|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 565recommend, no answer came--just more words that lacked any clarity. That is not surprising as the review would embrace the massive defence cuts that the Labour party conference called for. Ducking difficult defence issues has won Labour no friends, even on the left. The Independent on Sunday accused Labour of "wet and vapid thinking." Writing in The Guardian , Hugo Young said: "There is no field in politics in which Labour is less convincing than defence . . . Its Conference votes for massive defence cuts, its spokesmen can barely admit that a single job should disappear. Although this may not quite be the economics of the madhouse, it defines the statesmanship of the nursery."
I may have my reservations about the Government's future defence planning, but no one in his right mind would commit his security to a party that is so woolly minded on defence. The chaotic but deeply dangerous days when Labour pressed this country to surrender to the then Soviet Union on our nuclear deterrent could be repeated if today's thinking continues. I do not trust Labour to pursue a policy of positive direction when its history tells us only that there has been appeasement, appeasement and appeasement again and again. It tried that philosophy in relation to the Falklands. If a Labour Government had been in power at the time, heaven knows whether we would have ever budged the Argentinies from those islands. History has not shown us that our defence and security could ever be safe in the hands of the Opposition.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I listened attentively to the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). I found some of it interesting until she embarked on the ritualistic rant about the Labour party, which does not persuade anyone--people in the defence services, ex-service men and women, or people who observe our politics. If one listened carefully to her speech, one would have noticed that, midway through, she went into a catalogue of criticism, which is largely justified, about the reckless stewardship of our armed forces by Treasury Ministers. Tomorrow, I shall read closely what she said and I shall use it politically, and legitimately so. The hon. Lady criticised the Government's recklessness in terms of equipment. She referred to procurement. She questioned whether it would be possible to embark on a number of ventures that have been necessary since the second world war to protect and promote the interests of the United Kingdom and peacekeeping. She prayed in aid Field Marshal Bramall, who is highly regarded and respected. He has been critical of our incapacity to mount actions that may be necessary to protect and promote our interests.
Several hon. Members rose --
Lady Olga Maitland: Would the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to give us some evidence that his party would build our defences when, at Labour party conferences year in year out, it says that it will cut defence spending?
Column 566of tonight's debate is that, by and large, most hon. Members have concentrated on the subject. As the hon. Lady invites me, I shall refer, like other hon. Members, to our reserve forces, which are the subject of great anxiety among people who serve in them and who think that, strategically and militarily, they are extremely important. No less a person than Field Marshal Bramall--and many others--think that those forces as extremely good value for money. They are perplexed at the Government's incapacity to introduce a reserve forces Bill, which they promised, to reassure people who believe in our reserve forces, in their skills and in the enterprise that they can give to our defences and peacekeeping. They are asking why no Bill has been introduced.
In the absence of such a Bill, there is a malaise among people who serve in the reserve forces. They are not sure about the future. I do not want to exaggerate it, but there is a loss of morale among them. That is against the backdrop that our reserve forces have one of the highest personnel wastage rates in the reserve forces of western Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. One must ask why. To some extent, it is because our armed forces have a low national profile. I look to the next Labour Government to raise with pride the profile of that service to the country. I regret that its profile is currently so low. A small proportion of the large sum that is spent by the Ministry of Defence might go to buttress and herald the work of the armed forces reserves.
I understand that the Minister prevaricated on this matter earlier, but why has there been no Bill, which the Secretary of State for Defence promised more than a year ago? Is it because the Minister is having difficulties with employers? If so, who are the employers' representatives who are proving difficult? I was interested to read in The Daily Telegraph , a newspaper that I thoroughly enjoy and read regularly--
Mr. Mackinlay: The hon. Gentleman makes a silly remark, as if Labour Members do not read The Daily Telegraph , which is my favourite paper. It is good value, particularly when it tells the truth, as it did on 19 November 1994, when Peter Almond drew attention to the fact that even the national health service, which the Government control, is making it difficult for people to serve in the Territorial Army and be available as specialist consultants to our regular Army during emergencies. It seems that there are difficulties with employers not only in the private sector but even in the public sector, for which the Government have some responsibility but which is not delivering the goods.
