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Mr. Rifkind : Not at the moment, but no doubt there will be other opportunities to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

We are all conscious of the fact that the ending of the cold war and the collapse of communism in Europe was a triumph for NATO. I also believe that it was a triumph for the defence policies that had been pursued by the Government and previous Conservative Governments. I do not believe that the Opposition Front Bench Defence spokesmen can take any great sense of pride in what has been achieved with the collapse of communism and the end of the Warsaw pact.

On most of the major issues that we have had to address and concentrate our attention on in recent years, including the unilateral defence policy of the Labour party and the use of cruise missiles, the Labour party has opposed the fundamental tenor of Government defence policy.

Mr. Wareing : Will the Secretary of State give way ?

Mr. Rifkind : In a moment.

Opposition Members claim to be men and women of principle, but that is not supported by the charge sheet. Once upon a time one used to ask, "What did you do during the great war ?" The answer was, "I survived." If Opposition Members were asked what they did during the cold war, they should reply, "I surrendered", given the way in which, in successive election campaigns and in the House, they have committed themselves to policies designed to reduce defence expenditure and abandon our nuclear deterrent. The way in which they have generally ignored our defence interests has been appalling. The hon. Members who now make up the Opposition defence team claim that they are now reformed characters

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and that their past convictions should not be held against them. It is important to remember exactly what they said in recent years, because all of them, who now have defence responsibilities, have quite a lot of answering to do.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) is responsible for defence matters in the shadow Cabinet, but even to this day none of us knows whether he is still a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He has never been prepared to confirm that he has left CND and his reluctance to do so makes us wonder whether he is still a member of it.

The record of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on defence matters has not been much better. In 1982, during the Falklands war, he called for an immediate truce while the Argentinian forces still controlled the island. No doubt they would still control it if his advice had been accepted. In 1987, he called on the Government to cancel Trident in the light of international changing circumstances. We have never heard him confess that he was wrong to do so.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) also supported the cancellation of Trident and yet now claims to support a Labour party policy that seeks to ensure Trident's continuation. We must ask ourselves what are the policies and principles on which those Front-Bench spokesmen seek to put forward their arguments. The position of the shadow Cabinet is just as doubtful. The hon. Members for Livingston (Mr. Cook), for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), three of its most prominent members, defied their leadership in 1990 by voting in favour of massive defence cuts to the level of the west European average.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell my hon. Friends that he intended to refer to them?

Mr. Rifkind : I am referring to the facts. [Interruption.] They are well aware--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. We cannot have repeated sedentary interventions.

Mr. Foulkes : It is a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State has mentioned my hon. Friends and I would like to know whether he wrote to them to tell them what he intended to do. The three Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen on defence are here and are expected to be here, but has the right hon. and learned Gentleman had the courtesy to inform my other hon. Friends that he intended to mention them?

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman knows the rules of the House as well as I do. He knows that I am referring to factual matters that are on the record and established and that, therefore, there is no need to follow that convention.

The reality is that three members of the shadow Cabinet have voted constantly for massive cuts in defence expenditure and sought to justify that. What about the deputy leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett)? As recently as June last year she was asked in a Fabian pamphlet whether she supported the views of the Labour party conference, which called for a massive reduction of £6 billion in defence expenditure. She replied :

"I have always taken the view that conference determines Party policy."

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If that is the view of the deputy leader of the Labour party, it needs to be questioned and we require a proper answer.

Mr. Wareing : Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Rifkind : No, because I have a particular point to put to the hon. Member for South Shields, the Opposition's spokesman on defence.

During the 1992 general election campaign, the then Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), offered the most novel policy of the Labour party on defence. He said that the Opposition would not negotiate away Britain's nuclear weapons as long as other countries had such weapons. I hope that the hon. Member for South Shields will admit that the meaning of that statement was clear. The right hon. Member for Islwyn said :

"a Labour Britain will keep nuclear weapons as long as anyone else has them."

That appeared to be a clear, unambiguous statement. On 17 May this year, however, the hon. Member for South Shields, speaking on behalf of the Labour party, was asked to comment on matters involving Trident. He said :

"We would deploy and retain Trident, but if it got to the stage when we would consider it appropriate, we would enter Trident into the disarmament negotiations we wouldn't give Trident away for nothing."

