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Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : Has the Leader of the House caught sight of early-day motion 2171, signed by 169 Members across the House, which calls for the cleaning up of the former United Kingdom atomic test site at Maralinga in South Australia?
[That this House welcomes the visit of Mr. Gareth Evans, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Ministerial colleague, Mr. Simon Crean and their meetings with the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence ; expresses the hope that these meetings will lead to an early agreement being reached between the Federal Government of Australia and Her Majesty's government concerning the final cleaning up of the former United Kingdom atomic test site at Maralinga, South Australia ; reminds both governments that they are jointly responsible for this matter and that the Aboriginal people of the Maralinga-Tjarutja have pursued the objective of the restoration of their traditional lands in an honourable, dignified and peaceable way ; and therefore urges the two governments to respond in like manner, thereby bringing this issue to a conclusion which meets the legitimate needs and interests of the Maralinga people.]
Column 1004Is it not the case that Gareth Evans, the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Federal Australian Government, has a meeting this afternoon with the Foreign Secretary at which they will discuss this very matter? May I impress on the Leader of the House the need for an early statement from our Foreign Secretary about it, as he will surely agree that the honourable and decent people of the Maralinga- Tjarutja require nothing less than that our Government and the Federal Government of Australia clean up their traditional tribal lands?
Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman is right. The Australian Ministers for Foreign Affairs, for Primary Industries and for Energy are in this country and are meeting my right hon. Friend to discuss the matter. Indeed, there must be nearly as many members of the Australian Government in Britain as there are members of the British Government, judging by the numbers I have met--and very genial they and the members of the Australian Opposition are.
As for the subject that the hon. Gentleman has rasied, both Governments are keen to reach a mutually satisfactory solution as soon as possible, and my right hon. Friend will be reporting the outcome of the meeting to the House.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : Does the Leader of the House realise that it is ages since the Secretary of State for Scotland produced his White Paper on the options for water and sewage in Scotland and that, during the consultation period, representations against privatisation have been flooding in, including many from Scottish Conservatives?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in today's Scottish Daily Express, there is what looks like a Scottish Office inspired story, which reveals the form in which the Secretary of State is going to announce the future of Scottish water? As I know that you, Madam Speaker, are always concerned that statements should be made to the House, not in the newspapers in the form of leaks or in any other way, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement to the House next week, or as soon as possible, on the outcome of the consultation on the future of Scottish water and sewage?
Mr. Newton : When there is an outcome to the consultation, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will wish to make an appropriate statement to the House. However, at the moment, there is not, and I therefore cannot promise a statement next week. Nor can I promise a statement on every piece of speculation that appears in the Scottish or United Kingdom press.
[Relevant documents : First Report of the Defence Committee on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1992 of Session 1992-93, HC 218 ; Fifth Report of the Defence Committee on Army Commitments and Resources : the Government's Response and Army Manpower Statement of 3rd February 1993, HC 731 of Session 1992-93.]
That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1992 contained in Cm. 1981.
I very much welcome the fact that some Opposition Members below the Gangway have tabled their own amendment to the motion. I congratulate them on their clarity and consistency and I can only regard it as unfortunate that the official Opposition appear to have departed from their previous views without having anything to replace them. This is an opportunity for the House to discuss not only last year's White Paper on the defence estimates but a range of other defence issues.
I begin by paying a personal tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) who, until very recently, was a most distinguished Minister for the Armed Forces and who, for a number of years, made a valuable and important contribution to the well-being of our armed forces, something which I believe will stand the test of time.
It is important that the House should have opportunities not only to debate these matters but to do so in a well-informed fashion. We shall soon be publishing the next defence estimates--the next White Paper--which are likely to be before the House in early July. I hope that it will be possible to debate that White Paper more quickly than it has been possible to debate this one, especially because, although I do not wish to anticipate the contents of that White Paper, I believe that the House, the armed forces and the country as a whole will find it a very informative document which will provide much information that has not before been made available to the House or the country and which will seek to present all the work of the Ministry of Defence in such a way as to make a substantial and important contribution to the proper discussion and understanding of the role of the armed forces, the tasks that they have to carry out, the way in which they meet their tasks, various elements of the forces' structure and how the very large resources available to the Ministry of Defence are used.
