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Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) : I shall pursue a different tack, but I shall have no doubt about casting my vote against the Opposition's amendment tomorrow night. I do not go along with the idea of decommissioning nuclear weapons, or of dissolving NATO, or of closing United States bases in the foreseeable future.
Column 742The speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) and by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) could hardly have contrasted more markedly--and I know in whose guidance I would place my trust. If the right hon. Member for Chesterfield honestly believes that the Japanese do not have a defence budget, he is sadly misinformed. They have the third highest defence budget in the world because they have such a high gross national product. So it is sheer illusion to suppose that Japan is a fine example of what the right hon. Gentleman was preaching. As ever, he is the master of the one-sided conspiracy.
Mr. Benn : I do not think it a conspiracy point to say that the Japanese spend a far lower percentage of GDP on defence than we do. I was not talking about absolutes ; the Japanese have a bigger national income. Although this is not a debate about statistics, I believe that they spend far less--about a third as much as we do--on defence.
I start from the point of view of a Member of Parliament who represents 12 military bases and all three services. I also have the honour to represent thousands of scientific and industrial civil servants. In the 70 or so villages around Salisbury that I represent there are people who have lived with the military for almost 90 years and who have profited much from the relationship with it. It is my overriding wish that any defence policy should have a close and constructive relationship with the villages, communities and people who work in the industry, and that that relationship should continue and prosper.
Times have changed rapidly, in terms not only of the great international issues but of the way in which Governments operate. They have become much more open. Civilians' expectations have also increased enormously. They expect much more consultation on and knowledge about military affairs, and that is entirely good. In my community we have had a sad chapter in the shape of the development over the years of the training village in Salisbury plain--the so-called FIBUA, or fighting in built-up areas. That marked what I hope was a watershed--it is now water under the bridge--in respect of the lack of consultation and the creation of mistrust between the military and civilian communities in the area. FIBUA is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Sir D. Walters), and I am grateful to him for allowing me to drop in on FIBUA a week ago to see it in operation. It is undoubtedly NATO's foremost and best training facility for that purpose and I observed a Territorial Army regiment in training. In view of all the changes that are taking place in Europe, it will become a more important facility in future. The people in those areas must expect a level of co-operation and consultation with the Ministry of Defence that they have not always enjoyed in the past.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : I have some knowledge of the areas about which the hon. Gentleman speaks because my parents lived in that area before they died. Is he aware that many people throughout Wiltshire are concerned about cruise missiles being taken around that county? Those people join many of the protests and demonstrations against the missiles. They were worried
Column 743about the number of telephone lines that were cut while cruise missiles were being transported and about the loss of civil liberties and rights during cruise missile exercises.
Mr. Key : I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The fact that the people there elected me to this House gives the lie to his argument. The local branch of the CND now depends almost entirely on activists bussed in from Southampton and other cities. That is because most members of the CND in Salisbury have defected to the Green party. I disagree with the Ramblers Association, which recently published its land grab theory about the Ministry of Defence. I have good relations with the local Ramblers Association. We have heard that the Ramblers Association nationally is concerned about public access in areas such as Salisbury plain and Dartmoor. Any Rambler who wants to walk across the live firing areas of Salisbury plain must be barmy. It was entirely for the protection of people that the Ministry of Defence went to substantial lengths to open an alternative series of footpaths, expecially along the northern end of the plain, to enhance access to the plain. Access by large numbers of people to areas such as that would not enhance the environmental quality of the land- -quite the reverse.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about training areas. The Salisbury plain training area covers 93,000 acres, which is about the size of the Isle of Wight. About 60,000 acres of it are let for farmland, either under schedule 1 by which the land is farmed out and if the military damages crops the farmers are compensated, or under schedule 3, which means that about 50 grazing or grass cutting licences are issued for the plain. That is a significant contribution and gives the lie to the idea that the Ministry of Defence area is a no-go area for everybody at all times.
The Ministry of Defence, through the management of the defence land agent, has 6,300 acres of woodland on Salisbury plain, most of which is broadleaf. In the last 30 years the Ministry has planted 3.5 million trees on the plain. Co-existing with the military training area are 1,700 ancient monuments which are cared for by the Ministry of Defence in co-operation with the Wessex Trust for Archaeology and other bodies. I congratulate the Ministry on constructing that relationship which gives enhanced access to much of the plain for many people who are genuinely interested in it.
All our local squabbles must be placed in a national and international context. The Government must take account of events in eastern Europe. I welcomed the speech on5 June by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces in which he outlined some of the options for change. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is right to stress the need for stability from the Urals to the Atlantic and to stand firm about the need for the continuation of NATO. I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is at one with the Prime Minister on that and that the Government will take a firm stance on Britain's defence.
