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Column 325matters. I am sorry to say that the idea that the moratorium on appropriations for the Trident programme by the Senate Appropriations Committee--I am not quite sure how far it has developed in the past few days ; there have been further considerations of the matter--is unlikely to be affected by considerations of embarrassment to Her Majesty's Government or inconvenience to our Trident programme. These things need to be said forcefully and unambiguously.
I am as strong a supporter of the North Atlantic Alliance as any other hon. Member, but, from time to time, it needs to be said forcefully to our American friends that our requirements and imperatives need to be taken into account. That must be said to responsible leaders of Congress and not just to members of the Administration.
I have said that I was quite confident that problems with the Trident system will be solved. Regretfully, I am not nearly as confident that the problems with the LAW system will be solved. It will be extremely difficult to upgrade that system to counter the extremely impressive Soviet explosive reactive tank armour. British troops will have no hand-held weapon to deal with an oncoming tank. They will be able to deal with a tank only when it is level with them or has gone past them. That is a matter of the utmost seriousness. What adds to the seriousness of the matter is that LAW is a relatively young weapons system. It was intended to have a future of many years as a principal infantry anti-armour weapon. We are in serious difficulties. I hope that the Ministry of Defence will come clean with the House as much as it can within the constraints of security policy and tell us what proposals it has for dealing with this serious problem.
I am unused to this 10-minute rule. I do not know how many minutes I have left.
Dr. Gilbert : I am delighted with my party's conversion to multilateralism. I have never flinched in my support of these matters, but that conversion must have been difficult for many of my hon. Friends. I have read the Opposition amendment, and most of it seems to be fairly harmless. A conversion agency would involve a harmless waste of not much money, so that matter will not cause me any difficulties. I agree that there should be a delay on the Lance replacement. I have some difficulty with the abandonment of the destabilising flexible response strategy. I am content with the call on Her Majesty's Government to seek to reduce--that is the key word--short-range nuclear forces.
Dame Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake) : I wonder how many of my hon. Friends and, indeed, how many Opposition Members recall the childhood game of lucky dip, in which a bran tub contained a gift for every child. Some of the gifts were good, some were indifferent, and others were downright rubbish. When I looked through Labour's amendment tonight, I was reminded of a lucky
Column 326dip. There is something for everyone, but the quality is varied in the extreme. For example, one portentous announcement is that we should
"examine the allocation of resources which could be released for social and economic purposes".
It is lovely wrapping paper, but, when we open the present, we find that it is cuts. For a constituency such as mine and for the city of Plymouth generally, cuts of an unspecified nature could be alarming.
The matter involves not only the dockyard, which was discussed earlier in the debate, but the Royal Navy, the ships and the Royal Marines who are stationed in Plymouth. Admittedly, we do not know precisely what cuts will be made, but that aspect fills me with foreboding, even if we overlook the Labour party conference figure of £5 billion and accept that that is not official Labour party policy. However, it still leaves an uneasy feeling for those of us who are concerned.
I find wholly unacceptable that part of the amendment referring to "welcoming progress towards a world-wide treaty banning the possession or production of chemical and biological weapons". Several years ago I visited the forces in Germany and was absolutely appalled by the actual impact of chemical weapons or even the threat of chemical weapons being used. We were shown the kind of protective clothing that it would be necessary to wear against them. It was quite clear that it enormously reduced the effectiveness of any fighting man--or fighting woman, come to that. It was immensely tiring. There would have been a devastating impact even to threaten to use such weapons and therefore to require that clobber to be donned.
One of the most chilling aspects of the defence estimates is the section dealing with the Soviet Union's chemical weapons potential. It is instructive that, although we have discontinued an offensive capacity and the United States has not produced chemical weapons for some years, it absolutely failed to have any effect on the Soviet Union, which continued and, as far as I can judge from the document, still continues to produce chemical weapons. If ever there was an argument against unilateral disarmament, I think that this provides the final cornerstone. [An Hon. Member-- : "That is a lot of crap."] The hon. Gentleman calls it a lot of crap. I suggest that he does not know what he is talking about.
