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Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): In support of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about Trident, albeit from the opposite side of the argument, I remind him that in the 1980s, in the run-up to Trident, the then Conservative Government published a series of open government defence documents that aired the arguments about the decision to replace Polaris with Trident. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Government are serious about starting the debate, they should begin by publishing a similar rationale, so that the public debate can get under way as to why we need a successor or, indeed, why we do not?

Mr. Kilfoyle: A future risk assessment was carried out in March 2003 to consider our changing circumstances, but unfortunately it was not taken up politically. We are in a different world. The Government have to show us what enemy, real or potential, Trident would be aimed at, and how that fits in with the emphasis on asymmetrical warfare that was mentioned in the future risk assessment. The stuff that Kitson predicted many years ago about the sort of warfare that would be endemic—I would argue, throughout the 21st century—has come to pass. We should consider that through a great national debate, not, as the current Secretary of State suggested, simply on a successor to Trident but on what our policy objectives should be.

We must not be pre-emptive in our discussions. Nothing should be excluded and nothing should necessarily be included. We should have a full and open debate analogous to that for which Ian Blair called for the police. Why do we not hold such a debate on the future role of our defence forces? That does not in any way minimise their current importance or disposition—we will all have arguments about that—but we need to look to the future with an open mind, not a closed one.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, not the military, should lead such a review. If we accept another old adage, that warfare is diplomacy by other means, we should establish our diplomatic priorities first and everything else should fit around that. The only way to avoid the accusation that big boys' toys win out is to hold a serious, wide-ranging and open debate on what we face in the 21st century.

Apart from the arguments about the reasons for the Iraq war, Denis Healey concluded our commitments east of Suez 39 years ago, but now we find that we are
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drifting further east. We have a commitment in Iraq, and that in Afghanistan is about to be expanded. We can only fear the speculation that suggests that our commitments may spill over into Iran or Syria. Long before today, we placed what we were capable of doing against what we aspired to do. We need to examine closely the matrix of foreign policy and diplomatic objectives and defence objectives.

I am conscious that we have only a short time, and I do not have a great deal more to say. I support a complete and open debate, before we are committed to a successor to Trident, to take account of the same circumstances that are drilled into us at every opportunity by Government spokesmen and women.

There was an interchange between the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and the Secretary of State about the moral courage or otherwise of Chiefs of the Defence Staff. I would not particularise or make an accusation for the sake of it—for what it is worth, I do not believe that one was made—but nobody is beyond criticism, whether they are Chiefs of the Defence Staff or ordinary squaddies. Everybody has a part to play in any military enterprise. They know their responsibilities and they should face up to them. It is fatuous to assume that, simply because somebody carries the great title of CDS or CGS, they should be immune from criticism. However, I accept that, as the Secretary of State said, a case has to be made.

Let us make another case. Perhaps we would not be facing some of the dangers that confront us today if we had listened to the then Chief of the Defence Staff at the outset of the Iraq war. Lord Boyce questioned the legality, discussed the appropriateness of the kit and whether it was fit for use and, critically, looked for an exit strategy, which was not there. It ill behoves us to criticise people when they get it right. In that instance, if we had listened a little more to the military at the top, our soldiers and our interests would not be facing some of the dangers that confront us today.

2.49 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) made some important points, to which I hope to return. I join in the earlier tributes to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). In the past three or four years, I have sat through many foreign affairs and defence debates in which he has participated. I have listened to many of his speeches. We have not always agreed—we may not do so on certain matters this afternoon—but I have never doubted his commitment and knowledge. I am sure that he will continue to contribute to our debates on those matters in future.Tributes were quite properly paid earlier to the bravery, dedication and professionalism of the armed forces in this country in all their different roles, on operations abroad or in the United Kingdom. There were also tributes to the emergency services and the way in which they work with the armed forces in carrying out their terrible duties on days such as 7 July this year. I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with those comments.

