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Column 756he was asked to count the numbers getting off trains at Swindon station. The story showed the sublime indifference to the facts that marked some of his later utterances in the House, including those made during the period when he was on the Back Benches. The feature that many of us appreciated about Lord Healey was the way in which he boldly faced out any suggestion that there was any tiny weakness in Labour defence policy at any time. Referring to the Labour party conference at which motions that he did not like were passed, he spoke of party members being out of their tiny Chinese minds. The hon. Member for Motherwell, North was speaking in the fine tradition of Lord Healey when he described Labour defence policy as though the decisions taken by overwhelming majorities at Labour party conference were of no interest to the Labour party and the House, and of no consequence to the shadow Cabinet, whose members had blithely dismissed those decisions. Labour defence policy is as hollow and empty as the Benches behind the hon. Gentleman today. I am sure that he is more than relieved that this debate is taking place on a day when most of his hon. Friends--or all his hon. Friends--who profoundly disagree with him about defence policy can be absent from this place. It is symbolic that the Conservative Benches are packed with hon. Members who take a close interest in the defence of this country and that the Opposition Benches are virtually vacant. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday in the House, the issue of a strong defence for our country is one on which Conservative Members are wholly united.
I pay the warmest possible tribute--hon. Members will understand that, coming from me, that is no platitude--to the men and women of our armed forces. As today's debate is on the Army, I pay the warmest possible tribute to the Army. This is a difficult time for the Army's leaders and commanders, it is a difficult time for morale and it is a time of change which poses particular challenges. I have the greatest respect for the professional way in which the Army has addressed the challenges that it faces. I also pick up the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Minister to the way in which General Sir Michael Rose is carrying out his duties in the eye of the storm and under the eye of world public opinion. He is doing no harm to the profession of arms as it is recognised in this country. I had the privilege of having him as a brigadier with me in Northern Ireland when I first went there, so I know something of the great quality and calibre that he brings to his task.
I apologise to the House for the fact that I am about to quote some words that I wrote on 23 July 1991 in the foreword to the White Paper, "Britain's Army for the 90s" :
"Our commitment remains clear ; an Army for the 90s and beyond, smaller but better-equipped and supported, fully manned and well able to meet its commitments at home and abroad, and to provide for our security in the future as it has done so well in the past." The assessment on which that foreword drew was the recognition that we had changed from the previous structure of our forces, which was designed primarily to cope with the threat of a massive surprise attack in Europe.
I wrote of our forces :
"Now they need to be designed to respond to a wider spread of risks, normally acting in concert with our NATO or Western European Union allies in a coalition of the kind assembled to deal with Iraqi aggression, or in other ways in support of the United Nations. Our forces can be smaller than now, but they must be flexible and mobile, and well-equipped to deal with a range of military capabilities, including the most sophisticated, both inside and outside Europe."
Column 757I wrote that, in doing the reshaping, we had taken account "of our Gulf experience which clearly demonstrated the greater value of all-professional forces and the flexibility they offer . . . The Gulf also demonstrated the vital roles of the supporting Arms and Services, and the need to maintain a proper balance between them and front line armoured and infantry units."
I resile from not a word of those statements in the White Paper. I draw attention in particular to the importance of fully manned and properly equipped units. It was not always like that. The hon. Member for Motherwell, North referred to the fact that at the time of the Gulf crisis the units that we had were not fully manned. When the reduction in the number of battalions was announced and the suggestion was that we went from 55 to 38, and then to 36, we had the man-strength only for 51 battalions. We were pretending to have a larger front-line force and a larger traditional line of regiment than we were maintaining. The story of the Challenger tanks and the problems that we had in operating at that time were well known. There were also problems of stretch in finance which led to problems on the training side.
The options programme had two factors that helped its reception among our armed forces. First--this was not always the case--once the changes were made, the new structure was fully funded. I attached great importance to that full funding at that time because I had made an announcement of changes, which, over the four-year period under the options programme, were intended to reduce our defence expenditure by 6 per cent. in real terms. Over the previous five years, our expenditure had been reduced by 11.5 per cent. in real terms, not on the basis of making any changes in structure but by significantly reducing the funds available. That is called salami slicing. I sought to stop that and--I say in all seriousness to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench who are facing very difficult challenges--we must ensure that that problem does not reappear. We may change commitments, we may alter structures and we must define where those economies will fall and how they will fall, but we owe it to our smaller armed forces to ensure that they have the proper level of equipment, the proper level of training and the proper level of resource needed in support of their activities. We kept our promise on the full funding of the programme. I believe that we kept the promise--it is now in the good hands of my hon. Friend the Minister and I look to him to maintain that promise-- of properly equipped forces. We have opportunities today because of the Challenger programme, with the Warrior, with the AS90, with the Starstreak, with important logistic support such as DROPS--the demountable rack offloading and pickup system--which proved itself so significantly in the Gulf, with the new communications system, with the light attack helicopters and with heavier lift capability. Those resources, with their new capabilities and with the new quality of equipment, can make our Army of the 1990s the best equipped that it has ever been. That is an undertaking and a pledge that I know my hon. Friends support and which the Government-- I am pleased to see--have continued to maintain.