A peace dividend sounds beguiling to us all, but it should be modest, gradual and well-planned in international interests and in the interests of my constituents. Any service man who is surplus to military requirements deserves far better than a place in the dole
Column 744queue alongside a former civilian employee of the Ministry of Defence who has been made redundant in return for the so -called peace dividend.
In recent years the civilian work force in the Ministry of Defence has had to be extremely adaptable. It has faced contractorisation and many defence reviews, especially in the context of the aeroplane and armament experimental establishment at Boscombe Down. That work force has had about 14 reviews of its future in the past 11 years or so ; we urgently await the outcome of the latest review. Many hundreds of families are in suspense over their future careers and jobs. The military machine could not operate without its civilian work force. Loyalty is at a premium, especially when war is declared. We need to think back only a few years to the civilian effort that went into the Falklands war. That old-fashioned loyalty could be taken for granted, but we would do so at our peril in terms of morale, efficiency, recruitment, training and skill. Many of my constituents who work for the Ministry of Defence receive low pay for the jobs that they do. Many of them are highly skilled and could rush off to Heathrow airport and service jumbo jets, but they stick with the Ministry of Defence and service fighter planes.
One of the problems for such people is the high cost of housing in that part of Wiltshire. There is great pressure on Salisbury district council and on many councils throughout the country which are the enabling authorities for housing. The council stock is diminishing, not least because of the success of the right-to-buy policy, and in many districts associated with military areas some 90 per cent. of new council tenancies are being allocated to people under legislation on homelessness. That means that only 10 per cent. of houses go to people on the waiting list and ordinary, decent, married folk in my constituency are for ever going to the end of the queue.
The number of Army families requiring accommodation as a result of homelessness in my area has increased from about 30 in 1985 to about 80 in 1989, and the problem is accelerating. Currently, about 20 service families are threatened with homelessness for various reasons and are awaiting the allocation of council houses. Of those, a quarter are two-parent families and three quarters are separated wives and children. My noble Friend Lord Arran has agreed the figures, but has said that each case must be considered individually. That will not do. The Government must have another look at the housing of our military personnel and at what happens to people when they leave the services.
First, we need an urgent review of the impact of homeless military families on the civilian community. Secondly, we must urgently consider the need for some sort of forces house purchase scheme. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is present because he has done a great deal in this respect. I will gladly do my best to persuade the Treasury to support the Ministry of Defence on this issue. The problem is exacerbated by ex-service families who are accepted into council housing as homeless. Of course, they have the right to buy on full discount after just two years, and that diminishes the rented housing sector even more. Thirdly, we should have an assessment of the impact on local communities of all local government services, including housing, social services and education. We must look carefully at the redeployment at home of troops and their
Column 745families from abroad. They will be welcome in the Salisbury area, as they would be in any military area, but we must ensure that there is proper planning for them.
Let me now deal with security. There is a double threat in southern England, first from IRA terrorists and more recently from animal rights terrorists. A balance must always be struck between the integration of defence and civilian families and the behind-the-wire security which may be an alternative. There is a balance for the families of service men between a relatively normal life on open camps and Fort Knox measures. The effects on recruitment and retention can be serious. Already soldiers are on guard duty at least one day a week. Of course there is no substitute for an armed and trained soldier on guard duty, but there are alternative measures. A massive sum has been spent on fencing, which is important, and I think that that expenditure should be increased. I hope that fencing will not become a victim of the temporary ban on new commitments that we heard about in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
There is controversy about private contract guards. I read the report of the Select Committee on Defence on the issue and I asked about the impact made by security guards. It is clear to me that the effectiveness of private contract guards depends on their training and supervision. Such guards can be extremely effective, but so much depends on better training and supervision.
I am worried that we have too many different police forces involved in security and the military. In my constituency there is the Wiltshire constabulary, the Ministry of Defence police, the military police in all three services, the British Transport police liaising with British Rail and travel arrangements, the Atomic Energy Authority police, who are sometimes involved, and the Ministry of Defence patrolmen, who have no constabulary power and are answerable to the commanding officers of their units. If we are not careful, we may find ourselves faced with order, counter order and disorder. That we would all wish to avoid. I hope that due consideration will be given to the proper co-ordination of police services to the military.
Much is said about wrongdoing in the name of animal rights. In my constituency is the Chemical Defence Establishment, where only 10 days ago one of my constituents was the subject of attempted murder. She is a veterinary scientist. Animal rights activists are not so much lovers of animals but haters of their fellow men, women and children. It is a great irony that veterinary surgeons are at the forefront of those working towards the limitation of animal experiments or their complete replacement. Apparently, that is irrelevant to some evil individuals to whom murder of men, women and children is acceptable in pursuit of their ill-defined cause. That makes them terrorists. They should be given no sympathy, aid or succour by anyone inside or outside the House.
