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We are in the midst of a period of profound and lasting change. Across eastern Europe socialism has been discredited as people have come to understand that only misery comes from centralised economies and national plans and the pursuit of egalitarianism—in fact, the policies pursued by successive Labour Governments in Britain since the war.
The changes that we have seen have not occurred by accident; they are the result of a gradual realisation in the Soviet Union that it was impossible to match the technology of the west while at the same time providing its people with a decent standard of living.
I believe that historians will judge that there were significant milestones down the road to new thinking on Soviet defence strategy—first, the deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles across Europe. That demonstrated the determination of the NATO alliances to match Soviet capabilities and to risk the short-term unpopularity from their publics when doing so.
The second milestone was President Reagan's announcement that America was prepared to spend billions of dollars on the strategic defence initiative and to invest in new areas of technology that might not only give the west an impregnable shield from incoming ballistic missiles, but, much more likely, lead to a spin-off of revolutionary weapon systems that could radically alter the balance of power.
At that point the Soviets realised that they were involved in a race that they could never win. There was only one way out and that was by negotiation—serious negotiations to remove a whole range of intermediate nuclear forces, to reduce radically strategic weapons and to bring down the superior numbers of Soviet conventional forces.
The interesting thing about those two important milestones—the deployment of cruise and Pershing and the launching of the SDI programme—is that they were both bitterly opposed by the Labour party, which was wrong on defence policy then in the same way that it is wrong now.
We have, of course, seen in recent months a series of extraordinary developments in eastern Europe, and in the relations between the countries of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Those have already brought about fundamental changes in the European political and security landscape, many of which appear irreversible, and more changes are inevitable.
The most significant change will be the impending unification of Germany, which we warmly welcome and which has been one of NATO's long-standing objectives. The German Government now appear to envisage all-German elections in December or January, with state unity likely to take place shortly before that. This makes it all the more important that we make good progress in the two-plus-four talks and ensure that we resolve the external and security aspects of unification in parallel with the internal aspects.
The Minister has made a grand opening to his speech. Can he say whether he is now announcing that a proper defence review is being undertaken—or is the situation to continue whereby one Minister undertakes such a review with the opposition of the Secretary of State for Defence and presumably that of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces?
Clearly, the work that we are doing on options for change is an aspect that I shall cover later in my speech.
As to the central question of a united Germany's membership of NATO, both the East German and West German Governments have made clear firm support for that, as have other NATO countries and some east European countries. But while we do not regard a united Germany's right to choose membership of NATO as negotiable—it is enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act—we want to ensure that the Soviet Union's security concerns are properly met and have no wish to exploit the situation to the Soviet Union's disadvantage.
The process of change in security in the Soviet Union and in eastern Europe to some extent predates the political transformation that has taken place since the historic events in Berlin last November. There were clear signs before then that the Soviet Union was making changes in its defence posture and force levels. In December 1988, President Gorbachev announced his intention to make significiant unilateral reductions in Soviet forces, including cuts of 500,000 men, 10,000 tanks, 8,500 artillery pieces and 800 aircraft. Our evidence suggests that those reductions are now well under way across the whole Soviet Union.
My hon. Friend rightly says that we must take account of Soviet concerns and fears, but will he confirm that in no way will those concerns and fears be allayed by a decision by the Americans at some future stage not to deliver to this country the commitment that it has given to Trident?
Yes, I think that there is rapid realisation in the Soviet Union, as there has always been here, that the stalemate produced by the ownership of nuclear weapons by both sides is not as unsatisfactory as might have been thought in the past. I hope sincerely that the Soviets are now moving away from the concept of a nuclear-free Europe.
The Minister will acknowledge that nuclear-owning powers are not the only states in the world, and that 139 non-nuclear countries have signed the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Are they to be denied the operation of clause 6 of that treaty for the indefinite future? As the Minister knows, that clause commits nuclear nations to negotiate in good faith the removal of nuclear weapons. Why are not the British Government doing something about getting rid of Trident, in order to honour and conform with the obligations contained in that treaty?
I am well aware of the contents of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but it is somewhat idealistic to believe that there will ever be a time when the world will be free of all nuclear weapons. It is one of the many illusions of the unilateralist wing of the Labour party—I say wing, but it seems to me that it makes up most of the party—that we shall somehow reach the point at which there will be a non-nuclear world. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the reality is that we are seeing a spread of and an increase in the ownership of nuclear weapons in the world, not a decrease.
Certainly not, but it is a fact with which we have to live. I do not want to be in a position in this country in which Libya has a nuclear weapon and we have none—yet that is the point towards which current Labour policy is taking us.
If the British Government believe that they should not exploit German unification in the way that the Minister said, and if it is suggested that eastern Europe, as part of NATO, would have no NATO deployment at all within the East German zone, is the Minister suggesting as an alternative that there should be no NATO placings within Germany over and above those currently available in West Germany?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are still in the early stages of the two-plus-four talks, and the whole question of what troops should be in eastern Germany, and what will happen in respect of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from there, has to be agreed. Presumably we shall see a united Bundeswehr, including forces of the NVA, at the same time as there is a united Germany or subsequently. However, at present it is difficult to anticipate whether NATO troops will be positioned in East Germany. That remains to be negotiated, and it is what the two-plus-four talks are all about.
Yes—clearly that is the way that the talks are going at the moment. The Soviets are considering keeping residual troops in eastern Germany, but I think that they accept that there must be a time limit on the withdrawal of those troops. I personally should not want to be in command of Soviet troops in East Germany after East and West Germany become united. They would not be in a very enviable position. I shall refer to that aspect again later.
More recently, bilateral agreements have been concluded between Hungary and Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, which will see the withdrawal of all 105,000 Soviet troops now in those countries by June 1991. That process of withdrawals has already begun and there is every sign that it will be completed on time. Although the west has said that it is prepared to contemplate a transitional period during which Soviet troops will remain in what is currently the GDR, it seems unlikely that the Soviets will want to keep their troops there any longer than necessary, given that it will scarcely be a friendly environment. That relates to my earlier reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Sir A. Glyn).
Discussions have also been opened on the possible withdrawal of Soviet forces from Poland. Overall, there seems a good prospect that, by the middle of this decade, if not before, the 500,000 Soviet troops now in central and eastern Europe will be gone.
Moreover, the countries of eastern Europe are also making major reductions in their own forces. In Hungary, for example, there are plans for 40 per cent. reductions in tanks and artillery and a 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. cut in manpower. The Czechoslovakians are cutting manpower numbers and the length of conscription, and are destroying 850 tanks. In Poland, major reductions in tanks, aircraft and artillery are planned, and its armed forces were reduced by about 30,000 last year, with further reductions to follow.
In addition to those major changes in the level and deployment of forces, we are witnessing the disintegration of the Warsaw pact as an effective military organisation. The military risks facing the alliance have already been greatly reduced. As the House will know, NATO is accordingly prepared to make appropriate adjustments to its military readiness. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the continuing military imbalance in Europe and of the massive forces that the Soviet Union continues to have at its disposal.
The United Kingdom is playing a full part in the conventional arms control talks in Vienna. I visited those talks last week and was able to discuss with delegates a new British technique for the cheap destruction of tanks. The technique, costing only £50, involves the use of about 30 lb of plastic explosive and has the effect of quickly rendering a tank unusable prior to the more time-consuming process of recycling.
The Minister suggests that we must keep up the level of our conventional weapons because of the threat, as he sees it, posed by Soviet conventional weapons. However, the Minister just said that the Soviets are likely to withdraw, and want to withdraw, from much of central Europe anyway. If the Soviet Union intended to use conventional weapons against a united Germany and the west, is it not true that it would have to fight its way through to the western lines? Did the Minister take that into account when considering what he calls the imbalance of conventional forces?
Clearly, that is something that one has to take into account. The reaction of Polish forces if the Soviets were to drive through Poland would have to be taken into account. That also affects warning time and the period that we would need to reinforce, which must be revised in the light of a future when Soviet forces might be concentrated within the Soviet Union, or possibly even further back than the western military districts, which cover such areas as the Ukraine.
The conventional forces in Europe talks aim to eliminate the Soviet and Warsaw pact acknowledged superiority in key types of offensive military equipment, reducing overall holdings on both sides to below NATO's current levels. Accordingly, we expect the United Kingdom, including the British Army, to take an equitable proportion of the reductions that will be made in holdings of some equipment.
The Vienna talks continue to offer the best means of permanently and verifiably reducing conventional forces in Europe, to the benefit of all concerned. We are therefore, in common with our allies, committed to seeing those talks through to a successful conclusion. Although we have recently seen some slowing of progress, the signs continue to be that the Soviets, like us, remain committed to achieving the completion of a CFE agreement this year.
With regard to the possible reductions of British forces and the number based in western Germany, is the Ministry of Defence examining certain areas of Scotland with a view to using them to train Army personnel, and especially as tank training grounds? If some British regiments are withdrawn from Germany, are they likely to be located in Scotland?
It is quite wrong for me to be drawn on the options for change at this stage or on any of the details. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the fact that the Ministry of Defence is always considering areas throughout the United Kingdom, to increase the number of training grounds. We still do not feel, in the light of where we stand today, and without any question of any forces being brought back from Germany, that we have enough training areas, and we should like to extend them if the opportunity arises. Scotland is certainly an area that we have been considering, for example, when estates are up for sale.
May I press the Minister on the subject, as I understand that the Ministry of Defence had been attempting in recent years to review the amount of land that it holds and not to increase it. Is the Minister now saying that he is seeking to increase the amount of defence land? Are not the ranges at Castlemartin sufficient for training, especially as the German Panzers will not train there any more? I presume that they will not wish to train in this country if our tanks are to move out of Germany.
The general feeling is that we could do with more training areas, and we have always taken the view that we should like to acquire large areas if they came up for sale and were reckoned to be suitable—the consensus is that we do not have enough.
Apart from CFE, there is also the prospect of progress towards reductions in both nuclear and chemical weapons. In the nuclear area, we can look forward to negotiations to achieve reductions in the number of short-range nuclear weapons deployed in Europe shortly after the signature of a CFE treaty. Encouraging progress was made at the Washington summit, which we hope will lead to an early strategic arms reduction talks agreement. As to chemical weapons, the destruction agreement signed at the summit is an important breakthrough and should provide added impetus to the Geneva negotiations, which have as their aim the global elimination of those weapons.
The changes already taking place in Soviet force levels and deployments, together with the changes in eastern Europe, mean that we face a very different security situation in Europe. Further reductions in Soviet force levels and withdrawals from eastern Europe, together with the progress in arms control agreements, will mean that, by the middle of the decade, the situation will have changed even more radically. So it is right that, both within NATO and nationally, we should be taking a close look at our strategy and force structures.
Indeed, NATO Defence Ministers at the recent Nuclear Planning Group and Defence Planning Committee meetings have already commissioned reviews of nuclear posture and military strategy. However, the basic principles of alliance strategy remain valid. We must continue to deploy an effective mix of nuclear and conventional forces in Europe to preserve security. We must not forget that the Soviet Union—whatever the intentions of its leadership—will continue to be the dominant military power on the continent of Europe. Even when it has reduced to the level under negotiation in Vienna, it will still have 12,000 tanks—by far the largest national force. In addition, it will, of course, continue to retain substantial forces east of the Urals, unconstrained by the current arms control negotiations.
At the same time, the Soviet Union has not escaped the popular pressure for reform sweeping through central and eastern Europe, and the internal strains to which it is subject are clear for all to see. We should therefore not be acting responsibly, when addressing our future military requirements, if we were to ignore the fact that the Soviet Union remains a militarily very powerful, and potentially unstable, neighbour.
So, there are some things that must not change—membership of NATO will continue to be the best means of guaranteeing our security, even though NATO will have to adjust to changed circumstances. NATO is a defensive alliance with no aggressive intent, and there are signs that the eastern European countries, including the Soviet Union, are now beginning to recognise that. It has served us—and Europe—well over the past four decades, and it would be foolish now to consider abandoning the firm commitment to the alliance that has brought us so much progress.
At the same time we, along with other allies, have made it clear that we see advantage in giving the conference on security and co-operation in Europe an increased role. Our ideas for a CSCE summit were outlined by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her speech to the Königswinter conference in Cambridge at the end of March. She said that the overall aim for the summit should be
a major step towards the creation of a great alliance for democracy, which would stretch from the Atlantic to the Urals and beyond".
The summit should sign a CFE agreement and look ahead to the next steps in arms control in Europe. It should also further the principles of democracy, free elections and the rule of law; prosperity, the promotion of market-oriented economic reforms; and stability throughout Europe. CSCE will have an important role to play, but as an addition to, not a substitute for, the NATO alliance.
Nationally, as hon. Members will be aware, we are conducting a review of the options for changes in our force structures and levels, which is designed to ensure that our forces continue to be appropriate in radically changed circumstances. In conducting that, we are, of course, bearing it in mind that, in the transitional period ahead during which we expect the CFE agreement to be implemented and the Soviet withdrawals from eastern Europe to take place, there will continue to be uncertainty and dangers of instability.
In these times of extraordinary change and hope in Europe we should do well to remember that it is always easier to make reductions than to rebuild a capability once it is lost.
Perhaps my hon. Friend could put some minds in the House at ease, as hon. Members may be concerned at reports about the future size of the Army, especially the number of infantry battalions deployed. Will he confirm that any changes that come about will definitely be open policy decisions, and that there will not be reductions in the number of infantry units on the basis of a reduction in recruitment programmes or advertising campaigns for new recruits into the Army? Back-door reductions in British infantry will not be tolerated.
My hon. Friend is trying to draw me on more detailed work and on matters concerning options for change that have not yet been considered. We are still in the early stages of work on options for change, and I cannot be drawn further than that. We have much further to go before the sort of detail that my hon. Friend mentions can be examined.
Further to that question about reductions, can my hon. Friend assure the House that whatever the size and level of the Army in the future—I quite understand that that has yet to be determined—the regimental system will be maintained, as opposed to the infantry corps system, which is common in some other armies?
I can give my hon. Friend the undertaking that we shall continue to have regiments in the British Army and that we shall not move over to an enormous army corps.
We must not be afraid to make changes, but we must ensure that we keep in step with the realities of security in Europe. We hope that it will be possible to reduce the numbers of British-stationed personnel, although we should, of course, do so only in full consultation with our allies. None the less, the continued presence of significant British forces in Germany, including a robust and efficient British Army of the Rhine, will be essential as a contribution to collective security.
We are therefore taking great care not to take decisions that could put at risk the Army's capability to do its job. We also continue to make improvements to the Army's organisation wherever we can, to make the most cost-effective use of resources. In particular, we continue to examine how to make the most efficient use of our personnel, whom we can expect to become an ever more precious resource. Last but not least, we continue a comprehensive programme of modernisation for Army equipment to ensure that, whatever happens, the British Army remains both modern and capable.
If all goes well, the Army will, as I have said, be making some reductions in its holdings of certain types of equipment as a result of the negotiations on conventional forces in Europe. Furthermore, if we succeed in achieving security at somewhat lower force levels, we shall have to take account of the reduced density of any future battlefield.
These are early days, but it seems likely that there will be an increased emphasis on the need for flexibility and mobility. The Army of the future will also need to be able to hit hard and fast, and perhaps at greater ranges. Those requirements will be demanding and we shall need to take careful decisions to ensure that our mix of forces remains the most appropriate. Along with our allies, we shall also consider the scope for extending multinational integration in NATO forces.
My hon. Friend has made a powerful case for flexibility. Reading his mind, am I to understand that we are likely to invest more in helicopters than in armour in future?
It is almost impossible to make a reference to mobility without my hon. Friend making a pitch for helicopters. We shall take into account his point over the years about the superiority of the helicopter over the tank when we do more detailed work on options for change.
Extending multinational integration in NATO forces would provide a demonstration of political commitment and an opportunity for all nations to share the burdens of collective defence. Apart from the important political factors, multinational formations could offer scope for rationalisation and the effective use of resources, although the advantages of integration will have to be weighed against the operational penalties of differing languages, equipment and methods of operation. It will be important that we choose the right operational level at which formations should be multinational and ensure that the right balance is struck to maintain military effectiveness.
I know that the Army is looking forward to meeting the challenge that change will bring and that it will bring to the task the imagination, determination and professionalism for which the British soldier is rightly renowned throughout the world.
I know that the Army pays great attention to giving such support. If the hon. Gentleman has any reason to believe that those services are not working satisfactorily, he may like to write to me about individual cases. One cannot talk effectively in generalisations on that matter.
The Minister has given us a traditional, right-wing Tory speech. Will he bear in mind another aspect? There is deep concern over the slaughter of service men by IRA units. Last week, there were the horrifying murders of the Army major in Germany and of the 19-year-old soldier in Lichfield in the west Midlands. How that brings about a united Ireland is wholly beyond my understanding or reasoning. As we recognise that the British Army is faced with a terrorist onslaught, I ask the Minister whether there are further ways to try to safeguard British service men. We all recognise the difficulties, but we should take steps to try to ensure that such innocent lives are not lost.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. I shall come to Northern Ireland and security later. If there is any lesson to be learnt from IRA outrages, on how we can change our practices to ensure our people's safety, we must learn it. As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept, that becomes more difficult when the strategy of the IRA changes from one outrage to another.
In view of the deeply felt and sensible view just expressed by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), it is time that there was a consensus among all parties, including the Labour party, in favour of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989. It is wrong that we should continue to have divisions on the matter.
I share my hon. Friend's views on the matter. It is sad that the House continues to divide on that important measure, which does much to enhance security in Northern Ireland and which makes the difficult job of the Royal Ulster Constabulary slightly easier.
I have visited dozens of Army units throughout the United Kingdom and overseas during the past 12 months and I know from my meetings with the service men arid women that morale is high and the mood optimistic. The Army will, I know, maintain that spirit and build upon it in the years to come. I know that right hon. and hon. Members of all parties will wish to join me in praising the Army's dedication and achievements.
I shall now look at issues of security and operations in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland remains the Army's largest peacetime commitment. The current strength of the Army in Northern Ireland in support of the RUC comprises 10 Regular Army battalions—about 11,000 personnel—and nine battalions of the Ulster Defence Regiment—about 6,300 personnel. The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force also continue to make a major contribution to security in Northern Ireland.
In March this year, there was a change in the way in which the Army is deployed in Northern Ireland. A fifth roulement, or short-tour battalion, was deployed to the Province in place of the resident battalion formerly based at Aldergrove, where accommodation had reach the end of its planned life. I can reassure the House that that change has not in any way reduced the level of support provided by the Army to the Chief Constable of the RUC.
I should like to take this opportunity to record my support for those courageous members of the UDR who continue to serve the community in combating terrorism from whatever quarter. The UDR makes a vital and valued contribution to the Army's support to the RUC-led anti-terrorist effort. That contribution has, on occasions, quite wrongly and unjustly been called into question. I am very pleased that Mr. Stevens's report, which, as the House will be aware, was published on 17 May, concluded that the passing of information was restricted to a small number of individuals and was neither widespread nor institution-alised. As Mr. Stevens has reported, his inquiry was thorough and wide-ranging, and I hope that his findings will silence those who quite unjustifiably have criticised the UDR as a whole for the misdemeanours of a very few members. The IRA continues to murder and to maim.
I must make it clear that many of us with close knowledge of the Ulster Defence Regiment were already convinced of the conclusions at which Stevens would arrive long before they were published. Is not it unfortunate that, at one stage in his investigation, Mr. Stevens had 28 homes identified by having them searched by more than 300 members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary? The lives of 28 members of the UDR and of their families were placed in serious jeopardy. Is not it regrettable that at least one quarter of those people—and probably more—have had to move house because of the threat brought about by the bungling way in which that aspect of the investigation was carried out?
The hon. Gentleman will accept that it was important that the Stevens inquiry was seen to be carrying out its duties impartially and without any outside influence; otherwise, its findings would have been questioned. In those circumstances, it was important to give him the freedom to act as he thought right. I accept that it was regrettable and that, as a result of raids on people's homes, some people had to be moved, and it would have been better if that could have been avoided.
The IRA continues to murder and maim service personnel. During 1989, 11 Regular Army and two UDR soldiers were murdered by terrorists, and 190 were injured. This year has seen the murder of six UDR soldiers, four of whom were horrifically murdered by an IRA land mine on 9 April, and one regular soldier was murdered by the IRA on 5 May. This year, 70 Regular Army and UDR soldiers have been injured.
