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Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : Although I do not agree with a word of the speech made by the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), I must confess to a certain amount of admiration for his bravery in advancing that line of argument, not least because of your distinguished presence in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, as a clear example of how discrimination against women should be banished completely from all public life.
These debates tend to divide between procurement and policy. I always thought that that was a rather artificial division, and I suspect that in a time of changing defence requirements it is all the more necessary for one to regard them both as part of the same argument. For example, the question of how may type 23 frigates are to be built must necessarily be related to the forward maritime strategy and to the need to protect the transport of materials for NATO across the north Atlantic in time of war. The number of Merlin helicopters that are necessary must be related to the role that the Navy is being invited to play. The number of nuclear submarines and nuclear warheads must be related to the extent and nature of the strategic nuclear deterrent that is thought to be required. Most people agree that the prospect of engagement, whether it be nuclear or conventional, on land or on sea, between the forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Warsaw pact has never been less. That seemed to be recognised in a speech made 10 days ago by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Column 683Affairs. No one says that the possibility of such engagement has been completely eliminated--it would be foolish to make such a judgment--but the reduction of the possibility has been considerable. That gives rise to consideration of the equipment that is necessary for the defence of our country and for our obligations to NATO. I hope that there will be no reduction in the requirement of about 50 frigates and destroyers. There is grave suspicion among all hon. Members that that figure--although Ministers speak about it with considerable enthusiasm and defend it with dogged determination--is probably not realistic. I have no doubt that any reduction would be unwise and misguided.
We know that in April 1989--I do not always agree with the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), but I disagreed with little of what he said about this--the Government announced that they intended to place orders for four type 23 frigates, but eventually placed orders for only three. The justification that the Government gave for not placing orders for four frigates was that there would be no economic of financial advantage in so doing. That may have been true, but there undoubtedly would have been a military advantage because the Royal Navy would have been better equipped to perform the tasks imposed on it.
We should not allow the debate to pass without referring Ministers to the sixth report of Session 1988-89 of the Select Committee on Defence. In paragraph 22 of the report, the Committee concluded : "a single year's orders is not the same thing as a consistent ordering pattern over a number of years, and the two should not be confused."
Paragraph 23 says :
"We hope that the Government will now adopt a consistent pattern for ordering ships, not least in order to give the hard-pressed warshipbuilding industry some firm basis for planning."
I welcome the fact that orders were placed at the end of last year, but the observations of the hon. Member for Hampshire, East on the laying down of keels were most apposite in this context. I hope that the Minister will offer a greater commitment about the future intentions of the Government for a consistent pattern of ordering of the type 23 frigate.
There is clearly some disagreement about at least part of the cause of the delay in the Merlin helicopter. It is time that that issue was put to one side, because, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) holds a legitimate interest in the fate or health of a substantial employer in his constituency, a much more significant issue in the context of this debate is that the type 23 frigate may be going to sea without an essential part of its capability. That is highly undesirable, especially when one considers that some type 23 frigates do not have the fullest command and control system that is thought to be necessary. That has an effect on the capacity of those extremely expensive vessels, which play an extremely important role.
Mr. Ashdown : My hon. and learned Friend puts the case extremely well. I sought to make the point to the Minister earlier and he tried to dodge it. Of course, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, what happens to Westland and its work force is of concern, but the chief concern is the nation's defence. As my hon. and learned Friend pointed out, because of the apparent delay which
Column 684has been placed at the Government's door and the indecision which was noted in the Select Committee's report last Thursday, for four years--a quarter of its total keel life--the first type 23 frigate will be without the essential piece of equipment around which it is designed. Surely that cannot be a proper use of taxpayers' money. That indecision will result in a cost to the defence of this nation.
Mr. Campbell : I am sure that my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I return the compliment that he paid me at the beginning of his intervention. This is a serious issue. I hope that if the Government are not willing to give us their considered response to the Defence Committee's third report this Session, they will indicate their preliminary observations about this fairly serious attack on the handling of this matter by the Ministry of Defence.
I was greatly amused by the extent to which the Opposition's minds were exercised when it became clear that lasers had been used on certain ships for purely defence purposes. No doubt there were compelling reasons why the Opposition thought that that was so unacceptable, but I believe that the use of the most up-to-date technology for a purely defensive purpose is something of which we should be in favour, rather than critical.