The CDE is a remarkable and much misunderstood organisation. About 600 of my constituents work there. They all have families in the community which I represent. They protect British and allied service men and women from chemical and biological agents. Britain has led the world in abandoning all offensive chemical and biological weapons. Without the work of the Porton Down establishment, we could not give technical support to the
Column 746United Kingdom negotiators at the conference on disarmament at Geneva. We must achieve comprehensive and verifiable global bans on chemical weapons.
At Porton Down we have developed portable detectors and alarms, including a system for ships. The establishment has developed the most advanced respirator and mask in the world. It has developed the NBC suit, with anti- gas fabric and activated charcoal, which is now in service throughout the world. It has developed decontamination systems, methods of treating nerve agent casualties and a range of vaccines and antibiotics.
The civilian arm of Porton Down, in working within the CDE, not to mention the other arm, the centre for applied microbiology and research of the public health laboratory service, plays a major role in the detection of atmospheric pollution, in guarding against industrial and agricultural hazards and in developing methods of countering those problems. The CDE scientists lecture worldwide and publish in the open scientific literature of the world.
I must declare an interest as a member of the Medical Research Council. I feel strongly that the medical research community must be in no doubt that we in this place, like most right-thinking people, support the work that it is doing. There are many moral arguments in favour of what it is doing. Animal experimentation requires justification in terms of significant human gains. In the 19th century much legislation passed through the House that was designed to prevent cruelty to animals. It was enacted only because it was supposed that there was as a result a brutalising effect on human beings. That legislation was not placed on the statute book out of consideration for animals.
Why do animals need protecting today? First, there is the pain argument. Animals are conscious and feel pain. Pain is bad whether it is in animals or humans. That is the utilitarian argument. Pain can be justified when balancing individual harm against social good, but even such a utilitarian argument acknowledges that if there is benefit to humans of the sort that is produced in cosmetic experiments, which is regarded as trivial by most people, it is hard to justify the use of animals.
There is also the international dimension. It would be a cop-out to wash our hands of animal experiments only to see testing shipped across the world to other less scrupulous countries. There must be international action.
Secondly, there is the animal rights argument. If we allow animals to be experimented on in a way which we would not extend to humans, we could be accused of speciesism. That leads to deep philosophical waters in considering animal rights, the nature of them and whether animals properly possess rights. Most people would say that rights can be enjoyed only by autonomous individuals and that animals are thereby excluded. However, most humans have an intuitive feeling that not just anything can be done to animals and that they merit protection. That is the code that has been developed by hunters down the ages and throughout the world in many different cultures. Neither the argument of pain nor that of rights precludes experimentation, but neither argument licenses just any experiment for any purpose. That is why we must consider method and purpose.
Column 747about experimentation on animals at Porton Down was the use of live animals to assess the impact of high-velocity bullets. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that sort of experimentation is thoroughly unacceptable?
Mr. Key : No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. In representing my constituency, I have to give these matters careful thought. I must balance in my mind the arguments in favour and those against. In the example that the hon. Gentleman has presented, I came to the conclusion that the evidence of the benefits to mankind was enormous. Scores of lives have been saved in Northern Ireland as a result of the experiments which have been carried out at Porton Down. Scores of lives on the Falklands were saved because of that work. I return to my point that we cannot do any experiment in any way. That is why the House enacted the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which laid down specific requirements. In determining methods we have to decide what constitutes paining and harm to animals, whether there are options and whether the experimenters are sufficiently skilled to reduce suffering to a minimum. We must then consider the purpose.
We can dismiss the allegation that no animal experiment ever has or ever will benefit mankind, but some benefits are too trivial to justify animal suffering. I think that we all agree about that. The possibilities of saving human life, eradicating disease and developing new surgical techniques are strong considerations in favour of undertaking research on animals. At Porton Down, to which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has referred, I believe that those criteria are met.
We must remember above all that defence is a partnership. It is a partnership with the NATO community. It is a partnership with service men and women and their families. It is a partnership with the civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence. Above all, it is a partnership with the constituents of each and every one of us. Let us never forget that it is they and our way of life that we are defending.
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : The euphoria that has emanated from the events in eastern Europe has touched each one of us, and the apparent lessening of the threat of nuclear war in Europe is welcome. However, that euphoria must be tempered by common sense. Few dispute that the role of NATO has been paramount in maintaining peace in Europe during the past 45 years and that its deterrent effect has enabled us to arrive where we are today, in this period of hope and opportunity. That is not to question or detract from the significant part that Mr. Gorbachev played in making things happen now--but one would not have happened without the other. For that reason, we must continue to exercise caution. In other words, now is the time not for revolution but for the constructive evolution of our military strategy over the next 45 years and beyond. It is irresponsible to speak of wasteful, unnecessary or unacceptable burdens when addressing the question of military spending. In an ideal world, one might be able to do so, but the lessening of conflict between the two major power blocs does not necessarily herald peace and stability worldwide. The implication that the USSR and its Warsaw pact allies were the only threat to stability is foolish and irresponsible.
