Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Seear: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but are we to understand that it is now Labour Party policy to get rid of the nuclear deterrent weapon and to collaborate with the Russians rather than the Americans? Is that Labour Party policy?

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, in these debates from the Back Benches on both sides ideas are floated and suggestions made which I suspect would not necessarily find the full backing of the Front Benches on either side. I suggest a view which may be sensible and which we should consider.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, perhaps I may clarify the situation to the noble Baroness and to my noble friend. No, it is not Labour Party policy to disarm. We wish to keep Trident in its present form with a limited number of warheads, as I have explained, until such time as there is global nuclear disarmament and until such time as we can conveniently get rid of it.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for clarifying the position. I suggest that one of the reasons why it may be sensible for us to maintain Trident until we see global nuclear disarmament is the very reason over which the Falklands conflict erupted in the 1980s. At that time a significant unilateral action was taken by the British Government which gave a false message to the Government of Argentina. We must recognise that, when we consider changing defence posture and reducing defence commitments, we must do it through negotiation with our allies. We must be clear that it does not demonstrate a sign of weakness on our part but a sign of strength.

I have spoken for 13 minutes this afternoon, which is probably too long, although my contribution has been a little shorter than others. With those remarks I finish.

2.6 p.m.

Lord Lyell: My Lords, I shall not attempt to follow the wide-ranging speech of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. I welcome my noble friend to his new position and apologise to him and other Members of your Lordships' House for moving to a position nearer my Front Bench. I thought that we were practising for Arctic warfare, so cold was it on the Back Benches!

Perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, in glancing at the estimates before us today in what I would call the "Lyell shopping tour", picking out the paragraphs that might be of relevance to my noble friend and which attracted my attention.

In paragraph 417, the attack helicopter is mentioned. That demonstrates notable prescience because yesterday a choice was made. It is important that the Armed Forces have equipment that works, is available and, above all, is of good value. That point was particularly well made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. He, of all people, would have more knowledge almost than anyone else in your Lordships' House as to what is needed for one major aspect of the aircraft. It is quite clear that all the contestants had particularly good

14 Jul 1995 : Column 1987

products for what might be needed for our Armed Forces. Perhaps my noble friend can brief me in a few words as to why the choice was made to buy only 67 helicopters. I read something this morning to the effect that Longbow radar would provide such good value for money—as is the popular cry—to Scottish accounts. Even so, reducing the number from 81 to 67 was curious. No doubt my noble friend will be able to help us on that point.

In paragraph 419 of the Defence Estimates, mention is made of the AS90. The noble Lords, Lord Vivian and Lord Ironside, will remember that Members of your Lordships' defence study group made a visit to the Third Royal Horse Artillery Regiment and saw on Salisbury Plain this effective, first-class equipment. What impressed me, and it would I believe impress all noble Lords, were the particularly well trained gunners and team. Indeed, I had the privilege of meeting the champion gunner. They were flying the championship pennant for Sergeant Browne and his highly competent young crew. I hope that my noble friend will be able to confirm that training areas for the AS90 will continue to be available on Salisbury Plain (I believe they are at Larkhill), together with those at Otterburn.

My noble friend Lord Annaly mentioned Otterburn earlier. I hope that that area can be improved for training—if need be, in use of AS90, but above all for all infantry and combined forces. There is mention of training in paragraph 585. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, mentioned that. The noble Lord will no doubt see the fascinations (page 106) of the stone curlew. That is just one indication of the care that is taken by the Ministry of Defence in its stewardship of what is known as the defence estate. I should like to compliment the Ministry, as I believe would other noble Lords. Certainly, on my very brief visits to the Otterburn area of Northumberland (not necessarily in connection with defence) I found Ministry of Defence personnel to be enormously popular for their competence and, above all, for their attachment to the general conservation of the wildlife of the area and their concern for everybody who lives there.

In the course of the past year, your Lordships' defence study group made a second visit, during which we received a very valuable briefing on a project called Horizon. I thought that it might have something to do with radar. I did a little background reading and found, once again, that there is a little more to it than that. There is something called the common new generation frigate. It is a joint venture. It seems that it will be fruitful and very helpful. I hope that my noble friend is satisfied with progress so far. This is a prime example of European co-operation which is working and which will continue to be more and more successful in terms of equipment, management and, above all, training.