I mentioned the strategic nuclear deterrent. I have no doubt that we should still plan for four boats to carry the strategic nuclear deterrent. As I understand it, the Labour party still clings to the notion that three would be sufficient. I have never found that a particularly compelling argument. I have frequently thought that the notion of having only three, instead of four, was perhaps not so much a rational analysis of the requirement as a sop to those who opposed having any boats at all.
Is there any justification in the deployment of Trident for having a vast increase in the number of nuclear warheads? Would it not be entirely reasonable in the deployment of the D5 Trident system for the Government to undertake to limit the number of warheads to the number presently deployed on Polaris? The number could be increased if necessary, but it would show that, in an area that would not prejudice the defence of the United Kingdom or of the western Alliance, the Government at least had in mind the prospect of an arms reduction. The argument is all the more compelling, given that Trident is much more accurate and can deliver so much more than Polaris.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it would be sensible for the Government to make a virtue out of necessity, because all the evidence shows that they will not be able to produce the extra warheads anyway?
Mr. Campbell : I proceed on the basis of recent tests in the United States which have suggested that the system will be available as originally designed. The Government have shown that they are alive to the issue of the production of warheads by the changes that they have introduced at Aldermaston. If these are reasonable suppositions, my proposal to the Government seems at least worthy of consideration. There has been some discussion about the possible risk attached to nuclear-powered submarines. I have not been privy to the exchange of correspondence that took place virtually across the Floor of the Chamber a little earlier today, but I hope that the Government accept that safety
Column 685must be at a premium for those who serve in such vessels, for our service men--who may come into contact with them in port--and, perhaps more significantly, for the confidence of the civilian population. I hope that the letter that was offered to the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington, (Mr. Boyes) will be made available more widely. Reference has been made to the nuclear depth bomb. I should have thought that one was entitled to feel sceptical about whether it is necessary to deploy such a weapon. In the NF at sea conference in May 1989 Admiral Sir James Eberle and the former United States Secretary of the Navy, John Lehmen, expressed considerable scepticism about the prospect of fighting a nuclear war at sea. One is entitled to ask the Government whether they are satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that it is necessary for the defence of the United Kingdom and of the western Alliance to move towards a replacement for the existing weapon. As I understand it, in June last year, the Defence Committee expressed certain doubts about the value of doing so.
I remain sceptical about the apparent rush to negotiate a reduction in conventional naval forces. The conventional forces in Europe--CFE--talks in Vienna, under the stimulus of the substantial and imaginative initiatives of President Bush, appear to make substantial strides. I should have thought that it was good sense to wait until those talks have been completed and the envisaged cuts implemented before considering whether it is legitimate to embark on a reduction in conventional naval forces.
We should then take account of a number of elements. As the Minister made clear, Britain is an island nation. We rely for much of our trade on free passage over the seas. Our interests are such that we may well need to deploy naval forces away from the United Kingdom, for example, in the Gulf, the Caribbean or the Falklands--my view about the Falklands is not necessarily the Government's, but so long as that obligation exists in its present form, there is clearly a requirement to deploy naval forces in the south Atlantic. That cannot be ignored. If troops are withdrawn from mainland Europe, there will need to be a means of redeploying them there in an emergency. A naval capability for that purpose will undoubtedly continue to be important.
There is another point that I do not think the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement made in opening the debate but which I offer to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who is to wind up. If we move to a new order of security in Europe and there is greater political integration, there may be scope for greater specialisation among the European allies in their contributions to the defence of Europe. It may well make sense for the United Kingdom, which makes the largest contribution in western Europe to conventional naval forces to specialise in that area.
These are compelling arguments for not moving to early conventional arms reductions in the naval sphere and to ensure that we take account of these important factors. These questions will all fall to be answered. Clearly, they cannot all be answered today. Although no defence review may be taking place--those of us who have participated in these debates understand that-- there is likely to be a review of defence expenditure. I imagine that the Treasury will be anxious to embark upon such an excercise, no doubt citing the recent decisions taken in the United States.
Column 686These are not matters about which the Government should be coy or secretive ; they deserve wide public discussion, and I hope that the Government will be forthcoming about the elements of that discussion. It may not be possible to arrive at a non- partisan view of defence, but surely, in the changing circumstances to which other hon. Members have referred, we ought to be able to achieve more agreement about defence and security than we have in recent years.
