[Relevant documents: The Sixth Report from the Defence committee of Session 2002–03, A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review (HC93-I and II) and the Government's Response thereto, Third Special Report, Session 2002–03, HC 975.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Paul Clark.]
This is the first of two debates on defence just one week apart. Today's debate focuses on defence policy. Next week's will look in more detail at equipment procurement. I recognise that equipment issues cannot be separated neatly from policy matters, but I want to draw a distinction between them for the purposes of these two debates. Right hon. and hon. Members will have an opportunity to examine current equipment issues in detail on
Today, I shall give the House an overview of the policy changes driving work at the heart of the Ministry of Defence. I shall explain what those changes are and why they are necessary. In defence, policy changes have usually been gradual. Indeed, defence saw a remarkable continuity and consistency of policy certainly in the years from the end of the second world war to the end of the cold war. However, defence policy can never be static. Historically, there are periods when major and rapid changes are necessary. That reflects the emergence of new threats and requirements and the passing of former threats against which the armed forces have previously been configured.
Britain's armed forces have always been prepared to face up to change. That is a key reason why they have continually been among the best in the world and have punched above their weight for decades. We are in a period of rapid change again now. It requires new thinking and reform to ensure that our armed forces can continue to respond to the changing strategic environment in which they must operate.
The challenge for the Ministry of Defence and for the armed forces in recent years has been to ensure that their planning and assumptions for the future reflect the changes begun by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the military threat it posed. Fifteen years or so ago, we were used to assessing our military capability in terms of a numbers game, whether it was tanks, fighter aircraft, destroyers or frigates. There has been continuing and sometimes rapid change since, much of it at the time difficult and controversial. That was especially true of some of the major reductions in force structures across all three services in the early 1990s. Hundreds of tanks, all our conventional submarines and nearly 150 front-line combat aircraft were withdrawn during that period.
Ageing Chieftain tanks could not meet the logistical and environmental demands of deployed operations outside western Europe. We could barely support two armoured divisions in Germany. The large armoured force on the Rhine was a costly liability in the post-cold war period, not the basis for an expeditionary army. The conventional submarine force, useful though it had been in the Falklands and the Gulf, was primarily designed to help plug the north Atlantic gap against Soviet submarines. The boats were not suitable for rapid reaction operations at far distances, so, in the early 1990s, they had to go. So, too, in 1992 did the Phantoms and, in 1994, the Buccaneers that provided air defence against a threat from massed Soviet bombers.
Much of what was done during that period was retrenchment. The new systems that came into service during the 1990s, and those that were retained, were inspired by the cold war but adaptable for the new environment although they were not always optimised for it: aircraft carriers that were smaller than needed for significant operations against targets ashore; armoured forces that, although leaner, more modern and more easily supported, could deploy only slowly, by sea; and combat aircraft that were too specialised in single roles and lacked either the precision weapons to hit targets with minimal collateral damage or access to a network to find targets in unfamiliar environments.
The choices that faced defence were stark. Change was needed, not only to deliver a peace dividend but also to ensure that continuing capabilities were useful in a new strategic environment. The demands to use those capabilities were very real. Our armed forces became engaged quite suddenly in a series of expeditionary operations in the Gulf and the Balkans. Changes in force structure were opposed by some and questioned by many more, yet what seemed impossible or controversial then is today largely taken for granted as being self-evidently correct.
The 1998 strategic defence review did not conclude that process of change; rather it gave it a clear policy basis, setting our armed forces clear tasks and capability goals and moving them all firmly into the expeditionary era. Our forces now have far fewer tanks, fast jets and naval escorts than they did a decade or more ago, but they are significantly better organised, trained and equipped for expeditionary operations. That reflects decisions to invest heavily in the less glamorous capabilities that give our forces strategic reach and enable them to deliver effect when they get to a crisis.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that that point was proven during the recent Iraq conflict when we were able to deploy a larger British force in half the time that it took 10 years ago?
My hon. Friend is right. That is why we must anticipate the need for those capabilities, as I shall set out in more detail in a moment. I certainly agree with his observation.
Among the less glamorous capabilities in which we have invested in recent times are ro-ro shipping, C-17 heavy-lift aircraft and all-weather precision munitions. They have all been brought into service as a result of the philosophy set out in the SDR.
That process of change cannot stop. Technologies and capabilities move on—whether ours, or those of our allies or our potential enemies. The security environment continues to evolve; old threats recede further or disappear, newer ones become more real and more dangerous. Inevitably, much of the current capability of our armed forces still reflects the position in the immediate post-cold war era rather than the demands of the future. Further radical change is needed and, as before, we must think ahead and not look back.
Thinking and planning ahead is crucial. I take this opportunity to express my thanks to the men and women, both military and civilian, in the Ministry of Defence who undertake that work. Without their expertise and professionalism, our armed forces would not be able to operate to the high standards that we have come to expect. They may not always be visible, but their work makes a major contribution to every operation we undertake.
However, although good planning can help us to anticipate many changes, the nature of emerging threats and the fast pace of geopolitical change mean that we will not always be able to predict precisely the challenges that we shall face. The events of
On planning, the Government announced about £2 billion extra for the upgrading of Aldermaston, yet in almost the same breath they said that they were not going to upgrade or replace Trident. If that is the case, will my right hon. Friend outline what role there is for Aldermaston?
I have announced no specific decisions on Trident. The Government's nuclear policy has not changed. Obviously, it is important that we retain that capability while it fulfils an important function in Britain's defence policy, but there have been no significant adjustments in that policy and I invite my hon. Friend to look at the various announcements that we have made on that matter. There is no significant change to Britain's policy on those questions.
The results of the new policy work that the Ministry of Defence has undertaken in the last year, together with further work flowing from the new chapter, will be brought together in a defence White Paper that I intend to publish later this year.
Since the publication of the new chapter, our armed forces have undertaken major operations in Iraq. They have faced, and continue to face, difficult challenges. Like a number of right hon. and hon. Members, I attended the service of remembrance here in London last week. I know that all Members of the House will wish to join me once again in expressing our sympathy to the families of those servicemen who lost their lives.
The stark reality of those operations and the courage and dedication of the people undertaking them should remind us all why the issues that we are discussing today matter so much. The policies that we are developing are aimed at giving British servicemen and women the best possible levels of support.
Will my right hon. Friend consider a policy of replacing the US-led coalition forces, which are occupying Iraq, with a United Nations force? In that context, may I put it to him that the sooner all the coalition forces in Iraq are replaced by the military of other nations the sooner we shall achieve stability in that country?
My right hon. Friend knows the Government's position. There have been extensive discussions in the UN Security Council, and earlier today it was my understanding that they are likely to lead to the agreement of a further Security Council resolution. Clearly, it is important to the Government that we move to a position where ultimately and, we hope, quickly the Iraqis will be responsible for their own affairs, but at this stage, given continuing instability in Iraq, it is also important that the coalition forces continue their excellent work. Assuming that the Security Council resolution is agreed this afternoon—our time—we shall continue to discuss further steps that will lead to the greater involvement of the international community. However, at this stage, I cannot go as far as my right hon. Friend is urging the Government.
We are planning to deal with the new threats that we face, but in doing so we must ensure that the changes that we make are driven by operational and strategic needs. We will not make changes for their own sake; nevertheless, there will be difficult choices to be made, and we will have to be frank in our assessment of capabilities that no longer meet the same needs that they once did.
There can be no doubt about the achievements of our armed forces. They have never been content to rest on their laurels. They have been prepared to take sometimes difficult decisions to change to meet their future needs.
Can the Secretary of State tell the House the Government's intentions on confirming the future of the defence fire service? I understand that an announcement was scheduled for this month. When will the House be informed about when a decision will be made?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, that work is under way and no specific decisions have yet been taken. I assure him and other hon. Members that the House will be informed as soon as decisions are reached.
Our planning draws on the preliminary lessons that we have learned from recent operations in Iraq but also from operations in many other parts of the world that have not necessarily received the same media focus in recent months. We must not be seduced into the old error of planning to fight the last war; there is a clear contrast between the operations that we have undertaken in Afghanistan and those in Iraq, just 18 months apart, yet both involving the same set of military capabilities. Let me therefore try to set out broadly the kind of world in which we believe our armed forces will be operating, after which I will look at the concepts, force structures, processes and, most important, the people whom we will need to deal with that world.
At the broad strategic level, we can see certain trends. Continuing globalisation is likely to mean that the United Kingdom becomes even more open as a society and even more dependent on broad stability elsewhere in the world, especially with key trading partners in the European Union, the United States and, increasingly, Asia. Conflict between states is likely to become rarer—certainly in the United Kingdom's key areas of interest—but at the same time other threats will develop.
Countering weapons proliferation and confronting the threat of terrorism will continue to occupy much of the armed forces' effort. The nature of asymmetric conflict and the readiness of certain groups to source and deploy weapons of mass destruction against us and our interests will require a flexible, fast-moving and, usually, multilateral response. There is also a danger that, in the next 30 years, new WMD powers may emerge, as the technology proliferates and technical advances make production easier.
In responding to those challenges, we must recognise that the treatment of those issues is not exclusively or indeed even primarily military, but, to the extent that a military response is involved, is best managed through alliances, partnerships and co-operation.
NATO and the European Union, in their differing but mutually supportive contributions to our security, will continue to occupy key positions in our planning. NATO will remain the basis for our collective defence, for crisis management in the Euro-Atlantic area and for facing together new threats to our security. NATO, too, is adapting to meet those threats. For example, the new NATO response force was inaugurated yesterday.
Sometimes the Government say that NATO is the cornerstone of our defence. The last Queen's Speech said that NATO is the cornerstone of our security. Sometimes the Government draw a distinction between the defence role of NATO and the security tasks of the EU. May we make it absolutely clear that NATO is the cornerstone of our security in its widest sense and that, if there is to be a superior alliance in European security, it has to be NATO? That is what the Foreign Secretary has said previously.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot help noticing that, as soon as I mentioned the phrase "European Union", he leapt to his feet—something that I have observed over a number of years in these fascinating debates. I have no difficulty in emphasising NATO's importance as the basis of our collective defence and security if that helps the hon. Gentleman in his difficulty.
That multilateral future will make it imperative that our forces are able to interoperate with those of other countries. Most importantly, it is highly unlikely that the United Kingdom would be engaged in large-scale combat operations without the United States. That judgment is born of experience, shared interests and our assessment of strategic trends.
That all means that we must build more flexible and more rapidly deployable forces that can quickly link themselves with those of our allies. We will do that by harnessing technology and enhancing capabilities, rather than through more platforms. It will also involve investing in the people who use them.
I suppose that I am also guilty of jumping up every time that I hear the word "Europe".
In the context of capabilities, I hope that my right hon. Friend will say a bit more, first, about co-operation between NATO and the EU—not least about the expressed concerns of the United States about our agreeing to precise terms of the Convention on the Future of Europe—and, secondly, about developing capability so that the European reaction force and a NATO reaction force will draw on the same resources.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. In the past 10 days, I have had a meeting of Defence Ministers in NATO and a meeting of Defence Ministers in the EU. There was absolute agreement among Ministers at both meetings not only about the importance of the relationship between NATO and the EU, but the importance of developing capabilities—whether for use by NATO as an alliance or for use in autonomous operations by the EU, or indeed for use by individual nations. My hon. Friend and I absolutely agree about that important relationship, on which the Government will continue to focus.
Will the Secretary of State say something about the Government's attitude to our European partners beginning, in effect, to start to merge their armed forces to provide greater flexibility for their rather limited budgets? What will be our attitude if they start to merge their armed forces so that they have some form of single executive direction?
Our emphasis has always been on improving our European partners' military capabilities. The way in which they do so is obviously a matter for them, but I have emphasised today the importance of interoperability. If certain countries chose to pool their resources—for example, to produce a capability that would not otherwise be available—that would be a wholly sensible approach that we would welcome, although, clearly, it would depend on the capability being useful and available. I do not advocate merging forces for the sake of it, but if two countries can join together to fill a capability gap—the process that we considered as part of the Helsinki headline goal target—that would not otherwise be filled, that seems a very sensible and welcome approach.
We need armed forces that are capable of doing their job in that new environment, rather than those that might look impressive in what I might describe as Soviet-style parades. There are those, such as Mr. Jenkin, who count quite a lot and might see themselves as the new "Bernard" Brezhnev, counting tanks and missile launchers as they rumble past. The reality is that our forces will need the ability to reconfigure forces and equipment rapidly to deliver critical effect at the right moment. That is what will determine success.
We are now able to bring force to bear with ever-greater precision, from a wide variety of platforms, to attack and reduce the combat power of an adversary. The astonishing speed with which we can increasingly operate can destabilise an adversary and achieve decisive effect, causing the enemy to give up even though many of its military forces may still remain—what we call effects-based operations, which focus on undermining an opponent's ability to exercise effective command and control of its forces, rather than simply on battlefield attrition. Effects-based operations are not new—just as asymmetric warfare pre-dated the events of
I take the right hon. Gentleman's point about Mr. Brezhnev's bean-counting approach and I welcome his comments about radical thinking and not wishing to fight the last war again, but everything he has said involves conventional forces, expeditionary warfare and engaging enemies on the battlefield: not once has he talked about homeland defence and the integration of armed forces and civil forces that will be so necessary in asymmetric warfare.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I do not overlook that important aspect of defence policy. We dealt with it in some detail in the new chapter, and we have continued to develop it in the work that flows from the new chapter, especially in respect of augmenting our reserve forces to allow a rapid response internationally and domestically. I entirely agree that, in the new environment following the end of the Soviet Union's threat to the United Kingdom, we must pay significant attention to the threats to the United Kingdom, perhaps in a way that had not been thought necessary in a previous generation. We certainly take such things fully into account.
People are at the heart of effects-based operations. The continuing trend towards expeditionary and multinational deployments will have an enormous impact on the skills required of service personnel in the coming years and on the way in which we train them to apply those skills to the tactical situations in which they operate.
Experience tells us that, for many military assets, such as deployed headquarters and logistical support, conducting several smaller scale operations is more demanding than one or two larger operations. Frequent and often concurrent medium and small-scale operations have been the exact pattern since the strategic defence review, with a new operation arising on average about once a year. While we must therefore retain the capacity to undertake the most demanding large-scale operations as part of a coalition, it has become clear that we need to structure our forces with a focus on the more frequent demands of concurrent medium and small-scale operations.
The operational burden is not falling evenly across the range of capabilities. The recent pattern of operations, and of those that we foresee in the future, place extra strain on certain of our forces—the elements that act as multipliers of combat power by enabling more rapid manoeuvre, more rapid deployment, better intelligence and target acquisition, greater accuracy and, therefore, the ability to undertake operations more quickly and at lower cost in life and matériel. We must therefore look hard at whether we have enough of those kinds of forces
The size and shape of each of the services will need to evolve to optimise joint operations and provide greater flexibility and capability to project power. In the case of the Army, experience demonstrates that our current light forces cannot provide the combat power required by some of the more demanding operations in which rapid deployment is needed, so we must move from the current mix of light and heavy forces, representing the two extremes of deployability and combat power, to a more graduated and balanced structure of light, medium and heavy forces together with a greater emphasis on enabling capabilities such as logistics, engineers and intelligence. That will lead inevitably to a different requirement over time for main battle tanks, other heavy armoured fighting vehicles and heavy artillery, offset by a new requirement for more medium-weight forces based on the future rapid effects system family of vehicles.
We are currently engaged in the Royal Navy's largest shipbuilding programme for many years. With two new aircraft carriers, Type 45 destroyers, Astute class submarines, new amphibious shipping and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support vessels, we are optimising the fleet for joint operations. Some of our older vessels contribute less well to the pattern of operations that we envisage, and some adjustments are likely to be needed.
With the introduction of Typhoon, the Royal Air Force will enjoy a significant margin of advantage in air warfare over any potential opponent for the foreseeable future. The emphasis of air power will shift from dedicated air defence aircraft such as the Tornado F3 to multi-role platforms equipped with precision-guided weapons and enhanced sensors.
On a wider front, enhancing the armed forces' ability to respond to change means changing the way in which we support them, which will place a premium at all levels on flexibility, innovation and improved systems and processes.
We are engaged in a process of essential change that will lead to the introduction of new technologies and practices into the armed forces. That has always been an essential part of our long-term planning. As in the past, it also means that, inevitably, the new capabilities replace old ones. Those who suggest that this significant modernisation and adaptation of our armed forces is somehow a cuts exercise to score political points are at best mischievous and at worst risk damaging the morale of our servicemen and women.
We have a responsibility to provide our people with the equipment to carry out the tasks that we currently ask of them. The Spitfire played a crucial role in winning the battle of Britain, but as the jet age opened it was obsolete by 1950. The same is true today of many of the technologies and practices that were designed to meet the threats of the cold war. When we dispense with unnecessary capabilities, it is because they no longer meet the requirements of our modern armed forces.
The Secretary of State accuses some of his detractors of making political capital out of suggesting that some of the things that he has described, many of which we endorse entirely, are driven by Treasury cuts. Will he therefore be happy to give us an absolute assurance that, five years from now, under his Government, our forces will be of the same strength and defence spending will be at the same level or at higher levels than today?
The whole point of what I have been setting out to the House is to emphasise that our armed forces are better trained, better organised and better equipped than they have ever been in our history. I expect that, under this Government, that process will continue.
We need to use the resources we have to provide the best support to our armed forces. That is why the Ministry of Defence undertakes what amounts to a capabilities stocktake every year against our future plans. We examine the systems that we have, those that we have chosen to purchase and those that we may need in the future. The strategic environment changes rapidly, and we must make sure that our planning evolves with those changes. Like all Departments, the Ministry of Defence has only so much money to spend, and it must spend it effectively.
All Departments must also deal with fluctuating financial pressures and live within their budgets: the Ministry of Defence is no exception. Sometimes we have to pay a price for our success. For example, recruitment has been more successful this year than we had anticipated. That is good news, but it also affects the demands on the budget. We also have to manage significant exchange rate fluctuations, and this year there is the added complication of managing the impact of operating full resource accounting and budgeting for the first time. That may require some adjustments. The details are still being worked through, but they will not affect our overall strategic direction.
I know that the hon. Gentleman thinks carefully about these issues, but I have emphasised that we must not determine them simply by reference to numbers. I know that he listened carefully to what I said. The issue for the Army today is not the number of infantry battalions that we can deploy but the number of supporting, enabling forces that can allow infantry battalions to deploy when we need them. That is the emphasis that I would like to hear from him.
I have already praised the efforts of the Ministry of Defence's headquarters staff, both military personnel and civil servants.
I have given way a great deal today, including to the hon. Gentleman. I need to reach a conclusion.
Headquarters staff must not rest on their laurels. The cranes and scaffolding around the Ministry of Defence's main building in Whitehall remind us that the modernisation drive will go right to the heart of our defence machine. Through the adoption of new working practices and a modern open-plan working environment, we will slim the number of people in our London head office by more than 15 per cent. Whether in the headquarters, in the civilian staffs or in the services themselves, it is people who will ultimately make the difference. Across the Ministry of Defence, therefore, we need people who have the skills and ability to deal with the range and complexity of modern operations. That will mean different manning requirements and different skill sets to meet the changing environment. We will need to rebalance our force structures to ensure that the burden generated by the expected future operational tempo does not fall on certain individuals disproportionately, as it does too often today.
One thing that my right hon. Friend has not mentioned is the engagement of British forces under blue helmets for the United Nations. A group of us went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo last week, and we were able to meet the small contingent—only six members of the British Army—who were there as part of the organisational development of the country. With such small numbers, and given that the Government of the Congo are now asking for more troops, even though the UN has undertaken a huge exercise there, what pressures does that put on our Army officers? Clearly, they are irreplaceable, yet for all sorts of reasons we must move those people around. Would he care to comment on that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to draw attention to the considerable number of deployments in which British forces engage around the world at the request of the United Nations, NATO or, as we saw in the DRC, as part of an autonomous EU operation, which was very successful. Clearly, that creates pressures for our armed forces, but I know that he, like most Members, would want the United Kingdom to play its part in the world by supporting resolutions of the United Nations. Generally, the Ministry of Defence's most effective way of supporting them is to make forces available to ensure that those resolutions are carried through. That work will continue, but it imposes inevitable strains on Britain's armed forces that the Ministry of Defence and I must manage.
