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Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): I endorse entirely the tribute paid by the Secretary of State to our armed forces and their families. They always acquit themselves with courage and distinction, and the whole country is rightly proud of them.

Let us be clear that the review was never a strategic defence review, but was always about cutting defence expenditure. The Secretary of State even began with

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a pre-emptive concession, offering the Treasury £500 million. He has ended up with cuts of more than£900 million a year. The Treasury has had its first instalment, and I must warn him that it will not be the last.

The cuts come as no surprise: Labour Governments always cut defence spending--[Interruption.] At least Labour Members have woken up and are making a lot more noise than they did when the Secretary of State made his statement. My hon. Friends and I noticed their ringing endorsement for his policy on Trident; I can assure him of at least our support on that.

The review was intended to take six months, but it has taken 14. For only 10 of those was it in the Ministry of Defence. The final four months saw the strength of our country's defences become a political football as the review was kicked around Whitehall between the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and No. 10. No doubt a few focus groups were thrown in, too. What that has done to the morale of our armed forces can only be imagined.

Nor was it ever a foreign policy-led review. The Government have never published the foreign policy baseline as they promised--not even today. Even the panel of experts set up by the Government to advise them has never seen it. If the review had genuinely been foreign policy-led, it would have had to make some effort to match capabilities to commitments. There is no attempt in the White Paper to do that.

What has happened since 1 May last year to make the Secretary of State think that the world has become a safer place? All the evidence of the past year suggests exactly the opposite. Our commitment in Bosnia is clearly very long term. We nearly became involved in another Gulf war. A nuclear arms race has begun in Asia. The enlargement of NATO increases the level of our commitment to that organisation. I believe that we might still become involved in Kosovo. On top of that, there are dangers that no one can foresee, and it is not good enough to say that there are no threats just because we cannot foresee them. Who foresaw the Falklands or the Gulf crisis? Who, in the early 1930s, when defence spending was last at the level to which the Government plan to reduce it, foresaw the threat that subsequently engulfed the world? By their nature, such threats cannot be foreseen, but they must be provided against.

We welcome many of the proposals in the review and will support them. The Secretary of State concentrated on the few gains; I want to ask him about the many losses. The defence budget is to be reduced by £915 million a year under these proposals. Can he say what exactly that means for our armed services? Paragraph 89 of the White Paper says that we should be able to respond either to a major crisis such as the Gulf war or to undertake a lesser-scale deployment and a peacekeeping operation. Is he saying that we will not able to mount a major deployment such as the Gulf war as well as maintaining our operation in Bosnia? That is the implication of paragraph 89.

We welcome the various initiatives intended to make the lives of our service men and women and their families better and to improve conditions of service. There is one simple thing that the Secretary of State could to do this afternoon. He could respond to the repeated calls for more generous telephone allowances for our troops in Bosnia. It is a small matter for him, but a major matter for our troops, and he could solve it today.

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The Navy is to lose two of its hunter killer submarines, three frigates and destroyers and three mine hunters. Those are significant reductions in capability. We will have fewer frigates and destroyers than France or Japan and about the same number as Italy. When will the cuts be implemented and which ships are involved? Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Falklands protection force will not in any way be diminished?

The Secretary of State has made much of the two planned aircraft carriers. They will, of course, add significantly to our ability to project force, but they will be very expensive and they are not planned to be in service until 2012, by which time Invincible will be 35 years old. Can he give a firm commitment to order those carriers? Conservative Members would be amazed if a Labour Government ever built and equipped them. They will be too expensive and will get killed off by the Treasury, first by delay and then cancellation.

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that our much-reduced surface fleet will be able to protect two carrier groups as well as HMS Ocean? Can he tell us something about the state of Project Horizon? It is widely known that it is in trouble, but the White Paper says that the new ships will replace our air defence destroyers in 2004. Can he confirm that that is the plan? The Navy is getting real cuts today for the possibility of two new carriers in 15 years' time. I confidently predict that the Government will never commission the new ships and that we will be left with a permanently weakened Navy.

