[The Defence Committee has reported on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1991 in its Eleventh Report of Session 1990–91, HC 394. The Fourth Report from the Defence Committee on Further Examination of Defence Procurement Projects, HC 432, the Seventh Report on Further Examination of the Procurement of the EH101 and Attack Helicopters and the TRIGAT missile Systems, HC 243, the Fifth Special Report, HC 646, and the Tenth Report on Preliminary Lessons of Operation Granby, HC 287, are also relevant.
I reiterate what I said a moment ago—that no fewer than 38 right hon. and hon. Members have sought leave to speak this day, and that does not take account of all those who have sought leave to speak tomorrow. I must impose a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 and 9 pm. I ask those whom I call, and also the Front-Bench spokesmen, to bear that limit in mind, in consideration of their colleagues.
The whole House takes seriously your injunction, Mr. Speaker, that we should be as brief as possible. However, since we last debated the defence estimates there has been a transformation of the threat that we face, and with it the most significant change in our position since the second world war. We must also remember that since we last debated the defence estimates we have witnessed the invasion and liberation of Kuwait and the subsequent events surrounding that conflict, together with many further and continuing developments. There is a great deal for the House to discuss.
I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I outline how we intend to structure ministerial speeches in this two-day debate. In opening the debate, I intend to refer to the overall background and to the developments on the international scene. In particular, I shall report on the latest position in Iraq and the significant developments there. I shall report briefly on the conclusion of the Gulf war and the initial lessons that we have drawn from it.
I shall also report on the development of NATO strategy and the interaction with the European Community. I shall speak about the latest nuclear developments. On Wednesday I shall attend a meeting of NATO's nuclear planning group, when there will be announcements of major reductions in the nuclear stockpile. I shall report on the NATO reductions, on the reductions in our own forces, and on our progress with the new proposals for the Navy, the Air Force and the Army. I know that many hon. Members are interested in the Army, and especially in the infantry. The House will understand why I wish to refer in some detail to that and it will also understand that there are a number of other important issues that I must cover.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will respond to the debate this evening, and he will refer to further developments in the Ministry of Defence, where substantial reorganisation is taking place. He will also refer to certain new initiatives and to other important, detailed issues that come within his areas of responsibility, and which will be of interest to the House.
Tomorrow, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will speak about a number of matters relating to procurement developments arising both out of the new proposals for our defences and from lessons drawn from the Gulf conflict. He will also refer to certain nuclear issues. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, as well as responding to issues arising from the debate, will deal in particular with personnel and the issues affecting people in the armed forces. I know that those issues are of great concern to some of my right hon. and hon. Friends—and, indeed, to Members throughout the House—and not least the issues of housing and redundancy.
Is the Secretary of State aware that I welcome the agreement reached for my constituent Sean Povey and his two colleagues, to whom compensation of £105,000 each is to be paid—and rightly so? I wish to pay tribute to those hon. Members who helped to get that compensation.
Will the right hon. Gentleman pay tribute to Sean Povey and his two colleagues, who lost their legs through no fault of their own and were refused compensation? Indeed, the Government refused to budge on that matter. If those three soldiers had not been so single-minded and so determined that justice should be done, they would not have received any compensation, and they deserve a tribute.
We are pleased that after such a tragic accident an agreeable settlement has been reached. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it was reached after prompt consideration of the legal processes involved. It is quite untrue to say that the Government refused to budge. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State had to take a considerable amount of flak because he had to stand up and maintain his responsibility for the legal processes. I pay tribute to him for the part that he played in reaching a fair settlement. A number of hon. Members took the easy opportunity to throw flak at my right hon. Friend, but he had the responsibility for ensuring that a fair settlement was reached in a proper and correct way.
Mr. Speaker has asked for brief speeches, so I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to proceed with my speech. There is a tremendous amount of ground to cover.
My remarks are set against major changes in the world. The planners who serve me deal not only with the major changes in the outlook, but with the real reductions in the forces that we face. Any one of the items that I have mentioned could be the subject of a major speech, such is the measure of the changes now taking place. First, I shall deal with German unification and the spread of democracy in eastern Europe, and I want to point out the military consequences of those welcome changes.
The Warsaw pact has gone, and because the satellite countries have removed their forces from any alliance with the Soviet Union there are now 1 million fewer troops facing us from those countries. The progress of Soviet withdrawal from those countries means that all 150,000 Soviet troops have left Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The number of Soviet troops in Poland has been reduced from 45,000 to 25,000, and the number in Germany from 350,000 to 250,000, with the remaining troops withdrawing completely by 1994. That means that 250,000 Soviet troops—half of their total numbers—have withdrawn during the past year to a position some 600 miles behind their previous forward positions.
The position in the Soviet Union has changed significantly since the House last met. There has been the continuing emergence of the republics as independent centres of authority within what was the Soviet Union. The independence of the Baltic states has been recognised. I remind the House that at the heart of the tensions that arose within the structure of the Soviet Union was the issue of conscription. The House may recall the scenes of Soviet forces two years ago when they went to seize Lithuanian conscripts trying to avoid the draft. The growing independence of the republics strikes at the heart of the whole structure of the Soviet armed forces. They have been reduced by half a million and in their most recent statement on the timing of changes to the Soviet nuclear strength, President Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin spoke of a proposal to reduce the country's forces by a further 700,000 men. The impact of those changes on the republics has brought pressure for further reductions.
In addition, the Soviet Union is under economic pressures. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister delivered politely but firmly and clearly, as chairman of the Group of Seven, the message that the economic support from the western economies for which the Soviet Union is looking will not be forthcoming if it is to be used for continual expenditure on arms and military equipment. We see evidence of the Soviet Union's early response to President Bush's proposals for reductions in nuclear weapons.
A short time ago there were many reports of desertions and of begging at the railway stations and in the market places. There were also reports of some members of the Soviet forces trying to sell their weapons on the black market for any currency that they could get. I have no recent reports, but I am led to believe that morale has improved, and today there was a report that certain troops had refused to move because they had little confidence that there would be any accommodation for them, other than under canvas, when they return to the Soviet Union.
I have spoken of the encouraging positive develop-ments against which we can plan our changes. What are the counterweights? The first of them must be the attempted coup that took place on 19 August, after the House adjourned for the summer recess. Welcome as the triumph of democracy over those who plotted that coup was, it must be said that it was about the world's most incompetent attempted coup ever. If it had embodied the kind of ruthlessness that typified other coups, it might have succeeded. However, it carried with it a sharp reminder of how quickly things can change. We know that there are warnings in the air in Moscow now of the risk of another possible coup. Underpinning the dissatisfaction that there may be in that country is the failure to resolve the future relationship between the centre and the republics—and one must comment, using the most modest language that one could use, that the Soviet economy is not going very well at this time.
Does not my right hon. Friend understand that the concern felt on these Benches about "Options for Change" is that when that review was undertaken it could not take account of the very events that my right hon. Friend has just described? We appreciate that our forces must be restructured, but that exercise must take account of the points that my right hon. Friend is making. I hope that he will give an assurance that it will do so.
If my hon. Friend will study the catalogue of events, he will find that things have gone even further than we anticipated. We took nothing for granted; we took nothing on trust. In the assessment that was made for "Options for Change" on 25 July 1990, we made no assumption of the collapse of the Soviet centre, and we saw no emergence with such rapidity of the republics or the collapse of central power and of the Soviet Union in the way that seems apparent now. We did take account of the collapse of the Warsaw pact and of disaffection within the satellite countries. The situation is that events have developed further than the basis on which we planned.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, if I continue to give way I will be on my feet until the close of play. I have a number of important things to say, and I must address issues concerning the Army and the infantry.
Other considerations challenge us when considering the future defence needs of our country. Earlier, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, set out the current situation in Yugoslavia. I am not sure whether he mentioned casualties, but I have heard it suggested that there have already been 2,000 casualties. As I recall, the number of casualties in Northern Ireland is 3,000 after 10 years, and that brings home just how vicious is the conflict in Yugoslavia.
We have considered the way in which we might play our part in Yugoslavia, but we do not believe that military intervention would be an appropriate response at this time.
As to further assessments of the strategic balance and requirements of our defence, we estimate that by the year 2000 a considerable number of countries will have ballistic Missiles, and some will have nuclear weapons.
That brings me directly to the question of Iraq. In the White Paper "Statement on the Defence Estimates", we set out the story of the Gulf war. Enough tribute has been paid to what was, by any standards—and I am pleased that the Select Committee endorsed this—a superlative job by the British forces and the others involved. It was remarkable in its planning, logistics and execution. Sadly, lives were lost—but very few, when one considers the scale of the action.
We are well advanced in analysing the lessons of that campaign, on which I hope to report more fully in coming months. I will, however, address some highlights now. The first message that comes through clearly is the need for Governments carefully to co-ordinate their objectives. The last such enterprise, in Korea, was dogged by disagreement over the aims of that operation.
There has since been debate, and there will be more, about whether the coalition forces should have gone beyond the liberation of Kuwait. In considering that question, right hon. and hon. Members will remember the challenge that was posed in maintaining the unity of the coalition and of being sensitive to those of its members who were critical of the launch and maintenance of United Nations support, which placed certain restrictions on our freedom of action at later stages.
I stress the crucial importance of proper logistic support. I shall have a number of things to say shortly about infantry regiments, but I may comment now that those regiments are no use unless they have proper logistic support. One of the lessons learnt from the Gulf was the importance of the totality of the military effort. Had it not been for the incredible efforts of the Royal Corps of Transport in keeping ammunition and other supplies coming and of the ordnance, engineers, and Royal Artillery, and the remarkable scale of the opening barrage, the role of the armoured and infantry forces would have been much more difficult.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement will talk about the importance of the quality of modern technology, and of the part that it played in the Gulf. In a recent speech elsewhere, I made mention of the completely new inventions that were available to our forces in the Gulf, but which were completely unknown to those who fought at El Alamein. Every tank troop and every infantry platoon had satellite navigation available to it, and there were also laser bombs, the multi-lauch rocket system, the artillery target acquisition devices, and the ability to fight at night. Ensuring that our forces have the right quality of equipment is a vital consideration in our future plans.
I accept totally my right hon. Friend's comment about the importance of logistic back-up, but does he not agree that the morale of our infantry and of other branches of the services is equally important? When considering numbers in the infantry and in the Territorial Army reserves, should we not take into account the future morale of our service men and women?
Certainly, and I will have something to say about that as well.
One of the other initial lessons from the Gulf that came through very clearly was that it was a television and radio war, with reports being broadcast by the media before they could come back through the command chain. It was a major challenge to the relationship with the media, and we shall certainly have to give further effort to that.
Another aspect was the quality of intelligence. The efforts of the United Nations special Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency to bring forward every day fresh information about the scale of the military machine is no secret to the House and much of that information was not available to us in anything like that detail.
I shall report to the House the latest evidence that we have established that has come from that team, which includes a significant British contribution. Our inspections have so far established that Iraq has consistently under-declared, misrepresented and concealed its capabilities in all areas—nuclear, biological, chemical and ballistic missiles—and is far more advanced in some areas than we had supposed. We have uncovered the covert military orientation of Iraq's nuclear programme which it always previously denied. The most recent nuclear inspection has shown conclusively that Iraq was well advanced in a programme to develop implosion-type nuclear weapons, that links existed with a surface-to-surface missile project and that it could have had a working explosive device by 1993. More than 2,000 documents have been recovered, and are being translated and analysed.
Iraq originally denied that it had a biological progamme and went to considerable lengths to obliterate all traces of one. Under the inspections that have been carried out Iraq has admitted to the programme and the fact that it has offensive military applications. Inspections have now revealed that Iraq has a vast germ warfare capability.
As regards the chemical side, inspections and subsequent Iraqi admissions have revealed that the initial Iraqi declaration misrepresented the size and extent of the chemical programme as only a quarter of what we have now identified. Iraq originally declared 52 ballistic missiles, but that falls hundreds short of what we believe remains—it did not include five types of missile or the super gun.
The inspection team that was operating in western Iraq has now returned, using special Commission helicopters for the first time—about which there was considerable obstruction which has now been overcome. We have discovered further undeclared launch sites, we have destroyed elements of a 350 mm super gun and a further team, which includes United Kingdom members, is back in Iraq preparing for the destruction of elements of a 1,000 metre diameter super gun——
That is rather big and is closer to the length of the gun, which is between 130 and 150 metres. The other super gun has a diameter of 1 metre and we are seeking to destroy elements of it which existed.
Does the Secretary of State agree that what he has just said, especially about the attempts to gain a nuclear capability, only underlines the validity of the judgment that action had to be taken to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and that it would have been unwise, to put it mildly, to wait and see whether sanctions would have worked?
I do not think that any hon. Member would wish to be reminded that they once held that foolish view. I agree entirely with the hon. and learned Gentleman. The evidence is absolutely clear that sanctions would not have worked. I remind the House that sanctions are still being imposed. The idea that we would have let it happen and that we would have somehow found a solution to prevent the continuing agony of Kuwait has no credibility among any serious commentators.
We are pursuing every aspect of the matter, because there is no doubt that there was a major conspiracy and a successful concealment whereby a lot of equipment that could have had a peaceable application was covertly obtained from around the world. Thank goodness that, because some countries did not wait to see whether sanctions would work, we have not only liberated Kuwait but passed Security Council resolution 687. I claim that the United Kingdom played a major part by insisting on passing resolution 687, which stated that after a ceasefire we would seek, identify, assemble and destroy Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. It is because of that programme and resolution 687, brought about largely with the United Kingdom's initiative and as a result of the courage of members of the teams including scientists from a range of countries under United Nations auspices, whom hon. Members have seen on their television sets working bravely in Baghdad and other places pursuing those awful weapons——
I am sorry; I shall not give way.
Nor should we forget that in addition to the work by UN teams in Iraq against weapons of mass destruction, in September I announced that we would send Jaguar aircraft to Incirlik in southern Turkey to help to support the air shield over northern Iraq and to continue the effectiveness of Operation Haven. I know that the House will join me in paying tribute to the Royal Marines who have now returned but who played such an outstanding part and saved hundreds of thousands of Kurdish lives because of the reassurance that they gave during that difficult initial period.
I want to protect the interests of other hon. Members.
I shall turn to our defence strategy, viewed against the background of the developments and changes that have occurred in the world. I take seriously the comment made in the Select Committee report produced in the middle of August. I understand why, due to the shortness of time available—the Select Committee was generous enough to say why the report could only be produced as late as it was in this remarkable year—we have not set out our strategy as clearly as the Committee thought necessary. Therefore, I shall seek to clarify that briefly. We shall certainly seek to amplify that in any way that we can so that there is no uncertainty about it. The strategy and changes that I have proposed are based on careful assessment with our allies —of course we work closely within NATO—over a long period of time of the risks to our country and its wider interests in the years ahead. Principally, we consider the changes in the armed forces ranged against NATO, the abolition of the Warsaw pact, the reduction in Soviet armed forces and their withdrawal from eastern Europe. I have given the figures to the House already in my speech. Shortly they will amount to 2 million troops ranged against us and the Soviet front line—if it still has one in that sense—is about 600 miles further back than it was.
Those developments, which have taken place against a background of freedom and democracy for eastern Europe and perhaps increasingly within the Soviet Union, do not always mean stability. That is clear from the events that are taking place in Yugoslavia. In our assessment, we must be mindful of the fact that local conflicts can spill over into other countries. that neighbouring states may start to take sides and that the patchwork of different nationalist groups provides a continuing source of possible flare-ups.
We do not believe that the Soviet Union, under its present leadership—or the emerging loose grouping of republics—has an aggressive intent. Even after all the reductions have been implemented, however, super-power forces will still be there, much larger than all the forces belonging to all the rest of what were the European members of NATO combined. We must include in our plans the possibility that the command of those forces could, at some future time, fall into the wrong hands.
More widely, we must be ready, with our partners, to meet aggression where it threatens British interests, or the interests of our friends and allies, or where—as in the case of Kuwait—the United Nations needs to act. The nature of such risks is changing. We no longer face a threat of surprise attacks from massive Warsaw pact forces across a wide front. Under CFE—the conventional forces in Europe arrangements—there will be limits on Soviet forces in the 1,000-mile wide area from the western border to the Urals. The huge disparity in equipment will be eliminated, although we shall need to keep an eye on what forces remain to the east of the Urals.
That means that we shall have much earlier warning of a major attack. A small attack could still be mounted within a few days or weeks. but a major attack of the kind that NATO traditionally feared would be months, perhaps years, in preparation.
The security of the United Kingdom itself will continue to be bound up with that of the European mainland. As NATO evolves in accordance with the new circumstances, those links are becoming even closer. We see an increased role for the Western European Union, as set out in an important Anglo-Italian paper that was put to the European Foreign Ministers on 6 October. That paper foresees that the nine-member WEU will become a bridge between the EEC on the one side and NATO on the other, with the longer-term perspective of a common European defence policy compatible with the common defence policy that we already have with our allies in NATO.
Our future strategy will be based on five key elements within NATO and the WEU. The first relates to nuclear deterrence. Two weeks ago, President Bush launched an important western initiative to reduce the number of nuclear weapons; we are pleased that President Gorbachev has responded positively. We can now look forward to an era in which many thousands of short-range nuclear weapons will disappear. Many hundreds of tactical nuclear weapons at sea will also be withdrawn. As long as the Soviet Union and other countries possess nuclear weapons, the United Kingdom will need them as well; the scale of our force can, however, remain small.
As the ultimate safeguard of our security, we need the Trident system. As in the Polaris era, our aim in procuring four submarines is simply to ensure that, reliably, there is always one on patrol at sea. The number of missiles and warheads needed to overcome anti-missile defences, and still present the prospect of damage that no one contemplating an attack on the United Kingdom could consider acceptable, is the determinant. The size of our force is not determined by the number of missiles or weapons that other countries have. Even after START —the strategic arms reduction talks—and the further steps proposed so far by Mr. Gorbachev, the Russians will retain about 20 times the number of ballistic missiles that the United Kingdom can deploy.
As for the theatre nuclear forces, I have already announced that we will entirely give up the short-range nuclear capability of the Lance system, and that the 50th Missile Regiment Royal Artillery will disband. Similarly, we shall give up our nuclear artillery capability. In recent years, we have reduced the number of nuclear depth bombs that are carried at sea in peacetime. In future, neither those weapons nor the free-fall nuclear bombs for our Harrier aircraft will, in normal circumstances, be deployed at sea; instead, they will be held in central stores. However, we still see an important, continuing deterrent role for a small number of air-delivered weapons. In his statement, President Bush noted that such weapons had an essential role to play in European security; that was underlined earlier in last year's NATO summit declaration.
In a world of the unexpected, in which Saddam Hussein was getting closer to a nuclear capability than anyone thought, it must be sensible to keep up a small but effective force below the strategic level. The current free-fall WE 177 bombs will approach the end of their safe and effective life around the turn of the century. Following a recent review, I can tell the House that we shall be making a substantial reduction in the numbers in coming years, as part of the overall cut in NATO's air-delivered stockpile. I expect that to be announced later this week at the meeting of the nuclear planning group.
I have mentioned the out-of-area need—the need to deal with circumstances in which the Saddam Husseins and others are trying to develop a nuclear capability—in connection with maintaining a sub-strategic capability. The key point, however, is that the credibility of strategic nuclear forces depends on the existence of a credible sub-strategic deterrent to provide the link with conven-tional forces. The fact that ground-launched weapons are now being scrapped puts increased emphasis on the need to ensure that the air-launch element is kept up to date.
Given that our present mininum deterrent is to be increased with the introduction of the Trident system, with more warheads and missiles, would it not be sensible, in keeping with that minimum deterrent, to have only the same number of warheads and missiles on the Trident boats as on the Polaris boats?
As the hon. Gentleman will see if he reads what I have said, this has to do with the ability to penetrate modern anti-missile defences. We need a credible deterrent. There is no point in a deterrent that is not credible; it must have the capability to penetrate and to threaten to inflict such damage, having penetrated, to make it an effective and credible deterrent. The most extravagant and ludicrous waste of money would be to pretend to have a nuclear deterrent when that deterrent did not actually work.
