Defence in Scotland

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Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): I apologise to you, Mr. Hood, and to the Committee. I have to be absent for a period this morning, but I will try to ensure that it is as short as possible. It is a great privilege to debate defence in the Scottish Grand Committee and the first opportunity to do so in the

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15 years that I have been a member of the Committee. I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I suggest that the choice of subject is not entirely altruistic. As his contribution developed, it seemed that he was demonstrating aggressive defence, something that was sadly lacking at Lansdowne road. If we have it today, it is perhaps better late than never.

Aggressive defence has been a political weapon in this House before. Between 1987 and 1992, we seemed to debate nuclear weapons policy virtually every Friday for a period of six months. Official Labour party policy at the time was not to build the fourth Trident submarine. The Conservatives sought, as far as they could, to embarrass the Labour party and so we debated defence each week. It gave rise to a number of innovative responses. Now that the Minister knows so much about defence, he will be surprised to learn that one solution proffered by one of his hon. Friends was that the fourth submarine could be built, which would placate the people in Barrow-in-Furness. However, rather than it being armed with Trident missiles, it might become the world's first underwater oil tanker. The Labour party did not have the opportunity to form the Government in 1992 and the fourth submarine was built. Now we have four Trident submarines.

One should not allow reference to the Trident submarines to pass without recalling the fallacious nature of the decision made by the previous Conservative Government to transfer Trident refitting from Rosyth to Devonport. As events have now proved, that decision was wholly unjustified on technical terms. I do not believe that it can be reversed. It is a continuing drain upon the defence budget. Substantial additional works will be required at Devonport and a final nuclear safety certificate has not yet been issued. Nuclear safety certificates may have to be issued almost on a weekly or monthly basis. That is a direct consequence of a decision taken by Conservative Ministers to try to shore up—quite unsuccessfully as it turned out—their support in the west country at the expense of Scotland. The dock, RD77, still sits at Rosyth, able—if the decision had been the right one—to deal with the refitting of Trident submarines.

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Does he agree that what we predicted at the time in technical and cost terms has come about, and that it was clearly a decision made in the narrow political interests of the Conservative Government of the day?

Mr. Campbell: The hon. Lady, who has taken a keen, long-term interest in those matters, is absolutely right. Perhaps she and I can take some consolation; not only did the decision have no effect on the west country, the people in Scotland who were party to the decision are no longer Members of the House.

The Minister's speech made it clear that, to some extent, the debate is not only about the Government's policies but those of other parties. Broadly speaking we support the Government's policy on defence. We supported the strategic defence review and its conclusions, which are based on the expeditionary strategy. As the Minister rightly acknowledged, the

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publication of the new chapter tells us that that expeditionary strategy may need some revisiting and some revising in the light of the events of 11 September.

Central to an expeditionary strategy are the aircraft carriers to which he referred and the aircraft that go on those carriers. The successful implementation of the carrier programme and the joint-strike fighter programme is, in my judgment—and, I suspect, in the Minister's, too—absolutely central to a credible expeditionary strategy. I am glad that he confirmed the position on the carriers. Perhaps he will confirm later the position on the joint strike fighter.

Like the Minister, I always seek out information. I cannot master the technicalities, so I asked staff in my office if they would attack the website and tell me what was in the 2001 Scottish National party manifesto on defence. The Minister went out of his way to be kind to my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith); I shall go out of my way to be kind to the Scottish National party. The references to defence in the SNP manifesto for last year were exiguous.

Mr. Roy: Does that mean that the information is classified and we will not be told what it is?

Mr. Campbell: Perhaps there is some Swinney form of the Official Secrets Act to which we have not been admitted.

An interesting fact that has already featured in our discussion is that 10 countries will apply to join NATO at Prague in November. All the indications are that at least seven of those countries will be admitted and that others will be disappointed at not being admitted. NATO is evolving; not to the point at which Russia will become a member, but at which NATO will be, to use the jargon, NATO at 20. Russia will be in the room; it will be sitting round the table, participating in discussions and helping to make the decisions. It will not have a vote but will be a part of that extraordinarily successful security organisation. It seems extraordinary that while Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania and so on all want to be part of that security organisation, one party thinks that the best interests of a fully independent Scotland would not be served by being a member of it.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): I expect that with his tremendous expertise on those matters, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will refer to applications for the European Union. I think that he will agree that we are heavily dependent on Turkey, particularly in terms of aircraft and airspace. Given Turkey's failure to co-operate, for example, in providing visas for hon. Members to visit Kurdistan, and in terms of its humanitarian record, does he not share my concern that we should get those matters right before thinking about getting too close to it around the table?

Mr. Campbell: One has to admire the right hon. Gentleman's ingenuity. Turkey is a member of NATO and we already sit round that table with it. If he is saying that we should not admit Turkey to the European Union until we are satisfied with the standards that it applies to human rights and the extent to which civil society is allowed to operate, I

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agree with him entirely. We may differ, in that while I want Turkey to be in the European Union, I want it to be admitted only after having taken the necessary steps to bring attitudes towards civil rights up to our standard. There is no advantage in trying to exclude Turkey. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in Afghanistan, British forces are in command of ISAF, the stability force. We have placed a limited time limit on our involvement in that responsibility and we are hoping that the Turkish Government will take it up afterwards. We have many common interests with Turkey. While I accept that he is right to point to the particular instance that he has given, we should not allow that to make us erect barriers to a Turkey that meets the necessary standards.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell: I shall give way to the hon. Lady in a moment, if she would show a little more patience.

No country has ever left NATO. The French have left the integrated military command, but not NATO, so when the Gulf war broke out, they were familiar with NATO's doctrines and procedures and were able to take part in operations. It was an American-led operation—a coalition of the willing—based essentially on the common understanding that NATO creates.

It may be the policy of the Scottish National party to encourage greater involvement in the European security and defence policy rather than in NATO. That is an interesting alternative, but we should remember that the European security and defence policy can operate only through NATO. Only through access to NATO equipment does the European policy have any credibility. When the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) mentioned Turkey, I thought that he would refer to the obstructive approach that it adopted until a few months ago on the question of EU countries having access to NATO equipment. Its stance has changed, which shows that Turkey is willing to be more co-operative.

On fundamental features of defence such as heavy lift and intelligence, the European security and defence policy and European rapid reaction force have to rely exclusively on NATO assets. Operational planning will also be done through NATO. If it were down to me, so would strategic planning. Those who advocate taking a European rather than a NATO position are really adopting a NATO position by the back door. They should reflect on whether outright opposition to NATO membership is justified.

Annabelle Ewing: Earlier, the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned that many applicant countries to the European Union are also seeking to join NATO. However, he will be aware that four current EU member states—Austria, Sweden, Finland and Ireland—are not members of NATO. Following his comments to their logical conclusion, is he saying that the international defence positions of those four member states are defective?

Mr. Campbell: If any illogical conclusion has been made, it follows from the terms of that question. The

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Irish, Swedes and others may choose not to be part of NATO, but I cannot understand a political party that argues in favour of the European security and defence policy when it is self-evident that such a policy depends in its entirety on the existence of a powerful and effective NATO. ESDP and NATO have an umbilical link, which the Scottish National party does not properly understand.

Scottish forces would be confined to the Petersberg tasks; humanitarian relief, peacekeeping and no ability to fight high-intensity warfare. Scottish regiments would be the equivalent—it is a pejorative word, but appropriate for the circumstances—to a gendarmerie, similar to those of the Irish Republic. If that sort of defence role is desired, by all means say so and we can debate it, but please do not pretend that configuring armed forces in that way will allow them to retain the same capability and influence that Britain's armed forces currently have.

 
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