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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 1 May 2002

[Sylvia Heal in the Chair]

Defence Policy (Scotland)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Fitzpatrick.]

9.30 am

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): I express my thanks to Mr. Speaker for selecting this important topic for debate, coming as it does in the midst of a national consultation on the significant new chapter of the strategic defence review. I hope that the many hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies use this opportunity to contribute their suggestions about the new chapter. The debate is important as it deals with the issues posed in the aftermath of 11 September and concerns the possible need for us to reconfigure our defence requirements as a result of such atrocities.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence outlined his reasons for opening a new chapter of the strategic defence review in December last year, he summed up his thinking in one line. When commenting on what happened on 11 September, he said that we must

We are not starting with a blank page. The United Kingdom has a long and proud military history and our armed forces continue to be among the best in the world.

The original SDR that was conducted three years ago by Lord Robertson of Port Ellen was widely praised as a model of how modern defences should be planned and structured. It set out clear policy guidelines from which our military procurement and planning would follow, and laid out the range of capabilities needed to defend the UK. Indeed, the action that we have taken since 11 September has been made possible thanks, in large part, to the work carried out in the SDR.

However, it would be wrong to assume that our defence requirements are set in stone, and we must now ask some serious and probing questions about how equipped we are as a country to deal with the growth of asymmetric threats and rogue nations. Although the consultation document outlines questions and comprehensive options, I shall restrict my remarks to only one—that, which the document describes as "engaging the causes", in other words, dealing with the ways in which to prevent further atrocities such as 11 September. Incidentally, I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend resisted calling that chapter "Tough on asymmetric threats, tough on the causes of asymmetric threats", but that more or less sums up the position.

It is encouraging that the Government are actively consulting on ways in which UK forces can help developing states build better counter-terrorist capabilities for themselves, as well as assisting those developing countries in an ongoing humanitarian effort to defuse potential terrorist activity before it is too late.

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Such objectives are not contradictory and, even if they occasionally sit uneasily together, they should not be decoupled. I am pleased that the Government are giving a commitment to that end. That aim will mean a concerted and ongoing global effort, which the UK cannot do alone, and deeper co-operation with other agencies such as the UN, the EU and our NATO allies will be needed if we are to succeed in that noble task.

What are the implications for Scotland? There are three main areas. First, and most importantly, Scottish members of the armed forces have been at the forefront of many of our recent campaigns in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and elsewhere. I hope that hon. Members agree that we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to those men and women. In future, even more may be asked of them, but I believe that they will be equal to the task.

Secondly, many of our Scottish bases may be asked to assume new or different responsibilities in the changing environment. The Ministry of Defence has 374 sites in Scotland, covering nearly 25,000 hectares, including some in my constituency. That amounts to about £1.3 billion in cash terms alone—a considerable investment. At present, 10 per cent. of those employed by the MOD work in Scotland, a figure that has grown in recent years.

I hope that those who are negotiating a transfer to the private sector at Faslane and Coulport receive favourable terms in relation to pay, conditions and pensions. I understand that good progress has been made between management and the unions, but I would welcome assurances on those points.

The third implication for Scotland is in the vital realm of defence procurement and defence-related jobs. In order to be brief, I shall restrict my remarks to naval procurement, in which I have a strong constituency interest.

I am delighted at the success of the Clyde yards in securing major new defence contracts, especially for type 45s, which are worth about £2 billion. The Government have announced their intention to embark on the largest warship building programme since world war two, and they have already brought a degree of job security to Clyde shipyards that we have not known in many years.

We await with keen interest the placing of the contracts for the new aircraft carriers. Yesterday's announcement in the Scottish press of the agreement between BAE Systems and Clydeport that the Inchgreen dry dock in Inverclyde would be used for assembling the aircraft carriers should the bid be successful was extremely welcome news. As a Member who represents a constituency that contains Inchgreen, I strongly urge my hon. Friend to support that excellent bid.

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): I thank my hon. Friend for having secured this excellent debate. I apologise that, because of a Standing Committee, I shall not be able to stay for all of it.

I share my hon. Friend's pride in the shipyard work and the warship orders that have been placed. Does he agree that while Rosyth dockyard and the Clyde shipyards hope to secure work on the new aircraft carriers, we are all clear that such work and a prospect

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of a secure future would not be available to us if Scotland were to go down the road of independence or had voted Conservative?

David Cairns : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, with her customary foresight, pre-empts my next passage. I am sure that the Rosyth bid will be excellent.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): When the Conservative party comes to government three years from now, we shall continue orders for the carriers.

David Cairns : I accept the sincerity with which that assurance is given. However, my constituents in Greenock and Inverclyde have been used to many assurances from previous Conservative Governments, and have learned to treat those assurances with the deep scepticism that they deserve. Indeed, our ability to build ships in Greenock and Inverclyde is recovering only now from 18 years of decimation brought by the Conservative party when it was in power.

On a wider note, following the introduction of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire), today is the fifth anniversary of Labour's return to office. It was a glorious day, pretty much like today, as I remember.

Throughout the past five years, the Government have shown beyond all doubt our commitment to the maxim that a Government's first duty is to defend their citizens. It follows axiomatically that the first duty of a political party that aspires to government must be to explain to those citizens exactly how it proposes to defend them.

During a recent debate in a Scottish Grand Committee, some of my hon. Friends were uncharitable enough to suggest that the Scottish National party had a somewhat insubstantial defence policy. [Interruption.] I, too, was shocked to hear that. I decided to verify the matter for myself, and must report that to call SNP defence policy insubstantial would be flattering. There is next to nothing on the subject on the SNP's website, and a search of Hansard yields slim pickings.

In desperation, I turned to the SNP's 2001 general election manifesto, a document so compelling that it moved the SNP into third place in Greenock and Inverclyde—down from second place, unfortunately. It secured the party the princely total of less than 15 per cent. of the vote. The manifesto contains some interesting paragraphs on defence, although considerably fewer than those devoted to a fascinating article called "A Day in the Life of Alex Salmond", which I warmly commend to hon. Members who have not read it. To summarise it, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) gets up, talks a lot of nonsense and goes back to bed.

The paragraphs on defence make fascinating reading. In them, for example, the SNP says that

The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who could not be here due to a long-standing engagement, sought to clarify the policy during a Scottish Grand

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Committee debate. I told him yesterday that I would quote him. He said that

Nothing could be clearer: an independent Scotland will be out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on principle.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): Does my hon. Friend agree that withdrawal from NATO would leave not only Scotland but Britain in an intolerable position? It would do nothing for the world's fight against terrorism.

