[Relevant documents: Delivering Security in a Changing World: Defence White Paper (Cm6041–I); Delivering Security in a Changing World: Supporting Essays (Cm6041–II); Uncorrected Oral Evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 24th March 2004, from General Sir Michael Walker GCB CMG CBE ADC Gen, Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Alan West GCB DSC ADC, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson KCB CBE DSO ADC Gen, Chief of the General Staff and Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup KCB AFC ADC, Chief of the Air Staff, on the Defence White Paper (HC465–i)]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]
At the start of the debate, may I extend my condolences to the family of Brigadier Lord Vivian, who died recently? I had the privilege of meeting him on several occasions, and he was both knowledgeable and thoughtful, certainly when discussing defence issues.
The publication last December of the Defence White Paper, "Delivering Security in a Changing World", generated significant interest, so I welcome this opportunity for the House to debate the issues with which it dealt.
First of all, however, I would like to take this opportunity to condemn the appalling terrorist attacks in Madrid two weeks ago. I am sure that the House will join me in extending our sympathies to those who have lost loved ones—and, indeed, to the Spanish people. The appalling scale of those co-ordinated attacks, using devices deliberately set to detonate simultaneously on crowded trains at the height of rush hour, once again demonstrates the callous and barbarous nature of international terrorists. The attack was calculated to take as many innocent lives as possible. It was the latest in a series of such atrocities, going back well before
It is therefore inevitable that there is increased anxiety about the prospect of similar attacks occurring here. I want to emphasise to the House that the threat of attack has been recognised across government. Since
I regret that, given the evidence that we have seen from elsewhere, the Government have consistently had to take that view and we obviously have to prepare and plan for it.
I was outlining where the civil responsibilities lie, but the armed forces clearly have the skills, training, command and control to provide valuable assistance to civilian capabilities when necessary. They will frequently have a role to play. Most recently, they were deployed to Heathrow airport in support of the police to act as a deterrent when intelligence warned of a potential attack.
Following the strategic defence review new chapter, the Ministry of Defence introduced a number of measures to enhance our ability to respond to a crisis at home. Those measures include the development of command and control arrangements, the establishment of a network of joint regional liaison officers, and the introduction of communications equipment compatible with that used by the police.
Across the country, we have also established 14 civil contingency reaction forces, which are now fully operational. They provide a pool of volunteer reserves available to deploy at short notice to assist the civil authorities at the scene of an incident—whether it is a terrorist attack, accident or natural disaster. But while we must be prepared to support the civil authorities here in the United Kingdom, it is vital that we address the threats to us before they even reach our shores.
The White Paper sets out the requirement for this country to be ready, willing and able to deploy overseas to act against terrorists and the states that harbour them. It also sets out the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the consequence of failed and failing states. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is perhaps at its most chilling when it coincides with the desire of international terrorist groups to acquire and to use them. The law and order vacuum in failed states provides opportunities for those groups to flourish and a safe haven from which to operate.
In addition, where possible, we will work together with the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development to tackle the root causes of terrorism. The Government's conflict prevention pool is made available to provide funding for measures such as security sector reform and post-conflict recovery, which help to tackle the underlying causes of instability in many of the world's potential flashpoints. In recent years, the armed forces have made a significant contribution to peace and support operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, East Timor and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More widely, the Ministry of Defence has undertaken defence diplomacy activities to encourage the responsible development of military capabilities. Those commitments have been crucial in support of stability in numerous countries.
The Secretary of State mentioned various operations around the world. The last theatre of conflict was a very large operation, namely our contribution to the invasion of Iraq, which Conservative Members supported. If we had to launch another such large-scale operation—perhaps next year or the following year—would we be able to do so?
As the Chief of the Defence Staff made clear in his evidence to the Defence Committee yesterday, it will take a number of years to recover properly in respect of exercises and the sort of training that is required. Obviously, however, if there were an immediate national reason for conducting a large-scale operation in a much shorter time scale, I know from my knowledge and experience of our armed forces that they would be able to mount it. It would necessarily mean that some of our existing commitments would have to be qualified in order to achieve that, but such operations would be undertaken, not least if this country were threatened.
The Secretary of State for Defence has rightly drawn attention to the excellent peacekeeping work that members of Her Majesty's armed forces are undertaking in various parts of the world—including in southern Iraq, where 500 troops from the Colchester garrison are based. Will he accept, however, that continued overseas commitments are putting a strain on our Army, and that the armed forces are still under strength? Although recruitment is going well, does he accept that there is a need for greater emphasis on retention; otherwise, the overstretch will become unbearable?
In fact, both recruitment and retention rates are extremely good at present, but I accept the hon. Gentleman's observation that we need to continue to augment the size of our armed forces and, indeed, to develop particular skills—a matter that I shall deal with in more detail later. It is clear that there are some strains on particular people in the armed forces—those in support and enabling positions, for example. That is inevitable if, as is the case, we are engaged in several different operations simultaneously.
I was very surprised to hear the Chief of the Defence Staff say yesterday that it would be another four years before we would be capable of carrying out a large-scale operation again. That seems an extremely long time, so could the Secretary of State offer the House some guidance about the precise thinking of the Chief of the Defence Staff in reaching that judgment about the four years that it would take for a large operation to be mounted again?
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's use of the term "capable" is fair in respect of what the Chief of the Defence Staff actually said. I have already answered the point in detail, but I am perfectly willing to repeat it: to prepare for a large-scale operation, it would be necessary to train, exercise and develop the necessary skills in the time frame set out by the Chief of the Defence Staff, but our forces would be "capable" of conducting a large operation before that, if it were necessary. As the Chief of the Defence Staff explained, however, that would necessarily have some implications for our existing commitments. The Minister of State has explained that position on previous occasions. I know from the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the Department that none of that will come as a great surprise to him.
I would like some reassurance from my right hon. Friend. When I visited our troops in Bosnia in 1998, I was astounded by the fact that they had to use mobile phones to ensure effective communication between each other. Mobile phones are, of course, easy to track and to listen into. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that that arrangement is not still the case today?
It is not the case today. I shall set out in greater detail the significant advances that have been made, and are about to be made, in the provision of enhanced communications equipment. That has been an absolute priority for the Government. I recognise the difficulties in delivering such programmes that previous Governments have encountered over a long period of time. However, the Bowman programme is on the verge of success. I welcome the efforts that have been made.
I was outlining the commitments made by UK armed forces around the world. Only last week, in response to escalating levels of tension and violence between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, additional UK troops were deployed in support of KFOR. The Ready Battalion of NATO's operational reserve force and the 1st Battalion, the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment had been earmarked precisely for such a rapid deployment. Their role, which I anticipate will be short term, is to assist KFOR in restoring calm to the province and preventing unrest from spreading to areas outside Kosovo. It is an example of the kind of rapid deployment capability that we will increasingly need to be able to call on.
I am worried that, if we cannot settle Kosovo's final status, its economy will remain dreadful. Unemployment is enormous, which means that the atmosphere is tense and likely to be disorderly. The military situation will not be resolved unless we get political progress.
I agree. The events before last weekend illustrate the continuing difficulties between the two communities. A number of Serb families were forced to leave their homes, and Serb churches were burned. That suggests that the presence of our troops is still necessary, but it also shows that we must make progress on a constitutional and political settlement to avoid our military responsibility going on indefinitely.
I have looked carefully at the evidence, and I am not sure that any of it points to an especially sophisticated organisation. As I said in response to my right hon. Friend Clare Short, there are such simmering tensions between the two communities that any incident—whether true or not—can set off the sort of violent and dangerous reaction that we have seen. Clearly, that has real implications for the presence there of troops from the UK and other countries.
The Secretary of State will know that members of the Select Committee on Defence were in Kosovo a few weeks ago and what we heard made all of us worried about what was happening there. Although it is important to resolve the status of Kosovo, will he assure the House that there will not be a final status agreement without guarantees about human rights and the rule of law? Also, does he agree that we must clamp down on the criminal, mafia society in Kosovo, and the leading Albanian politicians there who are behind it?
I certainly give that undertaking in respect of human rights. That was one of the reasons we went into Kosovo, and our other aim was to preserve a multi-ethnic society. We were right to go and protect the Albanian community against the appalling treatment by Milosevic's regime, but the recent events in Kosovo suggest that Albanians are perpetrating behaviour that is similar to what the Serb minority did. That is of great concern to us.
The threats that we now face are ever more fluid, and less predictable than the monolithic Warsaw pact that dominated our defence planning and posture for two generations or more. However, they are no less real, and no less dangerous. Our armed forces have to adapt as a result.
The strategic defence review set us in the right direction, with its emphasis on expeditionary force. The defence White Paper builds on this work to present the case for still more flexible forces, structured and equipped to perform a wide range of tasks, often concurrently, in simultaneous operations in different parts of the world. The success of the operations that we undertake will be measured more by our ability to exploit fleeting opportunities to engage an elusive enemy, and in deterring and disrupting future terrorist activity, than in any decisive pitched battle.
The rebalancing of our armed forces is therefore required, with flexibility being the key. Experience has shown us that we should plan on structuring, equipping and supporting our armed forces to deploy rapidly on concurrent small and medium scale operations. That pattern has become the norm in recent years, and it is likely to remain the trend for the foreseeable future.
I assure my hon. Friend that we remain absolutely committed to that project. We believe that the people engaged in it have a significant role to play in the future.
Obviously, we need to ensure that our armed forces retain the ability to adapt themselves at longer notice for the much less frequent, but more demanding, large-scale operations. We must continue to keep up to date our approach to standing tasks and commitments. The White Paper seeks to strike the right balance.
Where military action is used, it is clear that it is most effective when brought to bear through multinational coalitions and alliances. The ability to operate seamlessly alongside other nations, particularly with our NATO and European Union allies and partners, is therefore at a premium.
We plan to maintain a broad spectrum of capabilities to ensure that we are able to conduct national operations, or be the lead or framework nation for coalition operations, at small to medium scale. However, we do not envisage needing to generate large-scale capabilities across the same spectrum as, in the most demanding operations, it is highly unlikely that the US will not be involved, either leading a coalition or as part of NATO. For large-scale operations, our focus nationally must be on the retention and development of capabilities that ensure a seat at the political and military decision-making table, securing for the UK an appropriate level of influence in the planning and prosecution of operations. Therefore, the armed forces must be able to interoperate with US command and control structures, match their operational tempo, and provide credible and significant capabilities that provide the greatest impact.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He is making an excellent speech and I am sure that he will be a first-class European Commissioner in due course. I am interested in the process of determining capacity in respect of building ships and aircraft carriers. Obviously, we want to obtain value for money in the order for aircraft carriers, but does he agree that it is also essential to take account of the totality of shipbuilding procurement? Would we not be able to secure much better value for money if the MARS—military afloat reach and sustainability—initiative orders and the orders for aircraft carriers and frigates were all taken together? In that way, the peaks and troughs in demand that would otherwise impact on the shipbuilding industry could be smoothed out.
I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Davidson to the extent that it is necessary for the MOD to assist the shipbuilding industry in securing civil orders as well as military orders. The MOD has a tremendous order book for warships at the moment, but that will not sustain shipbuilding indefinitely. The MOD can make a significant contribution to shipbuilding, but the industry should not assume that those orders will keep it going indefinitely. My hon. Friend talks about smoothing out supply and demand, but that has to come from the civil orders. They supplement the military orders, and will provide a long-term future for UK shipbuilding.
I was talking about the necessity of interoperating with the US. However, I emphasise that we are simply focusing on niche capabilities that the US is short of. We should not want to confine ourselves to only a supporting role in military operations. In order to meet our own security objectives, we will need to continue to be at the forefront of operations. The changes that the White Paper sets out will enhance the UK's ability to conduct expeditionary operations, both nationally and, as is most likely to be the case, as part of a coalition of allies.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has been most generous in allowing interventions. On co-operation with the United States, does he agree with Robert Maggi, the head of defence trade controls at the US State Department, that in looking towards conflict prevention and the illicit transfer of conventional weapons to non-state actors, the ability to apply effective controls to such transfers, including extra-territorial controls, is critical?
We have certainly looked at that. By way of qualification, I should say that if we introduce such controls, it is important that they be introduced multilaterally. It is necessary that new nations should also be subject to the existing code of conduct, which could be reformed to take account of such particular illicit transfers, or to other international agreements. I would be concerned if the UK moved too far ahead of other countries that might then be tempted simply to step in and fill the trade void that we had left.
Before we leave the subject of expeditions, may I add, as chairman of the all-party Latin American group, that we, the European delegates, were warmly welcomed by Vicente Fox? May I ask about the strange business of the servicemen who are caving in Mexico? What are we to make of it? Surely it would have been courteous and tactful to tell the Mexicans that servicemen were going there.
I am always impressed by the range of my hon. Friend's interests and concerns and he has just added a new one to the long list with which I am familiar. I was referring to Latin America, not caving, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister will have noted those wise observations.
NATO of course remains the cornerstone of our security policy. Lord Robertson, in his capacity as Secretary-General of NATO, worked tirelessly to adapt NATO to the challenges that it is likely to face. His successor, whose appointment I welcome, has promised to continue this work. As technology develops, it will become even more important that we and our NATO partners invest in the capabilities that enable us to operate at the same tempo as the United States. We are actively encouraging this approach through the Allied Command Transformation and the development of the NATO response force, with its emphasis on flexible, deployable and technologically advanced and interoperable forces.
The Prague capabilities commitment is making progress. Our allies have committed themselves to improvements in key areas such as nuclear, biological and chemical capabilities, secure communications, strategic lift and air-to-air refuelling. Looking forward to this year's Istanbul NATO summit, we will try to ensure that our allies deliver these capability improvements. NATO needs to be leaner, more responsive and fit for new challenges. We therefore support a broad review of NATO structures, processes and decision making.
Where NATO as a whole chooses not to engage, it is likely that we will work with our European allies. Improving the military effectiveness of European nations therefore remains a key priority. Hence our proposal that EU member states should develop rapid response capabilities through the battle group initiative. Building on the progress towards achieving the Helsinki headline goal, member states, individually or on a multinational basis, will provide deployable and sustainable battle groups of around 1,500 troops, drawn from existing national forces. Having high readiness forces available will improve the ability of the European Union to respond effectively to emerging crises, particularly in support of the United Nations. We will ensure that this initiative is developed in a way that also strengthens NATO and the NATO response force.
There is no conflict between aspiring to strengthen both NATO and European defence and security policy. We will not agree to ESDP developing in a way that impairs the security guarantee established through NATO. The security architecture that we have constructed over the past six years allows for flexible approaches to crises either through a NATO operation or the EU using NATO assets under Berlin-plus arrangements, or indeed through an autonomous EU operation.
The EU and NATO have established a strategic partnership in crisis management that we want to see strengthened. The arrangements for EU-NATO consultation agreed last December were a significant step forward. Regular dialogue between the EU and NATO would be stepped up during a crisis. That ensures that the relationship between the two organisations is transparent and mutually reinforcing.
In directing our finite resources at those capabilities that are best able to deliver the range of military effects that we require, we will inevitably have to make important choices. As we indicated in the White Paper, we will look to create the headroom for highest priority investments in network enabled capabilities and medium weight forces.
Central to our thinking on network-enabled capabilities is the need to improve the collection of information on the battle space and enable those in charge of ships, tanks, aircraft and other combat systems to be able to share that information more quickly. The Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle, for example, will provide a substantial increase in surveillance capability over the Phoenix system currently in service. The Bowman secure tactical voice and data communications system will markedly improve our ability to share information. Such improvements in equipment capability will enable those involved to understand the battle space more quickly, so that they can speed up the decision-making process.
On the Bowman issue, it has been put to me that there has been some difficulty in communicating across hilly terrain. I understand that in those circumstances a high frequency channel will be used. This is a technical question and the Secretary of State may not have the answer at his fingertips, but, broadly speaking, is he satisfied that Bowman will deliver what he imagined it would?
Recently I had an update on the arrangements for Bowman. The progress on introducing the system is extremely good and I am confident that we will resolve any technical difficulties as they arise. I am confident that this will be an extremely successful operation for UK armed forces.
To return to improvements provided by network-enabled capabilities, we need to match improved sensor performance and information exchange with a more decisive delivery of effect. During the Kosovo campaign, as recently as 1999, around 25 per cent. of munitions that the RAF used were precision-guided. Barely four years later, during Operation Telic, 85 per cent. of munitions used by the RAF were precision-guided. By taking advantage of such significant progress in the use of high technology, we will be better placed to ensure that our platforms are used to greatest effect and that the coherence of our military capabilities is enhanced.
If we are to have truly expeditionary forces, able to deploy quickly to deliver effect at significant distance from the United Kingdom, we need to rebalance our force structures. We must ensure that we can move our armed forces quickly to where they are needed with equipment that enables them to carry out the tasks we expect of them. The introduction of the future rapid effects system group of vehicles will provide our armed forces with battle-winning equipment that can be moved quickly by strategic airlift. As part of this rebalancing process, we have already been able to announce plans for a new light brigade, and the reduction of one armoured brigade—from three to two. This will enhance our existing light forces by offering a third choice in addition to 3 Commando and 16 Air Assault Brigade. Whenever such advances have been made in modernising defence equipment or capability it has always been necessary to make adjustments in the number of older platforms. It is right that we do this to ensure that our armed forces are properly equipped to meet the challenges of the future.
