality, a political solution is being applied to what is essentially a military problem. That is deeply dangerous. We will see how the proposition divides NATO, which is concerned with military solutions.
The Secretary of State mentioned Europe's defence failings, but why cannot they be resolved in NATO? What problem exists that prevents strengthening the European arm of NATO? Why is there any need to go outside NATO? The proposal excludes some nations whose commitment to the defence of western European is not in doubt, and includes others that have never been allied with NATO. Why do we need to go outside NATO to achieve something that the Secretary of State believes can be done in an ad hoc manner anyway?
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
That is nonsense, as it has been made clear within NATO that there may be occasions on which the US may not wish to be involved. For example, as with Kosovo, it has always been the case that not all members would want to be involved directly or militarily in an operation that NATO wanted to mount. My point is that such matters can be resolved in NATO, and that, contrary to the Government's apparent ambition, there is no need for alternatives outside NATO to be prescribed or created.
In reality, the Government have opened a door to those who consider NATO to be the problem rather than part of the solution. That is the dangerous aspect of the proposal, and the Government are busy telling everyone not to worry. They have told the Americans that the proposal is about improving capability. They have told the French that it is about improving European defence and having greater control over it. They have told the House that it is about nothing, really.
§ Mr. Hoon
The hon. Gentleman is allowing his anti-European obsessions to affect his process of reasoning. The important lesson for this country from Kosovo was that European countries were not organised in such as way as to allow them to respond rapidly to that conflict. The reorganisation is designed specifically to deal with that problem. Subsequent events have demonstrated that Europe can get forces in the field over a period of time. For example, about 80 per cent. of the forces currently in Kosovo are European, but the question is how we address that rapid deployment capability. That is where the relevance of Kosovo lies. If the hon. Gentleman had studied carefully the initial publication 328 made by my predecessor last October, in which the lessons learned from Kosovo were set out, he would have seen that relevance clearly. That is what he is missing.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
Order. Perhaps I might suggest to the House that interventions should be brief. I know that hon. Members are talking about a highly technical matter, but interventions must be brief.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I take your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and my answer to the Secretary of State's intervention will be brief: the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. He has confused the real lessons from Kosovo with the so-called solution that he has put together. The lessons from Kosovo were very simple. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex said earlier, the nations of Europe have allowed their defence capability to fall below a level that allows them to work and co-operate with the best in NATO.
What is the point of being able to deploy troops to a theatre of war if they are not able to fight when they get there? The Secretary of State keeps on using the Kosovo argument, but if the European initiative that he has set out is not designed to deal with Kosovo, why in heaven's name does he use Kosovo as the relevant example? The key point is that the restructuring is really a political device, and the Government have released a tiger that will create huge problems.
The second strand of my argument has to do with sustainability under the strategic defence review—our ability, in military terms, to sustain operations while maintaining the objectives of the SDR. I want to consider the problem of overstretch, but not simply on the basis of figures. I want to consider how the Government are dealing with the problem and whether their actions have made things worse.
The key issue is the relationship between the regular forces and the reserves. The defence review made a commitment to increase the size of the Regular Army by 3,300 while reducing the Territorial Army by 18,000. Since that reduction, it has become clearer every day that it was wrong-headed. In every NATO nation of any significance—even some of small significance—the ratio between the regulars and the reserves is far higher than ours. That is especially true for America and Australia—although Australia is not a NATO nation—both of which have professional forces similar to our own. The logic for them is clearly that with smaller professional forces one needs to be able to access well-trained reserves—for obvious reasons.
Those ratios compare unfavourably with the Government's—on paper, a full strength of 111,000 to 40,000 in the TA. As my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) recently discovered on a visit to Texas, the US army reserve has almost as many men as the US Army. If the national guard is added, the US can put together a force that is nearly twice the size of its regular force.
The picture is much the same in France, Germany and Canada, where the number of regulars and reserves is broadly equivalent. For example, Italy can apparently mobilise 240,000 reserves to its army of 160,000. 329 Although we might debate the effectiveness of its regular army, that ratio is important for its operation. By contrast, our Territorial Army, under the review, does not even make up half the numbers in our Army.
The real problem is that our professional Army was forced to make a choice between it and the TA—of course, it chose the TA. Even if I accepted the Government's logic—that to increase the Army we had to reduce the TA—we must consider how bad things are in reality. Let us forget the paper and look at actual numbers: we are 6,000 men under strength. If the Adjutant-General is to be believed, it will take about 31 years, if all goes well, to get us up to strength, so surely the Territorial Army must play an even greater part in taking up some of the slack.
That is the key criticism. The Government's action on the TA has made matters worse and the situation will get progressively worse over the next few years. There is no slack and the TA will be unable to assist because the pressures on it are beginning to mirror those on the Regular Army. I want to highlight the fact that I am not engaging in a stupid debate about overstretch. We know that that is occurring—it happened while we were in office; that is fully accepted. We must deal with reality. How do we tackle the problem in the short and in the long term? In the short term, the reserves are critically important.
Equipment is also important in any discussion of sustainability. The forces that we put in the field need the right equipment, and enough of it, to sustain that deployment. That is the key to our future success. Recently, there have been several leaked reports. About a week ago, a leaked report from the Public Accounts Committee seemed to back up internal MOD reports about the Kosovo operation, leaked at the beginning of the year. The reports dealt with the problems of sustaining our initial and subsequent involvement in Kosovo.
When I talk to members of our armed forces, I find that they are deeply concerned about that matter. When they talk about support and spares, they all refer to what—rightly or wrongly—they believe to be the supermarket ethos of the MOD. They talk about the just-in-time concept. Many of them told me that when they went into Kosovo they experienced great problems in getting the right spares to the right place at the right time. Those comments seem to have been borne out by the reports. As a result of those problems, far too many tanks and armoured vehicles were off the road simply for want of a track or a bogey wheel that could not be supplied because of the limited spares support. Our commanding officers are worried about those serious problems; they believe that they are reaching crisis proportions.
The matter is critical. The Kosovo report will sound a wake-up call to the Government and to all politicians. The problems have gone too far and we need to think again. If we put our troops in the field, we must be able to sustain their action in both easy and difficult circumstances when they are opposed for some time. That will create an even greater problem.
We should also consider the future. Where are we going under the smart procurement programme? That was supposed to give our troops the right equipment to help them to operate in the manner envisaged under the 330 strategic defence review. The two latest big procurements are the BVRAAM—the beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile—the short-term heavy lift, and the long-term commitment to tranche two heavy-lift replacement. It is time that decisions were made on those matters.
I hear that decisions have been made in the MOD, but we also hear—perhaps the Secretary of State can confirm this—that the Chancellor has taken control of those decisions. Apparently, he has his own view on the strategic and tactical requirements of the MOD. I was not aware that the Chancellor was such a military expert—he is now capable of deciding exactly what is required for the operation of the SDR. Will the Secretary of State remind his right hon. Friend—I am sure he has already done so—that, in the SDR, smart procurement laid a requirement on the Government? They were to stick to their part of the bargain—to make the decisions in time so that industry could produce the equipment for our troops to undertake their SDR requirements. Any further delays by the Chancellor will make a mockery of what he calls smart procurement—I would call it stupid procurement on a grand scale.
The MOD is in a difficult position. It is trying to operate under the SDR requirements and according to its view of what is happening throughout the world. However, as we proceed, we realise that some of those important assumptions were wrong and that the review itself was thus fundamentally flawed. That flawed review has led the Government into making incorrect assumptions, with the result that our armed forces are in difficulties. They face greater commitments, with the likelihood that the quality of their equipment is not as good as it might be. The Government need to review the matter immediately and rapidly. In so doing, they should also review their strategic requirements in the light of future threat. Unless they make a decision on ballistic missile defence and on their stance in that debate, and unless they lead that debate, I fear that we shall expose ourselves to a future threat to which we have no response. Then, of course, it will be too late.
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
It is a privilege for me to participate in this debate and to reflect on the Government's work, globally and locally. I am particularly interested in local matters, given that the Clyde submarine base and Coulport are in my constituency.
I congratulate the Government. Much mention has been made of global issues. When the Labour Government were elected in 1997, they banned land mines, so there will be no import, no export, no manufacture or transfer of land mines. No British soldier will ever lay an anti-personnel land mine. That is a great achievement. We can be proud of Britain's role in the world on that issue.
Mention has also been made of the strategic defence review. The problems have been going on for more than a decade. I was a member of the Select Committee on Defence when the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) was Secretary of State for Defence and we were grappling with the problems of a post-cold war world. A common theme that has emerged under both Governments is: how do we respond to a changed world and make our forces more flexible and mobile? At the core of that is the need for change in our armed forces. 331 I know that great moves have been made over the past decade and I encourage the Government to continue to ensure that our forces have the flexibility and the mobility to respond to the crises in East Timor, Mozambique and other places that have been mentioned in the debate.
Although I recognise the need for the strategic defence review, I also understand the need to free up money for the front line. That is a key issue. We must eliminate unnecessary duplication across the three armed services, dispose of surplus MOD property and come up to date with e-commerce and information technology so as to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy. I wish to pose several questions about those issues. Although I recognise that changes must be made, the way that they are carried out is extremely important. How we go about our business concerns me.
As I said, I have an interest in the subject because of the bases in my constituency. It is important to emphasise how crucial those facilities are to Scotland, particularly when we hear the rantings of members of the Scottish National party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] Exactly—they are not here for this debate. I have heard vacuous comments from the leader of the SNP and others about the Clyde submarine base, Coulport and Rosyth, and their argument that everything can be done by conventional ships. He knows, in his heart of hearts, and we know that that is total nonsense.
For the sake of individuals and political parties in Scotland, it is worth noting that in 1997–98, 10,640 full-time equivalent direct jobs were provided by the operations of the Royal Navy bases in Scotland. A total of £265 million in gross wages and salaries was paid to the employees at those bases, and of that figure more than 70 per cent. was paid in my constituency. Some 6,000 full-time equivalent jobs were provided for civilian employees, mainly civil servants, and more than two thirds of them were provided at the Clyde base. A further 4,641 jobs were for Royal Navy personnel, which were also concentrated at the Clyde base.
Taking into consideration other employment, other income, supply linkages and the fact that local firms have been given support, in 1997–98 the Clyde base generated for the Scottish economy 10,785 full-time equivalent jobs, 70 per cent. of which were civilian jobs. The resulting income for the area is estimated at £256 million, of which £154 million comprises wages and salaries to civilians. The base makes a substantial contribution to the local economy of Dumbartonshire, where more than 9,100 jobs have been generated, of which nearly 6,000 are for civilian residents. That is equivalent to 11 per cent. of all full-time equivalent employees in Dumbartonshire. If the SNP's defence policy were implemented, we would have a huge problem throughout Scotland—and not least in my area.
It is relevant to note that the figure of more than 10,000 direct full-time equivalent posts provided by the Royal Navy is greater than the number of jobs provided by 25 of the 60 industrial and service sectors in Scotland during 1997. The jobs make a huge contribution and we must go about our business in a sensible and sensitive manner.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) mentioned the Govan shipyard and the contract for ro-ro ferries. My hon. Friend the Minister will know the heat and the emotion that the issue 332 has generated in Scotland, particularly on the Clyde. Polaris came to the Clyde in 1963, when there were about 33 shipyards on the river. We are now left with two or three, but there is still a proud tradition in the Govan and Yarrow shipyards. Ministers and the Ministry of Defence should listen to the pleas of communities on Clydeside, because tradition, symbolism and community pride are involved in ensuring that we have such jobs to provide employment in the area.
The problem for Govan is one of timing. I understand that contracts have been out to tender, but the contracts for the type 45 frigates will be made in three years' time. It is important that the yards have full orders to ensure the continuity of employment, and my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde and others have made that very point.
§ Dr. Godman
I remind my hon. Friend that I have more constituents working in Govan than any other Clydeside Member. About 30 big orders will come from the MOD, but only four or five yards are capable of building the ships. My hon. Friend is right: those yards must be kept in operation to meet the massive orders that will come on stream very soon.
§ Mr. McFall
I mentioned the issue of community pride, but skilling is another factor. We do not want deskilling to take place on the Clyde so that, once this hiatus is over, we no longer have the work force to do the work. That important point must be made loud and clear to Ministers and the MOD. Had Ministers and others been in Glasgow when petitions were being organised, they would realise that there is a head of steam behind this issue.
My hon. Friend mentioned his constituents who work in the shipyards. Quite a number of my constituents also work in them, so we have a common interest in ensuring the stability of the Clyde yards.
§ Mr. Davidson
The case for shipbuilding on Clydeside is not based simply on emotion; it is based on the defence argument that it is absolutely and utterly essential that we retain the capability to build type 45 frigates and appropriate subsequent vessels. That capability will be maintained only if Govan Shipbuilders Ltd. is retained, as its new owners, British Aerospace, intend to operate Yarrow and Govan together as a twin-site location for a single yard.
We have a difficulty with the flow of orders at the moment, but did my hon. Friend notice, as I did, the breakdown of P&O's latest liner, which was built in a German yard? The Government should draw lessons from that, which I hope will lead them to conclude that what one pays little for at the outset might end up costing much more in repairs in the longer term.
§ Mr. McFall
My hon. Friend is extremely eloquent in putting the strategic case. The essence of his argument is that, if we want things to work, they have to be built on the Clyde. That message must be taken on board.
I raised the issue of service personnel residences in my constituency with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary yesterday and he was kind enough to respond to me. The Churchill estate in Helensburgh, which has more than 700 homes, has for many years required attention and 333 renewal by the MOD. That has been taking place in the past few years, but the MOD and the Navy have a legitimate case for disposing of a number of those houses because of the reduction in the number of personnel. There is a duty to individuals who came to Faslane to secure jobs in the Royal Navy and who are now in those homes. There is also a responsibility to ex-wives of naval personnel, whose marriages have broken up but who still find themselves in the area. The problem has continued for almost three years and my hon. Friend will understand my frustration—that is the least of it—and that of individuals who feel that their future housing requirements are threatened by what they would regard as the capricious decision-making process of the Defence Housing Executive and others.
I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary listened to me intently yesterday, and I understand that something will be done. I was on the telephone this morning to the Dunbritton housing association, which has put in a bid for the houses. Along with the Argyll and Bute council, it has been negotiating with the Defence Housing Executive over the past few years to take over the homes. It will soon be meeting Mr. Phillip Gibb of Defence Estates. I want the talks to take place urgently, as does the Minister. I know that he will be interested in the progress that is made. I hope that, over the next month or so, we can close the gap in perceptions between Defence Estates and the Dunbritton housing association, and ensure a good and stable future for many of the people in the Churchill estate.
There is a sound reason for having good social rented housing in the Helensburgh area, and the local Argyll and Bute council is aware of it. There are 523 applicants registered on the local authority housing waiting list for Helensburgh, and a further 163 are registered as statutory homeless persons. Last year, there were only 137 relets in the area. It is obvious that social rented housing is needed. The sooner that the Defence Housing Executive, Defence Estates, the Dunbritton housing association and the Argyll and Bute council sort out the matter, the better it will be for all. As I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, I am willing to be involved in any negotiations at a local level to ensure that this three-year saga is brought to an end.
I bring to my hon. Friend's attention a letter that I received from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 18 April, in which he said that the new Defence Logistics Organisation was being launched. He also said that the targets for reducing costs were essential, while improving the quality of logistic support to the front line. That has caused much concern, especially to the work force in the area that I represent and the unions.
I received a delegation of representatives of the various unions—the Public and Commercial Services Union, the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, the GMB and the Transport and General Workers Union—at my constituency surgery only last Friday. In the past week, I have been provided with one of the newsletters of the Clyde trade unions.
The unions feel that they have been betrayed by the MOD on this issue, which goes back to the DLO initiative headed by Brigadier Sam Cowan. Little information has been made available to the work force, whose members 334 feel that the negotiations that are taking place between Babcock Rosyth Defence Ltd., the MOD and private employers mean that their jobs will be lost. We have struggled for years to ensure that there is no privatisation at Rosyth or at the Clyde submarine base at Faslane. When, only a few years ago, there was such a threat involving HMS Neptune and catering supply services were threatened, the unions and I went to see the then Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), who is now Secretary of State for Scotland. We put the unions' bid forward while recognising that money had to be saved under the strategic defence review for front-line services. The unions were willing to work with the MOD to ensure that that money was saved, but that jobs were also saved in the process.
The HMS Neptune initiative resulted in a saving of £1 million a year to the services while jobs were retained. I ask the Minister to ensure that sensitivity is brought to the DLO initiative, otherwise fear will be induced in the work force and morale will decline. That is the last thing that we can tolerate in that environment.
I ask for clear guidance and for lines of communication to be opened with the unions to ensure that the contribution that they have made over the years is appreciated and that it will be maintained. There must be no rushed decisions or judgments on any possible privatisation. The Under-Secretary knows from my discussion yesterday that I shall be taking a close interest in these important matters as they develop, as will my hon. Friends.
I shall mention one or two matters in the context of Britain's role in the world, the first of which is arms control and non-proliferation. The post-cold war scenario indicates that one of the most serious threats is the proliferation of missiles, which can be adapted to carry biological, chemical, conventional and nuclear warheads. One problem is that missiles are used increasingly for legitimate purposes—for example, for satellites and space exploration. I suggest that our objective should be to establish a missile control convention, which would reduce proliferation by requiring full transparency, verification mechanisms and the establishing of international export controls.
