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Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): May I begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friends in his ministerial team? The strategic defence review is a tremendous achievement and will provide a

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secure future in a modern world. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a core mission of defence diplomacy for the United Kingdom's armed forces is essential to deal with the diverse uncertainties and crises of the present day world? Will he confirm that the review will provide the equipment and support that are needed by our armed forces for such a role, and that it will build on their excellent worldwide reputation as forces for good which can make a difference?

Mr. Robertson: I very much welcome my hon. Friend's support, which she has given not just today but throughout the exercise. As the Member of Parliament for Dunfermline, West and therefore for Rosyth dockyard, she will welcome the review's good news for that dockyard. She is right to pick up the defence diplomacy initiative and to ask for assurances. If we are to engage in serious military-to-military contacts that will lead to a reduction in tension and a greater increase in understanding, we must back our efforts with proper resources. That is why our defence attache network will be strengthened and why there will be more resources for joint training and exercises with some of our allies, including some of our former opponents. That will make a much safer world, and certainly a safer continent.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on putting a brave face on what is obviously a difficult announcement, and on his courtesy in inviting me to give him advice on the review; I only wish that he had taken it. Having said that, I certainly welcome the development of a number of ideas that have been Ministry of Defence policy for some considerable time and are right--the development of jointery and the development of the rapid reaction forces have to make sense in the new world in which we live.

May I correct the right hon. Gentleman on one other point? As he will know, he has not made any reduction in the number of warheads because we never announced the number of warheads that we would have, for good reasons, and I am surprised that he has chosen to announce it today; we only ever announced the maximum that there could be.

I have had the opportunity of reading only The Daily Telegraph to find out what is actually in the review. The one thing that sticks out clearly, which is profoundly unwise in the present situation and which will link in to the problems of overstretch, undermanning, recruitment and morale, is the cuts in the TA. That is merely an initial comment, because I have not had a chance to study the statement, but there is one specific question and one point that I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman. It is one thing to make reductions in our armed forces because there is a major change in the strategic situation, and then to fix at a level of defences which I believed was the minimum level that this country should have. There cannot be a justification to make further reductions on the ground that "You did it, so we can do it, too."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has just left. Will the Secretary of State assure the House, after all the worries of this review, which took longer than I know he wished, that, now the review is over and the expenditure levels are fixed, there will be no attempt whatever by the Treasury to make further cuts in the defence programme--and that he has had that undertaking?

Mr. Robertson: I valued the advice that the right hon. Gentleman gave me. I listened to the advice that was

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given to me by former Secretaries of State, former chiefs of the defence staff and former permanent secretaries, as I listened to many others involved in this exercise. Like him, I could not take on board everything that was said in terms of advice. I wonder how, when he looks back on his career and on the substantial cuts in defence expenditure that occurred around the time that he was in office, he cogitates on that. However, I welcomed what he said, and I am sure that he will recognise some of the views that resonate through the White Paper when he has a chance to read it.

In terms of the nuclear deterrent, the world has moved on. I sit on the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Permanent Joint Council of the NATO-Russia Founding Act with the Russian Defence Minister. We are building trust and relationships. We should be much more open and much more transparent, and the rules of the cold war should not necessarily bind us at times such as this. That is why we are opening our books, making it clear what we have and, by doing that, making absolutely certain that people know that the deterrent is still there, still credible and no one should mess with us as a consequence.

The right hon. Gentleman says that we are going to reduce further the level of our forces. We are not. The Regular Army, the regular forces of this country, will be increased by 3,300 as a result of this review. That is what is going to happen. I hope, therefore, that he will not rely on The Daily Telegraph, although, as it was working from a photocopy of the White Paper, it may have got it right.

We are increasing the strength and capability, and we have the satisfaction of the Chief of the Defence Staff as well as of the other chiefs in putting forward this force configuration. The right hon. Gentleman may think that we are unwise to cut the TA. I hope that he will look at the White Paper and see what we propose. We want to strengthen and underline the TA's importance, make it more usable and more integrated and give it a role for the future, not let it be stuck in the past, still in a cold war role.

Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this strategic defence review, which has clearly been taken for strategic reasons and not, as the Opposition Front-Bench team has maintained, for financial reasons? I particularly welcome the joint operations, the rapid deployment that is mentioned in the document and, when thinking of my constituency, the Eurofighter confirmation. Is it possible for my right hon. Friend to say a word or two about the Procurement Executive at Abbey Wood in Filton, and what effect the review will have on it?

Mr. Robertson: I welcome my hon. Friend's question, which allows me to underline what he said--that this has not been a Treasury-led review. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made clear, the finances are fixed for three years. That will give the armed forces a much greater ability to plan ahead and much more stability than they have ever had in the year-by-year haggling that characterised public expenditure in the past. I can understand my hon. Friend's interest and, I am sure, satisfaction in the confirmation of the role and numbers of Eurofighters that we will be ordering.

There will be implications for the Procurement Executive in Bristol--a considerable reform of the procurement process, which will lead to better value being

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obtained for the equipment that we buy. However, it is right and proper that these changes should be subject to consultation with the Procurement Executive's employees before anything is announced in the House.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): The objectives of greater mobility, flexibility, firepower and joint operations are admirable. However, as there are to be fewer flying squadrons, is there not a risk that morale will be further reduced and personnel may leave? In order to fill the 232 cockpit places for the Eurofighter, will the right hon. Gentleman consider allowing pilots to do commercial pilot courses at ground school during their flying training, so that if they leave the regular service they could join the auxiliary air force, thereby making good any shortfall in that way?

Mr. Robertson: The training initiative is already under way and my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces has it under review. I assure the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) that morale in the Royal Air Force will not be affected, other than for the better, by this review and our vision for the future. The confirmation of the order for Eurofighters has been looked for and their role has been vindicated by the very deep analysis carried out in the review. I thought that the hon. Gentleman might have welcomed the decision to take over the lease on the C-17s or their equivalent. I am aware that he has a long-standing interest in that.

Morale in the forces has been badly affected in the past by hollowing out. That is especially true of morale in the RAF, which has led to an exodus of fast jet pilots. That will be relieved by a reduction in the number of fast jets but a continuation of the existing levels of manpower. It will relieve the overstretch that has been at the basis of falling morale.

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his foreign policy-led defence review. I especially welcome his comments not just on expensive pieces of military kit, but on our most valued asset--the men and women of our services and their families.

In the context of the review, does my right hon. Friend agree that the process has again highlighted the absolute lunacy of an independent Scotland, a separation of the forces and their payment and the creation of two foreign armies, two foreign navies and two foreign air forces, operating in two separate countries side by side on these islands?


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