In announcing the changes that will follow from, one hopes, the extra money that the Chancellor may make available in the comprehensive spending review and the extremely challenging long-term costings process or work strands process that is going on in the Department now, which appears to be on twice the scale of "Front Line First" of 10 years ago, there will plainly be some significant changes to follow the brigade changes that the Secretary of State has already indicated. How does he propose to announce the changes?
I was about to deal with that point in my speech. In my statement on the publication of the White Paper last December, I set out to the House that I had asked the Ministry of Defence to undertake a significant examination of our capabilities and overheads. I anticipate that we will be in a position to make some announcement on the results of this work in the summer through the usual channels.
The Government are committing significant extra financial resources to support changes envisaged in the White Paper. The 2002 spending review delivered the largest sustained increase in planned defence expenditure for more than 20 years—adding more than £3 billion over three years. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirmed a further real-terms increase in the 2004 spending review. That does not mean we can afford to relax our efforts to use that money efficiently. In the challenging defence environment, we need to make every pound count.
Labour's record contrasts markedly with that of the Conservatives. During 18 years of government, the Tories imposed swingeing cuts in defence without any long-term strategic rationale. Spending was cut by nearly one third in real terms during the Tories' last 10 years in government.
There are always financial pressures on major Departments, especially during a demanding period. It is clear that the Conservative plan for a two-year freeze on defence spending would mean a £1.5 billion real terms cut in the unlikely event that the Tories returned to office. Members of the Opposition Front Bench need to come clean about how they plan to make that £1.5 billion cut. Will they withdraw British armed forces currently doing vital work in Iraq and Afghanistan? What part of the equipment programme would the Conservatives scrap—and what impact would that have on Britain's future defence capabilities and British industry?
"You can't do defence on the cheap"?
I am always suspicious when Ministers attack the Opposition. The Secretary of State said that the Chancellor had promised a real-terms increase. The right hon. Gentleman seeks specific answers from my hon. Friend, so will he tell the House what extra money the Chancellor has confirmed to him will be available?
That announcement will be made in due course, as the spending totals for all Departments are made known. That process will take some months but that is not unusual. Mr. Jack keenly questions spending on fast jets, for example. Conservatives talk about cuts in defence spending, while at the same time complaining about a series of projects that they want delivered. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to ask those same searching questions of members of his own Front Bench. Recognising the difficulties that face all Departments in meeting their budgetary commitments, how is that Conservative spokesmen believe that they can cut £1.5 billion from defence?
I do not believe everything that I read in the newspapers, but I read that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex was less than enthusiastic about the shadow Chancellor's commitment. I will read out the words of Mr. Letwin, just in case he has not told his hon. Friend the Opposition's spending plans. He said:
"I have agreed with my Shadow Cabinet colleagues that the baseline for spending across all of these departmental budgets will be 0 per cent growth for the first two years, followed by 2 per cent growth per year for the remaining four years of the period covered by the strategy."
Everyone knows that zero per cent. growth is a cut in real terms of £1.5 billion—even before the extra money for defence committed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor at the time of the Budget is taken into account. The Conservatives plan a real-terms cut in the existing defence budget and an even bigger cut in our planned defence spending.
Given General Sir Michael Walker's comment yesterday that it might be several years before Britain could undertake a major war operation, will the Secretary of State speculate by how much that period would be extended if the Ministry's budget was frozen in real terms during the first two years of a hypothetical Conservative Government?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problems facing our armed forces today originate in decisions taken in 1992, 1993 and 1994 by the last Conservative Government? Does my right hon. Friend further agree with the comments of the First Sea Lord to the Defence Select Committee yesterday, who said that stopping recruitment had been a dreadful mistake and had led to a black hole—particularly in respect of leading hands. Does he agree that we are having to pick up those mistakes now?
The previous Government's lack of spending on public services had a dramatic effect on hospitals and schools. The dramatic effect on defence was not always appreciated. We had to make good many of the cuts and shortfalls that we inherited. Year by year, we are doing that by spending more on defence—so it is right to highlight the cuts proposed in the unlikely event of the Conservatives again achieving power.
Given events at the time in eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and beyond, was it irresponsible of the last Conservative Government to react to the rapidly changing defence scenario and to adjust Britain's defence capabilities to new threats and scenarios—as the Secretary of State is doing in the world of today?
Would the right hon. Gentleman say that it was irresponsible of members of his own Front Bench to announce a cut in defence expenditure at precisely the time more needs to be spent, to provide security against threats? I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman questioning his own Front Benchers about their commitments. The right hon. Gentleman regularly urges the Government to spend more on fast jets and military equipment. There ought to be some consistency. I would be delighted to know the right hon. Gentleman's position.
I am delighted that in the context of the extra spending that we have promised, a range of successful military equipment will be available to support Britain's armed forces. I want to know the kinds of cuts and the equipment that the Conservatives will cancel in the event of the right hon. Gentleman supporting his own Front Benchers' efforts to reduce defence expenditure.
I had better carry on. There is a limit to how much fun one can have in one day.
The campaign in Iraq began just over one year ago. It showed our armed forces and the Ministry of Defence at their best and demonstrated how far we have come in achieving truly expeditionary forces able to deliver a range of military attacks over long distances. I have acknowledged that there were some deficiencies, but I welcome the thorough investigations by the National Audit Office and the Defence Select Committee, which have helped to illuminate the issues.
I have no doubt that Britain's intervention in Iraq has been and will continue to be beneficial to the Iraqi people. Earlier this month, members of Iraq's governing council signed a transitional administrative law for Iraq. That signing was a significant milestone.
Given the uncertainties of the modern world, standing still on defence policy is not an option. We must not fail our armed forces. We must ensure that they are structured and equipped to carry out the tasks and challenges that we expect them to face. The White Paper provides the policy basis on which we will rebalance our armed forces, to ensure that they are best placed to meet the security challenges of the first part of the 21st century. The White Paper recognises that to be an effective and influential player in a changing world, the United Kingdom must be committed to working in partnership with our international friends and allies and be prepared to take action when needed. By doing so, we shall together confront the threats presented by international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the challenges posed by failed and failing states.
The White Paper recognises also that we cannot predict precisely where and when we will next have to deploy significant numbers of UK armed forces in support of our foreign policy and security aim. We must modernise our force structures and harness technology and information networks to enable the UK to act quickly, accurately and decisively anywhere in the world.
I wish first to apologise to the House, as I have already done to the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, because I will be unable to be present for the winding-up speeches. I have an important speaking engagement, and I apologise for my absence.
I also thank the Secretary of State for his generous and warm tribute to my noble and gallant Friend Lord Vivian, who played such a distinguished part in defence debates in the other place for many years. He was extremely knowledgeable and very popular on both sides of the House. He was highly regarded and respected for his knowledge. We will miss his advice and considerable experience as a serving soldier—at the rank of Brigadier when he retired—and we extend our deepest sympathy to his wife and family.
I also wish to pay a warm tribute to the men and women of the three armed services for the wonderful way in which they have carried out their duties in the past onerous year, and for the patience and fortitude of their families—qualities that are often over-tested at present. I also pay warm tribute to our reserve forces, which have played a distinguished and remarkable role in operations in the recent past, and continue to do so. We salute their efforts and are grateful to them, their families and their employers for their understanding. Finally, I pay warm tribute to the civilian staff of the Ministry of Defence, wherever they work, for the remarkable and important work that they do to support our armed forces.
Even allowing for the Secretary of State for Defence having a bit of fun at my expense—which was entirely legitimate—it defies belief, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Jack pointed out, that the Secretary of State should think that the end of the cold war required no strategic reduction in the posture and shape of our armed forces: it was one of the biggest changes in military affairs for generations. However, it is a matter of common consent throughout the world that the peace dividend taken in many countries at the end of the cold war was probably overdone. It did represent a significant change from positional defence to the evolving policies that have found catharsis, in many ways, in the White Paper, including the creation of highly deployable forces, which was started in the last years of the Conservative Government and in which the present Government have made substantial and welcome investment.
We generally accept the White Paper's assessment of the strategic environment and the difficulties that flow from it. Indeed, it is clear that we have come to a decisive moment in history, when a new and diverse constellation of threats have appeared that are not nearly as obvious as their relatively certain predecessors. Today, we are confronted by an extra-national, religiously self-defined entity with something ominously like a nation's power to wage war. Terrorist outrages in New York, Riyadh, Istanbul and Madrid—I join the Secretary of State in extending our condolences to the people of Spain following that dreadful atrocity—are a horrific reminder of the new challenges we face, and the clear duty that the Government have to ensure that we are fully prepared to cope with such a disaster.
The hon. Gentleman deals with the issue in a statesmanlike way, but does he not think that it was opportunistic of the shadow Foreign Secretary to criticise the Prime Minister for meeting Colonel Gaddafi in an attempt to reduce the threat to which refers? That is particularly true given that my right hon. Friend's intention in that regard was announced last December and welcomed by the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Secretary of State for Defence. Was not that condemnation ridiculous political opportunism by the shadow Foreign Secretary?
From one statesman to another, I must say that, unusually, I am in deep but respectful disagreement with the right hon. Gentleman. All of us welcome the developments taking place in Libya, but the meeting may turn out to be premature. We welcome those developments and it is right that recognition should be given to Libya for the steps that have been taken. However, as so often, some of the language is overdone and the visit may be premature. That was the point that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram was trying to make.
While that uniquely threatening form of terrorism must be effectively engaged, we must also address the deeper and abiding reasons for its very existence. That will be a major duty for the Government in years to come. In the new strategic environment, as the Secretary of State said, homeland defence is of the first importance. Traditionally, our armed forces focused on deterrence, stability, and war-fighting missions in overseas theatres. The home front was regarded as a rear area, not a front line, and the job of securing it was primarily a task for civilian agencies, with the exception of Northern Ireland. However, the new strategic environment reaffirms the role of the Government as protector of the country against foreign aggression, and so defence of our homeland represents one of the primary tasks of the MOD and must receive the level of attention and co-ordination that it deserves. Indeed, as the White Paper states, our forces are expected to
"protect our citizens at home and counter international terrorism across the globe".
It is clear that a fundamental shift in the mindset of the MOD decision makers will be required—a shift of which, incidentally, there was precious little evidence in the White Paper.
An evolving national strategy for homeland security requires that the MOD may have to consider the employment of military forces in ways previously considered outside the scope of operations. What specific training are the armed forces undergoing in order to be able to respond to what the Metropolitan Police Commissioner suggested would be an "inevitable" attack on London? Furthermore, can the Minister comment on the level of co-ordination established since 2001 between the MOD, the Home Office and other Departments?
I shall continue my speech, if I may.
The tasks imposed on our armed forces will continue to be more and more onerous. It is clear from the Prime Minister's speech in Sedgefield that they could become even more so, but I have read the evidence that the Chief of the Defence Staff gave to the Defence Committee yesterday and it is difficult to see how the armed forces could cope.
The Government's definition of Britain's interests has continued to widen over the past seven years. The Government have deployed our forces on major operations four times in the past five years, and we continue to have major obligations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as maintaining a considerable presence in the Balkans, which was recently reinforced by the Spearhead battalion as a theatre reserve force. As the Chief of the Defence Staff made plain yesterday, those operations are making near impossible demands on our troops.
The White Paper states that
"we must extend our ability to project force further afield than the SDR envisaged."
Given the extraordinary demands being made on the services, the Government have a first duty to our servicemen and women to realise that it is they who will have to deliver success and that they will need to be reassured as to the direction of the Government's policies. I find that there exists at present a great sense of uncertainty and unease among our armed forces, who I am afraid feel very much taken for granted and increasingly believe that they are not properly supported, resourced or looked after. That is a serious message for the Government.
Given the great pressures to which the hon. Gentleman has referred and in the context of a possible standstill budget, in which of the areas in the world where we are currently deploying forces to assist international peace and security would he make cuts?
If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall come to that point later in my speech.
In discussing the White Paper and the application of the new doctrines, especially the network-enabled capability, it is essential that we do not forget the need for balance between old and new concepts, a point that was powerfully made in a distinguished and important speech, which I commend to the Secretary of State, by General Lord Guthrie in the House of Lords yesterday.
The lessons, from the Balkans to Basra, must be remembered. Infantry and armour on the ground can be augmented by technological wizardry but they cannot be replaced by it. The peace in Basra and in the Balkans is being kept by thousands of soldiers on the ground, so can the Secretary of State confirm that, given the exceptional tempo of operations at present, he has no intention of cutting back the number of infantry regiments? In our judgment, those regiments are sorely needed.
We welcome acknowledgement of the need to continue robust and collective military training at all levels. That is one of the lessons about which the Select Committee has raised concern. Its report states:
"The high number of operations which UK service personnel have been involved in has had an adverse impact on their training."
Reductions in training have a progressively damaging effect on fighting power, particularly at the highest level—joint combined arms collective training at formation level and above. It may indeed take years to recover fully standards and capabilities that have been lost.
The problem is truly serious and the Government must rectify it. If they do not do so, sooner or later it will lead to disaster and to the creation of lesser, more ordinary, armed forces. It is becoming clear that many who went to fight in Iraq did not have adequate training; for example, during pre-conflict training there was a restriction on track mileage for armoured vehicles. That seems an unacceptable state of affairs.
The Secretary of State must acknowledge that training saves lives. Many deployments involve considerable danger and it is unacceptable that our people do not have enough time to prepare for them properly and thoroughly. Such risks are unacceptable, but they are becoming frequent. I look to the Secretary of State to put that right.
I am not sure that the emphasis of the hon. Gentleman's point is clear. Is he saying that there is no need for additional investment in C4ISTAR—command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance—without which we cannot operate as a modern force?
I think a lot of things are unclear to the hon. Gentleman, but that was not the point I was making. I was saying that there is an absolute requirement for thorough and professional training before troops are committed.
The services cannot buy in experience. Under the current pressures, individuals at more junior levels are unable to achieve the career progression to which they aspire. The result is that, over a period of time, technical standards slip. Can the Secretary of State comment on reports that about 50 per cent. of combat arms training has been cut back owing to funding problems? Can he assess the impact of that on the armed forces' capabilities?
Overstretch has been a recurring theme for the armed forces in recent years. When I was Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the then Labour Opposition chided me in relation to overstretch but at that time the Army was only about a quarter as committed as it is nowadays. With overseas deployments coming thick and fast and the overall size of the armed forces in decline, overstretch is a recurring and fundamentally important problem. Indeed, it is only a slight exaggeration to say that most of the UK Army is either on deployment, returning from deployment or getting ready to go.
Last year, the MOD announced that 40,842 personnel were expected to be stationed abroad during 2004, representing about 40 per cent. of trained strength. That is, of course, leading to increasing problems with tour lengths. In February, the Secretary of State admitted that the Government had wholly failed to meet that target. What has been done to address that issue?
The armed forces have recently become grossly overstretched by the number and scale of their deployments. That simply cannot go on, as the Chief of the Defence Staff implied when he appeared before the Select Committee yesterday. As the Defence Committee report rightly states:
"The Government must recognise that the armed forces are simply not large enough to sustain the pattern of operational deployment since the Strategic Defence Review permanently without serious risk of damage to their widely admired professional standards."
What is the Secretary of State's response to the evidence of the Chief of the Defence Staff to the Committee last night? He warned that a large operation of the size of Telic would not be practical until we approach the end of this decade. The Opposition believe that to be a sign of Labour's fundamental lack of effective stewardship of the armed forces.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is an odd juxtaposition of policy to say that the Government are committing the armed forces to too many duties while saying that his answer would be to cut expenditure to a lower level than the Government intend?
I realise that the hon. Gentleman has the most serious difficulty in understanding even the simplest things; I have already told the House that neither I, nor the shadow Chancellor nor anyone else has talked of a cut in the defence budget.
May I turn to equipment and procurement? Let us have a look at the state of the Government's procurement policy on new technology. Despite the much vaunted, and, in fairness, welcome, defence industrial policy set out by the Secretary of State in October 2002, the Government have failed to apply it coherently to their procurement programme. An uncertain and anxious defence industry has been given no strategic steer by the Government about the essential capabilities that they believe the UK must retain. The cornerstone of their policy, introduced under the SDR, was smart procurement. That lasted a couple of years before being reinvented as "smart acquisition". Smart acquisition? Tell that to the trade unions that joined us in fighting tooth and nail to persuade the Government to buy the British Hawk advanced jet trainer. It was so smart a process that they placed an order just hours before 500 employees of BAE Systems were due to be handed their redundancy notices. Tell that to the work force in Telford, who for the past two years have been anxiously awaiting a decision from the Government on the future rapid effects system battlefield vehicle that the Chief of the General Staff requires to be in service by 2009, but for which there is not yet even a drawing. Tell that to BAE and Thales who read about the MOD's intention to take command of the aircraft carrier programme. Tell that to the National Audit Office, which found that Ministers failed to order sufficient stocks of kit for the Iraq war to be delivered in time. "Just in time" became in too many cases "Just too late".
This is not a popular position, but I think that we need to review our commitment to procure only from British defence companies. When there are procurement problems, there is less of a case for procuring only domestically. If we want our armed forces to have the best radios, the best rifles—the best equipment—we should move away from that absolute commitment to British Aerospace and the inefficiency in our procurement systems. What does the hon. Gentleman say to that?
I say that procurement is indeed a difficult process. However, we have a magnificent defence industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of people and is an enormous export earner. Of course, we should support British industry, but at the end of the day there is no strategic vision as to how that should be done. We propose to develop a proper strategic vision and provide real leadership for an industrial policy on procurement that will make sense.