Our response to the future strategic environment will be based around flexible and ever more effective armed forces that are structured and equipped to deploy globally and at short notice. The range of tasks that they will need to perform will be broad—from peacekeeping, humanitarian and confidence-building operations through to counter-terrorism and high-intensity combat against a diverse set of potential opponents. They will also need to be able to operate in rapidly assembled but effective coalitions. Flexibility is absolutely the key word—flexibility of people, policy, structures and equipment. That means taking some difficult decisions, but that cannot be avoided if we are to maintain the United Kingdom's reputation for having some of the most outstanding armed forces anywhere in the world.
This debate comes at a crucial time, shortly before the Government's long-promised defence White Paper. The Secretary of State's speech was a softening-up exercise—an exercise in reducing our expectations or increasing our dread at what is likely to come. I hope that things will not be quite as bad as he suggests.
The Secretary of State's "get ready for cuts" speech even denied that we are short of infantry in the British Army. Can he justify the present level of infantry given that the average interval between tours is nine months when it is meant to be 24 months? I believe that the Royal Scots regiment has just been in Northern Ireland, and it has just had an infantry tour gap of six months.
If that is completely wrong, perhaps the Minister will tell us the length of the tour gap when he winds up the debate. When one meets the commanding officers of infantry regiments, they make it clear that they are not getting the tour intervals that were promised in the strategic defence review.
This debate also takes place against the background of British servicemen and women serving around the world. Six months ago, British forces were committed to high-intensity combat operations in Iraq. In the past five years alone, they have been in combat in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan as well as Iraq. In Iraq, the security situation remains fragile. Our armed forces continue to do a brilliant job, coping with many extra tasks as a result of the Government's failure to plan effectively for the post-conflict phase. As well as providing security and military and police training, they are carrying out infrastructure and rebuilding tasks that maintain vital services to local people including water, electricity, basic health care and food. I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the armed forces and, in particular, to those who died in the conflict and since and to those who have sustained injury.
Iraq remains an extremely high-threat environment because of organised crime and terrorist groups operating from within and outside Iraq and because of remnants of the Ba'athist regime. Despite that, progress is being made and we harbour no doubts that it is in the national interest and in the interest of global security as a whole that the allies continue to work to bring forward mature and representative administration in Iraq that is capable of preventing a return to dictatorship and the terrorism of Saddam Hussein.
Questions remain, however. How long will British forces remain, and in what numbers? When will the Government succeed in persuading more nations such as Japan—which made an announcement yesterday—to join the peacekeeping and reconstruction effort that is so obviously in their interests as much as in ours? How much has it cost so far and how much more will we need to spend before the task is done?
Politicians of all parties owe it to our armed forces not to let them down as they face these challenges. This debate is about ensuring that the Government have a sound and sustainable defence policy. Therefore, it is the right time—five years on from the strategic defence review—to look at the fundamental elements of the United Kingdom's defence policy. It is time to assess how the Government measure up to the challenge and, indeed, how they measure up to the challenge that they set themselves in the strategic defence review. Do they have a credible long-term defence policy? Finally, what are the implications of changes in Government policy with regard to European Union defence? In reality, do they want to have a sovereign British defence and security policy at all in the long term?
There is little disagreement between us and the Government about the overall mission for defence policy. I can agree with much of what the Secretary of State has said today. The mission must be to protect the United Kingdom and overseas territories from military threats and terrorism, to safeguard the national interests of the UK wherever they are threatened and to contribute to global peace and security.
We are confronted by three main threats: terrorism, both internal and external; the threat of ballistic missile proliferation; and the possibility, which we can never remove, of an attack by a foreign power on the UK, the UK's dependent territories or our allies. We also face the challenges of organised crime, and our armed forces have a role in dealing with civil crises. Rogue states, weapons proliferation and international terrorism are the new threats in the post-cold war world.
The UK is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, which places obligations on us to negotiate away in good faith our nuclear weapons. As we are failing to do that, does the hon. Gentleman not think that this country is also guilty of weapons and nuclear proliferation?
To deliver defence policy overall, we must maintain a military capability to act unilaterally, including with our independent nuclear deterrent. We must strengthen our ability to conduct military operations alongside the United States and our other allies, and we must develop NATO as the cornerstone of European, north Atlantic and global security. We must contribute to military operations in support of the United Nations as part of a coalition, including peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, and we must have the capability to provide the civil power with whatever military assistance may be necessary.
The Government therefore need to deliver seven core military capabilities, and that is where we need to measure their performance. The first must be the maintenance of our independent nuclear deterrent. The answer to Llew Smith is that, if there were a prospect of every other country in the world getting rid of its nuclear deterrent, there would perhaps be a case for us getting rid of ours. I do not think that there is that prospect. Indeed, I read in the newspapers yesterday that Israel is developing a submarine-launched nuclear capability. A time of weapons proliferation is not the right environment for us to get rid of our deterrent.
If, in future, the hon. Gentleman should be responsible for defence matters, will he tell the House under what circumstances he would agree to the use of nuclear weapons? To what extent and in what instances would those weapons benefit our defences and the peace of the planet?
I am not going to make the mistake that, on occasion, the Secretary of State has made with regard to the question about the use of nuclear weapons. I will not give any indication at all of how a future Conservative Government might use an independent nuclear deterrent. Part of its deterrent effect is that we do not give out such information. I dare say, when I am trusted with it, I shall not discuss it with the hon. Gentleman or anyone else.
I have given way enough. If the hon. Gentleman wants to continue the debate, I advise him to intervene on the Minister when he winds up. Our nuclear deterrent may seem outdated in the current threat environment, in which the deterrent effect of overwhelming firepower has failed to protect the west from rogue states and terrorism. But only the nuclear deterrent has eliminated for the time being the old cold-war-style threats. If we fail to maintain the deterrent, we will invite such threats to return. To leave the nuclear deterrent to other nations would certainly reduce our influence in the world and undermine our security. When so many other countries, such as North Korea, India, Iran, Pakistan and Israel are developing or enhancing their nuclear capabilities, it is hardly the moment for Labour to revert to unilateral nuclear disarmament, which I suspect is the hon. Gentleman's policy.
If the Government are not to change their policy by default—this point is directed at the Secretary of State—they must begin to answer the question that the hon. Gentleman raised. During a visit to the BAE Systems submarine yard in Barrow-in-Furness last week—I did not have the entire week off—we were informed that the time is fast approaching when planning, design and assessment work on the successor to the Trident missile system must begin. That is because it must be ready in time to replace the current submarines, which will be retired in 2020. However, in a recent written answer, the Secretary of State said:
"There are no current plans for a replacement for Trident, and no decisions on any possible successor system are yet needed."—[Hansard, 15 July 2003; Vol. 409, c. 199W.]
I know that that answer is convenient for the management of the Labour party but the Secretary of State could be more forthcoming—perhaps the Minister of State will mention it in his winding-up speech—about when we need to start planning for a successor to Trident. I do not believe that no one in the Ministry of Defence is thinking about the subject. What are the thoughts of people in the Ministry of Defence? What kind of nuclear deterrent will we need in the future? Surely the Government will maintain a commitment to a continuous, at-sea deterrent because, as the strategic defence review pointed out, that is necessary
"to avoid misunderstanding or escalation if a Trident submarine were to sail during a period of crisis".
That is an important reason why we should not reduce the number of Trident submarines, even though we think that the need to use the nuclear deterrent might be much reduced in the current environment.
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman often enough.
Will the Government be honest enough to have an open debate about Trident's successor in good time or—this might interest the hon. Gentleman—will we have a repeat of the debate about missile defence, when there was a covert U-turn with hardly any debate?
The second key capability is global missile defence. How much better would it be if we could render a missile attack futile and ineffective rather than taking the hit and having to retaliate? We are pleased that the Government finally came round to our thinking on missile defence at the beginning of the year. Fortunately, the United States is making the main contribution, but the UK will make an essential contribution through the X-band radar station at Fylingdales. The UK should offer bases for ground-based interceptors, and we also anticipate that the Royal Navy's suitably modified Type 45 air defence destroyers will be used in a missile defence role.
Thirdly, the UK must be committed to developing precision weaponry, including enhanced air and sea-launched cruise missile systems. Fourthly, we must improve surveillance, processing, communications and interoperability with our key allies. Fifthly, as my hon. Friend Patrick Mercer has said, it is essential to have a home defence force comprising local battalions, which would probably be formed from the Territorial Army.
Sixthly, we above all need flexible, rapidly deployable and sustainable regular forces. There must be the ability to deploy, in a worst case, a substantial expeditionary force to fight in a major regional conflict across the operational spectrum while continuing to sustain unavoidable existing commitments. Within that overall capability, sufficient flexibility to prosecute multiple operations at a lower level must be maintained.
In 1998, the Government published the strategic defence review. They have achieved much that they said they would, but much of what has been delivered was already on track from the outgoing Conservative Administration. Our principal complaint is about the serious gap that has opened between the defence commitments that the Government have taken on and the resources that they have made available to match them. As Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank told the House of Lords on
"The defence programme was underfunded before 11th September."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 17 December 2001; Vol. 630, c. 44.]
Things have hardly improved since then. The policy for people was one of the key elements of the SDR but the Government have manifestly failed to achieve what they set out to do.
Does the hon. Gentleman's endorsement of my noble friend indicate that the Conservative party's commitment is to spend more on defence than the present Government?
I shall make our commitment absolutely clear later in my speech. The election is still some way away, so we do not know what commitments we will have at that time or what the situation will be. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that we shall certainly consult defence chiefs and our allies when in government. We must also see the books, because the Government are a little tight fisted with information about the Ministry of Defence's long-term financial planning. For example, it would be interesting to see a 10 or 15-year projection of the real cost of the equipment programme, but I doubt that the Secretary of State will give me that information. If he would be happy to share it, we could start to explore exactly what we might spend. I do not think that any incoming Government have ever given such a specific commitment. The Secretary of State is to be congratulated on trying it on, with all his friendliness and good humour.
On overstretch, the SDR stated:
"We must break this vicious circle. To do so we must match the commitments we undertake to our planned resources . . . We need to improve recruitment and retention so that our units are properly manned".
Armed forces personnel levels, apart from failing to meet manning targets in the SDR, have been cut back from SDR levels. I shall be accused of counting but every commanding officer of every battalion in the British Army, except those who have successfully recruited, has been counting how many soldiers he has under-recruited.
"UK Defence Statistics 2003" reveals that there are now 12,000 fewer trained personnel than there were in 1997, despite the increase in defence commitments. Royal Navy warships routinely set to sea without their full complement. The SDR promised to increase the size of the Army by 3,300 yet, today, it is 5,000 men understrength compared with a target that has been reduced since the SDR.
The overstretch of armed forces has become endemic. In June, 55 per cent. of the Army was either deployed on, or recovering from, operations, compared with an SDR assumption of about 25 per cent. In Northern Ireland, the garrison has been reduced not because of the improving security situation but because of operational commitments elsewhere. At a dinner with journalists on
"What we have got to avoid is this being seen as a great peace dividend by the Treasury . . . I suspect there would be a great temptation from our friends in the Treasury to capitalise on that."
I hope that the Secretary of State will resist any such thoughts.
My hon. Friend correctly said that the Secretary of State's speech sounded—through the general gabble—like a softening-up exercise for Treasury cuts to come in a future White Paper. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State's body language while delivering his speech indicated that he was confident that he would not be the one to implement the cuts?
Let us concentrate on defence policy today, although I understand what my hon. Friend says.
Admiral Boyce also said that military advice to the Prime Minister would be to avoid a "discretionary operation"—a war in which Britain was not under direct attack—for at least a year unless there was a "pretty compelling reason". He said:
"If you asked us to go into a large-scale operation in 2004, we couldn't do it without serious pain. We must allow ourselves time to draw breath."
That is a damning indictment of the Government's failure to deliver the basic promise on expeditionary capability that they set out in the SDR.
I shall not dwell on equipment because that will be addressed in next week's proposed debate, but there is a real squeeze on the equipment programme that was laid out in the SDR. The carriers, which were the centrepiece of the review, are shrinking in size almost daily. Less than a year ago, the Secretary of State announced that the carriers would be 60,000-tonne ships. We understand that the two new large carriers are likely to be medium-sized. How long will it be before they become through-deck cruisers—the euphemism for small carriers that was acceptable to the Treasury in the 1970s under the then Labour Government?
Given the age of existing fighter vehicles, the Government must get a move on. If the carriers are smaller, there will be fewer joint strike fighters. There are constant rumours about cuts to the Eurofighter Typhoon programme.
The multi-role armoured vehicle has been cut. That followed the demise of TRACER, for understandable reasons. We are promised a new armoured vehicle that is to be in service by 2009, but the Government are only at the concept stage. That is a very short time frame to produce an entirely new armoured vehicle that is capable of carrying a 120 mm gun.
The underlying picture is clear. The Government's defence ambitions are not matched by the resources that they are prepared to commit to defence. We are expecting a new White Paper on defence. The speculation is that it holds new cuts, and the Secretary of State did everything to feed that expectation in order to ameliorate the impact when it arrives. In June he spoke about moves towards a
"balanced structure of light, medium and heavy forces, together with a greater emphasis on enabling capabilities"— thoughts that he echoed today. We welcome such continuing development, which builds on the work of previous Conservative Secretaries of State for Defence, but there is much more to be done before we have armed forces of the shape, size and capability that reflect the revolutionary change in the strategic environment after
Though the armed forces have been substantially transformed since the end of the cold war, they still need to become lighter, more deployable and more flexible and interoperable with our key allies. What we are likely to see in the White Paper is a fanfare heralding apparently new, but mainly old and delayed, capabilities that have long been in the pipeline, many of which were ordered under the last Conservative Government. That emphasises the theme hidden in the Secretary of State's talk of effects-based warfare and flexibility, whereas the real agenda is cuts. All the indications are that the Secretary of State faces another bruising battle with the Chancellor, who himself faces a funding crisis in the public finances entirely of his own making.
The Secretary of State warns of
"a different requirement over time for main battle tanks", and of "some limited adjustments" for the Royal Navy. That is just code for more cuts. When he says that capabilities should no longer be judged by numbers of tanks or warships, but by their effectiveness, he simply confirms that he is in retreat.
The Sea Harrier is already going, depriving the fleet of one of the world's most capable air defence fighters. I remind the Secretary of State that when the Spitfire was withdrawn from service, which he mentioned during his remarks, we had another aircraft, the Meteor, in service to replace it. There was not a six-year gap between the Spitfire and its replacement, as there is between the fleet defence aircraft, the Sea Harrier, being withdrawn from service and the introduction of the joint strike fighter.
We also hear that the size of the Army may be scaled back yet again, with fewer infantry because the Government are unwilling or unable to meet the reduced manning requirements. Nobody but new Labour believes that less means more, yet that is what we are asked to believe.
Despite talk about so-called improvements in the enabling capabilities, there are worrying signs that Defence Logistics Organisation staff may be cut back. In particular, the Government have been forced to reveal what they call "implications" for service personnel at the DLO, as the Minister of State told my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth in a written answer on
Savings have already been made from reorganisation of the Defence Logistics, in the guise of efficiency. We are all in favour of efficiency, but it can be rather overused as an excuse. As the Select Committee has already pointed out, so-called efficiency savings are mainly generated from cuts in levels of stocks, which will have contributed to the problems encountered during the rapid deployment to, and sustainability in, Iraq. This problem, like the procurement problem and the manning and retention problem, goes to the heart of the Government's defence policy.
There is insufficient resource to match the Government's defence commitments. Despite indications at the time of the SDR that 2.5 per cent. of gross domestic product should be reserved for defence in perpetuity, the figure has fallen consistently. We are now at around 2.3 per cent. of GDP, heading for 2.2 per cent. at the end of the plan period, compared with, for example, the US Government's 3.4 per cent. of GDP, rising to 3.8 per cent. over their equivalent plan period. The operating capability gap, of which the Secretary of State sometimes speaks eloquently, is getting wider and wider.
In training, we have a dual problem. Not only is overstretch of regular forces disrupting individual and unit training, but problems have been caused by the lack of resources in the training system. In July, a report by the Ministry of Defence's directorate of operational capability found that armed forces training bases were operating
"at the limit of, or beyond, capacity" because of staff shortages, which diluted the quality of training and the ability to offer pastoral care to recruits. It added that training
"is running at risk and continues to be fragile".
At the time of the report, Ministers promised that all the urgent vacancies for instructors identified by the Army would be filled by now. Have the Government achieved that? I hardly think so, but perhaps the Minister of State could let us know when he winds up. I hope also that Ministers recognise that staff shortages in training bases can also contribute to bullying problems, as we heard from the report by the Surrey police in relation to Deepcut.
The current pressures on the armed forces mean that reserve forces are being intensively used, the Territorial Army in particular. In operations in Iraq, thousands of reservists were used to support the regulars. On
In the debate on
"many members of our territorial armed forces will think of leaving. Some have already told me that they intend to do so."—[Hansard, 12 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 879.]
The House should be reminded that that target was already the result of an 18,000 cut in TA numbers in the SDR, a cut that the Secretary of State has admitted was a mistake, as we warned the Government at the time. The TA now also has an increased role at home, assisting with home security incidents as part of the civil contingency reaction force. How is it meant to fulfil this role, when it is so under- recruited at home, and when so many members allocated to those tasks are also committed abroad?
I asked earlier whether the Government have a defence policy, and whether they are prepared to commit the necessary resources to sustain it. The final question is whether the Government intend to have a sovereign independent defence and security policy in future. The implication of their support for the European security and defence policy, leading ultimately to the EU constitution, is that they do not.
As I mentioned earlier, the Queen's Speech last year reiterated NATO's
"continuing role as the cornerstone of Britain's national security."
"our alliance with NATO has to be the superior alliance in terms of defence".
The Secretary of State's speech to the Royal United Services Institute in June stated:
"It is highly unlikely that the United Kingdom would be engaged in large-scale combat operations without the United States, a judgment born of past experience, shared interest and our assessment of strategic trends."
If only that strategic judgment and those other statements were genuinely reflected in the Government's policy.
The Government have betrayed the assurances that the Prime Minister personally gave President Bush on these matters at their first meeting in February 2001. When President Bush emerged from the meeting to face the cameras, he was asked about the European security and defence policy. He said:
"He"— that is, the Prime Minister—
"also assured me that the European defense would no way undermine NATO. He also assured me that there would be a joint command, that planning would take place within NATO, and that should all NATO not wish to go on a mission, that would then serve as a catalyst for the defense forces"— that is, the EU defence forces—
"moving on their own."
Let us test those assurances against the reality of events since then. Before the Prague summit in February 2002, France threatened to veto the renewal of the NATO mandate in Macedonia unless NATO agreed to hand it over to the European Union—that was European defence undermining NATO. At the Copenhagen summit, the EU decided unilaterally to announce a takeover of the NATO peacekeeping mandate in Bosnia—that was in complete defiance of NATO's so-called "right of first refusal"; and the announcement was made without consulting the American delegation at NATO or anyone in the United States. Earlier this year, the EU announced that the French-led operation in Congo would be an ESDP operation outside the NATO planning and command framework—that was a complete denial of the joint command and joint planning with NATO that was promised to President Bush.
All that was meant to have been resolved in the EU-NATO agreement known as Berlin plus, which was concluded just a few months ago after four hard years of negotiation. It gives the EU assured access to NATO military planning under the command of the NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, who is always a European military officer.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the strength of NATO rests in the capability of our European allies? Does he think that the overriding objective is to achieve that capability, and that a European defence policy will do just that?