We need legislation to guarantee that the jobs of those who want to serve in our reserve forces with pride and motivation are secured should they be called up and mobilised. It is disappointing that the Government have not had the bottle or the guts to introduce a measure to provide for that. I suspect that they are prevaricating because such a measure would have ramifications for employment in other areas. I regret that. We will look to a Labour Secretary of State for Defence to do the right thing and introduce legislation to protect reservists and, ipso facto, promote the concept of the reserve forces.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam referred to Bosnia. I want to put a straightforward question to the Minister. Those of us who have been observing that terrible conflict wonder from where the conflicting forces
Column 567are obtaining their ordnance and arms. I accept that much of it was the property of the former Yugoslav national army, but there must be a great deal of arms smuggling in the areas of conflict.
Our intelligence organisations should know where that is coming from. I realise that it would not be appropriate to say too much on the Floor of the House, but we must know where it is coming from and what we are doing about it. I wonder whether the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office is doing enough to enforce the sanctions in former Yugoslavia, particularly in relation to arms. I hope that the Minister will refer to that when he replies, as it is of interest to hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I apologise to the Minister of State and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not being here at the beginning of the debate. I was with some Polish parliamentarians as I am secretary of the all-party Poland group and take a keen interest in that country. There have been moves by the United Kingdom and other NATO countries to accommodate Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and other central European countries into some security arrangements, but our Polish friends see that as wholly inadequate. It does not give them either military or political security.
Speaking entirely for myself, it is hypocritical that we in the west spent 45 years saying, "Look over the wall and see how bright and free the land is," yet, when communism collapsed and the wall went down, we would not let them join the club. We struggle to find spurious excuses for why they cannot join NATO or the European Union, although I acknowledge the economic aspects of their joining the latter. As there are problems in the Russian republic, it is even more important that they should have the same security arrangements as us.
I am proud to say that I held that view before coming to the House and, after developing my association with Polish parliamentarians, I feel it even more strongly. It is a great pity that we are letting them down. Ultimately, it is in our security interests that Poland and the other countries to which I referred should have the same security arrangements as us.
I have tabled a variety of parliamentary questions and I recently probed the Ministry of Defence about the scale of boarding school fees that it pays, primarily, although not exclusively, for the children of our officers. Like the majority of questions on the Order Paper, it was genuinely seeking information. I was staggered to learn that in the previous full financial year we spent £113 million on boarding school fees, mainly for the children of officers. Surprisingly, the figure had risen from £85 million in 1985-86. Although we are downsizing our armed forces, the money spent on boarding school fees for officers' children has gone up.
Mr. Freeman: I would not want the hon. Gentleman to be under any illusions about boarding school allowances. I am sure that he will want to withdraw the implication that there is any distinction between officers and other ranks in this respect. As he knows perfectly well, the scheme applies to all ranks and officers in the armed forces. I am sure that he would not wish to mislead the House.
Column 568I do not think that such expenditure is justified--full stop. It may have been justified when we had Army personnel all over the world and when it took officers and their children weeks on the Orient line or a camel to meet each other after a two-year posting, but nowadays all corners of the globe can be reached within 27 hours and we do not have armies or fleets all over the world. Expenditure on the boarding school allowance cannot be justified; it is nothing more than a hangover from the days of the empire. Of course, it is also a massive unwarranted subsidy for the private school system, which is indefensible. It is time that people knew what is happening. In response to the Minister's argument, I must point out that, although the allowance is available to all ranks in theory, in reality the children of privates and ratings go to schools in garrison towns such as Portsmouth and Aldershot. If such schools are good enough for those children, they should be good enough for officers' children too. There is discrimination and it means that working-class taxpayers are subsidising the privileged, which is indefensible.