Column 748As the events of the past week have shown, eastern Europe has a long and hard road to travel on the way to full social and political reform. In both the USSR and its former satellites, there remain significant elements who seek to reverse the process of democratisation. Any sign of wavering on the part of the United Kingdom or of NATO could give those factions the impetus to oust Gorbachev and other reformers. In their terms, such a reaction can be justified. They fear, perhaps as we should, that the ingredients exist that could yet lead to chaos in eastern Europe. They exist in the growth of narrow nationalism, which is the inevitable consequence of years of oppressive, centralised government, and from the opportunities presented by the changes that have taken place. We know the evils of narrow nationalism.
The European Community and NATO may have to confront at least one decade of new stresses from eastern Europe. The presence of a powerful and stable alliance of democracies, such as is enshrined in NATO, is more likely to encourage and sustain the movement to democracy in eastern Europe than to hinder it.
The potential for short-term turmoil in eastern Europe, together with the prospect of upheaval in southern Russia--and the growth there of Muslim fundamentalism--could destabilise further the already volatile situation in the middle east. The idea that Britain can somehow abrogate its responsibilities to world peace simply because the Warsaw pact has disintegrated is narrow-minded and confused. The notion that we can disregard the need for nuclear deterrence is also ludicrous, particularly when one realises that a number of countries having particularly unstable leaders possess the know-how to construct a nuclear bomb. The potential to employ and use nuclear weaponry must be deterred, as it has been for the past 45 years, by making it plain that aggression can expect to be met by comparable retribution.
However, in urging caution in terms of changes, I do not mean to imply that they cannot or should not occur. Rather, I urge that all changes be strictly in line with the needs of our military forces, with the role that we expect them to fulfil in a conventional NATO sense, and with the increasingly significant role that they must play in the fight against international terrorism--apart from the out-of-theatre peacekeeping duties that they will no doubt be expected to undertake from time to time.
The ever-widening gap in our defences is the size, strength and age of our surface fleet. I might have been encouraged by the Secretary of State's remarks about the Navy were it not for the fact that, year after year, our surface fighting ships grow more outdated. We are not building replacements for them quickly enough. Add to that the virtual disappearance of our merchant fleet and it must be acknowledged that, in an emergency, Britain would not have the capacity to move her troops and heavy equipment. How can the Secretary of State talk about flexibility and versatility in such a situation?
Is not now the time to examine the rate at which we replace obsolete ships and how we can provide an incentive for the merchant fleet? There is no easy answer when vast financial resources are involved, but decisions must be based on the most urgent and likely needs of our forces over the next decade.
I always feel proud when I hear a compliment being paid to our forces for the work that they do in Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to those indigenous forces which, year after year after year, have borne the brunt of
Column 749terrorist attacks. Here at home, one asks why, after 45 years of anti-terrorist experience--20 in Northern Ireland, but this country had experience of anti-terrorism long before Northern Ireland--are our forces still constrained by inadequate and outmoded resources? For example, we literally kill our own troops by forcing them to travel around their tactical areas of operational responsibility in armoured Land-Rovers--veritable deathtraps against the sophisticated and well-equipped terrorists whom they are fighting.
Adequate helicopter support is imperative in Northern Ireland. I have tried to put over that message in the House for the past seven years, but without success. Helicopters, with their greater flexibility and dramatically faster response times, are a necessity in anti-terrorist operations. That issue must be addressed now. The potential of slow-flying, low-flying, low- cost, fixed-wing aircraft in photography and surveillance is not realised to anything like its true potential. I wonder why few are being used in Northern Ireland today. Why has there been no utilisation of low-cost remotely piloted vehicles in reconnaissance work? Used in conjunction with conventional patrolling, the potential for RPVs is exciting and can be life -saving. The more imaginative use of computers, to allow information to be collected, interpreted and disseminated to standard formats, would give our forces an advantage that they are currently denied. They have literally been left behind. They should be equipped with new generation computers capable of more than just churning out vehicle registration numbers.
Those are some of the points that I would have liked the Secretary of State to address. They are practical points that affect the day-to-day lives of those in our security forces. Ours is a peacekeeping Army of men and women doing a real job. They stand between us and the aggressors--between those who believe in democracy and the right of nations to self-determination, and those who would exploit and enslave.
Fortunately, we live in a more peaceful world than did our fathers and their fathers. If we are to improve on that for our children, we have to defend peace where it presently rules and work to create peace where strife presently exists.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling) : It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), and on this occasion it is a pleasure to echo the eloquent tribute that he paid to the security forces in Northern Ireland.
