HC Deb 23 February 1995 vol 255 cc497-582

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Willetts.]

4.7 pm

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)

As someone who had the privilege of serving for a number of happy years in the 11th Hussars, now regrettably a quarter of a century ago, it is with a feeling of great personal pride that I have the honour to open this afternoon's debate on the Army, one of the institutions in our country of which we can be most proud.

Since we last debated the Army nine months ago, its activities have continued to receive widespread coverage. More than 20,000 members of the Army are currently deployed on operations—some 17,000 of them in Northern Ireland, including the home service force element of the Royal Irish regiment, and more than 3,000 in the former republic of Yugoslavia.

As we sit here in the comfort of the Palace of Westminster, British troops are serving along the green line in Cyprus, as observers on the Iraq-Kuwait border, in Georgia and are training in the inhospitable jungles of Brunei. They are also manning garrisons in both hemispheres and on three continents. In more than 30 countries around the world from Brunei to Bermuda, Hong Kong to Ghana, Malaysia to Mauritius and Belize to Nepal, members of the British Army are providing training assistance for the forces of many of our close and good friends around the globe.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

As someone who served with the military police some years ago, I should like to ask the ex-cavalry officer of a Minister a question concerning the deep concern felt by many people in Scotland over the press speculation in relation to the further merging of Scottish regiments. In view of his service experience, the Minister will readily acknowledge that infantrymen need to place absolute trust in their officers, and particularly their non-commissioned officers, when on peacekeeping duties, patrols and so on. That is achieved much more easily within the framework of an infantry regiment. Will the Minister assure the House that the press speculation is utterly groundless?

Mr. Soames

I am very happy to give the hon. Gentleman, in his capacity not only as a Member of Parliament but as a former military policeman, my absolute assurance that no such moves are planned.

I also add—I should have said it at the beginning of the debate—that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is away today and he sends his apologies. Opposition Members have been good enough to understand that he is attending to essential and long-standing business.

Of particular note is the 33-man team which is currently deployed in South Africa to assist in the integration and training of the new national defence force. The fact that we should have been invited to perform that task, I believe, speaks volumes for the very high esteem in which the British armed forces are held worldwide.

As I speak, the United Kingdom Allied Command in Europe mobile force is currently exercising in Norway and the First Royal Anglian Regiment and elements of the Royal Artillery and the Army Air Corps have just finished a major exercise in the United States of America. The Army is extremely busy.

It has been an important period for the Army in terms of developing plans for its organisation and capabilities for the future. It has participated fully in defence costs studies and, as a result of "Front Line First", we were able to announce some significant enhancements to the Regular Army last summer. In addition, last December we announced our plans for restructuring the Territorial Army. I shall refer to those issues later in my speech.

Since we last debated the Army, there have been the most dramatic developments in Northern Ireland. Because of a bold and thoroughly courageous initiative by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, we have arrived at a situation of considerable promise in Northern Ireland. However, the House should remember that, for more than 25 years, the Army's largest and most important commitment has been within the United Kingdom in Ulster.

The Army has carried out its role in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary with huge distinction, outstanding skill, determination and almost unbelievable fortitude. For 25 years our young soldiers have had to face, day after day, the possibility of horrific and cowardly terrorist attacks. During that time, 650 soldiers have lost their lives and more than 5,500 have been wounded or injured—some of them grievously—while on active service.

Those young men have carried the greatest part of the heat and the burden. For the past 25 years they have had to face, day after day, the awesome responsibility of making split-second decisions on which their lives, and the lives of many other people, have depended. It is an enormous credit to the quality of their leadership, training, discipline and character that they have carried out their duties to the highest standards. We should all be deeply grateful to and very proud of them.

I do not believe that the service men of any other country could have shouldered the burden in quite the way that ours have. I know that, but for the dedication and unequalled professional skills of the Regular Army and the Royal Irish Home Service battalions, many more lives would have been lost and much more property destroyed.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and I join him in paying tribute to the professionalism of our soldiers in Northern Ireland. What is my hon. Friend's view about the future of Private Lee Clegg? Does he agree that, when Private Clegg is finally released on licence, he deserves to be allowed to return to normal active duties with the armed forces, bearing in mind the fact that, when he was charged, he was doing his duty trying to defend the people of Northern Ireland from terrorism?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As she knows, we are all aware of the situation of Private Clegg, and the disposal of his case will be a matter, eventually, for the Army Board, which, I have no doubt, will have heard what my hon. Friend has said.

As the House will realise, operating in the face of terrorism places a very great burden on all ranks, and when difficulties for our soldiers arise, we therefore have a high responsibility to resolve them effectively. That, of course, is why we have provided all possible legal and welfare support to Private Clegg and to Guardsmen Fisher and Wright, and why we shall co-operate fully with the review of the law recently announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

In the meantime, our first priority plainly is to support the peace process. The Army has been able to assist in this by adjusting the profile of the armed forces to reflect the welcome absence of terrorist attack. Soldiers no longer undertake routine daytime patrols in most towns and cities, and it is very encouraging that the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been able progressively to extend the areas in which it operates without routine military support.

Tangible signs of a return to normality are all the more remarkable when the House recalls that, during the first half of 1994, both republican and loyalist terrorist attacks showed absolutely no sign of abating. In the first four months before the ceasefire, there were 261 terrorist attacks, which resulted in 37 deaths, whereas in the past six months, in addition to the incident in Newry, two bombs have been planted, neither of which caused any injury. We recognise only too well that, while terrorist organisations retain their weapons and explosives, the peace process could be frustrated. Thus, we remain hopeful but at a very high state of vigilance and readiness.

British troops are now in the third year of operations as part of the United Nations protection force in the former Yugoslavia, where they continue to make a truly vital contribution. The British contingent, which operates in central Bosnia and the eastern enclave of Gorazde, is based around two infantry battalion groups equipped with Warrior and Saxon armoured vehicles together with elements of an armoured reconnaissance regiment equipped with Scimitar and a regiment of Royal Engineers.

Those troops are admirably supported by soldiers from the Royal Logistics Corps, the Royal Signals and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. They serve a six-month tour and the roulement of units in theatre continues on a regular basis. The 1st Battalion Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, after an extremely distinguished and successful tour, has just started handing over to the 1st Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, while the 1st Battalion Royal Highland Fusiliers is to be replaced by Devon and Dorsets in May.

British troops continue to support the humanitarian effort by helping to distribute aid, and have assisted some 4,200 convoys carrying more than 230,000 tonnes of aid through central Bosnia since the operation began—a task that has proved particularly important over the winter months. It is worth noting that, in the two months since Christmas, there has been almost a 20 per cent. increase in the amount of aid delivered compared with the previous two months. The House should be in no doubt about the importance of this mission and the number of lives that will have been saved by our people.

The logistics operation in Bosnia has been a brilliant success, and the Royal Logistics Corps deserves the greatest praise and credit.

Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

I am sure that we all agree with the Minister about the importance of aid in order that lives be saved. Can he explain why it is still not possible to take medical aid into the safe haven of Gorazde, which would be vital to save many lives? Why cannot we deliver medical aid into that safe area?

Mr. Soames

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the precise reason. I suspect that it will have been because of the great difficulties of getting any convoys and equipment in or out, because of the difficulties of which the hon. Gentleman is well aware. I will look into that and let him have a more detailed reply.

In addition, we have also played a crucial role in implementing the Muslim-Croat ceasefire in central Bosnia, which has allowed tens of thousands of ordinary people to start rebuilding their homes and lives. Anyone who has seen the damage in that part of the world will understand and comprehend truly the importance of that task. It has involved confidence-building patrols on the former confrontation lines between the parties, manning observation posts, brokering local agreements between the factions and helping to rebuild the local community. The experience, training, hard-won skills and cool heads of our soldiers, of all ranks and arms, have enabled them to handle all this with the greatest skill, imagination and flair.

British forces have helped to underpin those efforts by providing the key support for a large number of civilian infrastructure projects which are creating the foundations for peace to be sustained. That is clearly a fragile process, and one that is often overlooked. We should not underestimate the importance of the work.

More than 116 infrastructure and public utilities projects have been completed with British help. They include the construction of nearly 100 km of roads arid the maintenance of another 970 km of important aid routes, the lifting of more than 1,500 mines and the construction of a new bridge and bypass at Bijela, near Mostar, which has carried more than 200,000 vehicles since its completion. Other projects have included the reconnection of electricity, water and gas supplies, vehicle maintenance, refuse collection and the opening of schools. The role of the Royal Engineers in particular has been outstanding, and is a source of the greatest pride and satisfaction to the Army.

The safety of our forces remains of paramount importance, and I assure the House that their position is kept under the most careful and constant review. They are thoroughly trained, well equipped and well led; but, tragically, 12 British service men—11 soldiers and one Royal Marine—have been killed since operations began in Bosnia. I know that the House will wish to extend its profound sympathy to their families in recognition of the ultimate sacrifice that they have made in the pursuit of peace.

The new year ushered in a different phase in the conflict, with the four-month cessation of hostilities agreement that came into effect on 1 January. That agreement is an important step towards a negotiated settlement, and Britfor is already playing a crucial part in helping to implement the agreement on the ground. We have also responded positively to the United Nations' request for additional resources to support implementation—an action that further serves to illustrate our firm and continuing commitment to securing a lasting and peaceful solution to the conflict. Four Lynx helicopters from the Army Air Corps have already deployed; another two Lynx and six Gazelle helicopters from the AAC, together with six Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters and 19 UN military observers, remain on standby.

Let me take this opportunity to pay the warmest tribute to the achievements of Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, who recently completed a distinguished 12-month tour in Bosnia. He displayed throughout a remarkable resolve and determination in steadfastly continuing UNPROFOR's mission in support of the international community's efforts to secure a peaceful solution to the war. He deserves our whole-hearted congratulations and thanks for the vital part that he played in helping to transform the situation on the ground—and transform it he did. I also send the House's best wishes to his successor, General Rupert Smith, and wish him well in dealing with the many great challenges that he will have to face.

The House will realise that the Army is truly fortunate to have such exceptional officers, and I wish to salute their efforts.

Mr. Macdonald

The Minister mentioned General Rose. Will he say something about the apparent breakdown of relations between NATO and the general towards the end of his tour? NATO threatened to withhold details of flight plans from him, fearing that he would disclose them to the Serbians and thereby put the NATO aircrew at risk. Will the Minister explain the background to those events?

Mr. Soames

I will not explain the background to any such events, because they did not happen. General Rose is rightly regarded as a highly operational and robust officer, and I have no doubt that he and NATO have had robust exchanges of views from time to time; but by and large, as General Rose has regularly said since, his relationship with NATO worked extremely well and contributed to a very successful tour.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I do not know whether my hon. Friend had the opportunity—probably not, because he is too busy—to watch a recent television programme by John Simpson, in which he put a good question to the Prime Minister of Bosnia, who had said that 70,000 people had been killed in Bihac. Mr. Simpson said that surely that town contained only about 1,000 people, most of whom were soldiers, but the Prime Minister of Bosnia refused to answer that point. It was an extremely good television programme and I commend it to my hon. Friend. Are not some people taken in rather easily by propaganda, from whatever side?

Mr. Soames

I agree with my hon. Friend. I saw that "Panorama" programme and I agree that it was fascinating. I was horrified by that interview. His point about black propaganda is well taken, and should be accepted by all people who try to understand the matter.

The United Nations protection force still has an important mission to perform. British forces should continue their substantial and valued contribution to the international effort in former Yugoslavia. We can All be proud of their courage and skill in carrying out their mission, in what I know from my visits to Bosnia are difficult, demanding and sometimes extremely dangerous circumstances.

The United Kingdom made a major contribution to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda—UNAMIR. Some 600 service men and women played a key role in that operation. The British contingent included technicians from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, who did sterling work in repairing vehicles and who literally got UNAMIR back on the road. Fifty four-tonne trucks were also made available to the UN.

The contingent of 150 men and women from 23 Para Field Ambulance, which formed another part of the British contingent, treated more than 125,000 people, and the field squadron from the Royal Engineers helped in the reconstruction of Rwanda's infrastructure by rebuilding bridges and repairing roads. They were backed by logistics specialists whose skills were at the disposal of the whole UN force.

The British members of UNAMIR filled a critical gap. Their work, lending invaluable assistance to the Rwandan population, non-governmental organisations and the new Rwandan Government alike, was highly praised by all. Their task was completed by the end of November, when they returned home. It was a highly successful deployment, and all the people who took part deserve great credit.

Finally, and closer to home, I should not neglect to mention the important part that the Army has played in assisting the civil authorities to cope with the atrocious conditions that have affected so much of our country in recent months. In December, soldiers from the Territorial Army assisted Strathclyde police in evacuating houses and in delivering emergency supplies during the floods in Paisley, and more recently various units of the Regular Army were deployed in flood relief activities in the north of England.

Dr. Godman

I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning the fine work carried out not far from my constituency in Renfrewshire. When he and I served in a cavalry regiment and in the military police respectively, few officers came up through the ranks. Is he satisfied that the opportunities for promotion are much more widespread and developed for talented non-commissioned officers than they were a few years ago?

Mr. Soames

The opportunities were substantial in my regiment. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the assurances that he seeks. Opportunities for promotion throughout the service are available on merit. He knows that no one is keener than the Army to promote young men and women who are likely to make good officers.

The Army has, of course, been actively involved in the implementation of the defence costs study, the results of which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced last July. The study impacted widely on all elements of service activity outside the field Army itself.

"Front Line First" was a great success in identifying areas where savings can be made without impairing the fighting capability of the Army. We have managed to cut costs, not defence, which is allowing us to maintain the Army's capability and to participate in the activities that I have already outlined.

An example for the Army are the proposed changes to the UK command structure. Land command will be established on 1 April 1995. The responsibilities of the new command, which will be the premier operational headquarters of the British Army, will include not only the land forces in the UK, but those in Germany, Brunei and Nepal, as well as training support organisations in Belize, Canada and Kenya. In consequence, the current UK district structure will he rationalised, and improved operational efficiencies will result. That will result in significant savings and give the Army a command structure that is relevant to the changed strategic environment, and one that we hope will serve it well into the 21st century.

As a result of savings from the defence costs study, we have also been able to make a number of enhancements to the Army's front-line capability. In particular, we announced last July that we would be increasing the planned number of front-line major units by re-roling the Royal Armoured Corps training regiment as an armoured reconnaissance regiment, increasing the number of such regiments from two to three.

The Third Armoured Reconnaissance regiment will form on 1 April 1997. The 9th-12th Lancers, which is currently the Royal Armoured Corps training regiment, will take on the recce regiment role and will be based at Bovington.

This addition to the front line demonstrates our commitment to preserving and indeed increasing the fighting strength of the field Army, even though savings in the support area will result in some reduction in overall military manpower numbers.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, shortly, he and the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will be considering an attack helicopter for the Army? Does he also agree that a machine that has 90 per cent. of the ultimate capability at two thirds of the cost and which has a high proportion of highly advanced British avionics would be an attractive proposition for the Army?

Mr. Soames

It is not for me to be tempted down that road. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be dealing with that matter later. I am sure that he will be able to give my hon. Friend an extremely comprehensive reply, which I am unable to do.

We also announced in "Front Line First" the development of the joint rapid deployment force. The Army is closely involved in the work to define the role missions and concept of operations of the JRDF, and the consequences for such things as command and control, the capabilities that are needed within our force structure, and logistic support implications including strategic lift. In this work we plan to build, where possible, on the capabilities of our existing rapidly deployable forces, to allow us to project military forces quickly at a distance in support of our defence and security policy objectives.

We have already announced a number of communications enhancements and developments of existing command and control arrangements to that end. We will make further announcements as the work that I have described matures.

Initial planning has focused on lighter forces, including the 5th Airborne Brigade in the Army, but in principle we might wish to draw on any of our national contingency forces for a rapid operation. The important point is that the force we send must be adequately matched to the needs of the operation, the tasks that it is asked to take on and, above all else, the risks that it is likely to face.

The Army's principal war-fighting formations are assigned to NATO's Allied Command Europe rapid reaction corps—the ARRC—commanded by a British officer, Lieutenant General Walker. The ARRC headquarters is now firmly established in its permanent peacetime location in Rheindahlen, near Monchengladbach, where the United Kingdom is well placed to fulfil its role as framework nation. Thirteen nations are represented in the headquarters in Rheindahlen, which is due to be declared fully operational in the spring.

Last autumn, the United Kingdom provided the headquarters infrastructure for two major exercises, one in the local area and the other immediately afterwards in Denmark. Those exercises demonstrated the viability of the headquarters and underlined the major contribution that the United Kingdom is making to the ACE rapid reaction corps.

The headquarters of both 1(UK) Armoured Division and 3(UK) Division were involved in those exercises, as well as NATO's multinational division central, to which the United Kingdom contributes a quarter of the headquarters' staff and to which we assign 24 Airmobile Brigade.

I know that the Territorial Army is a matter of great concern to the House. The Government remain wholly committed to a wider use of the Territorials. That was exemplified by the deployment of a TA platoon, drawn principally from the 4th-5th Royal Irish Rangers, as part of the Falkland Islands garrison from July to November last year.

That deployment was a success, and a composite TA company will therefore undertake a four-month garrison tour in the Falklands from next month. In addition, during the past year, a number of individual TA officers have served on special regular engagements in Bosnia. When the Royal Welch Fusiliers deploy to Bosnia in May, we expect to include in their number some 30 TA personnel on special engagements.

As we announced last year, the Territorial Army is to be restructured at a size of 59,000 with a new role as that of general reserve to the Army. There will be some alteration in the balance of arms and services within the TA reflecting that new role, in particular a shift from infantry towards armour and the logistic services. Within the Royal Armoured Corps, the Royal Yeomanry will re-role to form the Army's nuclear, biological and chemical defence regiment, thus demonstrating the Government's confidence in the TA providing this unique capability for the Army.

Within the infantry, the support weapons platoons of the eight battalions currently so equipped will be concentrated in four specialist fire support battalions. Some reservations have been expressed about this element of our plans, but it is our firm view and that of the chiefs that that arrangement, by permitting heavy weapons to be made available to support any TA infantry battalion in training or on operations, will greatly enhance the flexibility and operational effectiveness of the TA infantry.

Our plans build on the one-Army concept. That concept is based on the TA and the Regular Army sharing a common military ethos, the same command structure, common doctrine and tactics, the same regimental system and similar equipments and training. The future TA will be highly relevant to our operational needs, cost-effective and usable in an even wider range of circumstances than hitherto.

There has, of course, been understandable disappointment in some units that are to convert or amalgamate, and I understand the concerns of those affected. I assure the House, however, that we have kept the changes to the minimum consistent with our operational needs taking priority. In such cases, it is our intention to take forward into the new unit those traditions, honours and unique distinctions which are so important to each and every part of the Army.

The Government's commitment to strong reserve forces is undiminished, and I believe that the restructuring will enable the Territorial Army to continue to be a key component of the Army and, as such, to provide challenges and rewards for the men and women who voluntarily give up so much of their spare time in the service of their country.

I do not like to introduce a note of bipartisanship into our agreeable debate, but I am afraid that I shall have to. Events have come to a pretty pass when, last week, in the debate on the Royal Navy, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) had to pray in aid the Conservative research department in telling us what Labour's defence expenditure plans would be.

The hon. Gentleman is a new boy and a welcome addition to Labour's defence team. Indeed, as I said, he made an excellent speech. He claims not to have read all the documents that come out of Walworth road. If he had not read any since 1987, he still would not have missed any on Labour's defence policy. Members of Labour's Front Bench do not have a policy on defence expenditure, because, if they did, it would be unacceptable to the party or unacceptable to the country.

However, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) has blown away the twisted construction that passes for the Front Bench team's camouflage of Labour's defence policy. He has spent the past few weeks stating time after time after time that the Labour party's policy towards the single currency is absolutely clear—it was the one passed at the 1993 party conference. If the 1993 labour party conference is good enough to establish the Labour party's policy on a single currency, surely the 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994 Labour party conferences are sufficient to establish what its defence policy is.

Opposition Members had better understand what the country and, for that matter, the Conservative research department, will assume from here on: in the lifetime of a Parliament, a Labour Government would reduce defence expenditure to the average level of other western European countries. That is a cut of more than £6 billion from current levels, which already include the 25 per cent. reduction from the end of the cold war. What is Labour's policy—to get rid of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force or—the subject of today's debate—the Army?

The country can assume that the Labour party will scuttle all the Navy, ground the Royal Air Force or disband the Army until it is prepared to present a cogent defence policy to the House that it can carry at its party conference.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

It is a pity that the Minister, having given us a fair and accurate assessment of the Army, should resort to such platitudes and attacks. He cannot keep a straight face himself, but may I ask him a particular point? He mentions in great detail the Territorial Army and, as the Minister knows, we support him in his efforts to try to modernise the reserves and find a place for them in the modern Army.

Lady Olga Maitland


Dr. Clark

I am sorry that the hon. Lady has shouted, "Rubbish." The Minister also knows that, to find that place, we need legislation. We in the Labour party recognise that and have told the Minister that, if we were involved in some minor consultation, we would be prepared to give a fair wind to such legislation because we believe it necessary for the future of the Army. May I ask the Minister seriously when may we expect that legislation?

Mr. Soames

I am happy to consult, but may I say that that was an unsatisfactory response to the fly that I lobbed on the water about Labour party policy on defence. It proves what I said in the debate last week on the Royal Navy: that, to be frank—I regret to say this to the hon. Gentleman, who is a nice man— there is no field of politics in which the Labour party is less convincing than defence."—[Official Report, 16 February 1995; Vol. 254, c. 1225.] I am, however, grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support of the Territorial Army, which he has made plain in the past. We hope to bring forward the paper for consultation as soon as possible and as soon as we have a firm date, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will wish to involve the hon. Gentleman.

For the Army, the past year has been one of high operational activity and of change and planning for change. The nation can be proud of the way in which our soldiers have carried out their duties, often in the most difficult circumstances, in this country and abroad. Nevertheless, we are, regrettably, having to reduce the size of our armed forces and to make redundant men and women who have served their country very well.

Perhaps we should pause to consider why almost 80 per cent. of those who leave the services are in employment or another chosen activity within three months of leaving and why 93 per cent. of them are in that position after 15 months. It is not only because of the remarkable work done by the resettlement organisations—they do a fantastic job. There are other important reasons which I believe to be quite clear.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

While my hon. Friend is talking about percentages, and knowing that he is a very fair-minded man, would he care to comment on the 50 per cent. cut in the defence budget and the services proposed by the Liberal Democrats, which is especially relevant in the south-west, and the fact that, in my constituency, a quarter of all jobs are in defence?

Mr. Soames

That is perfectly true, and my hon. Friend makes a fair point. To be frank, it is neck and neck in which are least convincing, Labour Members or the Liberals. Plainly, under the kind of policies proposed by the Liberal Democrats or by the leader of the Labour party, job cuts in my hon. Friend's constituency would be very serious.

I return to why there is such an extraordinarily high take-up of service men and women on leaving the services—quite apart, as I said, from the excellent work of the resettlement organisations. It is due to their reliability, adaptability, self-discipline, self-organisation, self-reliance, resourcefulness, loyalty, teamwork, leadership, goal-orientation, integrity, decisiveness, self-motivation, commitment and responsibility, which mark out the men and women who serve in Her Majesty's armed forces. They are truly of a quality not found in any other organisation in the land.

A journalist recently remarked that, as nearly every British institution seems to be undergoing an almost total systems failure, only the armed forces seem to have maintained a high degree of credibility and a unity of language and performance. He went on to say that he believed that their words of "can-do" seduced and impressed a country that so often and so sadly feels that it cannot.

That is what makes the Army and the other two services the best trained, the best led and the best motivated work force in the country. That is what makes me extremely proud to be the Minister responsible for the armed forces, and to rejoice that this wonderful country should possess such a priceless and golden asset for the defence of the realm and the vigorous promotion of our national interests all over the world.

4.44 pm
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

May I first join the tribute paid to our armed forces, especially to our Army since we are debating it, by the Minister? It is customary that we pay such a tribute, but because it is habitual, it does not mean that it is any less sincere. I know that the House will understand, in this week of all weeks, if I pay tribute in particular, as did the Minister, to those members of our armed forces who over the past 25 years and more have been left with the awesome and awful task of combating terrorism in Northern Ireland. I am sure that, as we reflect on yesterday's first step forward, all hon. Members present will have thoughts for the families of those who have lost loved ones in serving all the people of this country over that quarter of a century.

In that context, I should also say that, while we normally refer to the dedication and commitment of our armed forces, if the events in Northern Ireland have shown one thing, it is that the professionalism of the British Army is without doubt the highest of any army in the world. I can think of no other army which could have conducted itself under such circumstances, with so many young men and women, and have committed so few mistakes. Mistakes have been made, but in comparison to the potential number, they have faded into insignificance. That is not in anyway meant to diminish any loss of life because of those mistakes, but it puts into context the cases of Private Lee Clegg and others.

