HL Deb 05 July 1993 vol 547 cc1105-21

5.44 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, with the leave of the House 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:

"The House will be aware that every year the Government publish a defence White Paper, which sets out its policy and plans for the future and describes the activities of the Armed Forces in the MoD. This year's White Paper called Defending Our Future is published today. We are also publishing UK defence statistics for 1993, and a separate defence statistics bulletin showing expenditure on research and development.

"I have taken the unusual step of announcing publication through a Statement in this House because although the White Paper includes the traditional information, I believe that the approach we have taken in Defending Our Future is a new departure and much of the material in it is particularly significant.

"This applies in two areas. First, Defending Our Future reports on the adjustments to the Options for Change force structure taking into account recent changes in the international situation and presents that force structure as an integrated whole.

"Secondly, it then shows—in a way which has never been attempted before—how each of the elements of our Armed Forces can be matched to the various tasks which we require the Armed Forces to carry out. This matching of forces to tasks is crucial. The two must be in balance if we are to avoid, on the one hand, wastefulness and, on the other hand, overstretch. I believe that the analysis which we set out—which is an entirely new and ground-breaking approach—shows that this balance is being achieved.

"The force levels of the Armed Forces are kept under constant review. We are regularly analysing the international situation, evaluating the threats which we face, and making sure that we have the right mix of forces to meet that threat. It is a continuous process. It is not something we do every few years, stopping our planning while we do it. Since last year's defence White Paper we have continued that process of adjustment. Our conclusions are set out in detail in Defending Our Future; this afternoon I will describe the most important elements of what we are proposing.

"The international situation continues to change, and in a number of very important respects the security of the United Kingdom has been enhanced in the past two years. In certain other areas there have been new demands on our Armed Forces. Defending Our Future addresses both considerations.

"I turn first to the improvements in our security and the implications for our force structure. Russia remains the largest European military power and retains significant forces for its own defence; but it is also well disposed to the UK. Its offensive capability has dramatically reduced, equipment serviceability has deteriorated, and its defence industry is in decline. Since 1991 the Soviet Union has ceased to exist and Russian forces have now largely withdrawn from Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic states as well as from Eastern Europe. At the same time we have made great progress in establishing mutual trust with our former enemies. This means that a major external threat is even more unlikely to re-emerge in the foreseeable future than seemed likely in 1991, and this makes it sensible for us to make some reductions in the levels of relevant forces which were particularly aimed at countering the Soviet threat. Equally, the changed strategic situation has demanded that we confirm a series of enhancements to our capability in other areas. Let me begin with the reductions.

"For the Royal Navy the rapid decline in the size and operational activity of the former Soviet submarine fleet means that there is no longer the same need to sustain the current level of anti-submarine operations in the North Atlantic; nor is there the same need to patrol the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap. We therefore plan to reduce the submarine fleet to 12 SSNs and withdraw the Upholder class of four conventional submarines from service by 1995. We are examining the relative merits of their sale, lease, or storage. The reduced risks in the North Atlantic also mean that the surface fleet can meet its tasks in peace and war, including our contribution to NATO, with a force of about 35 destroyers and frigates.

"For the Army, we have decided that our requirement for indirect fire anti-armoured weapons can best be met through procurement of an air-launched weapon. Already the United States and Germany have both withdrawn from the MLRS III collaborative programme and we will follow them at the end of the current phase.

"For the Royal Air Force, the reduced threat of air attack to the United Kingdom means that a force of 100 Tornado F3 fighters will be fully capable of defending the United Kingdom and meeting our commitments to NATO's reaction forces. This is a reduction of 13 aircraft, and the force will he reorganised into six rather than seven squadrons. There will be no change in the numbers of Tornado GR1 aircraft. We have also decided that for similar reasons there is no short-term requirement for a medium surface to air missile, but there is likely to be a longer term need and we are continuing our studies into these options. There is a clear operational justification for each of these reductions, which otherwise would not have been agreed.

"I turn now to the other side of the picture, the enhancements to our current force structure that are appropriate to respond to new challenges and potential threats. The past 12 months have shown an increase in the number of operations, both in Europe and the wider world, in which our Armed Forces might be involved in conflict. There is a need to ensure maximum flexibility and mobility for our Armed Forces in the modern world. In the White Paper we present the measures which will improve our overall capability to respond to this changing situation, some of which have recently been announced to the House.

"For the Royal Navy, we recently announced procurement of a helicopter carrier which will enter service later in the decade and will significantly enhance our amphibious capability. No such dedicated carrier has been available to the Royal Navy since 1985. We are also proceeding with project definition of the class of ships to replace HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid".

