HL Deb 25 July 1990 vol 521 cc1460-74

3.55 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place this afternoon by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The Statement is as follows:

"In the defence debate last month, I set out the basis on which we have been considering options for change in defence. I should now like to advise the House of the broad proposals that we are considering and on which we will now be consulting with the NATO authorities and our allies, with the defence industries and, most importantly, with all those directly affected in the Armed Forces and the MoD's civilian staff. My Statement today follows the publication this morning of a valuable report from the Select Committee on Defence on the defence implications of recent events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

"The Declaration issued at the NATO Summit meeting here in London earlier this month said: 'Europe has entered a new, promising era … This alliance must and will adapt'. "The Options for Change have identified the ways in which our forces might be restructured by the mid-1990s in the light of these developments. The pace of change will depend upon the signature and implementation of a CFE agreement, and on how quickly Soviet troops leave Eastern Europe and other Soviet forces are run down. The precise shape of our contributions to NATO must reflect discussions yet to come with the NATO authorities and with our allies.

"In the options for change studies, we have sought to devise a structure for our regular forces appropriate to the new security situation and meeting our essential peacetime operational needs. The framework we have provided would be reinforced in a period of tension by drawing on volunteer reserves and reservists, who will have an important role to play. We have also allowed for the possible need to build back up our forces over a longer period should international circumstances ever require us to do so.

"There clearly are opportunities but also risks in Europe; and elsewhere some worrying trends—not least the proliferation of sophisticated weapons systems. We shall therefore continue to need a robust defence capability as our insurance against the unexpected. Our Armed Forces, albeit at lower levels, will be as important a safeguard for our country in the future as they have been in the past.

"Our proposals will bring savings and a reduction in the share of GDP taken by defence. We need force levels which we can afford and which can realistically be manned, given demographic pressures in the 1990s. The aim is smaller forces, better equipped, properly trained and housed, and well motivated. They will need to be flexible and mobile and able to contribute both in NATO and, if necessary, elsewhere.

"What I now have to put before this House are some proposals for change and some elements that will not change. We shall retain our strategic deterrent with a four-boat Trident force. In accordance with NATO policy for an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces, based in Europe, we shall also need a substrategic force of dual-capable Tornados with a stand-off missile.

"We must also continue to ensure the effective defence of the United Kingdom itself. A comprehensive air defence capability will still be essential, although with a smaller fighter force than had been planned. The UK fighter force would be held at seven squadrons of air-defence Tornados, supplemented by armed Hawks, and the remaining two Phantom squadrons would be withdrawn. We plan to retain at about present levels our home defence forces and our capability to deal with hostile mine-laying in home waters. We shall sustain our contribution in support of the police in Northern Ireland. For as long as they are needed, we will provide forces for our dependent territories and other overseas responsibilities in the Falklands, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Belize and—until 1997—Hong Kong.

"We will continue to play our full part in the defence of Europe. We will continue to deploy forces in Germany alongside our German and other allies, a contribution which is, I know, warmly welcomed by the German Government. We envisage that, in the changed circumstances of the mid-1990s, our stationed forces could be roughly half their present strength. When reinforced from the United Kingdom our army contribution could comprise of the order of two divisions, rather than four as at present. Our contribution will need to be shaped with that of our allies to fit the new force structures which we expect to see in the central region.

"We expect to reduce the RAF presence in Germany from four bases to two. We envisage retaining Harrier and helicopter forces there. As Germany takes on the air-policing responsibility for its territory, we would envisage phasing out our air defence contribution. We envisage maintaining six squadrons of Tornado aircraft in Germany and the UK with nuclear and conventional roles in Europe. The two variants of Tornado will provide the backbone of the future Royal Air Force. Aircraft not deployed in peacetime will be retained for use should we need to build back up our capability.

"In view of Chancellor Kohl's request that troops of the three Western powers should stay in Berlin as long as Soviet forces are in the present GDR, we envisage continuing to contribute to an allied presence, including an RAF contingent, for this period in Berlin.

