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Mr. Hayward : The figures have already been provided by the hon. Member for Clackmannan. In my part of the country, Dowty employs 8, 000 people in Cheltenham and the surrounding areas, Smiths employs 3, 000, British Aerospace more than 8,000 at Filton, Rolls Royce about 8,000 at Filton and Westland 4,250. If the Labour party adopts the policy that it has expounded in articles such as that in The Times, it must be honest with those employees and also with all those who are dependent on those industries, such as sub-contractors, taxi firms and service industries. The Labour party must say which of those production lines will be closed. I calculate that some 10,000 people in the west country alone can reasonably expect to lose their jobs.
Of course, I have been referring only to defence and aerospace. The hon. Member for Clackmannan, in one of his more relevant comments, said that related civilian businesses--he referred to Ferranti--were dependent on the research, development and sales of the defence industry. Therefore, if defence jobs are at risk, so too must be civilian jobs. At least the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton had the honesty and intellectual intelligence to recognise and admit that. I do not understand why the Labour Front Bench will not do the same.
Mr. Hayward : I have read it, and the hon. Member for Clackmannan did not mention one point from the Labour party defence review. We can only presume that he is really saying, "This is the policy we want to adopt, but this is the policy that we will adopt for electoral purposes alone."
Mr. Boyes : The problem is that the hon Gentleman has read only two or three paragraphs of a lengthy speech made to the UCATT conference, which dealt with conversion. The thrust of the speech--and I hope that Conservative Members agree with it--is that if we can get agreement between various countries to reduce the level of armament needs and army strengths, the world will become safer. The Labour party has not adopted policies that will put the workers referred to by the hon. Gentleman on the dole queue. We are talking about conversions and putting people into socially acceptable jobs. Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees that that would be both honest and sensible. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ask my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan whether he can read the whole of his speech. He might then regret some of the comments that he has made tonight.
Mr. Hayward : I do not regret any of the comments that I have made tonight. I listened to the whole of the Labour party's defence debate at the party conference, when there was an opportunity for the hon. Member for Clackmannan to correct any misunderstandings. He also had the opportunity to correct any inaccuracies in The Times article by writing a letter to that newspaper. There has been no such correction in the letters column of The Times. He has not attempted to correct any misunderstandings that might have arisen from his speech. Unfortunately, the Liberals are no better. They are not represented here this evening, but let me quote from a motion that was passed at the Liberal party conference in the same week that the hon. Member for Clackmannan was addressing the UCATT conference. Among other things, that motion says that the Liberal party wants an end to Government involvement in promoting arms exports and, in particular, that it wants to close the Defence Exports Services Organisation and to cease financial support for arms exports from public funds by, for example, the Export Credits Guarantee Department.
Virtually every export order that has been achieved in relation to Hawk and Tornado alone, and probably in relation to Westland and a number of other industries such as Smiths and Dowty, which supply those major contractors, have been earned as a result of commitments from the ECGD.
If the Liberal Democrats do not want us to have the ECGD or the DESO, we must kiss all those orders goodbye because the French will step in to take our place. If the French do not, others such as the Americans will. It does not matter which country : one will step in and those orders will go by the board.
If the Labour or the Liberal parties put forward policies they should give due consideration to the impact of those policies. The hon. Members for Walton and for Govan have admitted the implications of their policies and the Liberal and Labour parties should admit the implications of their policies. They should be honest and not try to hide behind a series of quotes and sham defences.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Let me explain to the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) that cuts in defence expenditure do not mean job losses. Research shows that investment in construction in the NHS and in education produces 60 to 80 per cent. more jobs than investment in defence.
Column 213I should also point out that in the past 10 years in which the Government have held office, the number of jobs directly related to defence has fallen from 390,000 to 310,000, despite an increase in the defence budget from £7.5 billion to £20 billion in the same period. I put that on the record because the hon. Gentleman must not believe that defence cuts will necessarily mean massive job losses, although that could be the case for a time ; certainly, if the money is not invested in other directions there will be job losses. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, the Secretary of State's speech was one of the worst from any Secretary of State for Defence that I have ever heard. It was a poor speech. The Secretary of State made the remarkable statement that we must maintain our defence policies and put pressure on the Soviet Union if we are to help the people of that country, or the countries of eastern Europe, to get their freedom. Let us think about that for a few minutes.