Urgent attention should be given to introducing measures to curb the frightening spread of small arms, most of which are exported from the former Soviet states. A good example of such an initiative is the small arms moratorium in west Africa. However, we should be exploring other approaches at a small arms convention, which would place production, sales and, above all, exports under an international transparent regulatory framework.
We have widened our export control regime to European Union countries, but how can that be replicated globally? Should we be proceeding through the United Nations? We should be debating such measures so that they can be taken forward on the international stage.
There could be an international weapons monitoring centre, where satellite surveillance would be undertaken. It would provide the opportunity to have an international co-ordinating monitoring system for large weapons. A verification regime is essential for chemical and biological weapons through the biological weapons protocol.
335 My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the important issue of joined-up government, which is important not least in terms of international development. If we are to have a stable and peaceful world, we must rigorously pursue the goal of international development. The countries where education is in the ascendancy and where economic development is taking place are largely at peace. War is taking place in countries where there is ravaging poverty and little education. Joined-up government means the Ministry of Defence working with the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development to ensure that our global aims in eradicating world poverty and ensuring that there is education throughout the world are realisable. These aims will not be pious in their objective; they will be pragmatic and will have profound strategic consequences in ensuring that we create a peaceful and stable world.
We must ensure that we have not only joined-up government but a global approach to solving problems, so that we can look forward to the day when we have a more decent world. With that in mind, the role of Britain in the world is extremely important. We are playing our part in promoting initiatives, and I hope that we will continue to do so.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
I certainly join the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) in his plea for joined-up government and for Britain to continue to play a role in helping to ensure a more peaceful world. In the hon. Gentleman's ambitions in that respect, I see the role of the Ministry of Defence and our armed forces not as traditionally bellicose and war-mongering but as crucial to the world in its capacity to do good. The events of recent years mean that I do not have to explain that comment—it will be readily understood.
My intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) shortly after that of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) revealed to hon. Members, although they may already have known, that I had a deep involvement in defence at a particularly critical and difficult time of change. I learned from that period about the delicate balance that one has to strike between commitments and resources. That balance has been mentioned in the exchanges between Front-Bench Members.
I was involved in an extraordinary period of change following the cold war—a situation that had been static everywhere except on the periphery. We had maintained as many as 300,000 troops in Germany, although that figure had fallen to 100,000 by the time that I became Secretary of State. The line of the iron curtain, running across the centre of Germany, was seen as the front line of defence of the western world. We had to handle the move to a sensible, sustainable—almost peacetime—footing, and I believe that we achieved that.
Unfortunately, having achieved change and moved from position A to position B, we came to a standstill, but it was sensible to maintain the existing structure, resources and scale of operation. I shall be honest and say that I viewed with concern, but a certain amount of understanding, the move into "Front Line First", the review of the support services and the various examinations that followed. Difficult decisions had to be made during those years of the Conservative Government, but I think that in general they got them about right.
336 Throughout my time as Secretary of State, and subsequently, the Labour party's policy was to have a review. That was a way to avoid making any commitments or embarrassing statements. One did not have to be the world's greatest psephologist to see that there was the possibility of a change of Government in 1997, and I was concerned about whether the Labour Government would prove to be a Government who were prepared to give defence the priority that my party and I had, over the years, believed necessary.
There have been suspicions and allegations—the latter are frequently made on the hustings—that the Labour party is not interested in defence. Holding this debate today does not help to dispel that impression among the general public. A debate on defence in the world, an issue that the House should discuss and which should be of great concern to us, is held on the one day of the year when most hon. Members are likely to be away and unable to attend. Such timetabling of parliamentary business happens, and other debates have been held on unfortunate days, but it contributes to a general impression of the present Ministry of Defence team.
I make my remarks in no sense of personal animosity or offence to the Ministers concerned. They are not the most senior Ministers in government. The Secretary of State had been a Parliamentary Secretary in the Lord Chancellor's Department and within four months of becoming Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office he was moved to his present post. Not a single Defence Secretary in the Conservative Government had not already had several years of Cabinet experience before he moved to that position.
Defence is always under pressure. One can always cut defence expenditure because one will not pay the penalty for that action within the next one or two months, but the need for wisdom and an understanding of the importance of maintaining sufficient defence expenditure becomes abundantly clear when problems start to arise and resources are needed.
There are competing forces in government. My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green referred to the strategies and ambitions of the Prime Minister, who wants our defence contribution to be a ticket to a bigger chair at the table of European discussions. The Foreign Office has its own ambitions and ideas, with the Treasury, God help us, always trying to find out how it can economise. The Secretary of State for Defence is in a lonely position, and it is tough facing those ambitions. He has to have seniority and clout if he is to begin to defend his Department against big hitters around the Cabinet table, some of whom will want to push him in directions that may not make sense in defence and military terms. On the other hand, the Treasury is anxious to deny him the resources to achieve the aims that he considers necessary.
I am not, therefore, surprised that there is a general opinion, which comes not only from a party-political viewpoint, that defence is not being given the necessary priority. Although I make that observation as a party politician, I hope that the House will recognise that I speak with deep concern for defence and our armed forces. I have huge respect and affection for them and the role that they have played so consistently over the years. Our armed forces, too, observe the respect and attention awarded to them by the Government and note Ministers' concern about their welfare.
337 The ministerial team are sincere and they are trying hard to handle the portfolio, but they are very new to the subject. It seemed logical to have a review that would be foreign policy driven. That sounds wonderful, but it depends on a strong belief that the Foreign Office is capable of divining the future so that we can adequately meet all our needs. I found one of those quotes that one finds at the bottom of the page in one's diary. It is by Disraeli, although I was not aware that he had said it. He said:What we anticipate seldom occurs. What we least expected generally happens.
Disraeli could not have predicted the Falklands war. The role of the Foreign Office in giving advice was not entirely unconnected to the mess that we got into over the Falklands. I was involved in the Gulf situation. Nobody identified Saddam Hussein's intention to invade Kuwait; the intelligence on that point was almost non-existent. On the contrary, we had good intelligence that although he would make a show on the border, he would not invade Kuwait. Hon. Members will remember that.
When that happens, the Ministry of Defence cannot say to the Foreign Office, "We are terribly sorry but this event is not on your list of predictions, and we are meeting the foreign policy-driven requirements of the strategic defence review, so I am afraid that we are not available for that engagement." The Ministry of Defence has to make provision, and our armed forces have to discharge, with great distinction, whatever duty is required of them. Foreign policy does not provide sufficient drive for the defence strategy of our country.
I agree that we need flexibility and mobility. The Secretary of State referred to them as though they were discovered only during the strategic defence review. I refer him to the White Papers issued by the Conservative Government, including "Britain's Army for the 90s" and "Options for Change". The MOD has a great capacity for regurgitating worthy slogans, and mobility and flexibility are concepts that have been well embedded for some time. We moved away, rightly, from the rigid structures of the cold war and from the emplacements of the front lines of the iron curtain to a more flexible, mobile defence structure. However, flexibility is needed both in military capability and in concept and imagination.
The Secretary of State commented on how much NATO has changed and how different it now is from 50 years ago, 20 years ago, and 10 years ago—which is when I sat in on NATO meetings. I remember that in those NATO meetings, we sat next to the United States, because seating was arranged in alphabetical order. Then, at a meeting of Partnership for Peace, I found myself separated from Dick Cheney, then US Defence Secretary, and General Colin Powell, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, by the representatives of Ukraine, who were seated on my left, and on my right sat the representatives of Uzbekistan. At that moment, I realised the speed and the extent of the change that had occurred in the world and the conceptual framework within which we had worked for 50 years, when none of those people would have got through the door without being arrested.
Some things change, but some things stay the same. I shall not talk, as I have before, about overstretch, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford 338 Green referred. We have present a Minister responsible for resources, even though the Secretary of State bravely said that defence is not merely about resources—that is true, but resources are an extremely important element. There is currently a serious problem of overstretch and I am profoundly worried that we have not yet seen the full impact: I wonder what impact serious retention difficulties will have on the capacity of our armed forces to respond to new problems.
Certain factors are critical to the success of our defence posture. The first, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green referred, is NATO, which has lain at the heart and been the strength of our defensive alliance. The United Kingdom has a vital role to play, but the key element in NATO is the United States of America. I am not against European co-operation; I am not against Europe taking on a greater burden where it can, nor against Europe conducting operations in which the United States does not want to be involved. However, that must be done in such a way that it does not undermine American confidence or give the Americans the feeling that we are walking away from them.
Allow me to illustrate with an example from an area in which I take a strong interest. As the House knows, I have the privilege to be Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. In the new types of engagements in which we have become involved, arising from a mobile and rapidly changing world—for example, in Mozambique, Kosovo or East Timor—good intelligence is a priority. Intelligence input can result in our armed forces being deployed in territories previously unencountered. The ability to gather accurate, good intelligence is absolutely essential, whether it takes the form of images or some other medium.
The House will know that the intelligence relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States is extremely important to both. Hon. Members might be aware that, only the other day, a considerable part of US intelligence capability collapsed; operations were sustained during that difficult period by GCHQ, which shows the closeness of that relationship and the extensiveness of the interdependence. I understand that, for a similar reason, there have been one or two collapses in London today, which only goes to show the new challenges posed by the new world. It is vital that we maintain that intelligence relationship and have access to American ideas, capabilities, research and development in matters such as information warfare.
I do not know the full extent of events in London today, but it is obvious that that which, during the war, would have been achieved by a bomb can now be achieved through information warfare of some sort. Nowadays, it is as easy—and probably more effective—to attack a power station by disabling its computers as it is by using traditional military means. We need to work together with those who are capable of developing the responses and defences that are needed in such situations. The SDR spoke of asymmetric warfare. New developments outside the traditional forms of defence and warfare will, no doubt, increasingly challenge the major developed countries of the western world. We need close co-operation with our allies and partners, of whom America is one.
339 I care about defence issues and this country's defence capabilities because I remember Dean Acheson's famous remark:Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.I do not think that people say that now, because Britain has started to find a role that it can play. America, well directed and well guided, can be a great force for good in the world, and it is arguable that it is now the only superpower. However, its isolation is a weakness: if America acts unilaterally, the action is perceived as American imperialism, and that perception inhibits America's capacity to play its potentially most useful role. America needs critical, constructive partners and allies.
During the Gulf war, everybody played their part: the United States provided leadership, but it was the United Kingdom becoming involved as the crucial first partner that provided the nexus around which others could build. Now, as other events unfold throughout the world, we see the role that Britain can play, not in an imperial sense, but in the sense of our acting as the good citizen and partner in the world, to which the hon. Member for Dumbarton referred.
That is why I care that we should maintain our defences. It is no good our coming to the Chamber and paying tributes to our wonderful armed forces if we are not prepared to give them the resources, the training, the equipment and the experience they need to carry out their many roles. If we provide them with what they need, our armed forces will continue to bring credit to this country and this country will continue to make its contribution to the world.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
I cannot resist the feeling that today's debate resembles a bran tub into which one can put one's hand and pull out an issue or a topic that will not be out of order and that, because of the broad title of the debate, will allow one's speech to remain relevant, at least to some degree. In that spirit, I should like to raise three procurement issues that relate to Britain in the world, but that the House might have expected to address during a debate that dealt solely with procurement matters.
On the missile for the Typhoon, it seems to me that it is more than high time that the Government made a decision. The same applies to the C-17s or their equivalent, which formed an important part of the strategic defence review and around which, like the roll on/roll off ferries to which I shall come later, the whole concept of an expeditionary strategy is based.
If the reports—which have all the appearance of having been deliberately leaked from the Treasury—are true, the House and those of us with an interest in defence will want categorical assurances from those on the Treasury Bench today that they will fight the Ministry of Defence corner as hard and as toughly as they can. Those two procurement decisions are vital for the capability that every hon. Member who has spoken so far has said is essential if we are to play the role that fate may ask us to fulfil.
With regard to the roll on/roll off ferries, I visited Govan Shipbuilders during the Easter recess—not just because I was born, and spent a great deal of my life, on Clydeside, but because the issue is of such great significance not only for the survival of the shipyard, but for the procurement of the 30 future orders that we have been assured today are likely to be placed in due course.
340 I was impressed by the extraordinary realism of the shop stewards whom I met there, all of whom had worked for more than 30 years. In the history of that shipyard, there must have been many occasions on which they thought that the next pay cheque would probably be the last. However, they are men of enormous commitment and entirely realistic about the issue and what the solution should be.
I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and, in an intervention, those of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok—formerly Govan—(Mr. Davidson), who has left the Chamber. I adopt what they said and use it for my argument, but I make a further point, which has not been made so far.
Those whom I met were at great pains to point out that if the order for four or six roll on/roll off ferries goes to Govan, it will be the key to unlocking investment of about £150 million by the owners of the yard. That would enable the two yards, Govan and Yarrow, which are at opposite ends of the Clyde tunnel and can be reached in a few moments, to compete effectively for the 30 future warship orders that are likely to be placed.
That is good not just for Govan and Yarrow, but for the Ministry of Defence, which must be assured that the capability exists and that the yards can compete with one another, to ensure the best possible price. I hope that we will get an early decision that meets the legitimate aspirations of those whom I met on my visit and all those who work in that shipyard.
§ Mr. Quentin Davies
I am delighted that the right hon. and learned Gentleman visited Govan, which I visited two weeks ago. When he went to Govan, was it explained to him that if the orders for the roll on/roll off ferries do not come to British yards, including the Clyde, thousands of skilled shipbuilding workers will have to be laid off, and there will be a gap before the type 45 destroyer orders come through? Either those workers will not be available, or it will be much more expensive to hire and train them, so ultimately British yards will have to quote higher prices for the type 45s. Taking the long-term, lifetime view of cost which, under smart procurement, the MOD is supposed to do, that factor should be taken into account in deciding where to place the orders for the roll on/roll off ferries.
§ Mr. Campbell
That point was made to me, and I accept it as valid. I hope that those on the Treasury Bench listened to that intervention, which seemed entirely sensible.
The past few months have not been easy for Ministers. Hardly a day has gone by without allegations of overstretch or undermanning, increasing strain on the families of those who serve in the armed services, faulty equipment, low stocks of munitions and, as we have discussed, the deferment of essential procurement decisions. The most recent example was the draft National Audit Office report, which was pretty robust.
The shadow Defence Secretary was right to raise the notion of just-in-time supply. It may suit Tesco and Safeway, but it should not suit the Ministry of Defence. I recollect—and I hope that my mind is clear on the matter—that the notion of just-in-time may have been introduced as part of the defence costs study "Front Line First" by Mr. Secretary Rifkind, as he then was. 341 That being so, the difficulties and inadequacies caused by that approach almost certainly date from an earlier stage than the present.
§ Mr. Soames
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right that the notion was introduced in the defence costs study, but as he will remember, it was introduced for good reason. The services had enormous stocks stored away. Much of that was useless, entailing vast cost, and had to be cut down. I agree that it may not be the perfect system, but it is much better than tying up in current stock a great deal of the money that the services need.
§ Mr. Campbell
I do not want to pursue the supermarket analogy too far, but the one thing that distinguishes successful supermarkets is that they do not have a great deal of produce tied up that is never sold. If the intention had been to introduce just-in-time in that sense, it might have been successful, but it is apparent from the operations in which we have recently been engaged that, as presently constituted, it has not provided the necessary logistical support.
We cannot point the finger at our troops. It is notable that the British soldier remains the partner of choice in peacekeeping contingents. That tells us a great deal about the professionalism and commitment to which we pay tribute on these occasions.
We should have a self-denying ordinance to provide that we can talk about defence expenditure and how much it has fallen on this occasion and never again. We should acknowledge that we have got to the present point by various means, and consider how we can best ensure that our forces get what they deserve in future.
It is true that defence spending has fallen by 22.6 per cent. in real terms since 1989. The budget for 2001–02 will be 4 per cent. less in real terms than in 1998–99. Whether that is a saving or a cut may be an interesting exercise in polemics, but it does not help the soldier in the field. The best way to look at the issue is as summed up by the Select Committee, which stated that the armed forces were being asked to do "more with less".
When the reductions in expenditure were taking place, the then official Opposition never said that defence expenditure must not be cut by the amount proposed by the then Government. I own up. I never said that. There was in the House, although never expressly stated, an acceptance that the cuts should proceed. That makes it all the more difficult seven, eight or 10 years later to say that what is happening now is justified by what happened before.
Moral imperatives rarely come cheaply. The right of intervention, which the Prime Minister rightly set out in his Chicago speech, presupposes a moral obligation to give our forces all that is necessary to carry out the difficult and dangerous tasks that may be involved in such interventions. It may well be true that defence is not a high priority among focus groups, but it would certainly become a key political issue if British forces should fail in some highly visible mission at some future date.
It is clear that the evidence strongly points to the fact that the current deployments in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Gulf would become very difficult to sustain if we were called upon to make even a further medium level deployment.
