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Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): Although I whole- heartedly support UN resolution 949 and would be immensely pleased to see this tyrannical regime overthrown, I am concerned that President Clinton, a man who dodged the call-up himself,
Column 34and some of his gung-ho generals appear to be wedded to the idea of pre-emptive military strikes. In the circumstances surrounding Iraq and Kuwait now and in relation to UN resolution 949, will the Minister give us the Government's definition of a pre-emptive military strike? We want no more turkey shoots of poor Iraqi infantry.
Mr. Hogg: I think that I have already made it clear, for example to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), that I believe that there is already sufficient authority and, most certainly, will on the part of the international community to defend the integrity, independence and sovereignty of Kuwait. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's criticism about pre-emptive action. May I make this point? The problem is one of proximity, as the hon. Gentleman may well know. At this very moment there are elements of the Republican Guard 90 miles away from the Kuwaiti frontier, or thereabouts. One cannot, it seems to me, wait to take pre-emptive action until they are crossing the border, if one believes and has cause to believe that they are about to attack a sovereign state. There is a problem here which we must approach in a careful and considered way.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is not one of the most sickening aspects of this affair the fact that the Iraqi arms were sold to Iraq principally by Britain and by France? As the question has not been asked already and as Mark Thatcher was hovering in the background during the supergun affair, may we ask at this moment how much money he has made out of it? That is the question that the Minister should answer.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): Although I support the international community's action in defence of Kuwait's territorial integrity, I ask whether there is not also, in view of the fact that British lives were at stake during the Gulf war, that British soldiers are in the Gulf now and that British lives may be put at stake in the future, another obligation on the Government, despite the Minister's previous reply? It is an obligation to ensure that the democratisation of Kuwait is carried on in a way that does not merely give representation to more of the elite in that country, but enshrines civil liberty, ensures that political prisoners who have been taken by the Kuwaiti regime are released and ensures that we have the same sort of obligation in Kuwait as we have seen with British assistance in Haiti.
Mr. Hogg: There are many arguments in favour of encouraging our friends and allies to introduce more accountable systems of government, but we should be very cautious before we conclude that our own model is the only model which one can properly urge on them. One must take account of the traditions and history and present policies of the countries to which we are referring.
In the case of Kuwait, there has, I think, been a substantial change and movement towards what the hon. Gentleman has been advocating.
Column 35should be taken to remove Saddam Hussein, so that the sanctions can be removed? Is it feasible that that could be done?
Mr. Hogg: I will not respond to that question because I do not wish to urge on people actions that could have very grave consequences on them and on which they must themselves be the judge. What I can say is that while Saddam Hussein remains in control in Baghdad, it is difficult to believe that policies will change to such an extent that sanctions can properly be relaxed.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Since the murderous nature of the Iraqi regime has been known for so long, why was the Minister so dismissive of the point made by right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about the way in which that regime was built up with arms from the west, right up to the invasion of Kuwait? Surely, the Government and other western Governments should learn that lesson. Saddam Hussein has not suddenly become a tyrant and a mass murderer; he was that from the very beginning. Despite that, and the oppression of the Iraqi people, the west was perfectly content to arm Iraq right up to its teeth.
Mr. Hogg: Anybody who has considered the evidence in a dispassionate manner would accept that the arms control regime operated at the present time by the British Government and operated throughout the past decade by the British Government was and is the tightest in the world.
[Relevant documents: The Defence Committee has reported on the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994 in its Sixth Report of Session 1993-94, HC 68. The First Report from the Defence Committee on the Programme to Replace or Refurbish the Hercules Transport Aircraft, HC 118; the Third Special Report containing the Government's Reply thereto, HC 511; the Second Report on the Progress of the Trident Programme, HC 297; the Third Report on the Progress of the Eurofighter 2000 Programme, HC 222; the Fourth Report on RAF Commitments and Resources, HC 252; the Fifth Report on the Implementation of Lessons Learned from Operation Granby, HC 43; the Fourth Special Report containing the Government's replies to the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Reports, HC 660; and the Eighth Report on the Defence Costs Study, HC 655.]