"We intend to retain an amphibious capability in the longer term, whose roles include reinforcement of NATO's northern region. We shall also maintain an air contribution to the defence of the northern region; but we are looking again at the future requirement for the United Kingdom mobile force.

"Elsewhere in our maritime contribution, we need to take account of the decline in the size of the Soviet navy but also of its continuing modernisation, especially with new classes of submarine. We propose to maintain three carriers, update their Sea Harrier aircraft, and, subject to satisfactory progress, proceed with the EH101 helicopter programme. I would envisage a future destroyer-frigate force of around 40 ships. The reduction would be achieved by paying off older, less capable ships. In addition to Trident, we envisage a future submarine force of about 16 boats of which three-quarters would be nuclear powered. We see the Buccaneer force in the anti-ship role being replaced by dual-capable Tornados redeployed from Germany and re-equipped with Sea Eagle missiles. There would be a small reduction in Nimrod numbers.

"A capability for other contingencies would be provided by establishing a strategic reserve division bringing together amphibious, parachute, air-mobile and armoured formations with roles also in Europe or in national defence.

"Mr. Speaker, I have described how we now see the Armed Forces evolving in the period to 1995. These proposals are now for further study and consultation with NATO and our Brussels treaty partners. When we are able to take final decisions will depend on many factors, not least progress in the autumn on CFE, a successful outcome to the two plus four talks, a clear timetable for Soviet withdrawals from Europe, and the pace of discussions with our allies on the evolution of NATO strategy and operational concepts. We shall want in particular fully to consult the German Government over changes in our deployments there. We shall aim to move in an orderly and properly planned way to our new force structure, after the consultations I have described and when the necessary conditions have been met. We shall at the same time be conducting a detailed scrutiny of our equipment plans, including our research and development effort, to ensure that they would be in keeping with our changed requirements.

"Work remains to be done on detailed force structures and on changes in the support area, where we will be looking for substantial savings, before we can clarify the implications for individual units. We envisage in broad terms by the mid-1990s a regular Army of around 120,000, Royal Navy-Royal Marines of around 60,000 and a Royal Air Force of around 75,000. On this basis the overall reduction in regular service manpower would be around 18 per cent. We expect our civilian numbers to be similarly reduced. The volunteer reserves will continue to play a key role, and we wish Lo consider the appropriate numbers for the future, having regard to our needs and realistic levels of recruitment and retention.

"There will now be further work on the detailed implications of these broad proposals. Their cost will of course be within the expenditure plans published in the last public expenditure White Paper. Revised figures for defence expenditure will be announced as part of the Government's decisions on the total public expenditure programme in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Autumn Statement. In respect of the current year the House is aware that I am taking steps to constrain spending within the agreed provision. Announcements have been made on aircraft. Consistent with our longer-terms plans we shall be easing back on army recruiting and retiring early several ships and submarines, and making some other short-term changes to the programme which will be announced shortly.

"This country has owed a great debt to its armed services throughout its history. Their abilities and professionalism are not something that can be lightly discarded and then easily recalled when they may suddenly be needed. We have a duty to tell them what we believe the future is likely to hold for them at a time when the pace and scale of events in Europe offer real opportunities for change.

"We believe that the new force structures we envisage can give us strong and reliable defences, in changing circumstances, and at an affordable cost. Our proposals provide for us to continue to make a major contribution to the North Atlantic alliance as it adapts to the changes that its resolution and cohesion have done so much to make possible.

"It is a time of opportunity and hope for change yet without putting at risk the safe protection of our country nor neglecting fair consideration of those whose task that is. Our aim is an orderly and planned transition to the new world now unfolding and I commend it to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.8 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. It is a very long Statement. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I make only one or two points; obviously, we need to read and digest its contents.

Generally, we welcome the Statement. It is much more detailed than we expected and it contains some important information. I refer to our recent debate. The Statement amounts to a defence review, in other words, a radical reshaping of Britain's defence posture, possibly for the first time since the Second World War.