I begin by reporting to the House the situation in Bosnia and the role of our armed forces in the former Yugoslavia at the present time. May I offer what I am sure are the congratulations of the House as a whole to those members of our armed forces who appeared in Her Majesty's honours list recently and who received well-deserved recognition for the work that they have been doing in that country. Those who received awards for gallantry and for exceptional leadership deserve to be especially proud of what has been achieved. The Bosnian Serb rejection of the peace plan, developed by Lord Owen and Mr. Vance and accepted by the Bosnian Croats and Muslims, has been a serious setback to the achievement of a negotiated political settlement, which offers the only prospect of an end to the conflict. Sooner or later, the Bosnian Serbs will have to come back
Column 1006to the negotiating table. Sanctions against Serbia will be applied vigorously until she brings an undoubted influence to bear to that end.
In the meantime, in the absence of a settlement, fighting has worsened between Croats and Muslims in central Bosnia where the British battalion group is deployed as part of the United Nations protection force in its humanitarian task. As the House knows, that task is the provision of protective support for humanitarian aid convoys, under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and for convoys of released detainees under the auspices of the Red Cross.
In the past week there have been serious incidents involving our forces. Last Thursday, 10 June, near Kiseljak, six British personnel were forced out of their Spartan vehicles at gun point and robbed of their weapons and their equipment. Last Friday morning, 11 June, near Novitravnik, British forces had to open fire in self-defence against Bosnian-Croat troops who engaged them while they were protecting a Muslim convoy. On 11 June a sentry at Vitez fired in self-defence at a sniper and there is reason to believe that the assailant was killed.
Those are serious and disturbing incidents. The United Nations and British commanders will make whatever changes they consider necessary in their procedures and dispositions in the light of developments on the ground and will have the Government's full support. For their part, the Government have kept and are keeping the safety of our forces under constant review.
Even before the incidents that I have described occurred, I announced on 10 June new measures that we were taking to ensure that we were ready to provide additional protection for our troops if that became necessary. For several months we have maintained contingency plans to provide additional protection for our forces should circumstances warrant it, through both maritime and land-based assets. To complement those existing arrangements, I announced that a number of Army units and individual officers and men were being placed at readiness to move to the former Yugoslavia at short notice to provide a range of options should the need to protect our forces make that necessary.
We have placed at readiness a range of capabilities that can be drawn on selectively according to the needs of the situation. No troops are being sent to the theatre at this stage, apart from a small number of personnel who will be required for ground-to-air command and control functions in connection with the provision of air support. HMS Ark Royal remains in the Adriatic sea with her Sea Harriers and Sea King helicopters embarked. We hope that it will not be necessary to deploy those capabilities, but the Government will not hesitate to reinforce our battalion group if required, either to enable it to continue with its current task or to assist with the withdrawal of United Nations forces if it came to that.
As we have already made clear, the units that we have on standby would not be sent to undertake any new mandate. We are already a leading contributor to UNPROFOR's Bosnian command and there are more British soldiers in Bosnia than there are from other United Nations countries. It will be clear to the House that British troops are fully committed in fulfilling their current humanitarian task. The provision of additional forces to enable the safe areas concept in Security Council resolution 836 must be a matter for other nations. We very much hope that those resources will be forthcoming.
Column 1007The safe areas concept is part of the joint action programme agreed between the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Russia and Spain in Washington on 22 May. Implementing the concept is an important immediate step to help stabilise the situation on the ground, relieve suffering and create an improved climate for further work to achieve a negotiated settlement. Neither Britain nor the other co- sponsors of the resolution regards safe areas as a permanent solution or an end in themselves.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Even as we debate the matter, at least one of those safe areas, Gorazde, is being subjected to continued aggression by Serbia. My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned Croatia and the Muslims. Will he emphasise the fact that great brutality is still being perpetrated by the Serbs in Bosnia?