I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said until his very last point. The European Union is not increasing defence spending, but continuing to reduce it; and its duplication of NATO assets such as planning and the command structure means that it spends more money on headquarters and structures while taking money out of capabilities. How much more efficient it would be if it stuck to the Berlin plus agreement, which provided for European forces to be separable, but not separate, under the NATO umbrella. That agreement was concluded specifically to allay US fears that the EU had become a wasteful competitor to NATO, needlessly duplicating NATO assets, divisively decoupling US and European security policy, and discriminating unfairly against non-EU members of NATO.
No sooner was the ink dry on the agreement than our own British Prime Minister was colluding with President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder to set up precisely the autonomous military planning capability that the US has set itself against. The German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zei tung,, reported after that meeting that it had obtained a joint paper setting out the agreement made in Berlin, which states:
"Together, we are convinced that the EU should have a common capability for the planning and leadership of operations independent of NATO means and capabilities."
Does the Secretary of State deny that that agreement exists?
I have reminded the hon. Gentleman on several occasions not to rely on what he reads in British newspapers. I should also remind him not to rely on what he might read in German newspapers.
The Secretary of State does not deny that the agreement made between the British, German and French Governments exists. I shall give him another opportunity to do so.
If the hon. Gentleman checks the terms of the Berlin plus agreement, which he enthusiastically endorses, he will find that it contains a specific reference to the EU conducting autonomous operations.
May I ask the Secretary of State why the US ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, said:
"What we cannot support and will not support is the creation of an alternative EU military headquarters, whether it's in Tervuren or some other place, in Brussels or elsewhere"?
Why do we read in today's Financial Times of US "dismay" over the Government's policy on EU defence? Is it true that Condoleezza Rice has telephoned No. 10 to discuss her concerns? The truth is that the Prime Minister has betrayed his promises to President Bush, not least by accepting the EU constitution. This is no "tidying up".
Let us apply three tests to the EU constitution as it applies to security and defence. Is there any increase in qualified majority voting? Does it enable a hard core of member states to accelerate the process of creating an EU defence, effectively negating the UK veto? Does the European Court of Justice acquire ultimate jurisdiction over security and defence policy? The answers are yes, yes, and yes. Moreover, the constitution states, for the first time:
"This will lead to a common defence."
What could be clearer than that? We can be sure that the final draft of the EU constitution will reflect some little victory for the Foreign Secretary to wave at the press as evidence of "game set and match to the British" when he gets home, but the substance of the present draft will remain untouched.
The Government can no longer accuse Conservative Members of inventing the image of a Euro-army: we can see, on our television screens and in our newspapers, British and other soldiers bearing EU insignia on their uniforms. We just need to listen to Lieutenant-General Rainer Schuwirth, chief of the EU's military staff, who says that a European army would now be possible as the EU's military staff has more than 190 officers and its own secure headquarters.
In December 2000, the Prime Minister promised:
"European defence cannot be a rival to NATO".
He said there is
"no proposal, no desire or decision for a separate European military planning capability".
In the same month, he told the House of Commons:
"The idea that this will be an independent standing force set aside from NATO is nonsense."—[Hansard, 11 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 365.]
The EU constitution is a direct challenge to the primacy of NATO and, ultimately, to the sovereign independence of our own national defence and foreign policy. The Prime Minister was being either incredibly naive or deliberately deceitful.
NATO already provides for European defence. Every concession that Labour makes to the EU defence agenda strengthens those who want splits between the US and Europe. EU defence is about not more or better defence, but more structures, more headquarters, more offices and more committees. European nations should certainly share more of the burden of European defence and global security, but since the Prime Minister and President Chirac launched the concept of an EU military force in 1998, EU defence spending has continued to decline.
I am a little puzzled that although the hon. Gentleman suggests that co-operation over certain Petersberg-type operations would mean the complete loss of our sovereignty, he is perfectly prepared for us to make our defence policy completely subservient to the United States.
That is a completely inaccurate account of my argument. Of course I am in favour of co-operation, but the European constitution is not about that: it is about co-ordination, or structured co-operation, which ultimately involves some coercion in the event of unwillingness to agree. That results in erosion of the national veto and, ultimately, the subjection of our defence policy to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the successful mission that we completed in Bunia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—yes or no?
I am in favour of operations through co-operation between member states. However, the arrangements for which the constitution provides will develop and cease to involve simple, bilateral co-operation. They will lead to the creation of an institutional framework, ultimately overseen by the European Court of Justice, in which the increase in majority voting will progressively erode the veto over European Union policies. The debate is about that, but of course I am delighted with the achievements of British and other armed forces in Bunia. However, that is not a reason to submit European Union defence policy to the European Court of Justice and agree to increase qualified majority voting. Incidentally, the operation was carried out without the European constitution, so why do we need it?
The EU defence policy is simply a platform for the vanity of old Europe. NATO, not the EU, won the cold war; NATO, not the EU, brought peace to the Balkans; NATO is peacekeeping in Kabul and supporting European troops in Iraq. Only NATO can bring the US and Europe closer together. As an increasing number of new NATO and EU members realise, NATO guarantees the independence and national sovereignty of its members whereas the EU constitution tends to undermine that. The constitution should therefore be subject to a referendum.
As the Secretary of State said, yesterday was a historic moment for NATO because of the launch of the 20,000 NATO reaction force, which is capable of deployment at five days' notice. Unlike the ludicrous EU so-called rapid reaction force, it is genuinely operational now. As NATO Supreme Commander General Jones said yesterday:
"For the first time in its history, the Alliance will have a joint (multi-national) combined air, land, sea and special operations force under a single commander, maintained as a standing rotational force."
The Government should not agree to anything in Europe that undermines the primacy and pre-eminence of the Atlantic alliance in European security because our security and that of Europe depends on it.
Britain's defence policy needs to reflect today's strategic environment and the lessons of recent military operations, especially in Iraq. The Government should have learned that they should be better prepared next time. General Sir John Reith confirmed to the Select Committee on Defence that British forces in Iraq were "perilously close" to not being ready.
It was clear from the shortages of equipment, ammunition, spares and supplies for those on the front line that too much was left to chance. Moreover, the Government do not appear to understand that the success of peacekeeping and peacemaking operations depends not only on the latest technology but, crucially, on the number of boots that can be put on the ground.
The Government's policy is too reliant on the sheer dedication and professionalism of our armed forces. Labour takes them for granted. Our pledge is to fund fully the defence capabilities necessary for our national security and for fulfilling our international obligations. At a time of increased threat and demands on our armed forces, the Conservatives will not let them down.
The other big lesson is strategic: NATO is indispensable. The US is the only nation that has the military capabilities and will to guarantee European and global security. It is monumental folly for a British Government to help the French to undermine NATO and split the alliance.
The difference between Labour and the Conservatives at the next election will be stark and simple. When the Conservatives say that we will back our armed forces and that NATO is and should remain the cornerstone of our security, we are not simply telling another Labour lie.
There appears to be a reluctance to debate nuclear weapons, their use, the circumstances in which they would be used and their so-called benefits. I should therefore like to remind hon. Members of some past statements by prominent Members about the role of nuclear weapons.
"The possession of such weapons is of no use unless we have the will to use them. If we possess nuclear weapons, we must make it clear that we are prepared to use them; otherwise we might as well not possess them."—[Hansard, 3 May 1995; Vol. 259, c. 247.]
In another debate on defence in February 1996, I asked the Liberal defence spokesperson, Sir Russell Johnston:
"If nuclear weapons were a part of our defence and if the hon. Gentleman were in a position of power, would he, if the crunch came, be willing to press the button to start off those nuclear weapons? If he did, could he anticipate some of the devastation that they would inflict on the environment and on the people of this planet?"
He replied, after a fashion, that
"the matter does get theological. I know perfectly well that there is a contradiction, but one prays that one will never have to use those weapons. I shall not go beyond that."—[Hansard, 1 February 1996; Vol. 270, c. 1164.]
The leader of the Labour party, now Prime Minister, said early in 1997 at a press conference that he would be willing to press the button to launch a nuclear attack.
It is not my place to defend the Prime Minister's position. I am a member of CND now and I was a member some 40 years ago. I campaigned and demonstrated with my predecessor, Michael Foot, one of the great peace campaigners of the 20th century. Michael has not changed his position, I have not changed mine, but if the Prime Minister has changed his, he, not I, must justify that.
If the Minister bothers to read Nye Bevan's speech on resigning from the Government, he will realise that one of the reasons for his resignation was the exorbitant amount of money that we were spending on the arms race at that time. I therefore advise the Minister to read history. If he reads the history of that period, he will become far wiser about the subject that we are considering.
Last year, I asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he would be willing to press the nuclear button. He replied:
I asked the Foreign Secretary whether he agreed that the most practical way of demonstrating to India and Pakistan that nuclear weapons undermined their security was for Britain to take a lead by ridding ourselves of our weapons of mass destruction. In his reply, he let slip:
"I went on the Aldermaston march when I was 12, and I think that I am entitled to change my view between the ages of 12 and 55. Indeed, I was nearer to 12 than to 55 when I changed it."—[Hansard, 25 June 2002; Vol. 387, c. 731.]
Many would argue that he was correct when he was 12. I suppose that the comments prove that people do not always grow wiser as they grow older.
Sadly, it is clear that the leadership of all the major political parties in the House is prepared to commit mass murder with our weapons of mass destruction. That is chilling. Even if the hugely destructive weapons of mass murder were never used in anger, they have already caused the people of this country dearly in their taxes. They have cost others their environment. That applies to the lands of native American Indians in Nevada, where British nuclear warheads have been tested on sacred land, and the original uranium for nuclear warheads was obtained from Namibia, leaving a legacy of uranium miners with terrible respiratory diseases and cancers.
There is also a financial cost. The Secretary of State for Defence admitted on
The £15 billion being wasted on Trident is an obscenity. Not only could the financial resources have been better deployed, but the skills and talents of our designers, engineers, computer experts, construction workers and many more have been diverted from socially useful employment into developing nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
In 1953, shortly after becoming President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower—not a wild-eyed left wing revolutionary but a right-wing Republican—said something that we can all learn from:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who are old and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children . . . This is not a way of life at all in any sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron".
Sadly, our diplomats, as well as our politicians, try to hoodwink the global public over our nuclear weapons of mass destruction. For example, Britain's representative at the 2002 non-proliferation treaty preparation meetings, ambassador Peter Jenkins, announced that the UK had
"unilaterally reduced our operationally available stockpile to fewer than 200 warheads, which represents a reduction of more than 70 per cent. in the potential explosive power of our deterrent since the end of the Cold War."
But as CND's excellent briefing points out, the 70 per cent. reduction in the explosive power of British nuclear weapons has been achieved largely by replacing older, higher yield warheads such as Polaris and WE177 with the lower yield but more flexible Trident warhead. We should remember what that much-despised but ultimately wise US President, Jimmy Carter, said in his final speech to the American people as President in January 1981. He said:
"In an all-out nuclear war, more destructive power than in all of World War II would be unleashed every second during the long afternoon it would take for all the missiles and bombs to fall. A World War II every second—more people killed in the first few hours than all the wars of history put together. The survivors, if any, would live in despair amid the poisoned ruins of a civilization that had committed suicide."
We should listen, and if we do, we shall learn.
Even the current US Secretary of State, Colin Powell—while still Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff—at Harvard university in June, 10 years ago, could say:
"Today I can declare my hope and declare it from the bottom of my heart that we will eventually see the time when that number of nuclear weapons is down to zero and the world is a much better place."
Sadly the Bush Administration, of which Powell is now a part, are going in the opposite direction.
We must continue the campaign against all nuclear weapons, in this country and in all other countries that possess them, or aspire to possess them, just as Michael Foot—my predecessor in Blaenau Gwent—is still, at 90 years of age, rightly raging against the madness of nuclear weapons. Yet while the Government argue in favour of British nuclear weapons of mass destruction, they were seemingly willing to go to war against Iraq, with all the suffering and death that that brought, because that country was supposedly trying to obtain such weapons.
Meanwhile, Israel's ownership of nuclear weapons seems acceptable to our Government, as it obviously is to the Government of the United States. In the debate on Iraq in September last year, I reminded the House that the former Israeli nuclear scientist, Mordecai Vanunu, had been rotting in an Israeli prison for the past 17 years, when his only crime—if it can be so described—was to tell the truth and to inform the world about Israel's nuclear role, when all around him were lying. Sadly, my own Government have done almost nothing over those 17—now 18—years to obtain the release of Vanunu, who is a giant of the peace movement.
Under our current policy of insane possession of nuclear weapons, we make ourselves and the rest of the world even more insecure, as other countries misguidedly seek, at huge financial and environmental cost, to copy our own nuclear weapons of mass destruction. In my opinion—and in the opinion of CND and the wider peace movement—that is unacceptable. I say on behalf of all people with a grain of common sense that the march towards nuclear destruction must stop.
It seems curious to have a defence debate but no Defence White Paper. Like many hon. Members, I feel that today's debate is perhaps a softening-up exercise for the issues that we might discuss in a week's time. Nevertheless, recent events have clearly had an impact on British defence strategy. As the Government appear to have abandoned the strategic defence review, they certainly have some explaining to do. Today and next week will provide them with the opportunity to do that.
I join other hon. Members in remembering the bravery of those who lost their lives and of those who are still in Iraq, whom we wish a safe and swift return home.
The forthcoming Defence White Paper will have to strike some careful balances—the Secretary of State tried to tiptoe his way through that minefield earlier—so the sooner it is published the better. The longer the rumours about infantry cuts or procurement troubles are allowed to persist, the more morale will suffer.
The Secretary of State was careful to stress that, as the Ministry of Defence learns the lessons from Iraq, it should be careful not to learn simply how to fight the last war. I hope that he sticks to his own advice. He also said, and Mr. Jenkin repeated it, that it was highly unlikely that the United Kingdom would be engaged in large-scale combat operations without the United States. As a nation, we occupy a vital position as a key ally of the US, a central player in NATO, a member of the UN Security Council and an important member of the EU and the Commonwealth. Additionally, we still have commitments to our overseas territories. I do not need to remind the House that the US was not overly helpful during the Falklands crisis.
That really cannot stand on the record. Although the United States could not help us with overt military co-operation, it was of great assistance to us. That needs to be put on the record.
I am happy to accept that, but at the beginning of the conflict, when perhaps we needed the best support, it was not forthcoming. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that the Americans were working for the opposition.
The roles that I have just described for the United Kingdom are not conflicting roles. We must work within them all, in order that we might best maintain national and global security, and we must stand ready to act within each of them. However, this pivotal, multi-dimensional defence relationship carries with it complex responsibilities, particularly when partners within the alliances differ. There will be occasions when we shall be unable to satisfy all our allies, and we might have to choose. However, it would be dangerous and invidious if such decisions were based on the expediency of relationships rather than the principles that we as a country have long cherished.
Flexibility was the watchword of the MOD during its process of reform, and that should include flexibility in terms of who we fight with, not simply how our forces are deployed. The moves on European defence that were made at the Rome summit are about exactly that flexibility. European defence policy is not, and should not be, about ceding control of UK forces; nor is it in direct competition with NATO or the US. European security and defence policy means that we can conduct operations in yet more frameworks with the US, NATO, the UN or the EU, as the situation demands. The counsel from the Conservative Benches to disengage from EU co-operation certainly runs contrary to the wishes of the US and would offer no advantage whatever to NATO. The Conservatives were certainly not opposed, as I understand it, to the Western European Union, which for many years provided a European pillar within NATO itself.
EU operations such as those recently undertaken in the Congo, along with NATO operations such as those in Afghanistan, show that we can work in many organisations to try to improve security worldwide. NATO and the EU are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the EU will act only when NATO chooses not to do so. Therefore, NATO will continue to have, and must have, its prime role.
Regrettably, our forces are deployed in more and more situations all over the world.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves from the EU, will he say whether he foresees any circumstance in which our EU partners would increase their defence capability to bridge the gap that exists between the United States and us?
I hope so. One of the responsibilities of the countries that are joining the EU is to begin to understand their responsibilities to overall defence policy. At present, it is difficult for them to perform those duties—they will be net receivers of EU support—but, as the Secretary of State pointed out, there will be certain groupings and an understanding. As part of the European Scrutiny Committee, I have visited a number of the acceding countries. They understand that there is a responsibility on them to ensure that they contribute, albeit proportionately, to the defence of Europe.
Regrettably, our forces are deployed in more and more countries all over the world and, as has been clearly demonstrated, they are being stretched further and further, which gives everyone cause for concern, not least the troops themselves.
The last adjustment to defence policy, the new chapter to the SDR, made much of network-centric capability and of interoperability with advancing US technology. I think that it is agreed, however, that that should not be achieved at the expense of ensuring that UK forces are properly provided for. Without enough talented men and women, there will be no one to implement UK defence policy. That is why our service personnel must always be the MOD's first priority. They risk their lives to fulfil their duty, and we must repay them properly for that service.
Some strides have been made in that regard. I welcome the recent announcement that unmarried partners of members of the armed forces killed in action will receive equal pension rights as their married counterparts. The increase in widows' and widower awards is also timely.
It is unfortunate that those achievements have been made at the expense of some officers' pensions. It may have been possible to improve the situation of everyone without penalising others if the MOD had not been wedded to the idea of cost-neutral reform. It would have been perfectly possible to keep the MOD budget cost-neutral while making adjustments within it.
There is a danger of seeing such measures in purely fiscal terms—as an extra figure in the MOD budget—but the effect that such measures can have on members of the armed forces and their loved ones cannot be underestimated. To that end, I would like to raise a subject on which I have exchanged many letters and parliamentary questions with the Minster with responsibility for the armed forces: manning control points.
In principle, a mechanism that prevents soldiers who are struggling from blocking promotion paths is reasonable, but in practice we have seen considerable evidence from former soldiers that the system has been misused, or at worst abused. Such a system should never be used simply to try to move decent, hard-working soldiers on to short-term contracts, under which they enjoy fewer rights and their service can be terminated without the pension entitlement that they richly deserve.
When one is told by former servicemen that they believe that that is what has happened to them, one cannot take such an accusation lightly. If—this is another suggestion that has been made to me—undeserving soldiers have been bullied out of the Army and have chosen to release themselves from duty rather than face the embarrassment of being manning controlled, that is also a very serious matter.
The Minister will no doubt be aware that soldiers who feel that they have been unfairly dismissed are assembling a court case. I hope that he can assure those soldiers that the Government will take their case seriously and look closely at their own practices. A repeat of the Gulf war syndrome case, in which the MOD refused to accept any responsibility, would not help the morale of those serving or those who are considering service. An early recognition of responsibility, if need be, is surely preferable to a hefty legal bill later.
It is right to say that it has been open. I have been involved, as the hon. Gentleman has, in a number of debates in Westminster Hall and here and I think that we have rehearsed all the arguments on one side, but I still believe that there is a clear lack of genuine responsibility for the welfare of those soldiers. I am talking not about blame and the scientific evidence but about some recognition that those soldiers who are affected should have at least some support from the MOD, which they served.
The importance of sufficient soldiers on the ground has been reinforced by recent experience in Iraq. Clearly, peacekeeping requires rather more soldiers for longer than combat operations. At a time when UK forces are deployed in so many places around the world, the Defence Analytical Services Agency figures for September show that the establishment strength of the armed forces, even including deployed reservists, is falling. I hope that the Minister may be able to confirm in his winding-up speech that infantry numbers will remain at least at current levels. To cut troop numbers when they are overstretched and when reservist numbers are falling could, at the very least, be foolhardy.
I know that we shall discuss procurement next week, but it is right to put something on the record today as a precursor. The two aircraft carriers are essential to the SDR's expeditionary strategy. Industry sources have told me that the MOD's original plans were always over-optimistic and that the MOD quoted the best estimate for the lowest cost. Perhaps that is what we all try to do when we want to squeeze the proverbial quart into the pint pot but did the MOD play it straight? Was it looking at the broad estimates that were involved, or did it seek to find the figures that most closely fitted its case?
Two smaller carriers may be better than no carriers at all, but we do not know that that is the case, or whether we have one instead of two. Clearly, there needs to be a cost-benefit analysis so that we know precisely that value for money is being achieved. What impact might the shrinking of the carriers have on the joint strike fighter? That is just one issue that will have to be taken into account—there are many others—when we decide to reduce the size or the number of such vessels.
