[Relevant documents: First Report, Session 1999–2000, on the OCCAR Convention, HC 69, and the Government's response thereto, HC 224; Second Report, Session 1999–2000, on the Ministry of Defence Annual Reporting Cycle, HC 158; Sixth Report, Session 1998–99, on the Reserves Call-out Order 1999 and Progress of Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 860, and the Government's response thereto, HC 220 of Session 1999–2000; Seventh Report, Session 1998–99, on the Strategic Defence Review: Defence Medical Services, HC 447, and the Government's response thereto, HC 221 of Session 1999–2000; Eighth Report, Session 1998–99, on the Committee's Major Procurement Projects Survey: The Common New Generation Frigate Programme, HC 544, and the Government's response thereto, HC 222 of Session 1999–2000; and Ninth Report, Session 1998–99, on Defence Research, HC 616, and the Government's response thereto, HC 223 of Session 1999–2000.]
I beg to move,
That this House approves the 1999 Defence White Paper (Cm 4446).
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to open the debate on the 1999 defence White Paper—the first that I have had the privilege to present to the House. It gives me the chance to bring the House up to date with the many initiatives that we have under way to modernise Britain's defence.
This debate also enables me to respond to some of the points made in the recent report by the Select Committee on Defence on the White Paper, and in the Ministry of Defence performance report, although we are of course preparing a detailed written memorandum to respond to the issues raised there.
The central theme of the White Paper is modernisation. It sets out the progress that we have made in many areas, not least in delivering the strategic defence review and in taking forward European defence. It describes how we are modernising the whole of defence—from the farthest end of the procurement chain right through to our front-line capabilities. It is a massive programme of change.
This is not modernisation for the sake of it. The process that we have begun is about delivering improvements to the capability of our armed forces. It is about giving them the structures, equipment and support that they need to do the job effectively. It is also about ensuring that we have developed the security architecture to meet the strategic landscapes of this century, not of the last.
Let no one underestimate the ambition or the significance of the undertaking in which we are now involved. It is a hugely complex and challenging process, but it is a necessary one. A modern Britain needs modern defence forces, and the strategic defence review provides them.
When the outcome of the review was announced by my predecessor in July 1998, it was widely acclaimed on all sides. It was admired for its logic, its good sense and its vision. However, we always knew that we would really be judged on our delivery of the improvements that the SDR proposed.
We made it clear that the changes that we are making would take time to achieve. The heavy operational commitments which our forces undertook around the world last year—in Bosnia, the Gulf, East Timor and Kosovo—have made this still more challenging. We might have preferred a period of calm in which to conduct this revolution, but of course the real world continues, and real operations—such as the need to act to bring an end to Milosevic's repression in Kosovo—had to take priority.
Moreover, our operational experiences over the past year, not least in Kosovo, have reinforced the conclusions of the review. The SDR is on track and will be delivered. The additional £500 million that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently allocated to the defence budget to take account of the additional cost of operations in the Balkans and elsewhere will help to ensure this.
In a second.
The White Paper describes the significant SDR milestones that we have already met. We have already achieved an initial capability for the new joint rapid reaction forces. When complete, in 2002, the JRRF will enable us to deploy forces with real punch anywhere in the world. It will draw forces from a pool of up to 50 warships and support vessels, four brigades and 260 aircraft of various kinds.
Last October, we set up the joint helicopter command. It brings together under a single command almost all our battlefield helicopters and will command 16 Air Assault Brigade. It is responsible for peacetime training and for providing helicopter force packages for operational commanders. Most importantly, however, it will provide a real improvement in operational effectiveness.
Could the right hon. Gentleman confirm how many troops are on permanent standby for United Nations global peacekeeping missions? We were told last year that it was in the order of 8,000 to 10,000. Is that number still valid, or has it changed? Has the plan been drawn up or abandoned?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing the mechanism for making force available to the United Nations. What happens is that we declare a number of forces that could be available to the United Nations in appropriate circumstances. In the event of a requirement arising, a request would come from the United Nations to the United Kingdom Government and, if appropriate, we would accede to that request. However, there are no forces specifically standing by waiting for a request from the United Nations.
Yes, I will.
A new joint doctrine and concept centre is already up and running. It will provide the fully joined-up thinking needed to address the security challenges facing us in the future, and will achieve its full capability in April of this year.
We have created a joint nuclear biological and chemical defence regiment. The joint Rapier training unit is now a reality. The Defence Procurement Agency opened for business last spring, bringing greater efficiency in delivering fighting equipment to the front line. The first of our defence diplomacy scholarship courses is already under way. We said that we would do all these things, and we have done each of them.
In the next few months, we will see a number of major new developments. The first Apache attack helicopter for the Army is already flying. Once in service with the British Army, this world-beating piece of equipment will mark a quantum leap in our ability to bring force rapidly to bear on the battlefield. It is about real capability, every bit as revolutionary in its way as the introduction of the tank in 1916.
If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will deal with that in due course. However, the list does not simply sound impressive—it is impressive. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will concede that, with his characteristic generosity.
On 1 April, joint force 2000—the joint Royal Navy/Royal Air Force Harrier force—will form. It is not about organisational neatness—it is about modern ways of working to deliver defence output most effectively. The aircrew who will operate these aircraft tell everyone of their excitement about the new arrangements.
In April, we will launch the new Defence Logistics Organisation. That brings together the three single service logistic support areas into a tri-service organisation employing more than 40,000 people. It will allow us to deliver more cost-effective support by rationalising common functions across the services, freeing up more resources for the front line.
We have also made radical changes to defence procurement, an area in which the record of the previous Government was lamentable. Our smart procurement initiative will help to fix that. Smart procurement is already delivering results. It will provide high-quality world-beating equipment cheaper, faster and better. For example, the White Paper mentions that the Challenger 2 integrated project team responsible for introducing this new world-class tank to the British Army has so far identified £200 million in savings. That figure could easily rise to £400 million. The adoption of innovative support arrangements for Eurofighter will save up to £1.8 billion over the life of the aircraft.
Smart procurement is also helping to reduce overstretch. In response to an urgent requirement, we have worked closely with industry to place a competitive contract for a new communications system for Bosnia and Kosovo, freeing up to 260 Royal Signals soldiers from their Balkan commitment by the end of the year. Overall, the changes that we have introduced will provide better equipment at lower cost and help to reduce to a minimum the wasteful cost overruns that had become the hallmark of procurement mismanagement under the Conservative Government.
This is an impressive programme of change, but hon. Members might have been forgiven for doubting the picture I paint had they relied on some of the more sensational reporting of recent weeks. I know that some journalists do not like to let the facts get in the way of a good story, but it is a serious matter if misleading reporting leads to a reduction in public confidence in the armed forces. These are important issues and I want to spend some time confronting them head on.
First, much has been written recently about the equipment that our troops had during the Kosovo campaign last year. The fact is that our service personnel had everything that they needed to do the job that they were asked to do. That is not just my view: it is the view of force commanders at all levels; yet there have been constant criticisms, for example, of the boots used in the Falklands campaign—criticisms that have been packaged up and applied to the entirely different and very modern boots worn by our soldiers in Kosovo. The clothing given to our soldiers is excellent. I have seen myself that it is light, warm, waterproof and easy to wear, even in the most difficult conditions.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that every piece of equipment that we have is absolutely perfect. The SA80 rifle, for example, is a capable and highly accurate weapon. It has some reliability problems, especially in extreme conditions, and steps are being taken to ensure that those are put right quickly.
The Secretary of State mentioned equipment. As he knows, I was in Kosovo last week. I visited the Mitrovica bridge last Wednesday with Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Carter. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that our forces on the bridge there will, as of today, have the right respirators, so that if a riot breaks out, as it did yesterday, and French or other KFOR troops use tear gas, our troops will not be left vomiting and crying on the banks of the river because they do not have them?
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned press reports. He will have seen in this morning's newspapers reports that our armed services in Northern Ireland may be asked to apologise for their activities there in the past 30 years. He will be only too well aware that many British service men have given their lives in defence of their country and to prevent Northern Ireland from falling into anarchy so, as Secretary of State for Defence, will he assure the House that he will stand firmly opposed to our troops being dishonoured in that way?
I will deal with that matter, so, if the hon. Lady will bear with me, I will return to it in a moment. However, as a former journalist she should know that she must not believe everything that she reads in newspapers.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) referred to what I can only describe as the ill-informed speculation about activity levels for the Navy. Let me make it clear that the fleet was not withdrawn at Christmas, it has not run out of money and it is not confined to port. Of course, the Navy has to adjust the fleet's programme to keep within budget and to balance new training against the unusual level of operational activity in 1999, but it is being done without reducing our overall capability. As the Commander-in-Chief, Fleet recently said,
I have no difficulty with managing my business within the limit given to me".
The Navy is not only going about its business as usual, but has entered a period of major overseas deployment. At the end of last month, HMS Illustrious left for the Gulf at the head of a task group including a nuclear submarine, nine warships and 2,000 men. In the spring, HMS Cornwall will lead a global deployment—Navy task group 2000, which will be one of the largest in 15 years. It will involve three Royal Navy warships, three auxiliaries and a submarine.
Since the Secretary of State is in denouncing ill-informed press speculation mode, perhaps he will extend that to Warship World, which has informed us that, under the long-term costings, Invincible and Fearless will be transferred to the reserve, along with about seven mine counter-measure vessels and three Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships. As he is rubbishing press speculation, is he in a position to deny that all that is true?
I thought the hon. Gentleman was in the House for Defence questions yesterday, when the same point was made. I made it clear then that there is no truth in that speculation. Whatever the alleged quality of the publication, the hon. Gentleman would do well not to believe all that he reads.
Our amphibious capability will be transformed over the next few years, when the new assault ships Albion and Bulwark enter service. They will complement the new helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, which I had the privilege to visit during a major multinational amphibious exercise off the coast of Egypt last October. We also have plans to acquire new destroyers, frigates and nuclear powered submarines and two new aircraft carriers—the largest vessels to be ordered for the Royal Navy since the second world war. All our attack submarines will be equipped with the highly accurate Tomahawk land attack missile, which was used to such precise effect during the Kosovo campaign. We are tripling the size of our strategic lift capability, and constructing two new auxiliary oilers. It is no wonder the First Sea Lord commented that that represents the best forward-looking equipment programme that he can remember during all his time in the Navy. Taken together, those measures will mark a step change in the Royal Navy's capability.
Will the Secretary of State explain what he means by "under normal budget constraints"? He sets the budget, so the commanders-in-chief have to live within its limits. When he set the budget, why did he reduce the fuel bill for the Navy by a quarter and then reinstate it as a result of other changes?
As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, the budget is set for a year. One of the innovations that we have been able to introduce is to allow budget holders to determine levels of activity over the course of the year. In those circumstances, it is right and proper that the Navy should make those determinations in the light of the budget. We have allowed that process and it is working most successfully. That is why we have received positive endorsements from leading figures in the armed forces.
I accept that some exercises have been cancelled. The Select Committee report picked up on that matter. There is always a need to strike a balance between the requirements to train our people, to meet operational commitments, to live within resources and not to place unnecessary burdens on personnel and their families. I spend more time thinking about the problems created by the armed forces being asked to do too much than I do thinking about almost anything else. We have now got the balance right. Our forces are up to meeting any likely operational requirement—and they will meet it effectively.
There have been suggestions that large parts of the RAF are grounded. That too is nonsense. The RAF has deployments in the Balkans, Italy, the Gulf and the Falklands. That huge programme of activity is being maintained with sufficient resources, aircraft and pilots. Operations necessarily mean that some routine tasks must come second, but not at the expense of safety. Certainly, we need more pilots, but the RAF has more than achieved its recruitment target this year, and a number of measures are in hand to improve retention.
The Secretary of State referred to safety in RAF training. Will he say more about that in relation to my constituents in Cumbria? They accept the absolute primacy of national security, but they were most concerned about some of the reports as to the possible causes of the air crash in Shap, in Cumbria, at the end of last year. Will the right hon. Gentleman give a categoric assurance to the people of Cumbria, and of other areas affected by low-flying aircraft, that no reductions will interfere with the primacy of safety—of people in the air and on the ground?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I have just given that assurance. Safety is paramount and will continue to be so—both for those who fly the aircraft and for his constituents on the ground. I am happy to be able to repeat the assurance that I gave him in writing when he properly raised those matters with me.
We are spending £140 million making good the under-investment in the Defence Medical Services and the demoralisation of their staff that we inherited. The former Second Sea Lord commented:
I have been greatly reassured that two successive Secretaries of State and armed forces Ministers have shown greater interest in the welfare of our people than I have ever known before.
The focus of our investment remains to bring our forces up to the standard where they can operate entirely successfully within the structures set out by the strategic defence review.
No, I do not accept that medical services are in a state of crisis, but I accept that work has to be done. That is precisely why we have allocated £140 million to address the issue.
That money is part of a continuing programme of modernisation. In the last few months alone, we have approved a wide range of new equipment measures: production of the airborne stand-off radar system, worth some £800 million; the assessment phase of the future aircraft carrier and studies on the type-45 destroyer programme, worth a potential £100 million in all; more Rapier surface-to-air missiles, worth £200 million; and an upgrade of RAF Harrier engines, worth £120 million.
The Government's record on defence is there to be judged by the House. We rightly demand the best for our excellent armed forces. However, we would like to be judged on what we are doing, not on what others sometimes claim that we are not doing.
I have talked a lot about equipment. Let me now talk about the men and women of the armed forces. We made our policy for people a central component of the strategic defence review, because we know how vital recruiting and retaining the best people is to our defence capability. We said that we would introduce measures to improve recruitment and retention, and we have.
I mentioned, when I launched the White Paper last December, that I was determined to tackle overstretch. This has been a tough challenge. We inherited an Army undermanned by more than 5,000 people. On top of that, during the strategic defence review, we identified a requirement for more than 3,000 new posts. Despite that shortfall, our forces performed magnificently last year, at the expense of ever more overstretch. We are now making progress. Recruiting is buoyant. Last year, recruitment figures for all three services were the best in a decade. However, the key to tackling overstretch is to stem the flow of skilled people leaving the forces.
We have now made huge strides in reducing commitments. The latest reductions in the Balkans, when fully implemented in the spring, will bring down the percentage of the Army preparing for, deployed on, or recovering from, operations to 28 per cent., compared to 47 per cent. at the height of the Kosovo campaign. That means that we will have reduced commitments below the level that we inherited. During that period, our force levels in Bosnia will have reduced by more than 2,500 and in Kosovo by 6,500. We have also made smaller reductions in other areas such as the Gulf and the Falklands.
I am also pleased to tell the House that improvements in the security situation in Northern Ireland have enabled us to make significant reductions there. Force levels are now well below 15,000, their lowest level since the 1970s, and 30 installations have been closed. We have been able to make those reductions in the Army's presence in Northern Ireland as a result of the peace process. Of course, we want to make more progress, but I make it clear that further reductions in the military presence must be justified solely in terms of the security situation.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made it clear, not least in the House, that the Government cannot and will not contemplate anything that suggests any equivalence between the security forces and terrorists. There is no gun-swap plan and there is no way in which such equivalence would be acceptable.
The Secretary of State has partly answered the point that I was going to make. However, will he give an absolute guarantee in the House, so that it is clear to the public and to those in Northern Ireland who are trying to give the opposite impression, that the commitment of British troops to the Province is to protect the public and law and order and that they will not, in any circumstances, be allowed to enter negotiations with Sinn Fein-IRA?
I have just given that assurance. The security forces are there to assist the police in performing a valuable security function, and they will continue to do so as long as necessary.
The assurance that the Secretary of State has just given—that there will be no public ceremony of the kind suggested in the newspapers this morning—will be received with great enthusiasm and some satisfaction on both sides of the House. However, will he tell the House by how many the Army is below its permitted establishment? What is the number of vacancies in the Army today?
I shall have to check on the precise figure as of today. We are making progress towards achieving full complement. If we were able to continue at the present rate of improvement, we anticipate that full complement in the Army would be achieved by 2005. We would hope to achieve full complement in the Navy and the Air Force rather more quickly than that. However, that would depend on ensuring that our retention figures improve and, as I said yesterday at Defence questions, on our continuing to make progress away from the previous net reduction in numbers and towards the improvements that we have seen in recent times.
As I have indicated, and as events in Northern Ireland have demonstrated, reducing commitments is not always easy. We have responsibilities around the world and we must discharge them. There are unforeseen contingencies and emergencies to which we must respond. Disruption is in the nature of service life. It is therefore important that our armed forces are well treated and properly rewarded. I am glad that the Select Committee recognises and values the significant steps that we have taken, such as improved access to NHS dentists, to improve the welfare of service families. I am pleased that the Committee also welcomes other practical and manifest changes that the Government have introduced.
We have delivered a package of improved allowances for people deployed on operations. That includes an additional bonus of £1,000 for all who have experienced more than 280 days paid separated service over the two years since December 1997, and a bonus of £2,000 for those who have experienced more than 365 paid days away.
The Secretary of State has described how our commitment throughout the world is being reduced in a number of theatres, such as Northern Ireland, Bosnia and the Gulf. Will he assure us that he will not use that as an excuse to reduce the number of our armed forces below the existing establishment levels forced on him by the budgetary cuts made by the Treasury?
I made it clear in an answer in Defence questions yesterday that we have maintained the levels set out in the strategic defence review and, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, that involves an increase of some 3,300 over the numbers in the armed forces that we inherited.
The bonuses will continue in future years; they will apply to all three services, and they will benefit several thousand of our hardest-working men and women. We have halved the qualifying period for longer separated service allowances from three years to 18 months. We have made personnel who regularly deploy away from home for short periods eligible for separation allowances. We have introduced a common leave allowance. We have guaranteed to all personnel a period of leave after an operational deployment so that they can spend time at home with their families. We have increased free telephone call time on operations from three minutes a week to 20. We are also increasing the allowance for the disruption of normal military life—the so-called X-factor.
A key feature of placing service personnel issues firmly at the heart of our thinking, and part of the implementation of our policy for people, is the armed forces overarching personnel strategy. That is a mechanism that clearly identifies specific actions, breakthrough objectives and responsibilities that will be reflected in the Department's corporate plan. Its aim is to promote operational effectiveness by providing a coherent framework for the development of personnel policies for the future. Implementing those policies will enable us to recruit the people we need and to develop, motivate and retain them. I am pleased to announce that the development of that strategy is now complete, and it will be brought into use from April.
We have just embarked on a major review of training and education, both service and civilian. That is part of the continuing process of modernising defence. Training and education are crucial to the provision of front-line capability. Although much of our training is of a very high quality, there is a need for it to be better integrated and more responsive to training requirements, and to take full account of best practice both inside and outside the MOD.
The right hon. Gentleman clearly recognises the great importance of armed forces training, and that it should be extremely realistic and pretty robust. Will he therefore explain in a little more detail what he meant by his last comment? What sort of changes has he in mind: for example, to make training more integrated?
Essentially, we are looking to add to the list that I gave earlier many more examples of joint operations between the armed forces. That process began years ago, and I am not suggesting that we have invented it. There is a need for more effective preparation for joint operations and to ensure that training and education integrates activity across the services. In some specific respects, as I have said, we are forming joint organisations that will require a degree of integrated preparation, so that people whose background is in the Royal Navy, for example, will receive training similar to that of people doing a similar job in the Royal Air Force.
The Secretary of State will appreciate that, following the drawdown from Germany, there is a problem with training grounds for infantry. I know that a lot of training is carried out jointly between cavalry and infantry, but the Salisbury training area near my constituency has been completely taken over by tanks, with the result that there is now nowhere for the "poor bloody infantry" to train—at least, its training areas are greatly restricted. What plans does the Ministry of Defence have to take back in hand those MOD farms that are currently let to tenant farmers—admittedly, with provision made for training? There is a shortage of training areas for the infantry; what is being done to address that problem?
We are carefully considering that problem, because I recognise the importance of having sufficient training grounds. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) appeared to be somewhat surprised to learn that his constituency has been entirely overrun by tanks, but given all his complaints about defence cuts, I should be thankful for small mercies. Nevertheless, we are pursuing a review of training grounds and we shall continue to do so.
On the subject of education and training, I recognise that some of our structures have not quite kept pace with the changing world. It is important that we complete our review early next year, and I shall report to the House on its findings. Policy for people is delivering for service personnel. Once again, as the Labour Government have done every year, we are implementing in full the pay rise for our service personnel. In addition, we have made real improvements to opportunities for personal development in the services through our learning forces initiative. We are determined to ensure that service personnel have access to modern learning facilities such as interactive learning centres and the internet. Those measures will provide skills for life, not simply for an individual's career in the armed forces.
Our efforts in this sphere extend to the reserves. Reservists do vital and important work and help to make a real difference as a force for good in the world. They have proved their worth time and again, for example in the Balkans, where more than 10 per cent. of our forces are drawn from the reserves. They help to reduce the demands placed on our regular forces. In addition, there is a real benefit to employers or potential employers of reservists: the training and experience provided in the reserves, working alongside our world-class regular armed forces, really does give back a better employee—one who is better skilled and better able to take tough decisions.
Following the strategic defence review, we have taken two key steps to make our reserves more usable. First, we have set up the reserves training and mobilisation centre at Chilwell. That is a dedicated facility to handle the needs of the Army and reservists during mobilisation and demobilisation. Secondly, we have completed the reserve mobilisation study, which has clearly shown that compulsory mobilisation of reserves for peace support operations, such as in the Balkans, can be done: it is both legal and feasible. Although there is no operational requirement to mobilise reserves, I assure the House that we will not hesitate to do so if it becomes necessary. That is not a sign of weakness or lack of preparation—quite the opposite.
I have no doubt that we shall shortly hear a great deal about cuts from the Conservatives. I expect that we shall hear even more about the need to tackle overstretch. However, at no time will we hear anything that even remotely resembles a coherent defence policy. What exactly is the Conservative party's policy on defence? In their so-called common-sense revolution policy document, the Conservatives said that they would match commitments to resources and that, unless commitments could be reduced from their current level, Britain would require a larger Army. However, when my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces asked them to name a commitment that they would cut or into which they would not have entered, they could not name a single one.
While Conservatives talk of cutting commitments, the Labour Government have actually been doing it. We are already committed to increasing the size of the Army by 3,300 people—in many cases, plugging the gaps that were left by the previous Government in terms of support to the front line. What exactly would the Conservatives do differently? Would they spend more on defence? If so, how are they going to pay for it? More important is the question of how they are going to pay for extra defence spending when their own so-called tax guarantee commits them to cutting taxes, regardless of the state of the economy—a policy so barmy that even the shadow Chancellor appears to be trying to get rid of it.
The shadow Chancellor is not the only one. Listen to the comments of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the Conservatives' former leader and Prime Minister, in The Daily Telegraph on 13 October last year:
In principle, it's a good idea to lower taxes if you can. But to say that you are going to reduce the proportion of taxes to GDP in all circumstances is mad. How do you deliver that in a recession? You don't. You simply don't unless you make such swingeing cuts in the health service and education and the Armed Forces as are inconceivable.
There we have it. Even the previous Conservative Prime Minister does not believe in Conservative policy on tax and spend, particularly when it is applied to our armed forces.
For a moment, it looked as though the Leader of the Opposition had decided to water the pledge down by demoting it from a tax guarantee to a tax aspiration, but he did not have the good sense even to do that, so the policy still stands, with its disastrous implications for defence. The Conservative party has no strategy for easing overstretch, no ideas for cutting commitments, and no money to pay for its empty promises. In short, it has no defence policy worth the name.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. He seems to be competing with me for generosity. He says that he is looking for a coherent defence policy. Does he think that the Select Committee on Defence recognised a coherent defence policy when it stated that
the problems of overstretch and undermanning suggest that if the wheels have not yet come off the SDR, they are certainly beginning to wobble alarmingly"?
