[Relevant documents: The Second Report from the Defence Committee on the Procurement of the Multiple Launch Rocket System and the Phoenix Remotely Piloted Vehicle, HC 49, the Fourth Special Report containing the Government's Reply thereto, HC 476, and the Seventh Report on the EH101 and Attack Helicopters and the TRIGAT Missile Systems, HC 243, so far as it relates to Attack Helicopters and the TRIGAT Missile Systems.]
No fewer than 35 right hon. and hon. Members are anxious to participate in the debate. Given the late start, it will be necessary to put a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock. I ask Front-Bench speakers and those right hon. and hon. Members who are fortunate enough to be called before then to bear that limit in mind so that as many right hon. and hon. Members as possible may be called.
Last summer, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence set out proposals on "Options for Change" and the future structure of the armed forces. He spoke of the opportunities flowing from fundamental changes in Europe which would allow us to ensure our security with lower levels of armed forces and with a reduction in the share of gross domestic product taken by defence.
My right hon. Friend referred also to the risks for security that remain in Europe and farther afield. Today is the 75th anniversary of the first battle of the Somme, when so many Northern Ireland soldiers gave their lives in defence of our liberty, and it is fitting that we should debate the future arrangements for the Army and for ensuring that the terrible events of July 1916 are not repeated.
It is a paradox that in a post-cold war world the risks may be more diverse and less easy to predict than the threat posed in the past by the huge military forces of the Warsaw pact massed on the borders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries. Our forces need to be not only well-equipped and well-supported but characterised by flexibility and mobility, ready to be deployed at short notice to wherever in the world it is necessary to defend security.
The Gulf crisis, which broke less than two weeks after my right hon. Friend's statement, has served as an unpleasant reminder that we should not begin to look at the world through a haze of excess optimism or contemplate abandoning well-established foundations of our security. The approach which we outlined last summer has been vindicated, for in setting out our thinking on "Options for Change" we recognised the need to retain a capability to react to emergencies and recognised that our forces must remain our insurance against the unexpected.
As for the position in Europe, I know that there are those who have suggested that the future remains too uncertain, the Soviet Union too little versed in notions of liberal democracy, for the changes to the armed forces to be sensible. One can point to the severe economic and political difficulties still facing the Soviet Union and its former satellites as evidence of potential for instability.
The Government recognise those concerns: that is why we remain fully committed to the collective defence provided by NATO and to robust and capable armed forces. It is also why we attach the greatest importance to continuation of the reform programmes under way in the Soviet Union and central and eastern Europe.
However, it would be foolish to ignore the changes that have already taken place in Europe; and there is now a great mass of evidence that these changes are so far advanced that positive response must be right. We are confident of the peaceful and co-operative intentions of President Gorbachev. The Warsaw pact's military structure has been dismantled, to be followed by the political structures—events of fundamental significance which, in the new security environment, pass almost unmentioned in the press.
Perhaps most important of all, Soviet military withdrawals from the one-time Warsaw pact countries are now well under way. All Soviet forces have left Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Soviet forces are expected to have left Poland and eastern Germany by the end of 1993 and 1994 respectively. By 1995, we expect that Soviet force levels in the area from the Atlantic to the Urals will have fallen from the 138 divisions of 1989 to about 70 to 75 divisions. The net result is that, by the middle of the decade, NATO will be facing about 1 million fewer troops in Europe.
The Soviet Union will, of course, retain the capacity to reinforce these forces from outside the ATTU region if they should so choose, but by the mid-1990s we would expect the warning time of a full-scale Soviet offensive in Europe to be a matter of weeks rather than days. Moreover, the Soviet armed forces are now engaged in a major programme of relocation and reorganisation that appears genuinely to reflect the new professed doctrine of defence sufficiency.
Since 1988 procurement and production of equipment for the Soviet armed forces, particularly ground and air forces, has fallen sharply. Between 1988 and 1990, it is assessed that tank production fell by about 60 per cent., from about 3,500 tanks a year to about 1,400. During the same period production of light armoured fighting vehicles was cut by about 40 per cent. and fighter aircraft production by about a quarter, with significant reductions in bombers and combat helicopters. Further reductions in military procurement are expected in the next few years.
When the NATO and Warsaw pact countries signed the treaty on conventional forces in Europe last November, we believed that it would be a further buttress to greater security for all parties. Since then, of course, there have been some well-publicised problems over the interpretation by the Soviet Union of the treaty's spirit and letter. We are pleased that they have now been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.
We hope that the resolution of the difficulties over CFE will allow the treaty's ratification by the countries involved in the next few months. I suggest to the House that the series of events since last November proves the continued need for NATO countries to stand firm and united in our dealings with the Soviet Union. The eventual outcome demonstrates the benefits of that approach.
So the time is right for change; not for headlong rush towards disarmament and defencelessness as successive Labour party conferences have proposed with their suggestions that there should be cuts down to the average of the NATO allies but for measured change which maintains adequate defences to ensure our security.
Our attention today focuses on the Army, which played such an important part in the campaign to liberate Kuwait. I will return to its role in the coalition's success in a few moments, but first I would like to say something about a matter which I know is of great concern to the House: the case of the three guardsmen Hicks, Povey and Corporal Ray who so tragically lost their legs when digging a trench on the British Army Training Unit, Suffield range in 1988.
I have been criticised in the press, which reported that I had said that they should get sedentary jobs for which they did not need their legs. Those reports were prompted by a press release promoting a "This Week" programme on the whole subject of compensation for injured service men. This shoddy and biased publicity material implied, quite wrongly, that I was unsympathetic to the guardsmen and cared nothing for their terrible injuries. In fact, my comments were made in the context of the tremendous efforts that they have made to come to terms with their injuries. What I actually said in a reply to Richard Linley, the programme's presenter, was—and here I quote from the transcript—
they won't be able to do jobs like on construction sites and jobs where they have to be on their feet all the time, but it will be open to them to do a number of jobs in offices and so forth sedentary jobs that people like me have where in practice they don't actually need their legs for that job.
I made those remarks in the knowledge that former guardsman Hicks was looking for a job. I hope that he succeeds. I for one am certainly not prepared to condemn him to a life of unemployment. Mr. Hicks has made a remarkable recovery from his appalling injuries and is making excellent progress with his artificial limbs. The House must judge whether my remarks were fair and reasonable because they were not quoted in full in the press release issued by the "This Week" programme.
Guardsman Povey and Coporal Ray are, of course, still in the Army, but if they too are discharged I am confident that they will wish to forge new careers for themselves. Of course, their opportunities will be restricted by their injuries, but I hope that the spirit and determination that they have shown so far will continue to stand them in good stead. Whether or not they are ultimately successful, they will continue to receive pensions and other benefits.
In cases where a service man is invalided out of the services as a result of injury which is attributable to his service, he will receive a pension from the Department of Social Security—a so-called war pension—which takes account of the degree of disability involved. In addition, his Ministry of Defence pension will be uprated to reflect the attributability of his injury. These awards are tax free and index linked, and provide a continuing basis of financial support for the rest of his life. Clearly, money cannot really make up for the loss of limbs but society, rightly, seeks to provide through the state for those with such disabilities, so an injured service man will also receive certain allowances and benefits. Mr. Hicks, who has left the Army, is receiving £260 per week; this is the equivalent of about £350 before tax. It is instructive to compare that with a civilian injured in an industrial accident who will receive about £190 in the absence of a private pension.
In addition, since the repeal of section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act in 1987, service men have been able to sue the Crown for damages if their injuries stem from negligence on the Ministry of Defence's part. It is this last point which is at the nub of the concern felt by so many hon. Members as to whether it is fair and reasonable that the injured, who have served their country well, should be required to prove negligence; and whether the Ministry, in dealing with such cases, is forthcoming and helpful, or seeks to hide behind a wall of secrecy.
On the first point, the Government fully understand —and share—the real sympathy which Members feel for these young men. On the other hand, despite the sympathy one feels, we have to see this sad case in the context of other cases which have occurred and which will no doubt arise in the future. We have concluded that the only equitable approach in these cases is to base the question of compensation—over and above appropriate pensions and allowances—on the test of legal liability. Ultimately, that will be for the courts to decide in an impartial way on the evidence of the case.
Secondly, there is the question of the Ministry's approach in cases such as these. We do not approach them in a narrow, commercial way, striving at all costs to avoid the payment of fair compensation where the facts justify that. We aim instead—as is right and proper for a public body which seeks to serve the community—to assist in establishing the facts on which a judgment of liability may be made. Our normal practice in claims cases is to do our best to answer questions and to provide advice on points of fact to a claimant's solicitors to assist in this process. Moreover, if our legal advice is that on the balance of the evidence there is a case against the Ministry, we would normally then expect to reach a settlement out of court, so saving the claimant the expense and trauma of a court process.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has a copy of my speech, and from it he will see that I am coming to further points on that subject.
I have today instructed officials to contact the solicitors for the men to offer a meeting. That will provide the best opportunity for a full review of the case and will, I trust, allow the men's solicitors to address the question of what further inquiries can usefully be made which they would like us to pursue. I hope that that offer will be taken up by the men's solicitors.
The Minister will know that one of the soldiers, Sean Povey, is a constituent of mine.
I welcome the fact that there is to be a meeting between the solicitors and Ministry officials to discuss the case. But will the Minister bear it in mind that Sean Povey was 18 when he joined the Army and that he was delighted to join? I received a letter from a teacher at his school saying that it was the only job that he wanted to do and, apparently, the day he joined, he returned proudly in his uniform. When, a year later, in July 1989—two years ago now—Sean Povey and the two others were crippled for life, they did not think for one moment that they would have such problems in obtaining compensation.
Although we welcome the pension arrangement—I have said this before in the House—it cannot possibly be an adequate substitute for compensation, especially bearing in mind the fact that, also in July 1989, someone who lost both legs during the construction of the channel tunnel received more than £370,000 in agreed damages granted by a court. I beg the Minister and the Secretary of State, who I know is listening, to have compassion and understanding for the three young men crippled for life, who cannot stay in the Army and whose pension arrangements cannot possibly provide for capital expenditure on housing, transport and so on.
I hope that the meeting will lead to the granting of the sort of compensation that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House wish the men to receive. I have not met a single person in my area who does not feel that compensation should be paid. I do not believe that everyone is wrong and only the Government are right.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. We are offering the opportunity for the solicitors to pursue these matters further, but it is impossible to predict the outcome.
Some would argue that it is inexplicable that such dreadful accidents can happen when no one can be held negligent. However, I think that the House will accept that the profession of arms, by its nature, calls on the service man to face risks in training that will generally be greater than those that a civilian will face. This, I fear, is a necessary part of his training which he undertakes in his own interest and in the interest of supporting his colleagues if and when conflict occurs. If we are to prepare our service men properly for the shock of conflict, our training needs to be as realistic as we can make it, and that calls for the use of live ammunition. Despite all the precautions that we take, however, unfortunate accidents do occur, and it does not automatically follow that such accidents stem from negligence.
We are all proud of the professionalism with which our forces fought in the Gulf. That in turn reflected the professionalism and realism of their training. Many of our units in the Gulf had trained at Batus, and I think would acknowledge how much they owed to that fact. A readiness to accept risks in training, albeit taking all reasonable precautions, saves lives when we have to face live conflict.
I should like to move on to our future plans for the Army, in which I know there is deep interest. In his statement on 4 June, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained what the future size of the Army would be. Next week we shall be publishing the statement on the Defence Estimates and setting out more fully our latest thinking on "Options for Change" across the range of defence activities. We shall also be keeping the House informed of specific measures affecting each of the services as decisions fall ready.
As with the other services, work in planning the future structures of the Army has been proceeding in consultation with NATO and with individual allies. As a result, we have been able to go a substantial way in fleshing out our initial proposals in a way that will meet both national requirements and the needs of the alliance.
In his statement last month, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House that NATO Defence Ministers had agreed in May on a framework for the alliance's future force structures. A central feature of that agreement is that, in future, the British Army's main contribution to the defence of Europe should be as part of a new multinational Allied Command Europe rapid reaction corps under British leadership. The corps will include two British and two multinational divisions, as well as forces provided by other allies, and will have a range of deployment options throughout the Allied Command Europe area.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, especially in the circumstances. We have heard his views about the guardsmen's case and warmly welcome the proposed meeting with their solicitors. But what is of essence here is the constant reiteration of the assertion that no one is to blame. Where is the proof that no one is to blame? Surely someone is to blame. Why did not the board of inquiry investigate the reasons why the live round was lying on the range in the first place? That is where the blame is to be found but the board of inquiry did not even cover that matter. Will the Minister please give a guarantee that the meeting will allow the solicitors to have the board of inquiry reopened?
I very much regret having given way to my hon. Friend. I have stated precisely that the point of the meeting to be held with the guardsmen's solicitors is to explore all those matters and to ask those questions. My hon. Friend has asked exactly the same questions as the solicitors will no doubt ask at the meeting, which has been organised for that very purpose.
The United Kingdom will provide the framework for the new corps, including a permanent commander, a significant proportion of the headquarters infrastucture and some combat support. We shall assign to it an armoured division based in Germany in peace time and a more lightly equipped division based in the United Kingdom. In addition, we shall contribute an air-mobile brigade to one of the corps's multinational divisions.
The ACE rapid reaction corps has a role which I know is warmly welcomed by the Army. It shows the high esteem in which our professional forces are held by our NATO allies. That demanding new role will provide a focus for a service, which, although smaller, will remain highly capable.
My father was an Army chaplain for 30 years. Can my hon. Friend tell the House what will be the future of the Army Chaplains' department which at present numbers about 150? The Navy and the RAF have their own chaplains' department. Is the Army chaplains' department likely to be unchanged, and is its headquarters likely to remain at Bagshot park?
My hon. Friend will know that the adjutant-general is reviewing all the corps under his responsibility and is working many of them together into a new adjutant-general corps, with which the Army chaplains will be closely associated. We shall continue to have a requirement for Army chaplains in the future, although I cannot guarantee that we will have as many Army chaplains as we have today.
The Army will continue to meet its other commitments and I shall say more about this later. We shall ensure that those forces are properly equipped for their tasks. Ten days ago we announced that we are to place an order with Vickers for up to 130 Challenger 2 tanks to replace Chieftain. The rigorous assessment that my Department has conducted over the past two years gives us every confidence that this new British tank will be a very valuable asset to the future Army. We are also planning a major programme to improve the Challenger I tank. In addition to Challenger 2, by the mid-1990s, the Army will be equipped with a range of high-quality new equipment, including the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle, the AS90 self-propelled howitzer, and the multiple launch rocket system which performed so well in the Gulf.
I am pleased to be able to tell the House today that we will shortly sign a memorandum of understanding with the German Government for the production of the phase II rockets for MLRS. The new rocket, which can be fired from the launchers now in service, will give the Army the additional and very valuable capability to lay scatterable anti-tank mines at long range. That significantly increases the operational effectiveness of the MLRS system and builds on the success of that major international collaborative programme. Taken together, the announcement on MLRS and last week's statement on the new tank provide the clearest possible expression of our commitment to maintain an effective and well-equipped Army for the future.
The Minister has referred to events in the Gulf. Will he comment on two stories in relation to the Gulf that appeared in Scotland over the weekend? The first said that the Gulf trust, which was established by the Secretary of State for Defence and which has now accumulated £3 million, will not be paid out to any of the relatives of the 42 people who were killed during the course of the battle. I would greatly welcome a denial of that.
The second story is that the United States has said that its report into friendly fire will not be made public and that British military chiefs will consider the report and then issue their own statement.
I am sure that the Minister will appreciate the distress that both those stories have caused to the families concerned. I expect clear guidance from him. If he cannot issue categorical denials at this stage, perhaps he can write to me or make a statement in the House.
Let me make the position about the Gulf trust absolutely clear. The moneys in the trust will be administered by the services charities and will be paid out on the basis of need to those people who have suffered during the conflict. That has been absolutely clear and money has already been paid out. Eventually, the money will be passed over to the charities. At the moment, in practice, loans have been made while final arrangements are being made for the money to be paid over to the three service charities. We have learnt many lessons from the South Atlantic fund which, as I am sure the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) knows, paid out very large sums of money at the beginning, and as a result could not provide for the much longer-term needs of many of the service men. I will come back to the hon. Lady on her second point.
The decision to equip the British Army with the Challenger tank is most warmly welcomed by people in Yorkshire whose jobs depend on that order. We also appreciate the fact that the decision recognises British techniques and engineering skills. We warmly welcome the decision.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. I hope that it will put Vickers in a much stronger position with regard to meeting the challenge in the export market. I hope that it will be successful in exporting Challenger 2 to many parts of the world.
At the same time, we have made it clear that we are seeking to make substantial savings in the support area, including headquarters, at least proportionate to those in the front line.
We are addressing the whole question of the district reorganisation right across Great Britain. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises that it is important that, when we try to make savings on the support side, we should address the question of the number of headquarters and see whether there are ways in which we can reduce them. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) will have to wait for a statement about that because a decision has not yet been made. It will be very difficult if, whenever we try to make any sensible rationalisations in the management of the Army, there are endless complaints from different parts of the United Kingdom that we all accept that economies must be made but, "not on my front door, thank you very much."
A number of initiatives are being pursued in the Army in line with that objective: restructuring of the Army's training base in the United Kingdom and of the logistic support functions; a rationalisation of the corps in the adjutant-general's area with particular responsibility for personnel management, and a reorganisation of the Army's command structure in this country, to which I have just referred.
Many of the details still have to be worked out. The decisions are difficult and I fully understand that a number of the steps that we shall have to take will be disappointing to hon. Members on both sides of the House whose constituencies are affected. However, it is essential that we ensure that the tail of the future Army is kept in balance with the teeth. It is inevitable that that will require us to close establishments and to dispose of some assets as we reduce the defence estate to match our future needs.
I must state at the outset that I have the greatest sympathy with the Minister and his right hon. Friends in the tremendous restructuring task confronting them. Is he aware that there is a widespread fear on both sides of the House that was perhaps best expressed by the defence debate in the other House recently, that the procedure is motivated largely by a resource-led scramble rather than being based on a proper assessment of commitments? That fear is widely shared. If the Minister can dissipate it, we will be delighted.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As I have already said, this is a response to the major changes that have taken place in the world. The changes are very much in line—or less in terms of percentage reductions —with those of our allies. We have to face the reality that if we did not make the economies, we would probably be the only member of NATO that was not reducing its defence expenditure or reducing numbers in the light of new circumstances.
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will appreciate the fact that the Minister is giving way so often.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Sir P. Duffy) is right. There is great concern about the scramble for economies which, of course, must be made. As the constituency Member for Wrexham, my main concern is for the survival of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, although I understand what the Minister said about the need to make cuts, "but not in my back yard."
Will the Minister assure me that cuts will be made with regard to the efficiency, professionalism and morale of the Army as a whole? If he can assure me that any regiment should not be part Welsh and part English as that would not benefit the Army as a whole, if he can assure me that when the cuts and amalgamations take place due regard will be taken of the regiments with very good recruiting figures and a high proportion of soldiers serving on long-term contracts, I am sure that the case for the Royal Welch Fusiliers will be—
I must be rather less generous in giving way because I am only half way through my speech and I have been speaking for more than 30 minutes already.
I can tell the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) that we take many different factors into account with regard to the rationalisation of Army regiments. We are leaving it very much in the hands of the Army to reach conclusions on those matters and to bring proposals to us which we hope to effect. It is better to leave matters like that. I hope that I will not be bullied by hon. Members on both sides of the House about their own particular regiments. Very serious considerations will be taken into account and I hope that the Army can reach conclusions so that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can report to the House in due course.
No, I am afraid that I cannot give way again as I must make progress.
As part of the work on the Army's training organisation, we have identified a number of areas where there is scope for more effective use of our resources. As a first step towards the restructuring of the training base, we propose to transfer the training of junior soldiers from three barracks at Colerne, Shorncliffe and Dover, and to reduce the amount of training carried out at three other locations—Bovington, Arborfield and Aldershot. All of those changes, which are subject to consultation with the trade unions concerned, will be achieved by transferring training to other establishments where we have spare capacity. Further announcements on the detailed implications of reductions in the support area will be made in due course.
There is another development concerning our training activities that I should report to the House today. I am pleased to be able to announce that after considerable negotiations the Ministry of Defence has concluded a new licence agreement with the Duchy of Cornwall. That agreement will run for 21 years and will allow continued high explosive firing until 1998, as well as greater public access. The new licence also incorporates the Department's policy of actively caring for the environment, and it establishes new procedures relating to environmental matters, including the creation of a Duchy deputy bailiff specifically charged with environmental monitoring.
The Army's volunteer reserves and reservists will continue to have a key role. We are examining our requirements in this area and, in particular, looking at the roles, size and number of Territorial Army units, having regard to the numbers that we can realistically expect to recruit and retain. We are giving careful consideration to the value of having reserves with a general purpose capability, which would enable us better to provide a framework for expansion in times of tension than units tied to specific roles.
As the House has been told, we estimate that the new structures will require a Regular Army some 116,000 strong, including trainees, by the mid-1990s—about 40,000 smaller than today. The strength of the British Army of the Rhine, currently more than 50,000, will reduce to about 23,000.
Detailed work on the implementation of our new plans for the Army is now in hand. Although we shall be making full use of recruitment controls and natural wastage, there will inevitably be a requirement for some redundancies in order to preserve the right balance of ranks, ages and skills. I hope that, as far as possible, those will be voluntary. Details will be announced as soon as possible.
May we have an assurance that previous amalgamations of regiments and also the geographic recruitment areas of regiments will be taken into account, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) mentioned? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that those are matters of great concern to the King's Own Royal Borderers, whose members want an objective assessment of what will happen in future?
The answer to that question is yes.
It is also inevitable that there will be a need for some amalgamations and disbandments of units. We recognise that carrying through the changes will be a highly complex undertaking, which will need to be managed with sensitivity. As the House knows, we are consulting within the Army on how that should be achieved. Right hon. and hon. Members who attended last year's Army and defence debates will recall that I gave assurances that the new regimental system will remain an important feature of the new Army. I repeat that firmly and unreservedly now. It is, of course, Labour Members who do not value the regimental system. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said in the House that, as new mobile force structures would have to be international units,
I cannot see the regimental structure being relevant in its present form to the strategic needs of the Army."—[Official Report, 18 June 1990; Vol. 174, c.704.]