David Cairns : My hon. Friend is right. It is bizarre that while countries across Europe are queuing up to join NATO, the SNP thinks that Scotland should leave it. Scotland would be the only country ever to leave NATO. However, if that is the policy, no one seems to have explained it to Mr. Colin Campbell, a Member of the Scottish Parliament and the official SNP defence spokesperson. He told the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament:

Mr. Campbell chose his words carefully. He could have said, "An independent Scotland should not be part of NATO—full stop", but he did not. He spoke of the command structure only. Mr. Campbell knows full well that, as France has proved, it is possible to be in NATO but not in the command structure. So which is it to be? The SNP can either be out of NATO on principle, which is what the hon. Member for Moray clearly stated, or it can be out of the command structure but a member of the rest of the organisation, as Mr. Campbell desires. It cannot do both. The point is important, and the SNP must clarify the matter urgently.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): As my hon. Friend is no doubt aware, the SNP states elsewhere in its manifesto that it would

We have heard about withdrawal from NATO from one quarter, participation in NATO but not in the military command structure from another, and withdrawal but co-operation from yet another. Is not that just one more example of the inconsistency of the SNP's policy on membership of NATO?

David Cairns : My hon. Friend is correct. The Scottish National party's policy is nothing short of a shambles. Each option is fraught with difficulties and questions that must be answered. When the party has made up its mind on the options, there are a series of questions—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) wishes to intervene so that we can hear the word from the horse's mouth. Would the SNP leave NATO on principle, or would it stay in the NATO political structure but leave the command structure?

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): The hon. Gentleman has discussed the Scottish National party's defence

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policy at length. I am more interested in Scottish new Labour's defence policy, especially on nuclear weapons. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us the extent to which he supports that policy?

David Cairns : I anticipated that the hon. Gentleman might ask that. Whenever SNP Members are asked about the shambles that is their defence policy, they trot out elderly resolutions that were passed by Scottish Labour party conferences many years ago. The most recent Labour party policy document says that Labour will continue to be the party of strong defence by investing in our armed forces so that they are able to meet today's challenges and tomorrow's threats. It remains committed to strong security through NATO. That is clear and unambiguous. It is the Labour Government's policy to remain in NATO as part of the defence structure, and we are committed to participating in the nuclear umbrella that NATO affords. That has been demonstrated clearly over the past five years.

The hon. Gentleman declined to answer my question—perhaps if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, he will do so later. However, I want to pose questions that flow from any of the options that the SNP is juggling as its policy.

Only France is in NATO but outside its command structure, which is Mr. Campbell's preferred option—this gets confusing so I hope that hon. Members are following this strand of SNP policy. However, France has its own independent nuclear capability, which is more substantial than ours. Does Mr. Campbell seriously believe that other NATO members would be happy for Scotland to participate in NATO's political planning and decision making, but to make no contribution to the military effort? That is fantasy.

The other options are equally difficult. Setting aside the fact that countries are lining up to join NATO—as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) said—at the exact time that the SNP wants out, important questions must be answered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) said that the SNP's policy is to have a phased withdrawal. Let us examine what phasing means. It would take time to close the nuclear base on the Clyde, and if the SNP was to be the good neighbour that it claims, presumably the rest of the United Kingdom would be given time to prepare alternative sites. The entire armed forces would have to be divvied up and personnel, property, hardware and material would have to be allocated between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. That would take years to sort out and, in the meantime, the nuclear base would remain in Scotland. There would be the absurd position that Scotland would house England's nuclear capability but would have zero influence on how it would be used.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): Perhaps my hon. Friend is being a little too charitable to the SNP. A few months ago, the leader of the SNP in Scotland, Mr. John Swinney, was at the gates of the Clyde submarine base at Faslane asking for the base to be closed not tomorrow, but now. That would destroy 6,000 to 7,000 jobs. The next time that we hear an SNP spokesperson

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talking on an economic platform, we should bear in mind that the hallmark of the SNP policy is job destruction, not job creation.

David Cairns : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We both share a strong interest in the matter because many of our constituents are employed in the bases.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire), I apologise that I cannot stay for the whole debate because I have to attend a Standing Committee. Is my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) aware that in my constituency the SNP has opposed the removal of the anti-submarine warfare Pacility, HMS Gannet, which forms part of the nuclear capability at Faslane? Does he agree that that is rank hypocrisy?

David Cairns : My hon. Friend makes her point tellingly. She mentions another strand of SNP policy. The manifesto calls for a phased withdrawal, presumably over time, but there is now a commitment to immediate withdrawal. Which is it to be? If it is the first duty of Governments to defend their citizens, it must surely be the first duty of political parties to explain to those citizens how they propose to defend them. The SNP has a huge amount of explaining to do.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind hon. Members that the debate should be based on the subject for which the Government have responsibility, not on other political parties.

David Cairns : Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful for that ruling.

As I have said over the past five years, it is clear that the Government are trusted on defence, and we must ensure that that remains. We are trusted because our policies are consistent, coherent and geared towards providing a strong defence of our country. I make this point for the last time, even though it is directly relevant—the current leadership of the SNP knows that, unlike the Government, its entire defence policy is a complete and utter shambles.

Pete Wishart : I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's tirade against the SNP's defence policy. Will he comment in his closing remarks about the Government's privatisation agenda and the impact that it is having on defence jobs throughout Scotland?

David Cairns : I have already done so. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not listening. I clearly asked my right hon. Friend the Minister a series of questions on the precise negotiations taking place in Faslane and Coulport. I asked for specific assurances and I expect to receive them. It is hardly my fault if the hon. Gentleman was not listening. I appear to be in a no-win situation—if I speak about Labour's defence policy, the hon. Gentleman does not listen, and if I speak about the SNP's, I stray beyond the bounds of good order.

The Labour Government—[Interruption.] This is my fourth attempt to conclude, but I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): The hon. Gentleman mentioned that one objective of the Government's

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defence policy is to be coherent. Will he explain where the coherence is in taking the Sea Harriers out of service and abolishing the air defence for the fleet at sea?

David Cairns : Those are questions that emerge from the aftermath of 11 September. We must deal with important questions—about the size of our aircraft carriers, for example. In a sense, this is a case of chicken and egg. If we go for Harriers based on aircraft carriers, we have shorter aircraft carriers. If we have shorter aircraft carriers, they cannot be used by our allies because they do not have Sea Harriers, which limits our ability to participate in global alliances and actions throughout the world. We must carefully consider all such issues in the light of 11 September and the new dispensation that will result.

I hope that the signs given by the Secretary of State on Navy day recently when he spoke about increasing the envelope size for the new aircraft carriers are taken up, precisely because of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). I hope that we build the largest possible aircraft carriers within the existing framework. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister may wish to comment on that in his winding-up speech.

Mr. Francois : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

David Cairns : No. I have already gone on far longer than I intended. I have given way many times and I am trying to conclude.

We are trusted on defence, and we must continue to ensure that that remains the position. People know that we have a Government and a Prime Minister with the courage and determination to stand up to tyrants and aggressors. They also know that the current leader of the SNP does not even have the courage to stand up to Margo MacDonald, although if he did, he would be able to stand up to tyrants and aggressors.