We are delighted that the concepts of joint operations and rapid deployment are to be developed. Those ideas were started by us. We are also delighted that the Army is to get its full complement of Challenger 2 tanks. They were ordered by the previous Government, as was so much of the equipment now coming on stream, such as the Eurofighter and the Apache and Merlin helicopters. They will ensure that our forces have first-class equipment. Conservative Members doubt whether that would have been so had Labour been in power in the 1980s when those decisions were made.

We believe that cutting the Territorial Army by a third will prove to be one of the biggest mistakes of the review. Is it true that 172 TA centres will close? Which will they be, and when will they close? How much money will be saved by cuts to the TA?

The Paras have won the respect of the public and their fellow soldiers, to say nothing of our enemies. It is probably sensible to acknowledge the limited remaining role for brigade-sized drops, but, in making the change to the Paras' deployment, can the Secretary of State assure the House that the ethos and identity of the Paras will be retained as a discrete unit in the new brigade that they are to join?

The RAF is to lose 36 front-line aircraft: that is a significant and, we believe, dangerous reduction in our air power. We welcome the acquisition of the four C-17s, but is the Secretary of State confident that that will be enough? We were expecting him to order six. Can he tell us whether those planes are being leased or purchased; and, if leased, for how long? The future large aircraft project is apparently continuing, despite its well-known problems. Does he foresee a successful conclusion and to what timetable?

The White Paper is appallingly light on finance. It is absolutely impossible to understand how the annual totals are arrived at, or how capital receipts have been treated.

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Will the Secretary of State publish, in the very near future, detailed figures, so that the Select Committee can review them? He admits that the cut in the annual defence budget will amount to £915 million in real terms by the end of this Parliament, but does he agree that defence spending in the last year of the Conservative Government was £21.5 billion and that his plans for 2001-02 are for£23 billion, which represents a real-terms cut of £1.25 billion--considerably more than the £915 million that he is claiming?

There are many aspects of the White Paper that we shall support--indeed, many are simply the continuation of things that we had started or planned. However, there are far too many cuts--cuts in manpower and cuts in equipment. There will be fewer men, fewer planes and fewer ships to do more and more in an increasingly unstable and dangerous world. The Government's priorities are now clear and defence is not high on the list. We always suspected that the strategic defence review was a cover for cuts and today we have been proved correct.

Mr. Robertson: It is my pleasure to welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box for the first time as shadow Secretary of State for Defence. He has been put to a good and important job, although I cannot congratulate him on the quality of his argument. I suspect that he inherited that press release from somebody who was there before, rather than having made it up himself after giving due consideration to the White Paper that I gave him four and a half hours ago so that it would be possible for him to digest it.

It is a bit rich to be lectured by a former Conservative Treasury Minister about cuts in the defence budget. The hon. Gentleman was Economic Secretary to the Treasury between July 1990 and April 1992. The defence budget in the year 1991-92--one single year--was cut by a full 10 per cent. in real terms, yet he has the brass neck to come to the House of Commons and complain that I am going to reduce the defence budget by 3 per cent. over three years. The Government of whom he was a member cut defence expenditure in this country by 23.5 per cent. in real terms between 1990 and 1997, which amounts to 4 per cent. in real terms every year. The figure for the defence budget in 1997 was £6.5 billion lower than in 1990. Cumulative total cuts of some £25 billion of defence expenditure were made. I really think that we should take with a pinch of salt some of the hon. Gentleman's points.

The hon. Gentleman says that we have treated defence like a political football in the past year, but the very opposite is true. I wish that he had consulted his predecessor, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), because the right hon. Gentleman knows that the review has been unprecedentedly open and inclusive. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) attended some of the seminars that we organised and gave his point of view as part of that exercise. We have made sure that everybody had their say in the whole of the process, so that today the review is not simply the property of me as Secretary of State for Defence, or of the Ministry of Defence; I believe that it comes from all the inputs that we received over that time.

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The hon. Gentleman made a point about the foreign policy baseline. I have provided for him in the White Paper the foreign policy priorities of the country and he will see a further outline in the supporting essays. Last October, I gave the House a clear outline of the Government's foreign policy objective and I followed that up with two major speeches; one at the Royal United Services Institute and the other at Chatham House. That is a weak debating point.

