Queen's Speech — Debate (6th Day)
Lord Lyell (Conservative)
My Lords, nearly five years ago my late noble kinsman Lord Lyell of Markyate rose at the Conservative Party conference and made a much briefer speech than I shall be able to make today. He just said that the first duty of any Government is the defence of the realm. The rest of his remarks were drowned out by bad manners as everyone took off, but I suspect he was absolutely right.
I have the very good luck to be in your Lordships' House and to be a member of its defence group. We are beautifully led by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, who keeps me and many other ex-servicemen-people go right back-in shape and in the best condition to understand exactly what is needed by, and can be done for, defence in your Lordships' House and elsewhere.
Perhaps it is appropriate that today's debate was instituted by my noble friend Lord Howell. Together with our principal doorkeeper and the late Sergeant Kiwi Clements, who 55 years ago licked me into shape as a young national serviceman, he belonged to that great regiment, the Coldstream Guards. The motto of the Coldstream Guards is "Nulli Secundus". Sergeant Clements put me under close arrest for thinking it meant "no second helpings". It does not; it means "second to none". Those words apply to my noble friend the Minister on the Front Bench, who will be winding up the debate. My noble friend gives all of us with any interest in defence, let alone those of us in the defence group, constant briefing advice and one to one contact with the Ministry of Defence. For anyone who has any interest in defence, it is top-class. I also know that all the work that he has done has brought many others in your Lordships' House much closer to defence and one aspect of it that we are discussing today.
My noble friend Lord Luke referred to aircraft carriers. The Minister will have to cope with the budget. I hope that he will not worry about my speech for one second of his winding-up speech; he can write to me in due course. I know that he will write to my noble friend Lord Luke about the aircraft carriers. One recent development in aircraft is that the Ministry of Defence has chosen the F-35B as its vertical and short take-off and landing model. If I am wrong my noble friend can correct me-probably in writing-later, but I understand that this will enable both aircraft carriers to be in constant service, and that it will be a great saving in the budget, costing far less than the cat and trap.
Equally, at sea, it is very encouraging to read of the great success of the Type 45 destroyer. It was three years ago that my noble friend Lord Lee of Trafford and I went down to Portsmouth and viewed HMS "Daring", which was the first of the Type 45, with its outstanding commanding officer, that man of Fermanagh, Captain McAlpine. He set the standard of his crew for what is now being done and it is already a major success in the Royal Navy. I just hope that the Type 56 frigate, when it comes out, will be an equal success.
I turn to the Army aspect of the defence and the SDSR. I understand that the Army will be reduced over the next 10 or 12 years to about 82,000 personnel-my noble friend the Minister may be able to explain that today or at a later stage-but the apparent good news that has come out in the last two or three days concerns the Scottish regiments and what I would call the cap badges. I understand that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has taken the question of cap badges, particularly as it refers to Scotland, very seriously indeed. He is not with us today, but the noble Earl, Lord Stair, was fighting with the Scots Guards 30 years ago at Mount Tumbledown in the Falklands. The noble Lord, Lord West, is also not here today, but he, too, was there. For Members of your Lordships' House who have been in a situation like that, it hammers home to them, as it would have hammered home to me, that you are together with your friends-as we said in the services, your muckers. When it is one to one on a dark night in winter in the Falklands, you are with people with whom you have formed a very close bond, and that gives you that extra pace in defending the realm and in what you have to do.
I quickly turn to Afghanistan. There has been more and more decent news recently over the kit, the supplies and the support of our forces all over Afghanistan and on the way out and back. Indeed, there is an interesting article today in the Financial Times about the situation in Afghanistan and the kit referred to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. It seems quite encouraging.
The House of Lord defence group is not, I hope, all red leather Bench warriors. Certainly we take an interest in other things-my training goes on, as I started out as an accountant, seeking the truth-but we are very concerned with the families of servicemen all over the world, here and elsewhere, and their quarters, housing, children and support. For families but also for the wounded service men and women, Headley Court is second to none and does a wonderful job. Our group made at least two visits; I hope that we are able to do that.
I was fortunate five years ago, with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to visit Birmingham, which is the first stop for injured service men and women returning to this country. The work that is done there and continues to be done is really very encouraging and I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us some support either today or at a later stage.
When we discuss defence today or at any other time, here in the comfort of the warm leather Benches, I hope that I as a humble national serviceman can say thank you and pass on my gratitude to each and every one of service men and women all over the world-in Afghanistan, under the sea and elsewhere. We think of them and think of the frightened, startled recruits who are starting their training, and to them we say our thanks.