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Dr. Reid: Far be it for any of us to introduce the politics of envy, but we cannot accept the hon. Member's proposition that it is not a fall of 15 per cent. in real terms in the wages of ratings and squaddies that is wrong, but the fact that the Labour party should remark upon it. Is it not essential, especially at a time of instability and rapid change, that the esprit de corps, comradeship and unity in the armed forces should be strengthened and increased by equality of treatment and fairness rather than that the differential that existed in 1979 should be increased by a huge percentage?
Mr. Hargreaves: The House is better informed for the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but I can assure him that one thing that we did not encounter on our visit to the Royal Navy was serious unhappiness about pay. The unhappiness that we mentioned came from instability rather than pay.
The other unhappiness that is worth mentioning, if I can call it that--and I am sure the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West will agree--had more to do with the internal differentiation of jobs within the Royal Navy than with almost anything else. That was a key factor in the ward rooms. It did not involve the relative earnings of officers and junior ranks. I shall pass over that as it was not a helpful contribution from the hon. Member for Leeds, Central. Finally, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West and I were enormously impressed by the job that the Royal Navy does. I hope that one message we send back from these debates is that we appreciate those who serve in the Royal Navy and we support them, no matter what strictures are imposed by budgets from the Treasury or the requirements of Foreign Office inspired commitments that we cannot always control, although we would like to do so--and that does not always make their lives easier. We appreciate that they do an extraordinarily good job, in sometimes extremely difficult circumstances.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East): These single service debates allow the opportunity for concentration on the particular service with which they are concerned, but they also give us a chance to debate some of the wider strategic issues and to apply our minds to the strategic context in which the Royal Navy has to operate. Looking round the House, since approximately six and a half years ago when I first spoke in a defence debate in the House, I do not remember an occasion when the House was quite so thinly populated. That is a pity because the importance of all three services--and today's debate emphasises the importance of the Royal Navy--certainly cannot be underestimated.
Column 1181Had he still been present, I would have liked to welcome the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), who opened the debate on behalf of the Opposition, to the first defence debate he has addressed from the Opposition Front Bench. He made an extremely competent and quite combative speech. Not surprisingly, like others who have spoken from the Labour Front Bench in recent times, he laid some stress on the policy of what is sometimes called, "a fundamental defence review", "a full-scale defence review" and "a far-ranging defence review", and I shall return to that in a moment.
The message which is transmitted to any of us who have spoken to commanders at all levels of the armed forces is that the one thing that they desperately require is a period of stability and calm. We tend to forget that the political decisions about "Options for Change" and "Front Line First" have been taken and announced, but that those decisions have not yet been fully implemented and there is a period of disruption yet to come. Only yesterday, there was an announcement in the newspapers about further redundancies at senior levels in the Army.
I am one who in the past has argued vehemently for a full-scale defence review. There was a time, particularly in the period immediately after the announcement of "Options for Change" when the strategic context was changing so rapidly and fundamentally, when a full-scale defence review would have been entirely appropriate, but I am now of the view that that time may have passed.
Those of us who argue for a full-scale defence review, or have done so in the past, should now be arguing that the conduct of defence policy should depend on a number of principles. First, foreign policy should dictate defence policy. Secondly, resources should match commitment and, thirdly, we should accept the overwhelming presumption that the stability that senior commanders require is best met for the time being and for the foreseeable future by no further reductions in the defence budget.
I understand the intellectual case of those who argue vehemently for a full -scale defence review, but we cannot instigate such a review with an entirely open mind unless we are willing to consider increasing defence expenditure. I do not know of any defence review, fundamental or otherwise, ever carried out in the United Kingdom containing a resolution that defence expenditure should be increased, with the possible exception of the rather fraught circumstances of the 1930s, when after a period of total lack of resolution, investment in defence became necessary as a matter of survival.
Dr. Reid: I have listened carefully to the hon. and learned Gentleman, who speaks with great authority in these matters and I understand the point he makes and the requirement and desire for a period of stability in the armed forces. However, the three principles that he Gentleman set out contain an inherent contradiction.
