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Column 784the Serbian attack on that town was bluntly untrue, that it was Muslim propaganda. That is just one example of a series of ways in which NATO is being drawn into a partial action.
It is my firm belief that, if we are to have safe havens and to threaten to bomb in order to secure them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and the hon. Member for Motherwell, North said, they must not be used as bases for Muslim sorties, from which they can come out, raze a few Serb villages, go back, put their hands up and say, "This is a NATO-guaranteed safe area. You cannot attack us here." If we are to have such safe havens, they must be policed on the ground so that Muslims cannot go out and in with armed forays, and secured by air support and, if necessary, air attack. If we cannot do both, clearly we should do neither.
I view with some concern future plans for extending and widening the areas to be given air cover, backed by threats of air action, especially by our United States allies, in places where we have either no troops on the ground or, worse still, a small number of extremely vulnerable troops, who may suffer the consequences of retaliation.
My message to my right hon. and learned Friend and his ministerial colleagues is to ask them to use all the influence that the Government have in NATO and the United Nations to ensure that the impartiality of UNPROFOR is maintained and secured. Will they please try to ensure that we do not get drawn into the war in such a way as to become a party to it, with all the dreadful consequences to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell rightly drew attention ? Those consequences would ensue if we had to expand our forces and effectively entered a war--quite conceivably with us on one side and Russia on the other.
I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to speak, so I shall finish by making four brief points to my right hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues. My first point concerns the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which has already been mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). It must have sent a dismal signal to our veterans to see that the War Graves Commission had 5 per cent. cut from its budget this year, just as we are commemorating D-day.
Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to assure the House that that can be done with the full consent of the commissioners
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) rose
I hope that he will be able to assure the House that the cut can be made in such a way that the wonderful standard to which the war graves are maintained can be sustained with the lower funding.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be relieved to know that, when representatives of the commission came to see me about the proposed reduction in its
Column 785budget, they accepted that the only consequence would be a reduction in its operating surplus. They gave me a categorical assurance that there would be no effect whatever on the maintenance work or on the projects that the commission wishes to implement. The cut will simply mean that the operating surplus that the commission has enjoyed, which is carried forward from year to year, will be slightly less than it would otherwise have been. On that basis, and that basis alone, I felt it proper and responsible to accept that the commission could absorb some modest reduction.
Sir Nicholas Bonsor : I am extremely grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I am sure that all who share our concern that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission should continue its valuable work will be equally reassured by what he has said.
I cannot resist adding that, a few years ago, I took my young son out to see the first world war graves and memorials, and in particular the grave of my great uncle, which I discovered with the aid of his father's memoirs. We found the grave, beautifully maintained, at Vimy ridge ; it was a moving moment. Incidentally, hon. Members can see my great uncle's shield now ; it is the fifth from the right as one goes out of the Chamber towards Central Lobby. I believe that almost every family in the country has a similar tale to tell. The value of the work of the War Graves Commission is inestimable, and we should pay tribute to it.
Secondly, representatives of the Royal British Legion have recently been to see the Defence Select Committee, and they are keen that there should be a Minister with a sub-department to look after the interests of the people whom we call ex-service men--in the United States, they are called veterans. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consider that proposal closely.
Ex-service men have to register their interests with many departments, usually immediately on coming out of the services rather than many years later. They do not have the direct links that civilians would have, especially in matters relating to local authorities, because they are not attached to a particular local authority for the purpose of getting the benefits that people who live in a particular area can claim. Many such detailed problems could be alleviated by a sub-department of one of the Ministries, designed to look after service men's interests. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to revisit that possibility.
Thirdly, I must mention the reserves. There will soon be a report before the House on that subject, so I shall not dwell on it for long. However, my opinion, which I believe is widely shared, is that, as the Army is cut, the reserves should be increased. Reserves are a wonderfully cheap form of extra capacity to back up the limited resource that our small number of soldiers, sailors and airmen can provide.
I hope that, when the report on the reserves appears, there will be no attempt to cut them in line with the front-line forces. Were that to occur, our overall strength
I finish as I started, by saying that, unfortunately, the morale of our armed forces is low. The Minister of
Column 786State for the Armed Forces said that, whenever he made visits, he was always greeted with joy, and that everyone was extremely happy with what the Government were doing.
Sir Nicholas Bonsor : I am slightly paraphrasing what my hon. Friend said, but I am sure that that is what he meant. Indeed, I am sure that, whenever he arrives somewhere, there is joy. None the less, morale is generally low, because of the uncertainty and the feeling that, for the past two or three years, we have been overstretched. There is not the certainty that I should like, that that overstretch will now come to an end.