We are glad that the Statement is not dominated by exclusively financial considerations. There has been a worry that, with mounting inflation and cuts in public expenditure, the Ministry of Defence would be compelled to put our security at risk for that reason. The Statement recognises the fact—we must call it the fact—of the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern Germany. For the first time, so far as I am aware, there is recognition of the fact that Soviet naval strength is falling. We welcome that recognition by the Government.

As a general comment, the Statement has to be judged by its effect on the morale of the Armed Forces. We wholly support the Statement where it says—I shall repeat it because it is important—that, this country has owed a great debt to its Armed Services throughout its history. Their abilities and professionalism are not something that can be lightly discarded and then easily recalled when they may suddenly be needed". We wholly support that part of the Statement.

How does the Statement contribute to the maintenance of the Armed Forces' morale? That is the vital point as we go into a transitional period: we all know that it is a transitional period. How do we avoid damage to the Armed Forces' morale when we know that those forces are to be reduced? Nothing is worse than for an officer cadet at Sandhurst or even a corporal in training to know that in five years' time he will not have a job. We should like the Government to be more specific. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to give an assurance that the next instalment of what is a fundamental defence review will be in the form of a Green Paper or a White Paper in the autumn so that noble Lords will have a chance to debate fully what needs to be debated.

In coming to its conclusions on the costings, has the Ministry of Defence adopted a rate of inflation that would be considered reasonable in the light of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's remarks yesterday? Your Lordships will be aware that in the defence budget of £21 billion, somewhere between 40 per cent. and 45 per cent.—I do not have the exact figure but no doubt the noble Earl will be able to provide it—is spent on personnel. If inflation is rising at 10 per cent. per annum, which may well be so at the moment, and if it continues to rise, this will mean a quite inordinate increase in the defence budget over the years. That is rather difficult to reconcile with the idea of a peace dividend, a subject to which I shall return later.

What arrangements do the Government envisage—I recognise that these are early days—in the way of retraining those in the Armed Forces who will inevitably be made, in the classic sense of the word, redundant? Recruitment freezes and natural wastage are the worst ways of developing the kind of armed forces that this country requires because the best people go first. We have to make sure that the good people stay, that good people are recruited and that other people who are perhaps not so good or perhaps have skills which are not required are made satisfactorily redundant and are retrained to face their future in civilian life.

What is the future of the European fighter aircraft? That is not mentioned in the Statement. I should be grateful if the noble Earl could give us his views. That links in to a much more important and general question. What is to be the future of our defence industries? Let us assume that the CFE-1 negotiations are completed successfully and that the CFE-2 negotiations go forward as the NATO summit wished. What the noble Earl is saying is that our defence industries will have to adapt to a new life and that procurement will be much lower. There is even talk of the defence budget being halved in real terms by 1995. Do the Government accept that there is a governmental responsibility to ensure that that rundown and that adaptation to civilian manufacturing are properly planned? What measures do the Government envisage to ensure that?

Will the noble Earl confirm that there is no intention of expanding out of area capability and that we have ceased to be the policemen of the world? We cannot afford to be the policemen of the world. I should like confirmation that it is not intended to expand that capability.

There has been a great deal of talk about the peace dividend. That dividend will largely be absorbed over the next few years by the reorganisation of the armed forces into smaller and better equipped units. However, with good fortune, and assuming that the CFE-2 talks are successful, there should be a substantial peace dividend in the late 1990s. It is important that the dividend should be applied to ensuring the proper conversion of our defence industries to civilian purposes, the retraining of our Armed Forces personnel who have to face civilian life, and the general reconstruction of our manufacturing base. On no account should it be frittered away, as North Sea oil has been frittered away, on inflationary consumer booms. We look to the Government to give us an assurance that this great section of our manufacturing industry, which at the moment is involved in defence, will be properly converted to civilian purposes and that the Armed Forces which have served us so well, as the noble Earl said, will not be let down when they are asked, as many of them will be, to enter civilian life.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, on these Benches we thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, and associate ourselves with the warm and well deserved tribute that he paid to the Armed Services. I wish that I could be as complimentary about the Statement as the Opposition Front Bench. Possibly because on these Benches we do not have to live down a long record of lunacy on defence matters, we feel freer to criticise what is now put before us. The fact is that, in the light of the extraordinary changes in Europe, of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, of the withdrawal of Soviet troops, of the announcement of very great reductions in the German armed forces and of American forces in Europe, a reduction of 18 per cent. in overall manpower over five years is extremely modest. It is too modest. Why have the Government turned down proposals for a faster run-down—for example, the proposals made by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement? Was it because of the practical difficulties of the run-down, or was it because of worries about the remaining threats in Europe? I should be grateful to the noble Earl if he could answer that specific question.

