HC Deb 01 November 2000 vol 355 cc717-810

[Relevant documents: Second Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1999–2000, HC 158. on the Ministry of Defence Annual Reporting Cycle, and the Government's response thereto, HC 452;

Fifth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1999–2000, HC 100, on the Defence Geographic and Imagery Intelligence Agency, and the Government's response thereto, HC 629;

Eighth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1999–2000, HC 264, on European Security and Defence, and the Government's response thereto, HC 732;

Thirteenth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1999–2000, HC 433, on the Iraqi No-Fly Zones, and the Government's response thereto. HC 930;

Fourteenth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1999–2000, HC 347-1, on Lessons of Kosovo.]

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

3.48 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

It is a privilege to come to the House for the second time in less than a week to debate defence issues. I take this opportunity to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie), to his rightful place on the Government Benches.

Last week, our focus was on procurement, and I will have still more to say on that subject in a moment. However, our debate today is on the armed forces, of whom we are all justly proud. They do an outstanding job for this country around the world and it is entirely appropriate that the House should devote this debate to a full and thorough discussion of their role and activities over the past year.

The last 12 months have been demanding for our armed forces, but they have responded to their many challenges professionally, with great dedication and with outstanding courage and personal sacrifice. British forces have continued to play an essential role in Bosnia and Kosovo. A year ago, the Kosovo campaign was still fresh in our minds, and our focus was on consolidating the peace that had been won through the allies' successful military campaign last summer. That meant returning more than 1.3 million refugees and displaced people to their homes and villages. Today, more than 800,000 refugees have returned home, the people of Kosovo have taken part in the country's first ever free and fair elections to choose their own representatives, schools in Kosovo have reopened with Albanian children being taught in their own language, and Slobodan Milosevic, who drove tens of thousands of Kosovans from their homes, has himself been driven from power by his own people.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

The Secretary of State will undoubtedly be aware that, this morning, it was revealed to the Select Committee on Defence that the extremely political attack by a senior uniformed officer, Sir John Day, on the Defence Committee report on Kosovo was made under pressure. Today, in an open sitting of the Committee, Sir John revealed that he had not chosen to give that interview, but was asked—indeed, pressed—to do so. Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether he intends to continue to use uniformed officers to fight his political battles?

Mr. Hoon

I know Sir John extremely well and, of all the people whom I can think of in the armed forces, he is one of those who are least likely to respond to pressure of any type. The hon. Gentleman is, therefore, absolutely wrong in that assertion.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

To settle any disquiet, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to conduct an inquiry into the matter and to report back on exactly what happened?

Mr. Hoon

I do not see the necessity for an inquiry. I make it quite clear that Sir John—as anyone who knows him will confirm—is simply not a man to respond to that type of pressure. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is wrong in his assertion.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

It was me who asked Sir John whether he voluntarily instigated or was told to instigate The Sunday Times article. His answer was quite clear and specific: he was told to do so. I should be interested to know whether the Secretary of State or the Chief of the Defence Staff gave that instruction to Sir John. Sir John left the Committee in no doubt today that he instigated that article at the request of someone else.

Mr. Hoon

The two Select Committee members should get their story straight, because we are now hearing two different versions of events. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Opposition Members are not thinking very quickly and carefully about what has just been said.

On the one hand, it has been suggested that a serving officer was subject to some type of pressure. That is an allegation that I most strongly resist. On the other hand, it is being suggested that a serving officer was made to respond to a request from the media for an interview. That is an entirely routine matter, occurring very regularly in the Ministry of Defence. I am really surprised that the hon. Member for Canterbury is raising that as an issue.

Mr. Hancock

The Secretary of State is being deliberately mischievous in trying to mislead the House even further. The point that I was making—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I should not think that the Minister, or any other right hon. or hon. Member, would seek to mislead the House. I take it that the hon. Gentleman wishes to withdraw that remark?

Mr. Hancock

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, on your advice, I certainly do. However, I should not like the impression to be given by any hon. Member that Sir John did anything today other than to confirm that he did not instigate the interview of his volition, but was asked to instigate it. He could have been asked to do that only by a senior politician or a senior person at the Ministry of Defence, such as the Chief of the Defence Staff.

Will the Secretary of State say whether he knew that Sir John had been asked to participate in the interview? If he knew, did he play a role in the making of that request? If he did not play a role, will he investigate who did ask Sir John to participate in the article—which was wholly inaccurate and totally misrepresented the Defence Committee's views.

Mr. Hoon

I make it quite clear to the House that I have no specific knowledge of who made the request. However, the hon. Gentleman is making heavy weather of a very basic situation. It routinely happens that uniformed officers are asked whether they are willing to speak to journalists. I do not regard that as surprising or remarkable in a democratic society. It is then a matter for the officer concerned to decide whether he or she will accept such an invitation. I make it quite clear that that is absolutely routine, and that there is nothing surprising about it at all.

I resisted the earlier suggestion that there was some pressure. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) is suggesting not that there was pressure, but that a request was made—of which I have no personal specific knowledge—and dealt with in the usual way inside the Ministry of Defence, and Sir John Day responded. That is not a surprising matter; indeed, it is entirely routine.

Mr. Brazier

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon

If the hon. Gentleman will set the story straight, I will.

Mr. Brazier

The technology in the House does not yet enable us to have a hard transcript in front of us. However, if the Secretary of State looks at the televised proceedings, he will be left in no doubt that Sir John Day gave the impression that he was under pressure. Furthermore, Sir John gave the Committee information on a variety of matters concerning the Kosovo operation—which the Chairman of the Committee indicated we are likely to follow up later—that was significantly at variance with earlier testimony from Ministers and uniformed witnesses.

Mr. Hoon

I will invite Sir John Day to consider meeting the hon. Gentleman. If he chooses to accept my invitation, I will leave it to the hon. Gentleman to judge whether Sir John Day is a man who responds to that kind of pressure.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

I was not present and, therefore, like the Secretary of State, I will have to rely on the no doubt accurate transcript of what was asked and answered. However, there is another point which may give rise to concern. A Select Committee publishes a report and expects to have a Government response. Is there not some risk that, if senior officers begin to make comments before the Government have made a formal response to a Select Committee report, that will get in the way of the proper relationship between the Select Committee and the Ministers whom it holds to account?

Mr. Hoon

I make it clear that the Government will be responding in due course to the Select Committee report. I hope that that is sufficient on this subject.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)


Mr. Hoon

I hope in vain.

Mr. Blunt

What is at issue here is the use of uniformed officers, who clearly have authority and expertise, in the service of Government information. A journalist asking for information—and being given access to expert advice from officers from all over the armed services—is quite different from Ministers and officials in the Department expecting uniformed officers to take part in a propaganda exercise for the Government of the day. That has happened continuously with regard to the Kosovo campaign. I hope that the Secretary of State will understand that this issue is of great concern to the armed forces and to those outside, as it borders on the abuse of military members of the armed forces. I hope that the Secretary of State will cease doing it.

Mr. Hoon

Let me make it quite clear to the hon. Gentleman—it did not happen. He should know better than to stand up in the House of Commons and make assertions that he cannot substantiate, particularly when he has heard me deny any suggestion that the officer was put under any kind of pressure. If the hon. Gentleman wants a civilised debate, he should refrain from making such allegations when he knows full well that I have previously denied that the officer was put under pressure from my office. I have made that absolutely clear.

Mr. Blunt


Mr. Hoon

If the hon. Gentleman is going to apologise for the assertion that he made, I will give way.

Mr. Blunt

I was not referring to what happened with Sir John Day. I was not there, so I do not know what happened. It has been put on the record and the record will attest to it. I was referring to what happened at the beginning of the Kosovo campaign when the Chief of the Defence Staff wrote three articles in the space of a week advocating the Government's position, which was plainly at variance with the military advice that he was giving to the Secretary of State at the time.

Mr. Hoon

I do not accept that. The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that if he gets up and makes assertions following on from one of his colleagues on a particular subject, it is not unreasonable for people to think that he is talking about the same subject. I resist absolutely any suggestion that uniformed officers were used for propaganda purposes on behalf of the Government. That is absurd and it is not the case.

Mr. Hancock

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon

No, I am going to make progress. We have spent far too long on this subject.

The armed forces have played a major role. Over the past year, they have helped create the stability that has allowed roads, power stations, bridges and railways to be repaired. They have also played a vital role in protecting and reassuring minorities. In these and many other ways, our forces continue to apply their skill and experience to help the people of Kosovo rebuild their communities.

Some people still suggest that we were wrong to have fought the Kosovo campaign. Such a judgment flies in the face of the evidence. British forces made a huge contribution to the success of the NATO operation. Everything we were asked to do, we did. Although it listed a number of problems, many of which we do not accept, the recent Defence Committee report acknowledged Operation Allied Force can fairly be counted a success.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)


Mr. William Cash (Stone)


Mr. Hoon

I shall give way in a moment.

There are, of course, lessons to learn. There has never been a campaign anywhere or at any time when that was not the case. Over the past year, with the progress we have made on European defence, the announcements on sea lift and air lift, new secure communications for the Royal Air Force and new precision-guided munitions, we have acted quickly to implement the required reforms.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

My question is on Kosovo, a province that I visited along with other members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. How many Ministry of Defence police officers are serving with the international police force? Is it not the case that such police officers can serve a six-month rather than a 12-month tour of duty? Does that not make it more attractive for our officers to serve in Kosovo?

Mr. Hoon

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I do not have the precise figure to hand. However, I will certainly write to him. Any change that we can make by way of service intervals to make such tours of duty more attractive will be useful.

Our forces have not only been part of international operations in Bosnia and Kosovo; British troops have played a leading part in promoting stability and providing support to the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone. In May, following renewed fighting between Government and rebel forces in Sierra Leone, British armed forces moved at very short notice to secure Lungi airport to allow the evacuation of British nationals and other entitled people, and to enable the United Nations to bring in reinforcements.

Forces from all three services under joint command deployed rapidly to a country halfway across the world, arriving within hours of the final decision to go. At the peak of the mission, more than 5,000 personnel were involved. Having achieved the clear objectives that we set at the outset, we withdrew our combat forces. Conducted in difficult circumstances, the operation was without doubt an unqualified success.

Mr. Chidgey

May I join the Secretary of State in congratulating the performance of our troops in Kosovo and Sierra Leone? I visited Kosovo with the Foreign Affairs Committee, and was delighted to see how well the troops had done, particularly as we were, in the main, first in. The Royal Green Jackets and the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, both from my area, performed exceptionally well. However, the underlying concern, now and in the future, is that the troops performed amazingly well, with great credit to this country, but had to overcome many problems in the logistics and lack of preparedness exposed in the Defence Committee's report. I seek an assurance that, in the theatres of the Balkans, and in Sierra Leone where the right anti-malarial tablets were not available, the Secretary of State is taking a personal interest—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I appeal again for short interventions—let us not have mini speeches.

Mr. Hoon

I made it clear that there are lessons to be learned in any campaign. That has always been true in history, and it will be the case in the future. We will respond specifically to the Select Committee report. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will implement the lessons learned, as we have begun to do already. It is not surprising that there are difficulties—these are difficult and dangerous campaigns. We must study what went wrong, if things went wrong.

Mr. Cash

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon

I am going to make some progress.

The Government will see through their commitment to Sierra Leone. We are determined to help to turn that country around. We do not want the people of Sierra Leone to be once again subject to rebel brutality. Our most important contribution is undoubtedly our extensive programme to provide the Sierra Leone army with the skills and training that it needs to underpin the authority of the democratically elected Government. This is not a short-term commitment—our original plans for the international training team envisaged a three-year programme.

We have temporarily increased the level of support we have given since June, by providing a series of short-term training teams. We expect, however, to be reducing the number of personnel we have committed to training in Sierra Leone from next spring.

We have also increased our support to the United Nations peacekeeping force. At the UN's request, we now have staff officers working in the UNAMSIL headquarters, and we have reaffirmed our readiness to deploy elements of our rapid reaction force to support UN peacekeeping missions, including Sierra Leone.

In case there were any doubt that we take this commitment seriously, I announced to the House on Monday that, for a limited period, we shall divert an amphibious-ready group, comprising elements of our joint rapid reaction forces, off Sierra Leone. This deployment is a practical demonstration of our rapid reaction capability and our practical support for Sierra Leone.

Our involvement with Sierra Leone has not been without cost. In September, British forces took part in an extraordinarily brave and daring rescue of the Royal Irish Regiment soldiers who had been taken hostage. I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the skill, courage and professionalism of the forces involved. In particular, I would like to pay tribute to Bombardier Brad Tinnion, the soldier who died in that operation, and to the others who were injured.

We had exhausted every possible opportunity to resolve the hostage-taking through peaceful means, but when it eventually became clear that that would not be possible, and that the lives of the hostages were at risk, we were right to act. I believe that few, if any, other forces could have achieved what British armed forces did that day. It was a remarkable achievement.

Our forces are professionals. They are trained to deal with danger. That is something our that Royal Air Force pilots have confronted routinely over the past year. Our pilots, along with coalition partners, have continued to patrol the northern and southern no-fly zones over Iraq throughout the year in support of UN Security Council Resolution 688. We have been doing this successfully for nearly 10 years, including right through the Kosovo campaign.

Let me be quite clear—these patrols are humanitarian. Saddam Hussein has used helicopter gun ships against the Kurdish population in the north, and both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter gun ships against the Shia Muslims of the south. There is no reason to believe that he would not do that again if we ceased our efforts.

Since the beginning of last year, there have been more than 235 violations of the no-fly zones by Saddam's forces, and more than 900 other direct threats against our aircrew, including missile attacks and anti-aircraft fire. Saddam has even offered a bounty for shooting down coalition aircraft.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

What my right hon. Friend says about the Shia is nonsense but, apart from that, he mentioned the recent hijacking. Yes, the confrontation with Saddam has gone on for 10 long years, with no result in sight. Would not it have been at least a bit graceful to have entered into some kind of dialogue with the Iraqis, after they had been so quick to give up the hostages?

Mr. Hoon

I am sorry, but I must disagree with my hon. Friend. The reality is that any negotiations along the lines that he suggests would be regarded by Saddam Hussein as a sign of weakness. We would simply be giving in to his appalling behaviour, and that would not advance by a single step the cause of international law, to which I know my hon. Friend is committed.

Our aircrew show great courage and professionalism in the face of the threats. They are authorised to respond in self defence. They do so within the bounds of international law, and attack only those military targets posing a threat to coalition forces. They go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

Saddam has claimed that civilian casualties have been widespread, but on nearly 30 occasions when he says that civilians have been killed, we know that no bombs were actually dropped. Our actions are right and we will continue to maintain our patrols over Iraq for as long as it is necessary to do so.

We also have a destroyer or frigate permanently deployed in the Gulf region. That contributes to the multinational interception force that operates under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council to enforce sanctions against Iraq. At the same time, Britain is playing a leading role in trying to make progress on Security Council resolution 1284. As many right hon. and hon. Members will know, that resolution offers Saddam an opportunity to lead his country away from isolation and a suspension of sanctions in return for progress on the remaining disarmament issues. Saddam has a clear choice between international isolation and a return to the international community.

I have described its role in the Gulf, but this year has been an especially busy one for the Royal Navy. At the start of the year, Opposition Members entertained themselves by claiming, quite wrongly, that the Navy was unable to go about its business because we did not have enough money to buy fuel.

Since then, there has been a major, around-the-world deployment of naval forces, which return to Britain later this month. Naval task group 2000 visited over 30 countries, from Vietnam to Venezuela. The Illustrious carrier task group deployed to the Gulf, before diverting to Sierra Leone on its way home. In September, the Invincible carrier task group was involved in a major series of amphibious exercises in the Mediterranean with friends and allies.

When the fleet returns to port at the end of this year, it will not be because it has run out of fuel, but because it deserves a well-earned rest. Where there are equipment problems, we have been putting them right.

Mr. Duncan Smith

The Secretary of State says that we were the only ones who had fun about the fuel issue. It was not fun at all. Will he confirm that the Navy's annual fuel budget was cut by 30 per cent. and then had to be reinstated, which was the cause of the problem that meant that ships could not leave port at Christmas?.

Mr. Hoon

I do not accept that for a moment.

The House will be aware that the United Kingdom hunter-killer nuclear submarine fleet was recalled recently for checks to be made on their reactor systems to determine whether they had the same defect as HMS Tireless. I can now update the House on the present position.

The inspections have shown that there is no evidence of the problem in five submarines. Although four of them were already alongside undergoing repair, maintenance or refit, this means that HMS Triumph, which has the capability to launch Tomahawk missiles, will return to operational duties very shortly.

Analysis of more detailed inspections will allow a recovery programme to be set in place for those submarines that are affected. We aim to have that established by the end of November. In the short term, HMS Triumph's availability means that we are much better placed to conduct operations, including those in support of the deterrent.

I have set out many of the ways in which British forces continue to make an important contribution to preventing conflict and ensuring greater security around the world.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

The matter of the submarines is enormously important. The news that the Secretary of State just gave the House is encouraging to some extent, but can we be absolutely clear what the position is? How many submarines have been found to be suffering from the same defect that brought HMS Tireless into port? How many will need extensive repair work? If he does not know the answer to that question now, within what time scale will he be able to inform the House?

Mr. Hoon

There is a programme of inspections. The reason why we were so determined that the inspections should take place as quickly as possible was concern that there was a generic design fault in the construction of the reactor. That appears not to be the case. In five of the boats we have not been able to find that particular problem. One of them will be very shortly available for deployment. We are continuing with more detailed inspections of the remaining vessels and I will certainly bring the House up to date as and when I have more specific information available.

I emphasise that our forces also play a vital role closer to home. Even with progress in the peace process, Northern Ireland remains our single largest operational commitment. While no one should underestimate the difficulties that lie ahead, it would be equally wrong to play down the progress already made towards a peaceful settlement. The political process has enabled us, on advice from the Chief Constable, to bring our force levels down to around 13,500, the lowest figure for almost 30 years. I look forward to the conditions being in place that will allow us to reduce our forces further still, but we are not yet there.

All of the important work that our forces undertake on our behalf depends on one thing—the quality of our people. It is the men and women who make up our forces who deliver time after time. The Government have built and sustained a strong economy. This allows us to invest in Britain's health, education and transport. In addition, because the economy is so strong, we are able to provide more resources for defence: an extra £1.25 billion over the next three years. A strong economy means that we must work even harder to recruit and retain the people we need to make sure that our forces remain the best in the world. This is a huge challenge.

Mr. Cash

Does the Secretary of State agree that intelligence is of great importance to our defence and the security of our forces? Is he aware that serious disquiet is growing in the United States and the Pentagon about the developments in European defence and security policy—the European security and defence identity in particular. Given what he said about the lessons that had to be learned and in view of the leaking of NATO secrets by the French during the Kosovo war, will he give the House an assurance that the military intelligence arrangements with the United States will remain as good as they ever have been in the past 50 years?

Mr. Hoon

I am delighted to be able to give the House that assurance, but I will be dealing in more detail with European defence later in my speech.

The recruitment of sufficient numbers of suitably qualified, strongly motivated young people is fundamental. The armed forces are one of the United Kingdom's leading employers, particularly of young people, with over 25,000 new recruits each year. Recruitment over the past two years has been buoyant. Last year, there was a net inflow to the full-time trained Army for the first time in 15 years. The overall intake for all three services was about 25,533—96 per cent. of our target. For the fourth consecutive year, the number of women recruited into the armed forces was well in excess of 3,000. More people than ever before from the ethnic minorities are joining the armed forces—although we recognise that we must do even more.

Just as recruitment is fundamental, so is retaining the immense talent that we already have. It should not be a surprise that our people—who are among the most motivated and best trained in the country—are attractive to civilian employers, who can often offer a more stable, if less interesting and exciting, life style.

I realise that there are no easy answers, but we are addressing those issues head-on with our policy for people. To select only a few examples, we are tackling overstretch by reducing commitments; we have greatly improved support to deployed personnel and have substantially expanded their allowance packages; we have implemented the armed forces pay review body recommendations in full, on time and unstaged; and we have set up the service families task force, which is already delivering real benefits for families.

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will say more about our wide range of initiatives on retention later in the debate, but it is clear that our policy for people is already helping to make service life a more attractive long-term option for our personnel and their families.

In the longer term, I am absolutely determined that we should do more. However, to establish the armed forces firmly as a career of first choice takes time. It must be based on sustainable policies, not on quick, short-term fixes. However, for the first time we have a highly visible policy for people touching on every aspect of personnel management. That is a major step forward.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, following the report of the National Audit Office on the training of pilots, the low number of junior fast-jet pilots in April 2000 is an especially important issue and that the problem will increase in each of the next three years? Will he assure the House that every effort is being made to put that right?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that matter; it is of great concern to us. There is a particular retention problem with pilots, which we continue to address. I am confident that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will cover that matter when he speaks later.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

The Secretary of State is aware that, this year, I am taking part in the armed forces parliamentary scheme. I am delighted to have visited both Canada and Bosnia. My point relates to Bosnia-Herzogovina.

With all the money that the Government have at their disposal, when will they provide troops in Bosnia with living accommodation that meets the standards adopted by all other countries represented in Bosnia? The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Corimex buildings have no air conditioning, and that in summer they are intolerable. After six years of those living conditions, when will they be improved?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the question of accommodation. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will refer to it. We are concerned about the fact that we do not provide the standard of accommodation for our armed forces that we should do. The Government are urgently and seriously examining the matter to try to make an improvement.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)


Mr. Hancock


Mr. Hoon

I have given way several times and I want to make progress.

The armed forces need and deserve the best equipment, so that they can perform to their full potential. We inherited an equipment programme with strengths, but also some serious weaknesses. The shortfalls identified in the strategic defence review—strategic lift, for example—have been apparent in recent operations. We are now putting them right.

Back in May, I announced a £4 billion package to lease four C17s and to acquire 25 A400M transport planes. That will give us a capability that few others can match. Last Thursday, I announced the provision of six new roll on/roll off ferries to provide strategic sealift for our forces, and the procurement of four new logistics ships to support our amphibious and expeditionary capability. Those orders are worth about £1.25 billion, of which more than £1 billion will be spent in the UK. They are a huge boost to our military capability. That is yet another step towards putting in place the flexible, mobile forces proposed by the SDR. It also means jobs for Scotland, for Northern Ireland and for the north-east—jobs for Britain.

I can tell the House that an important decision has been taken with regard to the main engines for the type 45 destroyer. BAE Systems, the prime contractor, ran a competition to select the pair of gas turbines that will power each warship. Excellent bids were received from Rolls-Royce plc, offering the WR21, and from General Electric Company, offering the LM2500. The prime contractor advised us that both engines met the programme requirements, and that either would be acceptable to the Royal Navy. Therefore, it has been a difficult task to decide between the two bids. On balance, we have decided to select the Rolls-Royce WR21.

The LM2500 is a mature product—it is in volume production and available at an attractive price. We accept that the WR21 presents a greater degree of risk to the programme, but we had to look at a range of other factors. Those factors, many of which fall outside the type 45 programme, include the commonality of support arrangements with existing Rolls-Royce engines in the Royal Navy, and particular aspects of Royal Navy fleetwide operations for which the Rolls-Royce engine is well suited.

Because those wider issues have played such a significant part in our decision process, and because our future plans are not sufficiently certain to allow them to be an element of such a competition, we have decided to set aside the competition and negotiate the contract on a sole-source basis with Rolls-Royce.

Hon. Members should welcome the decision as good news for employment in the United Kingdom, particularly in the main Rolls-Royce facilities in Coventry, Bristol and Derby. Overall, some 1,000 jobs will be sustained as a result of our decision. That is clear evidence that this Government are investing in defence and investing in Britain.

The type 45 itself will, of course, be a large, versatile and highly capable ship, and it will provide a huge increase in capability from the outset. It will provide outstanding air defence in support of operations from war fighting to crisis intervention. We still expect to place a contract in excess of £1 billion, for the first three type 45 destroyers, before the end of the year, although the precise timing will depend on continuing negotiations involving the prime contractor.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon

In a second.

It remains our intention that the first and third ships will be assembled by BAE Systems Marine and the second ship by Vosper Thornycroft. Involving two shipbuilders in the design of the ship will make for effective competition for follow-on ships and reinforces the importance that this Government attach to a strong and competitive warship-building industry in this country. The detailed level of work share between the two yards remains to be decided, but must enable effective downstream competition and provide value for money to the British taxpayer.

Mr. Keetch

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way and for remembering Hereford. On the type 45, the Sylver launcher has been selected as the launcher for the principal anti-air-missile system for the lead ship of the class, but we understand that it can launch the PAAMS missile only. Given the problems that we have had with submarines, would it not be advisable for type 45s to be able to launch, for example, cruise missiles? Will the Secretary of State therefore give the House an assurance that the launcher for the subsequent ships will be capable of launching a type of missile other than PAAMS?

Mr. Hoon

Those are matters that we can review as the programme is developed, but I am absolutely confident that the armaments capability of these very impressive ships will be perfectly sufficient as and when they come into service.

Mr. Chidgey


Mr. Hancock


Mr. Hoon

I need to make more progress.

The warship is being designed for the future, so it will be capable of incorporating up-to-date technology. While land attack missiles are not currently planned for the type 45, the ship is designed from the outset to allow the fitting of a vertical launcher suitable for a variety of weapons, including Tomahawk. The ship will have sufficient space and facilities to allow its capability to grow through its life. The type 45 will be a world-class ship for a world-class Navy and its success will depend on the world-class design and manufacturing skills of British industry.

Mr. Hancock

Will the Secretary of State give way? It is important for jobs.

Hon. Members

His job.

Mr. Hoon

I am all in favour of preserving jobs. I will certainly give way.

Mr. Hancock

I am delighted that the Secretary of State gave way. On the question of the second type 45, he is no doubt aware that it is vital to Vospers and to the work force currently at Woolston and the work force to be transferred to Portsmouth. There is a significant problem as the prime contractor is yet to sign and to make a reasonable arrangement with Vospers about the way in which that contract will operate. Will the Secretary of State do all that he can to bring about a decision and to get that contract signed as quickly as possible, so that we can secure those 650 jobs that are currently at risk at Vospers in Woolston and secure the move to Portsmouth as quickly as possible?

Mr. Hoon

Obviously, it is in the Government's interest to have this matter resolved as quickly as possible—that will get the ships in service as quickly as possible. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are making every effort to ensure that the negotiations do not go on for too much longer and that we achieve the result that he and I want to secure for the Royal Navy.

Mr. Chidgey

Will the Secretary of State ensure that, as originally intended, the share of the work between Vosper Thornycroft and BAE Systems Marine will be fair and equal?

Mr. Hoon

That is what we announced and that is what we are seeking to achieve.