Does not the Secretary of State realise that that is precisely what some of the Soviet generals, the bureaucrats and the old guard in the Soviet Union want? That is their argument for getting rid of Gorbachev. That is their argument for saying that there is no point in getting rid of their weapons and carrying out the sort of policies that Mr. Gorbachev wants them to carry out because the West will still build up its arms and will continue to be the threat that they say that it is. That is their very argument for undermining Gorbachev and the people in the Soviet Union who want to bring about change there. That is not a sound argument. It is a silly argument. I have heard one or two other arguments from Conservative Members. Some referred to the events of Tiananmen square. But what happened there was that the man who had some sympathy for freedom was removed from the general secretaryship of the Communist party. The hard-liners and the old element even went back on the so-called policy, about which we have heard so much, that if one has private enterprise, freedom automatically follows. China had gone part of the way towards private enterprise. That took place internally. It is nonsense to equate freedom with private enterprise. Hitler's Germany had private enterprise, but it did not have freedom. So far, there is no political freedom in Pinochet's Chile or in South Africa. One could go on naming country after country where private enterprise and the market economy are wonderful but where there is no political freedom. It is wrong to suggest that in the Soviet Union freedom has been suppressed because of a nationalised or publicly owned economy. One should begin to look at the history of those countries and recognise that freedom was destroyed relatively quickly after the revolution. Freedom did not last long because of the nature of the Communist party. There were Left-wing socialists such as Rosa Luxemburg and others who pointed out at the time that the proletariat would mean dictatorship over the proletariat--the dictatorship of one man and a small group.
I have long taken that point of view. I was brought up in the Socialist- Communist tradition. It took me some time to understand what happened, but by reading, studying and looking, I became, as I have remained, an opponent of the internal system in the Soviet Union and, at the same time, a firm believer in genuine democratic Socialism. There is no contradiction between the two ; that must be clearly understood.
Column 214I am sorry that the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, myself and others has not been called, but I understand the procedures of the House. However, as my right hon. Friend said, at least we can express an opinion on it. I support that amendment because it is similar to the resolution that was overwhelmingly carried at the Labour party conference. To those in my party who may not like what we are saying, I say that our amendment is in line with a conference decision, so I trust there will be no talk of discipline in relation to the views that we are expressing. Come to that, I do not care if there is--that does not worry me. I have been in this House a long time and have fought many battles by going through the Lobbies to vote on important issues, and I will continue to do that.
Ours is a common-sense motion and should be supported for that reason. It states :
"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".
As for other NATO countries, Greece spends 6.6 per cent. of its GDP on defence. Next comes the United Kingdom, with 4.3 per cent., and Turkey spends 4.2. Greece and Turkey spend such high amounts because they hate each other. Although they are in NATO they seem more concerned with looking at each other than with the external defence of Europe.
If we reduced defence expenditure to 3 per cent. of GDP we would save a great deal of money : the annual bill would fall from £21 billion to £15 billion, which would add up to a considerable amount in five years, and all of it could be used to help the National Health Service, housing, education and so on. That would not leave us defenceless ; we should only be spending the same as our European neighbours in NATO.
Our motion does not go as far as the suggestions of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars)--it does not speak of unilateral nuclear disarmament, restricting itself to general defence spending--
Mr. Heffer : Certainly not. I entirely agree with unilateral nuclear disarmament, but this motion does not argue for it. We could use the money saved, on construction. The Tories boast about what they have done for people in the way of housing. They have certainly sold a lot of council houses and built a lot of private houses, but then they put the interest rates up so high that people cannot afford to keep up the payments on the houses that they are trying to buy. There is something funny about the Conservatives ; I do not understand how they can claim to be on the side of house owners and then put mortgages up by so much that these people are crippled and have to spend all their money on them, leaving them with no money to spend on food or clothing. That does not seem logical, but it is a problem for Conservative Members which they will pay for in the end.
The money could be spent on what the people of this country need. I believe in unilateral nuclear disarmament, and have done for a long time. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), like me, was in the forces. I remember hearing about the dropping of the bomb. I recall the shudder of horror that went through
Column 215me. At the same time, we all felt relief because it meant that we would not be going over there. Later, we realised that the bomb meant that a new dimension had entered warfare, which would no longer be even what we had experienced. It could mean the absolute destruction of mankind. That thought has lived with me every since, and when I think of it from time to time the horror still comes back to me. There would be no winners after the bomb was dropped.
