Second Day

Orders of the Day — Strategic Defence Review – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 20th October 1998.

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[Relevant documents: Fifth report, on the Reserves Call-Out Order 1998, Etc. (HC 868); sixth report, on the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (HC 621); seventh report (also the eighth report from the Trade and Industry Committee), on Aspects of Defence Procurement and Industrial Policy (HC 675); and eighth report, on the Strategic Defence Review (HC 138-I).]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [19 October],That this House approves the conclusions of the Government's Strategic Defence Review (Cm 3999).—[Mr. George Robertson.]To which an amendment was proposed
To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: welcomes those aspects of the Strategic Defence Review which build on Conservative policy and which take forward jointery and rapid reaction capability; but deplores the proposed cuts in money, men, ships and planes; notes that, far from being foreign policy led, there are no clear foreign policy objectives, that defence spending between 1996–97 and 2001–2 will fall by £2,166 million in real terms with inevitable consequences for capability, that the Territorial Army is to be cut by almost one third, that the RAF is to have fewer planes and the Royal Navy fewer submarines and surface ships; seriously doubts that the planned replacements for aircraft carriers will ever be built by a Labour Government; believes that the problems of over-stretch and morale have not been adequately addressed; and deplores the fact that the armed forces will be asked to do more in a dangerous world with fewer men and less equipment."—[Mr. Maples.]Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Before I call the first speaker, may I tell the House that Madam Speaker has decided that today the 10-minute rule for speeches will apply for all Back-Bench speeches?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence 4:35 pm, 20th October 1998

I thank my hon. Friends for their kind remarks in yesterday's debate. I also thank the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) for his kind remarks. He said that it was a taxing job being Minister for the Armed Forces, and that I had more athletic prowess than my predecessors. I believe that that gives me the edge over my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid)—my immediate predecessor—and perhaps a slightly greater edge over the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor for his hard work in the strategic defence review, for his clear thinking, and for his high standing among our armed forces.

Today I shall make a principled point about people in the armed forces. During my contribution, I shall take up specifically two points that were made in yesterday's debate—a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley) on land reorganisation, and a point made by the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) on medical provision.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State told the House of our long-term vision for Britain's defence. It is the first time since the end of the cold war that this country has a coherent, radical and long-term vision.

It is a great honour to account to the House for the operational effectiveness and commitment of our armed forces. I am conscious that our armed forces have risen to the task of defending our nation throughout history. Their determination, their commitment, their dedication and their service have defended and preserved our freedoms and traditions and the nation's freedom. Today our armed services have the same determination, the same commitment and the same dedication, and can be called upon to make the same sacrifice—a fact that the rest of us should never forget.

I have seen those qualities as I have met our service personnel in the months since I took over my new position, in August—their extraordinary skills, their motivation, their professionalism. Those qualities and capacities make our armed forces second to none among those who defend the freedoms of the democratic world.

I have been proud to see those qualities and capacities displayed by the soldiers that I have met in Northern Ireland and Germany, by the sailors on board HMS Westminster, by the ground crew of the Tornado squadron at Bruggen, and by our tanker fleet based at Brize Norton but serving world wide.

I also know that the commitment of our front-line personnel is matched by those who provide essential support, by the logistics personnel who provide crucial back-up, whom I have met at Devonport, in Northern Ireland and in Germany, and by the Ministry of Defence Police, whom I have met at many locations and only last Friday at Faslane on the Clyde. I am also conscious of the personal sacrifice often made by our service veterans. We owe all those people, past and present, a huge debt. I am sure that the House will share with me that sense of gratitude.

Before I speak about the role of people in the strategic defence review, I want to deal with concerns raised by Gulf war veterans. I have made it a priority to see representatives of Gulf war veterans. I met them nationally, but in Newcastle some weeks ago. They have told me of the illness and disability suffered by many of their colleagues who served in the Gulf.

I believe that, in honouring our debt to those who have served, we must do everything we can to try to find out whether it can be established that there is a specific illness or set of illnesses uniquely associated with Gulf service. What were the circumstances in which such illnesses were contracted? Can the cause or causes be identified? Can they be prevented in any future scenario? What kind of treatment is appropriate for those who suffer?

We are committed to doing all we can to get to the core of those questions. That is why we have committed substantial resources to research. The issue is difficult and complex. Important new medical and scientific information is emerging all the time. I am particularly keen to see the first results from the epidemiological studies on Gulf veterans, which should start to become available at around the turn of the year. Results from other research programmes can be expected to start appearing from next year onwards. I believe that the Government have already demonstrated their clear commitment to addressing properly the concerns of Gulf veterans. I can assure the House that that work will continue, because we take the welfare of our people seriously.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of York spoke yesterday about proposed restructuring of the Army's land command. I know that he has been diligent in arguing his constituency's case. I listened carefully to the points he made in arguing that York should be the headquarters of the proposed northern region. However, I have emphasised that the purpose of the land command restructuring is to make the Army more effective and more efficient, so that it can meet the challenges of the 21st century. That is, after all, what the strategic defence review is all about. That is at the forefront of my mind as I make my final deliberations on the future district structure of the Army. I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall be able to make an announcement shortly.

People are the key to Britain's future. That is true for the economic and social life of our country, and equally true for the defence of our country. People are the deciding factor in military operations. The talents and commitment of our people are the main reason for our extraordinary record of operational success. We asked our personnel what reforms they believed were a priority, and we listened to what they said. I am confident that our "policy for people" responds to those demands.

The Government believe that we owe it to our military personnel and the civilians who support them to put their interests at the heart of defence planning. We need them; we must have their support. We owe it to them to have a policy that deals effectively with their problems, and which is not a quick fix.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister knows Northumberland and the Borders, and he knows how keen people there are to serve in the Territorial Army and to support it. I hope he will bring a fresh mind to bear on whether there will be a TA presence in Berwick, Alnwick and on the other side of the border. It will not be a practical possibility for the successors of people who have served the forces over the years to have that level of participation in defence of our country if there is no TA presence in that area.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The right hon. Gentleman will understand that I shall deal with that issue. I am happy to give him a taster of what I shall say later. We have a strong commitment to the Territorial Army, and to modernising it. There has traditionally been a strong recruitment drive and capacity in the north-east of England. I am determined that, with a fresh mind, that will be the case in the future.

In response to the needs and demands of people in our armed forces, we must deliver them a coherent long-term strategy that allows them to develop their talents. I am pleased to confirm to the House that I agree with the Select Committee that the success of the entire review may depend ultimately on getting this area of policy right.

Tackling the problem of under-strength is another typical issue. It cannot be solved in the short term, but I am pleased to tell the House that recruitment is already improving. In 1997, the Army could recruit only 88 per cent. of its target. This year, it is confident of recruiting more than 95 per cent. There is, of course, still a long way to go. Our aims are to achieve full staffing in the Royal Air Force from 2000, in the Royal Navy from 2002 and in the Army by about 2004. Full staffing will largely solve the problems of overstretch, but it is a long time until we achieve that in 2004.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The problem that the armed forces, particularly the RAF, are facing in some areas is the retention of qualified staff. What are the Government's proposals to ensure that we retain people in whose training we have invested tens of thousands, if not millions, of pounds?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that recruitment and retention in the armed forces is a top priority for the Government. That is true of the service to which he referred. There are no easy answers. A combination of approaches is needed, to allow us to communicate better to potential recruits what the armed services are about, and to enable us to treat people better when they are in the armed services, to persuade them to stay. Later, I shall outline some of the measures that I propose.

As I said, 2004 is a long way away. The services are looking hard at how to reduce overstretch by better management of people. They will carry through significant changes as part of the SDR implementation. Some changes in telephone allowances and in rest and recuperation flights introduced in July have been welcomed by personnel. Only a combination of reforms in the longer term will help to make the necessary impact on recruitment and retention.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

Is the Minister confident that the armed forces will be able to recruit 95 per cent. of their target figure? Year after year, we have heard confident predictions that they would achieve their projected recruiting level, but they have failed. In my constituency, we are keen for more and more people to join so that they can be trained at Bovington, but that is not happening. Does the Minister believe that cutting the Territorial Army will help in future years to attain even the present level of recruitment?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

It shows what a change in Government does. I would not say that I was confident of attaining a target if I did not believe that. I am confident that we shall do so. I shall deal later with the hon. Gentleman's question about the TA.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

The new Army concept of operations for infantry battalions will involve a fourth manoeuvre company. That is what is being spoken about. Given that many battalions are one company under strength, how does the Minister see battalions being able to man four rifle companies per battalion, when they cannot man three at present?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

It is the good news from a change of Government that we are beginning to get numbers up to strength. We intend to continue to work on that. We are confident that our proposals in the strategic defence review will be met. Otherwise, we would not be saying that we believe that that will be the case.

I shall move on to the welfare of our personnel and their families, as well as the welfare of veterans. I believe that their welfare is crucial in building a better atmosphere within the armed services. I opened a veterans advice unit on 5 October. It is a single point of contact for veterans and their dependants, who may seek advice on the widest range of subjects, from advice that is important to individuals on how to obtain a medal to which they are entitled, to other questions about very important issues such as pensions. A special Gulf veterans' advice unit and medical assessment programme have already been established.

We shall also establish a service families task force to co-ordinate our response to service families across Government. I will lead on that task force, and Ministers from a number of Departments will serve on it. Service families will also be represented. Together we shall address the problems that service families face. We are already making progress.

Like all parents, a major concern for service personnel is their children's education; but the service way of life adds complications with which most families do not have to contend. The Government recognise this, so the Department for Education and Employment has issued guidance to schools and admission authorities on being sensitive to the needs of service families. Education is just one example of the problems that service families experience and which we are taking action to address.

We want to do more for those for whom the services are only a first career. Our learning forces initiative aims to ensure that service personnel have many more opportunities to acquire recognised academic and vocational qualifications. We want those opportunities to be available both while personnel are in the services and after they leave. We are doing this not only because we want to get the best out of our people but because we want them to return to the civilian employment market with transferable skills and qualifications. I am especially pleased that the Select Committee on Defence welcomed our plans in that area.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party, Moray

This is an important point relating to the families of those who are involved in the services. The Minister will recognise that, because their children are often moved around, given the nature of deployment, among various countries, they sometimes return to a United Kingdom base where they may be excellent at numbers but perhaps restricted in language. That places extra burdens on local authorities. Is any analysis being undertaken by the Ministry of Defence to ascertain how it can best assist in these situations to help youngsters who have a topsy-turvy sort of education?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that very real point, which was made to me also by the wives of serving personnel in Northern Ireland when I visited them recently. They wanted all troop movements to take place in August every year. I could not quite guarantee them that that would be possible. However, the families' task force is to deal with that sort of issue—to ascertain what additional assistance the families of armed service personnel need to allow them to move from one location to another with the minimum disruption. The hon. Lady makes a valid point.

I turn to attitudes in the services. We and our armed forces have faced the fact that some racism and sexism exists in the forces, and that some think that the armed forces are not interested in tackling those problems. That perception has not helped our ability to find the right people and to hold on to them. These are issues that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the chiefs of staff and I are determined to tackle.

Over the past few years, the services have worked hard to remove the stigma of being seen sometimes as organisations which fall short of modern standards on race. Much effort has gone into building bridges with ethnic communities, and real progress is now being made. I say to the House, lest anyone has any misapprehension, that we have a zero tolerance policy on racism. I can tell the House that the Government mean that. We seek exemplary behaviour from modern forces, and we want the best people to join the armed forces. That means getting the best people from all the communities in our country.

When we say that we want to reflect the multicultural nature of Britain today, it is our responsibility to deliver change: change in values, in attitude and in recruitment patterns. I am pleased to tell the House that, such has been the progress made, that Sir Herman Ouseley, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, described it as model leadership in action. However, that achievement must be consolidated.

The momentum and the improvements must not be allowed to wither. It therefore gave me great pleasure in September to open the tri-service equal opportunities training centre at Shrivenham. The centre will educate those with key responsibilities for removing any racist or sexist behaviour from our organisations. When I see one or two Conservative Members smirking at that, I have to tell them that, when we are involved in dialogue with the armed forces, they take it very seriously and they want to see change. I believe that it will help to guarantee that our armed forces truly reflect the rich diversity of our country.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

What moral has the Ministry of Defence derived from the fact that, in two Territorial Army units in my constituency, the ethnic minorities comprise one in five and one in four respectively? What is working well there which is not working as well elsewhere?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point, which I want to support. Clearly, there has been a modern and radical approach in those units. We want to see that approach replicated in other units throughout our armed services.

We attach the highest priority also to recruiting women to the services. We have increased the opportunities available to them in the Army. Those opportunities are greater than those available, for instance, in the United States army. The Select Committee on Defence is right to say that changes in attitudes within the armed forces are still needed. That does not mean a reduction in combat effectiveness, for that would be unacceptable. It is not about political correctness, for that would be inept. It is about being a good modern employer, and that is what we should be.

It makes sense that we should make best use of talents in all parts of society. It is morally right that we ensure that all personnel, irrespective of gender, ethnic grouping or social background, are treated decently. People matter in the regular forces, in the civil service and in the reserves.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Does that apply to homosexuals?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I am not giving way. I want to move on, because I have a great deal to cover.

One aspect of the review that has received much attention—I know that it is of great interest to many hon. Members—is the future role of the reserve forces, and of the Territorial Army in particular. As it was in the past, so it is today: we rely heavily on our reserves. Quite simply, we could not fight a war at any significant level without them. They also have a vital role in the spectrum of crises that increasingly faces us in today's world. Indeed, the reserves have provided 10 per cent. of British forces in Bosnia since December 1995.

I want to place on record my appreciation of the contribution and commitment, often at personal sacrifice, of our reserves and others. They have an admirable record of essential support for their regular counterparts.

Against that background, many have asked, "Why change?" The fact is that we want to use our reserves in a wider and more flexible way. The Royal Navy Reserve has an important and valued role in supporting the Royal Navy in meeting its operational commitments. That will continue. Indeed, under the strategic defence review, we are increasing the number of people and resources available to the Royal Navy Reserve to enable it better to undertake this work. We need an extra 385 people in that area.

The Royal Air Force reserve is equally important. The number of air force reservists will also increase by 270, and we have new roles for them to undertake. In particular, there will be new roles for them in establishing communication links, and in ensuring the security of those communications.

I come now to the Territorial Army, a matter of concern to many hon. Members. The TA's current structure is based on the cold war scenario of a massive Warsaw pact invasion of western Europe and a major threat to the British Isles. Hon. Members have already recognised that that is the case. But today that is no longer a principal threat to Britain, and it is wasteful and demoralising to maintain forces in anticipation of non-existent tasks.

We are not prepared to allow the TA to decline in the absence of a clear formal task. The strategic defence review made hard rational decisions on the basis of sound analysis. That is what modernisation is about, and that is what we have done for the reserves. There is a coherent vision and plan for the future of the TA.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South

No one is against modernisation, but there is a feeling in the north-east, about which, as a north-east Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend will know, that the area has been hit disproportionately by what is proposed, and that is the point we want him to address. Will he look carefully at what is proposed for the north-east, and see whether it will be possible to make some concessions?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I shall be receiving proposals in the near future, and in examining those in relation to the north-east, I shall bear in mind the heavy commitment to the TA there. The reason why there are so many units there is that many people there want to serve in the TA. That will continue under our plans for modernisation. Where people in the north-east want to serve, and where they bring the skills that are required, we want to ensure that they have the chance to do so. That will be an important factor in my mind when I come to consider the matter.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I have already given way to the hon. Lady.

One of the guiding principles of the restructuring is that the TA should be properly integrated with the Regular Army. The TA should be relevant, fully resourced and trained for real tasks in the real world today. Above all, it should be usable. The restructuring is not about change for change's sake; it is about giving talented men and women in the TA a vital role, the training to do it and the opportunity to serve. It is about giving the TA a key place in our defence planning for the modern world.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I have to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who I know has a deep interest in the matter.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that the TA needs a real role. Will he explain for once and for all why our English-speaking cousins in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand all see a role for reserve combat units as formed units, yet we in Britain do not? I remind him that attached to our regular division in the Gulf was a brigade of national guard artillery from America who were commended by our commanders on their performance. Why, if American reservists can do it in reserve combat units, do the Government believe that British reservists cannot?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman's knowledge of and commitment to the TA are respected on both sides of the House, and I am pleased to receive representations from him. In reforming the TA, we are giving the hon. Gentleman what he seeks. We want to make our reserve forces more relevant, so that, when they are called up, they are ready to go. That is what the TA said it wanted in the review, and that is what we will be giving it.

Many hon. Members have received strong representations on the matter from their constituents, and I understand their concerns. I assure hon. Members that the consultation is still under way, and no decisions have been taken on the future of individual units or TA centres. That is why I have asked the Army and officials to consult as widely as possible on the implementation of change. The Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association, which has deep local knowledge, has been particularly important in that consultation process.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

We have heard about the concerns of the north-east, but there are similar concerns in north Staffordshire, particularly in Cobridge in my constituency. When my hon. Friend considers the representations, will he take account not just of the TA but of the cadet force, which operates from there.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I will deal briefly with the cadet forces later.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman will have recognised the mathematical anomaly whereby each hon. Member who intervenes alleges that his or her constituency is taking a disproportionate cut, but he has not so far mentioned an important element—the link between the military community and the civilian community. In the north of Scotland, no matter how enthusiastic a person may be to be a member of the TA, if the leaked proposals are implemented, owing to geographical considerations and the absence of public transport, that will be impossible. Surely the Government will look in an overtly political way at the advantage which is to be derived from ensuring that there is adequate access to TA service throughout the United Kingdom?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I understand clearly the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. I met the Group Officer Commanding, Scotland last week, and received from him a briefing on the possible implications in Scotland. I am well aware of the geography of Scotland, and that will be an important factor in our considerations.

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell Labour, Blyth Valley

How many TA units will be closed in the future under the review?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I cannot give my hon. Friend that information. The Government's policy is that the TA should be reduced to around 40,000 people, and that it should have a good geographical spread throughout the United Kingdom. We should bear in mind areas where we have the strength to recruit people that we need. Those factors will be borne in mind strongly in relation to all areas of the country, including the north-east of England. I cannot at the moment refer to any specific location, because proposals have not been put to me, and decisions have not been reached.

We ask a lot of those who volunteer to serve in the TA, and we want to repay their commitment by offering better training opportunities. We are seeking ways to reinforce that added value by examining greater links to national vocational qualifications, which should also benefit day employers who gain from a more highly skilled employee. We also want to improve the management of the TA, and we have a number of proposals on that to which I shall refer in the House shortly.

We want to minimise the effect of the review on individuals. Where, under the review, individuals have to move because their skill is no longer required in a particular location, we want to give them every opportunity to move to another location or to reskill so that they can still make a commitment to the TA. That will be another principal point that we bear in mind during the review.

The Government firmly support the cadet movement. Although not part of the armed forces, cadets are an important voluntary national youth movement providing vital activity among our young people which is good for the fabric of our communities and for the character of the cadets. I was particularly proud to take the salute at the sea cadets' commemoration ceremony in Trafalgar square last Sunday, when sea cadets from all over Britain met to commemorate the battle of Trafalgar.

Some sea cadets use TA centres. I give an assurance to all cadets—whether combined, sea, Army or air—that, where our changes affect their activities, we will relocate their activities. We will do everything to minimise disruption; indeed, we seek to give further financial support to cadet organisations.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I shall press on, because I have taken a lot of the House's time.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I am sorry; I am not going to give way any more.

Many hon. Members have asked about their constituencies. I make it clear again that I will receive a proposal shortly, and the Government will return to the House with a statement when a decision has been reached.

I want to refer briefly to a further matter in relation to our reserves. I reassure the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) on the points that he made in yesterday's debate: the value of the hospital in his constituency is much appreciated. There is a need for a review of medical facilities generally. An implementation team is considering what needs to be done, and the House will know of the responsibilities when a decision has been reached on that.

The strategic defence review highlighted the great importance of medical reserves. It recommended an increase of 2,000 reservists, bringing the total reserves required to nearly 7,400. Hon. Members will recall that we inherited a difficult situation in defence medical services. We found, as the Defence Committee said in its response to the SDR, that there were too few people, too few resources and, I would add, too little encouragement to those who deliver the service. We have recognised the imbalance, and are considering how we can best implement change to address those shortcomings.

The SDR was, from the outset, an open and thorough process. In the short time that I have been Minister for the Armed Forces, people have told me time and again that the review is welcomed, for it addresses the real issues about effective defence at this time of change. Nowhere has it avoided or ducked a difficult choice or an awkward decision. Throughout, we have faced up squarely to difficulties, and have sought and, I believe found practical ways forward.

I agree with the Defence Committee that the result is a finely balanced package, but it is an efficient and an effective package. We should not lose sight of what it contains: forces that are genuinely capable, deployable and sustainable; real ability to project force, should we need to; major improvements in procurement that will pay enormous dividends in the long term; and a policy for the people who make defence work.

History is littered with armies that were prepared to fight the previous war. It is my belief that, in contrast, the strategic defence review provides a clear and sensible vision for the future and for the long term. Implementation will, of course, be a challenge—we should expect nothing less from such a significant exercise—but the result will be the delivery of capability to protect this country and its people and a force for good in the world. I believe absolutely that that is right, and I am proud to commend it to the House.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 5:12 pm, 20th October 1998

I warmly welcome the Minister for the Armed Forces to the Dispatch Box. He will find that, although the number of hon. Members involved in defence may be modest, the quality of debate is high and everyone who takes part in these debates is totally committed to the military. Indeed, it is important to stress that we all understand that military personnel and civil servants hold all political views and none. It is easier to agree with the Minister's party now that it has abandoned unilateralism and embraced the nuclear deterrent and all parties support our military. That must not prevent the Opposition, however, from fulfilling our constitutional role—nor will it.

I congratulate the Minister on his speech. I wish that he had said something about budgets or procurement, but he cannot say it all, and nor can I, so we shall return to many of these points.

The Minister has the most precious resource to nurture—all our people who serve the Crown, in or out of uniform. I welcome the decision announced yesterday by the Secretary of State to bring uniforms back on to our streets. They have been sorely missed for many years. When I was a child, Army and all service uniforms were part of the scenery in Salisbury, and it was regrettable that that had to cease for security reasons. I have spoken about that many times in the House, but mean it none the less now. There will be a beneficial effect on recruitment, increased respect for the military among the civilian community, and a new sense of responsibility on the part of the military.

I pay tribute to the Minister's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid). The defence community holds him in affection as well as respect. Many have said that we have not seen the last of him in defence matters, but I am sure that it will be a long time before the Secretary of State is replaced by his right hon. Friend.

Speaker after speaker yesterday, and intervention after intervention today, touched a raw nerve in respect of the reserves and the Territorial Army—a very raw nerve indeed, especially in Scotland. Special pleading is entirely justified, and I commend the patient way in which the Minister listened to several special cases. I make a special case for my TA centre at Old Sarum, which is the home of B squadron, Royal Wessex Yeomanry—all that is left of the old Wiltshire regiment.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

No, not the rotten borough—I hear the hon. and learned Gentleman. If he insists upon it, I can go into the fact that my constituency had eight Members of Parliament at one time in our history, but let us quickly draw a veil over that. The Wiltshire regiment was a unique institution, and I am the only hon. Member who, at noon on the day after polling, has to ascend the balcony of the White Hart in Salisbury and sing the marching song of the regiment, "The Vly be on the Turnap"—but we shall spare the hon. and learned Gentleman that as well.

Spin-doctoring the Government's cuts in the TA simply will not wash. The cold war ended. In line with our allies, we reduced our forces substantially. It was a painful business. Those actions cannot be used as either a reason or an excuse for the current cuts in the TA. These cuts stand alone as a monument to the power of the Treasury and the weakness of the Ministry of Defence.

The Secretary of State got the closest yet to revealing a hidden agenda, when he said yesterday that he wanted the TA to be better integrated into the British Army. If that is a euphemism for abolishing it as we know it, that is an argument that we should hear; but Ministers should not try to spin all this away.