"For the Army, I announced recently an increase in the planned size of the infantry to take account of new commitments and our intention to retain two additional battalions and to increase frontline strength by 5.000.

"We are also considering how best to equip the Army's six Challenger 1 regiments over and above the purchase of 127 Challenger 2 tanks which we have already announced. I will make a further announcement in due course. I am able to announce today that we are placing an order, worth some £75 million, for over 400 new medium load carrier vehicles. This will enable us to deliver ammunition quickly to forward locations in support of our new AS-90 self-propelled howitzers and provides a very good example of the practical steps we are taking to enhance the mobility and flexibility of our forces.

"We have also invited tenders for a future attack helicopter which will substantially enhance the Army's anti-armour capability.

"For the Royal Air Force, Defending Our Future confirms plans to replace or refurbish part of the Hercules transport aircraft fleet. We also intend to procure a substantial number of additional support helicopters to increase the flexibility and mobility of our Armed Forces. The Eurofighter 2000 is now secure and will be the cornerstone of the RAF capability in the future and we have plans 'to upgrade the Tornado GR I 's operational capability.

"These adjustments, taken together, represent a shift in the overall capability of our forces. We are reducing capability where the threat to the United Kingdom has itself been significantly reduced. We are gaining capability in those areas where we believe we shall be required to act. Changes to particular capability areas need, therefore, to be seen in the context of the whole programme and our security policy objective. For example, our plans to reduce anti-submarine and air defence capabilities must be viewed alongside improvements in areas such as Army manpower, the new helicopter carrier, armour and anti-armour and air transport helicopters—all key elements of the mobile, flexible and well equipped forces which we shall need for our future security needs. Choices always have to be made. It is my view and that of the Chiefs of Staff that we have made the right choices to enable us to face up to the challenges which confront us.

"I turn now to the major innovation set out in Defending Our Future. I mentioned al the beginning of my Statement the new analysis which we have undertaken of the way in which our Armed Forces carry out their commitments. Defending Our Future includes unprecedented detail about the rationale for our current and planned force structures and activities.

"During the Cold War defence planners dealt with a relatively simple equation, one side of which was the monolithic threat from the East. In the post-Cold War world that certainly has vanished, to be replaced by a broad spectrum of risk and uncertainty. The defence planner needs more sophisticated tools to ensure that the programme really is providing what such a fluid strategic setting demands.

"We have therefore identified broad policy areas within each of the defence roles set out in last year's Statement on the Defence Estimates and within each of these the specific military tasks, 50 in number, which the Armed Forces are required to undertake. We have then identified with some precision the force elements—for example, the number of infantry battalions or frigates or aircraft—required to meet each task. All this is set out in full in the White Paper. It gives Parliament and the public an insight that we have not had before into the purposes for which we use all the elements of our Armed Forces. It highlights the balance which currently exists between commitments and resources. It also demonstrates clearly how changes—for example, a decision to take on a new UN commitment or the approaching obsolescence of an item of equipment—may affect the detail of the programme. There are many valuable conclusions to be drawn from the analysis; let me give a few general examples.

"First, our analysis has also showed us how our defence needs are influenced by national commitments unique to the United Kingdom. Most of our European partners do not have commitments analogous to our responsibilities in Northern Ireland and to our dependent territories; nor, except for France, do our European allies maintain a national nuclear deterrent. The cost of these activities amounts to over £3 billion a year. This has to be borne in mind when comparisons are made between levels of defence spending.

"Secondly, the analysis also shows the value of NATO and the benefits of sharing the financial burden of our collective security of the defence of Europe. If NATO disappeared and we had to insure on a purely national basis against major external threat, then we would almost certainly have to spend a great deal more money than we currently do.

"Thirdly, another valuable insight is the overlap between the types of forces needed for the defence of Europe and the types of forces needed to contribute to our wider security interests, through UN operations, for example. The kind of mobile, flexible, well equipped and trained forces, with true warfighting capabilities, that we provide for our NATO commitments have proved equally suited to operations in the Gulf and in Bosnia—the Tornado and Sentry aircraft and the Warrior armoured personnel carrier, for example.

"But the most significant overall conclusion is that the planned force structure is capable of meeting all the tasks we require of it. At the same time we must of course ensure that its high quality of manpower, equipment and support is maintained; and I have touched on a number of the major items in our forward programme which will help us to do so. And we must watch carefully to ensure that we maintain the balance we have achieved between our commitments, our force levels and the resources devoted to defence. Again, the analysis will help us to do so.