On the other hand, we think of the misery in the Third world and elsewhere. There is massive poverty in Latin America, Asia and Africa and in parts of the so-called marvellous developed world--in parts of America and even in our country there are people who live in disgraceful poverty. Yet we spend millions and millions of pounds on weapons of destruction.
I conclude with a quotation from a book which I happened to buy yesterday in the Church house bookshop, "The Bible, the Church and the Poor". It is about liberation theology. Hon. Members know that I study this closely because my Christianity and my Socialism are one and the same. The book says :
"Just as the situation of the poor has a structural cause, so their liberation has to go through the process of changing the social system, which prevents them from growing and playing a positive part in history. The poor judge society as it is at present, and see that if their situation is to change, this change has to come about in a new form of society."
That is what I believe. I believe that as long as we continue to waste millions of pounds on destructive weapons we will never create that new society. Part of changing the world is getting rid of these dreadful nuclear weapons and working for world peace in a way which we never have before.
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : I recognise the sincerity of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) whenever he speaks on these matters, some of which I shall refer to in my speech. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) about the outrage perpetrated at Deal on the Royal Marines bandsmen. Originally, the bandsmen's base was at Portsmouth and they still have a presence there, albeit a greatly reduced one. However, there has been no reduction of affection and respect for the Royal Marines in the hearts of the people of Portsmouth. I was abroad when I heard the news and I reacted with an abject horror which I know was shared by many of my constituents. Not long before, I had seen the Royal Marines band perform during Navy days in August, and I look forward to seeing them perform again on Trafalgar day--21 October. There is a striking contrast between the finest bandsmen in the world and the barbarism of those who attacked them, between the highest standards of their service and the lowest standards of their attackers. One can understand people's tremendous feelings of sympathy for the relations of those who suffered and for those who must confront terrorism in our country day by day.
I want to deal with something that has been mentioned many times during the debate, and that is how we should look at East-West relations given the changes that have
Column 216taken place with the better understanding which undoubtedly exists, and which so many people hope will continue to exist between this country and the Soviet Union and between NATO and the Warsaw pact. We have had a history lesson from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). We have gone back to wartime and since. Europe has been dogged by the wartime legacy. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield referred to the fact that, after the war, many people thought that the Russians would remain our allies and Russia was not perceived to be the threat which it soon became, in the opinion of all sensible people. We have never forgotten which side the Russians were on at the beginning of the war. During the war, they became our allies and many people hoped that they would remain our allies. But after the war many said that the Russians should be pushed back behind their borders. They asked why we had fought a war only to leave them under such a system when we had gone to war to defend the freedom of so many countries--such as Poland--which remained within the Soviet empire.
The Soviet empire was built in the late 1940s and during the cold war, which was recognised at the outset by Winston Churchill in his famous iron curtain speech. Since then it has been a threat and there has been every reason for NATO to retain a strong defence. NATO was not created because there was no threat. It has not been around for so many years with so much expenditure in time, trouble and treasure because there has been no threat. Sensible people have been aware of that threat and have stuck to that view while the siren voices of CND and others have said that we do not need it ; that we should turn arms into ploughshares ; that we should have social spending on hospitals and schools instead of what was described as socially unacceptable arms expenditure.
We have ignored that. We have carried on, we have kept strong, and there is no doubt whatsoever that the strength and leadership of the West has made Russia realise that she will not under a Brezhnev regime or under a Gorbachev regime weaken our resolve to defend our freedom. We have set an example to the peoples of eastern Europe and shown them the freedoms that they could have.
What could be more moving than to see the people coming from the countries of eastern Europe and the value that they put on freedom? They give up all they possess to come as refugees to a country that they believe will give them hope and the freedom that they have been denied for so many years. That is an eloquent appraisal of the system that still exists in eastern Europe and is at the heart of the Soviet empire.
When any empire begins to break up and discovers that its many varied peoples are struggling against the tremendous discipline that keeps them together, there will be trouble. A continuing amount of trouble will be created in Russia and Gorbachev will have to face up to that. The troubles with the subject peoples of the empire on the borders of the Soviet Union will increase and penetrate the very heart of the Soviet Union.
I am not as optimistic as so many people who say that we are now in an era when we can relax and that not only can we disarm but that we will have peace everlasting because of Mr. Gorbachev. There are great dangers in that opinion. He will never allow the vital base of order to be
Column 217undermined, and if he does, many around him will not allow it and there will be a reaction as we have seen so brutally in Tiananmen square in China.