I was somewhat curious when the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who is alas not in his place, but who I am sure will read this in the Official Report—mentioned dogs. I do not know whether the matter of dogs is clearly elucidated in the Defence Estimates, whether it be in relation to the cost of dogfood, keeping them or whatever. The noble Lord will know, as will my noble friend Lord Annaly, that we paid visits to the Ministry

14 Jul 1995 : Column 1988

of Defence police force training depot at Weddersfield. I was immensely impressed with the professional training and attitude of that body of men and women. As noble Lords will appreciate, they are often the unsung heroes. They look after defence establishments and act as the first layer between civilians who may have a genuine point of view to make, and looking after the interests of all who are in those establishments. For these heroes, certainly dogs are necessary—and not just for security. Such dogs must have particularly good noses. Just before lunch every day noble Lords can see examples of such canine helpers in this House and this Chamber.

Finally, I should like to follow the notable, typically robust speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and many of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, as regards the battalions of the Footguards. My noble friend mentioned their training and made a succinct point. I hope that it is reasonable that all of us—politicians, members of the public and the Ministry—ask so much of well-motivated, competent and articulate young men and women.

I hope that today my noble friend will be able to give us an assurance that there will be no further cuts or adjustments in training. I recall my own infantry training. I see that my noble friend Lord Kinnoull understands, as does my noble friend Lord Birdwood. For many of us who did our national service, it is rather frightening. The training that we undertook over 30 years ago has had to be updated for the immensely more demanding tasks that are needed now. I believe that the enormous success in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and elsewhere is due to the consistent, professional and improving training—particularly in the Army, but for all members of the Armed Forces. To them we owe our thanks and compliments today. We owe our thanks to my noble friend, and we congratulate him on taking up his appointment.

2.14 p.m.

Lord Birdwood: My Lords, I should like to think that these Defence Estimates articulate the irreducible minimum below which this or any future government will never position the country's military capabilities. But my confidence is not high. Strapped for cash, there is plenty of historic precedent for a future Chancellor to look at some of that year's equipment invoices and murmur about "reduced threat" and "European co-partnership". The peace dividend can look all too like a piggy bank.

Today, I want to introduce the possibility that our accepted thinking about weapons systems is rapidly being overtaken by developments in key areas of non-military science. To a large extent, I put myself in the position of Devil's advocate because I believe that certain assumptions in the Defence Estimates need to be challenged and tested in open argument. A reader of that document will go away with one firm conclusion about our philosophy of weapon procurement; namely, that future systems will be infinitely refined versions of present systems. It is like the French armourers before

14 Jul 1995 : Column 1989

Agincourt, sure in their faith that all future battles would belong to the ever more ingeniously protected cavalry horse.

Of course, the process is inevitable. Just to commit to a particular system is a huge decision and gathers a monstrous momentum of its own. Every country does it. I remember a crazy American project which became too big and too embarrassing to close down. It was described as like having a dead sea-lion in the sitting room and no member of the family wanting to be the first to mention the fact.

We need to be aware, when we examine the Defence Estimates today, that the most profound revolutions are taking place, under, over, around and through the strategies which gave birth to those decisions. I said "revolutions" in the plural, because in my opinion there are two, but they are closely linked. The first is the genesis of total information as a commanding technology in all future conflict. In one sense, it would be extraordinary if the military were not swept up in the flood of information science. The changes in IT are faster than in any other branch of science and more pervasive.

In the context of large-scale war, we are moving toward the concept of the digital battlefield. That means that every component of one's friendly forces will be sharing information with every other component. The theatre of conflict and beyond will be a single resonating web of data, updating itself without human intervention, and even, where necessary, making mission decisions based on machine assessments of threat.

In the case of air combat that is already here. Within the mission envelope of a sortie, events and threat evaluation are now outside many human capabilities. Much of an aircraft's reflexes must be handed over to the systems. But we are in very strange territory when the information for conducting a whole battle overwhelms the human command structures; and, of course, the game theorists are addressing this feature with extreme urgency. Just like the world of global financial markets, individually gifted tacticians will be able to sense priorities and to predict intentions in ways which still, just, defeat information systems.

I see directions for those ideas which put in question the fundamental need to develop more and more sophisticated platforms, such as tanks and carriers. A platform has the advantage that it packs together a number of weapon features in one deployable asset: deadliness, movement, logistics and a source of intelligence. But platforms must themselves be defended. The more expensive in itself, the more it uses up collateral assets in the shielding process. What has changed—and it has changed forever—is that the devices designed to take out platforms are orders of magnitude more intelligent than their predecessors. The consequences can be that battle-theatre technology will be a fine-grained mesh of sensors and communications rippling in response to events through offensive devices in overwhelming numbers, but individually small scale. The civilian world is now a creature of distributed computing and communications; so too will be the military.