Mr. Robathan: I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech but, of course, he was not here for the first four hours of our debate. He is exposing not only his ignorance but the chips on his shoulder. He shows his ignorance in that he fails to understand the extent of movement required among all ranks in the forces. As one might imagine, there are more older officers because most junior ranks leave in their early twenties before their children reach school age, while officers remain in service until 55. That is right and proper and I shall not go into the reasons for it, although I suspect that even the hon. Gentleman would understand them.
The hon. Gentleman exposes the chips on his shoulders in that he does not understand that it is not fair to make a child move house seven times in six years, as happened to a friend of mine who certainly did not attend a private school. Would the hon. Gentleman have said that that child should have moved with his parents from school to school? I suspect not.
Mr. Mackinlay: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about moving children but, in reality, the children of ratings and privates do not have the same facility as the children of officers. The children of ratings and privates are sent not to boarding schools but to schools in Aldershot and Portsmouth. In addition, officers are well paid but privates and ratings are not. Such distinctions should be borne in mind.
I think that it was the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) who referred to the ceremonial duties in which we take great pride. I accept that they attract tourists, but I cannot see why some of them could not be undertaken by reserve forces. Indeed, many ceremonial duties in the House are conducted by ex-service men who perform their functions very well. Some are also yeoman warders. I am sure that reservists could perform wider ceremonial functions with great pride and skill.
On 1 July, on a Friday morning, we had a debate on veterans' issues, which was much better attended than today's debate. I was pleased that the motion, which I
Column 569tabled, commanded all-party support for a dedicated Minister to protect and promote veterans' issues. That support has since been endorsed by an early-day motion, which has been signed by 250 or 260 members of all parties. Arguably, if ones takes away the payroll vote, there would be a majority in the House of Commons for the creation of that post.
I regret that the Prime Minister does not recognise veterans' issues as popular. If a popular issue were painted on his eyelids he would not see it. Not only would such a dedicated Minister be a popular decision, but it would be the right decision and in line with practice in other parts of the world. I hope that the matter is reviewed.
The Royal British Legion has endorsed the call and has expressed some disappointment in the current edition of its magazine at what it described as "an inconclusive meeting" with the Department of Social Security and the Ministry of Defence in December to discuss the issue. It continues, however, to press the issue, and rightly so. In the year that we mark the completion of hostilities, I would like to draw the attention of the House to one group of people--members of the Polish Army who served alongside British forces in the second world war. After the second world war, their pensions were treated differently from those of their British comrades in arms. That still rankles with Polish ex-service men and women who remained in this country, the majority of whom are now United Kingdom citizens and who have made Britain their home and whose children live and were brought up here.
For half a century, those Polish ex-service men and women have been treated less favourably than the indigenous British and they would like the situation to be rectified. The payment of their war pensions has been dependent on extensions, with Treasury consent, of the original five-year period because the then communist Government indicated that they would not meet their moral obligation to pay. It would be a small measure to rectify the discrepancy by statute so that those ex-service men and women could feel that they are treated in the same manner as their British comrades in arms. I hope that the Minister will consider it.
Millions of our fellow country men and women feel frustrated that there is not a medal to recognise national service. It seems a rather silly and petty omission. People who turn up at our ceremonial occasions in towns and villages, especially on Remembrance day, who will participate this summer in the commemoration of the ending of hostilities and who are proud to have served in the armed forces--the vast majority of whom, thankfully and mercifully, avoided conflict and being under fire--would like to be able to wear, on appropriate occasions, some sign of their service to the Crown and country. I hope that the suggestion, which has again been made by the Royal British Legion, not myself--the genesis of it lies with the Royal British Legion and other ex-services organisations--that a medal should be struck for those who did national service will be considered. Instead of some of the silly comments about that idea which I have heard during the debate, I hope that the Minister may reflect that this year in particular it would be prudent, fair, appropriate and a very nice gesture if such a medal were struck.