May I also draw attention to the implication that flows from "Front Line First" ? The supporting arms are vital. In
Column 758opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister referred to the quality of the logistic troops in Split and said that they were vital to our operation in Bosnia.
Let us consider the capabilities shown in the Gulf. Of course media attention focuses on the teeth arms, but the teeth arms know that back-up support is absolutely vital, whether in the signals, the ordnance or in the catering corps--the latter, incidentally, was vastly superior to anything that our allies had, with the possible exception of the French, who were too far away for accurate comparison, and certainly enormously superior to anything that the United States could offer. That combination of proper support facilities comprises both those in uniform and those in civilian clothing. I know that the hon. Member for Motherwell, North studies these matters, but I do not think that he was as familiar as he should have been with the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton).
One particular point about the Gulf conflict concerns the amount of good technicians and capable civilian support out there, whether they worked for Rolls-Royce, British Aerospace, Vickers, GEC Marconi or Racal. I told the various companies before the conflict started, when we first saw the possibility of being involved in deploying substantial resources in the Gulf, that there was no point in spending a lot of money on expensive shows, stands and demonstrations and on entertaining those responsible for procurement decisions--or in whatever ways they spent their money on sales promotion after it was all over. I told them that the biggest show of military equipment was about to be launched, that the Gulf conflict was the biggest practical exhibition and that it was vastly in their interests, in the national interest and in the interest of our international responsibilities to ensure that their equipment served our forces as it was expected to do.
That message clearly got home. I said that to the chairmen of all the major companies and they responded magnificently. The people working with them gave outstanding support. That was not a one-off ; I judge that it will be a continuing feature. With the increasing sophistication of military equipment, there will undoubtedly be a call for additional support for our forces from the civilian side. When we consider the structure of our armed forces, it is, I suppose, not very difficult now to be persuaded of the case for flexibility. There is a continual tension over planning in the Ministry of Defence--a tension between the need to plan for high-intensity operations and the constant pull of the more frequent, low-intensity operations. There is the pull of Northern Ireland, which continually draws us into low-intensity operations. We do not deploy artillery in Northern Ireland ; we do not deploy tanks there. It is not that sort of operation.
Of course, Bosnia and peacekeeping in its various forms are taking us in that same direction. In that sense, and only in that sense, I thank God for the Gulf war, which reminded us or warned us that suddenly one may find the need for high-intensity conflict and the ability to organise and combine all the arms, which are needed for such a sophisticated military operation. On the day on which the European fighter aircraft is taking its first official flight in Britain and when people may be inclined to challenge the need for more sophisticated equipment, it is worth noting that the Gulf war also taught us and warned us that we may not be fighting or facing the full might of the Soviet Union, with all its sophisticated arms programmes, but that those
Column 759arms and others like it are sold to many other countries with which we may find ourselves in conflict and which we may need to face. I listened to the comments that the hon. Member for Motherwell, North unwisely launched into at the end of his speech about the Scott inquiry and I recalled that, at the start of the Gulf war, the French Mirage jets were not able to fly in the opening aerial exchanges because the French had already sold Mirage jets to the Iraqis. The hon. Gentleman referred to the arms that we sold to Iraq. We do not sell a single weapon to Iraq and he knows that. Yet other countries did. It is no secret about the Mirage jets. I have a photograph of myself standing on the dock in Al Jubail next to a large load of missiles marked with the label Aerospatiale and stamped with the date February 1990 and the code number AM38. Any Conservative Member who is familiar with the military will know that they are Exocet missiles which had been recovered from the Iraqis.
That warns us that sophisticated weapons can fall into other hands and is why we must always ensure--it is a heavy responsibility for my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench--that our service men are not at a disadvantage if we ask them to stand up for international peace and justice. We must ensure that they have the equipment to give them the protection which they need and which is able to compete against anything that they may meet.
Mr. King : There were Iraqi Airways pilots. I flew with them. That was the only way in which, as I remember, one could get in and out of Baghdad. Over the years, we traded with Baghdad businesses when we did not have sanctions. Many British companies were actively involved in trade with Baghdad and we certainly trained Iraqi pilots. When I flew into Iraq at that time, I was slightly reassured by the fact that their pilots were well trained. They were civilian pilots doing their work. The hon. Gentleman is trying to use that diversion to excuse the casual description and quite incorrect allegation of his hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North that we sold arms to Iraq. I am glad that we have made that point quite clear. The Ministry of Defence and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State have produced a document that sets out helpfully the way in which commitments arise and the way in which they are met. There is a trap in that approach because, if some of the commitments come to an end and there are changes--Belize is one example, Hong Kong is another and Germany, and numbers in Germany, could be another--the inference might be drawn that it would be right further to reduce the level of our armed forces.