Next time round.
Nuclear deterrence, then, is the first key element of our strategy. The second is the capacity to respond to a land attack on an appropriate scale and at an appropriate speed. Small forces must be available quickly, and more must be available after an appropriate period. We shall provide a major contribution to, and leadership of, NATO's rapid reaction corps, which must be capable of prompt deployment anywhere from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, in response to any threat to NATO's security of frontiers.
We shall contribute a heavy armoured division—the most powerful division that we have ever mounted—based in Germany, and a second, more flexible division based in the United Kingdom. Those reaction forces will be supported by flexible air power based on Tornado, Jaguar and Harrier aircraft. United Kingdom-Netherlands amphibious forces will continue to be available; behind those will come what NATO calls augmentation forces, based mainly on reserves, capable of building up over a longer period to match any recurring threat to NATO.
Thirdly, we need sufficient naval forces—helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft—to counter, with allies, any attempt by submarines, surface ships or aircraft to interrupt the sea lanes of the NATO area. The size and capability of the fleet will still be determined largely by the power and sophistication of Soviet naval power. Fourthly, we need forces for the defence of the United Kingdom homeland against conventional air attack, mining of our ports or other threats to shipping, and an effective home defence force. Fifthly, we need garrison ships and aircraft to meet our remaining responsibilities for the defence of Belize, Cyprus and United Kingdom dependent territories, including the Falklands and—until 1997—Hong Kong.
The Secretary of State will have noticed that a reduction of some 19 per cent. nationally in the strength of the Territorial Army has been proposed. Is he aware that the proposed Northern Ireland reduction is 40 per cent? In view of his deep understanding of the problems of Northern Ireland, will he undertake to have another look at that figure?
To anticipate some of my hon. Friends, who may raise issues about the Territorial Army, the matter is still under consideration. However, I take note of the right hon. Gentleman's point. I am aware of it, but no decisions have been taken. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have enjoyed the clear commitment to the defence of the United Kingdom homeland which I set out as the fourth of our objectives in our strategic assessment.
Our forces for the future were determined by a careful assessment of the risk that we face under these headings and by the need to maintain the flexibility necessary to respond to the unexpected. They were the basis upon which the defence budget was settled in the autumn of 1990. What it represents, against a reduction of 20 per cent. in service and civilian manpower, is a reduction of some 6 per cent. in real terms in expenditure over the three-year period. In the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and many parts of the Army, the changes are now well under way. Thirteen older submarines and ships have already been paid off, although currently new ships are coming through, with seven type 23 frigates currently under construction. Three long-established RAF squadrons have been disbanded, with appropriate ceremony but with recognition of the need for change, as the United Kingdom has in part handed over its share of the responsibility for the air defence of Germany to the Germans.
I know that there have been some concerns about the size of the Army, where decisions had to await NATO's conclusion on the rapid reaction corps. Some of these criticisms may be said to be Army-wide, although certain of them are of particular concern to the infantry. I have heard certain comments that the changes have been made in a headlong rush, but they are being phased in over a period. A number of them will not happen until 1994. Their impact, therefore, will be in 1994 and 1995. That is not an unreasonable period of time. We are trying to move steadily and realistically, taking account of the uncertain-ties of the world. Some may feel that we are moving too cautiously. However, it is wise to be more prudent, more cautious or, to put it another way so that it does not sound pejorative, slower than most of our allies who have faster time scales for greater reductions. We believe that it is right, with our other commitments, to move more slowly.
If there is not to be a headlong rush, because the changes are to be phased in over a reasonable period, the other criticisms are that the Army will be too small and that there has been no change in the commitments. The changes have been criticised within the Army. Do some rather selective quotations from a letter written by the Chief of the General Staff to me, correctly advising me on attitudes and concerns in the Army, undermine what we have sought to do? Even if we can answer those points, it is said that we have anyway chosen the wrong regiments to change.
To take those issues one by one, the first criticism is that the Army will be too small. The implication is that my right hon. Friends and I went into a corner, got out an envelope and wrote down the first number that occurred to us. That shows little understanding of the structure for taking decisions within the Ministry of Defence. At one time there were separate service Ministries. That led to competition and to each service Ministry fighting its corner. No one can be criticised for that. Under the new structure, there are the individual chiefs of staff—the Chief of the General Staff for the Army, the Chief of Naval Staff and the Chief of Air Staff. Then there is the Chief of the Defence Staff who is my principal military adviser. He has with him a tri-service team, with tri-service military and civilian defence planners working together. They, together with the chiefs of staff and the Office of Management and Budget, try to bring together the best proposals that they can and to make the best assessment for the overall range of Britain's defences. Their responsibility is to give advice to me on that basis. I take full responsibility, however, for the decisions that I announce, but I make them on good advice, on the best advice and against a number of considerations that I now want to spell out.
The Army would like to be bigger. Similarly, the Royal Navy would like to be bigger and the Royal Air Force would like to be bigger. Contrary to one or two very mischievous suggestions, at no time have I suggested that the Army Board volunteered or proposed these reductions. Once the defence staff, in consultation with and working through the tri-service approach of the Ministry of Defence, put forward their proposals, the role of the Army Board is critical in determining exactly how they should apply within the Army. I accept entirely that the Army Board, as well as the Royal Navy Board and the Royal Air Force Board, would like its own service to have more resources for its activities.
May I say a word about the Chief of the General Staff's letter. I do not intend to comment about what I believe was incredible disloyalty and disservice to the Chief of the General Staff in selectively leaking extracts from his letter, but I shall say a word about what the letter contains. It contains genuine, honest advice to me about the most difficult changes that the Army has to face. One word used was that the Army was cynical or skeptical—that it thought that what was being said, in particular about smaller is better, might be a bit of a con trick. The letter is quite old. I took that advice, as did my right hon. Friends, very seriously indeed. We have in front of us a major challenge. It is our determination to ensure that smaller is better. However, the Army is entitled to say, as are the other services, "We have had promises before; there have been reorganisations before and it was all going to be wonderful. However, we shall believe it when we see it."
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) asked me a fair question about morale. The Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force face difficult challenges. Despite the disappointments, however, they are getting on with their work. The Chief of the General Staff has always made it clear to me that the Army, as a whole, will do the same—that it accepts the situation and will make the best of it, but that it will give its comments and criticisms and make clear any feelings that it may have. At the end of the day, however, it will ensure that it makes a success of it. I know that that is the feeling throughout the Army as a whole.
I thank the Chief of the General Staff for the honest messages that he gave me. Anyone who knows Sir John Chapple appreciates that he is a man of absolute integrity and that he is honestly tackling an extremely difficult job. The challenge that he puts before us—to see that we honour the commitment that smaller is better—is absolutely right. He is right to lay it starkly and clearly before us and also to warn the Government, Ministers and the country that people are waiting to see whether that undertaking is discharged. Part of that undertaking will involve resources; part of it will depend on how we handle the changes in the redundancy and housing arrangements for those who may no longer belong to the Army. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will comment specifically on the help that we are offering with those matters, which we take seriously.
The Select Committee drew attention to the fact that those matters will depend on resources. We shall have to await the autumn statement from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to see whether we have the resources that can help in achieving the smaller but better Army which is our ambition.
May I deal with this point? I want to make it clear.
There is scepticism in the Army about whether the smaller Army will be able to meet the commitments that have been set out. That point will be made by many hon. Members. I accept that the Army is still concerned about that matter. We still have much to do to make people understand the significance and the implications of the changed scene and how those commitments can be addressed.
I should briefly like to give the House some of our thinking. By 1997, the commitments that the regular infantry will need to meet will reduce by one third. This results from reductions in the British Army of the Rhine —seven battalions—in the garrisons in Berlin—a further three battalions—and in Hong Kong—a further four battalions. The increased warning time, which is extremely significant in military planning, means that five of the 21 regular battalions previously committed to military home defence can be replaced by the Territorial Army. That makes a total reduction in commitment, as the Army understands it, of 19 battalions. The number of regular infantry battalions will reduce by only 17 and two additional battalions will be available to the rapid reaction corps as extra reinforcement.
Hon. Members know that the peacetime situation is of particular concern to the Army. Increased warning time in peacetime is a significant factor in permitting greater flexibity in the use of the Army. Although we shall maintain appropriate levels of readiness for NATO tasks, under the NATO strategy it will be possible for infantry units based in Germany to take a greater share of emergency tours in Northern Ireland and elsewhere than when we faced the threat of surprise Soviet attack. The increased availability of 3 Commando Royal Marines means that broadly the same number of battalion-size units will be available to undertake emergency tours as there are today. Units of other arms will also be better placed to take on a share of those tours—as they do at present—thereby further reducing the burden on the infantry.
To anybody familiar with the problems of the Army, this is a critical point: I have heard people talk about the difference between 55 battalions and 38 battalions. The reality is that our current strength is nearer 51 battalions because they are not fully manned.
May I finish this point?
The key factor in the new structure will be to ensure that all battalions are fully manned. That important component of the plan is often overlooked.
To answer the point made by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), we foresee a relatively increased role for our reserve forces. Some reductions in the Territorial Army will follow from the reductions in our forces needed to defend Germany. The Territorial Army will take over roles from the regular Army—the TA's traditional role now—such as military home defence in the United Kingdom. The final size of the TA will depend on how many want to join; we shall not wish to turn away any willing volunteers. I envisage that its long-term future strength will settle at between 60,000 and 65,000, compared with 75,000 today. We are engaged in a comprehensive consultation exercise with the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve and others. I plan to announce final decisions on the shape and structure of the TA later in the year. The TA offers an important way of preserving local links. The Army Board will sympathetically consider any proposals for the identities or cap badges of amalgamating regiments to be retained by TA units.
May I summarise the approach to the Army? It is important that we have sufficient numbers, that the units in which they serve are fully manned and that, in the new situation, they are properly equipped.
May I answer this?
Although I disagreed with certain comments made in the Select Committee's report, I was grateful that it drew attention to the fact that, under our plans, Britain's Army will be outstandingly well equipped. The lesson shining through from the Gulf and from other challenges faced by the Army is the importance of units being properly equipped.
We have a considerable number of regiments, some of which are undermanned and a number of which do not have the range of equipment, support and spares that a modern Army should have.
Tackling those problems is at the heart of our proposals for a smaller but better Army.
That is the approach to the size of the Army. If we are to ensure that the Army is smaller but better, the difficulty is how those changes are made. Some units will have to be amalgamated and some corps will have to reduce. How is that to be done? The executive committee of the Army Board—I pay tribute to it—sought as fairly as possible to make proposals that ensure that we have fully manned, fully effective regiments.
It also retains those recruits, as does the Staffordshires. Therefore, logically, they should not be amalgamated. Furthermore, will my right hon. Friend tell the House when the Army's objective of having a 24-month gap between unaccompanied operational tours will come into effect, and how he believes that he can achieve that if the number of battalions is reduced from 55 to 38?
Of course, I understand my hon. Friend's point. The Army Board sought to address those issues as fairly as it could. Every regiment has compelling reasons to explain why it should not be affected. We considered this matter, and the executive committee of the Army Board examined it as objectively as it could. It made recommendations, which were unanimously accepted. I understand that the decision does not give my hon. Friend any pleasure. I am not sure whether she heard my earlier remarks, but I think that she will understand that, as long as I am Secretary of State for Defence, the commitment to Northern Ireland will not be forgotten; nor will we forget the debt that we owe to those who serve there and the importance of ensuring that the tour interval is reasonable. I assure my hon. Friend that during the exercise I frequently asked about the tour interval and I can give her the answer, which she may not have heard. At present, we do not maintain a reasonable tour interval. We hope to be able to do so in future.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."' Why not listen to what I have to say? Is it in order, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the Secretary of State to give way persistently to Conservative Members, yet flinch in the face of the cold steel of the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin)?
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State discussed the permanent regiments, he and his colleagues clearly stressed the importance of the link between the permanent forces and the Territorial Army. Will my right hon. Friend please bear that link firmly in mind when deciding on the TA's future?
I note my hon. Friend's concern, and I know of her close interest in this matter. When there is a far greater warning time, the most effective deployment of reserves becomes increasingly significant.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned undermanning, yet he knows that there is no undermanning among the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the Royal Scots, the Gordon Highlanders and the Queen's Own Highlanders—there is excellent recruitment. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the TA that he will not do away with the 15th Parachute Regiment, the only Scottish Territorial Army parachute regiment?
Having made that devastating intervention, the hon. Gentleman knows that recruitment is one criterion and that past amalgamations, likely recruitment profiles and a range of other matters provided the basis on which the matter was approached. That is the basis on which the authorities sought to achieve their difficult objectives. My mailbag already reflects some interest in the parachute regiment to which the hon. Gentleman referred. As I said to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley, there is continuing consultation about the Territorial Army.
If my hon. and learned Friend will forgive me, I had better carry on.
The issues that we have had to face are set against the background of a full strategic assessment of the defence scene and the most appropriate response that we could make. I entirely understand why, for many, this is a sad and difficult time. We sought to address those issues and shall continue to do so. Many of those difficulties will continue. We have a duty to all those who serve and to all those who, after considerable years of service, will perhaps find that their services are no longer required. We are conscious of our duty and responsibility. We sought to approach the matter as carefully and prudently as possible. I do not believe that a single hon. Member would suggest that, against the background of extraordinary changes in the world and the transformation of the threat that faced us, there is no need for a response and for significant changes. That is what we now seek to carry out. I commend those changes to the House.
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
welcomes the continuing improvement in East-West relations and the development of NATO and the CSCE to accommodate these changes; recognises the opportunities now available for further reductions in defence expenditure; calls for the maximum co-operation with our European partners to re-examine the roles and commitments of our armed forces; welcomes the successful negotiation of the START Treaty., calls on the Government to seek the establishment of further talks on strategic nuclear disarma-ment and then to secure British participation in such discussions; and urges the Government to provide assistance for defence industry diversification and expand the provision for re-training and re-housing ex-service personnel.".
I am not sure whether we need to intrude on the Government's private grief this afternoon, because it seems that there will be as many critical speeches from Government ranks as are likely to come from the Opposition.
On a day when we have spent much time reviewing the prospects for developments in our defence planning and our international arrangements for security, we could forget that only 12 months ago our armed forces were engaged in Operation Granby, the largest and most complicated deployment of international forces since the second world war. We could also overlook the sacrifice that our young men and women made at that time—the 47 who died in the operation as a whole and those who still bear the physical and deep psychological scars of post-traumatic stress disorders.
The skill, bravery and professionalism of all involved bear testimony to the quality of the training and the justifiable pride in the uniforms that these men and women wear. If anyone thought that sanctions alone would have been enough, the progress towards nuclear weapons made by the Iraqis suggested that it was right for us to go in when we did. When the military judgment of the authorities considered it appropriate to go in, both sides of the House backed them. I make that point because the Government Front Bench has a tendency to insinuate in debates of this kind that the Labour Front Bench and Labour Members were less than fulsome in their support. That view was implied by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces in a debate on the Army. I take the opportunity offered by this debate on the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" to repudiate the charge which was made then and which has been insinuated elsewhere.
Does the hon. Gentleman admit that, although the Opposition Front Bench gave full support to our troops when they went into Iraq, the fact remains that the view of the Labour party, as enunciated by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), was that we should wait for sanctions to work? On that basis, we would still be waiting now.
The right hon. Gentleman's interpretation is as wrong as his interpretation of the analysis of the information that was given on "Options for Change".
It is the responsibility of all hon. Members in such a debate never to forget that the men and women in our services undertake dangerous and demanding tasks on our behalf. They do so without question and, consequently, we must never ignore our duty to make our decisions clear and our policies justifiable. When we fail to do so, we are breaking part of the social contract between those who seek to govern and those who volunteer to defend.
In this first debate since the publication of "Options for Change", we have the opportunity to search for the rationale behind the cuts and the regimental amalgamations and to examine in detail the Government's proposals for British participation in the European rapid reaction force. The House is entitled to expect a clear indication of how these British decisions sit alongside the wider decisions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the forthcoming alliance summit in Rome, where the new strategic doctrine will be unveiled.
Furthermore, we should have been told in this latest estimates debate—the last one before the general election —the direction of Britain's nuclear doctrine. The Secretary of State referred to it, but greater elucidation of the approximate size and composition of the arsenal is needed. It is a measure of the poverty of the Government's thinking on defence that so few of these issues have been addressed. My list has made no reference to the Government's admission of the need for a programme of emergency aid to help those works, firms and communities that have been affected by the decline in demand for defence products.
I believe, however, that an announcement has been made—for Scottish consumption—that something is to be done about Scottish factories and Scottish defence manufacturers that have been affected by the cuts. It remains to be seen whether this is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry or the Scottish Office. Perhaps that will be unveiled when the Minister of State replies. This is evidence of the Government's indifference to those who supplied equipment, to those who worked so hard and who were so successful in getting our troops out to the Gulf. Now that their services are no longer necessary, they were not even mentioned in the Secretary of State's remarks.
No mention was made of the development of the defence industrial strategy, which would involve com-panies and workers in the restructuring of that part of the manufacturing base for which there will be a future in defence production. Neither has there been any reference to the scope for British initiatives in the nuclear disarmament process that have emerged since the failed coup of 20 August. None of these references was expected since past statements and ideological prejudice preclude such possibilities.
I had hoped, however, that the Secretary of State would break new ground and come out with some original thinking in meeting his responsibility to the troops for whom no tasks remain. Perhaps that could have included an initiative involving longer training for ex-service personnel. Perhaps we shall be given some news on the housing front. We would like to hear the Government's proposals for education for the families of the service personnel who are no longer to remain in post. The House knows that these responsibilities lie with the Minister of State. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has said, it is clear that there are few members of the Government who will more stubbornly refuse to recognise responsibilities to service personnel than the right hon. Gentleman. These personnel include nuclear test veterans. He has responsibilities also for widows' pensions, plus payments for those in the Gulf and recompense for those who have been injured. The right hon. Gentleman will not wake up until he is kicked. He will not move unless he is dragged. He will not act until it dawns on him that his indolence and brutish insensitivity has finally placed his job on the line. The entire House knows that. It is sick and tired of the manner in which he callously disregards the legitimate claims of those who work in the defence industry and of service personnel.
The whole House appreciates the hon. Gentleman's concern for those in the armed forces, and I know that my constituents will appreciate it. However, will he take the opportunity to apologise to members of the armed forces whose pay was held back by the Labour Government, which meant that it was necessary, as their first act, for the incoming Conservative Government to increase service pay by 32·5 per cent.?
The selective memory of the hon. Gentleman has probably caused him to forget that it was the Labour Government who instituted the pay review procedures on which the Conservative Government have acted. They have not always, however, acted in respect of the conditions in which service people live. There is a £350 million deficit in the housing budget. There is a £350 million deficit in the programme for the improvement of service housing which is one of the greatest and most legitimate complaints of the armed services. Before the Government start to take credit for paying wages, they should reflect on the conditions in which so many service personnel are having to live.
No. I want to make some progress. The debate has continued for more than one and a quarter hours, and the Secretary of State's speech took most of that time. I shall take some interventions, but first I shall get under way. We shall then see whether the interventions are relevant.
For the best part of two years, hon. Members on both sides of the House and those in the defence community have advocated a proper defence review. First, there was a clandestine study of the implications of the conventional forces in Europe negotiations. That study finally came out of the closet as "Options for Change". To that was added the implications of the collapse of the Warsaw pact, along with the Treasury's claims for its share of the so-called peace dividend and the lessons to be learnt from Operations Granby and Desert Storm. The outcome was the confusion and muddle that passed for action in the MoD.