Labour Members, as well as—I am sure—the Government, have never believed that the containment and defeat of terrorism in Northern Ireland or elsewhere was a sufficient condition for a solution to the problems of that unhappy Province, but it was a necessary condition. As is often the case, it was a task imposed on our armed forces, not by the success of politicians, but by our failures. So the first chinks of light which are beginning to pierce the decades of darkness are a tribute not only to those who are engaged in dialogue in the Province and outside, but to those who for a quarter of a century have been engaged in the maintenance of law and order. We can only express the hope that, as politicians increasingly put away their prejudices, members of the British armed forces will be allowed to operate in a context in which they may increasingly put away their guns.

We were disappointed with the Minister's speech. We thought that a record was going to be set tonight. For the first 34 minutes of his speech, I sat in astonishment because I found that I could not disagree with any of the words that he uttered. Indeed, towards the end, there was an almost half-hearted attack on the Labour party; a token and symbolic act that had been handed to him by central office. I suspect that, in the great office of Minister of State for the Armed Forces, we have a secret thinker. I do not know how someone who thinks on such a level could have sneaked into the Ministry of Defence. Obviously, the Minister would not have got the post had there been an election for it among his colleagues.

Labour Members could agree with the vast majority of what the Minister said, as far as it went today. Therefore, it has been no surprise that the question of promotion, asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), has been answered. There must be ample scope for promotion when a relatively insignificant unknown cavalryman, without family connections or social advantage, can rise to the great office of state as Her Majesty's Minister of State for the Armed Forces. We can all take heart from that living embodiment of meritocracy in Britain.

Dr. Godman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way as he referred to me. I do not believe for a moment that the 11 th Hussars of 25 years ago had a healthy mixture of officers who went in through the traditional methods and officers who came up through the ranks—no way.

Dr. Reid

I am not sure of the entry system in the 11th Hussars. However, the Minister is a man of enormous stature. As Rab C. Nesbitt would have said, it must have been some size of a horse.

On a more serious note, we are concerned about promotion. There was rapid promotion through the ranks until 1945 as a direct result of the conditions of war and the death of the officer class. After that, there was a dramatic reduction in the number of officers who rose through the ranks. The trend is now moving in the other direction. I know from my experience of spending four days with some new recruits at Westbury during the officer selection that there is a stringent selection test. I understand that more than 50 per cent. of the new recruits at Westbury now come from non-public schools. However, a high proportion of recruits still come from public schools, which account for only about 8 per cent. of the population. The trend is moving in the right direction, although not necessarily at the correct rate.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

It is interesting that this place has a high proportion of people from public schools. I understand that the leaders of two out of the three major national parties went to public schools. Is that correct?

Dr. Reid

I did not know that there were three major national parties; I thought that there were only two. As I understand it, foremost among the schools that have sent people here as Members of Parliament—I am pleased to say that they are members of the party that is about to be the party of government—is St. Patrick's in Coatbridge. With three Members of Parliament here, it is comparable even with the public schools. As one of the three hon. Members, I take some pride in that.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Reid

Yes. I shall eventually get on with my speech.

Lady Olga Maitland

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way in his characteristically charming manner.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the balance between the number of public schoolboys and the number of state schoolboys who became soldiers. Does he agree that state schools should put more leadership into their teaching of children?

Dr. Reid

The Government should put more resources into state schools. I do not think that everything in our state schools is good and that everything in our public schools is bad. The curriculum and ethos of public schools lend themselves to the leadership qualities that are demanded at Westbury. Nevertheless, I believe that the major difference between the two types of school is resources. I do not, however, want to go into an education debate with the hon. Lady.

The Minister's attack on Labour seemed, at best, half-hearted. The Minister accused my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) of praying in aid Tory central office. The fact that the Minister had to pray in aid the shadow Foreign Secretary, quoting a Labour party conference decision on the European single currency as a reference to how much we would spend on defence, seemed far more convoluted than anything that my hon. Friend said. However, let us return to our bipartisan approach. We were in agreement with much of the Minister's speech, as far as it went.

I shall mention today some procurement matters and one or two specific matters. However, I shall major on peacekeeping and, the Minister will be glad to hear, on Labour's demand for a full defence review, which he has questioned. I shall try again to explain to the Minister in simple terms what we mean by that.

We welcome the widening use of the Territorial Army and the move towards integrating the experience of the Territorial Army with that of the regular Army. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said, we are disappointed that there has not yet been any positive or concrete movement on a Bill for the reserve forces. We would be willing to give our backing to such a Bill. We do not give an open cheque, but we want such a Bill to be enacted as soon as possible.

General procurement matters, including the management and system of procurement, were dealt with fully by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central in last week's Navy debate, so I do not want to dwell at length on them. However, I want to raise one or two matters of particular interest to the Army. Standardisation and inter-operability are arguably even more vital on the land than in the air or at sea. The Minister will be aware that, for many years, standardisation and inter-operability have tended to mean buying American. Given the new and emerging European dimension and the European defence architecture and identity, is the Minister convinced that this is still a useful assumption? What consideration is being given to this question?

A number of projects could have a significant impact on the ability of the British Army both to act in concert with its European allies and to benefit from a Europe-wide logistical organisation. I mention the attack helicopter, the medium-range and long-range anti-tank systems—TRIGAT—the future reconnaissance vehicle, light-armoured vehicles and future gun and missile systems. Can the Minister tell us tonight how many attack helicopters he intends to order? Can he be more specific about the date when he expects to make a decision on the purchase of the attack helicopters?

Does the written answer from the Minister of State for Defence Procurement dated 31 January, in which he said that the decision would be taken "later in the year" suggest that there has been slippage since his previous statement on 4 May last year? Has there been slippage in the intended in-service date? In last year's defence statement, it was noted that the in-service date intended for the attack helicopter was the "end of the decade".

In another written answer dated 31 January, the Minister referred to the in-service date as the early part of the next century. Hon. Members may think that I am being churlish in distinguishing between the phrase, "end of the decade" and the phrase the early part of the next century".—[Official Report, 31 January 1995; Vol. 253, c. 560.] However, we have become used to such apparently minor nuances marking some slippage in projects. Can the Minister clear up the matter tonight?

I shall deal now with Bosnia, the first of the two general matters, and more specifically with United Nations peacekeeping. In the nine months that have elapsed since the previous Army debate, our service men and women have continued to perform their difficult and demanding duties in Bosnia with great skill and determination, as the Minister noted. There has been some criticism of the United Nations protection force over the past two years. Although some of the criticism has been justified, much of it has been highly irresponsible.

People should not doubt, whatever view they take of the conflict in Bosnia and whatever side their prejudices tend to lead them towards, that the British troops and the UNPROFOR troops are making an invaluable contribution in that theatre. The number of innocent lives blighted by the conflict would have been far greater without UNPROFOR's efforts, as the Minister said earlier.

No one should be in any doubt about the regard, affection and admiration that we have for General Sir Michael Rose. We have found him to be as professional as we would have expected, more impressive than we thought that he could be and endlessly civil when we have made inquiries, even under the most trying of circumstances.

General Rose is not the first to have been accused by one or more of the factions in Bosnia of leaning towards this or the other side of the argument. We are convinced that he has carried out his duties as we would expect him to, without bias and within the objectives that have been given to him. He has applied the rules of engagement and he has maintained neutrality. The United Nations is not in Bosnia as a party to the internal civil war. It is there for specific, limited purposes. We have no doubt that General Rose has carried out his duties not only to the best of his ability, but to the best ability of any soldier who could have been given the post. We wish his successor, Rupert Smith, well.

On more general matters connected with UNPROFOR, in the last Army debate I identified several serious flaws in the UN operation in Bosnia. Sadly, it is clear from what has happened since then that those flaws have not been rectified. In particular, the position in Bihac, just like the attack on Gorazde which preceded last year's debate, has highlighted the continued mismatch between the objectives established in UN Security Council resolutions and the means provided by the UN to realise them.

Resolution 836 authorises the use of "all necessary means" to defend safe areas. However, in the 20 months that have elapsed since the passage of that resolution, none of the ground forces required to fulfil their mandate have actually been put in place. As we have seen, attempts to control the situation on the ground through the sporadic use of air power above the ground have failed.

The next reason why the safe areas policy has been thrown into crisis is the failure of the United Nations to insist on their full demilitarisation. Territory that is used as a centre for the military operations of one of the combatants will naturally and always become the target of the military operations of the other. Unless and until the safe areas are cleared of all combatants, it will not be possible to make them truly safe for the civilians who inhabit them.

Experience has taught us that the way in which the UN makes and implements policy needs to be thoroughly reviewed in order to ensure that the mistakes made in Bosnia, as in Somalia, are not repeated in future. In particular, there is a need to ensure that, when it is formulating mandates and drafting resolutions, the Security Council takes account of what is militarily achievable as well as what is politically desirable.

I have said before from the Dispatch Box that there are some problems to which there are no military solutions. We are aware of the tendency of politicians when they are under pressure to pass the buck to the armed forces. What I have said implies an enhanced role for military advisers in the initial planning stages of UN operations and in the drafting of UN resolutions.

If the prospects for a peaceful long-term settlement of the conflict in former Yugoslavia seem remote, we can at least take comfort from the fact that the temporary ceasefire has led to a significant reduction in the level of violence. In the near future, however, we should flag up the fact that there is a serious risk that the military situation may again escalate out of control, perhaps even to the point where containing the conflict may no longer be possible.

The threat comes from two sources. The first is the ultimatum issued by President Tudjman that the Croatian Government will not renew UNPROFOR's mandate when it expires on 31 March and that all personnel attached to UNPROFOR will be required to leave the country within three months. Quite apart from the facts that UNPROFOR will lose the use of Zagreb as the location of its headquarters and that access to Bosnia from the Adriatic, which has been so crucial to the humanitarian aid operation, will become impossible, the withdrawal of UNPROFOR's presence in Croatia threatens to destabilaise the region as a whole.

The second general threat to UNPROFOR's operation, and also to UN peacekeeping efforts more generally, comes from a distant quarter, in the form of the United States National Security Revitalisation Act passed by the House of Representatives last week. I can understand that the Minister may find it difficult to respond to this point. However, we believe that that Act, which requires the US Government to deduct from their contributions to the UN peacekeeping budget any costs incurred unilaterally in the course of conducting peacekeeping efforts, including UNPROFOR, is not a move forward.

It is our sincere hope that, on reflection, Congress will decide to reject the Act and, if it does not, that President Clinton will be able to veto it. United Nations peacekeeping should be regarded as a vital element in any strategy to promote international peace and security.

It is in that context that we consider the question of Angola. The Minister did not refer to that subject earlier, and perhaps some reference to it by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement when he replies to the debate would enlighten us about the present position.

The UN Security Council has agreed to send a peacekeeping force of 7,000 to Angola. As far as we understand it, the Government are considering whether, and in what way, they can make a contribution to that force. I understand that consideration has been given to sending support and logistical troops.

We are sympathetically disposed to the general aim, particularly as the lack of transport and logistical support appears to have been a significant obstacle to the progress of the peacekeeping process in the past. However, we would want to know, and to satisfy ourselves, that the Government are satisfied that we have the resources to do that; that the UN planning has been adequate; and that both the objectives and rules of engagement are clear and concise.

Are the Government happy with the contingency planning if things were to go wrong in Angola as they have done in other areas? The Opposition are only too well aware of the dangers in Angola from the widespread distribution of anti-personnel mines—a point that has been raised on several occasions by Opposition Front-Bench Members—and we are aware of the fact that two previous UN missions—although they were not peacekeeping missions—to Angola have failed. We would like to be satisfied on all those points before we could record our full support for a Government decision on that matter.

I want now to consider a matter which rivets Ministers as it is at the core of our considerations: British defence policy and our argument for a defence review. The Minister, who I know follows this argument word by word, line by line, will forgive me for going over it in some detail today. He expressed some reservations about this, as did others, during the debate on the Navy.

What is the context? Since the last Army debate, the Government have announced the conclusion of the defence costs study, which is the third round of defence cuts in three years. Like the two previous rounds, it failed to square the circle of dwindling resources and escalating commitments.

It is our contention that Ministers have arrived at wrong answers because they have asked the wrong questions. Instead of asking how to produce the best defence for Britain, they have been asking how to produce the biggest cuts to meet the demands from the Treasury. The budgetary imperative of the defence costs study was even more blatant this time than it was through the "Options for Change" exercise. I am sure that hon. Members noticed that a Treasury "enforcer" sat on each of the study teams set up by the Ministry of Defence.

Over the past few years, we have made it plain that we believe that the Government's approach to the restructuring of our armed forces has been incoherent and lacking in strategy. We have made it equally plain that any changes should have been predicated upon a full and comprehensive defence review. Only then could we have ensured that any reduction in defence expenditure was coherent, managed and based on strategic rationale.

The need for a defence review, far from diminishing, has never been greater than it is today. In the past, the Government have obstinately refused to recognise the advice given to them. That advice was proffered by the Labour party and by a formidable range of opinion inside and outside Parliament.

Because the Government refused that advice, it is no surprise that, when the man from the Treasury called, as he did in his annual visit over the past three or four years, the MOD door was lying open. When the man from the Treasury left, not only was the cupboard a little barer, but the Office of State was left in a shambles.

The MOD has been the victim of its own negligence. It has stumbled and staggered through half a decade of decimation. It is now saying, with no sense of irony, that it should warn against a full defence review because that would mean a period of instability for our forces. Ironic though that might be, that suggestion—preposterous as it is bearing in mind whence it came—demands a response.

The first point to be made to those who say that a full defence review would cause change and instability is that changes are continuing, and will continue, irrespective of the assurances of Ministers. We need only read the papers: last week the generals were depleted; the week before it was Rosyth and yesterday morning it was the Marines. The mayhem resulting from the cuts already planned is continuing, and will continue for some considerable time.

More than that, even as the Prime Minister issued bland assurances that the upheaval was over, further cuts and upheavals were being planned and discussed. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow asked whether any discussion was taking place within the Ministry of Defence about the eventual abolition, elimination or diminution of the regiments. He appeared to receive a blanket denial that any such discussions or considerations were taking place. I advise my hon. Friend to read the Minister's words extremely carefully, because the Minister will not deny that consideration is to be given to various projects, one of which, British Army 2000, postulates a new corps involving at the very least a diminution of the traditional role of the regimental system. Last weekend's press revealed that, but it has been known for some time.

The regimental system has made our Army the pride and envy of the world.

Mr. Soames

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but may I put his mind at rest about the article that appeared in the Sunday Express? There is indeed important work being conducted on the future of the Army, as the hon. Gentleman would expect—the Army will not stand still between now and the next century—but the suggestion that the regimental system is under threat in any way is absolute nonsense. It is quite untrue, and I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance from the Dispatch Box.

Dr. Reid

I thank the Minister for saying that—and especially for saying that the Army will not stand still between now and the next century. That is precisely the point that we are trying to make. The Minister said as much last week, and I think that he was quoting the First Sea Lord when he used a telling phrase. I cannot remember his exact words, but it was something like, "Let the word be known among the multitudes that the storm has passed." Then he felt compelled to add, "But the swell will be felt for some time." No wonder he felt compelled to add those words, because major change is under consideration. The Army and the other armed forces will not stand still.

The swell continues not only because of the most recent changes but because other changes just as great in extent and effect are under consideration. I see that the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, is nodding, although the Minister is not. Sometimes I do not know whether the Minister is in control—

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

I know that the hon. Gentleman was wearing his spectacles when he said that I was nodding, but actually I was shaking my head, not nodding it.

Dr. Reid

Let the nod be struck from the record, although I felt that the hon. Gentleman was shaking his head in a positive manner.

The Minister was talking about waves last weekend. Those who know about such things tell me that the wonders of technology now allow the owners of aquatic leisure establishments to use a new device for the entertainment of customers—a wave-making machine. I have a funny feeling that someone in the Ministry of Defence has got his hand on one of those machines, because for the past four years, every time a Minister denies at the Dispatch Box that any further upheavals or waves of cuts are being contemplated, within six months he or a fellow Minister is back in the House announcing yet another wave.

To those who declare that instability will be avoided and change will not occur so long as we do not have a defence review, I reply that I am merely stating the obvious: change will occur, and it is being considered.

Dr. Godman

The Minister's assurance about the retention of our military regiments is not only good for us to hear but most important for soldiers serving with the infantry regiments, and even more so for their families.

Dr. Reid

Yes. I have no doubt that this Minister at this time and in this position will argue strongly against any idea of abolishing the infantry regiments or other regiments. However, we are all aware that some people believe that the Army could be made leaner, fitter and all the other euphemisms designed to introduce cuts and radical change, if the regimental system were abolished. That idea is still under consideration.

Mr. Soames

There are huge and important issues to be settled in the defence world, and I know that the hon.

Gentleman is aware of those. He has good views on many of them, which he and I have discussed from time to time. But please may I try to drag him off that pointless argument about abolishing the regimental system?

The British Army 2000 project is important, and plainly tactics and strategy, like everything else, change. I know that the hon. Gentleman gets around quite a lot, but if he met the coming generation of future leaders in all three services they would tell him that they expect and know that change will come. The Army is always an evolving animal. Please could we lay that argument to one side? I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that there is no such plan afoot, and to move on to more serious and substantial matters on which there can be real and important debates and arguments.

Dr. Reid


Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)

Tell us about Labour party policy.

Dr. Reid

I am trying to outline Labour policy in some detail—more coherently than anything that we have heard from the Government over the past five years.

What I said about the regiments was a response to points raised by my hon. Friends. The significant factor—I am glad to agree with the Minister here—is that change will occur. Let no one suggest that not having a defence review means that there will be no change. Thus, I have established the first premise of our argument.

The question is not whether change will take place—it will—but whether the process of change will be managed, systematic, rational and strategically coherent. That is what we mean when we talk about a full defence review. A review represents the sensible precaution of reading the route map before setting out on the journey. Of course, especially in military and foreign affairs, there will be necessary diversions, unforeseen obstacles, climatic conditions and atmospheric changes, but if we had a full defence review at least we should have some rational idea of our ultimate destination, and of the area that we mean to traverse to get there.

In contrast, over the past five years we have seen two Secretaries of State for Defence standing in the bows of the good ship Ministry of Defence and sailing into waters that they have never considered, without charts and with few navigational aids and few friends. Compared with that, a defence review would be a godsend for our forces.

Having established the fact that change will happen and must be managed, let me deal with the calumny that a defence review would mean the big bang catastrophe—that somehow within six months the Labour party would try to restructure everything all over again. Far from introducing further instability, a full defence review would promise the potential for a bedrock of stability. It would be nothing more than an analysis leading to the reasoned establishment of a framework of strategic criteria for consistent application to any future proposals for change. I know that some of those words—such as analysis, reason, criteria, strategic and consistent—are alien to the Government's traditions, but they represent what we are talking about when we ask for a full defence review.

The Minister and other Conservative Members have asked to hear some of our views—and we can tell them about those, because even now some of the parameters of the framework are obvious to anyone who has observed the shambles of the past few years.

First, it is recognised that defence is not only the primary duty and responsibility of the Government, but largely the daughter of foreign policy. We can see that that immediately creates problems for the Government. If they do not know what their foreign policy is, how can they work out a coherent defence and security policy if it is a consequence of their foreign policy? For a Government who do not know from week to week what their relationship is even with our European allies, far less than with countries further abroad, the most simple primary criterion of a defence review becomes a major problem.

Mr. Soames

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that our principal and main defence relationship—one to which we are irrevocably wedded—is with NATO, and that therefore the prospects which he is raising simply do not exist in terms of foreign policy?

Dr. Reid

I have no difficulty in agreeing with the Minister's proposition, but I do not know what he thinks may be the implications of what he has said. No one can discuss our participation in NATO without discussing our relationship with the rest of the European defence architecture, including the Western European Union and the intergovernmental conference. A Government who are split down the middle about our relationship with Europe and about the intergovernmental conference cannot have a fixed relationship with NATO. Difficulties are created for the Government even on the first premise of a full defence review.

The second criterion is obviously the matching of commitments and resources. There must be a balance between resources and commitments, and between different capabilities. Those factors, and the balance between front-line units and support services, have been primarily determined during the past years on factors which have nothing to do with Britain's real security needs.

In the late 20th century, our defence structures are a product of a complex network of interrelationships between a diverse range of elements which comprise military power. Defence policies shaped in a piecemeal fashion with successive waves of cuts in different sectors will never be adequate for that task. We cannot entirely blame the present Ministers, who have only come along on the crest of the fourth or fifth wave and have inherited the present situation.

Nevertheless, the consequences of successive waves of cuts, and the piecemeal fashion in which they have been carried out, are obvious. The process of a defence review by stealth that the Government are engaged in—one year looking at combat arms, the next year considering the role of the reserves and the year after that restructuring support services—has produced nothing but chaos and confusion. That is why the Government have failed, and why we insist that a proper defence review is necessary.

The third criterion—I am only choosing those criteria which must be obvious to most hon. Members—would be the relationship of our defence security needs with the strategic industrial base of our defence industries. Once again, the Government have particular problems in facing up to that, because—whatever they may say—they are in practice apparently wedded to the theory of non-intervention in the free market.

I admit that we took some heart from the speech of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement during the debate on the Navy. I would hesitate to ruin the future career of the right hon. Gentleman, but it did seem that perhaps the first chinks of light on this subject were beginning to fall, even in the darkest recesses of the MOD.

We can use those three criteria to start the evolution of a defence review and, subject to them, we can identify some of the secondary criteria that would flow from them in relation to the structure of the Army and our armed forces. There are three key words here—flexibility, deployability and sustainability.

Our armed forces must be flexible, and able to respond to a wide variety of challenges. The Opposition oppose the purchase of a stand-off nuclear missile, because, among other reasons, it failed to meet the criteria, and did not represent value for money. Our forces must be deployable, and have the tactical and strategic mobility required to move rapidly in the event of a crisis.

There have been fewer interventions since we started discussing the real meat of a coherent strategy. Conservative Back-Bench Members are sitting listening to every word.

Mr. Robathan

The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for some 40 minutes, and I thought that I would give him a chance to finish.

Dr. Reid

Our armed forces have gone through five years of chaos, incoherence and hell, and they are entitled to 40 minutes of common sense from the Opposition.

Mr. Soames

Cheeky bugger. Dr. Reid: I may be cheeky—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I am not totally sure that I heard the word used by the Minister. If it was the word that I thought it was, the Minister would perhaps like to withdraw it.

Mr. Soames

Of course I withdraw the word. It was meant with affection.

Dr. Reid

Not too close an affection, I hope. Even bipartisanship has its limitations on this side of the House.

The Minister will agree with much of what I have said, but I am putting it in a coherent format. Our ability to deploy the British Army out of area is as important as ever, but it is being called into question by the Government's policy—specifically by sealift.

Our armed forces must be sustainable and be provided with the full range of stocks, spares, maintenance facilities and logistic support required for them to function effectively in combat. Never again must we find ourselves in the situation we did before the Gulf war, when 77 per cent. of our tanks could not be used. As I said on that occasion, the Lada had a better record of reliability than some of the British tanks. The Minister well knows that it eventually took two divisions to produce one.

A full defence review would not be a catastrophic big bang. It would be an attempt to create the criteria by which judgments can be made in a coherent fashion.

There are other reasons why a defence review is needed, including the appalling levels of waste and financial incompetence which still characterise the Government's management of Britain's defences. Many examples of that have been given, and I do not intend to publicise them any further today.

Another reason why a review is needed is that the Government's defence plans are unsustainable in financial terms. It has been revealed by Professor Ron Smith of Birkbeck college and David Greenwood of Aberdeen university that there is a massive funding gap at the heart of the present defence budget. Projections produced by Professor Smith show that reductions in defence expenditure to 2.9 per cent. of GDP by year the 2000—the Government's own target for 1997–98 is 2.8 per cent.—will require force levels to be cut by a further 32,900, or 14 per cent.

Incidentally, the Government have cut defence spending in the past 10 years by a bigger percentage and by more in absolute terms than any Government since the war, have increased the differentials between the lower and higher ranks by more than any Government since the war, and have spent the smallest percentage of GDP on defence of any Government since the war. For members of that Government to criticise not the practice but the theoretical conference decision of an Opposition party seems to me to be the height of cheek.

The message from all that is clear. It is not a full defence review that the armed forces have to fear—it is this Government. Only this week, the Under-Secretary said that the Government had no target or ceiling for the future strength of the Royal Marines". If the Government cannot refuse to rule out reductions in the numbers of the Royal Marines, we can presume that they are unable to rule out any further reductions in the size of the Army. If so, the Secretary of State's much-vaunted promise is worthless.