I urge the Government, especially the Chancellor, carefully to consider the funding of defence in the current comprehensive spending review. He has already allocated increased defence spending after several years of defence cuts by the previous Conservative Government, but more may be required if we are to rise to the ambitions set by the Prime Minister and fulfil our historic role as a leading international power—a country devoted to fighting for the principles of freedom, justice and democracy.

9.54 am

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): I am reminded of how I usually feel when I inadvertently stray into the Scottish Grand Committee: I feel as though I am impinging on private grief between the Government and the Scottish National party.

I wish to use the short time afforded to me to redirect the discussion to the topic in hand. I congratulate the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) on securing the debate. Since we last discussed the subject, in the recent Scottish Grand Committee, we have been reminded—if any reminder was needed—that this is a vital topic for Scots. As the hon. Member for

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Angus (Mr. Weir)—who, sadly, has just departed—knows, Arbroath's 45 Commando is in combat in Afghanistan. It offers an outstanding example of the selfless role of our forces in today's world, and we should focus on that at all times during the debate. As a part of the UK's and the international coalition's war on terrorism, 45 Commando plays a key role in the defence of Scotland. Its war is a just war, and it is conducted on behalf of all of us. I know that all of Scotland is proud of those troops.

However, the debate is about defence in Scotland, and that points me to address how the activities inherent in our nation's defence impact on Scotland itself—and, naturally, on my constituency. All too often, the debate on how Scotland's defence industry impacts on Scotland has degenerated into a sterile exchange—often, I hasten to add, between Ministers and the Scottish National party—about whether Scotland gets its fair share of defence expenditure.

I genuinely hope that we can move on from that futile argument, as I believe that we cannot split the UK's defence into neat compartments. Some political parties may seek advantage from suggesting otherwise, but the truth remains that all four parts of the UK benefit from the UK's defence, and that our security is non-divisible.

However, many people are concerned about the way in which the Government have run down the Scottish regiments. I am sorry to be non-consensual about this, but five of our regiments are currently significantly undermanned, as the Minister knows. Rightly or wrongly, in Scotland that is taken as showing that those historic Army battalions are no longer the priority that they once were.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): If the hon. Gentleman's party was still in government, what would be the situation with regard to manning in those regiments?

Mr. Duncan : If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a few seconds, I will come to that shortly.

Speaking to armed forces personnel from my constituency, it is clear that morale among officers and in the ranks is at an all-time low. Recruitment is perceived to be the problem, but difficulties with retention are the source of undermanning in those Scottish regiments. I know that search consultants have been retained to improve the recruitment process, but the greater problem is the increasing likelihood that highly trained and disciplined personnel will find the lure of private industry irresistible when resources in the forces are under such strain.

In addition to reducing armed forces numbers, there has been a similar reduction in our naval capability. The Minister's attention has rightly turned to maximising the value to the taxpayer with regard to refitting programmes. Regardless of whether the externalisation that is under way is "partnership"—as the Ministry of Defence would describe it—or privatisation, the concern remains that the transfer of refit activities in Scotland should not result in a situation that prejudices our naval capability through lack of emergency maintenance capacity. I would welcome any reassurance that the Minister can offer on that important matter.

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The role of the Secretary of State for Scotland in the recent naval refit procurement crisis needs to be clarified. Scotland looks to that office for reassurance that Scotland's interests are being looked after. However, the manner of the release of some of the information concerning Faslane and Coalport again gives rise to the suggestion that the Secretary of State is currently the Cabinet's man in Scotland, rather than Scotland's man in the Cabinet.

Employment dependence on defence contracts is not limited to central Scotland, never mind Clydeside. Many communities that are miles from the M8 are heavily indebted to MOD activity. My constituency is home to some of the lowest average incomes in the UK, and one of our major assets is our landscape, which is valuable to armed forces for low-flying practice, firing range activities and an airfield.

I would like to explain the importance of how MOD activity, or inactivity, can hold back economic development in the rural communities of Scotland. As the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde mentioned, there are 374 sites throughout the UK, but some are more significant to their immediate communities than others. In Wigtownshire, we have been served a huge blow since the Scottish Grand Committee debate by the MOD announcement that West Freugh airfield will close to full-time operations. That closure will lead to between 50 and 80 job losses in one of the most remote areas of southern Scotland. Compared with the potential losses through naval maintenance, that number may not seem huge to hon. Members who represent central belt constituencies, but it is a devastating blow to the local economy, and one from which we must learn.

The airfield was operated by a Government-owned plc called QinetiQ, which was given a lease on the airfield. It certainly had challenges, with the number of military aircraft movements steadily declining to the point at which the MOD airfield regulator deemed that there was insufficient traffic to ensure air safety. Several reasons can doubtless be cited for that decline, but one must be the confusion at the heart of the commercialisation of MOD activities in the sector. QinetiQ had been given the task of operating the airfield, but it showed little ambition in developing new and replacement business. It accepted the declining movements, and despite having the ability to investigate the alternatives, it regrettably chose not to.

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire): I am extremely amused by the hon. Gentleman's synthetic concern about job losses in the defence industry. I stand here as a victim of his Government's defence review of the early 1990s, when I and thousands like me were made redundant. At that time, there was no concerted effort to help those people. This Government are investing, and encouraging companies such as BAE Systems and Thales to invest, in quality jobs, albeit in the central belt. That, coupled with the fact that Rolls-Royce has also decided to stay in Scotland, is tangible evidence that such companies have confidence in the Government in delivering the quality goods that the armed forces need.

Mr. Duncan : I simply direct the hon. Gentleman to the Bishopton area, where he can hear how well the Government's policies are regarded.

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Those who work at West Freugh, many of whom have been in touch with me since the closure announcement, speak plainly of how little business development work was undertaken, while any that was completed was ignored. The airfield represents one of the most significant structural assets of Galloway, but it was clearly more important to Galloway than it was to QinetiQ. The company is rightly focusing on developing its core businesses in holographic 3D imaging, fibre optics, and radar-avoidance and missile-tracking technology, but against that background, the importance of maximising the potential of remote airfields was regarded as trivial. To the local economy, however, it is far from trivial—it is crucial.

The MOD must introduce new and imaginative proposals for interacting with the private sector, enterprise agencies and others. Under-performing assets can sit on the MOD balance sheet with little or no consequence for the Ministry or, with respect, for Ministers. However, the effect on assets such as West Freugh can, if left to fester, be devastating for rural employment. From where will the impetus now come for investigating the use of the airfield for civil flights to supplement employment? Where is the drive to explore new uses for airfield buildings?

I was always highly dubious of the 1998 decision to involve the private sector in what was then the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, as the independent agency's major customers in the USA and elsewhere had every right to be sceptical of the security implications of that privatisation. However, the net effect of the process has been to put the precious infrastructure in the hands of an independent company with little likely reward for exploiting the potential. The Minister and his colleagues should think carefully about the current situation, and consider involving private companies in developing asset value where they have value to the communities in which they lie. West Freugh is typical of many locations throughout Scotland and the UK that would benefit from such an approach.