The Secretary of State's speech was significant in that he did not deploy the usual diversionary tactics of attacking the Labour party. It is significant that we no longer hear about the impact of suggested Labour cuts on defence employment or the assertion that under a Labour Government we would see rising unemployment in defence centres and the Tories' marginal constituencies. The Government cannot talk of such things during a year in which unemployment in defence marginal constituencies has increased by more than 50 per cent. There were feeble attempts by the Government to conjure up figures for defence cuts while forgetting their own programme, which will result in 30 per cent. cuts in the defence share of gross domestic product from 5 per cent. to 3·5 per cent. between 1985 and 1994.
There was also that usual last gasp of a Tory defence policy, which is the abuse of members of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition's family over past membership of disarmament organisations.
These arguments have not been advanced tonight because there has been a different battle to fight, and that is the Secretary of State's battle with Conservative Back-Bench Members. We would have preferred the battle to take place on the hustings rather than in the House. If that had happened, the people outside would have been able to hear once and for all the tired and tarnished thinking of Conservatives on defence.
On taking office, a Labour Government will institute a full and wide-ranging assessment of our defence needs. We shall take account of the roles and responsibilities that we have in mainland Britain, in the north of Ireland, on the Falkland Islands, in Hong Kong and in Oman, the Caribbean, Cyprus and Belize. Commitments to fellow citizens, dependants, former colonies and friends a re our highest priorities and they must be honoured for as long as that is deemed necessary.
The welcome changes in eastern and central Europe combined with the requirements of the conventional forces in Europe agreement have enabled the announcement of many of the proposals in "Options for Change", and we welcome them. It is not surprising, however, that these go further than the CFE treaty, which was based on the assumption that there would still be a Warsaw pact military structure. Its disappearance, combined with the changes in the former Soviet Union since the failed coup, mean that both the forces ranged in eastern Europe and their deployments have changed. Perhaps the Minister of State will tell us how he sees NATO responding to this at the meeting in Rome.
It is important, as part of the western approach, to appreciate the views that are being expressed by the Governments of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. I listened to what the Secretary of State said about the possibilities of the Western European Union being used as a sounding block. It is the Opposition's view that the WEU's status has not always been of the highest. We recognise that A may be foolish to try to reinvent the wheel at this stage and that there may be a case for using the WEU as a bridge between the countries of the east and the countries that are not members of the European Community and are still nominally neutral.
It is important that we should listen to countries such as Austria and Sweden. Countries that are not members of the WEU or of the EC might well be included in the listening process. There is a long way to go and it might have been helpful if the Secretary of State—perhaps the Minister of State will be able to do so, if he will pay attention for a moment—had told us of the outcome of the talks that took place yesterday with his French counterpart on this matter. It seems that French co-operation in such a proposal is central. If there is a French veto, it is likely that all the hopeful talk that we have heard this afternoon—we are listening carefully, examining it and not discounting it—will be just so much hot air. That will he the position if the French choose to exercise their veto. There is an ambitious programme and we wait to see what happens. We are keen that it should be successful.
We must recognise the fact that the new democracies in central and eastern Europe do not wish NATO to follow the example of the Warsaw pact. They certainly do not wish NATO to wind itself up; indeed, it can be said that the new democracies wish to join our alliance. I do not think that that is either possible or necessary at present but, above all, the new democracies need to be confident that NATO is aware of their security concerns and, in particular, that the removal of Soviet troops from Germany will continue as planned.
We applaud NATO's decision to afford the armed services of the new democracies training and consultative facilities and we join the Government in welcoming them to our staff colleges and training courses. We hope that increasing numbers from the former Soviet army will be able to sit down with their western counterparts in an attempt to forge real co-operative security in our continent. It would be wrong, however, to blind ourselves to the dangers stemming from the instability in eastern and central Europe. Germany, the new democracies and the low countries all seek the continued presence of multinational forces in central Europe. The nature of their tasks will differ.
As the Secretary of State said, there is no longer concern about a rapid massed advance from the east. If such a possibility were in prospect, the numbers involved would be far smaller and the warning time far longer. The doctrine of flexible response in nuclear terms is irrelevant in those circumstances, and we welcome recent initiatives from Presidents Bush and Gorbachev that recognise that fact.
The multinational forces, which will still have a major United States component, nevertheless incorporate the concept of a distinct European contribution along the lines of a rapid reaction force, and that is a concept that we support.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be losing his voice a little. Perhaps he will now reflect on the words on the Order Paper. The first amendment to the motion embodies the unofficial Labour party view and carries his name, calling for further reductions in addition to those proposed in the defence estimates now before us. The second embodies the official Labour party view, as advanced by a number of those on the Opposition Back Benches—the conference's view that spending should initially be cut to the European average but as a first step towards even larger reductions. Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what those cuts mean to the brigades and regiments and in terms of Britain's aircraft and ships, instead of waffling on about what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seeks to do in the defence estimates?
Those remarks illustrate the foolishness of allowing hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) to intervene in the debate. Despite the efforts of this year's Conservative party conference to grope towards democratic debate and discussion, the Conservatives do not properly appreciate how a real political conference operates. [Laughter.] Any political party that is so confident of its own ability to conduct discussion and debate that it will not allow its former leader to speak requires some lessons in democracy.
For the benefit of the hon. Member for Dorset, South, let me quote the conference resolution. I think that it will assist the House and allow us to deal with the point once and for all. The statement placed before the conference read:
The next Labour government will make a thorough assessment of the new and changing conditions and relationships in Europe, the Soviet Union and the wider world. Bearing in mind the need to maintain effective national security, this assessment should examine, in particular, Britain's defence roles, responsibilities and commitments—in order to establish, in conjunction with our allies, a fairer share of defence obligations and costs within the NATO Alliance.
That statement was accepted unanimously. I do not know for sure whether the hon. Gentleman appreciates how conference decisions are taken when there is a proper vote and when votes are counted. But when a vote is of such a character as to be unanimous, it cannot be said that one can get a bigger majority. That statement embodies the official policy of the Labour party—that is the policy incorporated in the amendment standing in the name of my right hon. Friends and me.
I shall not give way for the moment. Perhaps, at the appropriate moment, I shall let the hon. Gentleman ask his one question. I know what it will be because he always asks the same one. I can never satisfy him on it. We shall just have to leave it at that. As I said, I may give way to the hon. Gentleman if he stays long enough but I know that he sometimes leaves before I have finished speaking.
The multinational forces to which we have referred will be deployed in a different fashion. They will be deployed in a way that will require a far greater degree of flexibility and a far greater degree of professionalism on the part of the troops concerned. The troops in the corps—certainly the British troops—will have to be trained volunteers. It was almost inevitable that Britain would emerge as the candidate to organise such a force. The French are not part of the integrated command structure and they have a predominantly conscripted army. The Germans are in a similar position. Therefore, the co-ordinating role has fallen to Britain.
Equally important to the issue of Britain's co-ordinating role are the size of the corps and its area of operation. In the next day and a half, we must ascertain from the Minister whether we have the forces to provide the two divisions. I share the Select Committee's confidence in
A fully Challenger-equipped Royal Armoured Corps, mechanised and armoured infantry battalions equipped with the most modern AOCs and artillery regiments equipped with AS90 Howitzers and MLRS.
The Secretary of State quoted the Select Committee's report, which illustrated the ability of such an Army to provide an armoured division, although I do not know whether that division will be especially mobile and rapid in its capability to react in some areas. I accept, however, that, as the armoured division of a rapid reaction force, it will be second to none.
I am concerned, however, about the second division —the one based in the United Kingdom. I should like to know today how many of the forces will be reservists. I am led to believe that 80 per cent. of our troops will be regulars, but we have already heard that the figure might be lower than that. Perhaps the Secretary of State can confirm this evening whether the figure of 80 per cent. was in the undertaking given and whether it will be achieved.
We will get the figure eventually, although the right hon. Gentleman tells me from a sedentary position that he does not have it tonight. Certainly, it is being suggested that as much as 40 per cent. of the force —rather than the 20 per cent. originally implied—will be made up from the Territorial Army. Apparently, there are to be cuts of between 10,000 and 15,000 in the TA's forces. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) pointed out, there are grave anxieties about the manner in which some of the TA cuts are to be carried out. Scotland and the northern third of the country generally will be affected. North of Liverpool, there will be no recruitment of paras for the TA. That suggests a strange set of national priorities.
Will my hon. Friend consider the fact that we are not only talking about the prospect of lack of recruitment north of the Humber? All the north-east and all of Scotland will be without para units. Will my hon. Friend consider the fact that, at present, the units are staffed by young men, many of them unemployed, who find a positive outlet for their energies in society by helping to serve the Crown? In future, they will Miss out on training. They will wind up very disappointed and will be very disillusioned if the proposals are allowed to proceed.
Few hon. Members would disagree with that, or with the assertion that, in our Territorial Army, we have a tremendous asset. We should be careful to preserve the opportunity for as many of our civilians as possible to serve in the volunteer forces.
I was referring to the question of the rapid reaction corps. In central Europe, we shall have the armoured division and in the United Kingdom we shall have the second division. We have yet to hear any assurances from the Minister that we shall have the proper back-up and logistic support to move the personnel and equipment.
In its report on Operation Granby, the Defence Committee noted that the proportion of personnel deployed to the Gulf effectively destroyed BAOR's operational capability, that 95 per cent. of the Royal Corps of Transport personnel were deployed on operations in the Gulf and that all of RAF Germany's support helicopters were committed to Operation Granby. On 10 July the Secretary of State told the Select Committee on Defence:
I think all observers in the Gulf know there was considerable scope for improvement both in the manning levels of the individual units involved under their peacetime establishments and arrangements and also in the quality, reliability and much of the equipment thinly spread".
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the cuts will enable that process to be achieved and the improvement to be made by 1994? In his closing remarks to the House, the Secretary of State outlined a timetable that would take us to 1997. As I understand it, the rapid reaction corps will have to be at least notionally ready by 1994–95. There seem to be a number of gaps over the following two years and we can only hope that the warning time will be about two or three years instead of the seven to 14-day time scale under which we were previously operating.
Logistical support from the merchant marine is as important as the Army. No one in the House can be satisfied with the news that the General Council of British Shipping register has been abandoned and that future statistics in that area will simply be guesstimates. The Government must realise that there is widespread scepticism throughout NATO and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe of the ability of many contributors to the rapid reaction force to get their troops and equipment to specified places at specified times and in the right numbers.
Assuming that the United Kingdom can overcome those difficulties, we must still address the problem that arose in operation Granby where our dependence on United Kingdom flagged ships was almost non-existent with only 10 of the 146 voyages to Europe and the Gulf being made by British registered ships. While we may be concerned about getting there, we still have problems with the size of the Army. What tasks and commitments will have to be forsaken to assume the new responsibilities given the targeted size? On what basis was it decided to cut the number of battalions to 38?
The documents contain a list of criteria. I have spoken to fairly high ranking regimental officers who have written to Ministers. They were told that they were not to be informed about the way in which the criteria were to be applied because that would not be in the interests of national security. We questioned Ministers about recruitment and retention figures and were told that those figures do not exist centrally and are not collected centrally. We were told that it would probably be too expensive to write letters seeking those figures. British Telecom's charges may prevent telephone calls being made to ascertain those figures, but the Post Office is still reasonably cheap if one is prepared to wait a couple of weeks and use a second class stamp.
The figures are essential if we are to have a sensible discussion and debate. The Secretary of State should be prepared to provide the House with a breakdown of the number of battalions and regiments that each of our new commitments will require. If he is not prepared to do that, he must recognise that many people inside and outside the services will be left without a proper explanation.
Does the Secretary of State appreciate that service morale has suffered and will continue to suffer as a result of his refusal to provide a proper explanation of Government policies? What guarantees can the Secretary of State give that operational units will not require additional personnel to be drafted in from other units as happened in the Gulf? What were the criteria for the amalgamations? Why does the Secretary of State refuse to publish the information behind the criteria? What security purpose is served by keeping that information confiden-tial? What was the significance of the recruitment and retention figures in the process?
Hon. Members have already explained how their regiments have good recruitment and retention records. The figures are beginning to appear in a piecemeal fashion. Why were they not collected centrally? Will the Secretary of State confirm that one regiment which is unscathed by the process will be going to Northern Ireland short of 100 men because of a reduction in numbers and that the numbers are being made up by drawing in one of the Scottish regiments that is due to lose its independence? The Secretary of State for Defence takes a close interest in Northern Ireland matters. Will he confirm the information that I received last week from a senior serving officer whose name I will naturally not give? Apparently, there is anxiety and frustration in his regiment because 100 men are being taken from it to be sent to Northern Ireland in another regiment simply because one of the regiments that is unscathed in the process does not have the proper complement of forces.
I am sure that the charge that I have made today will be repeated in months to come by other hon. Members whose regiments will experience the anger of the men in those regiments. The men do not object to receiving orders, but if they do not like the orders, they appreciate the courtesy of being told why they are required to do something.
When "Options for Change" and the CFE processes were emerging, we drew a distinction between the need for changes in regimental structure and the need to retain a regimental system in which local recruitment, tradition and morale could be sustained. Throughout our history, the structure has been continually adjusted to meet changing defence requirements. At no time have I or my Opposition Front Bench colleagues supported cam-paigners wishing to save this or that particular regiment after the statement made on 23 July. It ill behoves those of us who broadly support the "Options for Change" process to begin to play politics with the fortunes of one regiment as opposed to another. That does not help the debate and that is why we have told people who have made representations to us that we are not backing a particular regiment.
Nevertheless, I understand the frustration and anguish expressed by so many officers. The Secretary of State has denied that the chief of staff was responsible for the dirty work. The Secretary of State admitted that it was his decision on the basis of information and advice that he received. As I understand it, the Secretary of State was also a party to the Army Board. I may be wrong so perhaps the Secretary of State can confirm the membership of that board. I believe that it comprises the three chiefs of staff and the Chief of the General Staff and that it makes recommendations. As I understand it, the Defence Ministers in this House and the one in the other place also sit on the board. It invariably has a majority of Government politicians. Am I right? Are not the Government well represented and do they not have sufficient votes to achieve a majority if they so wish? The board does not act as a democratic body; it seeks to reach a consensus. However, with five political masters on the board, I imagine that it would be easy for them to achieve a consensus at least among themselves if not among the armed services.
The hon. Gentleman is making heavy weather of this. I commend to all hon. Members the booklet entitled "The Ministry of Defence." It sets everything out clearly. It states that the Army Board comprises five Ministers—two Ministers of State, two Under-Secretaries and myself as chairman—four Army members and the second permanent under-secretary. It has four uniformed members and one senior civil servant. They are advised, and recommendations come forward from the executive committee of the Army Board. The Chief of the General Staff is chairman and these are non-ministerial board members, together with the respective assistant chiefs of staff—therefore in uniform —whom no Ministers approach.
I do not think that that contradicts what I have said. There is a clear Government majority on the board. At the end of the day the Government get what they want. It remains to be seen whether or not the chiefs of staff are prepared to go along with that—certainly if we are to believe what appeared in yesterday's edition of The Sunday Times. Over the years, the right hon. Gentleman has been one of the greatest defenders of national security, one of the greatest opponents of leaks, and one who has never countenanced the consideration of a leak. However, when a leak falls not into the hands of an Opposition Member but into the hands of a sympathetic newspaper it seems to be acceptable. We have not heard any criticism of the leaks or about a full search being carried out to call individuals to account. We wonder whose fingerprints are on the letter.
In defence debates we are almost in danger of forgetting the personal consequences of "Options for Change" for service men and their families—people who will be forced out of work and into a most inhospitable economic climate in the middle of a recession with spiralling unemployment and hundreds of people chasing every job. Redundant soldiers are surely entitled to more than 28 days' training and their families are entitled to assurances on accommodation. We wait with interest for the next bone to be thrown by the Minister of State. The Government have been reluctant to hand over some of their housing stock to local authorities. It is some months—indeed it is almost a year—since the Secretary of State was in Devonport. The houses in Plymouth that have lain empty for some years are not yet in the public domain. So far there has been little attempt to provide assistance to local authorities or properly to fund housing associations.
That is not a matter of party contention. Over the years, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) has raised it in successive defence and services debates. We look forward to hearing clear assurances that homelessness among ex-service personnel will stop in the near future as a result of tonight's announcement. The figures that were produced today by the Rowntree Trust make it clear that the number of service personnel in irregular occupancy of services accommodation—a polite way of saying squatting, whether or not they pay rent—increased from 760 in 1986 to 1,630 in 1990. That is an increase of more than 100 per cent. in four years.
The hon. Gentleman has spoken of the anguish involved in redundancies, both services and industrial, as a result of the defence cuts. How many tens of thousands of service personnel and defence industry employees would lose their jobs if a Labour Government were elected?
The numbers who will lose their jobs and the numbers who will leave the services will be determined by sensible arrangements. They will be determined by a far more caring Government than the party which presently holds office.
On my hon. Friend's sensible point, would he like to comment on the fact that, at present, Army families are in real difficulty? Those who are looking for accommodation are not only suffering tremendous social stress—many marriages are at risk—but they are finding it impossible to find alternative accommodation. Also, many building societies will not even offer them mortgages because they do not have jobs. The debate should be about the conditions of existing members of the forces as well as those who will be forced into that intolerable position in future.
I am sorry, but I am not giving way any more. I am conscious of the strictures of the House, and other hon. Members wish to speak. The Secretary of State took a long time. I am going as fast as I can. I have given several opportunities to respond.
We must provide a positive response to the initiatives of Gorbachev and Bush. We must also seek to assist in the process of inspection and verification of the reciprocal disarmament arrangements that have been announced. In particular, there must be speedy agreement to guarantee the verifiability of the removal of all sub-strategic and tactical nuclear weapons from ships and submarines. Such is the complexity of the task that work must begin immediately. Given the good will and trust now emerging, the task is not insuperable, but it has great significance for troop concentrations in the Kola peninsula and for the anxiety of people in Norway. Norway is more than preoccupied with the enormous Soviet capability on its borders.
We need to know the Government's attitude to plans to replace HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid. Our am-phibious capability appears to be extremely expensive to maintain. How do the Government propose to reinforce Norway if an exigency were to arise in the near future? On the wider shipbuilding front, we need clear assurances that, when the tendering process is completed and orders are placed, work will start as quickly as possible.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. About half an hour ago, the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said that he would give way to me at the appropriate time. He has mentioned warship building, and he has also said that he hopes to finish soon. I ask you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to ask him to honour his pledge.
I mention the shipbuilding industry because it is important not only for one constituency but for other constituencies all over the country which are not even beside the sea and depend upon that industry. I make it clear that the Government's glib assurances that the Americans will continue to provide them with the technology and the means whereby they will fulfil their ambitions in respect of the tactical air-to-surface missile are doubtful, given that the American Government have abandoned support for the Boeing project. Perhaps we may hear whether there will be some support for either the French or the Martin-Marietta programmes which are still going on and how we will be able to get our nuclear air-launched systems.
So far we have had only an introduction to the debate on this issue, but tonight's debate would not have taken place if we had had a general election—[Interruption.] Tonight's debate would not have taken place if we had had a June election because we would not have had the White Paper and there would be no "Options for Change". The debate has clearly shown that the Government are running away from the issues and from the truth. They are refusing to provide the information that the House, the country and the armed services need if they are to have a proper debate. We shall wait until tomorrow to give the Government our opinion when I shall call on my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote in support of our amendent.
Odd as it may seem, this is the first occasion on which we have been able to discuss the Gulf war which preoccupied us so much last summer. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for having put it so much on the agenda of today's debate. It was, of course, a great victory in every sense. It succeeded, it cost very little in terms of casualties, and our allies paid a large part of the financial bill, which is an important point. As a former Secretary of State for Air, I hope that it will not be taken amiss if I say that it was also an outstanding demonstration of our air power. Air power dominated the scene, punching a way through the enemy lines and pulverising the population behind the lines. It would seem a justification for the erection of a statue to "Bomber" Harris.
But what a melancholy conclusion: the ceasefire. My right hon. Friend touched on that point, but did not go into it. It was, of course, an American decision. I am only sorry that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary should have suggested in an article that it was due to air force morale. Having served in the ranks of the Royal Air Force during the war, and having been its political chief later, I do not for one moment believe that that is true. My right hon. Friend is a novelist in his spare time, so perhaps he was picking up the pen of fiction rather than of statesmanship.