It is quite clear from the defence estimates that an enormous stockpile of chemical weapons is available for use in the Soviet Union, yet it was not until 1987 that President Gorbachev was prepared to admit even the existence of these horrible weapons. When we visited Soviet facilities--as they visited our facilities at Porton Down--it was a disappointment because they failed to show us half of what was clearly there. There is obviously a long way to go. I warmly welcome and applaud every effort made towards a global ban of those weapons, but it seems that it is a difficult sphere to verify. It is not easy to disguise a tank, but as far as I can tell chemical agents of this kind, which can be produced from pretty common or garden ingredients, are more difficult to verify. I regard it as a test of the Soviet Union's intentions to consider how they are
Column 327prepared to allow chemical weapons to be verified. I hope that we shall see the end of them but, until that time, we should be most careful and on our guard.
Of the utmost concern is the recruitment and retention of suitable men and women to serve in the armed forces now and in the future. It is all too clear that we are reaching a time when the supply of the right type of young man and woman will be extremely difficult due to changes in population. The armed forces will be in competition with a host of other professions and occupations, so it is vital that we ensure reasonable pay and good conditions of service.
In discussions with members of the armed services, I have found that what gets their goat is not so much their pay, because we have done so much to improve it, as niggling, pettifogging restrictions on their conditions of service.
I refer, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) yesterday, to housing. I make no apology for raising this subject again. The Armed Services Review Body has made it clear that, for the Army and the Royal Air Force, if not for the Navy, this is the No. 1 reason for dissatisfaction. It is essential that we deal with the issue of house purchase at the end of one's service. It is not always appropriate, for a wide variety of reasons, for a man to buy a house during his service in the RAF or the Army. It is essential for the Treasury to face this problem. It would be penny wise, pound foolish not to give service men the opportunity to put them on all fours with other people when saving for a mortgage. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will have very strong words to say to the Treasury, as I am sure that that is where the problem lies, not in the Ministry of Defence.
Dr. Reid : Yesterday I was on Salisbury plain with other right hon. and hon. Members to see the Territorial Army on manoeuvres. It is a matter of great irritation to many people in the TA that they give up their time and, if they are unemployed, they have their benefit docked, or if they are employed they may find that their jobs are under threat. I hope that the hon. Lady will join me and encourage the Government to review recruitment to the TA and the conditions of those who voluntarily give up their time to serve their country.
Dame Janet Fookes : I am grateful to the hon. Member for making that point. I was not aware of it, but it is a perfect example of what I call pettifogging restrictions. I hope that that will be taken on board by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. The figures for premature release from the Army between 1983 and 1989 are most alarming. They have risen by no less than 140 per cent. We cannot afford to sustain that figure if we are to have the right calibre of person for a highly professional force. I fear that the same thing may happen in the other branches of the armed forces. However good and however impressive the hardware, we still rely on the calibre of our men and women. Like the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert), I welcome the fact that women are playing a much greater part, but, even with that development, we still have to beware of losing highly professional men and women.
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Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : Having listened to more than five and a half hours of this debate, I cannot help but be impressed by hon. Members' vast knowledge of weapons systems, of finance, and of the international implications of what we are debating today.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) struck the loudest chord with me when he acknowledged that our greatest asset is, of course, our manpower. He spoke at some length about recruitment and the need to retain our serving soldiers, and he said that this could best be done by trying to cater for the reasonable expectations of our service men and, most importantly, their families. I felt that he was talking about morale and the need to understand the pressures on our serving soldiers, not just because of their service, but because of their families.
There are thousands of soldiers in our standing Army, and there are about 18,000 service men who represent what I believe will come to be more and more the fighting arm of our military personnel--the peace-keeping forces in divided communities. I regret that I have only 10 minutes in which to speak about this important matter ; I doubt whether any other hon. Member will refer to it this evening other than in passing. I refer to the 18,000 soldiers who are presently serving in Northern Ireland.
Three years ago, before we signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, I would have been talking about 16,000 soldiers. As a result of that agreement as much as anything else, we now have to deploy a further two battalions full-time in the Province. Those troops have to face the propaganda of the terrorists. It is constantly suggested that our security forces are operating against a community, but, as every hon. Member here understands, that is not the case. They are deployed, act and want to act exclusively against those factions from both communities who resort to terrorism.