14 Jul 1995 : Column 1990

What that revolution means for a bit player like Britain, paradoxically, is opportunity. What is happening for the first time in the history of weapon system development is that an area of civil technology has streaked ahead of its military counterpart just when it became absolutely critical to combat capability. And that observation leads me on to the second revolution of the two that I specified. What we are seeing today is a matrix where civil technology has a critical role in military conflict; where the concept of non-military conflict has become part of the destiny of nations; where military technology is looking for a role in civil problems and even in investment. It has all become muddled up together.

These issues imply degrees of civil and military co-operation in the near future which would be quite disturbing to people less flexible than the men and women who command our forces today. Traditional procurement procedures will probably need to be overhauled so that this blurring of boundaries between civil and military science can respect the conventions of each other. But for now, and so as to give my noble friend a couple of real-life questions to which I would appreciate answers in due course, I would very much like to know where we stand in a programme called the Medium Extended Area Defence System (MEADS). At this time it has the participation of the USA, France, Germany and Italy. I happen to believe that our absence has not been helpful to our technology base, nor to our political leverage.

I would welcome a solid policy on ballistic missile defence, noticing what I considered to be—unlike the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who referred to it as "robust"—the rather ambiguous and tentative wording on BMD in the Defence Estimates document. Lastly, in the arena of threat assessment, my unease about North Korea is scarcely pacified by the presence of the Taepo Dong missile which has a verifiable range of 3,000 kilometres. Nor do I feel that we can sweep under the carpet of possible flashpoints the future of the Spratly Islands. I shall be interested in any observations, not necessarily today, which the Minister feels able to make.

2.24 p.m.

Lord Howell: My Lords, we have had an excellent debate, as one normally does on these defence occasions. I certainly join with everyone who welcomed the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to the Dispatch Box. If I may say so, I thought his opening speech was one of great clarity and encouraged us in the belief that he is a Minister who will listen to what we say and who will represent the views of your Lordships' House in the inner circles of government. If I am right about that, this is a good day for him to start that exercise. This debate, if I can sum it up in one sentence, has been one where the realities of international and military necessity have confronted the damage of Treasury ideology. That is the message that needs to be taken back to the Government.

We have had striking speeches of concern, particularly from the two noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Craig of Radley, which the Minister would be well advised to report to the Secretary of State

14 Jul 1995 : Column 1991

and his colleagues since they carried Members on all sides of the House with them in the arguments they were making.

Rarely, if ever, has a defence debate in this House taken place against a backcloth of such dramatic events. Year upon year there have been demands, not exclusively from the Opposition, for a strategic defence review so that our commitments world-wide can be matched by the size of the resources we make available to our Armed Forces. Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Monkswell, whose speech I regret to say I did not hear but has been reported to me, that he should understand that the Labour Party policy on defence is that we should provide adequate resources capable of matching the commitments which we undertake. That is common sense. That is why it is Labour Party policy. And that is why I commend it to my noble friend.

I said on one occasion when winding up one of these defence debates and speaking for myself that I thought that the suggestion that there could be a peace dividend in the world we live in today is an illusion. That remains my view. If we promise to cut defence expenditure without realising the undertakings we are committed to—for example, in Bosnia—we are deluding ourselves and the country. That is not a policy for the Labour Party or for anyone else.

This year three major policy issues dominate our consideration. Some of them have enormous military consequences yet it is impossible to escape the conclusion, after a study of the estimates and after listening to noble Lords, that a political and strategic vacuum exists in respect of each of the three issues with which I wish to deal. The first is the changing role and membership of NATO and its relationship with the United Nations. The second is the commitment to a comprehensive test-ban treaty. The third is the catastrophic situation confronting the world in Bosnia.

In his speech my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel raised the question of NATO and the United Nations' military capacity. As he said, the two are inextricably linked. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said—and I agree with him very much—that NATO is the bedrock of our security. On the operational side, the United Nations has no other means available to it to enforce and police its resolutions than to pass the task over to other agencies, which in fact means NATO. In practice these days NATO has to operate every military decision by reference back to a detailed policy mandate created in New York by nations like the United States, which has been quick to criticise recently but which sits on the Security Council, is responsible for these policies and provides no troops on the ground with which to implement them. That is a very serious situation, which goes to the heart of what the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was saying in his opening remarks. The Gulf War taught us how such situations can be successfully handled and the United States is entitled to great credit for that. Governments, including the British Government, are denying themselves a similar approach and a similar authority in Bosnia to that which was successful in the Gulf.