The failure to follow through has been disastrous and I find it difficult to understand. I cannot understand how a President of the United States, once head of the CIA, could not, in the four or five months before the final blow was struck, have prepared an Iraqi Government to take over in Baghdad. That is incomprehensible to me. Yes, it would have been a commitment, but let us consider the cost of not making that commitment.
In the first phase after the ceasefire, there was the massacre of Shias and Kurds. That has now been renewed with a second round of massacres while Saddam Hussein struts on the stage—no doubt as a hero to many young Arabs in other parts of the middle east. My right hon. Friend has produced some alarming evidence of how far Saddam Hussein's military programme has advanced in terms of missiles and unconventional equipment. Are we quite sure that we have got to the bottom of it? We could be faced with a nasty surprise if he suddenly decided to bring down the pillars of the temple.
However, the worst immediate consequence for us has been the decline in the authority of the west following the ceasefire. The Saudis have been reluctant to let the RA F or the American air force return to their bases. We have seen them making trouble about stockpiles. Syria is rearming —and Syria and Israel multiply the difficulties facing the peace conference. That is a sign of the decline in the authority that the west, and, above all, the Americans, enjoyed for a moment after our victory.
All that provides some important lessons for the conference at Maastricht in a few weeks' time. We all know that if we are to put together the massive economic and financial interests that are represented by the European Community, which will extend if we expand the Community, it would be madness not to have some system to defend those interests. That is essential. The purpose of foreign and defence policy is to protect and to promote one's interests.
The Gulf war provides us with yet another lesson. Europe's interests in the Gulf were greater than those of America, but we could not have carried out the campaign without the Americans. We must take on board the fact that it is not a question of arms or money, because we had enough arms and enough money to do it: we did not have the will. I am afraid that the Yugoslav crisis underlines that point again. Our French friends may be right when they say that the Americans will withdraw from Europe and that we must therefore become more self-reliant. They are right to point out that NATO is limited by its charter and is unable to defend our interests outside its area. However, we have a long way to go before we can think of doing without the Americans.
French defence and foreign policy is now at a crossroads. For a long time—from de Gaulle's time onwards—the French thought that they were the jockey and that the Germans were the horse, but the horse and the jockey together took quite a fall when the hurdle—the Berlin wall—suddenly disappeared. Perhaps the lunch that Mr. Dumas gave the other day will be seen as a turning point by historians.
France should now join us in working for a global alliance of Europe, the United States and Japan. But it is not easy to put together a brand new structure when we are all busy cutting commitments, so perhaps we had better get on with what we have got. The Western European Union is still growing and, although NATO is declining, it still exists, so we had better make the best of it while we can. After all, as we should never forget, it has a Turkish wing that provides us with a window on the middle east.
In the early part of his speech, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained how the threat had greatly diminished as a result of events in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. Although it was not clear from the speech of the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), I understand that the Labour party believes that we should have a bigger peace dividend because there is a much smaller threat. Since I became a Member of the House in 1950, we have taken up arms four times—in Korea, Suez, the Falklands and the Gulf. None of those campaigns was expected, so the general staffs had no plans for coping with them. We should all remember that fact and bear in mind that next time we may again be faced with the unexpected.
Another question is whether my right hon. Friend has got it right. Have we got the strength that we need? I was a junior Minister in 1957 when we had the Duncan Sandys White Paper, when we amalgamated regiments and markedly cut the strength of our Army. Nothing would induce me to return to the agony that resulted from that amalgamation. As my right hon. Friend knows only too well, it is a painful and agonising task. I should like to make just one observation: when we cut our strength in 1957, we were dealing with a mainly conscript Army. We are now dealing with an entirely professional Army. When we were living in the world of a conscript Army, it was not all that difficult to rebuild our Army and to fill its gaps. I am, therefore, a little unhappy when my right hon. Friend says, "It will be all right because so many of our battalions are under strength." It seems rather a criticism of his own stewardship. If we could not fill the battalions when we had a large number of men, are we sure that we shall be able to do so when we have fewer? It is not clear to me.
At the end of the day it depends on our opinion of ourselves. Do we see ourselves as a Scandinavian power in the old sense—the Swedes have changed, but previously countries such as Denmark said that they would not fight —or do we see ourselves as a purely European power or as a European power which must still have a global responsibility?
I have to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this question: putting his hand on his heart, can he say to us, "Yes, we could cope with another Falklands operation; yes, we could cope with another Gulf operation"? If he cannot, he had better get back to the drawing board.
It must surely have occurred to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that there is a certain paradox in the fact that this evening's annual debate on the defence estimates is much more controversial than usual, on an occassion when it might have been thought that there was much to celebrate. In the first place, we can claim with some justification that the cold war has ended. We can certainly recognise the dissolution of the Warsaw pact and the constitutional dismembering of the Soviet Union. We can celebrate the fact that there now appears to be a far greater opportunity for reductions in stocks of nuclear weapons than ever before. As the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) hinted a moment ago, we can make proper acknowledgment of the stunning feat of arms in the Gulf. So why is it that those elements have not provided a backdrop to the debate against which we might have had an informed and responsible debate about how best to meet Britain's defence and security needs in the foreseeable future?
We can obtain some illustration of why the debate has been so controversial if we examine the terms of the Select Committee's report on the defence estimates. Although the Secretary of State made a brave effort to blunt some of the criticisms, they remain formidable. The report records what the Select Committee thought of the document with which the debate deals.
In paragraph 2.1 of its report the Committee says:
Anyone buying 'the White Paper' in order to discover the strategic rationale for the changes proposed would be sadly disappointed. What 'the White Paper' regrettably fails to do, and does not even set out to do, is to argue in any detail the rationale behind the changes proposed, or to provide a coherent strategic overview".
A little later, in paragraph 2.3, the Committee says:
There remains a yawning gap between shared perceptions of what has changed and the role of British armed forces in the new order".
I cannot imagine that the Committee would have seen fit to make those judgments in the form in which they appear in the report unless it felt that they were justified.
In many quarters there has been an over-optimistic expectation about the immediate financial savings which may be obtained from a reduction in both arms and men. In the longer term, such savings will undoubtedly be available, but in the shorter term they cannot be assumed. Lower force levels will demand better trained, better equipped and better paid regular troops. Fewer regulars will mean that reserve forces must be adequate in numbers and in their turn better trained, better equipped and better rewarded.
If I may introduce a somewhat parochial note, I shall be writing to the Secretary of State about my visit to HMS Camperdown, a shore installation of the Royal Navy Reserve in Dundee. Several of my constituents are members of it. I intend to put to him some of the points that I gleaned from that visit.
The increasing sophistication of equipment must mean that the replacement of existing equipment, even at lower levels, may require proportionately greater expenditure in the short term. We should never forget that the peace dividend is peace itself. But, along with that, we can assuredly retain the objective of substantial reductions in defence expenditure. The effective end of the cold war means that we do not require to retain the same number of men and women under arms or the same levels of equipment. But, against all that, the overriding principle must be the proper funding of a defence and security policy which reflects what most acknowledge as Britain's diminished role in the world and the diminished threat to our security.
Notwithstanding what the Secretary of State said, I still believe that the Government would be well advised to institute a full-scale defence review. It would necessarily involve political judgments about the obligations and responsibilities of the United Kingdom in defence and security, both domestic and international. It would involve military judgments about how best to meet those responsibilities. Lastly, it would involve a financial judgment about the resources which would need to be found to provide the military means by which the obligations would be discharged.
Policy ought to be dictated by the outcome of such a defence review. It is legitimate to have financial aspirations and objectives as long as they are subordinate to the policy considerations that emerge after careful, rigorous and even intellectual analysis of both the actual and the potential threat.
The continuing existence of NATO for the foreseeable future is not inconsistent with my belief—nor, indeed, that of the Secretary of State, if accounts of yesterday's meeting are to be accepted—that a European defence policy will ultimately evolve in some form or another. The inevitability of that has been underlined by recent events, not least the initiative recently launched by the British and Italian Governments to which the Secretary of State referred.
We should make it clear that we value and expect the continued commitment of the United States and Canada to Europe, but that equally we are aware that the level of resources which each may be able to devote to Europe is likely to fall substantially in real terms and perhaps in relative terms, too. One cannot ignore the fact that the continuing budget deficit in the United States will be a powerful consideration in that regard. There will inevitably be a need for Europe to assume a greater degree of responsibility in such matters.
I believe that Britain should continue to have the protection of a nuclear deterrent for as long as other nations have nuclear weapons. The proposals and counter-proposals of Mr. Bush and Mr. Gorbachev make it clear that we may be on the brink of substantial reductions in nuclear weapons, but it is important to draw a distinction between unilateral reductions and unilateral renunciation. Mr. Bush and Mr. Gorbachev are offering the former, but I am not yet aware that they seek to offer the latter.
I remain committed to the view that four submarines are necessary in order to maintain the deterrent effect of Trident at all times. But I part company with the Secretary of State—as he perhaps anticipates, because we have exchanged views on the matter many times—in his view that it is necessary that the D5 Trident system should be deployed with a total number of warheads which, if some reports are to be believed, would be three times the level of warheads on Polaris, which it is to replace.
The Secretary of State properly referred to minimum deterrence. He and I must read the same reports because he used the definition of it as the sort of deterrence that would be seen by an adversary as capable of producing unacceptable levels of destruction. That is rather a chilling phrase, but I think that we all know what it means. I cannot believe that a four-boat Trident system with the same number of warheads as Polaris would not be regarded by an adversary as capable of producing unacceptable levels of destruction.
May I briefly say—you will appreciate, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I am constrained by time—that I do not believe that there is a case for the United Kingdom to acquire a tactical air-to-surface missile with a nuclear warhead. There may be a case—I put it no more strongly than that—for the allies to have such a weapon, but I can see no justification for the United Kingdom to seek to deploy such a system.
I come to the matter of infantry battalions, with which I suspect that many of the speeches from now on will almost exclusively deal. We must maintain sufficient battalions to meet our obligations. There is increasingly strong opinion—although I accept that the Secretary of State has a case to make against it—that a reduction in the Army to a force of 116,000 will not permit us to maintain our infantry battalions at the necessary level. Some Members will argue later the case for the Scottish regiments on geographical or even sentimental grounds. I do not discount the power of such things in the minds of many people, but the real argument, which the Secretary of State has been unable so far successfully to challenge, is that seven infantry battalions for Scotland are necessary to ensure that the obligations that are likely to be placed on the British Army can be discharged. I make one final plea for the 15th Para TA battalion. It is absolute nonsense to suggest that Scotland should have no parachute unit whatever, whether territorial or regular. The Secretary of State should take that away and think about it again.
The White Paper appeared on 9 July and the Secretary of State courteously and promptly came to see the Select Committee the next day. We agreed our report on 24 July, the day after the publication of the detailed proposals on the Army. The Committee will examine those proposals in the greatest detail in the coming weeks. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give information on how the decisions were reached, even if some of it must be in confidence. I have not had a chance to consult my colleagues about this, but I am sure that I speak for them when I say that we shall want to know how these highly controversial decisions were reached. I hope that there will not be a quarrel about this.
From a substantial report I shall draw just three points to the attention of the House, in particular to the attention of my right hon. Friend. First, there is a need for a thorough review of the social security rules as they apply to service personnel and their families. In particular, there is a need for an urgent review of the decision not to make retrospective the waiver of the residence qualification for severe disablement allowance. That would leave unqualified to receive the allowance severely disabled personnel and their dependants who have served for long periods abroad. That cannot be right.
My second point concerns the value of laying down basic principles under which the Ministry of Defence and the services carry out humanitarian work, so that the rather unhappy episode of contracting out Royal Engineers to clear mines in Kuwait will not be repeated. Thirdly, there is a need for an on-going programme of base closures and reductions to be properly conducted, and for announcements to be accompanied with details of costs and savings. That cannot be said to be a description of how the naval support review was conducted. When announcements were made, they were by barely informative written answers. From figures now provided it is clear that annual savings from the measures proposed so far are minimal and will run at about only £30 to £40 million a year. That is nowhere near the sort of sums that we were led to believe were being sought. Further announcements are obviously pending and the House and its Committees are entitled to proper facts and figures.
In July the Committee also completed its work on the preliminary lessons of Operation Granby, which was published as our tenth report. As we record, we made two highly informative visits to the Gulf in November and March. As we also record, the principal lesson was the overriding value of the skill, dedication and courage of individual service men and women. To that I would add their versatility and flexibility.
As our report sets out to be no more than a preliminary survey, we must advise caution against leaping to conclusions. I would now emphasise only three points while commending the report to the House. The first is the crucial contribution made by years of NATO training and exercising. The war was won primarily by NATO forces operating NATO procedures. The second is the need for thorough examination of the way in which reserve forces were and were not used. The Committee called for several specific points to be addressed in the current working up of proposals for the future of reserve forces and I hope that they will be, before my right hon. Friend announces his conclusions. The third point is the significance of the degree of dependence on non-United Kingdom ships and aircraft for transporting stores to the Gulf and back—a subject which has often been raised. That must be explicitly addressed by the Ministry of Defence in its analysis of Granby, as the Committee recommends.
In our fourth report we published a generally favourable overview of six major projects on which we had already published detailed reports earlier in this Parliament. That is a demonstration of our determination to maintain a continuing watching brief over the Ministry's procurement performance and to show that we are not always being critical.
Our seventh report continued our scrutiny of MOD's procurement of helicopters, particularly of the EH101 Merlin. Since we reported, MOD has awarded a prime contract to IBM/Westland, and a first production batch of 44 is now expected. I am sure that we all welcome the award and hope that the steps towards full production can now be hastened. I have, however, two points which I hope that the Minister will feel able to answer at the end of the debate, because they will be of some general interest.
First, the Government's helpful reply to our report, which we published today, refers in several places to changes to the aircraft from the capabilities specified in the original staff requirement, in addition to the decision to reduce the original reliability and maintainability requirements. What are these principal changes and what in broad terms will they mean for Merlin's capabilities? Secondly, we warned at paragraph 54 that
It would not be sensible for MoD to keep within its budgeted overall cost by artificially reducing the number of helicopters to be ordered.
Several officials told us that the changes in the size of the surface fleet would not affect orders. In February one official told us that:
The numbers are really not reducible.
Yet the Government's reply refers to 44 being enough to introduce Merlins on
type 23 frigates and one carrier".
Does that mean that type 22 frigates will not carry Merlin as originally envisaged? Why have the numbers fallen from 50 to 44?
That is a quick gallop through some Select Committee points as I am caught by the 10-minute speech limit. I shall now make some remarks on my own behalf.
My right hon. Friend faces difficulties with "Options for Change". First, we should put the "Options for Change" argument, particularly that about infantry battalions, into perspective. It is at the margin of huge changes that have taken place in all three services. Because it is at the margin I hope that my right hon. Friend will have a little room for manoeuvre. It is not as if we are saying that he should restore all the Navy cuts or all the RAF squadrons that are to be reduced for the reasons which have been examined and found to be, broadly speaking, acceptable. We are simply asking whether we have got the reduction in the number of infantry battalions right, given our commitments and the fact that the present size of the corps of infantry is and has been in the past years thoroughly overstretched in carrying out those commitments. That has had an effect on recruiting, retention, morale and all the other aspects which are so crucial to the well being of the infantry.
It would not be right for me as Chairman of the Select Committee to enter into the various arguments about individual battalions. Of course the Scots are upset, as are the Cheshires, the Staffords and others, but there are others who may not have articulated their upset so loudly —the Royal Anglians, the Queen's and my county regiment of Hampshire. If we focus the debate just on that, we shall probably not get the right answer. The important question to ask is whether 38 infantry battalions are enough to do the job. In July I put that specific question to the Secretary of State and he gave me the specific answer that the Army Board was content that that number was enough and could give the advice that had been demanded.
It is extraordinary that 15 months ago when the initial figures for "Options for Change" were issued the answer —it could only have been a guess—was 116,000 for the Army. Since then, look what has happened. There have been lessons, but not one figure has changed. I beg the Secretary of State to reconsider, not the individual regiments, which are rightly a matter for the executive committee of the Army Board, but the numbers. I beg him perhaps to consider the lessons of Granby and the fact that there will be much more overstretch just to maintain the commitments in Northern Ireland, Belize and Cyprus, or else to say that we cannot manage Belize and Cyprus any more. That is an option which would make a certain amount of sense of the present cuts.
I beg him to reconsider the figures and to return to his remarks that the cuts are not Treasury-led. If they are not Treasury-led but are Defence-led, a good look, as we tried to take in our report, at the commitments dispassionately —not looking at Scotland or anywhere else—should tell my right hon. Friend, as it has told me and all my colleagues, that we shall run a bit short, that the proposal is a bit tight and that we shall have difficulty in managing all our commitments with the proposed arrangements. Therefore, I ask him to make a small change at the edge of the whole panoply of "Options for Change" which would not only allow the infantry to breathe a little more comfortably and inevitably help with morale, recruiting and so on, but would turn away some of the anger which is naturally coming from some of my hon. Friends whose counties, regiments and their histories are being affected.
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) who, in the latter half of his speech, made many points with which I agreed, and I am grateful to him for making them.
When the Secretary of State was describing develop-ments in the Soviet Union—and I appreciate that he was under pressure of time—he mentioned the acceleration in the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the former allied territories in eastern and central Europe. There were many other matters, some positive and some negative, that he did not mention, but which are of some significance. One of the more positive matters is that those forces may now be taken further east than was originally intended. It is possible that they will end up not just east of the Polish-Ukrainian border, but east of the border between the republic of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. That leads to many questions. Will there be any central forces for the former Soviet Union? We know that there will be a Ukrainian army and that Ukraine has declared its independence. If it is to have its own armed forces, sovereign and independent, will they be stationed to defend all of Ukraine's borders? Will they be stationed on the border between the Ukraine and the Russian Federation? Will they be facing east?
What will happen to the non-nuclear central assets of the former Soviet Union? What will happen to the Black sea fleet? Apparently, the Ukrainians are saying privately that they will have the Black sea fleet. They certainly have the only serviceable port from which the Black sea fleet can operate. However, the Russian Federation may take a different view, and it is in that context that Mr. Yeltsin has spoken of restoring previous boundaries between the republic of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. If the assets of the Black sea fleet are to be broken up, presumably the new republic of Georgia will want to have a say in the disposition.
Many other questions need to be answered in determining British defence strategy. Will the Vilnius area be demobilised? Is that enclave of the former Soviet Union now wholly cut off from the rest of the territory of the Soviet Union? I take it that it is now a part of the Russian Federation. It used to contain important bases for the Baltic fleet, but reports now suggest that the Vilnius area will be demobilised.
How much will the individual republics be prepared to pay towards the maintenance of a central defence capability? Of course, all such contributions will have to come on top of the costs to them of maintaining their new, sovereign, national forces. What will be the attitude of the republics to the CFE process—something to which they were not party? The Secretary of State said nothing about that. It is possible that the results of the CFE process will be in jeopardy because of developments within the Soviet Union.
For once, I can say that in the previous defence debate I predicted something that appears to be coming true. I always thought it possible that on the territory of the former Soviet Union more than one nuclear-capable, sovereign state would emerge. It appears that, at the very least, there may be three or more. The Ukraine says that eventually it wants to be nuclear free, but that for the time being it wants to keep nuclear weapons on its territory and have a say in how they will be used. Kazakhstan has said unambiguously that it wants to keep the weapons and have title to them. It does not want to share control. We do not yet know what the attitude of the authorities in Belorussiya will be to nuclear weapons on their territory.