As the hon. Gentleman has said, we will debate procurement next week. I wonder whether he can tell us in advance, to inform our debate more fully next week, whether the Liberal party is in favour of the two aircraft carriers at the proposed size of 60,000 tonnes?
We hope to be able to support that proposal, but, as the hon. Gentleman may well argue next week, we need a precise costing. Signing up to two large carriers now, on the basis of figures that may be wholly optimistic in terms of the final total cost, might not necessarily provide the value for money that he and other Members would want. Part of the problem is that because of our recent experience of cost and time overruns, decisions that were properly taken in a previous decade are regarded as rather less successful a decade later. We need robust figures to ensure that, if we do support the proposal for two carriers, they can be completed at the estimated cost and will produce the value for money that we are being encouraged to achieve.
Rumours persist that the MOD will cut the number of Typhoons it plans to order. That may well be advisable, but, if we are to cut them, I hope that the Government will say so soon, perhaps today or next week.
Procurement of major projects is not the only logistical problem that the Government face. One major lesson that the MOD faced in its "First Reflections" report was the supply chain management problems associated with getting equipment to theatre. It seems that even now some units in Iraq do not have desert kit. On
We all acknowledge that we have the best armed forces in the world—a point that they have certainly proved this year—but as we ask them to perform more and more tasks we must surely ensure that we do not stretch them too far; we must ensure that their needs are put first at all times. They need to be certain about pensions, and about accommodation and kit. Praise alone, however welcome, is rather hollow if the important material essentials are missing. When they put their lives on the line for us, it is our duty to seek the best for them.
I welcome the opportunity to make a small contribution to this important debate. It is more or less five years since the publication of the strategic defence review, and today gives us a chance to assess the effectiveness of what was a very important document and a very successful strategy. I say that because, at the end of the day, the best test of Government policy is in its delivery. In the five years since the production of that radical new approach to defence in this country, British forces have done an absolutely outstanding job overseas in completely different theatres. Confronted with completely different security environments, they have in every case successfully achieved their military objectives. We need not argue about this too much—our forces are doing a splendid job throughout the world. But let us make no mistake: there are problems and issues that need to be addressed.
The SDR has been such a success that it is used as a model by other nations, in Europe and elsewhere, for reforming their military. I know that that is so because I have the privilege of being a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and of the defence sub-committee, which examines the future military capability of NATO's existing and forthcoming members. We travel to those countries, and they tell us repeatedly that the policy document that they choose to use to confront the new world security environment is the British SDR. Combined with our military advisers in those countries, we are assisting almost all the aspirant members with their military action plans to qualify them militarily for NATO membership. What better tribute could any Government be paid than for their policy to be adopted by others?
I had the privilege of attending the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Edinburgh, at which the former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Wesley Clark, held up the British document and said, "This is the way forward not just for new NATO members, but for our European allies." That is why I must question the complete disapproval of the European security and defence policy on the part of Mr. Jenkin. The truth is that the ESDP will enhance, not undermine, the NATO alliance. He talked about duplicating military capability but that is nonsense, because such capability does not exist in most European allied countries, only one of which has any war-fighting capability. The Americans' biggest concern about the future success of NATO is its members' ability to pull their weight and deliver that military capability.
The hon. Gentleman is confused. I favour additional European capability, but the ESDP has produced not one extra bullet or lick of paint. In fact, it has probably used up defence resources that would otherwise have been spent on armed forces capability on extra headquarters and structures. The point is that the duplication of NATO planning and assets does not enhance capability; indeed, nothing could be clearer. Can he point to anything that the ESDP has created, in terms of capability?
I can point to one thing: all NATO members, including Canada and the United States, and all NATO parliamentarians, unanimously supported the ESDP, because it gives us a better chance of forcing our European allies to deliver a capability that they do not currently possess. The tragedy is that Her Majesty's Opposition—the Conservative party, which once could have been called the party of defence—are so preoccupied with Europe that they are prepared to sacrifice that capability to get on the Euro-bashing bandwagon. That is dangerous militarily.
When the Prime Minister came back from launching the ESDP at St. Malo four years ago, the excuse given for it was that it was the only way to encourage European nations to contribute to additional defence capability. During those four years, defence spending in the European Union has continued to decline. Only France and Britain have marginally increased their defence spending, France rather more so than Britain; all the other EU countries have continued to reduce their defence spending, so the hon. Gentleman's policy is not working.
The hon. Gentleman does not understand the arguments. There are two issues, one of which is defence expenditure. I agree entirely that it is a mistake for our European allies to cut their defence expenditure, given the increasingly dangerous environment that we find ourselves in. But the second and more important issue is how their existing expenditure is spent, and the point that the hon. Gentleman misses is that it is not spent on NATO-compatible capabilities. We want the money that they already have to be spent properly, although I agree that it should not be cut further.
Although it offers no guarantees, the ESDP gives us an opportunity to persuade our European allies to develop a capability that they do not currently possess, and which will enhance NATO. The biggest threat to NATO is the gap that is appearing between north America and Europe in military technology and capability. The biggest supporters of the ESDP are the American military. They were the first to recognise it, and if the hon. Gentleman has not visited the Pentagon recently, I suggest that he do so to confirm that fact.
I also pay tribute to this Government's successful defence policy in the light of the appalling mess that they inherited in 1997. We had witnessed the biggest real-terms cut in defence expenditure that this country had experienced in its entire history, including the 1930s. We saw nearly one third of the defence budget cut in real terms over a 10-year period.
The hon. Gentleman customarily speaks with great sincerity on this subject, but when I was a special adviser in the Ministry of Defence from 1988 to 1990, when we were moving on from the cold war into the new era, I do not recall him or any of his hon. Friends, then in opposition, asking us either to increase or even keep defence expenditure at its then current levels. If anything, they were asking for a greater peace dividend.
I certainly would have called for increases, but the hon. Gentleman should be aware that I was not a Member of Parliament at that time. If I had been, I can assure him—I am almost certain—that I would have asked for an increase. In a sense, it was not the scale of the cuts that was so damaging, but the way in which the cuts were carried out. The reality is that, by the mid and later 1990s, we were left with dangerous capability gaps. There was virtually no heavy lift capacity whatever for the expeditionary force, virtually no medical support for the British services, because it had been decimated in that period, and virtually no second line of logistics for the entire British forces. The gaps in military capability were dangerous, and the strategic defence review has managed successfully, in a relatively short time, to fill many of those gaps—although I would be the first to say that there is still a long way to go.
Would my hon. Friend have agreed to one cut—the £15 billion that has been, and is still being, wasted on Trident? If he is in favour of nuclear weapons, in what circumstances would he agree to their use? If they are used, what benefits would they bring to the people?
I have to tell my hon. Friend that, as he knows, I have never been a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I have always supported a minimum deterrent, which is why I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for North Essex advocate, as the top priority for Conservative defence policy in the UK, renewal of the whole Trident and nuclear programme—at what price tag, I do not know. It should not be our top priority, because all the major nuclear powers are reducing their arsenals dramatically. George W. Bush has reduced the number of operational nuclear warheads in the US from 18,000 to 6,000. As an ex-serviceman and strong supporter of defence, I support that strategy of minimising—and, I hope, one day, eradicating—nuclear weapons of mass destruction throughout the world.
Our security environment changes daily. It has changed dramatically since the strategic defence review, and the changes—not least the events of
Just yesterday, we saw the great achievement of the Chinese—I do not want to sound churlish about it—in putting a space man into orbit 14 times around the earth. What does that mean in security terms? It tells the rest of the world immediately that the Chinese have now developed, without any shadow of doubt, a global capability, when we have assumed for the past 50 years that they had only a regional capability. The purpose of a defence strategy is not to address the actual threats, but the potential threats throughout the world, and to develop our limited resources in the best way possible to meet those threats. The strategic defence review has achieved an enormous amount in that respect, but it has not achieved enough.
I pay tribute to the Government for the biggest single increase in defence expenditure announced in the last 20 years, and I hope for further increases in the years to come. That is not because I am a warmonger, or because I want to encourage conflict anywhere in the world, but because I believe that an increased defence budget can be a force for good throughout the world. Investment in the right sort of military equipment will reduce the loss of life in the world.
We saw that clearly in Iraq. The doom-and-gloom mongers talked about hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians dying as a result of the conflict, but that did not happen. One of the most important reasons why it did not happen in 2003 when it did happen in 1991 was the technical sophistication of the equipment used by the allies when they went into Iraq.
I share my hon. Friend's pleasure that not too many civilians died in Iraq, but I am finding it extremely difficult to ascertain exactly how many did die there. Does he have any accurate statistics?
The sad fact is that we do not know, and we are unlikely to find, a definite figure, but it is certainly nothing like the predictions of hundreds of thousands of deaths that were bandied around at the time. I realise that it is a dangerous argument to talk about balancing 1,000 against 100,000 deaths, but I believe that a badly equipped and trained army is a dangerous army. Being properly equipped and trained makes our army one of the best. However, there is still a long way to go.
Having paid tribute to the Government's defence policy, I want to deal with a couple of other issues. We have already touched on recruitment and retention levels in the services generally, and there is a problem there. We have to be careful because the nature of war is changing dramatically. The idea of having large numbers of infantry battalions is an old concept. What we need is the right number of people doing the right job in the right place with the right equipment. Frankly, that is not just a numbers game. Having worked in the services, I recognise that every commanding officer will argue that it is all about numbers and nothing else, but we have to deliver the right people.
It is already difficult, but it gets even harder when we have a tight labour market. Recruiting in our inner cities is becoming more difficult, but the best place to recruit—historically and today—is precisely in our inner cities and in our less favoured areas. I happen to believe that joining the services—I would recommend it to anyone—provides an opportunity for youngsters who otherwise might not have one. It is a wonderful opportunity for a second chance for those who have not succeeded in school or elsewhere, and it gives them an ability to get on in life. However, ethnic minorities do not get the chance that they should get. Since 1997, we have had a good record on our targets for recruiting ethnic minorities. In a previous speech, I said that it was not good enough, and it still is not. The proportion of ethnic minorities in the armed forces should not reflect the proportion of ethnic minorities in this country: it should be double or even treble, as it is in the United States. That is because many people in that group suffer the worst deprivation and live in some of the most run-down inner-city areas in this country.
In a previous speech, I asked whether it was conceivable that General Colin Powell, the first black man to become the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, could have ever become Chief of the Defence Staff in this country. Someone contacted me after that speech and reminded me that General Powell had commented on that very issue. When he went to Buckingham palace to receive his honorary knighthood, he pointed out that if his father had chosen to emigrate to Britain rather than to New York, his son would have been lucky to become a sergeant-major in the British Army. That is not meant as a condemnation of our forces, because they have done a marvellous job. The Welsh Guards attended the Butetown carnival this year, in the middle of the mardi gras, recruiting young black men and women from the docks in Tiger Bay in Cardiff. More can be done to build on the success of the last few years to improve the recruitment of ethnic minorities. That will help us to meet the capability gap in recruiting, personnel and training, so that our forces can continue to do the splendid job that they do.
I recently had the privilege of visiting Ascension island, the airhead for the Falklands. As ever, we were welcomed by Squadron Leader Mark Pattinson and the other 25 military personnel on the base. We arrived late on a Friday afternoon and they all turned out to give us a warm reception and an excellent briefing before we flew back to this country. They are a splendid example of why our forces are so good.
An important part of general defence policy has to be our defence industrial policy, although I do not wish to stray on to the subject matter of next week's defence procurement debate. The Government have made a good start by publishing the policy document, which has been well received by industry and most defence pundits. Of course, it is one thing to produce a good policy, but another to ensure that it works in practice. We need a balanced approach. We should not promote competition and the private sector for their own sake, because they will always be cheaper and more efficient. They need to be balanced against crucial military considerations such as efficiency, reliability, surge capacity and benchmarking.
My only request to the Minister is that he consider carefully how that policy should be applied to the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, which was created four years ago to balance the need to provide the benefits of the imperatives of the commercial sector against the need to prevent monopoly, to provide benchmarking for prices in the industry and a surge capacity in moments of crisis and conflict, such as in Iraq recently. I am confident that if he applies his own policy to the agency that he created so few years ago, the future of DARA, especially in my constituency—and the construction of the £90 million hangar, which will benefit the whole Welsh economy—will remain on course and deliver the benefits that our military services deserve.
Finally, I emphasise the point made by every hon. Member so far and pay tribute to the outstanding work that our servicemen and women do throughout the world.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Smith, who speaks with such knowledge and passion about all defence subjects—although on this occasion I disagreed with two or three of his conclusions. I certainly endorse his tribute to our armed services throughout the nation and the fantastic job that they have done over the past five years. It is a tribute well worth paying, given that 46,000 of our troops and 25,000 vehicles were delivered to approximately the right place in Iraq with approximately the right equipment. That contrasted starkly with the performance of certain others in the same theatre of war, although I mean no discourtesy to them. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, that that was necessarily a result of the strategic defence review. Indeed, I think it may be the other way around—I think it may have happened despite the Government's failure to fund the SDR.
Nor am I certain that the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that European security and defence policy will necessarily lead, somehow or other, to an increase in European defence spending. The evidence so far suggests that moves towards ESDP have led to a reduction in spending. I am sure that the Americans, Conservative Members and everyone else who may be listening would be only too delighted if the European nations said "Fine: we will have ESDP tomorrow, we will have a European army, and we will spend 3 or 4 per cent. of gross domestic product on defence". Europe would then be able to defend herself, which would be great—but no one in this or any other European country has ever come close to suggesting that it would be the case. The truth is that we depend on the United States and NATO for the safe defence of Europe and of this country. That will always be so, and I for one welcome the fact.
I agreed with much of what the Secretary of State said. As he rightly observed, the nature of warfare moves forward all the time and all kinds of new challenges lie ahead. Asymmetrical warfare and dealing with terrorism, for instance, demand a different approach from what was required of us during the cold war.
Incidentally, the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan—who I fear has now left the Chamber—was talking complete nonsense when he attacked us for reducing our defence spending towards the end of the 1980s. He had obviously forgotten the fall of the Berlin wall and the peace dividend, as it was always called, and he could not have read any of the reports—he was not a Member of Parliament at the time—of how bitterly the Labour party attacked the Government for not making far deeper cuts. Had Labour been in power at the time of the fall of the Berlin wall, we would have no kind of defence capability left, for Labour was still in thrall to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. We would certainly have seen far deeper cuts had Labour been in power.
It was refreshing to hear Llew Smith talk in a good, old-fashioned, pacifist, CND sort of way. He would have been entirely at home in the Chamber during 1986, 1987 and 1988, before the fall of the Berlin wall. He and the Labour party would then have been wholly in agreement, although now his is more or less a lone voice on the Labour Benches. I look forward to the speech of Angus Robertson, whose views I suspect may be similar to those of his Celtic friend across the Chamber.
As I have said, I broadly welcomed what the Secretary of State had to say about the change in warfare. I look forward to seeing the White Paper, which I hope will be published in the not-too-distant future—before Christmas, I trust. It will be interesting to see what it contains. The rumours that have circulated in the defence community so far have been worrying, to say the least. One also suspects, given the Secretary of State's body language, that—notwithstanding all the new Labour talk and all his clever expressions about making best use of our defence capabilities and resources—what he actually meant was that he was required to give the Chancellor of the Exchequer a jolly big whack of cash, and that it had been his job to try to find a way of cutting our defence capabilities in order to do that.
In an intervention I challenged the Secretary of State to tell me if that was incorrect, and this was not about defence cuts. I challenged him to say that we would have the same or greater capabilities next year, the year after that and—if Labour was still in power, which I very much hope it will not be—in five years' time, which he signally failed to do. He would not give us any guarantee about future British defence capabilities. I fear that when the White Paper is published it will be full of clever-sounding new Labour expressions, rather like the SDR. As my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin pointed out, in new Labour speak somehow or other less means more. The Government will spin in an attempt to demonstrate that although they are closing three infantry battalions and cutting one tank regiment, and are to reduce the size of the aircraft carriers, Britain should not worry about all those deep cuts. They will say "Don't worry about it, Britain. Your defence is safe in Labour's hands. We are saving loads and loads of money by cutting the number of soldiers, planes and ships. Do not worry about it—defence is actually better." I suspect that that is the sort of language that will appear in the White Paper. If I am wrong, I challenge the Minister of State to correct me when he winds up. I hope that he does not resort to clever new Labour spin to conceal the fact that the Government intend to make deep cuts in defence when the White Paper is published.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex spoke very well about defence policy in general, so I shall deal with three specific matters. I suspect that the tension between capability and resources currently faced by the MOD will be highlighted in respect of each. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that the first matter is the announcement that the C130J fleet is to be moved from RAF Lyneham in my constituency to RAF Brize Norton. If all goes according to plan, RAF Lyneham will close by 2012.
The Minister has often acknowledged that the plan is extremely bad news for my constituents. It will mean that 750 directly employed jobs will be lost, and that a significantly larger number—in local schools, shops and other enterprises that support the base—will also go. In addition, 2,500 RAF jobs will be lost—a matter that we have not faced up to yet. There will be a hole in the local north Wiltshire economy worth £75 million, which will be very significant for my constituency.
The Minister is aware of all that. I suppose that he would be justified in arguing that the effect on the local economy is not his primary concern, which is to ensure that the defence of the realm is in place. To some extent, I would accept that. I welcome the fact that the Minister and the MOD have agreed to work with me and the local task force that I have set up to counterbalance the worst effects of the closure. I am grateful also for the fact that civil servants are now working with us, but I should like to make a couple of pleas in that regard.
First, will the Minister ensure that if surveys of, for example, the contaminated land on the base are needed, the MOD will be prepared to go the extra mile to assist the task force in the work that it has to do? Secondly, will he ensure that the transfer, when it happens, will be swift and clean? We do not want RAF Lyneham to be left derelict or semi-derelict for a period of years, during which it could become a run-down mess.
The base may become non-viable before 2012. If only a small number of C130K planes are left on the base, it is possible that it may cease to be viable by 2009 or 2010. We should much prefer the matter to be clean cut, with the RAF leaving cleanly so that new civilian businesses and houses can come on to the base. An extended run-down happened elsewhere in my area, at the Corsham base, which was left derelict for a long time after the military moved out. I hope that the Minister will keep an eye on that in the years to come.
As an aside, I hope that the Minister will no longer be in post when RAF Lyneham closes. That is a purely political sentiment—on a personal level, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will continue his work, but, on a political level, I hope to be doing his job by then. If that is the case, I shall certainly heed the request that I am making this afternoon. If I am not in his job when RAF Lyneham closes, I hope that he and his successors will do all that they can to facilitate the base's transfer to civilian use.
My second point is that the Government seem to be concentrating all the RAF's air transport and refuelling capability—as well as most of its passenger capability—at RAF Brize Norton. They are putting all their transport eggs in one basket, in a very big way. If I were a terrorist, or belonged to a nation that hated Britain, RAF Brize Norton would be the first place that I would bomb and try to close down. That would ruin Britain's entire defence capability at a stroke. RAF Lyneham was red hot during Operation Telic. Planes were coming in and out all the time. The fact that the base had two runways was useful on at least one occasion—when one is blocked by a broken down aeroplane the other can be used. We were using RAF Brize Norton at the same time. If all those capabilities were based in one place—at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire—there would be a real risk of it being hit in some way, severely depleting our capability as a result. Leaving aside my constituency interest, the Minister should give further thought to the strategic downside of basing all our transport capabilities at Brize Norton.
My second concern is entirely unrelated but it is a matter that is close to my heart. I was in the Territorial Army for seven years. I remain a member of the Court of Assistants of the Honourable Artillery Company—25 of its soldiers were deployed in Operation Telic. Thanks to my membership of the armed forces parliamentary scheme and my current membership of the Royal College of Defence Studies, I was pleased to spend a week in Iraq in May. During that time I met a great many Territorial Army soldiers. I wish to raise a number of matters relating to the TA and reserve forces, in particular with regard to their usefulness in Operation Telic and other future mobilisations.
