Column 486As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Tayside, North reminded us so eloquently, we have good grounds to be apprehensive not just through the emergence of the liberal democratic party in Russia today with its nationalistic tendencies, but because of the speeches that are made there, asserting a right to continue suzerainty over the independent sovereign countries, many of them democratic, within what used to be the USSR.
I hope that we will soon address the need to acquire a modern, maritime reconnaissance aeroplane to replace the existing Nimrods in service, or at least to overhaul and refurbish them.
The Royal Air Force will also need to be able to project power and to intervene rapidly, either within continental Europe and the NATO theatre, or under the United Nations or WEU control outside it ; or even, if we are to believe the decision of the recent NATO summit, as part of a NATO joint task force operating out of area.
We need a modern transport force and, as many hon. Members have wisely advised the Government, the first tranche of the existing Hercules fleet needs to be replaced now. The replacement already exists. It does not have to be funded by the Government and no RAF development money needs to be invested in it. No fewer than 18 British companies in the C130J programme invested their own shareholders' money in it and consequently stand to benefit not only from the launch of the aircraft by the Royal Air Force, but from third country sales of which we can expect several hundred. The aeroplane will be more capable, its payload range will be better, its manpower per flying hour will be reduced, and it will be a more economic aeroplane. As some have suggested, refurbishment is no sensible solution.
Likewise, when we consider the need to project power, I remind the Government that it is all very well having modern platforms, and we hope that the European fighter aircraft 2000 will be a success, but we need also modern weapons to go with high performance aircraft. I ask the Government for an assurance that air staff requirement 1236 for a long-range conventional stand-off weapon will be met soon, as will air staff requirement 1238 for an air-launched intelligent anti-armour weapon in view of the cancellation of multiple-launch rocket system 3, and air staff requirement 1242 for a laser-guided bomb, be it either Paveway 3 or the Lancelot programme.
We are seeking to save money and it is our duty to make sure that the Royal Air Force is not only operationally capable, but an economic force. In that context, I would support remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) who urged the Government to look again at Royal Air Force Germany. If the Russians withdraw by the end of August this year from the eastern part of Germany, we should withdraw from the western part of Germany.
No fewer than 19,000 German civilians work for either the Royal Air Force in Germany or the Army. I would much rather see those German-based squadrons at stations such as Brawdy or Chivenor, which traditionally have been homes to Royal Air Force flying units and have local communities that support the Royal Air Force, than that they be stationed in Germany as an anachronism, a left-over from the cold war.
On the subject of value for money, reverting to the theme of the Israeli air force and the United States air national guard briefly mentioned earlier in the debate, we
Column 487now have a concept of a sponsored reserve, whereby personnel in firms who work for the Ministry of Defence will have a reserve commitment.
I believe that there is an opportunity to deploy formed units as Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons as part of that sponsored reserve. I shall give some examples. The first is heavy lift cargo airlines which are regularly chartered by the RAF to carry ultraheavy loads--big and bulky cargoes that cannot be lifted by the Hercules. Secondly, if it were decided by Dr. Perry's inquiry that 32 Squadron in my constituency, at RAF Northolt, should be contractorised--heaven forbid--I would urge that it become an auxiliary squadron, the County of Middlesex squadron.
Thirdly, we were told that there would be an electronic warfare and related facilities unit at Middleton St. George-Teesside airport. That, too, could be an auxiliary squadron--perhaps the County of Durham squadron--if Sir John Banham's inquiry would allow it--or the North Riding squadron reformed. There is also the work that is done by pilots who fly training missions to train air traffic controllers at Shawbury. That could be an auxiliary squadron. If we carry the concept further, so could the target towers from RAF Wyton or the pilots from the navigation school at RAF Finningley. There are a number of possibilities along those lines.
