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Column 339clear that he utterly repudiates the party conference vote at Brighton, which, if ever implemented, would hamstring our armed forces.
Obviously we cannot afford to gamble on "peace in our time", but it might just be possible to use present events to influence decision-making in the Ministry of Defence. We simply cannot afford to proceed with both the total modernisation of our tank forces and the equipping of even our single air mobile brigade with the right balance and quantity of attack and support helicopters. In my view--which I believe is shared by many of my colleagues --it is high time that our defence team accepted that a force of attack helicopters is now a necessity rather than an option.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) spoke with great knowledge and sincerity about the changes that may take place in Europe. How I agree with him. Ten years from now, the map of Europe may look quite different. No one should be in any doubt that in next year's elections in the Federal Republic of Germany reunification will be at the top of the agenda for all parties : every party will be forced to put it there, even if it does not wish to, and reunification will eventually follow. Ten years on, both Hungary and Poland may well be members of the European Community. Let me say here and now that I sincerely hope that that will happen. If all this transpires, and if force reductions also take place in West Germany, the value of fully equipped air mobile brigades for quick reinforcement of either the central front or the southern or northern flank--or for any unforeseen out-of-area operation--will be enormous. We all know about the debate now taking place within the MOD. Let me ask the entire Ministry team for a firm time limit for that debate, and that thereafter decisions be made in favour of a greatly enhanced role for helicopters.
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) : This debate should have taken place in June or July, but--although the Select Committee on Defence rushed in June to produce its response to the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" --we are now in October, approaching November. I suppose, however, that the Government's ineptitude has given us a good opportunity to evaluate the momentous events that have taken place, not only in the Soviet Union and the rest of eastern Europe but within our own Alliance--remarkable developments in arms control such as START and CFE, and confidence-building measures. Few of us could have predicted this a few months ago, and even fewer could have predicted the great changes that have taken place in the whole range of Labour's policies. I do not wish to advertise the opportunities that I have had to travel, but I have been to the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, meeting members of the military and Defence Ministers, and that experience will underpin some of the points that I intend to make.
This is an era of transition. When Churchill made his famous "iron curtain" speech, Europe was divided into two major blocs. I am not entirely convinced that the position has changed. Perhaps, as some have said, it is irrevocable, but we must nevertheless take advantage of the opportunities presented to us. If we do not, we shall live to regret it, for the consequences will be severe. We should not be euphoric and assume that swords are about to be beaten into ploughshares ; nor should we be churlish and hostile and say that we should not deal with the Soviet
Column 340Union because within weeks or months there will be a Chinese-style conversion, and the reforms will slow down or even cease. Is there a role for NATO in this environment? Some would say no, and I certainly believe that it will be some years before we are in a position to decide whether alliances will wither away. One thing is certain, however : as Manfred Wo"rner said a couple of months ago, NATO must do away with
"its fixation with weapons, strategy and disarmament and turn it towards the decisive questions of the political reshaping of Europe."
Many tasks still await NATO's concern and action. Clearly it must maintain itself as a military alliance, but it has many political dimensions as well. Whatever happens in East-West relations, the out-of-area threat to us and to the Warsaw pact will persist. The new military challenges to both alliances are considerable. There is ballistic missile proliferation, for instance : 16 countries outside NATO and the Warsaw pact have, or are developing, such missiles, with ranges of up to 500 km. That trend is very worrying, and it is even more worrying that some of those countries are developing ballistic missiles with longer and longer ranges : they are developing the warheads themselves as well as the means of delivery.
Whatever action we take, the Alliances may face a threat from a country that is no longer simply a recipient of our weapons, given or sold. If the growth in rocket technology is allied to the increase in chemical weapons, the prospects appear horrendous. That lethal combination presents an ominous future for the West--that of longer-range ballistic missiles in the hands of some Third-world nation with a chemical weapon capability. The challenges are not just military ; they are also economic--the less developed countries pose enormous problems with budget deficits and protectionism--and if economic matters are to be involved, security must take the environmental challenges into account.