The IRA continues to extend its campaign of murder and violence to the mainland and the continent. To mention but a few of the cowardly attacks—11 Royal Marines bandsmen were brutally murdered in a bomb attack at Deal last September; and, during May, one soldier was killed, and one injured and seven civilians were injured in explosions in London. On the continent last year, a soldier was killed in front of his wife and children who were themselves injured; an RAF corporal and his six-month-old baby daughter were murdered; and a soldier's German-born wife was murdered. Those barbarities, horrendous in themselves, serve to illustrate the threat faced by the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, the people on whom the terrorists have inflicted their campaign of violent lawlessness for more than 20 years.
Last Friday night, the terrorists committed two further sickening atrocities—the callous shooting of three unarmed teenage soldiers at Lichfield railway station, killing one, and the ruthless murder of an Army major as he returned home to his family at a housing estate in Dortmund.
One of the people to whom the Minister referred was my constituent, Private Robert Davies of Waun road, Pontarddulais, an 18-year-old—which is different from the press reports of a 19-year-old boy. He was savagely gunned down. I am privileged to be part of an armed forces parliamentary scheme this year, with the Royal Navy. As part of that scheme, I have been conscious of security problems. I shall certainly not identify them, but I should be very glad if the Minister again considered a review of security, to see not only what lessons can be derived from the shooting but what loopholes exist in security arrangements and what resources need to be diverted to protect our armed forces personnel, who do a marvellous job in peace and in war in protecting this country. The Minister will find that there will be major problems in attracting young men and women to the armed forces and retaining them unless those resources are provided fully to protect them on and off duty.
First, I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman is on the armed forces scheme. I hope that he is finding it beneficial. Secondly, whenever there is an outrage such as this, we always look to see what lessons can be learnt from it. I do not think that there is anything to be achieved by a massive review of security because we are dealing with a changing pattern of terrorist outrages. Therefore, we must adjust our position as each outrage takes place and see whether there are lessons to be learnt. I shall refer to resources that have been dedicated towards that. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that they are massive and should do something to sort out the problem.
Ironically, the fact that the IRA is increasingly searching for so-called soft targets in Britain and on the continent is a measure of the unrelenting pressure being brought to bear on it by the security forces in Northern Ireland. It should be in no doubt, however, that it will be tracked down with similar determination on whichever side of the Channel it chooses to hide. I should like to take this opportunity to praise the rapid response of the West German police to the shooting of Major Dillon-Lee, whose murderers were very nearly captured at a road-block.
The protection of our service men and women is of the very highest priority, and we are continuing to improve security and introduce all practical and cost-effective measures to guard service men against attack wherever they serve and are at threat. As the House will be aware, an additional sum of £126 million was made available last year to fund a major package of security enhancements in Britain and on the continent, including the provision of guards and of physical security measures, such as fences and closed-circuit television and mirrors for searching under vehicles.
It was originally envisaged that the programme would take three years to complete. However, every effort has been made to speed up progress and, for the most part, implementation of the enhancements will have been compressed into two years. Indeed, the majority of the physical enhancements are already in place. For example, at Eltham, had it not been for the use of anti-shatter window film, the number of injuries would have been much greater. That attack demonstrated the effectiveness of such simple and unobtrusive measures.
Urgent consideration is currently being given to the further lessons that can be learnt from recent attacks and the measures that can be implemented against specific threats, although there is, of course, no absolute protection against a violent, determined and ruthless terrorist.
Before the Minister finishes his remarks on Northern Ireland, will he clear up the question of what information about alleged sexual scandals in relation to the Kincora boys home was or was not passed on to Mr. Ian Cameron, a senior officer at headquarters in Northern Ireland? Perhaps in his winding-up speech the Minister will pay some attention to that question.
We have been endlessly over that ground. As the hon. Gentleman knows, two inquiries have dealt with Kincora and have gone into great detail. Despite the hon. Gentleman's efforts to continue to rake away at the matter, I do not believe that there is any evidence that suggests that evidence has been withheld that would have led to the conviction of the people responsible for those homosexual abuses any earlier than was actually done.
I should like to mention the Defence Select Committee's recent report on the physical security of military installations, which has been included on the Order Paper for this debate. We are grateful to the Committee for its inquiry and report and are pleased that it has recognised the difficulties of providing an effective defence against the terrorist threat. As one would expect, the Defence Committee has taken a rather more sensible view of security than some press commentators, and we shall be making a considered response to the Committee in the usual way.
I should stress again that complete security is unrealistic and that we have therefore to focus on risk management. Simply throwing money at the problem will not solve it. Our intention is that countermeasures against terrorists should be as effective as possible, subject to the requirement that life must, as far as possible, continue as normal. One of the options in providing security is the use of commercial security companies. The Committee had some criticisms of the performance of some of the companies that we use, and we have noted them. But commercial companies will remain one of the options available where they can demonstrate that they provide an adequate service. We continue to keep all contracts with commercial guard forces under the closest scrutiny and monthly reports on the performance of firms are made to my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces. Since the reviews have been instituted, three contracts have been terminated and a further three will not be renewed.
The callous murder of two Australian holidaymakers in Holland on 27 May has shown that terrorist attacks may also be directed towards the civilian community. In that particular case, the only "excuse" given by the terrorists was that the car had British number plates and they therefore assumed that the two men were soldiers. The House will recall that in 1988, I announced that we were scrapping the distinctive British Forces Germany number plates in favour of UK-style plates. I also said that we would keep the situation under constant review. Since then, with the ready co-operation of the Federal Republic of Germany authorities, to whom we are most grateful, we have decided additionally to provide the choice of German-style number plates for the drivers of left-hand drive cars. I am sure that the House will understand why no advance announcement of our intentions was made. The plates are not being issued and a significant number are already being used. That change should provide a further valuable addition to our range of protective measures. We shall continue to keep the situation under the closest scrutiny.
There is one further point that I should like to cover before moving on. It has been said that the shooting in Roermond, and other similar so-called "mistakes" when the IRA has murdered or maimed civilians, demonstrate the depths to which the IRA has sunk. They are not new depths—the IRA has from the very outset shown that it has no compassion but only total disregard for life, soldier or civilian, man, woman or child. We have in hand a robust security education programme for service personnel and their families, underlining the need to be vigilant to the terrorist threat at all times. However, it is equally important that the civilian community should be alert and watchful. No one can be truly safe while those vicious men and women are at large.
That depends on what the hon. Gentleman means by "security cover". A number of people live outside the perimeter fences and we take security precautions for them in conjunction with the local police. I am not saying that they do not get any protection, but neither am I saying that they get very much.
May I share the Minister's condemnation of the Provisional IRA and its unscrupulous and immoral acts of slaughter of innocent members of the public and innocent members of the armed forces? However, will he differentiate his moral condemnation of the IRA from his moral support for the retention and deployment of nuclear weapons, which involve the potential mass slaughter of millions of innocent men and women on the decision of a tiny handful of people? That seems at odds with his claims of morality.
I have never understood the hon. Gentleman's views on morality on this matter. A conventional war was fought in Europe between 1939 and 1945, in which millions of people died. There were no nuclear weapons there whatever. There is nothing particularly safe about conventional war and there should be no suggestion that in fighting a conventional war a minimal number of people will die. People die in their millions in conventional war. We are in the business of preventing war, and I believe that the nuclear deterrent in Europe has played a major role in ensuring that there has not been a third world war on European soil; and, as a result, millions of lives have been saved. I find that an extremely moral standpoint.
During 1989, 184 awards for gallantry or meritorious conduct were received by service personnel, including 29 awards for the UDR. Those awards are but one means of illustrating the debt that we all owe to the bravery and devotion to duty of those who serve in the armed forces in Northern Ireland.
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the IRA and Northern Ireland, will he reflect on the fact that Parliament recently voted to give an additional £40 per week to all those service widows whose husbands died before 1973? However, as a result of a quirk, widows whose husbands were killed in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 1973 have had their ex gratia payments taken from them. Therefore, instead of receiving the full £40 each that Parliament intended, they are receiving considerably less. One of my constituents, whose husband was killed by the IRA in Northern Ireland, is only £12 per week better off. Will my hon. Friend please look into that matter because I am sure that what has happened was not the intention of the House or the Government?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was aware of people's difficulties, relating to the pre-1973 rule. What has happened was not what we were trying to achieve and I shall certainly look into the matter for my hon. Friend and write to him.
Last year, the armed services maintained a constantly high level of operations in support of the RUC, achieving notable successes against the merchants of death. During 1989, 327 weapons, 37,700 rounds of ammunition and 7·5 tonnes of explosives were seized by the security forces. Over the same period, 196 bombs were made safe and so far this year 61 bombs have been neutralised—an amazing testimony to the mettle and skill of the bomb disposal teams. Regrettably, it is clear that the IRA is still determined to carry out its campaigns of violence and intimidation, but there can be no doubt that the security forces' achievements that I have just mentioned allow the vast majority of the citizens of Northern Ireland to go about their normal business and have saved the lives of many civilians and service men who would otherwise have been added to the number already viciously murdered by the terrorists.
The terrorists continue to bring imprisonment and death down upon themselves. Last year, 233 people were charged, in Northern Ireland, with serious terrorist-type offences, of which 31 were for murder and 48 for attempted murder. In addition, two terrorists paid with their lives for their murderous activities, and one has done so up to this point in 1990.
For over 20 years now, those murderers have brought only death and destruction to Northern Ireland and that is all they bring. Hope for a peaceful future is not in their inventory, because they have nothing. They recognise that they have failed at the crucial instrument of democracy, the ballot box, and misguidedly pretend to believe that they can take power through murder, and maiming instead. We will not let that happen. We are determined to eliminate the awful threat that hangs over all the decent people of Northern Ireland.
As long as it is needed, the Army—this includes the UDR as an integral and major element—will continue to play its part in that vital task of maintaining the rule of law. Everyone in the House is keen to see the soldiers off the streets; it is only the terrorists who keep them there.
Does the Minister agree that it is a fact that Provisional Sinn Fein has remained a minority within a minority, achieving too high a vote as far as I am concerned, but still remaining a minority within the Catholic and Nationalist community in Northern Ireland? As the Provisional IRA claims, however, to carry out what it is doing on behalf of the Irish people as such, is not it appropriate that when I met Mr. Adams and others in September 1983 as part of a parliamentary Labour party Northern Ireland delegation and asked him about where the Provisional IRA's mandate was to carry out its slaughter, he said that there was a mandate, but since then, Provisional Sinn Fein has contested two elections in the Irish Republic and on both occasions has received less than 2 per cent. of the vote? What sort of a mandate from the Irish people can the IRA claim to have?
That has always amazed and considerably worried me. The IRA has no effect through the ordinary democratic process and feels that the bomb is the only thing left to it. That concerns me. The IRA has no support in any measurable quantity from the people either north or south of the border, which makes its actions even more reprehensible.
In conclusion, the changing international situation gives us the opportunity to maintain our security and sustain our responsibilities with lower force levels, and that means at lower cost, too.
We are sensibly considering the possible options for change in defence taking into account changes in east-west relations, the question of resources and the future size and shape of the armed forces required to meet the future defence of our country. While we are doing that we must ask, "What is Labour doing?"
A fortnight ago, Labour published another policy document, somewhat grandiosely entitled "Looking to the Future"—and what a murky future it foretold. After all the leaks, we had been led to expect a policy document. Instead we found 20,000 words of evasion and generalisation, which was of more interest for what was omitted than what was included. But we know the reason—do we not?
Last year Labour attempted to persuade the country that it had had a change of heart over our nuclear deterrent. It decided that unilateralism was clearly an electoral liability and Labour wanted to persuade the British people that it had dropped it. So what does Labour offer now? Instead of giving Britain's nuclear weapons away on day one, it will now negotiate them away on day two. The means have changed but the result is the same in the end. Britain will have no nuclear weapons and the Soviets will be left with thousands.
I was somewhat surprised to hear the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) saying recently that, now that he no longer has a party to lead, he might return to the Labour party, as its policies have improved so much. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place—he often attends defence debates. However, I thought that the former leader of the SDP placed great importance on Britain having its own independent nuclear deterrent, and Labour is not offering that.
So I say to the right hon. Gentleman in his absence that there is no point in looking for sensible Conservative policies of market economics and strong defence in the Labour party. Come to the party that really believes in those things. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will sign him up tomorrow.
I begin by apologising for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes). In last year's debate, mention was made of his illness and we hoped that he would be well enough to open the debate today. Unfortunately, that is not possible, but I understand that his recovery is continuing and we hope that he will return soon. I know that both Opposition and Conservative Members wish to convey their sincere wishes for a complete recovery.
As the Minister said, during the past year the Army has carried out its often difficult tasks in an exemplary manner. Labour Members join the Minister in paying a full tribute to our service people for their dedication to their chosen profession. With the Minister, I congratulate those who have received awards in the past year.
The past year has seen some extraordinary attacks of extreme cowardice on unarmed and unprepared service people and their families, often in their leisure time or on their holidays. Recently, innocent civilians were murdered in a so-called accident in the so-called glorious struggle. We join everyone in the House in condemnation of that and other attacks.
Since last September alone, outside of Northern Ireland, there have been 13 deaths in this country and 13 people have been injured. As the Minister said, seven people have been killed and five injured in Europe. The killings included the grotesque murder of a six-month-old baby. That can never be condoned, and no political aim can justify it.
To lose one's life on duty in an armed confrontation is unfortunately a hazard that is part of a soldier's life, but, outside of that, the completely unacceptable and cowardly way in which terrorists acts are committed add nothing to—indeed, they subtract from—the honour of the cause and of the country involved. In condemning those cowardly acts, we applaud the current talks between the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the parties involved. I do not know whether there is any light at the end of that tunnel, but I hope that the talks succeed and that the unwanted division of the most kindly island of Ireland will soon cease.
I congratulate the service people in Northern Ireland who have to submit to the conditions there. In particular, I congratulate the brave members of the bomb disposal unit on the magnificent job that they do and also those in the civilian sector such as ambulancemen, policemen, doctors, nurses and firemen who participate in fighting the horrific problems that arise from the activities of terrorists.
I am glad that the Minister spent some time dealing with security and referred to the report of the Select Committee on Defence on the physical security of military installations. I keep wondering why the Select Committee has to carry out such investigations and highlight certain issues. Why does the Select Committee continually have to point out to the Minister problems which the Government know exist? Only when the scandal of the Committee's reports breaks do the Government decide to do something.
We welcome the changes made and the fact that the Minister spent £126 million last year on enhancing security. But it is too little and too late. I congratulate all members of the Defence Select Committee on highlighting the alarming state of security and publishing such a powerful report.
All hon. Members share equal anxiety on this matter and fully accept the hon. Gentleman's sincere comments about the hideous outrages that have occurred. However, this is not principally an issue of resourcing. The best way to prevent terrorist outrages is to identify, catch and convict through the courts the villains who perpetrate them. It is sad that we have seen no movement by the Labour Front Bench towards joining not only the Conservative Government but most other parties in the House in supporting the measures in the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1989. While the measures are certainly not fully effective, at least they provide some of the additional powers needed to identify the villains.
If I had thought that the hon. Gentleman would make that silly point all over again, I would not have given way. It is a silly point. It shows that he does not understand what the issue is all about. The reason why we vote against the Act and why we want it to be reviewed every year is that the measures contained in it are fundamentally against civil liberties.
Of course murder is against civil liberties. We say that in the hands of the wrong Government, the measures in the Prevention of Terrorism Act could lead us down the wrong alleyway. The reason why we emphasise that, vote against the Act and want it reviewed every year is that we hope that it will be a temporary measure and not a permanent part of the way of life of this country.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and the Ministers especially should not scoff. The record of all Governments has not been good on implementing some of the measures in the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Only recently, the courts had to free people who had spent 14 years in gaol after, as it was thought, being brought to book under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. For all the time that the Prevention of Terrorism Act has been in force, it has not prevented terrorism. That is probably the greatest indictment of it.
We shall review all legislation that is extant operated by the present Government. What amazes me about Army and services debate is that, whenever constructive criticism is made, Conservative Members, especially those who spent a couple of years in the Army, wrap themselves in the union jack and say, "What marvellous people we are," and so on. Let us come on to specific resources for physical security and the report of the Defence Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates). Let us discuss some of the issues and the penny-pinching of the Government, which has caused the deaths of many people.
I shall not give way now. I wish to make this point.
One issue highlighted by the Select Committee report was the employment of private security firms. The practice of using such firms has increased under this Government. The Defence Select Committee and the Ministry of Defence police in its submission said that the practice was increasing because the Government were attempting to save money. When 11 Marines were killed in Deal, the firm in charge of security at that barracks was Reliance Security Services. It employed people who had criminal records and people who were badly trained and who were paid about £2 an hour.
That is the Government's real service to the security of our armed forces. Conservative Members may scoff about the Labour party's attitude to security, but they would do better to support the Select Committee's attack on their Government for the lapse of security and the lack of money provided.
No, I shall not give way for the moment.
The employment of private security companies is simply an extension of the Government's ideological obsession of private is good and public is bad. The desire to save money has led to bad security arrangements in many establishments and perhaps resulted in needless deaths.
We firmly believe that private contracted security companies are not suitable for guarding Ministry of Defence establishments. We believe that private security firm employees lack adequate vetting, initial training, probationary periods and inter-organisation communication and information. The incidence of lax vetting was emphasised last year when it was revealed that a criminal with 500 convictions and a prison record for burglary, arson and violence was employed by the Reliance Security Services—the company employed at the Royal Marines barracks at Deal. I note that Ministers find this funny: obviously they are amused that service men have been killed when off duty and at leisure—
I am not sure what Ministers are doing. One moment they are scoffing and complaining about the Labour party, but when I raise the issue of security all they can do is grin among themselves. We do not want the stress on financial savings to lead to false economies, thus creating a high turnover of private firms, a high failure rate and inadequate service.
Our report was carefully worded and it is critical in parts about certain situations the Select Committee found, but nowhere have we said that lives have been put at risk by that. In particular, no reference is made to the incident at Deal, simply because at the time our report went to press we had no report on it. We are awaiting that report and it is important to put that on record.
I accept what the Chairman of the Select Committee has said, but from the evidence submitted it is clear that the company in charge of security at Deal was incompetent and should not have been employed. That evidence was known to the MOD police, and if that
information was available to the Government why did they not act on it? It is worth quoting to the Chairman of the Select Committee what he said in his report about vandalism committed by security guards. He said that it was not an isolated occurence:
that the MOD should not be able instantly to remove the security guards for lack of a viable alternative beggars belief.
I do not believe that there has ever been a more savage criticism of a Government, certainly not since I have been here.
I do not want to prejudge the report on Deal, but, given what the hon. Gentleman has said, it is important to establish that the private security firm employed at Deal was involved in checking people's cars and those people coming in and out through the entrance to the garrison. In addition, it undertook a number of daytime patrols, but it was not asked to undertake patrols at night. It seems highly likely that the bomb was put in place at night when the garrison was not the responsibility of the private security firm.
In fairness to the Minister, he gave way a remarkable number of times. However, his historical analysis of changes in eastern Europe was claptrap. He stole the clothes of the people. He had not one word of credit for those who went out on the streets in eastern Europe and fought against the dictatorships that they had suffered for so many years. He said that the changes were all due to the Government. He had no word of credit for Mr. Gorbachev. At least Mr. Bush and Mr. Shultz had the decency to give Russia and Mr. Gorbachev credit for what has happened in eastern Europe—something the Minister did not have the decency to do.
The past year has witnessed profound changes politically and militarily in eastern Europe. Some of the arguments in last year's debate on the Army now convey a sense of unreality because of those great changes. The whole basis of strategic thinking and tactical consideration has altered. We are entering a new era which demands new thinking. We need to question fundamentally the role of our armed forces in that changed world. I was surprised that the Minister appeared to say that there would be no change. His remarks about our Army in West Germany and our role in NATO suggest that the Government are not looking to change the role of our armed forces.
We welcome the encouraging progress in the strategic arms reduction talks and the conventional forces in Europe talks. We fully support the call made by President Bush on 8 May to review the conventional and nuclear strategies. We believe that the alliance should take this opportunity finally to jettison the outmoded strategies of flexible response and forward defence. We also applaud the President's decision to cancel the Lance replacement and the modernisation of nuclear shells, especially given the alarming state of some of them.