That is very reassuring, but not entirely satisfactory. Presumably we would give Trident away for something, if not for

nothing--something short of the total removal of nuclear weapons by countries that represent a possible threat to us.

The hon. Member for South Shields owes it to the House and, perhaps, to his own party to tell us whether he has changed Labour party policy. We wish to know whether he stands by the views of the previous Leader of the Opposition, who said that we would keep our nuclear weapons

"as long as anyone else has them."

Is that or is it not still the policy of the Labour party?

Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : I am delighted to clarify the situation. The position is quite clear and it was laid down in words of one syllable, or almost, so that Conservative Members had a chance to understand, in our manifesto. It clearly stated that Labour would "in government partner the United States in negotiating to reduce"--

[Interruption.] I am reading slowly so that Conservative Members can understand--

"the world's stocks of nuclear weapons. We shall seek to involve the four former Soviet nuclear republics, together with France and China. Until elimination of those stocks is achieved, Labour will retain Britain's nuclear capability, with the number of warheads no greater than the present total."

I hope that that is clear to Conservative Members. That was the policy of the Labour party at the election and it is its policy today. That, too, is my policy, which I have reiterated time and time again. I hope that Conservative Members are able to understand words of one syllable.

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman says that that is his policy, but it is not what he said in his major lecture at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on 17 May, when all that he was prepared to say was :

"we wouldn't give Trident away for nothing."

Dr. David Clark : That is the same thing.

Mr. Rifkind : I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's clarification, which the House is also delighted to hear. We

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are delighted that the hon. Gentleman has confirmed today that the Labour party would keep nuclear weapons as long as other countries kept theirs. That is a small step for mankind, but a great step for the Labour party.

Mr. Wareing : It is clear from the Secretary of State's speech that he wishes to defend British interests, although he uses small party political points to do so.

The Secretary of State mentioned the Falkland Islands. I recall that the withdrawal of a British ship from those islands gave a signal for the Argentinians to invade. When will the Secretary of State talk about Belize, where the withdrawal of British troops was foreshadowed exactly four days before by a coup d'e tat in Guatemala? That was four days after some Opposition Members had warned the right hon. Member for Watfor himself to the protection of both British and Belizean interests in the Caribbean?

Mr. Rifkind : I had a valuable discussion with the Prime Minister of Belize only last week and we are conscious of our obligations to that country. The hon. Gentleman should know--if he does not, I am happy to inform him--that the new Government in Guatemala have not stated that they take a different view of the independence of Belize--

Mr. Wareing : Yet.

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman says yet, as if there were an implicit threat. We have given the fullest protection to Belize and we are conscious of our responsibilities to that country. Belize is now recognised by and has diplomatic relations with Guatemala. Guatemala has withdrawn her claim to the territory and the idea that the United Kingdom should continue with a permanent military garrison in those circumstances is unrealistic. We have also said that, following the gradual withdrawal of the garrison, we shall continue to have a presence in Belize, as we intend to continue jungle training there.

The United Kingdom will continue to have the closest possible relations with Belize and with its Government. If the hon. Gentleman suggests that a permanent garrison is required, he must appreciate that that would be a most inappropriate policy to pursue.

Mr. Wareing : No agreement with former Guatemalan President Serrano Elias had been reached on territorial waters even before the coup. Who knows what could be in store in an unstable country where there was a great threat of a military takeover just a few weeks ago? Is the Secretary of State saying that he is certain that that threat has gone for ever?

Mr. Rifkind : The question is whether we choose to retain a military garrison in an independent state that has, at the moment, no claims upon its territory from other countries. We do not keep military garrisons around the world. We keep them in territories where we have an historic obligation or where there is a threat to a country's independence and integrity. The idea that, because of unresolved differences of view between two countries that do not involve the independence or integrity of either state,

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we should keep a military garrison on an open-ended basis is a grave distortion of priorities for any country, and particularly for this country at the present time.

I emphasise that we have no intention of abandoning Belize. The withdrawal of our garrison will be gradual and could be reversed if circumstances justified it. We have no reason to believe that the present Guatemalan Government have any intention of reopening some of the old animosities. If that intention were to change, we would have to take that carefully into account.