In conclusion, we do not need to ask what is the policy of the Conservative Government, or what will be the experience of the armed forces under their continued—albeit temporary—Administration. We do not need to look in the crystal ball, because we can read the book. It is on the record—cuts, chaos, mismatch and muddling through. Almost 200 years ago, Clausewitz urged: Be audacious and cunning in your plans, firm and persevering in their execution, determined to find a glorious end. Rarely have a group of politicians so confounded his advice as this hunch of Defence Ministers. Timid and unimaginative in their planning, equivocating and irresolute in their execution, they stagger slowly onwards to their finale. It cannot come soon enough for the benefit of the armed forces and the salvation of the whole country.

5.30 pm
Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

Before dealing with the general subject of today's debate, I ask the House to bear with me while I pay a brief tribute to Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. As everyone present knows, he was a member of the Select Committee on Defence, and it was an enormous privilege to work closely with him in the past two and a half years. Nicky had a very flamboyant style and I am sure that he would not mind me telling the House that his dress and wit occasionally took aback some of the people whom the Select Committee visited.

Underneath that flamboyance, however, were two people whom the public did not often see—one, a serious politician with deeply held convictions, and the other, a personality of great warmth and generosity of spirit, who was a close and dear friend to all of us who worked closely with him. The greatest benefits that Nicky gave the Defence Select Committee were not merely his penetrating mind and extremely good sense of humour, but his great legal knowledge.

I shall now deal with Private Clegg and the situation in Northern Ireland, about which Nicky Fairbairn felt strongly and on which he wrote to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and to Defence Ministers.

The Defence Select Committee had been unhappy for some time about our young men in Northern Ireland and elsewhere operating under the terms of the yellow card, which we do not find acceptable. The yellow card has no force in law and, therefore, while we can advise young men and order them to obey what it says, we cannot guarantee that even when they do so they will be immune from prosecution if it results in the death of someone whom they considered to have been threatening their lives at the time.

About a month ago, the Select Committee visited our Northern Ireland pre-training area. We were a rather large bunch of middle-aged gentlemen pretending to be a platoon of young soldiers, which was perhaps not entirely realistic. We went round as though we were a platoon and went through the same experiences as young men who go to Northern Ireland are put through before being sent there. It was an impressive course. There is a mock-up village, which looks like a Northern Irish village, and the troops spend a substantial amount of time there immersed in what appears to be real Northern Ireland life. The pub and the fish and chip shop work, and the system works as though they were on the streets of Ireland.

We were fired at—had it been for real, some members of our platoon would undoubtedly have been injured, if not killed. Two young men in balaclava helmets, armed with rifles, ran across in front of us, at a range of about 30 yards. A little further down the street, someone came out from another door and hurled a tin can at us—mercifully, from a considerable range, as it exploded.

I give those examples because in neither of those circumstances would the soldiers concerned have been allowed to fire—in the first example, because their lives would not have been considered to be in danger at that stage, as the men were not looking at us and, in the second, because the law states that, once an object has left the hand of the person throwing it, one is no longer in danger—or so the argument goes—from that person and so one is not allowed to shoot him, although one does not know at that stage whether it is an empty bottle or some sort of explosive device.

I find that wholly unacceptable. It is doubly unacceptable because, should one fire and kill the person, the penalty would inevitably be life imprisonment. Senior ranking officers advised the Government that they did not want a change in the law for a variety of reasons, all of which I understand, but I hope that they will reconsider their position. We cannot tolerate sending our young soldiers into positions of substantial personal danger with that type of threat hanging over them, in addition to the obvious direct threat to their lives. I hope that Minister will press the Home Secretary and others involved to ensure that there is a change in the law without delay, so that that does not occur in future.

I hope that our troops will shortly not be necessary in Northern Ireland, but I do not rely fully on that, and even if they are not they will be sent on parallel peacekeeping exercises, such as in Bosnia, where they must be equally protected against life imprisonment for stepping over the bounds in the exercise of what is otherwise their duty.

The Select Committee is going to see the pre-training area for Bosnia next week. It is slightly different from the one that I described, but I hope that it is still a useful exercise for our troops. Two weeks after that, the Committee will go to Bosnia.

The pre-training exercise that we give our troops is extremely good. I believe it to be the best in the world and plenty of other countries would like to share it with us, or hire it. Whatever happens in Northern Ireland, I hope that we will be assured—perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement can assure us later today—that our training centres will continue. However much we move towards a more peaceful domestic scene—I sincerely hope that we do—I hope that we will not lose the opportunity to give our troops such training.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has decided to change the structure of our training operations so that we have a joint inspectorate general of doctrine and training at Upavon in Wiltshire. I believe that that follows the lines of the American army, and although I certainly do not recommend that we follow the Americans in many areas, I believe that that is a good example and that it will improve and enhance the control of our training systems.

In a recent report, the Defence Select Committee expressed some concern about the shooting skills of some of our soldiers who are not in infantry battalions, especially the Royal Engineers and the Royal Signals, who do not seem to be attaining the skills that we would hope for in our soldiery. When we raised that matter with the Ministry of Defence, we were told that it was "not seriously concerned" because engineers and the like have small arms issued for personal protection and shooting is riot their primary skill". That may be so, but they may come under attack in Bosnia and elsewhere, and they will not thank the Army and those responsible for their training if they are inadequately trained to defend themselves and their comrades. I hope that the matter will be given close consideration.

I believe that there are plans to change the shooting skills expected of soldiers and to make an allowance, which would mean that infantry soldiers would take a different test from those in support and logistics. If so, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will tell the House in detail what is proposed and be able to assure us that, whatever the new structure of the shooting test, all soldiers will be brought up to a standard that will enable them to defend themselves and others properly should they need to do so.

I was glad to hear that BATUS—British Army training unit Suffield—the training area in Canada, was fully used in 1994 and will be again in 1995. The Defence Select Committee had planned to visit it last year. Unfortunately, the trip had to be cancelled, so I have not seen it. I remain worried about the general level of collective training available to the Army, especially the amount of live firing that is available to many troops. I welcome the fact that we are buying time at Hohne ranges for battle groups based in Germany, and look forward to hearing that collective training has been enhanced in those areas.

At the invitation of the Belize Government, two weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit our extremely valuable jungle training systems in Belize. Those responsible for training the British troops told me how excellent the facilities are. This year, we shall send seven company-strength training groups. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister confirm that we shall also send one battalion-strength training group next year? I hope that that will be a regular occurrence so that we can make full use of facilities in Belize.

My hon. Friends and anyone who reads previous debates will know of my strong belief that Britain has a duty to help Belize to defend itself, should it come under threat from Guatemala. It is much better to prepare for such an event and, hopefully, to prevent it, than, as with the Falklands, to send a weak signal and then have to react with military force. If we give Belize clear undertakings that we will not tolerate an invasion from Guatemala, it is much less likely that that event will occur.

We have frequently covered the subject of the emergency tour interval, so I shall refer to it only briefly. Last year, the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Select Committee in which he appeared to say that he thought, as we certainly did, that the 24-month interval was a minimum rather than an average. After he had given that evidence, I received a letter stating that that was not right and that 24 months was an average interval. That is not good enough; 24 months must be the minimum that is allowed. A shorter interval should be against the system and that matter should be reviewed. Many soldiers have much shorter intervals between emergency tours. We must deal with that important matter at group level and in terms of individual soldiers on attachment.

The Ministry has often said that it is not easy to provide the necessary figures. The Defence Select Committee does not find it difficult at all, and some months ago we sent a helpful template to the Ministry to show how easy it is, but have had no response. The Committee Clerks are extremely able, but so are Whitehall officials, and it is not beyond the bounds of the capability of the Ministry of Defence to provide proper figures showing the emergency tour intervals in individual units. I hope that we shall be given the latest figures for 1994–95 and the projected figures for 1995–96 in due course. I imagine that those will assume a two-battalion Bosnian commitment and no change in Northern Ireland. Will my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces confirm that to me later?

The Select Committee on Defence is undertaking a joint inquiry with the Select Committee on Trade and Industry. It has ambitious terms of reference but a fairly modest time scale—we hope to issue our report within the next four or five weeks after only four meetings. We are studying aspects of defence procurement and industrial policy, concentrating on ammunition, electronics and vehicles. I do not want to anticipate what the sub-committees reporting on the full Committee may say, but it is worth making one or two points about army vehicles as that subject has caused long-term concern. If my hon. Friends have been fully alert, they will have noticed that I have tabled a string of parliamentary questions on army vehicles.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Roger Freeman)

indicated assent.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

My right hon. Friend indicates that he has spotted them.

The gist of my questions is whether the Ministry is properly considering alternative methods of equipping ourselves with essential equipment and whether it is considering leasing, buying or contracting out to the independent sector, as it said it would and which it promised would save some £90 million on the four-tonne truck fleet and a further £20 million by reducing peacetime holdings of commercial standard equipment.

My questions resulted in some inconsistent details. For example, our truck-mounted concrete mixers are built to military specification. That seems to be going to considerable trouble, because I gather that the Army requires only two. It is hard to believe that the civil sector could not provide two truck-mounted concrete mixers without our going to the enormous expense of having a special specification for them. I was told that ultra-light dumpers could not be leased because of cost and their extensive use in overseas deployment. Again, I find that slightly unconvincing.

I was told that fuel servicing vehicles, of which there are 675, must be built to special military standards and so cannot economically be leased; that we can buy 12 light dumpers only from Denmark; and that rough terrain wheeled tractors and container handlers also have military specifications, despite the fact that rough terrain fork-lift trucks were specified in an earlier answer from the Ministry as one of the vehicles that it was trying to buy from the private sector.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will look closely at how the Ministry of Defence is progressing on procurement and ensure that changes that should be made are made speedily. It should not be a red-tape operation, with some people in the Ministry trying to tie it down to its traditional long-term procurement policy.

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend has given notice that he cannot listen to the wind-up speech so, for his convenience and that of Opposition Front Benchers, I should say that his recent flurry of questions has concentrated minds wonderfully. I am happy to confirm that, by the end of this calendar year, we intend to have in place some—I hope, two or three—pilot leasing packages for the Royal Air Force and the Army. If we start with B-vehicles—non-combat vehicles—we can then explore extending the principle of leasing beyond those pilot projects. I am grateful to the Select Committee for helping to stimulate that valuable exercise.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I am grateful for that assurance from my right hon. Friend. I am sure that he will keep a close eye on the matter and ensure that it progresses as it should.

Will he also look at the tankers that are currently used in Bosnia? When the Committee was last there, a year ago, we discovered that the tankers were extremely old. In May 1994, we were told that the burden of an aging fleet would shortly be relieved by a mix of the refurbishment and purchase of new commercial tankers and the procurement of DROPS—demountable rack offloading and pickup system—fuel flat-racks.

I hope that, when we go to Bosnia in four weeks' time, we shall find that that has been done, at least to a degree. I look forward to finding a happy British logistic battalion with whatever it needs to make the necessary provision in difficult circumstances to our troops and our United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian aid workers.

May I make some general points, and strike a suitably optimistic note? I am delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces—we already knew it from the defence costs study, but I liked the way in which my hon. Friend emphasised it in his opening remarks—of the extra reconnaissance regiment and how we can enhance some front-line activities.

I am also extremely happy about the Territorial Army. Ex-territorial soldiers such as myself were afraid that we might suffer in the DCS and we were grateful to the Government, on whom the pressures were great. However, they were heavily resisted and the outcome is extremely satisfactory. The TA can play a much fuller role than it has been asked to do in the past 20 or 30 years and can usefully enhance our small but brilliantly effective regular armed service.

Will my hon. Friend consider introducing a few more senior Territorial Army officer ranks? At present, the senior ranks are almost exclusively filled by regulars. In the days when I served in the TA, the colonels of our regiments were territorial soldiers. I appreciate that demands have increased and the supply of Territorial Army soldiers with regular experience, which is what most of those colonels were, has decreased, so the change would present difficulties.

None the less, perhaps there should be more opportunity for outstandingly good territorials, particularly those who had regular experience beforehand, to progress to the ranks of colonel and lieutenant colonel and take charge of Territorial Army regiments. I should like to see more territorials reaching the rank of brigadier or general.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) has left the Chamber. I am sorry to have to comment in his absence on his remarks on the defence costs and on another review. We have had that debate fully in the House before. I do not believe that such a review would be in the interests of any of our armed services.

It is common ground across the House that we have been through great traumas in the past four or five years. Although it was not how I would have conducted it, "Options for Change" and subsequent reviews were to all intents and purposes a defence review, based on the false premise that the ending of the cold war would make the world a happier and safer place. As I say every time I speak in a defence debate, it is a much more dangerous place, but I will not labour the point. Another defence review now would be disruptive. Whatever the hon. Member for Motherwell, North might say, it would put a further cloud of uncertainty over the armed forces.

Ministers are absolutely right to reject such a principle. They have given undertakings here and elsewhere that there will be no further cuts in the armed forces. Anything that undermines the armed forces' confidence that they can regroup in their present strength and look forward with confidence to the future can only damage the way in which the United Kingdom is defended.

5.51 pm
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

The hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) started his speech with a tribute to Nicholas Fairbairn. I concur with that sincerely, because Sir Nicholas was very helpful at the time of the worry and difficulty we were having over the Royal Artillery range at Benbecula. The fact that he was very supportive of the campaign to keep that base open makes me all the more sorry to have to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to him.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the training that the soldiers undergo before being sent to Northern Ireland. I spent some time at one of those training camps with the second battalion of the Parachute Regiment some four years ago when I went around the very same mock village as members of the Defence Committee. I was extremely impressed by the comprehensive and thorough way in which soldiers were prepared for their duties and by the excellent briefings which they received, full of valuable political and social information about the background to the troubles in Northern Ireland.

The soldiers arrived quite knowledgeable about the general and particular context of the region to which they were sent, in County Fermanagh. I joined them again at a later date and spent a weekend with them. I went around with them in patrols, heavily disguised as a soldier. Again, I was impressed with how they were going about their job and implementing their training. However, I draw a different conclusion from that of the hon. Gentleman. We should not consider relaxing the strict guidelines and safeguards that were laid down for the soldiers. Those guidelines have played an essential role in bringing about the peace that we are now enjoying.

I am sure that all sides accept that errors and mistakes were inevitably made in the early years of deployment in Northern Ireland because the situation was so fraught and novel. The guidelines have evolved out of hard experience and should not be relaxed. There is a case for reviewing the judicial sentences that should be passed when cases such as that of Private Lee Clegg come before the courts, the requirement for mandatory life sentences and the need to pass sentences for murder rather than manslaughter. Those issues need to be reviewed, not the guidelines that soldiers have to follow.

I now turn to a constituency point concerning the Royal Artillery range in my constituency at Balivanick in Benbecula. The Government have accepted the need to keep that range open to carry out its valuable task but are moving towards having it operated and manned largely by civilian personal. How far has that process progressed? There is some worry in my constituency that some of the military aspects of the range are now being wound down without the civilian part being fully up to speed and there might be a gap between the two.

That obviously causes concern about whether the whole process will be carried through in the way that we understood from the Government it would. I would like the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to address that question and to give me the reassurance that my constituents seek—that, as soon as possible, the range at Balivanick will move towards civilian operation along the lines that the Government intended.

I should now like to turn to the most important overseas operation now being carried out by the British Army—in Bosnia. I would concur with what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the great majority of the operations carried out by the British Army. The majority of soldiers have carried out their tasks with great skill and bravery and, above all, a genuine desire to fulfil their difficult humanitarian mission. We have to commend them for the way in which they have gone about their work, and express our gratitude to them. We wish them well, in particular the new commander of UNPROFOR, General Rupert Smith, whom I met at a British Council seminar on peacekeeping early last year around the time of the imposition of the Sarajevo exclusion zone. Undoubtedly, he has an impressive record and we look forward to him adding to that record in his year in Bosnia.

I am afraid that I have to depart from the commendations that have been passed on the performance of General Sir Michael Rose over the past year. He has left General Smith a difficult task, not just to fulfil the humanitarian mandate he has from the United Nations but in large degree to restore the credibility of UNPROFOR in Bosnia, as it was much diminished by the performance—particularly latterly—of General Rose. We have to learn from General Rose's failures and mistakes if they are to be avoided in future.

In trying to discuss some of these failures, I should refer to the "Panorama" programme late last month, referred to by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I shall not dwell on what the Prime Minister of Bosnia said on that programme, because this is not a debate about him or about the Bosnian Government. However, I suggest that the Minister and the hon. Member for Blaby look at the transcript of that BBC programme. They will see that their accusation that the Bosnian Prime Minister made false claims about the situation in Bihac is spurious.

According to the transcript, in his famous confrontation with General Rose, the Bosnian Prime Minister said: There is no call for the air strikes from General Rose here or from Mr. Akashi—those are the responsible people. If a lot of people die in Bihac it is because of them". It is clear that he meant that, if there was no action, many people would die. He did not say that 70,000 people had died, which would be an utterly absurd and ridiculous claim. The notion that the Bosnian Prime Minister misled General Rose or the world's press is false. Unfortunately, the "Panorama" programme made that claim, but one can see from the transcript—I shall happily show it to the hon. Gentleman later—that it is completely false.

Mr. Robathan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I should be delighted to see that transcript later. Following the press conference given by the Prime Minister of Bosnia, I believe that newspapers—particularly those in America—reported that 70,000 people had died in Bihac. I may not be entirely correct on that. At the end of the programme, the Bosnian Prime Minister was challenged about his claim that 70,000 people had died, and he lost his temper.

I am straying slightly from the point, but it is an important matter. We are talking about a very senior British Army officer who I consider has done a very good job. When General Rose went to Sarajevo in January last year, it was under intense artillery fire. Almost singlehandedly, through his own robust form of diplomacy, General Rose managed to lift that fire on Sarajevo.

Mr. Macdonald

I do not wish to dwell on the incident because it is not completely germane to the debate. The hon. Gentleman referred to American news coverage and I think that he derived his information from the clip that was shown on the "Panorama" programme. However, the transcript and the American news clip made no mention of 70,000 people having been killed. One was given that impression from the way in which the programme was constructed, but that is not the case.

Another aspect of the "Panorama" programme is germane to the debate. The programme contained an interview with General Rose in which he told John Simpson that Bosnian Government forces had engaged in ethnic cleansing of the Serbian population of Gorazde at the outset of the war. He made that claim while he was in Gorazde, and he invited the BBC crew to come to that city. It was the first visit by a television crew since the siege began.

In making that claim, General Rose challenged the perception of the Bosnians as victims and of Karadzic's Serbs as aggressors in Gorazde. He implied that Governments, in failing to understand that point, had misjudged the situation in Gorazde completely. According to the BBC transcript, General Rose said: Yes, practically every house in Gorazde has been damaged, but most of the damage was done in the fighting that had taken place some two years before"— in 1992— when the Bosnian Government forces drove the Serbs from this town, and there were twelve and a half thousand Serbs at that time living here and they were all driven off'. General Rose went on to describe what had happened to the Serbs as "ethnic cleansing". He concluded: And, of course, at that time, the international image of what had happened in Gorazde was very different from the reality. What was dangerous was that policies were beginning to be put together on both sides of the Atlantic about what we should do in Gorazde, but these policies have been put together on totally flawed information. If General Rose's accusation is correct, his description of the forcible eviction of 12,500 Serbs from Gorazde in 1992 would count as one of the major war crimes to occur in the Balkans, for which the Bosnian Government should be held to account. But is there any evidence that that occurred?

The most comprehensive and authoritative report about war crimes in the former Yugoslavia is the report of the United Nations commission of experts which was set up by United Nations Security Council resolution 780 in 1992. The commission was chaired by Professor Cherif Bassiouni and its final report was published in May last year. Annexe 4 to that report is currently at the printers and it is supposed to be published at the end of March. It deals exclusively with ethnic cleansing.

In neither the final report, which was published last year, nor, I understand, annexe 4 is there any evidence of ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Gorazde, as was claimed by General Rose. I have talked with Professor Bassiouni and with others who have worked for the commission. No one knew anything about that claim—indeed, some officials expressed amazement that such a claim was made.

Mr. Robathan

I am again grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way. He may be right; I do not know how many Serbs used to live in Gorazde. However, other hon. Members and I visited Gorazde with the United Nations in September 1993. It is true that a great many buildings have been destroyed in the fighting. I cannot say who was responsible for that destruction, although I suspect that the Serbs were largely responsible. It is true that the enclave was besieged by Serbs. However, it is also true that a large number of Christian Serbs lived in that town at some stage—I saw a destroyed Christian church on the way out of Gorazde. I have no idea whether there were 12,500 Serbs in Gorazde, but they certainly were not there when we visited in September 1993.

Mr. Macdonald

The hon. Gentleman takes an interest in these matters, so he will know that it was the practice of the Serbian paramilitary to inform the Serbian population of towns and villages of an impending assault and to encourage them to leave before that assault began. That made it easier for the assault to take place. Those who were left behind would do everything they could to retain those Serbs for as long as possible as a kind of insurance policy.

Mr. Robathan

indicated dissent.

Mr. Macdonald

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but that point is made in the report by the commission of experts which was published last year. If he refuses to accept that, he will have to produce evidence—which the United Nations commission could not find—to substantiate his position.

I tried to learn about the situation in Gorazde by examining 1992 and 1993 press reports from the Serbian press agencies, as I thought that if I were to find a report of ethnic cleansing anywhere, it would be among those reports. However, I did not find any contemporary reports about ethnic cleansing of Serbs by Bosnians in Gorazde. I even checked with some "propaganda" material published by pro-Karadzic groups in the United States. I examined a publication by the Serbian-American Voters Alliance entitled "The Suppressed Serbian Voice", which takes a very pro-Serbian line about the events in the Balkans and contains a chapter called "The Truth about Gorazde". It makes no reference whatever to any ethnic cleansing on that scale.

Dr. Reid

I know that my hon. Friend takes these matters very seriously and looks at them in detail, but I must caution him, however, against investigating matters through press reports. From experience, I have found that, depending on the person to whom one speaks in an area that has been cleansed of a particular group, one group will claim that it was ethnic cleansing and another group will claim, precisely as my hon. Friend did, that the Serbs left because they were encouraged by the Serbs, or the Muslims because they were encouraged by the Muslims.

The inadequacy of press and media reports was brought home to me. I stood in Gorazde and listened to the BBC World Service, which was saying that, for several days, a major artillery bombardment of Gorazde by the Serbs had been going on. I stood with the Muslim commander and not a shot had been fired for five weeks. Yet the BBC was continually repeating the news that the Serbs were bombarding Gorazde. I merely add a word of caution: a propaganda war is going on, and none of the press reports can be taken at face value to establish the facts.

Mr. Macdonald

I am not relying on press reports, as my hon. Friend would realise if he had taken on board what I said. I started by referring to the report published last year by the United Nations commission of experts on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. It is by far the most authoritative source—I would regard it as the only authoritative source. I concede that we cannot rely on press reports from one side or another, but we have to rely on people who investigate on behalf of the United Nations or the international community, and those are the conclusions that they reached.

I must ask my hon. Friend: if things are as murky as he claims, how could General Rose make that quite remarkable assertion without any evidence whatever to back him up? It appears to me, from the research that I have done, that what General Rose said was simply not true. The ethnic cleansing of 12,500 Serbs from Gorazde never happened. It was a complete fabrication. Why General Rose would wish to make such a fabrication, only he knows, but I rather suspect that it was to excuse the failure of his own mission in Gorazde last year, and to smear the Bosnian Government forces and the Bosnian Government themselves.

The matter could be clarified by the Government. Ministers could clear up the matter very easily. They could say whether they know of any evidence whatever to back up General Rose's accusation of massive ethnic cleansing by Bosnian forces in Gorazde. If they do know of such evidence, they should present it to the UN commission on war crimes and to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague; it would be a major war crime, and they have a duty to present that evidence. If they do not have such evidence, I must ask them whether they think it acceptable for the most senior British officer in Bosnia to have broadcast such a fabrication about the Bosnian Government via the BBC.

It is small wonder, given that background, that General Rose's relations with the Bosnian Government had sunk to rock bottom by the time he left his command. Nor was it surprising that he should have been showered with gifts—two oil paintings, no less—by General Mladic, Mr. Karadzic's commander, on his departure, but his happy acceptance of such gifts is just another example of his lack of judgment. What I find truly extraordinary—

Mr. Freeman

I have listened with great care to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I think that the House would feel that he has gone too far. I honestly believe that the charges that the hon. Gentleman is laying against General Rose are unfair and unjustified, and I hope that he will reconsider his position.

Mr. Macdonald

I would happily look at any evidence that the Minister cares to present to me that shows that what General Rose claimed happened in Gorazde is true. He made a very serious claim. To have a senior British officer making such a claim is serious. I would welcome any evidence from the Minister that what General Rose said was true.

Dr. Reid

I do not want to debate the whole issue with my hon. Friend. I think that what may have caused offence was the implication that General Rose was being showered with gifts from the Serbs, said in the context of an accusation of bias. It is clear what implication could he drawn from that, and I hope that my hon. Friend will take the opportunity to put on record that he was in no way suggesting anything that could impinge the honour of that British officer.

