House Of Commons
Monday 18 June 1990
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Local Management Of Schools
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what proportion of education spending has been held back from local management of schools by each local education authority in Wales; and if he will make a statement.
I call Sir Wyn Roberts.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your felicitious greeting and I thank the House for its generous approbation.The average figure is around 33 per cent. I will circulate the figures for each local education authority in the, Official Report, and I will place a copy in the Library of the House.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister, the most Welsh of all Welsh hon. Members, on a richly deserved honour that is warmly welcomed throughout Wales.I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that 33 per cent. is too high. What steps will he take to urge all councils to follow the example of my local council in trying to ensure that as much money as possible makes its way to schools? What assurance can parents obtain that their own local schools will have a fair crack of the whip, bearing in mind that major repairs and capital works are still excluded from LMS schemes?
My hon. Friend is quite right. Of course, about 10 per cent. is allowed to be held centrally under LMS schemes as submitted to us, but that leaves a considerable amount at the discretion of local authorities. On average, authorities have held back about 22·5 per cent., but that masks a wide variation from 17 to 27·5 per cent. Certainly, as LMS schemes proceed, I should expect to see a rapid reduction in the proportion of resources retained centrally. I am sure that governors, headmasters and so on will be looking forward to seeing LMS statements produced by local authorities which show just where the money is going.
Does the Minister accept that in rural Wales, particularly in Powys, formula funding is beginning to cause extreme hardship to village schools and that some may close as a result? Will he review the situation so that more resources are made available for the funding of village schools under LMS schemes?
The totality of resources available for education has not been reduced at all under LMS schemes. Through LMS schemes, we have tried to ensure that as much of the money as possible is spent directly at the chalk face. With regard to small schools, about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned, a factor called the small schools protection factor could have been built in, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman's local authority would take such a factor into its scheme.
Following is the information:
Percentage of general schools budget retained by LEA
The details of this information have been extracted from each authority's LMS scheme submission and are not strictly comparable because the information has been supplied using different price bases. Precise figures will be included in the LEAs' first LMS budget statements, which are currently awaited.
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to maintain steel making at Brymbo steel.
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to secure the maintenance of steel making at Brymbo steel.
At my request, the Welsh Development Agency has been exploring with United Engineering Steels all the possible options for the future of Brymbo steelworks.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for getting Welsh Development International to market Brymbo steel world wide. He must know that potential bidders may be put off because they may think that United Engineering Steels will want to close the plant rather than allow it to compete. Will he take this opportunity to say that no potential bidder, person or business should fail to show an interest or be prepared to make a bid, no matter what steel business they are in? There must be a possibility, whatever happens, that United Engineering Steels will be prepared to sell Brymbo as a going concern.
I should make it clear that I have asked the Welsh Development Agency to explore all possible options—and I stress the phrase "all possible options". I know of no circumstances in which United Engineering Steels has said that it would not be prepared to consider a positive and constructive solution for the future of the Brymbo steelworks.
The Secretary of State must be aware that only last week Brymbo steelworks achieved a record tonnage from its melting shop and that the work force are extremely hardworking and concerned about profitability and competition, as they have been for many years. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take that into account when considering negotiations with UES and that he will also bear in mind that the steelworks is not being closed because it is not competitive or profitable. This is a completely different situation. Will the right hon. Gentleman take that into account?
I readily endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the work force and merely add that the record that was broken last week had been set just the week before. This morning I had the opportunity of inviting in representatives of the work force, who confirmed what the hon. Gentleman has said. I know the Brymbo community and I know that it is a strong and important community in north Wales. I am certainly prepared to do everything possible to help it.
First, may I offer my right hon. Friend the warmest welcome to his new responsibilities? Is he aware that in a very short period he has already established a reputation as one who will fight hard for the interests of Wales—in conflict, if need be, with market forces which might otherwise allow so fine a work force to be disposed of?
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not go too far down the route that he has opened up for me, save to say that although the ultimate decision about the future of the works must rest with the company, I am determined that the Welsh Development Agency should explore all possible options. Only this morning I received a progress report from its chairman, Dr. Gwyn Jones, who has taken such a personal interest in the project.
I join fellow hon. Members representing the county of Clwyd giving the strongest in support to the Brymbo work force, whose reputation stretches way beyond the constituency of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's assurance that all options will be explored and I know that he will take on board the cross-party belief in Brymbo throughout the county. Does my right hon. Friend accept that we are all behind him in every effort that he can make to keep the steelworks open?
If I needed any pressure, I confirm that it has come from all parties. The greatest pressure, however, must be attributed to the community which, as has already been said in these short responses, has established one production record after another and has a reputation for quality. That is why it is receiving such support from all hon. Members.
First, I sincerely congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment to the Cabinet. It is a great achievement and he now heads a fascinating Department of State. I wish him well in all that he seeks to do for the people of Wales. Nevertheless, does he agree with the Bishop of St. Asaph that the company at Brymbo should collaborate in every way in finding a new buyer for a going concern? Does he further agree that it is wrong for an anonymous board of directors far away from loyal, productive Brymbo to have taken a decision which has plunged Brymbo and all its community into uncertainty and dismay?Finally, is not it a grave comment on our industrial prospects that the superb and excellent steelworks at Brymbo is being hawked around the embassies of the world for a buyer when it is still highly productive and highly profitable? Given the right hon. Gentleman's detachment from the Cabinet's non-interventionist, market-forces stance, and his assurance that he will help, we now call on him for a supreme effort to help the Brymbo steelworks.
First, I thank the hon. Member for Ayln and Deeside (Mr. Jones), as I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) and for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), for their warm welcome to me at the Dispatch Box. I regard becoming Secretary of State for Wales as the greatest honour that can be achieved in the House, bar one—[Interruption.] I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for reminding me that that one is your own.I met the Bishop of St. Asaph in north Wales last week, when he made the point just made by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside. I accepted the validity of it then, as I do now. We shall not make much progress by castigating the company. I met representatives of the company two days after the initial announcement, when they readily responded to my request to make their books and financial information available to the Welsh Development Agency. I know of no circumstances in which the company has said that it would be at all unreasonable about the eventual solution.
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to maintain employment training in Wales.
Employment training in the future will be delivered by the employer-led training and enterprise councils. I am confident that they will provide a first-class service tailored to local needs.
On behalf of my Opposition colleagues, I offer congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on his honour. He must know that, above the party battle, he enjoys much affection from all hon. Members.In view of the proposed closures of the Blaenant colliery and the Brymbo steelworks, will there be special training programmes to meet the requirements of those who cannot be accommodated within their existing industries? Are there likely to be special training facilities available in Neath and Brymbo to deal with the problems that will arise in relation to young people for whom the industrial disasters in Wales will create difficult employment problems?
I am well aware that the closure of Blaenant colliery led to 580 redundancies. I am glad to say that, as we have designated that district as an area of large-scale redundancy, this means that there will be immediate entry to the employment training programme for those involved. The programmes's capacity to cope with the numbers involved will depend on the number of applicants from among the coalminers, but we are monitoring the position carefully through the Training Agency. It is a little premature to talk of such designation in relation to Brymbo.
Is the Minister of State aware that the new programme has reduced the number of places in Mid Glamorgan by 538? Is he also aware that when the community programme was thrown out there were 300 redundancies on Community Action Training Ogwr alone of which I am chairman in Mid Glamorgan? Is he also aware that the underfunding will mean that a number of training agencies will close their books, thus pushing trainers and trainees back on to the dole queue? Is it not time for some stability in the training programme so that trainers can plan their programmes?
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's connection with the community training organisation at Ogwr. I am happy that at least all the employment training providers in Mid Glamorgan have re-contracted. I know that CATO did not get all the 250 places that it asked for. It received 217 places, however, which partly reflects the fall in the occupancy rate from 292 to 220 by 9 May this year.
Bearing in mind 1992 and the opening of the channel tunnel, and the ferocious competition to which Wales and Britain will be subjected in the years immediately ahead, does the Minister agree that we need more investment in training? I emphasise the localities of Blaenant, Swansea, Kidwelly, Hirwaun and Brymbo and the problems associated with the loss of 2,000 jobs. We do not want any complacency. Why has the Minister of State accepted a £2·5 million, 7·5 per cent. cut in employment training?
The hon. Gentleman must not seek to outdo me in stressing the importance of training. I fully agree with what he has said—we have always placed it in the forefront and given it the very highest priority. This year there is a total budget of £144,324,000 for spending through the Training Agency in Wales. That is a little less than last year, but the agency underspent last year. The employment situation has improved and employment prospects are good, despite the small increase in unemployment last month.Training is all-important, and we have been highly successful in setting up training and enterprise councils throughout Wales. All are in the development stage and we trust that they will all be up and running before the end of the year.
Order. We are making rather slow progress. I ask for brief questions, and then perhaps we shall have briefer answers.
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has had concerning the beef industry within Wales.
I have received a number of representations on a variety of issues concerning the beef industry, including BSE.
In his new capacity as agriculture Minister for Wales, has the right hon. Gentleman given consideration to the financial impact of BSE and the new European settlement on Welsh farmers? Does he agree that it is particularly unfortunate that they should be hit, since, by and large, they were not responsible for the outbreak of the disease? They certainly were not consulted on the negotiations in Brussels, and they have completely rejected the negotiated settlement.Will the right hon. Gentleman answer two specific questions—[Interruption.]
Order. One question please; then we can get on.
In the event of a sustained and substantial fall in prices of cull cows, will the Secretary of State consider introducing some compensatory mechanism? In as much as there is a direct link between the specialist suckler herds and the dairy herds which are infected by BSE, how will he ensure that exports of the former are not affected by the ban on dairy cattle exports?
I welcome the opportunity to make it absolutely clear, not just to the people of Wales but to the people of the United Kingdom, that there is no risk to public health from eating British beef. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would also make that absolutely clear.Intervention procedures are flexible and will meet the situation as and when it arises, as they have already done under the intervention arrangements.
Investment (West Wales)
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the opportunities for inward investment to west Wales.
I understand that Dyfed and West Glamorgan have already secured 29 projects involving £106 million worth of inward investment. I have no reason to believe that west Wales will not continue to build on the very satisfactory level that has been achieved.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post. We were delighted to see him in Pembrokeshire last month when he opened the Pembrokeshire college. He will be aware from discussions on that occasion how important it is to bring inward investment to west Wales, where unemployment rates are higher than in the rest of Wales. Does he agree that the Welsh Office could do more by encouraging trade with Portugal, Spain and Ireland, which would certainly help that part of the country?
I welcome the opportunity given to me by my hon. Friend of securing discussions with his local authority on the need to promote that part of Wales more actively. I should like to hear more specific proposals about the counties that he mentioned. Dyfed and West Glamorgan have certainly done extremely well in substantially increasing the amount of inward investment compared with last year.
Does the Secretary of State agree that while inward investment is important, protecting existing investment is probably more important? Will he assure the House that the Welsh Office and the Welsh Development Agency will commit their resources fully to trying to preserve, and to find a buyer for, the optical factory in Kidwelly which employed 200 people and which has been closed? That factory produced 40 per cent. of the United Kingdom's lenses. Will the right hon. Gentleman and his Department do everything that they can to find a buyer for the factory?
The right hon. Gentleman has already been in touch with me and my office about the specific case that he mentions and I will readily respond to the various suggestions that he has made. I have asked for a full report on the latest position. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I should make it clear that just as the creation of new jobs is important, so is the safeguarding of existing jobs.
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what action he will be taking to prevent flooding on the Gwent wetlands.
This is the responsibility of the National Rivers Authority and I understand that the matter is being given due consideration.
Does the Minister realise that on the same day as the terrible floods at Towyn there was serious flooding in my constituency at Peterstone and St. Bride's where the sea overtopped the sea wall, and at Caerleon and Newport? In view of the certainty of global warming raising sea levels, and because the area has many fine homes and new high technology enterprises, will he guarantee that in the future the area will be fully protected by new flood defences?
I am well aware of the public concern and I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that the National Rivers Authority is carrying out emergency repairs in the area. The Department has already indicated that grant aid will be available. The Department also recently met the authority to discuss further proposed improvement to the existing defences of the Gwent wetlands. As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows, in the light of the development that has taken place in that area the National Rivers Authority has recommended that the relevant local planning authorities should jointly promote a study of the adequacy of existing defences.
South Glamorgan Health Authority
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last met the chairman of the South Glamorgan health authority to discuss health provision in the area.
I look forward to meeting the chairman of South Glamorgan health authority on 10 July.
I add my congratulations to the Minister of State on the signal honour that he has received from the Prime Minister, which is normally reserved for Ministers retiring to the Back Benches. Perhaps there is a moral there somewhere of the "didn't she know" or "how could she tell" variety as Dorothy Parker said of President Coolidge.When the Secretary of State meets the chairman of South Glamorgan health authority, will he say what advice he is giving to health authorities in preparation for April 1991 in relation to hospitals where a large proportion of current patient flow comes from outside their own county health authority area so that authorities know how on earth they are to budget for the 50 per cent. of patients from outside the county? The current instructions and guidelines on closure proposals are exactly the same as they were before, but the conditions have completely changed.
The hon. Gentleman's health authority is adequately resourced for the present situation. The amount on revenue is up by 7·2 per cent. and the amount on capital is up by 122 per cent. In future, these will form part of the discussions in the usual way.I regret that the hon. Gentleman introduced a sour note in his welcome to my hon. Friend the Minister of State. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have a good working relationship with the Secretary of State, he should review his last letter—about which I read in the Western Mail before I received it.