On Remembrance Sunday last weekend, we all in our different ways, at constituency events or elsewhere, paid tribute to veterans and to those who gave their lives in
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the service of this country. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to visit the Earl Haig poppy factory in Edinburgh. I was shown around and saw not just the great work in the factory, which produces millions of poppies every year, but the work undertaken with the money raised. In Scotland, about £1.4 million was raised last year. In the rest of the UK, I understand that the British Legion raises about £23 million through its appeal. That is both a staggering achievement and a sign of just how important it is that we continue to work on behalf of those living in our communities who have served this country. It is right that we should continue to remember those who gave their lives in world wars, and all others who have done so in the service of their country.

The debate is fairly broadly defined, which the contributions so far have demonstrated comprehensively. I want to focus on a few key areas. In the past, Select Committee reports have sometimes been the focus of these debates. There have been none as yet in this Parliament, but I know that the Defence Committee has been working extremely hard and has had some interesting evidence sessions, which I hope will lead to reports in due course.

I commend the Ministry of Defence for its annual report—a comprehensive document that provides a useful focus on the MOD's thinking and its activities throughout the year. I will try to follow loosely the structure of that report in picking out subjects for discussion.

It is fair to say that defence in the United Kingdom is based on a strategy for which there is a large degree of consensus in the country. That is not to ignore substantial differences over specific issues such as Iraq, nor to suggest that there is not plenty of scope for major disagreements over many areas of implementation and detail. One of the most significant strategic issues, however, which has the potential to unpick that consensus, is the future of nuclear policy, to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton referred.

The defence White Paper, "Delivering Security in a Changing World", published in December 2003, first raised the issue of the replacement of Trident when it indicated that a decision was "likely to be required" in this Parliament. At the time, the quote might have looked as though it was tucked away in relative obscurity at the bottom of page 10, but since the election it has attracted a great deal of attention in this House and elsewhere. That is entirely understandable, as this is one of the most important debates that the country will have.

Our election manifesto committed us to work first and foremost for the elimination of nuclear weapons on a multilateral basis while retaining the United Kingdom's current minimum nuclear deterrent. We retain that position. If we are to be able to make a decision on the replacement of Trident, however, a properly informed debate is needed beforehand. There are significant questions about the timing—why now? We need information about the options being considered and the costs that go with them, assessing not only whether it is a cost that the country can afford, but the opportunity costs in the sense of what will be lost if we divert resources to that particular investment. We also need a full and frank debate about the strategic context, not just about the nature of the threat—we need to bear in
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mind that we are trying to predict 20 or 30 years on—as we also need to take account of the projected alliances of which we are members.

There are, of course, philosophical, moral and many other—including even instinctive—reasons that will be brought into the debate. We must have that debate, and to inform it I would endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton and the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) about the need for a consultation paper. In response to a question put by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) on Monday, the Secretary of State indicated that he might come forward with a Green Paper on the matter, and we believe that he should. I hope that in replying to this afternoon's debate, the Under-Secretary will be able to give us a firmer commitment on that, and preferably a timetable.

One of the key areas of policy that will be before us before long is the proposed armed forces Bill. It has already been subject to some pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill is important as a quinquennial review of service discipline, but this time we know that it will be more than a tidy-up. It will deal with streamlining the different systems in the three services into one, while seeking to harmonise military law more closely with civilian law. The core principle of service discipline is that the military is not above the law and must operate within it. The Ministry of Defence mission statement does not talk only about the need to defend the UK and its interests and strengthen international peace and security—it rightly adds that our forces must

We certainly believe that operating within the law is a prerequisite for that. That is a heavy burden to place on military personnel, who face untold dangers and take daily risks with their own and others' lives. As was observed earlier, they cannot strike or speak out and they have to go where they are sent. We surely owe them a vast duty of care. As a minimum, that requires a clear set of rules and clear law that take account of the extraordinary things that we expect of them.