The Minister for the Armed Forces knows that a lot of questions have been asked, and we cannot possibly expect the Under-Secretary to answer them all tonight, but I courteously ask the Minister to ensure that serious questions are answered in correspondence. I am sure that his officials will be taking note. As he knows, there is knockabout politics, and serious politics and accountability to the House. Generally, defence debates are about serious politics and accountability, so I hope that we will have answers.

In September, I had the privilege of attending a number of defence-oriented activities, and I emphasise how grateful the Opposition are to the Government for providing access to a wide range of the MOD's activities. That is important if the military is to understand that we are all on side. I visited the Farnborough air show and was immensely proud of our aerospace companies. I visited HMS Invincible for a sea day; and while on the subject of aircraft carriers, I should like to return briefly to yesterday's exchanges.

The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) asked for a specific commitment to the time scale. He said that the in-service date was expected to be 2012 and hoped that the Minister will be able to say that the Government remain committed to that time scale".—[Official Report, 19 October 1998; Vol. 317, c. 971–1025.] The Minister replied that there was no change in the Government's commitment—we were pleased with that, because we want the aircraft carriers—but he did not specifically mention the in-service date. That is important, and I ask the Minister to confirm that date in his winding-up speech. I hope that he will be able to do so.

Photo of John Smith John Smith Labour, Vale of Glamorgan

Does that mean that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) will now withdraw what he said yesterday? By implying that the building of the aircraft carriers would not go ahead, he has caused much consternation among service personnel in the Royal Navy. It is outrageous.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

My hon. Friend will speak for himself, but the importance of the matter that he raised is not in doubt. I support my hon. Friend entirely in pursuing this matter today.

It was not the previous Government's policy to announce a major procurement programme—such programmes do not get much bigger than the building of two new aircraft carriers—and afterwards advertise in the contracts journal to see whether further special refits would do instead. When those studies are completed, what will happen if the answer is that refits will do nicely for years to come? The Treasury will say that the new carriers must be postponed. Thus the Government's position needs tidying up, and I hope that we can support what the Minister says tonight.

I also visited Barrow and Furness. I pay tribute to the remarks that the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness made last night. He was absolutely spot on in commending the virtues of his work force. I was immensely impressed not only with the company that I visited but with the quality of the work force—its adaptability, the lack of restrictive practices and the fact that it was multi-skilled. It was an object lesson. It is hard to understand why anyone in the world thinks that they can beat companies in this country that are making such a huge impression.

HMS Vengeance was a treat. It was a real surprise to discover just how fine that ship is. The work force should be extremely proud. The work force on the two amphibious assault ships and on the tanker can similarly be extremely proud of their work. That is cutting-edge technology, and we all have much to learn from it.

I also visited British Aerospace at Warton, where the Eurofighter 2000 export known as Typhoon is being built. I happened to be there when the two last-ever new Tornado aircraft took off. That was quite a sight, with thousands of the work force out on the tarmac to see it. However, the mid-life update of the Tornados continues, as does the construction of Hawks. The design technology there is world beating.

I went on to Broughton to visit British Aerospace making Airbus wings, and many other wings. It is another success story, with new apprentices being taken on. I also visited the Territorial Army at Old Sarum and witnessed eight nights' training there. Obviously, given my constituency, I am constantly aware of the Army's activity on the Salisbury Plain training area, and of the Defence Testing and Evaluation Organisation at Boscombe Down, where daily the C130J Hercules circle over my constituency.

It might be helpful to clear up one or two misconceptions about the C130J Hercules. It is true to say that it is late, which is not acceptable, but it has flown a total of some 5,000 hours and the first C130J has been delivered to Boscombe Down for military aircraft release. Work is now well under way, as my constituents keep telling me. We should be cautious about dismissing the industrial importance of the C130J to the United Kingdom. There are 47 British companies in the C130J industrial support group. They have generated £475 million in C130J earnings thus far and accounted for 20,000 man years of work.

The Conservative Government were justifiably proud of their record on defence procurement under a series of distinguished Secretaries of State. The Labour Government should not be surprised that we guard their reputations as we observe the fruits of their decisions in the hands of current Ministers. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State has said that we welcome much in the strategic defence review. The Secretary of State is keen to point out that the chiefs of staff have given public and private support to the SDR.

The chiefs of staff have my public and private support for their professional judgment. They and all their staff have done a magnificent job. Nothing will convince us that the SDR's fate was ultimately not in the hands of the Treasury, but I am confident that all three services have used the SDR to undertake a genuine root-and-branch review. I pay tribute to them for that.

Many, but not all, of the questions have been asked; many, but not all, of the conclusions have been reached. The SDR's publication last July was the beginning, not the end, of the process, and time is not standing still.

The SDR has developed a comprehensive list of broad missions and military tasks to form a basis for defence planning. Clearly, the strategic environment is different today—there is no cold war threat to the United Kingdom and we do not foresee the re-emergence of such a threat. However, we cannot take that for granted, and the review proposes to put the forces in the front line. It says that we are not to stand idly by and watch humanitarian disasters or the aggression of dictators go unchecked. We want to give a lead, we want to be a force for good. Rightly so, but before we go abroad to do good we must acknowledge that bad can come to us. Before we embark on the "force for good" adventure, we must understand when determining our defence policy that our vital interests are to protect British territory, borders and air space, and British citizens and interests around the world.

Did the SDR do enough to deal with the asymmetric threat, for example? I see little evidence that it did. I am aware of the new threats that we face—the exploitation of cyber-weapons, for example, could be used to bring the war home by attacking the national strategic infrastructure, which is rapidly exploiting information technology in the name of economic efficiency.

Why even think about biological and chemical warfare—the "poor man's nuclear bomb"? We must do so because it is unlikely that our possible opponents will confront us directly. CB weapons are inexpensive and accessible, and can be delivered by warheads on missiles or by covert agents, terrorists or even madmen. Like our allies who are dealing with the issue, we are vulnerable to such attacks. That is why I warmly welcome the Secretary of State's announcement yesterday that he will shortly report fully to the House on the conclusions of his review on the risk that biological and chemical weapons pose to our troops overseas. His next step should be to encourage a more open and focused debate on the nuclear, chemical and biological threat at home in the civilian community.

Civil defence is entering a new era of significance. I pay tribute to the unsung work of our county emergency planning officers. What progress are the Ministry of Defence and other agencies making in assessing, testing and fixing the year 2000 problem? The MOD has been assiduously addressing the problem since 1995, and in 1996 the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency drew up a programme that set specific targets for all Departments. I should be grateful if the House could have answers—all in good time—to four specific questions.

We all know that there is a problem with recruiting and retaining specialist staff. What is the extent of the shortage of skilled, in-house staff in the Ministry of Defence? Is it true that there is evidence of staff wastage from the Ministry of Defence to industry? We know that that is true of front-line pilots, but is it equally true of those staff?

Can the Minister assure us that all the critical systems will be compliant by the end of 1999? Can he identify non-critical systems that will not be? Last month, in the quarterly return of the departmental year 2000 plans, the permanent under-secretary emphasised that the MOD might need to delay or stop important activities or projects while attention or resources were focused on the year 2000 issue. What activities or projects have been identified as frozen or cancelled? It is important not just for the Opposition but for those outside in industry to have specific information.

We are certainly not short of missions. For four years, our troops have made a major contribution to NATO in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Incidentally, their contribution has been to the peace implementation force, not to the intervention force as page 15 of the SDR says. In order to deploy our men and women, we need to keep them well trained and to retain them in the services. Let us take for example the fast-jet pilots in the RAF. Experienced flight lieutenants and squadron leaders approaching the age of 38 are constant prey for the civil airlines.

Our pilots always do what we ask of them, as they should. They proved their record in the Gulf and in Bosnia. In Kosovo they are part of the verification force. However, our ability to continue to meet the challenge of Bosnias to come rests on recruiting and retaining those pilots. We can help to do so through access to affordable and adequate housing, improving support for their families, providing access to high-quality health care, and introducing retirement benefits. Issuing short-term contracts might help to keep pilots who are unwilling to make a long-term commitment.

I am sure that, like our allies, the Government are getting to grips with the problems. We should like them to share their progress with us.

Front-line pilots continue to feel bruised by the injustice of the Ministry of Defence line on the crash of Chinook ZD576 on the Mull of Kintyre. Members of Parliament from all parties who have taken up this cause were not surprised by the latest stonewalling by the Minister for the Armed Forces at the end of September. Nothing has changed, and I shall continue to seek to redress this injustice. Ministers should know that loyal, serving and retired RAF personnel remain as unhappy as I am.

The Minister's arguments have led to technical and professional counter-arguments. It is not possible to say that there can be no doubt about the cause of that crash.

Of course there is doubt. The RAF should think again. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his offer of a further meeting, which we shall no doubt accept.

Earlier this year we had a debate on the Royal Air Force, and I look forward to the other single service debates. I spoke of the loyalty of wives and families of RAF personnel. During the summer, the Association of RAF Wives was put under increasing pressure. Its head office had to close over the summer months owing to lack of funding.

There also seems to be an attitude problem. Something is wrong if, at an RAF station, the officer commanding the personnel management services—the appropriate contact—refuses to meet or speak to representatives of the Association of RAF Wives. Do Ministers have a problem with the association, or is it that its patron is our independent colleague, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell)? Only this morning, I heard from the association that the publishers of its magazine had called to say that they had been warned of closure. Ministers refused to include the association in the website that they so proudly announced because of those rumours. I invite them to address that issue urgently.

Military families warmly welcome the SDR proposal for a families task force, especially as they have now heard about the proposal for a families forum with access to the Minister. I too warmly welcome that measure.

This time last year, prompted by the excellent Army Families Federation, I raised the issue of the problems affecting Army families which can be resolved only by interdepartmental co-operation. I regret to report that, almost a year later, there is still no progress on four important areas. First, there is the problem thrown up by the jobseeker's allowance, which puts the working wives of service personnel at a disadvantage. It is no good the Government crowing about the new deal if service families are excluded.

Secondly, a significant number of children of service families are excluded from university grants if their families have followed the flag for many years. I was pleased to note what the Minister said about that. I am glad that the Department for Education and Employment will be sensitive, but I respectfully suggest that being sensitive is not enough if the problem is not resolved for the dependants of service men and women.

Thirdly, it remains impossible for military personnel to maintain their NHS dental registration when they are posted overseas. On their return, they must start all over again. Surely that is a straightforward administrative matter, and an item for the agenda of the first meeting of the new families forum.

Fourthly, back in the spring, the Army Families Federation went to Leeds to meet the NHS executive, which promised to deal with the problem of forces families who are posted after they have seen a consultant: they lose their place on NHS waiting lists and have to start all over again. Will Ministers please address that problem urgently? I know that it is a matter of detail for Ministers, but for service men and their families it is of very great importance.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

Why were these serious matters not resolved by the previous Government?

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

They did not arise under the previous Government. These matters were first put to me last year. I dare say that these problems existed under the previous Government, but that is not a good reason for the present Government to ignore them.

The adjutant-general's standards and discipline paper has now been under revision for some two years. The last expected date for publication was March. Some high profile and unpleasant cases of courts martial have done nothing to enhance the reputation of the forces, and some of those cases are still outstanding. Meanwhile, paragraph 133 of chapter 6 of the strategic defence review promises the development of a common personnel strategy, led by the centre but implemented by the individual services. Enigmatically, the SDR says that the Government will examine the need for a single, tri-service discipline Act.

The previous Select Committee on Defence and the previous Special Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill were highly critical of the Ministry of Defence under the previous Government for its failure to consolidate the existing three service Acts. The Ministry of Defence has always—until now—implied that, given the different ethos and functions of the three separate services, it would be impossible to encapsulate service discipline in a single Act. What has happened to change that?

We are all aware of the pressures, particularly sexual pressures, implicit in more and more joint activity—perhaps appropriately termed "purple activity"—but Ministers must explain to the House and to the Navy, the Army and the Air Force just what is going on. The beginning of chapter 6 of the SDR makes much of the need to retain highly motivated people and to maintain that motivation. Just so.

The Secretary of State has said often enough that he believes that service men and women should reflect or be representative of British society at large. I am not sure that the three services would accept that. Traditionally, our services have demanded more of their personnel and have demanded higher standards than prevail in the rest of society. Do the Government intend to drop those traditional standards? Is that why they are able to promise a single discipline Act?

Paragraph 132 of chapter 6 of the SDR announces the establishment of a cell to provide a focal point for veterans seeking guidance, and that has been welcomed by many ex-service organisations. The British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association, in its summer 1998 magazine, expressed the scepticism about the cell. It hopes that the MOD appreciates the likely implications for the equipment and staff that will be needed. It said that, at one point, the war pensions helpline dealt with 22,000 calls in a week. Like us, the association is watching with interest to see what happens.

On Monday 5 October, the Minister for the Armed Forces launched the veterans advice unit. Is that the much-heralded cell? If so, the staff of just five warrant officers—however well trained and highly motivated—will be hard put to it to cope. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) will return to policies for people when he winds up the debate.

Faster, cheaper and better procurement has become the MOD motto. We must capitalise on the lessons we have learned from successful commercial restructuring to adopt modern business practices; consolidate and streamline; embrace competitive market strategies; and eliminate or reduce support strategies … all this in order to do the job better, faster and cheaper. Those are the words of Jacques Gansler, Under Secretary of Defence Acquisition and Technology in the United States. That is what our allies are doing, and it seems that we are to follow suit. Will the smart procurement initiative fulfil that mission?

In this country we had the Downey cycle in the 1960s, the Levine reforms of the 1980s and the defence cost studies in 1994. We welcome smart procurement, following as it does the US models of defence acquisition reform and the revolution in business affairs. The reaction of the British defence procurement industry to the smart procurement initiative has been very positive, at least on the surface. Indeed, it would be surprising if the response of the providers to the major customer were anything else. Privately, the truth is less flattering. I was recently told that if smart procurement is all about selecting a partner early, what is going on is driving in the opposite direction.

I was told that many of the ideas within the Ministry of Defence are seen in the commercial world as naive or underdeveloped. British industry, competing in world markets, is at the cutting edge of technologies and financial systems for modelling and costing. Why should companies spread their international competitiveness? The leaching of ideas would be inevitable.

There is much concern, too, about rainbow teams, whereby the MOD puts together all the potential partners in a project, including foreign prime companies. Some major British companies have declined to take part in that process, and who can blame them?

Even if there is a funding inducement for prime contractors to collaborate, the length of the various processes—even under the smart procurement regime—means that in four or five years, and by the time one of the primes becomes a winner, the capability of each company will have been exposed and shared. That is not very smart. Chinese walls are not good enough, and raise massive problems of intellectual property rights.

We warmly welcome the commitment in the SDR to the formation of a broad acquisition stream encompassing military and civilian staff. Integrated project teams and through-life accountability are concepts warmly welcomed by the private sector. There is still a fear that the acquisition cycle is too long, and some scepticism that there will be single-team accountability on the MOD and private sector sides.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

Will my hon. Friend comment on the significant delays in collaborative programmes that have been induced by the defence review, in typical socialist style, being initiated by Gerhard Schröder's red-green coalition in Germany? What does my hon. Friend think about the delay in the multi-role armoured vehicle programme? That is a joint programme, but we could perfectly well have achieved it ourselves using the overcapacity in our armoured fighting vehicle industry. What does he think about the delay in the proposed collaborative, beyond visual range, air-to-air weapon? Are such delays tolerable for our armed forces?

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

That is the finest possible example of why we should not go in for proportional representation and coalition Governments. The instability that is being caused by the lack of a German Government week after week hits hard when it comes to the procurement industry and our military defence alike. The MRAV contract was worth millions to our economy and to the German economy. Battlefield taxis are a concept which has been around for a very long time.

My hon. Friend is right to put his finger on that contract but, although significant, it is not the only one. A stack of such contracts is building up. It is astonishing to see the way in which the new German Administration—who may one day eventually form a Government—are wheeling and dealing with the Greens, whose agenda is absolutely anti-NATO and all that it stands for, in order to cobble together some sort of Government. It is very worrying—even more worrying, I suppose, than the former German Chancellor's proposal for a future large Antonov.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Am I to understand from what he has said before that the hon. Gentleman would have opposed British participation in the Eurofighter project, that he would now withdraw from the Horizon frigate project and that the United Kingdom would build its own successor to the type 42?

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

There are, of course, plenty of people who say that it would be a very good thing if we built our own successor to the type 42; but the answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's question is no.

I must make progress. No doubt we shall return ad nauseam to debates on proportional representation in the future.

The defence procurement industry's supporting essay 6 was at the heart of the strategic defence review. The scientific and technological superiority available to the fighting forces of a handful of western nations gives us a hugely important asymmetrical advantage over enemies, but we cannot rest on our laurels because the catching-up process is speeding up as well. That is why, when I visited the north-west of England, I was so pleased to see the progress being made by British industry on, for example, the future offensive aircraft, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) spoke so well last night.

Product data modelling now allows the most senior technicians to talk through design concepts with the fastest pilots and the most senior military officers, in terms of real time but virtual reality, on the premises of our procurement companies, without even making the journey to Abbey Wood. One of the many reasons why product data modelling is so important is that it reduces abortive expenditure that results from late design changes and the reworking of manufacture, which add to costs and time overruns. Concurrent engineering processes and systems being developed by private-sector defence procurement companies can reach their full potential only if they are matched by a determination in the Ministry of Defence to break down some of the old barriers and restrictive practices.

May I ask a specific procurement question? Has the MOD a clear vision of the total lift capability required for the SDR concept of operations? I wrote to the Minister about that in July, but I have still not received an answer. The SDR equipment acquisition appears to envisage a maximum of four C17s, the 25 C130Js already on order and some amount of additional tactical support. How will the MOD calculate the final balance of lift assets to be acquired through the short and long-term airlift competitions?

MOD witnesses told the Defence Committee that the MOD's operational analysts had suggested that four was the required number of C17s. Why, then, is Boeing under the impression that eight, 10 or even 12 C17s will be considered? Can Ministers explain the contradiction, or is this just something else for the contracts journal? If the real intention is to procure more than four C17s, how will the MOD pay for the additional aircraft, given that they cost £125 million each? What is the intellectual basis for a number greater than four?

We know that RAF pilots are already training on C17s. On what basis would the MOD lease them? What work is in hand to investigate the leasing mechanisms? How will the MOD ensure value for money? C17s cannot be refuelled in flight by British tanker aircraft; will the MOD overcome that problem through technical changes to the C17, or through cover by United States planes for extended missions?

The Government are schizophrenic about our relationships with Europe and the United States as allies. That is reflected in their attitude to procurement. Most important military research is being undertaken in the United States. The Pentagon's research and development budget is $37 billion; the combined research and development budgets of France, Germany and ourselves is $10 billion. If we are to have access to the latest technology on anything other than American terms, we must own some of it ourselves, and must be able to use that as an entry ticket to joint projects with the Americans.

There is a huge and welcome variety of joint venture projects within Europe, and between European and American companies, and that should be encouraged; but if all our defence manufacturers were subsumed into one European corporation, would the option remain open? A very serious question is whether the United States would be prepared to enter into joint projects involving the latest technologies with a monolithic European competitor embracing countries in Europe which, it must be said, the Americans mistrust.

Finally, let me ask about the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. What is the state of the public-private partnership option? I was grateful to the Minister for Defence Procurement, who wrote to me in August ruling out the privatisation of DERA in its entirety. We note that he has decided that highly sensitive parts of the agency, and those that ensure that the United Kingdom can continue to operate effectively with our allies, will need to be retained wholly within the Ministry of Defence. Of course, I have a constituency interest, as my constituency contains the two Porton Down establishments and Boscombe Down; but more than 12,000 staff work for DERA across the country, and the Government owe it to them to end the uncertainty that surrounds their future as quickly as possible.

After last year's general election, DERA put proposals to Ministers on defence diversification. Well, that was a damp squib. In autumn 1997, DERA provided a corporate plan with options for its future. Silence! Last November, 11 months ago, the MOD announced that the SDR would examine future options for DERA. In spring this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer advanced proposals for privatisations and partnerships. Mysteriously, DERA unexpectedly slipped from the list.

In July, the SDR had just one sentence on DERA tucked away in paragraph 164. It told us nothing. Later in July, DERA's chief executive briefed media analysts on the situation; Parliament was kept in the dark. The former Minister for the Armed Forces visited Porton Down, and told my constituents that he was not in favour of privatisation. It became clear that the MOD, the Treasury and No. 10 were all players before the recess. Informed opinion now believes that a new MOD team has been told to go back to square one and complete its review in a further six months. So by July 1999, Ministers might make a decision to be implemented by July 2000; but if primary legislation were needed, that would slip by a year, to the summer of 2001.

These are tough choices indeed. The delay is bad for DERA, and bad for our whole defence procurement industry. It is a dismal record of bad government, and it will not do.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Does my hon. Friend share my concern, and that of other hon. Members in whose constituencies DERA operates, about the fact that, while the uncertainty to which he has referred continues, different arrangements are being made in different constituencies for the release of DERA property? There is great concern in my constituency about decisions being announced while DERA's whole future is uncertain—decisions about the release of land for DERA test tracks on which houses might be built, for instance. That may completely alter the housing structure in different constituencies.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Yes, I share my hon. Friend's concern. Indeed, in my constituency DERA has been involved in seeking to use land and assets for commercial activities. We must press the Government to come clean on the issue, and to do so quickly.

Was it wise of the Government, in retrospect, to promise to deliver the SDR within six months? Was it wise to claim that it would be foreign policy led? Was it wise to keep secret the foreign policy baselines, while claiming that this was the most open policy review ever? Was it credible of the Secretary of State to launch his "mother of all reviews" on the basis that funding might at best stay level, but would probably be cut, and to offer as his opening gambit to the Treasury guaranteed cash back of at least £500 million a year? That already looks pretty old-fashioned in view of the recent United States decision to increase its defence budget by 10 per cent., to $280 billion: an increase greater than our entire defence budget, which we are cutting.

The Secretary of State told us that he is developing a strategic planning process that will keep defence planning up to date; that there are no plans to hold defence reviews at regular intervals; but that there may be further reviews if the need arises. It will.

The Labour party manifesto in 1997 promised a strategic defence and security review", but that is not what we got. True, the review included threats posed to the UK and UK interests by drugs, international crime and environmental degradation, but the Government failed to produce a cross-departmental military and security review involving the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with input from the Department for International Development; the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions; the Department of Trade and Industry; Customs and Excise; the Home Office; and the intelligence services.

Responses to threats to the UK homeland were not given sufficient consideration. We got a reorganised—and, yes, improved—military posture, but we have no new central Government mechanisms or initiatives, in stark contrast to our friends in the United States of America. The review scarcely addresses our future relationship with the USA or with other European countries. It reduces the defence budget without reducing our defence commitments: do more with less.

We should not be surprised, as that sounds exactly the same answer as the Government would get from a focus group of taxpayers; indeed, the Government spent £50,000 on such groups last summer, claiming that they wanted to explore the public's attitudes, feelings and knowledge regarding the key issues covered in the SDR. That was in keeping with the Government's declared objective of achieving a national consensus on the defence of the country. It is consensus first, tough decisions later—perhaps.

That is no way to win this nation's battles, be they for freedom, justice and democracy around the world; for our homeland and people; for our United Kingdom; for our national and international interest; or for the British way of doing things. Ministers can spin to their heart's content, but, as my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said last night, it will fall to the next Conservative Government to put our defences and security back on a sound footing.

Photo of Dr Lynda Clark Dr Lynda Clark Labour, Edinburgh Pentlands 5:52 pm, 20th October 1998

I enter this debate with some trepidation. I know that many of those who have spoken have considerable expertise on the subject. I cannot claim that expertise. I cannot claim, as my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson) did, to have lived and worked with Marines—some people have all the luck—but I have the expertise to recognise a well-founded argument when I hear it. The constituents who beat a path to my door with their worries about the TA proposals have had good arguments—so good that I felt that, despite my lack of expertise on the subject, I should try to do my best for them in this debate.

We have already heard many powerful arguments in favour of retaining the strength, organisation and local connections of the TA. In order not to weary the House with repetition, I will adopt the brevitatis causa, as we say in court in Scotland when we mean that we do not want to waste time.