There was an excellent initiative launched in South Glamorgan this morning about the use of donor cards to promote more organ and blood donors. May I urge my right hon. Friend and all Welsh Members to meet representatives of the Kidney Research Unit for Wales Foundation and the blood transfusion service outside the House later to promote their excellent endeavours further?
I have a letter from my hon. Friend, who I understand is the vice-president of the Kidney Research Unit for Wales Foundation. I am happy that the Welsh Office has been able to support the foundation. I shall be joining hon. Members from both sides of the House on College green after Question Time to promote this worthy cause.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new office and I welcome also his latter remark. Will he ask his officials to brief him properly on the finances of South Glamorgan health authority? He will find that there is a shortfall of either £4 million or £7·2 million, depending on which view one takes, in the financial resources of the authority.Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in addition to that and the tremendous planning problems that the authority faces, the staggered start to Project 2000 is proving devastating to the morale, training and recruitment of nurses in South Glamorgan? As people have worked so hard to meet the deadline of 1991, which was promised by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, is not it essential that it be restored? Would not he get his incumbency of the Welsh Office off to a good start by restoring the start date for South Glamorgan, Mid Glamorgan and Gwent?
I have the correct figures. As I understand it, South Glamorgan's revenue provision is £188·2 million, which is up £12·7 million. I calculate that to be a 7·2 per cent. increase. It is—[Interruption.] I was told that my figures were incorrect, but I believe that they are correct. The capital provision is £7·9 million, which is up 122 per cent. I ask the hon. Gentleman to do his homework. There is a later question on Project 2000. It will be implemented in accordance with the amount of revenue provision that is available, the financial circumstances and the ability to introduce it properly and effectively.If we are to have a good working relationship, I do not want to find falling into my hands letters from the National Union of Public Employees instructing the hon. Gentleman to send certain letters. I shall make the letter available to him so that he can show that he is not a puppet on a NUPE string.
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will establish an effective monitoring system for ground-level ozone in Wales.
As my right hon. Friend told the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) on 24 May, the ozone monitoring network operated by Warren Spring laboratory includes a site in Wales.
Given the dangers that high ozone levels at ground level can cause, should not the Welsh Office have a monitoring system right across Wales? Elderly people, pregnant women, children under two years of age and people suffering from bronchitis, emphysema and asthma —I am an asthma sufferer—are all at risk. Will the Minister commit himself to ensuring Government and European Community legislation designed to keep down ozone levels, which are highly dangerous to people and to the planet generally?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The levels in May 1990 showed a peak of 120 parts per billion at a number of sites, including Aston Hill in Wales, but there is no cause for concern. I assure the hon. Gentleman that levels of 300 parts per billion are not uncommon in Austria and Switzerland. We have a monitoring network of 17 sites in the United Kingdom and we always keep it under review.
A gaf i ychwanegu fy llongyfarchion i'r gweinidog ar ei ddyrchafiad?
Order. Is that a parliamentary expression?
It is an extremely felicitous expression of congratulations to the new knight on the Government Front Bench.The issue of the ozone layer and ozone gases at ground level is important. It is a further example of a greenhouse gas. Will the Minister assure the House that there is an effective monitoring programme throughout Wales? Here we have an opportunity to make a contribution to the international environment.
I have already referred to the 17 monitoring sites in the United Kingdom which is considered an adequate number. They include a site at Aston Hill in Wales. The hon. Gentleman may know that the Welsh Office is currently funding the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology at Bangor in respect of research into the effects of ozone and other pollutants on the health of plant species in Wales.
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is his estimate of the additional number of local government employees employed to process the community charge in Wales.
I have made no such estimate, but I greatly welcome the announcement that the Audit Commission is to undertake a study into the management of charging authorities. I will carefully review the results as they apply to Welsh authorities.
Ministers are remarkably ignorant about many aspects of the impact of the poll tax. I hope that the review will, among other things, identify the need to relieve the burden on thousands of home owners in terraced houses in our communities, who receive no benefit and do not live in areas where the authorities are overcharging on poll tax, but who nevertheless face bills twice as big as the old rates.
We should look at the ways of improving the community charge, and we are doing that. As to the administration of the community charge, Welsh local authorities have done better than the original provision allowed. I believe that £25 million was allowed against collection costs, but only £19 million has been spent, which is a very good result. As to the future, of course we shall find ways of improving the community charge. Labour is still in utter confusion about its alternative.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a bit of a cheek for Labour Members to criticise the community charge when it has a different policy every day of the week? One moment they suggest a roof tax, which would be disastrous, and this week they suggest a return to the old unfair rating system. Should not the Opposition keep silent until they decide what they want?
I assure my hon. Friend that whatever may be my responsibilities, I would not begin to countenance a return to the unjust domestic rating system, which I understand Labour Members are considering reintroducing. It was an iniquitous system, but it has gone now—and good riddance to it.
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he intends to meet representatives of local authorities in Wales; and whether he will discuss the community charge.
I met representatives of the Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts in the forum of the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance last week, when the community charge was among the issues raised.
Does not the Secretary of State accept that whatever the Audit Commission does or does not do, the high cost of collecting the poll tax in Wales has now risen to £7 per head? That is a direct result of the lack of resources devoted by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor to local councils in Wales to help cope with the burden of the poll tax. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that in the current negotiations with local authorities, he will give them enough money to enable them to sort out their problems?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is known as an expert on such issues. He may be a self-appointed expert, but let that not take anything away from him. The hon. Gentleman could not have been listening when I replied to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). A collection cost of £7 per head is considerably below that allowed for in the settlement. An allowance of £25·6 million was made for the cost of collection. As it happens——
The hon. Gentleman says that it was not enough. As it happens, local authorities underspent that provision.
Oh yes they have. [Hon Members: "Oh no they haven't."] If the hon. Gentleman will consult his colleagues, he will find that Welsh local authorities spent £19·8 million. He might not think that that is an underspend, but he must be the only right hon. or hon. Member who does not.
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many Welsh community councils have decided to vote themselves out of existence; and if he will make a statement.
The electors of two communities, Vaynor in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhoose in the Vale of Glamorgan, have voted in favour of dissolving their community councils. Vaynor community council was formally dissolved on 31 May. The Vale of Glamorgan borough council is making arrangements for the formal dissolution of Rhoose community council.
May I add my congratulations to those already given to the hon. Gentleman for his well-deserved knighthood? Does the Minister agree that it is disgraceful that democratically elected councils should vote themselves out of existence? Will he remove the anomaly that enables them to do so, and take steps to ensure that community councils in Wales carry greater democratic responsibilities rather than less?
There is nothing more democratic than the system which provides for community councils in Wales, because the very setting up of such councils is entirely a matter for the electors. Similarly, so is their dissolution. One cannot be more democratic than that. Giving them additional powers—because the powers that they now have run concurrently with those of district councils—was last discussed in 1985, and the local authorities, particularly at district level, were very much against it.
To ask the Attorney-General if he will meet the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the case of the late Hilda Murrell.
I have no immediate plans to do so. The Director of Public Prosecutions has received a report from the West Mercia police which he has considered with care. He has suggested further lines of inquiry. I do not doubt that he will consult me if he considers it necessary.
In view of the concerned letter that the Attorney-General has received from Commander Robert Green, Hilda Murrell's nephew, will the Attorney-General clarify the position in relation to David Mackenzie, and what exactly is going to happen next? He says that he is going to talk to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but with what effect?
It is not appropriate for me to comment on, and certainly not to name names in connection with, an investigation that is as yet incomplete. As I said, the Director has suggested further lines of inquiry to the police. The hon. Gentleman can be entirely confident that the Director will give the fullest weight to all concerns that properly arise out of the matter.
My right hon. and learned Friend will know that the late Miss Murrell was my constituent and I welcome the news that the lines of inquiry are still being pursued. But I am sure that he will agree, and the House will wish to know, that so far not a shred of evidence other than ill-informed rumour has come to light to suggest that the security services were in any way involved in Miss Murrell's demise. Is not it very much to be regretted that her name should continue to be dragged along without any proof coming forward to the authorities from those who continue to use her name for party-political purposes?
It is always tempting to get into detail when an investigation is incomplete. All that it is proper for me to say is that the Director is taking the matter seriously. I cannot properly comment on any particular detail of the report, or on whether names are involved. I am sorry not to be able to say more to my hon. Friend, but I must not.
Departmental Select Committee
To ask the Attorney-General whether his Department has any plans to submit evidence to the Procedure Committee regarding the establishment of a departmental Select Committee to scrutinise the activities of the Law Officers.
No, Sir. The Law Officers' Department is not one of those which the House thought it right to specify in Standing Order No. 130 and the Select Committee on Procedure has not invited comment on any proposal that it should be so specified.
During the past few years the Law Officers have been involved in the fiasco over Peter Wright, the running down of the legal aid service, the mismanagement of the Crown prosecution service, the failure to establish a proper supreme court of appeal and many other issues. Surely the Law Officers, of all Departments, should be the last to place themselves above proper parliamentary scrutiny? Will the Solicitor-General now add his weight to the establishment of a proper departmental Select Committee to study his Department and that of the other Law Officers?
One cannot help but feel that the hon. Gentleman has allowed some bias rather than information to inform his question.The Law Officers control or superinted administrative functions. There is already an opportunity for scrutiny by Select Commitees as we saw with the examination of the Crown prosecution service by the Home Affairs Select Committee which, incidentally, gave the CPS many laudatory plaudits. The bulk of the Department's work is either to give confidential legal advice or to take or superintend the taking of prosecution decisions. Those are plainly independent functions in which Select Committees would not find it appropriate to involve themselves.
My right hon. and learned Friend is too polite to say it himself, but as the majority of the work of the Law Officers' Department is to advise on the law, would not the provision of such additional scrutiny only give an opportunity to barrack-room lawyers to demonstrate and exercise their ill-informed prejudices at additional public expense?
My hon. and learned Friend is entirely right that any such meddling would be inappropriate to what is an independent or a confidential function. There is an opportunity for scrutiny of other general aspects, and that has already taken place.
To ask the Attorney-General what representations he has received concerning calls for a prosecution against British Rail arising from the death of Paul Elvin.
I have received representations from the hon. Gentleman and from his constituent, Mrs. Elvin. I replied to the hon. Member last week.
I am grateful to the Attorney-General for his reply. In the light of the decision of Mr. Justice Turner in the P and O case that it has a case to answer on corporate manslaughter, will there be a review of the liability of public and corporate bodies such as British Rail? I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates the great concern felt at the many deaths and accidents on British Rail sites, all of which happen without criminal prosecution against British Rail. Should not that liability be reviewed so that the regular deaths which occur, which many believe to be the fault of British Rail, can be laid at the door of those who have responsibility for such sites?
The judicial decision to which the hon. Gentleman refers did not come as a surprise to me. With many other people, I have long believed that a corporation is capable of committing the offence of manslaughter. With great respect, however, that is not the point here. The Health and Safety Executive looked closely into the tragic death of Mrs. Elvin's son and concluded, supported by the opinion of counsel, that there is insufficient evidence to warrant a prosecution for manslaughter.I have looked closely at the papers and, recognising the natural strength of feeling of the hon. Gentleman's constituent, I shall ask the DPP to examine the papers himself. That is, of course, without the slightest intimation that I disagree with the view of the Health and Safety Executive, which I personally believe to be correct. However, in the circumstances of this tragic case, that would be the proper course to follow and I shall do so.
To ask the Attorney-General when he last discussed the Maguire case with the Director of Public Prosecutions.
I discussed the Maguire case with the Director of Public Prosecutions last week when he advised me of the views that he had formed about the safety of the convictions.
Does the Attorney-General agree that the Maguire case is but one of a number of cases concerning the Irish issue where the British legal system has proved less than adequate?
It would be very unwise of me, having, with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary invited Sir John May to conduct this inquiry, to make any comments now upon the matters which may form the subject of this report.On the current trend of running down the English legal system, and the judges in particular, let me say that our legal system is rightly admired. When the judges are heavily and personally criticised and undermined it does great harm to our liberties and the freedom in which we live. The hon. Gentleman has not done that today, but his hon. Friends—unfortunately there is no shortage of them —who have spoken are inclined to undermine the reputation of the judges in a way that I consider to be completely unfounded and damaging. I dare say that my remarks are slightly out of order, Mr. Speaker, but I wanted to get it off my chest.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that it is a tribute to the British system that occasionally we can admit that mistakes were made? We look forward to a similar confession from the Republic in respect of another Maguire case.
I shall pass on the latter part of the question.In this country, we have a procedure through which the Home Secretary may refer a case to the Court of Appeal if he believes that there are grounds for thinking that the conviction is unsafe or unsatisfactory. The Court of Appeal will then examine the matter as though it were a fresh appeal. That seems to me to be an extremely wise and sensible procedure bearing in mind the fact that all institutions are mortal and occasionally fallible. In his statement through counsel a few days ago, the Director of Public Prosecutions said that if the Home Secretary thought it right to refer the Maguire case to the Court of Appeal, the Director would not consider it right to seek to uphold the safety of the conviction, the ground that he expressed through counsel on Thursday.
Are not there two lessons to be learnt from the recent cases? First, when the police or prosecution, in their enthusiasm to obtain a conviction, depart from the usual good practice, convictions that might otherwise have stood on appeal—I am not referring to a specific case—may be upset as being unsafe or unsatisfactory. Secondly —although I am not casting aspersions on the judges—no matter how good the adversarial system may be for trials, in recent difficult cases it has been found wanting in regard to appeals. Will the Law Officers' Department give evidence to the May inquiry about a different way to examine these matters, as recommended by some of my hon. Friends and by the Select Committee on Home Affairs?
