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Column 746that will be after the local and the European elections. The situation is exactly the same with regard to the White Paper.
Mr. Ian Bruce : The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to come to my constituency, and I know that he was listened to avidly, as I have been listening avidly to him for about half an hour. But the people of South Dorset are in exactly the same position as myself, in that they do not know exactly what Labour's policy on the Army is. I should be most grateful if the hon. Member would get to that part of his speech.
Dr. Reid : One of the reasons for the hon. Gentleman's remaining in a state of blissful ignorance--presumably by choice--is that he did not come to the meeting in Weymouth that was attended by many of his constituents. He might at least do me the courtesy of saying that I did not attack him personally when I was in the constituency. I can assure him that I shall remedy that omission the next time I am there.
The hon. Gentleman's constituents who came to the meeting not only expressed concern but also, to a man and a woman, went away delighted at the next Labour Government's commitment to a defence diversification agency and to matching resources to commitment, as well as to a full defence review.
Is it not a tragedy that the Tory Member of Parliament for the constituency that has the Portland naval base and sea systems and the Defence Research Agency--the former soon to go ; the latter soon to disappear to Bristol--as well as Bovington camp, has to ask a Labour Member of Parliament what his own constituents think about defence issues ? If I were in that position, I should not be here ; I should be knocking on doors and listening to constituents.
Mr. Bruce : If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard tomorrow, he will realise that he has been misquoting me. My constituents, many of whom vote Labour, would like to know the Labour party's policy on defence--not on diversification or on criticism of the Government. The hon. Gentleman owes it to the House to state what that policy is.
Dr. Reid : I hear a few "Hear, hears" from Conservative Back Benchers. I thought that I was starting to do precisely what the hon. Gentleman has asked of me. Perhaps I started at too high a level with the United Nations. I am beginning at one side and working across. I was putting forward what I regard as genuine problems concerning our soldiers and armed services in their United Nations involvement, which over the past two years has been a fairly big aspect. In a previous debate, I dealt with Northern Ireland, and I shall come to a number of other issues relating to the British Army. In response to some comments from the Minister, I have said that there is nationwide concern about the Government's plans. That concern exists in the hon. Gentleman's constituency as well as in others.
This debate is about not the Labour party's defence policy but the defence statement, so it is appropriate that most of my remarks should be on that subject.
Column 747reduction of £6 billion a year in defence spending, which force will it take a slash at : the Army, the Navy or the Air Force ?
Dr. Reid : The hon. Lady will understand that, if one starts with the wrong premise, one inevitably reaches the wrong conclusion. The Labour party has not committed itself to such a cut. The Labour party conference passed a resolution calling for a reduction in defence expenditure. As Conservative Members do not know the Labour party's constitution, they constantly make that mistake.
May I therefore explain that, to get into the party programme, a conference decision must have a two-thirds majority. If it is included in the party programme, it may be selected for the party manifesto by a meeting of the National Executive Committee and the shadow Cabinet, who have the final decision. The results of their decision were contained in the last Labour party manifesto, which represents the decision of the whole Labour party. If the hon. Lady cares to read the last Labour party manifesto or the next one, she will find no mention of a £6 billion cut.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) has, however, fortuitously landed on a figure of £6 billion, which happens to be the precise amount by which the Government cut the defence budget between 1985 and 1995-96. So, although she wrongly accuses the Labour party of reaching a theoretical decision at a conference to cut the defence budget by £6 billion, her party has in practice cut the defence budget by exactly that amount. I hope that I have clarified the matter for the hon. Lady.
On the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", it has been suggested that another 25,000 service and Ministry of Defence jobs may be axed as a result of the defence costs study, and that many important military support services will be either cut or privatised. Given the size of the savings that need to be made, sizeable cuts are clearly in the offing.
Conservative Members know that. As they retire to Bermuda, the Bahamas or wherever in late July or August, they will know that more sizeable cuts are coming. I am astonished at the looks of surprise on the faces of Conservative Members. They must have forgotten the last day of school term last year. Suddenly, once all the debates on the defence estimates had taken place, it was announced that another 5, 000 jobs would be cut in the Royal Navy. That will happen again this year.
