|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 431Was it brought forward? And why? I believe, and I say this with care and the full knowledge of the House, that someone within Government must answer whether the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office was briefed on blackmail and Labour Members by the security forces.
On 1 June 1989, the Daily Mirror printed the following article for 4 million people to read :
" Control over MPs--homosexual and other blackmail.' "
This is followed by the names of four "Heathite" Tories, and four Labour politicians.
Another note says :
" Former KGB agent--prostitute's links with Labour MPs in London. Cover up by the Home Secretary.'
Colin Wallace tells me this week : We would pass these lies on to journalists with the authority of the intelligence services. The aim was to damage the Labour Party, and the Heath wing of the Tory party.
The very right-wing people who ran intelligence thought that all these politicians were a menace.' "
I should like a comment on that from the Government.
It is no good hon. Members looking sceptical because Labour Members had to put up with this opening of the nine o'clock news on 25 May : "Mike in vision. The British case against the Soviet spies--Russian diplomats were involved with Middle East terrorists, and trying to blackmail Labour MPs."
I do not like this juxtaposing of Middle East terrorists and blackmailing of Labour Members. The nine o'clock news continued : "Good evening. Senior British sources have been explaining WHY eleven Soviet diplomats and journalists are being expelled : HOW the tit-for-tat spy row with Moscow started. They accused the Russians of involvement with Libyan and Iranian terrorists, and trying to blackmail MPs."
Again, some explanation must be given of this juxtaposing of Labour Members with a situation that never developed and which never stood up. John Sergeant's report says :
"The BBC have now learnt more details of the allegations made by British counter intelligence".
Details from whom?
"It's alleged that Labour MPs were targets for possible blackmail threats. It's also alleged that the agents were involved with Iran and Libya."
Before taking such a report from a lunchtime conversation with a Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who is not in the Cabinet, the BBC should have checked. And the BBC did. Yes, I understand that Mr. Checkland and Margaret Douglas have said that the BBC did indeed check. Did they check with the intelligence agencies? One of them at least we know is permanently represented, possibly, even still after Brigadier Stonham, in the BBC building. Some explanation must be offered in relation to that detail and checking. They certainly ought to take account of how the programme finished. It said :
"Senior British sources have been giving reasons for the expulsion of Russian spies : they were believed to be involved with Middle-Eastern terrorists and blackmailing Labour MPs."
No qualification was given, and my wife and I and others who saw it that night were very shaken and hurt by it.
Some explanation is due because it seems that we have returned to all that Wallace and Foot were writing about or have written about in relation to the 1970s. Foot's book deserves an extremely detailed response. Many of my colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party are extremely angry, continually, about the blackmail story. I
Column 432believe--I take this responsibility upon myself and do not put it on my colleagues--that it originated with elements of the security services.
Just who did frame Colin Wallace? If Foot's book is wrong, there must be some riposte and explanation. Detail must be given because I have named some of those who believe that Colin Wallace is telling the truth.
Just who originated the notion of Labour MPs being blackmailed? It did not come out of thin air.
I hope that the Minister at least can give some assurances in relation to his Department, the Army.
I realise that junior Ministers cannot speak for wider intelligence services, which nevertheless come under this vote.
Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme) : The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will not be surprised if I do not follow him into the somewhat abstruse byways along which he has been perambulating. I pay tribute to the forces of the Crown for the admirable way in which they fulfil the vital and necessary tasks assigned to them in the defence of Britain's and NATO's interests around the world--nowhere more than in Northern Ireland. I especially commend the men and women of the Ulster Defence Regiment, who have been subjected to relentless and cowardly attack in their homes while going about their civilian occupations and even many years after they have left the service and are in their retirement. The House owes all of them its gratitude.
I am very concerned about the desperate situation faced by service men, especially those in the Army, when trying to buy a home, particularly in the south or south-east of England, and the lack which has become apparent in recent years of any satisfactory scheme to enable them to do so. I warmly endorse the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) to provide an armed forces house purchase savings scheme. I strongly urge my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to back this overdue scheme, which is provided for in amendments to the Finance Bill, which is now being considered.