I should be quite wrong to comment on anything that may form the subject of Sir John May's inquiry. I certainly shall not take up the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman in the first part of his question; all those matters are for Sir John May. As to the merits and demerits of the adversarial system, it falls within Sir John May's remit. If he seeks evidence on it, my Department and others will be happy to provide it.
Un High Commissioner For Refugees
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what was discussed when the Minister for Overseas Development last met the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and if he will make a statement.
I met the new High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Stoltenberg, in Geneva on 5 June. We had a most useful and wide-ranging discussion, focusing particularly on Mr. Stoltenberg's plans for reorganising UNHCR and improving its operational effectiveness. I also announced new British contributions totalling £5 million, which will help UNHCR over its current financial difficulties.
While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask whether she believes that Mr. Stoltenberg can take a firm administrative grip on the affairs of his new command, and ensure that adequate resources are made available for the ghastly and growing worldwide problem of refugees?
Yes, I do. Mr. Stoltenberg has been in post for only four months, but in that time he has already begun a serious reorganisation of the Geneva headquarters. His aim is not only to improve overall efficiency, but to cut unnecessary expenditure. We strongly support him in his efforts, and will continue to do so. He will have a high chance of success if other donors follow our lead.
Has the Minister raised with Mr. Stoltenberg conditions in the Whitehead camp in Hong Kong where 22,000 people, 3,000 of whom are children under 10 years of age, are living on an 8-acre site in utterly deplorable conditions? Just what is happening? What assurances can the Minister give the people in those camps about their future? What initiatives are the British Government taking to ensure early screening of those people? Has the Minister visited the camps?
I have not visited the camps, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office has done so. Not only is my Department supporting UNHCR in all its work, particularly because we remain committed to the UNHCR comprehensive plan of action, but the diplomatic wing of the Foreign Office is putting money into improving conditions for the people who are waiting to be screened and is seeking to speed up the screening process.
Although one has the greatest sympathy for the refugees in the camps in Hong Kong—I have visited them——
The hon. Gentleman has been on a freebie as well, has he?
Yes, I have been to Hong Kong.
I am beginning to think that I am the only person who has not been.
Order. Let us get on. I have not been either.
If the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) had a passport, he might know something about the world on which he continually comments.Although one has great sympathy for these people, is not it a tribute to Government policy that the number of boat people coming over on the monsoon has declined considerably? To what can one possibly attribute that decline except the forthright policy of the Government in returning those people?
The number of Vietnamese boat people arriving in Hong Kong is markedly lower than it was this time last year, but there are still nearly 55,000 people in the camps in Hong Kong, which is the point that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was making. I believe that we have got through to many elements in the Vietnamese Government that it would be much wiser to look after the people in Vietnam—that is what we are doing through our aid programme through the non-governmental organisations—rather than many of them taking to the seas and perishing at sea as happened in the past.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what percentage of gross national product is currently spent on overseas aid; and if he has any plans to raise this to meet the United Nations target for such spending.
As I informed my hon. Friend the member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on 15 June, the United Kingdom's ODA/GNP ratio in 1989 is provisionally estimated at 0·31 per cent.The Government continue to accept in principle the UN target of 0·7 per cent. of GNP to be allocated to official development assistance. Our prime concern is to ensure that our aid programme is planned to continue to increase in real terms, and is used to maximum effect. Levels of aid spending will continue to depend on economic circumstances and on other claims on public resources.
Will the Minister explain why we are giving such a miserly amount of overseas aid when the French, the Swedes and the Danes can all give more than the United Nations recommendation of 0·7 per cent? Is it that our economy is in such a mess that we cannot afford it, or do we just not care?
We care very much. It is interesting to note that of the 18 western donors only five achieved the target in 1988, and of those only France had a larger aid programme than the United Kingdom. There are two other important UN targets: the 1 per cent. of GNP for total flows and the 0·15 per cent. of GNP for the least developed countries. We meet those targets. The most important point is that between 1985 and 1988 British direct investment in the developing countries was more than half the combined EC total and the United Kingdom exceeded the 1 per cent. target six times in the 1980s.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that although official aid is only one element of our overseas aid programme, it is extremely important and meets life-supporting and life-saving needs that cannot be met by commercial sources? Will she continue to do her utmost to ensure that that percentage is increased?
Indeed. I intend to ensure that our aid programme continues to grow. It was 0·31 per cent. in 1986, but since then the GNP has grown by 11 per cent. in real terms. It is better than it was, but I intend to make it better still.
Will the Minister admit that if the Government had maintained Labour's 1979 level of overseas aid the third world would be better off by £8 billion? Does she recognise that just one fifth of that sum would prevent 7·5 million children from dying each year from diarrhoea and other preventable infectious diseases? The Minister, who once had a reputation as a Conservative wet, must be thoroughly ashamed to have presided over a cut in overseas aid of 24 per cent. since 1979.
As I took on this job last July, I hardly think that the hon. Lady's latter comment is relevant. The funds being spent on children, particularly to prevent infectious and tropical diseases, are increasing and we intend them to increase further. It would do the developing world no good if we continued the economic policies that prevailed in 1979 because the third world would simply not benefit. If we have had to curtail our aid while we put our house in order it has been to spend better on sound economics, as we intend to do in the future.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would he better to get away from this extraordinary United Nations figure and to concentrate on doing what we do well—delivering a high quality of aid? That is what matters.
My hon. Friend is right. The development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that the quality of the United Kingdom's aid programme is better than others. We deliver, pound for pound, more help through our aid and we intend to continue doing so. The quality of aid is paramount and we intend to ensure that it continues to be targeted on the poorest. In 1988, 70 per cent. of our aid was given to the poorest 50 countries.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to send another British delegation to review the current situation in Cambodia.
I have no immediate plans to send another delegation to Phnom Penh. However, we are implementing our commitment to provide support to British NGOs and multilateral agencies active in Cambodia, and a further visit may he desirable for monitoring and other purposes later this year.
Have not things changed since last year, and is not substantial aid required by the Hun Sen Government to tackle the Khmer Rouge and to deal with the serious economic consequences of war? Should not the Government change their policy, recognise the Cambodian Government and offer bilateral aid? Is this another issue of which, as a former wet, the Minister is ashamed?
We are well aware that there have been changes since last year which is why I announced new aid in January. I shall make an announcement soon about the details of that new help to Cambodia. We have no relations with the Hun Sen regime, so there will be no Government-to-Government aid. The Government are working, with our friends and partners, for a comprehensive political settlement and for free elections. I strongly support the current diplomatic activity, including the work of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The recent meeting in Tokyo increased understanding and we shall continue to work for a political solution.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Welsh questions, in answer to my welcome and gentle questioning, the Secretary of State responded arrogantly and unpleasantly. That clearly is his choice and is not a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, but, more serious, his calculated gesture was inaccurate and misleading. He threw across the Dispatch Box a letter from a National Union of Public Employees official and challenged me to show that, in my capacity as spokesman on health service matters in Wales, I am not a puppet of health service employees. The letter asked me to write to all members of Pembrokeshire health authority —not the subject of the question—warning of the dangers inherent in that health authority becoming a trust. I well understand the deep worry among health service employees in Pembrokeshire about this decision, which will remove power and decision making from their area. I did not follow that request, although I supplied the authority's general manager with copies of answers from——
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has adequately made his point.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is an important point of order, because the letter contains an instruction from a union official to a Member of this House:
"Individual letters to be sent by yourself, or Robin Cook, to each Member—before 6 June Area Health Authority meeting, if possible: setting up of trust.
That letter shows quite clearly that the Opposition, for all their talk, are puppets of the unions and that what is important to them is the interests of the producers and not of clients, customers or patients.There is a need to stress the importance of NHS and a commitment if possible under the next Labour Government to the retention of Pembrokeshire Health Authority."
Order. This is a bit of a slanging match that is continuing from Question Time. It is not a matter of order for me.
A very brief comment, please.
The salient point is that I did not respond to that understandable request by writing to the members of the health authority. Therefore, inadvertently, Conservative Members have proved that we put consumers and employees first. I call upon the Secretary of State to show that he has the courtesy to withdraw a completely unwarranted slur.
May I make a comment?
I think not today. The hon. Member is always very helpful, but we must get on with the defence debate.
Statutory Instruments, &C
With the leave of the House, I shall put together the Questions on the two statutory instruments on the Order Paper.
That the draft Insurance Companies (Amendment) Regulations 1990 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Companies (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 1990 (S.I., 1990, No. 1197) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.?—[Mr. Garel-Jones.]
First Day's Debate
[The Defence Committee has reported on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1990 in its Eighth Report, House of Commons Paper 388 of Session 1989–90. The Fourth Report of the Committee on Reliability and Maintainability of Defence Equipment, House of Commons Paper 40, and its Seventh Report on Rapier Field Standard, C, House of Commons Paper 273, are also relevant.]
I beg to move,
That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1990 contained in Cm. 1022.
I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
Perhaps I can start with a measure of agreement across the House. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) complained last year about the late publication of the White Paper which resulted in the House not being able to hold this debate until exactly four months later, on 18 October. He said that it was high time that the defence estimates were published at the beginning of April. I hope our achievement of 2 April is agreeable to him. I am sure that the achievement of this debate within a reasonable time is for the convenience of the House. At a time of rather fast-moving events, it is desirable that there should not be too big a gap. I appreciate that this has resulted in some pretty energetic work by the Select Committee. I know that the House will be grateful to the Chairman and members of the Select Committee for ensuring that their report is available for this debate.We have two days for this important debate. I am opening the debate. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will wind up today's debate. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will open tomorrow's debate, and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement will conclude it. As I have mentioned my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, perhaps I could say one word which will result in great despair for those who live on conspiracy theories, and may ruin half the speech to be made by my hon. Friend. I hope that I shall be excused for putting one or two facts on the record. It is quite clear to both of us that somebody is engaged in trying to drive wedges between us. I can say with the full authority of my hon. Friend that we feel singularly unwedged about it. Let me mention a few facts. No matter how many times people are corrected, the media reports still long to cling to the conspiracy theory—which one does not mind about if it helps to sell newspapers—but if there is a secret back room plan it is important to deal with it and put it on record. To deal with an old story, before Christmas my hon. Friend put before me a paper concerning certain matters relating to defence procurement. I arranged for the Prime Minister to see a copy of it. Since then, my hon. Friend's interesting work and that of others has been carried forward in the work that we have been doing on Options for Change. Of course, that has involved my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, together with my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement and other Ministers, defence staff, under the leadership of the Chief of the Defence Staff, and the Office of Management and Budget. I should like to put on record our appreciation of the way in which that work has been carried through—very difficult and important work at this time. I make it clear also that the chiefs of staff have been involved and are aware of the detail of the work, as is right that they should be. I am sorry if I have spoilt circulation for one or two journalists in this matter, but it may be helpful to put the record straight. I now refer to the quite remarkable developments that have occurred since we last met for this debate.
I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend before he begins the main part of his speech. As he may have some announcements to make, and looking to the future of the changed situation, does he recognise that the Ministry's work, to which he has referred, should not be dealt with just in an administrative manner? In due course, if there are to be major changes, my right hon. Friend may wish to present a special White Paper for debate by the House.