This world-beating new equipment is part of the success story that is Britain's defence. We must make sure that our forces, which are the very best, remain so. That involves the modernisation of our forces, which we are achieving in every aspect of what we do, from the organisation of Europe's defence to the command and control of our helicopter and Harrier forces. It all has one aim—to maximise and improve military capability.

I am, therefore, also pleased to announce that the invitation to tender for the new competition for the Bowman communications system will be issued today, which is four weeks earlier than planned. After a rigorous examination of industrial proposals, we will invite bids for the supply and initial support of Bowman from three companies: Computing Devices Canada, TRW and Thomson Racal Defence Ltd. All bidders are expected to offer proposals with significant manufacturing work and vehicle conversion in the United Kingdom. That represents a major turnaround for Bowman. The fact that we have been able quickly to issue the invitation to tender to major companies with good track records in this sector is a clear vindication of our early decision to reopen that competition.

Our programme of equipment improvements has its roots in the strategic defence review. That demonstrates that the SDR is on track. Two years on from the completion of the review, we continue to make excellent progress. Let me mention a few highlights. Elements from the joint rapid reaction forces have already seen action in East Timor and Sierra Leone. Those JRRF provide a pool of forces typically comprising around 20 major warships, 22 other vessels, four brigades, 110 combat aircraft and 160 other aircraft, any of which can be drawn on as situations and circumstances require. They can be deployed quickly around the world and they can deliver a real punch when they arrive.

Joint force Harrier brings together all our Harrier aircraft into a single potent capability. It has already proved its worth in Sierra Leone. We have created a single logistics organisation under a chief of defence logistics who is charged with streamlining and improving support to the front line. We are sustaining and broadening the success of the smart procurement initiative under what we now call smart acquisition. With smart acquisition, we are reducing the acquisition cost of defence equipment by £2 billion over the next 10-year period from 1998 to 2008, just as we said we should do in the SDR.

I give just one of the many examples of the success of smart acquisition. On the Seawolf surface-to-air missile programme, we aim to produce a common basic missile to re-arm the different systems on type 22 and type 23 frigates. By tightly writing the contract to include incentive payments for early delivery plus profit and risk sharing arrangements, we expect to reduce projected costs by up to 50 per cent.

The SDR is a long-term programme. The last SDR decision will not take effect until the Tornado GR4 is phased out as planned in 2020. Already, however, almost half of the key SDR measures have been implemented, although we have at the same time been engaged in crises in the Gulf, Kosovo, East Timor and Sierra Leone. That is a considerable achievement.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He referred to the Defence Logistics Organisation. Given that a National Audit Office report found that stocks of laser-guided bombs ran critically low during the Kosovo crisis, that morphine supplies were mismanaged and that tent accommodation was inadequate, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what targets for improved services have been set for the Defence Logistics Organisation, and within what time scale does he expect those targets to be achieved?

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman's question mixes several issues. I stress that we have set in train a significant reform of logistics. I outlined in general terms what that involves—it will bring about a massive shake-up in the supply of logistics. We anticipate that there will be a 20 per cent. saving—that is already on track and is being achieved. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces said that that effort has—rightly—been supported by those on the Opposition Front Bench. That practical reform will save money and deliver equipment more efficiently to our armed forces.

I should like to come now to the question of money and what the outcome of spending review 2000 means for defence. In July, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced the first planned, sustained, real-terms increase in the defence budget since the mid-1980s. The defence budget will rise from about £23 billion this year to almost £25 billion by 2003–04. We will see £1.25 billion of new money for defence—after inflation—in a guaranteed three-year deal.

The spending review 2000 settlement is a hugely significant development. After years of successive cuts in defence spending under the Conservatives, we have announced the first real-terms, year-on-year increase in defence spending since the end of the cold war. Such sustained growth in the defence budget represents real investment by this Government in the continued quality and effectiveness of our armed forces.

The Conservative party has so far failed to promise to match such investment. Indeed, we have had no signs of any Opposition spending plans. There has been a great deal of talk from the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), but no commitment to match our investment in Britain's armed forces.

Mr. Duncan Smith


Mr. Hoon

If the hon. Gentleman is going to say that the Conservatives will match our investment in the armed forces, I will be delighted to give way to him.

Mr. Duncan Smith

I want to correct a couple of small points. The first is that the Secretary of State said that Labour is making the first sustained, real-terms increase. That is not true. In 1997, there was a sustained, real-terms increase. Secondly, he inherited a budget of 2.7 per cent. of gross domestic product. Under the strategic defence review, the Government reduced the budget by £1.4 billion, so it fell to about 2.3 per cent. of GDP. Therefore, the Secretary of State needed the cash injection to stabilise spending following the cut that he originally implemented.

Mr. Hoon

I did not notice the hon. Gentleman make any commitment to sustain the investment. He is playing with statistics. I am talking about real, new money after a long period during which the Government whom he supported and of whom, indeed, several current Conservative Members were part, cut defence spending. I warn the hon. Gentleman that if he is not able to commit the money, he should spend a little less time telling us what we are supposed to do to defend Britain, and more time defending his shadow Budget from his shadow Chancellor when it is made to bear the brunt of Tory spending cuts. The hon. Gentleman would be better off concentrating on the enemies behind him rather than the opponents opposite him.

I should now like to deal with issues relating to NATO, European defence and multinational defence co-operation. Although the Kosovo campaign was entirely successful in meeting all our political and military objectives, we had to rely disproportionately on the Americans for the military might that underpinned it. We cannot and should not always expect to do so for crises on Europe's doorstep. That is why we have been at the forefront of efforts to adapt and modernise Europe's defence capabilities in the same way that we have modernised our own. That was a key part of the discussion at the NATO informal ministerial meeting in Birmingham last month. I should like to report to the House on what came out of that, and on the work that we are doing to build up Europe's responsibilities in the field of security and defence. The subject is frequently misunderstood, and I suspect even occasionally deliberately misrepresented. I therefore welcome this opportunity to put the record straight.

The essential purpose of the changes that we are making to Europe's defence architecture is to strengthen the ability of European nations to act in pursuit of their foreign and security policy objectives. That means two things. First, we want to strengthen Europe's military capabilities, so that we can both make a better and more coherent contribution to NATO and give credibility to European military options in which NATO as a whole is not engaged. Secondly, we want to give the European Union the capacity to take military decisions and to take political control of crisis-management operations.

None of that means weakening NATO. Let me be absolutely clear that we are not building a competitor to NATO. Nor are we prepared to take any action that might damage or undermine the alliance. We are tying future European crisis management firmly to the framework of the NATO alliance. There is no disagreement among allies about that. NATO is and will remain the cornerstone of our security and defence policy. For any realistic large-scale military operation, NATO is the first and only option. NATO will remain the sole organisation for collective defence in Europe, and NATO will be the organisation to which we expect to turn for significant crisis-management operations—certainly when Europeans and north Americans intend to act together.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

What I am about to say will not come as a surprise to the Secretary of State because he has heard it from me before. Will he explain to the House how he can guarantee that a crisis that does not involve the Americans will not escalate out of control in a way that would not have happened if the Americans and NATO had been involved from the beginning? It is that unpredictability that is so dangerous.

Mr. Hoon

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not understand how international crises are handled. If he did, he would know that they are not managed in isolation by any one country or group of countries; there is a close understanding between all allies involved regarding the appropriate response to a crisis. Even if the circumstances he describes were to start to emerge, the Americans would have been closely involved throughout the crisis in determining the appropriate nature of the international community's response.

Mr. Keetch

As one west midlands Member of Parliament to another, may I ask whether the Secretary of State remembers the informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Birmingham on 10 October? When United States Defence Secretary William Cohen said that it is right and natural that an increasingly integrated Europe seeks to develop its own security and defence policy with a military capability to back it up did he not make it clear that the United States has no concerns about the policy that the Government are pursuing?

Mr. Hoon

I shall deal with that point soon. I was a little surprised—as, no doubt, my constituents will be—to discover that we have been removed to the west midlands. However, I realise that the Liberal Democrats are a little loose about geography, as they are about so many issues.

The headline goal agreed by EU member states at the Helsinki European Council in December 1999 is designed to deliver more effective European forces. EU leaders agreed that, by 2003, they should be able to deploy rapidly and then to sustain for at least a year military forces that are capable of undertaking the most demanding crisis management tasks up to corps level—some 60,000 strong. That level of force will be available either as a contribution to a NATO operation or for an EU-led operation.

We have spent some months since Helsinki developing a detailed statement of requirement of the pool of forces and capabilities that it implies—the headline catalogue. Later this month, EU member states will hold a capability commitment conference at which we will publicly set out our contributions to the catalogue. Member states will also make commitments to remedy remaining qualitative and quantitative shortfalls, and to establish a review mechanism to ensure that progress in addressing those shortfalls is monitored. That will give us a programme and a timetable for meeting the headline goal.

All that does not mean a standing reaction force. It certainly does not mean a European army. It requires the identification of a pool of capability from which forces can be assembled on a case-by-case basis for specific operations, followed by the progressive modernisation of European armed forces, so that they are more deployable, more readily available and more sustainable. Everyone—both NATO and Europe—stands to benefit.

The Conservatives are always eager to tell us what the Americans are reported to think about European defence. In their hatred of all things European, they look to the Americans to bail them out, so let me tell the House—yet again—what the Americans really think. Speaking in Birmingham about the headline goal, US Defence Secretary William Cohen said: Let me be clear on America's position. We agree with this goal—not grudgingly, not with resignation, but with whole-hearted conviction.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Will the right hon. Gentleman provide an assessment of the Government's attitude to the suggestion that NATO should have a right of first refusal in any circumstances in which European forces might be deployed in the sort of roles that he has described? It strikes me that that could be an important part of ensuring that the United States was never excluded from decision making and it would also deal with those members of NATO that are outside the European Union.

Mr. Hoon

We are working to achieve coherence between NATO planning processes and the emerging EU planning processes. I do not entirely accept that a formal right of first refusal would be appropriate, because of the way in which a crisis can develop internationally. A crisis might begin as a relatively small-scale problem that was initially the responsibility of the EU because NATO had judged that it was more a matter for European nations to deal with than for NATO. Therefore, a formal right of first refusal might not necessarily achieve the policy objective that I assume the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants. However, it might be achieved by ensuring absolute consistency between the planning processes of both NATO and the EU, an absence of duplication between the two, and real consistency in the international community's response. That is precisely what the Government are seeking to achieve and for which we have achieved widespread support, both within NATO and the European Union.

I think that Opposition Members have forgotten about what underlies this policy area. The Americans understand that we are strengthening NATO; we are not weakening it by strengthening the European contribution. For years—arguably for decades—our US allies have been calling for Europe to get its act together. That is precisely what we are doing. In Birmingham, we discussed the change in direction needed by the alliance, from a large, immobile defensive force intended to confront a massive attack on Europe—NATO's primary function for more than 40 years—to one capable of deploying quickly and effectively for crisis management and peace support operations.

We discussed the defence capabilities initiative, the alliance's programme to improve the capability of its forces in key areas such as air-to-air refuelling and strategic air lift. This will enhance the ability of European states to deploy their armed forces as part of coalition operations and ensure greater interoperability with US forces.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

During the NATO discussions at Birmingham, what discussion took place about the United State's proposal for national missile defence? Did most European countries say that they were opposed to such defence and would not co-operate with it? Did the British Government give a private opinion to the US that they would be prepared to co-operate if a request were made?

Mr. Hoon

There was little discussion of national missile defence at Birmingham, not least because by then the United States had indicated its intention of deferring a decision. As I said to my hon. Friend during Defence questions only the other day, the US having decided to defer the decision, it would be purely speculative for him to suggest that the UK had made any commitment in one direction or another. Unless and until a request is received, he is merely speculating.

We strongly support the departmental central index—

Dr. Godman

I am delighted that Europe is getting its security act together—I think that those were my right hon. Friend's words. Can he assure the House that the Governments of Finland, Sweden and the Irish Republic have the same enthusiasm towards the concept of a rapid response force?

Mr. Hoon

I can give that reassurance. Those countries welcome the opportunity that the headline goal affords to participate in the effective forces that that goal presupposes. Smaller countries clearly are not in a position necessarily to have the full range of forces that are available, for example, to the UK Government. However, they can play a significant part in building up those forces. Finland and other Scandinavian countries are planning a Scandinavian brigade, which will contribute to the rapid reaction force that is envisaged in the headline catalogue. That will allow them to play a part which otherwise would not be available to them. Significant opportunities are afforded to the countries that my hon. Friend has mentioned.

We strongly support the DCI. It is modernising NATO in the same way that we have adapted our own forces following the strategic defence review. We will no longer be waiting for a threat that is most unlikely to arrive. Instead, we will have the capability to deploy and to deal with threats as and when they occur.

Our involvement in future operations of any scale in and around Europe will almost inevitably be as part of a coalition. This emphasises the importance of forging closer links with those countries that we may find ourselves operating alongside in a crisis. These are countries within NATO and like-minded countries elsewhere, such as Sweden and Australia. The benefits of that sort of multinational defence co-operation are obvious. We cannot hope to obtain the very best in military equipment and capability by going it alone. Modern defence equipment programmes are very expensive and require a phenomenal technological input.

Eurofighter, for example, will be the world's finest fighter aircraft. It is the result of the combined efforts of four nations. As a result, we will get it at a lower price and with more advanced technology than if we had tried to go it alone. There will be huge operational benefits from four NATO nations using the same aircraft, many of the same weapons and much of the same ground equipment. If the UK went alone down that path, Eurofighter would cost much more and would be much less capable.

There are many other examples of effective multinational equipment co-operation. The Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile is Anglo-French. New armoured vehicles are being designed and will be produced in collaboration with Germany. We are talking to the Australians about our future strategic tanker requirement. There are exciting projects that will bring the countries of NATO, Europe and our friends and allies further afield closer together.

It is not just in procurement that benefits are to be had from working more closely together; there are real operational advantages, too. The UK-Netherlands amphibious force brings together the excellence of our Royal Marines and the Dutch Marines. They have similar equipment, use the same tactics and deploy from the same sort of ships. They work together in peace, and can deploy together in a crisis.

The allied Rapid Reaction Corps, which the UK heads, distinguished itself in Kosovo. In addition, there is the possible twinning—not joining—of German, Italian and RAF Tornados in the suppression of enemy air defences, utilising the best of each country's capability to improve the end product. The key point about multinational defence co-operation is that it improves operational capability and, where that is the case, we will do more of it.

Over the past 12 months, Britain's armed forces have once again made us proud. They have done everything we have asked of them and more, often in dangerous and difficult circumstances, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, the Gulf and Sierra Leone.

The Government are serious about defence—we are serious about investing in defence; we are serious about looking after the people who provide our defence; and we are serious about ensuring that structures are in place, both in Europe and at home, to deliver the defence that the nation needs. We are doing all of that not with words but with actions, and we are already seeing the benefits. We are not modernising Britain's defence for the sake of it: we are doing it to ensure that Britain's forces, which are the best, remain the best. We are the only party prepared to commit the investment necessary to get the job done.

4.46 pm
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to our armed forces. He is right to be proud of all that they have achieved. I also associate myself and all members of my party with the condolences that he gave to the family of Brad Tinnion and to others who were wounded. Although Brad Tinnion was the only person who, sadly, lost his life, others received wounds in what was a brilliant operation. We have come to expect our armed forces to deliver, but when they do it still sometimes takes our breath away. We are justifiably proud of them, and I therefore associate my party with the right hon. Gentleman's comments about them and their actions.

In future, would it not be a good idea to have these debates on a substantive motion rather than as an Adjournment debate? I understand that that is a little difficult without a White Paper, but perhaps it would be possible to find a mechanism—such as Select Committee reports—by which we can create a substantive motion and thus involve other hon. Members in shaping the debate. That is solely an observation, but I hope that the Secretary of State will relay it to his colleagues who sit further down the Treasury Bench—not that they are officially present at the moment.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the activities in which our armed forces have been involved. I shall follow his lead and quickly refer to them. Forces in Bosnia and Kosovo whom my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and I visited have operated in extremely difficult circumstances. They have had to spend long periods away from their friends and families, often on tour for six or seven months before going back home for a briefer period than that. They have then had to turn around and go back, if not to the same location, to areas close by. When we were in the region towards the end of last year, soldiers said to my hon. Friend and me that they would like to spend more time with their families and have more opportunity to train. I simply present those comments to the Secretary of State as key objectives—to give service people more time with their families and more time to train lest they lose those skills.

We are justifiably proud of what our forces have done. Recent events in Kosovo and Serbia are testimony to their hard work. We do not know how the situation in Serbia will develop—things still hang in the balance—but our forces can be proud of the part that they have played. The right hon. Gentleman was right to praise them.

The right hon. Gentleman was also right to say that the war in Iraq is in many ways the forgotten war. RAF pilots fly daily sorties. When my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) visited the forces there, he realised that they are almost completely forgotten by our national papers. That is not a criticism, merely an observation. Those pilots risk their lives daily, but we have got used to that idea and forgotten them. On behalf of the Opposition, I pay tribute to what our pilots have been doing. They are doing their duty and doing it excellently, and the Secretary of State is right to draw attention to that. It should no longer be the forgotten war.

The Secretary of State is also right to speak about the importance of the job that our soldiers and other service men carry out in Northern Ireland. It is easy to assume, as many hon. Members may, that there is no longer a need for members of the armed forces to be out in Northern Ireland, and that everything is settled. Only today on the news we heard that there have been both a bomb and a shooting there, which brings us quickly to the conclusion that, whatever else is going on, it is not the case that there is no need for our troops.

The Secretary of State is right to say that he must be cautious when people suggest that we should withdraw more troops from Northern Ireland. I urge him to be cautious about the numbers that he withdraws, and to be certain that he will not have to send them back in two or three months' time, in a slightly more unprepared state.

I spoke earlier today about the possibility of setting up a memorial to those who lost their lives in the service of the Crown as a result of the troubles in Northern Ireland. I thank the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister for welcoming the suggestion and speaking about seeing it through. I hope that something can be done. The House owes a debt of gratitude to a special group of people—not just the service men and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but many others, and not just in Northern Ireland—who, as a result of the troubles, made the ultimate sacrifice. It would be good for us to have a place to go and say thank you, rather than remembering just wars and major campaigns.

The Secretary of State spoke about Sierra Leone. He knows that in the earlier operations we supported the Government in their objectives, but I remain concerned about the way in which matters are developing and about the conditions out there. The Secretary of State referred in the House on Monday to extra force deployments—temporary, as he pointed out today—about which I want to ask him some questions, so that we can judge whether there is a threat of our being sucked into Sierra Leone without any clear objective.

Perhaps the Secretary of State, or the Minister for the Armed Forces when he winds up, could explain what conditions will have to prevail in Sierra Leone before British troops are withdrawn—I know that time scales are difficult—and what lies behind the appointment of the brigadier who has gone as chief of staff to the United Nations commander. To what extent is that a change in policy with regard to our connection and involvement with the UN? Does it portend that there is a possibility that we will end up joining the UN force, or is that ruled out? I share the reservations and deep concern of the Ministry of Defence about Britain becoming a full member of the UN force, as that would restrict our options. I understand that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, does not share that view, but the House would be grateful if the Minister explained the Government's thinking.

What will be the role of the task force? Once it goes out to Sierra Leone, it will carry out what the Secretary of State called an exercise or demonstration. If that is the purpose, how long is it anticipated that the force will be there, and what will happen to it once the exercise is finished? Will it be withdrawn, left there or moved somewhere else so that it can react speedily? Perhaps the Minister can answer that now or when he winds up.

The Secretary of State spoke about the international training team and our long-term commitment to it. Earlier in the year, when we visited the British training force, it was clear to me—and I expect to others—that our team would be there for only a brief period, and that the international training team would slowly start to take over in the autumn, so there would be no need for a separate British training team.

Perhaps the Minister could explain what has happened to the time scale for the international training team. Does he claim that there will not be enough people to carry out the training—we were assured that there would be enough people—or is it simply a case of not being able to rustle up the people to do the job? We have received no explanation.

I understood that the most of the British forces who were training would be withdrawn after providing a short sharp start to the training process, but the plan has been extended to next year. What commitments have been made beyond that? If there are such commitments, why have they been made? What has happened to the international training team? My hon. Friends and I would be grateful for some explanation of what is happening in Sierra Leone, and I hope that the Minister, who will wind up and possibly open the second half of the debate tomorrow, will provide it.

We have already taken up a reasonable amount of time, and the Secretary of State gave way on a wide range of subjects. I shall not refer to every subject that the right hon. Gentleman covered because there will be time tomorrow to deal with many of those topics. The Minister will probably mention some of them. I shall concentrate on the European security and defence identity and the development of the European defence programme.

In the next two to three weeks, with the approaching force generation conference, it would be reasonable to try to ascertain the way in which we have arrived at our current position and its implications not only for Europe but for the United States and others. One tends to forget the Canadians, who are very much a part of the process.

For me, it is not a matter of debate that the nations of Europe should be able to do more, have a greater capability, and be more efficient in military terms. As partners in NATO, they owe it to their big partner, the United States. They also owe it to themselves because, for too long, they have assumed that someone else will act for them.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Does the shadow Secretary of State acknowledge that the comments that he and Baroness Thatcher made in Washington DC did nothing to reflect the views that he has just enunciated, and that they caused untold consternation among Congressmen and Senators on the Hill? If he had consulted people such as Congressman Biereuter from Nebraska or the late Herb Bateman, he would have learned a little more about the position than he conveyed to their colleagues. Does he accept that he caused much of the trouble that has been settled by the quotation that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) cited earlier?

Mr. Duncan Smith

I am pleased to know that people I meet on visits even listen to my words, let alone act on them. It gives me great pleasure to hear that my words had an effect in Washington; I meant them to have an effect. I am sure that the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) was sincere in his comments. However, I made it clear at the beginning of my remarks in Washington, as I have done today, that capability is critical, but that the method of achieving it is also critical. The key to that is not breaking the alliance. I shall go through that later. However, I did not say anything to the contrary. I pointed out in the evidence that I gave in Washington that I believe that we are engaged in an exercise that will lead to the worst, not the best results. I shall deal with the reasons for that later.

I have no responsibility for what Lady Thatcher says. If the hon. Member for Stockton, North wants to make some comments to her, he is more than welcome to do so, but I shall not follow him down that road; it is not something that I would necessarily do with ease.

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar)

She would hit him on the head with a handbag.

Mr. Duncan Smith

If the Minister would like to claim responsibility for the comments of his predecessors who happened to be Prime Minister, he is welcome to do it. If he wants to claim responsibility for Lady Thatcher's, that is fine. I agree with much of what Lady Thatcher says, but I do not claim that she owes me any apologies or foreknowledge of her remarks. What she says is rightly her business, and we agree with that with which we agree. I am speaking for the Opposition, who will be in government next year. [Interruption.] I cannot keep a straight face because the way in which the Government smile about their demise always gives me great pleasure.

Under the Conservative Government, the European security and defence identity was being developed within NATO, not in competition with it. The Western European Union was being developed as the forum for the expression of European defence interests within NATO, and was formally recognised as such at that time by the European Union. That policy was clearly inherited by the Labour Government when they took power.

In Amsterdam in June 1997, the Prime Minister's spin doctors proudly trumpeted the fact that he had won the "battle" against moves to merge the WEU and the EU. In fact—this is most interesting—when the Prime Minister came back from Amsterdam, he said—[Interruption.] I should like the Secretary of State to listen to this. He may wish to know what the Prime Minister actually said. He said: getting Europe's voice heard more clearly in the world will not be achieved through merging the European Union and the Western European Union or developing an unrealistic common defence policy.—[Official Report, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 314.] I thought that, after Amsterdam, the Prime Minister, at least, was clear. He went on to say that Europe's defence should remain a matter for NATO, not the EU. He described plans for a merger between the WEU and the EU, which now appear to be under way, as like an ill-judged transplant operation. The Guardian—which is always close to Labour, although it sometimes does not like to say so—reported at the time: Mr. Blair feared it would undermine US commitment to Europe. Whatever else the Secretary of State thinks the Prime Minister said, I think it is clear from the record what he thought of the proposals. When he was questioned after Amsterdam, I asked him whether he agreed that because he had conceded the principle that defence was in the treaty, others would have an opportunity to build a common defence. He replied: No…We are under no obligation…to merge the EU and WEU.—[Official Report, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 322.] Suppose that someone who has been locked away in a Big Brother-style house for the past three and a half years—like many Labour Back Benchers—is suddenly voted out, as I hope Labour will be next year. It would be fair for that person to assume—given the Prime Minister's strong language after Amsterdam—that the Government's policy had continued along those lines. That is straightforward; it would seem reasonable. But this is the Prime Minister who wrote in The Sun, before the last election, of his great love for the pound, and his strong belief that it was superb. He seems to have fallen out of love with it in double-quick time, so perhaps the person from the Big Brother house would be expecting too much. But he—this character who has been locked away in Big Brother's room—would find that there was a full-blown proposal for an EU force of some 60,000 men on deployment, with a pool back-up of some 200,000 men nominated to sustain it. He would see a raft of EU-based military structures, and a high representative for defence based in Brussels. He would note with some surprise, given the "transplant" comments, that the WEU was to be merged with the EU. He would hear proposals for joint European intelligence facilities. He would read about Mr. Prodi and other politicians who now talk boldly about the creation of a European army.

As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said earlier, what that person would not see is any way in which NATO would have a right of refusal, because the Government have handed power to block the decision to the French, who have duly done so. He would see all those aspects of the process being dealt with outside NATO—separated from the NATO alliance. Most surprising of all, however, would be the discovery that all this had been initiated and led by the Prime Minister—the very man who had described such potential developments as an ill-judged transplant operation which he had rejected.

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as he is dwelling on matters of historical record. He and I arrived in the House at about the same time and spent many of our early months here debating European matters. Does he recall that, throughout that period, he was a consistent rebel, opposing the then Conservative Government's policy on Europe? Is it a change in his party's policy on Europe that allows him to sit on the Opposition Front Bench, representing the senior reaches of the Conservative party, or has he changed his views on opposing the European Union?

Mr. Duncan Smith

What a remarkably difficult question. The Conservative party is following commonsense policies on Europe. My party is clear and open about the fact that this Government were elected on the basis of one set of beliefs but immediately changed it for another set. That is exactly what the Prime Minister has done, as evidenced by what I have quoted. Although the Secretary of State has strong beliefs on such matters, he did not write any articles saying how much he loved the pound—clearly, he does not. However, the Prime Minister spent his time doing so and telling us that these arrangements would not work, yet he has now not only agreed to them, but charged and lead the damn things. The Prime Minister is clear and honest in that he never seems to hold an opinion for a day longer than he has to.

