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Mr. Mackinlay: Does my hon. Friend share my amazement and concern that there is no NATO mission in Moscow? Surely there is a very powerful case for NATO having a separate office and representation in Moscow, so that it can gather information about the domestic situation in Russia as well as convey the methods and intentions of NATO, which are clearly and demonstrably misunderstood and misread there.

Dr. Clark: I am glad that my hon. Friend has been able to make those points, because I have been very conscious of the fact that he has sat through most of the debate and it has not been possible for him to be called. Progress is being made. A small office of NATO is being installed in Moscow--I think that it is in the French embassy--at the moment. My hon. Friend knows that, because he has been to Brussels with me to talk to the NATO Secretary-General. I hope that it will develop into a much more fully fledged office, so that we can start explaining NATO's point of view.

We must all aim to create the security under which conflict and war between any of the NATO countries and Russia becomes as unthinkable as war between Britain and Germany is today. We must move towards such security.

The Labour party is also pleased to see the references in the Queen's Speech to efforts being made to restrict the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Labour Members shall be watching the Government very closely on that. We have had some concerns about their approach to the comprehensive test ban treaty. They seem to have been somewhat reluctant to go along with it, but thankfully, with the help of President Clinton, they have acquiesced and now seem to be converts. I shall not say a great deal about the French nuclear tests, except that they were regrettable. I certainly regret the fact that the British Government were not able to express their views against those tests more forcibly.

We are pleased to see that a Bill is to be introduced to ratify the chemical weapons convention. We have been calling for that for some time. We believe that we need

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to become one of the first 69 nations to ratify that convention. Of course, as we promised, we shall give the Bill a fair wind when it comes before the House.

We are also pleased to hear of the progress that is being made in Dayton, Ohio. We hope that an agreement on Bosnia will be reached. Certainly--this relates to my view about the way in which to build bridges with the Russians--I am delighted that we have managed to find a form of command structure that allows the Russian forces to work alongside NATO. That is a constructive, workmanlike approach, which is needed and will help to build understanding with Russia. It will also help to build security in the world.

We on the Opposition Benches are very conscious that we still have about 18,000 troops in Northern Ireland. We hope that further progress will be made and look forward to the day when some of those troops can be brought back to the mainland and deployed, perhaps at other bases. Having said that, I am conscious of the stress on the soldiers in Northern Ireland. I have seen the conditions in which they live, and they are very difficult indeed.

This is an unusual Queen's Speech, in that it contains two Bills relating to defence. The first is the Bill concerning reserve forces. We accept that the Reserve Forces Act 1980 needs to be amended and, again, we broadly endorse the provisions as we understand them. There has been wide consultation. We have obviously not seen the Bill--it is not to be published until tomorrow-- but assuming that it is what we believe it to be, we shall approach it, as always, in a very constructive manner, as indeed we shall approach the Bill concerning the armed forces.

However, fine words achieve little. I am conscious of the old saying that fine words do not grow a row of beans, and that is certainly the case. The Government's record on defence, as opposed to their intentions on defence, is disappointing. We stand firmly by the belief that, to reduce the defence budget by 30 per cent., as the Government have, without carrying out a fundamental review, but simply resorting to a salami-slice operation, has added to the instability of the British armed forces and led to a reduction in morale. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) described that clearly today when he referred to the RAF.

Hon. Members often quote the firm commitment given by the Prime Minister that there would be no more cuts in the armed forces. I remember clearly the solemn promise given to the House that the Army would have 120,000 personnel. The figures are not included in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1995". That clever, glossy document contains lots of pictures, but not the figures that we need. I am led to believe, therefore, that by next April the trained manpower in the Army will be down to 106,500.

The Government admit that they have a recruitment problem. Given that 3 million people are out of work, how the Government can fail to recruit men and women to our Army is beyond belief. It just shows how young men and women have lost confidence in the Government's ability to run our Army. I cannot understand it. It is a sorry testimony to the Government's mishandling of Britain's defences that those who loyally serve in our forces are under intense strain at operational

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level. The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) made that point. If there is peace in Bosnia and we deploy 15,000 men there, half the young men in our Army will be stationed overseas and in Northern Ireland. That seems to present a major problem.