In terms of the options programme, I always regarded the end of the cold war as a move to the position in which we now find ourselves. Broadly speaking, we are where we should be in peacetime post cold war.
We would be foolish to anticipate or expect an end to the violence in Northern Ireland. We all know of the British Army's commitment and of the tremendous role that it has played in Northern Ireland. If there were a ceasefire and a permanent cessation of violence, some voices would no doubt suggest that there was an
Column 760opportunity for a further significant reduction in the Army. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends would not be so foolish as to anticipate in any way a change in Northern Ireland. The future is far from clear, and the responsibility, as it were, for change lies elsewhere : it is for the IRA and Sinn Fein to cease their campaign of violence. Were there to be a cessation of violence, I would strongly urge my right hon. and hon. Friends not to see that as an opportunity for a further significant reduction in our armed forces. The approach of the Government and of individual Ministers in seeking to identify savings where they can be made is the right one. I urge them to announce the results of their investigations and examinations as soon as they conveniently can. We heard the flippant remarks of the hon. Member for Motherwell, North, but he has never had the responsibility of government. He does not know the range of considerations that are involved in the massive exercise that the Government are undertaking.
It will be an impressive achievement if the results of the exercise can be produced as early as July. It is important that the Government strive for that early date, precisely for the reason outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier).
We are entitled to expect from our armed forces discipline and good co- operation at difficult times. In all my dealings with the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence I found that they understood the need for change, but they looked for guidance. They needed to know where they were going-- where their path was leading and where it would end. Given the need to make further savings, and bearing in mind the changes that are in hand, I urge that an announcement should be made as early as possible so that those involved know clearly how things stand.
I stand second to none in my admiration of the way in which our forces have coped. I recognise the problems in relation to adequate tour intervals and the related problem of stretch, which I realise will arise during the period of change and with the amalgamation of some units and the reforming of others. The problems raised by Bosnia are less than welcome because they are clearly an additional burden. I understand that the present situation is extremely difficult and places a heavy responsibility on our forces--a responsibility greater than I would have wished them to carry. It would not be acceptable if we did not see an end to the present state of affairs. As I see the period of change coming to an end, I hope that we shall move towards the tour intervals that are essential for our forces.
As I have said, we ask much of our forces and they discharge their obligation superbly. We owe it to them to provide the clearest possible programme for their future. They should know that they have the overwhelming confidence of the House and that we support them in the tasks that we ask them to undertake.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : I yield to no one in the importance that I attach to single service debates of this sort. I cannot resist the view, however--it may be shared elsewhere--that to some extent our discussions take place in a vacuum. We know, for example, that in July further announcements are scheduled to be made which may well affect the Army. However, I do not propose to go down the road followed by the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. I am content to wait until the
Column 761announcements are made. We shall then be better able to test ministerial assertions that capability will not be affected. On this occasion, as on virtually every occasion since the "Options for Change" announcement was made in the House in July 1990, there is a dispute about whether a defence review is desirable. The hon. Member for Motherwell, North cited several authorities--academics and others--in support of his proposition. I can add to them the Financial Times of 27 April 1994. Perhaps it is not quite the compelling authority that it once was in the view of Conservative Members following the position that it adopted shortly before the general election, but we find in a leading article on 27 April the following :
"In short, there is no cohesion of European thought or action, and little underlying agreement on the future presence in Europe of US forces. A proper white paper would set out the foreign policy options and the defence decisions that flow from them. The starting point would be to focus British eyes on both Nato and the European Union. That is more important"
the writer continues with a degree of cynicism that I would not necessarily support
"than the defence of Tory seats in a borough or two."
An article in The Economist of 30 April 1994 stated :
"With the world changing fast, and war apparently as popular as ever, Britain sorely needs a fresh review of its military commitments. Such a review, for instance, would decide whether Britain should continue equipping itself for every type of warfare. A possible alternative would be for Britain and its NATO allies to plan together so that each specialised in particular strengths. Thus Britain might maintain a sizeable fleet and amphibious ability, but leave heavy armour to others. In any case, much deeper Treasury cuts would probably make such specialisation inevitable."
It is inevitable that the intellectual argument will continue about whether what the Government are proposing to do is based on a rigorous analysis of commitment. In due course we shall have a debate on a White Paper--after the defence costs study announcements have been made, I hope--and there will be an opportunity for a more wide-ranging discussion of strategic issues of the kind to which I have referred briefly. Today, however, I shall concentrate--I consider this to be appropriate--on the Army. I am surprised that so far--to some extent this was contradicted by the right hon. Member for Bridgend
I am surprised that we have not concentrated more on procurement. If flexibility and mobility are truly to form the basis upon which our Army is equipped to meet future tasks, surely procurement lies at the heart of that approach. I believe that there is an overwhelming moral obligation on the House to ensure that when we send men--and, increasingly, women--into circumstances in which their lives are at risk, they are properly equipped.
