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"Front Line First"

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) : With permission, I should like to make a statement on the outcome of the study known as "Front Line First".

At the end of the cold war there were major changes in the international situation. In response, along with all NATO countries, we have reduced the size and adjusted the balance of our armed forces. We believe that our plans for the armed forces reflect the challenges that are likely to confront us. We are determined to maintain that position, and not to drop our guard. Accordingly, I have no proposals to announce that would reduce the fighting strength of our armed forces.

Defence is expensive. This year, we are spending £23 billion, a larger proportion of our gross domestic product than most NATO countries. That amount is being reduced, as was announced last autumn. There is a continuing need to ensure that the administration and support of our armed forces are subjected to the most rigorous analysis. Only by doing that can we ensure that the money available for defence is being spent properly, and in a way which contributes to our fighting capability.

That is why I set up "Front Line First"--not to consider fighting strength, but to consider headquarters, stores, infrastructure, manning and all other aspects of defence administration and support. I have also been determined that we should benefit from the experience and ideas that are to be found in all parts of the armed forces and in the civil service. Accordingly, we invited service and civilian personnel to contribute their ideas, and they did so to a splendid and unprecedented degree. More than 3,000 proposals were received. All those proposals were considered, and many endorsed. We recognised from the start that strong and efficient support is a necessity and not a luxury ; unless the armed forces are recruited, trained, clothed, fed and supplied in a professional and successful manner, their operational capability will suffer. Accordingly, every recommendation for change was examined against one major criterion--would it directly or indirectly affect the operational capability of the armed forces ?

We relied heavily on the professional advice of the chiefs of staff. If it was concluded that a proposal would damage the fighting capabilities of the armed forces, it was rejected.

The proposals that have now emerged are set out in detail in the report published today. I have placed copies in the Library of the House. I do not have time in this statement to go through every proposal, but I should like to set out the most important of our decisions.

A number of themes have emerged from the work that has been done. First, the Ministry of Defence and other headquarters at all levels are too large, too top heavy and too bureaucratic.

Secondly, there is scope for far more delegation of responsibility down the management chain. We can simplify working practices and increase personal responsibility and accountability. We should try to bring to our peace-time working practices the reliance on personal responsibility which the armed forces show so effectively in operations.

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Thirdly, recent experience shows that military operations are increasingly conducted on a joint service basis. Our structure should reflect that.

We intend to reduce the Ministry of Defence in central London still further, from more than 5,000 to a central core of 3,750--a reduction of more than 25 per cent. on previous plans. They will be housed in the main building and in the old War Office, instead of four separate buildings as presently planned. We have decided to form a permanent joint headquarters at Northwood, to replace the current approach where headquarters staff are drawn together ad hoc in response to developing crises.

The Procurement Executive headquarters will have 500 fewer staff. We will go ahead with the planned relocation of the executive at a single site at Abbey Wood near Bristol, but it will now be collocated with another headquarters, which will allow significant capital savings.

We have looked in depth at our arrangements for holding and distributing stores for the armed forces, such as clothing, food and fuel. We have found that modern supply techniques mean that we can reduce unessential holdings, enabling us to rationalise storage facilities while improving our ability to get stocks to the front line.

That will allow the closure of 17 depots of varying sizes in the United Kingdom. They are identified in the report published today which I have placed in the Library, and details have been sent to those hon. Members in whose constituencies they lie. Altogether the changes in our logistic arrangements set out in the report will save the defence budget more than £200 million a year and will improve operational capability by providing a more efficient supply chain that is better able to deliver essential stores to the front line. A number of the studies took a fundamental look at the arrangements for recruiting service men and women, and our procedures for managing and training personnel. The total cost of our recruiting activities amounts to £100 million each year and is unacceptably expensive, especially when recruiting needs are low. At present, it is costing between £5,000 and £15,000 for every recruit.

It has become clear that there is scope for closer co-operation with the Employment Services Agency. Subject to the successful completion of a pilot trial, we intend to use the facilities of the 1,300 job centres as the first point of contact for those wishing to join the armed forces. That means that we can replace the existing network of more than 200 careers information offices with a much smaller specialist regional organisation. We expect that proposal to save us £25 million a year.

Given the joint service nature of military operations, we believe that it is right to combine command and staff training at senior level and create a joint services staff college. Further work is in hand to examine whether that should be located at Camberley or Greenwich, and whether junior command and staff training should take place on the same site.