Mr. Macdonald

Absolutely. I will happily do that. No implication whatever of that kind was intended. My point was that General Rose showed a serious lack of judgment in accepting such gifts. I hold to that firmly.

I want to come on to a different aspect of General Rose's performance over the past year, because I think it is important that we go over these things if we are to learn about mistakes—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman continues, I remind him that the proposed subject of debate tonight is the Army. Of course, it is in order to make reference to particular points, but I think that he is going rather beyond the brief if his speech is entirely centred on one person.

Mr. Macdonald

I take that on board absolutely, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is why I want to move on to the subject of the relationship between the senior British commander in Bosnia and NATO, because their ability to work together is crucial to the success of UNPROFOR in Bosnia and the British forces in Bosnia.

I visited NATO headquarters in Brussels just before the Bihac debacle last year. Even then, I found senior officers dismayed and exasperated at the failure to enforce the Sarajevo exclusion zone and at the failure of UNPROFOR to pursue the humanitarian mandate in the robust fashion that officers in NATO thought necessary. They were deeply concerned at the consequent erosion in the credibility of NATO itself.

After Bihac, of course, NATO's mistrust of UNPROFOR plumbed new depths. I have already referred to that in an intervention. NATO eventually threatened to withhold details of aid patrols from UNPROFOR headquarters for fear that they would be divulged to General Mladic, thus putting NATO aircrew at risk. I have put much store in those news reports after Bihac, simply because the same remarks were made to me at NATO before Bihac.

We must learn lessons from the mistakes of General Rose and the failures of UNPROFOR over the past year, because, as has been pointed out, momentum was gained when the exclusion zone was first imposed around Sarajevo in February last year, but it was thrown away at Gorazde just two months later. The failure to defend a safe area from sustained attack dealt a body blow to the credibility of UNPROFOR. General Mladic, it seems to me, clearly won the battle of wills between himself and General Rose. Afterwards, he redoubled his defiance of UNPROFOR and his obstruction of the UN humanitarian mission.

There are many examples of that, including the failure to allow any medical supplies to go into Gorazde since the siege last year. In effect, citizens live in a giant concentration camp. To this day, the airport at Tuzla, which was ostentatiously reopened in March last year by the United Nations special representative, Yasushi Akashi, has not seen a single aid flight land. The safe area of Bihac did not receive any aid between May 1994 and the outbreak of intense fighting there just before Christmas: all the aid was blocked by Karadzic's Serbs. Convoys to Bihac continue to be obstructed.

The humanitarian mission led by General Rose ended in failure—failure to get his convoys through; failure to deliver aid; failure to defend the area from being ransacked, or "raped", according to a young Coldstream Guards officer whom I met recently. By those means—ironicallyKaradzic's Serbs have received more aid per head than the Bosnians themselves, including vital military supplies such as fuel. I am referring to United Nations figures.

There was also the failure to protect the civilian populations in the safe areas. As has already been pointed out, General Rose was given a mandate for that in Security Council resolution 836, but he failed to fulfil it in Gorazde and Bihac. Finally, there was General Rose's failure to protect even his own soldiers—British soldiers—who were threatened, obstructed, clubbed and beaten to the ground by Karadzic's forces, who experienced no effective reprisals or punishment.

In defence of UNPROFOR, it has been argued that, although it had a mandate to deliver humanitarian aid and to deter attacks on safe areas, it did not have the means. It has been said that the blame rests with the United Nations, and with Governments and the Security Council in particular. I believe, however, that we must learn the lessons of the failure of the past year. The humanitarian mandate provided by the UN cannot be fulfilled by a policy of compromise and empty threats; it can be fulfilled robustly only through tough and determined action, and the use of force when necessary.

Of course, UNPROFOR does not have a mandate to impose peace in Bosnia. It has no mandate to retake Bosnian territory by force. It does, however, have a mandate and a duty to provide humanitarian aid, using whatever means are necessary, and to deter attack on safe areas. That is a limited mission, but a clear one: any party that gets in the way of it should be told to stand aside, and if it does not stand aside it should be pushed aside.

We are talking about a strictly limited objective, not an open-ended commitment. It is nonsense to claim that the international community has not the means to carry out that limited mission. It has the means; what it lacks is the will—and, without that will, we must see more generals going the way of General Rose.

6.22 pm
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I am keen to observe the normal courtesies of the House, for it is thus that we stop ourselves falling into the uncivilised brutalities of Bosnia. I must, however, tell the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) that his speech was misguided, ill informed and—I have to say—somewhat unworthy of him.

I believe the hon. Gentleman to be a decent and honest man, but his speech did not give General Rose due credit for work that he did in incredibly difficult circumstances. It did not reveal that Sarajevo now lives in what passes for peace and quiet because of General Rose's actions; nor did it take due notice of the fact that General Rose could not single-handedly make the Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croatians sit down together and make peace when they did not want peace.

I intend to speak about the subject tabled for debate—the Army. First, let me do what all Conservative Members wish to do: I welcome the opportunity to quote Sir Winston Churchill, especially to his grandson, who has now returned to the Chamber. On 8 August 1904, Churchill said: The Army was not an inanimate substance, it was a living thing. Regiments were not like houses; they could not be pulled down and altered structurally to suit the convenience of the occupier and the caprice of the owner. They were more like plants; they grew slowly if they were to grow strong; they were easily affected by conditions of temperature or soil; and if they were blighted or transplanted they were apt to wither, and then they could only be revived by copious floods of public money. That was true with regard to any Army, and it was still more true with regard to a voluntary army."—[Official Report, 8 August 1904; Vol. 139, c. 1415.] I believe that it is as true now as it was nearly 91 years ago.

I welcome the commitment to stability given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I agree with nearly every word that he said. Since "Options for Change" there has been great disruption, and there is a danger—which I think that my hon. Friend will appreciate—that the Army is already blighted, and may wither if we do not take care. At present, the dust is settling and we can see what has been left; I urge my hon. Friends the Ministers to ensure that we have sufficient soldiers to fulfil our commitments.

As my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be well aware, since "Options for Change" 14 tank regiments have been reduced to eight. We shall have fewer than 400 tanks by 1999. France will have approximately 1,000 and Germany about 2,000. Already 29 countries have larger tank fleets than the United Kingdom. Comparisons are not always worth while, but I believe that four years ago to the day we were using 1 Armoured Division in the Gulf—under General Rupert Smith, who has already been mentioned. Would we be able to do that now?

Four years after our invasion of Iraq, we can hardly consider the world a safer place. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) said as much a moment ago. There is the problem of Iraq, and various other problems in the middle east; there is the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Only yesterday, there were reports of gas being used against the Karen tribe in Burma. There is also the growth of ethnic and national conflicts, especially around the edge of the Russian Federation in Chechnya. I think that we have heard enough about Bosnia today, but there is a risk that that conflict may spread.

As the world becomes less safe, the capabilities of unfriendly nations are growing. Iraq, for instance, has largely rearmed. Meanwhile, we can no longer rely on the same level of speedy United States support as in the past. We accept the need for the Army; we must therefore eradicate any blight, and watch for any sign of withering.

I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister—in supporting him—that great uncertainty and unhappiness remains in our forces. That needs to be assuaged. The Bett review hangs like a storm cloud on the horizon; it may or may not burst over us. Above all, in all ranks there is a perceived erosion of the quality of life—a difficult concept.

There is a new breed of civil servant, which is thought to be chipping away at every perk or benefit that may exist. That is the perception, whether or not it is true. There have been attacks on senior officers in the press: it has been considered ridiculous that they might live in staffed houses. We read that cavalry men are going hunting in Army time, and that that is disgraceful. Let me say this to those who run down that practice: what more does a man leading a tank attack need than courage and a love of throwing himself into the unknown, across a hedge at full tilt, on a horse? I do not hunt, and I am not advancing any particular defence of hunting; but I think that it is good training in courage and spirit for young officers.

At the same time as those reports appear in the press, financial and time restrictions are imposed on the quality of life in all ranks. The perception exists, and it could be a sign of blight. We do not pay our Army all that well, certainly by the standards of life outside, but we expect soldiers to work hard and to die if necessary.

Lady Olga Maitland

They are well paid by the standards of Members of Parliament.

Mr. Robathan

Indeed: I would be earning more if I were still in the Army. That is unusual in terms of standards outside.

Mr. Soames

Worth a hell of a lot more.

Mr. Robathan

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment.

Mr. Soames

I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend has said. May I reassure him that there is not an army of civil servants chipping away at the ethos and standard of service life? There is, however, an insidious and disagreeable drip of disaffection and ignorance from the Labour party, which causes great unsettlement and deep and abiding resentment. I agree with what he says about the Bett review and about the fact that, plainly, people are anxious about it, as they inevitably will be. He knows, and will wish to confirm, that that review is entirely independent. It will be presented to the Government. It is for the Government then to decide how they will dispose of its recommendations.

Mr. Robathan

I agree with my hon. Friend. The next few months and year will be an opportunity to restore the confidence that has been eroded to a certain extent, because of the cuts and the changes that he acknowledged. I agree that the suggestion that the Opposition might provide a better defence policy is ludicrous.

Soldiers are different. They are not just civil servants or salesmen in uniform. A soldier is not as other men and when he thinks he is, he ceases to be their guardian. My hon. Friend, among others, will know that that is a quotation from Julius Caesar, a fine soldier and a successful politician until 15 March.

We cannot treat our soldiers in exactly the same way as we treat people in other jobs, as no other job expects one to leave one's family at the drop of a hat for months or years to go to war, possibly to be killed or to kill one's fellow men. No ways exist of measuring productivity in peacetime. One can measure efficiency, but it will not be productivity.

That subject relates to contracting out and market testing. It is true that a Chieftain tank can be easily dealt with by a civilian mechanic in Bovingdon, but it would have been very different on the approaches to Basra four years ago, or in the drive towards Berlin 50 years ago. III the same way, an appendicitis in Britain can be treated by the national health service, but gunshot wounds under fire require dedicated medical personnel, field ambulances, and field and base hospitals. I urge my hon. Friend to consider closely the reductions in medical provision. Although such provision may be unnecessary in peace, that is rarely so in war.

I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) for the regimental system. The Army has many quirks that do not stand up to late 20th century cost analysis. They include ceremonial bands, bearskins, kilts and red berets, but try telling the tourist boards that they are not necessary. One hon. Member is keen on getting rid of such things as ceremonial swords, and he makes a great fuss about them in newspapers.

I am sure that it is shocking to many hon. Members to know that, seven years ago, when I was serving as an officer in London, among his other duties, a soldier cleaned my kit for extra pay while I was taking part in trooping the colour and other ceremonial duties. In Northern Ireland three months later, that same young man worked extraordinarily hard as my personal escort in an entirely operational sense. I hope that people would say that I was worth protecting at the time.

It is easy to say that there is no reason why soldiers should not live in the same conditions and in the same way as civilians, but one tampers with all the ceremonial, tradition and, as it were, baggage of the Army at one's peril. It contributes to making our Army so greatly admired at home and abroad, as we have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House today.

The Territorial Army is being restructured. In Leicestershire, my own county, I have had representations from 7 Royal Anglian, which is being disbanded. I regret that enormously. Of course, there is no immediate need for the TA in peace, but there will be in war. When we are reducing our regular forces, the last thing we need to cut is our reserves—the reverse should be the case. In peacetime, the TA acts as a conduit between the public and the armed forces. In a society that is less aware than ever before of military life and of military structures, it is essential to give our TA all possible support. The enthusiasm exists. I understand that the London University Officer Training Corps is oversubscribed by five applicants to each place. That may be a comment on student grants, but it shows the enthusiasm that exists. The TA may wither away if it is not well regarded, so I urge my hon. Friend to make best use of those enthusiasts. I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster and I go further than him—a senior TA officer should direct TA policy in the Ministry of Defence.

I am delighted that there is greater co-operation with our European partners. I hope that a further standardisation of equipment, ammunition and vehicles for industrial and operational reasons takes place among our North Atlantic Treaty Organisation partners. I hope that greater co-operation will arise between industrial companies making the military equipment that we require. But we must be careful as we contemplate any moves towards a single European army. The Franco-German Corps, renamed the Eurocorps, is nearly half the size of the British Army, but, so far, it is not renowned for its operational efficiency. We should be delighted to co-operate, especially at planning level, as we are doing with the air force, but let us consider the facts.

NATO has protected the peace in Europe for nearly 50 years and it remains our best vehicle to do that. France may be part of the Eurocorps, but it withdrew from the military side of NATO some 30 years ago and, I understand, it has shown no intention of coming back. Hon. Members may recall that Belgium refused to supply ammunition to Britain, its NATO ally, during the Gulf war.

Germany has just re-established diplomatic representation in Baghdad, which is in contrast to Her Majesty's Government's policy. In the Gulf, France, which played an active and honourable role, launched its own peace initiative without allied knowledge, just before the outbreak of war. That is not specifically to criticise all our NATO allies, but our strength must be in our own forces. I say yes to co-operation, planning and alliances, but I cannot envisage the circumstances in which we should move towards a single European army.

We must beware of inflicting blight on the Army. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. They are doing an excellent job, but that does not mean that some of us do not retain some concerns, which we would like to have assuaged. They must not ignore the reasons for the Army's high reputation. Not everything the Army does in peace will stand up to rigorous logic and cost analysis, but it goes towards making a culture, ethos and esprit de corps that is admired throughout the world, and that has been commented on by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

In the last defence estimates, under the title, "A Sharp Sword in a Steady Hand", the Government said: Our armed forces are widely regarded—and rightly—as a valuable and prestigious national asset. The possession of such an asset is not a luxury; and it is not something we could surrender without grave injury to the security and reputation of this country. I wholeheartedly agree with that. The Government have my and, I suspect, the House's support in that. This valued national asset needs careful nurturing.

6.38 pm
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

Hon. Members will know that this is the first opportunity that I have had to participate in a debate on the Army. I have listened carefully to the speeches thus far, and it is clear that the format of concentrating on a single service provides an excellent opportunity to focus, in this case, on the role of the Army in the United Kingdom's defence. It is also clear from those speeches—in the main—that a wealth of experience and detailed knowledge can be contributed by hon. Members. I am sure that that will be reinforced by hon. Members who speak later.

Although I do not propose to challenge the expertise developed by hon. Members over many years, I will confirm certain principles that should be considered and that should perhaps govern our defence policy in relation to the Army. I shall then concentrate on more local matters in relation to Eastleigh and to Hampshire.

I have been interested as, during the debate, hon. Members have, in various forms, discreetly and modestly, displayed their distinguished military careers. I should add that I am the first male member of my family this century not to have followed a professional career in the Army, which some might describe as a small footnote to the peace dividend.

Today's debate is perhaps a little low key compared with the earlier debates on "Options for Change" and "Front Line First", but we must not forget that, although the political decisions have been taken, many of them are still being implemented, with the inevitable disruption that they will generate still to be faced in many quarters. The feedback from commanders at all levels and throughout the armed forces carries the clear message that what they need above all is a period of calm and stability to come to terms with and to absorb the effects of implementing "Options for Change" and "Front Line First". That is important not least to prevent morale from declining further.

Hon. Members have referred to the worries about the on-going Bett review. The concern is that it will have a damaging effect on forces' morale. I was glad to hear the Minister recognise that concern in an intervention.

There is an overwhelming case for conducting defence policy on a series of clear principles. I express my support for the views that have been put forward in a recent debate in the House by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). The first principle is that foreign policy should dictate defence policy; secondly, resources should match commitments; and, thirdly, we should endorse the presumption that the stability that our senior commanders are seeking can best be met, now and for the foreseeable future, by no further reductions in the defence budget.

When considering the first principle, developments in the debate on Europe must have a direct bearing on our debate on the defence of the United Kingdom. The award of associate membership status to the Western European Union for nine eastern European countries has widened that debate. Ministers will acknowledge that they have recognised that the evolution of the European Community defence policy is now an inevitable outcome of the Maastricht treaty.

No one expects such developments to take place overnight, or that such policies, which in some quarters might be received with suspicion or even condemnation, will be evolved rapidly. However, the evolutionary process has begun and elements of common policy are already in place. As the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) said, for nearly two years France and the United Kingdom have been engaged in extensive, although little publicised, co-operation, particularly on nuclear matters. Some five months ago, co-operation on air resources between France and the United Kingdom was announced. Hon. Members will know that the United Kingdom and Dutch amphibious force has existed for some time.

For over a year the opportunity has been recognised within NATO for the development of combined joint task forces, making NATO's resources available to European members of NATO for operations in which the United States would not expect or may not wish to take part. Those are factors of prime importance in developing our defence policy.

Hon. Members have already mentioned the fact that there is some doubt about the direction that the United States' defence policy will take in the future in terms of its commitment to involvement in events in Europe and elsewhere. There are strong signals, which should not be ignored, that Europe should seek to be more self-sufficient in meeting its defence responsibilities. The existing policies for co-operation within Europe at various levels and the changing attitudes in the United States will lead eventually to the evolution of far greater integration of defence policies within the European Union.

The evolution of a common European defence policy may cause concern and fears in some quarters. However, it must be viewed in the light of the tragic developments in former Yugoslavia, to which many hon. Members have referred, as well as the outbreak of conflicts elsewhere. There is a rising tide of political and economic instability among the emerging nation states on Europe's eastern borders. They are now free of Russian rule, and they have been released from the constraints that that omnipotent regime ruthlessly applied.

Our armed forces are performing a vital role in Bosnia under the auspices of UNPROFOR. Their bravery and professionalism are major factors in maintaining the humanitarian effort and in curtailing the worst excesses of that war. It is vital that the House opposes any lifting of the arms embargo, either unilaterally or multilaterally. We must not allow the humanitarian effort to be compromised by lifting the arms embargo. In my view, it would be impossible for our forces and those of other countries to remain in Bosnia with any degree of safety in such circumstances.

It is not feasible to consider pulling UN forces out of Bosnia in the current circumstances. Commanders have made it abundantly clear that such action would be very difficult logistically and would be highly dangerous. We should not forget how long it took to deploy the UN force, and any withdrawal would be an equally painstaking process.

The traumatic events in Bosnia have highlighted the importance of developing and maintaining a defence procurement policy that provides—

Mr. Robathan

Did I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly? Did he say that he is opposed to the lifting of the arms embargo in Bosnia? I thought that his right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said something rather different recently.

Mr. Chidgey

I am not aware of what my right hon. Friend may have said in the hon. Gentleman's presence. I can say that only a week ago, during the debate on the Royal Navy, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East, our defence spokesman, made the very points that I have been reiterating today. I know that, so I can confirm it.

Lady Olga Maitland

A split?

Mr. Chidgey


As I have said, the traumatic events in Bosnia have highlighted the importance of developing and maintaining a defence procurement policy which provides the Army and our other armed forces with the specialist equipment that they need, and of maintaining a capability in British industry to service those needs. Opportunities to provide equipment to other European nations, often in partnership, will no doubt increase as the common European defence policy evolves. Furthermore, Britain would reap massive economic benefit from specialisation, inter-operability and common procurement. As has been said, all that is hard to achieve, but those options could become available with greater European co-operation and integration.

Without a strong home base, built on local procurement by our armed forces, British industry will be disadvantaged. Our European partners are unlikely to take seriously the claims of British manufacturers if they are unable to secure orders from their own Government. I urge the Minister of State to make an announcement soon about how many attack helicopters the Ministry of Defence envisages and which helicopter it will be buying.

On this point, if on no others, I agree with the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. There is a clear military need for an attack helicopter as soon as possible. The weapons system offers the ground commander an invaluable addition to his tactical flexibility and, in cases such as Bosnia, the attack helicopter's excellent reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering capabilities, together with a formidable precision weapons system, offer a degree of flexibility that is not currently available.

In the general context of defence procurement, I should like to return to more local matters relating to my constituency and to my county of Hampshire. Under "Options for Change" we have already suffered the sad demise of the Hampshire regiment—the Tigers—which could trace its origins to the scaling of the Heights of Abraham to defeat Montcalm at Quebec. Although it is sad to lose those historic ties, the impact of "Options for Change" and "Front Line First" on Hampshire's economy is far greater.

The armed services' presence in Hampshire is the largest single component in the region's economy: Aldershot is traditionally the home of the British Army; Portsmouth and Gosport have provided the Royal Navy with dockyards, munitions and victualling establishments since before the reign of Henry VIII; Farnborough has been a leading centre for aeronautical research since military aircraft development began; the headquarters of the Army Air Corps is at Middle Wallop; and it was from Eastleigh airport that the Spitfire, the forerunner of thousands of aircraft produced in local factories which are today a vital part of the local defence industry, made its maiden flight.

I cannot emphasise too strongly how important defence is to Hampshire. In 1992, the defence-dependent economy in Hampshire employed some 127,000 workers, or around 20 per cent. of the county's work force. Nearly three quarters—some 81,000—were civilians engaged in defence-related industrial employment. Research undertaken at Portsmouth university reveals that in 1993–94 £1,750 million was spent on United Kingdom defence equipment procurement in Hampshire. In terms of industrial production, the £1,750 million accounted for 50 per cent. of the aerospace output, 40 per cent. of the shipbuilding and 30 per cent. of the electronics output and involved more than 500 local companies in the region. Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that Hampshire has been classified as having the most defence-dependent economy in the country.

Inevitably, the implementation of "Options for Change" and "Front Line First" has had a major impact on our local economy. More than 13,000 military and civilian personnel jobs have been lost, more than half of them in the defence industry. Equally important in the structural planning of Hampshire's economy are proposals to release no fewer than 27 sites occupied by the Ministry of Defence, representing more than 1,200 hectares.

I hope to emphasise the dramatic influence of the MOD estate on local land use and am therefore glad to see the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) in his place, because I wish to mention his constituency. More than one third of the land area of the borough of Gosport, a town with a population of some 70,000, was until recently occupied by the defence forces and support organisations' establishments. Clearly, that would have a dramatic effect on any community.

"Options for Change" and "Front Line First" have been instruments of deep structural change in the economic base of Hampshire. The many large firms in the defence industry in Hampshire are continuing to downsize as a direct result of defence cuts in what have been our main growth sectors—electronics, marine engineering, aerospace and research and development.

Whereas in 1990 the rate of unemployment was only 3.4 per cent., by 1993 it had almost tripled to 9.9 per cent. The determination and skill of our defence sector firms and their workers in developing diversified markets and products has been a major factor in reducing that level of unemployment slightly to around 7 per cent., but it is still twice as high as in 1990. That proves that successful diversification in our high-technology defence industry becomes a hostage to fortune if left to market forces alone.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned my constituency. I am well aware of the research done by Portsmouth university. I remember that one of its lecturers attended a meeting in Havant and said that, at the rate we were going, Portsmouth and Gosport would become like Liverpool. I suggest that the reverse is the case. Although there have been changes in the defence forces, Portsmouth and Gosport have come through "Options for Change" and "Front Line First". Thanks to a concentration of naval presence in the Portsmouth and Gosport area, we have done quite well. If there is a high level of unemployment, it is mainly due to the loss of civilian jobs, especially in a television factory in my constituency, and is nothing to do with the Government's defence policy.

Mr. Chidgey

The hon. Gentleman probably does not know that he and I trod the same streets in our youth. In the 1950s and 1960s, I remember thousands of people employed in supporting or serving in the Navy. I agree that Gosport, Portsmouth and other parts of the south coast in Hampshire have benefited from the restructuring of the Navy, but my point was that in the industrial sector of the defence industry there has been an inevitable loss of orders because of "Options for Change" and "Front Line First".

Mr. Soames

I know that the hon. Gentleman does not mean his speech to be a litany of gloom, so perhaps I can assist him. What my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) said was correct. Last week, I had the honour to be invited to speak for a colleague—an unusual event, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will admit. In fact, I spoke for my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts). GEC Marconi has a factory at Waterlooville in his constituency. It has just received an enormous order for torpedoes from the Royal Navy, and I was assured that the defence industry was booming in that part of the world.

Mr. Chidgey

I do not doubt the Minister's deep knowledge; I merely wanted to question certain principles. The research that I have cited and the region's employment level prove that there have been problem in Hampshire, although I accept that there have also been successes. My point is that we could do much better if—to use a hackneyed phrase—we had the level playing field that we need in Europe. We could benefit far more from a more integrated, co-operative European defence policy. I accept that there have been successes and I welcome them, but we need to do better and to do more.

The unemployment rate is still twice the 1990 rate. The successful diversification of our high technology industry will be a hostage to fortune if it is left to market forces. We have to recognise the fact that, in other European countries, national and regional government resources have been and are being provided to help defence sector industries to accelerate their diversification. Assistance is being provided to develop management, strategic planning, marketing and technical skills, over and above the support that has been available under the Konver programme, from which Hampshire also benefits.