I am sure that the Minister will take into account the views expressed in the wide consultation process, which I understand to be similar to those expressed by many hon. Members and by the Select Committee. My constituency is home to TA units of the Royal Armoured Corps, the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers. My hon. Friend will be well aware of the pride that the volunteers have in their units, and of their proud history.

My plea is not that the TA should be preserved in aspic as an historical institution with little relevance for today—that would be a poor memorial for all those who have served in the TA; nor do I support the position of those who want to preserve the existing TA because they have a narrow, nationalistic view of defence strategy based on the perceived need to defend internal national borders.

The Government's vision is, I believe, the correct one—we need a new role for the armed forces and the reserve forces in the post-cold war era—but I believe that, in that vision, my right hon. and hon. Friends should attach more importance to the critical defence role that can be played by volunteers. The wider implications go beyond defence, and they may not have taken that sufficiently into account.

There are economic considerations: the TA's contribution to local community employment is extremely valuable, and there is military aid to the civilian population, which is especially important in isolated communities. It is important to realise that the TA's role fits well into the Government's wider programme of training for work. TA training is valuable not only to those who receive it but to the wider community, which benefits from the skills that have been acquired.

In the cost calculations, we should remember that what is spent in the defence budget spreads out into other budgets. In my constituency, as in many others, the TA also gives considerable support to the veterans who have served us all so well. The TA has a host of roles that go beyond its important defence role, which we should not evaluate in isolation.

I am concerned about the allegations made by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), who said yesterday that TA staff had been forbidden to talk to their Member of Parliament and that a TA officer had been reprimanded. I regard raising concerns with one's Member of Parliament as a fundamental right of any TA member. I understand that there may be some restrictions on persons serving in the military talking to their Member of Parliament—if that is the case, it should be investigated—but that there are no such restrictions for TA members. If any of my constituents have been threatened in that way, I hope that they will tell me about it, because I will certainly make strong representations on their behalf.

I am here because of my constituents, but, having sat through this interesting debate, I am pleased, unlike some Opposition Members, to be able to congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the excellent developments that are giving opportunities to all our people regardless of sex or race. We are looking for talent in our armed forces, and we will find that in a wide range of people.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister, but ask him to pay close attention to the many representations that have been made about the TA.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament 5:57 pm, 20th October 1998

Having had some responsibility in this area, I start with a word of congratulation to the Government on the presentation, certainly, if not on all the content, of the strategic defence review. We know the Government pretty well by now, and when I started hearing about "smart procurement" and "rainbow teams" I realised that the spin doctors had been through all the presentations.

I was enthusiastic to hear about smart procurement, so I read what was proposed. I saw that almost all the ideas, on the need continually to improve the procurement process—which, with the scale of the procurement programme, is far from satisfactory and will be a continuing challenge to Governments long after the present Government have gone—were around in my time in the Ministry of Defence, so I wish the Government luck with them.

I admire many aspects of the review. Although one cannot call it comprehensive because it excluded from its purview the two largest defence expenditure programmes, Eurofighter and Trident, there is much in it that commands respect.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I am afraid that I cannot give way because I have only 10 minutes in which to speak, and I have several things to say arising from my previous experience in these matters.

Many areas of the review command respect, including the development of jointery, rapid reaction and equipment systems, and work on those areas must be carried forward. The Defence Committee's report was excellent and I agree with its wish that this should be the last review. That was my hope of "Options for Change", although necessary work continued on the logistic follow-up. I understand why the Government had to have a review—they said that they would do so because that was the only defence policy that they could think of in opposition—and, in many areas, the review has been carried out without too much damage.

Although I hope that no more reviews will be conducted, I hope that the Government will remain flexible. I have the need for flexibility burned into my soul: in a statement on "Options for Change" one 25 July, I said that we must be ready for the unexpected; seven days later, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and the wisdom of my remarks was revealed rather earlier than I had expected.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred to the changes in Germany that have taken place since the review was published. We now face the prospect of a Green Foreign Minister in the German Government and a new Chancellor who, earlier in his career, was opposed to NATO. The Chancellor has changed his attitude, but fundamentalist elements in the new German coalition are anti-military and strongly against defence expenditure. That will have implications for German attitudes to defence. Völker Ruhe was very supportive of air strike activities in Kosovo, but the new German Government's attitude may be very different. Attitudes to defence alliances and industrial restructuring will change. Indeed, I have seen some reports that German defence companies are thinking of moving their headquarters out of Germany, because the new Government's attitude to arms exports may be different from that of the previous Government.

Drawing on my other responsibilities connected to intelligence, I recognise the importance of what is called asymmetric warfare, or the weapons of the dispossessed. I refer to the need in any defence strategy to be ready to combat the type of threats that we may now face. Given the time I have available, I shall not rehearse those threats, but they include the possible utilisation by terrorists of chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. Any defence strategy that purports to care for the security of this country must keep in mind the threats posed by such unconventional warfare. Intelligence is important to enhancing the defence role. If we put unarmed observers into Kosovo, their first defence will be good intelligence so that they know whether any elements mean them harm.

The Defence Committee and the strategic defence review recognise that defence is about people. I became Secretary of State for Defence having been Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I learned in that job about nights out of bed and unaccompanied tours. Those phrases stick firmly in my mind and I know the challenges, strains and stresses imposed on those who serve us so magnificently in difficult circumstances. I also know the challenges that are posed for Governments and all those involved in defence—for example, in maintaining recruitment and adequate manning to reduce unfairness in the arrangements for unaccompanied tours.

When we consider the challenges posed by manning levels, we should remember MARILYN—manning and recruitment in the lean years of the '90s. Everybody has forgotten about it, but it identified the problems in the 1980s; and it has been with us through the 1990s. Those are the problems that beset the Government now.

When I was Secretary of State and we undertook the "Options for Change" review, people proposed reductions in the TA as a way to save costs. I regard the TA decision in some ways as the most political of the decisions that I took in the "Options for Change" review. I am perhaps the last Secretary of State to have served in the TA. I was about to say that everybody knows that, if someone did national service, he also served for four years in the TA, but that is probably not true because there are now fewer people around with that experience. I am a deep believer in the wider role of the TA. The Government have identified specific roles and problems for which the TA can be targeted to provide an immediate response, but the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) described the wider role of the TA very well. It includes contact with the community and interaction with the public, such as work in civil emergencies such as flooding. God help us if we should ever have to mobilise again, but if we had to face a critical emergency—and the defence of the country has to be ready for the unexpected—such a mobilisation would be achieved through the TA. It is profoundly necessary that the TA's role of identification with the community, and the inclusion of many people who cannot serve in the regular forces but who enrich the calibre of our services, continues.

I hope that no one will object if I say that, in my experience, the TA is not represented in the Ministry of Defence at the same level as the senior services. In any argument, the reserves and the TA need another spokesman, and if the Minister for the Armed Forces does not perform that role, no one else will.

We reduced the TA and I make no apology for that. We had an establishment of 91,000 that was under-manned and unachievable, and I reduced that to the minimum level possible of 60,000. Minor adjustments have been made since, but the review now proposes a further cut of more than a third. I reached my judgment on numbers after careful study, and I believe that this new cut will take the TA significantly below the level at which it will be viable. Large areas will no longer feel any identification with the Army such as that achieved in the past through a relationship with the TA. The cut is the most profound and grievous mistake in the review, and I believe that hon. Members from all parties recognise that. I hope that the Minister will not just listen to constituency representations, as the Secretary of State promised in his speech yesterday, but recognise that the overall level proposed is far too low.

Photo of Alan Keen Alan Keen Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston 6:07 pm, 20th October 1998

I congratulate Ministers on the review, which has received praise from almost every quarter, and I, too, welcome the new Minister for the Armed Forces. It is worth reflecting that, not so many years ago, my hon. Friend's previous responsibilities for Europe would have been combined with his current job, in the post of War Minister. It is good that we have moved on from those days.

I wish also to praise the Minister's predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), who contributed so greatly, both in opposition and in government. When I made my maiden speech in 1992, from the Opposition Benches, my right hon. Friend sat with me to give his support. In that speech, I said that it was a nostalgic return for me, because my first Army posting after infantry and trade training was to headquarters, London district, in Horseguard buildings in Whitehall. I cannot work out whether my career, in which I started as a sergeant and ended as a corporal after two and a half years, matches beginning as a Back Bencher and ending as one.

I was lucky not to have to fight in any war. In case anyone wonders whether I served on special missions with the SAS, I did not. The closest I came to conflict was when I was seconded to the Egyptian army that fought the Ethiopians, but that was none too dangerous because it happened in the Royal Opera house, and we seemed to win every night, which was lucky for the opera goers because it would have been awful if they had to miss the triumphal march in "Aida".

Two weeks on Sunday, I will march from Heston Territorial Army depot to the local church with people who did fight in the second world war. They gave the best part of their lives to winning us the freedom that we enjoy today. For those who do not know where Heston is, incidentally, the two top restaurants in west London are the Heston North and Heston South motorway services on the M4. I should make that clear, because my accent can be misleading. I am proud of the multicultural society of west London. Marching with me will be members of the Sikh community who fought at Monte Casino and in other crucial combats during the second world war. It is sometimes too easy to forget them. As one born in 1937, I shall never forget the war years and the period after them, when the prisoners of war came home only to suffer the deprivations that the whole people suffered at that time. Memories of the second world war could slip away quite easily if it were not for those who will march in a couple of weeks' time.

I am continually reminded at my surgeries that conflicts happen all the time, and that is what the defence review is about. People from all parts of the world come to see me, having had to leave their own countries and possibly some of their families as a result of conflicts. It is important to address their problems in our defence review.

I cannot accept the statement made yesterday by the shadow Defence spokesman, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), that we do not want to be part of a world police force. We may not want to be, but our duty as a democratic nation is to look after people all over the world. We have learnt many lessons recently on that. I accept that the United States has more than once had to withdraw from some areas, and those defeats have been bitter. However, the USA was not really supported by all the democratic world, and we must learn from that. It is vital to revise the United Nations so that consensus can be achieved before action is taken.

My major concern is not financial aspects but our moral duty to all human beings, wherever they happen to live. However, there is no doubt that the financial cost of inaction is greater than the cost of firm and decisive action, especially when the impact on potential aggressors of the deterrent effect is taken into account. The defence review takes full account of that.

I have paid tribute to the soldiers of the second world war, and I extend that tribute to those who have suffered in conflicts since then, and to those who serve now in our armed forces. My brief, compulsory, experience of the armed forces helped me to understand the culture of the armed forces, and 30 or more visits to the Royal Air Force as a member of the parliamentary armed forces scheme has taught me a great deal about the impact of high-technology equipment and the need for high-level training. I have learnt of the dedication of personnel at all levels, and I realise that everyone understands the international responsibilities of the armed forces. They are no longer defending Britain against an aggressor, but playing a part in establishing a secure world.

It was clear to me after days of questioning and listening that there was a high level of dissatisfaction in the services. Personnel knew that although it was necessary and beneficial for the United Kingdom to reduce its armed forces after the end of the cold war, the cuts imposed by the previous Government were completely Treasury led. People were angry about that, and the present Front-Bench team has learnt from the mistakes made then.

Personnel want to know what role the nation wants them to play in defence of our country and in the furtherance of peace in the world for our children and our grandchildren. They want to know that future commitments will be fully financially supported, both for human resources and equipment. They deserve more than the treatment they had from the previous Government, when military commitments were extended way beyond the scope of financial and logistical support.

I listen frequently to men and women whose family lives have been stretched beyond the limits of acceptability. The armed forces and their families have always benefited from medical resources, not given as a reward but because it was essential for those in the front line to know that their families had access to health care whenever they needed it. I hope that Ministers will take that into account. That policy represents common sense and good management, as is recognised by many commercial companies. The armed forces should not change the culture that has existed for many years.

The closure of many high street recruitment centres has meant that the burden of promoting awareness of the armed forces has fallen increasingly to other parts of the military. Museums play a part. They may seem to be soft targets for cost cutting, but I hope that the Government understand the opportunity that they give to many people to understand our military history, which is inspirational and helps with recruiting.

I do not have time to elaborate on problems caused by cost cutting, but I am sure that the contractorisation of much RAF engineering, while it may save money in the short term, will result in higher costs in future, because the contractors are unable to recruit from retiring RAF technical personnel.

There are proposals to market-test, or sell off, the military survey in my constituency. Military survey plays a crucial role in providing vital information for the Army and the RAF, and there has been no indication that the sell-off proposals will save any money. They can only decrease the security of the operation. If an attempt is made to follow the previous Government's dogma, the staff at Feltham will have faced nearly five years of uncertainty by the time a decision is made. On my first visit to them, four or five years ago, I was told that I should not publicise the visit for security reasons. Yet the survey is now a target for transfer to the private sector. That does not seem quite right.

A handful of us visited the NATO in 1993 because we were concerned about inaction in Bosnia. I was told by the then chairman of the NATO defence staff Field Marshall Sir Richard Vincent—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has had his 10 minutes.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:17 pm, 20th October 1998

I welcome the new Minister for the Armed Forces to his post, although I was disappointed that the first letter I received from him brought bad news for Portsmouth. It announced 200 job losses and 105 compulsory redundancies. I hope that that is not the shape of things to come, and it was a depressing start from the new Minister. From now on, I hope everything will be on the way up rather than down.

I want to address some local issues, the first of which is those 200 jobs. I understand why the Minister of State has to leave the Chamber as I am speaking, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary will be able to cover his back. I hope that the Minister of State will take seriously my suggestion that he tries to work with the men and women who have been told that their jobs must go, and to try to assimilate them into other defence establishments in the Portsmouth area.

The second local issue is the need for the MOD to start to make decisions about long-term procurement projects. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson) spoke yesterday of his commitment to the work force of Lockheed Martin who are working on ASTOR, the airborne stand-off radar programme. What that programme needs is a decision. We must safeguard the 2,000 jobs, so the right decision for us would be support for the Lockheed Martin scheme. A decision is needed; many people's hopes and future depend on it.

The third local issue concerns the two aircraft carriers. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) asked a pertinent question about their in-service date. It is not good enough for the people whom I represent, many of whom serve or have served in the Royal Navy or work for the MOD. They have banked an awful lot on the two carriers. Uncertainty has been percolating through the area since the local newspaper suggested a week or so ago that there could be delay. When asked, I said that I thought that a delay would be nonsense. It would be a serious setback for the Government and the defence review if there were any truth in it. The people whom I represent, and the rest of the country, are owed an explanation. We need a commitment about whether the in-service date of 2012 is firm.

I am not much concerned about the naming of ships, but, if there is confusion, as one who has watched the Royal Navy leave Portsmouth harbour over the past 50 years, I believe that the names Victorious and Eagle should not go amiss.

The last local issue is the future of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. I represent hundreds of people who work in DERA establishments in and around Portsmouth and some who work in the Aldershot area and travel up to the Farnborough site daily. Indecision has hung over them for some time and they deserve to be told exactly what has happened. They should not have to go through the frustration of continually being told that further studies are needed before a decision.

Hon. Members must have been disappointed when the Minister for the Armed Forces spoke. Did not the Secretary of State suggest yesterday that we would hear some news about the Territorial Army? Were we not led to believe that we would get an announcement that would nail some of the rumours that have been flying around? We got nothing.

Photo of Mr Richard Livsey Mr Richard Livsey Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

My hon. Friend will have noted my early-day motion 1534 about the future of the Territorial Army in Wales, where we may lose our two remaining TA regiments: the 2nd battalion, Royal Regiment of Wales and the 3rd battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers. Would not that be a tragedy? The Minister has told me in the past week of the closure of Cwrt y Gollen training camp in my constituency with 36 job losses.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey). I was pleased to sign the early-day motion. I am delighted that he is leading the fight for the TA in Wales but the story does not end with Wales, Scotland or the north-east. The TA is affected in my area as well, as I said in an intervention yesterday.

If we are to believe the reports that are circulating, there is to be nothing in Aldershot, the home of the British Army. Southampton's TA commitment is to be halved. The Winchester unit, which was praised all round the House as the one that had adapted its role to suit the MOD's on-going commitment, is to be done away with. Two units are to be scrapped or decimated in the Portsmouth area. That is sad.

Other hon. Members have commented to me. My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) made points about the islands. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) noted that cuts in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers would leave a gap in the TA between Newcastle and Edinburgh. Answers are needed. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) mentioned that Paignton has a brand-new TA centre but has been led to believe that the unit must move to Exeter. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire intervened to make his point. Many hon. Members have said that if TA coverage stops being UK-wide, we will have a serious problem.

It is no good the MOD saying that it wants the TA to supply supporting specialists when it is closing off that supply. If it needs a specialist doctor in Bosnia and that person exists in Galashiels, it will not be able to get him or her because that person will find it difficult to belong to a TA unit in the area. The man and woman power will not be available. The Government must reconsider.

The Minister for the Armed Forces spent the best part of 10 minutes talking about personnel issues but he was 10 minutes into his speech before he mentioned the civilians who work for the MOD, which was disappointing. There are several issues relating to the way in which we have treated people in the armed forces. I welcome the chapters in the defence review that say that personnel matters will be dealt with more sympathetically.

There is the continuing saga of those suffering from asbestos-related illnesses caught while working as MOD personnel. There is no progress on their campaign. There is also the despicable treatment of the Chinese laundrymen, the retired Gurkhas and the veterans of nuclear test and the Gulf war. What about the civilians in the Gulf, whom the MOD virtually disowns? I represent two such people whose lives have dramatically changed, yet the MOD says nothing about them.

What about RAF morale? I talked in an intervention about young pilots leaving. One reason is that their kit is unserviceable. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) was told in answers this year that 58 per cent. of the Tornado GR1 and GR4 fleet was less than fully serviceable, and 70 per cent. of the Nimrod fleet is not fully functional. In a written answer yesterday, the Minister for the Armed Forces said that there was 5 per cent. gapping—what a word—on major ships in the Royal Navy. A 5 per cent. gapping policy on a major carrier means 50 or 60 men. Can such a ship operate properly with such stress on the crew?

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North spoke of the high morale he had found in the Royal Marines on his many visits under the parliamentary armed forces programme. When the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and I were with the Royal Marines, the story was not the same. There was a problem with young non-commissioned officers with the promotion logjam and the difficulty in getting the right rate for the jobs that they were asked to do. It was the same for young officers. Many were making terribly difficult decisions at the age of 25 or 26 after recently training to a high standard. We need to consider morale seriously.

I draw attention to the in-built cut that the MOD has inflicted on itself through efficiency savings. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North said yesterday that he thought there was still fat there. I would be interested to know where. We cannot service all our aircraft. It is suggested that filling the fat gap would need 40,000 personnel. Where will the economies be found?

The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who chairs the Defence Committee, said that he scored the defence review eight out of 10. He was overgenerous. The Committee members who went into great detail to produce long reports cannot have shared his enthusiasm. There are so many unanswered questions on procurement, cost savings, the priority of the foreign commitments on which we are embarking and personnel issues. The men and women who serve in our armed forces and who work for the MOD are entitled to straight answers from the Government. They were promised them, and many hundreds, if not thousands, of them have taken part in the review. They have welcomed that opportunity, but, for goodness sake, do not pay lip service to their commitment and the part that they have played in producing the report. Give them the answers and stability for their future in the armed forces.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley 6:29 pm, 20th October 1998

My turn to speak has seemed to take a long time coming round. It has been a long debate over two days. At least I have heard many interesting comments, with some of which one can agree and with some of which one may disagree. Here I am, at last, to speak about the strategic defence review.

I welcome most of the strategic defence review and its implications for defence in the United Kingdom. It is a well-considered White Paper, which has reassessed our essential security interests and defence needs. It considers how the roles and capabilities of our armed forces need to be adjusted to meet the realities of today.

We are still investing in our defence capabilities. It is there that we have to begin to judge ourselves. I know that many people have views about what will happen in the future. It is important that we begin to look at what we shall get. It is great that we are cutting defence spending by only 3 per cent. over three years in comparison to cuts of 20 per cent. by the Conservative Government since 1990, but questions have to be answered about what happens from the fourth year onwards.

When the review was announced, it was thought by some that it would mean simply a cut in defence spending. That was wrong. Instead, the review has signalled a clear commitment that the Government are looking at defence from a foreign policy perspective and assessing the needs of our armed forces in a truly global way. The emphasis has shifted from what the Treasury can get out of the review to what is really needed in defence. The review has restored confidence within our armed forces and it has been widely welcomed. I congratulate the Minister and the team who have worked hard on the review.

The great buzz word of new smart procurement is something that the world will look to, but what does it mean? It means that we are cutting out only the waste in procurement. That is a positive step, which will enhance the quality of the defence industry and rid us of its outdated aspects. However, our targets are based on a three-year time span. I hope that we can look beyond that, and that the Treasury will realise that we have to look further, and that when we spend £1 on defence, the return will be much greater in terms of exports and jobs created. All that must be taken into account.

In four years' time, it will be essential that we maintain investment. I hope that we do not see the vast reduction that Opposition Members expect, as once again they spread rumours and create discontent within the armed forces. I believe that exports will be generated and I hope that everyone will realise that British troops have the best of what British industry can supply. We are still investing in, and improving, our defence capabilities and technologies. That is important if Britain is to maintain its leading edge in defence capabilities.

We all talk about the big expenditure—the aircraft carriers. I welcome the announcement that the two aircraft carriers will be built in Britain. I hope that they will be capable of operating Typhoon, as we have invested so heavily in the European fighter aircraft programme that it would be a shame to waste its potential. The building of aircraft carriers will present us with new avenues in foreign policy.

The argument for the aircraft carriers was proven not just by the Falklands but by the Gulf and Bosnia. They will allow us to police hotspots around the world from offshore. That is especially appropriate, as we have few land bases and few countries wish to see jets operating from their territory.

I hope that the Government will reaffirm their commitment to produce the two aircraft carriers in 2012, if not before, as that would secure many jobs. We have heard a great deal of speculation about the carriers. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will reaffirm tonight that the carriers are part of the SDR and part of the package; that they are important not only to the armed forces but for the jobs that they will create.

While I am on the subject of aircraft carriers, it is appropriate to mention the aircraft carrier that was loaded in Gibraltar, not in the United Kingdom, during the Gulf war. The jets flew out to Gibraltar and were loaded there when they went off to the Gulf before Christmas. It is important that we recognise the importance of Gibraltar and Gibraltar's assistance to the United Kingdom. Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to comment on the future of Gibraltar and on the merits of having a base more than 2,000 miles away on the cornerstone of the Mediterranean and Africa? Gibraltar has paid the price over many years and it is only right that there is a commitment to its future. It plays an important and integral part in meeting our defence needs.

I am pleased that Eurofighter—or, under its new name, Typhoon 2—has been confirmed. It will be an integral part of the Royal Air Force, and it is good news for the defence manufacturers, British Aerospace at Warton and Salmesbury. The production of advanced military airframes and components such as those for Typhoon 2 will give them the leading edge in technology. I have heard that the Airbus 320 project is being transferred to Scotland to free resources for that development. I hope that, as well as there being training opportunities for existing employees, jobs will be protected and Eurofighter will be the source of many new jobs at those sites. I hope that the Minister will comment on the German Government' s policy on Eurofighter.

There is a lot of speculation about C17. We hear that four C17s or the equivalent are to be leased. If there is to be an equivalent, what will we do to ensure that there is a real competition and that we get value for money? There are alternatives. Let us look at all of them before we jump into bed with the American C17. To do so would place a question mark over what I wish to see, which is a future large aircraft developed in Europe that will be as successful as Airbus and create as many jobs. That is important.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is no need for a battle tank now to be carried on the outsize aircraft? I move on quickly, as time is rushing on.

I welcome the introduction of the Merlin for the Royal Navy and the Air Corps. It will be a welcome boost to the services. The EH101 will also secure jobs at Westland and among subcontractors throughout the United Kingdom. We shall all benefit.

I look forward to an early decision on ASTOR. I hope that Global Express will win the contract, thereby creating and securing jobs in the north-west. Not only will we benefit from the additional jobs, but the project will improve our technology base and will be cheaper to operate than the alternatives that are being suggested. It will put us at the cutting edge of surveillance and monitoring systems and allow us to lead a battlefield attack instead of being reliant on the Americans.