We should not forget the Queen's flight. I would not dream, and it would be beyond my remit, to suggest that the captain of the Queen's flight should be anything other than an air officer. The deputy captain, too, should be an officer of great seniority. That should still be the case. Nevertheless, the role of the Queen's flight could be combined with that of 32 Squadron at RAF Northolt. I believe that that would make good sense. What is more, one could reasonably bring the Central Flying School to RAF Cranwell. Barkston Heath has spare capacity. We have already the College of Air Warfare at RAF college, Cranwell. I do not think that my idea would be impossible. In short, I urgently hope that Her Majesty's Government will not use the opportunity of the review to put in place short-term Treasury- led solutions, because urgent equipment modernisations are required and important changes in personnel policy could be adopted, such as a better and wiser use of reserves. If Her Majesty's Government pursue such a forward-looking policy, they will, as ever, have my full support.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate. I hold a commission in the RAF Reserve as a pilot ; I shall say something later about the reserve forces. I am also a member of the council of the Air League and am rather delighted that the league has been given so much publicity tonight, and as a result of the air chief marshal's speech some time ago. I assure the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) that, if he ever requires a copy of a future speech made at the Air League, which is open to many people who want to come and listen, he has only to ask me and I shall use my best endeavours to ensure that he receives one.
Column 488I shall now say a few words about the speeches made by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). I agree with much of what they, and indeed my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), said. I disagree with them on one point, and shall deal with it later. Before I do, I shall make some general observations. There is no doubt that, with the cold war now over, there was a realisation within the armed services that changes and reductions were inevitable. In the RAF, "Options for Change" was accepted, albeit reluctantly, and personnel generally looked forward to a smaller but better-equipped service once the changes had taken place. Most of all, there was a feeling within the Royal Air Force, perhaps not matched to the same degree in the Army and Navy, that people should get on with the changes as quickly as possible and, having made them, move to greater stability thereafter.
Three years on, things are rather different. Many within the RAF wonder when the disruption will end. The two further reductions in the projected strength of the RAF since the "Options for Change" initiative will mean that the RAF's strike attack and air defence capability will have been reduced by 40 per cent. What has not changed since "Options for Change" are the tasks that the RAF is asked to carry out. Indeed, there is an argument to suggest that they have increased of late. That point was made by a number of Opposition Members and by some of my hon. Friends. In that context, it is worth bearing in mind also the recently published budget of the French defence ministry, which, compared with last year, shows an increase in defence expenditure.
Comparisons are often made between this country's defence requirements and those of France. That should be a clear signal of how the French are seeing the increasingly unstable world in which we live. That should be a clear signal to our Ministry of Defence to look closely at what the French think the threat is in future. It may seem strange that I, or indeed any Conservative Member, should argue in favour of stability. We live in a changing world. If Lady Thatcher achieved nothing else--I believe that she achieved a great deal--she shook this country out of its complacency and made many people understand that, if we are to survive, let alone prosper, in an ever-competitive world, we must accept change and readily throw off old ways and become increasingly adaptable.
The real question is, does that philosophy read across to the armed services? My answer to that question is a mixed one. I sincerely believe that a fairly radical shake-up of the organisation of the armed services is needed. I have said as much many times in the House. I also feel that the climate for such a shake-up was probably better during "Options for Change" than it is now. None the less, I will mention later what I think can be done in the present review "Front Line First". However, alongside that review, I believe that a good case can be made for eventual stability within our armed forces that cannot be made to the same extent outside them.
The case for more stability and more certainty runs something like this. We require our armed service men to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We expect them to react immediately to go virtually anywhere in the world. We expect them to leave their families behind at a moment's notice and, on arrival at their destination, we expect them to be ready quickly for combat. Those
Column 489expectations, which have in the past been realised, are well illustrated by the way in which our armed forces arrived in Bosnia and how they have performed since.
In the slightly more distant past, within 24 hours of the first Tornado squadron arriving in the Gulf, it was ready for combat. The Foreign Secretary made that point in a different way. He calls our armed services a very important asset which allowed us to punch above our weight in foreign and security matters. Alongside that, I believe that if we are to expect our armed forces to do all that, we should not inflict on them the added burden of not knowing whether they have a job next year, or at least not to have that burden indefinitely. For example, there were reports of people out on patrol in Bosnia wondering whether they were to be made redundant. Many of those reports were probably exaggerated, but I strongly believe that it is difficult to conceive of pilots and navigators, flying front- line aircraft in a near-combat situation, as is the case in the Gulf at the present time with Tornados flying armed reconnaissance missions over Iran, being able to do their jobs properly if they are wondering all the time whether their squadron will exist in a few months' time. There is a trade- off between stability and the effectiveness of our armed services.
As I have said, change which ultimately results in greater stability is acceptable. Change which appears to be without end is not. Unless we as politicians are prepared to accept a reduction in the overall effectiveness of our armed forces, and through it a reduction in their value for money, we need to understand that significant difference between military and other types of activities within our society.