Despite the Government's claim that they seek to put the front line first, it is transparently obvious that they are putting their electoral interests first. The origins of the study lie in the Government's desire not to find more resources for our badly overstretched front-line combat units, but to provide the funds needed to repair some of the appalling damage which they have done to their public finances, and to reverse last month's betrayal on tax. That is the real reason why further cuts are being made to the armed forces.
The defence costs study is fraudulent, for two reasons. First, if substantial savings could be made in military support costs--the Government say that those are less important than the front line--which do not compromise the combat effectiveness of our armed forces, according to the Government's declared reasoning, they should have been the first target for cuts in 1990. If substantial cuts are to be made in non-essential areas, why were not they made at the beginning rather than now ?
Column 748Instead, the front line units of the infantry of the Royal Armoured Corps and the Royal Artillery bore the brunt of "Options for Change", which the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) introduced. Had it been possible to save billions of pounds by cutting ancillary services, cutting a few cars or privatising catering, the right hon. Gentleman would have done it. He would not have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous Back-Bench Members by cutting front-line infantry forces, the Royal Armoured Corps and so on, if billions of pounds could have been saved on non-vital services.
Secondly, the study is a fraud because it is erroneous to draw a simple distinction between the front-line forces and the services that support them. If anything today has symbolised the confusion of the Ministry of Defence, it is the vain attempts of an articulate and able Minister of the Crown to define what he meant by "front line" and "support". If the Minister does not even know the meaning of "front line", how can he put it first or anywhere else ?
I should have thought that the Ministry of Defence, which has placed so much emphasis on this matter, would have briefed the Minister on the meaning of "front line". We were told that the Minister and his hard- working colleague, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, had spent months discussing the matter, yet, when the Minister of State for the Armed Forces was asked the simple question, "By the way, what is the front line ?", his answer went round in circles. Conservative Back Benchers smile, because they know that what I am saying is true. I do not intend to spoil their careers, so they may straighten their faces again.
If the Ministry of Defence does not know what the front line is, how can it claim that it is putting it ahead of anything else ? No one is likely to object about staff cars being leased in future rather than purchased, or medical provision for the three services being integrated. But many of the suggested cuts would have a direct and detrimental bearing on the operational effectiveness and, equally important, on the morale of our armed forces. Reductions in ammunition stocks and spares would be particularly damaging. During the Gulf war, we managed to keep the Challenger tanks of the 1st Armoured Division going only by cannibalising the rest of the British Army's units for spares. Similarly, the problems that we had procuring sufficient ammunition for operation Granby in the Gulf, even from friendly powers, should alert us to the dangers of becoming dependent on the largesse of others for our military needs. It must be remembered that that comes on top of market testing and contractorisation. When I was in Cyprus recently, I discovered that the maintenance for our Army trucks is to be put out to the local garage.
Dr. Reid : Absolutely : let us help small businessmen. I have nothing against small corner garages in Cyprus. I am all for helping them to prosper, but I doubt whether, in the midst of a crisis, they would be prepared to work for 48 or 72 hours or for four days on end.
Column 749initial contract in that situation. We may find that, during a crisis, either we cannot depend on private contractors or that we shall pay through the nose for their services and lose any potential savings. I have nothing against the private sector. I am sure that the quickest and most efficient people are the Kwik-Fit fitters, but I doubt whether they would turn up in the middle of a battle in the Gulf to repair tanks. The right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell seems to believe that they would.
Sir Archibald Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman talks about fitters not appearing in the Gulf. There seemed to be no shortage of fitters from British Aerospace and GEC prepared to work in the Gulf at the time of that war.