Papers produced by the Western European Union or the North Atlantic Alliance appear to be lectures in environmentalism and "green" politics, but those issues cannot be confined to the debating chamber, or indeed to discussion of the environment. The environmental problems facing the globe have a security dimension : the consequences of a potential crisis for defence and foreign policy would be very severe. I therefore believe that there is clearly a continuing role for NATO.
Worrying changes have taken place within the Government, although attention has often been focused on the weaknesses of my party's defence policy. Let us look at the Order Paper. The Defence Committee reports tagged to the motion show the Government in a very bad light. The Committee consists of 11 Members of Parliament and meets only twice a week, yet, in the limited time available, we have produced a seemingly endless succession of reports exposing weaknesses in the procurement process. I make no apology for going through them briefly.
The second report is entitled "Staffing Levels in the Procurement Executive". Even the Ministry witnesses talk of
" a catastrophic haemorrhaging' of the very ablest young engineers, scientists and administrators' ".
We pointed out the enormous increase in costs of procurement when resources are scarce, of ineffective decision-making and of inadequate recruiting.
Column 341The third report, entitled "The Working of the AWACS Offset Agreement", describes the benefits that have resulted so far from making the right decision--to go for Boeing, AWACS after a disastrous earlier decision. The benefits to the country of offsets are difficult to see. The report on the progress of the Trident programme describes problems at Aldermaston, industrial disputes at Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. and problems involving the procurement of the missile in the United States. The Government do not emerge particularly well.
The Government's policy on the Royal Navy surface fleet has been disastrous. They talk about aiming at having about 50 frigates and destroyers at their disposal. This afternoon they told us how many frigates and destroyers are being built. Unless the Government build three frigates per year, they will never reach the target of about 50. The only way in which the Government can maintain a fleet approaching 50 is by running on ancient Leanders, most of which were built in the 1960s and should be destined for the scrap heap. The seventh report relates to the decommissioning of nuclear submarines, on which the Government have no policy at all. The procurement of the Tucano trainer aircraft is another indictment. The availability of merchant shipping for defence purposes reveals yet another disaster, and even the Government themselves admit it. We said in our report that in a recent exercise
"33 out of 34 vessels chartered for British exercises in 1988-89 were not British ; manpower continues to fall, and, were ships to be required in time of tension or war, substantial numbers of their officers and men would not be British ; cadet entry to the Merchant Navy is"
also a disaster.
The worst disaster of all was the procurement of a light anti-tank weapon, LAW80. The idea first emerged in 1971, development began in 1978, and in 1988 the Army had its first delivery of a weapons system that would pose an enormous threat only to a Bulgarian tank driver driving a T34, but anything else appears to be invulnerable to a weapons system that has cost hundreds of millions of pounds and so much physical and mental effort and is a duff system. Who will buy it? Only people who are threatened by tanks which do not have the reactive armour that the Soviet army has. Reactive armour was patented in Britain in 1982, so why did it take the MOD so long to realise that we did not have anti-tank weapons that would do more than dent a Soviet tank?
The reports that we have produced--and there will be more--are an indictment of the way in which the Government are procuring weapons systems with scarce resources.
My final point relates to security. During the past 12 years I have become almost obsessed with trying without success to get a licensing system for the private security industry. Now the Government refuse to do anything, relying upon self-regulation of that imperfect industry. Regrettably, at Deal, we saw those imperfections manifest. In an industry upon which the MOD is increasingly relying, the men are badly trained or not trained at all, they are badly paid, having to work 60, 70 or 80 hours a week to take home a living wage, and they are badly supervised, yet they are guarding our property and our soldiers. The Government should introduce a licensing system. Unless the Home Secretary does he will pay a price.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : It is a privilege finally to speak in a debate that has come so late in our parliamentary year. It has been long expected, and it has lived up to expectations. It is noteworthy that the House has listened so well to those who have spoken, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer), the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) both of whom have "got some in", my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes), who spoke with such sincerity about the manpower problems in the services, and the great international performer himself, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George).