We believe in the regimental system. As soon as our consultations are complete, we shall come forward with more detailed announcements. In advance of that, I trust that the House will appreciate that I am not prepared to comment on the future of individual units.
We do not need to look far for an illustration of their value. The past year has, of course, seen the invasion and attempted annexation of Kuwait by Iraq, and its liberation by the forces of a unique coalition of countries, including the largest British mechanised force in action since the second world war. We should not forget that, although the Opposition never fail to remind people that they supported the use of force when the air battle began on 16 January, their policy was not to fight but to wait and let sanctions work. If the Labour party had had its way we would still be waiting today, while temperatures soared, the rape of Kuwait continued, and the alliance of coalition forces came under increasing strain.
In view of the support that was given to our armed forces by both sides of the House—the record is available to be read—I find the Minister's remarks most contemptible and unworthy of any Minister of any Government. I wish that the Minister would withdraw the imputation that our forces do not receive the wholehearted support of this side of the House, not just of the Labour party but of other parties. The Minister's remark was contemptible, and he should withdraw it.
I can understand why the Opposition are so sensitive about this matter. I was stating what their policy was. We have heard little of that policy since the conduct of the war went so well. We can rest assured that, if the outcome had been less successful the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) would be telling us how much better it would have been to have followed Labour advice, to shirk the war, to shirk the fight, and wait for sanctions to bring about the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that, repeatedly throughout the months of December and January, many hon. Members on these Benches, including myself, made our position absolutely clear—that is, if force had to be used, it had to be used?
The fact remains that it was quite clearly the policy of the Opposition that sanctions should be allowed to work. We all heard it; there is no point in our trying to rewrite the history books. It was Labour's policy that sanctions should be allowed to work.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Were you not in the Chair or the Chamber when the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, on many occasions the Defence Secretary said that they were very pleased that there was a united House of Commons because it made the task of fighting criminal aggression that much easier? The Defence Secretary was pleased that the armed forces in action knew that there was a united House of Commons behind them. The Minister's remarks are despicable and contemptible.
Can the Minister give an assurance that, having regard to commendations that have been given by Minister after Minister, from the Prime Minister down, about the bipartisan approach to the Gulf war by both sides of the House, the Minister's remarks have been cleared by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary?
I have already said that there was a bipartisan approach to the outbreak of hostilities. The policy of the Opposition was to wait for sanctions to work.
The basis of the British ground force was 1st British Armoured Division, consisting of 7th Armoured Brigade, 4th Brigade, an artillery brigade, a reconnaissance regiment, armoured and field engineers, an Army Air Corps regiment, and a range of other supporting personnel. The skill and bravery that they displayed in the campaign to free Kuwait must be a source of great pride to us all, and I would like to say a few words about that.
The division had a total strength of about 28,000 personnel. Its fighting strength included 180 Challenger tanks, 260 Warrior armoured combat vehicles, 90 artillery pieces and 18 Lynx anti-tank helicopters. A further 5,000 Army personnel were also deployed to the Gulf, providing engineering, signals and other support at RAF bases, a prisoner of war guard force, and headquarters and other support staff in the area.
The division's part in the allied military victory is now well known.
As the Minister has mentioned the Gulf war, will he make a statement today on the sale of arms through the wholly-owned subsidiary, International Military Services, to Iraq and Jordan—arms that were then used to fight our troops? Will the Minister now confirm his continual statements to me over the past two years that there were no arms sales to Iraq?
There were certainly no arms sales to Iraq from British firms. That is what I have always said and I still confirm that absolutely.
During a remarkable advance of nearly 300 km over 66 hours, the division defeated the best part of at least three Iraqi divisions, taking about 7,000 prisoners and destroying or capturing about 200 tanks. By the time allied operations were suspended at 0500 Greenwich mean time on 28 February, 7th Armoured Brigade had taken up a position astride the main road leading north from Kuwait city, with 4 Brigade further to the west.
It should not be imagined that that advance was achieved in the face of no opposition. At times, Iraqi units put up firm resistance and tried to launch armoured counter-attacks. Overall, however, the Iraqis were not given the opportunity to organise effective resistance. They were outmanoeuvred and outfought.
Sadly, 19 British soldiers lost their lives in action during the campaign. For an operation of this size, that figure is very low, but that will be no consolation for families who lost their loved ones. I know that they will have the deepest sympathy of the whole House as they try to come to terms with their loss. Nine soldiers were killed when United States aircraft fired on their Warrior vehicles. I understand the particular distress that their families are feeling at this time. The inquiry into the incident is being carried out as quickly as possible, but it is important above all to establish the full facts. We will, of course, make known the results of the inquiry as soon as we can.
First Armoured Division achieved a magnificent feat of arms. An equally remarkable feat was the logistics effort required to move the division and its equipment to the Gulf, to maintain it in the harsh desert conditions, and to enable it to carry out its swift advance through the Iraqi positions. Each day, for example, the division required 400,000 litres of water and 500,000 litres of fuel. With anything less than first-class logistic support it could not have achieved as much as it did in so short a time. In the event, logistics and support personnel formed nearly half the strength of the division.
As a result of the division's deployment to the west of Saudi Arabia, the Army's logistic transport vehicles travelled on average about 650 km every day. Most traffic was restricted to only one major road. In spite of these difficulties, the logistic chain which was established performed magnificently. When allied operations were suspended, the division had advanced more than 300 km from its forward force maintenance area, and yet its logistic chain was still intact and fully effective. I am sure that the House will pay particular tribute, as do the fighting troops of 1st Armoured Division, to the excellent support provided by the Royal Corps of Transport, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, and all the other support personnel in the Gulf.
The logistic task in the Gulf is not yet over, however. All the division's equipment and stores need to be made safe and brought back to their bases in this country and Germany. The scale of the task, with over 15,000 vehicles and many thousands of tonnes of stores and ammunition to prepare and dispatch, was such that it was thought after the conflict that the removal of equipment would not be complete until December this year. In fact, the latest estimate is that it will be finished in either late July or early August. That is a fitting tribute to the professionalism of the logistic support group, and it reflects the high degree of skill and dedication of all the personnel who ensured that Operation Granby was so successful.
Individual reservists and members of the Territorial Army, most of them volunteers, made a vital contribution to the success of Operation Granby, particularly in medical roles, but also, serving under short-service regular commissions, throughout the teeth and logistic arms.
Hon. Members will recall that on 17 December my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence reported to this House that Her Majesty the Queen had authorised the call out of reservists under section 10 of the Reserve Forces Act 1980. Some 1,700 reservists were called out in connection with the Gulf conflict, over 1,000 of them soldiers, and almost all have now been demobilised. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of them for the dedication with which they served and to wish them well as they settle back to civilian life.
The situation in Kuwait is now such that we do not envisage the need to call our further specialists from the reserve forces under the provisions detailed on 17 December. Her Majesty the Queen, in exercise of the powers conferred upon her by section 10 of the Reserve Forces Act 1980, has today, by order signified under the hand of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, been pleased to revoke the authorisation for the call out of reservists in connection with the Gulf conflict.
This revocation is a formal step which makes it clear that no further call out will be undertaken in relation to the situation which gave rise to the order of 17 December. I should make it clear that this revocation does not affect the liability for service of the handful of reservists still embodied, nor does it affect their rights under the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985.
Throughout the Gulf war, our soldiers were fighting under the threat of chemical attack from the Iraqis. That threat never materialised and, although it is difficult to define categorically why not, it is likely that the Iraqis were terrified that the United States would retaliate with weapons of mass destruction. In short, deterrence worked. It is therefore a matter of great concern to all our service men whether Britain keeps her independent nuclear deterrent. As a general election approaches, they look for clarification from the Labour party as to where it stands in this important issue. They will have heard last Thursday that Labour is dodging the question of ordering the fourth Trident boat and will keep its options open as to whether to cancel it. That will of course threaten our ability to maintain continual deterrent patrols if one submarine were to break down while another was in refit.
However, it is the recent remarks by the right hon. Member for Gorton that have caused most confusion. He has stated that Labour is not committed to negotiating away Britain's nuclear deterrent as long as other countries still have nuclear weapons. But that is where he is completely wrong. In its 1989 policy document "Meet the Challenge, Make the Change", a future Labour Government were committed to negotiating away Britain's deterrent in return for similar reductions in the Soviet arsenal. So what has changed? Do Labour party documents not mean anything any more? Do resolutions passed by a two-thirds majority at Labour party conferences have no effect on Labour policy? One is interested to know who took this decision. Was it taken by the Leader of the Opposition and by a few people around him—or was the whole Labour party involved?
I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman could help us and tell us how this amazing Labour party statement was arrived at. Perhaps he was a party to it. As he knows, we are hoping to implement United Nations resolution 687 which deals with Iraqi nuclear capability. The problem is being dealt with, and the President of the United States has made statements on the matter.
I turn to other activities of the Army in the past year. The same skill and dedication are, of course, demonstrated every day in the very different circumstances of Northern Ireland. Supporting the Royal Ulster Constabulary to uphold democracy and the rule of law against the terrorist threat remains, sadly, the Army's largest continuing peacetime commitment. In this it is well supported by the other services. The Royal Marines regularly provide a commando in place of an Army battalion, and the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force continue to make a major contribution to security in the Province.
The Army's force level in Northern Ireland remains at some 17,000 personnel. Over the past year, these force levels have been temporarily increased to deal with specific situations; a battalion was deployed in December 1990 to support the RUC in a period of especially high terrorist threat in the run-up to Christmas; another battalion was deployed in March and April 1991 to assist in the removal of two border check points; and another battalion has just returned to the mainland from the Province after being temporarily deployed there to support an operation to refurbish some security force bases. If judged necessary, such reinforcements could occur again.
The courage and sense of purpose shown by the armed forces in Northern Ireland in the face of terrible atrocities must attract our highest respect and gratitute. Tragically, a heavy price was paid in 1990 to preserve order against violence. A total of 15 soldiers were murdered by the terrorists. Eleven were killed while on duty—six in the IRA's barbaric proxy human car bomb attacks on two check points on 24 October, in one of which a Minister of Defence civilian employee was also murdered. Four other soldiers were killed while off duty, all part-time UDR members. A further 213 soldiers were wounded or injured in 1990.
1991 has thus far seen eight soldiers murdered—this includes two members of the UDR killed in an IRA rocket attack in March; three UDR soldiers murdered on 31 May at Glenn Anne UDR base by an IRA bomb containing some 2,000 lb explosive; and, most recently, Private Harrison, who was murdered on 19 June by the IRA in front of his fiancée while visiting her on leave from the mainland. Some 100 soldiers have been either wounded or injured.
The recent attempts at further attacks, last week, on the band of the Blues and Royals, and over the weekend against an RAF recruiting office in Preston, remind us yet again of the need for constant vigilance.
As the Minister knows, the attempted bomb attack took place in my constituency. Will he pass on to the bandsmen of the Blues and Royals the message that they will always be welcome in Hayes, whatever may have happened? Does he share my anger at the words of the Labour candidate in Hayes, Mr. John McDonnell, who has in the past wined and dined IRA terrorists and representatives of Sinn Fein and who said, when he heard of the attack, that he would meet the IRA and Sinn Fein again tomorrow? Does the Minister share my disgust at that statement, and will he call on the Labour party to disown such a character?
I wholly support my hon. Friend on that. We must never give succour to IRA terrorists, and we must make it clear to them that, even if they do bomb people on the mainland, life will go on as usual and we will in no way be cowed by their activities.
There have, however, been notable successes in the campaign against the terrorists' criminal activities. During 1990, 217 people were charged with serious terrorist-type offences, including 18 for murder and 62 with attempted murder. There were further successes against the terrorists elsewhere in 1990, in the Republic, on mainland Britain and on the continent, with the discovery of weapons and bomb-making equipment and the arrests of a number of suspected terrorists.
The House will, I am sure, join me in saluting the bravery and dedication of these men and women who tackle the terrorist threat every day of the year. The number of awards bestowed over the years on members of the armed forces serving in Northern Ireland reflects this gallantry and commitment. The 241 awards made in 1990 included the first George Cross in 11 years, to an Army bomb-disposal expert.
In addition to the activities that I have mentioned, the House will know that the Army has undertaken a wide range of tasks over the past 12 months. They range from quiet, perhaps sometimes humdrum, roles to the most dangerous and demanding tasks. The qualities of professionalism and courage shown by the Army's men and women in these many different ways deserve the thanks of the whole British people: this year they have also earned a wider gratitude abroad by their part in the coalition effort to ensure that Saddam Hussein's unprovoked aggression against Kuwait would not stand.
The British Army continues to be a highly regarded and highly effective force, thanks above all to the qualities of its individuals and to their teamwork. Our responsibility is to give them the support they need to remain as capable and effective as they have proven to such good effect this year. In pursuing changes in structure, we must remain sensitive to those fundamental requirements.
At the beginning of his speech, my right hon. Friend described, while the House listened attentively, the changes in the east-west situation. Has he heard the criticism of the size of the cuts in the Royal Armoured Corps? Does it not worry him that there have been criticisms that the corps has been cut far more than it should have been in comparison with the rest of the Army? Would it not be better to make cuts in the tail of the Army rather than in the part that we would need if there were a conflict? Will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind?
I assure my hon. Friend that the reductions in the support to the front line will be commensurate with other cuts. It is important that we achieve this. The cuts in the Royal Armoured Corps reflect the fact that armoured divisions in Germany are to be reduced. Our need for armoured regiments is therefore reduced.
No, I must finish, or I shall be here for ever.
I have outlined the Government's overriding concern for the future of the Army. I believe that that objective should be endorsed by the whole House.
As the Minister said, we are having the annual debate on the British Army on the 75th anniversary of the battle of the Somme. If ever we required an illustration of the courage and dedication of the British Army, and the growing sacrifices that its soldiers were prepared to endure for this country, we need look no further than the Somme. If ever we needed an illustration of the folly and futility of war as a vehicle for solving political problems, we need look no further than the Somme. There the answer lies, on the bloody battlefield on which some 20,000 British and allied soldiers lost their lives in the first 24 hours, and where countless thousands more were destined to lose their lives over the next five months for the conquest of five miles of territory.
The anniversary is also a timely reminder that, whatever the advances in weapons and equipment over the past 75 years, whatever the progress in technological sophistication and whatever the refinement of the operational art of warfare, wars are still fought, the hardships of war are still endured, and the ultimate sacrifices of war are still made by the men and women who make up our armed forces. We gladly pay tribute to them today, not least because, for some time past, they have been asked to undertake their arduous duties under a cloud of uncertainty. They have been asked and they have responded, displaying a steadfastness of purpose in a European and international political situation that is almost unsurpassed in its fluidity. Old barriers are coming down and new problems are arising. Concepts of threat and of risk, of defence and of security are undergoing profound redefinition.
I wish that I could say that their fortitude has been matched by the insight, clarity of vision and decisiveness of the Ministers who have the temporary honour of presiding over the Army's future and fate, but that would be stretching the credibility of the House too far, even on the anniversary of the Somme—perhaps I should say particularly on the anniversary of the Somme, because that battle and that war proved a long-lasting saying about military life: even the most lion-hearted can be led by donkeys.
I was about partially to exclude the Minister of State from that, and to congratulate him on having made, at least in his opening paragraphs, a genuine attempt to give us some form of strategic review, but I am afraid that the manner in which he demeaned himself and the House by the misuse of the slur and his comments on the war of the United Nations, with the full support of both sides of the House, against Iraq detracted from anything that he said. What a pity that he did that. If that is the level of the much-heralded attack on the Labour party's defence policy, and if that is where the Conservative party has retired to in its attempts to gain votes at a general election, let us have more of it. I am sure that the British people will be thoroughly revolted by an attempt to use a war in which our soldiers died, a war supported by every party, for cheap political gains.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, when it came to appeasement and trying to avoid war when it was obvious that it was inevitable, and condoning, in some respects at least, what occurred in the invasion of Kuwait, the most notorious person putting forward that view was the former Tory leader and Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) who, at least until the beginning of the war, used every argument both in and out of the House to avoid facing the fact that we had to fight fascist aggression?
My hon. Friend states the facts. I have no wish—nor have my colleagues on the Front Bench or throughout the party—to reduce a magnificent effort by our soldiers and the magnificent unity of the House by involving myself in any attacks or slurs on any hon. Member. Whatever our views, and from whatever side of the House they emanated, whether it was the case mentioned by my hon. Friend or that of the pacifists, or those Labour party members who took a different view, I am certain that all spoke with the utmost sincerity. I respect the views that they espoused and will not attack them for holding them, particularly not for cheap political gains.
In the 13 months since the previous Army debate, we have witnessed events of great significance for the future of the British Army. We have seen the painful beginnings of the "Options for Change" process, an exercise which is turning into a defence review by striptease. We have seen the conclusions of NATO's force restructuring, in which our forces have deservedly been assigned a leading role. Not least, we have participated in a multinational coalition which successfully defeated Iraqi aggression in the Gulf. Each of those would have been significant enough in its own right, but taken together they will result in the most profound changes experienced by our armed forces since world war two.
I shall begin with an assessment of the Gulf war. I thought that I could say that I spoke for the whole House when I said that the contribution made by the British Army, with the support of the House, to the liberation of Kuwait was outstanding. I am sorry that, since the Minister's statement, I cannot now say that that was with the continuing support of the whole House. Nevertheless, we congratulate our forces because, from the beginning of the ground campaign on 24 February, it took approximately four days for the 1st Armoured Division to disable the Iraqi armoured reserve and reach its intended position north of Kuwait city.
One of the most impressive statistics of that short but violent campaign is that not one Challenger tank was lost to enemy fire. By any standards, it was an impressive operation, proving once again the superior fighting quality and logistical efficiency of the British Army—something which the Minister mentioned.
In paying tribute to our troops, none of us should forget the sacrifices that were made. During our deployment in the Gulf 44 British soldiers lost their lives and approximately 43 were injured. Remarkably light as such casualties were in the face of such an enemy, each is a tragedy to be mourned. In the wake of victory we should not forget that many Iraqis perished during and after the war. For the most part they, too, were the victims of Saddam Hussein's megalomania.
Perhaps the most tragic accident to involve British troops during the war was the so-called "friendly fire" incident in which nine Royal Fusiliers were killed by a United States A-10. Considerable concern has been expressed about those deaths, and rightly so, not least because, four months later, there still appears to be a great deal of confusion about what went wrong and who was to blame. This has been an agonising time for the grieving relatives. Whatever the final outcome of the inquiry, I hope that the Minister can promise that there will be a full and frank disclosure of the report and its conclusions. When the Minister replies to the debate I hope that he will inform us what progress, if any, is being made on friend or foe identification systems.
Another grave cause for concern that has arisen as a consequence of the Gulf war is the sanctioning of the use of about 200 Royal Engineers in mine-clearing operations being conducted by a private contractor, Royal Ordnance. I have already raised this matter with the Minister in correspondence and on the Floor of the House. There is considerable anger in the Army because its troops are effectively being used as mercenaries. I share that anger.
I have been unimpressed by the assurances I have received from the Minister of State for the Armed Forces that Royal Ordnance will cover the expenses of the deployment and that the engineers will be involved only in the location of mines and unexploded shells, not their disposal. Expenses or not, the British Army does not exist to provide such a hidden subsidy to a private profit-making concern. The location of mines and shells is in itself an extremely dangerous task and the lives of service men have been put at risk in a totally irresponsible manner. I urge the Minister to assure the House that there will be no repetitions of such incidents.
Since the beginning of the Gulf conflict we have consistently urged that all measures should be taken through the auspices of the United Nations and that all support should be given to any resolution or initiative taken by the United Nations. The problem was not the spirit in which the havens were embarked upon, but the thinking through of the likely outcome of the difficulties of establishing and then removing such havens.
Earlier I spoke about the performance of the Challenger tank in the Gulf. It exceeded all expectations and Vickers has now reaped the reward with an order for Challenger 2 as a consequence. That decision, along with two announcements this evening, has the virtue of allowing the Government to claim that they have managed to decide on something in the procurement sphere. That matter will be covered more extensively by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), if he is fortunate enough to participate in the debate.
Questions have arisen on the availability of spares for the 1st Armoured Division, which were smoothed over by the Minister today. It is fairly common knowledge that that division's Challengers were only kept fully operational in the Gulf by stripping parts from the two divisions that remained in Germany. Can the Minister confirm whether that is true? If it is, it appears that the British Army of the Rhine would be only partially operational in the event of war. Such confirmation would vindicate my hon. Friends, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, who have argued that the sacrifice of the spares budget to other projects in the past few years has been a false economy.
Can the Minister confirm or deny a report that appeared on 6 June in the Glasgow Herald to the effect that the 157 Challengers used in the Gulf have been left there for a long time to rust? Can the Minister elaborate on the questions asked of him by the Select Committee on Defence on that subject? I am well aware that press reports frequently turn out to be exaggerated and that may be the case in this instance. However, I am sure that we are all particularly concerned by the report in the Glasgow Herald since it quotes a senior officer as describing the situation as
nothing short of vandalism by neglect.
Can the Minister assure us that that is not the case? How much of the equipment has been retrieved so far? What is the estimate of any damage that may have resulted from that incident?
The Minister was correct to mention Northern Ireland, because in addition to participating in the multinational coalition in the Gulf in the past year, the British Army has continued to fulfil its other duties, not least of which is guaranteeing the security of Northern Ireland.
Since the last Army debate 16 soldiers have been murdered by the IRA, including five members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. In addition, 15 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers have been murdered. In common with the Minister, I wish to record our debt to those men and all those who continue to fight against terrorism in the most difficult of circumstances.
Last year the Provisional IRA sunk to new levels of depravity and cowardice with its use of human-proxy bombs. What could be more sadistic than kidnapping a person's family and then forcing that person to drive a van-load of explosives at a checkpoint? On 24 October six soldiers and one civilian were killed in two such incidents. Fortunately, since then, similar attempts have failed.