The hon. and learned Gentleman's first point was that foreign and defence policies should match, his second requirement was that resources and commitments should be matched, and his third and vital one was the presumption that the status quo fulfils the first and second requirements. The status quo patently does not fulfil a match of resource and commitments of foreign policy and
Column 1182defence which is precisely why we need to bring them into alignment and one can not do that in a rational fashion without a defence review.
Mr. Campbell: If the hon. Gentleman had listened he would have heard me say that there should be a presumption for the foreseeable future that there will be no more raids on the defence budget. I am one of those who argues strongly that if a political settlement is achieved in Northern Ireland, that should not be seen as an excuse for a further raid on the defence budget by the Treasury. There is a full range of tasks which the United Kingdom land Army could perform in furtherance of the United Nations and for which it has special skills; we should be making our forces available for that purpose. If on 14 October 1997, or perhaps rather earlier, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends march up the steps of the Ministry of Defence, call the chiefs of staff together and say, "The first thing we want is a full-scale defence review", if "Options for Change" and the defence costs study have not yet been implemented, those who contend that morale is fragile may be entirely justified by the response that they will get. We have to get way from what is essentially an absolutist position, and say that we will conduct our policy in accordance with certain principles.
It is a reasonable principle to say that the starting point should be that there is a presumption for the foreseeable future of no further cuts in the defence budget and that, in accordance with that presumption, we shall apply the principle that foreign policies should dictate defence policy and that resources should match commitments. I see nothing illogical in that, and it carries with it the benefits of that stability and period of calm for which I understand senior commanders are almost desperate because of the difficulties of morale which they identify in the conduct of their responsibilities as the head of their respective services. We could not conduct a debate on defence without some reference to the debate on Europe which is taking place in the House and, perhaps more robustly, within the Cabinet Room in No.10 Downing street. In Luxembourg on Tuesday, 10 May 1994, when nine eastern European countries became associate members of the Western European Union, the Secretary of State was quoted as saying--I do not think that he has denied the accuracy of the quotation--that the evolution of a European Community defence policy was an "inevitable consequence" of the Maastricht treaty.
If that remark were widely publicised among some of the Secretary of State's hon. Friends, I think that it would cause considerable anxiety even now. I think that the Secretary of State is right, but I do not think that we will wake up one morning to find that a common European foreign and security policy has been declared. I think that such a policy will develop organically.
Elements of that development are already in place. There is extensive nuclear co-operation between France and the United Kingdom. It is not publicised very well, but it has been going on for 18 months to two years. The co-ordination of air resources between the two countries was announced some four or five months ago. The evolution of Eurocorps was first thought to pose some sort of threat to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the allied rapid reaction corps. However, it is now viewed
Column 1183as being rather more friendly to existing defence structures. The United Kingdom-Dutch amphibious force has existed for a considerable time.
The NATO summit of January 1994 recognised the opportunity for what were described as "combined joint task forces", whereby NATO's entire resources may be made available to European members of NATO for operations in which the United States would not expect to take part. Those existing components, which are of varying strength, will lead inevitably to the evolution of a far greater degree of integration in defence matters in Europe.
Another equally, if not more, compelling factor for integration is economics. Because defence inflation always runs ahead of what may be described as "ordinary" inflation, there will be continued economic pressure for force specialisation, for interoperability and for common procurement. I do not underestimate for a moment the difficulties of achieving those aims, but I believe that they will be driven by economic necessity.
The Navy is currently contributing to the force in the Adriatic which is enforcing the arms embargo in the former Yugoslavia. Hon. Members have already paid tribute to the professionalism of those who are engaged in that task, and I had the good fortune to see it at first hand when I visited HMS Ark Royal.
The force's presence in the Adriatic depends on the continuance of the embargo. I am implacably opposed to any lifting of the arms embargo, either unilaterally or multilaterally. I think that there will be general agreement about that matter in the House. How could we continue the remarkable humanitarian effort if the arms embargo were lifted? How could our forces and those of other countries remain in the former Yugoslavia in safety if the arms embargo were lifted? How could we withdraw without undue risk from the difficult circumstances--including terrain and other factors- -in the former Yugoslavia as we would inevitably have to do if the arms embargo were lifted?
