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Mr. Hain: I will certainly consider my hon. Friend's point about making time for such a debate. He obviously has the chance to initiate such a debate himself. I certainly agree with him that the land mines treaty, which our Labour Government initiated very soon after winning power in 1997, was a major breakthrough. I have had experience of how small arms can completely devastate whole communities and regions of Africa. We need to get that under control, and the Foreign Secretary and the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Defence will certainly want

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to consider very carefully Mary Robinson's call and that of Amnesty International. This is an international matter, and we have to tackle it. The unscrupulous flow and spread of small arms is killing whole communities, and it needs to be brought under control.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): Once again, the Leader of the House confessed his support for the fact that we are all equal in the House, and as an Ulster Unionist I must support that 100 per cent. Is he aware that one of Republican Sinn Fein's demands is that hon. Members should not have to swear or affirm the Oath of loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen, so that members of that party can take their seats in the House? Will he give a commitment that the Government will hold a full debate on that, and that they will not go down the route of ending up with second-class Members of Parliament, that we will retain the same equality and that we will all be obliged to affirm or swear the Oath of loyalty to the Queen when we first enter the House?

Mr. Hain: There was a vote that clearly established the current position, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman welcomed, in the last Parliament. This is ultimately a matter for Members, but I do not feel inclined to give way to a demand from members of Sinn Fein who are not even prepared to take their place in the House.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Although I am aware that a debate on post offices will take place this afternoon, I understand that it will be answered by Department of Trade and Industry Ministers. May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a recent question that I asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions? I asked whether he would withdraw guidance circulating in his Department that is designed to discourage people from taking up Post Office card accounts. Clearly, that is a very important matter, deterring a lot of people from using those services. Will he ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to come to the House to make a statement about that, so that the DWP is not seen to be undermining the work of the DTI?

Mr. Hain: Without knowing the detail of the circular, I am sure that there is no intention, nor could there be, on the part of the DWP or its Secretary of State to undermine the work of the DTI. My hon. Friend obviously has an opportunity to raise that issue very shortly. From my own point of view as a Member of Parliament, I believe that people, especially vulnerable pensioners who depend on their local post offices, must not be intimidated into choosing a course that is against their own choice and free will. They have the right to continue to draw their pensions and other benefits in cash. Obviously, successive Governments have tried to encourage more people to use bank accounts—we all want that to happen—and modern life has been evolving in that direction for many decades, but no vulnerable pensioner or anyone else should be forced to do anything. A free choice is involved.

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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): May we have a debate on hospices? Adult hospices are 32 per cent. publicly funded, whereas children's hospices are only 4 per cent. publicly funded, which is indefensible. The remainder is raised by private fundraising. The proportion should be raised to 40 per cent. for both children's and adult hospices. We could then acknowledge the tireless work and dedication of all staff and volunteers in hospices and those people who do the fundraising.

Mr. Hain: I certainly agree that there is a fantastic voluntary spirit in the hospice movement and that the work done is in the best traditions of volunteerism and of this country, but the hon. Gentleman ought to have been a little fairer in acknowledging that, as has been said publicly in the Help the Hospices conference, the hospice movement welcomes the extra money that has come from the Government on an unprecedented scale. No Government have ever provided the level of funds for hospices that we are providing. On whether there is time for such a debate, he has the opportunity to apply for one.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Would it be possible to hold an urgent debate on the meltdown of manufacturing industry in this country? In the north-west of England, we are losing manufacturing jobs at the rate of 700 a month. Sadly, there is news that LG Philips at Simonstone in my constituency will close with the loss of 400 manufacturing jobs. There was a time when this country was a world leader in the export of manufactured goods. Increasingly, under this Government, we are world leaders in the export of manufacturing jobs.

Mr. Hain: Obviously, I am concerned about any loss of jobs in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and for the employees involved—I am sure that he will do his best to assist them—but we knew all about the meltdown of manufacturing in the 1980s, under the last Conservative Government. Of course we did. Manufacturing, mining and heavy industry were virtually wiped out in Wales, which he was the Conservatives spokesman for until recently, but the difference is that, instead of finding themselves on the scrap heap, often for the rest of lives, people now have the opportunity to find new jobs, because of the near full employment that we have generated across Wales through our employment policies.

I also remind the hon. Gentleman that he ought to look at the facts. Manufacturing output is now up. The mood of optimism in the manufacturing sector is now greater than it has been for some time. We are part of a phenomenon that is affecting other European and advanced industrial countries, whereby manufacturing is increasingly under pressure from far more labour cost-competitive countries such as China, India and others in the far east and even eastern Europe. Maintaining the existing manufacturing sector is much tougher, but manufacturing is getting a lot of support from the Government, and it will continue to increase its output, compared with the dismal and miserable record of the Tories in their period of government.

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Defence White Paper/Operations in Iraq

Mr. Speaker: I remind the House that, as I have said before, I am keen to protect the time for Back Benchers in Select Committee debates, so I hope to cut the statement in 45 minutes, but I also tell hon. Members that they should ask the Secretary of State only one supplementary question.

1.7 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the defence White Paper, "Delivering Security in a Changing World", and a report entitled "Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future".

