Defence in Scotland

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Annabelle Ewing: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Joyce: Not now, as this is such a classic that hon. Members should hear it. Colonel Crawford asked what we should do if we got rid of the nuclear capability. He said that we should think about missiles and, in answer to the question what sort of missiles, he said:

    ''It is well worth considering the utility of ballistic missiles . . . They can carry a wide variety of warheads, including chemical and biological payloads, which can be seen as a cheap alternative to nuclear ones for determined purposes.''

He is right; it is a cheap alternative.

    ''Such attributes have made ballistic missiles the weapon of choice for many third world countries but the Scottish Defence Force might also find them an important asset in its armoury.''

Faced with that analysis, the SNP quickly ''disappeared'' Colonel Crawford. The analysis was

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good, but it showed that it is an issue that the SNP simply cannot touch. Colonel Crawford discussed intelligently what happens if the linkage with the United Kingdom is ended and an independent Scotland creates a Scottish Army, Navy and Air Force. The SNP's defence policy—the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—is to say that Scotland represents about 8.5 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom, so let us have about 8.5 per cent. of the armed forces; that should just about do it. Colonel Stuart Crawford said, ''Well, it is a pity, but 13 per cent., 14 per cent. or 15 per cent.—perhaps even higher than that—is represented by people in Scotland. What would be done with the others?'' The Scottish National party's response to that, as it is to so many other policy issues, was a sustained silence.

The Scottish National party also said that it would use the present infrastructure in Scotland for the new Army, Navy and Air Force, the expenditure of which would be minimal. It said that there were a couple of cadet huts and the odd camp about the place; three or four locations can deal with a reasonable concentration of forces. Colonel Crawford pointed out that we do not simply chop a bit off the end of the armed services to create new services. The issue is complex; it must be configured properly. The transferring measures would be hugely difficult, as would dealing with the equipment. I know that some of my hon. Friends want to say something about procurement and economies of scale. Such matters were flagged up by Colonel Crawford. He did us a service by showing that, when it comes to a central, real policy—the Government's first responsibility—the Scottish National party is often voiceless, although I hope that we shall hear something from it in a moment.

Mr. Salmond: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Joyce: No. I am about to finish.

We can chuckle about the Scottish National party when we don ginger ''Jimmy'' wigs, but that will not give people confidence about serious issues such as defence. Defence is not a laughing matter. For the SNP, defence is worse than an afterthought. It exposes the hollowness of its political cause. It represents an intractable problem for those so obsessed with an outmoded philosophy that they are willing to turn a blind eye to a Government's primary responsibility.

11.56 am

Angus Robertson (Moray): I very much welcome the debate, as does the Scottish National party. The terrorist outrages of 11 September and the ongoing challenges to defence and security policy make the subject very timeous. Specific Scottish perspectives on defence are of relevance not only to our country, but to our neighbours. I welcome several diplomatic observers from our closest small and medium-sized independent neighbouring countries to today's debate. I am only sorry that so many of their countries' defence policies have been characterised as they have been so far in the debate.

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Like the majority of members of the Committee, I have not served in the military. I have, however, been at the front line. In the early 1990s, I reported on the civil wars in Croatia and Bosnia in the former Yugoslavia. My impressions of defence issues and security are marked by Europe's ineffectiveness at that time in countering the genocide of Europe's oldest indigenous Muslim population. It is a standing shame and a disgrace to everyone in Europe that we stood by and allowed that to happen.

The SNP and I are particularly committed to the role that the European Union has played—and is playing—in helping to avoid potential internal conflict, and to its plans to become more active in future. That commitment has an added dimension because I lost relatives who served in the regular armed forces on both sides in the second world war and I strongly support measures that will continue to make war unthinkable on our continent.

It is also necessary for me to declare a strong constituency interest in the subject, as Moray contains two of the most significant RAF bases in the United Kingdom; RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth. I am certain that all members of the Committee agree that the service men and women at those bases do a first-class job. I am sorry that the Minister was unable to respond to my earlier intervention, but I am sure that he shares my disappointment that, as an affected Member of Parliament, I received no advance warning of last week's announcement about the Nimrod contracts. When I received notification, the letter said that the reduction in refitted Nimrods, which are almost exclusively based at RAF Kinloss, would be from 21 to 18. The letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie), says that there are no

    ''immediate implications for manning at RAF Kinloss.''

