Previous Section Home Page

Column 814

appreciate the importance of taking account of the Soviet Union's legitimate security concerns. We understand the historical considerations that colour its thinking on the German issue. Indeed, for that very reason the prospect of a united Germany in NATO is one which the Soviets should, in my view, welcome. Therefore, in any restructuring of British defence forces, a significant contribution to NATO generally and British Forces Germany in particular, must remain.

The central role of nuclear deterrence will also remain. The United Kingdom's strategic deterrent makes an important contribution to alliance security and is the ultimate guarantee of our security--an insurance policy against unwelcome developments in the future. Trident will allow us to maintain a credible strategic nuclear deterrent well into the next century at a relatively modest cost and we remain entirely convinced of the need for it. Although there is clearly a diminishing need for nuclear systems of the shortest range, NATO will continue to review both the quantitative and qualitative requirements for its sub-strategic forces, which will need to offer greater flexibility and longer range. The need to ensure that the basing of nuclear weapons is widespread among NATO nations will also remain an important demonstration of the commitment of alliance members to collective defence and the need to share roles, risks and burdens, as well as the advantages of nuclear deterrence. This burden-sharing is, of course, also important because of the need to offer reassurance to our American allies. The vital importance of a continued United States presence in Europe adds particular weight to that.

The Labour party discussed, in its recent document, the demise of flexible response, although I am never clear what it would put in its place. Perhaps it sees a return to a tripwire strategy as preferable. Let there be no doubt that NATO remains firmly committed to the central concepts underlying flexible response as the best means of maintaining effective prevention of war, which will be essential so long as the Soviet Union retains its awesome military potential. At the same time, post-war history shows that while we retain effective alliance deterrence, conflict is more likely to erupt in other parts of the world, rather than in Europe, and the possibility remains of the United Kingdom's interests out of area being threatened. Therefore, it is important that forces be retained which can contribute to security in other parts of the world. Such forces can, of course, play a key role in peace keeping, as we have shown time and again in our support for the United Nations. As we reshape our contribution to NATO we need to provide forces with sufficient flexibility to contribute to out-of-area operations, should they prove necessary.

I should like now to deal with the services' commitments in Northern Ireland. In my speech during the Army debate two weeks ago I spoke about security and our anti-terrorist operations in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland. Since then the IRA has callously murdered a former RUC reservist and his wife and planted a bomb at the headquarters of the Honourable Artillery Company--a bomb which injured a number of civilians. The IRA has also blown up a former home of my noble Friend Lord McAlpine and a building at an Army training area in Hameln, West Germany-- fortunately without loss of life. Thanks to the vigilance of a local farmer, important arrests have been made in Belgium and Holland. That serves to emphasise, as I have

Column 815

often said, that the involvement and support of ordinary people in the community in the fight against terrorism will lead to the IRA's ultimate and inevitable defeat.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : It may have been a slip of the tongue, but I think I heard the Minister say that the IRA had blown up the house of Lord McAlpine. In the press that was attributed to animal liberation groups, not to the IRA.

Mr. Hamilton : No ; as I understand it, Lord McAlpine runs a zoo, so that would be a strange thing for an animal rights group to do. He was always on a list of the IRA

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King) : The IRA claimed it.

Mr. Hamilton : As my right hon. Friend says, the IRA claimed the attack.

The protection of our service and civilian personnel and of defence establishments against terrorist attack remains our highest priority. As I said during the Army debate, an additional £126 million was provided last year to fund a major package of security enhancements, here and on the continent. The implementation of those security enhancements is continuing, and we are looking at ways to extend security to cover all areas where people may be vulnerable to terrorist attack. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who raised this matter yesterday, that all items of operational urgency and significance, including security measures, are exempt from the temporary period of spending restraint.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) : On security, is the Minister aware of the deep concern in the Kintyre area of Argyll, where I understand that Ministry of Defence police are to be withdrawn from the NATO oil depot? As there is increasing traffic--it is welcome--between Kintyre and Northern Ireland, I should be interested to know whether the Minister agrees that that would be a retrograde step, since I believe that the MOD police are to be replaced by private security arrangements.