"Front Line First" identified a number of ways in which we could reduce the cost of flying training. We intend to establish a single defence helicopter flying training school for all three services at Middle Wallop near Andover or at Shawbury near Shrewsbury, increase the involvement of civilian instructors and contractors in much of our flying training activity and rationalise training. That will mean that RAF Finningley and RAF Scampton will no longer be necessary, and they will be closed.

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Skilled medical support is essential for the armed forces, but at present service hospitals have substantial overcapacity and there is considerable scope for closer links with the national health service. We intend, therefore, to reduce the number of service hospitals in the United Kingdom from three to one, which will be situated at Haslar in Gosport, and to establish regional military district hospital units in NHS hospitals at Derriford and at two new sites, and to retain a presence at Catterick.

We have also looked at military music. This is part of the fabric of our armed forces and makes an irreplaceable contribution to morale and fighting spirit. We have therefore decided that the number of musicians and bands which I announced last year should remain. But there is a need to rationalise and reduce the costs of training. The Royal Marines believe that training their musicians at Deal has become prohibitively expensive. The maintenance demands of the buildings, and other running costs, have resulted in costs per musician trained of up to £300,000. We therefore intend to transfer Royal Marine music training to a new location by April 1996. I now turn to naval infrastructure. In 1993, it was decided that the Portland naval base would close by 1996, which would leave four bases at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Faslane, and Rosyth. Over the past three years, the number of ships in the Royal Navy has reduced further, and over-capacity has increased. We should not be spending large amounts of money on bases unless there is an operational requirement to do so. The money spent on excess base capacity could and should be spent on enhancing the Navy's fighting capability. The Royal Navy therefore has examined whether the number of bases could be safely reduced.

The conclusions were that Faslane on the Clyde should remain, in view of the operational need for a strategic submarine base. It is also necessary to retain at least two surface ship bases, given the substantial size of the Royal Navy. Of the three surface ship bases, Rosyth is the smallest, and is designated as the base for two of the three squadrons of minehunters and for the fishery protection squadron.

The Royal Navy has concluded that there is no strategic need to keep these ships permanently at Rosyth. We have therefore decided to move one squadron of minehunters to Faslane on the Clyde, which is closest to its normal area of operations. The second squadron and the fishery protection vessels will move to Portsmouth. That is sensible, as the fishery protection squadron operates almost entirely off the coast of England and Wales. The Scottish Office provides a fishery protection service around the Scottish coastline.

Rosyth will not, however, close. There is a continuing need for other Royal Navy-related activities at the Rosyth naval base site. These include necessary support for Rosyth dockyard, for storage, accommodation, Defence Research Agency activities, and the Defence Land Agent. Rosyth base will therefore become a royal naval support establishment continuing alongside the Rosyth royal dockyard. We will also retain the option of using Rosyth as a forward operating base should it become necessary to establish such a base on the east coast of Scotland.

All in all, these proposals will mean that over 900 civilian and service jobs will remain at the Rosyth base ; 70 new jobs will be created on the Clyde. Around 700 civilian jobs will go ; around 600 civilian jobs will remain.

We expect these proposals to save about £22 million a year, with no operational disadvantage. A consultation

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document on our proposals for Rosyth is being issued today. The royal dockyard at Rosyth is not affected by these proposals and, as announced last year, can look forward to a substantial programme of surface ship refits.

We have also looked at arrangements for the shore basing of naval aircraft. We have concluded that the naval air stations at Culdrose and Yeovilton should continue and that the Lynx squadrons now accommodated at Portland could be moved to Yeovilton without any detriment to operational effectiveness. This will save about £l2 million a year.

The air station at Portland will close by 1 April 1999. This will involve the loss of 400 jobs at Portland, though some of these and about two thirds of the service personnel based there will transfer to Yeovilton.

In the aftermath of the cold war, there is no longer a requirement for the maritime HQ at Pitreavie. We therefore intend to close it in 1996. We intend to transfer some staff, together with Flag Officer Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland, to Faslane. The rescue co-ordination centre for the whole of the United Kingdom which we had planned to move to Pitreavie will now be set up at RAF Leuchars in Fife.