Great strides are possible so long as the private sector is given free rein and is allowed to reap the benefits of its ingenuity.

Mr. Francois : Does my hon. Friend accept that part of the problem that affects the site that he mentioned harks back to the fact that the Government have had four years to try to get DERA right? We are now on the third strategy for dealing with that. After four years, they still do not appear to have a coherent plan that commands support throughout industry, and people in Scotland are suffering as a result.

Mr. Duncan : My hon. Friend makes a valid point. As I said, there is confusion at the heart of the commercialisation policy. I am looking for a simple strategy that will benefit our rural communities.

Scotland's defence is rightly dependent on our key role in the UK, as we play our part in supplying troops, technology and training grounds. Scotland's geography has much to offer our defence industry in the 21st century.

Mr. Joyce : The hon. Gentleman's intonation suggests that he is about to conclude his remarks. I want to return

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to his point about manning levels in Scottish regiments. To jog his memory, the previous Conservative Government had such abysmal manning records that they disbanded regiments. Would he like to comment?

Mr. Duncan : I admit that the MOD is addressing the recruitment problem. If the hon. Gentleman checks the record, he will find that I referred to the fact that the problem is now retention. I know that he has experience of his own. The Government's current policy is doing nothing to address that problem. I hope that the MOD will appreciate that open-mindedness in its evaluation and research procurement could result in retaining and returning wealth to those rural communities that have served the Ministry so well for so long.

10.7 am

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): I am delighted to contribute to this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) on securing it and on his excellent contribution.

We have had this discussion many times, so it will not surprise the Minister if I concentrate mainly on shipbuilding. The Scotstoun yard is in my constituency and it is dear to my heart. Shipbuilding remains a crucial industry to Anniesland and the Clyde, as well as to Scotland and the UK. Our standing in naval circles throughout the world has been second to none ever since the first coracle managed to sail up a short river, probably somewhere in the north of Scotland. We have been the envy of every country in the world, and we must retain that leadership.

Today, shipbuilding employs only 30,000 workers; in 1960, there were 200,000. Various problems have contributed to the decline of shipbuilding, but we are here to talk about defence. A large problem facing the warship yards in the early 1990s was the significant reduction in MOD orders—part of the peace dividend. I blame no Government for that—the world was grateful not to be under such strain. Now, however, we are under a different type of strain. The critical problem occurred prior to that, when shipbuilding was privatised. We privatised purely for money, and we forgot to modernise. Companies such as BAE Systems have said that extensive investment is needed and that they will supply that investment in the Clyde. I wait to see what investment they make. I hope that it will bring more work to the Clyde, but there are other issues to consider.

In October 2000, the MOD ordered six vessels worth £240 million. Two of the orders went to Harland and Wolff in Belfast, but the other four went to Germany. The Govan yard missed out and, as everyone knows, it was under threat of closure for quite a while. Although we are thankful for the MOD orders that saved the yard, they did so with reduced manpower. Our shipbuilding industry is heavily dependent on military shipbuilding, which sustains the Clyde in particular. The Clyde was once the foremost shipbuilding power in the world, but the number of jobs there is now down to 3,000. The loss of the ro-ro ships to German yards was a real body blow

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to the Clyde. EU rules lost us those ships because we had to tender outside Great Britain. The loss of those four ships almost led to Govan's demise.

Jim Sheridan : My hon. Friend is commenting on the overdependence of the shipbuilding industry on defence orders. We must learn from what happened in the early 1990s, because the number of ships that the MOD can have built is finite. Does he agree that every effort should be made to encourage defence companies to diversify, to exploit commercial markets and to gain expertise from those workers who build frigates and other aircraft carriers on the Clyde?

John Robertson : My hon. Friend makes a good point and is absolutely right. Companies such as BAE Systems will have to invest in the yards that I have mentioned. If we do not get that investment, I have no doubt that the yards will close, even with Government orders.

As we know, the orders for the type 45 frigates have been given out. I was fortunate to be present at the signing of the contracts that, along with the ALSL—alternative landing ships logistic—orders, will keep the Clyde on the go for about 10 years. I congratulate the Government on showing their commitment to the Clyde and to shipbuilding throughout the country with those orders. I am sure that the Clyde will not let them down and will provide the usual high standard of workmanship. However, even though the Government have helped by placing those orders, the industry continues to shrink year by year. We need to consider the overall picture to ensure that subsidies and handouts are not needed in the long term. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) said, it is important that the industry diversifies.

If skilled labour is lost, it cannot be replaced. It takes more years than we care to mention to train someone, and in that time the industry might have gone out of business. Losing the shipbuilding industry would be like losing our heritage: the power of Britain in years gone by was based on shipbuilding. However, while other countries develop their shipbuilding industry, we, sadly, seem to be doing the opposite. We must try to regain our place in the world in that respect. The strategic review is helping in its own way by considering our defence requirements, an issue that I believe the Government have taken seriously.

In addition, a newspaper in Scotland, the Daily Record, is mounting a campaign to try to secure two aircraft carrier orders for Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde has a copy of that paper. I commend that newspaper for its campaign, which is important not only for the Clyde, but for competitors in Rosyth and Nigg. It is important that we get those orders for Scotland. We have shown in the past that we can handle large ships on the Clyde, and I have no doubt that the workers there would receive the work gratefully.

It is important that we are part of NATO. It is important that we show that not only Scotland, but Britain and Europe are part of NATO. It exists for a reason. Certain ships were used at the beginning of the confrontation with Afghanistan: without the American ships to help with the initial landings, take-offs and

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missile firings, the whole theatre of war would have been impossible. We would not be sitting here today talking about how well our troops are doing and how happy the people have been since their arrival.

Mr. Lazarowicz : Does my hon. Friend agree that if Scotland were to withdraw from NATO, it would, in the words of a leading Scottish National party thinker, George Kerevan, find itself committed to a Brigadoon republic?

John Robertson : I thank my hon. Friend for that. I did not know that there were any SNP thinkers.

I have said on several occasions that the MOD will need to consider our naval requirements. I have asked the Minister to ensure that during consideration of the new chapter attention is given to whether we have the necessary shipping to mount a campaign similar to the one in Afghanistan. If the Americans could not supply the necessary vessels, could anyone else do so? The Americans are an important part of NATO, but we cannot always rely on them to supply every ship that is needed. By examining the landing craft and other types of ship that would be required for such a theatre of war, we might stimulate our shipbuilding industry and other armaments businesses in the United Kingdom. Moreover, we would not be reliant on a friendly country to assist us if an operation had to be mounted within a short time.