The whole Iraq operation could not have happened without the Territorial Army. That should be made plain and it is contrary to what was said in the strategic defence review. I think that a total of 8,800 reservists of one sort or another are serving in the Gulf. At one stage, about 25 per cent. of ground troops were from the TA. They brought a large number of specific skills to the war effort—skills that could not have come from the Regular Army. I am thinking in particular of the Port and Maritime Regiment, which was deployed first in Southampton Marchwood. The regiment was responsible for all the 25,000 vehicles that were loaded. Then, it was moved to Um Qasr in Iraq and was responsible for those vehicles being unloaded, deployed in the field and brought out again. That port and maritime operation was carried out by a TA regiment that was called up on Christmas day, if I remember rightly, and was being used until the other day when the troops were finally demobilised.
The same applies to a significant degree to the Royal Army Medical Corps. A significant number of the medics were national health service doctors and nurses. The operation could not have been carried out without them. The Royal Logistics Corps and the Signals also relied significantly on the TA. There were lots of other teeth arm people out there—infantry people and special forces—and all of them were from the TA. I am sure that the Minister will be the first to acknowledge the superb effort that members of the TA made.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr. Swayne, who is serving as a major in the Territorial Army in Iraq and my neighbour and hon. Friend Dr. Murrison, who is serving with the medical services there. It is remarkable that two Members of this House and two members of staff, I think, are serving in the Gulf.
Looking forward, it is one thing to have the compulsory mobilisation of that number of TA soldiers to fight a war—that is broadly acceptable to families and employers—but what is slightly more worrying is the compulsory mobilisation under the Reserve Forces Act 1996 that is now taking place and is apparently likely to continue for many years to come. People are being sent compulsorily from this country—whether they want to go or not—to serve in Iraq in peace-building operations of one sort or another. I shall be interested to know the Minister's reaction to that. Sooner or later, I think that that will become less acceptable than compulsory mobilisation for fighting a war.
The Regular Army expects to go to places such as Iraq to undertake peacekeeping operations, build infrastructure and so forth. A stockbroker does not expect to be called up compulsorily to go to Iraq six or 12 months after the war to patrol and be on guard, or even to relieve Regular Army counterparts. I suspect that there will be a difficulty with retention and recruitment in the TA if such mobilisations go on indefinitely. It would be interesting to hear the Minister's view on what can be done to avoid that.
I have several questions about pay and conditions. I think I am right in saying that, under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, once someone has been compulsorily mobilised for a six-month period, they cannot be remobilised for another three years. If that is so, now that so much of the Territorial Army has been mobilised what on earth will we do if another Iraq arises next year or the year after and it is still three years before we can replenish our reserves?
What can we do about the attitude of employers? Later this year, it will be compulsory for employers to know when their employees are members of the TA, which I broadly welcome. One could argue—I often do—that people should not join the TA unless they are prepared to serve. That is only fair and it is right that employers should know. However, I fear that some employers will say, "Well, if you're in the Territorial Army, I'm not going to employ you." Some private sector employers might have some reason for doing that, but even more worrying is the fact that several public sector employers have adopted that position. I am told that both the Leicestershire and the Cambridgeshire fire authorities have said that no firemen may be in the TA. That seems bizarre. Similarly, two or three police forces have said that no policeman may be in the TA. The Government should make it plain to public sector bodies that if they are in receipt of public money, they should employ members of the TA and other reserve services. Perhaps the Minister could do something about that.
I have come across several soldiers who suffered problems after compulsory mobilisation due to the pay structure. Members of the TA receive the same pay as the equivalent rank in the Regular Army. Incidentally, I apologise to the Air Force and the Royal Navy, I am including all three services; I use "TA" as shorthand because I served in it. However, if soldiers can demonstrate hardship—for example, that the amount of money that they are receiving from the Army, Navy or Air Force is less than they need to pay their mortgage and normal outgoings—they are given a hardship payment to make up the difference.
The difficulty lies in the necessity to demonstrate to the authorities that one is suffering hardship. Almost all the TA soldiers who were called up had to do that. They had to produce bankers' orders to prove that they were paying their mortgage so that their pay could be made up to a level that would prevent their families from suffering hardship. There were benefits for those who could see what was coming and had converted their credit card payments, for which they were not paid by the Army, into bankers' orders, but not for those who were unprepared. That is wrong.
If members of the Territorial Army and other services are to be compulsorily mobilised their pay should be commensurate with their civilian pay. They are being taken away from civilian life, where they have family commitments and houses, and receive quite different rates of pay that do not allow them to keep up their way of life. Reserve forces' pay should be linked to civilian pay, although there should be some form of capping. It would be unacceptable for a stockbroker giving up a £150,000 job to be a private soldier to receive the same rate of pay. However, there should be some broad link, without the intrusive pay inquiries that went on during the run-up to Operation Telic, and without too much examination of people's bank statements, so that their way of life can continue as it did before their call-up.
The House will be aware of reports such as the one in The Daily Telegraph on
"TA faces mass fall-out in Gulf pay bungle".
There was an entire page of articles about people affected by a pay bungle in the pay department of the armed services. As we heard earlier, The Guardian reported that 2,000 people have left the reserve forces since Iraq.
The figure may be incorrect and I should be happy to have the Minister's assurance that he is confident that both retention and recruitment in the reserve forces will continue at their current levels. However, the RAMC in my area—Wessex—reports significant departures. NHS personnel in the RAMC are saying, "I'm not having this. I'm not going to be called up compulsorily and kept out there for unreasonably long periods and paid less than I would be as a consultant at my local hospital. I am not going to do it. My wife won't let me do it. I am very sorry but I am going to leave the Territorial Army." If the Minister disagrees, he must say so and let us know what he intends to do about it to ensure that retention and recruitment in the TA and the other services is kept up. I suspect that part of that may involve linking their pay to civilian pay. Incidentally, there is one other thing that he could do about that—we ought to have a mobilisation day.
It is important to correct the hon. Gentleman's comment about 2,000 part-time soldiers—as they are called in an article that appeared in The Herald and elsewhere—leaving the Territorial Army. I asked for that to be looked at, and it is important to correct what has been said because other hon. Members have referred to it. General Sir Mike Jackson, the Chief of the General Staff, has replied to The Herald—I hope that other papers pick this up too—saying:
"There is no evidence in any of the volunteer reserve forces of mass departures from the TA as a result of the call-out and service in Iraq. The drop in TA numbers is seasonal and consistent with previous years. It is largely due to the departure of officer cadets in the University Officer Training Corps",— which is part of the TA—
"in their third year, who, on reaching the end of their studies, leave the UOTC. The new university intakes join in October."
So there has been a departure, but for those reasons.
I very much welcome that reassurance. It is important that we know that, and it will be important to revisit that statement in the months to come. I hope that that will remain the case and that we will not find that TA people are dropping out. I think that I am right in saying there are 38,000 people in the TA, but there should be 45,000 under the SDR.
I understand that we are currently going through the bidding process—to use laymen's terms—where various parts of the Army bid for TA back-up. Those bids will be decided by the end of this year, and I understand that they currently amount to about 95,000 or 100,000 TA soldiers. We currently have 38,000—less than half what the Army is asking for—so the presumption is that there will be some very heavy scaling back on what the Army is requesting and, no doubt, a careful re-examination of the way in which the TA works and what it does. It would be interesting to know the Minister's reaction to that suggestion and his thoughts about how on earth the TA can begin to supply anything like what the Army is asking for; or perhaps he is considering fundamental restructuring in the roles that it plays.
I wish briefly to mention something else on that front. My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex and the Secretary of State referred briefly to a home defence force role for the TA. Of course, it has always had such a role—that is why it is called the Territorial Army—and there has always been an argument for some kind of home defence role. However, I simply wish to say two things. First, giving the TA one week's extra training, which was announced under the new chapter of the SDR, is laughable. That amount of training is absolutely neither here nor there. It is entirely pointless, and the TA might as well not do it.
Secondly, if, as some have suggested, the TA is taken away from a war-fighting role and moved into some kind of home defence role—a key points guarding role of some sort—on an ongoing basis, I guarantee that people will leave the TA. There is no way in the world that the people with whom I served in the TA, who are trained for war-fighting roles, would content themselves with some sort of "Dad's Army" role, guarding key points.
Of course, like the Regular Army, the TA is ready to fulfil such roles, but only if they are taught war fighting. They must be taught war fighting and they may then use those skills in aid of the civilian power. That is a perfectly normal role of both the Regular Army and the TA. However, if those in the TA only had a home defence force role, they would not stay there. As evidence for that, we need only glance back 10 years, or thereabouts, when we had a huge home defence force, which the then Conservative Government set up. We took a lot of former TA and regular soldiers into the home defence force, but it did not last more than two or three years. It was impossible to recruit or retain soldiers. People will not give up their weekends, two weeks a year or Wednesday nights for training to do a job that they believe the police could easily do. They must be trained for war fighting, albeit using those war-fighting skills for defence of the civil power.
One last matter on which I want to touch only in passing relates directly to defence policy, but is none the less extremely important. One of the things that one is required to do at the Royal College of Defence Studies is write a 10,000-word thesis, which I am glad to say I did. I did it on the subject of the use of the royal prerogative to go to war, and I did it largely by examining Hansard dating back to the second world war and examining the way in which we decided to go to war in every war since then, up to and including Afghanistan. The reality, of course, is that in all those wars, two or three of them under this Government, no vote was allowed in this place at any time, nor was there any suggestion that there should be one. In most of those wars, the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister came along to the House of Commons two or three days after the war had started to announce what they had done and to say that the people would judge them in a subsequent general election if they did not get it right.
I know that that runs contrary to what a great many of my hon. Friends and many other Members would think, and that they would ask what is the purpose of having a great House of Commons if we cannot even decide whether to go to war. I would say that the decision to go to war is a great deal too important to leave to this Parliament. It should not be a matter for this Parliament—it should be a matter delegated to the chief executive, the Prime Minister. He should decide on the basis of the secret intelligence available to him what troops he should deploy and what the troops should do when they are in the theatre of war. After all, had the Prime Minister taken that approach, had he not sought to spin and to persuade this House of Commons and the nation that what he was planning to do in Iraq was right, and had he done what he did in relation to Afghanistan—placing a paper in the Library and saying that he had a great deal of secret intelligence that he could not share, but that he must tell the House that he believed that sending in troops was the right thing to do—he would not be in the position he is in today. It is only because he felt the necessity to spin and to persuade people that somehow he landed up in the appalling shambles that we see unfolding in the Hutton inquiry.
Were we in future to have an evenly balanced House of Commons, with perhaps a majority of one or two on either side, and were we required to come to this House for a vote on a war, it seems to me that the Opposition, however noble and distinguished they may be, would take party political advantage of that narrowness of the majority, giving away statesmanship in favour of political expediency. I know that this is a deeply unpopular view in my party, and almost certainly a deeply unpopular view within the House as a whole, but I believe fundamentally and passionately that we should ask the Government to carry out certain functions for which they should be answerable in retrospect but for which they should not have to justify themselves to the House in advance. There is a place in modern government for the royal prerogative, and the Prime Minister was incorrect in allowing political pressure to force him to come to this House and seek two substantive votes prior to the Iraq conflict. He should have just gone ahead and done it, and if he had got it wrong, we would have told him about it in no uncertain terms in retrospect.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that there are any other policy areas in which Parliament should not take part, or is it only matters of life and death on which Members of Parliament should not decide?
There are quite large numbers of Government policies on which the House takes no decision, such as the appointment of ambassadors and bishops. There are all sorts of areas in which the Prime Minister makes use of the royal prerogative that he has inherited to make dozens of decisions that do not come to this place. If we had a vote in the House every time a bishop was appointed, we would be bogged down to say the least. There are large numbers of areas in which we leave it to the Prime Minister to make up his mind. After all, that is part of parliamentary democracy. When a general election comes, we look at what the Prime Minister and the governing party have done and we decide whether it was a good thing. If every decision, no matter how important or unimportant, came to this place for a vote, they would not be accountable for their actions in the same way as they are under the current system of parliamentary democracy. I realise that that is not a popular view, but having just completed that thesis, on which I shall shortly publish an article, I thought that I would take the opportunity of sharing it with some of my parliamentary colleagues.
Leaving that point to one side, I have a real worry about the way in which the Government seem to be committing us to more and more overseas adventures of one sort or another. We seem to be involved in them with fewer and fewer resources. Rather than face up to that, the Government seek to camouflage the imbalance between commitments and resources with new Labour spin and new talk, with all these clever expressions about modernising warfare and all the standard guff that we hear all the time from the Labour party.
I challenge the Minister to be absolutely straightforward in his response. If he has not got the right resources and if the White Paper is about cuts so that the money can be spent on health, education or other things, I challenge him, for heaven's sake, to say that we do not have the resources to do the things that we would like to do. That is what the people of this country would expect him to say.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Gray. I enjoyed his speech until he came to his final remarks. I thought that it was a very welcome development that Parliament had the final say on the biggest decision that we can take, which is to start a war. However, there will be emergencies when actions sometimes must be taken before Parliament has all the facts, can debate the issue and make a decision. I also welcome what he said about the Territorial Army and reservists, especially the point about the importance of responsible employers ensuring that the reservists have time off to do the important work that they hold themselves ready to do for this country.
My constituency has hosted RAF Stafford for more than 60 years, and today its role is to provide combat support services and single service storage and distribution. I therefore thought that I would confine my comments to the policy for defence logistics. A good place to begin is Operation Saif Sareea 2, which took place in September 2000 when United Kingdom and Omani forces came together on an exercise. The UK tested our ability to conduct expeditionary warfare and provide support for expeditionary forces. The National Audit Office gave a reasonably positive assessment of that exercise in July 2002. It concluded that
"logistic support was demonstrated with personnel and equipment being successfully moved to, from, and around a large theatre of operations."
Beyond the headlines, there are issues of concern, and I shall pick out two that are relevant to this debate. The first is the issue of strategic lift. Although dedicated strategic lift assets are probably a matter for next week's debate, the policy relies on access to civilian planes in so far as the Ministry insists on using them for part of its strategic lift capacity. As the National Audit Office said, if we rely on civilian planes, it is absolutely essential that we have guaranteed access to sufficient civilian strategic lift resources in a crisis. I endorse that conclusion.
In relation to the Saif Sareea exercises, the National Audit Office drew attention to the unreliability of asset-tracking systems and pointed out that there were periods when it was not possible to track items sent from the United Kingdom to the exercise theatre. The Public Accounts Committee reiterated those observations and also commented on communications, which again are more a matter for next week's debate.
The conflict in Iraq began with a build-up of our forces mostly in Kuwait and it was then followed by military action. From a logistics point of view, I want to deal with the reports of shortages of supplies that Mr. Jenkin picked up. I have followed the story and it is my experience that many of the reports were exaggerated. In fact, some of them were unfair to the people who delivered supplies to the front. However, there are points to address.
Lord Bach, who is Minister for Defence Procurement in the other place, talked about that subject when he addressed the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies at the end of July. He said:
"In a logistics exercise of this size, there were bound to be some problems. Most of these were addressed quickly. Others proved more difficult to solve."
In his speech, he continued to talk about some of the difficulties and how they could be resolved. He mostly drew on a report that was published in July entitled "Operations in Iraq: First Reflections", so I shall move on to that report directly rather than quoting him second hand.
The report said:
"Initial reports suggest that our equipment and logistics support performed well overall, although improvements are required in respect of asset tracking and distribution within theatre."
It includes a comment that the Ministry of Defence is able to track assets that have been properly put together and sent to theatre but that we cannot check where they are when things are off and running.
The report made general conclusions that I shall draw to the attention of the House. We are endeavouring
"to integrate more closely the idea of single-Service supply chains", yet the report confirms that we are still some way from completing that work. It drew the important conclusion that we must be careful about the balance of ready stocks that we hold and those that we source directly from industry, which especially relates to points made about boots and clothes. The message is not to be too seduced by the "just in time" philosophy of commerce in some of the situations that we face during warfare.
The report drew attention to the need for a
"common and robust tracking system to enable equipment and stocks to be tracked throughout the supply chain in fast-moving, complex operations."
The last conclusion to which I shall draw attention, which is relevant to human support for people doing the fighting, is the
"need to review the provision of Temporary Deployable Accommodation to ensure that accommodation and human support services are made available to our people, particularly in arduous locations."
Behind those recommendations, we must recognise the immense human effort involved in delivering logistic support to the front line. Given that RAF Stafford is a storage and distribution point, as is the Ministry of Defence's Army base at Donnington, I was able to see the work of the people at the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency, who are mainly civil servants, during Operation Telic. I saw their commitment and dedication and listened to their stories of 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. I saw them send away the items that formed part of the supply chain. Their dedication and commitment made the logistic side of Operation Telic a success. The telling statistic when one compares Operation Telic with Operation Desert Storm in 1991 is that we transported twice as much in half the time. The personnel who were involved in that tremendous achievement deserve a big "well done" from the House. The operation required the movement of 46,000 service personnel, ships, aircraft, armoured vehicles, support equipment, clothing, accommodation, medical equipment and food supplies over 5,500 km to the theatre of war.
News of progress on the Ministry of Defence's end to end review, which is one of many reviews that I want to mention in a moment, followed for the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency, although I hesitate to say that the review has ended—it will continue. As a first consideration of the review, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said:
"The Ministry of Defence has recently completed a detailed review of the way in which we provide logistic support to land and air forces (including naval air and the royal marines)."
He said that the review was a fundamental and wide-ranging piece of work, examining the totality of our logistic support from industry to the front line, that the work was in progress, and that consultation with trade unions would take place at every step along the way. He said that a number of key changes were needed, which had been identified. He told the House in September that he had placed a summary of the conclusions of the initial report in the Library, where hon. Members have access to it.
I notice that the end to end review is one of many reviews of the supply chain currently taking place. I was told in the summer that 21 reviews were under way at the same time. There are two dangers associated with such activity. First, there is the effect on human beings. We all wonder about the need for change and worry about the uncertainty created by talk about the need for change. There is a danger that the morale and confidence of those doing the work might be affected by too many reviews at the same time.
Secondly, each review can be justified on its own merits. The people carrying out each review can justify the conclusions that they reach, but it is important to retain an overview of the total effect of all the reviews being completed together, to ensure that the strategic service is satisfactory and robust at the end of the process. However, I should not like my right hon. Friend to think that I have anything against the Ministry of Defence keeping a finger on the pulse of what is happening.
I recognise how quickly the strategy of warfare changes, not to mention the technological developments that take place. Together, those factors for ever change the requirements of our armed forces and our ability to conduct war, whether in our defence or in other people's countries. I recognise, therefore, the need for such reviews. I simply warn about the effects of too many reviews at the same time.
I shall say a little about RAF Stafford's present position. At least three of the current reviews have a bearing on its future. We have the airfield support services, the future defence supply chain initiative, and the air combat service support units. The most high profile part of the airfield support services review has already been mentioned in the debate—the future of the fire defence service, which has a presence at RAF Stafford.
The review of the future defence supply chain initiative has a bearing on all the civil servants who work in the storage and distribution service at RAF Stafford. The review of the air combat service support unit has a bearing on the uniformed personnel at RAF Stafford. To give the full picture, there are about 700 uniformed personnel and about 1,100 civil servants at RAF Stafford.
The trade unions nationally are concerned about the reviews relating to the present work carried out by the civil servants. They fear excessive privatisation and a loss of civil service jobs, a loss of the civil service ethos on which the forces can rely, and a loss of the ability of the supply chain to respond in an emergency, as the civil service has always done. It is appropriate for me to say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that the trade union campaign concerns me. I take an interest in what the trade unions say to me. My right hon. Friend needs to be able to meet their concerns in the outcome of the reviews that he announces to the House in due course.
Those who work at RAF Stafford, whether in uniform or as civil servants, do tremendous work for the armed forces generally. Not only I, but the whole community of the Stafford area believe that. We have very good relations between the civilians who live in the area, including those whose jobs are at RAF Stafford, and the uniformed personnel based there. Between us, we create a good relationship between civilians and the armed forces: that is perhaps reflected in Staffordshire's good armed forces recruitment record.