Mr. Rifkind : I have to confirm that fact. There have been incidents of brutality involving all communities in this ghastly conflict. I acknowledge my hon. Friend's comment that Serbia has a particular responsibility and has been involved in a number of the most serious incidents.
Safe areas are a temporary measure to help to create a climate in which renewed efforts to help a lasting and equitable peace can make progress, building on the work of Lord Owen and Mr. Vance. The Security Council resolution has given UNPROFOR a mandate in six areas : to deter attacks ; to monitor the ceasefire ; to promote the withdrawal of military or paramilitary units other than Bosnian Government units ; and to occupy some key points on the ground in addition to participating in the delivery of humanitarian relief. The resolution authorises member states acting nationally or through regional organisations or arrangements to use air power in support of UNPROFOR carrying out its mandate in and around the six designated safe areas. NATO has agreed to take on the task in support of, and in close co-ordination with, the UN as an extension of its current operations to enforce the no-fly zone. I announced on 10 June that the Government have offered a squadron of Royal Air Force Jaguar aircraft to participate in such an operation. We are closely in touch with NATO about the detailed arrangements for the operation and I shall keep the House informed.
The House will want to join me in paying tribute to the courage and professionalism of all our forces involved in operations in and around the former Yugoslavia. We are well aware of the impressive scope of those operations. Royal Navy ships and Royal Air Force aircraft are taking part in operations to enforce sanctions against Serbia and the arms embargo against the whole former Yugoslavia and to enforce the no-fly zone in Bosnia.
Mr. Rifkind : Sanctions are having a very considerable effect on the Serbian economy. President Milosevic sees the effect of sanctions as very damaging to the economic prospects of the country. There is massive inflation, vast unemployment and a huge fall in manufacturing production. That is, in part, why Mr. Milosevic sought to
Column 1008persuade the Bosnian Serbs to support the Owen-Vance proposals. The sanctions will continue until we can be satisfied that sufficient progress has been made.
The battalion group that has been involved in our humanitarian operations has been very successful and can claim to have been responsible for the saving of many tens of thousands of lives. Those who advocate the lifting of the arms embargo in favour of the Muslims or intervention against one party or the other must realise that to do so would bring the humanitarian operation to an end. I repeat, however, that we shall not hesitate to take whatever steps may be necessary for the safety of our forces and the House can rest assured that this is, and will continue to be, our paramount consideration. The possible participation of South Africa in the anniversary celebrations of the Royal Air Force has given rise to some interest in the House and in another place. I am pleased to announce that South Africa will be invited by the Royal Air Force benevolent fund to send a transport plane to attend the Fairford international air tattoo. South Africa's association with the Royal Air Force is long-standing. Indeed, the RAF's existence as a separate service owes much to Field Marshal Smuts. We have, therefore, concluded that this association should be marked with the participation of a non-combat plane in the air tattoo to mark the RAF's 75th anniversary year.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Does the Secretary of State think it entirely appropriate to have a South African military presence in this country when South African armed units are attacking Government positions in Angola in defiance of a United Nations resolution and of the clearly expressed wish of the Angolan people for peace?
Mr. Rifkind : The involvement of the South African navy in the recent services relating to the battle of the Atlantic was warmly welcomed by all shades of opinion in South Africa, including the people most representative of black opinion. We are now in a new situation and it is right and proper for us to respond in the way that I have described.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : I do not wish to expand much further on the point, but just to establish the facts clearly for the record, during the second world war a vast number of South Africans volunteered, against the wishes of some of the more Boer elements in South Africa, to come here and many lost their lives on behalf of this country. The whole point of the commemoration is that it is about those people, not about what may be going on politically today.
Mr. Rifkind : That is absolutely correct. We can never forget the contribution made by those brave South Africans, many of whom sacrificed their lives. When we are commemorating the history of the Royal Air Force it is right and proper that that contribution should be taken into account. As my hon. Friend says, that does not represent a political comment on any contemporary difficulties that may be continuing in South Africa today.
