Defence in Scotland

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Mr. Salmond: If I heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman correctly, he acknowledged that ''gendarmerie'' is a pejorative term. He described Ireland's defence posture—Ireland has a long record in UN peacekeeping operations, serving under the beret with great distinction—as equivalent to a gendarmerie. Will he reflect further on that? Is that the right policy for the Liberal party?

Mr. Campbell: I am perfectly happy, for the hon. Gentleman's benefit, to confirm that it is. I have a question for him to reflect on; every time a vessel originating from an Irish port finds itself in difficulty in the Irish sea, from which country are search and rescue operations mounted? As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the Irish—like the Canadians—have a long history of involvement in UN peacekeeping operations, but peacekeeping is a long way from peace enforcement and from the high-intensity conflict of which Britain's armed forces are capable. I am committed to the retention of the high-intensity warfare capability because it brings political influence.

The Minister rightly referred to the relationship between bases and their surrounding communities. Another 500 civilian and military personnel will shortly be introduced at RAF Leuchars in my constituency, where there are two existing squadrons of the Tornado F3; there will be two squadrons of the Typhoon and the operational conversion unit for the Tornado. The relationship between the surrounding community and the station is extremely close, as it is at Kinloss, Lossiemouth, Faslane and other places. The service makes an invaluable contribution to charities and to the life of the community. The modern armed forces take that responsibility just as acutely as their responsibility to defend the realm.

Defence in Scotland cannot be immune to the budgetary pressures to which defence in the United Kingdom is subject. For the first time in my recollection, the Secretary of State has been forthright in admitting that we are in a position, if not of overstretch, of considerable stretch. We must carefully consider budgets. Since 11 September, there has been a huge amount of discussion about the need

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to invest in health and education and the necessity of raising taxation if necessary. However, there has not been much discussion about the need to invest in the most significant public service of all: a Government's obligation to maintain the security and safety of their citizens. I hope that the terms of the debate will change; I do not exempt my party from criticism in the matter. In the last general election, even the Liberal Democrats did not want to put a penny on income tax for defence budget purposes.

Mr. Ingram: Do it now.

Mr. Campbell: That is a decision far above my pay grade, as the Minister knows. I am a humble foot soldier in Captain Kennedy's army.

As the Minister said, some 6,000 jobs are directly dependent on defence equipment expenditure. Although none is located in North-East Fife, many are located in Glenrothes and other parts of the central belt; they make an enormous contribution, not least because of the skills that they engender and their capacity to attract and keep people with high-level skills.

In the financial year 1999–2000, some 7 per cent. of total expenditure on defence equipment was spent in Scotland. I hope that the Minister will not think me churlish for saying that that figure is disappointing; perhaps the Secretary of State for Scotland will do more to increase that figure, as the skills are available to do so, especially in the central belt.

The figures may be disappointing because they do not represent a precise proportion of United Kingdom expenditure, but they are ammunition—I hope I will be forgiven the pun—against those who seek willy-nilly to change the Barnett formula. They underline the fact that in public expenditure, it is not sufficient simply to take a crude measurement; one must look at all the indices of public expenditure to determine whether Scotland is getting a fair deal.

The Minister will be aware of the problem of recruitment in the Scottish regiments. As at December 2000—the figures may be better now—the Royal Scots were 17 per cent. and Scotland's only cavalry regiment, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, was 15 per cent. under establishment. The Black Watch, which recruits in my constituency, was 13 per cent. under establishment. As a consequence, the Ministry of Defence employed a private recruitment company in a one-year trial from April 2001 to April 2002. It may be too early for the Minister to draw any conclusions from that trial, but I hope that, in due course, he will be able to tell hon. Members whether that approach, which I support, was successful. There is no point in having regiments with great traditions if they cannot be manned to carry out the tasks that they may be called upon to do.

The Minister said that Scotland's contribution to United Kingdom defence was significant. He referred in passing to the four Vanguard submarines at Faslane, which are the UK's only nuclear capability.

It is worth reminding those who are opposed to the nuclear deterrent and who think that we have not done enough to disarm that, since 1987, the UK has

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abandoned nuclear artillery shells and nuclear depth charges. It has also abandoned the WE177 free-fall bomb earlier than planned, for which we should congratulate the Government. The previous Government abandoned the tactical air-to-surface missile, which had a nuclear warhead and was designed for the cold war. The UK has a proud and laudable record in the march towards multilateral nuclear disarmament. Under the previous Government, it was generally accepted that the number of Trident submarine warheads was about 300. When the Government took office, they reduced that to 200.