Throughout the debate, we have been seeking a solution to the great conundrum. What could that great conundrum be? It could be how the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), whose intellectual credentials improve with every speech he makes, could have put his name to such a rambling, ramshackle motion. If he can make sense of it, he is a better man than I, and he may well be, but I doubt whether the electorate will make much sense of it. Certainly that was the feeling of his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas).
Alternatively, the great conundrum might be how the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West could ask for a defence review. Has he not been in the House long enough to realise that any Government policy or programme, and certainly one of the Ministry of Defence, is under review? There is nothing new in that. Of course the Government are quite rightly keeping everything under review, not least, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State so correctly reminded us, at a time of such uncertainty and potential danger in international affairs--a point highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West.
One has only to recognise the depths of emotion of the crowds on the march in East Berlin and to see the banners in Leipzig and Dresden proclaiming, "Keine Gewalt", or "No force", "Fu"r Freiheit", or "For freedom" and "Fu"r Demokratie", or "For democracy", to realise the depths of emotion in the German people. We are obsessed with arms control, but to achieve peace we need to change the nature of the regimes that potentially threaten us. Only then will there be a chance of peace.
To return to my theme, what is the great conundrum? It is how, at a time of inflation, to produce good value for money from the limited resources that are available to us for defence. Of course, with service men's pay having to be high to keep them in the armed forces, and with the relative price effect of new equipment exceeding the cost of living, it really is a great conundrum.
Let me make two humble suggestions to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. First, the House must get a grip of the procurement process. As the hon. Member for Walsall, South pointed out, the way in which the procurement of defence equipment is mismanaged is a thumping disgrace. Our Select Committee tries to grapple with the problem, but only after the worst cost overrruns and the biggest delays have already occurred. It is by then ancient history. No one bats an eyelid when hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money are wasted on
Column 343projects that are not up to specification, or are late. We need an appropriation function in the House, a sub- committee of the House of Commons Defence Committee specialising in procurement.
Secondly, as the hon. Member for Wallsend so eloquently pointed out, our reserve forces have immense potential, but we should not try to attract more through puerile advertisements in the national press showing muscle and grunt individuals with packs on their backs who are apparently much better men for the load they carry, nor idiotic little jokes about executives dressed up as Napoleon.
We need to resurrect unit loyalties, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) pointed out. We should realise that the reserve forces offer great opportunities for technical instruction and self -betterment which volunteer reservists could carry into their civilian occupations. Of course there are other reserve forces than the Territorial Army. We have the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Naval Reserve. We are an island nation, a maritime power that relies on air and sea reinforcement across the Atlantic and into continental Europe.
I beg my hon. Friends to be more imaginative. There should be flying squadrons in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and there should be more men in the Royal Naval Reserve. These are the things that we need to do. If those two small, simple suggestions alone are borne in mind, I shall be content, and perhaps the great conundrum will be a little nearer to a solution.
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead) : I want genuinely to welcome the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to his new position. He will certainly improve the intelligence quotient in his ministerial team, if not the dampness quotient, and will equally certainly bring some sense of humour to the deliberations of a fairly dry bunch.
I had also expected that in speaking in this first defence debate since he assumed his position to extend a welcome to the Secretary of State as well. It is true that the current Secretary of State left his last job with a large fund of good will across the political spectrum, but it must be said that his performance at the Dispatch Box yesterday and even more his Goebbels-like rant at the Tory party conference in Blackpool were utterly unworthy not only of him, but of the great office of state he holds and of this defence debate. The descent of a once fine man into a fifth-rate Joe MacCarthy is a dispiriting sight.
Yesterday and last week, the Secretary of State made two charges against the Labour party. The first is that the leadership of the Labour party, with all the democratic Socialist credentials they can muster and with all their years of democratic service in this great democratic institution, are in fact secret supporters of the IRA. It is so gigantic a lie and is now being repeated so often that it could have come from Goebbels's own shelf. It is especially hollow coming from a Government who have repeatedly-- including most recently in Deal, a subject to which I shall return--left the door wide open for terrorists to walk in and blast to the heavens young service men serving this country.