This debate takes place in an atmosphere of hope that has not been possible on many previous occasions. Those of us who were present for the Defence Estimates debate in October will remember how the Secretary of State for Defence announced to a somewhat startled House that Mr. Honecker had resigned and been replaced by Mr. Krenz. If anybody had said, "By Christmas, the wall between East and West Berlin will be down," his remarks would have been received with considerable scepticism--rightly so, because nothing that had happened by then suggested that the pace of change would accelerate in such an extraordinary manner. The Soviet Union may even decide today that the Communist party should be removed from the place of primacy that it has hitherto occupied. The pace of change and the circumstances with which we are presented are dramatic and difficult, and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise.
Throughout our consideration of these matters, we should bear in mind the fact that there is no intrinsic merit in defence expenditure or in nuclear weapons. Expenditure on defence and the deployment of weapons of any kind-- conventional or nuclear--can be justified only if it is shown to keep the peace and to deter aggression. I venture to believe that in these matters the Royal Navy will continue to play an important part in the life of the United Kingdom for a long time to come.
Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome) : I am grateful that I am to be allowed to take part in this debate on the Royal Navy--the very first time that I have been able to speak in the House on this subject. As I have a name that was once well known in the Navy, I believe, this may be rather surprising. Never, since that name was well known, has any member of my family served in the Royal Navy, so alarmed were they at the prospect of having to live up to a reputation. What is more, he was a person who was thanked on a substantive motion of the House, in the days when members of the armed forces could serve in the House. I assure hon. Members that that is not an attribute that is likely to be shared by any of his successors.
I see the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) in his place. Unsolicited by me, the largest Royal Navy aviation establishment, consisting of more than 3,000 service men and women and civilians, and the headquarters of the Fleet Air Arm were shifted sideways from his constituency to mine in 1963. I recall that 120 aircraft from that establishment were deployed on active service in the south Atlantic. They included three front-line Harrier squadrons and four helicopter squadrons. The House will understand how much I value that connection and the opportunity to speak today.
Since that time, my contacts with RNAS Yeovilton have been frequent and fascinating. I pay tribute to all those on that station who serve the nation's cause and, more locally to those who do their best to try to limit the
Column 687intrusion of their very noisy aircraft. It is not always easy for them, but they try not to annoy my constituents as much as they certainly would if they did not take so much trouble. Those people also maintain a good relationship with all our local organisations, which is helpful to all of us.
The collective decision of the Government not to rush in and change defence expenditure--for the time being, at any rate--and not to hold an immediate defence review is exceedingly wise and encouraging. I entirely agree with the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) about the need not to make any changes in the position of the Royal Navy. Within the lifetime of many, the western democracies have time and again been totally and absolutely wrong when the threat against them has appeared to fade.
I hope that the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) will dwell on the fact that the Labour party was no more wise than anyone else on this issue. I recall how, when I was a young man, the Labour party voted to a man against conscription only four months before Hitler invaded Poland. That was a sad day and, like other signals that had gone out from us, that was the wrong signal and Labour Members should be aware of that.
Mr. O'Neill : The hon. Gentleman is playing rather an old tune, and what he says is as true of the Conservative party as it is of the Labour party. His view of history is somewhat selective. No matter how distinguished was the hon. Gentleman's own record in the war, we do not need lessons from him about the inability of certain sections of the Labour party to anticipate the dangers of Fascism. After all, a much greater number of Conservatives actively supported and encouraged those forces in Europe at a time when most decent and reasonable people were saying that they should be stopped.
Mr. Boscawen : The hon. Gentleman should do me the credit of saying that his party was no wiser than any of us ; those were the words that I used. We had a long lecture--50 minutes of it--on this subject from the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington earlier this afternoon, and the Opposition should understand why some of us are rather sceptical of their claims to be any wiser today. And at what cost was that mistake made. I remind the House that it led to a tragedy that was beyond the comprehension of anyone when the decisions that brought it about were made.
We should be very careful about rushing in with talk of defence reviews. We must be more sure what the future will bring before we do that. We must also be sure that any changes that we make are not irreversible. The time scale for rebuilding modern defence organisations and weapons is so long that it would be quite impossible for countries to re-arm during an emergency. It took long enough during the last emergency and we only narrowly escaped a terrible defeat because of that. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement was absolutely right to dwell on the need to maintain the naval presence both inside and outside NATO.