Lest anyone thinks that those are minor matters, I should add that only last week the Moscow press published a report of a secret analysis by the KGB of its concern about where future control arrangements for nuclear weapons on the territory of the Soviet Union would reside. Those are matters of the very greatest concern to us all. It is one reason why, I regret to say, we should not lower our guard. Of course, the reductions in the nuclear inventories that President Bush announced are very helpful, and the response of President Gorbachev is equally helpful. I always thought that negotiations and haggling over nuclear inventories and the attempts to achieve parity over the range of individual weapons systems were a waste of time. It has always been my view that either of the super-powers could unilaterally reduce its inventories of nuclear warheads by about 80 per cent. without any loss of individual security—and that is still my view. I am glad to say that, at least in this part of my speech, I can endorse the Government's policy of maintaining a strategic nuclear capability with the Trident system——
Yes, four boats. We shall also need one air launch system. Having seen some of the developments in Washington recently, I think that we will need to make a decision quickly on whether to go along with an Anglo-French system. I hope that the Minister will answer that question when he replies to the debate. I do not dissent from the decision to eliminate the nuclear depth bombs, but I should be interested to know how we will take out submarines of the Typhoon or Oscar classes without the assistance of nuclear depth bombs.
Possibly more important than the developments in the former Soviet Union is the continuing expansion of ballistic missile capability in other countries, and especially—although not exclusively—in the middle east. I want briefly to touch on the missile technology control regime—the MTCR—because it is potentially—and I emphasise "potentially"—one of the most healthy developments for us all. My briefing from our admirable Library shows that India, Israel, Saudi Arabia and North Korea are maintaining their programmes and their momentum. It was thought that several other countries were dropping theirs, including Argentina and South Korea. However, I read recently that both Syria and Iran intend to acquire a new manufacturing capability for much longer-range ballistic missiles than they currently possess. It is imperative that the MTCR is widened and better enforced. Of course, it is not a treaty, and I should be grateful if the Minister could tell me whether that is because of Trident. Is it true that if the MTCR were a treaty, we would no longer be able to receive Trident missile technology or the missiles themselves from the United States?
I wish to raise only one other matter, and it is something on which I dissent from the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). I do not envisage in the foreseeable future, and nor would I recommend to the House, the development of a unified defence capability, let alone unified defence decision-making with the countries of the European Community. When we look at the history of the past few years—the Falklands, Iraq, and Yugoslavia—we should consider ourselves fortunate that the House was capable of taking sovereign decisions without having to consult the other countries of Europe—such as Belgium, which would not sell us its ammunition, and Germany, which said that we should send our troops but it would not send its own forces.
The way ahead is through defence procurement. In that way, we can achieve better efficiency at lower cost, and without having to subordinate our decision-making powers that, I am glad to say, repose in this House.
I am particularly glad to follow the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) in his concluding remarks, in which he made several important points. He referred also to the rapidly changing background against which the decisions that we are debating today must be taken. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Ministers, and the Army Board in particular, had many extremely difficult decisions to take, and I do not envy them the task that confronted them.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said that this debate was abnormal in that it lacked any references to Opposition defence policies. However, it is fair to remember that the great reduction in tension between the east and the west and the collapse of the Warsaw pact would not have occurred had we listened to the continued advocacy of the Labour party and of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to abandon Britain's nuclear capability and to avoid the disposition of cruise missiles in this country—which gave a lead to the rest of Europe and undoubtedly contributed directly to the Soviet Union's acceptance that the arms race was one that it could never win, and that the deterrents we were able to keep in place were something that it could never outbid. Had it not been for the British Government's resolve under a Conservative leadership, we might well not have had the debate that we are having now.
It is not surprising that the Army has been chief among the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, because both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force have a unified structure, and the regimental system has aroused particular concern and the emotions of right hon. and hon. Members—not least because of geographi-cal associations and historical loyalties that regiments carry with them.
It is right that the regimental system is to be preserved. Even if reductions must be made, we ought to remember that the regimental system is the bedrock of the Army. It is unique to the British Army, and is one of the factors that make it more efficient, effective, dedicated, and exceptionally successful than any other army in the western world. That is something of which we can be proud.
I will illustrate the difficulties that confront my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in a way that I hope will allow me also to bend his ear. My Hertfordshire constituency comes within the area of the Royal Anglian Regiment, which is being reduced from three battalions to two. However, the Royal Anglians must still cover no fewer than nine separate counties—Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, and Lincolnshire. I hope that my right hon. Friend will at least feel able to retain the Royal Anglians' three voluntary battalions. Even in areas where recruitment has not been so good, there is nevertheless a tremendous reservoir of available reserves, which can be an important element in maintaining overall potential numbers at a time when the number of regular battalions is being reduced.
My other particular example is that of the Royal Scots, and not just because it is my son's regiment. The Royal Scots is the oldest infantry regiment in the British Army. Is such an institution simply to be allowed to disappear? It is difficult to understand, on the basis of recruitment and retention, how a regiment of that kind and distinction can be selected for amalgamation. If there is to be any reconsideration and reprieves, I hope that the Royal Scots will be number one on the list. I trust that, at the very least, it will be able to retain its name and its title as a royal regiment, and not lose them in some wishy-washy general phrase, to apply to the Royal Scots and to the King's Own Scottish Borderers—two very proud and ancient Scottish regiments.
I mentioned those two regiments not only because of my own interest in them but because they illustrate part of the remaining task that lies before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues—to treat with the utmost sensitivity the issues raised by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends about regiments in their own areas.
It is the attachment of geographical loyalties to recruitment, and to performance in situations of war, that has given the British Army its tremendous flexibility and success. We have seen that time and again.
My right hon. Friend will have to make his decisions about overall numbers on a gradual basis. He cannot take a decision today and say that it will be absolutely right for an indefinite number of years ahead. We do not know what developments are to come in Europe—let alone in the whole of the middle east and in other parts of the world. We do not know what will be the reactions of our allies and of our colleagues in the coalition forces in the Gulf. We do not know what lies ahead for those who might be alongside our forces in any joint action to which our country may contribute.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will judge matters as they progress, and that it will be seen as a sign of strength on his part, not of weakness, if he finds, in the light of circumstances, that changes should be made. My right hon. Friend said that he will keep his decisions and plans under review, and that adjustments could be made if need be. I hope that that commitment means exactly what it seems.
I hope also that we will be able to maintain the commitments that have been made even with the Army's lower numbers. I share my right hon. Friend's anxieties about Northern Ireland—not in respect of overall numbers, but on the frequency with which particular regiments may be sent to serve in the Province. The Northern Ireland commitment is a major part of the British Army's overall commitment. When I visited Berlin a few years ago, I found that the three battalions there regarded their time in Berlin as a period of training and recuperation. That commitment is to go, and may be substituted by one that is much more demanding. We must be concerned all the time about the danger of overstretching our forces.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Dudley, East that it is essential to maintain our individual voice and decision-making ability in the commitment of our forces. I cannot imagine the circumstances in which all the members of the European Community—whose national interests in respect of foreign affairs often differ materially, and whose defence interests differ even more—are likely, in the emergency circumstances that usually trigger the need for military operations, to come to a rapid, decisive, clear-cut, and effective decision. It is not that I resent the European Community; it is in many respects a most useful body. However, it is totally unsuitable for the purposes of defence. The idea of putting military decisions through the EC process of endless horse trading goes against all practical considerations of military success.
I hope that we shall play a continuing role in Europe, in the United Nations and in any informal groupings of nations that come together for defence and military purposes. I hope that we shall not be ashamed of playing a leading if not necessarily a dominant role. Very often the actions of the British armed forces and the decisions of the British Government have stimulated others to follow our example and thus make international activity effective.
I speak as a member of the Select Committee on Defence which, among other things, concluded that the Government are providing no "coherent strategic overview" and that they have made no attempt to provide a military rationale for what, to many of us, seems to be a rather crude Treasury carve-up. but, we should never underestimate the Government's ability to make a crisis out of a windfall. Since Scotland is, as ever, getting the worst deal under those circumstances, I make no apology for concentrating on the impact of Government defence policy in Scotland.
The Rosyth naval base is being savaged. Our high-tech defence industries are being left floundering in impossible circumstances, and now our Territorial Army's parachute regiment is being axed and five first class infantry regiments face amalgamation or suspension.
Later this evening I shall join with other hon. Members from both sides of the House representing Scottish constituencies to present a petition signed by no fewer than 800,000 people in Scotland who oppose the cuts and amalgamations.
May I make a quick plea for the work force at GEC Ferranti Defence Systems Ltd., most of whom are in the Lothian and Edinburgh area. They have an unparalleled record in radar and avionics manufacture and it is not their fault that their management dug itself into a hole which led to the GEC takeover not so long ago. We are now left with a highly specialist division of GEC with very limited scope for diversification away from defence products. Two years ago there were 7,000 jobs; now there are just 4,000, and a further 800 redundancies have just been announced.
That sort of high-tech, precision engineering firm is what Britain requires if we are to have any future in quality manufacturing and the Government should be actively helping diversification projects in that field. I welcome the fact that the Labour Opposition are committed to introducing a defence diversification agency.
We should not be skimping on equipment for our slimmed-down armed forces. The Minister of State for Defence Procurement justified his recent decision not to go ahead with the purchase of Ferranti's FIN 1155 inertial navigation system for the new Challenger tank on the grounds that the system is "too sophisticated" and
could not be justified on cost grounds".
If we ever send British tank crews into action again, we must always ensure that they have the best equipment that we can get for them. Therefore, I urge the Government to reconsider that decision, as well as the case for helping firms such as Ferranti to develop new products, and alternative markets.
I turn to the important but vexed question of the future of the Royal Scots, the Gordons, the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Queen's Own Highlanders. My personal feelings, as the son of a KOSB and as the Member of Parliament for many Royal Scots, are reinforced by my concern as a member of the Defence Select Committee that we must do justice to our armed forces by keeping their strength up to what is required to meet the tasks which we expect them to carry out. The disappearance of the threat of a massive land war in central Europe is a matter for great rejoicing and clearly justifies appropriate adjustment to military forces. However, it should not be taken as an excuse for Ministers to turn the British Army into a sort of military sweatshop which is intolerably overstretched. The Government and the Treasury must not be allowed to cut the strength of the Army beyond the reduction in the Army's allotted task. I can imagine the hue and cry if a Labour Government were to try to pull a fast one like this.
I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend on the Opposition Front Bench, the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), has undertaken to base decisions on future force sizes on a proper assessment of the tasks of those forces in new world circumstances. But what are the Government doing? They have shed 14 battalion-scale commitments—fair enough—but they are cutting the number of battalions by 17. So the remaining 39 battalions will be left to take on the extra duties as best they can.
For example, troops allocated to specialist roles in the new NATO rapid reaction corps, which will demand a high state of readiness and complicated training, may be required to patrol the streets of Derry and Belfast at the same time. These infantry cuts go too far, and I agree with the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee about that.
How have units been selected for amalgamation or suspension? I do not necessarily suggest that the fact that the Royal Scots is the oldest infantry regiment in the Army —it is the first of the line—should carry too much weight, although it is obviously important. However, it was a bit much to send it into action in very dangerous circumstances in Iraq last year when at the same time Ministry of Defence civil servants were planning to wind up the regiment and to destroy up to 2,000 Army jobs in Scotland. The military issue should be the need to build on the strength of regiments which have a proven record of recruiting and retaining first-class soldiers. What is the sense of retaining regiments, for example, in the Queen's division, which is 18·5 per cent. undermanned because of recruiting and retention problems, while sacrificing the Gordons, the Royal Scots, the KOSBs and the Queen's Own Highlanders, which, to all intents and purposes, are up to strength?
I have been trying hard to understand the motives of the Secretary of State for Defence in taking such irrational decisions. He has said repeatedly that the amalgamations were the decision of the Army Board following consultation with the regiments. We know that colonels of the Scottish division refused to submit to that game of Russian roulette—probably rightly so—which brings us back to the Army Board. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan managed to get that on record from the Secretary of State for Defence, who confirmed that the Army Board consists of all the Tory Ministers in the Ministry of Defence plus a senior civil servant and four generals. The generals are comprehen-sively outgunned by the politicians by five to four and it is contemptible humbug for the Secretary of State to suggest otherwise and to say that it was a purely military decision. It was not. It was a political decision and one that the Government will have to live with.
The decisions relating to the Scottish division are irrational. They can be explained only as malice on the part of the Government towards Scotland. Shortly they will receive a petition signed by 800,000 people in Scotland who oppose the amalgamations and they ought to be aware of the strength of feeling throughout Scotland, even among what is left of the Tory party there. They have made a political decision, and if they stick to it they should not complain too much if they receive a political backlash as a consequence.
I speak on behalf of my constituents in Stafford, where there is grave disquiet about the proposals for the amalgamation between the Staffordshire and Cheshire Regiments. The Director of Infantry laid down clear criteria that regiments would have to meet to avoid the possibility of amalgamation. They included such considerations as whether regiments would be compatible on a like-for-like basis, manpower sustainability and recruitment. On all the essential criteria, the Staffordshire Regiment should be retained in its integrity and should not be amalgamated.
During the Gulf war who was in the front line? The Staffords. Everyone with any experience of that war knows how brilliantly they performed. There is absolutely no justification for the regiment to be amalgamated in this round.
The Director of Infantry's guidelines clearly state that no regiment that has already been amalgamated—as the Staffordshire Regiment was in 1959—should be re-amalgamated while there are regiments that have remained unamalgamated since 1945. Several regiments fall into that category and are not being amalgamated. I do not want to impute bad faith, but people can draw their own conclusions from what I have to say. There are those who were, and are, in a position to make these decisions whose connections with their own regiments have enabled those regiments to remain unamalgamated. It is proposed, however, that the Staffords be amalgamated with the Cheshires, when neither regiment wants that to happen.
It is vital for a proper system of kinship to be retained within the regimental system. Regiments that are expected, as the Staffords were, to go into the front line in the Gulf war and to engage in hand-to-hand fighting need to know that their members are part of a community, and are responding together. It is simply not on to imagine that there is a degree of compatibility between people who, generally speaking, come from the Merseyside area, and those who come from Staffordshire, the black country and the like. There is not sufficient compatibility to enable them to perform effectively in future. When the crunch comes, the Staffords will be needed in the infantry front line. In my view, a serious mistake has been made in the proposals.
On 4 January, the Foreign Secretary had a meeting with, among others, the French Defence Minister, Mr. Chevenement, who said that, if there was majority voting on a common defence policy, there would be no Gulf war. The plain fact was that the French were not prepared—they had not the political will—to go to war in the Gulf. We know that the Germans declined to take part, for entirely spurious reasons; we know that the Belgians were not prepared to supply us with ammunition.
My hon. Friend says that, for constitutional reasons, the Germans could not take part in the Gulf war. I have never heard such tosh in all my life. As has been admitted by the constitutional commission set up in Germany to look into the matter, there is no reason why the Germans should not engage in out-of-area activities in future; and, indeed, there is no reason why they should not have engaged in such activities under articles 24 and 25 of their constitution. My hon. Friend should look up the details before making such remarks from a sedentary position.
The fact remains that we in Britain were there, in the Gulf. What worries me about the proposals is that, under "Options for Change", it may be impossible for us to come up with the same degree of effective action if we are called upon, in unexpected circumstances, to perform the role that we had to perform then. At the heart of that role is the infantry. It is essential not only to maintain the effectiveness of the infantry regiments as a whole—and we have heard much, and will hear more, about whether there are enough battalions of infantry regiments—but the effectiveness of the Deserts Rats, who are, in their turn, at the heart of those regiments. The Staffords have performed brilliantly in the past, and they should be allowed to continue as a regiment on their own terms in the future.
According to The Sunday Telegraph of 6 October, the Ministry of Defence, when asked about the Anglo-Italian proposals, said:
Britain's smaller, more flexible forces emerging from the Options for Change defence review ideally fitted the plan.
For me, that raises serious questions. We have seen the Dutch proposals that came before the intergovernmental conferences recently. Those proposals would have moved us further and further towards a common defence policy; but do not let us imagine that the same provisions are not also included in the Luxembourg proposals. The fact remains that what has been done constitutes a rationalisation of our own Army plans to fit in with a future common defence policy in Europe, which will not work.
The Anglo-Italian declaration clearly states that the European reaction force would be autonomous, separate from the NATO structure, and would have its own
peacetime planning cell to develop contingency plans and organise exercises".
The fact remains that at the heart of "Options for Change" is a gearing towards a common defence policy in Europe, which will not work.
It is fundamental to the future security and defence of this country that we retain not only our own effective infantry regiments but, within those regiments, the Staffords, with their separate identity. Furthermore, it is essential that we make certain—in terms of this country's future military commitment—that we do not allow ourselves to be drawn into a European defence policy that will not work. It did not work in the Gulf; it will not work if there is any overspill from Yugoslavia. Our entire future military and defence policy must not be subordinated and hijacked by people like Mr. Delors, who are quoted as saying that they hope for
a full-blooded European defence identity, with Washington excluded".
We must retain our NATO connection. We must make sure that the European alliance is combined with an Atlantic alliance, and we must make sure that the best regiments are retained in their integrity. That includes the Staffords.
I have been here long enough not always to subscribe to the theory of deliberate conspiracy in political decisions. I believe that, occasionally, the present Government have a tremendous ability simply to get into a chaotic situation —not necessarily because of any evil intent, but because they just happen to be magnificently incompetent. I think that we should give the Government sufficient credit for their incompetence; I am convinced that the decisions that have been made about the regiments owe themselves to exactly that.
There is an historical reason why the British Army operates so well: the traditional involvement of fighting units with their own backgrounds. Although I find myself in disagreement with the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), it is true that there are ethnic differences between Cheshire and Staffordshire. Those differences are very clear.
Following the tremendous roar of anguish that issued from the people of Cheshire at the suggestion that, somehow or other, they should lose their traditional. Army identity, it has become clear that what concerns them is this. In times of war and stress, it is always much safer to operate within, and surrounded by, a body of people who understand one's problems and with whom one identifies closely. The Cheshires have a long and honourable tradition, and have been able to recruit members because of that—because they were viewed as a group of men and women with a specific character, arising from the area in which they were born, an area that I have the honour to represent.
My real fear, however, is that, as our forces become more and more technically adept—as more and more is spent on high-tech weapons—the confidence that they need to feel will not be there. The people who operate such weapons must have two basic kinds of confidence: confidence in those who command them, the way in which the weapons are being used and the reason for which they are being used, and confidence in the personalities of those who make decisions at Ministry of Defence level.
I am ashamed to say that the lack of such confidence is now very clear. People do not believe that the decision to amalgamate the regiments has been made on the basis of need; they do not believe that it is connected with a lack of expertise, or with putting extra money into high-tech equipment. They believe that a political decision was made at the top, which then had to be matched up with Britain's commitments across the world. That is the wrong way for management decisions to be taken. No organisation can operate successfully if the people within it have no faith in those who take the decisions, or if our commitments, as a democratic society, do not match the needs and the use of Army units. That is what happened on this occasion.
I have had time throughout my life to learn the lesson that unfortunately we need a professional and highly trained and committed Army. No man or woman will give of their best if they are eternally worried about the way in which Governments, and above all Parliaments, treat them and their families. We have seen in our surgeries what happens to those who are forced out of the forces without any clear commitment having been given to them regarding housing or employment. This amalgamation alone would result in 500 redundancies within the Cheshires. Those people know that no one will rehouse them, or find them alternative jobs, or give them the emotional claptrap support that they have been given in the past: "We need you when there is a war; we need you when there is a situation like the Gulf." Just try to get the support of the same authorities when, for any reason, people are forced out of the professional Army.
It is hypocrisy of the deepest hue to pretend that, somehow or other, one can ask people to make what ultimately may be the final sacrifice—I saw at close quarters what happened to many young people who went to the Gulf and found it difficult to deal with their return to civilian life—if they feel that to the Ministry of Defence they are no more than pawns on a board, to be swept aside when occasion demands—not even pawns in a very intelligent game of chess.
It must be a long time since the Secretary of State for Defence has had to face not just the anger but the contempt of Members of Parliament on both sides of the House. I hope that he will rapidly reconsider the decision that he has taken. Above all, I hope that he will have enough confidence to change his mind. Only then shall we believe that he is fit to hold his present office.