For all its blood-letting the IRA cannot ignore one simple fact. As an organisation which likes to consider itself an army, it, too, must depend on morale. After 21 years of killing and maiming it has palpably failed to achieve its objectives and it knows it. Even the IRA is beginning to see the futility of its actions. I am sure that we all hope that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is successful in his search for a political solution. Such a settlement would deliver a devastating blow to terrorism.
"Options for Change" will probably and properly occupy most of tonight's debate. The House could be forgiven for remaining somewhat confused about this process—the defence review that isn't. "Options for Change" could perhaps be best described as "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma", if I am permitted to misquote a former Prime Minister.
It should be put on record that the Secretary of State was apparently incapable of even choosing an accurate title for the process that is now under way. "Options for Change" is a complete misnomer. Where are the options? What options have been or will be placed before Parliament? On what grounds are the supposed options being considered within the Ministry of Defence and by whom? Against what criteria are they being measured in the absence of a full defence review? I shall be happy to give way at any stage if the Secretary of State wants to elaborate rather than sit here like the silent service.
It is becoming clearer by the day that, so far as Parliament is concerned, the only option that we will have is to take it or leave it when the bureaucracy has completed its covert endeavours. All of that would be bad enough if the Secretary of State and Ministers showed any sign of being in control of the process, but they appear to be genetically incapable of taking as important a decision. There is now a growing feeling on all sides of the House that if the Secretary of State was asked the simple question, "Do you have problems making decisions?", he would probably answer, "Well, yes and no."
The Secretary of State has now had almost 12 months to marshal the collective cognitive processes of his colleagues and what is the result of that massive intellectual effort? On 25 July last year the Secretary of State told the House that he envisaged a Regular Army of "around 120,000". He said that he would provide further substantial details in due course. On 4 June this year, after 10 long and arduous months of mental toil and turmoil—
I shall come to the war in a second. As they say in "Fawlty Towers", "Don't mention the war."
After 10 long and arduous months of mental toil and turmoil, no doubt with the able assistance of a Ministry of Defence establishment of thousands, the right hon. Gentleman informed the House that he envisaged a Regular Army of 116,000. We were told of nothing else. In short, it has taken Ministers 315 days of supreme effort to arrive at the conclusion which they had first arrived at during July 1990.
If there has been a lack of decisions, there has been no lack of excuses. This evening, the Secretary of State gave us one of his favourite excuses—the war. There has been no shortage of excuses for the delay in providing us with a comprehensive review. We were told in July 1990 that the Secretary of State had made merely a preliminary statement. It was then said that decisions—D-day itself—would not be far off. Then D-day was postponed because of the conventional-forces-in-Europe negotiations. We were then told that D-day had been postponed again because of the consequences of German unity. That was after the wall had come tumbling down—largely, it seems, because of a trumpet blown far away in Finchley. Then it was the Gulf war that caused the delay. The next delay was NATO's restructuring. No doubt we shall soon be told that the Glasgow fair holidays are to blame.
Only one thing has become clear, and that is that the D of D-day stands not for decision but for that famous D-word, dither. I hope that we shall not be offered the same excuses this evening as those that the Secretary of State has used in the past. The excuses are that the Gulf war delayed the review and that the Government waited until NATO had concluded its defence review before they came to a decision on force levels.
I shall take up the excuse that has been given from a sedentary position by the silent Secretary of State, but I am somewhat surprised that that excuse turns out to be the war. My colleagues and I who considered the Armed Forces Bill and the Atomic Weapons Establishment Bill in Committee made the generous offer that we were prepared to suspend the deliberations of the Committees to allow Ministry of Defence civil servants and others to concentrate on the war effort. We were told explicitly—this can be found in the report of the proceedings in Committee—that there was no need to suspend the Committees because it would be business as usual for the MOD throughout the war. It is clear that the Gulf war can be no excuse for delay.
The second excuse is that the Government had to wait for NATO's restructuring. The Secretary of State's claim that he was waiting for an announcement on future NATO force structures before allowing us to enter into the myriad secrets of "Options for Change" is not borne out by General Galvin"s comments to the Royal United Services Institute on 30 May, to the effect that his officials had been waiting for individual member countries to decide on their own force levels before NATO finalised its arrangements. Indeed, most of our NATO allies are far more advanced in force restructuring than we are.
The fact is that the Government's excuses are entirely bogus, and they should admit that. They are excuses that are designed to obscure another massive dither. The Secretary of State is directly to blame for the decision-making paralysis that has gripped the MOD for more than a year. I have no doubt that if he had left the decisions to his junior Minister, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, they would have been taken ruthlessly and speedily, though they might have been less tasteful to the House.
Damage has been caused by prevarication. The despondency that is to be found in the Army and in defence industries could easily have been avoided. We are left with a Regular Army of 116,000 troops, a cut of about 40,000. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces tried this evening to give us the nearest thing yet to an outline of a strategic position, but in the absence of a full defence review and of any clearly thought-out and published criteria by which decisions are being taken, the cut of 40,000 begs two unanswered questions.
The first question is why there should be a cut of 40,000. The second question is. "Where are the cuts to be made?" Why was the cut not 30,000 or 50,000 instead of 40,000? The Opposition have asked repeatedly—we have repeatedly been refused an answer to the question—
whether there is a strategic rationale that explains the extent of the cuts. If there is not, the cut of 40,000 is, as we suspect, a short-term arbitrary cost-cutting exercise, and a disgrace. If there is a rationale that explains the cut, it is the best kept secret since the Normandy landings and the Government have been misleading the House. That is an even greater disgrace.
On Thursday, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), the leader of the Liberal Democrats, was kind enough to confirm that his party's defence aspiration was to reduce spending to 50 per cent. of what it is now by the year 2000. I understand that the Labour party has an aspiration, or even a policy, of cutting spending by a third at least, although that aspiration or policy is undermined by some Labour Members who want spending to be cut by a great deal more. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain to the House why it is the Opposition's aspiration or policy to cut spending by a third, without any comments being made about commitments, when they are criticising the Government by cutting spending by a fifth.
My policy is not to cut by a third. My policy, and the policy of the Opposition Front Bench, is to initiate a strategic analysis of the present threat, and from that to allocate a response. We do not endorse the Government's policy, which is, "How much do we have to save and what can be cut to achieve that saving?" I shall take up this issue later in my speech and elaborate upon it.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to allow me to make some progress. The Minister made a long speech and, unfortunately, my speech will be a little longer than usual.
All the evidence suggests that no strategic rationale lies behind the cuts. It seems that there is no logic attached to them. I shall give two examples. First, in his statement last year on "Options for Change", the Secretary of State said that there would be a greater reliance on reserve forces. There are strong rumours a year later that the regular-reserve force mix that is being considered within the Ministry of Defence will involve cutting the Territorial Army to 51,000. If that is so—I hope that the Minister who replies will be able to confirm or deny the rumour—we are talking of a 40 per cent. reduction in the Territorial Army's formal establishment, compared with a cut of 25 per cent. in the Regular Army's establishment. How is that consistent with the words of the Secretary of State in July 1990 that there would be a greater reliance on reserve forces?
If there is to be a greater reduction in the reserve establishment than in that of the Regular Army's, and if there is no strategic rationale for that, the inescapable conclusion is that the cuts will be made not on the basis of military and defence criteria but according to political and lobbying criteria. Could it be that the disproportionate cuts that are about to be inflicted on the reserve forces are the result of the relatively weak lobbying power of those forces within the Ministry of Defence?
I understand the hon. Gentleman's thinking and I know that he is trying to advance a valid argument. I think, however, that he forgets an important factor, which is that a review has been conducted, with us playing our part, through NATO. That is the strategic review. If he examines that, he will more clearly understand what "Options for Change" is all about.
A review has, indeed, been conducted by NATO. There has been far more of a review at NATO level than at Government level. Although the United Kingdom is a member of NATO, and although there is an overlap of interest, the United Kingdom has a separate dimension. Not all of our military commitments are related directly to NATO, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. We have four and a half roles, and some of them have nothing to do with NATO. I agree that NATO has done a considerable amount of thinking and has published many more options than the British Government. I am asking the Government to follow NATO's lead and to tell us the basis on which decisions about reserve forces and regiments of the Regular Army will be made. If they do not do that, they will be subject to pressures from lobbying from local interests or by the Treasury.
The questions that arise in respect of Territorial Army cuts arise also in terms of the Regular Army. It has been strongly suggested in the press, presumably on the basis of unattributable briefings by representatives of the Government, that the headquarters, one regular battalion and all three reserve battalions of the Parachute Regiment are to be cut. Where is the logic in cutting a highly mobile, fully established and well-regarded Parachute Regiment at exactly the same time as Britain is being assigned a leading role in NATO's rapid reaction corps? Surely greater emphasis, not less, is being placed on the mobility and flexibility of troop deployments. The answer is that no one knows what the logic is, precisely because of the lack of any coherent, top down, strategic declaration by the Government. The same problem is apparent with the infantry divisions.
One of the major problems affecting the British Army during recent years has been recruitment and retention. The Army is 3,000 soldiers below strength, and even after a cut of 40,000 the problem of recruitment and retention is likely to remain. However, from the rumours that we have heard there appears to be no sign—until tonight, when the Minister gave a reassurance—that the divisions and regiments with the best recruitment and retention records will be treated any differently from those with bad records. Again, lobbying power appears to be playing a significant part, especially in any consideration of the future of the Household division, which has a number of influential supporters.
My second question is about exactly how those cuts will be made. Perhaps the most craven act of the whole sorry business was the Secretary of State's attempt to protect himself politically by demanding that the Army decides which regiments are to be cut. It must be the first recorded case of a firing squad being ordered to stand in a circle. What leadership, what courage, what a cheek—the Secretary of State gives a whole new meaning to Churchill's phrase, "What a chicken! What a neck." This bunch of Ministers could never be accused of cowardice in the face of the enemy, only cowardice in the face of their friends.
Are not the Government embarrassed by the fact that two divisions, the Scottish and the Queen's, are reported to have refused to make any recommendations? Can anyone blame them? It is silly of the Secretary of State to expect the regiments effectively to sign their own death warrants. It is an abdication of responsibility and another example of the right hon. Gentleman being incapable of making a decision.
I am genuinely trying to help the Secretary of State and the Minister. The Minister knows that I always try to be helpful on these issues. In the absence of any published strategic criteria or a full defence review, whatever decisions they take they will be murdered by local interests, by lobbying and by the Treasury. In the absence of a full defence review, which has been constantly urged on the Government by the Labour party, it is inevitable that decisions will be determined largely not by strategic and military considerations, but by a combination of political expediency, old-boy lobbying and Treasury cost cutting.
To enter into a major force restructuring process without first having carried out the essential preliminaries of a full strategic review is to concede all the arguments in advance to the lobbyists and to the Treasury. It is a recipe for expediency, not for rational restructuring. It will mean not only a diminution of defence spending and of force levels—both of which are understandable and welcome in the present circumstances—but a maldistribution of resources within the reduced budget and a maldeployment of the reduced forces, neither of which is understandable or welcome.
The hon. Gentleman touches on a serious matter—the maldistribution of resources and the need to avoid that. If I understand him correctly—and I do not want to mislead the House—he said that the Labour party has not yet conducted any strategic review of the future for defence. Has it yet decided how much money it will spend on defence?
The Secretary of State is not misleading the House. He was correct to say that the Labour party has not yet carried out a full defence review, but we intend to do that within the first six months of government. We have not had the assistance of 150,000 civil servants, as the right hon. Gentleman has had. It is, therefore, all the more incredible that the Labour party is far more advanced on strategic thinking than the Secretary of State and his Ministers. We do not blame hon. Members or ex-members of regiments for fighting their corners, but we condemn the Government for embarking blindfolded on the exercise.
The regimental system and the structure and organisation of the British Army developed in the 19th century in response to its role as an imperial policeman, and it still reflects that basic structure. If it is to meet the demands and the challenges of the 21st century, its reformation should be based on at least a full review of those demands and challenges.
The history of our regiments shows that they were founded in the 18th, not the 19th century, and many were raised privately. Is the hon. Gentleman recommending that we return to private armies?
If I am wrong, I shall stand corrected, and I shall bring that to the attention of the author of "The Operational Arm of Warfare", which was produced by the Army staff college. No doubt the hon. Gentleman, with his reservoir of knowledge, is better versed than the staff college.
A piece of regimental history that should be known is that some of the regiments are more than 325 years old. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) was right to say that they were raised privately. They were given numbers, and they were then given county titles if they so wished. That is why their titles have the county first, then the number.
I shall stand corrected if I am wrong, but I repeat that the regimental system and the structure and organisation of the British Army developed in the 19th century in response to its role as an imperial police force, and it stil reflects that basic structure. Those words can be read in Hansard, and they can be compared with the report by the Army staff college. If I stand corrected, so does the Army staff college.
If the consequences of the Government mishandling of "Options for Change" will be hard on the regiments, they will be no less hard on the individual service men and women. Ministers would have done better to remember the stricture of Field Marshal Viscount Slim to his officers:
You will put first the honour and interests of your country, and next the safety, well-being and comfort of your men.
The Secretary of State hopes that as much as possible of the 40,000 reduction will be achieved by natural wastage. Even allowing for that, there is no escaping the fact that a large proportion will have to be achieved through redundancies. We are therefore entitled to ask about the arrangements that the Government are making to help service men and women made redundant to find a secure place in civilian life. The answer to that question is not encouraging—the Government have not made any proposal to offer service men and women a better quality of pre-release training, despite being urged to do so by the Labour party. There is not even the slightest sign that they are thinking about doing so. That is disgraceful in the economic climate that the Government have created and in which ex-service men and women will have to live when they are thrown out of the Army. Governments used to wash their hands of responsibility for soldiers once they left the forces. The present Government apparently intend to wash their hands of soldiers while they are still in the forces, before they are thrown out.
The situation is even worse in respect of housing provision for ex-service men and women, who are disadvantaged in two ways. There is a low percentage of home ownership in the Army, particularly among ordinary soldiers, and, having moved around frequently, the ordinary soldier will not receive high priority on a council house waiting list. In any event, waiting lists are longer than ever, and housebuilding at lower levels than ever, since the Government came to power.
What do the Government propose to do about those 40,000 of their brave young lads and lasses, of whom they like to speak so proudly, when they are thrown out without a job or home?
The Government should have at least made a decision—and I am glad to announce that they have done so. The Government have decided to do nothing. They are not even discussing with local authorities the problems that will inevitably arise—as the Minister of State made clear to me in replies to my parliamentary questions. There are no proposals either to utilise vacant land or empty properties owned by the Ministry of Defence. This is the same Government who castigate local authorities for leaving properties vacant.
Currently, the MOD owns 2,527 acres of vacant land that could be used for low-cost housing. We only ask that the Ministry considers doing so. Also, according to a parliamentary answer given last year, 16·3 per cent. of the 76,068 married quarters owned by the MOD were vacant, 5·4 per cent. of them for more than one year—and the Government love to castigate Lambeth council over precisely the same kind of figures. Of the 1,790 civilian properties owned by the MOD, 12.5 per cent. were vacant, and 6·7 per cent. of those had been empty for more than six years.
I quote those statistics to highlight the inactivity of the hierarchy within the Ministry of Defence when it comes to protecting the quality of life of our soldiers and of those likely to find themselves made redundant. Perhaps the Government's indecision and indifference should not surprise us.
I am glad that the Minister of State clarified tonight his remarks concerning the payment of compensation to the three young Grenadiers who were unfortunately injured. His clarification was useful, because many of us were horrified at his reported comments—but I accept that they were taken out of context. However, I say in all sincerity to the Minister that he should not be so defensive, because when he is, it can sound—even though the right hon. Gentleman might not mean this—as though he is accusing people who have been extremely badly injured of trying to profit from their injuries. I am glad that there is some movement in that regard, and I look forward to considerable sympathy being shown to those young men when the proposed meeting takes place.
In almost every sphere, and at almost every level, the performance of the Secretary of State and of his Ministers over the past year, and in respect of "Options for Change", has been woefully inadequate.
Will the hon. Gentleman now answer fully the question put to him earlier by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, because he only answered part of it? The hon. Gentleman accepted, as my right hon. Friend's question implied, that Labour has not undertaken—or could not undertake—any review of Britain's defence strategy. However, the hon. Gentleman did not say whether Labour has already decided on the level of its defence budget—that is, that it would be one third less than the present budget.
This may be difficult for the hon. Gentleman to grasp, but the whole purpose of a review is to review matters. If one draws conclusions at the beginning of a review, there is little point in undertaking a review. We make two pledges. First, we will spend whatever is necessary to defend Britain. Secondly, that expenditure will be based on a strategic analysis—a full defence review—within the next year, within the first six months of the incoming Labour Government.
That is in stark contrast to the performance of the present Secretary of State and his Ministers. At the level of analytical review, they have gone absent without leave. At the level of procurement and finance, they are in a shambles. At the level of force structures, they have passed the buck in the most craven fashion to the Army itself. At the level of service conditions, they have shown an indifference exceeded only by their indecision.
If the Secretary of State and his Ministers were judged by the same criteria that they set for soldiers, they would not proceed beyond page 32 of the "British Military Doctrine", which sets out the three elements of fighting power. They are the conceptual component—the thought process; the physical component—the means to fight; and the moral component—motivation, leadership, and management.
The present Government fail abysmally in respect of all three. At a conceptual level, they are unable, unwilling, or incapable—or perhaps all three—of undertaking the necessary review and analysis that is an essential prerequisite of any fundamental change. At a physical level, they have abysmally failed in their projected expenditure targets for the 1990s, and in the provision of rational procurement for the present. At the moral level, they have abrogated leadership, provided no motivation, and have undermined morale.
It is almost 400 years since Cardinal Richelieu remarked that history knows of many more armies ruined by want and disorder than by the efforts of their enemies. Almost four centuries later, the Government have set out to prove Richelieu correct. After all that, the British Army is entitled to ask, "With friends like the Government, who needs enemies?"
I strongly associate myself with the tribute that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces paid to the conduct of our soldiers, sailors and airmen during the Gulf war. There is no doubt that the sheer quality of the British Army was shown up for its absolute completeness, and I congratulate all involved on the excellent job that they did. I refer not only to the troops at the front line but to the attention paid to staff training, which clearly paid off in a big way, because logistic support was a major factor in our success. I am also pleased that the Challenger tanks performed well, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend also on the recent decision to choose the Challenger again. I am sure that Challenger 2 will be a first-class tank, and one that will sell well in many parts of the world.
I strongly disagree with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Ministers. If r, he Gulf war had gone wrong, and if Britain's involvement had been badly conducted, we would be blaming them. As it is, it is only right that we should congratulate my right hon. Friend and all his colleagues on the superb job that they did in beginning Britain's involvement at the right time, and in the right place.
I would not want the wrong impression to be created. I did not cast any aspersions against the Secretary of State's leadership during the Gulf war. I am happy to place on record my gratitude for the way in which the Secretary of State and his Ministers conducted themselves. If anything, it was the Secretary of State who chose to make the war a divisive issue. Despite the contributions made by some Back-Benchers and others, I refused to sink to that level of personal criticism during the Gulf war.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It may be that I was swept up by the hyperbole and overstatement that characterised the rest of the hon. Gentleman's speech. It seemed that he was criticising my right hon. Friend and his Ministers for everything. I am glad to learn that that was not the case, because my right hon. Friends deserve great credit for their conduct.
In turning to "Options for Change" and the proposed Army reductions, I hope that I will be constructive in suggesting to my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State the best possible way of completing the process that they have started.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Motherwell, North about the process being wrong. My right hon. Friends have put in a great deal of extremely good work. The fact that they carried on doing so during the Gulf war is a remarkable achievement, and I pay tribute to them for it.
I have great sympathy for Ministers when they tackle such an enormously difficult task as a reduction of this size in the Army. No enterprise could be more difficult, in military terms, than trying to do it at this time. However, I must tell my right hon. Friend the Minister that my sympathy for and realisation of the difficulties does not mean that I believe that Ministers do not have to listen to suggestions or criticisms which they think must be partial. There is a lot to be learned from people who have comments to make on the matter. The problems of reduction have to be faced, and I know of no one in any part of the forces, or among their supporters, who says that reductions are wrong. Everyone knows that it has to happen. The question is how. How can it be done acceptably, in a way that we can support and understand?
My constituents have brought the Scottish point of view and their concerns to my notice. Within the Scottish division there is enormous concern about how the problem is being tackled, which is not surprising because it is the best-recruited division against its establishment and has been for some time. Sad as it is, we must recognise that that is against a background where a large number of Army units are not able to get anything like up to establishment. I understand that 15 battalions are undermanned by more than 100 men and 20 are undermanned by more than 70 men. None of those is in the Scottish division, and I hope that that will be borne in mind.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should not try to strengthen the weak regiments by weakening the strong and that any across-the-board cuts would be very unfair to the Scottish regiments? We should enjoy the strength of Scottish recruitment and retain those regiments.
Perhaps it would help to speed the debate if I were to sit down, saying that the hon. Gentleman has made my speech for me, but he has not quite.
The Scottish division made a great commitment to the Gulf war—relatively, its commitment was greater than that of any other part of the Army. It is true to say that all those commitments were met by the Scottish battalions without any support or extra reinforcement, and few of the other parts of the Army could say the same.
The Scottish divisions have been excellent at recruiting and retention, which is just as important, and that should also be borne in mind. I am showing why there is concern and how we should tackle it. The Scottish division, in common with many others, has lost many important parts already. About 20 years ago we lost the Cameronians and it is interesting to note that recruiting in Lanarkshire has been difficult ever since and has never been up to average. There were two difficult amalgamations: the Camerons and the Seaforths, which have become the Queen's Own Highlanders; and the Royal Scots Fusiliers, which came from my constituency, with the Highland Light Infantry, which have become the Royal Highland Fusiliers. Both are extremely successful and happy regiments, but it was a difficult amalgamation.
Good recruiting in those conditions is a vital resource which we have far too little of. Many parts of the Army are suffering because they are unable to recruit enough men. The Scottish division does not have that problem, and I hope that that will be remembered.
