Column 312The morality of arms trading is not at issue here and I shall not discuss that. What are at issue are the ways and methods used to obtain contracts and the linking of defence contracts to overseas aid. If the Government are to be believed about their role in those contracts--and quite frankly, I do not believe them--they stand accused of mismanagement and allowing the tail to wag the dog.
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who is not in his place at the moment, scoffed a little at the Minister of State when he talked about the Defence Export Services Organisation. I asked the Minister of State to look at the organisation urgently. It really does require it. There has been a huge expansion of top management at a time of cuts in the operational armed services.
Mr. John Reed of the Defence Industry Digest set out the facts and figures. He wrote that in London alone, there are one four-star and four three-star ranks of their civilian equivalents and 35 principals of colonel equivalent, very few of them being serving officers. It is probably the most top-heavy Department.
British service advisers and attache s overseas are used by some defence contractors on a free basis. If the DESO's primary task is to pass on information to industry, does it really require some 50 red-hat equivalents? No wonder jobs in the organisation are highly prized.
Mr. Alan Clark : I am entirely satisfied with the composition, the organisation and the work of the DESO. It has performed very creditably in expanding our export sales. Let me clear the air about the dispute over the two figures. The hon. Gentleman will find those which I quoted in my speech on page 33 of the defence estimates at paragraph 416 :
"New contracts signed in 1988 are expected to be worth some £3,500 million, and the United Kingdom is now the world's third largest defence exporter."
That was the phrase that I used. The payments received in that year were £781 million, but the total will lead forward into 1989-90. The total contracts signed in that year were £3.5 billion.
Mr. Rogers : The Minister of State obviously does not understand it, because that paragraph refers only to the Saudi deal. It mentions the £3.5 billion on that contract which is to be fulfilled over some years, and not the total export sales. The Minister got the figure wrong yet again.
Before I conclude I wish to refer to a couple of specific issues. One is the Tucano, which has come into partial operation. It is a classic example of the Government's lack of business skills. The changing of the performance requirement meant that in late April only 15 out of the 59 aircraft had been delivered. It was years behind schedule. In his statement on 4 July 1989, Sir Peter Levene boasted about a £60 million saving on the first of his new deals, but it just so happened that he had to give £1 billion to Shorts,
Column 313the contractors, in order to bail them out. That had nothing to do with Shorts ; it resulted from the Department's incompetence. I could say a great deal more about the Tucano. May I say how sad I am that the Air Force and the Ministry of Defence do not realise that it has come into service? They have been waiting so long for the plane, yet they do not know that it is in service, and that is very sad. May I hand the Minister of State a copy of the RAF advertisement in The Observer on 6 August 1989? It said :
"Sits. Vac : No previous experience required."
It says that all one has to do if one wants to fly a fast jet is join the Air Force and be trained. The advertisement sets out step-by-step training. Pilots begin on the Chipmunk "Your first trainer". Then they go to Jet Provost, "Your first jet", then to the Hawk for "Fast-jet experience", and then to the Tornado so that they can zoom along at 250 ft at 500 mph. I hand the advertisement over to the Minister of State. Will he tell them that at last we have the Tucano and they can put it in their adverts for step-by-step training for RAF officers?
Mr. Rogers : Indeed. May I ask the Minister of State through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if he would look at that advertisement? There are many other examples of Government incompetence and mismanagement of the defence economy, such as the Marconi scandal, the Foxhunter radar delays--Foxhunter is four years behind schedule--ALARM, which is a classified number of years behind schedule--the Government will not let us know how many--and £260 million over cost, the Tornado, of which there are 29 in storage at a minimum cost of £20 million each, the Rapier field standard, which is still not in service and is £77 million over cost and Sea Wolf, which is a classified number of years behind schedule and £50 million over cost. This week's scandal is the light anti-armour weapon. I pay tribute to the Select Committee for the tremendous work it has done in exposing such examples of Government incompetence.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State spoke derisively of our amendment and said it was "a pathetic cobbling together" of Labour party aspirations. Perhaps he should have read the amendment. It condemns :
"the cowardly attacks of murderous paramilitary groups." Is that what the Secretary of State calls "pathetic"? Our amendment calls for the spending of money to secure our military bases and save lives. Is that what the Secretary of State calls "pathetic"? It asks the Government to examine the allocation of taxpayers' resources to see--just to see
Column 314--whether they can be released for helping people who are sick, elderly or mentally infirm. Is that what the Secretary of State calls "pathetic"?