The Special Boat Service headquarters will be transferred from Poole to Portsmouth, where the facilities will meet our requirements. This will enable the closure of Royal Marines Poole. We are also rationalising Royal Marines barracks at Plymouth, and, subject to the outcome of current studies, we hope to transfer certain units to Chivenor, which is no longer required by the RAF.

We have also looked at our requirement for ranges. We have concluded that we can provide the armed forces with all the range capacity required and at the same time make savings of £7.5 million a year. This will involve the closure of the ranges at Kircudbright, Pendine, and Hurn. There will, however, still be a need for the ranges at Aberporth, and at Benbecula in the Hebrides.

Finally, so far as RAF Germany is concerned, we have also decided that we require only one air station. The Harriers and helicopters currently based at RAF Laarbruch will accordingly be redeployed to existing operational air stations in the UK. That will have operational benefit, because aircraft now based at Laarbruch often have to train over the United Kingdom.

Change on the scale envisaged in "Front Line First" is bound to have painful consequences. The overall impact of the package will mean net job reductions of about 18,700 over the next three years. Compared with previous plans, the number of civil servants in the Ministry of Defence will fall almost 7 per cent., or 7,100, and the total of uniformed personnel will fall 5 per cent.--of which the Royal Navy will reduce by 1,900, the Army by 2,200 and the RAF by 7,500. Those cuts will fall on all levels of service and civilian personnel. We anticipate that more than 20 senior military and civilian posts--that is, major-general level and above- -will disappear. That will bring the total reduction in senior posts since 1990 to about one third.

A proportion of those reductions will require redundancies in the armed forces and the civil service. We will wish to deal sensitively and fairly with those who have served the nation well. The terms on offer will be the same as have applied to other recent redundancies. It will be seen that manpower reductions are higher for the Royal Air Force. That reflects in particular the conclusions of work set in hand by the Air Force Board

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some two years ago. The work addressed the scope for reducing costs by civilianising or contractoring out uniformed jobs. It also looked at savings to be derived from introducing new engineering work practices, and from reducing the number of expensive aircrew occupying ground posts.

The Air Force Board endorsed the outcome of that work, which is reflected in the measures that I have announced today. Like all the other proposals that I am announcing, those manpower reductions will not adversely affect our front-line fighting capability.

I should now like to outline our plans for the future of the Territorial Army. The Government remain committed to making greater use of the reserves. There has been a detailed study of the structure and manning of the TA. One option was to make a major reduction in the size of the TA to reflect the reduced home defence role. We decided, however, to reject that option.

In future, the role of the Territorial Army should be to act as a general reserve to the Army. It will remain an integral component of our defence forces on mobilisation, and we intend to make greater use of it in peacetime. Our previous plans were for a TA with formed units of 59,000, plus a recruits pool of 4,500.

The latter is no longer necessary, but we intend to retain at its current level of 59,000 the formed units of the TA. We shall consult widely within the TA whether there should be some reroling of units or other changes within the 59,000 total, and we will announce the outcome later in the year.

We do not underestimate the challenge that the proposals I have announced represent for all involved. They will have a significant impact on the lives and prospects of many who serve in the armed forces, as well as on civilians in the Ministry of Defence. The changes are, however, essential if we are to focus our resources on sustaining and enhancing our operational capability and fighting strength. "Front Line First" has enabled us to do that. In particular, "Front Line First" has allowed us to make a number of highly significant enhancements to our front line capability, which I will outline to the House.

For the Royal Navy, I am able today to announce key equipment improvements across a range of capabilities that will enhance the Royal Navy's ability to sustain operations, as well as being of value to Britain's warship building industry. We will complete the modernisation of our amphibious capability. Last year, we ordered a helicopter carrier. Today, we are announcing that we shall shortly issue an invitation to tender for two new assault ships to replace HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid.

We will also extend the Royal Navy's capability for anti-ship and anti- submarine warfare well into the next century, with the invitation to tender for the design and build of a new class of nuclear-powered submarine--the batch 2 Trafalgar class, which will replace the Swiftsure class.

We are able to carry forward our programme to build a force of 25 modern and highly capable mine counter-measures vessels. Accordingly, we are today placing an order with Vosper Thornycroft for a further batch of seven Sandown single-role minehunters. Four type 23 frigates are currently on order. We plan to issue invitations to tender

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for a further batch during the coming year. The Government will assess the case thereafter on the basis of price and operational need.

