§ Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Sainsbury.]4.40 pm
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Stanley)
The past year has been one of sustained progress and achievement for the Army both at home and overseas.
In addition to the Army's normal deployments, 1985 saw continuing and effective operations against terrorists in Northern Ireland, the largest home defence exercise we have ever conducted, significant progress in the modernisation of the Army's equipment, the provision of military training to over 70 foreign countries, important contributions to international peacekeeping in Cyprus and the Sinai, and a rapid and highly valued response to the natural disasters in Mexico and Colombia.
Nineteen eighty five also saw no fewer than 12 regiments of the British Army celebrating 300 years of continuous service to the Crown — a record that we believe is unmatched by that of any other army in the world.
I shall start with the main areas of actual or potential Army operations. During the past year, there has been no let-up in the modernisation of the Warsaw pact nuclear and conventional forces facing us on the central front. The Warsaw pact has continued to deploy new self-propelled artillery in eastern Europe, both conventional and nuclear capable. There has been significant additional deployment of its latest main battle tank, the T80, which has a gas turbine engine and a laser range-finder system, and which can fire an anti-tank guided missile as well as normal tank ammunition through its main gun barrel.
The deployment in eastern Europe of Frogfoot aircraft which are designed to provide close air support for Warsaw pact ground forces, and which has been used extensively by the Russians in Afghanistan, has continued. The aircraft has now made its first appearance with Soviet forces in the forward areas of East Germany. The formidable Hind anti-tank helicopter is still being added to the Warsaw pact front line at a fast rate.
The Warsaw pact's logistic support for its forces will shortly be further improved with the deployment of its new heavy lift helicopter, designated, somewhat improbably, by NATO as the Halo. We saw for ourselves in the Falklands what a force multiplier helicopters in the logistic role can be.
The Soviet chemical threat remains as significant as ever. To counter the Warsaw pact threat, important improvements to the Army's equipment programme have been made in the past year. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will refer to these when he comes to reply.
From the operational standpoint, I am glad to say that these improvements will give 1st British Corps larger numbers of modern main battle tanks, much improved protected mobility with new wheeled and tracked armoured personnel carriers, new small arms, improved air defence, an improved targeting capability for the artillery and a quantum jump improvement in its communications and data processing facilities. These all represent very important contributions to NATO's plans for strengthening the Alliance's conventional defences right down the central front.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)
Regrettably, I must go north tonight to my constituency to face the problem of the redundancies at the royal ordnance factories in my constituency and elsewhere. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the regrettable redundancies at ROF Chorley result from Ministry of Defence war stocks being returned to their requisite high level following the Falklands conflict? Will he further confirm that the contract for 105 mm shells, which will go some way towards alleviating the obvious distress caused by those job losses, has been awarded as a direct result of ROF's improved competitive edge and the sheer quality of product compared with foreign alternatives?
§ Mr. Stanley
My hon. Friend is again forcefully representing the interests of his constituents. As he knows, my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has been in correspondence with him about the detailed background to those particular redundancies. I know that my hon. Friend wishes to refer to them when he replies.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
If the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has been in detailed correspondence with his hon. Friend, why has he not yet been in correspondence with me? I have not received a letter.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
The Minister of State for Defence Procurement has kindly been in correspondence with me. He has made it clear that although orders will be placed with royal ordnance factories, and they will go some way towards reducing the size of the announced redundancies, the reduction will be by less than 10 per cent. Will the Minister confirm that?
§ Mr. Stanley
As I have already said, my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with that specific issue when he replies, and in view of the interest shown by three hon. Members I am sure that he will do so.
The past year has also been notable for the adoption of an improved concept of operations by northern army group (NORTHAG) of which C-in-C BAOR is the Army Group commander, and of which 1st British Corps comprises one of the four NORTHAG army corps.
The adoption of this new concept of operatons marks no change in NATO's wholly defensive posture, and no change in NATO's fundamental strategy of forward defence and flexible response. It has been adopted in response to the continuing improvements in Soviet firepower, the Russians' tactic of concentrating their forces so as to achieve local superiority, and their creation of operational manoeuvre groups of divisional size or larger, which are intended to exploit initial breakthroughs and penetrate rapidly into NATO's rear areas. In the light of those developments, NORTHAG needed a less static: defence, more defence in depth and strong armoured reserves. The new concept of operations provides all of these.
The House will wish to he aware of the major contribution to the formulation of this new concept of operations, and to getting it agreed by the Alliance as a whole, played by General Sir Nigel Bagnall, then the commander of NORTHAG and now chief of the general staff. 1117 In a letter to The Times on 3 July last year, General Chalupa, commander-in-chief allied forces central Europe, said:I would also wish to acknowledge General Bagnall's significant contribution towards the successful accomplishment of our primary task, which is the prevention of war by maintaining a credible defence posture. I appreciate in particular his untiring efforts in developing and refining further the defence concepts and plans evolved by his predecessors.I am sure the House was gratified to see General Chalupa's generous tribute to General Bagnall.
Turning to northern Norway, although the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines have major roles in protecting this key area of NATO territory, the Army also makes a significant contribution, and trains accordingly. We deploy to northern Norway, not merely 3 Commando Brigade, but the battalion with logistic support that the Army contributes to the ACE mobile force (land) AMF(L). These units undertake the same arctic warfare training as the Royal Marines, and have recently been equipped with the new BV206 over-snow tracked vehicle. The AMF(L) role is currently being discharged by the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment.
In terms of operations outside the NATO area, the House will recall that in November 1983 my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Defence announced, in the light of our Falklands experience, an important range of enhancements for 5 Brigade. That brigade has been renamed 5 Airborne Brigade to reflect its new ability to mount a parachute assault with a minimum of one parachute battalion and its supporting air defence, artillery, signals, engineer and medical elements, all of which can now be parachute dropped.
The House will be glad to know that all the enhancements announced in November 1983 have now been implemented, as has the programme of fitting station-keeping radars to a number of Hercules aircraft so that the whole of the leading parachute battalion group can be delivered in a single parachute drop. In view of the importance we attach to our out-of-area capability, we announced last month that a major strategic exercise would be held in Oman later this year involving British forces and those of the Sultanate of Oman. The exercise is to be called Saif Sareea, which I am advised is Arabic for Swift Sword.
The aim of the exercise will be to practise our ability to respond rapidly to a crisis outside the NATO area. The exercise will involve some 5,000 service men from all three services. The units taking part will include elements of 5 Airborne Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade. It will also involve ships from the Royal Navy task group, which will be on its way back from its planned deployment to the Pacific. In addition, the RAF will make a major contribution in the form of a detachment of Tornado aircraft and substantial air transport resources. Exercise Saif Sareea will be the largest out-of-area exercise we have undertaken for many years and should prove to be of great value.
The one operation in which the Army is involved every day of the year is supporting the police against terrorism in Northern Ireland. In recent years, and indeed over the centuries, terrorism has taken many forms. Today, terrorism is increasingly assuming an international dimension, and in Northern Ireland takes one of the most 1118 sophisticated forms of any in the world. Fortunately, the British Army has unique experience and unique expertise in combating this menace.
The Army's assistance to the police in dealing with terrorism is not confined to Northern Ireland. It also assists the police, who have the primary counter-terrorist responsibility in the rest of the United Kingdom. It does so through the provision of specialist skills such as Royal Engineers explosive search teams, Royal Army Ordnance Corps bomb disposal teams, and through specialist training and equipment. In June last year it was an RAOC team that rendered safe and cleared the large quantity of terrorist bomb-making equipment found by the Strathclyde police in Glasgow.
However, it is of course in Northern Ireland in support of the RUC that the Army's counter-terrorist effort is overwhelmingly concentrated. Last year saw some significant successes. As a result of the security forces' efforts, 522 charges were brought relating to terrorist offences and 237 weapons were seized and nearly seven tonnes of explosives were recovered. One cannot speak too highly of the skill and bravery of all those elements of the armed forces and the RUC who secured these results.
The work of the Army's bomb disposal and search teams in Northern Ireland in saving lives, property and jobs from destruction by terrorist bombs continues to be outstanding. These teams dealt with some 200 explosive devices last year, one of which contained 1,600 lbs of explosive. For the bomb disposal teams, the smallest device represents as great a personal danger as the largest. The way those teams combine outstanding technical skill with selfless personal bravery commands our highest admiration.
The achievements of the security forces in Northern Ireland in 1985 were not obtained without cost. Twenty nine police officers and soldiers lost their lives last year, and a further 340 were injured. Of the 29 killed, 27 were members of the RUC or the UDR. As the House recognises, the men and women of the RUC and the UDR, knowingly and willingly, accept the particular risks that service with either force or its reserves automatically confers. These men and women are at risk on duty, at home, and, if part-timers, at their place of work as well. They are at risk both when they are serving and when they retire. One man killed last year had finished his service with the UDR seven years previously. They are at risk at any place and at any time. The commitment and the courage of the men and women of the RUC and the UDR are of the highest order.
That commitment and that courage have been recognised in the award to service personnel last year of a further 73 decorations for gallantry in Northern Ireland. Those decorations included one George medal, one military cross, 12 Queen's gallantry medals and six military medals, one of which, sadly, was posthumous. In addition, 102 service men and service women were mentioned in dispatches. We salute those who were honoured in this way. My only regret is that for security reasons the citations cannot be made public. They make remarkable reading.
Over the years the terrorist threat in the province has moved through various phases, and the security forces have had to adapt their response to meet each phase. Currently, the terrorists are making particular use of homemade mortars against police stations. This has been coupled with the attempted intimidation of building 1119 contractors doing work for the security forces. The Government are firmly determined to ensure that such tactics do not succeed.
An additional battalion, the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment, was moved at short notice to Northern Ireland at the beginning of this month and became operational there with commendable speed. Additional Royal Engineers have also been deployed in the province and, as I saw for myself recently, they are doing a first-class job in providing the security forces with additional protection. The House will be glad to know that the work of rebuilding the first of the RUC stations that was severely hit before Christmas has already started.
The events of the last few weeks have underlined once again the importance of security co-operation across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. We are in no doubt that the Anglo-Irish agreement marks a crucial step forward in this area which is equally vital to the Republic and to ourselves. I should mention that the terrorist weapon find — about which we were all delighted to hear—made by the Garda last weekend just south of the border was one of the largest ever such finds in the Republic.
It is to the immense credit of the security forces that we have come a long way from the peak of violence in the early 1970s. The RUC has increasingly been able to resume policing on the streets, and the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland are able to live normal lives. I know that the whole House will wish me to express our gratitude to all the members of the security forces in Northern Ireland for the dangerous and essential work that they do.
Last year reminded us, to an unusual degree, of the Army's value in being able to respond quickly and effectively to civilian needs. In the last 12 months, the British Army has helped in three major natural disasters outside the United Kingdom. Successive teams of Army air dispatchers from the Royal Corps of Transport, including three Territorial Army members, served continuously in Ethiopia from February to December last year air-dropping desperately needed grain to areas inaccessible by vehicle.
With the RAF, the air dispatchers air-dropped over 14,000 tonnes of grain in a huge total of 954 separate sorties. Almost all these airdrops were made at extremely low level from RAF Hercules aircraft flying at about 50 ft from the ground. This reflected both flying and air-dropping skills of the highest order. Following the Mexico earthquake disaster, a Royal Engineer troop was on the scene within 48 hours of our being asked to help. It was given the key job of trying to save the partially collapsed building that was the hub of a high proportion of Mexico's telephone network and therefore represented a vital communications link for the whole country. The building was unstable, and contained a number of rapidly decomposing bodies. The Royal Engineers worked round the clock on that building for nearly three weeks in physically hazardous and most unpleasant conditions. They rightly earned the high regard and very warm appreciation of the Mexican authorities.
Only a few weeks after that, the Army was again on hand with the service team that was deployed to Colombia to help evacuate and get relief supplies to civilians in the Armero district who survived the devastating volcanic eruption there. 1120 In case anyone should think that the Army is only likely to play that sort of a role outside the United Kingdom, the House will recall that when over a quarter of a million people in Leeds suddenly found themselves without a water supply just before Christmas, the situation was saved by all three services sending water bowsers to Leeds with most impressive speed, following a no-notice emergency call-out in the middle of the night. The speed and proficiency of the responses made by the Army and of course by the other two services to these major crises for civilian communities has been extremely creditable.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
My right hon. Friend has talked about the admirable service given by the armed services here and overseas. I endorse everything that he has said. Can he tell us whether he will deal with the crisis in the services brought about by so many young, skilled, qualified officers, NCOs and other ranks leaving the services because they are deeply upset and concerned about the level of pay and the dramatic reduction in allowances when they are serving in not very popular parts of the world, including the British Army of the Rhine?
§ Mr. Stanley
My hon. Friend is anticipating a later section of my speech.
I now want to turn to the other main commitments that the Army has. My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Defence made it clear that we shall continue to be responsible for the defence and internal security of Hong Kong up to 1997, and that we shall maintain the forces needed for that purpose. He also made it clear that we intend that there will be a continuing role for the Gurkhas after 1997 with the British Army, though not of course in Hong Kong. We shall be giving continuous consideration to the Army's force level in Hong Kong up to 1997.
There is no change at present in the Army's commitments in Brunei, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Belize, or to our contingent in Sinai with the multinational force and observers on the border between Egypt and Israel.
As far as the Falklands are concerned, our policy is to maintain the forces at the minimum size necessary to defend the islands and the dependencies. The opening of Mount Pleasant airport has greatly improved our rapid reinforcement capability. Once the airport and garrison facilities are complete, we should be able to reduce still further the level of forces permanently stationed on the islands.
Given the events of the last few days, the House will wish to know the situation of our small training team in Uganda. The value of the British Army presence to foreign expatriates in Uganda, of which British expatriates are still the largest component, was shown immediately after the coup against President Obote last July. A considerable number of expatriates wanted to leave at that point. An evacuation convoy from Kampala to the Kenyan border was, therefore, jointly planned and administered by the British high commission and the British Army training team in Uganda. That action won widespread praise and gratitude from all involved. During the events of last weekend we did, of course, keep in the closest touch with our team in Uganda. We will now be considering its future in the light of the new situation in that country.
The House will also be interested to know that, building on the success of British training teams in Zimbabwe since 1121 independence, it has been agreed by the Governments of Zimbabwe and Mozambique and ourselves that the British army training team in Zimbabwe should provide some training for Mozambican officers and NCOs at the Battalion battle school at Nyanga in Zimbabwe. The first course is due to begin in February.
The contribution we make to providing military advice and training to foreign countries all over the world through the loan service personnel of all three services receives less prominence than I believe it merits. The Army contributes some 450 personnel in 20 countries. Those teams maintain an excellent standard of training, are highly regarded by their host countries and are an asset to Britain, and to the West, out of all proportion to their size and their cost.
I have spoken so far about the operations and commitments of the Army's full-time professionals. I now turn to the Regular and volunteer reserves. The critical importance of the reserves is shown by the fact that, in a period of tension and after full mobilisation, the size of the Army as a whole would increase by some 175,000 through the addition of the reserves, and the size of the Army in Germany would almost treble. From that it can be seen that the Army would be in no position to discharge its wartime commitments without our reserve forces. Moreover, the reserves are strikingly cost-effective. The TA, for example, generates over 30 per cent. of the Army's order of battle for only some 5 per cent. of its budget.
As for the regular reserves, we are carrying out more detailed planning for fitting them to their wartime tasks. We also started a new training scheme last year to give regular reservists a week's refresher training in their third year out of the Army, and we gave some 2,000 of them the opportunity to take part in exercise Brave Defender last year. We shall continue to look for cost-effective ways in which we can make greater use of our regular reserves.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
My right hon. Friend's words on the Territorial Army and the volunteer regular reserves are welcome in many quarters of the House but particularly on these Benches. Can he say whether progress has yet been made with his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Health and Social Security to try to help those members of the TA who are unemployed and who find that their supplementary benefit or dole is cut immediately whereas it can take several weeks for the pay office to go through the administration of payment? That is causing great hardship in areas of high unemployment. Progress would be very much welcomed by the TA.
§ Mr. Stanley
I am aware of the problem to which my hon. Friend has referred. I assure him that my noble Friend the Minister of State for Defence Support is pursuing the matter personally with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the DHSS.
§ Mr. John Browne (Winchester)
We greatly applaud my right hon. Friend's remarks about the TA, its reliance and its cost-effectiveness. None the less, can he assure the House that cost-effectiveness will not be taken to the point of penny-pinching? I am thinking particularly of the recent successful recruiting drive which is bringing in many young people who are enthusiastic and are excellent material. However, they have to train in drill halls that 1122 were built for the 1930s and have been virtually unmaintained, giving an uncared for impression that can be discouraging to young recruits.
Reference has been made to people leaving the services. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he is aware of the serious drain at the level of lieutenant-colonel or of regimental and battalion commanders, a rank that is crucial?
§ Mr. Stanley
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the points he has made. I have not yet completed what I wish to say on the TA but I can assure my hon. Friend that we are encouraged by the levels of recruitment which we have been achieving. I am about to come to that. I take his point that if we could provide a training base in reasonably attractive conditions that would be a plus for recruiting.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I hope that my right hon. Friend will say something about the cadet force because that is the nursery for recruiting. I understand that the cadet force is now much better equipped. On page 45 of volume 1 of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" a good deal of space is rightly given to the cadet force. If young people are properly trained, not only does it do them good for civilian life but a very high proportion join the regular forces or the TA.
§ Mr. Stanley
I endorse what my hon. Friend has said. One meets a large number of people who have come into all three services, but particularly the Army, from the ranks of the cadets and the junior leaders. As he will see in the second volume of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", we have been maintaining a high level of entry into the cadet force and we hope that will continue.
The expansion of the Territorial Army is making steady progress towards our target of 86,000. The strength of the TA was only some 59,000 when we came into office in 1979. It is over 76,000 now, having increased by some 4,000 in the past year.
The House will be interested to know that we are having good results from our trial scheme to raise TA units from the many British people living on the continent. Many of these are ex-service men, and they invariably have language skills and good local knowledge as well. These continental TA units look like proving a very valuable addition to our reserve forces.
Equally successful has been the expansion of the home service force. The enthusiasm of the force can be judged from the fact that 92 per cent. of the force's strength participated in exercise Brave Defender.
The HSF has already grown to 2,800 — in other words, over halfway to our initial target strength of nearly 5,000. We shall be considering whether we can go beyond that figure.
As I have made clear, the Army's Regular and volunteer Reserves are an indispensable element of the British Army. We are very grateful indeed to employers who are generous and sympathetic towards the release of their staff with TA commitments, recognising that it is in the national interest that those commitments should be fulfilled. In this context, I am very pleased to be able to announce the formation of a national employer liaison 1123 committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Tommy Macpherson. I know that Mr. Macpherson and his committee will make a most valuable contribution to maintaining and increasing the essential support that the TA receives from employers. Mr. Macpherson has the two essential qualifications: substantial experience as an employer in industry and substantial experience in the services as well.
We are very grateful to all those in the Regular and volunteer Reserves for giving their time, their skills and their enthusiasm to the British Army.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He will know that his remarks and the emphasis that the Government place on the Territorial Army are widely welcomed. Is he satisfied that there are now sufficient man training days for the Territorial Army to carry out its task adequately? Will he say something about the history of the expansion of man training days?
§ Mr. Stanley
It is obviously a matter of judgment as to what level of training days will meet the particular requirements of the TA. We make that judgment as accurately as possible. There is a trade-off: the more the training days are expanded, the more difficult it is for some individuals to get the necessary degree of release, which makes it that much more difficult for units to carry out their exercises as formed units. So there is a balance to be struck. The recent major exercises, both Lionheart and Brave Defender, have shown that the Territorial Army units, the Volunteer Reserve, and the Regular Reserve are now achieving a good level of training and have done very well in both exercises.
The calibre of the British Army rests ultimately on the calibre of its people. I am glad to say that recruitment overall goes well, with both officer and soldier entries being close to target. The Army's view is that the quality of entrants has been rising. Amongst officers the proportion of graduate entrants is now about 45 per cent. compared with 30 per cent. as recently as 1978–79.
Rates of retention are as important as rates of entry. Though the rate of premature voluntary retirement has risen from its historic low point in 1981–82, it is still well below the record high in the last year of the previous Government. Pay and conditions of service clearly bear on rates of retention. Although we are fully aware of the concern over the reductions in local overseas allowance that have taken place in Germany, our view is that there is nothing basically wrong with the LOA system, which provides absolutely essential financial compensation for those service men who have to serve in overseas countries where the cost of living is substantially higher than in the United Kingdom.
As far as pay is concerned, this Government, unlike our predecessors, have accepted the service pay recommendations in seven successive reports of the armed forces pay review body, with the one exception of part of the 1984 award being made subject to seven months' phasing.