I am amazed that there is such a sparse attendance for such an extremely important debate. There have been some vintage speeches from both sides of the political divide and some most impressive comments. At this moment in our history and in the parliamentary cycle it is amazing that defence does not attract more comment and debate.
I found a number of the speeches tonight moving and interesting. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) made a most moving speech--and who can ignore the historical perspective which he brought to the debate? The right hon.
Column 750Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) made a speech which most Conservative Members agreed with, although that agreement was not echoed across the political divide.
The debate comes at a time of tremendous opportunity for my generation and for the older generation of right hon. and hon. Members. An extraordinary change has taken place since we last debated defence estimates, and it is now hard, if not impossible, to see the Soviet threat in the same light that past generations saw it or to imagine a Soviet attack across the central plain of Europe. Perhaps we cannot yet see swords turned into ploughshares, but we can see a new and different European order. The debate tonight is part of that opportunity for my generation.
The Government's strategy in exploring options for change is absolutely right. I understand the anxiety of people in the armed services who wish to know where they stand. Many highly-skilled soldiers, sailors and airmen, who have decided to devote the best years of their lives to defending their country, want to know what will result from current uncertainties for them, for their families and for their careers. I understand their anxieties, and all hon. Members accept that we owe a tremendous duty to them and to their families. However, we must now have a period of vigorous debate on the options for action in defence of our country in the light of the changed circumstances that we now face.
Those hon. Members who are familiar with the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) on this issue and have followed them, rather opaquely, in the press during recent months will be listening with great interest to his comments when he replies to the debate tonight. If what has been said in the press is true--though it would be most unwise to believe what one reads in the papers--many people will support the points that he makes. I hope that this period of vigorous debate will continue until we know what range of options is available, and can make sensible decisions based on our country's needs.
Another matter, which is not inevitably party political but is nevertheless important, is the fact that the British people trust this Government--who have never shirked difficult decisions on defence--to find the right response to our changed circumstances. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said that defence costs us £400 a year per person. Many people would regard that as a good premium on this insurance policy. However, if he meant that there is now an opportunity to translate some of that funding into social services, education or health, no hon. Member would disagree. The Government can be trusted to consider the issues seriously and to decide what is the best way to proceed. Two irrefutable aspects must be considered when the Government survey the matter. The first is the basic need for NATO and for Germany to remain within it. We derive great advantage from the American commitment to NATO and any move to decouple that would be extremely dangerous and unwise. We also benefit enormously from the integrated command structure that NATO provides. That may allow us to play a wider role through NATO than the role we have enjoyed so far.
The second aspect is the importance of our nuclear deterrent, and the Government and some Opposition Members have made a clear commitment to that tonight. In a dangerous world that insurance policy cannot be changed. I fully support the Secretary of State, who said that we intend to continue and put in place not only the
Column 751Trident programme but sub-strategic nuclear weapons, which are critically important to the seamless web of defence.
Since I completed my brief but enjoyable military service in the United Nations forces in Cyprus in 1975, it has always seemed to me that there is a greater role for the United Nations, and that the work done by UN forces has been consistently underestimated. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to see that a tribute is paid in the Statement on the Defence Estimates to the efforts of the United Nations in Namibia and Cyprus, and to its valuable work in Pakistan recently. In the light of changing circum- stances, there will be opportunities for UN forces to play a wider role. I welcome the emphasis in the estimates on the implementation of the CFE talks in Vienna, and on the control of chemical weapons, especially the common approach to the proliferation of such weapons and to proceeding with the complex and difficult work of verification. I hope that when the next White Paper is published substantial progress will have been made in both those areas. A number of other strands are important when considering options for change. The first, and most important, is that we have to accept that the British Army of the Rhine is no longer the central engine of national defence. It is difficult to change procurement policies overnight, and it would be unwise to do so, but we must be conscious of what one might call the haemorrhage of ordinance : we continue to pump out the same hardware and military kit which has been the perceived requirement for NATO in Europe for a generation. It may not be needed in the future. When we look back in a year or two that money may be seen as a wasted investment. We should welcome the temporary bar outlined by the Secretary of State in his speech, but we should also be conscious of the significant changes taking place. The second strand that we must consider is the importance of effective mobile forces, whether they are airborne or amphibious, which has been a common theme in the debate. The right hon. Member for Dudley, East mentioned the importance of the Marines and the Parachute regiment to mobility. We must recognise the tremendous change that has taken place, and the importance of the mobility and effectiveness of our forces, and consider a training and career structure which is relevant to that.
