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Mr. Bruce : It got hold of the wrong idea. It believed that people might suggest that the street parties did not have a serious purpose, but the "Kilroy" programme showed that the organisers of the street parties are doing exactly the right thing. They asked veterans and widows, "Would you like us to arrange for you to get out on the street and to meet our children so that they can find out what D-day was all about ?" The educational effect would have been extremely good, and a number of my constituents wrote to me, especially those who were out in Burma, asking, "Are we being forgotten ?" They wanted to ensure that something was happening for everybody. That is what we have done in Dorset, and I believe that we have done it particularly sensitively.
Defence employees working in my constituency, especially those in the Procurement Executive, have grave concerns. Initially, the Procurement Executive had about 12,000 employees--clearly, that was too many--but now 10,000 are employed. It was suggested that 7,000 of them could be located in a Procurement Executive headquarters north of Bristol. Newspaper reports now suggest that the figure might have fallen to 5,000. We need to find out what is happening. Those employees are not happy to hear that shops, swimming pools, gymnasiums, landscape gardens and ornamental lakes will be available when they get to their new high-tech headquarters ; they are even less happy to
Column 796hear that the budget for the ASPECT computer system, which was to be installed to ensure that everybody could work together, has not been approved or might not be proceeded with. Computer people in the armed forces to whom I have spoken suggest that no new money will be found to install the system for the Procurement Executive. It is perhaps even more surprising that the MOD decided to spend £250 million on CHOTS--the corporate headquarters office technology system. That system was designed specifically to allow departments scattered around the country to talk to each other. About £300 million is to be spent to put the Procurement Executive on a single site, and I believe that that is a waste of money. If we are to keep morale high, we must demonstrate that we can save money. We should not waste it.
When I consider the professionalism of our armed forces, I am reminded of my attempt to windsurf off Weymouth last weekend. I was up to my neck in the waves wondering how I could get on to a windsurfer which kept going in the wrong direction while the experts whizzed past me. The MOD headquarters is probably up to its neck in it as I was then.
We have excellent people in the armed forces. We should tell them that we have to trim our budgets. However, we should have targets for them. Perhaps we should even give them incentive pay to get the results. We should certainly tell them not to spend more money Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : I am conscious of the fact that other hon. Members wish to speak and that one of them has just exclaimed in frustration. To them, I apologise for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate. I was attending a sitting of the Transport Select Committee and have come straight from there to participate in this debate, in which Labour Members have a legitimate interest.
I join in the tributes paid to the skill and dedication of our armed forces and particularly to the skill and dedication of members of the Army who continue to face peril in many parts of the world. In particular, I pay tribute to the Royal Anglian Regiment which is associated with my constituency and which is currently serving in Bosnia, where it has made great sacrifices.
A Conservative Member claimed that change is inevitable. That is true. Hon. Members on both sides of the House may find uncomfortable the fact that there is, to a large extent, a convergence between the policies of the parties on defence and foreign affairs--in contrast to the position a decade or more ago.
Although Conservative Members ridiculed and dismissed Opposition suggestions for a major defence review, it was clear from the content of Conservative Members' speeches--and particularly those of the hon. Members for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer), for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) and for Wealden (Sir G.
Column 797Johnson Smith)--that they had grave concerns about the development and direction of our armed forces. They emphasised the need for a major review of our defence commitments.
I was particularly impressed by the hon. Member for Upminster. He demonstrated that need when he referred to an apparent arbitrary withdrawal of a platoon from Korea. He also expressed grave concern about our withdrawal from Belize. That shows that, no matter how much Conservative Members protest, there is clearly a need, which was reflected in their speeches, for a review of our commitments and resources.
The situation is changing rapidly around the world and particularly in Europe. We must recognise that if we are not to be stretched and so ensure that we can meet military and political commitments, we must have the armed services resources to match those obligations and commitments. That is clearly not the case at the moment. The MOD is making knee-jerk reactions and interim decisions by deploying stretched military resources. That is not healthy for the armed forces or in the best interests of the United Kingdom.