342 What is to be done? A return to the 1998–99 defence budget of 2.7 per cent. of gross domestic product would require an increase of £3.4 billion. To hit the 3 per cent. GDP figure, much beloved of the Chairman of the Defence Committee, who is not with us today, would require an increase of £6 billion in the defence budget. Such increases are not sustainable in the present budgetary climate, but the Government could certainly abandon the damaging and debilitating 3 per cent. so-called annual efficiency saving. If the Government wanted to take one measure to restore morale and reduce financial pressure, that would be the easiest to undertake and the most politically acceptable. Otherwise, the time may well come when a commitment, which, for political, environmental or other reasons, was entirely to be supported, would have to be turned down because of lack of resources. That might prove extremely embarrassing for the Government and the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
I agree completely about the 3 per cent. efficiency saving, or cut, whatever one wants to call it, but is not the real problem that when the Treasury got its £800 million a year, it took it regardless, and that that drove the MOD to look for this internal saving? If it abandons that saving, it will have to bear the full effect of the cut. Therefore, the Treasury would have to hand some money back.
§ Mr. Campbell
The word on the street—if one can say that of Whitehall—is that the Treasury wanted £2 billion. The Prime Minister—largely as a result of his visit to Washington in 1998 when, in discussion with President Clinton, he realised the significance of our maintaining military capability in terms of political influence—allied himself with the former Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Robertson, and they were able to beat the Treasury off to the extent of only £500 million. But the price that had to be paid was the so-called 3 per cent. efficiency cut. Cut or saving, the effect is almost inevitably the same.
There will be public pressure for intervention in future, and it is worth reminding ourselves that that pressure will arise in a quite different international environment. Environmental degradation, resource depletion, volatile markets, unequal economic relationships, and even mass immigration will play an important role in the next decades in fostering insecurity. Another important feature of all this is that in modern conflict 90 per cent. of all casualties are likely to be unarmed civilians. The civilian has replaced the soldier as the primary casualty of warfare.
How shall we contain and, I hope—I suppose that it is a pious hope—eliminate such conflicts? That will depend on the negotiation and implementation of treaties imposing tighter obligations on Governments. Conversely, it will also depend on a commitment by Governments to honour such treaty obligations and international procedures to ensure the observance of such obligations and the acceptance that national sovereignty does not give state Governments the right to deprive their citizens of the fundamental human rights set out in the United Nations declaration of human rights. That is a different environment from the one that we have surveyed during the past 50 years or so.
In that new world, not necessarily brave, nor one that has brought its own order, the United States, for the foreseeable future, will be unchallengeable as a military power—the dominant force in maintaining world order. 343 But it is not difficult to argue that global dependence on a single dominant state is not healthy for that state, nor for the others. That is why I am unashamedly of the view that the EU must be prepared to take up responsibilities in contributing to international stability and peace.
A particular role that we may be able to fulfil concerns Russia. We should reflect upon and understand that anti-NATO feeling in Russia has never been higher, even among those whom one would regard as liberal moderates in the Duma. For them and for many other Russians, Kosovo was a betrayal of trust; they would say that it was the perfect example of NATO's aggressive intentions which the west has been at pains for so long to deny. Our argument that humanitarian justification permitted intervention has largely fallen on deaf ears. They in turn would say that Kosovo has created a new precedent by which, if there is deadlock in the Security Council, a regional alliance may act alone, intervening in the internal affairs of another state.
In that regard, a European Union with a more assertive role in matters of stability, peace and security, may be able to provide a more effective bridge to NATO than NATO standing alone has been able to in the immediate past.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, as it happened, the west's proverbial bacon was saved by pressure on Milosevic from Russian military intelligence? The Russian military intelligence establishment in Moscow was the decisive force in bringing Milosevic's actions to an end. Does he further agree that it is becoming clear that Operation Horseshoe was manufactured in the first instance by Bulgarian intelligence?
§ Mr. Campbell
I am not sure about the hon. Gentleman's second proposition, but I certainly take the view that the intervention of the Russian Foreign Minister, when he went to Belgrade and said that, in the event of a ground attack, Milosevic could not look to Russia to provide any support, was undoubtedly a determining factor in Milosevic's decision effectively to sue for peace.
It is also true that under Mr. Putin, about whom I have publicly expressed some reservations—the alacrity with which he was received in the United Kingdom was quite improper, but I put that to one side—we have had the ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty by the Duma and the ratification of the second strategic arms reduction treaty. Those are important steps forward.
We should also understand that events in Kosovo and the basis for intervention there was followed closely by China as a permanent member of the Security Council, and also by India. There are those now who argue that some form of defence and foreign policy co-operation between those major regional powers who were most opposed to the intervention cannot necessarily be ruled out in the future—once again, a sign of the changing environment.
Britain accepted a long time ago that we could no longer conduct defence on a wholly independent basis. That was why we became a member of NATO. The logic for Europe collectively making better use of the $160 billion or so which it spends on defence is overwhelming. Whether more needs to be spent or whether what is being spent should be more effectively 344 spent is an interesting question. Some studies say that for two thirds of the expenditure we get 10 per cent. of the capability. Most Chancellors of the Exchequer would want to look first at whether better value could be obtained for the money being spent. But if it were necessary to spend more to achieve a level of capability, European Union countries that are members of NATO should not be allowed to shrink from that obligation.
It is clear that the United States is far ahead of its European allies in rapid reaction, technology, heavy lift, and—as the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) eloquently pointed out—intelligence. Far too often the debate revolves around questions of institutions and, as the shadow Defence Secretary made clear, the argument about how to give Europe a greater voice in the deployment or use of American assets.
Fundamental in Europe, if the idea is to have anything other than a presence on paper, is that capability must be provided in a form and of a substance that will allow Europe to conduct operations such as that in Kosovo. The Petersberg tasks were for the Western European Union. If the capability is to make any sense whatever, it must be adequate to allow us to conduct operations such as Kosovo.
If we consider Bosnia, we realise with the benefit of hindsight that European countries' reluctance in the early days to deploy armed forces was a major cause of the continuing instability. Early deployment might have prevented much bloodshed and avoided many of the difficulties that took so long to tackle because the international community's reaction was so delayed.
It is right that NATO should retain its primacy. I advocate strongly NATO's right of first refusal. I tell those like the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who seemed less than enthusiastic about it, that the need for the capability is driven by the fact, which is becoming increasingly clear, especially on Capitol hill, that we cannot look to the United States to keep pulling European chestnuts out of the fire. We were able to rely on President George Bush in the Gulf, but which of us would be entirely happy to rely on would-be president George W. Bush to do the same in future, or to take the same interest in Bosnia and Kosovo that, with some arm-twisting and much hand-wringing, we were able to persuade President Clinton to show?
Let us consider national missile defence.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman considers the key issue of ballistic missile defence, will he explain how Europe, without vast additional expenditure, can acquire the required technology—space-based systems, adequate intelligence, heavy lift, a sufficiency of precision-guided munitions and personnel—to undertake an operation such as that in Kosovo? How will that be achieved?
§ Mr. Campbell
On numbers, there are 2 million men and women under arms in Europe. Many of them are conscripts.
§ Mr. Campbell
One thing at a time. We should try to persuade the Germans to reconsider national service and 345 impress upon them the effectiveness, which we have found, of a fully professional army. The French have chosen to go in that direction because their experience in the Gulf convinced them that the capacity of an army based on conscripts to operate in a high-intensity warfare spectrum was substantially limited.
I do not suggest that Europe should try to acquire the same capacity or quality of intelligence gathering as the United States. However, a properly funded, properly capable Europe ought to have been able to undertake an operation such as Kosovo by itself. Europe should pitch its tent and establish its objectives at that level.
I want to consider national missile defence. President Clinton has established four criteria: threat assessment, cost, feasibility and the effect on existing arms control treaties, responsibilities and allies. There are various estimates of the cost and scope of the ultimate proposal. A sharp division of opinion about what is necessary exists between Republicans and Democrats—that is hardly surprising in a presidential election year. However, any of the proposals would require substantial modification to the anti-ballistic missile treaty, against which Russia has currently turned its face.
Some reports suggest that Russia might be willing to make a compromise on changes to the treaty. If that is possible, it is worth examining. However, we must take account of the fact that a growing constituency in the United States rejects a multilateral approach to international security, which is represented by treaties and agreements such as the ABM treaty. That was underlined by the Senate's refusal to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty.
If threat is so important, we should remind ourselves of the classic definition of threat: capability plus intention. It is not the mere existence of the capability that constitutes the threat, but the intention taken with the capability. We must ask ourselves what motive could North Korea, Iran or Iraq have in launching a nuclear warhead at the United States, in the knowledge of the enormous capacity for retaliation.
Those who argue strenuously for NMD have not tackled to my satisfaction its undermining of the fundamental principle of deterrence. If deterrence is not effective, on what have we based our nuclear policy for the past 40 or 50 years? The threat is far less likely to come from nuclear warheads on Taepo Dong-2s, which may have the range, than from sarin on subway systems, as happened in Tokyo. That is the asymmetric threat to which the right hon. Member for Bridgwater referred. It is a much more acute threat. I should be far more comfortable if the vast energy of the Pentagon and the political anxiety of Capitol hill were directed at dealing with it.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is more plausible to argue that although there is no serious threat of North Korea launching a missile at the continental USA, the USA's policies in other theatres, such as defending South Korea, might be imperilled by the possibility of that threat? The threat is therefore indirect.
§ Mr. Campbell
There has been little consideration of the consequences for other areas if NMD were deployed. 346 For example, there has been some suggestion of the considerable unease of the Chinese. Some statements imply that they might feel compelled to increase their limited arsenal of 15 or 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles.
There is also a problem in Europe, which France and Germany have voiced, about the deployment of NMD. They cite the need for improved relations with Russia. They also make the point that some NATO members could become safer than others if some countries deployed NMD. That raises interesting questions about the obligation of mutual defence.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned understanding whether a threat existed through intention. He should recognise that the current concept of deterrence also existed in the mid-1980s. When the former Soviet Union deployed its SS20s, we did not say, "That's all right because our nuclear deterrent will deter them." We met the threat at the required level. The missiles may not be tipped by nuclear weapons; the threat may be biological. To be fair to the United States, it has established a domestic preparedness programme, which considers how to deal with the Sarin threat on the tube. We have done nothing similar.
§ Mr. Campbell
The deployment of cruise and Pershing depended on the then central NATO doctrine of flexible response. That involved a staircase of nuclear responses to specific scenarios. The compelling argument for Pershing and cruise was that if we did not deploy against the SS20s, the doctrine of flexible response would have a large hole in it. We could thus have found ourselves moving from nuclear shells to be used on the battlefield—or short-range nuclear weapons, such as Lance or its equivalent—to intercontinental ballistic missiles or Polaris. Without a deployment equivalent to the SS20, the notion of flexible response would have been substantially damaged.
What is in it for the ruling elite in Baghdad if its members fire—or even threaten to fire—a missile at Washington? The consequences for Baghdad would be horrific, and the ruling elite would not be exempt from them. Therefore, as the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said, although the notion of threat is firmly rooted in capability, sufficient account has not yet been taken of the fact that threat involves not only capability, but intention.
§ Mr. Campbell
I must make progress—I have spoken for rather longer than I had intended—by briefly referring to Kosovo.
NATO did well in Kosovo, but it is an organisation of defence, not diplomacy and nation building. I find myself closer to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) than he might otherwise believe in that we have a strong, compelling obligation to do much more about how Kosovo is being managed and about how the Balkans should be reconstructed. That is why a conference on reconstruction, a Danube co-operation pact or something similar represent the creative thinking that should be happening now. NATO was right to intervene and the 347 intervention was effective, but I am less than comfortable with what has happened in Kosovo since the end of the successful military operations.
I cannot remember when Iraq was last debated in the House, yet it remains the United Nations' most high-profile and intransigent headache. Iraq brings into sharp relief the authority under which the United Nations operates and the means at its disposal to enforce its resolutions. Since the Iraqi troops were ejected from Kuwait, the allied powers—to use that slightly dated language—have maintained strong forces in the region. The United States maintains up to 30,000 military personnel in the region at times of tension. The United Kingdom currently has 1,048 men and women servicing the no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq and nearly 1,900 on the carrier group operating in the Gulf region. Those are substantial commitments.
There are almost daily confrontations between allied aircraft and Iraqi air defence forces. Between last October and April, coalition aircraft have been fired on by surface-to-air missiles or anti-aircraft artillery on more than 200 occasions and, in response, have attacked almost 90 targets related to the Iraqi air defence network.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said, understandably, that he did not know when there had last been a debate on Iraq. There have been three Adjournment debates—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is in clear breach of the rules of the House in trying to make that point in that way.
§ Mr. Campbell
I freely acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman has been at pains to raise the issue of Iraq—[Interruption.] On as many occasions as he cares to tell us, but there has not been a debate such as this, open to the whole House and taking a day, when Iraq and, especially, the extent of our military commitment have been debated. I mean no disrespect to him.
Since 1992, the MOD has incurred additional expenditure of almost £900 million as a direct result of operations in the Gulf. There have been reports in The Times that the costs to British forces amount to about £4.5 million a month. I confess that I am anxious about what we are doing in the north and the south of Iraq because it could be interpreted as more of an attritional campaign against Iraqi defence systems and military infrastructure than an attempt to fulfil the original purposes of the no-fly zones. Of course, that has had consequences—action and reaction—because there are increasingly credible reports of deals, bargains and other arrangements between Iraqi and Russian weapons manufacturers and importers. Indeed, there are reports that Belarus has recently signed a £56 million deal to upgrade the Iraqi air defence system.
§ Mr. Campbell
As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, it is a proxy for Russia. If Iraq were to succeed in 348 bringing down allied aircraft, that would boost Saddam's internal position and put Iraq firmly back on the domestic agenda in the United States and the United Kingdom in a way in which all of us who are interested in such matters would not necessary find comfortable. I support the policy that we have maintained for 10 years, but I should be wrong not to say that I have had some reservations about it from time to time. The time may not be far distant when we may be forced to review the policy.
The old certainties of mutually assured destruction have been replaced by an environment of proliferation and increasing uncertainty during the past 10 or 15 years. The glue of the NATO alliance—the most successful defensive alliance in history—has largely been loosened by the reduction of the acute nuclear threat. That threat has been replaced by other, more complex challenges that, unfortunately, do not have the same unifying force. All that continues to show the vital importance of the United Kingdom playing a significant, well-founded role in defence in the world, but I cannot resist concluding by saying that we must ensure that we have the resources to do so.
§ 4.6 pm
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), both of whom speak with a real commitment to defence and enormous knowledge of the subject built up over many years. [Interruption.] I am glad that I have stopped the right hon. Gentleman in his tracks. I was especially interested in what he said about asymmetric defence, which can take many forms.
The terrorist bomb that went off in the City could have crippled our financial capital if it had been a little closer to the centre of operations. I understand that that problem has now been solved, but the incident showed the enormous damage that can be done. For example, computer hackers could have gained access to the United States power system on the east coast, and biological weapons could be fitted into a milk churn. There are all manner of asymmetrical responses to the power at the disposal of the US and its allies. A major debate is taking place in the US on that matter, but, alas, there is little debate in the United Kingdom.
I have found the reversal of roles in defence debates since 1997 interesting. I took part in defence debates in the early 1990s and recall criticisms of the various reviews—"Options for Change" was described as Treasury led—and of the reductions in the Territorial forces. There were debates about heavy lift, the procurement of the C-17s and so on, so I have a feeling that this is where I came in. I was amused that the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) says that he has converted to the idea of a defence review, although he wants it to be more foreign policy based. However, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater suggested that perhaps the Foreign Office did not have all the answers.
The summit of the knowledge of the Greek philosophers is said to be, "Know thyself." That is not a bad motto to apply to our defence capabilities. To know oneself means, in effect, to know where one has come from, one's history, geography and current position, 349 and the challenges that might be faced in future. Our history has clearly given us a unique place in the world. I shall refer to some of the factors that might represent the security and political underpinning of a defence strategy, which the right hon. Gentleman said was lacking from the strategic defence review.
Given our history and our reduced economic status, we have a remarkable position in the world in comparison with, for example, Japan and Germany, which, although far stronger than us economically, do not benefit from the range of international organisations and the range of expertise that are available to us. I am thinking of, for example, the United Nations Security Council, the European Union, the Commonwealth and the G7 membership. A key part of Britain's role over the past 50 years has involved adjusting to the new realities that followed the elation of the victory in the war—a victory, certainly, but a very exhausting victory for this country.
Our special relationship with the United States, which resulted from co-operation during the second world war, is still very much alive. That is true in terms of intelligence, and in another sense. When the chips are down, the United States looks around for allies, and we are always there—as we should be when our interests are coterminous with those of the United States, as they almost invariably are. In any event, the hangover from our wartime co-operation remains, in terms of personnel and institutions.
We have managed to move away from the illusions of the mid-1950s. I recall that at that time, Sir Anthony Eden spoke of the "three circles" involved in United Kingdom foreign policy. He was referring to our relationships with Europe, the United States and the Commonwealth, and to circumstances in which we would never have to make a choice—circumstances in which we would become involved with the Continent only in our traditional role as restorers of a balance of power that might have been destroyed by a Napoleon or a Hitler. That assumption, which was wrong then, is even more wrong now, but it is still flirted with by some who talk in political terms of a North American Free Trade Agreement relationship.