Much of what I have said could be applied to all three services, but it particularly applies to the RAF, which got on with "Options for Change" as quickly as possible and now very much finds itself in the front line for further cuts.
Before Opposition parties take any encouragement from what I have said, I should add that the confidence of the armed services in the Government, despite the one poll, the origin of which has not been divulged by the hon. Member for Carlisle, remains considerably higher than I can remember it during the previous Labour Government when I was a member of the regular RAF in the mid-1970s. I strongly believe that before the Opposition can draw any advantage from the debate they will have to say much more clearly which commitments, if any, they would get rid of and what size and shape our armed forces would be if they were in power.
The Government are on target to cut expenditure on the armed forces by 25 per cent. in real terms by 1996, but the view--I would argue the realistic view--within the armed services is that the Liberal Democrats and Labour party would cut much further. That lack of certainty in those parties' defence policies means that part of the services' apprehension about continual change applies to them as well.
Bearing in mind what I have said, if we are to provide the sort of armed services in the future that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has mentioned, we need to do three things. First, I support "Front Line First", but it needs to look at the organisation of the armed forces as well as how the existing one can be made to operate more cheaply. I offer a few suggestions.
Column 490For example, do we really need 10 levels of management within the RAF when we now have, or soon will have, only 70,000 personnel? Those levels of management might have applied when the force was five times the size that it is now, but they seem unduly bureaucratic at the moment. Could we not, to start off with, abolish the rank of air commodore tomorrow for future promotions and do as the Navy does and promote the best group captains straight to air vice marshal? Do we really need such a large procurement executive when the front line has shrunk as fast as it has? Most of the front-line experience in the Tornado strike attack force is in one, or at the most two, RAF stations. Therefore, could not we speed up the way in which decisions are made about new equipment by asking the relatively few front-line squadron commanders we have left what they need to do the job properly rather than, as happens at present, have many of their wishes modified and delayed by the procurement process and, I submit, made more expensive as well?
Could not we go further in terms of testing and evaluating aircraft? For example, is it necessary to have separate test facilities within the RAF, in places such as Boscombe Down, which in many ways replicate what is done at Warton and, in the case of the Tornado, at Manching in Germany? Should not we try to move industry and the RAF closer together to save money without reducing the effectiveness of our front-line forces in any way?
Is not it expensive to have separate training machines and career profiles for helicopter aircrew and ground crew depending on which service they happen to join? In many cases, they are operating the same helicopters. Surely we should pool at least the training part of that increasingly important military activity.
Finally, a point touched on by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, should not we take a close look at our real estate requirements? I fully take on board the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood about the importance of having a number of runways around the country so that we can disperse our forces and re-arm easily if we need to do so. None the less, there is a lot of real estate which could be disposed of with little, if any, disadvantage to the operational effectiveness of, particularly, the RAF. Alongside those ideas and others that should be looked at in "Front Line First", the Government need to reiterate their commitment to provide the RAF with better equipment. Eurofighter should fly for the first time in the next two or three months. In answer to a point made by the hon. Member for Carlisle, who tried to suggest that that prototype aircraft was way behind schedule, I would only suggest that he look closely at the way in which other aircraft programmes that preceded Eurofighter have progressed. In virtually every case, there has been a much longer delay than has occurred with the Eurofighter 2000.
Mr. Mans : In the 1950s and 1960s, maiden flights were important because there was little computer simulation and little opportunity to test the systems in an aircraft before it flew for the first time. The significance of a new aircraft's first flight today is much less than it was 10 or 20 years ago.
Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that, as with all aircraft where one flies by wire and is defended on computers--as is the case now, unlike with the previous generation of aircraft--it is important at the simulator stage to find out what could and might go wrong? No one gets any satisfaction from the fact that two other aircraft of this generation have crashed, the F22 and the Gripen, and that could well be because sufficient time was not spent in the simulator.
Mr. Mans : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is significant that one of the main reasons for the present delay is the software and the flight control system. All separate systems within that aircraft are being tested on the ground to see how they relate one to the other. That was not done with the F22 and the Gripen, with the result that my hon. Friend described.