Not long ago, I spent a holiday reading a book describing how China had seen the light and was coming round to Western ways and how Western nations were tripping over themselves to go to China and give economic aid and advice. It was said that China would be the first nation to tread the road of Communism and return from it. We saw the end of that in Tiananmen square. It was a brutal end and it was shown to the world how fast things can change in a country that had been considered to be more understanding of the freedoms of its people. That could happen in Russia.
I do not wish to give the benefit of the doubt to those who say that we should now put down our arms and turn our expenditure to other more socially acceptable pursuits and that we should disarm, as in the new era people will not support the arms we possess. I believe that that would be a wrong judgment. I believe that we should continue, as this Government have continued for so many years, to disarm only on the basis of a fair exchange. I have absolutely no doubt that no Government will be elected to office that does not believe that Britain should retain nuclear weapons for as long as other countries have such weapons targeted on Britain. That applies to nuclear and conventional forces. Russia has not yet disarmed to the extent that many would wish. We have had promise after promise. Let us see that those promises are delivered and then we will disarm to match them.
I wish to comment about what has been said about pressing the nuclear button. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) was searching for quotations to show whether the Labour party, if it were given the responsibility of office, would have a Prime Minister who would be prepared to press the button. The latest quotation I have from the Leader of the Opposition on this matter comes from the BBC television programme "On the Record" on 3 February 1989, when he said :
"I would not use nuclear weapons because that means annihilation and there is no logic in fighting with nuclear weapons."
That remains the right hon. Gentleman's view and his connections with CND, the campaign for one-sided nuclear disarmament, remain the same. There has been no repudiation, and in his heart that is what he believes. If ever we have such a man in Downing street our nuclear deterrent will be nugatory within weeks, and certainly if there were not an immediate disarmament of nuclear weapons in the minds of potential enemies there would be the feeling that we no longer had the strength of purpose and strong leadership in Downing street to defend our freedoms and the freedoms of the West on a satisfactory nuclear and conventional basis.
I started my speech by referring to the Royal Marines in my constituency. I conclude by making a plea about the searchlight tattoo at the Royal Marine barracks at Eastney, in Portsmouth, which I hope will continue when the future of the Eastney barracks is finally resolved. It is a very popular event which raises money for worthwhile service charities. It creates a great deal of interest and is very much in the affections of the people of Portsmouth. It would be a great pity if such an event were to end because of developments regarding the naval estate in Portsmouth.
Column 218The Royal Navy field gun crew should continue in modern times. It is just as relevant now as it ever has been. There are disciplines to be learnt from the field gun crew, as well as from its role in recruitment. It adds a human touch, diversity and something extra which cannot be judged in terms of money to the Royal Navy and the traditions which we have come to expect from the Royal Navy which are respected so highly in my constituency.
If I did not speak strongly on that matter, my constituents would wonder why I had not done so. I cannot say strongly enough that the Royal Navy in Portsmouth remains as welcome as it has been for centuries. Anything that can be done to keep its traditions and its role will be highly welcome. I know that the Ministers responsible will take that into account in any future decisions.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : The House will forgive me if I say that I feel sick, sweaty and headachy. The explanation is that it was Scottish Question Time this afternoon and, like other hon. Members, I have been sitting here since roughly 2.30 pm. The glare of the lights is damnable, and until such time as someone can alter the powerful glare, quite understandably, hon. Members who have to sit for a long time to catch Mr. Speaker's eye will find the conditions unacceptable.
I should like to say something to the credit of the Ministry of Defence. I have had correspondence with the Secretary of State about its obligations to wildlife. The magazine that it has produced, "Sanctuary", is excellent and contains many good ideas. I make a special appeal for consideration to be given to whether the island of Gruinard, ungrazed for 40 years, which is in the possession of the Ministry of Defence, should be registered as a site of special scientific interest. I make no complaint about the time that Ministers have taken in dealing with my letter on the question of Gruinard..
However, I devote my speech to one subject. For the sake of the Ministry of Defence's good name, there should be a public inquiry into Kincora boys' home, and the systematic rape of boys in care. In my intervention this afternoon, the Secretary of State asked me for new evidence. Paul Foot's book, "Who Framed Colin Wallace?" has not been answered.