The combat support personnel at RAF Stafford are ready to be deployed anywhere in the world at any time. When they are required to go, they go: they are a very reliable part of the supply chain. The tactical supply wing should never be overlooked—its personnel provide the fuel for helicopters used in the activities of our armed forces, not only at the front line, but sometimes beyond it. I have seen images of the holes in the ground in which our personnel work in Afghanistan and Iraq as they keep our helicopters flying, whether on offensive operations, delivering supplies or taking the injured away from the front. They are an important part of the forces on every deployment. How many people know that for the past 30 years the tactical supply wing has worked continuously to supply fuel for helicopter operations in Northern Ireland?
Having been a regular visitor to the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency at Stafford, I would rank its civil servants with the best in the commercial sector. For example, nationwide storage and distribution for Argos is based in Stafford, and there is absolutely no difference between the quality and effectiveness of the two operations.
Despite all that, there is some concern about ongoing reviews that may affect RAF Stafford. In recent years—the hon. Member for North Wiltshire mentioned this—local councils have been consulted by the armed forces when decisions taken following such reviews may have an impact on the local community and economy. That is a good development. The new council that was elected in Stafford in May recently had such a consultation. Perhaps it took it the wrong way or did not understand the importance of an open exchange of views at an early stage, but it came away with the impression, which it then publicised to our community, that RAF Stafford is in danger of closing. The same review team conducted the review into the closure of RAF Lyneham that was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that, especially in relation to the possible effect on the air combat service support units at RAF Stafford? I hope that he will say that the camp has a future.
The hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned, but he should nevertheless be cautious about the assurances that he receives. When I raised the matter of RAF Lyneham with the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Question Time, he told me that he was certain that it would play a central role in future conflicts. How wrong he was.
I remember the hon. Gentleman making those comments, so I shall bear that in mind. However, I know my right hon. Friend the Minister very well; I have met him to talk about these issues previously. I am sure that I can rely on his answer, although how much he can reassure me is another matter.
My remarks are entirely about the logistics of providing our armed forces with what they need at the right time. There is a great difference between fighting a war and the business of commerce. A letter of apology, a refund, or compensation after the goods do not arrive on time is fine in the world of commerce, but no use at all for armed forces at the front who rely on prompt delivery.
At the beginning of the debate, the Secretary of State paid tribute to those who have lost their lives in Iraq. I therefore ask for hon. Members' forbearance while I make my final point. The one constituent of mine who lost his life serving his country in Iraq was David Clarke, who had barely reached his 19th birthday. He was serving in one of our Challenger 2 tanks, which was hit by a shell that another Challenger 2 tank had fired. I did not know David, but I went to the funeral and it was clear from the tributes on the day that he was a young man who was full of promise, very brave and committed to public service in the armed forces. He gave his life gallantly for this country. I should like to pay tribute to his family—his mother, father and younger brother—who have behaved with great dignity and fortitude throughout the shock, horror and grief that they have borne.
Clearly, people in that position are worried about combat identification and want to know what the Government can say about reducing so-called friendly-fire fatalities in future combat. It would be helpful if, either today or later in writing, the Minister could bring me up to date on the Government's actions to meet the challenges of combat ID.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Kidney and his tribute, which he was right to make. All hon. Members would do well to reflect on his words and the lessons that can be learned.
I want to speak about what I believe to be the most important issue that affects British defence policy: our response to the events of 9/11. I should also like to consider the further implications for our defence policy. Before I do so, I want to put another matter on record. A great deal has been written—and said in the House—about the preparations for and the aftermath of the war in Iraq, but little has been said, even in the Chamber, about the fighting of that war.
Whatever one's political view, everybody would agree that the campaign was an overwhelming success. I suspect that it will be studied in staff colleges throughout the world for many years as a model of its type. That reflects enormous credit not only on the armed forces who fought the war but on all those who were involved in its planning and support. I realise that times are difficult for the Secretary of State, but he and other Ministers—I include the Minister of State—can be justifiably proud of the role that the Ministry of Defence, and all the other defence institutions for which it is responsible, played; they did the country proud.
Defence has changed enormously in the 22 years or so since I left school to join the Army. Given the scale of the changes, it is not surprising that defence policy has often appeared to chase the game, to use a sporting analogy. It has seemed to react to events rather than to predict the future and act accordingly. When I joined the Army, defence policy was entirely conducted in the predictable parameters—almost a straitjacket—of the cold war. That was the first phase of defence policy that I experienced.
When we went through Sandhurst, people such as my hon. Friend Mr. Simpson taught us the four pillars of UK defence policy. It is a great tribute to my hon. Friend that I remember them now. They were: defence of the UK home base, the overseas dependencies, NATO and our independent nuclear deterrent. It is clear that three of them related to the conduct of the cold war. We exercised endlessly against imaginary enemies, almost always organised on Soviet lines, and memorised their equipment. When I took over as adjutant of a main battle tank regiment in Germany in 1990, we were flown over the battle positions that our individual tanks were expected to occupy when the Red Army crossed the border. Everything was governed by the cold war.
Even then, it was clear to us all that things were about to change. The night that the wall came down, I was a student at the junior division of the staff college. I vividly remember everybody gathering in the television room to watch those amazing scenes from Berlin. We knew then that a new age of defence policy was about to begin.The end of the cold war ushered in a new era of optimism. As many hon. Members have said this afternoon, there was talk throughout the west of a new world order, peace dividends and, of course, smaller defence budgets.
The whole of my second year as an adjutant in Germany was spent preparing for "Options for Change", drawing up orders of battle involving smaller numbers, fewer squadrons and so on. That was an understandable reaction, but, as we now know, a wrong one. In fact, freed from the straitjacket of communism, the world became a rather more dangerous place. Sir Anthony Parsons, our ex-ambassador to the United Nations, put it brilliantly in his book about the first 50 years of that organisation, when he described the period as moving from cold war to "hot peace". Older ethnic, religious and territorial allegiances began to reassert themselves. Bitter conflicts broke out around the periphery of the old Soviet Union and across Africa. Defence planners then began to realise that the reductions made in the early 1990s had gone too far. The strategic defence review clearly sought to put that right.
It is my personal view that the events of 9/11 usher in another new era of defence policy—effectively the third of my lifetime. Some preliminary work has clearly been done in the SDR new chapter, but I wonder whether we in this country have really begun to understand the implications of that momentous event. Indeed, I worry whether, psychologically, we in Britain have already begun slightly to dismiss the events of 9/11 as another of those disasters—natural or otherwise—that occasionally afflict the world. People in the United States have certainly not done so, however, as I saw on a recent British American Parliamentary Group visit, and we must not do so here.
Before I examine the implications for UK defence policy, post-9/11 and the SDR new chapter, I want to say a few words about the new threat that we now face. We must recognise at the outset that al-Qaeda is a wholly new and entirely different type of enemy, whose leadership is dedicated to the overthrow of our state and, indeed, of our whole way of life, whatever the human cost. It does not seem to be so much a single, identifiable group as an umbrella organisation. It is a network of many different terrorist organisations and, critically, of rogue states. That network is spread right across the globe from north Africa through the middle east, Afghanistan and Pakistan down to south-east Asia. It is bound together very loosely by a loyalty to an extreme form of Islam and, critically, by a desire to attack the west, particularly America. If we are to defeat such a formless enemy and others like it, we will need a full range of responses considerably outside the scope of normal—in post-cold war terms—UK defence policy.
What does that mean in practical terms? First, we need strong international institutions. My right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram has talked at some length about the need to repair fractured international institutions such as NATO, the UN and the EU. It is a tragedy that so many of them are divided at the very time when the need for them is greatest. Successful military operations demand clarity of command and control. I therefore hope that, for practical as well as ideological reasons, the Government will concentrate on re-forming and re-focusing NATO rather than devoting their energy to developing alternative structures in the EU, as they are at the moment.
Secondly, we need to broaden the scope of our defence policy to react to the new and complex political military environment. Diplomatic, legal, humanitarian and international development responses will all be needed, and it is vital that we get the correct structures in place now. I shall give an example. Having seen the Iraqi army in 1991—pre-sanctions—I have always felt that the problems of rebuilding that country after the conflict would far exceed the problems involved in fighting the war. I was therefore disappointed, when sitting on the Front Bench in the summer, to hear Clare Short—who was then still Secretary of State for International Development—say during the debate on Iraq on
"preparations for the post-conflict situation were inadequate." —[Hansard, 4 June 2003; Vol. 405, c. 210.]
If she is right—I have no reason to doubt her—that must simply never happen again.
We must develop mechanisms that allow the UK's armed forces to react more speedily than existing readiness profiles and resourcing assumptions allow. UK forces will often have to be generated in very tight time scales and I am not convinced that those mechanisms currently exist.
Thirdly, we will have to undertake a fundamental reappraisal of our defence relationship with the United States, especially in respect of procurement and training. We clearly must maintain an independent UK military capability, but, in practical terms, as the Secretary of State said, it is unlikely that we will ever again launch a major military operation without the support of the United States, which is the world's remaining superpower. Our forces clearly work well together at the moment, but it will be sensible to ensure, without compromising our independence, that both people and equipment are interoperable in future.
Fourthly, we need to examine the balance and capabilities of our armed forces. We must look at the whole concept of expeditionary warfare and effects-based operations. Again, the Secretary of State said something about that earlier. When one is outside government, it is difficult to have an informed opinion, but it is my instinct—clearly, without the information, it can be no more than that—that the current threat level warrants an increase in our armed forces. If that is not possible, and I realise that there are budgetary constraints, their numbers should certainly not be cut to balance the budget. The operational requirements in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Northern Ireland and across Africa simply do not allow that. I say to Ministers that they should remember the experience of the early 1990s, which I lived through as a soldier. It is very simple to reduce troop numbers, but it is incredibly difficult, and takes many years, to build them up again and, critically, to replace the experience that has been lost.
The performance of UK military equipment in Afghanistan and Iraq was enormously reassuring. I heard one of the brigade commanders in Iraq describing the Challenger 2 main battle tank as the man of the match. Clearly, in both those conflicts, the Warrior and the AS 90 proved themselves to be battle-winning assets. It will not be a popular thing to say, but I think that we can agree that the Tomahawk cruise missiles performed extremely well. However, those operations illustrated other things. The new carriers are a vital focus for powerful amphibious operations. They need to be at the planned size both as a means of projecting our power across the globe and for their deterrent implications. They will also be needed at that size to cope with the new expanded role for defence policy.
I visited HMS Ark Royal just after the start of the summer recess. Personnel there were enormously proud of the work they had done during operations in Iraq and enormously enthusiastic about the new carriers. The one message that they asked me to take back was: do not reduce the size.
There is an ongoing need for heavy armour. I am always slightly nervous when I hear talk of cutting main battle tank regiments as though they were dinosaurs of the cold war: they are not. The role of the main battle tank in both Afghanistan and Iraq was crucial. Indeed, I am told that both 3 Commando Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade requested more heavy armour on a number of occasions to boost their combat power.
There are clearly lessons to be learned on the role and deployment of attack helicopters. I hope that the lessons learned from both those conflicts will show that there is a role for tanks and helicopters; they are complementary, not alternative assets.
We clearly need to look again and refine the procedures for close air support. I am afraid that my regiment discovered to its cost that that is not always what it should be. We need to improve assistance to allow aircraft to identify and to destroy targets while achieving the maximum amount of discrimination against civilian targets. The critical aspect, surely, is the question of balance. Please do not be tempted to reduce our heavy armoured capability to build up a lighter, more mobile role; given the current threat, both are necessary.
One thing stands out above all those factors—the quality of the people in our armed services. I have already stated my personal view that the size of the armed forces should be increased as their commitments rise. However, they definitely need to be fully recruited at their current proposed levels. The SDR defined overstretch as trying to do too much with too little manpower, and we must face up to the fact that our armed forces are currently overstretched.
In the new defence environment post-
I believe that the events of
I should like to develop certain themes that I mentioned in last month's defence debate, particularly terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the world order. On terrorism, although I share some of Professor Sir Michael Howard's concern about the not wholly helpful use of the term "war on terrorism", I supported the campaign against terrorism and the military action in Afghanistan.
Last month, I quoted what Professor Paul Rogers' report for the Oxford Research Group said about the campaign against terrorism. Today, I should like to refer to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' recently published edition of "The Military Balance". That publication shows the balance that one would expect of it, but warns us that in its view, as a result of the Iraq war, al-Qaeda has probably been strengthened, so as far as recruiting power, morale and operating capability are concerned.
During the McCarthy era, the US hard right used to refer to its opponents as "Stalin's useful idiots". One might wonder whether today's US hard right are Osama bin Laden's useful idiots. We must surely agree that, as the IISS says, if Afghanistan and Iraq are not to become breeding grounds for future terrorism, it is of key importance that we address as a priority nation building and stability throughout those countries. If the handover to democracy is to be achieved quickly in Iraq, it is crucial that we seek maximum responsibility for the United Nations in whatever agreements are reached.
It is also vital that we reunite the international community, sadly shattered as it is, in its campaign against terrorism. Of course, we must also seek international unity in our campaign to prevent proliferation of WMD in general and nuclear weapons in particular, as well as long-range missile technologies, whether to terrorists or states. Our primary means of doing so must be through the United Nations, and through arms control treaties. I fully recognise that the UN has many faults, though many of those of which it is accused by its member states are the fault of the member states themselves, not least the most powerful ones. Whatever its faults, it is the only UN that we have, and it is our only hope, so where it has faults, they need to be reformed. It is worth remembering the words of Henry Cabot Lodge, that the UN is
"an organisation to prevent you going to hell, not created to take you to heaven."
We should resist the arguments of the US hard right, who suggest that because the UN is not a perfect vehicle for taking us to paradise, it should therefore be discounted.
Arms control treaties have their weaknesses too, but they have also had considerable successes. If we reflect on the success of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in preventing proliferation and examine the expert forecasts of what was expected over past decades, we can appreciate that there are far fewer nuclear weapon states in the world than previously foreseen. Of course, there are all sorts of problems, such as dual-use technology, and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty underestimated the extent of potential diversion from civil nuclear programmes into the creation of nuclear weapons.
Where there are weaknesses, our primary responsibility must be to strengthen the treaties and strengthen verification. I welcome the Bush Administration's recognition of that point in respect of additional protocols to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but I find it sad that they do not recognise its importance in respect of biological and toxic weapons. They should remember what a previous Republican President, Ronald Reagan, said: "Trust but verify".
The non-proliferation regime urgently needs to be strengthened. Of course, some states are likely to cheat or act in defiance. The US neo-conservatives suggest that we should consequently look to counter-proliferation and a more militarily aggressive stance, involving military interdiction of the transport of materials, pre-emptive strikes and even pre-emptive war. It is not inconceivable that the international community could be forced to use such means, but I believe that they are so dangerously destabilising to the whole world community that they should be adopted only as an absolute last resort and if there is international consensus. The fear is that the neo-conservatives regard it as an early resort and want to adopt it either unilaterally or unilaterally with a posse of the willing. They see counter-proliferation as an alternative to non-proliferation, and that could undermine non-proliferation.
Pre-emptive war is a particularly dangerous concept when it is based on flimsy intelligence evidence, on potential future weapons programmes, or on potential future alliances between states and hostile terrorist organisations with which those states have no current relationship. That gives almost carte blanche for nations to declare war against other nations. We should remember that a policy of pre-emptive attack could provoke more terrorism. I recall the figures provided by my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman about the first year of the Sharon Government, who used precisely those policies. In that first year, the number of Israelis killed increased fourfold and the number of Palestinians killed was four times as great again.
Pre-emption can provoke proliferation, particularly if the Bush Administration stick to the policy of abandoning the negative security assurances given to the non-nuclear weapon states under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Pre-emption can also, of course, destabilise the world order. We shall have to deal with states that, as signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, are found to be cheating or in breach of it—states such as North Korea, for example. However, it should be done by means of diplomacy and international consensus.
We have to strengthen verification to find out whether other states are more skilfully and more covertly trying to break a treaty to which they are a signatory, but we also have to deal with the non-signatory states. Far too often we do not talk about the problem of dealing with India, Pakistan and—perhaps most of all—Israel. The current position in relation to Israel encourages other middle eastern states to proliferate. Of course, the five nuclear weapons states must show their genuine commitment to fulfilling their obligations. The United Kingdom Government played an honourable role in the negotiations on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 2000, when we managed to gain a degree of international consensus that was not expected. However, the rest of the world would be justified in asking how genuine the nuclear states are being when they say that they wish to progress towards multilateral nuclear disarmament.
In particular, the Bush Administration appear to be moving in the opposite direction on almost all the 13 agreements that were reached. Instead of strengthening the anti-ballistic missile treaty, they have abandoned it. They are trying to move away from the comprehensive test ban treaty. The Moscow treaty looks more like a public relations exercise than something that will lead to a genuine, irreversible reduction in weapons, as treaties such as the strategic arms reduction treaty would have done. New nuclear weapons programmes are being discussed that contemplate using nuclear weapons rather than having them as a deterrent, and I have already mentioned the situation on negative security assurances. The conference on disarmament in Geneva has been at a stalemate for far too long, with China blocking matters on fissile materials and the United States blocking matters on the weaponisation of space. It is a tragedy that nation states can show such urgency in rushing into war and so little urgency in trying to achieve a safer, more stable world.
A stable future cannot be based on a single state imposing its will by military might. President Bush should remember that when his father spoke of "a new world order" he did not mean one state laying down the law for the rest of the world while breaking the rules itself. Indeed, President Bush should remember the words of an earlier president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who in 1961 said:
"We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient—that we are only 6 per cent. of the world's population—that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 per cent. of mankind—that we cannot right every wrong or reverse every adversity—and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem."
The US neo-conservatives have ruthlessly exploited the hideous tragedy of
I am pleased to be able to speak in today's debate, having missed the last opportunity because I had to attend a Committee that was discussing the common fisheries policy, which is a matter of supreme importance to the many hundreds of my constituents who face job losses in that industry. Defence is also an important policy area and that is why I am pleased to make my contribution today.
The importance of defence was brought home to me last week when, with other right hon. and hon. Members, I attended the remembrance service at St. Paul's. I attended on behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru and I fully associate myself with the comments of the Secretary of State for Defence and other hon. Members and the condolences expressed to family members who have lost loved ones.
The importance of defence was also reinforced last week when I had the good fortune to tour the majority of Scotland's defence establishments and units, including the Army at Craigiehall and Stirling, the Territorial Army at Forthside, the Navy on the Clyde, the Royal Air Force at Leuchars, and the Highlanders, which is the regiment that recruits in my constituency. I have already written to the Under-Secretary of State asking him to pass on my thanks, but I should like to express my gratitude again now.
The tour was characterised by the extraordinary generosity with time shown by officers and men and women in all the establishments I visited. I am very grateful to them, and I am also grateful to the Minister and the MOD staff who made it all possible. In all the establishments there were reports of men and women who continue to serve in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. I echo others in paying tribute to all those deployed personnel, and to their families back home. Regardless of political affiliation, there is sincere appreciation of the work of service personnel, which is shared by the SNP and Plaid Cymru.
I want to begin by talking about issues relating to the world as it is, rather than as I want it to be. The first concerns Scottish regiments. It was raised time and again, in discussions last week, by service men and women and their officers who are greatly concerned about the future of various historic Scottish regiments. Ministers are, I know, aware of the considerable unease among serving and retired regimental personnel who fear that the ongoing MOD review will lead to a spending shift that could have a negative impact on current regimental structures.
That unease is also felt in traditional recruiting areas. In Moray, for example, hundreds of signatures were collected in a couple of weeks by The Northern Scot newspaper demonstrating support for the Highlanders. This comes at a time when recruitment to the regiment has been particularly successful, so any threat to its existence is seen as leading inevitably to a reversal of that success. I realise that as the review is ongoing Ministers are unlikely to commit themselves to the preservation of any particular unit, but it would be useful to know what time scale the Government envisage with regard to the publicising of their intentions, so that minds can be put at rest.
