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Mr. Robathan: The hon. Gentleman is quite right that our interests may not always coincide with those of America. However, is he absolutely confident that our interests will always coincide with those of our European partners?
I think it is likely that the forces of European Union member states will be combined to participate in agreed operations. However, the command structure for the combined EU forces will be totally different from that used by NATO. As hon. Members will be aware, when NATO was established we handed sovereignty over our forces to NATO supreme command, which does not ask us before telling our troops to go.
Dr. Julian Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is describing a hoary old myth that is always brought up in the context of European security and defence. In NATO, however, we always have the option of withdrawing at any moment, whereas we would not have such an option in a common European security and defence policy, if there ever is one.
Mr. Jenkins: I will not belabour the point. Hon. Members should simply read a history of NATO and ask themselves what would have happened if the Russians had attacked. We would not have had a chance to withdraw.
Flexibility is the only indispensable requirement in a changing world. I ask Ministers to work with our partners and to get the best deal for Britain. I wish them good luck in that, because our forces will be facing many difficult challenges. We can also be sure that they will be facing many uncertainties, because of "Events, dear boy. Events."
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): The Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence asked Committee members speaking in this debate to offer his apologies for not attending the debate. He is representing us elsewhere today, at one of the European organisations, and regrets that he cannot attend.
I support the views expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) on the Chinook crash in the Mull of Kintyre. I have asked many questions about the crash, and I genuinely believe that the initial investigation and the subsequent review of the accident, because of the way in which they were conducted, have failed miserably to deliver justice to the two pilots of the aircraft and to their families.
It is a real stain on the reputation of the Royal Air Force and of the Ministry of Defence that more action has not been taken to correct that failure. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, a large groundswell of opinion in this place favours such action, and hon. Members on both sides of the House are asking and pleading for justice to be delivered at long last to those two RAF officers. I do not think that that is too much to ask for.
There is sufficient evidence just about the FADEC system--FADEC stands for fully automated digital electronic control--and on contamination in the aircraft's other systems to lead most reasonable people to believe that there should be another inquiry. I believe that such an inquiry would vindicate the belief that the two pilots
Mr. Gerald Howarth: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree that Royal Air Force regulations maintain that a finding of negligence should be made only when there is no doubt about it whatsoever? Does not a finding of pilot error in the case in question fly in the face of the RAF's own regulations?
Mr. Hancock: I welcome that intervention. It is a pity that the Ministry of Defence has not listened to that point, which has been made time and again by hon. Members and by others. Perhaps it is the MOD's failure to heed it that has led some people to believe that there is another motive behind the finding.
There is no evidence or justification for finding those two men guilty of negligence or of operating the aircraft in a manner that caused it to crash. There is no evidence to support such a claim, and it is pitiful and regrettable that more action has not been taken. I hope that the Secretary of State will order another review and a reopening of the case.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): People in Northern Ireland entirely support the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, particularly when we think of the millions that are being spent on raking over the events of so-called Bloody Sunday. Tragically, we lost some of the finest brains in security in that crash. Although the crash is being blamed on pilot error, it is obvious that there were other problems.
Mr. Hancock: I appreciate that supportive intervention. I also hope that the Secretary of State realises that there is a real debt to be paid to those two young officers and to their families. I congratulate their families on the determination that they have shown in continuing this fight.
I am sorry that the Minister has left the Chamber, because I should like to address the issue of the evidence given today to the Defence Committee by Air Marshal Sir John Day. I was at the sitting and took part in questioning the air marshal--who was preceded by his well merited reputation as a straight-talking, straightforward senior officer.
I think that the air marshal was unaware of what awaited him at the sitting. However, when he was asked whether he himself instigated the article that appeared last week in The Sunday Times, or whether he was asked or told to do it, he made it clear that he was asked. He was not suggesting that he was asked by The Sunday Times to do the article. He was suggesting that someone in the Ministry of Defence asked him to do it.
The appalling thing is that the air marshal, in his evidence to the Committee today, said that the article was inaccurate and misrepresented his views. However, various statements in the article are in quotes and are directly attributed to him. Today he claimed that those statements were wrong and that the primary conclusion of the article--that British troops were within hours of invading Kosovo--also was wrong.