We have also made a number of important improvements to conditions of service. We have introduced a scheme to sell surplus married quarters to service personnel at 30 per cent. discount. We have allowed time in service accommodation to count for discount purposes in the local authority and new town "right to buy" scheme. We have improved the free travel entitlement for married personnel serving in Northern 1124 Ireland and the Scottish islands and we have abolished the contribution that parents serving overseas had to make towards their first child's visit to them for the third school holiday each year, which saved many parents several hundred pounds. There is no question that the record of the present Government on service pay and conditions is very much better than that of our predecessors.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
My right hon. Friend said that he was going to raise the matter later in his speech, but would he admit to the House that it is not only graduate officers and others who are very important to the armed services, it is the qualities of motivation and leadership, which do not always accompany a university degree? Would he indicate that in the future the position of non-graduate officers will be given a higher priority by the Government than has perhaps been the case in the immediate past? The position of graduate officers is very much better moneywise than that of non-graduate officers. Will my right hon. Friend attend to this point in future?
§ Mr. Stanley
I understand fully the point that my hon. Friend makes. I would not want him to think from what I have said about statistics in relation to graduate entry that the Army is reluctant to have non-graduate officers. There are very many of them and they are of the highest calibre. When people are considering the Army and, perhaps even more important, once they are in the Army, it is good to know that all officers are treated exactly the same, whether they have degrees or not, and that they are treated entirely on their merit. I can assure my hon. Friend that that will continue.
§ Mr. Stanley
I think that this will have to be the last intervention because many of my hon. Friends want to speak, and I want to draw my remarks to a close.
§ Mr. Browne
Would my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that retention is a matter not just of pay—1 agree with much of what he has said —but of career prospects?
§ Mr. Stanley
Yes, I agree. It is a question of career prospects and a multitude of other factors. There is the degree of stretch on the force. career prospects, pay, conditions of service, it is the total of all the elements that go towards to job satisfaction.
In the last Army debate I announced the Government's scheme to make it possible for war widows, for the very first time, to visit their husbands' graves overseas, almost entirely at public expense. I can tell the House that the scheme has been an unqualified success, as I know at first hand. It was a privilege to meet a number of widows taking part in the scheme at the El Alamein commemoration service last October. The letters I have had from widows taking part in these pilgrimages have been as appreciative and as moving as any I have received.
In the first year of the scheme, some 350 widows, often accompanied at their own expense by other members of their families, visited cemeteries in a total of 11 countries, stretching from Europe to the far east. I cannot speak too highly of the way in which the scheme has been run by the Royal British Legion, both at the legion's headquarters and at its newly created pilgrimages department at Aylesford which, as it happens, is in my own constituency. 1125 The British Legion's organisation and sensitivity, both in the preparations and on the actual pilgrimages, has been superb, as the war widows themselves have been the first to say. I should like to express our very warm appreciation to the president of the Royal British Legion, General Sir Patrick Howard Dobson, and his pilgrimages team for the outstanding way in which the Royal British Legion is running this scheme.
The Army today is a well balanced and highly trained fighting force. It has amply demonstrated its superb professionalism in NATO reinforcement and home defence exercises, in supporting the police against terrorism, in international peacekeeping, in providing military training for many other countries, and in responding with speed and great effectiveness to a large variety of civil emergencies. The Army, like the other two services, does our country the greatest credit.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
I add my congratulations to the Royal British Legion, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in closing his speech, in the work it has done in assisting war widows to go abroad in the manner he suggested.
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces gave us the usual tour of the world that he does with that boyish enthusiasm of his for his job, which we appreciate—from carrying water in Leeds to ferrying convoys out to Uganda. However, he skated over the real problems which the Department faces. Indeed, listening to him, I thought perhaps he was not aware that there is a defence budget, let alone that it is out of control. Perhaps the Minister of State will deal with that and with all the problems of procurement when he winds up.
Debates on the three services seem to be coming later and later in the year. The last debate on the Army took place in October 1984. At least we have the advantage on this occasion that the debate comes after the publication of the White Paper on public expenditure. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has heard of it and has read it. The picture given by that White Paper is not quite as rosy as the one which the right hon. Gentleman tried to set out early in his speech but which he left pretty quickly.
The picture in the future will not look so good, not only for the armed forces in general in terms of conventional weapons, but also for the Army in particular. One reason, I think, is that so many large projects are now being undertaken which do not form part of the Army's expenditure and commitment. I refer to Trident and to the European fighter aircraft, two projects to which the Government are totally committed and which no doubt will not bear any reductions. I mention also the problems with Nimrod and the costs of Nimrod. This too could affect the Army's budget. I mention the apparent commitment to maintain a 50-warship Navy, but to maintain three-figure orders a year, although I understand that, according to Mr. Desmond Wettern, even that is running into some difficulties. Then there is the need to replace the Navy's amphibious vessels. With all those major commitments, some of the reductions in expenditure it seems to us are bound to fall on the Army.
Referring again to the White Paper on public expenditure—it is never easy to work these matters out, because the Government try to conceal as much as they can 1126 —even on the most favourable estimate, and taking into account the fact that there will be some decline from now on in Falklands expenditure because the replacement of equipment lost is coming to an end, if one considers this from the point of view of general inflation, it has been calculated that over the next three years, which is the period of the public expenditure White Paper, there is likely to be a decline of about 5 per cent. in the total defence budget.
That decline, if it continued, could mean that by the end of the three-year period defence spending would be down from about 5.4 per cent. of gross national product to possibly 4.9 per cent. of GNP. But that, of courser is on the basis of general inflation only. There is apparently something called defence inflation, although I am not absolutely clear what it is. Defence equipment, it seems, tends to increase in cost faster than the retail price index or any other indicator of general inflation in the economy. On that basis alone, there will be some decline, but within that decline there will be a massive increase in expenditure on Trident. I guess that in the next few years the expenditure will rise to almost £1,000 million a year. Therefore, with a slightly declining budget and an escalating cost in respect of one of those items and, indeed, the European fighter aircraft, there is great danger that the cuts will start to fall, and many of them will fall on the British Army.
The Government can and might well get themselves into the ridiculous position of cutting front line defence and expenditure on weapons of first resort and spending vast amounts of money on Trident, which, I understand, is still being described as a weapon of last resort. It makes no sense to cut spending on weapons intended to deter and prevent us from ever having to use a horrific weapon of last resort like Trident.
Where will the cuts fall? Will they fall on equipment, on pay or on the British Army of the Rhine? Will it be the Challenger programmes? What programme will have to be pruned back and cut as a result of what we see as an inevitable decline in the total defence budget?
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
In dealing with the legitimate point which the right hon. Gentleman is putting to the Government, can he give the policy of the Labour party in this regard? While we know that it wishes to reduce our defence expenditure to the lowest common denominator of NATO, and says that it will abolish Trident, it cannot finance everything that it wants just by abolishing Trident. What would Opposition Members do to deal with the problems and to reduce expenditure?
§ Mr. Davies
We have made it clear that we will abolish Trident. We have also made it clear that, without Trident, it will be possible to maintain conventional defence spending at present levels. That is perfectly possible if we get rid of the Trident missile system.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
The right hon. Gentleman is very careful to reply that the Labour party would maintain conventional defence spending. We want to know whether it would abolish Trident and maintain defence spending overall — in other words, use the money from Trident — all of it, if necessary — to strengthen conventional forces?
§ Mr. Davies
I made the point clear. We have a nonnuclear defence policy, and that means conventional 1127 defence spending. I said that, by cancelling Trident, we can maintain present levels of conventional defence spending.
I hope that the Minister of State can deal with one aspect of equipment mentioned recently in Jane's Defence Weekly on the SP70, the self-propelled howitzer. This is, so Jane's Defence Weekly tells us, in great trouble. It is a programme which affects our ordnance factories and in which we have a 25 per cent. stake. After a considerable time, it appears that there are great problems with this self-propelled howitzer.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
The right hon. Gentleman has quoted Jane's Defence Weekly. Is this the same journal which Opposition Members were so scathing about when they mentioned the special forces which infiltrated Greenham Common?
§ Mr. Davies
Indeed it is; the hon. Gentleman is right.
I deal next with the problems facing the armed forces. The danger is that orders will start to be postponed and to fall off. We have seen the effect of that on the royal ordnance factories at Birtley and Chorley today with 131 jobs being lost—this on a day when there has been an announcement of record unemployment.
There will be problems over training. The services are now also being affected by a cut of 10,000 civilian jobs which is putting heavy burdens upon the armed services. Last year's 7.5 per cent. pay increase has been whittled away by rent and other increases. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the local overseas allowance, although he said nothing about the inquiry which, I understand, he has set up or is setting up. Perhaps the Minister of State can tell us, if there is an inquiry, whether it is proceeding. The cuts wiped out totally, especially in Germany, any increases in pay under the 7.5 per cent. increase last year.
Experienced officers, especially in West Germany, are leaving the service and going into industry, for all sorts of reasons. Morale in the services is not as high as the picture the Minister tried to paint when he opened the debate.
We do not envy the task of the new Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). I do not think he is likely to be any more successful with the defence budget than he was with the Scottish rating system. We feel sorry for him because he has to clean up after the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who went through the Ministry of Defence—towards the end of his 10 years in the Cabinet—like one of those self-propelled howitzers, out of control.
The Minister rightly told us of the number of roles the Army plays. It plays a major role in Germany, the Falklands, Belize, Hong Kong and Gibraltar. It carries out training exercises in other parts of the world. It also has a role in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It performs those duties with skill, diligence and considerable tact.
The Army's role will be extended with the creation of a kind of rapid deployment force. The Minister clearly said that this was to perform a role out of area, outside NATO. We have deep misgivings about this, partly on grounds of cost, but partly because it means that Britain will again be drawn into conflict in various parts of the world. I believe that our main task and duty should be to play our role in NATO and western Europe.
The main out-of-area role still concerns the Falklands. That commitment not only costs money, but means that 1128 hardware and equipment, which should be available to our forces to perform our NATO role, have to be diverted to the Falklands.
The Government can be condemned because they have failed even to try to reach some kind of honourable settlement and achieve a solution to the Falklands problem. It will not be easy to come to an agreement that protects the lives and livelihood of the Falkland islanders and enables us to reduce our military presence. No one pretends that that will be easy, but the Government stand condemned for not even trying, especially now, when Argentina has, instead of a Fascist dictatorship, President Alfonsin, who is courageous in his domestic policy and is trying to reduce the influence of the armed forces in Argentina. I think we should have given him some opportunity to negotiate and reach an honourable settlement.
In the debate on the Army on 17 November 1983, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said:Despite our preoccupation with events outside the European theatre, the Army's most important operational commitment remains, and will remain, in Germany."—[Official Report, 17 November 1983; Vol. 48. c. 1017.]I do not know how far that commitment will be affected as a result of the problems of the budget and the cost of Trident and the European fighter aircraft, but the Government should address themselves to this matter.
The Labour party will fully observe and maintain our obligations under the treaty of Brussels and retain the BAOR at its current level. We made that commitment last year, and I repeat it. The Minister touched on the new strategy of follow-on force attack, or whatever it is called.
§ Mr. Stanley
I should like to correct the right hon. Gentleman. I was referring to the new concept of operations of the northern army group, which has nothing to do with follow-on forces attack.
§ Mr. Davies
I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. The House tends to forget what a radical step it is, and was, for Britain to commit a large section of its standing army so far east in Europe to a strategy which riot only has been agreed by a number of other nations but which we increasingly believe owes far more to the political considerations of the host country than to sensible military requirements. I refer to the strategy of forward defence.
In the 1983 debate on the Army, the Minister of State said:The forward defence of West Germany is the forward defence of the United Kingdom." — [Official Report, 17 November 1983; Vol. 48, c. 1018.]I do not know whether he was using the phrase "forward defence" in a precise sense. I do not criticise him for that. I think that the House well knows that forward defence is a precise and inflexible form of strategy.
The underlying hypothesis of NATO strategy is that Russia will suddenly unleash a massive blitzkrieg, frontal attack across the central plains of Europe. I do not think many hon. Members or people outside the House, even those in the Federal Republic of Germany, give much credibility or credence to that hypothesis, but that is the scenario with which we have to deal. It is on that basis that the NATO strategy has been created and on that basis that we have to look at the concept of forward defence.
Forward defence means theoretically that not one square kilometre of territory of the federal republic is to 1129 be avoidably given up. Territory is not to be relinquished even temporarily for space, despite the obvious difficulty of holding territory in the early stages of mass attack.
It seems to me, and to many senior officers to whom I have spoken, that that is not a sensible military strategy when it is determined by political considerations and not by military considerations. The consequences of that strategy are considerable. If war broke out, it would lead directly to the call for an early use of battlefield nuclear weapons.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
The right hon. Gentleman and I have been to Germany and other places together and drawn differing conclusions about a similar problem. Is it not more likely that the Warsaw pact countries might use chemical shells, or the threat of chemical warfare, which would be more devastating? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on his party's view that there is no need for a chemical offensive?
§ Mr. Davies
I am not avoiding the hon. Gentleman's question, but very senior officers in the British Army in Germany now privately admit that, on a worst case analysis, it is possible that the call for battlefield nuclear weapons will come within seven or eight days of the start of the kind of conflict we are supposing.
The corollary of conventional forward defence is early nuclear response. The two go together. The strategy might have made some sense a long time ago when the United States had a nuclear monopoly and massive nuclear superiority, but it makes no sense today when there is nuclear parity between the super powers. It makes no sense in a world of nuclear shells, nuclear land mines, and even nuclear backpacks. It makes no sense from a military point of view.
To try to escape from this dilemma, General Rogers and NATO have come up with the concept of attack on follow-on forces. I am sorry that I misunderstood the Minister. The idea sounds like a reasonable and sensible strategy. It is a type of sub-strategy to forward defence, to postpone the time when battlefield nuclear weapons have to be used. This follow-on force attack strategy means, in effect, a deep strike into eastern Europe, presumably using up to 10,000 missiles with conventional warheads, I do not know how the other side is supposed to distinguish between the different types of warheads. I am not suggesting that this is a nuclear strategy. As I understand it, the strategy is to try to postpone the early use of nuclear weapons by going down the road of follow-on force attack.
We seldom debate these matters, and that is a condemnation of us all. This important issue should be debated—not to enable us to disagree but so that the British public can understand how, where and in what circumstances our forces are committed.
The strategy of follow-on force attack involves considerable difficulties financially, diplomatically, politically and militarily. It will cost a lot of money. It will influence how the other side sees NATO as a defensive alliance. Many people say that, militarily, it makes no sense and that, in any case, it would postpone the early use of battlefield nuclear weapons.
We have called on the Government to conduct a defence review. NATO has a duty to conduct a review. Difficulties arise because many nations are involved. There are difficulties especially in view of the deep 1130 attachment of the Federal Republic of Germany to forward defence. The Government have a duty to initiate a fundamental strategic review in NATO. Flexible response and forward defence are old doctrines. The Government have not taken into account the nuclear developments of the past 10 to 15 years.
It was reported that in October 1984, NATO Defence Ministers agreed a plan to withdraw 1,400 nuclear warheads from Europe. We welcome that plan. We approve of it and endorse it, because it is a step in the right direction. I understand that, at a previous meeting in Montebello in Canada, a kind of twin-track decision was made—to reduce by 1,400 the number of warheads and to call for the modernisation of other weapons. As we know, in the awful jargon of this awful business, "modernisation" really means "bigger, more lethal and more dangerous".
In October 1985, in Brussels, it was reported that General Rogers would consult the different nations that have battlefield nuclear weapons, including Britain, about modernisation. What is happening? I am talking not about secret military operations but about what is happening and its effects on our forces. Has a request been made for the modernisation of what used to be called tactical nuclear weapons? What is the Government's view on that call for modernisation? What about the nuclear warhead, the W82, about which there were some problems some time ago in the House?
At that time, statements made to the American Congress differed from statements made by Ministers in the House. I exonerate Ministers, because I think that the excessive zeal of Pentagon officials who were seeking large appropriations from Congress was the reason for those statements in America. We should be told about these matters, or there will be misunderstanding. Information would enable the House to make up its mind on how it sees this difficult issue of modernising nuclear weapons.
The Labour party takes the same view on chemical weapons as the Government. This is the one aspect in which the Government have at least tried to play a constructive role in the talks. Various statements have been made—they have not been absolutely clear—that the Government have no intention of basing chemical weapons in Britain or of equipping the BAOR with American chemical weapons. It is understandable that military men want a weapon that they believe the other side possesses—therein lies the real problem of the arms race. If one tries to match, weapon for weapon, the whole business gets out of hand, as it has done.
The Government have tried to be constructive with respect to chemical weapons. We applaud their actions at the talks. The omens have improved. As a result of the Geneva summit, there have been certain initiatives. The real problem is not just the stocks of Russian chemical weapons. No one seems to know how much the Russians have — the German intelligence service says 30,000 tonnes, the Americans say 700,000 tonnes, and the British Government say 300,000 tonnes. The Americans are said to have about 40,000 tonnes of chemical weapons. The real problem is the development of binary weapons by the United States.
§ Mr Davies
I do not know whether Russia is developing binary weapons. The development of these 1131 weapons poses an important problem, which is why it is important to have an agreement. The plant at Pine Bluff in Alabama will soon start working, and pressure will be put on the Governments of Britain and the Federal Republic of Germany to station some of those weapons on their soil. I hope that we shall hear a clear commitment that that is not the intention. A proliferation of chemical weapons in Europe would cause considerable damage to NATO's image.
I turn to procurement and first to the royal ordnance factories. Not only are they in the news these days, but the Government have embarked upon a privatisation scheme. We opposed privatisation. We said that it would not do the royal ordnance factories any good. They operated well as a trading fund, making good profits and achieving an excellent return on capital. The ROFs are in a state of turmoil, partly because of privatisation and partly because of the drop in orders. We are concerned that a thriving commercial organisation is gradually being destroyed by the Government's plans.
§ Mr. Richard Ottaway (Nottingham, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the royal ordnance factory in Nottingham has a bigger order book and a higher turnover, and employs more staff, than at the time of privatisation?
§ Mr. Davies
That may be the case in Nottingham, but it is certainly not the case generally. How much do the Government expect to get from selling the ROFs? I think that £400 million was mentioned in Committee, and one newspaper said that the amount was £200 million. When is the flotation likely to take place?
A number of issues affecting the ROFs were brought out in a press release issued by Royal Ordnance plc and sent to hon. Members. On the defence budget, the chairman of Royal Ordnance plc states:Royal Ordnance is concerned about possible substantial reductions in Front line defence capability as a result of cuts in the MOD budget … This is linked with concern about the cost of the Trident, Tornado and European fighter programmes".Later he says:Royal Ordnance awaits an order for the 7th Challenger Regiment by MOD. Without new orders it is likely that there will need to be substantial rationalisation"—we know what that means—of Royal Ordnance tank manufacturing capability.There are problems also with ammunition procurement and strategic capacity support for explosives and propellants.
Worst of all is Ministry of Defence procurement policy. The press release states:Whilst RO accepts MOD pursuit of value for money and competition within UK it does not believe that overseas companies should be invited to compete for UK requirements for unique UK equipment.This is a problem for not only the royal ordnance factories but the whole competition policy instigated by the former Secretary of State for Defence. It is all very well to have competition in the United Kingdom, but, if the market were thrown open to companies in other countries—many of them in Europe—which are supported by their Governments, this would lead to the destruction of our defence manufacturing base which the Government have inflicted on our civilian manufacturing base. There are real difficulties and I hope that we can be told something by the Minister of State about the ordnance factories.
Finally, no debate would be complete without a reference to helicopters, and I certainly will not disappoint the House in that. It is my view that there are two reasons 1132 for the Westland problem. Firstly, the Ministry of Defence —or perhaps it is the Army—did not show much haste in deciding what helicopters they wanted for the Army and other services. There was something called air staff target 404. Where is it? I think it has escaped or got lost in the Ministry of Defence, like the budget which it is trying to lose.
I think we would like to know what has supplanted AST404, if that is the case, and what is happening about helicopters. Is the matter being studied at all? I understand that the Army will and does need two or three different kinds of helicopters—some to blow up tanks and others to carry troops and heavy equipment. Therefore, the first problem for Westland has been the fact that the Government have failed to have a proper policy in relation to the kind of helicopters needed by the armed forces.
The second reason was that the Government do not have an industry policy and they do not know whether they want an industry policy. If the Government had behaved like the Governments of most other civilised countries and had a decent industry policy, I do not believe that the Westland problem would have arisen in the way in which it did.
When the problem arose, we expressed our support for the British and European package. That was not out of any rabid anti-Americanism or romantic pan-Europeanism. I think that there is a real problem, as the House knows, for Britain's defence industries. It is not necessary to go over the problem but it lies, especially with the more sophisticated equipment, in trying to join European countries, again not because of any romantic Europeanism but to protect our own defence-industrial base. I think that we can do that better by having some form of collaborative projects with European countries rather than risk the problem of being gobbled up by the United States of America.