Mr. Francois : I heard the hon. Gentleman's point about not always being able to rely on the Americans in all circumstances. If he believes that, will he have a quiet word with the Minister at the end of the debate about the fact that part of the rationale for getting rid of the Sea Harriers is that we will always be able to rely on American carriers for fleet air defence?

John Robertson : Harriers have some shortcomings in that they are not quite as speedy as some of the aircraft that they may come up against, and although they can take off vertically, they have many restrictions. We must look at what is best. We have always said that we want to give our troops and Air Force the best equipment, and I believe that the Harrier is not the best plane for the current job. I may be wrong—I am not a pilot—but that is how I see it.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde on securing the debate. I ask the Minister to get the aircraft carriers up to the Clyde—I might get him a ticket for the cup final. If he cannot do that, I will not hold it against him, but Scotland must do the job that it has done in the past and be given the opportunity to show off its high standards of workmanship.

Mr. David Taylor (in the Chair): Before I call the next speaker, I remind hon. Members that five people want to speak in the 12 minutes remaining before I call the Front Bench spokesmen at 10.30.

10.19 am

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): In the time-honoured way, I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) on securing

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the debate. I am not sure what more he hopes to learn about defence in Scotland, given that we debated that topic in the Scottish Grand Committee only a few weeks ago. There is a feeling of deja vu and "Groundhog Day" rolled into one, with the debate featuring the typical attacks on SNP defence policy that we have come to expect.

Our debate takes place at a time when many Scottish service personnel are serving abroad with great distinction. Hon. Members present here and all the political parties in Scotland support that. Unfortunately, conditions are not so rosy on the domestic front. Rarely have service personnel and defence support staff in Scotland been in such a state of flux. That is because of the Government's privatisation agenda: morale has been undermined at Navy and Air Force bases by plans to contract out the transferable skills and experience of committed workers to companies in the private sector.

Last week, union leaders representing naval workers in Scotland set the Ministry of Defence a seven-day deadline to avert industrial action. I am relieved and pleased that industrial action has been averted but, like Jack Dromey of the Transport and General Workers Union, the SNP believes that it is "bitter" that naval support jobs at Faslane and Coulport, and at Portsmouth and Plymouth in England are to be transferred to the private sector. Regrettably, it was not announced on the Floor of the House of Commons. Instead, Members of Parliament received letters while the Ministry of Defence was frantically briefing journalists in a damage-limitation exercise.

The Government's privatisation agenda is not restricted to Navy installations—it also affects air bases. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) has consistently raised with the MOD the proposed privatisation of the Defence Fire Service. He is deeply concerned about the consequences and implications of that privatisation for RAF Lossiemouth, which is in his constituency. There is little support for the proposal from the DFS, from other support staff or from service personnel, regardless of rank.

Early-day motion 853, which was signed by members of all political parties, some of whom are present, calls on the Secretary of State for Defence to halt all consideration of proposals to put out to tender and to privatise the Defence Fire Service. The hon. Members for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) and for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang), and the hon. Members for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), for Glasgow, Baillieston (Mr. Wray) and for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan), all of whom signed the motion, are as anxious as I am to ensure that the Government reverse their position on that daft privatisation proposal. I shall be interested to see whether the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde will join his hon. Friends in signing the motion, given his interest in defence in Scotland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Moray asked a question about the DFS during Defence questions on Monday. Will the Minister answer that question, which on Monday he studiously deflected with a typical tirade against the SNP? I remind him of the question:

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Mr. Joyce : Will the hon. Gentleman briefly describe how he would configure the Defence Fire Service in an independent Scotland?

Pete Wishart : Along with everyone who is involved in the debate, the DFS opposes privatisation. The Minister knows that full well—it is why he could not reply on Monday. He could not name one person who supported the proposal.

An issue that concerns me, my party and the vast majority of public opinion in Scotland is the stationing of all the United Kingdom's nuclear defence weapons in Scotland. As this is a debate on defence policy in Scotland, it is worth examining the defence policy of Scottish new Labour, on which I congratulate the Scottish Labour party. It is a good, well thought out policy and—surprisingly for Scottish new Labour—it is in tune with Scottish public opinion. The policy states:

It continues:

That is a very good motion. I would sign up to it immediately, but it presents more of a problem to Labour Members.

I was impressed by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) during the meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee. I asked him whether he supported any part of the policy. He candidly replied that he now supports the Government policy, which presumably renders the policy that I quoted redundant and not worth the paper it is written on. I wonder what on earth the Labour party delegates were doing in Perth at the recent conference. Presumably, they were discussing motions to decide policy which, if the new Labour Government do not like it, will be rejected out of hand. I hope that hon. Members who support new Labour question party policy and the party's reaction to nuclear weapons, and that they will consider their position during the scramble for seats at the next general election. They must find out whether that policy is supported.

At least, the membership of Scottish new Labour recognises that nuclear weapons are a serious issue for Scotland. Scottish public opinion is opposed to the continued siting of nuclear weapons on Scotland's soil, as are the Churches and a vast array of civic groups. I am sure that, like me, they were chilled to the bone to hear the Secretary of State for Defence saying in Defence questions on Monday that he would still be willing to use such evil weapons of mass destruction in certain circumstances. No circumstances can justify the use of a weapon that, with a press of a button, would cause genocide on an unthinkable scale and exterminate society as we know and understand it.

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It is curious that not one Scottish Labour MP here and present at the Scottish Grand Committee's debate has supported the Labour party's policy—but let us not be too unfair to them. The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde referred to the Scottish National party website, but I could not find a Scottish new Labour party website. I do not know what gems it is trying to hide, but I certainly could not access such a website yesterday.

I am not surprised that there is no mention by the Ministry of Defence of the lost economic impact of defence spending in Scotland. In January 2001, the Government were asked how much of the defence budget in actual terms was spent in Scotland. The reply was that the Defence Bills Agency had spent only 4.6 per cent. of its £15 billion budget in Scotland, representing a shortfall of £600 million for Scottish taxpayers. That is a massive reallocation of taxpayers' money away from our economy. I want to ensure that Scotland secures maximum taxpayer benefit through significant domestic procurement.

We remain dependent on Whitehall Departments' decisions to give contracts to Scottish manufacturers. We have seen countless examples of job cuts and uncertainty on the Clyde. That is not the case in neighbouring small, independent countries, whose support for shipbuilding and defence-related employment exceeds that seen in Scotland. I am particularly impressed by Finland, which supports 14,000 shipbuilding jobs, and Norway, which supports 10,000 such jobs. Sadly, the shipbuilding industry in Scotland has been in decline under both Conservative and new Labour stewardship. Meanwhile, small, independent countries are prospering.

Mr. Francois : As the hon. Gentleman mentioned Finland, can he give us some idea of the future Finnish naval shipbuilding programme and say how many 50,000 tonne aircraft carriers the Finns intend to build?

Pete Wishart : I am impressed with what Finland has achieved. Compare its 14,000 shipbuilding jobs with what is happening on the Clyde. The Finnish example is a good one.

