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Column 1071skins to the longerons and that created enlarged holes. When the fasteners were put back in there could not be a tight fit between the side skins and the longerons and that compromised the aeronautical integrity of the aircraft. An aircraft with loosely attached screws holding the sides on is not fit to do what an F3 Tornado is meant to do in combat--or in training, for that matter.
That is the alarming situation in which we now find ourselves. What can happen now? We have been talking about options for change, but what we now have is options for repairs at RAF St. Athan. We are told that three options are now being considered. The first is cannibalisation. We could use the F2 Tornadoes that are in storage because they have completed most of their natural flying life. Fortunately, their central fuselage section is almost identical to that of the F3, so the section of the F3 that has been damaged in the attempt to double its flying life could be ripped out and a cannibalised central fuselage section from an F2 in storage could be put in. That is cannibalisation. This would be done by the RAF Abingdon team, the so-called repair and recovery--commonly known as the crash and smash--team, which has moved down to RAF St. Athan. Then there is reconstruction. This is probably the most expensive option and the one that, for obvious reasons, the German engineers who built the centre fuselage section of the Tornado F3 would prefer, because it would mean money for them. It would mean taking the aircraft or flying the centre fuselage section back to Germany and rebuilding it from scratch on the manufacturer's original jigs. Deutche Aerospace has recommended that that is what is necessary if the aircraft are ever to be restored to ‡full fitness. Obviously, that is a very expensive way of going about it, but they say that that is the only way. One can say that the Mandy Rice-Davies rule applies here--well, they would, wouldn't they?--but they may be right ; we do not know.
The third option is rectification, asking the skilled civilians and service men at RAF St. Athan to do the work. There are about 1,000 civilians, mostly skilled tradesmen and supervising technicians, and 3,000 service men of the same skilled type. It is not an operational RAF base ; it is the RAF garage, as it were. They could be asked what they could do about the damage, which is that the depressions around fastener holes have been enlarged so that they are 25 times as great as the maximum tolerance allowed in the design of the Tornado F3. Maximum tolerance for damage round the screw holes is 0.02 mil, and the actual damage on these 12 aircraft, I understand, is 0.5 mil. The RAF could ask if there was a way of doing the job on the cheap, even if it took a long time.
We face other concerns as well, in that Airwork's own future may depend on certain matters on which the Minister may touch. It is not the purpose of this debate to throw accusations at the staff of Airwork, some of whom may be constituents of mine. Throwing terms such as cowboys at either staff or companies is of no interest to me. We are talking about policy decisions here tonight.
Is there a lesson here for the Ministry of Defence? I believe that there is and it falls into several categories. The first is how one judges whether a firm is the right sort to take on this kind of work. What sort of professional indemnity assurance against the contract getting into trouble do they have? If it gets to the stage of litigation against Airwork, do they have adequate insurance to cope with a bill for the writing off of two Tornadoes, costing £25
Column 1072million when new, although they are certainly not new? Should one specify that a firm must be of sufficient financial standing or have sufficient indemnity insurance to cover that kind of damage? One has to be sure about that before giving a firm that kind of contract. Can we also learn lessons as to how these contracts should be written? What sort of specification should be put in the contract in terms of quality assurance? One lesson is that we must not allow the further proliferation of, and over-dependence on, quality certificates, which tell very little about the quality of the job being done. Even though some consultant has given a quality certificate, hands-on quality assurance on the job is necessary to check that it is being done properly.
The greatest lesson is that it is silly not to allow the RAF to bid for that kind of work. I hope that that lesson gets home to the Minister. When all the decisions have been made about what kind of repairs to do, whether there will be litigation and, if there is litigation, whether it will get back the money that seems to have been lost over this, the most important lesson seems to be that common sense has gone out of the window in not allowing the RAF to bid against British Aerospace and Airwork.
In the whole thrust towards market testing, compulsory competitive tendering, privatisation and contractorisation, this was a market testing or contractorisation exercise that went one bridge too far. I hope that the Ministry of Defence has learnt its lesson from this fiasco.
This debate takes place against the background of a considerable fiscal difficulty that has figured a number of times. Nevertheless, I shall follow earlier speakers in arguing for the matching of capabilities and resources.
I start by referring to a comment from a speech which my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) made in winding up the last debate on defence. He described in a very picturesque fashion visiting sites from which the Russian army had disappeared, and seeing great hangars for equipment that had been either demolished or taken away.