I wish to make three points, the first of which concerns many constituencies in the north-west of England. The future of the military aircraft division of British Aerospace is a matter of very great concern to all my Conservative colleagues in the area, among whom I include my hon. Friends the Members for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) who are unable to take part in the debate because they are junior Ministers. However, they have been extremely active, as have the rest of us, in pursuing the interests of British Aerospace. In the next few days, we are to meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to discuss the future of the company. We have been in touch with the management and the trade union leaders. We shall persist in our efforts to support the company. I wish that I could say that there was more evidence of a similar commitment to British Aerospace from Labour Members of Parliament in the area.
Not long ago British Aerospace announced 3,000 job losses as a result of the closure of the Strand road plant in Preston. My colleagues and I believe that it is important that everything should be done to keep in Lancashire the skilled men and women who will lose their jobs. We do not want them to leave Lancashire for other parts of the country. We are glad that British Aerospace has commissioned an independent company to concern itself with the retraining, resettlement and training for self-employment of those who are going to lose their jobs.
We are interested, of course, not only in those who will lose their jobs but in the 11,000 who will continue to be employed by British Aerospace's military aircraft division in Lancashire. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me about its future. In particular, I hope that he will be able to say something about the prospect of future orders for Tornado aircraft and about future orders for the Hawk aircraft, for which there has recently been a welcome new order. It is a very successful aircraft in overseas markets. I hope that he will also say something about the prospects for a mid-life update of the Tornado and in particular about our continued commitment to the European fighter aircraft. As a former Army Minister and as a former Minister for the Armed Forces, the Army amalgamations and reductions are a matter of deep interest to me. Nobody would say that I have been soft on defence. I am a former infantryman—what is more, in a Scottish regiment. Indeed, it was a Canadian Scottish regiment. Anybody who knows Canada knows that a Canadian Scottish regiment is equally as Scottish as a Scottish-Scottish regiment. Therefore, I understand particularly closely the concern and dismay of members of regiments that are to be amalgamated, particularly the members of Scottish regiments. If there is to be a rethink about the number of regiments that are to be maintained, I hope that the Government will bear the Scottish regiments particularly in mind.
I do not want to enter the debate about the exact number of battalions that should be retained. I thought that the Secretary of State made some powerful arguments in favour of the number that he has chosen. However, I want to try to put the question into perspective. I believe that we are at a major turning point in history. I do not mean simply the history of the second part of the 20th century; I mean the history of the last 200 years. I am not sure that everyone who has spoken in the debate has fully perceived the magnitude of the international changes that we are seeing, with the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the democratisation of eastern Europe.
These changes are at least as great as those that occurred at the end of the first world war and the second world war when there had to be a massive reconstruction of the armed forces. Every regiment in the British Army —certainly the infantry regiments —is the product of one or more amalgamations. Yet morale is high. I believe that it has never been higher.
Now we face the end of another war, the cold war, in which we have been successful. The consequence of that will certainly be turbulence in Europe, but hostility will not be directed particularly at the west. There will be turbulence inside what was the Soviet Union and perhaps inside the countries of eastern Europe, but the threat to the west from the east has been massively reduced. Therefore, it would be indefensible not to make substantial reductions in defence, in financial terms. It would also be indefensible if we adopted the alternative course, which has been suggested, of keeping the same number of regiments and reducing the numbers in each. Such an alternative, if adopted, would be indefensible militarily.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)—who, sadly, has left the Chamber—made the point that it is essential that people who fight in the same infantry regiment should come from the same part of the world. My experience does not demonstrate that. I had the experience in the Canadian army of being in a regiment that was disbanded. We were fully up to strength. We had trained together for 15 months. We expected to go to France together. Suddenly we were disbanded. We were sent as individuals to different units of the Canadian army. What is interesting is that I do not think that anyone suggested that those who went to join other regiments fought any less well than those who had been members of those regiments for a very long time. We absorbed the traditions of the regiments that we joined, just like those who had been members of those regiments for several years. While we regret the need for these amalgamations, we should be wrong to imagine that they are going to affect the fighting quality of our infantry regiments.
My third point relates to Trident. I wholeheartedly support the emphasis that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State puts on the retention of Trident and on retaining four boats. I believe that we need to have other sub-strategic nuclear weapons, too. There will be other nuclear threats from around the world for which those weapons would be more appropriate than Trident.
Conservative policy on nuclear weapons is clear. Despite all the tergiversations of the Labour party, its policy is still unclear. Its mental and verbal gymnastics in the past year have been such that its intention to retain nuclear weapons cannot be trusted. It is not enough simply to have nuclear weapons—one must be seen to have the will to use them if necessary. I cannot believe that, with all the amazing changes in Labour policy and the different votes at the Labour party's conferences, a Labour Government's willingness to use nuclear weapons if necessary would carry credibility with a potential opponent.
We must have four Trident boats and a sub-strategic nuclear capability.
I was interested to hear the experience of the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) with the Canadian Scottish regiments.
The point that many Scottish Members want to make is that for hundreds of years Governments have encouraged family and city ties with regiments. Three of the sons of my constituent, Mrs. Jean Macey, who is a delegate to the local constituency Labour party, are members of the Gordon Highlanders and served in the Gulf. It was not easy for me to tell her of the House's decision to send that regiment and many others to the Gulf. It is not easy to listen to a Minister telling us that everything is fine because we are living at peace with the Russians when he knows full well that the Gulf and the Falklands were unexpected. Who knows what is around the corner?
It is right and fitting for Scottish Members to say that Scotland has not done well from these amalgamations. The Minister knows that the Queen's Own Highlanders is an amalgamation of the Seaforth Highlanders and the Cameron Highlanders and that the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the Royal Scots and the Gordon Highlanders have a fine tradition.
Scotland is losing not only regiments but a battalion of the Scots Guards. It is all very well to speak of suspended animation, but what does that mean? It means that the battalion will disappear. Pals of mine who were in the cadets and TA with me joined the 4th Royal Tank Regiment because its recruiting slogan was, "Join the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, it is Scotland's Tank Regiment." On 23 July, the Minister announced that the tank regiments must amalgamate. Scotland's tank regiment will disappear.
We were glad that the medical young men and women of the Territorial Army were prepared to leave their civilian jobs and go to the Gulf to tend to the sick and wounded. Some of them faced difficulties. One of my constituents received letters from the electricity board threatening to cut off her electricity while she was serving this country in the Gulf. Have we forgotten what the TA was prepared to do?
We had voluntary regiments long before we had professional regiments. The Minister knows full well that he does not have to provide housing for their members. He has to pay them only when they turn up at the weekends and for drills. He knows that they are heavily committed and that in many inner-city areas TA regiments give up much time to train cadets and to get youngsters out at the weekends to give them some pride in themselves and to teach them some discipline. It is a source of comfort to parents that they are prepared to do that.
I say to those who do not believe in the armed services that we get a dividend from the training that we give our soldiers, because when many of them leave the forces they join the police and security firms and protect our property. The training that is given to bandsmen is such that many of our young service men have become accomplished musicians in civvy street.
The Minister should think again. It is all very well for him to say that he has made no decision about the Territorial Army, but Scottish Members have received letters from serving members of the 15th Parachute Regiment. We have high regard for the Territorial Army and for the Parachute Regiment. The Minister knows that its selection process is such that one has to be fitter than the average person to be selected for it. It is a pity that, if the Minister gets his way, people from north of Liverpool will not have an opportunity to join that regiment.
Many young men, and now women because of the laws on discrimination, join the Territorial Army because they do not want to take the jump into the Regulars but want to find out what the Army is like. Often the TA is used as a recruiting force for the Regular Army. We shall lose that if the Minister has his way. The Scottish regiments have been hit badly, and I plead with the Government to think again.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) spoke much good sense and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister listened to him.
I have been as strong a supporter as anyone of Conservative defence policy in the past 27 years and have warmly paid tribute to the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and Army for their outstanding work in the Gulf, the Falklands and all over the world. I want to pay a further personal tribute to my old close friend and everybody's colleague, Alick Buchanan-Smith. He was a wonderful constituency Member, whether the issue was farming, fishing, education or health. His last campaign was to save the Gordon Highlanders. To the last day of his life, he was asking how the campaign was going. Were he alive, he would be with us this evening.
Fifteen months ago, I begged my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to move slowly until the world settled down from turmoil and before he reached final conclusions on "Options for Change". Since then, we have had the Gulf war and upheaval in Russia and eastern Europe. If ever there were a time for caution and to think again, this is it.
We all want the peace dividend, and I made it clear that I accept that the planned reduction in defence expenditure is essential, but the question is how is that to be achieved? I accept that the main threat has diminished, but it has not disappeared altogether. It is an interesting statistic that since 1945 there have been 37 clasps to the general service medal that so many of our service people wear proudly. None of those bars was awarded for action involving Russia or eastern bloc countries. That shows how frequently our service men have been deployed around the world in war-time conditions.
I hope that the savings that we have made over the past month or two on tactical nuclear weapons will provide the additional resources that we require for the infantry. The cut in the number of battalions from 55 to 38 is far too great because our commitment has remained much the same. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was over-optimistic in his view of foreign affairs and in thinking that we could make a substantial reduction in our commitment. The consensus of the staff college, the national defence college and many defence experts is that a force of 116,000 is too small. We should aim for perhaps 120,000, to ease the effect in the coming months of controversial regimental amalgamations.
I welcome the concept of a rapid reaction corps in NATO. Will the battalions that are tied into the RRC be available for service in Northern Ireland? That is a crucial part of the equation. In effect, it takes a battalion one year to train, to serve in Northern Ireland and to retrain to fulfil its original role.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been involved in the presentation of a petition with 800,000 signatures showing how strongly the Scottish people feel about retaining the four Scottish regiments that have been told to amalgamate. Those signatories are a large proportion of the adult population of Scotland. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will bear in mind that, if democracy means anything, he must listen carefully to the clear views of such an enormous number of people. Many people would congratulate Lieutenant-General Sir John MacMillan and his colleagues on their wonderful campaign to collect so many signatures in such a short time.
The Army Board has made the decision; Ministers must take the responsibility. The decision has been taken without the agreement of the colonels or colonels-in-chief of the regiments. It is wrong for the Ministry of Defence to imply in the letters that it has been sending to my constituents, and no doubt to others, that the colonels were consulted and agreed with the decision. My right hon. and hon. Friends have not taken account of the repercussions of their decisions on Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State believes that the Army wants a quick decision, but I believe that it really wants us to have a Conservative Government after the general election, or it will face much more massive cuts under Labour.
Why is Scotland in uproar? There are 800,000 signatures on the petition. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State appreciate that that means that five of the eight infantry regiments recruiting in Scotland are affected, including—as the hon. Member for Springburn said—the Scots Guards. That means four of the seven Scottish Division infantry battalions, yet the guidelines laid down by the Director of Infantry and confirmed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the House showed that the three criteria would be recruitment, retention—including training—and the fact that, if a regiment had been amalgamated previously, it would not be amalgamated again. All three guidelines seem to have been breached in the dealings with the Scottish Division. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State appreciate that 35 Army battalions are under-establishment by 70 or more men, yet none of those battalions is in the Scottish Division? That shows the strength of recruiting and retention in Scotland.
I have the highest regard for the King's Division, our immediate neighbours across the border. Its members are as well-recruited and retained as members of the Scottish Division, yet none of the English infantry battalions has been affected by amalgamation or "Options for Change". It is therefore reasonable for Scotland to say, "Is this fair to us?" We deserve an answer.
I hope that I will not be too unpopular if I mention the Gurkhas. They are great fighting soldiers and have a wonderful tradition. During the first world war, my father was seriously wounded while he was with the Gurkhas. How can Gurkha battalions be retained while British battalions are disbanded or amalgamated? That is a difficult equation for any hon. Member to accept.
The decision will have economic repercussions in Scotland. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will bear in mind the effect on housing of so many soldiers leaving the Army. Local authority housing in Scotland is hard to come by and some local authorities show little sympathy for soldiers leaving the Army.
We must have from Ministers an explanation of the reason for the Army Board's decisions. The oldest regiment in the Army, the Royal Scots—the First Foot —has not been told why it was chosen. The King's Own Scottish Borderers, which is more than 300 years old, has not heard a word about why it has been affected. The Gordon Highlanders and the Queen's Own Highlanders, which are more than 200 years old, have not been told why. The officers and men of those battalions need to know why they have been singled out for amalgamation.
I have kept clear of emotion and arguments about tradition and excellence because I believe that the regiments have a good case on military grounds alone. The Army Board must explain the position. I do not see this as a security or secrecy issue or as one that should be kept from the regiments. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to rethink and to find a positive way forward. In that way, we shall reach a reasonable solution. I ask him to bear in mind the last line of a successful song at Murrayfield and "Tae think again".
It is particularly galling to have to confine one's remarks to 10 minutes when the range of perspectives is so numerous. I have taken part in many defence debates and been disappointed at the knee-jerk and disjointed nature of such exchanges and at the relentlessly partisan arguments issuing from the Mexican stand-off character of the cold war concept of mutually assured destruction and flexible response.
Hope for an improvement in the exchanges sprang from the thaw in east-west relations. Sadly, it seems that only the Opposition parties are prepared to reach out realistically for a constructive response to the changing scenario resulting from the Gorbachev-Reagan and Gorbachev-Bush initiatives. That is not only sad but dangerous.
"Options for Change" was placed on the table without any clear declaration of our defence requirements in the light of existing and future foreign relations and responsibilities. The 38 infantry battalions which the Secretary of State seems to feel are adequate are unjustifiable if we take into account our total commitments in Northern Ireland and central Europe and our existing outposts in Belize, Brunei, Hong Kong, Korea and the like. It is a figure plucked from the air—I suspect in some Treasury inner sanctum. The size of the manpower requirement retained should surely be based on the levels of operational need to meet the demands placed on our forces by our declared foreign policy and perhaps, in some cases, undeclared needs.
Independent and informed opinion on the adequacy of the Government's proposals seems unanimous in the view that they just will not do. Following the attempted coup in the Soviet Union and in the light of the potential bushfire in Yugoslavia and the ever-present threat of international terrorism, such comments cannot go unheeded. The only sensible action is to review the Government's decision, which is clearly wrong.
It does not make sense to argue that the defence budget should be reduced to the average budget of our European allies. How does it make sense to equate our levels of defence spending with those of countries such as Norway or Denmark? We ask our forces to bear a different burden of responsibility and a wider range of tasks in a broader spectrum of an operational theatre. The level of our commitment at home and abroad forbids the application of such easy arithmetical solutions. Our newly accepted role as lead nation in the recently conceived rapid deployment force adds emphasis to the invalidity of such a simplistic argument.
If the Government are determined to show proof positive of the peace dividend to improve the Conservative party's polling position, as a unilateral nuclear disarmer I suggest that they apply their axe to a resource that is clearly not justifiable, and that is our so-called independent nuclear deterrent. The only useful reason for having the deterrent, as Nye Bevan implied, is to provide us with a place at the disarmament conference table.
The Soviet arms reduction team would gladly put our weapons reduction to use in justifying to its own military further disarmament on its part. Instead of approaching reduction and assessment in such a clinical fashion, we have hysterical exchanges on the frantic and frankly trivial arguments over regimental identity and cap badging. Many of these arguments are frankly claptrap.
Units of the Navy and Air Force manage to operate most effectively without regional identity, as do the various corps of the Army, including the medical, engineers and transport corps. Within the Royal Marines' three brigades there are three commando forces, which are designated 40, 42 and 45. Their personnel are triple drafted according to unit requirements, so nourishing individual training and the need for promotion potential. Thereby the career cul-de-sac is avoided and the operational effectiveness of the units as active forces is consequently enhanced by the flexibility that ensues. Who will try to convince me that the Royal Marines is a force that does not function effectively, despite the sniggering on the Government Front Bench?
The same is true of our airborne forces. If we consider that regional or regimental identities are worth preserving —in historical, sentimental or emotional terms that may be so, and clearly the petition that has been presented suggests that that is so—that argument would be more properly applied to the units that we hold in reserve, the Territorial Army. I enter a plea that we preserve the identity of the Durham Light Infantry within the territorial units in the north-east. It is— [Interruption.] I am talking about our reserve units. It is sad that some Conservative Members seem to be unaware of the nature of the units to which I am referring. The retention of such identity for a reserve unit within a geographical region could be justified. That is what is commonly called the qualification.
It is ironic that such a case is easy to make when we consider the questionable decision to cut both companies of the Parachute Regiment in the north-east, thereby leaving that part of the country and Scotland without provision for airborne training. Many young men—many of them presently unemployed—on Teesside at Norton and on Tyneside and at Gateshead will be bitterly disappointed and not a little disillusioned by such a cynical measure.
I urge the Secretary of State to think again, and I hope that on this occasion he will respond to my argument I ask for a specific response. During the most recent Army debate I posed a question and the Secretary of State promised to consider my remarks. I still await his reaction. My question concerned the staff at the military corrective training centre at Colchester, who will find themselves soaked up into the Adjutant-General corps, together with the Royal Military Police. I am sure that the House will recognise that that would be an unfortunate juxtaposition. Surely the respective staffs should be kept apart, or are we next to consider joining the police and the prison service? That would be just as lunatic a proposal. Such a proposal would be considered mad in civilian life, so why should it be good sense in a military context?
The Government's proposals have been hastily cobbled. They are ill-conceived, badly developed and poorly presented. If the House shows sense when the Division takes place tomorrow evening, the Secretary of State will be sentenced to be confined to barracks and will be kept on report until he comes up with more sensible proposals that are in line with our total requirements, which are based on defence and foreign policy demands. In other words, if there are options for change, for pity's sake let us know what they are, let us consider them and let us debate them rationally.
I fully appreciate Ministers' difficulties in implementing the machinery of government. I must start, however, by expressing my strong concern about the way in which the Government are proceeding with material changes in the size, shape and structure of our armed forces without first seeking the approval of the House.
The size of the Royal Navy was determined and announced in July. The size of the Army and the changes that will take place within it were published shortly afterwards. The fate of the Royal Air Force was resolved at the beginning of July. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reminded the House, at least three squadrons have already been disbanded. Redundancy terms were announced in August. There can be no doubt that the Gulf war held up announcements for the period of the conflict, but as soon as that inconvenience was over the programme returned to top gear. It is not unprecedented to ignore this place, but to do so blatantly on such important matters is to be strongly regretted.
Had anyone suggested 15 months ago that the British armed forces were about to embark on the largest expeditionary force since the second world war, I have no doubt that his sanity would have been questioned. But was the fall of communism, along with the August coup and civil war in Yugoslavia, predicted by our military planners? It is the unexpected for which we have to be ready. The only good thing that can be said about Saddam Hussein is that he reminded us of that fact. Why do we never learn?
Despite all the events that have taken place and the current instability in large parts of Europe, the Ministry of Defence has not even paused in considering "Options for Change". Driven along by the Treasury—I find it ludicrous to expect anyone to believe that the Treasury is not the driving force behind the proposed changes—the Ministry has served up the options in dribs and drabs in the hope that no one will notice the global effect on our defence capabilities.
When the Russian coup took place, many of my constituents telephoned me immediately and asked, "Can we hold the cuts in defence? Why are our memories so short? Why are our Ministers so confident that they can guarantee no unforeseen emergency? How can they conduct this exercise and at the same time promise that our defences are adequate? They cannot do so and they should not be doing so."
I have, of course, heard the Government's song. It is said that, because of the changes in Europe, the threat to our safety has been much reduced and that there has, therefore, to be a peace dividend. The serious flaw in the argument is the basic assumption that we ever had sufficient forces to counter the then threat. I believe that the current level of expenditure is close to the bare minimum to deal with whatever unknown crisis may arise. I accept, however, that that will mean some reduction in size and a change in shape.