I take Bremen as an example. It is the smallest federal German state and has less than half the population of the county of Hampshire. It is a relatively minor player in the defence industry, but is already receiving DM10 million a year for an arms conversion programme. It has been receiving that sum since 1993 and will continue to receive it for the foreseeable future. That is in addition to moneys that it receives from the European Union Konver fund. The level playing field concept is important.

I have the highest regard for the entrepreneurial skills and determination of our defence sector firms, but it is unreasonable to expect them to compete effectively in the marketplace if there is uncertainty in procurement policy at home and if their competitors abroad are benefiting from proactive state support. It is therefore imperative that the defence industry in Eastleigh and in Hampshire generally should enjoy a period of stability and calm and that the Government should make the major procurement decisions with all due urgency so that they can become part of industry's forward planning.

I now draw attention to an aspect of defence procurement which, although minor in terms of expenditure, provides probably the best investment for any expenditure in the defence budget. I am referring, of course, to the funding provided for the Army and other cadet forces. For very little outlay in the defence policy, the cadet forces provide as much as one third of all armed forces recruits. They are young men and women who have already developed a knowledge of the demands of service life and are well adapted to pursuing careers in the forces where they continue to excel.

In Eastleigh, as in other constituencies, there has been a phenomenal growth in interest in the cadet forces. The number of cadets in the Air Training Corps 1216 Squadron in my constituency has more than doubled in the past year. The enthusiasm of the cadets, coupled with the help that their involvement gives in guiding them through the difficult early teenage years, reinforces the value of cadet forces to the community. I hope that the Minister recognises the value of the cadet forces and ask him to confirm that there are no plans to reduce the level of funding and support currently provided to them.

It would be a gross omission to let such an occasion pass without paying tribute to the courage and professionalism of our armed forces, especially the Army. Everyone in the House and in the country at large can and should be proud of the remarkable contribution that they make, often in extremely difficult circumstances, to British and United Nations operations in spheres of conflict throughout the world.

6.59 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

It is some five years since I had the opportunity to speak in a defence debate. I am therefore honoured, and approach the defence arena of the House with some humility. I have not been neglecting defence issues—how could I?—as I hope that I shall show.

I link my words to the spirit at least of the Member of the European Parliament for Itchen, Test and Avon, Mr. Edward Kellett-Bowman, with whom I have worked closely on a number of defence issues. Together, we keep an eye on, for example, Konver funds. It is vital that we recognise the importance of putting in the European Parliament the British point of view on defence, otherwise the opinions of European politicians on British defence may be, shall we say, not the same as ours.

We must address not only the challenge of the defence of the realm but the management of change. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench on the way in which they have managed change over the past few years. That has been manifest in my constituency, where I have seen the most tremendous management problems resolved with great success and sensitivity by not only people in the Ministry of Defence in London, but local management, which quite often depends on retired officers and men who have enormous experience. It is always good to feel that we are in safe hands when it comes to, for example, the management of the Salisbury plain training area.

Mr. Soames

I want only to endorse my hon. Friend's point and join his tribute, which I should have made from the Front Bench, to the work of retired officers, their enormous importance to the management and their breadth of experience and steadiness. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting that and I apologise for not having raised that matter myself.

Mr. Key

As ever, we are at one.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) was right to refer to the importance of cadet forces of all services. They flourish in my constituency, as in his and, indeed, across the country. I did not have the privilege of serving in the forces as a regular soldier, sailor or air man. I was, however, in the cadet force at school, in which I rose to the dizzy ranks of company serjeant major and played tuba in the school band. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to mark the importance of the cadet forces.

In my constituency there are no fewer than 13 Ministry of Defence establishments. I do not want to dwell on my constituency, but it is home to a cross-section of service establishments, especially Army establishments. Pre-eminent among them is the headquarters of UK Land Forces at Wilton, shortly to become Land Command on 1 April. We are immensely proud of that establishment in our constituency. It grew out of the old Southern Command, which I recall so well from my childhood days in Salisbury. It has an immensely important role, not only as a major local employer but because we know that the community I have the honour to represent is at the heart of the defence of this country.

We also have Old Sarum, which still retains an important military presence. It happens to be the oldest operational airfield in the United Kingdom; a source of some complaint to the residents of Stratford sub Castle who now feel that the airspace is becoming a little crowded as diversification into civilian flying takes place. We also have Bulford, which is known to almost everybody in the British Army, past or present, of any rank. It is a very fine example of the interface between the military and civilian communities, on which I should like to dwell.

The relationship between the military and civilian communities has changed very much over recent years, particularly as people have come back from overseas, especially from Germany, and pressures on civilian communities have been redoubled. At Larkhill, too, we have a wonderful relationship with the Royal Artillery, which is very much appreciated. The large garrison there is an important part of the military and civilian communities for so many people. Rollestone camp, for example, is a sort of standby camp. It has been used by the Home Office as an overflow prison. In the summer, it is used for Territorial Army exercises and, on one occasion during the Gulf war, it was Britain's only prisoner of war camp. I had the duty to visit Rollestone camp during the Gulf war to check, to my satisfaction, as a Member of the House of Commons, that the Geneva convention was being observed, which of course it was.

At West Down camp, another operational camp for territorial and other regimental activity, we see an interface between the civilian and military communities. I was sad at the decision to close Netheravon in future and to amalgamate the Army Air Corps activities in Hampshire over the border at Middle Wallop, but I was delighted that the Ministry of Defence made such a great deal of effort to try to ensure that jobs would be transferred to other units rather than simply lost. That effort was made for not only the military personnel but some hundreds of civilian personnel who had worked there for a long time. West Dean represents the Royal Navy's interest in my constituency and the activities there need no explanation in this debate, although it is a very important part of the constituency.

It is with sadness that I recall the closure only last month of RAF Chilmark, a distinguished Royal Air Force base, which has served the Royal Air Force so very well for more than 50 years. It was very moving, and an illustration of the continuity of defence in this country, that the station flag, which was hauled down for the last time, was presented to a fine old gentlemen in a wheelchair, who had been one of the first employees on day one of the opening of RAF Chilmark.

The aeroplane and armament experimental establishment Boscombe Down is the sound of freedom to the local community, with the sound of Tornados keeping us awake during the day and sometimes at night, too, supplemented at weekends by the welcome presence of the Southampton university air squadron. One of the highlights of life in the local community is the battle of Britain celebration at Boscombe Down, which thrills everyone who attends. It has rightly been somewhat scaled down in recent years. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) that we discard at our peril what he described somewhat unkindly and self-deprecatingly as the baggage of the military. It is a great tradition.

The importance of the research base is often not mentioned in defence debates. Some years ago, when I was member of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, we investigated the science budget and discovered that a substantial part of it was, in fact, paid for out of the defence budget. In my constituency, the chemical and biological defence establishment is at Porton Down, but there are a number of other establishments with a scientific base.

Porton Down is remarkable and has done perhaps more for the defence of the west than people will realise for many years to come. I pay particular tribute to Dr. Graham Pearson and his scientific staff, who not only lead our efforts at Geneva in defence and disarmament in chemical and biological weapons but have had an immense impact on the policy of the United States on chemical and biological defence. They have made an enormous difference to the stability of the world, no less.

At Porton Down we also see an interface with the environment in the remarkable landscape and precious ecology known for the great bustard, which I suspect no longer resides there. Certainly, it has the largest colony of juniper trees in the country. The way in which the MOD has opened up its landscape to local ecological and environmental interest groups, wildlife trusts, and so on is very much to be commended and gives the lie to the idea that once the Ministry of Defence takes over the landscape, that is the end of it. Far from it. If it were not for the Ministry of Defence in the south of England, we would not have such wonderful environmental havens at Salisbury plain, Porton down and, closer to the coast, Lulworth.

The nuclear, biological and chemical school at Winterbourne Gunner is another establishment I have the honour to represent. It, too, has done enormous work in training our soldiers in chemical and biological defence techniques. Quite remarkable activity has gone on there and that activity has spilled over into the United States and into the whole defence of the west.

The final establishment which I must mention, because it is known around the world to all British service men, is the NAAFI—the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute. The headquarters at Amesbury has fed and watered British troops for a long time and is an excellent organisation. When it moved out of its headquarters in London and went to Amesbury, it brought with it 300 jobs, and we were grateful for that. I was, therefore, sad to read the Defence Committee's third report on food supply to the armed forces, which was printed on 25 January this year. Although it is a matter for the Comptroller and Auditor General, all I can say is that, if there were an opportunity for me to give evidence to suggest that the NAAFI was an excellently run organisation, I would leap at the opportunity of giving it.

The NAAFI is not just the best brewer of tea in this country at its tea factory in Amesbury but a remarkable logistical organisation. When we had a substantial garrison in Germany, the NAAFI delivered 12,000 loaves of bread a day from Britain to Germany. It did not come back with empty trucks and it does not do so today. Potatoes feature largely in an effort to supply the British market with slightly cheaper potatoes than farmers in Britain can currently produce.

Employment is crucial in any community that has a defence presence. It is not just a question of the number of serving officers, men and women but a question of civilian employment. In my constituency, we are fortunate to have seen only a small drop in the number of service personnel. There has been a drop of about 260, but there are still almost 5,000 personnel. There are more civilians working directly for the Ministry of Defence than there were. The NAAFI has 600 jobs at Amesbury and another 500 in shops and clubs in the area. It is a substantial employer.

Once again, I pay tribute to the retired officers, men and women of all ranks who enrich our community by choosing to return to their roots. If ever there was a rootless career, it is in the Army, the Royal Air Force or the Navy. That is especially true of the Army; Salisbury seems to draw people hack. We are glad to have those people because they contribute so much to the community. That is true of any community that has a defence interest.

One of the problem areas which I want to highlight in the interface between the military and civilian populations is the responsibility of our local authorities for housing, for example. When soldiers leave the Army, they have a dilemma. Do they go back to their place of origin in, say, Liverpool or Newcastle, which they left when they were 16? Alternatively, do they stay in the area where they have spent much of their life, often married life, and in which their children have gone to school? That puts a particular strain on district councils as housing authorities. In Salisbury, the relationship between the local managers of Army housing and the district council is good, as is the relationship with Wiltshire county council, which provides other services such as education and social services.

There are, however, still problems that need to be addressed, such as the huge problem of empty Army housing. I know that the Government have addressed it, because I was a Minister for part of the time when we had the working party on empty housing and I am aware of the work done. However, it still needs to be rounded off and assistance needs to be given in certain circumstances to ensure that housing is not empty. I understand that there are many reasons why it is empty. Sometimes, the quality of housing put up in the 1950s and 1960s for service men is now too low and is unacceptable for civilian use; it would therefore represent a bad use of local authority money. Nevertheless, there is a problem and I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to address it.

Planning is another problem. We must grasp the nettle of Crown exemption in planning for Ministry of Defence land. In my constituency, there are thousands of acres of such land, not just in one large area but in many areas. I have already said that there are 13 establishments owned by the Ministry of Defence in my constituency.

On the environment, I pay tribute to the defence land agent and his staff. The headquarters is at Chessington and I pay particular tribute to the DLA at Durrington. The impact on the local community is enormous, not just in terms of the relationship between the Army and farming. The Army is a big landlord of tenanted farms across the country and especially around Salisbury plain.

The matter goes wider than that. There is, for example, - the planting of trees. The Ministry of Defence has been assiduous in planting trees on Salisbury plain, which is not a happy environment for the tree. It is ironic that it has planted so many that I have started to get complaints from environmentalists and ecologists that there are too many trees and that they are upsetting the balance of nature. One cannot please everybody all the time. The Ministry of Defence has done well there. An article in the national press last month pointed out that the tank tracks—the scars gouged out on Salisbury plain—have become a haven for certain flora which otherwise would not have been established in the area.

I now turn to the question of roads across the plain. For many years, at Salisbury plain and at Otterburn, there has been a real problem of the environment being eroded by heavy military vehicles. Of course there will be a conflict between the use of land for military purposes, the use of land for civilian purposes and conservation. However, the decision taken to spend a good deal of money on the provision of these roads is welcome. It has not only taken pressure off local roads used by the civilian community but enhanced the environment and prevented the wholesale rutting of many hundreds of acres of land. It is a huge success.

My right hon. Friend the Minister may like to know that the DLA at Durrington has leased earth-moving vehicles to perform the task—no doubt, on an experimental basis, if he has not yet heard about it. The vehicles work extremely well, and the sight of fast-moving earth scrapers and movers is familiar around the edges of the plain.

There is, of course, a problem of noise from the firing of guns. The AS90 has been put through its paces and we are glad that its trials have now finished. It was a bit of a trial for us in the local community. The people of Otterburn should not worry too much about the noise, not just because they will get used to it—they have been used to such noise for many years—but because the story has been overwritten.

I was absolutely delighted to see on today's Order Paper a petition from the residents of Otterburn drawing attention to the fact that there are moves in the local community in the north-east of England to try to get the Army out of the ranges at Otterburn. The petitioners clearly ask that the Army does not leave Otterburn, because it provides enormous assistance to the local economy. I am sure that those of us who have the defence of the realm at heart are grateful to the people of Otterburn who have signed that petition. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) who has asked me over the past few months about noise on the Salisbury plain training area and about the extent to which it is disruptive. I know that he will be able to convince his constituents that it is a price worth paying.

I was delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) mentioned vehicles because I, too, have been pursuing one or two little queries about vehicles. There are a number of problems here and I asked some parliamentary questions. I wondered how many vehicles there were in the Ministry of Defence. I thought that it would be an immense challenge for the Ministry—as if it did not have enough to do—to count the number of vehicles. I was delighted that the MOD managed to produce a very good answer, stating that it owns 109,279 vehicles while there are 246,926 personnel. That is not a bad ratio in terms of vehicles to people, but it raises a serious issue about the procurement of vehicles—a subject in which the Select Committee on Defence is interested—and the wav in which those vehicles are currently maintained, registered and used.

The registration of military vehicles is somewhat arcane. I am sure that it is performed very well, but I wonder whether the time has come to computerise and amalgamate that registration with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency operation and possibly link it into the police national computer. In terms of value for money, that point could be worth exploring, as that is a very large vehicle fleet, by any standards.

In a community where there is military activity, there is often aggravation between civilians and the drivers of military vehicles. When a regiment moves to a training area and the drivers are unfamiliar with the roads, people will take wrong turnings, no matter how brilliantly the training area staff sign the roads as unsuitable for vehicles, forbidden to military vehicles, and so on.

We must also consider the non-standardisation of military vehicles. I am not too bothered about standardisation per se. However, it is difficult when vehicles are used and run according to the Joint Service Road Transport Regulations 1988, which bear very little, or no, relationship to the Road Traffic Acts and to the construction and use regulations that apply to other vehicles on our roads.

Many of the vehicles in the MOD fleet are tanks. Although we do see tanks on the roads in my constituency, we do not see them in large numbers. However, we often see 38-tonne lorries with military registrations pounding up and down our motorways. Under military regulations, tractor and trailer are registered separately and have different registration numbers. A police car in front of such a vehicle would see one registration number, while a police car behind it would see another. If the parts are swapped around, matters become a little tricky. I believe that all that is rather over-bureaucratic. I suggest that there may be value for money for the taxpayer if that problem with registration is considered and action taken.

We are very fortunate in this country with regard to our police forces. However, a problem is developing which must be addressed. Citizens in my constituency may encounter no fewer than six different police forces. The primacy in policing lies with the Wiltshire county constabulary—primus et optimus, first and best. It is the case throughout the country that the Home Office constabulary has primacy.

However, there is an interface with the MOD police. Some years ago, I served on the Committee on the Ministry of Defence Police Bill and I am aware that that legislation has had a very beneficial effect. There was always tension between different police forces, particularly between the MOD police and county police forces. That situation has improved dramatically, which is good news. In the Salisbury area and in the Salisbury plain villages, we are grateful that the MOD police are present to deter crime as well as to look after the interests of the MOD. The fact that the MOD police are now full constabulary policemen and women is very good news for us.

The Royal Military police are also in evidence in my constituency. They are not a constabulary force and legally and technically are not policemen in respect of civilians. That sometimes causes problems. I wrote on that point to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, who is in another place, on 23 January and anticipate an answer quite soon.

If a military police vehicle is on a public highway, looks like an ordinary county police car and has a blue light, it is technically illegal for that vehicle to be on the road, whether or not the light is flashing.

In addition to the police forces to which I have already referred, we have the Guard force and we even see the provost-marshals from time to time. We also have the Atomic Energy Authority police and the British Transport police. There are also private security firms. I want to flag up the problem in communities where there is a military presence, as there is sometimes confusion between the different police forces in terms of what they are doing, what they can do and what notice one should take of them.

I am sure that my hon. Friends will be glad to hear that I have nearly finished. However, I must mention the education of forces children. In defence debates, we sometimes forget that we are not just talking about fighting forces; we are talking about communities that involve families. The British forces have a fine tradition of educating the forces children.

This is a difficult matter. I know many people, as I am sure all hon. Members do, who have been to school in perhaps a dozen different establishments during their school days. Two organisations are now responsible for the education of service children—Service Children's Schools (North West Europe), which has a responsibility mainly in Germany, and the Service Children's Education Authority UK, which is a non-departmental public body with responsibility in the United Kingdom.

I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench are considering the education of those children. Education matters enormously to children who live a peripatetic and often a global life. We must ensure that they have the finest education possible.

When I was a Minister in the Department of the Environment with responsibility for the poll tax[Interruption]—that was indeed an honour—it fell to me to be responsible for the payment, or non-payment, of poll tax by Her Majesty's forces. I had some interesting negotiations with the Treasury and the MOD. On one occasion in my constituency, the commanding officer of a unit on the plain busted down several score of soldiers who had defaulted on their poll tax to make the point that soldiers are part of the civilian community and that they and their families need to be regarded as such.

In these days of citizens charters, public consultations and public inquiries, it is important to be absolutely clear where the families of service personnel stand with regard to their civil rights. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces answered a parliamentary question from me which makes it clear that The families of service personnel enjoy the same rights as other citizens to make representations during public consultations and public inquiries and to make complaints under the citizens charter. The same rights apply to service personnel provided that the impartiality of the armed forces is not compromised, and that such representations do not involve the disclosure, without permission, of information obtained in the course of their official duties."—[Official Report, 31 January 1995; Vol. 253, c. 565.] That is an important point because there are pressures on the families of service men and women. Conflicts can sometimes arise.

I would not suggest for a moment that military discipline should not be observed. It is absolutely right that it should be. We cannot have soldiers rushing off and contradicting the good discipline of their unit. On the other hand, where military communities are threatened by civilian activities, there is a case for listening rather carefully to what they have to say.

I flag that up as a problem area in the case of Stonehenge in my constituency, where the Department of Transport has a proposal to put a dual carriageway within 100 m of married quarters at Larkhill. I hope very much that it will not be a case of, "Oh, they are only soldiers' married quarters, so we need not pay attention to their concerns," in circumstances where, I suggest, a road simply would not be considered if it were to affect one of the villages that we have the honour to represent.

This has been a remarkable debate so far and I look forward to the contributions of my hon. Friends. However, it is a great honour to represent a community like Salisbury which is a microcosm of the military community in this country. I look forward to representing it for many years to come.

7.29 pm
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I was astonished to hear that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) had served as a company sergeant major, albeit in a cadet force. He is nothing like some of the CSMs I have met in my admittedly dated military experience.

Rightly and properly, the Minister paid tribute to the soldiers who have served with such bravery and stoicism in deeply disturbing theatres such as Northern Ireland, Bosnia and elsewhere. I echo that tribute. Many of those soldiers, of course, came from Scottish regiments.

In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) paid an equally fine tribute to Nicky Fairbairn; I was pleased to hear that. Nicky Fairbairn and I came from opposite ends of the political spectrum, but in all my dealings with him he always behaved with extreme courtesy and friendliness. It was always a pleasure to watch him, as a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, cross-examining Ministers and civil servants with those brilliant forensic skills for which he was so justly famous in Scottish legal and political circles.

I part company with the hon. Member for Upminster over the deeply disquieting case of Private Clegg. Those who speak to people in Ulster about that affair hear opinions of it that contrast starkly with the view honourably offered by the hon. Gentleman.

I thank the Minister for his robust and emphatic assurance that the press speculation surrounding the possible merger of Scottish and English infantry regiments is just that—sheer speculation, which must be discounted. Infantrymen have to perform—or, I would like to be able to say, had to perform—such arduous roles in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, and the infantry regiment is the best kind of institution for such service. As I said to the Minister in an earlier intervention, infantrymen must have complete trust in their NCOs and officers, and that is best found within an infantry regiment rather than in a larger organisation of soldiers.

Is it the MOD's intention to acquire more land for Army training centres in Scotland in the near future? The Minister may not be able to answer that question, immediately but I would be grateful for an answer eventually, because that matter is of some concern to many people in Scotland, despite the assurances offered by the hon. Member for Salisbury.

I was pleased to hear the Minister claim, with his usual honesty, that there are now widespread promotion opportunities for talented male and female NCOs. I do not expect an answer to my question this evening, but I would like to know how many serving officers have come from our public schools and how many from our state schools, how many have been promoted from the ranks and what ranks those people now hold. Is the Army on a level with the other two services in terms of promotion opportunities for other ranks? That is an important issue for young highly intelligent non-commissioned officers. I would also like to know how many female officers have come up through the ranks.

I shall not talk about strategy in my brief speech—at least, it will be briefer than some of the fine speeches that we have heard this evening. I am concerned with what may loosely be called welfare matters.

What guidelines have been issued to commanding officers concerning the treatment, counselling and advising of women soldiers and officers who become pregnant? Not long ago, a woman constituent came to see me after reading about one such case involving a former woman soldier at an industrial tribunal claiming unfair dismissal by the forces because of pregnancy. I must confess that when I looked at the lady I thought that she probably had not served with the forces recently, and she admitted to me that she had become pregnant in 1945. When I wrote to the Ministry of Defence, I was told that her complaint was time-barred.

I am given to understand that nowadays, where appropriate, women soldiers and officers who become pregnant are encouraged to remain, or to return to the Army. I would like the Minister to confirm that, because my information may be wrong, although I hope that it is not.

Staying with the theme not necessarily of pregnancy, whether unwanted or otherwise, but of the welfare of our constituents who have served so honourably in the Army, I noticed that the Minister paid tribute to those who have been killed or wounded while on active service, but that he made no mention of the treatment and care of soldiers who have been wounded, in some cases severely. I should like to know what energies and resources are devoted to their welfare and rehabilitation, and to their being brought back into the regiment, or into whatever arm of the services they were with when they were wounded. Is the Minister satisfied with the treatment and care of those soldiers?

Early-day motion 616 refers to Gulf war veterans. Again, the Minister may not be able to answer my question tonight, but how many soldiers or former soldiers who served in the Gulf war have claimed to be suffering from what is known as Gulf war syndrome? I am trying to be as fair-minded as possible but I must ask whether, as is alleged in the early-day motion, the Ministry of Defence and the Government as a whole have treated those soldiers much less favourably than the American Government have treated their counterparts who served with the United States armed forces. What is happening to those soldiers?

I shall now say something about discipline. I have no sympathy for soldiers who commit serious and violent crimes and then receive what appears to be only a mild reprimand from their commanding officers. What guidelines are issued to commanding officers for dealing with such soldiers? Admittedly they are few in number but none the less they bring their regiments into disrepute with their violent behaviour. I would like to know something about the guidelines on dealing with them when they have been convicted in the criminal courts of violent crimes against individuals. Those who bring disgrace on their regiments should be dismissed. I do not believe in punishing a person twice for committing a crime, but our soldiers must conduct themselves with honour while going about their leisure activities.

The hon. Member for Upminster mentioned the yellow card and the tragically inadvertent shooting of civilians in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Scottish charge of culpable homicide should have been introduced long ago to deal more fairly with such cases.

I have met many young men from my constituency who serve in the British Army, usually as NCOs or private soldiers with infantry regiments. All of them are extremely proud, and rightly so, of their military careers and vocations. I am proud to represent them in this place, which is why I seek to ask questions concerning general welfare matters.

In some respects, the armed forces have been ahead of large industrial organisations in terms of defending the interests of personnel. For example, grievance procedures were introduced in the forces many years before such procedures were introduced in industrial organisations. As recently as 1972, the Industry Act persuaded many industrial organisations to introduce formalised grievance and disciplinary procedures, but I can remember many years ago when I was in the forces that a private soldier had recourse to such grievance procedures up to the senior ranks.

We must examine the role of the British Army within the framework of NATO. The impression I get is that there is an increasing disaffection among Americans—not just American citizens, but politicians—concerning the involvement of their forces in continental Europe. In the not too distant future, we may have to examine the implications of a Europewide defence review because of the growing disillusion felt by so many Americans.