Some argue that the United Kingdom has fewer operational warheads than the United States of America, Russia, France or China. We may have even fewer nuclear warheads than Israel, which is chilling in the light of events of the past 72 hours. That is not enough. We should go further. We need a nuclear weapons convention, and progress on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We should also encourage universal ratification of the comprehensive test-ban treaty. The Prime Minister may be able to raise that issue with President Bush when he visits him next month.

Unilateral nuclear disarmament has never been less appropriate, as the events of 11 September surely taught us. Does anyone seriously think that Israel would renounce its nuclear capability if the United Kingdom abandoned nuclear weapons today, especially with Saddam Hussein in the region? Would there be an immediate change of heart in India or Pakistan? Would China renounce its nuclear weapons in the light of its anxiety about the consequences of ballistic missile defence? Would Saddam Hussein immediately stop any nuclear programmes? Multilateral—not unilateral—disarmament will make us safer. Unilateral renunciation of nuclear weapons would not make us or any other part of the world safer.

A few weeks ago, the Minister and I attended a conference in Munich. A real anxiety was creeping in that the failure of the European members of NATO to maintain adequate defence spending had resulted in a substantially limited capacity to influence the only military superpower left in the world; the United States. President Bush has requested $48 billion—£32 billion—from Congress, which is £10 billion more than the whole UK budget. If I may conjure up a phrase from a previous year, the United States is about to embark on ''the white heat of the technological revolution''. That may have substantial consequences. Not only will the United States feel that it must go it alone, as others cannot go with it, but it will feel increasingly that it does not have to have regard to the political views of other NATO members. Everyone who takes the matter seriously should give the most serious consideration to the extent to which the UK and other European allies can maintain the capability that will give us political influence.

The Minister referred to the discussion document, and the Liberal Democrats hope to give him a reasoned response in due course. However, the new chapter will stand a chance of being fully implemented

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only if there are sufficient resources. Generals and politicians are always tempted to fight the last war; it is almost a part of the tradition of defence. A raft of new and innovative thinking is needed, not only because of the position immediately after 11 September, but because of the questions about resources to which I referred. There must now be scope, not only for a general increase in European defence budgets, but for a far higher degree of specialisation within the European members of NATO. That is always difficult because of the political arguments about jobs and so on, but a large amount of what we spend in Europe goes in duplication. A lot of it goes in national service; on soldiers who either for constitutional or capability reasons cannot be deployed in Afghanistan today.

The Minister has rightly called upon us all to give careful consideration to this new chapter and we have an obligation to respond. I do not believe that the contents of that chapter will make the sort of contribution to defence that he, I and, I suspect, everyone in the Committee—including the SNP—agree is required in the new environment after 11 September, unless he can persuade another member of the Committee, his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of the importance of those issues.

11.35 am

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): Thank you, Mr. Hood, for giving me a chance to say a few words in this important debate, particularly after the fine words from the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and my right hon. Friend the Minister.

The first duty of any Government is to ensure the security of their citizens. Many often forget that during periods of relative peace. That forgetfulness is a luxury that is afforded by the fact that during those times, professional service personnel continued to plan, to train and to argue their case for funding as if their services could be required at any time, as they often are. Most importantly, those same professionals have sought to preserve a preparedness to take risk, which to most people in this day and age is quite unimaginable. People talk about casualties, without thinking through the implications for the families. Troops take on the likelihood of taking risk as part of their jobs, but sometimes people are a little too light in how they talk about that level of risk.

Since the Labour Government took office in 1997, we have moved into a period characterised by both certainty and uncertainty. The world security environment, particularly after 11 September, is quite uncertain. Our interests in many ways are converging in quite unexpected ways with countries such as Russia, as we work to help facilitate and encourage democracy while working to reduce instability and lawlessness across the world. At the same time, there is a greater sense of certainty of purpose than ever before outside years of total war.

In operational theatre after operational theatre, the Labour Government have played a world-leading role. That is an overused term, but not in this case. They

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have drawn a line in the sand and acted on ethnic cleansing, tribal slaughter and dictatorship in various parts of the world. The British role in NATO's intervention in Kosovo, for example, was central in ending the systematic repression of the Kosovan Albanians and returning almost 1 million refugees to their homes. In addition, more than 4,000 weapons were confiscated from the Kosovo Liberation Army.

 
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