My noble friends and I accept the need set out in the Statement to retain a four-boat strategic deterrent, though we are disappointed that there appears to be no effort to discuss with the French the possibility of Anglo-French nuclear co-operation. We see no defence requirement for the tactical air-to-surface missile outlined in the Statement. We see no requirement for it, nor do we think any other European NATO government think other than we do.

I should like to ask the Minister about paragraph 15 of the Statement. It refers to a capability for other contingencies, a capability—quite a substantial one: a strategic reserve—distinct from the role in Europe, or in national defence or our well known, familiar, specific British commitments. What are these contingencies? Will the noble Earl tell us what they are? Why should we now take on apparently new tasks and new responsibilities? What has happened in Europe to make any out-of-area responsibilities more necessary than they were before? I should be grateful for some reassurance on that point.

I turn now to the naval paragraphs in the Statement. We are all aware that although the Soviet fleet is becoming smaller, it is nevertheless becoming more modern. On these Benches we see no reason why naval forces should not be introduced into the disarmament process. The only people to oppose it are those in NATO. The Russians want it, but NATO refuses it under the particular leadership of the Prime Minister. That certainly was the case at the recent NATO summit. Perhaps the noble Earl will explain why we refused to allow naval arms to be included in the disarmament process.

Finally, I come to a point upon which I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. In my view we must have a proper audit debate on these proposals. The Government must not take decisions on such matters independently of Parliament. In this connection, I am not reassured by paragraph 1 in which the Government promise to consult the NATO authorities and our allies, the defence industries and all those affected in the Armed Forces and the MoD's civilian staff. There is no mention of future consultation with Parliament and no mention of a White Paper or a Green Paper. However, these are important matters. I believe that a debate on the subject would show that the announcements in the Government's Statement today, and such decisions as they have taken, are too limited and are likely to be overtaken very soon by events.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their comments and for the questions which they raised on the Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, was somewhat more generous than the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. Perhaps I may deal first with the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, upon which I think I can be helpful. He said that he was glad about the Statement and welcomed overall some of its aspects. He said that it was a long Statement. It is indeed a long Statement. However, there has been much to announce and there will be much more to announce at a later date. He went on to say he was delighted that the Soviet's navy strength was falling. That may be true, but whereas the numbers may be falling the quality is certainly improving.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, made a most important point about the morale of the Armed Forces. That is one of the most important reasons why we decided to make the Statement this afternoon before the Summer Recess. We realised that there was a certain amount of uncertainty as to the direction in which we were moving.

I have visited many units during the past year and I have found that morale and spirits are very high among members of our Armed Forces. I think that the release of the Statement will come as a great relief to them. As I have already said, a great deal of further work remains to be carried out during the summer and autumn, but further final decisions will depend upon progress in CFE and the outcome of the two plus four discussions with allies on military strategy. Further announcements will follow when all that is complete. The announcements made today show the direction in which we are moving and, if I may say so, scotch the wild rumours which we have seen recently in newspaper reports. They indicate a much clearer future for our excellent Armed Forces.

The next point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, concerned retraining for those who may be made redundant in the future. I must stress that we hope there will be as few redundancies as possible. As regards retraining, that aspect of the matter will be under consideration in the future. The noble Lord also asked about the EFA, the European fighter aircraft. I should tell him that we see a continuing need for the aircraft.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, asked also about the defence industries. I can say again, as I have said many times in this House and as the Statement also says, that we aim to inform, consult and make proposals to the defence industries. Therefore, it will be a matter of ongoing discussions. However, as regards the future—what they wish to do and what their direction will be—that must be a matter for them to decide, in conjunction with their workforce, while at the same time considering the best way forward for their shareholders.

