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Column 183adhered to. Administrative assistants--the basic clerical grade--in London and the south-east are 56.7 per cent. below target. It is their job to shift paper around and to do filing, and if they are not doing that work others must be--people who are being paid much more money to perform other functions. These targets are not the agreed manpower complements ; they relate to what the Treasury says should be spent. They are not based on the work study analysis of the number of man hours needed to do these jobs.
Scientific staff are 17 per cent. below target in the Land Systems Executive and about 21 per cent. below target in the Air Systems Executive, especially in electrical and electronic specialities. No wonder there are scandals and gold-plated contracts and £300 spanners. A little urgency and consideration should have been devoted to this problem when we pointed it out. We did a great deal of work on the report. I understand the Ministry's point of view that this is a Treasury problem. Nevertheless, what is happening shows that the Treasury is throwing good money after bad. It is trying to save money by getting rid of the posts of people whose job it is to save money. That might be all right for short-term accountancy, but it is not good for the quality and reliability of equipment which our armed forces have to use, and it is certainly not good sense for the taxpayer who must foot the bill. This degree of complacency cannot be tolerated.
I am also worried about business appointments. High-ranking members of the armed forces and high-ranking civil servants walk out of the door and into well-paid jobs with defence manufacturers shortly afterwards. There is supposed to be a review procedure to look after that, but I have looked carefully at the evidence from the Ministry of Defence and I am not convinced. I am not saying that impropriety is taking place. I say that the system is not transparent enough to enable the House to assure itself that no impropriety has taken place.
Mr. Mates : The hon. Gentleman will want to remember, too, that not only high-ranking officers but those in middle management--those at the coal face of procurement projects--who do not come under the auspices of the Carlisle committee and who may move straight across from one area to the other may be involved in much more than meets the eye. It would be wrong to nominate for castigation only those of two stars and above.
Mr. McWilliam : The hon. Gentleman is right to correct me ; I was coming to that point. I was going to explain that the people whom we can least afford to lose are generally fairly young married people with young children. Their Civil Service salaries are not enough and they possess good scientific qualifications. They often find themselves at the sharp end of a specification or a final requirement. So there are two causes for anxiety : possible impropriety, and the loss of our ability to ensure that we are spending our money wisely.
I sincerely ask the Minister to look into this again. It is not good enough for the Government to continue their present policy. That could only be described as scandalous and unworthy of support. I hope that the Minister will give us some assurance today that the present obdurate attitude will change. I hope that he will come to the Select
Column 184Committee and discuss more openness with us. We are quite prepared to deal with some of these issues in confidence, but the House must be able to assure itself that the public money which we vote --this is not Government money--is properly spent.
I am greatly disappointed. The Government have had the opportunity in the past 12 months, because of the changes in the conventional force talks and strategic arms talks, to make a positive contribution. They have not done so, or have done so unwillingly. They have been dragged kicking and screaming into line with our NATO allies.
I know that my party policy is that we will continue with Trident and deploy it, but the game has changed. Trident is vastly expensive and unnecessary, and represents a huge increase in our ability to deliver strategic weapons. It is widely believed in the United States and the Soviet Union that the strategic arms reduction talks will succeed. If they do, the sea-launched ballistic missile capability of the United States will be reduced, and anyone who thinks that the Soviet Union or the United States will happily allow Britain to acquire 25 per cent. of the United States' sea-launched capability is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. The sooner we pitch our weapons into the negotiations the better.
Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead) : It is a great privilege to follow two members of the Select Committee, both of whom, especially its chairman, have contributed greatly to the defence estimates. I want to concentrate on the changing relationship between NATO and the Warsaw pact which has resulted, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, from the changes in Europe that we have just witnessed. In a defence debate --year ago--last October--I said that there had been a change in the Soviet Union. But now the situation is completely different, as we have the actual breakaway. Not only are there changes in the Soviet Union but large nations are breaking away from Communism. That must alter the strategic line of defence between NATO and the Warsaw pact.