Going on from there, I hope that the RAF will soon confirm its order for 250 Eurofighters and seriously consider increasing it beyond that so that it can replace some other types of aircraft, such as the Harrier. I am interested in what the hon. Member for Carlisle said in relation to the Eurofighter. Halfway through his speech, he made some interesting points about the imbalance between the north and the south as regards stations. He tried to give the House the impression that undue weight was given to keeping stations in the south open while shutting those in the north. If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he should think carefully about what he said about whether we need 250 Eurofighters. If the Labour party is committing itself to a reduced buy, that will mean a reduced number of jobs in the north of England.
Mr. Martlew The hon. Gentleman distorts what I said. I said that, given Government cuts, there is grave concern in the industry about whether the Government will stick to their commitment to 250.
Mr. Mans : I withdraw at least part of what I said if the hon. Gentleman supports the idea of buying 250 aircraft. I consider that to be the minimum number that will be required to fulfil the roles for which the model was designed.
Much has been said about the replacement for the Hercules. I wonder why that is. It may be because Lockheed has managed to tie a good many British companies into the development of the aircraft. I do not deny that the decision is important, but I think that we should take a close look at what Lockheed is saying. It says that there is a market for 400 aircraft, and the RAF wants only 30. It also appears to be saying that the British companies involved in the project will be involved regardless of whether the RAF buys the 30 aircraft. The total value of that RAF order to British companies is £100 million. I think that we should examine the reasons why Lockheed is pushing this aircraft so hard.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will assess the options very carefully. Option one is to buy 30 C130Js now ; option two is to refurbish the existing fleet of aircraft, enabling them to last as long as a new buy of Hercules aircraft ; option three is to carry out a much-reduced refurbishment, which would allow a decision to replace the aircraft at a rather later date. The replacement might well turn out to be the C130J.
The last option would also allow the RAF and the Ministry of Defence to consider alternatives, bearing in mind an answer given on 16 December by my hon. Friend
Column 492the Minister of State for the Armed Services. He suggested then that the majority of the Hercules fleet was capable of lasting until the year 2007. I do not believe that the decision to buy the C130J need be taken immediately. I believe that the decision should be made at the beginning of next year, when we shall have a much clearer idea of the options following the FLA feasibility study.
At present, it appears that--without that information--we are to commit the RAF to buying an aircraft with a 1950s airframe. More important, for the next 30 or 40 years it will not be possible to take a significant amount of the equipment that the RAF has at present--for instance, the Warrior and Saxon armoured vehicles, multiple-role rocket launchers and, indeed, the complete attack helicopter. We should not be tempted to believe that the C130J is the only aircraft that meets the needs of the RAF, in terms of either cost or capability. In about 12 months' time, we shall be in a much better position to take an informed view. In that connection, I disagree to some extent with what others have said.
I think that we should make a more rapid decision about signing a contract for the EH101 helicopter, whose development stage seems to have been rather long. It is high time that we made up our minds to buy it, now that we have been offered a price that we can afford. I also think that, as well as making radical organisational changes and acquiring better equipment, we should introduce more stability in the RAF. We cannot expect officers and airmen to maintain their current level of commitment if we do not give them that increased stability at some point in the future.
As has been mentioned, an element of the changes introduced by the Ministry of Defence is the probability, or at least the possibility, that the Carlisle supply unit will close. As a north-west Member, I regret that. I understand the need for rationalisation, but I hope that hon. Members other than the hon. Member for Carlisle will recognise the pressure put on the MOD by my hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). Along with the hon. Member for Carlisle, they have engaged in consultations with the MOD about the best method of redeployment and about the possibility of using Konver funds from the European Community. I am sure that my hon. Friends would echo what I have said if they were present.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North, I want to make a special plea for the air cadet organisation in connection with the coming review. Although it cannot be described as a front-line organisation, I believe that--as well as serving as a recruiting ground for RAF officers and airmen --it provides a practical and worthwhile pursuit for many young men and women. It teaches them values and consideration for others which will benefit them greatly throughout their lives. If we are to tackle the problems of teenage crime, we should consider the three cadet movements.
Many hon. Members will know of the recent controversy surrounding a teenage criminal in the care of Gloucestershire county council. First, he was sent to an outward bound centre in north Wales ; he was then sent on an adventure holiday abroad. The cost amounted to some £2,000 a week. The stated aim was to discourage the teenager from repeating his criminal activities.