Recent case law, with Trooper Williams and the collapse of the 3 Paras trial a couple of weeks ago, has put those issues under a sharp spotlight. We must carefully learn the lessons from those cases. The Minister has said that a comprehensive review of those cases is now under way. Indeed, he rebuked some of us last week, during the debate on the urgent question of the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes, for apparently rushing to conclusions. It is always a delicate balancing act—we are not allowed hindsight, but we must not pre-judge either. Fine, but we need assurances that some of the issues highlighted by people involved in those cases are seriously examined. We need prompt and timely investigations—without any massive gaps between the alleged incidents and the investigation—and adequate resources must be made available for them. There should also be proper legal expertise among not only those pursuing the case, but those actually doing the investigation.

In bringing forward the new Bill, we need a commitment that we will see not only the law being reformed, but the resources necessary to ensure an effective and just system of military law. It would
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certainly help the House if, in replying to the debate, the Under-Secretary could clarify when he anticipates the publication of the Bill and its proceedings through Parliament. Will he also make it clear whether there is any intention to use the quasi-Select Committee approach to the Bill's consideration, as used in the past?

Military law underpins the services and is vital to our credibility in the wider world, but it also matters to people here in Britain, not least to the parents of young servicemen and women—the gatekeepers, as the Secretary of State put it in the House a few weeks ago. Confidence in the disciplinary system is absolutely necessary, not least to root out the bullying that breaks out from time to time, and which is a scar on our armed forces' reputation. The latest available Army version of the armed forces continuous attitude survey to April of this year makes for grim reading in that respect. One key set of findings highlights the fact that 25 per cent. of soldiers had cause to complain about unfair treatment, discrimination, harassment and/or bullying. More than half were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the objectivity and fairness with which their complaint was handled. I accept that that is a snapshot, but it is a worrying signal at a time when the tragic events at Deepcut remain firmly in the public eye. Ministers are well aware of the dissatisfaction of parents and families with the investigation so far and their anger at the limited publication of the Devon and Cornwall police report. Many also have long-standing fears about restrictions to the scope of the Blake review.

Ministers know better than any of us the damage that such things can do to recruitment, and will want to limit it. I understand that we can expect no commitments from Ministers at least until the Blake review has been completed. However, I hope that they will recognise parents' fears that this review will not necessarily succeed in answering their questions, and that they will be ready to push such issues further if the outcome is unsatisfactory to them. In an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) raised concerns about publication of the full report of the Devon and Cornwall police review of the Surrey police investigation. We welcome the Minister's sensitive comments and hope that that will lead to some progress.

If I may, I want to change the focus and turn to what is potentially one of the MOD's great success stories: Qinetiq, which, according to its own blurb:

It does indeed have an impressive track record that stretches back to its original MOD days. It was involved in the development of liquid crystal displays, carbon fibre, microwave radar and much else besides. Today, it is at the forefront in many fields, including defence interests such as unmanned aerial vehicles and robotic bomb disposal, and other developments such as runway radar, which is used to identify dangerous debris. It has a breathtaking range of capabilities, fantastic employees, great management and wonderful potential.

As guardian of our national security, and as a shareholder and customer, the MOD clearly has a significant interest in the future of Qinetiq. This is surely an issue for Parliament, given the intention to proceed to flotation. All the signs for a flotation are there. Last
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year's readiness study by Morgan Stanley apparently concluded that flotation was appropriate. This year, Credit Suisse First Boston, JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch were appointed as financial advisers, with the ubiquitous Rothschild as consultants. Acquisitions continue apace, particularly in the important United States market, but also in Belgium with the acquisition of a satellite maker. At the very least, that will challenge a few long-held stereotypes about Belgium.