It is very easy to draw the wrong lesson from this. As far as I know, no serious military analyst believes that the forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation were capable of fighting a conventional battle against the forces of the Warsaw pact for more than a day or two. Our conventional forces provided a trigger for the policy of flexible response, which involved at a very early stage the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Even an enormous reduction in forces on the other side of the iron curtain would have left vastly greater forces than the NATO forces could have afforded a war against. It is in the light of that observation that we have to look at the political situation now on the other side of what used to be the iron curtain, where we see, not one nuclear country but four ; where we see a series of instabilities, some of which are getting worse. I do not know whether it is true that Ukrainians are selling nuclear technology or whether it is true that Khazakistan is passing on nuclear technology to Iran, but we know that the spread of nuclear technology into the third world is a serious problem.
Column 1073If we look at the "Options for Change" exercise and, for a second, imagine that it is a properly balanced one--I do not want to argue either way now--we realise that since then three things have changed on the threat side. First, the Soviet Union has broken up, so now there are four countries with nuclear weapons.
Secondly, another seven countries are on their way to becoming nuclear powers. Some of them are as close as north Africa and the middle east, and include Libya, Algeria and Syria. Those countries are not on the other side of the world. They are run by unstable dictators and will not necessarily respond easily to simple deterrence. They have not only nuclear weapons-- they have built up chemical inventories and are developing biological weapons. Some also have enormous conventional forces. For example, Syria has more tanks than Britain and France put together. I mention those countries simply because we must not lose sight of the fact that they are close to home.
Thirdly, the commitments of the United Nations have grown. Ironically, this is the one that matters least from the point of view of the home base and the possible threat to the United Kingdom or our partners in western Europe. It is taking up most of our attention and a great deal of planning time of NATO and, indeed, the Ministry of Defence.
Since the options exercise, the problems have grown substantially. Resources have had one more round of cuts, and many of us are afraid that there will be another. I do not want to dwell on percentage reductions, because one can play all sorts of games against them--it depends on what one thinks they should be.
It is clear that the beans do not add up at present, and I shall give two succinct examples to show what I mean. The first is the rapid reaction corps. Its most important and most expensive training facility is at Suffield in Canada, where they practise combined training. The first three exercises this year turned into fiascos, because they were all done without infantry. We cannot talk about a rapid reaction corps : it cannot rapidly react if its troops are away doing other things, so they are not training for the role. The other example is our amphibious forces. There is a case for having a strong amphibious capability. There is a case for saying that we, as a small country, cannot afford the capability to do such things. It is manifestly absurd to have the 80 : 20 ruling reversed and have all the overheads associated with the Royal Marines and the commando training facilities--I understand that there are six generals. It is absurd to invest in a helicopter carrier that will have no capability at all. Without the two landing platform docks are the centre of any possible amphibious action, but which are completely clapped out at present. One of them is so clapped out that it would take the best part of a year to get it back into some sort of order.
We are finding all sorts of small problems. Cuts have been made to the money available for war stocks, which are already at an extremely low level. For example, in the Gulf, we exhausted our entire reserve of shells in a short time. The real problem is not peacetime overstretch, although it is a serious problem and I do not underestimate it. When I was canvassing on our married quarters patch
Column 1074during the local elections, I met a number of wives of senior NCOs who are leaving the Army shortly, having taken voluntary redundancy. That is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the overstretch in capabilities. We are trying to maintain the capabilities to fight potential high-intensity wars against some of the serious threats on the one hand and resources on the other. I follow other hon. Members on both sides of the House in saying that we need a genuine strategic review of defence policy and diplomatic policy. My simple question is : what alliance would tackle a nuclear threat in north Africa? Would it be tackled by some hastily cobbled together ad hoc combination? No rapid forces other than those of NATO have the capability at present. But under its charter, NATO is not allowed to tackle it. We need a strategic review. I know that other hon. Membershe Territorial Army have said that reserve forces should be used in peacetime. However, there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it. If it simply means that regular units that need to be all regular will be padded out by volunteers, some of whom are simply unemployed, that is not a proper use for them, and they will not help the territorials in the long term.
The Canadians, who do a lot of this, have a Territorial Army that is in extremely poor shape. Its level of recruiting is worse than ours and its turnover is as great. The right model is the one used by the United States national guard and the Australians. Both of them have a much lower turnover than we do.
I shall make four specific points. First, roles for Territorial Army units must be sensible, not half-baked. It is absurd, for example, that a recce regiment in the rapid reaction corps is Territorial Army. Of course, such a regiment could not be there quickly enough--it would have to go first.
Secondly, all units must have the same liability. The situation into which we have slipped with some high liability soldiers and some with lower liability is absurd. The paper that has been produced suggests that we should go further, but that is unworkable. It will simply create a sea of paperwork and will mean that the command structure in Territorial Army units will be bypassed.