What fascinated me were the pursuits in which that young person was asked to engage, to build up his character and develop his self-reliance. To me, they
Column 493seemed remarkably similar to the pursuits engaged in by many young people who join the cadet forces. Surely many youngsters could be given the opportunity of joining the cadet forces--and, indeed, other youth organisations--to engage in activities that might well discourage them from going down the wrong road and indulging in anti-social behaviour. The cost need be no more than the cost of sending that teenager on holiday--which, as far as we know, did not prove successful. Prevention is better than cure : we should consider the social role of the cadet forces as well as their recruiting role.
Recently, we have heard much talk of traditional values and the moral aspects of society. I have no wish to be drawn into that debate in any detail. Let me say, however, that many people associate "back to basics", or whatever we may choose to call it, not only with better education and more emphasis on law and order but with strong defences. They believe that we should put national security before social security--I think that that has already been mentioned in the debate.
I hold the rather old-fashioned view that service men, both in and out of uniform, are a stabilising force in society. Whether or not we consider military discipline a good thing, it is widely thought to give those who experience it a sense of right and wrong. Service life also provides a sense of community, combined with an above-average ability to organise. The hon. Member for Wentworth spoke of the training carried out in the RAF and other armed forces. Such skills and values should not be underestimated in the wider community. As the armed services shrink, the assets shrink, too. I am not pleading for more money to be spent on defence, but I am pleading with those who decide how we spend taxpayers' money in general to appreciate the fact that at least part of the savings made in the defence budget are likely to pop up elsewhere as extra expenditure. By that I mean that extra expenditure might be needed for increased social security payments or, perhaps, to deal with increasing crime or higher unemployment or to make up for the fall in volunteers in local government, schools or charitable organisations.
Service life promotes self-reliance and respect for law and order and discourages a dependency culture. Those who promote such values but who have no experience of service life need to take that into account when considering the type of society that Conservatives at least would like to see.
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) : The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) and I went to Germany a year or so ago to plead with the Bundestag for the revival of the European fighter aircraft programme there. It seemed that the programme was a goner, but our powers of persuasion were such that the Germans relented shortly afterwards. The hon. Gentleman's persuasive powers are much better than his analytical powers or his memory. When I heard him talking about being a pilot in the 1970s and about how the Tory- oriented pilots thought much more highly of the then Conservative Opposition than of the dreadful Labour Government of the time, I kept wondering which halcyon days he meant.
Column 494Was the hon. Member referring to the affection that the flyers had for the Conservative Government of the 1930s who left us virtually bereft of aircraft? Were the halcyon days of which the flyers of the 1970s were thinking those of the late 1950s when Duncan Sandys was running the Air Force, even though his decisions devastated the force and their consequences took about 20 years to remedy? Or were the flyers looking forward to the RAF's halcyon days under this Government?
The hon. Member for Wyre said that he was not pleading for more money to be spent on defence, but his speech and the speeches of many Conservative Members were catalogues of special pleading for interests that they represent. I suspect that one or two hon. Members are handsomely remunerated for the political or other advice that they provide. We heard a catalogue of demands--
Mr. George : The hon. Member to whom I am referring declared his interest. I was repeating what had been said and referring to the frustrations of people seeking to promote defence expenditure while simultaneously supporting a Government who have meted out a series of cuts to our defence forces. The hon. Gentleman spoke of recidivism--perhaps there are recidivist Ministers who are constantly cutting defence spending to a level that many people, probably including themselves, regard as dangerous. To argue that the Government should purchase 250 of anything is to whistle in the dark to give oneself a little courage.
Defence expenditure is falling to under 3 per cent. of gross domestic product, so how are we to get the required aircraft, ships or tanks? If the Government can square the circle, I shall be delighted to hear how it is to be done.
Mr. Garnier rose --
Mr. George : May I please continue? I am not arguing for a return to the halcyon days of the 1970s when we spent just under 5 per cent. of GDP on defence. Perhaps those days will not come again for some time, but one must be honest and say that if one is prepared to endorse a policy of spending 3 per cent. of GDP on defence, one cannot argue the case for buying 250 of this or 500 of that, because it will never happen. I now give way to the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier).
Mr. George : As everyone--except, perhaps, the Treasury team--knows, we are living in an exceedingly dangerous and volatile world. If one had said that two or three years ago, one would have been dismissed as an unreconstructed cold war warrior. However, one does not need to be a genius in strategic analysis to be aware of the horrendous developments in Russia. There is a distinct possibility that Zhirinovsky will be to Yeltsin what Yeltsin was to Gorbachev, and the leader of Russia in 12 months' or two years' time.