Apart from the Scottish division, there is the question of the Scots Guards because if a reduction is made there it could affect Scottish manpower and also the second Royal Tank Regiment and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards which recruit from Scotland and have already been amalgamated.
I fully concur with the right hon. Gentleman in his concern about the Scottish division. However, I believe that during his time as a Minister he allowed the young soldiers recruitment depot to be moved from the Bridge of Don down to Northumberland, yet there was little outcry about it. The young soldiers' morale could not have been very high when they moved them into Northumberland without even considering the matter.
I remember that very well. The hon. Gentleman is right and we were considerably concerned about the transfer at the time. However, I understand that it has gone very happily, which is a good thing.
I understand my right hon. Friend's important argument about recruiting for the Scottish regiments. Does he agree that one of the great worries affecting the British Army is what will happen to regiments after the review? Will quality of performance and excellence be the end product? We will have a much smaller Army and therefore it must be a much more excellent Army. That is what is worrying many soldiers who want to continue.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State deserves great credit for the firm statement by the Secretary of State when he said that he believes in and supports the regimental system. My right hon. Friend repeated that today. There is no doubt that in large part the intensely high quality of the British Army is due to the regimental system, and the Secretary of State deserves great credit for that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the interesting aspects of previous amalgamations between regiments—up to six regiments have amalgamated in the south-east—is that one can rebuild esprit de corps and regimental commitment in the larger units?
I agree, as some of the amalgamations have been extremely successful. However, one cannot recreate the ability to recruit in certain areas and that is vital, that is what the Army lacks in many places and needs, and it is something that the regiments that I mentioned can produce.
I have mentioned that aspect only to show why there is concern and will now move to the constructive part of my speech. Difficult decisions have to be faced, and in no way can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wave a magic wand so that he does not have to take any of them. However, he must have backing and support, and he needs to do two things to get them. First, he must convince us all that the total figure that we are supposed to be reducing the Army to will be able to cope with future commitments. Secondly, when the reductions are decided and have begun, they must have an understandable and defensible basis. When one is doing something that people do not approve of, one cannot say to them, "I'm sorry, I can't produce a rational reason for this. It's just going to happen."
There is widespread doubt that 36 infantry battalions is anything like enough to carry out future commitments without being overstreched. It is difficult for those of us who are not intimately involved in drawing up the arms plot to spell out the figures. We must rely upon Ministers to help us out. There is no doubt that there is enormous concern among those who have operated the system and that is what convinces me that it is a real problem. Those people who understand about the arms plot understand how difficult it is for understrength battalions, those which have too heavy a programme and those which have not had enough leave to get the job done—the problem of overstretch.
Among people who know about such technical matters, and I do not claim to be one of them, there is a lot of doubt. If I understand what the Secretary of State said, we will have to produce two divisions of three brigades each for NATO's rapid reaction force—one at home and one in the British Army of the Rhine—which works out at 12 infantry battalions. In Northern Ireland we have to provide about 10 battalions—sometimes 11 and sometimes nine—and we all know that a tour in Northern Ireland requires longer than the five or six months of the tour because some battalions are preparing to go, some are recovering after they come back, and leave and retraining must be taken into consideration. The actual commitment could be half as much again.
We have many other commitments as well. We have a battalion in Belize; we do not know how long that will go on. We have part of a battalion in the Falklands, and one and a half in Cyprus. If we add the battalions in the air mobile brigade to the total of 36, we find that only three are left to carry out the entire home defence role.
The Secretary of State has said that the home defence requirement will not change substantially. My arithmetic may be suspect, but I quickly reached a total of more than 36 battalions. I shall be relieved if I am told that I am wrong, but I should certainly like an explanation. It is desperately important that we do not commit ourselves now to that figure of 36 until we are sure that we are not overstretching our resources.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the current doubts about whether the detente between east and west has become firm enough for us to make such reductions. I do not consider that a reason for not starting to make them in the first place, but it is, I think, a reason for us to take measured steps rather than committing ourselves immediately to such a low total.
As I have said, my right hon. Friend should take a second criterion into account. When the decisions have to be made, they will of course be painful, and many people will find some of them distressing. I entirely sympathise; we must be able to give each person a credible reason. 1 can think of only one that would hit home when unpalatable decisions had to be made. People would have to be told, "The regiment about which you are concerned cannot produce the necessary numbers, and has not been able to do so for some time. It is so understretched that we doubt whether it will be able to recover. Sadly, it will have to go."
At present, the rest of the Army is carrying the battalions that are below strength. According to personal accounts that I have been given, someone who is stationed with the next-door battalion, which may have only two companies, will in practice do more duties, even if nothing is said to that effect.
It is vital that the 36 battalions—or whatever the new number will be—are at full strength. The only way to achieve that is to go for the areas that, year in, year out, have the best recruitment and retention levels. I could defend that position anywhere; I should be as happy as it is possible to be to explain it to the colonel of a regiment that must go, and to say, "I am very sorry, but it makes sense to me." What I could not do is tell the commander of a fully recruited battalion with excellent potential, "I am sorry, but the powers that be are going to turn you out."
I intended my suggestions to be constructive; I hope that they will help my right hon. Friend.
I agree with much of what the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) has said. I took comfort from his arithmetic—not least because, in his new life, he is chairman of the institution with which I bank. I was able to feel confident to some extent that that institution and my modest resources were in sound hands.
I was also interested by the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the amalgamation of the Highland Light Infantry with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. As he said, it has resulted in a very effective and happy regiment. The amalgamation itself, however, was by no means happy. My illustrious father-in-law, who was colonel of the Highland Light Infantry, was compelled to resign—as, indeed, was the colonel of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. The resulting unhappiness lasted for some time.
I cannot escape a sense of frustration: we are making judgments, and commenting on the quality of decisions, at a time when we do not have before us a properly laid-out strategic framework in which the Government can operate their defence policy in the next five or 10 years. The Minister was at pains to deny that the proposals were Treasury-led, but he has found it difficult to persuade the Select Committee that they are not. A good deal of circumstantial evidence leads to the belief that much of what is now under consideration derives from a desire to find savings in the defence budget, rather than from a careful analysis of what is needed and what resources are required to meet our commitments.
All parties in the House are committed to reductions in defence expenditure but all those commitments were entered into before the events of 2 August last year. In each case, they were based on a number of assumptions: first, that there would be an early implementation of the conventional forces in Europe agreement; secondly, that the extension of democracy in the Soviet Union would proceed smoothly; and, thirdly—perhaps the most significant assumption—that there was little likelihood of British forces' having to fight a war outside the NATO area in the foreseeable future.
All three of those assumptions proved to be invalid. The first is coming to pass, but not without considerable difficulty, owing to the eddy and ripple of military influence being exerted on Mr. Gorbachev by the red army—an influence that may yet prove more decisive and independent than the tawdry intimidation of Lithuanians in their own country, as the Institute of Strategic Studies, at least, acknowledged in its recently published book "Strategic Review 1990–91".
I do not believe that we should engage in this debate without a clear indication of the Government's long-term proposals. "Options for Change" is not a defence review; Ministers go to great lengths to emphasise that. So far, it consists of the statement made by the Secretary of State approximately 12 months ago, with an attached list of the resources that we have now and what we might be reduced to, along with decisions that have been announced since then.
I find it very difficult to test properly the Secretary of State's announcement of the reductions in Army numbers without a clear understanding of the tasks that those men and women will be expected to undertake. Much of what the right hon. Member for Ayr said struck me as self-evident, and—despite, perhaps, his efforts to avoid it—seemed to make formidable criticism of the position adopted by the Government so far. That is hardly surprising: although he was probably too modest to say so, the right hon. Gentleman has considerable experience of fighting a rearguard campaign to ensure that a local regiment is not disbanded. The "Save the Argylls" campaign is still remembered in Scotland as a popular expression of public feeling that had a direct political consequence.
When, on 3 June, the Secretary of State announced his proposed cuts in the Army, he was criticised by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) for delaying such action. To some extent, that criticism has been repeated this evening: there have been accusations of indecision and dithering.
I do not charge Ministers with delaying; I charge them with haste. They have made decisions and announcements without having reached a set of strategic conclusions that they could share with the House. It is true that uncertainty is damaging to morale, but it cannot be more damaging than flawed certainty. There is a substantial risk that some of the certainty that is being demonstrated contains assumptions that are invalid and judgments that, essentially, are flawed.
What are the Government's plans for reserve forces, and I use that expression in its generic sense? This is not a time for cliche-ridden pleasantries about their contribution. I shall try to set out my stall for the principles that should be taken into account. Logic demands that if reductions are made in the professional Army, there should not automatically be parallel, similar proportional reductions in reserve forces. Logic also demands that if reductions are made in the professional Army, more reliance will almost certainly have to be placed, potentially and perhaps in actuality, on reserve forces. Reserve forces on whom greater reliance may be necessary require to be trained and equipped to perform at a higher level, and at a level that might take them into the front line. Reserve forces who may find themselves in the front line must be so well trained and equipped that they can, with a minimum of disruption, fit in with professional forces.
Those propositions seem self-evident. They do not seem to be embraced by the suggestion that one should simply make a flat-rate percentage cut in the allocation of resources to our reserve forces. I ask the Minister to consider this question, which I hope crystallises the points that I have made. Do the Government undertake that in their treatment of reserve forces they will apply the principles to which I have referred and not be seduced by a simplistic percentage formula, the purpose of which is merely to obtain financial savings?
There must be lessons to be learned from the Gulf. The success of the helicopter surely shows the need for an end to the uncertainty about the procurement of the Apache aircraft. The conclusion that no ground army could have withstood the aerial bombardment to which the Iraqi forces were subject, which has substantial support, underlines the close relationship between air and land resources and the extent to which the effectiveness of those on the ground, however well equipped or trained, is prejudiced if inadequate air power is available.
We know that tanks proved to be extremely effective, but we cannot ignore the self-evident problems of moving them from Germany to the theatre in which they are to operate. To some extent, we were fortunate that Saudi Ardbia had extensive port facilities, not least at Al-Jubayl, which might not be replicated in other circumstances where we sought to deploy such armour.
But it is on regiments that, I suspect, much of the debate will turn. I shall not be the first or the last to say that. The Government have seriously miscalculated the consequences of indiscriminate disbandments and amalgamations. That is why I was so impressed by what the right hon. Member for Ayr said. We know that the regimental system is central to the organisation of the Army. I think that it was being suggested that, to some extent, the system was established in the 19th century. I think that Secretary of State Childers and his immediate successor were responsible for a reorganisation then, but the regimental system had existed for many hundreds of years before that.
We know that regiments have a special place in the affection and loyalty of the communities from which they recruit. It is not only retired generals who feel strongly about these matters. I received rather an emotional letter from the widow of someone who had served in a Scottish regiment. She now lives in my constituency, and she said that the regiment was one of the things of which her husband, who served in the ranks, was most proud throughout his life. She kept his medals because it reminded her of the tremendous affection and loyalty that he had for his regiment. It is not only generals or colonels who are anxious about the continuance of regiments with which they have been associated.
In considering which regiments may have to be reduced, we must have regard to those that have recruited and retained best. The Scottish regiments fulfil those criteria. I am urged by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) that Welsh regiments also fulfil those criteria. I feel a deep sense of unease that the Government have seen fit to leave it to the Army to make proposals on the cuts. That may be described as consultation, but the perception is that responsibility for the decision has been handed to the Army. That is an unwitting dereliction of ministerial duty. These are matters for ministerial decision, not for Army decision. If the Scottish colonels are correctly reported as having declined to do the job that was urged on them, I believe that they were right to do so. Indeed, they may have been constitutionally right to do so. When such decisions are made, they are inevitably political, and responsibility should neither be diluted nor devolved.
Last year, we paid tribute, as is customary on these occasions, to the bravery and professionalism of the men and women of the Army. When we did so, I doubt whether many believed that within 12 months those men and women would be exposed to such challenges and risks as many of them faced in the Gulf. I hope that, like me, you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were impressed and proud of the announcement of the awards to those who served in the Gulf. It was eloquent testimony to their bravery and skill.
This year, because of the example of our forces in the Gulf, we can renew that tribute to their bravery and professionalism with redoubled conviction. But there are others who almost daily must show great courage, matched with great restraint. I speak, as some may suspect, of those who serve in Northern Ireland. I doubt whether Northern Ireland is regarded as a glamorous posting, although there is strong evidence to suggest that many who serve in the Army look forward to it as it is an opportunity to put into practice the skills that they have acquired and to show their commitment in a practical way to the Crown. They deserve our support and recognition, and, as long as their presence in Northern Ireland continues to be necessary, a debate such as this should not take place without their contribution being properly recognised.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) referred to 1 July and the battle of the Somme and rightly reminded us of the sacrifices that have been made by the British Army and the valour, courage and proficiency that it has shown. I, too, would like to pay a tribute not only to past generations but, as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said, to those who are serving in the Army today.
I suggest, however, that in the first world war it was the predecessor of Kitchener's citizens' army, the 100,000 strong all-volunteer regular Army who fought in the concluding months of 1914, who offer a lesson that is more relevant to our experience today. After three months, they were virtually decimated, but in the face of overwhelming odds they slowed up and eventually stopped the Kaiser's army. In the last few weeks of that campaign, what helped to stem the tide, and therefore made the basis of the allied offensive possible, were the forces of the Territorial Army, who supported what was left of the regular British expeditionary force. That small army of 100,000 was highly trained. Its soldiers used their weapons with such proficiency that the German generals thought that they were equipped with machine guns, although in reality they had far too few of them. Their morale was second to none, and we all admire their sense of duty.
Those forces were supported by the Territorial Amy; they were all volunteers; and they were highly trained—ingredients which many of us have emphasised as the qualities that must be retained if we are to make a success of "Options for Change".
I am now speaking under the 10-minute rule, and I know that many right hon. and hon. Members are anxious to speak. I shall make my points, although too briefly to do them justice.
I warmly support the regimental system, which is fundamental to the morale, sense of duty and proficiency of the Army, especially the infantry. It would be unwise of me to go into which units should or should not be retained or into how many should be amalgamated or even disbanded.
I should like to put a point to the military specialists, the professionals, who will have the unenviable task of making recommendations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, although I imagine that the Government, not the generals, will make the decisions. Will the professionals consider retaining at least a cap badge at company level or, if that is thought unworkable, keeping a regimental tie with those reserve units which are expected to play a combat role at short notice? Time will not permit me to elaborate, but I believe that that is probably the most workable of the suggestions which I have heard.
It has been argued that the changes proposed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State do not bear any relationship to our military needs or strategy and that the figures produced for the three services, especially the Army, have been plucked out of the air and are almost entirely Treasury driven.
I have some reservations about the Government's proposals, but if the implication is that they have little to do with the threat to our security, I beg to differ. We played a constructive part in the review of NATO strategy. We cannot have a series of individual national defence reviews. That does not work any more. We are all part of an integrated command. Britain alone cannot come up with a defence review and think that that will provide for its defence or for national interests. There must be a collective and international system involving the closest friends and allies.
The trust and confidence built up in the NATO process have served us well. I do not accept that there is a need for a purely national defence review. Once we have agreed the figures with our allies—I believe that the cuts make some sense—we have a duty to consider how they can be implemented within the broad parameters of the NATO defence review.
The United States believes that it should cut the size of its armed forces in Europe by 50 per cent., compared with 30 per cent. for Germany and 20 per cent. for Britain, of which a large portion will be borne by the Army. The changes mainly involve the NATO central front, in which the Army plays a greater part. If our commitment to the central front is substantially reduced, it follows that, much as one may regret it, the Army will be called to bear a greater burden than the Royal Air Force or the Navy.
On grounds of logic and military sense, the Government are right to point out that there has already been a review. From that review has emerged a role for Britain for which no other country could be better suited. The new NATO strategy fits in with the Army's traditional role, recognising that the massive Soviet presence in eastern Europe is withdrawing, that East Germany is now part of the Germany bundeswehr, that the Warsaw pact is being disbanded and that there will no longer be troops almost muzzle to muzzle glaring at each other across a division of about 150 miles. For the first time since the end of world war two, the bulk of our Army, with all its dependants, will no longer be stationed in Germany, at great expense.
The new NATO strategy will emphasise flexibility and mobility, which could not be better suited to an all-volunteer Army. We have been relieved of the prospect of fighting, as part of a mass of land forces in continental Europe, one of those old-style clashes of continental armies. That analysis may be incorrect, although I believe that it is the best one. I am comforted by the thought that Germany, the United States, France—although it is not part of NATO—and the rest of our allies agree that that is probably a reasonable scenario. An outbreak of hostilities involving the Soviet Union is not thought likely to occur in the foreseeable future. If it did, we would have available nuclear weapons and the capability of the Air Force and our sea forces.
In those circumstances, the proposed cuts are probably about right, but that leads me to my caveats. The strategy should not work on the cheap; if it is on the cheap, it will not work. It will break down if we believe that the Army can do the job without the best possible equipment. Compared with the continental armies, ours is small. There is a risk that it is too small. That can be overcome only by Ministers meeting the wishes which have been expressed today.
We must emphasise that the proposed force can discharge its new role effectively only if it is "meaner"—to use the word bandied about the Ministry of Defence. Flexibility involves airborne troops and other specialised troops, especially those trained in amphibious landings and equipped to operate in difficult terrain. For the force to fulfil its role, better equipment and rigorous and more realistic training are needed. As the force is on the small side, if it is to perform its tasks, particularly in Northern Ireland, the obligations which I have spelt out must be met.
My last point is also a warning. We must pay more attention to our reserve force. Because the size of the regular Army has been reduced and the world is still an uncertain place—I am not talking just about Europe and the Soviet Union—we must have reserve units which can easily be called out to fill any gaps.
Some people argue that that is a cheaper way of dealing with any unexpected troubles that arise. Whatever happens, it will cost money. Some may look for a big dividend from "Options for Change" and believe that we can go much further down the road of saving money. I remind them that, in 1984–85, 5·2 per cent. of our budget was spent on defence compared with an estimated 3·7 per cent. in 1992–93, according to the public expenditure White Paper.
If we are to discharge our duties in the way that I have outlined, and if we recognise that we cannot fulfil expectations of making great economies in the armed services, we shall be able to fulfil our duties as laid down and agreed by us in NATO.
However, I emphasise the role of the Territorial Army, which in 1914 supported the first 100,000. It supported the regulars against the Kaiser's army and helped to stem the tide. That is a lesson that we should never forget.
I also congratulate our forces who were in the Gulf. They were professional and brave, and we were all relieved that the conflict was short.
However, I very much regret the Minister's remarks in which he tried to misrepresent the role of the Labour party during the Gulf war. We wanted every effort to be made to ensure that a war was avoided and that peaceful measures should be tried first. I, in my innocence, thought that that was exactly what the Government were purporting to do. Once the die had been cast Labour Members, led by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, went time after time into the Division Lobby in support of our troops. The burden of the Minister's remarks showed that he failed to recognise the overwhelming support from all parties for our troops once they were at war. That was very churlish of him, and I want to put the record straight.
In the few minutes that I have at my disposal I want to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) who is also a former Minister of Defence. It is a long time—21 years—since I was a Defence Minister. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the importance of the regimental system. There must be something in it. That may not sound tidy to the civil service mind, but the regiments are important blocks for building the modern infantry in this century as in previous ones. The system has lasted a long time and is based on local loyalty, on families and friends who join a particular unit because their forebears did the same.
There is a marvellous Welsh word that I shall spell out for the convenience of the House. Cynefin means affinity to one's habitat and ties to one's area. It is a major plus factor in times of stress, when the chips are down and our forces are in battle. That idea may not commend itself to the tidy civil service mind, but it is reflected in recruitment, certainly in the Principality, and in other parts of the country.
We are facing a period of cuts, and I have always accepted—as most hon. Members now accept—that we must reap the benefits of the peace dividend and of the general warming of relations. It is important that if the rationalisation and the restructuring are to happen, it must be on a fair basis. I was disturbed by the Minister's remark to the effect that the Army should be left to get on with it. Nothing similar has been said about washing one's hands of the issue. It is a constitutional decision for Ministers to take. The Army should decide on the minutiae and the niceties. No amount of Pontius Pilate-like washing of hands will get Ministers out of this difficulty. It is for them to decide; they are answerable to the House and they must take into account all the factors, including history, tradition and their political answerability to the House.
We do not know what criteria will be used, and that fact has been echoed in many speeches today. As the right hon. Member for Ayr asked, will recruitment be an important factor? We know that some regiments are undermanned, but in Wales—and in other parts of the country—we are able to recruit and man its three regiments of foot.
And more. We may lose one regiment of the line—like other parts of the country, we have also suffered cuts. I am old enough to remember the South Wales Borderers and the First Welsh Regiment leaving. I had the privilege of serving with them as I have also done with the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Wales has suffered cuts and has lost many major military establishments, which resulted in a loss of local employment. We want to know what the political criteria will be. Can we be assured of fairness? Will recruitment be considered important? In view of recruitment in Wales and of the past cuts, I believe that there is a strong case for Wales to maintain its three regiments of the line.
What are the current proposals? Like all those who take an interest in these matters, I have heard that a suggestion emanated from a meeting of generals and colonels of regiments at which those representing Wales were heavily outnumbered that the Royal Welch Fusiliers should be amalgamated with the Cheshires. I have never heard such a ridiculous and politically inept proposal. Thirty to 40 per cent. of the Royal Welch Fusiliers are Welsh speakers. Does anyone believe that if the oldest Welsh regiment disappears people will flock to join the Cheshires? That is nonsense. If recruitment means anything, there must be a political input into this major decision.
I do not know what the input of the Welsh Office is. When individuals and organisations have been to see the Secretary of State for Wales they have received a pretty dusty, non-committal answer. He, unhappily, serves two masters. He represents Wales, in theory, but he has his Cheshire constituency at heart. He does not believe that there is any great difference between those interests because people cross the border. He has allowed his Cheshire responsibilities to come first.