Madam Speaker: Before we commence the debate on defence, which is a two-day debate, I want to tell the House that there is a great deal of interest over these two days and that hon. Members will be very fortunate if all those wishing to speak are called. I do not intend to impose any discipline on lengths of speeches--today, at any rate. I am looking to the House to impose its own discipline on itself. Therefore, I ask hon. Members to limit voluntarily their speeches to 10 minutes so that I shall be able to call all hon. Members who want to speak. I ask the Secretary of State to move the motion.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand from your just calling the Secretary of State that you are not selecting any amendments at this time. I seek your guidance on a point of order because I understand that Her Majesty's loyal Opposition has tabled-- it is not yet on the Order Paper--a reasoned amendment to the motion. Could you give us any guidance on whether you will be selecting that amendment tomorrow? There is a series of--
Madam Speaker: Order. I have got the point. I am certainly not selecting an amendment today. Of course, I am quite at liberty to select an amendment tomorrow. When it is on the Order Paper for us all to see, I shall make my views known to the House.
That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994 contained in Cm. 2550.
It may be of some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) to know that the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) quite satisfactorily represents the views of the Labour party. I have no doubt that we shall, in due course, hear the official spokesman, as opposed to the unofficial spokesman for the Labour party, explain why he greets that amendment with total enthusiasm, representing as it does the views of his party conference.
We are today officially debating the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", which was published some six months ago. The events of the past six months explain
Column 37and demonstrate clearly why it is crucial in the modern post cold war world to have armed forces that are flexible, mobile and able to respond to the very curious world in which we now live, with unexpected developments and quite historic changes.
In just the past six months, we have had not only the Iraqi crisis, which the House has just examined, but major developments in Bosnia, with the closure of the border by President Milosevic, the historic developments in Northern Ireland and the necessity to send certain forces to Rwanda. Each and every case either had significant military implications or had the potential at some future date to have significant military implications.
Three main themes emerged from the"Statement on the Defence Estimates" and I should like to comment briefly on each of them. The first major theme drew attention to perhaps the most important initiative that NATO has brought forward recently, the "Partnership for Peace" initiative. It is of historic significance and, since it was launched in January of this year, some 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine and others, have joined the "Partnership for Peace". I should like to comment briefly on that initiative because I am aware from various articles that I have read in the past few months that certain people, not so much hon. Members, but certain journalists, have made snide comments about the "Partnership for Peace". They have suggested that it is an inadequate response to the post cold war world and that the fact that it includes Russia and Ukraine as well as central European countries shows that it is purely a cosmetic exercise. They have also said that it is an inadequate substitute for enlarging NATO itself. Those serious accusations are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of European security now that communism has collapsed and the Soviet Union no longer exists.
The first requirement that "Partnership for Peace" represents is a recognition that we must not either directly or indirectly allow a Europe that was divided by the iron curtain for 40 years to be replaced by a new Europe with some other division, however unintended, which could have profound consequences. The security of Europe is indivisible. We therefore need to develop a security framework that has relevance not just to the members of NATO or to the countries that might join NATO, but to Russia and other new democratic countries which have a significant contribution that they could make either for good or ill to the security of Europe.
One of the great strengths of "Partnership for Peace" is that it provides a framework that incorporates Russia as well as central European countries. It has an essential dynamic within it whereby the precise relationship between NATO and any individual country will evolve over the years to come. In certain cases, that will lead to membership of NATO--I have no doubt that NATO will enlarge in the years to come--but, equally, for some other countries that participate in "Partnership for Peace" it is difficult, if not impossible, to envisage membership of NATO, even in the long-term future. Therefore, it is necessary to have a framework, which is what "Partnership for Peace" represents, which enables NATO to develop a significant relationship with each and every one of those countries.