I draw the attention of the House to the letter which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) quoted and which, no doubt, other hon. Members have received. Major-General Charles Grey, the controller of SSAFA, said :
"It is becoming an increasingly common habit amongst soldiers to leave the Service just as they are entering their most valuable period, at about the age of 25, so that they can emulate their civilian contemporaries, who are at that stage entering the housing market."
The present situation is unfair not just to those serving in the Army. It is clear that it is un-cost-effective, too. This problem must be addressed.
Having had the privilege with the Defence Select Committee of seeing at first hand the Gurkhas in their various postings--in Hong Kong, Brunei, Nepal and here at home, at Church Crookham--I wish to devote my remarks to their future. Those remarkable fighting men from the hill tribes of Nepal have served the British Crown and nation for 174 years, since 1815, with the utmost distinction. In the first world war, 200,000 volunteered ; 20,000 died. In the second world war, a quarter of a million volunteered ; 9,000 died and a further 23,000 were wounded. Since the first world war, Gurkhas have won 13
Column 433Victoria Crosses, the most recent in 1965, and a further 13 have been won by British officers of the brigade. After that exemplary record of service, a question mark now hangs over their future following the United Kingdom's decision to hand over Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China in 1997.
In recent years, the principal employment and role of the Gurkhas have been the defence and border security of Hong Kong, and it is clear that that role is coming to an end. The Gurkhas' skills as riflemen and jungle fighters are legendary, but for me it was an eye-opener to see the incredible flexibility of the Gurkha soldier. I shall illustrate this by drawing attention to the first report of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, "The Future of the Brigade of Gurkhas". In part VIII, paragraph 171, the Committee says : "A number of Gurkhas are parachute trained, and the battalion stationed in the UK is part of 5 Airborne Brigade. Judging by the way Gurkhas take to parachuting--in a typical recent P Company course 2 out of 27 Gurkhas failed, whereas the British failure rate is normally about 50 per cent."
Paragraph 175 states :
"The Queen's Gurkha Signals already carry out many tasks similar to those of British Signals regiments, and could adapt to new ones as required. In this respect, it is worth noting the gradings achieved by Gurkha signallers on Royal Signals Training Brigade courses from 1982 to 1987."
I shall not spell out the details, but the evidence showed that 67 per cent. of the Gurkhas scored grade A or B whereas only 23 per cent. of the rest of the British Army managed those scores. Let no one say that the Gurkhas are incapable of matching themselves to the exacting role required in the European theatre on the central front. We have watched with horror the unfolding events in the People's Republic of China. Our hearts go out to the students of Peking and the civilians of China who, unarmed and peacefully, were asking no more than to build freedom and democracy in their land. Their courage in the face of ruthless and indiscriminate use of military power has commanded our admiration. As one who has had the unpleasant task of reporting wars of three continents, I pay tribute to the courage of Miss Kate Adie of the BBC and other war correspondents reporting from the front line in China.
Faced as we are with the chronic actual or potential instability of the Communist tyrannies as they stagger haltingly towards a measure of liberalisation, we are entitled to ask : is this the moment to talk of halving the strength of the Brigade of Gurkhas from over 8, 000 to 4,000?
Not just China is susceptible to such instability as it tries to move towards a more liberal regime. It is not impossible by any means in the coming months that one could see similar horrors repeated within the Soviet Union, possibly in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia, and possibly they could happen in the Soviet republics themselves, such as Georgia or the Ukraine.
There is no question but that we are now in a period which, on the one hand, has never been more hopeful in my entire lifetime and the lifetime of my generation brought up in the post-war years, because for the first time we have a constructive dialogue between East and West, with genuine warmth. One sees the determination of Mr. Gorbachev to progress to constructive disarmament and to achieve a balance of power ; we must all most warmly welcome that.