Mr. Wilkinson : I have paid great attention to my hon. Friend's interesting and constructive speech. Does he include the brigade of Gurkhas within the mobile forces? Does he consider that it is important to retain a role for the Gurkhas beyond 1997?
Mr. Mitchell : I have no doubt that my hon. Friend is right about the role of the Gurkhas, although it would be imprudent of me to speculate on their future role in isolation from other changes that may be made.
We must recognise that much greater costs may be associated with developing our mobile forces than hitherto. Such costs are part of the restructuring that will result.
It has not been clear from the statements to the press from service chiefs that the dangers of salami slicing the armed forces have always been readily conceded. If such cuts were made at any level in our defences to reduce
Column 752expenditure, that would be an absolute disaster and a great danger to morale in the armed forces. The smaller national armed forces of NATO must be a spur to specialisation. We must have a closer integration of weaponry and command structure within NATO. I hope that any future changes act as a spur to that.
It is also important to consider the role of the Territorial Army and that of the Navy and Air Force Reserves. One of the critical aspects to consider is that the lead time for reinforcing Europe is perceived by strategists to be very different from what it was a year ago. It is important that the role of the Territorial Army is greatly enhanced, as it has an important part to play as a reserve force and as part of a rapid reinforcement within Europe.
There is no reason why we should not now encourage our young people more actively than in the past to spend some time with the Territorial Army--the Swiss example should comfort us.
As part of the new scheme of things there is a great deal to be said for paying people in the TA far more than they have received in the past. We should make it an attractive force in which young people seek to serve. The benefits of such service would not be felt by those young people themselves, but would be a real benefit. As part of the new system under which our armed forces are managed the reservists must be given more training and a greater commitment. In the future, Regular Army units and TA units should be integrated so that the TA can give much greater support to the Army. We have already heard about the pain and anxiety that are likely to be caused by any cap-badge amalgamation. I believe that the TA could be extremely helpful in dealing with that problem.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has already demonstrated that we live in a dangerous world. Although the threat within Europe has diminished in recent months, the threat from the middle east to our interests there has grown even greater. As we look with growing concern at what is happening in the middle east we appreciate the threat that that poses to our strategic interests in Europe and Britain.
The changing international situation means that meeting our obligations and security needs will allow for lower costs for our armed forces. When assessing our security needs, however, we should look not for the peace dividend, but for ways in which to restructure our armed forces most effectively to meet the challenges of the future. It would be fortunate if, as a result of that, the peace dividend could emerge.
Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East) : I shall try not to repeat the points already made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He has already dealt with the historic, moral and political reasons why the defence estimates should be rejected.
I want to approach this subject on a more mundane level. I believe that the House should reject the estimates because they are bloated and beyond the nation's capacity to sustain them without damaging our economic prospects. The same could be said about any of the defence estimates of the past 40 years because the underlying pattern that differentiates Great Britain from any other western European member of NATO is that we spend on
Column 753average 2 per cent. more of our national wealth on defence than we used to spend. That pattern has continued year by year, and decade by decade.
In a time of peace our defence spending has, historically, been of the order of 2 per cent. of our national wealth, but in recent times it has fluctuated between 4.5 and 5.5 per cent. We spend a crucial 1 or 2 per cent. more of our national wealth on defence than do West Germany and France. Such spending decade after decade has had a weakening effect on our economy. That is clear when one compares our economic strength with that of West Germany, France or Japan. It is obvious that a nation cannot spend more than it earns on defence any more than, as we are continually told, we can spend more than we earn on pensions, health, welfare, or investment.
In the past 40 years the psychology of both main political parties has rested on the idea that, somehow, defence spending should be preserved and should continue to receive a disproportionate amount of the nation's wealth. Fortunately, the events in eastern Europe and President Gorbachev's initiatives now give us the chance to break out of that spending. Because our spending on defence is more bloated than that of any other western European nation, we have a greater opportunity of real economic gain and thus to modernise and rebuild the British economy.
The case that I have outlined is backed by solid academic research. In an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) I mentioned the Cambridge Econometrics study, which detailed the impact on the British economy if we reduced our defence spending to the same levels as that of the rest of western Europe--effectively to halve our spending. If we made such a saving it would release, this year, a little more than £9 billion to invest in rebuilding our welfare state, modernising the infrastructure of our economy and perhaps investing directly in industry, but that would necessitate a more enlightened Government. That vast sum of wealth would be released year by year and would represent a major shift in the resources of the British economy. The Cambridge Econometrics study revealed the wonderful opportunities that would be open to our nation if we reduced our defence spending. It is true that such a cut would cause some dislocation as spending moved away from the defence industries, but one would still have to retain and retool those defence industries. The Cambridge Econometrics study, however, revealed that after a decade in which defence spending was cut by 50 per cent. overall unemployment in Britain would have been reduced by 520,000. When one took into account the jobs lost as a result of contracting the defence spending, there would still be a net gain of 500,000 new jobs. Despite the job losses, a far greater number of new jobs would be created simply because defence spending represents the least labour intensive form of public spending. That money would create more wealth for the nation if spent in other ways.