It has been five years since the strategic defence review was published by my predecessor, Lord Robertson, who steps down at the end of this year as NATO Secretary-General. I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to his determined contribution to modernising the alliance at a time of unprecedented challenges.

The strategic defence review concluded that we needed to move our armed forces into an expeditionary era and build greater flexibility to face increasingly diverse threats in both war-fighting and peace-support operations. Its conclusions have served us well in those five years, although it could not have anticipated the appalling events of 11 September 2001, or their strategic impact. That is why we published the new chapter last year.

The ability of our armed forces to conduct the full spectrum of operations has been well demonstrated since 1998. We have conducted operations, often concurrently, across three continents: in Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Our armed forces have been successfully engaged in combat operations in Iraq this year and are still heavily engaged in large-scale post-conflict activities.

The Ministry of Defence is today publishing its full report on operations in Iraq: "Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future". Hon. Members will recall that an initial report was published in July, which provided an authoritative account of the campaign and reflected on the early conclusions that we could draw from combat operations. Since then, a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the operation has been undertaken within the Ministry of Defence. Evidence has been taken from those involved in the operation at all levels, assessing the effectiveness of the equipment that we used and identifying from that work the lessons that we can draw from the campaign.

Those are not my words, but the conclusion of the National Audit Office report on the operation, whose publication today I also welcome. Our people performed magnificently, the equipment was highly effective, the logistic support most impressive, and the revolution in strategy and doctrine that we set out in 1998 has again been vindicated.

If we want to maintain the battle-winning capabilities of our armed forces, however, we must learn from the difficulties as well as the successes. There is no benefit in

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a lessons process that is bland or uncritical. I have encouraged an honest, unflinching report that focuses rightly on the future and outlines the area in which we want to continue to improve. Some changes have already been implemented. Other lessons have no quick solution but will form the basis of work in the Ministry of Defence over the coming months.

It is important to emphasise, however, that we have been successful in recent military operations because we have always looked ahead at the capabilities that we need for future challenges. It is therefore appropriate that the detailed analysis of the Iraq operation is published on the same day as the White Paper, whose title captures what it is about: "Delivering Security in a Changing World". It sets out how we expect to adapt to keep ahead of the challenges. It sets out a policy baseline against which we will make decisions to provide the armed forces with the structures and capabilities that they require to carry out the operations that they can expect to undertake in the future.

The shadow of the cold war, which has shaped our armed forces for two generations, may have receded, and the threat of a large-scale conventional military attack on Europe may seem remote as a result. New threats are emerging, however. We must respond to today's strategic environment and prepare for tomorrow's. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the threat posed by international terrorism, coupled with the consequences of failed or failing states, present us with a real and immediate challenge. Our experience of the recent pattern of military operations demonstrates the increasing frequency of the United Kingdom's involvement in small and medium-scale operations. The need for multiple, concurrent small to medium-sized operations will therefore be the most significant factor in force planning. Counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation operations in particular will require rapidly deployable forces that are able to respond swiftly to intelligence and achieve precise effects in a range of environments across the world.

Regional tensions and potential conflicts are likely to create a sustained high demand for enduring peace support commitments, such as the extended deployments that we have seen in the Balkans, but we must also retain the capacity to reconfigure our forces at longer notice to undertake the less frequent but more demanding large-scale operations of the type that we saw in Iraq earlier this year.

Expeditionary operations on that scale can be conducted effectively only if United States forces are engaged. When the United Kingdom chooses to be involved, we would want to be in a position to influence their political and military decision making. That will involve sharing the military risk, and will require an ability for our armed forces to play an effective role alongside those of the United States. We were able to do that in Iraq, for example, by procuring additional communications equipment for our aircraft. More generally, the key to retaining interoperability with the United States, for our European allies as well as for the United Kingdom, is likely to rest in the successful operation of NATO's new Allied Command Transformation.

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Whatever the strategic planning and equipment, it is ultimately people who deliver success. Our people will need to possess exceptional skills to deal with the complexity of modern operations. We must continue to invest in their recruitment and training and reward them properly for the difficult tasks that we ask them to undertake. The excellent contribution of our reserve forces in Iraq shows that they are an essential part of our defence capability and will remain so.

Resources must be directed at those capabilities that are best able to deliver the range of military effects required, while dispensing with those elements that are less flexible. It has historically been the fashion to measure military capability in terms of the weight of numbers of units or platforms—of ships, tanks and aircraft. That might have been appropriate for the attritional warfare of the past, but in today's environment success will be achieved through an ability to act quickly, accurately and decisively, so as to deliver military effect at the right time.

What are the critical elements, however, in delivering this military effect? The answer is threefold: sensors to gather information; an effective network to consolidate, communicate and exploit that information; and strike assets to deliver the decisive action. Technology will be a key driver for change and will present us with new opportunities: for example, the means by which to link "sensor to shooter" through network-enabled capabilities. By thinking about capability jointly rather than as a collection of separate platforms, the effects that can be delivered can far exceed the sum of the individual parts. That will provide significant opportunities when we consider the requirements for future force structures and will place a premium on flexible and adaptable network-enabled capabilities.