Would the no fly zone be maintained? What air assets would be available for that operation and from whom would they come? For example, once we have withdrawn and the arms embargo has been lifted, would we continue to provide air resources in order to police the no fly zone?
I suspect that what is described in the Untied States as the "lift and strike" policy--lifting the arms embargo and then using air strikes--would soon become a reality. Once that had happened, what some have long suspected to be the principal objective of the Bosnian Muslims--to draw the United States and perhaps others into the war on their behalf--might be achieved.
What consequences would that action have for NATO? Some say that NATO would be finished for ever. I do not think that the consequences would be apocalyptic; however, I think that they would be severely damaging for NATO.
In practical terms, an announcement that the arms embargo will be lifted is hardly likely to be met by a totally unresponsive Bosnian-Serb Government. They would be bound to take maximum advantage of the inevitable gap between the announcement of the end of the embargo and the arrival of weapons, or the gap between the announcement, the arrival of weapons and
Column 1184the training of people in their use, and act upon their present military superiority. I hope that, even now, we will be able to persuade our friends in the United States--it is clear that we have persuaded the United States Administration, but I hope that we will be able to persuade others also--that that policy would be extremely damaging and dangerous.
Like other armed services, the Navy has faced the difficult transition from a capability which was based on a clear threat--which had existed for 40 years--to a capability that is now based on anticipated tasks. As many hon. Members have already pointed out in the debate, it is extremely difficult to anticipate what those tasks might be. Therefore, we must return to principles.
The first principle must be a balanced fleet, within which there may be a change of emphasis. For a long time the United Kingdom's anti-submarine warfare capability was deep water in nature because our task was to ensure that the reinforcement of NATO forces across the Atlantic would not be prejudiced by Soviet submarines breaking out from the north Norwegian sea. I am sure that hon. Members will recall our policy of forward maritime defence. That is no longer relevant in the changed strategic situation.
However, we still need anti-submarine warfare capability in order to counter the proliferation of diesel-powered submarines. Russia's readiness to sell Kilo class submarines to anyone who is willing to buy them gives rise to the possibility that our forces may be required to exercise their anti-submarine warfare capability against such submarines.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) asked the Minister many questions, but I would like to ask him only one. If he cannot answer it tonight, I will happily accept a written answer in due course. The Merlin programme is a very important part of the all-round capability of the type 23. Can the Minister tell me, either tonight or at a later stage, when the Ministry of Defence expects that the Merlin helicopter will be fully deployed?
Mr. Alan Jones of Westland announced today that he intends to relinquish the post of chief executive of that company. Mr. Jones has made a remarkable contribution to the fortunes of Westland and, in so doing, he has assisted in maintaining a very important industrial and military capability for the United Kingdom.
Mr. Colvin: Does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that an announcement from the Front Bench confirming the order for 25 Westland EH101 support helicopters would be a very nice parting gift for Mr. Alan Jones? We have been waiting for that commitment for nearly five years and it is about time that the Government gave it.
Mr. Campbell: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the first commitment was made in 1987 by the then hon. Member for Ayr, who is now Lord Younger of Prestwick in the other place. I think that Alan Jones would be well rewarded for his time at Westland if the Minister were able to make that announcement which hon. Members would welcome also. Apart from anything else, it would ensure the continuance of Westland as an important part of the United Kingdom's military and industrial base.
I suspect that some of the tasks and important roles that the Navy will be required to fulfil in future may be of a rather lower intensity than many of those for which we
Column 1185have prepared in the past. Under the auspices of the United Nations and in co-operation with others I suspect that the Royal Navy may be called on to take part in arms and trade embargoes authorised by United Nations Security Council resolutions. It is important to make the point that, although carrying out low-intensity operations can be a valuable contribution to security, it is equally clear that we must, in the Royal Navy, maintain a capacity for high-intensity warfare if it becomes necessary. Many people are concerned that if we become so committed to low-intensity United Nations-sponsored deployments, it might prejudice our ability to conduct high-intensity warfare. I know that the Minister is seized of that apprehension--indeed, I was able to discuss it with him when I went to see him at the Ministry of Defence a little while ago.