In our opinion, the defence budget is now getting out of control. We are concerned that the effect will be a reduction not only generally in our conventional defences but substantially in equipment and possibly in pay for the Army and the armed forces. One of these days, the Government will have to decide how they can perform all those different roles. The only logical way of doing so is to cancel Trident and concentrate on our conventional defence. The Government will have to face up to that one day, and if they do not the next Government will.
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
I am grateful for being called, especially so early, in the debate on the Army for a variety of reasons. I should like to welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), the new Secretary of State for Defence, to the Front Bench. I should like to pay tribute to what he has done in the past. He and I were Ministers together in what I tend to call the good old days. His hands are very sure, and he has had long experience in the Ministry of Defence and as a soldier before that.
We are of course extremely sorry to lose, especially in such circumstances, the former Secretary of State for Defence. I think that it is appropriate to pay tribute to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) achieved in the Ministry of Defence. What he achieved involved the whole Ministry becoming cost conscious in a way that it had never been before. I can see that in the attitude adopted in my own constituency, a large 1133 part of which constitutes a garrison town. It would be churlish not to say that we regret the departure of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley and the circumstances of it and we commend his achievements in the Ministry of Defence.
What is now needed, in the sure hands of the new Secretary of State, is a period of quietude. That is needed for the Conservative party and the Ministry of Defence and that is self-evident in political terms. Much has been achieved in the Ministry of Defence not only by the former Secretary of State but by earlier Conservative Secretaries of State who have brought about much greater efficiency in the Ministry.
We are now in a difficult period because we are at the end of the period of automatic increase that is the NATO commitment of a 3 per cent. increase in defence expenditure in real terms, which the Government have honoured to the full. The fact that that is now drawing to a close means that old tensions will inevitably arise within the Ministry. There will be a fight for limited resources. We look to the sure hands of the new Secretary of State to see that that is kept within reasonable bounds. We are confident that he will do that, but it will not be an easy time and those of us in the Conservative party who are devoted to defence should recognise that there will be internal difficulties in the Ministry of Defence and between the services.
I want to utter one word of slight scepticism about the reorganisation in the Ministry of Defence. I was dubious about the appropriateness of abolishing the single service Ministers. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), like me, was a single service Minister in his time and we have an interest and a nostalgia about it. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and I are fearful of the consequences if a service does not have a spokesman whose duty it is to put forward his own service's cause, not, of course, whether it is right or wrong.
The basis on which I worked as the Minister responsible for the Navy was that I gave, as it were, a 5 per cent. loading to the Navy from time to time. When I found there was a dispute, perhaps with the Royal Air Force, on several occasions I found that the RAF was right. One or two of the admirals have never forgiven me for saying that that was indeed the case. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, I am a little concerned about the reorganisation in the Ministry of Defence and I will be glad to have my hon. Friend the Minister of State's views on that. If we do not have a Minister responsible for a particular service, senior officers in all the forces could be looking for what might be described as parliamentary moles to espouse the cause for which they wish to fight.
Having said that, I should like to say how pleasant it is to have the opportunity to speak from the point of view of my constituency. My constituency is a garrison town. I share Colchester with my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary and we have the garrison, as it were, between us. I should like to commend the fact that in Colchester there is a splendid relationship between the armed forces and the local population. When I said that once before, there was a headline in the local press which read:Member commends relationship with garrison town".In the adjoining column it said:Jocks do over Bull and Bush—15 fined".1134 That sort of trouble seldom happens. There is seldom any disruption.
Colchester has just lost the 2nd Royal Anglians who have now embarked upon a tour in Northern Ireland. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would wish them and all our services in Northern Ireland the best of good fortune.
The Anglians' place has been taken by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought that that would get a loud "Hear, hear," particularly from my right hon. and hon. Friends, because our distinguished Secretary of State served in that regiment. I hope that, while the battalion is in Colchester, we can prevail upon him to visit Colchester to see it.
The Anglians have gone to Northern Ireland, and it is of them that one thinks at the moment. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State dealt with Northern Ireland. It is there that for so long our armed forces have been sustaining a burden with a professionalism and moderation that no other forces in the world could sustain. The Army has been achieving great things there. It has shown enormous professionalism over so many years, as well as extraordinary restraint.
I have been to Northern Ireland about 15 times over the past 10 years. Every time I have returned with an enhanced admiration for the professionalism of our forces there and for the restraint that they show under great provocation. It is remarkable that more mistakes are not made. Occasionally a mistake is made by a young soldier, but the whole country should be tolerant of that, which I think it is. It is remarkable that so few things go wrong there. The provocation that our forces have to endure has to be seen to be understood. Many of us have seen it on several occasions. When one goes through parts of Belfast in an armoured personnel vehicle being stoned all the way, one sees at first hand what our armed forces have to put up with.
I am glad that the pattern of service in Northern Ireland has been largely altered. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister of State would mention it when he sums up the debate. There has been a move away from what were known as the Rumor tours of duty which involved a battalion being in Northern Ireland for an unaccompanied tour of just over four months. There are a few short tour battalions there now, and the accompanied tour is relied upon, when the battalion is there for a substantial period. That has the advantage of causing less turbulence for the men's families, and a substantial advantage from the point of view of military intelligence in establishing rapport with those who live in the area. That change in the pattern of service in Northern Ireland puts less strain on the armed forces and makes them militarily even more effective.
I now move from the United Kingdom to the most far-flung of our commitments—the Falkland Islands. I had the privilege of leading the first parliamentary delegation out there after the war. It was a remarkable experience. I was most grateful for the co-operation of Opposition Members when we embarked on that tour. I think that Opposition Members will agree that, when one is out there, one is amazed by the vast distances involved. As far as Ascension, one is in moderate comfort. It is a long flight, but it is in an ordinary aeroplane. Although it is "dry", it is like a commercial flight. From Ascension, as one spends hour after hour in a semi-pressurised Hercules aircraft, the magnitude of the task that we undertook some 1135 years back becomes apparent. I must not talk about flying too much because this is an Army debate, but the Army's supplies are going in Hercules aircraft. It is a tri-service achievement.
The Falklands was a great achievement and has a continuing effect on our armed forces. The Falklands factor has been talked of in terms of its political impact. I would not deny that there is a considerable impact on the domestic scene, but I believe that the Falklands factor has a greater effect in giving credibility to the whole Western defence posture. One of the tough men in the Politburo probably thought, "Will the decadent democracies ever do anything?" For the right of a relatively small number of people to live in freedom, our Army, Navy and Air Force, and the whole country united politically as well as in every other way. We took action to ensure that the 1,800 Falkland islanders kept that right.
I refer to the future of the Falklands. The second airport is now open, and the original airport runway has been lengthened. It seems to me that stability there is well assured. I should be glad to hear from the Minister about the level of the necessary forces remaining out there. I do not believe that the cost of maintaining the Falklands is prohibitive. It depends on how one does one's costing. A battalion costs quite a lot of money, even in Colchester. It costs £X more in the Falklands. There are military advantages from our forces being in the Falklands. No doubt a battalion is sharp and good when it goes out there, but it comes back a crack battalion, because of the amazing training opportunities in the Falklands. I should be glad if my hon. Friend the Minister of State would refer to that. The costing is difficult. Other than the Army involvement, it is necessary to have one nuclear hunter-killer submarine on station to ensure that no successor Galtieri chances his arm. We have 17 of those submarines, and they have to be somewhere. Again, it is a case of how one does one's costing.
At home, our services are in very good heart. Their professionalism is tremendous.
I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to deal with some other smaller matters. In Colchester, we have a military corrective training centre. It works admirably, and its new premises will be completed over the next few months. I pay tribute to the work of the Army and the staff there who, for years, have been working in ghastly nissen huts. They are now looking forward to moving into the admirable new premises. It is one of the most impressive military establishments. It has the advantage of having a high ratio of soldiers under sentence to staff. All are young, and can be dealt with robustly—they can get rid of their surplus energy in a way that could not be done in civil prisons.
I am grateful that we are having the debate. When the system was reorganised, we received an assurance that we would continue to have single-service days so that we could home in on some of the matters that are relatively small in global terms but important for each of the services. I am glad that the Government have honoured that pledge to the full. We look forward to the other single-service days and to the reply of my hon. Friend the Minister of State when he deals with many of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) and, I hope, some of the points that I have raised.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
I listened with interest to the hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck). He and I have discussed these matters on many occasions. I hope that he will forgive me if, in a short speech, I do not go along the lines of his thinking, interesting though it was.
Hon. Members will not be surprised to know that I wish to refer to helicopters. It was my intention to raise the general question of helicopter procurement and then talk about Westland. Indeed, I wanted to touch on the fact that it has been calculated that we have 100 helicopters fewer than we need for the central plain of Europe. Our helicopter procurement has been and remains in a mess. Our battlefield helicopter force, in terms of procurement and operation, command and control, lies not with one service, which would be sensible, and is the case in every other army, but is split between the Army and the Royal Air Force. That is ludicrous and confuses ourselves as much as it must confuse the enemy. However, I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I refer solely to Westland.
I return to the subject of Westland because of today's events. After the events of today and last night the position of Westland may alter. Westland has made and still makes important contributions to the British forces and British defence. It has an important role to play in the supply and procurement of helicopters, especially for the Army. They were magnificently used and operated and made a significant contribution in the Falkland Islands. That capacity is now being seriously inhibited because there is considerable uncertainty over Westland's survival.
Although we seem to have had wall-to-wall Westland debates in the House for the past three weeks, those debates were not about Westland but about the Government's probity and the honesty of this or that Minister. My constituents are somewhat confused about the Westland debates since the last thing we discussed was jobs and the company's future.
I want to consider the Westland situation as a result of the European consortium's new bid. I should have called that the ex-Secretary of State for Defence's consortium. The clear object of that bid, as explained today by the consortium's chief banker, is to block the opposition's bid. The potential danger of that is that it will drag Westland down and place the company in greater danger of passing into the hands of the receiver. Furthermore, now that British Aerospace and GEC have withdrawn or at least refused financial participation in the latest bid, any semblance of British leadership in what the former Secretary of State for Defence called the Anglo-European bid, and perhaps even British partnership in the European bid, has gone.
As we long suspected, BA and GEC have no real interest in Westland. They were only reluctant partners to the bid because of pressure from the MOD under the former Secretary of State's leadership. The so-called Anglo-European consortium of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) has proved—as we all feared it would and as many of us predicted — to be as ill-founded and cobbled together as many hon. Members believed. It seems that the European consortium —backed by nationalised European companies which are presumably funded by European Governments—is now 1137 stumping up the money to take advantage of what I can only describe as the Government's neglect and ineptitude and thereby grab a slice of Westland.
We cannot be sure of the European motives but we can be most suspicious of them. Those people expressed a preference to see Westland go to the wall only a few months ago. A key bidder and part of that general group has already revealed that he sees no need to retain a design and development capacity at Westland and would rather see the company converted into a spare parts operation. That would certainly solve the problem of overcapacity in Europe and in particular the shortage of work for Aerospatiale.
Meanwhile, the European firms, in particular the French and Italians, are falling out amongst themselves even as we have been conducting the series of Westland debates. They have been falling out over the consortium and orders. The only thing that is keeping that consortium together is the prospect of rich pickings from the Westland corpse. The consortium's banker, Mr. David Horne, said today that Westland could either accept its bid or face the receiver.
What is the situation? The Europeans know that they cannot win. They can only block and so threaten Westland with the danger of both bids failing and the company falling into the hands of the receiver. One or two members of the European consortium have said privately that they would not mind that happening.
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)
The hon. Gentleman might be surprised to hear that what he said about Westland is a travesty of the facts. I must state that a number of my constituents work at Westland. The hon. Gentleman said that British Aerospace and GEC have withdrawn. That is incorrect, as the British-European consortium is very much in place. It is because of the attitude taken by the Westland board that the offer being made to the minority shareholders has to be a blocking and defensive gesture. As the hon. Gentleman ought to know, the prospects for Westland shareholders and employees as a result of the Government's activities in the face of criticism are much better and sounder today. I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman, coming from a party that is supposed to believe in Europe and be interested in small shareholders, should attack small shareholders and their interests in an attractive bid which the consortium is offering. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has backed the Sikorsky bid. That is an astonishing reversal by a member of a party which is supposed to believe in Europe.
§ Mr. Ashdown
The hon. Gentleman tempts me slightly off my track. I shall answer him.
I did not say that GEC and British Aerospace had withdrawn from participation. I said that they had refused to participate in the funding of the latest bid. That means, as one newspaper said today, that there can be no semblance left of an British-led Anglo-European consortium
The work force, the Westland board and the small shareholders are opposed almost to a man to the European deal. It is not true to say that I have always supported the Sikorsky deal. Indeed, many Conservative Members have accused me of being equivocal about the matter. I kept an open mind until I saw what the final deals were and then 1138 chose what I believed to be the best for the workers. I believe in Europe, but I am not about to sell to a key part of British industry, the British defence industry or the workers I represent a pig in a poke simply because it has Europe stamped on the outside.
What exactly does the European consortiun think it will be hold of if it wins? It will get a firm whose board is unanimously opposed to the takeover, whose work force is almost totally opposed to the deal, as are the small shareholders and the communities which depend on that firm for prosperity. The consortium is trying now by financial muscle to ram down Westland's throat a deal which the company, the shareholders and the communities do not want.
An irresponsible bid has been brought out of the shadows today. It endangers many jobs and the future of a key part of Britain's defence industry which has served the Army so well. That bid has been allowed to happen because of the impulsive and inadequately thought-out actions of the former Secretary of State for Defence and because of the Government's incompetence and neglect of the Westland problem.
It is scandalous that European Governments, who are the primary backers and owners of the European firms that are making the bid, should play fast and loose with Westland. Those Governments are prepared to invest in Westland when ours are not. If the bid succeeds, we shall have what is essentially the foreign nationalisation of Westland. If the European consortium succeeds in its attempt and gets 51 per cent. of the shares, it will go for an all-out bid for Westland. That will mean the foreign nationalisation of Westland.
Will the Minister tell me now whether there is any action that he can take to stop that? If he will not tell me now because he has to consider the answer, I hope he will give a clear response in his reply. Are the Government prepared to do anything to stop the foreign nationalisation of Westland? What is at stake now is the company's survival—
§ Mr. Ashdown
I am not in favour of nationalisation for Westland. I believe that the foreign nationalisation of Westland will happen as a result of the European bid.
§ Mr. Baker
I apologise for my intervention from a sedentary position but the Sikorsky bid, on which the hon. Gentleman is so keen, will lead to a foreign takeover. The American helicopter industry is financed by the American taxpayer through the close collaboration of the Pentagon and the American defence industries, and is, in effect, what the hon. Gentleman would call foreign nationalisation.
§ Mr. Ashdown
That is more substantial rubbish than I have ever previously heard the hon. Gentleman speak. I normaly regard the hon. Gentleman as a man of considerable sense. He knows perfectly well that the Sikorsky deal, which may take up 20 per cent., not 51 per cent., will not require Sikorsky to go for ownership of Westland. The hon. Gentleman also knows that that is a deal between two private companies, not between a nationalised and a private company. He knows that the proposals that he supports and those supported by his former boss, the right hon. Member for Henley, will mean 1139 placing three foreign Government representatives on Westland's board. That will not happen under the Sikorsky deal.
The hon. Gentleman knows that the firms in the consortium that will have representation on the board are Westland's primary competitors in foreign markets. He knows that Westland is currently competing for orders in India. What does the hon. Gentleman think the job of the French director, who is a French Government representative, on Westland's board will be if such a competitive position were to arise again? It is not difficult to divine.
The company's survival is now at stake. The Government, who are responsible for the position, must act now to ensure that Westland is not threatened further through their neglect. If they do not act, the threat will be imminent and real. No one can predict the outcome of the problem. A finn that has served the British Army and our defence forces exceptionally in the past now faces a threat to its survival.
I ask the Government to make their intentions clear, if not now, when the Minister replies.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I apologise to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), but I shall not discuss the matter which he probed because I think that the debate is a more general one about the Army. As hon. Members will be aware, I come from a garrison town. Only half of it is garrison because the other half is waiting to be rebuilt.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment as Secretary of State for Defence. He was a soldier in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and I am sure that he will look after our interests. I should also like to pay tribute to his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who did a great deal for the Army and who was always accessible whenever one wanted to ask him for help or guidance.
In Windsor, there is a good relationship between the military and the civilian population, similar to the one that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) has in his constituency. It has always been the tradition that there should be a close link between the civil authorities, the Army and the Member of Parliament.
As my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said, this has been a record year for the Army. It has been called upon to carry out an extraordinary variety of duties—aid to a civil power, evacuation of civilians, famine relief, and it has attracted our deep admiration and sympathy for its work in Northern Ireland.
There have been two exercises—Lionheart and Brave Defender— both of which I attended. One realises the high degree of professionalism that exists in the Army. We have a small Army, but it is highly trained and efficient and compares favourably with that of any of our NATO allies. The soldiers are dedicated to their tasks and fully trained to carry out their missions.
Now that there is no conscription, we must rely, whether we like it or not, on the Territorial Army and our reserve forces. They must be watched continuously because they need succour and help. The soldiers are, after all, civilians. I was pleased to hear that the cadet forces will be given better equipment.
I am worried about the use of chemical weapons. I should like an assurance that all the members of BAOR are 1140 properly equipped to defend themselves against that terrible threat. Our policy, which is correct, is to have no chemical weapons, but if the other side has them there is nothing to prevent it from using them. We must prepare for that. Our professional Army—the regular soldiers—and our territorials, who have to reinforce the Army, must have the same equipment. I hope that my hon. Friend will pay attention to that important matter.
I want to mention the subject of helicopters. My hon. Friend said that the T80 was available and could be used. We must pay more attention to the use of helicopters, especially in their anti-tank role.
Lessons have been learnt from the two exercises that I mentioned. One of the lessons that I learnt was about our system of calling up men. They must know in advance where they have to report. Getting them to the right place is difficult. I remember as a staff officer having to move an Army from one place to another. There were always tremendous difficulties at crossroads and goodness knows what. When crossing Europe, one must prepare in advance. Troop movements were well done in the exercises, but they must be perfected.
Men did not complain, but they were kept in buses for a long time. They were not always sure of the routes that they should take. That will happen in an experiment. The exercises must be regarded as experiments, but it is important that we should learn from them and ensure that the problems are overcome. They can be overcome easily with a little patience and attention to detail.
Moving a body of territorials from this country is not easy. Our allies in the United States will find it even more difficult to move their forces with the speed that may be necessary to back up our forces in BAOR should there ever be a crisis.
I wish to say a few words about the cadet corps. When I was a cadet all we had was a wooden rifle and a wooden rattle. I am glad to say that they have been replaced and that all cadets will have Enfield rifles. They will feel more like proper soldiers than toy soldiers, and that is to be commended.
We have a good basis. There is a reasonable age limit at which to join these schemes. Page 45 of the Defence Estimates sets out some of the advantages of the training scheme. Apprentices are trained in skills that they may use in the Army or outside. The country needs this type of person. The Army is playing its part in training people in skills which are attuned to today.
I notice that one is allowed to join the cadet force between the ages of 12 and 18—I was not allowed to join before I was 13. The year that these boys spend in the cadet force will help to mature them and give them a sense of discipline and pride and of belonging to a force which is dedicated to the defence of our country. I am glad to see that these schemes are being encouraged. It would be worth re-employing officers who have prematurely left the Army to help train these young men. I am not talking about officers who are hopelessly out of date but those who have just left the services and perhaps cannot find a job.
I am glad to see that the various schemes are extremely well laid out on pages 44 and 45 of the Defence Estimates. A large section of this document is devoted to young people, and this is a reflection of the Government's attitude to youth. We have to consider what the younger generation are doing. I think that the Minister and the Army are going about this the right way. 1141 My only hope is that, however professional our Army may be or however good our forces may be, we never let our guard down. We must remember that the Warsaw pact countries have a vast superiority of manpower and an enormous capability for moving men and equipment from the Urals to the Western front. It is a fact of life and we as a nation must face it. The Government must not drop their guard or in any way forget that there is a danger of biological, chemical and other weapons being used. We must face that possibility and make sure that our men are properly equipped and properly defended against chemical and biological warfare. If such an awful event occurred, we must not find ourselves short of means of defence.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
First, may I thank the Minister of State for Defence Procurement for providing me so promptly with the letter for which I asked in my earlier intervention. It is clearly addressed to the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover)—
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Norman Lamont)
May I thank the hon. Member for honouring his promise not to mention it?
§ Mr. McWilliam
I am grateful to the Minister. I said I would not mention the contents. I was trying to say something nice about him. For the rest of my speech I will not be nice. Indeed I am angry.