Have Conservative Members suddenly abandoned their commitment to the principles of the free market, believing that, no matter how pressing the demand of the customer, the producer will produce at the same price ? If they believe that the price will not rise according to market demand and wish to abandon their principles, that is fair enough. I happen to think that they are probably correct. When there is urgency and demand, the price at the very least will go up and the risk may not be taken unless we pay through the nose for it. Similarly, it has been suggested that, in future, the supply of military hardware should copy the just-in-time method used in the private sector, whereby materials are provided as they are needed rather then held in stock. That idea shows a fundamental ignorance of the realities of military power. The Government have to understand that the British Army cannot be run like a branch of McDonald's. It requires high levels of preparedness, and an ability to respond to unforeseen events at short notice.
In March, the Secretary of State said that military vehicles would in future be leased rather than purchased ; he even refused to rule out the possibility that the British Army's tanks might one day be provided on that leaseback basis. Again, that shows a complete failure to understand the practicalities of defence procurement. Items of modern military hardware, such as tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and combat helicopters, are state -of-the-art equipment, made to order. They require large amounts of capital investment and secure orders. They are not like Ford Escorts, rented from Avis or Hertz. It is naive and dangerous to shape defence policy on the assumption that they either are or can be.
Other leaked conclusions of the defence costs study would be equally damaging. The suggested 50 per cent. cut in the size of the defence intelligence staff would be a bizarre move, given that the Government have repeatedly stated that the nature of the security threat facing Britain has become more unpredictable since the end of the cold war.
Let me say one word about those who work in Britain's defence industry. They serve the country no less than those who serve in uniform. They make an essential contribution to our nation's security. Last week, I walked to Downing street with workers from the Royal Ordnance factories, who accept that defence expenditure will be cut and that jobs will have to go, and who ask one simple thing of the
Column 750Government--that they play some role in intervening, in helping diversification and conversion. The Government sit and wash their hands.
Even if we assume that the Government's free market philosophy applies in every sector of the economy, the one area where it cannot possibly apply is in defence production. The reason is simple : that the only customer in Britain for the purchase of defence goods from our manufacturing sector are the Government. There is no free market inside Britain. For the Government, as the only customer, to say that they will withdraw and leave it to a supposed free market to take over is a complete abdication of our responsibility and our obligations to those who work in the defence industry.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : The hon. Gentleman has referred to diversification. In these debates--I have sat through many of them--we continually hear about diversification and about what the Government are not doing. Why is it that Opposition Members, when their Benches are full, which they are not today, continually attack defence sales and, in particular, the work done by my hon. Friend the Minister of State in selling our goods overseas and creating and maintaining precisely the jobs about which he is talking ?
Dr. Reid : There is a brief three-part answer to that. First, we do not attack defence sales per se. Secondly, we are against defence sales to countries that are controlled by dictators. Thirdly, we are even more against defence sales when the British Government sell to countries which are run by horrendous dictators and then lie to Parliament about whether they are doing so, as they did in the case of Iraq. [Interruption.] I cannot be more specific. Machine tools were sent to Iraq. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will say that that is just like selling a screwdriver ; they would never sell arms. The Scott inquiry, which was meant to sideline the issue, has been a dripping roast of the Government's perfidy when it comes to the sale of arms abroad.
We are objecting not to the sale of arms, but to the sale of arms to dictators who will use them for the suppression of human rights, particularly when it is done under a cover of deceit, not only to the British people but to the British Parliament. We stand by that. The Government must give a commitment that the conclusions of the defence costs studies will not be implemented until two conditions have been met--first, until a proper strategic defence review of existing military commitments and capabilities has been conducted, and secondly, until the Government produce a plan for managing proposed reductions in a way that minimises the damage to our industrial base.
Opposition defence spokesmen have stood at the Dispatch Box and tried, until we were--I almost said blue--pink in the face, to demand that the Government carry out, to persuade the Government, to beg the Government to carry out, a full defence review. It is now being said so often from this Dispatch Box that Ministers groan when it is brought up.
We have said that such a review is a way not of avoiding hard decisions but of confronting hard decisions. There are few people left in Britain, inside or outside the defence community, who, after three years, do not agree with what the Labour party has been saying. The Select Committee on Defence has argued for it. [Laughter.] Conservative
Column 751Members laugh, but I do not know how much more evidence for a defence review I have to put before the House.