The nuclear deterrent remains the responsibility of the Royal Navy. We are committed to a minimum deterrent and to nuclear weapons as weapons of last resort. I do not believe that we fulfil those principles unless we take a conscious decision not to deploy any more warheads on Trident than on the Polaris system that it is to replace. In that regard, it is right to remind the Government of their obligations under article 6 of the non- proliferation treaty, which, of course, is currently under active consideration.
Important though the nuclear deterrent may be, we should remember that the most flexible asset that the Navy possesses--one that is capable of performing a wide variety of tasks--is the fleet of frigates and destroyers. I was pleased to hear the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who opened the debate, say that we have 35, instead of that awful word "about" which, for years, bedeviled the Defence Committee's taking of evidence from Ministry of Defence officials, who would only ever say "about" 50, "about" 40 or "about" 35. The Minister was unequivocal, and for that he deserves the congratulation of the House.
I suspect that 35 is pretty well the minimum number at which the Navy could continue to perform the tasks that they are obliged to perform at the moment or may be called on to perform in the future. I remind the House that it is the frigates and destroyers from which we provide the West Indian guardship and part of our presence in the Adriatic. As has already been pointed out, it is from the fleet of frigates and destroyers that we were able to make such a swift deployment against a further threat to Kuwait only a few months ago. There will be only 12 submarines. The four Upholder class are to be sold, leased or in some way disposed of. There will be a loss of capability, although that is substantially discounted by hon. Members who know more about submarine warfare than I do. It will mean that the remaining submarines will be very heavily worked and deployed. Therefore, refit schedules and their maintenance at a proper level of readiness will be extremely important.
I support the proposal to obtain cruise missiles. I believe that the opportunity for force projection, which that will give, will be a considerable enhancement of capability.
On mine counter-measure vessels, to which reference has been made, I believe that it is a capability in which we lead the world. It is vital that we do not sacrifice that lead. I get the impression that Ministers on the Treasury Bench recognise that it is important that that capability be preserved.
Column 1186The importance of the Royal Marines cannot be understated. At a time when we are looking for flexibility, what is more flexible and valuable in an unstable and unpredictable environment than an amphibious capability?
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West spoke at great length, with great sincerity and to great point with regard to Rosyth. I certainly do not wish to do anything other than endorse what she had to say about the way in which Rosyth was treated and the experience of the loyal workers who worked there for many years. I would just embellish--if I may put it that way-- what she said by making the comment that the position of both royal dockyards is still uncertain until the whole question of privatisation is resolved. It now appears that there has been only one bid for each, from the incumbent. I have not seen the bids and am not in a position to make any judgment about their commercial acceptability or otherwise, but I believe that it is incumbent upon the Government to resolve the issue as soon as they can, and if it is necessary, to ensure that those bids are effective, that there be some kind of contractual arrangement with regard to the provision of work to the two dockyards. I would support moves towards that end.
We are, notwithstanding the channel tunnel, still a maritime nation. We have traditionally been a naval power, but that tradition has been bedded in the practical necessity of ensuring that we were able to defend our shores at all times. Geographical and physical considerations will continue. The traditions of the Navy--service, commitment and professionalism--will be maintained. It is to those traditions that we should pay proper tribute this evening. 7.6 pm
Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton): I am pleased to follow the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who speaks with great authority on the subject. I certainly wish him well with his leadership campaign.
I am also proud to represent a region that has had a distinguished record of service to the armed forces over the years, particularly the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. In Plymouth, there has been a naval base and dockyard for many centuries, and we have been the home of the Royal Marines for many generations. I know that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are extremely familiar with all those establishments, and are well loved by those who serve therein.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will be replying to the debate, because he made a recent and highly successful visit to Plymouth and, as usual, was extremely popular wherever he went.
In recent times--as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will know--we have experienced the dreadful trend of downsizing our defence establishments, caused, quite understandably, by the ending of the cold war and the break- up of the Warsaw pact. I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who made a telling argument about why it is more vital than ever that we keep our defences up.