As the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said, there are practical considerations. Events in the former Soviet Union have brought significant amounts of military equipment--some of it highly advanced--on to the market. That equipment has become widely dispersed. One of the factors is the effect of the conventional forces in Europe treaty, which has only added to the volume of equipment coming on to the market. I think that no one in
Column 762this place would depart from the principle on which the right hon. Member for Bridgwater took his stand--that it is essential that United Kingdom forces are never at a disadvantage, wherever they have to be deployed.
We have not always acquitted ourselves well in procurement policy. There should be a sign reading, "Remember the SA80" above the desk of every civil servant and every service man or service woman in the armed forces with responsibility for procurement. We can hardly be proud of the history of that weapon's development, production or experience under battle conditions. It is generally accepted that it has become an extremely effective weapon, but there is little doubt--the report of the Select Committee on Defence made this eloquently clear--that it could hardly be regarded as a paradigm of good procurement.
I hope that the Minister will tell us how close he is to making an announcement on the attack helicopter and the support helicopter. If flexibility and mobility are to lie at the heart of the Army that we seek to fashion for the remainder of this century, early decisions on those two important projects, which have considerable consequences for employment and the leading edge of technology, would be highly desirable.
Some hon. Members have referred to the lessons of the Gulf. I agree with the right hon. Member for Bridgwater about the civilians who assisted the effort in the Gulf. The hon. Member for Motherwell, North might have been on stronger ground if he had told the House that the civilians who assisted in the Gulf were British citizens and were taking part in an operation which had almost universal political support in the United Kingdom. He might have said that it would be unwise to rely on local support in Cyprus, just as some of us feel anxiety about the need to rely on merchant shipping sailing under flags of convenience for the transport of equipment in time of war. The whole of the 1st British Corps had to be stripped to field the armoured division in the Gulf. I hope and trust that we have learnt the lesson of that experience. In addition, we had become so committed to the central front that much of the equipment was suitable for a land battle in western Europe but unsuited to the climate or terrain in the Gulf. In the procurement of equipment, therefore, one should bear in mind that equipment may have to be used in various scenarios and theatres.
The United Kingdom has command of the rapid reaction corps. I think it is fair to say that that appointment was accorded a considerable amount of political significance. Certain obligations go with that command. The UK has an obligation to provide most of the corps' headquarters staff and to contribute substantially to its forces. A strong body of opinion believes that the decision to accept that command and its obligations has to a substantial extent shaped the size and nature of the Army for the foreseeable future. If we are engaged in a radical review of commitments, as I believe that we should be, we should ask whether the continuing command of that corps is justified.
Events have moved on since September 1990, when the UK was first asked to take up that command. The original anxiety about the Eurocorps has substantially diminished and its commitment to NATO now seems unequivocal. As the NATO summit in January authorised joint task force operations, whereby European members can use the full facilities of NATO without the involvement of the United
Column 763States, one must again ask what is the justification for the rapid reaction corps and why Britain should continue to command it. Another feature is the continuing deficiency in strategic uplift capacity, which has an effect on the potential effectiveness of the corps. The fundamental question to which the House and, I hope, the Government should address themselves is whether it is right that the shape of the Army should be so dependent on the fact that the United Kingdom has command of that formation.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) speaks with great authority on defence matters and I am sorry that he is no longer in the Chamber. I had to disagree with him on the issue of the tactical air-to- surface missile, but there have been many occasions when I have agreed with him. He made a telling point when he raised the issue of the continued presence of the British Army in Germany. I wonder whether he feels so strongly and so radically about the Royal Air Force. The Minister of State for Defence Procurement will remember that I raised that subject in the Royal Air Force debate earlier this year.
The Government should embark on such radical thinking. Unlike others, I do not lay great stress on what appears in The Sunday Times , but there was a hint of such radical thinking in that newspaper last Sunday. If that hint reflects what is being thought in the Ministry of Defence, I applaud that thinking because it is the type of radical thinking that is now required.
In the course of his observations, the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood referred to what seemed like a possible amalgamation of the Gurkhas and the Gordons. I do not know the Gurkhas that well ; knowing the Gordons, however, I think that it would be a pretty curious amalgamation. To some extent, the hon. Gentleman's argument was borne out in the figures quoted by the Minister. It is notable that if the second battalion continues to be deployed to Bosnia, the effect will be to neutralise the withdrawal from Belize.
We all want the 24-month interval between emergency tours--that is generally accepted by the Army as being a suitable period--but even on the figures produced it seemed to rest on a pretty fragile foundation. For that reason, the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that those who are anxious to preserve the Gordons and the Queen's Own Highlanders are arguing, even at this stage, for a reprieve for both regiments. The amalgamation is scheduled to take place on 17 September this year, so the Government still have time. If that reprieve were granted, it would go a long way towards assisting the fragile basis on which the 24-month figure is proposed. Far be it from me to offer political advice to the Government, but it would also do no harm to their political reputation north of the Tweed.