Some mocking has been made of the fact that we have joint exercises with Russia or joint training with Russia or Poland or other new countries. I believe that those who
Column 38mock those developments do not begin to understand their significance. One of the great tragedies of the cold war period was the almost total lack of contact between the military of the Soviet bloc and NATO. I remember that when, two years ago, I first met General Grachev, the Russian Defence Minister, I asked him how many NATO officers he had met before the end of the cold war. He said that he had met none. If that was true of someone of his level it remains even more true of the many tens of thousands of middle-ranking officers. One of the great strengths of the joint exercises, exchanges and other similar activities is that they enable contact to be made between many tens of thousands of middle ranking junior Russian officers. That enables them to understand how the military operate in a democratic society and how western values should be relevant to their own situation. I believe that such exercises are an important initiative.
Last week, I visited the three Baltic states. The United Kingdom is making an important contribution towards the formation of a new Baltic battalion, which will be available to the United Nations. It has decided to conduct its operations in the English language. We are directly and indirectly playing a leading part in training the armed forces of those three new independent central European states. That is a matter of considerable pride.
One of the messages of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994" was the development of "Partnership for Peace". The second message was the fact that we are approaching the end of the transition to the new force line structure which began under "Options for Change". That has been a very difficult change, but it is one that is now approaching a period of stability.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East): Before the Secretary of State departs entirely from "Partnership for Peace", does he agree that nothing would have been worse for the integrity and strength of NATO than to open membership to countries to which politically it would have been very difficult indeed to extend the collective right of self-defence contained in article 5 of the NATO treaty?
Mr. Rifkind: Membership of NATO is not just membership of a political alliance; it is membership of an integrated military structure. We must ask not just what additional security new countries would receive, but what contribution they would be able to make to the collective security of the alliance as a whole. Only when an intended member could deal with both sides of that equation would potential membership be a reality.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): If this welcome European-wide development takes hold solidly and firmly, could it lead to a reduction in the British Army presence in Germany, especially the armoured units?
Mr. Rifkind: I believe that we have already indicated our policy in that respect. The British Army of the Rhine is already being reduced from more than 60,000 to about 23,000. We have no intention of bringing that down further. The most important reason for that--and this explains also why the United States is maintaining 100,000 troops in Europe--is the point that I made a few moments ago: NATO is an integrated military structure. That means that the troops must train together and be in the habit of working together if, in the event of a crisis, they are expected to fight together. That requires a
Column 39physical co-location. We and the German Government believe that that is important to ensure that NATO remains a credible and coherent alliance based not just on good intent and good faith, but on collective military training.
I said that the second main theme of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994" was the work, which is now drawing to a conclusion, on reforming our force structure. A year ago, we said that we did not intend to make any further reductions to the fighting strength of our armed forces. In the "Front Line First" initiative earlier this year, we demonstrated that that was a policy which we could deliver. Indeed, we have been able to enhance fighting strength in a number of important ways.
I shall return to that point later, but I emphasise that one of the themes for the rest of this Parliament will be the fact that the Government now offer stability so far as the fighting strength of our armed forces is concerned. The Opposition, because of their commitment to a review which would be the first initiative of a Labour Government, are offering nothing other than at least three years of continuing uncertainty about the force structure that would arise under a Labour Government.
Dr. David Clark (South Shields): Is the Secretary of State assuring the House that, after the next election and if there were by accident to be a Conservative Government, there would be no defence cuts in the lifetime of the next Conservative Government--if there were to be one?
Mr. Rifkind: We are now approaching the completion of a very important change in the armed forces consequent upon the end of the cold war. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last week, we have now reached the end of the big upheavals. We are saying that we believe that we now have a force structure which deals with the situation that has arisen after the end of the cold war. I shall return to this point later, but I can tell the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that we are not contemplating any further cuts in battalions, regiments, ships and aircraft. That is not subject to a review, as it would be under the Opposition who make all those matters indeterminate for the foreseeable future.
The third theme of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994" is the sheer quality of our armed forces and the contribution that they make around the world. I want to remind the House of what we said at the beginning of the document. These two sentences are perhaps the foundation of our approach to the armed forces:
"The United Kingdom remains one of the world's most formidable military powers. Only the United States, Russia and France"-- as well as the United Kingdom--
"can deploy as broad a range of capabilities as the armed forces of the United Kingdom who, in terms of their experience, training, leadership and esprit, are the match for any in the world." That is a bold claim for a relatively small country to make, but if there is any doubt about the validity of the claim that I have just made, one has only to contemplate where else in Europe, Asia, Africa or Latin America one can find a country that has not only armed forces of the size of ours--many countries have larger armed forces--but our capabilities, our experience and our ability to
Column 40deploy in various parts of the world in pursuit of a wide range of interests. That is something which the Government intend to maintain.