Column 434On the other hand, it would be a grave mistake if we did not see the enormous stresses and strains taking place within the Soviet and Chinese societies as they try to take off the cooking pot a lid that has been kept so firmly in place for 40 years or more. There is a great danger that one could see the upsurge of nationalism in one of the many parts of the Soviet empire and that could lead to ruthless repression, not necessarily by Mr. Gorbachev, but if he did not have the courage of those who have previously held power and who have been pushed to one side for the moment during this period of detente, he and the present regime might be pushed aside, so the tanks might be sent in to repress disorder.
I find it very unfortunate that we should be considering halving the strength of the Brigade of Ghurkas at this time, not only from the point of view of the world situation, but from the point of view of our worries about the demographic trough. Already the Army is 7, 000 under strength and plunging ever deeper into deficit. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does not intend to impose redundancies on the Gurkhas in 1997, one can presume only that it is intended to begin a rundown in recruitment for the brigade in the near future. I must ask my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for the Armed Forces to be frank with the House about the intentions of the Ministry of Defence in that regard. When is it intended to start the rundown to achieve the figure of 4,000 by 1997? Is it really wise to run down the Gurkhas at all through the early and mid-1990s when they may be required more than ever to provide stability in Hong Kong and to cope with the disorders that may arise, possibly on a massive scale, as the hand-over approaches? I have no doubt that the Government are in danger of making a great mistake in their decision to halve the strength of the Gurkhas. That decision has been made without adequate reference to the impact on a loyal ally of halving the resources flowing to the hill tribes of Nepal, without adequate regard to the manpower crisis faced by the British Army as we plunge into the democratic trough and without proper consideration of the new instability in China and elsewhere in the world. The decision has certainly been taken without adequate consideration of the superb cost-effectiveness of the Gurkhas who, as has been pointed out, serve a minimum of 15 years, compared to an average of five years for the rest of the Army.
I seriously urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the Government to reconsider this seriously mistaken decision and to reprieve the Brigade of Gurkhas at its present level of strength.
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) : I hope that what I say will not be used against me in my party, but I must confess to having agreed with virtually everything said by the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill). I agreed with him especially on what he said about the Gurkhas and I hope that the Government, if they are sensitive, will appreciate that virtually every speaker from all parties has condemned their decision on the Gurkhas. If this House means anything, and if the Select Committee system means anything, I hope that the Government and the Ministry of Defence will not ride roughshod over the views of so many hon. Members, who have been urging them to reconsider their decision to halve the size of the Brigade of Gurkhas.
Column 435The hon. Member for Davyhulme also spoke about the enormous changes taking place in the Soviet Union. Once one opens a Pandora's box, it is difficult to close it, although the Chinese appear to have done so successfully--in their terms. If I may digress slightly, I want to follow the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) who pointed out the Government's poor timing over Endurance and the announcement on the Gurkhas. I would add another example of bad timing. I saw a wonderful picture in the latest self-congratulatory document produced by Tory central office showing a smiling Prime Minister talking to a certain leader from the People's Republic of China, Mr. Deng. Perhaps the person who included that picture wants to be disciplined by Tory central office.
It is important when one views the momentous changes in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe not to say, as some in my party have said, that the cold war is over, that disarmament has broken out and that we must now throw caution to the winds and join in the spirit begun by President Gorbachev. I am sceptical of that view, as I am of the view that, because President Gorbachev is not completely in control of things, we should do little because his good work will be overthrown and we could be left in an equally bad situation. As a good moderate, I believe that there is a point equidistant from those two extremes. One must take advantage of the initiatives emanating from the Soviet Union, one must loudly proclaim the initiatives being made by our side of the negotiating fence and one should proceed with a degree of caution recognising that, should circumstances change, one would need to have the flexibility to reverse any changes we might have made. We should be neither over-pessimistic nor over-euphoric.