Many of my constituents, from the chief executive of the Westland group downwards, are employed in that company on Ministry of Defence contracts. The future of
Column 688that company is necessarily of great importance to my constituents and to people elsewhere. When news is scarce, defence procurement is a fat and comfortable soft target for the hungry news vultures of the media ; and so, sadly, are Westland helicopters, although the company is now much more hungry and thinner.
When defence procurement is brought together with Westland, the media can have a really happy time. Sadly, that has happened recently. I am sorry to say that some damaging comments made by the Select Committee on defence have fuelled these comments in the media. Of course, I am concerned about the future of Westland.
I must protest about one conclusion in the report published by the Select Committee on Defence last week which refers to the "apparent" commitment only of Westland to the EH101 project. The Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), repeated earlier that the success of the project is far from assured, although he said that good progress is being made. I realise that the Select Committee's report was published six months after the evidence was taken--that is the nature of the Select Committee animal, and I believe that it is now 12 months since members of the Select Committee together visited Westland. It is too late for the Select Committee to suggest that the commitment of the work force is only "apparent" and it is too soon to say that success is far from assured".
The report also uses a very doubtful arithmetical device, which encourages headline fodder. The report stated that if the programme is amortised over the production of 50 helicopters, the MOD would have to foot a bill of some £40 million for each Merlin aircraft. It was a mistake for the Select Committee to fall into the trap of making that comment because such comments are bound to lead to messy headlines.
No programme involving such immense expenditure can exist on only 40 or 50 helicopters. If it is to be a success, there must be many more. The media have already used the figure of £40 million for each Merlin aircraft, and that figure will stick, but it has a very little meaning when one regards the number of helicopters that may be produced, especially when one considers that there will be a considerable civilian market that the company can attack. The £40 million figure is very misleading and I am sorry that the Select Committee chose to include it in its report.
I was lucky enough to visit Westland in the past few days and I have visited it several times previously. I saw the pre-production aircraft and discussed many aspects of Westland's current work including the Royal Navy's Merlin mission system integration. Irrespective of the Select Committee's comments, I believe that everyone, from the chief executive downwards--the management at all levels, and the work force at Westland--is a very great deal more than "apparently" committed. Those people have the greatest incentive of all because their jobs are on the line at Westland if they fail to get the production order. They are all well aware of that. The experience and capability of the staff are evident. The incentive is there, and they have developed a well-thought-through philosophy for developing the overall system integration. If such an approach had been present with Nimrod, we might have seen something come out of that terrible waste of money.
Column 689Westland is getting on extremely well with its Italian counterparts, which it regards as fine engineers and Westland is learning to integrate the two differing national philosophies very well. Westland is aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is taking a direct and concerned interest in ensuring that the country gets value for money from the project. The announcement last week of the competition for an overall prime competitor for the initial batch of 25 to 50 EH101 ASW aircraft from two bidders gives Westland the opportunity to go all out and strain itself to get that order. It needs encouragement from the House now and not intrusive knocking. The country needs the project to succeed and the Royal Navy cannot afford not to have an advanced replacement for the Sea King on time to match the new frigates and the new aircraft will be around long after all of us have been forgotten. My constituents, the Royal Navy and the country as a whole need the new aircraft to succeed. The commitment is there, and I wish the company well.
Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe) : I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the Minister and to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), who opened the debate for the Opposition, for not being present earlier. I was delayed for two hours by an engine failure.
I follow the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) with great pleasure. He was right to say that too many people in this country misjudged the security situation in the 1930s. The hon. Gentleman is aware of the personal cost, and I venture to suggest that no one is better placed than I to say on behalf of hon. Members on both sides of the House that we salute his brave and very distinguished contribution.
We will have listened with great sympathy to the comments of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome about Westland. We know how important it is that Westland comes through with the Merlin contract, succeeds in its joint venture with Agusta, and remains in business for the future security of this country.
I listened with great interest to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that he did not confine his comments to the Royal Navy. How can one possibly do that in this debate? This must be one occasion on which you permit hon. Members to stray a little from the topic of the debate.
We need to consider the Navy in the context of the recent spectacular developments in eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. How can we resist looking at the Navy in the longer term, and perhaps even at the other services in conjunction with the Navy, and at the overall defence and security picture without which any assessment of the Navy would be meaningless?
