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Mr. Kevan Jones: Any wastage should be stamped on, but was not the right hon. and learned Gentleman a member of a Government who dug a huge hole at Rosyth when they took the decision to move nuclear facilities to Plymouth, wasting about £900 million?
Mr. Ancram: I do not have the full details of that and I would not want to answer the hon. Gentleman on that basis. However, I remember certain areas of expenditure, not on defence, but on the dome and in other areas, where the Government have shown themselves to be very insensitive to the way in which they waste public money. In this case, what makes it worse is that they are not only wasting taxpayers' money, but doing so in a way that is reducing the security of this country and letting down our armed forces.
The Government should be even less proud of the gaping vacuum that is growing in the vital context of training. The squeeze on the defence budget has had a devastating effect. Reductions in training have a progressively damaging effect on fighting power and ethos, and its maintenance should be central to the Government's policy. While a heavy commitment to operations can offset some of these disadvantages, particularly in respect of command training, reducing activity levels for field force units that are not committed to operations is a self-inflicted wound. It is important that our servicemen and women be properly trainedcertainly as well as previously, if not better. That is simply not the case today. Individual soldiers are less well trained than they were, training standards are too low, gunnery and field firing camps are cancelled, and training between infantry, tanks, engineers and those parts of the Army that may have to co-operate and fight together rarely takes place. I understand that the Ministry of Defence is even examining whether to cut brigade level training further.
The Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force have traditionally supported and complemented our regular forces. Without their dedication, our regular forces would not be able to function as they do. They have become an integral part of our ability to operate on the ground, not least in conflict situations. But is it right to put such pressure on them, and on their families and jobs, just because the Government will not face up to the damage to regular recruitment caused by their defence policies? The trend in recruitment should be ringing louder alarm bells. Far from being buoyant, as it was described by a Minister a month ago, official figures that we have received from the Government in answers to written questions show that recruitment to the RAF has more than halved in the past three years, while the Royal Navy has experienced a 30 per cent. fall and the Army a 20 per cent. drop.
Those figures are alarming and underline the effects of the significant pressures that are being placed on our armed forces by this Government. Our reserve forces are
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not an infinite supply. The dramatic fall in TA recruitment since 1997, which was also recorded in a recent written answer, speaks volumes. Soon they will not be able to backfill for regular units. Then the emperor's new clothes, which are largely hidden by the TA blanket, will be revealed, and the Government will have a real security crisis to address but nothing to address it with. That is a black hole that no responsible Government should allow to arise.
John Reid: I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman and to everyone else in the House, Madam Deputy Speaker. I really would like to stay to discuss some of these issues of war and peace and life and death, but for reasons that will be obvious, the House will understand that I have to leave for Cobra and another series of meetings.
Mr. Ancram: I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I speak for the whole House in saying that we entirely understand that the Secretary of State has to leave. Indeed, he was kind enough to tell me before the debate that he might have to do so, and I undertook, on behalf of Conservative Members, to be understanding about that.
I wrote to the Secretary of State following an article in The Sunday Times that suggested that there was a £18 billion black hole in the procurement budget. In response, he queried the basis of the calculations and claimed that the equipment plan was fully funded. However, I remain to be convinced. The MOD's performance partnership agreement with the Cabinet Office and the Treasury states that the MOD must ensure
"re-emphasised its importance stating that the Department's ability to deliver the EP in future years . . . depended on successfully addressing and avoiding the £2.33.4Bn estimated integration risk in the EP."
In my letter to the Secretary of State I asked him to publish the equipment plan. Many other countries, including Australia, New Zealand and the US, are able to publish their equivalents without damage to national security. I am sure that publication of the EP would be very much welcomed on all sides of the House. The truth is that our armed forces are undermanned, underequipped and undertrained. Given what I have just said, the prospects look even grimmer.
The Secretary of State mentioned the future of the nuclear deterrent. The Opposition hope that a full debate on the matter will be held soon. I shall not deal with it in detail today, but the Minister of State should be forewarned that I suspect that my hon. Friend the
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Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) may have something to say about it when he winds up for the Opposition.
Jeremy Corbyn : I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman is looking forward to a debate on the nuclear deterrent. In his early-day motion 149, he calls for a replacement for Trident. I have offered a helpful amendment to that EDM, but unfortunately he has not accepted it. Is he serious about having a debate on the need for Trident or would he just go ahead and order a new generation of nuclear weapons?
Mr. Ancram: We have made it clear that we want a debate before a final decision is taken. Our motion sets out the Opposition view of the matter, and has been signed by 102 hon. Members. In contrast, what the hon. Gentleman calls his helpful amendment has been signed by just four people so far. On that basis, hon. Members are already giving some indication of which side of the argument they support.
Mr. Gordon Prentice : Has the right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to discuss in detail with Michael Portillo, the former Conservative Defence Secretary, what caused him to change his views on the deterrent?
Mr. Ancram: I read Michael Portillo's article. He is a very lucid and fluent writer and I understand what persuaded him, but it did not persuade me. The Opposition want a full debate on the nuclear deterrent so that we can explain our position, and so that those with a contrary view can do the same.