In the old days--that is, two or three years ago--national security decision making in Government was fairly simple. There were problems in getting defence budgets through and problems within NATO, but as there was a definable adversary, resources and unity largely secured eventually. Now the rules of the game have changed. Relations between countries in NATO are changing. Relationships between countries in the Warsaw pact are changing, as are relationships between the respective alliances. That requires a great deal of intelligence and rationality within the Alliance of 16 nations which, by definition, permits decisions to be made slowly and as a result of a great deal of compromise. I hope that we are on the right track and I personally welcome considerably the leadership shown, eventually, by the United States and the successful visit of President Bush to Brussels. The question we have to ask is whether the Soviet Union has changed. Does it threaten us, or has that threat diminished? How serious is President Gorbachev, and how serious are his numerous initiatives? It is difficult to make a final judgment, but his unilateral cuts announced initially in December at the United Nations and the consequent cuts by his allies in the non-Soviet Warsaw pact countries are militarily quite significant. It is true that there was a public relations element and that to some extent the Soviet Union and its allies were scrapping aircraft and tanks that should anyway have been scrapped. Nevertheless, we should not be too dismissive of Mr. Gorbachev's gesture because it has some military significance. Many have said that it has given NATO an extra week or 10 days' warning time. I think that we should say, "Fine, we agree with what
Column 436you have done, as far as it goes. We shall wish to verify it but we congratulate you, nevertheless, on what you have done so far." I wonder whether we should have been a little more smart in our own attitude to public relations. Let us be honest about it : in the past three or four years virtually all NATO Governments have unilaterally announced cuts that make the cuts announced by the Soviet Union and its allies seem almost marginal. Look at the cuts announced here. In the next few years our defence expenditure is to fall to 3.9 per cent. of gross domestic product. That is quite incredible. I urge Conservative Members, when addressing CND meetings, to tell them enthusiastically how structural disarmament has proceeded under them at a great pace in the past two or three years.
A recent authoritative American document, "Report on Allied Contributions to the Common Defence", shows the growth in defence spending in each NATO country. Britain emerges well--or badly, depending on one's perspective. Those who favour high defence expenditure will feel that the Government emerge badly as there are only four countries in NATO whose annual spending on defence has increased less over a 10-year period than that of the British Government. We are making what are virtually unilateral cuts and all our allies are doing the same. Perhaps in the propaganda game and to persuade public opinion we should have been more prepared to say that unilateral cuts are not the sole prerogative of the Soviet Union--that we have done our bit and made our contribution and that we should not feel embarrassed or left behind by the initiatives taken by Mr. Gorbachev.
I return to my main theme : is Mr. Gorbachev serious? He has made some dramatic changes in defence spending. He recently announced that 15 per cent. of GDP was devoted to defence in the Soviet Union. That is four times the amount to which the Soviet Union has previously admitted. Furthermore, he virtually admitted that that was not all--that it was merely the budget of the Ministry of Defence and did not include research and development and all sorts of other items. When I was in eastern Europe recently I met a chief of general staff. I said to him, "You have recently announced cuts in defence expenditure, but from what base line?" He said, "We do not know." How can we take seriously all the claims that defence expenditure is being cut? Nevertheless, I think that the Soviet Union has made a good start on defence expenditure.
Has doctrine changed? I believe that it has been changing, and was probably changing even before Gorbachev came to power. I feel strongly that the initiatives originally derived from Andropov and that when he died Gorbachev was chosen to implement the reforms. Military doctrine had begun changing a few years before. But before we accept that its military doctrine has become completely defensive and that it aims for a "reasonable sufficiency", we must ask the Soviet Union about it and exchange views on it. That process has begun. We must improve confidence-building measures and observing exercises. We must look, too, at Soviet training patterns. One good way of finding out whether the Soviet Union's doctrine has changed is to watch how it trains and exercises its armed forces. However, it is difficult to change training and exercising practice suddenly. A change in doctrine involves a change in training, equipment and strategy, and that is difficult to effect swiftly.