"I do not expect the House to comment in detail on this material today, but I hope that by publishing this analysis our defence debates will be even better informed than in the past.

"Defending Our Future is a comprehensive account of the Government's defence policy. It rightly describes the tasks of the Armed Forces and the civil servants in the Ministry of Defence. I pay tribute to the outstanding way in which they carry out their duties. It also breaks major new ground in terms of open government. Never before have commentators on defence issues had such access to the defence planner's perspective. I hope that the House will understand and appreciate the seriousness of this endeavour, and I commend it to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

6 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. As he pointed out, it is an unusual procedure to have a Statement announcing a White Paper. Any reactions we may have now may well be modified in the debate on the White Paper that I hope your Lordships will have in full in due course. I shall be pressing for an early debate on these Defence Estimates, as, indeed, they are.

I welcome the Government's attempt—I believe that it is an honest attempt—at open government by trying to put figures on military commitments, whatever those figures may in the end turn out to be. As your Lordships will be aware, figures tend to be a slightly movable feast, particularly in the area that the Minister has to cover; but, nevertheless, I appreciate that the Government have made a serious effort to inform your Lordships and the public of the figures that have lain behind the Statement and the White Paper.

In a sense, it enables us to carry out a defence review of a do-it-yourself nature because until now we have not had the sort of breakdown that the White Paper—I have not had the opportunity to read through it in detail—gives us. I was told on the television yesterday that there was a group inside the Ministry of Defence called ISG which elaborated all the commitments that the Government have undertaken and decided what resources were necessary to fulfil those commitments. We of course have no objections to reductions in defence expenditure. That is only right and proper, given the nature of the world in which we live and the breakdown of the Cold War, which we welcome. Nevertheless it would be useful if we could have—if there is such a thing as ISG inside the Ministry of Defence—its conclusions, because up till now, as I understand it from the Statement, it appears that we have the same commitments with fewer tanks, fewer men and women and fewer ships to meet those commitments. Clearly that is an imbalance which the Minister, in repeating the Statement, said that the Government were trying to avoid.

There are of course certain questions which arise immediately from what the Minister said. First, were we not told when Options for Change was announced that there would be no more cuts? Were we not given an assurance? Were we not told when there were further cuts made that that would be the last series of cuts? Can the Minister give us an assurance that there will be no further cuts when the autumn round of public expenditure is considered and announced to your Lordships—that this is not just Options for Change 2 or Options for Change 3 but that we can confidently expect that there will be no Options for Change 4?

Secondly, we were told at the time ofOptions for Change that our Armed Forces would be smaller but better equipped. I of course join with the Minister in his appreciation of the work that our Armed Forces do. But, better equipped! Are we satisfied with the performance of the rifle in the Gulf? Are we satisfied that Challenger 2, upon which there is to be no decision until it is announced by the Government, will meet all its operational criteria? What has happened to the support helicopters that are so desperately required and for which orders should have been placed a long time ago? What has happened to the Reserve Forces, which do not figure in the Statement?

Furthermore, would the Minister care to comment upon a statement made by a former Minister that our forces in Northern Ireland are too great for the problems that they encounter? Is that a general government view? If it is not a general government view, what is the answer to Mr. Hamilton's assertion? I accept that we are extremely good—I again place on the record our appreciation of the fact—in a peacekeeping role. I have no doubt that our forces in that role are as well equipped and as well able to perform as any others in the world. Nevertheless, there is a question of' how far we can continue to maintain what appears, according to a former member of the Government. a large contingent in Northern Ireland. I should be glad to have the Minister's view on that point. I take no side one way or the other. I should just like to have the Government's response.

The Statement referred to the submarine fleet. I would not quarrel with the idea that the Upholder class of submarines is not adapted to modern conditions. Nevertheless, we must accept that £900 million has been expended on those four boats. Who will buy those submarines? Will they be laid up? Are they going into storage, as the Statement suggests, or will they be sold to the highest bidder? Will there be any restriction upon who can bid for those submarines? Will it be the Argentines, the Iraqis or whoever? Will the Minister reassure us on that point?

If we are coming to value for money, I note that we have spent £900 million upon Upholder. That adds on to £120 million on the Rosyth installation, and then a further £500 million. About £1.5 billion of taxpayers' money has been expended. It is now apparently just going to be written off. Do the Government regard that as providing proper value for money?