I have referred to the dynamic situation in Europe and other hon. Members have referred to their perception of a dangerous situation in central and eastern Europe. There is a danger of over-exaggerating the problem. However, we must recognise that some very fragile democracies are emerging in central and eastern Europe. There are historical anxieties in those democracies. Many see a threat from the east, from what
We in the west are not doing enough to buttress or reassure those democracies. In parenthesis, we are not doing enough for their economies either. I am particularly concerned about the Visegrad group of countries-- Poland, Hungary and the Czech republic--which clearly have a legitimate claim to admission to NATO. The partnership for peace programme was a sop. We in the west have been somewhat dishonest. For 50 years we said, "Look over the wall." After the collapse of communism, the wall came down but we still have not allowed them to join the club.
It is argued that the armies of those countries are not equipped to western standards and that there is no democratic control of those armies. It is argued that their technology and armaments do not match NATO standards. Those are feeble and bogus excuses. We should do much more to help those countries to join the NATO club. I deeply regret the fact that we have not fulfilled our commitments to them. Many corners of the globe have been mentioned in this debate but there has been no reference to Gibraltar since I have been in the Chamber. I am deeply concerned that the Chief Minister of the Gibraltar Government has had to flag up the anxiety of his state that its economy would be greatly jeopardised if, as he fears, there is an arbitrary and fairly immediate withdrawal of MOD resources and personnel from Gibraltar. He legitimately fears that that would have an enormous impact.
We have obligations to Gibraltar. In addition, the defence and political interests of the United Kingdom
Column 798are such that we should maintain commitments there. There should certainly be no arbitrary withdrawal which would jeopardise the economy in Gibraltar. That would send the wrong signals to other countries with an interest in Gibraltar.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) referred to the Blelloch review of the MOD police. It is appropriate to raise that point today because we understand that Blelloch and the Minister are contemplating replacing or reducing the MOD police by a new force referred to as the Military Home Service Engagement. That would be a way of diminishing Government embarrassment at the cost of making redundant members of the Army, Navy and Air Force. It would keep them in uniform. They would have to fulfil duties currently carried out by MOD police.
It would be wrong to go down that road for several reasons. We must be much more sensitive to the needs of our armed forces personnel who the Government decide they need to shed. If the Labour party's view of a major defence review were adopted, many of those redundancies would, in any event, be put on ice.
To go down that road would also be to misunderstand the role of the MOD police officers. They are constables. They are specially trained and have special skills. They are civilian police officers. They need to be in terms of legislation passed by this House such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and that governing the police inspectorate. Their role cannot be fulfilled sensitively or according to existing legislation by service men who would be under the control not of the MOD or a police committee, but of the generals. I do I hope that the Minister will reassure the public, who are concerned about policing policy, and the MOD Police Federation on this score. I trust that he will not adopt the suggestion of the Blelloch committee.
The Government need to instigate a thorough review of all non-Home Office police forces. It is not good enough to ignore such forces, including the MOD police, while passing legislation relating to Home Office police forces.
Soon after we elected Madam Speaker I tabled early-day motion 2, which called for a veterans Minister. I am pleased to say that interest in the subject was renewed in this Session of Parliament in the form of an early- day motion which attracted many more signatures and which has been fully endorsed by the Royal British Legion. Recent events have shown that this country is out of kilter with others in this respect--we lack a Minister with a responsibility dedicated to promoting the interests of veterans. Not surprisingly, there has been a considerable increase in the number of people claiming war pensions of late, and that trend will continue as those who fought in the second world war reach old age. In the next decade, therefore, the needs and interests of those who fought in that war will become more apparent, and we will need a Minister dedicated to looking after their interests, not to mention those of the war widows, orphans and dependants. Some of the embarrassment--I put it no more strongly than that because I do not want to score points--and misunderstanding that surrounded the events marking D-day might easily have been avoided had there been such a Minister in post.