This afternoon the royal ordnance factories announced 831 redundancies—446 in my constituency at the royal ordnance factory at Birtley and 385 at the royal ordnance factory at Chorley in the constituency of the hon. Member. There is a degree of complacency displayed by Conservative Members tonight. Everyone has spoken about how nice everything is and how marvellous everything is. I accept entirely what is said about the quality of individual members of the British Army. I accept the praise that has been given to the standard of training but I am worried about the complacency over the level of equipment and back-up the Army will get. These redundancies are entirely in the ammunition division. If 831 people are made redundant from the ordnance factories, that must mean that the Royal Artillery in particular will be short of ammunition in certain strategic areas. The degree of complacency expressed tonight has not taken on board what is behind the announcement today.
These redundancies are a result of a decline in ammunition orders from the Ministry of Defence. Ammunition orders have already been reduced. They were reduced from previous levels to the 1985 level of £150 million and in 1986 the likely level will be down to about £90 million. Is this reduction a direct result of the Ministry of Defence's policy of competitive tendering? Is this the total value of ammunition orders from the Ministry of Defence? Are the royal ordnance factories maintaining their share of Ministry of Defence orders?
The ammunition division is not the only part of the royal ordnance factories in trouble. I do not wish to be accused of being parochial and I shall point to all the problems in the royal ordnance factories before returning to the ammunition division.
The small arms division at Radway Green will have completed all MOD orders by March 1986. There are no 1142 orders forthcoming. Are we on the edge of a precipice? Will the Minister tell us that there are further orders forthcoming? The weapon and fighting vehicles division at Leeds has no more orders. When will the Minister announce his order for the 6th regiment of Challenger tanks? Without that order, Leeds will be in serious trouble. The explosive divisions at Bishopton and Bridgwater are in further trouble. Are these problems the direct result of the decision of the MOD to go to competitive tendering?
The royal ordnance factories have to bear the expense of design and development and then have to make that design available to competitors without cost. I think this competitive policy is unfair. It is resulting in severe difficulties. In Birtley we have lost the high explosive mortar shell order to Dennis-Ferranti in Wales. Dennis-Ferranti may well have put in a competitive order but it did not develop the shell — it got that free. Dennis-Ferranti decided to build the equipment but it must have been given some kind of commitment of continued orders before it ordered the machinery to make the shell. There is a small benefit because Dennis-Ferranti ordered the machinery from T. I. Churchill in my constituency. We did not lose all—we got some of the jobs, but not a lot.
We are still waiting to discover whether the 30,000-odd 105 mm FD shell order is to be placed with the ROFs. I have a written question down for tomorrow, but I hope that we shall get some assurance from the Minister that it will be placed. It would not make a great deal of difference to the number of redundancies, but it would help. Is the multi-rocket launch system order to be brought forward to its original date? If it is, ROF Birtley hopes to make mortars. It would certainly tender effectively for them. If the order were brought forward to the original date, that would eat into the number of redundancies.
We also want to know about the SP70 order. From reading the European press, it appears that our German friends who are involved in the tripartite deal are going a little cold on the 5P70. They seem to be suggesting that it is over-specified. Vickers, which owns a factory just across the river from my constituency, is happy to tender for work on self-propelled guns if the Minister agrees that the SP70 is over-specified. I hope that he will tell us that this little bit of European collaboration will work and that the SP7Os will come to fruition. If it does, that too will help to reduce the number of redundancies. Other factories such as Patricroft are working seven days a week and contracting work out. Why cannot the Minister for Defence Procurement get some of that contracted-out work up to Birtley?
We have another problem which arose some 12 months ago when, as a result of the memorandum of understanding on the FH70, the Minister decided that he would give the order to the Germans. Indeed, he decided to transfer the entire FH70 order to Rheinmetall of Dusseldorf. That firm got the chunk of the order to which it was entitled and the order for two years previously. Rheinmetall has not been able to make the shell. It has not been delivered.
Worse than that, I read in the press—there was an Associated Press article of 13 January on it—that Herr Dieter Koehler, the executive secretary, Herr Dietrich Falke, the business manager who has now retired from Rheinmetall, Herr Hans Voss, a high ranking department chief in the company and Herr Frederich Wilhelm Striepke, the company's shipping department manager, are in court. They have been charged with illegal arms exports between 1977 and 1980. They have apparently 1143 been sending machine guns to Saudi Arabia, ammunition production equipment to South Africa and, much more serious, heavy calibre guns to Argentina without Government approval. Indeed, it is understood that the end user certificates were made out to Spain, Italy and Paraguay. If that is true, it is almost certain that those heavy calibre guns were used against British troops. The Minister transferred 300 jobs from my constituency, where we have 23 per cent. unemployment, to the Ruhr and a company that was selling arms to people who were at war with us.
I am angry. There is no reason for the redundancies at Birtley. If the Minister chose, he could prevent all of them, but he does not choose. I am sure that there is some get-out in the memorandum of understanding which enables the Minister to say to Rheinmetall, "You have been selling arms to people who are at war with us, so the memorandum of understanding is negated."
There is another problem. Germany did not get its fair share of the order in the past three years, but we must take Tornado into account. Doing that, even if Germany never made an FH70 shell in its life and bought them all from Birtley for the next 50 years, we would still not make up the shortfall on our side of the memorandum of understanding.
I am angry. The Ministry of Defence has shifted 300 jobs from Birtley, which has one of the highest levels of unemployment in the United Kingdom, to the Ruhr, which has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the whole of Europe. The Minister has done that deliberately. It is a smack in the teeth for the north and it does nothing to help our strategic ability.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
I am pleased to have been called to speak in this important debate. I hoped to speak not because I can claim great knowledge of soldiers or of their weapons, although I have an important constituency connection in the form of the Royal School of Military Engineering, known as the Depot Regiment of Sappers, in my constituency. We have heard much good sense from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck), and I strongly agree with what he said about the Falkland Islands and our garrison there.
With five other hon. Members and three noble Lords, I was fortunate indeed to be chosen to go to the Falkland Islands just before Christmas, under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence. I should like my speech to be a public expression of my gratitude for that opportunity. I should like to say something about what we saw there and to thank those who were responsible for our trip.
May I start by thanking the commander, British forces, Air Vice Marshal Kemball, the chief of staff, Brigadier Brownson, the assistant chiefs of staff and all the unit commanders with whom we came into contact for the warmth of their welcome and for the breadth of interest and variety which they introduced into our tour. I should especially like to thank Captain Sturdie of the RAOC, who was assigned the daunting task of guiding us through a busy trip with much tight timing for our various journeys, many of which were made by helicopter. I shall not go into that matter as we have heard quite a lot about it already. Should Captain Sturdie ever fancy a career in this House, his persuasiveness and natural good humour would make him an ideal candidate for the Whips Office.
1144 Although ours was primarily a Ministry of Defence trip and was overwhelmingly spent seeing soldiers, sailors and airmen at work, rest and play, we had several opportunities to meet His Excellency the Governor, Mr. Gordon Jewkes —recently arrived and with a difficult act to follow—and the Chief Executive and their staffs. We were able to see at first hand many of the problems and the opportunities presented by the situation in these large and very sparsely populated islands. If I say little more about the civilian side of the trip, that is no slight on those responsible for it. Rather it is because this is a debate on the Army and I must not stretch your tolerance, Mr. Speaker. We are nonetheless grateful to the civil administration for its kindness and help.
Perhaps the most significant impression with which I have been left is the co-operation and co-ordination between the three services. One would expect that of a tri-service operation, which is the designation of our military involvement in the Falklands, but the three branches of our forces are not renowned for setting aside their individual service jealousies. It may or may not have been coincidental that four out of nine members of the party had strong Kent connections. I have constituency and residential ties to the county and my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) and the noble Lords Pender and Boston of Faversham also have strong affiliations to Kent. It was thus an especial pleasure that we should find that the 2nd Battalion the Queen's Regiment — our county regiment — was the resident battalion while we were there. Moreover, the 69th Gurkha Independent Field Squadron of Royal Engineers, whose home base is Kitchener barracks, Chatham — a few yards outside my constituency and but a few yards from my constituency home—was the unit of sappers looking after Port Stanley airfield.
As I said at the outset, we saw soldiers, sailors and airmen at work, rest and play. However, there is precious little of the latter in the Falklands. The men are worked hard throughout their four-month tour. That is just as well, because their quarters, either on board one of the coastels or in one of the ubiquitous Portakabins, are functional rather than commodious or comfortable. We were allowed to sample a night in a Portakabin and in a cabin shared with seven others. In such circs, one rapidly learns whether one's colleagues snore. Indeed, if property prices around Westminster continue to rise at their present rate, we could be urging the Leader of the House to permit a Portakabin village in New Palace yard. However, blundering around in the small hours looking for the ablutions block could quickly lose its novelty value.
I jest a little, because I am sure that our forces presently stationed in the Falkland Islands view their lot as a great deal more comfortable than the tents that their predecessors occupied, and infinitely preferable to the misery suffered by those forces that fought their way from San Carlos to Stanley. The accommodation problem will shortly be resolved by the transfer of the garrison to the new Mount Pleasant complex.
We were impressed by the scale and quality of the construction of the new airfield, garrison barracks and harbour that have been developed out of the wilderness at Mount Pleasant, which is 30 miles from Stanley. We had every reason to be grateful for the new airstrip, because its excellent surface and considerable length meant that we 1145 could enjoy the comfort of a Royal Air Force Tristar, unlike earlier travellers who braved more spartan conditions and the mid-air refuelling of the Hercules.
We were all surprised h^ the scale of the construction at Mount Pleasant. We understood and acknowledged the need for the new airstrip — to allow for the possible rapid reinforcement of a smaller garrison than is presently stationed on the islands. Perhaps we had not appreciated fully the ramifications of the many complex and interrelated tasks for which the Mount Pleasant complex was designed. During our debriefing, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces reassured us about the need for the various facilities under construction. The completion of the complex at Mount Pleasant—about four years after the Government's initial decision in June 1982—will stand as one of the finest achievements of British civil engineering and as its finest hour for many years to come. The fact that that splendid complex has been constructed 8,000 miles from the United Kingdom, with materials brought from the United Kingdom, in three years is a testimony to the civilian construction workers involved, especially as the conditions that they have endured have been extremely hard. I am not an unequivocal fan of the PSA, but in the case of Mount Pleasant, I have much admiration.
I wish to refer again to our troops and the conditions in which they work. The posting to the Falklands is not popular among the men. The posting means four months away from home on islands 8,000 miles from Britain. They are unaccompanied and there are few facilities for the off-duty hours. Perhaps it is because they are worked so hard that morale is high and nowhere more so than at the remote and lonely signals outpost at Bombilla or the radar installation on Mount Kent that we visited.
Officers spoke to us of the considerable training opportunities that exist in those under-populated islands, where one is 400 times as likely to upset a sheep as a shepherd. I fully agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North who mentioned that.
Providing recreation facilities for the men is a problem. There are few fleshpots in Stanley and fewer still in the so-called Camp, which is the area outside Stanley. Locally, the commanders try to allow everyone a two or three-day rest and recreation break during a tour. That could consist of an arduous training hike in the wilds, or perhaps a relaxed weekend on one of the islander's farms. To that end, travel by helicopter is essential, because there is no alternative. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to read the answer given by Lord Trefgarne yesterday in another place to Lord Pender. I urge him also to continue to allow a reasonable allocation of admittedly expensive helicopter hours to achieve some recreational opportunities.
Even when the move to more commodious facilities at Mount Pleasant takes place, the need for recreation facilities will not be removed. Those of us who visited the Falklands urge the Minister to consider providing facilities beyond those that are normally provided at such posts.
A growing problem is that of people skilled in short specialties being posted and reposted to the Falklands. Already there are those who are on their fourth and even fifth tour since the conflict.
A more insidious problem is provided by those who go on one tour in three. Those unlucky enough to be there 1146 during our summer, which is the Falklands winter, could be living through 12 months of winter until that process is broken. That is an arduous task for anyone to undertake.
I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) has joined us and I know that he would like to be associated with my comments. I could say much more, but time will not allow and there are many who wish to speak. I do not want to be a messenger for the men's understandable grouses, because that would sell short their generally stoical attitude to their tour.
None of our party will forget the privilege of visiting the Falkland Islands. It is no coincidence that I am wearing the tie of the Uplands Goose hotel in Stanley. It is a happy reminder of a memorable visit. Above all, we who visited the Falklands in December will remember for the rest of our days the poignant solemnity of standing on a windswept hillside by San Carlos water in the cemetary at Blue beach for our brief service of dedication. Standing beside the graves of Lieutenant-Colonel H. Jones VC and the brave men who died with him, I did not doubt that our action in 1982 was entirely right. I am sure that if any of our people, from however small a community, were ever threatened in a similar way, our forces would respond just as magnificently.
We were greatly privileged to be able to make the visit and I thank my right hon. Friend and his colleagues at the Ministry of Defence for making it possible.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
In his opening remarks the Minister mentioned co-operation between the Army and the police in various functions and at times of stress. All of us applaud the role of the bomb disposal experts in the Army, who have a most hazardous duty to perform. Their bravery must be commended by all of us in the House.
One aspect of co-operation between the Army and the police is the deployment of armed troops at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. During recent years, there have been several security exercises, but that number has been increasing. In a written answer to me on 13 January the Prime Minister identified that security exercises involving deployment of troops at Heathrow numbered three in 1981, four in 1982, five at Heathrow and one at Gatwick in 1983, six in 1984 and seven in 1985. Clearly, the numbers are increasing.
Naturally, I accept the need to combat international terrorism, whether it is on the part of an organisation or by Governments. No one in the House would condone the killing of unarmed civilians in airports and on aircraft. Such actions of cowardice and brutality must be condemned.
I am interested in two aspects arising from the deployment of armed troops at Heathrow and Gatwick. I am open to correction, but I believe that there has never been a debate in Parliament about the use of such troops. There have not been many parliamentary questions about the matter. I could trace only questions asked by myself and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris).
In her reply to me of 23 January, the Prime Minister said that those exercises are held at the request of the police. At Heathrow airport, that would involve the Metropolitan police. I wish to ask the Minister a series of questions; if he cannot answer them when he replies to the debate, perhaps he will write to me. 1147 First, what is the mechanism whereby the police can request the Army to hold exercises at Heathrow airport? Who decides? Can the police request the presence of the Army at a picket line or a demonstration, or could the Army be called in to deal with a civil commotion in inner London? When the police request the presence of troops at Heathrow, are the Secretaries of State for Defence and the Home Department consulted about the deployment of such troops? Does the Secretary of State for Defence, with whom we are primarily concerned tonight, give his permission for troops to be used at Heathrow, or is he merely informed? There is a clear distinction. In her reply of 23 January the Prime Minister did not make it clear whether permission was required from the Secretary of State for Defence or whether he was merely informed.
Must the police give reasons for the request for the Army to be deployed at Heathrow? Is it a matter of routine, or do they act on advice from intelligence sources?
Were either of the exercises held on 14 October 1985 and between 1 and 9 January 1986 at Heathrow airport carried out under the terms of the joint tactical doctrine? I do not believe that we have discussed the joint tactical doctrine; indeed, I do not know whether it exists. I am going by a report in The Sunday Times of 8 September 1985, which stated:Under a secret agreement"—it cannot be that secret if The Sunday Times knows about it—called the Joint Tactical Doctrine, the army will have complete control over the police in areas considered militarily sensitive.Was the exercise between 1 and 9 January — it was much longer than previous exercises—held under the joint tactical doctrine? Are Heathrow and Gatwick airports areas considered to be militarily sensitive at a time of escalating crisis?
In her answer of 23 January, the Prime Minister said that troops were deployed at airports for deterrent purposes. That is difficult to understand. I do not pretend to be an expert on military matters, but I believe that I can ask a reasonably intelligent question and understand a reasonably intelligent answer to it. I do not understand how a potential attacker will be put off because a tank or an armoured personnel carrier is stationed at the approach tunnel to Heathrow airport. What purpose does such military hardware serve? I assume that the tanks are armed, and we know that the personnel are armed. They will have a fairly formidable array of weapons. Is it seriously considered that such weaponry would be deployed? What sort of crisis are we talking about? I cannot see the function of the troops at Heathrow airport as deterrence.
The presence of armed forces and, indeed, of armed police did not stop the outrages at Rome and Vienna. The Minister should be aware of the fact that the presence of troops is unsettling to the travelling public. Troops are not a welcome sight around Heathrow airport, because it makes passengers think that something awful is about to happen. If some passengers are as nervous as I am about boarding aircraft, it will do nothing for their confidence. I have received complaints at the GLC from some American tourists, who said that troops were not a welcome sight on arrival in the United Kingdom.
In the event of an exchange of fire in a terminal building between the police or the Army and terrorists, there is a great danger that passengers will become caught in the 1148 crossfire. The Minister and the Home Secretary must share this major concern. It was interesting to note that the chairman of the Police Federation, who opposes the use of armed police at Heathrow, suggested that the Army should take over the job of providing armed security at Heathrow airport. That would make more sense, although the presence of armed personnel at airports has not proved a great deterrent and would not be effective during a crisis in a terminal building. My view is that airports would be much better secured with greater scrutiny of passengers' luggage and their clothing on entry into terminals and before entry into departure lounges.
If anyone was seriously considering attacking London airport, he could do it by secreting himself in the surrounding countryside. That must be where the greatest danger lies, because some incoming aircraft on their final approach paths are sitting targets. Perhaps the Minister cannot answer this, for security reasons, but I would feel much more confident if I knew that special patrols operate in the countryside around airports instead of standing at the approach tunnels or outside the terminals.
There is no valid counter-terrorist reason for the deployment of armed troops at Heathrow, Gatwick or Manchester airports. I believe that there are more sinister reasons for their deployment. It is all part of the general softening-up of the civilian population, getting them used to seeing armed troops on the streets. The threat of a terrorist attack is being used as an excuse for putting armed troops and tanks on the streets of London.
§ Mr. Conway
I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is making more of this than need be, whatever his motive. However, this Government have not deployed the armed forces to break a strike; a Labour Government did that. Yet Labour Members did not read sinister motives into it. I do not believe for one moment that the civilian population regards the Army as a threat. Indeed, they welcome their reassuring presence. Although the hon. Gentleman is trying to stir up fears, he will find an unreceptive audience in the British public.
§ Mr. Banks
Only if my audience is as unattentive as the hon. Gentleman is. That is not what I said. Had the hon. Gentleman listened more closely, he would have realised that I was not suggesting that the British people have no confidence in the Army. I said only that I believed that it was part of a general softening-up process by the Government so that there will he less alarm at the thought of troops being used at times of civil unrest.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
The intervention of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) was wholly inaccurate. There is a long history of civilian Government in the United Kingdom using military forces to deal with civil disturbances and unrest. He is a buffoon.
§ Mr. Banks
The hon. Gentleman would hear the same words if it was a Labour Government. However, if it was a Labour Government, the hon. Gentleman might not be 1149 here to hear my words. I am not sure how safe his seat is. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept my word that I would condemn in equally round terms the use of troops by a Labour Government.
Strike-breaking is only one aspect of the softening-up process. Some elements in the Conservative party and in the high command of the armed forces would not hesitate, in defence of the ruling class that they represent — [Laughter]—to call out the troops if they believed that capitalism was under threat from civilian unrest or even from the policies of a democratically elected Labour Government. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but they should read more carefully some of the statements of senior figures in the Conservative party and the military to various bodies and associations.
The Conservative party exists to serve the interests of the ruling class. Whether in or out of government, it would not hesitate to put troops on the streets if it thought that the capitalist system was under threat, even if that threat came from a democratically elected Labour Government. The major reason why the troops are present at Heathrow is as part of a softening-up process to get the civilian population of London used to seeing them on the streets. I can see no valid security reason for their deployment at Heathrow and Gatwick airports.
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). My mind goes back to the last time when we followed each other. He will not remember it, but it was on a platform in Peckham in south London and we were discussing something peaceful, such as the Housing (Finance) Bill. He was all for whipping up fury and violence. He wanted people to charge down the street, and he sought to arouse disorder of the highest magnitude. When he started speaking today, I thought that he had at last mellowed, the years had wearied him, and age was condemning him to pleasantness and democratic, peaceful attitudes. But his final remarks reassured me that he still has his old fire, but perhaps with even less sense than he had previously.
The hon. Gentleman said that tourists and others may be unsettled at the sight of a tank at London airport. I cannot believe that anyone wishes to deploy tanks or armoured weapons unless there is a serious threat. The sight on television of terrorists throughout the world destroying civilian lives, often because those lives have been inadequately protected, is unsettling. The hon. Gentleman should think about that and not make such frivolous, scandalous suggestions to the House.