I suggest that it is not we who are pathetic--or our amendment--but the Secretary of State. In a few short weeks, he has reduced himself--and thus the dignity of his office--to a pathetic public school sneak and a pathetic sycophant of a Prime Minister who has outlived her time.
Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) : The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) evoked the ghost of Neville Chamberlain. He did not do so as elegantly as his right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who put the story better. They were both right to do so, although not for the reasons they had in mind.
The case against Neville Chamberlain is fairly simple. He hoped that he could do business with Hitler and he let his hopes determine the order of battle of our British forces. He did not spend enough on defence because he was a strong social reformer. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister thinks that she can do business with Mr. Gorbachev and has said so, but the last thing she has in mind is to let her hopes of doing business with the Soviet Union determine our defences.
We have to keep up our guard. The Labour party should realise clearly that perestroika and glasnost are the children not only of Mr. Gorbachev but of President Reagan's rearmament and his determination to confront the Soviet Union against its regional imperialist aggressions of the past few years. It is strength which is producing detente, so let us not lower our guard in any way until we can harvest the fruits of what is happening now.
The hon. Member for Rhondda called for a review of defence policy. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends not to undertake a review now because the situation in Europe and the world generally is in flux. However, it may be acceptable for someone in an independent position such as mine to speculate a little on the implications for defence of the changes taking place.
In western Europe, we are putting together vast economic and, in due course, financial assets in the European Community on a scale that has never been seen before. The European Community will be a larger economic and financial area than Japan or the United States. If one puts such interests together, one has the responsibility to promote those interests. Therefore, one must have a foreign policy, because foreign policy is wholly concerned with the promotion of interests, and one must have a policy to protect those interests. There must be some concept of a European defence. I do not want to go into detail today about what that should be, but we must face up to the reality.
After two world wars and the experience of the cold war, the United States recognises that it has an abiding interest in the security of Europe. However, we should recognise that it is under great economic pressure resulting from its budget deficit and its trading deficit, which are not unconnected with the events of last Friday. The United States also has great interests in the Pacific. It would be only wise to recognise that we may face a diminution of the contribution of the United States to European defence and
Column 315perhaps a diminution of the responsibility for leadership which it has hitherto accepted. That means that an increased burden will be put on us Europeans.
What shall we do about that? I see little prospect of greatly increasing European defence expenditure. However, the Labour party, as a Socialist party, should perhaps talk a little more about nuclear policy with the French Government, who are Socialists in office. France, whichever Government have been in power, has always been sound on the importance of maintaining a deterrent. If the French Socialists think that that is right, the Labour party should consider carefully whether there is not some logic in the French position. The great weakness of the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance is that it has a gaping hole. France does not take part in NATO. France is geographically central and, with Spain and Portugal now in the Alliance, it is perhaps the most important country in the Alliance. We cannot defend Europe without France.
The other weakness of the Atlantic Alliance is that it makes no provision for out-of-area co-operation, yet we did a remarkable job--I congratulate the former Secretary of State on this--through the Western European Union in the Gulf when there was a war there. His determined but discreet handling of the matter has done much to restore the prestige we lost when we withdrew--incontinently, in my judgment--from the Gulf some years ago.
