Armed Forces

– in the House of Lords at 3:12 pm on 15 May 2002.

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Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative 3:12, 15 May 2002

rose to call attention to the Armed Forces of the Crown; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I regard it as a privilege to move this Motion. We are sometimes asked, "What is the House of Lords for?". Anyone who has studied the speakers' list for this debate will have one answer. The defence of our country is not a devolved matter. It is a central responsibility of these Houses of Parliament. Anyone who is familiar with the other place will be aware that at the moment there is, sadly, very little experience of defence and our Armed Forces, despite the noble efforts of the Armed Services Parliamentary Scheme to try to remedy the situation. The speakers' list shows that no fewer than four former Chiefs of Defence Staff are due to speak.

I am absolutely delighted that my noble friend Lord Black of Crossharbour, who has considerable international experience, will make his maiden speech. I am merely the opening bat in what I hope will be a much more distinguished batting line-up to follow. In the time that is allotted to me—I appreciate that I have longer than other noble Lords—I will not be able to do more than sketch in some of the matters that I hope other noble Lords will develop.

In light of that, I hope that the Government will listen. This is not the most experienced team of Ministers that the Ministry of Defence has ever had. I say that with great respect to the Minister and mean no offence by it. They have our good will because they are charged with exceptionally difficult times. I hope that other Ministers, including Ministers in another place, will consider not necessarily my comments but the contributions of other noble Lords. This debate should be read in Hansard; I am sure that noble Lords will make important contributions.

I turn to the responsibilities that we in this House have for our Armed Forces. Ministers of the Crown in recent times have committed our Armed Forces in response to increasingly hazardous and uncertain events. They are entitled to our attention and our warmest praise and admiration. The whole House will join me in recognising that when events have arisen unexpectedly in countries and in situations for which we were unprepared, on each occasion we have asked the Armed Forces to undertake various assignments and they have, without exception, carried them out with great courage, determination and organisation, which has excited the admiration of our friends and allies and the respect of the world.

Ten years ago I handed over my responsibilities, when we were reducing our forces in Germany and anticipating withdrawing from Hong Kong. It appeared that the claim, "Join the Army and see the world", was becoming a pretty limited proposition. There was some presence in Germany, commitments in the Falklands, Cyprus and Gibraltar and continuing obligations in Northern Ireland, but that was about it. No one anticipated that we would find ourselves, 10 years later, also in Bosnia, Kosovo, Turkey, Sierra Leone, the Congo, East Timor and Afghanistan—and possibly in Nepal before too long.

The commitments that have been placed on our Armed Forces have common characteristics. I believe that I am justified in saying that, without exception, those events were unanticipated and that our commitments always last longer than originally anticipated. That leads to the vexed question of stretch. How much are we entitled to ask our Armed Forces to do? How much are we entitled to expect of them in what might laughingly be called peacetime? I say that in view of the state of parts of the world, absences from families and commitments in many different parts of the world.

One difficult issue—it was a common problem in Northern Ireland—is the tour interval. That is the gap between unaccompanied tours and periods when the Armed Forces are on normal regimental and other duties in the unit; when they are in married quarters with their families. When they were on unaccompanied tours, one tried to ensure that the gap before the next tour was regular and significant. I accept that the tour interval now appears to be better; there has been some achievement in that respect. However, as I have said to the Minister previously, one of the problems with tour intervals in my experience is that one looks at units. The trouble is that if those units are under strength, and if people are being borrowed from other units, a major logistical exercise is involved in spotting how many times someone in a unit may be asked and—this is the great military tradition—be willing to undertake exceptional additional duties. Key activities, such as signals, have been under considerable strain. The people who do not overlook that—they are all too aware of it—are the wives and families. One depends on those key people to keep returning and making up the numbers in those key assignments. If too great a load is put on them, slowly the vital core of our Armed Forces—their calibre and quality—will be undermined.

I hope and believe that recruitment is better. However, recruiting new recruits—privates—to the Armed Forces is one thing; the question is whether one can keep one's majors, captains, sergeant-majors and sergeants, who are the central skeleton of the corps. The same consideration applies to similar ranks in the other services; I apologise if I talk entirely in Army terms. I say to the Government that I hope that the situation is being watched very carefully.

One admires the Prime Minister, if that is the right word to describe one's response to his speech at the party conference when he appeared to be wishing to solve all of the problems of Africa and bring peace to the world. However, we have a limited resource. I profoundly believe that we are a force for good in the world and I am proud of what our country is able to do. However, there is a limit, and if it is not observed, the quality and calibre of our forces will be undermined.

Of course, while we are a force for good and can be on our own—and, on occasion, must be on our own—how much better it is to be in an alliance. Of all the alliances with which we are involved, that with the United States is absolutely critical. We have a particular responsibility because we are one of the few nations that is compatible in a significant way with the United States and its forces.

My concern is that we may not sustain our technical investment or appreciate the importance of keeping up to date with modern technology and equipment, which noble Lords have seen deployed to amazing effect in Afghanistan. If, in addition, we cannot keep up with some of the real-time intelligence capabilities and understand the processing of that intelligence—in other words, if we become incompatible—then we shall not be able to provide adequate and proper support in the most important of our alliances.

I am sure that many of your Lordships share the concern that exists about the current relationship between the United States and Europe. There is, in a real sense, a crisis in United States/European relations. I do not believe that many people in Europe understand the strength of feeling that exists in the United States about the appalling hurt and outrage which the people of that country suffered on 11th September. I do not believe that they understand that there is a feeling that Europe does not sympathise sufficiently with the people of the United States or that it is not sufficiently willing to support them in their efforts.

The world's only superpower is deeply hurt and angry and is determined to fight back. It has done so through the destruction of Al'Qaeda bases and the success of its efforts in Afghanistan. Anyone who visits the United States at present will note a palpable sense of power and a sense that its people can correct many of the evils of the world. That is a fairly heady mixture and it needs to be handled with great care. We are one of the United States' best friends and allies, and we need to keep in very close concert with that country in considering the best way to proceed.