Column 437Dramatic changes are emerging--not just in the Soviet Union but in eastern Europe. A few weeks ago I travelled to Budapest from Vienna--by train as it happens, because I was paying my own fare. I said to someone in my compartment, "Now that we are passing the border between Austria and Hungary, have a look at the iron curtain." The train slowed down, and I looked, but I could not see it. It had gone. A few days before I had visited the national headquarters of Solidarity in Warsaw. Two months earlier, the organisation was still banned, yet here it was fighting parliamentary elections. That is a staggering example of how things have changed in eastern Europe--at least in some countries in eastern Europe. We must take advantage of circumstances. We must be neither over-optimistic nor over-cautious. This is an important debate for me. It is the first for nine or 10 years in which the views that I have expressed have not been too far removed from those of my party. I am delighted to be able to speak in those circumstances. I recall reading about those who supported President Roosevelt. After he was chosen at a convention, everybody was for him. His organisers therefore distinguished between his supporters by adding an asterisk after the names of those who had supported him before the convention.
I have been a multilaterist for many years. I would say to my hon. Friends, "Welcome back." It has been a lonely nine years. The Minister expressed clear irritation at the fact that the Labour party will not be quite such a push over as it has been in the past two elections. If we can succeed in getting our policies through the party conference, it will be much more difficult to castigate the Labour party as an aberration.
A few weeks ago I was criticised in the House for expressing my disappointment that consensus had disappeared. I have no sense of shame in saying that I believe, as many do, that politics should cease at the water's edge. We should devise security policies with which all political parties and most of the population sympathise. I hope that we are going some way towards re-establishing a sort of consensus, if not an absolute consensus, on security so that the issue of defence can be removed in part from the cut and thrust of the political arena.
I was serving on the Select Committee on Defence when it investigated security in military installations, and I have an obsession with the reform of the private security industry. Royal Ordnance, which is owned by British Aerospace, has decided to throw out the Ministry of Defence police at its plant in Westcott near Aylesbury and replace them with its own private guarding force. I can think of nothing more stupid. The brochures produced by the Westcott plant--on which I shall not elaborate--show what is produced there. What is produced would be of enormous benefit to a potential terrorist. I fear what may happen once the Ministry of Defence police are removed. They are well
Column 438trained and well led. They have access to arms and they have back-up from Bicester nearby. They have a tradition of service in defending our military installations. They are to be replaced by largely untrained people with not so much as a truncheon between them. Bearing in mind the sensitive nature of what is produced at Westcott, this is a stupid, stupid decision.
The company has been less than honest with the Thames Valley police and with the Ministry of Defence. I hope that, bearing in mind my remarks and the information that I propose to convey to them, the Government will call in British Aerospace and the management at Westcott and review and change the decision. If the decision is not changed, the guarding force that will be employed will not be up the task. No one has been recruited yet. Will people be recruited from an area of low unemployment? It is a stupid decision. We cannot play games with the security of national assets. I hope that even at this late juncture the Ministry of Defence will seek to retain the MOD police. The Ministry will be applauded if it intervenes and achieves that objective.
Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South) : It is a great pleasure to take part in the Army debate, particularly as I have been associated with the Anglo-Nepalese all-party parliamentary group for the last 10 years, first as secretary and now as chairman. I was delighted when my colleagues on the Select Committee on Defence agreed that we should consider the future of the Gurkhas. That was an innovation because the majority of Select Committee reports are about actions that have been taken by Government rather than recommendations to Government as to what action should be taken.
I regret, therefore, that the Secretary of State, for whom I have the highest regard, could not be more positive when he made his recent statement on the future of the Gurkhas to the House. I appreciate that he was talking about the position post-1997. Of course, it is difficult for any politician to bind himself or a successor that far ahead. Nevertheless, I took some comfort from his remarks because I interpreted them to indicate that the 4,000 that he mentioned was the basic minimum, below which the Government would not go.
I should like to think that, because of the demographic trough about which we have heard so much in this debate, and for other reasons, we may find that post-1997 we shall require more Gurkhas rather than fewer. I hope that by that time we shall be thinking in terms of 10,000 Gurkhas. We know that there are 30 competitors for every Gurkha place. That means that the quality of the troops that we obtain from Nepal is extremely high.