The regiment that bears the greatest brunt of that
criticism--although it does not bear it exclusively--is the Ulster Defence Regiment. I fear that some people tend to forget that it is a regiment of the British Army ; but it is more than that. The existence of the UDR is a realisation of the right of any community to defend itself against a small minority that would use the Armalite to try to destroy our democracy instead of turning to the ballot box. However, I speak with some feeling and experience when I say that it is more than that. It is also a manifestation of the willingness of law-abiding people within the community to act within the law and to subject themselves, in their fight against terrorism, to the discipline that is imposed by belonging to a military regiment. When people think of the UDR, I wish that they would think also of the men in Great Britain who serve in the Territorial
Army--schoolteachers, lorry drivers, bus drivers, business men, labourers and tradesmen, because they are exactly the sort of people one finds in the Ulster Defence Regiment. One does not find, as those who oppose the regiment would have us believe, a great coming together of a bigoted mass who are interested only in opposing the other section of their community. If people would take time to examine the UDR's record, they would find that the regiment serves the entire community. Its record against Protestant or Loyalist paramilitaries is excellent. I am pleased that the Secretary of State acknowledges that point.
Column 329However, the cost to the regiment has been enormous. As well as having lost 180 men--155 while they were off duty and going about their ordinary business--467 ex-members were murdered because they had served in the regiment. However, there is something else that I must draw to the attention of the House because that is not the only price that we ask the men who have placed themselves between the law-abiding community and terrorists to pay. They pay a price 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and have done so for the past 20 years. We have placed on those men a stress which manifests itself in both unusual and understandable ways. Some of those men find difficulty in their domestic lives, yet they are forgotten. There are also those who, when the absolute extreme of their tolerance has been breached, have taken their personal protection weapon and committed suicide. Forty-three such men did that, and those men are forgotten. I would ask those who criticise the UDR and who say that 16 of its members have been convicted of murder--there are grave doubts in four of those cases--and who talk loosely about "bad apples" to remember that there is a strong likelihood that many of those who are now deemed to be bad apples were not bad apples when they entered the regiment with the best motives, to carry out their duty to the community in which they live. Many of those men were driven beyond their level of tolerance, and that caused them to decide to take the law into their own hands.
We should balance the 16 men who are dead, allegedly at the hands of the UDR, against the UDR's 43 suicides. We must balance and consider the stresses. I should like to believe that the Secretary of State for Defence will consider a propaganda counter-campaign to counter the campaign shown on our television screens day in and day out, which denigrates those brave men and women. I have spoken at some length about this to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, and I hope that he will be able to give me some reassurances about new thinking on that.
There may also be a need for counselling for those men who, for so long, have had to face up to the stress of IRA terrorism. I hope that the House will be tolerant with me while I briefly explore this important issue. Since the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed--I do not pick on that for any reason except to have a cut-off date--there have been 275 murders by terrorists in Northern Ireland, of which 207, more than 75 per cent., have been carried out by the IRA ; 64 have been carried out by Loyalist terrorists and four by persons unknown. If we look again at the Roman Catholic victims of those terrorists, we find that of 95--
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : I am sure that the House has been impressed by what the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) has been saying about the Ulster Defence Regiment. His remarks will be taken on board by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who, of course, with his
Column 330experience of Northern Ireland, where he saw both the UDR and the British Army in the front line, is well qualified for his new position.
My speech will be of particular interest to my right hon. Friend because it concerns many of his Bridgwater constituents who work at the Westland factory, constructing helicopters. When the House last debated the Royal Air Force on 9 March, I asked several questions about helicopters in battlefield and support operations, which were far from satisfactorily answered by the Minister replying to that debate. Later, on 8 June, when the Army was debated, questions about helicopters were once again raised and again the House was denied a proper reply. Today I hope that it will be third time lucky because I shall once more raise the question of the importance of the helicopter in today's land battle.
Clearly, early decisions on helicopters are required in relation to both their support and attack roles. When, on 9 April 1987, the former Secretary of State for Defence announced that an initial batch of 25 utility EH101s would be ordered for the support role, he stated :
"A comprehensive review of the requirement for support helicopters in all roles well into the next century was therefore set in hand."--[ Official Report, 9 April 1987 ; Vol. 114, c. 470.]