I take note of what my hon. Friend says. I shall raise further matters later.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not give way because I have quite a lot to say. It is a two-day debate and I hope that hon. Members will excuse me if I do not give way too often, in the interests of giving other hon. Members a chance to contribute to the debate.We last debated defence estimates eight months ago. It is interesting that, on the very day on which we debated the defence estimates—18 October—Mr. Honecker resigned. President Ceausescu was still in power and still had a further two months in office. The Berlin wall was unbreached. Of course, there were imminent signs of change in Europe. There have been substantial advances towards German unification, and free elections in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. We are less clear of the situation in Romania, but undoubtedly there are substantial changes indeed. The Soviet Union has agreed that its forces will be out of Hungary and Czechoslovakia by the middle of next year. As well as the developments in eastern Europe, there have been profound developments in the Soviet Union itself. At this time last year, we were aware of the strains of nationalism in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Perhaps the full implications of events in Lithuania and developments in the other Baltic states were not so apparent, nor were they in the Ukraine and certainly not, as has perhaps been the most dramatic event of the lot, in the republic of Russia itself and the emergence of Mr. Yeltsin as the new President of Russia. Dramatic developments have taken place, and the west has been seeking to respond to the need to carry forward much of the work that is already under way. The House knows that we readily embarked on negotiations on conventional arms reductions in Europe and the talks in Vienna. We had high hopes that we would perhaps have had an agreement by now. When I was in Moscow in May I began to wonder whether there would be agreement at all this year. After the summit between President Bush and President Gorbachev, there is a real prospect that that matter is now back on the rails. Obviously, we are all anxious to see an early agreement. Strategic arms reductions talks are continuing towards, we hope, a successful conclusion, although with difficulties, as are negotiations on the reduction of chemical weapons. All that is intended to lead to a summit in the conference on security and co-operation in Europe. When preparing for the debate, I had the opportunity of reading Marshal Yazov's response to what is clearly the Soviet Parliament's Select Committee on Defence, which contained various proposals about the changes that might take place in the Soviet Union. Perhaps that is the ultimate confirmation of the recent changes in the world. As I have said, this is a time of remarkable changes which obviously present major problems, challenges and concerns for our armed forces. All hon. Members realise the uncertainties that they face. In my discussions with other Defence Ministers, especially with Marshal Yazov, but also with the French, German and Italian Ministers and with all our colleagues in NATO, I am always conscious of the difference between a conscript army, the members of which challenge why they should have been enlisted, and our position, with our volunteer armed forces, the members of which have made their careers a commitment to this country's armed forces. They are concerned to know what the future may hold for them. I should like to make absolutely clear my full understanding and concern for them, which is shared by my colleagues. In the past year, our armed forces have not only been concerned about their future in a changing world but have been facing problems and challenges because of the security threat, especially in Germany. Given the latest news on the tape, this is an appropriate time for us to express again our appreciation not only of the resolution of our own armed service men, and of the efforts of our police and security services, but also our appreciation of the efforts of the police of our colleagues in NATO, Europe and the United States. Since we last met, arrests have been made in all those countries, all of which make their contributions with ever-closer co-operation. As can be shown clearly by the events of last weekend, when terrorists dodge backwards and forwards across borders, there is obviously an important need for close co-operation, and I express my appreciation for receiving it. Since our last debate, the armed services have continued their dedicated work in Northern Ireland. In my comments, I am including not only the work of our own armed forces, the resident battalion, the roulement battalion, but also the brave men of the Ulster Defence Regiment who have tough and dangerous work and who live and work in an exposed situation. I thank also our forces in the Falklands, Cyprus, Hong Kong and Belize and refer to the continuing watch of the Armilla in the Gulf. I thank all those in so many places in which my colleagues and I have had the chance to meet our armed forces during the past year. The resolution and good humour of our armed forces was at no time clearer than when they answered 133,000 calls during the ambulance dispute. They were not carrying out their normal role, but at a time when people were trying to find opportunities for criticism, when asked to help in an emergency and in an unexpected and unsought task, the Army responded willingly and readily and discharged its responsibilities most capably. The tribute that we pay so readily to our armed forces is mirrored by the admiration and respect in which they are held throughout the world. No small part of Britain's image in the world or of the relations that we are able to hold with so many countries can be traced to the number of countries which ask us to help them to train their Army and armed services. At present, we have training missions in no fewer than 33 countries. I shall visit the latest addition in the near future. President Nujoma has asked for assistance in training the Namibian armed services. That is a tribute to our armed services. We have 5,000 military students here from 110 countries. Students from two thirds of the countries of the world have been among the 50,000 military students who have been to this country in the past 10 years. I put that fact on record as evidence of the contribution made by our armed forces. The most sincere tribute that we could receive is international respect for their quality.
Will the Secretary of State comment on the report that a high-level military and diplomatic delegation is visiting NATO from Japan and explain what that is about? Are we establishing military relations with the Japanese?
I cannot comment on that because I was not aware of it. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, with his ability to identify such interesting items. I thank him for drawing the matter to my attention, and shall take note of it.Not the least of the problems that our armed forces have faced in recent months is a particular and immediate one, that of this year's Ministry of Defence budget. The Select Committee challenged me about this when I gave evidence on the defence estimates. I told the Committee about the problem that we faced due to the impact of inflation. I said in May that inflation was costing us a further £350 million in the current year. The forecast of our expenditure that I have now received suggests that the problem is likely to be worse than that. Therefore, we have introduced a temporary bar on most new commitments while we examine what savings should be made in this year's expenditure. I know that the House is aware of that. I have set in train some short-term changes at the margin of the defence programme to reduce expenditure. They have largely been decided and announcements will be made as appropriate, including some procurement changes that will be announced by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement this evening. Those measures should allow the general restraint on new commitments to be eased by the end of the month. But each new commitment will be closely scrutinised to ensure that we stay within our cash allocation for the current year. That modification in the arrangements will help to protect the essential and proper day-to-day activities of the services. In considering which short-term measures to adopt to reduce expenditure, we have, where appropriate, sought to have regard for the emerging picture from the "Options for Change" work, about which I shall soon speak.
The Secretary of State mentioned that short-term changes had already been decided. Will he tell us about them today, or will the Minister of State for Defence Procurement let us know about them tomorrow, if that is when he is to speak?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to what I said. I said that they will be announced as appropriate. If they are appropriate for announcement in Parliament, that will be done. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will speak this evening and comment on some procurement items. We shall be anxious to explain each of the measures in the appropriate way. I hope that that takes account of the comment in the Select Committee's report that it was essential that any changes in defence expenditure should reflect a planned and orderly process of matching commitments and resources. I hope that it will be seen that that is precisely what we have tried to do.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that none of the short-term changes will involve delaying payments to suppliers? [Interruption.]
The Secretary of State does not know.
That was a nice intervention, as always made in a constructive way, from not the most alert hon. Member. I am merely checking the facts because I am concerned about that and we have a problem with the computer—[Interruption.] All suppliers have been notified about that and Sir Peter Levene has been discussing the matter with them for a long time. There are special arrangements for small firms. The Ministry of Defence Procurement Executive is changing its computer —that is why I am answering very precisely the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg). There will be a period when no payments are made. That period is being kept as short as possible and all the companies involved have been notified about it. In my desperate attempt at accuracy, I thought that I should put that on the record. Subject only to that unfortunate but unavoidable point, the answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes.I turn now to the background against which this debate is taking place. I have already referred to the tremendous changes occurring in central and eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. It is generally understood that the Warsaw pact has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. In military terms, that means that after the withdrawal of Soviet forces and the implementation of the reductions in conventional arms envisaged at Vienna, it will be difficult to imagine any conventional attack of any strategic size by the Soviet Union across NATO territory. Nevertheless, those who, like me, have access to intelligence reports continue to be highly conscious of the large and continuing investment in arms and equipment in the Soviet Union. It is a staggering thought that even now, in the fifth year of Mr. Gorbachev's time in office, the figures show that one new nuclear submarine is being launched every six weeks. Two aircraft, six tanks and one missile are produced every day. Marshal Yazov has said that the emphasis is now on quality rather than quantity; that is certainly borne out by this year's parade in Red square, which revealed one new main battle tank and one new heavily armoured infantry combat vehicle of very high quality. The Soviet navy received a record tonnage of new surface ships in 1989. These ships are larger and more powerful than their predecessors and have longer range, more accurate missiles. The aircraft carrier Tbilisi is on trials in the Black sea at the moment; the Riga is being fitted out; and the Ulanosk is under construction. The Flanker and Fulcrum high performance fighters which are now being developed for aircraft carrier use will considerably enhance the air defence capabilities of the fleet. It is against this background that certain changes are taking place: for instance, the removal from Hungary of a squadron of about 40 Flogger aircraft, which have now turned up in the Kola peninsula and been reclassified from the Soviet air force to the Soviet naval air force. I mention these aspects because Marshal Yazov responded to what I shall call a select committee:
All that means a continuing enhancement of the real military capability of the Soviet Union. The numbers themselves seem to show a reduction. This year about 46 ships and submarines have been scrapped, but all but one of them was more than 30 years old, so in terms of capability and up-to-date weaponry the Soviet Union maintains a significant range of armaments. We trust and believe that the intention to use such weaponry is, under the present leadership, as slight as could be hoped. However, we should never forget, when considering our defence arrangements, that the situation can change as long as armaments remain."The fulfilment of the package of measures to improve the quality parameters of armed forces' effectiveness, mobility and economy will continue. The reorganisation of branches of the armed forces and the technical re-equipment of troops and fleet force will be completed."
In the estimates that the right hon. Gentleman presented this year, after the important changes to which he has alluded, he has come up with a bigger defence budget than the one that we discussed last year. Does he think that the Russians would be entitled to interpret that as a continuation of the threat to them? For how much longer are the military on both sides to be allowed to control budgets on such a scale when the money is needed in the Soviet Union and here for more pressing social needs?
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has not done his homework and has not listened to what I said earlier. This year the armed services are facing the biggest cut in real terms that they have faced for a long time. I have explained that we had to have a moratorium and are now having to move into a period of tight constraint. That is because there is great pressure on defence expenditure, and there will be a significant reduction of more than 3 per cent. in real terms this year. The right hon. Gentleman will find that that compares favourably with other NATO countries with which on previous occasions he sought to compare us.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the world remains an unsafe place, especially when some countries in the middle east have access to chemical and biological weapons and in some cases nuclear weapons and also have the delivery systems for them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. When one looks at the wider world, one sees that the biggest problem at present, which no doubt worries the Soviet Union as well as the western powers, is the degree of proliferation and the variety of missile and warhead capabilities. There is no doubt that we need to consider those aspects when looking at out defence plans.Before I speak about the approach that we should take under the "Options for Change" exercise, it is worth reflecting on the mixed advice that is received by the House. I understand that the Opposition may attack Conservative Members of the Ministry of Defence for being divided. As the Opposition have two contrary amendments on the Order Paper, it takes a certain conceit to seek to raise the issue of division on this side of the House. It will be interesting to see whether the hon. Member for Clackmannan draws attention to the divide in the Opposition. In each of the last two defence debates alternative amendments were tabled by the Opposition. One was from the Opposition's Front- Bench spokesmen and the other was from the Labour majority. That majority is ignored in the House. I intervened in last year's debate during the speech by the hon. Member for Clackmannan to ask whether 4 million votes at the party conference would be totally ignored. Judging by the way that he avoided the question, it is clear that they were. Because they are divided, the Opposition do not make any worthwhile contribution. That seems to confuse the newspapers. I made an unkind criticism recently of one or two media reports. A wonderful letter appeared in the press from a lady called Meg Beresford, the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I do not know who was responsible for the version that appeared, whether it was "The Grauniad" in full flood or whether the lady got herself into a bit of a muddle. The letter was about TASM—tactical air-to-surface missile—the sub-strategic nuclear weapon, and it stated:
I do not think that we have discussed the range of a Labour Government, but that is an extremely revealing misprint. The armed services deserve a consistent approach, clear leadership and honesty. In their recent policy document the Opposition said that they would look for reductions in Britain's defence spending far beyond anything envisaged at last year's Labour party conference in Brighton. The hon. Member for Clackmannan seems to have forgotten the way in which Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen and the Leader of the Opposition tried to mobilise the conference to vote against that motion. They were defeated by a majority of 2:1. Our having been told in last year's debate that that would not be Labour party policy, it now appears in the Labour party's policy document. We know what it means. If the hon. Gentleman does not know, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will tell him. It means coming down to the average. It means taking £5 billion—some would say £9 billion—from our defence expenditure. Is that Labour party policy? It has appeared in the policy document. Are we to take it that that is Labour party policy? It will not do for the hon. Gentleman to say, as he stated in a speech to the SPD —the West German Social Democratic party—on 11 June, that""CND is concerned that a Labour Government can reach the Soviet Union from Britain and would throw an almighty spanner in the works of current arms negotiations.
It should be remembered that that does not apply to any individual pledge where trade unions and jobs may be involved. That disarmament pledge does not apply to the European fighter aircraft; nor does it aply to ECR90. If it does, I shall be grateful if the hon. Gentleman will intervene to tell us whether the pledge, which is based on the greatest opportunity for disarmament, will mean unemployment in Edinburgh for the Ferranti employees who are working on ECR90. What is the position to be? We are seeing a dishonest approach. The Labour party is trying to ride every horse at the same time if there are votes to be gained by so doing. There is a more responsible approach to these matters. We are facing enormous changes, and these must be recognised in our defence policy. I have been struck by what happened at the end of the first world war. The then War Cabinet adopted the 10-year rule. It decided that in framing revised estimates it should be assumed that the British Empire would not be engaged in any great war during the next 10 years and that no expeditionary force would be required for that purpose. The House knows the history of the 10-year-rule. It was extended and it lasted from 1919 to 1932. The House knows also of some of the legacies and implications that flowed from it. Wise men make mistakes and fools repeat them. That is a wise understanding. Wise men can make mistakes, and it is the fools who repeat those mistakes. In 1934, Winston Churchill said:"the opportunities for disarmament have never been greater and Britain must take as much advantage of them as possible."
I trust that we shall never see such a comparison again. I say that on the very day of the 50th anniversary of "L'appel", the call by General de Gaulle, when France —surprised, caught unawares and defeated—started her fight back. I think that the wisdom of not making long assumptions for the future could not be more clearly underwritten."Wars come very suddenly. I have lived through a period when one looked forward, as we do now, with anxiety and uncertainty to what would happen in the future. Suddenly something did happen—tremendous, swift, overpowering, irresistible."
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No. I have given way once to the right hon. Gentleman.It was a leading member of the right hon. Gentleman's party—I think that he will recognise these words of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)—who said:
"Once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders."
My right hon. Friend is right in drawing attention to the need to look ahead for a decade. Does he accept that in understanding the problems better we must recognise the long time scale involved in obtaining the so-called peace dividend? Things that are coming to fruition now represent decades of research and development and industrial development. With the best will in the world, we cannot switch off the tap as quickly as some would urge.