There is no point repeating the political changes that have taken place about which we are all aware. There is hardly any need to repeat the effect of those changes on military needs and responses. However, it is worth asking the Government what they propose to do in response to those changes.
The Minister completely missed the point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway). We now face the sorry sight of the Secretary of State for Defence and the Minister of State for Defence Procurement disagreeing about what to do. We are most interested to learn where the Minister of State for the Armed Forces stands in this quarrel. I presume that he is coming down on the side of the Secretary of State. He is a clever boy, but, in common with his colleague the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, he has probably had to repeat that he, too, is an old friend of the Secretary of State. I must warn the Secretary of State, however, that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces had just finished a stint as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the headmistress, and he probably still has a key to her room.
The Minister of State for Defence Procurement is said to have written a paper that recommended a detailed number of cuts. He suggested a reduction in the number of infantry battalions from 55 to 32—a suggestion to which the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham sought to draw attention—an expansion of the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment, and the abandonment of the anti-tank TRIGAT system and the multiple-launch rocket system. Because of that back-door missive, the Secretary of State is supposed to be in a dangerously exposed position. I am sure that he is very uncomfortable, but I am equally sure that his position is unassailable at the moment.
It is clear that there is considerable disagreement within the MOD as well as in Cabinet about how to react to the changing international situation. On the one hand, the Secretary of State argues that we should wait and see. That argument has been advanced in the foreword to the defence estimates—a purely reactive position. On the other hand, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement is advocating a policy of cuts that appears to take no account of the new strategic realities or the need to draw up coherent and sensible plans. He appears to be going for a quick peace profit, no doubt to satisfy the Treasury's demand to fund the poll tax in the coming year.
The Secretary of State is, of course, a much wiser and older man—
Yes, indeed. The right hon. Gentleman realises that there are substantial costs in many of the changes, particularly in manpower. He also realises that there is no quick peace profit for the poll tax.
The proposals of the Minister of State are of great concern, first because of his good connections with the Prime Minister and secondly because of the content of those proposals. His argument that we must adjust our defence posture to the more likely future conflicts in the third world and the far east seem to indicate that we desire to play a more positive role in those areas. That is an issue of great concern, considering our recent history of colonial involvements and the enormous cost in lives and money of those involvements and withdrawal from them.
It is obvious that, over the coming decade, British military forces in Germany will be cut to dramatically lower levels, significantly further than the 10 to 15 per cent. reduction envisaged under the CFE treaty, seemingly the basis on which the Minister makes his proposals.
Those cuts will take place not only because of military rationalisation but because of political reality. A new united Germany will almost surely want to be rid of what will increasingly be seen as foreign troops on its soil. It seems ludicrous for the Minister to talk about East Germany not wanting Russian troops on its soil, without even considering that it will be part of a united Germany and that one can presume that, if Russian troops will be asked to get out of the eastern sector of the country, at some stage the West Germans will ask us to withdraw, or substantially lower, our presence there.
According to the argument of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, bringing our forces back to the United Kingdom will be a real option. But it will not be a cheap option. It will be expensive not just in transport costs but in relocation costs, even if barrack facilities, stores and workshops were available. To disband regiments quickly, as has been suggested, would also be an immediately expensive option, with substantial morale and social implications.
We welcome the opportunity that the reductions will provide to cut defence expenditure, but the changes must come about through a process of internationally negotiated and verified disarmament agreements, not by a Minister of State trying to get one over on the Secretary of State and looking for a peace profit to fund the poll tax. It is evident that, as force size is reduced, national forces will no longer be capable of fulfilling all their current roles and that unit costs will increase as the advantages derived from economies of scale are lost. So the Government—I was glad to hear the Minister's remarks on this issue—must commence discussions with our NATO partners on the development of multinational units. On an open basis, Ministers should embark on a full-scale defence review, instead of wasting their energies fighting among themselves over their secretive options for change.
The present size and shape of the British Army is determined largely by the existence of BAOR. If there are to be reductions, impending procurement decisions must. be altered too, for they are related not only to the size of the Army but to the perceived risk on what has hitherto been regarded as the central front.
At a recent Defence Question Time, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement disagreed with the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and said that the next battlefield would not necessarily be found in central Europe. The Minister of State has a penchant for making peculiar statements, but it is difficult to imagine circumstances in which British or NATO forces could become involved in the unstable areas of eastern Europe—especially, say, in Romania, Yugoslavia and the Baltic—even as classical peace keeping forces.
The proposition that units brought home from Germany could form a new, highly flexible force, as outlined by the Minister today, poses as many questions as it answers, particularly in considering where they would be used. Even if they were to adopt such a new role, the equipment and weapons that they would require would be different from those now used in a central front tank-based role. The proposition of having an air-mobile, flexible, quick response force, for example, would demand an immediate decision on helicopter procurement, a decision which the Government seem reluctant to make.
The Opposition see the development of a lean, flexible, highly mobile defence force as a valid option for the future. Such a force would be superstructured on a substantial, properly equipped and highly trained reserve Army. It would be available, for example, for United Nations peace keeping duties and to assist in relieving natural disasters wherever they occur. It would always be available to defend our freedoms, democracies and traditions.
All that will not represent a quick fix, and almost certainly it will not be a cheaper option creating immediate huge savings. Savings will come, but not until after reorganisation. The new Army will come about only if some serious issues are addressed now by the Government, the problem of recruitment and retention being the most important, depending in turn on pay and conditions, restoring flagging morale, integrating ethnic minorities and re-identifying the role of women in the services.
The defence estimates again show a net outflow of personnel, with recruitment at 21,348 and an outflow of 24,056, a net loss of 2,608 in the last year. It is rightly said that those personnel represent a valuable investment in training and skills, and that we can ill afford to lose them.
The number of people applying for and taking premature voluntary release is rising again. Each year the Government say that they will introduce new measures, will carry out more surveys and will commission more reports. But still the PVR figures are rising. We appreciate that the problem is difficult, but it is not intractable. Given some of the difficulties that are causing premature voluntary release, the Government are compounding, rather than relieving, the problem, and the so-called wide measures which seek to improve the rate of retention are obviously not working.
I cite the example of service accommodation, about which hon. Members in all parts of the House are concerned. According to the Secretary of State, increased funds will be made available for refurbishing service accommodation. The provision of good-quality service accommodation has always been difficult. For that reason, in 1978 the then Labour Government froze the level of accommodation charges, partly out of concern about the quality of accommodation. That concern still exists.
The report in 1988 of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body spoke of how the
accommodation, particularly the single accommodation, is of poor quality, badly maintained, or both.
That body's latest report noted:
Too many personnel will continue to occupy accommodation classed as Grade 4, well below the standard which would be regarded as acceptable in civilian life.
The Government acknowledge in the defence estimates that attention
is being given to the problems that Service personnel face over housing.
Opposition Members have frequently expressed concern about the dreadful quality of some service accommodation. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) noted on a visit to Catterick camp that the condition of the houses was horrific. We know that, on 1 April 1989, the backlog of unavoidable repairs to married quarters was costed at £323 million. Perhaps the Minister can tell us about the current backlog of housing repairs. It is fairly obvious that the Government are just about the worst landlords in Great Britain. If any of our local authorities that the
Government love to bash managed their estates in the same way as the Ministry of Defence, the Government would soon push them into court.
Another important issue affecting morale is the ethnic composition of our armed forces, which still does not reflect the ethnic composition of our population. It is a complex problem and will continue to exist as long as the numbers coming into the forces are low. It is only as the numbers increase that the racism that exists in the services will decline.
The Peat Marwick McLintock report to which I referred in the Royal Air Force debate on 28 February said that the poor image of the services on racial issues was the single most important reason for low application rates. I hope that the Government will do more about that. Perhaps the Minister will say whether additional training for recruitment officers will be introduced. Will recruitment advertising be reorganised to present a more positive image of ethnic minorities? Above all, what steps do the Government propose to tackle racism in the services?
Another act of the Government which results in the loss of service personnel is the imposition of the poll tax on members of the armed forces. We have received a tremendous number of complaints. It is another example of the grotesque unfairness of the poll tax. A private soldier on about £7,600 a year will pay the same poll tax as a general on £72,000 a year. Service personnel on the same pay will pay widely differing rates of poll tax depending on where their barracks or married quarters are located. The quartering charges that were payable before 1 April have in many cases gone up more than tenfold. Service personnel in multi-room accommodation will pay the same as officers in single-room accommodation.
No one can tell me that the imposition of the poll tax on the members of our services is fair. Conservative Members have condemned the imposition of this charge on, for example, the Gurkhas. The hon. Member for Hampshire, East pointed to that grossly unfair demand on troops stationed in this country. That unfairness is compounded by the fact that foreign troops do not have to pay, but troops in the British service, even though they do not use many local authority facilities, have to pay the poll tax.
One of the most disturbing events in the past year, certainly for me and for other hon. Members who have a respect for our serving soldiers and who served in the Army, was the publication of the book "The New Model Army" by Michael Yardley and Dennis Sewell, who are former cavalry officers. Their claim of
undeniable symptoms of moral decay
in a system that rewards "ruthless careerism", and tolerates bullying in an organisation that contains
the worst racial bigots in Society
is extremely disturbing. [Interruption.]
Those criticisms are voiced by two former cavalry officers and not by the National Council for Civil Liberties or by someone from the Labour party. The criticisms come from two of the Army's own. I know that Conservative Members will feel vindictive towards those two officers, who have probably voted Tory all their lives, but they should at least listen to what those men have to say. I am not saying that their views are shared by me or any of my hon. Friends.
The two ex-cavalry officers say more philosophically
that the Army is
divorced from the body of the nation … tolerated by the rest of the community either because we do not know what is going on or do not want to know.
Those are matters for debate, but they also accuse the Army of being a professionally competent but often brutalised elite which deliberately keeps aloof from the society it serves, and that is a matter of great concern. I am not quite sure about the motives of the two ex-officers in writing the book, but Conservative Members will applaud me when I say that I do not go along with their prescription for what they call a new model army.
The two ex-officers have come up with the idea of voluntary national service
to keep youngsters off the dole queue
in order to relate the Army more to the community that it serves. That would be accompanied by a home defence force, the members of which would keep their weapons and ammunition at home. That is said to be
not dissimilar to the rifle volunteers of the late Victorian era.
I know that that will strike a chord with the Prime Minister, but it fills me and my hon. Friends with great alarm.
My experience of the Army goes back some 30 years, so I have to admit that perhaps in this context I am out of touch with the Army as it exists now. As I have said, these were comments not by the NCCL but by ex-cavalry officers. I understand that the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) served as a captain in the Army. He is aware of the structure of the Army and the elitism that exists within it. I should have thought that some of the criticisms are justified. Without saying whether I agree with them, I have to say that I am worried that they have been made. I am also concerned about the wall of silence surrounding the book. The Government have made no comment on it since it was published in September, and that is a little disturbing.
Many procurement issues are linked to the inevitable decline in the number of people in our Regular Army. One of the most important decisions will be that about the Challenger 2 tank. Its procurement will have to be critically examined, because it will reach its third milestone test in September, which is just 12 weeks away. The examination should be most urgent. I hope that the Government are aware of the severe economic and industrial consequences on the areas concerned that will flow from their decision. I hope that they will firmly consider the Challenger 2 over and above tanks from any other country.
Another procurement decision that causes concern relates to the third-generation anti-tank guided weapons system, the TRIGAT family. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what is to happen about that. It seems that the future of the programme is in doubt, first on the ground that it may not have the ability or the capacity to penetrate some of the new types of armour that have been developed, and secondly, I understand, on the ground that the premise of great tank battles is no longer valid. There is no up-to-date information about how the project is faring in meeting its milestones, or even what targets have been set. Perhaps the Minister can tell us something about that.
Another uncertainty in procurement is the future requirement for military helicopters, including those for the Army. Originally, the need for greater air mobility was seen as a response to a specific Warsaw pact threat in central Europe and there was a widespread perception that this would require more and better helicopters for the Army. This threat has disappeared, but the case for air mobility and more helicopters is being presented as a response to the new situation—the development of a flexible, mobile Army. Perhaps the Minister can give us an idea of what the Government intend to do about helicopter equipment for all the forces.
As I said at the outset, change has been thrust upon us by the momentous events in eastern Europe. Change can take place in different ways—in a purely reactive manner, waiting for events to pressure the changes, a la the Secretary of State, or in a simplistic way, by drawing up a list, a la the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. It can also take place in a reasonable, structured and orderly fashion, attempting to maintain morale, to retain manpower, and to ease job and company losses in critical procurement sectors. The Opposition would choose that latter option. The sooner the Government get out and let us take the decisions on the country's defence, the better.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) made a number of interesting points, some of which we can only profoundly disagree with. I am tempted to follow him down some of the paths that he has trodden so delicately, but I fear that I should outstay my welcome if I did, because I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to speak. I have a number of points that I wish to make on my own account. However, I was glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman does not expect any quick fix to the problems of defence or any quick peace dividend. I hope that that message will go as loud and clear from the Opposition Benches as it has from the Government Benches. It is important that the public understand this.
We all know that my right hon. and hon. Friends with responsibility for defence have a most difficult task. They have to determine how far it would be wise to reduce expenditure on defence or to reduce the size of the armed forces in a period of uncertainty and instability, as my hon. Friend the Minister called it. They must be seen to respond to the promising developments in eastern Europe, while still protecting the essential fabric and integrity of the armed forces. They must be aware that prudence will no doubt be denounced by people impatient for what they call a peace dividend. That is why I am so pleased that the hon. Member for Rhondda spoke as he did. They will be challenged by others to justify the continued existence of the NATO alliance. However, I am confident that, in laying their plans for the future, the Government—I hope that the Opposition will go along with them on this—will recognise that, at this time and for the foreseeable future, to call for the demise of NATO would be short-sighted, unrealistic and ultimately damaging to the long-term cause of peace and stability.
If hon. Members think that that is going too far, let me remind them of the recent debate in plenary session of the North Atlantic Assembly, when delegates from 16 countries discussed the future of the alliance. There was overwhelming support—which embraced all sections of major political parties in western Europe—for a resolution stating that membership of a united Germany in NATO was essential for security in Europe. The German delegation agreed that Germany could not be neutral. It was led by one of Germany's senior spokesmen on defence matters, from the SDP.
Secondly, the resolution asserted that the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe has an indispensable role to play in Europe which should not be thought of as a substitute for the alliance, which remains essential to western security. Thirdly, the resolution advocated an enhanced political role in NATO in view of the decline of the military threat. We warmly support that. Fourthly, it called for the creation of a true European pillar within the alliance. Fifthly, it urged the assembly to establish ties with eastern European Parliaments and to contribute to the building of democracy. It also agreed on the necessity to have a north American presence. That is a substantial agenda for an organisation that has helped to preserve the peace of the world.
The North Atlantic Assembly is bound to pass such a resolution. The desire for a united Germany in NATO might have been expressed by the representatives of the Federal Republic at the Assembly, but, according to the latest opinion polls in both East and West Germany, that is not the opinion of the German people, who would like a demilitarised zone around their country, with the withdrawal of both Soviet and American troops.
I am sorry to have to tell the hon. Gentleman that he misunderstands the purpose of the North Atlantic Assembly. It is not composed of paid officials or of people who subscribe to the views of NATO. It is composed freely of representatives of the Parliaments who come there and debate solidly. All kinds of criticisms fly around, but it would be unwise of the hon. Gentleman to dismiss with contumely what I have said. The Government of the Federal Republic strongly believe in a united Germany and that that united Germany should be part of NATO. I regard the views expressed by Chancellor Kohl as carrying far more weight than the public opinion polls mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The German people are the very people who supported his idea for unity, knowing very well for what it is that he is asking.
We all know that there is room for manoeuvre and debate—we have all heard my hon. Friend the Minister—in respect of East Germany and what, when it becomes part of a united Germany, should be the position of the troops of the Warsaw pact, of the Soviet Union and NATO. That is a strong view. Even if the hon. Gentleman does not agree with me, he should agree that a wide number of issues demand the continued presence of NATO. The hon. Gentleman should welcome rather than deplore the agenda that I set out.
We should not forget that one of the great benefits of NATO is that it is the only defence organisation in the world that has the integrated military structure, the resources and plans to enable it to take the prompt action necessary to protect the security of the nations that belong to it and, if necessary, the security of Europe as a whole. To dismantle it at this time in our history would undo all the progress that we have made in the past 40 years. Therefore, I hope that we shall hear little from Opposition Members, and certainly not from those on the Front Bench—I am glad to have the nodding head of agreement from the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes)—about dismantling NATO in the foreseeable future. At least there is one voice of agreement there, and we shall hear from the hon. Gentleman when he winds up for the Opposition.
I recognise that NATO will have to change as events develop. No one should say that it should be frozen as events were frozen during the cold war. If, as seems inevitable, nations move to smaller forces, this should increase the incentive to produce a more rational defence effort through such innovations as role specialisation. I understand that it is ludicrously expensive for nations to cover the gamut of their defence needs. They have to co-operate more closely with other nations. Therefore, in their options for change, I hope that the Government will develop their own ideas for a more effective distribution of roles and missions within the alliance.
My hon. Friend the Minister has already spoken about the formation of multinational units, and I am glad that he took such a positive approach to this. As he knows, NATO's integrated command structure is integrated not only at headquarters level but down to Army level. The creation of a multinational corps comprising several national divisions would, in my view, be practical. As is recognised by most people on both sides of the argument—it was certainly recognised by the hon. Member for Rhondda—too many reductions would mean a not very practicable force. The United Kingdom-Netherlands amphibious force provides us with a good model on which to base any further expansion.
When restructuring our forces, we should above all avoid making short-term salami cuts for the sake of economy. That would pose a danger that has caused chronic problems in most other countries that have faced the same difficulties. Such economies usually prove expensive in the long run: they demoralise the armed forces, and leave them thoroughly ill balanced and incapable of fulfilling any military role. The result is a shambles.
The Army has had to face some pretty drastic changes in the past. In 1957, when conscription ended, it became an all-volunteer force, relying on the Territorial Army for further expansion. It weathered the storm, but the 1960s and 1970s brought both amalgamations and disbandments. When the previous Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), was a Back Bencher, he and I would carry into the House ballot box after ballot box loaded with requests for us to save the Argylls. Thank goodness we had the sense to do so. We do not want to go through that again if we can help it.
During the past 33 years—since the end of conscription—our all-volunteer Army has served us well. It has, on the whole, been well equipped and exceedingly well led, and its soldiers have attained the highest professional standards.
A criticism by two officers was mentioned by the hon. Member for Rhondda; I do not know how an army with such a background could achieve the reputation that our Army has achieved, not only in this country but worldwide. The nation has every right to be proud of its bearing, and greatful for what it has done. We simply cannot afford to destroy the best of what we have built. Events may require a smaller Army, but it must nevertheless be capable of sustaining its skills.
Let me seek two specific assurances from the Government. The first concerns the best use of a demographically shrinking and increasingly valuable commodity—manpower and womanpower. The second concerns the need to prevent short-term financial measures from causing irreparable damage to defence research and development. Such programmes increasingly underpin the fighting capabilities of our armed forces. Their morale must not be harmed; they should have well-defined roles, and be capable of rapid expansion from a firm and stable base should conditions for preserving the peace deteriorate.
If all that is to be done, as economically as possible, our smaller Regular Army will depend more than ever on a rapid reinforcement capability, provided by a well trained and well equipped Territorial Army. I hope that the Ministers have considered the concept of integrating regular and TA units. They may also have considered providing more support units for the Regular Army from the TA. Such measures may help us to avoid having to disband overstretched regiments, with all the attendant pain, anguish and damage to Army traditions that we experienced in the 1960s and 1970s.
We must, of course, look to the Government to provide the necessary financial incentives for the TA and the reserve forces, but I believe that a trade-off will be possible. There will be a greater proportion of troops in the front-line combat formations in a smaller Regular Army, ready at short notice to carry out peacekeeping roles and to cope with emergencies before they escalate. A reduction in the Army's presence in Europe could lead to a recognition that we can play a stabilising and peacekeeping role in some areas outside Europe, along with our European allies. Unlike other hon. Members, I am thinking less of eastern Europe than of places perhaps more significant to our national interests: I have in mind the threats posed from the Gulf, the middle east and north Africa. Thinking along such lines could lead to important changes in the equipment and roles of our armed forces.