He said that that showed the need for additional large helicopters in the central region.
His announcement that 25 EH101s were being ordered was extremely welcome, but a firm decision to go ahead with further utility EH101s is also required. I hope that the decision on that will not be deferred until late 1990, as has been suggested in some quarters. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) said that there were delays in reaching a decision on the Navy version of the EH101. That is understandable because further trials must be conducted on that aircraft. The utility version, however, needs no further trials and there is no reason why additional orders could not be placed.
I want to press this matter because there is a frightening imbalance in helicopter numbers between NATO and Warsaw pact countries. We need those helicopters much more than the Warsaw pact because of the multiplier effect of mobility on our troop numbers. On pages 46 and 47 of the defence estimates there are diagrams showing the comparative strength of helicopter forces--attack and support helicopters--in the central region and in the entire European area from the Atlantic to the Urals. According to the figures, things in the central region are fairly balanced between NATO and the Warsaw pact, but a study of the entire area shows that there is considerable imbalance. It is also important to remember that the Warsaw pact countries could call up their reserves much more quickly than we could. That is why we must bring our forces up to proper strength. The Minister said that the Chinook update was agreed and that is welcome. That aircraft is flown by the RAF and, at present, they move troops around Europe. Come hostilities, however, the RAF would require all its Chinooks to move its own personnel and those aircraft would be unavailable to move British troops.
In the current East-West political climate, conventional arms reductions will undoubtedly be negotiated. There is a danger that the Government may use that fact as a reason for deferring decisions on all helicopters. My right hon. Friend should bear in mind the mounting pressure on the President of the United States to reduce the twin deficits of budget and balance of trade. There is a good
Column 331chance that he will call upon his NATO European partners to bear more of the burden of defence in Europe. I do not believe that that is a reason for us to reduce our own conventional forces, rather we should build them up. It would be especially serious if the Americans were to pull out some of their forces because most of the helicopter operations within the European theatre now are conducted by the United States and it has by far the largest proportion of helicopters available.
We need more helicopters and there is no doubt that Westland is ready to supply them. That view is held not only by my colleagues and me, but by defence correspondents. They reported on the first performance of our revolutionary new 24 Airmobile Brigade in Exercise Key Flight in September. They identified the shortage of helicopters as a real worry. A headline in The Daily Telegraph read : "Army of the air let down by copters"
Mark Urban, the defence correspondent of The Independent, summed up his article by stating :
"The lines are drawn for 24 Airmobile Brigade's most serious engagement : not against a Red tank thrust but against the armour lobby and those in the RAF who have traditionally preferred to commit their money to fast jets than to helicopters."
That says it all.
It is all very well asking for new helicopters, but how many more are required? I do not believe that the MOD has yet worked out the best balance between armour, infantry, artillery and helicopters in the army. Has my right hon. Friend received the advice he is expecting on the best mix in the army and the conceptual use of helicopters on the battlefield? If he has not received that advice, what is the hold-up? If he has received it, what is the delay in ordering additional helicopters?
Hitherto I have spoken about support helicopters, but it is also important to consider attack helicopters. I remind my right hon. Friend that an urgent decision about them is also required. In the short term the Apache-- a United States aircraft manufactured by McDonnell-Douglas with whom Westland has a memorandum of understanding so that it can make that aircraft jointly--is obviously the preferred solution. In the longer term there is the prospect of the PAH2--a Franco-German aircraft--for which there would almost certainly be a trade-off for Westland and the improved Agusta 129, for which Britain is already in partnership with Italy, Netherlands and Spain. The selection of the short-term option, the Apache, would provide a neat answer to the problem because the introduction of dedicated attack helicopters would have the effect of replacing the Lynxes currently used for anti-armour, which have their weapons strapped on to them. The Lynxes could then revert to the role for which they were originally designed, light utility, thus providing some of the troop lift needed for air mobility.
Decisions must be made, and I have suggested some solutions to my right hon. Friend. Although I do not necessarily expect detailed replies this evening, I hope that we shall be given an undertaking that the role of the helicopter in Army operations is being reviewed urgently.
As I have about two minutes remaining to me may I endorse what has already been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) about house purchase problems for members of the armed forces, especially the Army and the RAF. I endorse the campaign undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury for more assistance to
Column 332Army personnel towards house purchase undertaken during their service. That is also the policy of SSAFA--the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Families Association.