I pay tribute to the amazing success of the Afghan campaign. There is no doubt that the United States, aided by its allies, has recaptured the initiative from Al'Qaeda. Before the events in Afghanistan, it appeared that Al'Qaeda had the initiative and that the world was on the defensive. Undoubtedly the impact and scale of the US offensive against Al'Qaeda and the Taliban have led to it recapturing the initiative.

I hope that we have now succeeded in denying Al'Qaeda a base for training and operations. I hope also that the clearest warning has been given to a number of other host countries, which might have been relaxed about having these terrorist elements within their territories, to consider that much more carefully. I believe that time has been bought for the fledgling Afghan Government to become better established. However, more recent events worry me. Are we seeing the beginnings of the classic guerrilla situation in which one can operate from a neighbouring territory without being under great pressure because of the nature of the terrain and can thus continue a successful terrorist campaign?

It is against that background that I gain the impression that a rather more sombre reassessment should be made of the question of any attack, incursion or aggression against Iraq. Clearly the conduct of Saddam Hussein is unacceptable. His development of weapons of mass destruction—whether they be biological, chemical or attempts at nuclear—are unacceptable. His refusal to allow in UN inspectors is unacceptable. But this situation needs to be handled very carefully and it needs to be thought through. The fragility of the situation in the whole region of Israel and Palestine, the change of attitudes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, the current concerns of the Turks and Turkey's nervousness over the situation, and the evidence of Al'Qaeda involvement in Kurdish areas at present, possibly stimulated by Saddam Hussein, are all part of a dangerous cocktail.

In these dangerous times we must ensure that, if we are to play our part in whatever direction the situation takes, we keep up our own capabilities. Perhaps I may cite one particular area of concern. I believe that the Government were very foolish in relation to the reduction in the size of the Territorial Army. I remember that when the SDR was produced it identified with extraordinary precision the future role of the Territorial Army. I shall always believe that one of its key capabilities should be a general availability of trained military manpower. The recent suggestion that it might play its part in homeland defence—whether or not that is realistic—demonstrates how quickly new tasks might be required for which its resources will be needed.

Therefore, if we are to sustain our commitments and take on the wider role, which I believe this country is prepared to do, of trying to make the world a safer place, that will need the resources to carry it through. Of course, no matter what defences we have or what the scale of our military resources, there is no guarantee of total security. If 11th September showed something, it was not only the cunning and ruthless determination of terrorists; it was the vulnerability of modern society. A shock went around the world as people realised the dangers of such terrorist attacks and the implications that they could have. We must be good and ready for the unexpected. We should consider the history of our country. The events in the Falklands, the Gulf War and Afghanistan were all unanticipated. None was predicted, but suddenly we found ourselves in those situations.

If we need one thing in addition to strong, well-trained and well-equipped Armed Forces, it is first-class intelligence. We must ensure that during these times of difficulty and danger our intelligence agencies are properly maintained and supported. They are the strongest single element in our link with the United States. They are a very important card in our relationship and in the maintenance of our close relations with that country, and they must be sustained.

These are dangerous times. While we must ensure that we take all possible steps and precautions, an absolutely key element in that will be the proper provision of resources and support for the Armed Forces of the Crown. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour 3:28, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I echo what the noble Lord, Lord King, said and pay tribute to our Armed Forces. As the noble Lord rightly said, they have been asked to perform a variety of very difficult tasks in difficult terrain against enemies of different strengths, and they have performed marvellously. I believe that we should be proud of their flexibility and of the depth of their performance. Despite all the problems that we may discuss later, our Armed Forces have performed better than our highest expectations.

Before I proceed, perhaps I may say how much the House is looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Black. I apologise to him. I shall not be present when he speaks because I have to be out of the Chamber. I have a pre-arranged appointment and I apologise. However, I shall read his speech in Hansard tomorrow with great care, and no doubt I shall learn a great deal. One thing that defines me in the long list of speakers is that I am the most ignorant on the subject of defence. Long may I maintain that distinction!

Following on from what the noble Lord, Lord King, said, it is clearly the case that, in terms of our defence forces, the unexpected always happens. To that extent, it is not possible to plan ahead for certain kinds of battles or strategies. We cannot be like the German Army, which, before the First World War, had detailed train timetables prepared for when they were going to march.

That is where the strength of our strategic thinking lies. Noble Lords are more aware than I am that that strategic thinking has to include how to achieve Armed Forces that are capable of rapid response in unusual and unexpected situations. That rapid response strategy, which has developed, was debated in previous White Papers and is vindicated by our experience, especially since 11th September.

In the long list of theatres of battle mentioned by the noble Lord, he did not say anything about Palestine. Presumably, before long we shall be in Palestine as well, perhaps being shot at by both sides. We shall need to be careful how we cope with that situation. While I agree with the noble Lord, Lord King, that there is always the danger of stretch, the flexibility and the ability to turn matters around rapidly is also present now. That is helping us. It helped us to land marines in Afghanistan while, at the same time, not having to withdraw troops from any other places.

A few weeks before the spending review is a good time to debate the Armed Forces. I am sure that my noble friend on the Front Bench will appreciate that, while I praise the Armed Forces, we need more resources. We must never forget that although all noble Lords may be in favour of greater economy in all spending departments, one of the most important public services is that provided by the Armed Forces. When we talk about the state of the public services, we must not neglect the Armed Forces, which provide one of the most vital public services of this country.

I believe that when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister spoke at the Labour Party conference about our responsibilities in Africa, he did not imply that our only responsibility is in regard to deploying Armed Forces. We must also act on debt relief, on poverty alleviation, on combating disease and on avoiding conflict, as the Department for International Development does. We do not have to wait for the time when armed forces from Britain or the United States have to be deployed in order to sort out a situation of conflict.