Paragraphs 46-49 will have to be revised, as there are changes not only in the Baltic states but in Poland and Hungary and their military contribution. As a result the Warsaw pact's line of defence has been altered and the Soviet Government can no longer rely on those allies. Although Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania probably will remain in the pact, it is doubtful whether the others could be relied upon. I do not think that that is of great disadvantage to the Soviet Union. It is better to know that some countries are not allies than to have unreliable allies. I do not think that it alters the Soviet Union's position, but it must alter our line of defence. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the Soviets are rearming rapidly. They are producing better tanks and they still have overwhelming superiority. The real danger and the real challenge would arise if Germany were to reunite, as that would alter the whole concept of the Warsaw pact and NATO. We do not know whether that will happen, but if it does, I humbly suggest that the whole of our defence policy would have to be altered and our alignment would have to change.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, whom I failed to congratulate at the beginning of my speech, mentioned reserves. We have to have reserves. An
Column 185important source of reserves would be an increase in the use of women in the forces, which is mentioned in paragraph 516 of the defence estimates, a policy which the Chief of the Defence Staff, agrees. Now that war is not so reliant on physical combat there are many roles which women could take and thereby free men in the territorial and regular armies.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) mentioned the possible reduction in the contribution by the United States to NATO. Although, under article 223, the EEC is not allowed to make a direct contribution, its contribution could be increased, particularly in efforts to make sure that we standardise our equipment within NATO. The EEC is not supposed to contribute to it, but I do not see any reason why it should have the benefit of defence if it does not pay for it. The removal of the United States forces would create a great vacuum and Europe would be compelled to fill it.
May I also thank my right hon. Friend for his start on the rebuilding of Victoria barracks, Windsor.
Finally, these changes in Europe are profound and as the hon. Member for Blaydon said, they stem from people's desire to choose a decent standard of living. We should not do anything to stop them. But at the same time we have to realise that we want disarmament and there is not a single person in the House or outside who does not want genuine disarmament, but we must not be blinded by recent events. We know that the Soviet Union is rearming at a fast pace. As my right hon. Friend said, since Gorbachev came to power it is still rearming at a pace, and producing excellent tanks. We have to make sure that the interests of our nation are protected. Until a genuine disarmament can be achieved, there will still be the need for the nuclear deterrent.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) has brought the debate back to what it should be about--relating our defence policy and expenditure to the real situation in which we live. If we pass the estimates tomorrow, everybody in the country, man woman and child, will be taxed £371 to pay for the estimates that have been put before us.
I rise to put forward a view which I believe is now becoming more widely shared generally, not just at the Labour conference, although that has been mentioned. The change in the international situation, the economic situation at home and throughout the world and the number of unmet needs in our country point quite clearly to the desirability of diverting some money now spent on defence into meeting those needs. That view at least has to be addressed seriously.
I have heard Secretaries of State for Defence speak in the House for nearly 40 years and I have never heard a poorer speech than the one this afternoon. If the Secretary of State thinks that the pressure for civil liberties in Poland or Hungary, which Opposition Members have defended for years, has been produced because he has a Trident on hire purchase, he really does not understand what is happening. After war Communism, which in my opinion was sustained by the cold war longer than it otherwise would have been, people now want greater freedom. They also want what I am asking for--the reallocation of money from weapons to meet their needs.
Column 186I thought it was funny that the Secretary of State went back to the old story that Hitler came to power because the Labour party was against the pre-war Conservative Government, when we now know the degree of support that Chamberlain gave to Hitler's objectives, but I shall not go into that.
Mr. Brazier : Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that in 1934, the Labour party, together with the then Liberal party, put before the House a motion condemning the Government on the ground that the level of defence expenditure then was wastefully high. Can I point out the parallels with the speech that he is making now?
Mr. Benn : The hon. Gentleman had better remember that the first time I came to the House was in 1937, when I was 12. I heard Churchill speak from the Conservative Benches and the Prime Minister was Neville Chamberlain. Neville Chamberlain supported Hitler's policies. Of course he did, because Hitler was anti-Communist at home and opposed the Bolsheviks. The hon. Gentleman should read the captured German Foreign Office documents. He would then take a very different view about who really supported Hitler. But I do not wish to go back to 1934, as I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman was alive then and I was very young.
We are being asked to commit more than £21 billion to defence in 1990- 91--3.9 per cent. of our gross national product. We are the third largest exporter of weapons in the world. It would be naive of us to discuss defence without examining the commercial interest in defence. I asked the House of Commons Library to tell me what were the profits made by the major defence contractors and I was given the figures. The 11 top defence contractors in Britain--that is, those with contracts worth £100 million or more--make operating profits of £3,310 million. Nobody can tell me that that does not represent a very powerful commercial interest to maintain defence expenditure at its present level. We cannot be naive about these matters. There are economic systems on which the one in Britain in part depends, whose confidence and success depends on high defence expenditure. One of the problems that the Conservative party has never really confronted is that, if the Russians were to reduce defence expenditure, they would be likely to do well out of it, but if we reduced defence expenditure we would create a hole in our economy precipitating problems that could not be met by a Government who do not believe in planning. That point of view is not new ; it was put before the first world war about the arms manufacturers and their vested interests.