Is that the Government's coherent defence policy?
No, it is not. I have made it clear that I will respond in detail and in writing to the Defence Committee. I have got through 12 detailed pages this afternoon setting out precisely what we are doing. What the hon. Gentleman must do—perhaps he should raise the matter with those on his Front Bench—is establish where the money will come from to fund all the various commitments into which he and they seem to be entering. I am certainly prepared to respond to the Defence Committee, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ask the same sort of questions of those on his Front Bench and of himself, if he is to advance Conservative policies with any conviction.
I regret that I must intervene on my right hon. Friend when he is entering his Tory-bashing phase, which we all appreciate. However, his remarks are clearly drawing to an end. If he does not intend to address the policy of the European Union and the development of the common foreign and security policy, will any of his Front-Bench colleagues do that, later today or in the debate on Monday?
I thank my hon. Friend. My very next sentence deals with that matter. I cannot resist the temptation to invite the Conservative party to consider afresh its thinking on European security and the European security and defence identity. That appears to be the only specific thing to which they are opposed—the only coherent element that we can detect in their otherwise incoherent defence policy, despite the fact that it was the previous Conservative Government who signed up to the idea of a European security and defence identity in the first place.
Before I explain to the House what our European defence initiative is about, let me first say what it is not about—in words which I hope even the Opposition will be able to appreciate. They are these:
It is not a plan for subverting or replacing NATO. It is not a plan for duplicating the huge investment which we and our allies have made in the NATO infrastructure. It is not a plan for a supranational European army under the control of the European Commission subject only to the European Parliament … what we are seeing now is an evolution of thinking which began to take shape eight years ago.
Those are not my words. They are the words of the former Conservative Foreign Secretary, Lord Hurd of Westwell, one of the few sane individuals left in the Conservative party when it comes to the subject of Europe, taken from a speech given earlier this month to King's college, London. I was hoping that there might be a Conservative Member willing to challenge those words,
but either Conservative hon. Members agree with them, in which case, presumably, we need not take much notice of their comments on Europe, or they disagree with them, in which case, presumably, there has been a fundamental shift in thinking. No doubt the shadow Defence Minister will clarify the matter when he responds.
Clearly, the Opposition do not wish to respond. I understand my right hon. Friend's comments on the development of the policy to which he refers, but if we are to enhance security in Europe through that policy, it is essential that we keep on board the European NATO countries that are not members of the European Union. Will my right hon. Friend explain how we can ensure the involvement of those six countries in the discussions, and in shaping and making decisions about the way in which the second pillar of the European Union will evolve?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that matter, which is of great concern to the British Government. During the negotiations that led to the Helsinki summit, we insisted that words were incorporated in the resolution that took account of the anxiety about non-EU NATO allies. Those words were included, and we are in the process of elaborating on how the policy will work in practice. I assure the House that the British Government continue to regard that as a priority.
The Secretary of State is dying for us to intervene, so it is only fair to do so. He was keen to quote Lord Hurd, but he should also know that one of our predecessors, Malcolm Rifkind, who was a Member of this House at some point, rejected Lord Hurd' s interpretation. Furthermore, as we are considering predecessors, what about Lord Owen, one of the Labour party's great stalwarts? He recently said:
This is exactly what the EU integrationists wanted. They will now 'communitarise' defence just as they have slowly brought the whole of the CFSP into the orbit of the Commission.
That was an interesting quotation from someone who left the Labour party. As for Malcolm Rifkind, his views show the difference between someone who clearly has ambitions in the Conservative party and someone who has given up the party—or at least its views on Europe—as a lost cause. I have no doubt that Malcolm Rifkind is trying to curry favour with the rampant anti-European obsession tendency which the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) characterises so well.
I am surprised at the levity and foolishness with which the right hon. Gentleman seeks to dignify his argument. No Conservative Member does not favour sensible, useful co-operation with our European allies and partners. That happens every day in NATO and on many other occasions on joint projects. The previous Administration undertook such projects with the French and many others. Some projects have been more successful than others, but that is because we have to feel our way in those matters.
Conservative Members object to the fact that the Labour party's proposal will undermine the credibility, authority and cohesion of NATO. That is why Conservative Members have grave anxieties about the future of the policy that the Secretary of State advances. For 98 per cent. of us, our objections have nothing to do with being anti-European; we have a genuine anxiety about the defence and security of Europe.
I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's remarks, because he was a Defence Minister at precisely the time when Lord Hurd was developing the policy of which he now approves. The hon. Gentleman made no objection during the evolution of the policy. On our policy on European defence, Lord Hurd stated:
what we are seeing now is an evolution of thinking which began to take shape eight years ago.
The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) either overlooks developments that took place while he was a Defence Minister, or his party has made a fundamental lurch to the right, in the direction of anti-European thinking. I suspect the latter.
I must make progress. I have given way often.
Lord Hurd made it clear that it is wrong that Europe collectively can contribute such a small proportion of the total forces required to solve a problem on its doorstep. During operations over Kosovo last year, Europeans flew only a third of the total number of aircraft sorties during the campaign. American military power gave credibility to the diplomatic campaign, although it is true that the majority of forces that now operate under NATO command as KFOR are from European nations. However, deploying a force of a few tens of thousands—a fraction of the total military personnel available to us—on precisely the type of expeditionary peace support operation that we envisage as typical of the operations of the future has stretched Europe's collective resources. It has also raised very difficult questions that will not go away. They need to be confronted head on. That is what we have been doing, together with our European allies and partners.
At the Helsinki European summit in December, the European Union took an enormous step forward in the process of solving Europe's military capability problems, which were so evident in the first half of last year as we pulled together forces to go into Kosovo. We seek to improve Europe's ability to put more forces in the field and to put them there more rapidly. Unfortunately, that relatively clear goal—a straightforward determination to improve European nations' individual and collective military capability—has been lost sight of at times. I regret that sensible discussion of that important issue is often impossible. As it is frequently viewed through the distorting lens of Conservative europhobia, some people seem to be unable to focus on the substance—how best to make Europe pull its weight in providing its own defence.
Let me emphasise that our security, and that of Europe, rests fundamentally with NATO. The alliance has been our guarantor of safety for more than 50 years and we have no intention of changing that. As it has shown over and over again since the end of the cold war, not least at the Washington summit last April, it is able to move with the times and to adapt to changes in the strategic environment. As our American allies have said for almost as long as the alliance has existed, Europe should do more and should contribute more to its own security. The Government agree, but that does not mean simply spending more money. In any case, as Kosovo showed, Europe's problem is not so much the quantity of its defence spending, but its quality. We need to generate more real, usable, military capability. That is what we seek to achieve—not window dressing, but real improvements in our collective ability to conduct operations in the real world.
In the United Kingdom, we have led the way, through the SDR, in turning our forces towards the future. That required some hard decisions. Our allies will have to face the same difficult lessons if they have not yet done so. I urge hon. Members to look closely at the language that came out of Helsinki and to consider carefully the European headline goal for defence. European Union Heads of State and of Government committed themselves to be able, by 2003, to deploy rapidly and sustain for at least a year forces up to 60,000 strong for crisis management tasks, as a contribution to a NATO-led or an EU-led operation. That is a challenging but entirely realistic target, and meeting it will require the modernisation of Europe's armed forces. It will mean making them more readily deployable and sustainable in areas where local infrastructure may be very limited—both are major themes in the SDR—and achieving it will tackle those areas where Europe has proved itself to be weak. It is all about enhancing military capability.
The national service regiment in which I served, which made me an honorary member of its mess, is shortly to go to Kosovo. May I ask, therefore, exactly what is happening in Mitrovica and what are the medium and long-term aims? There is great concern about that.
There is clearly great tension between the two communities in Mitrovica. British forces, together with other police forces and others, have been involved very recently in seeking to ensure continued stability there, but I do not necessarily recognise a description of what took place as a riot. I saw on the television yesterday, as perhaps my hon. Friend did, a British commander describing the demonstration as essentially good humoured. It speaks volumes for the experience and ability of our armed forces that they were able to resolve the situation so professionally. Clearly we are concerned and shall maintain vigilance to ensure that it does not get out of hand.
I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He is showing considerable generosity. As he knows, I support the European security and defence policy, but he, like me, attended the recent Munich conference on security at which there was substantial representation from both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Is it not clear that we have some way to go to allay the anxieties of legislators in the United States? I believe that we can do that. Will he accept from me that we may be able to help to allay those anxieties by accepting that there should be a formal right of first refusal for NATO before any EU action is contemplated?
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, I was present at the conference. I spoke there and discussed that issue with a number of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. I recognise that some legislators have some concerns. I cannot possibly expect to be able to allay every single one of them, because the United States, like the United Kingdom, is a robust democracy in which there is a wide variety of views. We have work to do and we continue to do it.
I visited the United States last month and was encouraged by the support that I found for what we are trying to do. In particular, the US Administration are with us, which is why they signed up to the European defence initiative at the Washington summit last year and have continually repeated their support for it ever since, not least during my visit. As Strobe Talbott, the US Deputy Secretary of State said last December:
There should be no confusion about America's position on the need for a stronger Europe. We are not against; we are not ambivalent; we are not anxious; we are for it. We want to see a Europe that can act effectively through the Alliance or, if NATO is not engaged, on its own. Period. End of debate.
Our American allies understand that the proposal is not about weakening NATO. It is about strengthening it and getting rich Europeans to pull their weight in their own defence. That is realised in Washington. It is a pity that, for whatever reason, it is not realised by some here.
I have set out an impressive programme of activity—modernisation, reorganisation and new thinking—but let us not forget that all that innovation is a means to an end. That end is the delivery of effective military force. We will be judged by one thing, and one only: our ability to deliver that force better than ever before. As I speak, we have men in Kosovo acting with skill and courage of which we can all be proud. We have HMS Illustrious in the Gulf at the head of a major naval deployment. We have Royal Air Force aircraft in the skies over Iraq. Those interventions show that we are acting as a force for good, day after day. All the developments that I have described are designed to increase the effectiveness of our forces. I commend them to the House.
I should say at the outset that our support and respect for the members of the armed forces is not in question and will not be disputed by any Member of the House—certainly not any Opposition Member. The Secretary of State was correct to say that they serve in the most difficult circumstances and deliver for this country a service of which we can be justifiably proud. If we ever needed a reminder of their skills and quality, it came in the past few days at Mitrovica. I say without fear of contradiction that the arrival of British troops in that area added greatly to the stability that then ensued. They dealt with difficult circumstances, which could easily have flared up and become worse, and the sheer quality of our armed forces—particularly of the Royal Green Jackets, but also of others—calmed the situation. I am proud of, and determined to support, them. That will not be part of the debate, nor of the criticism, and I hope that he accepts that from Members on both sides of the House.
I agree with the Secretary of State that the strategic defence review was, in essence, debated correctly and welcomed if not in its entirety, then for its central thrust. It would be churlish to say otherwise as I happen to be one of those who published a pamphlet calling for an SDR perhaps two years before the Labour party in opposition came to the idea. A few of my hon. Friends were also involved. I not only thought that an SDR was a good idea, but had high hopes and expectations when it happened. The question is, what happened as a result of the review and what is happening now? The key judgment about which the Secretary of State talked is correct: the review will be judged not on the high hopes of that time, but on what has been delivered. That includes the critical issue of what money has been made available.
To set the debate in context, we must begin with what the SDR delivered in budgetary terms. For all the criticisms of the previous Government about reducing budgets when Labour were in opposition, the fact is that the defence review went on to reduce the budget further. According to Library figures, the reduction is about £800 million, but that is in cash terms and depends on certain variables. If it is not a point blank budget saving of £800 million, much will depend on the in-house savings that have been identified to avoid having to bear the full brunt of the reduction.
It is important to identify the two critical areas, because we need to know whether we are likely to make progress and whether the recommended savings will be made. The first is the smart procurement programme. As Conservative Members know—I am sure that Labour Members also know this, although they will not admit it—Ministers are experts and masters at launching, re-launching and re-relaunching their best initiatives, or at least what they want most of all to be in the public domain, and defence is no exception. The Government think that merely by the inclusion of the word "smart"—just like they use the word "modern"—they will avoid any further scrutiny because it sounds good, warm common sense, so everyone will go along with it.
I have talked to some of my former colleagues and right hon. Friends who were in the Ministry of Defence in the previous Government, and they maintain that many of these plans were already in place. We did not call it smart procurement, because we were not as good at dressing up our proposals as we were at delivering them. I am pleased that the Select Committee did not fall into the trap of accepting that when it says "smart" it really means that.
At the heart of that programme is a saving of at least £2 billion to be delivered over 10 years. If the Government are unable to deliver the total package or, almost as importantly, cannot deliver the saving in time spread over that 10-year period, the defence budget will come under greater and greater pressure.
Cash flow is important at this juncture because there are serious doubts about whether the Government will deliver on the agreed timings. General Burton's departure last summer highlighted that. The Government made little comment about his criticisms and concerns, which came to light in the press. He was seriously angry about the pressure that Ministers were putting him under to deliver ahead of what he recognised was possible because they had flagged this up as part of their major savings. They were able to spin the idea that they were having to save less by saying that they would deliver more earlier under the smart procurement programme.
Nothing in the White Paper allays General Burton's concerns. It does not even refer to them. As ever, it glosses over the whole issue, and gives us no figures for the Government's achievements against their targets—a point that the Select Committee spotted. Worse still, the industry is already indicating that it is coming under greater pressure from the Ministry of Defence to slow down the submission of invoices so that they fall in the next financial year. That is real short-termism, which I thought smart procurement was supposed to end. That will lead to more pressure the following year, and, although people may not realise it, more expensive contracts subsequently. In this area at least, we have moved from smart procurement to stupid procurement in two short years.
The Select Committee report underlined how crucial the sale of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency was to the Ministry of Defence's budgetary calculations. Apparently, the MOD stands to gain some £250 million from the agency's partial privatisation, but the Government are now fraught with arguments and problems, not least the antipathy of the United States Government to the plans.
The Secretary of State faces a stark choice. Either he proceeds with the mess that he has on his plate—admittedly he inherited it—thus alienating the Americans and damaging his relationship with the defence industry, which has expressed grave concerns about the unfair nature of what he may be about to propose, or he faces a hole in his spending plans. All that for £250 million. We may end up jeopardising a critical part of our relationship with the United States, which is very important to the special relationship, which delivers intelligence and technology and is unique to the United Kingdom.
On top of all that, most controversially, comes the three-year efficiency saving. The White Paper contains little of substance on that. The Select Committee report rightly questions whether the 3 per cent. efficiency saving will be anything more than a 3 per cent. cut. The Government produce no evidence to prove their claims, and we are left with the evidence of cancelled exercises, shorter flying hours for the RAF and other pilots and cuts in some of the medical programmes. If the efficiency saving is not delivered, that will punch a further £500 million hole in the Government's allowance for in-house savings.
In paragraph 159, the Select Committee said:
There is, it seems to us, a fundamental implausibility in the total efficiency claimed by the MoD over the years … in other words that the MoD is simply doing less with less money".
That is the key. There has always been a suspicion that, as the budget came under pressure, greater savings would be justified as a more efficient way of doing things. If the savings are merely a cut, they will be deeply damaging to the overall ability of the armed forces, and to the doability—a horrible ord—of the strategic defence review.
Part of the great saving envisaged in the strategic defence review was the change to the Territorial Army—I use the word "change" advisedly, because it was nothing more than a pretty savage cut. Some 18,000 men were slashed from the Territorial Army as part of the package of savings offered to the Treasury. Now the Government are sending contrary messages about the use of the TA, which the Secretary of State got bogged down in when he tried to describe how it may or may not be used in the future.
In the strategic defence review, the Government said that, although it would not normally be appropriate to call out formed units of the reserves at short notice, we should be prepared to do so if that were necessary to complete the build-up of a large military force in an international crisis, such as the Gulf war. However, the Government have not discussed that with members of the TA. The Government and those who operate on their behalf hardly know where many members work. They have little data on the nature of their work and how to call them up. They have no data worth talking about on the reserves. There has been a panicky change of policy, and there is little chance of delivering it in reality. It is more about window dressing than anything else.
Furthermore, the change to the TA has flown in the face of the experience of Kosovo. Something like 40 per cent. of the TA deployment in the Balkans is infantry—the very group that has been slashed.
There are still unanswered questions about equipment for the TA. I know from many of my conversations with TA soldiers that they are concerned about the fact that, when they try to train in the evenings or at weekends—especially the signals regiments—they find themselves without equipment, because much of it has been deployed and they are left with little to train with. As a result, their training has fallen short. Nothing in the White Paper explains how that problem will be resolved; there is a gaping hole.
The key element in the White Paper that we should try to understand is the effect of any failure in the areas that I have just described. What is important is not what the Government talk about: the key issue is what effect their policy has on the effectiveness of our armed forces.
The Secretary of State was keen to talk about exercises. The Select Committee said that two major UK exercises had been cancelled because of financial constraints. The first was the Marines' arctic warfare exercise in Norway. The Secretary of State wrote to me to explain that he had been incorrect when he originally said that it had been cancelled due to commitments: it was because of budgetary constraints. The second was HMS Westminster's participation in the Flotex exercise. In fact, HMS Westminster found itself sitting in the Thames, waiting for the much-hyped new Labour new millennium.
I suppose it was good to have something British sitting near the dome over the new year—or at least something that worked. I do not know whether the Secretary of State had much to do with that, but congratulations are in order, even if they are not directed to those who run the dome, to the Secretary of State or to the Minister responsible.
The Select Committee said:
Given that so many exercises had to be cancelled because of over commitment it is deeply worrying that there was insufficient money to pay for some of even the residual exercises planned. Without regular exercises for high intensity conflict, standards in our Armed Forces will plummet, whatever the quality of the people and equipment.
The Committee also said that the pressures created by operations had led to the cancellation of some eight NATO exercises.
So far, the hon. Gentleman has majored in allegations about defence cuts. He mentioned commitments. Can he say categorically which of the commitments into which British armed forces have entered since 1 May 1997 he, as a potential Defence Secretary, would not have entered into? He says that he is concerned about allegations of defence cuts. How much would he restore to the defence budget if he were elected to government—the amount as of 1 May 1997, or, for example, the amount that was in the budget before the Conservatives cut it by up to a third?
The Secretary of State shows just how panicky he really is. He sees Labour slipping behind the Conservatives in the polls on defence, and then the panic begins. All of a sudden, Labour is more worried about what we will do when we return to government than about what it is doing in government.
There is a simple answer to the Secretary of State. When in opposition, the Labour party had nothing to say about what it would do about any of those issues. Furthermore, under Labour the recommendations of the strategic defence review have been in operation for less than two years. Is the Secretary of State saying that he has no idea how to reduce the commitments, and no idea about whether to put in extra money or to cut the budget? If so, there is a simple solution: the right hon. Gentleman should vacate those Benches, and let us take over.
In the unlikely event of it being necessary for us to vacate these Benches, I shall still want to know the answers to my questions. I gave a long list of the commitments that we have been able to reduce. What commitments would the hon. Gentleman have reduced had he been in my position? He is telling the country that he wants my position; he ought to be able to tell the country what he would do—and, moreover, how he would afford it, in the light of the tax guarantee given by the leader of his party.
I think the Secretary of State protests too much, although I understand why he is so worried. He is clearly very upset with his friends in the Treasury, and is trying to convey to them that he needs to know where to place his vote at the next election. He is saying, "I have to worry: if the Conservatives have a really good policy, Defence Ministers will have to vote for them."
The Secretary of State will hear the answer in good time. He will hear it after we have convinced everyone, as we are in the process of doing, that he and his colleagues have damaged the defence forces by making such a serious cut when they came to office, and that their commitment is not deliverable in the context of the strategic defence review.
Instead of bobbing up and down like a superannuated teddy bear with supercharged batteries, the Minister should get on with running his end of the Department, so that we do not end up with cancelled exercises, broken equipment and failure. I take no lessons from him. [Interruption.] Let me now talk about the policy for people, which the Minister will want to hear about. It is another instance of the Government's falling down.
My hon. Friend mentions the policy for people. Perhaps we could make an early pledge to restore the so-called efficiency saving of the £1.5 million cut in the programme designed to return some of the 5,000 unfit service men requiring orthopaedic treatment to the front line.
That, of course, was another Labour cut. My hon. Friend is right: what was in the budget to help to deal with those priority patients was cut. I know that the Minister had a view about those in the medical services, which is probably unrepeatable here, but there is a more positive way in which to proceed. I hope that, in making changes to the medical services, the Government will reinstate the money that they took away.
The Government's flagship policy for people was subjected to scrutiny by The Daily Telegraph on 21 November. The newspaper quoted from a briefing paper drawn up by Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, which stated:
The ambitious plans in the SDR and its supporting essays are in danger of coming to grief for want of resources … unless more resources are forthcoming we must abandon any pretence that we are putting people at the heart of our policy … The money must be found or the policy will not be delivered.
The first of the report's valid concerns was married quarters, in which I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is interested. Married quarters are the Cinderella of defence spending, and are most affected by short-termism. Although the Government have spoken of extra money—I believe that the Minister of State did so yesterday—they fail to explain why they have allowed refurbishment programmes to slide by at least two years from the dates originally proposed. The upgrades that are being put on hold amount to about what the Government trim in their attempts to find short-term savings. That is important, not just in terms of total money, but because it sends a message to families who feel undervalued as a result of the slippage. I think that the slippage also undermines service men and women when they go away from home, because they too worry about their homes.
As the hon. Gentleman suggests, there is a danger that what is said today will become repetitious in terms of what was said yesterday. I rightly pointed out then that the move from 2003 to 2005 was due to the fact that, when a full study was made of how much would be needed to upgrade the properties to category 1, the previous Administration had underestimated the amount by some £112 million in their dash to get rid of the properties and balance the budget before the last general election.
I hear what the Minister says, but that concerns total money. My question was, why the delay? That is the key question, and he has not answered it. The truth is that good management would not have allowed the delay, although it might have affected the total involved. He stands condemned.
That element of delay creates the greatest problem for families to whom my colleagues and I have talked. [Interruption.] I also have personal experience of what happens when Government change programmes. I wish that the Minister would talk to married families more, and find out what they think.
Strategic lift is a key issue, which is at the heart of Government policy. The strategic defence review made some big statements about it, which are critical to its ability to meet its targets. As Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Robertson said:
New transport aircraft and ships will move our people and equipment rapidly to trouble spots.
The Government clearly approved the short-term strategic lift programme in saying that the Ministry of Defence would meet
our strategic airlift needs in the short term with four C-17 large aircraft or their equivalent.
That was in the strategic defence review. On the Treasury's insistence, however, the short-term strategic airlift competition has been bundled together with the Hercules rolling replacement programme—as far as I can see, in order to save money.
We understand that the decision on that programme is imminent. That is what the Secretary of State tells us. We have heard the word "imminent" so often in this context that we have a case of rolling imminence: one month after another, the decision is imminent. The Treasury, however, has delayed the in-service date, at least for our heavy-lift aircraft, by a year or, perhaps, even longer. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State—I will take his intervention—were to say exactly when he intends to take the decision and, perhaps, announce what it is. It is imminent, no doubt.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State is able to shift his position slightly and move from imminent to soon. I am sure that those who study the small print will recognise a clear, major shift in policy.
I want to draw the Secretary of State's attention to an important part of strategic lift. It is not just the air side. There is the ability to move using ships. There is a clear question about the order. I gather that some of that capability in shipping was meant to be in place in October, but I should like to know at some point—I will take his intervention again—when the decision will be made; imminently soon, I dare say. He made the point that joint rapid reaction force capability requires that corresponding capability. Without that, his great statement, which I wholly applaud, that they will be able to work together and be deployed, which is exactly what should happen, will become near impossible to achieve, as we saw during the Kosovo exercise.