In our policy decisions we must remember that we shall always have global responsibilities. That is unavoidable. We shall not be able to withdraw from global responsibilities, because that is part of our position in the world order. I believe that we—more than the United States—will be responsible for non-military interventions on the human development front which may help to avert problems. We must be quite clear that the responsibilities that the Prime Minister promised that we would bear are responsibilities that we cannot evade. We must ensure that we economise on the use of the Armed Forces by being active on other fronts so that as far as possible the Armed Forces are used only as a last resort and not as the first resort.

I believe that a division of labour is emerging between the USA, this country and Europe. The USA favours direct military intervention, for which it has the capacity and the equipment. Although we shall help, the European nations will be called upon to do the washing-up afterwards. The activities of nation building in Afghanistan or problems of settling the Palestinian/Israeli problem through non-military means, and so on, should be tackled by European nations with this country playing the pivotal role on both the military and the non-military fronts.

While more recruitment into the Armed Forces would be welcome, in years of full employment that is not an easy task. That has always been the case. I quite agree that we should be able to recruit better paid and more skilled people into the Armed Forces, but at the same time we have to remember that our primary responsibility is to act on other fronts so that wars do not happen as often as they have in the past.

Photo of Lord Mackie of Benshie Lord Mackie of Benshie Liberal Democrat 3:35, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King, for introducing this debate and for doing it so well. I wondered what I would say on this important subject. I thought that my experience of 60 years ago would not be particularly useful, but some things do not change, such as the necessity for dedicated and able people in the Armed Forces.

In times of war people will put up with anything out of patriotic duty, but in normal times the services must compete to employ the best people. "Join up and see the world", as the noble Lord, Lord King, quoted, is completely out of date. Previously, families could go to Hong Kong or to Germany where they had enjoyable experiences. Now people are torn away from their families, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, to serve in strange places for quite a long time.

I have mainly considered the position of the RAF. I have contacted various friends who run stations and such places. On every occasion I received the same complaint—a lack of skilled people. The loss of pilots and aircrew can be serious, and the situation will not always be alleviated by the depression currently affecting airlines. The problem will arise again when the airlines are again competing strongly.

I have no doubt that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but my inquiries reveal that bonuses offered to pilots to stay on in the RAF for a 12-year period appear to amount to quite a handsome sum. A typical figure is £35,000. That is not a great amount when one considers training a replacement pilot. The cost must be well over £250,000. Ministers should point out to the Treasury that trying to save money in that way leads, at the end of the day, to spending more.

The RAF does not pay a bonus to skilled tradesmen whose potential is realised only when they have served about two years. Training them must cost about £100,000 but many leave after an initial period to take up well paid jobs in manufacturing industry. The forces should try to keep those people by paying them a bonus to stay in the services.

Home life is very important. In many cases the wives—I should perhaps say "spouses", but we are talking mainly about servicemen—have highly skilled and highly paid jobs and cannot move easily from the area. That brings a whole range of problems that must be addressed if we are to attract the people we need.

In considering further issues and wondering how to discover more about them, I suddenly realised that this House contains probably more top NCOs than any other single place. I refer to our Doorkeepers. I talked to a number of them. They said some interesting things. They mentioned the great irritation on the part of skilled people in the RAF in relation to Options for Change, which cut the number of skilled people doing jobs in the RAF and put the work out to private firms. That must be much more expensive at the end of the day. In farming and other businesses, when something is contracted out, it costs a great deal of money.

It is essential to address the points I raise if our Armed Forces are serving all over the world. We must have people who are satisfied with their jobs; who are willing to go off for short periods, but who also expect to have a home life; and who will be paid the reward they deserve and that is needed to keep them in the services. The subject is very narrow but it applies throughout the services. I hope that the Minister will discuss it.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Convenor of the Crossbench Peers 3:41, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I too join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for introducing this important subject today.

In the course of the debate that we held on Afghanistan just before Easter, the Minister, in his winding-up, drew attention to the number of equipment purchases and developments in the procurement field that the Ministry of Defence had made—all very creditable. But that was in answer to points I had made about the reductions, forced by a lack of resources, in front line strength.

I had particularly drawn your Lordships' attention to the planned loss of the air defence capability of the Sea Harrier force, and the risks that that would mean for the fleet. Since I spoke, that issue has been given a great deal more exposure in debates in the other place and in the media, underlining its importance. It has been well aired, so I do not intend to say more about it, save to ask your Lordships to note how widely shared are my concerns. But it is not only that particularly critical capability that is to be lost. There are other reductions across all three services.

It is sobering to realise that the front line strength of the Royal Air Force has dropped from almost 60 squadrons when I was Chief of the Air Staff to 44 today. That is a huge cut over the past 15 years. Twenty-five per cent of the offensive air power we had planned for after Options for Change has gone, and it seems gone for good. I do not think that anyone could argue that the tasks and commitments faced today have been cut by anything like an equivalent amount. Indeed, we seem to be further committed than ever and the elastic just gets stretched more and more.

In Afghanistan there is a far higher proportion of our front line involved than that of any other nation—far higher relatively even than the Americans. There are other commitments for our forces around the world. Our capabilities are very thinly stretched and there is little or nothing in reserve to make good any major setback or loss.

I have another concern which, while not so eye-watering as the loss of front line units, is none the less vitally important to the operational capability of the three services. I return to the point the Minister made about the procurement of advanced new weapons systems. It is self-evident that service personnel must train and develop the required skills and tactics to make the most effective use of these new systems and weapons. They must be given the opportunity to train and work up with them before they are committed to battle. I shall be grateful if the Minister can say something to reassure your Lordships about the levels of training that are now being provided.