Thirdly, units must be kept at a reasonable size. There is no earthly point in having mini, three-company battalions, with no support weapons--nothing. It would be far better to have fewer TA battalions embracing the existing number of companies so that each unit is a worthwhile size.
Fourthly, the arrangements for call-out are critical. As I said in my intervention in the Secretary of State's speech, if one lesson is clear from the Gulf it is that if we need a substantial number of TA soldiers, it is unfair to ask them to volunteer a second time. The call-out must be done as the Americans do it, which is to call out a unit. It saves individuals problems with their employers. It is understood in countries where it is used. Nevertheless, I see the possibility of progress in his statement.
I end where I began. Yes, we have economic difficulties but, my God, we also have political difficulties abroad. There is, indeed, a frightening similarity with what happened in the 1920s. Then there was no serious threat visible, but there was a huge amount of political and nationalist instability. The difference between now and
Column 1075then is the nuclear element in the cocktail. We must not make the mistake of disarming too quickly and without a properly planned strategic review.
Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Order. In the 15 minutes available before the Front-Bench replies, two hon. Members hope to catch my eye. I sincerely hope that both are successful. I call Mr. Andrew Mackinlay.
First, I associate myself with the tributes paid by hon. Members to the men and women of our armed forces. I include in that reference the high regard that we all have for the parents of the soldier whose inquest was held at Wrexham earlier this week, who spoke proudly about their son and his service. We would want to associate ourselves with some tribute to him and to their courage and dignity. I wish to raise one relatively small matter in the Statement on the Defence Estimates. It is a pity that annex A, which sets out the details of the fleet, does not include ships which are used exclusively for harbour training. If it did, I could refer to HMS Caroline, which is the last surviving ship that served in the battle of Jutland. It is languishing in a remote corner of Belfast dock, when the nation should be reinstating it with pride because it is part of our maritime and national history. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us that it will be restored.
There is an omission from the estimates. The Government are still not doing enough for ex-service men and their widows and orphans. One of the first things I did on being elected to the House just over a year ago was to table early-day motion 2 which has attracted 70 signatures. It calls for the appointment of a Minister for war veterans and their widows and orphans. I regret that only one Conservative Member has signed it, although service men and women and veterans support the idea of a dedicated Minister to look after ex-service men, veterans and their widows and orphans.
Such an appointment would be welcome in view of the conflicts that, unfortunately, our armed forces still have to face around the world and in Northern Ireland, with consequential casualties. Moreover, our parents' generation--those who fought at Dunkirk, in north Africa and the far east-- are, in the nature of things, getting elderly and frail. It would be a good signal if there were a Minister charged with promoting and protecting their interests and working with the various voluntary organisations which, incidentally, also support the appointment of such a Minister. I am thinking in particular of the Royal British Legion. Most countries have a veterans Minister. I hope that will be taken on board by the Minister.
There is reference in the documents to the Ministry of Defence police. I am pleased to have touched base with the Ministry of Defence Police Federation, the members of which do gallant service in protecting military establishments, pursuing crime and reassuring members of the public, service men and their families who operate at Ministry of Defence establishments.
That federation is anxious on two counts. The first is the growth in the number of civil static guards who do not have constabulary powers. Not only does the federation see the use of those guards as a diminution of its members'
Column 1076role as police officers, but fear that it is a form of short-termism for which we shall pay dearly in years to come, particularly in terms of diminished security.
Secondly, the federation is concerned lest the changed demands on members of the royal military police following the decline of BAOR will act as a temptation for the Secretary of State to use them in lieu of Ministry of Defence police, although their functions are different, particularly in the United Kingdom.
The Ministry of Defence police deal with civilians and service personnel in relation to crime and other traditional police duties. The royal military police, certainly in this country, have powers to deal only with military personnel. I hope we may be assured that, even by slippage, there will not be a shift to using the royal military police in lieu of the Ministry of Defence police. I intervened earlier in the debate to refer to HMS Fort Victoria. I raise the issue again because a scandal surrounding the building of that vessel has not been properly aired. That armed support ship was ordered in 1986 at a contract price of £127 million. It was to be constructed at Harland and Wolff in Belfast. Its cost has escalated out of control, to approximately £190 million, and its delivery is three years behind schedule. It is time for the House to be given a full explanation of what has gone wrong and who is to blame. I mention it as one who is interested and proud of our naval and auxiliary fleet, as an hon. Member who is concerned with public expenditure and, unashamedly, as an Opposition Member. Had Labour been in power, Conservative Members would be going bananas at this scandal of delay and overspending. I hope that there will be full disclosure of what has gone wrong because the Government have presided over considerable waste in respect of HMS Fort Victoria. The vessel has not been equipped as was originally intended and Parliament and the public should be told why there has been a failure to deliver the craft in the way originally intended.
Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds) : There is probably no part of the United Kingdom where the impact of the second world war lingers on more than in my constituency. Thousands of American service men arrived in Suffolk in 1942. Their stay then continues to be acknowledged throughout my constituency. Remembrance day is a joint Anglo-American service, and in the past 12 months many hundreds of United States ex-service men have returned. I have had the privilege of meeting some of them, and it was a poignant and moving occasion. I take this opportunity to salute them for their bravery and nobility of purpose in coming here all those years ago to see off the forces of tyranny and oppression.
To paraphrase my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, the long shadow of the cold war has been lifted to reveal smaller but intense shadows. No fewer than 21 civil wars are now taking place, even if television cameras tend to ignore most of them.
As important debate continues about the future of NATO and the Western European Union, the WEU. These are heady days. The former United States Secretary of State, James Baker, talked of NATO stretching potentially from Vancouver to Vladivostok. The simple fact, however, is that Europe suffers from significant military deficiencies, particularly in terms of intelligence
Column 1077and logistics. To put it bluntly, we have limited air transport capacity. We would not be able to mount a major airlift of troops. Last autumn, British troops were deployed to Bosnia in United States transport aircraft, because we do not have the required support capacity on hand.
It is true that my constituency enjoys significant economic spin-offs because of the 7,000 American personnel, plus dependants, at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, which my hon. Friend the Minister has visited. They put about £200 million into the economy. The relationship between those bases and the local community is, happily, not bettered anywhere in the world. The essential factor, however, is that that continuing United States presence in Britain and Europe is critical to our defence.
That relationship has had its tensions, but there is absolutely no question about the fact that, time and time again, it has been Britain and the United States that have promptly reacted, together, to events while, at times, our European partners have sat on the sidelines. The successful prosecution of the Falklands war would not have been possible without the considerable intelligence gathering support from the Americans.
Britain and Europe have legitimate security concerns in the middle east. The invasion of Kuwait threatened not only the stability of the region, but our oil supplies. Hon. Members may wish to remind themselves that Kuwaiti independence could not have been regained without American military power.
President Bush announced that United States forces in Europe would be halved to 150,000 by 1995 ; President Clinton is talking about reducing that number to 100,000 by 1996. The network of shared intelligence and signals appears, happily, to remain unaffected by those plans.
Part and parcel of this shared relationship, and still important to our security, is our independent nuclear deterrent. Whatever we think of the horrors of war, we cannot wish away nuclear weaponry. I hope that the British Government will continue to make it clear that, for us, a limited testing programme is important.
Most importantly, I urge the Government to press continually for recognition by the Americans of the importance of their presence in Europe. I am pleased that my constituency will, with the arrival of the new F15E fighter, host what many regard to be the most advanced tactical fighter currently in use. I am glad that we shall also continue to host the vital United States air force transport centre, now including the reconnaissance and special service missions. My constituents welcome that unreservedly.
Above all, my constituents recognise the importance of the American presence as a continuing guarantee of our security in a volatile and turbulent world. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to seek to ensure a continuing and substantial American commitment to the security of Europe, particularly as the new Administration in Washington formulates its defence goals.
As every business man knows, the home market is an important spring-board to export success. The defence industry is a great success story in terms of employment and technology, both directly and indirectly. Firms in my constituency that provide high-technology goods to the
Column 1078defence industry have seen their sales to export markets treble in the past few years. That has also increased employment opportunities.
A good home market is not only good for a firm's business and thereafter its employment and technology, but increases its standing abroad. Overseas buyers feel comforted by the size of a company in many instances. Even during the recession, there have been success stories in the defence export business in my constituency. Those companies would suffer catastrophically if ever the Labour party's defence policies were implemented.
I do not exaggerate when I say that the world needs Britain with an adequate defence capability. The country needs the defence industry for jobs, and also for high technology with its range of important spin-offs.
Time and time again, the instinctive love of freedom and democracy of the British people has been tested in adversity. We have never let ourselves or the world down. With that in mind, we must pursue a defence policy that is equal to our strategic needs. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to do just that.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) : The last time I wound up a debate it was a debate on the Army. I suspected on that occasion that the Minister had come under friendly fire. This time, with the exception of two Conservative speakers, everyone has been sniping at the Minister. The first reason for the sniping is the fact that the estimates that we are debating will be superseded in a fortnight by the new defence estimates for 1993. We have had to wait almost 12 months for the debate. I understand now why the Government did not want a debate. There may not even be a debate on next year's estimates after today's events.
