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Mr. Soames: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that matter. My hon. Friend and others have expressed their satisfaction at the outcome of the announcement by my right hon. and learned Friend. The Territorial Army continues to play a crucial role in our affairs and while I am not going to deal with that matter in great detail in this particular speech, I shall be happy to do so on another occasion.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend yet again. On the subject of the Territorial Army, he will know that my constituency houses the B squadron of the Royal Leicestershire Yeomanry. I do not expect an answer off the cuff, but will my hon. Friend write to me to let me know whether the MOD has decided what role the squadron should play within the Territorial Army? Will it be the nuclear, biological and chemical defence regiment, or a part of it?
Where staff become surplus at a particular location or establishment, I can assure the House that every effort will be made to find alternative employment for them locally, either elsewhere in the MOD or in Departments. As part of that process, we are in close touch centrally and locally with other Departments. That work is of a high priority and we are fully aware of its great importance.
Mr. David Shaw (Dover): Does my hon. Friend accept that the Royal Marines school of music at Deal is not only well loved but the largest employer in Deal, even if it is small in terms of the total military establishment? Will he take all possible steps to consider keeping the school open for a good few years yet, and not close it in April 1996 in accordance with the proposal?
Mr. Soames: My hon. Friend has been extremely robust in the defence of his constituents' interests. He knows that we are now in a period of consultation and I shall be very happy to see him and a delegation from his constituency to discuss the matter.
Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon): My hon. Friend is well aware of the great concern in the Swindon area about the proposal to close the Princess Alexandra hospital at Wroughton, because he was good enough to receive a
Column 158delegation of local people led by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and myself last month. Does he recognise that it is the overwhelming desire of people in the Swindon area to keep the hospital open? Will he therefore undertake to ensure that my constituents will continue to receive the highest level of health care in the future?
Mr. Soames: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that guarantee, but I cannot give him a guarantee about the future of the hospital. My hon. Friend came to see me with my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) about the possible closure of the hospital. We are still consulting on it, but I hope to let my hon. Friends know the results of that consultation as soon as possible. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) that whatever arrangements are made, they will provide admirable medical care for his constituents and those in the constituencies surrounding Swindon.
The arrangements for dealing with staff at locations affected by decisions arising from the defence costs study is work of a high priority and we are fully aware of its great importance. It is the Department's stated aim to avoid compulsory redundancy wherever possible. In addition to natural turnover, we are therefore making full use of a number of pre-redundancy measures such as recruitment and promotion restrictions, greater use of casual and period appointments, early retirement and voluntary redundancy.
Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State dealt comprehensively with the defence costs study and I have no intention of going over the ground that he covered so admirably. I should like, however, to take this opportunity to tell the House that the one defence costs study that was outstanding at the time of the original DCS announcement--the study into defence
intelligence--reported as planned at the end of July. I am sure that hon. Members will understand that because of the sensitive nature of some of the subject matter, we shall not be making public all the measures that we propose to implement.
Defence intelligence, and the staffs involved, play a vital role in the work of government, and that will continue. We believe, however, that there is scope to reduce costs through a variety of measures, including a reorganisation of the defence intelligence staff of a similar nature to that being carried out elsewhere in the Ministry of Defence following "Front Line First".
Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride): I have noted what the Minister said about the detail behind the DCS, but is he aware of the decision to transfer the staff from the directorate of standardisation in Glasgow to Bristol, with the loss of 50 key jobs? Can he explain how that squares with the Government's intention to transfer jobs to Glasgow? Can he also confirm that the director of
Column 159standardisation has advised his staff that he does not agree with the Government's decision and that the policy unit that has been established will not be cost-effective?
Mr. Soames: I could argue with the hon. Gentleman about that matter on another occasion, but while it is true that some jobs are transferring from Glasgow, a substantial number of other jobs are going to Glasgow.