The procurement budget is more than £3 billion overspent this year alone, and not just on the so-called legacy programmes for which the Government have been responsible for managing for the past seven years. There is a huge bow-wave of projects building up whose affordability is increasingly questioned. Programmes continue to slip, and worst of all, across the board significant gaps in capability are being actively planned for. Nothing better illustrates that than the maritime air cover problem, whereby the Government are gambling that we shall be able to get away with no such independent cover between 2006 and 2012 at the earliest.
Most chilling of all is the Government's language on platforms—tanks, ships and aircraft to the British public. Last summer, we were told that platform numbers would not be so important in the brave new world of effects-based warfare. Now, we are told that platform numbers will be cut to make way for investment in network-enabled capability. The truth is that numbers remain critical. The White Paper refers to the increased frequency and duration of operations. The Prime Minister alluded to all those ideas in his very important speech in Sedgefield. I can tell the Secretary of State that we need those platforms to undertake the number and scale of operations envisaged by the Government's policy. Ships, planes, armour and men cannot be in two places at the same time.
Did my hon. Friend notice that the Secretary of State did not comment once on any of the programmes to which my hon. Friend has referred? As a result, does he share my deep suspicion about precisely what the future holds for many of the programmes about which the Secretary of State failed to make any remark in his address?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing that out—I intend to deal with some of those points in greater detail—and I share his anxiety. The Secretary of State started off with a dignified and an important speech on defence that degenerated into a rather futile and pointless knockabout.
The White Paper is full of buzz words and phrases, but the truth comes out only in the following statement, which will interest my right hon. Friend:
"We will not be able to hold on to platforms or force elements that do not have the flexibility to meet the demands of future operations."
On the face of it, that is a sensible remark, but the Government make no effort to spell out which platforms or elements we will not be able to hold on to, even though if they have been identified, the cuts must have been identified, too. Can the Secretary of State clarify which platforms or force elements we will not be able to hold on to? If we are to have a proper discussion on the White Paper—the debate is meant to be about the White Paper—the Secretary of State will have to clarify the details of which platforms and force elements are involved, and we will want to debate that with him most vigorously. I note that he is to come to the House to announce the cuts that he intends to make in summer, and I hope that he will then be able to tell us which cuts he must make as a result of the new strategy in the White Paper.
Specifically, I call on the Secretary of State to confirm the informed speculation that the Type 45 destroyer procurement will be cut by a third. Is it true that tranche 3 of the Eurofighter Typhoon project will be cut? It is clear that mismanagement and indecision by the Ministry of Defence about the future aircraft carrier programme is seriously delaying the project and leading to a substantial waste of funds. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but it is well known already that the carriers will be one and a half years late. Is the objective of having two 65,000 tonne ships, each capable of carrying some 50 aircraft, to be met, and what is the new time scale? The MOD is wasting money and time through a lack of any strategic leadership on those projects and it must provide the House with urgent clarification on the management of those major procurement programmes.
We welcome the intention to enhance the strategic enablers of communication, logistics and intelligence—that may be the point that Mr. Smith was groping at through the fog that surrounds him—but as a former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Guthrie, rightly pointed out recently:
"It is important that we do not concentrate our efforts to too great an extent on one emerging threat—a knee-jerk reaction—forgetting that there are other threats which have not gone away for which we should still be prepared."
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pay the closest attention to what Lord Guthrie and Lord Boyce had to say in two very important speeches in the Lords yesterday. We believe that such principles are of the first importance. Indeed, the most recent events in Kosovo furnish excellent lessons in that regard.
The implication of all that the hon. Gentleman has been setting out to the House is that, if the Conservatives were returned to power, they would retain all our existing equipment and buy all the equipment that we propose to buy and that they would do so on the basis of all the previous plans set out, presumably by Conservatives in government. Has it ever crossed his mind that, in the face of a cut in the amount that the Conservatives are planning to spend, his figures simply do not add up?
For the record, the only people making cuts are the Government, and I am glad that I managed to get the right hon. Gentleman's head up so I could say that. I would like to say that he is like an old pike, but in fact he is like a rather fat trout, hiding in the weeds. It seems that I have to cast a particularly delectable fly over his nose before I can get him up, but I am glad I have done so. There are substantial cuts, and 14 separate strands of work are under way in the MOD to secure £1.5 billion in savings. That will do great harm to capabilities and to people's capacity to do their duty.
While we are on the subject of money, it might be as well for the House to remember that the Government imposed a cut of £500 million a year in the defence budget in their first comprehensive spending review—cumulatively, that will now be £3 billion—and that the so-called increase in the subsequent defence review will be £2.5 billion at the end of that period, so the Government have been responsible for a net cut in defence expenditure on that which they inherited.
Precisely. I suggest that the Secretary of State pay attention to what my hon. Friend says. He is a well-informed member of the Select Committee, and is absolutely right. Another issue that we must address is that of acquiring the technology necessary for the network-enabled capability. The baseline for Labour's defence policy was the 1998 strategic defence review, which, as we all know, was never properly funded. Many of the funding problems that face defence today are a direct consequence of Labour's failure in that regard, as my hon. Friend pointed out.
The Government have asked our armed forces to carry out more and more commitments, without adequate resources. At times, it has been extremely difficult for Parliament to discover the details that relate to the defence budget, as the Government have gone in for their usual practice of re-announcing old money. For the second year in succession, the Comptroller and Auditor General has refused to sign off the MOD's resources and accounts budget.
When the Secretary of State published the defence White Paper in December last year, there were said to be no resource implications. Since then, we have discovered that the MOD is undertaking 14 work strands to identify capabilities to reduce or cut, which will provide savings of £1.5 billion. I understand that those cuts will be announced in the spring. The very underhand way in which the Secretary of State is going around making those cuts is to be deplored, and we look forward to an opportunity becoming available for him to clarify and give us transparency about where he is looking and what the effects will be on the capabilities of the armed forces.
Against the background of that failure adequately to fund defence while at the same time increasing commitments, the Conservative Party must plan for the future. We believe that our front-line armed forces must be, and will be, a fundamental priority and that they must have sufficient resources adequately to fulfil their duties and extensive commitments. When we announce our detailed spending plans later in the year, we will make clear how we intend to shift money to the front line to maintain and enhance our defence capabilities.
Of course the consequences of more deployments and fewer resources are obvious in the serious deficiencies that have emerged during and after the completion of Operation Telic. The NAO and Select Committee reports have rightly highlighted the brilliant achievements of our troops and the great success that they achieved. However, both reports were also highly critical of equipment shortages that could have had disastrous consequences for the 46,000 British servicemen and women who were deployed.
In the defence debate last year, the Secretary of State said:
"I want to reassure the House and the country that British personnel deployed on operations will be properly equipped by the Ministry of Defence, and fully capable of fulfilling the tasks that may be required of them. They will be properly equipped to deal with the environmental conditions that they face. The Ministry of Defence has long had contracts in place to ensure that sufficient stocks of desert clothing and boots are available quickly."
He went on:
"The protection of our troops is an absolute priority. Contrary to press speculation, our ability to protect and operate in a nuclear, biological or chemical environment is second to none. Our training and equipment mean that we are prepared to meet this threat if necessary, and make a proportionately serious response should anyone use such weapons against us."—[Hansard, 22 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 336–7.]
That was far from the reality on the ground. The Defence Committee report has found that those assurances were fundamentally unreliable and wholly inaccurate.
Commanders were unaware of where equipment was stored; plates for enhanced ceramic body armour "disappeared" and never got to the right units; and vital biological and chemical equipment was "deemed unserviceable". Not enough desert clothing and equipment was available on time, and many people did not even receive their desert combats until the war was over. There was not enough ammunition, nor were there enough chemical protection suits. The Secretary of State shakes his head, but these are very serious matters. As the Committee report states:
"Given the potential threat posed by Iraqi armed forces, sufficient chemical warfare detection and protection were particularly important for this operation."
I again urge the Secretary of State to reread the MOD account of the brilliant assault on the al-Faw peninsula by 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines. It states that
"as final preparations were made on
The brigade was not subjected to a chemical attack. The report suggests:
"It was fortuitous that service personnel did not suffer as a consequence, but had the Iraqis used chemical weapons systematically, as employed in the Iran-Iraq war the operational consequences would have been severe . . . the lack of armoured vehicle filters seems to us to be a matter of the utmost seriousness."
For the information of the House, let me just say that the 7th Armoured Bridge fought through Iraq in a war allegedly to remove the threat of chemical and biological weapons without having on any one of its tanks the chemical weapons filters that were required. They did not arrive until after the war was over. That is a fundamental and deeply serious failing. It is not acceptable.
In the Iraq campaign—I want the Secretary of State to listen to this—the Government came very close to breaking the bond of trust that they have with their soldiers. He should not underestimate the effect of those shortages on the morale of the soldiers. This must not happen again, and the Government stand guilty as charged of very grave deficiencies that should have been overcome long ago. For an Army that has deployed four times in five years not to have the ability effectively and efficiently to deliver the logistics supply chain to its troops in the front line is frankly unforgivable.
I apologise for having spoken for so long, but I wish to say something about NATO. The White Paper rightly states:
"The UK recognises the pre-eminence of NATO".
We all agree with that, and I heard what the Secretary of State said. However, the security and stability of Europe and the maintenance of the transatlantic relationship are fundamental to our defence. The most logical way of responding to the 21st century threat would be through NATO as the primary military organisation. However, NATO's primacy has now been somewhat compromised. Since the St. Malo declaration, European Governments have spent scarce defence funds and considerable political effort on developing the structures of the European security and defence policy while operational capabilities—which the British public are repeatedly told will be improved by European Union defence—have continued to decline inexorably. That has led to our having grave reservations about Europe's plans to undertake a new defence initiative that involves duplicating the planning and command structures of NATO.
We do not need and we cannot afford to duplicate NATO's structure. There is nothing that Europe wants to do that cannot be done by using NATO's command and planning structures. The Conservative party supports greater co-operation between European countries on defence, but it should take place within the framework of NATO. Europe should not seek to create a defence structure as an alternative to NATO or as a counterweight to the United States.
The Secretary of State needs to be aware that the Government are in grave danger of undermining the resilience, the morale and the good will of our armed forces. These are the three cornerstones of all military success. The Government need to nurture them, and to nurture them with great care and attention through some very difficult times ahead.
When I first heard that a defence White Paper was to be published, my immediate reaction was to ask why. What was the purpose? After all, we had the comprehensive strategic defence review five years ago, and the SDR new chapter in 2002. The issues that the White Paper deals with, such as network-enabled capability and security challenges, have been subject to widespread debate in defence circles for some time. Why did we need another paper? Was it, as the media speculated and Opposition Members said, to give a policy framework to a hidden agenda for drastic cuts in defence spending?
I was certainly reassured by the Chancellor's Budget statement last week. He said:
"In the last spending review, we allocated the largest spending increase in 20 years to defence, and I can tell the House that I propose real terms increases in defence spending in the coming round."—[Hansard, 17 March 2004; Vol. 419, c. 333.]
That statement provides a stark contrast to the Conservatives' plans to freeze and—whether they like to admit it or not—to cut defence spending in real terms by £1.5 billion from 2005–06 to 2007–08. Cuts were carried out during their 18 years in government and, although they can talk about the cold war and the need to meet new requirements and demands on our forces, I, as the Member of Parliament for Dunfermline, West, will never forget the way in which they blatantly wasted more than £300 million of public money when they took submarine refitting from Rosyth dockyard and awarded it to Devonport for what it seems clear were merely political, and not defence and security, interests.
On defence spending, I am also reassured by the views expressed by the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Walker. In his lecture to the Royal United Services Institute in 2003, he made it clear that he welcomed the defence White Paper and considered that it was a long time coming. Yesterday, he said that, although he and his fellow Chiefs of Staff had not seen the details of future defence spending, they were enthusiastic about it. Many of us hope that we, too, will be enthusiastic when the details are revealed. My commitment, and that of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members, is to ensure that implementation of the White Paper does not in any way diminish the high standards and professionalism of the United Kingdom's armed forces, but maintains and builds on their considerable and internationally renowned achievements. I join others in paying tribute to our armed forces and their families.
The defence White Paper raises issues that we could debate for at least a week, but in the time available I will raise just three, possibly four. The first is the importance of relevant training and adequate time off for it. There is the training required not only by individuals but by companies and battalions. There is the training required to deliver jointery—effective operations by all three services. There is the training needed to operate effectively in multilateral alliances. There is the training demanded by network-enabled capabilities and the trend towards more frequent, small to medium-scale operations. Then there is the training needed for both war fighting and peacekeeping.
When commitments are high, as they currently are, a balancing act is often required to ensure that people are available for relevant training, and even more so when it involves overseas training, such as exercise Saif Sareea, which everyone agrees was essential, in terms of the lessons learned and experience gained, for the success of our troops in Operation Telic. I want an assurance from the Minister that the White Paper will not seek to reduce either training or recruitment. My impression is that we need to maintain our current force numbers and indeed to reach our recruitment targets if we are to enable time to be available for proper training, as well as for the home and family, in between all the demands of operational commitments.
I join in the sympathies that have been expressed to the family of Lord Vivian. I read his excellent contribution to the other place's defence debate on the White Paper in January, when he made the important point that 72 per cent. of the MOD's 350 planned exercises in a year were cancelled because of increased operational activity. I express my sympathy to his family. I hope that that demonstrates that his influence and knowledge will certainly long be remembered in this place.
It concerns me that I have heard that recruitment, particularly the surge in interest from the general public in the past 12 months, has been held back because of the demand and extra cost of training. I hope to hear the Minister say, if that is the case, that it is being effectively tackled.
I emphasise the importance of core training, of acquiring basic skills, of developing individual service identities, and of building loyalty and commitment to a band of brothers, to a regiment and to a service. They are a vital part of the standards and professionalism of our armed forces. However good the technology, it needs a strong team to make it work and to make it effective. Only a strong team can overcome the unforeseen and unpredictable nature of war fighting and peacekeeping.
That leads me to the second issue: network-enabled capabilities and the full range of training needed for them. The White Paper sees them as crucial to the rapid delivery of military effect, yet I raise some notes of caution which I have picked up, particularly from an article in the RUSI Journal by General John McColl, which is linked to my concern that technology cannot be a substitute for people and their skills and training. He points out that the battlefield is already an information-rich environment where poor connectivity and bad management of information can confuse rather than assist the commander. Indeed, I, and I think other members of the Defence Committee, have heard some stories in respect of operations in Afghanistan involving our forces and US forces. General McColl says in respect of information:
"knowing what is important and what is not, what is urgent and what is not, is essentially a human skill, unlikely to diminish in its importance, irrespective of the quality and quantity of information that NEC will deliver."
I do not think that any of us wants the development of human skills to take second place to technology. I have a concern that at times our major allies, the US forces, tend towards over-reliance on technology, perhaps neglecting the basic skills that are such a core part of armed forces.
In the time available, I will not carry on with what I was going to say on network-enabled capabilities, but will mention the third issue, which is my concern about what the defence White Paper says on naval and maritime capability and equipment. The House would be surprised if I did not mention Rosyth dockyard in my constituency at some point in a defence debate. Therefore, I declare a particular interest, which has been reinforced by taking part in the armed forces parliamentary scheme with the senior service, as it likes to be referred to.
I am concerned by the blunt statement in the White Paper that reductions in the numbers of our naval fleet "will be necessary." The future of the 1,800 people employed at Rosyth dockyard depends on work available from the naval fleet, particularly the future aircraft carrier. They have demonstrated time and again their ability to take on changes and challenges and to deliver on cost and on time.
I cannot resist responding to the remark by my right hon. Friend Clare Short earlier about looking to take some defence manufacturing work away from the UK. I have always argued and will continue to argue that all our royal naval ships and submarines should be built, refitted and repaired in the UK and nowhere else.
Tribute is not always paid, as it should be, to the part that the Royal Navy plays. That was clearly demonstrated in Operation Telic. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service provided essential fuel, supplies, equipment and food. The navy provided support and transported our troops to shore. It cleared mines from the waters and channels around Um Qasr, so that not only troops and equipment but humanitarian food and relief could be provided. Whatever the changes in our security environment, an island nation needs a strong navy to deal with the terrorist threats that we face to our ports and harbours, and a strong navy that can go anywhere in the world to provide command and control, and to supply the troops who are required.
I do not have time to talk about NATO and the European Union, but I am sure that they will be debated another day. Overall, I welcome the White Paper and the opportunity that it provides to discuss many issues that are key to our future defence and security. I pay tribute to the progress that has been made so far, but there is a long way to go, and I hope that we shall have many more opportunities to debate key aspects of the White Paper. It contains many right words, but it is short on detail and on the action to come, so we should have the chance to discuss them in coming months.
Our armed forces have led the way in responding to the changes and challenges brought by the end of the cold war, the threats posed by international terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Let us ensure that the White Paper and its implementation maintain their high standards and reward the armed forces and all who play a part in the defence and security of our country by setting an agenda that they and, in turn, the rest of the world are proud to follow.
It is a pleasure to follow Rachel Squire, who speaks on defence matters, especially naval issues, with such skill. I shall write to her about my visit to Rosyth in a few weeks, to which I look forward eagerly. Like her, I pay tribute to the armed forces parliamentary scheme, in which I, too, participated with the senior service, albeit in a different year from her. I was with Mr. Pollard, who was present in the Chamber until recently. The scheme is of great benefit to many people.