My hon. Friends and I are utterly opposed to all killings connected with the political position in Ireland. Even those of us, like myself, who go much further and want to go
Column 344much faster than the great majority of the Labour party towards British withdrawal from Ireland are utterly opposed to violence. It is the sight of our young soldiers being lowered into their graves in wooden boxes that confirms my view that Britain has already paid too high a price for its involvement in Ireland.
The second charge made by the Secretary of State is even more serious. It is that Labour cannot be trusted on defence and that Labour will not defend this country from any external aggressor. His charge is that we are cowards or traitors, or both. That charge, made by someone of the eminence of the Secretary of State for Defence, is a blood libel against the millions of Labour party supporters who fought in uniform, many of them giving their lives to defend this country in the last war. It is a blood libel on the millions of Labour supporters who currently support us and who will support our defence policy. It is a blood libel against the many members of the parliamentary Labour party--who are perhaps declining in numbers because of their age--who served this country well and who had as good a war as many of the new hawks among Tory Members.
When I heard the Secretary of State drawing on the experience of appeasement in the 1930s in support of his argument that we were cowards or traitors, I could scarcely conceal and restrain my anger. The Government who left 300,000 soldiers huddling under the pier and in the sand dunes on the beaches of Dunkirk were a Conservative Government. The guilty men-- Baldwin, Chamberlain, Simon, Halifax and Hoare--were all true blue Tories in the leadership of the Conservative party. It was their cowardice, incompetence and treachery which left this country on the precipice of defeat. We shall take no lectures on appeasement from Conservative Members.
It is customary in these debates for all speakers to pay tribute to the members of Her Majesty's armed forces. I want to draw attention to one small section of them. It can be seen in early-day motion 1128 on the Armilla patrol last year. Last year, I was a member of a delegation to Saudi Arabia, ably led by Lord Pym. How often one gazes across the Benches and says, "Come back Francis Pym, all is forgiven." On that visit, we were often reminded of the value of the men serving in the Armilla patrol and I became convinced of their value. The Government should consider seriously the demand in early-day motion 1128 for a medal to be struck for the service men who participated in that vital piece of work.
While I have the attention of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, I want to say that many of us are worried about the precipitate withdrawal from the NFR90 project and nothing said tonight convinces me otherwise. I hope that in days to come--for there is no time now--we shall be told what will be done on the question of needing about 50 surface ships. I represent the warship building yard of Yarrow and I hope that the Minister will find time to visit the yard. I know that his colleague was recently there. I shall be interested to know whether the Government are intending to build a super frigate based on the type 23 model as a means of substituting for the NFR90.
Column 345On Ferranti and on the NFR90, I hope that Ministers are aware of the real danger to British warship building of drawing offices and teams of designers breaking up and being scattered to the four winds. We would all pay the price for that.
I want to touch on the vexed question of security at Ministry of Defence establishments. My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said yesterday that it must not be made a subject of political capital. Of course, the people who have been making political capital out of Deal are Conservative Members. We must hold the Government fully responsible for the safety of our personnel and buildings at Ministry of Defence establishments. It came as a shock to the British public to learn that a base housing Royal Marines, a regiment serving in Northern Ireland, turned out to be guarded by largely unarmed, third-rate security firms employing people who were often short of the calibre that would have been expected. Many people are unaware of the amazing hotch-potch of agencies and institutions that are currently guarding our Ministry of Defence establishments. Each of the three services is responsible for its own security, quite separately from each other. I find that surprising. The Ministry of Defence police are also involved in security and there are also individuals about whom no one seems to know much--the industrial patrol men. I tried today to find out more about them. There are about 16 to 30 other private security firms that range from the disreputable to the reputable. It reminds me of that great free enterpriser, the early saga of Thatcherism, Milo Minderbinder of "Catch-22", who rented his own air force to the enemy to bomb his camp in the interests of business.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : Far from this being the least dangerous period since the war, I believe, having served in the Army some time ago, that it is the most dangerous period for Britain since the war. If the reform process in east Europe fails, we shall see a return to repression at home, aggression abroad and a highly volatile, unstable and worrying state in Europe.