Mr. Gale : I fear that I have to take the hon. and learned Gentleman back a little. I was waiting for a natural break in his speech, but it did not happen ; it has been a seamless speech. He referred to the allied rapid reaction corps and he read from an article in the Financial Times which seemed broadly to suggest that there was no cohesive European approach to defence. As the allied rapid reaction corps represents probably the epitome of what is regarded as modern response to modern needs, is the hon. and learned Gentleman seriously suggesting that the ARRC is not
Column 764necessary ? If he is not, it is surely right that it should be led by one of the best generals from the best Army in the world.
Mr. Campbell : The military academies in France might dispute the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's comments. If he is saying that, within a common foreign and security policy leading a common defence, to echo the words of the Maastricht treaty, there may be something approaching a rapid reaction corps, there is some substance in his view, but I argue that the British assumption of the responsibility of command has had the effect of substantially skewing the Army's shape for the foreseeable future.
When we are considering radical and long-lasting decisions, the continuing responsibility for that and the consequences for the British Army must be the subject of considerable review. I believe that there are military and political implications. It may be, for aught yet seen, that there is no military justification for that. However, there may be a political justification. If that is the case, we should have that debate so that we understand precisely why such a substantial part of our resources is being moved in that direction. In the past 12 months, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, who I am sure will endeavour to catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I had the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia and I want to say a word about each. One of the things that struck me in Northern Ireland--I am not sure whether others have had the same experience--was the maturity of the relatively young men and women who were essentially in the front line of the Army's operations there. As one might expect, I was impressed by the quality of leadership of the senior officers. However, I was particularly impressed by the quality of leadership at
non-commissioned officer level. Very frequently, the NCOs leading patrols on the street face the most difficult decisions which require judgment, maturity, common sense and good humour. We rely substantially upon those people. One of the features of my visit to Northern Ireland was that I came away lost in admiration at the quality of people whom we are still able to find to fulfil dangerous and demanding tasks of that kind.
The right hon. Member for Bridgwater was right to say that if there is a political settlement it will have consequences for the Army's commitments in Northern Ireland, though for my part I find it difficult to envisage circumstances in which there would not still be the resident battalions, but perhaps that is a discussion that we can have on another occasion. As the right hon. Member for Bridgwater rightly said, the consequence of a political settlement should not be the justification for yet another financial raid on the defence budget. Instead, it should be the means of providing greater flexibility on the emergency tour plot and, if necessary, of enabling us to meet further calls upon us, as a permanent member of the Security Council, to provide forces for United Nations operations. In the meantime, I repeat a point which I believe will find some sympathy with the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton). There is surely an extent to which some of the tasks currently carried out by the military in Northern Ireland could be undertaken by the civilian authorities without prejudicing security. That must
Column 765be the determining factor. If steps could be taken in that direction, that could well have the consequence of creating greater flexibility.
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces very properly drew attention to the fact that, while much is made of the quality of the infantry battalions in Bosnia, the quality of the logistical support is not often sufficiently recognised. Having visited Split with the Defence Select Committee, it was clear to me that a substantial part of the success that the infantry battalions have enjoyed has been due to the quality of that support. While we were in Split, we were told of a battalion, offered by a country whose anonymity I should preserve, which Brigadier Reith was unable to accept or to deploy because it came without support and, as a consequence, would have been not an advantage to his effort, but a disadvantage. The importance of support and the point at which support and the front line run together are clearly matters of considerable significance. I welcome the fact that reserves will be deployed to the Falklands. If we argue that such deployment is a contribution to the overall defence of the United Kingdom, we must allow people of sufficient quality who are sufficiently well equipped and trained the opportunity to deploy in the kind of circumstances in which we might ask them to deploy if an emergency arose. I hope that the Government will take as many opportunities as possible, consistent with the civilian obligations of members of the reserves, to allow people that experience.
I understand that an effort is being made to extract something from the budget of the War Graves Commission. If that is true, I do not care much for the timing of the proposal, given that we are about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of D-day.
The two principal war grave cemeteries that I have visited are Arnhem and Alamein. There is no doubt that the quality of maintenance of those graves and cemeteries is remarkable to behold. One could argue with some justification that that is intrinsically right and proper. There is another more practical and perhaps less theoretical argument. When the friends and relations of those who died in battle visit those cemeteries, they derive some comfort from the fact that their sons and husbands and friends are still being properly looked after. I hope, therefore, that the Government will think very carefully before embarking on any argument about a reduction in the War Graves Commission budget which might be seen as cheeseparing and an insufficient reflection of the fact that in this year, of all years, there is a considerable sense among the citizens of the United Kingdom that many people gave their lives so that we could continue to enjoy our freedoms.
On these occasions, there is a ritual of congratulation in respect of our armed forces and, in particular, in respect of the Army. However, we should never forget that every day, somewhere, men--and, increasingly, women--in the Army are at risk of their lives. It is sometimes easy to forget that fact in our abstract discussions of concepts such as force structures and deterrence. If the risks run by those who serve are not constantly in our minds, they are surely constantly in the minds of their families--and those who serve are entitled to expect of us not just good wishes but sound judgment as well.