All services and roles have their own particular needs. One of the most demanding is that of front-line aircrew. Fast jet pilots need an absolute minimum of 18 to 20 hours flying per month, depending on their role and the weapons systems concerned, if they are to achieve and maintain their operational expertise. The provision of new smart weapons but without full and complete training and preparation for their use—this of course involves ground crews as well as the aircrew—before crews are sent to a combat zone would be ridiculous folly. We are all conscious of the tragedy of civilian casualties, to say nothing of the damaging adverse publicity caused when a bomb lands wide of its intended target, or there is a fatal blue-on-blue engagement.

Other training considerations apply to the transport helicopter and tanker forces supporting operations at great distances from their home bases. They have been flying way above their peacetime budgeted rates, and so their crews must put in considerably greater numbers of flying hours than is normal and their aircraft need additional spares and engineering support. Unless all that additional activity is fully resourced, the only alternative is to cut back severely on the training and preparation of the crews and servicing personnel who have not begun their operational tasking. When they do move to the theatre of operations, they are not as well prepared for their tasks as they should be.

With the three services active now in a number of different theatres, the Royal Air Force operating over Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, there is a requirement for more resources to sustain our operational capabilities over time. During the Gulf conflict additional resources for urgent operational needs were readily forthcoming. I remember being delighted that it was proving possible to get approval in days for modifications or new equipments that would have taken years to achieve in peacetime. It ensured that the front line forces were getting a really fast response to their latest and urgent needs. All were surprised and indeed delighted. It was good for morale and it was excellent for the fighting capability when it was eventually brought to bear. I do not hear so much about a speedy response happening like that today, and that in spite of the various smart new procedures that have been greatly vaunted by Ministers.

The real difference, of course, between the Gulf experience and that of today was that the ultimate paymaster was not the Treasury and Her Majesty's Government, but the Arab and other states that had pledged cash rather than troops for the fight to boot the Iraqis out of Kuwait. What steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to persuade those who are not actively fighting global terrorism to help finance those who are? Perhaps the Minister can give us some encouragement on that so that our troops and aircrew, groundcrew and others involved, will know that what they are doing is backed by the world community and not just by their own Government. There can be no justification for not providing for the full operational needs of our fighting services. If they are to be so heavily committed, the money needed must be made available. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House on that in his response.

Photo of Lord Black of Crossharbour Lord Black of Crossharbour Conservative 3:49, 15 May 2002

My Lords, it is a privilege to be here. After the tortuous course that I pursued getting to your Lordships' House I would be remiss if I did not thank the former Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister for their kind persistence on my behalf. I should also like to thank the officers and staff and many of the Members of your Lordships' House for the many acts of thoughtfulness that have been shown to me.

I shall speak, if I may, on the point that is the most important element of the defence of this country and has been for over 60 years, building slightly upon the remarks of my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater; that is, the alliance with the United States.

As was mentioned in your Lordships' House on 8th May, the reason that the queue to join NATO is so much longer and more demonstrative than the queue to join the European Union is the advantage of a military alliance with the United States, of which it is a truism to say that it is more prominent than any country has ever been since the rise of the nation state and today possesses more military power than all the other countries of the world combined. In those circumstances, the advantage, especially to an east European country with a long and troubled history of territorial disputes and of having its frontiers effectively regarded by the Government and people of the United States as of equivalent importance to the frontiers of the United States itself, is obvious.

Unfortunately—I speak as a publisher of newspapers in the United States as well as in this country—there is a growing fear among informed official and public opinion in the United States that the definition of the alliance of many European statesmen and commentators is more one of rivalry with the United States than of alliance with it. I emphasise that that is despite the best efforts of Her Majesty's Government, which are much appreciated by everyone in the US who is involved in such matters.

By way of illustration, your Lordships will recall that there was an exaggerated fear in advance of the American abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and, as my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater said, of anticipated military action in Afghanistan. There was an exaggerated response to early reports of treatment of prisoners at Guántanamo and unfair irritation at what was perceived by many to be American failure to impose irresistible pressure on Israel after what was mistakenly initially believed to be a massacre of more than 500 people at Jenin. I shall not go into that terribly intractable issue, other than to say that there is a suspicion in the US that the attempt in many places in Europe and among reasonably friendly Arab countries to link the campaign against terrorism with progress on the Israeli-Palestinian question is not entirely legitimate, given that the two issues are only tenuously connected.

I must tell the House that the perception in the US is that, despite the best efforts of many, the general contribution of most Europeans to the Middle Eastern peace process has been to await an American position and then take up a position more friendly to the Arabs. That may often be objectively correct policy, but it creates a good many frictions and does not in the end contribute a great deal to the peace process. I am merely recounting critically and neutrally certain tensions that I think that it is in the interests of this country to continue to do its best to resolve and ameliorate.

The initial response after the September 11th atrocities in Europe, as in all civilised places, was one of horror and solidarity with the Americans. But there is now a perception of a desire on the part of Europeans for a form of collegiality somewhat replicating the arrangements during the Kosovo activities, during which all of the allies effectively had a right of veto over military responses. Given the extreme provocation to which the US was subjected and given the immense force that it disposes, obviously no such response is acceptable to it. But the allegation against the United States of unilateralism is unjust. Given the gravity of the provocation and the strength of that country, I cannot imagine any country behaving more judiciously, more moderately and yet more effectively than has the United States during the past eight months. That has received inadequate recognition in many sections of the media in Europe, including some sections of the media in the United Kingdom.

As I see it, the relevance of that to the subject of this debate is that if the United States feels that, ultimately, Europe—or much of European opinion—is perilously close to a state of neutrality between the United States and Iraq, which every respectable government in the world recognises as a lawless and dangerous country under its current regime, the United States is apt to conclude that the alliance is of diminished use to it, even though, as we all know, it is the most successful alliance that there has ever been. That would be a tragedy. The western alliance has served us all marvellously and it is hardly necessary to say that if it were to founder on such an issue the fleeting gratitude of the Iraqis, Iranians and like-thinking regimes would be a poor consolation for the end of the continued formal association of Britain and Europe with the United States.