As I said, I am sure that hon. Members will understand that because of the sensitive nature of defence intelligence we cannot make public all the measures that we propose to implement. We believe, however, that there is scope to reduce costs through a variety of measures, including a reorganisation of the defence intelligence staff of a similar nature to that being carried out elsewhere in the MOD. I should now like to take an early opportunity to deal with two important issues on which there has been much rumour and speculation over the summer break: official service residences and the independent review of service career and manpower structures and terms and conditions--otherwise known as the Bett review.
The House will recall that, in his written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) on 4 July, my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), notified the House of the full cost of the restructuring and refurbishment programme at Haymes Garth, the official residence of the Air Officer Commander-in-Chief, RAF personnel and training command, RAF Innsworth.
My right hon. Friend explained the nature of the audit action that had been set in hand to investigate the circumstances in which the expenditure had been authorised, incurred and notified, including a high-level independent external examination. He also announced that a separate audit had been set in hand on expenditure on official service residences more widely to ensure that in other instances financial control mechanisms have functioned properly.
I am pleased to say that good progress has been made on all that work. On Haymes Garth, Sheila Masters of KPMG Peat Marwick, who has been carrying out the examination for us, has largely completed her work and I expect her final report to be with Ministers in the course of the next few weeks. I will then, of course, be considering with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State the follow-up action required. Against that background, we felt it appropriate that the wider question of representational entertainment in the armed forces should be examined by an independent scrutineer of standing, experience and judgement.
I am glad to be able to tell the House today that, at my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State's request, Sir Peter Cazalet, chairman of APV plc and deputy chairman of GKN, is conducting such a review, which will examine the requirement on senior officers to entertain and the means by which the entertainment should be carried out. In particular, it will consider whether there are alternative and more cost- effective means than the use of official service residences and other
Column 160service married quarters, and, in the light of that, whether any properties can be disposed of. It will also examine the requirement for domestic assistance and the funding arrangements for official entertainment. The review is expected to take some three to four months to complete.
We are extremely grateful to Sir Peter for agreeing to carry out that important task. I shall, of course, report to the House in due course on the results of his work. I should like to add that that work has the full support of all three services.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): I have detected in the Royal Air Force very little, if any, disquiet about alleged exorbitantly extravagant entertaining on the part of air officers. It is recognised that they have representational functions within the local community, which are widely respected and regarded, not least by Members of this House and Ministers. If any disquiet exists within the Royal Air Force, the be te noire is the question of flying pay. The fact that the announcement that it was under review should be made at a time when two crew men of a Tornado have lost their lives in the highlands of Scotland is the sort of thing that causes disquiet in the services.
Mr. Soames: I am not sure whether my hon. Friend heard me say that the review had the wholehearted backing of all three services. I agree that there is essential representational entertaining to be done, and the important role that Sir Peter Cazalet will be able to carry out will confirm the criteria for that entertainment. There has been much speculation over the parliamentary recess about the reasons for the Bett review. A great deal of reporting has been highly speculative and, in some cases, downright dishonest and deliberately sensationalist.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made clear yesterday, the fact of the matter is that we commissioned this independent review not for the purpose of cutting costs but to ensure that, as we approach the first part of the 21st century, the arrangements in place are sufficiently flexible and robust and meet our needs in terms of our ability to recruit and retain people of the same admirable quality. In particular, we need to take account of changes in the armed forces and their deployments, and of changes in our national life.
The review is extremely broad, and Mr. Bett and his team bring a wide range of experience to it, including considerable experience of personnel practices, not only in the armed forces but in management and finance in the private sector.