As I have said, my second point concerns research and development. The days when British forces kept the peace, or skirmished with lightly armed but intrepid fuzzy-wuzzies, are, of course, long past. Not so long ago—between the two world wars—we allowed not only the manpower of our army, but the quality and modernity of its equipment, to decline. The dismal result has been that, too often in our history, our men have had to fight using the weapons, tactics and ideas of a previous war.
Today—leaving aside the strength and quality of the Soviet armed forces, which will clearly remain prodigious for some time—quite minor powers are extremely well equipped, possessing superior, sophisticated conventional electronic equipment, chemical warfare weapons and ballistic missiles. In the not too distant future, we shall witness the application of artificial intelligence systems on the battlefield.
No doubt the Treasury has already fixed its jaundiced eye on the £450 million spent on research by the Ministry of Defence. We should accept that modern armies may not always have the gold-plated equipment that they so often desire, but R and D is the seedcorn: if I may change my metaphor, it cannot be switched on and off. Its future demands the most careful planning, not only for our Army's sake but for the sake of our defence-based industries. I hope that I shall not be accused of taking advantage of my connection with MEL, a defence subsidiary of Philips.
In today's more technical world, a smaller army will depend more than ever on the right scientific and technical back-up and will require its skills to be tested continually by the fruits of research. If Ministers must deny the Army the production orders that it seeks, I ask them to stand firm on the need for development—at least up to prototype stage—and for the technical demonstration tests that can do so much to decide whether a piece of equipment should be ordered.
If the Government adopt such measures, should technical innovation threaten the balance and efficiency of our forces or a new threat loom on the horizon, we shall be able to retain in the United Kingdom—or in conjunction with our NATO allies—a sound base on which to expand and meet the new conditions. I wish my right hon. Friends every success in their endeavour.
In the past year, single-service debates have given us the opportunity to consider some rather wider issues—as was eloquently demonstrated in the tour d'horizon with which the Minister favoured the House. The theme of his remarks was change, and the need for its acceptance—a prospect that perhaps bears more accurately on the Army than on the other two services.
The changes in Europe will undoubtedly result in a reduction in the British Army of the Rhine; undoubtedly, the purpose for much of our Army procurement and deployment will be overtaken by the substantial political and, subsequently, military changes that have occurred in Europe, especially in the past 12 months. If we are to have more mobile and flexible forces—forces that are leaner and meaner—the great debate about tanks versus helicopters will have to reach some conclusion.
Perhaps that conclusion will be provoked by the arrival of September, when we shall reach an important staging post in the determination of which tank is to be favoured. Perhaps, however, a more fundamental and radical question should be whether we should consider replacing the tank at all. That is one of the important issues that are undoubtedly being considered in connection with the options for change, to which I shall return shortly.
The much publicised desire of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to get £1 billion out of the defence budget is the wrong way to approach the changing landscape presented by defence issues. Would not the proper way be to assess the nature of the threat, determine the means necessary to meet it and then to budget to provide those means? Whether it is the Chief Secretary trying to get £1 billion off the defence budget or the annual conference of the Labour party voting to take £5 billion off it, each is as flawed as the other.
Approaching the issue from a budgetary viewpoint may result in precisely the sort of defects to which the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) eloquently referred. It was notable that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) placed great stress on the criticism of the options for change. That criticism would have had more force had it contained some recanting of the decision taken by the annual conference of the Labour party last September.
If the nature of the threat has changed, and if the threat is reduced—which is generally accepted—there appears to be a more widespread acceptance in the House that there is no guarantee that there will be an immediate financial dividend. If there is to be a meaner and leaner force, we shall be looking for better equipment and conditions. If we are endeavouring to meet the demands of the demographic trough, with the forces trying to attract people of the right calibre, good conditions—not just of housing, but of holidays and pay—will be important factors. The forces will have to be better trained, which will be relatively more expensive than it is now.
Those who claim that there is an immediate peace dividend and that money can be swapped from one column to another—that it can be spent on health, education or other areas thought to be more socially desirable—fail to address the considerable financial consequences that will undoubtedly follow the necessary restructuring of the forces.
I cannot understand why the Government will not embark upon a full-scale defence review, especially as NATO is about to embark upon such a review, in which the issues of flexible response and forward defence will be up for debate. During the next month or so, consideration will be given to whether to adopt a policy of no first use for nuclear weapons. Those would be fundamental changes in NATO's doctrine. Why, then, are the Government so reluctant to embark upon a parallel examination of the United Kingdom position through a full-scale defence review?
I do not doubt that, in the foreseeable future, the need for NATO will remain. I understand the aspirations of those who wish for a different architecture for the security of Europe to be created through the conference on security and co-operation in Europe. However, we must remember that that organisation, as currently constituted, has certain inherent defects. For example, it operates only if there is unanimity. It includes such great military powers as San Marino. In its present form, it is not qualified for the sort of tasks that many people wish it to undertake. Unless and until it becomes so qualified, NATO will have to remain, although not necessarily in its present form, with its present priorities and subject to its present doctrines. It is essential that NATO maintains a unanimity of purpose. It is essential that, as far as possible, we ensure that the 16 countries of NATO stay together in a unanimity of purpose on how security can best be maintained.
During the past two or three days, Mr. Gorbachev has been at pains to argue that we should not use the language of winners and losers in relation to NATO and the Warsaw treaty organisations. One could say, "He would, wouldn't he?" His organisation has collapsed; it is NATO that has been sustained. It is hardly surprising that he would like to devaluate NATO and to suggest that its purpose has been achieved. There is no sensible option for the long-term security of Europe other than that a united Germany should remain in NATO.
There may be scope for imaginative protocols and arrangements that deal with the necessary steps to allay the apprehension and concern of the Soviet Union. In that, we may balance the question of how much we should give to ensure that Mr. Gorbachev does not come under unreasonable pressure. There are all sorts of sophisticated judgments to be made, but central to them and the basis on which they can properly be made is the general acceptance that a unified Germany within NATO will provide a keystone to the future security of Europe.
The issues that we are discussing should be the subject of a more open debate, as they are in the United States. Indeed, the defence periodicals from America tell us much about the Government's policies to which we do not have access in this country. There is a much publicised memorandum from the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. I think that many of the assumptions in that memorandum are deeply flawed and I should like to offer my assistance to the Secretary of State and his Ministers. I believe that common sense would be sufficient to persuade the Minister that there are flaws in his memorandum. As a precursor to the annual debate on the defence estimates, I suggest that that much-publicised memorandum be placed in the Library, where we can all see it. It could then form the basis of an intelligent exchange of views so that we can all share in the thinking of Defence Ministers.
We are discussing extremely important issues that change their character almost daily. Many of the decisions that will be made in the United Kingdom during the next six to 12 months will have far-reaching consequences. That being so, they should be made against the background of an informed, constructive and, if necessary, noisy debate about where the best interests of the United Kingdom lie. In the resolution of these issues, there is little doubt that the British Army will continue to play an important role. I join others in paying tribute to its achievements, not least in Northern Ireland.
Because it is such a rare event, I must be careful not to be too enthusiastic in agreeing with one part of what was said by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers). I very much agree with what he said about the unfairness of the community charge on service men in general and on Ghurkas in particular. The Ghurkas are my constituents and my objections are well known and well publicised. I do not say that simply to criticise the Government. I hope that I am being constructive, because I know that it was not the wish of the Ministry of Defence. Unfortunately, the argument with the Department of the Environment and the Treasury was lost and, rightly, Defence Ministers must now live with that collective decision. However, as there is now a review of the community charge, I very much hope that, as a result of the debate and because of what I and my hon. Friends have said both publicly and privately, this matter will be put before it.
Unlike some of the other measures which seem to be needed for the community charge, this costs nothing and it will put right an injustice which has been strongly felt within the armed services, whose personnel are unique in that they cannot choose where to live and, as a result of the circumstances in which they find their posting, are forced to pay the community charge. We should go back to an average share, which is what they paid under the old rating system, and which would be seen to be fair. Of course they must contribute, but a soldier may have a £500 fine attached to his posting which he cannot choose and that is seen as genuinely unfair. I hope that the Ministry will put that matter into the melting pot of discussions that are taking place at the moment.
Since we last had a service debate, the Select Committee has lost one of its members. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) has left as result of his resigning the Labour Whip. Much as I deeply resent the personal attacks that he has made on me behind my back and to the press in articles which are patently untrue and which are the subject of a complaint to the Press Council, it would be churlish of me not to record his valuable service during six years on the Committee, where his experience and expertise and the diligence with which he carried out his duties have been much appreciated by all his colleagues on both sides of the Committee. We are sorry to see him go.
We welcome in the hon. Member's place the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). I hope that he will be happy serving with us. He maintains the 75 per cent. of Scots on the Opposition side of the Committee, for reasons which are best known to the Labour party, and which I would not try to analyse. I think that the sole English Labour Member had hoped for a little reinforcement, but I have no doubt that he will be happy with what he has got.
I must make brief remarks about the sixth report of the Committee on the fiscal security of military installations in the United Kingdom. Much has been said of the terrorist threat and I do not need to go over the background, but it was in the light of the enhanced threat and, most particularly, following the explosion at the Royal Marines school of music at Deal on 22 September 1989 in which I I bandsmen were killed, that the Committee decided to follow up the report which the previous Committee had made in 1984. That report had concentrated on the future security arrangements for the royal ordnance factories and on the threat to the security of nuclear bases arising from protesters at that time which, thankfully, has now passed.
We devoted 20 paragraphs of our report to the security arrangements at royal ordnance factories, now under private ownership. We are not wholly satisfied with what we found. We doubt whether the Ministry of Defence was acting quite straightforwardly in 1988 in permitting MOD police to be replaced at Blackburn and Birtley by commercial security guards. We do not criticise the replacement of MOD police at Westcott and Bishopton by the new Royal Ordnance plc guard force, but we are anxious that the Ministry of Defence should take steps to remove the impression that the level of security has been lowered and that the Department should continue to take a close and informed interest in royal ordnance security arrangements.
In paragraph 75 of the report, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues talk about the need to monitor the quality of the police force at Bishopton. How would that monitoring take place?
I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman at length now. I am sorry to be restricted in my remarks. However, my hon. Friend the Minister has heard what he said, and it is his job to do exactly that. If I may go on to answer some of the other recommendations that we have made, I hope that that will help the hon. Gentleman.
That interest also applies to the other five royal ordnance factories, where both the Ministry and the police forces involved seek the continuation of an MOD police presence alongside a company guard force. Royal Ordnance has restricted the extra costs—around £1·2 million a year—which that would involve, but British Aerospace was well aware of the special position of MOD police at royal ordnance factories when it purchased the company. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to reassure us that a proper solution has now been found to the question of security arrangements at royal ordnance factories and that the company has accepted the expert advice of the Ministry of Defence and local police officers.
However, our major concern is with the growing use by the Ministry of Defence of commercial security companies. So far as we were able to publish them, the facts are set out in the report. About 56 sites are commercially guarded, at an annual cost of about £5 million. That is not a major financial commitment, and the vast majority of MOD and service sites are not commercially guarded. It is important to keep the matter in perspective. Commercial guarding is primarily used to release service personnel for other tasks. As we say in the report,
It is a fundamental part of the duties of service personnel to protect themselves and their bases.
That must not be overlooked.
However, such guarding duties mean that service personnel are not free to carry out other tasks for which they are trained. That makes the use of commercial security firms attractive. There are alternatives to replacing or supplementing service men with commercial security firms. Ministry of Defence police, who have full police powers and training, are already stretched and are expensive. The Royal Air Force has its own police force, over 3,000 strong. But the main policy choice lies between an expanded MOD civilian guard force and the wider use of contractors.
From our examination of the experience which the services and the MOD have had with commercial security companies and of the screening by such companies of potential employees, we cannot accept that further contracts should be awarded for commercial security guarding. As for existing contracts, many are apparently being satisfactorily performed, and the service directors of security showed no desire to lose the services of the companies concerned.
We would like tougher enforcement by the MOD of contractual sanctions against those companies which have not come up to scratch. At the moment, it seems that unsatisfactory levels of performance are tolerated for far too long because termination would leave a site unguarded. We recommend a searching review during the next few years of the security implications of using commercial guards at every site where they are used and that consideration be given in every case to the possibility of replacement by an MOD guard force.
At the moment, the Ministry of Defence is getting what it pays for, no more and no less. In some cases it is a second-rate service and so a potentially dangerous one. Either it must spend more on getting a better service or provide it itself through direct employment of a guard force. As a politician and a former soldier, all my instincts point to the latter as the more sensible course of action.
I had hoped to make a few remarks on my own account about the wider scene as it affects the Army, but this is the first time that I have been caught by the 10-minute rule while having to speak on behalf of my Committee, to which I thought my first duty lay. Therefore, I shall simply say one thing.
A robust debate is going on inside and outside the Ministry of Defence about the options for the future, and that is right. I know, perhaps more than most at the moment, that everything that one reads in the newspaper about oneself is not true, and I am sure that that also applies to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. He has always had robust views on defence, some of which I have agreed with and some of which I have not, but all of which I have always enjoyed debating with him.
I advise one word of caution to everybody everywhere, inside and outside the House, when we are discussing the future structure of our services: do not let us forget or put in jeopardy the most precious asset that those services have—the men and women who serve in them. It is in that regard that talk of numbers, of battalions, of ships, of specific reductions long before we have had a chance maturely to decide what the residual threat is, if any, and where it is likely to occur, is putting the cart before the horse.
I am not alleging that my hon. Friend's remarks in that regard were correctly quoted: I make no comment about that, because I do not know. However, it behoves all of us to conduct the debate in a rational way, and that means to look at what is the residual threat, what it is that we shall need, the sort of way in which we must approach the matter and what the new NATO will look like. Then and only then should we start talking about numbers, places and people. To allow our service men to continue to operate in that area of uncertainty is bad for their morale, and bad for us as responsible people conducting this debate, and it serves nobody's interests.
I want to argue this evening in favour of a radical review of, and eventually a radical reduction in, the defence budget and in NATO's overall defence budget. Now that the era of east-west confrontation is drawing to a close, we have a golden opportunity to begin to realise what has been referred to as the peace dividend. I take on board the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) that it will be difficult to realise that dividend—which is why I go further than some of my hon. Friends might wish to go, and further than my party has gone in its latest policy document, "Looking to the Future".
The inevitable consequence of the radical reduction in defence spending now in prospect, combined with the increasing costs of military technology and development, is that the days of national armies in Europe are fast drawing to a close. Political logic and hard economics point to a future in which multinational armies will be trained and deployed together, use the same equipment, follow the same procedures and doctrines, and serve together as a single collective defence force.
In Europe, the natural focus for such a multinational defence force is the European Community. The long-term consequence—and by the long term, I mean the end of this decade or the beginning of the next century—of the ending of the cold war in Europe will be the establishment of what will be to all intents and purposes a European Community army backed up, as it must be, by common Community defence and foreign policy.
I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the officers and men of the various regiments of the Army and the Army Air Corps who played host to three parliamentary colleagues and myself over the past year, when we participated in the armed forces parliamentary scheme. The insight that I gained from that experience into the day-to-day workings and conditions of service men has proved invaluable. It certainly confirmed my admiration for the Army's high standards of professionalism and service. I pay tribute also to the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) for organising that scheme, and to the Minister and his officials at the Ministry of Defence, who helped the scheme along.
One strong impression that I gained from participating in that scheme was the huge impact of the poll tax on service men and the resentment that that is causing. Soldiers are experiencing the inequity and raw injustice of the poll tax in perhaps its starkest form. It is impossible to defend a situation in which a private soldier is expected to pay the same poll tax as a general. The Government will pay a high political price for that among many of their traditional supporters in the armed services.
Last month, I organised, together with the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick), the first ever east-west conference of young elected politicians from almost all the countries of east, west and central Europe—including members of the USSR Supreme Soviet and politicians from north America. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces kindly attended and addressed that conference.
It was a great delight to spend time in the company of those young parliamentarians from the new democracies of eastern and central Europe. No one could do so without realising that the basic assumptions that previously underpinned British defence policy—based on the cold war and on confrontation between east and west—have collapsed. The great need now is to build a new policy on new foundations, based on a radical and searching review of our future defence requirements.
Everyone recognises the need for that—except, apparently, the British Government. Articles appear daily on that subject, and no intelligent debate on the armed forces could possibly take place without at least the outline of a fundamental defence review being sketched out—yet we are forced to conduct tonight's debate in a vacuum because of the Government's continuing and bizarre refusal even to acknowledge the need for such a review.
It is ironic that no country of the west needs the peace dividend more than the United Kingdom, because of its traditionally high defence expenditure, yet no Government appears more reluctant to grasp that dividend than the present British Government. The strain on Britain's resources of sustaining a cold war military commitment over the past 40 years has been immense. In fact, it has been crippling. The cuckoo in the nest of our defence budgets has been our commitment to the central front. The cold war is over, the Warsaw pact is finished, and the USSR by itself no longer presents a realistic military threat to the west. Now is the time to begin to cast off our crippling burden of defence expenditure.
The Government plead the case for caution, yet other countries are forging ahead. The forthcoming United States defence budget will incorporate substantial cuts, and West Germany has announced a prospective reduction in its armed forces of almost 20 per cent. Those Governments recognise that, although there are worries surrounding the chaotic collapse of the Soviet empire, those worries are more for the Soviet peoples themselves than a realistic military danger to us.
As Jonathan Dean, the former United States ambassador to the MBFR talks recently argued, a 50 per cent. cut in NATO equipment and personnel over the next decade could realise defence budget savings of up to 30 per cent.—about $100 billion across NATO as a whole at today's prices. It is surely madness to tie up that money in arms and weapons one day longer than necessary when there are other, more urgent priorities to be met—particularly environmental priorities.
We ought to begin now the long-term withdrawal of the British Army of the Rhine as such and of RAF Germany from the central region. If British soldiers remain on the European continent into the next century, they should so so as part of a genuine European multinational force supported primarily out of Community funds. In that way, we could ensure that the future burden would be equally shared instead of falling disproportionately upon British taxpayers, as it has in the past.
That returns me to the need for closer European Community co-operation on defence. Even with today's inflated defence budgets, it is increasingly uneconomic for the nation states of western Europe to fulfil their procurement needs independently. It makes more and more sense to collaborate and procure jointly. At a time when defence budget cuts of 30 to 50 per cent. are being contemplated, individual national procurement policies will become simply impossible.
I realise that I am going further than my party's official policy and the views of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, I believe that we need to enter in the future into an intimate collaboration of Community nations in both the procurement of weapons and the actual deployment of forces—including a possible single Community army. That will inevitably entail the convergence of national defence and foreign policies in Europe into a single Community policy. Such developments are not only inevitable because of the new context created by the ending of the cold war, and by the hard economic constraints that will be the direct consequence of major defence cuts, but are to he welcomed.
The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) will forgive me if I do not follow him too much, save to comment that I disagree profoundly with the proposition that he put forward. I disagree with it almost as profoundly as I suspect and hope that members of the Labour Front Bench disagree with it. Unilateral cuts of the magnitude suggested by the hon. Member for Western Isles would be catastrophic for our own defence posture and for that of NATO. We have had success in MBFR, and the START talks have offered considerable possibilities all the way through because we maintain a sensible and strong defence posture. I was gladdened that that was substantially on the basis of cross-party agreement. I suspect that views of the type expressed by the hon. Member for Western Isles are being increasingly adopted by Labour, which will cause it to be regarded with great suspicion, and rightly so, by the electorate generally.
I commend the fact that we are having this single-service debate. I was profoundly sceptical about the reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence, with the abolition of single-service Ministers, because it seemed to be appropriate that there should be a Minister answerable in this place for each of the services. Those of us who did not like the reorganisation were reassured that there would be a single-service debate homing in on each of the three services—Navy, Army and Air Force—so that matters of relative detail could be aired on the Floor of the House from time to time, in the way that they ought to be aired.
I have the privilege of representing a substantial part of a garrison town—Colchester—which I share with my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham). I am proud to represent that constituency, which contains such a strong military element. During the quarter of a century and more that I have had the pleasure to represent the area, I have received nothing but kindness from the military, which is exemplified by the fact that I was dined out by the military corrective training centre just before my recent marriage. I was given a party at the centre and they strongly advised that I stay under custody for the evening because they had every intention of getting me above the level of 80 mg per 100 ml. I think they only marginally succeeded, but it was an interesting place to spend a couple of nights before one's wedding.