I hope that the House will forgive me for making some personal remarks, but this is the first time that I have been able to speak in a debate on the Army. It is a slightly sad occasion because, on 9 January, four years of quiet soldiering behind the parapet came to an end. One of my local newspapers telephoned me and asked politely whether my financial position would suffer as a result of this serious loss of post, and I could reassure it that my financial position would be materially improved. Nevertheless, I shall miss the duty of sitting behind the Front Bench checking the ministerial haircuts and whether 1150 the shoes of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) are in need of repair. I see that they are in good shape, and I wish him many years in them.
§ Mr. Baker
I shall have to wait until I sit on the other side before I can know that.
I saw service with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie). I thank them for their patience and kindness to me, and for the privilege of admiring their skills and dedication, above all during the Falklands campaign. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) talk about the Falklands today, particularly as there is a town in my constituency of the same name.
I also wish to pay tribute to the extraordinarily high standard of civil servants at the Ministry of Defence who receive scant appreciation in the House. It was a privilege to help my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). He is a man of brilliant initiative, unwavering courage and determination, unerring instinct for the heart of the matter, and, above all, boundless ambition for our country. In his time he encompassed the defeat of the protest groups, the reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence and the policy of competition in procurement, which now gives us the chance of avoiding what my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) has called disarmament by inflation. I was particularly delighted to join him in paying tribute to those who fought and fell in the far east.
I add my welcome and good wishes to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). Much of the boot and ranch work has been carried out before him, but he has my best wishes for continuing it, as does his ministerial team.
I do not wish to say much about Westland. However, the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) conveniently ignores the fact that the original Sikorsky proposal, which I understood he supported, was to take over the company. A 20 per cent. offer, which has now been made, amounts in most cases, and certainly in this case, to control of a public company. The work force is worried about the uncertainty and the time involved, and I understand why it follows the board now, although it did not take that position at the start. In those circumstances, that is perfectly natural. However, that is not the final measure of what is best for the future of the company and the workers.
I understand the pressures on the hon. Gentleman. A high percentage of the Westland work force knocks on his door, and, bearing in mind the proper need to obtain votes, he would be in considerable difficulty if he did not listen to the voice of the work force.
§ Mr. Ashdown
Mr. Alan Bristow, who, in terms of his support for the European consortium, is one of the hon. Gentleman's friends, who provides most of the European financial muscle, and who is well known everywhere for seeking to become the board's new chairman and chief executive under the European consortium, if it should succeed, is on public record as having said that he believes that Westland should be converted into a spare parts operation, and has no further need of design or research 1151 facilities. Laying aside the needs of our constituents, does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is right for Britain's defence?
§ Mr. Baker
That is certainly not the view of the European consortium. I do not know whether those are the words of Alan Bristow, so I do not propose to comment on them. The proposals of the British-European consortium are available for the company to consider, and are extremely favourable to the small shareholders.
Thanks to the Government's activities, however political or subject to criticism they may have been—I regret that, and especially the loss of two extremely distinguished Ministers — the future of Westland, its workers, shareholders and bankers—the whole family of the company — is more secure today. They all have better terms than they did when Sikorsky first made a bid.
There is a need for European collaboration to continue. The European fighter aircraft project was about to disintegrate when my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley took it on. It took him about two years to produce what in European collaborative terms was a coup and in order to do that deep suspicions and years of mutual hostility between European partners and European companies had to be overcome.
France has behaved badly in the past and I understand the fears of Westland on account of that, but Britain and British companies have also behaved in ways that have given rise to deep suspicions by our European neighbours and collaborators. Anyone in doubt about the rightness of the EFA deal should note how quickly the French came back and said that they would like to play a part in it, and how quickly the Americans suggested they should be brought in to co-operate on the project.
I commend the EFA deal as a model for increased collaboration in Europe on military equipment. The lesson is that such collaboration must be Government led. Personal relationships between Defence Ministers of European countries are important, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr will continue in that way and will quickly reassure our European friends that we are committed to a policy of collaboration on projects in Europe. The rewards for such collaboration are cheaper defence equipment and tougher competition for the United States, and those rewards are in the interests of taxpayers, not just in Europe but in the United States as well.
I see an increased need in future for an out-of-area contribution by our armed forces and especially a need for our conventional weapons. The thrust of our defence effort is bound to continue to be in Europe. We cannot allow the British Army of the Rhine to weaken. We will face increasing demands from outside the NATO area and we must be able to respond to those demands. I was recently in the far east and I was besieged by Ministers of countries with which we are friendly urging Britain to help them in more complicated skilled management and military ways. Friendly nations will increasingly look to us and to our NATO allies for help, although I am not suggesting that we should get sucked into other people's wars.
I speak for no one in the armed forces or in the military establishment when I say that we ought to have a form of national community service with a military option. We need, and will need, more men and women in the armed forces, and the binding social effects of a form of community service would be advantageous to Britain. Our armed forces ought to play a part in that.
1152 It is dangerous to extrapolate from personal experience, but I recall living in a village from which the young men of the time went away as boys and returned as citizens. I should declare my personal interest because I was one of the last to do national service. One of my two most dangerous moments was guarding Government house in what was then Tanganyika and Zanzibar against suspected riots of the kind we were debating earlier, but, because Julius Nyerere is a wonderful man of peace, no riots ensued. My second dangerous moment arose from the risk I encountered by eating snails at 3 am in the morning.
§ Mr. Baker
I do not recommend it, even to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West because I do not wish him that kind of harm. A period of community service should be part of growing up. I am pleased that the armed forces are playing a part in the youth training scheme, and I should like to see that develop into a voluntary limb of a form of national community service. I pay tribute to the men and women of our armed services at home and overseas, and to the ministerial team that supports them. That team has, and will continue to have, my full support.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I take issue with a couple of things said by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker). I was a national service man and I would not recommend it to anyone. My major emotion at the time was that of boredom, perhaps closely followed by a feeling of anxiety because I was in the military police. I also disagree with his panegyric to his right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine).
The right hon. Member for Henley committed grievous bodily harm on my constituency when, shortly before his departure, he ordered three submarines from Cammell-Laird. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman did not quit six months earlier, because his successor might have ordered one of those submarines from Scott Lithgow. I do not say that the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) Is biased, but if one of the submarines had been ordered from Scott Lithgow the Royal Navy would have benefited from that decision.
I promise to make a brief contribution. It has to be brief because I am meeting my wife soon. My contribution consists largely of a melange of questions that, inter alia, were brought to me by constituents and largely relate to the provision of welfare services to members of the Army. The British Army is a highly competent professional force that performs the most difficult tasks, particularly in Northern Ireland, with admirable efficiency.
Questions have been put to me by the families of service men, and I would be grateful to the Minister if he could answer them. If he cannot answer them today, perhaps he could let me have replies within a few days. First, have the Government any plans to change the minimum age at which soldiers can be sent to Northern Ireland? When opening the debate the Minister said that recruitment is going well, although he conceded a minute later that the rate of premature voluntary retirement is high. Considerable dissatisfaction generates the decisions to quit the Army. Has any examination been carried out of the premature retirements? Given the sharp contrast between Army and civilian life, is the Minister satisfied 1153 with the provision of pre-retirement guidance and training for Army personnel? I have heard complaints about that. It is an important subject. Those who have given first-class service to the nation should be offered excellent training prior to leaving the Army.
What of those who have to be dismissed from the Army on medical grounds? Are they treated compassionately by the Army at a most distressing time for them? Are they too given guidance and help to come to terms with their involuntary withdrawal from the Army?
Is the Minister satisfied with the welfare provisions available to soldiers and their families when they are serving overseas? The families of soldiers are no different from other families and they may encounter all kinds of emotional, marital and domestic problems. Has the Army the resources to deal with the distressful events within the families of soldiers? The Soldiers, Sailors and Airmens Families Association employs professionally trained, competent social workers, who do a first-class job. Nevertheless, we must ask about the welfare provisions for service men and their families, particularly when they are serving overseas. Often the wives of such soldiers are young and they are taken away from their natural family environment in the United Kingdom. It is essential that resources are available to guide them when they may be suffering medical, social, economic or marital problems.
There are a couple of other questions that are not related directly to the welfare of Army personnel. Have the Government plans to reduce the garrison on Gibraltar? I have been asked about that recently. I promised a brief intervention because my sergeant major is coming down from Scotland. She has just ordered me to get my hair cut.
The Minister of State for Defence Procurement well knows that the royal ordnance factory at Bishopton is wholly contained within the constituency of the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley). He also knows that several hundred of my constituents work at Bishopton. There are widespread anxieties about the lack of orders from the Ministry of Defence. If the German firm is unable to honour its obligations for the supply of FH70s, production should be redirected to Birtley and Bishopton.
The difficult circumstances surrounding ROF plc are a direct result of the reduction in MOD orders. The position is made much worse by the Government's confusing policy of competitive tendering. It is confusing and confounding in the sense that the ROF has to shoulder design and development costs; I think that I am right in saying that it has to make those designs available to competitors. Is that sensible?
My questions have largely concerned the welfare of Army personnel and their families, and I should be grateful for answers to them.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
In his interesting, compassionate and brief speech the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) raised, amongst other questions, the issue of pre-retirement courses for long serving soldiers and officers. I would not presume to answer on behalf of my right hon. Friend, but in the past 20 years I have heard nothing but praise for the quality of the pre-retirement courses that are available to long serving soldiers, NCOs and officers.
1154 In his interesting survey of some of the accomplishments of the Army during the last year my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces omitted to draw attention to the fact that 1985 marked, temporarily I hope, the end of a nine-year era in which the black button mafia has largely dominated the affairs of the Army. In 1976 General, now Field Marshal, Sir Roland Gibbs became chief of the general staff. He was succeeded three years later by General, now Field Marshal, Sir Edwin Bramall, who retired a few months ago as chief of the defence staff. He began his immensely distinguished career some 44 years ago when he tried to train me.
During the past nine years an exceptional number of former members of the Green Jackets have served as Ministers in the Ministry of Defence. No fewer than three of them—Lord Trenchard, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Sir A. Butler) and my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie)—have been responsible for defence procurement. As one would expect, the Army has done well during the black button era. Our soldiers are now better equipped, better trained and much better paid than they were before the black button takeover.
But surprisingly—particularly surprisingly when one considers the regiment's reputation for swift and unorthodox movement—we have never during the past nine years had a sensible helicopter policy. Our failure to produce a sensible helicopter policy has led directly to the Westland crisis through which we have all been living. The general public has been riveted by cries of scandal, but, to my mind, the real scandal is that Westland ever got into a state of collapse at all. There can be no doubt that Westland's management problems have been greatly intensified by the prolonged state of indecision about helicopter operational requirements. Many of the helicopter questions that were discussed in my room at the Ministry of Defence more than four years ago have still not been answered.
There are three main reasons why the Army has got its helicopter policy wrong in recent years. The most important is the division of responsibility for helicopters between the Army and the Royal Air Force: big helicopters, such as the Chinook, are the responsibility of the Royal Air Force, and smaller helicopters, such as the admirable Lynx, are the responsibility of the Army. The result is that both services have been tempted to treat helicopter policy as a fringe issue. Meanwhile, it surely does not make much sense to have two separate helicopter headquarters in Germany.
It will take some years before the helicopter systems provided both by the RAF and the Army can be brought together, but the command structure can be unified quickly. I note that the reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence staff structure that was carried through so energetically by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) will make a unified command structure for our helicopters much easier to introduce. It would be ironic and wholly appropriate if one of the first positive results of the Heseltine reorganisation at the Ministry of Defence were to be a sensible, unified helicopter command structure.
The second reason why we have neglected our helicopter policy in recent years flows from some misunderstanding about the war in Vietnam. It is certainly true that the Americans used a very large number of 1155 helicopters in Vietnam. A semi-popular, semiprofessional mythology has grown up which suggests that the Americans were defeated because they were buzzing about in the air while the Vietcong were taking over on the ground. I spent some time in Vietnam during the conflict, and I believe that this popular myth, which is widely believed in the British Army, is inaccurate.
It is perhaps ironic that the American experience in Vietnam has overshadowed our own successful use of helicopters during the confrontation in Indonesia.
General Wake Walker noted at the end of the Borneo campaign that one British battalion equipped with six Wessex helicopters was worth one British brigade without helicopters. Borneo and the Falklands campaign remind us that helicopters have a dual use and that, useful as they may be on the central front, they are even more useful in an out-of-area role.
The third reason why the Army and the other services have neglected their helicopter policy stems from the sad fact that those who are interested in helicopter policy tend to be looked upon as outsiders who are not to be taken too seriously. An RAF officer who wishes to become an air marshal would be well advised to disguise any enthusiasm that he may have for flying a Chinook and instead devote his energies to flying the latest strike aircraft upside down at twice the speed of sound and a couple of hundred feet above the ground. An Army staff officer who aspires to a seat on the Army Board will sensibly be backing our tank programme, our armoured personnel carrier programme or our various artillery programmes; officers who seriously think about a field marshal's baton in their knapsack will be pressing for merits of the Core weapons systems. By way of contrast, those officers who show a strong interest in helicopters too often tend to be regarded as fringe people who are not quite serious about their careers.
Is it realistic, then, to think that there can be a significant increase in our helicopter strength in the next few years? I would certainly be prepared to support some transfer of funds from our tank improvement programme and our armoured personnel carrier replacement programme to make room for some extra helicopter procurement. But I recognise that the scope for transfer is limited, and that all programmes are under pressure from budgetary considerations.
There is, however, one way in which we could enormously enhance our helicopter capacity at very small cost to the defence budget. I note that there are in this country 550 civilian helicopters and that about 350 of them are civilian versions of military types. There are, for example, 50 Sea King helicopters in civilian ownership at the moment, some, I believe, in the hands of Mr. Alan Bristow. There are, I understand, 30 civilian Super Pumas operating from Dyce airport in Scotland. Many, if not most, of these 550 civilian helicopters are operated by pilots with some service training.
Four and a half years ago I suggested to the then chief of the air staff that we should make plans for taking over civilian helicopters if war broke out. I think that the time has now come to implement this suggestion as a matter of some urgency. In such an eventuality, some helicopters would have to continue in their normal role, but I believe that at least 250 civilian helicopters could become part of a territorial army of the air. It would cost money. Some modifications to the earmarked helicopters would be needed. Extra wireless sets might have to be provided. Some extra training would have to be given to pilots and 1156 ground crew, and special rates of pay would have to be worked out for those who were then associated with this territorial army of the air.
Of course, it would be unrealistic to think that civilian helicopters, even those earmarked and trained in advance, could be pitchforked into fighting on the central front, but the existence of this large reserve, which would be as large as the Army's entire helicopter fleet at present, would mean that every service helicopter now stationed in this country could be assigned to an overseas role. A few million pounds wisely spent could thus buy an enormous increase in our helicopter capacity.
I turn to the still vexed question whether the Army should look to a European consortium for the future supply of helicopters and other items of equipment. In the past 20 years there have been some European collaborative projects that have worked well. Until the recent controversy over the SP70, the gunners seemed to get on particularly well with European collaborative projects, but I note that in the past 20 years all talk about the production of a European or an Anglo-German tank have produced almost nothing. By all means let us have European cooperation in producing military equipment, but let it flow naturally if it is going to flow at all. Let us also remember that international European co-operation means that one loses a substantial element of flexibility in changing or, indeed, in postponing collaborative projects.
There has been comment today about the new European fighter. I suspect that in the course of the next few years a number of people will believe that it is wise—indeed, essential—to postpone the development of this aircraft, but the fact is that a European-wide project will make that a great deal more difficult. At the same time, I do not share the general feeling that it is undesirable that we in this country, or, indeed, our European allies, should not buy American equipment.
On the tapes earlier today, I noted that the American trade deficit for the past year had just reached record levels, some 140 billion dollars plus, and no doubt in the course of the next few months we shall have meetings of Finance Ministers once again to see how we can improve American export performance, yet at the same time we have European Defence Ministers meeting to see how one can cut off American exports in the one field in which they have substantial predominance.
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker
Is my hon. Friend aware that, if such a European project did not go ahead, the alternative, given that all the European countries, including ourselves, believe that the development of a fighter aircraft is necessary to our defences, is that it would cost us £1 billion on a national basis to go ahead?
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
That I accept wholly is the present view. As the years pass, and as the budgetary pressures increase, I rather suspect that this aircraft will turn out to be rather less necessary for our defences than is believed at the moment.
To turn back to the question of helicopter supply, in all the Westland furore there has to my mind been astonishingly little comment about the decision of the national armaments directors of Britain, France, Germany and Italy deliberately to cut themselves off from helicopter design collaboration with the Americans, who have so much more experience than all the rest of us put together. 1157 It seemed to me to be a monumentally stupid decision —one of the worst taken in defence in the past decade —and I am glad that it has now been aborted.
I am sure that it will be to the advantage of the Army, and, indeed, to the advantage of the services as a whole, if the link with Sikorsky is confirmed by the Westland shareholders. If eleventh hour manoeuvrings on the stock exchange manage to stop the confirmation of the Sikorsky-Fiat link, I hope that the Government will step in to back the board, the management and the work force. I hope even more wholeheartedly that the whole Westland argument will bring forward the moment when we can say that the Army has chosen a helicopter policy which is sensible and sustainable.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
I listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart). In his pertinent remarks about the contribution that helicopters can make, he expanded on the point made briefly by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) with regard to the lack of a unified command structure, which has had some of the consequences that were mentioned.
The whole problem that Westland has faced can be attributed in no small way, I think, to the lack of clarity, not only in the Ministry of Defence but, one suspects, also in the services following the Army's decision to reassess its helicopter requirements, having decided that the AST404 was not what it wanted.
I endorse the tributes already made in the debate to the service given by the armed forces, in particular by the Army. My first contact with the Army as spokesman for the Liberal party was during exercise Brave Defender when I went to Catterick to witness two exercises in the course of that major exercise. I was impressed by what I saw on that occasion. The Minister, in opening, emphasised the important role the home service force played in exercise Brave Defender. Although the opportunity was taken by the exercise to boost the visibility of the home service force, I think that it is important not to forget the important contribution made also by the Territorial Army.
Figures have been cited on recruitment into the Territorial Army to respond to the need for manpower in the services. Because of the decreasing birth rate in the 1960s, the number of possible recruits is declining.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), who advocated conscription. That is not an option. It would be interesting to hear what the Government's thinking is on future manpower levels and what they hope to do to stimulate recruitment at a time when fewer people will be available.
As to the Gurkhas, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) visited the regimental headquarters of the Gurkhas in Nepal. He was concerned about the apparent lack of morale, due to uncertainty about the regiment's future, especially in light of the Hong Kong agreement. In view of the visit by Her Majesty the Queen to Nepal in the next four weeks, I think that a clear indication of the future size of the Gurkha regiments would be much appreciated.
Another matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley Hill has raised on a number of occasions relates 1158 to our duty to service men of a former age, especially those involved in the early testing of nuclear weapons in Australia at Maralinga and Christmas Island. There is evidence that men suffered long-term medical effects because they were close to the explosions. A memo in the 1950s to the chief of staff's committee shows that the Army at that time was interested in the detailed effects of various explosions.
It is regrettable that we have arrived at this point without a proper assessment being made. I urge the Minister not only to look at the work of the National Radiological Protection Board in examining the medical records but to study the veterans themselves and their families to ascertain whether there have been any longer-term genetic effects as a result of their exposure to radioactivity. Those Australian service men who served alongside our forces have been given the opportunity to press their cases in the Australian courts, and have been successful on a number of occasions. However, in the United Kingdom because of the operation of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 that is not possible, and that is something that we would wish to see reviewed.
In relation to the Army, our main obligation is to maintain some 55,000 troops on the mainland of western Europe. We accept that to be the proper recognition of our commitment to its defence. I have not heard it mentioned that the period during which the annual increase in real spending on defence was to be 3 per cent. is now coming to an end. I suggest that we did not get enough credit from some of our NATO partners during the years when we were increasing that, but obviously that is now coming to an end, and this is an appropriate time to examine the position and future role of our armed forces, particularly in western Europe.
It is increasingly being said that NATO should lessen its dependence on nuclear weapons, particularly battlefield nuclear weapons. Battlefield nuclear weapons, particularly those situated close to the frontier, are the ones most likely to be used and carry us over the dangerous nuclear threshold. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) already has pointed out there has been a decision taken to reduce the numbers, and modernise those that are left. He put a question to the Minister, which we hope will be answered in the wind-up, as to what the United Kingdom view is on this, and whether we are participating in that modernisation programme.
There is fear of a perceived inability to resist a conventional attack by Warsaw pact forces which could lead to an early resort to nuclear weapons and subsequent escalation, which in turn could lead to the use of strategic nuclear weapons. We would wish to see adopted the proposals put forward in the Palme commission to create a battlefield nuclear-free zone in central Europe. It is something that we would hope could be negotiated bilaterally with the Warsaw pact countries, but if that was not the case, we believe that we should withdraw our battlefield nuclear weapons 150 km—95 miles—from the central zone frontier.