Mr. Mates : The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but he has it the wrong way round. If Russia makes significant reductions in defence expenditure, it will be at far greater cost to its domestic economy, because much more of it is devoted to defence. Try cutting 20 per cent. of a country's gross domestic product and see how many men are put on the street out of work. They cannot all be employed in refrigerator factories.
Mr. Benn : The hon. Gentleman should turn his mind back to 1945. How many people did we pull out of uniform? Two or 3 million. How many people did we pull out of the arms industry? Two or 3 million. Within 18 months, there had been a massive conversion from war to
Column 187peace, because it had been planned. If defence expenditure is reduced in a capitalist society, many of the problems that the hon. Gentleman describes occur.
Why is Gorbachev credible? The Russians made many disarmament proposals, but people always dismissed them as propaganda. Gorbachev is credible because he said, "I want to cut defence expenditure to improve the standard of living of the Russian people." People at home say, "We agree. We should like to do the same." The amendment that I tabled has not been called, but I think that I am allowed to read it. It says that this House
"declines to accept the Defence Estimates ; and believes that Britain should reduce its defence spending, initially to equal the average level of other Western European countries, and transfer the savings made to social and economic priorities including the National Health Service, pensions, housing, education and other vital services, the elimination of low pay and poverty, much needed investment in job creation and economic development, and the restructuring of Britain's crumbling infrastructure."
That is an argument. The Secretary of State said that Germany, Italy, France and Spain were now defenceless and that if the amendment were passed we would be defenceless. I do not know who wrote his brief--perhaps he did so himself--but to argue that, if Britain were to have the same defence expenditure as those countries, it would be defenceless is an absurdity that no one will take seriously.
I do not want to exaggerate the figures, but the Secretary of State said that if our defence spending were cut to the European average the figure of savings would be £5 billion. I am more cautious, because I believe that it may be between £3 billion and £4 billion. I do not want to spoil the case by exaggerating it, but we spend more than France and Germany on defence.
Conservative Members should also consider the example of Japan, which spends 1 per cent. of its GDP on defence. It they want to know why the Japanese economy is so strong, it is because it has poured investment into Japanese cars, videos, televisions and other electrical and electronic equipment. How can it be claimed that Japan is weak in the world? It is so strong that it is buying chunks of the American and British economy. Japan and Germany--Germany spends less on defence than we do but more than Japan- -are in a powerful position.
I tried to discover what could be bought with the savings of £3 billion to £4 billion, which is less than the Secretary of State's figure. It is hard to estimate, but the House always tries to do its best. It would probably buy 120 hospitals, 64,000 houses or, for the benefit of Conservative Members, would enable a 2.5p cut in income tax. I am talking not about total defence expenditure but simply the difference between European expenditure and ours.
According to the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the world spends $1,000 billion a year on weapons--about £1 million a minute. If one looks at other comparable official figures to see whether we are getting our priorities right, one finds that, worldwide, 500 million people are suffering from malnutrition, 800 million people are living in absolute poverty, 14 million children are dying from hunger-related causes every year and 5 million children are dying of diarrhoea, which is a preventable disease.
Column 188Without addressing the arguments that have been put today, the Secretary of State launched into a party conference or hustings speech ; he did not turn his mind to the argument. The argument is that big changes are happening in the world. There is no Soviet military threat, whatever view people take of the Soviet system. Members of what is sometimes called the Left of the Labour party were more critical of Stalinism than any other group in this country. When Russia attacked Hungary in 1956, hon. Members on the Left of the party and I wrote a letter to Pravda. It was published, and the Minister can look it up if he does not believe me. I led the Labour party delegation to the Soviet ambassador to protest about the invasion of Afghanistan. Conservative Members should not accuse us of supporting such a system.
But, as the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead suggested, there is no evidence that the Russians intended to invade western Europe. I always believed that the pressure for change in the Soviet Union would result from the desire of the Soviet people for the civil liberties and democratic rights that we want in Britain. That is what has caused change, not the fact that the Secretary of State can wave a Trident that is on order, which he could not fire without Bush putting on his satellite communication system. Who does he think he is kidding?
Mr. Benn : Even if it did work, it would not go anywhere, which is what the Zircon story was about. The Secretary of State knows that as well as I do. I watched the Zircon film to discover what was secret about it. The Secretary of State and I know that it was secret because the permanent secretary to the Ministry of Defence said that Polaris was not an independent deterrent. That was what we did not want the Russians to know. The Russians and Americans have satellites, and there is nothing secret about the deterrent.
The fact is that we have never had an independent deterrent and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) rightly said that Trident will be removed, not by the dangerous Left wingers of the Labour party, but by the Americans, when they do a deal with the Russians because they will not want even the pretence that a British Prime Minister has a weapon.