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : Time is extremely short and obviously I shall try to maintain the constraints that have been imposed without in any way objecting to them. First, I should like to add my respects to the Clerk of the Select Committee, Robert Rogers. I thought that this part of the debate dealt with procurement. I submit that we are facing a dilemma in that respect between our domestic and international philosophy. I shall ask the Secretary of State succinct questions about both sectors. Domestically we seem to be in a process of upheaval. I have some faith in Sir Peter Levene, but he seems to be causing great disruption throughout the procurement industry by a slavish adherence to value for money and the competition philosophy.
It goes without saying that defence manufacturers are moving out of the industry because of the way in which they have been treated. We need a new approach and we should avoid the peculiar situation in which the Treasury lays down restrictions and we cannot make advances because of them. One defence manufacturer has suggested that we undertake some project analysis. That would enable us to see in physical terms what is required by the armed forces without necessarily entering the competition stage subsequent to that. The competition should be based on who comes nearest to providing what the armed forces want and it should proceed on that basis. Sir Peter Levene made a speech to the Independent European Programme Group that overturned the philosophy underpinning the European fighter aircraft and the Tornado programme. It seemed that we were embarking on a new policy regarding international collaboration. I do not know what that speech meant. What consultations took place with the United Kingdom domestic industry before Sir Peter made those proposals? We must have answers because we have given the impression that we think that Tornado is a great success and that we are proceeding with the EFA consortium. He seems to be rejecting these concepts as paper companies. He may be right, but before we go any further--we seem to be moving apace--we need to have a clearer indication of what is meant. Reference has been made to our backsliding on the NATO frigate for the nineties. Time does not permit me to deal with that, but what is the current status of the EFA? That is important not just to Ferranti but to other manufacturers. We need to make it clear whether the Government are proceeding with that type of set-up or whether--I hope that this is not the case--they are going to overturn it.
We have a distinct problem with the surface fleet. Certain people, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) could argue that we are against defence expenditure generally, but tend to be in favour of defence expenditure in particular instances. I am not sure whether I correctly understood much of the Minister's speech but I was appalled to gain the impression that we were not going to order type 23s this year, because that would be in direct contradiction--
Mr. Douglas : I am not going to say whether there are one or four, but there will certainly be between one and four, which is certainly heartening because that was not the impression given earlier in the debate. We have got into particular difficulties with regard to the surface fleet.
In the time available I want to zero in on the Trident programme. What is its status? Will it meet the in-service date of 1994? Exactly what has Anthony Attlee been up to in writing to the ranking republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee? Are we so concerned about tests that we have to twist the arms of members of the legislature in Congress? What was the text of the letter? Can we have it? Will the Government publish the text of the letter to show the nature of our concern?
I am very critical and I am obviously not a great adherer to conference decisions, but I was heartened to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), who is not here at present, can wave aside, just like that, a conference decision made by nearly two to one.
The Labour party's problem with regard to Trident presents it with a practical and moral dilemma. The practical dilemma is that if the Labour party comes to power in 1991 or 1992 the actuality will be nothing like the policy as described in the Labour party policy document. There will not be three Trident boats in a state of completion. The in-service date for the first boat is 1994 so we have the prospect of our sailing a boat to Kings Bay and asking, if the missiles are ready, "Please may we have our 16 D5 missiles?" I suppose that my hon. Friends who are still members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament will be going over with their CND badges saying, "Can we have D5s because we need them to negotiate them away with the Soviet Union?" With the best will in the world, I do not see the American administration, whoever is in power, after having START negotiations to reduce their strategic ballistic missiles by 50 per cent., saying, "Thank you very much. We are having difficulty meeting our own targets and the missiles are scarce. We have not completed the test programme, but you, the Labour Government, can have them to negotiate away." That is not a moral but a practical issue. What would the Select Committee on Defence do when they examined this, whoever their chairperson might be?