For the Army, we can now confirm the order of a further 259 Challenger 2 tanks from Vickers Defence Systems. This will enable us to field an all- Challenger 2 fleet of tanks, improve the quality of the country's contribution to NATO's Rapid Reaction Corps and ensure that we have a continuing capability to make a significant contribution to the type of coalition operation we saw in the Gulf. This order will be very good news for Vickers and its work force of nearly 2,000 at both Leeds and Newcastle, and to the company's sub-contractors throughout the country.

An order is also being placed with Royal Ordnance at Glascoed, Gwent for 400,000 rounds of 51mm mortar ammunition.

Finally, we will use some of the additional 3,000 personnel made available last year for the Field Army to allow the Royal Armoured Corps Training Regiment, currently the 9/12 Lancers, to be given a role as a third and additional armoured reconnaissance regiment and to take its place in the front line.

For the RAF, we are placing a production order for the mid-life update of 142 Tornado GR1 aircraft. This will provide improvements to the aircraft's avionics, navigation and armaments systems. It will maintain the operational effectiveness of the RAF's long-range attack capability well into the second decade of the next century, and help to preserve British Aerospace's manufacturing base at Warton in Lancashire in the run-up to production of Eurofighter 2000. As for weapons programmes, the Gulf conflict demonstrated the value of precision stand-off weapons to allow targets to be attacked accurately, while reducing aircraft vulnerability. We are therefore placing an order for advanced laser-guided bombs with the associated thermal imaging and laser designation pods. The bulk of the work will be done in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland, in the west country and on the south coast.

In addition, the Government believe there is a good case in principle for a new long-range air-to-ground missile, CASOM. They will continue to examine the case for CASOM carefully and, subject to the outcome of that examination, intend to open discussions with industry later in the year.

This is a substantial programme of investment in new equipment. The orders that I have announced today, and orders resulting from the invitations to tender, should together be worth about £5 billion, and are expected to sustain directly over 10,000 jobs. These decisions represent a major boost to British industry, as well as providing vital enhancements for all three services.

The success of "Front Line First" has also identified resources that can now be used to deal with other pressing priorities. I have decided that the most important priorities are to reverse the hollowing-out measures of recent years, and to increase levels of operational training.

To that end, I can announce that the success of "Front Line First" has enabled me to increase RAF operational force levels by moving 12 Harrier GR7 aircraft from the reserve fleet to the front line. I can also inform the House that the frigate and the submarine previously planned to go into mothballs within the next few years will remain in service as part of the operational fleet. I know that those proposals will be particularly welcome within the armed forces.

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Equipment levels are themselves of little consequence unless they are backed up by intensive and highly developed training arrangements. Here, too, I am able to announce proposals for all three services. For the Army, we shall be improving our training areas in the United Kingdom and Germany. This will allow an increase in such training of between 50 per cent. and 100 per cent., particularly at the battle group level. We shall be acquiring additional training aids to allow more complete simulation traininq. For the RAF, it is important that pilots should have sufficient regular flying to preserve and enhance their skills. As part of our shift of resources to the front line, I have decided that the current level of aircrew flying training hours will be increased progressively over the next three years. When completed, the increase will bring the level of flying training for each aircrew member up to 20 hours a month, a total increase of 8,000 hours a year for the fast jet force.

For the Royal Navy, we shall be purchasing additional anti-submarine and gunnery targets to allow more realistic training for ships and naval aircraft deployed away from usual target facilities.

One of the most important achievements of "Front Line First" will be progress in tri-service operational capability. I have already referred to proposals for a joint headquarters, a joint staff college and a joint helicopter school.

I am pleased to be able to say that we intend to develop a joint rapid deployment force. We have already the fighting elements of rapidly deployable forces such as the Royal Marines, the Parachute Brigade, and 24 Air Mobile Brigade. We shall be looking at how best we can develop the capabilities of those forces to enable them to intervene even more effectively and speedily together.

We shall be providing additional communications infrastructure to improve their effectiveness, and many of the equipment enhancements announced earlier will contribute directly to improving this important area of capability. The concept of the joint rapid deployment force is one that can be built on, and the overall ability of our forces to operate at speed and effectively in the sort of situation described will be a high priority for the future. In the changed strategic environment, there is a wider range of operations in which our forces may be deployed. In this context, for the Navy, we are therefore also examining the case for acquiring and committing to NATO conventionally-armed Tomahawk land attack missiles, and we will be seeking information from the United States of America Government and from industry.

