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5.53 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Perhaps I might begin with an apology to the House. I have a long-standing engagement later this evening and therefore cannot be present for the winding-up speeches, but I have written to the shadow Secretary of State and to the Secretary of State to apologise and I will of course be present throughout tomorrow's debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) will seek, if he is fortunate enough, to catch the eye of the Speaker tomorrow to focus on some welfare and armed forces issues and also on procurement matters, so I leave those matters in his entirely capable hands.

I associate myself with the expressions of support that have been given to the armed forces on behalf of the Government and the official Opposition, and with the

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expressions of condolence that have been directed towards the friends and relations of Brad Tinnion and others who suffered injury in the course of the very successful operation in Sierra Leone, which has been mentioned.

I give a qualified welcome to the announcement by the Secretary of State that we will at least have one hunter- killer submarine operational. What a gross embarrassment it would have been for the United Kingdom if we had been forced to withdraw all our hunter-killer submarines just a few months ago, at the time of the Kosovo operations--not least because one of them was engaged in firing Tomahawk cruise missiles, which, as we now learn, were perhaps the most precision-guided of all the ordnance that was used by British forces during those operations.

The problem with that submarine class is still an embarrassment, in the sense that only one of 12 hunter- killer submarines can be deployed, and that must inevitably raise questions about the necessary support for Trident; and about the extent to which we could, in an emergency, utilise the deterrent effect of the deployment of a submarine, and also the use of submarines for clandestine or covert operations of the type that the special forces are often called on to perform.

Nevertheless, I took some further encouragement from the fact that the Secretary of State appears to have a rather more open mind on the question of the fitting of the type 45 destroyers with a Tomahawk capability. If flexibility is to be an important part of the training, the attitude and the deployment of the personnel of the armed services, it makes a great deal of sense to have flexibility in the platforms that we are likely to use in future. The Tomahawk cruise missile, with its capability for precision, is obviously a very important addition to the United Kingdom's defence capability and it reflects the closeness of the relationship between the United Kingdom and America that those missiles are supplied to us. I believe that only one other country--Australia--has access to that weapons system.

I do think--this is just a rehearsal of a point that I made last week when the matter was dealt with in a statement by the Minister for the Armed Forces--that we now have a very potent and significant opportunity to enhance European co-operation. Our French allies have six hunter-killer submarines and as we know, four nuclear submarines, SSBNs--strategic submarine ballistic nuclear--and it seems entirely sensible to use the restrictions under which the British fleet will have to operate as a mechanism for discussing, and perhaps putting into operation, a far greater degree of co-operation with the French. There is already a measure of co-operation in nuclear matters. It is the co-operation that dare not speak its name, but this would be an opportunity to see just how closely the two navies could co-operate with each other.

I make all these arguments with a certain feeling of what Burns, the famous Scottish poet, once described as the "unco guid"--those who feel over-confident in their own righteousness--because when the Upholder sale was first proposed I was one of those who opposed it, but I never thought that my opposition would be demonstrated to be so well founded quite so quickly.

I turn now to an issue--this is rather on the bran tub principle of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook)--that is now causing a great deal of concern on both sides of the House and in the other place: the

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crash of the Chinook helicopter on the Mull of Kintyre. I am not the only one to have a deep sense of unease about the finding of negligence made against the deceased pilots. However, I want to make it clear at the outset of this passage of my speech that I do not believe that there is any question of bad faith, or of cover-up or anything of that kind. I believe that a mistake has been made, and that that mistake should be put right.

I was one of those who first became involved when I was approached by the family of one of the pilots. Notably, the anxiety about these matters, which, to begin with, was shared by just four or five of us, is spreading throughout the House. One need only look at the Order Paper to see the number of questions that are now being tabled as demonstrating an interest on the part of many hon. and right hon. Members about whether the decision taken, with particular regard to the finding of negligence, should be allowed to stand.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the RAF's own regulations at the time provided that before a finding of negligence could be made, every other possible cause had to be excluded. The RAF's regulation applied a higher standard than the standard in a criminal court. A person could be convicted of murder in this country on a lower standard than the RAF's own regulation required before a finding of negligence could be held to be established.

We had in Scotland a fatal accident inquiry, which is roughly equivalent to a coroner's inquest although different in some material respects. Sheriff Sir Stephen Young, a most careful, thorough and conscientious middle-ranking judge in Scotland, conducted the inquiry and, at the end of it, he had to apply the civil standard of the balance of probability--the lowest of the three standards of proof. After 16 days of evidence in a process in which all the relevant interests were represented and the pilots representatives were able to ask questions in cross-examination, Sheriff Sir Stephen Young refused to accept on a balance of probability--that low standard of proof--that the Ministry of Defence account had been established sufficiently in the evidence put before him. That is a most significant feature of the whole case.

My motive is not the embarrassment of the Ministry of the Defence or the Government. Only eight or nine days ago, there was much debate in the Chamber about the purpose of Parliament and the role of parliamentarians. I have always thought that Parliament existed for the redress of grievances and the families of the two pilots--the Tapper and the Cook families--most certainly have a grievance. In my judgment, it is high time that Parliament gave them redress.

On Sierra Leone, there are three clear foreign policy objectives in our presence there. The first is to sustain the legitimate Government of a Commonwealth country of which the United Kingdom is the former colonial power. The second is to protect innocent civilians from the brutality of the rebel factions and the third is to help to preserve the rule of law and to ensure the human rights of the citizens of that country.

What are the military means to be used to achieve those foreign policy objectives? I support the training to a sufficiently high standard of a sufficient number of troops to provide the legitimate Government with the means of enforcing their writ throughout the whole country. I have seen that taking place at first hand. It is entirely sensible, and it is precisely the sort of objective that the United

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Kingdom should support and help to bring about. I also believe that, as part of the military means of achieving the foreign policy objectives to which I have referred, we have an obligation to provide support to a United Nations force that consists of an adequate number of competent troops properly equipped to fulfil the United Nations mandate.

In May this year, the UN effort nearly collapsed. Only United Kingdom intervention saved it from ignominy. Those of us who went to Sierra Leone at the invitation of the Secretary of State for Defence know that the UN effort has been very largely prejudiced by personality clashes and jealousies on the military and civilian sides. We do not need to go into them now, but they have undoubtedly had a significant effect on the UN effort in that country. That effort has unquestionably been undermined by the withdrawal of the Indian and Jordanian troops, who represented some of the best troops offered to the UN for service in Sierra Leone.

I understand from anecdotal evidence that the United Kingdom Government are now seeking to persuade other European countries that have armed forces of a high standard to make a contribution to the UN force. What chance of success is there in persuading other European countries to become part of the UN force if we are not willing to join it ourselves? Today, we hear reports of the entirely welcome appointment of Brigadier Alastair Duncan to be the chief of staff of the UN force. If we are good enough and sufficiently committed enough to provide the chief of staff, why not provide some forces themselves?

The UN is present in Sierra Leone to provide a necessary support for the Government forces to enable their task to be achieved quickly and effectively. The present arrangements are more likely to prolong the United Kingdom involvement rather than to shorten it--more likely to delay the achievement of the foreign policy objectives that I set out earlier.


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