Column 5709.13 pm
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I had better put on record the Labour party's view on boarding school fees. Although I am a great admirer of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), I stress that his views on boarding school fees are his views alone. We accept that, in a modern Army, there will still be a need to send children to boarding schools. We are concerned--the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) touched on this point--about the quality of some of the education that service children get. I am convinced that we do not get value for money, and we should look at that problem.
However, I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock has a point about the differentials between officers and other ranks. The fees may be the same, but since 1979, the pay of a general has gone up in real terms by 15 per cent. whereas the pay of a private soldier has gone down by 15 per cent. There is little scope for the other ranks to send their children to boarding schools. The point is, however, that the Labour party would keep the boarding school scheme.
It seems that, no matter how few hon. Members there are in the Chamber, we always take up the full time. There was concern earlier that we might finish early; there is nothing wrong with finishing early. However, those concerns were wrong.
We have had some good speeches. I, too, pay tribute to our troops, who are the finest in the world. They are well led, well equipped, in the main, and well motivated. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces paid tribute to them well, as he always does, although his words are sometimes a little Churchillian and more apt for the dark days of the 1940s than for the post- cold war era. There is, however, no doubt that his words have support from Labour Members. The Liberal Democrat spokesman is not in his place, so I can talk about a bipartisan approach. Many of the views expressed today are shared by both sides of the House. We do not play politics with our troops' lives. It is important that when our troops put their lives at risk, politicians do not play politics with those lives. Conservative Members sometimes do not give us credit for holding that view.
I was saddened by the comments on the Falklands made by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). Many of us could say that the Falklands war arose because the Conservative Government sent the wrong signals to the Argentines. They withdrew the guard ship. There were negotiations about taking British passports away from the population of the Falklands. However, at the end of the day, when push came to shove, we were all on the same side. We had to free the Falklands and the Labour party supported the decision, as it supported the decision on the Gulf war. The only time since well before the second world war when there was disagreement in Parliament on political lines was over the Suez crisis. History will prove that the Labour party was right on that occasion.
I now turn to the present situation. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam and other hon. Members have referred to Bosnia. Again, we totally support the Government in their support for the peacekeeping role of the United Nations, using the expertise of British troops, although when the troops were sent, there was disquiet on the Labour Back Benches, as there was disquiet on the
Column 571Conservative Benches. I am sure that there are hon. Members on both sides who continue to be concerned about how we get out of the Balkans and we shall all have to turn our minds to that. We are doing a good job in Bosnia, but how long are we expected to stay there?
Lady Olga Maitland: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) should instantly withdraw his scurrilous remarks attacking the fine honour of General Sir Michael Rose? Will the hon. Gentleman dissociate himself completely from his hon. Friend's remarks?
Mr. Martlew: If I recall correctly, the hon. Lady made some scurrilous remarks about the Labour party and how it was not fit to defend the country, remarks that I totally refute. Other Labour Front-Bench spokesmen and I think that Sir Michael Rose did an excellent job in Bosnia. My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) is entitled to his opinion. I totally disagree with him, but if Parliament is the place for him to express that opinion and if he feels that he must express it, so be it. Labour Front-Bench spokesmen do not associate themselves with those remarks. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It is easy to sit here in London and to say that this or that decision should have been taken.
Like other hon. Members, I visited Bosnia. I came away with the feeling that all the warring parties there tell lies. We cannot believe any of them. There are wicked people on all sides. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles feels that the Bosnian Government are badly treated, and whatever we say today will not deflect his views in that regard.