We are all conscious of the fact that the armed forces are going through one of the most radical reorganisations since 1945 and I pay tribute to the people, both civilians and members of the armed forces, who are having to
Column 1009supervise a difficult period of transition and who are doing so with the customary spirit and dedication that we expect to see in the armed forces.
I note that some Opposition Members, although not Front-Bench Members, have tabled an amendment calling for a major reduction in our defence expenditure, echoing the calls of the Labour party conference for defence expenditure to be drastically pruned. When those hon. Members say that our defence expenditure should be reduced to the level of that in other European countries, perhaps they have not fully examined what the other countries with which one might most easily compare the United Kingdom spend on defence. For example, when one compares the defence expenditure of the United Kingdom with that of France and Germany one finds an almost uncanny similarity in the total sums made available. Expressed in pounds sterling, United Kingdom defence expenditure in 1992 was about £24.4 billion ; that of France was £25.8 billion ; and that of Germany almost exactly £24 billion. An almost identical amount was being spent by those three major countries. Furthermore, the United Kingdom has some special responsibilities, such as our commitment to Northern Ireland and our continuing obligations to defend our dependent territories. The responsibilities associated with our being a nuclear power--a factor that we share with France--also have to be taken fully into account. We have also seen a dramatic improvement in the ability of the United Nations to meet various international challenges and it is well worth remembering the increased contribution that the United Nations is making to easing some of the problems of security and peacemaking in various parts of the world. Since January last year, when only 12,000 United Nations forces were involved in various operations around the world, the figure has increased so that today about 60,000 United Nations forces are engaged in United Nations operations. That increase has profound implications and it is now time for the United Nations to consider whether at the heart of its activity it has sufficient military advice and personnel to assist the Secretary-General to develop and co-ordinate the many military operations with which the organisation is associated. Increasing attention needs to be given to that question.
It is also important to ensure that countries invited to contribute to United Nations operations should not be expected to be committed to supporting the United Nations in any particular theatre for as long as support may be required. Sometimes that may involve a period of many years- -for example, we have now been in Cyprus for more than 25 years--and it is not realistic to expect the small number of countries which provide the bulk of United Nations support to give such an open-ended commitment on an ongoing basis. Much more sensible is the principle of rotation, as that enables another country to be brought in for a period of time, thereby helping to spread the burden in a realistic and sensible way.
I want today to make some very important comments with regard to the use of our reserve forces, because I believe that they have a crucial contribution to make and I know that they are a matter of considerable interest to many hon. Members.
Column 1010I know that the House will join me in paying tribute to the contribution that has been made over the years by members of our reserve forces. The willingness of men and women to give up their spare time to serve the Crown has been warmly welcomed and on many occasions has proved to be vital.
In March 1992 we issued an open Government document on the future of Britain's reserve forces which set out proposals for the more flexible use of reserves, permitting their use in a wide range of types of operation. That document proposed legislation in the 1994-95 Session and we have that objective firmly in mind. Since that document was issued, the change in the international situation has provided us with the opportunity to introduce new roles for the reserves. At the same time it has become clear that standing reserve forces are no longer required for certain current roles.
Against that background we have been looking in detail at the structure of the reserves of all three forces. Today I shall be announcing the results of our detailed deliberations on the future of the Navy's reserves and our latest proposals for the RAF reserves. We are also re-examining the operational requirement for the Army's reserves and hence the size and shape of the Territorial Army. I shall be making a further announcement on that later in the year. Before I come to the detail of our proposals on the Royal Navy and the RAF, there are a number of basic principles which I should set down and which underpin our thinking on all three services. First, I must place on record my personal commitment to the future of our reserve forces. Reserves in all three services will play a continuing crucial role in providing support to their regular colleagues. Secondly, I believe that we should bring up to date the roles of the reserves where they are no longer relevant to our changing defence needs. It is in no one's interest, not least that of the reservists themselves, that they should be expected to carry out roles which, although vital in the past, no longer require standing forces. That would breed frustration and disillusion.