The so-called peace dividend that we have enjoyed these past few years has hit us particularly hard in the west country. Since 1985, the number of employees at the
Column 1187dockyard has reduced from 13,500 to only 4,000 some 10 years later. It is generally recognised in the west country that, had the Labour party won the previous election, with its commitment to defence cuts of 30 per cent. or so from 1992--not from 1985, which deals with the point made earlier by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North- East, representing the Liberal Democrats, who pledged to reduce defence spending by a staggering 50 per cent.--we would have been even harder hit. I will take no lectures on defence cuts from Opposition Members.
None the less, times have been hard in Devon and Cornwall, and we have experienced considerable job losses. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, anxieties about job losses have not entirely gone away. They come from a variety of sources. The maintenance of the Trident submarine, and its refits, will secure and guarantee 4,000 jobs in Devonport dockyard for the next 20 years.
That is very welcome, but people in Devon and Cornwall worry about Labour's commitment to Trident if it formed the next Government--which we know is highly unlikely. They worry about Labour's record on defence. They worry about the 60 or more Labour Members who signed an early-day motion late last year calling on the Government to scrap Trident, and they worry about the fact that the leader of the Labour party, and indeed Labour's entire defence team, used to belong to the parliamentary branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Mr. Streeter: The hon. Gentleman has not given me the detailed information that would allow me to amend it, but if he wishes to make a statement about his own position, I shall be delighted to hear it.
Mr. Streeter: The statement that I made about the leader of the Labour party none the less stands. Many hon. Members wonder how a Member of Parliament could decide that we should not have a nuclear deterrent when the cold war was at its height and the Warsaw pact constituted such a threat, and then decide in 1990--when the cold war was winding down and the Soviet bloc was breaking up--that such a deterrent was appropriate for this country after all. Many of us feel that that conversion was extremely superficial, and would melt in the heat of battle.
Mr. Jamieson: Labour's commitment to Trident is certain. The hon. Gentleman knows that, because our Front Benchers have made it clear on many occasions. His own Front Benchers, however, may be interested to know that I have a photograph in my pocket--I will show it around the House if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to--taken in 1987, which shows the hon. Gentleman, then an SDP councillor standing with the SDP Alliance in Plymouth. In the photograph, the hon. Gentleman is sharing a platform with a leading member of the local branch of CND.
Column 1188put the case for a nuclear deterrent, against which the CND member was arguing. Secondly, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) has an old skeleton in his cupboard in the form of his past membership of CND. How ironic that he should now represent Devonport, whose dockyard is to maintain the Trident submarine.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): That is not a point of order for the Chair. It is a point on which the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) might wish to intervene, and that is how I shall treat what he has said.
Mr. Colvin rose --
Sharing a political platform with someone does not necessarily involve sharing that person's views. I have shared a platform with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) many times, but that does not mean that I shared his political views on those occasions.
Mr. Streeter: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Indeed, as I said, the purpose of my being on that platform was to contradict the CND argument. I have always supported the independent nuclear deterrent. Will the hon. Member for Devonport reflect on this point? I think that it is better for an hon. Member to maintain his principles while changing his party than to stay in his party and abandon all his principles, as so many Opposition Members have done.
Let me continue with my thoughtful speech. People in Plymouth are also worried about talk of a further defence review. I have spent a good deal of time talking to members of the armed forces, and I know that the last thing they require is another defence review. They want a period of stability and certainty, and the ability to plan within a given framework; the possibility of a further defence review terrifies them. I agree with what my hon. Friends have said about the desirability of such a review.
People in Plymouth are also concerned about the fact that the implications of "Front Line First"--albeit a masterly exercise in support for our front line--are still trickling through. Only this week, we heard the sad announcement of 427 job losses in Devonport as a result of the rationalisation of naval stores.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces handled the matter as sensitively as it could have been handled, but he will appreciate that this constitutes a further blow to economy and morale in a region that has already been hit by many job cuts over the years. Moreover, the review of the Royal Marines and their location is still taking place. I know that my hon. Friend will understand my concern, and will note my call for a period of stability and security for Devon and Cornwall.