The Cambridge Econometrics group also studied the impact of such cuts in spending on our gross domestic product. It estimates that Britain's GDP would increase by £10 billion a year. That money could be used to enrich the lives of people in the public and private sectors. That
Column 754increase would also lead to a 5 per cent. increase in investment in which we have notably lacked in comparison with our major competitors.
Christopher Huhne, the economics editor of The Guardian , for some reason writing in The Independent on Sunday , pointed out that apart from the Soviet Union and America no other country has more to gain from the peace dividend than Britain. There is an obvious historical parallel with the France of the early 1960s. Then President de Gaulle decided to break with France's imperial tradition and to reduce dramatically defence spending to fund a major modernisation of the French economy. French defence spending, which until then had been as bloated as Britain's in relation to national wealth, was cut savagely throughout the decade. As a result, resources were released to modernise the French economy, which performed a major leap, overtaking the economy of Britain and relegating us to a position far behind France. We have never caught up.
Now, however, we have the same option. We could make major cuts in defence spending, and--by redirecting funds towards the modernisation of the British economy--find ourselves at the forefront rather than slipping further and further behind other modern European nations. I do not see why anyone should object to the economic case for defence cuts.
Who are our enemies? No one has seriously suggested today that President Gorbachev is about to invade western Europe, or Britain. According to the current opinion polls, he is three times as popular here as the Prime Minister. He would not have to invade ; if he wanted to take over the country, he could come here and win the next election.
Given that no one expects a war with the Soviet Union, what other threats are seen by the Ministry of Defence? Some of the answers are hilarious. Spain, for instance, appears to be seen as a threat. Even we accept that a war with Spain over Gibraltar is unlikely ; we are reducing the garrison and cutting military expenditure in the area. In any event, how could we have a war with Spain? The place is full of British holidaymakers, and pensioners who have discovered that they can get more for their money in Spain than in Britain. The MOD also considers that another war with the Argentines over the Falkland Islands is a possibility. I doubt it ; the outcome of the last war is hardly likely to encourage anyone else to invade. Indeed, the Argentinians seem willing to negotiate some kind of permanent settlement of the conflict, which would allow us to invest some of the wealth that we now spend on defence in the development of the region.
We are enjoined not to forget that we may have a war with Guatemala over Belize. If the British people were told that the current bloated defence expenditure should continue because of the possibility of a war with Spain, Argentina or Guatemala, I believe that they would question whether that was the wisest use of national resources. We should not, however, talk merely of the scale on which we wish cuts to be made. Even Conservative Members, I think, will demand a reduction in defence spending. We need to ask, "From whom are we defending ourselves? What military machine do we require in the 1990s, and in the next decade?" What worries me is the suspicion that the real reason for the Government's resistance to major defence cuts is that they hanker after the idea of creating a Euro-force that can, for instance,
Column 755intervene at will if some third-world regime nationalises our assets, or makes a decision of which we do not approve. There is a danger that, with no real political debate in Britain or in western Europe, we shall slide into mimicking the United States--that we shall intervene anywhere on the face of the planet to impose political solutions on people who have the right to determine their own destinies, and to decide for themselves how their economic resources are to be used.
My criticism is not limited to the present Government ; we see the same basic pattern in the defence spending of previous Labour Governments. In 1950, a Labour Government destroyed the country's chance of emerging from the recession that had been created by a major devaluation. The potential for growth, leading to a major reconstruction of the economy, was wrecked by the level of defence spending that was forced on Britain by the American Government because of the Korean war. Anyone who doubts that should refer to the details spelt out in an excellent biography of Aneurin Bevan, who led the fight against the wrecking of Britain's domestic reconstruction by the demands of the military machine.
In the end, the money that had been raised could not be spent fast enough, and remained unspent. Our prospects of domestic recovery had been wrecked by the military--and, sadly, by a Labour Government who gave in to pressures that they should have resisted.
In 1970, we discovered the key to the wreckage of all Labour's plans for the economic regeneration of Britain. After six years of Labour Government, Britain was still spending 4.9 per cent. of its wealth on defence. France was spending 4.2 per cent., West Germany 3.3 per cent. and Italy 2.5 per cent. Six years had been wasted, with one economic disaster following another, because of the Government's failure to make the break with the imperial past and get out of Suez--and east of Suez--quickly and decisively.
We saw the same pattern in 1979. After five years in office, Labour was still spending 4.6 per cent. of our national wealth on defence. France's expenditure had fallen to 3.9 per cent., Germany's was still 3.3 per cent. and Italy's was 2.4 per cent.