Column 495I do not have to apologise to Zhirinovsky if I say that he appears to be certifiable, but he could, at any time, lead a nation that is still in possession of a formidable array of weaponry about which, under the present Russian Administration, I--thankfully--have no anxieties. However, President Yeltsin might gradually accommodate the military, the old Communist party and the fascist--or the Liberal Democratic--party, with the result that the policies of his party might imperceptibly change.
Many of us will have read the speech made last year by the Foreign Minister Kosyrev. It was a spoof speech meant to frighten the west. It suggested what Russian foreign and defence policy might be in the future unless the west woke up and did more to assist the ailing Russian economy. However, a number of his cynical, ironic and semi-humorous remarks are becoming realities. I am not suggesting that we should abandon our treaty commitments or that we should not help President Yeltsin--far from it ; we should do more--but we must remember that the situation there could change at any time. If we are to run down our armed forces and our defence industrial base, we must bear it in mind that the non-existent shipyards cannot be recreated quickly. The firms that manufactured aircraft which have been wiped out cannot recall their workmen and tell them to relearn their skills and start building aircraft again. I accept that we could not sustain spending 5 per cent. of GDP on defence, but nor can we justify spending only 3 per cent. on defence--not on security or economic grounds.
Lopping £5 billion off the defence budget will not be a panacea enabling us to regenerate British industry or our health and social services. Whatever the ills in our society and whatever the reasons for our economy's underperformance, we cannot heap the blame on the defence budget. Lopping the budget will not lead to a dramatic transformation of our society.
We live in a turbulent world. As has already been said, there are many dangers in the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Why should any third-world country spend a vast amount of money developing a ballistic missile capability, together with the necessary weaponry, if it can take the cheap route and develop chemical or biological weapons which are just as lethal as, or, in many cases, even more devastating than, nuclear weapons? We should, therefore, be a little cautious in the present environment. I am anxiously awaiting the poll that tells us that the population has more faith in the Labour party than in the Conservative Government on defence matters. I should not be surprised if that were the case. My talking to service men and the public in general has merely confirmed what is patently obvious.
If I could distil 20 years of experience in the House into a sentence, it would be as follows. Whatever one expects to happen, the opposite will take place. We are reaching that situation on defence.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : May I put my hon. Friend out of his agony and curiosity? I am sure that he can use these statistics in his constituency if they are relevant. I have here the most recent Gallup Political and Economic Index, for November 1993, which showed a clear Labour lead over the Conservatives in popular perception on defence.
Mr. George : That must be a salutary lesson to Conservative Members and I advise the hon. Member for Wyre, who has just spoken, that it would be wise for him to retain his flying skills ; he might at some stage require them. I do not say that in any malevolent way. He argued that more people should be imbued with the ethos of the service man. If he goes to the Library and examines the statistics provided by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, he will find that Britain has a smaller percentage of civilian and military personnel engaged in the military than any country in NATO bar Luxembourg, which has an army of 750, and Iceland, which has no armed forces whatever. Perhaps he should give that information to his hon. and right hon. Friends.
I am not a statistician, but I occasionally use statistics. Let us consider the NATO figures--not figures produced by the Labour party--for expenditure on defence, showing the percentage of personnel expenditure, the percentage devoted to equipment expenditure, including RAF expenditure, and the percentage devoted to infrastructure and what is called "operating expenditures". Using that classification of expenditure, which differs from that of the Ministry of Defence, one reaches the startling conclusion, considering the statistics, that, according to an estimate for 1993, Royaume Uni will be spending 13.7 per cent. of its defence budget on equipment.
I repeat that the figures use a different basis for calculating expenditure than does the Ministry of Defence. However, Canada spends 19 per cent. of its defence budget on equipment ; Denmark spends almost 18 per cent. ; Greece spends 25 per cent. ; even Norway spends almost 25 per cent.
It is, therefore, not surprising that we are not going to have our 250 European fighter aircraft. We shall not have the aircraft that we need if the percentage of expenditure, being so low, will not sustain an ordering programme that will remotely meet the requirements of Conservative Members or, more importantly, is remotely commensurate with meeting the requirements of the Air Force in the exceedingly turbulent world that we are entering.