Turning to the proposed cancellation of the fourth boat, no business man or woman in his or her senses would not go ahead with the fourth boat. If we needed only three--I do not accept that--we could say that the charge that is sunk, metaphorically and practically, is the charge which the other Government have to bear. We would say that we would take one of the boats and drag it away and then complete the fourth boat because the completion of that fourth boat will be charged to us. Any business man taking five minutes or less to analyse this would say, "Let's go ahead. If we need only three we can put one aside and use if for another project." I have explained that very briefly to try to try to brush it away in the minutes available.
Column 334Here is the Labour party trying to claim the high moral ground of politics. Here is the nation talking about the greening of politics, but one thing that has not been mentioned by Gorbachev's allies is Chernobyl. He saw what tragedy a man-made nuclear accident would cause to his own nation. That was one reason--so he said-- why he wanted to try to get rid of nuclear weapons completely. I do not know what will happen in the arms negotiations, but my party, which claims the high moral ground of politics, is trying to get a mish-mash of a policy to convince the British people that they should vote for it. That strikes me as strange.
I am not necessarily a unilateralist because I think that the terms unilateralist and multilateralist are meaningless. However, if the Labour party is going to praise the reports of the Select Committee on Defence, for God's sake it should read them in relation to the Trident programme and recognise that what it says in its policy document is, in practical terms, not on. Therefore, it should reject it on practical grounds and, more pertinently, it should certainly do so on moral grounds.
Mr. Timothy Wood (Stevenage) : I am delighted to have the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) and to pursue some of the points which he raised. They were raised at the Labour party conference and in the opening of this debate yesterday. One factor which struck me greatly when we began this debate yesterday afternoon is that we had one intervention after another from Opposition Members who basically argued for a massive reduction on defence spending. However, from the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), for whom I have every sympathy, spoke with a deathly hush behind him and a distinct lack of sympathy from those sitting on the Benches behind him. He argued that what many of his hon. Friends wanted was not what they were going to get. What would happen in the unfortunate event of a Labour Government being elected? I shall certainly point out to my constituents in Stevenage some of the inconsistencies within the Labour party which this debate has produced.
One of the most fascinating elements of the contribution of the hon. Member for Clackmannan to this debate is contained in today's Hansard at column 163. He argued with considerable effectiveness for the various facts which justify Britain's present level of defence spending. He pointed out that others have said that the cheapness of a conscript army could reduce costs. He said that this country's naval responsibilities were much greater than those of other European countries. Another fact which he did not mention in that part of his speech but did in another, was the battle against terrorism, which costs our defence forces a considerable amount.
In one respect, I thought that the hon. Member for Clackmannan went over the top. He said :
"The Government now spend more on health and education than on defence. This is reflected in, for example, the numbers directly employed by the Ministry of Defence civilian labour force. There were reductions of 21,000 in 1987 alone The figures for employment in defence-related industries show an even more alarming fall."--[ Official Report, 18 October 1989 ; Vol. 158, c. 163.]
So Labour Front Bench spokesmen believe that, if anything, we are spending too little, yet Opposition Back Benchers remain silent, grimacing behind their backs.
Column 335I have some anxieties about procurement. Defence contractors have a significant problem when they see a steady rightward move in the schedules of many development and manufacturing projects. I hope that the Ministry of Defence realises that, if defence contractors have to lay off design, development and manufacturing teams, their costs are great and the cost-effectiveness of defence procurement is, in the end, greatly damaged. This must be taken seriously into account. It is surely to our advantage to have a greater degree of realism in our procurement plans so that defence contractors can be more confident and so that teams, when assembled, can carry technically satisfactory projects through.
I want briefly to mention Ferranti, a company with which I have much sympathy, having been first employed by it after I left university. Although the rescue of that company is a matter for it and its investors, I hope that, when asked for its advice and when appropriate, the Ministry of Defence will bear in mind the importance of maintaining the various project teams in that company. I know for a fact that fine defence project teams work there now and it would be a tragedy if some of them were broken up. The adverse effects on our defence procurement would be significant.
Lastly, I turn to disarmament negotiations. Western policies, combined with the arrival of President Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, have led to disarmament moves that we can all welcome. We all hope that the various disarmament negotiations succeed. The portents are good, but I can only agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other Conservative Members that we must proceed with optimism blended with caution. It is all very well to say that the present leadership of the Soviet Union presents a much more favourable image--indeed it does. At the same time we must remember that there have been false dawns before. We thought that some liberty might be coming to Hungary in 1956 and to Czechoslovakia in 1968. A few years later we thought that some liberty was coming to Poland. Again and again fears developed within the Soviet Union and turned the clock back, and once more we were faced with a frightened menace.