If one transfers one's glasses to eastern Europe, one sees that enormous changes are taking place which also have great implications for defence. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke about the need not to destabilise the Warsaw pact. He used the phrase "in the short term", and I think that he is right in the short term. We do not want to destabilise the pact ; but will it hold together? If press reports are correct, yesterday the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest appeared to adopt a constitution that is incompatible with Hungary's membership of the Warsaw pact.
Changes in Germany will have some bearing on the position. If East Germany reforms, the reunification of East and West Germany will be inevitable. There will be no justification for that not happening if the command Socialist economy is removed. Will it be removed? It seems to me that it is happening and that nothing will stop it. People on the streets of Leipzig and Dresden are demonstrating. Others are walking away and emigrating. There will be an informal reunion of Germany, and East Germany may become simply another "land" or province of the Federal Republic, perhaps with a Soviet garrison in place for some time. Taken together with what is happening in Poland, Hungary and with what may happen in other east European countries, there is an earthquake in eastern Europe.
What is to be our attitude to that, and what are its defence implications? Two important statements have been made by important continental statesmen. In his speech in Bruges yesterday, Mr. Delors said that we must hasten to make Europe more federal and make the constitution tighter to bring it closer together. I understand his argument ; it is the same argument that the French have been advancing since the beginning of the European movement. The argument is to lock the Germans into European union so that they cannot get out because a united Germany outside Europe would be too strong for Europe and the peace of the world.
Column 316I understand that argument, but I wonder whether it still makes sense. I do not think that the German horse has bolted yet, but I do not think that anyone will be able to shut the stable door. The reunion of Germany is taking place in front of our eyes.
The other view that has been put forward by the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Genscher, is outward-looking towards eastern Europe, in favour of German reunion and of giving massive aid to Poland and Hungary to associate eastern Europe with the European Community. There is an important contradiction between those views. If the European Community is made tighter and closer, it will be more difficult to associate it with the European Free Trade Association countries or, eventually with east European countries. If we want to associate the other countries--we have always hoped to see Europe united--it must not be made too strict and stringent.
In a curious way, that offers an important opportunity to Britain, and I think that defence may be the key. European union was created not by the treaty of Rome but by the agreements reached in 1955 at the Western European Union, at which this House undertook indefinitely to station in Germany an army corps and a tactical air force. If we had not done so, there would be no European union or treaty of Rome today. Western European Union was the condition on which the French accepted the rearmament of Germany and on which the Germans agreed to rearm.
That is a solid foundation. Defence is the foundation of any structure. Economics and social policies are essential and important, but defence determines the structure. I remember talking many years ago during the war to a war lord in the Balkans. I said, "What is more important, lead or gold --bullets or bullion?" He thought for a bit and said, "Lead can command gold. Gold can only try to buy lead." We now have a defence foundation for any lasting structure. That is what Churchill and Eden, in the early days of the European movement, understood very well. Churchill was the first to call for a European army and Eden produced the agreement under which the French agreed to German rearmament, and the Germans agreed to rearm.
Our forces are in Germany because of the Western European Union. Our troops are assigned to NATO, but they are not there because of it. If NATO were to dissolve tomorrow, our obligation to keep our troops there would remain. That is the foundation of the modern European union to which, in different ways and whatever we think about its final structure, all of us are committed.
The concept of Western European Union, quite rightly, has been in limbo. The cold war is not over yet, but while it lasted NATO took charge of defending our interests. As the world relaxes, if it does, the Western European Union can be the key to the future development of Europe. It was a British initiative, and it is time that my right hon. and hon. Friends gave it new impetus and organised its revival. 6.35 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : This is the second occasion on which I have had the privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). He brings to defence matters a great depth of knowledge and a clear understanding of them, which I very much envy. He makes an important and effective contribution to debates such as this.
Column 317I feel a certain sense of precociousness in attempting to follow the right hon. Gentleman, but I should like to raise a matter of constituency interest to me but also of a more general application before I deal with some of the more general matters that the debate has thrown up.