Speaking more seriously, the military corrective training centre is a splendid organisation. One of the triumphs of the Government is that the centre has been rebuilt. When I first became the Member of Parliament for Colchester, the centre was in tin nissen huts. It was the last military establishment in such huts. For years I campaigned for it to be rebuilt, and at last we got it. The former Secretary of State, my right hon Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), opened the centre a couple of years ago and it was a splendid occasion.
I pay tribute to the work that the centre does. Considerable lessons are to be learnt by civilian prisons from the way in which it is organised. The centre has of course the advantage that all the soldiers under sentence are young and that there is a high ratio of soldiers under sentence to staff. My hon. Friends who are worried about the organisation of prisons should make an in-depth visit to the military corrective training centre, because there is much to be learned there.
It is a great privilege to represent Colchester, North. I have also been privileged to visit armed forces in all parts of the globe, wherever they serve. Some years ago I visited the Falklands as I led the first parliamentary delegation to the islands after the confrontation with the Argentinians. I sought to go there on the task force, because there have always been parliamentarians actively involved where troops were in action. My father was in the 1914–18 war and he said that he could not understand a sudden disturbance in the trenches—it was a visit of parliamentarians in 1918.
The Whips prevented me from going on the task force because of the open-ended commitment that would be involved by my going there. None the less I had the privilege to visit the islands, leading the first parliamentary delegation after the confrontation.
The major lesson to be learned from the Falklands conflict is that it gave credibility to the whole of our western defence policy if the tough men of the Politburo were questioning whether "these so-and-so democracies" would ever do anything for democracy—would they just pass resolutions in the United Nations? We went to that massive expenditure of treasure and blood to defend the right of 1,800 people, mainly of British decent, to live in freedom. That demonstrated the western world's resolve, and also the sheer professionalism of our armed forces.
Let us remember our armed forces in the remoter parts of the world. I have also had the privilege of going to Belize. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement will mention some of those areas which are outside NATO in his winding-up speech. We have a battalion and some Harriers in Belize. They maintain stability in the area and it is universally accepted that their presence helps to maintain peace there. Having visited the country, I realise that it also gives additional expertise to the armed forces, which have the opportunity to train in the different circumstances there.
The main burden of our armed forces is to maintain peace in Northern Ireland and our commitment to the British Army of the Rhine. I have always been sceptical whether we need a commitment of 55,000 troops to the British Army of the Rhine, and I remain sceptical. As long as there is a substantial commitment to the central European front, that is what is needed. We should not think that there would be immediate savings if we brought some of those market forces home. There would in fact be an immediate increase in the amount of money required because of the necessary refurbishment of barracks here and of re-equipment and the reinstallation of troops on the home front. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will mention the numbers of troops in the British Army of the Rhine.
One of the key issues for our defence forces and our defence posture is the maintenance of our links with the United States of America. I hope that a word may be said about the reciprocal arrangements with the American armed forces, because the link is very important. In any debate on defence we ought to pay tribute to the United States' commitment. It is remarkable that our allies in the United States maintain such a substantial number of troops in Europe. That should be acknowledged. The decoupling of the USA from the NATO alliance would be devastating to it.
I am constrained by the time limit imposed upon us in this debate and shall end as I began, by paying tribute to our armed forces. We are privileged that we have the opportunity to debate their affairs and to pay tribute to their professionalism and courage, and to the marvelous support that they get from their families. Service in Northern Ireland and elsewhere places a great strain on their families. I like the way in which the armed forces always talk about "married families"—presumably as opposed to the others, the unmarried ones. That is a historic remnant. We are lucky in the professionalism of our armed forces and in the support that troops get from their families, not only in Colchester but throughout the United Kingdom. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate.
I recognise that many other hon. Members wish to speak, so I am obliged to confine my remarks to that aspect of Army operations that I know best and with which I have been so closely associated, directly and indirectly, for the past 20 years: the internal security of this kingdom in the face of terrorism, especially the Provisional IRA.
Sadly, it has become almost routine for Ministers to have to address the House about casualties inflicted on the Army as it performs its onerous responsibilities, placing itself between the terrorists and the law-abiding civilian community in Northern Ireland, Britain and Europe. It is a role that our soldiers have carried out in the most difficult circumstances with a self-restraint which sets them apart from probably any other Army in the world. On behalf of my party, I acknowledge with gratitude the sacrifice that our serving men and women continue to make.
Early in the report by the Select Committee on Defence, "The Physical Security of Military Installations in the United Kingdom", the point is made that there is ever a choice to be made between security and value for money. I am realistic enough to appreciate that. However, I wonder how one measures value for money in terms of lives of our troops or ultimately our civilian population.
I must pose a question—is it Government policy to tackle terrorism in a proactive or a reactive manner? My experience has been that the latter is the case and that the Government, not in a premeditated manner, but de facto, pursue an "acceptable level of violence" policy for purely fiscal reasons. That caution is paid for in innocent lives and provides the terrorist with the time and opportunity to alter his tactics. Thus the element of surprise is a constant weapon in the armoury of the terrorist. Surely, with the easing of tension between east and west in Europe, we should be seeing more of our military resources channelled towards resolving the grave internal security problem with which we have wrestled for so long.
Has the Minister looked carefully at the constraints placed on the operational needs of our troops in Northern Ireland as a result of the dearth of adequate helicopter hours? Will he concede that more of the considerable resources presently based in Germany could be better deployed to give operational flexibility in Northern Ireland? If he considers the recent deaths of four members of an Ulster Defence Regiment patrol as they travelled in a Land-Rover, he will fully understand that point.
Operational commanders are often frustrated in their efforts to pre-empt and pursue terrorists because of logistical difficulties. Helicopters are extremely expensive, but they are no more expensive flying in Northern Ireland than in Germany. I do not want to labour the point further, except to say that I have yet to meet a battalion commander who does not feel that he is operationally inhibited and that his men are forced to endure too many avoidable risks because of the lack of that resource.
On the UDR, how pleased I was to read the Stevens report on the leaks inquiry and to find myself wholly vindicated in my opinion that no evidence would be found of an organised or widespread conspiracy to furnish loyalist paramilitaries with confidential information. I have noted carefully the Minister's response to my earlier intervention and I suspect from what he said that he, like many others, including myself, believes that the Stevens operation in which 28 innocent UDR men were arrested in a massive early Sunday morning operation was a callous and ill-judged political stunt. I am sure that neither of us would wish to see such a dangerous blunder repeated.
As I have previously asserted, I have no personal experience of bad apples in the regiment, although some people would like to suggest otherwise for political reasons. Those people, either foolishly or maliciously, play into the hands of the Provisional IRA and help to prolong the suffering of our community. There are no bad apples, but I have known far too many bruised apples—those who, after facing the unrelenting threat of imminent murder over many years, become physically, mentally and emotionally drained. I welcome the provision for each permanent cadre soldier of a warrant for himself, his wife and young children so that they can go to Great Britain, the Isle of Man or the Channel islands for an annual holiday. I hope that that is the beginning of a new awareness of the need to care for those who constantly live under such stressful conditions.
I ask the Minister to give serious thought to extending that concession to the part-time UDR soldier, who probably lives an even more precarious existence, especially in his civilian employment. To start with, perhaps, the warrant could be given to those who have earned their annual bounty by carrying out the required operational duties, training and camp commitment. I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically at the real need here.
I draw the Minister's attention to the lack in Northern Ireland of any "exercise executive stretch" scheme for employers of members of the Territorial Army. Indeed, the scheme could also be applied to the employers of members of the UDR. I understand the security difficulties, but I suggest that a similar scheme would be useful.
It would surprise many people if they knew how many serving soldiers in Northern Ireland, particularly part-time members of the UDR, have to sacrifice their annual summer holiday to attend camp. Although some have to do that for security reasons, so that they do not draw undue attention to their membership of the regiment, others find that after 20 years, bosses are not altogether amenable or co-operative. The sacrifice of a holiday week puts pressure on family time and can create domestic problems. I hope that that aspect of soldier welfare can be examined and that a subtle programme for re-educating employers can be undertaken. We should not expect even the stoutest and bravest soldiers to endure, as many have, 20 years of mental and often physical brutality from the terrorist and yet to remain unscathed.
As we have seen over the past 20 years, terrorism does not respond to reasoning or to concessions, no matter how generous or well intentioned. It will recede only if it faces a community that remains resolute to withstand what it knows to be evil. In this democratic society, we as a community depend, in the last resort, on our Army acting in support of the civil power. It is therefore imperative, despite overall financial constraints, that we take adequate steps to ensure that the Army is not deployed in the Northern Ireland theatre in a purely reactive role. The adequate resourcing, welfare and morale of our forces, especially in Northern Ireland, must be seen to be primary and constant concerns of the House in general and of the Government in particular.
I want to open with a word of advice for the Opposition Front Bench. The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), made a clear reference to what he would do about tanks. He said that he wanted an order placed for them and that he thought that there was also a good role for a mobile strike force. He was talking about increased expenditure and I advise him to be careful when he goes to his party conference this year. I suspect that the authentic voice of the Labour party will be talking far more about the peace dividend this year than he believes. Let him beware. We shall all watch with interest to see how the conference goes.
It is almost a year since we had our previous debate on the Army. As many hon. Members have said this evening, if one reads that debate it is incredible to see how far we are removed from our thinking last year. However, there is one inescapable fact. People talk about the Warsaw pact and the NATO Alliance as if they were both still in being. The fact is that the Warsaw pact is dead in military terms, it is dead in political terms and it has no relevance. With the greatest respect to Mr. Gorbachev, it is nonsense for him still to try to create the illusion of a balance between the two forces and for him to call, therefore, for a joint reduction. None of us should pay any attention to that.
It is logical that we should look at a reshaping of the structure and composition of our armed forces against the changes that have taken place in Europe. There is a diminished threat of a land battle in Europe and that must mean a total rethink of the composition of our armed forces in Germany and of NATO armed forces as well. I am not seeking to undermine the morale of our armed forces in saying that; it is a fact.
Whether one is serving with a tank regiment in Germany or with a parachute battalion in the United Kingdom, one knows that the chessmen on the board have moved. Therefore, we should react to that. The case for restructuring has been made. Also, a clear case has been made for an expansion of our air mobility strike force. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Minister say that we need a force that can hit hard and fast at longer ranges. That leads me to the inescapable conclusion that he must be talking about some form of airborne formation arid, I hope, an enlarged one.
Indeed I would.
In that context, I am quite certain that Ministers and their advisers in the Ministry of Defence will have read with interest an article in The Times of 14 May by General Sir Geoffrey Howlett, the newly retired commander-in-chief of allied forces, north. He made the case for that new force to be built up not as an airborne brigade but as an airborne division. His wealth of experience and his role as a NATO commander must lead us to take note of what he said. He called for 5 Airborne Brigade, 24 Air Mobile Brigade and the Commando Brigade to be brought together under one umbrella to form an air mobile division. Of course that will be costly—everyone accepts that—but, equally, there must be some offset in the changes that will inevitably take place on the land front in Europe.
There is not much point in thinking about such an organisation unless we also think of the back-up that will have to come from the Territorial Army. For the past 25 years we have relied on calling upon young men to join the TA because of the reality of a Soviet threat in Europe. To say the least, that threat has diminished over the past few months, and I hope that it will diminish even further. What will now be the incentive for ordinary young men willingly to join the TA? What will we say to them? Will we say, "You have a role—we have a need of you"? I would seek to link the new air mobile division, which I hope will be formed, to an enhanced role for the TA.
There is nothing new in defence terms. I was G3 of 16 Airborne Division when it was disbanded and it became 16 Para Brigade. I would love to see that division reformed, because in every major city in the United Kingdom there would be a parachute battalion that could easily be linked to its regular opposite number as a regular air mobile battalion. I have not expanded on this as much as I should like, but we would certainly get the recruits for such a division. We must offer young men adventure and the opportunity to travel. They would get that as TA soldiers within an airborne formation to a much greater extent than they would anywhere else.
There are people who say that we can exercise our options in the immediate future. I do not think that we can. We must assess the threat, as has been said on both sides. Who can say what the threat will be in one year, let alone in 20 years? Beyond that, until December, when the first elections in unified Germany are held, we must keep every option open. I say that because there is just an outside chance that the Social Democrats might win the election in Germany. If they did so, they would immediately form a coalition with the Greens and, as has been stated, there would be the possibility of a neutralised German state outside the NATO alliance. The thought of that fills me with fear.
Germany's membership of NATO is of supreme importance to the peace of the continent. I pay tribute to Chancellor Kohl for all that he has done in the past and I hope for his resounding success and that of his allies in the elections in a united Germany. For the sake of every person not only in this country but in the rest of the world, I hope and pray Chancellor Kohl will win the election and that we shall not have to live with the Greens and Social Democrats in government.
Unlike the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) I should have thought that a neutral Germany was something that we could look forward to with great pleasure rather than fear. The history of Europe shows that the level of arms in Germany, rather than the prospect of it being neutral, has frightened people for most of this century.
The question that I ask has been posed in every debate on the armed services and on the defence estimates. Have the Government a defence review or not? The official position is that the Government are not carrying out a defence review; they are looking for options for change. Who is in charge of options for change? Is it the Secretary of State or the Minister of State? The worst aspect is that the debate seems to be conducted by leaks and counter-leaks rather than discussion of the future of our defence forces.
I understand the arguments that were deployed by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) and one or two other hon. Members, about the effect that a full review would have on morale. The morale of our armed forces will be damaged far more if personnel learn about what is happening through leaks. They listen to rumours and, on the whole, they are kept in the dark. I make a strong plea that we want the most open public debate about what our armed forces are supposed to do in the future, what options they have, and how we can most effectively respond. We must get away from the idea that most of our defence policy can be conducted and discussed in secret rather than in proper public debate.
It is typical of the Government's approach that they believe in deceit and duplicity. They publicly welcome the removal of cruise missiles from Greenham Common but, at the same time, encourage the Americans to bring back those same missiles as sea-launched weapons.
I wish to raise three specific matters, the first of which relates to troops. Several hon. Members have said that we shall find it increasingly difficult to recruit 18-year-olds into the armed forces simply because there are far fewer 18-year-olds and competition for them will be increasingly strong. We shall need far fewer 18-year-olds if we can get troop reductions in West Germany. Obviously, by 1997, we shall also have fewer troops in the far east and Hong Kong. However, there will still be major recruitment problems, so we must look at the balance.
At the moment, our troops spend time in West Germany, Northern Ireland and elsewhere. As we reduce our commitment for troops outside the United Kingdom we must look at the proportion of time that they will serve in Northern Ireland and, in particular, take into account the effect on their families, wives and parents and the possible pressure on them not to complete a long stint abroad. As part of the review we must look at the role of the Army in Northern Ireland and, possibly, the training of Army personnel if they are to spend most of their time in a role in Northern Ireland rather than in a combat role.
My second point relates to an issue that has already been referred to—the future of the tank. Hon. Members have questioned whether there is now any prospect of tanks rolling across the plains of Europe from the east and have wondered what our response should now be. There is also the question whether we can do the same things much more effectively using helicopters rather than tanks. We must also consider the number of orders that might be placed for a new generation of tanks.
However, my main point relates specifically to the training of the people who will use the tanks. In recent years there has clearly been growing resentment in West Germany about the training there of our people in our tanks. I believe that the continuation of such training will now be totally unacceptable to the West Germans. Indeed, I am amazed that people have put up with the nuisance and the difficulties caused by that training. It is almost certain that we shall have to look elsewhere for those training facilities.
Have the Government considered whether the level of tank training that now takes place in West Germany would be acceptable in the United Kingdom? We must bear in mind the amount of land that will be required for any such future tank training.
That brings me to a question that I have raised many times in the House—the amount of land that is owned by the military in the United Kingdom, and the use to which it is put. I believe that the military still has 250,000 hectares, much of which was grabbed during the first and second world wars, when no one really questioned whether it was essential. Since then, evidence has continued to suggest that the military has far more land than is absolutely necessary.
There was a lot of pressure in 1968 and 1969 to set up an inquiry into defence land. There was also the Nugent committee review between 1971 and 1973. Considering that that committee comprised many people from the Ministry of Defence and was perhaps biased towards their point of view, it came up with some fairly strong recommendations for the release of a great deal of the defence land. I accept that since then some of the land has been released, but a lot more land could be. Much of the land that has been released has been on the urban fringes rather than in areas of outstanding natural beauty.
The Ministry of Defence now seems to be considering ways in which it can get a bit of extra land. It put forward proposals for an extra range at Luddesdown in Kent and blew its proposals for bagging a large area of extra land at Knoydart in Scotland. On both occasions the Government seemed to back off—first because of a public inquiry, and secondly because of public pressure. Some of the current leaks suggest that if troops return from Germany, the Government will need to look for extra land. Worryingly, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces made it clear that the Ministry of Defence is looking for extra land. However, I would argue strongly that it should be looking to release land, especially in Pembroke and in the Pennines.
I realise that there are major problems with some of those areas of land, because they contain unexploded ammunition and bombs. However, I plead with the Government to work hard at speeding the process of removing and disposing of that ammunition and those bombs from such areas, and then returning the land to public access.
All the evidence relating to the options that the Government are considering suggests that defence expenditure on equipment will be reduced over the next three or four years. If that is the case, it has serious implications for the defence contractors in this country. We should be considering an arms conversion agency. In the changing circumstances, we cannot justify this country continuing to spend so much on arms and we cannot expect other countries to continue to spend as much with our arms manufacturers.
I do not want to see people put out of jobs. I do not want people to have to face the choice of continuing to produce further useless weapons or becoming unemployed, because I know the choice that most people would make. I want to ensure that those people can make useful things and that we do get a peace dividend not simply for the Government, but for those who have worked in armaments who should be enabled to work in other areas.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), I firmly believe that the message that the Government—and my own Front Bench—must now accept is that over the next few years the British people will be looking for a peace dividend. They do not accept that, if the United States can start cutting ․17 billion from its defence expenditure and there can be a 20 per cent. cut in arms in West Germany and substantial peace dividends in East Germany and the Soviet Union, there cannot be a peace dividend in the United Kingdom—
Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) rose to intervene, I noted that I had another minute to go, in which I would have emphasised that, yes, we want a peace dividend and it must be planned. We must ensure that we get a peace dividend over the next few years and that we do not pass up that opportunity.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is completely wrong about military land. I was partly responsible for the approach on the Knoydart peninsula, when the new Secretary of State's first decision was that we should not proceed. The estate was subsequently broken up and access is restricted. The Ministry of Defence would have served the hon. Gentleman's interests far better than he perhaps appreciates.
However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point about the debate being about leaks. There are two sorts of secrets in the Ministry of Defence—the military secrets, which are kept impeccably, and the other secrets, which seem to get out according to whose interests might be served by ensuring that they get into whatever newspaper might suit. I assume that the rumour that the Treasury is looking for a cut of £1 billion as a peace dividend came from the Treasury, so I do not accuse the Ministry of Defence of that. The rumour smacked of Treasury tricks of the worst order. I hope that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury or his officials will read the Hansard report of this debate with care because there is a surprising unanimity—certainly among Conservative Members—about how we should treat the changing events in relation to finance.
I have attended these service debates for many years now and I am sure that my colleagues who are also regular attenders will agree that there has been a complete change of tone in this debate. It has been a much more thoughtful occasion, in which there has been much closer agreement between hon. Members of all parties. That is commendable and in the national interest.
The second leak that we seem to be debating is that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has made some suggestions that are now circulating within the Ministry of Defence, and that in some way that represents a split and an outrageous difference of opinion within the Ministry. One of the saddest things is that it is extremely difficult for Ministers to put out their original thoughts if those thoughts are subsequently leaked. There must be debate within Departments. There must be thought and there must be an appreciation of change.
If my hon. Friend's paper has been properly reported, I must confess to disagreeing with quite a bit of it and I should be happy to debate it, but I hope that all Ministers are putting forward their own ideas—not only in the Ministry of Defence. This is a moment of change, and change must be debated both within and without Government, and in the House. It is extremely important that the House should give its opinions.
Something that worries me is that, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, we have unstable Governments in the very countries that have caused us most of the wars in Europe for the past 2,000 years. It would be lunacy to imagine that, simply because the Warsaw pact has collapsed—as my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) has pointed out—we should now drop our guard. The threat may well come in some different and unknown way. The history of warfare shows that that is often the case.