We must consider our economic position. Under varying Governments of various policies, there has been long-term neglect of our industrial investment. At no time has that been clearer than at present. Following the high interest rates of 1979, the current high interest rates and the waste of oil revenues, industry will be unable to sustain the standard of living of our people when the oil runs out. We have no choice but to redirect resources into industrial development, and the proposed economies in defence would be a part of that.
Any hon. Member of whatever party allegiance who travels around the country and meets his constituents is aware of the appalling stress on public services, such as our under-staffed hospitals, the fact that people must wait for treatment and the fact that there are breakdowns in essential public services because of under-investment. Any serious Government of any political persuasion that rationally examined the priorities of public expenditure would know that there are no grounds for this level of
Column 189defence expenditure. There is an urgent need to redirect resources into industrial development, and we must ensure that civil needs are met.
The old joke that we have the best defended dole queues in Europe is not far wrong. The amendment that I tabled receives a vague hint of approval from the official Opposition amendment. It says that the Labour party wants
"to examine the allocation of resources which could be released for social and economic purposes".
I think that I can say that I have amplified and clarified what my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) put before the House, and many people in Britain would like to see that done. That should not be attributed just to the Labour party conference, or to the votes of delegates at our conference, because people are ahead of the Government in their perception of what is possible.
In 1945, I returned as an RAF pilot who was too young to vote, but I campaigned in the 1945 election. The United Nations assembly met for the first time in Central hall, Westminster and Gladwyn Jebb was acting Secretary-General. At that time, there was a huge surge of hope among people that the wartime alliance with Russia would last. We believed that we would make sense of the Security Council, but those hopes were dashed for 40 years. Now they are coming back again.
We cannot live for ever with the legacy of Hitler's Europe divided by an iron curtain. We want a European security pact which brings the Hungarians and Poles together with us and, if Germany is reunited as the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead suggested, heaven knows what policy changes might appear in Moscow, Washington, Paris and London. Let us look forward for a change instead of harking back to the totally false idea that the Soviet system changed in response to the fact that we had a nuclear weapon on hire purchase and bankrupted ourselves through defence expenditure. That is laughable. It is not true and no one but the Secretary of State believes it.
When people read the report of this debate, it will make sense only if people outside believe that those of us in this place understand what people outside already know--that the cold war is over. Everyone, both East and West, wants to spend money on peaceful development. However, Britain, because of its absolute obsession with the idea that it remains a semi- super-power, is dragging its feet in moving towards peace and is denying its people the industrial development and the public services that they need more than anything else. 6.30 pm
Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham) : I have considerable sympathy with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He has expressed to the House tonight his obvious disappointment, that he is not writing the next Labour party manifesto. Conservative Members share his disappointment, because we wish that he was writing it. That would be very helpful.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield has tried his best to help the Government by tabling his amendment and I tried to help him by urging Mr. Speaker to select the amendment for a Division tomorrow night. I wish that the House could have an opportunity to vote on the amendment to see where among Labour Members the true face of the Labour party lies. Does it lie with the hon.
Column 190Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), who puts on a brave face, but with some little conviction, or does it lie in the motion carried during the Labour party conference?
Conservative Members are not interested in this issue purely for party political gain. This issue has an effect in many
constituencies. As hon. Members will know, there is considerable interest in and allegiance to the armed forces in my constituency not least because it is the military headquarters for the west midlands. Thousands of Shrewsbury folk are employed in defence-related industries. Many of those people, thankfully not in their thousands but in their hundreds, support the Labour party. Many of them work in traditional industries and produce Labour councillors and Labour party activists. The workers at Perkins Engines manufacture an excellent tank engine for the Challenger main battle tank. After the Labour party conference, where could those poor souls have read that £5 billion was proposed to be slashed from the defence budget and that their jobs would be lost? Perhaps the Opposition Front- Bench spokesman can suggest a socially useful alternative for a production line producing main battle tank engines. The workers are scratching their heads.
The appearance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence at the Dispatch Box was very welcome not least because he shares with his predecessor a personal experience of the armed forces. I am particularly glad to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box because he is a former Light Infantry man. I hope that his Army bias will be displayed in his decisions in future.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to procurement and rightly said that his Ministry would try to encourage smaller businesses. We would not disagree with that, but the House must bear in mind that research and development involves an enormous cost and a great proportion of that enormous contribution--especially with the rightly more rigorous regime which the MOD now employs in procurement policy--means that large employers in my part of the world, like GKN, Sankey, Dowty and Perkins may have to carry enormous burdens in their trading exercises to cover the cost of research and development. While we all agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that smaller businesses have a role to play in defence procurement, we should not forget the valuable contribution played by larger groups in terms of research and development to move us forward in arms procurement.
