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Mr. Robertson: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Nothing better highlights the fantasy world of the separatists in Scotland than the concept of a separate Scottish army, navy and air force--presumably with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) as the commander-in-chief. Our armed forces contain a rather large proportion of high-quality Scots, and they are strengthened as a consequence of that.

The review is very good news for the armed forces in Scotland. It is good news for Rosyth dockyard; good news for Faslane; good news for the Nimrod replacement and Kinloss; good news for Leuchars; good news for the Edinburgh area with the Eurofighter contract; good news

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for the Army personnel centre and the other central functions of the MOD in Kentigern house in Glasgow; and good news for Scotland. Separation and ripping Scotland out of the United Kingdom would be profoundly bad news for Scotland and for the rest of the country.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): Leaving aside the panic button that was obviously triggered by opinion polls in Scotland, may I tell the Secretary of State that--despite many hon. Members' urgency in finding answers to specific questions--the documents merit serious study and considered response? What are the geographical implications of reductions in Territorial Army numbers? There has been genuine concern in the highlands and islands of Scotland that, in a line from Fort William to Stonehaven, there may be no Territorial Army centre.

The Secretary of State also mentioned the issue of the special problems--such as mobility--faced by service families. Will there be a specific Ministry of Defence education budget to assist children who have to move from various settings and countries--sometimes at very short notice--or will the matter be negotiable with the Department for Education and Employment, the Scottish Office, the Welsh Office and local authorities? Parents and families are concerned about that matter.

Finally--very briefly--why are we only cutting in half the number of Trident nuclear warheads? Why do we not set a model example for the rest of the world, so that we can genuinely argue the case for non-proliferation?

Mr. Robertson: I do not know what position the hon. Lady will have in Alex's Scottish army--perhaps chief of the air staff. We shall see. She asked about the Territorial Army. The geographical distribution of the new, reinvigorated Territorial Army is a very important matter which should be the subject of consultation with the Territorial Army itself. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces is currently engaged in such consultation--which, rightly and properly, should take time to be completed.

The hon. Lady was right about education, and I hope that she will register both my comments and the White Paper's contents dealing with the matter. We shall establish a task force to deal specifically with the problems experienced by mobile families--who do not have first choice in choosing schools to provide the education that their children deserve, and who find it difficult to get on to doctors' waiting lists and almost impossible to get NHS dentistry.

Those problems are difficult ones because of the current structure of the health service and education service, which is why a specific task force will be established to deal with them. Although the problems may seem to be small issues within a vast strategic defence review, they are far greater than any strategic issue if one cannot get medical attention or one's children into school. We want to deal with those problems.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): With the interests of my 3,800 aerospace workers in mind, will my right hon. Friend say more about the heavy-lift future large aircraft? We want to build its wings--will it fly? Will the Astor project--I have a constituency interest in

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it--go forward? Will he say how many more months we shall wait to hear the fate of the 3rd battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers (Territorial Army)?

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of the interests of the aerospace workers in his constituency, and rarely wastes an opportunity to make his views on them clear to me. I am always glad to listen to him. I have made it clear that we have an interim need for heavy-lift transport, and the C-17 or an equivalent fits into that category. However, the future large aircraft project continues. We fully support it, and hope that it will provide an appropriate European heavy-lift aeroplane for the future. We have a commitment to the Astor programme, which goes ahead. My hon. Friend will receive news of the Territorial Army configuration once consultations have been completed.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): The Secretary of State will be aware that the proposal for the joint rapid reaction force expansion builds on the Conservative joint rapid deployment force; therefore, we welcome it. However, he will also be aware that I am extremely concerned about the future of the Parachute Regiment and airborne forces. Is it not the case that, as a result of a review, the cap badge and the red beret of the Parachute Regiment and the proud ethos of airborne forces is likely to be submerged into the new air manoeuvre brigade? Is he now able to respond to the point that I made in the House last week--that this welcome new brigade should be based in Aldershot in Hampshire rather than in East Anglia because the forces have to deploy from west of London not east of London?