I welcome the clear assurance by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that there will be no further defence cuts under the present Government. That gives us confidence for the future; how it contrasts with what has been said by Opposition Members.
Column 1189May I raise three specific local issues? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with them, either when he winds up or later in the year. I seek assurances about the future of vital defence establishments in our region.
From time to time, we have debated the future of the naval base at Devonport. I entirely accept the assurance that the Ministry of Defence believes that we need a strong naval base there, and that the base has a strong and vibrant future; but concerns remain about the onward drift to Portsmouth and the amount of base-porting in Devonport. We in Devon and Cornwall seek a positive commitment to the naval base. We were pleased to learn of the commitment to replace HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid with two new landing platform docks and a new amphibious craft for the landing of helicopters.
I suggest to my hon. Friend that there is a happy marriage between the base -porting of amphibious craft and the location of the Royal Marines. I understand that the base-porting of amphibious craft has not yet been settled; will my hon. Friend give a commitment to base-port those vessels in Devonport, so that they can enjoy collocation with the Royal Marines-- our strike force in Devon--that will be of great strategic and economic benefit to the Navy and our region? I am prepared to wage a long campaign until Devon receives the answers to which I believe it is entitled.
It is not part of my brief today to be in any way derogatory about Portsmouth, the city in which I was born. I fear, however, that, as ferry traffic from Portsmouth increases--the channel tunnel may affect some ports in Kent in the same way--it may not be the right place in which to base- port new naval ships.
My next point concerns the location of the Royal Marines. They are currently based at the Citadel and Stonehouse, with a logistic division at Seaton and Coypool and a 42 Commando at Bickleigh. They have been part of our history for as long as anyone can remember. We know that the Ministry of Defence is currently considering the relocation of some Royal Marines at RAF Chivenor; that option is clearly attractive, given that it is a level, single site with newer facilities than Plymouth can offer in some instances.
I realise that my hon. Friend is examining the possibility of the move very carefully. He is taking his time to get it right, and I respect and support that. We are grateful that the Citadel and Stonehouse are not even under consideration. We know that the Royal Marines will remain in those locations.
I would understand it if the Logistics Division were to relocate from Seaton and Coypool, which are not ideal sites. I could understand the argument if it were in the interests of the Royal Marines to move that to RAF Chivenor in north Devon. However, if 42 Commando is moved from Bickleigh, particularly if it were for purely financial reasons, it would be seen as a major blow to our region, and the final straw that broke the camel's back. So I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider carefully before going further down that route. We must retain 42 Commando in Bickleigh.
If the Logistics Division relocates from Seaton and Coypool--I do not concede that point--will the Minister do everything possible to ensure an early release of those sites into the private sector, so that new jobs are generated from those valuable sites in the centre and on the edge of Plymouth?
Column 1190Will he reassure me that, if those relocations take place, those sites will be actively put on to the marketplace for economic regeneration? The release of surplus Ministry of Defence sites in Plymouth has a mixed history. We welcome the excellent investment of £45 million in the site of the Plymouth Development Corporation, but are concerned about how long it is taking to deal with the redundant Manadon site.
The third issue that I wish to raise with my hon. Friend the Minister is competition in defence procurement. I welcome my hon. Friend's remarks about the Royal Navy's secure future. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends would like even more ships to be ordered and built than those referred to in last year's "Statement on the Defence Estimates", but with replacements planned for HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid, the batch 2 Trafalgar class submarines and up to three type 23 class frigates, significant work will be provided for our warship building yards and, importantly, the naval equipment supply industry?
I declare a further constituency interest. A company with many employees based in my constituency--British Aerospace Systems and Equipment Ltd.--is one of the equipment supply companies that will benefit from that work. I recently received a brochure from British Aerospace Systems and Equipment Ltd. which recalls the substantial naval work carried out within British Aerospace.
Most of us probably regard British Aerospace as the nation's premier supplier of aircraft, and I confess that, until I saw that brochure, I had only limited knowledge of the company's significant presence in naval prime contracting and systems. Hon. Members will be surprised to learn that, in 1993, British Aerospace's naval business turned over some £365 million.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that it will continue to be the Government's policy to encourage competition between British Aerospace, GEC and other major prime contractors, as the best means of ensuring value for money in naval, whole ship and systems procurements? It has been our consistent line to insist on competition in the refitting and maintenance of our ships by maintaining two dockyards. I hope that similar principles apply in relation to major defence procurement elsewhere.