14 Jul 1995 : Column 1992

It is of the greatest importance that politicians controlling NATO policy cease to speak with a forked tongue when they themselves are members of the Security Council. The other day the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, made great play of the new resolution which was framed on Tuesday. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who spoke in this House recently. What is the point of that resolution unless someone can tell us how it is to be implemented? How is it going to be applied? That must be a matter for the Government to address with some urgency.

People operating in the Security Council in New York must not make it impossible for its mandate to be carried out in the field in Bosnia, because that is what is happening now. Both the United Nations and NATO have to face a new reality, which is the changing political situation in Washington. The hesitancy of the United States to provide troops while urging the use of air strikes and taking a lead in demanding the enforcement of mandates, makes for a degree of cynicism which we have to guard against.

We also need to give more attention to the need to extend NATO membership eastwards. The Czech and Slovak republics, Hungary and Poland, should be admitted to NATO under the current conditions of membership, including the Article 5 guarantee. It is of course a great tribute to NATO that it has brought about stability in the world. We have to recognise that nations now released from Soviet bondage—the noble Baroness, Lady Park, may not agree entirely with me about this—have to be brought within the scope of NATO. I am pleased that they seek such membership.

Undoubtedly, that would raise some difficulties with Russia and there I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. We can consider President Clinton's "partnership for peace" as holding out prospects in this direction. The Russians support it, and the State Department has described it as,


    "the model of security for the 21st century".

It is due to be strengthened in December of this year. So by expanding NATO on the one hand, and developing the partnership for peace philosophy on the other, it will be possible for us to move forward as regards the development of NATO and its role in the world.

The spontaneous outburst of disbelief that followed the French announcement of resumed nuclear testing in the South Pacific is a very healthy sign. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who spoke about these matters. It exposes a degree of hypocrisy by governments which does them no credit and may have the most dangerous repercussions as regards non-nuclear countries. The comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, due to be implemented in 1996, has been seen throughout the world as a message of hope and that is encouraging.

The North Atlantic Assembly, on which I have the privilege to represent this House, along with the noble Lord, Lord Lyell,—we both sit on the scientific technical committee—has done a great deal of work in that area. Every nation in the North Atlantic Assembly and every member, including Conservative Members of both Houses, as well as some of my friends and myself,

14 Jul 1995 : Column 1993

have subscribed to the resolutions of support. Indeed, I can tell the House that the resolution of November last year, which unanimously supported the nuclear test ban treaty and opposed the resumption of tests by any nation, was drafted by a Conservative Member of Parliament. It was none the worse for that. It gained a great deal of support.

The scientific technical committee, to which I referred a moment ago and on which the noble Lord and I both serve, conducted an analysis region by region, nation by nation, of the consequences of not having a nuclear test ban treaty. They are very serious. We cannot allow the treaty to be undermined. We only have to look around to realise that China and Korea would have every incentive to conduct tests if the French, British and United States resumed testing, as would India, Pakistan and nations throughout the Middle East. Therefore, we have to ask what the French are up to in presuming to resume the tests. They would destroy the test ban treaty. It is impossible to ask other nations which have not tested their nuclear weapons (as far as we know but which possess them) not to do so if we, who say that we support the nuclear test ban treaty, are prepared to resume testing.

Furthermore, I do not believe that there is any need to resume testing. It is now possible to carry out experiments in laboratories to provide the information that is wanted. As far as the allies are concerned—that is, the United States, France and ourselves—surely it is possible to have an exchange of the information (which is certainly available in Washington) so that the French could use it in their programme.

Having said that, I should like to make it quite clear, as did my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel, that I agree with one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said. It is impossible in this world, in which nuclear weapons are now available to such diverse nations as I have mentioned, to believe that there is any sense in thinking that you can have a unilateral policy. You cannot. We have to maintain a multilateral approach to disarmament so that we can safeguard the safety of this world and of this country.

I turn now to the situation in Bosnia, which has been in everybody's mind today. It defies any intelligent analysis. One can only denounce the evils being perpetrated, especially the ethnic cleansing, the forced movement of innocent people from their homes and the separation of families. Those are criminal acts under any known criminal code either in peacetime or in time of war and they must be dealt with as such. The United Nations and the Government must make it crystal clear now, while the acts are being perpetrated, that the leaders, both political and military, who are involved in such evil policies will be tried and dealt with as war criminals. The criminality continues because the perpetrators believe that no such action will be taken against them. They must be disabused of that view.