I hope that, when my right hon. and learned Friend produces the defence costs studies, he will ensure not only that the front line remains as capable as it now, and is properly backed up with logistics and encompasses adequate and substantial reserves, but that there is no further threat of cuts to our forces in the foreseeable future. I am not confident that, once my right hon. and learned Friend has succeeded in making the present round of cuts, the Treasury will not try to impose
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) rose
Mr. Robathan : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will know that I am relatively new to the House, so I should be grateful for your advice. I understood that in this debating Chamber the idea is to listen to the whole debate before contributing to it. I do not understand how hon. Members can drift in, make their speeches and then drift out again
Mr. Cohen : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If that point of order was an allusion to me, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I was here for the opening speeches, and for some of the speeches that followed.
May the fourth is an appropriate date for a defence debate. My researcher, who is a bit of a wit, said that it should be called national star wars day. He was talking about the film "Star Wars" rather than President Reagan's defence fantasy, and he added, "May the fourth be with you." That is a very bad joke ; he deserves the sack for making it, but he is a good researcher.
The Army is all about force. The potential for force is of course necessary, but I want to pay tribute to the humanitarian peacekeeping effort, especially in Bosnia, which is of the highest quality. I add my tribute to those already made by hon. Members on both sides of the House to that aspect of the Army's work.
In any debate on the Army there will be an amalgam of issues that hon. Members want to mention, and that applies to me too. I shall try to deal with all those issues quickly. First--I shall try not to take up too much of the time of the House on this subject--I missed the Navy debate because I was on a
Column 787parliamentary trip to Kazakhstan, where I was examining matters relevant to defence. So this will be my only chance to put the record straight on my exchange about Trident with the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. During Question Time on 8 February I said that there had been a doubling of strategic warheads
Mr. Robathan : The hon. Gentleman may have failed to attend any more of the debate than the first 20 minutes or so--I noticed him here then--but he must realise that this is a debate on the Army. However much he would like it to happen, the Army is not yet reduced to being armed with tridents. Trident is a naval project.
Mr. Cohen : I am amazed that the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) has elected himself in your place, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall have plenty to say about the Army. I was here for much longer than 20 minutes ; I heard the bulk of the opening speeches and the subsequent speeches as well.
I said to the Minister that 96 strategic warheads for Trident submarines had replaced 48 for Polaris submarines.
"Malcolm Rifkind did indeed announce on 16 November 1993 that each Trident submarine would deploy no more than 96 warheads"
the figure I mentioned
"a revision of the previously declared maximum of 128 . . . As regards Chevaline, we have stated publicly that this upgrade to the Polaris system did not involve any increase in the number of warheads associated with the Polaris force, and we have also made clear that when Polaris entered service each submarine carried 48 warheads." Again, that is the figure I mentioned in the debate. Far from being seriously wrong, I was seriously right. I want to make that point for the record because it is my last chance to do so.
I now turn to the scandal of the PINDAR bunker which the Ministry of Defence is building under Whitehall. The Ministry has spent more than £120 million on that hole in the ground. The Government are revealing information about the full extent of that scandal--that waste of money. As usual, the information that they have given is full of paradoxes. I give the House an example of how two pieces of information from the Ministry of Defence are contradictory. A memorandum deposited in the Library from the Ministry to the Public Accounts Committee states that one of the reasons for the cost escalation of PINDAR was that there was only one access point of any size to the bunker. The Comptroller and Auditor General said : "The difficulties were compounded by the relative inaccessibility of the site which resulted in all the equipment having to be lowered through an aperture, at ground level, which was just 12 ft by 6 ft." It has been said in the press that there is only one entrance. However, in a written answer to me only last week, the Minister said that a variety of routes existed which would enable the occupants to escape from the facility in the event that the building above it had collapsed. The Minister may query my figures on Trident and on other matters, but he can agree with me on this matter : one is not the same as a variety. Were more access points built since the work began ? If so, why were the additional access points not built to take the larger
Column 788equipment which had to be forced down the small hole, as the Ministry described to the Public Accounts Committee ?
I have one suggestion about the future use of PINDAR now that £120 million has been wasted on it. The Ministry's bill for overnight accommodation in London for members of the armed forces and civil service personnel based elsewhere who are visiting headquarters is not inconsiderable. Why not save that money and use PINDAR as the Ministry's guest rooms--bed-and-breakfast accommodation ? Perhaps bed and breakfast for the homeless would not be too bad there. The bunker is supposed to have sufficient beds already to support a complement of 400 to 500 personnel. I am sure that more beds could be added, especially now that there are additional access and egress points, to which
"Rhine Army withdrawal in chaos'".