The main subject tonight, and the one that we all wish to talk about, is the Territorial Army. The review has regional implications. I should like to raise some points on behalf of my constituents and others in the north-west. I have received many letters expressing people's concern about the effects of the SDR on the TA. It was made clear in the SDR that there was a need to restructure the TA, and that this would result in an adjustment in its size and location. I fully understand the need for some reduction, although I am doubtful that such a drastic cut is necessary. Ideally, I should like to see the Minister reduce his estimates and signal a clear commitment to listen to the concerns of TA centres throughout Britain.

The north-west TA has expressed its concern to me about the decision. Chorley TA centre wonders what role it will play. The 101 Battalion headquarters is based in Chorley, and there is a cadet base there too. I hope that their number will not be reduced. Colonel Jones and his staff have done an excellent job and their commitment and dedication should be matched by a commitment from the Government to support the troops based there. As yet, the Government have been unable to say how the north-west will be affected and I should be grateful for any light that can be shed on that, as well as for any assurances that there will not be a dramatic reduction in the north-west and that the TA centre in Chorley will survive.

It has been particularly unhelpful for Opposition Members—

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex 6:39 pm, 20th October 1998

I shall start by welcoming many of the changes in the strategic defence review. They take place against a sombre backdrop, with weapons of a highly sophisticated and extremely dangerous nature in the hands of unstable regimes and terrorist groups. The range of options for military action has increased greatly.

I welcome the expeditionary force changes. There will be considerable difficulties in shaping the policy, not least with the carriers. I hope that the Minister will give us a straightforward answer, not just some weasel words, to the questions asked by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). I am glad to see that the son of the joint rapid deployment force—the joint rapid reaction force—will give the United Kingdom a wider and broader golf bag of capabilities. I strongly welcome that. I consider that to be a good solid Conservative policy being built on in a sensible way.

It is important to place on record the fact that the changes to our armed forces are not taking place against a background of British military defeats and disasters. For the past 50 years, our armed forces have scarcely put a foot wrong. In the past few years alone, in the Falkland Islands, the Gulf, Northern Ireland and Bosnia, they have, literally, covered themselves with glory. The House might care to pause to remember that, during the Falklands campaign, regardless of the risks that it was running, the Royal Navy put ashore, on a hostile coast, during a difficult winter's night, a fighting force of about 5,000 men together with all auxiliary arms. That was an astonishing feat of arms. We truly have some of the best armed forces in the world and certainly, in my judgment, the best people. I urge the Government not to ruin that.

We welcome the equal opportunities initiatives. Anything that can improve recruiting and all the sideshow business is very important. However, I remind the Minister that, for the young service man and woman of today, the fundamental character of war will remain unchanged. Those highly trained young people will have to take part in a terrifying contest of wills for which they will need to be extremely highly trained and in which they will have to cope with extreme danger, in rapidly changing circumstances and conditions of great chaos and uncertainty. Their skills and the quality of their leadership, weapons and equipment will be severely tested. Such operations are sustainable only by men and women who are highly motivated by tremendous pride and confidence in their regiment, their corps, their service and their traditions.

I do not believe that the equal opportunities training centre at Shrivenham will have a great deal to contribute to the success of British military arms. I beg the Labour party to understand that the service ethos is worth defending to the very end. It does not mean that we should not try to improve the services as employers. The services have always been good employers and always look after their people. Of course, they can be criticised at the margins, but the Government must not ruin what is a priceless and golden asset in this country to accomplish a feat of social engineering and political correctness of the worst sort.

Changes are to be made and, in the strategic defence review, many of them are sensible changes. The services have a reputation, rightly, for intelligent, positive and humane leadership. It is clear from their success on operations that they have been supremely successfully prepared for the task. Any fundamental changes must be weighed carefully against the advantages that they will bring to that training.

Having already welcomed the joint rapid reaction forces and the added responsibilities of the permanent joint headquarters, I am glad to see that there is to be a reorganisation of the training cycle for the Army. That is an excellent move, but great care will need to be taken to ensure that those units not at high readiness or in the training part of the cycle are sensibly and carefully employed and are thoroughly well briefed about where they are going and what they are doing. There must never be a feeling that there is a two-tier Army in operation—one in training for high readiness and high-intensity conflict, in high-readiness mode, ready to go anywhere in the world—one consisting of those dealing with the more mundane jobs.

I am delighted to see that 5 Airborne brigade and 24 Airmobile brigade are to be put together to form the air manoeuvre brigade. That is an excellent move and both brigades will benefit. It will create a versatile and extremely powerful entity. I want the Minister to assure the House that the unique fighting ethos of the Parachute Regiment and all that that has meant for this country will be retained.

I must tell the Secretary of State that I am afraid that it will not be possible for the Navy to live up to the concurrency arrangements set out in the SDR. I doubt whether the new so-called flexible deployment will be able to cope with all tasks asked of the fleet. Having been Minister of State for the Armed Forces, I know what all those terms mean. The term "flexible deployment" means doing more with less kit. The proposals in the SDR will lead to greater overstretch and I hope that the Minister of Defence will watch that with great care.

On the Royal Air Force, I warmly welcome the joint Harrier force. It is a disgrace that it was not done before and I partially blame myself for its not happening earlier. The pursuit of jointery should continue to be a high priority—I am sure that it will be. We bang on about jointery here, but it has been a fact of life in the services for generations. It takes very little to keep pushing it forward. It is now deeply established and deeply ingrained, particularly in the vestiges of the joint services staff college, but it must be pushed forward in force formation. I am pleased to see the new force appear. I am certain that the new joint helicopter command arrangements are a further step in the right direction.

An important change is the creation of the post of the Chief of Defence Logistics. I hope that the Minister knows how lucky he is that, in the personage of General Sam Cowan, he has the right man for the job. I am sure that the Minister knows that there are some heroic efficiencies to be found in logistics. I hope that, in the future, the Secretary of State will consider extending the principle that he is applying to the Chief of Defence Logistics to the adjutants-general and personnel departments across the three services where, again, there are many efficiency savings to be made.

Given all the noise that the Secretary of State has made about defence diplomacy, one would think that the fellow invented the task, when it has been a major part of the defence business of this country for many years. Any Minister who has served in the Ministry of Defence, particularly in the job that I held, will know that a great deal of time and effort goes towards trying to put the right people in the right places and assessing the balance of what we need to achieve and why we need to achieve it.

Defence diplomacy is extremely important to this country, not just to promote defence sales, which is the reason that always used to be given by the Labour party, but to promote the interests of the United Kingdom and, from time to time—this may affront some of the more tender souls on the Government Benches—to promote defence sales. The respect felt overseas for the British armed forces is a great prize for the interests of this country. Many foreign countries want their young men and women to train here with British armed forces because they want them to be trained alongside British troops and in the British environment. There are many other reasons for pursuing British interests abroad.

I want the Secretary of State also to be aware that there will shortly be difficulty between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence because the Foreign Office is now running out of officials who did national service—there are fewer and fewer of them. The perfect understanding that has existed between the two Departments will therefore begin to be eroded. I should like the Minister to assure me that he will make sure that there are more exchanges between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence than there have been.

I shall not say anything about the TA, but I want to make one point to the Minister. The Government talk about how much they value our service personnel, and I am sure that they do, but I beg the Minister again to consider with great care the new nostrums that are creeping into defence management. The preservation of service ethos is vital for us all.

Photo of Dari Taylor Dari Taylor Labour, Stockton South 6:49 pm, 20th October 1998

The Minister for the Armed Forces is not in the Chamber, but I warmly congratulate him. He will be vigorous in his role.

I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on producing a highly acclaimed strategic defence review, which has listened to the concerns and hopes for development of 7,000 people and organisations. That is a feat, but it is not the only one to be celebrated, because the review will also widen equal opportunities. I found the comments of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) contemptuous and others will also find them so. He talked about social engineering, but we are defining talent as the prerequisite for choosing people in the armed forces. Ministers must be congratulated also on strengthening the naval and air force reserves. Those are fine and timely moves.

Unfortunately, like others, I have serious concerns about the defence review which inevitably relate to the Territorial Army. I also have hopes because, when the Secretary of State came to the Select Committee on Defence, he said: The SDR will not downgrade the TA. I thought those words were important. Later in the summer, after the SDR had been published, the Secretary of State came to the House and said: Although its numbers will be trimmed … it— the TA— will be given a real heavyweight role"—[Official Report, 8 July 1998; Vol. 315, c. 1075.] I read those statements again and again because I wanted to understand exactly what they meant. Like other hon. Members, I looked forward to the announcement in the House.

I am confused and concerned about what the statements mean. My concern relates not to the Secretary of State but to the advisory backdrop of officials and experts who represent the TA's interests. I am sad to say that my concern extends to some who claim to be the friends and representatives of the TA. Their comments and the feeble value that they place on the TA undermine its important role. However, I believe the Secretary of State when he says that the TA will in future develop a heavyweight role, because the various talents of the volunteer body have great scope.

I visited many TA units in the north-east and asked them whether they had had an audit of the qualities, skills and talent that they offered. They had not, so I told them that I would conduct an audit because I wanted to know what the people did. I was astounded—perhaps others will not be—by the vast range of skills. There were chartered surveyors, linguists, pathologists, telecommunications engineers, chefs, computer operators, builders, bankers, and so on. That is a wealth of talent. The House knows that we could not afford to pay for that range of talent out of the public purse. Of course, we do not pay for it out of the public purse, yet we all benefit from it. We should not reduce that force, because it has a potential that is often under-used. Reconfiguration and restructuring of the force can only acknowledge the value of the people who make up the Territorial Army.

There are many who argue that the TA is not relevant to high-intensity warfare. That is not so. Hon. Members have spoken about Bosnia, where our TA reservists served alongside our regulars, rebuilding countries, rebuilding hope, being an adaptable force and showing their value. Surely when cases such as Bosnia arise, that is not the moment to start cherry picking and deciding who is relevant and who is not. The territorials are a force where all volunteers are welcome. That should be the stance for the future. We do not have sufficient numbers of regular soldiers or volunteers. We want more of both.

I am not an expert, unlike many hon. Members, but I have read the words of Colonel Puttnam, who said: Cutting those units that are the most usable and most versatile of all the volunteers, who have shown that they can adapt to different roles and learn new skills extremely quickly"— means that we could end up with units … with little opportunity to form operational roles as formed units … short of a general war. Surely we do not want that. I hope that the territorials will not be defined in such a limited way that the force of 7,000 once spoken of becomes the reality. The Secretary of State promised that the TA would have a heavyweight role. We know that it has a diversity of talent; I want that to be used.

I referred to my audit of the north-east TA units. My postbag tells me that there are many concerned people—families, men and women, youngsters and cadets—who all know that a cut of 12,000 could mean not only a cut in operations but a closure. I ask the Minister to reconsider that. There is a whisper in the corridor to the effect that he will add to the TA and thus cut less. Let us hear that in a statement—we are all waiting.

The men and women of the TA are proud to serve, and many would not question the fact that in doing so they could die. I hope that, when outlining the TA's heavyweight role and reconfiguration, the Minister will acknowledge that many have talents that we cannot afford and commitment that we cannot buy. When we conduct a risk assessment and talk of high-intensity warfare, we accept that today's concerns are not necessarily those that will instigate conflict in the many tomorrows to come. If we take those words as salutary statements about what the future may bring, I am sure that the heavyweight role that the Minister promised the TA will, in the 21st century, be a permanent and growing strategic role.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood 6:59 pm, 20th October 1998

Was I alone in detecting a certain bipartisanship across the Front Benches earlier this evening? The Minister for the Armed Forces prided himself on his athleticism and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) outdid him in gravitas, but they were united on one point—the subject is serious and merits at least 45 minutes. I shall try to be briefer and deal with only three central issues which are vital to the defence of this country.

One theme running through the review's many pages is the paramount importance of our armed forces personnel. As our armed forces get smaller, it is critical that our personnel be better trained. Earlier today, I had the privilege of visiting Royal Air Force Halton, formerly the apprentice training school of the service, which was founded by Lord Trenchard, who was the father of the Royal Air Force 80 years ago. It is now the school for recruit training. I shall quote some of Lord Trenchard's words which I am sure the House will find apposite. He said: When we originally formed the Air Force in those days we were told—and I want to emphasise this because of its bearing on the future—that we were spending all our money on bricks and mortar, and on ground staff and ground personnel. In fact, some of you … will remember that it was called 'the Ground Force' and I believe I was myself once described as 'GOC Ground Force'. That was because we put all the pressure we could on getting a sound foundation for training, in spite of the expense. Has this policy not justified itself? Is it not one of the main reasons why the Luftwaffe has been defeated? The whole work of the Air Force has shown what training is doing. But there is no getting away from the fact that it is expensive. There is nothing to show for it in peacetime, but in war-time there is just this difference to show for it—the difference between defeat and victory. We are training our armed forces to fight and to win. There should be no diminution in the training budget or the length of training courses. Indeed, the training of our armed forces should intensify as they diminish in size. The reserves should be augmented rather than reduced.

I am sure that sustainability will be the key in future operations. Our armed forces have been drawn down below the minimum safe level, and this is not something of which the Government should be proud. Although I am pleased that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force is to be expanded, I believe that it should comprise more flying personnel. There should be no question of putting at risk stations such as Royal Air Force Northolt in my constituency where 1 Maritime Headquarters Unit is based.

Equipment is also crucial: if our armed forces are small, they must be equipped with the very best. "Smart procurement" is the buzz phrase, but the practice is very different. The danger is that our drive towards European autarchy in defence procurement will lead to a protectionist procurement policy—a sort of fortress Europe. We see this in the agglomeration of European military industrial power, which has occurred to offset the challenge posed by the major American suppliers. Nevertheless, once that agglomeration has taken root, there will be a tendency to feed it—even though the products created may come into service later and may be more expensive than their American counterparts. We should be eclectic in defence procurement, with industry choosing the best partners for the job.

The late entry into service of the common new generation frigate, the potential problems that German policies have created for the Meteor consortium in respect of the RAF's beyond visual range air-to-air missile, and the hiatus regarding the multi-role armoured vehicle to which I alluded earlier are just three examples of problems experienced by our armed forces. For that reason, I think that the Royal Air Force was correct to choose an existing heavy-lift aircraft—the C17 from the United States—as the right one for the job.

Looking to the future, we must invest much more in research and development. If our armed forces are small, our research programme must ensure that there is no technology gap between ourselves and the major countries with which we might have to engage in combat. The technology gap between Europe and the United States is growing, and the defence review does nothing to offset it.

I shall address just one area: ballistic missile defence. This activity is virtually totally ignored in the strategic defence review, yet missiles could pose the most major threat to our country. Let us suppose that Russia had a rogue regime which was as bankrupt as the current regime. A rogue dictator could say, "Give us your money, or else". The threat comes not only from Russia. Although the Prime Minister visited China and found everything most agreeable, there is a rogue regime in that country. I do not think that the Prime Minister discussed Tibet when he was in Beijing. I do not think that he addressed the offensive military programme that exists in the People's Republic. China is developing ballistic missiles of intercontinental capability, and it tests its nuclear weapons.

The North Koreans test ballistic missiles weapons over Japan. The Chinese conducted missile tests when Taiwan was holding crucial elections. Iran is acquiring missile technology from China and from Russia. Iraq's nuclear and launcher programme is continuing, notwithstanding the efforts of the United Nations. Now that we have backed down in our confrontation with Iraq, Saddam Hussein will be even more confident. The awesome arms race on the subcontinent between India and Pakistan—both of which are clearly nuclear equipped and have nuclear delivery systems—is continuing. Pakistan gets the technology that it needs from China, and India acquires its technology from Russia. It is a most alarming situation.

Although we may not be concerned now, we face the danger of blackmail by proxy. For example, Libya might acquire from Iraq nuclear weapons and ballistic missile systems which could be targeted at our cities. Could we live happily with the prospect? Mr. Rumsfeld, the former United States Defence Secretary, submitted an excellent report to the United States Congress assessing the ballistic missile threat to his country. The report stated clearly that the threat exists not just for the United States, which is a continental power and perhaps further removed than most European countries from the potential launcher nations. The report pointed out that Europe is on the front line of the potential ballistic missile threat.

A theatre defence capability will be a step in the right direction. I know that technology programmes are progressing to some degree within the Ministry of Defence, but we need more than research. We must begin to develop systems that work, or we will face blackmail or intimidation. Deterrence as we knew it during the cold war no longer exists. There is no question of mutual assured destruction; no one wants to risk the incineration of our cities because of the actions of a rogue regime. We must put the protection in place now.

Photo of Mr Jamie Cann Mr Jamie Cann Labour, Ipswich 7:08 pm, 20th October 1998

As a member of the Defence Committee, I welcome both the review and its findings. I believe that it is incumbent on any incoming Government to review all policy areas and expenditure of moneys for which they are responsible.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Take your hands out of your pockets.

Photo of Mr Jamie Cann Mr Jamie Cann Labour, Ipswich

I shall take my hands out of my pockets if the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) wants—or perhaps I shall just put one in. I shall compromise, because that is what the Committee tried to do, in a bipartisan manner, throughout our discussions.

To continue what I was saying, it seems to me that, essentially, the Government got it right in the view that they reached and the way in which they reached that view. As a member of the Committee, I was impressed by the fact that the chief of every service obviously believed that they had been listened to, that their views had been taken into account and that a collegiate decision had been taken at the end of the process. If the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex permits me, I shall put one hand back in my pocket.

I was impressed by the fact that, for the first time since I became involved in national politics—although that was not long ago—a review of defence policy has been conducted whose sole purpose was not to take money from defence. The previous Government brought us "Options for Change", which was about stripping front-line units without reducing their liabilities, and "Front Line First", which stripped money from the support services without reducing the responsibilities that continued to be imposed on them. For the first time, we have a defence review that is actually about defence, not about grabbing money from the defence budget.

It has been suggested from the Opposition Benches that the carriers will not be part and parcel of what is proposed for the future—that the Government will renege on that commitment. [Interruption.] Goodbye, Mr. Soames. [Interruption.] I repeat, it has been put about that the Government might renege on the commitment on the carriers. In Committee, the First Sea Lord and others accepted that the carriers were central to the strategy. It is nonsense to say that those carriers will not be produced, because if they were not to be produced the strategy would be nonsense.

Photo of Mr Jamie Cann Mr Jamie Cann Labour, Ipswich

Exactly. Therefore, even Opposition Members should accept what the review has produced. It has produced two big new carriers; the updating of existing carriers to cover until 2012; the production of the assault ships HMS Ocean, HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion; the ability to place people on shore; and the ability to provide heavy lift to keep them supplied for as long as we wish. It will give us the ability to project power second only to that of the United States of America in the present-day world. I think that is wonderful, and I cannot understand why Opposition Members cavil at the strategic defence review, which has been supported on a bipartisan basis by our Committee.

I believe that the Government have done a tremendous job on the review, as have the services. I am only sorry that, at the last stage of preparing what should have been a bipartisan defence policy capable of lasting for the next 20 years, a few Opposition Members—presumably for political purposes only—have chosen to cavil at it.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate 7:13 pm, 20th October 1998

It gives me pleasure to follow my fellow member of the Select Committee on Defence, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann), and to recall that, yesterday, the Secretary of State commented that he regarded our report as admirable.

As the hon. Member for Ipswich said—and as the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), said yesterday—the report was unanimous. I remind the hon. Member for Ipswich what the Committee Chairman meant by unanimity. To achieve unanimity, it was sufficient to put a nice paragraph at the start and a nice paragraph at the end—but, in the 436 pages in between, put the boot in. I believe that careful reading of our Committee's report will show that it contains very serious criticisms of the strategic defence review. I hope that, if the Secretary of State regards the report as admirable, he will pay careful attention to what it says.

I was especially disturbed by comments made by the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) yesterday—and by the Committee Chairman when we took evidence from the Secretary of State after the review—congratulating the Secretary of State on his victory over the Treasury. If that is a victory, I hate to think what a defeat would look like. Under this defence review, £900 million has been taken from the defence budget. In addition, two weeks before the defence review was announced, the Secretary of State for Defence was mugged by the Chancellor when, in a meeting, he conceded an extra percentage point by increasing the efficiency savings target from 2 to 3 per cent. It sounds innocuous enough, but hon. Members should be aware that that amounts to removing £1.5 billion from the defence budget over the four years of the rolling efficiency programme. If I have time, I shall return to the subject of efficiency savings.

In general, however, the Committee welcomed the changes and proposals for the regular force structure, which build on the qualities of jointery and deployability mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). I sincerely hope that the commitment to the two aircraft carriers is honoured, and I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who cast doubt on the proposal to buy six ro-ro ferries. I believe that that is a very important part of ensuring that we have the ability to deploy our forces overseas. With two landing platform docks, I hope that the Minister will consider producing a second helicopter carrier, because it would give the future force of the Navy far greater sustainability to have two of each major platform.

There are, however, problems in the Navy. There was overstretch in the frigate and destroyer force with 35 frigates and destroyers; it escapes me how the problem of overstretch has diminished with 32. Despite the evidence that the Committee considered, I remain to be convinced that the Navy will not suffer greater overstretch and pressure on its people as a result of the cuts that it has suffered. We should not ignore the grievous cut to defence capability in the removal of two further nuclear-powered fleet submarines from the naval order of battle. They are very significant weapons platforms, and the reduction of 20 per cent.—from 12 to 10—is much to be regretted.

I shall talk for a short time about the Army, and especially about the proposals for the Royal Armoured Corps, of which I have some little experience. In his evidence to the Committee, the Chief of the General Staff said that the unsquaring of the brigades in Germany was the most difficult decision that he had had to take. We must watch carefully to ensure that the benefits that will come from that process through the training cycle—which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex mentioned—are realised, and that their readiness is sustained.

The lesson was learned that type 38 small armoured regiments were not sustainable as units, did not work well and were militarily and administratively unviable. Therefore, I especially welcome the return to six type 58 tank regiments. As we have learnt all those lessons in armoured regiments, the reason escapes me for our failure to translate those lessons with regard to armoured reconnaissance. I served as an armoured reconnaissance officer for more than 11 years. Hardly surprisingly, armoured reconnaissance has proved ideal for the operations in which our forces are deployed. It is light. It is armoured. It has sufficient firepower to make a difference in almost any operation in which it is likely to be deployed now. It also has the vital asset of being able to gather information on the ground wherever it goes. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that by June my regiment, the Light Dragoons, will have supported 11 squadron tours in Bosnia since 1992. I beg the Minister to listen to some of the consequences of that.

The regiment has an establishment of about 400. In the past four years, with some soldiers having completed five tours in Bosnia—most of the soldiers who have been in the regiment all of that time will have completed at least three—there have been 82 divorces in my regiment. Given the number of soldiers who are not married, that figure is staggering. That is the impact of not having enough armoured reconnaissance to deploy on such operations.

I was distressed to learn that the apparent good news that there would be four armoured reconnaissance regiments turned out to mean that, instead of three armoured reconnaissance regiments of four squadrons, we would have four armoured reconnaissance regiments of three squadrons, which leaves the operational output of the armoured reconnaissance squadrons unchanged at 12. I hope that the Minister will reconsider. That arm has fabulous utility for today's operations.

The Select Committee heard about the Royal Air Force's problems of overstretch when we went to visit RAF Bruggen. Supporting operational deployments in the Gulf and in Turkey has taken its toll on the fighting squadrons of the RAF, which must constantly roll pilots through a four-month deployment programme to the Gulf. Given the length of time that we will probably have to be deployed in the Gulf, it may be time for the Minister to consider permanent deployment—two-year tours—for pilots and support staff in the Gulf on accompanied tours, as we did in the 1950s and 1960s when we had a permanent presence in the Gulf. That would address many of the problems of instability and overstretch that the RAF is suffering.