Why has all this happened? There is no question but that a U-turn has taken place, but at least it has done so rhetorically. Why did the Prime Minister do it? Did he no longer believe in what he was saying in 1997? Had he seen the light? Or did he believe that he had pulled the wool over the British public's eyes for long enough to get away with it? Perhaps it is more relevant that he felt that he was being sidelined in Europe just as the EU was about to embark on the single currency and he needed to find some powerful friends to ensure that he was not left out in the cold, and defence was the big-ticket item that he could use in the corridors of power.

At St. Malo, the Prime Minister clearly laid the foundations for the change in policy. The agreement sealed the initiative that the EU will need recourse to multinational military means inside or outside the NATO framework. It stated: The Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed by credible military forces… and the EU will need to have recourse to suitable military means… During NATO's 50th anniversary, the French saw a door that opened on to their concerns and dislike of what NATO had previously represented. They saw a chance to change the defence posture of Europe and the British. But even the French were taken aback by the speed of the process that the Prime Minister had initiated. On 20 January 2000, Pierre Moscovici, the French Minister for European Affairs, told L'Express: Europe is forging ahead—faster and further than people realise. The Washington conference, which is often claimed to show what America believes about the process, could have dealt with such matters, but it did not. It became a case of smoke and mirrors—a way in which to deceive the participants into believing that there was nothing to worry about. Undertakings were given but never met. Obligations were talked about but not proceeded with. The debate on European defence was washed over and postponed because of the Kosovo crisis, which occurred in the midst of that conference. The cracks that were appearing had to be papered over for the sake of alliance unity and, therefore, a form of words was agreed that many in Europe thought would keep the Americans sweet. European Governments made it their clear project to manoeuvre around the potential road block represented by the Washington conference and to be careful to keep sight of what was now their clear objective.

Since then, the Government have spun the myth that their new policy was endorsed at Washington in 1999. However, what was endorsed at Washington is not what we have today. The concept conceived at Washington imitated a combined joint task force approach using NATO command structures, operating within NATO, and open to all NATO members, including the United States. The alliance reiterated its readiness to make collective assets available…Develop separable but not separate multinational capabilities, assets and support assets; separable but not separate HQs… That was the dream at Washington, but it has remained only that. In reality, Washington plays no part at all in the new policy.

Under the ESDP, we have developed, or are developing, many separate multinational capabilities outside the alliance. We see the setting up of separate capabilities for intelligence gathering, heavy lift by sea and air, logistics support and communications. Under the same policy, we have developed separate independent headquarters with separate European command arrangements, all outside NATO.

Mr. Brazier

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way in the middle of the compelling case that he is making. Perhaps a significant item to add to his list is an extraordinary piece of geography: Mr. Solana is located in the EU building, not the NATO building, in the city of Brussels. [Interruption.]

Mr. Duncan Smith

All I can say, echoing the words from a sedentary position of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, is that that is exactly where Mr. Solana is meant to be. Hon. Members guffaw, but my hon. Friend is right. That is exactly the point. That is where Mr. Solana's responsibility and reporting lines are. He is there to report back to the EU, so my hon. Friend is right to make the point. There is no involvement for Mr. Solana with NATO.

Let me come to the last point about the Washington summit, which is vital. As I have said, it warned against the development of a programme that was not "open to all members". Non-EU NATO members such as Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Norway and even Denmark—which, the Secretary of State may remember, opted out of the process at Maastricht—have been left out, while the EU embraces neutral states into the process.

The point was made earlier. Many of those nations, if not all of them—certainly Turkey—are very angry because, having been willing and strong participants in NATO, and believing themselves for the most part to be nations in Europe, they find themselves—for no other reason than that they are out of the EU—excluded from a process that is supposed to be part of NATO. They are outside. We have some inside that have never shown capability within NATO, and forces and structures separate from NATO are being developed.

The train was kick-started at St. Malo. It has gone on, detouring at Washington, and stopping at Cologne and Helsinki. If where we now say we are is not where the Prime Minister wanted us to be originally—he changed his mind—what was the purpose of the exercise in the first place? The Government always say that this was simply about delivering the Petersberg tasks more efficiently, but the more we look at the structure and capability under the process, and at the separateness of it, the more clear it becomes that the forces under the headline goal of the ESDP are not just intended for the Petersberg tasks, which after all fall for the most part at the low-intensity end of the conflict spectrum.

Originally, the so-called Petersberg tasks were defined as being within NATO and WEU led. The prime example of that was operation Alba in Albania, where some 7,000 European troops were mobilised.

Interestingly, the previous Government's view of Petersberg was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton), then Minister of State for the Armed Forces who said in a written answer: The development of WEU as a means to strengthen the European pillar of the Atlantic alliance will be based on the principle of complementarity between the facilities and activities of NATO and WEU, so duplication should be avoided. He went On: WEU would have no permanent forces or headquarters ultimately of its own.—[Official Report, 17 May 1993; Vol. 225, c. 80–81W.] It was the intention of the previous Government that that should act as a structure to deliver Petersberg, but that is not now the case.

Let us look at what the French have been saying about the Petersberg tasks. The French Defence Minister, Main Richard, speaking to the General Affairs Council on 15 November, said: We could increase the strength of deployable forces. The land component should allow us to deal with two simultaneous crises, including the high intensity one with a long term requirement for forces. The ability at sea and air lift components to project forces and carry out deep strikes would be significantly increased. Here we could envisage supplementing by 6 to 7 brigades and 600 to 700 aircraft including 400 to 450 combat aircraft. All that envisaged to deliver peacekeeping tasks under Petersberg? It beggars belief.

In May, the Secretary of State helpfully explained the Government's position: at the Helsinki European Council last December, all EU leaders committed themselves to meeting a challenging target for collective capability. As usual, the Secretary of State's seemingly level-headed rhetoric is not matched by the views and opinions of politicians across the channel, even discounting the usual talk about Mr. Prodi. I shall not go into the usual quotes about Mr. Prodi's calls.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Go on.

Mr. Duncan Smith

No, I shall not do that, as we have all heard enough about Mr. Prodi's calls to know what they are. However, it is worth having a look at a few other people in France in relation to defence policy. The French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, talked about taking a decisive step towards building a political Europe. The French European Affairs Minister, Pierre Moscovici, said of defence policy: We don't agree with the Americanization of the world…We are saying that together we can build a new superpower…and its name will be Europe. President Chirac said: developing a European Union foreign defence policy is a fundamentally political project…if it does not happen, the very life force of our continent will ebb away. In case right hon. and hon. Members thought that such super-power dreaming was confined to the French, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joschka Fischer, said in a speech to the Bundestag on 10 December that the development of the European security and defence identity was another pillar in the process of European unification. Such views are held not just in Germany and France but a little closer to home. The Prime Minister started to use the same language when he went to Warsaw, and talked about the creation of a European super-power. Locking together the comments that I quoted, one is struck by the fact that there are ambitions that the Government never seem to admit. As I shall explain shortly, the dangers are far too grave to be laughed at.

Dr. Julian Lewis

In fairness to the Prime Minister, he said that he wanted to create a European super-power, not a European superstate. Can my hon. Friend or, indeed, anyone else, throw any light whatever on the difference and distinction between the two?

Mr. Duncan Smith

I find it difficult to throw any light on the what the Prime Minister says at any time. The example that I gave was a classic case of the Prime Minister saying two things that run counter to one another and pretending different things to whatever audience he is addressing. He spun the super-power message to the audience in Europe which, he thought, wanted to hear that. However, to the audience back home, such as The Sun, he spun the message about not being a superstate.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I thought that our debate was supposed to be about the defence of Britain, not attacking Europe.

Mr. Duncan Smith

The hon. Gentleman's intervention spoke for itself. Indeed, that was all that it did.

Mr. Bercow

Does my hon. Friend think it significant that the former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, when reflecting on his experiences in government, recently observed that member states will not be able to dine à la carte any more? He said that Europe needs to develop effective political institutions, which demands sacrifices of Europe's peoples and mobilising them in a common cause. Could that be any clearer?

Mr. Duncan Smith

Absolutely not. I hope that the quotations that I have used say something similar about defence.

I am trying to point out that grandiose ambitions have no part in strengthening NATO and are more about creating a European view that is against of our other allies. I am not in favour of that, as it would be bad for the rest of the world.

The Secretary of State discussed America's attitude to ESDI. He and his colleagues are always saying that that is all right, although I agree with the hon. Member for Stockton, North that the Government are not all of that opinion. I shall deal with what the Secretary of State said. Last year, the Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbot, warned against what should not happen. He said: We would not want to see an ESDI that comes into being first within NATO but then grows out of NATO and finally grows away from NATO, since that would lead to an ESDI that initially duplicates NATO but that could eventually compete with NATO Straining every spinning sinew, however, the Government try to re-interpret every United States comment on the issue. On 11 October, The Times somehow reported that William Cohen's speech in Birmingham, to which the Secretary of State referred, demonstrated a sharp break with America's previous tepid support for European security and defence policy.

At a subsequent press conference, however, having read and denied such reports, Mr. Cohen went on to say: I know that some have interpreted my prepared statement as somehow being divergent from the US position. It is not…What we don't want to see is a separate planning bureaucracy established that is independent and separate from that of NATO itself. As I explained earlier, however, that is what we are progressively getting.

It is small wonder that Mr. Cohen has previously voiced concerns. On 6 February, in Munich, he said: My fear is that we will see European nations construct a new bureaucracy.

Mr. Hoon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan Smith

I shall in a minute.

Mr. Cohen added that, if the EU members of the alliance kept cutting their defence spending, they would undermine the alliance instead of building a stronger European defence pillar. I agree with the Secretary of State that it is absolutely clear that the United States wants an improved capability. However, it is clear also that an improved capability is not the primary objective of most of those who are involved in the process. Indeed, it is very low on their list of objectives.

Mr. Hoon

When the United States Defence Secretary was saying that his policy was not in any way diverging from what had gone before, he was making it clear that what had gone before was consistent United States Administration support for the policy of the headline goal. The hon. Gentleman tended to give the House the impression that that might not be the case, but I am sure that he will want to take this opportunity to correct that impression.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Mr. Cohen has made himself absolutely clear: he wants improved NATO capabilities. I agree with that objective. He is also saying, however, that that is not likely to happen. I am simply saying that I do not believe that it is happening. New structures are being developed beyond NATO which, ultimately, will weaken NATO. We cannot build a new building and maintain the old one while taking bricks from it, but that is what is now happening.

Far from our creating improvements in capabilities, defence spending in key European countries is decreasing very quickly. According to Die Welt of 13 October, the lack of defence spending in Germany has resulted in the restructured Bundeswehr being neither completely alliance-capable nor Europe-capable. This year, the International Institute for Strategic Studies has again found that, in most west European countries, military spending remains in decline. In 1999, defence spending in European NATO countries decreased in real terms by 5 per cent. Despite all the Secretary of State's statements and talk of capability, across Europe, budgets for 2000 indicate a further 6 per cent. decrease.

I should like to deal with a rather important development which, if not threatening, certainly creates the type of environment in which United States detachment and NATO debilitation are facilitated. While the Americans have given only a conditional acknowledgement of ESDP, the Russians have wholeheartedly welcomed it. On Tuesday, the Financial Times reported that Russia and the European Union have agreed Russia could be involved in future EU-led crisis management operations. The Russians have welcomed the initiative since way back, at St. Malo, and have made it absolutely clear that the initiative would be best if—as they hoped and believed it would‖it progressively decoupled the United States from Europe. The Financial Times article seems to show that the general trend in both Paris and Moscow is to welcome the EU's military plans as a step towards creating a counterbalance to American hegemony and NATO-centrism.

Mr. Cash

My hon. Friend may not wish to follow me down this route, but he will of course recall that Javier Solana campaigned against NATO for seven years—although he now has the top slot in the European dimension in dealing with the matter—[Interruption.] It is all very well for the Secretary of State to laugh, but he knows that that is true.

Mr. Hoon

It is wrong.

Mr. Cash

As a Minister in Spain, Mr. Solana campaigned against NATO for seven years—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. May I urge the hon. Gentleman not to have a debate with the Secretary of State but to come to the point of his intervention?

Mr. Cash

Would my hon. Friend concur that the extremely important article by Robert Fox in The Sunday Telegraph last weekend identified the deep concerns that Washington and the Pentagon now have about this matter? In the article, a Foreign Office official was quoted as saying: I think the Prime Minister has really dropped the ball on this. If we sign up at Nice to what the French seem to be wanting, there could be no going back.

Mr. Duncan Smith

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose attempted exchange with the Secretary of State was most interesting. The Secretary of State seems not to know anything at all about history or about the past of people who are meant to be his political colleagues in Europe. It is a matter of fact that Monsieur Solana—[Interruption.] Mr. Solana—[Interruption.] Senor Solana—[Interruption.] I am getting it right. I know who he is and where he came from, which is a great deal more than the Secretary of State knows. I suspect I also know what Mr. Solana is doing, which is more than the Secretary of State does. Mr. Solana's background is beyond question. The Secretary of State should do a little reading before he talks; it might help him to debate.

In conclusion, I want to say why I think the process is so dangerous. There has been a misunderstanding of the alliance's need for development and force projection. Paragraph 206 of the excellent Kosovo report from the Select Committee makes it clear: If NATO is to meet the challenges of future crises—particularly in response to asymmetric threats—it must improve its performance in a number of planning aspects. First, it must streamline its own crisis management planning system. The report went on to talk in detail about how NATO must improve and restructure itself and learn the lessons to which the Committee referred. I agree and I look forward to a proper debate on that matter. However, that debate must take place now.

We are seeing a diversion from a concentration on making NATO even better and learning the lessons. We are seeing a progressive sliding away of capabilities and other matters that should apply to NATO but which now will apply elsewhere. If the European nations will not spend the sort of money about which the Americans and NATO have been talking for many years, where will the 200,000 men to be nominated for the new European defence force come from? They will simply come from what would have been available on call for NATO. It is not a new force; it is leaching away capability and forces that would have been there before.

It is assumed automatically that there will be a time when the whole of the EU will enjoy a foreign policy agreement that will allow it to deploy force; force that is not agreed with or involving the Americans and is not of any interest to those Europeans who are members of NATO but not members of the EU. There is an assumption that there will be some clear-cut position that will construct walls between our allies within NATO. so that we do not sort out problems and develop projects with them, but do so in isolation. Ultimately, it is about a new sort of new Berlin wall between those who have been reliable and successful allies within NATO.

The most alarming part of the process is that after the 50 or so years of success of NATO, a British Prime Minister should be leading the process. None of the real lessons from that history has been learned, and all the most dangerous aspects are being applied. The Government's European policy is set to drive us away from the US, which would necessarily be bad for them and for us, affecting the cornerstone for security not just in Europe but globally. The policy is also about the setting up of artificial barriers and a smokescreen, behind which far too many European members of NATO will find an excuse to simply lessen their capabilities and get the Americans off their backs. That is why the Government's actions will not increase or improve capability but are more likely to give an excuse to lessen it.

Evidence of that has already been seen in the Government's position, along with that of the French and German Governments, on ballistic missile defence. That is the most critical issue currently testing NATO and the Government's historical role in binding together the alliance on both sides of the Atlantic and keeping it coherent. Here is a clear, growing threat, and I believe that the Ministry of Defence has told the Secretary of State that it is a reality. I think that it believes that over a period of between five and 10 years, such threats, whether made by terrorists or involving ballistic missiles—which are growing in capability—will be delivered. Only the other day, the Iranians tested a missile that was just short of 1,000 miles in capability, yet that has been consistently dismissed by the Government, in the body of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. These developments are taking place.

The Government have failed to give any lead in Europe for a debate to get together the Americans and the rest of the European allies to discuss how NATO can deal with this growing threat. Instead, there are slanging matches in some of the capitals of Europe, and the Government are sitting on the fence, quietly hoping that the whole thing will go away. It will not.

We are talking about an abrogation of responsibility. The British Government's traditional role is to make sure that we do not allow matters such as these to divide or split the alliance. On two clear counts, the test on the ballistic missile issue will do that because the Government have seen fit to hide behind their other allies on continental Europe.

In conclusion, the Government's policy, which rests so heavily on the European agenda, will not only divide NATO but damage the peace, potential and future for the rest of the world in a way which, if they had any honesty or sense of shame, they will come to regret.

5.32 pm
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I wish to show no disrespect to you or to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I had hoped to be able to open with a brief reference to Mr. Speaker. So as to keep things in order, might I beg a favour from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and ask you to convey my remarks to Mr. Speaker? This is my first speech in the parent Chamber since the summer recess, and I wanted to register formally my congratulations and good wishes to Mr. Speaker, particularly in the week that his canonised predecessor has been appointed by the Roman Curia as the patron saint of politicians. In doing that, I suppose I should invoke support and help from that sanctified gentleman for the speech that I am about to make.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure that Mr. Speaker would love to receive a letter.

Mr. Cook

In that case, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will have to learn to write.

I begin with an apology for being unable to attend tomorrow's debate because I am required to participate in Brussels in the joint monitoring group of the permanent joint council of NATO. I am sorry about that.

I agree with the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) on a couple of points—no more than a couple. First, I agree that we should change the nature of these debates. I have complained about this before. Each year we have these two-day defence debates, which are rather like a bran tub containing a host of issues that we can pick and mix, dip into and throw out. There is no real main theme. The hon. Gentleman has chosen for his two main themes the two hot potatoes of the day. He is right to do so. The first hot potato is ESDP, and the second is national missile defence. I would dearly love there to be proper debates, with specific motions, on those issues.

For a start, a debate on ESDP would enable the demolition of some of the misrepresentative and distorting statements that have been made today. Moreover, my experience a fortnight ago at the space command centre in Colorado Springs indicates that national missile defence can only become an even hotter potato than it is already, as the intention is to replace the static array at Fylingdales with an X-band radar station.

My constituents live near enough to Fylingdales to be worried about that, especially given the strategic approach known as decapitation. The mission statement says that the X-band radar is supposed to protect the 50 states of America, so a serious attack on the United States would take out its defence systems first. Fylingdales would therefore be hit, as would Thule air base in Greenland and Shemya island in the Pacific.

The better informed we become on this matter, the more sensible will be our ultimate decision. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green was right to say that the alliance will be put to a real test, but I think that ESDP is being developed properly, as the right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) will confirm. I should like the hon. Gentleman to come to Berlin in a fortnight's time—

Mr. Duncan Smith

I will.

Mr. Cook

Good. The hon. Gentleman will then be able to listen to the debate on these matters in the NATO parliamentary assembly. The picture presented there will be entirely different from that offered to the House this afternoon.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

My knowledge of the NATO parliamentary assembly leads me to fear that the hon. Gentleman is giving an incorrect impression. There is considerable criticism and unease about the extent to which the European security and defence identity might interfere with the close relationship that we have always enjoyed with the United States through the NATO alliance.

Mr. Cook

I am grateful for that observation, with which I agree entirely. My point was not that there was no unease in the assembly, but that the views represented there would paint a picture that is totally different from that presented this afternoon. There is a positive quest in the assembly to resolve problems that have been depicted today as set in stone. That depiction is not true.

I want to return to my bran tub analogy, as I did not expect to get on this hobby-horse quite so early in my speech. I want to raise a number of issues that I would normally have raised in the Select Committee on Defence. As I am no longer a member of that Committee, I cannot do so, but I am obliged to fulfil promises that I have made to my constituents.

The first point has to do with the Fellowship of the Services, an organisation that meets routinely and regularly in my constituency. Its members travel many miles to meetings, at which attendance averages between 55 and 60. That organisation has made clear to me its resentment that the royal tournament, the Edinburgh tattoo and similar events have come under threat.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is listening intently, for which I am grateful, and I hope that he will consider the matter again. The members of the organisation are fiercely and passionately loyal. They take great pride in their record of service to the Crown, but feel that the regard in which they are held is being diminished. I know that that cannot be true, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say something to reinforce their confidence.

The second issue, that of the Gurkhas, is one that has been raised by several right hon. and hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Wealden, and it is one that is causing consternation among ex-service men in my constituency and throughout the north-east. I understand that resolution of the problem will probably mean challenging some European employment law. Many people feel strongly that the Gurkhas, who have offered themselves in every era of hostility that the British Army has passed through in heaven knows how long, should be able to come here and work as drivers on a temporary basis. There is a double irony in the fact that while the British Army is training drivers for the purposes of fuel delivery contingency plans, we are refusing to allow former members of the British Army—that is what they were—to come here and do a similar job. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to reconsider whether it is possible to resolve any possible problem between the ability of the Gurkhas to come here on a temporary basis and European employment law.

The third issue that I have undertaken to raise, on which other hon. Members agree with me, is an old chestnut of mine—the British Nuclear Tests Veterans Association. Victims of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are being given a sympathetic ear. We have heard today the Prime Minister give a very sure indication that sympathetic consideration will be given to ex-prisoners of war held by the Japanese.

Dr. Godman

So they should.

Mr. Cook

Indeed. After a long-fought battle, there has been a decent response to victims of Gulf war syndrome. The people who are not getting any sympathy other than a pat on the head and have not received even an apology are those members of the armed forces, both men and women, who were deliberately exposed to radiation at Christmas island, Montebello, Maralinga and Easter island. Some were required in various forms of garb to roll in the dust on the ground at ground-zero after the explosions had occurred. They did that because they had been asked to volunteer. It is always a dangerous game to volunteer in the forces—or in here for that matter. They did so readily and willingly and as such they deserve the same treatment that New Zealanders, Americans and Australians are receiving from their Governments for performing the same tasks. I appeal yet again most urgently to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to take the matter on board, to think about it and to admit that he is thinking about it.

The penultimate issue is another passionate interest of mine. It relates to unexploded ordnance. The House will know that I am the founding chairman of the parliamentary all-party group on land mine eradication. I commend the Government for the work that they have undertaken and the initiatives that they have launched. They are providing an example for many other nations to follow. However, cluster bomblets are not classified as anti-personnel mines. They are a much more insidious threat. As one person explained to me, an anti-personnel mine will rip off a person's arm or leg whereas a cluster bomblet will blow him into several pieces because it is so much more powerful. There are literally millions of those around the world. In Xieng Khouang in Laos, I picked up eight of them in an hour and 10 minutes—only realising afterwards what a fool I had been. However, I felt compelled to do it. A school playground that had been sterilised by them for well over 30 years was needed for the following weekend, so I decided to engage in the clearance—simply relocating the mines so that the Mines Action Group could deal with them. It was pretty stupid of me to do that, but I do not regret it.

I have heard the briefings given at NATO headquarters on its attitude on cluster bomblets. What are my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's views on our approach to those weapons—on their definition and use and on clearing up the areas where they are a major source of contamination?

I conclude by making several points on arms control that are in keeping with the general attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the proliferation of small arms.

Four years after the publication of the Scott report, legislation has not been passed on its recommendations. Indications suggest that the Government will not introduce such legislation in next month's Queen's Speech. Current legislation was introduced as an emergency measure in 1939 at the start of the second world war. Despite publishing a White Paper in 1998, the Government have yet to introduce legislation to close the many loopholes in the current outdated and inadequate regime. As a result, they are still not equipped with the formal tools to guarantee that UK arms transfers do not contribute to human rights violations or fuel conflict or to the undermining of development.

We need to control arms brokering—whereby UK suppliers deliver weapons sourced outside the UK and which is carried out through the registration and licensing of deals. At present, there are virtually no controls as long as the goods do not touch UK soil. Even current proposals to ban the brokering of torture equipment and to ban brokering to countries subject to arms embargoes do not go far enough. Evidence suggests that UK-based arms brokers already evade embargoes by supplying arms to such destinations via recipients in neighbouring countries.

On 10 September, The Observer stated: One Birmingham-based company, HPP, last week offered to help arrange delivery of leg irons and CS gas to a private security company in Rwanda, where ethnic tension between Hutu and Tutsi tribes is still simmering after up to a million people died in the 1994 genocide. In addition, there are several countries—such as Colombia—which are not the subject of an embargo, but to which unregulated arms brokering would clearly fuel armed conflict and existing human rights violations.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry stated: In this country you need a licence to marry, to go fishing, to drive a car—you even need a licence to run a raffle. Yet you don't need a licence to broker and traffic in arms. This cannot be right. I agree with him. He announced that the Government will close that loophole, and I am pleased about that, but he did not say when. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence answer that question?

We need to establish strict controls on licensed production—whereby a UK company allows its products to be manufactured and sold by an overseas company. That permits further evasions. In December 1999, a Channel 4 "Dispatches" programme revealed that a Turkish company had made Heckler and Koch UK submachine guns under licence. I have no objection to that, but I do object to the fact that it then sold 500 of them to the Indonesian police at the height of the East Timor crisis. That is what is wrong.

We need to examine end-use monitoring. Currently, no formal mechanisms exist for monitoring the use of British defence equipment once it has been exported. On 25 July 1999, the chief of the Indonesian armed forces admitted that a British-made Hawk jet flew over Dili, despite earlier assurances to the Government that Hawk jets would not be used in East Timor. Despite that clear breach of end-use assurances, the supply of jets and components has continued. Is that right? Can it go on?

We need tough new legislation. A Gallup poll at the start of the year showed that 87 per cent. of the British public believe that the Government should introduce tighter controls on United Kingdom arms sales as soon as possible—ideally, in the forthcoming Queen's Speech. Failing that, there should be a manifesto commitment to legislate early in the new Parliament. Ironically, at the last arms fair in this country, the Romanians were trying to sell anti-personnel mines. We need much tougher legislation on the control of arms sales in this country.

To control arms brokering, a central database of UK arms brokers should be established and all arms supplies arranged by UK brokers should be subject to the licensed approval of the Government. That is what we have a Government for. We should bring licensed production under the UK arms general export controls. All licensed production should be treated as standard physical arms transfers. The licence determination procedure must be as rigorous as for standard exports. We accidentally discovered the Iranian gun barrels in Cleveland only because they were described as pipework and therefore aroused suspicion.

It is essential to introduce a robust system of monitoring to the end-use of UK arms exports. Suppliers should be responsible for obtaining the verification of delivery from the named end-user and submitting that, within a given time, to the Department of Trade and Industry. All contracts and end-use certificates should require customers never to use their goods for human rights abuses. I know that this sounds like pie in the sky, but we must make efforts to achieve that, and where assurances are broken, contracts should be rendered null and void and further deliveries and repair services cancelled.

The Government also need to promote greater democratic control via a more robust parliamentary scrutiny of arms export licences. They need to adopt a presumption against licensing military equipment for export to countries where they might be used to abuse human rights, fuel conflicts or undermine development. The Government need to seek agreement, within the European Union and internationally, on common controls.

In the light of the great public concern that I detect on these issues, I just hope that the Government will take time to give serious consideration to the possible inclusion of some corrective measures in the forthcoming Queen's Speech.