What was the motive behind the request for the article? Did the Ministry of Defence so dislike the truthful approach of the Defence Committee's report on Kosovo? Was the Ministry so ashamed of the report, which had been brought into the public domain even before the Government had given an appropriate response? We are talking not about an officer serving on the front line or on a base somewhere in Europe, but about someone who works within metres of this Parliament and who regularly gives evidence to the Committee that he was condemning. He went to the press and openly criticised the democratic process that this House holds so precious.
Mr. Spellar: Before the hon. Gentleman winds himself up into a paroxysm of self-righteousness, is not it the case that many of the press reports were so inaccurate and biased that the Chairman of the Select Committee wrote to correct one of the newspapers?
Mr. Hancock: That is an entirely different issue. We are talking not about what the press made of the Defence Committee's report, but about what the Ministry of Defence and senior officers made of it. One of the criticisms was:
Mr. Spellar: Is not it the case that the press reports arising from the Select Committee report did not take a balanced approach? The hon. Gentleman is right--those phrases are contained within the report. However, I am not sure whether they are all contained within the summary--which may have leaned a little the other way--or the press release. Did not many of the press reports lean towards the critical side? Is not that exactly what Air Marshal Day indicated he was trying to correct?
Mr. Hancock: If only that had been conveyed in the article. There is not a single sentence within it that contains any such sentiment. Like other members of the Committee, I feel that the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State should respond in the near future to the issues raised today.
I congratulate, thank and admire enormously the men and women who serve in our armed forces. We ask so much of them and they ask so little of us in return--decent equipment to do their job, decent pay and some effort to ensure that their families are looked after when
I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) is not here. He spoke so critically about the role of women in our armed forces, but I must remind him that in one of the front-line squadrons flying missions over Iraq a woman was flying one of those planes, and doing a great job. She was not "undermining"; she was making a magnificent effort. Many of the ground crews who look after those aircraft on the front line are managed and controlled by women in senior positions in the RAF, and they do an excellent job. Many of our ships at sea are undermanned, but many specific jobs on them are being done by women. If women were not there, those ships would be even more severely undermanned. It would be a blow to the defence of this country if we took the line taken by the hon. Member for Blaby.
The Defence Committee's Kosovo report is a balanced effort to look at the good, the bad and the ugly of the campaign. There were major lessons to be learned; whether they will be remains to be seen. One of the biggest failures was the failure of the intelligence community to deliver what was expected of them to enable our troops, airmen and sailors to be effective.
It is right that the equipment used should be criticised and brought to the attention of Ministers, and Ministers are right to say that many of the defects were the direct responsibility of previous Governments. However, the Government have been in office for three and a half years, and some of the issues should have been addressed. During the first debate on defence procurement under the Labour Government, we talked about that year's National Audit Office report. Ministers said, "Of course, we are talking about issues that we have inherited. Things will change." Things had not changed much by the time the last report, covering 1999-2000, was written. After two years of the Labour Government, the cost of 25 projects had increased from £34.8 billion to £37.6 billion-- £3.2 billion over their original budget. Many of the projects had been delayed for more than four years.
I welcomed the Secretary of State's comments on the commitment of the Royal Navy and the ships. I had hoped to ask him whether he felt that we asked too much of the Royal Navy and whether our commitments were so thinly spread that many of our sailors--men and women--were doing back-to-back long sea deployments, putting a great deal of stress both on them as professionals and on their families. I wanted to know whether ships on active service in the Adriatic, the Gulf or off the shores of Sierra Leone were seriously undermanned. The Minister should tell us whether any of the ships actively deployed today are undermanned by more than 5 per cent.
There is a serious crewing problem on HMS Ocean, and naval officers and ratings who have served on the ship feel that it is undermanned. If Ocean's crew is one short, that seriously undermines the functioning of the ship. We have to look at what we expect from the Navy. HMS Ocean is a classic example of how cutting corners to save costs will, in the long run, cause great heartache to the Royal Navy, the men and women who serve in it and the Royal Marines who embark on its ships. I hope that we do not duplicate the problems of Ocean when we build the second ship.
Many Members have referred to Army accommodation in Bosnia and Kosovo, but what about the accommodation for single soldiers in Aldershot? It is appalling. The Committee was told that it would take more than 10 years to put the shared accommodation for soldiers serving in the British Army in this country into good order.