My constituency interest is a matter with which Ministers will be familiar- -search and rescue operations based at RAF Leuchars in my constituency. Ministers will be aware that, to some extent, such operations have been curtailed and are now carried out only in daylight hours. It is believed that the original proposal may have been to remove them altogether, but I suspect that the Ministry of Defence may have been rather surprised by the quality and intensity of the opposition that that suggestion provoked. Much community concern was expressed at the prospect, and there was much community relief when it appeared that facilities were not to be withdrawn entirely from RAF Leuchars.
The new arrangements are that, while operations will be flown in daylight hours, none will be begun after darkess sets in. Operations that have begun during daylight hours, which necessarily must be continued into the hours of darkness, will continue. For that purpose, training in darkness is necessary. It seems to many of my constituents singularly illogical to have training for darkness hours operations going on as a matter of necessity while being unwilling to allow 24-hour operations. I shall continue to attempt to persuade the Secretary of State and Ministers to change their minds about that matter, but for this evening's purpose I seek from the Secretary of State or a junior Minister an undertaking that the position at RAF Leuchars will be carefully monitored, and that, if there is any suggestion that the cover being provided under the revised arrangements is inadequate or insufficient, steps will be taken to try to remedy it.
I do not suppose that I am the only person to have seen the representations made by the General Council of British Shipping. The merchant fleet plays an essential role in the strategy of NATO, and the council has made representations to prevent the merchant fleet from continuing to dwindle. In the past six months, 20 vessels, with a combined deadweight of 755,000 tonnes, have been lost from British-owned shipping. It is the council's opinion that we are now several hundred ships too short to meet our NATO requirements, and in the past six months some 260 officers and 800 ratings have been lost from the merchant service. That raises substantial questions in the minds of many of us about our capacity to fulfil our NATO responsibilities. Those of us, including the Under-Secretary, who attended the Sealink conference at the United States naval academy earlier this year will remember that this matter stimulated considerable discussion and concern.
In time of emergency, it would be an unacceptable risk if the United Kingdom had to rely on flags of convenience or neutral ships to fulfil its NATO responsibilities. I shall be interested to hear what steps the Government are proposing to take in the light of the concrete criticisms made by the council
A wider issue is the continuing relations between East and West. It is clear that the changes in eastern Europe are not uniform., Hungary and Romania still remain a part, theoretically at least, of the Soviet bloc. They are still
Column 318members of the Warsaw pact, although, as the right hon. Member for Pavilion pointed out, the continuance of Hungary in that may be in doubt, to be resolved at some later stage in the light of the decisions that were apparently taken yesterday.
Not only are these changes rapid ; they are accelerating. Assumptions that were valid only a matter of months ago are rapidly becoming invalid. I can offer two anecdotal examples. At the North Atlantic Assembly a week or so ago, General Lobov, the
commander-in-chief of the Warsaw pact, shared a platform with General Galvin, the Supreme Allied Commander--that was an extraordinary thing--and they did so under the benign chairmanship of the leader of our delegation to the assembly, who, with characteristic modesty, and no doubt with an eye to posterity, ensured that he was photographed standing between them.
The interesting feature of that was that the only other contact that the two commanders might reasonably have expected to have would have been if an emergency had been called and they had been sitting in bunkers 500 or 1,500 miles apart deciding whether they should recommend their respective political masters to take the ultimate step. That was a remarkable occasion.
My other anecdote might not be of such significance. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) and I recently visited Bulgaria as the guests of the Bulgarian Agrarian party. The Bulgarians have a deep and abiding affection for the old Liberal party because Mr. Gladstone was one of the first to make a speech, an effective and telling speech, against the atrocities committed by the Ottoman empire against the Bulgarian nation. For that reason, in Bulgaria there is a warm welcome for members of the old Liberal party.