Column 799The cut in the grant for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission also bears on this point. Earlier, the Secretary of State intervened in an endeavour to reassure his hon. Friends that the cut could be absorbed by the commission. That did not satisfy me. Frankly, I was amazed to learn of the cut. All the evidence suggests that it was done without consultation with the other principal participants in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. That was discourteous to say the least. The underlying fear of those of us who frequent the war graves is that if the Government get away with cutting the grant this year, they will follow that up with more reductions in future years. I would deeply regret that.
I should also like to mention the disappointment felt by those who did national service at the fact that they are not allowed, if they work in any uniformed public service, to wear the medal struck by the Royal British Legion to mark their national service. This is no small issue ; I and others have raised it with the Ministry. The Ministry seems to have adopted a rather petty, mean-minded attitude to this issue--or was it the Prime Minister ? It should and could have been recommended to the Queen that a medal be struck for people who did national service, enabling them to wear it when on duty in a uniformed service ; there are many such people in the police force, the traffic warden service, the ambulance and fire services, and in voluntary
The Government should recognise the widespread view of hon. Members--no matter how Conservative Members dress it up--that we should stop making piecemeal decisions about our armed forces and related political matters, and should step back and look at them in the round. Such decisions are foolhardy in the extreme.
Secondly, hon. Members on both sides of the House have drawn attention today to the need for a Minister who will be dedicated to promoting the best interests of war veterans, and of their widows and dependants. Such a Minister would also be responsible for commemorating their service on behalf of the Crown in years gone by, and for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, inasmuch as the Government contribute to it. The new Minister could also deal with the VE-day and VJ-day celebrations, and would marshal resources on behalf of former service men and women and liaise with their organisations. He or she would promote all these interests at arm's length from those in charge of operational matters, which should clearly remain
Sir Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare) : I have been attending Army debates for more years than I care to mention. Unfortunately, in some respects they always seem to take a similar form : very lengthy opening speeches, lasting well over two hours today, and far too little mention of the Army.
I noted with interest that the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) hinted that our Army is too small in some ways, but that he refused to commit the Labour party to any increase in its size. Nor would he be drawn on defence expenditure in general. Of course I understand his dilemma ; he handles it skilfully if somewhat lengthily.
Column 800I am anxious not to fall out with the Minister of State, but I strongly suspect that somewhere in the MOD there is a computer program marked "Minister of State's opening speech for Army debate". It seems to come up on the word processor fairly often--I have heard it many times. It would certainly do no harm if the official concerned were to suggest a few more matters pertinent to the Army of today --perhaps less self-congratulation and a little more explanation.
Morale in the Army unquestionably is not at its height, and the Government should have addressed that today. Recruitment is a matter of concern, and the redundancy programme has been grasped with such enthusiasm by many of those who have been made redundant that the Army has been short of certain grades of officers and NCOs. That is a fault in the Army, and is not the fault of Ministers.
Training areas are already being ground up by the increase in the weight of equipment and because there are more training regiments in the United Kingdom at present. There is a lamentable shortage of barracks, which is an historical failure by the Army to provide its own home in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, large sums of British taxpayers' money are spent on building expensive barracks in Germany to a higher standard than we have here.
I hope that, as the Army considers its withdrawal from Germany, there will be a substantial financial settlement. We have put a great deal of money into works programmes in Germany and it would be wrong for us simply to give that away because there been some change in the strategic scene.
Another subject about which my constituents are bothered and which I would have expected to be mentioned is the ridiculous payments made to women who joined the armed forces on the strict condition that if they became pregnant they would leave. They are now going to tribunals and subsequently being awarded huge sums of money. The taxpayers and the armed forces resent that. I would have expected some explanation from the Government on some of those subjects. I am one of those who take the view that we have no business being in Bosnia. I also acknowledge that I was wrong in imagining that little good could be done, as I believe that a great deal of good has been done. Many of the convoys would not have got through without the assistance of our troops. No doubt there are plenty of different arguments about the subject, but the British public are certainly not being given an all-encompassing view of the complexities of the situation. The media have been incredibly one-sided without giving the historical facts and the detailed knowledge
With regard to the length of time which troops may spend in Bosnia, I recall that when troops first went into Northern Ireland it was to be a short police operation. Twenty-five years later, they are still there. Not only that ; they are there in much larger numbers. Unless a firm decision is made shortly--it will have to be shortly--we will find ourselves in exactly the same quagmire in former Yugoslavia as we have in Northern Ireland, as the Americans did in Vietnam and the Russians did in Afghanistan. It is a historical fact, and we never ever learn. We really must recognise the problem.