Atlantic communities on both sides of the ocean are engaged in an extraordinary intercontinental debate on what the historic changes that have taken place in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union imply not only for future East-West relations but for future West-West relations as well as for the Alliance force structure. As the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East reminded us, all our old assumptions about appropriate processes, modalities and frameworks for positive change in relations between
Column 690our great nations have been abolished by the magnitude and sheer pace of change on the continent of Europe. Let there be no mistake. Those historic developments will have fundamental implications for western security, and especially for naval forces.
Political change has begun to challenge the assumptions on which the defence requirements of NATO and the Warsaw pact are based. It has had a dramatic impact on the arms control dialogue in that, probably for the first time in recent history, arms control is arguably behind the political dialogue--not leading or defining it, as we have become used to. That will render arms control in the 1990s much more functional, more technomilitary and less political. Those who press for instant reductions in defence expenditure and radical changes in the armed forces assume that Europe will evolve into a collection of democratic states living peacefully together. Already there are signs in central and eastern Europe--where, incidentally, the origins of the last two world wars are to be found--as well as within the Soviet Union that the process is not likely to be straightforward. Therefore, it would be foolish to undermine NATO and the stability that the Alliance provides. Without that stability we shall have no security. After all, that is the objective that we all seek and which brings hon. Members together for this debate. We shall not get that stability until there is another security organisation to take the place of NATO. At present, the only possible forum in sight is the CSCE, the conference on security and co -operation in Europe, but that is surely a long way away. Some important questions confront us. First, how do we sustain an orderly process of arms reductions when people on both sides, including some of those who marched in Moscow last night, as well as many on our own side--on the side of the West--think that arms are no longer necessary? Secondly, what do we do about the security system that has worked so well in Europe now that the threat is diminishing?
If the careful work of the negotiators in Vienna is not to be undermined by a rush of unilateral and unverifiable gestures by both sides, CFE must be given time. I have been fortunate in my role as president of the North Atlantic assembly. Hon. Members from both sides of the House, notably the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), have accompanied me when we have been invited to Vienna for every single round of the arms negotiations briefings. I could not be more impressed by both sides.
We have an excellent team, led by Ambassador Michael Edes. Only last December, he reminded us of the broad conceptual convergence that has been arrived at, which, after only 22 weeks, he claimed was unprecedented. However, of the five categories that both sides are studying--tanks, artillery, armed personnel carriers, aircraft and helicopters, all involving not only reductions but, as many people tend to overlook, definitions and verification--we have a broad measure of agreement on only the first category. There is no want of good will on either side. If anything, there is more cohesion and more push on the side of the Warsaw pact. That takes nothing away from our side.
It is important that the House should know what the Ambassador Istvan Gyarmati, who leads the Hungarian delegation, had to say to us in December. He insisted that the CFE talks had not been overtaken by events, that even
Column 691if military alliances cease to exist, countries will still have military capabilities, and that the challenge of the CFE talks in Vienna is to construct a security system that will survive military alliances. It is in that climate that the teams representing both alliances are working purposefully and, despite limited progress, constructively.
There is no agreement about when the talks will conclude. Some think that it will be in the autumn of this year and some think that we may need to wait until next year. If we can get aircraft off the agenda we will get a great deal of agreement.
I repeat my plea. None of us must feel frustrated about what is going on in Vienna. We will give the CFE talks time. Above all, given the danger of recent announcements--I have in mind President Bush's state of the union speech and a further apparent plucking of numbers from somewhere--I hope that such announcements will not affect the negotiating strategy in Vienna and that the teams in Vienna will not allow themselves to be dictated to by political pressures. With the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and the hon. Member for Wealden, I was in Washington just eight or nine days ago. The three of us gave evidence to the Senate armed services committee, and he had a business meeting with the House of Representatives armed services committee. The deputy chairman of the House of Representatives committee said : "No drastic cuts will take place in defence in this year, certainly at a level of not more than three per cent. The United States will not rush into thoughtless cuts."
Another leading member of that committee said :
"There should be no precipitant seeking of a peace dividend in Europe.
The United States still expected to keep substantial forces in Europe."
He went on to state :
"United States public opinion will not wish to keep adequate forces in Europe when they see their European allies seeking the peace dividend.