The issue that interests me is whether the security services and the Army knew what was going on at Kincora in 1974. Major Wallace says that they did. He sent a memorandum dated 8 November 1974 to his colleagues spelling it all out very clearly and calling for something to be done. If the memorandum is genuine, clearly the Army knew about Kincora, as did several other people in Government. I am not making a party issue of this because for much of the period a Labour Government were in office. Nothing was done about the memorandum until 1980. The Terry report, which was never published, and the Hughes inquiry report, which was, dismiss any possibility that the Army or intelligence knew of the abuse at Kincora before 1980. Terry does not say how he arrives at his conclusion. Hughes has a passage on Wallace's document in which he suggests, from a Royal Ulster Constabulary forensic report that the RUC refuses to confirm, that the document may have been a forgery. He says that two typewriters may have been used. Evidence is available from typewriting
Column 219experts, particularly R. W. Radley, that the same typewriter was used. That calls into question a major part of the Hughes inquiry and is a clear indication that many people, including Major Wallace, knew perfectly well that boys were being systematically raped at Kincora and that nothing was done about it.
There are clear signs that a significant number of people in authority knew perfectly well that boys were being systematically raped at Kincora, but that nothing was done about it.
Do Ministers now accept the authenticity of all, or part, of Peter Broderick's statement?
Was the Broderick statement that was submitted to Downing street on 1 November 1984 identical to the one submitted to the Civil Service appeal board in October 1975?
Do Ministers adhere to the claim that
"There is not a shred of evidence to support any of Colin Wallace's allegations"?
I ask solemnly and specifically whether Ministers say that there is not a shred of evidence to support Wallace's submissions in November 1974 on Kincora.
I thank the Ministers of State for the Armed Forces, who, courteously, is present, for his letter dated 16 September. For the sake of time, I shall give the reference--(AF)/AH/9/4/1. He says : "I can confirm that Mr. Broderick did make a statement to the Appeal Board, and that the quotations to which you refer in this context match the content of MOD records."
The Minister continues :
"Your final question related to the episode of the pistol' outlined in pages 125 to 127 of Mr. Foot's book."
Very properly, a copy of that letter was placed in the Library. Therefore, anyone who is interested can refer to that paragraph. Why does the Minister leave out certain key information? For example, why does he fail to say that, when Major Colin Wallace was interviewed by the Army special investigation branch in 1977, he was informed that the RUC had lost not only his firearms file but the entire records of the firearms dealer from whom he had purchased the pistol?
Why did the Minister not say that the dealer in question was the main supplier of personal protection weapons to the security forces in the Belfast area?
Why was it that, although Wallace's pistol had been lodged in the Lisburn garrison armoury from April 1970, it was not until October 1977 that anyone noticed that the weapon had been overstamped with a different number?
Is it not true that all weapons in the armoury were subject to frequent and detailed inspections, during which the serial numbers were checked?
The Minister's letter dated 16 September confirms that there was an official "dirty tricks" unit at Army headquarters in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.
I believe that we may be dealing with a very nasty scandal. [Interruption.] I do not know what the Government Whip said, but I am not making a party point because I believe that this is a House of Commons matter. In all my contributions to defence debates I have been concerned about the good name of the services.
The scandal should be exposed. There should be a public inquiry into Kincora and the case of Colin Wallace, or at least the recall of the Hughes inquiry. I say to the
Column 220Government Whip and other hon. Members that I personally believe that the uniformed British Army has behaved properly in a most difficult situation.
The 1970s may be regarded by some as stale kail, but I believe that what happened in the 1970s in Ireland is relevant to what is happening in the 1980s. At the very least, senior officials of the Ministry of Defence should invite Major Colin Wallace and Major Fred Holroyd to see them if they are not prepared to have a public inquiry.
I was initially sceptical about this case, but I believe that it raises important matters of principle and should be considered seriously within the Ministry of Defence.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : The position adopted by the Opposition Front Bench on this issue has been effectively demolished by Conservative Members, by Opposition Back Benchers and in particular by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars). Therefore, I will not spend much time discussing that position. However, I want to pick out one point made by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill).
The hon. Member for Clackmannan alleged that Britain was the odd one out in NATO and he used the old trick of comparing two lengthy documents of detailed points. I presume that he made that allegation to try to cover up the obvious points made by the Government Front-Bench spokesman that the British Labour party is out of kilter with virtually all mainstream European political parties on a range of different issues, not least economics.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan was wrong and it is essential that we understand why he was wrong. He said nothing about France which is a signatory to the Western Alliance and a member of NATO although not of the integrated command structure. The French insist that the force de frappe should remain an essential part of its national defence so long as the Soviet Union has nuclear weapons. Even more important, the hon. Gentleman said nothing about public opinion in the United States which is becoming increasingly disillusioned by people in Europe whingeing about the presence of American nuclear weapons when America has such a large financial commitment and a large commitment in the form of American lives, some 300,000 people--to the defence of Europe.