Again, the Select Committee shared our thoughts on the matter. It said:
The SDR committed the UK to force projection strategy. If we lack the ability to 'project' force, many very expensive assets are wasted. We view the lack of adequate deployability, particularly with regard to strategic airlift, with grave concern".
The Secretary of State has touched on overstretch already. We have been around the houses. I will not belabour him on it.
Well, all right, if my hon. Friend wants me to. Overstretch is simply about being committed to operations without the numbers necessary, or perhaps even the equipment levels to sustain them, not just in the short term, but in the medium and long terms. The Secretary of State talked about getting the level down. In fact, there was a clear statement about that in the SDR. The Government therefore have to be judged on that, just as any Government would be. It is not possible to avoid that judgment.
The problem is that the Government then and the Secretary of State just now said that the level was being brought down to below that of the previous Administration. In fact, as he admitted, it went up to nearly 50 per cent. under the Government and has now fallen, or will fall under the projection, to 28 per cent.; I think that that was the figure that he used. I have to correct the Secretary of State: 28 per cent. is the figure that he inherited. He said
below the level that we inherited.
The real point is that, in a proper debate about the matter, we would be talking about the correct start point. We can perhaps discuss how that might come about, instead of playing games about whether the figure will be above or below. The reality is that the Secretary of State inherited a level of 28 per cent. It will not fall below that, which means, in essence, that the statement in the SDR is not being delivered.
The Secretary of State said that the Government were making progress on recruitment and retention. I am a little confused about the figure that he gave the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). The Secretary of State said that, under present circumstances and conditions, it would take five years—I think that that is what he said—to reach the right manning levels, but the adjutant-general said that, at the current net inflow rate to the Army, it would take 31 years to meet its SDR target establishment of 105,000 men.
Will the Secretary of State perhaps clarify where those differences lie? It is not a marginal difference: 31 years and five years is quite a gap.
I hear what my hon. Friend says.
The point that I am making—I have tried to make it from the beginning—is that the Government must be judged on the targets that they set themselves. if they are to achieve that which they set themselves under the SDR, they will have to make certain that they have the correct amount of money, which is seriously in doubt, that they are able to deliver on the key programmes that allow them to deploy our forces, and that they have the right number of forces. In all those areas, we see no signs. There is nothing in the White Paper to answer the questions that the Select Committee asked. All that is staring at failure, rather than success.
I move to the bigger issue into which the whole SDR falls. The Secretary of State touched on it. It is worth going back to it: the strategic concept, the key issues that are likely to create, or at least to arise in the environment in which our forces may have to be deployed in the next few years.
I warned the Government some time ago that I thought—we have had exchanges about it and we will do so again—that they had taken the wrong decision over NATO and the European security and defence identity. I warned that, in late 1998, at St. Malo, the Prime Minister's rushed attempt to change policy, which then moved at an alarming pace in 1999, was a big mistake. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) is right about that.
The other day, I was checking through Hansard to find out what the Prime Minister had said on Amsterdam in the House. In response to some questions about defence and the European Union, he said:
getting Europe's voice heard more clearly in the world will not be achieved through merging the European Union and the Western European Union or developing an unrealistic common defence policy. We therefore resisted unacceptable proposals from others."—[Official Report, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 314.]
He had just taken over as Prime Minister.
That was a pretty clear statement. If anything, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex will remember, it ran very much in line with the policy of the previous Government, yet, by late 1998, the Prime Minister had executed an about-turn. At St. Malo, he started a process that opened the door to some of the most divisive French ambitions, while gaining us nothing concrete in return.
Instead, by the usual trick of saying one thing to one group and another to another, the Prime Minister succeeded in alarming the United States, while encouraging those who were so inclined to take that initiative even further. Now he and the Secretary of State are trying to pretend that the ESDI was always about improving capability for the European nations of NATO, but the Americans and others have spotted that the words in the series of agreements show up the ambitions to create a defence identity beyond NATO—outside NATO. Those are the lines and words that have been used from St. Malo to Helsinki. It is a reality. That is what the Government have signed up to.
Is it not the case that the process goes back to before St. Malo? Article B of the Amsterdam treaty specifically says that the European Union
shall set itself the following objectives:
to assert its identity on the international scene, in particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy including the progressive framing of a common defence policy.
That is what it is all about. It is about enabling the EU to assert its identity, not about defending this country.
My hon. Friend is right, which is why the Prime Minister was asked that specific question when he was in the House. There was grave concern about what the Amsterdam treaty contained. That was why he answered in the way in which he did, trying to allay the fears. Many hon. Members would have taken him at face value over that. On that basis, it is fair to assume that what he said in the House should have greater validity than anything else. The truth is that it turns out that it did not.
The Prime Minister of this country. Does the Secretary of State remember who that is? I hope that the Whips are not confused about that. A startling new problem may emerge for the Secretary of State. We will see, but the Prime Minister and others, as the Dutch showed, had agreed to extend the process. That was the concern.
The Prime Minister rebutted that through those words and said that it was not the case. I remember asking him in the Chamber that very question. He said that it had not happened and that the Dutch essentially were not correct in their interpretation. My point is that they were. We saw later how he had snuck through another change. It is important that we check what others who were party to the agreements think about them.
On 17 November 1999, Hubert Vérine, the French Foreign Minister, said that, in the ESDI, France sought to create a more autonomous defence capacity that is
separate and apart from the NATO alliance".
At about the same time, the German Foreign Minister said:
I can say, on behalf of the federal government, that we emphatically support this process and are glad about the St. Malo communiqué, because it means an important step"—
this is the important bit—
for the development of the European security and defence identity. another pillar of the process of European unification.
There is nothing much there about NATO.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I should like first to finish making this point.
Even the President of France, Jacques Chirac, said that the European Union
could not fully exist until it possessed autonomous capacity for action in the area of defence … It's an essential contribution to the emergence of a multipolar world".
All those statements on justifying the process are very different from those made by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. To top them all, on 4 February 2000, the European Commission President, Romano Prodi—I remind the Secretary of State that he and other Labour Members were very keen to have Mr. Prodi in that position—told The Independent:
When I was talking about the European army I was not joking. If you don't want to call it a European army, don't call it a European army. You can call it `Margaret"—
I would not do that if I were him; she would not approve—
you can call it 'Mary-Ann', you can find any name".
I suppose that one could even call it Tony.
Although Mr. Prodi's statement expresses what he and many other people think will happen, the Secretary of State refuses to accept that prediction.
Did my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) wish to intervene?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, but he has already covered the point. Does he agree that it is extraordinary that the Prime Minister not only asserts his profound opposition to the idea of a common European defence policy, but enthusiastically supports for the presidency of the European Commission a man who is utterly committed to the realisation of the goal of a common European defence policy? How does the Prime Minister expect to be taken remotely seriously on this matter, as on others, when he is manifestly at loggerheads with himself?
It is a conundrum. I have spent many a sleepless night wondering about the Prime Minister's split personality—the way in which, at one and the same time, he can be both Opposition and Government. He makes a statement, but, stepping to the other Dispatch Box, challenges himself and disapproves of his previous statement. It depends on the audience. One day, perhaps in The Guardian, the Prime Minister will make one policy statement, whereas, on another day, he will go out of his way to make a different statement, perhaps in the Daily Mail or The Daily Telegraph.
My hon. Friend can say that, but I would not be so unkind. On this key issue, however, we are considering not the Prime Minister's assurances, but the statements of other people.
It is no wonder that there are concerns in Washington and in NATO. The other day, some of my hon. Friends and I visited NATO. We certainly drew the conclusion that people there had serious concerns about the ESDI process, notwithstanding those people's determination to try to bind it to NATO.
There will be a problem whichever way the process goes. The process will either create a huge military structure that will operate as an alternative to NATO, or—perhaps this scenario is even more likely; it is even more dangerous—it will act as a smokescreen behind which the nations of Europe simply do not ante up in meeting their share of the NATO requirements.
Earlier, I quoted Lord Owen's comments disapproving of the process. I have also reminded the House that my former right hon. Friend—Malcolm Rifkind, who will return to the House at the next general election—has made it clear that he disapproves of the process. Like me, they believe that the European Union's involvement in the matter is part of the problem, not the solution. Everyone accepts that the European nations are not doing enough in the new millennium to keep with their obligations to NATO. They are not doing enough to provide the type of forces that are required.
The solutions to the problem lie within NATO, not outside NATO. It has always been Britain's traditional role—one that we have played very well, regardless of change of Government—to make certain that the alliance never divided into false competing halves, composed of Europe and of north America. The alliance drew its strength from the fact that it was united. Sure, there were disagreements. Equally, as we have discovered recently, there are times when not everyone will operate together. Nevertheless, by creating an artificial structural division, the Government have risked NATO's coherence. Not one country—certainly not the serious major countries—in NATO entertains increasing its defence budget significantly, if at all. I fear that, behind the screen of the proposed new structure, the defence budgets of many of those countries will decrease. We may, therefore, end up with the worst of all worlds.
As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said, signals from the European nations to the United States convey the message not only that the United States' involvement is ever less welcome, but that those countries are ever less capable of mounting a serious defence posture.
The process has already begun, which is why various American diplomats and politicians are warning the nations of Europe. The Secretary of State is always very keen to quote Strobe Talbott, and, when he does, I always ask him, please, to read on a bit, to get to the rest of Mr. Talbott's speech—the part in which he describes his fears. Here is such a section. Mr. Talbott said:
We would not want to see an ESDI that comes into being first within NATO but then grows out of NATO and finally grows away from NATO, since that would lead to an ESDI that initially duplicates NATO but that could eventually compete with NATO. That's a long-term concern, obviously, but NATO, after all, is about the long term".
Those are genuine concerns. Although the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife and I may not agree on specific policy, I agree with him that the Americans are very worried about the process. It is no good simply saying, "These are the statements that they have made supporting the process", when the truth is that they have deep concerns about it.
It is also no good simply to claim that the process is an extension of the Americans' policy, or that it was initiated because of Kosovo. As I said, the process was started well before Kosovo.
The Government embarked on the process with such speed, in 1998, not because they felt that there was a military reason to do so, but because they were genuinely scared of being isolated in Europe. The single currency was about to start and Ministers found themselves outside of it. Their panic caused them to find a mechanism by which they would be able, in a big way, to reaffirm their European credentials. The Government therefore decided to play the defence card—giving us the best conceivable example of precisely what the Government are all about. They are about not serious policy making, but cynical gestures aimed at achieving their own cynical ambitions. Their position, however, is a foolish gamble that will divide NATO at a critical time.
Yesterday, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife and I touched on the most critical issue in this debate—the reason why, now, more than at any time since the mid-1980s, NATO needs to act together. I have long believed that there is an increasingly serious threat from the proliferation of ballistic missiles and of weapons of mass destruction. I expressed that fear in the House in 1993, and I have remained convinced of the threat ever since.
What has changed the debate is that, in 1998, the Rumsfeld commission report on ballistic missile proliferation was presented to the United States Senate, making it clear that the assessment of the threat from rogue states armed with ballistic missiles was far greater than estimated previously. The report went on to say that, within approximately five years from the date of the report's publication, the United States would be within target range of missiles stationed in North Korea and Iran. The report drew on Central Intelligence Agency sources and on other intelligence sources, and it was considered to be authoritative.
Although the report obviously accepted that there was a margin of error in the judgments made, none the less, it made a very powerful point that dramatically changed thinking on the issue in the United States. It is sad that, with full knowledge of that report, little has changed in any respect in the United Kingdom or in the rest of western Europe.
Last year, I tried to point out that I thought that the British Government should now take a lead in persuading NATO to engage the United States about its proposals for a defensive shield, rather than allowing European nations to snipe at the proposals from the sidelines. The fact is that, whether the Government like it or not—this is the crucial point—the USA will proceed with development and deployment of that shield. It would be useful for the Government to make a clear statement of their position as there is nothing in the White Paper except a subtle shift of language.
The report states that
no significant ballistic missile threat to the UK and its interests will exist for some years".
Even the Select Committee reminded us that they thought that the attention given to theatre defence was "inadequate".
At no stage has the Ministry of Defence given us an indication of the meaning of the term "some years". If it is different from that in the Rumsfeld report in the United States and estimates that there are many more years to prepare, can the Minister please tell us why? If it is the same, why are we not stepping up activity and taking action? More particularly, the inclusion of the word "significant" in relation to ballistic missile threat indicates that the Ministry of Defence may have shifted slightly. At least it recognises that there is a threat, but I wonder what is meant by the word "significant". I would say that one missile armed with a chemical or biological warhead is a significant enough threat. We need to see off that threat one way or another.
I have described proliferation as the chain which links nations around the globe, but right hon. and hon. Members may not realise the extent to which it has been taking place right under their noses with a degree of complacency. It all starts with China and North Korea and North Korea's missile programme—from the Taep'o-dong missile launched in 1998 that splashed down in the sea of Japan and gave us a clear indication of the ranges being achieved to the later No-dong 1 and 2 programmes. They have absolutely convinced anyone who knows anything at all about this that the North Koreans now have the technology to produce three-stage rockets, which is the real key to producing ballistic missiles.
Whether or not North Korea poses a threat, it has helped to develop the technology in Iran, Iraq and, I understand, in other countries such as Pakistan. The key question is what we will be able to do about it. The ranges of such missiles are increasing every week. People are working on them and every year there are new developments which produce greater capacity.
There are significant links between China and North Korea and only 18 months ago China produced a missile capable of a range of 12,000 km. It will not be long before the technology finds its way to North Korea and the other rogue states that we are justifiably worried about.
Another issue that is not addressed in the White Paper involves the changing situation in Russia—not just what has been happening in Chechnya, but Mr. Putin's strident language in respect of his rights over nuclear weapons, the use to which he sees them being put and his involvement with others who wish to receive that technology about which he made some interesting statements recently.
I am concerned because I think—and the Conservative party believes—that the British Government should be taking a lead in NATO. Instead of taking a lead and trying to create or negotiate a NATO programme, the Government seem to be trying to play both ends of the argument. On one hand, they are aware of, and worried about, their French counterparts in ESDI, who are implacably opposed to the US defensive shield, as well as any discussion about a NATO programme. On the other hand, the US is going ahead and the Government try to make some quiet and careful concessions, fearful of reawakening their own Back Benchers who seem implacably opposed to any change in the anti-ballistic missile treaty or the development of such a shield.
As a result, Britain, instead of leading the debate within NATO, as we have traditionally done at critical moments, has nothing constructive or positive to say and we watch complacently as the tension within NATO grows and the threat from outside gets ever closer.
What is the lesson for leaders such as Milosevic? Over the past 12 months they will have learned that in conventional terms they clearly have no hope of dealing with NATO so there is no point in a confrontation. However, they will also have learned that if they happen to have a ballistic missile or other mass destruction capability, there is a chance that NATO might think again or take a different view. That is the key question that we will have to answer. The Secretary of State knows that it is not just about the threat to the United Kingdom, but perhaps even more urgently, it is about the threat to our deployed forces in theatre, to which we seem to have no answer. If the Government could put one half of the energy that they have put into rushing the creation of the ESDI into ballistic missile defence, by now we might just have the beginning of a constructive NATO response to what the Americans are engaged in and to the development of the threats from elsewhere.
The Secretary of State said that the Conservatives had no policy. Let me tell him that last year we committed to that as a policy. I hope that the Government will recognise that it is a serious policy position and that they will move to it as rapidly as they possibly can. If they did so, I would not make childish remarks; I would simply welcome it as a constructive move for the British Isles and for NATO.
The Select Committee report is probably the most critical White Paper that I have seen of Government policy. Almost from the outset it makes it clear that the delivery of the SDR is seriously in question. It makes it clear that the wheels are wobbling dangerously, but not quite falling off. I thought that the most telling paragraph was paragraph 17, which states:
The performance report in its present form tells us very little about how the Ministry of Defence has performed over the years in question. It measures resources and activity but hardly even begins to measure outputs … the performance report is inadequate for its stated purpose.
That is a damning indictment of Government policy. It is remarkable because it is from a Labour-dominated Committee.
As we approach the second anniversary of the SDR, the Opposition take the view that the Government's defence policy is under huge pressure internally with no real strategy externally for dealing with major threats. The Government are heading towards a crisis with breathtaking complacency. Our forces need more than fine words wrapped up in glossy documents, but I am afraid that that is all that they will get.
The White Paper is simply not good enough and the Government's performance so far shows how little thought they have given to dealing with the problems that confront them. They thought little about them before entering Government and they have tried to think as little as possible about them since. There needs to be a huge change in thinking if our defence forces are to succeed. Otherwise, as I fear and the Select Committee seems to indicate, we will lurch from crisis to crisis, with all that that entails.
Let me start by saying that I am a member of the defence committee of the Western European Union and that other members of that committee are present in the Chamber. I should like to concentrate on chapter 2 of the White Paper under the heading, "The European Dimension", which deals with a matter that has been in the forefront of discussion at the major summit conferences that have taken place in recent months—the European security and defence identity—and, as we heard from the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the future military role of the European Union.
Discussions on the role of the European Union go back some years. Suggestions that European nations should think more boldly and imaginatively about defence and be able to speak and act more effectively certainly have a great deal of merit. However, while the discussions have been taking place, the European defence identity, based on its role within the European Union, was supposed to have been in place this year. That most certainly will not happen. While the discussions continue, there are unanswered questions that concern many people and I shall concentrate on those questions during my short speech today.
As a member of the British delegation to the WEU, I want to know what role the WEU will have in any European defence identity. The WEU has 28 member states, many of which are not members of the European Union and will not be members for many years to come. Other countries are not NATO members. While NATO enlargement has taken place and will undoubtedly continue to take place, several countries that play a meaningful role in the WEU will not be members of the European Union or NATO for some, possibly many, years. However, they are European countries with a great concern for their security. Will their role be defined and, if so, when will that happen?
The overriding issue of the position of countries that are not members of the European Union or NATO comes up time and again in WEU meetings that I and other members of the British delegation attend. We have attended meetings in Oslo and Brussels in recent weeks and, at both, that issue figured highly in the discussions. Some of the WEU member states are deeply concerned, because they are not convinced that they will have a meaningful role in any changes that take place in European security and defence policy.
After the Oslo meeting, a statement was issued on 11 February, which read:
The new security policy bodies of the EU should therefore function on the principles of inclusiveness and transparency as regards the contribution of the non-EU European Allies.
What will be the role, in any future European defence policy that may be developed, of countries such as Turkey, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria? Some of them—Turkey, for example—play a major role in European defence policy.
It has already been mentioned in today's debate that the recent conflicts in Europe mean that we will have to develop the two roles of crisis management and peacekeeping. Neither will be easy, as we have sadly found out. How will those roles be developed within the European defence identity? We already know that, within the existing European Union of 15 members, we have countries that do not wish to play a role in crisis management, but who participate in peacekeeping as part of the United Nations and other major organisations in various areas of the world. What policy does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State envisage the European Union following as it develops its defence and security role? Will those countries that I mentioned, which do not wish to be involved in crisis management, be involved in discussions on the European Union defence and security role or will we have a system in which, on some issues, some member states will play one role on one issue and another on other issues? That question arises repeatedly at the meetings that I and other hon. Members attend.
Crisex 2000, which will take place soon, is designed to test the different structures. The answers from that exercise will be made available if my hon. Friend is able to wait.
I welcome those comments and I shall certainly await the outcome of that exercise with interest. I am sure that my hon. Friend and I will discuss the issues again.
We do not hear much in the House or generally about the future role of elected Members of the European Parliament. I relate the European Parliament to the European Union. Will the elected Members have a decision-making role, or will the national Parliaments of the member states of the EU remain the sovereign decision makers? That question is often asked, but rarely answered.
I have three other points to make. The first centres on budgets. We know that many countries in the EU and the WEU face budget restraints. We know that the budgets of some countries mean that they could pay far more towards overall defence expenditure and their commitments as European countries. If we develop the European defence and security role, will the 15 member states of the EU be expected to increase their budgets for that purpose? I would be interested to know whether that suggestion has been made at the meetings that have already taken place.
Paragraph 17 of the White Paper states:
Britain and the other nations of the EU also wish to play an appropriate part in the response by the wider international community to crises elsewhere. We need therefore to be able both to make a stronger and more coherent contribution to the Alliance and to improve our collective capability to undertake European crisis management operations where the Alliance as a whole is not engaged. Above all, this means strengthening European nations' armed forces. Too few have been modernised to meet today's requirements. Too few can be deployed to crises quickly, are flexible enough to meet the difficulties they will face, or are sustainable over long periods in difficult conditions.
Those comments emphasise the problems that already exist, and those of us who belong to this country's delegation to the WEU do not think that those issues are sufficiently recognised, discussed or answered.
The second issue is that of service personnel. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we are overstretched, as are other countries, and I was pleased to hear his comments about the improvements that are being made in our forces. However, paragraph 19 of the White Paper talks of
up to 50,000 or 60,000 personnel, together with appropriate air and naval elements".
Will the policy be to obtain those highly trained service personnel from the existing 15 member countries of the European Union? If so, EU countries would have to allocate much greater financial resources for collective security than they have hitherto.
My final point has to do with assets—another matter that crops up repeatedly at the meetings that I and other hon. Members interested in this matter attend. To some extent, the debate has already touched on the question of NATO-US assets. Will my hon. Friend the Minister say how those assets will be allocated? Under what terms would they be allocated to us in a crisis management role? Although support would come from NATO and the United States, any actual involvement would be undertaken by Europe. We have heard little about how assets would be allocated, or about the conditions as to use that may be imposed on assets not owned by the European Union. Discussing the allocation of assets would require the US and NATO to co-operate with the European Union in a way that has not happened before. I should certainly welcome that.
All those who belong to the WEU accept that changes will take place in Europe under the proposed European security and defence identity. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State noted in his opening remarks, ESDI has been discussed for many years, but some major European countries in NATO or the WEU have no idea what their role in that might be. Sadly, the White Paper makes no reference to that problem.
Two matters need to be understood. First, the 15 members of the European Union must have equal rights and responsibility. There must be the fullest discussion and participation for WEU-associated members in the development of ESDI if the project is to succeed. It must be seen to be truly European, regardless of whether the countries involved are members of the EU, NATO, or the WEU.
Secondly, we must not allow a European Union caucus to develop, which might result in non-European Union countries being expected to play a limited role in European defence. I regularly meet representatives of those countries, and I can tell the House that they do not want such a caucus to develop. We should not allow countries that have been willing to associate with us and have been involved with us in difficult times to be frozen out of a future European defence policy.
I am not the first Member in this debate to rely on passages from the excellent report from the Select Committee on Defence in response to the White Paper. Reference has been made already to paragraph 159, in which the Committee stated:
There is, it seems to us, a fundamental implausibility in the total efficiency claimed by the MoD over the years.
Paragraph 160 states:
A year-on-year programme of efficiency savings can have a debilitating effect at all levels of command, and can be destructive to the quality of life that will sustain retention in the Armed Forces.
Paragraph 161 states:
Overall, we conclude that the condition of the defence budget is sufficiently poor to give rise to serious concern. The cumulative evidence of cancelled exercises, delayed equipment programmes and of resources apparently insufficient to reverse the problems of overstretch and undermanning suggest that, if the wheels have not yet come off the SDR, they are certainly beginning to wobble alarmingly.
That is colourful language, but all the more effective for that. The paragraph concludes:
The Department's finances should be rebalanced in their current Spending Review. Commitments and resources have to be brought back into line or we risk finding ourselves stumbling from one crisis to the next.
That is the background to this debate on the White Paper, and it is based on the analysis revealed by the notes of evidence attached to the Select Committee's report. However, before turning to purely domestic issues, I want to say a few words about Kosovo. I am not interested only in the events at Mitrovica or the reports in national newspapers today. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) returned from a visit to Kosovo before Christmas with tales of the many things that had gone wrong. Those of us who supported military action in the region were deeply disturbed by what my right hon. Friend saw on his visit, and by current developments.