On what do we base the claim that we should spend more of our national wealth on defence than the people of West Germany, who stood face to face with the iron curtain? That is nonsense, as is the fact that we are still spending £4.4 billion on keeping our Army on the Rhine. Although, under an arrangement with the West German Government, the whole burden does not fall on the balance of payments, the effect last year was a deficit of £1.4 billion. The British Army of the Rhine is costing every man, woman and child in the United Kingdom £80. It must be phased out : its members should be brought back and retrained to do productive work and rebuild the British economy. That is part of the attraction of defence cuts --personnel who are much in demand in British industry would be released. We hear many forecasts of a shortage of labour in the 1990s. Moreover, the private economy contains a large number of industries that are part of the defence sector : their employees include some of the most highly skilled workers in British industry, with the most modern equipment. No group of workers could be more important to us, if our aim is to retrain and retool, and to rebuild our manufacturing base. Those workers are needed to make the high-quality manufactured goods that
Column 756we are currently forced to import from West Germany, France, Japan and the United States. Every economic argument suggests that the time has come for a major break with the past--that we must divert the resources that are at present consumed by a defence budget which we know will never be used, and devote them to the modernisation of the British economy.
Earlier, I mentioned the difficulties of not living beyond our means. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, made a very good speech at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party last week. Many of us argued for more spending on a range of matters, but we were told, "A Labour Government will not spend more than it earns. It will not repeat the mistakes of the past, but will bring about real growth in the economy." I agree : I see no point in spending money that we do not have, and stoking up inflation.
If a Labour Chancellor is to exercise such fiscal rectitude, however, it is more important than ever for us to cut into our bloated defence budget to provide the funds that we need to recompense those whose pensions have been eroded so dramatically over the past decade, or to put money into the national health service. I do not believe that we shall be able to come to power and, simply through massive tax increases, restore the neglected welfare state. We must stop spending on other matters to release the necessary funds. Every argument points in that direction.
I make no apology for constantly returning to precise figures. I want to hear from the Opposition Front Bench firm commitments for a Labour Government to reduce the defence budget by about 50 per cent. over their five years in office. It should not be done in a manic rush to slash everything in sight, but through planning and consulting unions and employers and discussing how to retrain and reskill. If we do that, we can go to the British people at the next election with our plans to change the nature of the economy and to modernise Britain's welfare state and our neglected industrial base--without crippling increases in taxation for ordinary families and rising inflation, but simply by redirecting resources from defence.
Finally, there can be no question of our ducking the issue. It will not go away. We have to have precise and clear figures. If we thought that we could fudge the issue or hope that the Conservative party would not notice or that Fleet street, wherever it has dispersed to these days-- The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express --will not remind us of that at the next election, we should be putting our heads in the sand. We need to go into that election knowing what we intend to do, that it is achievable in a five-year period and how we will use those resources.
There has been some confusion about the figure of £9 billion. The Secretary of State for Defence said that some people talk about £5 billion and other people talk about £9 billion and that there are two ways of calculating our defence budget. If anyone believes what is written in the defence estimates, I advise them never to go into business as they will not survive for long. They are largely a cosmetic exercise with a heavy dose of propaganda, as are every other nation's defence estimates. People put things in and take things out. We have heard all the Soviet defence expenditure being calculated in a different way from ours. We have heard that Soviet defence estimates include the cost of pensions for service personnel which are excluded from our estimates and we have heard about the cost of maintaining military estate roads.
Column 757When I mentioned £9 billion, I used figures from an authoritative right-wing source--the Institute of Strategic Studies, an organisation created by Conservatives throughout the world to analyse defence expenditure and make it generally comparative. Those figures lead to the conclusion that when we talk about cutting our defence spending to western European levels--at the moment it would mean a 40 per cent. cut, but given that almost every other western European nation is making bigger and more rapid cuts than we are the gap is opening up--it is clear that the figure is £9 billion and not £5 billion. The only way that one can reach the figure of £5 billion is to believe the Government's statistics. I do not believe that the Government's statistics on defence are any more honest than they are on unemployment and no doubt soon will be on inflation.
It is interesting that Conservative Members have made not one objection to the facts that I have laid before the House. I quoted facts which are not a matter of opinion. I did not get them from Tribune or any Labour party journal. They are economic statistics on which people in the chancellories of the world base their defence planning and expenditure. We should do well to consider the Institute of Strategic Studies' statistics. They demonstrate that if we talk about scaling down our defence to the same level as that of other western European nations, it would immediately give us in the lifetime of the next Labour Government a peace dividend of £9 billion. That would be the beginning that we need. A Labour Chancellor will need those resources to rebuild the British economy without taxing the British people to pay for it.