Her Majesty's Government have been exemplary in attempting to conciliate the different interests in play, but I respectfully urge them to redouble those efforts. Of course there is a need and a place for a redefinition of NATO's role. Broadly speaking, I assume that it will take the form of some sort of definition of the civilisation and values that, in general terms, we all share; extending the alliance to all those who share those values, without any jingoism or animosity toward those who do not; and unreservedly to protect—to lock arms and join in the defence of—those values when they are attacked, as they severely were on September 11th last year.

I submit that, as my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater said, there is no more important issue in the defence of this country than the retention and strengthening of our alliance with the United States.

Photo of Viscount Slim Viscount Slim Crossbench 3:56, 15 May 2002

My Lords, as is the custom of your Lordships' House, it is a great privilege for me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Black of Crossharbour, on his maiden speech. From the depth of knowledge and strategy that he demonstrated, we know that we have among us a noble Lord from whom we want to hear much more. He has run great enterprises—major enterprises—and from what we have heard today, if anyone knows what is happening in Washington he probably does.

In this jubilee year, the noble Lord has most kindly, with His Royal Highness Prince Philip, agreed to raise money for the British Commonwealth Ex-Services League, which has issued an appeal for £5 million. Throughout the 54 nations of the Commonwealth today there remain 150,000 veterans, out of a total of about 5 million who fought for us in our time of need, living in dire poverty and needing our help. That shows the good of the noble Lord, Lord Black. We hope to see him here often. I congratulate him on a marvellous maiden speech.

Looking at the Government and the military today, I see a spear—a narrow-pointed spear. On that spear, I see nothing but green or red berets. Great as those two formations are, and wonderfully though they have done, the base should be broadened. We have great regiments and great battalions whose forebears fought on the frontier of Afghanistan, climbed those hills and picketed them without the help of helicopter support. They were tough chaps, as are today's fellows.

But we are in danger of having a first and second eleven unless the Ministry of Defence and service chiefs act to make certain that some of those fine regiments are made ready for battle, in the same way that the Royal Marine Commandos and the Parachute Regiment have been. After all, what they are doing in Afghanistan could be done by a normal, well trained, battle-trained infantry battalion. There will be trouble with morale in the ranks unless measures are taken to that effect.

I am concerned about all the talk of how Afghanistan has been a great victory so far. I have some slight experience of guerrillas. I know that when things get tough for them—as we have seen—they fade out of the battle zone and go to friendly places or hide. They re-group and set about new tasks. When they feel that everyone has gone to sleep and things are better for them, they return. Some of the statements about how the Taliban are finished should be treated carefully. Afghanistan is their homeland, and they will return one day. I hope that we are ready for them when they do.

The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, touched on the problem of sustainability of operations. There is a funny sort of line coming out of the Mediterranean from Hamas, cutting across to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Kashmir and now Nepal, as the noble Lord said. It could possibly run further eastwards. There is a major terrorist problem, and we cannot discount the fact that our nation is at risk of attack. We must be able to sustain an operation. Although past and present governments have stated that troops will stay somewhere for only two or three months and then go home, mission creep has become a real danger. Given our administrative set-up, we are in some trouble as regards long-term operations.

We have enjoyed some advantages. I am glad to see in his place the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, a friend with whom I jousted when he sat on the Front Bench. He is right about the aircraft. I have not met a single Royal Air Force officer who wants to fly the Eurobus vehicle, production of which has not even really started yet. The American C17 is, in most people's view, much the better aircraft. I cannot understand why the Government do not increase the rather miserable number—four—of such aircraft that we have at present. I leave that battle to the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert; I am sure that he will talk about that.

We must indoctrinate politicians and civil servants into the need for a military force—all three services—that is such that, if we go to war, we will win. I do not believe that the real battle has yet arrived.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative 4:04, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I have two things to say: the importance of trust for any successful defence policy and the need to ensure that our highly professional and dedicated Armed Forces are both properly resourced and used for their primary purpose—the defence of the realm. Throughout our history, that policy has always included a strong expeditionary element and recognised the need to play a part in rebuilding shattered communities. Our borders have always lain beyond this island, and we have fought wars to bring peace. The question is whether we are matching resources to tasks today: and we are not.

I am concerned at the systematic national devaluation of defence, reflected in the failure of successive governments to fund it properly. What other department—and some have been, if not profligate, incompetent—is required to produce a 3 per cent saving every year, while receiving pitifully small increases in its budget for people, as distinct from capital expenditure on equipment? If it were not for the superb professionalism of our Armed Forces, we could not have saved the day in Sierra Leone, as 17,500 UN troops—there at immense cost—continue not to do. If we had not been able to offer those troops both to keep the peace in Afghanistan and fight the war against Al'Qaeda, would we be listened to on vital issues affecting our interests in the Middle East and Afghanistan? I think not.

I am concerned not only by the imbalance between tasks and resources but by the many instances in which the Government have failed to keep faith with the implicit, as well as explicit and wholly natural, expectations of soldiers and their families. There have been too many examples of hope deferred and failed trust. Many Gulf War veterans are still waiting for help after over 11 years. Many service families are still waiting, seven years on, for the upgrading to decent living quarters that was promised by the Treasury on the sale of the married quarters estate. The saga of the Chinook still continues.

Not least there is the mysterious after-thought in the MoD about the scope and conditions for the ex gratia payments announced in November 2000 for former Far East prisoners. It was said that it had taken so long to make the announcement because the War Pensions Agency had to ensure that the regulations were watertight and no one missed out on payment. Under category D, surviving British civilians who were interned by the Japanese in the Far East during the Second World War were to qualify. Subsequently, in May 2001, the MoD produced a further eligibility criterion—presumably to save public money—requiring proof of a parent or grandparent born in the UK.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, has pointed out, that limiting criterion was applied well after the original statement was made. It has excluded a number of honourable and admirable British citizens. I know one of them personally and have the highest admiration for the service that she, like many others, has given the state since. They were all interned expressly because they were British citizens and held British passports. They are now old and frail. Any family records of their grandparents, who would have been born over a century ago, are long lost. We appear to be seeking a mean and despicable saving of money, at the expense of honour and trust. I hope that the Minister will assure us that that wrong will be righted.