Two fundamental points can be made. Again and again we have heard Opposition Members say that we are in a new situation and that everything has changed over the past few years. The hon. Member for Clackmannan repeated that, claiming that everything has changed in the past three or four years because of President Gorbachev. However, the situation has changed, because Britain and its NATO allies stood out and insisted that we should re-arm with cruise missiles and re-equip our conventional forces while the Soviet Union did the same. Throughout that process, Opposition Members decried us, as indeed did some of their colleagues in other countries. President Bush said that the British Prime Minister provided the crucial "anchor to windward" which made the present negotiating process possible.
The older fundamental point is that from where we stand now the difference between the Opposition and the Government is not that we do not want to spend money on arms which could be better spent elsewhere. Of course we
Column 221would love to have more money available for other things. However, there is a critical difference of timing. This Government's defence cuts will result from a proper negotiating process--a process which is proceeding at the moment.
The Opposition pledge unilaterally and immediately to cancel the WE177--the air-launch bomb for the Tornado--just when the Soviets are introducing their own equivalent into service. They have also pledged to stop all nuclear testing so that we cannot introduce weapons to balance the Soviets' weapons and they pledge to cancel Trident C4 thus undermining the minimum critical mass, according to the expert advice from the chiefs of staff. We believe that we have the new dialogue now because we decided to take a robust view then and we believe that the dialogue will continue and we will get disarmament on the other side only if we pace our disarmament in tune with theirs.
I want now to refer to the manning problems in the armed forces. We are only just entering the manpower trough resulting from the shortage of 18 and 19-year-olds. Our main problem today lies not with recruiting, but with retention. The recruiting problems remain for the future. I believe that there are three ways in which we can tackle the problems. I want to stress that, whatever problems we may have with retention today, they do not approximate to the problems that existed in 1979 when we took over from the Labour party. The Government have an excellent record on armed forces pay. I want to refer only to issues involving conditions of service which have arisen over a generation instead of over the past few years. The first issue to be tackled is housing. I will be very brief because I have spoken about this on many occasions. The Armed Forces Pay Review Board is right to state that we will not solve the problems of retention in the Army and the Air Force unless we tackle the housing problem. I believe that the solution does not lie in encouraging more soldiers and airmen to buy their houses while they are in service. Their families are mobile and if they buy houses, their families will want to live in them. That means that the family will be split or the man will leave the services.
As Field Marshal Bramall said in the other place in July, in practice the premature purchase of a house usually leads to premature voluntary release. The Navy's position is quite different because Navy families can be static. There must be an alternative and to be attractive it must involve the same tax benefits as those enjoyed by civilian owner-occupiers.
We must also tackle problems of retention in the Royal Navy. The Navy's problem is different from that in the other two services. The Navy does not principally have a mobility problem. Almost all Navy personnel are deployed in this country and it is manifestly obvious that the wives cannot go to sea with their husbands. There is no point in encouraging accompanied service in the Navy if that simply means wives living at a port which happens to be a vessel's home port. We want to encourage Navy families to be static and to put down roots which help to compensate for the Navy's problem of separation. Let us make no bones about it : however many battalions there may be in Rouemont in Ulster at the moment--I believe that it is seven--the Navy's separation problems are far worse than those experienced by the other two services. They are in a league of their own. We must be willing to consider a package of allowances as they affect the Navy separately from the other services. Unless
Column 222we are willing to acknowledge that the Navy is a special case when we consider boarding school allowances, leave warrants and problems with competitive refits which result in warships being refitted 300 or 400 miles from service men's homes, and acknowledge that the Navy has very different problems with separation, serious problems will continue in the Royal Navy.
At a time when equipment decisions are rightly being made on a centralised basis in the MOD, there is much to be said for getting better value for money if we make decisions on allowances on a decentralised basis which recognises the differences between the three services and the particular problem in the Navy.