I refer now to certain specific parts of the world where our armed forces are operating. I shall comment only briefly on Iraq because the House has just heard a full presentation of the situation there. The House has been made aware of the quite significant assets that we have in Kuwait at present.
One of the points that I should like to draw to the attention of the House is that the spearhead battalion has responded to the circumstances there, and as a consequence we have asked the First Royal Anglian to become the new spearhead battalion which will be in reserve for any new crises that may arise in any part of the world, in order that the presence of 45 Commando in Kuwait should not have removed our ability to deploy quickly and effectively if any new problem needs to be dealt with.
I have noted also reference in certain newspapers to the fact that, as a result of the need to get our forces to Kuwait, the training of those who use Hercules aircraft or who use aircraft for other purposes might be affected. Of course, that is the case. The whole point about training is that it must not be allowed to take precedence over a real operational requirement. If we have a real operational requirement, as we have had in the recent past, inevitably it must have implications for training, but of course operational tasks are often the best training that the forces can receive, so that will be no loss to them.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): The Secretary of State will be aware that many of his colleagues on both sides of the House have been receiving representations on sickness allegedly contracted during the Gulf war. Indeed, there was a Channel 4 "Critical Eye" programme, "Quick War, Slow Death", which purported to show several cases that looked very genuine. Is the Ministry of Defence taking the issue seriously? If so, what developments can we expect?
Mr. Rifkind: Of course, we take those matters seriously. On several occasions, those who believe that they have suffered medical consequences as a result of participation in the Gulf war have been invited to identify themselves and to give such evidence as they have of their medical condition. As far as I am aware, all the inquiries that have been made so far have not substantiated those claims. A relatively small number have contacted us. Each case has been investigated and there has been no evidence to support the claims that have been made, but we continue to be willing to examine any such allegations to see whether they are supported by reasonable and acceptable medical evidence. It is a medical question, which can therefore be properly assessed.
I now refer to the situation in Bosnia and in former Yugoslavia. Since the publication of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", there have been a number of important developments: the contact group map and the attempts to persuade the Bosnian Serbs to accept it, the decision by President Milosevic to break with the Bosnian Serbs, and the decision of the United States Congress to say that it would propose the lifting of the embargo if the contact group map was not accepted by 15 October.
The United Kingdom has at no stage been in any doubt as to the proper approach to the arms embargo. The position that we have taken has also been taken by France and, as far as I am aware, by all the countries that
Column 41contribute to UNPROFOR--indeed, it is the view that has been taken by most countries around the world. It is not possible to lift an arms embargo and, at the same time, continue to believe that UNPROFOR could carry out its task in a non-partisan role, seeking to bring peace in that country. That remains our view.
We were particularly pleased that the Bosnian Government, having given careful reflection and consideration to what might happen if the embargo was raised, came to the conclusion that, after all, they did not wish to recommend that the embargo should be raised at this time. I am sure that that was a wise judgment on their part. One must recognise that, if the embargo were raised, inevitably UNPROFOR would have to withdraw. That would expose Gorazde and the other enclaves to any attack that might then take place, and the effects of lifting the embargo, certainly in the short term and, in our view, also in the long term, would simply bring more warfare, suffering and hardship to the people of Bosnia and prolong the conflict rather than bring it to an end.
I am aware that there are some who argue that although we should not raise the embargo now, we should be prepared to give a commitment that we shall raise it in six months. The same arguments that I have just mentioned would be likely to apply in the same way at a future date. Obviously, events move on and one would have to look at the circumstances as they existed next April, but I find it difficult to believe that the basic argument would have changed fundamentally. On British forces in Bosnia, the Royal Highland Fusiliers will complete their handover from the Second Royal Anglians in November. I pay great tribute not only to what they have achieved but to the excellent leadership that General Sir Michael Rose has given them and the United Nations as a whole during his period in Bosnia. He has demonstrated exceptional qualities in the best traditions of our armed forces, and that has enhanced the reputation of our armed forces, as one would expect, around the world.