The noble Lord also mentioned the out of area capability. I must forcefully say again that the world in which we live is an uncertain place. Therefore, we want to organise four brigades with NATO or home defence roles so as to provide, if required, a self-contained division-size force either for use in Europe or for tasks outside NATO.

I shall deal now with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, concerning the reasonable rate of inflation. We have made sensible and adequate provision for the effect of general inflation on the defence programme. He also mentioned, as perhaps will other noble Lords, the peace dividend. We cannot answer that question until the further work and consultation referred to in the Statement has been completed. We need to cost the proposals in detail and then consider the defence programme as a whole.

As I said, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was not quite as generous about the Government's Statement. He asked particularly why it was that we had not taken a more radical step. I can tell him that we have most certainly taken a radical look at the matter, but not an irresponsible one. Some capabilities remain central to our security and cannot be eliminated. We decided on balance that the international situation justifies retention of a wide range of capable forces and that we should continue to contribute to all our current NATO roles, albeit at lower levels in some cases. We aim to retain all capabilities in militarily significant quantities and to make genuine contributions to the common defence commensurate with those of our allies.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, also asked the same question about the out of area capabilities and responsibilities to which I replied in my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I trust that the noble Earl will forgive my intervention, but can he explain whether this is an increase in our provision for out of area capability?

The Earl of Arran

No, my Lords; it is not an increase in our out of area provision. However, it is something which will be constantly examined, as and when circumstances demand that this should be done.

The noble Lord also asked about maritime arms control. He asked why the West would not agree to include naval forces in negotiations. The answer is that the Soviets have agreed to the exclusion of naval forces from the CFE mandate because the huge imbalance in land forces in Europe is the main priority.

I trust that I have been able to answer most of the questions put to me by both noble Lords.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I hope my noble friend is aware that the House will be grateful to him for repeating this immensely important Statement. I should like to ask him one or two questions which arise from it. First, can he say whether the reduction in the army will involve the closing down or the abolition of any individual regiments and, if so, whether any decision has been taken as to which regiments will be involved? Further, is he aware that there is considerable anxiety in the army on this subject, especially in view of past history?

Secondly, my noble friend referred to some reduction in the numbers, although not in the strength, of the USSR's navy. Can he say why a country which consists of a large land mass with hardly any dependence on sea communications needs to maintain the very large navy which the USSR maintains, except for possible aggression?

Thirdly, will my noble friend say whether the Russian army, air force and chemical warfare establishment has been in any sense reduced as a result of the events of the past year, or whether it is continuing on the same scale? Is there any sign of reductions in the Soviet forces comparable in proportion to those that he has announced in respect of our own?

Finally, will my noble friend reassure the House that the Government will not forget the fact that twice in the lifetime of some of us the running down of our Armed Forces has brought this country to the edge of defeat?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those remarks, particularly the last point to which I know that all noble Lords will pay particular attention.

My noble friend asked, first, a most important question concerning redundancies and the future of individual units. We intend to retain a spectrum of existing capabilities, but a good deal of detailed work must now be done on both concepts and organisation. It is too soon to comment on the implications for individual units, although there will necessarily be some reductions. However, as my honourable friend said in another place during a recent debate, although some reductions will be required, we remain totally committed to the regimental system, thereby combining the traditional, historic and essential esprit de corps that has served us so proudly over so many years.

As regards the possibility of the threat having gone away, we do not believe that the Soviet Union currently has any hostile intentions. However, it retains formidable military capabilities and will do so even after the implementation of the CFE. It is important to bear that point in mind.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, as one who has carried out possibly the largest defence review ever held in peacetime, having negotiated the withdrawals from Mauritius, Singapore and Gan and negotiated the beginning of the withdrawals from Malta, let me say quite frankly to the House that there is no easy, quick peace dividend. That is tabloid sloganising.

Is the Minister aware that withdrawals and reductions must be a graduated process? The arms industries also need time for change. The services want to avoid turbulence and massive retirements. That is most important.