The Scottish National party fully supports the commitment and professionalism of our service personnel and wishes the members of 45 Commando—some of whose families live in my constituency—a safe and speedy return after the completion of their crucial mission.

Mr. Lazarowicz : The hon. Gentleman has spoken about the service men and women in Scotland. Will he give them an idea of his party's policy on membership of NATO, and will he answer some of the earlier questions that he has so far failed to deal with?

Pete Wishart : I thought that the hon. Gentleman was about to stand up and defend his Government's privatisation agenda, which is of genuine concern to service personnel throughout the United Kingdom. It is unfortunate that no Labour Member has tried to defend that policy.

We want an enhancement of our position within the emerging European defence architecture. Will the Minister say which Scottish regiments and what

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manpower from Scotland have been committed to the European rapid reaction force? Is the number close to the 2,000 people that Finland and Austria have each promised?

We should aspire to a normal democratic Scotland, where the Parliament in Edinburgh makes key decisions about defence priorities and ensures the maximum economic benefit from Scottish tax spending for the national economy. It is sad that the defence debate has been dominated by Labour's agenda of unnecessary privatisation. I urge the Government to rethink their unpopular and unjustified policy.

10.29 am

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) on securing this important debate. Like the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart), I feel a degree of deja vu, having debated the subject in Scottish Grand Committee. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) began the Liberal Democrat contribution in that debate by saying that he felt that there was some aggressive defence going on. I am delighted to see that that remains consistent, as there is some aggressive defence from the Scottish National party.

Mr. Lazarowicz : I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman considers there to be an element of deja vu. However, does he not agree that the question of the future security and defence of Scotland is so important that it is correct to try to ascertain the policies of the major opposition party in Scotland?

John Thurso : Indeed I do, but it is more important to concentrate on one of the parties that is more likely to form a Government in the United Kingdom in the foreseeable future.

I intended to confine myself entirely to asking the Minister questions. I was not going to talk about the SNP at all. However, I cannot resist making one small point. The hon. Member for North Tayside mentioned a scramble for seats. In view of yesterday's news that the SNP's defence spokesman, Mr. Colin Campbell MSP, failed to secure the nomination for a seat for the Scottish Parliament, the scramble for seats in Scotland probably affects his party more than any other.

I turn to the serious subject before us—defence policy in Scotland. The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde, who opened the debate, mentioned the consultation on the new chapter of the strategic defence review. That is extremely important. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife and my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), who have responsibility for those subjects, will engage fully in that process, and we will play our part.

Defence policy will revolve round what the United Kingdom chooses to do with regard to foreign policy. Our foreign policy objectives will be crucial in determining the shape of defence policy and the sort of forces we need. It is clear that we must have a strong and solid national debate, so that we can clearly define our aims, what we are asking our men and women to do

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when we put them into theatres of conflict, and what kind of forces we need. The debate must begin with foreign policy.

Another aspect of the debate is the cost that we are prepared to bear. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will have a key role in ensuring that our troops and forces overseas are properly funded, so that they can undertake the role required of them. It seems to Opposition Members that that role can be played only from within a united kingdom. The United Kingdom is stronger for acting together on the issue. We must operate within NATO. Since the close of the second world war, NATO has developed in a way that has enabled it to show what it can do. Any suggestion that we should develop a policy without NATO is clearly unacceptable. We wholly support the Government in the prosecution of those strategies.

As has been mentioned, Scotland has a proud tradition of contributing to our military forces, on land, in sea and—most latterly—in the air. There is a strong link between regiments and particular parts of the country. Not long ago, I was reading a book called "The Sword of the North". It is worth remembering that in two major conflicts in the past century, my part of the world sent between eight and 10 battalions of Seaforth Highlanders to war. For a population of about 40,000, that is a significant contribution. Reading any war memorial in any small village in my constituency will clearly show the commitment of the north of Scotland, which the whole of Scotland shares, to our defence.

Those links continue to this day, with regimental associations and regiments that continue to serve proudly. I should be grateful if the Minister would respond to the question about the shortfall in recruitment in Scottish regiments, which is running at about 10 per cent. below strength for the Scottish regiments, as opposed to about 6.5 per cent. for the rest of the Army, with the Royal Scots 17 per cent. undermanned, the Scots Dragoon Guards 15 per cent., and the Black Watch 13 per cent. Perhaps he would comment on the progress of the venture by SEARCH to recruit. I believe that it is up for review at the moment, and it would be helpful to hear about that.

Other links that have been referred to this morning are equally strong. The first is the jobs that come from defence procurement and all the equipment, which several hon. Members mentioned. There are also links with the bases. There are many bases in Scotland. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife has RAF Leuchars in his constituency. With the forthcoming disbandment at RAF Coningsby, I believe that No. 5 Squadron may be going to RAF Leuchars. I should be extremely grateful if the Minister would comment on that.

About 15,100 personnel are deployed throughout Scotland. That obviously has a huge economic impact, as well as being a core part of what goes on in our community. The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) mentioned 45 Commando, and I add my support. I am sure that we all send our best wishes to the men and women there. I recently read newspaper reports of thefts from the home barracks of 45 Commando, which has been upsetting for those serving in Afghanistan. What action has been taken? Are the reports true or false?

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The third link affects my constituency in particular, in that we have many of the disadvantages of military activity without the benefit. We have two major bombing ranges—a live one at Cape Wrath, and Tain. I hasten to add that my constituents fully understand the need for such ranges, and there is no question of their asking for them to be taken away. However, I ask the Minister to accept that in this modern day the relationship between the forces that use such facilities and the civilians who live there is crucial. Perhaps as part of the current review we might consider how that relationship can best be taken forward and what, if any, financial compensation could be given, perhaps to community councils, in such areas for what they put up with.

We broadly and fully support the Government's defence strategy and welcome the current review. It must be based on our foreign policy objectives and where we are going to go and what we are going to do. Finally, it must surely be up to the Chancellor to ensure that proper resources are available so that the objectives that we set in foreign policy mean that we have the best equipment to undertake the task.

10.39 am

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). In a previous existence, I lived in the gardener's cottage at Skibo castle, and the bombers in the Tain run used my cottage as a turning point. He is right to say that the interrelationship between defence matters and local people is extremely important. In my constituency, where we have RAF Lyneham, which we intend to continue to have for a great many years to come, local people welcome the fact that the Harriers take off and land over their houses.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) on securing the debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) on delivering my party's opening contribution. It is an important debate.

As a lifelong unionist, I initially found the title of the debate—defence in Scotland—slightly galling; after all, defence is a national matter, and I am proud to be the shadow defence Minister for the United Kingdom. However, I am a Scot born, bred and educated, and, on second thoughts, it occurred to me that I am, of course, immensely proud of the contribution that my home nation—as it were—makes to the defence of the realm. I use the word "realm" to refer to the United Kingdom, not Scotland. We are not discussing the defence of Scotland; we are talking about the defence of the United Kingdom, and the contribution that Scotland makes to that.