President Bush came up with another set of figures, from where I do not know. Certainly the pressure does not seem to come from Sam Nunn or the deputy chairman of the House of Representatives committee, Mr. Bennett, or his senior colleague, Mr. Bateman. Therefore, there is a need to be aware of the danger of a scramble for unilateral advantage that does not seem to be confined to Belgium or Holland. We must watch for political pressures even in unsuspected places. We understand the temptation to cash the peace dividend now.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for the Soviet Union and other countries in eastern Europe that they can cash some peace dividends to get a considerable movement of their resources away from war effort into peaceful effort? If they are to do that, surely it is logical for many people in the United Kingdom and the United States also to expect a peace dividend.
Mr. Duffy : First, it is more important to sustain the stability of the present security system. Secondly, I hope that my hon. Friend, as someone who is conversant with good trade union procedures, will value good, honest negotiations. I went into detail about the value of the present Vienna negotiations. I share my hon. Friend's anxiety--as all hon. Members do--but let agreement come about on the surest possible basis. I was arguing against
Column 692political pressures in, perhaps, unsuspected places. I understand the anxiety to cash in the peace dividend now. Even without a strategic review, it is apparent that there are serious implications, even at the moment, for reinforcement, especially sea reinforcement, and therefore for the future role of the Royal Navy.
About 75 per cent. of all Warsaw pact equipment is moved by rail, whereas 90 per cent. of NATO's equipment relies on sea
transportation. If there is to be any unplugging of units--as SACEUR reminds us whenever he has the chance, and did so at the Royal United Services Institute in London last May--Soviet divisions could readily be replugged while American divisions that were withdrawn could only return to the United States, from where replugging would prove much more difficult.
Both the Army and the Royal Air Force must radically rethink their roles for the 1990s and adapt to a position in which their standing regular forces must be significantly reduced. The Navy should have less of a problem. Yet, instead of feeling free to raise new and urgent questions about the post-cold war Royal Navy--as the hon. Member for Fife, North-East did--we are still obliged to pursue time-worn questions about the numbers and readiness of the surface fleet, such as whether there is to be any improvement in the ordering pattern ; whether type 23s will still lack a command system, as the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) reminded the House ; when the Navy can expect to receive the Merlin, the anti- submarine version of the EH101 ; when the Minister expects the type 23s to be armed with that kit ; why the Ministry has pulled out of the advanced sea mine collaboration project as well as the NFR90 programme ; and what assessment the Ministry has made of the impact on the credibility of the United Kingdom as a consistent and reliable partner.
That question was discussed during the annual defence debate last October. Unfortunately, I could not be present on that occasion as I was out of the country on North Atlantic Assembly business. However, I read the report of the debate and I know what the Minister said in defence of the cancellation of the advanced sea mine collaboration project. The Minister for the Armed Forces is present today. One of his colleagues present during that debate raised the question of the credibility of the United Kingdom as a consistent and reliable partner in such collaborative projects. That question was raised again in Washington nine days ago in my presence and that of other hon. Members.
There should be a progress report on the mine counter-measures vessels programme. What is to be done about morale and retention? Given the present developments in central Europe, there will be a challenge to preserve the high quality and motivation of the services at a time when they must be increasingly asking why they are there and what is their future.
Developments in eastern Europe and the decline of the Soviet threat clearly point to a return of the Royal Navy's primacy. That must eventually mean a different sort of fleet. It means the return of a blue water fleet with real aircraft carriers, capable of shipping fixed-wing aircraft, as well as a new force of amphibious landing vessels, aviation support ships and the correct type of helicopters, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said. In short, it is not just a new role for the Navy ; we must think about a new sort of Navy. I cannot help but repeat my question on amphibious capability : when does the Ministry expect to
Column 693complete the feasibility study? When does it expect to place orders for aviation support ships to accompany the Intrepid and the Fearless or their replacements?
When the Government came to power in 1979--I am touching on retention and morale--they made great play of getting forces' pay right. I had to endure taunts in the early 1980s about that, but I knew that the Labour party had started the process. Lord Bramall has reminded the other place that it was Lord Mulley who started the process. I am glad to say that I was party to it. In that process we felt that we had to give much greater weight than we had hitherto to the X factor, which was meant to compensate for the exigencies of the life of the service man and to bring service men comparability plus. As the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Bramall, said in the House of Lords debate on the Defence White Paper :
"The X factor now means relatively nothing. Allowances have been whittled away in a number of areas. It has greatly decreased the incentive to serve and face the rigours of military life, such as living for up to three months under water in a nuclear submarine."--[ Official Report, House of Lords, 13 July 1989 ; Vol. 510, c. 462.] Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. It is not the custom to quote from the record of the other place, except when quoting a Minister.