5.53 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Perhaps I might begin with an apology to the House. I have a long-standing engagement later this evening and therefore cannot be present for the winding-up speeches, but I have written to the shadow Secretary of State and to the Secretary of State to apologise and I will of course be present throughout tomorrow's debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) will seek, if he is fortunate enough, to catch the eye of the Speaker tomorrow to focus on some welfare and armed forces issues and also on procurement matters, so I leave those matters in his entirely capable hands.

I associate myself with the expressions of support that have been given to the armed forces on behalf of the Government and the official Opposition, and with the expressions of condolence that have been directed towards the friends and relations of Brad Tinnion and others who suffered injury in the course of the very successful operation in Sierra Leone, which has been mentioned.

I give a qualified welcome to the announcement by the Secretary of State that we will at least have one hunter-killer submarine operational. What a gross embarrassment it would have been for the United Kingdom if we had been forced to withdraw all our hunter-killer submarines just a few months ago, at the time of the Kosovo operations—not least because one of them was engaged in firing Tomahawk cruise missiles, which, as we now learn, were perhaps the most precision-guided of all the ordnance that was used by British forces during those operations.

The problem with that submarine class is still an embarrassment, in the sense that only one of 12 hunter-killer submarines can be deployed, and that must inevitably raise questions about the necessary support for Trident; and about the extent to which we could, in an emergency, utilise the deterrent effect of the deployment of a submarine, and also the use of submarines for clandestine or covert operations of the type that the special forces are often called on to perform.

Nevertheless, I took some further encouragement from the fact that the Secretary of State appears to have a rather more open mind on the question of the fitting of the type 45 destroyers with a Tomahawk capability. If flexibility is to be an important part of the training, the attitude and the deployment of the personnel of the armed services, it makes a great deal of sense to have flexibility in the platforms that we are likely to use in future. The Tomahawk cruise missile, with its capability for precision, is obviously a very important addition to the United Kingdom's defence capability and it reflects the closeness of the relationship between the United Kingdom and America that those missiles are supplied to us. I believe that only one other country—Australia—has access to that weapons system.

I do think—this is just a rehearsal of a point that I made last week when the matter was dealt with in a statement by the Minister for the Armed Forces—that we now have a very potent and significant opportunity to enhance European co-operation. Our French allies have six hunter-killer submarines and as we know, four nuclear submarines, SSBNs—strategic submarine ballistic nuclear—and it seems entirely sensible to use the restrictions under which the British fleet will have to operate as a mechanism for discussing, and perhaps putting into operation, a far greater degree of co-operation with the French. There is already a measure of co-operation in nuclear matters. It is the co-operation that dare not speak its name, but this would be an opportunity to see just how closely the two navies could co-operate with each other.

I make all these arguments with a certain feeling of what Burns, the famous Scottish poet, once described as the "unco guid"—those who feel over-confident in their own righteousness—because when the Upholder sale was first proposed I was one of those who opposed it, but I never thought that my opposition would be demonstrated to be so well founded quite so quickly.

I turn now to an issue—this is rather on the bran tub principle of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook)—that is now causing a great deal of concern on both sides of the House and in the other place: the crash of the Chinook helicopter on the Mull of Kintyre. I am not the only one to have a deep sense of unease about the finding of negligence made against the deceased pilots. However, I want to make it clear at the outset of this passage of my speech that I do not believe that there is any question of bad faith, or of cover-up or anything of that kind. I believe that a mistake has been made, and that that mistake should be put right.

I was one of those who first became involved when I was approached by the family of one of the pilots. Notably, the anxiety about these matters, which, to begin with, was shared by just four or five of us, is spreading throughout the House. One need only look at the Order Paper to see the number of questions that are now being tabled as demonstrating an interest on the part of many hon. and right hon. Members about whether the decision taken, with particular regard to the finding of negligence, should be allowed to stand.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the RAF's own regulations at the time provided that before a finding of negligence could be made, every other possible cause had to be excluded. The RAF's regulation applied a higher standard than the standard in a criminal court. A person could be convicted of murder in this country on a lower standard than the RAF's own regulation required before a finding of negligence could be held to be established.

We had in Scotland a fatal accident inquiry, which is roughly equivalent to a coroner's inquest although different in some material respects. Sheriff Sir Stephen Young, a most careful, thorough and conscientious middle-ranking judge in Scotland, conducted the inquiry and, at the end of it, he had to apply the civil standard of the balance of probability—the lowest of the three standards of proof. After 16 days of evidence in a process in which all the relevant interests were represented and the pilots representatives were able to ask questions in cross-examination, Sheriff Sir Stephen Young refused to accept on a balance of probability—that low standard of proof—that the Ministry of Defence account had been established sufficiently in the evidence put before him. That is a most significant feature of the whole case.

My motive is not the embarrassment of the Ministry of the Defence or the Government. Only eight or nine days ago, there was much debate in the Chamber about the purpose of Parliament and the role of parliamentarians. I have always thought that Parliament existed for the redress of grievances and the families of the two pilots—the Tapper and the Cook families—most certainly have a grievance. In my judgment, it is high time that Parliament gave them redress.

On Sierra Leone, there are three clear foreign policy objectives in our presence there. The first is to sustain the legitimate Government of a Commonwealth country of which the United Kingdom is the former colonial power. The second is to protect innocent civilians from the brutality of the rebel factions and the third is to help to preserve the rule of law and to ensure the human rights of the citizens of that country.

What are the military means to be used to achieve those foreign policy objectives? I support the training to a sufficiently high standard of a sufficient number of troops to provide the legitimate Government with the means of enforcing their writ throughout the whole country. I have seen that taking place at first hand. It is entirely sensible, and it is precisely the sort of objective that the United Kingdom should support and help to bring about. I also believe that, as part of the military means of achieving the foreign policy objectives to which I have referred, we have an obligation to provide support to a United Nations force that consists of an adequate number of competent troops properly equipped to fulfil the United Nations mandate.

In May this year, the UN effort nearly collapsed. Only United Kingdom intervention saved it from ignominy. Those of us who went to Sierra Leone at the invitation of the Secretary of State for Defence know that the UN effort has been very largely prejudiced by personality clashes and jealousies on the military and civilian sides. We do not need to go into them now, but they have undoubtedly had a significant effect on the UN effort in that country. That effort has unquestionably been undermined by the withdrawal of the Indian and Jordanian troops, who represented some of the best troops offered to the UN for service in Sierra Leone.

I understand from anecdotal evidence that the United Kingdom Government are now seeking to persuade other European countries that have armed forces of a high standard to make a contribution to the UN force. What chance of success is there in persuading other European countries to become part of the UN force if we are not willing to join it ourselves? Today, we hear reports of the entirely welcome appointment of Brigadier Alastair Duncan to be the chief of staff of the UN force. If we are good enough and sufficiently committed enough to provide the chief of staff, why not provide some forces themselves?

The UN is present in Sierra Leone to provide a necessary support for the Government forces to enable their task to be achieved quickly and effectively. The present arrangements are more likely to prolong the United Kingdom involvement rather than to shorten it—more likely to delay the achievement of the foreign policy objectives that I set out earlier.

Mr. Duncan Smith

The right hon. and learned Gentleman and I were both in Sierra Leone in July. Does he accept that, for whatever reason, the UN lacked the determination to take on the rebels and push them back from the areas that they held? That is why the country remains so destabilised and why the vacuum that is created tends to suck in British involvement. If the UN had such determination, that might lead to a quicker solution and put the Government of Sierra Leone into a stronger position.

Mr. Campbell

I have a great deal of sympathy for that view. The hon. Gentleman may recall that it was explained to us that the trained forces of the Government were to be responsible for taking ground and that the UN should follow them and hold that ground. That suggests that one cannot draw an artificial distinction between training a sufficient number of suitably competent Government forces and the UN effort. They are two sides of the same coin. The duration of the commitment in Sierra Leone can only be lengthened by the fact—as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out—that there appeared to be no sufficient enthusiasm or drive at the top or elsewhere in the UN force to fulfil its mandate. It is not a question of the terms of the mandate, but of the political willingness to enforce it.

On Kosovo, we have recently received the report of the Select Committee on Defence. So far as the report makes a point about the ruling out of a ground campaign from the beginning, that vindicates the position taken on behalf of the Liberal Democrats by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown), who consistently argued that the threat of ground attack should be maintained. So far as the report says that air power alone did not achieve success in Kosovo, I agree with it. So far as it suggests that Russian influence on Mr. Milosevic should not be discounted, I agree with it, too. However, I cannot avoid the recollection in this most adversarial of Chambers that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was at pains to call for the ground option to be ruled out at the very beginning of the operation.

The report identifies shortcomings in equipment. Many of them were well known and date from much earlier than the life of this Government. The report identifies that mistakes were made and that things might have been done differently. All of that is true, but much of the report seems to be an assembly of earlier evidence on the Kosovo operations. It is expressed in language that I regard as unduly apocalyptic, and I can corroborate my view by comparing the language of the report with the extremely measured speech made by the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), last Thursday in a debate that was ostensibly about defence procurement.

Those who criticise the Kosovo operations because of their consequences should be put to the test of telling us their analysis of what the consequences would have been if there had been no intervention. The 800,000 people who were driven out of Kosovo had absolutely no doubt in their minds as to what was required. I heard that directly from some of the people whom I met in one of the refugee camps that I visited with the then Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Robertson.

We may not have won as well or as easily in Kosovo as we would have wished, and present circumstances may be far from ideal, but it is worth reminding ourselves that, after years of repression and months of persecution, arcadia or utopia are difficult to build. We are entitled to draw encouragement from the successful conduct of local government elections in the past few days.

I am in no doubt whatever that the conduct of any war and this war in particular requires a blunt post-mortem examination. For example, lack of precision-guided munitions and the use of cluster bombs—to which the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) referred and about which I feel considerable apprehension—were severe defects in NATO's armoury and they led to an excess of civilian casualties.

We should acknowledge that. If we are to improve and if we want to avoid civilian casualties, we might need to invest in some more expensive weapons. It is notable that the most vociferous critics of the use of cluster bombs or the absence of precision-guided munitions have rarely been the most enthusiastic supporters of any increase in defence expenditure.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

On the success of the operation in Kosovo, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman pleased with the outcome of the recent local elections, in which the party of Ibrahim Rugova—one of the moderates in Kosovo—was elected?

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman makes a sound political point. Let us remember that Dr. Rugova was, as it were, pushed to one side just before the worst of the excesses of the Serbs, and exiled to Italy. For some time, Mr. Thaci appeared to hold centre stage politically. The interesting feature of the elections is that Dr. Rugova appears to have regained his prominence, although Mr. Thaci won a significant percentage of the vote and therefore a significant percentage of seats. Not only the facts but the outcome of the elections is encouraging.

It is my firm belief that without intervention—however flawed and imperfect it may have been—rape, murder and brutality would have won the day and Milosevic would have been even more difficult to dislodge than he ultimately proved to be.

The subject of Kosovo leads me neatly to discussion of the European security and defence policy, which has bulked large in this afternoon's proceedings. It now appears that, if George W. Bush becomes United States President, Miss Condoleeza Rice and Mr. Colin Powell are likely to be driving forces in the Bush Administration. One would have to search assiduously to find any evidence on the record of their enthusiasm for any United States presence in the Balkans.

Mr. Powell was the subject of that rather withering question from Madeleine Albright at the height of the difficulties in Bosnia, when he once again made the case that not a single American soldier should be there on the ground. Madeleine Albright famously asked him, "Well, what are all those soldiers for, then?" He holds a perfectly legitimate position, but has a long history of not wanting United States involvement on the ground in Europe—so, too, Condoleeza Rice.

The Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Robertson, our former Secretary of State for Defence, is reported in today's newspapers as saying that he thinks that the Bush Administration would not withdraw troops from the Balkans. The fact that he has to say that shows that there is some doubt. That doubt is in some measure corroborated by reports in American newspapers over the past 10 days that suggest something rather different.

That tells us—it certainly tells me—that a European security and defence policy is not desirable but necessary. Europe left to its own devices—save in the matter of collective security under article 5 of the Washington treaty, by which the United States would always regard itself as bound—must find the means of organising its resources so that capability is maintained. We should not shrink from the conclusion that capability may require additional expenditure. Too often, that is finessed in European capitals by saying that we must spend better rather than more. It might be possible to spend better, but if we want to maintain capability in an area where the inflation rate is always higher than either the underlying or headline rates in the countries concerned, additional expenditure might be necessary.

How can we possibly provide 60,000 troops who are capable of rapid deployment, properly supported and capable of being sustained for 12 months, unless they are properly funded and resourced? I say to those who have sometimes a visceral anti-Europeanism that the truth is that a strong ESDP will strengthen NATO, but a weak one would undoubtedly damage it. That is why I have no doubt that if we wish to strengthen NATO, we must demonstrate first, that there is a much stronger European commitment to it, and secondly, that, if necessary, in the absence of the United States, Turkey and other members of NATO but not of the European Union, Europe can act alone. That is also why I argue firmly for what is called the right of first refusal.

I was disappointed that the Secretary of State was a little dismissive of such a proposal. It has great merit—militarily and politically. It ensures that NATO—by which I mean all its members—will never be left out. It particularly deals with the problems of Turkey, which was one of NATO's guardians of the southern flank for so long and which has not yet been admitted to the EU—for some good and compelling reasons. To Turkey, European Union membership is a matter of some psychological anxiety. The proposal would ensure that it would not feel in some way eliminated from such considerations.

The proposal would also deal with the problem of the countries that have recently joined NATO, such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, which immediately had to take some difficult decisions in the course of the Kosovo operations, only to find that there might be European activity from which they would be excluded because they are not EU members. That is damaging to the fabric of NATO and its cohesion.

The right of first refusal, which does not seem to be as difficult to organise as the Secretary of State appeared to think, would mean that the first group of people to consider a crisis would be NATO ambassadors in Brussels. What could be better designed to ensure that NATO felt that it was not being pushed to one side by European enthusiasts and zealots?

Mr. Gerald Howarth

How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman square his natural anxieties, which we all share, with the very clear statement of some of our European partners that they see the creation of the force as an embryonic European army? Surely that poses a threat to the very heart of NATO, which he is anxious to protect.

Mr. Campbell

There would be a threat to NATO only if there were universal acceptance of the position that the hon. Gentleman describes. The United Kingdom Government are not alone in saying, as I understand, that they are not in favour of what is loosely described as a "European army". If, as the hon. Gentleman says, all EU members were to sign up to some of the rather overblown rhetoric, the risk would exist. However, let us remember that the treaties provide for nothing other than unanimity.

It is worth reminding some of our Conservative friends that the fons et origo of much of this debate is the Maastricht treaty. The shadow Defence Secretary has, shall we say, taken a consistent position on the Maastricht treaty. I was about to say an honourable position—

Mr. Howarth

And honourable.

Mr. Campbell

Very well; I shall concede that his position is honourable, too. However, that was not his party's position, as others may remember. Those of us who survived will remember three-line Whips, 10 o'clock votes and 10 o'clock business motions that could not be moved. The beginning of all this was Maastricht—the treaty that the then Prime Minister exhorted and abjured us all to support.

Dr. Godman

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

I should like to make a little progress and deal with national missile defence.

The United States' determination to proceed with national missile defence depends on a flawed assessment of threat. It is true that there are rogue states or states of concern. There are some deeply unpleasant regimes, but we must ask ourselves whether they are so lacking in comprehension that they would threaten to use, or actually use, weapons of mass destruction against the overwhelming nuclear and conventional military superiority of the United States. I simply do not believe that they would. The classic definition of threat is capability plus intention. States of concern might acquire the capability, but it is difficult to envisage circumstances in which they would have the intention of using it because of the extraordinarily damaging, even apocalyptic, consequences of doing so.

Mr. Frank Cook

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it was the Korean flight of the Taepo Dong II across Japan that gave rise to the hysteria in the United States; and that now, with improved relations between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong Il recently cemented by Madeleine Albright, that hysteria will fade away?

Mr. Campbell

Traditionally, there were four states of concern. In respect of Iran, we are doing our best to ensure that Mr. Khatami's efforts to modernise that country receive as much encouragement as is helpful to him—but not too much, in case it makes his domestic position difficult. Colonel Gaddafi of Libya has made available the two persons alleged to have committed the Lockerbie bombing. Madeleine Albright has paid a visit to North Korea and I understand that the United Kingdom is about to open an embassy there. As for Iraq, the policy is one of containment and has been for the past 10 years. It strikes me that those four states, often cited as the raison d'etre of national missile defence, do not measure up to the seriousness with which they are apparently regarded by some on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Surely, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is approaching the matter from the wrong angle. Two problems remain: first, that those states continue to develop and to obtain such missiles—I mentioned Iran recently testing a missile with a range of about 900 miles; and secondly, the terrorist threat. However, the real point is that the overwhelming capabilities of NATO show such states that a conventional conflict precludes the possibility of them influencing events, whereas a cheap, simple option is available whereby they use threats to get their way. The west's fear might deliver a different result from the one that was achieved in Kosovo.

Mr. Campbell

The consequence is to destroy the basis on which the nuclear balance has been maintained for the past 30 or 40 years—deterrence. The anti-ballistic missile treaty was entered into to preserve the principle of deterrence.

It is worth noting that in the "Joint Vision 2020" document, United States defence planners identified China as a potential threat to US security in the 21st century. Are we expected to believe that, once a so-called limited missile defence has been established to protect the US from states of concern, domestic pressure in the US will not grow to expand it to cover larger missile capabilities? Can the US square the circle by insisting on protection against North Korea, but accepting vulnerability to China?

If the system is deployed in a limited fashion, the case will be made to deploy it far more extensively, which will trigger a response in the form of an increased effort to increase nuclear capability. The Chinese have already made that plain. That would inevitably evoke a response from India, which would, in turn, evoke one from Pakistan. How will the United States profit if global security systems are rejected in favour of competition between states to increase nuclear stockpiles? NMD will neither provide the security for which its supporters hope, nor bring stability and certainty to the rest of us. NMD has a remarkable capacity for damaging relations within NATO, weakening the cohesion of that alliance and dividing Europe from the United States.

NMD will undermine the principle of deterrence on which the fragile strategic balance is built at a time when opportunities to achieve an overall reduction in nuclear weapons have never been greater. As Russia encounters increasing economic difficulty in maintaining nuclear weapons, we are presented with an obvious opportunity to negotiate, through a START 3 treaty, far greater reductions on both sides than have previously been envisaged. It would be a great pity if those opportunities were to be given up. Matters are not made easier by the fact that the United States Senate rejected ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty. That decision carries considerable implications—at least in the mind of those in the Duma—regarding the extent to which multilateral nuclear disarmament can be achieved and maintained.

In its recent report on weapons of mass destruction, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs said: it is incumbent on the Government, as one of the five nuclear weapons states and a close ally of the United States, to make an early public statement on its analysis of NMD's likely impact on strategic stability and its assessment of whether this would be in the overall security interests of this country. I agree—indeed, it might be the only aspect of NMD on which I agree with the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). The Government must clearly state their position. It is hugely disingenuous to say that, because no request has been made, they have not considered what their answer would be. If that is true, if I may put it flippantly, what the devil are all the people in the nuclear planning group doing at the Ministry of Defence? There is no card game in town other than NMD and its consequences for nuclear policy in its entirety. The Government should have a position on the matter and the debate would be helped by their stating it—at least we would know whether Ministers agreed with me or with the shadow Defence Secretary. It is a matter of such seriousness that we are entitled to a clear picture of the Government's stance.

Dr. Godman

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentions the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I am a member. It said that if a new occupant of the White House sought to implement NMD, there would be profound consequences for the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. Our report also pointed out that terrorists—mentioned repeatedly by the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith)—can carry powerful devices in something as small as a suitcase. What can NMD do in that respect?

Mr. Campbell

I remember a briefing from the director of military intelligence when I was a member of the Select Committee on Defence. I believe that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) was also present. The director produced a flask about 4in high containing about half a pint of liquid: he said that, by putting it in the London water supply, he could get rid of all the people in London. It seems extraordinary to erect a system that will destabilise the balance of deterrence and has the capacity to cause problems with the cohesion of the alliance in the knowledge that something so small that one could put it in one's hip pocket could achieve what one is trying to prevent without there being any question of identification or anything of that sort. NMD is extremely important, and it is high time the Government told us what their position is.

This is probably the last defence debate before Remembrance day 2000, but such is the state of the Government's management of business that we cannot discount the possibility that we shall be here next week. We talk about defence in the abstract, although some of us have experience of its reality and some of us—voyeur-like—have seen the reality when we visit places such as Kosovo and Sierra Leone. In 10 days' time, at cenotaphs up and down the country—not only here in London, but at tiny war memorials in villages throughout our constituencies—we shall remember those who made a sacrifice for their country. As we talk about defence in the abstract, we do well to remember that those of us who have responsibility for policy and the obligation to influence it have not been called on to make the sacrifice that many ordinary men and women here in the United Kingdom have had to make, and we should never allow their sacrifice to be far from our minds.

6.29 pm
Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

It is a privilege to be able to take up the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). Once again, he made an extremely good speech which contained some important points. I associate myself with his remarks about the remembrance services that will be taking place shortly. I associate myself also with the references to the sterling work that has been undertaken by our armed forces in the past year, and even since we last had a full defence debate.

The right hon. and learned Member talks a great deal of sense. It is sad that the Opposition, in an important debate on defence and the armed forces, produce a load of xenophobic claptrap. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) concentrated almost entirely on anti-Europeanism instead of dealing with some of the key defence issues that face the United Kingdom, especially given the many changes that have taken place in the past three years, and especially in the past year alone.

I was horrified to hear the aspersions cast on the former Secretary-General of NATO, Mr. Solana. It was a disgrace that he was referred to in the terms used by Conservative Members. He had an excellent record as Secretary-General. He had to deal with difficult situations in the Balkans and elsewhere, and I think that he did a first-class job.

A strange attitude is being adopted by the Conservative party, which is becoming increasingly isolationist. It is talking more and more to itself and to nobody else. It is so fixated with Europe that it cannot address the serious issues that arise in this debate.

Mr. Robathan

Usually, I do not presume to speak on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who is sadly not in his place. If the hon. Gentleman studies the record, I think he will find that when Mr. Solana was a Minister in the Spanish Government, he campaigned for the withdrawal of Spain from NATO. Subsequently, he may have been an excellent Secretary-General of NATO. One of the objections raised by some was that he had campaigned to leave NATO in his early days. I am delighted that he changed his mind.

Mr. Smith

There is no question that Mr. Solana did a terrific job in bringing consensus within the 19 countries of NATO. He engaged in one of the most difficult actions that the organisation has ever faced. The references to him were outrageous. That demonstrates how much the Opposition are out of touch on defence. It was once a great party, which for many years claimed to be the party of defence. After this afternoon's performance, it can no longer claim that. It may be the party that is opposed to Europe.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a ground-breaking speech at St. Malo. It has been fallaciously portrayed as a U-turn from his previous comments at Amsterdam, but it will stand the test of time. My right hon. Friend said that the defence of Europe will always be left to NATO, and it will. There is no question that under the European security and defence policy, article 5 missions will be carried out by NATO at any time. The defence and common security of Europe will always remain the role of NATO. That is what the Prime Minister has said.

Dr. Julian Lewis

I ask the hon. Gentleman to address the point more closely. Article 5 prescribes that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all. I am sure that he is right in what he has said about that. Some of us are concerned that if there were to be a crisis that developed and was made subject to crisis management techniques under the European security and defence policy, it could escalate, with other countries being drawn in, in a way that could lead to a result which would not have been brought about if NATO had been involved at the outset.

Mr. Smith

I should like to move on and perhaps address some of the genuine concerns that have arisen in the debate. Before doing so, I shall return to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He said that he would not support an unrealistic defence and security policy for Europe. Nothing that has happened and nothing said at St. Malo has had that effect. Crucially, however, the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green talks about the strategy that was inherited by the Government from the previous Government, which was that of building a European pillar of defence capability within NATO. The simple truth is that it was not working. NATO countries in Europe were not increasing their capability. Indeed, that capability was reducing, and that is still happening.

Under the previous Government, United Kingdom defence forces were not capable of committing assets to NATO to allow it to carry out its defence and security role. That is what Kosovo proved.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will cast his mind further back, when we had to put an armoured division into the desert during the Gulf war. It was commonly said that we were able to do that only by cannibalising the tanks of three divisions. It was said also that there was not a working tank left in Germany.

Mr. Smith

Absolutely. The absence of those resources along with those of heavy lift and logistical support in the field were inherited by the Government. However, the Opposition have tried to tell us that they had a strategy for building capability within NATO. I am privileged to have a role in the NATO parliamentary assembly, as have other Members in the Chamber, and it is my belief that there is no conflict between the goals of a European security and defence policy and a commitment to NATO as the first line of defence for Europe—that is as long as it is done properly and as long as the necessary capabilities are produced. That is the key.

We are not talking of duplicated defence capabilities. They are not even capabilities in most other European countries except the UK. They are not even capabilities that exist now. Anything that we can do to build defence capabilities in other European Union countries will enhance our contribution to NATO and will strengthen NATO. That was the lesson of Kosovo.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his presentation. We have had a defence strategy and policy for three and a half years. Three weeks ago, I was in Copenhagen attending a Rose-Roth seminar of the NATO parliamentary assembly. I was delighted to hear the Minister of Defence of Denmark paying tribute to the British strategic defence review and our contribution to defence. It was a seminar on security in northern Europe and the contribution to defence in Europe. The Minister specifically paid tribute to the role of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the St. Malo accord. He recognised, as we all should, that it is inconceivable that there should be the development of a European security and defence policy without Britain taking a lead role.

It is inconceivable that the policy should be left to the French, the Germans or anyone else. It is right that we should play a leading role. We have the forces to contribute; we have the experience and professionalism; and most important of all we have a reputation throughout Europe and the whole of NATO for excellence in military matters and military service. It is right that a British Prime Minister should exploit that to the full. He has done that, and there will be a British stamp on any European security and defence policy.

I agree that we must get the policy right. We must provide a mechanism for decision making that does not exclude NATO members, especially the non-European countries. I understand that that is precisely the issue that is now being addressed. I believe that there is already a commitment to involve all NATO countries, whether members of the European Union or not, in the crucial early stages of any decision-making process. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife talked about giving NATO first refusal. I believe that, given NATO command structures and the massive military technology gap between north America and Europe, it is inconceivable that NATO will not have the first option in any Petersberg-type missions.

I believe that the Government's defence policy has been excellent—although not perfect, because there are problems. The review addressed the real and changing security threats that we face in the world. The real challenge is not to come up with a first-class review, but to ensure that it is implemented in full.

Mr. Hancock

The hon. Gentleman asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) about the elections in Kosovo. I would be interested to know what the hon. Gentleman thinks about those election results, and whether he believes that they lessen or increase the tension in the area.