For ourselves, pulling out of Germany will be a long and expensive business, as will be the case for the Russians when they pull out of the Warsaw pact. Without a substantial reduction in numbers, we do not have the accommodation to bring the British Army of the Rhine back to the United Kingdom at present. We have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on building the Germans some fine barracks, hospitals and workshops, but that is history and we must live with it.
I was more sorry to hear that some exercises had been cancelled as a result of the changes. That is neither good for morale nor a sensible economy. It is not fair on the troops. I do not know the details, but I ask Ministers to be careful before changing the carefully organised routine of BAOR. I note that the Secretary of State said on 9 March at the Royal United Services Institute:
there could be a need for flexible and more mobile forces, properly equipped, well trained and well motivated".
Many of my hon. Friends and some Opposition Members have said that that is the future.
It will come as no surprise to Ministers to learn that I believe that helicopters are an extremely important part of any Army, whether we remain as we are or change our position. The Defence Select Committee report on the EH101 said:
MOD's consideration of the requirement for support helicopters, and the way in which such a requirement should be met, stretches back to the mid 1970's and the matter needs urgent resolution. Indeed, MOD have in the past contributed to their own difficulties, as a result of their inability to bring themselves to a position where their philosophy for mobility on the battlefield of the 1990's and beyond could be stated, and thus a firm requirement determined.
That puts it in a nutshell. The military has never made up its mind. It is ready to blame Westland. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) and I have many Westland employees in our constituencies. I have no doubt that Westland is often incompetent, but it certainly deals with a difficult customer. If only the Government
could take the military, shake it hard and say, "What do you really want? Get on and order it," we might make some progress.
The 24 Air Mobile Brigade is no more mobile than a bicycle battalion. If we took enough helicopters to give 24 Brigade as many helicopters as its United States, French or German equivalent, there would be no helicopters left in the Air Force or the Army. That is the state of play of our air mobility.
While I entirely welcome the statement made in the Navy debate by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement that he proposes to go ahead with the EH 101 naval version, I hope that the promise of the then Secretary of State for Defence that
the Government have decided to introduce the Utility EH101 to meet that requirement"—[Official Report, 9 April 1987; Vol. 114, c. 471.]
will be met. That was three years ago. We were all pleased to have that announcement, but nothing further has happened.
I entirely share the view of many of my hon. Friends that the Territorial Army must have a brighter future. It must have a larger proportion of the Army's total budget. Its share is still small. The TA is tackling the problem of officers to some extent. The problem varies from one end of the country to the other, but the fact remains that busy young men who are the sort of leaders needed to keep the TA on the road are the very people who are keeping industry and commerce going. While it is not difficult to recruit in London, in many parts of the country finding the right grade of officers and keeping them is a problem.
Whatever the mythology may be, pay matters. Paying all sections of the TA generously would be no bad thing. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) said that the TA could perhaps become part of Regular Army units. That is an interesting idea, which should perhaps be pursued. Until the Regular Army takes the TA more seriously, the TA will have problems. I suggest again that recruiting for the TA should become the responsibility of the Regular Army. That would concentrate the mind of the Army. It would be its money and it would see at first hand why young soldiers do not stay in the TA.
I am delighted, as we all are, with the political changes that have taken place recently, but I do not feel any more secure militarily speaking than 12 months ago. This is no time to drop our guard.
One thing on which we can all agree this evening, if on nothing else, is that this debate takes place against an amazing backdrop of momentous events in eastern Europe and, indeed, western Europe. For the first time, the map of Europe is being redrawn peacefully. It is not being done by force of arms; it is not coming about as a result of a military defeat or a military victory. It is absolutely breathtaking. Events are moving so fast that it is difficult for us to keep up with them.
Among all those who never predicted the changes, there seems to be a welter of experts telling us how they took place and why. Ministers are among the worst offenders in that respect. The Minister's opening speech was an example of it. We heard that it is all effectively the result of the nuclear weapons of the west bringing the Soviets to their senses. That is a one-dimensional, simplistic approach. The theory is particularly prevalent among the right wing of the military establishment, both in Britain and in the United States. If I remember rightly, they are the same people who were for ever telling us how far the west was behind the Soviets in terms of nuclear warheads, conventional weapons and technology. The Minister himself said that, although the Soviets were withdrawing from central Europe, we must bear it in mind that they have enormous strength in conventional weapons, far greater than ours, so we must keep our conventional defences.
How the hell will the Soviets get to us if we have a conventional war? Will they have to fight their way across Poland, Czechoslovakia and a united Germany before they make contact with us? The completely different scenario must be taken into account by the Government when considering the balance of conventional forces.
The Prime Minister claims some sort of fame for having discovered Mikhail Gorbachev. She is like a political equivalent of Hughie Green on "Opportunity Knocks." She says, "We discovered this man." Mikhail Gorbachev is certainly the political catalyst for all the enormously important events that are unfolding around us. If anyone qualifies for Hegel's definition of a world spirit or as a world historical figure, it must be Mikhail Gorbachev. He opened up visions of a new order that were unimaginable even a year ago when we had the Army debate.
For so dramatically changing the world order, Mikhail Gorbachev is paying a great price. He might even pay the price of his life. That is always a possibility, given the tension within the Soviet state. Certainly, he could pay the lesser price of losing his political office. Whatever happens to him, nothing can alter the fact that he has enabled the single most important event in Europe since the Russian revolution of 1917 to take place. Whatever else happens, his legacy will undoubtedly outlive him.
What has been our response? It has been pathetic. Gorbachev has risked everything. We in the west have offered little or nothing. In the United States at the summit, President Bush denied the Soviets favoured nation status on trade, something that they desperately need. He denied the Soviets that on the same day as he reconfirmed it for China, which was celebrating the first anniversary of the Tiananmen square massacre. What message does that send back to the people in the Soviet Union?
Gorbachev was lectured by the Senate on the position of Lithuania, but the Senate approved the invasion of Panama. A great deal of hypocrisy is flying around as Mr. Gorbachev tries to work wonders. We stand back and say, "If you succeed, that will be great. If you fail, it will be unpleasant but don't expect us to do much to help you." That is no response to the momentous events that we are witnessing.
The Prime Minister seems to like Mr. Gorbachev, but she uses him for photo opportunities rather than offering to take radical steps in this country to match what he is doing in his. Mr. Gorbachev risks all and we risk absolutely nothing. There is no imagination or vision in British politics at present. Our response is pathetic. Everyone says that we must not take any chances. There is a man in the Soviet Union taking enormous chances, but we are not prepared to take any. Why do we not catch the infectious spirit of optimism and say, "We might run some risks, but they are not the risks that Gorbachev is running or that the people of the east are running"?
The Warsaw pact is crumbling and now it is no threat to the west. Many of us never saw it as a threat, but we were laughed at and scorned when we said so. On the Government Front Bench there is only one politician of rank who is going some way to respond to the new situation the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. At least he is trying. I hope that I am not doing his glittering political career any terminal damage by saying so. I listened to his Radio 4 interview, which was good and intriguing. He talked about "very substantial savings" as a result of events in the east.
I understand that the paper produced by the Cabinet defence and overseas policy committee makes a number of radical proposals, which deserve a wide audience. They should be considered sympathetically by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues. At least the hon. Gentleman has made a start and has gone some way to match the great events in the east. We must congratulate him on being so courageous among such a timorous group of colleagues in such a timid Cabinet.
I have some modest proposals for redrawing our defence strategy. Everyone understands that we shall have a united Germany. I said that when I was in the United States talking to all the clever think tanks. The Americans said that that would not happen, and the Soviets said that they were not prepared to allow it. I asked what they would do if the people voted with their feet—would they send the tanks in? Unfortunately, many people in this country, in the United States and in the Soviet Union were unable to predict the united Germany.
The united Germany should be outside NATO and the Warsaw pact and it should be declared a demilitarised zone. I do not know what Conservative Members might think, but the opinion polls of East and West Germany show that that is the desire of the majority of Germans. Their views should at least be considered.
I noted what the Minister said about the withdrawal of Russian troops from central Europe, but why are we talking about the maintenance of the British Army of the Rhine? There is no short-term requirement for British troops to remain on German soil.
Obviously the hon. Gentleman does riot have much time for the WEU, but I am a member of it and I am going there tomorrow—perhaps that is why he does not like it. At least the WEU attracts people with some imagination, which is more than can be said for the pedants on Conservative Benches.
We should also consider the withdrawal of nuclear weapons and bases from European soil. The defence of Europe must be a European responsibility, and I want the European defence dimension taken into account. As the European Community moves towards political union, it should take on defence responsibilities with the eventual objective of a European Community stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals—the common European home talked of by Gorbachev and others.
The people of the United Kingdom, of east and west Europe and of north America accept that there is a peace dividend. There are many social pressures here and in other countries that must be addressed, but while the military is eating up so much of our budgets those pressures cannot be lessened. That is why the peace dividend must be seized, and that is why I hope that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will have his day.
Enormous, wonderful events have taken place. This is a time of imagination, verve and elan, but I see none of that on the Conservative Benches but for one single exception. I hope that the Minister will be joined by some allies when Ministers come to discuss in detail how the British Government will redefine our defence policies.
Nearly half the Labour Members who have spoken today said that there should be an immediate defence review. I am sure that a major defence review is going on right now, but it is different from the previous great defence review that was carried out in 1981.
I remember the 1981 defence review very well, because certain misguided individuals in the Ministry of Defence suggested that drastic cuts should be made in the British Army of the Rhine. I was the Army Minister at that time and it was fairly easy to repel those arguments. First, we did not have the barracks or the trainee areas in this country to take back 30,000 men, particularly as the bulk of our armoured regiments and our gunner regiments served in Germany and had particularly heavy requirements for training areas. Secondly, it would have cost money to impose those cuts because of the redundancy terms that were in force. The extra cost of demobilising men as they stepped off the ferry would have been carried for about seven years. Therefore, BAOR remained unscathed.
Now, as the Warsaw pact has disintegrated and as German reunification will soon be completed, it is only too easy to imagine that we should be required to reduce the size of our forces in Germany from their present level of about 60,000 to about 20,000 in nine years' time. Nine years ago it was difficult to imagine that BAOR could cease to be our main defence commitment. Now it is difficult to imagine that it could possibly continue at anything like its present size for another nine years.
It is clear that any change will have a profound impact on the size, structure and life of the Army. For the first time in living memory it will mean that the bulk of the Army will be stationed at home. On 1 April last year, 66,000 out of 140,000 trained soldiers in our Army were serving overseas. That was a normal proportion. In the past 40 years, more than half our trained soldiers have regularly served overseas and that has meant that domestic turbulence has been normal. It is now probable that, in the comparatively near future, four fifths of our Army will be stationed regularly at home. That will have a profound impact on the way in which the Army receives a great deal of its professional support.
An Army largely based overseas needs special hospitals, schools and large legal departments to deal with foreign nationals. That has led to the swelling of specialist corps. An Army stationed at home will still need a great deal of professional support, but I am sure that some of our specialist corps could be cut drastically. Fighting units will always need doctors who are trained to go into combat, but I should be astonished if, in 10 years' time, we needed a Royal Army Medical Corps and even today I doubt whether we need a separate Royal Army Dental Corps.
I was glad to read reports—I hope that they are accurate and that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can confirm this—that plans are being drawn up to merge some of the smaller corps such as the Royal Army Pay Corps and the Royal Army Veterinary Corps into a new Adjutant-General's Corps. That is a sensible administrative move. There may also be scope for setting up a quartermaster-general's corps, which could include the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the Royal Corps of Transport and the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.
There will certainly be a need to revise the future equipment requirement of the Army. As the threat of a major armoured battle on the central plains of Europe recedes, so does the need for a brand new Army battle tank. There are solid diplomatic grounds for not cancelling re-equipment projects while the discussions on the future of Germany are at a crucial phase and while problems have arisen in the CFE negotiations, but the Ministry of Defence has had ample experience of delaying contracts, and cutting costs must take priority over speed of delivery.
Research into new forms of armament and gunnery must continue. It would be a pity if the Iraqis were to have a monopoly on that sort of long-range development. In a world that will continue to be a dangerous place, we must maintain an Army that is versatile and flexible. As many of my hon. Friends have said, that means keeping the largest possible number of infantry battalions. Those battalions need not all have the same role and the same training.
We shall need well-equipped, highly trained forces capable of rapid deployment inside and outside Europe. There is almost a majority of hon. Members present tonight who served in the Parachute Regiment. I too believe that that force must be based on the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marine Commandos. The need for the Special Air Services is also likely to grow rather than diminish.
However, some battalions will have a more limited role and some of them could become hybrid, half regular and half reserve. The reservists in such hybrid battalions should have a commitment similar to the old ever-readies. Some of my hon. Friends will remember that the ever-readies in the 1960s had a higher training commitment than the normal Territorial Army volunteers and could be called up at short notice. For that commitment, the ever-readies received substantial extra annual funding.
The new ever-readies could be required to do a short period of basic training with the Regular Army. Indeed, in practice I expect that many of the new ever-readies would be ex-Regular soldiers. They would be expected to serve a month or two each year with their regular unit. They would have a high call-up ability and would be paid at least £1,000 a year for that commitment. While doing their annual training with their battalion, they would also receive Regular Army pay. Such an expanded reserve service will become possible once the bulk of the Army is stationed at home and it becomes unusual for battalions to move far from their home bases.
I wish Ministers well in their study of options for change and I hope that their thorough-going review will take into account the need to improve the quality of our reserve forces. The Territorial Army has served us well for the past 40 years. It has a great role in the future.
My speech will be about the accountability of the security services, and it will be partly about the proposition that, if sexual abuse of boys in care is known to the state and to the British military, it is simply unacceptable to do nothing about it and to allow it to go on. In my view, the situation is somewhat worse than the security services smearing politicians.
I watched, as did a number of colleagues, on the night of 1 June a BBC programme in which a former Army intelligence officer at Lisburn, a captain, passed on information about the scandal at Kincora to a senior MI5 officer, Mr. Ian Cameron, at HQ Northern Ireland in 1975, only to be told in the strongest possible terms to desist from further investigation into alleged sexual assaults on children in the home. Do Minister accept that view of events that will have been brought to their attention?
Furthermore, the captain also purported to point out that, when he was interviewed by the Terry inquiry in 1982, he gave the police officers carrying out the investigation details of the information that he had passed on to MI5 seven years earlier. Not a word about the captain's knowledge of the scandal appears in the information supplied to Parliament by the Terry report, and it is clear that all details of MI5 and intelligence information about the affairs were deliberately suppressed by the authorities to avoid the inevitable parliamentary demands for a proper judicial inquiry into what had taken place.
A number of important questions that should be answered have been put to the Prime Minister.
First, why did MI5 order this captain to stop his investigation into what has now been established as one of the most notorious cases of child sex abuse in Britain in recent years?
Secondly, did either Detective Superintendent Caskey of the RUC or Detective Superintendent Harrison of the Sussex police inform Sir John Hermon and/or Sir George Terry that MI5 was refusing to answer their questions about Army intelligence knowledge of Kincora?
Thirdly, did Sir John Hermon or Sir George Terry inform the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that MI5 was failing to answer questions put by the police officers carrying out the inquiry?
Fourthly, if the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was informed about the obstruction, what steps did he take to ensure MI5's co-operation and why did he give in Parliament such fulsome praise to Sir George Terry's inquiry?
Fifthly, bearing in mind that the Terry inquiry was set up by the Government, why did no Minister intervene and insist that MI5 assist the police in the matter?
Sixthly, when Parliament was being repeatedly misled by the conclusions of the Terry report over Army intelligence knowledge of the scandal, why did none of those who knew about MI5's refusal to co-operate with the inquiry bother to bring that to the attention of the House of Commons?
Sixthly—[HON. MEMBERS: "Seventhly."] I should have said seventhly—what is the earliest known recorded date of a reference made to Clockwork Orange in Ministry of Defence files? If Conservative Members are sceptical, I remind them that my contribution to the last Army debate on 8 June, according to Hansard, prompted the Ministry of Defence eventually to give more details of what actually happened in the case of Colin Wallace.
Eighthly, what became of the copy of Clockwork Orange which was typed by Miss Penny Sadler at Army HQ Northern Ireland and which Colin Wallace gave to Lieutenant-Colonel Jeremy Railton on leaving Northern Ireland in February 1975?
Ninthly, who authorised Miss Sadler to undertake work on the Clockwork Orange project? Tenthly, in the light of public statements allegedly made by some of those who took part in the raid by members of the Army information services on Aldergrove airport, will the Secretary of State reconsider his earlier statement on this matter and say whether captured IRA weapons and explosives were carried by those who took part in the raid and whether a bomb was planted on that occasion in the Ulster Defence Regiment headquaters in Antrim?
Following the receipt of documents from the file which Mr. Colin Wallace sent to the Prime Minister on 1 November 1984, was the Director of Army Security, Major General Garrett, consulted about their contents and about the role of Mr. Wallace at HQ Northern Ireland? Bearing in mind the fact that the documents written by Mr. Peter Broderick and the Institution of Professional Civil Servants and enclosed with the file which Colin Wallace sent to the Prime Minister on 1 November 1984 clearly contradicted Government statements to Parliament during that period, what steps were taken by the Ministry of Defence to establish the reasons for the obvious conflict between those accounts and the Government's version of the same events?
Why were Mr. Peter Broderick, Mr. Michael Taylor and Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Railton not interviewed by the authorities as a result of the information contained in the file which Mr. Colin Wallace sent to the Prime Minister on 1 November 1984? Following the discovery of documents relating to Mr. Wallace's case in 1989, why was Mr. Peter Broderick not consulted by the MOD as to Mr. Wallace's allegations and the nature of his employment in the information policy unit at Army HQ Northern Ireland? What is the earliest known recorded date when the Kincora boys home was mentioned in MOD files?
In the light of the Minister of State's statement to the House on 30 January, will the Secretary of State comment on the contents of the letter from Brigadier Rous, Director of Army Public Relations, to Mr. Robert Parker of Channel 4 on 23 July 1987 regarding Colin Wallace? On what date did Mr. Peter Broderick write to Major-General Peter Leng asking for the release of information for use in the Clockwork Orange project?
To which Government Departments was Mr. Wallace's document entitled "Political and Security Implications Regarding the Disclosure of Security Classified Information to Assist in the Investigation of the Allegations Relating to the Kincora Boys Hostel, Belfast" circulated between 1984 and 1989? What criteria were used when separating papers relating to Mr. Wallace's case between the office of the Permanent Under-Secretary and the Deputy Under-Secretary, CM? Was the information policy unit at Army HQ Lisburn responsible for planning and implementing psychological operations in Northern Ireland and, if so, who authorised the setting up of its terms of reference?
Bearing in mind the repeated assurances given to Parliament by Ministers, that over the years there have been the "most thorough inquiries" into the allegations, did such inquiries actually take place? If thorough inquiries did not take place, then either Ministers were misled by their advisers into believing that they did, or Ministers knew that such inquiries did not take place and deliberately misinformed the House. On the other hand, if thorough inquiries did take place, one must conclude that either the full facts of the matter were discovered and deliberately withheld by officials from Ministers, who then unwittingly misled Parliament, or Ministers were given the correct facts but deliberately withheld the correct information from the House. It is clear that a number of senior staff who were employed at the MoD when Ministers were giving misleading answers to Parliament had direct personal knowledge of the events in question. Did none of those individuals bring the correct facts to the attention of the Government and, if not, why not?
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). If any hon. Member deserves to be called tenacious, it is the hon. Gentleman. No one is more fitted to that description and it is important to have the hon. Gentleman on one's side, as I found to my pleasure when he supported me during the passage of my Computer Misuse Bill. I thank him for that support, but, of course, I cannot take up any of the points that he made today in his typical way.
The debate takes place in a new, unexpected and welcome political situation. We are no longer eyeball to eyeball with our potential enemies across the iron curtain. The cold war may not have been very pleasant but at least it was a stable situation and now in a defence sense we are operating in an unstable situation. In these uncertain times, we need stronger and not weaker defences and strong and resolute leadership.
Hon. Members have spoken about the peace dividend. Surely that arises as a result of the strength investment. If we cut that investment too much, we will put at jeopardy the peace dividend. We are operating in a very different defence scenario. The Warsaw pact force is redundant because it is an unworkable organisation. It used to mobilise in two days, but that now takes two months. The whole idea of massive armoured and infantry assaults across Europe is ludicrous. In the Soviet bloc, morale in the armed forces has gone and I understand that draft dodging is as high as 10 per cent.