I shall confine my remarks to east Europe and the Warsaw pact. As well as being the most dangerous period, this is also the period of greatest opportunity since the war. West Europe's task is to do everything possible to ensure that future historians will remember this period as a time of opportunity, hope and the achievement of peace and prosperity.
Principally, we have to two tasks for Eastern Europe. The first is to encourage the change and reforms that are taking place in many of the Warsaw pact countries. Secondly, I stress that we must do so, loosely or directly, without the super-power that controls those states, Russia, feeling threatened. If Russia is threatened, the reform process will be reversed very quickly.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) spoke of his experiences travelling in eastern Europe. Two weeks ago, I returned from Poland. Solidarity MPs told me that if the West does not provide effective aid, the coalition Government will collapse not in a year's time but within three to six months and the Communists will take over. I qualify that by saying that there seems to be much
Column 346determination among the Communists, Solidarity and the other minority parties to make the coalition Government work.
The new co-operation between former gaolers and prisoners has had some bizarre results. As a souvenir, a senior Solidarity official, who has twice been imprisoned for his beliefs, gave me an invitation that he had been given. It says :
"You are invited to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the secret police, to see an exhibition of memorials to secret police officers killed in action, to witness the award of medals and the presentation of certificates to newly graduated secret policemen."
That may have a humorous side, but there is a serious point. People from opposite ends of the spectrum are trying to make a success of the new Government.
Western aid packages have already been provided, which is most welcome. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his junior Ministers on the know how fund that has been set up. The first fruits of the fund were seen this week when a delegation of Polish MPs from different parties attended a conference in London. I was happy to be a part of that conference this week, and such conferences should be encouraged. I recommend hon. Members to follow the course of action that I have taken and to invite those MPs to stay with them in their constituencies at the weekend. There is much for them to learn. I find that they are like sponges, because they have been kept in the dark for so many years. Almost everything that we have to tell them is of interest.
We need further specific action to help the Poles. We must encourage British businesses to accept Polish managers and business men on secondment. We should establish a scheme whereby they can easily attend British business schools. We should set up a short-term crisis fund that has loose strings. With inflation in Poland running at 1,000 per cent., and the major reforms in the economy, there is a danger of food riots. The Poles may need short-term aid to help them over that.
As an oil-producing nation, we should provide Poland at least with extra fuel. Half the garages in Poland are shut, and there is not enough fuel for cars and tractors. That has the knock-on effect of farmers being unable to get the food out of the ground. I suggest that the Government should consider that carefully.
I said that there were two tasks for the West--to encourage reform, and to do so without threatening Russia. As someone who has served in the Army, I find myself in the strange position of saying that the last thing that we want to do is to destabilise the Warsaw pact. Polish Ministers and MPs say that it is essential that the Warsaw pact is maintained. We must work progressively to reduce the numbers of arms. It would not be helpful to the process of reform if the pact were to disintegrate now.
I began by saying that this is the most dangerous period since the war. If the reform process fails and the Russian bear feels threatened, we shall return to the cold war or, perhaps the worst prospect, some form of defensive-aggressive military action. 8.56 pm
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : I am sure that the House will forgive me if I begin with a number of local issues, not least the fact that less than two weeks ago Anthony and Sharon Outlaw lost three young children on the Churchill naval estate in my constituency. The fire
Column 347started in the middle of the night and the three children, who were all under five, died. I ask the Minister to take note of that tragic event.
The naval families have spoken to me about that matter. It is believed that an electrical fault started the fire. There are no smoke detectors in their homes and the electrical wiring is badly in need of repair. I ask the Minister to take on board those points and be in immediate contact with the Clyde submarine base and the welfare services. It is the least I can do to pay my respects to the naval families on the estate and send the House's condolences to the family.