Mr. Hamilton : I cannot comment on that case, but I know that in general terms we have to review all our security commitments. Although people find that Ministry of Defence police are the most satisfactory for them, those police are also the most expensive way of providing security. I suspect that budgetary considerations may have been taken into account in this case because we are interested in getting the best value for money from the defence budget--but I shall write to the hon. Lady about this.

Mr. Winnick : I thank the Minister for giving way to me a second time. Does he accept that those of us who believe that the Birmingham Six are not guilty of the charges against them--I doubt whether any hon. Member thinks that they are guilty--believe nevertheless that those who have carried out crimes against humanity, such as the IRA has, should be brought to justice? Merely because we believe, as some of us have for some time, that certain people in prison are not guilty as charged does not alter our conviction that recent IRA crimes--the soldier who was murdered recently not far from my constituency, the Army major in Germany, and so on--are crimes against humanity, and that those responsible for them should be brought to justice as quickly as possible.

Column 816

Mr. Hamilton : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I know that the whole House condemns those atrocities. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to comment on the Birmingham Six, although I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has looked at the case, I think more than once, and does not consider that it should be reopened.

As I said, it is important that ordinary people, and in particular the local population who live around military bases, are involved in our efforts to protect the service men who live and work there. Last night my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) suggested the establishment of neighbourhood watch schemes. I assure him that we are studying all options with the relevant civil authorities and intend to announce our conclusions shortly. We shall continue to use a mix of resources to provide guards for MOD establishments. These include service personnel, Ministry of Defence police, in-house MOD guards and commercial guarding companies. We are examining the creation of a Ministry of Defence guard force. All those options, including commercial guarding companies, where they can demonstrate that they can provide an effective service, must be available to meet the terrorist threat. I should like to move on to mention the scope of the armed forces' task in Northern Ireland which is, of course, their largest peacetime operational commitment.

The Army's 10 regular battalions in Northern Ireland are currently split into five resident and five roulement battalions. Maintaining this force level requires thorough support and planning. So far this year two resident battalions have already been replaced--one by another resident battalion and the other by a roulement battalion. Each roulement posting requires three battalions per year as the six-month long tours are not timed to the calendar year. Throughout 1990 approximately 20 units will undertake training in preparation for duties in the Province. In addition, there is always a battalion on standby which, if necessary, could deploy at short notice to Northern Ireland, or elsewhere.

The extra cost of the service commitment in Northern Ireland is estimated at about £200 million in this financial year. Both Regular and full- time Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers work long hours--more than 60 hours a week on average. Even the average part-timer contributes about 22 hours a week. The UDR's nine battalions provide an indispensable element of the Army's support to the RUC. UDR soldiers are under constant stress because of the danger of murder, both on and off duty. Almost 200 have been murdered since 1970 and almost 50 ex-members have been killed. The full- time element of the UDR has been increasing which is a reflection of their importance within the Army. We will continue to improve the professionalism and training of the UDR permanent cadre soldier.

We do not often see the statistics about punishment shootings in Northern Ireland. Since 1973 there have been 494 loyalist and 972 republican punishment shootings, making a total of 1,466 people in Northern Ireland who have been shot through the knee-caps and sometimes in the elbows and thighs as well. That is an example of the horrific way in which these extreme organisations carry on in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those extremely moving statistics. Will he join

Column 817

the American ambassador in condemning the mayor of New York for what appears to be happening there in glorifying terrorists?

Mr. Hamilton : Some unfortunate remarks have been made in the United States by people who do not in any way understand the situation in the Province. They are seeking to pander to a thoroughly ignorant public in New York and some of the remarks made are thoroughly regrettable.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said yesterday, we owe a great debt to our service men and women, whose courage, dedication and fortitude are demonstrated so vividly and, sadly, so frequently as they help to meet the services' commitments in combating terrorism.