It is also worth remembering the broad role of UNPROFOR in Bosnia. Events move on, and as events move on so the role has significantly changed. In addition to escorting humanitarian aid convoys, British forces have played an important role in implementing the Muslim-Croat ceasefire in central Bosnia by patrolling confrontation lines, manning weapons collection points and liaising between the parties. British engineers have continued to play an essential role in keeping open key supply routes, and last month succeeded in constructing a badly needed Bailey bridge over the River Neretva in Mostar, which has been widely acclaimed. In addition to the ground forces, our sea and air forces in the Adriatic have served with equal distinction. That is a record of service of which we can be proud, but we can also properly pay tribute to the sacrifices that our armed forces have made. Sadly, we have had the tragic deaths of eight British troops through action by the warring parties. Last month, we also saw the sad loss of four more soldiers as a result of two separate road traffic accidents. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering our condolences to the families of those brave men and in the recognition of the sacrifice that they have made in pursuing a noble objective.
It would be right and proper to comment on developments in Northern Ireland. That matter is clearly of profound importance at present because we are all
Column 42conscious that we are entering into an historic phase with regard to events in the Province. For more than 25 years, the armed forces' largest and most important peacetime commitment has been within the United Kingdom itself, in Northern Ireland. Their role has been to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary in countering violence by republican and loyalist terrorists and to assist the return of normality to Northern Ireland. They have carried out that role with considerable success.
The terrorists have not succeeded in achieving their aims through violence. Despite terrorist activities, most people in Northern Ireland have been able to lead relatively normal lives in recent years. That that is so is due in large measure to the resolute and professional way in which the security forces have carried out their duties over the years. The RUC and the armed forces supporting them have together seized vast quantities of weapons and explosives and made thousands of arrests of suspected terrorists, both republicans and loyalists. Their actions have prevented countless terrorist attacks and saved many members of both communities from murder or maiming. It is no exaggeration that the actions of the security forces have preserved the very fabric of society in Northern Ireland.
I regularly visit the armed forces in the Province, and every time I do so I am reminded afresh how easy it is to take for granted the extent of their daily contribution on behalf of the community there. For 25 years, young soldiers have had to face every day the possibility of terrorist attacks in a wide variety of forms. Young privates and junior NCOs have carried the greatest part of the burden. They have had to face daily the awesome responsibility of making split-second decisions on which their lives and the lives of others have depended. Those on roulement tours have been required to work a 16-hour day for six months on end, in spartan conditions, with only a nine-day break in that time. They have been expected to act with impartiality and politeness to all those whom they meet on the streets, regardless of the provocation that they may receive and the danger that they face. Some 300,000 service men have served in Northern Ireland over the past 25 years. It is an enormous credit to their training, discipline and character that the vast majority of them have carried out their duties--they are still carrying them out today--to the highest standards.
We do not pretend that there is a military solution to the problems in Northern Ireland. The problems are, essentially, political ones that require a combination of political, social, economic and security measures to resolve them. The Government have made strenuous efforts on all those fronts, and there are grounds for believing that we are making progress.
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley): May I join the Secretary of State wholeheartedly in his tribute to Her Majesty's forces, both the regular Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary? Does he agree that it is necessary to make it possible for the utmost vigilance to be maintained by the security forces to guard against any resumption of violence or surprise attack, given that it is always possible to do those things as long as any terrorists retain arms?
Column 43the prospect of real peace in the Province--a contribution which I believe has been widely applauded by all sections of the community. Clearly, the Government have been greatly encouraged by the Provisional IRA's announcement of a ceasefire. There have now been no terrorist attacks by the IRA for more than six weeks. We are also encouraged by the announcement last week of a ceasefire by the loyalist paramilitaries. We very much hope that all those groups intend a permanent end to violence, and we are assessing whether we can yet make a working assumption that that is so.