Let us take an academic, an ex-field marshal, and a Tory newspaper, The Sunday Times . First, I shall take the academic, Professor John Baylis, of the department of international politics, university of Wales. I shall read only his first and last paragraphs. He said : "Ever since John Nott's courageous but abortive attempt to re-assess the whole basis of British defence policy in June 1981, the Conservative government has been reluctant to embrace the term defence review'. The embarrassment caused by the Falklands war and the partial reversal of policy has resulted in the term being exorcised from Whitehall vocabulary."
The final paragraph says :
"muddling through, salami-slicing, and increasing multiple ear-marking' will increasingly make the task of balancing foreign and defence policy more difficult. Sooner or later, a defence review will become necessary, whatever title it is given. The primary task of such a review will need to be the development of a clear conceptual framework for strategic policy, which at present seems to be absent."
An academic may be easily dismissed, but Field Marshal Lord Bramall, speaking in another place, said :
"When I was Chief of the Defence Staff eight years ago" under a Tory Government
"I led the Defence Staff in a number of strategic studies on all the various parts of the world, trying to establish what was important, what was of special interest and what was of less concern and of lower priority. All that would have been a great help in establishing the sort of guidelines that have been mentioned this evening."--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 16 March 1994 ; Vol.553 , c. 293.]
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. May I inquire of the hon. Gentleman whether the remarks of Lord Bramall that he is quoting were made in this Session ? If so, it is not open to him to quote them.
Dr. Reid : Those remarks were made in this Session, but they have been quoted at considerable length in a newspaper, so I shall continue reading not from Hansard but from a newspaper article which Field Marshal Lord Bramall wrote, where he quoted himself as saying :
"All that would have been a great help in establishing the sort of guidelines that have been mentioned this evening."
Then--this is the significant part--he added :
"Although those exercises were treated with polite interest, no Minister was prepared to sign up to them, so they never saw the light of day."
That is not an academic ; that is a field marshal.
Finally, I come to the modern equivalent of Pravda , that well-known left- wing newspaper run by the well-known Marxist-Leninist from Glasgow, Mr. Andrew Neil. I believe that he has gone to somewhere called Fox--I make no further comment. He said :
"A proper defence review is needed."
This is The Sunday Times , not the Labour party. He continued : "The Foreign Office fears it, because it would mean Britain's withdrawal from areas such as Cyprus, where we maintain a post-imperial pretence. The government as a whole resists it because it fears the political consequences."
[Hon. Members :-- "Rubbish."] Hon. Members need not tell me that it is rubbish ; they should tell Mr. Neil of The Sunday Times : he wrote this.
He went on :
"The government as a whole resists it because it fears the political consequences."
[Interruption.] The anger coming from the Conservative
Column 752Benches shows that there is nothing worse than a lover spurned when The Sunday Times turns on the Tory party. Mr. Neil continued : "France, more historically aware of its vulnerability and fearful of the dangers of Islamic revolution close to home, has carried out such a review and increased its projected defence spending as a result."
Note the words
"has carried out such a review and increased its projected defence spending as a result."
The quotation from The Sunday Times continues :
"Britain should follow suit. We are still a military force to be reckoned with, as Bosnia, the Gulf and the Falklands conflicts show. But the rot in Britain's armed forces has gone on for too long. There are no generals or admirals still in command who believe Britain has the right forces to perform all the duties currently demanded of them. Simply reducing a layer of top brass does nothing to remedy that. This time, a U-turn in policy really is needed."
Admirals, field marshals, academics, leader writers, politicians, pundits, experts, service men, service women, the Select Committee and every major political party all know that a full defence review is needed, yet the Government stand against it.
Dr. Reid : I shall finish my point, and then I shall let the hon. Gentleman in, as he is the Chairman of the Select Committee. I could understand the Government's attitude if making a U-turn was an extraordinary exception to their normal course of action, but U-turns have now become the norm. What is so different about a defence review ? The Government have U-turned on everything ; the Prime Minister has changed his mind on everything. For the sake of service men and women in the British armed forces, why can he not change his mind on the defence review, and let us make a rational attempt to analyse our commitments and to match them with our resources ?