The wide ground to be covered in the review means that a great deal of information must be gathered and assessed. As part of that work, the team has been paying an extensive series of visits to units and commands, both in this country and overseas, when they have held discussions with large numbers of service personnel and their spouses. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State expects to receive Mr. Bett's report by the end of March next year. Some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), Chairman of the Select Committee, have expressed concern on a number of occasions at what is seen as overstretch in the armed forces. Let me take this opportunity to say that I well understand their concerns. My hon. Friend will understand
Column 161that they are beaten over my head whenever I go out and about. But I feel that most of those concerns are wide of the mark. Obviously, the whole defence establishment is undergoing a period of profound change, to enable it to be in the best possible shape to meet the challenges and tasks that lie ahead. It is also plain that the services currently have many and varied obligations and commitments. That involves substantial extra effort, but, in my experience, people join the armed forces for excitement and adventure and to serve their country in an active capacity--not, frankly, to sit around on their butts.
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside): My hon. Friend will recall that yesterday, in an intervention, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) mentioned the word "understretch". Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the essential criterion that our armed forces must meet today is flexibility? I agree with what he has just said, but surely a greater role should be given to our Territorial Army to fulfil a more important role as reserves to our armed forces, to give them the flexibility that they require. The Territorial Army, as its members are in units and are trained, should surely be the first line of reserve for our Army, rather than the last, as it is at the moment. Will my hon. Friend comment on the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater yesterday--about understretch, and ensuring that people are always fully occupied?
Mr. Soames: I hope that I answered my right hon. Friend's argument yesterday, but my right hon. Friend is quite right. We are already making much wider use of the Territorial Army. Indeed, in the Falkland Islands at the moment is a platoon of Territorials, shortly to be reinforced to company strength. We accept that that is an important role that they play.
All those changes involve upheaval, extra effort and all the things that go towards making service life at the moment pretty hectic. I do, however, recognise the pressures that currently confront many of our service men and women. Before concluding, I take the opportunity to pay a warm personal tribute to a group of people who do not receive the public recognition that is their rightful due--service wives and their families. Many of them, as I speak, may be collecting their children from school, coming home from work or--which is every bit as important--simply keeping the home fires burning. At times of turbulence and high levels of commitment, when their loved ones must be away more often than they, and sometimes we, would wish, I take the opportunity to salute each and every one of them for their patience, fortitude and forbearance and their robust and stoical common sense.
Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster): I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on his magnificent speech, and welcome him to the job that he is now doing. I was sorry to hear that he has not yet grasped the essential point about overstretch. I think that he is wrong in saying that the Defence Select Committee and others are wide of the mark in speaking about that overstretch. Undoubtedly, the 24-month interval between emergency tours should be a minimum. That is widely felt throughout the services at
Column 162all ranks and that opinion is widely held in the House. My hon. Friend must take another look at that in the weeks ahead.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): I put on record my thanks for the letter that I received from my hon. Friend, who discussed several of the arguments that I made in my speech yesterday. However, I should be grateful if he tackled one essential matter.
Those wives who are waiting at home and those of my constituents who are worried about their jobs wish to know all about the financial background to the decision. If it goes ahead, will my hon. Friend give a commitment that we can examine as many figures as possible, as we did with the Navy base, so that we may either be convinced or at least fight the case for Portland?
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): I am sorry to ask another question at the end of the Minister's speech. He paid a warm tribute to the families of service men. What has he to say to the nine families of the soldiers killed by American A10 planes in the Gulf war? They have yet to receive an adequate explanation from their Government about what happened, an adequate apology from the American Government about what took place or compensation equivalent to that paid to officers because they were from other ranks, although they were killed in broadly analogous circumstances. I have written to the Minister on the subject and received a courteous reply. I should like him now, as a new member of the defence team, to change the Government line on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Soames: The hon. Gentleman is in his most seductive mode when he talks like that. I was grateful to him for sending me the paper that he has written on the matter. He and I are due to have a meeting to discuss it. I do not recognise the position as he outlined it. I look forward to hearing the full details of the case when he comes to see me and I shall, of course, give the case the full consideration that it deserves.
I should not wish to close my speech without making a brief reference to the Labour party's defence policy, although I do not wish to intrude on private grief. Every conference motion tabled at the Labour party conference called for deep cuts in defence. Two days after the launch of the so-called new model Labour party, the Labour party conference voted for £6.5 billion in defence cuts and to do away with Trident.