The Gulf enterprise was a massive success and all involved deserve the warmest gratitude and congratulation from the nation. By world war standards, the force size would have been measured at one division. I recognise that such a comparison shows clearly the amazing multiplier of modern technology, but in the same breath I have to observe that all three services were stretched to the limit in providing even that size of force so far from home.
I was surprised to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say that one of the lessons from the Gulf was the importance of logistics. I thought that every historian knew that that had been the case since Caesar wrote the history of the Gallic wars. The fact remains that logistics are crucial. Our forces must have a substantial enhancement in their helicopter capacity as a matter of priority. There was a great shortage of helicopters in the Gulf. Although only approximately one fifth of the British Army was deployed, half of all the RAF support helicopters were in use and they were not adequate and had to be supplemented by 18 Sea Kings, normally in use by the Royal Marines. We were short of helicopters in the Falklands and, 10 years later, nothing material has been done.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), when Secretary of State, announced that he would buy 25 utility EH101s for the RAF to support the Army. Where are those helicopters, and why were they never ordered? They would have been worth their weight in gold in the Gulf, and I am very distressed to see today, in the Government's reply to the Select Committee's seventh report—at paragraph 18—that they are still prevaricating, still studying and still indecisive on this vital matter.
There were few, if any, operational helicopters left in Germany while the Gulf conflict was on. It is well known that the air mobile brigade has no air mobility, and the continuing error in spending more and more money on armoured vehicles is reminiscent of the reluctance of the cavalry to give up its horses at the end of the first world war.
After 10 years or more of making such pleas, I despair of the way in which Ministers are overridden by the military. As to attack helicopters, one has only to point to the Americans to recognise that their appreciation of the modern battlefield has been infinitely superior to our own, and I am told that the flexibility, speed and power of the Apaches in action was awesome.
The Army still seems quite unable to decide its philosophy for mobility in the battlefield in the 1990s and, by default, we are still left with an organisation that owes more to second world war thinking than to a proper appreciation of the new factors that make the battlefield a very different place nearly 50 years later.
The announcement of a cut of nearly one quarter in the strength of the British Army by way of answer to an oral question was in itself a revelation of the Government's attitude to these matters, but on that occasion I was grateful for the opportunity to ask a supplementary question on the future of the Territorial Army and I have to say that I received a friendly answer. I was delighted to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin). I have been attending debates such as this for many years and I do not remember a speech from a retired territorial on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Gentleman had many sensible things to say.
At this time, there seems an overwhelming argument —not addressed this afternoon—for enhancing the Territorial Army and, indeed, all the reserves, and, whatever numbers may be proposed, for ensuring that it receives at least the same, if not more, in real terms as it receives at present. It was my privilege when at the Ministry of Defence to produce a programme for the expansion of the TA, although I readily acknowledge that at no time has the TA achieved the numbers that we then proposed, largely because of very high wastage. I therefore have some sympathy for the decision to set the numbers at a realistic figure, but I am far from convinced that everything possible has been done to recruit more fully and increase retention. I am in no doubt that, if the Regular Army were responsible for TA recruiting—by "respon-sible", I mean both physically and financially—some substantial measures would be taken to improve retention and make the training more attractive. I was suspicious of the figure produced earlier this afternoon—60,000 or thereabouts—remembering that, when I first joined the TA, it was over 130,000 strong.
I particularly hope that there will be a firm commitment to all our reserve forces, and I find it appalling to learn that training restrictions and other economies are yet again being imposed on these unfortunate volunteers at a time when it is so vital to improve morale and encourage recruiting for the future. I expect and hope for an early announcement on the future shape of the reserve, and I find it wrong that, despite all the talk about a single Army and the one-Army concept, it is months after the Army's future has been debated and announced before the Government have even given proper and full thought to the future of the Territorial Army.
It comes as no great pleasure to me to tell my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that, after loyally supporting the Conservative party's defence policies in the House for 22 years, I shall find myself unable to do so tomorrow night.
The remarks that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), a former junior defence Minister, need to be taken very seriously.
I find myself in the somewhat embarrassing position of being wholeheartedly in favour of the defence policies that have been emerging from the Opposition Benches over the past few months. Many people have delivered lectures to us over the years—in some cases, deservedly—but, in general, it must be accepted that the Labour party has now returned to the principles that it has espoused for most of its history. To argue that the Labour party must be judged simply on the basis of the 1980s is to do less than justice to people such as Ernie Bevin and Clem Attlee and to many people in the Labour movement who have alway regarded defence as the essential component of any country's, and any political party's, policies. I hope that we shall be judged on the basis of our party's contribution from the second world war to the present and not simply during a period that I would regard as something of an aberration.
There is now much more agreement on security issues, and that is warmly welcomed. However, as the Select Committee on Defence pointed out, the defence White Paper is seriously deficient. It has not provided a strategic rationale for the decisions that are being made, and I am afraid that the Secretary of State's addendum to the security rationale was rather unsatisfactory. The Defence Committee pointed to another deficiency of the White Paper: it does not give a proper financial rationale for what is proposed. The view of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare, a former Defence Minister, that perhaps public procurement has not been adequate is not surprising because the Government were spending the peace dividend before it was available to be spent. Given declining defence expenditure since 1985, it is not difficult to understand why the Government have been totally unable to match commitments and resources. And with defence expenditure falling to the estimated 1993–94 level of 3·4 per cent., supporters of CND will be placed in something of a dilemma as to which party to support in the months that lie ahead.
The strategic rationale for the Government's policy is inadequate. The first part of the Secretary of State's speech appeared to suggest that there was no threat at all. Whoever wrote the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, however, saw that there was a threat. Although I am delighted that communism has been expunged from eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and that the Soviet military has been pushed further back, giving us more and more warning time, I ask hon. Members to consider the debit side of the argument: the Soviet—or Russian—military will still be that of a super-power. I spoke at a conference last week in Washington and was preceded by Colin Powell, who said that Russia still has the capability of destroying the western world in 30 minutes. What happens if that country, which looks increasingly like the Weimar republic, collapses in failure? Will some house painter in Russia regard himself as the man on horseback? That is eminently possible.
There are now four or five nuclear powers deriving from what was the Soviet Union. We have not even begun to consider the implications of the story that appeared in the press a couple of days ago to the effect that dictatorships in the middle and far east may be scouring the Soviet Union for unemployed or disenchanted nuclear scientists and offering them big bucks to go to their countries.
By the turn of the century, we could have 20 nuclear powers in the world. The possible disintegration or the Soviet Union, the existence of all those nuclear powers and the possible—although, it is to be hoped, unlikely— resurgence of militarism should surely give the Government grounds for being rather more prudent than they are being at present. The right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) treated us to a little lecture on history, and talked about a sea change. We have heard such talk before. Take the treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and, before that, the treaty of Westphalia. We had the treaties of Vienna and Versailles. We had Yalta and, a year ago, the treaty of Paris. All of them supposedly ushered in new eras. All those treaty-makers said that the world had changed. They said that we were moving to a new world and that a new order had been created. We should consider the statistics about wars that occurred after those epoch-making treaties. The world was damned by conflict after those treaties.
Are we absolutely certain that this new order will be peaceful? It is said that there are 30 wars around the world today. The absence of super-power conflict will accelerate regional conflict, not diminish it. I hope that we are moving to an era about which the Government's perception is correct. However, I am not certain that we have moved into that period yet.
The Soviet Union is still building 10 submarines a year. In two years of continuous production, it will produce more than the Royal Navy will possess. The Royal Navy's capability will be reduced from 28 to 16.
Why are we reducing our Army to 116,000, a point at which it will be unable to meet its domestic commitments? The soldiers in the rapid reaction force are supposed to be trained to a high degree of professionalism, but they will be spending much of their time in Northern Ireland. In order to eke out our infantry battalions, soldiers will be sent to Northern Ireland who are not trained to a level commensurate with fighting a skilled force such as the IRA.
What will the Minister or a commanding officer write to the parents of a soldier in a tank regiment who has been given a little extra training and then sent off to bandit country? Is he to write, "I'm sorry your son died. He wasn't quite up to the task"? I very much fear that that might happen.
I have a parochial point to make. My constituency in the west midlands is no longer in Staffordshire. However, the Staffordshire regiment recruits heavily from my area. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook): there is an enormous sense of pride in a local regiment and a greater efficiency can accrue from one. I am aware of the campaigns that have been mounted about the Staffordshire and Cheshire regiments. As someone pointed out to me today, the liaison between a Staffordshire bull terrier and a Cheshire cat is likely to produce something of an aberration. I hope that the Government will reconsider. I would not defend a Staffordshire regiment simply on the criterion of history. I would defend it and want to see it survive because it is efficient, recruits well and is needed for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps in the next five or 10 years the cuts that the Government have announced will appear to have been inadequate. Perhaps we are moving to a new dawn in history when we will need to "beat swords into plowshares" and Isaiah, who did not know much about the concept of defence conversion, may be proved to be right. However, until the situation is clearer, we should cut, but do it prudently. I urgently request the Government to give the matter more consideration than has hitherto been presented to us in the House.
There is a greater defence consensus and I welcome all that is happening in the positive side of international relations. However, history and experience should teach us that sometimes new dawns fail to be achieved. We should be rather more careful than the Government are being with regard to this issue.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who expressed robust and interesting views. Sadly, his views are not shared by Labour Front-Bench spokesmen, and certainly not by the Labour party leader, who is a former member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
We must not forget that we have a double responsibility to preserve the defence of this country. We are the Government of the day and the Conservative party remains the only political party in Britain which is firmly convinced about the importance of defence, both nuclear and conventional.
I want to tackle two themes today, the first of which is the infantry problem. I am sure that we can solve that problem by an attack on the MoD's overheads. The second theme is the need for a more imaginative approach to our reserves.
I am sure that all Conservative Members welcome the MoD's cornering of the rapid reaction corps concept for the British Army. That concept is exciting, but before a concept can become a reality certain preconditions must be met. Friends of mine in the Army have said again and again that it is simply not realistic to believe that we can have a rapid reaction corps if the proportion of the infantry that is away from its duties in that corps, serving in, training for or recovering from Ulster, is even higher than it already is in the British Army of the Rhine.
Of course the problem goes beyond that. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body has identified the overstretch on service families. The infantry and to some extent the seagoing element of the Navy are the two most overstretched portions of our armed forces. We could solve that problem and provide the comparatively small number of extra posts that are needed in the Army to keep those vital three or four extra infantry battalions if we were to attack the overheads in the MoD. Time permits me to give just two examples.
First, it frankly defies belief that, when we are reducing our surface Navy by 20 per cent. and our submarines by 40 per cent., we should choose to keep all four of our overmanned and underworked naval bases in being. I shall not argue which are the best and which are the least good, but the announcement in July of a few cuts across the board in them is not enough. At least one and possibly two of them should go.
A second example is the announcement of a £250 million purchase of integrated computing and office systems equipment supposedly to revitalise our defence procurement system. As a former management consultant, I must tell the House that one does not computerise a system before one has made it work efficiently. One gets it working efficiently first and then one computerises it. Our present defence procurement effort is not in a right state for computerisation. It will get worse rather than better, and it will cost the price of a squadron of Tornados to do it.
We can have an adequate number of infantry battalions if we are willing to grasp the nettle and cut the companies of computer operators, the battalions of bean counters and the divisions of dockyard workers. If we can provide those extra three or four infantry battalions that would reduce the overstretch so much on the infantry, and hence on the Army as a whole, then as the Member of Parliament for Canterbury, the home of the Queen's Regiment, I must say that top of the list for cancellation should be the planned amalgamation between the Queen's and the Hampshires. Our regiment is the only regiment in the British Army which is threatened with both amalgamation and reduction, and that in a regiment that is already formed from amalgamating six famous regiments with the highest number of Victoria Crosses of any regiment in the British Army.
My second theme is the future of the reserve forces. It is the wrong time to be cutting the reserves, but, whatever we do with the reserve forces, there are certain things which plain common sense suggests we should do. I should like to suggest five of them. First, one cannot move a Territorial Army unit; one can only disband it. We should focus our future reserves, if we are to reduce the number, on the best reserve units. I find in horror, looking at the provisional lists, that we are proposing to disband some of the best-recruited and some of the most efficient units in the TA while others are being kept—it is invidious to mention names, but I could mention one or two units that can barely produce a company strength on a weekend. Secondly, we are the only country in the English-speaking world whose director of reserves is not a reservist. That is one reason why some of the proposals for the future of the reserves are not based on a full understanding of the reserves.
My third point is that one of the weaknesses in our reserve forces is that we put much less emphasis on officer training than, for example, the Australians and the American National Guard, who both have much more cost-effective reserve forces than we have, as evidenced, for example, in their much higher retention rates. I firmly believe that we should extend the Sandhurst course for reservists from two weeks to, say, seven or eight weeks, which is the period for which its equivalent in Australia lasts. Far from putting people off becoming reserve Army officers, we would have a really good product that we could sell to civilian employers as an effective form of management training.
My fourth point on the reserve forces is that we must be quite clear when we look at the future size of the reserves that the pledges that we have had—they were very welcome—to expand the planned strengths from 50,000 to around 65,000 are pledges on strengths and not on establishment. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be able to put to rest the ugly rumour that is spreading that we are now looking at an establishment of 63,000 and a planned strength for next year of only 55,000.
My fifth point is that if our reserve forces are to feel confident in themselves, and if their morale is to be restored following their disappointments last year when so few of our reserve units were called out and they saw 78,000 American National Guardsmen and other reserve force personnel go to the Gulf, it is essential that we make it clear that in future conflicts our reserve forces will play a much more prominent part. That, above all, would convince the ordinary reservist that he has a real role to play as a part-time soldier. That would be best achieved by giving our reservists something to do in peacetime and by a greater willingness to use them for disaster relief operations, which is something that the Americans tend to do a lot.
I end where I began. The Conservative party is the party which firmly believes in strong defences. At this time of great changes, the Conservative party has a vital duty as the party in government to ensure that we continue to have strong armed forces. The basic concept is there, but a great deal of the detail needs working out. We must get the infantry question right and be much more imaginative in our ideas about our reserve forces.
The Secretary of State took a long time to shed a lot more heat than light on the thinking behind the decisions that we are debating. If I had the time, I should like to travel down several avenues of strategy, one of which was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) when he asked why, at a time of what is, according to the Secretary of State, a greatly reduced threat, we are going ahead with a massive escalation of our nuclear punching power. The right hon. Gentleman said that that was necessary because we need to penetrate the anti-missile systems of our potential enemies and to ensure that our nuclear deterrent is credible. He was apparently oblivious to the implication of those remarks—that for many years we have spent billions of pounds on nuclear weapons that were incredible and incapable of penetrating our enemies' shield. However, as I have said, time does not allow me to pass down such avenues.
The fog of concern has never cleared from the battlefield of whether the Government's motivation has been the voodoo economics of the Treasury rather than the military logic of Britain's real defence requirements. I listened in vain for an explanation of why we are currently dismantling our Navy. In the short time that I have been a Member of the House, we have moved from being in favour of a surface fleet of "about 50" to favouring one of "about 30". That makes us the only island nation in history that has progressively dismantled its shipbuilding industry, decimated its Merchant Navy and now, for economic reasons, is about to destroy the capability of its Royal Navy.
As the Minister knows, I have the privilege of representing the flagship enterprise of Yarrow Shipbuilders, which built 10 of the 14 type 22 frigates and won six of the 10 contracts for the type 23s. Almost 10,000 jobs in Strathclyde depend on Yarrow's ability to continue to do the job that it does so well. Tonight or tomorrow I hope to hear assurances from the Minister that the order date for the next batch of type 23s, which has already been delayed for more than one year, will be the spring of next year at the latest. I am looking for assurances tonight or tomorrow that the order will be for the three ships that were orginally mentioned and that they will be issued in a batch. If that order is placed on the basis of the proper competition in which the Government say that they believe, and on the basis of quality, price and reliability, I believe that Yarrow Shipbuilders will win the order.
I also represent the headquarters of 15 Para TA, which is based at Yorkhill in my constituency. Like other hon. Members, I have been inundated with letters from members, supporters and former soldiers of the paratroop TA in my constituency who cannot believe that, in the situation that the Secretary of State outlined—with our country's changed military needs and with the changed perception of the threat facing us, its direction and it character—we are proposing to abolish a unit of the Territorial Army that contains exactly the type of soldier who is most required to meet the new military needs. What could be more flexible? Who is better trained, fitter, leaner and hungrier than the elite parachute forces of a country to meet these new military requirements?
We should contemplate the national dimension. Many speakers have said that if the proposals go through, there will not be a parachute TA north of Liverpool. It is simply monstrous and unacceptable. I hope that, even if nothing else changes the Government's mind, the sheer lunacy of the abolition of 15 Para will be brought home to Ministers. If the period of consultation is genuine, we shall see that decision reversed.
In the last few minutes available to me, I want to touch on the national question, as other speakers on both sides of the House have movingly done. I beg the Government not to underestimate the deep well of bitterness in Scotland at the extent to which we are being given a raw deal in this affair. There is a deep well of bitterness in Scotland, that most martial of all the nations of the United Kingdom. Its soldiers have been on the front line throughout the centuries and across all the continents. They have left their bones in the carnage of British imperial history in country after country and war after war.
That our regiments should be again so cavalierly amalgamated, disbanded and disregarded is a matter of deeply felt national insult. If the Government do not believe me, they should read the runes of the oncoming defeat for the Conservative party in the by-election in Kincardine and Deeside. Many issues will be at play, but the abolition or amalgamation of the local regiment will be one of the most powerful reasons why the Conservative party will be annihilated.
Believe me, Mr. Speaker, that deep well of bitterness is felt no more keenly than among the families and individuals of the Scottish regiments who were sent only a few months ago in disproportionate number to the front line of Britain's contribution in the Gulf war. We now know that when those soldiers were fighting, killing and, yes, dying in pursuit of the Government's policy, the fat cats of the Tory Cabinet and the mandarins in Whitehall, whose jobs are by and large safe, were conspiring to consign those very regiments, those very soldiers and their families to the dustbin of history.
I beg the Government to listen to perhaps not the reasons that have been given by hon. Members on this side of the House but the voices of their own people behind them and to think again on "Options for Change".
Before the recess, we had the "Options for Change". I consider that there were three grave mistakes in the Secretary of State's speech. First, the cuts were too early and too drastic, even in view of the changes in Europe. It seems that my right hon. Friend was influenced by the ending of the Warsaw pact. But many other considerations come into the decisions. Secondly, the cuts were too drastic and too soon to meet our NATO commitments and our own overseas obligations. In particular, we failed to appreciate the role of the infantry in war.
I shall not go into the merits of the amalgamations because that is for the constituency Members themselves to do. However, the facts are that we have reduced to an untenable level the total number of infantry in our Army. The Secretary of State also referred to the loss of regimental spirit. He did not realise or appreciate the importance that the entire House has been able to identify.
The third point was that the Territorial Army should be reduced. It should not. If the regular Army is being reduced, we need a TA as a second line. We needed that in the last war. How many territorials fell in the last war? They were a second line of defence. Moreover, as other hon. Members have pointed out, the training given to them is invaluable not only to the nation but to themselves. It gives them discipline and allows them good jobs. They are a credit to the country. The TA has a feeling almost of regimental pride. It is a tradition that we should not give up. Indeed, I should like a citizens' army. It would be difficult to organise. I envisage not national service but a far bigger Territorial Army.
The Secretary of State also talked about fire power at El Alamein and I was interested in his comparison, but he did not realise that our enemies had the same fire power as we had. I am talking not of Iraq but of our main enemies.
Everybody says that the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism is marvellous, but if we look closely we see that it strengthens the Russian army. It is not now saddled with a lot of unreliable allies. Poland has gone, and the Balkans. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and all Russia's satellites, except one or two, would have been unreliable in battle. Certainly the Mohammedan people could not have been relied on. The Soviet army is better off without these peoples. Yeltsin's Russia has sufficient soldiers, arms and ammunition to become and remain a first-class power. Only two or three provinces remain difficult and, of course, we do not know what they will do. There are rapid changes which we cannot ignore and we cannot rely on Gorbachev's promises. In any event, everything could change. If, for example, Yeltsin and Gorbachev went as quickly as they appeared, the position would be wholly different. Our old necessity for a large Army would exist.