The peace that we are enjoying is brittle; we should not jump to the conclusion that all is sweetness and light. There are some hard and reactionary men in the Kremlin, and if things go wrong with perestroika they could be back in charge. There is no doubt that, as the Soviet economy collapses, there is a considerable likelihood of Soviet withdrawals from central Europe, although I have no idea what the Soviet Union would do with the millions who would be unemployed as a result of such demobilisation.
The President of the United States is under considerable pressure to deal with his twin deficits of budget and trade, and he will also be tempted to withdraw. If the need then arises to reoccupy central Europe, we should bear in mind what I have described as the two Georgias comparison. To deploy troops from Georgia in the USSR to Berlin takes 15 days but to deploy troops from Georgia in the United States to Berlin takes 90 days and they have to cross the Atlantic ocean. We should consider that when we are talking about withdrawals by either side.
I welcome the Government's review of the defence structure in their options for change. As some hon. Members have said, it is not a full-scale defence review. It is far too early for that, because the situation is too fluid. I support the priorities of the Secretary of State for Defence, among which is the maintenance of a credible nuclear deterrent, because that is our best insurance as it has been for the last 40 years of peace. I also support the adoption of policies that give greater flexibility and mobility.
When he addressed the Select Committee on Defence, the Secretary of State acknowledged that some thinning out of forward forces and great emphasis on rapid reinforcement and flexibility were necessary. He laid particular stress on getting better equipment for more flexible mobile forces in the 1990s and he concluded his evidence to the Select Committee by saying:
One of the most urgent requirements now is for a new force of battlefield helicopters,".
I should like to speak about helicopters. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) said when he drew attention to the undertaking by the then Secretary of State for Defence my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) on 9 April three years ago when he announced an order for 25 support utility helicopters, the Anglo-Italian EH101 made by Westland and Augusta. The EH101 comes in two versions—the maritime version and the battlefield version. This being an Army debate, I shall deal with the battlefield version. The Secretary of State, when he made his announcement to the House, acknowledged that, in terms of the numbers deployed in Europe, Britain compares badly with both the French and the Germans, as it does with the Americans. When British troops are being moved about the theatre, we rely heavily on the United States to lift them.
The tactical support helicopter, the EH101, will be able to carry out various missions. It will be able to transport men and materials, and that includes light vehicles carried either internally or externally, to and from and within the battlefield. Artillery pieces can also be underslung. It can act as a mobile command post. It can be used as a platform for electronic warfare or airborne early warning. It is used for logistic purposes with either internal or underslung loads, and it has a self-ferrying capability, its range being 1,115 nautical miles. It is an extremely flexible aircraft and can be powered by a wide variety of Rolls-Royce engines—variations of the RTM 322. The EH101 is available to the British armed forces in four different variations, which shows its design flexibility.
Over the past year, there has been much debate about the pros and cons of the EH 101 as a support helicopter and the Black Hawk. The former has been criticised for being too large to operate successfully in the hostile environment expected in general war in central Europe. However, the rapidly changing situation in that area should cause the detractors of the EH101 to think again. This aircraft has a greater range than the Black Hawk. It can ferry itself to an operational deployment zone. Given the limited manpower ceiling of aircrew and maintenance staff, a force of EH 101s will carry three times as many troops as a similar number of Black Hawks. The tasks for the mobile forces are likely to take place in a less hostile environment than those that were expected in central Europe, so the larger and less hardened EH 101 should be much more effective than the Black Hawk and better in terms of cost-effectiveness.
For all those reasons, the EH 101 is the right choice for the defence forces, but that raises the question of who will fly them. I know that there has been considerable debate as to whether this should be a task for the Royal Air Force or for the Army Air Corps or even for the Royal Corps of Transport, which is equally capable of carrying it out. That debate should be reopened because as we, I hope, start deploying more helicopters, we shall have to boost the strength of the Army Air Corps and run down the role of the RAF. In that task, we want to see them flying British-Italian aircraft rather than American Chinooks.
Several hon. Members have referred to the need for newly defined roles for our Army units. I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) said about an air mobile division. I am conscious that, with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) here as well, this debate has been enlivened by the Parachute Regiment lobby. Guardsmen have also been known to hurl themselves out of aircraft on the ends of parachutes. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) and I have both indulged in the pastime. Within the air mobile division that has been suggested, there could be a special role for the Foot Guards as part of a rapid deployment corps, perhaps one that is helicopter-borne and specially trained for that purpose.
I hope that there is no thought in the Minister's mind that specialist ceremonial troops should be stationed in London, because that would be a disaster. If troops were stationed in central London, it would be much better to train them for helicopter operations so that they could fly from central London to training zones and back again. This makes a great deal of sense. There is a good case for a territorial unit within the Brigade of Guards, and if there was one, I should join it.
I have said nothing about attack helicopters, which are the subject of another debate. We have the utility Lynx with strapped-on armaments, which is far from satisfactory. We should have a tailormade battlefield helicopter. The urgent requirement is for greater mobility; that is why my hon. Friend the Minister must tell the House when decisions will be made about supplying the Army with the mobility and flexibility that it requires, and would have if more helicopters were ordered. The Government have acknowledged this.
The Secretary of State has already said that he will order 25 utility versions of the EH101. We should like to hear confirmation of that order, and we should like to hear what additional helicopters the Government intend to order so that the Army can fulfil its new operational roles.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates). He kindly gave way to me during his speech. It was remiss of me to intervene, given that, as the Chairman of the Select Committee, he had to make an important contribution to the debate in only 10 minutes.
The hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) referred to certain military establishments in Colchester. I did my national service in the Royal Military Police and he brought back memories of that establishment and of another, based in Shepton Mallet. However, now is not the time to talk about such institutions.
As a young military policeman based in Germany, not far from the border, I found that even the most riotous Saturday night involving certain Scottish regiments did not face me with anything like the dangers that our young soldiers now face in Ulster and elsewhere. As a Member of Parliament representing the lower Clyde, I have almost a front-line seat on developments in Northern Ireland. Many Scottish soldiers serve with regiments that go across there for tours of duty.
In the days before I entered the House, I always thought that it was a mistake to send Scottish regiments to the Province, because of the intimate historical relationship between the Province and Scotland. The dangers faced by those magnificently brave young men were brought home to me plainly on 9 April this year, when four young men from the Ulster Defence Regiment were so savagely murdered. One was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Bradley of Port Glasgow—Lance-Corporal John Bradley—who, because of that vicious and dastardly attack, has left a young widow in Belfast with two young children, one of whom was only three months old when his father was so brutally murdered. That may explain why I asked about the counselling and welfare provisions offered by the armed forces to the widows of soldiers who have been murdered in such a brutal and cowardly way.
One Bill gives us an opportunity to discuss those welfare provisions for soldiers' families—the Armed Forces Bill. I believe such Bills are a quinquennial event in the house, which last passed an Armed Forces Bill in 1986. Will we be debating an Armed Forces Services Bill early next year? If so, as experienced hon. Members know, a Select Committee will be set up. I had the honour to be on the Select Committee on the Armed Forces in 1986, and I found it useful to cross-examine senior military personnel about the provision of welfare facilities for soldiers.
Let me draw the Minister's attention to the excellent report produced by the Select Committee on Defence: I am concerned about some constituency matters. I refer the Minister to paragraph 74, on page XXV of the report, which refers to
the completion of certain physical improvements
to the Royal Ordnance factory at Bishopton. Given that the Ministry of Defence police have been pulled out of Bishopton and that there is to be a civilian defence force, is the Minister satisfied with the recent developments at Royal Ordnance Bishopton? The chief constable of the Strathclyde police has said that he could provide a quick armed response if Bishopton was attacked in any way.
In paragraphs 74 and 75, the Select Committee said that it shared the anxiety of local people and others, including
the Defence Police Federation spokesman, about standards of security at RO Bishopton. In paragraph 75, the Select Committee report said:
there is still some anxiety, which we share, about an apparent lowering of the standards of security arrangements for guarding a site where ready-to-use explosives are stored,.
We are told by various pundits in the media that the IRA has a large store of Semtex. A goodly number of my constituents are employed at RO Bishopton.
In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham), I feel that it is right and proper for me to demand an assurance from the Minister that the changeover at the Royal Ordnance factory from a Ministry of Defence police to a civilian guard will not in any way infringe the security of our constituents who work there, or the security of the communities in and around that plant. Paragraph 75 recommends that the number and quality of the forces deployed at Bishopton must be closely monitored. Which institutions will monitor the guarding of that plant?
The hon. Gentleman has answered the question, but for the public record I should still like an answer from the Minister. Will it be the Ministry of Defence, will it be the Strathclyde police or will they work in tandem? What form will the monitoring take? Of course, there may be security reasons that prevent the Minister from providing answers. However, on behalf of my constituents employed at Bishopton and the communities in Renfrewshire, I seek an assurance that the Minister is confident that there will not be a lowering of the quality of the guard provided at that plant. Those are important considerations for the people of Renfrewshire, and I look forward to the Minister's response.
I shall curtail my speech in the hope that other hon. Members may have an opportunity to contribute, even at this late hour.
I must tell my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I very much endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) about the effect of the community charge on the regular forces. There are some anomalies that could be easily addressed without great cost to the public.
My hon. Friend the Minister listed some of the victims of the IRA this year, not only civilians, but members of the armed forces. They were mostly soft targets, which we know is the cowardly way in which the IRA operates. Perhaps we expect little else of it. However, I hope that, especially on the mainland, we expect slightly more of some of our television producers. Should anyone be listening, I say to Yorkshire Television that its recent actions have given a great deal of encouragement to the forces of terrorism. Would that those television producers, either BBC or ITV, gave as much attention to the impact of terrorism on those widowed and left fatherless as they do to the terrorists. That would be a different story.
The review is taking place against the background of great changes, and that has been commented on by hon. Members from both sides of the House. It was a little churlish of the Opposition, especially the hon. Members for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), to be so sarcastic about the role of the Government's policies in the events that have so radically changed the map of Europe.
I believe that, once the bosses of the Kremlin realised that NATO forces, especially in the United Kingdom, would not roll over quietly, that brought about the great changes that Mr. Gorbachev managed to instigate. I have not the slightest doubt that military history will show that the decision to deploy cruise—with considerable objection from the Opposition—against the deployment of SS20s by the Soviet Union was fundamental in bringing about that realisation.
I am not sure about the purpose of these debates, other than perhaps to fire the odd warning shot across the bows of departmental Ministers. In that sense, there have been many warnings during the debate that any decision to cut dramatically what press reports suggest may be as much as 40 per cent. of our infantry battalions will not go without challenge in the Conservative party. I am sure that my colleagues will not present us with any ultimatum or fast plan and that there will be considerable consultation about any movement.
We must realise the need for an army in Britain, and the debate must be about its size and the location of its units. Military presence and, indeed, military experience is good for the nation. Units with widespread community and civic life play a good part on behalf of the Regular Army. My criticism of past policies has been the determination to centralise so much of military training and take the armed forces away from the community.
I regularly plug the Territorial Army hobby horse, and it has been encouraging in this debate to see how many colleagues have mentioned the need for increased Territorial Army activity. Taking up 3·5 per cent. of the Army's budget as it does, it clearly does not require a huge expenditure, but the Government receive a great deal in return and so does the Territorial Army. Not only do those taking part have the opportunity for personal development and to acquire team skills; they also have the challenge of physical activity and a variety of training, particularly the use of helicopters and other things which, in civilian life, would not be open to them. What saddens me is that adventure training is still not classified and officially sanctioned, so it is difficult to organise. Future training for the Territorial Army and the Regular Army may have to concentrate on personal skills and challenges.
I hope to see a great expansion of the Territorial Army. I still believe that the Swiss conscription period of 14 days per annum is an ideal way of giving the general young population an experience of military life. The hon. Member for Rhondda rather mocked the idea of people having experience of military service, but young people aged between 16 and 24 in Britain are not yet ready for middle age, mortgage and children, and God help the nation if they are. An experience of military life would do them the world of good and would be greatly welcomed.
The Army epitomises loyalty, comradeship and effectiveness, and I hope that our Government will not throw that away.
On the Saturday evening of the last bank holiday weekend, there was an intrusion by the Army into my constituency which was unwelcome, unexpected and frightening. The Rogerstone power station, which has closed down, was attacked in what is believed to have been an Army exercise. There was no warning to the police, who were confused by what was going on, and there was no warning to the Member of Parliament. It was frightening because helicopters were used, with searchlights coming down from the sky illuminating a wide area. Thunderflashes were used and there was the sound of machine-gun fire. At least one claim is coming in for a car which was damaged by a thunderflash that went astray.
As there was no warning in the area, when complaints were made and inquiries were made of me and the police, nobody could provide an answer. However, there appears to have been some information at police headquarters which was not available in Newport. As one would expect, rumours spread that there was an IRA attack and, most persistently and widespread, that there was a gunman on the loose, as has happened, sadly, in many other places. The people of Newport are sensible and they realise that the special services have to exercise and in circumstances that are as realistic as possible, but the question remains whether that was wise.
May we have some assurance from the Minister that, since every exercise is artificial to some degree, it would not noticeably affect the value of the exercise if full warnings were given to the local population? Will he also tell us that never again will there be the combination of hazards that took place at Rogerstone that night, where helicopters were left hovering for prolonged periods between two hills at night at low altitude?
I have been in contact with the Minister's office and there is an apologetic tone coming from there. I understand that the Minister has been abroad and has not managed to respond fully so far. But the people of Newport are considerably angered that the exercise took place under such deplorable circumstances and we look for assurances that there will be no repetition in Gwent or elsewhere.
I am sorry to hear of the events described by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). I am sure that adequate warnings will be given in future.
I endorse fully my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's views expressed on page 5 and all that goes with that. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister of State who endorsed my right hon. Friend's policy. We sat back as NATO and the Warsaw pact faced one another, and thought that everything was all right—but suddenly things changed. The Warsaw pact is disintegrating, and we are left with NATO. It is important that we should build and strengthen it, because we never know what will happen, and adjust our forces with that in mind. However, we cannot do so immediately, because we do not know how far Gorbachev's changes will go. Nor do we know what precisely will be the outcome of his recent talks in America.
We are left with a situation that is so fluid that it is almost more dangerous than when NATO and the Warsaw pact were facing one another. Anything might happen at any time. I am sure that all right hon. and hon.
Members recognise that the situation today is not more secure but more uncertain—but given strength of will, we shall succeed.
The Bush negotiations were welcome, but difficult, because they changed the composition of nuclear forces. Again, we shall have to plan for the consequences. We need a highly mobile force, making use—as my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West said—of helicopters, and to adopt a completely new attitude to our forces in Europe. I was particularly glad that the Minister of State paid tribute to the British Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, as they render marvellous service in the most difficult circumstances.
One of the most important issues we must confront is that of the Territorial Army, which may not have the strength currently that was once anticipated. It is important to recruit more men and women into the TA, which takes on even greater importance if there are to be cuts elsewhere. In an emergency, members of the Territorial Army and reserves can always be called up.
It is important that TA members should be accorded proper treatment, be respected by members of the Regular Army and become almost a part of it. Employers should, where possible, be compelled to allow their staff to take leave for the purpose of giving TA service. I understand that 820 employers currently co-operate, but they are mainly large firms. More should be trained, to serve side by side with the Regular Army. They should also be given proper equipment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) said, an incentive should be provided to join the TA. If there is a problem of recruitment, I am sure that it can be overcome.
We must bear in mind always the fact that the scene can still alter. Gorbachev could fall and there could be changes in the Soviet Government. Our nuclear deterrent remains absolutely essential and must be retained not only to ensure peace in Europe but to serve as a deterrent against countries that are themselves developing nuclear weapons. We must retain our nuclear deterrent, whether we like it or not.
Whatever happens, it is the duty of this Government, and of any future Government, to ensure that the defence of this country is adequate and sufficient.
I am most grateful to the Front-Bench spokesmen for reducing their time and I shall allow a couple of minutes for the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall).
The changes that have taken place in eastern Europe have been referred to again and again. I remind the House of the old adage that military planners must base their calculations not on intentions but on capabilities. The dissolution of the Soviet Union's allies in the Warsaw pact, while considerably affecting ground forces in Europe and changing warning times from days to weeks, has had no significant effect on nuclear forces and precious little on naval and air forces. A tremendous imbalance still exists between the Soviet Union as a single power and the combined forces of NATO.
For that reason, even if President Gorbachev's position were unassailable, if there were no political unrest in the Soviet Union, and if we were convinced that perestroika is absolutely set fair, we should still be cautious. I know that there are enthusiasts for defence roles for the European Community and the Western European Union in the House, as we hear them mentioned from time to time, but it is important that we remember that the only structure which offers the co-ordinated political framework, intelligence framework and command structure necessary for deterrence is still NATO.
I find it worrying that last weekend President Gorbachev was unable to endorse President Bush's simple statement that membership of NATO by a combined Germany should be a matter for the Germans. It is worrying that President Gorbachev should find it necessary to say that if Germany chose to stay in NATO it could have a profound effect on the progress of conventional arms reduction talks and, by implication, on the Soviet Union's willingness to withdraw from East Germany. I do not speak critically of President Gorbachev; it is a sad reflection on the continuing reality of power in the Soviet Union that it is not possible for the present leader to dismantle the Soviet military structure and posture as quickly as he might like.
Other hon. Members have referred to potential problems in the third world and I shall not reiterate what they said, except the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith)—that if we should ever become involved in one of the many trouble spots in the third world, where vital western interests as well as world peace could be threatened, we have to remember that those countries, to a large extent, have both heavy and sophisticated weapons. The idea that a handful of small lightly-armed forces can whiz off and sort them out simply belongs to 30 years ago.
Our Regular Army has a profoundly different structure from armies in the rest of the major countries in European NATO because it is an all-volunteer Army. Even Labour Front-Bench spokesmen have conceded that that makes it difficult to compare our spending patterns to those in the other NATO countries, where there is an enormous contribution in kind by using conscript soldiers, whereas we have to offer competitive rates of pay. For that reason we already have by far the smallest Army of any major European NATO country.
I read in this morning's Daily Telegraph that we may be contemplating substantially reducing numbers of troops—by as much as 40 per cent. Quite apart from the overall wisdom of that, and I would certainly be cautious about making cuts of that size, even if there were a successful outcome to the Vienna talks—which seems to be in question at the moment—we must recognise that it would still be an expensive Army, because we have chosen to go down the volunteer and professional route. That has paid off in a number of ways, not least of which is the conduct of our soldiers in Ulster, which is something that none of our European allies could have matched.
We have gone down an expensive route, and it is no good trying to persuade ourselves that we can get our armed forces on the cheap while our regular forces are all professional. My second point about the Regular Army is that the concomitant of that and the reason why it is expensive is that, if one wants to continue to retain and attract young men and women of calibre into those professional forces, one has to be willing to offer them a standard of living comparable to that in civilian life. We have done well on the salary side and I am not critical of the level of salaries in the armed forces. However, I must be critical of some of the fringe areas, which are important and I will concentrate on three in particular.
I have frequently mentioned house purchase. I will quote one paragraph from the continuous attitude survey of high fliers at the junior division of the staff college. The paragraph says:
The area causing by far the greatest degree of dissatisfaction, however, was assistance with house purchase, where some 84·9 per cent. of respondents expressed some dissatisfaction, with 58·8 per cent. reporting they were 'very' dissatisfied.
Secondly, I do not have time to go into the complexity of the question of wives' careers. We have improved the number of wives with jobs in the Army, but they are overwhelmingly low-grade jobs. I suggest to Ministers that there is a cheap solution to that—by setting up integrated business centres with decent telecommunications facilities in our major bases in which wives with professions could rent spaces. There is already an organisation in my constituency which very effectively runs a complete City money-broking operation from a village 70 miles from the City.
Thirdly, education is also a complicated subject in an organisation in which families are moving all the time. It is unfair that tax is charged on boarding school allowances for those who send their children to boarding school to give them a continuous education. The standards in service schools are also starting to slip badly behind their civilian counterparts.
We must be careful about NMS—the new management strategy. It is yielding dividends in the civilian area and in some of the support areas, but in applying it to operational units, we must never forget that the task of a fighting unit is to prepare for war. That can never be fully encapsulated in the objectives that one produces in management strategies in civilian life. It is important that we do not become so carried away in trying to achieve accountability down the line that we convert leadership into bureaucracy.