Some Conservative Members might have signed a document arguing for the elimination of the Air Force and its merger with the Army. I believe that there is still a significant role for the RAF if we are prepared to sustain it and adjust it to the requirements of the new world.
The Defence Committee, of which I am a member, has produced several reports in recent years of impact to the RAF. At the moment, we have a session on the Eurofighter 2000, we have a session on RAF commitments and resources and we are considering RAF training, including low flying--all of that in the next two months or so. We shall go to see the Tornado F3 and Jaguar detachments in Italy, as long as the war in the former Yugoslavia continues, which it will, and as long as the Whips permit the Select Committee on Defence to travel. I suspect that the former situation is more likely to continue than the latter, but I have no exact knowledge.
We have to consider many procurement problems. The C130 replacement is obviously important. I can understand why the hon. Member for Wyre, who has, no doubt, British Aerospace establishments either in or near his constituency, deems the British Aerospace solution to be desirable. The Defence Committee is examining that and I have not reached a final conclusion. The RAF appears to want the new Hercules and it might be more desirable to have an
Column 497aircraft that one can fly in the foreseeable future than what, at the moment, is more than a concept but certainly is not worthy of consideration as a real alternative for the RAF.
Many problems need to be considered. A decision is needed on the Eurofighter, and I hope that the German order is not pared down even further to make the project even more difficult. I believe that we need to hear some more about the problems of contractorisation. It is obvious that we need the EH101, an excellent support helicopter which the Government have been endorsing for some time. Even the Secretary of State, before the Defence Committee, almost argued the case for an order being given, but he did not give the order. I hope that this evening the Minister will announce that an order will be given so that that much-needed helicopter will enter service.
I am anxious that a decision be made on the light support helicopter and I should like to hear of the future, if any, for the RAF Regiment. That issue causes the Defence Committee some concern. Conservative Members have mentioned the issue of the Bloodhound replacement. It seems to me rather bizarre : one spends a vast amount of money on a new aircraft, the old EFA, and then one does not provide the defence for that expensive equipment. The Bloodhound was almost a second world war system ; it was no longer capable of adaptation. When will an announcement be made of a replacement for it?
Another decision that needs to be made fairly soon is whether the RAF acquires an off-shelf Lancelot or chooses the Texas Instruments alternative. I believe that the Air Force requires decisions. I reiterate, in spite of a little poking of fun at the Government, that there has been-- it is something that I welcome, and I have been criticised for it many times--a considerable narrowing of difference between the political parties. The differences are not enormous. We are creating an environment in which we avoid the yah-boo politics that dominated the House during the 1980s, to the detriment of our defence forces.
I hope that we can do what is done in many northern European countries that may not spend much but have something that we do not--basic agreement on defence issues ; the parties reach an agreement outside Parliament and are bound by those decisions. Let us argue about domestic politics, but let us agree on the perception of the threat and the risks in the world in which we live. If we can agree about that, perhaps we can largely agree about the armed forces that are required, not only for the defence of our territory, but for the defence of our interests. It is much broader than the defence of our territory. Yes, we can pull one other's legs a little, but basically there will be agreement.
An agreement is now much more feasible for a number of reasons. The Government are reducing defence expenditure to a level which, as I want to amuse the Secretary of State for Defence by saying, would receive the unanimous and enthusiastic support of a Labour party conference. The Labour party's view of defence is rather different from the view that dominated the Labour party three, four, five or six years ago. The Liberal party is taking a view on defence that is robust compared with its view in
Column 498a previous era. In those circumstances, I very much hope that we can generate, if not unity or unanimity, at least a degree of agreement about security issues.
The RAF has served this country well and there is an enormous role for it to play in the future--perhaps not its traditional role, largely based in Germany, but a different role that must now be afforded it as a result of the changed security environment. The hon. Member for Wyre has done a runner. Having listened to his speech, I am not surprised.
When we argued the case for the EFA, we asked the German Members of Parliament, "Can you truly contemplate sending your young men in aircraft to face an adversary that may have aircraft superior to yours?" What Member of Parliament, either still in Parliament or in retirement, wants to have to say, "I am sorry, but way back in the early 1990s I did not think that the world would turn out quite this way"?
Governments are obsessed with planning a week or a month ahead. Let us try to think what might happen five or 10 years ahead. What might the configuration of great powers be then, and what nations will have bought off-the-shelf aircraft that are better than ours from Russia? What will be the new powers and the new alliances? Where will the United States stand? What will the role of European defence be in that great uncertainty?