There is a problem with the Royal Welch Fusiliers because we were outnumbered at a gathering where there were more English than Welsh and because the Welsh Office did not speak out. The Minister of State announced to the Western Mail a fortnight ago that he was in charge. He said that everyone from the Queen down knows that he is acting as Secretary of State for Wales. This is his great opportunity to speak up and to do something for Wales.
The suggested amalgamation is reprehensible. The Army would suffer, Wales would suffer and it would be disastrous if recruitment were not recognised as an important factor. The least that the Minister can do is to tell us what the criteria will be. The House should know, so that we can judge before the die is cast. The issue is too big to be left to the generals. There should be a political input and a political decision. The Government cannot wash their hands of an important regiment which has served the country well and which I hope will continue to serve it in the future.
Every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken has rightly praised the enormous skill and courage with which the Army has in the past year carried out its role in Iraq and in Northern Ireland. Those two names—Iraq and Northern Ireland —remind us that the world is still a very dangerous place despite the collapse of international communism during the past few years.
The nature of the threat has changed, and it is possible to make substantial cuts in the defence budget. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced that the size of the Army was to be reduced by about 25 per cent., I did not object. I think that there is room for a reduction in the size of the Army, especially as, for the first time since the end of world war two, it will basically be returning to this country. For the first time since the war, more than 50 per cent. of trained soldiers will he serving in the United Kingdom. That means that we ought to be able make substantial cuts in the administrative tail of the Army.
In Germany, we need major hospitals and big supply depots, but we shall not need them once the Army returns to this country. The means that we should be able to make disproportionately large cuts—within the 25 per cent.—in the administrative tail.
It is astonishing, therefore, that larger than average cuts are proposed for our combat units. Infantry battalions are ideally suited to provide a flexible response to the uncertain threats that we shall face in future. I was astonished to learn that it is proposed to cut our infantry from 55 battalions to 36, of which two will be Gurkha battalions. That means that there will be only 34 British battalions left.
The senior officers who have to plan are clearly unhappy, and some of them have said, "It will not work." Unlike, say, the Green Jackets, or the Airborne division or the Argylls, the Queen's division is not made up of prima donnas. The Queen's division is at the heart of our infantry. The council of colonels of the Queen's division
question the viability of an Infantry of only 34 British Battalions in the light of what they perceive to be the commitments".
What can be done? First, I suggest that the Gurkhas should be taken out of the "Options for Change" exercise. I do not believe that they should be disbanded. We should keep a brigade of 4,000 Gurkhas, but as the basis for a United Nations force. There is a need for a United Nations force in northern Iraq at this moment and, in the near future, there may well be a need for such a force in Cambodia. There has also been a collapse of authority in Somalia; aid workers have had to leave because there was no one there to protect them. The Gurkhas could provide the basis of an ever-ready United Nations force. There is much interest in the concept of a United Nations standby force given the thawing of the cold war, and Britain should play a role in developing such a force.
Secondly—and here I admit to an element of special pleading—I think that it is crazy to cut the third battalion and the regimental headquarters of the Parachute Regiment. If we are to play a leading role in the rapid reaction force, it is plainly barmy to reduce the size of the Parachute Regiment. There will also undoubtedly be an extra need for special forces to tackle the terrorist threat in the years to come. We should remember that about 70 per cent. of the Special Air Service and more than 50 per cent. of the special forces as a whole are recruited from the Parachute Regiment. To dry up the recruitment pool for our special forces does not seem to make any sense—except, perhaps, under a policy of equal misery for all.
Thirdly, the 36 front-line battalions should be supplemented by a force of perhaps 10 base battalions in a lower state of readiness—perhaps with some reserves with special training and call-out liabilities on their strength—which could be reconstituted in 30 to 60 days to support the 36 front-line infantry battalions that would be kept up to 100 per cent. strength and receive the best possible training. The existence of "hybrid base battalions" could act as an insurance against the problem of overstretch which, under present plans, will undoubtedly face the Army.
The Secretary of State and his colleagues earned warm plaudits from the House for their conduct during the Gulf war. It would be a tragedy for them, and for the country as a whole, if they went down in the history books as Ministers who broke the back of the British infantry.
I echo the tributes to the Army, its leadership and its training; they are superb. In the time at my disposal, however, I can choose only one theme. I shall concentrate on disabled service men and ex-service men. I welcome the Minister's comment about the three Grenadier guards whose solicitors are to meet representatives of the Ministry. I regard that as half a step forward, but only half a step. The Minister could simply have said that he accepted the principle that they would be paid. He has not done that yet, so they are not guaranteed compensation.
I want to raise again the problem of those ex-service men disabled by alleged negligence before the Crown Proceedings Act was changed in 1987. Unlike the Guardsmen, those ex-service men do not have the right to sue, nor do they receive compensation. It is scandalous that they should be left in limbo.
The House will know that between 1947 and 1987 members of the armed forces were banned from suing the Ministry of Defence for injuries due to alleged negligence. The House may recall the campaign that I led to change the law and abolish section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act which ended in victory. On 8 December 1986, the then Secretary of State—the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), who spoke from the Back Benches today—announced that the Government had decided to abolish section 10. There is no doubt that that was the result of the campaign. Subsequently the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) became an Act, and section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act was abolished.
Ironically, the very disabled ex-service men who had campaigned with me were denied the benefit and did not even receive an ex gratia benefit. Among those severely disabled service men was one of my constituents, Martin Ketterick, and Snowy Clingham, both of whom have become well known. Their loyalty for the services has never been doubted. However, they have felt betrayed.
As the Ministry of Defence remained intransigent, I contacted the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). Her answer merely echoed that given by the MOD. I suggested to her that a trust fund should provide ex gratia payments for those ex-service men who were disabled before the law was changed before the announcement of 8 December 1986. I said that payments could go to those who could show evidence that their injuries were probably due to negligence.
However, the then Prime Minister said that the trust fund proposal did not surmount the principle of restrospection. She objected that an open-ended scheme would
cause distress and embarrassment to former service men alleged to have caused injury to others.
I suggested a compromise to the then Prime Minister. I said that to avoid an open-ended commitment claims should be considered only from those injured in action which led to an official investigation and a conclusion of faulty behaviour, equipment or procedure. That was a very reasonable proposition. To overcome the problems of retrospection, I suggested that ex gratia payments should compensate only for costs and suffering experienced after the decisive date of 8 December 1986.
As a further attempt to solve the problems, I leaned over backwards and suggested to the then Prime Minister that the ex gratia payments should be based only on the written evidence available as that would undoubtedly rectify the major causes of injustice. Every one of those proposals was rejected by the right hon. Member for Finchley.
When the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) became Prime Minister, I asked him to reconsider the issue. He said that the difficulties
in principle and in practice
were too great to act. The Government encountered difficulties
in principle and in practice
when they dealt with haemophiliacs who were infected with AIDS as a result of contaminated NHS blood transfusions. The Prime Minister found his way round that and commendably so. He should do precisely the same thing for disabled ex-service men. He should find his way round the problems and difficulties. They believe that the MOD's behaviour has caused difficulties and they believe that the Ministry has misled them.
Very few people inside or outside the House have heard of the "redress of grievance" procedure. However, when that campaign was at its height and when the disabled ex-service men were helping me, senior Ministers in the MOD told them about the procedure. It was suggested that the disabled ex-service men should divert their attention to that procedure. They took the Ministry at its word and they pursued the redress of grievance procedure.
Later, at exactly the same time that the Secretary of State for Defence announced in the House that the law was being changed, my constituents and the other ex-service men were informed by the MOD that they were to receive nothing from the redress of grievance procedure. That was an astonishing way for the Ministry to act.
I want to ask the Minister several questions. Does he accept that Martin Ketterick and others were encouraged by the MOD to use the procedure to which I have referred? Did the MOD believe that that procedure would be successful for those ex-service men? If so, what caused the change of mind? Was the MOD familiar with the problems of those ex-service men? Did it understand them? Was it a coincidence that every campaigner was rejected? 11 would welcome answers to those questions later.
I remind the Minister that the Royal British Legion is committed to persuading the Government to give retrospective compensation. The soldiers', sailors' and airmen's association agrees with that, as does the Federation of Army Wives. There is a great body of responsible opinion in favour of that and hon. Members on both sides of the House want a fair deal for those ex-service men. I hope that the Secretary of State and/or the Prime Minister will reconsider those issues and do what they can for those ex-service men, who face a serious situation. A great injustice is being done. Unless some change can he made, that injustice will embitter future service men as well as the ex-service men. That is the last thing we want. I beg the Minister to reconsider, to change his mind and to give justice to those very loyal ex-service men.
I feel like someone who has been queuing since Thursday for a ticket for Wimbledon. I am glad that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has seen it out with me, and I am grateful for his help on Thursday. I am also grateful for the presence of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement who, as always, is listening attentively to the debate.
What seems like a long wait is but a short time in comparison with the years of training that our armed forces have to undertake. Those long years of training are normally used only in a few hours. Having seen the way in which our armed forces acquitted themselves in the Gulf, we must be grateful for their work.
Our wait is nothing in comparison with the wait for the end of the cold war. It was gratifying to learn that the Warsaw pact was dissolved in Prague today. The Soviet Union has allowed its allies to go their separate ways, thus announcing the official end to the cold war.
I am sure that, like me, hon. Members on both sides of the House did the prize crossword in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday. Interestingly, clue 11 across was:
Where it costs nothing to live in non-communist countries?
Of course, I need not tell hon. Members that the answer was, "the free world". We may be free, but the cost of remaining free is anything but cheap.
"Options for Change" has created much controversy in the House. Over the past few days, people have asked whether it should be Treasury-led or threat-led. We would be naive to believe that the Treasury does not have a role to play. However much people may try to hide it, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is looking for a 20 per cent. cut in defence expenditure over the next few years. The Labour party seems to want to hide the fact, but it is looking for a cut of at least one third, while the Liberals were clear about wanting a 50 per cent cut.
We could consider the threat aspect and ask the generals what they believe should be spent on defence. Any prudent general would say that we should be spending two or three times as much as we are spending now. However, we must be realistic. We already spend more than our European partners. Members of all parties are looking for a peace dividend. We must be ready to talk to our would-be opponents and reduce the threat and reduce the number of forces that we must put into the field.
I have not heard much about getting our armed forces into the right state to be able to fight. Much has been denied or swept under the carpet about our armoured corps within Germany. To get one third of those people in the field, I am told by people whom I trust that we effectively stripped our forces in Germany and we had about six months in which to do that. That cannot represent sensible economies. We must examine that matter.
There is no point in having forces who cannot fight; we might as well disband them. However, if we want them to fight, let us make sure that they are properly equipped. The MOD has taken that matter on board. The equipment budget is not being cut anywhere near as much as the manpower budget is being cut. We must learn the lessons, recruit people and fill regiments, and they must be suitable fighting forces.
I now refer to the MOD as a customer. We on this side of the House rightly want value for money, but we cannot expect the Vickers and Westlands of this world to give value for money unless they get clear statements from the MOD about what we want them to do and give them a timely order for the equipment that we have asked them to develop and produce. Delay costs money, and that money must be recouped by those companies or they will go out of business. Therefore, the money must come from the taxpayer. We must get it right.
We must also be careful about competitive tendering. It is all very well if we have half a dozen companies trying to make many different systems and the MOD, perhaps, buying two or three systems, but we often buy one-offs. It will be impossible to keep several companies with their own research, development and manufacturing capability. Therefore, we must be careful about how we deal with competitive tendering. We must take sensible decisions in the light of what we are trying to buy. Of course, if we buy boots or rifles for the Army, we buy a large number. That is very different from buying a frigate or a tank.
It is interesting to note that The Daily Telegraph today said that research facilities in the MOD should be cut and that perhaps the only things that we should bother to keep are radar and underwater weapons. My hon. Friend the Minister will know that I agree that there are problems, but The Daily Telegraph has got it wrong. We cannot expect the high level of defence research to be shared by many different companies. There are ways of managing that issue. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the next steps Defence Research Agency, but we roust ensure that the DRA has the funds that it needs and that we are not duplicating research that is being done better by our allies. Clearly, when it comes to underwater weapons technology, we are well ahead of many of our allies, and certainly ahead of the Americans, who spend far more money on it. We must play to our strength.
I can give no credit for decision making in the MOD. As my hon. Friend knows, I was a management consultant in an earlier life and was often called in to examine decision-making procedures. I was close to many decisions in the Procurement Executive, whether in respect of land, air or sea systems controls. The MOD is run around in circles by civil servants. The Procurement Executive, which is incredibly labour-intensive, is not being put to good use. We must ensure that we have good value for money, that management decisions are made, and that, every time we suggest that we cut the number of people, we move them to one site. Co-location exercises, as my hon. Friend knows, outlast any Minister's term of office.
We saw that game with the quality assurance directive for more than a decade. I am sure that, in respect of the sea systems control group, which is already four years old, the so-called decision will not be made for another four years. I am quite sure that it can make it to the decade as well.
I tried to get the large, glossy copy of "Options for Change". We have a three-page list of what we are looking for. That is very good, but we should be discussing what we are committed to achieve. If we give them a set of equipment, our forces will try to achieve whatever we politicians tell them. Unless we make those decisions early, we are bound to get them wrong. In the past few days, we have discussed strategic issues—for example, should we have paratroops, or are paratroops obsolete? Should they be brought in by helicopter? What about amphibious lift? All those matters should be discussed in full. I refer also to the tank versus helicopter in respect of fire power, air versus land versus sea, and how those three aspects interact. How about technology versus manpower? Again, nobody seems to be talking about those points. We are all worried about which regiments will be kept or not kept. Frankly, that is not the issue.
When there was an announcement about a reduction in my junior leader's regiment in Bovington, I did not jump to my feet because I believe that we must look at all these things. Dorset must be careful not to try to grab too much or not to accept its share of cuts. However, the rapid deployment force should be based close to Dorset for many sensible reasons. I shall not list them as I have no time to do so. Dorset will do its bit. If we want a free world, we must be prepared to pay for it.
I join hon. Members in paying tribute to our armed forces for their record of dedicated and disciplined service throughout their long history—from the tragic battle of the Somme, the 75th anniversary of which has already been mentioned today, to Operation Granby in the Gulf and, of course, still for 24 hours a day in Northern Ireland. History demonstrates that every nation requires armed forces and that a modern nation needs the shared security of regional alliances. It should surely be self-evident that the strength of those forces should be determined in proportion to the risk or threat that they may be required to confront.
I am happy to say that the threat of superpower confrontation and massive land assault in central Europe has gone, and thank God for that, but there are still plenty more residual risks that we require our armed forces to face up to. The risks remain. There is the obvious risk from the Soviet Union which still has massive forces—they are still being enhanced—on the northern flank of our NATO ally in Norway. Secondly, there is the mounting risk of direct or spillover conflict in eastern Europe, whether in Yugoslavia or in any of the other areas where economic, ethnic or religious pressures may be building. I suppose that we have some of those ethnic or quasi-religious pressures every day in Northern Ireland.
Thirdly, there is a probability of further need for United Nations-sponsored task forces to contain threats to international order "out of area", which could mean literally anywhere. Fourthly, by the same token, this world is full of risks of natural or unnatural disasters in which emergency relief can be most efficiently achieved with military logistics and military efficiency. That means volcanoes, floods, famine, the recent events in Kurdistan and so on.
Those are just some of the ongoing risks that we may expect our forces to be able to confront. I want to know whether the "Options for Change" exercise has included any assessment of any of those risks. What are the options? The term "options for change" implies that different choices have been put before Ministers and the House, but I do not think that hon. Members have been made aware of any of them.
Last year the Secretary of State for Defence announced a range of cuts to the strength of our forces. Since then our forces have been deployed to the Gulf and have played their part in winning a war and have then returned—but we are still waiting to hear about the specific options. Along with my colleagues on the Defence Select Committee I have been doing my best to evaluate such options as there may be. All of us are deeply suspicious that the Ministry of Defence is tailoring its perceptions of the risk of conflict to meet short-term financial restraints dictated by the Treasury. By all means let us have a peace dividend—I hope, a big one—but let us have a genuine and open assessment of the risks and options before we reach any firm decisions.
It would be reckless folly to carve up our armed forces in a way which would leave them without adequate means to perform the tasks that we are likely to have to ask them to carry out in future.
Just as the threat to the future of Rosyth naval base does not make sense in the context of the strategic environment, I suggest that MOD's approach to the review of the Army seems equally bereft of logic especially its assessment of the future of Scotland's seven infantry battalions. I am not surprised that the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) have already mentioned that. It falls far short of military precision; it bears all the hallmarks of a crude Treasury carve up—and that should be exposed in this debate.
Early last month in anticipation of this debate I tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Defence asking him to publish a table showing
(a) the nominal manpower establishment, (b) the actual manpower strength, (c) the percentage of nominal establishment achieved, (d) the number of recruits becoming available each year, and (e) the rate of retention of recruits and trained soldiers for each regiment and division in the British Army.
In the context of "Options for Change" these are fair questions to be asking. The answers to them are facts which any Minister should have at his fingertips before making decisions about the future of regiments and
battalions. It would be fairly silly to wind up successful regiments while maintaining units that have difficulty keeping themselves up to strength. But the Minister replied, after the usual holding answer,
I will write to the hon. Member."—[Official Report, 19 June 1991; Vol. 193, c. 224.]
Not surprisingly, I have not heard from the Minister on that question. Perhaps he does not know the answer; perhaps he does not want to know it. He certainly does not want Members of the House of Commons to know the answers to such questions in anticipation of a debate of this nature.
I am happy to say that I have been able to obtain some of the information from another source. The figures are not right up to date—they apply to the end of 1990—but they are near enough.
The information shows that the nominal establishment of the 50 infantry battalions in the British Army came to a total of 29,320 men, an average of 586 soldiers per battalion. The actual strength of the battalions totalled 26,408—a shortfall of 2,912. The recruitment and retention performance ranged from a deficiency of more than 17 per cent. in the Queen's division through to the —this is relatively fine tuning—deficiency of 3 per cent. in the Scottish division. Trends in recent years show that of the seven infantry divisions all but the Scots and the paratroops are struggling to recruit and retain the number of soldiers that they require. Surely that information should be taken into account in any "Options for Change" exercise.
It would be invidious to mention the names of the regiments concerned, but I see that one battalion in the Queen's division was 174 below strength; one in the Light division was 135 below strength; one in the Prince of Wales division was 120 below strength; one in the Guards division was 105 below strength; and one in the King's division was 100 below strength.
The contrasting range for the Scottish division was as follows: one battalion was at three above establishment and the worst was only 41 below establishment. I note that the Scottish division infantry training depot at Glencorse has the lowest adult recruitment wastage figure of all such depots in the British Army.
Has my hon. Friend taken into account the fact that the true numbers may be smaller than those that he has quoted because some of the soldiers are away from their battalions undergoing training?
I understand that that has been taken into account, but since I do not have much time I shall not go into the point in detail.
Against this background of manifest difficulties in recruiting and retaining infantry, what is the sense of sacrificing flourishing battalions in the Scottish division? We should build on strength. The local regiments in Scotland have been through the process of cuts and amalgamations before. Any further cuts in the number of regionally-based regiments, with their enduring sense of local loyalty, could do lasting damage to the interests of the British Army; and they would, incidentally, deprive more than 100 young Scots each year of a respected and worth-while job opportunity, and of the training that goes with it. Further cuts would also make a great many people, including the right hon. Member for Ayr and myself, very angry indeed.
I am not surprised that the Scottish regiments have refused to play the Minister's game of Russian roulette. I share the personal feelings expressed by others, being the son of a member of the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Member of Parliament representing a large number of soldiers serving in the first battalion the Royal Scots, the first regiment of foot in the British Army, which has just distinguished itself again in the Gulf.
I am convinced that there is a continuing role for the Scottish infantryman in a world which still contains a wide range of risks. It would be reckless of the Minister to lose this valuable resource. We have become accustomed to the Government destroying national assets during their 12 years in office, but I hope that even they will not be daft enough to proceed with the threatened destruction of one third of the Scottish infantry division.
My right hon. Friend the Minister began by mentioning a reduction in the production of offensive weapons in the USSR. That is good news, but I am far from satisfied that it has gone far enough. The Soviets are still producing vast quantities of weaponry of the most sophisticated and modern type and we must be extremely vigilant if we are not to be outmanoeuvred.
I believe that "Options for Change" means assessing the minimum forces required and then establishing the best value for money for achieving that aim. We have been told that the present Army establishment of 156,000 is to be reduced to 116,000—a significant reduction. We must pay particular attention to the good value for money given by the Territorial Army. A Territorial soldier costs on average one sixth of his regular counterpart. So instead of thinking of reducing the TA's numbers—I listened with interest to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell)—we should recognise that it is very good value for money. We should think of increasing its numbers.
I was delighted to hear the Minister say that 1,700 reservists served in the Gulf, of whom 1,000 came from the Army. As recently as 12 June this year his noble Friend claimed that only 572 served there, which caused a great deal of resentment in the Territorial Army, because it was responsible for training the people who may have gone on to S-type engagements. If they had not been trained by the TA they would not have been equipped to go on such engagements in the first place—so we must give the TA credit for that, and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend did so.
Nevertheless, the news did not come in time to be included in the press release issued by the Minister of Defence about the City parade on Friday 21 June—it made no reference to the Territorial Army, and that caused a good deal of annoyance among reservists. They felt upset enough as it was because they had not been called in greater numbers to serve in the Gulf.
S-type engagements involve people who volunteer to serve with the regular forces on the basis of their Territorial training. There is a rule that a bounty cannot be claimed by a Territorial soldier if he is not available for nine months of the bounty year. That has been waived for those who volunteered to serve in the Gulf, but not for those who volunteer to serve in Northern Ireland. Many people feel that there is just as much danger in Northern Ireland as there was in the Gulf and it is wrong that those who volunteer for S-type engagements are precluded from getting bounties even if they have served for longer than three months, although for fewer than nine, in any one bounty year. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take an urgent look at that, because it is causing a great deal of discontent.