I am sorry that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces is not here, because there seems to be a huge lacuna in the Government's recruitment strategy. They are aware of the problem, which relates to black citizens. Only 1.4 per cent. of those who serve in the British forces are from ethnic minorities. In their "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1994", the Government wrote:


Although they know that there is a problem, they seem incapable of attacking it. In its 1995 report on the defence estimates, the Defence Select Committee shared the Government's view, but said:


    "We cannot but feel that MoD has been less than enthusiastic about the whole process of ethnic monitoring."
I urge the Government to try to deal with that problem.

I raise another problem on the Floor of the House with a great deal of trepidation because it is a delicate matter, but it has caused me considerable anguish and annoyance. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has also raised the problem, which simply cannot be ignored. It relates to an incident on 10 August this year, when two black women, one of whom is married to a soldier posted elsewhere, attended a social event at Oakington barracks in Cambridge.

The women were subjected to racial abuse, which included persistent chants of "Nigger, nigger, nigger." At a later stage in the evening, the soldier who had perpetrated most of the abuse disappeared, but he then came back with four other soldiers who, according to witnesses, subjected the women to further abuse, such as:


I could go on, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I shall spare the House any further examples of such verbal abuse. I know that hon. Members will share my anger and concern. To make it worse, as the two women, now petrified, were leaving, two of the soldiers pointed guns at them. I shall say no more, but plainly such occurrences have no place in our civil society, nor have they any place in the British armed forces.

I accept that that case is an exception, but because of that, I use it to emphasise my point. I understand that following the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East on 23 August, the special investigations branch of the Royal Military Police has begun to investigate the incident. It occurred, however, two and a half months ago, and I ask the Secretary of State as a matter of urgency, although I do not necessarily expect him to be able to reply tonight, to look into it. Will there be a court martial? Why have we heard nothing, when such incidents cause so much damage to the reputation of our armed forces and cause great offence not only to the black community, but to many others in our civil society? Such abuse must be stamped out.

Another injustice persists. Has the Secretary of State any plans to use the Armed Forces Bill to amend the

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Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act 1987? As he will be aware, certain ex-service personnel, especially those who served in the Royal Navy, were subjected to exposure to asbestos and now suffer seriously from asbestos-related diseases. Their civilian counterparts are able to obtain damages because of similar exposure, but those ex-service men are unable to do so. I wonder whether the Secretary of State can look into that matter, which is of great concern. That injustice needs to be put right.

Materials are as important as personnel, because in the modern military, one cannot do the job without modern equipment. It is a matter of great concern that we increasingly hear reports that the anti-European stance of the Secretary of State is influencing our procurement orders. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made an eloquent speech on the very issue of orders for American aircraft.

We now know that the Government have looked into the possibility of acquiring F16 aircraft as a replacement for the Tornado F3. We have had that confirmed in writing by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who made the Government's reasons for that decision clear.

A much more serious charge relates to another report that the Government intend to order F22s as a cover initially for the Tornado, and then as an alternative to the Eurofighter. I hope that the Secretary of State will try to offer us an explanation of the current strategy, because he knows as well as I do that the Eurofighter project is now progressing well. It has had more than 90 sorties and, recently, an RAF pilot flew it for the first time.

The Secretary of State knows also that we are at a crucial stage in our negotiations with our partners. He knows that, as I speak, negotiations are taking place in Germany as to the future work share on the production of that very fine aircraft, which Opposition Members have backed from day one. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the timing of reaching agreement on work share is vital if we are to ensure that the memorandum of understanding is signed, as scheduled, for summer 1996.

I hope that there is no hidden agenda. I hope that there are not people in the MOD who hope by a sleight of hand to delay matters, so that they may reach a position that makes it difficult for our European partners to continue to go along with the Eurofighter development. As the Secretary of State knows, the Germans have included it in their Bundeswehr plan, the equivalent of our long-term costing. If we did not go ahead with it, it would be disastrous for our relationship with our allies and it would probably mean the end of the British aerospace industry.

Multi-million pound businesses are involved. We are speaking about bags of bucks in that case. I can believe that very many American industrialists want to supply us with F22s to drive the European aerospace business out of business altogether.

As I said, we agree with a considerable amount of what the Government have said in the Queen's Speech. We agree with many of the objectives. However, I confess that, when we have compared the actions with the words, we have found the Government wanting.

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The Government repeatedly try to wrap themselves in the Union flag and then say that Britain's security is safe in their hands. I submit to the House that Britain's security has never been less safe under a Conservative Government than under the present one.


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