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Land Command

3. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): What proportion of the Army's Land Command is currently committed to operations. [82580]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson): We estimate that 56 per cent. of Land Command personnel are currently committed to operations.

Dr. Lewis: Given the magnitude of that commitment and the possibility of future commitments for the Army in Kosovo, will the Minister reconsider plans for decimating the Territorial Army at such a time? Before he falls back on chanting the usual mantra about the cuts made in the early 1990s by the previous Government, may I point out that there is all the difference in the world between reductions at the end of a cold war and cuts proposed, incredibly, at the possible start of a hot war?

Mr. Henderson: The hon. Gentleman would contribute more to the discussion if he resisted the temptation to make party political points and considered the task that the British armed forces have to carry out and how they will ensure that they do so, which was the subject of the strategic defence review. The review aimed to put our forces in a position in which they could be deployed, with the necessary impact, in situations such as that in Kosovo.

The hon. Gentleman probably knows that Territorial Army commitment to such deployment would be relatively minor, and where the TA is required, it must be organised so that it meets the particular needs in question. It is a matter not only of having bodies to reinforce the regular forces, but of applying the right bodies with the right skills in the right way. That is the policy that the Government are implementing in the strategic defence review.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): Has my hon. Friend any plans to use the Royal Marines?

Mr. Henderson: Our marines are an important part of our armed forces and they will be deployed as necessary with our Royal Navy and our other forces in circumstances that demand their commitment and expertise.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Overstretch in front-line forces remains unacceptable, but what proportion of the operational strength of the British Army, and our NATO allies, in Albania is now devoted to planning the development of the Albanian infrastructure, such as the port, roads, airfields and health care? Who will prepare long-term plans for that infrastructure? What will happen to Albania's economy when NATO withdraws, or is our current effort part of a long-term, open-ended commitment by the Ministry of Defence?

Mr. Henderson: At the moment, a small number of our forces are involved in those activities. Those key

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people are planners, who are making a major contribution to NATO's effort. The hon. Gentleman raises important issues, which will have to be dealt with in the long term, but it is somewhat premature to ask what detailed plans there will be for rebuilding the economy and social structure of the Balkans, including Albania. The hon. Gentleman will know that such considerations are one of the key principles incorporated into last week's G8 statement, and more will need to be done as time passes.

Strategic Defence Review

4. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): What plans he has to review his strategic defence review following NATO military action in Yugoslavia. [82581]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson): I have no plans to review the strategic defence review in the light of current events in the Balkans. The MOD's new strategic planning process ensures that there is now a policy-led re-evaluation of defence plans every year.

Sir Sydney Chapman: In the light of the recent strategic defence review, is the Secretary of State satisfied that our armed services can currently sustain two medium-level operations for more than a six-month period, or more than two medium-level operations for up to six months? In the light of recent events--not least in south-east Europe--does he agree that that is the minimum requirement around which our defence policy should be framed for the future?

Mr. Robertson: The key point is that the strategic defence review was designed to look forward at the kind of threats that we would face in the future, rather than endlessly looking at the enemies we had in the past. It was designed so that our forces will be able eventually to deal flexibly with the sort of problems that we face in Kosovo today. I say eventually, because it is less than a year since the strategic defence review was published and its implementation was started, but I am confident that it will give us that flexibility. Kosovo has shown us how valuable and important that exercise was. However, the planning assumptions to which the hon. Gentleman refers are planning tools intended to guide the development of our long-term force structure: they were not intended to provide a template for specific operational commitments. As we explained at the time of the review, we may choose to do more or less, depending on the circumstances.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): May I offer my thanks to the Secretary of State for inviting me to accompany him on his recent visit to the Balkans? As someone who supported both the process and the policy conclusions of the defence review, may I urge him to be realistic about what is necessary for United Kingdom defence in the light of the current and inevitable future commitments in the Balkans? Does he accept that the 3 per cent. annual efficiency saving, which is incumbent on the Ministry of Defence, is not just "challenging"--as it was publicly described by the Chief of the Defence Staff--but is in truth unachievable without an enduring impact on defence capability? Does he further understand

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that the Government should feel no embarrassment in reviewing the defence budget, but should take the opportunity to demonstrate sound common sense?