Press reports over the summer indicated that we are heading toward a £1 billion flotation by the end of the year. However, according to recent reports such as that in The Daily Telegraph,

It is hard to find any clues from official sources so far. The MOD properly refers to the company in its annual reports and financial statements, but there is no mention of the flotation. Qinetiq's own annual report—admittedly, it is six months old—talks about it only "in principle".      In an interesting recent development, the company's website commented on an article that appeared in the Guardian late last summer and spoke about the "purported" flotation, rather than an actual flotation. There is much coyness about the matter, but quite a lot of information has slipped into the public domain. Perhaps this debate offers a chance for Parliament to begin to share in that information, as there are serious issues to be considered.

Ministers may say that flotation is a matter for the company, but Qinetiq's executive chairman, Sir John Chisholm, said, when asked after last year's positive readiness review why no flotation was in prospect, that it was

It is important to remember that after the part-privatisation of a few years ago, the MOD retains a 56 per cent. shareholding. Employees have 13 per cent. and the private Carlyle group has 31 per cent. Therefore, the question of flotation is very much one for the Government and Parliament.

Important questions need to be addressed. For example, who is driving the demands of the flotation? Clearly, the company's management is incentivised and therefore has an interest in the matter. The Carlyle group has made it clear that it wants an exit from its strategic investment, but is the drive coming from the Treasury, whose instinct is to sell things off and raise money, or is it coming from the Shareholder Executive, which is responsible for the most commercial parts of Government and has some challenging targets to meet?

It would be helpful if some suggestions in the press could be put to rest. For instance, there has been talk that the financial imperatives of the flotation are leading Qinetiq to bulk up by acquisition and to focus less on pure research. How are we to ensure that the taxpayer will get a fair return? That is important, not least because it appears that the Carlyle group has some very interesting tax shelter arrangements in Guernsey, which most outside observers consider to be highly unusual in this context.

Will the MOD receive receipts for its already tight budget? So far, the company's profitability has depended on its contracts with the Ministry. Some reports say that Qinetiq will receive £250 million from
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any flotation and that the rest will go to the Treasury. The veracity of that is hard to assess when we do not have the full picture or know whether the MOD will retain a direct stake in the company.

There is also a very important national security angle to the matter. As I have mentioned already, Qinetiq is a significant supplier to the MOD, so its ownership will be of crucial national interest. A special share is mooted, and its creation might indicate that the company will not be listed abroad or that it will not move into foreign ownership. Where might Thales or even BAE Systems fit within those requirements? After the flotation, how will potential conflicts be handled and will there be a new basis for Government funding to the company?

There is no doubt that other issues merit consideration and I have given the House just a sample. My understanding is that the flotation does not require primary legislation, and I should be grateful if the Minister who winds up the debate will confirm that much at least. If no such legislation is needed, how will Parliament be involved in the legitimate scrutiny of what would be a very significant development?

I emphasise that I believe that Qinetiq is an excellent company and that my party has no objection in principle to its flotation. However, many unanswered questions remain, to which Parliament really should receive an answer before the flotation proceeds much further.

Qinetiq is a major part of the early development of future capabilities for the military. The MOD properly expends a great deal of effort in that area—the future of provision of equipment to the military has already figured strongly in this debate, as has the related defence-industrial strategy that will underpin it. It is understood that Lord Drayson will make an announcement soon, and I hope that we will then be able to have a serious and informed debate on the matter.

One final matter in respect of future capabilities has to do with the regiments. This is well-trodden ground: I respect the fact that recent presentations to Members of Parliament have set out what is planned, and that the game will soon be up. However, I hope that Ministers do not lose sight of the fact that there is still a great deal of anger and resentment in communities throughout many parts of the country, not least in my constituency. We will not only lose our local regiments—the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Scots—but those regiments will be merged into a single battalion of the new Royal Regiment of Scotland.

I have never been persuaded that the modernisation, which we support, requires abandoning the historical regiments and all that goes with them. Will the Minister at least give us assurances today about the future of the museums and regimental headquarter offices, which act as a focal point for communities in different parts of the country?

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