It follows that we no longer need to retain a redundancy of capability against the re-emergence of a direct, conventional strategic threat to the United Kingdom. Our priority must now be to provide the capabilities to meet a much wider range of expeditionary tasks, at a greater distance from the UK, and at an ever increasing tempo. The heaviest burden in those circumstances will fall on those key enablers and force multipliers that deliver more rapid deployment, better intelligence and target acquisition, with ever greater accuracy.

The structure of each of the services will also need to evolve to optimise joint operations and provide greater flexibility and capability to project power to counter the threats that we face. In the maritime environment, our emphasis is increasingly on delivering effect from sea on to land, supporting forces ashore and securing access to the theatre of operation. The new amphibious ships coming into service over the next two years, together with our existing aircraft carriers, offer a versatile capability for projecting land and air power ashore. The introduction of the two new aircraft carriers and the joint strike fighter early in the next decade will offer a step change in our ability to project air power from the sea, while the Type 45 destroyer will enhance protection of joint and maritime forces and assist force projection. Some of the older ships can contribute less well to the

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pattern of operations that we envisage, and some adjustments will therefore be necessary.

In the case of the Army, experience shows that the current mix of heavy and light capabilities was relevant to the battles of the past rather than the battles of the future. We need to move to a more appropriately balanced structure of light, medium and heavy forces, and place a greater emphasis on enabling capabilities such as logistics, engineers and intelligence. The future rapid effects system family of vehicles that we are currently developing will help meet the much-needed requirement for medium-weight forces. Over time, that will inevitably reduce our requirement for heavy armoured fighting vehicles and heavy artillery.

The work in this area is continuing, but we judge that we can start this rebalancing by reducing the size of our heavy armoured forces. We therefore intend to establish a new light brigade, reducing the number of armoured brigades from three to two. This will be achieved by re-roling 4 Armoured Brigade in Germany as a mechanised brigade, and 19 Mechanised Brigade in Catterick as a light brigade. We will announce further plans for future Army force structures next year.

We want to be able to project more air power from both land and sea, offering enhanced capabilities across the range of air operations. Storm Shadow missiles will provide a long-range precision-strike capability, and the increasing availability of "smart" bombs, such as Paveway IV, will ensure a higher degree of accuracy in our offensive capability than ever before. Around 85 per cent. of RAF munitions used in Iraq in 2003 were precision-guided, compared with only 25 per cent. in Kosovo as recently as 1999. Additionally, Typhoon and the joint strike fighter will offer much greater flexibility and balance in the air component of the future, reducing the need for single-role fast jets. Multi-role capability will also allow us to deploy fewer aircraft than previously thought necessary. We are therefore considering what those developments mean for the number of combat aircraft that we require.

The rapid deployment of land and air combat power is, of course, dependent on having a sufficient strategic lift capability. The core of the airlift capability will continue to centre on the C130 fleet, and the A400M when it replaces older C130s from 2011. We are considering the options for retaining a small force of C-17s after A400M enters service, to carry the largest air deployable items. We now also have a fleet of six roll-on/roll-off vessels that proved their worth in moving our forces to the Gulf and are crucial in achieving a rapid build-up for medium-scale operations.

When military action is required, it will be most effective when it comes in the form of partnerships, alliances and coalitions. For the United Kingdom, the key organisations through which we act will be NATO and the European Union.

NATO remains the basis for the collective defence of its members, and continues to play a vital role in crisis management. It is the transatlantic organisation through which the US engages with its allies in planning and conducting military operations. The European Union's European security and defence policy is complementary and provides a means to act where

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NATO as a whole is not engaged. The forthcoming intergovernmental conference will be an opportunity to strengthen the European security and defence policy and European military capabilities. As a result we will strengthen NATO, without any unnecessary duplication.

The security and stability of Europe and the maintenance of the transatlantic relationship are fundamental to our defence. More widely, our security and national prosperity depend on global stability, freedom and economic development. Our armed forces will continue to act as a force for good in the international community. We know that, ultimately, security cannot be delivered by military might alone. It is a matter of changing attitudes and bringing security to those regions where there is a risk of instability. That is a challenge for not only those of us in defence but all of us in Government. The White Paper should therefore be read in conjunction with the White Paper on UK international priorities that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary published last week.

Everything that I have set out involves change. The White Paper, by dealing with the policy context, will ultimately determine the shape of our armed forces. Within that overall shape, we will need to develop the details of individual systems and structures. However, before we can do that, we need to be certain that we have the right procurement and development projects, which is why the Ministry of Defence is undertaking a significant examination of our capabilities and overheads. This is not a new defence review, nor does it need to be, but it is a final check on our planning, to ensure that we have the right capabilities that are needed for the challenges ahead and that we are spending our finite funds in the most effective way. I shall make further announcements on the results of that work next year.

This is a changing world, and we must adapt if our armed forces are to stay ahead of potential adversaries. We must exploit new and emerging technologies and be prepared to make tough decisions to ensure that our armed forces are able to carry out the difficult tasks that we ask of them. It is only through the process of continuous change and improvement that we can ensure that our armed forces are equipped and structured to meet the challenges of the future.

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