§ Mr. Conway
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Before he turned to his party's policies with regard to nuclear weapons he paid tribute to the British forces and to the state of the British Army of the Rhine. If the express desire of the alliance to have this nuclear-free zone were to come about, and it is one that we would all wish to see, what security could we offer to those of our service men 1159 who are based in BAOR? If an opposing force were to resort to a chemical weapon attack— and, as he well knows, this country gave up the stockpiling of chemical weapons—what protection would he offer those troops in our name?
§ Mr. Wallace
I would wish to negotiate a bilateral agreement on chemical weapons, and I understand that initiatives have been forthcoming in recent months from East Germany. That is something that our Government would be able to look at. In parallel with the withdrawal of battlefield nuclear weapons I believe that it should be the object of NATO strategy not to rely on the first use of nuclear weapons. That must mean that there is even greater importance to be attached to the effectiveness of our conventional forces, in terms not only of equipment and training, but to the increasing appropriateness of some of the emerging technologies.
This is a view that is beginning to come through more in discussions. The communiqué issued after the meeting of Ministers in Brussels in May last year said:The current disparity between NATO's conventional forces and those of the Warsaw Pact risks undue reliance on the early use of nuclear weapons. This would be an unacceptable situation which we are determined to avoid.I very much hope that the Government will play their full part in ensuring that we are capable of resisting attack by non-nuclear means.
That leads us on to examine the question of our commitment to conventional weapons, and highlights the crisis in the defence budget that has already been referred to. The Economist in a report last year stated:The British Army is already the most poorly equipped of all the main armies on NATO's Central Front. It has less heavy artillery than the Dutch; fewer tanks than the French, the West Germans or the Americans (in Europe); and a lop-sided antiaircraft system based entirely on missiles—no guns at all. It needs more equipment than is now in its long-term plans, not less.I think that that view has been echoed in other publications.
There are fears that the Ministry, particularly under the former Secretary of State, has tried to balance its budget by cutting back projects and by spinning out the purchase of equipment. We have already heard this evening the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) who spoke about this with reference to ammunition. There are fears, not only because of the shortage of ammunition but because of the cost of ammunition, that a number of exercises are curtailed or restrained.
That, inevitably, has an effect on the morale of serving men and officers. That, too, is being reflected by the number of people who have been leaving or retiring early from the armed forces. It is said that a tank regiment in Germany lost twice as many men in 1985 as it did in 1984. The forces feel that they are using old equipment which is less sophisticated than the new versions. Inevitably this will have an impact on the morale of those serving. It is a problem that is likely to get worse rather than better.
The cost of replacement and maintenance is generally reckoned to be in excess of the cost of inflation. If, as the recent public expenditure White Paper indicated, the amount of spending in real terms is to decrease — I accept that there will be a lessening amount committed to the Falklands—then if we have regard to the increases in costs that would seem to amount to a significant decrease in the purchasing capacity for conventional weapons.
1160 We believe that there is a need for a review of our options and our priorities. We would urge strongly from this alliance Bench that there is a need to take steps towards a more common procurement policy in liaison with out NATO allies. This is not only important because of the economic benefits but in terms of strategy. One suspects that the Warsaw pact manages to have its ammunition, weapons and transport fairly well coordinated, and I believe that we could be at a strategic disadvantage through a lack of matching up of the contributions from the various nation states of NATO. We would strongly urge that the Trident project should be scrapped because an even greater part of the defence equipment budget will be used up on that project in coming years. This will crowd out expenditure on conventional weapons, which we believe is necessary.
In answering an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil, the right hon. Member for Llanelli said that the Labour party would maintain conventional spending if Trident were scrapped. The alliance would use the sums of money released through the scrapping of Trident to improve our conventional capabilities. That would give us the opportunity to raise the nuclear threshold. We believe that there should be that reallocation of funds.
We want initiatives to be taken to try to reduce our commitment of resources to the Falkland Islands. My alliance colleagues supported the Government in sending the task force to the Falkland Islands. They were right to do so. However, if we have won the war, we have lost the peace. Not only did we defeat Argentina on the Falklands issue but General Galtieri was defeated in his country, in the sense that democratic government was subsequently brought to Argentina. The position today differs fundamentally from the position when the task force was sent in. We shall miss a great opportunity if we do riot support the democratic Government in Argentina by entering in[...]alks with them. Next month the visit to Britain by a[...]rliamentary group from Argentina through the offices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union will provide us with a good opportunity. I hope that senior Ministers are prepared to meet that group so that we can begin a dialogue which can, in good time, lead to a smaller amount of resources being devoted to the Falklands.
It would be easy to say, especially in relation to Trident, that, if we scrap one thing, we can spend the money on building schools, hospitals and sporting facilities and providing pensions and social services-all essential and worthy items. I hope that I have made it clear that we advocate a policy of considerably increasing spending on conventional weapons. We shall not fall into the trap of promising all sorts of things. The need to improve our conventional capability is of the utmost importance, and we strongly urge the Government to address their minds to it.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)
I listened carefully to the hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. In such a wide-ranging debate, it is tempting to raise several important matters that concern the British Army, but I reassure the House that I shall restrain myself and limit my remarks to one such subject—the procurement of small arms ammunition. In this I have an interest, in that the one United Kingdom supplier of small arms 1161 ammunition to the Ministry of Defence is located at Radway Green in my constituency, which employs just under 2,500 people.
The factory was set up by the Ministry of Defence solely to supply its requirements. When the initial capital and manpower investment was made, there was no question of competitive tendering or, indeed, of privatisation. At present, production at Radway Green runs at 200 million rounds per year, with 98 per cent. of that production devoted to Ministry of Defence contracts and the remainder being work completed for other factories in the Royal Ordnance group.
In the past couple of years, output at the factory has doubled due to orders placed in response to the Falklands conflict, after which the national store cupboard for small arms ammunition was seriously depleted. In the words of the old nursery rhyme, the cupboard was bare. The factory is operating on a high plateau, having taken on additional personnel to ensure deliveries of the orders placed.
What is the future of Radway Green? I ask that question in the light of today's announcement of 831 redundancies at two other royal ordnance factories in the north of England. The Royal Ordnance company as a whole is in the middle of privatisation plans and is due to be floated in July this year. Potential investors are looking hard at the order books to see what sort of investment it will be. They will be horrified to see that, after 1 April 1986, there are no definite orders for the small arms division, except for the promise of one year's supply of the new 5.56 mm NATO ammunition, although, of course, negotiations with the Ministry are continuing.
I am confident that Radway Green will be successful and that other orders will follow to maintain production and employment at the factory; but the level of both in the future causes me and many others great anxiety. For example, I understand that the order for 9 mm ammunition has been lost to this country and will definitely be placed abroad—possibly with Portugal where labour rates are a quarter of ours, or with Greece or India, both of which could supply ammunition cheaply. But at what cost to our small arms manufacturing capacity will this ammunition be supplied? At what overall cost will it be to the taxpayer picking up the bill for those thrown out of work here as a result?
It may interest the House to know that foreign competition is invited to tender here for Ministry of Defence contracts, but the same facility is not available to our manufacturers. Our manufacturers have no opportunity to tender for similar contracts abroad. Therefore, the competitive tendering that is taking place is completely one-sided and puts our people at a grave disadvantage. The policy ensures that part of the home market, which is necessary for continued viability, is removed completely. Our competitors can supply cheaply, and they do, because they have a stable home market arms industry supplying their national needs. It is therefore easy for them to offer any surplus production at a ridiculously low price to win orders here, at our expense.
Is it a wise policy to open our market to competitors, to place orders abroad, the result of which will be to reduce the level of production in this country to uneconomic proportions? What of the saving to the taxpayer then? Surely the more sensible and pragmatic option is to place orders for our requirements for the British Army in the 1162 United Kingdom, enabling factories such as Radway Green to have a stable future and to continue to reorganise and become more efficient by reducing overheads and unit costs. To achieve that, a certain stable level of production is vital. The excuse, or the reason, for competitive tendering is that the taxpayer has an interest in getting good value for money. Every hon. Member and every person in Britain would agree wholeheartedly with those sentiments. The cheapest is not necessarily the best value, as any housewife worth her salt will say. In the short term, it might be extremely appealing but, in the long term, it is often a disaster and usually costs much more.
It is, of course, strategically vital to maintain and to encourage our small arms manufacturing capacity in the United Kingdom. It has proved itself in the past to be reliable. It produces a quality product which the Army has come to expect and have confidence in. Deliveries can be made daily, if necessary, to top up supplies if an emergency occurs. Unlike what would happen with a foreign supplier from whom even larger supplies would be necessary to keep the store cupboard full if there are delivery difficulties, there are no difficulties in shipping, no dock strikes and no military equipment being impounded. Our home-based industry has so much more to offer. Radway Green, for example, is in a prime position, being linked into the rail network for ease of delivery to and from Longtown, near Annan, and to Kineton, the main Ministry of Defence store in Warwickshire.
What policy should be followed by the Government to ensure that our manufacturing capacity is retained and kept at a level that would ensure optimum value for the taxpayer in this price-conscious age? I have no hesitation in proposing that all orders should be placed in this country to enable unit costs to be brought down. Fewer orders and less work mean that unit costs rise. The worst of both worlds results because, at the end of the day, the only winners will be our foreign competitors and the losers will be the people of this country, once again.
I urge the Minister, with all the strength I can muster, to think long and hard before confirming so foolish a course, the results of which will not serve the best longterm interests of this nation. The best way that hon. Members and the Government can pay tribute to the service of our most excellent Army is to supply it with the best in arms and equipment produced, in the case of small arms ammunition, in this country by its fellow countrymen.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), in his intervention in the speech of the Secretary of State, made clear the concern about the standard of morale in our Regular forces. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the damage which can be done to morale when we mess around with the overseas allowances at short notice.
In answer to a question about that during Question Time towards the end of last year, my right hon. Friend covered the concern that is felt in many parts of our armed forces and the steps that the Government are taking to try to alleviate it. However, it still remains a factor, particularly for those in the armoured regiments which are perpetually posted overseas, particularly in the British Army of the Rhine. 1163 Those of us who have friends and relatives serving in the Regular forces appreciate the changes that are taking place in attitude particularly of those who reach the rank of senior NCO and hold commissions in our forces because those who find their bi-annual moves, along with their families and wives, a perpetual strain throughout their service career find that it becomes increasingly difficult if they have wives who wish to follow a career. Many of their wives have achieved a high standard of further education and find that the sacrifices in being married to a senior NCO or officer are very great when it comes to giving up the training they received before they married. I believe that that is becoming an issue in the Regular Army and is one to which the House and those who represent the House in the Ministry of Defence must address themselves.
I should particularly like to refer to the pensions problem because that is a matter of anxiety in many areas, particularly for those who have since retired from regular service. I believe that the Officers Pension Society performs a useful service for both sides of the House in campaigning for a better deal for those who have retired from our armed forces. Indeed, the disparities in the retired pay codes still exist and, although the position of widows has improved, the equality that I think we all wish to see in the retired pay codes and widows' pensions is not yet on the horizon. I very much hope that eventually it will be a Conservative Government who will introduce the equity which we all seek.
Normally, these debates provide an opportunity to refer to the Territorial Army with which I have been and remain involved. I am glad to see that during the short time that I have been a Member of the House the proportion of time spent by the House on the Territorial Army has improved. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State devoted part of his opening speech to the expansion of the Territorial Army and its conditions, which it appreciates. I regret that that has not always been the case. I have suggested before in the Chamber that the attention given to the 30 per cent. staffing of our deployed force and the 50 per cent. proportion of the 1 (BR) Corps has not been sufficient.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's presence at the Ministry of Defence because he holds a territorial decoration. Therefore, we very much hope that we have a strong friend at court because of his experience in the Territorial Army. I hope that he will continue the expansion started by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). It is an expansion which I believe will make increasingly good sense as we move towards the problems of diminishing population, particularly the young population. The expansion of the Territorial Anny from 59,000 when the Government came to power to the 86,000 planned by the turn of the decade will make a great difference to its deployment and ability to train. It will also put considerable pressures on the system, and I think that that is recognised in the Ministry of Defence.
My own battalion, the 5th battalion of the Light Infantry, is being split from its northern company to form the new 8th battalion. The good will that such a split requires on the part of those in the command structure and those who will soon be taking over is considerable, and I wish that all of my colleagues in the Government and other hon. Members could see the enthusiasm which is brought to that task. The enthusiasm does not come simply from those who were employed to carry out that task, but there is a positive enthusiasm from those of our Regular Army 1164 personnel on attachment to Territorial Army units. They all work to achieve the best possible organisation in the shortest possible time.
Certainly the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve Associations have played a valuable role in helping to smooth the difficulty of creating new units from existing units and new units in areas where perhaps there has not been a strong TA presence for many years.
Those of us who have served in the Territorial Army, or still do, and other reserve branches of the armed forces find the support of our wives a particularly important part of being allowed to continue to serve. The support of our employers is equally important and I am glad to say that the Whips Office is often helpful in ensuring that I can take part in my annual TA commitment. The appointment of Tommy Macpherson, who has served and commanded a Territorial Army unit and has a good record in business, is to be welcomed because the industrial community needs to be assured of the value of its personnel receiving some sort of military training. Often one sees advertisements by major national companies seeking the employment of young men who have served in the forces on a regular basis. That must say something for the training people receive in the armed forces, and that is equally true of the Territorial Army.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will be aware that morale is high, not least because the standard of bounty and pay is good, but also because the support from the Regular forces to the TA is excellent and the training facilities improve weekly. That does not mean that the House can forget the public warning we received towards the end of 1985 when the director of the Territorial Army warned of the pressures being placed on the Regular Army with the expansion plan, particularly in the case of secondment of regular officers to TA units and the provision of senior NCOs and warrant officers to act as the SPSIs of Territorial Army battalions.
The most encouraging thing I have seen during my time with the Territorial Army is that we often have people posted to our battalions who have a long way to go in their Army career. Therefore, it is not a case of appointing Regular soldiers to TA units who are just filling out time towards the end of their career. That is an important policy which the Government are continuing, and I am sure it must pay dividends in ensuring that the expensive equipment that the Territorial Army has at its disposal is used to its maximum advantage.
In the past, debates on the Army have not been terribly acrimonious and I find that many Opposition Members strongly support the Territorial Army. When I had the privilege of serving with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the presence of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) was very welcome and he has been a great supporter of the Territorial Army. Therefore, I particularly regretted the remarks of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I am sorry that he is not in his place, but I intervened when he was speaking. I do not think that the British public see the armed forces of this country in a sinister light. There is a warning in his remarks and those of people of his ilk for members of my party and those on the Treasury Bench.
Unless we ensure that the armed forces maintain a community involvement and a strong presence in their county areas, the danger of such scaremongering can increase. It is important that we maintain local training areas, locally based garrisons and battalion bases so that 1165 they are not concentrated into one or two small parts of the United Kingdom, where the unjustified sinister attitude could develop, that, whenever we see the armed forces, a military coup is about to sweep aside our democracy.
The Army should continue to be very much a part of our civilian life. In Shropshire, we are fortunate in having not only the headquarters of Western District but several Territorial Army units, which will keep going the presence of our armed forces when we lose the services of the Light Division depot, which closes this year. I believe that Her Majesty the Queen Mother is to attend the closing ceremony.
The one Army concept is growing among Regular personnel, but it is also catching on in political quarters at the Ministry of Defence. I am glad to see that.
I should like to press a constituency interest. One of my constant themes is the need to get TA battalions committed to the British Army of the Rhine into armoured personnel carriers rather than the soft-skin vehicles allocated to them. My battalion is committed to BAOR, and that will be good for its protection. The wheeled protection could be the Saxon carrier which, by coincidence, is made in Shropshire. We see not only the attraction for the armed forces but, more important, the employment and economic attractions of developing an armoured protection policy for TA units based in NATO countries.
I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for his assurance when I intervened. He said that our noble Friend Lord Trefgarne, the Minister of State for Defence Support in another place, is actively pursuing the problems of unemployed reserve force personnel whose pay is immediately stopped by the Department of Health and Social Security, although it can take some weeks before their TA pay catches up. I hope that those who serve under the Paymaster General do not believe that we are niggling at them. The system itself must take some time, while the pay sheets are handled at company battalion level and then passed on to the pay office for attention. There is an inevitable delay, but it is not a matter of efficiency or inefficiency. The system must simply come to terms. When our noble Friend examines that problem, perhaps he will have discussions with the Home Office. If firemen, who play a valuable role, become unemployed, they are exempt from the Department of Health and Social Security penalties that now apply to TA personnel. Some of my hon. Friends have raised that issue several times. I am delighted to hear that the Government are now pursuing the problem actively.
In the debate, the House has heard the suggestion that we could have a return to a form of national service in the TA. That view finds support in many quarters. I am not personally convinced that this country will ever be prepared to accept again a form of national conscription on a two-year basis, which we had until the early 1960s. However, some sort of military service is extremely valuable.
We might do well to look at the example of the Swiss nation, which has a form of conscription based on the TA concept. The Swiss undergo a 14-day consecutive training period and then go on a minimum number of weekends a year, when they can exercise and practise their military skills. The spin-off from such a system in this country would be welcomed by many young people. Central television allowed me to make a documentary for one of 1166 its programmes about serving in the TA on a conscription basis. A group of young people in Shrewsbury were chosen at random, and they were asked for their views. Because I was not personally involved in vetting those young people, to my great regret, I was expecting to find a pretty negative response to the thought that they might be whipped into an Army unit for 14 days' training. To my surprise, there was a positive reaction. In fact, most of those interviewed felt that they would welcome the opportunity for a short period of military training and believed that it would not be unreasonable for the country to ask them to be prepared to defend it and train for that purpose. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House with military experience will appreciate that it is not just military discipline but self-discipline that is so important for military training.
The one constant theme in my experience with the TA and the meetings that we have with the Regular personnel seconded to us is not only their determination, which I would expect from those who have chosen such a calling, but their ability and variety. They are not automatons by any stretch of the imagination, but have a great variety of attitudes to life.
It has been a privilege for me to serve in the 5th battalion of the Light Infantry. I wish that more hon. Members would take the opportunity to visit exercises such as Brave Defender to see the value to the community and the taxpayer of maintaining an active, well-trained and well-equipped TA. In that respect, the Government's record is superb, and I wish them well in continuing along that path.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) speak with such force and effect about the value of a Territorial Army. I am sure that the House will endorse the view that he expressed.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on the success of his scheme, administered by the Royal British Legion, for taking widows to visit the graves of their husbands. I know from a case in the Twickenham constituency that was handled by the Royal British Legion how greatly that scheme is appreciated by widows and by the Royal British Legion. I hope that it will continue, and will go from strength to strength. I am sure that it is the right, decent and honourable thing for us as a country to do for the widows of those who laid down their lives in the cause of freedom and peace.
I am glad to see on the Opposition Front Bench the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who is to wind up the debate for the Opposition. I remind him that 20 years ago precisely this week the Hull, North by-election took place, when he won a famous victory against me, as the defeated Conservative candidate. At the time I minded about it very much, but, with hindsight, I am much relieved because that defeat gave me the opportunity to seek the privilege of representing the Twickenham constituency, and consequently the opportunity to speak tonight in support of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller hall. On that I hope that the hon. Gentleman as well as the Minister will support me.
The training of British Army bands is important for our country. The high standard of excellence of British Army bands is the envy of the world. They lift the spirits of our nation. They add splendour to our royal and state 1167 occasions. They are one of our finest traditions. They enhance morale in the Army. With the bands in the other services, they promote recruiting. As part of the traditional British scene, they help to attract to our shores visitors whose spending helps the tourist trade and thus promotes employment. It is not easy to measure the financial and fiscal effects. There are fiscal effects, because there is a tax return to the Government. Those financial effects undoubtedly exist, and should not be left out of consideration.
The tremendously high standard of British Army bands is linked inextricably to the famous and prestigious name of Kneller hall, the Royal Military School of Music at Whitton in the Twickenham constituency. As a centre of excellence, it is world-renowned. Indeed, 15 to 20 per cent. of its pupils and trainee band masters pay to come from Commonwealth and other overseas countries. They come not only because the school is in Britain but because it is Kneller hall, with its special name.
All that was put at risk by the decision of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) when he was Secretary of State for Defence to set up a tri-service music school at Deal. Even when that decision was made, Deal was not the cheapest option, and the cost has since shot up dramatically.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was kind enough to see me about Kneller hall on Tuesday 21 January 1986. I told her how that institution is greatly cherished in my constituency; how up to 5,000 people attend each of the summer concerts; how the Kneller hall bands play locally to schools and groups of old people and at civic occasions. I told my right hon. Friend how the bands play carols to Christmas shopping crowds and how Kneller hall stands on the only hill in the district with its Union Jack flying. I also told her that a total of 18,679 people had signed two petitions run by the Kneller hall action group and the Whitton Conservative association.