I joined the Foreign Office in 1960, when we were just beginning to readjust to the idea of European union after an attempt to bypass the realities through the formation of the European Free Trade Association. Following the withdrawal east of Suez, we had to adjust our commitments to the resources that we were prepared to make available. It is possible that we were able to fulfil an independent role in certain areas during the 1980s. We did so successfully during the Falklands operation, but we would not be able to mount a similar operation now. Now, given that Hong Kong is part of the People's Republic of China, with the Falklands assured and a democratic Argentina, only through alliances will we be able to play a defence role. That was recognised in the strategic defence review.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The hon. Gentleman referred to the south Atlantic, and I accept what he said about Argentina. Surely, however, the United Kingdom could conduct a Falklands-type operation rather better than it did in 1982. It now has the airborne early warning system, and the ability to project power more effectively. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not spread doom and gloom, in a 350 military sense. The Falkland islanders ought to know that they have not only the political reassurance provided by a good relationship with Argentina, but the military reassurance that the garrison can, if necessary, be fully backed up by power projected by the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Anderson
I could easily go over this ground with the hon. Gentleman, who has strong interests in the area. He should note the change in our merchant marine force that has occurred during the intervening period, and compare our ability to deploy shipping then with our inability to do the same now. I could list a series of categories that would demonstrate the unlikelihood of our being able to mount a similar operation on our own today.
Let me now deal with the geographical aspect. We now operate mainly as a regional power, consistent with our interests in Europe, but we bring vast reserves of experience and the excellence of our armed forces to that. The real year of change was 1989; indeed, some have argued—I think the Foreign Secretary did in a recent speech—that the millennium began not earlier this year but, in broader terms, in 1989, when the Berlin wall fell and, subsequently, the old Soviet Union collapsed.
Two interesting examples were given to a parliamentary body by General Klaus Naumann, then the chief European commander in NATO. He said that prior to 1989 he was a company commander on the borders of the old Czechoslovakia. Static, looking over the border, he knew every bush on the other side of the frontier that he had to patrol. That was a very different sort of warfare. Indeed, the number of troops that were deployed along that central European frontier has already been mentioned today.
The general identified a remarkable difference from those days. He said that on one occasion when he was at NATO headquarters he found a member of the Russian delegation engaged in improper activities—spying, effectively. He summoned the head of the Russian delegation, and said "I have caught your colleague in a position that is clearly wrong, but this is the information that he was seeking. If you would like to have a look at it, here it is." That gives some indication of the sea change that has taken place since 1989.
That change has affected every aspect of our defence. I am thinking, for instance, of the way in which procurement has altered. A good example is provided by the Upholder submarines. Because of the lengthy procurement times, they were planned in the early 1980s. More than £1 billion of taxpayers' money was spent on them. By the time that they were at the point of commission, however, their whole purpose—their role in the northern approaches—had been made obsolete. Alas, fairly recently we sold them—albeit rightly—to the Canadians, at the best price that we could get. That gives some idea of the effect of the change, not only in terms of our strategic targets, but in terms of the logistics, materiel and weaponry to perform the necessary tasks.
The new European policy will evolve. There are clearly substantial differences between us and some of our European allies. I concede that there was a political element in the St. Malo summit. It can be seen, in part but not entirely, in the context of the wish to be seen at the high table in Europe and the fact that the financial door was blocked at the time and remains so, but there was more to it than that. There was clearly a convergence, 351 which culminated in the summit, between the French, who were finding their independent stance—both in terms of procurement and generally—insupportable financially, and ourselves, who were seeking a wider role in Europe.
St. Malo was broadly welcomed by our European allies, but it masks a somewhat different approach. Clearly, some in the European Union take the superstate approach. Any superstate must, by definition, have a military capacity, and—this may be connected with the Gaullist attitude of the past—must seek to distance itself from the United States. This Government, like this country, take a rather more pragmatic approach. We accept that there will be a security role for the European Union, and hope that there will be a wider definition in respect of the key NATO allies that are not part of the European Union, but we trust that it will be recognised that NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence policy, and that in many instances we shall wish to retain its assets. Indeed, it would be foolish to duplicate those assets even if there were a will to do so.
The undermining of some of the more grandiose European defence schemes is clear from the shrinking defence budgets of our European allies, and the lack of commitment to spend the money that could provide the heavy lift, the intelligence and the more sophisticated weaponry that our US allies can provide. There is first refusal—it is not a bad formula. The United States may feel, for whatever reason, that it is a European show, but still be prepared to co-operate. That is the point at which Europe will carry out the tasks, planning as far ahead as it usefully can. Those tasks must be fairly limited.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said that the Petersberg tasks were essentially for the Western European Union to carry out, but I understand that the WEU's only operation at the moment is a limited police operation in Albania. It is not difficult to foresee quite a number of tasks, particularly in the border areas of Europe—such as the Balkans—where our interests are mightily engaged, yet where the United States, for various reasons, might not want to deploy their forces. European interests—as defined broadly in terms of refugee flows and economic instability—are engaged there, and we would wish to be engaged.
It is wrong that many Conservative leaders see the matter in terms only of a broad anti-Europeanism—a gut anti-European Unionism—rather than being pragmatic, seeing that there is a natural regional alliance and that there is a role for the new Europe in that area—not a role for some vast superstate, but a role that is pragmatically defined. So much for the role of the new Europe in defence. Clearly, there will be vast areas of possible activity.
There is an enormous technological gap between the defence forces of the United States and those of Europe. Indeed, that gap has been exacerbated by the admission of three new members—Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary—at the Washington summit in spring 1999.
The military capacity of those countries is very limited, so, in technological terms, Europe is almost splitting into three. The United States is light years ahead of the rest. We lead the second division, as it were, and the technological capacity of the three new countries is substantially behind. That causes a problem in terms of inter-operability and working together in a co-ordinated way.
352 One does not have to be a Marxist to say that the economic substructure is of some interest. Increasingly, European business, including European aerospace business, is going ahead and making alliances well beyond what is happening politically. One thinks of the vision of someone such as John Weston at British Aerospace, and the way in which transnational alliances are being formed. That forms the basis commercially and economically for a new European alliance.
There were great reservations in the United States about the movement in Europe following St. Malo. That was shown diplomatically when Strobe Talbott spoke at Chatham house in the autumn of last year. My understanding is that those anxieties have been largely allayed. It is wrong for people to pretend that there is a gulf of misunderstanding between ourselves and our United States allies on the matter.
I turn to limited national missile defence. A major problem is looming. Four criteria have been set.
§ Mr. Quentin Davies
The hon. Gentleman is a great expert in foreign affairs. I know that he will recognise that it is great mistake to think that the State Department is the sole reliable spokesman for American opinion, or even opinion in the Executive branch. Strobe Talbott may be rather more relaxed about European security and defence policy post-Helsinki than he was, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is alive to the fact that there are still considerable reservations and concerns in the Department of Defence and, importantly, on Capitol hill.
§ Mr. Anderson
I said that the reservations and anxieties that were widespread in the autumn of last year and exemplified by Strobe Talbott's speech have been largely allayed and satisfied. When I say that, I mean that they have been allayed not just in the State Department but in much of the Administration as a whole.
Clearly, the problem on Capitol hill is different. There is a highly partisan atmosphere there, as one saw with the decision of the Senate, for partisan reasons, to oppose the President and not to ratify CTBT 2—but essentially the United States position as exemplified by the Administration is much more satisfied about any potential threat from developments in Europe.
On limited national missile defence, the criteria were set out by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife: threat assessment, costs, existing treaties and so on. My judgment is that the decision will not be made according to those criteria, any more than the British Government's decision on the euro will be made according to the criteria for the euro. The matter is driven essentially by domestic politics in the United States. There is an enormous cross-party coalition in favour of some form of national missile defence. It derives in part from a feeling that the United States is vulnerable and the illusion that it can be made invulnerable as a result of such a system.
That raises many questions. The technical problems still have not been solved. Any so-called rogue state that has the capacity to send a ballistic missile to the United States will probably have the capacity to have a number of decoys—chaff and so on. There are still many technical and political questions with regard to the effect on Russia, the anti-ballistic missile treaty and China.
353 I well understand the Government's unwillingness to say that they need to make a decision, because they hide behind the hope that they will not have to make one—that there will been an accommodation between Russia and the United States, with a limited amendment of the ABM treaty. However, if, for whatever reason, Russia refuses to agree to such an amendment and the United States goes ahead anyway, a real dilemma will face this country.
If it is our view that the urge within the United States to deploy some form of national missile defence is unstoppable, will we then say that we accept the inevitable? Will we say that, having accepted that, we will accept the implications for Fylingdales and go ahead, hoping that we can perhaps limit the national missile defence system—although I fear that, rather like the housemaid's baby, although it is only small now it has the capacity to grow? Will we say, at the cost of enormous disruption and causing a great clash between ourselves and our United States allies, that we share the scepticism of a number of allies on the continent and will not allow Fylingdales to be used because we are looking at a wider basis and we see how the whole strategic balance could be jeopardised?
The Government hope that they will not have to face that problem, but alas they may have to if, as I fear, the drive on Capitol hill and within the Administration is unstoppable, if there is a Republican victory in the presidential elections in November, and if the Russians refuse to play the game and extract the best bargain that they can by agreeing to limited modifications of the ABM treaty.
It is true that some forces on Capitol hill say that the treaty is dead already because it was signed in 1972 between the United States and the former Soviet Union. They say that, although the Russian Federation is in most cases the successor state to the Soviet Union, so many other countries have been excluded from that federation that the treaty is no longer valid. Perhaps those forces on the hill will become very much stronger if there is a Republican victory in November.
§ Mr. Savidge
I intervened on the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) precisely because of that particular view on the Republican side of the Senate. Although I was concerned when the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Soviet Union, I now realise that he simply made a slip of the tongue and was not wishing to be identified with that particular Republican view.
§ Mr. Anderson
I shall conclude my speech speedily.
The world is very different now from what it was in 1989, and the pressures in the defence sphere are wholly changed. We have now to consider matters such as flexibility, inter-operability, new alliances and new forms of threat. In every way, we shall have to be creative in adjusting to those changes.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife dealt with the concept of intervention for humanitarian purposes. I am glad that the United Kingdom is seeking to build a consensus in the United Nations on the conditions in which such interventions might occur. 354 However, I think that there will never be such a consensus. National interests—particularly those of China in Tibet, and those of Russia in Chechnya and the other Caucasus republics—will ensure that there is no consensus on the matter in the United Nations. Nevertheless, the search is worth while.
Sir Winston Churchill frequently made the point that the Chinese character denoting crisis was actually composed of two characters, one designating danger and the other opportunity. Dangers there are aplenty, and they will arise in different forms—such as weapons of mass destruction, new forms of terrorism, ease of access to chemical and biological weapons, and the types of weapons that have been used in the Tokyo underground. Putting aside the threat of ballistic missiles, it is easy for a terrorist to operate in a city street or for a ship to approach the United States coast and penetrate its proposed defence shield. It would be far cheaper to try to civilise North Korea than to develop weaponry that may be wholly destabilising and serves only a domestic political purpose.
Those are some of the dangers. However, opportunities, too, are available—to adjust to a new role, not to be stuck in the past, and creatively to try with our allies to create a safer world.
§ Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)
It seems to be my allotted station in the House to follow in the wake of my Foreign Affairs Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Swansea. East (Mr. Anderson), and I am delighted to do so once again. I wish to raise four issues and shall endeavour to make the shortest speech so far in the debate. I want briefly to deal with nuclear proliferation, particularly in relation to Russia; the American national missile defence programme; biological weapons; and the land mines convention.
Like the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), I was very encouraged, and indeed somewhat surprised, by the events that have occurred in recent weeks in Moscow. Those of us who went to Moscow in the months after the ending of the Kosovo war and spoke to a wide range of political opinion in Russia were left in no doubt whatever about the vitriolic sense of injustice among a complete cross-section of political opinion in Moscow about NATO's involvement in the Kosovo war. Although I regard that sense of injustice as being wholly misplaced, one could not in any way deny the strength of feeling against NATO at that time. The feeling seemed to be very prejudicial to the likelihood of the Duma's ratification of START 2 or the comprehensive test ban treaty.
It is excellent that, in the past few weeks, those two crucial arms control treaties have been ratified by the Duma. That action puts in even more disappointing relief the failure of the United States Senate, so far, to ratify the CTBT. However, ratification by the Russians of those two very important arms control treaties still leaves some very major nuclear proliferation issues in relation to Russia.
The first issue that I want to address is that created by the quite staggering scale of the stockpile of nuclear fissile material still inside Russia. With other Foreign Affairs Committee members, I was fortunate quite recently to be briefed on the matter by the senior official responsible in the United States Department of Energy. Although I 355 cannot recall whether the figures, in metric tonnes, that we were given on the size of the stockpile were classified, simply to illustrate the scale of the remaining problem I shall deal with the matter in terms of cost. The public figure for the estimated cost of converting the Russian plutonium stockpile into mixed oxide fuel is estimated to be $1.5 billion. On top of that is the whole issue of the destruction of Russia's highly enriched uranium.
Not unreasonably, the US Government feel that, as the whole of western security is involved in trying to remove that stockpile, or at least certainly in reducing it very substantially indeed, Europe should be making some contribution towards the cost. I think that that is a very reasonable proposition, as the issue relates directly to our own security. I should be grateful if the Minister, in his reply, could give us any view that he can on whether the British Government, with our European NATO partners and European Union member partners, are willing to contemplate making a contribution to the cost of the conversion of plutonium into mixed oxide fuel, which entails de-weaponising it. Are the British Government prepared to make such a contribution and to seek one from our European partners?
The second aspect of proliferation from Russia to which I should like to refer is the still acute danger of nuclear material being smuggled out of Russia. Although that material is probably not in fissile form, it could perhaps be so converted. On that, I noticed a very disturbing and considerably detailed report in The Sunday Telegraph on 23 April on the interception of 10 lead-lined containers being moved from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan. The containers were intercepted after being detected as radioactive. The incident certainly raises the issue of the danger of nuclear material being smuggled out.
The US Administration have been very exercised about the issue and have given practical help in making available to several customs authorities in those areas portable devices for detecting radioactivity. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us what action the British Government are taking to try to assist the Americans and our other NATO allies in helping the Russian Government with the very serious problem of the illegal leaching out of potential nuclear materials, some of which, it is reported, may be on their way to terrorist groups, such as that of bin Laden.
I want to deal with the United States national missile defence programme, which has been referred to, rightly, by almost every speaker in the debate so far. It is a dominant defence policy issue in the United States and deserves to be given a higher profile here as it is a major defence and arms control issue.
There has been some attempt inside the US Administration and elsewhere to represent this as a relatively minor modification to the existing ABM treaty. The phase 1 plan of the NMD could be construed as a relatively minor modification. It is a transfer of the American entitlement of 100 ABM interceptors, as allowed under the treaty, from the national capital to Alaska. However, phase 1 is a prelude to phase 2, on which we received a valuable briefing in Washington. Phase 2 involves, in numerical and geographical deployment terms, much more widespread deployment of ABM interceptors. As I have said, phase 1 of NMD could be presented as a modification of the existing treaty, but 356 there is no doubt that phase 2 effectively means a tearing up of the existing treaty and having no treaty at all, or putting in place a fundamentally different one.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
Does that include the United States sharing the use of Fylingdales with us? Would that mean tearing up the ABM treaty? I would have thought not.
§ Sir John Stanley
Phase 1 involves a material modification of the existing treaty which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) knows, allows the deployment of 100 interceptors around the two national capitals. The major modification is represented by the Americans being allowed to transfer their allocation to Alaska. As I understand it, phase 2 would be quite different. It would involve a much greater number of interceptors being deployed much more widely in the continental United States. I will come to the Fylingdales dimension in a moment.
In his opening speech, the Secretary of State set out the Government's position on NMD. I listened carefully to him and he exposed a fundamental contradiction in the Government's position. That has been revealed clearly in the different way that questions have been answered by Foreign Office Ministers and Defence Ministers. For example, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), answered a question on 11 April on the Government's position on NMD and said:We have made it clear to both sides that we wish to see the anti-ballistic missile treaty preserved.—[Official Report, II April 2000; Vol. 348, c. 185]That is the clearly stated view of the Foreign Office. However, the preservation of the ABM treaty is incompatible with any move towards NMD. There is no way that NMD can be accommodated within the terms of the existing treaty.
Remarkably, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) was given a different view in an answer from the Secretary of State for Defence on 21 March. My hon. Friend askedwhat recent discussions his Department has had with the United States regarding a European-wide ballistic missile defence system.The Secretary of State said:We will continue to consult closely with the US and take account of the work they are doing, to help us take an informed decision on whether to acquire such a capability ourselves in the future.—[Official Report, 21 March 2000; Vol. 346, c. 491W]
The Secretary of State for Defence is holding out the defence policy option of acquiring Europeanwide ballistic missile defence. There is no way that holding out that option can be compatible with adherence to the existing ABM treaty. It is obvious that the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence are sticking to their respective wording. The Secretary of State faithfully repeated both lots of wording from the Dispatch Box today, but the two are incompatible. The Government are obligated to take a public position on this major issue. They must sort themselves out and decide whether they are prepared for the ABM treaty to be modified to accommodate NMD.