Thirdly, and most important of all, I believe that the time has come to make arrangements to deploy reserves much more widely in operational roles in peacetime. I regard this point as particularly important. In the past, with only a few exceptions, we have called out reservists only at times of heightened tension or in war. We are now moving to a world where the possibility of major confrontation is less than it has been for many years, but where the demands placed on our forces for peacekeeping and related tasks have never been greater. Furthermore, I know of the frustration felt by many reservists that their skills were not used during the Gulf war, when their American counterparts were deployed in such large numbers. Today, hundreds of Canadian volunteer reserves are serving in Cyprus, Cambodia and Somalia ; and in the former Yugoslavia Canadians are joined by hundreds of Danish reserves.
I can see no reason why we, too, should not plan to deploy our reservists in peacetime. I am therefore looking in detail at the possibilities, particularly as we consider the proposed new reserve forces legislation. One specific idea is that we might use volunteers from the TA to form units or sub-units to contribute on a planned basis to operational commitments undertaken by the regular Army. The feasibility of attaching a composite TA
Column 1011infantry company composed of volunteers to regular units undergoing United Nations tours is being examined, with a view to running a pilot scheme in late 1994. I shall say more about this when I come to report on the future of the Territorial Army later in the year. I regard it as a very significant and welcome development. I want similar opportunities to be available to naval and air force reservists. I believe that in this way we shall ensure that the reserves are given more relevant, more important and more fulfilling jobs to do and that the link between reserves and regular forces will be strengthened thereby.
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden) : I am sure that the announcement that we have just heard about the enhanced role and status of the Territorial Army service overseas will be warmly welcomed on both sides of the House. Can my right hon. and learned Friend reassure the House that, in the further consideration that he is giving to the role of the TA, he will give consideration to the concept of ever-readies, which has often been advanced in the House, so that we can see across the broad stream of activity the TA playing an even greater role in helping to sustain our armed forces?
Mr. Rifkind : made it clear that they were keen to be used for such a role if it should become available. Over the next few months, we will be working on the detailed way in which the objectives will be translated into specific structures to bring that about.
I come to the detailed proposals for the future of the Royal Naval Reserve. The proposals to which I am about to refer are, of course, subject to consultation. No final decisions will be taken until the process is complete.
First, I should make it clear that we have no plans for changes to the Navy's ex-regular reserves, other than to match the greater opportunities for women within the Royal Navy to the same reserve liability as their male colleagues. Currently numbering some 24,000, those ex-regulars would, if necessary, provide the great bulk of reinforcement to the Royal Navy. Each year, some 2,000 highly trained personnel leave the Royal Navy and provide a readily usable pool of ex-regular reserves. Any degradation of their skills can be recovered through refresher training.
For the naval volunteer reserves, the proposals are the culmination of studies that were announced to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell on 24 July 1991. The main aim of those studies was to achieve closer integration of the Royal Naval Reserve with the operational activities of the Royal Navy. As hon. Members know, the Royal Navy's volunteer reserve forces comprise the Royal Marine Reserve, the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service. The principal role of the Royal Marine Reserve is to provide training reinforcements to bring the marine commandos to full war strength on mobilisation. That is an important and continuing role. We have no current plans for changes to the Royal Marine Reserve. Two of the major roles of the naval volunteer reserves during the cold war have been the defence of ports and anchorages and the manning of the Naval Control of
Column 1012Shipping organisation. Those tasks have been undertaken jointly by the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service. The Royal Navy has reviewed the continuing need for those tasks and concluded that the scale and immediacy of a perceived threat to the western alliance has reduced to such an extent that it is no longer sensible to earmark discrete forces for them. In the extreme circumstances of a rise in tension and a direct threat to this country, there will be sufficient time to provide such forces by an appropriate expansion, if necessary, of the Royal Naval Reserve or regeneration of the ex-regular reserves. The end of that requirement removes the need for 710 Royal Naval Reserve personnel and all but 135 of the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service ratings.