On the reserve forces, the Government are making a strategic, political and administrative mistake in their proposals for the Territorial Army. The regular forces are focused on the day-to-day task of maintaining global stability. We are entering a period of strategic uncertainty. If we recall that 16 years ago, we had just recovered the Falkland Islands, it is clear that we can have no idea what the world will look like 16 years from now. By 2013, if the Government carry out their proposals for the TA, there will be 100,000 fewer mobilisable men and women who have military experience for us to call on. Given the size of the regular forces, it is a substantial cut to the strategic capability of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Alexander) spoke yesterday about the cut to the engineer squadron in his constituency. In my constituency, Reigate, the second troop of 127 field squadron of the Royal Engineers is also, I understand, scheduled to be lost—one of five engineer regiments, which are enormously useful for civilian and military work and which are to be lost from the order of battle of the Territorial Army.

I understand that the TA centre in Reigate is to be closed. With it goes an Army cadet force hut in my constituency. I hope the Minister realises that it will cost him £100,000 to replace each ACF hut. That is the evidence that we took from the south-east area Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association, and it represents a total of £15 million that the Minister will have to find for capital expenditure to keep the cadets in being. That does not allow for the fact that all the talent and enthusiasm of the volunteers who run the cadets will be lost.

Finally, I shall deal with efficiency savings and their consequences for people. The Minister should understand that what the Government are trying to do over the next four years in efficiency savings alone is "Front Line First" twice over. That was a huge programme of change inside the Ministry of Defence. The task set for the MOD is enormous. We are already hearing rumours of the LTC being £800 million short. The effect of those efficiency savings will impact on people and their quality of life and they have the potential to destroy the Minister's strategy for people, which he placed at the centre of his remarks today.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North 7:23 pm, 20th October 1998

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who has such an illustrious track record in defence studies. I did not have the pleasure of serving with him on the Defence Committee—I had to relinquish that post some 12 months ago. For the record and for the information of newer Members, perhaps I should record my positions.

I represent the House in the parliamentary assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and have done ever since being appointed in 1991, at its outset. I also represent the House as an elected delegate to the North Atlantic Assembly, on which I am the vice-chairman of the defence and security committee and the assembly's special rapporteur on the reform of the Russian armed services. My second interim report on that topic will be presented in Edinburgh. I therefore have some knowledge of defence matters.

The strategic defence review is a huge topic, to which one cannot do justice in 10 minutes. I must be selective, so I shall start with the reserve forces. Seven years ago, I was the author of the report on reserve forces to the North Atlantic Assembly. Much has been said about them already, which I shall not repeat. We know about the military needs and the social needs. In the north-east, many young men and, indeed, young women have been saved from anti-social behaviour by the opportunities presented by the programme of training, annual camp and so on. That would be a sorry loss to society, not only to military resource. Those young people are a source of recruitment and support for the cadet force.

I have to agree in part with the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) about levels. I do not want to descend into pointless argument setting region against region—north-east against north-west—about the imbalance in cuts. That does not make sense to me. The right hon. Gentleman is right to speak about levels.

The Minister of State today was kind enough to give us a pitch of 40,000 reservists. That is about 35 per cent. of the size of the regular force. I remain to be convinced that a 35 per cent. reserve force will be adequate, bearing in mind the demands that will be made of our forces by crisis management, peacekeeping, peace enforcement and so on, especially when nations have in their armouries weapons of mass destruction that can have an enormous impact on regular forces with very little warning.

I urge the Minister to think again. He has given us the idea that there is still some way to go, and that decisions have yet to be made. I say to him, "Please, for God's sake, think clearly when you do this, and do not saddle us with only a 35 per cent. reserve force."

The reserves are good at supporting the cadet forces. The Minister mentioned sea cadets. The sea cadets in Stockton are based on HMS Kellington, a counter-mines warfare vessel that is somewhat redundant and has been in the River Tees for well over 10 years—it is grounded on the bottom. It is kept in good order. A large sum of money has been spent over those 10 years. The vessel is in good nick, unlike other vessels that were lent out to sea cadet forces elsewhere in the country, which were not maintained to suitable standard.

Since the vessel was placed in its present position, well sited right in the centre of town, a source of pride in the community, we have built a bridge down river, the Princess Diana bridge. If the counter-mines vessel were moved, all the superstructure and probably the top half of the hull would have to be taken off it. Worse than that, further down is the Tees barrage, whose existence I successfully negotiated through the House, the first moves having been made by Lord Dormand in the other place. Even if it were possible to get the vessel under the bridge, it could not go through the lock because it is too broad in the beam. However, the Ministry of Defence wants it back. It says, "If you won't give us it back you will have to pay for it." We are willing to pay for it and we have offered the MOD 5,000 quid. If it does not get 5,000 quid, what will it do about it? It is mind boggling. It is the sort of thing that Michael Bentine made his reputation on.

I am appealing to the Minister of State[Interruption.] Joking aside, this is serious. I am appealing to my hon. Friend to come to my constituency. I am president of the sea cadet corps and I would love to take my hon. Friend up the gangplank to the tune of the bosun's pipe to visit the ship to see how well it is maintained. That is a serious request.

Time is limited and I am on five minutes, which means that I must move on. I agree with the plea for northern command made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley). It seems crazy that, with force strength of 10,500 in northern England and 2,500 in Scotland, we should want to move a two-star general up to Scotland. If 80 per cent. of the force is in northern England, that does not seem sensible to me, despite all the arguments about modern communications and the like, which cut both ways.

When I was in the Army, I liked nothing better than to see my top brass walking in my camp, giving me pride that they had an interest in me. That is a damned sight easier for a general to do at Catterick and the like than in Edinburgh. Let Scotland have its kilt-wearing colonel or whatever up there, but we want York.

The Minister was kind enough today to mention the Gulf veterans. That was a source of great reassurance to me. I commend him for his commitment, because it is long overdue. However, I must talk about another commitment which is also long overdue, and that is to the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association. For years, the association has been patted on the head by successive Governments and told by the National Radiological Protection Board that there was no link between the veterans' incredibly high incidence of disability in their offspring, as well as death, and the role that they performed in serving the Crown. I do not accept that. I think that the evidence is damning. It is about time that there was a proper review of it. I am asking my hon. Friend, not for the first time: "Let us have a review of the British nuclear test veterans' circumstances in the same way that there is to be a further review of the Gulf veterans."

My role in the North Atlantic Assembly demands that I mix with people from central Europe, eastern Europe and the Russian Federation in what we call Rose-Roth seminars. The purpose of these seminars is to acquaint officials, military people and politicians with the way in which western democracy works, with our procedures and with the form that they take. We seek to acquaint them with how to maintain civil control over a military establishment.

A form of multinational North Atlantic-NATO team conducts these inquiries, so the Brits are only part of the process. Our allies and the learners—the students—find it incredible that we have so little control over defence matters. We have five days of debate under the normal set-up in the House, if we are lucky. There are two days on the defence estimates, a debate that is taking place now under the strategic review. We have three single-force debates, if we are lucky. There is no comment about joint operations or joint services. Why we are treating the services singly when we are trying to put them together is another question in my head.

My appeal is that we approach our defence debates more sensibly in future and allow ourselves in the Chamber a measure of democracy that allows us to take a foot in decision making so that it is not a matter, at the end of tonight's debate, of taking the strategic review lock, stock and barrel. I ask that we be allowed to examine separate sections of it and make decisions.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party, Moray 7:34 pm, 20th October 1998

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), whose passion and knowledge on defence subjects is highly regarded throughout the House. I endorse everything that he has said, particularly about the nuclear test veterans. The campaign on their behalf has been going on for a long time and deserves recognition at this stage. It will be interesting to see whether there is a response.

I am conscious that I have only a short time to speak in the debate. I welcome the concept of a strategic review. Many people have told me, as a Member with many interests in defence matters, that it was all so much easier when there was an iron curtain, when we knew where the enemy was and where we were pointing our weapons. What was needed then was to work out a strategy. I agree with that. I am talking of people who may not be able to speak out publicly on these issues, but perhaps want Members such as me to make their view clear.

It is important that in this debate, which I have listened to and participated in yesterday and today, we remember that we are talking about a strategic review. It seems that many points have been directed to practical issues rather than strategic ones.

We must look towards the next century, and I believe that the points of conflict that will arise will be new. We can look back over the 20th century and analyse the history of that period, but it seems that in future the points of conflict will be new. Unfortunately, however as in the Balkans, some are redolent with history. There is uncertainty.

Having listened to some of the contributions to the debate, I find it worrying that many Members seem to feel that defence policy must be written in tablets of stone, never ever to be changed. It is important that we focus on rapid reaction and jointery, an awkward new word which has crept into the vocabulary of defence debates.

The interest stimulated by the review is in itself interesting. Not only defence personnel have written or spoken to me; people have contacted me from voluntary organisations and medical associations, for example. Various interest groups in employment, exporting and training have been involved. All those people have made links with us as Members to ensure that decisions made as a result of the review take full cognisance of society's attitude to it.

It is important that some people have argued against the development of, for example, the Western European Union and the common foreign and security policy. They are looking back as if all the maps of the world are still painted pink. This is where strategy comes in because I believe that all negotiations must be discussed with our partners within NATO, the European Union and other organisations. We should try to work forward into an area where we shall be talking about strategic peace reviews rather than strategic defence reviews.

It is rather sad that antagonistic comments were made about the European Union yesterday and, indeed, today. It seemed to many people that we were talking of a deadly plague that had to be avoided at all costs.

Like the hon. Member for Stockton, North, I do not believe that strategy is dependent on a few stylised debates in the House. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) made a rather sad jibe that was below his normal standard. My party mentioned to him yesterday that I would refer to him. Apart from the gross inaccuracy of what he said, I do not think it is right that we measure our concern for our defence personnel by always sitting on the green Benches.

Concern for our defence personnel and how our defence policy develops goes far beyond stylised debates in the House during which votes are rare and not all aspects of policy are investigated. As a constituency Member representing many defence personnel, I know that the issues involve the Benefits Agency, the Defence Housing Executive, education for children—a point I raised during the Minister's opening speech—war veterans, war widows, the voting rights of those posted abroad and the salaries of, for example, MAEops—major aeronautical engineer operators—who are critical in the maintenance of the RAF. All that fits into a general pattern of involvement. If we are to have committed men and women in our forces, we need not only occasional speeches but consistent communication with them and advocacy on their behalf in peace as well as when they are on alert or on duty.

Like other hon. Members, I want to talk about the Territorial Army, and I make no apology for doing so. The hon. Member for Stockton, North referred to kilts—and here am I, a woman wearing trousers. Perhaps I should have worn my kilt to keep him happy. But as a Member of Parliament from the highlands and the Grampian area, I am concerned about what is happening to the TA in Scotland.

Little reference has been made to the Royal Engineers, an important aspect of the TA, certainly in the north of Scotland. In my constituency, 236 Squadron is based at Kinloss, and 237 Squadron at Lossiemouth. During last year's flooding in my constituency, those squadrons did invaluable work. In my discussions with them, I met young unemployed people who had found a dignity in participating in the work of the Royal Engineers. Others who were employed found that being out and about with the TA one day a week with the acceptance of their employers was important in giving them a different attitude to life. Such activities have an important effect on the psyche of people involved with those organisations.

The Regular Army appears to want to increase the capability of the Royal Engineers, but that may take until 2002, so why on earth scrap two organisations with the best training capability north of the border? There will be no Royal Engineers north of the M62. Given the nature of our area and the sparsity of its population, communication between those organisations and civilians is vital, particularly at times of crisis but also when they are assisting generally within the community.

Great play has been made of the word "footprint", but it may be difficult for people to understand what that means. A footprint in an area of high population density is quite different from a footprint in an area of low population density. In the highlands and islands and the northern part of Scotland, it is important that the footprint should not become a paw print in the context of the arguments propounded by the strategic defence review.

We all accept that changes are necessary, but it is important to consider the geographical requirements. The Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association has said that the recommendations would take the TA in the north of Scotland back to the 1960s, dominated by the central belt, with little communication and few facilities for people to work within the TA and to travel to those organisations. I am conscious of the time. Those elements have already been made clear to the—

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead 7:44 pm, 20th October 1998

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), for whom I have a great deal of respect. I say that genuinely, not just because she has some fine distilleries in her constituency to which I hope to receive an invite one day.

I start by congratulating the Government on one of the most thorough examinations of defence policy carried out by any British Government. Ministers are right to say that other Governments have been impressed by its process, analysis and, I suspect, outcome.

The outcome gives rise to my first criticism. There has not been much saving in defence expenditure. With the cold war over, we could have expected more. The consensus was achieved by keeping defence spending at roughly the same level at which it was at before the review. As Professor Paul Rogers of Bradford university's school of peace studies told the Select Committee on Defence, of which I am a member: Some further modest cuts are envisaged, but the bottom line is that Britain will still be a major military player on the world stage, a role which is believed to give it international clout, but at the cost of maintaining a pretty hefty defence budget, at least by post-Cold War standards. We have the largest defence budget in Europe. Defence is an insurance policy, but the British taxpayer is paying the high cost premium.

The strategic defence review was thorough, but it was not comprehensive. Some areas of defence policy were not covered thoroughly enough. An example is nuclear weapons policy. I welcome whole-heartedly the announced reduction in warheads carried on Trident, but, as the Select Committee pointed out, the United Kingdom's strategic and sub-strategic nuclear policy needs clarification. That policy remains at best unconvincing, and at worst dangerous. We are prepared to use a nuclear bomb, not just on a non-nuclear country but on a nuclear one, in order, allegedly, to prevent a nuclear exchange. That is not a reassuring policy.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to Labour's manifesto commitment to retain Trident; but there was also a manifesto commitment, supported by 90 per cent. of the Labour party, to enter into international nuclear weapon disarmament negotiations. There is no sign of when that will be fulfilled. It is far too early to talk of the betrayal of that manifesto pledge, but Labour's policy makers should be aware that insistence upon maintaining nuclear weapons should not be in the next election manifesto if future international nuclear weapon disarmament negotiations are to be meaningful.

Another example of relatively closed thinking is the defence of the dependent territories. Are we to go to war on their behalf as if any challenge to them were an invasion of the United Kingdom itself? Is not that unwise as an indefinite future commitment? Long ago, the United Nations passed a resolution saying that all colonial powers should relinquish control over their foreign territories by 2000. All the dependent territories should go, in accordance with the UN resolution. That does not prohibit close relationships and security agreements freely entered into, but those should not be taken for granted on our part and the principle of completely ending colonialisation should be adhered to.

Another issue not properly covered by the review is the United Kingdom's place as one of the select five on the United Nations Security Council. The obvious sensible solution is for a joint European Union seat to replace ours and that of France. Instead of being viewed as a loss of prestige, that should be grasped as more realistic, and evidence of our co-operation in Europe, and may lessen the onus on our military.

The Defence Committee, notwithstanding its members' diversity of views, carried out an intensive inquiry into the SDR, and produced a report that is both extensive and constructive. I should like to highlight a few aspects. It does not welcome nuclear weapons, including those of the United Kingdom—I regard that as significant in comparison with previous Defence Committee reports—and recognises that appropriately targeted development aid improves security, and that there should be more of it. Good overseas aid is good for our security.

The report notes that, if the dependent territories are used as havens for gangsters or for money laundering, they should risk forfeiting their security guarantee from this country. It notes that there may be a peace dividend from Northern Ireland, should the peace agreement hold, and recognises that the United Kingdom—in the distant past, I should note—has not supported the United States in every military action that it has undertaken, and that it should not be presumed that it would do so in the future.

The report takes a strong position against racism and gender inequality in the armed forces. I hear rumours that there are to be new codes of conduct on racial and sexual harassment; I would welcome that, and, if those rumours are true, I ask that they be published.

Professor Paul Rogers, whom I quoted earlier, talked to the Defence Committee of moving away from "lidism"— keeping the lid on present circumstances—to plans for a more co-operative world which would ensure sustainable economic growth based on economic justice. That would give defence a much more inclusive aid and peacekeeping role. The real decision for security today is whether to fight to keep the present international status quo or to move to a changed world which would be more just and equal, and would have effective international institutions to prevent and resolve conflict fairly.

The status quo argument is highlighted in the SDR: The first requirement of our foreign and defence policy is to maintain and reinforce the present favourable security environment. But the reality is that we do not know for how long that environment will exist. Following recent turmoil, we cannot even be sure what the world economy will look like in the first few years of the new millennium.

The millennium is a good focus. To think that we will fight over the next 100 years for the present unsatisfactory state of the world is not enticing. Unless we act to make the world a fairer place, injustice, backed by arms profiteering, will make for a future world which bristles even more with mass destruction weaponry. That will inevitably price us out of effective security. International disarmament measures are better than arms races for our security. A hefty defence budget does not automatically make a country more secure.

The SDR also considered the changed world option, however. It states: The challenge is now to move from stability based on fear to stability based on the active management of these risks, seeking to prevent conflicts rather than suppress them. That is a security policy based on foreign policy. Although the SDR was supposed to have been foreign policy led, I am not sure that that was the case. The foreign policy baseline was never published, and its terms were discussed only vaguely.

In the context of justice, however, the ethical element of our foreign policy is vital. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on bringing that to the fore. It must be protected, enhanced and enshrined at the forefront of our defence policy. Although I suspect that a number of powerful figures in the Government, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence—even in Downing Street and the Foreign Office itself—and certainly in the arms trade, do not like the ethical dimension, have doubts about it, or are just plain cynical, it points us in the right direction to improve our future security. The ethical dimension needs to be built upon, in this country and internationally.

In many respects, the defence review is worthy, but it is certainly not the end of consideration of these issues if we are to achieve a more secure world.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot 7:54 pm, 20th October 1998

It is a great pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen). It is wonderful that old Labour is still preserved, if somewhat muted, and I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's speech was not cleared by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Nevertheless, it was a sincere speech—let us have more of them in the House.

The Secretary of State, who has just left the Chamber, said yesterday: Let me make it clear: we were building on success, not on failure."—[Official Report, 19 October 1998; Vol. 317, c. 970.] Conservative Members agree entirely. He was building on a policy of 18 years of Conservative Governments who were committed to strong defence in this country and who had to manage a difficult period of change following the end of the cold war—an end which was brought about, in part, by a determined Conservative stance on defence. It is important to recognise that.

One of the features of that success was the European fighter aircraft, which has, I am delighted to say, been renamed the Typhoon. A very fetching tie has been issued to mark the renaming, and I am proud to sport it tonight.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

The tie is pretty hideous, it has to be said.

I shall address a number of issues. First, I thank the Defence Committee—which, we all agree, has done a splendid job—for its comments on the future of 5 Airborne Brigade and the Aldershot garrison. The Minister will not be surprised that I refer him to paragraph 248 of the report, which relates to 5 Airborne Brigade and whether the new airmobile brigade will be located in Aldershot or Colchester. It states: We would urge the Government to weigh very carefully the balance between military and other factors in reaching its decision on where to base the Brigade, and to make the balance of these factors explicit when announcing its decision. Although my principal concern is for the implications for my constituency, I have also argued that the proposal to establish a new airmobile brigade based in East Anglia carries risks with it.

As currently organised, we have a highly deployable airborne capability, which is able to move at short notice and encompasses full airborne logistics support. According to the Defence Committee, the airmobile brigade's Apache attack helicopters will require a long logistics trail to support them. The Committee suggests that the first-line supporting establishment for a regiment including 16 attack helicopters is likely to consist of 220 vehicles, which would severely impair its ability to move at short notice.

The ability to move at speed provides the Government with a means to reinforce their political message to a potential enemy—the option of making a credible threat of action. That valuable benefit will be removed if rapid deployment is no longer possible.

Secondly, I, like many other hon. Members, wish to raise the issue of the Territorial Army. I had the pleasure of visiting 10 Battalion, Parachute Regiment, recently in the Aldershot constituency, and I was greatly impressed. The paras have a special appeal, not only for regulars, but for reservists. Hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that the regiment is over-subscribed—men travel to Aldershot from the far side of Essex, from Andover and from Portsmouth to take part in training.

That training provides not only fitness sessions or mortar training, but the essential link with the Regular Army. Above all, it provides men who are frequently called upon, even now, to fill gaps alongside the regulars, especially in Northern Ireland and in Bosnia, where they are deployed on S-type engagements, which are specifically designed to recruit TA personnel to fill front-line vacancies.

The TA para units are highly valued by 5 Airborne Brigade. They are the only reservists to train to the same standards as their regular colleagues. Those men made it clear to me that they fulfil an important function in today's Army, but they are concerned that in future the reserves will be limited to those with specialist skills. In times of emergency, a reserve force without infantry will not be sufficient to replace any casualties. Accordingly, the Government's policy threatens to expose the Army to a gaping hole left by the absence of infantry reserves.

As the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and others said yesterday, in many parts of the country the territorials are the only military manifestation. They provide the only contact between the civilian community and those responsible, in the final analysis, for defending our freedoms.

Thirdly, I remain deeply concerned about the Government's relentless chipping away at the special ethos of the services. Ten days ago, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending a marvellous concert given by the Cannock Chase Orpheus male voice choir in my previous constituency. It was accompanied by the central band of the Royal Air Force.

I understand that the band's membership is being reduced from 220 to 175. Regimental and service bands provide an important contribution to creating that essential ethos—an esprit de corps of pride in service and country—as well as representing the armed forces before a wider audience. How long will it be before the services have only token bands, or, dare I say, bands are replaced by jukeboxes? It is a serious matter, which has not been raised as much as it should have been in this debate.

The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen) mentioned museums. Military museums are an important link between the civil community and the armed forces, and provide a link with our history. They are vital, and I hope that the Army and other services will always find space to accommodate them.

On the question of ethos, I am delighted that the Government have announced that, from 1 November, serving personnel can walk about town in their military uniforms. Men in Aldershot have for a long time regretted losing that right. I would have mentioned the matter anyway, but the Government beat me to it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) mentioned the pursuit of politically correct policies in the armed forces. The men to whom I have spoken are not homophobic, but they are generally worried that a policy of open acceptance of homosexuality will damage service morale. Some ask me why their senior officers do not reflect their concerns. Although they have no doubt that their generals would lay down their lives for their country, they believe that they may be unwilling to imperil their pensions for their principles by speaking out.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

Perhaps the men the Minister sees are afraid to tell him. If we cannot discuss these matters openly in the House, it is a great shame. It is one of the men's concerns, and it should be taken into account.

My final point is on the future of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, which is based in my constituency and which my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) mentioned. Indeed, many hon. Members have DERA facilities in their constituencies. It is clear from this debate that there is a serious problem of morale throughout DERA, and that it arises from the Government's failure to decide about DERA's future. The Government are reducing the money for DERA year by year—I understand that this year it will be reduced by a further £56 million.

DERA feels that, if it is to keep ahead of the game, it must have the resources to enable it to invest in the future. If that money does not come from the Government, it must come from elsewhere, particularly industry. That presents DERA with a quandary. DERA at Farnborough has a relationship with the United States Government which it would not have if the United States Government felt that information would seep across to France and other parts of the continent.

We must retain DERA's central business of providing impartial advice to the Government. I urge the Government to fund it. If they privatise it, they must bring in private capital in a way that will not damage our relationship with the USA.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Savidge Mr Malcolm Savidge Labour, Aberdeen North 8:04 pm, 20th October 1998

I welcome the report. It is appropriate that we should have a strategic reappraisal based on foreign policy objectives in the light of the ending of the cold war. By contrast with the shadow Secretary of State's churlish remarks yesterday, I think that it is significant that intelligent, independent and well-informed people have welcomed the review. I refer to defence correspondents, academics and most of the military establishment.

I want to concentrate on one specific aspect of the report. A chapter is devoted to it, but, as the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said yesterday, it was decided that the matter should not be subjected to as rigorous a scrutiny as others. I am talking about the subject of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. Obviously, the subject cannot be looked at in isolation but must be seen in a broad context, including foreign and defence policy and the Government's manifesto objectives.

Nuclear weapons in Britain are regarded as being for deterrent purposes. Because of our agreements under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, that specifically means the deterrence of nuclear threats. I wish to discuss some of the possible nuclear threats that this country could face. They probably fall into four broad categories: first, global or large-scale nuclear war; secondly, a direct attack on us by another country; thirdly, nuclear terrorism; and, fourthly, our suffering from fallout from a nuclear conflict in which we were not directly involved. I shall discuss each of those threats in terms of the level of risk, the relevance of a deterrent and how we might reduce the risk. I shall take them in reverse order, recognising in all humility that many wars have been unpredicted and unpredictable.