On Fylingdales, there is a direct and inescapable British involvement in the NMD issue because, for NMD to proceed, including phase one, there will need to be a major software upgrade at Fylingdales. I thought that the Secretary of State was being disingenuous this afternoon 357 when he said, blandly, from the Dispatch Box that we had received no approach from the United States about Fylingdales. The use of Fylingdales has been announced in any number of US Government press releases, and MOD and Foreign Office officials in Washington have been discussing with the US Administration the Fylingdales dimension. It would be surprising if they had not, given that it is in the public domain in the United States, as it is here. For the Secretary of State to say that we have received no approach and that, therefore, it is not an issue for us is not fair to the House.
Open and active dialogue is taking place now and the Government will have to decide whether they are prepared to tell the Americans that they cannot do the software upgrade, or that they will turn a blind eye while they get on with it, or that they can go ahead because it will he useful for us and will enable us to keep open the option of Europeanwide ballistic missile deployment. Those will be the policy issues and the Government cannot shirk them.
On biological weapons, I agree with what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife. As we move ahead in the 21st century, of the three forms of weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, chemical and biological—it is biological weapons that give me the greatest concern and fear for the future. As we all know, biological weapons are relatively easy to manufacture and are extremely difficult to detect. They have relative ease of delivery and their capacity to kill on a vast scale is appalling. On that issue, I believe that the Government have been right to be more explicit and detailed than any previous Government. It is a serious issue and although, understandably, successive previous Governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been worried about causing public anxiety, it is incumbent upon the Government, given the degree of risk, to say something officially about the dangers.
I need go no further than what the Foreign Secretary said in the context of Iraq in the paper that he placed in the Library on 4 February 1998. That unclassified paper said:One hundred kilogrammes of anthrax released from the top of a tall building in a densely populated area could kill up to three million people.It is right and responsible for the Government to place such information in the public domain. It raises serious civil defence issues.
I was amazed when the Secretary of State said that home defence is no longer an issue. Perhaps he was thinking of the second world war Home Guard, but to suggest that the need for home defence has disappeared is, frankly, extraordinary. I hope that he will clarify what he meant.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)
If the right hon. Gentleman had listened a little more carefully, he would have realised that my right hon. Friend was talking about a large-scale conventional threat, which every defence expert recognises is no longer relevant.
§ Sir John Stanley
I am grateful for that clarification. That was the construction that I put on what the Secretary of State said, but it is extremely important that he and his Department appreciate that our armed forces have a great responsibility in the matter.
358 For obvious reasons, I do not expect any detail, but I hope that the Minister will assure the House that serious steps have been taken to provide the relevant elements of our armed forces with the training, specialist equipment and resources that will be needed to respond with total effectiveness should the civil authorities ever call for assistance because intelligence has been received that a biological attack on an urban part of this country is contemplated. I will fully understand if he responds only in general terms.
I very much welcome our ratification of the Ottawa convention, which built on the important preparatory work done under the previous Government, but the position is extremely unsatisfactory because none of the world's three largest holders of anti-personnel land mines—the United States, Russia and China—has yet ratified it. Following extensive discussions in the United States, I understand that the problem it has with ratifying stems from its concerns about the possible adverse implications for its anti-tank mines, which incorporate anti-personnel devices as a standard feature—as do runway denial weapons, in which our armed forces have an important capability.
I recently tabled a question to the Secretary of State asking whether we had any problem with signing the Ottawa convention in relation to either anti-tank mines or runway denial weapons. He said:In accordance with our obligations under the Ottawa Convention and the Landmines Act 1998, the Government's policy is not to use any weapon incorporating anti-personnel mines as defined in the Ottawa Convention. This obligation extends to airfield runway denial weapons and anti-tank land mines, and the UK does not retain stocks of any such weapons which contravene the Ottawa Convention.—[Official Report, 14 April 2000; Vol. 348, c. 295W.]If the United Kingdom can sign up, why is it such a problem for the United States? It is a matter of some embarrassment that our major NATO partner has not so far been able to ratify the convention.
I fully understand that Ministers at the Dispatch Box are paid to put the best possible face on a situation, but I hope that the Secretary of State, in the privacy of his Department, is less complacent about the state of our defences in relation to our commitments than appeared from his speech today. The evidence is overwhelming that our forces are hugely overstretched and that there is real doubt whether, if a conflict of any intensity arose, they would have anything like sufficient resources to sustain combat effectiveness for any material length of time.
The amber light is flashing in terms of our defence capabilities, and it is high time that the Government recognised that.
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
I shall endeavour to be brief, because several other hon. Members have been waiting some hours to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The title of this debate is wide ranging. It is global in its reach, much like our armed forces. That is not to say that we have a regiment in every country in the world, but few countries have no presence of UK armed forces personnel acting in some capacity or other. I support the earlier comments by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other hon. Members about the unarmed British soldier serving with the United Nations in Sierra Leone. I, too, hope that he and the others taken captive will be released safely.
359 I shall discuss a few domestic issues surrounding our armed forces and our defence policy, and then touch on a couple of issues of wider concern, including briefly on Europe and national missile defence, which have already been well covered. I wish also to say a little more about the vital aspect of developing the peacekeeping role of military and civilian organisations.
I start by paying tribute to our armed forces, because they are second to none. I am constantly reminded, in my contact with military and civilian personnel from other countries, just how highly regarded British armed forces are worldwide. One small indication of that high regard took place last month, when an RAF pilot, Flight Lieutenant Ian Walton, was presented with the Croix de Guerre by the French Government. That high honour was presented because of his heroic actions while serving with the French air force during the Kosovo crisis last year. It is the responsibility of every hon. Member and every citizen in the United Kingdom to do all that we can to maintain our armed forces' reputation by ensuring that they have the support, training and equipment they need to maintain high standards and morale.
As the Member of Parliament for a constituency that contains Crombie, HMS Caledonia and Rosyth dockyard, I pay tribute to all the civilian and service personnel involved in those establishments. As the representative of a constituency with a long naval and maritime tradition, I especially welcome the Government's announcement in the SDR that they are committed to the largest programme of new warship construction since the second world war. I put on record my welcome for the fact that military vessels will continue to be built by UK shipyards and that the vital importance of that shipbuilding capacity has been recognised. I want to see a future for our shipyards on the Clyde, in Northern Ireland and in England, and I trust that ship refitting work will continue to come to Rosyth dockyard in the future.
I welcome the establishment of the Defence Diversification Agency in its Scottish base at Rosyth. It is attached to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency and I examined with great interest the Government's latest proposals for that agency and a public-private partnership. I take the points that hon. Members have already made about the importance of research, innovation and intelligence in future armed conflicts. I have already arranged to discuss the latest proposals with the highly skilled personnel at DERA in Rosyth, and I welcome the fact that the Government seem to have listened to some of the concerns about how the public-private partnership proposals could affect our special relationship with the US, in terms of research and development and intelligence work. I know that concerns have already been expressed by the Defence Committee on the latest proposals and I shall follow those with interest.
It is vital that we recognise the influence that our armed forces have in world affairs and peacekeeping. If we want Britain to continue to play a leading role in world affairs, we must ensure that our armed forces have the strength in numbers to remain a leading player in peacekeeping, defence diplomacy, crisis management and prevention, and the development of democratic, accountable and professional armed forces, especially in central and eastern Europe.
360 British armed forces have been essential to the success of the Partnership for Peace process that was developed through NATO. It has paid off time and again, particularly in the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and later in Kosovo. It is worth noting that Partnership for Peace has extended co-operation to 25 non-NATO countries and is fostering contact in the defence support community. Developing co-operation with non-NATO countries in Europe that share NATO's objectives, and engaging them in political and military efforts help to promote Euro-Atlantic security and the enlargement of NATO and the EU.
One of the key ways in which British armed forces have promoted peace, security and democracy worldwide is through the British military advisory and training teams. I mention in particular the major training team initiative that is to be established in the Czech Republic this year and will be open to personnel from all countries of central and eastern Europe.
Let me turn to some of the challenges of peacekeeping. Kosovo has highlighted that it is not always easy exactly to define and draw lines between the roles of military and civilian personnel. Situations such as that in Kosovo involve a multitude of civilian and military organisations as well as various national commands and political interests. We are also trying to enforce and develop peace in a country that has never really had the civilian infrastructure of law and order that we take for granted. We have to continue to address that. I welcome the intention that the Government have flagged up in respect of creating a new centre of peacekeeping excellence where we can share our skills in peacekeeping with other countries.
As I have already been speaking for 10 minutes, let me briefly refer to the threats from terrorism, rogue states and nuclear, chemical and biological warfare. I agree with many of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and the importance that they place on British forces being a force for good.
Mention has also been made of the concern that co-operation between countries such as Iraq and Serbia could lead to the possible development of nuclear weapons. We all recognise the increasing risk from terrorists and extremist militia. It is only right that this debate is taking place in a week when we are finally seeing the start of the Lockerbie trial. Along with other hon. Members, let me express my deep sympathy to the families who experienced such a dreadful and unimaginable horror and outrage committed by terrorists from another country, and the hope that justice will be done.
The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) mentioned some recent examples of the smuggling of nuclear material in connection with Uzbekistan. There are real worries about the vulnerability of the former Soviet Union's nuclear stockpile to those who wish to develop illicit nuclear weapons. I hope that the Government will show that they are doing everything possible to encourage international regulation and policing of that material.
Concern has also been expressed about the volatility of the situation with regard to North Korea. Only last year, it seemed to be threatening to rain destruction on neighbouring states, yet it could just as easily descend into violent internal upheaval. The reading that I have done 361 included the beneficial reminder that the demilitarised zone between the Republic of Korea and North Korea is now the world's most heavily fortified border, and that 37,000 US troops are still stationed there.
On national missile defence, I can understand the great unease felt in the US about the possibility that rogue states, such as North Korea and others, could mount an attack. However, I support the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who were worried that the development of NMD could set back some of the more positive recent initiatives, such as Russia's ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty and of START 2.
Another positive move has been the welcome announcement by North Korea and the Republic of Korea that they will seek to hold a summit next month to discuss peace and reconciliation. It is clear, therefore, that many issues need to be finely balanced.
We have had a very useful debate on the development of a European security and defence identity and of a common European foreign and security policy. Those matters have been well set out by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife and by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East. I shall not go over them again, but I sincerely believe that America is right to demand that—to put the matter bluntly—Europe should put its money where its mouth is and increase its defence capability. If we can deliver on that, I hope that it will strengthen the US-European alliance and NATO.
In 1948, Winston Churchill said that no foreign policy can have validity if there is no adequate force behind it and no national readiness to make the necessary sacrifices to produce that force. Some things have not changed, and I hope that all Government Departments will recognise the importance of that statement. In the 21st century, we have great opportunities and responsibilities. What we achieve in Britain and Europe can be a force for good in the world, and I hope that the Government will be a leading partner. I want Europe to be strong, but committed to economic reform, social justice and security in the 21st century.
That would mark the dawning of a new age and would be a fitting tribute to the millions in the previous century who lost their lives fighting for the peace, freedom and justice that we tend, all too often, to take for granted.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
I agree with much that was said by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire). I shall refer to some of her comments later—especially those on the training of soldiers in peacekeeping.
I am wearing my gunner tie as a signal to Members on the Treasury Bench—although I do not intend to aim any pot shots at them. I hope to range widely and constructively in the true tradition of an artillery man.
We must acknowledge that the European security and defence identity is a sensitive issue. I do not propose to scrub it. I am not a Europhobe, but there are genuine reasons why we should be careful that such initiatives on 362 the continent of Europe—taken by members of the European Union—do not undermine the solidarity of NATO.
I am an Atlanticist; I believe that the strength of NATO is fundamental. Europe should play its proper part; it should not decouple its effort. If that were to occur, it would undermine the basis of the defence structure that has helped to keep the peace during the most difficult period in modern history and that will help to contain the peace and the wider security of the world in the future. To allow that relationship to be destroyed or undermined on political grounds would be wrong.
We hear many conflicting statements on that matter from people on the continent, as I have discovered in the course of my NATO and parliamentary work. Some of those statements are most alarming. We should make no mistake about that. Many people envy America; they want a separate chain of command and want gradually to make that a reality by building up their forces.
Nothing is more certain than uncertainty—as we have been reminded during the debate. I shall concentrate on two aspects of the post-cold war period that have led to new threats to our security. The first is the growth in missiles, which has been much discussed.
In a previous debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), who is a rapporteur for the Western European Union Assembly, drew our attention to his report on transatlantic co-operation on ballistic missile defence. He referred in some detail to the threats posed by countries such as Iraq and Iran, which possess that capability. Furthermore, about 35 non-NATO countries also have ballistic missiles—18 of them are capable of installing nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological warheads.
As a nation that suffered from the use of Exocet missiles during the Falklands war, we should be especially conscious of the fact that such missiles pose a new and growing threat. Action must be taken. Cruise missiles are already possessed by 67 countries. We must realise that such missiles, in the hands of countries outside NATO. bring the capital cities of western Europe within the range of those countries—including Libya and the others that I mentioned. We should also bear in mind that China has stolen much of the technology of the United States.
It is useless to pretend that the situation remains as it was when the anti-ballistic missile treaty was signed and when we began START 1, 2 and 3. There has been a change. It is only sensible to have regard for the concerns expressed by our American allies and friends.
Recently, Mr. Solana, formerly the Secretary-General of NATO, who now holds a position in the EU, said:If we were not to be defended by the United States, that may risk the beginning of "decoupling".He pointed out that the American national missile defence system must not "strain trans-Atlantic links" nor provoke a "major crisis with Russia". Fair enough—of course it must not, but that is why we are concerned.
Although it has not been reported here, the United States has made it clear to the former Soviet Union that, if national missile defence were to be installed in the United States and extended to Europe, the former Soviet Union could benefit from such an arrangement as the facilities could be provided to it as well. It is a highly debatable and emotional issue, but we do not want the 363 initiative to spoil the Atlantic alliance. Therefore, we should treat with respect the concerns of our American allies.
Another aspect of the crisis was not anticipated when the cold war ended. It has nothing to do with what I have just said, but concerns matters such as trade wars. The United States and the European Union are engaged in a trade war of a kind and, on more than one occasion, relationships have been severely strained. This aspect of the problem may also explain why the streets of London were visited by—words fail me when I try to describe them—those who despoiled the statue of Winston Churchill, marched up Whitehall and destroyed some shops at the end of it. It is hard to believe that such people could take the law into their own hands—I do not condone them for a moment—on an issue such as trade wars or on the economic difficulties that developing countries in Asia and elsewhere are experiencing. However, some countries do not believe that they have been treated as well as they should have been by western business institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, which has assumed greater and new responsibilities and found itself in the business of doling out advice on banking, privatisation and taxes. Its mandate has accordingly expanded well beyond balance-of-payments issues.
The World Bank—which has also been a source of protests in Seattle and elsewhere—has also made corporate governance, corrupt governance and corruption its top priorities, so the relationship between developed countries and undeveloped and poorer countries has been extended in that way. Therefore, when the improvement in the economies of those countries declines, corruption increases and poverty does not seem to be alleviated, it is little wonder that they put the blame on the western institutions which they believe are mainly at fault. We can deny that and I certainly would. However, one can understand that, if the export of capitalism as they understand it is linked to the growing recession and corruption in those countries, it is only too easy to blame the west.
The development of a global economy therefore will pose new risks to our security as well as that of undeveloped countries unless it is handled tactfully, properly and honourably. Should there be an outbreak of disorder in such countries, we should be able to help to stabilise those areas. That can be done. First, if there is likely to be an outbreak of serious military disturbance, we should respond quickly. That means not only using military force to help the Government who are in office from being subverted, but recognising the threat so that units of what we would describe as the police forces of the countries concerned can be deployed.
As I know from personal experience—the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West referred to this—the training of British troops for peacekeeping duties is first class. I doubt whether any nation has spent so much time and trouble ensuring that such a degree of confidence can be held in its military arm when it is patrolling a foreign town or village. When people see our troops wearing their uniform, carrying a rifle or travelling in an armoured vehicle, they are confident that our forces will not pull the trigger or run over the kids or old ladies trying to cross the street.
Our forces are capable of great restraint. They are capable of doing things that a soldier would not be expected to perform—for example, helping someone 364 across a street. Some soldiers would not consider that to be part of their duties. They are prepared to carry food and things of that sort. These humane qualities are engrained in the training of a British soldier, who will recognise that there are those occasions in areas of great disturbance when he should behave more like a friendly policeman. We know, however, that a friendly policeman cannot do the soldier's job. At the same time, there are police forces that are well trained when we are not so concerned with the application of military force. For example, the gendarmerie of France and the carabinieri of Italy have quasi-military training.
If we are to reduce the stress and the stretch on our forces when they are involved in peacekeeping or peacemaking activities—especially peacekeeping—we should recognise that they can and should be reinforced by police from our reserves and resources who are trained to deal with situations in foreign countries. It is something that deserves more attention.
We are facing more responsibilities ourselves. We are placing the burden on our defence forces and running into trouble far too quickly when disturbances result from trade disputes, rather than giving competence to the afflicted Government concerned, because we do not have forces that can respond as necessary before the troubles turn into outright conflict of a military sort. I am talking about the sort of problem that we used to understand when we faced it in some of our former colonies.