I shall conclude by saying-- [Interruption.] I am conscious that I have been speaking for quite a long time. A number of hon. Members wish to speak and I hope I may be allowed to conclude.

Mr. Corbyn rose --

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment and he will wish to speak to it. If he catches the Chair's eye, he may be able to put forward his views.

The Government are conscious that there are difficult challenges and problems for the armed forces of the United Kingdom to face. That is inevitable at a time when we are experiencing a reduction in the size of the armed forces. It is not a problem unique to the United Kingdom--clearly all NATO countries face similar circumstances. Dramatic changes are occurring in the former Warsaw pact countries which require considerable attention and cause severe strains. There is no doubt that, at the end of that process, we will still be able to say without equivocation that the United Kingdom retains one of the most powerful, relevant and significant military forces both in Europe and in the international community. Our professional armed forces are held in the highest respect because of their professionalism, expertise and training. We remain committed to those standards and, while there will inevitably be difficulties over the next couple of years, I believe that we will come through that period and that our armed forces will continue to be a source of great pride and achievement to the British people.

5.6 pm

Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : I shall begin in a

non-controversial manner by joining the Minister in wishing good will to our troops in Bosnia and in many other trouble spots of the world. I wish them well and hope that they come back to this country safely.

I wish to place the Labour party's gratitude to our service personnel on the record. They have demonstrated their dedication and professionalism on numerous occasions over the past year. We should recognise that, and also that we are extremely fortunate to have those high quality armed forces. The demand by such bodies as the UN for British forces testifies to their excellence and skill. We are fortunate to have them.

We are also fortunate to have the reserves, who give the country more time and effort than is reflected by the remuneration that they receive. We must remember also the thousands of Ministry of Defence civilian workers and the hundreds of thousands of defence workers who play a vital part in the defence of our country.

The Secretary of State announced far-reaching proposals for the reserves. We must study those proposals

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with care. I noticed that he did not get the resounding support that I think he had expected from his Back Benchers. We must study the small print of the proposals.

The Secretary of State announced the proposals in a positive way, but left many questions unanswered. Many of us feel that the decision is not strategic, nor is it based on defence requirements. It is based on a decision by the Treasury to screw money out of the Ministry of Defence. When he replies to the debate, I would like the Minister to state how much the proposal will save, or how much extra money it will cost. Will he also say whether there will be any further reductions in the size of the Territorial Army ? Those questions must be examined carefully.

The Secretary of State's announcement, and the way in which it was announced, gave a new meaning to the "army of unemployed" in this country. The Secretary of State was dismissive of the problem of unemployed reservists. However, there are 3 million people out of work and a number of them are reservists. He pooh-poohed questions about whether those reservists will be available for work. I hope that he will address that question. The petty interpretation currently employed by the Government for people who are trying to do voluntary work does not bode well for the future.

The Labour party has called for this debate for the past nine months and, obviously, we now welcome it very much. We are conscious that we are discussing the defence White Paper for 1992 halfway through 1993. It is clear that none of the discussions or votes relating to the debate will have any impact on the defence estimates, which have already been passed by the House with our support. We are debating the Government's statements on the estimates--in other words, the Government's defence strategy. We understand why the Government have been so slow to hold a debate. It is ironic that we are debating these estimates now, when within two weeks we shall get the defence estimates for 1993. I hope that in future the Government will not treat the House in such a cavalier manner.

On examining the Government's statement on defence, I can say only that by their neglect and incompetence and through their sheer inefficiency the Government have mismanaged gravely the defence of our nation.

The reason why they have made such a mess is quite clear. They are simply unable to shake off their free-market dogma and come to terms with the demise of the Soviet Union. The Conservatives have never been adept at handling change. As one Tory wag once remarked, it is not that they are against change ; they simply do not like doing anything for the first time. That is the Government's dilemma. The concept of planning is anathema to them, yet planning is absolutely central to defence. Thus, with the greatest changes in the security sphere since the end of world war two, they rejected a full-scale defence review in which the chiefs of staff were properly consulted. That has been the traditional method of reassessing our defence strategy and that is what should have been done on the breakdown of the cold war.