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Sir Archibald Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell) : May I begin by declaring an interest in that I work as a consultant to Litton Industries which, among other things, makes navigation and guidance systems, and for Saladin, which is in the business of personal protection and security.
I pay tribute to the soldiers who serve in our Army across the world. We undoubtedly have the finest soldiers of any country today. They put themselves at very great risk and one is full of admiration for the discipline and very high professionalism that they demonstrate.
I want to refer to the defence cost studies which are now under way and about which we hope, as this was expressed earlier in the House, we will hear an announcement before we rise for the summer recess. I must confess that I was a rather doubting Thomas about those cost studies. It struck me that much too much money would have to be found. As the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) observed, we have tried to find savings before. I thought that it would be very difficult to find the quantities of money that were being talked about.
I am happy to say that I have probably been proved wrong and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State on the way in which he has managed to get the services to work with him on what has amounted to a quite significant review of our support elements in the three armed services. He has managed to do that quite subtly. He is using their ideas. There is no doubt that an awful lot of the initiatives have come from the services themselves and that makes them that much more acceptable to the people who will ultimately be affected. He has also taken advantage of the fact--under the "Front Line First" measures--that the service boards have always been made up primarily of front line people. So there is not much affection for the support units but there is a great deal of affection for the fighting units, and if it comes to a choice the service boards will be more than happy to look stringently at what economies can be made in support areas to preserve front line units. We have been over this ground before, and some of the old excuses are probably starting to slip away. One of the difficulties that we always used to face was the idea of transition to war, which was the reason given for keeping large numbers of men in uniform. The idea was that if we started thinking of going to war it would be possible to call up these men and to ensure that they came under military discipline if we entered a war zone--there would be no problem with people refusing to go. That problem can be finessed by changing the Reserve Forces Act 1980, and I sincerely hope that the Government will introduce legislation to that effect as soon as possible. If the Act is updated, there is no reason why any civilian company performing the task of maintaining aircraft or tanks should not have a reserve liability. Then, if we went to war, these people could be called up and subjected to military discipline just as if they were in uniform all the time. That would be a significant step forward. The Gulf war showed the readiness of civilians to operate in support roles. The hon. Member for Motherwell, North need have no anxiety that tanks could not be maintained by civilians close to the front line, because their reserve liability would be invoked. That is a way around many problems.
In the past we faced enormous difficulties because the single service ethos often meant that people fought their own corners. I attempted to get the Royal Naval technical
Column 767college at Manadon moved to Shrivenham, so that all three services could undergo their technical training there. I encountered a certain resistance from the Navy, which explained to me that the move was not possible because people at Shrivenham all wore plain clothes and went around like civilians, whereas there was a great naval tradition that everyone should wear uniform.
I took the idea back to Shrivenham and asked what could be done about it. I was told, "No problem ; we will ensure that everyone here wears uniform from now on." I went back and told the Navy, but the Navy said, "We must go away and think about this." In the end the Navy returned and agreed to Manadon being closed down but suggested that the alternative should be a technical course at Southampton university, where all naval trainees would be in plain clothes. I should not have thought, either, that there was too much problem about bringing all the padres together. They could all be trained in the same place, surely. It is not too presumptuous to think that they all believe in the same God, although they may serve different arms of the forces.
The same can be said of doctors. I am greatly concerned about the costs associated with the military hospitals around the country--and they are even more expensive in Germany. A hard look should be taken at those costs. We do not need very many doctors to go off with our units abroad ; we do need doctors if ever we go to war. So the whole idea of reserve doctors should be looked at carefully. I question whether we need the massive medical corps that we have in the Army and the number of military hospitals that go with it.
I am glad that it is proving possible to take a look at the staff colleges. In the past people felt strongly, in the single services, that they had to be preserved at whatever cost. The RAF never stops telling me about how unique Bracknell was, although there was no shortage of money men to remind us of the development potential of the significant number of acres in Berkshire on which it sat. I hope that the Government will carefully consider consolidating the staff colleges in one place. Admittedly, Greenwich presents a maintenance problem ; it has so many preserved and listed buildings. But perhaps it can be moved to some other Department.
There are rumours in the newspapers, which I have no reason to disbelieve, to the effect that a close look is being taken at the support elements of the RAF. I should like to enter a caveat as follows : if they are civilianised--I am sure that there will be opportunities for that--the MOD should not allow a monopoly to a civilian supplier so that it becomes difficult to conduct subsequent competition for the work. It is most important that the work be put out to tender again in a few years' time, and that there should still be a viable competition for it.
Mr. Brazier : May I put an allied point to my right hon. Friend ? When we consider contractorising military functions, with sponsored military units, both for that reason and because of the lack of surge capability in civilian industry, is it not essential that units should not be sponsored by the very defence suppliers who supply their equipment ? That could lead to a monopoly in peace time, exercised by a supplier which, in time of war, will be exceptionally busy producing spare parts and so on.