When hon. Members decide which way to vote tonight, they should consider the fact that if they undertake to make cuts of £6.5 billion, they must give us an account of which arm of the services they intend to do away with--the figure represents the cost of one of the service arms. If the House were to vote for the amendment, it
Column 163would be a betrayal of the armed forces and Great Britain. I know that the House will wish to reject such a fatuous and idiotic amendment.
One of the responsibilities of being the Armed Forces Minister is to ensure that the work being implemented across the Ministry of Defence is managed in an honourable, sensible and humane manner in order that we continue to get the very best from our service men and women. They are a credit to Great Britain, and a priceless and unique asset. The Conservative Government will always guard their interests.
"declines to support the policy of the Government as set out in the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994 and the Defence Costs Study and calls for a full scale defence review; condemns the continuing process of piecemeal cuts which is undermining the morale and operational effectiveness of the armed forces and which, as a result, has failed to prepare the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom defence industry for the challenges of a post-Cold War world, for the emergence of a European defence and security identity, for an enhanced role in aid of United Nations peacekeeping and for the new opportunities for arms control; and deplores the way that defence capabilities and installations are being run down in an unplanned way instead of planning to counter the adverse effects of change on communities and individuals by expanding the provision for re- training and re-housing service personnel and by utilising and creating instruments such as positive regional policies and a defence diversification agency."
I warmly welcome the Minister of State and his colleague, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, to their new posts. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces is no lightweight politician and is clearly a difficult act to follow, particularly when he meanders so much around all our overseas posts. I confess that he left us not only breathless but jealous of his air miles over his peregrinations, and eager to change roles and follow in his footsteps. Our only concern, after the promises that he made to write to and meet so many hon. Members, is that the only place that he will be free to meet them will be Heathrow airport. He gave us a breathless exposition that was a mixture between the Boys Own paper and Vera Lynn. When he paid tributes to our forces, the Opposition Front-Bench team wholly concurred with what he said.
The Minister comes to his task, as does his colleague, in the footsteps of Ministers who have received promotion. I hope that the present Ministers will also be promoted before they change positions with us at the next election. They come to their posts at a fascinating time of transition, when defence planners and the defence industry seek certainties that are not there. During the cold war, they knew where they were; the identity of the enemy and the nature of the threat were clear. Now, as the late Manfred Wo rner said, "There is less of a threat but less peace".
Column 164Some compare our position to the confusion of the citizens of classical Rome in Cavafy's poem "Waiting for the Barbarians": "Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come And some of our men just in from the border say there are no barbarians any longer
Now what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution".
In our case, the barbarians did exist but they never came. It is difficult for the present generation of politicians of a certain age to move from the perceptions of the past and to gird themselves for the challenges of tomorrow's world. That problem of adaptation is compounded for us in the United Kingdom by the unwillingness of the Government to set in train a defence review of the kind that has been undertaken in the United States, France and Germany and thus to initiate a national debate on our role in the new global context. The problem is also compounded by the deep divisions in the Conservative party, which prevent the formation of a coherent strategy and which force the Government to move, crablike, by short-term tactics.
The division over Europe is at the heart of the Conservative party. A Cabinet Minister--such as the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont)--needs to be sacked before being wholly frank about Europe. But that right hon. Gentleman's views would be echoed by the Home Secretary, by the Secretary of State for Social Security, by the Secretary of State for Employment and by the Secretary of State for Wales if they, too, were liberated by being sacked. That is the problem for the Prime Minister and the Government when seeking a coherent view on Europe.
There is also a sharp and irreconcilable divide on the Conservative Benches between traditionalists, who understand the excellence of our armed forces and the fact that a military ethos can easily be destroyed but not easily recreated, and the new hard men who understand the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Yesterday, in answer to questioners concerned about stability after the period of turbulence, the Secretary of State said that we could now "contemplate" a period of stability in the sectors that he defined. Those among his Back Benchers who threaten revolt against defence cuts are easily bought off by a lawyer's careful words.