My next question relates to the replacement for the WE 177 free-fall bomb. Your Lordships will be aware that. President Clinton has decided, as I thought I indicated to the Minister the other day at Question Time, that testing in the United States testing ground in Nevada would not be available for a period of time. It will not be available for any replacement for the free-fall bomb for the foreseeable future, and, so far as I know, but I should like the Minister to comment upon this, will not be available to test the Trident warheads with which we have to re-equip the Trident boats for their new role as a sub-strategic nuclear fleet rather than merely trying to blast Moscow out of sight. What is the Government's position in that regard? Are they not in some disarray as a result of President Clinton's decision?

My sixth question relates to defence industries. From these Benches we have argued time and time again that when the Government are preparing decisions on defence matters—and indeed, when they announce decisions—they should consult properly with those who are employed and those who employ people working in defence industries. What arrangements are the Government proposing in the light of the reductions or—I use the noble Viscount's expression—the shift in order to redeploy the important and skilled labour force in those industries?

All that I have said and all the questions that I have asked are initial reactions to the Statement. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to debate this matter in the near future. However, I hope very much that the noble Viscount will take seriously my questions, even if they are of an initial nature. This House and the country deserve no less.

Having heard the Statement, the abiding impression remains, unless the noble Viscount can disabuse me of it, that this is a matter of cutting expenditure and tailoring our defence requirements to the Treasury idea, rather than deciding what we require and what our commitments should be and then tailoring our defence resources to that end.

These new and very detailed figures, welcome as they are in their present form, can be regarded only as lamp-posts in what is admittedly an extremely complicated street. Perhaps I may adapt a remark of A. E. Housman, the notable poet and scholar, that it seems to us that the Government are using those lamp-posts like drunkards, not to light them on their way but to hide their nefarious activities. I hope that the noble Viscount can convince us that the opposite is true.

Lord Mayhew

: My Lords, it is difficult to comment on the Statement without first reading the defence White Paper. It is difficult to read the defence White Paper in the very short period since that White Paper became available to me. For many years now I have felt some resentment at the practice by which the White Paper is made available to the world's press early in the morning, including, for example, to the London correspondent of a Cuban or Libyan newspaper, but it is not until many hours later that its contents are revealed to Opposition spokesmen on defence. If I were the London correspondent of', say, the Havana Daily News, I should be able to comment far more effectively on the Statement that has been made. I say seriously to the Government that that matter needs looking into. I recall some 20 or 30 years ago making the same point in another place and being assured by the then Leader of the House. Mr. Richard Crossman, that something would be done about it. I ask that this Government might look at that again and, after those long years, do something about it.

On these Benches we have always agreed readily that the end of the conventional threat from the Soviet Union called for radical changes in defence policy and radical reductions in defence expenditure. We have always made that clear. That is why, although we criticised Options for Change for bearing especially hard on the Army, we described the overall reductions as modest. Indeed, we called for the Government to review the allocation of resources to the antisubmarine role in the Atlantic and to the air defence of the United Kingdom. That has been done to some extent in this White Paper and we appreciate that.

There were omissions in the Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, drew attention to one of them. There is nothing about the noble Viscount's favourite weapon—TASM. That is the splendid idea of producing an entirely new air-to-surface nuclear missile system in 1993. That is an unbelievable, preposterous idea. It is plainly a kite desperately flown by the RAF because it would otherwise lose altogether its nuclear role. I have looked at the White Paper and it says that no decision has been made in that regard. Everybody knows that the Government will scrap the system. On these Benches we have suggested instead that if we must have a sub-strategic nuclear deterrent, which we doubt, that could easily be manoeuvred by a tactical warhead on a Trident submarine. I am looking forward to the noble Viscount, in perhaps a year or two's time, declaring that the investigations are at an end and that £3 billion has been saved by scrapping that ridiculous system.

Further, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, pointed out, there is to be no more testing. I approve of that. On these Benches we agree with the Americans and with every other country in the world that the time has come when, without undermining our security, we can sign a comprehensive test ban treaty. Only the British Government stand out against that. At this time when the non-proliferation treaty is coming up for negotiation and renewal, the British Government stand alone for continuing nuclear testing. We have been told that it is not needed for Trident. It can be needed only for the noble Viscount's favourite weapons system, but that will be scrapped anyway. Let the Government put their weight behind negotiating and sign a comprehensive test ban treaty.