In any case, we cannot and we dare not assume that now or in the near future there will suddenly no longer be a need for military support for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. All the terrorist groupings still retain a substantial capability for carrying out further acts of violence without notice. It is a matter for the Chief Constable and for the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, as the operational commanders, to judge how their forces should be deployed in the present circumstances. However, the Government must ensure that they have the necessary resources available to ensure the security of the people of Northern Ireland.
We shall continue to keep force levels under review to ensure that they are appropriate. I very much hope that in time the security situation will permit us to reduce force levels, but it would be irresponsible to do so prematurely. As we have made clear in the past--and I quote from the "Statement on the Defence Estimates": "As soon as the terrorists on both sides renounce violence, and fully demonstrate their commitment to doing so, the armed forces will progressively be withdrawn from the streets. They will then return to their peacetime role, so that normal policing can resume throughout Northern Ireland. But, in the meantime, the armed forces will continue steadfastly to support the RUC for as long as the terrorists make it necessary."
That was said six months ago; I can confirm that we stand by those commitments today.
However, that does not mean that there is no scope for flexibility. As the House will be aware, a number of measures have already been taken to reduce the profile of the armed forces in Northern Ireland but without reducing security or vigilance. The GOC Northern Ireland, with the full agreement of the Chief Constable, has taken steps to make the posture of the military patrols appear less aggressive to the public. For example, for some weeks now, soldiers have been patrolling in regimental headdress without camouflage cream, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has announced the reopening of a number of closed border crossing points. Those measures have been welcomed by many ordinary members of the public in Northern Ireland.
In the coming months, provided that the terrorist threat permits, the GOC, in consultation with the Chief Constable, intends to implement further measures to reduce the impact of the armed forces operations on the ordinary people of Northern Ireland. We all look forward to the restoration of normality in the Province. I can
Column 44assure the House that the armed forces will continue to play a full part in the restoration of normality by whatever means are appropriate.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre): Bearing in mind the fact that there was a permanent garrison of British troops in Northern Ireland before the present trouble started in the 1960s, and there had been for many decades previously, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that provided and if a settlement is reached after the present negotiations, there is no possibility that British troops will not continue to be garrisoned in Northern Ireland after that settlement?
Mr. Rifkind: My hon. Friend can be reassured because, of course, there is the Royal Irish Regiment, whose home is in the Province. It is important that that regiment will continue to have that intimate role as part of our armed forces.
It can never be normal for soldiers to be deployed on streets of the United Kingdom. Our aim is to remove soldiers from the streets of Northern Ireland, but when it is safe to do so and not a moment sooner. I believe that that is what the public would expect of us. Finally, I refer to the "Front Line First" study and the consequences, which we announced in July shortly before the House rose. I thank the Select Committee and its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), for the work done and its report on the "Front Line First" study, which was published recently. I welcomed in particular the reference in paragraph 4 to
"a package of measures . . . elegantly cobbled together". We do not always expect such recognition of the elegance of our policy from the Select Committee.
Mr. Rifkind: Yes. Of course, nothing is perfect in this world. If it can be elegant only by being cobbled as well, that is something that I shall have to live with. I noticed that the Select Committee said:
"As a one-off exercise, the Defence Costs Study has unquestionably been of some value in identifying savings: but the temptation to treat it as the beginning of an annual round of such exercises must be firmly resisted."
I tell my hon. Friend and other members of the Select Committee that I have no intention of responding to that temptation. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be reassured by that.
I acknowledge--and the Select Committee pointed out--that there are uncertainties, unpredictabilities and difficulties about a number of the recommendations in the "Front Line First" study. It is a massive study, which covers a vast range of issues. Of course, at this stage there must be a question mark over some of the conclusions and figures. We have deliberately gone out to consultation so that we can respond to some of those concerns.
Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme): Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House how much of the £750 million that has been identified in the "Front Line First" study as savings is being recycled into defence, rather than going back to the Treasury?
Mr. Rifkind: As my hon. Friend rightly says, we have identified the means of considerable enhancements. For example, we have announced the development of a joint rapid deployment force; we have indicated our interest in
Column 45acquiring Tomahawk cruise missiles; we are responsible for a major expansion of training in both the Air Force and the Army; and we have also decided not to put into mothballs certain aircraft and ships that had been planned for that purpose. That is a whole series of enhancements in addition to the other changes that I have been able to announce.