The debate today has not been about money. We are not to vote on whether the defence estimates are correct--that has been done on the nod. The debate has been about the Government's stewardship of the defence of the country, and there is a credibility gap there that is every bit as big as the £50 billion budget deficit. The Secretary of State has not arrived in the Chamber yet--I presume that he will be coming back. He came to the House earlier today with a lot of bluster and attacked my hon. Friends and me. I was surprised that the Secretary of State was able to pin anything on me. I am classed as coming from the violent wing of the party, and he has done my credibility no end of good.
The only thing that the Secretary of State really said today was that there were to be cuts. When his remarks are distilled, they show that he said that both the naval and the RAF reserve were to be cut. He came to the House, attacked the Labour party and then cut the defence capability of the country once more. The Government do not want a defence review--that would never do, although nearly every Conservative Member and all Opposition Members called for one. We are talking about salami--slicing, as has been mentioned.
I had the pleasure of serving with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) on the Select Committee on Agriculture for many years. It was a special pleasure to hear the hon. Gentleman attack the Government. He did it very well, as one would expect from a former Defence Minister. He realised that there were going to be cuts in the reserves and he made it clear to the
Column 1079House that he found that unacceptable. The hon. Gentleman was also concerned, as are all other hon. Members, about the defence industry in the west country. It plays a major role in that part of England and the Government have no policy whatsoever for providing alternative jobs in the area. The subject of Westland helicopters was also mentioned, and I shall return to that later.
The Government have no idea of where they are going. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, Norh-East (Mr. Campbell) agreed with us on that point. Judging from what he said tonight, it would be difficult to get a bayonet between his policies and those of the Labour party. He must have been reading our manifesto. My experience of Liberals is that they usually carry bayonets anyway. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman was a little churlish to say that, although the Labour party wants a defence review, the Government are right to say that there would be leaks. I find it surprising that a member of a party that believes in open government should worry about leaks from the defence chiefs of staff. There should have been a defence review and the chiefs of staff should have known about it. There would have been leaks--they are part and parcel of the system--but if we say that we should not have a defence review because we are afraid of leaks, we shall never have one in future.
The hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) attacked Labour nuclear policy, but that was a smokescreen because he then put the knife into the Government. When I first heard the hon. Gentleman, I thought, "If I were a Conservative, I would want him to be a Minister," but it then became clear that he does not agree with Government policy.
The hon. Gentleman said that the saving of £9 million on Belize was not worth it. Central America is a very unstable part of the world, but it is extremely important. If we pull out, we shall find ourselves with the same difficulties that we had in the Falklands. I have not forgotten that the Conservative Government were responsible for the Falklands war because they withdrew the naval ship. The hon. Gentleman did not agree with the short-sighted measure to reduce the number of battalions. He knows that we cannot meet our commitments and I am sure that he agrees that we should have a defence review. He is concerned, as we are, that the 1.5 per cent. pay increase to the armed forces will continue.
The Secretary of State does as the Chancellor says, and it is no coincidence that there are now rumours that defence was not part of the review being carried out by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who knew that the Secretary of State would give in without going to the star chamber. It would be wrong for the 1.5 per cent. pay increase to continue. As I explained in the debate on the Army, as those in the armed forces rarely have mortgages, that represents a cut in their wages over the years.
Other right hon. and hon. Members have made valuable contributions to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) touched on a variety of important issues, some of them concerning his constituency. The only real support for the Government came from the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton), who is not in his place. We shall miss him towering over us at the Dispatch Box and I pay tribute to the honesty of his answers, which is not always the case with other Ministers. I disagreed with a lot
Column 1080of what he said, but we were on common ground with regard to ground troops in Bosnia. I wish him well on the Back Benches.
I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) about the Scottish regiments. He seemed to think that radioactivity would stop at the Scottish border. I represent Carlisle, which is the last city in England. When I look out of my window I see Chapelcross, the last nuclear power station in England. The hon. Gentleman seemed confused about the nuclear deterrent and keeping Rosyth, but I understand his problem.
The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) was devastating. The arguments he used against his own Government were based on experience, but again he called for a defence review, as did other hon. Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) must be congratulated on bringing to light the scandal about market testing at RAF St. Athan. The company concerned has done more harm to the RAF in one year than the Soviet air force did in 40 years. That is the result of privatisation. It is dogma ridden and dogma driven. Market forces are paramount. Whatever base one visits, one hears about market testing. I remember going to a real market in Hong Kong at 6 o'clock in the morning because Chinese chickens for British forces based there were being market tested. It is nonsense. It is dogma driven and we should take this as an opportunity to stop and reconsider.