Will the Minister inform my constituents what is meant by ''immediate''? That is a great source of concern to the service community at RAF Kinloss and elsewhere in Moray. Does the Minister wish to write to me about that, or will he answer my question?

Mr. Ingram: I hesitate somewhat because I did not communicate with the hon. Gentleman about that procurement decision, although I will examine its background. We try to inform hon. Members about changes, but we do not give them pre-warning or pre-knowledge. We give them due knowledge at the time—[Interruption.] There is no point in answering the hon. Gentleman because he is intervening on me while I try to give him a helpful answer.

We pay tribute to all the work that is done at that station. I will not make the passing comment about how many Nimrods would be based there if there were to be an independent Scotland. I will examine the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised, and if there was a failure by the Department to communicate information to him, we will correct that in future.

Angus Robertson: I thank the Minister for that reply.

The service personnel at both RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth have played significant roles in the campaign against terrorism and in the current training

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exercises in Nevada and the Operation Saif Sareea exercises in Oman. The service community in Moray plays a key role in the economy and wider society of the district.

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Angus Robertson: I will take one point, as the Minister did, and then no more.

Jim Sheridan: On the point that the hon. Gentleman raised about the bases in his constituency, will he confirm that an independent Scotland would maintain the bases in their current form?

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman obviously did not read the Scottish National party manifesto during the 2001 election. If he had, he would know that the SNP was the only party that gave an express commitment to maintain the bases.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman intervened because I agree with him on a key issue that affects the service personnel at Lossiemouth; the threat of privatisation. That is one of the largest issues faced by service personnel in RAF bases throughout Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman, in addition to the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) and the hon. Members for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) and for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) signed the early-day motion that opposed the privatisation of fire service provision at our air bases. I am certain that the service community at RAF Lossiemouth will welcome those Labour Members' commitment.

I return to the SNP's association with praise for those who serve in all branches of the armed forces. I welcome the new chapter of the strategic defence review.

I turn to the challenges that face Scotland's defence priorities at the start of the century.

Mr. Joyce: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Angus Robertson: I will not. The Minister set the precedent for lead speakers of each party to take only one intervention.

All countries, including the UK, recognise that Europe has been unable to deal with the challenges that we face in the current set-up. As I said, even the UK has acknowledged that NATO alone cannot be relied upon totally to deal with European defence matters.—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. The Chair cannot hear the hon. Gentleman who is speaking. Some hon. Members commented earlier that they were keen to hear what the hon. Gentleman would say in his contributions. I hope that hon. Members will maintain good order so that it will be possible to hear.

Angus Robertson: Thank you, Mr. Hood. Even the UK Government have acknowledged that NATO alone cannot be relied on totally to deal with European defence matters. That is why the SNP stands foursquare behind the emerging European security and defence policy of the European Union and is committed to the European rapid reaction force

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and the headline goals for its operations—which are far more significant than the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife—who has left the Committee, as he told us that he would—believes. The Petersberg tasks are much more than what are characterised as purely gendarmerie tasks; they include combat force missions and missions to restore peace. That is where I see the European dimension of peacekeeping and peace-making going and the Scottish National party supports that.

The next challenge in which I and my party believe is that of instilling the Scottish dimension into defence priorities for our country. The reasons for that are clear. There is a democratic deficit; all parties, with the exception of the Conservatives, agreed with the principle of the need to democratise politics in Scotland with the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. The settled will of the Scottish people ensured that the issues of security on our streets and of our fishery waters are decided in Scotland's Parliament. However, for some strange reason Unionist parties do not or cannot apply that logic to the issue of the security of our country. Unlike our neighbours in small and medium-sized independent states, such as Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, our Parliament cannot decide on defence priorities.

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Prepared 5 March 2002