I join the hon. Lady and the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the late Brigadier Lord Vivian, whom I met when I first entered Parliament. The then Secretary of State was keen to encourage new Back Benchers with defence interests to get involved, and I accompanied Lord Vivian on several trips with the Lords defence study group. I remember Mr. Smith and me accompanying Lord Vivian to see warships in a base in the western isles. Lord Vivian was always courteous and generous in sharing his knowledge with members of other parties. He will be greatly missed.
I associate myself with the Secretary of State's comments about the terrible events in Madrid. For all of us, they have reinforced the recognition that the main threat to the United Kingdom is now from international terrorism. We must commit ourselves to the campaign against that. On that issue, the Liberal Democrats concur 100 per cent. with the Government.
I see the Under-Secretary of State for Defence on the Treasury Bench. Yesterday, he and I debated the reserve forces. It seems that defence debates are like London buses: there is none for ages, then two come along at once. The Government have been good, however, in scheduling regular defence debates, and I commend them on that. I also commend the White Paper, which contains much with which we agree.
Britain enjoys a unique position in being able to project power to enhance the security of the United Kingdom and the world in troubled areas. We should guard that ability at all costs. I pay tribute to British forces—and their families—who are undertaking brave work in reconstruction in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. In recent weeks, we have seen the real threat that our soldiers face in Kosovo.
I pay special tribute to the forces in Afghanistan. We hear little of what they are doing—indeed, a Territorial Army soldier in my constituency who returned from Afghanistan a couple of months ago told me that the forces there sometimes feel like a forgotten army. We should record our thanks for their service in the continued hunt for bin Laden and other terrorists. Such work is crucial to our defence. The threat from terrorism has never been far from our minds in recent days, and the armed forces have a significant role to play in tackling that threat. In Afghanistan, where, it is reported, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have enjoyed a resurgence this year, it is important to maintain our commitment.
The international security assistance force now has a much wider mandate in that country, but lacks sufficient troops to stabilise it. Will the Minister tell us whether there is a timetable for the deployment of more UK forces as part of the NATO forces in Afghanistan; and will he give a commitment that those forces will be found if they are required? The Liberal Democrats have an underlying commitment to NATO, and we are grateful for its work in the difficult environment of Afghanistan.
The Father of the House is absolutely right. I was suggesting not that such troops be drawn solely from British forces, but that we play our part as part of NATO. I suspect that during the Iraq crisis, he and I were both concerned about the unfinished business of Afghanistan. We know from our own history how difficult that country is to deal with, and I believe—I suspect that he and others do, too—that sorting out Afghanistan ought to be our No. 1 priority. That concern formed part of the arguments that the Liberal Democrats advanced 12 months ago.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although Afghanistan is a priority, it is part of a picture in which the middle east is also a priority? That picture runs from poppy growing in Afghanistan through to Turkey and Kosovo, where the shipments are split up and sent into the drug distribution networks. That is why the matter is becoming a strategic issue, rather than simply a frictional issue.
The hon. Gentleman is right. Events in Afghanistan—poppy growing and terrorism—have a far more profound impact on the security of the United Kingdom and our constituents than events in other countries in the region with which the Government chose to deal.
Our forces in Iraq continue to perform sterling work. Let me make one thing absolutely clear: although my party and I voted against the war 12 months ago, we do not believe that it would be right now to withdraw British troops unilaterally from Iraq. Yes, we want greater United Nation involvement and greater internationalisation of forces in Iraq, but as the occupying power, we have a responsibility to support the people of Iraq, and pulling our troops out now would be catastrophic.
However, I wish to raise a delicate issue relating to our forces in Iraq. One or two complaints have caused us concern, in particular, those regarding the death of Baha Musa and the alleged abuse of others in UK custody in Iraq. The Government have refused to hold an independent public inquiry into the matter, but holding some sort of inquiry might help to isolate the issue and reassure the Iraqis. In the face of continued Ministry of Defence intransigence, perhaps the Minister will at least undertake to make public the findings of any inquiry.
The practice of paying the families of those who suffer death or injury as a result of UK actions is also problematic. Upon receipt of such compensation, families sign a declaration waiving their right to make any future claim relating to the incident. There is a risk that that will not help to enhance the UK's image abroad. If the families have a case, perhaps that case should be heard in a court of law, and if further compensation is due, it should be paid. The MOD must treat the citizens of Iraq as we would treat those of the United Kingdom.
If I understand the hon. Gentleman's position, it is that he opposed the war in the vote that was held in this House a year or so ago, but that he now supports the work that our forces are doing in Iraq. Does he or does he not believe that Iraq is a better place for the invasion?
Iraqis are certainly better placed after the removal of Saddam Hussein. My party and I never said that we would rule out military action in all circumstances, but we believed that it was inappropriate to take military action before the UN process was complete. We also made it clear that if troops were deployed to the Gulf we would support our forces in the field. Mr. Soames criticised the kit given to British troops, but before the conflict it was the Liberal Democrats who raised the issue of kit for our servicemen. We, not Conservative Front Benchers, asked important questions about whether boots and equipment were suitable. At the time, it seemed that the Conservatives had signed up to military action long before the Government. They blindly supported President Bush in his endeavours regardless of the effect on our armed forces.
Of course, Iraq is a better place now that Saddam Hussein has been removed from power, but Liberal Democrat Members, like Conservative Members, Labour Members, nationalists and others who voted against the war never suggested that we supported his murderous regime. Is that what the hon. Gentleman is implying?
If one looks carefully at the surveys of opinion in Iraq, one finds that the overwhelming majority of people are glad that Saddam Hussein is gone, but terribly worried about the disorder and chaos that, they say, make their life worse in many ways. A properly planned and organised action through the UN might have made Iraq a very much better place than it is now.
The right hon. Lady is right. I remember the debates that she had with my hon. Friend Dr. Tonge, then a Front-Bench colleague of mine, about planning for the aftermath of the war. Many of us would have liked a full-scale independent inquiry into the war, including the question of whether we were preparing correctly for the aftermath. I certainly remember saying in debates in the House that winning a war would be easy but winning the peace would be much more difficult.
I seem to recall that when the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex was speaking I inquired six times whether he would give way. He was not courteous enough to do so, but I shall of course be courteous enough to give way to his Front- Bench colleague.
May I point out to Mr. Keetch that Conservative Members repeatedly asked Clare Short, then Secretary of State for International Development, to come to the House and tell us the plan for post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq? The Government's signal failure to share those plans with the House and the country had chaotic consequences after the war.
In the run-up to the war, history records, it was the Liberal Democrats and very brave Members from other parties who asked those questions. The Conservatives appeared to support the endeavours of President Bush, whatever he wanted to do, and it was the Liberal Democrats, some brave Labour Back Benchers, a number of important Conservatives, and Members from other parties who provided the real opposition.
There was a rather strange procedure, and I shall come to those matters if I catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. For the record, I came to the House repeatedly and there was a Select Committee inquiry, so there were full preparations. A lie is being told now that the chaos in Iraq is all because I thought that we were rushing to war too rapidly. That is such a ridiculous proposition that it shames the mental capacities of anyone who seeks to make it.
The right hon. Lady is more than capable of defending herself. On her actions, all that I would say is that she resigned from the Government after the war had begun. In fairness, many of us believe that her position would be strengthened if she had followed the example of Mr. Cook, who resigned before the war. Nevertheless, she did an honourable thing, and history will record that fact.
Turning to the defence budget, I congratulate the Defence Secretary on the assurances that he has received from the Chancellor. I hope that the "real-terms increases" mentioned by the Chancellor are significant and not simply academic, and that any additional funds for operations in Iraq will come out of separate Treasury funds. Caveats attach to the Chancellor's commitments. How much of the cost of British forces' continuing commitments in Iraq will be funded by the MOD budget, and what extra resources will the Treasury make available? Estimates abound, some of them quite wild, about the cost of operations in Iraq, so I would be grateful if the Minister of State could quell the rumours and confirm the monthly cost of keeping forces on deployment in Iraq. If there are increased costs, will they be met from a separate Treasury fund or the existing MOD budget?
The procurement budget is still over-committed, and adjustments need to be made at some stage. It would be preferable if the Secretary of State could make them sooner rather than later. Liberal Democrats believe that there are potential savings in the defence budget in the area of procurement. For example, speculation continues that the third tranche of Eurofighter Typhoon is already dead in the water and that the Government are simply waiting for the right time to cancel. Can the Minister give a commitment to the third tranche of Eurofighter?
Some indiscriminate cost savings are proposed by the Conservatives. The shadow Defence Secretary says that there will be no cuts, but a two-year freeze in real terms is effectively a cut. In his speech, he gave commitments—I listed them—on infantry numbers, training, deployment and procurement. He will not be able to do that with a two-year effective freeze on defence spending. We have questioned the rather ridiculous approach to defence spending that seems to be the sole approach of the Conservative party.
We understand that tough choices need to be made. The third tranche of the Eurofighter programme should be reviewed. That alone could amount to a one-off saving of several billion pounds.
I hear the Minister for the Armed Forces saying that that is being dealt with. I look forward to visiting Bulmer with my right hon. Friend Mr. Beith in a few weeks. I know that it is an important base that the Royal Air Force and other forces want to keep, and I know my right hon. Friend's commitment to that part of his constituency.
When the hon. Gentleman comments on the third tranche—the 155 Eurofighters that his party seems to advocate cutting—will he put on the record the work share implications and the costs to the United Kingdom industrial base if that policy were pursued?
We have asked detailed questions of the Government, some of which have not been answered. We want to know what the implications would be. Yes, we want to review the third tranche. That is a specific commitment from the Liberal Democrats. We would put some of the money that would be saved back into the defence budget to increase basic kit for our forces. That is in marked contrast to the swingeing cuts proposed by the Tories, who provide no details of the programmes that they would consider cutting and make bland commitments to our overall force plan.
"measuring the capability of our Armed Forces by the number of units or platforms in their possession will no longer be significant".
We understand that. We need to consider it in terms of the MOD budget. It is not a question of how much is spent, but how well it is spent. United States defence spending continues to soar far above that of the rest of the world. No matter what the Government's spending review eventually allocates to the MOD, the UK budget will always be a fraction of that of the US.
Clearly, however, much of the MOD's planning revolves around the UK working in conjunction with the US. The White Paper stated:
"The most demanding expeditionary operations, involving intervention against state adversaries, can only plausibly be conducted if US forces are engaged."
It is difficult to argue with that analysis—indeed, we support it, but it could have an immense impact on our armed forces. We cannot match US defence spending, so we cannot keep pace with the US in defence developments. At the same time, we are seen as the partner of choice in the Pentagon, and the MOD's planning is clearly based on that assumption.
The key to remaining fully interoperable, to remaining the partner of choice and to remaining able to link to US forces is what the Secretary of State calls network-enabled capability, or NEC. There is no doubt that NEC is a very important development in military planning and operations. The pre-eminence that it receives in the new chapter of the SDR and in the White Paper shows that it is at the forefront of MOD thinking. But there is also no doubt that it is expensive and that if we are to keep pace with the US, it will take an ever-increasing slice of the defence budget.
I should like a much clearer indication than the Government have so far given of the limits of that approach and how it will affect our ability to contribute to peacekeeping, stabilisation operations and so on. Our forces are overstretched. We know that from the Defence Medical Services and others. There is a balance to be struck between money going into NEC and money going into the basics of our infantry units. We believe that the correct balance may not have been achieved. As regards our reserve forces, we know from the debate yesterday and from the comments of General Walker and General Jackson that they are concerned about overstretch evolving.
The series of reports from the National Audit Office, the Ministry of Defence and, most recently, the Defence Committee, shows that a number of areas—for example, asset tracking—have improved as a result of operations in Iraq, and the Government must make a commitment on those areas and not blindly follow the US into ever-increasing technological warfare. Whatever the technology, one cannot keep the peace on the streets of Pristina or rebuild Iraq from satellites, so one must have troops on the ground.
The White Paper discusses "medium-weight" troops that are well armoured but rapidly deployable, yet it does not dispute the continued need for some light and some heavy forces. We believe that tanks, fighter aircraft and several parts of the fleet are less important than they used to be, and that point is argued in the White Paper. However, the White Paper does not contain firm proposals for reshaping our armed forces, which is a recipe for instability and anxiety—it is an interesting pointer to the direction in which the armed forces may be heading, but it hardly charts their course. We believe that that deficiency should be addressed sooner rather than later in a spirit of consultation and consensus, and if the Government give us that, we will certainly participate in the process.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy—"That's another fine mess you've got me into"—came to mind when I listened to the Opposition spokesman, Mr. Soames. I know that the hon. Gentleman looks more like Oliver Hardy than Stan Laurel, but it is his friend Oliver who has got him into the right mess of trying to justify the Conservative Front-Bench view. The Conservative policy of cutting or freezing the armed forces budget while making massive commitments is untenable.
Given what we had to do in Iraq, I wondered what policy the Liberal Democrats would have adopted if Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon had been their leader during last year's conflict. Whatever my views of Paddy Ashdown, I recognise that he adopts consistent views and would not flip-flop from one day to the next to try to fit in with perceived public opinion in either this country or Iraq.
The Defence Committee, of which I am a member, was in Bosnia and Kosovo one month ago. We recently published an important report—it has already been quoted—on the lessons of Iraq, and it made many recommendations, which I do not have time to refer to today. Some of those recommendations are extremely important, particularly those that point out that, given the armed forces' other operational requirements, Operation Telic placed demands on the armed forces that were close to the maximum that they could sustain. Whatever other lessons are learned—this point was confirmed by remarks made by the chiefs of staff in yesterday's Defence Committee hearing—this country's international commitments to NATO and the UN, our EU obligations, Operation Fresco during the firefighters dispute and the foot-and-mouth crisis placed enormous demands on our armed forces. We have an ongoing commitment in Northern Ireland, which unfortunately cannot be reduced significantly because of the current situation. On top of the deteriorating situation in Kosovo over the past week, difficulties may also arise in parts of the world that we are not even thinking about at the moment.
I want to highlight the issue of Kosovo and the Balkans. I was quite impressed by what has been achieved in Bosnia. Paddy Ashdown is doing an excellent job, and, although the agreement was not ideal, a framework was laid down in the 1995 Dayton accords, so there is a basis for progress. Discussions are moving towards establishing a joint defence ministry and forming an association with NATO's partnership for peace. That is all to the good. It means that in its political institutions Bosnia can begin to build on the already established levels of security and normality, whereby people from different religions and ethnic groups can walk around without being stoned or kidnapped, instead of having to be bussed under Army protection.
Sadly, one cannot say that about the situation in Kosovo, which has been frozen since 1999: almost no progress has been made in any of the major areas. Those who supported the 1999 bombing of Serbia without a UN resolution, believing that it would liberate the country and create a multi-ethnic, harmonious society, have to face the fact that that has not happened. Kosovo is a mafia society, where there is 60 to 70 per cent. unemployment and ongoing ethnic cleansing. The continual attacks on UN personnel have only recently been highlighted in the media again because of the appalling atrocities and outrages that were carried out last weekend. In the past few days, a church built in 1352 was burned to the ground, thousands of people were driven out of their homes, and between 28 and 31 people were killed. In the past two days, two UN police were killed. It is a society where criminality is dominant. My hon. Friend Mr. Havard referred to the smuggling of drugs through the Balkans.
If we do not get Kosovo right, we will have a running sore at the heart of Europe. Europe and the European Union must take the greater responsibility, but we must handle the situation very carefully. It is easy for the EU to say, "There can be no partition." On the other hand, we cannot suggest that we should allow an independent Kosovo on the basis of its current structures and its domination by one group—the largest group, comprising more than 90 per cent. of the population. Given the continuing policy of ethnic cleansing, we must take into account the plight of the minorities. There are Albanian minorities in the Presevo valley in Serbia; there is a substantial Albanian minority in Macedonia; and a right-wing, nationalist coalition Government have been elected in Serbia. There are significant political problems of instability. In thinking of a way forward, we must not foreclose any options, but be very sensitive to what might be required.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said, but does he think that it would have been better had NATO and UNMIK bitten the bullet and arrested people such as Agim Ceku—a wanted war criminal—and Hashim Thaci, who are now running Kosovo? Good people in Kosovo such as Dr. Rugova and Veton Surroi are being marginalised while these well known criminals and war criminals, who are involved in organised crime, are in charge.
I do not wish to comment on particular individuals who should be arrested. However, it is clear that there is an active organised crime network that is linked to political godfathers and overseas funding from expatriate communities, and that there have been ongoing operations. When we visited, we were told, "Being in the Kosovo police service is a tough business for an honest cop." That suggests that there are problems, and we need to be honest about them.
On NATO's future involvement, it is absolutely essential that we do not weaken security in Kosovo. Fortunately, we, the French and the Germans sent extra forces in very quickly, which I hope will stabilise the situation so that we can make progress, but there are worries. Owing to the good progress that has been made in Bosnia, the military presence there has been reduced, and we are planning to move from the NATO stabilisation force, SFOR, to a European Union force, EUFOR, by the end of the year. That force in Bosnia is the reserve force for intervention in Kosovo, should events go badly there. I would like assurances from the Government that the transition to EUFOR—I do not oppose it—will be robust, that the national caveats with some of our EU partners will be removed so that the force can work effectively, not just on the military side but on the paramilitary and policing sides, and that intelligence work can continue. That would be good, but I do not want to end up weakening our capability to reinforce what could be a much more serious situation in Kosovo, because we have run down or changed the mandate in Bosnia.
Another question is how we deal with the politics and dynamics for the future. Last December, the international bodies that oversee Kosovo agreed a document called "Standards for Kosovo", which was published and presented on
"A Kosovo where all—regardless of ethnic background, race or religion—are free to live, work and travel without fear, hostility or danger and where there is tolerance, justice and peace for everyone."