I was particularly glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State scotch some of the myths put about, particularly by Opposition Members, about the smiling face of Mr. Gorbachev as he leads the Warsaw pact nations. Of course we must encourage but, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says, we must be cautious. He was right to remind the House--as hopefully the country will note--that the Soviet Union is producing a new aircraft every day. It is not as if the Soviets have pulled down the shutters and said, "Let's talk with the Americans and back-pedal." They are producing a new main battle tank every day. To be honest, some of us would like to believe that some Soviet weaponry is archaic and absolute rubbish. That is not the case. While some of our NATO allies may still be using second world war equipment, the Soviet main battle tank is a very effective piece of kit.
Column 191The Soviets produce a nuclear submarine every 42 days and a non-nuclear sub every 28 days. There is no impression yet that the Soviet conventional war machine, which is already considerably greater than NATO's, is slowing down.
I was particularly glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the Ulster Defence Regiment.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Why does the United States not hold the hon. Gentleman's view? President Bush appears to suggest that an agreement on START negotiations could be signed in 1990. If the United States is convinced, why will the hon. Gentleman not at least give some credit to the Soviet Union for starting to move in the right direction?
Mr. Conway : Of course I give the Soviet Union credit for that, and we welcome it. Who wants to live in an age of nuclear proliferation? However, the Americans, like our NATO allies and ourselves, are not being blindfolded. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) castigated my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for supporting the deployment of cruise missiles, but we heard very little when the SS22s were deployed. Together with his friends in CND, he said, "But look, the Soviets have offered to pull the SS22s back behind the Urals." However, what use was that for a weapon with a range of 3,000 miles? We have heard enough of the fork-tongued exercises of Opposition Members. Caution, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State warned, is the way forward. We welcome and support new developments, but that does not mean that we follow blindly. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the Ulster Defence Regiment. I do not believe that our debate today and tomorrow is the correct forum to examine the difficulties and the criminal investigations that are being carried out at present. I am sure that the House would want to recognise that nine battalions of the UDR are employed in the Province. Last year, 33 service men were murdered in Ulster, 12 of whom were part- time UDR soldiers. A further 239 were injured.
I have often spoken in the House about my involvement with the Territorial Army. The 90,000 involved in the TA on the United Kingdom mainland is as nothing compared with the bravery of those who volunteer for part-time military service in the Province. I take my hat off to those people and I am not sure whether I would have the courage to do the same in those circumstances. Just because a few apples in the UDR have received bad publicity, I do not believe that we should write off that very effective regiment and its nine battalions as tarred with the same brush.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited the large-scale TA exercise held by 49 Brigade during the recess as part of its NATO training. I hope that he was taken by the enthusiasm displayed by those TA soldiers. It has long been my experience that often when a regular soldier is posted to a TA unit, he is a bit cynical and prepared for the worst. However, within a few months he is convinced by the enthusiasm and commitment of the part-time soldiers. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State found that. My noble Friend Lord Ridley is the president of TAVRA, which promotes employer-awareness of the
Column 192motivation, initiative, leadership and self- discipline which employers can get for free by enabling employees to take part in the TA--currently involving 90,000 people--as an investment by British industry which will be well rewarded.
I shall dwell briefly on Regular Army recruitment problems, which are often commented upon by the press and by the Defence Select Committee and, I am sure, are a matter of considerable and frequent discussion within the Ministry. Some of the terms and conditions which apply to the armed services are starting to look a little archaic in today's scenario. I suspect that much of the premature retirement rate is related to marital pressures. These days, those who are attaining mid rank see their wives still expected to play an absolutely free part in the services, whereas the wives of their contemporaries in civilian life are at work and often earn substantial incomes. Service wives make a real sacrifice today, and we glibly forget it. Those who have achieved senior rank in the armed forces remember what their wives had to do in their day, and they shrug off the matter. I suspect that many of our young and able NCOs and officers are voting with their feet on this issue. A generation gap may have to be bridged politically if we are not to lose more and more future able generals.
On problems with conditions, I remind the House of the active role that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) has been playing in trying to stimulate service men's ability to buy their houses. I always find it slightly depressing that the second part of the estimates, which contains tables shows that the number of people in the armed forces who buy their own homes--particularly those in the Army--are so low. Obviously, the Navy and the Air Force have a much better rate, but in the Army the rate is still pathetically low. My hon. Friend's activities to try to push my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues to greater encouragement of home ownership deserve our greatest support.