Neither NATO nor the United Nations can take any comfort from what is happening in Kosovo. Once again in the Balkans, we are paying the price for ambiguous political objectives supported by inadequate resources. It is frankly scandalous that fewer than half of the civilian police promised for the United Nations have been provided by UN members. Also, the conduct of some military units has been inept, provocative and lacking the necessary impartiality. We get mixed-ability teaching but—too often, it seems—we also get mixed-ability soldiering.
I believe that it was right to intervene in Kosovo, but nothing will damage the principle of intervention for humanitarian purposes more than an abject failure to invest in peace. Nothing will serve Milosevic better than a lack of will and resources to protect and promote the values of a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo. It does not strain the language—or the circumstances—to say that Kosovo may be on the brink of disaster. If that disaster happens, it may well impose additional burdens on our armed forces.
We must insist on the deployment of the number of troops and civilian policemen that were considered necessary in the first instance; we should implement the so-called Balkan stability pact as hard and fast as possible; and we should ensure that the promises of economic assistance that were made are fully implemented.
The hon. Gentleman and I disagree about the legitimacy of the right of intervention, but I share with him a sense of frustration at what has happened after that intervention took place. As a national newspaper editorial put it, somewhat tritely, we might have won the war, but we may be about to lose the peace.
As I was saying, developments in Kosovo—and even in Montenegro—might, in due course, place additional strain on our armed services. We know from answers that have been obtained from Ministers that the Army is short of tanks, that the Royal Air Force is short of planes, and that the Navy is short of fuel and medical services. Evidence from so many sources is self-corroborating and even more compelling. The difficulties that have been reported must have a debilitating effect on morale and capability.
Ministers often criticise Opposition Members for being far too quick to raise concerns about capability or the availability of resources. They say that it is damaging to morale in the armed services. I should like to put the opposite point of view: if the people in the armed services thought that there was no opposition, and that no one was holding the Government to account, the damage to morale might be very much greater.
When we ask young men and, increasingly, young women to risk their lives on our behalf, we may talk about defence but they go out and implement it. When we ask them to put their lives at risk, surely we have an overwhelming duty to ensure that we give them the best possible equipment and resources that we can manage.
The problems include the fact that major procurement programmes are subject to delay and overspend. The National Audit Office report tells us that, almost annually. We know, because senior budget holders say so off the record, that their budgets are severely stretched by the burden of the so-called annual 3 per cent. Efficiency savings. We know that the Army is undermanned. Even on the most optimistic forecast, it will be 2005 before that deficit is made up.
We know that serious questions have been raised about the reliability of the equipment used in Kosovo, in particular the SA80 rifle and Clansman radios. There is nothing new about that. In the course of the previous Parliament, the Defence Committee produced a vitriolic report about the nature of the procurement process for the SA80. Clansman radios were due to be replaced 15, even 20, years ago. There has already been considerable publicity about, and criticism of, the faults of that equipment.
I have voted with the Government in the past to support military action, but it is inexcusable for the Government and the House to make rigorous demands on the armed forces without ensuring that they are properly funded. I do not believe that we can contribute to the United Nations, play our part in NATO and influence European security—all at levels commensurate with the experience and skill of our armed services—under the present financial arrangements.
Between 1989 and 1998, United Kingdom defence spending as a percentage of gross domestic product has gone down by about 40 per cent. From 4.5 per cent. of gross domestic product in 1989, it had fallen in 1998 to 2.7 per cent. In the financial year 2001–02, it is set to drop to 2.4 per cent. Given the performance of the past 10 years, even that plateau may be difficult to hold on to. The fall in real terms between 1989 and 1998 was 22.6 per cent. We are all complicit in those reductions. When the Conservative party was on the Treasury Bench, proposing "Options for Change" and "Front Line First", I did not hear myself say, "That money should not be taken away." The hon. Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill) and the right hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) did not say to the then Government, "Do not reduce defence expenditure." Instead, their response was a blanket—a pretty effective blanket—proposal for a full-scale defence review. The truth is that all parties in the House are responsible for these large reductions.
In his Chicago speech a year ago, the Prime Minister argued forcefully for the recognition of a moral imperative for intervention where there is a systematic abuse of human rights. He was right to do so, but those words will have a hollow ring if the Government and the country are unable or unwilling to accept that moral imperatives do not come cheap, and that if we want to act, we have to arm.
The 3 per cent. efficiency saving seems to lie at the heart of many of the day-to-day stresses and strains in the budget. If the Government want to take steps to restore morale and reduce pressure, they should abandon that measure. The Chief of the Defence Staff, when asked about the 3 per cent. efficiency saving, said that it was challenging. We all know that that is Whitehall-speak for bloody difficult. It cannot be achieved without considerable stress and strain.
The strategic defence review has proposals for two aircraft carriers, approximately double the tonnage of the Invincible class, and for four C 17s, or their equivalent. Heavy airlift and a new generation of aircraft carriers are the very underpinning of the expeditionary strategy upon which the strategic defence review was based. That is the essential prerequisite of intervention of the kind justified by the Prime Minister in Chicago. There is no logic in having an expeditionary strategy if we cannot project our forces where they are needed and cannot sustain them once they have got there.
Before the Chancellor embarks on this year's Budget—or, indeed, on the pre-election Budget of 2001, in which he is widely predicted to cut taxes—proper regard must be given to the resources, financial and military, that are necessary to meet the responsibilities inherent in the so-called Chicago declaration. On the second day of the debate, if my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) has the good fortune to be called to speak, he will develop at some length some of the significant procurement issues, not many of which have featured so far in this debate.
There are two important decisions, one of which may even have been taken yesterday, if we are to believe what we read in the newspapers. The first is that of the missile to be fitted to the Eurofighter, or the Typhoon, as we must now learn to call it. I believe that the European solution in that competition is the best. Although the undertakings of the United States Government on the American proposal are no doubt given in good faith, we would do well to remember that Congress has independent rights in relation to arms exports. The Pakistani Government discovered that to their cost when they not only ordered, but paid for, 24 F16 aircraft which they never received.
I believe that the C17s are the proper solution to heavy-lift procurement. That may cause disappointment among those who favour the British Aerospace and the Airbus variant. However, the C17s are available, they are proven and can be obtained at a good price, and the Airbus variant has not yet flown. On balance, the C17s seem the appropriate choice.
On the Eurofighter, and its beyond visual range air-to-air missile, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will recall the day that he, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and I spent in the Bundestag with the German defence committee when it was throwing a wobbly over the future of Eurofighter. We found that once we had put a little resolve into the committee's members they wanted to discuss more than anything not Eurofighter, but the missile with which it was going to be equipped. They were determined that if the aircraft went ahead, which it did, it should be equipped with a European missile so that the Americans could not veto its sale to third countries, therefore jeopardising the aircraft's long-term export sales prospects.
The hon. Gentleman and I are at one. I remember that occasion: we went to the Bundestag and while we were having lunch, the committee took a decision to support Eurofighter. It took a decision that we had gone there to argue for before we got round to doing so. That says something about our reputation or our lack of influence.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about which decisions he thought were right and proper. I will not follow him down that road because I am happy to go along with whatever the Ministry of Defence decides in purely military terms. Will he accept that the key problem is slightly more than that which he describes? I refer to the delay in making decisions. We have been told by the industry that if the MOD does not make its decisions soon, whatever they are, it may go beyond the point of no return.
Like others, I was deeply disappointed that the short-term competition for the leasing of C17s was cancelled, for reasons which have never been fully explained, but which most of us understand to have been because the contract could not be entered into at a price within the MOD's budget. However, there is some evidence that to persuade the United States Pentagon to buy C17s, the manufacturers were willing to offer them at a rather lower price than would have been the case even six or nine months ago. It is possible that out of delay some advantage has been achieved.
To return to my initial argument, let me say that, if our strategy is expeditionary, we have to have the means to take our troops to the place where we think they will have to fight. Indeed, one—among other—rather depressing feature of operations in Kosovo was the fact that Europe had to rely to such an extent on American heavy lift or on leasing an Antonov aircraft, which, for political or military reasons, might not necessarily be available in all circumstances.
On European security and defence policy, the main lesson of the Gulf war, which has been reinforced ever since, is that the United States is in a different capability league from all other nations. Bosnia reinforced the view that offensive air power could provide the necessary coercion to bring obstinate leaders to the negotiating table. Europe showed itself to be good at providing political support for operations, but we showed ourselves as, frankly, incompetent at contributing in sufficient quantity and quality to the air campaign. The figures are well known. Contributions from the European NATO nations in Kosovo amounted to only 4.3 per cent. of the total sorties flown. Difficulties in raising ground forces have since demonstrated that the armies of Europe are as poorly structured as some of their air forces.
NATO is, of course, vital to our security. In some respects, NATO is probably more secure after Kosovo. If it had not stuck together during the political period in advance of air operations and during those operations themselves, its future would have been gloomy indeed. Other tests of alliance cohesion are likely in the years ahead. A curious feature of the post-cold-war situation has been that the alliance has been tested in ways that it never was previously.
I was present with other members of the Defence Committee—as the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) may remember, we were in the Pentagon—when former Secretary of State Perry said,
NATO is more important than Bosnia.
That was a proposition of such self-evident validity that one asked oneself why he had felt it necessary to say it. The reason was that the stress and strain within NATO in the early days of Bosnia—in particular, when UNPROFOR was deployed—was such that people had begun to question whether it had the political cohesion to survive.
However, we still need to rebalance our partnership with the United States within NATO. Europe has to take far greater responsibility for its own defence. That should not be detrimental to our relationship with the US. As I said, that relationship is crucial, but we should remember that although our interests will invariably be similar to those of the US, the emphasis could be different in areas such as the middle east, for example in relation to Iran—I shall return to that so-called rogue state in due course.
We in Britain—perhaps we in this House more than anywhere else—have a responsibility to ourselves and to Europe to be willing to say so when we believe that our interests are not being properly served. European defence does not involve a European army nor, so far as I am concerned, will it ever involve the taking of majority decisions when hostilities are on the agenda. Those are the essential responsibilities of Parliaments and they should never be given up.
We must not think that insularity is sufficient to deal with the evolving political balance in NATO. The logic for Europe collectively making more effective use of the $160 billion or so that it spends annually on defence is overwhelming. We ought to get much better value for the money that we spend. However, the relationship with the United States needs to be rebalanced. I said that the presumption is that our interests will coincide, but I can list a number of areas in which the United States has taken a different position from us and our allies in Europe: on the chemical weapons convention, the comprehensive test ban treaty, the land mines treaty, the international criminal court and the anti-ballistic missile treaty. In those areas, the United States is acting unilaterally: its actions do not accord with the political judgments of the rest of its allies in Europe.
As I said when I intervened on the Secretary of State, those of us who were at the Munich conference a fortnight ago could not but have been conscious of the unease on the part of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Those of us who support the ESDP must persuade these legislators that it will not prejudice NATO. I was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not respond directly to my intervention. It is one reason why I think that NATO should have a right of formal first refusal when any military action is contemplated. That will deal with members of NATO who are not members of the European Union. We will require other arrangements for EU members who are not members of NATO.
I note the significance of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about belief in the national veto on defence. Does he agree that, in those circumstances, it is—to put it mildly—unfortunate that the President of the European Commission has said that an attack an one member state of the EU should be regarded as an attack on all—apparently, deliberately seeking to ape NATO? Should he not be condemned for that?
We should remember that the President of the Commission is not the Prime Minister of Europe, even though he may from time to time think that he is. Europe is a union of nation states, which have pooled their sovereignty in certain respects. Frankly, there is no such legal obligation. If the hon. Gentleman has followed American thinking on these matters, he will know that there was great apprehension in Washington about the notion of a security guarantee being given, as it were, by the back door. I do not support that view. If that is what Mr. Prodi said, he was wrong, and I hope that the former Secretary of State for Defence, who is now the Secretary-General of NATO, took an early opportunity to tell him just that.
Lord Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, wrote in the Financial Times on 18 February:
A valid Atlantic partnership cannot safely depend on a unique superpower on one side of the Atlantic, with an array of Europeans on the other side, strong in rhetoric but chronically short of coherence and muscle. Neither coherence in foreign policy nor a muscular defence will be easy to come by.
Lord Hurd gave what I would certainly understand to be intelligent and cautious support for the notion of proceeding upon the initiatives that have been launched on European security and defence policy. In that sense, he is entirely in the main stream of thinking in the United Kingdom, even though he may be slightly out of the main stream in his own party.
As Lord Hurd is now the fount of mainstream opinion and the oracle on all things, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with what he said at the time of the conflict in Bosnia—that we should not allow the Bosnian Muslims the arms to defend themselves for fear of creating a level killing field? Is that mainstream opinion, or should we consider these matters in their own terms and not according to who said them?
It would almost be worth having the Conservatives back in power to see on how many occasions the hon. Gentleman would disagree with them.
Lord Hurd's remarks were roundly condemned by Lady Thatcher and also by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). I am not arguing that Lord Hurd is infallible, but on that matter he seems to be in rather more of the main stream. They were all in the main stream when the Maastricht treaty was being considered, with the exception of the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) who is now shadow Secretary of State for Defence.
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot keep interrupting. I cannot hear what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) is saying.
I will not give way because I want to give the hon. Gentleman a short reminder of history. The Maastricht treaty was whipped through the House—three-line Whips, night after night. Some hon. Members resisted the Whip; for example, the hon. Member for
Chingford and Woodford Green, who found that period of his political career rather uncomfortable. However, the treaty stated that the EU's external policy objective was to
assert its identity on the international scene, in particular, through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence.
That is the fons et origo of the European security and defence policy.
My concluding remarks will be about the feasibility of a proposed national missile defence system—very much part of the political agenda in Washington. The first two tests of such a system have been inconclusive, but a third is expected before President Clinton makes a decision, in June, on whether to seek congressional funding to enable full-scale development and deployment to take place by 2005.
President Clinton intends to take account of four published criteria: the threat; feasibility; affordability; and the strategic environment—including arms control objectives. It is clear beyond question to anyone who spends time in Washington at present, or to anyone who was in Munich a fortnight ago, that the only test that matters is feasibility. If the system can be made to work, the United States—under the present Administration or the next—will deploy a form of national missile defence, in the face of the reservations of its European allies and even if it means breaching the anti-ballistic missile treaty.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State engaged in a certain amount of urbane dissembling when that reality was put to him. He did not really respond to the shadow Secretary of State's approach to the matter today. There will be a decision in June. The UK Government had better have a view as to their reaction to that decision. In the first instance, some effort will be made to obtain the use of Fylingdales as part of the system. That may not be entirely popular in some parts of Yorkshire.
There may well be consequences for the nuclear doctrine of minimum deterrence, or for the prospects of obtaining reductions in nuclear weapons—either through START 2 or, more optimistically, through a START 3 treaty. If the deployment of national missile defence provokes a lack of co-operation, the prospect of further multilateral nuclear disarmament may be much more remote than many of us hope.
Liberal Democrats oppose the proposal for national missile defence if it has the effect of breaching the anti-ballistic missile treaty. If some arrangement can be made—if the technology can be made available to Russia, which is currently under discussion in Washington—different considerations may apply. The ABM is important because it has been a keystone in the balance of power since 1972.
The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green talked about threat assessment; he referred to rogue states. Popularly, there are four of those: Iran, Libya, North Korea and Iraq. Perhaps we should look at Iran with rather more optimism after the events of the past week or so. We have just resumed diplomatic relations with Libya, and the two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing inquiry have been made available for trial. Former Secretary of State Perry is making a long, detailed effort to negotiate with North Korea. In Iraq, we are containing the situation on the basis that if there is any effort to use—or to threaten to use—weapons of mass destructions, there would almost certainly be a proportionate response, as I think that James Baker pointed out during his negotiations with Tariq Aziz before the Gulf war.
The risk of the proposal for national minimum missile defence is that it appears to undercut the whole principle of deterrence. There is an important question for all of us: supposing that the UK were to be involved in that proposal, what would be the cost? How certain could we be that the US would be willing to transfer all the technology to us?
I am about to finish my speech. Other Members want to take part in the debate, and I have delayed the House as long as is prudent.
One disappointment of the White Paper is that only one sentence deals with nuclear weapons—in paragraph 128. That is profoundly disappointing as we approach the review conference for the non-proliferation treaty, which will be held within a few weeks. Under article 6 of that treaty, the UK has obligations to pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith, by negotiation. Nothing in the White Paper sets out what the UK proposes to do at the conference, or, indeed, in the future. That is a sad and unfortunate omission.
It is conventional in these debates to express support and congratulations to all those who serve in the armed forces. As I said earlier, we talk about defence, but they risk their lives to be our defence. On these occasions, we should never forget that.
It is always a privilege to be able to speak in this place. No doubt it is because so many Members are absent that I have been given that opportunity today. However, I am not sure whether it is an advantage to follow the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), whose eloquence we try to emulate. It is a pity that his talents are wasted in the Liberal party.
I want to focus on more realistic issues, which touch me and my city, and also to talk about my experiences in the WEU. Those matters are wide ranging, but not rambling. I shall touch on four of them. The first is parochial and relates to Portsmouth and the Territorial Army. The second is the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, about which I have some worries. The third relates to Portsmouth's interests in defence contracting. Finally, I shall make some observations on the European issue.
Earlier, we heard an attack on the TA. I recently visited our TA centre in Portsmouth to find out the truth. The professionals running the TA were extremely complimentary about the restructuring, although the Royal Rifle Volunteers are still trying to establish an identity. They have moved location and are rather lost in the wilderness. They emphasised however that members of the TA are looking forward to playing a much more professional role, and, at times, to being reinjected in the proper services. They were buoyant. They were worried about employers giving TA members time off, and hope that the Government can reinforce the right of people to join the TA and to be released from work for service in it. When I was employed at the MOD, I spent a lot of time negotiating for time off for TA members. I hope that we can make things easier for them, because they play a vital role.
DARA, which was set up in April 1999, is mentioned briefly in the Select Committee report. I have sufficient experience of the agency to realise that the report's words do not clearly define its problems. I worked in the naval air repair organisation—NARO—for 39 years; it was a good experience. The organisation is mainly based in Gosport—I am sure that the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) will not mind my mentioning that—and many of my constituents work there.
I did not object when NARO became part of the new agency. That was the way to go and it was to be encouraged. However, the way the change was carried out leaves much to be desired. A new chief executive was parachuted in to take out the old style of management. He was bent on trying to modernise the organisation so as to integrate it with DARA—the new agency. In his clinical and surgical way, he ripped out the social fabric of the establishment and sorted out the management in short order—frightening everyone about the future. He made promises that jobs were secure and that the rationalisation, which we predicted, would not take place. The trade unions accepted his words and encouraged the work force to go with the plan rather than resist it. I was part of the team that did that, but the latest announcement is that 90 of the most highly qualified avionics craftspeople will be sacked. Our trust has been severely undermined.
I declare an interest, as a member of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union. I have long been associated with the union, and its officers normally work well and try to get on with management. However, one full-time official of the union is so incensed that he has written to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces. I know that my hon. Friend is capable of understanding the details, but the worrying point is that trade unions have to report that they have been misled. In fact, the official uses much stronger terms than that. That is no way to reorganise DARA.
There is a fear that the whole of the establishment in Gosport will collapse, leaving us short of 1,000 jobs. If that is so, it would be a sad reflection on the Government's well-intentioned idea of creating a defence repair agency for aviation that is second to none and of strengthening the establishments at St. Athan, Sea Land and Almondbank in Scotland, if not Fleetlands in Gosport. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has listened and is well aware of the issues.
The underlying point is that we can evolve, modernise and carry the unions and the hearts and minds of the workers with us only if we are honest. If there is a suspicion that honesty is being taken advantage of, we shall destroy the process and cause a reaction. That will result in all the bad things that we saw many years ago. I have invested 39 years of my life in the industry and I do not want to see that wasted by a chief executive who is building an empire for himself.
I listened to Members who referred to the necessary missile systems, such as the beyond visual range air-to-air missile, and to the importance of reaching decisions on them. I am bored silly, as no doubt many are, by mention of the A400M heavy lifter. However, we had fun yesterday when my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) innovatively suggested that we might try to land it on aircraft carriers. I have been pressurised by companies to mention this heavy lifter, and I believe that it is the right solution. It is geared and designed specifically to the roles that it will play in the future. Whatever the interim arrangements, I hope that it will be the long-term solution.
A strategic air tanker is also necessary, as is SIFF—successor identification friend or foe—which is the advanced version of the current system. However, we must strike a balance. I represent Portsmouth, which is heavily dependent on defence, although more on the private contracting sector than on Government provision. My ears are therefore bent from all sides. I just hope that the jobs in the companies involved are secured and that the right decisions are ultimately taken. However, I prefer some solutions to others, because they are more of a British and a European answer than an American one.
I want to touch on the European defence initiative. As a member of the Western European Union, I attended the meeting that decided to nominate me as a rapporteur for the committee considering the European armed forces and the collective capability required for their deployment. Because I did not say no, I suddenly found that I had a new job. It has been quite an eye opener, and the research that I have seen strengthens my view that we are doing exactly the right thing. Although the White Paper deals with general issues and does not specify details, it goes hand in glove with that research.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) touched on the issues that worry the WEU. They include the roles of the European Union, the WEU and NATO. I was lucky that, as a member of the WEU's defence committee, I was able to visit Washington. We visited the Pentagon and spoke to senior military figures. We also spoke to the President's strategic defence adviser and we were flown to Florida to speak to General Zinny and his team, who make up America's rapid reaction force.
The people that we met expressed strong views and were committed to the Government's approach. At no time did anyone doubt it; in fact, they encouraged it. Many complimentary things were said about the strategic defence review, and it was said that we were ahead of the game. Many countries, including America, will have to go through that process and they congratulated my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government on their role.
As I am a creep, may I say that the Government's Front-Bench team on defence are doing a great job? They have recently been enhanced by an extra Minister who will add more gravitas, if not gravity, to those on the Front Bench. Labour Members are extremely lucky to have such a powerful and secure team. That is enough creeping for now, and it will not get me any better answers. However, it is true that there is much sense and stability in that team. As a representative of a constituency with defence interests, I like and feel secure with its members.
I am writing a paper and have received information from many French sources regarding the new missions for European armed forces. That information leads me to believe that we are in an inevitable process that cannot be stopped. As a practical realist, I like to go with the flow and try to make things work rather to oppose for the sake of opposition and gain brownie points. [Interruption.] That is Tony. He says, "Syd, comb your head; you are on television."
I know that the best speeches are always the shortest speeches, and two minutes is long enough. I feel secure with the new way Europe is going. I do not have the hang-ups that I used to have in the old days. There is an inevitable process and a pride in what we have and in how we can lead Europe. The strategic defence review covers most of the things that we need to do, and I am sure that we shall have a safer future.
My ears pricked up with alarm when the hon. Gentleman mentioned the word "inevitable" in the context of European integration. If, as part of the horse trading in the European Union, the sacrifice of the British national veto on defence becomes a precondition of British entry to the euro, will he confirm that that is a deal with which he is entirely content?
I echo the words of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife. The veto is secure. The organisation comes together for the benefit of defence in Europe. That does not mean giving up our sovereignty or handing over a veto, it means working together as a team to secure better defence in Europe.
Our experiences with NATO and in European crises show that there is much that we have to learn. There are shortfalls. For example, interoperability was shown up in such a way that we felt let down. We have not yet got interoperability to the extent that we want it; nor do we yet have the joint workings that we should have. There are several things for which we rely on America to an extent that we should not.
This country and Europe should have a heavy lift requirement and we should have the security surveillance that we need without having to rely on another nation. We should have such surveillance so that we can link in with America and NATO to make ourselves stronger. If we can put right the shortfalls in the European context, the whole system will become stronger.