Of the two petitions sent to the Prime Minister in an attempt to save the school of music at Kneller hall, one read:We the undersigned, being residents of the area surrounding Kneller hall, Twickenham, and supporting the persistent efforts of the Member of Parliament Mr. Toby Jessel and the Whitton ward Conservative councillors to save the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller hall request the Prime Minister to ask the Secretary of State for Defence to reconsider his decision to merge training of Army, Air Force and Royal Marine bands, and in view of the enormous contribution the Royal Military School of Music makes in this area, to leave it at Kneller hall.I mentioned to the Prime Minister the support I had on this issue from my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and lsleworth (Mr. Hayhoe). Kneller hall is on the edge of my right hon. Friend's constituency and he, as a Minister, has made his views and the views of his constituents well known behind the scenes. I also told my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that I had the support of other colleagues, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground), my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge is a member of the Public Accounts Committee and the Royal Air Force bands are trained in his constituency. He has therefore become very familiar with this matter.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I would like to thank my hon. Friend for mentioning to the House my interest in this matter and in particular the Royal Air Force 1168 school of music at Uxbridge. I confirm what my hon. Friend says about the great anxiety which the Public Accounts Committee has about the escalating cost of providing an alternative to the three existing schools of music and the proposal to combine them into a single defence school of music. I hope that my hon. Friend will elaborate on that in the course of his remarks.
§ Mr. Jessel
I know that my hon. hon. Friend took an active part in the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday 4 December 1985 which I attended. As I am not a member of the Committee, I do not know what the draft of the Committee's report, due to be published next month, contains. However, I was present on 4 December when, for an hour, the Committee questioned Sir Clive Whitmore, the permanent secretary to the Ministry of Defence. The Committee also questioned an official from the Treasury for a short time. I heard the questions and replies given in respect of the memorandum by the Comptroller and Auditor General on the subject of defence schools of music. If what took place on 4 December is anything to go by, it seems likely that the Public Accounts Committee may criticise the decision by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley to move the school to Deal, now that there is no significant financial advantage in that.
I would like to quote a reply given by Sir Clive Whitmore in paragraph 507 of the Public Accounts Committee report:Table 3 brings out quite clearly that there is not really very much difference between the costs of continuing with the present system"—that is, with the RAF training at Uxbridge, the Royal Marines at Deal and the Army at Twickenham—and the cost of going to Deal.The Comptroller and Auditor General's report shows that the capital cost of works at Deal has increased from £5.8 million to £10.6 million. That broadly offsets any saving on revenue account from merging the three together. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report show that, in respect of the 15 years from 1985 to the year 2000, on the present system the cost of capital and revenue taken together would be £32.8 million and the cost of going to Deal would be £31.8 million. That would amount to a saving of approximately £1 million spread over 15 years which would be about £60,000 a year—the total cost of employing two colonels. That is a small amount in relation to the amount of destruction the move would cause. That amount is, as Sir Clive confirmed when questioned, well within the margin of error.
The costs of making changes to Victorian buildings, which would happen at Deal, could rise higher than the present figure. It is like writing a blank cheque. I hope that the new figures will cause the Government to take a fresh look at the situation in the spirit of trying to see what can be done to save Kneller hall rather than look for reasons why it cannot be saved. I regret that that does not seem to be the approach adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. The noble Lord gives the impression, whenever I discuss the issue with him, that he prefers to press on regardless of the new figures and the strong feeling on the matter in my constituency and in neighbouring constituencies. The noble Lord wants to try to cut the figure from £10.6 million on capital works at Deal back to the £5.8 million, which was the previous figure, although until 4 December 1985 that figure had never been published. 1169 I believe that that cannot be done without an unacceptable cut in standards. This is a key point of my argument. High standards are absolutely essential in military music. One cannot let the standards of military music slip. The music of a military band must be crisp, precise, strong and clear. Its value depends on those qualities. Without them, a military band is virtually useless. A blurred and ragged sound of music coming from a military band would be a pointless exercise.
I should like to quote from a letter which I sent to the Public Accounts Committee and which I believe will appear as an appendix to the report to be published next month:On 1 August I asked the Secretary of State for Defence 'what is the main purpose of providing a tri-service defence school in a single location'? Mr. Lee replied `the defence school of music will be cheaper to run than the present system of separate service schools. It will provide better musical facilities than those currently available, thus enhancing the services' high standards of musicianship'.In his letter my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee) continued:I assure my hon. Friend that no decision about service musical training will be taken that puts at risk the standards or quality of any of the service bands. We wish to maintain those standards. Indeed, we wish to ensure that the facilities provided for that training are improved, not the reverse.I believe that the standards of musical training cannot be upheld, let alone improved, if there is a move to Deal. Kneller hall's high standards would be impaired and there are at least three main reasons for that.
First, the standard of training in performance on musical instruments at Kneller hall derives benefit from the presence of London-based instructors, either professors from music academies in London or expert players from London symphony orchestras who go to Kneller hall on a part-time basis. They have the highest standards. Some of them might go the 80 miles to Deal, but not as many as would go the 12 miles from central London to Kneller hall. It surely cannot be argued that the professors already at Deal for Marine band training could cope with the influx of all the Army band training. There are four or five times as many army bands as Marine bands. There would be a drop in tuition standards.
It is no good saying, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement did, that there would be "suitable" instruction. We do not need what is "suitable" for the training of our military bands, but what is the best.
Secondly, recruits are partly attracted to military bands by the prospect of being taught by the Kneller hall instructors, because they want training that they can use, not just in the service but later when they become civilians again. They are also attracted to Kneller hall because it is world-renowned. It has a splendid bandstand where students perform before audiences of up to 5,000 people. That is a testing experience and a stimulus. It is made possible because 3 million people live within about 10 miles of Kneller hall, whereas only about a 20th or 30th of that number live within 10 miles of Deal. Students would not then have the stimulus of large audiences.
Deal has no bandstand and no concert hall. I believe that the figure of £10.6 million for capital works includes the construction of a bandstand or a concert hall. If that 1170 figure is to be reduced, what will be left out? Will it be the bandstand, the concert hall or, what are just as important, practice rooms?
The proposed site at Deal is a barracks. It consists largely of barrack rooms. People learning to play a musical instrument must have an individual practice room. They cannot learn in a barrack room with six other soldiers playing different musical instruments and different pieces. A trainee must listen to his own playing to improve his standard. That cannot be done properly in a barrack room. If standards are not to be lowered, there must be a great deal of construction at Deal. A joint defence school of music at Deal, or anywhere else, would need a great deal of capital expenditure on practice rooms.
When the report of the Publics Accounts Committee is published next month, I hope that the Government will consider its contents with an open mind. Unless it can be shown that there will be a substantial and certain saving and a guarantee that standards will be upheld, it would be wrong to put at risk the first-class standards of the internationally famous institution which is Kneller hall.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
I seek the indulgence of the House for entering the Chamber late this evening. I have been in Committee on the Gas Bill for many hours. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House will forgive my late intervention.
I endorse the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) about the importance of military music and Kneller hall with its tradition of excellence. I have known Kneller hall for many years. Recently in my constituency the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmens Families Association held a celebration concert and Kneller hall's standard of music was exceptional.
Many of us blow trumpets in favour of the campaign that my hon. Friend has taken to his heart. I have never played a trumpet, but when I was in the combined cadet force I played a tuba and rose to the dizzy rank of company sergeant-major. That, apart from a short period as a pilot officer in the Cambridge university air squadron, is the sum of my military experience.
I have the honour to represent a heavily militarised constituency. I pay tribute to the civilian back-up of our military operations. That is often forgotten. Not least, of course, there is the headquarters of the United Kingdom land forces at Wilton, upon which we depend heavily. There are other establishments such as the Arms and Armaments Experimental establishment at Boscombe Down, the Larkhill ranges and Porton Down establishment which provide not just a great deal of employment but an enormous reserve of loyalty whenever it is needed. The people who work there are unsung heroes with what they achieve.
I am sorry that I missed the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) and for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker). I should have liked to have heard their comments about the Falklands and conscription. I caught the end of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) and I endorse what he said about the Territorial Army.
There has been a great deal of discussion recently about the options available for Great Britain's military strategy. There was an article in The Sunday Times presenting various options for economy, in particular. There was one important mistake and a misconception in that article 1171 which have already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham. They related to the Falkland Islands. The new force levels for the Falkland Islands which no doubt will be announced soon will be welcome in a number of places. It will mean that the expense of the Falkland Islands garrison will be considerably reduced.
I understand that Mount Pleasant airport will pay for itself within a couple of years because we shall need to keep fewer troops on the islands. That will, however, be a mixed blessing. Important training opportunities on the Falkland Islands will be lost for many people. We must appreciate the huge success of the tri-service nature of the military operation on the Falkland Islands which is making a real contribution to our defence experience, as I saw there just before Christmas.
This country needs to rethink its position on military conscription. We are in danger of being overtaken by events in the form of the popular television programme "Yes, Prime Minister" with its characterisation of conscription. However, as we have heard recently, fact is often stranger than fiction. Conscription is the most radical option which is often forgotten when we discuss the future of defence. There are many social benefits which have been mentioned by my hon. Friends. We should remember that every other European Community country, except Ireland, recognises the benefit of military conscription. I believe it would be far more beneficial than a costly bureaucratic extension of community service which has been outlined by one of the opposition parties. That proposal received a frosty welcome in the press, including a leader in The Times.
The voluntary sector in Britain is almost unique among the European countries. It is advanced, it is popular, well subscribed and well supported. To suggest national service of a community service nature would crowd out that sector. I do not wish to be misunderstood, but the remarkable success of community service orders issued by the courts would, I suspect, be jeopardised if we confused the issues and suggested that some form of national service or conscription was similar to the penal option which is now available for young people.
There is much serious thought on the question of financing the defence of Britain. Senior and middle ranking service officers, through their own experience of recruiting for their regiments and their own training experience, believe that we cannot leave out the idea of military conscription. There are regiments, the Parachute Regiment in particular, which reckon that they can turn tough recruits of comparatively tender age into competent soldiers within a few months. It is hard reality and hard experience. It is certainly not blimpish dogma wishing to go back to the era of square bashing and the spit and polish of toe caps.
Why is it that many of us, myself included, have only recently become converts to this idea? I suspect that it is because politicians have swallowed the quite understandable line of the military establishment that it would be a retrograde step, not to mention sheer hard work, to go back to a system which was abandoned in the 1960s. There is a great deal of institutional inertia in the military establishments. How long will it be before politicians are forced to reconsider military conscription? If one extrapolates the figures of pay and pensions in the services, one finds that pay and pensions are consuming a growing and, I believe, insupportable proportion of the defence budget.
1172 A more professional military establishment would develop if a highly trained group of professional soldiers could rely upon a wider group of conscripts. Only last weekend one commanding officer told me that the rate of coming and going of private soldiers in his regiment was so great that he would not notice if there were conscripts.
If this country chose to pursue a non-nuclear strategy, which, in my view, is militarily unrealistic, it would force a return to conscription even sooner than we could plan for. That would lead to a massive increase in the defence budget much earlier than we could deal with.
I do not think that this is an outrageous suggestion, arid anyone who suggests that it is is ignorant of the role of national service men in our military history over the past 40 years. Undoubtedly the expansion of the Territorial Army is a stride in the right direction. Why not take a radical leap down that road? Conscription is a harsh reality with a proven record in European countries of all political persuasions. I merely ask the House to start thinking about it as a proper option for the future.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
As is usual on these occasions, we have had a very wide-ranging debate. May I thank the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) for his kind words of congratulations to mark my 20 years in the House. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the date when I first took my seat [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is very kind. I am thinking of how different parties reward their members. In my party I got the Humber bridge but the hon. Member for Twickenham has lost Kneller hall.
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. Gentleman appears to be losing Kneller hall. The hon. Gentleman only spent a brief time in Yorkshire but when he was up there he learnt that great Yorkshire characteristic of doggedness. The way the hon. Gentleman has pursued this matter—he has challenged and taken on the establishment and his right hon. and hon. Friends—shows how a good constituency Member can work for the interests of his constituents on an issue about which he feels passionately. We have a degree of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman and think that he has made a sound case but we have restrained ourselves from supporting him because that would immediately damn any chance he has of succeeding in changing the mind of his right hon. and hon. Friends. However, we hope that he will be successful.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) is not here as it was good to hear him taking part in a defence debate rather than sitting directly opposite me and muttering under his breath such things as, "You are going over the top again, Kevin." It was good to hear about his experiences. He paid a moving tribute to his former political chief. We would not endorse all, if any, of what he said, but he had a colourful Secretary of State who obviously gave him great opportunities as his Parliamentary Private Secretary. It is always good to have such a relationship.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) talked about the Australians and the effect of atomic tests at Maralinga. An Australian senator has been over here in connection with those tests, on behalf of the Australian Government. Although we do not accept any 1173 commitment to a set figure of compensation, the Opposition believe that the Government should co-operate positively with the Australian Government in those inquiries rather than stand at the sidelines tendering occasional advice, because Australia is a fellow Commonwealth country and because we were involved in those tests. They were our tests and we cannot wash our hands of their ramifications. British service men were involved and there is a moral obligation to co-operate.
I found the Minister's speech somewhat disconcerting. He properly paid tribute to the role of our forces and to the Territorial Army. The whole House agrees with that, but the picture of morale that he painted had even his Back Benchers shaking their heads in disagreement. Morale in the British Army is not high and people are leaving in considerable numbers. The Minister might say that the problem is not as bad as when Labour was in government. That might be so but, by the Government's own criteria, the problem was bad then, and they are fast approaching similar circumstances.
The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) talked of a commanding officer saying that soldiers are in and out of the regiment so quickly that he would not notice if they were conscripts. That demonstrates the Army's problems. A Ministry of Defence source was quoted in the newspapers recently as saying:There has been continuous growth in the number of people leaving early".That exodus is a direct result of budgetary constraints imposed by Trident and the Government's overall defence policy in which there are too many commitments, too many expensive projects and not enough money. There are fewer people in the armed forces to do more work and they spend more time on base. Budgetary constraints have meant that pilots, tank drivers and members of the armed forces generally are unable to exercise properly or to use their equipment correctly. In the first place, most service men join to see action.
Budgetary constraints cannot help the army's morale. According to The Sunday Times of 19 January, more than twice as many service men left a regiment in Germany in 1985 as in the previous year. Those figures mirror the problem in the other services. The men and women who are leaving the Army are highly trained. Normally, they would be expected to be highly motivated. They are difficult to replace. At the same time, in a surprisingly penny-pinching way, the Government cut the local overseas allowance in Germany by £17 million. Only six jet pilots need to be lost before that saving has disappeared. In terms of the highly skilled personnel in electronics and computers, who are now leaving the services, that saving has been lost to the nation. That is no way to run the armed services.
The Government say that they are doing what we have done in the past. However, Labour Members believe that we can learn from our mistakes. The Government are perpetuating our mistakes. I received a letter from a member of the 17th/21st Lancers. Many hon. Members have received similar letters. I have never received so many letters from members of the armed forces on an issue as I have complaining about the cut in the local overseas allowance. The letter states: 1174As a volunteer single soldier the wage cuts announced on April 11 have the effect of cutting my annual take-home pay by one month's worth. The annual loss calculated at today's fixed forces rate of exchange will be approximately£350 a year for a trooper or lance-corporal and £440 for a corporal. He continues by saying that they joined the Army for three reasons: quality of life, the leave, and the pay. He further states:It is only when all three get out of balance that I begin to wonder about my future as a professional soldier. The quality of life is difficult to assess: certainly we are busier than ever before. The accommodation is, in my case, a thirty year old 'temporary' bungalow hut and I pay for this and my food. As the pace of life increases it has become increasingly difficult for me to take my leave. Certainly I can't always take it when I would prefer it. This latest cut in my pay gives me no incentive to carry on. Certainly it removes any recompense for soldiering in Germany.It is no excuse for the Government to say that they are bringing matters into line or that service men should have known that those are the regulations. Those are real cuts for a single soldier buying a motor bike or a car or for a married man hoping to save up for a house. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) pointed out, any wage increase received by soldiers last year was cut as a direct result of the removal of the local overseas allowance.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the Gurkhas. They have had an outstanding history in our Army during the past 170 years. During the second world war the Gurkhas lost 45,000 men. We have an obligation to the Nepalese to make our position clear about the future of the Gurkha regiments. We have been told that they will have a continuing role after we leave Hong Kong, but the number of battalions required has not been revealed. Discussions are going on with the Nepalese Government. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli has said in the past, we have a debt of honour to that country. The money that goes to that improverished Himalayan kingdom in the form of remittances, pay and pensions is one third of the country's foreign exchange and an important element in the budget of that Himalayan country. We should be very worried about it.
At present, Westland is the only subject of our conversations, but two months ago there was another debacle that rivalled Westland for bungling and incompetence. That was the aftermath of the Cyprus spy trial. The trial left the taxpayer with a bill for £5 million and left the careers of at least eight men in ruins—eight men who were acquitted on all charges.
The atmosphere surrounding the trial left many questions that remain to be answered, and not only questions about the security of the defence installation at 9 Signals Regiment. It has raised questions about the way in which we treat our service men and their rights. It raises the question of the attitude of the services towards homosexual conduct and the way in which homosexuals are treated. Secondly, it raises a question about the manner in which the Army treats service men who are under suspicion. Thirdly, it raises questions about the way in which service men's rights are represented in general. Fourthly, it raises questions about the way in which they are represented in court and the decision as to the court in which they should face trial. Fifthly, it raises the question of the way in which service men are treated after they have been tried.
Of course, the Calcutt inquiry will consider some of those matters and the Select Committee on Defence will examine the composition of courts-martial and the way in which they are run, but some other matters still worry us. 1175 Since the trial, a number of service men and ex-service men—some from 9 Signals Regiment and some from other units—have contacted me with stories of equally harsh treatment to that meted out to the eight men who were acquitted at the Old Bailey. From replies to written questions to the Ministry of Defence I have learnt that since the inquiry began into the alleged breaches of security at 9 Signals Regiment, 121 men have been discharged from the regiment, 83 of them prematurely. I have similar figures for other regiments in that sensitive area.
It is possible that some of those service men found other jobs; some may have been discharged on medical grounds; and some may have had enough of service life. Even so, those numbers are rather excessive—121 men represents about one third of the strength of the unit. That is a guess, because, although I asked for the number of men in the unit, I was told that for security reasons it could not be revealed. My information is that it represents about one third. The Ministry of Defence will not specify how many have been discharged for administrative or medical reasons. It says that it would cost too much to provide those figures; yet in the aftermath of the costly Cyprus spy trial we must have that information.
§ Mr. McNamara
I have not yet finished my argument on this aspect. I am not talking about the jury in that trial, but about the facts and figures that have been given to me.
The service men who wrote to me alleged that they were asked to leave the Army and that there has been a general purge of the regiment, as well as similar units, following the Cyprus trial. No one can deny the importance of security at sensitive military establishments, and one recognises the need for the Ministry of Defence to get rid of people who are not right for the tasks to which they have been assigned. But the Ministry has a duty to come clean about why it is doing it, and should remember that those soldiers also have human rights.
Some of the service men have been asked to leave after years of service with exemplary records. They are dismissed under Queen's Regulations 1975, paragraph 9.414, which is headed, "Services no longer required". It deals with the discharge of a soldier,who cannot or should no be transferred to the Reserve, or discharged, under any other paragraph. It will not normally be used for compassionate reasons, loss of efficiency, indebtedness, indiscipline, misconduct or medical unfitness.It is the catch-all paragraph which says, "We do not want you here." Soldiers are asked to sign a document which states:
"I, Number, Rank, Name, Initial, Regiment Corps, understand that my discharge under 1975 para. 9.414 is being sought". Paragraph b. statesI do not intend to represent against discharge under the above paragraph either now or in the future.Soldiers are being asked to go, not told the reason why, and told not to kick in the future. Some soldiers have refused to sign that document. Obviously, that is no way to treat volunteers. It is no right to deny them their human rights in a way that would not be acceptable to any public or private employer in civilian life.
A serving soldier who contacted me said that he and other service men had lost their security certification with no reason being given, and had been transferred from highly trained jobs to mundane support jobs. That may be 1176 in an attempt to ease them from the service. Another service man who has been discharged said that he had been harassed by plain clothes police after leaving the service, and that his passport had been confiscated. Yet at no time were charges brought against him. Other service men were accused of being homosexual and subjected to interrogation, and ridicule from colleagues, although they were heterosexual.
The spy trial has clearly had an adverse effect on many men besides the eight who were acquitted. None of those men could clear his name.