In the space of one and a half years from the date of that document, Kosovo is meant to become such a society, and have independent status. It is supposed to have:
There should be an economy where:
"Basic economic legislation is in place and enforced, relevant Government institutions and services are functioning, the budget process is functioning and meeting all legal requirements", and so on. Property rights should be resolved, there should be political dialogue and the Kosovo protection corps should be functioning in full compliance with the rule of law.
The Albanian-Kosovan community believes that it can sign up to that document, and that by the middle of 2005 Kosovo will become an independent state, within its existing borders. Is it realistic to pretend that all those things can happen in a society where there is no industry, where some of the institutions barely function, which has a Serb area in Mitrovica in the north that operates a parallel Administration—separately from the central Administration—and whose Parliament has banners, posters and symbols of one community only, not of all the communities in the state? We have underestimated the problems. We need to be robust about pushing forward the standards agenda, but we must be realistic. We will not secure investment to deal with unemployment in Kosovo until the legal basis is established. What pressures, then, does that put on our military and on our long-term commitment as a whole, through NATO and the EU?
As a man who raised an urgent question on this subject, may I say that my hon. Friend is making a speech of such importance that I hope that it is read by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister? Does he agree that something must be done about industry, particularly the repair of the nickel factory, which will be the engine of any economy that Kosovo might hope for?
I saw that nickel factory from afar—in fact, I smelled it from afar. Standing at the top of the monument in Kosovo Polje—the Field of Blackbirds—and looking across, it was all that was visible on the horizon. The temperature was minus 16° and the smoke was lingering in the distance. On top of everything else, there is serious pollution; it is a very polluted society. [Interruption.] Other members of the Select Committee who are present are laughing, because they remember that scene as well.
In the time remaining, I want to suggest a possible way forward politically and administratively. I was involved in the talks in Northern Ireland in 1997 and 1998, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, when he was Minister of State. One factor that made those talks successful was the involvement of the British and the Irish Governments, together with close support from the United States in the form of Senator George Mitchell, and financial and political support from the European Union.
We need to look again at Kosovo, and to create a structure that will bring together the Albanian and Serbian Governments and enable discussion, and that will involve the European Union, NATO, the United States and the United Nations. We need to put everything on the table, and to try to find a way through without taking entrenched positions on status, cantons or partitions. The process needs to be intensive and we need to begin it now. If we do not, we will not succeed in eliminating this running sore, which constitutes a threat to the stability of the entire Balkans region and potentially, therefore, to western Europe.
It is in our interests to take such action because we want a Europe that is harmonious. We do not want ethnic or religious conflict on this continent; we do not want Orthodox Christians pitted against Muslims; we do not want ethnic cleansing or any of the developments that have tragically occurred in the past week. We have got to act quickly and we need engagement. We have spent $8 billion in Kosovo since 1999, but one wonders where it has gone.
I agree with my hon. Friend that this running sore must be dealt with and that we need to bring everyone together, but there is another dimension. One reason why the economy is not moving is the lack of final status. The World Bank cannot engage and no one will invest, which means that the economy is bad. We need to secure final status to get the economy moving, and to make the progress that my hon. Friend is calling for.
I made that point earlier. I accept that until final status is achieved it is almost impossible to invest, but we cannot achieve that status without securing assurances about human rights and resolving the other issues. We are talking about a regional problem that requires a regional solution. The Albanian and Serbian Governments must be partners in a process that must also involve Macedonia and the other countries in the region. That process must be backed up by European Union resources and a security guarantee from NATO, and be under the overall umbrella of the United Nations. Even then we might not succeed, as we saw in Northern Ireland, but we have to try.
I begin by drawing the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. It is a particular pleasure to follow Mike Gapes, who devoted much of his speech to Kosovo. Clare Short made it clear in her repeated interventions that what is needed is final political status. It would have been a good idea to understand what that final political status was going to be before committing our armed forces in 1999. That lack of knowledge is precisely why we are in our current wretched position, which I, among others, predicted. We have ended up fighting the Albanians—the very people whom we went in to help in the first place.
The wretched truth of our involvement in Kosovo is that we now have to deal with criminal gangs—Mrs. Mahon mentioned them—who are responsible for the criminal behaviour taking place in that country. NATO and the UK—particularly our Prime Minister, who had a personal strategy—were manipulated by the Kosovo Liberation Army, which began a campaign of terror against the Serbian authorities in Kosovo. In turn, they reacted with all the brilliant strategic skill that might be expected of President Milosevic, triggering the intervention in his country. We should have been much clearer about what exactly we were intervening for, and what the political status would be at the end of the intervention. We still have to sort that out.
I welcome the fact that the President of Serbia is now talking seriously about partition. It is difficult to see any other solution in Kosovo than to accept the reality of the ethnic cleansing there. There are now very few Serbian schoolchildren in Kosovo; people with families have effectively disappeared from the country and gone to Serbia. We have to accept the reality of that position, as we accepted the reality in Bosnia with the de facto acceptance of two political authorities there.
I wish to deal briefly with the canard of the defence budget. Having been special adviser to the then Secretary of State for Defence between 1993 and 1995—not the easiest time for the defence budget—it is a little rich to hear the comments of Labour and Liberal Democrat Members today. Where were they in the days when the defence budget was under pressure? The Labour party was committed to a policy of a 30 per cent. cut to bring us down to average of EU member states, and the Liberal party trumped even that with a demand for a 50 per cent. cut.
I listen to the reinvention of history in this afternoon's debate with the same interest as I listen to the Chairman of the Defence Committee, who likes to present the Labour party as riding to the country's rescue in the 1930s in support of Mr. Churchill. I have to point out that, until 1935, the party was led by Mr. Lansbury, who wanted to disarm the UK in its entirety.
My confidence is the same as that expressed by Lord King in yesterday's defence debate in the other place. He said that whenever he had to go to a Conservative Chancellor or Chief Secretary to the Treasury to ask for money, he was satisfied that no Conservative Government would ever be found wanting in providing the defence resources that were required. At the same time, Conservative Governments have a proper responsibility to ensure that the fiscal affairs of the country are kept in good order. We are not a party wedded to public expenditure and taxation: we want to spend the public's money wisely. I believe that that is exactly what we did in our last period of office, which also explains why the present Government enjoyed such a magnificent golden economic inheritance. The Chancellor's success has come from his first Budget of 1997, when he continued the public expenditure plans that he inherited.
We should also remember that the strategic defence review of 1998 was accompanied by a budget cut in real terms of about £0.5 billion a year. By 2005–06, that will have rolled up into a cumulative cut of about £3 billion-worth of defence expenditure. The Government now tell us about budget increases, but by that time the sums allocated will have reached only £2.5 billion, so the truth is that the Government have cut defence expenditure during their period of office.
The Secretary of State for Defence devoted a considerable proportion of his speech to attacking my hon. Friend Mr. Soames and my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor, but, as yet, the Conservative party has adopted no position on defence expenditure. The Secretary of State alleged that the shadow Chancellor had spoken about expenditure being limited "within all Departments". As far as I am concerned, that is a wholly satisfactory state of affairs; I was not elected to the House to raise taxes or support overall increases in public expenditure. My responsibility is to ensure that my constituents' money is spent more wisely, so that they can choose where their private expenditure goes. The differing approaches to public and private expenditure represent the philosophical difference between the Opposition and the Government, and they are a proper subject for debate.
At present, the defence budget and our armed forces are in considerable trouble. I draw the House's attention to the remarks made yesterday in the other place by Lord Guthrie, with whom I do not always agree, especially about Kosovo. He said:
"My experience and instinct tells me that we are already in very difficult times, perhaps as difficult as any time since World War II. The only time of similar concern that I can recall was the late 1970s when it became necessary for a new government to rescue defence from ever increasing decline. But today I judge the situation to be far more serious than it was then."
That is the background to the rumours emerging from the MOD about the work going on in the lead-up to the annual round of long-term costings for the defence budget. Yesterday, the Chief of the Defence Staff told the Defence Committee that it was all part of the normal annual process. If so, the scale of the challenge is greater than anything experienced in my time at the MOD.
The 1993 public expenditure settlement called for a cut of £750 million in the defence budget, and we embarked on an exercise called "Front Line First". Something like 23 or 24 cost studies were carried out across the MOD, and they found savings worth £1 billion in the way that the MOD did business. No front-line provision was cut, and in fact £250 million in additional annual expenditure was made available. That was used for additional flying training for the RAF, and the Tomahawk cruise missile was also a product of those savings.
"Front Line First" was a serious and far-reaching study, covering the whole of the MOD. However, it had a deleterious effect on some areas, including recruitment and the Defence Medical Services. That is worth remembering: savings on that scale are very unlikely to produce a completely positive effect.
The MOD is now being invited to achieve savings on twice the scale of "Front Line First". The exercise is cloaked by the claim that it is merely the normal, annual process of balancing the budget and ensuring that everything fits the long-term costings that have been made. The challenge that we faced was only half as big, and our approach was to ask those members of the armed forces and MOD civil servants who would be affected for their ideas about delivering defence more efficiently.
Statements were made to the House about the process and its conduct. It began after the public expenditure settlement of October and November 1993, and was completed in the summer of 1994, when a report was made to the House. No such detail is available today, either to the House or to members of the services. All we know is that quite high-level studies are being carried out into areas of capability such as anti-submarine warfare or ground-based air defence. Those studies deal with the choices being made in the defence White Paper.
The White Paper is a terribly thin document, compared with its predecessors. They went into detail about where expenditure was being applied, and provided proper analyses of what the MOD was being invited to do and the defence tasks facing the armed forces. Of course, the nature of those defence tasks moves on with the times, but I counsel the Government to adopt a philosophical approach similar to that of the 1993 White Paper.
That seminal document laid out three sets of defence tasks. The first was the defence of the United Kingdom, the second was NATO and the third defence task was in effect the rest of the world. The analysis meant that defence tasks one and two were delivered with the force structure that was being followed by the Government and defence task three was a free good delivered on the back of the forces being provided for mandatory tasks one and two.
Times have moved on a little and we are faced with a different challenge, namely, the relationship between Europe and the United States. My concern is that we appear to be betting the shop on the US. Again I shall quote Lord King. Yesterday during the debate on defence the Under-Secretary, Lord Bach, said that it was inconceivable that there would be any major conflict in which the United States would not wish to be involved. My noble Friend replied:
"The Minister said that it was inconceivable that we would find ourselves in certain circumstances where the United States would not be with us. I merely warn him that it was my experience when I had any responsibility for defence that the inconceivable usually happened"—[Hansard, House of Lords, 24 March 2994; Vol. 659, c. 730, 745.]
In trying to decide on the shape of the armed forces for the future, we should try to pursue a relationship with the United States that takes advantage of network-enabled capabilities and of making sure that our armed forces can co-operate with the United States in terms of command and control, and so on. In that way, and in what we expect to be the majority of circumstances where we shall deploy troops on large-scale operations, we can operate effectively alongside the States. If, in the process of doing that, we ignore the development of our European allies' defence capabilities and do not ensure that we can operate alongside the Germans, the French, the Italians and the other main European members of NATO, we do so at our peril.
The Government are trying to cover both bases, but they must ensure that the UK Government have a choice about their future defence policy. It is the traditional geo-strategic position of the United Kingdom to have to try and cover both bases. If we end up becoming Robin to the United States Batman, we shall have neglected the ability to have properly organised, trained and equipped forces that can also operate with our European partners. Then we may be presented with what currently appears inconceivable: that the United States might lose the political will to intervene around the world. I suspect that we are seeing the high watermark of US willingness to intervene around the world, to bear the burden and to "pay any price", to quote a President of 40 years ago. The United States may reach the stage where they are not prepared to pay that price. The United Kingdom, with our spread of interests around the world, is a global, international country, and it is absolutely in our interests to continue to make a contribution to global security as the greatest per capita trading nation in the world. We need to ensure that we can do that either with the US or with our immediate neighbours in Europe. The challenge facing the Ministry of Defence is to produce policies and equipment that enable us to do that.
I shall return to the broad swathe of the White Paper, although I was tempted to narrow it down and deal with particular areas. I should like to comment on how thin it is in terms of its physical structure. Clearly, it is a conceptual document and it is not meant to have the detail in it. It is trying to get people to buy into a general conceptual approach—the detail will come later. It stems from the important decision, made some time ago, to introduce expeditionary forces in peacetime—however one defines peace since the second world war. The White Paper reviews the type and periodicity of operations and raises questions about the range at which British forces will operate. In that sense it differs from the last strategic defence review and earlier documents. The report deals also with homeland security and the military interface with the civil authorities.
Defence equipment is the sexy part of the document on which the press and others immediately pick up. As to air defence, there are questions about whether there will be single-role fast jets and if so, how many; training for multi-role tasking; and whether there will be 200 Typhoons or only 130 as rumoured. The Defence Select Committee will try to find answers from the appropriate individuals. Will there, for example, be a carrier version of certain aircraft? We hope to put flesh on the bones of the conceptual document. There have been welcome announcements about air tankers and refuelling but there are also issues about heavy lift capabilities.
Legitimate questions are being asked also about carriers—such as the length of their decks, and whether there will be a short take-off and vertical landing version of the joint fighter. What will be the role of destroyers? The Defence Select Committee recently reported on Operation Telic, the use of helicopters, and where the land starts and the sea stops. There are questions to be asked also about defence both on the sea and from the sea. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider seriously the place of the merchant marine and whether British ships and British-registered ships should be involved.
Mr. Howarth asked earlier whether the Bowman communications system works in the hills. I hope that it does. As that equipment is made in south Wales, there are plenty of opportunities to test whether it works in the hills. That massively important equipment is clearly having a disturbing effect in terms of integration, and I am sure that questions about Bowman training are being addressed, perhaps in some of the work strands to which Conservative Members have referred. We will wait to see.
It is now generally acknowledged that the importance of our reserve forces has recently grown and that they will be fundamental to the operation of the armed services in future. Yesterday, the chiefs of staff seemed to indicate that they were not so concerned about the size of the regular forces. But even if told that they could increase numbers, how would recruitment and retention be achieved? It is therefore clear that reservists will play an increasingly important part and that they will serve alongside and be integrated with the regular forces. We welcome the fact that people are signing up for civil contingency reserves but it will be interesting to see how that activity will be balanced against the work of expeditionary forces.
Compulsory mobilisation will bear examination in future. That has become an issue particularly recently, and the relationship between the reservists, their families and employers, and the support mechanisms to sustain them when they are mobilised will be an important part of the detailed planning for the future. We must also address how reservists are to be used, in formed units or as specialists. Perhaps they might be used as a reconstruction force. It will be interesting to see whether the studies indicate a need for dedicated reconstruction forces, as some other countries have suggested. I have been warned about that, however, and it has been pointed out that reservists do not necessarily join up to do their day job in the reserves. A balance has to be struck.
As for the regular services, there has long been a debate about how to support them and their families, and about their living conditions. Serious decisions will have to be made about where people are based, whether they belong to the RAF or, particularly, the Army. Some of our allies in Europe and the Americans will have to make decisions about how to use more agile forces that are capable of moving more quickly.
One of the chiefs of staff pointed out to me yesterday that both the reservists and the regulars are war fighters and that is what we must train them to be. They can step back from that role, however, to take on the additional tasks that people now expect from British service personnel. Our forces are utility players. They are so capable of performing a range of tasks that they fit easily into the three-block war—in which fighting is taking place at one end of the town, security operations in the middle and reconstruction at the other end. Our forces can change quickly from one activity to another, and that utility comes from their training and experience.
The detailed work on the White Paper should also examine the relationship between the MOD and other Departments engaged in relevant activity. That includes the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and how defence and diplomacy knit together. As one senior officer said to me the other day, "If you want to play brinkmanship, you can do it in several ways. You can give all sorts of indicators to be people, even when buying equipment." Perhaps the Treasury should also be involved, and planners in other Departments could suggest to its bean counters how to deal with decisions. The Department for International Development could also be included, as well as the non-governmental organisations. The Home Office is also involved in relation to homeland security. Arrangements to co-ordinate all those strands are needed, to make it work.
I, too, was in the Balkans with the Defence Committee recently. The area is an example of what is needed for nation building. The heady mixture of crime, nationalism and terror is a strategic threat that raises questions about the sustainability of operations over time. It is not the case that all excursions in the future will be like Iraq. Our forces will have to undertake a range of activities, and some will last longer than originally expected. We have only a small number of personnel in the Balkans, but they punch significantly above their weight. They do so because intelligence is crucial, whether it is military intelligence, defence intelligence, one of the various aspects of Secret Intelligence Service intelligence or police intelligence. All such intelligence has to be joined up. We have seen turf wars in the past, but they will have to stop. Perhaps we should have some special arrangements in the future for linking military intelligence with the other intelligence services to deal better with strategic threats. Human intelligence is crucial. It can involve only very simple things; for example, some of the Gurkhas in the Balkans told us that they wanted night vision equipment. We talk about the need for aircraft carriers and other things that cost millions or billions of pounds, but we can do very simple things that would effect a massive change.
On money, there have been declarations that the defence budget will continue to increase in real terms, although we shall not know the figures until the comprehensive spending review. Obviously, the announcement of a real-terms increase is better than one that says the reverse, but I shall be interested in the amount. I have some questions about the way the Treasury deals with these matters under resource accounting and budgeting, as there are various rumours about the effectiveness of that tool. Keeping the shelves stocked means a lot for Sainsbury's, but the exercise is quite different for the Ministry of Defence. Although resource accounting and budgeting can be useful—it shines a light on many areas, and many members of the armed services will admit that that was necessary—it must be deployed intelligently in the future.
