|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): I begin by paying tribute to the small but dedicated band of defence followers who have stayed until this late hour on a Thursday before a recess to discuss the important business before us. I refer to Members on both sides of the House, of course, but particularly to those on the Conservative Benches. Our interest in defence is well known and goes back a very long way indeed.
It has been a surprisingly worthwhile and heavyweight debate. I say "surprisingly" not to cast aspersions on the quality of any contribution from either side of the House, but because we made surprisingly good soup from the remarkably thin gruel that the Government served today
We were told that the Green Paper would mention special forces, but it says nothing, and that it would discuss various aspects of defence, but such references amount to questions rather than answers. It is a thin document, but it has taken five months since 11 September for it to appear. It bears striking similarities to the speech made in November by the Secretary of State for Defence at King's college, and I suspect that today's speech was the same one, given that he appeared to be reading large portions of the Green Paper verbatim. It is disappointing and surprising that, five months after the terrible events in New York, the Government's thinking has moved no further forward than the Green Paper suggests.
I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that there will be three further debates on defence issues and various other such topics, hopefully before the summer. I hope that we have more substantive issues to discuss by that time. Members on both sides of the House have struggled to find anything to say today on the Green Paper. There have been many interesting discussions on Chinooks and other such matters, but the Green Paper itself has not amounted to much.
In that context, I pay particular tribute to the Defence Committee, to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who makes a huge contribution to defence matters, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who is vice-chairman of the Committee and who speaks with great knowledge. They make a great contribution to defence thinking, and their report, which immediately followed the strategic defence review, seems a great deal weightier than the flimsy Green Paper.
I want to make one or two suggestions to the Minister, and to the Secretary of State in his absenceit is a shame that he was unable to stay for the rest of the debatethat they might consider before those more substantive debates. The first suggestion concerns the foreign policy baseline. The original strategic defence review made a reasonable stab at analysing our position on global defence requirements. Presumably, some foreign policy baseline underpins the new, post-11 September chapter.
However, the truth is that the baseline was not explained to us at the time of the strategic defence review, and it has not been explained to us today. We have not been toldexcept through speeches and so onwhat the Government's foreign policy ambitions are. If we do not know what the job is, how can we assess whether the tools that the Government are giving our armed forces are suitable? I therefore call on the Government to publish the original baseline, and to update it and make it public. There is no reason why the people of Great Britain should not know what the Government's ambitions are in the world. Let the Secretary of State announce the foreign policy baseline and its update.
Of course, all that we get on that front is the Prime Minister rushing around the world grandstanding on a variety of important issues, with comments such as,
If anything of the sort is likelyif that is indeed what the Labour party believes we should be doing in the worldthe Prime Minister will have to discuss it with his Foreign Secretary, who seems to be rather out of the loop of late. Sadly, he did not manage to go to Africa with the Prime Minister last week. The Prime Minister will also have to discuss it with his Defence Secretary, who seems to have been ineffectual when it came to delivering the "overstretch" message at the door of No. 10. Above all, he must discuss it with his Chancellor, who will have to fork out for the realisation of his global ambitions.
I am delighted to see that the Secretary of State has at last returned. My second question is this: will he guarantee that he will properly fund the new chapter of the SDR? Most people agree that the original SDR was not at all well funded.
I must tell the Secretary of State that the runes in the papers are not at all encouraging. Over the past 12 months, it has been reported that the Treasury is demanding some £1.5 billion of defence cuts. Indeed, the Secretary of State came close to admitting as much in an interview with The Daily Telegraph last week. He said:
If the Green Paper is not properly funded, it will be like so much that the Labour party doesall smoke and mirrors. The Government seem to think that saying something is just as good as doing it. We do not want more questions, more national debate, and more mucking around with fancy bits of paper; we want to know what resources they will give our excellent defence forces to enable them to perform the ever more grandiose tasks with which, apparently, they are about to be confronted.
The main news that has been trailed this weekfor instance, by the Secretary of State on the radio this morningrelates to changes in the Territorial Army. I declare an interest here: I served for seven years in the Honourable Artillery Company, and was recently appointed to the Court of Assistants.
In a strange intervention, the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) accused my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) of speaking out of turn because he was paid by the Territorial Army. He also accused my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who spoke about the
Mr. Joyce: That is not the way it was. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman misunderstands what I said about the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot); I suggest that he read Hansard.