I now give way to the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor).
Sir Nicholas Bonsor : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want inadvertently to mislead the House. The current Defence Select Committee has not called for a defence review, and will not do so.
What the hon. Member for Upminster says means that there are at least four people in Britain who agree with the Minister--or perhaps more ; I do not know what the majority on the Select Committee is : there may be six. The fact remains that everyone else has called for a defence review. And anyone who reads the reports of the Select Committee, written by the hon. Member for Upminster and his colleagues, cannot but come to the conclusion that the Committee would at least see a defence review as beneficial.
Column 753What astonishes me more is the absolute commitment by the Chairman of the Select Committee that the Committee never will call for a defence review. If it is not discourteous for me to say so, that seems presumptuous.
While the Minister sets about dismantling our military support structures, nothing is being done to relieve the growing burden on our front-line forces. I shall not labour that point, because it was made earlier by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). For the Minister to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that there is no overstretch flies in the face of everything that everyone knows, including--I hope that the Minister is listening--the Select Committee, which has probably been the Government's biggest critic on that subject.
According to the analysis produced by General Sir Martin Farndale last October--I presume that Ministers have seen it--48 battalion-sized units would be required to cover the commitments in the emergency tour plot, which at that time did not include the extra battalion sent to Bosnia, and to provide a 24-month tour gap, which the Government say they want.
A further 16 battalions are required to cover other garrison and training duties, and to act as a force reserve for Northern Ireland. That means that a total of 64 battalions are required to meet all commitments. The hon. Member for Canterbury raised the matter earlier, and Sir Martin Farndale laid it out in specific detail.
Although the British Army will have 67 infantry, Royal Armoured Corps and Royal Artillery battalions, only 45 of them will be large enough to complete tours without being significantly reinforced. That will have two consequences. First, the Government's claim to be able to achieve a 20- month emergency tour gap will be little more than a cruel fiction. Secondly, at any given moment, units from each of the British Army's eight brigades will all be in the middle of completing an emergency tour.
In summary, Farndale argues that the minimum number of battalions is 64, and the minimum number of troops required is not 119,000, as the Government say, but 132,000, which I believe is much nearer to the figures suggested by the Select Committee. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the Chairman of the Select Committee agrees with me about that.
Dr. Reid : I absolutely confirm that it is a Labour commitment to provide resources to match our commitments. [Laughter.] I should have thought that that was what all hon. Members wanted--to match our resources to our commitments. If we do not do that, the people who suffer will be not Members of Parliament but those who have to suffer the demoralising working practices that the hon. Member for Canterbury, a member of the Minister's own party, has described. Even the Minister must know that there is a complete lack of morale in the armed forces. It is often said that the Queen must think that the world smells of fresh paint ; no doubt, when the Minister makes his visits, his world, too, smells of fresh paint. But during his visits to units of the Army throughout the country, even he must have detected
Column 754the sense of demoralisation, uncertainty and overstretch. It does not stop the soldiers carrying out their duties in a professional manner, but it is dangerous in the long run.
Mr. Hanley : May I tell the House and the hon. Gentleman yet again-- I believe that I have told the House the same thing on five separate occasions during the last six months--that, on the basis of current commitments, we expect infantry tour intervals to be 17 months in 1994-95 and 24 months in 1995-96. That will be after the completion of draw-down.
If the second battalion in Bosnia were not replaced, intervals would be 20 months in 1994-95 and 30 months in 1995-96. On the assumption that the second battalion is replaced--we have not made that decision yet--the target of 24 months is still achievable. When I replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury earlier, I acknowledged that of course certain units and individuals are overstretched, but it is not our policy for that to happen, and we shall continue to investigate every time we hear that it is happening.