It is with pleasure that I congratulate my hon. Friend on his knighthood, and I agree very much with his first wise remark in his new status; I know that there will be many more. I would not wish to follow my hon. Friend, but Marshal Yazov himself said that the positive changes have not yet become irreversible and that the military danger persists. That remark came in a speech that he made in Red square, and we hear it much echoed. Defence is not something that can be turned on and off like a tap. We know how grateful we have been on occasions in our history for having trained and properly armed forces available at times when we have suddenly needed them. It is part of our current consideration to ensure that, if situations and circumstances change, we can make an appropriate response.By the end of this year we could, if all goes well, have in place some of the most far-reaching changes in Europe's defence and security that we have witnessed since NATO itself was established. We could have a united Germany in NATO, an agreement to reduce conventional forces in Europe and the prospect of negotiations on further reductions, substantial Soviet withdrawal from eastern Europe in train, and a CSCE summit. Those are our hopes, if they are not yet realities. That situation requires us to rethink what should be NATO's strategy in those circumstances—preserving what is vital for secure defence while adapting to the changed threat and the new situation. That is precisely what we have been doing in the nuclear planning group in Canada, the defence planning committee in Brussels and the North Atlantic Council, and what we shall be doing at the next NATO summit in London in two weeks. Against that background, we shall also need to consider the forces that we in the United Kingdom will need over the next decade. It is a time to think ahead and to prepare for the future—though we cannot of course take our decisions in isolation. They will depend in good part on the wider arms control negotiations in which NATO will be involved. Even if all our present hopes are fulfilled, the essential core of our defence needs will remain. We will still need to maintain our independent nuclear deterrent, because we know so well that conventional weapons alone cannot deter war. On the strategic level, that means not only Polaris and then Trident, but the associated frigates, submarines and minesweepers that ensure their safe deployment. As part of NATO's policy of keeping an appropriate mix of conventional and nuclear weapons, we shall maintain also sub-strategic nuclear capability. We shall also need to maintain the forces and equipment necessary for the direct defence of the United Kingdom. That means air defence aircraft; surface-to-air missiles and the necessary warning and control systems; naval forces, especially to combat the threat of hostile mine laying, and maritime patrol aircraft; and sufficient forces for military home defence. Separate from that, we keep in mind the force levels required to sustain our contribution in Northern Ireland. We shall need adequate forces to meet our commitments in the wider world outside Europe. I have in mind not only our existing commitments in the Falklands, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Belize, Hong Kong and Brunei, but the need to respond appropriately where circumstances demand. That may be with some or all our NATO allies and alone, if necessary, in defence of direct British interests. In some places that requires a specific garrison, and in others it can be met by a strategic reserve capable of rapid deployment, whether inside or outside NATO. We do not, necessarily need separate forces under those separate headings. For example, some of the sea and air mobile elements of the forces in the United Kingdom designated for the reinforcement of British Forces in Germany can have roles outside Europe as well. That is obviously true of other capabilities, such as frigates and aircraft.
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about flexibility, equipment and frigates. I know that he recognises the importance of the helicopter in the levels of defence forces which might be arrived at after negotiations. I am well aware that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement is to make a statement, but the right hon. Gentleman will know of the anxieties in my constituency and within the armed forces that that flexibility and manoeuvre should be supplied by EH101 aircraft. Therefore, will he reaffirm the words that he used on 7 June on BBC television when he said of the EH101:
? Will he reaffirm that in advance of a more specific statement which is perhaps to be made later by the Minister?"I have made it clear that I see that as an important component in our defence arrangements; I want it to go forward."
The right hon. Gentleman's constituency is not the only one in which that matter is of some interest, although of course, as Secretary of State, I have no constituency and I hope that that is clear and that no one will accuse me of an improper remark. I confirm what I said as recently as 7 June. My hon. Friend the Minister is likely to say something on that matter.
Is it the Government's intention to maintain the surface fleet at the same number of vessels as last year?
I do not have any comments to make on specific items. I am seeking to put before the House the approach that we are adopting, and we shall take the House as much into our confidence as we can. I appreciate that right hon. and hon. Members, especially those interested in defence matters, have listened carefully to what I have said, and will have understood the significance of some of my remarks.
Will my hon. Friend excuse me if I do not give way as I do not want to take up too much time?The obvious area where we hope there will be scope for some changes and redeployment is in Europe. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we may seek to reduce our forces stationed in Germany, in the context of successful arms control negotiations and agreed changes in NATO's strategy. Obviously that is one of the main areas that we are considering, covering not only our four divisions in British Army of the Rhine, but also RAF Germany. That is not just a question of scale. If our stationed forces are smaller, then they will need mobility and flexibility and a balanced capability. But they would not need so much fixed infrastructure—bases and depots—on the present scale. As part of that, we are also studying the implications of the changes in eastern Europe for our reinforcement capability for NATO's northern region, where we have extensive commitments, from Denmark up to northern Norway. We are looking at what response may be appropriate to the reductions in the size but also to the modernisation of the Soviet navy to which I have already referred, bearing in mind the crucial importance of transatlantic reinforcement and the importance of our seaborne supply routes. However, while NATO may rely relatively more on reinforcement by sea as well as air, the volume of reinforcements may be reduced, with smaller forces on both sides in Europe and there may be greater opportunity to exploit longer warning time. All those factors have to be considered when considering options for future Royal Navy and RAF maritime forces.
I should feel guilty if I did not first give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who tried to intervene earlier.
A few minutes ago, my right hon. Friend was talking about out-of-area commitments and working with our NATO partners. Does he consider that NATO will have a role out of area or does he consider that the Western European Union, which worked so well in the Gulf two and a half years ago, has an important role out of area?
No. My hon. Friend correctly referred to the Western European Union and its role in the background to the Armilla patrol. Western and world interests were affected by the war between Iran and Iraq, and it was necessary to protect the free world's supply of oil and its shipping lanes. That does not presage an out-of-area concerted role by NATO.In all this we must not forget that, even after recent unilateral reductions, the Soviet Union continues to deploy very substantial and very powerful forces which are continually being modernised and kept up to date. In looking at the options for change we are seeking a proper balance between the front line and support, not forgetting the basic infrastructure for our armed services such as housing and base facilities.
By implication, my right hon. Friend has said that we shall be faster and more flexible and that our forces could be used in different parts of the world. That implies that the balance of aircraft and helicopters will be far greater and the balance of armour lower. In those circumstances, and as heavy-lift and troop-lift helicopters will be a more integral part of the Army, has he considered the possibility of moving them from the Air Force to the Army?
I read the Army debate and I noticed that my hon. Friend made exactly that point to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I have no further comment to make. At the moment we are not considering that proposal.We must achieve a proper balance between the front line and support and we must also get the right balance, so far not achieved, between manpower and equipment expenditure so that we have well-motivated people with the kit to match the task. We must recognise that, with the demographic pressure that we face, it will be increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the present numbers of regular personnel. It is far better, if necessary, to have reduced numbers of properly manned front-line units, which reflect the changed commitments and risks of war, than to try to do too much. The transition to those new structures and maintaining them properly will inevitably involve costs, which will be a charge on the savings that we can make initially. Much work is going on now to ensure that any changes will not disrupt the essential future of our defences. In carrying that forward we are guided by two other critical considerations. The first is our duty to ensure that as soon as possible we inform those most affected in the armed services, throughout the Ministry of Defence and the defence industries about any proposals. Secondly, it is critical to remember that at all times our duty to our allies in NATO is to ensure that we keep in close concert with them. We shall want to ensure that Britain has the forces it needs for the defence of Europe and for its interests elsewhere in the world, including the training facilities that we are able to offer so widely. We shall want to ensure, too, that those forces have the equipment and the spares and supplies necessary to train effectively. We must be able to provide secure defence against any threat in the future while taking account of the extremely important and significant security changes in Europe we have seen in the past year. Neither I nor my colleagues in the Government are insensitive to the challenges and difficulties we face in making this transition. At the beginning I referred to the incredible changes that have taken place and the challenge that they pose to us. Some things change, some things endure. The proper and adequate defence of our country, whatever the circumstances may be, is one that must endure.
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
In some respects the Secretary of State has stolen my opening remarks in so far as, in the past, we have complained about the lateness of this debate. It is true that no time in the past eight months would have been the right time to hold this debate. The date on which last year's debate was held marked the end of an era, but little did any of us appreciate the significance of the brief report on the news agency tapes that Honecker was to retire. Certainly, only the most neanderthal Marxist can mourn the passing of state capitalism in eastern and central Europe. We can only marvel in joy and anticipation at the flair and imagination with which so many of the eastern and central European Governments are addressing the new challenges. For people with little experience of government, apart from the years they spent as unwilling guests of their predecessors' prisons, they have brought forth an almost endless stream of new ideas and proposals—for the demobilisation of foreign troops in their countries, the demilitarisation of their territories and the establishment of a new security order in Europe. Their motives are clear. The political oppression of the past 40 years has been supported and buttressed by the intrusive presence of armies of occupation, and by the crushing of any widespread form of popular opposition by troops in Poland, East Germany and Hungary in the 1950s, and a decade later in Czechoslovakia. For the past 40 or so years, those armies have been the mainstay of the repressive regimes. It is to the credit of the incoming Governments that the transition has been carried through with a patience and understanding of Soviet concerns that we cannot but admire, whereas the response from NATO has been at times slow, confused and mixed. From the Federal Republic has come a series of measures and often radical initiatives. Foreign Minister Genscher has continued the dialogue of ostpolitik, finding ways in which to help his neighbours; with Government encouragement, German businesses have blazed a trail through eastern Europe. The Dutch and Belgian Governments have not only supported that policy, but drawn rapid conclusions from the new military situation in central and eastern Europe. The British silence has been almost deafening. The Foreign Secretary tried to make a bid for freedom when he addressed the Conservative Political Centre in Wroxton on 20 January. He spoke of'condemns the Government for its failure to take proper account of, and make constructive responses to, the new conditions created by the welcome emergence of the new democracies in Eastern and Central Europe and the prospective unification of Germany; calls upon the Government to play a positive role in the reassessment of the future of NATO strategies including flexible response, and to participate effectively and constructively in the processes of negotiated reduction of nuclear and conventional weapons; deplores the failure of the Government to undertake effective assessment of and preparation for the impact of the potential change in defence needs on defence-related industries and on Her Majesty's Forces, and the possible savings and alternative uses of money currently allocated to the defence budget; and calls upon the Government to participate actively in the development of a new and durable system of security from the Atlantic to the Urals.'
Unfortunately, there was to be no bright new dawn. By the next morning the rubbishing process had started, and an article in The Independent said:"turning talks into tractors … The enormous prize of a CEF agreement would be a 50 per cent. cut in tanks and artillery and the withdrawal of 300,000 Soviet troops stationed in eastern Europe … it was remarkable that under the CEF agreement all armed forces covered would be demobilised."
But, of course, there was no rift between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. The position was further confused by a denial in the same newspaper by the Secretary of State for Defence, who said that not only was there no defence review, but"the PM will resist pressure for cuts."
However, in this rapidly changing Europe, within two weeks the same Secretary of State said, when answering defence questions:"Ministers were adamant that the perception of a reduced threat from the East would not be sufficient to support cuts in spending".
"we shall continue to examine options for change" —[Official Report, 6 February 1990; Vol. 166, c. 748.]
What cuts in which defence programmes would a Labour Government make?
If the hon. Gentleman waits, he will have an answer to his question. If he does not like what I am saying, he should try to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. We know that he takes a brief interest in these matters, asks a question and then leaves the Chamber. I shall give him an answer in my own time, and in my own way.There have been further references to the options for change. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces, indeed, went so far as to refer to the "Options for Change" review. By degrees, we are hearing an admission that a defence review is in hand. However, we have react of the slightly less cautious approach of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. Whether he is supposed to favour massive cuts will emerge during the debate. Certainly, the figure 32 will doubtless feature—whether it refers to infantry battalions or frigates. It is no magic figure—I see that the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), nods in agreement. Only two years ago to the day, one of those alleged to be participating in the "Options for Change" exercise—Mr. Mottram, of the Ministry of Defence—admitted that the number of frigates available was 32. That figure may have been plucked out of the air, but it has some substance. If the country could be defended by 32 ships two years ago, one can imagine that the Ministry of Defence and the Admiralty would be sufficiently relaxed about the matter. By way of compensation, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement attempted to reassure the Royal Aeronautical Society last week when he advocated the conversion not of swords into ploughshares but of an airbus into a bomber. In a world where conversion normally has a different meaning, only a British Tory Government and the present Minister of State for Defence Procurement could be so out of step. The argument about confusion reigning in the MOD would be laughable were in not for the impact that it appears to have had on morale at different levels. According to yesterday's Observer, defence chiefs are being called ostriches by their junior officers, and the Prime Minister, in spite of her enthusiasm for a strong defence, now quite clearly refuses to believe that the defence budget need cost us about £21 billion a year. While the Secretary of State is paralysed by indecision, caught like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming car, there appears to be total confusion in the Ministry. Yesterday's Observer said that the defence chiefs wanted a meeting with the Prime Minister. Such peaceful picketing usually occurs under Labour Governments; it certainly shows that the present Government are in no position to lecture anyone in the House about the nature of the housekeeping of the defence budget. We have already heard this afternoon from the Secretary of State the admission that finances are in such a shambles or, alternatively, the Government's handling of the economy is in such a shambles that they are incapable of entering into new defence requirements and capabilities over the next six weeks or so.
I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman just two questions. First, does he believe everything he reads in the Observer, and, secondly, at some point will he explain Labour's defence policy?
At present we are debating the defence estimates and the Government's White Paper. I believe a fair amount of what I read in the Observer, though have some doubts about Mr. Watkins' judgment at times, and those who read that paper will know what I mean.The way in which the Government are trying to cover up for their financial incompetence and maladministration of the defence budget requires far greater explanation than has been given today. We are not concerned only with the handling of the money available to the Ministry of Defence. We recognise that the Secretary of State is still relatively new to his office—he has held it only for some 10 months, so not all the financial problems are of his making. The Government's approach to the broader strategic considerations and the fact that the Government, and particularly the Prime Minister, had such difficulty in responding to the prospect of German reunification are far more worrying. We know that she moved from her gut anti-German position to putting her faith in the four-plus-two talks—her emphasis not mine. In the early days of discussions about what would happen about the reunification of Germany, the Prime Minister immediately sought to take the initiative away from the German peoples and to return it to what she regarded as the victorious allies. Certainly, she did not realise that the GDR and the FRG were not going to wait for the approval of the Grantham Germanophile before they set about uniting their two states. That meant that the full strategic implications of the changes in eastern Europe were lost to her for quite some time. Certainly no one was allowed to consider any prospect of change in the doctrines of flexible response and forward defence. It took the Prime Minister until 7 June this year to concede publicly in a speech to the North Atlantic Council that circumstances had changed, but even then it was a grudging admission. She quoted the defence planning committee, which said:
She noted that it referred only to a surprise attack. She could even envisage disarmament becoming rearmament:"The implementation of a CFE Treaty will virtually eliminate the possibility of a surprise attack."