In conclusion, I seek assurances about the future of Devonport naval base, and would like a response on the specific suggestion that I put to my hon. Friend the Minister. I also seek assurances on the retention of a substantial Royal Marine presence in south Devon and that the world of defence procurement will continue to be a competitive environment.
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), having listened to his speech, which was so carefully crafted in the few minutes before he rose. Is it not refreshing that a Conservative Back Bencher should be so close to the ear of the Prime Minister? He comes to the Chamber tonight to tell us facts about the Government's policy on defence that we have not heard from the Minister. He said that there will be no further cuts in defence, but I understood that the Government's
Column 1191policy was to make a succession of cuts in defence during the rest of this Parliament. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman has the ear of the Prime Minister on those matters.
Mr. Freeman: I hope that there is no misunderstanding. In my opening speech, I made it clear that we sought stability in funding in real terms from 1 April this year for the next three financial years. That is the period for which the Government plan and the Chancellor made that clear in his statement. Decisions made under "Options for Change" and "Front Line First" will take a number of years to implement. I made that plain in my speech and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) has been consistent with what I said. It is as plain as a pikestaff that that is what will happen.
Mr. Jamieson: That was a revelation. I am pleased that the Minister has confirmed that cuts will continue for the next four years. What the Prime Minister meant in the private moment that he spent with the hon. Member for Sutton was that there will be a succession of cuts in the next four years, which have already been agreed by the Government. I am glad that the Minister has reaffirmed that view.
The hon. Member for Sutton said that I was scaremongering when I mentioned the Marines leaving Plymouth. I am glad that he has now come to the view that the Government may take the Marines away from the city.
Like some of my hon. Friends I declare an interest. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), who made an excellent speech on behalf of her constituency in Scotland and the Royal Navy, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) are both on the armed services parliamentary scheme. I, too, have been on the armed services parliamentary scheme, with the Royal Marines. If I am allowed to mention the Royal Marines in a Royal Navy debate, may I say that I admire their work and pay special tribute to the work that they contribute to our armed services' effort. On one occasion, for the brief moment in which the hon. Member for Sutton was also on the scheme, he and I were sped around Poole harbour on a landing craft. Having heard his speech tonight, I wish that I had pushed him in. Before I clear up the matter of the photograph, will the hon. Member for Sutton withdraw the comment that he made about my having been a member of CND? I have never been a member of CND but he has put it on the record that I have.
Let me clear up the matter of the photograph. The hon. Gentleman said that he shared a platform with, but was in opposition to, a member of CND. That is not true. The photograph in my possession shows that when the hon. Gentleman was a member of the SDP and shared a political platform with the alliance, and therefore the Liberals, he was photographed for election material put
Column 1192out on his behalf standing next to the leading member of the CND in Plymouth. We are, however, glad of the hon. Gentleman's conversion to sense. Now that other Conservative Members have discovered that, long may he remain on the Back Benches.
Dr. Reid: Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is now clear that my hon. Friend and I were never members of CND but that the person who accused us was on a platform supporting, and publishing literature proclaiming his association with, the CND?
Mr. Streeter: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. How can I place it on the record that I have never, at any stage in my life, espoused the principles of CND, and that I have always supported an independent nuclear deterrent? The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) is misleading the House and he should be careful.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Matters of fact are not something on which the occupant of the Chair can rule. Of course I expect hon. Members to be careful in what they say. I am sure that, if they are found to have made inaccurate comments, gracious withdrawals would be the order of the day, but I cannot adjudicate on such matters.
Mr. Jamieson: If we want some clarification, I shall say it again. A photograph of the hon. Member for Sutton standing next to the chairman of CND appeared on election materials. At that time, he was in the SDP and sharing the same political platform as the Liberal Democrats. I am pleased that he has come to the House to make the position clear. We welcome his change of view over that period.