§ Mr. McNamara
I have every respect for a British jury, and that answers the hon. Gentleman's likely intervention.
The men are not permitted under Queen's Regulations to contact the press, and they must seek the permission of the services to do so, even after they have left. Even if one assumes that homosexuality was the cause, it raises questions. There was a sad case in the King's Regiment of a man murdering another man who said that his homosexuality was going to be revealed. The men in the spy trial have been acquitted and the evidence of their having been present at various homosexual orgies thrown aside. Even if that charge will lead to a murder verdict, or make someone who otherwise has a splendid character in the forces liable to blackmail and to pass secrets, we have reason to consider how homosexuals are treated in the armed force. However, that does not deal with various points that arise from the Cyprus spy trial, in which many of the people involved were not homosexuals.
The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) was not accurate when he said that Britain was the only country with a division between the services on responsibility for battlefield helicopters. Australia and Greece have the same sort of division. However, he was right to point out the consequences of that division. It is impossible for both services to present a united front in deciding what to demand. If we did not have a conflict between the services, much of the Westland affair would never have arisen because there would have been a clearly defined target. Obviously, there will be confusion if the money for the helicopters is to come from the RAF Vote, while they are operated by the Army. I agree with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) that it is time to end the conflict. The logical and sensible way to proceed is for all battlefield helicopters to be the responsibility of the Anny Air Corps.
Will the Minister assure us that, despite the Westland debacle, the collaboration on the NH90 and future light attack helicopters will still proceed? We have been told to listen to arguments from two large private organisations seeking to gain control of Westland's helicopter company. In part of what it is doing Westland is at the forefront of technology. Had we been in Government, we would have taken a large share in that company, sufficient to give us time to work out a solution to the problem. We have done that successfully in the past. We took over Ferranti, cured its problems and got it going to such an extent that it became a jewel to be sold off by the present Government. That is what we would have done in this case, but that is not an option the Government are prepared even to consider.
If we want to be allies of the United States and not satellites, either in military or in technological terms, it 1177 would be far better to go ahead positively with the European alternative. That holds out hope for our industry and would create a degree of competition that the Government should like. It would be better to have two rival suppliers of helicopters rather than one American supplier—even though there are a number of companies in America—and a European option would prevent us losing important technology in the United Kingdom. That was the theory behind the European option agreement made in 1978 by my right hon. Friend Lord Mulley, the former Secretary of State for Defence.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I will skate lightly over the fact that by his remarks the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has put the Labour party on the same side as the large financial institutions and against the work force. That is a strange paradox. He mentioned a short-term intervention, and I welcome that because it coincides with our view. Will he repudiate the view put forward by some Members of his party for full-scale nationalisation of Westland? That was rejected by the Labour party when it was in power and considered these matters.
§ Mr. McNamara
The wholesale nationalisation of Westland has never been put forward by the Opposition. If it was necessary for us to take a commanding share of that company to protect it and build it up and maintain the technology, we would do that. On occasions, even large financial institutions may be right. We want to control them because when we do that they will always be right.
It is not anti-American to support the European option. It springs from our desire to see that European countries continue to play a full and proper role in the Alliance and are not seen as satellites of the United States. That more than anything would brown off the American taxpayers, who would not then want to play a great part with us.
In the last White Paper we were told we were to have a sixth regiment equipped with Challenger tanks. Everybody was delighted, not least the workers at Leeds. Then by a sleight of hand the tank order was suddenly dropped from 70 to about 55, and the order that eventually went to Leeds was for less than 20 tanks rather than the number the work force had reasonably expected. The Minister of State said "I will leave all these procurement if s to my right hon. Friend and he will deal with them when he is winding up." He was talking about half a dozen regiments equipped with Challenger tanks, jobs in Radway Green, and orders for munitions. If there is not a continuation of orders at Leeds the production line for those tanks and jobs will be put at risk. We have lost 800 jobs in the royal ordnance factories. If we do not get the order for tanks we shall probably lose more jobs in Leeds.
At Radway Green jobs are at risk; at Birtley jobs have gone; at Leeds jobs are threatened. The explosives factories at Bridgwater and elsewhere are threatened. Yet this is the Government who said that they would make the royal ordnance factories an attractive proposition in which people could invest. The job losses and the orders that are not going to the preferred places are considerably weakening the royal ordnance factories. The Government seem to be almost deliberately bent on getting rid of as many jobs as possible. They want, through competition, to drive out many of the jobs available in those factories so that when the company goes public it will have a 1178 considerably reduced labour force. That is what we warned against and we can see it happening to the detriment of our armed forces. That is why we are particularly concerned.
When the design drawings are sent by the Ministry of Defence to the competitors of the royal ordnance factories, they also show the methods of production. Under the legislation the Ministry of Defence has kept a proprietary interest in the drawings and the problem arises when it sends all the information to other companies.
I am told that at one time it was intended to put in the turrets of the Challenger and Chieftain tanks an automatic sprinkler system in case of fire. But to save a paltry amount of a few thousand pounds—candle ends—the Ministry of Defence decided against that. So the men in the turrets will be left with hand-held fire extinguishers. When one compares the shortness of time available to get out of the tanks with the value of human life, that decision should be reconsidered by the Department.
We have had a wide-ranging debate. It has come out very clearly that hon. Members on all sides want a complete re-examination of the Government's priorities and commitments. They are seeking to do too much. They have not got the money or the ability to carry out many of their commitments. They will not be in a position to do so while they continue with their foolish, pro-nuclear, Trident policy. The money will not be available and we shall end up with the weapon of last resort being the weapon of first resort because our conventional forces, including the Army, will be sadly at a loss to carry out the important role that we seek for them.
§ The Minster of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Norman Lamont)
I have to confess that this is the first time I have attended an Army debate. Indeed, when I was thinking about today's debate I remembered reading that Lord Haldane, when he became Secretary of State for War, sent out a memorandum in his Ministry asking, "What is the Army for?" That was how I felt this morning. Having listened to so many speeches, I am much better informed, although I am alarmed at the number of my hon. Friends who seem to have been Gunners, Green Jackets and Territorials. I feel as though I am a new sort of Bateman cartoon — a Conservative Member of Parliament who has never been in the Army.
There was a certain amount of enthusiasm for the reorganisation that my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) initiated within the Ministry of Defence. Hon. Members felt it was a good thing to end some of the inter-service rivalry, but not of course when it came to our debates. That was a tradition that had to continue. Of course, not having been a participant in these debates, I could not immediately see the logic, but I accept what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) said. He spoke adamantly on this point, so it must be right.
I should like to deal with a point that was raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and referred to by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). I am sorry that I missed his speech. It is the question, far removed from most of the ground covered by the debate, of the nuclear weapons test programme carried out by the United Kingdom in Australia and the south Pacific in the 1950s and 1960s. Perhaps I can repeat what we have said before: 1179 we remain confident that the tests were properly carried out with due regard to the safety of all participants. We do not believe that the health of those people was harmed. We recognise, however, that there is a general concern about this issue, and that is why we have commissioned the survey by the National Radiological Protection Board. The hon. Gentleman said that we should not walk away from this and that we had a responsibility in it. He may know that we have begun discussions with the Australian Government. Last week I met Senator Evans, the Australian Minister for Resources and Energy. I am glad to say that our initial discussions with the Australians were constructive and amicable.
There are differences. We do not accept that we have a responsibility for further clean-up work on the test sites, following earlier agreements with the Australian Government; but the Australian Government have decided that the first step should be to set up a technical assessment group to advise on a wide range of options to clean up the test sites. The United Kingdom fully accepts its obligation to provide advice on such matters, and the Australian Government intends to visit British experts to join its technical assessment group.
I turn now to some of the more central themes of the debate, and in particular to some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) when he opened the debate. He got himself into a very strange position on defence spending. He started off by telling us that spending on the conventional part of defence was inadequate because of Trident and because of "defence inflation", as he put it. He seemed to have forgotten some of the things said by some of his own Front Bench colleagues, including the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) who on 2 July 1985 remarked:The Opposition have made it clear that we would not have increased defence expenditure by 3 per cent. in real terms for the past six years."—[Official Report, 2 July 1985; Vol. 82, c. 208.]In other words, he is prepared to say that there is not enough now but they would never have voted for the increases that we made We all know that only a small part of that increase in defence spending is actually going on nuclear weapons.
The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that he would not increase spending on conventional weapons. He would just hold it where it was. At the same time, he wanted to talk about the deterrent effect of conventional weapons. On the one hand, he was going to give up the best value-for-money deterrent that we can get—Trident—and,on the other, simply maintain conventional spending at the same level.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to follow-on forces attack—FOFA. As I understand it, this is not a new issue. NATO has long had the capability of interdicting second echelon forces, and that was the position when the Labour party was in power. The longterm planning guidelines approved by the Alliance over a year ago reflect NATO's objective of improving its conventional capability to strike follow-on forces.
The right hon. Gentleman was also probably getting it wrong when he linked this issue with the nuclear threshold. The whole point, as I understand it, of the follow-on forces attack doctrine is to prevent an aggressor from using his second echelon forces and thus to prevent 1180 ourselves from being drawn into a position where we had to use tactical nuclear weapons. I think the premise of what was said was wrong.
The right hon. Gentleman asked also about the modernisation of battlefield nuclear weapons. My right hon. Friend the previous Secretary of State made the position on this quite clear on 22 November last year. SACEUR has made a number of recommendations to Ministers about the future size and composition of NATO's nuclear stockpile including those weapon systems in service with the British Army in Germany. These will be pursued by SACEUR, in co-ordination with the nations concerned. No decisions have been made affecting the modernisation of weapon systems in service with British forces, but we expect to begin discussions with SACEUR in the spring about their longer term survivability and effectiveness.
Quite a large part of the debate has been taken up by the royal ordnance factories. The royal ordnance factories have an excellent record of providing the Army and the other services with equipment of the highest quality. I have no doubt that, as Royal Ordnance plc, it will not only continue but will improve on this record. As it increasingly learns to operate in a commercial environment, I am sure that the company will offer the armed forces better value for money, as well as high quality. It is the Goverment's hope that the company can move to the private sector in mid-1986, subject to the usual caveats of trading performance and stock market conditions.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) for the fact that he did not receive the letter which I thought he had received about the redundancies. I want to reply directly to the points he has raised in the debate. As he knows, a number of redundancies have been announced today at Birtley and Chorley. The total number is 831, consisting of 446 at Birtley and 385 at Chorley. I understand that this number is a maximum; the actual number is likely to be rather less. Naturally, we regret that this has been necessary, but I have to stress that employment prospects at any factory have always depended on the order book and the profitability of the individual factory.
The Ministry of Defence's responsibility must be to provide sufficient equipment and ammunition to meet the requirements of the armed services and at prices which represent good value to the taxpayer. It cannot he the Ministry of Defence's responsibility simply to sustain employment in Royal Ordnance plc or in any other company. It is up to the company to create its own success.
Another point which I have to make to the hon. Member for Blaydon and to other hon. Members interested is that ammunition orders in recent years have been at an unusually high level. This reflects a number of factors—the Falklands, enhancements, particularly of the Territorial Army, and a number of export orders. That is the main reason why the output of the royal ordnance factories is declining after a very high peak.
The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have referred to competition policy, and wondered what part that has played. It is our intention that we should increase—I think absolutely rightly — the extent to which ammunition is going to be subject to competition, but we are introducing this policy gradually. There are many areas where competition is simply not practical. This year, for example, we are going to competition for only about 10 per cent. of the requirement which the royal ordnance 1181 factories would otherwise have met under the preferred source arrangement. Next year,this will rise to about one quarter. I assure the House that we purchase from overseas only when it is in our long-term interest to do so.
Of course, the point which hon. Members will immediately make is: what about strategic capacity? We do take that into account—we are looking at the issue of strategic capacity. In the run-up to flotation, this is one of the things which we are discussing and negotiating with the company. There is a level of capacity which we have to maintain for strategic reasons.
Despite having my thunder stolen—I think my hon Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) managed to make the announcement for me from the Back Benches —I am pleased to announce that we have awarded a contract to royal ordnance Chorley to supply 105 mm field gun ammunition. This will create some work for royal ordnance Birtley in the manufacture of the shell bodies. This will enable Royal Ordnance plc to make some reduction in the number of redundancies that would otherwise be made. The contract is for 23,000 rounds, which is what we need to order now to maintain supply to the Army. We are considering the suitability of an alternative manufacturer of shells.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) referred to a number of other specific points with reference to RO Birtley. I think he knows that our orders for the 155 mm ammunition for the FH70 are governed by an agreement with Germany and Italy, which ensures that each country receives its fair share of work. To meet this requirement, our recent order was placed in Germany, and production deliveries are expected to start shortly.
It is true that there has been some delay in the start of full production of this order. Deliveries were due to start in October last year. United Kingdom and West German ammunition experts are now completing their evaluation of the pilot production lots,and we expect full production to get under way.
There is no question of default by West Germany. We are bound by the terms of the memorandum of understanding. Although the hon. Member for Blaydon sees jobs moving from this country to Germany, equally, when our part of the contract was working to our advantage, the Germans could have made the same complaint about us. We are absolutely bound in that way.
§ Mr. Lamont
The Tornado is unrelated to it. The SP70 is still under development, and ammunition production will not need to begin before the end of the decade. It is too early to discuss to whom contracts might be awarded. It would be foolish to start production of ammunition now, because the life of the shells would be partly used before the gun entered service.
The hon. Member for Blaydon asked about the multi-launch rocket system. We expect a production contract for MLRS1 to be placed by the middle of this year. Royal Ordnance plc has started to establish production facilities in advance of the contract being awarded.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) asked about the future of royal ordnance Radway Green. I met my hon. Friend yesterday and we discussed the prospects for the factory. Radway Green has not been affected by these announcements, but I know that 1182 she has some anxieties. We are currently discussing with Royal Ordnance plc our requirements for small arms over the next few years. We are in negotiation now. I cannot anticipate the outcome of the discussions, but I am sure they will satisfactorily resolve the question.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the order for 9 mm ammunition has actually gone abroad? Does he realise that the fact that it has done so will have robbed a company in my constituency of the chance to fulfil that order? That cannot be in the best national interest at the end of the day. The taxpayer will have to pick up the bills for those who may be put out of work by this decision.
§ Mr. Lamont
As I explained to my hon. Friend, we have placed some ammunition orders abroad, but they are —one is talking about 10 per cent.—for only small amounts. If that gets us better value for money in the defence budget—we have been hearing a lot about inflation and about the cost of the equipment required by the forces rising faster than inflation in general—we must pursue that course.
We have to get more output out of the defence budget. We have to buy the cheapest equipment and supplies if we are to meet the problems that everyone tells us exist—a shortage of resources which are no longer growing by 3 per cent. a year.
It would not have been a defence debate if we had not had comments about helicopters and Westland. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) raised a number of questions about Westland coming under foreign control. He will understand that the question of Westland coming under foreign control in a formal sense is primarily a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry. We have no information to suggest that a takeover bid is under consideration. Any bid to take more than a 30 per cent. shareholding by a foreign company or consortium would require the Director General of Fair Trading to consider the case. He might then recommend to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that he refer the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission under the provisions of the Fair Trading Act 1973.
§ Mr. Lamont
I do not want to expand on that. I shall answer the other points raised by the hon. Gentleman.
Questions were raised about the AST404. There was some criticism of the delay to the Wessex Puma replacement. I think that greater criticism would almost certainly have been made if the Ministry of Defence had pressed ahead with an expensive replacement programme without taking account of evolving tactical thinking.
Recent exercise experience, including Lionheart in 1984, the advantages of being able to transport formed units and their equipment by use of the heavier Chinook and the greater emphasis on mobility as a result of the revised concept of operations for NORTHAG have led to a fundamental review of the requirement for helicopters which support the land battle. Such a review needed to take account also of the wider requirements for support helicopters in out-of-area and amphibious roles. A new helicopter fleet is an expensive investment. We must,plan on the basis of the best judgments we can make. It has been made clear to the House before that the staff requirement has been put in abeyance and is being reconsidered. 1183 My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) made an extremely interesting speech about helicopters. He made the same point that was made by the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for Yeovil about the split in the use of helicopters between different services. In deciding on future purchases of helicopters, one would very much hope that the new organisation within the Ministry of Defence would enable us at least to take a unified defence view.
I should like to refer to the operational problems that arise from what my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said. If we are talking about central Germany, we are talking about an air-land battle where there are problems between the services anyway in terms of command and control. I was certainly interested in what my hon. Friend said.
I remind the House of some of the ways in which, through our procurement policy, we are responding to the threat which was outlined by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)
I apologise for not taking part in the debate. Did my hon. Friend hear Mr. Horne this morning on the radio talking about the European consortium's proposal to block the Sikorsky business? He said that, if the deal did not go through, Westland would be faced with either accepting the European consortium's proposal or going into receivership? Does my hon. Friend agree that, if Westland went into receivership, that would be an extremely serious matter for the Ministry of Defence, because it would deprive the armed forces of the support that those 800 helicopters require?
§ Mr. Lamont
Of course receivership would be an extremely serious matter. I obviously could not disagree with that. I did not hear what Mr. Horne said on the radio, so it would be extremely unwise to comment on it, especially in this situation.
I was hoping, as Minister of State for Defence Procurement, that I might just say a little about the procurement policies we are pursuing. In the past few years, there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of the defence budget devoted to defence equipment. In 1979–80 40 per cent. of the defence budget was spent on equipment. In 1985–86 that figure had risen to 46 per cent. That is for defence overall. However, the same is true for the Army. In that case the percentage has risen from 25 per cent. to 33 per cent. Therefore, although the Army is a more labour-intensive service, the proportion of expenditure voted to equipment has increased markedly.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli referred to the problem of what he called defence inflation — the relative price effect whereby defence equipment costs are rising more quickly than prices in general. Because of that it is not enough just to spend more money on defence. We have to increase productivity to get more output for a given input. That is why we have been pursuing the policy of increasing competition in defence procurement.I know that that policy can cause anxiety in constituencies, but from a national point of view it must be right.
We have dramatically increased the proportion of work placed on a competitive basis. In 1983–84 it was 38 per cent. of contracts, in 1984–85 it had increased to 46 per 1184 cent. and for the first nine months of 1985–86 the figure was well over 60 per cent. We are also increasing competition at sub-contract level. That produces benefits for the services and the taxpayer. We can illustrate that from the Army's experience. My right hon. Friend the Member for Henley was able to announce that the competition for the production of the MCV 80 had produced savings of 12 per cent., or about £100 million. I could give many other examples of where, because we have vigorously pursued competition in defence procurement, we are producing savings all the time.
Competition produces more than simply resource benefits. It also enables us to make use of the industry's ability to innovate. When it came to the Army's remotely piloted vehicle, Phoenix, we asked the companies to submit tenders. Two companies were further invited to carry out engineering studies and make competition proposals for a development programme. Both firms invested a significant amount of their own resources as well as getting money from the Ministry of Defence. The result was that we signed a contract with the winning company for full development and production of equipment which was well defined and which could be judged by the yardstick of a competing product. There again competition brings other benefits.
We are also seeking to tighten the terms of contracts which have necessarily been let without competition, particularly in research and development. We are making much better use of fixed price and other incentive type contracts to ensure that those who obtain business from the Ministry of Defence share the associated risks.
Another policy that we have to pursue in procurement is international collaboration because the costs of development are so huge and also because within NATO there is an operational reason for wanting more collaboration. We must have equipment which is compatible with that of other countries. That is a problem which the Warsaw pact countries do not have. If the Warsaw pact had as many varied and incompatible pieces of equipment as we have in NATO, perhaps we would be able to relax a little more.
I emphasise that the policy of looking towards international collaboration when making procurement decisions is an area where my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley did a tremendous job. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) said, the EFA would not have come into existence if it had not been for the tremendous effort of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley. He pushed the concept of collaboration in equipment much further than any other Secretary of State and further than any other Secretary of State in Europe. It was he who revitalised the equipment group within Europe.
In the past year we have spent more than £1.5 billion on equipment for the Army, which has produced real improvements in the Army's capability. A large amount of new equipment has entered service. The programme for the introduction of Challenger is continuing, and a second regiment has now completed deployment. The Saxon armoured personnel carrier is now in service with one battalion. Eventually there will be 10. The new SA80 family of small arms is coming into service.
I resolutely and adamantly deny any suggestion that the British Army is anything other than extremely well equipped. Many resources are devoted to modernising the Army's equipment. I believe that my right hon. Friend the 1185 Minister of State and I have demonstrated in the debate that both the Regular and reserve elements of the British Army enter 1986 in very good shape. Our continued commitment and capability to contribute to NATO's collective defences is clear. Our contribution to the central region is of major significance. Over the past year, it has again been demonstrated at all levels that we have the flexibility and skills to adapt to changing circumstances, and we can look forward with confidence to the future—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.