Much has changed in the world, and much is yet to change. We now face a set of circumstances almost unthinkable 12 months ago and certainly not predicted then. We are presented with opportunities to transform the political landscape of Europe from one deformed by confrontation and division to one where democratic freedoms can flourish in a stable security environment. We shall achieve this transformation only if we keep firmly in sight the present realities of the world and are not blinded by visions of utopias just round the corner. We need to keep in check Eurocentric tendencies. There is a wider world. The United Kingdom is part of it and our armed forces and defence activities can help to make it a safer place. The "Statement on the Defence Estimates" sets out our approach to these matters and describes our management of the services and defence resources. I commend it to the House.

4.24 pm

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : First, I take up the theme on which the Minister of State ended and pay tribute to our service men and women for their work in the past year, often in most dangerous circumstances, and, in particular, those who have to serve in Northern Ireland. In addition, as the Secretary of State did this morning, I too praise the co-operation of those European countries which sought to apprehend the cowardly murderers who were obviously well entrenched in Europe. It is an achievement to have such co-operation. I only hope that none of the countries concerned will do as other countries do on occasion and prevent the extradition of those murderers so that they may receive their just deserts. Unfortunately, I missed the beginning of the Secretary of State's speech yesterday, but I caught his statement that the newspaper report about the Minister of State for Defence Procurement's paper, which was referred to earlier today, was true, that it was not secret, that he had seen it and that he had sent it to the Prime Minister as long ago as before Christmas. But what he did not say yesterday was whether he agreed with its contents. Like many of my hon. Friends, I found it remarkable that the Secretary of State found it necessary to deny that there was a rift between him and his Minister of State. However, for the sake of the country, Opposition Members are pleased that they are jolly pals again, even to the extent that today the Minister of State for the Armed Forces duplicated the Secretary of State's speech yesterday.

Column 818

The Secretary of State spent a long time yesterday analysing political developments--rather badly I should say, particularly in his distortion of what happened at the end of the first world war, his reference to the 10-year rule and his clumsy attempt to blame the Labour party for the decisions of successive Tory Governments. After his long analysis of events in eastern Europe and the geo-political factors that face us at present which has been reiterated today, he stressed the fact that the Soviets are a huge continuing threat and are re- arming at a frightening pace. If they are true, the statistics that he trotted out yesterday were frightening, and he says that he receives intelligence reports, so I presume that they are. But what is the Government's response to the huge, continuing and increasing threat that is developing from the Soviets? They are cutting back because, as the Secretary of State said in another part of his speech, peace has broken out and there is room to cut back. The Secretary of State made a pathetic and illogical speech. He talked about people riding horses, but he is riding more than two horses on this occasion.

The truth slipped out this morning when the Secretary of State was interviewed on the "Today" programme. He acknowledged that the reason for the present cuts was not what he suggested yesterday and not what the Minister of State for the Armed Forces suggested today--a measured and orderly response to geo-political factors--but the inflation that the Government have created and its impact on the defence estimates. The Secretary of State said--it is in Hansard --that he could not get any extra money from the Treasury and he had to live within his cash limits. That is why the cuts are taking place. The Government must cut back, not because they are constructing an orderly response to changes in eastern Europe, but because they have been told to create a peace profit in order to fund the poll tax.

The Minister of State talked today about a cold and measured response, but yesterday the Secretary of State said that he has already set in train some short-term changes which have largely been decided and that announcements will be made as appropriate, including some procurement changes that were to be announced by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement yesterday evening.

When I asked the Secretary of State later what short-term changes had already been decided, his response was rather rude, so we thought that we would wait for the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to reply. However, he contributed only three lines about procurement changes. If all those changes have been made, I would expect the Secretary of State to think it appropriate to announce them in the House--or will some of the decisions be delayed until the recess, when there cannot be any parliamentary criticism of the Government's actions?

