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Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East): Does my right hon. Friend understand that the threat of a new nuclear arms race in southern Asia is worsened by Britain retreating to a position from which we defend our national right to use nuclear weapons but deny that same right to almost every other nation on earth? If so, does he accept that, in announcing that Britain is and will remain a nuclear weapons power, he has missed an unique opportunity to give a lead on nuclear disarmament, which could pull the world back from a nuclear brink that has suddenly and frighteningly become that much closer?

Mr. Robertson: Despite my new post, I watch the Scottish press carefully. I always thought that my hon. Friend believed in delivering what one promised. He and I were both elected on a manifesto that stated that we would retain Trident; we should keep our commitments. On the subject of new nuclear arms races, this Government ratified the comprehensive test ban treaty immediately they came to power. I hope that India and Pakistan will also do so. That would make a serious contribution to reducing the chances of proliferation and the dangers of testing.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The Secretary of State will be aware that service men and women, from the most senior officers to the newest squaddie, will have been watching and listening to what he has said. Does he accept that what he has announced, which an artillery man might call a smokescreen barrage, cannot disguise huge cuts? Our service men and women will have noticed that he failed to answer the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). The Secretary of State has no undertaking that the cuts will end--otherwise, he would have told us. How can he possibly believe that recruitment, retention and overstretch will be helped by his announcement of huge, Treasury-driven cuts?

I welcome one or two points, particularly the strengthening of defence medical services, which the Secretary of State will know are important in my constituency. Does he recognise that his announcement on the cutting of fast jets now, with the promise of jam tomorrow when the Eurofighter arrives, will not help retain pilots? That is the economics of the madhouse; they will all have left long before the Eurofighter is available. Does he recognise that all he is promising is beyond visual range? Will he finally answer the question that I have been asking him and his Minister of State on behalf of my constituents for more than a year? Will he address the scandalous refusal to announce what there will be in the splendid buildings of the staff college in Camberley?

Mr. Robertson: The hon. Gentleman is right in one respect. Our forces across the world will be interested in

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the defence review and in what their Parliament has to say about it. Where he is wrong is in underestimating their intelligence when it comes to discriminating between what he is saying and what I am saying. They know what the past seven years have been like. They know of the 23 per cent. cuts and compulsory redundancies in the armed forces when they were on operations in Bosnia.

We are saying today that the regular armed forces of this country will be increased. The Army will be increased by 3,300, and all other services will be maintained at present levels. Our forces will be able to understand what is in the review, and they will see the contrast between it and what they have experienced. The hon. Gentleman was not listening when I made the point--following the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King)--that the financial deal in the White Paper is part of the comprehensive spending review and is guaranteed for the next three-year period. No Conservative Government gave a three-year forward commitment.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Camberley and what use might be made of that building. We will consider, with all the valuable buildings that are within my responsibility, the best and most appropriate way of dealing with those sometimes surplus assets, and whether they could be used in terms of the rationalisation of some of the defence estate.

Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the rest of the MOD team on the review. It is the first review I can recall where Wales has not been penalised in terms of job losses. During the final two terms of the Conservative Government, 2,000 defence jobs were cut in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire.

May I ask specifically about the three armoured regiments that are planned to return from Germany with their 2,500 personnel? Has a decision been made on where those three regiments will be based and trained? If no decision has been made, may I recommend that my right hon. Friend look closely at basing them and providing training at the Castlemartin tank range in my constituency?

Mr. Robertson: I am taking careful note--I am sure that my officials will be as well--of all bids for the new configurations, which I know will be generally welcomed. No decisions have yet been taken about where the regiments coming back from Germany will be based. We will look carefully at the assets, to ensure that the right decisions are taken in terms of the military and the public purse. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw a contrast between the experience of those in the armed forces and what is promised in the review today. The defence review was designed as a vision of the future that would unite as many different elements in the country as possible, so that defence would cease to be the political football that it has sometimes been in the past. I believe that it does that, and that it is good for the country.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire): As the right hon. Gentleman continues to deny that the Treasury had anything to do with the review, he is, I suppose, unable to accept the congratulations that some of us would want to offer him and his colleagues on having fought extremely well against the predators of the Treasury and

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having coming out with cuts which are much smaller than many of us feared. I am sorry that he cannot accept those congratulations, which are offered sincerely.

May I particularly welcome the appointment of a new Chief of Defence Logistics? I hope that the Secretary of State will instruct him to finish the job of managing defence centrally, which was started all those years ago by Mountbatten and has been frustrated from time to time by single-service rivalries and turf protection. If he can solve that problem and bring together all the defence logistics, he will have done us a great service.

I wish to make a point about the Territorial Army. In this country, the services, in their professionalism, are gradually getting further and further away from the people. The closing of Territorial Army centres and the taking out of the defence world of members of the civilian community will accelerate that. Will he look at that problem, because if the services are divorced from their civilian counterparts, we will get an unstable and unsatisfactory situation, which we have not had in this country since the war?

Mr. Robertson: If I had had a battle with the Treasury, I would have been happy to accept the congratulations of the hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade have all had an interest in the White Paper, and we have had a reasonable discussion.

As I said--and it should not be underestimated--the package that was designed in the Ministry of Defence by the Chiefs of Defence Staff, the Ministers and others who gave their input to the process was untouched by Government. A civilised discussion then took place with the Treasury, and a package was agreed. None the less, I accept the hon. Gentleman's congratulations on the size of the package and pass them on to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the Chief of Defence Logistics; we believe that it will result in better co-ordination of a key component in ensuring that the right forces can be delivered at the right time. I know that General Sir Sam Cowan's appointment as the first chief has been generally welcomed; there is probably no better man to fit that position and to begin with energy doing the job that the hon. Gentleman describes.

I recognise that very small armed forces, which are proudly treasured by the British people, can become disconnected from their local communities and lose visibility. The TA plays a part--but not the only part--in ensuring that there is contact. That will be one of the key criteria by which we judge the TA's final shape when it is reconfigured, reinvigorated and made more appropriate to the future.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Recent events in Iraq, India and Pakistan have raised awareness of the terrible risks of nuclear proliferation. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the initial cuts in British nuclear weapons that he has announced will enable Britain to take a strong lead both in discouraging proliferation and in reviving the process of multinational disarmament?

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is right. We need to move with some urgency towards a safer world, in which

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there are fewer of these weapons. We believe that we should maintain a credible nuclear deterrent, but that that can be done at lower levels. We also believe that we can be more open about what we have. The review will achieve that, which is good news for those who serve in our deterrent patrols and will, I believe, be welcomed in the country and, indeed, in the wider world.


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