Speaking of time scales, let me return to the issue of contractorisation in the airfield support services project. The Secretary of State has confirmed that plans to privatise the defence fire service as part of the ASSP have been postponed. Originally, in reply to a question that I asked earlier in the year, the Minister of State said that the Government would make an announcement in October. The Secretary of State has told us that that had been delayed, and the Transport and General Workers Union says it expects an announcement to be made at the beginning of next year. Will the Minister of State now explain the reason for the delay and tell us in which month an announcement will be made and what issues are holding things up? It should be borne in mind that the implementation of the conclusions of the 2000 fire study would already be saving taxpayers' money and retaining the flexibility of current arrangements.
Perhaps the delay is due to the MOD's intention to decouple the defence fire service privatisation from that of the ASSP. I sincerely hope so. I know that my view commands support across the House: many Labour Members also oppose the privatisation of the defence fire service. We know that 30 DFS personnel have been serving in Iraq in recent months and performing key tasks, including the training of the Iraqi civilian fire service. We are all well aware of the dangers in Iraq, which affect not just service personnel but units and services such as the defence fire service. One DFS member has died on duty in Iraq. I think it wrong to contractorise a service that is so close to the front line. I hope that the MOD will listen to DFS members in my constituency and throughout the United Kingdom, and will not proceed with the privatisation.
A number of Members have raised the issue of homeland defence. I, too, believe that the Territorial Army and the part-time Air Force and naval personnel perform a vital role. That was highlighted by my namesake, Hugh Robertson, who spoke of the results of
On a related issue, will the Minister say whether the MOD is considering introducing pensions for TA members as part of the pensions review? The TA's status appears to be second class compared with that of the reserve firefighters, who do receive a pension. At a time when we are supposed to be looking for imaginative ways to recruit and retain TA personnel, the question of introducing a pension is important.
My last point about the way the world is rather than the way we would like it to be has to do with a matter specific to my constituency—the relocation of search and rescue services from RAF Lossiemouth to new, purpose-built accommodation at RAF Kinloss. The Minister will be aware that D Flight of 202 Squadron, with its two Sea King helicopters, is set to make that move in May 2005, and that building work is due to start next April. The decision follows the completion earlier this year of a two-year option study by the MOD, which concluded that the squadron should join the rescue services already based at RAF Kinloss.
RAF Kinloss is home to the aeronautical rescue co-ordination centre, which controls the military response to emergencies over an area of 1 million square miles. It is also home to the RAF's busiest mountain rescue team, and Nimrod aircraft from the base carry out an average of 52 rescue missions every year. I have gone on record as welcoming the move, with the proviso that its effect on RAF Lossiemouth will be clarified. I sincerely hope that the change will enhance the station's search and rescue capacity, by bringing the main relevant units together on one base. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the change will do nothing to alter RAF Lossiemouth's long-term operational prospects. People in Moray would appreciate a comment on that.
I shall keep my remaining remarks brief as I know that other hon. Members want to speak, but I want to deal with the world as I should like to see it. Mr. Jenkin, the Conservative spokesman, spoke about his desire for a sovereign, independent defence policy for the UK. I agree that that is something that all normal countries should have, although I doubt that Unionist Members in other parties would share my desire that my country should exercise its own sovereign and independent defence policy, with decisions made in Scotland.
That is what normal countries do—they decide whether they should send their young men and women into conflict. I should like my country to be normal in that respect and able to make such choices in future. Scotland can build on a proud fighting and peacekeeping tradition. Scottish units could offer a more stable life to service families, which would be based in one area for their service careers. They could offer service personnel the same sort of peacekeeping experience available in the UK forces, but without the strains of overstretch. Also, a purely Scottish defence policy could guarantee that the salaries of service personnel would be spent in the Scottish economy. It would ensure that Scotland remained free of nuclear weapons, and that defence industries would be able to continue in a stable democracy.
That is the world as I should like it to be in Scotland. I want my country to become a normal country, making normal decisions about sending our young men and women into conflict. If that had been the case earlier this year, Scottish service men and women would not have had to fight in a conflict that was not sanctioned by the UN.
I am pleased to contribute to a debate that has contained some thoughtful and intelligent contributions from all parts of the House. Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned that flexibility was now the key word. I agree, and contend that responsiveness is also vital. Other hon. Members have spoken about NATO and other organisations, but I want to comment briefly on the role of the UN. I am not one of the detractors who say that the United Nations is broken and cannot be fixed. The UN is bruised and its often quoted unique legitimacy needs to be restrengthened.
In a debate such as this, there is a temptation to reflect solely on the incidents in our immediate history—those that are still ongoing in Iraq. I want to broaden the discussion. The United Nations is a unique institution. What it decides to do and the responsiveness and flexibility of its decisions and actions have an immediacy of impact on the role of NATO, European reaction forces and United Kingdom troops.
I welcome the work that the Defence Committee has done on the strategic defence review and the new chapter, in particular the focus on terrorism. That work echoes a new realisation within the UN. I think that Kofi Annan has seen that, despite his opposition to what happened in Iraq. He recognised that there is a case to be made for intervention on humanitarian or conflict resolution grounds within states and over sovereign territorial borders. That is the world in which we now live.
The UN can no longer take some effective action but, as on so many occasions, merely pass resolution after resolution hoping that something will come of it. It must make its work meaningful and be serious about acting upon it. That does not mean that military intervention or peacekeeping troops on the ground will be necessary in every instance.
Like many other hon. Members and international observers, I would welcome a change in understanding in the UN. When resolutions are passed they must be taken seriously and they must be acted upon more speedily and with more flexibility where appropriate.
I am not one of those who knock the UN. It has played a massive role ever since its inception. Since 1996, there have been 42 peacekeeping and observer missions worldwide. At present, 16 peacekeeping operations are under way. The UN has negotiated 172 peaceful settlements to various regional conflicts, including the Iran-Iraq war, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and in El Salvador. So, quiet diplomacy also has its role, but backed up by a serious intent and the use of military intervention where necessary.
Humanitarian aid should not be overlooked. More than 30 million refugees in flight from war, famine or persecution have received aid through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees since 1951. At present, more than 19 million refugees—mostly women and children—are receiving food, shelter, medical aid and sustenance through the UN.
There is a critique of the United Nations, however. It has failed at moments of supreme crisis to act on the decisions that it has already taken. It has proved insufficient to the challenges that it has faced. Despite the high standards associated with the UN, in the hundreds of wars since 1945 it has authorised use of force only twice: the Korean war in 1950 and the Gulf war in 1991. That amounts to only two occasions in its entire history. That poor record of conflict prevention and resolution and enforcement action is a reflection on the UN. It colours perception of the UN throughout the world, including in present conflict situations, where any discussion of UN action is looked at askance, or with a smile or rebuke. Those of us who seriously believe in the role of the UN have to change that.
I will deal with how we can move to that situation, but if we make the UN more responsive and flexible in its approach, that will have an implication for United Kingdom capabilities as well as European and international capabilities and the demands on them.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one reason that there are so few UN-authorised actions is the regular imposition of the veto by certain countries? Is he suggesting that that should be reformed?
The hon. Gentleman brings me to that point a little earlier than I had intended. Yes, there should be a review of the use of the veto. That is reflected not only in what has happened in the recent past but also much further back. Indiscriminate use of the veto can lead not only to lethargy but to inertia in decision making while in some areas of the world people are losing their lives.
Iraq has already been mentioned. We could also consider Afghanistan. In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the UN neither backed nor prevented the war and, in retrospect, changed its mind. In Rwanda in 1994, there was a failure to act while genocide was going on. There is a lack of intervention in current situations, for example, in the Congo, the great lakes region or Liberia—a country that turned, inevitably, to the US. The UN fails to enforce many of its resolutions and to act in moments of crisis.
As I said, troop commitments are not required in every case, but the inertia is striking. When people are losing their lives and major human rights abuses are taking place, the UN needs to put across the message that it can be more proactive and dynamic when appropriate. The message should resound across the international community that the UN is serious about stepping in when that is needed.
The use of the veto is often not governed by considerations driven by the international fraternity, or sorority, but by national interests, such as energy. That has happened not only in the immediate past. A range of countries has been guilty of indiscriminate use of the veto, or of threatening its indiscriminate use. The US is often mentioned, although it is not the only one, but we can certainly cite it in terms of the Cuban blockade and its belated refusal to condemn Halabja. We can cite Russia in relation to Afghanistan and Kosovo, and so on.
Current processes in NATO and the composition of the Security Council favour certain countries. They also favour countries that can deploy certain resources; in effect, the NATO countries. Should that be so? In a new century, should it be primarily the post-1945 make-up of the Security Council that determines how the UN makes its decisions?The composition of the Security Council and its decision making alienate much of the developing world. That is unfair and it needs reform. It damages the whole concept of multilateralism.
I began my contribution by developing the theme of what the UN has actually achieved. Those achievements are significant, but because the UN has failed to act in moments of supreme crisis it now appears to some people—although I am not one of them—as merely a talking shop. Its decision making is flawed. It is seen, at best, as a creature of the permanent members, with misuse, or threatened misuse, of the veto.
If the use of the veto is to be reviewed and reformed, that use should be delicate. It should be used to cut through problems as a surgeon uses delicate instruments in an operation. It should not be used as a sledgehammer or a chainsaw, as has so often been the case.
The developing world deeply distrusts the UN as a peacekeeper. How can we achieve reform? As Hugh Robertson and other hon. Members have pointed out, if we want the UN to have a better speed of response and to be willing to act where appropriate—which is essential—that will have an effect on troop capabilities and demands on different nations. The decision-making process needs streamlining and the institutions restructuring to some extent.
One suggestion—I do not say that it is the only way forward—is that seats should be found on the Security Council for regional or sub-continental areas, which would have an implication for our representation as well. Another suggestion is to reform the veto and consider majority voting. Greater transparency is essential. Non-permanent members are regularly excluded from the real negotiations. For example, in the run-up to adopting resolution 1441, non-permanent members of the Security Council had to consult the New York Times to see the draft resolutions. So information needs to be passed to all the nations represented at the UN.
"If the challenges we now face have changed, the responses must also change. We must be able to adapt our institutions and structures to deal with that. I'm not sure that the organs of the organisations are working in an optimum fashion."
I agree with that. We need to increase legitimacy and develop representation for all members of the UN.
In conclusion, I ask a simple and straightforward question to the Secretary of State, as we consider a review of how we deploy and assess the current and future capabilities of UK forces, as well as our interaction with European partners and multilateral partners worldwide: what impact would a reformed, more proactive, more flexible UN have on those capabilities?
I do not want to follow Huw Irranca-Davies down the road of UN reform; I want to focus rather more directly on British defence policy itself. First, I want to commend to the House the excellent speech by my hon. Friend Hugh Robertson. I should have liked to make such a speech, and I commend its details to the Minister. He will know, as I do, with what authority my hon. Friend speaks on these matters, and he had some proper and extremely wise advice for the Government on the detail of the application of defence policy, particularly the complementary use of heavy and light capability, as the Secretary of State referred to it.
There is, however, one detail on which I should like to depart from what my hon. Friend said. In fact, it is not really a detail; it is a rather central point in his analysis of what has happened to British defence policy. I disagree with him that the events of
Obviously, through the 1990s, when I was a special adviser in the Ministry of Defence, there was a certain amount of settling down in that process and the adding back of a certain number of infantry battalions when it became clear that the cuts at the end of the cold war had gone too far. Then we had the SDR when this Government came to power in 1997, which very largely confirmed the overall direction that defence policy had taken since Tom King's reforms.
Those reforms have stood the test of time in a strategic sense, although not in a tactical sense, where changes have had to be made. The then Government were beginning to address the whole issue of asymmetric threats as part of the policy of being able to deploy forces overseas and having an expeditionary force capability, which was being built up during the 1990s.
The Defence Committee stated in its report on the 1998 SDR that the Government had not paid enough attention to issues such as homeland security and asymmetric threats. Plainly, the Government's reaction in the form of the new chapter of the SDR shows that they have started to make progress in relation to the lessons of the events of
Sitting watching British defence policy and the shape that the armed forces will have to take under those budgetary constraints, however, is like watching a slow-motion train crash. Any serious observer of defence who listened carefully to the Secretary of State's speeches—I am something of an aficionado of such speeches, having had something to do with them previously, and my hon. Friend Mr. Simpson will be the same—will have heard between the lines a Secretary of State preparing to administer very serious cuts inside the Ministry of Defence. That is simply because, on the existing budget, it will not be possible to obtain armed forces fully recruited at the establishment at which the Government now say that they aim, combined with providing two aircraft carriers with their aircraft and the full purchase of Typhoon. The equipment programme rolling forward is far too heavily loaded to be sustained by the funds that the House is currently voting and intends to vote for defence under the Government's comprehensive spending review plans.
We can hear the words of the Secretary of State indicating that cuts will come. We have heard the rumours of cuts in Scottish infantry battalions. I went through all that in 1992–93 with the debate about the end of the Gordon Highlanders, with all the pain that that caused before the Highlanders were formed, and we can hear that debate happening again. We can hear in the words of the Secretary of State, if we listen carefully, the defence pips beginning to squeak.
In my brief remarks, I want to warn the non-experts and the people outside the defence establishment—I suspect that the defence establishment knows perfectly well what will happen—that we are about to have another series of defence crises, as the Government, as usual, try to get a quart out of a pint pot. The timing for the Ministry of Defence, of course, is absolutely lousy. As it needs more money, the Government are running out of it. The fiscal position of the Government is heading south in a tearing hurry—we have already heard about the Chief Secretary sending notes round to spending Departments making it clear that the good days are over and that they cannot expect large increases in their budgets. In terms of the Government's fiscal position, the next two or three years look as if they will be extremely tight, which is usually extremely bad news for the Ministry of Defence.
In the end, it will come down to the Prime Minister. He has deployed the armed forces overseas on numerous occasions and has set the tone that the Government have taken in deploying British troops around the world to Sierra Leone, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo—admittedly only a small force, thank goodness, due to the insistence of the chiefs of staff on avoiding getting anything more than a fingernail into that particular mangle—and to the Balkans and Iraq, which look like endless commitments. In the debate during the next year or so about public expenditure, the Prime Minister must give the Ministry of Defence the funds to sustain the operational capability of the armed forces at the establishment and with the forward equipment programmes that the Government are currently planning. If they do not, we will probably yet again face a round of salami slicing. The danger is that that will happen on the back of all the pressure that has been placed on all the men and women of the armed services. For a long while, they have been able to sustain enormous operational pressure, but that cannot go on for very much longer.
The Chief of the Defence Staff and the other Chiefs of Staff are warning about the degrading of training because of the huge commitment to operations. The armed forces need time and money to recover their capability. If they do not receive that, an institution of which the United Kingdom can properly be enormously proud will waste away under the twin fiscal and operational pressures to which the Government are subjecting them.
I hope that the Secretary of State's words were part of his negotiating position with the Treasury and the Prime Minister. I hope that the Secretary of State and his Department can rely on the Prime Minister's support in the negotiations on expenditure that will take place over the next few months.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Blunt. He slept through my lectures at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, as did my hon. Friend Hugh Robertson. Although he has probably disappeared for a wee dram, I think that the spokesman and military adviser for the Scottish National party was another of my boys. I like to spread my expertise widely. Someone on the Labour Benches is probably also among that group.
We heard 10 contributions in the debate and, in their own way, they were all interesting and rich. Their common theme was a genuine warmth and respect for our armed forces and the role that their personnel play. That is a most constructive and important tone.
It was a pleasure to hear Llew Smith. It was like a walk down memory lane. He was like a first world war sweat trying to bring back happy memories of open warfare in 1914 before going over the top on the Somme. It was a pleasure to hear him talk about nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation. He is out of step with nearly all the main parties, but he has genuine heartfelt views.
Mr. Breed is standing in for Mr. Keetch. I trust that nothing has happened to the latter in the Liberal Democrat reshuffle and that he has not been sent into the outer darkness. [Interruption.] The Minister mutters something naughty from a sedentary position.
It is interesting that the hon. Members for South-East Cornwall and for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) both talked about ESDP as a means of conducting defence within more frameworks. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan suggested that it would enhance security and, without wishing to start more rabbits running, I must say that many in the House and, I suspect, Ministers as well are a little sceptical—to say the least—about that. The problem is that enhancement may take place to the detriment of the proven track record of NATO.
The speech of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan was full of good old Welsh stump politics. He is a loyal supporter of the Government and, if I were in central casting, I would choose him to play someone speaking on behalf of the Labour party in the House of Commons in the 1920s or 1930s. It was great stuff.
My hon. Friend Mr. Gray is a former Front-Bench defence spokesman. He spoke forcefully for his constituents at Lyneham. They know that they have a doughty fighter working on their behalf. He also raised important issues for members of the Territorial Army, including their conditions of service, their pay and the role of their employers.
My hon. Friend mentioned his essay on the use of the royal prerogative to go to war. I am happy to volunteer to mark it on behalf of the Royal College of Defence Studies—I am sure that it is worth a beta plus at least. He made a serious point about the role of Parliament, which I am sure that the House will want to debate on another occasion.
Mr. Kidney spoke warmly in support of RAF Stafford and the base at Donnington. He raised an important point about logistics and the private-sector ethos of "just in time" that has been introduced into the armed forces. I have said in previous debates that "just in time" could become "just too late". Although "just too late" might cause business problems and loss of money in the private sector, it can mean something far worse in military operations.
I agree with the praise that my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent, who spoke warmly and with great knowledge about the military expertise of our armed forces and the danger of changing the balance in our armed forces to the extent that things that we take for granted, such as the heavier side of our Army, could be thrown out. I concur with his comment—I shall use my shorthand—that there is no doubt that throughout military history, sweat has saved blood. We reduce the training level of our armed forces at our peril.
Mr. Savidge made a thoughtful speech about the origins of terrorism and emphasised the role of the United Nations. I do not agree with his comments about the United States of America—he is a little over-critical.
Angus Robertson spoke on behalf of the Scottish National party. He rightly said that defence was important and spoke up for the interests of the Scottish defence establishment. I shall perhaps leave the debate between him and Scottish Labour Members about Scottish independence for another debate.
Huw Irranca-Davies spoke mainly about the role of the United Nations but raised an important point about the limits of humanitarian interventionism. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate rightly focused on the major problem of the relationship between resources and the commitments that the armed forces face now and, crucially, those that they will face in the next two or three years.
The debate takes place against the background of continuing operations in Iraq, the hiatus over the Hutton inquiry and the defence White Paper, which we hope will be published before the autumn. Post-conflict operations in Iraq are dependent on several factors that are beyond the control of the United Kingdom Government or, indeed, our armed forces. There is still no sign of Saddam Hussein, and I suspect that without his capture or death, elements in Iraq will be encouraged to continue the kind of conflict that they are carrying out. We are yet to discover weapons of mass destruction, and if we are unable to discover them it will continue to cause much scepticism among a large section of the British public. The final factor, of course, is the policy of the United States Government because we are the junior partner.
I shall say a few words about the Hutton inquiry. Yesterday, quite rightly, the Secretary of State said that he accepted responsibility for the actions of the Ministry of Defence and his departmental officials. I am old fashioned because I assume that the right hon. Gentleman is a right hon. Gentleman and that whatever the outcome of the inquiry he will take responsibility for those actions. More significantly, the inquiry has revealed in great detail the workings of modern government, which we would otherwise not have known for some 30 years. That raises questions about the way in which the Government conduct business. To an extent, we have seen government by sofa and informal relationships have perhaps led to decisions not being taken properly. That is something on which the Government and Parliament need to reflect.
My concern is that the Hutton inquiry, combined with the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction, has encouraged great scepticism among the public about British government, which should concern all of us—not just the current party in government, but the rest of us as well. There is great scepticism about the role and integrity of our major offices of state and our intelligence services. That concerns me because it may well be that in the next few months, or in a year or two, God forbid, the present Government or another Government come to the House and to the public with claims that there is a clear and immediate threat, and the public will be sceptical or will just not believe them. That affects not just the reputation of the present Government. It is a matter for all of us.