Sir Archibald Hamilton : That is certainly a viable point : there is probably a case for splitting the two functions. What is important is maintaining competitiveness so that there can always be competitive tenders.
I recall the fact that, for a very long time, there were serious problems in the MOD over agreeing about the training of dogs. The RAF maintained that its dogs had to be trained completely differently from Army dogs--it was impossible to bring them under the same roof. I gather that an agency deals with the training of dogs now, so it is highly likely that they will all be trained together at last. It just goes to show what problems there can be.
I must tell those who talk of bringing back the Rhine Army that, although there are theoretically enormous savings to be made, we must face up to the fact that there is not a great surplus of barracks in this country. A massive building programme to house the Rhine Army in the United Kingdom would render any savings illusory for a long time to come, while the capital costs of rehousing the men were absorbed. I must also tell the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) that there are 300 tanks in the Rhine Army. I am not sure how their return would fit in with the environmental concerns of the Liberals. If they trained in Britain, they might cause a certain amount of difficulty. [Interruption.] Perhaps Fife is the place to put them. I have always taken the view that there are large areas of Scotland where more training could be done.
We have to accept that a third world war is becoming much less likely. Most of NATO's structure and organisation was based on the idea that we might be pitched back into a massive European war--our support structures certainly reflected that possibility. Now, warning times are very much longer, and we cannot dismiss what is happening in Russia either. Today no one believes that Russia's economy will allow it to rebuild its armed forces to the point where they threaten our security--at least, not for a long time to come. It is thus possible to take some risks with the amount of support that we keep, and it is right to examine it in a draconian way, as the Government are doing.
It seems to me likely that savings will be found, and that is extremely encouraging. Let us ensure that they are ploughed back into better equipment and into all the things that lead to "smaller but better", just as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) has always advocated. We must accept that the role of our armed forces is changing, and that there is a much greater emphasis on peacekeeping. When we consider what role we should be playing in other parts of the world, we must never forget that we have a massive peacekeeping commitment in Northern Ireland which, I think, is standing at some 18,000 troops.
I was unhappy when the decision was made in 1992 to send two extra battalions to Northern Ireland. The reason for that has been well rehearsed. Those were two enroulement battalions, so we were not just talking about another two battalions, but about eight to 10 battalions which are needed to support them. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will have an opportunity to give an answer when he sums up, but does he have any statistics in terms of terrorist incidents or what has happened in Northern Ireland which prove that those two extra battalions have achieved anything in military terms ?
Column 769I have yet to meet any general who does not want more troops for whatever it is that he happens to be doing, but it is important that we weigh up the effectiveness of those troops. They are not just a free and easy option. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces made clear, we may--if we are lucky with our existing commitments--get to a two-year interval between tours. On the other hand, if there is the slightest change and extra commitments are taken on, we will not get to the 24-month interval. The whole situation is being held tightly.
I was glad to hear that the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East backs my view that we should be looking strongly at the civilianisation of a number of jobs which are taken on by the military in Northern Ireland. One classic example is the Maze prison, where an extremely boring guarding job must be done which could easily be done by locals recruited in Northern Ireland where unemployment is astronomically high.
I must tell the hon. and learned Member that it will never happen as long as the job is carried out on the defence budget, as it is at the moment. I cannot see the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland volunteering to take the cost of hiring people locally on to his budget, and that is one of the great difficulties. I have been laughed out of court in the past by saying that the whole of our Northern Ireland commitment should come on to the Northern Ireland budget, and should not be part of the defence budget. There would then be some financial incentive for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to look at a reduction in the number of troops. The Secretary of State wastes no time in ganging up with the GOC in Northern Ireland and demanding more troops and, if he gets them, he knows that they will not cost him anything because they will not come out of his budget.
That leads one to Bosnia, where once again there are two enroulement battalions. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces said that there is every intention of getting one of those battalions back. I was glad to hear that, but I have a great suspicion that in years to come we will still have at least two battalions in Bosnia. One knows the nature of the UN--it is extremely easy to put troops into those areas, but it is very difficult to get them out.
Once again, those are enroulement battalions, so it is not just a question of the two battalions but eight to 10 battalions which are needed to support them. We want flexibility to carry out any tasks relating to peacekeeping or the defence of our interests anywhere in the world, but that flexibility does not exist today. Therefore, we must look hard at our commitments.
I would like to pay great tribute to General Sir Michael Rose for doing absolutely miraculous things with very limited resources in Bosnia, and he has shown enormous courage and resourcefulness. However, I do not think that it would have made any difference to Gorazde if, instead of the maximum of 150 UN troops which were there, there had been 1,500 UN troops. The fact remains that the Serbs had every intention of taking that town back.
We must not believe that there is some magic number of troops which we can put into Bosnia which will stop the Serbs from doing what they want. The great problem is that those who know absolutely nothing about defence, both in
Column 770the House and particularly in the media, are the ones who tell us that there is a military solution to the problems of Bosnia.