I am conscious that the changes that the armed forces have undergone since the end of the cold war have been painful and demanding for them as well as for civilian staff. The nation already owes them a great debt, and successful implementation of the proposals that I have announced today can only increase that indebtedness. That process of change needs to be managed with sensitivity and care for our people, and that we will do. The changes are necessary and justified. They will enable us to preserve the front line and proceed with a programme of investment necessary to maintain its operational effectiveness. Today, we have demonstrated the Government's determination to preserve and enhance our fighting strength and to ensure that our armed forces,

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soldier for soldier, pilot for pilot and ship for ship, remain the best in the world. I commend the proposals to the House.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : May I first express the regrets of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) for his absence today ? As has been explained to the Secretary of State for Defence, he is attending his daughter's graduation ceremony today.

I thank the Secretary of State for his very long statement, which lasted 56 minutes-- [Hon. Members :-- "Twenty-six".] Twenty-six--it just felt like 56. The starting point must surely be that our armed forces are one of our country's great centres of excellence and have a worldwide reputation, and that nothing should be done that might destroy that excellence.

Obviously, we must have time fully to digest all the details that were set out today, but we welcome elements of the statement. We welcome, for example, the announcement in relation to the territorials, who at least are likely to have some stability after three years of very substantial cuts. We welcome the greater training planned for all three services. We welcome the new equipment orders and the development of a joint rapid deployment force, for which the case is well established.

We would have little difficulty in accepting the case for cuts if operational efficiency were not thereby impaired, but is it not clear that this latest round of cuts, when 1990's "Options for Change" is only two- thirds complete, has the Treasury as its sole driving force, as the silence of Conservative Back Benchers demonstrated today ? If the cuts are so clearly justified, why did they not form part of the "Options" exercise ? After 15 years of Conservative government, is it a credible reason that only now have efficiencies come to light ? In short, is it "Front Line First" or "Conservative party first ?" Is it "Front Line First" or "bottom line first" ? Is it not a clear admission that the Government have got it wrong in the past ? Was it an accounting miracle or administrative incompetence that led to the discovery by the MOD that it was spending £500 million more on research and development than it originally thought ?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, because of the timing of the announcement, it will be more than three months before the House has an opportunity to debate his statement, including all the major cuts which are part of it ?

Does not the experience of recent military operations, especially those in the Gulf, where more than 70 per cent. of our Royal Air Force personnel were deemed to be support staff, show how spurious is the distinction between support services and the front line in a modern integrated service community ?

On contractorisation, is not the Secretary of State's faith in privatisation at least troubled by the fact that 18 front-line RAF Tornado F3 fighters have recently been taken out of service and are awaiting repair at RAF St. Athan, due to the poor standard of repairs by civilian contractors ? As a lawyer, does he not fear that in an emergency a civilian contractor might well say, "Sorry, it is not within the terms of our contract," or, "These extras have to be charged at premium rates"--as happened during the Gulf operation ? Are contractor personnel likely to be asked to risk their lives ? What obligation will be placed on contractors to train their own people, and not just poach from a diminished MOD pool ?

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As for redundancies and the regions affected, do not these cuts represent the sacking by the MOD of 18,700 workers ? Will not they have a major effect on regions such as the south- west of England, which are already reeling from Government unemployment policies ? If my hon. Friends catch your eye, Madam Speaker, they will no doubt be making constituency points, but may I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) and for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) and the trade unions on their magnificent campaign which has at least partially saved the Rosyth base ? That campaign will continue, particularly to keep the minesweepers at Rosyth. Is it true that the Secretary of State had to re-write the Rosyth script as late as last Friday ?

What is the Secretary of State's estimate of the compulsory redundancies ? Why will not the Government undertake a total cost benefit study of such decisions, including the social security and job regeneration costs ? Does the Secretary of State accept that it is hardly in our national interest to transfer payments from the MOD to the social security budget ?

As for particular matters affecting the RAF, for example, which will bear the brunt of the cuts, is the decision to leave only one air station in Germany final, or can we expect a further announcement ?