We have read of the MARILYN programme within the Ministry of Defence and of the "Five-run-away-together" teams, which has had a glib response in some of the press, focusing our attention on the fact that, when people join the Army in particular, they would like to see one or two faces that they know from their own region. In that respect, if there is one legacy that the Labour party has left the Army and the regional system it is the abolition of the county regiments, which, in the long term, will prove to be a great mistake. That must not be compounded by actions to close regimental depots to try to get an all-arms melting pot training system, which may be favoured by some within the Ministry of Defence but which would be as bad as the abolition of county regiments. Equally, the selling off of local training areas would be another blow to the community ties that are important to maintain the regimental system.
In the Territorial Army, there has been a move to reintroduce geographical titles bracketed behind the names of regiments--they are very long and are not the way to do it. If we are to accept that, for recruiting purposes, it is essential to connect regiments with geography, proper geographical titles should stand.
It is interesting that in London there are about 14 soldiers per 10,000 people. In other areas such as Tyne and Wear, for example, there are about 52 soldiers per 10,000 people. On Merseyside there are about 55 soldiers per 10,000 people, and in Cumbria about 58 soldiers per
Column 19310,000 people. That differential is related not only to unemployment problems but to the strong geographical identification in those areas.
In my original service with the Royal Regiment, the Fusiliers, the old love of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers never died. Fortunately, when the regiments were combined, the Fusiliers' hackle for the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers was maintained. Some local people, when they saw the Fusiliers marching actually believed that they were still the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. To introduce it as a proper county regiment would be a definite way forward, and equally so for the Durham Light Infantry. Of course, there is still a Light Infantry battalion based in Durham--the seventh battalion, and an excellent battalion it is too. Who can possibly doubt the strength of local feeling that existed for the Durham Light Infantry and the benefits for regular recruitment if it still existed?
Despite some of the knocking that often takes place in defence debates, I am convinced--certainly from my constituency
experience--that there is a great warmth in our communities for the armed forces. They are not seen as a sinister wing of Government, waiting to remove democracy, but are regarded as part of the community. In my constituency the Light Infantry, the Yeomanry and RAF at Shawbury play a full and welcome part in civic occasions. The House and the Ministry of Defence will regret the day when we take our armed forces from communities. If there is one message for my right hon. Friend, it is, "Please bring back the county regiments." 6.44 pm
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich) : As someone who also represents what has traditionally been a military town, I strongly endorse what the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) said about the need to improve what we think of these days as the quality of life for service men and their families if we are to attract young people into the armed forces, and, even more important, to retain those whom we already have.
I shall concentrate my remarks on arms control and the implications for the NATO Alliance of what is happening and what may happen in arms control. Much of the White Paper has been overtaken by the dramatic events of the past six months. All hon. Members would welcome the fact that prospects for arms control have now totally changed. No longer is it a tedious business of shadow boxing, with one side aiming to wrong-foot the other in the eyes of the watching world. It is worth recalling that the mutual and balanced force reduction talks dragged on for 15 years--from 1973 to 1988--with little to show for them.
Against that background, the much wider negotiations on conventional forces in Europe, which started on only 9 March this year, have made breathtaking progress in the past six months. Agreement has already been reached on the six categories to be included in the negotiations and on the overall ceilings for two of them--tanks, and armoured troop carriers. There is agreement on the principle that no one nation on either side should have a disproportionate share of overall ceilings. There is also agreement on the need to limit forces stationed outside national borders. The parties to the talks have agreed also to aim at least for a phase 1 deal before the end of 1990.
Of course, there are some important disagreements as well. For example, there is no agreement on ceilings for
Column 194artillery, aircraft, helicopters or military manpower and there is yet no agreement on regional arrangements to be made within the Atlantic to the Urals area covered by the negotiations. There is also perfectly understandable Soviet concern, which was referred to by the Secretary of State, about the sheer scale of reductions which they will have to make in manpower, weaponry and military production in a short time. Given the problems of the Soviet economy, I can understand their worries about having to demobilise large numbers of service men and to switch substantial defence industries in a very short period.
A great deal remains to be done in the CFE negotiations. Some complex technical problems are yet to be resolved, but one has a great sense of optimism about the talks compared with what happened in the past. There is clearly now a political will on both sides to achieve an agreement. To a large extent, it stems from the changed attitude of the Soviet Union, and it is important to recognise that it has happened not just because of a change in Soviet leadership. I certainly accept that, at least partly, it is due to the fact that NATO has stuck fast to its dual-track approach--a willingness to negotiate, while maintaining an effective level of defence capability. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) underlined the fact that the change is due also to the awful realisation on the part of the Soviet leadership that they had urgently to tackle their appalling economic problems and to meet the aspirations of the Soviet people.