That warm welcome took an interesting turn because my right hon. Friend and I were given an interview within the Ministry of Defence. Afterwards we were told that we were the first western politicians who had ever been invited to cross the threshold of the Ministry of Defence. These are straws in the wind and are indicative of the fact that things are changing, sometimes rapidly and in a way that is difficult to comprehend. Responsible individuals must ask themselves whether these changes are irreversible. In an absolute sense they are not, for this reason. If one has the political will and the resources and is prepared to abandon any pretence at democratic institutions, dictatorship is always possible. But the changes that we have seen elsewhere have, for the foreseeable future, radically changed the terms of reference on relations between East and West.
Mr. Gorbachev walks a tightrope of expectation. In his country, there are those who wish him to fail because he is going too fast, and others who wish him to fail because he is going too slowly. Our interest is that he should succeed in his economic and political reforms. A reformed Soviet Union would be a much safer neighbour. However, a reformed Soviet Union would remain a considerable force in Europe. With such a force of power and potential influence, continuing United States influence in Europe will be necessary. Decoupling the United States from Europe will be in the interests of no one but the Soviet Union.
It now appears to be generally accepted that NATO will continue to be the cornerstone of our defence for the foreseeable future, just as, at least as far as we can tell, the Warsaw pact will continue to be the basis of security for
Column 319the countries of the Soviet bloc. It is notable that almost the first thing that Mr. Lech Walesa said after the extraordinary changes in Poland that catapulted Solidarity into a remarkable position of influence was that there was no intention to leave the Warsaw pact. In a period of change, there must be confidence not only between East and West but within the two alliances. Within NATO, that necessarily involves a recognition of the internal political realities, particularly in Federal Germany. The best way to allay legitimate fears about Germany is to ensure that federal Germany feels no discomfort in membership or acceptance of the obligations of NATO.
The decision on the modernisation of short-term nuclear weapons has been deferred until 1992. When that decision is made, it will perforce take account of prevailing political circumstances. If there have been, as there may be, three years of glasnost and perestroika from Herr Honecker's successor, that could have a profound effect on the mood in federal Germany in 1992.
The defence of the United Kingdom will be nuclear-based for a long time to come. One would have an optimism bordering on naivete to believe that nuclear weapons could be, in any foreseeable future, negotiated away in their entirety. That applies as much to British defence policy as it does to the policy of NATO. What is clear is that substantial reductions can be achieved and that we can move to a state of minimum deterrence.
If the START I talks are successful, there is no reason why there should not be a second round in which the United Kingdom is invited to seek further reductions. That would be consistent with the Harmel report of 1967, which I can sum up, I hope not unfairly, as being to the effect that we should modernise and deploy, but be willing to negotiate reductions. That would be consistent with the success of the INF treaty, a success that was gained not just because of the presence of cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe but because of the willingness to negotiate.
Government speeches--I suspect that those made today will show this on analysis--have concentrated on the need to deploy and modernise. I do not recall the Secretary of State saying much about the willingness to negotiate. The Prime Minister makes speeches that are not noted for their commitment to arms reduction. We know that in his previous ministerial existence the Secretary of State's qualities of tact and candour stood him in good stead in Northern Ireland. The House and the country look to him to use these qualities in an attempt to persuade the Prime Minister to mend her ways.
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden) : It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) who is a welcome newcomer to our deliberations at the North Atlantic Assembly where he has already, with his sagacity, eloquence and precocious wit-- which sometimes escapes the comprehension of the translators--made a most valuable contribution to our affairs. I am glad that he referred to the historic meeting which passed unnoticed in the western press. Thanks to the manner in which it was arranged and the conduct of the two principal protagonists, I had to separate them because the press was getting them into that eyeball-to-eyeball position that boxers adopt when they get into the ring. It
Column 320was modesty. Moreover, I felt that we had to get into more relaxed circumstances. That was why I separated them with my arms around their shoulders.