I very much agree with earlier statements that we shall not give up our sovereignty. We are still a proud nation, but we are part of a team and we can work much better together. More bangs for bucks was mentioned earlier. The money that we spend on defence seems to be inefficiently used compared with what America does. If we can learn from that and become more efficient, we shall be better off all round.
I hope that the Minister has listened to my point about DARA. Although it is a parochial issue that affects me personally, it is also an issue to do with the way that we do things. I trust the actions that the Government have taken on agencies. They seem to be a lot better and are being run more realistically. Rationalisation is inevitable, but what is important is how we carry it out and how we treat people. If we are to lose many highly skilled people, that will be a sad waste for Gosport, and we will suffer. At the end of the day, however, our trade unions must be able to trust what the Government are doing.
May I start by declaring my interests in defence? I am a consultant to Litton Industries and to GenCorp Aerojet, which are both American contractors, and to the consulting engineers W. S. Atkins, which play a serious role in the management of the defence of the state. I am also a director of Leafield Engineering Ltd., which is a small company involved in defence manufacture in Wiltshire.
My contacts in the Ministry of Defence tell me that they have never known a time when morale was so low and when the financial pressures were so great on everything that they are trying to do. Those problems are compounded by those of retaining our good, trained people and of meeting all our commitments.
I blame all that on the strategic defence review. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the shadow Secretary of State, I do not think that there should ever have been a strategic defence review. What the Ministry of Defence needed after the election was a period of stability. We had already had two defence reviews: "Options for Change", which made a massive reduction in the number of our forces, including halving the Rhine Army, and the defence cost studies, which took an enormous amount out of the defence budget. After that, the Ministry needed a period of calm and time to get itself into order.
The strategic defence review had to happen because, foolishly, it was included in the Labour party's manifesto at the last election. The result is that further disruption has taken place. The Government say, "Ah, but this is different. This is foreign policy-led." To me, that is a pretty laughable claim. Presumably, this is the Foreign Office that did not tell us that the Falklands were going to be invaded, and at the time of the Gulf war, that Kuwait would be invaded by Saddam Hussein. I have great difficulty in understanding what expertise the Foreign Office has that enables it to tell us about our deployment of troops.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State realises that when he talks about modernisation, he fills many decent people with dread and apprehension. Modernisation for this Government has come to mean that whatever exists, and has done so for some time, should be thrown up in the air so that it can all be changed rapidly, but one has absolutely no idea where it will all land. I pity the Ministry of Defence if the Secretary of State's objective is to modernise it because it will almost certainly mean prolonged chaos from which it will take a long time to recover.
There is no doubt that the SDR has been driven by the Treasury because it wanted its pound of flesh, but it was important that when the SDR was launched, it should all be dressed up to suggest that the cuts would not be as dramatic as they were. The theory was that there were savings to be found, and the spin was that the 3 per cent. that was saved would be ploughed back into the defence budget. One talked not about cuts but about increases in expenditure from the savings that had been made. The trouble is that it has not worked out that way.
I commend the Select Committee on Defence on its excellent report on the SDR and defence generally. It is one of the best reports that we have seen for a long time, but it is also a damning report of the Government's running of the Ministry of Defence since the last election. It is claimed that the target of £505 million of savings in 1998–99 was exceeded; the Ministry claims that it achieved £594 million of savings. However, the Select Committee regards that figure as completely implausible.
What is an efficiency saving and what is a cut in expenditure? It is too easy to confuse the two, and we have all been subjected to a complete con trick with the 3 per cent. savings. There has really been a massive reduction in defence expenditure, which has resulted—as we have been hearing all afternoon—in training being cancelled and ships being told to go at low speeds so that they do not consume too much fuel. That, in the words of the Secretary of State, is keeping within the budget, but we know that there are serious restraints on the military in carrying out the training that is necessary if it is to produce the top-class troops that we have been used to having in the British armed forces.
It was certainly a lot higher than it is now.
Procurement is also a complete shambles. We have heard nothing about the delayed decisions on major procurement items and the massive cost overruns. The Government say that they are introducing smart procurement, which means that everything should come through faster, cheaper and better. I should be grateful if the Minister, when he winds up, would tell us what items of procurement have come through faster, cheaper or better. We want some examples before we accept that we are entering a new world.
The problem with smart procurement is that if it works, one must start procurement two years later than one normally would; otherwise, if it comes through faster, one finds that one has to pay for it earlier. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said, in the Ministry of Defence cashflow is all, and if it is merely paying for things earlier, it is not solving any problems whatever; it is merely increasing pressure on the defence budget.
Perhaps the short-term strategic airlift is an example of smart procurement. We started off with five bids and they all proved unacceptable. Will the Minister confirm that we now seem to have a competition between the Antonov and the C17, but that the requirement for the C17 has now been reduced from four aircraft to two because that is what is likely to fit into the £500 million budget allocation for those aircraft? It strikes me that there are enormous problems with the short-term strategic airlift, and those need to be solved sooner rather than later.
Do we really need the C17, which is an all-singing, all-dancing aircraft, when in practice any lift of that sort would be escorted by other aircraft? Do we therefore need all the defensive aids on the transporting aircraft when there will be other aircraft around it to take it into any war zone?
The SDR also seemed to depend on certain lumps of capital sales, including the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, which will bring in the not insignificant sum of £250 million. However, I gather that the Government are abandoning the idea of a public-private partnership for DERA, so what will happen to that £250 million, which is an essential element in the MOD's budgeting?
The sale of the Duke of York's barracks was also supposed to raise more than £250 million. Is that sale going ahead? There is talk about negotiations taking place. Obviously, it is critical that the sale goes through, or there will be even greater pressures on the budget and the morale.
It is said that the cost of the Kosovo operation was some £400 million. Will all that money be funded out of the contingency reserve this year? Is that the total cost of the operation? Does it rebuild all our stocks of cruise missiles and the other weaponry that was used? If the answer to those questions is no, when will the money be produced to replenish the war stocks, which we might well need in the near future?
The strategic defence review claimed to be about matching resources to commitments; in fact, resources have been cut and commitments increased. The so-called savings have resulted from an overall reduction in available budget moneys, and Kosovo and East Timor have been added to our commitments.
The Secretary of State says that he has been able to reduce the number of troops in Northern Ireland to less than 16,000. That is extremely welcome news and we hope that that number can be maintained. The so-called ceasefire is not much of a ceasefire—49 terrorist murders have been committed since the agreement was signed and many people have been injured, mutilated and hospitalised as a result of the acts of terrorists—but let us pretend that there is a ceasefire. However, suppose that non-ceasefire broke down completely: more troops would have to be committed to Northern Ireland. It should be borne in mind that, when things are extremely difficult in Northern Ireland, we have more than 30,000 troops posted there. If things go badly wrong in Ulster, there will be a massive increase in our commitments there.
The one person I congratulate, even though he is no longer a Member of Parliament, is Lord Robertson, whose timing was brilliant—I commend him on it. Knowing when to go can be the best decision one ever takes in politics. The way in which the noble Lord managed to get out before the roof finally fell in was absolutely brilliant.
The reason why Lord Robertson was offered the job as Secretary-General of NATO was that he had been credited with having "a very good war" in Kosovo. Was it really a good war? Looking at it in the cold light of day, many people feel enormous reservations about the intervention in Kosovo. When it all began, the Prime Minister said that the objective was to stop the Serbs driving the Kosovan Albanians out of their homes. Yet, when the bombing began, what happened? There was a massive intensification of the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, and people were driven from their homes at an even faster rate than they had been before the bombing began.
We were then told that the bombing was intended to hit military targets in Serbia. Soon, military targets started to mean bridges over the Danube and car factories that might have been making vehicles used by the military. Make-up artists were killed when television stations were bombed because they might have been broadcasting propaganda for Milosevic. In the bombing, many civilians, but few members of the Serbian military, were killed.
NATO claimed on our televisions every night that the Serb military was being degraded and its capabilities seriously reduced. However, when it was all over, we watched vast armoured columns emerge from shelters where they had hidden throughout the bombing. Ultimately, what really suffered was NATO's credibility. Will we ever again believe NATO spokesmen when they tell us how much the military capability of our opponent is being degraded, given that so much of what they told us during the Kosovan crisis turned out to be completely wrong? That is a serious problem that must be addressed. We always accuse our enemies of producing misleading propaganda; we do not expect such propaganda to emerge from NATO.
Now that the Kosovans have been liberated, they are free to persecute and kill the remaining Serbs in Kosovo. As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) says, the whole area is on the brink of disaster. Whatever else happens, the region will become another Cyprus: 30 years from now, there will still be a massive United Nations contingent there, trying to keep the two sides apart.
I am worried, not only by what happened in Serbia, but by the whole question of what certain countries will do if they think that they might in future become victims of the sort of assault that was launched against Serbia. If we bring to bear on a small country the massive technology and military supremacy wielded by the United States specifically and by NATO generally, what message does that send to that country? There is no way countries can arm to defend themselves against that sort of capability; no country in the world could afford to do so, especially not small countries such as Serbia. What will such countries do? They will be inclined to resort to terrorism, as the Chechens allegedly did, blowing up blocks of flats in Moscow. They will be inclined to resort to hijacking, as in the recent hijacking in Afghanistan, in the face of which the Indians completely gave way, leading to who knows what—probably to many similar hijackings demanding the release of prisoners. Much more worrying is the possibility that such countries might turn to weapons of mass destruction.
I do not believe that any small country will get involved in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Saddam Hussein wants to do that in Iraq, probably in an effort to gain some prestige in the region. However, it is much cheaper and easier to develop chemical and biological weapons. Perhaps such weapons will be loaded on rockets, the threat carried on interballistic missiles; but it would be far cheaper to put them into suitcases, so making them man-portable. I wonder what we started with our massive use of military power against a small errant nation. Where will it all lead in the longer run?
Throughout the crisis, my right hon. Friend and I completely disagreed on the question of intervening in Kosovo. Is not one of the messages sent by the Kosovo campaign to small Balkan dictators that they should not invade their neighbours, otherwise they will be get hammered?
Yes, but one has to ask whether that will be effective in Montenegro, where a serious crisis appears to be brewing. I am not at all certain that the Serbs have learned any lessons—they could well become involved there as well. I realise that that is the message we wanted to send, but will it be received by small errant nations? The Chechens did not appear to worry too much about their previous conflict with Russia; they came back for more. Countries will not necessarily adopt the rational response and bow to the will of the super-powers, as my hon. Friend appears to believe that they will. I wish that he were right, but I am not sure that he is.
We were told that the strategic defence review was based on certain foreign policy assumptions, but we have yet to hear what those assumptions were. Perhaps the fact that the Government now have an ethical foreign policy will give us a lead. Unfortunately, with their ethical foreign policy, the Government appear to have got into the same sort of muddle that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) got into when he started to talk about "back to basics" and advocated the Government taking a moral view of people's personal behaviour. My right hon. Friend was roasted by the press every time anyone fell out of line.
Arms sales bring similar problems when the Government set themselves up as having an ethical policy. Let us face it, this country has an enormous and thriving defence industry, which, like other industries, depends heavily on exports to countries throughout the world. By being frightfully fussy, it is easy to find reasons not to sell arms to almost any nation—for example, one can decide that its human rights record is not as good as one might want it to be. There is no difficulty in finding reasons not to sell arms, but if the Government do that, a large number of people working in British Aerospace and other firms will be put out of work. That is the problem that confronts every Government. To embark on an ethical foreign policy was an extremely foolish step, because it invited criticism of any nation to which arms were sold. A balance must be struck.
It is interesting that Labour Members, who cry out for ethics in our foreign policy, a ban on the arms trade and so on, are the first to criticise the United Kingdom's shrinking industrial base. They constantly say what a disaster it is that our industrial base is shrinking while the service sector is growing, then they advocate policies that will lead to one of our most successful industries being cut because it cannot export abroad. There is no logic whatever in that. "Ah," say Labour Members, "what about diversification?" No British Government can tell British industry about diversification. A company such as GEC was engaged in manufacturing washing machines, weighing machines and lifts, as well as in mass defence exports. It split off its defence business and sold it to British Aerospace, so there is no longer scope for diversification in that company.
What is the ethical foreign policy really about? We have an interesting attitude. We get involved in a civil war in Kosovo because, in the Prime Minister's words, it is on Europe's doorstep, but we studiously ignore other civil wars in places such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Angola. We do not seem to want to get involved in them, perhaps because those wars are taking place much further away and do not involve people with whom we readily identify. Moreover, there is no television coverage; we are not seeing what is happening there on our news programmes every night, leading everyone to say that something must be done.
No, but it is illogical to claim that an ethical dimension forces us to become involved in one civil war, but not in others. I do not believe that we should get involved in any civil war. We should be very wary of becoming involved. It is an opportunity to make matters much worse, as we may have done in Kosovo.
An interesting aspect of the strategic defence review was the deal that the Royal Navy did. In return for getting rid of a large number of its surface ships, it is to be given two very large aircraft carriers at some time in the future. I have a slight problem with that, as I do not understand what the aircraft carriers are for.
We have been told that the regions in which we want to operate are the Balkans and places near Europe. As we know, aircraft carriers do not have a great role at present in the Balkans, because everyone can fly off 2,000 yd of concrete in Italy, which is infinitely preferable to trying to fly off a ship. If our areas of operation are to be in or near Europe, there does not seem to be a role for aircraft carriers.
If we are to be involved in the Gulf region, we would not have friendly countries nearby to provide landing areas for our aircraft. Perhaps the objective is that the aircraft carriers should operate much further away, as we have traditionally been used to doing.
I wondered where the idea came from, and it suddenly dawned on me that the Government must have dug up Alan Clark's defence review. I am sure that several hon. Members have read his memoirs. They are brilliant diaries, full of wonderful writing, presenting his unique view of what took place in government at the time. It is very sad that Alan has died, and I am sure that we all miss him in the House.
Alan and I were both Ministers at the Ministry of Defence at the time of "Options for Change". As he wrote in his memoirs, he produced his own defence review at the same time as a more orthodox review was being produced by the Ministry of Defence. As he tells us in his book, he succeeded in smuggling it through to the Prime Minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher, behind the back of the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King).
Alan never revealed in his diaries what was in his defence review, but he told me, because I was at the Ministry of Defence at the time. He saw no role at all for NATO. He envisaged the Soviet Union's rapid disintegration and thought that NATO had outlived all useful purpose. He saw no future, either, for high-intensity warfare, and thought that the quicker we wound down the Rhine Army, the better.
What Alan was really keen on was mobility. He wanted force projection, airborne troops, marines and aircraft carriers. When I asked him what he wanted those for, he said that it would be a good idea for us to get involved, rather like the French in Chad, in various African ventures where we could have a series of easy victories over small African countries. He thought that that would be extremely good for British morale.
Interestingly, the Government are following Alan Clark's defence review, almost to the letter. They are undermining NATO as fast as they can, by throwing the Atlantic Alliance into total confusion with the threat of Euro-armies and all that. The run-down of the Rhine Army continues apace. The only thing missing are the aircraft carriers, but the Government assure us that they are on order and that the procurement process is going ahead. Presumably, the force projection will take place at some stage and the Prime Minister, like some warrior king, will fight distant battles over the continent of Africa—an interesting neo-colonial approach to the future of defence.
Alan Clark is no longer with us, but he would relish the irony that his defence review, which was so substantially rejected by a Conservative Government, seems to be forming the basis of the present Labour Government's policy.
Although I welcome part of the Government's plans, I am concerned about procurement. Other hon. Members have spoken about the defence industry, which obviously plays an important part in the country's defence.
Last week, constituents of mine were told that their jobs at Bishopton Royal Ordnance factory were finished and that the company would close within a year. Arguments have been put forward by workers, trade unions and many others, and I have tried time and again to arrange a meeting with the Secretary of State for Defence to discuss the job losses in a vital industry—the last propellant factory in Great Britain.
Lord Robertson was difficult; I would probably have found it easier to track down Lord Lucan. That is an indictment. I asked the new Secretary of State for a meeting weeks ago, and I am still waiting for a reply.
I stand here proud, arguing for the work force of Royal Ordnance Bishopton. I am proud of the fact that they are not lame ducks. They are a tried, tested, unique work force. They are highly skilled and can compete with the best, but it is difficult to compete with companies abroad whose Governments are subsidising them under the counter.
I believe that the Bishopton Royal Ordnance workers face redundancy because the British Government are not facing up to their responsibilities towards a defence industry.
Let me outline the situation to the House. The quality of the product manufactured by Royal Ordnance Bishopton is second to none. The quantity is there in this country's time of need. The work force meet all time targets. More important, the material that they produce is tried, tested and does not fail. When our forces use those materials in combat, they know that they can trust the products of Bishopton Royal Ordnance factory. They know that they are not flying duds. If anyone questions what I am saying, let me remind them that, in the Falklands, materials produced by other countries failed. Belgian companies produced duds. Our soldiers and sailors said that they knew when materials were going to work, and those did not.
The Royal Ordnance factory in Bishopton is the last propellant factory in Great Britain. It is unique and it should be retained for the defence of this country. It is as important as a front-line soldier. If a front-line soldier does not have a tried and trusted weapon that works, what does he have? All he has at his back is an empty balloon, by which I mean he becomes a target. I cannot understand why a Labour Government do not support the Royal Ordnance factory workers. Quality, price, everything is right.
In 1987, when I was in opposition, I argued against a Tory Government who wanted to close the Royal Ordnance factory in Bishopton. The Labour party, the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats and all other parties were unanimous against the closure. The arguments that applied then apply now. To their credit, the Tory Government eventually supported us and the factory remained open. No different arguments apply now.
I am holding leaked confidential documents, which were delivered to my house at midnight at the weekend. They contain details about companies that are applying for orders to do the business for our troops. They make worrying reading. I would be worried if I was a young soldier who was putting his life and limb at risk for this country. I shall not bore the House with enormous detail because the papers are technical. However, one company states that its experience with geometrics has proved difficult and therefore offers a maximum price. That company obviously finds the work difficult; it does not want to produce materials to the same standard as Bishopton. On the paste drying process, a company cannot guarantee the combustion. It is said that combustion is basically standard, and not the same as another formulation. A company also states that it does not understand the need to prove compatibility. Yet this is supposed to be an up-to-date, bang-on-the-button defence business.
A company claims that it will supply the materials in the near future; it should all be done. It claims that in its first offer, it assumed that it would be undertaking two-part assembly, but that it subsequently learned that the assembly consisted of five parts. It concludes that it will therefore have to raise the price. Another example is that final testing and acceptance of propellant will be conducted by Royal Ordnance at Royal Ordnance expense.
I am not an expert in the manufacture and production of propellant. I am not skilful enough to go through the documents in great detail without the help of an expert. As I said earlier, the documents were parachuted through my door late at night. However, I am sensible enough to appreciate that the person who put the documents through my door knows that the companies on which we will rely to produce the necessary propellant for our forces cannot produce it to Ministry of Defence standards and quality. I ask Labour Members to join me to fight to save the Bishopton Royal Ordnance factory. It is needed. If we sit on our backsides, we will be at the mercy of a foreign nation.
My father, who is dead, was a sailor. He fought a war that he reckoned needed fighting against Hitler. With hindsight, everyone agrees that we needed to beat Hitler. I do not know whether I necessarily agreed with the Falklands war, but we backed and supported our soldiers and sailors. I did not agree with the politics of the Falklands war, but I agreed with ensuring that our troops had the best equipment available at the time. Saddam Hussein is an evil man—I do not need to bore the House and the country with that. He created a conflict, and once again, our forces needed to go to war. They were supplied by Bishopton Royal Ordnance factory. The workers worked night and day during those conflicts. They worked at the beck and call of this country. They gave up everything that they could to produce the necessary gear.
The Government's arguments are flawed, fragile and fatal to the troops, whom we should look after. The defence industry is important. I have heard a lot of talk about the front-line troops today, but they need the backing of good quality products that work. Even at this stage, I press my arguments to the Minister, and ask him to do the decent thing and meet me so that I can explain at greater length the reasons why British Aerospace Systems should not be allowed to close the Royal Ordnance factory.
This country needs that propellant factory for its defence, which should not be left to private commerce. Through years of dedication, development, planning and skill, we have a work force who are second to none. They are fully trained and experienced. Once we put the key in the door, we must not believe that we can return to the Royal Ordnance workers and ask them to produce propellant if another Gulf happens. We cannot do that. Once the work force are disbanded, they are disbanded for good, and we must rely on duds. That is not the British defence that I want.
I support the Government on many of the defence industries or I would not be on this side of the House, but I do not support their proposal to stand back and allow British Aerospace to close the Bishopton Royal Ordnance factory. The work force there deserve better, but, more importantly, the British armed forces deserve better. They need their product and the MOD should get off its backside and make sure that it delivers that factory.
I apologise for arriving late. The hon. Gentleman has appealed to the Minister to meet him to discuss the future of Royal Ordnance Bishopton and I hear what he says. I believe that that is very important. He also commented on the Falklands war. Our front-line troops were dependent on ammunition not only from Royal Ordnance Bishopton, but from a site where I worked, which was the only small arms propellant manufacturing operation in the United Kingdom. It was quickly swept aside by the previous Government through the Royal Ordnance privatisation. I hope that his attempt to secure a meeting with the Minister is successful, but he must be sure that the arguments he would make are correct.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but my speech is concerned solely with the Bishopton Royal Ordnance factory. I know that ships were produced in shipyards and guns were produced in other factories and I agree that all those efforts were combined for our armed forces, but that is not the point. I do not want to be sidetracked. I believe that Royal Ordnance Bishopton is a strategic part of the defence of this country. It is the last remaining propellant factory in the country and the tried and tested tradesmen there can continue production. If the factory closes, we have had it. We will have to go for the duds, the fakes and the bullets that do not work. Once again, I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision to stand aside and allow British Aerospace to close the factory.
The whole House will applaud the passion with which the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham) fights his corner on behalf of the Bishopton Royal Ordnance factory. I very much hope that the shots he has fired today find their target on the Treasury Bench and that he at least gets the meeting with the Minister that he wants so that the work force can put its case directly to him.
There is another important factor to bear in mind—security of supply. From the minute that we begin to take supplies from overseas for military purposes, there will be a danger that some suppliers may say no. Our forces experienced that during the Gulf war when Belgian suppliers refused to give us the shells that were required. Any international contract entered into by the Ministry of Defence for the supply of any military equipment must guarantee that that supply is secure. Otherwise, we shall endanger our troops, which is wrong. It is all very well the Treasury chasing value for money—it is taxpayers' money—but quality of product and security of supply are paramount. I wish the hon. Gentleman well in the battle that lies ahead.
The defence White Paper is the first since 1996 and the first for this Government. The strategic defence review, which was promised during Labour's last two years in opposition, appeared in July 1998. It took 14 months to produce and some of us wondered why it took so long. No doubt the Government, like the opposition parties, were still hunting for the so-called ethical foreign policy on which it was supposed to rest. At least it contained one good thing: henceforth, it promised that there would be an annual defence White Paper. It has taken some time for this one to arrive, but I hope that an annual White Paper will be the norm from now on.
Many other documents have been produced by the MOD and the Defence Committee has been able to make a judgment on them, but defence White Papers are easier to compare and so achieve a clear rolling picture of how the Ministry is performing in its primary task of the defence of the realm. The Defence Committee had to move extremely fast to produce its report on this occasion. It would be entirely out of character for me to say too much about what is good about the Committee and its report; I leave that to others. There have been many congratulations on that report this afternoon and it has been quoted extensively by most speakers. That does great credit to our Chairman, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who I am sure will be present on Monday to hear the praise directly.