I want to return to the bipartisan approach. I am a little surprised that there has been no mention of Angola, because that subject was flagged up. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) referred to Angola in a way that probably reflected the view of the majority of people in this country--that we should not be involved. As my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) made clear, if the Government were prepared to send British troops and they obtained the reassurances from the United Nations, the Labour party would support that move. I hope that the Minister will say something about that when he replies to the debate. Our troops have been stationed in Northern Ireland for 25 years. I pay tribute to their total professionalism. I have recently returned from a visit to the King's Own Royal Border Regiment, which is my county regiment. That regiment appreciates the all-party political support--I am sure that that applies to the Liberal Democrats as well.
The personnel at the sharp end fully appreciate that all-party support. I returned from Northern Ireland with nothing but admiration for my regiment and for all our forces who have served in the Province in the past 25 years. They patrolled the trouble spots and they carried out their duties with tremendous professionalism and dedication, under enormous strain.
We must remember that, until the recent ceasefire, every member of the security forces was considered by the IRA as a target for assassination 24 hours a day, day after day. That was the kind of pressure that our troops were under. In many ways, it was a forgotten war. It was perhaps not forgotten here in Parliament; but in my constituency and in others, so long as the lid was kept on it, we were not really concerned. We took notice when the IRA started to bomb London and the other major cities.
Column 572We left our troops in that situation for 25 years and it is only right that we should pay proper tribute to the work that they have done. As the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said, 650 members of the security forces have been killed by terrorists. I am convinced that no other security force anywhere in the world would have been as tolerant as the British forces in dealing with the problems they faced in Northern Ireland. Overall, the British security forces in Northern Ireland have a record of which we and they can be proud. There is another point in respect of which the Labour party has refused to make political capital and that is with regard to the sentence of Private Clegg. It would have been very easy for us to jump on the Daily Mail bandwagon which collected 1 million signatures. The release of Private Clegg was obviously a very popular subject.
However, the Labour party looked at the situation and we realised that it was not the time to raise the temperature. We fully support the Home Secretary's decision to look at the sentencing regime. I realise that the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) cannot be in his place at the moment. However, I support his view that perhaps the senior officers in Northern Ireland were wrong. Perhaps the decision to have only one sentence, that of murder, was the wrong decision. I hope that we can review that point. If the Home Secretary reaches a sensible decision, I am sure that the Labour party will support him again.
Mr. Soames: I would like to clarify a point. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) made the point about the views of the Select Committee on Defence on the yellow card and the question of our soldiers being quite clear. The hon. Gentleman has just visited his own excellent county regiment. I am sure that, like me, he spoke to soldiers in Ulster. Whenever I have been to Ulster and have asked soldiers whether they have come across anything during their service, when they were really up agin it, which they felt they had not been properly trained and prepared for, no one has ever told me that they had.
The hon. Member for Upminster opposed the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North, who asked for a defence review. I think that my hon. Friend's speech will become a reference point for people who want to understand why we need a defence review. It was an excellent speech, as his speeches always are, and it was also important as a reference point.
The hon. Member for Upminster said that we did not need a defence review because, as he explained, we had already had two. The Government have always refused to say that we have had a defence review. According to the Minister, "Options for Change" and "Front Line First" were not defence reviews, so perhaps he will reply to that idea, because the Chairman of the Select Committee said that the Government had already carried out two defence reviews within the past four or five years. We call for a defence review because we want to know where we are going strategically. We were not happy with "Options for Change", and we were certainly not happy with "Front Line First".
Column 573To return to what I said about the bipartisan approach, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) told the House that the Government would have our full backing if they introduced a reserve forces Bill. We have long pressed for such a Bill, and I must tell the Minister that the cross-party support on that issue is disappearing.
Mr. Martlew: That is true. We are puzzled and concerned by the Government's failure to introduce such a Bill. We were surprised that it was not in the Gracious Speech; when we asked questions, we were told that it would appear early in 1995. I remind the Minister that it is now nearly March. What does he consider early in the year? Perhaps today he will be able to give us a date.