I shall read it to put it on the record. In my experience, defence reporters often get their information from sources within the Ministry of Defence. In this instance, the information came from last month's National Audit Office report on the Ministry of Defence, the British Army in Germany, and the draw-down of equipment and stores. The Guardian article says :
"Britain's Rhine Army withdrawal from Germany--the largest peacetime movement of troops and equipment in modern times--is at risk of serious breakdown in control'".
The article is quoting the National Audit Office report here. The article continues :
"Perfectly usable equipment is languishing in fields, records of potentially dangerous ammunition and detonators have gone missing, and vehicles are being cannibalised unnecessarily . . . As a result, promised savings of £177 million to the Treasury will not be met." That is a waste of money. The article continues :
"The auditors discovered 1,800 surplus vehicles stored in the open with no plans on how to use them. Some 1,100 were unserviceable, a third had been left on site for a year, and 23 had been stored there for seven years . . . The report reserved its strongest criticism for closure of a base workshop where £65 million of stores were held. One third of the items stored there were missing . . . the auditors expressed concern that missing equipment included firearms and ammunition . . . The report points out that of 116 units which had been closed, only four accounts have been cleared".
The report describes a scandal which the Minister did not even address in his opening speech. Millions of pounds have been wasted, as outlined by the National Audit Office. Before Conservative Members start talking about their objections to cuts, they should get their own house in order and stop wasting such sums--and more.
We are to have a defence costs study. I shall not say much about that ; I shall wait until the report comes out. However, I shall refer to the fact that one person involved in the study--he has been brought into the Ministry of Defence as a special adviser--is Mr. David Hart. It has been pointed out in a written answer to me that he has access to classified information. David Hart is the man who, for the previous Prime Minister, coined the phrase, "the enemy within". That phrase was aimed particularly at the miners. In effect, the phrase launched a war against the miners and anyone who opposed the Government at that time.
I shall give one quotation from the book "Misrule", written by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), which raises many issues about David
Column 789Hart's role. I refer to the occasion when a notice was to be served on Arthur Scargill. As the book says, with a Daily Express photographer lined up, the lawyers
"sneaked into the Labour Party Conference with a borrowed press pass (a gross abuse), and I saw the notice of motion and legal documentation being served on an astonished Arthur Scargill, to the sheer fury of delegates at the Party conference. What would Mrs. Thatcher have said about the activities
A man with that record has access to classified information and may change Ministry of Defence policies. He is an unwelcome character in this delicate study and in the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Defence has considerable power, both real and potential, in our society and such a person should not have power within it. I received a letter today from Mr. Mick Jones, the national chairman of the Defence Police Federation. He refers to an article in The Times on 10 March which had the headline :
"3,000 MoD police may lose jobs to redundant troops".
In his letter, Mr. Jones says :
"If approval is given to this"
the creation of an armed home guard battalion, known as the military home service engagement, using the troops that the Ministry of Defence is getting rid of to replace the Ministry of Defence police armed guarding role
"up to 3,000 MoD policemen--some 75 per cent. of the Force--could lose their jobs. Needless to say, we are very concerned about the implications of this favoured option', in terms of both the threat that it holds to standards of policing and security at MoD establishments and bases and, of course, our members' jobs. . . . the option has not been favoured for financial reasons, as the interim report claims, but because service chiefs have been placing pressure on Sir John"
Sir John Blelloch, the man in charge of the report
"to come up with a solution to provide jobs for some of the 13,000 servicemen and women facing redundancy over the next twelve months." Obviously, some sort of provision must be made for those service men and women, but it should not be done at the expense of the Ministry of Defence police. By doing that, the Government would, in effect, be saying to the MoD police that they are second rate. That is a deplorable thing to say and I urge the Government to think again.
The next point that I want to make is on the issue of pay because I think that it is an obscenity that the Government are to award a 4.4 per cent. pay rise and beyond for the top brass, while other public service workers are limited to a 1.5 per cent. rise or, for many, even less. Some workers will not receive anything at all. Again the Government are giving big pay- outs to those who are already well paid, while cutting back on other public service workers and those at the lower end of the scale. The excuse that the Government are using to give even more money to the top brass is that they are applying performance-related pay.