In a letter to the RUSI News Sheet of autumn 1991, Richard Mottram, a senior MOD civil servant, stated that the group that produced the first "Options for Change" proposals, while it did contain some military personnel, did not include the chiefs of staff. The most important reason for this was to

"help avoid selective leaks to the media".

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That is why chiefs of staff were excluded from the discussions on "Options for Change".

I find it disturbing that Government Ministers had such little confidence in their chiefs of staff that they actually agreed with that. What confidence can the House have in a defence policy that has been written without proper consultation with the military?

Mr. Mans : While I can understand that there was a compelling reason to have a full-scale defence review at the end of the cold war, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, with hindsight, that would not have been the right way forward? Events have moved so rapidly and in such unpredictable ways that any review at that time would already be out of date. With hindsight, was not Government policy at the time--to look at the situation and make the changes they did--the right one?

Dr. Clark : I can answer the hon. Gentleman in one word--no. The real reason is that the Tory party is dogged with dogma. Any defence review was out of the question, so the then Secretary of State decided to have his hole-in-the-corner review of defence which he grandly called, "Options for Change".

The irony is that in the past couple of weeks we have had the best explanation and description of that process in the diaries produced by the then Minister of State, Alan Clark. It is quite remarkable that he spills the beans and tells us what it was all about. He was very quick off the mark and presented his own proposals on 14 January which, in his own words, were "the lead document" and had the advantage that they were "only five pages long" as opposed to the cumbersome policies and documents put forward by the other parties. He describes in great detail what happened.

"How shrewd and good I was to get it in first",

he writes, and talks about how he was beginning to win the battle in the Ministry of Defence. He says :

"I retoy with the idea of supplanting him,"

--the then Secretary of State--

"and promptly. Of course I should be in charge",

he writes,

"handling the whole thing at international level, also Washington, Brussels. My present solution would be to move TK to Health". I shall not continue because he is rather rude about certain Conservative Members. He goes on to describe the critical ministerial meeting with the Prime Minister in the chair. He says :

"I set out my stall, named and costed a number of programmes which could be eliminated without any risk. This induced show intakes of breath from the military men but I could see Lawson and Lamont beaming with approval. Martin Farndale tried to come back at me, but the PM cut him off and she started on a quite well-informed (Charles's hand clearly in evidence) summary of the approach to the equipment problems, and the need for inter- operability' across NATO. When the Prime Minister said that further work was needed' I jumped in. It was now or never."

Mr. Cormack : It is a book at bedtime.

Dr. Clark : That is exactly the point. It does read like a book at bedtime. However, it is how the Government did their defence review. I thank the hon. Gentleman for making the point for me.

The book continues :

"What a coup! Well done Alan', said Lawson We've made it! Single-handed, you and I are going to write the Review."

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Those were the words of a player in the "Options for Change" review. It was really like Noddy land. As the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said, it was just like a book at bedtime. I suggest to the House that it was not a proper or sensible way to devise our country's defence.

Mr. Robathan : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the amusing interlude that he is giving us. Does he view Alan Clark as a reliable source of information? If he does, he has further proved that the Labour party is not fit to determine our defence. Surely Alan Clark can never be called a reliable source of information.

Dr. Clark : All I can say is that, to the best of my knowledge, Alan Clark is not a member of the Labour party ; he is a card-carrying member of the Conservative party. He was a Minister of the Crown until he himself resigned ; he was not actually sacked and, as he has produced the only account of "Options for Change", we must accept it as the true one until the Government describe precisely what happened.

Mr. David Young : Is it not a sad concern that the Government have not created a comprehensive review in order to meet the current situation which is resulting now in the loss of morale in the forces, the fact that forces are over-stressed and over-worked and the fact that Britain is not in a position to meet the day-to-day commitments that are forced on us by the United Nations and by the rise of nationalism? Are not the Tories avoiding their election commitment to provide the necessary resources for the effective defence of this country because they have never planned for such a defence?

Dr. Clark : My hon. Friend put the point so well that I might consider employing him as my speech writer. He is quite right that there is no strategy and that is why we are in the current mess. After the bedtime stories, the then Secretary of State, who quite clearly came from the same military school as Blackadder, decided to produce one of Baldrick's cunning plans and, like all Baldrick's cunning plans, it has fallen apart.