That is why I respect the view of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) when he said that we should devote more of our time internationally to seeing whether we can get agreement on the sort of forces that we deploy and how quickly they can be deployed. If these matters are not dealt with thoroughly and humanely, they will lead to more insurrection and more trouble, which will threaten the security of the countries concerned and of the United Kingdom.
This is one way in which we can begin to restore confidence with Russia. There were moments during the Kosovo conflict when things looked rather hairy. There have also been moments when a mutual trust has been engendered, certainly at military level. I noticed that at NATO headquarters. The trouble is that that trust is not extended to the Duma. It is in those areas of joint arrangements with Russia—in matters of peacekeeping, peacemaking and trade—that we can begin to sow the seeds of mutual confidence that has been lacking so far. It is vital that we do so in the next few years if we are to arrive at greater understanding.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
The strategic defence review correctly tried to base defence policy on foreign policy—we could hardly have a better expression of intent in the present world than the one given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence—on making the world a better and safer place. Central to that is the question of weapons of mass destruction. It is an issue of enormous importance and it is pleasing that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is considering it. We have had the benefit from that in the valuable contributions to the debate from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and from the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley).
365 It is clear that the basis of the Government's policy on weapons of mass destruction is that of arms control. For example, there is our commitment to the test ban treaty, nuclear safeguards, biological and chemical weapons conventions, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, START 3 and our commitment to enter into an arms reduction process when we feel it appropriate to do so. In response to a remark by the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, my memory of what my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on 24 January was that he reiterated that basic policy. It is a policy that probably is the subject of general agreement or consensus on both sides of the House.
In this brief contribution I want to concentrate on one vital issue, which I believe could undermine that policy. That issue, which has been repeatedly referred to, is national missile defence. I suspect that there may be divergent views within parties on both sides of the House, and hon. Members' remarks have hinted at that. It is correct for us to debate that subject because although it could be said to be a matter for the United States—and for Russia, in that it may affect the anti-ballistic missile treaty, which was originally a bilateral treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union—I believe that there are legitimate concerns for Britain. I shall give three main reasons for that.
First, there are legitimate concerns that NMD could undermine our whole arms control posture. Secondly, Britain obviously could be used as a surveillance base at Menwith and Fylingdales. In addition, The Sunday Times made the suggestion, although I do not know whether it has any foundation, that we might be requested to have interceptor launch sites in British territory. Thirdly, as the Defence Secretary has said, there is the possibility of Britain or NATO looking at the feasibility of missile defence.
The United States says that it is acquiring the system because of the risk posed by rogue states, namely the danger of unstable dictators acquiring nuclear, biological or chemical weapons and rocket delivery systems. At present, there are almost certainly some states that we would class in that category which have or are close to obtaining crude forms of nuclear weapons and, possibly, crude delivery systems. One thinks particularly of present information about North Korea.
Some people in the United States have suggested that those nations have missiles that are capable of long-distance flights, but I think that it is questionable. Given that crude nuclear weapons tend to be heavy, it is reasonable to doubt that crude delivery systems would be capable of delivering them. Clearly, however, it is possible to imagine that within the next decade or so, some of those states could develop more sophisticated systems.
Even if we were to reach a situation in which one of those states was able to launch crude but probably untested nuclear weapons on crude but probably untested rocket delivery systems, should we, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) suggested, believe that they would readily attempt to attack the United States and would not be deterred by the 366 knowledge that the US possesses several thousand such missiles? When the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) was pressing his point about the dangers posed by such states, he seemed to be implying that no deterrent exists in the United States or other members of NATO.
To launch such an attack would be suicidal. Can one rule out the possibility that a suicidal maniac could gain control of nuclear weapons? No, one cannot, but in a world where nuclear weapons have been invented, there is no such thing as absolute security. We have to live with different balances and levels of risk. What frightens me in this case is that we may, out of fear of wanting to counter one threat, increase a greater and more dangerous threat without removing the original threat.
Even if NMD proves to be technologically possible, which is still questionable, it will, as has already been said, provide no protection against the device brought into a country on a lorry, by boat or in a suitcase. Such a device could be used not only by a rogue state, but by a terrorist organisation against which deterrence would not be feasible.
The concern about NMD is that it could undermine the anti-ballistic missile treaty, particularly, as the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) indicated, if phase 2 is introduced. However, even phase 1 could undermine the treaty.
There is concern about the views expressed by some defence commentators in the United States, especially right-wing members of the Republican party—the people who are sometimes described as unilateralists or aggressive isolationists. They have said that they would be prepared unilaterally to abrogate the ABM treaty. If they did so, they would undermine both the basis for all treaties and all confidence and trust in the United States—especially if a Republican Administration reneged on a treaty that was originally introduced by a Republican president, Richard Nixon. If it happened, there would have to be grave concern that Russia and China would believe that NMD was directed not at rogue states but at themselves. They would cease to believe any promises that were made, because if one Administration could renege on another's promises, how could they be sure that future Administrations would not do the same?
We could end up involved, once again, in a dangerous arms race. As the shadow Defence Secretary said, nuclear proliferation is already frightening; it would become far more worrying if it were to accelerate. I am surprised that, when talking about the 1980s, the hon. Gentleman did not think of another lesson from that time. At the time the Americans were considering SDI—the strategic defence initiative—Baroness Thatcher and Lord Howe argued that it would be dangerous, precisely because it would undermine the entire arms control regime.
In that context, I was relieved when, yesterday, during the nuclear non-proliferation review conference, the five recognised nuclear states—the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—issued a joint statement in which they stated their belief in preserving and strengthening the ABM treaty. I trust that that implies that the current US Administration are committed at least to negotiating with Russia on an ABM treaty before considering the introduction of NMD.
Even if that were to be done, I hope that serious consideration would be given to Chinese perceptions: there are clear indications that China is gravely concerned 367 about the threat of NMD and is considering the possibility of increasing its nuclear stockpiles. I hope that the views of all other states would be taken into account. It is noticeable that, at the nuclear non-proliferation treaty discussions, the vast majority of states have expressed concern about NMD. NMD is not worth while if all it does is create destabilisation and thereby reduces our safety.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East asked what if the Americans were to go ahead with NMD without ensuring that the arms control regime was preserved? What should Britain's response to our American allies be if they start asking us for either the use of surveillance posts, or launch pads for interceptor missiles? In the first instance, that might appear to be an extremely unattractive bargain: remember, national missile defence is so called because it was intended only to provide cover for the United States of America.
Even though, when the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green suggested that North Korea would be wildly keen to attack the United Kingdom with nuclear weapons, one has to wonder why North Korea—or any other state that is feared to have developed nuclear capability—should be keen to do so. One must acknowledge that, if we were to help with NMD, the risk of the areas involved becoming targets would clearly be increased. Therefore, helping might be a rather unattractive option for the north of Yorkshire.
Of course, the United States might offer to extend the cover of NMD to Britain, or that there would be additional jobs created in the localities, or that lucrative contracts might benefit other parts of Britain. When the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) spoke of operational and commercial benefits, that might have been what he meant. However, it would be a poor deal if we were trading off against such benefits the safety of our people and our planet.
Would NMD work? The past record of interception systems is poor. We all remember George Bush saying—I do not recall the exact numbers, so I will guess at them—that the Patriot missiles managed to down 41 out of 43 Scuds. Later, a congressional inquiry suggested that the number downed was much lower. No clear evidence could be produced that even one Scud had been successfully intercepted. The U.S. Defence Department said that it had managed to get its missiles to explode near the Scuds, even if it did not manage to bring them down. In the event of an in-coming nuclear missile, I would find that rather cold comfort.
So far, the tests that have been done on national missile defence have been unsuccessful. It is thought that the only successful interception occurred by a fluke. The main first series of tests will not close before 2001. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was right to say that the matter should be subject to "calm and measured debate".
I fear, however, that as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East suggested, that is not happening in the US at present. Instead, there is hype, vested interests, what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex, the possibility of multimillion dollar contracts, and the possibility of pork barrel politics, during a period of election campaigning. That is a dangerous time and a dangerous way for these matters to be discussed.
I realise that the influence that the United Kingdom can have on the United States is limited, and that private rather than megaphone diplomacy is needed. The point 368 made by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) that we can be "critical and constructive partners" was valid. I hope that we will try to use what influence we can on the United States to discourage precipitate action on the matter, and to encourage the "calm and measured" debate to which the Secretary of State referred.
The dangers from proliferation are vast and real. It is tempting to think that there can be some simple, single, magical, technological solution, but I fear that it is a complex issue, where solutions may be complex, multiple, mostly diplomatic and highly imperfect. In a world where nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented, absolute security may no longer be possible. In trying to pursue the dream of absolute security, it would be folly to throw away the only real, albeit limited and tenuous, security that we have.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
We have had a timely debate, if not a well-timed one, as the pre-occupations of most hon. Members are understandably elsewhere. However, the debate is timely in view of the situation around the globe, which makes it plain that the use of military power or the threat of its application is still a key determinant in human affairs.
We see that in the case of Northern Ireland. Our Prime Minister is over in Belfast and must spend a great deal of time on the so-called peace process because the continued possession of armaments by the Irish Republican Army has thwarted the devolution process in a part of our own kingdom. We have seen the application of systematic military power in Chechnya and scorched earth tactics employed by the Russian Federation. We have seen the sabre-rattling against the Taiwanese by the People's Republic of China, and Muslim insurgency in the Philippines currently affecting western tourists.
There is tension and conflict in Kashmir and civil war in the Congo. The situation in Iraq is such that we have to maintain no-fly zones over the northern and southern parts of that country. There are British nationals at risk in Zimbabwe, whom it may become necessary to extricate.
If we look at the scene around the world, it is clearly crucial for the United Kingdom to maintain a war-fighting capability. Anything less would be wholly irresponsible. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Defence laid emphasis on three aspects of our global commitments. He emphasised the need, first, for expeditionary warfare capability, secondly, for a capacity to conduct effective coalition operations, and, thirdly, for the European defence initiative, about which we can argue for some time to come.
The European Helsinki council target to be able to put into the field between 50,000 and 60,000 men by the year 2003, to be deployable within a time scale of two or three months, inspires no confidence. Every major crisis in recent years has required the application of military force at the crucial point in a much shorter time scale. There is no sign that the European countries are prepared to make the dispositions either of men, material or resources to make valid the commitment that was undertaken at Helsinki.
In this connection, it is more crucial than ever that this intergovernmental commitment, as it was rightly described by the Secretary of State, should be underpinned by a European defence and security assembly, which is 369 intergovernmental in its nature in as much as its members are drawn from national Parliaments and able to put pressure on their national Governments.
Therefore, following the unanimous decision of the WEU Assembly in Lisbon that the European defence and security assembly should continue in an interim form on the basis of the WEU Assembly, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will explicitly, clearly and unequivocally support the wish of the WEU Assembly to see itself transformed into the European defence and security assembly, and that the role should not be usurped by the European Parliament on the one hand, or just forgotten on the other.
Many hon. Members in today's debate have correctly stressed the importance of sustainability in operations around the world, and they have cited, for example, the National Audit Office's report on the situation in the Kosovo war when our air forces very nearly ran out of ordnance. If anything can clearly be seen, it is that in the future such overseas operations will have an element of unpredictability with which to contend.
Take the state of affairs today when no fewer than 44 Royal Navy Lynx and 21 Army Lynx helicopters have had to be grounded because of fatigue in the rotor heads. In the Gulf war, sand filters had to be installed in the engines of the Lynx helicopters to enable them to operate in the terrain. Also in the Gulf war, the serviceability rate of the Challenger I tanks' engines was abysmal.
We should also remember the effect of delays on entry into service. For example, the delay in the mid-life update of the Tornado led to Harrier aircraft having to be used in the initial stages of the Kosovo war when the preference would have been for Tornados.
If we plan for a logistic support system based on the principle of just-in-time, the likelihood is that, in reality, it will be just too late for the armed forces in the field to obtain the spares and the supplies that they so badly need.
I understand the rationale for the Treasury to require a second look at certain key procurement programmes. As has been argued in the debate, with such small armed forces at our disposition in the UK, it will be crucial for expeditionary warfare to be conducted effectively that they be properly equipped.
Big decisions have been put on hold—in particular the SDR commitment for the Royal Air Force to obtain a short-term heavy lift capacity. The Antonov 124/100 aircraft offers twice the payload and twice the fuselage volume at half the price of the American C-17.
To put it simply, one Antonov 124/100 aircraft took the four Puma helicopters to southern Africa to deal with the emergency caused by the Mozambique floods in one sortie. The operation would have required two C-17s. The cost of chartering the Antonov aircraft was just over £200,000; it would probably have cost more than £1 million to charter two C-17s from the United States air force. The cost-effectiveness as well as the capability advantages of the Antonov are therefore significant, especially in view of the future pressures on the defence budgets that we can already foretell.
Those pressures will have to be tackled at a time when defence expenditure is unlikely to increase in line with inflation. Continuing cuts in real-terms defence 370 expenditure are likely. It is difficult to envisage the Treasury abandoning the efficiency savings that it is currently imposing on the Ministry of Defence.
It is crucial that big procurement decisions on heavy lift and the air-to-air missile for the Eurofighter are carefully assessed and wisely made. The Treasury is right to ask for reconsideration of both programmes. An incremental development programme for the air-to-air missile for the Eurofighter was part of the smart procurement process. Hence the attraction of the Raytheon missile, based on enhancement of the existing advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, as opposed to the more futuristic—and perhaps riskier—Meteor missile. It is especially attractive given the gap between the entry into service of the Eurofighter in about 2005 and the availability of an effective air-to-air missile for it. The gap is wider in the case of Meteor than in that of Raytheon. We are therefore considering important decisions.
We must also be aware of the overall context of the industrial policy in which decisions are made. The Treasury has provided £500 million of launch aid for the A3XX airbus. This is the biggest single example of such loan finance in recent years. Is it wise to invest more development funding in the A400M military version of the airbus when the C-130J is coming into service? A second tranche of C-130Js could be procured at a much lower cost than the A400M airbus. That would enable Royal Air Force expeditionary operations to field two types of aircraft.
The Antonov could be flown by Air Foyle or a similar civil operator with reservist crews, with the aircraft on a military register—or not, as required. It can be backed up by the C-130J. A two-ship fleet is logistically much easier to support than a fleet with more types of transport aircraft. The cost-effectiveness benefit needs to be weighed, and I am glad that the Treasury is doing that.
Many equipment systems are crucial to the United Kingdom's capability to engage in expeditionary operations around the world. For example, the Commando Sea Kings need to be replaced for the Royal Marines and a new support helicopter is needed for the Royal Air Force to replace the Puma. I hope that, now we have a Joint Helicopter Command, the same type will fulfil both roles. In a rational world the EH-101 Merlin would do so because the V22 Osprey will cost £40 million. After the latest fatal accident in the United States, it is likely that the Osprey will be delayed further and that the cost of rectification measures will increase its price even more.
Eventually, we shall need a dedicated anti-tank helicopter for the commando brigade, which is losing that integral capability because its Lynxes are going. Supposedly, Apaches from the Army Air Corps will be available, but the aircraft are not marinised and there could be a conflict of interest when the Marines or the Royal Navy need an anti-tank capability for amphibious operations because the generals and the Army Air Corps are likely to say something different.
I argue most strongly for Her Majesty's Government to put the flesh on the bones of the expeditionary warfare strategy set out in the strategic defence review. The objective is clear; the trouble is that they have neither willed the means nor applied the intellectual resources to make the strategy effective.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
The point was made about five hours ago that this is the wrong day on which to hold such an important debate because local elections are taking place.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The right hon. Gentleman says, "Hear, hear." Curiously, I disagree. I have attended defence debates for 38 years—since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in his pram—and I have rarely listened to such a thoughtful and interesting discussion. I do not complain about the length of the speeches, although I suffer because of that, as Members gave way and said what they thought. This has been a thoroughly worthwhile afternoon. However, I fear that I must truncate my thoughts to a question: are we sure that our forces have sufficient training in a police role to cope with a situation such as Kosovo?
I need not tell my hon. Friend the Minister that soldiers are not policemen. There is a problem here, and the nub of the matter is that there are at least 280,000 Serb refugees from Kosovo. The official Belgrade figure is 350,000. I am told by Radomir Putnikovich and others, who saw those people last week, that they are living in absolutely appalling conditions outside Belgrade and have one hot meal a day, if they are lucky. I was in Serbia in September with my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), who has since made another visit with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). This is a human problem and the only way to resolve it is to allow the refugees back into Kosovo. However, they cannot return at the moment.
My hon. Friend the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the Kosovo Liberation Army has got its way and is in control of the situation. What is happening to United Nations resolution 1244? What safety is being provided by all those KFOR resources for non-Albanian peoples such as the Roma, the Serbs and the gypsies and, indeed, for Albanians who have in any way fallen foul of the KLA and are less then enthusiastic about it? It is extraordinary: we have put in all those dedicated troops, but how much can they do?
Specifically, although I do not expect my hon. Friend to answer tonight, will he turn his attention to what happened on 17 April at the village of Bijelo Polje, which was razed to the ground? According to the information that we have, 237 Serbs were slaughtered in appalling circumstances.