It is worth recalling that the USSR's official budget deficit is now estimated at $160 billion, which is 9 per cent. of its gross national product. Its share of world trade is only 4 per cent. Its total hard currency income is now $24 billion, of which no less than $18 billion goes on servicing foreign debt. Of 1,200 items in the Soviet housewife's official shopping basket, only 200 are now widely available. It is estimated that $500 billion-worth of roubles are hoarded simply because there is nothing to spend them on. Several assessments are being made in the West about the possibilities of success for President Gorbachev's economic reforms. Even the best case scenario is likely to produce such a small increase in economic growth that there will be no significant improvement in the Soviet economy or, indeed, in the quality of life of Soviet citizens. Against that background, the Soviet Union will clearly need massive assistance, advice, expertise and technological aid from the West if it is to achieve its objectives. The one thing that the Soviet Union can offer us in exchange for that assistance is security by removing the threat of military attack which has hung over western Europe for the past 40 years. That is the underlying basis of the negotiations and it is why there are grounds for optimism about the eventual outcome.
Many people are already looking beyond the CFE to what might be the next steps in conventional arms reductions. The Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, General John Galvin, has already spoken about the possibility of further drastic reductions beyond the levels now being discussed at CFE. The former SACEUR, General Andrew Goodpaster, is among those arguing the case for a phased reduction by the mid-1990s to a level at least 50 per cent. below NATO's current deployments. They argue that such cuts are both practical and possible. Those comments from perfectly prudent military sources, added to obvious improvements in super-power relationships, will have a substantial impact on public opinion in the West. They seem to have had some impact
Column 195already on some NATO Governments. Cuts in defence spending have already been announced by the Netherlands and Belgium specifically in anticipation of agreements likely to come from the CFE process. Other nations are discussing reducing the length of their military service or scaling down their defence efforts. It is hard to resist the judgment that some of us are giving in to the temptation to cash the dividends from an arms control agreement before the cheque is even in the bank. That is a dangerous process.
There is a pressing need for NATO to work out a co-ordinated, Alliance-wide approach to this problem. If we do not have such an approach the risk is that we shall indulge in an unseemly scramble, with individual nations seeking to reap the financial benefits of arms control by making unilateral cuts. If that process continued, we risk ending up with a fragmented, unco- ordinated, ineffective structure of defence in western Europe.
We must recognise that the pressure for defence cuts--again we are grateful to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield for underlining this point--will come from western public opinion, which sees a marked reduction in the perceived threat from the Soviet Union and is increasingly reluctant to pay for levels of defence that it no longer considers necessary.
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : Is that not precisely what was being said about China, which was thought, if anything, to be ahead of the Soviet Union on reform? The events in Tiananmen square brought up short the argument that the British people no longer perceived a threat.
Mr. Cartwright : If the Soviet Union and Warsaw pact countries had reacted to the extraordinary developments in eastern Europe as the Chinese Government did in Tiananmen square, I would see the relevance of the hon. Gentleman's point, but as the tanks have not rolled into Warsaw, Budapest or East German cities, his point is not relevant. The public in the West will see massive changes in the Soviet Union and in eastern Europe generally and will be increasingly reluctant to pay large sums for a level of defence which they, perhaps mistakenly, no longer perceive to be necessary. NATO must respond to that. The argument was put clearly in a paper produced for the North Atlantic Assembly by Ambassador Jonathan Dean, a former United States negotiator at the MBFR talks. He argued that NATO must
"develop a concept which would have the prospect of obtaining the enduring support of western publics for financing NATO's remaining forces over a long period A rationally argued proposal for deep cuts is preferable to an erosive piecemeal process of unilateral budget cuts in the NATO countries."
We need that approach.
I accept the case for some caution when we observe the extraordinary developments in eastern Europe. The Soviet Union is going through fundamental changes and as a result will be a much less predictable nation than it was in the days of the geriatric leadership. History suggests that, when empires break up, we experience a period of uncertainty. That may be what we now face in eastern Europe. Ethnic problems are bubbling up inside the Soviet
Column 196Union and there are tensions within and between the Warsaw pact members. These are all potentially destabilising factors. Perhaps we should also recall the warning of Boris Yelstin--that President Gorbachev had a limited period in which to deliver the goods to the Soviet people, and that if he did not succeed there would be the risk of widespread internal problems. That underlines the sense of instability. Against that background, it makes absolute sense to negotiate balanced reductions, not to make unilateral cuts on the assumption that the Soviet Union and Warsaw pact will follow suit. More importantly NATO needs to harmonise its arms control objectives with its force planning. We must look at the structure of our forces to take full account of what is happening in the negotiations to ensure that what is left after the cuts makes sense in defence terms.