A great deal of the credit must also go to the Clerks who serve our Committee—there are only five; Governments and Parliaments overseas are amazed that House of Commons Select Committees can produce work of such quality with such a small staff. If ever there was an example of quality rather than quantity, that is it. I put on the record my praise for David Natzler, Andrew Kennon—the Committee Clerk when I was Chairman—and Paul Evans, who is the current Committee Clerk. Their work has been second to none. I should also like to mention Mr. Simon Fiander, one of the five, who is a secondee from the National Audit Office. As much of our work involves considering how money is spent, particularly on projects, including those that are cancelled or delayed, the presence of a national audit officer within the ranks of the Committee is an enormous help.
The strength of the Defence Committee has been its broad view, its constructive criticism and its wide consensus. I think that on the first day it met there may have been a vote on some triviality, but throughout its 20-year life, the Committee has never had to resort to a vote. That says a great deal for the consensus that we have been able to reach.
I am sorry to have left the Committee, but I now wear another hat in the Western European Union, and I could not do both jobs properly. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who took the larger part of my old seat of Romsey and Waterside, has now taken my entire seat on the Committee. If anyone were ever to query the breadth of political view on the Committee, and felt that there was a cosy consensus because we were all of the same persuasion, they should consider the vast party political gulf between my hon. Friend on the right of our party and the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) on the left wing of the Labour party. For a Committee with such a broad spectrum to reach a consensus says a great deal for its deliberations and for the way in which it is led.
The words in the Defence Committee report on the White Paper are singularly tough, and the message is damning. The MOD is constantly bowing to Treasury diktat. The Committee still has a great deal on its agenda—the question of overstretch will not go away. I am glad that at last Ministers at least acknowledge that overstretch exists and are using that word. Up until a couple of years ago, they would not do so. I am glad to say that recruitment is now improving somewhat, but retention is not. The net effect on our armed forces is bad.
Related to recruitment and retention are questions of morale, families, married quarters, leave, pay and working conditions, particularly for those on active service. We must somehow get out of this vicious circle. To lop 18,000 off our reserve numbers by cutting TA units was not the right thing to do. The knock-on effect is that we are beginning to lose cadet units, so it is becoming more difficult to get recruits because previously many of them served as cadets.
The picture in the RAF is not as rosy as the one that Secretary of State painted. The RAF is 95 fast jet pilots short, which is 20 per cent. of total requirement. That is not a particularly good picture. The Royal Navy is short of 15 jet pilots out of 64. The manpower situation is bad right across the board.
We all realise that budgetary problems remain and that there is still a running battle with the Treasury. I am sure that the Defence Committee will continue to look into efficiency savings and cutting wastage. I am sure that there is still room for savings to be made. We critically examined the figures supplied to us, and we questioned whether the £500 million target for savings year on year were, in fact, savings or were disguised cuts in the budget.
The figures speak for themselves. The total budget for 1999–2000 was minus 0.2 per cent.; it is minus 0.2 per cent. in real terms in 2000–01; and minus 3.8 per cent. in real terms in 2001–02, which will be only—I say only, but it is still bad—a 2.8 per cent. cut if the proposed sale of Defence Evaluation and Research Agency goes ahead. The sale of DERA is another matter that I am sure that the Committee will return to: we looked into it twice, reported on it twice, and have said clearly that the proposed part privatisation of DERA is a fundamentally flawed plan. Many of my hon. Friends have explained why, so I shall not waste the House's time on that.
I hope that we shall continue to engage in our one-day debate on procurement. Many hon. Members will have specific points to make about procurement issues, and they ought to be dealt with in a special debate. Procurement now takes up 40 per cent. of the defence budget, and the percentage is constantly growing. The inflation rate as it affects defence equipment is much higher than the inflation rate outside, as equipment becomes more technical and advanced. Whether some of the difficulty can be overcome by means of smart procurement remains to be seen, but I suspect that in many cases "smart procurement" merely means pushing the product to the right and delaying delivery, but in the long run that merely increases the price.
As a farmer, I am experiencing a crisis. I have postponed the purchase of a new combine because I cannot afford it this year. Indeed, I may not be able to afford it next year. I can stomach that, but when the defence of the realm is involved, it is no use pushing things to the right because the Treasury says that the money is not available for procurement purposes.
A report has been produced by a quadripartite Select Committee consisting of those representing defence, foreign affairs, trade and industry and overseas development. The Committee studied the whole question of defence sales—exports. We look forward to debating its report here because it touches on the issue of security of supply; it also raises the matter of the free-for-all world market in which we now operate following the collapse of the iron curtain.
The market out there is much tougher than it used to be. Given the drop in defence budgets, it is now very difficult to maintain the viability of our defence industries without commercial links with overseas companies. Therein lies the danger: again, it is a question of security of supply. I am all in favour of cross-frontier mergers, many of which will take place—indeed, are already taking place—in Europe and across the Atlantic. In studying the overall question of the restructuring of our defence industries, we must not lose sight of the fact that our staunchest ally on the defence front is the United States. It always has been and always will be, and NATO must remain the basis of our security.
The Committee is almost bound to consider a number of projects. There are the delays in the Bowman contract—the successor to Clansman—the new generation frigate, the heavy airlift project mentioned by a number of hon. Members, and the aircraft carriers. Do we really need two Goliath aircraft carriers costing £1 billion each? So far, we have not even decided what sort of aircraft will fly from them. Furthermore, there is the question of anti-ballistic missile defence.
The subject of defence medical services will certainly be revisited. The last Government made a mess of that: they cut defence medical services far more than they cut the armed forces generally. "Defence Cost Studies" No. 33 was a failure. The Select Committee criticised the last Government, and has criticised the present Government. The present Government are not off the hook: defence medical services will certainly be considered again.
The one thing that I welcomed today was what the Secretary of State said about the IRA's decommissioning of arms. He said that there was no truth in the talk of a national day of reconciliation. The word "equivalence", which has been used in the press, is not on, and, according to the Secretary of State, there is no gun swap plan. I am sure that everyone will welcome that.
The fact is that there have already been substantial reductions in the military presence in Northern Ireland. They began in 1995, with the previous ceasefire under a Conservative Administration. Thirty Army bases have been closed and the troop presence is the lowest since 1970. Long may that continue—but there needs to be movement on the part of the IRA. So far it has just been "take, take, take"; there must be much more of a balance.
A number of hon. Members have referred to our alliances, both transatlantic and in Europe. Hon. Members who serve on the Western European Union with me have already put down markers for future debate, but there is already a hot debate in Europe. I was always rather disparaging about the WEU until I was in it, found out what it did and recognised the importance of the WEU members which are not full members of the EU and NATO.
One has to acknowledge that NATO, which incorporates WEU members, has preserved the peace in Europe for the past 50 years and more. The cold war was won without a shot by NATO members, but, freed from the glue of totalitarianism, many countries of central and eastern Europe face instability and strife. There is a growing number of regional conflicts. The southern flank of NATO—the north coastline of Africa, the so-called soft underbelly of Europe—is a potential flashpoint.
The peace dividend following the end of the cold war was taken by the previous Government under "Options for Change", but many people argue that the peace dividend has been taken twice, if not more times. At the same time, Europe has found itself in a much more fluid security environment. We lamentably failed as Europeans to cope with the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. Success in Bosnia and Kosovo came about only once they had become NATO operations involving American military resources.
The restructuring of European national defence forces, which began in 1989, coincided with a world recession. National budgets, particularly defence, were then reduced in order for some countries to meet the convergence criteria for economic and monetary union. That cut budgets even further. Some countries, particularly Belgium and Italy, will find it increasingly difficult to maintain the convergence criteria for EMU. No one has yet laid down the rules and criteria for failure of the euro. Some of us would like to see what those might be.
I should like to put it on the record that the combined WEU countries have 60 per cent. of NATO's population and two thirds of the alliance's forces, but spend only 40 per cent. of NATO's total defence budget. The German Government have cut their defence budget in real terms and the Austrians, believe it or not, spend less on defence than on the opera.
Although the WEU needs the right to use NATO—and that means United States—assets, the Americans rightly complain about our failure to carry a fairer burden of the cost of collective security. WEU members combined spend $170 billion per annum. The United States spends $270 billion a year and Congress has just voted an increase of about 10 per cent. in the defence budget. Wherever we look on the European scene, we seem to be cutting our defence budgets. The United States defence capability has a global reach; it extends not just to Europe. It spends 3 to 4 per cent. of gross domestic product on defence, while the WEU average is only 2.2 per cent. and falling.
The Secretary of State made the point that the quality of the spend is important; it is not necessarily the quantity. To some extent he is right, so military credibility is the other related issue to defence budgets. For example, the United States provided 80 per cent. of the aircraft that were used in the recent Kosovo campaign. I was in Oslo the other day, and the Norwegians told me that they had sent six F16s to Kosovo for the campaign. Unfortunately, they were all grounded because they were inoperable—so the quality of the product is important.
The United States Defence Secretary described that fact as embarrassing. The Washington Post was even blunter, saying that it would take the Europeans two decades to catch up with the Americans in terms of credibility,
even if they had the money—and the will to spend it".
Security and defence must remain the prime responsibility of national Governments, accountable to their own Parliaments, but in association with allies for collective strength. Although the treaty of Rome had its genesis in the desire to maintain security and peace in Europe through a common market, the 1992 Maastricht treaty was the first specifically to deal with security—in article 13, which has been quoted by many hon. Members.
Subsequently, however, in October 1997—after the Government had come to power—the Amsterdam treaty enabled the common foreign and security policy to develop by closer co-operation between the EU, WEU and NATO under the combined joint task forces concept, in which NATO-assigned assets were to be made available to the WEU for limited military operations consisting of humanitarian intervention, crisis management and peacekeeping—which are commonly known as the Petersberg tasks. It also introduced the principle of majority voting and proposed a central policy planning unit.
On 3–4 September 1998, the Anglo-French St. Malo declaration gave further impetus to the strengthening of a European defence identity. Subsequently, in April 1999, the NATO 50th anniversary summit in Washington gave still further support to a CFSP, essentially by moving the alliance to a new direct relationship with the EU that it currently holds with the WEU. After Washington, the likelihood of the WEU's role being absorbed into the EU increased significantly.
At the Cologne summit in June 1999, the CFSP took an even more tangible form with the appointment of Mr. Solana as the European Commission's first high representative for foreign and security policy. Cologne also reiterated the EU's commitment and determination to develop the capacity to undertake the Petersberg tasks, and concluded that, if progress was made, the WEU would have completed its purpose by the end of 2000. It was about then that the alarm signals really started ringing loud and we began to think not only about how that organisation could be preserved, but whether it should be preserved.
I think that there are five options for change for the WEU. The first is to reorganise and revitalise the WEU by creating a more distinct and capable European security and defence identity within NATO. The second is to merge the WEU with the EU as a fourth pillar. Giving the WEU a permanent mandate to act on behalf of the EU could enable Europe to act more efficiently.
The third option is to merge the WEU's political and security responsibilities with the EU, and its military responsibilities with NATO. The fourth is to merge the WEU with the EU, but without the article 5 mutual security obligations of the modified Brussels treaty.
The final option is to merge the WEU with the CFSP—which is the European Union's second pillar—thereby giving it defence as well as foreign policy responsibilities. The only option that is not open to us is to do absolutely nothing.
The first option seems to stand the greatest chance of success. It uses existing structures as the basis for European security and defence identity within NATO, and it is important that those structures should remain within NATO. It is also intergovernmental, so that no fourth pillar would be required. It retains the WEU Assembly, including the WEU family of 28 European non-NATO nations, bringing eastern and central European countries into a European defence institution for democratic scrutiny. As hon. Members have already said, the ability to retain within the WEU those countries that are not yet NATO members and not members of the European Union is absolutely vital. To lose that feature would be disaster.
Another feature of the first option, which I hope that the Government will follow, is that it retains article 5—the mutual security obligation—of the modified Brussels treaty. I believe that article 5 presents serious problems for those countries—Ireland, Austria, Sweden and Finland—that are EU members but not NATO members. If the WEU were absorbed completely within the EU, that mutual security obligation would apply to them. However, many of those countries have long histories of military neutrality and would not be able to fulfil that obligation.
There is a great deal of debate in this field and the jury is certainly out on a resolution. In addition, we are receiving very mixed signals from the Government. The previous Secretary of State for Defence, now Lord Robertson, said one thing from the Front Bench in answer to questions from me, but the Prime Minister said something different in St. Malo. The position is confused even further by the White Paper.
In conclusion, I remind the House that the defence of the realm is the paramount responsibility of any Government. Defence policy cannot be determined by Treasury diktat. The Secretary of State inherited a bad hand of cards from his predecessor, but he now has the opportunity to demonstrate whether he is a man or a mouse. Will he stand up to the Treasury and demonstrate Britain's lead in Europe by reversing the damaging cuts in the defence budget? We owe that to our armed forces, which remain the best in the world.
I start by paying tribute to British service men all over the world who deserve the praise of our citizens for their dedication, courage and professionalism. As conflicts throughout the world are now brought into people's front rooms, it must be horrific for the families of those serving in those arenas to see them almost at first hand. Having briefly taken part in operations in Spain and Norway as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I stress how great that scheme is for right hon. and hon. Members who may have no military experience. It also gives us a great deal of confidence in the physical and mental capacity of our soldiers to participate in any conflict.
I also pay tribute to the workers who prepare the kit on which our armed forces rely so much in the field of battle or in any conflict. In the north-east there are a host of such industries, involved in the manufacture of everything from tanks to ammunition supplies.
Today I should like to refer specifically to the shipbuilding and ship repair sector that is based on the Tyne, as the White Paper holds so much hope for its future prosperity. The yards worked round the clock to prepare the task force that was sent to the Falklands. They also built the Cardiff, the Exeter and the York, which served so gallantly in the Gulf, and the Newcastle and the Coventry which are currently serving in Kosovo.
Chapter 3 of the White Paper, entitled "The Front Line—Maximising Capability", identifies key deployment weaknesses that limit our capability to get our forces quickly and effectively to areas of conflict. At present, we cannot deploy our forces to scenes of conflict quickly enough to accord with our new role in the changing world of defence and the requirements in the White Paper.
The White Paper also identifies the need for six roll on/roll off ships to satisfy the need for rapid deployment, in line with our role in the new world order. The MOD has accordingly decided to embark on a private finance initiative arrangement to finance those ships. As a result, tenders have been invited from yards in Europe and the far east as well as those in the UK. I have several points to make on that.
First, if it is not too late, will my hon. Friend the Minister reconsider embarking on a PFI arrangement in respect of the roll on/roll off vessels? I am not against PFIs in principle. If one is going into hospital on a stretcher, one does not ask whether it is funded under a PFI; one wants the best care available. However, in this case I believe that it would be more efficient for the UK economy if an order were placed with a UK yard and the ships were then leased to the private sector—in a similar, but not identical way to the Atlantic Conveyor.
Although the initial costs would be higher, they could be clawed back later through the leasing agreement with the private sector. In addition, the Treasury would benefit from the tax paid by the workers and by the company on its profit. The local economy would benefit from the buying power of the workers and the company and the Government would make savings on the benefit that would have to be paid to the workers if the contract went to a foreign yard.
If the PFI option is the route that Ministers choose, it is only right that they should ensure a level playing field, or as it is called now, an equal competitive environment. Several hon. Members have already voiced concerns about collusion between foreign Governments and firms at the expense of UK companies. To say the least, creative accounting is practised in Europe and the far east, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear that point in mind when he considers the results of the tendering process for the roll on/roll off vessels. We need an equal competitive environment to protect the interests of British companies and British workers.
My constituency contains the Cammell Laird shipyard, which is part of one of the consortiums bidding for the roll on/roll off order. If Cammell Laird is successful, the order will provide new employment for 1,500 workers. Wages alone from those workers would inject around £650,000 a week into the local economy, not to mention the knock-on effect of a further 1,500 jobs in local supporting businesses. Placing the order with Cammell Laird would not only make sound economic sense for the Ministry of Defence, but would ensure that a strategically important industry—the shipbuilding industry on Tyneside—was protected.
The White Paper specifies:
Central to our defence vision is that we should be able to transport the Armed Forces quickly and securely to where they are needed, when they are needed.
I understand that a decision is imminent to proceed on the alternative landing ships, which play a major role in the aims of the White Paper. Those ships are required to replace ships that are now 30 years old, and they are vital to the UK's defence and to the new humanitarian role we are expected to play.
Although Swan Hunter's shipyard is not in my constituency, it plays a vital role in the Tyneside and north-east economy. Significant numbers of my constituents work at Swan Hunter, which is about to submit a bid for the alternative landing ship work. If Swan Hunter is successful, up to 2,000 manufacturing jobs would be provided for the local economy, as well as at least another 500 knock-on jobs in the Tyneside area. Possibly even more important would be the opportunity to secure training for 100 apprentices. The average age of skilled workers on the Tyne is now 48, and the training of new workers is important for the economy, and strategically, to secure a future for the industry and the work force.
I welcome the White Paper, especially its procurement aspects, because it holds out hope for many UK workers who are working all over the world and want to work in home-based domestic industries to provide goods for the British defence industry. I ask the Minister to contemplate several points. First, shipbuilding and ship repair are vital to the UK economy and to the strategic defence of our country, as we have found out on several occasions in the past. Secondly, it is important that the MOD release the orders it is sitting on. Workers are waiting for work, companies are waiting to develop orders and the troops are waiting for the results to carry out their role effectively on the new defence world stage.
Thirdly, the Government need to create an equal competitive environment for our firms to compete against foreign competition. Fourthly, the orders need to be placed more consistently. At present, it is famine or feast. Either there is no work and people are laid off for their skills to get rusty, or work comes in and wages go up because skilled workers are not available in sufficient numbers. Finally, if shipbuilding is supposed to be a sunset industry, why are the sunrise economies in the far east so determined to protect their shipbuilding industries for defence purposes?
The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) ended his speech on the very important theme to which I shall devote most of my remarks. He spoke of the factors that sustain and maintain the United Kingdom's defence-industrial base. My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) also touched on that matter in his excellent speech. I have enjoyed listening to my hon. Friend speak on these matters on a number of occasions, and his knowledge shines through.
My hon. Friend pointed out that 40 per cent. of our defence budget now goes on procurement. As is right and proper, I pay tribute to the work of our fighting forces, but it is equally important to pay tribute, as the hon. Member for Jarrow did, to those working in our defence-industrial base. Without their ingenuity, inventiveness and outright skills we would not be able to talk in such glowing terms about the role of our defence forces, as they would not have equipment of the necessary quality. That equipment comes from United Kingdom, European and transatlantic sources, but essentially our forces depend on British expertise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey spoke about sustaining and maintaining our alliances with the United States, but although the United States is our closest ally, in procurement terms it is one of our fiercest competitors. When developing a strategy that is right for the United Kingdom and European defence industry, we must ensure that we do not forget that our transatlantic partnership is not an antidote to American competition.
The words used in any defence White Paper are always intriguing, but so are the photographs. Opposite page 10 is a picture of the 50th NATO summit, which was held in Washington between 23 and 25 April last year. When I first looked at it I thought that the photograph was a perfect symbol of the alliance—until I noticed that it lacked a British Prime Minister. I looked very hard, but I could not find one. I began to wonder what symbolic significance the absence of our Prime Minister might have. Did it have something to do with an each-way bet between NATO and the European defence identity, about which there has been comment earlier in the debate?
However, the photograph must have passed through the scrutiny of Mr. Alastair Campbell and been sneaked into the White Paper. In any case, our Prime Minister—who represents a country that has always been at the heart of NATO—does not appear in the photograph. That is worth pondering.
The question of resources for our armed forces has been at the heart of this debate. Two telling tables appear in the Ministry of Defence's performance report for 1998–99, published in December. The first, on page 29, shows defence expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product. United Kingdom defence expenditure in 1998 is recorded at 2.6 per cent. of GDP, compared with France's 2.8 per cent. and the United States' 3.2 per cent. I am worried that we are allowing our defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP to fall too low, given the job that our armed forces are asked to do.
Some people may say that it is easy to talk about spending more money, but the United Kingdom has never been backward about taking difficult defence decisions. Someone has to be resolute, and if the United Kingdom is going to play that role, it is as well to be well resourced.
Page 30 of the MOD performance report contains a graph showing per capita defence expenditure. Strangely, the table is expressed in terms of US dollars. It shows that the United Kingdom spent $617 per head in 1998. That total was exceeded by Norway, Sweden and—not surprisingly—by the United States, with Greece close behind with per capita expenditure of $571. Those figures illustrate that we are getting very near the bone when it comes to resources.
I am listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest. For the purposes of discussion and clarity, could he identify where he would like United Kingdom defence expenditure to go in terms of its proportion of gross domestic product? Is it one tenth of 1 per cent. higher, is it in line with the French model; or if not, which country's example would he like to see us commit ourselves to?
It is important to consider the overall strategic demands on our forces and the equipment that we deem that we need, and then decide whether we can afford it. It depends on budgeting. Do we start with a cake of a given size and attempt to cut it into ever smaller portions, or do we recognise that the cake needs to be expanded? The purpose of a debate such as this is not to put Back-Bench Opposition Members on the spot to answer such detailed questions, but to determine in principle whether the cake is too big or too small. Much has rightly been said about the report by the Select Committee on Defence, which I think answers the hon. Gentleman's question very clearly. According to that, the cake is too small and it is being cut into ever smaller slices, which does not enable our forces to be properly equipped for the job that they have to do.
The central theme of the Secretary of State's remarks was modernisation. While he was speaking about that, I wrote down "but on an ever-reducing budget", something that he did not have the courage to say. At the same time as making ever-increasing demands on our forces, as typified by the word "overstretch", we must recognise that there is a resourcing issue to be addressed.
I should like to say, en passant, that I wish we could get back to talking in straightforward language about defence matters. In his speech, the Secretary of State mentioned the buzz phrases "security architecture" and "strategic landscapes". I do not think that they add a great deal and they do not clarify what is in the minds of Ministers.
When the Secretary of State talked about the smart procurement exercise, he mentioned the cost savings on Eurofighter, which is under construction by BAE Systems in my constituency. The United Kingdom has led the way in the project in making it affordable for Europe's air forces. I was intrigued to know whether the savings of £1.8 billion will be redeployed as net extra capital; or has that already been written into the Secretary of State's long-term expenditure plans, so that to sustain the present position, he must make savings of that order?
I was disappointed that the Secretary of State did not develop in a little more detail the rather sparse paragraphs at the start of the White Paper dealing with the strategic overview of the Government's policy on defence in relation to foreign policy. Some of my hon. Friends have touched on those points and I shall not elaborate on them at length. But the world changes; the threat changes. I had hoped to have a more detailed assessment of how that threat is seen and where the priorities are so that we could judge with greater clarity whether the Government have hit the button regarding defence expenditure, and discern their strategic view.
The other point that was missing in substance from the Secretary of State's speech was anything much about procurement. It is noteworthy that it has taken contributions from Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House to tease out from the Government some key procurement issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey is right to say that he would welcome a further debate on this subject. However, as we do not have one, we must make best use of the time available to us today to discuss these matters. They are about sustaining, maintaining and developing the industrial base that is represented by companies such as BAE Systems. It employs 6,000 people in my constituency, and in the north-west some 40,000 jobs depend on the success of the aerospace industry, much of it driven by defence considerations.
Although there are proper discussions about the relationship between NATO, the European defence identity and the transatlantic alliance, an answer to a recent parliamentary question from the new Defence Minister shows that 44 collaborative projects involve European allies. They range from projects on missiles to aircraft and sea-based systems—it is almost an Aladdin's cave of projects, which illustrates clearly the crucial role of co-operation and co-operative ventures. Much as some people like to think that we can be totally self-sufficient, that answer gave a totally different view.