After careful study, we have concluded that there are no other roles that would be suitable for the RNXS and that such a service of 135 would be too small to be viable. Accordingly, and with considerable regret, we have concluded that the RNXS, which came into being only in 1962, should be disbanded and its training units closed. In making those proposals, I pay tribute to the loyalty and dedication of members of the RNXS over the years --this cannot be over-emphasised. However, I know that the RNXS would not wish to carry on with tasks that the tide of history has left behind. There will be an opportunity for up to 135 RNXS personnel with suitable skills in Naval Control of Shipping to join the Royal Naval Reserve to provide a capability for possible short-notice deployment overseas.
We have considered the impact on the reserves of developing technology. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the field of mine counter-measures. Our River class of minesweepers fleet, which provides the basis of the current Royal Naval Reserve seagoing role, was designed to counter deep- moored mines as well as a specific Soviet threat. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, that mine threat no longer exists. The minesweepers fleet has no other mine counter-measures capability and has been overtaken by advances in other aspects of mine counter-measure warfare and technology. Accordingly, we propose to withdraw those vessels from this role and the Royal Naval Reserve.
The task of deep-water mine counter-measures will be assumed by our modern mine counter-measure vessels such as the Sandown class. Such modern vessels are highly technical and require the crew to be at a high state of training readiness to be prepared to meet their operational commitments. It would not be possible fully to man the vessels with Royal Naval Reserves. However, under our new proposals, members of the Royal Naval Reserve will be able to serve on these vessels.
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) : I follow the argument of my right hon. and learned Friend and accept the logic of what he says about the River class minesweepers. However, the next step in his chain of logic would be to confirm that there will be further orders for Sandown class minehunters. Does he accept that the need for mine counter-measure vessels has not diminished worldwide and, indeed, that the kind of threat facing us in the so-called new world order requires mine-hunting capacity? Will he confirm that the orders intended for later this year will be forthcoming?
Mr. Rifkind : I thank my hon. Friend for his understanding approach to the reasons that have led to this decision. We expect to go out to tender shortly in respect of the Sandown class minehunters. We intend to ensure that they will be available as soon as they are operationally necessary. I hope that that reassures him.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : Both sides of the House will welcome the timely decision that the Secretary of State has just announced in response to changing world circumstances. Will he now tell us what change he will make to our nuclear capability in response to the changing world situation? Does it make any sense to continue as we are doing and not only retain our present nuclear weapons, but increase their size, numbers, range and power?
Mr. Rifkind : I am not sure that that is relevant to the role of the naval reserves, but, as the hon. Gentleman intervened to ask the question, I remind him that we have already announced the ending of all nuclear artill‡ery, the use of Lance missiles and the use of tactical weapons on naval vessels.
Mr. Rifkind : We are committed to Trident and rightly so because it is based on our perception of what is the minimum deterrent required to ensure the protection of the United Kingdom. We have no intention of departing from that policy.
Several hon. Members rose--
The Government fully accept that serving in Royal Navy ships lies at the heart of the Royal Naval Reserve, underpinning its ethos and recruiting. I am happy to announce that this role will be developed so that it encompasses all types of Royal Navy ship. We are proposing that a dedicated seagoing branch of some 500 personnel be set up, training in all types of Royal Navy ships, not just mine counter-measure vessels, and employed at sea wherever appropriate, as an integral part of the fleet. Additionally, smaller numbers of Royal Navy Reserves will assist in the logistics area, in submarine operations management and on aircraft maintenance. In future, Royal Naval Reserve training will be more closely sponsored by the appropriate Royal Navy organisation.
The net effect of these changing roles is that the Royal Naval Reserve will reduce from 4,700 to about 3,500. Eleven units will close, but a new unit based in HMS Bristol, the harbour training ship at Portsmouth, would be created which would offer the opportunity for RNR personnel from HMS Sussex, HMS Wessex and HMS Southwick to transfer. In future, 13 RNR units, to be retitled "Reserve Centres", will be sited throughout the United Kingdom. We will try to find alternative employment in the Ministry of Defence or other Government Departments for some 200 civilian employees, some part-time, who will be affected, but this may not always be possible.
Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate) : I appreciate what my right hon. and learned Friend has said today. It is important for the Royal Naval Reserve to have an active role rather than one, of which I had experience, in the naval control of shipping. Can he say something about
Column 1014HMS President, which has been an important landmark in the City and a good recruiting and training centre? Will that unit be retained?
Mr. Rifkind : I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. The opportunity for members of the Royal Naval Reserve to train with the Royal Navy on all types of warship at sea is an important step forward and will be widely welcomed. I cannot give my hon. Friend an immediate answer to his question, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who will reply, will certainly respond to that point in due course.
I turn to our proposals for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Again, the end of the cold war and the manifestly reduced threat to the United Kingdom has a significant impact, particularly in relation to the direct threat to our airfields. Accordingly, we have concluded that it is no longer necessary to retain No. 1339 Wing, equipped with Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns and Skyguard radars to protect RAF Waddington and RAF Coningsby.
As hon. Members will know, our proposals under "Options for Change" will lead to the cessation of flying at RAF Honington. The Royal Air Force Regiment depot will move to that station from RAF Catterick. There is, therefore, no longer a requirement for the wartime specialist ground defence currently provided by No. 2623 (East Anglian) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment. Notwithstanding the fine service that those units have given over the years, they no longer meet a defence need.
We have also reviewed our previous plans to expand the Royal Auxiliary Air Force defence force flights. Again, circumstances have changed so radically that it would be unwise to proceed with that expansion before the results of the service's wide-ranging review of its long-term requirements are known.
While those changes represent reductions in the auxiliary air force, I am delighted also to announce our proposals for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force to take on a new role, with auxiliaries filling about half the posts in two regular squadrons of the Rapier air-defence missile force. Recruiting is expected to begin next year in the areas around RAF Leuchars and RAF Leeming and the new units should be complete by 1997.
To simplify call-out procedures, which will require the introduction of the new legislation I mentioned earlier, we propose that that part of the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve which has a war role should be amalgamated with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, producing a more streamlined organisation for war. That would not affect the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve training posts associated with the air cadet organisations and the university air squadrons.
Taken together, those proposals will lead to a net reduction of about 180 auxiliary air force posts. That is about 10 per cent. of the current strength of the RAF reserves.
The naval and air force proposals that I have announced will be of interest to a great number of hon. Members and to many people throughout the country. Accordingly, I have set out the proposals in some detail in consultative documents which I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses and which are also being sent to organisations known to have an interest. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I have written to
Column 1015those hon. Members whose constituencies are affected. Further copies of the documents are available in the Vote Office.
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : Bearing in mind the fact that this is the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Air Force, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to join me in congratulating Dowty Aerospace Propellers Ltd., for which many of my constituents work, on being selected to supply high technology and all composite propellers to the Lockheed Corporation? I understand that the Dowty propeller will equip the C130-J Hercules aircraft and that the order run may be about 500 aircraft sets, worth about £150 million. Does he agree that that is a great boost for British industry and shows that we are still a great engineering nation?
Mr. Rifkind : I am glad of this opportunity to congratulate Dowty on that success, which is a tribute to the excellence of our aerospace industry. As my hon. Friend will know, the Hercules C130-J is a candidate to replace our existing Hercules aircraft, which have given valuable service for over 25 years.
The proposals that I have announced today will be subject to consultation with the trade unions where civilian employment is affected. We shall continue to liaise closely with the territorial, auxiliary and volunteer reserve associations and the national employers liaison committee. The consultation period will run until 30 July. Thereafter, having considered any and all comments received, we will announce a decision on the proposals in due course. We are living in a time of change, but I know that the Territorial Army as well as the naval and air force reserves will welcome our intent to use them more fully for operational roles in peacetime. This represents an historic change and is entirely appropriate to the new international situation.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) : I am interested to hear my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks about the reserves. He seems to be announcing reductions in the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Air Force Auxiliary as a positive step which will enable the people concerned to take part in more regular activities. I put it to him that by manning Rapier squadrons half with reservists, those squadrons are likely to be undermanned because, needless to say, in many cases the reservists will have full-time civilian jobs.