I have not had time to study what is called the "major innovation" of the White Paper. I have casually glanced at it. But I am bound to say that it shows signs of intelligence. It adapts to the fact that we are in a new world without a single appalling threat from the Soviet Union but that there is a varied, unpredictable mass of different threats of different kinds in different places. It may well be that when we study the White Paper we shall see that that is an innovation to be welcomed. I reserve my judgment on that. Nevertheless, the idea of multiple earmarking—the great slogan of the White Paper—is a treacherous idea. Multiple earmarking of forces for commitments of various kinds neither adds to the forces nor diminishes the commitments. Nevertheless, it may be a handy tool of planning and something to be welcomed.

Another matter which arises is the 50 military tasks. That reminds us of the large number of tasks which we cannot carry out ourselves without allies. On these Benches we beg the Government to recognise that in the future more and more of our commitments must be filled multilaterally and not by ourselves. It is most disappointing that in the Statement there is not a single mention of the Western European Union or the development of the European pillar within NATO. We shall return to those matters.

I do not wish to disappoint the noble Viscount but I suspect that the Government will be under heavy attack for some of their decisions in the White Paper. If so, I am bound to say that they have brought it upon themselves. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that the Government gave assurances that Options for Change would not be just a small instalment of what was to come. I cannot quote the Government on that but that is the impression that I gained from their many statements. I also accuse the Government of not explaining fully and frankly to the public, to their own Back Benchers and to the Armed Forces the enormous significance of the departure of the threat of a Soviet conventional attack in the West.

Before the election the Government prided themselves on the year by year increase in real expenditure on defence. They projected themselves as the party of defence. Now, however, they must explain themselves to the public, to their Back Benchers and, above all, to the forces. The Government's handling and presentation of defence are a poor reward to the forces for the magnificent work that they are undertaking in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and other parts of the world.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, both noble Lords who spoke from their respective Front Benches have said what I think in the vernacular is a mouthful. I am well aware that I may not be able to cover all the points raised. However, like both noble Lords, I too look forward to a debate on the Statement on the Defence Estimates. I cannot speculate about when that debate will take place because, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, knows (despite his implications), that must be arranged through the usual channels. All I know is that such a debate will take place. I greatly look forward to it.

I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that I was at one point rather encouraged by his remarks. He said that the White Paper showed signs of intelligence. If I did not know the noble Lord better, I would have thought that that was perhaps rather patronising. However, I take it in the spirit in which it was proffered. I also have to record my great regret that he spoilt what was perhaps the beginning of a charming friendship with his final sentences. In the circumstances, I think it would be easier if I glossed over them and waited until our further debate on the subject.

Nevertheless, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their understandably cautious welcome for the more open approach that the Government have done their best to adopt in this case. Indeed, it was perhaps a little absurd that under the CFE arrangements we were bound to disclose a great deal to the Russians, while at the same time previous classifications had prevented us from disclosing the same sort of information to our own people. I hope that both noble Lords will take that comment in the spirit in which it was intended. I should also like to record my appreciation for the tribute that both noble Lords paid to the men and women in our Armed Forces. I know that that will be noted with gratitude.

I shall not be drawn further down the path of the conclusions of the Ministry of Defence about the existence or otherwise of a group known as the ISG, about which the noble Lord tempted me. I look forward to hearing his analysis of the contents of the White Paper and the conclusions that he draws from it. I hope that our further debates will cover those points. However, I believe that it is sometimes a little dangerous to talk in terms of fewer people with the same task. The noble Lord knows as well as I do that, for example, nowadays frigates are much more capable than they were even 10 years ago; but they have fewer people on them. Therefore, the conclusions that can be drawn from the noble Lord's remark are perhaps not as simple as he made out.

I believe that both noble Lords asked me whether there would be further cuts. That is an easy taunt that I know noble Lords enjoy making. But I should point out that the conclusions we publish about matching capabilities to tasks is an important innovation, both internally and externally, for the Ministry of Defence. There is no doubt—and I must emphasise the fact to both noble Lords and to the House—that we are not talking about new reductions in defence expenditure beyond those announced in the last PES round last year; we are looking at the consequences of the new budgetary arrangements. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that those arrangements are driven by one thing above all; namely, that the situation has changed worldwide even since 1991. I do not believe that he, any more than I, would like to see more expenditure on defence than is absolutely necessary, given the constraints on resources under which the Government are operating.

I shall not detain your Lordships for much longer. However, I merely refer the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to the exchange on the new rifle which took place in the House a few days ago. I have nothing to add to what was said on that occasion. As regards the support helicopter, the normal procurement policies are being followed and they will result in a substantial increase in the number of such helicopters, which we badly need. We hope that the procurement policies will ensure that those helicopters are procured on the best value-for-money basis possible.