The availability of reservists depends on the help and assistance of employers, who play a vital role. I was delighted to hear recently that the employers are now considered to be more important than honorary colonels and that they are being invited more frequently to witness TA soldiers in camp and elsewhere so that they can see the beneficial effects. This has come about because it has been realised that it is essential to have employers on our side. I hope that when those in industry are considered for high civil honours, their support of the Territorial Army is taken into account. I know that the TA, with the assistance of the Ministry of Defence, sends certificates to employers to thank them for their support, but there must be a commitment to serving the country.
The TA can be compared with the National Guard, of which the United States made great use in the Gulf. More than 63,000 National Guard members served in the Gulf; a further 8,000 National Guards went to Europe to release personnel to serve in the Gulf; and another 60,000 were mobilised in the United States, ready to be sent to the Gulf if required. That shows the commitment of the United States to its reserve forces. Had we been able to provide similar opportunities for our reserve forces, they would have appreciated much more that they are an essential and integral part of the Army.
We need a complete reserve formation, and TA brigades are required. The system whereby TA soldiers are attached to other units is not working. Such soldiers were not called up to the Gulf, and the system has not proved satisfactory. Much discontent was caused thereby. Perhaps we should ask not only for a specific TA brigade but for TA officers serving in a high level in the echelons of the armed forces.
A rapid reaction force is being created and, recently, the TA has been training for certain action that would be useful in this regard. In particular, I think of the third line logistic support—transport, medical, supply and rear area defence, which are all aspects to which the Territorial Army could make a positive contribution. There has been much talk, and advertisements on hoardings, about the "One Army" concept and the importance of getting over the fact that the Territorial soldier is every bit as important as the regular. We have not heard much of that recently. I am disappointed, because if that had been implemented, the Territorial Army would have made a greater contribution in the Gulf.
I think here in particular of the paras, who have already been mentioned. They are extremely well recruited and deserve to be encouraged and expanded rather than cut. They can make a positive contribution towards the general reserve, and also, by helping the civil powers, to national disasters. We should give them a specific role in that, as the National Guard has in the United States.
If that is to be the case, we have to ensure that the Territorial Army has adequate training time, adequate permanent staff, the best equipment, adequate access to training areas, enough ammunition and plenty of administrative support. It should also have an additional factor that is essential in any TA unit—the best club in town. We have to say thank you to the wives and families of the TA soldiers, as well as the employers, and without the best club in town, these people cannot be thanked either.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister would not expect me to sit down without mentioning the fact that this year is the 175th year of continuing service of the Gurkhas with the Crown. Some 500,000 of them served in the 1939–45 war, of whom 52,000 were killed or wounded. They won 13 Victoria Crosses and 13 officers attached to them also won VCs. There are now 8,000 Gurkha soldiers and in May 1989 an undertaking was given that that number would not be reduced below 4,000, come what may. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to confirm that.
The use of Gurkha soldiers makes a positive contribution to third world aid. Their salaries, which are repatriated to Nepal, and the pensions that they receive on their return are a major source of income for the country. It would be entirely wrong if we did not ensure that this was properly acknowledged. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give some answers later.
I did not intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), but he may be interested to know that there is a Territorial Army infantry brigade, based at York. I took some of my hon. Friends to see it on a 14-day exercise and they were impressed by the performance of the soldiers. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman wants an infantry brigade in the south, he will have to fight jolly hard for one.
The thought crossed my mind that the Minister passed to the colonels the problem of the amalgamation of the regiments and that they came back and said that they did not want to do it. If anybody else in the Army had done that, they would have been court martialled. It is time that Ministers got themselves into a courageous mood and started to make some decisions. A lot of argument tonight has been about what I would call a dereliction of duty —failure to come up with a decision. Perhaps Ministers have read what happened in 1968—some of us can actually remember what happened. The Secretary of State for Defence then was a Labour Member who represented a Leeds constituency. He conducted the whole business on a semi-secret basis and came up with the hotch-potch with which we are living today.
One famous north country regiment survived because the colonel-in-chief happened to be the King of Norway. Another survived because it was the Duke of Wellington's regiment. Logic went out the window when nepotism came through the back door. Some of us suspect that that might happen again and some hon. Members have implied that it is already happening.
I do not want to be boring, but I, too, want to refer to the problems of the Parachute Regiment. Hon. Members have referred to the criteria upon which that regiment is based. I believe that the 4th Volunteer Battalion of the Parachute Regiment has a record equal to none on recruitment as it is over-strength. I support that parachute battalion as it originated from the 9th Durham Light Infantry Battalion. The battalion headquarters are in Pudsey and it recruits from Leeds and Bradford. It has outlying companies in Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Oldham, Lincoln and Leicester. What better dedication could one get than that of those volunteers who travel such distances to link together to form an effective battalion? Above all, they display all the attributes that one would expect from soldiers of the Parachute Regiment. I sincerely hope that the issue of the numbers expected to keep a battalion up to strength will be given full consideration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) mentioned the battle of the Somme. In those days an infantry battalion had 1,000 men. In the second world war an infantry battalion was made up of 800 men. Now, an up-to-strength infantry battalion is made up of 650 men. However, that battalion has 10 times the fire power of its predecessor in the second world war.
History shows that the British people, as Rudyard Kipling aptly said, do not want to know about the Army until the trouble starts. We tend to forget totally about the Army. In the 1930s our armed forces were depleted to the point of total weakness. The British expeditionary force that went to France in 1940 was probably just as ill-equipped as the British expeditionary force that went to France in 1914. It did not have the equipment to mount an effective defence and if it had not been for the morale of Dunkirk and elsewhere the losses would have been greater and many more would have been taken prisoner. We never learned the lesson from that.
When the conflict started in Korea we sent our troops out with tropical equipment. It never dawned on the silly farts to check the temperature in that part of the world. British troops were fighting in atrocious, bitter conditions and had it not been for the generosity of the Americans who were so well-equipped we would have had severe casualties. They would have been caused not by being shot at by the enemy, but by succumbing to the weather conditions.
What about the confrontation in Malaysia? Again, we were ill-equipped and had it not been for the incompetence of the communist insurgents in some areas we could have been faced with a long conflict. Some of us can remember Aden. An ill-led attack—if that is the right word—was made in a part of that colony that was then ours. That resulted in the men being sent in with a bad communications system as the signalling equipment was out of date. The weapons given to those men were not their own; they had been left somewhere else. As a result of bad leadership many were killed, including many from the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.
Hon. Members have already spoken about what happened to our armour when it eventually got to the Gulf. We were damn lucky it was a short campaign, because otherwise our troops would have been stranded there without the necessary spares and equipment. Had it not been for the heroic efforts of the Vickers' workers of Leeds and Newcastle, who worked round the clock to get those spares out to the Challenger tanks, the position would have been far more serious.
I have always been a traditional supporter of the British regimental system because, under that system, it does not matter what one's rank is in the Army. If one is part of the regimental system one can safely say that, when in difficulties, one will be looked after by one's comrades. If the worst comes to the worst and a man is wounded and has financial difficulties as a result, every effort will be made—even if the state cannot provide support—by that man's regimental comrades to give him some financial assistance to help him and his nearest and dearest through that difficult time. I was pleased to note today that the Minister and the Government have had a change of thinking and have accepted that there is a greater obligation to help those who have the misfortune to be wounded either in peace or in war. They will be confronted with fewer financial worries than other men who have served in British forces over the centuries.
It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) who clearly feels so strongly about the British Army and all it stands for.
A year has passed since we debated the defence estimates. For obvious reasons the emphasis then was on the momentous changes in eastern Europe and their implications for that region and further afield. On that occasion I suggested tentatively that one day NATO forces might have to be deployed to combat instability in the Balkans or the Baltic states. Little did I imagine that, in a matter of months, British troops would be sent to confront a dictator who had occupied a country "east of Suez", to coin a historic phrase.
Today I want to examine some of the implications of restructuring the British Army—an exercise made all the more sensitive for my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces as it is taking place in the aftermath of such a brilliantly successful campaign. First, however, I should like to pay a heart-felt tribute to all of those honoured in the Gulf awards announced last week. Those awards are a recognition of the sterling work done by all ranks within the Kuwait theatre of operations. I hope that the House will forgive me if, as a result of my particular experience, I single out Brigadier Cordingley and the 7th Armoured Brigade with whom I had the privilege of serving when they thrust forward 120 miles in 65 hours from Saudi Arabia, through Iraq, to Kuwait. Their commitment, cohesion, competence and compassion were something extremely special, even by the Army's high standards.
I believe that there is immense relief in all parts of the Chamber at the retention of the regimental system. It still staggers me that there were people who were prepared to argue that we could have infantry battalions numbered 1 to 35 or armoured regiments numbered 1 to 12 or whatever. They still expected that we could preserve the sort of loyalty for which our Army is renowned around the world. Our regimental system has caused jealousy in armed forces everywhere. However, I do not envy my right hon. Friend some of the delicate decisions that he must consider in the next few weeks. He has already said that he will take into account some of the geographical arid historical factors behind the regiments. I welcome his assurances today that levels of recruitment, notwithstanding the cap on recruitment in recent months, will also be one of the factors taken into account when reaching any decision.
If regiments must be disbanded I hope that their identities will be preserved in the Territorial Army and the reserve forces, whose role in the future will, I hope, be expanded and better defined, as set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne).
If my right hon. Friend takes such factors into account I believe that he will be rewarded by the regiments showing the very adaptability and flexibility that he wants. The regiments will put all their armchair critics to flight whatever challenges lie ahead.
On the wider issue of the new shape of the Army, I shall express some reservations that I trust will be interpreted in the constructive way in which they are offered. I can understand the political technique of saying to the Army, "We plan to reduce strength by 25 per cent. to 116,000 men. Now you tell us how to structure the armour, infantry, artillery and logistic units to fulfil our various roles." It might be useful to put numbers in context and to say that a reduction of 40,000 men represents about the total number of our service men in all three services who were involved in the Gulf.
What I do not understand is how and when the Army, if it so believes, says, "With the numbers with which we are left, we are not able to fulfil the roles that you have defined." It is not for me to say to the Army that I hope that it will not be unduly inhibited in saying that. The issue is clearly too important to take that approach.
It has been widely reported that we are faced by a Treasury-led exercise. I believe that the current euphemism is "close Treasury scrutiny". When does "close Treasury scrutiny" become overbearing or a damned sight too cosy by half'? Does an Army of 116,000 men mean, when taking account of training establishments, a field Army of under 100,000? If so, is that compatible with home defence, NATO and out-of-area commitments? My mathematics may be at fault, and certainly they are no better than those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), but if the Royal Armoured Corps is to have a 50 per cent. reduction in manpower and infantry battalions are to be reduced in number by 40 per cent., does that imply in the context of an overall reduction of 25 per cent. that teeth arms are treated more harshly than support arms? I would welcome education and assurance from my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I believe that he used the word "commensurate" in his earlier remarks, but I would be grateful for further details.
The House knows that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is trying to achieve a smaller and better Army that is better at home and better at work. If that is achieved, retention levels should be improved and many of the old bugbears of service in the Army will be removed. Those difficulties are not confined to pay because the Government have done marvellously well in increasing the pay of our armed forces. A more important factor is boredom, for example, which often arises from lack of opportunity to train, restrictions on track mileage and on the use of ammunition, as well as restrictions that are imposed on the use of spares.
If improvements are to be made in all those areas as well as in domestic conditions—involving separation within families, inadequate accommodation and general turbulence—money will be needed. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to ensure that the new model Army has proper financial support from the outset.
The current underprovision was revealed somewhat starkly by the British Army of the Rhine's deployment of a mere two brigades in the Gulf. That underprovision must not be built into the Army's new future. Unless funding is sorted out we shall not be able to afford the kit that served us so well in the Gulf. I shall not go into details now as time does not permit.
I make two positive suggestions in the belief that the service dividend comes before the peace dividend. First, I am told that the Ministry of Defence telephone directory is remarkable in size per se, and in its apparent justification of the internal structures of what many perceive to be a top-heavy organisation. I feel sure that the average senior non-commissioned officer or major who is made redundant as a result of "Options for Change" will be less disgruntled if he sees actual evidence of the slimming down of the MOD. We hear that there are about 20,000 people vulnerable in the MOD, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister whether that number is "adequate" in the broader-brush scene.
Secondly, there is the old issue of the hypothecation of funds, which I ask to be readdressed. It is a ghastly term but we all know what it means. In the context of options, it would be reasonable and equitable for the Army to benefit from the sale of superflous assests. The MOD sits on vast realty. Government Departments and nationalised bodies have not been noted over the past years for being very good at the management of property portfolios, even in the change of climate since 1979. With the vast capital receipts that could be realised, combined with the slashing of maintenance costs of many installations, I suggest that there could be a reciprocal gesture from the Treasury. Surely that is not too much to ask. That would mean that most of the proceeds could be reapplied for our practical and necessary defence needs. The importance of my argument is emphasised by rumours that a significant amount of the funds contributed by sympathetic countries during the Gulf war are languishing in the Treasury.
It could be argued that the Falklands conflict postponed the radical rethink of the Army, a process that other institutions have rightly had to face in the past decade. The Army is not shy of such an exercise; it simply wishes to be reassured that it will have the proper funding and structure to enable it to carry out the tasks that it undertakes supremely well. After all, it is no coincidence that the United Kingdom has been given the incomparable privilege of permanent leadership of the rapid reaction corps.
In the reorganisation of the Army, I ask my right hon. Friend to look to the lessons of the past and to show flexibility in dealing with the problems that may arise over numbers. I believe that the competence and consistency of this Conservative Government offer the best reassurance to the country that its defences will not be undermined in future.
I am concerned about several aspects of "Options for Change", but, as I need to make a case, I shall confine my remarks to the provision that is made in the Colchester establishment for corrective training for service men and service women who are under sentence. The hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) has told me that he wishes to be associated with my remarks.
It is not possible properly to discuss Colchester's circumstances without making reference to the Royal Navy detention quarters at Portsmouth. I am uniquely placed in at least one respect to comment on both establishments, because I served simultaneously as a member of the boards of visitors of both establishments. In the past, I have made representations on behalf of the RNDQ that provision for corrective training with a nautical bias be retained at Portsmouth under direct Admiralty management and control. Until the special report of the Select Committee on Defence that considered the Armed Forces Bill during 1990–91, that case had always been made successfully. With the introduction of that report, however, it seems that the Ministry of Defence is to announce a timetable for the closure of RNDQs and a redeployment of resources at Colchester by October 1991. The discussion of potential consequences of such a redeployment is the purpose of my contribution to the debate.
The corrective training centre at Colchester was opened in its present form in 1988, though it was well known before that for its rigid discipline and effective application of what became known as the short, sharp shock. Whether it deserved such an epithet in those days is beyond my judgment because I had no direct experience of the regime. I must say, however, that all the service men whom I encountered who had sampled its discipline displayed a marked reluctance to return for a second helping.
I can vouch for the fact that the rebuilt establishment provides a well-balanced, comprehensive, rigorous and effectively demanding programme of rehabilitation for the A-category service men under sentence who intend to return to their units and for those in D-category who are destined for discharge.
The Colchester establishment—the military corrective training centre—was designed to accommodate slightly more than 200 males. Over a year ago, when proposals were first mooted to accommodate female offenders, I wrote to the Secretary of State urging that if the proposals were to be pursued, proper, permanent and purpose-built facilities should be provided for them, including the additional staff that would be required to supervise detention and rehabilitation. I believe that I wrote that recourse to temporary accommodation would be financially wasteful in the long term, and that conversion of existing space would have adverse effects on current detention programmes and would be nonsensical following so quickly on the official opening of such a carefully conceived and purpose-built centre.
Sad to say, the wrong decision was made last year, so the MCTC has been deprived of about two dozen places for men while it currently accommodates only five women in the space that has been reallocated. As a result of that error of judgment, there is now a waiting list of service men under sentence. These men are wrongly detained in regimental guardrooms while they await transfer and induction to Colchester. Over the past fortnight, there have been between four and 15 men in that position. The situation is unacceptable and is to be deplored.
Without betraying confidences, I shall let the House know how the members of staff who are responsible for the MCTC feel about the present circumstances. They say that the
MCTC is being asked to provide an instant short term solution to make up for their reluctance to tackle the issue earlier … These issues are contrary to the fundamental
principles of corrective training and ethos of the Centre which have evolved through experience and errors made in the past over many years. To set them aside because of demand without making adequate additional provision is a dangerous and unprofessional precedent to set and one which should not be taken lightly. As you are aware the MCTC can be likened to a delicate eco-system which is highly susceptible to change and inappropriate tinkering. The Imprisonment and Detention Rules are our safeguard and should be honoured in full … We believe we have tinkered with the Regime enough and that accommodating the RN with a 'quickie ad hoc' solution is not the answer. We believe we have a 'golden' opportunity to fund the build of the new F Section on the basis that its completion will release sufficient accommodation to meet the RN's requirements on the closure of RNDQs. Not only is this the most practical solution but the financial savings are both obvious and considerable and would more than offset the cost of the new build in less than 2 years. We would have thought that even the Treasury would support such a decision.
Those are the thoughts of the staff; that is their well-considered response. We pay those people to look after those responsibilities on our behalf.
Let no one suggest today that proposals under "Options for Change" will reduce demand for places in corrective training. That cannot be so, and I shall explain why. Guardroom personnel in numerous units have been or are being civilianised. The number of operational guardrooms has already been reduced in the Army, and in the Royal Air Force the regional service detention rooms have been reduced from five to four. Many units of all three services will be returning to serve within the bounds of the United Kingdom. It is natural to assume that the charge of absent without leave will become more frequent as it is infinitely easier to go absent close to home than while stationed overseas. I remind the House that absenteeism accounts for about two thirds of charges.
I wish to make three more points. First, it would be wrong for RNDQs to be moved before proper provision is made. I ask the Minister to announce tonight that October 1991 is not a possibility. Secondly, the Royal Navy and the RAF should be making a financial contribution to the cost of Colchester. My understanding is that they do not. Why not? They should do; perhaps they could buy the place. Thirdly, all existing accommodation needs to be made secure. That was known 12 months ago, when prisoners escaped from Colchester simply by knocking holes in the ceiling, getting into the roof space, kicking off the tiles, dropping to the ground, and legging it into the distance. That is still possible today, but nothing has been done about it. Why not?
I appeal to the Minister to pay serious attention to the points that I have raised, because they are of pressing urgency. I would have loved to be able to comment on some of the "Mad Mitch" aspects of our earlier discussions, and I would have loved to be able to talk about the future of the armed forces. In my North Atlantic Assembly role, I serve on the committee that has been examining those circumstances since 1988. Sadly, I must confine myself to the remarks that I have made.
As we have witnessed the collapse of the Warsaw pact, the withdrawal of more Soviet troops to inside their borders, and the reluctance of President Gorbachev to support every communist dictatorship in the world, it is right to review our defence requirements and to plan a new role for NATO.
For the past 40 years, our defence plan has envisaged a mass attack on West Germany by the Soviet, Polish, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian and crack East German divisions. That can no longer happen. We must respond to that change, and we need to develop new armoured divisions that can react immediately and flexibly to any new threat. The world is still a very dangerous place, as we recently discovered, and too much talk about a peace dividend can be sadly misplaced.
I must make it clear what the peace dividend actually means: we keep our defences strong, and peace is our dividend. The phenomenal changes in Europe have been possible because the west has maintained strong defences —and the Conservative party and Government can take a special pride in the fact that Britain has done more than any other nation in Europe to guard the peace over the past 40 years, as witnessed by our immediate and brilliant response to aggression in the Gulf.
The north-west of England has done its fair share in keeping the peace. I am proud to represent the county town of Lancashire. However, the King's Own Royal Border Regiment covers not only Lancashire but Cumbria, so today I am not pleading only a localised constituency case. Over the years, the north-west has consistently produced high-grade soldiers. It continues to produce, on a per capita basis, more recruits for the Army than any other region in the United Kingdom. Of crucial importance is the fact that the census projections show that the north-west will continue to have more than sufficient recruits in the future—even better than the eastern side of the Pennines.
We all accept that there will have to be reductions in the Army, painful though that is. Those of us who believe in the regimental system—of whom I am very much one—must prove that the system is sufficiently flexible to respond to change—but the response must be fair and be seen to be fair. When the subject of amalgamations is discussed, I trust that the Government and the Ministry of Defence will need no reminding that all the infantry regiments in the north-west were amalgamated in the 1959 round of defence reductions. In total, seven former regiments in the north-west were reduced to the current three. It would be a great travesty of justice if any of those fine regiments was required to suffer amalgamation yet again—or, even worse, be threatened with disbandment —while regiments elsewhere escaped amalgamation in any form. It would be doubly unjust if any unamalgamated regiment hailed from any area whose future recruiting potential was less optimistic than that prevailing in the north-west.
The MOD requires the King's division to reduce from eight regular infantry battalions to six. The Royal Irish is giving up one. The question is whether the second battalion should come from east or west of the Pennines.
The criteria of the executive committee of the Army Board are clear. Top priority is manning, to ensure that battalions are fully manned in future. The crucial matter is future manning potential—a point made also by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). The total number of young men in the target area for the KORBR is better than that in the east of the Pennines. Based on the national census for the 16 to 24-year-old age group, at each five-year point the west will have more young men than the east from which to select the numbers that they need. There would be a wider choice from which to recruit the projected 115 men needed per battalion per year to maintain operational levels—and wider choice means better quality.
The next criterion is that, in principle, those regiments that have not been amalgamated until now should be considered for amalgamation before others that have been amalgamated. The west has an unanswerable case. Not only have all the regiments to the west of the Pennines previously been amalgamated, in 1959, but two to the east have never been amalgamated. It would be wrong to inflict further amalgamation on the west while two in the east remained unamalgamated.
Another criterion is geographical representation. If the KORBR goes, Cumbrians will have no county regiment in which to enlist, which would be contrary to the ECAB criteria.
The final criterion is territorial links with the Territorial Army. West of the Pennines, each of the three regiments has one regular and one Territorial Army battalion. The east has only a regular battalion. The Yorkshire Territorial Army elected to be separate, so it has no kindred identity with the regulars. Moreover, the strength of the Territorial Army in Lancashire was acknowledged two years ago by the provision of a superb new headquarters in Lancaster —the finest in the United Kingdom.