Mr. Rifkind : I assure my hon. Friend that it will be done in such a way as to ensure that the operational requirements of the Royal Air Force are fully met. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise. It is inevitable that there will be some reduction in the size of the Naval and Royal Air Force auxiliary services and reserves if certain of their basic roles are no longer required.
We have approached the matter from the point of view of whether there is a continuing need for a particular function. I do not think anyone would argue that, for example, naval control of shipping or the defence of ports and anchorages requires a dedicated force in the circumstances that we now face. That is the approach that we have adopted. Wherever we have identified new roles that make sense and are relevant to the needs of the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy, we have been very willing to utilise those roles for such purposes.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : Dealing specifically with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and bearing in mind the increased role that Rapier squadrons are likely to have overseas as a result of the end of the cold war and the sort of peacekeeping operations that may have to be backed up by air defence or strike attack aircraft, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to say how those reservists will be able to go overseas with their squadrons in future to fulfil that role?
Mr. Rifkind : Reservists who are used overseas--this relates to my earlier remarks--will be volunteers. It will be for those who are willing, when they join the reserves, to be considered for such operational roles overseas to indicate that willingness and to be attached, I would expect, to units that may be used for that purpose. Then, should the circumstances so arise, they would be available. In broad terms, that is the way in which it will operate.
We have much work to do on that concept because this is the first time that we have considered using reserves, although many other countries do so. We shall be using the time in the coming months to prepare the necessary legislation and the pilot scheme that I said would be introduced in 1994, and translate this firm proposal into its specific procedural and other details, which will then take effect. I believe that it will be warmly welcomed.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : We have a clear lesson to learn from the Gulf war--clear at least to anybody who knows territorial soldiers, and I served with the TA for 13 years. Our former hon. Friend Neil Thorne, who represented Ilford, South, often raised the point in the House. It is that territorial soldiers should never be asked to volunteer twice. Calling for volunteers puts men, their employers and sometimes their families in an impossible position. Either a unit should be called out or it should not. Calling for volunteers places terrible stress on people. That is why the TA does not believe the document and is not happy with its content. It does not see it as a suitable way forward for using reservists in peacetime.
Mr. Rifkind : I would not dissent from some of the points that my hon. Friend makes, but he knows as well as I do that the TA has expressed a desire to be used in an operational role in peacetime. He knows it because he has urged that course on me on numerous occasions. What he and others who share that aspiration, which the Government endorse, can do is to help construct the precise structure which will enable that aspiration to be translated into practice. That is what we are seeking to do and I believe that it can be done effectively.
Mr. Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend also accept that it is a complete travesty to say that all members of the TA are employed by large companies? That is not the position. They are often self-employed and sometimes they are unemployed. In those circumstances, they are grateful for the opportunity to serve. So it is nonsense to say that they will be withdrawn from their companies or that a disturbance will be created.
Mr. Rifkind : I accept that, and I am conscious of the fact that whenever I have visited TA units, the desire to be used in an operational role has been the single, most repeated request made to me. I suspect that hon. Members on both sides have often had that request put to them, for understandable reasons.
Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East) : I fear that as more reserve forces are brought in as part of a wider scheme, people will feel that their jobs will be in jeopardy because of the view of their employers. Will the Government remove from the unemployment figures the unemployed who volunteer for the reserve forces?
Mr. Rifkind : That is among the sillier suggestions that I have heard for some time. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's underlying point is that we must have close liaison with the national employers liaison committee, which represents the interests of employers who have a commitment to assisting the reserves. We shall be working closely with that body.
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : I represent what was the Chatham Royal Naval base and there is considerable local interest in the future of HMS Wildfire, the Royal Naval Reserve establishment in Chatham. Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the 500 years of naval history behind that unit? That is where naval affection is now focused and there will be sadness in the Medway towns if that link is broken.
Mr. Rifkind : I understand my hon. Friend's point. I hope that he will take the opportunity, however, to read the consultative document that we have published today. If he believes that particular points have not been properly considered, I hope that he will not hesitate to make them known to me.
I do not wish to detain the House for much longer