We cannot place too high a value on the trust that the Armed Forces and their families ought to be able to place in their country. It could wear out one day, and we will not be able to play our trump card because the troops will not be there. They will have learnt that loyalty is not valued. Their families are weary of overstretch and the destruction of family life. There is already a serious problem with retention. If experienced NCOs leave, who will train the new recruits? Already, good officers doubt whether they have a serious future in a service that is constantly given new tasks, while being told to refocus its all-too-limited existing resources and even to make a 3 per cent saving.

The services will never complain; their tradition is, literally, to soldier on. They are highly skilled and, so far, highly motivated. They must not come to believe that they are not valued by their country. I know that the Armed Forces and the MoD are doing all that they can to listen to and work with families through the task force. A veterans' organisations has emerged from the Gulf War veterans' campaign. My concern is that the Government as a whole are prepared to use the forces as part of their political armoury, without being prepared to fight their corner for resources and a proper share of the national cake.

Over the past few years, the Armed Forces have become highly professional managers. I urge the Government to spend less on the many consultancies that infect the infrastructure and free the considerable sums that they cost to be spent by the services on real priorities.

It was heartening to see in the press recently an indication that Gibraltar may have been belatedly recognised as an indispensable defence resource—a naval base for future operations in Africa or the Middle East—where we have to retain absolute sovereignty. So far, our treatment of Gibraltar—another question of trust—amounts to no more than using it as a bargaining chip in the FCO's manoeuvres to secure Spain as an ally in EU in-fighting. It is an example of the short-termism of a government who seem incapable of thinking strategically. Here too the issue is trust and fair dealing. I have considerable respect for the Secretary of State and the Ministers who serve our Armed Forces. I believe they fight, and sometimes win, some notable battles behind the scenes for good sense and for the national interest.

On the other hand, the Government in general, and in particular my favourite friends the termites from the Treasury, are failing to understand the value of a highly professional and loyal asset. They believe they can continue to exploit the efficiency and loyalty of the services for short-term political ends while starving them of resources. Today's soldiers and possible recruits in future are bound to take note of how those who fought in earlier wars are being treated and to draw the conclusion that the nation does not value them.

Photo of Lord Sandberg Lord Sandberg Liberal Democrat 4:10, 15 May 2002

My Lords, although the debate is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord King, to whom we are very grateful, we should not forget that it was originated by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, to whom we should also pay respect. I have had the privilege of being on defence missions with him, and I can tell your Lordships that he is a most conscientious and enthusiastic member. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord King. We are pleased to have him with us and we look forward to more speeches of the sort he has just made in this House.

One of the encouraging aspects I have constantly found in various visits to our forces, both here and abroad, is the fantastic esprit de corps. It is most encouraging, and the criticisms that we all level at the Ministry of Defence for this and for that do not seem to have dented the pride which one finds in members of the Armed Forces. It is right for them to be proud, and it is nice to see it.

With actions in such disparate places as have already been mentioned—Sierra Leone and Kosovo, to say nothing of the never-ending position in Northern Ireland—it should be noted that such conflicts are fought against very different backgrounds. Our forces are always being faced with completely different situations, but they do very well indeed.

Inevitably this brings us to the issue of overstretch, a word of which we had not heard some years ago. It is often raised here. We have been told that we can cope with it, but I shall be grateful if the Minister will confirm that, despite the continuing number of places to which we send our forces, we can cope. We cannot forget the crucial problems of leave and the necessity of people being released for training.

As the noble Lord, Lord King, mentioned, it is a great pity that the Government in their wisdom, or lack of it, got rid of the Territorial Army, which had been a great source of strength to us as a back-up to our Armed Forces. It should also be remembered how good it had been for the youth of this country. They had been able to become not amateur soldiers but part-time soldiers, which brought a lot of pride to the country. I am not sure what we can do now, it is all a little late, but I am sure many of us wish wholeheartedly that the Government had not been, in my opinion, so short-sighted.

My second question relates to communications for our land forces. In the past we have been rather bedevilled by our perhaps correct insistence that our communications systems are our own rather than bought from abroad. I should be grateful if the Minister would enlighten us on this particular emphasis and on the timetable for our forces having a really reliable communications system. In the past we have had a system with the wonderful name of Long Bow and we are now going for a new system called Bowman. I am not quite sure what all these terminologies mean, but I do hope the Minister can tell us that the darn thing will work. That is very important. We really have been behind the times in this, but luckily so have other people. However, it is no excuse for us.

Another point which I wish to make relates to the tradition of close co-operation which we have had in the past with the older members of the Commonwealth such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. I hope that those traditions of close co-operation continue and will include newer members of the Commonwealth. There has been an enormous tradition of co-operation between the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal New Zealand Navy and our own Royal Navy, and one can extend that to the RAF and to land forces.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 4:15, 15 May 2002

My Lords, in the past few days we have been pleased to hear of the agreement between the United States and Russia for the scaling down of nuclear weapons. That is clearly good news. However, I believe it is very important to recognise that this is not necessarily a step towards the elimination of all nuclear weapons in the world.

The fact remains that war between nuclear powers is not possible in practice. I believe that even India and Pakistan probably realise that—I sincerely hope that they do. Nuclear weapons have kept the peace for the past half century and I believe and hope that they will continue to do so in terms of world wars for the next half-century.

I should like to say a few words about our own nuclear deterrent, because I think there is likely to be an increase in the never-ending pressure for the reduction, or indeed elimination, of our Trident submarine fleet with its nuclear capability. As your Lordships know, we now have four operational Trident submarines, the fourth of these having been commissioned in 2000. The total cost of establishing the Trident capability was some £12.5 billion. Of course, in present world circumstances we would probably not be undertaking that expenditure or be able to afford to do so. But having got the Trident fleet, I believe that we should keep it. One of the reasons we should keep Trident, apart from my earlier point, is its extraordinarily low cost. The total annual cost of keeping the whole Trident operation available for action is some £400 million, which is only 2 per cent of the total defence budget.