We must base our defence on the concrete rather than the intangible, in response to capabilities rather than intentions. The hon. Member for Sommerton and Frome posed many questions that need to be answered before we can undertake a conclusive defence review. Some of the answers will be made available to us in Vienna, where, as I have been very glad to assure the House, political change and military initiatives are in the process of being translated into coherent arms control treaties.
Whatever happens to NATO and the Warsaw pact under the impact of political change in eastern Europe, we have an overriding interest in maintaining both alliances as mechanisms for controlled, verifiable disarmament, both nuclear and conventional. In the CFE talks, NATO and the Warsaw pact possess the forum, as well as the machinery, to arrange a new compact of Europe that would meet the Soviet Union's legitimate concern for security, would find a basis for the continued presence of United States forces in western Europe, and would fix the strength of a reunified Germany at a level acceptance to all its neighbours. In my view, NATO has a significant role to play in the future. Whether the Warsaw treaty organisation can also play a useful role in bolstering stability depends largely on whether it can completely reorientate its historical legacy towards being a grouping of democratic nations. I hope very much that it will succeed. For NATO, however, the real issue today is not whether the Alliance has a future but how its future should be defined. Details need to be filled in, but the alliance is on the right path--elaborating a political relationship with the countries of the Warsaw treaty organisation aimed at normalisation across a broad spectrum ; strengthening
Column 694Atlantic political co-operation ; and exploring every avenue towards a just accommodation of the German question in which all parties will perceive an element of gain.
Writing in 1968, Henry Kissinger cautioned :
"turning NATO into an instrument of detente might reduce its security contribution without achieving a relaxation of tension." Despite periods of severe testing, our Alliance has come through. The Harmel principles have prevailed, and the Alliance has withstood the test of time. A new and ambitious phase for NATO lies ahead. 7.2 pm
Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester) : I shal seek to put the case for a defence review and a much-enhanced role for the reserve forces. In doing so, I follow the line of argument presented by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy). I detect in today's debate--in contributions from hon. Members on both sides, including the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell)--greatly widened consensus. Here I refer to the response of hon. Members to recent events and the role of our armed forces. Indeed, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Attercliffe, a former Navy Minister who knows more than a little about out-of-area naval activities and their importance.
I do not believe that, in paying this tribute, I am being in any way incompatible with the Government's defence posture or ignoring the necessity, at least for the time being, to maintain a strong defence posture and not to change either our deployment or our strategy. But in the light of the momentous events in central and eastern Europe, and of the reductions in conventional force and personnel levels by both the Warsaw pact countries and the United States, we cannot pretend that nothing has happened and go into the next century with that posture.
Sooner or later, a review of some kind will be necessary, and I believe that the start of such a review should not be put off for long. It will take time, but, of course, any shift in our procurement policy or any change in the numbers or deployment of personnel in the armed forces necessarily takes a long time. We should not be fearful about embarking on such a review.
I say this as somebody who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen), bears a distinguished naval name. I say it also as somebody who, in his maiden speech in the House, and in successive debates over the years, has argued for a strong defence posture and more real expenditure on our defences. In my support for strong, well-equipped and well-deployed forces, I defer to no hon. Member. I still believe in, and will maintain my firm support for, our nuclear capability and the minimal level that we have, and must retain, in terms of a nuclear shield.
That, of course, may be a more contentious subject. But next year we will spend more than £21 billion on defence, and will have nearly a third of a million armed service men, and we cannot afford to look upon the momentous events that have taken place--the freedom revolution that has swept through Europe to the Urals, and possibly beyond--without beginning to respond to them. Some of the talk about turning tanks into tractors has been derided. There is a danger that some past postures, some of our strategies and policies, may box us in and make us less willing to
Column 695regard this process of change as an exciting opportunity for all our peoples and as an opportunity to reorientate our defences for a new century and for a new task.
There are two lessons to be drawn from our recent experience. The first is that political initiative succeeds where, very often, arms dialogue fails. If we look at what Mr. Gorbachev has proposed and has brought about already and at what President Bush has announced, we see what executive political decisions can achieve in a short time and, sadly, how little many of the worthy arms dialogues over a long period have achieved. The INF treaty may be an exception, but even that was instigated partly by the political decision to deploy cruise missiles in Europe.