I agree with what the hon. and learned Gentleman said, although he was most unfair about my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. The Prime Minister was the first to recognise, well ahead of any other leader, that we could do business with Mr. Gorbachev. The manner in which she conducted business with the leader of the Soviet Union earned his respect and helped increase his confidence in dealing with arms control which is a most difficult and sensitive issue in the Soviet Union. If we get that wrong, we shall simply revive the old paranoid fears of the Soviet Union. So far it is going well. That is why I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appearance at the Dispatch Box yesterday, making his debut as Secretary of State for Defence. Were the sketchwriters to have taken note of it, we should have read that he had made a confident and impressive start to his new administrative responsibilities. It is important at this juncture that we should have a Secretary of State who brings a wealth of experience to those responsibilities. The Secretary of State was right to refer to the feelings of optimism and hope that prevail in East-West relations. In that context, he made clear the importance that he attaches to the arms control talks that are taking place. Only two weeks ago in Rome we experienced that mood of optimism, to which the two generals referred.
Earlier in the year, under the leadership of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) I was part of an NAA delegation to Moscow. We met with the utmost courtesy and had candid talks with the Soviet Prime Minister, members of the Politburo, newly elected members of the Supreme Soviet and the chief of defence staff with his senior military commanders. It was the first time that we had ever been recognised by the Soviet Union. We could not have had a more productive meeting. That mood of optimism and hope has been reflected subsequently in further talks.
The meetings show a willingness to continue talks on the immensely complicated arms control problems. No one could have come from them without a strong feeling that there was a real chance of ending the cold war and that eastern European countries have a fresh opportunity to build a relationship with us through which democratic values can take root and flourish. More meetings are planned. We are interested not only in ending the cold war, but in human values and freedom, and that is behind the thinking of our Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State was right not only to mention this constructive attitude, but to inject a note of caution. I am glad that he plans to make several visits to the Soviet Union. As he said, despite the changes that we have witnessed, a whole new set of problems has been created as we move into this new and promising era. Paradoxically, those changes may induce a period of instability. It would be foolish not to recognise and understand sympathetically the internal problems that the new Soviet leaders face. After four years of perestroika, the Soviet people find themselves not better off but worse off, and their quality of life is far too low. The military can and does express its anxieties about where all this is leading. Glasnost is difficult for a Soviet general of the old school to understand, as we discovered in our talks.
As my right hon. Friend emphasised, the political and economic structure of the Soviet Union is changing. We
Column 321want it to change, but we do not want the whole fabric of Soviet society to crumble. It is vital to recognise that it is not our business to interfere in Soviet internal affairs or to seek the destruction of the Warsaw pact. We seek to promote more peaceful ways and to reduce what we believe to be a military threat to our security.
In many areas, Soviet intentions have yet to be translated into action. It is not wrong to point out that there has been an impressive modernisation of Soviet forces during the Gorbachev regime. Perhaps that is part of his trade-off with elements in the Soviet Union. It is encouraging that progress is being made in the talks on conventional forces in Vienna. Unless they are properly handled and well thought out, these agreements may contribute to existing destabilising influences in western Europe.
Western Europe continues to face the most powerful concentration of aggressively configured conventional forces in the world. The Soviet bloc has more tanks and armoured vehicles than we have and concentrates on troops capable of surprise attack behind the western defence lines--its operational mobile groups. To achieve a build-down of armaments in both East and West without adding to instability or weakening security is technically, let alone politically, a gigantic and complicated exercise.
Hon. Members who follow such matters know that one reason why it is difficult to reach agreement and across-the-board solutions is that Soviet forces are configured asymmetrically. The Soviets say that we should bring our naval forces into the discussions on conventional forces. We disagree, because we regard our naval forces as defensive and at a time of crisis essential to safeguard our lines of supply with our NATO allies and between the United States and the continent of Europe. It would be equivalent to asking the Soviet Union to bring its road and rail communications into the discussions and to include for debate the concentration of logistic support between it and East Germany. Its lifeline is its road and rail networks, whereas ours is our Navy.