I turn now to the reserve forces. I must give the noble Lord exactly the same answer as I gave in relation to the new rifle. A Statement was made on reserve forces. As the noble Lord well knows, there is a Statement due later in the year covering the volunteer forces—the Territorial Army. The noble Lord also asked about my former colleague, my right honourable friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell. I must tell the noble Lord that, as regards the forces in Northern Ireland, we judge the situation entirely on what we think are the operational requirements. If it is possible to reduce the number of infantry employed in the support role in Northern Ireland, we shall of course do so.

The noble Lord was also very exercised about another general point in connection with the submarine fleet. He knows that procurement is an expensive business and that vessels up to the point of delivery are expensive to the taxpayer. But that is only a small part of the through-life cost of any sort of equipment. Any investment appraisal worth its salt must be made on a through-life cost basis. As a former distinguished finance man himself, I am sure that he will appreciate that fact.

Finally, I am flattered that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, thinks that the TASM is my favourite weapon; indeed, judging from the number of times that he has raised the point, I thought that it was his favourite. I have no particular favourite weapons among those of a sub-strategic nature with nuclear capabilities. I must tell the noble Lord that the time when he will be put out of misery is fast approaching. I certainly do not think that he will have to wait for the year or two that he feared.

So far as concerns testing, again I have nothing more to add to the exchanges that we seem to have had, particularly with the benefit of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, over many weeks and months. Testing is useful for safety purposes and in terms of increasing our knowledge of nuclear weapons. If we are to face a test-free world, I must tell both noble Lords that we shall have to rely more on modelling and on other techniques. It is not an insuperable problem; but it is certainly more convenient to test. That is why the United Kingdom thought that it would make a contribution to safety. If that is not to be the case, we must address ourselves to alternatives.

I am grateful for the cautious welcome that both noble Lords gave to the Statement. I greatly look forward to being able to emphasise the final point that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, made and with which I substantially agree; namely, the importance of our allies. They are, above all, the greatest force multiplier that we have.

6.27 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I should like to stress how disappointed I was that the noble Lords, Lord Williams and Lord Mayhew, between them spoke for 22 minutes in response to the Statement about a White Paper which they could not have seen more than a hour or so ago and which they certainly had not read and despite the prospect of a defence debate in the not too distant future. Everyone knows that the time for discussing such Statements is limited. The result of the lengthy interventions of both nobles is that fewer Members of the Back Benches will be able to speak.

Noble Lords


Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that the 20-minute limit starts from the time that he himself rose to his feet to speak. There is no limit on the exchanges between the Front Benches. The noble Lord ought to know that.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if I am mistaken I shall of course apologise and withdraw what I said. Nonetheless, both interventions were very lengthy and dealt with a White Paper that neither of them had seen, on an afternoon when there is much other business on the Order Paper.

I have one or two questions for my noble friend. First, can he confirm that the White Paper that has been presented this afternoon does not represent any further reduction in resources to the Ministry of Defence from that which was announced at the time of the Autumn Statement at the end of last year? Will he confirm that it is not a further round of savage cuts, as has been portrayed in the press and elsewhere, but is simply setting in place the order of battle—if those are the right words—for the Ministry of Defence given the resources that were announced at the end of last year?

I have a further question about the future of the Upholder class submarine. Is it not the case that conventional submarines are able to operate, either for political or operational reasons, in places where nuclear submarines cannot operate? Is my noble friend satisfied that by removing the conventionally powered submarine capability from the naval fleet we will not be losing some very important capability that we shall shortly live to regret?

Finally, I wish to ask about the F3 Tornado reductions. I believe that my noble friend said that they were to be reduced to 100. If we are to have these reduced numbers, it will be of increasing importance that we have adequate in-flight refuelling capability. Can my noble friend assure us that that will indeed be in place?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I shall take to heart the point that has been made about the length of interventions. I hope my noble friend will always remind me when I am delaying your Lordships too long. As regards the questions my noble friend asked, he is absolutely right that there is indeed no change to the amount of money which is to be devoted to the Ministry of Defence budget from that declared in the public expenditure White Paper. I am grateful to him for enabling me to repeat that important fact.

As regards the Upholder class submarine, my noble friend, with his great experience in these matters, knows very well that SSKs can operate in shallow waters and have great advantages of quietness. Nevertheless he will also remember from his time in the Ministry of Defence that SSKs—the Upholder class in particula—were originally primarily designed for the Iceland, Greenland, UK gap. As the Statement said, the submarine threat has dramatically declined for the moment and we are happy that the new balance which the Statement addresses—as does the White Paper—is better and more cost-effectively maintained by a reliance on nuclear powered hunter killer submarines.