In the olden days, when Ministers were honourable Members, someone would have resigned over the situation that my hon. Friend has exposed. However, that is not the case now. Times have changed. Anyone who has read Alan Clark's book will realise that. I have been doing a little reading of his work as well. It is not so much the content that seems to remind me of Ministers as the title. I am, of course, referring to his book "The Donkeys". I borrowed my copy from the War Office library, which shows how old it is. That is his famous book, for which he will be remembered, with the famous quote about British troops fighting like lions but being led by donkeys. My experience of the armed forces is that all the donkeys have now left. The generals have left and have gone to work for the Jockey Club. Donkeys are stubborn, stupid creatures. Some may find them lovable, but they remind me of Ministers on the Treasury Bench--they do not have the ears, but I am sure that someone finds them lovable. I say that because the Government have refused to have a defence review, which has led to overstretch in many parts of the armed forces. For example, we know that the Government will cancel the tactical air-to-surface missile, the sub- strategic nuclear weapon. They know it, the Royal Air Force knows it, but the Government are too stubborn to tell us. We do not know the future. They are not prepared to tell us. The 1989 White Paper said that the WE117 nuclear bomb could not continue beyond the 1990s. A Minister has since said that it will go into the next decade. We know that TASM is doomed. Why do not the Government say so?
There has been much comment about the European helicopter 101. I recently visited the Westland factory in Yeovil. It is a good aircraft. A promise of an order was placed in 1987--six years ago--yet the Minister is still too stubborn to say where the Government will place that order. There is some opposition in the RAF, but
Column 1081sometimes Ministers have to lead ; donkeys rarely do, but Ministers must. The west country needs that order if Britain is to continue to have a viable helicopter industry in the next century.
The Eurofighter 2000 is probably the most important technical and industrial project in Britain. The Minister told us in a recent parliamentary answer that the cost has gone up by some £250 million. We were told in January last year by Alan Clark--I presume that he was right--that it would fly at the Farnborough air show. It did not fly at Farnborough. It will not fly at Paris this week. We are not sure when it will take off. It has had two names, but it has not yet flown. If the Government do not get a grip on the project, bring the costs under control and bring it back on line, the enemies of that project, in this country and overseas, will come together, use that evidence and we shall lose it.
Will we get the larger share of the work? The Secretary of State said that an order would be placed for 250 aircraft, which will account for more than 50 per cent. of all orders that will be placed for it. According to the original agreement, that should mean that more than 50 per cent. of the work will be done in this country. I am not sure that will be the case, or whether the Government will buckle under German pressure.
It is a matter of concern that the Government are not prepared to listen and to re-examine issues. They seem to think only about elections. I am worried about the Government's statement today concerning reserves. I am a cynic when it comes to Government policy. They seem to be saying that they will use reserves instead of full-time troops. That is welcome in some ways, but I suspect that policy has nothing to do with giving the Territorial Army a greater role, but everything to do with making expensive professional soldiers redundant so that the Government can enjoy a cheaper option using part-timers. If I had not seen that happen in so many other areas, I might give the Government the benefit of the doubt. The Secretary of State said that he would bring legislation before the House, and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) pointed out that a change had occurred. We do not want a repeat of the Gulf situation, in which reservists had to be asked twice to volunteer because employers would not release them. A Minister had to go into a huddle at Buckingham palace to ensure that those reservists could be sent. Legislation is needed to make it clear that reservists must go if required, be given leave of absence from their work and be guaranteed a job when they return. The unemployed who are called up to serve must be given a guarantee that they and their families will not lose benefits. The sooner that such clarification is provided, the better.
In the 1983 general election, a Conservative party poster depicted Labour defence policy in the form of a soldier with his hands up. Another used the headline, "Labour isn't working". In the next general election, a good poster for Labour would be one showing a queue of redundant soldiers, sailors, airmen, shipbuilders and workers from the west country with the headline, "Tory defence policy".
The Tories do not have a credible economic policy. Theirs is not the party of sound money or of law and order--and theirs is not the party of strong defence.
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The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Jonathan Aitken) : It is with some relish that I rise to wind up the first day of thitwo -day defence debate. It began five and a half hours ago with a wide-ranging speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, the highlight of which was his important statement on the future of our reserve forces.