I believe that the United Nations has to be left to take responsibility for the humanitarian policies which are essential in Bosnia. If food is to be delivered and if medical and mercy supplies are threatened, the United Nations forces must be told to deliver them even if they

14 Jul 1995 : Column 1994

have to do so by means of force. I agree very much with the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, on that point. It is vital that we make it clear that we intend to fulfil our mandate. These days it seems to be becoming impossible in Bosnia to maintain our present posture. I very much hope that the rapid reaction force will enable us to do that more effectively.

Another policy which I personally find grotesque is to ask British and other servicemen, when challenged by the Serbs, to give themselves up, to surrender peacefully and to hand over their weapons, arms and equipment. That is a nonsense. Abject surrender is no part of any serviceman's role and we are not justified in asking British servicemen to do any such thing. If one wants to understand the ludicrous nature of the present relationship between creating mandates in the UN and operating them on the ground in Bosnia we have only to look at such matters.

I understand the Minister's difficulty in responding in detail to initiatives which change between lunchtime and dinner and again by breakfast time, but we should know what the Government think of the new French initiative. How do the Government regard it? Have they discussed with the French and our United States allies how it should be processed? I notice, too, that President Clinton has been in conversation overnight with President Chirac and Chancellor Kohl. We are told that he is having discussions with our Prime Minister. I regard that as a hopeful sign of realism. If it is not, disillusionment will be widespread. I trust that the Minister will be able to give us some information about those matters.

Perhaps I may say a word in support of the Government. It would be wrong if we did not acknowledge what the British Government have done in Bosnia in trying to support the UN mandate. We may criticise the detail, but the British Government have done more than most effectively to carry out the mandate. As has been said many times in the debate, British servicemen have, as always, operated superbly under difficult circumstances.

It may well be that an even greater catastrophe would follow if we were to withdraw from Bosnia, were that decision to be taken eventually. But if we are to stay there, the rules of engagement must be changed at once to allow UNPROFOR forces to perform their tasks with honour and realism. If the Government seek to achieve that, as I believe they hope to do, they justify our support in the impossible circumstances with which they have to deal in Bosnia.

I conclude by saying that I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, but I do not necessarily agree with him when he complains about having this debate on a Friday. Friday has given us a whole day to ourselves. We may all complain that debates in this House receive little coverage in the national press. I do not believe an improvement in the nation's education, which listening to debates in your Lordships' House would undoubtedly bring about, would necessarily follow if we moved this debate to midweek. It has been a good debate. It has raised challenging issues. As I have said, I hope that the Minister will convey to his colleagues the concerns

14 Jul 1995 : Column 1995

expressed in all parts of the House about the state of our Services so that another look can be taken to ensure that realism is the paramount consideration in the equipment of British forces.

2.45 p.m.

Earl Howe: My Lords, in my opening remarks I said that I expected the quality of today's debate to be high. I have not been disappointed. Your Lordships' House is universally admired as a repository of expertise and good sense but there are perhaps few areas where that is more true than on the subject of our deliberations today, the defence of the realm.

I am grateful for the kind remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and other noble Lords on my appointment at the Ministry of Defence. In winding up I shall endeavour to do justice to noble Lords' contributions and questions. To the extent that I fail to do so, I hope that your Lordships will feel able to make due allowance for the steepness of the learning curve on which I find myself and for the conventions of the House, which call for closing speakers to avoid excessive length. I willingly undertake to write to those noble Lords whose questions I do not have time to answer.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, questioned the Government's sense of vision. I am sorry that one of the principal messages of the White Paper seems to have escaped his usually careful scrutiny. Chapter Two contains a full description of the United Kingdom's defence and security policies. We have a clear and coherent view of our place in the world and the means to underpin our influence in it. I have to say to the noble Lord that we see no need for a defence review. The speed with which the strategic situation is changing means that such a review could be out of date before it was ever published. And how would a review reduce uncertainty for our Armed Forces?