What have our forces been able to do? I hasten to say that that is not an implied criticism of the forces. It so happens that the regiment in which I did my national service, and with which I have maintained friendly contacts for all these years, is at the sharp end. I do not claim that the information is anything more than anecdotal, and certainly there has been no impropriety; but there is a problem. How is it possible to create the conditions for achievement of the objective for which the west went to war—namely, an end to ethnic cleansing?
I think it behoves us all to be constructive. Because my speech must be truncated, I will leave it at this. Some of us think that the only way forward is the establishment of a peace and reconciliation commission such as the one that produced such marvellous results in South Africa. 372 In the view of a Norwegian professor who addressed a large meeting in this building last night organised by some of us, we shall otherwise have to wait for 134 years—that being the average time for which Ottoman Turks and the other conquerors held the area. How long has NATO to stay there? I suspect that it will stay there not just for my lifetime, but for the lifetime of the youngest Member in the Chamber. That is the nature of the commitment.
Having been to Bosnia two years ago, and having opposed—along with Julian Amery—any involvement in Yugoslavia, I must say now that it would be irresponsible to withdraw, because we know the bloodbath that would ensue. Indeed, it would be irresponsible not to have heavy armour there, because otherwise some of our soldiers would be taken hostage, as a number of sappers were. I do not pretend that there is any easy answer, but a real problem is involved in expecting soldiers—however talented they may be in their profession—to move to another very difficult profession, and become policemen in a deeply unstable and mutually hostile society.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
I entirely endorse what has been said by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Soldiers are not policemen, and their position is extremely difficult in the areas that he mentioned. Today, the hon. Gentleman's regiment announced that it is pursuing an initiative begun by my regiment in Bosnia, and is reverting to type like a ponticum rhododendron. It is seizing 15 local horses, on which it will police the more difficult hinterland in its area of responsibility. I am glad that the Greys are returning to their roots.
When I went to Bosnia in 1995, I asked a senior warrant officer how he felt that the mission was likely to go. He said, "It has all the smell of Cyprus." We have been in Cyprus for years, and there is still no possibility of our leaving. I fear that the same will apply to Bosnia, and to Kosovo.
I will be brief, and I apologise for having missed some of the Secretary of State's speech. I have already apologised to him. This has been an interesting and thoughtful debate; I want to speak only about money, and the resources required by the Ministry of Defence. Before that, however, I wish to pay tribute—as a former Minister for the Armed Forces—to the service men and women in all three forces and their families, to the civilians who are involved in sustaining and supporting our armed forces, and, in particular, to organisations such as the British Legion, the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmens Association, and a smaller organisation called Home Start, which has recently done marvellous work with families that find themselves hard pressed and up against it. It does a great deal to help with some of the difficulties that service families face.
As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the strategic defence review was generally well received, but, at the time, I and many other Conservative Members remained, rightly, unconvinced—as my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and other members of his defence team have often said—of its foreign policy base line. We were proved to be correct. Indeed, its assessments have proved to be wildly optimistic.
What we can say about the SDR is that it provided a blueprint for the future. One does not expect such look-forward documents to get everything right, but it 373 provided a blueprint. The services, as they always do, signed up to it with enthusiasm and approached the business in hand with verve. However, if the SDR is not delivered pretty much in its entirety—clearly, it cannot possibly be delivered in full; nothing ever is—the armed forces will become even more sceptical than they already are. New equipment is being delayed unacceptably. Exercises are being cancelled and, at present levels, the Ministry of Defence simply cannot afford to fund the SDR.
The problem does not lie with the MOD. I am sure that the heart of the Secretary of State for Defence, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence and his colleagues is in the right place. I am sure that the Prime Minister's heart is in the right place. Indeed, I have discussed the matter with him privately and I know that it is. The problem lies not with them but with the Treasury, which, as I have had cause to remark to the House before, works not for the British Government but, as we all know, for the Russians.
The Treasury continues, in its ignorant and dismissive way, to be totally careless of the claims of defence on the public purse. I want the Minister to understand that the position that the Department is in now is exactly the same as that in 1997 when the previous Government were in office: both the then Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence were absolutely in favour of getting more money for defence, but the Treasury won the day.
We are at a position where the MOD cannot continue to operate at that level of funding. If that is not sorted out with a more reasonable and sensible budget and with a clear ability to secure further resources, which the incoming Government after the next election will also have to commit to, our armed forces will become less capable, less efficient and less well trained.
I hear it regularly said among senior commanders that the forces are not as well trained as they were before the Gulf war. That is probably true. The danger for the armed forces is clear: once we begin to lose capability, it takes years to get it back. One of the SDR's key assumptions was that we would retain the capability to take part in high-intensity land battle. As, I hope, the Minister understands, that is essential even on peacekeeping operations.
The reason why British forces are so respected and admired on peacekeeping operations—I discovered it when I went to the MOD and when peacekeeping by the British Army was in its infancy—is because our soldiers, airmen and sailors have been so astonishingly well trained and are so disciplined, understanding and confident in their tasks. Peacekeeping is not an easy matter, but it is much less difficult than it might have been.
The Army has a good saying: "Train hard, fight easy." We have to be able to deliver troops ready for any type of operation, not just peacekeeping.
If the money is not made available, we run the risk that those qualities will go, and that with them will go the tremendous confidence that troops have in the ability to fight at the high-intensity end of the spectrum. Confidence is absolutely vital, but it is beginning to become worn, and not only in terms of training. My hon. Friends the Members for Chingford and Woodford Green and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and my right hon. 374 Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) have all talked about sustainability. If soldiers go into action not completely sure that everything that they need will be there to back them up, that query of confidence will lurk in their minds and they will not perform as they could.
I beg the Minister to understand that a number of senior commanders, in all three services, are anxious about the erosion of training standards and the potential consequences that flow from it. A catalogue of exercises is being cancelled. I noted that, last year, one of the Medicine Man exercises, in Canada, was cancelled.
Medicine Man is the type of training that the British Army most needs: formation training in the most realistic circumstances, in near-battlefield conditions. It is very bad news that, because of commitments that they had to undertake, a formation could not participate in one of the Medicine Man operations. Not only is that wasteful of the resources that we retain in Canada, but it is astonishingly bad news both for the soldiers who participate in the exercises and for the commanders who get a chance to exercise at brigade formation the type of skills that they will need on the battlefield. The potential consequences flowing from such matters are very serious indeed. Such matters have implications for morale, retention and, above all, fighting effectiveness.
I should be grateful if the Minister would pass this to the Secretary of State: the Secretary of State must not let the Treasury be a party to the wanton destruction of one of the greatest and most effective institutions in the land. The services have had to cope with the most astonishing amount of change, under not only the previous Government but the current one. The services always come through in such situations and get on with it. They have a horror of the modern contemporary civilian, of whingeing and whining, and of saying that they cannot do it. They just get on and do it. There is, however, a limit beyond which they cannot deliver what they are being asked to do.
If further resources are not forthcoming, the fighting effectiveness of all three services may be gravely undermined, and the quality of activity that we can bring to the world in the cause of peace may be diminished.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
I share the view of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that this has been a remarkable debate, despite the fact that not a single member of the Select Committee on Defence attended it. I very much regret that absence, but have to point out that those people would not have had much of a look-in. We have run a full day's defence debate without them, and listened to very many valuable speeches.
As usual, not a single member of the Scottish National party has attended the debate. Perhaps even more significant, however, is the fact that the Government managed to field in this defence debate not one Labour Back Bencher representing an English constituency. When I consider the hundreds of thousands of people in the defence industry work force—let alone all the members of the forces—who are represented by Labour Members, I regret very much that none of those Members attended the debate. However, their absence makes doubly important the contribution of my hon. Friends.
We started with the speech of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), who made an interesting speech on behalf of his constituents. But how can he continue to 375 support the cuts that the Government are making to the defence budget? He speaks as if only the Labour party in Scotland will save the day, but I suspect that his constituents may think differently when they see ever more defence cuts piled on the Ministry of Defence.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), with his wise words, made a hugely significant contribution. I should like to take up his point about the SDR being foreign policy driven, and the importance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Only a few months ago, the FCO asked its ambassadors around the world where they thought the hot spots might be. I understand that the FCO thought that there would be about seven in the world. In fact, there were about 53. I agree with my right hon. Friend about not necessarily relying wholly on the advice of the FCO on defence matters.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) made his customary erudite speech on a wide range of issues. I wholly endorse his comments about the indecision in the procurement of important equipment for all our forces, including Typhoon missiles, C-17s and roll on/roll off ferries. They are all fundamental issues. I know that the Minister is as frustrated as we are that he cannot announce decisions. I suspect that it is not his fault. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) pointed out, the Treasury is to blame.
The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) gave us a personal testament borne of long experience, which we were glad to hear. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) made an important point about biological weapons. His other three points were important, but I have time to concentrate on only one. He is right to say that that is the greatest concern that we face, and I say that as the Member of Parliament representing Porton Down.
My right hon. Friend said that the Government had been more open than previous Governments. In one sense he is right and in another he is wrong. He is wrong if he thinks that we should be beguiled by the little purple publication issued last year about the Government's plans for chemical and biological defence, because it contained nothing new. It was a useful compendium of existing Government policy. He was right to argue that we need a more open and adult approach towards educating the British public about the need for our nation to be better prepared for such events. I called for that from this Dispatch Box a couple of years ago and I hope that we will move down that path. In our mature democracy, we have the right climate to discuss these issues sensibly, without the mass hysteria that could occur from an irresponsible presentation of these issues.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) made an important contribution about Rosyth, DERA and peacekeeping. However, I wonder how she has the brass neck to quote Winston Churchill when she and her hon. Friends have been prancing around with their CND badges on for a quarter of a century, blighting what we have been trying to achieve in the west. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. [Interruption.] I did not say that the hon. Lady was a member of CND, but I wonder how she has the gall to defend her Government's approach to the defence budget when her constituents are observing deeper and deeper defence cuts.
376 My right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) made a hugely important point about the need for gendarmeries in peacekeeping processes. That was echoed by the hon. Member for Linlithgow. It is important to recognise that, in the Balkans, we are seeing an important contribution from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and, more recently, from the MOD police. They are out there now doing a valuable job and I pay tribute to both those organisations and their personnel. The MOD police have an unusually long tour of duty. I believe that they are out there for a year at a time, which puts them under considerable strain, and I salute them.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That did not stop 76 churches, a list of which I will give to the Minister, being destroyed while those organisations were there. How has KFOR allowed the destruction of the Serbian heritage, let alone the refugees?
§ Mr. Key
I do not know about the 76 churches, but when I was in Kosovo last autumn I saw NATO troops guarding churches. I visited a church in central Pristina and also observed from the air a Serbian Orthodox church deep in the countryside being guarded by a tank—I do not know which nationality; probably ours. I am sure that our forces are not neglecting their duty, but I suspect that they are hugely stretched.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) made an important contribution about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) spoke of the need for the Western European Union not to be simply forgotten. Of course I endorse that. We must find some way of ensuring continuity of accountability. With his usual erudition on procurement issues, he gave us a tour d'horizon of the decisions that need to be made very shortly.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow spoke about policing and the importance of the return of refugees to their homes, with the problems that are involved, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex made an important contribution about funding, which is of course crucial, but we should not forget that this is a debate on defence in the world, so I would like to spend a few moments trying to gain a new perspective on that.
Last week, during the recess, I visited Texas on a personal visit to celebrate my younger daughter's 21st birthday. I am proud today to be wearing a one-star tie, which I acquired in the gift shop of the capitol building in Austin. It struck me that, as I was in Texas, I ought to find out what Texans thought about defence. I found the yellow pages and looked up the national guard. I rang the public affairs unit at Fort Mabry. I am very grateful to Lieutenant-Colonel John Stanford and his deputy Aaron Reed for their excellent guidance and for fixing up a full command briefing.
Colonel William Goodwin, the chief of staff in the adjutant-general's department, led the team. The director of military personnel, Colonel Jack Taliaferro; the director of plans, operations and training, Colonel Archie Meedor Jr; the state aviation officer, Colonel James Looney; and General John Scribner, the command historian, all helped me to get a new perspective on defence in the world. I also got a specifically Texan view from the students at the university of Texas at Austin. 377 I wanted to find out what the role of the national guard was, and how it achieved its vision and mission—the national guard is legendary—and what motivates men and women in the lone star state, that most confident and prosperous American state, to consider defence important. It was an opportunity to take a step back and learn from the experience of others.
Everything is indeed bigger in Texas. The total ready reserve strength in the United States is 1.4 million service men and women. The states with the greatest national guard strength are California, Pennsylvania and, at the head of the league, Texas. The Texas national guard has more than 16,000 in its army guard, 3,300 in the air guard, 1,000 in the active reservists, 290 in active duty special work, 1,744 in the federal civil technicians and administrative assistants and 405 state employees. That adds up to about 23,000 people in the Texas national guard.
The federal Government provides 97 per cent. of the budget, to the tune of about $300 million a year. The Texas national guard has 199 units and attachments stationed in 100 armouries in 90 cities. The air guard—these are reservists, let us remember—has two F16 fighter wings, an airlift wing with Hercules C130s, a weather flight and medical squadrons. A little extra is the Texas state guard, with more than 1,200 people to replace the national guards when they have been deployed. They are mostly retired people committed to helping. They are unarmed and unpaid: it is a form of community service.
The army guard is of course the piece de resistance. For example, Task Force Eagle is currently in Bosnia; 481 members of the Texas national guard are there and, for the first time since the second world war, regulars in the US army are being commanded by national guard reservists.
§ Mr. Soames
The national guard structure in America is wonderful and suits that country well. However, does my hon. Friend agree that those troops could not be used in an outbreak of hostilities, because they are not sufficiently trained to deal with major outbreaks of public disturbance?
§ Mr. Key
Those are interesting comments, and all I can do is suggest that my hon. Friend visits Texas, because he is not correct. Another notable achievement of the Texas army national guard is that their soldiers are embedded in the US Army's 41st Division, which is the first and only fully digitised division in the US forces. It is the most modern unit in the US Army and the reservists are part of it. Indeed, part of the role and the vision of the reservists in the US is precisely to be ready to deploy as formed units to high-intensity warfare. That is why they have 32,000 acres of training area in Texas alone, 200 M1A1 tanks, 162 M2/3 Bradley fighting vehicles and 36 M109 A5 cannon. They have served in 63 countries in the past year, from Bolivia to Australia and Korea to Germany, and they are a real force multiplier.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Does my hon. Friend agree that the air national guard, from Texas and all the other states of the Union, has been engaged regularly in operational duty 378 overseas, including in the Balkans, the Gulf and Vietnam, and has operated to exactly the same operational standards as regular US Air Force squadrons?
§ Mr. Key
My hon. Friend is wholly right. The national guard also plays a major role in the partnership for peace. Texas also happens to have the highest number of people of Czech descent of any state in the US, so it is a partner with the Czech Republic in military-to-military exchange programmes.
The national guard has a dual mission. First, it has an organised state militia function under the command of the Governor, George Bush junior, and secondly, it is a first-line reserve component of the US army and air force. It can be ordered or called into active federal service by the President, as in Bosnia now.
§ Mr. Tom King
My hon. Friend is on strong ground, because in the Gulf war I saw for myself in Jeddah that the huge air-to-air refuelling tankers based there were operated by the US national guard. Their work enabled their troops to come over from Tampa and other places straight through to Dhahran and the other bases, and half the pilots were women.
§ Mr. Key
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for throwing yet more light on the subject. The primary role of the Texas national guard is as a first-response unit to cope with flooding, range fires, hurricanes, drought, shelter and the air delivery of the oral rabies vaccination programme along the Mexican border. The national guard supports law enforcement, especially the Texas counter-drug programme. It flies four full-time counter-drug aircraft and last year seized drugs to the value of $2.5 billion. That is a remarkable record.
The question is why, in the comfort of Dallas or Austin, should so many US citizens, deep inside the strongest country in the world, believe in the importance of federal and state defence forces? Most Texans, and indeed most Americans, realise that defence today is about more than the defence of the homeland and dependent territories. Of course, US citizens are not uncritical of their armed forces. In Texas, I saw two hugely contrasting films. "Rules of Engagement" could hardly have been more robust in support of the US military, but the Oscar-winning "American Beauty" carried a sinister and somewhat subversive message about the military. Both were great movies, and in their diversity they were tributes to the strength of American democracy.
In the United States, they tend to have a different approach to citizenship. We take ours for granted. Most of us are proud of our heritage, but we do not always like to show it. We get upset when mindless thugs and idle kids despoil the Cenotaph and the statues of great men, but we do not fly our national flag much—I wish we did—and we do not do enough to teach our children and inform our people about the need for defence in the world. That is a collective failing of all right hon. and hon. Members, and we should seek to address it. We should seek to make defence more relevant to the lives of ordinary people. Deep in the strategic defence review, and lurking in the defence White Paper, there are references to the wider role of defence forces, but they are not written about by defence correspondents or spoken of on television and radio. Just once a year we have an opportunity to air these issues—and this is it. 379 The United Kingdom should and can share the confidence and exuberance of our best ally, the United States, as we enter the new millennium. The 21st century brings the chance to benefit from accelerating economic, technological, cultural and political integration, bringing citizens of all continents closer together, allowing us to share ideas, goods and information in an instant on the world wide web. That is globalisation, and it is good.