It used to be said that the first great export from Scotland was whisky, and that its second great export is people. I am proud to be one of those exports but, with regard to defence, precisely the same thing is happening. The current figures on deployments of the Scottish infantry regiments are interesting; 3,074 Scottish infantry are deployed in England and overseas, compared with only 1,656 who are still in Scotland. About twice as many Scottish infantry are abroad or in

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England than are in Scotland. Among them is 45 Commando, as my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale memorably said—and other hon. Members also mentioned—and we think of its troops in particular, and of the contribution that they are currently making in Afghanistan.

It would be interesting to know how long they will remain on deployment in Afghanistan. It would be useful for people in Arbroath—wives, children and other family members of those troops—to know that. It would also be interesting to know which of the three infantry battalions that we believe are marked out to replace it, will do so. The Minister might like to comment on those matters.

Infantry is an area in which Scotland has made one of its greatest contributions to the defence of the realm. However, those of us who consider the matter on a national level are concerned about some of the plans that the Government might currently have with regard to the infantry battalions. As several hon. Members have mentioned, there is severe undermanning in some of the Scottish regiments. The Royal Scots are 17.4 per cent. undermanned; the Royal Highland Fusiliers are 12.3 per cent. down; the Black Watch are 13.6 per cent. down; the Highlanders are 17.9 per cent. down, and so forth. Interestingly, the Scots Guards is the only regiment that is currently overmanned—by 10.8 per cent.

When the Minister replies, it would be useful to know whether he has any plans with regard to the structure of the Scottish infantry regiments. At the sad time of the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, we were concerned about the amount of press speculation that her colonelcy of the Black Watch might have been one of the reasons why it had been preserved.

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram) : Oh, not again.

Mr. Gray : The Minister says, from a sedentary position, "Oh, not again," and raises his eyes heavenward. I would be more than satisfied if he were to give me a cast-iron, 100 per cent. guarantee that the Black Watch is safe in his hands now, and in future. Perhaps he would like to make an intervention on that now?

Mr. Ingram : I did not intend to intervene. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is continuing to raise that point. It is a canard that has been put to bed time and again. There are no plans to disband the Black Watch. Will his party now accept that?

Mr. Gray : The Minister uses weasel words, to say the least. He says that there are no plans to disband the Black Watch. I am ready to accept that there are currently no plans to disband it; it would be surprising if there were. However, I ask him again for the guarantee that I have requested; will he take this opportunity to give me a cast-iron guarantee that the Black Watch will not be disbanded now, or in the future? [Interruption.]

Hon. Members find that amusing, but I do not, and neither does the Black Watch. I am asking the Minister to give me that guarantee.

Mr. Ingram : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me this speaking time; it is obvious that he does not have much to say in this debate.

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I have given the hon. Gentleman that guarantee. I would be interested to learn whether, if his party were ever to return to power, he would plan to reinstate all of the regiments that the Conservatives disbanded when they were in government.

Mr. Gray : The Minister has now given us the guarantee. That will be on the record, and we are grateful to him for it. The people in and round my home area in Perth will also be grateful for that. We are glad that he has finally been forced to give that guarantee in the House.

Those who talk about cuts when we were in power forget that the Labour party spent the entire time after the end of the cold war saying that our cuts were not nearly deep enough. Of course, it is true that we had the peace dividend—as it was called—at the time, and that it was necessary for us to cut the size of the Army, for example.

I was speaking to a general the other day, and he told me that when he joined the British Army it had 1 million soldiers. Today, under this Labour Government, there are 98,000. Of course, many of the cuts took place under the Conservative Government, but at the time, members of the Labour party said that the cuts were not deep enough and that they wanted to see more.

If we want to see evidence of defence cuts, we need look only at what the Labour Government are doing. They have cut the Territorial Army to shreds in Scotland, as elsewhere. We discussed defence manufacturing, but look at what they are doing to ammunition manufacturing. We can no longer make ammunition. We leave it to the Germans, Belgians and, amazingly, the South Africans. Bishopton closed as a result. Elsewhere, it looks as though their commitment to carriers seems firm, but look at the closure of 5 Squadron. It may go to RAF Leuchars—good luck to Leuchars. What about the people around 5 Squadron?

The mothballing of the Sea Harriers means that we could not now carry out a Falkland campaign even if we wished to do so. To suggest that that capability will be replaced by type 45s is nonsense, not least because type 45s will not be fully operational until 2015. There will be a big gap between the mothballing of the Sea Harriers and the introduction of the type 45s.

"Illustrious" is the latest example. It has been delayed for nine months until a refit starts in October. "Fearless" has been withdrawn from service 12 months early. There have been 700 jobs cut from the Army base repair organisation. That information was slipped out during a statutory instrument debate recently. The Minister says that that is all good stuff and marvellous and that it is all to do with a training fund, but the jobs of 700 car mechanics who work on army vehicles have been cut, thanks to the Government.

In the Conservative party, we are opposed to the privatisation of warship support that has been mentioned and the privatisation of airbase fire services at RAF Leuchars and elsewhere. The only point on which I agree with the SNP on this issue is that we are entirely opposed to the privatisation of defence fire services. It is astonishing to hear a Labour Government proposing such a thing. The Minister laughs and says that he is thinking about it. Let him tell us whether he intends to privatise the fire services.

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Wherever we look at what Labour is doing to defence, we see cuts, cuts and more cuts, often for minute amounts of money. The Government may save a million here or a million there, but in the course of doing that, they make damaging cuts to defence capabilities throughout the nation. That becomes clear when we examine the Government's procurement programmes. As far as we can see, the procurement budgets in the Ministry of Defence are a shambles. For the past two years, the National Audit Office has refused to sign off the MOD budgets in a straightforward way. No commercial company would be allowed to continue to exist in the same circumstances. It is apparent that the MOD's procurement proposals cannot be implemented unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer provides more money.

One curious feature about last week's Budget is that no mention was made of defence. In an internet search of the Chancellor's speeches since 1997, he does not use the word "defence" once. It is impossible to discover the increase in defence spending from reading the Red Book after the Budget. It seems to be approximately £950 million, but it is hard to tell whether that is a straightforward increase.

Mr. Joyce : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gray : No. There is no time before the Minister replies. He can tell us how much extra the Chancellor has given him, but as far as we can make out from a detailed study of the Red Book, it ain't a lot. We find that procurement spending as well as everyday spending on defence is under severe pressure. That is why we see cuts across the board.

Of course, our defence forces will, as they say, turn to the right, salute, march off and do precisely whatever the Minister asks. They will not complain. Our Army, Air Force and Navy do what they are required to do. However, they are being asked to do more and more with less and less by this ever expansionist Prime Minister. The Government must not take advantage of their readiness to do whatever is asked of them, by demanding more and not providing the proper resources with which to carry out difficult tasks.