I read with pleasure a report in The Sunday Times --
Column 801my experience of that newspaper is that much of what it prints is not necessarily accurate--on "Front Line First". It seemed to have several commendable points. The first was the subtle, but long-overdue, request to serving personnel to "tell us how you think we can be more efficient". I am delighted that that exercise has been carried out and I only wish that "Front Line First" had come before "Options for Change". I think that that would have been the right way round.
There were so many subjects where things could be done. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) will not be happy with the suggestion that there should be a co-ordination of the teaching of music. I tried to do that when I was at the Ministry of Defence and my hon. Friends may care to discover the Gale report on the teaching of music. The Army and the Navy hire marchers and teach them to play music. The Royal Air Force hires musicians and teaches them to march, and that is much cheaper. If the music school is to be under the flight path of London airport, so be it. One music school would be better than three.
It has been suggested that the three staff colleges should be put together. I tried to argue in favour of that also, not just for cost reasons but for military reasons. If my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces reads Sir Peter de la Billiere's book on the Gulf war, he will see Sir Peter comment on the fact that many of the senior officers who were coming together in his tri-service headquarters had never met each other before. That is totally inefficient and wrong. However, the question is-- where do we put the staff college ?
Greenwich is a nice place, but it is expensive to maintain and contains a small nuclear reactor--believe it or not--which is expensive to move. The Army has been carrying out exercises from Camberley for so many years that it did not think that it could learn new ground, and the RAF--as was pointed out in the debate--is very fond of its base at Bracknell. Ministers must put their foot down and say that the time has come for tri-service training at that level. It should be possible to find a home for that training.
As to the question of medical resources, the British Medical Association makes it an absolute requirement that a limited number of doctors are trained each year, and that is a long-standing practice. There is a finite medical resource, whether in or out of uniform, and the same
I give much encouragement to my hon. Friends in those exercises, which are long overdue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) went over many of the things which I did 10 years before him, and I hope that at last somebody will tackle many of those things.
As to the Procurement Executive needing 7,500 civil servants, I am bemused as to what they do. The fact remains that there are three people watching one to make sure that one does not pinch anything. The actual cost is completely uncommercial and unrelated to the practice in every large company. It is time that there was a huge shake-up in simple terms of numbers.
Column 802Although we welcome the idea that the civil servants should come together and that they are coming to Bristol, there is a case for reducing the numbers.
My favourite hobby horse is the Territorial Army. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) was not entirely right when he referred to the TA. The proposition is that there should be a further cut in the numbers. The TA has already been reduced from its target figure of more than 70,000 to 63,500. I repeat, as has been oft repeated by anyone who has given any thought to the matter, that at a time when we are cutting our Regular forces, we should improve, increase and strengthen our reserves. They are a cheap alternative. Common sense demands that that should happen.
I give credit to my hon. Friend the Minister. I know that he has questioned the advice that he has been given. I assume that that is the reason for the delay in making his announcement. I am rooting for him in the hope that he is battling with the Regular soldiers, who are only too keen to cut out the reserves for all the wrong reasons. I hope that he is winning his battle to retain the TA much as it is today. It is already too small.
I also want to know what has happened to so much of the equipment that has been drawn out of Germany. Radio sets have been taken out of tanks. Yet my Yeomanry have radio sets that are out of date and cannot communicate with other units. The equipment must exist because it was in Germany. I suspect that it is sitting in some warehouse and that it is beyond the capacity of the Army's administration to move it from Germany or wherever to TA units.