We have also been criticised for not including sufficient aircraft in the conventional forces talks. We know that, although defensively configured, we at least retain within the forces stationed in Germany an offensive tactical Air Force capable of striking deep into eastern Europe, particularly into East Germany. That is because in an overwhelming conventional attack it is essential for us to have a nuclear-capable Air Force which can strike at the choke points. It also has a conventional capability with which low flying aircraft can cut off the Soviet Union's vast reserves. Those asymmetrical differences cause misunderstanding and difficulties when we are trying to negotiate a decent arms agreement.
Gestures such as one-sided disarmament or severe reductions in our defence budget cut no ice with Russian military leaders. They would not give anything away and they do not expect us to. They expect hard bargains and trade-offs. If we give anything away voluntarily, we can expect to get nothing back in return.
It is important to remember--this is on all fours with the comments by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State--that the Soviets need an orderly build-down. They
Column 322will interpret by how much that will occur in the light of their interests. They expect us to do likewise. That is the right way to proceed.
Opposition Members will understand why I hold no brief for the vote taken at the Labour party conference which was overwhelmingly in favour of one- sided disarmament and called for a big cut in our defence budget. I was very glad to hear the assurance from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), that that would form no part of the Labour party's defence policy. The Government will not mock that and we know that the hon. Member for Rhondda has difficulties. However, it is essential that we keep in step because we have entered a very difficult phase in arms control. The responsible approach espoused by the hon. Member for Rhondda is more useful than the political capital used by some of his hon. Friends who claim that the Conservatives are the war-minded party and that we are not interested in arms control or peace, but only in the build- up of arms. That is a complete distortion of the Conservative party view.
Some Opposition Members believe that by appealing over the heads of the negotiators and calling for an across-the-board reduction in our defence budget, they will make a sympathetic appeal to the British public. It is important that the Government should take the initiative and begin to explain the problems and opportunities for an orderly and balanced reduction in arms between the NATO Alliance and Warsaw pact countries. The Government must explain what is needed if we are to cut down the ability to wage war.
In that respect, I welcome the decision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to set up a centre for defence studies. I am sure that that decision is right because we are not as well educated as we might be and we need another independent group. A few years ago the Ministry of Defence introduced essays into the defence White Paper about different aspects of defence. There was a brilliant essay on the role of philosophy behind the theory of deterrents, particularly nuclear deterrents. The essays explained the objectives of our defence and the alternatives for meeting some of the problems. The essays examined the philosophy and underlying principles of our defence policies.
Next year's defence White Paper should turn its attention to some of the options open to us if we succeed in agreeing with the Warsaw pact on a number of outstanding issues. Certain hypotheses are already being kicked around in Vienna. There is nothing top secret about them. We would like to know the military and financial implications of potential agreements.
It is important that we understand what kind of forces will remain. We will not get rid of all armed forces. Given certain hypotheses, we need to know the implications for our equipment and strategy. We need to know more about the way in which we are approaching a reduction in military confrontation. There is no paucity of ideas, which include buffer zones, defensive defence concepts and the different types of equipment that we can order in greater profusion to promote deployment of early warning. Other equipment will introduce intrusive verification techniques. None of that equipment is cheap. While some people may believe that a publicised analysis of such forward thinking is premature and may excite hopes which may be
Column 323unfulfilled, others might think that it could give away too much of our negotiating position. I disagree with those views.
The essays that I have described could help to carry our people with us including those who serve in our armed forces. The conventional imbalance has long been at the heart of our security problem and is the primary reason for our reliance on nuclear weapons. Achieving a more stable conventional balance will have many beneficial effects. Frankly, I do not believe that it will save a great deal of money, but it may, among other things, permit a less demanding attitude towards our nuclear requirements and have a significant bearing on German sensitivities. It will certainly provide a test of Mr. Gorbachev's intentions concerning European security.