I ask Conservative Members whether they can continue to argue that the Conservative party and its supporters represent the party of defence when they are running down our defences to such a level that actions such as the Gulf war or the Falklands campaign could not be contemplated. If the need arises and we are unable to commit our forces, hon. Members who have sustained the Government in running down our forces will, upon reflection-- in opposition, or flying their aircraft, or running their whelk stalls-- have to ask where the responsibility lies. I suspect that some of it will rest on their shoulders.
line 8.51 pm Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) : I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), but I would listen with more interest were he to make exactly the same speech at next year's Labour party conference. I should be interested to see whether he could get away with it, and whether he would still be alive at the end of it. There is a distinct difference between the defence policies of the Government and the Conservative party, and those of the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party. It is no good the hon. Gentleman offering blandishments to Conservative Members ; those differences are as wide as the Grand canyon. It is no good his trying to persuade us that we are one and the same on defence issues.
However, having made those uncharitable remarks to him, I accept that he and I, and his party and mine, are at one in saluting the Royal Air Force, and the part that it has played in securing our defences and in protecting our national interest both at home and abroad. No one who saw on the television, heard on the wireless or read in the press about the exploits of our RAF crews during the Gulf war
Column 499can honestly do otherwise. I am sure that the hon. Member for Walsall, South will willingly join me in making that salute. I hope that I shall not be accused of exaggeration or of overstating my case when I say that what the RAF flyers and crews did in 1991 over Iraq, with their unquestioning and unstinting devotion to duty, was on a par with the bravery and quality of service that we saw in our wartime bombers over Germany and our fighter pilots who fought against the odds in the Battle of Britain. This country and this Parliament owe them a debt of gratitude. Certainly I, who reached the dizzy heights of being a clarinet player in the school cadet band--of course, I cannot compare myself to the formation flyers sitting on my left, my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre (Mr. Mans) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson)--owe them a debt of gratitude. That gratitude should be unequivocal, unreserved and unqualified.
Where do we find the Royal Air Force today? We find it not only in its usual places in the United Kingdom and in Germany, but in Bosnia, taking part in operation Grapple, operation Cheshire and operation Deny Flight, and in Iraq, taking part in the south in operation Jural, and in the north in operation Warden, maintaining the no-fly zones that protect both the marsh Arabs and the innocent Iraqi populations in the north, especially the Kurds.
The current strength and deployment of the Royal Air Force are to be found in the table at annex A on page 89 and at annex D on page 99 of the recent White Paper, "Defending Our Future--Statement on the Defence Estimates 1993". I am sure that the House will be grateful to hear that, for reasons of time, I shall not go through all the figures. I shall simply draw one or two generalised lessons from them.
Broadly, there are now in our RAF fewer aeroplanes, fewer squadrons and fewer people--fewer men and women serving. That is proved both in annex A and in annex D, and, indeed, in paragraph 7.43 on page 84 of the White Paper. I shall refer briefly to paragraphs and 7.41, 7.42 and 7.41 and, faithfully I hope, quote them. I hope that I shall not do an injustice to the draftsmen or to my right hon. and hon. Friends in government who make up the Ministry of Defence team.
Paragraph 7.43 says :
"The Services are now generally able to attract and retain the skilled and well-motivated men and women they need, although some shortages still remain."
If that is true I am glad of it, but I ask whether it is strictly true. It continues :
"Voluntary wastage is at a record low level. In the 12 months to 1 April 1993, the proportion of officers who left on PVR"
that is, premature voluntary release
"fell from 2.9 per cent. to 2 per cent. and the rate of applications fell from 2 per cent. to 1.2 per cent. The proportion of noncommissioned personnel leaving on PVR fell from 6 per cent. to 4.7 per cent. and applications declined from 5.8 per cent. to 4.2 per cent. Total outflow in the 12 months to 1 April 1993 was 33,655." That is a big number, in anybody's arithmetic.
Paragraph 7.43 says :
"Our current manpower plans are based on a forecast requirement for Service manpower in 1995 totalling around 240,000".
The RAF element in that is 70,000. It continues :
"Beyond 1995 the manpower requirement will be kept under review in the light of changing circumstances, including any new operational commitments. Where developments in technology mean that new weapon systems require less manpower to operate or maintain them, this will need to be reflected."