I am not as enthusiastic as many other commentators about the pronouncement that Territorials should go to the Falklands to take part in that garrison. I have consulted some senior officers in the TA and they are extremely worried about it. The only men who will be able to find a month, or more than a month
Sir Jerry Wiggin : I am sorry, four months. It will probably be four months for the first manoeuvre. The only men who will be able to find that amount of time will be the unemployed or those who feel that it is possible to give up their civilian job. They will go at platoon strength so they will not operate as part of their
Mr. Brazier : Surely the point is that we should look for much shorter commitments such as providing the enemy in BATUS. We need commitments that could be done over a period of, say, two, four or six weeks by a formed sub-unit or a sub-unit from a formed unit.
Sir Jerry Wiggin : That sounds an excellent idea. The other point is that the Falklands in the relevant months are extremely unpleasant to be in. The rain raineth every day. It is the middle of the winter.
Sir Jerry Wiggin : As the hon. Gentleman says, it is bloody cold. It is likely that that training could not be carried out for about half the time. Ministers should have a look at the timing of the move of Territorials to the Falklands. In the margins of that, will they also
Column 803have a look at the infrequency of the RAF service to the Falklands ? Obviously, I can only ask questions about the flights that are available to the public, but the reliability of the RAF airline is so poor as to be deplorable.
"Front Line First" is the message, and I think that we would all support that. It means that the Territorial Army--our reserves-- [Interruption.] "Front Line First" means that we have to keep our fighting forces in good order. The truth of the matter remains that if the Territorial Army is abolished--the naval reserve has already been abolished and the RAF reserve has effectively been abolished--we shall not carry out the "Front Line First" policy which the Government rightly propound.
In referring in a previous debate to the EH101 helicopters, my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said : "The saga of support helicopters for our armed forces has been Wagnerian in its length and Shakespearean in its complexity."--[ Official Report , 26 July 1993 ; Vol. 229, c. 919.]
If it goes on much longer it will soon be like a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. I suggest yet again that, as we watch our forces immobilised by the fact that they have not received these helicopters which were promised 10 years ago, we are seriously reducing the fighting effectiveness of our forces. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) propounded the views that he put forward at the time of "Options for Change"--which I did not vote for--and said that the idea was to have our equipment as up to date and as good as any in the world. That means mobility and it means helicopters. It is time that a decision was taken.
I welcomed the Secretary of State's intervention on the subject of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The commission costs as much as it has to cost. As I understand it, at present the various Commonwealth countries concerned--a large number contribute to funding the pool--are simply told what it costs to pay the gardeners and keep the gardens and graves in order, and that cost is borne in an agreed percentage by all of the countries concerned.
I should be very alarmed if that principle were to be breached in any way. I have visited the cemetery at Lae in Papua New Guinea--one could not go much further away than that--and it is a beautiful place. Anyone
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I give notice that I wish to apply to raise on the Adjournment a matter which is of great concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) and myself--British Army bands, military music and Kneller Hall.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) : I share the frustration of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) who has been trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that we could speak for as long as we liked in the debate, but at the end of the day someone has lost out.
I register my dismay that the Government business
Column 804managers decided to schedule the Army debate for today. It was obvious that the debate would be poorly attended, but it was agreed to by the usual channels--I suspect that the Opposition Whips Office may have had something to do with it as well.
We always thought that more Tory Members than Labour Members would be present for the debate--obviously those people who have been out on the streets realise why that is so. This is a very safe bunker for Tory Members at the moment. They would all like to say, "I can't get back to my constituency--I'm speaking in the army debate". But we have managed to bring out enough troops to keep many of those on the Benches opposite tied up.
It is obvious that Government Ministers do not like debates about the services. I suspect that they will use this experience to say some time in the future that because such debates are not well attended they should perhaps be axed. They have axed everything else and I think that they would now like to axe service debates. Another reason why they have these debates on such days is that the Government do not want any publicity about what they are doing with the armed forces.