An increasing number of nations have embraced western core values, including democracy, market economics, respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law. Indeed, as Member of Parliament for Salisbury, home of one of the four original Magna Cartas, I am particularly conscious of that. Attempts are under way to raise a large sum of money for a new Magna Carta building in the United States, where they also understand its significance.
Globalisation also brings risks, however—risks from rogue states, ethnic conflicts threatening regional stability, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, drug trafficking and international organised crime. They are all global concerns. So are resource depletion, rapid population growth, environmental damage, new infectious diseases, cultures of corruption and uncontrolled, unsustainable economic migration.
Just as United States citizens will suffer, so will United Kingdom citizens if the global economy becomes unstable or foreign markets collapse. However high our domestic standards may be, they are worth less if other countries do not strive for similar standards. So our citizens have a direct stake in the prosperity and stability of other nations.
Our national interests must be clear. We must ensure the physical security of our territory; the defence of our homeland is vital and should not have been written out of the script in the strategic defence review. The economic well-being of our nation must be protected and the safety of our citizens ensured. We must protect from attack our national infrastructures, including energy, banking and finance, telecommunications, transport, water systems and emergency services. Cyber warfare is no longer science fiction. The CNN factor has also been apparent for some years, and media manipulation and spin are facts of life. Now we can add cyber-hate websites and the need in a mature democracy for the state to regulate the security of the internet.
Our national interests extend beyond our shores. There are many regions where we trade, and 10 million British citizens live and work in them to create wealth. We must be prepared to reach out and promote economic and social stability, to protect our nationals and British dependent territories and protect the trade routes and shipping lanes that are still our life-blood even in this age of electronic commerce and air travel.
Sometimes we and our allies must act to defend our ideals and values and to halt gross violations of human rights. It is right that we should respond and seek to avert humanitarian disasters. It is all part of defence. We must spend more money on intelligence gathering and monitoring and on analysing all that information. Our military must prepare to respond to hot spots and plan to intervene if they are called on to do so.
We must also spend money on defence diplomacy, which was not dreamed up by new Labour in 1997, but has been part of a distinguished two-way process for generations, with our military attaches serving alongside 380 our diplomats, and foreign military personnel being made welcome at Sandhurst and the Royal College of Defence Studies, for example. We must not forget the important world of business and industry, and how that depends on the defence that is provided for our country.
Above all, we must prepare for an uncertain future. We must think the unthinkable, including assessing the worth of a new system of ballistic missile defence. We must have a strong, competitive, innovative and responsive defence industrial and research and development base, which is why so many of us are so worried about the Government's dash to sell off the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.
We need to bring our citizens with us in fulfilling those wide defence commitments. We will not do that if we cannot convince the men and women in our armed forces that the politicians are prepared to find the money necessary for the military to do the job. We must always prepare, equip and train Her Majesty's forces for high-intensity war, even though we use them for peacekeeping.
Britain's contribution to the defence of its own people, to the defence of Europe and the world is a record of which we can be proud. Meanwhile, the Government continue to cut the defence budget.
I end by reminding the Government of the wise words of a distinguished Labour Secretary of State for Defence. In his autobiography, he wrote:no Government should cut a military capability without cutting the political commitment which made that commitment necessary.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)
The debate has been interesting and well informed. Unlike our previous effort a few weeks ago, most speeches even stuck to the point. There has been much carping about the fact that the debate was being held today, but no one need remind a Scot with a distant constituency of the desirability of getting away, if possible, on a Thursday. However, there seemed to be little difficulty in filling the time. I cannot say that I felt time passing slowly while I listened to the debate. I compliment hon. Members on both sides of the House on the quality of their contributions. I have plenty of time to wind up the debate, and I shall do my best to respond to all the points that were raised.
In opening this debate earlier today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described some of the fresh thinking that is under way to modernise defence. That fresh thinking is being devoted to European defence, to meeting the challenges posed by rogue states that seek to acquire or develop weapons of mass destruction, to delivering the strategic defence review, and to using the expertise of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force as a force for good around the world. That is a challenging agenda, but it is one that we are meeting, largely through the great improvements to front-line capability arising from the strategic defence review.
My right hon. Friend rightly focused mainly on the broader international scene. I shall mention that in passing, but I shall concentrate on some matters that are rather closer to home. First, I apologise to the House if, in the course of my remarks, I lose my way around the mass of notes, pieces of paper and what I hope are wise 381 thoughts that I have collected—but another disadvantage of winding up the debate is that I have to read my own writing, which is never a very good thing.
The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) did not seem convinced about the part that the security review had played in informing the outcome of the strategic defence review. However, I assure him that the security review was embedded in the thinking that underlay the SDR. The SDR cannot predict actual conflicts, such as Kosovo, but it was never meant to, so the criticism levelled against it today was unjustified. The SDR was intended to predict classes of conflicts and to provide an appropriate level of response within our front-line capability to meet them. I submit that it has certainly managed to do that, as the success of our actions over the past year shows.
The accusation was also made that the SDR was cost driven. All I can say is that every aspect of Government in a time of scarce resources is cost driven to some extent. Cost was not the primary focus of the SDR: the Department felt some pain as a result of the reductions, but we supported them. I shall return to the points raised by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) when I come to consider his contribution. There is no need to labour the point—costs and budgets were reduced; forces were reduced. The SDR was a careful examination of what we were trying to do in the world and of the forces and capabilities needed to do it. The review has provided a pretty accurate match. As the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) pointed out, we need to review such matters—nothing should be seen as static.
Under the SDR, the broad capabilities and the objectives were correctly identified and we have been able to follow them through. Furthermore, we have been able to do so within the challenging budget that we set. I am not trying to say that my right hon. Friend, my colleagues and I are complacent about our funding—we are not. However, we should pay attention to the resources that we are allocating to ensure that we obtain best value for money. By and large, we are managing to do that and to do so within the constraints of our targets. The targets are challenging, but we are meeting them.
I do not propose to go round the houses over the national missile defence system. Attitudes towards it have been adequately aired from both sides of the House. The issue is complex and it is evolving. In response to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley), there is no great inconsistency between the comments of the Foreign Office and of my right hon. Friend. One approach relates to the present and the other to a hypothetical future—it is proper to consider that possibility. I shall try to return to that point.
The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, because of his obsession with Europe, tries to read more into the ESDI and the common European defence policy than we do. It is a legitimate aim to have a rapid reaction force of between 50,000 and 60,000 troops who are capable of deploying quickly—obviously, given its name. Clearly, such a force must be organised multinationally. I can see nothing wrong with that. We can play our part with our European neighbours.
382 There is no inconsistency between the argument that our European neighbours should spend more money on defence overall and the point that they could receive better value for the money that they spend at present. We are talking about the top-end capability of a service in which about 2 million soldiers are under arms at any one time. As has been mentioned, the French are in the process of abandoning conscription—at last. Perhaps other European nations will follow suit. That will help us to fulfil our objectives.
On Kosovo, there seems to be some confusion between the logistics of ensuring that there are sufficient supplies and the problems that may arise in their distribution. The point about spare parts for vehicles is a good example. I am sure that the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green would agree that every tank in Kosovo cannot go around with a truck full of spares behind it in case it breaks down. There is a big difference between ensuring that sufficient supplies are provided in the theatre of conflict so as to conduct operations responsibly and the occasional immediate logistical difficulties that may arise in ensuring that those supplies get out to vehicles in the field. If there are any lessons to be learned at that forward end of supply, I assure the hon. Gentleman that they will be taken on board.
I think that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred to munitions. There was no question of running out of munitions in Kosovo at any time. Reports to that effect are mistaken and they do not gain in truth or in accuracy—I would not for a moment suggest that the hon. Gentleman was trying to be untruthful—by being repeated, no matter how often.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Surely the point is that had operations continued with the same intensity for very much longer, there would have been a problem. The Ministry of Defence must be able and prepared to sustain operations for very much longer than is currently the case. That is the point, and it is a very simple one.
§ Dr. Moonie
My information is that we did not feel at any time that our objectives were under threat because of a shortage of any of the munitions that we used. We do not foresee that problem in the future, either. Clearly, if the conflict had lasted months longer, anyone might have got into difficulties in certain areas. However, it did not, so there was no problem.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
May I make the simple observation that I think that the Minister is slightly missing the point? It is not that we managed the operation as it stood; the key question is what would have happened if we had been opposed. The requirements for spares, back-up material and even munitions would have almost immediately rocketed, so to what degree would we have failed because of the problems outlined in the leaked reports? That is the challenge for him and his fellow Ministers.
§ Dr. Moonie
It is a challenge, but the hon. Gentleman must recognise that, if there had been active opposition, the operation might well have been conducted on a very different basis. He makes an entirely false analogy.
Rather sneering remarks were made about lean supply and the effective method of logistical operation that we now have in place. Mention was made of supermarkets 383 and other services, but I must point out that every successful manufacturing industry in the world uses a lean supply chain. They do not run out of supplies, and our supplies did not run out in Kosovo and they were not going to run out. Masses of stores were not left lying around, but, as the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex rightly said, the last thing that we want is masses of stuff lying around becoming out of date and obsolete. We must be able to manage supplies better than we have in the past. As present experience has shown, I submit that future experience with the new Defence Logistics Organisation will show that we have provided a successful underpinning of our front-line forces.
I shall discuss the Territorial Army later. Unlike everyone else, I have to be conscious of time as I wind up the debate.
§ Dr. Moonie
To my great disappointment, I am not returning to Scotland until tomorrow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) told me that he would be unable to be here for the winding-up speech, and I recognise the reasons for that. The right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) also informed me that he would not be present as did—[Interruption.] Hon. Members will just have to wait.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton rightly recognised the value of the Clyde bases in the west of Scotland, their huge economic input and the number of jobs involved. I noted his pleas for Yarrow and Kvaerner and for the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde, which were backed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson). Of course, we recognise the need for the industry to continue and I think that continuity of employment will be provided on the Clyde. I am not trying to understate the logistical difficulties of ensuring that that comes to pass, but I clearly cannot make any further comment today. However, my expectation is that we shall be able to keep things going.
§ Dr. Moonie
I really do not have time; I must try to reply to as many points as possible, so I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.
I am very well aware of the problems of the Churchill estate. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton that I shall try to ensure that the problems that have led to delays in transferring property to the local housing association will be solved in the very near future. My hon. Friend referred to the letter that he received on the organisation of facilities. We must recognise that General Cowans has put out a consultation document. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall listen to his concerns and try to address them.
I recognise that the right hon. Member for Bridgwater has long experience of the Ministry of Defence. I am aware of the attempts that he made—they were successful in the main—to handle the necessary reductions in expenditure and in the size of the forces. I think that the right hon. Friend would be honest enough to admit that there were some difficulties, particularly with the defence medical services, with which we are trying to deal. I accept that it was a difficult thing to do.
384 I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman conducted an exercise quite like the strategic defence review. Although the down-scaling produced successful results in the short term, it was largely a down-scaling of forces that remained focused on the same objectives as the larger forces previously. Perhaps that would have changed if the right hon. Gentleman had had enough time. I feel that we were left still focused on past objectives rather than those of the future. The SDR, whatever else may be said about it, is an attempt to focus on the future and our likely commitments.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the value of intelligence. I shall refer to asymmetry and the difficulties that we face in coming to terms with it. Clearly, effective co-operation among intelligence services and a recognition of the problems, including electronic espionage and electronic destruction just for the hell of it, can play a part in disrupting a complex society.
§ Dr. Moonie
No. I am sorry, I do not have time.
Defences have to change. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was saying that we are no longer focused on the threats that had been our concern, he was of course referring to the threats of the past, not those of the future. Clearly effective action is needed to meet perceived threats.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) must recognise that the provision of missiles for Typhoon is a genuinely difficult argument between two competing systems. Much as we would like to have a decision in the near future, there are arguments to consider on both sides. It is not easy to weigh the relative merits of two competing systems, both of which have considerable advantages—[Interruption.] We have not yet made a decision. My right hon. Friend assures me that we shall be making it very soon. I have both hands in front of me; I do not have one tied up behind my back.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
We will promise to be a little more patient if the Minister promises that he will make the decision.
§ Dr. Moonie
Much as I enjoy the greatness that has been thrust upon me, it has not quite reached that level within the Ministry. Good points have been made about morale and our role in the world. The right hon. and learned Gentleman focused on the argument about more or better spending in Europe.
I have tried to cover Kosovo as much as possible. I do not have time to deal with Iraq, other than to say in passing that we are making attempts to underpin the safety of the people underneath the no-fly zones—the Kurds in the north and the Shias in the south—and we must recognise the legitimacy of the operation under UN resolutions, however difficult such long-term operations are. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said about Kosovo and the problems that we have there. However difficult long-term operations may be, we must recognise that sometimes we have to take part in them, however unpleasant the consequences may be. Sometimes it is our duty to do so. That is certainly the position with the ones that we have been discussing today.
385 I shall spend a little more time on asymmetry and some of the threats which have been referred to, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling. We recognise the potential threat from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear terrorism. The MOD is fully involved in activities that are designed to counter the threat, which are co-ordinated and led by the Home Office in this country and by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office abroad.
The strategy that we support is twofold. First, it is designed to disable threats, and secondly, to plan an effective response to any explosion or release of material that may occur. That would involve mobilising a wide range of services, including the police, fire and ambulance services, local authorities and health services. That important work is being effectively co-ordinated by Ministers in other Departments and I assure the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling that the MOD provides practical support for both elements of the strategy and is closely involved in the planning of the overall response and the exercise programme designed to test the response.
All troops are now given training in handling dangerous situations and there is, of course, a regiment dedicated to such services, which we take very seriously. With decent intelligence and careful management, we hope to minimise such a risk to the country. As a doctor, I recognise that there are certain circumstances in which any form of attack could overwhelm any level of force put up to deal with it. We must be honest enough to accept that there are potential threats which, in the short term, would be impossible to tackle, but that does not alter the fact that we plan to handle them as effectively as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman made some specific points about Russia. We have shown tremendous willingness to help and, in the past, have provided practical and financial assistance for dealing with fissile materials. Recently, it was suggested that British Nuclear Fuels may be invited to help with safeguarding and destroying fissile materials. There is no better company in the world to deal with such materials, however much it has suffered recently as a result of one particular problem. We are world leaders in this field and should give Russia the benefit of our expertise as much as possible.
Avoiding leaching from fissile materials is a far more difficult problem to deal with at second hand. We are a member of all the export control regimes, including committees, the nuclear suppliers group and the Australia group: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is as familiar with them as I am. Those bodies depend on the good will of all the participants involved which, so far, they have had. However, we must accept that there is a danger of leaks which we must take the best precautions possible to prevent.
On the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) was, in many ways, speaking to the last person to whom she should be addressing her concerns. When I was in opposition, I dealt with the privatisation of the British Technology Group, which I opposed. Then, for my sins, I had to deal with the partial privatisation of AEA Technology. By that time, my views had changed 386 substantially and I came to recognise that there were good aspects of privatisation. I was, at worst, neutral and, at best, slightly in favour of it.
I honestly believe that the legitimate concerns expressed by the Opposition are similar to those that I expressed when I dealt with the privatisation of AEA Technology. With proper work and effective separation of the two elements involved, one can provide for the necessary part of DERA to be kept within the public sector and for a potentially highly effective commercial company to be created from the remainder.
I accept that there are considerable concerns about potential job losses and threats to individuals' personal security, which will be addressed during the process that was discussed earlier. However, that does not affect the fact that, in principle, we have every chance of making privatisation an outstanding success for DERA and the country.
Having mentioned the right hon. Member for Wealden, I should, in the few minutes that are left, discuss the threats that he raised. His point about trade wars was especially interesting and, given that there are forces outwith our control, underlined the importance in defence diplomacy of Departments working across departmental boundaries to handle the pressure that can lead to conflict if it is not properly handled. Despite the underpinning principles of free trade and economic expansion, there is a role for the Department.
I shall end on that note. It is the small, unsung things we do that may have the largest effect on world peace and prosperity in the long term. I am sure that that is an objective of which we are all in favour.
§ It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Mr. Tyler
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the Secretary of State for Defence is present, I should like to ask whether you have received any indication from him or from his colleagues about whether a statement will be made this evening about the serious potential danger to security posed by the e-mail virus known as the "love letter". Clearly, a Department of State must have been aware of the problem early this morning, yet, as far as I have been able to discover, no statement was made nor any warning given to other public services about the potential danger. Does the Secretary of State intend to make a statement telling us when his Department was made aware of the problem, whether other Departments had been informed of the severity of the situation, and whether there was any danger of the virus corrupting sensitive or operational computer systems in the Ministry of Defence?
§ Mr. Soames
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to report to you that I received an e-mail this morning from a woman I have never met telling me that she loved me. That is not unusual—[Laughter.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. I am sure that the House is fascinated by that information, but I think that I have heard enough to enable me to deal with the point of order. I have received no notification that the Secretary of State for Defence intends to make any statement along the lines that the hon. Gentlemen have suggested.