I sympathise with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the delicacy and the sensitivity of the decisions that Defence Ministers and their senior military advisers must take. That is why my right hon. Friend and the Army are to be commended for producing impartial guidelines and criteria for determining which regiments are to be disbanded or amalgamated. I and those of my hon. Friends who represent other constituencies in the north-west studied the guidelines and decided that they were the best possible criteria for the Minister of Defence to use in reducing regimental strength fairly—without any individual regiment using undue influence. As the three regiments west of the Pennines have already been amalgamated and show the best recruiting potential, no changes to them should be made—if the Army's own guidelines are to be followed.
I am not making a special case for the King's Own Royal Border Regiment or the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, or asking for the Army's rules to be bent. Nor do I expect my right hon. Friend to make any announcement tonight. However, I make one demand of his winding-up speech; that he assures the House that the official guidelines produced by the executive committee of the Army Board will be followed in the King's division in the north of England.
If my right hon. Friend does not give me that assurance, there will be grave suspicion that some generals are bending the rules to favour the eastern side of the Pennines and some unamalgamated regiments there—and then the fat will really be in the fire. However, if my right hon. Friend assures me that the Army will follow its own rules, I am delighted to tell him that the young men of north-west England will continue to serve Queen and country as proud members of their county regiments, just as they have always done.
I have been listening almost as a bystander in the debate between Government Back-Benchers and Ministers. It has been almost a case of the poll tax revisited. The Government will have a lot of trouble on their hands dealing with the legitimate aspirations of the supporters of county regiments. I wonder whether it is right to concede the argument automatically that Army numbers should be reduced, and therefore to fight over the bones that are left—"My regiment before that of anyone else."
One of the strongest cases made so far was that advanced by the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) who argued conclusively that we will not be able to discharge our military obligations in wartime if the Army is reduced to the level proposed by the Government. I may add that we will be unable to discharge our peacetime obligations with the numbers that the Government envisage. That is the crux of the matter.
One is usually embarrassed about repeating cliches, but that used by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) deserves to be repeated time and time again. I refer to her remark that the peace dividend is peace itself. Since 1970, whatever Government have been in office, defence expenditure has fallen, by a total of 19·2 per cent., and manpower by 33·4 per cent. One may concede that in 1970 we were overdefended or overcommitted, but one wonders how far one can go before reaching bottom.
Unless the Government are prepared to abandon Britain's commitments, which would be difficult, the Army and the armed forces of the future will be so overstretched that they will be a paper Army, Navy and Air Force. Last July, I asked the Secretary of State how, if the Royal Navy could not discharge its obligations with a force of "about 50 frigates and destroyers, it would do so with about 40" —and we know that the figure will really be 34 or 35. The same applies in respect of the Army.
Over the years, we have made the decision to have one of the smallest armies in NATO. A United States report on allied contributions to common defence published in May 1991 shows that, in terms of active duty, military and civilian manpower, and committed reserves in NATO and Japan, as a percentage of total population, Britain comes twelfth. It is clear to me, as it must be to anyone, that our armed forces, having been at a high level in 1970, have fallen to a level below which it will be difficult to sustain Britain's future military defence.
The threat today is not that which existed two or three years ago, for it has moved much farther east. While I am delighted by the actions of President Gorbachev, I refer the House to a paper by a Soviet general who has not been made redundant by today's abandonment of the Warsaw pact—General Lobov, a senior member of his country's General Staff. He reported that the Soviet military was being disadvantaged by the conventional forces in Europe treaty and suggested several solutions—and I am sure that he was writing not as an isolated member of the Soviet General Staff but on its behalf.
General Lobov's prescription is to improve combat training; effect the transition to a contract system—that is, professionalisation—for manning; maintain headquarters and war time strength in peace time; search for new forms of co-operation on defence issues with the armies of former allies; and improve mobilisation capacity under the new economic conditions.
General Lobov also calls for a rapid reaction force based east of the Urals—that is, outside the CFE treaty area. He cites the United States' rapid deployment force, numbering 444,000, as an example. He also argues for a blue water navy capable of interdicting allied reinforcement. I know General Lobov very well—he does not hide his views—and I suggest that we need to be a little cautious about developments in the Soviet Union.
Perhaps a few years from now, the situation will be beyond doubt. President Gorbachev may have control over the military, and the CFE, START 1, and START 2 treaties, and others, may have been implemented. If so, we will be able to perceive with certainty that our forces need not be kept at their present level—or even at that now envisaged by the Government. However, I suggest that that time has not yet come. When it does, I will acknowledge it—and hope that everyone else will.
It is a pleasure to speak in any defence debate, and particularly so now, because my views roughly correspond with those of my party. Having listened to the robust speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), and in anticipating the future, I speak with a great deal of pleasure about what has been happening. I listened with pleasure, too, when right hon. and hon. Members strongly defended our armed forces —unlike in many previous debates in the House. It is ironic that the Minister of State's criticism of Labour's nuclear policy is that we are considering cancelling Trident SSBN 08. At one time, we were criticised for our intention to cancel SSBN 05, 06, and 07.
It is legitimate to argue, bearing in mind strategic arms reductions, that three submarines will be feasible. I fully acknowledge that four may be desirable, in case a disaster befalls one of them. However, it may be that by the time the flotilla is at sea, there will be greater co-operation with our French allies, and that the need for many submarines from European nuclear powers to be at sea simultaneously will prove unnecessary. We heard this afternoon that the Navy is cancelling only one submarine, and we must be thankful that it is only one.
Although the threat has changed, it has not been eliminated, and the euphoric response that followed developments in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union has been put on ice. Some people fondly imagined—and still imagine—that armed forces have become superfluous. Some argue even now that our security requirements will be encompassed and satisfied by some new world order, the United Nations, the CSCE process, and, more implausibly, the European Community. However, we will not be able to meet our full security requirements unless we maintain a high commitment in the future, as we have in the past, to NATO.
That is not just because that commitment will prevent unilateralism—and I do not use that word in the old sense —or because, if there were any so-called EC alternative, to do otherwise might sever the link between Europe and North America—which would be a catastrophe in every sense of the word. It is because those who aspire to a European defence order now are being somewhat premature, by at least a decade.
The year 1991 has been seen as critical for NATO. How will NATO be able to agree and to implement a new political and military strategy in response to an environment in Europe characterised by both positive and negative phenomena? The way in which NATO has adapted, even before the London declaration, has been quite incredible. It has shown relevance and that it is not prepared to wither away in empathy with the decline of the Warsaw pact NATO is relevant, easy to justify and is not merely wanted by most EC countries; its existence is earnestly desired by many of our former adversaries in eastern Europe, who certainly knew that its existence underpinned their security.
The second critical issue for 1991 will be whether the historic process—building down the east-west military confrontation—continues or whether there will be any major setbacks.
The third major area of concern in 1991 involves what lessons Europe will draw from its mixed experience during the Gulf crisis. In my humble view, that experience would not lead one to the conclusion that NATO will be supplanted by the EC.
I look back upon a regimental career which started in the East Surrey regiment and continued in the Royal Fusiliers, the 43rd —the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry —the King's African Rifles, and ended in the Parachute regiment. If I embarked upon special pleading tonight, I could go on for quite some time, but I would not include the King's African Rifles.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is absolutely right to set parameters for the reduction especially in the infantry and, to leave it to the professionals to decide, but then he has to make the final decision. I cannot understand why any hon. Member on either side of the House should object to that. The last thing that I want is to see politicians making the initial decisions. Let the professionals do it; that is what they are paid for, and for which they have the expert knowledge.
I take issue with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and other Ministers over the levels set, especially for the infantry. It is not merely the Queen's or Scottish divisions which are worried; every soldier I talk to believes that we are cutting our infantry far too hard and fast. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) in saying that 38 battalions would be much nearer the mark. The Minister would have given his professionals a much easier task if he had given that figure.
There is no doubt that the British infantry is of the finest quality in the world. It is part of our material for war, but such quality cannot be achieved overnight. It can be achieved with machines. One can stop a tank production line, press a button and start the line producing again. However, once one loses quality manpower one is left high and dry because it will take at least a year to begin retraining, and I doubt whether one could do so even then.
The quality of our infantry and the special quality of our airborne soldiers has been recognised and respected world wide. Without that quality, the Falklands campaign would have failed. There would have been no Goose Green and no Darwin. Without that quality, we could not have played such a magnificent part in the Iraqi campaign. The Royal Fusiliers were there in strength and played their part very well indeed. Without that quality, we certainly would not have been allocated the prime task that we have been given within the rapid reaction force. Every hon. Member can be proud of that role.
My message is that the cuts are too deep and are in the wrong place. That case was argued very well by John Keegan in an article in The Daily Telegraph today which many hon. Members may have seen. He says that an infantry battalion costs about £15 million a year, in round figures. I hope that the review of the other arms of the service bears that figure in mind. In the article, he mentions that the intelligence corps has 1,600 soldiers and exists
to interrogate enemy prisoners and to exercise 'field security' in time of European war.
Let us have a good hard look at that. A hard look, too, at the education corps—never my favourite—might provide us with another battalion. The chaplains' department must cost another £15 million: and then there are 200 dentists and 700 doctors—one to every 220 soldiers in the Army. That is where the cuts must be made first and foremost. Leave our infantry battalions alone where that is possible and let them remain at full strength. The infantry must hold pride of place in the Army of the future and I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) in his place because I know that he will support me in that argument.
If there are to be reductions they must never be on the basis of shared misery. That is no way to retain the quality of which we are so proud. Quality is the key, and we must ensure that it is kept both within a reduced regular infantry strength and within the Territorial Army which will still have a vital role to play.
Many hon. Members have been kind tonight to mention the territorial battalions of airborne forces—for example, the fourth battalion of the Parachute Regiment, which is a TA battalion. I must also mention the 15th battalion in Scotland, another magnificent battalion. Not one of the soldiers who are so happy to be recruited into the 15th battalion would look at any other TA battalion. They want to be airborne soldiers and we can say goodbye to them if we do not keep them as airborne soldiers. Then all that quality will disappear.
When considering quality and our regular Army, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said, there cannot be any cut in the strength of the Parachute Regiment, the brigade headquarters and its supporting arms within fifth Airborne Brigade.
I also worry about the provisions of the right sort of training for a specialist force such as the Parachute Regiment. In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said that they would move junior regiments from Aldershot and that there would be amalgamation. One cannot amalgamate junior soldiers in the Parachute Regiment or parachute soldiers in training with ordinary infantry. I am not being unkind to the infantry, but that would be a desperate waste of money because they would start at one level of training and then move to a much higher standard.
Proper provision for the right sort of training for airborne soldiers is crucial. I will not say that the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines are the key to the future of our ground forces, but they both have a crucial role. In general, I am a great supporter of the Royal Marines. We need an undertaking, however, that there will be no difference between the training given to the Royal Marines and that provided for airborne forces. We must also look carefully at the establishment levels of the Royal Marines, which are enormous in comparison with that of our Airborne Brigade.
Everyone has, of course, made it clear that special pleading is not the order of the day, but, if we are to maintain quality, that exemplary regiment, the Devon and Dorsets—with its fine recruiting record—must surely be retained. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister will agree. If anything happens to that regiment, there will be the devil to pay.
There is still time to think again. At the very least, we should consider retaining between 38 and 40 battalions rather than the 34 that are now envisaged. If cuts must be made, let them be made "at the back end". Let me finish on a lighthearted note: that might even leave room, at last, for a decent gymnasium in the Ministry of Defence.
Order. We have half an hour before the winding-up speeches are expected to begin. It will be evident that many hon. Members still wish to speak. I hope that speeches will continue to be short.
Let me start with a few brief words about my constituency.
Woolwich has been a military town since Henry VIII set up his dockyard there in 1515. The Woolwich arsenal was established in 1671, and Woolwich has been the cradle of the Royal Artillery ever since, having maintained a close involvement with it since its formation in 1716.
Since the Royal Ordnance factory closed in 1967, the main employer on the Woolwich arsenal site has been the Directorate-General of Defence Quality Assurance, which was referred to earlier. Throughout the 1970s, the directorate was beset with uncertainty about the possible dispersal of its work away from London.
In the early 1980s, money, time and effort were invested in planning the reorganisation of the arsenal site: that included the investment of £300,000 in the design of a new quality assurance headquarters. On 12 April 1984, the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, wrote to reassure me about the future of the arsenal. The letter said that
in the foreseeable future
would be very expensive. It, therefore, looks as if there will be a QA presence at Woolwich for a very long time.
Less than five years later, another Minister who had done a different set of sums decided that it made financial sense to move quality assurance from Woolwich to Teesside. Since then, that decision has been subjected to scrutiny; now no one seems to know where the directorate will end up. We are expecting people to do their work with uncertainty hanging over them year after year. It is about time that the MOD made a firm decision about where quality assurance will finally lay its weary head.
The people of Woolwich had, I think, come to terms with the loss of the arsenal from 1993 onwards; but, in the past few weeks, we have read stories in the press about the transfer of the Royal Artillery from Woolwich to Larkhill. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces assures me that no decisions have been made; I note, however, that if the RA left Woolwich, that would mark the end of nearly 500 years of service to the armed forces on the part of the local people.
I am not indulging in a special pleading. I accept that we cannot live in the past; I realise that our armed forces must be organised in a cost-effective way. But, as the forces become smaller, many communities throughout the country will find that historic and military links are suddenly severed. I hope that the Government will recognise the resulting problems, and will handle them with sympathy and sensitivity.
The Select Committee reported on the multiple-launch rocket system in March, and the Government replied in May. MLRS was deployed to great effect in the Gulf: we all saw pictures on television showing its awesome fire power as the salvoes of rockets were launched. Later, we heard of the shattering effect of those rockets on the morale of the Iraqi troops as each delivered 644 anti-personnel bomblets on the target.
We should recognise that the Army was lucky that MLRS was available in time. The decision—made in 1985—that it should be built on a collaborative basis in Europe, rather than being purchased from the United States, led to a four-year deferment of the in-service date. Our report recognised—and the Government's reply emphasised these factors—that European production would bring some £300 million worth of work to United Kingdom companies, and would introduce a second source of supply. As our report observed, however,
These benefits have to be weighed against the disadvantage of the four-year delay in the in-service date.
Without MLRS, the effectiveness of the British Army in the Gulf would have been much reduced.
Three versions of MLRS are in production or under development. When the Select Committee reported, the MOD was uncertain about its requirement for all of them. I am glad that the Government have decided that they require sufficient MLRS1 launchers and ammunition to supply three regiments, as envisaged in the earlier plans. We said in our report that the completion of the review of our requirement for MLRS2 rockets was urgent. I therefore welcome the Minister's announcement this afternoon.
MLRS3, the anti-tank munition, is at an earlier stage of development. It is progressing well and we are pleased that the MOD has learnt several lessons from the first two versions. The greatest threat so far has been doubt about the United States' commitment to the project. The Defence Select Committee wrote in April to the chairman of the Senate's appropriation sub-committee and the Senate subsequently approved the funds. Its chairman assured us that our letter had been a crucial factor in reaching that decision. I am sure that he wrote the same to everybody else who approached him.
The Phoenix remotely piloted vehicle is intended to assist the location of targets for MLRS and other artillery. Phoenix has been severely delayed for 32 months by development problems, which, thankfully, have been overcome. The difference is that MLRS just made it to the Gulf but Phoenix did not. That was an enormous pity because Phoenix would have been of much assistance to our artillery. We look forward to introduction into service soon.
Our report on the attack helicopter, which has been published today, recognises that the MOD is right to abandon its attempt to combine the attack helicopter and the armed reconnaissance helicopter roles. The collaborative land attack helicopter project, which cost the MOD no more than £3·5 million, proved that that involved too many compromises. The MOD is rightly concentrating on preparing the staff requirement for the attack helicopter, which will be purchased off the shelf from abroad. The Defence Select Committee has always doubted whether the United Kingdom's requirement needed to be met by a new development programme.
Today's report also covers the third-generation anti-tank guided weapons systems that are being developed collaboratively, mainly with Germany and France. We are concerned about the length of time that is being taken to develop those systems. The medium-range, man-portable version is taking eight years, while the helicopter vehicle-mounted, long-range version is a 10-year programme. The Committee concludes:
The TRIGAT weapons systems are undoubtedly technically quite advanced, but we doubt whether the complexity of the task justifies such lengthy periods of development.
We are concerned that the MOD has yet to decide which attack helicopter or land vehicle it will procure. These decisions are important to TRIGAT's development progress and must not be delayed much longer. The choice of an attack helicopter and its principal anti-armour weapon will be crucial for the Army's strength in the decade ahead.
Faced with dramatic changes in Europe and the need to scale down the size of Britain's forces, the Government could have decided to abandon some military capability and to opt for a policy of role specialisation with our European allies. That would have meant depending on our allies to perform tasks that the British forces had previously done for themselves. The Government have chosen to maintain existing British military capability, but at a lower level. On balance, I think that that decision is probably correct. Having argued for role specialisation in the past, I must now recognise that the scope for such change is limited. The Gulf war showed us clearly that the interests of European nations are not identical and that not all our allies can be relied on in the complex crises that have replaced the clarity of the former east-west conflict.
The cost of maintaining a wide range of diverse military capabilities will be substantial. Smaller forces, flexible enough to meet unpredictable challenges, must, as we all recognise, be well trained, well equipped and, above all, well motivated. That is not a cheap option. The worst of all worlds would be for British forces to find themselves smaller but still overstretched in an effort to cover too many roles and too many responsibilities. The new position offers us the chance to match, at long last, the resources of our armed forces to the tasks that we expect them to carry out. That, rather than a crude cost-cutting exercise, must be what we do in this operation.
Today I brought my top hat into the Chamber, for three reasons. The first is that we are witnessing the funeral of the British infantry —and here I disagree with some hon. Members who have spoken on that issue. Secondly, this is largely being done by a massive conjuring trick. Of course, one could produce a live rabbit from a top hat, but not from one that has been squashed flat and has become so small that it does not have credibility. My third reason is the great injustice that has been done to the three mutilated Grenadiers and many other service men who have not been properly compensated. I propose to wear my top hat in the Chamber until there is justice for those soldiers.
The speech by my right hon. Friend the Minister was disappointing—I would have given it the title "Thanks for the Memory". But my right hon. Friends the Minister and the Secretary of State deserve sincere thanks for saving the regimental system, which was under question. They also deserve sincere praise for negotiating with our NATO allies our role in the rapid reaction corps. That was a very major achievement.
My right hon. Friend the Minister also deserves sympathy. I am about to criticise, but in the understanding that any reorganisation and any cuts involve difficulties. It is a darn tough job and this is a highly charged political issue.
First, cuts, like expansion, must be justified and, secondly, they must be sensibly made.
Mr. Gorbachev's peace challenge has changed the very nature of strategic peace itself from nuclear deterrence, under which we lived for 45 years—to a large extent under the nuclear wing of the United States eagle—to a peace of detente.
Although there have been great changes, I question whether there has been any significant lessening of the threat. Under the old threat, we knew its identity, probably the Warsaw pact; we knew its direction, from the east; and we knew the killing zone, in Europe. Now we do not know the identity, direction or potential killing zone. Who on 1 July last year would have expected the Gulf crisis? Today we look at the possibilities of a military backlash in the Soviet Union, of unrest in Europe and of mass immigration from eastern Europe to the EEC.
There are many lessons to be learned from the Gulf, a few of which I shall highlight. First, logistics are the essential oxygen of the modern high-intensity battlefield. Secondly, if one is not high-tech, one is dead. Third, it is difficult, if not impossible initially, to employ reserve forces in the front line teeth arms of a modern battlefield.
I am sorry, but I am rushing against the clock.
We were told that in future we would deploy small, lightly equipped units, but in the Gulf crisis we deployed large, heavily equipped formations. The gap between warning time and response time was vital—we were lucky to get some six months.
The most important lesson was that the United Kingdom formations in Germany were not battle ready. Three armoured divisions were denuded to provide just two armoured brigades which were battle ready. The ratio was 9:2 in terms of men, ammunition, equipment and spare parts. It exemplified the fact that, for decades, we were sold third-party insurance in terms of our military defence. Successive Governments cut and said that it would make no difference, but it has made a difference. If the Government really believe that peace alone is not enough and that we demand peace with freedom, and therefore that defence is their primary duty, they owe it to the country to deliver comprehensive defence insurance.
Today's Army is not battle ready and is overstretched, and yet it is proposed to cut it by another one third. I have yet to hear what change in strategy, threat or task justifies that. The Chief Constable of Northern Ireland asked for another two battalions, but we cannot provide them. If we have a rapid reaction corps, we must have battle-ready divisions—we no longer want the type of divisions that sat undermanned and underequipped in Germany. Cuts must be constructive. They must be built up from the intended strategy and roles of the armed forces. They must concentrate on quality, cost-effectiveness and the best-suited assets. We now have a director of infantry who has called for equal pain, for pro rata, across-the-board cuts. I mean no disrespect to the Opposition but that is socialism—socialism in uniform. I have never heard of anything so fatuous or damaging to the armed forces.
If we are after quality, why do we consider cutting the Parachute Regiment, the Household division and the Gurkhas? If we are after suitability, why are we cutting five British battalions in order to retain the Gurkhas? Why are we cutting the large regiments, which we want, but saving the small ones? Pro rata cuts are utter nonsense and very damaging.
I turn to the Household division. A cut of three battalions is proposed for the Household division, but it has already lost two battalions in the previous cuts. It has a dual role—it has public duties and performs an active role, which is vital for recruitment for the whole division. Thirty per cent. of the Household division took part in the Gulf war. It is an extremely cost-effective division. First, it is made up of large regiments. Secondly, it earns money. Tourist income in Britain amounted to some £5·5 billion last year and, in view of the posters seen worldwide, what would be a fair estimate of the division's contribution to that sum—20 or 10 per cent? Even if one takes the lower figure, 10 per cent. represents £550 million that is earned by the Household division. Therefore, I believe that it is largely self-financing. The ceremonial uniforms for the entire division cost less than one tank.
As for quality, would it raise the quality of the British Army to cut three footguards battalions? Such a question is unbelievable. History proves it to be nonsense.