It has already been mentioned that we have had a relationship with the Gurkhas since 1815. Next year is the 175th anniversary. The service that we have been given has been unstinting, and we should be profoundly grateful for it. Therefore, the aid that we give to Nepal is really paying back in a small way what we have taken from the country in its manhood over those many years. I look upon aid to Nepal in a different light from aid to any other country for the very good reason that we are paying for services rendered. It would be a tragedy if we were to give the impression that we did not intend to carry on doing that.
We must ask a number of questions of the Secretary of State about the future of the Gurkhas. In the past the
Column 439Gurkhas have been considered to carry their own reserves because they have had four companies. Is it intended that British reservists will in future provide that element? Will we be looking perhaps to the Territorial Army to give that support? That would certainly be an innovation. If the Government propose to cut numbers, they must state fairly soon whether they intend to do that entirely by natural wastage or whether they propose redundancies. If there are to be redundancies, on what basis would they be made and how would redundancy affect pensions?
At the moment there is a permanent cadre of British officers. Four infantry battalions of a smaller size would have a significant effect upon that. Can we be assured that there will be sufficient left to sustain an appealing career structure for the remaining officers? I remind my hon. Friend that Gurkha officers have been a source of the leadership of the British Army for many years and that they have been able to maintain a very high profile.
One of the bases of Gurkha service is the family permission whereby the Gurkha soldier above a rank of staff sergeant can have his family with him at all times. Below that rank the soldier is accompanied by his family for a certain proportion of his service. That is important to the Gurkha soldier because he tries to manage his affairs in such a way that the birth of his children takes place during the period when he has family permission and has the benefit of using hospitals run by the British forces. The future of family permission must be made clear.
We would also like to know where in the United Kingdom the brigade is to be based. I hope that we shall soon have information about that. Will the training depot be situated in the United Kingdom when there is a move from Hong Kong? That is another important question to which we need an answer.
Dharan has been referred to already. It is a source of great sadness to me that, a year before the Select Committee went to Nepal to make its report, a decision had been taken and announced that Dharan was virtually to be abandoned. Some backtracking has taken place since, but in my view the decision was wrong because we make a valuable contribution to the infrastructure of that region of Nepal. Anyone who has been to that part of the world will be aware of the position. I cannot imagine that any politician who had been there could have made such a decision. I feel certain that the decision was taken blind because I do not think that there would have been such a decision otherwise.
I hope that my hon. Friend can assure me that the welfare facilities, and the personnel and stores transiting facility will continue there, as well as the agricultural resettlement training, which is very important to the economy of Nepal. There is a very good agricultural school and a building trades school there for retired soldiers whose future is in question. We must have answers about their future and about the financing of the hospital once the British military hospital closes. We need an assurance about long-term funding.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been concerned about the future of Hong Kong after the British leave in 1997. My hon. Friend should consider whether it would be possible to reassure the people of Hong Kong by coming to an arrangement whereby the Chinese Government fund a residual presence of Gurkha soldiers in Hong Kong, over at least part of the 50-year guaranteed period post-1997. We have such an arrangement in Brunei whereby the troops still serve under the British Crown. If
Column 440the Chinese are serious about their guarantees to the people of Hong Kong, I cannot see why a similar arrangement could not be entered into with China. I am sure that that would give a great deal of reassurance to the people of Hong Kong that their future was not likely to be turned upside down by the presence of Chinese forces behaving as they have so recently in Peking.
A completely different point of great concern to me is the future of battlefield communications. In the past we have been extremely well served by battlefield communications in the British Army, which has a reputation second to none in the world. One reason is that we can communicate on the battlefield so expertly at all levels. In order to do that, we have relied upon a number of companies in this country bringing forward their expertise.
One of those companies was founded in my constituency--the Plessey company. At present, the Plessey company is under the considerable cloud of a possible takeover from a predator, which is partly foreign, Siemens, and partly from home, GEC. There is no way under these conditions that the Plessey company can continue to carry out its extensive research and development programme efficiently, on which it spends some 22 per cent. of its turnover, this being about twice as high as any competing company. I fear that, if this state of affairs is allowed to continue and that company is subjected to that kind of pressure much longer, we shall not retain our edge over other troops in the battlefield.