I warn him, however, that the Chief Secretary knows his way around the Ministry. He knows where the bodies are buried; he knows the unfinished work from the defence costs study; and he may require further cuts--due, for instance, to the slippage in the timetable for the budgeted £500 million in 1995-96 from leasing service married quarters to the private sector.
That, then, is the background to our debate on the period since "Options For Change", certain other key Defence Committee papers, the defence estimates and the defence costs study.
Surely 1989 was a decisive turning point in history which has demanded a radical reappraisal of the whole of our external policy. The fact, for example, that warning times of general war are now measured not in hours but in years has led to a proper response by our key allies. We should heed the advice of the oracle at Delphi by knowing ourselves--by recognising that we shall be increasingly unable to do everything and will thus have to make hard choices. Those who have created so much
Column 165turbulence and loss of morale in our services over the past decade--and particularly in the past four years--are hardly credible when they accuse us, because we demand a review, of seeking to create turbulence.
It is, of course, possible that part of the solution to the problem of overstretch will come from developments in Northern Ireland--which, like the fifth cavalry, will come to the Government's rescue. Of course we wholly commend the Prime Minister and Mr. Reynolds on their initiative and we rejoice in the response of the loyalists last week. We also accept the Secretary of State's wise words yesterday to the effect that it would be imprudent to reduce force levels in Northern Ireland prematurely. Nevertheless a return to normality in our garrison strength in Northern Ireland may now be realistically considered an option or a possibility.
What are the military implications of the breakthrough to peace? Here is a major potential peace dividend: 17,500 soldiers serve in Northern Ireland, an addition of at least £500 million to the military budget. What will happen if, over a few years, we can reduce their numbers to the pre-1969 garrison strength of about 2,500? What will be the effect on training and on tour intervals? Would any forces thus released be assigned to peacekeeping duties? We know that experience in Northern Ireland is highly relevant to such duties. On the other hand, will these infantry battalions be downsized, to use the jargon? We cannot delay a decision too long, as it will affect both redundancy and recruitment decisions in the coming months.
We need to project possible scenarios over the next 10 to 20 years also because of the length of time involved in procurement decisions. The saga of the Upholder SSKs and the expenditure, for nothing, of £1 billion-- the Minister will be well aware of the difficulties of disposing of those craft--well illustrate what I mean by the problems of the time involved in procurement decisions.
Clearly, the massive threat from the former Soviet Union is a thing of the past. I understand that in 1989-90 there were more than 300 intrusions by Russian military aircraft into United Kingdom airspace. In 1993 there were only 12. So how do we plan for the new range of threats? I concede that we see but darkly, but we have to be ready at least for a greater European security and defence identity; we must be prepared for a greater emphasis on peacekeeping in the United Nations and in the conference on security and co-operation in Europe; and we need to redefine the defence and security threat and be ready to seize new opportunities for arms control. Each of those developments has major implications for our procurement policies. I shall deal first with the future of NATO and European defence, and likely developments within the alliance. As far ahead as we can usefully plan, the core of our defence policy will be within NATO. Yet NATO itself is undergoing a profound transformation. It has lost a threat and is searching for a role. We must ask ourselves whether there is enough consensus between European Governments over that role. NATO has responded well to changes, with the North Atlantic Co-operation Council, the "Partnership for Peace" and the combined joint task forces, but uncertainties remain.
We shall obviously continue to depend on the United States for heavy lift, intelligence, communications and logistics, but we do have some worries about the
Column 166judgment of the Administration. We thought that the Government's craven unwillingness to oppose the United States view on lifting the Bosnian embargo, which would imperil our troops, was quite wrong. We note that in some ways we are drifting apart: for instance, in the House of Representatives in May, the Barney-Frank amendment was passed, calling for the first time for substantial conditional cuts in the United States presence in Europe.