The Secretary of State was less than truthful with the House yesterday. As usual, it took the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence--the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates)--to put his finger on the issue. He said :

"Arbitrary cash cuts and deliberate attrition by inflation make prudent management of the defence budget next to impossible." So much for the Secretary of State's claim that the cuts are a reasoned and rational development.

Column 819

I was amused yesterday by the Secretary of State's reply to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), who asked whether the suppliers would receive their money for the work that they had carried out. He responded by saying that the computer at the Ministry of Defence had broken down, and that therefore the suppliers could not be paid. I thought that that was the usual Government response to social security claimants ; I never thought that it would be a response to suppliers. [Interruption.] If the Secretary of State does not agree, he should read yesterday's Hansard. Late in yesterday's debate there was a relatively casual reference to the axing of Tornadoes. The Minister of State for Defence Procurement said :

"At present, I cannot foresee a place for additional Tornado aircraft in the programme ; I have therefore decided not to authorise further work on that order."--[ Official Report, 18 June 1990 ; Vol. 174, c. 709 and 771.]

There has been much speculation on that issue today. Perhaps in his reply the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement will elaborate on the matter and tell the House what is going on. Does it mean the axing of 31 or 33 aircraft in the eighth batch? Will the remaining 10--according to the defence estimates, 43 have been ordered--still be ordered? When will the promised £600 million saving be made? Does the approximate delivery rate of 10 Tornadoes a year mean that the savings will be made over three, four or five years? If 10 are already under construction, when will the savings show up? I have examined the estimates for a budget line on the matter. Perhaps the Minister can tell us tonight what will happen to the Tornadoes : he owes that to the workers at British Aerospace, if not to the management. The management said today that it wanted to discuss the cancellation with the Ministry of Defence, although yesterday the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said that his Department had been consulting British Aerospace on the changes. A slight difference of opinion is emerging.

The mystery that remains is where the immediate £300 million in cuts that the Secretary of State mentioned will be made. How will he guarantee the 3 per cent. savings in this financial year to which he referred? They are not covered by the cutback in the Tornadoes, so where will they be made? We can only assume that the savings will result from the existing moratorium on contracts, civilian recruitment, reductions in planned operations and, I presume, the computer breaking down at convenient times. I look forward to hearing some answers from the Minister this evening.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Tornado order. No doubt he will be aware that that order is important in central and north Lancashire and that the security of jobs there is tied up with the future of the European fighter aircraft. Many Conservative Members are concerned that that project should continue and that Germany should endorse it and continue to develop it as that will benefit British industry and British jobs.

Mr. Rogers : Obviously that question should be directed to the Government and not to me. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make that point if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that yesterday the Minister

Column 820

of State said that the agreement had been signed and that the programme was going ahead. Had the hon. Gentleman been here yesterday, he would have heard that.

Two significant things have happened in the past week or so. The first was the speech by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to the Royal Aeronautical Society, which fortunately I missed.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : Has the hon. Gentleman read it?

Mr. Rogers : Yes. It was a speech for which the Minister was attacked by his officials, especially over his pleas for simpler and cheaper weapons and his suggestion that the A310 airbus could be adapted for use as a medium-range bomber.

I know that the Minister has a primitive streak and a desire for the simpler things in life such as servants and antique cars, but I wonder whether he was really serious. He said recently--I think that it was in the debate on the Army--that there was no point in being ironic in this place, but his irony and laid-back approach to arms procurement have raised the wrong hackles this time. It has been suggested that the Minister has a radical approach to defence matters, which would obviously bring him into conflict with the more rural and pedestrian Secretary of State. It seems to me that in some of the things he has said he has mistaken lunacy for free thinking and freaking off for parallel thought. However, I agree with his simpler and cheaper approach to defence procurement. I suggest that he starts at home by sorting out the Procurement Executive.