When a Government such as the Federal Republic's are so preoccupied with the problems of reunification, cannot we expect the other major European contributor to NATO to come up with something original? We have yet to see the Prime Minister giving any form of leadership to the debate or any new thinking being offered. The Prime Minister admits that there may be troop cuts, but says that we shall continue to keep nuclear weapons up to date and based forward. Those weapons will be neither nuclear artillery nor a follow-on to Lance, on both of which she has been vetoed by the American president. Does that mean that we are talking of new, modern and up-to-date nuclear weapons, successors to the WE177? Will they be on British planes? Have the Germans agreed to their forward deployment? Has any other country been sounded out or agreed to accept them? Will we buy American? Or will we co-operate with the French, in which case how shall we be able to guarantee that there will be no strings attached, as France is not a member of the nuclear planning group or the military committee of NATO? If we do not co-operate with the French, will we pay for the project ourselves and, if so, where will the £3 billion come from? No other European member of NATO is prepared to accept those weapons. The Federal Republic has expressed its opposition, the low countries are against them and the Italians have shown their reluctance about having more bases in their country. How can we have flexible response without flexibility? Flexible response grew from NATO's concern about the alleged Soviet conventional superiority, western reluctance, both political and economic, to match its superiority in men and materials and the availability of relatively inexpensive, smaller yield and shorter-range nuclear weapons, which it claimed, if used sparingly, could deter the Warsaw pact from invading western Europe. I have never been convinced of the practicability of the concept of limited nuclear war. I certainly have doubts about the role of tactical nuclear weapons in deterring war. Despite the Government's assertion, there is no clear consensus among historians about whether tactical nuclear weapons played any role in persuading the Soviets not to invade. The only sub-strategic weapons that will be open to the alliance will be airborne ones. With in-flight refuelling, they will be capable of penetrating so far into the Soviet Union, and with such impact, that the strategy involved in their threatened use is fraught with difficulty. Some of the Secretary of State's difficulties about letters written to The Guardian may be attributable to the fact that the writer has no connection with the Labour party but is one of the defence thinkers of the Liberal Democrats. As far as I can see, they are welcome to her. The simple argument that the Americans advanced in the past for the presence of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe is that if there are no nukes there will be no troops. The United States must be reminded that if its ambitions are to be fulfilled, and if the cuts that the Senate and the House of Representatives want are to be made, the argument of "no nukes, no troops" has less resonance when we are dealing with such smaller numbers. The changes are not only of significance for nuclear war fighting; the forward defence will have to be changed, which, as the Secretary of State said, will have consequences for the role of the tank and infantry."that plough shares could become swords."
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Soviet Navy has several nuclear-powered submarines in service and being built, which cannot effectively be destroyed by conventional high explosive. Would he, therefore, maintain our nuclear depth bombs, which are carried by Royal Navy aircraft and maritime patrol aircraft, or would he get rid of them?
I was here when that question was last asked, and my predecessor was somewhat set adrift by it. We were then able to establish that increasingly the use of nuclear depth charges by the Navy was going out of fashion. They were no longer regarded as a justifiable weapon.They also destroy vast tracts of the sea, which makes it very difficult, in any kind of maritime engagement, to continue communications and business. They are as much a problem for those who use them as for those who are attacked by them. There is little strategic use for them, and I cannot say that any of the navies of the alliance would use them in times of conflict.
To return to the hon. Gentleman's point of "no nukes, no troops", if there were to be a Labour Government, and an American president said that America would maintain the nuclear umbrella over Europe only if there were bases for American nuclear weapons in Europe, would Britain provide bases for such weapons?
The response to that question would have to depend on the circumstances. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman asked a legitimate question and I have no objection to answering it. As and when NATO has the opportunity to consider such a request it will do so. A Labour Government would not believe that such weapons would he helpful, and would argue against them within the alliance. Apart from this Government, no country in Europe is prepared to consider a location for them on the continent of Europe. It is not a question which is likely to arise.The Secretary of State outlined his thinking on the question of tanks and helicopters. No intimation has been given of the consequences for tanks and, consequently, of the enhanced importance of helicopters. If the number of tanks were to be reduced by agreement, with the possibility of the British forces having as many as every other country, that would have serious consequences for Challenger 2, though not necessarily in terms of the project. If, however, fewer units are produced, the cost is likely to rise. There is still some time before the Challenger 2 development programme has to be assessed. I hope that before then the Secretary of State will give serious thought to the consequences of purchasing reduced numbers. I hope that he will also reconsider the position that he has adopted on providing assistance to single product companies that find themselves without the market that they had anticipated. The employment consequences for Vickers, in Leeds, Newcastle and other places in the north, will be very serious. The Government may disagree with the Opposition about diversification, but this is likely to be the first real taste of the implications of the defence cuts. I urge the Minister to consider this argument. It is not the same as the one deployed in the recent past.
Does that mean that the Challenger 2 tank replacement would not be part of the 25 to 40 per cent. defence reduction in a Labour Government's spending?
The hon. Gentleman puts figures on cuts that have yet to take place. As far as I know, he, CND and some of the more exotic fringes of the Labour movement have been the only ones to try to impose figures of that nature.I am certainly at one with the Secretary of State. I am not going to put price tags on cuts that may or may not be available to the—[Interruption.]
Will my hon. Friend comment at this point not only on "exotic" figures but on the study by Cambridge Econometrics which shows that over the next decade a 50 per cent. cut in defence spending would lead to a reduction in unemployment of 520,000 and to an increase in our gross domestic product of £10 billion?
I have read that report. It contains a fairly major qualification: that if there are appropriate programmes of diversification and regional assistance, then the suggested consequence and results could happen. The report is very heavily qualified on that point. Another significant aspect of it is that, by and large, the assumptions on which the Government see opportunities for defence cuts tend to come from opportunists who are driven by negotiation and arms control rather than by the individual actions of a United Kingdom Government ignoring the other requirements that could be imposed by the decisions of our allies and ourselves.The paper is of some substance and contains useful information, but a lot more work needs to be done on it than my hon. Friend hinted at in his question.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I have answered the question and I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman can check with Hansard that I have given way considerably more to Members on both sides of the House than did the Secretary of State.The Minister will be anxious to tell us what his intentions are regarding tanks. He seems to be prepared to tell everyone else. We look forward to hearing them. As for the number of battalions, we will have to wait and see whether there is a precedent for 32 battalions, as there is a precedent for 32 frigates. It is clear that the new mobile force structures will have to be established as international units. The helicopter will be an integral part of that process. If there are to be reductions and reorganisation—perhaps the Minister of State for the Armed Forces would like to comment on this tomorrow —I cannot see the regimental structure being relevant in its present form to the strategic needs of the Army. I recognise that that will be significant to recruitment, but if it is not done we might have more chiefs than Indians—more officers than men. Previous Secretaries of State have said that we can have any kind of internal reorganisation, as long as it does not affect cap badges, but the nature of the cuts that will be introduced before the general election will have an impact on cap badges and the regimental structure. That will require Opposition Members to think very hard. I read in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday about this and the Argylls campaign. It was one of the most popular petitions ever organised in Scotland. It was so popular that people signed it two, three, four or five times. It was a cause celebre at the time. The size of the armed forces that we may well be arriving at by negotiation and arms control will lead to considerably fewer opportunities for the kind of regimental structure that we had in the past. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that possibility because it is important. If he chooses to rule it out, we shall be interested to see what structure he will introduce when the opportunity arises. The House should be made aware of this matter at this early stage, as it will have quite dramatic effects on recruitment.
So that hon. Members can be sure that we have understood the hon. Gentleman correctly—we shall certainly have to look at changes if there are to be reductions in the medium or long term—did I hear him say that he believes that, as a result of the changes, we must do away with the regimental system?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking me that question. I shall clarify the point. I was saying that there may be a substantial reduction in the number of regiments. There may be a further combination, and that will not be an easy process for any Government. Frankly, I am surprised that the Secretary of State did not allude to that matter. Anxieties about cap badges are major considerations and should be raised in a debate of this nature. Although we are looking at this year's figures, we must look towards the future in our tacit discussion—if that is not a contradiction in terms—of the options for change.
I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. What is the answer?
I am not responsible for the lack of intelligence among Conservative Members.It has been made clear that RAF Germany will have a diminishing role in the new set-up and that there will be reductions in the RAF. As the provision of air cover is reduced, there will be a case for bringing a number of aircraft home to the United Kingdom and putting them into storage. We shall have to examine pilot recruitment. I should imagine that new and lower targets will be set. Certainly, if there are such developments, it will be incumbent on us to consider expanding the RAF Reserve. United States experience in that matter has been useful. It was able to recruit several airline pilots, many of whom had been in the armed services. Airline pilots could be encouraged to join the Reserve. With the use of simulators and so on, they should be able to maintain their service skills. The significance of rapid mobility to bring troops from the United Kingdom should be met in some respects at least by the use of civilian aircraft. Savings would be involved. The use of civilian aircraft is analogous to ships being taken out from trade to be employed within the maritime strategy. For the Navy that is a more difficult matter. Although it offers possibilities, naval arms control is a considerable way down the road. The United States believes that the maritime contribution is central to its concepts of power projection. That means that we are a long way from serious cuts. We should be examining the future programme for type 23 frigate orders and stating more clearly than we have already what the successor to that craft will be. The Government, along with others, have already withdrawn from the Euro-frigate programme. There is wide agreement that it does not really matter how hulls are shaped—I understand that that is the rationale behind the withdrawal from the Euro-frigate—and that it is the hardware placed in the hulls that is important. We are probably now able to look at less complicated systems for a less demanding range of duties than we have had in the past. Perhaps we could have several less complicated and therefore, I hope, less expensive craft built in the latter part of this century. All such cuts should flow from the CFE negotiations and related talks. The Vienna talks on conventional forces are nearing conclusion, but there are complications involving aircraft definitions. Surely it would be preferable to get an agreement on matters excluding aircraft and thus enable Gorbachev to return to the Soviet Union with a positive achievement from the talks as soon as possible. I was one of those in the previous debate who welcomed the inclusion of aircraft by President Bush. He insisted that they be included in last year's summit. That has proved to be a difficult matter to get round, and it would be preferable, therefore, for us to recognise the difficulties that are involved in getting agreement, and set the matter aside and accept that the best need not necessarily be the enemy of the good in every case. That would enable us to start work on further reductions in conventional arms and to expand the range of the talks not only to 50 per cent. cuts but to the elimination of all ground-based short-range nuclear weapons in Europe. We recognise that those weapons are now regarded as surplus to requirements, but it is important that they are removed by negotiation and by the appropriate systems of inspection and verification that are implicit in arms control negotiations. As Gorbachev said, agreements without inspection and verification are largely worthless or at least dangerous. It is crucial that we recognise that, if we wish to get rid of such weapons, there is scope for negotiation and for appropriate schemes of inspection and verification.