I believe that it is in the national interest, and national security in particular, for the Ministry of Defence to say that, if the conditions that were laid down by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission cannot be carried out to the letter, it has a duty to the country to announce that quickly and remove the cloud as soon as possible. The staff of the MMC are not security cleared so they cannot be told exactly what is going on in research and development. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) on so steadfastly pursuing his home ownership scheme. Undoubtedly that is one of the keys to recruiting and retaining Army personnel. I hope that the Ministry of Defence can get the message over to the Treasury that we must be more flexible and we must take bold decisions before it is too late.
I remind my hon. Friend the Minister that the Territorial Army is a key issue in the defence scenario. I spoke in a debate a few days ago concerning the TA, and I referred specifically to the need for the TA messes to be the best possible clubs in every area in which they are present. If that is not done, we cannot expect to train and retain the personnel that we need. Will the Minister assure me that that matter is receiving his attention? We should ensure that this is the case not only for 36 Signal Regiment which is to have a new headquarters built in my constituency during the next few months, but for all others throughout the country. They must all have excellent recreational facilities for Territorial soldier at all levels. I hope that my hon. Friend can answer at least some of those questions tonight.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : I am pleased to speak after the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), as I did on Tuesday night on his Redbridge market Bill. After that debate, our former colleague Matthew Parris in his
Column 441excellent article in The Times described the hon. Gentleman as the "monocled Colonel Thorne, OBE, TD". It is thus absolutely fitting that he should be speaking in this Army debate.
This could be a very wide-ranging debate. A number of issues have not so far been touched upon, for example, forces' widows who are treated abominably by the Government. Indeed, women in other countries have to go round with begging bowls collecting money to support their sisters in this country. That is a scandal. Another example is the ex-service men who have been exposed to radiation. The Government are dragging their feet and refusing to give proper compensation to the victims or their families. Indeed, we have hardly touched upon the Government sell-off of the Royal Ordnance factories, which was a planned £100-million-plus rip-off of public assets for which the Government were responsible and which they are now trying to cover up. Those are other important issues, to which we shall return.
This is a debate on the Army, and I pay tribute to all those individuals who perform their tasks effectively and efficiently. It is the policies that are imposed upon them and which they are forced to implement that are too often wrong. It is the Government's fault, especially in the field of nuclear and conventional weapons. There was an excellent cartoon in Tribune showing a couple of men walking past two billboards. The first billboard said, "Gorbachev's new arms cuts" and the second said, "Mrs. Thatcher's new nuclear weapon". One guy turned to the other and said, "She will be telling us next that we need these nuclear weapons to defend ourselves against disarmament." That is the situation we are in.
There has been a whole list of defence initiatives from President Gorbachev. The INF agreement is a great tribute to his will in getting a reduction in a range of nuclear weapons--some 4 per cent. of the world's nuclear weapons. Other initiatives are his unilateral cut in conventional weapons, and his action to try to cut back and remove chemical weapons. Russia has announced the first factory to crunch and destroy chemical weapons, which is an important new factor. President Gorbachev has put into practice the concept of asymmetries. It is time that the West joined in that concept and made some asymmetrical cuts, too. As a result of those initiatives, the Soviet threat, which so many of us thought was a myth in any event, has diminished, certainly in the public mind. It is now down to single percentages. It is only the Conservatives who live in a bygone age, who still cling to that cold war notion of the Soviet threat. The reason for President Gorbachev's initiatives is, of course, economic--perestroika. He wants to bring money to his own people instead of wasting it on military and nuclear costs.
Another reason is the risk of accident. President Gorbachev has the experience of Chernobyl and he knows that there will be more nuclear accidents in the nuclear arms race to create weapons. He knows, too, the danger that lies in their use. Indeed, the Pentagon produced a report--
Column 442The Pentagon produced a report, "Discriminate Deterrence", which talks about using nuclear weapons in a limited way against some Third-world countries.