The word "only" implies a comparison. Normally the Ministry of Defence, when putting forward the case for expenditure, often makes comparisons between defence expenditure and expenditure on education, health and other major programmes. I should like to put the expenditure on nuclear deterrence in the context of another comparison. I would suggest legal aid. I imagine that your Lordships are well aware that the total cost of legal aid per year is £1.7 billion. Thus, legal aid costs four times as much as our nuclear deterrent. Indeed, our nuclear deterrent is only just over three times the £130 million annual legal aid cost for those asylum seekers who appeal against decisions reached not to grant them asylum. So I hope that that gives some indication of what good value we get for the £400 million that we spend on our nuclear deterrent.

Because I think that it cannot be said too often, when the Minister comes to wind up the debate, I invite him once again to confirm our commitment for the foreseeable future to our Trident deterrent force.

In my remaining four minutes I wish to talk about the position of defence in terms of world expenditure. Our own defence expenditure runs at around £25 billion, which represents around 2.5 per cent of GDP. It is quite convenient that British GDP is £1,000 billion because that makes percentage calculations easy.

Of course the top five countries in the world in terms of defence expenditure account for no less than 61 per cent of the total expenditure. Britain is number five. The United States is responsible for 36 per cent of the total. This underlines the emphasis placed by my noble friend Lord Black, in a remarkable maiden speech, on the enormous contribution made by the United States to the defence of the world.

Before the end of the Cold War it could have been said that most defence expenditure was made in the interests of the countries spending the funds. I believe that the major change which has taken place is that much of the world's defence expenditure is now being made for world purposes rather than just for self interest. I should like to suggest that the Government answer three questions. Who provides defence operations? Who pays for those operations? Should they be the same people?

I raised a similar point some weeks ago when we debated the situation in Afghanistan. Following that debate, the Minister was kind enough to write to me on 12th April because I had discussed the cost of the United Kingdom operations in Afghanistan, which so far is running at around £250 million per year. In the debate I had asked why we were paying for all that. I used the analogy of the Gulf War, where we recovered most of our costs from other Gulf states.

In his letter the Minister said that:

"I should also point out that the United Nations established a trust fund by which the International Community may contribute towards the costs of the International Security Assistance Force, although we have no plans to draw upon it at the moment".

I was rather surprised that we had no plans to draw upon it, but I have now read that the American Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, Mr Alan Larson, in giving evidence to the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, said on 14th March in reference to that fund—it may not still be the case; I should like to know—that,

"no donor has contributed to date and ISAF is self financing".

The point I wish to make is that I believe that we need a new approach to the funding of international military operations, in particular when they have been authorised or mandated by the United Nations. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take the initiative in launching such a new approach.

Photo of Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank Crossbench 4:24, 15 May 2002

My Lords, when the Strategic Defence Review was announced by the then Secretary of State for Defence, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, it was rightly praised. In advance of any other country, the Strategic Defence Review announced plans to restructure and produce defence forces appropriate for the times we lived in and ready to face the threats and challenges of the post-Cold War world. But even then there was great concern as regards funding. The defence budget was tight but, provided considerable unforeseen expenditure was not required, the forces could just about manage.

Unfortunately, as the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, and other noble Lords have pointed out, the level of commitments has continued to rise. The Armed Forces are now seriously under-funded for what they are being asked to do. The world seems to have become a more dangerous place and we cannot afford to be complacent about the levels of hollowing out within today's forces. Recruiting targets are not being met; ships and regiments are not properly manned; training is being reduced; and equipment is ageing and often not available. So far as defence is concerned, there has been, in effect, disinvestment. All this, I remind noble Lords, has been happening at a time when to many of us it appears that the threats to our security are becoming ever greater.

We should also remember that most of the operations in which we have been involved over the past few years have been relatively benign; that is, peace support operations. There can be no guarantee that that will always be the case. Within a short time our forces could become involved in much more serious war-fighting operations.

We understand only too well that defence planning is about taking risks. In my judgment, however, we have been lucky and the risks we are taking now have become very great. The margin between success and failure is now extremely narrow. And success, which we have come to expect and take for granted, along with the lives of our servicemen and women, could be hazarded.

An increase in the defence budget is needed to address the hollowing out of the armed services. It would also send the important message to the services that their efforts are appreciated by the Government. They have heard the rhetoric and now want defence to be properly funded. They do not want to be asked to go on "making do" the whole time.

Many servicemen and women are puzzled. They know their own Ministers both in this Government and their predecessors. Their own Ministers understand their problems and strongly advocate their case. But they still feel taken for granted. The Chancellor and the Treasury do not understand, do not listen, and show little or no interest in trying to understand one of the few institutions in this country which is still admired both at home and throughout the world. It may not be so admired for much longer if there is no increase in the defence budget. If the Government want defence to be a force for good—and I hope that they ir own Ministers understand their problems and strongly advocate their case. But they still feel taken for granted. The Chancellor and the Treasury do not understand, do not listen, and show little or no interest in trying to understand one of the few institutions in this country which is still admired both at home and throughout the world. It may not be so admired for much longer if there is no increase in the defence budget. If the Government want defence to be a force for good—and I hope that they ir own Ministers understand their problems and strongly advocate their case. But they still feel taken for granted. The Chancellor and the Treasury do not understand, do not listen, and show little or no interest in trying to understand one of the few institutions in this country which is still admired both at home and throughout the world. It may not be so admired for much longer if there is no increase in the defence budget. If the Government want defence to be a force for good—and I hope that they ir own Ministers understand their problems and strongly advocate their case. But they still feel taken for granted. The Chancellor and the Treasury do not understand, do not listen, and show little or no interest in trying to understand one of the few institutions in this country which is still admired both at home and throughout the world. It may not be so admired for much longer if there is no increase in the defence budget. If the Government want defence to be a force for good—and I hope that they Special forces are not so much about numbers as about capability. We probably have the best and most respected special forces in the world. We should keep them that way.