Mr. Smith

I am greatly encouraged by those elections. A conflict or a war invariably results in the complete breakdown of civil society and order. Those elections signal a return to normality and to moderate politics in that part of the world. I hope that I am proved right about that, although it is not an exact science.

The Government have an excellent record on defence policy. Even though the review was claimed to be policy-led, there was huge criticism and people asked where the foreign policy guidelines were. The reality is that we were the first NATO member country to anticipate the changing security role and security environment in the world, and we were the first to begin to reconfigure our forces in readiness for that changed role and for the greater emphasis being placed on out-of-area, non-article 5 activity and humanitarian and crisis missions.

This is the first defence debate since the announcement of the outcome of the comprehensive spending review. I am delighted that the Government have had the courage to stop the constant cuts in the defence budget and to recognise that the challenges we now face require more defence expenditure, not less. The threats are much less predictable than they were before, and our ability to respond flexibly and with speed needs to be much greater.

There is a good story to tell. The work of defence is changing and has changed dramatically in the past few years from the security of our domestic territory to a role policing human rights, providing humanitarian relief and avoiding conflict and war, not engaging in it or creating it. We should try to get that message across more often to engender greater public support for the superb role of our defence forces in the changing environment. We should do that throughout Europe in countries that are cutting their defence budgets even more than the previous UK Government—although that is hard to imagine. They cut it by 32 per cent. in real terms after the end of the cold war. That dangerous cut left us widely exposed. Thankfully, we are now starting to shore up those budgets again.

Anything that will help our European partners to persuade their respective populations that there is a good case for increasing their defence expenditure to meet their NATO capabilities first and their ESDP capabilities second must be a damn good thing, and I would support it. Anyone who has the true interests of the defence of this nation and peace in the rest of the world at heart must recognise that challenge. It is a great pity that members of the once great Conservative party are always bashing Europe.

I should like to draw the House's attention to a couple of matters of great concern that affect my constituents. One of the objectives of the strategic defence review was to provide much more jointery and tri-service provision to cut out waste and duplication, and to create smart procurement. An important part of that strategy was the creation of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, which I am delighted to say has its headquarters in my constituency. It has about 4,800 civilian and military personnel. It used to be a 4:1 ratio of military to civilian personnel, but that has now been reversed: there are about 800 military staff and 4,000 civilian.

It has come to my notice in the past week that there is great concern among employees at DARA headquarters in RAF St. Athan that there could be a relocation of the aero-engine maintenance and repair facility at St. Athan to the south of England, to Fleetlands in Gosport. I draw that to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I do not know whether a decision has been taken: I can only express the concern of many DARA employees.

My concern is not so much about the numbers of jobs involved—although it could be as many as 200 highly skilled and, for the south Wales region, relatively highly paid jobs—but about the nature of the jobs that we may lose not just in my constituency but in the south Wales area. I recognise the role of the new agency, which will become a fundholder—I am not sure whether it is one yet—and will be a stand-alone body, based on the commercial imperative. However, it spends public money and should be publicly accountable.

I hope that full consideration will be given to the decision and its possible impact, particularly on the aviation industry in south Wales, which hon. Members may be surprised to hear is a very large and successful industry. Once gone, highly specialised aviation jobs are gone for ever. The cost of recruiting and training such numbers is so great that it is impossible to get those jobs back. We have not only a thriving defence aviation industry in south Wales, but a thriving commercial aviation industry, of which repair and maintenance of engines is a major part.

There has been a link—a synergy—between the private and the public sector in the aviation industry, in respect of not just engines, but airframes as well. I am fearful of the impact that the decision will have on the commercial jobs in the area could result in the disappearance of the critical mass of skills necessary to maintain a successful industry. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will have an opportunity to look into that and perhaps comment on it at the end of the debate. I fear that the impact on the entire industry in south Wales could be devastating, and I should like my fears removed, if possible.

I want an assessment to be undertaken into the possible impact of such a decision, if indeed such a decision is to be taken. I also seek an assurance about the future of RAF St. Athan and the area as the headquarters of DARA and the providers of excellent services in airframe maintenance and repair. I hope that that will expand as DARA develops and possibly starts to attract military tri-service aviation work not just for UK plc, but for countries abroad. I seek assurances on the future of DARA in my constituency.

Finally, and regrettably, I must return to a topic that I first raised in the House on 13 April, in the previous defence debate. An aspect of service personnel welfare about which I am deeply worried is the provision of married quarters and the role of the Defence Housing Executive and Annington Homes. My local experience tells me that we have not got it right.

It saddens me to have to raise the matter again. In the previous debate, I mentioned the case of Mrs. Colette Howard, from my constituency, whose husband Corporal Howard has served 19 years in the Royal Air Force and is coming up to retirement. I drew the attention of the House to the fact that that poor family, on a single posting at the RAF station, had not been moved the usual once, but three times. For most of us, moving house is a traumatic experience, but service personnel must learn to live with it. They often have to move lock, stock and barrel on every company posting, and we all know how stressful that can be.

I reported to the House that Mr. and Mrs. Howard had been asked to move three times on a single posting, and I am pleased that following the intervention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, they received a letter of apology from the DHE and were eventually offered accommodation that was far more suitable than the accommodation originally presented to them.

Believe it or not, since that intervention the Howards have been asked to move again. Even worse and even more harrowing is the fact that in the meantime, Corporal Howard has suffered a heart condition, which is almost certainly related to the stress to which he has been subjected as a result of the activities of the Defence Housing Executive.

This is not an isolated incident. A number of service wives have come to me about the housing situation at RAF St. Athan, as they usually bear the brunt of it and have to put up with it. Judging from our local experience, I suspect that the problem is widespread throughout the country.

Unprecedentedly, senior officers of the camp have approached me. That has never been known before. They expressed to me their concern that the camaraderie among the officer cadre is being undermined because of the way in which officers below the rank of wing commander are being treated with regard to accommodation for their wives and families. Their experience reads like a horror story. They have been moved repeatedly during a two-year tour and served with eviction notices while they were away on holiday with their families. All that is creating a great problem of morale in the camp.

I am an ex-service man. I met and married my wife in the services, and I am aware of the pressures that can be placed on families in service life. There is a great myth that those in the uniformed disciplined services have no right of redress, and that when some injustice is done to them or their families, they cannot get anything done about it. Of course, anyone who has had service experience knows that nothing could be further from the truth.

If I had a problem when I was a service man, I could go to my station warrant officer and explain that it was creating hardship. I could go to the commanding officer, or indeed to the old personnel flight, which I think is still in existence, and good luck to it. They would all intervene and assist in matters such as housing, schooling, pressures on the family and postings. However, with regard to married quarters, that option no longer exists.

The problem must be addressed quickly by the Ministry of Defence. There is no redress or recourse for service personnel being dealt with in such a despicable way. They can go to their personnel flight or their commanding officer, as they have all done, and the commanding officer can go to the Defence Housing Executive, but the commanding officer has no authority over the DHE, which is dependent on the leasing policy of Annington Homes. The situation is a mish-mash.

All those who have spoken in the debate have paid tribute to our service personnel for the fine work that they are doing throughout the world and at home. It is unacceptable that their families should be treated in that way. I do not pretend to know the answer, but I offer a suggestion. Officers and other ranks living in married quarters and trying to raise their families, with enough pressure coming from service life anyway, have no recourse and no redress, as they should have. We should consider creating as soon as possible some sort of organisation. I am reluctant to use the term tenants association, but we should set up a military equivalent because nobody is listening or taking action, and I am not prepared to sit back and watch my constituents forced into ill health for serving their country. I hope that my hon. Friends will consider the matter.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in the debate. In conclusion, I pay tribute to the excellent work of the service men and women of this country.

7 pm

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

A view that used to be held in the House, and to which I subscribe, was that a debate should be a debate, and not simply the delivery of several prepared speeches. I therefore compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who opened the debate for the Conservative party, on the way in which he outlined beyond peradventure the Prime Minister's volte face on some European defence matters. People can change their minds, but such changes should be brought out in the open. My hon. Friend did that admirably.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) has left. I wished to pay tribute to him, because I do not know how many hon. Members realise that it was the hon. Gentleman who, in the North Atlantic Assembly 12 or 14 years ago, began the battle to ban land mines. He persuaded Canada to move on the matter, and this country and Europe to support the proposal. He deserves much praise for that.

I support one of the points that the hon. Member for Stockton, North made today. Ministers should reconsider the decision to abandon the royal tournament, and they should re-establish the Aldershot tattoo, if my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) will allow it. They were marvellous events during which the young people of this country could learn something about the military forces. Seeing what the different branches of the military were able to achieve in those presentations was a significant recruiting factor for many people.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) carries the British banner in the North Atlantic Assembly with great credit. However, I disagreed with some of his remarks about Sierra Leone today. Our involvement there is becoming deeper and deeper because of the number of military personnel that we have to put in to support the civil Government. I am worried about that. The United Nations does not appear to take the matter nearly as seriously as the Foreign Secretary. We must be wary of that.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife also mentioned Kosovo, in relation to which I must declare a personal interest. My wife is the British chairman of International Social Services, which is a charity that works for the unification of broken families. She has recently been to Kosovo, where the organisation was establishing a unit in Pristina to deal with the many thousands of children who are left without families. She said that it was all very well for the members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs when they visited Kosovo—they are met and looked after, and receive food and accommodation—but that going there as a single lady with the secretary general of the ISS was different. None of those amenities was provided.

My wife said that I ought to point out in the House that the co-ordination of the different military personnel to maintain law and order left much to be desired—indeed, was almost non-existent. She said that the idea that United Nations personnel were in control there was a myth. The United Nations side of operations is not a matter for the Ministry of Defence. However, it might examine the co-ordination between the different military forces.

The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) spent much time trying to belittle the Conservative Government's work on defence. I remind him that the great success of NATO, which everyone now claims to be marvellous, was a massive part of the Conservative Government's work on defence. That work consisted of keeping 50,000 men in Germany and dealing with the unrest and difficulties that arose in relation to atomic weapons. The Conservative Government had to carry out those tasks to ensure that NATO became the success that it is.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

My right hon. Friend has made an extremely important point. Will he remind the House that we took that principled stand in the teeth of wholesale opposition from the Labour party, then in opposition, which opposed all our actions to secure NATO, protect our borders and ensure the ultimate defeat of communism?

Sir Peter Emery

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but I was trying not to raise the temperature. I want to get to the main part of my speech.

The collapse of the Berlin wall, the end of the Russian-American stand-off and the proven success of NATO has largely rendered obsolete the traditional categories into which the fear of world war had previously thrust us. The old traditional distinctions between east and west no longer apply. Nowadays, we have to look around us and ask, "Who and where is the foe?"

NATO has made great strides in modernising itself. Thank goodness that America and Canada have accepted the need to remain an integral part of NATO. None the less, important questions remain unaltered and unanswered. How far should NATO extend its tentacles? How can Russia be included, so that it can share and participate in the defence of freedom now that it is stretching out to embrace democracy and human rights? At what point will the role of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe begin to impinge on defence matters, as Russia would wish? What is new for the House to consider?

The Government have taken positive action to create a European security and defence initiative. It would seem reasonable, in time, for Europe not to have to call on the United States for everything to do with defence or security in Europe. We must accept that the United States has been calling for Europe to pick up more of the bill for the defence of Europe. However, I stress with all my strength that the ESDI must not detract from the role of and need for NATO.

Let us presume, for argument's sake, that the ESDI is a good thing. It may well be—we shall have to wait and see. Nevertheless, some major questions arise. Would there be an equal contribution to a rapid reaction force of 60,000 men—20,000 from Britain, 20,000 from France and 20,000 from Germany? Will Britain, or France and Britain, be called on to provide a larger share of manpower, with Germany falling behind? Is that not likely, in view of the current problems in Germany on defence matters, and the deployment of German troops overseas?

What about the cost? Is there again to be an equal share for the United Kingdom, France and Germany? May that not become difficult, given that France and Germany are experiencing major cuts in defence expenditure? As British military manpower is already stretched, will we not require more recruits? Will this not require more expenditure which cannot be met within the present defence review targets?

Let me return to a question that I asked the Secretary of State during Defence questions on Monday. Whence will come the heavy lift potential to move 60,000 men, all the equipment—arms, ammunition, victuals and transport—and the back-up for the force? If the arrangements are to be independent of NATO, and are not to deplete our reserves and manpower for our present vast commitments, there must surely be an increase in Army manpower. There will also be a greater need for heavy transportation and lift to enable the Royal Air Force, where it is a strategic necessity, to meet our present commitments.

These plans were established, after a vast amount of heart-searching in the defence review, as a strategic retirement, long before the ESDI was anywhere near being a realistic concept. How many more men and how much more money will be involved? Where is the heavy lift to come from, if we are not to deplete our existing requirements? Do we expect France and Germany to purchase C17s and A400Ms?

I visited Paris last week with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. We interviewed French Members of Parliament, including Mr. Vedrine, the Foreign Affairs Minister, and Mr. Richard, the Defence Minister. With Mr. Richard were a number of very senior French officers. In discussion, I raised the matter of acquiring the lift capacity for the rapid reaction force in relation to France. Mr. Richard's response was that "they must not have to rely for long on American lift capacity".

A three-star French general and I left the meeting together. I asked, "Independent lift capacity, in 10 years?" There came the rather depressed reply, "Mon ami, quinze ans"—15 years. If that is the thinking of some of the French military, we should take note of it.

In the context of all the planning for the new defence initiative, let me say something about the deteriorating role of the Western European Union. I understand that it is accepted that the WEU will become surplus to requirements. Will the Minister confirm that? If it is the case, will he tell us what will become of, or be done with, the WEU parliamentary assembly? Will it somehow be merged with the NATO parliamentary assembly? If not, will it become a Committee, and organise part of the working of the European Parliament or the European Union—or will it just wither on the vine? The House deserves to hear the Government's thoughts. Many people are concerned, and many employees—considerable manpower is involved—deserve to know where their future lies.

How is it envisaged that the new initiative will operate as far as the United Nations is concerned? It is expected to be a means of rapid reaction. If that signifies anything, the words themselves define it: its function will be to respond rapidly to sudden instances of major unrest or revolt, or sudden conflict. Will the force mark time until politicians have secured general agreement—whether in Brussels, or from the United Nations in New York—that it may proceed? What if a veto is introduced, to turn rapid reaction into no reaction at all? Does not the very existence of the triumvirate of France, Germany and Great Britain lead one to suspect that the agreed political decisions will be made by those three powers, probably with the acquiescence of the United States—and that all that will be necessary just to launch the rapid reaction force? Moreover, when it has been launched, the nations Prime Ministers will have to consider how to get their action endorsed by the United Nations. Is that really how control of the rapid reaction force will operate? We have not been told, and I think that we need to be told before we go much further.

Publicly, Russia has strongly opposed, and still opposes, the enlargement of NATO. Rightly or wrongly, it sees that enlargement as a major threat to its borders, to its influence, and to the safety of the motherland. Let us be under no misapprehension: although Russia may move towards working for friendship with certain nations of the west, at no time will the objective be other than to regain its position as a major power to equal, or combat, the influence of the United States.

Russia will wish to weaken NATO. It will seek, by subterfuge of one sort or another, to acquire the most up-to-date technology and knowledge of modern weaponry, contrary to the wishes of the west and the manufacturing companies that have been spied on or defrauded of their property. We need only read the papers published recently by Mr. Mitrokhin to know that Russia has constantly tried to obtain secrets about confidential manufacturing plans through subversion and spying. That is going on even today.

However, while we know that it is going on, surely we need to find ways of ensuring that Russia can be enticed into working with us to defuse potential difficulties. It is possible to work—somewhat—together to enhance democratic institutions and the protection of human rights. That is not always the case, but we must strive to ensure that it happens more often. Russia's role in Yugoslavia, and in the Kosovo crisis, illustrates the need. But we must also obtain a positive policy from Government—a policy that Russia can understand, that is not contrary to the views of our close allies, and that can be increasingly understood and, we hope, enhanced by Russia.

The parliamentary assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe may well be used to that end. The three "baskets" working in the OSCE are represented by the assembly's three Committees—on Political Affairs and Security, on Economic Affairs, Environment and Science, and on Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions.

The Russian delegations have made no secret of the fact that they do not want the first Committee, in considering security, to interpret "security" as merely domestic or internal security, as it does now. They want its remit widened, so that it can consider defence matters. Would it be possible to extend the remit somewhat without turning part of the OSCE into an anti-NATO structure? Should we not be considering that? After all, Russia sees the OSCE in an entirely different light, given that it is a founder member, rather than being invited as a supplicant to the NATO assembly or the Council of Europe.

Could not "security" be extended to the safeguarding of existing national borders? That could well stand a chance of overcoming the Russian aversion to NATO. Is it too absurd to consider Russia's being able, whenever it wished, to opt into a rapid reaction force against revolution or military unrest? After all, we are working with Russia in Bosnia and Kosovo. Could not areas of mutual defence become the leading edge of closer Russian co-operation with the west? Such thinking is not too advanced or too lateral. We need to strengthen, not weaken, our relations with the "Great Bear" while we still understand what that nation can be up to.

My remarks have entailed a vast number of questions and a few original ideas. Will the Minister, in winding up, please give the House detailed answers on the European defence initiative involving the French and German commitments to finance and obtain the heavy lift capability necessary for the forces of the European defence initiative? What will be the necessary increase in British manpower to ensure that our commitments can be met without depleting existing commitments? What is the future of the WEU assembly? What is the Government's view of the new thinking on Russia's role in the OSCE? If I receive some answers to those questions, this debate will have been worth while.

7.21 pm
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I fear that I shall not be the last hon. Member to apologise for not attending tomorrow's debate. I am afraid that I have a long-standing constituency engagement, for which I had requested leave to attend assuming that we would be on a three-line whip. I now discover that the debate arises on a motion for the Adjournment, but nevertheless, I fear that I shall not be in the Chamber for tomorrow's debate.

I shall first deal with the various parts of the world about which questions need to be asked. My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) referred to Sierra Leone. On Monday, the Defence Secretary said that our presence in Sierra Leone was intended purely for training, and the Minister will support that view. However, our presence in Sierra Leone is at least questionable. Of course we wish a legitimate Government to be supported in Sierra Leone, but there are failures in the Government's policy.

The so-called ethical foreign policy led to the abandonment of Commissioner Penfold's proposals to support President Kabbah in 1998, because of which enormous numbers of people have had their limbs lopped off or have been killed as a result of the Revolutionary United Front's activities. We seem to be sitting in Sierra Leone without a clear purpose for our being there. We are training its armed forces, but there are question marks about some of the people that we are training. I fear that we are becoming a sitting duck.

If the British armed forces, with United Nations support, wish to defeat the RUF, perhaps they should do so. I might support that, but we now have people sitting there with no clear purpose. Training is not enough, because there is no evidence that training the Sierra Leonean armed forces will lead to their victory over the various rebel groups. The Minister should tell the House—and, indeed, the people of this country and the armed forces—how many troops are expected to remain in Sierra Leone and for how long. On Monday, we heard that a task force will visit the area in the near future.

Our policy in Zimbabwe is closely linked to that in Sierra Leone. We were told on Monday that we had to support the Government of Sierra Leone—a friendly Commonwealth country. We are supporting the Government of Zimbabwe with a British Army training team. Although it is a regional team, it is based in Harare and has trained the Zimbabwean army. The Zimbabwean army is mostly not evicting white farmers, many of whom may have British nationality, from their farms; it is not beating up people on the white farms. There have been dreadful cases of black workers being burnt alive and the like. It is actually fighting in the Congo, supporting the misguided—to put it mildly—policies of the Zimbabwean Government and lining the pockets of various senior members of the Zimbabwean Administration. It cannot be right that British Army personnel are seen to support—irrespective of whether they actually do so—the Zimbabwean Administration, which have, frankly, put themselves beyond the pale.

The situation in Bosnia is closely linked to my previous point about Sierra Leone. I am well aware that the position in Bosnia and the Balkans is extremely complicated, but we first sent troops into Bosnia in November 1992—now eight years ago—when the situation was ghastly and it has been very confused ever since. We have sent troops into Kosovo, but the British Army and the rest of the armed forces, which are heavily overstretched, need to know how long that commitment will last. Is it open-ended? It was not in 1992, but I fully accept that that was under the previous Administration. If it is not open-ended, when will it end?

There have been tremendous changes in the Balkans, including elections in Serbia and Croatia and, indeed, in Kosovo over the weekend, but we must consider how long to keep British troops in those places when they are often not doing quite as much good as they might be. I pay tribute to all those working there, but it must be depressing for those who were there in 1992 to return in 2000. They must wonder what has been achieved by keeping British forces there—a lot of good, of course, but the situation remains difficult. We owe it to our soldiers to say how long we expect them to remain in those areas and until which conditions prevail.

Another part of the world which I should like to mention is Belize, which I know well because I spent six months there during the Falklands crisis. We used to have a battalion there. The previous Government, as I am sure that the Minister will remind us, withdrew the battalion, much to the consternation of the Belizean Government. I recently met the Belizean high commissioner and also the Belizean Prime Minister when he visited the House in the summer. They are concerned about the support that the British Government will give to the territorial integrity of Belize. There used to be no doubt about that; we kept forces there to guarantee its territorial integrity. I understand that that guarantee has lapsed. If it has not, and if we will guarantee its territorial integrity with armed force, I should be grateful if the Minister would say so. That is a serious point. I understand that it is also a matter for the Foreign Office, but the Belizean Government are concerned about the matter of armed support.

The Guatemalan Government claim part of Belize for historic reasons with which we have never agreed. They used to claim it all, but they now only want part of it. We owe Belize—a former colony and member of the Commonwealth—our support. We should say that we will back up the Belizean Government if necessary, because the threat of backing them up has worked in the past against the Guatemalans. I do not know what the Guatemalan Government are like now, but its Governments tend to be unstable. I was in the area during the Falklands crisis and know that the Guatemalan Government were pretty unpleasant. When the Falklands were invaded in 1982, a lot of sabre rattling went on in Guatemala. Its Government said that they would invade Belize and there were demonstrations in the streets. When the task force sailed, everything went quiet. When the task force landed and succeeded, the Guatemalans went away quietly and did not bother us for the rest of my stay in Belize.

I should like to deal with the state of the armed forces. As always, we have heard tributes to the excellent armed forces personnel. Of course, I should like to reinforce those tributes, but I regularly speak to friends, past colleagues, in the armed forces and I can assure hon. Members that they feel rather beleaguered. My first point is about recruitment. The Minister will confirm that the Army is 6,000 personnel under strength. I understand that, according to Jane's defence publications, an army is defined as trained force more than 100,000 strong. Perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but the Army has now dropped below that strength and, therefore, is technically seen as a defence force.

Although it is a serious problem throughout the armed forces, I should like to home in on Army officer recruitment. Earlier this year, the Minister announced that the target figure of 770 officer cadets had not been met and only 646 officer cadets entered Sandhurst, and that the passing out target figure of 620 trained officers had not been met and only 534 passed out in the previous financial year. If that is the case, that will, as the Minister will know, have a long-term knock-on consequence, which he and, indeed, the Government need to address.

We need to look at why that is so, and one reason among many is pay. I am not arguing for an increase in pay for the armed forces, although I am sure that it would be welcome and I would be delighted to support such an increase if it came along.

Mr. Spellar

Another spending commitment.

Mr. Robathan

I am not arguing for that, as I said.

We need to realise that young men and women do not join the armed forces for financial reward, but they expect financial remuneration—that is fair enough, for heaven's sake. A graduate joining the Army now would get £21,000 a year, which is not bad for a person straight out of university. However, eight to 10 years later, as a captain, he would earn only about £31,000 a year. That is not bad pay either, but, if we want high quality people in the Army and the rest of the armed forces, we need to consider how to reward them.

I know many people in their early 20s who are earning considerably more in the professions and the City. Perhaps one might say that the City distorts the job market—I might applaud that, but those employed in it are certainly earning a lot of money. The pool of high quality people coming out of university and going into the armed forces is shrinking and part of the reason is pay. I know of various instances of that, and people to whom I have spoken have said that the rewards were so great outside the armed forces that they went elsewhere instead.

A greater part of the problem with recruitment and, particularly perhaps, retention is the political correctness of Government policy. I have mentioned it before. I know that there will be hoots of derision from the Minister—indeed, here comes one.

Mr. Spellar


Mr. Robathan

Perhaps instead of wandering around not listening to what members of the armed forces say when he visits establishments—I know that he does wander around and visit them—he should listen carefully to what they say and try to engage them in conversation. He should not expect them to do the great old military thing and to say, "Yes, Sir." Many of them are willing to talk.

A gradual erosion, a gradual undermining, of the armed forces ethos is contributing to people leaving the services. Again, I know that to be true. I accept that the sky will not fall in because of the new policy on homosexuals in the armed forces—there have always been homosexuals in the armed forces. That is not the point. The point is that, gradually, the whole ethos of the forces is being undermined.

I should like the Minister to comment on and to reaffirm what the Secretary of State for Defence said: homosexual couples will not have rights or access to service quarters because they will not be married and will not therefore be treated any differently from other unmarried couples.—[Official Report, 12 January 2000; Vol. 342, c. 297] It is quite straightforward—until one reads The Sunday Times from last weekend: Army welcomes boyfriend of openly gay officer. The boyfriend of the first openly gay officer in the Royal Navy has been accepted as the equivalent of a naval wife. I do not believe everything that I read in the newspapers, but it would be helpful if the Minister responded to that report.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I must reinforce what my hon. Friend says. The Army has changed the name of its quarters. We no longer have Army married quarters; we have Army families accommodation.

Mr. Robathan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That underlines the point that we are moving in a direction that causes concerns to many people. I freely admit that the sky will not fall in as a result of those changes, but they are undermining the purpose and existence of the armed forces.

Much more important than the question of homosexuals within the armed forces, the argument over which has been lost and given away, is the report in The Mail on Sunday—I am sure that the Minister saw it—which said: Defence chief under siege by Colonel Muppet. which I thought was a rather rude comment. The article refers, however, to a serious point. The Minister says "Garbage" about what I might say, but he should comment on the words of the supporter of the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Guthrie. He was quoted as saying; these quotes have a terrible tendency to be incredibly accurate, as the Minister is aware: He— Guthrie— believes that the erosion of the effectiveness of the armed forces for political reasons is the biggest crisis facing the military. He fears he is being driven down the road of having to accept women and the disabled in every position. His job is to deliver a fighting force made up of people who have to kill or be killed and not worry about the comrade on either side who can't really cope. He can't do that if politicians take control from military chiefs in deciding who is allowed to serve. If the Minister says that that is complete garbage—again, to use his own term—or if he is, like the Secretary of State, about to say that senior military officers make their own decisions and have no political pressure put on them, I look forward to hearing that.