The second significant event that has occurred in the past couple of weeks was the publication of another substantial report by the Defence Select Committee. Yet again the Select Committee is highly critical of the Government. That is not unusual. It deals with the non-procurement of the Rapier Field Service C--a short-range, low-level air defence guided weapon system. It outlines the sad and sorry saga surrounding the essential fact that Rapier is £300 million over cost and three years behind schedule in coming into service. The report's criticisms of the Government seem rather muted in tone considering the confessions of witnesses as a result of acute questioning by the Chairman and members of the Select Committee, particularly the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas). The inability to assess the technical risks before full development seems to be at the heart of the problem. Although there was a two-year feasibility study followed by a three-and-a-half year definition study, costing in total more than £18 million, prior to the development phase, it seems that no one except the British taxpayer is picking up the tab. The prime contractor, British Aerospace, has tried to pass on some of the blame to the sub-contractors, Plessey, Marconi and Ferranti--not insignificant companies. They in turn wash their hands of any of the blame. That means that the supervision of the contract by the Ministry of Defence leaves much to be desired. I was rather taken aback by the arrogance of the replies in the Select Committee report by the assistant under-secretary of state (ordnance) to the Chairman and to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West, who pressed him critically on the issue. Some of the statements in the report are strange. One statement, for example, reads : "British Aerospace did not have any incentive to keep the costs to a minimum".

Column 821

Does that mean that efficiency or pride in its work were not incentives? Does that mean that the British Aerospace management is so bad that it cannot control costs to a proper level in the production process? Does it mean that British Aerospace can control costs, but that it is overcharging to make excess profits? If that is the case, it means that the supervision by the Ministry of Defence and by the Procurement Executive is deficient and negligent, and that they are guilty of far more than the count of slack control which was mentioned in the report. That could be the case, as the report goes on to say :

"development work was not monitored against milestones", but payments were simply made

"on the basis of work completed rather than demonstration of achievement".

Although the programme has been relaunched, matters have gone from bad to worse. The inclusion of £115 million for British Aerospace as a "risk contingency" is another mind-bending decision. Perhaps the Minister can explain it. The Chairman of the Select Committee, the Conservative hon. Member for Hampshire, East, described it as "a sweetener" for British Aerospace. It is one of a long line of those. However, I still cannot understand why such a gratuitous amount was paid to a company that was already contracted to do a job on what was virtually a cost-plus basis.

The report shows incompetence and inefficiency in the Ministry of Defence and in the Procurement Executive on a scale that would land any local authority manager in gaol. The £300 million cost overrun on Rapier is a scandal that requres an immediate Government reaction. The Crichel Down scandal reinforced the principle that a Minister is responsible for the actions of his Department. Sir William Dugdale, who was the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries at the time, resigned over that incident. He was a man of honour.

The Ferranti affair resulted in the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who is here with us this afternoon and who was then the Minister of Aviation, refusing to resign because he argued--perhaps properly--that mistakes could be made over contracts at the edge of known technology and that the Minister, therefore, was not necessarily responsible. However, much to his credit, the right hon. Gentleman instituted an inquiry into the Ferranti affair which resulted in a repayment of £4.25 million by Ferranti for overcosting, and that was a significant sum at the time.

Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, the then Home Secretary, said : "The position of the civil servant is that he is wholly and directly responsible to his Minister. It is worth stating again that he holds his office at pleasure' and can be dismissed at any time by the Minister."

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for warning me that he would refer to this old story. There is nothing that requires concealment. The contract with Ferranti was made long before I was Minister. Ferranti made a substantial profit on a cost-plus basis. Mr. Basil de Ferranti, who had been my Under-Secretary, and his brother, who was then chairman, discussed the matter. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and I discussed the matter with Mr. de Ferranti. Ferranti agreed that it had made an excessive profit and, as the hon. Gentleman says, it repaid £4 million, which it did not have

Column 822

to do under any legal consideration. I should have thought that the return of £4 million was rather better than my resignation would have been.

Mr. Rogers : I did not mention the story as a criticism of the right hon. Gentleman. However, the rather casual way in which he describes the events is not quite borne out by the facts. A committee was set up under Sir John Laing to investigate the matter. The investigation was carried out not on a casual, old-school-tie basis, but as a more formal inquiry.

