§ 4. Mr. Tony Colman (Putney)
If he will make a statement on progress in the implementation of the strategic defence review. 
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)
The Ministry of Defence is continuing to make excellent progress in implementing the long-term programme set out in the strategic defence review. More than half of the key measures have already been completed. The large majority of the remainder are on track and we remain committed to ensuring that the strategic defence review is implemented in full.
§ Mr. Colman
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in implementing the SDR, the Government have had to take account of failings in defence equipment brought into service under the previous Government? Is he aware that since the review, and as a result of the significant new investment that this Government have made, those failings are either being repaired or have been repaired, and that the Chief of the Defence Staff himself, Sir Charles Guthrie, has confirmed that British forces are well equipped?
§ Mr. Hoon
May I take this opportunity of publicly congratulating the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Charles Guthrie, on his impending retirement? I thank him on 7 behalf of the four Secretaries of State for Defence whom he has served under two Governments. Most importantly, however, I thank him on behalf of the British people and Her Majesty's armed forces for a career of distinguished and unfailing service.
Sir Charles Guthrie has said that British forces are now better equipped that any time in his long and distinguished career. Indeed, his successor, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, has indicated that the Royal Navy currently has the best forward programme of warship building than at any stage in his naval career.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, instead of expanding the regular Army by 3,000, as planned in the strategic defence review, the numbers have dropped slightly, and that the proportion of soldiers who are unfit for combat service has increased? Will he also confirm that we have a shortfall of one sixth—17 per cent.—in RAF fast-jet pilots, an even larger proportionate shortfall in Royal Navy fast-jet pilots and that the serviceability across all our major classes of aeroplanes has declined since the SDR was published?
§ Mr. Hoon
The hon. Gentleman gives an accurate account of the problems that we inherited. We have sought to resolve several issues, not least improving retention. Recruitment remains buoyant for the Army, and we are on track to deliver the manning required by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force under the strategic defence review.
There is a short-term problem with fast-jet pilots. We have sought to address that through the recent armed forces' pay review body, and have accepted its recommendations in their entirety, specifically the recommendation on extra payments for fast-jet pilots. We shall address the longer-term problems by seeking to train more pilots to fill the many aircraft that we look forward to procuring for the RAF and Royal Navy.
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
One of the aims of the strategic defence review was improvement of performance in the public service. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be aware that the work force at Clyde submarine base, in my constituency, have shown commitment and loyalty over the years. Given the latest exercise in saving on expenditure, can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will take seriously the combined trade union response on the future of the work force? Can he assure me that he will not hand the work force lock, stock and barrel to Babcock Rosyth Defence Ltd. or the private sector, but have a public-private partnership to improve the stability and efficiency of the base now and in the future?
§ Mr. Hoon
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He and I have held a meeting to discuss proposals to make our systems of warship maintenance and support still more efficient. I have received various suggestions from him and from the trade unions. We are also working closely with the employers to ensure that whatever support we give to the Royal Navy will be the best value for the taxpayer.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
May I associate Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition with the Secretary of State's thanks to the Chief of the Defence Staff? I congratulate 8 General Sir Charles Guthrie on his retirement and his distinguished career. I am sorry that he is retiring, as he told us this weekend that the European Union rapid reaction force would not have a fighting role during his lifetime and that the military should not be undermined by barmy ideas. Why is the Secretary of State determined to ignore his chief military adviser and press ahead with deeply unpopular plans to peg military pay to politically correct targets rather than military effectiveness?
§ Mr. Hoon
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about General Sir Charles Guthrie, but he should put Sir Charles's comments in the correct context. The Chief of the Defence Staff was, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, referring to war-fighting capability, and the Government agree with what he said. War-fighting is the kind of activity that we expect NATO to carry out as a result of our collective defence obligations. General Sir Charles Guthrie was quite right to refer to the fact that it is unlikely that the EU will have a war-fighting role. European defence is about crisis management and the Petersberg tasks, not war-fighting.