The crux is the physical abilities of men and women and whether allowing women on the front line and in the infantry would lower standards. It must inevitably be a somewhat subjective judgment, but I assure the Minister that any such decision would also contribute to undermining the ability of the infantry to do its task because it would fundamentally alter its capabilities. Members of the infantry are not misogynists—no more than me, I should say—but we do not want the point, the standards and purpose of the armed forces to be undermined.

The problem is that we have forgotten in this place and perhaps throughout too much of society what real war is about. We should ask our fathers generation. I believe that I am right in saying that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) served during the war. There are very few here who did, but may I refer the Minister to the obituaries in many newspapers, particularly The Daily Telegraph—which I read, although he may not be such an avid reader of it—of the second world war generation, which is disappearing? It is important to understand what that generation saw and what happened to them. It was not some nice peace time parade ground.

Mr. Spellar

I will come to the main part of the hon. Gentleman's case when I reply, but may I pose the question: does he think that the surface fleet is no longer effective?

Mr. Robathan

As I said, the sky will not fall in because of the proposed changes—it is a gradual process. I suggest that he talks to people in the surface fleet who practise fire-fighting drills, as I have done. Perhaps they will tell him the answer, as they told me, or perhaps they will be a bit more deferential. Perhaps if he talks to them for long enough he will discover the facts. They say that, when they practise fire-fighting drills—he will know that they have to close bulkheads and whatever and drag bodies—it is very difficult because it is strong physical work. Unfortunately, many of the excellent women who are serving on royal naval ships are not able to do that strong, physical work, so the men have to come to the fore. That is fact. It is not my fantasy. It is self-evident and common sense.

As we pursue the agenda that is alleged in the newspapers of putting women on the front line, we should consider the Israeli experiment. The Israelis, as I understand it, are moving away from having women on the front line because of all the problems, which have been explained, but particularly because there is enormous difficulty with the strength and physical capabilities of women. It is not misogynistic to say so; it is self-evident. Women tend to be frailer, perhaps to be smaller in physical stature and to be less strong than men. That is not a criticism. It is a fact, which is why we have Olympic men's sports and women's sports. It is pretty straightforward.

The problem is not just that we have forgotten what real war is about, but that far too many Members on the Government Benches see the armed forces almost as an affront to so-called modernising Britain. They see the armed forces as the forces of conservatism, to coin a phrase—old fashioned, elitist and traditional. They are old fashioned, elitist and traditional, and they are the envy of the world. It is not just that they dress up in red coats—they are chinless wonders, to coin another phrase—although they do, are very good at it and are much admired throughout the world in terms of ceremonial duties. It is not just that they are excellent peacekeepers and admired in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Bosnia—wherever one would like to mention—although they are very good at that, too. They are there to defend this country. That is their primary purpose, which is old fashioned and traditional.

The fact is that soldiers in the infantry have to kill with bayonets. They have to kill or be killed. Bayonet drill is still undertaken. I do not know how many Government Members have tried it, but it is pretty unpleasant. Indeed, if one thinks about its purpose, it is extremely unpleasant—as is being blown up. One needs to read the obituaries of people whose friends were blown up all around them and survived the most desperate deprivations during the second world war to understand what real war is about. God willing, we shall never return to that, but we must accept that one day we may, which is why we have armed forces.

Many of my former colleagues, some of whom have recently left the Army, say that the Human Rights Act 1998 has undermined discipline. Discipline is a tremendous strength of the armed forces, and is one reason why we are so admired by fellow European countries. However, it is under threat from the Human Rights Act, the introduction of which is not sustainable in war or operations. In peace time, when the Army is in barracks, the Human Rights Act does not matter that much, but it will matter if we go to war. For instance, a commanding officer used to be able to lock someone up. As the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) said, there was always a right of redress if things went wrong.

The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but a commanding officer is now allowed to keep someone in custody for more than 48 hours only if he has a decision from a judicial officer. That has not happened very often, but I shall give an example of when it has. In Germany, a commanding officer found a drug dealer—not a user—peddling drugs in the barracks, and locked him up and put him in custody prior to trial by court martial or, if necessary, the civil authority. After 48 hours, a decision from the judicial officer was needed. Although it is hearsay, as I have not spoken to the people involved, the drug dealer was released by the judicial officer. He was not just confined to barracks, but was released and was able to go home. That is bizarre, especially as it is unlikely that that would have happened in a civilian court. The Minister may correct me on the details, which I have on hearsay. However, it is worrying that such hearsay is doing the rounds of the Army. What message does that send about discipline? It sends the message that justice is not being served. Discipline matters in peace, but is essential in war. Before the Minister rubbishes me on the matter of the Human Rights Act, perhaps he will tell me what representations, if any, he has had from the armed forces.

My penultimate point is a minor one that was made in Defence questions on Monday, and concerns the possible use of Army drivers in any subsequent fuel crisis. Of course, it is the Government's right to use Government servants as they wish in the pursuit of their policy. However, about 80 per cent. of the British public consider that the fuel protesters have a point, which is in contrast to past strikes, such as the firemen's strike, when drivers from the armed forces were used. I do not criticise the Government for wanting to use the armed forces, but they should be wary. Many of us would be saddened if, by using Army or other forces drivers, the Government put the armed forces in confrontation with the public. The armed forces in this country have not been in that position for many years and on those occasions when they were, such as at Peterloo, have gone down in history.

Finally, Remembrance day is soon, and most Members are wearing poppies. We owe it to all those whom we will remember, honour and respect a week on Sunday to ensure that we do not let our guard in the Army and armed forces drop.

7.43 pm
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth)

It is a pleasure to take part in our debate, and especially to follow the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), an ex-service man who brings with him experience, and recent news and information.

I looked at the section on procurement in the review, in relation to which my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) brought up the subject of industry. I am pleased that smart procurement is projected to save us billions of pounds, as we need that money to spend elsewhere. I am also pleased that we are going to provide equipment for our armed forces, as they deserve the best equipment that money can buy. I have said for years that I never want to be in the position of knocking at a door and telling parents that their son or daughter has been lost because we asked him or her to do a job, but did not provide the right equipment. It is our duty to provide the forces with the right equipment. Tanks, attack helicopters and frigates are vital to fight a war, but the best piece of equipment that we have in any peacekeeping role is a professionally trained soldier with a rifle, which, very often, has a bayonet fixed on the end.

How often have soldiers been in situations of conflict in which people know that they can have confidence in them? Unfortunately, although we have increased the number of soldiers by 3,500, that increase is only on paper, because, as the hon. Member for Blaby said, the numbers are short, there are gaps in the ranks and we are finding it difficult to recruit. I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's line on why recruiting is difficult; I see a different scenario. I used to have a barracks in my constituency, but a boundary change meant that I lost it. Before that happened, I dealt with several cases at the barracks involving families who were leaving the Army because of the redundancies that resulted from the previous Government's cuts. Those people were in married quarters, and to get housed, they had to be evicted. The last piece of paper that the Army gave them was a bill for court costs of £134. Some of them had served in the Army for 13 or 15 years, but left with a bitter taste in their mouths. How could they recommend a career in the forces?

I am of the generation that was the last to do national service. My son and his family have no connection at all with the military; there is a generation today that cannot pass on any information about what a life in the military is like to their children who may be considering that avenue. Army recruiting teams have had a difficult time getting into schools.

I welcome the improved welfare conditions that the Government have introduced, including common leave allowance, which means that all ranks get 30 days, and guaranteed post-operational leave, which is vital and means that personnel can go back to their families and re-establish links. The Government have also improved the separated service allowance and personnel can get £2,000, although to qualify they have to spend any 365 days in a two-year period away from their families. However, they will get two bonuses for the price of one. There are also more free telephone calls—personnel get 20 minutes a week instead of three. There are more flexible concessionary travel entitlements, better pay, better access to dentists and, as a result of the £140 million, better access to medical treatment. We are starting to reverse the decline in the employment of doctors and nurses that the previous Government imposed.

We have also established a veterans advice unit, so when our veterans leave the Army they are guided back into civilian life.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said, the Government are investigating Gulf war veterans illness, and have doubled the money spent on it, but we have not dealt with the case of the nuclear test veterans. The American, Australian and Canadian Governments, who are our allies, looked after their nuclear test veterans while they were on active service, but we have yet to look after ours. I hope that the Government will reconsider their position on the issue, which needs to be worked on.

Personnel are a vital part of our military force. People who go into the Army are trained to become professional soldiers. More than that, however, the Army is a modern operational force and, although not many people know it, young people can be trained and gain qualifications that are acceptable in civilian life. They come out with nationally recognised qualifications of the highest level. Very few employers, schools or colleges know that, but we should point it out to them. I am afraid that we have distanced ourselves from our forces.

Much of today's debate has dwelt on Britain's role in NATO and in Europe. Although I do not want to repeat other hon. Members' speeches, I hope that Ministers will keep one thing in mind. As we know, NATO was formed at the end of the second world war to deal with contemporary conditions, and its defensive forces were established to meet a common enemy and to fight on Europe's level plains. We saw just how difficult it was to fight on different terrain in Kosovo.

We, and our allies in Europe, have to stand on our own two feet. Anyone who has read Governor Bush's comments will have no doubt that if he is successful in the presidential election, he will remove American forces from Kosovo and then start to withdraw American funding for Europe's defence. He believes that Europe should pay more for its own defence. Our European allies will have to face up to the fact that defence does not come cheap, and start to match Britain's defence contributions. However, if we are going to work effectively with our allies, it is no use duplicating one another's efforts; we have to try to co-ordinate those efforts.

There may also come a time when we have to act only in Europe's interests, which may not coincide with America's interests. We can never be seen simply as America's poodle.

Mr. Robathan

The hon. Gentleman is quite right that our interests may not always coincide with those of America. However, is he absolutely confident that our interests will always coincide with those of our European partners?

Mr. Jenkins

I have never been absolutely confident about anything in the future—I never say never, and I try never to say no. There will of course be occasions on which we may have differences with other European Union member states. We would have extreme difficulties if a European army were established and the decision were made to send it into a member state. I therefore do not believe that a European army will be established.

I think it is likely that the forces of European Union member states will be combined to participate in agreed operations. However, the command structure for the combined EU forces will be totally different from that used by NATO. As hon. Members will be aware, when NATO was established we handed sovereignty over our forces to NATO supreme command, which does not ask us before telling our troops to go.

Dr. Julian Lewis

The hon. Gentleman is describing a hoary old myth that is always brought up in the context of European security and defence. In NATO, however, we always have the option of withdrawing at any moment, whereas we would not have such an option in a common European security and defence policy, if there ever is one.

Mr. Jenkins

I will not belabour the point. Hon. Members should simply read a history of NATO and ask themselves what would have happened if the Russians had attacked. We would not have had a chance to withdraw.

Flexibility is the only indispensable requirement in a changing world. I ask Ministers to work with our partners and to get the best deal for Britain. I wish them good luck in that, because our forces will be facing many difficult challenges. We can also be sure that they will be facing many uncertainties, because of "Events, dear boy. Events."

7.53 pm
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

The Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence asked Committee members speaking in this debate to offer his apologies for not attending the debate. He is representing us elsewhere today, at one of the European organisations, and regrets that he cannot attend.

I support the views expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) on the Chinook crash in the Mull of Kintyre. I have asked many questions about the crash, and I genuinely believe that the initial investigation and the subsequent review of the accident, because of the way in which they were conducted, have failed miserably to deliver justice to the two pilots of the aircraft and to their families.

It is a real stain on the reputation of the Royal Air Force and of the Ministry of Defence that more action has not been taken to correct that failure. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, a large groundswell of opinion in this place favours such action, and hon. Members on both sides of the House are asking and pleading for justice to be delivered at long last to those two RAF officers. I do not think that that is too much to ask for.

There is sufficient evidence just about the FADEC system—FADEC stands for fully automated digital electronic control—and on contamination in the aircraft's other systems to lead most reasonable people to believe that there should be another inquiry. I believe that such an inquiry would vindicate the belief that the two pilots did all they could to secure the safety of that aircraft and to ensure that it stayed in the air, and that they did nothing to contribute to the disaster.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree that Royal Air Force regulations maintain that a finding of negligence should be made only when there is no doubt about it whatsoever? Does not a finding of pilot error in the case in question fly in the face of the RAF's own regulations?

Mr. Hancock

I welcome that intervention. It is a pity that the Ministry of Defence has not listened to that point, which has been made time and again by hon. Members and by others. Perhaps it is the MOD's failure to heed it that has led some people to believe that there is another motive behind the finding.

There is no evidence or justification for finding those two men guilty of negligence or of operating the aircraft in a manner that caused it to crash. There is no evidence to support such a claim, and it is pitiful and regrettable that more action has not been taken. I hope that the Secretary of State will order another review and a reopening of the case.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

People in Northern Ireland entirely support the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, particularly when we think of the millions that are being spent on raking over the events of so-called Bloody Sunday. Tragically, we lost some of the finest brains in security in that crash. Although the crash is being blamed on pilot error, it is obvious that there were other problems.

Mr. Hancock

I appreciate that supportive intervention. I also hope that the Secretary of State realises that there is a real debt to be paid to those two young officers and to their families. I congratulate their families on the determination that they have shown in continuing this fight.

I am sorry that the Minister has left the Chamber, because I should like to address the issue of the evidence given today to the Defence Committee by Air Marshal Sir John Day. I was at the sitting and took part in questioning the air marshal—who was preceded by his well merited reputation as a straight-talking, straightforward senior officer.

I think that the air marshal was unaware of what awaited him at the sitting. However, when he was asked whether he himself instigated the article that appeared last week in The Sunday Times, or whether he was asked or told to do it, he made it clear that he was asked. He was not suggesting that he was asked by The Sunday Times to do the article. He was suggesting that someone in the Ministry of Defence asked him to do it.

The appalling thing is that the air marshal, in his evidence to the Committee today, said that the article was inaccurate and misrepresented his views. However, various statements in the article are in quotes and are directly attributed to him. Today he claimed that those statements were wrong and that the primary conclusion of the article—that British troops were within hours of invading Kosovo—also was wrong.

Three days have elapsed since the article appeared. Today, however, when the Committee Chairman rightly asked the air marshal something along the lines of "Have you or anyone in the Ministry of Defence sought to take action to put right that article?", his answer was "No". I find that rather surprising.

What was the motive behind the request for the article? Did the Ministry of Defence so dislike the truthful approach of the Defence Committee's report on Kosovo? Was the Ministry so ashamed of the report, which had been brought into the public domain even before the Government had given an appropriate response? We are talking not about an officer serving on the front line or on a base somewhere in Europe, but about someone who works within metres of this Parliament and who regularly gives evidence to the Committee that he was condemning. He went to the press and openly criticised the democratic process that this House holds so precious.

Mr. Spellar

Before the hon. Gentleman winds himself up into a paroxysm of self-righteousness, is not it the case that many of the press reports were so inaccurate and biased that the Chairman of the Select Committee wrote to correct one of the newspapers?

Mr. Hancock

That is an entirely different issue. We are talking not about what the press made of the Defence Committee's report, but about what the Ministry of Defence and senior officers made of it. One of the criticisms was: None of that courage is recognised in this report. However, as the Committee Chairman and other members have made clear, the report lists numerous examples of how our forces repeatedly risked their lives. It says: UK pilots and other aircrew and support staff discharged their mission with distinction…Overall, despite the heroic efforts of UK aircrew and support staff, we must conclude that the UK's contribution to the air campaign in terms of actual firepower rather than support. was somewhat disappointing. Even when we were talking about what our forces could not achieve, we were praising them for making the effort on our behalf. The Minister and the Secretary of State have done a great disservice to the democratic process of the House and to the work of the Defence Committee.

Mr. Spellar

Is not it the case that the press reports arising from the Select Committee report did not take a balanced approach? The hon. Gentleman is right—those phrases are contained within the report. However, I am not sure whether they are all contained within the summary—which may have leaned a little the other way—or the press release. Did not many of the press reports lean towards the critical side? Is not that exactly what Air Marshal Day indicated he was trying to correct?

Mr. Hancock

If only that had been conveyed in the article. There is not a single sentence within it that contains any such sentiment. Like other members of the Committee, I feel that the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State should respond in the near future to the issues raised today.

I congratulate, thank and admire enormously the men and women who serve in our armed forces. We ask so much of them and they ask so little of us in return—decent equipment to do their job, decent pay and some effort to ensure that their families are looked after when they are away. They are undoubtedly our greatest asset. Eurofighter might be a super plane, but it is not a super plane unless a super pilot—male or female—is flying it.

I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) is not here. He spoke so critically about the role of women in our armed forces, but I must remind him that in one of the front-line squadrons flying missions over Iraq a woman was flying one of those planes, and doing a great job. She was not "undermining"; she was making a magnificent effort. Many of the ground crews who look after those aircraft on the front line are managed and controlled by women in senior positions in the RAF, and they do an excellent job. Many of our ships at sea are undermanned, but many specific jobs on them are being done by women. If women were not there, those ships would be even more severely undermanned. It would be a blow to the defence of this country if we took the line taken by the hon. Member for Blaby.

The Defence Committee's Kosovo report is a balanced effort to look at the good, the bad and the ugly of the campaign. There were major lessons to be learned; whether they will be remains to be seen. One of the biggest failures was the failure of the intelligence community to deliver what was expected of them to enable our troops, airmen and sailors to be effective.

It is right that the equipment used should be criticised and brought to the attention of Ministers, and Ministers are right to say that many of the defects were the direct responsibility of previous Governments. However, the Government have been in office for three and a half years, and some of the issues should have been addressed. During the first debate on defence procurement under the Labour Government, we talked about that year's National Audit Office report. Ministers said, "Of course, we are talking about issues that we have inherited. Things will change." Things had not changed much by the time the last report, covering 1999–2000, was written. After two years of the Labour Government, the cost of 25 projects had increased from £34.8 billion to £37.6 billion—£3.2 billion over their original budget. Many of the projects had been delayed for more than four years.

I welcomed the Secretary of State's comments on the commitment of the Royal Navy and the ships. I had hoped to ask him whether he felt that we asked too much of the Royal Navy and whether our commitments were so thinly spread that many of our sailors—men and women—were doing back-to-back long sea deployments, putting a great deal of stress both on them as professionals and on their families. I wanted to know whether ships on active service in the Adriatic, the Gulf or off the shores of Sierra Leone were seriously undermanned. The Minister should tell us whether any of the ships actively deployed today are undermanned by more than 5 per cent.

There is a serious crewing problem on HMS Ocean, and naval officers and ratings who have served on the ship feel that it is undermanned. If Ocean's crew is one short, that seriously undermines the functioning of the ship. We have to look at what we expect from the Navy. HMS Ocean is a classic example of how cutting corners to save costs will, in the long run, cause great heartache to the Royal Navy, the men and women who serve in it and the Royal Marines who embark on its ships. I hope that we do not duplicate the problems of Ocean when we build the second ship.

Many Members have referred to Army accommodation in Bosnia and Kosovo, but what about the accommodation for single soldiers in Aldershot? It is appalling. The Committee was told that it would take more than 10 years to put the shared accommodation for soldiers serving in the British Army in this country into good order.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He will know that I asked the Secretary of State a question about the accommodation for our troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Having inspected Bourlon barracks in Catterick—the regiment's home barracks—I was appalled that in the new millennium, we expect soldiers to live in those conditions and to stay in the Army. How is the Army supposed to recruit new people? Something needs to be done, and should have been done years ago.

Mr. Hancock

I agree entirely. [Interruption.] The Minister, from a sedentary position, is blaming the Tories. Of course they are partly responsible. However, the Government have had three and a half years, and we were told by the adjutant-general today that it would take 10 years to put right the accommodation in Aldershot alone, let alone Catterick. Navy accommodation in Portsmouth still causes problems for single sailors living in barracks when they are not on board ship.

The Army has a number of problems to do with the accommodation that soldiers are expected to live in at home and abroad. The RAF has the continuing problem of keeping its pilots together. It was suggested today to Defence Committee members that senior pilots who leave the RAF will be brought back as civilian instructors for two days a week, while employed elsewhere. That is how desperate we are for front-line pilots. Those issues are serious and must be addressed.

We are taking on long-term commitments in the Balkans. No one with any knowledge of the Balkans, and no one who has visited the area in the past five years, would suggest that the Bosnian situation will get any better soon. I have been there recently, and I suggest that improvement is a generation away at least. [Interruption.] It will take longer than 10 years, sadly. It needs a new generation of people who have grown up together and are prepared to work together.

At present, there is no interface between the communities. What exists is purely artificial. There is no cross-fertilisation of industry and investment, education and culture. Everything that is there is artificial, and things are held in check simply by the presence of an enormous number of soldiers, many from the United Kingdom.

The situation in Kosovo is much the same. Sadly, I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith). I am not optimistic that the election has moved us in the right direction. I have spoken to Kosovars who fought for the UCK—the Kosovo Liberation Army—and still believe that they are on active service. They will not relinquish their campaign until they have a free Kosovo. I fear that they have used the result of the election as a referendum on an independent state in Kosovo. They have put down a marker to that effect. Many of the Kosovars living in the United Kingdom—I have many in my constituency—believe that too. None of them would willingly return to Kosovo until it is a free independent state, not simply an add-on to Serbia or Montenegro. Yet no politicians in this country, and very few in Europe, have cautioned the Kosovars about the way in which they have misinterpreted the election.

The situation in Montenegro is very volatile and open to all sorts of abuses by the President, who will, I am sure, make his move to free his country from the yoke of Serbia. I do not believe that his long-term interests, or those of his country, are linked to Serbia. So we have long-term commitments in the Balkans, which puts stress on the men and women who serve there and on the resources of this country.

As for the European defence identity initiative, I do not believe that the Prime Minister's vision was clear when it came to St. Malo. He has since then hedged his bets one way and then the other in his journey to other European capitals, trying to sell that concept. I have not heard Lord Robertson give a clear indication of how he sees NATO's role in the future with a European defence initiative. I have listened to him on nearly a dozen occasions since he became Secretary-General of NATO. I have listened to European Union politicians and commissioners talk about it. I have listened to Mr. Solana talk about it. They are unclear about their role and about the political dimension.

Some hon. Members, myself included, have views about whether a European rapid reaction force is a feasible proposition. Some have talked about Britain, France and Germany joining together. I am not sure whether the Germans could provide 10,000 men for any long-term deployment. I am certain that most of the other European countries in NATO could not produce anything like that number of personnel for any length of time. Norway, for example, cannot deploy any service men unless they volunteer to go. No service men from Norway who serve in the Balkans are there for any other reason.

Other countries have conscription that lasts for less than a year. So how can countries reasonably be expected to play an active part in a rapid reaction force of 60,000 men if some of them will not even have trained people with the necessary skills to be part of that operation?

Mr. Keetch

Although it is true that conscription in some countries is for less than a year, that is not to say that their armed forces are wholly manned by conscripts. Some forces from those countries consist of professional soldiers who could be equipped in those circumstances.

Mr. Hancock

Yes, of course, but they are the same troops who serve on behalf of their countries in Bosnia and Kosovo. They cannot be in three places. Unlike the United Kingdom, those countries do not have the resources to deploy 1,000 men in three different locations. The problem has not been thought through.

The Defence Committee report produced an interesting graph about the make-up of countries in NATO and the EU regarding the single defence initiative. It shows the countries in the EU but not in NATO, those in NATO but not in the EU, and those that have a policy of non-intervention. However, the rules are that unless all 15 countries sign up to a European initiative from the EU, they cannot act as a European force. Any one has a veto, but at least three—possibly four—will never put troops into any such action force. They have the right of veto but they do not under any circumstances intend to participate. How can it possibly work when countries such as Turkey, which would commit themselves to troops—and have done so—are not allowed round the table? These questions have not been answered.

The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) talked about the future of the Western European Union parliamentary assembly. Many hon. Members have raised that point time and again to the Prime Minister, to two Secretaries of State for Defence and to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. They have simply been told, "We don't know the answer." However, a European defence identity has to have parliamentary scrutiny. The EU and the European Parliament cannot provide it because that would mean a major amendment to the treaty of Rome, to which some countries would not agree. We have to create oversight at parliamentary level. Yet Ministers have given no indication of where that will come from. We need answers to those questions.

Let me say in conclusion that I, and the other hon. Members who represent constituencies in south Hampshire, are grateful for the good news about the contracts awarded to Vosper Thornycroft for the Royal Navy's new ships. However, the way in which the contract for the second ship is given and agreed is vital. The Secretary of State said that he sticks by what he said, and that there will be an equitable split—50:50—of the work content for that second ship between BAE Systems and Vosper Thornycroft.

I hope that the Secretary of State will insist on that split being agreed, and on the contract being signed sooner rather than later. The contract is good news for shipbuilding in the south of England, and in particular for my constituency, of which the dockyard forms a significant part. It will also safeguard many existing jobs at Vosper Thornycroft. In the long term, it will open up greater potential for shipbuilding at the Portsmouth naval base.

The contract will improve Vosper Thomycroft's potential to build bigger ships, and that is good news. However, that potential will not be fulfilled unless the Secretary of State steps in to bring people together to agree how the contract will be managed and implemented.

My final point concerns service men and their families. I agree with the hon. Members who have asked about married quarters. I have lost count of the number of times that service men and their families have confronted me with the problems that they have experienced with their homes. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan did not exaggerate when he spoke of the number of moves that his constituent had had to make, nor when he said that the final gift from the armed forces to some service men was a notice to quit their married quarters. Sadly, that happens all too often. We as a nation should be ashamed of that.

I am grateful that from time to time the Ministry of Defence shows a good face to the people who serve it so well, but it is disappointing that so many feel so let down, as they do with regard to accommodation and the treatment of their families.

Two pages in the Royal Navy mission statement presented to the Defence Committee were devoted to communication. There was no mention of the need to communicate with the families of service men, whether they are married or living with partners. I know that the Minister for the Armed Forces has tried, as did his predecessor, to do something to boost family welfare in the armed forces. Significant changes have been made, but they are no means sufficient. More still has to be done: the morale of service men returning home, and the difficulties experienced by their families, remain big problems when it comes to retention of personnel in the armed forces. I hope that the Minister will take seriously the comments that have been made about such matters.

Finally, I want to express my appreciation and respect for those men and women who continue to do their best for the people of this country.

8.22 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

All hon. Members know that the House is marking time, pending the negotiation of legislation in the other place along the Corridor. However, the advantage of that is that this is the second of no fewer than three days of debates on defence issues in one week. The atmosphere for these debates is rather calmer and more relaxed than is sometimes possible, so I make no complaints about the way in which the Government's business managers have afforded hon. Members the opportunity to raise important local issues and to express our concerns—and congratulations, where they are due.