Like me, the hon. Gentleman was present when the Committee made its report on Iraq and he will have heard the presentation by Francis Tusa, supporting his thesis that small incremental enhancements to our current capabilities can make a huge difference for our soldiers on the ground. Francis Tusa referred to improvements to CVR(T)—combat vehicle reconnaissance (tracked)—while the hon. Gentleman referred to night vision goggles, but I hope that he will join me in commending to the Minister the work of Francis Tusa in identifying small increases in spending that could produce a huge capability change for our troops.
I was about to say that the White Paper suggests that the whole process should be much more joined up and that many actors can contribute to the debate. I am concerned about the political pressures on us when we make statements about expeditionary forces—as we saw recently when we had to make decisions about going to Iraq. A declaration about an expeditionary force is fine, but that does not mean that I agree with George Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive action. We need to be clear about what we are doing in this place.
We all need intelligence to make those decisions—that is crucial. However, as a member of the Defence Committee, I am sometimes disappointed about the degree of openness shown by the Ministry of Defence, even towards parliamentary institutions that are actually trying to help to ensure that Parliament has proper information to make those crucial decisions. I appeal to the Minister of State on that point, because the Select Committee will certainly want continual monitoring and debate on such issues. One debate in the Chamber will not do the trick—nor will two or three such debates. We need enduring mechanisms to undertake such monitoring. Obviously, the Select Committee has offered to do so. The process involves not only the Ministry of Defence but other Departments; for example, in relation to intelligence for the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.
We need to ensure that there are ways of doing and ways of seeing. "Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom", as it says on the old trade union banner. Now and again, that is equally true in relation to the Ministry of Defence. Our decisions on the broader political questions are crucial, and we have to make them. What we cannot and must not do is abdicate that responsibility to those who do not want it, are not prepared for it and are the wrong people to undertake it—the military and the armed forces. Those decisions have to remain in this place and we must have mechanisms to ensure that they do so.
It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful and interesting remarks of Mr. Havard who, as a member of the Select Committee, speaks with great knowledge. However, I think that in stepping past the point of detail he let his Front-Bench colleagues off the hook. I would have expected the White Paper to deal in much more detail with our defence situation. Rachel Squire asked whether it was worth producing the White Paper. My answer, which I hope to explain in a few moments, would be, "Probably not".
I was not trying to duck the issue. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to have a word with Conservative Front Benchers. If they did not take up so much time, perhaps we Back Benchers would have a bit more time, and the same might apply equally to members of the Government.
As a Back Bencher, I have some sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says, but the debate is about the Government's stewardship of our current defence capabilities. What surprises me is that the White Paper is like a menu without prices. There was no mention of resources; there were no costed programmes; there was no detailed information whatsoever about the defence budget. The Chancellor has cited what he terms a real-terms increase, but we do not know how far above the rate of inflation the forward funding of the defence budget will be. There is a clear indication that all sectors of the existing defence budget are under considerable pressure.
Why does paragraph 4.14 of the defence White Paper, under the heading "Air", state that there is an opportunity for
"reducing the need for single-role fast jets."?
"Multi-role capability will also allow deployed force packages to be smaller where coverage of multiple roles has previously required additional aircraft."
There is then a sentence that I should have liked to be developed in more detail:
"We are now considering how and when we should reduce the numbers of combat aircraft in order to reflect these developments."
No one can make judgments about our future capabilities—whether in respect of purchasing future projects or in respect of sustaining the operation of current equipment—without that detail. The Government have left us dangling on a hook, wondering exactly what the detail will be.
As the Member of Parliament for Fylde, where BAE Air Systems has a significant plant with some 6,000 employees at Warton, I know that such paragraphs in the White Paper do nothing but leave uncertainty in the minds of the employees, the company and, certainly, the RAF about exactly what their capability will be. It is evident both from the Secretary of State's remarks and from the White Paper that air superiority is a precursor to successful operations in all the conflicts in which we have been involved in recent years.
Aircraft such as the Tornado and the Jaguar illustrate that we are capable of building systems to achieve that success, but those aircraft are now either reaching the mid-point or are towards the end of their service life—certainly, in the case of the Jaguar—and they need to be replaced. Eurofighter has been mentioned, but one must recognise that that aircraft was ordered in the first instance to replace many of the ageing types of aircraft to which I refer. The Conservatives can claim a proud part in ensuring that the Eurofighter project was not only started but sustained, particularly given the pressure from our German partners, who once wanted to pull the plug on it.
I congratulate the Government on continuing with the programme, but I have been tabling parliamentary questions for months asking Ministers when they will make a decision on tranche 2. The ministerial rubber band has now been stretched almost to breaking point. It must now be five or six months since negotiations between the company and the MOD began. There are some important issues in relation to cost. The company's position on the price it is asking for the aircraft and the development of a ground attack capability are central issues, but does it really require such a long time to elapse to get those negotiations sorted out, allowing BAE Systems and its employees at least a degree of certainty?
In answer to my last parliamentary question on the issue, the MOD assured me that moneys had been put in place to try to ensure a smooth flow between the existing activity on tranche 1 and the fact that tranche 2 is now late, but I have now completely lost sight of whether those programmes can sustain the work force or whether some of the rumours that are now sweeping Warton and Salmesbury will come to fruition and the company will start shedding labour. Some difficult decisions will have to be made.
Taking at face value the Secretary of State's speech of October 2002, he made it clear that the United Kingdom had to maintain a strategic aerospace capability, to sustain our technological ability and our design and build capability. We need all those things if we are to maintain independence of action with our own equipment. Unless the decisions are made about tranche 2, we will not know whether that skilled work force can be sustained.
Mention has been made of tranche 3, about which I would not expect the Minister to give a clear view from the Dispatch Box at this juncture: there are negotiations about the aircraft, and the capabilities of the plane may move on, just as tranche 2 is different from tranche 1. However, we need certainty about tranche 2.
It was perceptive of the MOD to spend £3 million with BAE working up a configuration to determine what the naval version of such an aircraft would look like. If nothing else, it positions itself as an extremely useful negotiating chip in the discussions that the MOD will inevitably have on the final cost of the joint strike fighter. We are heavily involved in the project and the new factory at Salmesbury has begun work to make the 10 per cent. share that we have won in the joint strike fighter. The Americans understand competition if nothing else and, if we want to keep their minds concentrated on giving us good value for money for the aircraft, doing something about the marine version of the Eurofighter would be an extremely good way of going about that task.
If the hon. Members for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) and for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) and others had been in their places, I am sure they, too, would have wanted to echo the questions that are being asked in BAE Systems about the future of the project. However, I return to the White Paper, which is completely silent on those questions. The Government show a lack of responsibility in raising questions to which they do not supply answers.
We are at the top table on the joint strike fighter because we have the capability in terms of skilled manufacturing ability and our knowledge of short take-off and vertical landing. However, in a parliamentary question to the Prime Minister, I asked what was being done about the findings of the Rand Europe report—which the MOD commissioned some time ago—about the possibility of the United Kingdom being responsible for the repair and maintenance of the joint strike fighter or even its final assembly and check-out. All that requires the United States to release to us, beyond its current agreements, the technologies that underpin the aircraft. I was reassured not only by what the Prime Minister said, but by the nodding of the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary, that all these matters were actively under discussion with our partners in the United States. So far, we have had no word back at all from the Americans that they will release to their closest ally the detailed technologies that underpin the aircraft. So if somebody drops a hammer on and dents the plane that we ultimately buy, we will not have a clue how to repair it, because no one will have told us how it was put together. That raises an important point.
If the United Kingdom, as Ministers have suggested, is to work more in parallel with and alongside the United States in terms of our war-fighting capability, the United States must stop being so selfish is in guarding these technologies. If our systems are to develop alongside each other, there must be compatibility and a genuine understanding that allies must work together on projects such as the joint strike fighter. If we were to go into repair and maintenance and, ultimately, the updating and upgrading of the weapon system when it comes into service, that would provide continuity of employment for tens of thousands of very skilled aerospace workers.
The White Paper is also silent about the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft. This was a £1.8 billion project. Lots went wrong and BAE has worked hard to get it back under way. We hope that a prototype aircraft will soon fly and that the MOD will order another two maritime versions of it, but what about the other 18 fuselages that remain? There was no word from the MOD as to whether the capability of the aircraft was going to be developed, perhaps even as a bomb-carrying aircraft.
We have heard about the new technologies. I remind the Minister of an article in the August 2003 edition of Aerospace International about unmanned aerial vehicles, which appeared under the heading, "The UK—lagging behind?". The Secretary of State talked about Watchkeeper but said nothing about the UK's unmanned combat aerial vehicle or unmanned aerial vehicle demonstrators. The article simply asks, "Where are they?" We seem to have no work going on to develop our technology. New developments will be utterly central to supporting our troops on the ground, enhancing our war-fighting capability and possibly in future delivering weapons systems by UAVs. Where is the UK's position? I say all that against the background of the aviation innovation and growth team report.
The Minister who is to reply to the debate will have read the Secretary of State's speech in October 2002, when he said:
"But there is a wide range of defence industrial capabilities which we would like to retain in the UK industrial base for economic reasons."
I hope that he meant defence reasons as well. He continued:
"These bring valuable employment opportunities to particular regions of the country; they add high economic value; and they can contribute to defence exports to civil applications".
He went on to say why we must sustain our military aerospace capability. Perhaps in his reply the Minister will tell us what comes next after Eurofighter and the joint strike fighter, because there is no vision in the White Paper about what our air-fighting capability will be over the next 20 or 25 years.
In 1986, the experimental aircraft programme, the precursor to Eurofighter, flew, yet only now, in 2004, are Eurofighters being accepted into RAF service. Unless we have some indication about how that capability is to be sustained, companies such as BAE Systems will struggle to know what their future role will be. Should they amalgamate with United States companies? Should they form closer alliances with Europe? If we are to have an independent capability to maintain our air war-fighting capability, one thing is clear: we need an industry that has the technologies to form alliances, whether with European or with American companies, and to take part in joint projects. Without a clear steer from the Government and without guidance, the company and its work force will struggle to see their future.
Some important issues have been raised. If I have one wish, it is that, at the end of the debate, the Minister will remove some of the uncertainties surrounding Britain's military aerospace capability.
Let me conclude on a positive note by putting on record my appreciation of the work that the Government have done in helping finally to bring to a successful conclusion the longest running saga in terms of overseas export orders: that involving the Hawk, the finest military training plane in the world. At last, the Indians have signed the piece of paper and the "march you up to the top of the hill and march you down again" scenario is over once and for all. I am delighted about that. The work started under a Conservative Government and was finished by this Government. I hope that the Government will show the same determination as they showed in securing the Hawk order to remove the uncertainties that surround many of our vital aerospace projects.
All of us who listen to him can easily understand Mr. Jack, and I have considerable sympathy for his concerns about keeping together the skilled teams at Warton and elsewhere. Nevertheless, I have an unpleasant and unpalatable question. Some of the contracts to which he referred—not all, but some—are surely for systems that are as relevant to Britain's 21st century needs as a fleet of dreadnoughts.
Let us take for our example the Eurofighter. As I understand it, 232 are on order, at about £80 million apiece. We have to ask whether we should give such financial priority to a cold war interceptor. What would be the consequences of reducing the number in terms of our relations with the German, Italian and Spanish partners? Some of us wonder whether such systems are suitable for any plausible 21st-century task, but before any decision can be made, we have to know the situation regarding contracts. What contracts have been signed, and what would be the cost of undoing a contract at a later stage? Ministers face an extremely difficult problem. The same sort of argument can be made in respect of Type 42 destroyers, at £1 billion apiece. Some of us have to ask at this stage what would be the military objective of such a sophisticated weapons system in a foreseeable task that our country may be called on to perform?
Sometimes—not very often—a colleague makes a speech in this Chamber that states a problem more eloquently than one could have done oneself. As one who raised the issue of Kosovo and was granted a private notice question on the subject on Monday, I can only say that the speech made by my hon. Friend Mike Gapes should be read by all who have to make decisions on that desperately difficult problem in the Balkans. I am glad that he referred to the nickel factory.
I shall simply relate a personal experience, and I hope to be forgiven for crudity. I went to stay for four days in Kosovo with my national service regiment, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, which was on duty there. In the presence of the then colonel, David Allfrey, and the then second in command, now colonel of the regiment, Ben Edwards, I was able to talk at length with some of the local Albanian leaders. I would not have had that conversation had not the guns of the British Army been behind me, because they were pretty rough customers. They were truculent, saying, to put it crudely, "Of course we're going to win—we have the power of the penis." By that, they meant that they were going to use population to achieve their objective—greater Albania. Some of us who opposed involvement in Kosovo from the beginning thought that we were being taken for a ride—twisted around the little finger of people whose agenda was very different from what Britain and the United States thought they wanted. The way in which we were manipulated by the Albanians must teach us a lesson.
Last week, with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, some hon. Members had long and serious discussions with the incoming Serbian delegation. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South was present and my hon. Friend Mrs. Mahon chaired the meeting, and they will bear out my account. The Serbs said, among other things, that it was all very well to talk about rebuilding Belgrade, but the old buildings were constructed under the Austro-Hungarian empire, so the centre of their capital city could not be rebuilt unless every stone was taken down and construction started again. Bitterness is mounting, and my impression, which my colleagues might share, was of a highly dangerous and explosive situation. People say that it will take between $30 billion and $100 billion to improve the position.
Turning to Afghanistan, after two and a half years, it has been restored to the warlords without our achieving the stated objective of the Afghan bombing, namely the apprehension of al-Qaeda members responsible for 9/11. What exactly are our objectives, and what is the time scale? Having listened to Mr. Keetch, I believe that we are entitled to say that it is easier to put troops in than pull them out. I hope that in the winding-up speeches we will be told what the short and medium-term objective in Afghanistan is. Drug production has gone up 14 times since the Taliban were in power, but I do not think that was the objective of the military intervention.
As for Basra, Brigadier Nick Clark said that there is a clear attack, not on the local community but on the coalition forces. We are seen more and more as an occupying army, and our presence is regarded as an extension of the crusades, which is highly dangerous. The Whips rightly asked me to be brief, so I shall ask one final question, which is not meant to imply, "I told you so." At 5.6 am on
The debate started off with my saying that the Rosenbergs, Alan Nunn May, Klaus Fuchs and Bruno Pontecorvo combined may not have done as much damage as that research student. That is all history, but, as I have had rather succinct answers to my parliamentary questions, I want to know, once people were told that there was a problem, what effort was made in the past 10 years to follow it up and keep tabs on it. That man, who sold information to the Iranians, North Koreans and whomsoever has created mayhem, which even the atom spies did not achieve 20 years before. My question is, was that followed up, and have any lessons been learned?
I, too, will try to cut my speech down and keep it brief.
We had to deploy an extra 750 troops to Kosovo last week. The entire violent episode exposed the character of the Albanian separatists, some with terrorist and criminal links, who are now in leading positions of power in that province. The Kosovo Liberation Army never disbanded. It simply became the Kosovo Protection Corps. Agim Ceku—I name him again—the man who ethnically cleansed the Krajina, is in charge of the Kosovo Protection Corps.
I agree with my hon. Friend Mike Gapes that what we saw last week was a flagrant example of ethnic cleansing: 3,500 Serbs were burned out of their homes by well organised gangs and joined the 200,000 who have been expelled from the province during the past five years. Those people are scattered all around Serbia and Montenegro in camps. Mr. Randall and I, as officers of the joint group on Yugoslavia, visited some of those camps. I wish other hon. Members would take the trouble to do so. I am pleased that the spotlight is again on those forgotten ethnically cleansed people. Maybe now note will be taken of them.
The violent attacks against the Serbs and other minorities have gone on under the UN, KFOR and so-called protection force administration since the military campaign ended. It is inconceivable to me and many others in the House that thousands of troops from 30 countries are unable to protect the Serbs and other minorities living in the province. Between June 1999 and last week there were 6,923 attacks on the minorities by the Albanian separatists. I make a distinction between them, and people like Dr. Rugova and the men and women of peace in the Albanian community, but the separatists are in charge and they want an ethnically pure state and a greater Albania. Why else would they destroy 154 churches and monasteries? Why else would they want to wipe out a whole culture and eliminate diversity? Their aim is a greater Albania. I am old enough to remember another regime in Europe that sought to eliminate other races and cultures. The consequences for Europe and the world were disastrous.
"What happened last week, orchestrated and organised by the extremist factions in the Albanian community, is unacceptable—it should be condemned and it's a shame."
The UN spokesman said that more than 50,000 people took part in the violence. Only 163 have been arrested. The mob also turned against KFOR and the UN. We know, too, of the tragic killing of two UN policemen.
KFOR must take immediate steps to provide effective protection for the minority communities living under siege. The war criminals such as Agim Ceku and Hashim Thaci who give the Albanian community such a bad name should be arrested and taken to The Hague. UNMIK, which on several occasions has tried to overturn warrants and criminal proceedings against Ceku, should stop doing that.
Let me say something about the links between the separatists and other extremist Islamic groups. On
"During the first half of August 2003 300 Albanian-trained guerrillas including approximately 10 mujahedin (non-Balkan Muslims) were infiltrated across the Albanian border into Kosovo, where many have subsequently been seen in the company (and homes) of members of the so-called Kosovo Protection Corps. The guerrillas were trained in three camps inside the Albanian border at the towns Bajram Curi, Tropoja and Kuks where camps have been in operation since 1997".