What about the nature and extent of the Russian threat, or co-operation? Russia has given positive support in Bosnia. It has withdrawn from the Baltic states as promised; it has also withdrawn from Berlin. How do we encourage Russian concern for the resolution of conflicts in its near- abroad without condoning a new colonialism on the part of Mother Russia? It is most important that we try to understand the concerns of this proud country and respond accordingly--by pressing the Baltic states to safeguard the civil rights of their Russian citizens, for example.
There are also important questions about the future of defence co-operation in Europe, with the Western European Union serving both as a European pillar of NATO and as the focus of the European defence identity.
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East): The hon. Gentleman spoke about the Russian presence in other countries. What is his response to the recent agreement between Moldova and Russia regarding the continuing occupation, for the next three years, of the transnational republic of Moldova by the Russian 14th Army? Is not that totally unacceptable? Was the agreement reached because of Russian threats? What does the hon. Gentleman suggest should happen?
Mr. Anderson: That clearly depends on a judgment on the degree of duress under which the Government of Moldova acceded to the new agreement. That partly defines the problem of how to accept the legitimate interests of Russia, which could have major positive implications for us, without yielding to the view that Russia will assume a new colonial garb akin to that of the old Soviet Union. The hon. Gentleman knows the area well and pinpoints the dilemma facing western planners.
The Government have increasingly sidelined themselves on political and hence defence developments by their divisions on Europe. The implications for our defence industry are fundamental to developments in Europe. The 85th edition of Jane's "All the World's Aircraft" launched at Farnborough in September states that the Ministry of Defence has
"fallen hopelessly out of phase with virtually all the current European aircraft and helicopter programmes . . . because of . . . an endless search for the ultimate solution to every requirement, by unrelenting rejection of every proposal on cost grounds, by consequent indecisiveness all round and by a mindless service dedication to US products."
That refers specifically to the C130J FLA dilemma which was mentioned by many hon. Members yesterday. Will the Treasury insist on going for the cheaper off-the-shelf alternative or will we dare to look longer and reserve the bulk of the purchase for the European alternative? If we go for the C130J what will be the effect on future European co-operation? If we opt for a wholly
Column 167American solution, will there be any protection against being wholly overcome by the strength of US defence companies?
Mr. Bill Walker: The hon. Gentleman speaks for Labour on defence. What are his views on the RAF being committed to high-risk development and production programmes being carried out at the same time? Effectively, that is what the hon. Gentleman suggests. Until we have accurate figures on what the future large aircraft is likely to cost, how can the hon. Gentleman commit his party in that way?
Mr. Anderson: The Government and responsible people in the Opposition must place heavy weight on what the RAF says, but that is not the only consideration. We must also examine the major implications for the civilian and defence sectors of our aerospace industry and for co-operation with Europe. We have heard what the RAF said to the Select Committee about needing three such aircraft by the turn of the century. There were suspicions that the RAF was pressing for a decision on the C130J before the end of the century because of the perceived trough in expenditure before expenditure on the Eurofighter comes on stream. All those issues must be carefully weighed.
Mr. Colvin: The hon. Gentleman may have inadvertently made a slip in describing the C130J as an all-American aircraft. As was made clear in yesterday's debate, some 36 British companies would be involved in the manufacture of that aircraft and that would provide about 3,500 jobs. British components would be fitted to all the aircraft that were sold worldwide, and there is a target for the eventual replacement of about 1,500 Hercules. The C130J cannot ever be described as an all-American aircraft.
Mr. Anderson: The issues to be considered include whether such jobs would be put at risk if we did not purchase the C130J, the quality of the jobs created and, more important, the number of jobs that would be lost if we did go for that option.
In the context of European co-operation, on 9 September the Financial Times stated:
"There should be no question of excluding American products, but the burden of proof must fall on those defence ministries that wish to buy American where there is a competitive European alternative." We are in a harsh competitive world with mega-mergers such as Martin Marietta and Lockheed, and United States embassies are mounting a new drive for United States defence products. In the light of our fragmented aerospace defence industry, can Europe, and can we as part of Europe, withstand that drive?