Gore Vidal—he is not a politician, but a would-be politician—gave a speech not long ago in California and said that his opinion, which is shared by many Americans, was that Europe was rich enough and powerful enough to look after its own defence interests, and that the day would come when the Americans would pull out of Europe. One may have little respect for Gore Vidal and one may think that he should stick to writing historical novels, but he reflects a growing body of opinion in America. The view among ordinary Americans to whom I have spoken and among American politicians—both Republican and Democrat—is that the time is approaching when the American military presence in continental Europe will be reduced to a minimum.

My interpretation of what has been told to me by many Americans and what I have read in American newspapers and periodicals may be wrong but I think that that is the shape of things to come. We may well have a European defence force buttressed by a European treaty that will not involve the Americans. That might sound unnecessarily gloomy, but we must accept that there is a growing American disaffection for all matters European. One can see that in the American attitude to Bosnia, and in other respects. The Americans do not want a single body bag returned to the States from a European theatre.

That alienation from Europe will grow. I do not wish to make a party political point, as we should all be involved in discussions on this matter. That is the way in which we Europeans—principally, I believe, within the European Union through the Western European Union—are heading, perhaps with an enlarged European Union. NATO will have to change, and it will change dramatically because of American decision-making and not because of the way in which we in Europe think.

7.45 pm
Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)

I follow the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) with pleasure, although I was a little surprised that he was surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) was a former company sergeant major in his school's army section combined cadet force. My hon. Friends would not want me to hide my history under a veil, so I shall say that my hon. Friend is not the only one who has served with distinction in that capacity.

Unlike some of my hon. Friends who are in the Chamber, this is the first time that I have spoken in a defence debate. I bring to it my experiences as a former young rifleman with the 1st battalion the 51st Highland Volunteers, and also as someone subsequently commissioned into the Gordon Highlanders. Very few hon. Members at the younger end of the spectrum have served either as a volunteer or in the Regular Army. It is therefore important that those of us who have, take a particular interest in the armed forces.

It is entirely right and proper for me—before I make any remarks concerning the Army—to follow the lead of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) in referring to the sad and untimely death of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. Nicky was a colourful character and I always enjoyed his company, as did other hon. Members from both sides of the House. One of his ancestors was a founder of the Gordon Highlanders, and he and his family had a great deal of history behind them. He will be sadly missed.

Before I speak on the youth wing of the services, the Territorial Army and the Regular Army, I must say how much I enjoyed the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury, whose tour de force around his constituency brought back happy and nostalgic memories of Salisbury plain. If I may say so, it brought back some unhappy memories as well.

Both my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury and the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow referred to the Army cadet force. In this annual debate, it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that there are the adult forces, if I can call them that. I pay tribute to the officers and adult instructors throughout the British Isles who give up so much time to put so much into the Army cadet force. It is a tremendous, cost-effective and well-recruited organisation, which encourages young people who wish to have a career in the services and also those who do not. In the case of the former, it can bring on the brightest and the best, while in the case of the latter, it helps equip young people to be better citizens in their communities.

I also pay tribute to the officers, non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Regular Army and Territorial Army. They are going through a most challenging period of change and they continue to do what politicians ask of them in the most professional of ways.

Under "Options for Change", the strength of the Army has been reduced from about 156,000 to 116,000. In February 1993, that strength was raised to 119,000 and 2,000 posts were saved in the support arms, which were transferred to front-line units. In December 1993, a further 3,000 posts were transferred from rear to front-line units. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said, that has allowed the re-roling of the Royal Armoured Corps Regiment, as an armoured recce regiment, which reduced the cadreisation of the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineering units and allowed for the retention of an additional battery of 24 Air Mobile Brigade Artillery Regiment. Apart from those changes, "Options for Change" is largely complete.

There have been further reductions in the defence budget since those changes were announced hut, to take up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster, the introduction of further commercial management practices in certain areas should be welcomed, even if not necessarily in all quarters.

The Bett review and final withdrawal from Hong Kong is likely to mean that the strength of the Army will fall to 115,000 by the turn of the century.

The Territorial Army has also undergone substantial reductions and change through "Options for Change". I very much welcome the moves to which my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces referred, to integrate our volunteers more closely with the Regular Army. As part of the restructuring, I welcome the increased role of the Territorial Army in national defence, as well as the wider role as a national reserve. About 57 per cent. of units were allocated to national defence roles and the remainder dedicated to NATO's Allied Command Europe rapid reaction force, which means that our volunteers could be deployed anywhere from Norway to Turkey.

The shift has meant that in the move from teeth to combat arms, the infantry has been reduced from 41 to 36 battalions and from 164 to 109 companies. I welcome the increase in specialist areas—I emphasise the fact that it is an increase—especially in the Territorial Army's Armoured Air Corps, which will be increased by about 50 per cent., and in the Intelligence Corps, which will be increased by 40 per cent. All that restructuring is clue to be completed this April.

I am not entirely sure whether disbanding the Territorial Army in Germany is necessarily a good thing, but in general the greater integration with the Regular Army and the fact that some proposed cuts—there has been much speculation—have not taken place emphasise the importance attached to the Territorial Army and the cost-effective contribution that it makes to our military capability.

On the possibility of new reserve forces legislation, the terms of service for Army reservists are governed by the Reserve Forces Act 1980, which was drafted in response to the Territorial Army's enhanced role after 1979 in resisting a possible Warsaw pact assault on NATO. It sanctions Territorial Army mobilisation in the event of national danger or national emergency. That and other blunderbuss sections of the Act are unsuited to the multiple and low-level conflicts in which Britain's armed forces might become involved and in which the Territorial Army might be needed in the 1990s and the 21st century.

Present legislation undoubtedly hinders the use of reservists, as was seen in the Gulf war. We need to establish new categories of reservist—those of high readiness, subject to immediate call-out, especially combatants, those in the support arms, sometimes linguists and the ready reservists, to be mobilised to serve as a general pool and a back pool for regular personnel deployed abroad in an emergency.

I welcome the moves in that direction encapsulated in the consultative document published in October 1993, entitled, "Britain's Reserve Forces—a Framework Document for the Future". Some reservists have rightly expressed concern about the possible effects on cohesion of having different categories of reservist in one unit. Nevertheless, that is an important change and I look forward to hearing what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has to say on that topic when he replies to the debate. I also hope that he will express a further willingness along the lines that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces referred to earlier—a willingness to allow reservists, and where possible their units, to serve with regular forces more often.

That has long been the practice in Denmark and Canada, and the successful exercise to which my hon. Friend referred, when 40 territorial soldiers—Territorial Army volunteers from the Royal Irish Rangers—served alongside 1 Royal Irish in the Falklands in 1994, is an important and significant step forward, which needs to be expanded and improved upon. I look to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to give us a lead in that respect in his reply. Specialists, such as linguists and public relations experts, are working with regular forces in Yugoslavia and with United Nations forces in particular.

The one-Army concept is very important and was first embarked on some years ago. The legislation that I referred to and the changes that we are embarking on are very important and I hope that it will not be too long before legislation is introduced.

I also want to ensure that a Territorial Army soldier does not have to be almost discharged and re-enlisted in the Regular forces to undertake certain engagements of a more Regular nature. The one-Army concept should be entirely seamless.

This has been an historic week in Northern Ireland. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the peace initiative in the Province in a statement to the House. I wish the people of Northern Ireland well in their discussions about the way forward for their community, but I am concerned that there has been speculation that, as the peace process continues, the size of the Army presence in Ulster might be reduced. It has always been suggested that such a withdrawal might lead to an eventual reduction in the strength of the Army. In the short term, units on six-month tours might be withdrawn altogether. If that were to be the case—I hope that it will not be—it would lead to even further overstretch within our armed forces.

In 1992, the number of Regular battalions in the Province was increased from 10 to 12 as a result of increased and heightened terrorist activity. A reversal of that decision might lead to the abolition of the six-month tour. More long-standing peace might bring pressure to bear for further infantry battalion amalgamations.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but surely he cannot be suggesting that we keep troops in Northern Ireland because we have nowhere else to put them. If we needed 10 battalions in 1991 and the peace continues, surely we should be able to look forward to bringing some of the 12 battalions back to the mainland.

Mr. Banks

Having made those earlier remarks, I look to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to reassure me that no hasty decisions will be taken on that matter.

Additional responsibilities have made it impossible to ensure a 24-month interval between emergency tours. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster referred to concerns in the armed forces and in the House on that matter. The fact that the Ministry of Defence was unable to meet its target in that respect meant that a couple of the battalions that might have been amalgamated earlier this year were not. It led to the withdrawal of a unit from Belize.

In 1995–96, regardless of further commitments of which we are not currently aware, some 10 major units will breach the 24-month guideline for gaps between tours, if the Select Committee on Defence is correct. My right hon. and hon. Friends at the Treasury would not put up with a gap of less than 24 months, so our soldiers and service men should not, either.

That is why I expressed my concerns in the House and, perhaps more appropriately and effectively, privately, about the amalgamation of the Gordon Highlanders, the Queen's Own Highlanders and some other units. Behind the scenes, many discussions have taken place and I am pleased that the points concerning overstretch were well taken by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I recognise the pressure on them, not least from our right hon. and hon. Friends at the Treasury.

I cannot continue without reminding my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement of the assurances made at the time of amalgamation. It is vital that the limited funding to maintain two regimental headquarters officers, in the case of north-east Scotland, in Aberdeen and Inverness, is retained. Without it, it will be impossible properly to carry out civil-military liaison, recruitment activities and other matters in such a large, disparate geographical area. My right hon. Friend should allow for a replacement to be made in the establishment in Aberdeen when the current grade 3 officer retires. At present, there are no plans to replace him, but I believe that he should be replaced.

I always understood that "Options for Change" was intended to reduce our armed forces to the minimum necessary to retain capability in all areas of low and high-intensity warfare. That appertains to equipment, as it does to size. The Government confirm that the Army will receive 259 Challenger 2 tanks, and orders are expected soon for helicopters. Much of the Army's equipment was, understandably, designed in the 1980s. In these days when defence inflation outstrips average inflation, there is genuine concern about whether there will be sufficient funding to procure replacements for all the Army systems at the beginning of the 21st century and beyond.

If commitments are maintained and spending is not increased, a further defence review will be inevitable, particularly in Germany. I believe that the Foreign Office budget should shoulder a greater weight of the financial burden of some of our international peacekeeping operations, and I should be surprised if many of my hon. Friends, particularly in the Government, did not agree with me.

I have had time in this debate only to scratch the surface of many of the important issues. I shall finish where I began, by paying genuine tribute to the men and women of our armed forces, particularly in the Army. They have always been professional in carrying out the duties that we as politicians put before them, often in very difficult circumstances. How I felt for some of those Army officers, non-commissioned officers and other ranks who, while serving in the difficult terrain of Bosnia, were called to see a senior officer one day and told that they had to go.

I am reminded of how many Ministers over the years, irrespective of which Government have been in office, have managed to survive a reshuffle because they have been taken away from London or were abroad at the time. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and we should not advocate one thing in one place and act differently somewhere else. My hon. Friends understand only too well my concern in that respect.

Having listened to some of the contributions by Opposition Members, not least an amusing and witty speech by the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces was right when he said: There is no area of policy where the Labour party is less convincing than defence. I have no doubt that Britain's defence interests are best served by a Conservative Government.

8.4 pm

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)

I am particularly glad to be called in this debate as it releases me from the dubious delights of the Finance Bill Committee.

First, I re-emphasise the plea for stability in the Army after the inevitable disruption resulting from the three major exercises over the past three years: the prospect study; "Options for Change"; and the defence costs study. I objected to some of the proposals and welcomed others. I do not propose this evening to revisit those issues but I warn that, if the leaked proposals for a corps of infantry in planning project BA2000 are based on fact, my right hon. and hon. Friends in the defence team will experience the sort of whirlwind foreshadowed in some of the "Options for Change" potential amalgamations, which were later wisely shelved.

Mr. Freeman

I should not want to allow my hon. Friend to continue his speech with any sense of foreboding or depression, so I give him the absolute assurance that there is no plan whatever to reorganise the Army into a corps.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes

I am delighted to receive that assurance from my right hon. Friend, which will have the double benefit of reducing the length of my speech.

I emphasise that rumours that reach the newspapers aggravate the uneasiness that many soldiers feel about their job security and quality of life. They are concerned for themselves and for their families but they often hide or disguise those feelings in the interests of the duty that they have undertaken, to serve the country. Any further factors—I am glad to hear that any reform of the infantry is not to be one of them—will clearly adversely affect recruitment and retention.

The second point that I wish to make is about training. In this country, only Salisbury plain and Otterburn are suitable for proper collective training. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) expressed his views clearly and I am sorry that he is no longer in the Chamber because he knows that, as a part-time constituent of his—I spend only occasional days in the year in his constituency—I am careful not to trespass on his territory in the political sense.

However, Salisbury plain has been under increasing pressure since the return of soldiers from the British Army of the Rhine. I happen to think that the Army is one of the best conservation agencies in the country, protecting habitats and preserving marvellous parts of our countryside relatively and, perhaps paradoxically, undisturbed. Salisbury plain is now criss-crossed with roads to prevent damage from a greater concentration of tracked vehicles and, if that continues, it will ultimately look like an asphalt parkplatz—something that no one in the House would want. It would serve nobody's interests.

When my right hon. Friend winds up, will he say what progress has been made in assessing new training areas? What is the point of having a training area in Alberta, Canada when, owing to our present commitments, we cannot supply enough men to exercise there? In any case, it is an expensive operation to maintain.

The Army admits that it is not as well trained now as at the time of the Gulf war. What will be done to redress that? Simulation, although it has a role, can never be as good as field training. What progress is there to report on the former GDR, Poland, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic as potential alternatives? We need to exercise at proper levels and I hope that the tanks and other elements of the Army that we have at the moment will soon be supplemented by a fourth recce regiment and attack helicopters.

My third and last point is to urge a rationalisation of our defence commitments, integrated as closely as possible with our foreign policy interests. In common with the whole House, I welcome the ceasefire brokered with such skill and determination by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Having served in South Armagh in the bad old days of the early 1970s, I found the difference in atmosphere when I returned to Ulster two weeks ago totally amazing. I shall not comment on the political situation, given the delicacy of the matter following the publication of the framework document this week. I have no intention of prejudicing any talks taking place at the moment, although I join my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) in welcoming the assurances that have been given that further force reductions will not result from a possible lasting peace.

However, I question the rationale behind the deployment of our troops around the world. It all seems somewhat haphazard to me. It was never clear to me why we went into Bosnia, other than as part of a larger NATO, WEU or United Nations operation. Do we really want to get embroiled in Angola? I have visited the war zone there and it has endured the most ghastly civil war for the past 20 years. Would not our particular skills, which have been admired worldwide, be better harnessed in other parts of the world?

If the United States tends to become more isolationist, as the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) said earlier that it would, we certainly cannot be expected to be everywhere. Should we not be taking the lead in developing NATO on both sides of the Atlantic, or the United Nations with a proper command structure to combat the new menaces of today, such as drug trafficking, terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

In other contexts, our training teams do admirable work—which is often not publicised—in several parts of the world in passing on skills and developing the goodwill that is invaluable to future relationships and trade. Should we not be expanding, rather than contracting, that work? Why, in some affluent, anglophile and well-disposed countries in South America, for instance, are we reducing the number of military attachés so that they have to cover groups of countries, thus reducing their effectiveness and bringing about the loss of goodwill and trade from Britain to the United States and our European Community partners, who are often our commercial rivals?

Why does one come across the ludicrous situation of an NCO, however capable, being passed off as a subaltern to represent our interests in a particularly important part of the developing world in Latin America? Why do we have mere colonels as defence attachés in other significant countries in the far east when brigadiers, and now even major-generals, are being made redundant? I suggest that officers of the rank of colonel do not have access at the right level, and that their efforts in Britain's interests are prejudiced by their being relatively junior. One has only to look around gatherings in countries in many parts of the world to find that our attaches are of junior rank arid have less effective access than their competitors.

I urge my hon. Friend to address that problem. I understand that talks are taking place at present between his Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I very much hope that he will address the matter with great enthusiasm and I urge him to involve the DTI in those discussions.

It is only in some ways—which may sound peripheral, hut they are extremely important for the abiding and excellent influence of Britain overseas—that those matters are promoted and thus British interests, so ably looked after by our Army over the centuries, can best he developed effectively.

8.14 pm
Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Army. Like my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, I served in the Army a quarter of a century ago. I served in The Life Guards, one of the two regiments of Household Cavalry, and I was fortunate to serve in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Back in Europe, I served for a short time at Windsor and performed public duties here in London before being sent to Northern Ireland toward the end of my military career and at the beginning of the present troubles.

It is amazing to look back over the short distance of five or six years and consider the changes that have taken place in the world since then. We have seen the collapse of the Warsaw pact, and the western world has gone through the worst economic recession since 1929. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that there have been significant changes our in military forces.

It is remarkable that Britain has managed to maintain defence spending at its current level. We spend 3.7 per cent. of GDP on defence, whereas France spends 3.4 per cent. and Germany spends only 2 per cent. It has been possible to maintain defence spending at that level only because a prudent Conservative Government repaid debt during the good years so that we had the capacity to borrow to see us through the bad years.

What is the purpose of our armed forces? I suggest that they exist for three reasons. First, to maintain the security of western Europe, and with it the security of these islands; secondly, to maintain internal security, particularly in the Province of Northern Ireland; and thirdly, to perform a miscellany of tasks which, for the sake of argument, I shall call the optional extras.

The first two tasks simply must be afforded; there can be no question about that. Twice in the lifetime of many of our constituents, Europe has been convulsed by war. Twice in their lifetime, Britain has been caught napping and soldiers, sailors and airmen have been sent to die in the first battles in very large numbers. That must never happen again.

The extent of our spending on defence must, of course, depend on the assessment of the risks that the country faces from time to time. It is important to emphasise that the security of these islands rests upon the structure of NATO. It is a dangerous delusion to believe that western Europe, through the medium of the Western European Union or any other organisation, can effectively defend itself against a threat such as that which we faced from the east throughout the 1950s, 1960s 1970s and most of the 1980s. We hope that that threat will never arise again, but we live in a dangerous and unstable world and we cannot be caught napping again.

The Warsaw pact has now been dismantled. The formidable East German army is now on our side and the same can perhaps be said of the Poles, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Hungarians and others. We have entered into a new period of friendly and constructive relations with the Russian people—the Ukrainians and other component parts of the former Soviet Union. Long may that continue. Every sinew needs to be strained by the Foreign Office and the country in general to ensure that that constructive relationship with the peoples of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is built upon and thrives.

The threat that we face today is much less certain than the one that we have been used to. Today, the threat comes from further afield, from smaller countries with less formidable capabilities but still with the capacity to cause immense disruption to the interests of the western world at almost a moment's notice. Therefore, our forces must be flexible and additional effort must be put into intelligence gathering. We must always stay one step ahead in the present unstable international situation.

We must remember that, if we again face a major threat to our security, we shall not be able to mobilise either our men or our equipment as quickly or as relatively easily as we did before. It will be much more difficult next time. We must therefore ensure that we have adequate reserves of trained manpower and equipment and we must organize our military procurement strategy so that equipment can be produced and delivered to our armed forces much more quickly.

Secondly, internal security can pose a risk to our national security, and Northern Ireland is the most important at present. I am sure that everyone in this country and on the island of Ireland is immensely grateful for the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his colleague the Prime Minister of Ireland and the efforts of all of the Ministers and civil servants who have been involved in the peace process.

The peace process did not just happen; it has evolved from immense thought, careful planning and, not least, political risk, on the part of those involved. All those who wish to see peace in Northern Ireland must pay tribute to the work that has been done. It is too early to say whether that work will bear fruit, but I sincerely hope that it will. I think that the Prime Minister and his colleagues deserve the support of the House and of the whole nation, particularly at this delicate stage in the negotiation process.

In the Northern Ireland context, I wish to address the subject of criminal liability to which our armed forces and our armed police are exposed. An armed soldier or an armed policeman has a duty to place his life at risk to protect the public. He is under a duty to fire his weapon, should that prove necessary, in order to protect the public. Therefore, I do not believe that he should be held to the same standards of criminal liability as those of us who are not under that obligation.

I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General should bring before the House for debate a form of words which would afford armed soldiers and policemen who are acting bona fide in the performance of their duties wider protection from criminal liability than presently exists. That situation is quite different from the recent incident where off-duty soldiers made a violent attack upon a civilian. Those soldiers were not on duty and were under no obligation to place their lives at risk. They should be held to the same standard of criminal liability as applies to the rest of us, and I understand that the Parachute Regiment Association concurs with that view.

Thirdly, we require our armed forces for optional extras. Those forces are deployed in support of our foreign policy objectives, which are essentially a matter for debate in the foreign affairs context. I sometimes think that when the House debates foreign affairs, we tend to concentrate too much on specific foreign affairs issues of the day. We do not stand back and consider what we need military forces for—what are the foreign policy objectives for which we maintain those forces.

We maintain military force in general support of western strategy, for example, in the Gulf. Although it does not threaten our security directly, stability in the Gulf is immensely important to the world's trade and to its strategic balance. World trade is immensely important to a country like Britain which, throughout its history, has lived by trade.

Armed forces are necessary to preserve respect for human rights around the world, but we cannot be a world policeman. We should play our part, but we must think carefully about the degree to which we wish to involve our soldiers, sailors and airmen in enterprises of that kind.

We must support the Security Council of the United Nations. We are an important member of the world organisation and I hope that we shall remain so. I should like Britain's armed forces to be used more often in support of the Security Council. We should be proud of the fact that the British fighting man is among the best—I would say is the best—in the world. This country can make an important contribution to the work of the United Nations by deploying our soldiers, sailors and airmen in support of the Security Council.

However, I do not see why we should pay for it. I believe that, when our armed forces are made available in support of the United Nations, those who are not prepared to put their armed forces at the United Nations' disposal should bear a greater share of the cost involved. It might be said that we would be offering our armed forces in a mercenary role. I do not think that that is the correct way of looking at it. Even if it were, I see nothing dishonourable in making our armed forces available in support of the United Nations, on the basis that other members of that organisation pay for it.

We should debate in an objective manner our foreign policy objectives and the use to which we wish to put our military force. I do not think that journalists like Kate Adie, or anyone else, should be allowed to make British foreign policy. Whatever we decide, our armed forces should be properly equipped and manned for the role that they must perform.

I congratulate the Government on their commitment to order 259 Challenger 2 tanks for the Army and the new attack helicopters. The Army is also equipped with the Warrior, one of the best infantry armoured fighting vehicles in the world, and the AS90 self-propelled gun, which has proved to be one of the most versatile and effective artillery pieces available.

Our armed forces should be manned adequately, but I am concerned that, all too often, a minor unit is detached from its parent unit in order to support another unit, taking part of its regimental headquarters with it. As a result, what is left of the parent unit does not constitute an effective fighting force. We should also take care to keep the correct interval between tours. If we are to maintain the right calibre of men and women in our armed services, it is vital that there is adequate time to train them for the role upon which they are about to embark and to retrain them upon their return. They must also have adequate time to spend with their families.

I also believe—this is perhaps the most important point I wish to make in relation to manning—that we must have adequate training at brigade level and above. Almost an entire generation of brigade and corps commanders have not been able to exercise their formations. Simulators and exercises without troops can help, but there is no substitute for exercises with real troops in co-operation with naval and air forces.

It is also essential that our Territorial Army be integrated much more with the Regular forces, and I welcome the Government's position on that issue. If future hostilities were to occur, there would not be time for those soldiers to be integrated with the Regular units. It is better for them that they are integrated with the Regular units, so that their training is more realistic and much more in tune with what their Regular comrades are doing. It is essential for the defence of the nation that they should be integrated.

I should now like to say a word about the ceremonial role of the Army, having myself served on public duties here in London. Those duties are not, of course, essential to the security of our country, but they are essential to the maintenance of our traditions. They are a tangible reminder to our people of the great history of our country. They are also one of the major reasons why so many tourists come to this country. Those units probably pay for themselves, which is more than can be said for any other unit of our armed forces. I hope that we shall always be able to maintain the tradition of public duties in London, and that the Government will always ensure that the units that have to do those duties are properly manned and properly equipped.

We run the risk today of our armed forces being undermanned. I know that the economy is going through a difficult period, but I have the confidence that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is pursuing the right strategy. I am confident that the economy is improving, and when we begin to see more of the results of that economic recovery, I hope that we can have another look at the manning of our armed forces. I would like to see our Army maintained at a minimum of 120,000 trained men, with 12,000 more in training.

I also hope that, whatever decisions we may take about the manning of the Army in future, we remember the importance of the regimental system. It is absolutely vital that the regimental system, which has been built up over 300 years or more, is preserved, because when a man goes into battle in the British Army, he is going into battle not just for his country but for the honour of his regiment. That may seem to be an intangible thing for anyone who has not served in one of our great regiments, but for anyone who has it is a very real factor and an important source of motivation at what can be a very stressful and difficult time.