I am listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman's thoughtful speech. I hope that people will go out and buy "Looking to the Future", the Labour party's new proposals. The Labour party has specifically said that its defence policies have been entirely vindicated, yet the hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that unilateral nuclear disarmament is now out and that there should be negotiations. If his party's policies have been vindicated, will he say something about the deep cuts in defence spending that have been presaged by the Labour conference, if not by the Labour Front Bench?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has started reading the new Labour party document. I should like to hear from him when he has finished it.There are prospects for sizeable advances on short-range nuclear forces in a relatively short period when the CFE talks reach their second stage. Certainly, the progress that has already been made in Geneva is to be welcomed. Perhaps the Government would be willing to meet the Soviet request and participate in the next stage. Perhaps the Government will not be in power at that time because it will probably take some months at least for the United States Senate to ratify the treaty. It would be a tremendous shame if the Government's refusal to consider participating in the next phase of the strategic arms reductions talks process were a major obstacle to the completion of the present talks. The possibilities that I have raised so far have two attractions. First, they provide a reduction in tension and contribute to further stability and, secondly, they afford us the opportunity to reduce defence spending. As the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said on the BBC "Today" programme on 31 May:
. The reason for such low levels are historic and geographic, but the attractions that defence cuts offer for other forms of consumption are self-evident. In the past, we in the Labour party may have exaggerated the attractiveness of such cuts, but it is clear that, as the perceived threat diminishes in the public mind, willingness to fund what becomes considered to be excessive defence expenditure also diminishes. There are two problems in getting involved in the numbers game, and one is the fact that the negotiations are not yet complete—though we can anticipate their general direction in financial and strategic terms—and the other is the MOD's excessive secrecy regarding defence costs. A major drawback of the competitive tendering process has been the increase of commercial confidentiality, so that the unsuccessful companies do not get essential information. Indeed, in the "Today" programme to which I have referred, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said that the "Options for Change" review"The most successful economies are those that spend the least proportion of their GNP on defence"
That is certainly the case in the United Kingdom, but it appears that in the Federal Republic of Germany, the United States and the low countries, defence committees are given tremendous access to information. I believe that the Chairman of our Select Committee on Defence includes France in that list. I realise that this is something that he feels strongly about because, although he may have access to the information, it rarely appears in his report in any form other than a collection of asterisks. The Government's undue secrecy in such matters prevents us from producing the clear and detailed statements that the public would require not only from an Opposition, but, more importantly, from a Government. Therefore, I hope that once the summit in London is concluded, we shall begin to get the information that we require so that we can establish the options for change and how much they will cost. The Secretary of State spoke at some length about "Options for Change", but did not tell us when the process would be completed; when the document would be published; whether it will be in the form of a Green Paper or a White Paper; whether it will be published before or during the recess; whether the result will be announced at the Tory party conference or whether we shall have a debate this Session. Those are all legitimate points and I hope that at least one of the Ministers —perhaps the architect or author of "Options for Change", who is to reply to the debate—will be able to tell us at least when the rest of the story will get out of the bag, if he cannot tell us the contents. We do not believe that cuts are the sole source of stability. Indeed, the deployment of the forces and their composition are just as important. The doctrines that have been adopted by NATO and the relationship between the alliance and the Warsaw pact are of crucial significance. This is why the conference in Paris of all the 35 nations in the CSCE process is so important. We must recognise, however, that CSCE is, at present, a very limited concept. It has no administrative structure. I understand that it does not even have a telephone number. We must get agreement from NATO, the Warsaw pact and the neutral nations on the establishment of a task force to explore the requirements for overseeing the inspection and verification of the CFE cuts; for exploring the confidence and security building measures between neutral, alliance and pact and former pact states covering the Baltic and Black seas, as well as exploring the possibilities of resolving disputes such as the Hungarian-Romanian border dispute. That task force should be supported by top-level staff and given tight headlines to work to. It should have some responsibility for co-ordinating the diversification of the defence industries and the destruction of a number of the materials that are now the subject of disarmament discussions. I note that in the Army debate the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said that Britain had already made a contribution in terms of the peaceful uses of plastic explosives, such as the blowing up of tanks. Indeed, perhaps the single and most pressing need is to help the Soviet Union to get on with the business of dismantling its tank corps. The Soviet Union also needs assistance in providing housing for the armed service personnel who are being demobilised at the moment. There are a number of areas in which all the European countries, both the neutral countries and those of the western alliance, could help the countries of the east. Following the talks in Paris, the CSCE in its new form could be of tremendous assistance. Although it is probably premature to talk of a "new defence architecture"—and we are certainly not going to talk of an architecture that is built in reinforced concrete—for the moment at least, we should talk in terms of some form of scaffolding that can traverse the two sides of Europe. We need to be able to adjust such a structure and to assist in that process. It is likely that NATO, with a diminished military role, will have an advantage. As an organisation, it continues to enjoy the support of its member states and to have a coherence. But it needs to recognise that, while the threat has diminished in terms of intent, the capability remains. The threat has all but disappeared since the Soviet Union is no longer prepared to wage a war it cannot afford and will not win. But we have to guard against triumphalism. The Soviets and the neutral states, along with the new democracies, are all entitled to their say in the establishment of the new European order. The eagerness of some to seek out new threats outside Europe and to pursue them at any cost must not be allowed to develop. Of course, as a trading nation, we have interests, but we must guard against the post-imperial fantasists, who would have us donning our pith helmets and charging out east again. The tasks of the new European order are there for all to see—the establishment of common security; the building up of trust between the peoples of Europe; and the protection of civil and economic liberties. In the period after the second world war, Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin helped lay the foundation of those aims in 'western Europe. I fear that it will take a change of Government before Britain will make a similar contribution to the next phase which will embrace our whole continent. The defence White Paper is ample evidence of this Government's failure to appreciate the scale of the new challenge and, in particular, the prospects for a Germany united and free. For the Government's adherence to the old strategic thinking; for their grudging participation in the great armaments negotiations, and their secretive and half-hearted talk of defence cuts; and, most of all, for their inability to contribute in the way that we could to the creation of a new European order, I call on my hon. Friends to support our amendment."could not be conducted in public, the materials are highly classified … very, very secret".
It was a great pity that the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) spoilt his interesting remarks with some rather stupid rhetoric at the end of his speech. I do not know who caused him to do that; I hope that it was not him, because we feel that he is much more sensible than that. If, as he said, it takes a change of Government to get a decent defence policy, I must advise him that that certainly could not be achieved by a change to a Labour Government.I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made it clear that he is not proposing the abolition of the regimental system. Although we may need to make some adjustments to it in the future, it is wrong to suggest that we would ever want to organise our military forces in any way other than the system which has not only served us well, but which is the envy of every army in the world. All armies wish that they had a regimental system like ours. For all that that system may have one or two faults and inflexibilities, it is the finest thing that we have and we had better stick to it. I add my thanks to those that have already been given to the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House for arranging this debate at such a timely moment and for the fact that the White Paper has been published. We have not returned to what happened not only last year but the previous year—before my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) became Secretary of State for Defence—when the defence debate was held in the autumn when all the steam had gone out of it and when the White Paper was stale news. It would be to everybody's benefit if we could make constant efforts to hold the debate at this time every year. I say that with a certain amount of masochism because the timing presents my Committee with a hell of a problem in agreeing the report, taking evidence and printing it in time for the debate. As always, I am extremely grateful to my colleagues who serve on the Select Committee on Defence for all their hard work. Since the last defence White Paper debate in October, the Committee has visited Northern Ireland, in November, and the Falkland Islands, in December. Our report on the White Paper contains a number of references to the results of the visits. I should like to thank all those who welconed us on those visits and to pay our tribute to the service personnel—and especially to the families in Northern Ireland—who live and work in less than ideal conditions. Some infantry accommodation in the Falkland Islands is appalling. They are living in what are, in effect, little more than containers. I hope that progress on the new accommodation, particularly at Onion range, is progressing. Paradoxically—it is always the same—the further we got from headquarters and from everybody else, the more uncomfortable the site and the more isolated it was, the happier the troops were. I have come to understand that phenomenon over the years, but it is remarkable and bears repeating. Those in the new, comfortable and sophisticated accommodation want to get home, while the others are perfectly happy because they feel that they are doing a proper job.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one thing that the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said which was correct was that the services are worried? Does he agree, as I found, that they are worried about the possibility of a Labour Government who would, according to the party's policy document, impose cuts of at least 25 per cent., and probably substantially more? The services require reassurance from the Government that they will not be sent to fight without adequate weapons and the ability to defend us all.
I am sure that my hon. Friend can expand on those remarks when he makes his own speech. I entirely agree that we should not allow our troops to get into that position.
While he is talking about service accommodation, will the Chairman of the Select Committee comment on the fact that, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) in April, the Secretary of State said that unavoidable and essential repairs to service accommodation amounted to £323 million, and in an answer to me last week the figure had gone up to £360 million? The hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) said that troops seemed to be happier in the worst conditions, but does he think that the state of affairs implied by those answers is good?
My remarks related to troops on active duty in the Falkland Islands, and the argument holds ground. The hon. Gentleman should go to see them because he would then understand the context of my remarks. I am talking not about baths and showers leaking, but about the most primitive conditions where people think they are doing any essential job and are thoroughly happy doing it. That is a remarkable characteristic of the British soldier in service.In Northern Ireland we were much impressed with what we heard and saw, particularly with the vigour with which the third brigade pursues its task of border security. I pay a sincere tribute to the men and women of the Ulster Defence Regiment, whom we visited when we were there, and whose job is possibly the most thankless of all in the services. That they can continue—most of them part-timers and civilian members of the community of Northern Ireland—to do that job knowing that their lives are at risk both on and off duty, at home, on holiday or wherever they may be, is nothing short of remarkable. I am glad to pay tribute to them for the way in which they carry out their work. The Committee decided last winter to embark on an inquiry into the defence implications of recent events. We have finished that inquiry and will be reporting to the House soon, following our visit next week to Moscow and Berlin. Our report on the White Paper concentrates on, as it states,
To put it in less grand terms, we have concentrated on the daily and weekly grind of Ministry of Defence life. I hope that it is helpful that we have done so. Contrary to some reports, defence expenditure is not increasing. We tried to set out the complex picture in paragraph 2.2 of the White Paper, which I commend to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) if he wants to look at a complicated sum and talk about facts rather than dogma. This year is already a tough one. In 1989–90, the Ministry spent much of its accumulated savings carried forward from recent years. Inflation has been higher than expected, which has meant a real terms fall in defence spending this year compared with last of about £700 million. Some of that was anticipated, but most of it was not. Sir Michael Quinlan, the Permanent Under-Secretary, talks of"those aspects of defence policy which continue to deserve the attention of the House in the midst of dramatic changes."
We have seen the six-week procurement freeze, which is a desperate measure, although not a new one. For the next years in the planning cycle—1991–92 and 1992–93—plans suggest a small annual real rise, partly because £260 million extra was found for 1991–92 in the public expenditure White Paper. But the Committee is not confident that the sums for those years will represent an increase. As we state:"a very tight programme management problem."
Inflation can eat away at the defence budget, although we are happy to congratulate the MOD on having managed for three successive years to keep rises in the price of defence equipment below the rate of general inflation. That is a tribute to successive procurement Ministers, and not least Sir Peter Levene, who has had an electrifying effect on the way that contracts are let within the Ministry of Defence and on competition policy in general."Past experience does not inspire confidence in recent Treasury inflation forecasts … the planned small recovery in defence spending in 1991–92 and 1992–93 looks extremely susceptible to the cumulative effects of inflation."
Did not the Select Committee report that unreliable equipment in the armed forces costs the taxpayer £1 billion per annum? Why has the Committee made such a feeble attempt to get the Government to do something about it?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should think that it is us who are being feeble. There is a report tagged to this debate on the reliability and maintainability of defence equipment which I commend to the hon. Gentleman. If he wants to make a speech on the subject and catches Mr. Speaker's eye, no doubt he will do so. That is a worrying factor to which I shall turn later.
About £1 billion per annum could be saved if we dealt with the unreliable equipment.
It is a bit rich for a Member who has done nothing but call for reductions in defence expenditure to say that we are not doing well enough in spending the MOD's money.
My hon. Friend's point is that there is massive waste in defence spending. The Conservative party always criticises people for what, allegedly, they waste—for example, local government. But when my hon. Friend points out the savings to be made—Rapier overspent by about £300 million—why do we not have a clearer indication of the Government's acceptance that there is major waste in the defence budget?