The pantomime horse of the two Opposition spokesmen who began and ended today's debate could not think how to answer my right hon. and learned Friend's statement. At first, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) gave it a qualified welcome, but then fell back on a discreet silence after saying that he must wait and see. Winding up for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) seemed to regard my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement as a wicked Tory device to increase the dole queues. He had five and a half hours to work out that response. Between that gap of ignorant silence at the beginning and prejudiced misrepresentation at the end, it would have been a good idea to use the consultation period to learn the views of the public and of the reserves themselves. We believe that our proposals represent a good way forward for the reserves in the new security atmosphere, which the reserves themselves will largely welcome because of the new tasks and roles that they will be given. Although I will not hesitate to give way to Opposition Members, I think that they should allow the consultation period to proceed : I believe that it will result in a welcome for the announcement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.
I am bound to confess that I have an advantage here. Because of ministerial defence cuts, the House now has only three defence Ministers ; the Opposition, overstaffed as always, have four defence spokesmen. One Minister must therefore speak twice during this two-day debate and I shall be opening the Monday debate. It is possible that, because of the breadth and depth of some of the topics that have been covered today, they would best be dealt with on Monday : I am thinking particularly of nuclear issues, the European fighter aircraft and one or two other matters. However, I shall do my best to answer the points that have been raised today, in so far as that is possible.
The hon. Member for South Shields opened his speech--as he often does, courteously and correctly--by paying tribute to our armed forces and to MOD civilians. Naturally, I share his view. Apart from that common ground, however, I considered his speech a rubbish of an oration. It contained not a word of constructive thought or policy on the future defence of our country ; it was one long whine and whinge about a so-called collection of scandals, which became markedly less scandalous on examination.
One of the first great scandals unearthed by the hon. Gentleman--it dated back to 1988 ; he was digging quite deep--related to the extra money that he thought had been wasted on submarine refits. Let me give the hon. Gentleman a history lesson. He will recall that, in the wake of dramatic events in eastern Europe in the late 1980s, we
Column 1083had to review the size of our planned nuclear submarine fleet. We concluded that a smaller fleet would be sufficient in the new strategic environment and I do not think that the Opposition disagree with that conclusion. In September 1990, following careful analysis, we decided to pay off two submarines, HMS Warspit our assessment showed that paying them off was the right decision and the best way of saving the taxpayer the maximum amount.
As the hon. Gentleman will recall, those developments were started by no less than the fall of the Berlin wall on 9 November 1989. That is a significant date : HMS Warspite's refit had begun in March 1988 and HMS Churchill's in April 1989. Planning for the refits had begun even earlier. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman foresaw the fall of the Berlin wall ; I wonder whether he anticipated that we might need fewer submarines. I think that the Government made a sensible decision. There was nothing scandalous about it ; in the long run, it was in the best interests of the defence budget.
So much for the hon. Gentleman's first scandal. His second was all about shipping fraud during the Gulf crisis. It would not have been the first or last conflict in which one or two people may have profiteered ; I draw no conclusions, but that happens. Let us put the matter in context, however. The Gulf war deployment was the largest deployment of troops and equipment since the second world war, involving 46,000 personnel, 46,000 tonnes of freight, 87,000 tonnes of ammunition and 7,000 containers. It was our own internal audit investigation that uncovered evidence that there might have been some irregularities in the ship chartering process. We called in the MOD police fraud squad to investigate ; the results of that investigation were passed to the Crown Prosecution Service in November last year. We cannot say more now for fear of prejudicing any prosecutions ; but the notion that the MOD has been involved in some murky cover-up or scandal is not justified. I think that we did the only thing that we could do in the circumstances : we conducted a thorough investigation of what may have happened. I can say no more than that.
Mr. Aitken : It is under consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service. For the hon. Gentleman to hold it up as some terrible scandal in which the Ministry of Defence is gravely at fault is nonsense and he should know that.
The hon. Member for South Shields may have been on slightly better ground with his third great scandal, which was the unfortunate episode of Airwork. [Interruption.] Before the hon. Gentleman gets too carried away with merriment, he will find that, at least partly, the laugh is on him. Both he and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) have misunderstood the situation. I do not intend to back away from its gravity, but we must get the facts right. It was blamed on market testing and theologically driven policies. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West seemed to be under the extraordinary illusion that we had put Marks and Spencer in charge of defence research. The chief executive of defence research is
Column 1084Mr. John Chisholm. Mr. Littmoden, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, is the MOD's advisor on market testing.