Mr. Amery : I have not had time to check the documents. However, I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the inquiry was subsequent to the decision.

Mr. Rogers : I shall bow to the right hon. Gentleman's version as he was involved in that particular scandal, although he was not responsible for it. [ Hon. Members :-- "Withdraw."] It was a scandal. The scandal was in overcharging, not in the conduct of the Minister and I have not said that as a criticism of the right hon. Member for Pavilion, as the record will show. If Conservative Members believe that ripping off the British taxpayer is not a scandal, they have a very different standard of morality from ours.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces talked at length about morality today. However, what has he and his Secretary of State done about the Rapier contract? They will not even do what the right hon. Member for Pavilion did--instigate an inquiry. They have kept their heads down and they have shut their mouths. The whole circus carries on performing. [Interruption.] The Minister of State for Defence Procurement finds it amusing that we should be ripped off for £300 million. He really does not care because the friends of the Tory party in big business will benefit. They probably went to the same school as half the Conservative Members. There has been no expression of regret about the rip-off and no acknowledgement of blame. No one has been chastised and no one has been sacked. The Minister will obviously not resign, but he should at least have the guts and gumption to sack the head of the Procurement Executive--a Tory placeman who has presided over "many costs" in time overruns, over much inefficiency and over much poor performance.

That man was brought in by the Government to sort out arms procurement, to introduce efficiency through competition and to reorganise procurement procedure. The Secretary of State is mumbling and seems to be asking my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) whether he agrees. My hon. Friend certainly condemns the rip-offs and the number of slippages in arms procurement. He condemns the hugely expensive overruns and the continual reports from the Select Committee on Defence about poor reliability and

maintainability. The Secretary of State is squirming. Is he going to get up now and resign?

Mr. Tom King : The hon. Gentleman is speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, so I assume that his attack on Sir Peter Levene, who is not here to defend himself, is made with the authority of his hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) and that it is the Labour party's policy to criticise a public servant in that way. The hon. Gentleman also knows perfectly well that the contract to which he has referred was placed a considerable time before Sir Peter Levene reorganised part

Column 823

of the system of contracts. That point should be put clearly on the record. I was under the impression that Labour Members on the Select Committee also believed that Sir Peter Levene had made a considerable contribution to the procurement process. The hon. Gentleman has now made Labour's view clear. He has made a scurrilous attack, and I hope that he will make it outside the House.

Mr. Rogers : The right hon. Gentleman protests a little too much. He knows that he presides over a shambles. He knows that he is getting ripped off by the defence industry. He forgets that, although there was a five-and -a-half-year feasibility and definition study, which cost £80 million before 1983, the development side was placed in 1983. In 1986, long after Sir Peter Levene joined the Procurement Executive, the whole contract was renegotiated. The Secretary of State does not know the facts. He should withdraw what he has said, unless he is quite happy. That is typical of this Government. They have been criticised in a report by a Select Committee that is dominated by Conservative Members, yet all the Secretary of State can do is to blame me for making a "scurrilous attack". Why does he not criticise the Select Committee?

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : It is a little harsh for a Labour Front-Bench spokesman to castigate the Government for insufficiently adhering to fixed-price contracts as milestones when these are management tools that have been introduced by the Government due to the abysmal lack of control over these matters by previous Governments. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the extent to which the minutes of this debate will be read by foreign arms exporters across Europe and be used against Rapier--a very good British product that has sold well abroad, with competitive tendering?

Mr. Rogers : The hon. Member does not know his facts. He has not read the report. He has talked about the Rapier systems being a good product. They do not even work. The systems have not been integrated. The hon. Gentleman ought to check his facts. He talks about this Government's glorious record. Is he aware that 24 projects have exceeded the initial cost estimates and that another 25 projects are subject to time slippage? Defence procurement is in an utter shambles. Sir Peter Levene, despite being brought in specially to correct this has not done so.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Did my hon. Friend hear the in -depth and searching questions that the Prime Minister endured on the Jimmy Young programme when she castigated overspending by local authorities? Would my hon. Friend care to contrast the situation in local authorities with that in the Ministry of Defence and the overspending on all these projects? What does he think that the Prime Minister should be saying about the gross overspending on Ministry of Defence projects?