The second lesson that I draw from recent events is that partitions, so easily set up in history to buy peace for a time, to resolve disputes and stop bloodshed, inevitably and invariably crumble. When we look at Vietnam or Korea or Germany or elsewhere, we see that partitions remain a source not just of obvious division but of antagonism, and a wound that continues to weep over the years. I believe that, for the future, we should use the opportunity of the crumbling wall to try to reorientate the defence policies of western Europe, and not look at the situation purely from a nationalist point of view.
Any assessment of threat must take into account not only the equipment and the manpower of a possible enemy, but the credibility element : whether a potential enemy is prepared to use that capability. We must all agree that, while, for the time being, events in central and eastern Europe are uncertain, there is very little doubt that there is no political backing for any great military adventurism by the Warsaw pact.
I venture to suggest that, even if there were political consensus for such a move, there are no political mechanisms that could support it. Indeed, the command structure of the Warsaw pact must be exceedingly tenuous at the present time. I do not believe that our defence policy should be orientated in a fixed manner--as were the guns of Singapore, by being pointed in one direction--when, in the event, the threat comes from a quite different direction. Peace has broken out in central and eastern Europe, and, happily, peace appears to be breaking out in other parts of the world, such as the Gulf. There are encouraging signs in South Africa and there is a new dialogue with Argentina. We should not let those events lull us into hasty decisions about a reduction in conventional or nuclear forces unilaterally or in NATO. However, we cannot ignore them when making expensive procurement decisions at the taxpayer's expense in the next year and two years. Some of those decisions have been referred to during the debate--we cannot look back, but must look forward.
That may be a truism, but--to give one example--whither the role of battlefield tanks in the next couple of decades? They are enormously expensive and the decision will be highly political. Such major decisions will affect the ordnance factories and have employment implications, but, as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East said, there is nothing intrinsically good about defence expenditure or defence capability. We must consider the necessity for that and whether we need it to deter aggression and secure freedom and liberty.
Column 696The future threat to be assessed should not only be on the central front. It has inevitable implications for our commitment to the northern and southern NATO flanks. A major part of our commitment, apart from the maritime commitment, has been to northern Norway, essentially an airfield-denial strategy of rapid reinforcement and specialist capability in the Arctic area to deny a major cross-country push from the Kola peninsula. We have had an important naval commitment to guard and patrol the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom gap, and to provide the air support that goes with it. However, the position is changing. It is almost inevitable, not just because President Gorbachev has announced it, but because of economic and political pressures, that the Soviet naval and maritime fleet will have to be reduced. He has a people to feed. Whether he has a wider democracy or maintains the pre-eminence of the Communist party in that country, he must find the money to feed a hungry people, whose aspirations have been raised by rapid political change. It will be exceedingly difficult, and even more so as the country becomes democratised, for him to justify the diversion of funds on a massive scale towards the new generation of surface and submarine weaponry which was so ordered in the defence programme of the Brezhnev years.
For the future, we should look to different priorities, not the central, northern and southern European flanks. First, we should look primarily to defence of the United Kingdom home base. Secondly, we must play our part, in NATO for the time being, in the move towards common European security. Like others who have spoken in the debate, I believe that we must orientate our defences much more towards the protection of our training routes and to areas where we may perceive a need for political intervention either individually or in conjunction with other states. We must also ensure the continued defence of our dependencies.
Therefore, there is a case for a defence review in the future. I have no divine wisdom on this issue, but a professional view together with the judgment of our Select Committees, should determine our future strategy. There is a case for a rapid reinforcement capability and recreating what we destroyed in 1976--Transport Command. There is a case for buying some of those transport aircraft which the Americans are disposing of as they take their troops back to the United States. There is a case for bringing our war stocks--which have been up front and have been increased--back into the United Kingdom. Those are specific, important decisions which we should begin to look at ; we should not carry on as if nothing had happened.
There should be nothing sacrosanct about the level of ship commitments. I understand the sensitivity of that subject and the importance that many of my constituents in Chichester attach to it. Many of them have strong naval backgrounds. However, the nature of the threat has changed and the needs of the future will be quite different.
For these reasons there is a case for considering whether our reserve forces should begin to play a much more enhanced role in our defence strategy. I pay tribute, and I am sure that the House will join me in doing so, to the outstanding commitment of our reserve forces over the years. If at some stage there is a case for cutting the regulars, in the way that the United States, the Soviet Union, Warsaw pact and other countries are doing, there will then be a strong case for building up the reserves.