There are many particular problems affecting the Royal Navy. How can the shore-sea ratio in the Navy, which is so vital to morale, be maintained if home-based jobs, which our sailors would expect to be available, are lost to the Navy as a result of contractorisation ? As for the new orders announced today, have not those major defence equipment orders and sweeteners already been announced--some of them many times ? Are they not just a smokescreen to hide the cuts ? Can the Secretary of State tell us of any major equipment order announced today that has not already been announced, in this year's Statement on the Defence Estimates, to the Defence Select Committee, or by way of a written answer--in some cases by all three methods ? If the Secretary of State claims that, before today's announcement, those orders were in doubt, is he not in effect clearly conceding that we can put no faith in Government promises ?

Why was there no mention in the statement of the location of the Army personnel office or the privatisation of the royal dockyards ? Announcements on either would have major job implications throughout the country.

Finally, can the Secretary of State give an assurance to our shell-shocked service personnel--whose morale, as he and his colleagues well know, is fragile at the moment--that, after that further blow, there will be a period of stability ? Or is that just another promise, like the promise by his predecessors when they said, "This is the end of the cuts" ? Are there not further cuts on the horizon--cuts of at least an extra £2.6 billion from the financial year 1996-97 ?

There is still no defence review, no attempt to strike an overall balance between commitments and resources. There is no attempt, for example, to deal with key questions such as tanks versus helicopters or Tornados versus Harriers. The Government have no coherent strategy. Their defence policy is based on tactics,

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short-termism and accountancy tricks. Do not our service personnel and workers in the defence industries deserve better ? They will receive better--under Labour.

Mr. Rifkind : After that contribution from the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), I understand why The Guardian , of all newspapers, this morning said :

"There is no field of politics in which Labour is less convincing than defence".

I shall try to respond to those of the hon. Gentleman's remarks that represented questions. He asked me about Rosyth, and implied that somehow the intervention of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) had led to changes in the Government's policy over the past few days. That is a sign of the delusions that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East experiences on a regular basis. The proposals that I announced today are exactly the same as those that I put to the relevant Cabinet Committee a week ago, and have not been changed one iota since then.

We do not consider it necessary to retain both the bases in Germany. Because of German restrictions on flying over Germany, RAF planes now often have to fly back to the United Kingdom for training before returning to Germany later in the day. That makes little operational sense, and that is why the change is being made. The hon. Gentleman asked about the Army Personnel Centre. That has not been mentioned today because there is no change in the current position ; it will be established in Glasgow.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me whether there was to be some stability in defence, and sought to contrast the Government's position with that of the Labour party. But the programme of new equipment and operational improvements that we have announced today is a clear demonstration of the direction in which the Government intend to head.

Compare that with the policy of the Labour party ; a policy of calling for a defence review on the front line, on force strengths, on capabilities, which would threaten the armed forces with total uncertainty, not only between now and the general election but, God forbid, thereafter, in the event of a change of Government. The Labour party offers nothing but instability and uncertainty to the fighting strength of the armed forces. Today, we have demonstrated our determination not only to maintain the fighting strength but to enhance it by the various new proposals which we have announced.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, while there is--obviously--regret about any losses of jobs, he has the clearest possible duty to see that the support and administration of our armed forces is brought in line with the new structure of our front line ? In that connection, while some of his proposals follow on from the plans, as he knows, laid out under the new management strategy, may I congratulate him on some very imaginative new proposals, which have clearly benefited from the consultation process ? The investment proposals and new equipment go a long way to meet our undertaking of smaller but better. However, as he turns to our armed forces and all in the Ministry of Defence to see that that undertaking is successfully completed, will he recognise that it has been a period of major change ? If today's announcement is to mark the end of that period, will he take the opportunity to say that, while the pursuit of efficiency must always continue in the Ministry of Defence, the service and duty

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of our armed service men and defence personnel entitle them to a period of stability to implement those changes, and to ensure that they are successfully concluded ?

Mr. Rifkind : I thank my right hon. Friend. Of course I agree with the sentiments that he has expressed. He has rightly identified that balance between improved efficiency, the search for which must always continue to ensure best value for money, and the maintenance and enhancement of the fighting strength of our armed forces. We have shown today that that is not rhetoric, but is matched by enhancements of fighting capability, of training opportunities, of the available equipment and of the way in which our armed forces can carry out their responsibilities. I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : Since the exercise is described as "Front Line First", will the Secretary of State tell us what assurances he has had from the Treasury about his ability to keep every penny of the savings which he proposes to make and to apply them to the front line ?

