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13 Dec 1999 : Column 1

House of Commons

Monday 13 December 1999

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Type 45 Destroyer

2. Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): When the type 45 destroyer will enter service. [100954]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle): On current plans, the type 45 destroyer is expected to enter service with the Royal Navy in 2007.

Mr. Leigh: In 2007. Given the massive cuts in the defence budget, can the Minister guarantee even that derisory date?

Mr. Kilfoyle: The massive cuts came under the previous Government not this one, and they were cuts by stealth rather than by the comprehensive review that the strategic defence review represented. As the hon. Gentleman well

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knows, the type 45 will come on stream in 2007 and it will be managed in such a way that there will be no depletion of operational capability whatsoever.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): If these vessels are to come into operation and are to join the fleet in 2007, the orders for their construction will have to be signed soon. Dare I remind my hon. Friend the Minister that many of my constituents and other people who work along the Clyde want those orders to be signed and want a fair share of the work to come to the Clyde shipyards?

Mr. Kilfoyle: The orders for construction will be made in the new year. We are conscious that the shipbuilding industry in certain parts of the country relies heavily upon its capability for building military vessels. The Clyde will get more than its share of those contracts on the basis of its capacity to compete effectively with other yards around the country.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): Does the Minister agree with the many people who are worried that the type 45 will carry the French SYLVER missile launcher, which will launch only one type of missile? Would it not be better to equip the ship with a multiple system that could fire Tomahawks and other missiles? That would turn this anti-aircraft destroyer into a truly multi-role combat vessel.

Mr. Kilfoyle: I think that the intention to purchase the principal anti-air missile system, as it develops, is very judicious. That will meet the operational demands that have been set out. I am absolutely confident that it will meet the needs of the Royal Navy, using the type 45 as its platform.

Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): After all the delays to the project that took place under the previous Government, may I welcome the fact that it is now back on track? Does that not demonstrate the great benefits that there will be from smart procurement? What is my

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hon. Friend doing to ensure that smart procurement is being driven through at all levels in the Ministry of Defence, so that it is fully realised as early as possible?

Mr. Kilfoyle: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that this development comes from the previous Government's failure to ensure that the Horizon programme was properly conceptualised. We have ensured that the same deadline dates and the same operational capacities will be met. Our adherence to the principles of smart procurement will ensure that, in future, such purchases will be cheaper, will be delivered faster and will be far more efficient.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): The type 45 destroyer was announced in 1992 with an in-service date of 2002. Yes, that date slipped two years under the Conservative Government, but it has slipped three years in two years under this Government. That is just part of the problem. There is a lot of big talk about two aircraft carriers, but there is nothing said about the ships that will defend them or about the replacement for the type 23. We know that they are short of money to the tune of about £1 billion a year and that there is no hope of the £2 billion saving from smart procurement. When, for the sake of an industry that both sides of the House are interested in preserving, will we receive some straight answers? The compendium of staff requirements and targets was due for publication in September, but that date slipped into the spring. We have not had the strategic defence review figures on budget forecasts or a comprehensive spending review of more than a few lines. Will the Minister guarantee that we shall have before Christmas the first White Paper on defence spending since 1996 and will he guarantee that we shall debate it when the House returns in January?

Mr. Kilfoyle: The hon. Gentleman overstates the case--to put it mildly--on the success or otherwise of the Horizon project. He makes rather spurious claims about slippage, but I assure him that the present Government took a very brave decision when they decided to review the plans for the type 45. We found out what the real slippage was and understood plainly what the previous Government failed to understand. We understood that we needed to ensure that we have the industrial capacity to meet such a complex order and to ensure that it takes place within a framework of affordability. The previous Government failed to do either.

European Defence Initiatives

3. Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): What discussions he has had with his European counterparts regarding spending on common defence initiatives. [100955]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): At the Helsinki European Council, European Union member states committed themselves to strengthening their military capabilities and to developing the means for the EU to act in support of its foreign and security policy objectives, strengthening the European NATO pillar and allowing the EU to undertake operations where NATO is not engaged.

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Mrs. Spelman: President Chirac has said of the European Union that it

That view is shared by Mr. Prodi. Is not that the clearest indication of an inevitable direction in defence policy towards a Euro army?

Mr. Hoon: No, it is not, and if the hon. Lady read carefully the conclusions of the Helsinki summit, she would find that there is a specific undertaking not to create a European army. What Helsinki does is good for Europe and good for NATO. By strengthening the European pillar of NATO, we are providing a greater capability for Europe to strengthen NATO's operations and, in particular, to allow the European Union, as I said few moments ago, to become engaged in operations where NATO is not involved.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): When does my right hon. Friend think that he will be able to make a decision on common spending and procurement, which affects not only Britain but Germany, France and Spain, on the heavy lift project? May I urge on him the solution of the A400M, which British Aerospace would participate in and which would be of huge benefit to my constituents in Broughton? I remind my right hon. Friend that, in a previous Administration, a Secretary of State for Defence said that he recognised the need for some 40 to 50 heavy lift aircraft--what we could call the A400M. It is insufficient to have only 25 to 30 such aircraft.