I congratulate the Government on the skilful way in which they have negotiated the past five years, which have been immensely difficult for any Government, in terms of the economic resources; the dramatically changed nature of the threat; and the consequent need to restructure our forces. They have done well, but I hope that in future we can do better.

8.32 pm
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister of State's robust commitment and support for a lean and fit Army and armed forces in general in the "Front Line First" programme. Indeed, I was encouraged by the enhancements that have been made and the promises of the enhancements to come.

The danger, in my view, is that there is real doubt as to whether the Army will be considered sufficient to meet all today's needs; in general UN peacekeeping terms it probably will, but I very much doubt that it could cope with a real emergency requiring sustained and intense support over a period of months. In that, I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who spoke in last week's Navy debate. He warned us then that the 25 per cent. cut from our defence spending overall was wrong. Indeed, he repeated that comment today. He said, quite rightly, that, in a dangerous world, we must begin to re-establish the strength of our military forces."—[Official Report, 16 February 1995; Vol. 254, c. 1166.] How right he is.

I trust that the Government will keep an open mind and start preparing now for greater flexibility on defence spending. I fear that some were too euphoric in the ending of the cold war. The new world order did not necessarily become a better world order. Indeed, with a loss of a certain and identifiable potential aggressor, it has become a significantly more dangerous place, and certainly more hazardous. A seemingly small local conflict could explode and take on an international dimension. It would very likely affect us, for we are not just a little coastal nation.

We are but one of the few countries in the world with real global interests. We are a member of NATO and the Western European Union. We are a permanent member of the Security Council and are just one of the five nations in the world with a nuclear deterrent. We are an active member of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations. Some 47 per cent. of our trade is outside Europe. We head a Commonwealth of 51 nations. No other country holds all those positions of international prominence and responsibility. With those positions of influence, and with them the potential to be threatened in any number of areas, we are living on luck if we believe that our current level of forces will see us through every eventuality. They will not.

I believe that we should take a lesson from history. Man does not change in character, despite modern technology. It just means that we can be even more devastating in warfare. One potential enemy goes; another will surely take his place.

Paul Beaver, who is well known for his work with Jane's Defence Weekly, in a presentation in the House some weeks ago, identified 44 flash points in areas of British concern for this year. He pointed to the new fighting in regional and ethnic conflicts, the continued regional and ethnic conflicts in former colonies, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the rise in Islamic extremism and the threats to our trade routes.

It would be a mistake to say that there would be no British strategic interest at stake in any one of those cases. Indeed, I recall the rueful comment made by Lord Callaghan, while Foreign Secretary, following the rescue mission by Turkish troops in North Cyprus in 1974. He said: Wars begin in the smallest and the most unexpected places. It was true then. It was certainly true later with the Falklands, when we had to scrabble over the map even to find the islands.

This May celebrates the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Europe. It should be recalled that we entered the second world war unprepared. Do not forget the ignominy of 158,000 men being booted off the Dunkirk beaches, with the loss of all the equipment. They were hopelessly outgunned and outclassed by their German opponents. The same was true of our French allies.

Similar disasters were to follow in Norway, Greece, Crete and Singapore. The only encouraging development was the battle of Britain, fought by "The Few", Wavell's offensives against the Italians and the first defence of Tobruk. So why was there such a parlous state? The dead hand of politicians, I confess, in 1919, who were so horrified by the first world war—termed the war to end all wars—that the Cabinet brought in the notorious 10-year rule, which assumed that, for the purpose of defence funding, the British empire would not be engaged in any war during the next 10 years, and therefore no expeditionary force was needed.

The Geddes axe decimated the armed services, which were then made unfit for anything save imperial placing. That certainly applied to the Army. In today's somewhat more sophisticated scenario, I refer to our activities with the UN peacekeeping duties—worthy in themselves, but I very much doubt that we could cope with a conflict on a much wider scale.

The 10-year rule was still in operation in 1932, paralysing all defence development. After that, the Treasury did not lift the lid on defence spending until the day when Chamberlain, most reluctantly, had to see the light after appeasement in Munich in 1938. In no time at all, we were fighting for our lives—scrambling, almost too late, to repair the damage.

Surely we should not miscalculate a third time, and repeat that sorry chapter of disasters. Even if we accept that in future all security threats will be tackled by an international force, we must recognise that a sufficient body of organisation and troops will be needed for a sustained campaign. We are completely unable to contribute that today.

I pay tribute to Field Marshal Lord Bramall, who last month addressed the Defence and Security Forum of which I am proud to be president. The forum grew out of my anti-CND campaign Families for Defence, which I launched in 1983. Lord Bramall warned that after the cold war and the introduction of "Options for Change"—or perhaps I should call it "Options for Cuts"—we were caught out. We entered a full-blown war in the Gulf, ransacking men, tanks and equipment in Germany to keep ourselves going. Today, Lord Bramall told us, we could not possibly mount a repeat performance. Even in the Gulf we could not have sustained a prolonged campaign: we did not have the resources. We coped with 100 hours, but 100 days would have landed us in serious trouble.

Today our armed forces, especially the infantry, are over-extended. It could be at least two years before we achieve a proper tempo of unaccompanied service with gaps of more than 24 months. Lord Bramall argued forcefully that we should radically rethink our defence policy, and prepare with more realism for a sustained threat in the future. A man of his enormous calibre should be listened to very carefully.

I accept that modern war-fighting is changing rapidly, with more emphasis on high technology—which I acknowledge we are obtaining. None the less, I do not consider that we are in sufficiently good military health to cope with a serious and sustained threat to our interests. The Treasury must accept responsibility for its influence on "Options for Change". It is short-sighted to trim so bare to the bone to cut public spending. It seems to have been forgotten that to be ill prepared for a major war will cost us infinitely more than temporary savings today. Our current budget for 1995–96 is just £22.7 billion—only just more than what we spend on support for disabled people and their carers.

We have taken the stoic professionalism of our armed forces and their officers for granted, pushing their loyalty and efficiency to the limits. To slash the Army—at the Treasury's insistence—from 165,000 to 116,000, when even the General Staff and Ministers agreed that 123,000 would have been more appropriate, showed a minimum of sensitivity and understanding. It was a relief that there was a reprieve, and the figure was raised to 118,000. That would just about fill Wembley stadium.

The truth is that the Army is overstretched, and is likely to remain so for as long as Bosnia lasts in its present form. That may be some time, for our troops are trusted and highly respected by all sides. Praise coming from the Serbs I know is praise indeed.

At this point, let me pay tribute to the skills of General Sir Michael Rose and condemn the appalling attempt at character assassination by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald). It was unworthy of him, and I hope that he will withdraw his remarks on another occasion.

The Army in Bosnia might be stretched even further: more troops would be needed if we were to supervise a political settlement. The real difficulty is that none of our infantry battalions or engineer units is strong enough without reinforcements to deal with more than day-to-day service, let alone anything that might constitute a real emergency. I do not see how we could ever contemplate any military intervention involving a brigade or more for at least six months.

There are serious gaps in our equipment. Jane's Information Group has identified 13 areas in which we are below admitted par—and that applies to the Army alone. The catalogue of items that it provides reveals a "stop, cancel and postpone" movement in procurement. Even with the order of a further 127 Challenger 2 tanks by the year 2000, the United Kingdom main battle tank fleet will still be just under 400, although I accept that 200 Challenger 1 tanks will be available for training purposes.

We should compare that with 2,800 main battle tanks in Germany and just under 1,000 in France. Twenty-nine countries have larger main battle tank fleets, including Switzerland, Egypt, Iraq, Japan and five NATO countries. Fifteen nations, including three NATO allies, have larger holdings of armoured personnel carriers than the British Army's conventional forces in Europe inventory of 3,003.

Stocks of ammunition and spares remain too low for a sustained campaign, although I welcome the ordering of 400,000 rounds of 51mm mortar ammunition from the royal ordnance, which will help with current needs. We have no artillery with a range greater than 30 km save our multiple launch rocket systems, whose numbers have been cut. It should be said that both Iraq and Iran have artillery with a range of more than 40 km. Thirty-one countries have bigger stocks of artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, including six NATO partners. Nor is it helpful to reduce the amphibious bridging regiment to squadron size. I could continue with my catalogue, but I hope that the point is getting across.

I had understood that we had reached a period of stability in cost-cutting. The principle is welcome, but cost-cutting creeps on: gaps in our equipment needs are not being closed as rapidly as they should be. Cost cutting is continuing through the deferring of decisions. Let me give some examples.

The original intention was to order 107 British Aerospace Rapier 2000 surface-to-air missiles for the Army and RAF regiments; that has been cut to 57. It was originally planned to order 1,048 Warrior armoured personnel carriers, but that was cut—

Mr. Soames

I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend. Can she tell me what further artillery pieces she feels would be needed, and what their task would be?

Lady Olga Maitland

It is only fair to point out that it is not incumbent on me to tell an expert where the real needs are. I can only identify the areas where serious concern is being caused. It would, I think, be a mistake to he deaf to the experts who have commented; the comments that I have made are not mine alone. As a proud patriot, I wish only to ensure that we do not bind ourselves into a cost-cutting exercise today so that tomorrow we are unable to rise to a serious challenge.

Mr. Martlew

I agree with much of what the hon. Lady has said, but how are we to fund the provision for which she asks? Are we to cut social expenditure, or increase taxes?

Lady Olga Maitland

We should be taking a flexible attitude, and preparing for the fact that in the end we shall have to spend more on defence. As our economy is steadily improving—and I have no doubt that it will continue to improve—there will eventually be room for manoeuvre; it depends very much on where the political will exists.

We should bear it in mind that one day we may have to rise to a serious challenge that would threaten all that we hold dear, for which we fought so fiercely not only in the second world war—which we commemorate—but in wars since then. Unless we bear that in mind, we shall have great cause for regret. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reassure me that he will bear that seriously in mind and start preparing for a flexible and more realistic approach.

It would not be appropriate for me to enter into a debate on defence without paying some attention to Opposition policies. I have expressed some genuine concerns about future capability, but it must be admitted that I am much more confident that this Government will be able to respond satisfactorily. That cannot be said of the Opposition.

For the past two years, we have been hearing of the Opposition's robust call for more active intervention in Bosnia. I have sympathised with the spirit of it. However, the past performance of the Labour party should give no comfort to anyone that it is capable of real action. History tells us that it is a lot of words.

For a start, fiery words have blinded the public to the fact that massive defence cuts, ignoring strategic need and pandering to social prejudice, are on Labour's agenda. The socialist manifesto demands that Governments "spend less on arms". For six years running, the Labour party conference has called for cuts worth £6 billion a year. That would represent the annual budget for any of our services. Which one will the Opposition cut—the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force? It is all totally unrealistic.

I note that the Labour defence spokesman tried to wriggle out of that embarrassing commitment, weaving and dodging the issue when challenged. The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) has used Labour's proposed "defence review" as an escape clause, as did the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) earlier. When challenged on what they expected the so-called review to recommend, no answer came—just more words that lacked any clarity. That is not surprising as the review would embrace the massive defence cuts that the Labour party conference called for.

Ducking difficult defence issues has won Labour no friends, even on the left. The Independent on Sunday accused Labour of "wet and vapid thinking." Writing in The Guardian, Hugo Young said: There is no field in politics in which Labour is less convincing than defence … Its Conference votes for massive defence cuts, its spokesmen can barely admit that a single job should disappear. Although this may not quite be the economics of the madhouse, it defines the statesmanship of the nursery. I may have my reservations about the Government's future defence planning, but no one in his right mind would commit his security to a party that is so woolly minded on defence. The chaotic but deeply dangerous days when Labour pressed this country to surrender to the then Soviet Union on our nuclear deterrent could be repeated if today's thinking continues. I do not trust Labour to pursue a policy of positive direction when its history tells us only that there has been appeasement, appeasement and appeasement again and again. It tried that philosophy in relation to the Falklands. If a Labour Government had been in power at the time, heaven knows whether we would have ever budged the Argentinies from those islands. History has not shown us that our defence and security could ever be safe in the hands of the Opposition.

8.53 pm
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I listened attentively to the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). I found some of it interesting until she embarked on the ritualistic rant about the Labour party, which does not persuade anyone—people in the defence services, ex-service men and women, or people who observe our politics. If one listened carefully to her speech, one would have noticed that, midway through, she went into a catalogue of criticism, which is largely justified, about the reckless stewardship of our armed forces by Treasury Ministers. Tomorrow, I shall read closely what she said and I shall use it politically, and legitimately so.

The hon. Lady criticised the Government's recklessness in terms of equipment. She referred to procurement. She questioned whether it would be possible to embark on a number of ventures that have been necessary since the second world war to protect and promote the interests of the United Kingdom and peacekeeping. She prayed in aid Field Marshal Bramall, who is highly regarded and respected. He has been critical of our incapacity to mount actions that may be necessary to protect and promote our interests.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Mackinlay

I give way to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, as I referred to her.

Lady Olga Maitland

Would the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to give us some evidence that his party would build our defences when, at Labour party conferences year in year out, it says that it will cut defence spending?

Mr. Mackinlay

I do not want to delay the House's time by indulging in yah-boo politics. One of the beauties of tonight's debate is that, by and large, most hon. Members have concentrated on the subject. As the hon. Lady invites me, I shall refer, like other hon. Members, to our reserve forces, which are the subject of great anxiety among people who serve in them and who think that, strategically and militarily, they are extremely important.

No less a person than Field Marshal Bramall—and many others—think that those forces as extremely good value for money. They are perplexed at the Government's incapacity to introduce a reserve forces Bill, which they promised, to reassure people who believe in our reserve forces, in their skills and in the enterprise that they can give to our defences and peacekeeping. They are asking why no Bill has been introduced.

In the absence of such a Bill, there is a malaise among people who serve in the reserve forces. They are not sure about the future. I do not want to exaggerate it, but there is a loss of morale among them. That is against the backdrop that our reserve forces have one of the highest personnel wastage rates in the reserve forces of western Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. One must ask why. To some extent, it is because our armed forces have a low national profile. I look to the next Labour Government to raise with pride the profile of that service to the country. I regret that its profile is currently so low. A small proportion of the large sum that is spent by the Ministry of Defence might go to buttress and herald the work of the armed forces reserves.

I understand that the Minister prevaricated on this matter earlier, but why has there been no Bill, which the Secretary of State for Defence promised more than a year ago? Is it because the Minister is having difficulties with employers? If so, who are the employers' representatives who are proving difficult? I was interested to read in The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that I thoroughly enjoy and read regularly—

Mr. Stephen

A good socialist newspaper.

Mr. Mackinlay

The hon. Gentleman makes a silly remark, as if Labour Members do not read The Daily Telegraph, which is my favourite paper. It is good value, particularly when it tells the truth, as it did on 19 November 1994, when Peter Almond drew attention to the fact that even the national health service, which the Government control, is making it difficult for people to serve in the Territorial Army and be available as specialist consultants to our regular Army during emergencies. It seems that there are difficulties with employers not only in the private sector but even in the public sector, for which the Government have some responsibility but which is not delivering the goods.

We need legislation to guarantee that the jobs of those who want to serve in our reserve forces with pride and motivation are secured should they be called up and mobilised. It is disappointing that the Government have not had the bottle or the guts to introduce a measure to provide for that. I suspect that they are prevaricating because such a measure would have ramifications for employment in other areas. I regret that. We will look to a Labour Secretary of State for Defence to do the right thing and introduce legislation to protect reservists and, ipso facto, promote the concept of the reserve forces.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam referred to Bosnia. I want to put a straightforward question to the Minister. Those of us who have been observing that terrible conflict wonder from where the conflicting forces are obtaining their ordnance and arms. I accept that much of it was the property of the former Yugoslav national army, but there must be a great deal of arms smuggling in the areas of conflict.

Our intelligence organisations should know where that is coming from. I realise that it would not be appropriate to say too much on the Floor of the House, but we must know where it is coming from and what we are doing about it. I wonder whether the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office is doing enough to enforce the sanctions in former Yugoslavia, particularly in relation to arms. I hope that the Minister will refer to that when he replies, as it is of interest to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I apologise to the Minister of State and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not being here at the beginning of the debate. I was with some Polish parliamentarians as I am secretary of the all-party Poland group and take a keen interest in that country. There have been moves by the United Kingdom and other NATO countries to accommodate Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and other central European countries into some security arrangements, but our Polish friends see that as wholly inadequate. It does not give them either military or political security.

Speaking entirely for myself, it is hypocritical that we in the west spent 45 years saying, "Look over the wall and see how bright and free the land is," yet., when communism collapsed and the wall went down, we would not let them join the club. We struggle to find spurious excuses for why they cannot join NATO or the European Union, although I acknowledge the economic aspects of their joining the latter. As there are problems in the Russian republic, it is even more important that they should have the same security arrangements as us.

I am proud to say that I held that view before coming to the House and, after developing my association with Polish parliamentarians, I feel it even more strongly. It is a great pity that we are letting them down. Ultimately, it is in our security interests that Poland and the other countries to which I referred should have the same security arrangements as us.

I have tabled a variety of parliamentary questions and I recently probed the Ministry of Defence about the scale of boarding school fees that it pays, primarily, although not exclusively, for the children of our officers. Like the majority of questions on the Order Paper, it was genuinely seeking information. I was staggered to learn that in the previous full financial year we spent £113 million on boarding school fees, mainly for the children of officers. Surprisingly, the figure had risen from £85 million in 1985–86. Although we are downsizing our armed forces, the money spent on boarding school fees for officers' children has gone up.

Mr. Freeman

I would not want the hon. Gentleman to be under any illusions about boarding school allowances. I am sure that he will want to withdraw the implication that there is any distinction between officers and other ranks in this respect. As he knows perfectly well, the scheme applies to all ranks and officers in the armed forces. I am sure that he would not wish to mislead the House.

Mr. Mackinlay

I must ask the Minister to be patient; I had not finished making my point.

I do not think that such expenditure is justified—.full stop. It may have been justified when we had Army personnel all over the world and when it took officers and their children weeks on the Orient line or a camel to meet each other after a two-year posting, but nowadays all corners of the globe can be reached within 27 hours and we do not have armies or fleets all over the world. Expenditure on the boarding school allowance cannot be justified; it is nothing more than a hangover from the clays of the empire. Of course, it is also a massive unwarranted subsidy for the private school system, which is indefensible. It is time that people knew what is happening.

In response to the Minister's argument, I must point out that, although the allowance is available to all ranks in theory, in reality the children of privates and ratings go to schools in garrison towns such as Portsmouth and Aldershot. If such schools are good enough for those children, they should be good enough for officers' children too. There is discrimination and it means that working-class taxpayers are subsidising the privileged, which is indefensible.

Mr. Robathan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mackinlay

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but after that I shall not do so again.

Mr. Robathan

I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech but, of course, he was not here for the first four hours of our debate. He is exposing not only his ignorance but the chips on his shoulder. He shows his ignorance in that he fails to understand the extent of movement required among all ranks in the forces. As one might imagine, there are more older officers because most junior ranks leave in their early twenties before their children reach school age, while officers remain in service until 55. That is right and proper and I shall not go into the reasons for it, although I suspect that even the hon. Gentleman would understand them.

The hon. Gentleman exposes the chips on his shoulders in that he does not understand that it is not fair to make a child move house seven times in six years, as happened to a friend of mine who certainly did not attend a private school. Would the hon. Gentleman have said that that child should have moved with his parents from school to school? I suspect not.

Mr. Mackinlay

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about moving children but, in reality, the children of ratings and privates do not have the same facility as the children of officers. The children of ratings and privates are sent not to boarding schools but to schools in Aldershot and Portsmouth. In addition, officers are well paid but privates and ratings are not. Such distinctions should be borne in mind.

I think that it was the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) who referred to the ceremonial duties in which we take great pride. I accept that they attract tourists, but I cannot see why some of them could not be undertaken by reserve forces. Indeed, many ceremonial duties in the House are conducted by ex-service men who perform their functions very well. Some are also yeoman warders. I am sure that reservists could perform wider ceremonial functions with great pride and skill.

On 1 July, on a Friday morning, we had a debate on veterans' issues, which was much better attended than today's debate. I was pleased that the motion, which I tabled, commanded all-party support for a dedicated Minister to protect and promote veterans' issues. That support has since been endorsed by an early-day motion, which has been signed by 250 or 260 members of all parties. Arguably, if ones takes away the payroll vote, there would be a majority in the House of Commons for the creation of that post.

I regret that the Prime Minister does not recognise veterans' issues as popular. If a popular issue were painted on his eyelids he would not see it. Not only would such a dedicated Minister be a popular decision, but it would be the right decision and in line with practice in other parts of the world. I hope that the matter is reviewed.

The Royal British Legion has endorsed the call and has expressed some disappointment in the current edition of its magazine at what it described as "an inconclusive meeting" with the Department of Social Security and the Ministry of Defence in December to discuss the issue. It continues, however, to press the issue, and rightly so.

In the year that we mark the completion of hostilities, I would like to draw the attention of the House to one group of people—members of the Polish Army who served alongside British forces in the second world war. After the second world war, their pensions were treated differently from those of their British comrades in arms. That still rankles with Polish ex-service men and women who remained in this country, the majority of whom are now United Kingdom citizens and who have made Britain their home and whose children live and were brought up here.

For half a century, those Polish ex-service men and women have been treated less favourably than the indigenous British and they would like the situation to be rectified. The payment of their war pensions has been dependent on extensions, with Treasury consent, of the original five-year period because the then communist Government indicated that they would not meet their moral obligation to pay. It would be a small measure to rectify the discrepancy by statute so that those ex-service men and women could feel that they are treated in the same manner as their British comrades in arms. I hope that the Minister will consider it.

Millions of our fellow country men and women feel frustrated that there is not a medal to recognise national service. It seems a rather silly and petty omission. People who turn up at our ceremonial occasions in towns and villages, especially on Remembrance day, who will participate this summer in the commemoration of the ending of hostilities and who are proud to have served in the armed forces—the vast majority of whom, thankfully and mercifully, avoided conflict and being under fire—would like to be able to wear, on appropriate occasions, some sign of their service to the Crown and country.

I hope that the suggestion, which has again been made by the Royal British Legion, not myself—the genesis of it lies with the Royal British Legion and other ex-services organisations—that a medal should be struck for those who did national service will be considered. Instead of some of the silly comments about that idea which I have heard during the debate, I hope that the Minister may reflect that this year in particular it would be prudent, fair, appropriate and a very nice gesture if such a medal were struck.

9.13 pm
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

I had better put on record the Labour party's view on boarding school fees. Although I am a great admirer of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), I stress that his views on boarding school fees are his views alone. We accept that, in a modern Army, there will still be a need to send children to boarding schools. We are concerned—the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) touched on this point—about the quality of some of the education that service children get. I am convinced that we do not get value for money, and we should look at that problem.

However, I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock has a point about the differentials between officers and other ranks. The fees may be the same, but since 1979, the pay of a general has gone up in real terms by 15 per cent. whereas the pay of a private soldier has gone down by 15 per cent. There is little scope for the other ranks to send their children to boarding schools. The point is, however, that the Labour party would keep the boarding school scheme.

It seems that, no matter how few hon. Members there are in the Chamber, we always take up the full time. There was concern earlier that we might finish early; there is nothing wrong with finishing early. However, those concerns were wrong.

We have had some good speeches. I, too, pay tribute to our troops, who are the finest in the world. They are well led, well equipped, in the main, and well motivated. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces paid tribute to them well, as he always does, although his words are sometimes a little Churchillian and more apt for the dark days of the 1940s than for the post-cold war era. There is, however, no doubt that his words have support from Labour Members.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman is not in his place, so I can talk about a bipartisan approach. Many of the views expressed today are shared by both sides of the House. We do not play politics with our troops' lives. It is important that when our troops put their lives at risk, politicians do not play politics with those lives. Conservative Members sometimes do not give us credit for holding that view.

I was saddened by the comments on the Falklands made by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). Many of us could say that the Falklands war arose because the Conservative Government sent the wrong signals to the Argentines. They withdrew the guard ship. There were negotiations about taking British passports away from the population of the Falklands. However, at the end of the day, when push came to shove, we were all on the same side. We had to free the Falklands and the Labour party supported the decision, as it supported the decision on the Gulf war. The only time since well before the second world war when there was disagreement in Parliament on political lines was over the Suez crisis. History will prove that the Labour party was right on that occasion.

I now turn to the present situation. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam and other hon. Members have referred to Bosnia. Again, we totally support the Government in their support for the peacekeeping role of the United Nations, using the expertise of British troops, although when the troops were sent, there was disquiet on the Labour Back Benches, as there was disquiet on the Conservative Benches. I am sure that there are hon. Members on both sides who continue to be concerned about how we get out of the Balkans and we shall all have to turn our minds to that. We are doing a good job in Bosnia, but how long are we expected to stay there?

Lady Olga Maitland

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) should instantly withdraw his scurrilous remarks attacking the fine honour of General Sir Michael Rose? Will the hon. Gentleman dissociate himself completely from his hon. Friend's remarks?