The French are the masters of nationalist procurement and at some stage we must decide whether to have a counterweight to the overwhelming strength of the United States defence industry. We must ask whether article 223 of the treaty of Rome, which excludes defence from the free market, is adequate, or whether the Government together with our European partners should seek to revise it.
Column 168I was impressed by a recent Ernst and Young study on the defence industry. It was published in May and concluded:
"We are currently witnessing the emergence of two defence axes in the West- -one European, the other American. The benefits of American expertise and investment are undeniable. But, while collaboration with the US on specific projects may bring mutual benefits, European industry can only act as an effective counterweight if it rationalises cross-border".
That rationalisation should not necessarily be on the model of the Eurofighter with all its inefficiencies arising from the operation of production lines in different countries, but on the model of real mergers, so many of which happen in the United States. The Government must surely have a role in that, just as they have a role in the current dispute between GEC and British Aerospace over the future of VSEL. What is Government policy on the future of VSEL and what are the overall implications for the strength of our defence industry? Only the Government can make such major decisions, and on them will depend the future of many jobs and the future strength and sophistication of our defence industry.
It is likely that peacekeeping in all its forms will have an increasing effect on the future role of our forces. There is a lively debate under way on the theory and practice of peacekeeping. There is a difference of emphasis, because the United Nations
Secretary-General takes a bullish view while the more cautious view of the west is for stricter criteria before intervention--such as a clear threat to international order--and a clear timetable for eventual withdrawal.
Peacekeeping will have major procurement implications: there will be an emphasis on flexibility and amphibiosity and the marines will have a new significance. There are implications for heavy transport and training and for "jointery", one of the themes of the defence costs study, and there will be renewed emphasis on the
interoperability of equipment.
I shall now turn to arms control. How are we to redefine the defence and security threats to our interests and press forward with arms control measures, because as we look forward to stability nuclear proliferation raises new threats? Let us hope that yesterday's framework agreement between the North Koreans and the Americans will lead to that problem being removed from the international agenda of concern.
I am a little surprised that the study commissioned by the Ministry of Defence on ballistic missile defence will not be carried out in co- operation with the United States, whose technical expertise we need, and with our European partners, because we need monitoring stations on the continent. Perhaps the Minister can explain why we appear to have gone ahead on a national basis.
On nuclear proliferation, may I ask the Minister for clarification on the following matters? Surely there is a strong case for our taking the lead in pressing for an international conference with a remit to produce an action plan for dealing with the new problem of nuclear smuggling.
What positive steps are we now taking to keep technology in responsible hands? It is surely disgraceful that it took more than two years for the international science and technology centre in Moscow, intended to stem the flow of scientists from the former Soviet Union, to meet; it met for the first time in March 1994 after two
Column 169years of inaction during which many scientists may have gone to unstable areas which could pose a threat to the west.
It is worrying that the conference on disarmament halted in September with such slow progress towards a comprehensive test ban treaty. Surely it is now clear that there is no prospect of a treaty by next spring, as was envisaged, and that slippage in the timetable will have adverse effects on negotiations to renew the
non-proliferation treaty beginning in April.
The main causes of delay on the comprehensive test ban treaty are clearly France and China, but Britain also has been unhelpful in seeking exemption for safety tests. The dangers are clear and we expect a clearer lead from the British Government.
On chemical and biological weapons, we signed the chemical weapons convention in January 1993. Why have the British Government so far failed to ratify? In November last year, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), gave only the following explanation: ratification would come "when parliamentary time permits". I can give this pledge to the Government: if that is their real objection, the measure will get a fair wind from the Opposition, so it will not take up much parliamentary time. Are the Government simply yielding to the concerns of the chemical industry in Britain? Why is Britain refusing to take a lead in such a vital matter?