Will he confirm that the continuation of Rosyth, even in a limited way, is an acceptance of its strategic value ? What is the state of readiness for that installation ? What exercises, if any, will be carried out to maintain that state of readiness ?

In the light of his statement, is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman persuaded that it would be right to look not only at costs, but at commitments as well ? In the first instance, would it not now make sense to withdraw the Royal Air Force in its entirety from Germany, since the political and military purposes for which it was located there are no longer necessary ?

Mr. Rifkind : On the first question, I should have thought that the basis on which I have been able to announce a substantial increase in training, the return to the front line of defence assets which were in reserve, and our policy on a joint rapid deployment force and Tomahawk land attack missiles would have indicated clearly to the hon. and learned Gentleman that the additional savings that we have identified have been available to enhance the front line in the way I have described.

The hon. and learned Gentleman also asked about Rosyth's future role. I have said that Rosyth's future role will be as a naval support establishment, but because of the continuing access of berthing facilities, because of the Crombie ammunition depot nearby and the other available facilities, it will be open to the Royal Navy to use it as a forward operating base, if at some future moment that would seem to be desirable.

I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that it would be appropriate to withdraw all our Royal Air Force forces from Germany. The tangible, physical presence of the Royal Air Force and the Army in Germany is part of our commitment to NATO and to the integrated military structure of NATO. Therefore, it is right and proper that we should demonstrate that, as we are doing.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster) : I add my voice to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) in congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend and all those who took part in the 33 defence costs studies groups, who have come up with this solution to a very difficult problem.

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However, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to remember that many of us on this side of the House feel that, notwithstanding the defence costs studies results, some areas of our defences are still in need of further enhancement than has been given today --noticeably the number of soldiers available, which leads to the emergency tour plot gap, which we feel should be filled.

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend can confirm not only that there will be a period of stability, as he has done, but that we have now reached the bottom of the cuts that we have seen for the past four years and that, as the economy improves, we shall be able further to enhance the capability of all three armed services.

Mr. Rifkind : I thank my hon. Friend for the tribute that he has paid to all who took part in the studies. I especially give my own thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who chaired the executive group and carried out much of the detailed work.

We shall keep the number of Army personnel under careful consideration. My hon. Friend will recall that we significantly enhanced the size of the field Army not only by reprieving the proposed amalgamation of the Cheshires and the Staffordshires, the Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers, but by subsequently announcing a further 3,000 Army personnel for the front line for the field Army. That has enabled us to ease the situation significantly as a consequence.

Sir Harold Walker (Doncaster, Central) : Do the Government ever have regard to the employment consequences of their decisions ? After the devastation of the coal mining industry and the railway manufacturing industry, my constituents have become increasingly dependent on the jobs provided by RAF Finningley, and now the Secretary of State is to wipe them away, too.

Will he have regard to the employment consequences and say something about the steps that the Government might take to offset the further increase in unemployment in the black spot of unemployment in my constituency ? What phasing may take place in the closure of the bases ?

Mr. Rifkind : Of course we are conscious that defence expenditure has important employment implications. That is why I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would join me in welcoming the 10,000 defence industry jobs that will be saved or created as a result of the announcements that we have made today.

I am conscious that in several locations there will be job losses. It is never a very pleasant task to announce closures in any part of the country. With his background, the right hon. Gentleman will be the first to acknowledge that it is necessary to use defence resources purely to fulfil the requirements of the armed forces : they cannot be used simply to provide employment for its own sake. The right hon. Gentleman would be the first to acknowledge that, and to accept that that is indeed the reality.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that rationalisation and the pursuit of more cost- effective armed forces should happen not purely in reviews but constantly ? What is the strategic justification for this review ? The world is getting more dangerous, and there are more conflicts rather than fewer, as was the case in 1989 when the cold war ended. What is to happen to the central flying school, which is the centre of excellence for flying standards in the Royal

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Air Force, and is currently located at RAF Scampton, the base from which the Dambusters flew to attack the Mo"hne, Sorpe and Eder dams ? What is to become of navigation training, which is currently undertaken at RAF Finningley, and to rear crew training, which is also done there ? What is to happen to the group structure of the RAF ? Rumour has it that many of them are to be embedded in the Headquarters Strike Command.

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