More fundamentally, we need to determine what level and type of defence we need to take account of the major changes taking place in East-West relations. That strengthened the case for reconsidering our defence on a more integrated European basis. All nations in western Europe share the same manpower problems and the same budget pressures. We are all aware of the prospect of reductions in US forces deployed in western Europe. We shall all have the problem of sharing out the arms control ceilings flowing from the CFE negotiations. To suggest that we can take an individual national approach to those problems does not make sense. It is about time that western Europe began to think collectively about its future defence needs.
I have no difficulty in accepting the argument that for the foreseeable future the security of western Europe depends on a mix of conventional and nuclear weapons, but there is room for debate about the make-up of that mix. If Soviet conventional forces are reduced, there will be no need for the present levels of sub-strategic nuclear warheads that NATO deploys in Europe. The future size and make-up of NATO's nuclear arsenal should be based on hard assessments of targeting needs and survivability. We should advance the concept of a minimum nuclear deterrent, recognising that it will be credible only if it is modern, effective and survivable.
We could deploy far fewer than NATO's present 4,000 warheads in western Europe, and a key element will be the tactical air-to-surface missiles to be deployed on NATO aircraft. The case for deploying a new generation of short-range surface-to-surface nuclear missiles strikes me as dubious. I cannot see any practical possibility of persuading the Federal Republic of Germany to deploy a follow-on to Lance, and I cannot see the point of dividing the Western Alliance by forcing through such a development. Unless we can achieve the concept of minimum nuclear deterrence, it will be more difficult to sustain existing public support for the retention of nuclear weapons as part of our deterrent capability.
We see the prospect of real success in arms control, but we must recognise that that success will bring new problems. There is a need for NATO and the Warsaw pact to accept a change in their role. They must be not only instruments of collective security but agents to manage the fundamental changes to much lower levels of arms deployment from the Atlantic to the Urals.
When making the case for appropriate levels of defence, we cannot rely on the old knee-jerk reactions of the cold
Column 197war. We must make a much more sophisticated case to our people if they are to support the levels of defence that we need in a fast-changing world.
We should also recognise that soldiers and weaponry are not the root of our problem. They are merely a manifestation of the mistrust between the two super-power blocs. We now have the prospect of a totally new relationship between ourselves in the West and the nations of the Warsaw pact. Those nations will be looking to the West for help because they have to accept the fact that their system has simply failed to deliver what their peoples want. The post-war period is now coming to an end and we are entering an era of great change. It is essential that the Western Alliance should redefine its defence needs to take full account of those changes.
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East) : It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), who is a valued colleague in the Select Committee on Defence. I hope that he will excuse me if I do not follow him, but embark on my own tour d'horizon. I sometimes feel that second-guessing Soviet intentions is a somewhat futile occupation. Kremlinology may well have been invented to make astrology respectable. However, whether or not that is the case, I intend to resist the temptation to Healey-hop around the hemisphere and will stick to three points--two about procurement, and one about personnel.
The lessons of the sinking of HMS Sheffield and the Atlantic Conveyor and the massive damage done to HMS Glamorgan--all ships that were unable to defend themselves against a French-built Exocet--are that we armed and protected Her Majesty's ships so that they could defend themselves against Soviet weapons systems, but not against weapons systems built by friendly powers. Consequently, we should have learned that the staff requirement should, whenever possible, take account of the weapons and defensive systems--and the developments--not only of the Soviet forces, but also of friendly forces.
I wish that that had been the only example of where we had got it wrong, but sadly it was not. I bring another example to the attention of the House. It is referred to in the 11th report of the Select Committee on Defence and relates to the light anti-tank weapon for the 1980s, a shoulder -fired, unguided anti-tank weapon. Its full development started in 1977 and it came into production in 1987--10 years later. It entered service last year--five years late. Paragraph 7 of the 11th report states :
"The extensive time and cost overruns stem primarily from a re-assessment by MoD of the protection levels of Soviet armour and a complete re- appraisal of the weapon system performance requirement. This arose after the requirement had been specified and endorsed, the development programme had been planned, and work had begun. Its outcome was a change to the weapon performance requirement designed to increase the effectiveness of LAW 80 against thicker Soviet frontal armour and the re-definition of the development programme." Paragraphs 31 and 32 then state :
"Considerable advances have been made in recent years in the armour for the modern battle tank. One of the principal advances has been explosive reactive armour (ERA) which was patented in the West in 1974 and first appeared in service in 1982 fitted to Israeli Centurion and M60 tanks. It has been