Some Members of another place have referred to that idea of performance- related pay. Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone said : "performance related pay would be inconsistent with the general ethos to be attached to a uniformed and disciplined service". Baroness O'Caithain also made the point :
"the whole concept of performance pay, will it take note of the experience in the private sector ? To my certain knowledge, the whole concept of performance related pay has
Column 790been brought in as a buzz-word to hide a certain amount of avariciousness."--[ Official Report, House of Lords, 27 April 1994 ; Vol. 554, c. 660-61.]
That is what the noble Lady said and that is what it is about. In even considering that, the Government are dealing in avariciousness for the top brass. How does one judge performance-related activities in the armed forces ? Is it by how many people one shoots or, while on
I shall now turn to the issue of landmines--anti-personnel mines--because they cause death and mutilation around the world, including areas in which British soldiers are on peacekeeping duties. There have been moves for a worldwide moratorium on the export of such mines, including a resolution accepted by consensus at the United Nations General Assembly calling for the trade in those foul weapons to be halted. The Government say that they export mines to countries that will use them reasonably. I do not quite know how countries use such landmines reasonably. We have exported cluster bombs, which have an anti-personnel mine element, to the Yugoslavian army in the past. Those bombs are now in the hands of soldiers who do not have a reputation for reasonableness--the Serbs. That is one reason why UN forces in Bosnia have been told to watch out for cluster bombs. The Government should realise that such mines have a life expectancy much greater than those of the Government to which we export them. Until they recognise that basic fact, civilians across the world--not to mention British troops on peacekeeping operations--will be vulnerable to those weapons.
The Army legal department also had a hand in drafting another United Nations convention on the use of inhumane weapons. I have been pressing the Government to ratify that convention. They have announced an intention to ratify it in due course, but are dragging their feet about bringing the legislation before the House. They should get on with it and do it immediately. Again, that would act as a safeguard for many of our troops from things such as napalm and phosphorus bombs.
I shall make two more brief comments before I sit down. One is to ask the Minister about medals. I have tabled a parliamentary question, but, while the Minister is here, perhaps he can answer it. What is the difference between EC and UN medals for our troops serving in Bosnia ? What is the difference in the rules for wearing those medals ? I have been told that there is no problem in our service men wearing UN medals, but that they are not allowed to wear EC medals publicly, openly or on ceremonial occasions. I put that down to the Government's muddle over the EC and their not having a proper policy. It is ludicrous. Those soldiers have served with distinction in Bosnia. If they get a medal from the EC, they should be able to wear it openly and publicly in exactly the same way as UN medals may be worn.
Secondly, I want to comment on the D-day anniversary. I shall not make a long comment because the muddle that the Government got themselves into spoke for itself. There should be a number of lasting tributes to our soldiers who fought and fell in that war. One lasting tribute that I want to bring to the attention of the House pertains to what those soldiers fought for and what those who came back had on their minds--to change the world and to change Britain to a better
Column 791place. They were determined to create a health service, a welfare state, public education and put an end to unemployment and that it would be enshrined in our society. The one fitting tribute to those who fell on D-day that this Government or any Government could pay 8.16 pm
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden) : I hope that the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) will acquit me of any discourtesy if I do not follow the many points that he has raised or if I do not pick up on one or two, which I would dearly like to do, as I know that some of my hon. Friends want to take part in the debate. I always find his speeches interesting, including those at the North Atlantic Assembly, of which we are both members.
There are two points that many hon. Members have made in the debate. First, they have paid tribute to the quality of the men and women who serve in the British Army and, secondly, they have suggested that morale is not as good as it ought to be. In fact, there has been quite serious criticism directed in that way. The two points may seem somewhat incompatible. How can we have such a good Army if morale is not so good ? However, the points can be reconciled. There is no doubt that my hon. and right hon. Friends who form the ministerial team and who are very assiduous in their duties must be aware that cuts in defence, however carefully phased, are bound to have a down side. There is no question of that. In their early phase, cuts mean disbandment, amalgamation, a loss of well-tried skills, and a sense of loss and I suspect that if they go on for long enough, they lead to a feeling and state of mind of "where will it all end", which is bound to be depressing. So I add my voice to those of Conservative Members who spoke earlier. The time has come to end that uncertainty.
Much of the blame, of course, has been attributed--and still is by some people--to the "Options for Change", the defence White Paper published in 1990, which set out clearly the changes in the structure and strength of our armed forces in response to the change in the political scene following the end of the cold war. It was immediately criticised for being Treasury- driven. Of course, financial savings came into it because "Options for Change" rightly recognised the profound changes in foreign security policy following the end of the cold war, the imminent collapse of the Warsaw pact and the withdrawal of Soviet forces from eastern Europe, which threatened-- of course--the security of the west.