The hon. Gentleman said that we live in a much more dangerous and unpredictable world. Of course, we do. One of the problems that I have had to address when trying to ensure that our forces are fit to deal with that more dangerous world is to repair some of the weaknesses that I inherited. The hon. Gentleman will have noted that I was deliberately not critical of the previous Government, but those inherited weaknesses are there for everybody to see in defence medical services, logistics and heavy lift. We have had to rectify that.

Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman says, the outcome of the review means that there will be more regulars in the armed forces of this country. They will have better equipment and be better organised and they will be more relevant to dealing with the new dangers.

I gave the hon. Gentleman the White Paper and the supporting documents well in advance of my statement, so I am surprised that he asked about the force planning assumptions. It states clearly in the White Paper that our force planning assumption is based on being able to conduct a Bosnia peacekeeping operation and a Gulf operation simultaneously. That is what drives it. In the supporting papers, the hon. Gentleman will find even more documentary evidence of that.

The hon. Gentleman has obviously not read the supporting papers very thoroughly because he asked about telephone allowances. On page 9-6 of the supporting documents he will see that we say that telephone allowances will be increased as part of the review. We were responsive to what the armed forces had been telling us all along.

The number of frigates and destroyers will be reduced. It is interesting that, in the background piece of paper on which the hon. Gentleman was working last week, his researchers did not seem to know how many destroyers and frigates we had in the Royal Navy. The piece of paper that I have says that they thought we had 33 frigates and destroyers when, in fact, we have 35. It claims that the number will be reduced to 30 when, in fact, it will be 32. That is manageable in the current strategic circumstances and I stand behind it.

Our commitment to the Falklands is laid out in specific and graphic terms. The garrison will remain unaltered, and our commitment to the islands and their inhabitants remains and is on alert.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about aircraft carriers. Rather than deal with this substantial issue, which the Government have studied in detail, the hon. Gentleman chose to make a few cheap debating points. I said that we were planning to replace our three valuable and useful small carriers with two large carriers in 13 years' time. That is the commitment that we make in the review, and it is part and parcel of the capabilities that we think will be relevant for the future. As I have said, they will be paid for over a substantial time.

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Major decisions will still be required about what aircraft they will carry and what role they will perform, but we believe that our intention makes sense.

The fleet configuration has been part of the defence review, and the Royal Navy is completely satisfied with it. The Royal Navy may be losing some frigates and destroyers, the number of attack submarines may eventually drop from 12 to 10 and it may have fewer than planned in the way of mine counter-measure vessels, but it will also have the enhanced amphibious capability which is so important and of which it is so proud. It will also have some missiles that will work on the vessels that it has today.

The hon. Gentleman made much of the reduction in numbers in the Territorial Army. The bulk of the Territorial Army is configured for a threat that has gone. We want to make the Territorial Army more relevant, more usable and more integrated into the regular forces because that is what it wants. We want the Territorial Army to be able to be called up and form units because it told us that that is what it wants. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will outline more of the details tomorrow, and we shall consult the Territorial Army about the footprint and contact point that is so important.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) congratulates us, or at least commends us, on the new deployment for the Parachute Regiment, which it will welcome. It will make it much more usable.

The Royal Air Force will lose some of its fast jets, but will gain 232 Eurofighters, which is one of the best multi-role aircraft that the country has probably ever seen. When it comes into service, it will add substantially to our RAF capabilities. We shall order C-17s or their equivalent because that is one of the capability holes that the previous Government left us. The future large aircraft will be a contender for the longer-term role.

The hon. Gentleman concludes that we have left the forces less strong than they have been, and that we have reduced manpower; but we have increased it. He claims that we have reduced the capability of the armed forces, when we have increased it. I know that he is new to the job, but the review has the backing, in public and in private, of the three service chiefs and the Chief of the Defence Staff. The review is right for Britain and its defence forces. That is why the hon. Gentleman is wrong and the forces are right.


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