In a debate some years ago, the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) criticised me for being publicly political while serving as an officer. I accept that that was wrong at the time. He also stressed that there was effectively one Armythat the TA and the regular Army were one and the same. I was not criticising the hon. Gentleman today; I was drawing attention to an inconsistency.
Mr. Gray: I think that the hon. Gentleman has just apologised to both my colleagues, whom, in my view, he slandered. If so, I gladly accept his apology; if not, I think that he should have apologised.
The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Let me try to defend the background of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce). I do not know all the details, but an interesting issue has been raised. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that no members of the armed forces should participate in any political discussion? I should be interested to learn his point of view, and the sources of some of his information. Should they all be court martialled?
Mr. Gray: I was making no such suggestion. I was trying to defend two of my colleagues whom the hon. Member for Falkirk, West had chosen to have a go at. That struck me as unreasonable, especially as his background in the armed forces is, to say the least, questionable. I leave it at that: I cast no aspersions on him. The way in which he behaved during his last couple of years in the Army is a strange old business, but that is not what today's debate is about. No doubt he will want to clear his name, and if I have misunderstood, I shall be the first to apologise, but my understanding is that he should be careful about throwing accusations across the Floor of the House.
The main thing that the Secretary of State talked about on the radio this morning was the TA. I know that the TA will diligently carry out whatever task he may throw at it. He says that the TA will guard key points. He must make it plain that it will not just guard key points but perform the tasks that it is already performing. Ten per cent. of troops in the Balkans are from the TA, which is also active in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. If guarding key points is an additional duty, what extra resources will he give the TA?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who was a distinguished Minister of State for the Armed Forces. He made particularly useful comments about the regular and Territorial Army. I take issue with him on just one point. He described himself as a sycophantic, running-dog lackey of the Government. That rang no bells with me. He makes a great contribution to defence.
The Green Paper hardly even mentioned the Secretary of State's plans with regard to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force; there seems to be a large gap in the middle of it. I pose a few questions that he may like eventually to publish.
The Green Paper makes great play of defending homeland waters and airspace. I shall not intrude on the private grief raised by the hon. Members for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), all of whom seem reluctant to support the Secretary of State's approach to ballistic missile defence, but there is a curiosity closer to home. The Green Paper says:
Will the Secretary of State give some answers on the Royal Navy? Will he confirm how many type 45 destroyers he is ordering and when the first will be commissioned? The MOD constantly refers to "up to 12" but does he accept that if the Royal Navy is to continue its capability, it must be 12, not up to 12, ships? When will the first steel be cut on the first ship, and will she be delivered before 2008? Those are key questions that he needs to answer. It appears that the Navy will take delivery of a type 45 destroyer every six months from 2008 to 2014. Is BAE Barrow capable of delivering that?
The same applies to the number of frigates and destroyers, which seems significantly lower than that which Ministers have talked about. I think that I am right in saying that last year only 20 were available for use. Thirteen were on deployment. That means that there is no scope for royal naval deployments elsewhere. UK waters are not being patrolled by the Royal Navy at all. Since November 2001, for the first time ever, no royal naval ship has been deployed in the Caribbean.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has reconfirmed the carriers, but when does he intend to announce the decision on the planes that will be on them? Will he commit to three Astute class submarines, of which there is no mention in the Green Paper?
The same applies to the RAF. Pilot numbers are at a 10-year low. What a sign of the times it is that the Secretary of State has to offer fighter pilots £50,000 golden handcuffs to stay, just at the moment when he is closing 5 Tornado squadron.
The Eurofighter is late and badly over-budget, as we have heard. It seems to be being brought into question. Then we come to air transport and the A400M saga. Will the Minister confirm whether the A400M will definitely be delivered and if so when? From a constituency standpoint, will he ensure that it will be based at RAF Lyneham in my constituency, which I am straightforward about asking for? We cannot have all our transport eggs in one basket.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire, who raised the Chinook issue, spoke with passion. It seems that Ministers will have to explain why
The shortages in the procurement and spending bow waves, which are creeping up on the Ministry of Defence, are becoming realities in the Green Paper. The services do not have the resources to deliver the ever increasing tasks that the Government are giving them and the new chapter of the SDR must not be used to camouflage procurement or operational budgetary shortfalls. The Government are simply asking our superb and ever willing armed forces to do too much with too little. Will the Minister commit himself to providing the resources that they need to carry out their ever more grandiose tasks?