The all-party approach to defence does exist. We also supported the Government on compulsory drug testing, although I must admit that I am now rather concerned about what they are doing. I understood that testing would be introduced in all the forces, but when I talked to people in Northern Ireland I found that only the Army is implementing the order. The RAF and the Navy have said that it is not necessary in those services. That is grossly unfair to the Army.
I heard one or two accounts of soldiers who had tested positive and who, I understand, were told the result, immediately asked to sign a form and made to leave the Army straight away. If that is true, the procedures should be investigated. What are the procedures for people who have tested positive for drug-taking? How are they to be treated? Will they simply be dismissed or have to volunteer to resign? Or shall we give our soldiers treatment? I suggest that, in many cases, that would be the best course.
I have outlined many areas in which there is cross-party support. That is fine, but the House would not expect me to leave it at that. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have made comments tonight, and I said in my speech on the defence estimates last year that I was coming to the sad conclusion that our armed forces, especially the Army, displayed prejudices that were not acceptable in a modern force.
The Army still displays sexist and racist tendencies, and class divisions are highlighted in the rank structure. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) referred to that, and asked for the figures. There is no doubt that there is still class bias in the higher ranks of the armed forces, and that is reflected in the pay structure.
I shall not talk at great length about the fact that millions of pounds have been spent on the houses of the top brass, even though most of those houses are now to be sold. I shall not comment on such perks as batmen, cooks and gardeners, or on the fact that the houses of the lower ranks are in such a deplorable condition that the Government have tried to privatise them, as that is the only way of getting then modernised. However, even that has failed.
I should like to talk about the differentials in the pay structure, and how the lower ranks have fared much worse than the top brass. To illustrate that point, in 15 years of Tory rule, a general's pay in real terms has increased by more than 12 per cent., a brigadier's by 17.3 per cent. and a colonel's by 15.4 per cent. That would be fine if the same
Column 574had happened further down the ranks, but there is a contrast. A corporal's pay in real terms has gone down by 5 per cent., a lance-corporal's by 10 per cent. and a private's by 15.4 per cent. In a debate yesterday, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces admitted that a private in today's British Army was worse off than in 1979. [Interruption.] It is on the record, if anyone wishes to look at it.
The comparisons to which I have referred are truly odious, but they are nothing more than one should expect from a Government who do not believe in equality or social justice--
Mr. Robathan rose --
Mr. Freeman indicated dissent .
I now turn to the continuing problem of sexism in the armed forces. [Interruption.] That always gets a laugh from the Tories, because they do not believe that women should be in the armed forces at all. [Hon. Members:-- "Rubbish."] They do not believe that women should hold any positions of rank.
I asked the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to give the percentages of women in different ranks in the Army. I shall not read his reply because we are short of time, but something was odd about it. I also asked whether the Minister would list those ranks of the armed forces where there were no women at all. There were no field marshals, no generals, no lieutenant- generals and no major-generals. It is all right for women to be cooks at the bottom of the scale, but they are being discriminated against because of the Conservatives' beliefs.
I do not believe that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces is anything but a male chauvinist on this point. In a recent debate in Committee on regulations on sex discrimination in the armed forces, the Government made a change in the law and introduced a catch-all phrase that women can be excluded from posts
"where their presence would impair combat effectiveness." That catch-all remark could well affect women in certain positions today. I am not sure whether the young lady who qualified as a fighter pilot yesterday--we all congratulate her--will be affected by that phrase, but if somebody believes that she could affect the effectiveness of our forces she could lose her job.
In the same debate, the Minister said that the Ministry of Defence had
"no intention of compensating women for having had abortions."--[ Official Report, First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c , 7 February 1995; c. 4-13.]