I must apologise to the Minister as, although I will be present for some of the debate tomorrow, I will not be present for the wind-up speeches in the evening. I have an engagement with the Friends of Airborne Forces in Aldershot, and I hope that he will deem that a suitable excuse for absence. I also apologise to my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench for not being present for most of the opening speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith).

Sadly, my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Aldershot, Sir Julian Critchley, has died since we last debated defence issues in February. It is about 30 years ago this month that he made his maiden speech for the Aldershot constituency, and it concerned a defence White Paper. He was not only extremely amusing and convivial company, but he brought to the House a unique insight into defence issues. He certainly made his mark in that respect, and was a very appropriate man to represent Aldershot.

In addition, since the House last debated defence matters, the Parachute Regiment, which used to be based in Aldershot, has taken part in the operation in Sierra Leone. All hon. Members will agree that it did so with enormous distinction. I have spoken to members of the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment who were appalled by what they found in Sierra Leone. They were genuinely moved by the appalling mutilation that some young children suffered. I have no doubt that they were keen to get stuck in and deal with the perpetrators of those horrific crimes.

I understand the reservations expressed by my right hon. and hon. Friends about being sucked into an endless commitment in Sierra Leone, as appears to be happening in Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere. Such commitments will impact on the availability of our forces if any other crisis emerges, but the countervailing argument is that the action offered the opportunity to undertake some real training and to engage troops in real action in a genuine and worthwhile cause. How long they will remain in Sierra Leone is another matter, but the personnel involved felt that they were doing an important job, underpinned by a strong moral imperative. They were satisfied with the professionalism with which the task was executed, and I think that the House would agree with that assessment.

I had the great pleasure of attending the 1st Battalion's summer ball, which was not cancelled when the battalion left for Sierra Leone. The battalion managed to discharge the functions required of it by Ministers in time for the ball to go ahead as planned on its return. That is entirely appropriate, given the professionalism of our armed forces. The summer ball was great fun: for a moment, I thought that I had been transported to Lungi airport, as a number of signs had either been replicated or had somehow found their way to Aldershot.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

They had been acquired.

Mr. Spellar


Mr. Howarth

That is quite possible.

The general picture of the armed forces has not improved since we last debated the matter. I do not want to be overly party political about that, as the previous Government made their mistakes. However, recruitment is not improving. The Army remains well below strength—more so than when we last debated these matters. The Royal Air Force is short of 100 fast-jet pilots—again, more than at the time of the previous debate. The problems of morale and overstretch are made worse by the fact that it is taking longer to extract troops from engagements overseas. I support the Government's approach to providing expeditionary forces, but the investment, equipment or troops necessary for the Government to achieve their objectives are lacking.

I hope that the House will bear with me when I refer to matters affecting my constituency of Aldershot, given that it has many military facilities. Moreover, Farnborough is the headquarters of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.

The Minister's visit to Aldershot on 2 August was much appreciated. A meeting was held with representatives of all the political parties, and we were much reassured by the commitment that the Minister gave that Aldershot would continue to play an important part in the deployment of military garrisons around the country. Although project Connaught is under way to evaluate which facilities need improving and which can be disposed of, we were pleased that Aldershot will retain its role.

I had faxed to me today a letter from the Under-Secretary to Councillor Mike Roberts. I gave notice to the Under-Secretary that I intended to refer to the letter, in which he said: The shape of the military town itself and the units which reside there may vary, but my Department has no plans to withdraw from Aldershot. I am keen that the wording should be unambiguous. Far from hearing that there is no intention to withdraw from Aldershot, I would like to hear that the intention is that it should remain one of the four key garrisons in the country. If the Minister of State makes it clear in his reply to the debate that that is what is intended, there will remain no doubt in Aldershot.

Mr. Spellar

I am pleased to do that now.

Mr. Howarth

I am grateful to the Minister for that prompt response, which we shall transmit immediately to Aldershot by the most sophisticated means so that my constituents can be reassured.

A number of other decisions are being taken about Aldershot. I give one word of warning to Ministers: if too much land in the Aldershot garrison is released, there will be no slack for expansion in the event, for example, that we need to bring troops back from Germany or elsewhere. I urge the Government not to be too mesmerised by the needs of the Treasury to raise money from the sale of defence estates, in my constituency at any rate, to fund Treasury requirements. To do so would reduce the Aldershot garrison to a small size that would not provide the critical mass that we need.

My next point does not affect my constituency, but I have the express permission of one of my right hon. Friends who has a non-speaking part in this place, namely, the Opposition Chief Whip. He has the Odiham Royal Air Force base in his constituency. It is in our part of north-east Hampshire. The Minister of State kindly wrote to me about plans to move the Chinooks that are stationed at RAF Odiham to Yeovilton in 2004.

I do not want to go into great detail about the advisability or otherwise of ejecting the Fleet air arm from Yeovilton, where it has traditionally been based, or about the difficulties of placing Fleet air arm people on the same site as RAF squadrons. That issue has been well addressed by Captain Leppard from Haslemere in Surrey in a letter in The Daily Telegraph of 18 October, which I commend to Ministers. What on earth is the point of moving the Chinooks from Odiham, where they are closely associated with the Army units with which they work and where they are close to Salisbury plain, and sending them miles away to Yeovilton? In order to get to work, they will have to fly a long way to meet up with the Army units with which it is their job to train.

I saw the serious and close co-operation between the Chinooks and Army units when I went on exercise two years ago with the 10th Battalion Parachute Regiment, sadly now deceased as a TA unit. I urge Ministers to look again at the idea of redeploying the Chinooks from Odiham to Yeovilton. A cynic might suggest that land in north-east Hampshire is rich pickings for sale for house-building purposes, and that that might well appeal to the Treasury. However, there is a strong military case for retaining the Chinooks at RAF Odiham. I urge Ministers to think carefully about that. They will have to justify to us the additional cost of flying from Yeovilton to wherever they have to meet up with the Army and the interference in people's lives in areas that they overfly.

Next I should like to discuss the future of DERA—the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. We are keen in the defence business to talk in acronyms. It is known as "derer", not "dearer" because it claims that it gives good value for money. I am concerned about the way in which the proposed public-private partnership is developing. Ministers will know that I and my party have opposed the Government's plans. The headquarters of DERA and its chief executive are located in my constituency, so obviously I am keen that the organisation should flourish and I do not want to stand in the way of its flourishing.

The Government are exacerbating the problem by starving the organisation of funds from central Government, making privatisation the only option to keep the organisation viable. In the past six years, the applied and corporate research budget has fallen by 40 per cent. in real terms and it is now below £500 million, whereas it was about £1,000 million a few years ago. Those cuts are very serious. The amount spent on research as a percentage of the defence procurement budget has been cut from 10 per cent. to 6 per cent. in the United Kingdom, whereas both France and Germany have rising research budgets and in the United States, which has a massive overall defence budget, the research budget has been increased from 8.5 to 10 per cent.

As I said in February, I have great concerns that DERA is in limbo. Ministers have to answer some serious questions. How long will we continue with the process of trying to find a PPP solution? I have received from a constituent a letter that sets out some of the issues. It is from a Mr. Newton, who has worked at DERA for some 19 years. He is an experienced scientist and he now manages and co-ordinates advice in a project support role to one of the flagship integrated project teams at Abbey Wood for the former department of defence procurement, or the Defence Procurement Agency, as I believe it now is.

How will Ministers carve up DERA into the part that will remain in the public sector and deal with the sensitive research carried out jointly with the United States and other allies, and the part that advises Ministers and senior civil servants on procurement issues? The latter part of DERA is to be hived off and sold to the highest bidder in the private sector. As my constituent writes: according to Sir John Chisholm— the Chief Executive of DERA— the relationship between the two organizations needs to be extremely close, with staff continuing to share accommodation and possibly even support facilities. It is indeed likely that a close relationship is required, both for R-DERA— that is the retained DERA— to have access to the resources and expertise of NewDERA— the privatised DERA— in order to fulfil its functions for MOD, and for NewDERA to retain business dependent on the world class expertise of staff in R-DERA. However, if the relationship were to be that close, would the US be content to continue to collaborate with R-DERA? Would UK industry be willing to share its intellectual property rights with R-DERA without worrying that commercially sensitive material might be passed, even inadvertently, to NewDERA staff? In short, how could R-DERA be a trusted partner for international collaborators, industry and academics if it were still to maintain a close relationship with New-DERA? This issue is far too important to be fudged: it must be faced and resolved before the Secretary of State makes a final decision.

Dr. Julian Lewis

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that it is precisely for such reasons that the Select Committee has been so strongly opposed to what has been happening to DERA.

Mr. Howarth

I thank my hon. Friend for giving me that intelligence from the Select Committee. I am of course aware that the Select Committee called on the Government to abandon their proposals on DERA. I find myself in a difficult position; people in my constituency are trying to make the proposals work, although they are fraught with considerable difficulties.

In addressing some of the divisions between the two parts of the organisation, my constituent, Mr. Newton, touched on the relationship with the United States. When my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green and I held a meeting in my constituency recently with representatives from the business community in the defence industries—I do not want to be more specific than that—I was alarmed to find out that they still believed that the Government's proposals were damaging the relationship with the US.

The real difficulty is that we do not know what information the US is no longer sharing with us. The question cannot be asked. However, there is no doubt that representatives of British industry who visit their counterparts in the US are bringing back the information that there is nervousness about the Government's plans. Are the Government planning to introduce a Bill? Do they plan to provide us with a chart showing how they will divide up the organisation? Where will the retained DERA—the continuing public sector operation—be based, while the new DERA, which will ultimately be up for sale, is still based in Farnborough?

Mr. Keetch

The hon. Gentleman touches on a crucial matter. We are told by the Government and by members of the US Administration that there is no problem about DERA privatisation. However, there is an underlying feeling that middle management—the people who actually do the work—may be beginning to lose faith in what the Government are trying to do. Has he gained that impression from talking to people in his constituency? When I talk to people in Malvern, there is a sense that although, at the top, there is an official acceptance that everything might be okay, where the real work is done there are clear concerns.

Mr. Howarth

Yes, there are such concerns. As long ago as May last year, Sir John Chisholm tried to assure his staff that during his trip to the US, he had been able to reassure American opinion—high up in the US Defence Department and in its research establishments. When my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green visited the US last autumn, he found that the Americans were not as reassured as Sir John had implied to his employees and to the rest of us.

Mr. Duncan Smith

It is most interesting that the Government say that they received support from a high level in America. The US will say, however, that it is not its job to interfere directly in the decisions made by a democratically elected Government in the UK. It will state its acceptance because it has to do so, but in practice it does not have to accept what the Government are doing. That is the real point.

Mr. Howarth

Indeed. However, if the Government are intent on taking that route and the decision has been made, I do not want to frustrate or undermine that. None the less, we have a responsibility to draw to the attention of Ministers what people are saying to us. People tell me that they joined DERA because of the ethos. One chap told me, "I joined the organisation because I wanted to do my bit for the country—this was the way I could do it". People did not join to make themselves millionaires. Had they wanted to do that, they would have entered the private sector. Will Ministers tell us how far the proposals for R-DERA and new DERA have advanced?

I draw the attention of Ministers to the closure of the engine test facility at Pyestock—also in Farnborough—in the spring of 2002. They will be aware that I have raised the matter with the Secretary of State over several months. I understand the difficulties faced by Sir John Chisholm; he is losing customers and, once the EJ200 engine for the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft comes fully into service, there will be no further business for that important test facility. I understand that the facility had its origins in Power Jets Ltd., Sir Frank Whittle's company, which was nationalised by the Labour party in the 1940s—driving Sir Frank Whittle over to the US.

Apart from that side-swipe, there are serious issues to be addressed. I asked Ministers whether we were losing a strategic facility at Pyestock and I was assured that the Government are perfectly happy for Rolls-Royce and others to use facilities available elsewhere in the world. I have discussed the matter with representatives from Rolls-Royce, who tell me that it would cost millions of pounds to continue to use the facilities at Pyestock. It was pointed out that the French have very good facilities, but that is because successive French Governments have been committed to aerospace and have put a lot of money into the development of those facilities.

There is world overcapacity in engine testing facilities, but the country should not be losing Pyestock. That will make us wholly reliant on test facilities abroad in order to remain in the engine development business.

The issue of the cannon for the Eurofighter is extremely important. I hope that, by failing to equip the aircraft with a cannon, the Government are not merely penny pinching due to Treasury strictures. A pilot with experience in Bosnia told me that a cannon is an important weapon on an attack aircraft. He said that the cannon he used there served three valuable purposes: first, to fire warning shots; secondly, to take out targets such as helicopters; and, thirdly, to strafe in support of ground troops. His view was that we would inevitably have to retrofit the weapon at some time in the future, with all the related costs of modification and pilot retraining.

The Government should reverse their decision and apply the cannon immediately.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Could there not be a fourth advantage? It is a heck of a lot cheaper to fire a cannon than a missile, if one has to fire something.

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. That point should also be borne in mind.

Mr. Keetch

May I add a further point? Although electronic counter-measures cannot be deployed against shells from an aircraft, one can deploy them against missiles from an aircraft.

Mr. Howarth

That is game, set and—

Mr. Quentin Davies


Mr. Howarth

It is about to be match.

Mr. Davies

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this very important matter once again, because we must go on about it until it gets into the Government's thick heads that what they are dealing with here is penny wise and pound foolish. Does my hon. Friend agree that if, on a mission, a fighter aircraft has used all its missiles— as it supposedly should do in warfare—if it does not have a cannon it is absolutely defenceless on its way back to base?

Mr. Howarth

Absolutely; as I anticipated, that was game, set and match. However, it is a very serious point. It is a small bit of kit, but it is a reassurance to the pilots and, as my informant tells me, it serves those three valuable purposes.

There is some concern among Royal Air Force pilots that they could be short of spares for the Typhoon, because export clients will be the first to get the spares. Ministers need to reassure Royal Air Force pilots that they will not find themselves grounded because all the spares have been allocated to export customers.

I wish to raise two additional points on flying training. Mention was made of the policing of the no-fly zone in the middle east. That endless straight and level work is not equipping pilots with proper training. There is a great concern that inadequate time should be available for training because of all the pilots' commitments, and that straight and level flying over-desert operations are no substitute for operational combat training.

There is also concern that the Royal Air Force is finding it increasingly difficult to train with the United States Air Force because the number of aircraft that the former can mount at any one time is reducing as a result of the unavailability of spares and other serviceability problems. That is a concern if we cannot train with the United States Air Force.

I mentioned in an intervention on the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) the issue of the Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash. I wish to add my voice to the voices of those who feel that the verdict is wholly unsatisfactory. The initial Royal Air Force board of inquiry that investigated the accident could neither criticise the pilots for human failings nor determine a definite cause of the accident. It seems to me that the Government are in breach of the Royal Air Force's own regulation that only in cases in which there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever should deceased aircrew be found negligent.

In an answer given in the other place on 3 October, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean said: It is possible to be certain of the cause for something happening even though the precise details of events leading up to it are less definite.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 October 2000; Vol. 616, c. WA 208.] That is a contradiction in terms. The fact is that the board of inquiry is not certain what happened, and the Royal Air Force regulation requires that those men, although deceased, be given the benefit of the doubt. Certainly their families would appreciate that; they resent the slur on the character of those two young men for what happened and the ultimate finding of the two senior reviewing officers. I see my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) on the Front Bench. The father of one of those pilots is a constituent of his, and I know how much my right hon. Friend is concerned about the matter.

The remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on political correctness were absolutely spot-on. The Government should not be continuing down this road of political correctness because it corrodes the ethos of the services. They will not see the effect of it tomorrow, next month or next year, but in a few years' time we shall all see the effect, because it will serve to undermine the effectiveness of our armed forces to do what we believe they should be doing, which is to be trained for war fighting, not peacekeeping—for defending these islands, as they have done with such spectacular success for the past 50 years.

8.53 pm
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

As this debate is taking place so close to Armistice day, I trust that the House will permit me if I do what I sometimes do in such debates, which is to relate a personal story. It is not from a history book; it is from a newspaper, as recently as Saturday 28 October.

The story told is that of Mr. Geoffrey Delaroy-Hall, the son of a Jamaican father and an English mother, who left school in the second world war, became one of the only coloured pilots in Bomber Command, flew 47 missions over Nazi-occupied territory and was awarded the distinguished flying cross for his skill, courage and daring. He is now 79 and the reason that his story was in the paper so recently was that his next-door neighbour, a 30-year-old white, drug-abusing racist, had been given community service and two years' probation for persistently vandalising his property, waging a campaign of abuse against him and threatening to burn him alive as he slept.

Mr. Delaroy-Hall said: I was the only coloured chap in the squadron, but I never encountered any racism. We were all in it together and there was marvellous camaraderie. I never considered myself coloured—I considered myself English and fighting for my country. He explained that he would not leave his home, despite the continuing threat. He said that his neighbour was not going to get away with it. You have to stand up to bullies, otherwise they just get bolder and bolder and turn threats into actions. How fitting it is that that gentleman—to whom we should all pay tribute at this time of the year for what he did for our freedom in the second world war—is still correctly applying the lessons that were learned at great cost in the run-up to the second world war. He is even doing so in the personal battle that, disgracefully, he faces today. I am not surprised, but I am sickened, by the fact that the racist thug next door, who had previously been in court and sentenced to various light punishments, has still not received a custodial sentence.

I come to the more general substance of the debate. It is only fair, at the start of my speech, to inform the House of the subjects that I intend to touch on: Kosovo, dictators, Russia, nuclear deterrence and the European security and defence policy. I confidently predict that this is one of the few occasions on which hon. Members will be positively glad to hear me discuss the European security and defence policy, because that will signify that the end is in sight.

Earlier this year, I achieved the summit of my realistic parliamentary ambition by being appointed to the Select Committee on Defence. I was pleased by the fact that we embarked on an investigation into the lessons of Kosovo, and I was even more pleased by the results. Several hon. Members had argued persistently that this was the first example in history of a war being won by air power alone—though many in the House had doubted that—and we had a great opportunity to put those points to a succession of highly qualified witnesses, whom we examined. A definite conclusion emerged—it was felt that although it was impossible to quantify exactly how much was due to which particular factor, air power was only one of four factors that operated to achieve the result in Kosovo, and that it was incorrect to claim that air power alone had secured that result. The four factors were air power, the threat of the use of ground forces, the continuing cohesion of the alliance throughout the crisis, and the fact that the Russians had decided not to back Milosevic during the crisis.

The Committee came up with hard-hitting conclusions, some of which were reasonably predictable. After all, in relation to air power, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, one of the most recent former chiefs of air staff, said right at the outset that it was a mistake specifically to rule out the possible use of ground forces in the crisis because, even if we were not planning to use those forces, the threat that we might do so would be strategically highly significant. The fact that we bent over backwards to rule out the use of ground forces sent to Milosevic the signal that he did not need to configure his forces on the ground to meet the threat of a ground attack.

Mr. Keetch

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown)—whose book launch I have just attended—for making it clear during the campaign that we should not have ruled out the threat of the use of ground forces? The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), however, wanted to rule out their use.

Dr. Lewis

If the hon. Gentleman had attended more of this debate rather than the book launch, he would know that that point had already been made on behalf of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown). I was arguing it throughout that period, as hon. Members on both sides of the House will remember. It is enough for me to bear responsibility for my own predictions without having to take on those of other members of my party or of any other party with whom I may happen to disagree in any instance.

The removal of the threat meant that Milosevic could hide so much of his armour that our Royal Air Force pilots did not have the targets at which to aim that they otherwise would have had. In a sense, they lost all the way down the line, because they ended up being criticised for not achieving a greater hit rate in the bombing attacks. In fact, it had been a mistake to enable the aggressor—in this case, Milosevic—to hide so many potential targets that otherwise would undoubtedly have been destroyed.

We all know why the threat was removed. It relates to the third factor: cohesion and the idea that democratic Governments in the alliance would not wear the prospect of deploying ground forces. There is a difference between not specifically making an overt threat and—in that case, quite wrongly—specifically ruling it out. If ever there was a role for deception policy, it was in that area. Even if we did not intend so to act, we ought to have done everything possible to convey to Milosevic that perhaps we would have done so. Eventually, of course, we did convey that message to Milosevic, but by then we were really intent on such action.

I shall leave the subject of Kosovo by mentioning the Russians. The point relates to something that was referred to earlier: the prospect of distinguishing between crisis management and all-out war. We know that the justification for the European security and defence identity—or policy as we must now call it—is crisis-management rather than all-out war. However, had, for example, the Russians taken a much more aggressive stance, a crisis could have become all-out war—entirely uncontrollably. I hope to return to that at the end of my remarks.

There was one point from "Lessons of Kosovo" that we ought not to have had to learn all over again, because we learned it in spades in the 1930s. Unfortunately, the leaders of democratic countries seldom fully appreciate the mentality of dictators. I should like to refer to just a couple of items in the report to point that up.

The Chairman of the Defence Committee, the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), put the matter to the Chief of Defence Staff and the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence in the following terms: Was not escalating the ethnic cleansing an option…to throw your hands in the air and say "We did not anticipate this was what he was going to do" indicates that your war gaming was grossly deficient. The Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, replied: I think it is extremely difficult to get into Milosevic's mind. We did have people who sat down and said "I am thinking like Milosevic" and we did have psychologists in NATO who actually studied the man's record. It was extremely difficult. Thank heavens he is not like us. One can say that again. The permanent secretary, Kevin Tebbit, gave a slightly more revealing answer: We did not expect the barbarity or the savagery. We did not reckon on the readiness to do quite what they did. I can only endorse the Defence Committee's conclusion: it is apparent from the evidence we have taken that, on the UK side at least, little detailed analysis was conducted of how Milosevic and his elite would be likely to react as the target of a coercive campaign…We believe there was insufficient understanding within the Alliance of the character and mentality of the dictator. Have we not heard that in the past, when dictators have run rings around democrats by holding out that little hope of peace, while all the time remaining intent on conflict?

I welcome the cautionary comments in respect of Russia uttered by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery). Back in 1938, the only Secret Intelligence Service agent to be knighted for services in the field, Sir Paul Dukes, concluded his memoirs: Will Russia, with that capacity for extremes which characterises her, emerging from the abyss, cleansed of the putrefaction alike of degenerate Tsarism and soulless Marxism. eventually rise to the topmost heights…? Though the night is still dark, I, for one, will never cease to hope that that fair dawn will break in glory. We have had false dawns before and I, for one, hope that we are not witnessing another now. Russia is massively enfeebled by her recent experiences and that is why we can take a far more relaxed view of any imminent military threat in the near future or even the medium term. However, I am not encouraged when I hear reports that responsible quarters in Russia are denouncing the Halo Trust—the mine clearance charity with which the late Princess Diana was closely associated—for allegedly training terrorists in military techniques.

Similarly, the tragedy of the Kursk is an account of heartlessness, deception and downright lies. At first, even the date on which it happened was not admitted—it was said to have occurred a day later than it had. It was claimed at various times that another submarine had been involved; that there had been survivors; and then that there had been no survivors of the initial explosion. Now, we learn that there had been survivors, after all. As recently as 25 October, the press agency AFP quoted Sergei Zhekov, a member of a Russian parliamentary probe into the catastrophe, telling the Interfax press agency that he had obtained new facts from Russian naval chiefs and the constructors of the Kursk that backed up his latest theory that the Kursk sank after colliding with a British submarine. According to the account, the rescue buoys found after the accident bore the colours of Royal Navy buoys, and that immediately after the tragedy the British navy carried out its first large-scale emergency and rescue exercises for the past 10 years. Finally, an event that this House knows a little about was cited—it was noted that certain submarines were withdrawn from service by the British navy in the space of one week. That is not merely a new version of events. As early as 19 August, the Russian press had published a story in which a source at northern fleet headquarters was quoted claiming that a British submarine had been involved. Once again, it was claimed that British buoys had been detected. It was also alleged that the British submarine lay on the sea bed for 24 hours after the collision and, apparently, once the damage, which was less substantial than of the Russian submarine, was repaired, it set course for Norway. According to the information quoted: Russian special services have surmised that with the assistance of their experts at the scene of the accident, the British intended to try to destroy evidence which proved the fact of a collision with nothing other than a British submarine. That sort of attitude, in the face of categorical and, I am sure, truthful statements by the Ministry of Defence at the outset that no British submarine was involved in the disaster, can be described only as provocative in the extreme.

Mr. Keetch

I was in Washington at the time of the accident. The allegations to which the hon. Gentleman refers from the Russian media were transmitted in the American media. Rebuttals have been rightly issued by the Government, but does the hon. Gentleman think that it would be worth while if the Minister were tonight to deny that there was any British involvement?

Dr. Lewis

I am sure that the Minister will take whatever action he thinks appropriate. I am confident that the MOD has stated from the outset that the allegations are claptrap, garbage and sheer invention. Worse, however, it is malicious invention, and it does not augur well for the future.

From the future, I refer briefly to the past. I have had a little tussle with the MOD over some time about the lessons that we might draw from the ending of the cold war in the way that it did. The tussle began when about two years ago I attended at Chatham house the launching of the television series about the cold war. It was a long series undertaken by Channel 4 and Jeremy Isaacs. I was concerned that at the launching the well-known KGB spokesman, Vladimir Posner, who now holds an academic post in an American university—perhaps appropriately—stated that whereas the Americans had had their Operation Dropshot contingency plans for a third world war with the Russians during the cold war, there had never been any Soviet plan to attack America or western Europe.

I was somewhat concerned about that, and I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Robertson as he now is. I pointed out that it must surely be the case that, among the military archives found when the communist empire in eastern Europe and central Europe collapsed, there would be contingency plans showing precisely what was intended and thus showing that military deterrents, and in particular nuclear deterrents, had been effective throughout the cold war in preventing the conflict from breaking out.

I was fobbed off with a reply referring to security of documents of that sort. I believe that there is no legitimate reason why we should now, after the ending of the cold war, fail to examine the lessons that are shown by the access that we undoubtedly have to the military plans of the former Warsaw pact countries to attack NATO.