First, let us look at the possibility of our being a third-party sufferer from a nuclear conflict in which we were not involved. Obviously, that risk becomes much greater if nuclear proliferation continues. We must seek to reduce that risk. It is particularly important to reduce the proliferation of fissile materials and of delivery systems. That may become increasingly difficult if the line between civil and military uses becomes blurred with, for example, the spreading of the civil nuclear industry and satellite rocket technology.

The sort of threat that we could face ranges from radiation and fallout to severe, large-scale climate change. Clearly, a nuclear deterrent can provide no protection from such a threat. Our best protection must be to seek to halt proliferation and, as a nuclear power, to play our part in that by participating seriously in multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

On the threat of nuclear terrorism, I remember more than a decade ago, during a general election, seeing Margaret Thatcher interviewed by Robin Day. She said that even if every other country gave up nuclear weapons, we would need to keep them in case a terrorist organisation got hold of them. We could then use our nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Her argument made no sense to me at the time, and it has made no sense to me since. The whole nature of terrorist organisations is that they do not have a sufficiently defined geographical location to enable us to use a nuclear deterrent to threaten some form of retaliation. The only way to reduce the terrible threat of nuclear terrorism is to try to control both the spread of fissile materials and delivery systems.

The third threat I mentioned was the threat of a direct national attack. That threat has changed massively in the past 50 years. With the growth of the European Union, it is inconceivable that we could be involved in direct conflict with any of our immediate European neighbours. Given our withdrawal from empire, the danger of direct conflict between Britain and other countries not involving our allies has been reduced.

It may be thought that the most likely reason for a country to attack us would be our perceived closeness to the United States—as a surrogate way of attacking that country. I suspect that the greatest deterrent to a country seeking to do that would be our membership of NATO and the likelihood that the United States would become involved either with its conventional or with its nuclear forces. However, this is the circumstance in which a nuclear deterrent could be relevant.

It would be difficult to sustain the view that our present levels or the proposed reduced levels provide a minimum credible deterrent relative to the likely strengths of most of the countries we are talking about, or to the possible level of damage that could be caused. Our best chances of reducing that threat must be to stop proliferation, and to ensure that a multilateral nuclear disarmament process takes place.

The final threat to which I referred was the possibility of global nuclear war. I am sure that we would all agree that that threat has greatly reduced since the ending of the cold war and the halting of the nuclear arms race, which was largely as a result of the initiatives of Mikhail Gorbachev[Interruption.]—as was recognised by the award to him of the Nobel peace prize and by intelligent members of the Conservative party. Unfortunately, that process seems to have lost impetus since Mr. Gorbachev fell from power. We cannot afford to be complacent.

If there were to be another arms race, the threat of global war could increase. Whether British nuclear weapons would significantly add to the deterrence against that threat is questionable. What is certain is that if the time comes when we get back into an arms race between super-powers or between groups of countries, the prospects for the survival of human civilisation could be gravely endangered. As we approach the new millennium, I contend that the greatest threat to the survival of our species for another full millennium is the use of weapons of mass destruction. For that very reason, our supreme moral imperative must be to try to reduce that threat.

The Prime Minister has recently spoken about a third way to solve problems. I suggest that there is a third way to deal with this particular problem, apart from the sterile talk about unilateralism and multilateralism. It is not a new third way: it was propounded by Mr. Gorbachev five years ago. We could take unilateral initiatives to achieve multilateral disarmament. This report provides a basis for doing that.

I am running out of time, so I shall not quote again the statement of the Secretary General of the United Nations that the Secretary of State quoted when he introduced the debate. The Secretary General thought that the cuts in nuclear weapons that we were making contributed significantly to the fulfilment of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We should take that path, and through a new initiative we should try to involve the smaller countries—India, Pakistan, Israel and others—and the larger countries, although that may be difficult given the present reactionary nature of Congress and the Duma. I am optimistic, because just last week the Russian Deputy Prime Minister said that he believed that, to solve its economic problems, Russia would have to endorse START 2 and START 3. As he is part of the communist group that has blocked such a move, his remarks are hopeful.

There may be a window of opportunity that will enable Britain to take a lead. Such an approach, together with test bans, verification, attempts to halt proliferation, the spread of nuclear weapon-free zones and the strengthening of the United Nations, will provide a basis for preventing wars and the causes of wars. The imagination that we used to bring peace to Northern Ireland could be used to try to bring peace to the world. As that amounts to nothing less than trying to ensure the survival of our species, there can be no greater cause to which to commit ourselves as we enter the new millennium.

Photo of Mr Martin Bell Mr Martin Bell Independent, Tatton 8:14 pm, 20th October 1998

I shall be extremely brief. I have made it my business to stay close to the military, especially the other ranks from which I came a long time ago. I have seen our armed services, especially the British Army, in action these past years in some dangerous places—war zones and elsewhere. I know that they are second to none, just as I am second to none in my admiration for them. I know the risks and the realities, and I know the insecurity that they have felt through successive defence reviews. I very much hope that we can resolve that this will be the last defence review in this Parliament and the next, because our serving men and women are due a period of stability in which to practise their dangerous craft.

This review is wide ranging and well thought out, and I welcome it. A few matters trouble me. I am troubled by the extent of the cuts in the Territorial Army. I am troubled by the effect on certain regions, including the north-west. I am troubled by the numbers. We were given a figure of 40,000, but that includes the 3,500 members of the Officers Training Corps, who are not deployable abroad.

Something else troubles me, too. Over 18 months, the finest minds in the Ministry of Defence—both civilian and military—have been concentrating on this review. I am beginning to think that something may have been slightly disregarded that is more important than any procurement programme, weapons system or order of battle, and that is the duty of care.

Where is the duty of care if the Association of RAF Wives, which helps to bind the RAF together, is wrapped up? Where is the duty of care in the high profile court martial cases, in which officers are held to a moral code that is more appropriate to the priesthood than to an officer corps? Where is the duty of care if a brave soldier commanding an Army Air Corps unit returns to an airfield in this country and is arrested by the RAF police in the most humiliating circumstances? Above all, where is the duty of care in a case now before the Ministry of Defence police—the Minister will know about it—in which a brave major in the Parachute regiment was arrested by that police service more than a year ago but has not been charged, while his career lies in ruins?

We are not living in a Kafkaesque totalitarian state: we are living in a free democracy. When I heard the Minister pay his compliments to the Ministry of Defence police, I wished that he would summon the chief constable and make him answerable for the actions and unjust procedures of his force.

As I understand it, senior soldiers have lately being going round the military academies outlining the doctrine of soldiers first. That is fine, and we applaud it, but let them practise what they preach. Let them and Ministers pay absolute attention to their duty of care and their obligation to the men and women who keep us free.

Photo of John Smith John Smith Labour, Vale of Glamorgan 8:17 pm, 20th October 1998

It is an honour to be called after the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), who speaks with great authority. I remember his memorable statement that we have the best little army in the world. I agree with that statement, and I would extend it slightly and say that we also have the best little air force and the best navy in the world.

I am perhaps one of the few hon. Members who owe a great personal debt of gratitude to our armed forces. I am one of the many thousands of young people who benefited at an early age from the opportunity of joining our fine services, and who were able to build a future. We were able to gain discipline, self-respect and self-confidence, which is hard for many young men and women to achieve. We should recognise more often that vital role that our armed services play.

It is also a pleasure to speak, albeit briefly, on the strategic defence review. It is a tribute to the defence team, and to the review itself, that the speeches have been curtailed: the fact that so many hon. Members on both sides of the House have wanted to participate must constitute a record in itself.

The Government should be congratulated on the review, which I consider to be one of the few genuine defence reviews that we have had since the war. I do not doubt that Ministers have wanted to conduct strategic defence reviews, but the fact is that, by and large, they have failed, and many of their good intentions have resulted in the worst possible outcomes. This, however, has been a genuine review: it has been bipartisan from day one.

I remind the House that Opposition Members—members of all parties, indeed—were invited to take part in genuine consultation last year. That consultation included not only all Members of Parliament but members of the armed forces, members of the public, trade unions and industrialists, on an open and transparent basis. That, I think, provided the review with a firm foundation.

That, incidentally, is why I think that there has been so much unnecessary hoo-hah about the absence of a foreign policy baseline. All hon. Members are fully aware of the policy baseline on which the review has been conducted.

That is largely because it was set up by the Secretary of State last September, but it is also because, if truth be known, we all agree on the fundamentals of that baseline. They are our commitment to defend this country; our commitment to defend our dependent territories; our commitment to NATO; and our commitment to our leading role internationally. We do indeed have the best forces in the world, and that allows us to have a role in the world that is perhaps greater than the role to which we would otherwise be entitled. That, surely, is a valuable asset, to which we should cling. We have other commitments: our commitment to the United Nations and our role in it, our membership of the Security Council and our commitment to a minimum nuclear deterrent.

I do not think that many hon. Members would disagree with what I have said. What we have is a genuine review, based on consensus and bipartisan in nature, which sets out to reconfigure the country's forces to enable it to meet its defence commitments.

It is a mistake to think that the present Government inherited circumstances in which we merely required a review. We did not merely require a review; we had to inherit the mess created by earlier Governments—the gaps in our forces that created the overstretch and lack of morale in our forces. During that period, there were real cuts of 30 per cent. The proportion of gross domestic product spent on defence was cut from 5.3 per cent. to 2.8 per cent., and there was a manpower cut from nearly 750,000 to 400,000. Gaps were created in our ability to meet our defence commitments in the world, which put unacceptable pressure on our brave service men and women.

Hon. Members have mentioned the virtual collapse of the medical support services, the absence of an acceptable ability for heavy lift to reach the front line, shortages in second-line logistics and support, and gaps of 5,000 in service establishments in the Army—gaps that were unacceptable and which put pressure on our service men and women. The strategic defence review has addressed those issues, and addressed them clearly.

I considered yesterday's speech by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) completely unacceptable. Unlike most Opposition speakers, he, in his desperation, uttered not a word of support for, or in recognition of, the value of the review to our service men and women and to the country. The review has, however, received the unanimous support of the Defence Council, private and public support from the Chiefs of Staff, widespread support from the public and—perhaps most important—support from the international community. I have the honour of representing the House on the NATO parliamentary assembly. I assure hon. Members that colleagues throughout the other NATO states have given due respect and recognition to the review, and have asked us how we managed to achieve what we did.

We have heard about the statements that have come from one end of the world: Russia. When an all-party delegation from the British-American parliamentary group visited the Pentagon recently, everyone asked how the British had managed to produce such a welcome document as the review. It was something that they had failed to do. I think that we should recognise that achievement. I do not think that Opposition Members should be so churlish; I think that they, too, should recognise the value of the review.

The review has been particularly valuable for the people of Wales. Confirmation of the Eurofighter project did not come from the previous Government, or, indeed, from the current Opposition. They were very slow in accepting that confirmation. The news will be welcome in Wales—especially at RAF St. Athan, which provides one of the most professional and expert on-site support services, and off-site aircraft engineering services, not just in this country but in the world. I consider that a real asset.

I welcome the announcement by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—at column 727 of the Official Report for 31 July 1998—about the future of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency as it relates to RAF St. Athan. Not only are the 4,000 military and civilian jobs on the camp secure for the future; the creation of DARA may well mean an expansion of activity in the area. That is good news not just for the military and for my constituency, but for the whole economy of south Wales.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) spoke of the value of the defence diversification agency, and the role that it could play, in partnership with private industry, in developing regional economies and a synergy between the private and public sectors. That already takes place at RAF St. Athan. It is a critical asset to the south Wales economy, which already enjoys the synergy provided by the British Airways maintenance plant at Cardiff international airport, the GEC engine plant and the avionics industry. In fact, it plays a critical role in the economy of south Wales.

The review is welcome, and hon. Members should appreciate it. As a Member—

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby 8:27 pm, 20th October 1998

I agreed with what the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) said at the beginning of his speech about the value of service in the armed forces. As for the rest, I must tell the House that I served under both Labour and Conservative Governments when I was in the Army, and, for all sorts of reasons, much preferred serving under a Conservative Government.

Julius Caesar wrote: "A soldier is not as other men, and when he thinks he is, he ceases to be their guardian." Not many people read Julius Caesar nowadays, and, regrettably, not many even know who he was. Sadly, not many people understand what he was talking about. Fifty-three years after the end of the second world war, it is obvious that there is a lack of experience and understanding of the armed forces.

The most worrying fact is that too many people, including some hon. Members, have forgotten the purpose of the armed forces: they are here for our defence. The first duty of government has always been the defence of the realm, and I submit that it remains so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) said yesterday, that includes our vital interests elsewhere.

Twice this century, in the lifetime of one Member of Parliament, and of my own father, who I am glad to say is still alive, this country has been grievously threatened. How are we treating our guardians? In every defence debate, Ministers praise the calibre of our soldiers, sailors and airmen. The Minister for the Armed Forces has just done so. I agree: I personally believe that they are indeed the best, or among the best, in the world. That usually gets a "Hear, hear". [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

Why is new Labour so keen on undermining what it says is so good? This debate gives us the opportunity to review a wide range of defence issues. I could have talked about the very real threats to this country, which are dismissed in the SDR; about the totally incredible aircraft carriers that are so crucial to future naval policy; about when our soldiers are to be brought home from Bosnia; or about the pressure from the Treasury on budgets.

Instead, I shall concentrate on the most important element of our defence. In its recent report on the review, the Select Committee said: The quality of the people is perhaps the defining characteristic of the UK's armed forces. The armed forces continue to attract people of very high calibre at all ranks, and parents continue to believe, as do their children, that service in the armed forces is an honourable profession.

The old-fashioned ethos of service is admired throughout the country. It is built on patriotism, common endeavour, shared experience and camaraderie, and it is often inexplicable to those who have not experienced it. If this country wants its guardians to be effective, it should not try to destroy what works so well.

I am not saying that the armed forces will not or should not change: they have evolved over centuries and will continue so to do. Technological changes are one reason why evolution has been essential. The cavalry now fit remarkably well into tanks and, as air cavalry, into helicopters.

As society has changed, the armed forces must inevitably change, because the personnel do not live in a vacuum but are a part of society; but that does not mean that they should slavishly reflect society, as that is not their purpose and I doubt whether there are many people who would want their soldiers to reflect some of the worst attributes of modern life. People want soldiers, sailors and airmen to defend them.

It is my very real fear that the Government's determination that the armed forces should "reflect society" and "modernise" will undermine our services and destroy their efficiency. The outstanding qualities of what are possibly the best armed forces in the world may be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.

The armed forces are accused of being elitist. That should not be an accusation but a source of pride, and I believe that it is true in many ways. I was proud to be part of two elite regiments. I am delighted if regiments, fast jet pilots, the Royal Marines and the Navy are considered elites. Sadly, it appears that there is something wrong with being an elite in new Labour Britain. Anything that is elite must be brought down to the lowest common denominator, until perhaps our armed forces will resemble nothing so much as a particularly unpleasant bunch of football hooligans.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

We will have a chance to hear the hon. Gentleman's pearls of wisdom later. If they are up to his normal standard, I do not expect that many of us will stay awake.

The armed forces are accused of being a bastion of privilege. I spent 15 years in the armed forces, and I can assure hon. Members that it was not a privilege to be paid as I was. Last year, the Secretary of State attacked the fact that there was a disproportionate number of public school officers in the Army. That may be true; I have no idea, because I have not counted them. The Under-Secretary of State, or perhaps the Prime Minister, could have been such a public school officer. I suspect, too, that there may be a disproportionate number of Oxbridge officers in the armed forces: again, the Under-Secretary of State, or the Prime Minister, could have been such officers.

It should not be a matter of shame that people of quality, in open competition, join the armed forces. There is a wide variety of all types of people at all ranks in the armed forces, and there always has been. We want quality, and currently we get it. If we discriminate, as the Secretary of State suggested, against public school education, it will reveal more about envy and the nature of new Labour than about anything else. I believe that H. Jones was an Etonian. Would he have been awarded the Victoria Cross by this Government for dying in battle? I have no idea.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

It was the Secretary of State, not I, who raised the question.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

Perhaps, when he gets the chance to speak, the hon. Gentleman will illuminate me about what was disgraceful about that.

There are excellent service men and women, and indeed senior officers, of all backgrounds, and we recruit throughout society, but the armed forces demand certain standards. Those standards, which have been praised to the rooftops today, include not only education but old-fashioned values that are perhaps more evident in some schools than in others—not solely public schools, I hasten to add.

The Minister for the Armed Forces spoke about the employment of women in the armed forces, and the question exercises many Labour Members. I would have thought that it was self-evident that women are physiologically different from men, and usually less strong. That is not in any way damning, but it is true. I am glad to say that women are generally temperamentally different from men, and less aggressive, but in some parts of the armed forces physical strength and aggression are of the utmost importance, and it is ludicrous to deny it.

I welcome women in many parts of the armed forces. In the second world war, and all other recent wars, women have filled many roles extremely well and have been of the utmost importance in the war effort, but I and many others do not want women to be in fighting units with bayonets fixed. Killing and being killed—that is why one fixes a bayonet—is, I consider, an unsuitable role for women.

The Government have opened up the artillery to women. Anyone who has ever carried artillery ammunition will know what a grave error that may prove to be. A few years ago, a warrant officer in charge of a workshop in Bosnia said that he was happy to have women in his team, but that, unfortunately, whenever it came to taking a power pack—an engine—out of a Warrior, the men had to do it because the women were simply not strong enough. I similarly recall a naval officer saying that women were very good at reading radar but that when it came to realistic exercises and dragging injured comrades out of damaged areas they were generally simply not strong enough.

A female Tornado pilot has recently gone on maternity leave. I am absolutely delighted for her and her husband, and I am sure that she is an excellent pilot, but perhaps the Minister can explain what happens if we go to war—which is what we have Tornados for—and several pilots are on maternity leave? Other leave gets cancelled, but the imminent arrival of a baby is not quite the same.

Much of the politically correct assault on the ethos of the armed forces is motivated by dislike of the old-fashioned, traditional nature of the services and is not welcomed by armed forces personnel. Those old-fashioned values are admired by people in other countries and are partly responsible for the effectiveness of our armed forces.

The Government talk of modern forces for the modern world, and nobody wants antiquated forces—do we have them in Bosnia; did we have them in the Falklands?—but modernisation is desirable only where it is necessary. Many of the personnel policies may harm—

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre 8:38 pm, 20th October 1998

It is a real pleasure to take part in this debate, which has been interesting and important. I say with real sadness that I am sorry to follow the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who did his best to give us a caricature of the armed forces that could only play into the hands of those who are opposed to them. He used this precious opportunity to debate one of the most important aspects of the Government's and the country's policy to parade a host of simple prejudices. Having said that, I think that the contributions from hon. Members from both sides of the House have been excellent, thoughtful and knowledgeable. The House clearly contains hon. Members with tremendous direct experience of the armed forces as well as those with long experience of Committees that have made important decisions on the armed forces.

I have to confess that I have never had any desire whatever to join the armed forces or any uniformed organisation. I do not believe that that is a matter for shame: it is perfectly acceptable. I am aware that I, in common with many other people, am a member of the first generation this century which has not had to fight in France. I am grateful to the women and the men of our armed forces who have kept me safe, and I assure the House that I have an extreme personal interest in maintaining that situation.

I welcome the strategic defence review. It is an excellent document which seems to line defence policy up, albeit implicitly, with foreign policy, and to make some important points about the future and set a clear direction. I am also prompted to say that by the views of constituents, many of whom have great experience of the armed forces, including serving personnel. Many of those people, I would guess, are not inveterate Labour supporters, but they have told me in recent weeks that they regard the SDR as a serious piece of work that sets out a coherent vision for the armed forces of the future. I might say that they did not feel the same about other reviews in recent years. The review reflects a world situation that differs in many ways from that of the recent past, and is perhaps now more threatening. The changed world situation will require a new approach.

My particular constituency interest is in the TA, which will need to develop new and special skills; to be highly responsive and extremely flexible; to integrate further with the Regular Army; to go into action at short notice; and to develop a capacity for joint operations. I am sure that the TA can do all that. Conservative Members have expressed qualms about the TA being set challenging efficiency targets, but they seem fine to me. All public services should be set challenging efficiency targets and be able to justify what they do.

Yesterday, Conservative Members expressed qualms about selective compulsory call-up. I welcome that, because it is important if we are to involve properly skilled people in the TA who are ready at the drop of a hat to serve in difficult situations. Business should support that and be willing to allow staff to serve, because the partnership with the TA gives much back to business. We have also heard qualms expressed about equal opportunities, but I profoundly believe that all people should have the opportunity to serve their country to the best of their ability.

I am hopelessly biased in favour of Lancaster, but I believe that what happens to the TA in Lancaster has important implications for defence policy. However, the fact that I think that Lancaster is the finest city in the land does not mean that I am so arrogant as to think that other areas do not have important links with the TA. In Lancaster, we have the headquarters of the 4th Battalion, King's Own Royal Border Regiment and a detachment of 208 Field Hospital. I do not want to get bogged down in history, because this debate is about the future, but it is important to say that the King's Own was formed in 1680 and has a proud and distinguished record. The regimental museum is in Lancaster and the people there have family traditions connected with the regiment. Commitments to the armed forces in Lancaster have been carried down through generations. The King's Own, the TA and the armed forces are respected and have a valued place in the city of Lancaster. That commitment is felt by business, by local authorities and by me.

I am disturbed by the prospect that UK Land Command may move to Scotland. Although it is based in York, which causes us problems in Lancaster, it has significance for the north of England. Indeed, I remind hon. Members that 39 per cent. of the armed forces are recruited from that area. We have an excellent recruiting ground in Lancaster. The King's Own has 175 part-time soldiers, but it is also good at recruiting to the Regular Army, especially to Signals and Engineers. The King's Own has excellent links with the Regular Army and 10 soldiers recently served with distinction in Bosnia as part of a peace support operation. Several more are now serving as regulars and I am proud that people from the city that I am privileged to represent have played an important role in peacekeeping in the dreadful situation in Bosnia.

As I have said, we also have a detachment of 208 Field Hospital and we have heard that the Government are keen on more resources for Army medical facilities. We have modern facilities, an up-to-date barracks and an excellent Army cadet force, which trains and supports young people interested in a career in the Regular Army. We also have good links with the university Officer Training Corps. I would be perturbed if Lancaster did not have a big part to play in supporting the future defence objectives of the TA, because the community understands the role that it performs.

Lancaster is at the heart of the north-west region and we have excellent communication links. We work well together with other companies and the detachment of the King's Own in Cumbria. I do not make a plea for no change, because I am convinced that the exceptional people in Lancaster and in the armed forces will face up to change and deal well with whatever it brings. The armed forces based in Lancaster that I have mentioned have a positive role to play in the Army in the north-west and in the highly skilled, responsive Territorial Army of the future.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester 8:47 pm, 20th October 1998

The garrison in my constituency is one of the largest in Britain. The service personnel, their families and civilian employees total nearly 10,000 people. I therefore welcome the Government's commitment in the strategic defence review—and, in fairness, the commitment of the previous Government—to maintaining the importance of the Army in Colchester. I especially welcome the earlier decision to build three new barracks. While I remain opposed in principle to the use of the private finance initiative in funding the defence of the realm, I appreciate the capital development of several hundred million pounds in the coming years. I hope that the Minister can tell us tonight when he expects to make a further announcement about the new development at Colchester garrison, but an acknowledgement that it will proceed will suffice.

We have heard a great deal about the future of the Territorial Army. I urge the Government to think again on their TA proposals for the reasons that have been given on both sides of the House. In particular, will the Minister guarantee that the Colchester TA centre—a purpose-built complex within the garrison estate—will not be closed as part of TA restructuring?

When he considers the ramifications of the strategic review, and to provide a genuine value-for-money review, will the Minister reconsider the previous Government's proposal to transfer the internationally famous Defence Clothing and Textiles Agency from its established research and development premises in Colchester to a remote place in Oxfordshire? Does the Ministry of Defence consult other Departments before it makes decisions? Do the pronouncements of the Deputy Prime Minister about developing recycled land and buildings rather than green-field sites apply to MOD property?