Some procurement projects have been touched on, but I support those who have called for—as the White Paper did—a swift resolution of what air system will be deployed for strategic lift. I am a supporter of the A400M. It seems to make eminent sense that Europe should not only develop that capability itself but should give itself the opportunity to take a share of the lucrative market that will present itself in years to come as Hercules aircraft come up for replacement. I was pleased that the Secretary of State used the word "soon" when he was talking about the decision on strategic lift.
I draw the Minister's attention to an item that appeared on the BAE Systems website with the heading, "Government doubles its money as Airbus loan repaid". That illustrates clearly that Airbus, as well as being good for Europe's technology base, is good for Government business. Giving it the contract to produce the A400M seems to play to that tune. In the Defence debate last year, I described how the A340 aircraft had been delivered on time as a design to build for delivery to airlines, which trusted Airbus's ability to produce what they wanted. The same arguments can be deployed in respect of the A400M.
We should not also have to justify the contract in terms of jobs, but about 62,000 would depend on it indirectly. The industry already provides those jobs and 10,000 United Kingdom jobs are directly attributed to that exercise.
The aircraft is eminently well specified. It meets the staff requirement for heavy lift and it would certainly give us independence with our own strategic capacity, as well as a real commercial opportunity. I hope that what the Secretary of State means by "soon" is in the next few weeks.
Labour Members have pointed out that we seem to go from feast to famine with procurement exercises, which is true. There has been no mention from the Government of equipment for the Eurofighter beyond the visual range air-to-air missiles. That is another crucial question on which a decision is needed. There is no mention of the matter in the White Paper. Given the technology involved, if we are to have a weapons system that is properly defined for Europe's own fighter and is not dependent on diktat from the United States, in the event that the Government go the US route they will not only buy an inferior product but will risk the strategic opportunity of sales of the Eurofighter Typhoon to nations other than Norway outside Europe—although I am delighted that that country has shown an interest in the aircraft.
I do not knock the United States deliberately because it is playing a key part in providing the airborne avionics and radar systems for the Nimrod project. However, I visited Congress and the Senate in July, when they were playing games with the F22. Even internally, they can switch key defence projects on and off, and they could do exactly the same with the external use of that technology. We must be wary of that when we consider that missile system.
I was disappointed that the Secretary of State chose to say nothing either about Britain's role in the joint strike fighter project or the future offensive air system. The joint strike fighter offers us a major opportunity to participate in future technologies that will replace the Harrier aircraft. It will give us a chance to develop relationships with our American partners and the American industrial base. It has the potential for orders for the aircraft in the UK, but the Minister and, indeed, the White Paper remain silent on the subject.
The White Paper devotes only a few lines to the future offensive air system. However, no more important project is under consideration. Within FOAS lies the development of the solutions, the technologies and, eventually, the products that will be the seed corn for our future technological independence in Europe.
When the Minister winds up, it would be nice if he could talk about how the Government view that project. It is being run on smart procurement lines. It is a pleasure to visit Warton, to see all those companies and countries—Germany, France, Sweden and others—working under the same roof. Government and enterprise are working together. It is a tremendous project which merited more than one line in the White Paper. That did not demonstrate the importance that I and, indeed BAE Systems, attach to it.
The project illustrates the nature of the defensive threat that we face. When I asked, "Why FOAS?", I was told that we live in a world of uncertainty, where the target may be unplanned. The targets may all be different—they could be mobile. We have seen the growth of nuclear and other missile technologies. The challenge to our future systems is great. FOAS will provide us with a technological deterrent that matches NATO's organisational deterrent. Other people must fear what will be inflicted on them if they take on the western alliance. FOAS is crucial to maintaining technological deterrence.
These subjects are all important to BAE Systems and to the UK defence industry; they reflect on the comment in the White Paper that we are increasingly likely to face new and often unexpected operational challenges. Only by sustaining and maintaining that technology base can we cope in a world that requires tremendous mobility and agility, and the ability to deal, on occasion, with an uncertain threat.
I am delighted to participate in this important debate. Unlike other hon. Members, I have no particular military expertise, nor do I want to champion any specific spending project in the SDR or the White Paper.
My only experience of the armed forces was as the first graduate of the 1997 intake on the armed forces parliamentary scheme, through the Royal Navy. That gave me a limited understanding of the challenges that face our men and women in the Navy and in the other armed forces.
My other experience of military service was trying to avoid it. I grew up in South Africa during the apartheid years, when it was compulsory for all white, able-bodied men, at the age of 18, to join the South African army and to do their damnedest for that regime. That was not something to which I took kindly—hence my Scottish accent. I have the South African army to thank for that.
I shall concentrate on four matters. First, the need for defence policy not to be led by constituency demands—or rather, that it should not be led by anything other than our foreign policy. Secondly, I shall refer much more briefly to the need for mobile armed forces. Thirdly, I shall mention the importance of Europe and European co-operation and, finally, I shall make a brief comment about procurement issues.
It is essential that all decisions about our armed forces and defence are based on our foreign policy. Our foreign policy should not be determined primarily by our defence capability; it should be the other way round whenever possible. This country, as a former colonial power, will I hope—I do not think that this is overly naive—enter a period in which it has considerable influence in the world. Some people may wish to make churlish party political points about that, but Britain has an opportunity, with the correct leadership, to have an influence that is way beyond our size, population and, possibly, beyond our spend on military hardware.
That is partly as a result of our historical friendship and relationship with the United States of America, and largely because we shall, hopefully, play a positive role in the military and defence debates in the European Union. I also hope that it is because of our relationship, as a former colonial power, with our Commonwealth friends. Perhaps, unlike any other nation, we are able to exert such influence throughout the world.
The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) alluded to the speech that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made in Chicago about a year ago. My right hon. Friend said that, when dictatorships prevail, we have a moral imperative to become involved. He considered that that was important to the United Kingdom and to protect those who are vulnerable. The question for foreign policy is how we turn that moral imperative into reality. That means examining our structures, military kit and the people whom we put on the front line to see whether we can provide the correct framework and the correct decision making to put that moral imperative into action.
Many comments have been made about how our humanitarian support has worked in the past in Montserrat and elsewhere. We have also mounted peace support operations, such as that in East Timor, where HMS Glasgow and others have helped the Australian-led force, and we have engaged in conflict resolution in its widest possible sense. For example, the notes attached to the White Paper identify that a British team is helping with conflict resolution of a different sort in South Africa. It is trying to bring about national reconciliation in the armed forces by creating a national defence force that integrates the South African defence force of the apartheid era and the liberation army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, of the African National Congress. Such a defence force would represent the whole country and would remove the lack of faith towards the South African defence forces that was understandably and rightly felt by the majority of the population. I am pleased that a British defence training team is playing a role in that.
The more substantial issue about conflict resolution, however, is about our right, as members of the European Union, the Western European Union, the United Nations and NATO, to take the moral imperative and to turn it into action. I do not want to be deliberately controversial, but I wish to express a firm belief. In recent speeches, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has talked about the redefinition of state sovereignty and the globalisation of regional conflicts. The sovereignty of an individual state is not an excuse to protect a dictator or tyrant who oppresses an indigenous population. Increasingly, regional action—perhaps with a UN mandate—might be the means by which some regional conflicts can be overcome. I hope that the Minister will have time to deal with that in his wind-up.
There are conflicts throughout the world, and perhaps none is more bloody than the one in Angola. I have long argued for UN backing for a regional force, and I would be delighted if the Government used whatever weight they have to try to bring that about. The slaughter in Angola, which is almost unrestricted and is not spoken of, is a blight on that continent.
In his Ditchley speech of June 1998, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said:
State frontiers should no longer be seen as watertight protection for war criminals or mass murderers".
That has to form part of the context in which we debate defence issues, because if we accept that there should be no hiding place for tyrants within national borders, that has an impact on our defence policy. We will have to build a defence structure, purchase and invest in the necessary kit, and train our brilliant armed forces personnel to deliver on that foreign policy objective.
Thankfully, in the main, conflicts will no longer come to our forces. They will have to travel, hopefully considerable distances, to the point of conflict or theatre. I say "hopefully" because if the trouble is not coming to our armed forces, equally it is not coming to our civilian population. The White Paper makes much of that point, but there is always more that can and should be done to increase the agility, adaptability and mobility of our armed forces.
Much is said in the White Paper about power projection and investment in the two new aircraft carriers, but I should like there to be an even greater emphasis, if possible, on rapid reaction. Once a decision is taken in an international forum, sometimes after consensus has laboriously been achieved, we find that the international military hardware is unable to be deployed and the process of delivering a threat and projecting power is delayed.
There must also be a projection of humanitarian support. I do not think that it is uncharitable of me to say that I was disappointed that, in his almost hour-long speech, the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, made very little mention of the British armed forces' role in providing humanitarian aid. That is a fair criticism.
I am not a specialist on European issues. The hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) eloquently listed the different options for the methods and mechanics of achieving synergy between NATO, the EU and the WEU, and I listened to his comments with great interest. I believe that, as a matter of principle, it is absolutely Europe's responsibility to take control of more of its own destiny. There are no circumstances in which we should rely extensively on the United States. America is often criticised, sometimes with reason.
We should not underestimate the role that the US has played, but we should try where possible to achieve a European solution to problems that are European in the wider sense of the continent, and not rely on the US to the extent that we did in Kosovo and other conflicts. That means having a joint rapid reaction force and the political and military structures to back that up.
Finally, I turn to defence procurement. My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) talked about six roll on-roll off ferries, and I do not want to compete with him. He made a powerful case for the building to take place in or near his constituency. However, the River Clyde area contains excellent shipbuilding facilities and talented personnel; my own father has worked there for several years. The River Clyde has a proud history of shipbuilding and it could have a bright future if the contract for the six ro-ro ferries were awarded in the area.
With those comments, I broadly endorse the contents of the defence White Paper.
I shall pursue several of the points raised by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy), but first I should like to put on the record my support for his congratulating our armed forces on their work in humanitarian aid projects throughout the world. The House and the country can rightly take a degree of pride in the quality of our armed forces' work, which is internationally recognised.
In a debate as important as this, about the national security of the United Kingdom, the starting point must be the threat assessment. The Secretary of State was relatively silent on that matter, but the White Paper is, for this Government, fairly clear. One of the first questions we must ask is whether Her Majesty's Government believe that the world is becoming safer or more dangerous. Paragraph 7 mentions the Government's attention focusing, as long as two years ago at the time of the strategic defence review, on
the consequences of the break-up of states, and on ethnic and religious conflict, population and environmental pressures, competition for scarce resources, on the effects of illegal drugs, terrorism and crime. Nothing in the past two years has changed that assessment.
The Government add that recent events have, if anything,
reinforced some of our concerns".
That would lead the House to the belief that the Government take the view that the world in which we live is becoming, if not more dangerous, at least no safer.
We then have to ask what that means in terms of the strength of our armed forces. The Government set out explicitly their views on what Europe as a whole should be doing. In paragraph 17 of the White Paper, they talk about the need for burden sharing in terms similar to those employed by the hon. Member for Eastwood, adding that
Above all, this means strengthening European nations' armed forces.
Logically, one would conclude that we are debating a White Paper issued by a Government who are increasing defence spending in the light of their threat assessment and of the homily they have delivered to other European nations. However, that is not what the Government are doing. On the contrary, since they came to power in 1997, they have set in train a sequence of defence reductions. The details have been supplied by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) and I do not intend to repeat them.
There appears to be a degree of inconsistency in the Government's approach. There is something rather charming about the way in which the Prime Minister lectures our fellow members of the European Union on the need to reduce bureaucracy when he is increasing it at home, to cut taxes when he is putting those up, and to reduce trade union power when he is doing the opposite in the United Kingdom. Now, on defence matters, he is telling everyone else in Europe that they should strengthen their armed forces when he is weakening those of the UK. The best one can say of that strategy is that it is inconsistent.
We then focus our attention on the Government's assessment of some of the fundamental questions facing our country. It is notable that in the debate so far, not a single reference has been made to the independent British nuclear deterrent. That would appear curious to anyone whose memory stretches back to the 1980s, when that was a central issue. One wonders whether the reason for its absence from the debate is that Her Majesty's Government think that there are no nuclear issues to address. In paragraph 8 of the White Paper, they say that they conclude, as they did at the time of the strategic defence review, that
no significant ballistic missile threat to the UK and its interests will exist for some years.
I imagine that some Labour Members will find that assessment exciting, because they believe that it means that an independent British nuclear deterrent is no longer needed. However, Her Majesty's Government—I give them credit for this—appear to believe that we should retain Trident, in case such a threat should emerge in the future.
However, the context of paragraph 8 is the debate about active defence against ballistic missiles. My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, spoke eloquently about that. He put to the Government—we await a response, and I hope that the Minister will respond in some detail—the assessment made to the United States Senate two years ago that proliferation of ballistic missile technology is likely to evolve by 2003 to the point where intercontinental ballistic missiles could threaten the continental United States.
If rogue states can threaten the continental United States, one does not have to be a master of geography to work out that probably at least by that date, if not earlier, some of those rogue states, which are geographically much closer to the United Kingdom than to the continental United States, could threaten the UK. We need to know the Government's view on ballistic missile defence. If it is the Government's policy—I very much hope that it is—to maintain an independent British nuclear deterrent, on the basis that although there may not be a ballistic missile threat to the UK now, one may evolve, what is their position on ballistic missile defence?
Will the Government take the same view as the United States that if that technology is available, it should be deployed? Will they take the view, which seems to be the majority view among our European partners, that for some reason such a ballistic missile defence would be undesirable? Will they take the worst of all positions, which was accurately described in an excellent speech by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), and pretend that the issue simply will not arise, hoping that it will go away?
I can tell Ministers on the Treasury Bench that the problem will not go away. Anyone watching the presidential debates on either side of the political divide in the US will see that it is a live issue there. All four front-running presidential candidates, both Democrat and Republican, have made it clear that they must address the issue. It is highly likely to arise, whoever succeeds President Clinton and whichever party controls Congress after the November elections this year.
We need to hear the Government's view. Has it moved on in the past couple of months? When do they expect to announce their conclusions? When can we begin to hear the UK Government's view on the matter?
I refer again to the excellent speech from the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife. If I may say so in his absence, it was a speech of such fine quality that it underlines how fortunate all other parties are that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not leader of his party, and instead it is the pale shadow of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) who holds the leadership.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife went through the list of rogue states and seemed to conclude that, because there had been some positive political developments in the case of some—he referred to the recent Iranian elections and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Libya, for example—we need not concern ourselves with the threat.
One of the central tenets of sensible strategic thinking is that capabilities may take years to build, but intentions can change overnight. A regime that is friendly at present may rapidly turn into one that is unfriendly. It is the duty of any Government of this country to put in place capabilities to deal not only with the expected, but with the unexpected threat.
Our fear is that the Government's defence policy is so constrained by the Treasury that they run the risk of repeating the fundamental mistake of the 1920s, when the Treasury imposed the so-called 10-year rule—
A Labour Government were in power at various times during the 1920s. If the Minister wants to review history, may I point out that it was not the Conservative party whose conference celebrated the entry to power of Chancellor Adolf Hitler by passing a resolution calling for the unilateral abolition of the Royal Air Force? The Labour party did that. Perhaps the Minister would prefer not to go through history.
The mistake to which I referred was the assessment imposed by the Treasury on Governments of different political colours in the 1920s that there would be no conflict for 10 years. That rule was not abolished until 1934, only five years before conflict returned to Europe. We must guard against Treasury-driven defence policy. It is a recipe for disaster, and it would not be sensible to proceed down that road.
We must be clear about the Government's view of the European defence initiative. Paragraph 20 of the White Paper states:
This is not a European Army.
That is a clear statement. Unfortunately, as we heard earlier in the debate, it is not endorsed by the President of the Commission, who makes it clear that we are considering a European army. It is also clear that other—although not all—member states support the concept of a European army. Will the Government make it clear that they will veto the establishment of a European army?
Some Labour Back Benchers claim that the Prime Minister has made that clear. The Prime Minister said many things on the subject. As we heard earlier, in 1997, he said that he opposed any integration of the Western European Union into the European Union. An assurance from the Prime Minister is therefore not good enough. The Government should make repeated, regular policy statements because they are likely to change their policies when the House's back is turned.
I entreat my hon. Friend not to forget that the Labour party is capable of simultaneously expressing one policy in Downing street and another in the House. That happened when the Prime Minister was briefing in Downing street while the former Secretary of State, Lord Robertson, said something completely different in the Chamber.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend reminds us of yet another instance of this Administration's unreliability. That is why we would welcome some clear assurances from the Minister.
We need to know whether the Government agree with the view of the President of France, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green quoted earlier, that we are creating a multi-polar world and that the European dimension means creating such a world. We might as well be candid and explicit: NATO is founded on the assumption of United States strategic leadership, and on the basis that European nations benefit from active US involvement in their affairs. It is clear from the lessons of history that when the US, through its own impetus or being pushed out, is not active in European affairs, as happened in the 1920s and 1930s, we all suffer tremendously.
We cannot have a multi-polar world, with the clear implication that the US forms one pole and Europe another, and claim that we are simply considering the evolution of different forms of co-operation. We are considering moving towards a position in which the US is on the same footing as Russia, as a different pole, and possibly a future rival. At best, the US would be a strategic partner, but it would not be the ally and a strategic leader that it is in NATO.
A Labour Government created NATO; it was probably the finest creation of that Administration, who had an outstanding Foreign Secretary in Ernest Bevin. Labour Members should therefore not find it difficult to appreciate the importance of Ernest Bevin's achievement in bringing the US into Europe on a basis that gave it clear and unequivocal strategic leadership. The Americans will not be involved in Europe on any other basis, which is why they insist on providing the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. We have a choice between American leadership or American rivalry. We must avoid the idea that we can reach a compromise. The French do not want to do that. Since 1966, the objective of the French has been to move themselves and much of the rest of Europe further away from America.
In 1998 and 1999, the Prime Minister may have believed that he would be the first British political leader in 33 years to bring the French closer into NATO. However, as matters have evolved, it is clear that the British are not driving the French into the welcoming arms of NATO, but that, if we are not careful, the French will drive the British from close partnership and American leadership in NATO to a different, far less reliable and less safe position.
My hon. Friend rightly points out that penetrating the darker recesses of the Prime Minister's mind is a difficult task. Does he agree that the nub of the problem is the Prime Minister's hubris in supposing that he can play along with the philosophy of common European defence in the hope and expectation that he will be able to avoid its worst excesses?
I bow to my hon. Friend in his knowledge of the Prime Minister's hubris, which I am sure is very great.
I have a final, constituency point to make. In response to my intervention, I was delighted to receive from the Secretary of State the categoric assurance that safety relating to low-flying aircraft over my constituency in Cumbria and elsewhere would not be compromised in any circumstances. I hope that all my parliamentary questions on the quantity and quality of spending on RAF maintenance of aircraft, which were tabled a few weeks ago, will be answered soon. Some have been, but others were dealt with by an undertaking to write to me. I have yet to receive a letter on that point and look forward to doing so.
I would like the Minister—either in correspondence or during the debate—to tackle the key points that my constituents have put to me. First, why do the Germans undertake a great deal of low-flying training in the United States, while British pilots train in their own country? Secondly, given that the RAF has tended to fly high in operational circumstances in recent military operations—particularly, but not exclusively, over Kosovo—is it necessary to undertake as much low-flying training? The amount seems to have been dictated by the assumptions of the 1980s and 1990s.
I shall make a truncated speech to the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Mr Corbyn), for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), which appears on the Order Paper. It represents a strand of opinion, at any rate. My request is that, before Monday, Madam Speaker seriously reflects on whether she can select an amendment that represents the views of many people, right or wrong.
My first point relates to Iraq. There is bombing day after day. Denis Halliday, Hans van Sponeck and now Jutta Burghardt—the United Nations representatives in Iraq—have resigned on matters of principle. I cannot help noticing that there is no Defence Minister on the Treasury Bench. It is extraordinary that the Secretary of State finds it more important to do other things than attend the House of Commons on the first day of the defence debate. When I was first elected, Peter Thorneycroft and others regarded it as their top priority, whatever Cabinet Committees they were involved in, to attend the House for the two-day defence debate. What has become of the importance of Parliament? One would have thought that Defence Ministers could be present.
I referred to Iraq. How are those continual flights meant to find chemical weapons, if the Iraqis have them? As the amendment says, there have been attacks on shepherd civilians. That is a matter of fact. It might be argued that the flights are being undertaken to protect the Marsh Arabs or the Shi'a, but I saw the marshes with my own eyes and they did not correspond with the aerial pictures produced by the Ministry of Defence.
Secondly, the amendment refers to Yugoslavia. The fact of the matter is that anyone who goes to Belgrade or Novi Sad, let alone Zastava, knows that people are determined to carry on fighting. That means that Bosnia, and certainly Kosovo, have become United Nations protectorates possibly for the lifetime not of the more senior of us, but of the youngest among us. That must be taken into account in any military deployment. I was against intervention in the first place, but now that we are there we cannot up and leave. There must also be the presence of heavy armour. I for one would not sit on green Benches and allow British troops to be in that position without heavy armour to protect them from becoming hostages of people who have certainly not forgotten the fight.
The third part of the amendment refers to the UN charter. Someone must answer Mark Littman QC, who argued powerfully that what was done was illegal.
The fourth point concerns the House of Commons. If there had been the usual parliamentary debate that was obligatory in yesteryear—I am no admirer of Mrs. Thatcher, but at least Parliament was reassembled to discuss the Falklands—there would not have been the mess that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) described, and that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) may well describe next Monday, having just returned from the area.
The amendment reads:
declines to approve a defence policy which has been used to make war upon innocent civilians in Iraq and Yugoslavia under NATO command, contrary to the provisions of the United Nations Charter, without any explicit authorisation by the House of Commons elected to exercise democratic control over the Government of the day, which involves the use of cluster bombs, and which is based upon the possession of, and threat to use, nuclear weapons, which have been declared illegal by both the International Court of Justice and a Scottish court.
The Government rightly took great credit for banning land mines under the Montreal convention. What is the generic difference between cluster bombs and land mines?
My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I have had questions and many letters about depleted uranium. Anyone who heard Professor Douglas Rokke from the southern United States—an American patriot if ever there was one, who served in Vietnam and is suffering from the effects of depleted uranium—will know that this is a desperately important matter.
Finally—because I undertook to speak for five minutes and no more—I ask about Mitrovica. If we are to send any British regiments—let alone the regiment whose tie I wear and with which I did national service—into Mitrovica, there must be a clear idea of exactly what we are trying to achieve. If we are simply to keep Serbs and Albanians apart, that should be made explicit. The truth of the matter is that it is a cauldron, and the House of Commons should have a full report on what is involved.
I shall sit down with a plea to the Speaker that whether people agree with it or not, at least the view that is encapsulated in the amendment should be put to the test by vote.
In his introduction to the Defence White Paper, the Secretary of State quotes Lord Robertson, his predecessor, praising the strategic defence review as
providing a structure to deal with tomorrow's threats not yesterday's enemies.
The Secretary of State evidently likes that turn of phrase. In opening today's debate, he referred to the need for what he called security architecture to meet the threats that will face us in what he called this century, not the last.
In the time available, I should like to focus on three issues: predictability, the strategic deterrent and the Government's attitude to it, and the European security and defence identity.
Attention has already been drawn to paragraph 8 of the White Paper, which states:
Although we still conclude, as did the SDR, that no significant ballistic threat to the UK and its interests will exist for some years, the US are consulting closely with us on their plans to improve their defences against a projected limited inter-continental ballistic missile threat from proliferators, and on their discussions with the Russians on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
In my maiden speech, and in the first speech that I ever made on a defence White Paper, in October 1997, I—like my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), whose brilliant speech touched on most of my main points, which makes my task much easier—mentioned the unpredictability of future crises, and the dreadful effects of the 10-year rule. This forecast that no war would begin for the decade ahead, and was rolled forward from 1919 until it was eventually abandoned in 1933. I also mentioned the fact that, throughout that period, each of the armed forces had entirely different countries in mind as its most likely potential enemy.