Concern has been expressed at the Clyde submarine base about privatisation. The base has razor wire all around it, but the local peace campers can get in and out whenever they wish. If they wish to get in for Christmas, they can. A year ago, they boarded the control room of a Polaris submarine. They were on it for so long that they had to make a noise to let officers know that they were there. The captain arrived, and when the peace campers told him to take them to Cuba he nearly had a heart attack.
At the weekend, I was told that private contractors will be used to do deep cleaning on the submarines. The Minister should look carefully at such privatisation measures, given the track record on security at the Clyde submarine base and take into consideration the feelings of the workers in that area. I hope that the Minister will contact me if he intends to introduce private contractors to the base.
Yesterday the Secretary of State said :
"Mr. Gorbachev and our Prime Minister also have different philosophies, but an element of confidence and trust grew".--[ Official Report, 18 October 1989 ; Vol. 158, c. 156.]
If we take that on merit, it is okay. However, paragraph 105 of the White Paper says :
"we should be under no illusion about this new sense of realism ; it is designed to serve Soviet interests, not those of the West." The Prime Minister may talk to Mr. Gorbachev, but she makes no attempt to understand the reality of defence and foreign policy for the 1990s.
One read of the White Paper underlines the fact that the Conservative party is the party of the arms race. The motto of the White Paper is that the arms race keeps the peace. That is all the Government have to offer us. There is a paucity of thinking in the White Paper. In reality we have a need for common security. We have heard many times from Conservative Members that NATO has given us 40 years of peace. However, we had peace from the Crimean war in the 1850s until 1914. Therefore, we had peace for a longer period in Victorian times. We have peace in NATO not because nuclear missiles are targeted at eastern Europe but because 12 or 13 countries are working together on a daily basis and understanding each other. We have peace in western Europe because of the social and personal aspects involved.
The White Paper has no credibility. There is no courage or imagination within it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) mentioned yesterday that that may be because the top 10 defence contractors receive more than £3 billion in profits each year from the Ministry of Defence. Perhaps that is why the Ministry of Defence has such a limited imagination.
As a member of the Select Committee on Defence, I am aware of the business appointments. A few months ago we interviewed Colin Chandler, the head of the Defence
Column 348Export Services Organisation. Subsequently, he left that job on a Friday and on the following Monday became chief executive at Vickers. The Government said nothing about that. We hear comments about pork barrel politics in America, but the same comments could be made here. The Government's response to the business document from the Defence Committee says nothing on such issues. I warn the Government that we will return to that point.
I welcome the Secretary of State's comment about the centre for defence studies. It is a pity that it was not located in my constituency of Dumbarton. My constituency contains the largest nuclear arsenal in western Europe and I have to press upon the Ministry of Defence the need to answer to local politicians and to me as the Member of Parliament. The Government have located the centre in the university of London. If it is incumbent upon me to have the nuclear arsenal, surely the Government should have thought about placing it in Scotland. So far for any academic study, we have only the Bradford school of peace studies and sadly the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) highlighted the ignorance of Tory Back Benchers on that institution.
We heard the same comments and sentiments expressed in Blackpool last week by the Prime Minister. She took credit for the world revolution and for the torch of freedom that she said is shedding a light across the iron curtain, but she did nothing to turn her mind to the changed situation in Europe. That has not changed her thinking one bit. The Prime Minister and the Government still believe that there is a cold war and that there is a threat. The Government have never said where the threat comes from.
The Warsaw pact has changed irrevocably ; its ability to mount a surprise attack, which is central to the White Paper, is no more. The question is, how do we deter a crisis? It is no use just lowering the level of NATO forces. We have to change what we are doing. The Opposition welcome the disarmament proposals. We welcome the START proposals, but if they are implemented in full, that will still only take us back to the pre-1979 levels. We welcome the conventional armed forces in Europe talks, but if their decisions are implemented in full, there will still be 40,000 tanks in Europe--twice the number that there were when Hitler marched into Poland in the 1940s. There will still be 5,700 aircraft on each side. That is the same as in 1939, but now each one can carry several nuclear weapons and go twice the speed of sound, and they are a quantum leap on the Messerschmitts and other planes used in the second world war. There are no British initiatives. Will the new Secretary of State give them to us? His predecessor did nothing in that area.