As regards the Tornado F3, my noble friend is absolutely right in his remarks. The number devoted to the UK air defence will be 100, organised into six, as opposed to seven, squadrons. That is 100 exclusive of the operational conversion unit.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I shall be brief. The noble Viscount has been kind enough to mention that President Clinton has finally agreed with me rather than with him. It is worth mentioning this because it seems to me that the Minister has treated the matter rather lightly. Is not the truth that the Government, who can be forgiven perhaps for communally shooting themselves in the foot, have suffered the grave misfortune of having in this White Paper shot below the waterline while it is being launched, because at the centre of this matter is nuclear testing and the non-proliferation treaty? The Government cannot go ahead with this any longer. Does this not present them with an opportunity which, had they known about it a few days earlier, they might have seized to dispose altogether of the necessity for Trident? They might not have had to make the candle end cuts which they have had to make throughout the whole of the services if they had saved themselves £3 billion a year, which they could have done by getting rid of Trident. They have an opportunity which I hope they will seize between now and the debate on the White Paper.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and I are fundamentally at variance over the need for a minimum nuclear deterrent for the United Kingdom. I have the greatest respect for the views of the noble Lord. It is significant that the White Paper makes no proposal to cut our proposed four Trident submarines—

Lord Jenkins of Putney

It would have done.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, indeed it would not. Trident is fully tested and safe. Certainly the announcement made by the President of the United States makes no difference whatsoever to the capability of our Trident. That is something which I think the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and I understand the noble Lord, Lord Williams, accepts. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, accepts what I have said, as it is true. I must tell him that as regards testing the situation is exactly as I described it a few moments ago in answer to both noble Lords, from his own and the Liberal Front Benches.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, this is an interesting White Paper which will repay great study. I am pleased to see that an effort has been made to make it more understandable as regards showing how defence studies are undertaken. However, there are a number of assumptions made in it. I wish to ask a question about one of them which concerns a matter in paragraph 204 of Chapter 2. That paragraph states that the assumptions are that all forces, must be manned, equipped, trained and exercised"— I emphasise those final two requirements— to carry out the Military Tasks to which they are assigned". It is generally known that the amount of training which has been undertaken in recent years has not been up to the high standards required to maintain the very best capabilities at the higher levels of operation. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that that assumption will be met.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord knows better than almost anyone in this House the importance of training. Certainly there would be no chance of our forces being effective unless they were adequately trained. In the case of his own service, I should point out that I believe one of the reasons so many people in our country endure low flying is that it contributes greatly to the effectiveness of the Royal Air Force. I wish to record my gratitude to the public for the tolerance they show.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I wish to press the Minister on the question asked by my noble friend Lord Mayhew as regards the Government's attitude inside NATO and the WEU. It is important that we get the political alliances right. At present NATO has not determined its role. It is high time that it did. The WELT is in a state of flux. We are not sure how the co-operation is progressing between France and Germany and how we shall fit into the picture. It is little use our having beautiful forces if there is no political direction.

I am sincerely sorry for our forces in Bosnia where fighting troops are subjected to insults from appalling irregulars who are undisciplined and often drunk. Our forces put up with that with a discipline which is amazing. Surely the force of NATO, which stood against the whole might of Russia, could assemble a rapid reaction force of sufficient quality to stop the appalling slaughter that we see in Sarajevo today. Without the political will and political leadership from this country, the best of forces are no use. The noble Viscount should comment on what is to happen to NATO and what we shall do about that.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am happy that the noble Lord has given me an opportunity to pay tribute to the remarkable job that the various elements of the forces active in Bosnia are doing. I would remind the noble Lord that in Bosnia the task of our troops has been clearly defined; namely, the delivery of humanitarian aid. The figures have been repeated by my noble friend Lady Chalker in particular many times in this House. They show for themselves that that objective has been fulfilled magnificently under extremely trying conditions. I know that the noble Lord is not doing so but a number of' people confuse the task which they would like our troops to carry out in Bosnia and the task that our troops have been asked to carry out there and that does them no service at all.