Mr. Rifkind: I cannot give my hon. Friend a figure. However, we can give figures for each item, and they add up to a considerable sum. Of course, they are not one-off sums; they are recurring costs. Most of the things to which I have referred have an on-going cost but are affordable partly because of the savings identified in the "Front Line First" study. That study was not only of benefit to the taxpayer but has resulted in a transfer of resources to the fighting edge as it affects our armed forces.
There were three main characteristics in the way in which we approached "Front Line First", which made it a significant initiative. The first was our determination not to cut the fighting strength of the armed forces. Indeed, we were determined to enhance it wherever possible, and we were very successful with that. I note that the Select Committee said that while it acknowledged that there were to be no direct effects on fighting and strength, it was concerned that there might be some indirect consequences. I assure my hon. Friend and other members of the Committee that we intend to be scrupulous in ensuring that neither directly nor indirectly will the fighting strength of our armed forces be weakened by any of the recommendations.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to look again at the proposal which one understands is before him to reduce by more than half the strength of the Royal Marine Reserve and by almost half the strength of the SAS Reserve?
Mr. Rifkind: I assure my hon. Friend that no proposal has come to Ministers on either of those matters. The Royal Marines expressed a desire to review their strength to see what they required. That was not part of the defence costs study. It did not arise out of the same initiative. It was something that the Commandant General of the Royal Marines said to Ministers that he wished to do. I await the recommendations of the Royal Marines. We shall respond when we hear what they believe to be desirable.
The second main characteristic of the "Front Line First" study was the involvement not only of the chiefs of staff, who were intimately involved throughout the process, but of middle-ranking officers responsible for many of the support activities. We invited them to give us the benefit of their ideas and experience. We were delighted that more than 3,000 proposals which we were able to take into account came to Ministers. There were no sacred cows on this occasion, but the consequence of that has been that we have had to recommend the closure of several establishments and a significant number of redundancies, which although not in front line activities were nevertheless painful to many hon. Members in
Column 46respect of their constituencies. I have a constituency which is affected in that way because of the proximity of the Rosyth base, so I am conscious of the difficulties that the recommendations mean in terms of jobs and the future of certain support organisations. We are now into the period of consultation. The three-month formal period of consultation ended on Friday of last week, but we have stated that we have every intention of showing maximum flexibility. Certain consultative documents have only recently been published. Two have been published today. Of course, proper time will be available for consultation on those documents.
Mr. Ian Bruce: My right hon. and learned Friend will know that I have a copy hot off the press of the consultation paper, for which I have been asking all summer, on the air station at Portland that is due to move to Yeovilton. I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend has given 45 working days or nine weeks for consultation. I thank him for that. Will he give an absolute assurance that the skimpy figures, which I am afraid are too small even to read in the document, will be expanded completely? I know that my constituents want to take an active and constructive part in consultation. I think that we have a strong case to put to my right hon. and learned Friend to suggest that he can make his savings elsewhere.
Mr. Rifkind: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I am delighted that he wishes to respond constructively. I look forward very much to hearing the particular points that he might wish to put to us so that we can consider them in due course.
Mr. David Shaw (Dover): I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for finally publishing today the consultation document on the Royal Marines school of music in Deal. However, not only are the financial figures just four skimpy pages at the back of the document, but the people of the communities of Deal and Kent have agreed through the local authorities that an independent firm of accountants should be retained to go through the figures. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Ministry of Defence is prepared to allow access to the figures that are not given on the four pages so that people in the community can see what the real figures are? It is not acceptable to keep the figures within the Ministry when the Ministry has made so many mistakes with the figures for Deal in the past.
Mr. Rifkind: I hear what my hon. Friend says. Obviously, I shall seek to respond in the way that he requests. He has not specified which particular figures he would like access to. Therefore, he will not expect me to give a blanket answer. When we hear what figures he would like to have access to and if they appear to be relevant to the real issues, I will try to be as helpful as possible.