Mr. Duncan Smith : My right hon. Friend has touched on an extremely important issue. During the Gorazde affair, there was a garrison of Bosnian Muslim soldiers in the town who were constantly making forays. Not once was that reported, as far as I could see, in the press. Does not that demonstrate that the situation is much more complex than is so often touted both here and in the press ?
Sir Archibald Hamilton : I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. The press has a great responsibility in this, and there has been enormous pressure for us to deploy troops in Bosnia. I do not think that anybody could know what the final outcome of that would be. I find it worrying that there are still people talking in terms of a massive deployment of troops, as if somehow there was a military solution to the problems.
There is a direct comparison with the 500,000 American troops who were put into a not totally dissimilar situation in Vietnam. There was a civil war, and the troops incurred enormous casualties, got nowhere and had to come back totally defeated. Exactly the same thing happened to similar numbers of Russian troops in Afghanistan. We must learn that we cannot impose solutions on countries which are at war. We also must accept something which is extremely unpalatable, and it is not something that one wants to say. However, the fact is that since we went into Bosnia we have fed some starving people, but we have also fed the fighting forces in Bosnia. We have kept soldiers alive, and they have been able to continue the fighting. If we had deprived them of food, maybe the whole conflict would have come to an end quicker and maybe fewer people would have died. We may have prolonged the conflict and made it worse.
There are people who say that we should use NATO or lose it. I think that that is the most incredible nonsensical rubbish that I have ever heard. The fact is that NATO has never been used--thank God it has not--but it has acted as an effective deterrent and has maintained peace in Europe for a long time. If we were move to the opposite scenario which some are suggesting of a massive deployment of NATO troops in Bosnia, one can imagine what would happen if serious casualties were incurred there.
What would happen to the NATO alliance ? There are many partners in NATO who are not in the business of having large numbers of casualties and bodies coming home because of their involvement in a civil war somewhere in Europe which in no way threatens their security. If we were not careful, the NATO alliance could disintegrate if those troops were deployed.
I hope for heaven's sake that we avoid massive deployments. I have every sympathy for President Clinton who is showing reluctance to get American troops involved on the ground, and we must be wary before we become more involved than we are today. I hope that we do not have to see a ghastly accident involving the deaths of a large number of our service men before the decision will be taken to withdraw.
Dr. David Clark : I wish to associate the Opposition with the right hon. Gentleman's comments on and tributes to General Rose. Will he join me in paying tribute to Brigadier John Reith, the commander of BRITFOR, who is
Column 771just retiring, for his magnificent work--far beyond his military role--in banging together the heads of the Bosnian Government and the Croats to get peace in central Bosnia ? Now, 1.6 million of the population live in relative peace. I believe that he has done a brilliant job there as the commander of BRITFOR. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in that ?
Sir Archibald Hamilton : Of course, and I also pay tribute to the diplomatic efforts which have gone into ensuring that that peace is maintained. We must do everything possible to ensure that the Serbs eventually agree to some form of peace also. However, that seems regrettably to be some way off.
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles) : The right hon. Gentleman has made clear his view that European and British forces should not be involved in trying to impose peace in Bosnia. Does he therefore agree with those who advocate the lifting of the arms embargo so that, at the very least, the people of Bosnia can defend themselves ? If we will not defend them, surely they have the right to defend themselves.
Sir Archibald Hamilton : The arms embargo makes total sense so long as there are UN troops on the ground. If UN troops were withdrawn, there would be little justification for maintaining an arms embargo against one of the factions in Bosnia, bearing in mind that the Croat and Serb elements have less problem in obtaining arms.
One should not imagine that there is some simple solution to the problem in Bosnia. If the Muslims were to be supplied with arms, the arms would have to come through Croatia. There are certain logistic problems in getting in any more heavy armaments than can be brought in by aircraft.
Let us deal with the question of a review. It is a little facile to believe that some wonderful review could be carried out which would identify all the future threats to the United Kingdom, tell us in what wars we would be involved in the future and allowed us to plan the armed forces as a result. Of course, we carried out the Nott review, which somewhat emasculated the Navy. The next thing we knew, we were involved in the Falklands war, which no one had foretold. If we are to rely on defence intelligence to tell us where the next war will come from, let us remember that it got the Falklands wrong and the Gulf war wrong. People swore that Saddam Hussein would never invade Kuwait.
I do not know on what premise we are to work out where the next war will come from, so it seems sensible, in broad terms, to keep a wide range of technologies and capabilities that one might need in any sphere of life. The only way in which we would undermine that position is by being drawn into more and more peacekeeping activities around the world. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater alluded to that. If we did so, there would not be any more money for the defence budget. We would end up with a larger and larger lightly armed Army and we would sacrifice the Navy and the Royal Air Force to pay for it. We would also sacrifice the Army's capability to fight high-intensity conflicts. If we did that, we should ultimately undermine the defence capability of the United Kingdom. That is something that we should not entertain, whatever happens.