The analysis that was set out in "Options for Change" in 1990 was carefully followed and accepted. It anticipated NATO's new strategic concept of 1991. There was no disagreement about our approach to the security and defence needs of our nation and the approach of our allies through NATO's new strategic concept. That concept emphasised--this is still accepted--the need for more flexible conventional forces that would be well armed and well equipped. NATO stated the need to develop a European security and defence identity within the NATO alliance. It accepted at the same time that with the withdrawal of much of the threatening posture of the cold war there would be a reduction in the size of the NATO forces.
Column 792The message for the United Kingdom was of particular interest. It spelled out that our forces in future would rarely be expected to act alone. The job will be to contribute to multinational formations with forces equipped to face high-intensity conflicts. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, expressed his views about how he thought that Russia could pose a serious threat to us. I do not want to go into the matter and debate the issues with him--but there is no doubt that Russia, although economically
I strongly endorse the view that has been expressed by my right hon. and hon. Friends that a British Army that is to carry out its duties to the nation along with international responsibilities must be equipped to fight high-intensity conflicts.
NATO's stategy meant that allied forces--not only British forces--would be smaller. Everyone expected some sort of peace dividend. I make no apology for that. We all felt the same way in this country. The same goes for Europe generally and for north America. Every treasury in the countries in those areas responded to the deep wish that expenditure on defence should be reduced. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we have gone too far and too fast. It is worth considering what that means in terms of our own expenditure.
In the years 1980-84, our average expenditure on defence ran at about 5.2 per cent. of gross domestic product. By the end of 1992, we had reduced that expenditure by about 23 per cent. There was a fall from 5.2 per cent. to 4 per cent. For some, that was the peace dividend. Of course, we have gone further. The White Paper that is before us tells us that in 1992-93 expenditure will fall by a further 14 per cent., ending up at 2.5 per cent. of GDP. It is that further reduction that has caused us so much concern.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, referred to General Sir Martin Farndale. I have heard him speak on one or two occasions, and as a master gunner his is a voice to be respected. He is a man who, along with others with experience of the Army, has gone into some detail to study the impact of expenditure reductions on the efficiency of our armed forces, and especially the Army. It is particularly interesting, in view of our command of the rapid reaction corps, which has a valuable role still to play in NATO, that he could say that we already have a generation of brigade commanders who have never experienced the full pressure of hard, all-arms training. He has stressed that those officers will soon become generals. He observes that brigades, let alone divisions, seldom train together with their own units. He takes the view that the capability to conduct combat effectively at short notice at the higher level is quickly being lost.
If we do not have training at the higher level, as time passes our fitness to command the rapid reaction corps will be challenged. If we are to be equipped with high-tech weapons and equipment, all-arms training is vital. As the general pointed out :
"It is a complex business to bring together on a widely-spread, fast-moving battlefield, armour, artillery, armoured infantry, helicopters, engineers and high-tech communications and logistics, not to mention the need to train with the Royal Navy."
Column 793It is possible, of course, that as we look to the future we may not feel that it is necessary to have a rapid reaction corps. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) talked about that. Somewhere along the line, however, there must be a unified force within the NATO alliance with a European identity. If it is to carry any conviction, it must have the necessary degree of acceptance and unity of command. Surely there is no point in our playing our part unless we all have the same objectives. It is useful that we should be able to show the flag, as it were, and to have Royal Engineers contributing to the welfare of people in under-developed countries. No doubt there are responsibilities in Belize and elsewhere that we can carry out. In my judgment, however, it is a fundamental mistake to confuse the real role of a well-led, well-armed and well-trained British Army.
Unless we are reaching the end of the road of cuts, there will be increased concern among those who normally would expect to support us.
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith : No. I am saying that if we move down the path of cuts we are in great danger of finding that it will be too little. That is what I am suggesting. I do not see how we shall be able to meet some of our responsibilities if we continue on the present path unless, of course, there is an increase in GDP. If that happens, the problem will, to some extent, be solved.
I do not want to go into too much detail because I am aware that others wish to speak. However, in a letter that I received about the Territorial Army from Colonel Sir Greville Spratt, who is in command of the Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association for greater London, he emphasises that if the TA is to carry out extra responsibilities when there has already been a cut of about 30 per cent., its numbers should not be further reduced. That should not happen unless, of course, it can be argued that efficiency will be increased and there will be better equipment and more training. In my judgment, there is no cheap option.