The future of the cadets seems to be non-existent in the strategic defence review. I should welcome a statement on that from the Minister.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

It is humbug for the Government to say that they are sustaining the cadets while admitting that they are cutting the Territorial Army. In TA depots such as the one in Haslucks Green road in my constituency, the cadets are absolutely dependent on the TA for a place in which to parade and in which there is a secure armoury, a miniature range and transportation. If the TA centre goes, the cadets will have nowhere to meet.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The same point has been made by speakers on both sides of the House. TA and cadet premises are often one and the same, although that is not quite so in Colchester where there are three separate units for army, air and sea cadets. If the Government are committed to the future of the cadet forces, why have they cut the cadet budget, and how does that square with the wishes of the Home Secretary to tackle juvenile crime and of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to see young people pursuing constructive activities?

The Minister will know that Colchester is home to 24 Airmobile brigade. The strategic defence review envisages a new and exciting role for that brigade and for the Parachute Regiment. Can the Minister assure us that operational reasons alone will determine whether the Paras move to Colchester? He should not be deflected by behind-the-scenes manoeuvres from those who, for supposedly sentimental reasons, want the Paras to remain at Aldershot.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South 8:51 pm, 20th October 1998

I want to make two constituency points and one more general point. However, let me first welcome the strategic defence review, which is the culmination of a long process. I worked at Labour party headquarters during the 1980s on defence, disarmament and international policy. I am pleased to say that I was secretary of the policy review group when Labour changed its policy in 1989. Throughout the 1980s, we called for a defence diversification agency and it is good to have a Government committed to introducing something along those lines. We had a long-standing commitment to a comprehensive defence review that would be driven by foreign policy, but that would take account of the needs and capabilities required for effective security for our country. I am proud that a Labour Government are doing that, too. A look at the needs of the UK and of our allies in the modern world after the cold war was long overdue. We have greater commitments now to humanitarian work, to the United Nations and to a role in peacekeeping or even, if necessary, peace enforcement throughout the world. The review is very welcome.

It is clear from the debate that there is a continuing commitment to the Bowman programme for future radio communications for the British Army. I am disappointed by the decision to award that contract to the Racal Thomson consortium rather than to the British Aerospace consortium, in which I declare a constituency interest. If the Archer programme goes ahead, I hope that the Army can have the investment and communications system that it needs for the future. The former First Sea Lord was quoted in the Financial Times of 7 October warning of the potential dangers of the United States getting so far ahead with digitisation that its European NATO allies would be unable to compete technologically. I hope that the decision to place the Bowman local area system with a French company will not mean that the UK does not receive full technology transfer. Britain must be at the forefront of the new technologies that will be essential to the future security of our country and of our European allies.

On my second constituency-related point, I was pleased to hear the Minister of State offer firm support for the cadet movement. There is a Territorial Army in Gordon Fields in the middle of my constituency. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) is not here, but he will, I hope, read my remarks. Many black and Asian young men and women attend the cadets and take part in their activities. They are involved in the TA. I hope that those black and Asian men and women will feel able to go into our armed forces, and that some will achieve senior positions, including positions of command. The misogynists on the Conservative Benches may not like that, but the future requires armed forces that reflect our society.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

No, I do not have time.

The review rightly says a lot about NATO and arms control. It includes a commitment that would not have come from the previous Government about the global importance of nuclear-free zones, along with a helpful map. It also gives helpful negative security assurances. The review mentions the importance of the work in Kosovo of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Clearly, we must make an important distinction between hard security based on NATO and softer security organisations such as OSCE. NATO should not become like OSCE. We need a firm, hard defence and security organisation in Europe, and that is why NATO must continue without becoming some weaker, generalist organisation on the OSCE model.

I am disappointed that the review and the accompanying essays contain not much discussion about the Western European Union and the European security and defence identity. Those issues are relevant for the future because in 1999 NATO will be developing a new strategic concept. We shall have to consider them. It may be that it was felt that such discussion lies in the future because there are still discussions among the allies. I am prepared to accept that, but the issues will not go away.

There is a move from some European Union countries to change the EU into a defence organisation. That would be a profound mistake. We must ensure that NATO remains the firm defence organisation, that the European Union deals with non-military aspects of security, and that the Western European Union acts as a bridge to take on the Petersberg tasks, such as peacekeeping, in the European context. It is dangerous to weaken our firm security foundations in the interests of allowing enlargement to anyone who wishes to join. I know that my Front-Bench colleagues agree, but it is not spelled out in the document. I am sure that it will be in future.

Paragraph 13 in supporting essay 6 refers to coalitions of the willing. Until we have a stronger United Nations—something that is very necessary—we shall always be dependent on ad hoc coalitions within NATO, the WEU or another mechanism. That is not entirely satisfactory because it leaves us open to the difficulties that we had in the Balkans.

We need to think long term—20, 30 or 40 years ahead—and build a strong international security architecture. That means a stronger United Nations, and giving the commitment and resources to achieve it, otherwise we shall always be too late and too slow; it will be politically difficult to do what is necessary. Until then, it is essential to continue our commitment to work with our allies in NATO, the WEU, the EU and elsewhere.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. It will not have escaped the attention of hon. Members that, if speeches were nearer five minutes than 10, more satisfaction could be afforded than would otherwise be the case.

9 pm

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

I shall not seek to follow the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), except to say that I agree with many of his later remarks.

In their manifesto, the Government promised to undertake a foreign-policy-led review to reassess our security and defence needs. Like so many of their pre-election promises, I regret that this one appears not to have been kept. The failure to publish the foreign policy baselines means that it is impossible for the House to assess whether the Government are seeking to match our military capability to our foreign policy commitments or are being dictated to by the Treasury.

I do not believe that this can honestly be called a review. In a review, one determines whether too much or too little money is being spent and takes appropriate action. Again, the Government have misused the English language. Instead of reviewing defence expenditure, they made it clear at the outset that, at best, defence expenditure would not increase. The acronym SDR is a misnomer. I prefer my own: LEMON, or less money on the Navy. While not a penny piece has been allocated to the two new aircraft carriers, the cuts to escorts and mine counter-measure vessels are real.

I congratulate the Government on one thing: the brilliant smoke-and-mirrors exercise of their original presentation. When I visited the royal naval air station at Yeovilton on 18 July, I met several serving officers with whom I had joined the Navy many years ago. They were delighted with the SDR. They had been promised two large aircraft carriers. I must admit that I felt a little churlish for deflating their somewhat naive expectations. I pointed out that the in-service date was 2012 and that no money had been put aside in the MOD's long-term costings. I prophesied—I hope that I am proved wrong—that, under a Labour Government, we should be lucky if even one large carrier was built. If those officers had known, as we know now, that the Government were considering extending the life of the three small Invincible class carriers by putting them out to tender for extension-of-life refits to 2022, the Labour Government's potential for duplicity would have been clear to all.

It is clear from the SDR that frigate and destroyer numbers will be reduced by nearly 10 per cent. I believe that the previous Government's cuts went far too far, and I said so at the time.

If one allows for the time spent in refits—although that has been reduced in latter years—the time spent on docking and essential defects, self-maintenance periods and the time spent on passage and other commitments, there will not be enough escorts to protect two aircraft carriers concurrently operating in different oceans. Yet that is one of the promises in the SDR. The Government should do what the previous Government would not do. Rather than paying ships off, they should put them into reserve and get industry to design command and control, propulsion and defence systems that are modular in nature so that the hulls can be recommissioned and the modern systems put into those hulls at short notice if a crisis looms.

The review heralds a change from open ocean warfare to near-coast or littoral operations. The SDR states that shallow water operations in United Kingdom waters are of declining importance. While I accept that there will be more near-coast operations, to neglect UK shallow water operations is a mistake.

The old Soviet Union—most people do not seem to know this—sold tens of thousands of ground and buoyed mines to nations run by dictators whose views are inimical to ours. Those mines are easily deployed by fishing or merchant vessels, by submarine or even by air. All the likely flashpoints around the world—the Arabian gulf, the Adriatic, and the Spratley islands—and most of the strategic maritime waypoints are in water that can be easily mined.

I am surprised that the blackmail of maritime mine warfare has not been used so far, but I think that that position is unlikely to continue. So to cut the number of mine counter-measure vessels is wrong. We should be building more. The Government should reverse the previous Government's mistaken policy of frittering away the Royal Naval Reserve by using it to make up the complement of major warships. Instead, they should continue to use it in its specialised mine counter-measure role and re-equip it with small mine-hunting vessels capable of being airlifted in the largest heavy-lift aircraft to potential trouble spots that would otherwise be weeks away by sea.

Still on the SDR but at a tangent to it, may I ask the Secretary of State when he comes to read Hansard to consider a suggestion of mine? What do we know about Russia? We know that it is in dire need of generous financial assistance. It is in our interest to provide such assistance. We fear that terrorists may get access to Russian nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. So why does not the international community negotiate to purchase as many of Russia's weapons of mass destruction as we can and arrange for them to be destroyed, possibly on Russian soil? I recognise that considerable work has been done on the strategic arms reduction talks and other treaty discussions, but the process is slow and fails to get to the heart of the problem, which is that, in an anarchic state, which Russia is today, everything is for sale and an unpaid Russian military may decide to sell weapons to the highest bidder.

I understand your request to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so with those remarks, I conclude my speech.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North 9:08 pm, 20th October 1998

I shall be brief, as I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I wish to raise two points, but first I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues on the report. It is remarkable how universally the broad thrust of the recommendations has been welcomed.

I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) about the impact of changes to the Territorial Army in the north-west, especially in my constituency. In Bury, North we have C company of the 4th Battalion of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, which consists of 100 men and women. It has strong connections with the former Lancashire Fusiliers. If the unit were to go following the SDR, it would bring to an end a 100-year link between the Lancashire Fusiliers and Bury. The Fusiliers have a distinguished reputation and fought in most of the major battles at the end of the last century and throughout this century. I would fight strongly to retain that link and the present TA unit in Bury.

I endorse the comments of other hon. Members who have drawn attention to the importance of the TA not only for the skills that it develops in the men and women who join but for the wider benefits that it brings to the local community. The TA in Bury is strongly linked to wider community activities.

There are two particular reasons for wanting to make a special case for my TA unit. Although it is only one of 55 units in the north-west, within the Queen's Lancashire Regiment area the TA unit in Bury is responsible for 25 per cent. of recruitment. Its recruitment record is outstanding. As successive hon. Members have commented, recruitment will be a continuing issue for the armed forces.

The location of the TA is crucial. The TA in Bury meets in the drill hall, which is called the castle armoury. The castle armoury is an important listed building which is over 100 years old. It also houses the area headquarters of the Air Training Corps and the Army Cadet Force. I believe that the castle armoury is unique in that it is not owned by the MOD. The argument that there are capital receipts to be obtained by closing down some TA centres does not apply in this case. It is owned by a board of trustees which is bound to manage the building on behalf of the people of Bury. If the MOD revenue funds were pulled out, it would be in dire straits.

The castle armoury is the subject of an exciting development plan that would involve moving the current Fusiliers' regimental museum from its present inadequate headquarters into the castle armoury. It is located in the centre of the town, which makes it strategically important in developing the attraction of the museum for local schools and visitors. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at the impact that the changes to the TA will have on the unit of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment in Bury.

My next point follows the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) about weapons of mass destruction. I welcome the fact that the SDR makes changes to the deployment of Trident. It reduces the number of warheads and brings about a new transparency in our policy towards fissile material, but there are other beneficial changes which could be made to the deployment of Trident. We have not quite adjusted to the post-cold war era. It was interesting that, in his opening remarks, my hon. Friend the Minister justified the reduction in TA numbers by saying that we had to move away from the cold war era and that the present numbers of the TA, representing 50 per cent. of the total armed forces, were excessive. However, I am not sure that we have extended that analogy to the deployment of Trident.

Weapons of mass destruction are sensitive, and things cannot move too quickly. The Government have supported important changes including the nonproliferation treaty and the comprehensive test ban treaty, which are steps in the right direction. We desperately need a fissile material cut-off treaty and I hope that the Government will direct their attention to that in the near future.

The most important point is this: our dilemma over weapons of mass destruction is that we must view them as either an unfortunate legacy or a necessary evil. The logic of seeing them as a necessary evil is that every other nation in the European Union and, arguably, every other nation in the world, would be more secure with them. I challenge every Opposition Member to argue that the world is a safer place because India and Pakistan now have nuclear weapons. My constituents who have friends and family in Kashmir do not feel safer because of the nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan.

We have to think through the logic of the argument and accept that, if we were designing from scratch a strategic defence policy for Britain, at this point in history it is highly unlikely that we would choose Trident as the main plank of our defence because it does not match up to the defence commitments that we are likely to face. The thrust of the SDR points to the importance of rapid deployment forces in small-scale regional conflicts in different parts of the world where Trident is useless. It was of no use in the Falklands, the Gulf war or Bosnia, and it is certainly of no use in Kosovo.

I strongly congratulate the Government on the progress achieved, but I hope that they will remember the second part of the Labour manifesto commitment, which was not simply to maintain Trident but continuously to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 9:15 pm, 20th October 1998

How refreshing it is to follow someone like the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor). At the end of his remarks we saw a glimpse of good old Labour, behind which lies a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament history. An hon. Friend made the comment that the hon. Gentleman's local Territorial Army regiment, the QLR, is known in the Army as "the Queen's last resort" or even "Quick let's run"

There are two curious aspects to the debate. First, every Member who has spoken has given a passionate defence of his local Territorial Army regiment. One could almost argue that the two-day debate has primarily been about the Territorial Army. Each hon. Member has then said how fine is the SDR overall, ignoring the fact that it includes a reduction in the TA from 59,000 soldiers to 49,000, or 37,000 if we remove the Officer Training Corps, whose members cannot serve overseas. Those two points do not add up. One cannot preserve one's home Territorial Army regiment while saying broadly that the SDR has got it right.

The second conundrum about the debate is that almost every Labour Member has gone to great lengths to say that the defence chiefs have supported the SDR throughout. They would, wouldn't they? It would be surprising if Ministers said, "We hereby present the SDR, and the defence chiefs don't agree with us." Defence chiefs are unlikely to want to disagree with a new Labour Government. They will be nice to their bosses in ministerial offices and are unlikely to voice their criticisms in public or in private. However, I have heard one or two defence chiefs mumbling into their drink at service dinners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Into their drink?"] Into their non-alcoholic drink, of course.

I take those remarks by Labour Members with a pinch of salt. The defence chiefs who have said that they are most in favour of the SDR are those from the Regular Army. Again, they would, wouldn't they? The Regular Army has done very well under the SDR. What have the bosses of the Territorial Army had to say about it? Have they been as fulsome in their praise of the SDR? I suspect that they have not, not least because the senior Territorial Army officer in the MOD is a brigadier, who is badly outranked by all the Regular Army officers who have been arguing their case. That is the second puzzle of the SDR.

There are good parts of the SDR, and most of my hon. Friends have gone to great lengths to point out that there is much to be said in its favour. The only strange point is that most of the good parts are built solidly on the principles laid down by the previous Government. The Government are building on Conservative principles.

It may be instructive to consider one little town in my constituency that encapsulates the good and bad parts of the SDR. Forty-two per cent. of Corsham is dependent on defence and almost every aspect of defence is represented there. It is the home of 2 (Signals) Brigade, 66 per cent. of which is made up of Territorial Army soldiers. I suspect that they will probably survive under the SDR because they are specialist signallers.

Corsham is the home of the Defence Communications Services Agency, which was set up to handle communications and information technology for all three services. Jointery is one of the best points to come out of the SDR, and the DCSA is one of the best examples of that. I challenge the Government to go one step further. The DCSA is housed in 1944 underground bunkers, which are not proof against nuclear war or any other major attack. If we are to give all service communications to one organisation in Corsham—I welcome the fact that we are—the Government must finance the rebuilding which is needed urgently. Corsham is also the home of Leafield Engineering, which makes one of the components essential to the construction of the Raytheon short air-to-air missile for the Eurofighter. I challenge the Government to put their money where their mouth is and stick with the best product available at the best price available—which I understand comes from Corsham.

Corsham is odd in that it is the location of Army, Navy and RAF bases. It is probably unique in having all three services based in one small town. I think that Royal Navy Copenacre is situated further inland than any other naval base. A significant number of sites are about to be made redundant and the Army and the MOD have taken some time deciding whether to sell those sites—I am thinking particularly of RAF bases Kemble, Rudloe Manor and Spring Quarry. Those three bases are now redundant and I ask the Minister to progress those sales as quickly as possible. He might also consider the redundant hangars at RAF Hullavington. They would be an ideal site for the Chippenham livestock market, which will be looking for a new home in 2000.

I would prefer the Minister to press ahead with the sale of redundant sites such as that under the SDR rather than looking with greedy eyes at the Territorial Army halls and depots up and down the land. That real estate—some 150 bases and depots around the country—lies behind the Government's proposed cuts in the Territorial Army. It has nothing to do with tactics or the TA: it is about the Government getting their hands on those bases. That is the most damaging thing that the Government could do.

There has been constant comment throughout the debate about the uncertainty in foreign policy and how we do not know where the next threat will come from and how we shall see it off. The Government say such things on the one hand, while, on the other, they cut the only real support for the Regular Army—the Territorial Army. One of the Government's most worrying comments in the SDR is that the Territorial Army supplies only specialist services. They refer convincingly to medics, signallers, gunners and one or two drivers. The Government are correct in that many worthwhile skills are embodied in the Territorial Army, and it is right that they should praise and preserve that aspect of the TA.

However, the Territorial Army infantry is equally important. It is too easy for the Government to say that the infantry is finished, that it is yesterday's thing and belongs in the cold war era, and to see the Territorial Army only as a source of specialist services. Look at what is happening in Bosnia, where every single battalion comprises 15 or 20 Territorial Army soldiers who are serving as infantry soldiers, not as drivers or doctors. Look at what is happening in Northern Ireland, where the 1st Battalion of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment has just finished a tour of duty. It was supported significantly by the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment based in my constituency, which comprises Territorial Army soldiers.

The 1st RGBW would not have been able to do its job in Northern Ireland with the same effectiveness and efficiency without the support of the 2nd RGBW, whose colours parade I attended recently in Windsor. If the Government do away with those colours and reduce 2nd RGBW to a company or even worse—as I believe they propose—the 1st RGBW will not be able to perform its designated tasks.

The Territorial Army is being reduced from 56,000 to 40,000—or by about 29 per cent. However, it is said on the wires and behind closed doors that the infantry will be cut from 16,000 to 7,100. That is a 55 per cent. cut—a wildly disproportionate cut—in the infantry. The truth is that, in any operation, wherever it might be, it is the poor bloody infantry that does the work. The infantry holds the ground, and it can do that only if it is supported by the Territorial Army infantry.

If the cuts proceed, large areas of the countryside will be entirely devoid of Territorial Army infantry regiments, including the whole of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. The title of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment will ring a little hollow—to say the least.

In a positive spirit, I suggest to the Government a simple alternative approach to the question of the Territorial Army infantry: to have one infantry company per county, throughout the country. By putting that approach into action, the Government would increase the force of Territorial Army infantry soldiers from 7,100 to only 9,000. That could be easily done. It would cost the Government almost nothing in terms of the cuts that they propose, and it would be welcomed throughout the nation, not only because of the contribution that those soldiers make to the defence of the nation, but because, as a result, many depots throughout the country could not be cut.

I welcome so much about the excellent Select Committee report on the SDR—especially what the Committee says about the Territorial Army. I say to the Government, "If you believe in the Select Committee system, if you believe in the Select Committee on Defence, listen to what it says, especially about the Territorial Army, and think carefully about the easy solution—to have one infantry company per county."

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset 9:24 pm, 20th October 1998

I shall make three brief, simple constituency points. I shall be totally even-handed and start with a very positive point. The largest single employer in my constituency is the British Army at Blandford, headquarters of the Royal Corps of Signals and the Royal School of Signals. In this and previous reviews, the Signals have done rather well. Building on the previous Government's investment, there is continued expansion in Signals in both manpower and equipment.

Signals, of course, is a euphemism for information technology, which is all about the modern Army. Paragraphs 81, 148 and 149 of the report on the strategic defence review deal with what is happening in my constituency. They deal with the Bowman communication system, which was mentioned earlier in the debate, and also with training in electronic warfare, command and battlefield planning, some of which will now be part of a public-private partnership.

The largest private sector employer in my constituency is also involved in the defence industries, as an aerospace contractor. That is Cobham, sometimes known as "Flight Refuelling" or "FR Aviation", which also did well in previous reviews, rebuilding the airframe for the VC10 tankers. It is now rebuilding the airframe for the Nimrod aircraft under contract to British Aerospace, and the fuel systems that go in the Airbus in the commercial sector and will go in the Eurofighter.

However, there is some disappointment at Cobham that its aircraft, the Firefly, was not chosen as the new trainer aircraft for the RAF. The Grob from Germany was chosen—a decision which, I believe, was largely due to the high level of sterling when the deal was concluded. That is a cause for some regret.

My final point, which is the one of greatest concern to my constituents, and which will not surprise the Government, relates to the demise of the Territorial Army. The current consultative exercise, which was mentioned, and the consultative document "TA Restructuring" is all secret. None of us has seen that document. We can only surmise from what is written in the strategic defence review and what we have read in the Sunday Telegraph, but I understand that the 4th Battalion of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, which is very much part of the local scene, is to be merged into something called the "South-West Battalion".

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset

Someone says that it is not possible. One wonders whether the "South-West Battalion" will be administered by the south-west regional development agency; it may well form the "guard of honour" when the south-west regional assembly is opened. However, I view the matter with concern. The five companies of the 4th Battalion Devonshire and Dorset Regiment and the affiliated combined cadet forces—12 are affiliated to that regiment, and there are six companies of the Army cadet force in 58 detachments throughout the two counties—mean that there is a very strong local presence, and a very strong local link with the Army.

I heard what the Minister for the Armed Forces said about integrating the TA with the Regular Army. The 4th Battalion of the Devons and Dorsets operates alongside the 1st Battalion, which is the regular battalion of the regiment. If we break that local link, the territorials will no longer operate alongside the regulars; they will be a separate body, with a totally meaningless local identity.

I would emphasise to the Minister that destroying the Devon and Dorset family would destroy the historic links between soldiers and their community. Some 2,200 TA members and cadets are proud to wear the cap badge of the Devons and Dorsets. It may not be particularly cool in new Labour's new Britain to serve in one's local regiment, but I must tell Ministers that in my constituency there is great pride in the fact that we have a county regiment and a strong TA battalion in our county regiment. It is a matter of great regret to me and my constituents that that link is to be broken, not only through the TA, but through the Army cadet force and combined cadet forces, between the Regular Army and the volunteers. I appeal to Ministers to retain the county regiments of the TA.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Spokesperson (Defence) 9:30 pm, 20th October 1998

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The second day of the debate on the strategic defence review has been extremely good. More than 25 hon. Members have spoken, and it is hardly surprising that 18 of them spoke about the Territorial Army. That sends a strong message to the Minister, whom I welcome to his new job as Minister for the Armed Forces. I pass on my best wishes to his predecessor, who did an extremely good job.

I welcome the Minister's commitment that, when the final decision is made on the future of the TA, it will be announced on the Floor of the House in the form of a statement, so that all hon. Members may comment on it. He will have got the message from all hon. Members about the importance that they attach to the TA, and I am sure that he will pass that message on to the Commander-in-Chief, Land Command, General Sir Michael Walker, and to the Director of Reserve Forces and Cadets, Brigadier Richard Holmes, who will no doubt take note of it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) spoke at length about the defence industry. I need not remind hon. Members of the crucial importance of the defence industry to our British defence effort. We must remember that the Ministry of Defence is the largest single customer of the UK defence industry. Some 400,000 of our constituents are employed in the defence industry, and their products are worth £5 billion per annum in defence exports. That means that the MOD and the Government have a powerful influence on the survival of that industry.

I shall make three points about the defence industry and the role of the Government. First, if we are eventually to follow the United States model, that will mean fewer and larger companies, with the possible consequence of job losses and factory closures. The Government must bear in mind their influence on the British defence industry.