Then there is the danger of proliferation. In the past few weeks we have seen, for example, that India has its new intermediate range weapons, AGNI, which could have a nuclear capability. Indeed, the Prime Minister, in her discussions with President Bush, talked to him about the United States providing nuclear weapons in Argentina. Such a proliferation poses a great threat. President Gorbachev has recognised that threat and that has prompted the promotion of his initiatives. Those are reasons for us, too, to run down our nuclear weapons in the context of the arms race.
President Gorbachev's latest proposals should be considered by the House. His proposal of 1.35 million troops on each side within six years should receive a positive response from the Government. So, too, should the common ceiling in tanks, artillery and armed troop carriers, combat aircraft and helicopters. President Gorbachev has suggested a three-stage proposal with elimination in two to three years of asymmetries and reductions to equal collective ceilings--10 to 15 per cent. lower than the lowest level possessed by either alliance. The Government should also consider President Gorbachev's proposals for cuts of 25 per cent. on each side and the establishment of a purely defensive conventional arms posture.
Then, of course, there is the proposal for the thinning out of the front line in Europe. That, of course is directly counter and opposite to NATO's backward strategy of so-called forward defence, which is a much better strategy.
Another proposal which has not been touched on by any Minister or anyone in the West is that the Soviets have offered to remove their entire nuclear ammunition from their allies if the United States does the same. Yet that has not even been referred to by NATO. There are opportunities to pick up those initiatives and to obtain parallel reductions in both nuclear and conventional forces.
The proposals made by President Bush must be viewed against those initiatives. His offer to cut United States troops in Europe by 30, 000 to 275,000 is very welcome, but it ignores a couple of factors. It ignores all European armies, which I believe should also be substantially reduced. It also does not take account of America's increasing number of nuclear weapons in Europe, such as those at Upper Heyford, where a direct increase in the number of F111s is planned.
NATO adopted the comprehensive concept, and the Prime Minister quoted from it on Tuesday. Paragraph 27 states :
"The Allies' sub-strategic nuclear forces are not designed to compensate for conventional imbalances."
Paragraph 44 states :
"But the sub-strategic nuclear forces deployed by member countries of the Alliance are not principally a counter to similar systems operated by members of the WTO."
What are they for, if they are not to counter conventional imbalances or nuclear forces? What are they for, other than to be kept, come what may, despite there being no cause to keep them? It would be difficult to be more provocative towards other countries. The NATO communique states about dual- capability aircraft that it will
Column 443"include reductions by each side to equal ceilings at the level of 15 per cent. below current Alliance holdings of helicopters and of all land-based combat aircraft in the Atlantic-to-the- Urals zone." That is very welcome, but the Prime Minister has now said that Britain's dual-capability aircraft will not be included in the discussions. That makes NATO's commitment rather hollow.
The comprehensive concept ignores France. Tucked away in an footnote on page 4, the NATO communique states :
"France takes this opportunity to recall that, since the mandate for the Vienna negotiations excludes nuclear weapons, it retains complete freedom of judgment and decision regarding the resources contributing to the implementation of its independent nuclear deterrent strategy."
France is saying that it is out of the discussions. NATO certainly is not coming to terms with Gorbachev's initiatives, let alone matching them.
The summit was an enormous defeat for the Prime Minister. It was a blow to her modernisation, block negotiation stance. The replacement for Lance has probably been delayed indefinitely and negotiations will commence on strategic nuclear forces. The Prime Minister is not a multilateralist. When a Conservative Member said during Question Time that the Government were the true multilateralists, the right hon. Lady was embarrassed. She does not want to get rid of nuclear weapons--she favours using the INF agreement to re-arm. She wants modernisation and a new arms race. She is out of date, irrelevant and dangerous. She is also two-faced--she smiles with President Gorbachev, but there is great hostility and opposition beneath the smiles. The Gorbachev initiative provides a great opportunity to rid Europe of nuclear weapons and to reduce conventional forces. There could be stability at a much lower level of arms. Britain could play its role by getting out of the nuclear arms race, which would release resources from warfare to welfare and for the needs of mankind throughout the world. We need to get rid of the Tory nuclear-wild Government before Britain can play its proper role.
Several Hon. Members rose --