From visits to Interpol as a representative on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I know that some extremists in Albania and the Kosovo Liberation Army have links with al-Qaeda. Kosovo is in the hands of mafia extremists, organised crime is the main economic activity, and the sinister link to terrorism is definite. I agree with my hon. Friends, and, in particular, with my right hon. Friend Clare Short, that we must have a serious discussion about the final settlement in Kosovo, because the issue will not go away.
I shall turn briefly to the most pressing and dangerous situation facing our armed forces today—Iraq. I wish the Secretary of State had updated us on the horrific pictures that we saw yesterday, in which our soldiers were fighting people who were throwing petrol bombs at them. I hope that the Minister will address that point when he sums up. I deeply regret that, just more than one year ago, we were unable to stop what I consider to be an illegal, immoral and extremely dangerous invasion of Iraq.
We know that 600 coalition troops, including 60 British troops, have been killed, and thousands have been injured. It is deeply shaming to the Bush Administration that they take their dead and injured back to America in secret, and I congratulate our Government on honouring our dead, on making sure that the injured get the best possible treatment and on not trying to keep the public away.
I want to say something about the civilians who have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of the war, because most of the people who have been killed are civilians and their deaths are rarely reported. Dr. John Sloboda, an academic with the Oxford Research Group, has set up a body called, "Iraq Body Count", which is an independent count of media-reported civilian deaths as a result of coalition military action and the occupation. His sources are published and are easily available on the internet for anyone to check or dispute, but, to the best of my knowledge, no one has done so up to now.
Dr. Sloboda and his team should be congratulated, and I shall quote from "Iraq Body Count", because, as part of the occupying force, my Government have a responsibility towards Iraqi civilians, and, at the very least, we should report and record the dead and injured:
"An Iraqi family . . . lost 11 members when U.S. soldiers opened fire as their sport utility vehicle approached a checkpoint."
The mother in that family kept saying this over and over again to the media:
"'I saw the heads of my two little girls come off,' Hassan's wife, Lamea, 36, recalled numbly. She repeated herself in a flat, even voice: 'My girls—I watched their heads come off their bodies. My son is dead.'"
Similarly, we were responsible for civilian deaths when we hit the wrong targets. At about 6 am, one family sheltering in a bunker, which had been constructed when the last American bombs fell, lost 10 members as the house collapsed around them. How can one compensate for that kind of tragedy?
Killings are still taking place under the occupation, and even in UK-controlled areas such as Basra, public security is inadequate. We now know that up to 10,600 civilians have died since we invaded in March 2003, and the civilian death toll is the worst from a war waged by either the United States or the United Kingdom since the Vietnam war. We should all reflect on that point: we should certainly not try to hide from it, and we should record the figures. The US-UK coalition has repeatedly said that it will not record the figures, and now the US-appointed Baghdad authorities have refused to recognise the need and the duty to account for those civilian deaths. As Dr. John Slobodo says, Iraqi civilians are now relegated to the status of "non-people."
Decisions have to be made about Iraq. With the death toll of American soldiers mounting and a presidential election in the offing, the United States is desperate to transfer powers by the end of June and wants to step back from the bubbling cauldron that it helped to create. That strategy of bringing democracy to Iraq stands little chance of success unless certain things happen. The temporary governing council, its ministers and their advisers all owe their allegiance to Mr. Bremer and the United States, and the Iraqi people know that. Many people in the interim Government are still based outside the country and show no signs of returning with their families to settle in Iraq, so they do not command much public confidence.
The intercession of the United Nations is welcome, but we want it to be done in a proper manner, and only if Kofi Annan is able, and is seen to be able, to act as a genuinely independent element in resolving the impasse. If Iraqis perceive him as providing a fig leaf for United States intentions, he, too, will be rejected. The situation in Iraq is desperate, and requires much more discussion.
I rise to set the record straight on the very important question of why there is such a disastrous lack of security in Iraq and why better arrangements were not put in place to help the people of Iraq to reconstruct their country. That issue is obviously terribly important for the people of Iraq. As I said earlier, the current disorder is leading them to say that no matter how much they welcome the fact that Saddam Hussein is gone, the situation in which they are living is worse than that which preceded it. The question of how we are to bring them security is enormously urgent and difficult. It is important to learn how we got into this mess in order to find our way forward.
More broadly, in the post-cold war world, the military phase of any conflict that arises from failed states and civil wars is quite short and relatively easy. The reconstruction of countries is the difficult and complex part, but it is crucial to ensuring future stability and security. We need to learn those skills more effectively and hone the international system for dealing with such situations.
I have already drawn the House's attention on a point of order to the false claim made in the report by the Select Committee on Defence entitled, "Lessons of Iraq", which was published on
"It has also been suggested that" the Department for International Development's
"role in post-conflict planning was constrained by the attitude of the then Secretary of State towards the prospect of military action. Although our witness from DfID denied that this was the case, we remain to be convinced."
That assertion is completely untrue and is based on absolutely no evidence. I am enormously surprised that any Committee of this House should conduct itself in such a shoddy manner by making an assertion based on no evidence, not having taken evidence from the Member concerned.
Following the publication of the report, I wrote to the Chairman of the Select Committee telling him that the claim was untrue and offering to give evidence to the Committee on the preparations that were made. He replied that the Committee stood by the false claim, and I was invited, along with anyone else who might be interested, to provide written evidence to rebut it. What a topsy-turvy world we appear to be living in. I hope that no one makes that suggestion to the Home Secretary in relation to our courts—he might even take it up.
My right hon. Friend is attacking the Defence Committee. She should be aware that during our investigations over the past year many of us on the Committee had extensive discussions with many people about what was happening in Iraq. On that basis, we were not satisfied with the response that we received from officials in her former Department. The Chairman of the Committee is not here at the moment, so he cannot reply on his own behalf. I should like to place on the record that the Committee has written to my right hon. Friend Clare Short, and that if she has something to communicate to us, she can no doubt do so, and we can continue with it later.
I am sorry, but obviously my hon. Friend was so busy getting up to rebut what I said that he did not listen to it. I just referred to the letter that I received—a letter that invites me not to give evidence but to rebut a false assertion, which was based on no evidence whatever. This is a serious matter. It is an insult to me and an insult to my former Department. It also suggests that the Defence Committee is not interested in learning lessons and finding out the truth about why there is such chaos in Iraq. That is a serious matter for the government system.
I will not give way, because I would like to get on and make my speech.
From the very beginning, my view on Iraq was that it was right to threaten to use force to back up the UN's authority, because containment was crumbling and sanctions were hurting, but that there was no need to rush. That is where all the failure has come from. The Defence Committee failed to face up to the reasons for the lack of supplies for our troops and the lack of preparation for the possible use of chemical weapons. Defence intelligence had assessed that there was such a risk. Those reasons were that the date for war was fixed early on, that there was deceit about that date having been fixed, and that the preparations for military action came very late and were not fully made.
No, I will not give way because I want to get on, if I may.
Matters were different, however, over preparations for the reconstruction of Iraq. We prepared for reconstruction with international support. When I agreed to stay in the Government, having been pressed very hard to do so by the Prime Minister—I had intended to resign at the time of the war and to vote against the Government—I did so on an absolute promise that there would be a UN mandate for reconstruction, and that reconstruction would be internationalised. I decided to take the flak and the criticism for failing to resign because, knowing that the war was unstoppable, I wanted to try to ensure that reconstruction was carried out properly. That was the most crucial matter to the interests of Iraq and the people of the middle east.
Various preparations were made. First, the military, as an occupying power, has a duty under the Geneva convention and The Hague regulations to keep order and to provide for any immediate humanitarian needs. We worked with our Ministry of Defence to purchase food and make preparations for the possible humanitarian crisis, giving our support and advice. Secondly, we provided funding and support for some British non-governmental organisations that have experience of working in Iraq. We gave much support to the Red Cross, which worked in Iraq through the war but, tragically, withdrew afterwards because of the disorder.
We also supported the UN in preparing its intervention. The UN knew an awful lot about Iraq; it had been running the oil-for-food programme for a long time and had considerable numbers of Iraqi staff as well as international staff. Those staff were withdrawn during the conflict, but the UN had supplies in the region and was ready to go back in. The UN, through the office of Kofi Annan and his deputy Louise Frechette, was fully prepared to move in, under the sort of mandate that it had been given in Afghanistan, to help the Iraqis to put in place an interim Government to start the reconstruction. If that had happened, the whole international community would have engaged with the process. I had discussions with my fellow Ministers across the international system, including in France, Germany, the Scandinavian countries and Canada, and had said to everyone that, whatever our differences over the route to war in Iraq, we must all come together to help Iraq to reconstruct. All that was in place, and ready to go.
So what happened then? There was a big argument, which the Select Committee report alludes to, between the State Department and the Pentagon in the United States of America. The State Department had made full preparations for the situation after the conflict, but it was pushed to one side. The Pentagon took over, made it absolutely clear that it did not want any significant role for the UN, and set up ORHA—the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq—which was assembled only weeks before the conflict began. Major-General Tim Cross, whom I had worked with in Kosovo in the support of refugees, became its deputy and found that the furniture was still being moved about and that there were no plans.
That is what happened. The international system and all the international preparations were brushed to one side, and ORHA moved in with retired general Jay Garner in charge. That body was in Kuwait for a time, and it had been busy with Secretary Rumsfeld selecting which Iraqis would have significant positions. No proper preparations were made for keeping order or for giving the UN a proper role—which would, in turn, have brought in the international community. Members will remember the arguments. Will the Indians come in? Will the Pakistanis come in? It was a very good idea to have a substantial Muslim country supporting the keeping of peace and order in Iraq, but none of them would do so without a proper UN mandate and resolution.
That is the shameful story. There were two great blunders, the first of which was to rush to war too fast, without first exhausting all possible means of disarming Iraq or proving that it had no weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, we should have tried to indict Saddam Hussein, while authorising armed support for the UN weapons inspectors if need be. We had to be willing always to contemplate force to back up the authority of the UN if necessary, but in my view we should have taken more time. The reason why we went to war when we did is that there was an unwillingness to rotate the troops through the hot weather. That is why we got into the mess that we did, and why our troops were subjected to such risks.
The second failure was the arrogance of forcing other members of the Security Council to say yes to a war by a pre-ordained date. In doing so, the UN was completely brushed aside, and the international system's machinery for helping a country to reconstruct was not used. In addition, because the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance was so focused on its political tasks, the military moved away from their duty under the Geneva convention and The Hague regulations, which is to keep order. There should have been military rule and an absolute focus on keeping order. The latter failure, which resulted from the closing down of the Iraqi army, explains the situation that we are in.
We have to get out of this situation, which is a disaster for the middle east and for the people of Iraq. The answer is the same as that which should have been secured at the time: a proper UN mandate and lead; international engagement; getting more countries involved; greater legitimacy; and a proper interim Iraqi Government who are recognised as legitimate by the whole international community.
That is the story. I and my Department made full preparations for the proper reconstruction of Iraq, but I am afraid that our country and Prime Minister did not stand up to the Americans when the Pentagon, in its full arrogance, brushed aside the preparations made in its own country through the State Department, and led us into the chaos that we now see.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, albeit briefly. I intend to focus my comments on a small but none the less important part of defence policy that is often neglected—defence logistics—but first I should like to make a couple of general comments. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on producing an intelligent White Paper that leads the way for future defence policy. My hon. Friend Rachel Squire referred to the number of strategic reviews. Unfortunately, that is an indication of the times that we live in. The security environment is changing so rapidly that there will be an increasing number of reviews over time. I also congratulate the Secretary of State on securing from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a real-terms increase in the defence budget.
I should also congratulate the shadow Defence Secretary on putting on such a brave face this afternoon, in the full knowledge of the impossibility of defending the policy that he will have to defend. I might disagree with him and his Front-Bench colleagues, but I recognise that they are committed to defence policy and to defending this country. I therefore understand the embarrassment that they must be experiencing, but it is not my intention to exploit it this afternoon.
Following the Chancellor's Budget statement, my noble Friend Lord King sought clarification from the Treasury concerning a real-terms increase in defence spending. However, he discovered no such undertaking, beyond what had already been announced in the previous comprehensive spending review. If that proves correct, I should imagine that the hon. Gentleman, like me, will regard it as something of a let-down.
We await the Chancellor's statement with interest. My understanding is that a commitment to the defence of this country—something that I believe in strongly—has been given, and I look forward to hearing what the Chancellor says.
I shall confine my remarks to defence logistics. It is often forgotten that nearly half the entire defence budget goes on logistics and not an awful lot of time is spent debating the £15.2 billion—at 2003 out-turn prices—involved. About £11.4 billion of that expenditure is currently under review as part of an MOD end-to-end review of air and land logistics. I support that vital review, the general objective of which is to reduce the footprint of logistics to prevent duplication, to ensure faster response times and to secure the equipment and support where and when it is necessary.
The National Audit Office report on Operation Telic identified the need to achieve those tasks and it concluded that the operation was a huge logistical success. It was the fastest deployment—within 10 weeks—of the largest British expeditionary force ever into a theatre, a very austere environment, nearly 4,000 miles away. There was even a change of location. We therefore deployed people even more quickly than the planning assumptions for the deployment would have suggested.
The NAO rightly recognised some capability gaps within that deployment, but did not do so in respect of fixed-wing aircraft, which were deployed very successfully into the field. I am particularly interested in air support and the role of third-line reinforcement and support for operational aircraft that need to be put rapidly into the field and maintained there.
Government policy in that respect has been incredibly innovative over the past few years and has created the so-called trading funds. The Defence Aviation Repair Agency whose headquarters are in my constituency is one example, and there are other bodies such as the Army Base Repair Organisation, ABRO, which play a vital strategic role in ensuring that we get our logistics act together.
Ministers will be aware that yesterday's announcement of up to 550 redundancies at DARA at RAF St. Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan in the next 12 months was received with disappointment and dismay by my constituents and that work force. We should acknowledge the crucial role that these guys play in the logistical chain of depth air support. Indeed, they were somewhat taken aback. These are highly skilled workers, vital to support our front line—and I repeat that the NAO identified no faults whatever in the logistical support for our fixed-wing aircraft in Operation Telic in Iraq.
About 360 of those jobs are to be lost as efficiency savings—that was the explanation given. The work force and I accept that some efficiency savings have to be made, but we do not agree that such a large loss of highly skilled workers is necessarily the best way of achieving them. Incidentally, the depletion of such an important skills base—in military aeronautical engineering—is a severe sting, especially given that the organisation will be expected, after
However, the second half of the decision is what worried me and many of the DARA workers at St. Athan. That was the announcement of 190 redundancies because the contract to upgrade the Harrier platform had been lost. The contract went to RAF Cottesmore, and that astonished many workers. They believed that the purpose behind the creation of DARA, the trading fund in the logistical chain of support, was to civilianise the crucial deep repair operations—the garage or depot operations inherent in the overhaul and maintenance of fighter aircraft.
Civilianising that work, and taking it away from RAF personnel, was supposed to mean that it could be carried out in a commercial environment, and on a par with any player in the private sector. Workers were shocked to hear that the contract had gone back to the RAF because the work is now to be completed in-house, even though so much effort had gone into ensuring that DARA was competitive and in a strong position to enter the marketplace after
Another concern is the nature of the end-to-end review. I have said that it is important to carry out that review, as so much of defence expenditure goes on logistics. Freeing up some of that money would mean that it could go on front-line services. Our forces could then be released to do what they do best—war fighting, or preparing for war fighting or peacekeeping—and that they could perform those tasks unhindered.
The suspicion at DARA about the end-to-end review has several causes. First, the trading funds were not originally included in the review. They were introduced after the review had begun, and it was not thought that they would be included in the MOD logistical chain, as a solution had been found. Creating a trading fund meant that the resulting commercial organisation could compete with other players in the market. Why has the work been returned to the MOD logistical chain? The people at DARA regard the decision as more or less an afterthought.
The second cause of nervousness about the end-to-end review is that, although its team leader has a distinguished record in the armed forces, he is not noted for his support or sympathy for the newly created trading fund and its role in providing air support for the RAF. Another consideration is that the specialist teams that decide the contracts are predominantly made up of military representatives from the forces. There is therefore a belief that there could be a bias in the decision-making process. I do not say that I subscribe to that belief, but I have heard that view expressed by workers at DARA, where there is the prospect that 550 jobs will be lost.
In future, there will be competition for major contracts, such as that for the Tornado GR9 structures. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will not be able to say how that will turn out, as the review is still under way and the decision has not been taken. However, I want to be able to reassure the highly skilled workers at DARA, who play an absolutely vital role in providing logistical support, that future contract allocations will be transparent. In that way, wherever a contract is eventually placed, those workers will be able to see whether the bid that they put in was strong and economical, or weak. That will be the difference between winning and losing any such contracts.
The House will accept that we must not lose the skills that I am talking about, so it is possible that there could be a strategic reason to maintain them at military bases as a second-line reinforcement. If that is the case, a transparent contract allocation process would allow workers to understand the reasoning behind decisions. It is vital that any future decisions be transparent and seen to be transparent.
If decisions are made on that basis, the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, which has shed half its work force in the past four to five years without a single compulsory redundancy, and is virtually doing the same volume of work with half the work force, will be fit, lean, mean and capable to compete successfully in the marketplace with any organisation in the world on military aviation. Given all that it has achieved, and in recent years it has jumped through hoops to become efficient and competitive, it needs those assurances. Finally, it would also like to know why it did not win the Harrier platform contract that was announced yesterday.