Column 575Those women may have had to have an abortion to save their jobs in the armed forces. On 8 February, there was a case in which the armed forces were found guilty of discriminating against a woman soldier. It cost the forces £15,000 because the industrial tribunal found in favour of the woman, who had to have an abortion--she was the major breadwinner in her household at the time--to keep her job in the Army. Yet the day before, the Minister for the Armed Forces had said that the forces would not on any account--
Mr. Martlew: Ministry of Defence money will go to pay that compensation. It is a scandal that it has had to pay so much in compensation to women who have had to leave, but the real scandal is that those women's careers were blighted because the Government did not change the regulations in time. If they had done that, we might have avoided paying £39 million or £49 million in compensation. I do not want to say much about racism--not because it is not a major problem but because it would be inappropriate to comment at this time as I understand that the Commission for Racial Equality is preparing a report. I want the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to assure us that when the report is published, it will be made public and he will make a statement on it to the House. I realise that time is getting on and that I keep asking the Minister questions and must give him time to reply. The point is that we have heard much talk about the Labour party cutting millions of pounds. Labour's record in Government has been very good. I am prepared to defend it and there is no doubt that it is excellent. I think that it was the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) who commented on the fact that some troops were given their redundancy notices when on active service in Bosnia. If the Government had got to grips with the finances, we would not have had those problems. I have here a document entitled "The Ministry of Waste", which was written by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields. I know that the Minister of State has a copy of it, as he requested one. It catalogues £7 billion of waste and it has been updated. The Government have wasted £7 billion. Just imagine what we could have done with that.
Lady Olga Maitland indicated dissent .
There was a £2.2 billion overrun on the Eurofighter 2000 project and an overspend of nearly £1 billion on the Challenger 2 tank. We do not need to mention the £177 million wasted in Germany when we were pulling back, or the overspend of £800 million on Trident facilities.
We would not have needed to make those drastic cuts if we had had control of the finances. There is no doubt that that is the case. In conclusion--I apologise to hon. Members whom I have not mentioned in my reply--what worries me is that there is no doubt that this Administration do not have the capacity to ensure that the scandals of the past, which are
Column 576catalogued in the document prepared by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, will not be repeated. The Government cannot control the finances, they are a wastrel Government and should not be trusted with the defences of Britain.
The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Roger Freeman): This has been an interesting debate and it proves the golden rule that speeches expand to fill the time available. I always thought that finishing early tonight was not a runner.
I shall try to answer as many questions as possible, although I note that until the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) came into the Chamber, only two Labour Front Benchers and two Labour Back Benchers were present, and the speeches of the two Back Benchers were disowned by their Front Bench, which is a very interesting position.
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces wearing the tie of the 11th Hussars and I notice that the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), who led for the Opposition, is wearing the tie of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, if I am not mistaken. I congratulate him and all other hon. Members who have participated in that scheme, which is excellent. Anyone younger than me will have missed national service, and it is a sobering thought that, during the past 10 years, there has been a marked reduction in the number of hon. Members who have served in the Regular forces, let alone who did national service, who can participate in our debates. We are poorer for that lack of experience. I am grateful to British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and Vickers for sponsoring that scheme.
As you can probably see from my tie, Madam Speaker, I am an honorary member of the City of London heavyweight division of chartered accountants. I notice that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) is wearing a tie in honour of our dear friend Nicky Fairbairn. He would have much appreciated the tie and I associate the Government Front Bench with all the comments made about him. He was a colourful character and we miss his contribution to debates such as this.
In a thoughtful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) set the context for our debate, albeit somewhat late in the proceedings, by speaking of the need for proper internal and external control of threats to our society and for flexibility. I am grateful to him for his comments about the adequacy of equipment for the armed forces and shall comment on that in moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) rightly discussed our international responsibility and global role. She spoke about equipment, but it is important to concentrate on the equipment's quality and capability rather than quantity. Her contribution was, however, much appreciated.
The Army equipment programme continues to provide highly effective equipment to meet the challenging demands that the Army faces. The Army has world-class equipment already in service and the forward programme will improve that position still further. That has been clearly demonstrated in former Yugoslavia, where the performance of our Warrior and our tracked reconnaissance vehicles has been particularly satisfactory,