We are taking too short a view. Saddam Hussein, China, Israel and India all have atomic weapons, so we must keep Trident which is our only form of nuclear defence. The world is by no means safer. The uninevitable and unknown may easily arise with a Europe which is so disorganised and prone to change.
Finally, I turn to the Household Cavalry. I have served in the armoured regiment and the mounted regiment and I just do not believe that we can possibly run the armoured and mounted regiments without more sabre squadrons or some sort of training squadron from which to draw recruits.
I have sat through all the speeches except a couple, and I apologise to those whose speeches I did not hear. The debate has been a good one, with strong feelings and passion on both sides of the House, particularly from those calling for loyalty to their local regiments. I hope that, when he reads the Official Report, the Secretary of State will take note of the many good points made. I can mention only briefly some of those who spoke because of the short time available to me. They include the right hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Sir I. Stewart), the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), my hon. Friends the Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), and for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) declared tonight, with some passion, that he would not vote with the Government on this issue.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the Territorial Army. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) about tactical air-to-surface missiles, of which we are not in favour. I also agree with him that we should keep the D5 warheads at the same level as our Polaris fleet. The hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) asked how decisions were made, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will reply directly to him. The hon. Gentleman made it clear that he was not asking for all cuts to be restored, only whether we had the size right. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) referred to nuclear depth bombs, and asked how we would take out submarines if we did not have such a weapon.
The Opposition agreed that no Front-Bench spokes-man would show favour for one regiment against another. However, I want to raise one minor point about a change of name. During the recess I had a meeting with Lieutenant-Colonel Simon Furness and Major Bowers at the Light Infantry office in Durham. I support their view that there must be a complete Territorial battalion in the old County Durham from the Tyne to the Tees. There is great support among the military and from many others that the battalion should be renamed the Durham Light Infantry (7LI). I strongly desire that the link with Durham should be maintained, and I hope that soon we can headline the phrase, "The Durhams are back". That would be the cause of great pride among many former soldiers. Lieutenant-Colonel Furness has asked me to remind the Secretary of State that he was a member of the Somerset LI. I think that he expects some favour because of that.
I want to say a few words about the Navy. In the confused background to "Options for Change" it is little wonder that the detailed force structure proposals for the Navy are confusing. Let us first consider submarines. Only five years ago the Navy had a fleet of 15 diesel patrol submarines. Under "Options for Change", there will be only four Upholder class. What commitments are being dropped? Will there be sufficient vessels to meet all the demands of basic training, NATO exercises, operational training and support of special operations, or is it simply a fait accompli caused by the inevitable withdrawal of the aging Oberon and Porpoise boats, and Treasury dislike of the rising costs, delays and technical problems of the Upholder programme?
In the debate on the Navy last June, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement said that the cancellation of the fifth and subsequent Upholder class boats was decided after careful consideration and that the Government believed that they
had the right balance between the SSKs and SSNs."— [Official Report, 27 June 1991; Vol. 193, c. 1234.]
I was not convinced then, and I am not convinced now.
The thinking about Britain's contribution to submarine warfare has been dominated for too long by what I call the Rickover factor. As many hon. Members will recall, Admiral Rickover was the architect of the US navy's nuclear submarine programmes in the 1950s and 1960s. His unflinching devotion to nuclear propulsion still dominates US thinking. When the design for the Oberon-Porpoise class SSKs was being drawn up, the automatic assumption was that Britain had to think big, and to try to squeeze into a diesel submarine as many as possible of the deep ocean-going, anti-submarine capabilities of the SSN. As a result, we have ended up with a vessel that is so costly and over-complex that it does not work. We cannot afford it, and it is increasingly ill-suited to our real security needs. The need for the capacity for all-out nuclear and conventional warfare in arctic waters, under the ice and around the Kola peninsula, is receding daily into an historical fairyland, yet "Options for Change" restructuring of the Royal Navy will leave a navy increasingly geared to just such a fantasy. The real needs of shallow-water, anti-submarine warfare—intelligence gathering, coastal protection, and low intensity warfare, for which the SSK is better suited—are being neglected. Instead, we persist with a mini-navy that is expensive to run and irrelevant to most of the conflicts in which we may be involved.
In the surface fleet, there is equal confusion about the basis for the future force structures and levels. The Minister said in last June's Navy debate:
The force levels envisaged in 'Options for Change' were arrived at after careful analysis of the threat that Britain now faces … it has been the threat against us that has shaped our work."—[Official Report, 27 June 1991; Vol. 193, c. 1176.]
I will mention Trident in due course.
However, there has been no clearly stated rationale for the planned reductions to "about 40" destroyers and frigates. Which tasks are to be dropped or altered? Will exercise participation be reduced? Is there a discussion in NATO about changing escort requirements and levels of declaration to NATO?
The Government should not be afraid to open a debate on the military rationale for cuts. Although we recognise the importance of retaining strategically vital industries and of limiting increases in unemployment, no one seriously believes that weapons and forces should be maintained when there is no military rationale for so doing. At the same time, if cuts are Treasury-led, we are in serious danger of abandoning capabilities when there has been no agreement to drop the role for which that capability exists.
The confusion surrounding Navy options for change is further illustrated by the marked contrast between planned cuts of between 20 and 40 per cent. in surface ships and submarines and the apparent immunity of maritime air forces from any significant reductions. Last year, a 15 per cent. cut in the Nimrod anti-submarine force was talked about. We are now told that only three of the 34 aircraft will be retired—barely 9 per cent. Last year, the Royal Aeronautical Society journal, Aerospace Magazine, reported that at least two RAF Nimrods had suffered so much salt water corrosion that the cost of repairing them was probably riot affordable. Is that small reduction in the Nimrod fleet simply a measure that would have been implemented irrespective of "Options for Change"?
Ship ordering is another hardy perennial in any defence debate, and I refer now to orders for frigates. Warship yards continue to feel deep uncertainty about the future of type 23 orders. Will the Minister comment on the timing, financing, scale, and international work-shares of the proposed Anglo-French anti-air destroyer that is to replace the type 42? I understand that yards have been invited to tender for three more type 23 frigates, but that the Government have not yet decided whether to order them. That creates uncertainty in the yards where those ships would be built. I hope that over the next two days the Minister will say whether the invitation to tender will turn into orders. I am glad to see the Secretary of State back in his place, because he will fully understand what it means to the workers in those yards not to know whether those orders will materialise.
We still do not know what is to replace Fearless and Intrepid. It is time that the Government made an announcement. There is no clear timetable for the refitting and return of Illustrious, and a cloud still hangs over the future of HMS Endurance. Much of the Government's talk about competitive tendering is just hot air. Recently, I suggest, Ministry of Defence officials were convincing the management at Devonport that they were in with a chance of competing for Trident refits when hundreds of millions of pounds are already committed to building up Rosyth for precisely that purpose. Recently I have been to Rosyth to see the big hole in the ground which is where the Trident submarines will be refitted.
We need to inject greater stability into warship ordering. With the declining number of yards, it makes sense to accept the argument for specialisation. Pretending that all yards can do all kinds of work is a recipe for unprotected investment and for keeping workers and management in a state of permanent uncertainty.
Everyone knows and accepts that there will be fewer ship orders. We need more vision in the design of some of our ships to take account of the fact that presence missions are likely to be more important than the ability to fight and survive a nuclear war at sea.
In the case of HMS Endurance—we have named it HMS Endurance II as a code—we should be considering not merely the security needs of the south Atlantic but a wide range of environmental protection tasks to which HMS Endurance or its replacement could contribute, with more emphasis on co-operation with other countries and with a wide variety of non-governmental research interests. The work already done with the British Antarctic Survey is excellent, but a new ship to replace HMS Endurance would be a positive commitment by Britain to the protection and study of the world's last great wilderness.
Again I hope that there will be a statement about HMS Endurance. I remember the hon. Member for East Hampshire asking me whether I would favour ordering a replacement for HMS Endurance, and I said categorically that there should be a replacement. I only hope that at some time during this two-day debate replies will be given. It is all right for the Secretary of State to make petty jokes —not very funny jokes—when workers are dependent on orders from the Ministry of Defence. Many of our shipyards are in areas of high unemployment. Instead of mumbling on and making petty and trivial jokes, it is about time that the Government told us that there will be orders for type 23 frigates and whether HMS Endurance is to be replaced. What about the other two ships that I mentioned?
The Under-Secretary asked for a certain amount of time to wind up and I promised to give him that time. I have always kept my word whenever we have offered time to each other in the House.
Inevitably there have to be reductions in all our services because of changing global circumstances, especially following the Bush-Gorbachev initiative. However, if Opposition Members have to ask young men to fight for us—as a father and a grandfather I hope that that will never arise—we should supply our soldiers with weapon systems which are as good as, and preferably superior to, the weapons of our enemy. That at least we owe them.
As we expected, there has been a wide range of contributions from right hon. and hon. Members during the first day of this debate. I think that we can agree that we have listened to some heartfelt and sincere arguments today. I have shortened my speech to allow more hon. Members to take part but I shall ensure that answers, where needed, are provided, even though I cannot answer myself in the short time remaining. However before answering certain questions, in the short time available I wish to mention three issues.
First, given the many letters that I receive on the subject, I certainly understand the worries about low flying. I know that matters of flight safety are of great concern to many hon. Members. We share that concern, and, for the aircrews, safety is of paramount importance: they, after all, have the most to lose. At the same time, our aircrews must have the necessary training. Regrettably, every year sees a number of major accidents involving military aircraft. In some cases, tragically, aircrew members are killed. This year there was a particularly distressing mid-air collision over Carno in central Wales, in which a civilian pilot also died.
I stress that all such accidents are thoroughly investigated to establish the causes. Following the collision at Carno which involved both a civil and a military aircraft, the air accident investigation branch of the Department of Transport is also conducting an investigation. We are determined to learn any lessons that can be learnt in order to minimise the risk of recurrence. No accident level is acceptable to the armed forces, and we continually strive to make military flying as safe as possible.
No; I have a lot to cover.
I stress, however—I know that there is a wide understanding of this—that such training is essential if we are to have an effective and modern Royal Air Force. The Secretary of State rightly welcomed a more peaceful world, but recent events have shown how tenuous that peace can be.
Rightly, the House and the public have paid great tribute to the skill and sheer courage of the RAF aircrews who flew low in the Gulf, and helped us to win that early and vital air dominance. They could not have done that without rigorous training. However, we are also very conscious of the environmental impact of that training in the United Kingdom.
On our small and crowded island, aircraft flying fast at low level are bound to upset some people. We therefore limit the amount of low flying to an absolute minimum, based on a rigorous assessment of what is specifically needed to build and maintain the skills required of our aircrew. Low flying is permitted only when it meets that training need, and there are strict regulations to minimise any nuisance caused. I give my pledge that we will continue to allow only the minimum low flying that is also compatible with keeping the quality of defence that we must have.
I have just reviewed the position, taking into account the reductions and changes that will flow from our plans in "Britain's Defence for the 90s", and the reductions proposed in United States Air Force aircraft based in this country. Although our planning continues, I can tell the House that we expect to cut the amount of jet low flying in this country by about 30 per cent.—nearly one third —over the next three years. That will be partly offset by some increases in other forms of flying, reflecting the introduction of the quieter non-jet Tucano for basic training, and changes being considered in the deployment of Army helicopters. But the total amount of low flying, in particular by the noisiest aircraft, will fall. I know that that news will be welcome to the House. Wherever possible, we will use simulators and train abroad. I am grateful to the United States and Canada for the facilities that they provide.
Let me also thank the House and the public for their tolerance and understanding of our low flying. Without that training, we certainly could not have a fully effective air force. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is not particularly interested in an effective air force; the truth is, however, that without low flying we could not have one. Let me emphasise that, over the coming year, we shall conduct our low flying in as considerate and sensible a way as possible.
No. The hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity tomorrow.
The fate of the ice patrol ship, HMS Endurance, has been a matter of great concern to many hon. Members, as it has been to the Ministry of Defence. HMS Endurance is 35 years old. It was expected that she would be able to operate as an ice patrol ship until the mid-1990s. However, she was damaged by an iceberg in the south Atlantic in 1989. Following that collision and the higher safety standards that now exist for ships that operate in ice, the Ministry of Defence has been undertaking an annual survey of the ship. The latest survey and new scientific evidence has revealed a risk of hull failure in Antarctic conditions. The Secretary of State for Defence has therefore been advised that it is not safe to deploy her in very cold temperatures, or in areas where ice might be present. HMS Endurance will therefore be decommis-sioned.
No suitable Royal Navy or Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship was available to fulfil HMS Endurance's role this winter. After a full market survey of the vessels available, MV Polar Circle was found to be the most capable replacement. I am happy to be able to announce to the House today that we have chartered this Norwegian icebreaker, MV Polar Circle, which will sail to the south Atlantic this winter to carry out the tasks of HMS Endurance. I know that Opposition Members are not happy about that. They would prefer to see us remove ourselves entirely from our global responsibilities. MV Polar Circle will set sail at the end of November flying the ——
Is my hon. Friend aware that his announcement of the replacement of the present vessel with a modern vessel is most welcome news to the House and to the Falkland islanders. However, can he tell us whether he contemplates providing a longer term replacement vessel, and is he aware that it is the desire of many Falkland islanders that that vessel should be renamed HMS Endurance to continue a long-standing naval tradition?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can advise him that the requirement for a longer-term replacement for HMS Endurance is being considered separately. No decision has yet been taken but the Government are committed to maintaining the programme previously carried out by HMS Endurance.
If the hon. Gentleman had done his homework, he would know that HMS Endurance served in the southern seas for only certain months of the year. MV Polar Circle will carry out the programme that HMS Endurance was to have carried out.
MV Polar Circle will set sail at the end of November flying the white ensign and carrying a Royal Navy crew. She will be taken into commission with the Royal Navy for the period of her charter. She will undertake tasks in support of the British Antarctic Survey and will also carry out hydrographic survey and meteorological work. We are confident that she will be able to meet HMS Endurance's commitments this winter. I hope that this news will be welcome to right hon. and hon. Members.
I understand my right hon. Friend's commitment to that but, as I said, the Government are committed to maintaining the programmes previously carried out by HMS Endurance.
The third issue that I should like to raise is the response of the Ministry of Defence to the citizens charter. Unlike other Departments, the Ministry of Defence does not provide a service direct to the public. One understands from the reaction of Labour Members that the Labour party has no commitment to a citizens charter. It wishes to serve not the public but only the unions.
Our charter's aim is to improve quality and standards, which is central to everything that we are trying to do in defence. Our principal response to the charter will be to continue to provide a formidable defence of our country. Indeed, in terms of quality, our armed forces showed in the Gulf that they are second to none.
But because of the size and nature of our defence we come into direct contact with the public in a number of ways. Where this happens, we shall strive to be good citizens and we are taking several initiatives to achieve that. Our relationship with the environment gives us such scope. The public are rightly entitled to expect that we should conserve and care for that natural environment. Our charter is to do so and to give a lead on environmental matters.
In the past year, we have produced an environment manual—the first of its kind in Government—that contains practical advice on a wide range of environmental issues, including the prevention and control of pollution, the minimisation of waste, energy efficiency, recycling and compliance with the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The manual is becoming a working document on environmental practice in the Ministry of Defence.
The hon. Member spent all year begging us not to go to the Gulf. He should at least show some concern for the environment.
Among our actions to protect the environment are measures to control the use of energy. We have introduced several recycling schemes. We aim to fit garbage and sewage processing equipment to all royal naval vessels in this decade. We are considering how we might help the scientific community by collecting environmental data in the course of military activities. These and other actions are evidence of our commitment.
No. I have many points to answer. The hon. Gentleman was not present for the whole debate.
All those measures to protect the environment need a structure that goes deep within the Ministry of Defence so that care for the environment becomes part of our way of life. We have therefore set up a network of environmental committees to cover every unit, both military and civilian, throughout the Ministry of Defence. These committees will closely consider how their units can enhance their effect on the environment. [Interruption.]
By setting up those committees, our wish to nurture the environment will become a living reality within the Ministry of Defence. [Interruption.] It might help if I tell Opposition Members that this is a two-day debate and that there is scope to cover a range of Ministry of Defence activities. If they feel that protecting the environment or low flying are not important parts of the Ministry of Defence, they should think again. Letters and messages from the public show that they are.
We continue to work hard to conserve the defence estate, which has some of the finest natural habitats in the United Kingdom, including more than 200 sites of special scientific interest. We have a specialist conservation unit, a team of foresters and other estate management staff and a network of unpaid conservation officers across the country.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that the restoration with Government funds of Fort George, one of the greatest military environments that exists, was a marvellous achievement. Why then is it necessary to abolish by amalgamation the regiments that occupy it and that have already been amalgamated during the past 30 years?
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will reply tomorrow to those Scottish points.
We shall shortly issue to members of the public a booklet to explain how they can gain access to the defence estate.
This brief summary of some of the environmental achievements of the Ministry of Defence offers a taste of what we in the Ministry are doing to protect the environment. As our new environment committees and manual become part of our way of life, so will our actions ensure that we do everything possible to protect the environment for future generations. We believe that we need to attain high standards. We are conscious of the fact that we can still do better, and we have pledged to strive to do that.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described in his opening speech the way in which we are determined to secure our defences in the coming decade. He described the way in which our measures to make the armed forces smaller but better are closely but cautiously attuned to world events, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) pointed out. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State left us in no doubt that the Conservative Government will keep our defences as strong as they need to be.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) asked whether we could fight after the changes in campaigns such as the Falklands and the Gulf. The answer is yes. As my right hon. Friend will remember, in the Falklands our troops were led primarily by the marines and the paras, which are untouched by the changes. Ten thousand soldiers landed in the Falklands. There were 33,000 soldiers sent to the Gulf. In future, the rapid reaction corps will be able to respond to such emergencies and we will have the ships to support them.
We hoped that the Opposition would clarify for us what their defence policy is, but the debate has done nothing to disperse the fog within which Labour's defence policy hides so timidly. Labour hopes, it says, to form a Government, but it will not state its defence policies. We heard a lot of misinformed bluster from the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), but no policy. I sympathise with him because he has nothing to make a speech about.
Why does Labour dare not let us know what it stands for in defence? There can be only one reason: Labour is terrified of the public reaction to that reality. Why else, for example, should Labour be so shifty about the nuclear deterrent? We have stated, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirmed, that we will retain a nuclear deterrent so long as other countries have nuclear weapons. Will Labour? Its answer is drowned by confusion.
The hon. Gentleman said from a sedentary position that Labour has not shifted its position. Is the Labour party still unilateral? We wish that it would tell us. All we know is that the stark reality of Labour's commitment to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament would lead remorselessly to one-sided disarmament.
We can be certain of one other matter, too. Under Labour, defence spending would be slashed. The Labour conference voted for that, and that is what Labour would do. We could say goodbye to Yarrow, Swan Hunter and Barrow-in-Furness. The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) said that Labour would build no more SSNs—he had no sympathy for them. That would cast doom over Barrow-in-Furness, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) noted. After the cancellation of orders——
After the cancellation of orders worth billions of pounds, a host of factories would close throughout the land under the Labour party's defence cuts. The cuts would truly rip the heart out of the country's defence.
The Opposition have asked about the tenders for frigates. We are evaluating the tenders and we hope to order as soon as possible. That depends, of course, upon the quality of the tenders.
The public know who they can trust on defence. No amount of deception by the Labour party will convince anyone that the party's heart is in defence. In this debate the Opposition have failed to come up with any satisfactory policy. When challenged they have twisted and turned. They will not give us an answer on the nuclear deterrent. They will not say how much they would spend on conventional weapons. The Labour party conference voted for cuts amounting to £6 billion. The Opposition are in entire confusion, and for a true defence of our country the public must turn to this Government and the policy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.