Mr. Rogers : As I have inferred, Ministers and civil servants seem to be outside any criticism. If there is positive criticism, the Secretary of State says it is scurrilous. It is not. I have heard Ministers castigate Labour and Conservative councillors and local authority managers who are not here to defend themselves. It is a shabby trick that the Secretary of State should make such a statement. I am pleased to see that I have offended the Secretary of State. That was one of my ambitions in life.

Land use in some areas is receiving a great deal of criticism, especially in south-west Wales and St. Davids

Column 824

airfield in Pembrokeshire regarding the proposed installation of "over the horizon" American radar. People in this area, and in Wales as a whole, view the proposition with horror.

The scale of the radar structure is huge, consisting of 120 ft high posts, with masts and wires over a mile long. The location is in the beautiful Pembrokeshire national park. The structure is highly intrusive and will have a substantial effect on tourism. It will be visible from the popular coastal footpath and for many miles inland. It will be damaging to the environment. The construction is seen locally as an intrusion and is regarded as an insult because of its presence near St. Davids cathedral, the church of the patron saint of Wales, and in an area where there are many ancient religious sites.

Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : Will the hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance on behalf of the Labour Opposition that the scheme would not go ahead if he were the Minister?

Mr. Rogers : Yes. We would stop the work and conduct the proper survey that has been promised by the Government. A promise was made but has not been fulfilled. The Minister of State for Defence Procurement has met himself coming backwards.

In a letter to me dated 6 June, he stated :

"we are currently at the beginning of the decision-making process, not the end."

He was not telling the whole truth. Another paragraph stated : "I have concluded that the only suitable location for the transmitter is the MOD owned site at St. Davids airfield". A thorough and proper review of this proposition would be made, regardless of the scoffing remarks of Conservative Members.

Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rogers : No.

Defence exports is a matter only casually alluded to in the estimates. The estimates say :

"Continuing success in the defence exports field does not imply any relaxation of the strict controls needed to prevent weapons or other sensitive equipment falling into the wrong hands."

That is right, but many weapons and sensitive equipment fall into the wrong hands.

Iraq, for example, is not a country known for its commitment to human rights. Certainly it is embargoed for receipt of such goods. How much has gone, directly or indirectly, to Iraq through Jordan? The estimates say that the MOD works closely with other Government Departments. The MOD, through the Defence Export Services Organisation and IMS--a wholly-owned subsidiary--has been active in this area and closely involved with the Midland bank and the Export Credits Guarantee Department, directly and indirectly through Jordan. Subventions from the Ministry of Defence budget have been used to allow the Midland Montagu bank to offer preferential interest rates to Jordan for the purchase of arms and ammunition. What is the total amount involved?

Under the Jordanian defence packages agreement of 1986 and 1987, £350 million worth of credit was extended to Jordan. In his reply to me dated 2 May, the Minister stated that virtually all the credit has been committed to contracts on behalf of the Jordan armed forces. The

Column 825

contracts, valued at £150 million, were traced to military supplies to Jordan. What of the remaining £200 million? Where have those military supplies gone?

International Military Supplies is a commercial company, wholly owned by the MOD. Are contracts placed by it included in the list on page 15 in Volume 2 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates? If not, where is its trading disclosed? The Minister stated that the Department has used Astra Holdings over the past few years. From where can this information be obtained?

Serious charges of corruption were laid against senior management of IMS to the previous Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). What action was taken, and will the findings be published?

Astra Holdings is involved in the arms business, particularly on the explosives side. The major shareholder is 3i--Investors in Industry--a company chaired by Sir John Cuckney, an ex-director of Midland bank and chief executive of Westland.