I want to chide the Minister of State for the Armed Forces a little. I am glad to see that he has been present for the debate today. During the debate on the Royal Air Force he made a speech, then left the Chamber and did not return. I am sure that that will not happen again.
Mr. Hanley : Just to set the record straight, I could not stay to hear the closing speeches on that occasion because I was attending an Army function and the people at that function would have been extremely disappointed if I had not been there. I asked the permission of the House for that to be taken into account and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman finds it unacceptable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) has knowledge and enthusiasm. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) said that my hon. Friend could adopt any brief, but I do not think that that is true. My hon. Friend has a genuine affection for, and knowledge of, the subject. I suspect that in many ways he is a frustrated soldier, but the Army's loss is the Labour party's gain. He will make up for that when he becomes a Minister. I think that he will make a good Minister for the Armed Forces in the next Labour Administration.
The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), rather sadly, seems to spend his time haunting the Back Benches, defending the policies that he made when
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) again made an excellent speech, with which we could not disagree in any detail. My only suspicion is that if his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) had made a speech it would have been very different. That tends to be the case with the Liberals : we all know that one says one thing while another says something else. However, it was a good speech and it referred to what will happen to the troops who are brought back if we
Column 805have peace in Northern Ireland. I shall discuss that later. The hon. and learned Gentleman also made an argument about the War Graves Commission, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay).
I was glad that the Secretary of State was here. I thought that we were going to have an Army debate at which the Secretary of State would not be present, but I understand that he was at the public showing of Eurofighter 2000. Many of us regret the fact that it was scheduled for today and we could not go. I am not sure that the Minister said that the budget of the War Graves Commission would not be cut : I suspect that he actually said that it would be cut but that it would not make any difference. He should have obtained the view of the House on that, which is that it would not be tolerated. Any reduction in standards of war graves will not be tolerated by either side of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) made a good constituency speech about the firing range in his constituency and the need to keep Benbecula open. He has great knowledge of it. He took the opportunity, as always, to remind us of the need for European defence security, on which he is an expert and for which he is an enthusiast. He seemed to be saying that Europeans should intervene in Bosnia and Africans should interfere in Rwanda. I do not agree with that. If one gets into that situation, it could be dangerous.
The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer), who had a distinguished service career from 1943 to 1957, was rather churlish about the Labour party. He gave no credit to the Labour Governments from 1974 onwards, who looked after the armed forces very well. He let the cat out of the bag when he said that his worst time in the Army was when he was serving in the Suez canal zone between 1951 and 1954. That was under a Tory Administration. He said that the situation was similar to that today, which again is under a Tory Administration.
I always tend to agree with the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, but today I thought that he was being a bit of a political dinosaur. I hope that what he said about the power of Russia is not correct. His speech gave one the feeling that if we still had troops in India he would want them to stay there. He is known as one of the best friends of the armed forces in the House and on some occasions that can be a disadvantage.
On the question of Belize, I agree with the hon. Gentleman--as, I believe, does the Labour party. I agree
Regrettably, I was not in the Chamber to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton), which I understand was very entertaining. Indeed, one of my hon. Friends has said that it was better than the speeches that he made from the Dispatch Box. The reason could be that today he was saying what he believed, whereas on other occasions he was expressing Government policy. I see that the right hon. Gentleman has just arrived in the Chamber. For his benefit I should repeat that, while I missed his speech, I understand that it was very
Column 806enlightening and entertaining and that one of my hon. Friends thinks that it was better than the ones he made as a Front Bencher. The point is that on this occasion the right hon. Gentleman was saying what he believed.
When history comes to be written, my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) will be credited with putting down the questions which resulted in the Scott inquiry. There is no doubt that my hon. Friend is very diligent. Ministers know how many questions he puts down. It is one means of securing information that Ministers do not normally divulge in debate.
I disagree with my hon. Friend's remarks about the pay of the armed forces. There has been an increase of about 4 per cent., but the Government have welched on it to the extent that only 2.7 per cent. was paid on 1 April and personnel will have to wait until next January for the rest. In fact, there will be no more money in their pay packets this month. Indeed, there will be less, by virtue of increased national insurance contributions and the extra income tax imposed by the Government. The truth is that, so far, people in the armed forces have had no increase at all.
The hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), who is not in the Chamber at present, made a strange speech. I thought that my intervention would be helpful. I asked the hon. Gentleman whether he thought that a cut from 5.2 per cent. of gross domestic product in 1990 to 2.9 per cent. in 1996 was too great. He said that it was, in fact, too little. I do not know whether he did not understand my question or whether he was advocating further defence cuts. If he were in his place now, he could perhaps explain himself.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock carried on his campaign with regard to the health and welfare of war veterans. He also mentioned the War Graves Commission and brought up the issue of the wearing of medals. A Member of Parliament who takes such a specific interest in these matters is to be congratulated.
I have a great deal of affection for the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin). I always remember the favourite words that he said to me when, as a member of the Select Committee, I was to go on a foreign trip : "Young man, we never go anywhere that isn't civilised." Unfortunately, since taking on the Army brief I have been to both Macedonia and Bosnia.
I took exception to the hon. Gentleman's attack on women. Women in the armed forces had to agree to the conditions. There was no option : the duty was imposed by the Government. I shall return to that matter later. I found myself agreeing with the hon. Gentleman, however, when he pointed out that the Government
In some ways this debate has been too wide ranging. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare was right when he said that we do not often talk about the Army. Perhaps I should now try to concentrate on that aspect of the subject. In his opening remarks in the debate on this year's defence estimates, the Secretary of State for Defence said that we have world-class armed forces who are held in high regard throughout the world. Although that statement is still true, it is in spite of, not because of, Government policies. If it is to remain true, how long can we continue to have a Ministry of Defence that is run by the Treasury and takes defence cuts every time that it is asked ?
In last year's debate on the Army, it was said that further redundancies would be made. The Army took
Column 807the brunt of those, with 7,000 redundancies in the armed forces this year, 1,000 of which were compulsory--despite the phantom army of 3,000 troops that have appeared. I was not convinced by the Minister's explanation on that. The Government were criticised for making compulsory redundancies because they are an easy way to destroy morale. Other options were available, one of which was to look at the redundancy package. That package may have been considered generous, but with nearly 3 million unemployed and redundant soldiers facing years on the dole queue it was not generous enough. When I asked the Minister of State for the Armed Forces how many people had volunteered for redundancy, he answered that those records were not kept centrally.
Mr. Hanley : Perhaps I may help the hon. Gentleman. More people volunteered for redundancy than there were redundancies available, but the redundancies were not necessarily in the right places for the particular skills. On the replacement of jobs, 80 per cent. of those made redundant in the second phase were in jobs within two months of leaving the armed forces.
Mr. Martlew : First, the Minister is complacent about the fact that 20 per cent. of those who left the armed forces are without a job. Secondly, although I am grateful to him for that intervention, why did he tell me that the figures were not available when I put down a written question ? The reason must be because there were many more volunteers than the Government wanted to admit, which was a measure of morale in the armed forces.
Mr. King : Although "Options for Change" involved redundancies, we set in place the most generous package that the armed forces has ever had and the services took terrific trouble over the arrangements for resettlement and retraining. What the hon. Gentleman said is a gross affront to the people in the services who have devoted tremendous effort to that and have had considerable success. Instead of scoring cheap political points, will he pay tribute to the people in the services who have done that work ?
Northern Ireland has been discussed and I pay tribute to the work of our soldiers there. My local regiment, the King's Own Border Regiment, is just completing a two-and-a-half-year tour in Derry, where it has no doubt kept up the regiment's fine tradition. We hope that there will be peace. We sometimes see a glimmer of hope, but then there is a false dawn. Last November, some people hoped that peace would come by Christmas, but that has not happened. If we have peace and the soldiers are brought back, the defence statement says that they will return to a peacekeeping role. After 25 years, I am worried about the peacekeeping role of those extra troops. Might not