My final point about retention relates to social security benefits which, of course, are not an MOD matter. However, they are causing problems and unhappiness disproportionate to the sums involved. Through a series of anomalies which have grown up over the past generation, through a series of different Bills which have failed to state that service in the armed forces is equivalent to service in the United Kingdom, a very unjust situation has developed whereby service men's wives cannot receive the benefits enjoyed by their counterparts in the United Kingdom.
So the wife of someone in the British Army of the Rhine who has paid class 1 national insurance contributions all the way through, and has perhaps done a job for several years in Germany, may find herself unemployed and will then be unable to obtain unemployment benefit. Similarly, the wives of people who come back to the United Kingdom, perhaps after 22 years service- -I came across a case recently involving disablement benefit--are told that because their husbands have been working abroad they cannot get any benefit. The sums involved are very small but the disquiet that has been produced within the armed forces is disproportionate.
The common theme in all the points I have made on retention is that the sums of money involved are not large, whereas the sums involved in training replacements are. It would make excellent sense and be better value for money if we were willing to sort out the anomalies and give service men the same deal as civilians by recognising the difference in the nature of their employment. I know that the Government are interested and concerned about this. They have fulfilled in full the pay recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body every year for 10 years. Their heart is in the right place and we are pushing on an open door. Let us do the little things that make all the difference.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : The defence estimates amount to £20 billion this year and will rise to £22 billion next year. All we have had from Conservative Members to justify that are two fictions. The first is that the Soviet Union is rearming, when we all know that the opposite is the case. The second is from a neutral source--the International Institute for Strategic Studies--which states in its definitive annual "Military Balance" that the unilateral Soviet cuts virtually eliminate the surprise attack threat that has for so long concerned NATO planners. Everyone knows that there have been unilateral cuts in the Soviet Union, and there are offers of a great deal more.
The second fiction is the old one of the Soviet threat. It is just a continuation of the old cold war thinking, which
Column 223is that we have to have an enemy to justify our high military spending. People say that there could be political changes in the Soviet Union and things could get worse. However, things could get better. The fact that things could get worse is used as a ratchet for expanding the arms race.
I have news for the Conservative party : things are getting better under President Gorbachev. We have a chance to break through the permanent arms race spiral, and we must take it. The Soviet Union also needs that breakthrough, because of its budget crisis. It needs to move the resources from weaponry to its people. We have the same motivation. The Government's arguments are not adequate to justify the huge expenditure.
A previous Secretary of State for Defence, Sir John Nott, described the Ministry of Defence as
"a huge supertanker, well captained, well engineered, well crewed, its systems continually updated--but with no one ever asking where the hell it is going."
It is about as well captained as the Torrey Canyon or the Titanic. Judging by the Secretary of State's speech, the captaincy is about to get worse.
Sir John Nott was right about the Ministry's poor direction. It has poor direction in terms of its policy on Northern Ireland. I will not go into that in great detail as it is a subject for another occasion. However, 20 years of continuous war is a statement of its poor direction.
It has poor direction in terms of waste and mismanagement. The Ministry of Defence has been incontinent with taxpayers' money. Many examples have been given today. There is the anti-tank gun that does not pierce armour but which costs £300 million. We could talk of other projects, such as the improved United Kingdom air defence ground environment, the cost of which has shot up from £100 million to £500 million-plus. It is still overdue, and the system does not do what the Ministry of Defence thought it would. Worse than that, it is over a barrel to the multinational defence contractors who intend to charge the Ministry of Defence £1 billion- plus if it wants to get its hands on the software. Those are just a few examples.
The real mismanagement is on the nuclear matters, but I shall deal first with conventional forces. The Ministry of Defence has mismanaged those forces because of a late realisation of obvious demographic trends. It failed to make the necessary changes. The new film version of "Henry V" by Kenneth Branagh uses a new substance called vacform. It is a type of plastic which is ideal for shaping into human bodies for the battle scenes. Because of their incompetence over demographic factors, the Government are trying to run a vacform army.
There is widespread dissatisfaction in the armed forces over pay and conditions. There are fewer personnel, but the Ministry of Defence will not reduce any of the commitments. Therefore, the personnel are put under enormous pressure. Personnel, from captains to lower ranks, are leaving in droves. The Government must face reality and reduce our commitment all over the world, particularly in Germany and Ireland.
The conventional armed forces in Europe talks are going on. With our demographic factors, the Government should be enthusiastic about the talks. They should be pushing for the greatest possible reductions. Even if they do not do so, they will happen, because we do not have