Astra purchased PBR, which is a Belgian explosives company and was also involved with the late Dr. Gerald Bull of Big Gun fame. PBR's specialty is shipping explosives to Iraq via Meulebeke airbase on Belgian C130 transports and it is also believed to act as an extra-territorial supplier for IMS--the MOD. But is it also true--as I have been given to understand-- that IMS has been involved with South African arms shipments--particularly the shipment last year of 3,000 20 ft containers, transhipped through the Jordanian port of Aqaba to Iraq--and also with the assembly of South African missile components at Wimborne in Dorset, permission for which was given by the British Government?

What is significant in all these deals is the part played by the Prime Minister in her "batting for Britain" role. Last year I attended a defence study group at which Sir Peter Levene, Lord Trefgarne and Lord Chalfont, who chaired the meeting, eulogised the role of the Prime Minister as being central to the Saudi-Jordan arms deal and also to the deal made with Malaysia. Quite what was the Prime Minister's role in all this? Is she party to the

sanctions-busting and arms smuggling and to the supply of weapons to Iraq?

When I asked the Prime Minister whether her office had authorised the preferential rates accorded to Jordan for the purchase of arms and ammunition under the Jordan defence package, she replied that it was a matter of commercial confidence. What is commercially confidential about it? The amount and rate may be confidential, but the authorisation itself is not, and the Secretary of State's office said that it did not authorise it anyway. Who authorised the preferential rate for the deal?

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : My hon. Friend is making an interesting point, but Ministers seem to be nodding off. I hope that they will answer my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : It is boring.

Mr. Cohen : The Minister says that it is boring, but I hope that he will answer my hon. Friend's question in his reply.

Column 826

Mr. Rogers : In the Army debate some time ago, I drew the attention of the House to the very bad state of much of our service accommodation. The backlog of maintenance and essential and unavoidable repairs to service accommodation stood at £360 million at 1 April this year. That is an appalling state of affairs. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces appears to find it humorous. He probably agrees with the Chairman of the Select Committee that British soldiers perform better if they live in appalling conditions. If so, his attitude is, in turn, pretty appalling. If local authorities behaved in that way--worthy of the worst landlords in Great Britain--there would be a great hue and cry. Ministers are doing nothing, and, in the meantime, our service men and their families have to suffer appalling conditions. Three hundred and sixty million pounds is the sum required for essential and unavoidable repairs to bring the accommodation up to date.

The Government have been sadly deficient in both the operation and management of our defence and this year's glossy estimates hide a tale of incompetence and mismanagement. That is why we ask the House to support our amendment.

5.3 pm

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) : A few months ago we had a momentous debate on the registration of dogs. The House was full and there was hardly anywhere to sit. Today we are discussing the more day-to-day problem of the defence of our people and of the western world. The speech that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) explains why there has been rather less interest in this debate than there should have been.

I am indebted to Mr. Speaker for reminding me of the pregnant statement made by Mr. Sun Tsu in a famous treatise on strategy several centuries ago. The Chinese general wrote :

"Supreme excellence lies not in winning battles easily. Supreme excellence lies in winning wars without any battles."

By that test, we have done quite well in the west and in the Atlantic alliance. It is true that there have been battles in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Angola, but broadly speaking we have won the third world war without the sacrifices of life and treasure that were exacted in the previous two world wars.

We must ask ourselves what is the explanation for that. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the explanation lies simply in the invention and development of nuclear weapons. I do not think that a confrontation between the conventional forces of east and west would have been possible for a 40- year period without one side or the other bringing matters to a head and without a war which would probably have been even more terrible than the previous two. The burden would probably have fallen most heavily on the democracies, which would have found it more difficult to sustain the necessary expenditure. Without nuclear forces, we should probably have had a bloody third world war.

The lesson is clear. Whatever else we do--whatever other defence dispositions my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his advisers decide upon--we must maintain the British nuclear deterrent. Hitherto, and in the great confrontation which I hope is now ending, we have relied above all on the American deterrent. But we may not always be able to rely on that. We are living in a world in

Next Section

  Home Page