Mr. Robertson: The hon. Gentleman takes a healthy non-partisan view of defence which is very welcome. Although he did not say it, I am sure that he welcomes the thrust of the review. He says that we may well have taken some ideas from the previous Government's joint rapid deployment force, but even he will recognise that it was not easily deployable, so we have given it the capability to deploy and the rapidness that it did not have in the past. I am happy to continue with some of the better ideas of the previous Government and to give them the resources to make them work.

The hon. Gentleman is right to praise the Parachute Regiment, its proud tradition and record of fighting, but it is generally felt that its capability in parachuting should be built into something that makes more sense and is relevant to future circumstances. Its cap badge will be maintained, as will its traditions and, given those who run the Army at present, it is highly unlikely that there will be any attempt to change that. However, within the new air manoeuvre brigade, its relevance and purpose will undoubtedly be increased in future. No decision has been taken about where the brigade will be based, I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about Aldershot and I am sure that he expresses a dispassionate and objective view, but I have no doubt that other objective views will be expressed from other parts of the House, and we shall listen to them all.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley): May I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement today, particularly the reference to the defence medical services? It was depressing to find that those in Bosnia doing the job on

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behalf of our reserves and regular forces were so damaged by the reorganisation of services by the previous Government. It is difficult enough to work in the medical services, as I know, and to do that job in dangerous and awful conditions is something which I consider unacceptable. I very much welcome the move to do something about it, and I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Robertson: I thank my hon. Friend who is a member of the Defence Select Committee and has seen at first hand many of our troops in operations. Like so many others, she has heard from them about the current demoralisation in the defence medical services. The previous Government made a serious mistake in the way in which they made economies. It is something which many people regret. I do not make much of it, in the interest of maintaining the consensus that we have built up, but it has to be rectified, and we are committed to that. If our deployed troops require and rely on anything during operations, it is the medical back-up; we have to re-create that and make sure that it is there.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): I should be grateful if the Secretary of State could answer three or four quick questions about the White Paper, as I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members will have doubts about how £750 million will be saved. He spoke specifically about overstretch and undermanning. How does he square that with reducing the number of ships. Putting more men into ships, but having fewer ships will undoubtedly mean more deployment, possibly for longer. Where will the new aircraft carriers be kept? I should like to make a special plea for Portsmouth dockyard, which is custom made for it. Will he also explain to the tens of thousands of people in the Greater Portsmouth area who rely on the defence industry for jobs what there is in the White Paper that will give them some satisfaction that their jobs are safe and that the projects that they are currently working on will not be abandoned? I am heartened by the thought that there will be a further statement tomorrow. Finally, will he let us know what he plans to do with defence medical services, in particular the future of the Royal Haslar naval hospital?

Mr. Robertson: It is difficult to give short answers, Madam Speaker, if hon. Members ask five questions. May I first put the hon. Gentleman right? The savings in the defence budget will not be £750 million. We are talking about a 3 per cent. reduction in real terms in the defence budget by the end of three years--£685 million. We believe--and the MOD believes--that that can ensure that we still deliver the force package that we have announced. Undermanning in the Royal Navy will be helped by the reduction in the surface fleet. Unlike previous Governments--let them remain unnamed at the moment for the sake of peace--who reduced both the surface fleet and manpower, creating overstretch, we are leaving manpower levels as they are. The Navy believes that that will make a substantial difference to overstretch.

I note--no more than that--that the hon. Gentleman wants the new aircraft carriers to be based in Portsmouth. The happy news is that my constituency of Hamilton, South is absolutely landlocked. I am therefore completely objective in that regard. No doubt, there will be competing interests for that basing policy. It is just conceivable that

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I will not be the Defence Secretary around at the time who must make that decision. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I express shades of mortality rather than any sign of modesty.

The defence industry is in very safe hands. It is important to the country because of the jobs that it creates, the exports that it generates and the technology of which it is a part. The defence review underlines the importance of the British defence industry, which I spend much of my time helping when visiting foreign lands.


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