10.49 am

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram) : I echo the congratulations paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) on securing this debate. He and other hon. Members have raised important issues. I do not share the view that this is deja vu and that we should not continue to examine and rerun these issues. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who made that comment, should reflect wisely on it. Our debates add to the overall assessment of what is happening on defence, which is a critical part of what happens to this country.

Scotland and its people play an important part in the defence of the United Kingdom. Although there have been many changes in defence policy over the years, the one constant has been the importance of Scotland in defending the United Kingdom's overall interests. Defence continues to play a vital role in Scotland.

Defence has a considerable footprint in Scotland. I contend that Scotland receives a good deal from defence and gives a good deal in return. My hon. Friend the

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Member for Greenock and Inverclyde rightly referred to the number of sites that the Ministry of Defence has in Scotland. There are 374 sites that extend over nearly 25,000 hectares. Our policy is to achieve a better balance of activity throughout the United Kingdom. All three services are well represented as part of the overall defence footprint throughout Scotland.

Hon. Members referred to 45 Royal Marine Commando, which is based in Arbroath. That represents a significant presence of about 1,000 Royal Marines, to whom I shall refer, if I have time. The Royal Navy submarine base at Faslane is one of the largest single-site employers in Scotland and employs more than 15 per cent. of the local economically active members of the population.

Mr. McFall : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ingram : I must try to deal with all the points. I shall address warship support and modernisation and perhaps, at that point, I shall allow my hon. Friend to intervene.

Under the new arrangements of partnership with a commercial company at Faslane, the base will remain a significant employer, and I shall say more about that later. The naval reactor test establishment at Dounreay employs more than 300 people in one of the remoter parts of Scotland. That gives a flavour of the naval presence.

I shall touch on the presence of the Army. Several major Army units are based in Scotland: the 1st Battalion of the Royal Highland Fusiliers is based at Fort George in Inverness; the 1st Battalion of the Highlanders is based in Edinburgh; and the Royal Scots are based at Dreghorn barracks in Edinburgh. That represents the first incidence for a considerable time that three of the six Scottish regiments have been based in Scotland.

I take arguments about poor recruitment on board. Scotland has a proud record of providing recruits for the services. Last year, Scottish recruitment offices enlisted 2,5000 officers and other ranks, which is more than 15 per cent. of the total number. Nearly 12 per cent. of people in the Army classify themselves as being of Scottish nationality. A proud history and record has been maintained against difficult backdrops. Clearly, retention is important, and we recognise that we must do better and do more on retention. However, I will not accept criticism of what the Government have tried to do. We have innumerable initiatives to try to solve deep and entrenched problems, and I could set out all such initiatives in the remainder of my speech—they have all had measures of success.

A large aspect of retention relates to families, and not only to those who serve. That is why I head a cross-departmental committee of Ministers—the service families taskforce—that addresses ways in which we can drive forward initiatives from government.

I shall write to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross to answer his specific question about SEARCH. We are still assessing the important initiative, and it is too early to say what its outplay will be.

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I shall address the role of the Royal Air Force. RAF Kinloss is home to our Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft. Leuchars and Lossiemouth are home to our Tornado F3 and Tornado GR4 aircraft. Under current plans, Typhoon will replace the Tornados at Leuchars. Royal Navy and RAF search-and-rescue helicopters are based at Prestwick and Lossiemouth. Those sites are important to our defence role and mission, and they play an important part in our local economies. RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss, for example, employ almost 10 per cent. of the working people in their areas.

I do not intend to spend any time addressing the comments of the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart), other than to make a passing reference. The Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy would not be that if we had an independent Scotland. The Royal Marines would not be in Arbroath if we had an independent Scotland. When the Scottish National party claims to support the action taken by our armed forces against international terrorism in Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Kosovo and elsewhere, we should bear in mind that they would not have that prominent role if Scotland were independent. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take that on board.

More than 23,000 MOD personnel work in Scotland in 27 of the 32 unitary authorities. That includes more than 14,400 military personnel from all three services and more than 8,800 civilians. Almost 10 per cent. of MOD personnel who work in the UK do so in Scotland. Approximately 6,000 Scottish jobs are directly dependent on defence equipment expenditure. Most of the jobs are skilled, with pay rates above the Scottish national average.

It has been said that defence cannot be divided, and that must be repeated. Defence does not benefit some members of the UK more than others. It is there to protect us and to provide us all with security wherever we may be. It is not like health or education, where spending on a hospital benefits one local community. Defence benefits the whole of the UK, wherever it occurs. The hon. Member for North Tayside repeated old arguments about the totality of defence expenditure in Scotland. I thought that I had laid that argument to rest at the last debate of the Scottish Grand Committee. His figures are wrong, and he should re-examine the information with which he was provided. The expenditure is much greater than the £600 million figure that he presented: a conservative estimate is £1.8 billion. Much of that is not captured because of the way in which the spend is allocated.

The shipbuilding industry is a key part of defence spend. The Government plan to build up to 30 warships in the UK over the next 15 to 20 years. That is the biggest shipbuilding programme since the second world war. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) declared his support for, and commitment to, the Clyde. I am reminded of a line from an old song, "It was tears that made the Clyde." It is almost as if the MOD is saving the Clyde. I know that my hon. Friend will support me when I say that the shipbuilding companies must also move into commercial shipbuilding initiatives.

Warship support and modernisation has attracted much debate outside the Chamber, but not inside it.

Mr. McFall : I thank my right hon. Friend for his involvement in negotiations over the past few days on

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the changing nature of the jobs at Faslane. On Monday morning, I had a meeting with John Howie, the managing director of Babcocks. It was made clear that there was a need to change the perception that there would be massive losses, as they could be accommodated over five years. Does the Minister agree that the Astute-class submarines berthing at Faslane would enhance its position and increase its capacity if we were to get the negotiations right with the trade unions?

Mr. Ingram : Part of the tragedy of the debate is that people have taken the lurid newspaper headlines and tried to perceive them as reality. They should learn the lesson that newspapers do not necessarily speak the truth. We tried to explain what was happening at the dockyards. In the worst-case scenario, 750 jobs would go over five years. We concluded intensive discussions with the trade unions that will ensure a good future for all the dockyards including Rosyth, not just the three dockyards that will retain their partnership with the MOD. It is worth bearing in mind that Rosyth is a wholly privatised dockyard that provides a tremendous service to the MOD. There should be no fear. Jobs can be retained if there is a workflow, but we must address overcapacity in the yards.

The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale asked about naval support in an emergency, and I can give him an assurance. We have retained a four-yard strategy to ensure that we have that maximum surge capacity if it is required.

Finally, an examination of airfield support services is taking place. I accept that there is a united front against it, but it is a united front against something that has not yet been presented.

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