I am proud to be a serving officer in the Home Service Force unit of the Territorial Army, which is affiliated to 10 Para. However, we must be cautious in what we can expect from the Territorial Army. There are many excellent units in the Territorial Army and I like to think that I belong to one of them. However, the bulk of the Territorial Army suffers from the same problem that Churchill's diaries identified in 1940. It is seriously short of adequate grade officers and non-commissioned officers.
That problem brings about the secondary problem—that there is too much turnover in the lower ranks because they become bored where there is a lack of leadership. The problem is best tackled through the effective employers' initiative which the Government have started. My own unit, 10 Para, sponsored Exercise Executive Stretch two weeks ago. We will reverse the trend by convincing employers that the Territorial Army is a worthwhile enterprise and not by pouring money into pay and allowances.
We must be realistic about the Territorial Army. It is a splendid organisation with an important role to play. I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) on a better role for airborne forces in the Territorial Army, because airborne units tend to be well recruited. However, we must remember that there is a limit to how much we can use the territorial forces. The Israelis discovered to their cost that one cannot keep mobilising civilian reserve forces in the face of an enemy mobilisation. Eventually, pressure from employers will force a Territorial Army to demobilise. I stress again that this is not the time to be lowering our guard.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity for a two-minute peroration. I shall concentrate solely on the report on the physical security of military installations by the Select Committee on Defence. We undertook the report as a result of events at Mill Hill and Deal. We said in the report that, with the passage of time, the threat has not been reduced. That is even more relevant today than when we commenced our report.
The Minister mentioned Deal in his opening remarks and made one or two comments that are not on public record at present. My information is that the report on Deal went to the Secretary of State for Defence on 8 December 1989. That report has been lying on the desk of the Secretary of State for Defence for more than six months. When are we going to get the report and when can we discuss it? The report must be produced quickly. I should like the Minister to refer to that matter.
The Select Committee examined many aspects of security. We concluded that the buck stops at the Ministry of Defence and on the Secretary of State's desk. During a public examination, a question about policy was put to a senior Ministry of Defence official. We were informed that it was ministerial policy to introduce privatisation and contracting. When he was pressed on that point, the senior civil servant said that Ministers who are told by officials that their policies are not working very well are inclined to doubt the enthusiasm of the officials for the policy. In other words, the messenger is shot.
Our enthusiasm is doubted because the policy is not working and because it is based on cost cutting. A policy that is based on saving money endangers lives. With private security firms, the usual vetting procedures and scrutiny are not available. Ministers must answer that. The buck stops with Ministers. Let the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement answer why, in the face of advice, he is going ahead with cost cutting and providing a lower level of security than before. Cost cutting endangers lives. That is the most poignant message in the report by the Select Committee on Defence.
This debate is extremely important, for it may be the only chance to have a public airing of major questions about the future of the Army before the Secretary of State puts his signature at the bottom of the secret review of defence policy that has been going on in Whitehall for some months now.
Last week, in an extraordinary interview on the BBC "Today" programme with the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, we heard how the options being considered in the defence review were "very, very secret" so there could be no public debate until Defence Ministers had decided what the options were. That is a contemptuous attitude. The changes that are under way in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union have overwhelming implications for British foreign and defence policy.
Ultimately, they may call into question the purpose and utility of military force itself, at least in Europe, and they certainly presage some major changes in the relationship between the state, the armed forces and civil society.
In the circumstances, the British public deserve a great deal more than the usual treatment that they get from the Government—a few leaked documents from Ministers or civil servants who know that they will not get their own way in the end because they must ultimately face the steamroller from No. 10, followed by a fait accompli decision about any opportunity for real debate.
I can hear Ministers say that this is a free country and that people can and do say what they like about the future of Britain's defence policy in the newspapers, on television and so on. But any such debate will take place in a complete vacuum if we are not even permitted to know what the agenda is inside Government. If the Government insist on maintaining their ridiculous secrecy, they are effectively saying to the public that defence is not a matter for them.
That may be all very well in a climate in which public support for defence spending can be relied on, but with more and more people questioning the need for large military forces and expensive equipment, a policy of closing off debate will simply reinforce the public belief that the military is an anachronism and that secrecy is merely a ploy to protect overblown budgets and pet projects from cuts. The result will be a further decline in the military's legitimacy in the eyes of taxpayers. The public will simply see no need for military spending and will not vote for it.
Opposition Members have always expressed the view that defence reviews should be open and honest. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who conducted such an open defence review in the 1960s, knows only too well that the price of openness can be stinging public criticism from those who have interests to defend, but that is the nature of debate and the Government should not be afraid to face it.
I wish to ask the Minister a few questions, which I realise that he might not answer this evening, so I am prepared to accept his replies in writing. How much is the review costing? Has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office been involved? Have the three service chiefs been involved? Have NATO partners been consulted? What considerations have been given to the industrial and economic consequences of the review, especially in terms of jobs? What are the spending priorities for any cash that is saved, as suggested by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement?
In any review of defence policy, the growing build-up of non-nuclear, but highly provocative and deadly, weapons systems in the third world must be considered. The proliferation of advanced weapons systems is of great concern. They include ballistic and chemical weapons, and the use of cluster bombs, launched from a 20-mile-range missile, causing damage over a 40-acre area. The advanced countries either sell those weapons directly or sell the technology.
One cannot really talk about military policy in the third world without considering chemical weapons. While a generation of British soldiers have been trained on how to fight on a chemically contaminated battlefield in central Europe, the real threat from chemical weapons is in the third world. No one can deny that chemical weapons proliferation is a problem, having seen the awful scenes of the Iran-Iraq war. It now seems that the brief phase of chemical rearmament of the mid-1980s may be over. Opposition Members wholeheartedly welcome the agreement that was reached last week between the Soviet Union and the United States of America, which will lead to the Americans joining the Soviets in stopping chemical weapons production, and to the cutting of the stockpiles to 20 per cent. of the current United States levels. However, we are disappointed that the Americans have thought it necessary to retain substantial, newly modernised chemical weapons, as that will be a major disincentive to other possessor countries to give up their stocks during the global chemical weapons convention.
There is great concern that some biological and chemical weapons are not quite right. We have reached a stage of genetic engineering of chemical weapons and can make tailormade bugs at the same time as providing vaccines for our own troops.
Britain could be in a strong positon to argue the case. If the Americans and now the Soviets want to keep chemical weapons on the ground that they are a deterrent against, say, the Libyas, the Irans and the Iraqs of the world, they are subscribing to the hoary old myth of like-for-like deterrence.
Back in 1983, when a debate was going on within the Ministry of Defence about whether Britain should consider restarting chemical weapons production, the then Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was quoted as saying that NATO doctrine rested on the belief that the west's conventional and nuclear weapons were a sufficient deterrent against chemical attack, and that NATO consequently did not need its own chemical stocks.
That argument now goes even further. Since Germany will never accept chemical weapons on its soil after the current United States stocks are removed, the new United States binary weapons can hardly be regarded as a credible deterrent against the Soviet Union. Since United States policy has specifically referred to other chemical weapons possessor countries, does that mean that the USA is prepared to use chemical weapons against countries such as Libya?
Are chemical weapons really a deterrent? The United States' possession of chemical weapons and the presence in the Gulf of aircraft carriers capable of launching airborne chemical attacks did not stop either Iran or Iraq from using poison gas on each other. The fact is that there are no conceivable circumstances in which the USA could or would drop chemical or biological gas on people in the third world without creating a storm of negative if not hostile reaction.
The truth is that super-power chemical stocks have no military utility. Any threat to use them is empty. Britain should therefore argue strongly for the USA and Soviet Union—and, indeed, France—to abandon all their stocks at the earliest possible date as part of a global ban, reached through the chemical disarmament talks.
I accept that there are severe problems in getting the mavericks—Hussein, Gaddafi and so on—to join a global ban. That will be one of the foremost tasks of those negotiating the chemical weapons convention. One thing is certain. As long as the United States, the Soviets and the French keep their chemical weapons, there will be no incentive for anyone else to give them up.
Britain should go back to its long-held position, established when we abandoned our offensive capability in the 1950s. That is that one does not need chemical weapons to deter a chemical attack. The Government have stressed for some years that the Soviet Union has a massive chemical stockpile. On several occasions they stated publicly that they believed that the Soviet Union's stockpile was about six times greater than the 50,000 tonnes now claimed. Although this year's defence estimates are rather more coy about the figures, they restate that position and say that the Government believe that the Soviet stockpile
exceeds that claimed in their public statements.
Only the week before the 1990 defence estimates were published, the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces said in another place:
our current estimate of the stock of chemical weapons in Russia is about 50,000 tonnes.
After all the accusations of lying and cheating, the Government now believe the Soviets' own figures. Moreover, the Minister went on to say:
we arc not aware of any recent significant changes in the Soviet Union's chemical warfare capability."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 March 1990; Vol. 517, c. 963–4.]
I hope that the Minister can confirm that that is indeed the Government's new position and will explain why his intelligence has suddenly cut the estimate to one sixth of the previous estimate.
I intended to speak about NATO and the Warsaw treaty. The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer), who is not in his place, said that the Warsaw treaty organisation barely exists. That provides an opportunity for a transition to forms of international politics in Europe that are not predicated on the ever-present threat of unleashing mass destruction. As long as we feel that we cannot trust each other, our attempts to solve serious political problems will always be based on threats of violence. If the institutions that we use to seek solutions are themselves founded on the concept of political coercion by threatening violence, we shall have narrowed the options from the start.
Perhaps NATO has a transitional role and will help to shape new ideas for the security of Europe. But as Sir Michael Howard said in a lecture at King's college in March:
There is a need for thinking as bold and innovative as that called for 40 years ago if NATO is not to be seen as a dinosaur, an obstacle to rather than an instrument for the remaking of Europe.
That bold new thinking must take account, initially at least, of the established co-operation of the CSCE process. That offers us a proven working forum that has some potential to move beyond bloc-to-bloc relations. It also has the advantage that it can deal effectively with military questions as well as economic, cultural and political issues.
There is now an opportunity for discussions about how the CSCE process could be used to develop a new European security order. It does not follow that that involves the immediate dismantling of NATO. As Manfred Wörner said on television today, NATO could be one of the props in the CSCE process. There are risks as well as opportunities in the CSCE process. However, the climate is being created in which those matters can be considered seriously. We are approaching a time when east and west must mutually consider the role of the military in Europe beyond non-provocative defence. Out of CFE we must build up confidence on both sides through verification processes by an agreed inspectorate, which would lead to exchanges of information.
Whatever the reality or, indeed, the perception of the Soviet threat, we cannot escape the fact that the CFE treaty and political trends in Germany—whether it is unified or not—could mean a major cut in the British Army of the Rhine. Of course, that will be a major topic of discussion in the two-plus-four talks.
In common with Conservative Members, we pay tribute to the skill, professionalism and dedication of our armed personnel in all ranks, many of whom are often at risk. Unfortunately at this time those at risk regrettably include their wives and children. Not only the politicians, but the Army must recognise the significance of the change in the nature of the threat. Inevitably that will lead to a slimmed-down Army. The Army must still be provided, however, with the most up-to-date equipment and the trained personnel to carry out efficiently and effectively whatever task it is asked to undertake by the nation.
In opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces gave a positive message. The dramatic changes in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe have profound and complex implications for European security. Their full import is not yet clear, nor will it be for some time ahead. What is clear is that there is much to be resolved and negotiated. Our primary aim is, as it always has been, to maintain our security. We hope that the changes in Europe mean that we can achieve this aim at lower force levels and at reduced cost.
This changing scene naturally raises much speculation and uncertainty about the future role and structure of the three services. That uncertainty is, of course, felt within the services and, as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) observed, especially by the Army. The House knows that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is currently examining the options for the United Kingdom's defence policy for the 1990s and the next century, and the structures that would be needed to support them. Hon. Members would not expect me to comment on those considerations tonight. It follows from that that it would be premature for me to speculate on how the Army itself may change, but, whatever happens, we will still need the Army's traditional strengths of versatility and flexibility.
The House will be grateful to all those hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. So numerous were they that the majority of speeches had to be time-limited, including the concluding speeches from the Front Benches. I shall endeavour, of course, to attempt to address some of the many points that have been raised today and to ensure that others are answered in writing. I also hope to say something myself if time allows.
As usual, the debate has benefited from Members' experience and expertise. It was welcome to hear the comments of the hon. Members for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) and for Gower (Mr. Wardell) about their experience of the armed forces parliamentary scheme. That is one contribution to a greater understanding of the part the services play in the defence of our nation.
The first issue that I want to address was raised by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) who opened the debate for the Opposition. To be the Opposition spokesman on defence deserves some small compensations or it would be a thankless task in the extreme. He mentioned what the Defence Committee report said about commercial security guards. At Deal, Reliance did not employ any personnel with criminal records. All commercial guards are vetted by the Ministry of Defence. The competence of Reliance was not in question and it was supported by armed Royal Marines guards.
The individual with the alleged 500 criminal convictions was taken on by Reliance, but was not employed by it as he quit when he realised that his record was under investigation by the company. He was never part of the Deal complement. Commercial guards are not used solely to guard military installations where service men work and sleep—they are used to augment the Ministry of Defence police and service guards who may be armed.
Before the hon. Gentleman rises to intervene on this subject again, I counsel him to observe the advice of the Select Committee on Defence—that one should not prejudge the lessons to be learnt from the incident at Deal without knowing the full facts.
I do not want to prejudge anything in relation to Deal, but it is important to be clear about who was employed by Reliance Security Services. As I understand from the evidence given to the Select Committee, the man with 500 convictions was recommended to the job by a man with whom he served in prison, who was working with Reliance and told him that he should join the company. The Minister should check that, as his information may be wrong. The man may not have been employed at Deal, but he was certainly employed as a commercial security guard by the MOD.
The hon. Member is incorrigible and I shall not attempt to instruct him further on that point.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of service accommodation. Again, the figure that he quoted is not recognised by my officials and we shall have to look into the matter further to identify which figure he wants updated. I assure him that there is a substantial programme of works to upgrade married quarters and single accommodation in our older property, and new building produces some very desirable residences indeed.
The hon. Gentleman quoted from a book, apparently published last September, which was critical of today's Army. He was careful not to endorse the criticisms, but he gave them wide publicity by including them in his speech. Included among the phrases he quoted was the term "ruthless careerism." I cannot see how that could be applied so much to the Army as to the occupants of the Labour Front Bench, who are prepared to deny their deepest, innermost socialist convictions in public in a futile attempt to persuade the British public to vote Labour at the next general election. They will fail.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), the incorrigible hon. Member for Rhondda and others mentioned the Defence Committee's sixth report. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, we welcome the report and will be responding in the usual way. I will not prejudge that response now, but, on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East about Ministry of Defence police at Royal Ordnance factories, I can say that we are having discussions with British Aerospace and other interested parties, and we hope to reach a satisfactory outcome.
On the point about Bishopton raised by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), I can report that the Ministry of Defence police force at the site will be withdrawn during this month. It is being replaced by Royal Ordnance plc guard force personnel, who are being trained by personnel from Strathclyde police force. The chief constable of Strathclyde is satisfied with those arrangements, entered into in consultation with the Ministry of Defence and the company. His police force will supply the armed response if required.
Crucial to the effectiveness and efficiency of the services are their men and women, both in terms of their quality and quantity—
If the hon. Gentleman will permit me, I will answer the debate. Only a few minutes remain. I have much to say, without the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raising further questions. He spent the whole of his 10 minutes asking a series of questions, and he should be satisfied with that.
We seek to offer an attractive opportunity for a worthwhile career for both officers and soldiers—
We seek to offer an attractive opportunity for a worthwhile career for officers and soldiers which provides plenty of challenge and job satisfaction and is well supported and properly rewarded in financial terms. Only in that way will we persuade the right calibre of people to commit themselves to a career in the Army.
As the House is aware, we have for some time been increasingly concerned by an inability to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of young people in the services, especially in the Army, which is by far the most manpower-intensive. The key points that influence us are, first, that manpower is our most precious asset—slightly more than half the Army's total budget is spent on pay and manpower-related matters—and secondly, that our serving men and women are expensively trained and skilled in a world in which skill shortages are increasing. They are also well disciplined and well motivated. They are, in consequence, highly attractive to outside employers.
Future requirements will be influenced by decisions about the shape and size of the Army. In that Army, air mobility may well have an important part to play. I cannot respond to the points made by my hon. Friends, but I can confirm that the House of Commons air mobile brigade is well staffed by my hon. Friends the Members for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer), for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) and for Windsor and Maidenhead (Sir A. Glyn), and there may be others. But whatever the eventual outcome, it is clear that recruiting will become that much more difficult with the onset of the demographic trough.
As the House is well aware, the fall in the number of young people has already begun and will continue for some years. The resulting competition from other employers for that falling number of potential employees is making it ever more difficult to recruit and retain all the men and women for the Army that we would like. The Army succeeded in recruiting just over 22,000 officers and soldiers last year—a record achievement, reflecting the sterling effort put into the work. Nevertheless, it was about 5,000 under the trained strength requirement at 31 March this year.
In contrast with that success on the recruitment front, outflow remains far higher than we would like and led to an increase in the Army's undermanning. About 25,000 people left the Army last year. We propose to introduce a wide-ranging strategy to improve manning. Retaining expensively trained manpower is essential, and the principle of maintaining comparability of pay plays a vital part in this. Once again, the Government have accepted the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, giving the armed forces an average increase in pay of 9·4 per cent. with three quarters of the award coming from 1 April last and the remainder from 1 January next year. We have also accepted the review body's recommendation that the service X factor should rise by 0·5 per cent. to compensate for the special difficulties of life in the services. The full increase in the pay bill this year is 10·9 per cent.
We are directing our spending particularly towards improving the retention of trained Army personnel. With effect from January next year, committal bonuses are being introduced for both officers and soldiers. Officers will be paid a bonus of £6,500 on promotion to captain and a further bonus of £6,500 on promotion to major. Payment will be made on completing six years service for captains and nine years for majors. In return, those accepting bonuses will be expected to complete at least three further years service. For soldiers, those completing five or eight years service on or after January 1991 will be paid a bonus of £2,000 subject to a commitment to serve for at least a further 12 months. New entrants will join after 1 January next year on new terms of engagement, and will be eligible for bonuses after five and eight years service.
I was sorry to miss the speech by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) and to hear about his experience at the military correction training centre. I shall read it with pleasure in Hansard tomorrow.
I should like to respond to the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) by confirming that we have proposals for the formation of an Adjutant-General's Corps. Further work is under way to give effect to the decision already announced and to establish which existing corps functions should be included in the new corps. We are considering the Royal Army Chaplain's department, the corps of the Royal Military Police, the Royal Army Pay Corps, the Military Provost Staff Corps, the Royal Army Education Corps and the Army Legal Corps. In addition, the staff clerk functions currently carried out by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the Women's Royal Army Corps will be considered for inclusion in the new corps. About 6,500 uniformed personnel are involved. It is obviously too early for me to be able to report to the House on the precise size and composition of the new corps, but I hope that the necessary work can be completed and decisions taken by the end of the year.
Several of my hon. Friends warmly commended the Territorial Army. I confirm that the contribution made by the Territorial Army to our defence capability is substantial. Over 76,000 TA volunteers, including members of the Home Service Force, form an integral part of our mobilised order of battle. Beyond that, about 180,000 ex-Regular reservists form a vital pool from which TA and Regular Army units can be reinforced, and are a valuable source of military expertise.
I was interested in the point, made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), which was reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham about mixed units of Regulars and reservists. That will be considered. As I have said, Regular Army units can be reinforced. Like the rest of the armed forces, the TA has suffered from manning problems, especially retention, but we have seen a most positive response to our volunteer reserve forces campaign. That was aimed at securing a wider public understanding of the volunteer reserves, with over 800 major firms pledging support. Employers understand the benefits that their own organisations can reap from supporting their employees joining the TA, a point made by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis).
Membership of the TA not only trains a man or woman to be a good soldier but develops qualities such as leadership, responsibility, discipline and self-confidence, which are just as valuable in the commercial world. For the future, I am confident that the TA is in good shape and well poised to meet the changes likely to take place in the years ahead. There is no question but that it will continue to play a vital role in the future and will prove able to meet the challenging operational and technical requirements of the years to come.
The changing international climate presents great challenges and holds out prospects of great promise. Some uncertainty is inescapable, but in the meantime, the Army's contribution to maintaining stability and security for the nation is vital. We can be confident that the Army will be equal to the task.