Then there was the indignity of Ministers sneaking out figures just before the Easter break, so that the House could not discuss them, announcing that 5,000 extra personnel in the Royal Navy were to be sacked. That sort of action comes from having no strategic plan. There is not even a document "Options for Change" ; only a parliamentary statement supplemented by newspaper leaks and Government announcements, which, perhaps, makes the point that there has been no strategic thinking.

As has been said, the great asset of the plan was supposed to be flexibility. But, critically, that means that there was no strategic assessment of our defence needs in the mid-1990s and beyond. There has been no attempt to match the shape of our forces to the threats and risks facing our security and our obligations to the world community. What we needed then, as now, was a full-scale defence review.

We all accept that we live in a changed world and that there will be reductions in defence spending. On 19 May, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement told the House that Britain would be making cuts of about 10 per cent. in the next three years. That adds up to a reduction of about 30 per cent. by the end of the decade.

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No one quibbles with the need for reduced defence expenditure. However, when expenditure is cut it is all the more important to get it right. The correct balance must be struck between our services and those of our NATO allies. Because the Government failed to have a fundamental review, we have seen repeated examples of crisis management and the associated over-stretch. Our armed forces have too many roles to undertake.

The Government cannot take decisions themselves. In the autumn of 1992, the Government told the people of Plymouth, in the local press, that they would announce before Christmas 1992 whether Devonport or Rosyth would refit Trident. Yet, here we are in June, still awaiting that decision. When will they make up their minds? When will they end the uncertainty? When will they put the people out of their misery? Or do they enjoy torturing people? It appears that the well-known inability of the Prime Minister to take decisions has infected the Secretary of State with a vengeance.

It is not only the lack of decision or strategy towards change that concerns us ; it is the mistaken policies based on pure dogma, especially those of privatisation and contractorisation. That approach has cost this country dear. For example, there was the recent fiasco at St. Athans with the Tornado fighters, so ably highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). The House will recall that, under the Government's competitive tendering scheme, a £7 million contract was awarded to Airwork Services to refit the fighters. It is understood that the company so botched up the work and cut so many corners that the planes are now unfit for service. The cost of rectifying that will be about £6 million per plane--on a £7 million contract. Meanwhile, 18 crucial fighter planes are grounded.

I put it to the Secretary of State that if he had achieved the downing of 18 fighters single-handed in the last war he would have been awarded the iron cross personally by Goering. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has achieved the almost impossible, all because of dogma. That is not an isolated case. Tragically, there have been as many cases as there have been escapees under Group 4--another example of the Government's dogmatic approach.

On 9 June 1993, the National Audit Office confirmed that the Minstry of Defence police are investigating a massive fraud involving shipowners and agents during the Gulf war crisis ; an issue that we raised in 1991, for which we were ridiculed. While our troops were risking their lives trying to liberate Kuwait, the fat cats were busy milking the inefficiencies of the MOD. Excessive commissions were paid, nearly all the charters were placed with foreign shipowners because the Government had destroyed the Merchant Navy and vast profits were made. It is small wonder that the Tory party received £7 million in their coffers from foreign business men, who have been richly rewarded.

There is not only fraud but inefficiency. The same National Audit Office revealed that almost £50 million out of £260 million was spent unnecessarily because of Government incompetence. The country paid the price then for Tory dogma, but that was not an isolated case. Only yesterday the Public Accounts Committee was severely critical of the Government over ship refitting

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contracts. It revealed that £224 million--these are vast sums--was wasted on refitting two nuclear submarines which were then decommissioned in the middle of the refit. What a disaster, what a tragedy and what a costly mistake for which the British taxpayer is having to foot the bill.

The tragedy is that the Government do not seem to have learnt the lesson. The National Audit Office, in its report, says that the chartering arrangements to the former Yugoslavia are so poor that "the absence of suitable movements systems and expertise could then have serious consequences"

for the supplies going to our troops. I shall not spell out the implications of those findings, but the Secretary of State must drop that dogmatic approach to all things and sort out the system once and for all because lives are literally at stake.

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