I turn to the defence White Paper that we expect in the autumn. It will be a crucial White Paper. Apart from anything else, it will test the Government's commitment to defence and it will—in the words of the Secretary of State—be about change,
"not change for its own sake, but essential change, modernization and new thinking in defence".
I shall take as my text not the speech that the right hon. Gentleman made to the House today, which was good up to a point, but rather bland. I recommend to all right hon. and hon. Members the lecture that he gave at the Royal United Services Institute on
The speech is entitled "Britain's Armed Forces for Tomorrow's Defence", which I expect will be—surprise, surprise—the title of the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman began his lecture by saying that he is frequently asked
"why are Britain's Armed Forces so consistently successful in the wide range of tasks they undertake?"
He comes to two conclusions in the lecture. The first—a point raised by many hon. Members—is the quality of our personnel and decisions taken by the MOD on how they are trained, organised, equipped and supported. The second is that the armed forces and the MOD are prepared to change and modernise. Most hon. Members would broadly agree with that, perhaps with the caveat that the MOD has a mixed track record on providing the resources for training, organising and supporting the armed forces, but I do not wish to be churlish about that.
I would add two other reasons behind the success of our armed forces recently. First, not only under this Government, but under previous Governments, our armed forces have got used to making do with just enough and just in time. They are supremely practical applied people. They take the Duke of Wellington's knotted string approach to dealing with military problems, but I suspect that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate said, we are just about getting to the end of the knotted string.
Secondly, our armed forces are now trained to operate and fight jointly and multi-nationally, as successive Governments have emphasised. The UK has always been at its most effective when it has been in effective coalitions. His Grace the Duke of Marlborough and His Grace the Duke of Wellington knew how to work coalitions—the right coalitions, not sham coalitions.
In his lecture, the Secretary of State outlined the need to change and modernise across the whole spectrum of defence. He referred to military structures, headquarters, organisations, weapons, equipment and personnel. He spoke in greater detail about effects-based operations—that is, the ability to deliver critical effect at the right moment. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean by that? He stated:
"Measuring the capability of our Armed Forces by the number of units or platforms in their possession will no longer be significant."
Although that sounds good in theory, the problem for us as parliamentarians and, indeed, for the armed forces is that only through their deployment and operations will we be able to assess their capability. How will the MOD or the Treasury assess that capability? What comparative indicators can be used against other countries, let alone against the threats posed by international terrorists? I hope that that core element of the defence White Paper will be considered by the Select Committees on Defence and on the Treasury and by the Public Accounts Committee.
The Secretary of State said:
"At the heart of effects-based operations are people."
We all agree on that. Those people will be required as never before to have initiative, flexible skills and state-of-the-art technology. Can the Ministry of Defence recruit, train and retain such high-quality personnel in a market where many in the private and public sectors will be looking for the same kind of people? That is an enormous challenge, and as yet I have not heard an answer to how it is to be done.
He said that there is a need to restructure the armed forces to deal with
"the more frequent demands of concurrent medium and small scale operations" and to act as "multipliers of combat power". The logic of those changes will have an impact on our military organisations, including regiments—not their regimental cap badges, but the way in which they are structured—and on the way in which the RAF and the Royal Navy organise their platforms. I hope that the White Paper will provide some detail on how that will be achieved in practice. If the Secretary of State is correct about the tempo of operations, as I think he is, what impact will that have on service personnel and their families? More frequent operations in less traditional military units will place an even greater stress on armed forces personnel.
What does that mean for the defence budget? The Secretary of State claims that the 2002 spending review settlement provides an additional £3.5 billion and that the defence budget is rising. The Library assessment tells us that since 1997 the share of gross domestic product spent on defence has fallen from 2.7 per cent. to 2.2 per cent. The current financial position is that in real terms UK defence spending is about £1 billion less than in 1996–97. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate and other hon. Friends said, there is already a serious crisis in the defence budget without the major changes that the Secretary of State seeks. For the purpose of the debate, however, let us assume that £3.5 billion is the correct sum.
The Secretary of State says that that money has to be used for reform and modernisation. In his lecture, he said:
"But it would be a failure of ambition simply to invest the new money in new systems while carrying on as before with the rest."
"So in the forthcoming planning round"— this is the guts of the issue—
"I will be asking our Top Level Budget holders to think radically".
A dreadful keening noise was heard from the senior military and civil servants sitting in his audience, because they all know that "thinking radically" means: "There is no money in the pot, the Treasury is after us again, and you guys have got to come up with an answer that will make it look as though we are not cutting." He went on to say that their outputs will be delivered "partly by setting them"—wait for it—
"some stiff 'stretch' targets as they are known in the acquisition world."
"These targets are not decisions. And this will not be a 'cuts' exercise."
I do not know who wrote this, but I suspect that they could earn a tremendous amount of money in the private sector—in fact, they probably do.
The Secretary of State continued:
"The aim will be to give us options—planning flexibility. At the end of the process, we will make decisions. In some areas, investment will go down; in others, it will go up—perhaps significantly."
The House of Commons expects the Secretary of State not to repeat that verbiage in the White Paper but to give answers about what the stretch targets are. Will we have a decision or will there be a continuing exercise? Many of us suspect that the comments are cover for further cuts. That will be disastrous for defence spending.
I do not know whether the Minister of State will pick up a point that several hon. Members made about combating terrorism, especially in the context of ballistic missile defence. That is always a slightly embarrassing subject for the Government, not because of Conservative Members but because of Labour Back Benchers. Will the defence White Paper spell out in detail the programme in which the United Kingdom will participate in conjunction with our American allies and how much it will cost?
Several hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire, mentioned my next point. The Government are rightly worried about a major terrorist incident in the UK. However, we are genuinely concerned about the lack of political direction and co-ordination at the heart of Government. The Prime Minister has an outstanding man in Sir David Omand in the Cabinet Office. He is a sort of Sir Maurice Hankey, but with a sense of humour. Despite the training and exercises that the Government have carried out, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent that public opinion, let alone our armed forces and emergency services, is neither psychologically nor operationally prepared for an equivalent of 9/11. I do not know how people can be prepared for such an eventuality, but the action that has been taken so far is not sufficient. I am especially worried about the role of the civil contingency units. We were promised greater details about that but they have not emerged.
The defence White Paper will be crucial. I applaud much of the Government's thinking—we cannot stand still and there must be change. However, I believe that the Government's comments act as a cover for their inability to deliver a budget to tackle current defence commitments, let alone the great investment in personnel that will be required to deal with network-centric warfare and all the major procurement programmes. Unless the Government can make a convincing case, they will fail to persuade not only Members of Parliament but the public who elected them.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. Mr. Simpson did himself a disservice when he said that he used to send people to sleep. He did not send me to sleep because he quoted so extensively from that wonderful piece that the Secretary of State delivered. It kept me awake, as it did the first time that I heard and read it. It is worth revisiting and the hon. Gentleman was right to alight on it because it makes important points, on which I shall elaborate.
In setting our defence policy, we are conscious that its terms will shape not only the type of operations that we plan to be able to mount but the scope and nature of our procurement programmes far into an uncertain future. Our policy has a significant effect in declaring where and how we plan to operate and exert our influence in the world. It also declares to our allies and adversaries our assessment of the circumstances in which we will operate alone, with NATO, in an ESDP structure or in coalitions of the willing, and the scale of those commitments.
It is critical that our defence policy is based on a rigorous assessment of the nature of the risks that we face, and that it suggests how they may develop in time. Those judgments focus our attention on organisations or nations that are likely to pose the greatest risk to our interests, now and in future.
All that gives us a clear picture of the capabilities needed to match and defeat the challenges ahead, but I need not remind the House that defence capability has two components. One is matériel; the other involves the men and women who serve our country with such distinction. The people we need, and the training that they require to deliver the necessary capability, are changing. In particular, the expeditionary nature of operations and the increasing technological complexity of military equipment are placing unprecedented demands on our people. We owe it to them to ensure that our evolving requirements are adequately reflected in what we believe to be a far-sighted and coherent defence policy that will sustain the vitality, professionalism, skill and reputation of our servicemen and women. As many hon. Members have pointed out, getting that right cannot be regarded as a simple science.
Events have shown that we should not ignore the probability of the unexpected. Accordingly, our defence policy must be alert and responsive to the shocks and crossroads in international affairs that we might encounter. Of necessity, therefore, planning horizons are more ambitious, and while they must be based, in part, on experience, they must also accommodate a greater degree of uncertainty than was the norm in the closing decades of the last millennium. That means that we must always be prepared to re-evaluate our perceptions and predictions.
The fact that the broad direction of the strategic defence review, in terms of deployability, mobility and expeditionary warfare, was the right one has been borne out by events. My hon. Friend Mr. Smith spoke graphically and forcefully on that subject. Hugh Robertson made similar points. I notice that he is double-hatting in this debate. One minute he is on the Front Bench, the next he is on the Back Benches, and now he is on the Front Bench again.
He may be multi-skilled, but he has been very well trained, leaving aside some of the lectures that he may have had to listen to in the past.
The SDR new chapter provided the new focus of our response to the emerging threat of international terrorism. It built on the solid foundation of earlier work, and added emphasis to a rapidly evolving understanding of our security environment. The defence choices over the coming months will further shape the ability of our armed forces to meet the tasks that we will set in future. Those tasks change as the world around us changes. The greatest challenge that we now face is to predict and adapt to those changes quickly and effectively.
The greatest risk that we face is that of failing to make a judicious assessment of the evolving need and, worse still, failing to enable our armed forces to make the required changes in configuration, equipment, and personnel policy. The Government have a responsibility to assess the challenges, and to enable the changes that will underwrite our defence in the future. This debate has reminded us, as every defence debate does, that our armed forces continue to be heavily engaged in the world, and the probability must be that this will not change in the near future.
The majority of hon. Members have, as I would have hoped, taken the opportunity of today's debate to raise issues that bear upon some of the areas that I have just mentioned. I would like to deal with those points now. One of the central charges made by Mr. Jenkin was that we have too many commitments and too few resources. I think that that sums up a major part of his contribution. What he did not say, however, was which commitments we should not have undertaken. [Interruption.] If people make the charge that we have too many commitments, they must face up to the responsibility of saying, "Not now. We cannot do this." In saying that we have too few resources, he should not do as he did at the Conservative party conference when he talked about "enough boots", "enough ships" and "enough aircraft". He should define what "enough" means, and tell us what our shortfall is. That is the way in which the Government can realistically be held to account. He should give us not some generalised statement of what could be good—a motherhood and apple pie philosophy—but a specific analysis and a specific commitment on those points.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about over-commitment, should we not have made a contribution in Sierra Leone, the Balkans, Afghanistan or Iraq? The Conservatives had very strong views on Iraq. Indeed, they were saying that we should make a commitment in Iraq before we had even come to a conclusion on that issue. The resource pressures were there at that point in time. Now Conservative Members say that there is insufficiency of resources. They were arguing for the commitments. They have to take that on board.
Another issue that the hon. Gentleman raised related to training. He referred to the July publication of the director of operational capability report. An earlier report was published in February. Both those reports were commissioned at my request. I asked the DOC to undertake the studies, and we made a conscious decision to publicise all the things that we discovered during that assessment, which was very much an in-depth assessment of the initial training regime, which perhaps had not been studied comprehensively, if at all, for many years. Clearly, that was required.
The important aspect was that it identified key areas for improvement. Significantly, 42 out of the 60 actions that were identified have now been acted upon. I visited one of our major training establishments the other week to see what was happening. I met a lot of new instructors. Everyone told me what a wonderful change there had been in the culture, ethos, approach and the way in which training was handled. They knew that there was more to come and that there were probably better ways of doing it. I had to point out to them that we were at the beginning of the implementation of that assessment but that the important aspect was that there was commitment in that training regime.
When I hear criticism of our training regime, I simply reflect on how many thousands have been put through that regime—tens of thousands over the past few years. We could not deliver in all those conflicts to the extent that we have if that machine were broken and failing the armed forces, in this case the Army. I say to hon. Members, when they make their central charge that there is something flawed in our initial training structures, that we could not be successful if that were the case. That does not mean that things cannot be improved. That is why I commissioned the DOC report and why we will continue to look for ways to implement it.
Mr. Gray commented on the Territorial Army and the reserves issue. In an intervention, I set out the reason for the reduction of 2,000 about which we saw lurid headlines. The media did not come and ask us. They could have got a proper explanation but, sadly, they are more interested in lurid headlines, and others then take up the charge without saying to the MOD, "Give us the facts." I hope that the fact that I gave helps—I am sure that it helped the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for North Essex raised the matter, too but did not hear the explanation that was given.
There is another interesting aspect. Again, if the TA were beginning to disintegrate because there was too much pressure on it, too many demands were made of it, or there were some fault lines in all this, we would begin to see a major problem in retention and recruitment. We are not seeing that. Over time, we have to study that but we are not seeing it at this point.
Interestingly, 9 per cent. of the deployed Army reserves have applied to join the regular forces. I hear that the TA is fragile and beginning to disintegrate but TA members have now realised what a contribution they can make by committing themselves in a regular way. That is an indicator of strength, not weakness.
I had the privilege of being in Ukraine recently, where 4 Para, a TA regiment, was training alongside our Polish and Ukrainian friends. Some of them had just come out of Iraq, but where did they want to go? Back to Iraq. I was surprised. There were professional people there. There was a joiner, a plumber, people who could earn substantial money in the private sector, but they wanted to commit themselves in that way, so it is not all doom and gloom. I do not believe even for one moment that there is a weakness in the way in which the TA is currently responding to the demands that are placed on it. Again, we will have to assess that over time.
The hon. Member for North Essex asked about the cost of Operation Telic. I do not know how many parliamentary questions I have answered on that but the current net cost is running at £700 million against a predicted budget of £1 billion. Further costs for the year 2002–03 are currently being assessed, and will of course be published in due course. We have made it clear that we are committed to achieving our objectives in Iraq, and the budget and financial support is important in that regard.
I turn to the points made by Mr. Breed. Other Members have said that he may have been elevated in the recent reshuffle—[Interruption.] He is shaking his head. I pass on my best wishes to his predecessor, Mr. Keetch, who will obviously be back on the Front Bench at some point. The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall raised at least two important points, the first of which concerned pensions. Although the issue of pensions does not relate strictly to defence policy, I can see how a connection could be made. The accusation is that we are cutting pensions, but the service pension has not been reduced—it will still be worth 50 per cent. after 35 years, with a tax-free lump sum of three times the pension. Personnel will also have scope to accrue further benefits if they serve for longer.
It is true that we will no longer provide an early immediate pension, as this would not be consistent with the expected Inland Revenue policy of not allowing pension benefits to be paid before the age of 55. We have to position ourselves in terms of future policy—otherwise, we will have to revisit this issue—and that is the sensible approach to take. However, we do intend to provide a replacement early departure scheme, which will offer similar benefits and structure, and provide support until the preserved pension and tax-free lump sum are paid out at the age of 65. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall looks perplexed, but before charging us with cutting pensions, he should read the written statement produced by one of my colleagues on
I know that the hon. Gentleman allowed me to intervene on him, but I am trying to deal with the many points that were raised. If time permits, I shall certainly return to that issue. I am not being discourteous, but let me not be distracted from trying to deal with the points that were raised.
The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall also mentioned manning control points, on which I have some statistics. Only three people left the Army in 2002 as a result of MCPs, and in the past four years there have been 209 MCP discharges. In the judgment of those who run the Army, MCPs are an essential tool for controlling its manning structure, and are used solely to maintain the structure's integrity. MCPs are a mechanism to retire those who have reached their ceiling, and who are preventing more able soldiers from being promoted. A judgment call has to be made, to ensure that the career paths of talented young people joining the forces are not being restricted. We handle sensitively those who are asked to leave under MCPs, and it is important to remember the statistics to which I have referred.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan offered strong support for the strategic defence review and asked about ethnic recruiting. It is worth bearing in mind just how successful we have been in recruiting. The financial year 2002–03 was an excellent recruiting year: 26,220 new recruits were taken on, comfortably exceeding the target. Indeed, in recent years there has been steady, year-on-year progression. In 2001–02, the armed forces achieved 95 per cent. of their target; in 2000–01, the figure was 90 per cent.
On ethnic recruiting, all three services have specialist teams whose aim is to promote armed forces careers to ethnic minority communities. According to unaudited figures for the first quarter of 2003–04, 446 people from ethnic minorities, including Commonwealth citizens, were recruited. However, the important point is the aim in achieving better results in this area. That aim is for each service to increase incrementally, each year for the next three years, the proportion of UK ethnic minority recruits—I stress UK ethnic minority recruits—by at least 0.5 per cent., with a tri-service aim of reaching 5 per cent. as soon as possible. We are undertaking several key initiatives to target that issue. It was also right to highlight the fact that, for whatever reason, inner cities are no longer the prime recruiting territory that they once were. To give an example, recent initiatives in London include the launch of the first mobile recruiting office—effectively a bus—which is operating within the M25 area. It enables recruiters to reach communities that have not always been accessible in the past. We are taking the campaign out to the communities, rather than having a static recruiting office.
I heard with interest what the Minister said about recruiting successes, but will he deal with the point that was raised earlier? The Army is under-strength and recruitment is improving but recruitment capping figures have been announced for the infantry, the Royal Armoured Corps and the Royal Military Police. Will he explain why?
We have debated that matter before across the Dispatch Box and I thought that I had reached a point of understanding with the hon. Gentleman. We were highly successful in our recruiting campaign, but the training regime was set at a certain standard with a certain anticipation of numbers. We watched for a while as those numbers increased to see if there was a glitch and establish whether to respond with extra resources. A decision was taken some way down the line to do so because it looked as if the trend was upwards. We then had to staff the additional resources and take them from elsewhere. While we were doing that, we recognised that the armed forces—in this case the Army—were heavily committed. Judgment calls have to be made in the process, but it does not detract in any way from the importance that we place on recruitment. It is important to recognise the strength of our approach to recruiting and how successful we have been. There is no failure, but success. That is the important message that has to go out, together with recognition of how good the training regime has been.
I am not going to give way.
The hon. Member for North Wiltshire raised several issues, many of which related to the forthcoming White Paper. It is only proper to wait and see what it contains before conducting a fuller debate. He mentioned Lyneham, but I disagree with some of his comments about it. Irrespective of whether it closes, the number of RAF posts would have changed by virtue of the fact that the new aircraft type requires fewer people to service and maintain it. That explains part of the large reduction in the RAF footprint and we subsequently took the decision to locate in Brize Norton on grounds of the best strategic fit. We took account of all the associated risks, which were part of the review, and our best advice was different from his viewpoint. We were told that the risk was manageable.
I can, however, give the hon. Gentleman a commitment on the reinstatement of the land and putting the base to other uses. We operate a good neighbour policy and I give my commitment to working closely with the local authorities and the planning agencies to ensure that we do the best that we can for the community—primarily because of the great contribution that RAF Lyneham has made over the years.
Many other issues were raised in the debate—[Interruption.] If some hon. Members had not spoken for so long, I would have had more time to respond. I have already had to cut out a range of important responses.
The hon. Member for North Wiltshire also mentioned reservists. The current banded rates for the standard award are as set out in a statutory instrument. Although the rates have not kept pace with the increase in civilian earnings, reservists can additionally claim a hardship award to cover essential outgoings. We recognise that that is not ideal and work is in hand to produce a new statutory instrument. The new scheme will take into account the statistical evidence arising from the mobilisation for Iraq. We are learning a valuable lesson.
My hon. Friend Mr. Kidney raised many important points, but I do not have enough time to go into them all. He referred to three essential change initiatives that can produce major improvements. All the changes, if reflected in financial changes, will assist the front line. I understand that they will have an impact on the work force in the relevant establishments. I recently visited Donnington and met people from the Ministry of Defence in Stafford. I was able to give them some hopefully strong assurances about how we are handling this. My hon. Friend also asked about contact with the trade unions, and I met them on
I was hoping to say something about the contribution of Angus Robertson. Scotland is a normal and a proud country. It is proud to be in the United—
It being Six o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.