Mr. Robertson: The defence review demonstrated sound common sense. The 3 per cent. efficiency target is challenging, but it is not unachievable, because it is already being met. In the event of a Liberal Democrat Government coming to power--that is a long-term vision for the House--and if the right hon. and learned Gentleman held my job, he too would strive for savings and efficiency. He too would seek better value for money and would wish to ensure that in defence we did not throw money at problems, but tried to get the best that we could out of our budget.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): No doubt when the Balkan conflict is over, the Secretary of State will wish to examine how we and our allies respond to future conflicts. Yesterday, Mr. Prodi suggested that the European Union should have an army, and the Government apparently immediately rejected that call. However, is not Mr. Prodi's call wholly consistent with Government policy, especially paragraph 3 of the St. Malo agreement with France, which calls for

What else can

    "multi-national means outside the NATO framework"

mean if it does not mean what Mr. Prodi said?

Mr. Robertson: First, let me emphasise what the hon. Gentleman skated over--the fact that the British Government have dissociated themselves from the concept that Mr. Prodi put forward. In terms of the development of reasonable military capability inside Europe to deal with situations in which NATO may not wish to become corporately involved, or in the event of the United States of America and Canada not wishing to be involved in European-based operations, I refer the hon. Gentleman back to the Petersberg tasks. They were adopted by NATO for use through the Western European Union and foresaw precisely that form of European-based operation taking place.

The initiative that we took, which was underlined in the St. Malo agreement, related to focusing the minds of all the European countries on the fact that, first, the common foreign and security policy of the European Union will require better decision making; and secondly, if we in Europe want to do anything about the decisions that we take, we must have much better and much more effective defence capabilities. We have directed attention to those two key components; I should have thought that everyone in the House would have supported them.

Nuclear Weapons

5. Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): What discussions he has had about a new generation of nuclear weapons; and if he will make a statement. [82582]

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The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson): I have not had any discussions about a successor system to Trident. We concluded in the strategic defence review that no decision on any possible successor system would be needed for several years.

Mr. Mullin: Does my right hon. Friend recall that two previous Labour Governments--those of Lords Attlee and Callaghan--embarked on the development of nuclear weapons without consulting even the Cabinet, never mind the British public? Can he give the House an assurance that the Government will not begin the development of any new generation of nuclear weapons without first taking the public into their confidence?

Mr. Robertson: I thought that my hon. Friend had become so venerable and so distinguished that he had given up the conspiracy view of history, including any such view regarding the present generation of Labour Ministers. I do not have to make some defensive statement on the subject. I simply say to my hon. Friend, read the strategic defence review and see there probably the most transparent account of our nuclear forces and reserves, and all aspects of our nuclear policy, that has ever been disclosed in this country. That is the model for open government on those critical issues. So open have I been, so much detail have I given, that most people have not even noticed that that account has been published yet.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Does the Secretary of State share my concern about the proliferation of nuclear arms between India and Pakistan, and the proliferation generally of ballistic missiles? Does he think that the UK should consider--perhaps with its international partners--the need for an eventual ballistic missile defence system for the UK in future?

Mr. Robertson: We are very concerned about nuclear proliferation; in fact, that was one of the key subjects of the NATO summit in Washington two weeks ago. We take very seriously the manufacture and deployment of ballistic missiles by countries that previously did not have them, and such proliferation is part and parcel of the thinking that is going on and should go on at the moment.

We are not in favour of developing ballistic missile defence systems. We are in favour of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, which was one of the pioneering forerunners of arms control legislation.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): With nuclear non-proliferation negotiations taking place in Geneva this coming fortnight, may I ask whether, despite the difficult international climate, especially in regard to our relations with Russia and China at present, Her Majesty's Government will do everything possible to give fresh impetus to the nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament process, both at Geneva and in other forums?

Mr. Robertson: Most countries that have examined what we proposed in the strategic defence review--very serious reductions in our stockpile and in the number of nuclear weapons that we have deployed--will have seen that we are not just engaged in arms control discussions for the sake of appearances. We believe in arms control. We have shown by example what other people can do

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about it. Therefore, we shall bring to these arms control negotiations a considerably greater sense of urgency than previous Administrations did to previous negotiations.

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