Mr. Hoon: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his ingenuity in asking such an erudite and thoughtful question, which I am sure is of passing interest to his constituents. I can assure him that the Government are considering carefully that procurement issue. That careful consideration will continue for some time yet, but I am confident that the decision will be made not too far into the new year.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): The Secretary of State answered my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) by talking about the EU defence capability. Is not the reality, however, that, after Amsterdam, the Prime Minister referred in the House to the plans--which he said that he had blocked--to move the Western European Union into the European Union and give the EU a defence capability as

Is not it a fact, therefore, that in the past 12 months the Prime Minister and the Government have reversed what had been British defence policy for 40 years, and what the Prime Minister said was an ill-judged transplant operation has now become British defence policy?

Mr. Hoon: The UK played a leading role in shaping crucial European Union policy that strengthens the EU's ability to operate and to support its common foreign and security policy while, as I said earlier, strengthening NATO. On the subject of changes of emphasis, what is revealing is the Conservative party's obsessively anti-European tone. A once formidable political party has now assumed the status of a pressure group.

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It is perhaps still more revealing that the Conservatives now rely on Baroness Thatcher to lead the charge, with the shadow Defence Secretary following closely behind. The hon. Gentleman refers to Baroness Thatcher as small children refer to a security blanket. He should consider carefully the cautionary tale that says,

Mr. Duncan Smith: As ever, the Secretary of State talks rubbish. The truth is that the Prime Minister has not introduced a change of emphasis; he has turned British defence policy round by 180 deg. The Secretary of State glibly refers to that policy change as a change of emphasis, but that is not what they believe over in Europe.

Mr. Prodi knows exactly what is going on when he talks about the inevitability of a Euro army. The French are absolutely clear when they say that the policy is a breathtaking reversal of British policy. The Italians are clear when they say, after conversations with the British Government, that the Euro army will number 120,000. Above all, in the past four days the Russians have welcomed the Euro army. Why? They say that it will decouple the United States from Europe and render European defenceless and less capable. Will that not be the Government's epitaph?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman has been trying hard to decouple the United States from the United Kingdom and Europe. Indeed, he has gone to the US deliberately to scaremonger on that particular subject. He cannot get round the fact that Strobe Talbott said at Chatham House,

The US supports that policy. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Financial Times today, he will see that there is further United States support for a stronger European pillar.

It really is deeply depressing for the remaining few pro-Europeans on the Conservative Benches to find that, unlike when the party was led by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), it is apparently ever more dependent on Margaret Thatcher. We were told that, under the right hon. Gentleman, she was a back-seat driver. Now, she is sitting firmly in the front seat, driving the party's policy.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Yet again--this is the third time--the Secretary of State will not answer the real questions. There will be no extra spending by any European Government on the proposal. The capability will be no greater; it is more likely to be less. As we saw in the Sunday papers, east Europeans who recently joined NATO are scared stiff because they are excluded from the process and the United States is worried to the extent that it carries out an inquiry. What the Prime Minister does not say publicly is that he has agreed to Mr. Solana becoming the Defence Minister for Europe. Will not the Government's policy leave us with a common European army policy, which is the same as the common agricultural policy--a disaster?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman should know that questions of defence spending are a matter for national Governments, and that the matter to which he referred is one for our European partners. He would equally know, if he had read the Helsinki summit conclusions carefully, that a specific commitment on capability was agreed,

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and that each country signed up to it. That means that each country must make available such forces and assets to deliver up to a 60,000-strong rapid reaction force into a theatre of operations quickly. That is clear and practical and, I am proud to say, something which the British Government led the way in negotiating and framing.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): If the European defence initiative represents such a threat to NATO, will the Secretary of State explain why all 19 NATO countries, including the United States, signed a declaration of support for it at the Washington summit?

Mr. Hoon: I have puzzled for some time overwhy Conservative Members cannot understand the plain statements of representatives of the American Administration and senior figures in Washington. They have made it clear, as did William Cohen, the United States Defense Secretary, at a recent NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels, that the improvement of European capability "will strengthen NATO", and that there is no ground whatever for any speculation of a possible division between Europe and the United States. If Conservative Members were able to be less obsessively anti-European and looked at the facts a little more clearly, they would come to the clear conclusion reached by our friends in Washington.

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