Why is a general—the poor chap whom I have criticized—the director of infantry—playing such a highly charged political role? I believe that, as many hon. Members have said, it is because my right hon. Friend and his colleagues have abdicated their responsibility for what is a very difficult political decision. In making that decision, my right hon. Friend must consider the concept of the critical mass—in this case, the critical mass of military credibility. I believe that the Army is already down to that critical mass and that the proposed cuts would go below it.
I turn now to the injured Grenadiers. Their story is well-known and I shall not waste time repeating it. The Government have decided not to make an ex gratia payment. They have challenged the three mutilated Grenadiers to take on the mighty Ministry of Defence, which has shrouded itself in secrecy. The Ministry of Defence still holds the crucial evidence on which the outcome will rely—the inquiry's report—and it is scandalous that it is still a classified document and not yet available to the Grenadiers' legal representatives.
It is interesting that the Government keep assuring the House that no one was to blame for the incident. How is it possible to know that no one was to blame for an unexploded shell lying for five years on a range over which people have walked and which has been dug? The board of inquiry was not asked even to investigate why the shell was there, so it did not report on negligence in that respect. I believe that justice will not be done until my right hon. Friend assures the House that the board of inquiry's report will be made available and that the inquiry itself will be reopened.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's proposed meetings with the Grenadiers' legal representatives, but they are not enough. We want either the ex gratia payment or the reopening of the board of inquiry. This would create a precedent, but why are the Government so worried about precedents'? They are worried because there are tens of soldiers now in civilian life who have not received the correct compensation. They should have fair compensation, so of course we are striving to create a precedent because in this case it would be a good precedent.
I have already taken enough of the House's time, so I shall sit down.
I realise. Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are all expected to try to be brief, and I therefore propose to touch on only three issues—Ministry of Defence contracts, the alternative strategy and a matter relating to service men.
As an engineer, I readily welcome the contract placed for the Challenger 2 tank, which will greatly assist Newcastle and Leeds. The Challenger is a good tank—an efficient machine—and I also believe that we should buy British wherever possible. Having said that, I think that the Government should look to the future and realise that the contracts will last for only the next two or three years. We ought to consider our future strategy on how to provide work for defence workers in various parts of the country. We have often talked about the peace dividend, and we should remember that these are serious matters both for workers and for the nation as a whole. We cannot expect that the Ministry of Defence will be placing large orders for ever—the days of large contracts are gone—and, that being so, we should seriously consider our strategy for the peace dividend.
My second point concerns the serious question of what is happening to the industrial south. The House will recall that during the last recession most of the defence jobs lost were based in the north, but now job losses are occurring in the south. That is something new. Companies such as Westland and British Aerospace are entering a critical period and the consequence will be further massive job losses. Perhaps hon. Members representing southern constituencies are not used to mass unemployment, but there is every indication that job losses will now descend on the south. I draw attention in particular to the large British Aerospace factory in Kingston. I have a letter from the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, which has made some proposals for a sky park to help to alleviate the massive 3,200 job loss which will affect not only that factory but businesses in the area, both large and small. The same is true of many other areas in the south.
I am the secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering Union parliamentary group. I get tired of the increasing frequency with which people from the southern counties appeal to us to make representations about their jobs. It would be a healthy thing if Conservative Members from the southern counties started to take note of the growing problem, which will primarily affect the engineering industry.
My third point concerns service men and personnel. Numerous hon. Members have spoken with great pride about the quality, loyalty and efficiency of our service men, saying what great people they are. A constituent of mine, Mr. H. A. Pickering, joined the forces as a boy soldier at the age of 17. Until that time he had had no other employment. He then went into the senior force and was posted to Munster in West Germany. He had been there for only six or eight weeks and was on sentry duty when, at the age of 19, he was shot up by the IRA in a terrorist attack. His legs were seriously injured and he received 11 machine gun bullet wounds. He was given 25 pints of blood and ultimately was discharged from the Army with a 50 per cent. disability.
That case was drawn to my attention in March. I made some inquiries about how that young man was managing because he had no family to go to. Some friends of mine took him in without any assistance. That young boy was having a very difficult time. I made inquiries about his benefits and discovered that he was initially receiving £83 a month from the German Government, £24·14 minus tax from the Army and £114 per month from the Department of Social Security. According to my calculations, that young lad was receiving less than £53 a week on which to live. Since my inquiries with the Minister, the Army pension has been increased to £144 a month, although that will still be taxed as before. He also received a princely lump sum of £2,578.
That young lad is now 21. He would normally have expected to work for the next 40 years. I am extremely disappointed and dissatisfied about the treatment that he has received from the Government. I wrote to the MOD and received a letter from the Earl of Arran dated 20 June. He wrote:
I am afraid that there is no appeal procedure against the rates of pension paid out under the Armed Forces Pension Scheme.
I thought about that lump sum of about £2,500 and the meagre monthly payment that that young man is receiving and I wondered what kind of a lump sum someone would expect to receive if he was involved in a serious motor accident. I also thought about what happens in the police force. Police work is hazardous. I made inquiries and was told that the police can receive two benefits—industrial injuries payments and criminal injuries compensation. However, that is not the case for the poor young lad who gave his best in the Army about which so many talk with pride. The Army offers very little compensation in such circumstances.
I get a little sick when I watch those great victory parades with people marching down the streets as bands play and flags fly. Although medals are given out, we never hear about the young fellows who have given their all, but have received virtually nothing in compensation.
I appeal to the Minister to review the appeal procedures for unfortunate people such as the young man whom I have described. Those people have given so much and are obviously receiving so little. It is about time that the MOD made changes through the Treasury so that those people can receive adequate compensation which would at least place them on the same footing as anyone else who suffers injury. This is a complete disgrace and the Minister has a lot to answer for.
I was appalled by the behaviour of the Government Front-Bench Members when my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) outlined the case of his constituent who was badly wounded and received such sad, sorry and shabby treatment from Ministers.
The Secretary of State does not like this matter at all. He started off by muttering from a sedentary position when the Minister of State for the Armed Forces was discomforted by criticisms that were made of him on television—criticisms that were echoed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Minister's discomfort reached appalling levels during the debate. If the television programme misrepresented his position—[Interruption.] Even if the press release misrepresented his position, I watched the television programme and heard the Minister say that they should get jobs in which they do not need to use their legs, or words to that effect. If I have misunderstood it, I am sure that many other people have also misunderstood it. If the Minister does not like it, he has recourse to the courts to settle it. He does not have to come here to justify his position and waste the time of the House by making what was basically a personal statement on the issue.
The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) has highlighted the Government's position in the shabby sequence of events in which they participated. I am not at all surprised, because they reached the depths of shabbiness and contemptibility in their attack on the Labour party's position on the Gulf war. The Minister said that Labour shirked the fight and shirked the war. However, his right hon. Friends the present and previous Prime Ministers thanked the Labour party and the House for the solidarity that had been shown to our armed forces during the Gulf conflict. The Minister made a pathetic attempt to pick up a few votes.
A policy decision has been taken in the Conservative party to attack the Labour party on defence. That is fine; we are happy to justify our position. [Interruption.] Our position is a darn sight stronger than that of the Secretary of State, especially when, as three or four hon. Members have pointed out, his generals were engaged in a Pontius Pilate act in the reorganisation of the Army. Because he is afraid of the political consequences, he handed over the decision to the colonels and the generals. That is not my criticism; that has been said by the Secretary of State's right hon. and hon. Friends.
The previous Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Gentleman—I use the word "gentleman" advisedly, because he was a gentleman in his conduct of the business of the Ministry of Defence—paraphrased his right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and told the Secretary of State for Defence how he should go about his business. He said—he can check the record tomorrow —how he should continue the process, which is exactly what the previous Prime Minister said to the present Prime Minister. The wisdom of the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) is needed by the House. When Ministers are running and electorally scared, they need the cool, calm wisdom of senior members of their party with a little experience—for example, the former Secretary of State for Defence. He put his finger right on it.
All hon. Members have asked about the criteria used in cutting the strength of the Army. We have had no answer to that question. At no time over the past few months have Ministers put forward any proposals.
I must plead a special interest: I am a former member of the Welsh Regiment and of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, but I shall not again put the case for the fusiliers, since it was so ably put by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris)—
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I know that he is embarrassed because of his position as a former member of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, but as one from Wrexham, the regimental headquarters of that regiment, I should like to put the case on his behalf. It is ridiculous that a country the size of Wales should be cut down to one regiment, given that we recruit so well and constitute such a high proportion of the Army's numbers.
I agreed to make a short wind-up speech so I will not reiterate the arguments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon. The Welsh dimension in this matter is unique. Seven per cent. of the Army's requirements are recruited from Wales—there is no problem with recruitment, therefore. I see that the Minister of State, Welsh Office is in his place; he represents a Welsh-speaking constituency, so he knows that at least 40 per cent. of the Royal Welch Fusiliers speak Welsh.
If we believe in a regimental system at all, we should keep the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Recruitment, morale and the relationships between comrades from the same community, living and working together in danger—all are improved under the regimental system, so If suggest that the Secretary of State reconsider the case of the Royal Welch Fusilisers.
Having discharged my obligation to my old regiment, I wish to turn to some of the speeches that we have heard today. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) talked of a crude Treasury carve-up of the Army. He was right. Everyone knows that these cuts are Treasury driven, not strategically driven. We are worried about that lack of appraisal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) talked about how regiments help former members. The regimental system is the backbone of the British Army and it would be a sad day if it were ever done away with. In a small way, I have had reason to be grateful to the Welsh Regiment benevolent fund—after I emerged from the Army. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made much the same point in a telling speech.
The former Secretary of State for Defence, in a superb speech, told the Government how they should behave. I hope that we shall hear a great deal more from him before he leaves the House. I also pay tribute to the speech by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce), who made a thoughtful and constructive contribution. He and I have often crossed swords on defence matters, but I found his speech extremely thought provoking.
Opposition Members do not need to criticise the Government. In today's debate, Conservative Members have said that we may put the armed forces in such a state that they will be unable to fight; and that we had to strip down our forces in Germany so as to be able to fight in the Gulf—because they were not properly equipped.
The Government's failure to implement a correct procurement policy on the basis of competitive tendering is destroying proper procurement methods. The hon. Member for South Dorset said, significantly, that he would not award credit marks for the decision-making in the Ministry of Defence. When will the Minister produce his paper on "Options for Change" for civilians and civil servants? We have one for the Air Force, one for the Army and one for the Navy and we want to know when they are coming forward.
That information is a substantial step forward. We have at least had one announcement from the Secretary of State. The most telling remark made by the hon. Member for South Dorset was that within the Conservative party and within the House—the forums where there ought to be discussion—there has been no strategic discussion of the major issues. The role of the armed forces and of the Army has not been identified, but these cuts will fall anyway.
We naturally paid great attention to what the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) said after his valiant service in the Gulf. We pay tribute to those who received honours last week. I mention that in particular because we were appalled by the shabby and contemptible attack by the Minister, who tried to divide the House on an issue on which it had not been divided throughout the war. As the hon. Member for Wimbledon said after returning from the Gulf, our forces out there were pleased to know that they had the backing of the whole House. That makes the Minister's statement more contemptible. I am sure that he will live to regret politically what he said.
What the Government are doing is appalling, particularly when they know that before the war, and for part of the war, British arms were going into Iraq and Jordan. A wholly owned Government subsidiary, International Military Services, had a secret deal with the Iraqis. The Minister has denied that at Question Time, but we shall see who told lies in this matter. I am not using the word lies tonight, Mr. Speaker, but lies have been peddled about other matters in the arms trade with Iraq, as will be shown over the next few weeks.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) made a plea for the Territorial and reserve forces, a point made time and again by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Last year, the Government said that if they reduced the regular forces, they would rely more on Territorials and reservists, so why are they now cutting reserve forces? What is the point of having such forces if they cannot fulfil their obligations?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) spoke about compensation for the Grenadiers and other injured service men. I appeal to the Government to look at this matter again, as more and more evidence comes out of the plight of service men, particularly the person mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley. That case needs looking at again.
When I attempted to intervene constructively in the Minister's speech—he would not give way—I wanted to ask him a question that has since been brought up by other hon. Members: how do three legless service men take on
the might of the Ministry of Defence? The Minister has said that they can go to court and the lawyers can sort the matter out, but who would fund the case? I know that, for able-bodied people, going to court and being involved in legal issues is a great trauma. However, for disabled ex-service men it must be traumatic to think that, as a result of a tragic accident that took place during their service to their country, they now have to go through the court procedure once again. The Minister has said that the matter has been handed over to the lawyers. That is rather like the answer that was given to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) who asked a question about insurance policies. The Minister replied:
The Department has, however, arranged for service men to have access to various commercial insurance policies at advantageous premium rates"—[Official Report, 28 June 1991; Vol 193, c. 580.]
What a way to treat our service men. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South is right to talk about what happens after the flags start waving, the band starts playing and the service men march while the Secretary of State wraps himself in the union jack and takes all the credit for what has gone on. What is left is the human debris that result from tragic accidents. Those people are forced to go to court and through the legal system to get proper compensation.
With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate.
First, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) once again on having gone to the Gulf. I do not know whether hon. Members realise it, but I am afraid that the Army records with his name on as a reservist were not completely accurate. My hon. Friend was down as a reservist with the Life Guards rather than as a medical officer. The Life Guards recruit all its medical officers directly, whereas many other units of the British Army take their medical officers from the Royal Army Medical Corps. In the circumstances, it would not have been necessary for my hon. Friend to volunteer for service in the Gulf, and I believe that it was particularly creditable of him to put his name forward when it was not necessary to do so.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) raised a number of questions, one of which related to the EOD squadron in Kuwait, which is working there in support of Royal Ordnance. The hon. Member made a number of points about the deployment of that squadron, but this is not the first time that service men have supported British firms. I agree that that has not happened in the particular circumstances of Kuwait, but there has been a tendency in the Ministry of Defence to give support to British firms. We are proud to do so.
It is obvious that Royal Ordnance would not have got the contract had it not been for the support given to it by the Royal Engineers. From the time of the liberation of Kuwait the Royal Engineers have provided emergency humanitarian relief to Kuwaitis, including the clearance of unexploded ordnance. 21 EOD squadron will ensure a smooth handover to Royal Ordnance, giving it some time to assemble its team which will continue to work after the Royal Engineers return to the United Kingdom.
The sappers' task will involve predominantly making safe ordnance, aircraft bombs and military booby traps, but only where no greater risk arises than is acceptable in peacetime operations. That task will also include the provision of advice to Royal Ordnance and its work force.
Explosive disposal is by its nature hazardous, but the Ministry of Defence has stipulated that the officer commanding has the right to refuse any task he believes to involve greater risk than in peacetime. He has already exercised his authority over requests to clear ordnance within the oilfields.
The deployment is for a transitional period of four months, by which time we expect Royal Ordnance to be fully capable of assuming the whole task. This is a unique situation requiring a flexible, practical response and is unlikely to be repeated.
It was very agreeable to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) speaking in the debate. This is probably the first time that he has spoken in a defence debate since he ceased to be my Secretary of State. I welcome him back here. I should like to get the statistics right on the number of Scottish personnel who served in the Gulf. We reckon that Scottish personnel accounted for about 9 per cent. of the Army's presence in the Gulf, and that about 5 per cent. of the Army as a whole is Scottish. Certainly the Scottish presence in the Gulf represented a larger percentage than that in the Army as a whole. We owe a great debt to the Scottish regiments and the Scottish service men for the role that they played.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr made a number of constructive points on the reduction in the size of the Army. I assure him that in reaching final decisions on the Army's future structure we will take into account all relevant factors. In particular, we shall have regard to the need to produce a fully manned and fully effective force. I know that he realises that even with our reduced Rhine Army it will continue to make a contribution to the Northern Ireland roulement, as will other units in the rapid reaction corps, which will be based in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, North, the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) talked about the importance of our reserves. I know that the future of the Territorial Army is a subject of great importance to many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. I can assure the House that we are closely examining our military requirements and giving careful thought to TA units having a more general role than at present and providing a framework for expansion in times of increased threat. We are certain that the TA will play a vital part in meeting our future defence needs and that it will retain a challenging role, which it will undertake with accustomed dedication and enthusiasm.
The question arose of proportionate reductions. It is worth saying that the TA depends on the Regular Army for all the training that it receives, and that that is carried out by Regular personnel. If it is necessary, as it is, to reduce the number of Regular personnel, some reduction of the TA is inevitable as well, although it does not have to be proportionate.
My right hon. Friend used the phrase, "retain a challenging role". I serve in the Territorial Army and I have many friends who do so. We in the TA do not feel that there is a real and challenging role for us, and that is leading to the disillusion of so many good TA units. The essence of the role of any force, whether regular or reserve, is that it should be available for war. It is a sad fact that no TA units were sent as units to the Gulf. That is the principal cause of the drop in morale and the reduction in numbers and in attendances within the TA over the past few months.
I hear what my hon. Friend says. It is not the first time that I have heard that criticism. If we are to embark upon an operation such as the Gulf war, we must take into account that if we call up or use any reservists for such an operation we shall disrupt civilian lives, jobs and so forth. However, members of the TA served as reservists and played a role. We were grateful for what they did.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, North talked about surplus Ministry of Defence housing. I assure him that the Government are determined that no more than the minimum and necessary number of service dwellings should be retained. The Army's housing stock is now about 14 per cent. smaller than it was in 1981. However, many empty properties are not suitable for disposal because they are undergoing restoration or repair, or are already earmarked for service families. We are aiming to dispose of a significant number of surplus Army quarters over the next two years. As many of these as possible will be sold to service families through the services discount scheme.
Many hon. Members have taken the opportunity to talk about decisions that are made on regiments, and we have heard of skilful and impressive plans for regiments throughout the land. I must say that there has riot been complete consistency in the arguments that my colleagues and I have been asked to consider. The House wi11 not be surprised to hear that I have nothing to say tonight about the future of individual units. It is right that hon. Members should state their cases, but it is equally right that the Government should not be rushed into premature announcements.
It is important that the Army is being consulted, but there is no question of Ministers shirking their responsibility. The ultimate decision will be taken by Ministers, but, my God, we would get some criticism from Opposition Members if we were not consulting the Army on what its future should be. It is right that we should look to the Army itself to put proposals to us, following which we shall make final decisions. I shall find it regrettable if the vast bulk or the totality of the decisions that have to be made is not in the form of proposals from the Anny. The less that politics is involved in the matter, the better. I believe that the military is in a position to make the best decisions. I hope that it will produce proposals for us that will cover all the decisions that have to be taken.
The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) raised the difficult issue of the repeal of section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, and the position of those injured before May 1987. As he will recall, it was exceptionally agreed that ex gratia payments should be made for those cases arising between the date of the announcement of the intention to repeal and the repeal itself. The House will recall that, after much debate, it was not possible to make the repeal retrospective; to have done so would have inevitably created unacceptable injustices and anomalies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South rightly praised the role of the Territorial Army in the Gulf, which I touched on in my opening remarks. He also asked about the arrangements for bounties payable to those serving in the Gulf. The arrangements made for the Gulf reflected the very special circumstances of that campaign. I have to tell my hon. Friend that there are no plans to extend the arrangements to those volunteering for short tours in places where such personnel are regularly posted. My hon. Friend mentioned Northern Ireland, and I am sorry that I cannot meet him on that point.
A number of hon. Members asked about the thinking underlying "Options for Change". There was concern that it might be led by resource restraints rather than by policy. As I explained at length earlier, that fear is unfounded. "Options for Change" is based firmly on an appreciation of the momentous changes under way in Europe. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) said that NATO had given serious thought to what the future strategy should be, and in particular the future size of the Army front line has been arrived at by making an informed judgment covering both the needs of purely national tasks, such as the Army's role in Northern Ireland, and the role that we are asked to play in NATO's future force structure. Having determined the appropriate size of our front line in that way, it is essential that we ensure that arms and civilian support are reduced by at least the same scale, and that we are doing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden also mentioned the importance of the work undertaken by NATO. The role that will now be played by the United Kingdom is a key one, of which we can be proud. He rightly said that that role will not be cheap. I assure him that we are fully committed to equipping and training our forces properly for their future tasks. The announcement that I made tonight on MLRS2 is another demonstration of that commitment.
That is one reason why it may appear to the House that the reductions in the services for which we are asking are drastic. We want to be able to ensure that the troops that we have are properly funded, that we have a significant equipment budget, that we have sufficient money to spend on the training that the troops need, and that we can meet the accommodation and other aspects of service life that are so important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) mentioned the reduction in our forces in Germany, and asked that our support structures there be reduced. We will be looking hard at the scope for such action. We have already announced the closure of a number of depots in Germany and elsewhere on the continent, and further decisions will be announced. We are determined that the tail will be reduced, although we must not overlook the need to maintain effective support for the teeth of the Army. Recent events in the Gulf have left us in no doubt about the importance of an effective logistics system.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) expressed concern about the efforts to deploy armoured forces to the Gulf. I remind him that we deployed units of war establishment without the level of mobilisation of reserves that would have been available in a major European conflict. The harsh conditions in the Gulf, with the exceptional demand on our equipment and spares, was also an important factor.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, North was concerned about what progress had been made with IFF —identification friend and foe—for armoured vehicles, following the A-10 incident. Schemes to fit armoured vehicles with sophisticated electronic identification systems have been considered both by the MOD and by NATO. However, operational analysis has shown that such systems can only complement rather than replace visual identification. An electronic identification system may be attractive, but until complex technical problems have been overcome, such a system is not practical. The need to prevent such tragic incidents occurring in future will be given careful consideration, as we study the conduct of the campaign and the conclusions to be drawn from it.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the need for proper planning and resources for resettlement as the Army reduces in size. Those leaving the Army as that happens will have access to the same level of resettlement support as is provided to all leaving the services at the present. They will receive advice and counselling, and up to 28 days' training, to equip them with new skills or to assist them in transferring their existing skills to the civilian job market.
In addition, they will be able to obtain assistance with finding a new job from the Army resettlement employment liaison service, or from the Officers' Association or Regular Forces Employment Association —both of which receive funding from the Ministry of Defence.