Dr. Reid : That is the argument between us. The Minister says that he expects something to happen, or that it is the Government's policy for it to happen, but I say that it will not happen on the basis of the present figures. That is the bone of contention between us, so it is no good the Minister saying, "I repeat what I have said before." I am producing the figures based on the calculation made by Sir Martin Farndale, who goes through all the figures and shows a shortfall of about 12,000.
Perhaps for once the Minister is right ; time will tell. If we achieve the 24-month tour interval, I shall accept that graciously. But we both agree that, in the meantime, there is overstretch. That goes without saying, because we have not met the target--and I doubt whether it can be met.
I have spoken at considerable length-- [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] I know that many hon. Members, especially Conservative Members, want to speak. They always complain that few Opposition Members speak on military matters, so I know that they would be more than happy for me to continue for another hour. [Interruption.] Their cries of abuse make me think that perhaps they do not want to tempt me to do so.
It is a cliche to say that we live in a changing and challenging world, but it is true. That world is also fantastic and yet fraught--but it does not pay to be too pessimistic, as we sometimes are. Over the year that has passed since the previous Army debate, two glaring examples have given us reason for optimism.
At the time of the previous debate, in view of the long and apparently intractable problem in the middle east, few would have thought that we should see the Prime Minister of Israel and the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation standing side by side on the White House lawn. We can take heart from the thought that the long struggle to reconcile the security of Israel with the national rights of the Palestinians, while by no means over, is at least now being conducted within a framework of peace.
Secondly, we can take heart from the fact that the long dark night of apartheid in South Africa has apparently ended. Although there are still many hills to climb in the search for full democracy, reconciliation and reconstruction in that country, at least the foothills of freedom have been scaled.
Column 755There are reasons for optimism, but there are many reasons why we should not be complacent either. Earlier today I saw, as no doubt many hon. Members did, television pictures of what is happening in Rwanda. I was staggered by those photographs. I am also slightly staggered by the apparent indifference in the west to what is going on in Rwanda.
I do not suggest that there is a racial element, but I and my party believe that the appalling slaughter of innocent people in Rwanda must be stopped. We believe that the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity need to organise the immediate deployment of military forces to try to end the genocide. The death of a Rwandan child is just as tragic as the death of a Bosnian child, and we must not allow either to be ignored.
There are problems elsewhere in the world, such as Somalia and the Maghreb, with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. There are problems in Asia, where there is now a huge arms race, disputes over the Spratney isles, potential conflict with North Korea, and friction between India and Pakistan.
There are problems in the Transcaucasus, such as the forgotten war involving Azerbaijan. It does not reach our television screens, yet hundreds of thousands of refugees have been thrown off the land, supposedly because of the issue of Nagorny Karabakh. There is the problem of Georgia where any spark could once again ignite the civil war between the Georgians and the Abkhazians. All those are indications of an insecure world.
In central America, we are withdrawing troops from Belize. We ask the Government to reiterate our commitment to Belize at every possible stage. There is genuine concern on both sides that we should not make the mistake of allowing the troop withdrawal from Belize to fall into the pattern of the withdrawal of HMS Endurance. There are signs that, once again, Guatemala is flexing its muscles. Anything that can be done to reiterate our commitment to Belize, even if only ensuring that, when Harriers go to South American air shows, they stop over in Belize, would be welcomed by the Opposition and by many Conservative Members.
With all those issues, not to mention Bosnia, there has never been a greater need--I come back to the point about the United Nations with which I starteed--for clarity of thought, definition of strategy, provision of resources and resolution of will. Tragically, none of those qualities has been provided at national level under this Government.
Britain is therefore completely unable to play its part at the heart of international decision-making--where it should be--on these issues. We believe that the Government are failing the House, the country as a whole and, above all, the men and women who are the subject of today's debate-- the men and women who serve in the British Army.
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater) : The hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) has addressed the House for one hour and eight minutes. I have heard him make shorter speeches ; I have to tell him that I do not think that they suffered from being shorter.
I appreciated the anecdote that the hon. Gentleman told about one of my predecessors in office--Lord Healey. It confirmed a lot for many of us when he told the story about the way in which Lord Healey made up the figures when