The contract which has given us so much trouble was nothing to do with market testing. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Carlisle said in his winding-up speech that it was about market testing. The contract is for a type of work that has been routinely undertaken by industry for many years. It has been our long-standing practice that a proportion of our aircraft repair and maintenance work is undertaken by industry. The RAF identifies those tasks which can sensibly be done in house and those-- usually the longer and more specialised jobs--which can best be done by industry. Incorporating the fatigue modifications in the Tornado F3 fell into that category. Therefore, the question of an in-house bid from RAF St. Athan did not arise. It is off the beam to suggest that the aircraft industry cannot service the aircraft that it manufactures.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West should not lose sight of the fact that it was our prompt action that terminated the contract as soon as it became evident that it was being performed in an unsatisfactory manner. That demonstrates our commitment to meeting the exacting quality standards that are so essential for defence equipment, particularly aircraft where flight safety considerations are paramount.
Mr. Morgan : There are three mistakes in what the Minister has said. I did not say that this had not been done previously and satisfactorily by British Aerospace. Secondly, the Minister is not correct to say that the Ministry of Defence took prompt action. The RAF at St. Athan called in the quality assurance directorate which, as I said in my speech, merely checked the certificate without having checked any of the aircraft. Thirdly, on the question whether this was theologically driven, the Minister must face the fact that the Government have a general policy of, if it moves, privatise it. In this case, they did privatise it and now the aircraft cannot move.
Mr. Aitken : The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating considerably. We acknowledge that this is an unfortunate episode. A small number of Tornado F3s have been damaged, but not as seriously as some press speculation and the hon. Gentleman have suggested. The necessary work of surveying the aircraft and estimating the cost of repairs is under way and my Department will be claiming against Airwork in due course. With a claim and legal proceedings pending, we cannot go into detail, but I can assure the House-- this is the important point raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West-- that the RAF's operational capability is not affected by the small number of aircraft damaged or the delays to the modification programme. There are sufficient Tornado F3 aircraft to meet all our present commitments for the air defence of the United Kingdom and the detachment to enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia.
The fourth and last great scandal of the hon. Member for South Shields was that of the service chiefs who were not allowed to participate in the deliberations on "Options for Change" because of a fear that they may be the source of leaks. That was the hon. Gentleman at his most distorting. He must have read the letter from Mr. Mottram which appeared in the newspapers. It rebuts the hon. Gentleman's comments and makes the reverse suggestion.
Column 1085Some time ago the question was asked whether there were appropriate defence staff available following the 1984 reorganisation for the review. Mr. Mottram wrote :
"The answer is, it was. As my article briefly mentioned, the Options exercise was conducted under Ministerial and top management supervision by a small working group of central policy and programmes staffs. Three of its members were military and were selected on the basis of their jobs within the Defence Staff. This also produced a valuable spread of Service expertise involving a Vice-Admiral, a Major-General and an Air Vice- Marshal. Detailed analysis of possible options drew on the advice of the Service Plans divisions. The circle of those involved in the whole exercise in both the central and single-Service staffs was tightly drawn to enable a range of options to be looked at and often discarded on a confidential basis. This was intended to help to avoid the selective leaks to the media of the kind which can damage Service morale and indeed the reputation of the Services."
In plain language, Mr. Mottram is saying that the service chiefs were called in--not the chiefs of staff, but their major representatives--and that they were involved in all stages of the discussions. No one was excluded because they might be the cause of a leak ; they were brought in to avoid leaks, so the hon. Gentleman has got it topsy-turvy. That was his fourth dud scandal. Much of his speech had nothing to do with defence policy, nor did it contain any constructive ideas. It consisted of trying to rake up scandals out of pretty thin air and was a failure as a result.
May I deal briskly with one or two issues raised by my hon. Friends and others who have participated in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) mentioned the EH101. I can assure him that we are actively thinking about helicopter procurement and support. We have, of course, taken note of what Lord Younger has said, but the paramount consideration is to meet the needs of the armed services with proper value-for-money procurement. He also mentioned the Paris air show. Although I do not rule out second-hand Pumas entirely as a small part of our requirement, it is well known in Paris and elsewhere that this Minister is a Puma sceptic. I have said as much at internal meetings and I repeat it to the House. To other hon. Members who mentioned the EH101, I can say that I very much hope that we can find the right price.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) had the intellectual honesty to say that a defence review would not mean the avoidance of difficult decisions. His words must have come as a terrible blow to the Opposition, who have for a long time used the defence review as a device to avoid forming a policy. I agreed with much of what the hon. and learned Gentleman said and I assure him that when taking decisions on procurement policy we of course take into account factors such as export prospects and industrial considerations as well as value for money. It has been helpful to have the views of the House on the wider issues in our discussions about the European fighter aircraft and other matters.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), the Chairman of the Select Committee, on the Committee's report on the defence estimates for 1992. I agree that the threat of nuclear proliferation has been underestimated. I heard what he said about Belize and I look forward to receiving his report later this year. He was right to emphasise the fact that we shall be keeping a training presence and capability there. I