Is the Minister aware that there is still a need for substantial professional Armed Forces and that, although a major threat to our democracy has been mainly removed by the crumbling of the Communist empire, it is still unsettled in Eastern Europe and there is unease in other parts of the world where, within our own alliances and defence agreements, we may well be involved? There is obviously also a recognition that our Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve and auxiliary forces will become increasingly more important.

Is the Minister aware that we have reason to believe that our faith in NATO has been proved? We now hope that in its broadest sense—militarily, defensively and with a new political dimension in keeping with recent events—it may also give us a guarantee of peace in Europe for many years to come. However, is he also aware that it will have to remain vigilant? The Soviet Union still has a massive nuclear and conventional military capability and consequently we must remain on our guard.

Finally, is the Minister aware that reappraisals and armed force reductions take time? The options for change and defence savings are clearly there. The Minister referred to a possible 18 per cent. cut in service manpower and civilians, but I hope that it is done sensitively, cautiously and carefully. Is he aware that our Armed Forces must not be brutalised in that euphoria of a rush for a so-called peace dividend? In doing so, we might seriously impair the defence of the realm.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, that was a most magnificent contribution to the debate. I agree with absolutely every word that the noble Lord said.

Perhaps I may pick out some particular points. The noble Lord said that there is no easy, quick dividend, as I have told noble Lords. He said that withdrawals and reductions must be a graduated process. That will happen. He said that there is still a need for substantial professional Armed Forces. That is most certainly the case and will continue to be the case. He laid particular emphasis on the continuing need for the Territorial Army and reservists in the vital role that lies ahead of them. Finally, he said that it is at all times the responsibility and duty of this country to remain on its guard. I agree with the noble Lord and thank him for his comments.

Viscount Slim

My Lords, I take on board, like the noble Lord, Lord Mason, the figure of an 18 per cent. cut, in both military and civilian personnel. However, perhaps I may remind the noble Earl that it has been traditional, whichever government have been in power, that, when the axe comes down, it is the teeth arms within all three services that catch it. Perhaps the noble Earl has looked at the figure in the last White Paper regarding the size of the Ministry of Defence. Does he agree that, when planning the reconstruction, the same percentage, if not more, should also hold for the Ministry of Defence? That is a large establishment. Does he, agree that, if we are to have fewer forces, we can certainly cut the commands and the staff?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, is interesting to hear on that point. As regards the teeth versus tail plans for the support area, we are determined to reduce support at least in proportion to reduction in front line units. I make that point perfectly clear. Reductions in the Ministry of Defence and in the general support areas will also be commensurate with the front-line reductions. However, I should point out to the noble Viscount that many such reductions were carried out in the early 1980s.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, speaking as one with an industrial interest to declare, I think that industry will certainly want to give much more study to the Statement that has been made. Nothing precise can be said at the moment.

However, I am glad that my noble friend was able to say what he said about the long-term future of the Navy and the aim to keep it as modern and as well equipped as possible. If it is to be a 40-frigate Navy, I hope that it will not slip into a 39-frigate Navy, as the present frigate size has slipped from 50 to fewer than 50.

I welcome the reductions being achieved through natural wastage and scrapping of ships after completing their life. However, will my noble friend confirm whether orders and start dates for warships, which are in place at the moment, will stay in place? On the question of naval forces reduction, is he aware that there are long lead times on ship design and that the Russians are perhaps not ready to give up the high quality of warship design that they have achieved? Is that not probably one of the reasons why they do not wish to enter into a naval forces reduction?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the last point made by my noble friend is probably not quite right. Both the super-powers—Russia and America—agreed that they would not enter into maritime talks. My noble friend asked about the approximately 40 frigates and destroyers. As I said at the beginning of the Statement, all these proposals are up for consultation and general information. That also goes for my noble friend's points about orders staying in place for frigates and destroyers. I take his point about naval force reductions.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, in the promised consideration of the numbers of the volunteer reserve forces which my right honourable friend has proposed, will my noble friend ask him to bear three points in mind? The first is that the wind-down in regular forces will provide automatically a source of vehicles and equipment suitable for equipping and training the reserves. Secondly, the wind-down in personnel in the regular teeth arms will provide a highly professional source of cadre and permanent staff for territorial and other reserve formations.