Secondly, the SDR makes several references to greater co-operation and harmonisation in the European defence industry, but it has little to say about the close links between the UK and US defence industries. Those of us who have been involved in defence know that people engaged in the British defence industry are only too aware of the challenges and the dangers of co-operation with our European or American colleagues. Once again, the Government may have an important role in deciding the future of the British defence industry.

My third point relates not only to Ministers who are present, although the new Minister of State, having come from the Foreign Office, knows the issue only too well. There is at times muddle, inconsistency and an element of hypocrisy in the Government's so-called ethical foreign policy, especially in relation to arms exports. There is no doubt that the majority of the British defence industry has attempted to follow over many years a code of conduct, but, at present, many people in the industry are telling many hon. Members that there appears to be muddle and delay in giving export licences: sometimes, when eventually an export licence is awarded, it is too late and someone else has secured the contract. That means loss of money and loss of jobs here in Britain.

Given the reduction in the defence budget of £2.1 billion by the year 2001 and the economic recession that we may be teetering into—I suspect that there will be further Treasury raids on the defence budget, which is now basically the Government's contingency reserve—Ministers will have to explain to the defence industry how they intend managing within the 10-year long-term costing the major equipments planned. I think that the Select Committee on Defence touched on this, and many hon. Members have touched on individual aspects of the matter. We are talking of carriers, large aircraft, sealift, Tomahawk missiles, landing ships and submarines, the vast and expensive area of IT command and control.

Many hon. Members believe that, given the budget outlined by the Government over the next decade, it will be impossible to purchase all those items of equipment. We need to have some understanding of what the long-term costings will be over the next decade. I know that Ministers will say that it has never been Government policy, either under Conservatives or under previous Labour Governments, to publish the long-term costings. I think that that must change. The Government must now publish their LTCs.

Perhaps the Minister would be prepared to comment on our understanding that there is a £1 billion overspend in the air equipment budget alone, and that there are likely to be large overspends for the Army and the Navy, and say how the Government square that with the sort of commitments that they have entered into. I challenge the Government to make known their long-term costings, either here in the Chamber or perhaps in evidence to the Select Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury and the Minister concentrated, like many other hon. Members, on what the Government refer to as a "policy for people", which has been built on work undertaken by the previous Government. That was a combination of the Bett report of 1995 and "The Armed Forces of the Future—A Personnel Strategy" of 1997. In their strategic defence review, the Government have rightly emphasised a "policy for people" and have linked the issues of recruitment and retention by emphasising education and training opportunities for service personnel, improving conditions of service and making additional welfare provision at an estimated cost of £30 million per annum.

I hope that all hon. Members would recognise that that was money well spent. However, my colleagues and I have emphasised that the strategic defence review is asking our service men and women to do more with less. There will be further overstretch, particularly in configuring armed forces for the expeditionary force role. I suspect that the £30 million and all the things that the Government are putting in to deal with overstretch will possibly meet past overstretch but will not be able to cope with future overstretch. The Government will have to do more, and probably will have to find more money to meet this need.

In the words of the House of Commons research paper on the strategic defence review on page 59, There is also the danger that the Government has raised expectations that quantifiable improvements will be made to Service life. The MOD's own strategic defence review liaison team was apparently surprised a year ago by the extent of discontent in the armed forces. Morale was described as between "good and adequate", and although personnel were keen to get on with their work", the liaison team found a more deep seated pessimism about the long term future of the defence of the United Kingdom".

In particular, it found considerable scepticism—[Interruption.] In particular, it found considerable scepticism—I want Ministers to listen to this instead of gobbling—about the then continuing Labour review—this is from the liaison team's own study—and cynicism about the message delivered from on high by Ministers.

The strategic defence review has been careful to state that its proposals for people are modest. But if the Government fail to deliver their modest proposals, that may lead to considerable disillusionment, and exacerbate retention problems even further.

The Opposition welcome the strategic defence review's endorsement of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body's view that there is a need for a new pay system reflecting civil society. However, in view of the Chancellor's statement on 14 July on the comprehensive spending review, when he said that the chairmen of the public review bodies will have to take into account departmental spending limits, the Government's inflation target of 2.5 per cent. and the need to achieve Government targets for output and efficiency, I suspect, to use the words of the Chief of the Defence Staff, that that will be "very challenging for Ministers", and that the pay of the armed forces will once again affect retention and recruitment.

The British armed forces are facing up to cultural and institutional changes, political and legal challenges concerning authority, the chain of command, equal opportunities, racial and sexual equality, ethics and tradition, and rightly so. The armed forces are not a mirror of society, but they must reflect many aspects of society.

The armed forces do not have a right to be different, but, given the specific job that they have to do, they have a need to be different. Others in the public service—the fire brigades, the police, the ambulance service and many voluntary organisations—at one stage or another may have to risk their lives. Only those in our armed forces have a totally open-ended commitment, literally on an order, not just to risk their lives but to take other people's lives for the protection of Britain and of society. That makes them unique.

The Opposition fully stand by the attitude of the previous Government and this Government, which is that we should ensure that, there are equal opportunities for everybody within the armed forces, and that racism and bullying will not be tolerated. As much as anything else, that is a command responsibility by all ranks in responsible positions. People who break those rules and regulations will receive no sympathy from us.

However, at times the Secretary of State has seemed to send a complex message. The case of Major Eric Joyce is still unresolved. He is a serving officer who wrote a pamphlet some 18 months ago criticising the British Army, saying that it had many things wrong with it, that it was class-ridden and full of public schoolboys. That has not stopped the Secretary of State having a good relationship with the Chief of the Defence Staff, or with the Prime Minister or with his Under-Secretary—I understand that Dulwich is a public school. There is something hypocritical there.

The Secretary of State has failed to answer the questions that I, and other hon. Members, have put about how it is possible for a serving officer to continue to serve in the British Army having made such statements, and, more recently, having participated in the selection for the Scottish Parliament as a Labour party candidate. Had he stood for any other political party, I suspect that that officer would now be out. Had he written an article criticising Eurofighter, I suspect that he would have been asked to resign. I call that double standards.

There are a number of unanswered questions which I hope the Minister will answer either this evening or, if he does not have time, in writing. First, will he publish the foreign policy baseline of the strategic defence review? Secondly, will he publish the long-term costings and confirm the in-service date for both the so-called planned carriers? Will he undertake to provide the House, especially the Defence Committee, with a comprehensive document on the defence budget and its resources? We got one page in the defence review. Will he undertake to hold single-service debates on the Royal Navy and the Army?

The previous Government provided funding, equipment and the manning for the current operations of the armed forces—Northern Ireland, Bosnia and the Gulf. Now, with the SDR published and as we begin the long and difficult task of implementation, there can be no more ministerial excuses. The public will judge Labour's defence policy by action, results and implementation, not by rhetoric or soundbites of one kind or another. I therefore urge all hon. Members to support the Opposition amendment and urge Labour Members, "Be brave, throw away your pagers, show that you have minds of your own"—I know that one or two of them have—"and come into the Lobby with us. Speak for Britain."

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) 9:45 pm, 20th October 1998

This has been an interesting debate. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) advised us that his constituency was previously represented by eight Members of Parliament, which is obviously an example of efficiency measures. I was accused by the hon. Members for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) of political correctness. Colleagues will find that slightly difficult to take. It is also absolutely absurd—we are talking not about political correctness, but about good, old-fashioned British virtues of fair play and decency. In that context, the contribution of the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) was welcome.

In closing what has been a good debate, I should like to address two areas of defence business which may not catch the headlines in the way that operations do, but which are none the less extremely important: the defence estate and the smart procurement initiative. Ministry of Defence land holdings in the United Kingdom currently extend to almost half a million acres. We are thus a major landowner and a major customer of the United Kingdom construction industry, to the tune of £1.7 billion a year.

Our management of the wider defence estate was considered carefully during the strategic defence review. We had to ensure that our estate is not only utilised to the maximum possible extent, but is the right size to meet our changing operational requirements. We have concluded that there should be more effective central strategic management of the estate. As a result of a thorough review of our estate holdings during the SDR, we have put in place an ambitious, but achievable, land disposal programme which will shape our estate better to reflect the new structure and priorities of the armed forces. It is also part of our contribution to brown-field development, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell).

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

The Minister knows from our many conversations that I am concerned, as are my constituents, that an air station that is to close and be sold off, for which we had customers, has been frozen from that sale. I am told that we will not even be able to start negotiating until March 1999. That is not acceptable. What is he going to do about it?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I was down in Weymouth and Portland last week. I met the local council and a number of the companies involved, and I fully understand the frustration at delays. There are genuine issues that we have to deal with in terms of alternative use; indeed, we aim to progress that as soon as possible. I will write to the hon. Gentleman as soon as we are able to make further progress.

Last week I also announced major changes in our construction programme. We are a major, £1.7 billion a year public client. As such, we must not only secure value for money for front-line defence, but play our part in reform of the construction industry following the Lathan and Egan reports. That, I have to admit, is challenging, in the best Sir Humphrey use of the word, but it is vital for our defence infrastructure and for our national economy.

Our smart procurement initiative on defence equipment was mentioned by a number of hon. Members and is, as the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk rightly said, enormously important for our vital defence industry. The initiative is a key element of a reform programme that will lead to clear improvements in defence procurement in terms of time, cost and performance.

A full-time smart procurement implementation team has been established. The team started work in earnest in September and has made brisk progress. It is required to produce, by March 1999, a detailed implementation plan for transition activities during 1999–2000. The approach adopted by the team, which is working under the overall direction of a steering group, which I chair, will be to test the smart procurement principles and concepts in a series of pilot projects. A number of projects are now being selected as potential pilots, such as the future offensive air system, the attack helicopter and the future attack submarine.

Those pilot projects will provide a challenging test of the smart procurement principles in a live environment. They will not involve parallel running, nor will they shadow existing project activity. They will do it for real. They will draw from projects relating to all environments and range across the spectrum of our procurement activity by value, technology, their position in the procurement cycle, and the degree of industry involvement.

I accept that that is all being driven forward at great speed. Momentum has been generated and we intend to maintain it for two reasons. First, the Ministry of Defence has been set a number of performance and savings targets as part of its funding allocation and we need to ensure that the improvements promised by smart procurement are delivered as soon as possible. Secondly, the reorganisation of projects into integrated project teams creates uncertainty for staff, both civilian and military, which we are keen to resolve at the earliest opportunity. We understand that this is a time of anxiety and opportunity for our staff. Many are looking to the changes with eager anticipation to improve the job that they do for the Department. Some are concerned and will want to move, and others will want to be sure that it works. Like the Select Committee, we recognise that we will need to manage change with care to preserve staff morale and working efficiency.

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

My hon. Friend will know of the defence sector's importance to my constituency and how welcome the Secretary of State's announcement was in April that GKN Defence was to be part of the German, French and British consortium that has won the contract for a multi-role armoured vehicle. We are also pleased to see a reference to that in the SDR. Since then, however, we have had the German elections.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that Ministers have discussed the issue with their German counterparts, and that the contract remains on track, the consortium remains in place and the timetable is secure?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence)

That issue was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Salisbury in the introduction to his speech. The position has not changed. We are continuing to discuss with France and Germany the terms of the contract with the winning consortium. We have had no indications from the Germans of an intention to freeze the programme. Not only are we continuing to work actively with them on it, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will go to Germany this week and discuss that matter. I give my hon. Friend those assurances.

Industry support for, and involvement in, the smart procurement initiative is vital. The creation of new partnering arrangements with industry, established through competition wherever possible, will be an important enabler for a number of the smart procurement principles. I am pleased to tell the House that new guidelines, agreed between the Ministry of Defence and the Confederation of British Industry, will shortly be issued.

Smart procurement is but one area where we are demonstrating our determination to make the very most from defence resources. Another area where we are considering ways to maximise the return on our investment is that of defence diversification, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes). Our Green Paper has been generally well received and I am pleased to announce that we intend shortly to publish a White Paper on defence diversification.

I shall now deal with some of the matters raised in the debate, though regrettably not all. There was a new and welcome element, particularly in the speeches by the hon. Members for Mid-Sussex and for Salisbury. It might almost be described as "constructive opposition"—they were prepared to say where they agreed and focused on the arguments where they differed. I hope that that does not damage their careers. I say genuinely that it is a welcome development. The real consensus on defence is when we get national agreement on principles, and argue about implementation.

Hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) and the hon. Members for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), who has unfortunately had to leave, and for Salisbury, have, again today, asked about carriers. I dealt with most of the points yesterday in columns 1051 and 1052 of Hansard. I reaffirm what we said in paragraph 115 of the SDR, which is that we plan to replace our current carriers from around 2012 by two larger, more versatile carriers". That is what we said, that is what we are going to do, and that is what the Navy wants.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

I am glad to hear that commitment. If that is the case, what will the Ministry do if the feasibility studies on the existing carriers conclude that it can be done, and they can land the joint strike fighter? Will he throw that out?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence)

Having misread the advertisement yesterday, and having carefully omitted the word "study", the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon should have kept quiet. We answered that question.

Yesterday, the right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) and the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon referred to NATO, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South today. In our manifesto, we said: Our security will continue to be based on NATO. In the strategic defence review, we said: NATO will continue as the cornerstone of our defence planning". That is why it was sad to see the outbreak of Euro-scepticism among Conservative Members. There is no sharp choice between Europe and America in today's strategic environment. They are but two sides of the same coin: both are essential to our security.

Britain is playing a key role in developing NATO's new strategic concept—the alliance's own SDR—to give it an equally clear vision into the next century. We are also playing a central role in developing an effective European security and defence identity in NATO. I stress the word "effective", because at present European rhetoric is not matched by the reality of Europe's military capability. Our priority must be to ensure that European allies can make an effective military contribution to operations, including when the Americans choose not to participate.

The Western European Union is an integral part of that approach. Progress on the practical relationships between WEU and NATO on the one hand, and WEU and the European Community on the other, are important to avoid unnecessary and damaging duplication of the work of all three organisations.

The hon. Members for Salisbury and for Tatton (Mr. Bell) referred to the Association of RAF Wives. I am pleased to tell them that the chairman and executive of that organisation met the air member for personnel earlier this month. They have agreed to produce in the next month or so a memorandum of understanding and an acceptable business plan for the association. I am sure that that is welcome, and I shall write to the two hon. Gentlemen to inform them of the outcome.

My hon. Friends the Members for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen), for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) and for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) referred to nuclear disarmament. On many occasions, we have made clear our commitment to the goal of global elimination of nuclear weapons. When we are satisfied with verified progress towards that goal, we shall ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in multilateral negotiations. We are working to take forward our commitment in the light of the conclusions of the SDR.

I remind colleagues that the United Kingdom was the first nuclear weapon state to introduce legislation to implement the comprehensive test ban treaty. We also welcome the agreement made this year at the conference on disarmament to begin negotiations on a convention verifiably ending production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons.

The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex referred to the movement of staff between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence. I presume that, as the new permanent secretary at the MOD has come from the Foreign Office, we may be instigating that policy.

My colleagues and I are justifiably proud of the outcome of the strategic defence review. We have developed a package of measures that will provide a clear and sensible direction for the armed forces and all those who support them. That package has been welcomed on all sides: it has been praised by politicians, journalists and academics here and around the world and, most important, by the men and women whose lives are most affected. That should not surprise us. The structure that will emerge from the review will provide modern and relevant forces that will be more effective and more capable of furthering Britain's interests as a force for good in the world.

We are keenly aware that the success of our proposals depends on implementation, and we know that that is no easy task, but the rewards will be great, and we are determined to achieve them. As we have made clear in the past two days, we are making good progress.

The strategic defence review has been a remarkable success. Its implementation promises much, and will deliver it. I have pleasure in commending it to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 134, Noes 366.

Division No. 362][9.59 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Fox, Dr Liam
Amess, DavidFraser, Christopher
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelGale, Roger
Arbuthnot, JamesGarnier, Edward
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Gibb, Nick
Beggs, RoyGill, Christopher
Bercow, JohnGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Beresford, Sir PaulGorman, Mrs Teresa
Blunt, CrispinGray, James
Body, Sir RichardGreen, Damian
Boswell, TimGreenway, John
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Gummer, Rt Hon John
Brady, GrahamHague, Rt Hon William
Brazier, JulianHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHammond, Philip
Browning, Mrs AngelaHawkins, Nick
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Hayes, John
Burns, SimonHeald, Oliver
Butterfill, JohnHeathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Cash, WilliamHoram, John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Chope, ChristopherJack, Rt Hon Michael
Clappison, JamesJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Jenkin, Bernard
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Johnson Smith,
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Key, Robert
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Collins, TimLait, Mrs Jacqui
Colvin, MichaelLansley, Andrew
Cormack, Sir PatrickLeigh, Edward
Cran, JamesLetwin, Oliver
Curry, Rt Hon DavidLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Lidington, David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Day, StephenLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Duncan, AlanLoughton, Tim
Duncan Smith, IainLuff, Peter
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Evans, NigelMacKay, Andrew
Faber, DavidMaclean, Rt Hon David
Fabricant, MichaelMcLoughlin, Patrick
Flight, HowardMalins, Humfrey
Forth, Rt Hon EricMaples, John
Mates, MichaelStreeter, Gary
May, Mrs TheresaSwayne, Desmond
Moss, MalcolmSyms, Robert
Nicholls, PatrickTapsell, Sir Peter
Norman, ArchieTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Page, RichardTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Paterson, OwenThompson, William
Pickles, EricTownend, John
Prior, DavidTrend, Michael
Randall, JohnTyrie, Andrew
Redwood, Rt Hon JohnViggers, Peter
Robathan, AndrewWalter, Robert
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)Whitney, Sir Raymond
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)Whittingdale, John
Ruffley, DavidWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
St Aubyn, NickWilkinson, John
Sayeed, JonathanWilshire, David
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs GillianWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)Woodward, Shaun
Soames, NicholasYeo, Tim
Spicer, Sir MichaelYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Spring, RichardTellers for the Ayes:
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnSir David Madel and
Steen, AnthonyMrs. Caroline Spelman.
NOES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Campbell—Savours, Dale
Ainger, NickCanavan, Dennis
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Cann, Jamie
Alexander, DouglasCaplin, Ivor
Allen, GrahamCasale, Roger
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Caton, Martin
Armstrong, Ms HilaryChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ashton, JoeChaytor, David
Atkins, CharlotteChisholm, Malcolm
Austin, JohnClapham, Michael
Banks, TonyClark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Barnes, HarryClark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Barron, Kevin
Battle, JohnClark, Paul (Gillingham)
Bayley, HughClarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Beard, NigelClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretClarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Begg, Miss AnneClarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Clelland, David
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Clwyd, Ann
Benton, JoeCoaker, Vernon
Bermingham, GeraldCoffey, Ms Ann
Berry, RogerCohen, Harry
Best, HaroldColeman, lain
Betts, CliveColman, Tony
Blackman, LizConnarty, Michael
Blair, Rt Hon TonyCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Blears, Ms HazelCooper, Yvette
Blizzard, BobCorbett, Robin
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidCorston, Ms Jean
Boateng, PaulCousins, Jim
Borrow, DavidCranston, Ross
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Crausby, David
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bradshaw, BenCummings, John
Brinton, Mrs HelenCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E)Curtis—Thomas, Mrs Claire
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Dafis, Cynog
Buck, Ms KarenDalyell, Tam
Burden, RichardDarling, Rt Hon Alistair
Burgon, ColinDarvill, Keith
Butler, Mrs ChristineDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Byers, StephenDavidson, Ian
Caborn, RichardDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, JohnHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Dismore, AndrewHoyle, Lindsay
Dobbin, JimHughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Donohoe, Brian HHumble, Mrs Joan
Doran, FrankHurst, Alan
Drew, DavidHutton, John
Drown, Ms JuliaIddon, Dr Brian
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Illsley, Eric
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Edwards, Huw Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Efford, CliveJamieson, David
Ellman, Mrs LouiseJenkins, Brian
Ennis, JeffJohnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Etherington, BillJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Ewing, Mrs MargaretJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Fatchett, DerekJones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Field, Rt Hon FrankJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Fisher, MarkJones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Fitzpatrick, JimJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Fitzsimons, LornaJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Flint, CarolineJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Flynn, PaulJowell, Ms Tessa
Foster, Rt Hon DerekKeeble, Ms Sally
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Fyfe, MariaKelly, Ms Ruth
Galbraith, SamKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Galloway, GeorgeKhabra, Piara S
Gapes, MikeKidney, David
Gardiner, BarryKilfoyle, Peter
George, Bruce (Walsall S)King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Gerrard, NeilKingham, Ms Tess
Gibson, Dr IanKumar, Dr Ashok
Gilroy, Mrs LindaLadyman, Dr Stephen
Godman, Dr Norman ALawrence, Ms Jackie
Godsiff, RogerLepper, David
Goggins, PaulLeslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Golding, Mrs LlinLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Gordon, Mrs EileenLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Graham, ThomasLiddell, Mrs Helen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Linton, Martin
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Lock, David
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Love, Andrew
Grocott, BruceMcAllion, John
Grogan, JohnMcCabe, Steve
Gunnell, JohnMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)McDonagh, Siobhain
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Macdonald, Calum
Hanson, DavidMcDonnell, John
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMcIsaac, Shona
Heal, Mrs SylviaMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Healey, JohnMackinlay, Andrew
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)McNulty, Tony
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)MacShane, Denis
Hepburn, StephenMactaggart, Fiona
Heppell, JohnMcWalter, Tony
Hesford, StephenMcWilliam, John
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMahon, Mrs Alice
Hill, KeithMallaber, Judy
Hinchliffe, DavidMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hodge, Ms MargaretMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hoey, KateMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Home Robertson, JohnMartlew, Eric
Hood, JimmyMaxton, John
Hoon, GeoffreyMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hope, PhilMerron, Gillian
Hopkins, KelvinMichael, Alun
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Miller, AndrewSmith, Angela (Basildon)
Mitchell, AustinSmith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr LewisSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Moran, Ms MargaretSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)Snape, Peter
Morley, ElliotSoley, Clive
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Southworth, Ms Helen
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Spellar, John
Mudie, GeorgeSquire, Ms Rachel
Mullin, ChrisStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Steinberg, Gerry
Naysmith, Dr DougStevenson, George
Norris, DanStewart, David (Inverness E)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Stinchcombe, Paul
O'Hara, EddieStoate, Dr Howard
Organ, Mrs DianaStott, Roger
Osborne, Ms SandraStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Palmer, Dr NickStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Pearson, IanStringer, Graham
Pendry, TomStuart, Ms Gisela
Perham, Ms LindaSutcliffe, Gerry
Pickthall, ColinTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, JamesTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Pollard, KerryTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Pond, ChrisTemple—Morris, Peter
Pope, GregThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pound, StephenTimms, Stephen
Powell, Sir RaymondTipping, Paddy
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Todd, Mark
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Touhig, Don
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnTrickett, Jon
Prosser, GwynTruswell, Paul
Purchase, KenTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Quin, Ms JoyceTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Quinn, LawrieTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Radice, GilesTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Rammell, BillTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Rapson, SydVaz, Keith
Raynsford, NickVis, Dr Rudi
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Walley, Ms Joan
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)Ward, Ms Claire
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Rogers, AllanWelsh, Andrew
Rooker, JeffWhite, Brian
Rooney, TerryWhitehead, Dr Alan
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Wicks, Malcolm
Rowlands, TedWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Roy, Frank
Ruane, ChrisWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Ruddock, Ms JoanWills, Michael
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Winnick, David
Ryan, Ms JoanWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Salmond, AlexWise, Audrey
Salter, MartinWood, Mike
Sarwar, MohammadWoolas, Phil
Savidge, MalcolmWorthington, Tony
Sawford, PhilWray, James
Sedgemore, BrianWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Shaw, JonathanWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWyatt, Derek
Shipley, Ms Debra
Singh, MarshaTellers for the Noes:
Skinner, DennisMr. Jim Dowd and
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Mrs. Anne McGuire.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House approves the conclusions of the Government's Strategic Defence Review (Cm 3999)