My hon. Friend rightly referred to the 10-year "no war" rule. Recently, while doing some historical research, I had occasion to look at the Cabinet Office's file on the rule. In it, I found the following quotation from a memorandum from Sir Maurice Hankey, dated 9 January 1931. He argued that the rule was crippling our defences. What he said is worth listening to all these years later:
As a nation we have been prone in the past to assume that the international outlook is in accordance with our desires rather than with the facts of the situation … We are also apt to forget how suddenly war breaks out. In 1870, a fortnight before the event, we were not in the least expecting the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. The same was true in 1914. A fortnight after the murder of the Austrian Archduke, a debate took place in the House of Commons on foreign affairs. The European situation was hardly referred to at all. More attention was given to the preparations for the next Peace Conference!.. There was no statement made on the subject of the European crisis in Parliament until July 27".
Sir Maurice concluded:
We really had, at the outside, not more than ten days' warning of the outbreak of the first world war.
I am worried about the Government's view of the future of the strategic nuclear deterrent. I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said about the strange omission of any mention of it in the White Paper. In a report that has been quoted several times today, the Select Committee, just before I joined it recently, referred to the eight defence missions mentioned in the strategic defence review. It is significant that the mission to protect Britain against a strategic attack on NATO is listed last. In paragraph 55, the Committee notes:
Not all of these eight missions carry equal weight. The threat of a strategic attack on NATO is deemed at present to be remote and a lengthy warning period is assumed in which forces may be built up.
One might well say, "Here we go again."
I have been concerned about the Government's sliding away from their commitment to preserve the nuclear deterrent for as long as other countries have nuclear weapons. My concern was first prompted in January by a statement in Westminster Hall, when the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) said in an Adjournment debate:
Work is in hand to develop expertise at Aldermaston in verifying the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons and we have made it clear that, when we are satisfied with progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons, we will ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in those negotiations."— [Official Report, Westminster Hall, 18 January 2000; Vol. 342, c. 173WH.]
Because I was anxious about what the hon. Gentleman might be getting at in the long term, I tabled a written question to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on 20 January. I asked whether,
pursuant to the oral statement made by the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) on 18 January 2000 … it remains Her Majesty's Government's policy to retain a strategic nuclear deterrent as long as other countries possess nuclear weapons.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), replied:
We pledged in our election manifesto to retain Trident as the ultimate guarantee of the United Kingdom's security while pressing for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons.
However, he added:
When we are satisfied with progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons, we will ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in negotiations."—[Official Report, 24 January 2000; Vol. 343, c. 36W.]
I was still not happy because it is one thing to say that we will keep a nuclear deterrent as long as other countries have some nuclear weapons with which they could attack us in unforeseen circumstances at some unspecified time in the future, and another to say that, when we are satisfied that other countries have made progress towards disarmament, we will put ours into the negotiations. As we all know, ours is a strategic minimum nuclear deterrent. If we ever negotiated any of it away, we would negotiate it all away.
Therefore, only yesterday, I raised the matter in Defence questions with the Secretary of State himself. He said again:
When we are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made to allow us to include British nuclear weapons in negotiations without endangering our security interests, we shall do so."—[Official Report, 21 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 1222.]
The weasel words
without endangering our security interests
are not worth the paper that they are now printed on. One can never know whether one will endanger one's security interests if one gives up a weapons system, unless one has infallibility in looking to the future. One manifestly does not have that.
We have been there before, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale pointed out. I quote from a famous American columnist and commentator, Walter Lippman, who in 1943 wrote the following about disarmament:
In the interval between the two great wars the United States sought to promote peace by denouncing war, even by 'outlawing' it and by disarming itself, Great Britain, and France. The movement to limit armaments was, no doubt, inspired in considerable measure by sheer war-weariness and by the desire to save money. But the disinterested and idealistic theory of disarmament was that if everyone had less capacity to wage war, there would be a smaller likelihood of war. Big warships meant big wars. Smaller warships meant smaller wars. No warships might eventually mean no wars.
We know what dangerous nonsense that theory was. As Lippman noted:
The net effect was to dissolve the alliance among the victors of the first World War, and to reduce them to almost disastrous impotence on the eve of the second World War.
Let us turn then to ESDI, which in its way may mirror the disastrous mistakes that were made then in undermining the potential security system that could have
kept the peace. ESDI does not stand, as is commonly thought, for the European strategic defence initiative but for European security and defence identity. The word "identity" gives the game away, as I said in an earlier intervention. I drew attention to article B of the Amsterdam treaty, which states that the European Union
shall set itself the following objectives".
Top of the list is the following:
to assert its identity on the international scene, in particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy including the progressive framing of a common defence policy.
Asserting the identity of the EU is no sound basis for tampering with tried and tested military structures. ESDI is a retrograde step in the direction of the inadequate balance of power politics that existed prior to each of the two world wars.
Time has almost run out, so I shall move briefly to a warning and a conclusion. The warning is this: we ignore at our peril the words of those people who are trying to construct a politically unified Europe, just as we ignored at our peril the words of the dictators when they set out their stalls in the interwar years.
Last October, Romano Prodi was quoted—quite accurately, I am sure—in The Times as describing the European Commission as the "government of Europe". Asked by The Times to justify the term "government of Europe", Signor Prodi said:
But what is the Commission? We are here to take binding decisions as an executive power. If you don't like the term government for this, what other term do you suggest? Consultative commission? I speak of a European Government because we take government decisions.
I hope that, in his reply, the Minister will deal with some of these matters. Will the United Kingdom continue to possess, and appropriately replace or upgrade, its strategic nuclear deterrent as long as other countries possess weapons of mass destruction?
Will the Government take to heart the lessons that disarmament and peace are not synonymous, that nuclear deterrence has played a key role in preserving the peace of Europe, and that a nuclear-free world will be a world made safe for conventional warfare for the largest powers, as it already is for the smaller ones?
Do the Government accept the unpredictability of future crises, and the risk that so-called crisis management—which is what the ESDI is supposed to be concerned with—could easily escalate into general war?
Above all, will the Government think again about the risks of creating alongside NATO another security system—one which lacks the deterrent effect of having American involvement right at the outset?
This has been a lively debate. Opposition Members were delighted when we realised that, unlike last Thursday, Government Whips were not forbidding their Back Benchers to speak in the debate. That has been a great improvement. I do hope that they will have learned their lesson on such restrictions, because we have had some very good speeches by Labour Members—as well as excellent speeches by Opposition Members.
I wonder how the story of the White Paper is being spun. The first aspect of that matter, of course, is that the White Paper is being completely overshadowed by the Government's defeat in the other place on the Greater London Authority order. I fear that that issue, rather than our debate, will be grabbing the headlines. Nevertheless, that is the Government's problem, not the Opposition's—[Interruption.] I do not think that the Minister likes the defeat in the House of Lord. However, it happened in the Government's reformed, Blairite House of Lords, which was supposed to be a legitimate House of Lords. Perhaps the defeat confirms that.
The story is being spun that this White Paper is a great one. It is supposed to be about reporting to Parliament on the activities of the Ministry of Defence. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Mrs. Heal)—who was in the Chamber for most of the debate, but has just left it—was spinning that line at about 3.15 this afternoon, when she, with her minder—I am not sure whether it was a Millbank minder or a Ministry of Defence press officer—appeared with me on television. However, this is not a great White Paper at all, but a complete cop-out. It is the first White Paper that the House has been asked to consider since 1996.
Earlier, the Secretary of State told us—[Interruption.] What good timing; he has just entered the Chamber so I can remind him in person. We are delighted to see him. Earlier, he told the House that there was no need for an annual statement of policy. However, as we know, in its report, the Select Committee on Defence disagreed with his assessment. Indeed, its report is rightly entitled "Ministry of Defence Annual Reporting Cycle". The Ministry should have a reporting cycle, and I hope that there will continue to be one. None the less, let us not mince our words about this document—it is a shabby little White Paper.
I noticed that the Secretary of State was unable to be with us for most of today's debate, as was remarked upon by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who reminded us how seriously defence used to be taken. I fear that it is part of the dumbing down of defence that we have seen since 1997.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who does not hesitate to speak his mind on these issues. We should not laugh at him for making those comments, any more than we should laugh at the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who reminds us what Parliament should be.
I have the honour and privilege to represent the constituency of Salisbury, which is one of the most military of constituencies. I shall not make a constituency speech, but put on the record the fact that I have not forgotten the military importance of my own constituency.
Her Majesty's forces deserve to know how we, both Government and Opposition, see their role in the country's overarching defence strategy. Many issues have been left out of the debate and the White Paper due to constraints on time, publication and printing. One cannot include everything when dealing with such a hugely complex matter as defence, but I want to flag up for future discussion the subject of NATO's southern flank.
The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) spoke of the need to discuss defence diplomacy and other important issues, including conflict resolution. We must return to that, but we have a problem in that northern European members of NATO tend to take an Atlanticist view or to concentrate on issues that affect the north of our continent, while southern Europeans concentrate on issues affecting them. Inevitably, the new eastern members concentrate on their particular perspective. It will be dangerous if we in the northern states do not take seriously the different threats that face the southern states of NATO.
Nor should we forget the eastern end of that great area of conflict and instability that starts at the western Sahara and goes right round to the Caucasus. I refer of course to Turkey and its pivotal importance to the security of Europe, which should never be forgotten. Our thanks should go to Turkey for its contribution to NATO, which we sometimes take too much for granted.
The Secretary of State talked about deploying forces with real punch anywhere in the world. We say hooray to that; of course it should be the objective. I only wish that the defence White Paper was all about that. Instead, it is much more about how on earth the Government are going to manage over the next hand-wringing few months to cobble together policies that can be sustained in the light of their budget cuts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) mentioned that Salisbury plain was being overrun with tanks. That is not the case as there is quite a lot else there too, not to mention AS90 guns—[Interruption.] As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) points out, there are not enough tanks to overrun it anyway.
Let me point out, however, that the Ministry of Defence's stewardship of the Salisbury plain training area is remarkable and it should be complimented and congratulated on it. It has managed to take on board the tremendously conflicting aims of military efficiency and training as well as the environmental issues. The recreational use of MOD land has also improved dramatically in recent years despite the grossly misleading press reports of the past few months.
If we are talking about training, we need to mention Otterburn. As there is such pressure on the Salisbury plain training area and other training areas, the outcome of the Otterburn inquiry is crucial. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), in whose constituency lies the Otterburn ranges, for his persistence in pursuing the interests of his constituents who want that range to continue to be used, just as I want Salisbury plain to continue to be used by the military. It is time that we knocked on the head the nonsense that the Petersberg tasks related to the Government's current mania for pursuing European dimensions at all costs. It was never envisaged that the Petersberg tasks would in any way decouple us from NATO. That is the great danger that was referred to by so many right hon. and hon. Members today.
I was glad that the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who is in his place, raised the dangers of a European caucus in NATO. We recognise that. It is a bit of the argument that appears to be lost in the new architecture of European defence. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife made a remarkable speech, not least because he appeared to agree with us that it really will not do to play the old gramophone record that all the defence cuts were the fault of the wicked Tory Government and that all parties in the House agreed that the end of the cold war must result in a reduction in the defence budget. I was grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that clear statement. As he sits on a Cabinet Committee, I hope that he will regularly remind the Government of that.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson) made an excellent speech—and how well he represents Portsmouth. For 39 years he worked in the defence industry, and I have never heard him whine or carp. He has always given the House sound and solid advice. It is a pity that his party politics are so misguided and I look forward to the return of a Conservative Member of Parliament for Portsmouth, North—but not for a year or two, because the hon. Gentleman's contribution is valuable and his constituents in Portsmouth can be proud of him.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton), in a remarkable speech, covered the gamut of defence issues. We are at one on the failure of the defence review, but perhaps we come at it from different directions. He is right that it was a Treasury-driven exercise and the defence debate should be about not money but capability. He raised the issue of whether it is worth spoiling the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar by trying to privatise the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency for the sake of £250 million in the grand scale of the defence budget, when there is so much to lose.
I was intrigued that my right hon. Friend talked about defence sales and I remind him of the extraordinary, but welcome, press release from the Department for International Development on 17 February, in which the Secretary of State for International Development was quoted as saying:
military expenditure not only needs to be properly managed, thereby promoting transparency and accountability, but needs to take account of the 'legitimate security concerns' of developing countries.
In the early part of this decade, some of the debate around military expenditure appeared to ignore or deny this … Military expenditure was seen as bad per se—something to be cut ruthlessly without regard for the very real security threats that countries might face. This is wrong-headed and dangerous.
And so say all of us, but that is something of a conversion for the Secretary of State.
I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey for all the work that he has done on the Defence Committee over the years. His contribution is much appreciated by those who, like me, served under his chairmanship on that excellent Committee, and by its staff.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) did not allow us to forget the aerospace industry in the north-west, especially at Wharton and Salmesbury, both of which I have visited on several occasions. The hon. Member for Eastwood raised some important issues in his thoughtful speech. I have already mentioned his reference to conflict resolution, and we will return to that point in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) raised the issue of low flying and also helped us to appreciate the importance of the nuclear deterrent that this country possesses and of ballistic missile defence. I have already mentioned the hon. Member for Linlithgow, and my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) reminded us of the hon. Gentleman's expertise on nuclear issues. We look forward to the hon. Gentleman taking the place of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey on the Defence Committee.
We shall shortly hear the views of the Minister of State when he winds up this debate. I am sure that he will have one or two messages for us and that he will manage to make one or two references to issues such as the defence cuts brought about by the Tory Government. However, if he is going to play that old record, why do the cuts continue? If he thinks we were wrong, he must reveal his plans to turn the situation around. We will listen carefully and patiently to what he says, but he is in danger of sounding like a scratchy, heavily worn, 78-rpm bakelite disc. He is also in danger of sounding too much like his master's voice in the Treasury.
This little White Paper is a tawdry affair. It is a pale shadow of its predecessors. I look forward to the second half of this debate next week, and I end by asking the Government not to arrange future debates when the House is going away for half-term and when they know that there will be hardly anybody around. I also ask them not to split the debate over two days nearly a week apart, because that does not do defence the honour it deserves in the House, as has been shown by the contributions from both sides today.
I thank the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) for his balanced response to the debate. It was so balanced that I fear for his future, but I hope that we see him when we resume the debate next Monday.
Other contributions were interesting, too. The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) revealed himself as a conspiracy theorist, and his careful examination of a photograph suggested an early flirtation with the communist party. He also revealed his previous incarnation as Financial Secretary to the Treasury when he skilfully evaded the direct question from my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy).
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins)—or does he represent Epping Forest?—managed to avoid the fact that the vast majority of those who supported Chamberlain in that famous debate belonged to the Conservative party.
At one stage, the contribution from the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) was making me extremely angry, but he started to expound on delivery mechanisms for weapons of mass destruction. I thought that that amounted to friendly fire that he was pouring on his colleagues on the Front Bench.
Many valuable points were made in the debate, and I shall deal with them later. First, however, I should like to look briefly at the achievements of our armed forces over the past year.
My question does not relate directly to the Minister's winding-up speech, but rather to something that the Secretary of State said earlier when he was asked about the arrangements for Northern Ireland that were discussed in today's press. Since he made his comments, I have heard that No. 10 Downing street is claiming that what the Secretary of State said did not absolutely rule out our armed forces being involved in a token disarmament.
Will the Minister for the Armed Forces, in consultation with the Secretary of State, rule out any token destruction of weapons—whether or not it is part of a special ceremony—by our armed forces in Northern Ireland? If he does not do so, the ambiguity will continue.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I heard what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. It seemed to me completely unambiguous. I have been in the Chamber listening to the debate, so I have not seen any press reports. I heard very clearly what my right hon. Friend said, and I think that the House did as well.
In Bosnia, we continue to make a major contribution as part of the NATO force helping to create the safe environment needed to rebuild the country.
In Sierra Leone, we have worked closely, and in a truly joined-up way, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and with the Department for International Development to help bring peace and rebuild society after the bloody civil war in that country.
In East Timor, all three services were part of the Australian-led international forces that restored peace and order after violent militias had terrorised local people. Our forces did a splendid job. Indeed, our intervention in East Timor was a classic example of how our forces should be used—going in early and using their particular skills to make a real difference, but withdrawing when the situation stabilises and others are in a position to take over.
In the Gulf, the Royal Air Force continues to patrol the southern and northern no-fly zones to make it harder for Saddam Hussein to persecute the minorities who live there. Royal Navy Sea Harriers based on HMS Illustrious also take part in work that is important and dangerous. I should like to pay special tribute to the RAF crews who place themselves at risk every day to stop Saddam repressing people who cannot help themselves.
I regret that, on many occasions, we have had to take military action against the Iraqi forces that try to shoot down our aircraft conducting those humanitarian patrols. If Saddam stopped trying to kill our pilots, we would stop responding to his aggression—it is as simple as that. However, our response is always careful, precise and proportionate.
As the House knows, Northern Ireland remains our biggest operational deployment. Our armed forces remain ready to support the police for as long as they need to. I repeat to the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) that I thought that the answer given earlier by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was utterly unambiguous.
I have a simple request for the Minister, and I do not mind if he confers with the Secretary of State before he answers. It is clear that Downing street appears to be briefing that what is happening in Northern Ireland is different from what the Secretary of State claimed earlier. Will the Minister confirm that the Government rule out any token destruction of British Army weapons, whether or not a special ceremony is involved, in accordance with the discussions that have been going on?
I repeat that the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was absolutely clear on that point, and I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's difficulty. I am sure that he will have a clear understanding of what was said earlier in the debate when he reads Hansard tomorrow.
Then there is Kosovo. We are still in the process of analysing the results of the crisis, and we will publish a report later this year. There are two key points to stress against the revisionist theory of history, as epitomised by the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell. He commented on the credibility of NATO, but given his contribution, his credibility suffered more than NATO's.
First, let us not forget that our operation was successful. We achieved our objective of ridding Kosovo of Milosevic's brutality. Indeed, had we not done so, many of those who are carping would be damning us for inaction. Nevertheless, we accept that we have very hard work to do to make Kosovo a truly peaceful, tolerant and European land. That will take time.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) talked about being on the brink of disaster in Kosovo. I think that that is exaggerating the position somewhat, even looking at yesterday's pictures. Yes, there was civil disorder, but it was well short of a breakdown of order—thanks, in many cases, to the magnificent contribution of our troops.
My judgment is based not on what happened yesterday, which appeared to be capable of being contained, but on the experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who visited Kosovo before Christmas. I think that the Minister should have a conversation with my right hon. Friend; he may then modify his view.
I am always pleased to have conversations with any Members who have been visiting our troops and getting first-hand experience. I went to Bosnia myself just a couple of weeks ago.
Our forces there and our forces throughout the campaign performed magnificently. The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force played an important part in the air campaign that defeated Milosevic, and the British Army has been at the centre of the NATO force that entered Kosovo to restore peace last June, and has been keeping the peace with great professionalism ever since.
I should like to turn to some of the detailed points that have been raised during the debate, although I suspect that I will not cover them all tonight and may return to some others next week, or in correspondence. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green spoke about smart procurement and tried to claim that it was part of a long-term plan in which the Conservatives had already been engaged. It is true that some elements of it had been in a number of reports over a number of years. The problem is that the previous Government did not implement them. We blew the dust off those reports; we took elements out of them and incorporated them. We worked with our advisers, with the Department and with industry in a constructive way that had not been possible under the previous Administration to achieve a smart procurement system. In both the Defence Procurement Agency and the Defence Logistics Organisation we are changing the way in which we obtain our equipment.
The right hon. Member for Fylde demonstrated this with regard to the future offensive air system, and I thank him for his comments. The integrated project teams are working together and hope, through their work, to reduce the time from the main gate to in-service date by up to five years. It is not just about money but about shortening the product cycle time. That is a key part of the changes in procurement in industry that we have now brought into government.
On frigates, the IPT has identified the type-23 support cost savings of more than £300 million. On Challenger 2, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, cost improvements were identified that could yield some £400 million over the life of the tank. They have already gone firm on half of those. On air-to-air refuelling, the 113T has increased VC 10 availability, another key component of smart procurement, as well as the financial savings. There have also been cost gains of 20 per cent. That is due to working with industry, harnessing the skills and expertise aptly described by the right hon. Member for Fylde.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), a member of both the WEU and the AEEU, drew attention to the work in Europe, as did the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), particularly identifying the role for non-members of the European Union within NATO. We have made very clear our strong support for the principle of non-discrimination in that case.
We were also asked about the role of the European Parliament; we do not see a role for it in European defence. The hon. Member for Romsey rightly asked whether we see NATO as the cornerstone of our defence. Not only do we see it continuing as the cornerstone, but article 5 is, and will continue to be, the basis of our security.
With all the focus on the European security and defence identity, we should really be considering the defence capabilities initiative. That is the work instigated at Washington to ensure that we have not merely institutions and architectures but the capability to deliver, so that Europe does not spend two thirds of the sum that the United States spends on defence but get nowhere near the capability that it has; and equally, so that—as a number of hon. Members said—the US does not have to contribute 75 or 80 per cent. of the necessary air power, as it did during Kosovo.
That policy is not merely right from the European side: it is also critical to sustaining and maintaining the United States' engagement in NATO. Long term, we will not be able to persuade the US Congress to continue its substantial expenditure and commitment overseas, if it believes that Europe is not bearing its fair share of the burden. ESDI is not in contradiction to NATO; it is critical to the long-term sustainability of NATO and to maintaining political support for it.
On Europe, Lord Hurd now seems to be a non-person in the Conservative lexicon—joining a long list of distinguished suspects. I say to Conservative Members—in the firm expectation that they will take no notice—that I have observed that process before from the inside. I assure them that the mutual self-destruction of a party can take a long time and it guarantees a long period on the Opposition Benches. I complain not—I merely observe in the sure expectation that nothing will be done about it.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife mentioned equipment shortages. He should get away from questions put by his researcher and intended to dramatise a situation. They do not bear any resemblance to the reality. Many of the planes that he described as being not available were available at one or two hours' notice and with some minor work. The RAF's definition of planes that are ready is: those that are ready to go there and then.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about tanks. Challenger 2 will be going out to the Balkans shortly and it is a magnificent tank. He also mentioned SA80 and Clansman. The report in question received such dramatic presentation, but the cameraman who filmed me when I described the situation said, "I see. There's no other news today then." In both cases, the report from Colonel Gibson of the Parachute Regiment stated that, overall, the operation was an outstanding success. The media chose to ignore that.
In the Balkans, the issue was not the SA80 rifle, but the light machine gun version. We recognise the difficulties. We also recognise that, in certain extreme temperatures, the SA80 has some difficulties, although it is a capable and accurate weapon. That is why we have been conducting tests and why I will receive a report shortly to show how we should advance.
We inherited Clansman. There was a six-year delay in the Bowman project, and we had an industrial system that would have been incapable of replacing it. We have had to direct the turn-round of that programme.
I stress that we were not taking any risks with the lives of our service men and women in any of those operations. People say that the Territorial Army did not have the signals equipment because it had gone to operations. Yes, operations are at the forefront; no, we do not take risks. General Jackson made that extremely clear in his media interviews at Christmas.
The hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham) requested a meeting on Bishopton. I understand that the Department of the Minister for Defence Procurement is dealing with that matter and that, as the Minister responsible, she will be glad to see him. Even with the order that he mentioned, jobs at Bishopton would have halved. He has to accept that there has been a reduction in munitions purchase throughout Europe. Rationalisation is taking place. Indeed, that is why we have entered a long-term partnership with Royal Ordnance plc to sustain its business for the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson)—