No, my Lords. I suggest rather than we need a more flexible approach to cope with the fluid strategic setting that we face. The force structures that emerged from Options for Change were derived from a comprehensive assessment of the changing risks of war and the likely evolution of NATO in response to these changes. The strategic setting has developed in ways broadly consistent with the judgments that underpin Options for Change. To reflect developments in the past three years, however, we have announced increases in the size of the Army; further force structure changes, including plans for a Joint Rapid Deployment Force; and investment in new and improved capabilities. We will of course continue to keep our plans under review. What we aim for is to achieve within available resources a balanced defence programme which is appropriate to the demands placed on the services by our commitments both at home and overseas.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, was also, I thought, a trifle ungenerous about the Government's efforts to bear down on costs. As many noble Lords will be aware, today is the first anniversary of the announcement of the results of the Defence Costs Study, Front Line First. The emphasis of this radical and rigorous look at the support area was not only on savings but also on better

14 Jul 1995 : Column 1996

processes for delivering command, training and support functions. I am extremely pleased to announce that we are on track for both the implementation dates and the postulated savings. There is still some work to be done during this financial year to refine both savings and the organisational side. However, we estimate that DCS-related savings in 1996-97 will be some £720 million, which is not far short of the £750 million a year set out in Front Line First. These savings will rise to more than £1 billion a year by the end of the decade.

This is a considerable achievement which reflects highly on all concerned, particularly at a time when the Options for Change drawdown and consequent reorganisation were not yet complete. Inevitably, there has been a human dimension to this exercise. But I can assure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and, in particular, my noble friend Lord Ironside, that we take very seriously our duty to consult staff over proposals that significantly affect them. We have been particularly careful to help the civilian staff affected, while the service personnel affected can use the improved resettlement arrangements that we introduced under Options for Change. The whole aim of this exercise has been to ensure that every pound spent on defence contributes directly or indirectly to our fighting capability. These savings have enabled us to make a number of enhancements in our front line strength.

This year's White Paper contains a special section on two important initiatives—both launched after the Defence Costs Study—to improve the way we carry out joint operations in future. Both were mentioned today: the permanent Joint Headquarters and the Joint Rapid Deployment Force.

The White Paper also sets out the major orders placed since July last year for Hercules C-130J aircraft, for a mixed fleet of additional medium support helicopters (EH101 and Chinook), for Spearfish torpedoes and for amphibious bridging, as well as the invitations to tender for the construction of a further batch of Type 23 frigates, for a replacement maritime patrol aircraft and for supply of a conventionally-armed stand-off missile and an advanced air-launched anti-armour weapon.

My noble friends Lord Ironside and Lord Lyell referred to our decision to buy Apache helicopters. That decision is very good news for the Armed Forces. Indeed, Apache has already proved its worth in service with the US army. As my noble friend Lord Lyell pointed out, our Apaches will be equipped with the latest technology—Longbow radar (a key component for its effectiveness)—and will provide the Army with a potent anti-armour capability. Our analysis shows that a fleet of 67 Apache Longbow will provide the capability required by the Army Air Corps. Apache is also very good news for Westland Helicopters and for the 180 companies across the country which will benefit from involvement in the programme. We estimate that Apache will sustain approximately 3,000 much-needed jobs per year in the defence industry.

There is more. I take careful note of the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, as I am sure will my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I believe that I can go some way towards reassuring him on the questions of security and stability. As I said in

14 Jul 1995 : Column 1997

my opening remarks, the stability of funding that we have for the future, the changes that we are making to the management and organisation of defence, and our determination to continue to bear down hard on costs and drive out waste, has allowed us to make further capability enhancements.

The White Paper sets out the new equipment projects that we have been able to add to the defence programme as a result of those factors. They include our proposal to extend our participation in the US Joint Affordable Strike Technology programme to investigate options for the replacement of the Sea Harrier; a substantial upgrade to the communications systems of our submarine fleet; modernisation of the Army's armoured engineer fleet; the provision of towed array decoys for more aircraft types; and plans to procure a new advanced sonobuoy.

Perhaps I may devote the remainder of my time to addressing what I believe are the other main concerns that have emerged today. First, I turn to our nuclear deterrent. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, spoke of the strengthening of our nuclear arsenal. Perhaps I may correct the noble Lord. The United Kingdom maintains the minimum deterrent required to guarantee our security, and that, as emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is the Government's proper duty. We have never planned to make full use of the capability of the Trident system. We have made it clear that each Trident submarine will deploy with no more than 96 warheads and may carry significantly fewer. On current plans, the total explosive power of each Trident boat will not be much changed from Polaris. When Trident fully takes over the sub-strategic nuclear role and the WE177 bomb is withdrawn by the end of 1998, the UK will have 21 per cent. fewer nuclear warheads than it had in the 1970s. The total explosive power of those warheads will be 59 per cent. lower than the 1970s figure. I see that the noble Lord wishes to intervene. I give way.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page