Mr. Martlew

If I recall correctly, the hon. Lady made some scurrilous remarks about the Labour party and how it was not fit to defend the country, remarks that I totally refute. Other Labour Front-Bench spokesmen and I think that Sir Michael Rose did an excellent job in Bosnia. My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) is entitled to his opinion. I totally disagree with him, but if Parliament is the place for him to express that opinion and if he feels that he must express it, so be it. Labour Front-Bench spokesmen do not associate themselves with those remarks. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It is easy to sit here in London and to say that this or that decision should have been taken.

Like other hon. Members, I visited Bosnia. I came away with the feeling that all the warring parties there tell lies. We cannot believe any of them. There are wicked people on all sides. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles feels that the Bosnian Government are badly treated, and whatever we say today will not deflect his views in that regard.

I want to return to the bipartisan approach. I am a little surprised that there has been no mention of Angola, because that subject was flagged up. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) referred to Angola in a way that probably reflected the view of the majority of people in this country—that we should not be involved. As my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) made clear, if the Government were prepared to send British troops and they obtained the reassurances from the United Nations, the Labour party would support that move. I hope that the Minister will say something about that when he replies to the debate.

Our troops have been stationed in Northern Ireland for 25 years. I pay tribute to their total professionalism. I have recently returned from a visit to the King's Own Royal Border Regiment, which is my county regiment. That regiment appreciates the all-party political support—I am sure that that applies to the Liberal Democrats as well.

The personnel at the sharp end fully appreciate that all-party support. I returned from Northern Ireland with nothing but admiration for my regiment and for all our forces who have served in the Province in the past 25 years. They patrolled the trouble spots and they carried out their duties with tremendous professionalism and dedication, under enormous strain.

We must remember that, until the recent ceasefire, every member of the security forces was considered by the IRA as a target for assassination 24 hours a day, day after day. That was the kind of pressure that our troops were under. In many ways, it was a forgotten war. It was perhaps not forgotten here in Parliament; but in my constituency and in others, so long as the lid was kept on it, we were not really concerned. We took notice when the IRA started to bomb London and the other major cities.

We left our troops in that situation for 25 years and it is only right that we should pay proper tribute to the work that they have done. As the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said, 650 members of the security forces have been killed by terrorists. I am convinced that no other security force anywhere in the world would have been as tolerant as the British forces in dealing with the problems they faced in Northern Ireland. Overall, the British security forces in Northern Ireland have a record of which we and they can be proud.

There is another point in respect of which the Labour party has refused to make political capital and that is with regard to the sentence of Private Clegg. It would have been very easy for us to jump on the Daily Mail bandwagon which collected 1 million signatures. The release of Private Clegg was obviously a very popular subject.

However, the Labour party looked at the situation and we realised that it was not the time to raise the temperature. We fully support the Home Secretary's decision to look at the sentencing regime. I realise that the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) cannot be in his place at the moment. However, I support his view that perhaps the senior officers in Northern Ireland were wrong. Perhaps the decision to have only one sentence, that of murder, was the wrong decision. I hope that we can review that point. If the Home Secretary reaches a sensible decision, I am sure that the Labour party will support him again.

Mr. Soames

I would like to clarify a point. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) made the point about the views of the Select Committee on Defence on the yellow card and the question of our soldiers being quite clear. The hon. Gentleman has just visited his own excellent county regiment. I am sure that, like me, he spoke to soldiers in Ulster. Whenever I have been to Ulster and have asked soldiers whether they have come across anything during their service, when they were really up agin it, which they felt they had not been properly trained and prepared for, no one has ever told me that they had.

Mr. Martlew

I am sure that that is correct, and that our soldiers are well trained before they go to Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Upminster opposed the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North, who asked for a defence review. I think that my hon. Friend's speech will become a reference point for people who want to understand why we need a defence review. It was an excellent speech, as his speeches always are, and it was also important as a reference point.

The hon. Member for Upminster said that we did not need a defence review because, as he explained, we had already had two. The Government have always refused to say that we have had a defence review. According to the Minister, "Options for Change" and "Front Line First" were not defence reviews, so perhaps he will reply to that idea, because the Chairman of the Select Committee said that the Government had already carried out two defence reviews within the past four or five years. We call for a defence review because we want to know where we are going strategically. We were not happy with "Options for Change", and we were certainly not happy with "Front Line First".

To return to what I said about the bipartisan approach, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) told the House that the Government would have our full backing if they introduced a reserve forces Bill. We have long pressed for such a Bill, and I must tell the Minister that the cross-party support on that issue is disappearing.

Mr. Mackinlay

We shall have to introduce one when we come into office.

Mr. Martlew

That is true. We are puzzled and concerned by the Government's failure to introduce such a Bill. We were surprised that it was not in the Gracious Speech; when we asked questions, we were told that it would appear early in 1995. I remind the Minister that it is now nearly March. What does he consider early in the year? Perhaps today he will be able to give us a date.

The all-party approach to defence does exist. We also supported the Government on compulsory drug testing, although I must admit that I am now rather concerned about what they are doing. I understood that testing would be introduced in all the forces, but when I talked to people in Northern Ireland I found that only the Army is implementing the order. The RAF and the Navy have said that it is not necessary in those services. That is grossly unfair to the Army.

I heard one or two accounts of soldiers who had tested positive and who, I understand, were told the result, immediately asked to sign a form and made to leave the Army straight away. If that is true, the procedures should be investigated. What are the procedures for people who have tested positive for drug-taking? How are they to be treated? Will they simply be dismissed or have to volunteer to resign? Or shall we give our soldiers treatment? I suggest that, in many cases, that would be the best course.

I have outlined many areas in which there is cross-party support. That is fine, but the House would not expect me to leave it at that. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have made comments tonight, and I said in my speech on the defence estimates last year that I was coming to the sad conclusion that our armed forces, especially the Army, displayed prejudices that were not acceptable in a modern force.

The Army still displays sexist and racist tendencies, and class divisions are highlighted in the rank structure. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) referred to that, and asked for the figures. There is no doubt that there is still class bias in the higher ranks of the armed forces, and that is reflected in the pay structure.

I shall not talk at great length about the fact that millions of pounds have been spent on the houses of the top brass, even though most of those houses are now to be sold. I shall not comment on such perks as batmen, cooks and gardeners, or on the fact that the houses of the lower ranks are in such a deplorable condition that the Government have tried to privatise them, as that is the only way of getting then modernised. However, even that has failed.

I should like to talk about the differentials in the pay structure, and how the lower ranks have fared much worse than the top brass. To illustrate that point, in 15 years of Tory rule, a general's pay in real terms has increased by more than 12 per cent., a brigadier's by 17.3 per cent. and a colonel's by 15.4 per cent. That would be fine if the same had happened further down the ranks, but there is a contrast. A corporal's pay in real terms has gone down by 5 per cent., a lance-corporal's by 10 per cent. and a private's by 15.4 per cent.

In a debate yesterday, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces admitted that a private in today's British Army was worse off than in 1979. [Interruption.] It is on the record, if anyone wishes to look at it.

The comparisons to which I have referred are truly odious, but they are nothing more than one should expect from a Government who do not believe in equality or social justice—

Mr. Robathan


Mr. Martlew

—and do not know when to sit down.

Mr. Robathan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Martlew

I must continue.

Mr. Robathan

I shall be brief.

Mr. Martlew

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could intervene in the Minister's time. [Interruption.] If I answer the hon. Gentleman, I shall take up some of the Minister's time.

Mr. Robathan

We have plenty of time.

Mr. Freeman

indicated dissent.

Mr. Martlew

The Minister has suggested that we do not have plenty of time, and he is right.

I now turn to the continuing problem of sexism in the armed forces. [Interruption.] That always gets a laugh from the Tories, because they do not believe that women should be in the armed forces at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] They do not believe that women should hold any positions of rank.

I asked the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to give the percentages of women in different ranks in the Army. I shall not read his reply because we are short of time, but something was odd about it. I also asked whether the Minister would list those ranks of the armed forces where there were no women at all. There were no field marshals, no generals, no lieutenant-generals and no major-generals. It is all right for women to be cooks at the bottom of the scale, but they are being discriminated against because of the Conservatives' beliefs.

I do not believe that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces is anything but a male chauvinist on this point. In a recent debate in Committee on regulations on sex discrimination in the armed forces, the Government made a change in the law and introduced a catch-all phrase that women can be excluded from posts where their presence would impair combat effectiveness. That catch-all remark could well affect women in certain positions today. I am not sure whether the young lady who qualified as a fighter pilot yesterday—we all congratulate her—will be affected by that phrase, but if somebody believes that she could affect the effectiveness of our forces she could lose her job.

In the same debate, the Minister said that the Ministry of Defence had no intention of compensating women for having had abortions."— [Official Report, First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c,7 February 1995; c. 4–13.] Those women may have had to have an abortion to save their jobs in the armed forces. On 8 February, there was a case in which the armed forces were found guilty of discriminating against a woman soldier. It cost the forces £15,000 because the industrial tribunal found in favour of the woman, who had to have an abortion—she was the major breadwinner in her household at the time—to keep her job in the Army. Yet the day before, the Minister for the Armed Forces had said that the forces would not on any account—

Mr. Soames

That is right.

Mr. Martlew

Ministry of Defence money will go to pay that compensation. It is a scandal that it has had to pay so much in compensation to women who have had to leave, but the real scandal is that those women's careers were blighted because the Government did not change the regulations in time. If they had done that, we might have avoided paying £39 million or £49 million in compensation.

I do not want to say much about racism—not because it is not a major problem but because it would be inappropriate to comment at this time as I understand that the Commission for Racial Equality is preparing a report. I want the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to assure us that when the report is published, it will be made public and he will make a statement on it to the House.

I realise that time is getting on and that I keep asking the Minister questions and must give him time to reply. The point is that we have heard much talk about the Labour party cutting millions of pounds. Labour's record in Government has been very good. I am prepared to defend it and there is no doubt that it is excellent. I think that it was the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) who commented on the fact that some troops were given their redundancy notices when on active service in Bosnia. If the Government had got to grips with the finances, we would not have had those problems.

I have here a document entitled "The Ministry of Waste", which was written by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields. I know that the Minister of State has a copy of it, as he requested one. It catalogues £7 billion of waste and it has been updated. The Government have wasted £7 billion. Just imagine what we could have done with that.

Lady Olga Maitland

indicated dissent.

Mr. Martlew

Obviously, the hon. Lady does not believe us, but if she asks her hon. Friends, they will give her a copy.

There was a £2.2 billion overrun on the Eurofighter 2000 project and an overspend of nearly £1 billion on the Challenger 2 tank. We do not need to mention the £177 million wasted in Germany when we were pulling back, or the overspend of £800 million on Trident facilities.

Mr. Stephen

What about TSR2?

Mr. Martlew

I am sorry, but I was still at infant school when we cancelled TSR2.

We would not have needed to make those drastic cuts if we had had control of the finances. There is no doubt that that is the case.

In conclusion—I apologise to hon. Members whom I have not mentioned in my reply—what worries me is that there is no doubt that this Administration do not have the capacity to ensure that the scandals of the past, which are catalogued in the document prepared by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, will not be repeated. The Government cannot control the finances, they are a wastrel Government and should not be trusted with the defences of Britain.

9.37 pm
The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Roger Freeman)

This has been an interesting debate and it proves the golden rule that speeches expand to fill the time available. I always thought that finishing early tonight was not a runner.

I shall try to answer as many questions as possible, although I note that until the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) came into the Chamber, only two Labour Front Benchers and two Labour Back Benchers were present, and the speeches of the two Back Benchers were disowned by their Front Bench, which is a very interesting position.

I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces wearing the tie of the 11 th Hussars and I notice that the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), who led for the Opposition, is wearing the tie of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, if I am not mistaken. I congratulate him and all other hon. Members who have participated in that scheme, which is excellent.

Anyone younger than me will have missed national service, and it is a sobering thought that, during the past 10 years, there has been a marked reduction in the number of hon. Members who have served in the Regular forces, let alone who did national service, who can participate in our debates. We are poorer for that lack of experience. I am grateful to British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and Vickers for sponsoring that scheme.

As you can probably see from my tie, Madam Speaker, I am an honorary member of the City of London heavyweight division of chartered accountants. I notice that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) is wearing a tie in honour of our dear friend Nicky Fairbairn. He would have much appreciated the tie and I associate the Government Front Bench with all the comments made about him. He was a colourful character and we miss his contribution to debates such as this.

In a thoughtful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) set the context for our debate, albeit somewhat late in the proceedings, by speaking of the need for proper internal and external control of threats to our society and for flexibility. I am grateful to him for his comments about the adequacy of equipment for the armed forces and shall comment on that in moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) rightly discussed our international responsibility and global role. She spoke about equipment, but it is important to concentrate on the equipment's quality and capability rather than quantity. Her contribution was, however, much appreciated.

The Army equipment programme continues to provide highly effective equipment to meet the challenging demands that the Army faces. The Army has world-class equipment already in service and the forward programme will improve that position still further. That has been clearly demonstrated in former Yugoslavia, where the performance of our Warrior and our tracked reconnaissance vehicles has been particularly satisfactory, despite the demands placed on them by difficult road conditions and high usage. Warrior is probably the best infantry fighting vehicle in the world. Last July, we placed an order with Vickers Defence Systems for a further 259 Challenger 2 tanks in addition to the 127 tanks already on order. That will permit the Army to field an all-Challenger 2 tank fleet—probably the best tank fleet in the world.

We expect to make progress this summer on a further major enhancement of the Army's anti-armour capability when we choose an attack helicopter. The final stages of evaluating the bids in the competition are now in progress, and that important programme is expected to cost some £2 billion. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) and the hon. Member for Motherwell, North asked me about the attack helicopter. I am glad to tell them and the House where we stand.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham advanced the case for the Cobra Venom, which, if selected, would be manufactured in Rochester. We need approximately 100, but the number that we procure will depend on the response to tenders. That is the order of magnitude. Our colleagues in France and Germany will probably procure more than that. I hope that the decision will be made before the House rises for the summer recess, and we therefore aim for a June decision. The date has slipped slightly because the competition has involved six contestants and we have gone into the matter very thoroughly. Final offers have either just been, or are about to be, submitted and we shall seek to reach a conclusion in June.

I expect the in-service date to be at the end of the decade. We are not seeking to confuse the House, but it is difficult to be precise until we know what further development work is needed on the attack helicopter that we choose.

The Royal Artillery is also benefiting from new equipment. Deliveries of the British-developed AS90 self-propelled 155 mm gun will be completed this year, giving the Royal Artillery a greatly increased depth-fire capability. The system is widely recognised as world beating and I am grateful for the kind comments that were made about it.

Those programmes will provide an impressive addition to the fire power and capability of the modern British Army. I pay tribute to the retiring Master-General of the Ordnance, General Sir Jeremy Blacker, who has done an outstanding job, and I look forward to working with his successor in due course.

The hon. Member for Motherwell, North asked a number of questions about standardisation, inter-operability and Angola. On standardisation, it is not simply a question of buying off the shelf from the Americans. It is important to work closely with our colleagues, particularly in France and Germany, because they have similar-sized armies and similar requirements.

I am keen to make progress with replacing our multi-role armoured vehicles, which carry casualties from and take ammunition to the battlefield; we are in discussion with our opposite numbers about that. In terms of the doctrine of use—wheels versus track—the vehicle size and the timing of our requirements, we could enter a collaborative programme. However, we shall do that only if our colleagues in France and Germany agree to a competition before we place an order. We shall see whether we are successful, but that is one example of inter-operability.

The hon. Gentleman asked me where we stood on Angola. I can confirm that the United Kingdom has agreed in principle to a United Nations request to provide a logistics battalion for the peacekeeping operation in Angola. It will, however, be essential that both the parties in Angola meet their obligations under the United Nations plan. As part of that, we shall obviously wish to satisfy ourselves that appropriate contingency plans have been considered. We shall also ensure that our troops are issued with appropriate rules of engagement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who explained that he could not be with us for the winding-up speeches, raised a number of issues. The first was Private Clegg. My hon. Friend echoed the view that I know is held by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that the rules of engagement in Northern Ireland should have legal status.

The yellow card summarises guidance on the law and does not in itself create any legal rights. The suggestion that compliance with the yellow card might be an automatic defence against a criminal charge is among the matters to be considered by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in his review of the law in relation to murder as it applies to persons engaged in the maintenance of law and order. The Ministry of Defence is co-operating fully in that review.

In respect of the yellow card, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, we keep its contents under review and have amended it to make it more explicit that soldiers should not be justified in opening fire solely because a car has caused injury.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster also raised the issue of training, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks). I visited the British Army training unit Suffield some six or seven years ago as a Defence Minister. The training range at Suffield in Canada is a superb facility and we want to see more training abroad, not only because it is difficult to exercise above a relatively low level in Britain because of the size of our ranges, but for environmental and other reasons.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southport asked about Belize. Our current jungle training programme fully meets our requirements and although we keep the matter under review, there are currently no plans to send battalion-sized groups. We currently send a company-sized group to Belize. Very often, the training facilities available to us depend upon the wishes of the host Government and we must respect that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster raised the issue of tour intervals. I confirm what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said: that if we are able to bring troops back from Northern Ireland, which I am sure is the fervent hope and desire of both Front Benches, that will not mean a reduction in the size of the field Army. Soldiers who are serving there, in particular the regiments that have served in Northern Ireland in the past, will welcome my reaffirmation of that clear principle.

As to the request for the arms plot for 1994–95 and 1995–96 so that the Select Committee can work out what the tour intervals have been and will be, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will provide that to the Select Committee. I see no reason why we should not do that.

The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) started off in an uncontroversial way by referring to Benbecula. I confirm that we intend to continue using Benbecula, as it is an excellent facility. We test the Rapier missile system there and we have no plans to renege on that commitment.

The hon. Gentleman went on to attack General Rose's judgment. He immediately drew condemnation from the Opposition Front Bench and certainly from the Government Front Bench. I am grateful to my hon. Friends who endorsed the view taken by my hon. Friend the Minister of State and myself. The hon. Gentleman surely falls into the trap for which he is incorrectly blaming General Rose—that of being partial. The hon. Gentleman is being partial. He is claiming that General Rose did or did not do certain things to defend one of the parties involved in that sad conflict. I am grateful to Opposition Front-Bench Members for what they said on the subject. General Rose demonstrated balance, impartiality, diligence and determination and the Government are committed to defending his quite exceptional performance under very difficult circumstances.

I apologise for missing the speech of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey); it is one of the few that I did not hear during the debate. He spoke warmly about the cadet forces, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I share those sentiments. I must share a secret with the House, which I have not revealed to my hon. Friend: I served in the school combined cadet force and I rose to the rank of WO1. What is more, I received the joint services cadet badge from Frimley. I am a great supporter of the cadet forces.

Mr. Chidgey

I repeat the question that I asked in my speech, which, unfortunately, the Minister did not hear. According to the "Options for Change" document, the Government intend to continue to fund the cadet forces after some "rationalisation". Will the Minister confirm that that does not mean a decrease in financial support for the cadet forces?

Mr. Freeman

It would be wrong for me to give precise assurances when we are still discussing the long-term costings. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I speak for the Secretary of State, the Minister and myself when I say that we are determined to support the work of the cadet forces, not only for broader military reasons, but for social reasons. It would be foolish for any Minister to come to the House and announce significant funding reductions, and I do not intend to do that. 'There are 65,000 cadets in the Army cadet force and the school combined cadet forces and some 8,000 volunteer adult instructors. They perform a valuable service.

I am informed that the hon. Member for Eastleigh professed not to know what his leader's policy was in relation to lifting the arms embargo.

Mr. Chidgey

That is not true.

Mr. Freeman

If that is not so, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. The defence spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), made a very sensible contribution during the Royal Navy debate. However, I am not sure that his speech accords with the sentiments expressed by the leader of the Liberal Democrats. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should advise his senior colleagues to get their act together on that point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key)— a former colleague at the Department of Transport who I hope will now become a respected voice on military matters in the House—raised a number of issues. I shall read his speech again and reply in writing to his specific points. However, I would like to comment on two of the matters that he raised.

The research carried out at Porton Down for the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment is extremely important. It will become part of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency on 1 April. I recently visited the CBDE, and I join my hon. Friend in wishing Graham Pearson all the best in his retirement later this year. He has done a fine job.

I do not think that the work at Porton Down is understood properly and I hope that the House will adopt a bipartisan approach in that area. I understand that the matter may be raised in the House at another time, perhaps during an Adjournment debate, and if it is, I am sure that the Government will respond positively and constructively to any suggestions that hon. Members may make about the management of Porton Down.

It is our clear intention to transfer all the married quarters into the private sector. There are a number of reasons for doing that. First, we need to raise sufficient cash to improve the quality of the married quarters through refurbishment and modernisation. That has always been a low priority for Defence Ministers, because our prime commitment is obviously to the front line. I am sure that that news will be welcomed by the troops. Secondly, maintenance and the sale of surplus properties should be undertaken by experts in the private sector rather than by the Ministry of Defence.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow raised a number of questions, and I shall try to answer some of them now. However, I shall re-read his speech and answer his other points in writing. We are looking for land to establish more training ranges for the Army in Scotland. I cannot go into detail at the moment, but as soon as the Army and Ministers reach a decision, either the Minister of State for the Armed Forces or I will bring those proposals to the House. I think that that will be welcomed, by the Army and certainly in terms of employment prospects in Scotland.

With regard to pregnancies and the role of women in the armed forces, I make it quite plain that we are very supportive. Yesterday our first lady fast-jet pilot, a flight lieutenant, flew a Tornado excellently from Lossiemouth. We welcome women who become pregnant and come back into the armed forces after their maternity leave. They must understand that they must make themselves fully available for deployment worldwide and assume responsibility for bringing up their children; that is their decision. But if they decide to come back into the armed forces and have made proper provision, we welcome their participation. Frankly, the investment in training and the development of their expertise is important to retain in the armed forces.

With regard to the Gulf war syndrome, British personnel who believe that they are suffering unexplained illness as a result of their service in the Gulf have been repeatedly invited to come forward for medical assessment. To date, 240 serving and former personnel have come forward. The onus is on them to make themselves available for proper medical examination.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southport raised a number of issues, but in particular the role of the reserves. The Ministry of Defence wants reservists to play a full and integrated—in so far as that can be done—role with our Regular forces. A Territorial Army platoon has already served in the Falklands. A TA company will begin a four-month assignment next month, and 30 TA personnel will be deployed to Bosnia in May this year with the Royal Welch Fusiliers. I agree with my hon. Friend's comments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) talked about training our forces. Salisbury plain is under pressure. We need to look, as I said earlier, at training abroad. The Air Force does low-flying training in Goose bay. The Army trains in Suffield. We must carefully examine prospects, perhaps in eastern Europe, where it is possible to train. I believe that simulation in training is important, particularly for the Air Force. We must also look at vacated sites in the United Kingdom, where we have wound down the involvement of the armed forces, and then we can consider use of those sites.

With regard to training others, I agree about the importance of defence attachés and training overseas students in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) raised the issue of the Reserve Forces Bill, as did the hon. Member for Carlisle, who replied for the Opposition. We plan to publish soon a draft Bill for consultation. The timing depends not on Ministers but on Parliamentary Counsel's timetable, as they are a limited resource in Whitehall. As soon as we have the draft—it is at an advanced stage—we shall publish it for consultation. I do not control the parliamentary timetable, and neither does my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, as the Opposition Chief Whip knows full well, but I hope that we can introduce the Bill in the next Session of Parliament. It will be unique that we shall have consulted on the detail of the draft, and I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), in an excellent speech based on his experience, talked about stability. We are now looking to a period of stability in funding from 1 April. Broadly speaking, over the next three years, our resources will be at fixed level in real terms. We have already announced our manpower numbers, and further manpower cuts will not be made. No more cuts are coming.

The hon. Member for Motherwell, North, who opened the debate, was disingenuous. Of course, "Options for Change" and "Front Line First" announcements still have to be worked through. We accept that. But the important point, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made very clear at the Conservative party conference, and which has also been made clear by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and by me many times, is that the armed forces—soldiers, sailors and airmen—can now look forward to a period of long-term stability.

I am not making a party political point. This is a perfectly serious point: if the hon. Gentleman aspires to government and if he believes that the first thing that he will do on achieving office in the Ministry of Defence will be to say, "We need a defence review," I can tell him that it will take him two years. At the end of that period, which will cause additional insecurity and instability, what will we have? We shall have the answers to questions that the hon. Gentleman is avoiding now.

Which commitments does the hon. Gentleman propose to cut? What proportion of the Government's total income is he prepared to devote to defence? The Opposition are avoiding those questions, and hiding behind a general statement: "Let's have a defence review." That is exactly what the armed forces do not want—and that is why I am confident that, if we were dividing on the motion, we would win.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.