I hope that these events will not be repeated in the future but it would be foolish indeed if we chose to reduce our defences without first satisfactorily negotiating the appropriate arrangements with the Soviet Union to ensure proper and mutually agreed disarmament. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) said, we have had four years of perestroika and the Soviet people are now worse off. That means that we cannot be sure that Gorbachev, perestroika and so on will be with us in future. I desperately hope that they will, but let us be wary of assuming that they will. We must also remember that when a category of weapon is destroyed or reduced in number the type of weapon that is removed is often the most obsolete and ineffective--the numbers may fall but the effectiveness of what is still in place may not. So even with disarmament, initially at least, we must retain our design teams to develop new and effective weapons in case they have to be manufactured. I hope that disarmament negotiations will eventually progress in such a way that the various development projects can be properly controlled and matched ; until such time as they do, we must maintain the design and development work that is now going on. It
Column 336would be no use if we found that, while numbers had been reduced, we had allowed the quality of our weaponry to deteriorate when others were developing theirs.
In all these matters we have the opportunity and the scope to negotiate for further disarmament, but let us not go the way of Opposition Back Benchers or of Opposition Front Benchers--either by producing a policy for disaster, or by pretending that we have a policy which can succeed but which would also be doomed.
Mr. Ted Garrett (Wallsend) : I should like to thank the Minister of State for Defence Procurement for his statement on the future procurement of, and orders for, surface ships. I should like to assure him and his colleagues that Swan Hunter Group in my constituency will be bidding keenly and competitively. I should like an assurance that there will be no political interference in the placement of the orders, because on Tyneside there is always the suspicion that a certain contract once went to Scotland and another to Northern Ireland--to Harland and Wolff. I sincerely hope there will be no repetition of the events that lay behind our well-founded suspicions.
Yesterday, together with some of my parliamentary colleagues, I went to see a demonstration by the 15th infantry brigade on Salisbury plain. Hon. Members who have experienced Salisbury plain will know what it is like. The 15th is a north country brigade, recruiting from the Humber right through to the border at Berwick. The 6th battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the 7th battalion the Light Infantry at Durham and the 8th battalion the Light Infantry based at Pontefract all participated. I mention their names because in yesterday's debate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) mentioned the need to maintain the county traditions. Had we had county traditions, the 6th Royal Regiment of Fusiliers would have been the 6th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, the 7th would have been the Durham Light Infantry, and the 8th, the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
In the course of the day's activities, some members of the all-party group expressed a tremendous ignorance of the role of the Territorial Army. The brigade that we were visiting is a mix of regulars and territorials. We asked the soldiers many and various questions and I remember asking a young officer about the strength of a particular battalion. Its full strength should have been 650 but it is about 140 short. That is not peculiar to the Territorial Army : it is also a fact of life in the regular infantry battalions. The officer also poured ridicule on the vast and expensive advertising policy directed at attracting recruits. It has always been my view that people join the forces as a result of word of mouth, and that is especially true of the northern areas. If we had kept the original county titles or the original names of the regiments we would now be able to attract more recruits.
I should like the Minister in his new role to consider restoring, even at battalion level, the traditional names of regiments. It is a long time since 1968 but it is never too late to consider such a matter. After the American civil war, the American Government numbered their regiments and abolished the state titles. They are now moving back to the names of the state regiments and that has given people in those regiments a sense of identity. Not only will a fusilier, a rifleman, a lieutenant or a brigadier have not
Column 337only a sense of pride about belonging to such a regiment, but people in the area will recognise regiments if there is a county link. Even today, when the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers parades through Newcastle it is still called the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and that is because of tradition.
