Scottish Grand Committee
Tuesday 5 March 2002
[Mr. Jimmy Hood in the Chair]
Defence in Scotland
The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I beg to move, That the Committee do now adjourn.
I am grateful for the opportunity to open the debate on defence in Scotland in the Scottish Grand Committee. I last attended the Committee as a Back Bencher some time ago, as I have been engaged in ministerial business since 1997. It is good to be back and to see some new faces in the Labour party and in the Opposition. Many hon. Members here today have taken a keen interest in defence, and I look forward to their useful contributions.
In recent years, and especially in recent months, defence has taken on a renewed significance. International events, not least in Afghanistan, have moved the role, purpose and activities of the armed forces up the political agenda, so that hardly a news bulletin does not mention defence or a defence-related issue. That is reflected in the attention that the House is now paying to such matters. Over the past six months, we have had 18 statements and debates, mainly on the fight against international terrorism. On 14 February, there was a major debate on defence policy in the House. Four more one-day debates are scheduled for this session, so hon. Members will have considerable scope to raise defence issues.
However, my Scotland Office colleagues and I believe that we would all gain from a debate on the role of defence in Scotland, and on the role that Scotland plays in the defence of the United Kingdom. An aspect of our wider defence policy is worth mentioning again because of its importance and the fact that the Department is seeking opinions on it from around the country in quite a short time scale. We are undertaking work on a new chapter of the strategic defence review, which considers our defence posture, plans and capabilities after 11 September 2001. We must ensure that we have the forces to meet the additional challenges that we now face from international terrorism. We also want to hear the views of Scotland and other parts of the UK.
We are not working on a new defence review, but on a new chapter to the 1998 strategic defence review. The SDR sought to modernise defence, better defend the UK's interests and contribute towards making the world a safer place, while making every pound that is spent on defence count. It placed particular emphasis on defence capabilities and systems that were—and are—relevant to the new strategic circumstances. Those capabilities include reconnaissance, surveillance, rapid deployment and precision strike. The UK was able to play such a significant role in military operations in the Balkans, Sierra Leone and
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Afghanistan in no small part because of the enhanced capabilities that the SDR delivered.
However, the appalling events of 11 September highlighted the need to examine whether we have the right concepts, forces and capabilities to address the threat from international terrorism and the growing likelihood of asymmetric action against the UK and our wider interests. The outcome of the work will be vital to defence throughout the UK. The discussion document issued last month seeks comments from a wide audience on the use of our forces at home and overseas. It gives the people of Scotland an opportunity to influence the way in which we defend their interests and ours. I commend the SDR new chapter discussion document to all right hon. and hon. Members, and hope to have their input.
Defence, as ever, is a necessity. The security provided by our armed forces is a vital service that is enjoyed by every citizen of the UK and beyond our shores. It should be clear that the defence of the UK is indivisible, although some would challenge that. The UK rightly has a single unitary defence policy and one set of armed forces to protect us and promote our interests and values at home and throughout the world.
The UK is a major contributor on the international stage, and Scotland makes a considerable contribution to that role. The sum of the parts adds up to much more than Scotland could ever deliver on its own as a separate nation outside NATO, as some want it to be.
I pay tribute to the many roles played by members of the UK armed forces from Scotland in recent operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and elsewhere. In short, Scots have played a major international role as a force for good, working alongside their countrymen and women from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
With the new political settlement and the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland, the landscape has changed. Defence of the UK remains a reserved matter, which few would dispute, but the devolved Administration has an important role to play in delivering on defence. Against that scenario, I would be interested to hear about the nationalists' vision of a separate Scotland, out of NATO and as a bit-part player in world events.
Angus Robertson (Moray): Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Ingram: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to set out his defence policy, because that is part of the purpose of the debate. I do not expect him to do that in an intervention, but I tried to access the nationalists' defence policy on the internet and found nothing.
Angus Robertson: The Minister described the role of countries that are non-nuclear and not part of NATO as ''bit-part''. Would he describe the role of neighbouring countries such as Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland as ''bit-part''?
Mr. Ingram: I did not mention those countries.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Would you?
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The Chairman: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not speak from a sedentary position.
Mr. Ingram: I did not mention those countries because we have good bilateral arrangements with them. Most countries in and around Europe and those that seek entry to the European Union and NATO—I understand that an independent Scotland under the Scottish National party would not seek that—are trying to play a significant role. Whether through NATO or a coalition of the willing, nations can make a major contribution. We spend a great deal of time on our bilateral relationships and have good working relationships with all those countries.
It is difficult to discover precisely what the party represented by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) wants Scotland to be as an independent nation. What posture would it adopt? Where would it stand in relation to NATO and on European security and defence policy? How does the SNP envisage that policy integrating into the NATO framework? There is a vacuum of information, but perhaps there will be an opportunity to touch on some of those questions in this debate.
Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): Can my right hon. Friend the Minister believe that, at a time when small countries such as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia and Slovenia—which are all the same size as Scotland or smaller—are trying to become NATO members, the Scottish National party would take us out of it?
Mr. Ingram: That is an interesting question in the ongoing debate. We have said that any country seeking to become involved with NATO must consider not only its military input, but what the totality of the country represents and, importantly, its capabilities. NATO is examining all its structures to ensure that it is best placed to meet existing and emerging threats. Any nation aspiring to join NATO must address those issues. It is about bringing quality to the table. It is interesting that those nations are actively seeking membership, while a party representing Scotland clearly says that it does not want to be part of NATO. We may get more on that later.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): There is an SNP split.
Mr. Ingram: I hear what my right hon. Friend says. The party probably splits five ways. If all its Members speak in the debate, we will probably hear the five pearls of wisdom that they have all written on the back of a fag packet.
Since the dreadful events of 11 September we have been liaising closely with the Scottish authorities on issues relating to home security and defence. More generally though, we need to ensure that issues of concern to the armed forces, their families and veterans are tackled effectively by the devolved Administration, where they have prime responsibility.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): Will the Government re-examine the role that the Territorial Army can play in any aspect of home defence and the SDR new chapter, especially
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in ensuring the adequate recruitment of service men, who play such a vital role for Scotland abroad?
Mr. Ingram: I will be kind to the hon. Gentleman. He may not have read the new chapter and seen the questions posed in it. The answer is yes. One of the issues that we must address is the role played by the TA and the reserve forces and how they can best be placed to improve, if required, homeland security. All those issues are vital. The hon. Gentleman should read the document and examine the questions and issues raised in it and then, hopefully, give us the benefit of his views. The SDR took into account the relationship with the reserve territorial strength and considered how it could sit alongside and, by various means, support the regular forces.
Defence has always had a considerable footprint in Scotland. Contrary to claims by the SNP—the only party to make those claims—Scotland already receives a good deal from defence and gives a good deal in return. Many of our key facilities and assets are based in Scotland. The Ministry of Defence has 374 sites in Scotland extending to nearly 25,000 hectares. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has set out, our policy is to achieve a better balance of activity across the UK. That will mean a further broadening of the defence footprint, including in Scotland. As it stands, the land and buildings that we already own in Scotland are a clear demonstration of our long-term investment in Scotland and are worth some £1.3 billion in cash terms alone. Hon Members will be familiar with sites in their constituencies and I encourage them to engage fully with such units.