I do not know why the right hon. Member for Chesterfield puts those questions to me. Has he read the reports which my Committee unanimously agreed, and which have been critical of such matters? The MOD is due to answer those questions and I am not sure why the right hon. Gentleman should criticise me for bringing the issues to the attention of the House. It is hard to take such criticism from people who do nothing but criticise any expenditure defence.There is no doubt that there is pressure from the Treasury in the public spending round to lop off the odd £1 billion from the defence budget—it was ever thus—and leave it to the MOD to decide which pet schemes to abandon. A few years of that, some say, and the defence budget will be well down. That is crazy, and those who write and talk about it do no service to themselves or to the defence of this country. It is essential that any changes in defence expenditure reflect a planned and orderly process of matching commitment and resources, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. Arbitrary cash cuts and deliberate attrition by inflation make prudent management of the defence budget next to impossible. In some senses, there will be little need to reduce service manpower because it is steadily reducing itself. The Committee has noted a shortfall from requirement of 12,342 in the services. The British Army of the Rhine is now below 55,000—the figure that used to be regarded as the floor. We looked at some of the measures taken to improve retention. Everybody has his favourite scheme. I am concerned about the fall in planned expenditure on recruitment advertising, to which the Committee referred, and about the huge falls in advertising for the reserves. The advertising budget for the Territorial Army is down 30 per cent. this year and that is difficult to understand when the reported difficulties in recruiting people to the services are so great. That does not seem to be a prudent saving. As we say in the report, the increases in the regular reserve, which simply reflects the number of people leaving the forces early and retaining a commitment. Few of those regular reserves seem to attend training, and Ministers should look carefully into that. Women constitute about 5·5 per cent. of service strength. Wrens now serve at sea, and no doubt some of my colleagues will want to express their views on that. In any event, it is essential that the MOD keeps an eye on the effects of the decision. I also hope that Ministers will be able to announce that all the remaining differences between men's and women's pay and conditions of service will shortly be removed. There is no justification for any remaining differentials. Because of MOD policy, we still do not know what proportion of service strength comes from the ethnic minorities, but we know from recruitment records that the proportion is very low. Only about 250 ethnic minority service personnel join each year—barely 1 per cent. of entrants. The Peat Marwick report was welcome, but the Committee calls on Ministers again to reconsider cap badge monitoring. There is nothing to lose from that and there could be much to gain. As for procurement, we refer to the need for another auxiliary oiler replenishment vessel soon. I note that when the Duchess of York named the "Fort Victoria" in Belfast on 12 June, describing it as a "floating supermarket", the Secretary of State was reported as having responded to questions about further orders by saying,
We hope that he can, and that a third one will be ordered soon. The Committee also drew attention to what is not in the White Paper—in particular, the older Royal Air Force aircraft which will soon need expensive replacements: Buccaneer, Nimrod, Andover, and Canberra. We also mention the long pause in deciding whether to go ahead with a new generation of nuclear-powered fleet submarines and further diesel-electric Upholder class submarines. The Committee also looked at merchant shipping. As the House knows, we have been studying the defence implications of the availability of merchant shipping for some years. The White Paper has a depressing and worrying situation to report. It accepts that this remains an area of concern for the United Kingdom and the alliance. In paragraphs 5.12 to 5.21 we examine the figures in some detail, and we are worried about the continuing decline in United Kingdom merchant fleet manpower and in shipping in certain categories. For instance, we depend on roll-on roll-off ferries being made available by our NATO allies. That is reflected in the fact that most of the ships chartered for United Kingdom national exercises were Danish roll-on roll-off ferries—none of the 29 ships chartered was British, although on NATO exercises most ships chartered seem to have been British. Recent events may increase rather than diminish the importance of shipping for reinforcing our forces in Germany. The channel tunnel has obvious weaknesses as a means of reinforcement, so we look to Ministers for a further sign that steps are being taken to reverse the decline in the merchant fleet and in merchant navy personnel. The Ministry is now untied from the PSA for works services, so for the first time we had a duty to examine the MOD works programme—a formidable task. Nine per cent.£1·9 billion—of the defence budget goes on works and maintenance. The Ministry is a huge landowner, with more than 250,000 hectares of land and with comparable property interests abroad. Among the many construction and modernisation projects are a substantial number for BAOR and Royal Air Force Germany. Some of them may prove to be unintended presents for Germany, although there are clearly commitments which will have to continue, however long and in whatever strength we remain. In paragraph 4 we recommend that the possibility of replacing the old barracks at Aldergrove in Northern Ireland be kept open; that would enable the previous balance of four roulement and six resident battalions in Northern Ireland to be restored which would reduce turbulence for service personnel in the Province. The Ministry is looking for more land for training; so much is openly declared in the White Paper. We discovered that since 1987 freehold holdings for Army training areas and ranges had risen by 3,000 hectares. Sooner or later the Ministry will have to deal with the question of additional training land for forces withdrawn from Germany. Knowing as I do how desperately short the services are of training land, I add that this is a policy which, although it sounds strange, makes every sort of sense, and I hope that it will be pursued. We have again examined MOD's new management strategy, which is reported to be proceeding well and on target for full introduction in 1991. With recent events in mind, it could hardly be introduced at a more vital or difficult moment. Tight budgetary control, the introduction of genuine performance indicators—on which we are obliged to report somewhat skeptically—and the setting of targets will all be needed if MOD and the services are to carry out what could be the most radical shake-up since the second world war. Finally, the Committee looked at defence research and development which, like works and maintenance, is a major and mostly unregarded part of the defence budget. This year R and D will cost £2·7 billion, or 12·6 per cent. of the budget. As a Committee regularly examining defence equipment procurement projects, we are only too well aware of how the money goes. Government policy is to reduce defence R and D's share of the nation's scarce technological resources—at present it accounts for almost half all Government-funded R and D. But the figures suggest that civil R and D is planned to fall faster than defence R and D. We cannot entirely share MOD's confidence that industry is increasing its share of financing defence R and D. All this is taking place at a time when the four principal MOD research establishments are to be set up in 1991 as the defence research agency. We are worried lest innovative strategic research be squeezed out by an approach dominated by the agency's commercial remit, based on a customer relationship with MOD and others. I have mentioned research and development at £2·7 billion; construction and works at £1·9 billion; 250,000 hectares of land; and 172,000 civilian employees. The list gives some idea of the scale of MOD's budget and of the scale of reductions in public expenditure that could theoretically be achieved. It is also a measure of the sheer scale of the management problem that making these radical changes presents. We shall be looking in the months and years to come at the way in which the Ministry handles these matters. I had intended to make some detailed comments on our two reports on reliability and maintainability of defence equipment and on Rapier, but as it is clear that hon. Members taking part in the debate have read them I shall leave the making of those remarks to them. Speaking on my behalf—although colleagues may agree with some of what I say—I should like to mention the atmosphere in which these changes are taking place. My right hon. Friend was absolutely right: we could never have believed the speed with which recent changes have happened. Some are now saying that the pace will slow down and steady, so we shall have time to take stock. I venture a different opinion—I think that the process is likely to speed up. Some of the positions that some countries are adopting in the negotiations are no more than that; I do not believe that they will bear examination in the light of those countries' experience. The Soviet Union is naturally uncomfortable about a united Germany being part of NATO. While trying to negotiate—not very realistically—that the military forces of the new Germany should somehow be associated with both NATO and the Warsaw pact, which does not make sense, the Soviets are also trying to negotiate guarantees of the presence of a large number of Soviet troops in the new Germany for five to seven years. We may have to allow the Soviets a transitional period. I should be all in favour of our negotiating one, but I believe that when the time comes matters will seem very different to the Soviet Union. When there is a united Germany that is part of NATO and the European Community, and when that new Germany speedily brings the living standards of those living in what is now the German Democratic Republic up to western standards, as we know it will, it will become even more uncomfortable for the Soviet Union to leave such an enormous part of its armed forces sitting in Germany in those new surroundings. One hears of strains already; East Germany under the old order was much better off than Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania, exciting comment among the Soviet forces about the differences between the quality of life there and in the Soviet Union——"I am not sure I can afford this one at the moment."
I am interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, would say to the proposition that a united Germany might be governed by the SPD, which might have won an election on a platform calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from German soil, with the result that a united Germany was in neither the Warsaw pact nor NATO. What does the hon. Gentleman say about such a proposal, which seems to be gaining a great deal of popularity with people in East and West Germany?
Not for the first time I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that what he suggests will happen and it is therefore not fruitful to speculate on it. At the moment both sides want the new Germany to be a member of NATO and the EEC. The European Community is the key to this matter. When the new Germany is formed—some people say that it will happen in a year while others say that it will take two years; I do not wish to make a forecast—it will start to become a western nation. There is no denying that and it is what people in East Germany want. That will not be compatible with being part of a military alliance of the old order of the Warsaw pact. I cannot see any free German wanting that.I was speaking about the speed of change and how it will affect Britain and the other NATO nations as much as it will affect Germany. Contrary to what some people say, although there will be difficulty over a CFE-I agreement, it will happen because the Americans and the Soviets want it. Far from there being a pause, the pressure to move to another round of conventional troop cuts will be enormous. It may be partly because of the politics of the new Germany and certainly because of what I have said about the desire of the Soviet Union to withdraw its forces from the new East Germany because of the discomfort that the Soviet Union will face if it leaves them there for any length of time. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and his colleagues will turn their attention to that. Although we may have debates about the size of the Navy, the Army or the Air Force, over the next two or three years we shall see a relentless downward pressure on manpower on both sides. Provided that reductions take place logically and in sequence and are balanced, I am all in favour of them. It is wrong for people to talk now about specific reductions. That is putting the cart before the horse. Unlike some Opposition Members, I do not believe everything that is said in the press. I am totally content with what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said about the debates that are taking place in the Ministry of Defence. If those debates were not vigorous I should be disappointed. People should argue their corners and at the end of the day it is up to Ministers to draw the arguments together. To talk of chiefs as ostriches because they are putting forward the points of view of their services is crazy and can only be said by those who do not understand the system in the Ministry of Defence. It may have many faults, but vigorous discussion and debate is certainly not one of them.
The hon. Gentleman has sought to outline accelerating changes in continental Europe. Does the hon. Gentleman or his Committee think that the training grounds that are available in the United Kingdom may not be adequate in the near future?
I think that I alluded to that. We are desperately short of training grounds and always have been. We have never had enough and that is why we send troops to train in Canada, Kenya and Cyprus. That is partly to give them overseas experience, but it is largely because there is no way in which they can carry out in Britain the scale of training that can be undertaken in Canada. If we were able to offer such training in Britain, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents would complain loudest.My last point does not deal with peripheral matters: it is at the heart of the debate. I said in the debate on the Army, and I make no apology for repeating, that when we have gone through all these changes there is only one asset that counts and it is the people who serve in our defence forces. They are the people who matter and they must be able to find a career and a career structure for the next 10 or 20 years. We do not do them a service by giving potted examples of how to cut this, save that and change the other. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say that a rational look is being taken at the changes. I hope that that will be an urgent look because, as I have tried to depict, the changes will be fast. That brings us to what will inevitably be a political rather than a military conclusion about what we need to defend our interests. By "us" I mean the European Community and western Europe in general. We must decide how to defend our interests through the next decade and into the next century. We must decide how to structure our forces so as to provide a career for people, and we must equip them in a way that will help them to carry out their task. Those who are trying to do that backwards in the interests of cheap headlines do us no service at all.
I hope that the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) will forgive me if I do not discuss in detail his remarks about the Select Committee on Defence. I do not mean any disrespect to him or to his Committee, but I wish to return to the speech of the Secretary of State for Defence who defended the Government's policy.The Government's attitude and response to worldwide international events is grotesquely inadequate. The whole country must look at the Government's proposals to see whether we can get some better remedies and better prescriptions. That applies especially to nuclear weapons and the possibilities for nuclear disarmament, because those are the most important questions. To anyone who says that that is a peculiar way to think, I would say that President Gorbachev, who is rather popular in some quarters, takes the same view. He has said for years that we have to reach a time when we will be able to have full-scale nuclear disarmament. The Secretary of State has presented a White Paper that does not deal with that matter at all. It does not mention the non-proliferation treaty. In a few months the Government will have to give their view on that. The Secretary of State looks puzzled, as if he has never heard of it. Perhaps he has not, because many members of the Government talk as if they have never heard of it and as if they are not proposing to do anything about it. Under the preamble to the treaty that we signed—and if we had not signed such a preamble there would he no treaty—we have an obligation to do our best to get rid of nuclear weapons. That is one of the reasons why other countries were prepared to sign the treaty. The Government have produced a White Paper in which that is not even discussed and they do not think that it is a matter of any significance. That is an absurd way to deal with what remains one of the major questions confronting the world. We have a much better chance of dealing with that question now than we will have in five or 10 years. Anybody who doubts the significance of the squalid inadequacy of the Government's response should read what the Prime Minister said when she returned from Moscow after her meeting with the Soviet President. She did not seem to have learnt anything from her conversations there. Perhaps I should withdraw that in one sense, because she made one reference which showed that she had learnt something which perhaps she should have taught her Ministers. I remember our discussions on the previous two or three defence White Papers. There was one two or three years ago which reviewed Soviet policy but did not mention that the Soviet Union had been on our side during the second world war and had suffered considerable casualties. It seems that the Prime Minister has at least learnt that. The right hon. Lady referred to the fact when she returned from her visit to the Soviet Union and made a statement on 12 June. The Soviet Union and its President attach some importance to the fact that it lost 27 million people during the last world war. That, of course, has influenced its judgment on some of the issues that are now before us. I grant that the Prime Minister mentioned that, but the rest of her remarks suggested that she has learnt nothing from the events that have taken place and are taking place. If we were to believe what the Prime Minister said, and if we and others were to act on what she said, we would be taking steps to intensify the risk of conflict, not to reduce it. In about six replies to questions the Prime Minister said:
Does the right hon. Lady think that that is an adequate description of what has happened over the past 20 or 30 years? If she thinks that other countries should take notice of what she says, she is, in effect, issuing an invitation to every country to embark on a huge programme of rearmament. There are some countries and some peoples who believe the right hon. Lady. I do not say that they do so because of the statement that I have quoted, but if they read what she says and take the same view, they will act accordingly. We know that the right hon. Lady has some strange pupils in her school for rearmament."Wars are caused by the weakness of nations, not by their strength".—[Official Report, 12 June 1990; Vol. 174, c. 143.]
The right hon. Lady has a strange view of history too.
Indeed.I doubt whether the first world war was caused because some nations were weak. It is much more likely that it was caused because some nations which had the greatest power thought, "If we do not strike now, other countries will become strengthened and will rise against us. We must strike first before that happens." In those fanciful days our fanciful methods of describing such matters had not been invented. We might have described what they had before the first world war as a strategy of calculated response. It was partly that which landed us in the arms race. It was in part the arms race, not the weakness of other countries, which led to the outbreak of the first world war.
I am trying to follow what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. What would have happened if we had had a deterrent strategy and capability in war? That might have saved us in 1939.
We thought that we had that with the Dreadnoughts. We had some of the most powerful weapons in the world but that did not stop the war. It did not stop the calculation of what was going to cause the war.The Prime Minister says—I suppose that some people must take some notice of her—
That is an invitation to every country to strengthen its weapons and to make itself stronger and stronger. It is an invitation also to take precautionary steps, if necessary, to prevent other countries from strengthening their weapons. That was the circumstance of the pre-1914 arms race which led to the first world war. The war in 1939 might bear a closer relationship to what the Prime Minister said. Although the Secretary of State talked about these matters earlier this afternoon, it is a piece of cheek when representatives of this Conservative Government tell us how the second world war was started. More important than any comparative strength or weakness was the fact that Conservative leaders at that time—they had almighty power in this place with majorities as large as the present one—favoured the aggressors. They favoured Hitler. They favoured Mussolini in Abyssinia and the fascists in Spain. They gave them enormous power and encouragement. If anyone disagrees with me, they have only to read the authentic accounts of what happened. If they wish, they can read a book entitled "Guilty Men", which was published about 50 years ago. It wears remarkably well and is still extremely good. If anyone wishes not to accept the account which is set out in that book—it was published almost this week 50 years ago—let him read "The Gathering Storm", which was written by Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill's book says that it was the perfidy of a Government who were prepared to align themselves with fascist powers that led to the second world war, not the weakness or strength of nations. If Conservative Members do not like to learn these historical truths, let them read "The Gathering Storm", the first book which Churchill wrote on how the war happened."Wars are caused by the weakness of nations, not by their strength."