Finally, and perhaps rather more originally, will my right honourable friend bear in mind that the training of young people in the volunteer reserve forces is an admirable means of character formation for our young people? At present, that is in very short supply. We should welcome an expansion of it for social as well as military reasons.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I certainly agree with the last point that my noble friend made. I can tell him out of interest that yesterday I visited some members of the ACS at Crowborough. I found them a most impressive unit of young men and women aged between 13 and 18. Not only did some of them wish to play a part in the Armed Forces later, but as my noble friend said, they make a most admirable contribution to the local community. That is a point that we shall bear in mind.

I also take my noble friend's points about the TA, and training and equipment. I assure him that we shall look closely at it in the months that lie ahead. I am glad to see that your Lordships are already starting to make proposals for the future. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will find that most helpful.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I have two questions to put to the noble Earl, concerning the future of nuclear weapons in the British forces. That is, the future of American-made nuclear weapons in the hands of British forces. The first question concerns TASM. The Statement mentioned the Tornados and other RAF formations whizzing about the globe with considerable speed, coming back from Germany and going to Germany. It was rather hard to follow. I note that in the report of the House of Commons Defence Committee, published this morning, the committee has this to say in paragraph 68 about TASM: The deployment of a new sub-strategic nuclear weapon system, even if replacing an existing one, could be interpreted as a hostile gesture in the current climate of arms control and the relaxation of military tensions … There is no evident urgency to deploy a nuclear-armed TASM: rather the opposite". Can the noble Earl make clear whether the Statement he has just read alters the hitherto declared intention of the Government to acquire an American-built nuclear system for that purpose?

My second question is about the future of the strategic deterrent, the four boats. Paragraph 86 of the same report from the House of Commons Defence Committee states: the prospect of speedy progress in START negotiations, and of a second round of START, again raises the possibility of the UK nuclear deterrent being affected by future negotiations, either now, or as a result of Soviet attempts to curb future transfer by the US to the UK of strategic weapon systems". To my knowledge, that is the first statement ever to have come from a responsible body controlled by the Government party, admitting the existence of such a possibility. Nevertheless, in the Statement this afternoon the Government stated boldly that they would maintain the four-boat strategic deterrent, as always. Have the Government now taken into account the possibility outlined by the House of Commons Defence Committee in the paragraph that I have just read?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, we have not had time to consider this aspect in the report of the House of Commons Defence Committee. It was published today, I think I am right in saying, and we have not had time to look at it carefully. However the policy of the four-boat system will continue.

Regarding tactical air to surface missiles, TASM, which the noble Lord mentioned, there is no change to the United Kingdom position on it. NATO has identified the requirement for TASM. The replacement of the United Kingdom's WE-177 free-fall nuclear bomb will allow penetration of improved Soviet air defences. The WE-177 is likely to reach the end of service life towards the end of the century. The United Kingdom continues to study options for replacement.

Regarding the United States and French options under consideration for the United Kingdom TASM, the Government are not prepared to comment on individual options under consideration. That makes some points in rejoinder to the noble Lord's question.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House agrees that this important Statement deserves a full debate in the House in due course. There is no hope that we shall have a debate this side of the Recess and it may well be that the Government will choose the opportunity of the debate on the Address for that purpose. However, we cannot expect that until November. The subject should be discussed between the usual channels between now and 8th October.

However, my noble friend Lord Williams suggested a Green Paper or a White Paper might be published. That would be extremely helpful in advance of a debate. We might then have a full government Statement in a suitable paper, especially as the Statement said that further discussions are to take place between the Government and our NATO partners on this. Perhaps the noble Lord can tell the House whether there is a possibility that such a paper will be available in due course, certainly before a debate.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can say to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that the way ahead for further discussion on defence has not yet been determined by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. At the moment we are about to enter into discussions with our NATO allies. We shall consult far and wide. For the future, the exact way in which more information will be divulged is not entirely known. I understand and will pass on the comments of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.