Somebody has said that the defence budget must be halved over the next six to eight years so as to direct money to social issues, crime and drugs. That was said not by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield but by the former Secretary of Defence in America, Robert McNamara. There must be initiatives in Western Europe. The Government are thurled to the USA, not because they agree with them but because they do not have an original thought about defence in their head.
McNamara led the way and General Andrew Goodpaster, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe between 1969 and 1974, has recommended a 50 per cent. reduction in forces in Europe. The Government have done nothing about that. The Prime Minister has said that
Column 349she has lit a beacon. She is telling young people to come across from Eastern Europe, to desert their countries, and we will probably find them work. At the same time, with increasing menace, we are directing our nuclear weapons at their families left in eastern Europe--their aunts, brothers and sisters. She has not changed her policy on eastern Europe by one whit.
It would be dangerous to leave war to the generals. I had the privilege of being in the company of a United States admiral six months ago at dinner. He asked me, "How is Ireland getting on?" One of our company had to tell him that the Republic of Ireland is a country distinct from Britain, and that it became a free state in 1922. There is Uncle Sam, patrolling the world with his finger on the button, but he does not know that Ireland is separate from Britain. We cannot leave it to the generals. Despite the opportunity of this debate, the Goverment have not come forward with new ideas on how they will deal with the changing situation in Eastern Europe. The Government have further pressures on them, such as shrinking budgets. The Government condemn the Labour party for the resolution passed in Brighton, but in the United States Congress, the new Secretary of Defence, Mr. Carlucci, has to argue for a 20 per cent. defence cut over the next five to six years, and President Bush will have to answer to Congress personally. It would be sweet if the Secretary of State were to argue for that here, but, sad to say, that will not happen.
The Select Committee on Defence has pointed to the demographic changes which mean that the Army cannot get enough recruits. Last year, despite a target of 38,000, it had only 33,000 recruits. The population betwen the ages of 16 and 19 will fall by 1 million in the next 10 years. In the Federal Republic of Germany, one of our close neighbours, unless remedial action is taken, the armed forces will fall from 500,000 to 290,000. Our Government have said nothing about how our forces will be changed, yet changes will be forced upon them.
There is a paucity of ideas on eastern Europe and co-operation. Sadly in this Government there are no thinkers--none to match the McNamaras, Senator Nunns, William Colbys or a former director of the CIA who state that NATO's first use of nuclear weapons is redundant. There are no such voices. All that Tory voices tell our European neighbours is that we shall fight our war on their land and that that is why we need short-range nuclear weapons. The Conservative party is nothing but the party of the arms race. That is all they have to offer us and that is why the White Paper should be thoroughly condemned and rejected tonight.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The speeches in reply to the debate are about to be made and when they have been concluded we shall have had almost five hours of Front Bench speeches in a two-day debate. It would help the House if you could draw to the attention of the Select Committee on Procedure the fact that in a two- day debate it is undesirable for Front Bench spokesmen to take up almost half of the debating time. As you occupy a position of importance, they may pay more heed to you than to ordinary Back Benchers who raise the issue.
Column 350My hon. Friends the Members for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) and for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) and I would have liked to contribute. I do not criticise you, Madam Deputy Speaker. You cannot create time. Front-Bench spokesmen should open the debate on the first day, take note of its thread, and close it on the second day. As some of the Front-Bench speeches were turgid, monotonous and lengthy, it would help the House if more Back Benchers could express their opinions.
Madam Deputy Speaker : I appreciate the hon. Member's point. I have been in the Chair for five or six hours during this important two-day debate and I know that many hon. Members have been disappointed. 9.11 pm
Mr. Sean Hughes (Knowsley, South) : I hope that my closing speech for the Opposition will not live up to the description by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) who said that Front Bench speeches were turgid, or whatever.