In a wide-ranging debate like this, we are also able to explore specific military operations in which we are involved overseas. Like the Secretary of State, I shall start with Iraq. I supported the war, and still support it. However, I have long been critical of the abject failure to plan for the aftermatha failure in which the Government were totally complicit. The disbandment of Iraq's internal security apparatus, which I criticised at the time, was, quite frankly, crass. Even the American Administration has made it clear that they think that it was a mistake. It created a security vacuum, into which insurgents poured. They continue to do so, and we are paying a heavy price for that.
Ever since the remarkably successful election in January, Iraq seems to be descending deeper into violence. The rise of ethnic militias, the weakness of the economy, continuing high levels of insurgency and the endemic kidnappings continue. All, I fear, flow directly from the lack of a post-conflict plan. The consequences are clear. We are told that the troops will stay as long as necessary and, in the much used phrase, until "the job is done". But what is the definition of "the job", and who will judge when it is done? What are the geographical limits within which we will judge whether the job has been done sufficiently for our troops to start coming home? Does "the job" refer to our area of control in Multi-National Division (South-East), or to what is happening throughout Iraq?
Once the Government consider that the job in MND (South-East) is done, will the Minister clarify whether he would be prepared in principle to extend the mission of the British armed forces outside that area, if the US Government were to ask for British troops to assist in other sectors? If so, what would be the criteria governing such a decision? That is an important question, because drawing down ultimately depends on restoring adequate stability and security to Iraq, which itself depends on the presence in those areas of sufficiently trained Iraqi security forces.
In the interests of transparency in this central part of the coalition's plans to ensure future security in Iraq, will the Minister say how many of the Iraqi security forces could take the lead in counter-terrorism today? Is there any truth in reports that right now only three of 107 army battalionsthat is, about 2,500 troopsare fully capable of operating independently?
Everything in the end follows from security. In its absence, reconstruction cannot go forward, Iraqis will not put their faith in their Government and we will not be able to leave responsibly. We need a clear indication not of the timetable, but of the Government's strategy for eventually leaving Iraq.The answer to the foregoing question may, however, to a large extent depend on our commitments to Afghanistan and the international security assistance force. The violence in Afghanistan, as we know, has recently heightened. There are new fears that Taliban forces will escalate attacks in the run-up to the September elections. There are growing concerns that the coalition forces are increasingly involved in a war of attrition and, worse still, a potential drugs war as well.
"Ninety per cent. of the heroin on British streets originates in Afghanistan. The arms the Taliban are buying today are paid for by the lives of young British people buying their drugs on British streets. That is another part of their regime we should seek to destroy."
There is a terrible irony in those remarks. The Government volunteered to take charge of narcotic eradication, yet under their control poppy production is now at all-time record levels. US diplomats in Kabul are openly claiming that the United Kingdom is, in their words, "substantially responsible" for the failure to eradicate poppy fields. The question I have for the Minister of State is this: what is our priority and what will be our priority over the next years in Afghanistanto quell the insurgency or to curtail poppy production? In both cases, what genuine support can we expect from Afghan forces?
The divisions over Iraq led to one of the worst periods in transatlantic relations for the past 60 years. The recent disagreements over Darfur were a further reminder of the animosity on defence that, in my view, sadly and wrongly has developed between NATO and the European Union. The agreement made between NATO and the EU in relation to Darfur on 9 June was a fudge. The United States wanted NATO to co-
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ordinate the airlift into Darfur. France demanded an exclusively EU mission. Now NATO and the EU will run side-by-side airlift missions, supposedly co-ordinated through offices in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Britain, in order to be friendly to both sides in this extraordinary situation, will be involved in both. It could not be worse. This unseemly spat and the grubby compromise that has followed it is bad for the suffering people of Darfur, for Europe and for the transatlantic alliance.
Europe, working through NATO, has an unprecedented chance to prove its military worth. Europe, working separately, will not do so. Many continental forces have only the most basic logistics and communications capabilities and can hardly operate at all at any distance from home. Few can credibly sustain their own operations and have to rely almost entirely on the United States for intelligence, strategic support and military muscle. Separate European military structures are a self-delusion that can only weaken Europe and undermine NATO. With profound changes of thinking in America, they might eventually even decouple the US from the defence of Europe. It is a high-risk strategy and one that I totally deplore.
At a time when NATO can and must provide readily available, well trained forces for Afghanistan and Iraq, it would be a disaster if it was allowed to be undermined by ancient French jealousies or the fantasy of a European military superpower to rival the United States of America. NATO must remain the cornerstone of our national security and we must continue to play our full part in it. We must strengthen rather than weaken our armed forces. We need more infantry and more front-line capability. We believe that our Navy is now dangerously small and weakened and that scaling down our air power risks our security. The Government's defence policy owes more to the Chancellor's long-term ambitions than to the security requirements of the nation. We need greater manpower, better equipment and more training. Under this Government, in each case, we are getting less. They are risking the well-being of our armed forces and the security of our citizens. It is time they went away and thought again.
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