I pay tribute to the soldiers that we saw yesterday. They had ended a fairly arduous 14-day exercise and had gone two nights without sleep. Those of us who have done that know what it means. It certainly leads to disorientation. Those soldiers were tired and dirty. In such circumstances, morale should sink but it did not. Those young soldiers were standing up well because they had the enthusiasm and the will. I talked to six gunners on a gun from a Royal Artillery battery based in Sunderland. Four of the six were unemployed and committed to the principle of service to their country through the Territorial Army. The snag was that they were out of pocket even though they were unemployed. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) was with me and will confirm that. They received £15 for 24 hours' active service. If they exceed the amount of money that they receive in unemployment benefit or supplementary benefit, it is deducted.
I raised this matter three years ago, and nothing has happened to end the anomaly. Is it any wonder that when these men get the chance of a job they dare not mention to their prospective employer that they are in the Territorial Army because they might not get the job? Even if they get the job they dare not mention their TA involvement. In the top echelons of the big companies, people say that they support the principle of service to the country through the TA. Some of the top men in our multinationals have said that, but down the line the commitment is watered down to nil. Some men join the TA because they are unemployed, but when they get a job they have to sever their links with the TA in order to keep it. That is wrong and the Government should look at the financial aspects of the matter. They should give employers tax concessions for employees who volunteer for the TA, or give some additional assurance to the people who carry out this service.
The brigadier that I spoke to is the headmaster of a comprehensive school in Yorkshire and he gave three weeks of his holiday to participate in the exercise. Time is given by local authorities and by other public bodies which are exempt from my criticism. However, the private sector is not meeting its commitment. Ministers should see what effort they can make so that employers will be able to release people for this important sector of our armed forces. The total cost to the taxpayer of the Territorial Army is only 5 per cent. of the Ministry of Defence budget. We cannot say that we are not getting value for money. One of the senior men responsible for yesterday's exercise told me that he was full of admiration for the enthusiasm of soldiers of all ranks. That confirmed my view. Last week I was in Barbados at a Commonwealth conference. We were led by the Under- Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. He went to Montserrat and when he came back he praised the Royal Navy for its help on that island which was devastated by Hurricane Hugo. He also praised the Royal Engineers from Belize and other units and the Barbados Regiment for the way in which they came to the aid of people in the
Column 338islands struck by that awful hurricane. The West Indies is politically stable. There should be a British initiative to put together a task force which would blend the Jamaican, the Trinidad and the Barbados regiments with units of our forces in those areas so that we can get an instant response force in cases of not only military but civil necessity.
Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West) : It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) because he has spoken about a subject that is very dear to my heart. I hope that Ministers will take note of what he has said and will take to heart the old adage, "The difficult we do at once, but the impossible may take a little longer." I suggest that in this case the Government should attempt the impossible.
I am a little naive, but I have been heartened by the attitude of speakers on the Opposition Front Bench. They have taken a positive view of affairs. Yesterday we heard an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman ruling out of court any following of the line of that wretched resolution passed at the Labour party conference. That has been reinforced today by other spokesmen who throughout the debate have called for more expenditure because, they say, we are letting the side down. That is a great step forward, and it is worth while listening to the debate and taking part in it just to hear that view being expressed.
In opening the debate yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence quite rightly laid great stress on the rapidly changing political face of both eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. These changes give us and the oppressed peoples of the Russian empire hope for a better and more balanced future. However, the changes are not yet set in concrete, and freedom may once again fall prey to oppression as it did in East Germany in 1953, in Hungary in 1956 and, sadly, in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
We all watched with horror the recent events in Peking when students and workers were massacred by troops. The fact that we saw that was very much the fault of the Chinese Government who, by mistake compounded by stupidity, allowed the Western media to occupy the hotel from which they had a full view of the whole operation from start to finish. We all expressed our horror about the events in Peking. No such coverage was available to show the brutal and savage attack by Soviet security forces on a peaceful demonstration by Soviet citizens in the town of Tiflis, in Georgia. That attack should serve as a blunt reminder to all of us that, although this is a time of hope, it is also a time of great danger, and that elements still exist within the Soviet Union that would not hesitate to move back to the worst excesses of previous times.
Of course, siren voices are always heard hard at work, trying to destroy both our armed forces and our nuclear capability on the pretext that peace has now broken out and we can look forward with great confidence to a happy future. Let me say--with great deference to them--that Labour's defence spokesmen carry little weight with many of their colleagues on this issue. Personally, I think that it must be right for the British people to demand that the Labour leader himself speaks out strongly and makes it