The problem with the defence debate in recent years, both in the House and throughout the country, has been the extrordinary claim by the Conservative party that it has a monopoly of patriotism and, in all things pertaining to defence, a monopoly of competence. The claim to a monopoly of patriotism not only absurd but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) said so eloquently, deeply insulting to the many Labour party members and supporters who have sacrificed so much over the years for their country. That is why the Prime Minister's characteristically tasteless remark last year that the Labour party has no memory, no spine, no stomach and no guts was so deeply insulting to so many ordinary people. That is why the Tory party campaign of abuse, culminating in the infamous poster at the general election depicting Labour as the party of surrender, was equally offensive. Therefore, I am mildly amused by the outrage and anguish expressed by Conservative Members when a few doctors have a go at the Secretary of State for Health. It has been a measure of schoolroom bullies throughout the ages that while they can dish it out, they howl when they have to take it themselves.
It has also been one of the characteristics of this Government that, while they resolutely refuse to take responsibility for their actions, they consistently claim the credit for the achievements of others. I thought that the height of their impertinence had been reached when they claimed the credit for the INF treaty, but at Blackpool, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) said, the Prime Minister and the new Secretary of State for Defence seemed to claim the credit for glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union, the election of a non-Communist Prime Minister in Poland and the moves towards a multi-party state in Hungary. I am surprised that they have time to turn up to these debates.
The only thing that compares with the absurdity of the Tory claim to a monopoly of patriotism is its claim to a monopoly of competence. To use the words in the preface of Christopher Coker's pamphlet "Less Important than Opulence" published last year by the Right-wing think tank the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies : "The Conservatives may well have concluded that the present defence debate, which still largely revolves around
Column 351multilateralist-unilateralist distinction, is so congenial in electoral terms that the customary process of analysis must not be allowed to disturb it."
Or, as the author put it more succinctly on page 8 of the pamphlet :
"on defence, as on other matters, the Conservative Party has never been noted for its systematic thinking".
We have had ample evidence of that over the past two days. The speech made by the new Secretary of State at the Blackpool conference a week ago and some of his remarks yesterday were perfect examples of this debate by abuse. Sadly he did not take the opportunity to initiate a rational discussion of the issues. We heard the same old half-truths and smear which we have come to expect. As probably the only British Member of Parliament whose entire family lives in the Republic of Ireland--with the exception of my wife and daughter--I need no lessons from the Secretary of State to affect my detestation of all things violent.
At the base of this Defence White Paper and at the base of all Government White Papers is the Government's interpretation of deterrence. From the speeches by Conservative Members in this debate and in all defence debates, we learn that deterrence is at the heart of the argument. That has involved us in the last two defence debates with the White Paper's historical--some might say unkindly, hysterical--summary.
I note with just a hint of regret that the person responsible for this unique Conservative insight into history seems to have been redeployed this year. However, that should not be taken as proof that the official absence of what the Government delightfully term historical perspective means that the Prime Minister and the rest of the Government have given up trying to change the past.
Earlier this year, in the spring edition of the International Institute of Strategic Studies papers, the then Secretary of State wrote that he was reminded of a story about Prince Metternich at the Congress of Vienna. He wrote :
"He was awoken by his valet--
and I am talking about Prince Metternich, not the former Secretary of State --
"in the middle of the night to be told that the Russian ambassador had died in his sleep. Metternich commented, I wonder what his motive was for doing that'."
I thought at the time how appropriate it was that the British Secretary of State for Defence should don the mantle of Metternich, of whom a 19th century criticism was that his
"empty head remained unresponsive to the dynamic forces of history."
Any of us who have witnessed the Government's response to the rapidly changing international developments and the world's awakening to a new sense of possibility would consider those words to be a fair criticism of the Government.
The Government's lack of response to the events within the Warsaw pact has been as breathtaking as the events themselves. For a Government who have consistently equated the possession of nuclear weapons with great power status, there has been no initiative or leadership commensurate with that status just the tired old slogans which have fuelled the cold war. In speech after speech, the Prime Minister has appealed for vigilance and resolve, warning everyone that it would be folly to let down our guard before the irreversibility of change in Communist