First I thank all the hon. and right hon. Members who have paid tribute to my late noble and gallant Friend Lord Vivian. He was a very splendid man indeed and the tributes paid to him today fully reflect that. I intend to send his widow a copy of today's Hansard, so that she may read for herself the tributes paid to him in this House.
We have had a typically robust and interesting debate, sadly not as well attended as we would have wished. The usual groupies are here. We give a special welcome to the one or two new Friends who have joined us, and hope that they will come back and join us again. I say that much as they do at services in church on a Sunday. I hope that those who have not participated so enthusiastically in the past will come back. In particular I welcome Clare Short, the former Secretary of State for International Development. I do not always agree with her, but I have found her to be a personable friend across the Floor and it was interesting to hear from her.
Time is marching on, so if the House will forgive me I will not go through all the speeches that were made. I put it on record once again that the deliberations of the Defence Committee have done credit to that Committee, to the House and to the parliamentary system. It was an extremely well-informed report that contributed significantly to all our understanding of the conduct of the Iraq war.
A number of people, including my right hon. Friend Mr. Jack, remarked on the lack of detail in the White Paper. My right hon. Friend rightly described it as a menu without prices. Like him, I too have a major BAE Systems operation in my constituency and my constituents are concerned about the uncertainties surrounding a number of programmes. The reasons for publishing the White Paper are encapsulated in supporting essay 2. Paragraph 2.9 states:
"Since SDR our Armed Forces have conducted operations that have been more complex and greater in number than we had envisaged. We have effectively been conducting continual concurrent operations, deploying further afield, to more places, more frequently and with a greater variety of missions than set out in the SDR planning assumptions. We expect to see a similar pattern of operations in the future."
In other words, the Government expect multiple, concurrent, small to medium-scale operations such as counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation operations and enduring peace support operations well beyond the assumptions of the strategic defence review to be the norm, without creating overstretch.
The White Paper also recognises the need to retain the ability to undertake a large-scale operation such as Operation Telic, although in his statement to the House in December the Secretary of State accepted that expeditionary operations on that scale can be conducted effectively only if United States forces are engaged. That leads to the further essential requirement set out in the White Paper, of inter-operability with the United States.
"Britain will never again fight a big war on its own, as it did in the Falklands."
As my hon. Friend Mr. Blunt said, it is a matter of betting the shop on the United States.
Notwithstanding that brutal assessment, the Government's ambitions are markedly greater than in 1998, and the White Paper must be judged against the revised range of assumptions. We have no reason to disagree with the threat assessments. We believe that the United Kingdom should be prepared to play an important role in the less stable, post-cold war world—but if the UK wants to play in that league, there is a price tag. We are not convinced that the solutions proposed meet the challenge that the Government have set themselves. Nor do we believe that the Government are prepared to pay the price that goes with effective application of the policy. Like the Chief of the Defence Staff, we look forward to the Chancellor's detailed announcements on spending in July.
A widespread view shared at senior military level is that the strategic defence review was underfunded. The White Paper proposes an even more ambitious military posture, yet—despite the Chancellor's rhetoric—the additional resources do not meet the increased ambition.
Taken together with the acceptance that high technology in the form of network-enabled capability must be an essential component of the new scenario, the Government's enhanced ambitions have put the screws on our conventional forces—the reason for talk of platform numbers being less relevant. If we are to be prepared for the envisaged increase in operations, something has to give. My hon. Friend Mr. Soames, who was in such good form today, said in December:
"We are concerned that a whole raft of decisions on cuts in both manpower and equipment will start to leach out later."—[Hansard, 11 December 2003; Vol. 414, c. 1213.]
Since then, the press has been awash with speculation that whole aircraft types will be taken out of service, regiments axed and the maritime fleet reduced in size. The Government have already drunk the Territorial Army well dry, thanks to their ridiculous policy of cutting the TA down to about 18,000. Fortunately, the cut is not as much as the Secretary of State envisaged, and he was relieved—and said so publicly.
We know that the Ministry of Defence is undertaking studies in 14 so-called work strands with a view to meeting the cost savings demanded by the Treasury. We were assisted by the Minister of State in the other place yesterday:
"To manage the in-year pressures, we have had to scale back cash expenditure across the department, in particular in the Defence Logistics Organisation and the Defence Procurement Agency . . . It is clear that during both next year and the year after we shall continue to face financial pressures. We are conducting an assessment of where reductions in planned expenditure can be made in each of those years so that we can continue to live within our means . . . So I am not in a position to be able to tell noble and gallant Lords and the House generally what figures are being bandied about but I think that I have been fairly frank with the House in going as far as I have."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 24 March 2004; Vol. 659, c. 743–744.]
The Minister, by admitting serious financial pressures, was probably too frank for some of his colleagues. For all the attacks directed at us, the Government are struggling to maintain their existing commitments—let alone the increased commitments envisaged in the White Paper.
If our forces are to undertake the range of operations foreseen in the White Paper, platform numbers and boots on the ground will matter. The Government are engaged in a series of gambles in a desperate attempt to square the circle. They have taken a gamble with the early withdrawal of the Sea Harrier starting next week, thereby removing Britain's independent maritime air defence capability. On present projections, that capability gap will be at least six years—longer if the new carrier programme is delayed. We may be looking at 10 years without full fleet air defence. The Minister ought to say whether he agrees that aircraft could remain in service until 2012 without an engine upgrade.
It has been reported that the Government are to cut the number of Type 45 destroyers from 12 to as few as nine or eight, vastly reducing Britain's maritime capability and reach. Numbers do count, as the Minister will understand when he recalls that the frigate deployed to Sierra Leone a few years ago was also on standby for the Falklands and the Caribbean. For those without a map, those areas are several thousand miles apart. Will the Government clarify their position on the Type 45s? Do they intend to procure the 12 vessels originally envisaged or will we have to wait until those work strands have reported?
On the future rapid effects system—FRES—the Government are gambling on a programme that is central to achieving the aims set out in the White Paper. FRES is a clear example of the fact that the development of a medium-weight capability is essential to the expeditionary role envisaged in the White Paper. That was reflected in the early in-service date and high-priority status afforded to it. However, the Government have not yet even decided what they want from the programme, let alone how to procure it. By putting it out to a systems house, the Government could have added anything up to a year to the process, kicking a final decision ever further into the long grass and making the prospect of FRES reaching its early in-service date remote.
There are other examples, with which Ministers will be only too familiar. Two of the six Astute submarines are said to be on the chopping block, which would reduce our maritime capability still further and deal another blow to the Ministry's favourite contractor, BAE Systems. Up to 40 Challenger tanks may be mothballed, curtailing capabilities further. Ark Royal is to go into some kind of mothballing and the joint strike fighter—now called the joint combat aircraft—could be cut from 150 to 110. It is a key component for the carriers and it would helpful if Ministers could answer some of the concerns that have been expressed on both sides of the House about those programmes today.
On a note of agreement, I can say that we support the carriers. The carrier programme that the Government have developed will be essential to the concept of expeditionary warfare that they advocate. I welcome the fact that the drumbeats in the jungle suggest that the carrier size has gone back up to 60,000 tonnes. That will result in serious carriers that are capable of delivering what we all want to see. However, there is uncertainty about the programme. We have heard reports that the MOD wants to take control of the programme, instead of making BAE Systems the prime contractor, or to hand it over to AMEC. Despite having the excellent Syd Gillibrand as its leading light, that company has not had great experience in running such a programme.
The Government are also ransacking the cupboard for other savings. Earlier this week, the Under-Secretary smuggled out a written statement, blandly called "Estate Rationalisation: Presentation Strategy", the key sentence of which reads:
"The work now underway is looking at consolidating defence activity at a smaller number of more densely utilised locations in order to achieve the optimum use of land and facilities . . . it will take into account existing relocation studies that have already been announced."
As the Member of Parliament for Aldershot, I hope that the Minister can tell me whether the review will apply to Aldershot and Tidworth, which are currently the subject of Project Connaught, which will see more than 25 per cent. of the Aldershot garrison sold for housing. If there is to be a further fire sale of military assets, where will the Government house the 8,000 troops they will bring back from Northern Ireland under that peace dividend? Where will the 20,000 troops presently in Germany be stationed if they are pulled back—as they will be at some point? Will not a policy of super garrisons substantially reduce the military footprint in the UK?
The White Paper sets out the Government's projections for the next 15 years. Admittedly, the last White Paper lasted only six years, but it is still a basis for today's discussions. The projections anticipate a level of military action similar to the recent pattern, which is well in excess of the level envisaged by the SDR just six years ago, and they do not fully quantify the effect of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism on our country. The truth is that manpower has been cut, increasing pressure on young service families. Training has been cut. The TA is running out of people to support the regulars. Numbers of aircraft, ships and armour are being reduced and assets are being sold.
Despite the dangerously uncertain world that we have entered, Ministers are taking gambles that capability gaps will not be exposed. They have failed to order essential battlefield equipment in time. The defence industrial policy, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde spoke so comprehensively, is, to quote a senior industrialist, "a shambles". We have received no tangible dividend for the Prime Minister's support for the United States. As my right hon. Friend said, there should at least be a technical access agreement on the joint strike fighter. Where is that? What answer can the Minister give us about control of the British defence industrial base if that control is moving inexorably into the hands of the Americans? As we know, they have done us no favours in the commercial field. Political correctness inhibits training and the development of risk awareness.
All those points were summed up in the brutally frank admission made yesterday by the Prime Minister's personal adviser on defence, the Chief of the Defence Staff: the Army has been stretched to breaking point and cannot mount another Iraq-scale war for five years.
Let us hope our enemies are not listening.
In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State drew the attention of the House to the key security challenges that we face. Mr. Soames recognised that, and I think that he echoed both the analysis and some of the conclusions of the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman could not be in the Chamber for the wind-ups as he had a speaking engagement. My best guess is that he is speaking to the shadow Chancellor to try to find out some of the answers that he failed to give in response to contributions from the Labour Benches.
The challenge that we face on defence is ensuring that we have the right military capabilities to meet the threats we are likely to face. The 1998 strategic defence review and the new chapter that we published in 2002 undoubtedly moved our armed forces in the right direction. But as others have recognised—in the debate and elsewhere—the world does not stand still; nor should our response.
The Defence White Paper, "Delivering Security in a Changing World" sets out the case for the development of more flexible and agile armed forces, which are structured and equipped to deploy rapidly in the most likely small and medium-scale operations, from war fighting to giving enduring peace support. Much of the White Paper presages change for the armed forces and for defence. Painful as it may be, we must not shirk from making tough choices. As Mr. Howarth indicated, my noble Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement made that clear in his contribution to a debate in the other place yesterday.
I have to reply to a large number of contributions, but if there is time later, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.
In the last spending review, we announced the largest sustained increase in planned defence spending for about 20 years, yet, however great the increase in the budget, we cannot do everything to the nth degree. Some contributions to the debate seemed to ask for everything; nothing should go, and nothing should be given in return. Those are not useful contributions to such a heavyweight and important debate. It is easy to ask for things, but it is vital to have balance in our thinking on investment in running the Ministry of Defence, as it is for every spending Department.
When the Conservatives were in power, they had to make changes and choices that were similar to those that face us now. That had to be done in 1995, and I think that it was the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex who said that the Conservatives got some of those decisions wrong. He did not enumerate the decisions or point out where the Conservatives had gone wrong. I could certainly list a good number of things; we have had to recover from many of those decisions and find solutions.
In fact, I made those remarks. The errors that I identified were in recruiting and the Defence Medical Services.
In a mature debate about defence, everyone must accept that tough choices have to be made. A better approach for the Ministry of Defence would be to ensure that the debate was much more transparent and that there was much more information. My experience was that "Front Line First" was a much more open exercise; it was much easier to manage politically because it was transparent. I hope that the Ministry of Defence will take that advice.
It is tempting to think in that way. However, as we know from some of the speculation that abounds, which is immediately latched on to by hon. Members and others, such arguments are not balanced. Those who use them simply consider one aspect and say, "This is nonsense and cannot be sustained." Of course, something will not necessarily go simply because it has been part of the consideration. Military personnel themselves are the best analysts of all this, as the hon. Gentleman will know from his background as adviser to Malcolm Rifkind, the then Secretary of State for Defence. Some tough choices must be made, but the quality of their advice is very high. They know that judgments have to be made. They advise Ministers, and they respect Ministers when we stand our ground on some issues. It is tempting to say that the necessary debate must be open and transparent, but I am not sure whether that would add to the quality of the judgment that must be made; we would chase a lot of hares unnecessarily.
We have a commitment to ensure that the quality of judgments taken is properly bottomed out and scrutinised. We then have to stand accountable for those judgments. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has shown time and again that he is more than prepared to take many of those tough decisions and to see them through against some strong criticism. We must ensure that we direct our finite resources at those capabilities that are best able to deliver the full range of military effects that we require. In doing so, we must be rigorous in dispensing with those capabilities that do not fit our requirements—to do otherwise is simply not an option.
I shall deal with some of the various issues that right hon. and hon. Members have raised. I welcome all the contributions made by the hon. Members for Mid-Sussex, for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and for Aldershot and Mr. Jack, as well as those made by my hon. Friends the Members for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire), for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard), for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) and my right hon. Friend Clare Short. I do not agree with all the contributions that have been made, and I do not know whether I can deal with all of them in the time available.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax asked about the status of troops injured in the incidents on Monday. Fourteen troops were hospitalised. Four may have to be returned to the United Kingdom, but the injuries were not as severe as the images suggest. The quality of the equipment that we use in dealing with such riot-control situations is high grade, and our troops are highly trained. Again, the images sometimes belie the reality on the ground. All hon. Members would wish those who have been injured a full recovery. We wish them well.
Let me deal with the points made by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex. I want to be kind to him. In a sense, he set out a shopping list: more expenditure on training, equipment and service personnel generally. He believes that deeply, but he has to match his dreams with reality. He had to do so when he held the job that I now hold. He had to make some tough choices, and we now have to recover from those very same choices. I believe that he is in denial about the Conservative party's expenditure planning. No one has rebutted the fact that there would be a £1.5 billion cut in defence spending. That is the implication of what the shadow Chancellor has said. He must face up to that realistically. He called for many things, but he has to set that against what his own party is saying about expenditure.
I have always taken the view that the role of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition is to do one thing only: to train to become Her Majesty's Government. So the Opposition have to face up to the consequences of what they say. Our years in opposition certainly allowed the Labour party to go through that process. I wish the Conservative party a longer time in opposition because they have clearly not begun to deal with some of the hard issues that they must face.
The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex asked about the capacity to deal with the terrorist threats facing this country. General Jackson, the Chief of the General Staff, outlined to the Defence Committee yesterday the arrangements for the forces to exercise with the emergency services. We must increasingly consider that issue and take into account what can be done in relation to the public's perception. Training and exercise does not necessarily mean that the scenario envisaged will happen the next day. We have to manage all this, and there is a strong commitment between the emergency services and MOD personnel to work through many of the difficult scenarios that we may have to face.
The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex also alleged that there had been a 50 per cent. cut in combined arms training. Those claims are without foundation. We fully recognise the importance of combined arms training. An important element of recuperating and sustaining military capability rests on getting that right and ensuring that we are investing in that area. Let me give the assurance that we shall, of course, ensure that the issue is accorded the right priority in our future plans.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan is right that I made an announcement yesterday that had an effect on the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, which is in his constituency. I shall explain the background to that. I agreed that the Harrier air depth maintenance support work should roll forward to RAF Cottesmore as a centre of gravity for logistic support for the Harrier platform. This decision has been taken at this point, because of the need to protect the critical operation in-service date for the Harrier GR9. The decision is likely to affect, as my hon. Friend said, a further 190 posts in addition to those proposed as part of the Red Dragon efficiencies.
The solution at RAF Cottesmore offered the best value for money for defence, providing savings of more than £30 million through the life of the programme. Any delay in the decision would also have cost £800,000 a month. That is the problem that I faced, alongside the other developments that were taking place relative to the ongoing end-to-end review. I do not accept my hon. Friend's view that the inclusion of DARA and ABRO's trading funds in the end-to-end review was an afterthought. They cannot be anywhere other than in that review.
I make a commitment about Red Dragon and the review work. DARA has a future, but a future that is based on MOD expenditure and, increasingly and importantly, on what it can win in the private sector in terms of commercial business. That is the opportunity that the Red Dragon project affords DARA. There were those who said that we should not go ahead with that £70 million-plus investment. I made the decision because it gave the work force at DARA in St. Athan the best opportunity. I hear what my hon. Friend said about the other issues, but I am only too willing to meet him and local trade union representatives to talk the issue through to try to ease their fears. I am sure that he will welcome that invitation.
As ever, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West made a thoughtful contribution. She is fierce in her role as a constituency Member of Parliament and is similar to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan. She never fails to mention Rosyth in the same way as he never fails to mention St. Athan. I recognise that Rosyth is important to her constituency, and I point out that Rosyth is mentioned in the future aircraft programme as one of the yards that will play a possible part in the process. However, it has to win its part of the contract. Free gifts are not being given to the shipyards. We must get best value and best price, so we say to all the yards that their future is also about winning the commercial business that is potentially out there for the British shipyard industry. The MOD's elements of that future are important, but the yards cannot survive on MOD work alone even with the largest warship-building programme for a generation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West also asked about recruitment. The whole Army's trained strength—
It being Six o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.