This country and Her Majesty's Government in particular have played a full role in developing the WELT as a European pillar of NATO. As the noble Lord knows, many developments have taken place on that front, in particular during the past 18 months. In terms of practicality, it is important to remember the immense experience and military capability which the NATO alliance possesses, which has been built up during many decades. That capability has been brought to the alliance in particular by the participation in it of the United States. I suspect that it would be unwise for anyone, including the noble Lord, to suggest that the WEU could take NATO's place, and I know that he would not do so. I am glad to see that the noble Lord does not agree with that suggestion. It is important that our policy, which is to develop the WEU as a European pillar of NATO, is sensibly brought about.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, my noble friend has given us much food for thought in this new-look White Paper, which deserves a great deal of study. However, I hope that he will understand and realise that a great deal of what it appears to suggest at a glance—and to some extent he has reinforced it—is pretty unpalatable, coming as it does on top of Options for Change.

I noted a particular phrase which my noble friend used. He said that planned force structures will meet the demands made against them. The fact is that the many demands which have been made against the Armed Forces during the past few years have been extremely exacting. They have taken their toll on a number of individuals, many of whom play a part in many different areas of the world. What assurance can my noble friend give that the commitments and the men for them will be properly matched? Overstretch is a real problem and I understand that it is becoming worse. I hope that when we have the opportunity to debate the issue more fully—and, like the noble Lord, Lord Williams, I sincerely hope that the usual channels can effect that speedily—my noble friend willgive us considerable reassurance on the matter.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, yes, I hope so too, and I believe so. That is one of the objectives of the new information that we have included in the White Paper. I hope that my noble friend will read it with care—I know that he will—because it attempts to provide some of the answers which he seeks and to give the rationale which enables us to make the assertions about our ability to carry out our commitments.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, it is my belief that the Options for Change Statement and today's Statement flowing from it arise from a Treasury demand, as distinct from, primarily, a study of the defence of the realm. I know from experience that in such a situation the Secretary of State for Defence does not have a chance. His back is against the wall. He faces a Treasury demand; he has no allies in Cabinet. The other big spenders are guarding their budgets and prefer not to hear his pleas. I understand that position.

However, on this occasion, hard choices are having to be made. If we are to strut the international stage and remain members of NATO, the United Nations and the Security Council, the proper provision of satisfactory security for the state, for the maintenance of garrisons abroad and for peacekeeping roles in almost any part of the globe must be made. Otherwise let us stop acting like flying pickets and dispatching our troops world-wide to Hong Kong, Bosnia, Belize, Germany, the Gulf and, indeed, in large numbers to Northern Ireland.

Is the Minister aware that the troops are weary and under strain and that morale is taking a beating? Is he also aware that our commitments are too many for the present defence budget? The home life of our troops is being ruined and their marriages are constantly under stress. Unless there is a reappraisal of the many commitments within our medium European power capabilities, I totally oppose these cuts. I urge the Secretary of State for Defence to heed the views and the advice of the Defence Select Committee in another place and the all-party defence group. They are anxious about the strain and the stretch on our Armed Forces.

Is not the Minister aware that there is overstretch? The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, was also disturbed about that. Yes, there have been new demands in Europe and the wider world, to which the Minister referred—50 military tasks. Our forces cannot continue to accept these salami tactics. I am afraid that after this Statement there will be total despair in all three services. How can they have faith in a government who increase commitments and once again cut the cash?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Mason, in these matters in well known and the whole House listens to him with the greatest of respect. However, I repeat that the matching of commitments and resources is a fundamental basis of the new White Paper. I hope that when the noble Lord has a chance to examine it in the detail which I know he believes it deserves he will see the rationale behind the conclusions that we have reached.

I agree with the noble Lord that there is no sense in asking too much of our Armed Forces. Equally, there is no sense in undertaking tasks beyond the capabilities or the resources which we have at our disposal. I do not believe that any noble Lord would agree to that. Although matters are tight—and I should be the last to deny it—we believe that in this White Paper we have demonstrated that there is indeed a rationale for our assertion that our proposals are closely fitted and sustainable.

As regards morale, I am well aware that as a result of the changes dictated by the fall of the Soviet Empire the Ministry of Defence is suffering a period of turbulence probably unequalled in the past 40 or 50 years. It would be unreasonable if such changes were not to be made; indeed, other countries have made changes or are in the process of making changes in the size of their defence budgets at least as great of those of the United Kingdom.

I must say to the noble Lord that indeed there is a period of turbulence. What impresses me more than anything else is the realism and professionalism with which our servicemen and women address themselves to the task. As far as I know there is very much the reverse of a fall-off in their efficiency during this difficult period.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Statement and the White Paper will in no way change the recently announced allocation of 18 ships to Rosyth?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords. I can certainly give that assurance. Indeed, the Statement on Rosyth and Devonport was made in full knowledge of the contents of the White Paper.

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