All we can do at present is to return to what evidence we can obtain unofficially as it were, via historians. I shall read a brief extract from the memoirs, which have recently been published in France, of Sergo Beria, the son of Lavrenti Beria, who as we know was the Himmler of Stalin's day. In something of a journalistic coup, the brilliant French Sovietologist, Dr. Francoise Thom, has interviewed him at great length and written a substantial book setting out what Sergo Beria has to say. The extract reads: Our acquisition of the atomic bomb in 1949, far from pacifying Stalin, persuaded him that henceforth anything was possible and we could soon move onto the attack. Understanding that our totalitarian system had the advantage over the democracies of being able rapidly to concentrate maximum resources in one area, he hoped to use this temporary superiority to ensure himself a definitive victory, not only in Europe but globally. The book reveals also that Stalin envisaged taking the whole of Europe hostage, gambling that the Americans would never dare to drop atomic bombs on Europe. Sergo Beria states: My father did not share this vision. Referring to Marshal Zhukov of second world war and cold war fame, Beria's son said: I overheard the following conversation between him and my father in 1952: "The balance of power has altered. We now have anti-aircraft defences. We can win," said Zhukov. "Certainly", said my father, "and then? Our own Soviet territory would be devastated by American nuclear bombs, Europe would be destroyed. What would be the use?". Helpful as it is to have such evidence of the efficacy of nuclear deterrence in the early years of the cold war, it would be even more helpful in fighting the battles that we will probably have to fight again, from whichever side of the House, for strong defences in a period of confrontation to have material that shows how justified NATO's nuclear deterrent policy was for the duration of the cold war and what a key role it played in winning that unfought battle.

Time is pressing—

Mr. Robathan

Keep going. My hon. Friend's speech is good.

Dr. Lewis

I am being encouraged to carry on. I shall reinstate a subject that I was about to cut out of my speech. I want to refer to a report by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on "Weapons of Mass Destruction." I inquired whether there was any prospect of it being debated in the Chamber, and I understand that there are no plans to do so at present. Therefore, it is legitimate to refer to three of its conclusions: one good, one bad and one rather contradictory.

The good conclusion is in paragraph 86, which states: We accept the Government's statement that, with the reductions in nuclear capability it has made, the UK's deterrent "is the minimum necessary to provide for our security for the foreseeable future and smaller than those of the major nuclear powers." We recommend that the Government make every endeavour to bring about reductions by all nuclear weapon states to genuinely minimum deterrent levels. That is a good conclusion because it shows that there is no fat left on the British nuclear deterrent. We cannot cut it any further without getting rid of it, and we must not get rid of it unless we are to unlearn all the lessons that the cold war taught us.

The bad conclusion is in paragraph 124, which states: Britain as a nuclear weapon state, a permanent member of the Security Council, a leading member of the NATO and a member of the G8 and the EU has a key role and a key responsibility in trying to put all Weapons of Mass Destruction under international arms control regimes and in making progress towards their complete elimination. This must surely be one of the highest foreign policy priorities for the Government.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton


Dr. Lewis

As my hon. Friend observes, that is nonsense. It is dangerous nonsense.

Mr. Robathan

It is garbage, to coin a phrase.

Dr. Lewis

Indeed, it is garbage—the expression much used in the exchanges between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan).

I shall not detain the House by pointing out yet again the dangerous instability that would ensue if we ever had a nuclear-free world, which would simply make the world safe again for non-nuclear viciousness and massacres of conventional warfare.

The confusing and contradictory conclusion is in paragraph 82 of the report, which states: The five nuclear weapon states, including the UK, have given an "unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total abolition of their nuclear arsenals." Mr. Hain— referring to the Foreign Office Minister— regards this as a strengthening of the Government's commitment under Article VI of the non-proliferation treaty. The only trouble with that, as I have endeavoured to point out to the House on more than one occasion, is that article VI also requires general and complete disarmament of all weapons. Whereas I am happy to see nuclear weapons go when the world is such an idyllic place, such a wonderful paradise, such a trusting haven that we do not need weapons of any sort, the idea of getting rid of the one before we can safely get rid of the other is nothing but dangerous folly.

Later in the paragraph, there is something more encouraging, which I am sure the Minister will be much more relieved to hear. It states: In the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) the Government made clear that it would include the UK's nuclear weapons in strategic arms talks "when we are satisfied with progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons. It continues: It was stated in the SDR that "while large nuclear arsenals and risks of proliferation remain, our minimum deterrent remains a necessary element of our security".

Mr. Spellar

Hear, hear.

Dr. Lewis

I am glad that the Minister endorses that position, although the idea of reaching a total elimination of nuclear weapons in advance of reaching a conflict-free world still fills me with alarm.

I have reached the blessed point that I promised at the outset, which is the moment when I shall refer briefly to the European security and defence identity, or policy, as it may now be transmogrifying itself. I have tried on numerous occasions to explain in the Select Committee on Defence that that is helping to recreate the uncertainties of the events that led both to the first world war and to the second world war.

In the run-up to those two conflicts, there was never absolute clarity about who would be brought into play if one country attacked another. Perhaps a third country would come in; perhaps it would not. Perhaps a country would stand by its treaty obligations, but then again, perhaps it would not.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

We did.

Dr. Lewis

The real viciousness is that, as my hon. Friend observes, when England did that—

Mr. Keetch


Dr. Lewis

—when Britain did that, Hitler, who might have been deterred had he known that it would precipitate war with the United Kingdom and the British empire, was not deterred because he hoped right till the end that we could be persuaded to continue to dishonour the bilateral relationships and alliances that had already been dishonoured so deplorably in the case of Czechoslovakia.

The whole point about NATO was that it showed any potential aggressor that if it went to war with any of the member states, straight away it would be at war with the United Kingdom and, even more importantly, with the Americans. Anything that we do to construct something that gives the possibility that a conflict could break out and be managed, at least in its early stages, without the involvement of the Americans runs the risk of escalating out of control, so that a conflict that might have been deterred with the rigid network and superstructure of NATO properly in place could break out almost unintendedly by slow degrees and miscalculation.

That is a bitter mistake that was made in the 1930s, and it was an achievement of a Labour Government in the late 1940s which brought about the NATO alliance. It is sad that a Labour Government in the 21st century are undermining that important achievement.

9.23 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Following that masterly warm-up, I look forward to the full-day debate on defence policy.

Returning to defence and the armed forces, we have had a remarkable day of debate. It has been an unusually good-natured day, even though there have been some stark differences of opinion across the House. That is as it should be, and should come as no surprise.

Earlier today, I was thinking how things used to go with the former Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Robertson. I remembered that after an early debate following the general election in 1997, he sent me in a brown envelope a copy of a speech that he had made in Lagos on 16 March 1993. It was a speech to the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs entitled, "How to Survive Opposition in Democratic Politics: the Role of a Loyal Opposition". I treasure it. The speech has 12 points, but I shall not delay the House with all of them; instead, I shall refer briefly to three. Item 8 advised: Use politeness as a weapon. Abuse is wearing and off-putting, but exaggerated politeness can be most effective as a verbal stiletto…Our system can still, notwithstanding these rules, allow robust debate, but it doesn't sound as off-putting to the electors as the Australian use of the word "scum bag"—a common parliamentary expression of affection. Item 9 counselled: Use humour ruthlessly. Getting the nation to laugh at your opponents is more devastating than a hundred political debating points. Every politician claims to be able to take a joke but in truth we are the most sensitive creatures, desperate to be popular and loved, and to be laughed at, especially by our own supporters, is deeply wounding. The people also enjoy it. In eastern Europe where political jokes were once a substitute for politics, they say that the jokers are now elected to parliament. Item 10 stated: Don't ever get used to Opposition or start enjoying it. I have no intention of doing that.

Today, I looked at the Ministry of Defence website to check the Department's diary. I did that for a good reason. Last Thursday, when we held the procurement debate, I checked the ministerial diary on the website. It stated: "Announcements: none; speeches: none" yet the Secretary of State announced the six ro-ro ferries and the two landing vessels. Today, the website stated: "Announcements: none; speeches: none" yet the Secretary of State made three announcements in his speech. They were about submarines and the invitation to tender for Bowman, which was issued today. I shall read my copy of Hansard carefully to make sure that I heard the third announcement correctly. The Secretary of State seemed to announce that the next strategic tankers would be built in Australia—good news for the Clyde, no doubt.

After listening to the Secretary of State's speech, in which he made several important points which we shall consider, we enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) very much.

The Secretary of State and others made several points which need correcting. The first point is about budgets. The Secretary of State, of whom I am fond, bangs on about £16 million-worth of defence cuts. I remind him that the Labour party will have knocked £5 billion off the defence budget by the next general election. Labour Members must stop peddling the myth that the modest reversal of their defence cuts means that there is real growth in the defence budget for the first time in 10 years. Members of the military roll around laughing when they hear that.

The Secretary of State and the Minister were members of the Labour party at the time of "Options for Change". Labour Members voted to cut the defence budget by 50 per cent. after "Options for Change". That would be ridiculous enough if it were not for the Liberal Democrat position. Despite the piety of Liberal Democrat Members and the crocodile tears that they shed for the defence budget at the time of "Options for Change", Labour and Liberal Democrat Members wanted to go further.

The Liberal Democrats devised a policy paper in which they planned to reduce the Army to 73,000 people instead of 116,000. I absolve the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) of responsibility because he was not a Member of Parliament at the time. He is a new boy, so we cannot get cross about what he said.

Under "Options for Change", the Army was reduced by approximately 44,000 to 116,000 over three years, in response to the lessening of the Soviet threat.

Mr. Keetch

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for absolving me. Will he confirm that the manifesto on which I was elected in 1997 called for the Ministry of Defence budget to remain as it was, and that the position of the Liberal Democrats in the last general election—when I was elected—was to maintain the level of spending at that time?

Mr. Key

I cannot confirm that, because I was not bored enough to read the Liberal Democrat manifesto. However, I point out that under the tenure of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), there was an increase in defence spending. Our policy at the last election was for a period of stability in the defence budget—so it is silly and sterile to continue to discuss that matter.

When we were battling with the tremendous upheaval in the post-cold war era, Labour and Liberal Democrat Members did not fight us at every turn and say, "Don't cut here; don't follow the lead of our NATO partners." Far from it. They said, "Go further. Cut more." And it was the hon. Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill), then a Labour defence spokesman, who said at a Tribune fringe meeting sponsored by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament on 1 October 1990: The case for these savings is not a matter of dispute. That was Labour party policy.

The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) made many telling points, as I would have expected. It is important for Members with experience of these matters to share the detail—the nitty-gritty—with the House. Of course there is a place for grand international politics and policy, but I took to heart what the hon. Gentleman said about the royal tournament, the Gurkhas, nuclear tests, unexploded ordnance and arms control, because he is an expert.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) made a traditional speech based on great experience, concentrating on one or two issues. I echo what he said about the crash of the Chinook ZD 576. What he said was, of course, right. Nothing that anyone can say will convince me otherwise than that there is doubt: it is ridiculous to say that there is no possible doubt in such circumstances.

There is another consideration, however. People wonder why a journal such as Computer Weekly takes such a detailed interest—and it must also be an expensive interest—in the case. It does so because the case is a test case for computer software projects. It sets a precedent. Ruling out the possibility that software is ever to blame, and blaming pilots instead, sends all the wrong signals to software designers.

I strongly agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife. This is not a vendetta, or an attempt to get at anyone in the Ministry of Defence. It seems to me that there was what might be described as a systems failure. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is an eminent lawyer, and I trust his judgment. Moreover, it is also my view that the verdict should be set aside, if that is possible. Legal distractions may have to be addressed.

The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) spoke at some length, saying that we had got it all wrong. His speech was followed by that of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery). It is a particular pleasure for me to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who has enormous experience of the whole field of defence and foreign affairs. He served with the Royal Air Force in the second world war, and subsequently took a long-term interest in relations between America and Europe and, in particular, the United Kingdom. I therefore listened with great attention to what he said about heavy lift, and about the future of the Western European Union. Moreover, in view of the devastating quotation produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who cited what the Prime Minister said in June 1997 about the WEU, and the complete volte face that has taken place in Labour policy since then, I feel that my right hon. Friend is entirely right to demand answers from the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) spoke with experience and eloquence—following his distinguished service in the Coldstream Guards—about his active service overseas. He mentioned political correctness, about which I shall have something to say tomorrow—for it is my treat to wind up tomorrow's debate for the Opposition as well.

It was pleasant to hear the gentle, thoughtful tones of the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), and I have a great deal of sympathy with what he said about the process of county court evictions, which are the last resort in some technical cases. The Ministry of Defence had no intention of sending people out of married quarters on a sour note: I understand that. Perhaps we can find a better technical solution. There are ways in which these things can be managed. My local authority contains a large number of married quarters, and has a good liaison with the Ministry of Defence. I think that the situation has improved dramatically over the past 10 years.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) spoke with great authority, on the basis of experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) spoke movingly on behalf of his constituents. I am delighted that he wrung a commitment out of the Minister: I think that it is the first time that such a commitment has been secured from the Dispatch Box under the present Government. Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot is entirely right about the future of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency about relations with the United States not being all that they seem, especially at a working level. The guys doing the tests and trials, going over to talk to Lockheed Martin and others and working alongside American forces personnel report that things are not as they were; the trust has been damaged.

I should be grateful to the Minister if he would consider two or three policy issues; I do not expect answers now. I am a bit of an IT junkie these days. I decided that I had better find out about IT because if I did not, I would never catch up. I start my parliamentary day by checking out the websites. This morning, I looked at the Ministry of Defence website in expectation. I went to the update page, "What's new on the MOD website." The most recent entry, dated 3 March 2000, on that page says: The new Defence Estates website is now available, having been launched by the Under-Secretary. The MOD has a new Minister—Dr. Lewis Moonie, Under-Secretary of State for Defence. That is the most updated update on the MOD website.

Mr. Spellar

That is not true.

Mr. Key

I challenge the Minister to go and check whether it is true, because I took that information from the web this morning.

I then checked out the Defence Estates website, which I recommend; it is very good indeed. The latest entry on that website is dated 12 October, which is very recent. The way in which Defence Estates is filling in the background to the policy decisions that it has to implement is to be commended. I learned a lot from the website this morning. It states: The Army's need to ensure that infantry soldiers are fully trained for the operational demands of today and the future, makes it essential that Commoners' Rights on Warcop Training Area in Cumbria are acquired by the MOD. That website is very good. I clicked on the button for further information and then began to understand what at first appearance seemed to be pretty controversial stuff.

I then turned to the Army website, which is up to date and about 10 times as good as the MOD website-I congratulate the Army on it. Its latest entry, dated 24 October, states: Soldiers attempt double marathon. There is much else that is exciting on the Army website, and I recommend it. The TA section is also excellent.

I then used a link to the Army Families Federation website. I congratulate the AFF on tackling many of the issues that affect the families and the Government's people policy. Its website represents a great advance and must be widely used because it is accessible from Cyprus, Germany, Northern Ireland and elsewhere. However, that catalogue of delight has a downside: when I phoned the Army Families Federation to congratulate it on the website, I heard that it was having a tough time because it has had to meet the website set-up costs—many thousands of pounds—and is having huge difficulty financing the website's maintenance. The federation will have to come down a peg or two; it thinks that it can update the website itself, but that the quality will suffer—nevertheless, it is a tremendous effort.

We are honoured that the new Under-Secretary of State for Defence—as the website declared him to be this morning—has just entered the Chamber. I congratulate him on his appointment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)


Mr. Key

The Under-Secretary will find out what I mean later. [Interruption.] I can reassure him that he is still at the MOD.

The Army Families Federation keeps us well briefed on housing and married quarters issues. Many hon. Members have referred to those continuing problems. The sale of married quarters to Annington Homes was the best answer that the Conservative party could find when in government to release money that would otherwise be withheld by the Treasury. That sale was hugely controversial, but it seems to be working quite well now. However, there are still problems with the Defence Housing Executive, such as the cutting of its budget, and pushing back refurbishment by a couple of years was not welcome.

Another issue that affects many Army families overseas is the pet travel scheme, at which I ask Ministers to look seriously. The situation in Germany and in Cyprus is particularly difficult. Will Ministers look at the situation in Germany, where there is a dangerous dogs Act? Staffordshire bull terriers are subject to the new size and weight limits under that legislation, which is distressing for families. It is also feared that the Act will cover soppy Labradors. It will be difficult for forces families if their Labradors are classed as dangerous dogs in Germany.

There is also a problem in relation to Cyprus. I believe that the King's Own Scottish Borderers are due to return to the United Kingdom in February 2001. As many as 400 owners of domestic pets will expect to take advantage of the Government's inclusion of Cyprus in the pet travel scheme. That is welcome. However, there are logistical problems; my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) has brought the matter to my attention and I am grateful to him. Not only does movement in January look difficult, but the legislation necessary to include Cyprus in the scheme might be knocked back because of the Government's legislative problems in the other place. There are also problems of transit. I understand that both British Airways and Cyprus Airways are reluctant to carry pets back to this country—and, if they did, where would they go? The issue is causing distress to families in Cyprus on quite a large scale. I would be grateful if Ministers looked at it.

The final issue to which I want to refer is the problem of medical services and attention to medical records. We know that, in Sierra Leone, there were some 50 cases of malaria. By good luck, the first forces in happened to be heading for an exercise, so they had all the right inoculations and all was well, but I think I am right in saying that the spearhead battalion was not inoculated. Everyone in the spearhead battalion cannot be completely inoculated with everything all the time. It is medically a bad idea. I understand all that, but there was a problem and it was not unique.

I discussed the matter with some Australian army officers, who regularly have to operate in tropical situations. They were amazed at the drug being used by the British military and were not surprised that there were problems of dizziness, loss of vision and so on, which could be dangerous in a military situation.

I remember my experience with anti-malaria pills in Nicaragua. I was issued with two bottles. I had to take the pills from one bottle every day and from the other bottle every week. I got them the wrong way round. It was a most peculiar experience—not a very good one.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

While my hon. Friend is on the subject of Army medical services, will he pay tribute to the TA, which is providing so many personnel to cover for military medical services in Kosovo, Bosnia and elsewhere? They are playing a valuable part.

Mr. Key

I echo that warm tribute to the TA and its contribution to defence medical services. We look forward to a resolution of the problems in defence medical services. No doubt that is a debate for another day.

I was pleased that the Minister for the Armed Forces answered a parliamentary question on Monday setting out the MOD's policy on tropical diseases. That is good news because it gets things set out properly, but there is another issue, to which I draw Ministers' attention. Regarding the Defence Committee report—I think it was the second—on Gulf war syndrome, the then Minister for the Armed Forces, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), said that the MOD faced the problem of a lack of records—when soldiers were inoculated in the field, records were not kept—that one of the answers was likely to be an electronic tag, which could be programmed on site, and that work was being done on that.

That was 1996. In 1999, I took the matter up and asked a parliamentary question. The Minister for the Armed Forces replied in a letter on 19 August, saying that smart cards could have personnel and logistics applications. He said: work is still at an early stage, and no decisions have been taken. I followed that up a year later with a question to the Secretary of State. The Under-Secretary answered on 19 June 2000, saying: The possible development of an ID tag or card to store medical information electronically is being considered in the context of plans to provide the Defence Medical Services with a comprehensive and integrated information system.—[Official Report, 19 June 2000; Vol. 352, c. 35W.] That was good news, but when I went to a Land Command briefing in September, no one present had ever heard anything about any such scheme. I wondered what was going on, given that six years had elapsed. Last week, I read an article in Computer Weekly headed "US Military Gets smartcards", which stated: The US Department of Defence…has this month started issuing smartcards for more than four million users around the world in what is the largest-ever single installation of digital identity. The cards will be used for a wide range of applications, including building access and financial access, as well as access to government information. The card will serve as the authentication token for the DoD's computerised public key infrastructure…The target date for completing the initial issuing of the new card is the end of September 2001. The United States will issue a card to 4 million personnel in a year's time. Ministers therefore owe us an explanation about what the Government have been doing for six years on smart tags. I know that this difficult issue is being examined in the review of defence medical services. The matter is urgent, as our troops would benefit from proper medical records being kept and, in the long run, this is a spend-to-save economy which we may well support. I should therefore be grateful if the Government reconsidered the matter.

We shall return to this debate tomorrow, and I simply wish to echo what I said earlier about today's debate being well informed and good natured. We have covered a lot of ground and I look forward to tomorrow.

9.46 pm
The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar)

Inevitably, certain items will be dealt with tomorrow, some by the Under-Secretary, and some by myself.

The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) said that our debate had been good-humoured and good-natured, which was generally true. Unfortunately, however, it started rather unpleasantly with attacks from the hon. Members for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) concerning Air Marshal Day's appearance before the Select Committee on Defence. I checked what happened. Officials asked Air Marshal Day whether he would give an interview to The Sunday Times. That paper could not get to the briefing that Air Marshal Day and an official gave on Tuesday. The interview was not at the instigation of Ministers although, of course, Ministers' offices would have been informed of it in the normal way. Any suggestion that Air Marshal Day was pressurised into giving an interview is utter nonsense and shows that the hon. Members for Portsmouth, South and for Canterbury do not know the man. It is appropriate to put that on the record. Indeed, the hon. Gentlemen gave differing interpretations of the matter and might have done better to have waited until the record came out, rather than leap in as they did.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) got in on the act and, as usual, returned to the question of the Chief of the Defence Staff in Kosovo. During the major conflict in Kosovo in which the armed forces were engaged day in, day out, we all remember that the hon. Gentleman's main contribution was to call for the Chief of the Defence Staff to be sacked. The hon. Gentleman may think that we have forgotten that, but we certainly have not. Frankly, he will never be taken seriously on defence in this House until he apologises for that despicable behaviour.

The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) returned again to the question of the Navy not leaving port at Christmas. I thought that I dealt with that quite well at the time, when I said that that was a very good thing too. Apart from the strategic deterrent or important operations, I would certainly hope that the fleet would be alongside at Christmas so that personnel could be at home with their families. It never ceases to amaze me why Conservative Members keep raising that issue.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) mentioned his experience of going to Kosovo. It reminded me of an occasion, in August, shortly after we had gone into Kosovo, when I was walking down Pristina high street with one well-armed soldier wearing a flak jacket walking in front of me and another one walking behind me. I asked the young officer accompanying me whether he was expecting trouble. He said, "Not really, but losing a Minister is not very career enhancing." I said, "It seems that your interests and mine coincide, son." We got on quite well.

The speech of the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green and those of some other hon. Members seemed to be slightly obsessive in relation to Europe. It was a little reminiscent of the obsessive period in the Labour party when everything had to be analysed in relation to class. There were class analyses of, for example, industrial relations, social relations, the neighbourhood and the family. There was also an analysis of football and the class struggle.

A colleague in the Greenwich Labour party told me about a debate on pets being kept on one of the local estates. The argument went on for a while, until one of the members got up and said, "Comrades, are we not forgetting something? Comrade Lenin had a cat." After that intervention, a whole new debate was begun on that interesting bit of sociological information. It is getting a little like that among Conservative Members—everything comes back to their obsession with Europe. They are concerned about Europe and football, or about Europe and defence.

Conservative Members' obsession with Europe extends even to mounting a sustained criticism of a very eminent European official. The fact that he is a previous Secretary General of NATO did not seem to phase them in their criticism. They seemed to think that he is a bit subversive, which makes it a little surprising that he was appointed to that office when they were in government and, presumably, had some influence in the matter. They have attacked someone who has served Europe, European defence and NATO extremely well.

I think that Conservative Members, rather than continuing the internal Conservative party feud on Europe, should be considering what best serves the United Kingdom's interests and examining—as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said—what works best in the opinion of other NATO members, including the United States.

Of course we do not want separate planning and the creation of a parallel bureaucracy; Europe and NATO do not have the resources to do that. That is precisely why we want to use NATO assets. I should think that hon. Members would want to support that position, which sustains the alliance rather than weakens it. One of the key questions frequently asked by our friends in the United States is about Europe spending more money, getting greater output and bearing its share of the defence burden.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) talked about the Defence Aviation Repair Agency at St. Athan. A clear feature of DARA's plan has been to consolidate and specialise on different sites. The DARA Fleetlands facility, for example, transferred electronics work to DARA Sealands. So successful has that specialisation been, and so successful the management of DARA, that various leading American companies are working in partnership with it to service third-party contracts. In Almondbank, in Perth, for example, DARA has been servicing not only our Chinooks, getting them back in the air in record time, but servicing those of the Dutch.

It is a real success story, but it requires efficient management and some rationalisation and specialisation, particularly in the use of specialist equipment. Obviously, there will have to be discussions with the work force and with their trade unions, to ensure that the work force's best interests are accommodated. However, we should not resist rationalisation without paying due regard to its benefits.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan talked about married quarters. I do not know the details of the case that he described, but I am prepared to look into it. Sometimes a local housing authority requires a formal legal eviction notice in order that someone can get council accommodation. That happens within families, because, as Members of Parliament, we have to tell people to write a letter, giving the member of their family notice to leave the property so that they can then formally register, under the required regulations, with the local authority for housing. Sometimes that necessity is distressing, but there is a reason for it. However, that does not mean that mistakes are not made.

We understand the problems of housing that we inherited, not least the rushed and botched job of the sale to Annington Homes. The amount needed for repair was underestimated and therefore the time scale for the renovation of the properties had to be moved from 2003 to 2005. However, nearly 25 per cent. of the stock is at standard I condition and about 52 per cent requires some refurbishment—but not a great amount—to raise it to standard 1. Quite a bit of the stock still requires refurbishment and at least £61 million will be spent in this financial year on upgrades.

I take the point that the focus has been on family quarters and some fairly appalling single living accommodation. The Under-Secretary is responsible for our construction programme and he is working with Defence Estates and the top level budget holders on a programme for refurbishing or rebuilding properties. That is important.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) talked about SSNs; I am pleased that he welcomed the good news on HMS Triumph. He talked about co-operation with other countries, and I have drawn attention to the fact that we have had discussions with our long-standing partner in nuclear submarine operations, the US Navy. Those discussions have been successful and we work closely with it on the technical details. We also support each other.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, the hon. Members for Portsmouth, South, for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and others talked about the Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash. We part company here, as we believe that flying too fast, too low and into fog is negligence. Frankly, various other details that are put forward do not change that fundamental point.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I am grateful to the Minister for referring to that matter, if disappointed by his remarks. What experience has the Chinook fleet had since the accident with the full authority digital engine control system? What other inadvertent manoeuvres has the fleet been involved in since then?

Mr. Spellar

I will write to the hon. Gentleman with those details. I have talked to many of the Chinook pilots and asked what they think about the helicopter. They say that it is an excellent craft to work with; indeed, one pilot said to me, "Do you honestly think I would be flying this if I didn't feel it was safe?" Hon. Members ought to balance that with the thoughts put to them by those running the campaign about that crash.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) asked about the role of the Ministry of Defence police in Kosovo. There are 56 members of the MOD police in the international police in Kosovo, as well as a number who are working in the criminal intelligence unit and the Kosovo police school. However, the quality of their contribution is also significant. For example, two of them are working on an international team that is assessing police from other countries. They are making a significant contribution to policing with the quality of their work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde was also right that we are looking at the tour of the duty and considering whether more flexibility can be introduced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins) rightly drew attention to cuts in the army under "Options for Change". I was pleased that he drew attention to the improvements that have taken place in wages and conditions. He, along with a number of hon. Members—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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