The Government should take a lead in outlining in greater clarity and detail their thoughts on the implications of arms control in which our country plays such a constructive role.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has determined that speeches should be limited to 10 minutes between 7 pm and 9 pm.
Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East) : It is a great pleasure, as always, to follow my old friend the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), who is extremely knowledgeable about defence matters and about many other matters on which he and I will not have time to touch today.
I also congratulate the Secretary of State on his accession to what I consider to be one of the most important offices of state. I remember that many years ago, when I held a junior position in the Ministry of Defence, the present Secretary of State came to see me about a matter concerning an ordnance factory in his constituency and argued the case for his constituents with great courtesy and vigour. I was grateful to him then.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) on becoming Minister of State for Defence Procurement. He will at least ensure that our defence debates in future will be rather more entertaining, if not more enlightening.
I want to begin by congratulating without qualification the Ministry of Defence on its progress in defence personnel matters since the last defence debate by its concession that there is a role for women pilots in the Royal Air Force. I fought for that unsuccessfully more than 10 years ago. I believe that the objections of the RAF were based largely on bigotry. I am glad that that has now been overcome and I look forward to women pilots performing a more and more valuable role in the MOD.
I hope that the new Secretary of State will consider closely a decision taken by his predecessor with regard to the monitoring of careers of recruits from ethnic communities.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King) indicated assent.
Column 324I do not want to consider the merits of the argument tonight. There was a point of contention between the Secretary of State's predecessor and me and I know that the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor went as far as he felt that he could with respect to monitoring the recruitment of recruits from ethnic communities, but there was no provision for monitoring their subsequent career progress.
Some serious matters about procurement that have not been raised so far in this debate should be mentioned. The first issue relates to the procurement of the command and control system for the United Kingdom air defence project which is the subject of an editorial in the Computer Weekly magazine of 7 September. On the basis of that article, it would appear that ICL was basing its bid on a programming language different from that of the other competitors, or there must be an extraordinary explanation for the fact that ICL's bid of £37 million was at least £20 million less than that of any of its rivals.
Computer Weekly, which is a reputable magazine, states that there is a "whiff of scandal" around this contract. I hope that, if the Minister is not able to reply to that point tonight, I will get a detailed response in writing before long.
The NATO frigate decision is yet another deplorable illustration of this country's record in collaboration on defence projects. I am not making any party point. It goes back to the time of the tank gun. We agreed a NATO standard and then walked away from the agreed calibre of a gun. It goes back to the 180 degree turn that the Ministry of Defence has recently made in Air Force requirements for the European fighter. When I was at the Department it was to be optimised in the ground attack role, and it is now to be optimised in the air superiority role. It completely reversed our relations with the French and the Germans. Not surprisingly, the French took considerable umbrage at that.
I will not argue the merits of either set of requirements, but we have a growing reputation of being thoroughly unreliable in collaborative projects. We were taking the lead with the NATO frigate, but we walked away from it and others have subsequently walked away.
I asked the Minister a perfectly straightforward question today. I recognise that he is new in his job, but he utterly failed to answer my question. I asked what reasons led the United Kingdom to walk away from that project. It is all very well to say that we did not get agreed requirements. What was it in the requirements that the other nations agreed but was not satisfactory to the British Ministry of Defence?
We obviously have difficulties with the Trident programme. As the House will know, I support the United Kingdom procuring that system. I have great confidence that, before long, the Americans will sort out the technical difficulties that they have encountered in the sea-borne version of the missile. I understand that the land-based firings were perfectly successful. Both Ministers were recently in Washington. I do not know what they both found to do over there, but I have no doubt that they were congenially greeted.
I suspect that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement had a rather less congenial welcome than his colleagues received, because the atmosphere in Washington that I have sensed in the past few weeks is that the present United States Secretary of State for Defence is wholly and understandably obsessed with budgetary