As for cuts in the tail, it would not surprise hon. Members to know that there are those who wonder whether we are rigorous enough in cutting the civilian side of the Ministry of Defence. A letter that I received today referred to what the author described as the "delaying tactics" of a Minister. The letter states that the savings that have so far been introduced or proposed in the "MOD Civil Service" amount to only nine redundancies in what is described as the
"Open Structure MOD Civil Service staff".
The gentleman who wrote the letter suggests that there are no fewer
"than sixty five Civil Servants in the MOD who are ranked and paid as generals ; fifty at 2 Star, eleven at 3 Star and four at 4 or 5 Star."
I do not know whether that is true, but if people who are normally well informed think that that is the position--those who are in the TA or those who are no longer connected with the armed forces--their criti-
Column 794cisms need to be answered. I hope that that will happen when my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate.
Many hon. Members have expressed concern about the impact that uncertainty can have, especially during a period of running down our armed forces. We all understand why that process had to be implemented. However, if we believe that we have some special skills within our nation that we can call upon--some special resolve or some special characteristics in our national make up--that makes us proud of our military history, I hope that we can recognise too that during the course of our history there have been tremendous lapses I recall the troops returning from Dunkirk. If anything, Dunkirk certainly was a demonstration of national resolve and resilience, but it was hardly our most glorious military achievement. On the whole, the Army was badly equipped, badly trained and not well led. It took someone of the calibre of Monty, and others, to get hold of the British Army and pull it together again. It took some years to build up the quality that made possible the successes at Alamein and on D-day.
It is easy to run something down, but very difficult to pick up the pieces. The message, therefore, is that we understand that, like other Governments, the Government had a job to do, but a line has been drawn in the sand, which signifies that after Ministers have completed the tail and front-line exercises we want no further cuts that may undermine the efficiency of our armed forces. I suspect that, given their quality, Ministers
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset) : I rise to speak unashamedly about my constituency, which has felt the sharp edge of what has happened to the armed forces and to the Army in particular. Many hon. Members will have heard me speak about the Navy in my constituency, which has experienced many cuts in recent times, but just as many of my constituents are with the Army at Bovington and Lulworth and many of them work at the signals establishment at Blandford.
We have been pleased by the recent concentration on achieving efficiency in the tail. The 18-base workshop has shown that it can refurbish tanks much faster and cheaper. People often overlook the fact that, if the workshop takes in one tank a week, which is the norm, instead of taking nearly 40 weeks and having 40 tanks out of service at a time and doing it in 18 weeks, about another 20 tanks are available for the front line ; that shows the efficiency savings that can be achieved.
I have always supported Ministers' efforts to ensure efficiency and value for money, but nothing lowers morale among my civilian workers and within the armed forces, who want to achieve efficiency, more than waste. It was disappointing, therefore, to see the Opposition deploying their usual tactic. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid)-- I know that he is not in his place at present--who is clearly a man of the new Labour party. He could take any portfolio without being criticised by the Labour Treasury team because he did not make a single commitment that would cost a penny or save a job in my constituency. Interestingly, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), contemplat-
Column 795ing government before the last election, said that cutting the armed forces in the 1990s would match the bonanza that the Conservatives had from oil in the 1980s. That really is the truth of what Labour is saying. It wants to hide behind the fig leaf of the defence review.
Another fig leaf behind which Labour wants to hide is the diversification agency. The Employment Select Committee investigated how we should regenerate employment once the defence work has gone. It said specifically that a diversification agency was not the right route and that we must seek new industries and new jobs, which is what we are doing in Dorset.
I pay tribute to the excellent work of the front-line and tail forces, but their morale is at its lowest point. Dorset, like the rest of the country, is about to remember D-day. All the political parties in Dorset, and people of no political party, spent much time compiling a D-day brochure and planning other events in the area only to find that the Labour party was trying to make party political capital out of unfortunate remarks made by The Sun . We were all criticised for describing D-day as a celebration. I have the NEC's action advice note dated March 1994--circular 14/94, headed "D-day Celebrations"--in which Larry Whitty, Labour's general secretary, writes to all Labour council leaders on the imperative of the Labour party being involved in the D-day celebrations. I am sure that the Labour leaders wanted to be involved in the D-day celebrations for the right reasons, but the only reason Larry Whitty gives is that such involvement would be politically significant, as the date falls three days before the European elections. Yet the Labour party has