Photo of Lord Moynihan Lord Moynihan Conservative 4:31, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I am delighted to participate in this important debate which affords us the opportunity to cover so many key defence and security issues. As many noble Lords have said, our Armed Forces, who are deployed across the world, from Afghanistan to Kosovo and from Bosnia to Sierra Leone, have an outstanding professional reputation. I, too, wish to pay tribute to our troops for the distinction with which they have served, and continue to serve, in these operations, and to record the deep debt of gratitude which we in this country owe them.

The quality and readiness of our Armed Forces are recognised as among the best in the world. Yet this is a critical time for our Armed Forces and for our defence planning. The last decade saw efforts to sustain effective Armed Forces with the necessary equipment, training and manpower to meet the challenges of the post-Cold War era. Now the post-September 11th era has presented us with new and difficult challenges.

One of the indelible consequences of the terrible events of September 11th was the recognition that our security environment has changed. That change must now be factored into our defence planning and policy. Up until September 11th, many thought that we lived in a world with no direct threats to our and American security. We were wrong and we were not prepared. Although, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, stated, the post-Cold War strategic environment envisaged by the Strategic Defence Review has not transformed completely overnight, nevertheless I would argue that a paradigm shift has taken place. If we wish to continue to play a leading role in promoting international security and stability, it is vital that our defence policy be flexible and able to adapt as the contours of the international landscape change and as we are faced by new circumstances and new threats.

The Strategic Defence Review, now almost four years old, perhaps did not adequately take into account the threat from international terrorism and the growing likelihood of asymmetric action, and therefore it did not make homeland security a priority. Undoubtedly we will now need to make further adjustments to our Armed Forces, and, indeed, to the structure of policy formulation, in order to take account of these threats.

The reason we need to consider these issues is that more than 10 years after the collapse of the bipolar world, we find ourselves faced by a bewildering array of complex problems and diverse threats. Cut adrift from the perverse stability provided by the Cold War and the need to contain Soviet power, and faced by a tide of instability and conflict which seemed to sweep across a number of regions in the world over the past decade, we, together with our partners in the UN, in NATO and in the EU, have increasingly addressed the dilemma of humanitarian "wars of choice", the legitimate uses of military force other than in self-defence and the need to maintain peace in divided societies, in a world where inter-state atrocities progressively replaced the old paradigm of intra-state wars—Rwanda, East Timor, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and the Great Lakes region of Africa to name but a few.

At the same time, major contradictions in global society were also becoming apparent—contradictions between unprecedented peace and prosperity for some and protracted conflict and desperate poverty for others; and between rapid economic globalisation on the one hand and increasing political fragmentation on the other. In a world where globalisation was ensuring that our economies were integrating faster and on more levels than ever before, paradoxically the politics of separatism and nationalism were fragmenting societies and tearing them apart.

Yet time and time again we have failed to devote the same necessary resources to the resolution of the underlying causes of conflict as we do to the diplomatic and perceived military might used to end the fighting. Beyond the CNN headline-making appeal of waging and winning wars, the making and keeping of a permanent peace through the long, slow process of the restoration of a country or region, the reconstruction of its towns and villages, its businesses and communities, the revival of its spirit and its people were too often neglected.

Perhaps this explains why we have spent much of the decade in the Balkans, winning the war we had eventually chosen to fight and yet coming too close to losing the peace that we sought to impose, and which, indeed, has still to be won. It is a lesson that I am still not convinced we have learnt, even in the wake of September 11th. It is one that I hope the new chapter of the SDR will address.

Upon this landscape, September 11th literally exploded and changed that perception overnight. As Ashton B. Carter put it in the journal, International Security:

"on 11 September, 2001, the post-Cold War security bubble finally burst".

September 11th has thus opened a new chapter in our foreign policy and in our defence policy. We are now engaged in a new kind of war against a far different kind of enemy from any the country has previously known. Our definition of national security must include homeland security and must strike the right balance between the contribution that our Armed Forces should make to home defence on the one hand and to countering threats abroad on the other.

While the campaign in Afghanistan has been successful on many levels, we should not forget that it has potentially stopped only one powerful, dangerous and well-financed terrorist organisation. It is a victory indeed, but it is no more than the closing of the first chapter in the coalition against international terrorism. It will not be the end of the story. It does not decrease the threat of attack from any one of the many proscribed terrorist groups which have been born out of hatred and religious fervour.

Nor does it touch on our wider objective to do everything to eliminate the threat posed by international terrorism. This front of the war can be won only by pooling resources to establish a co-ordinated, unified, military response—indeed, an international response—against terror and the tactics of terror, built on the vital importance of the special relationship referred to by my noble friend Lord Black.

Military solutions can go only so far in defeating the enemy. The Afghan campaign was a success in that it toppled the sponsors of terrorism, the Taliban. The CIA estimates that only some 25 to 30 per cent of Al'Qaeda cells have been wrapped up. I agree with the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, in that regard. Intelligence and broad international co-operation are critical to draining the swamp. One only has to think of the September 11th hijackers operating out of terrorist cells in Hamburg. This is a challenge which can be effectively tackled only by a long-term approach that incorporates the full range of civilian and military means at our disposal.

Photo of Lord Hardy of Wath Lord Hardy of Wath Labour 4:39, 15 May 2002

My Lords, the House has made clear that it is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King, for initiating the debate and for the important contribution that he has made to it. He recognised, as does the rest of the House, that the commitment and endeavour of our servicemen have allowed the United Kingdom to play a responsible part in world councils.

None of our European partners can make such a claim. There was a Question in the House the other day about the invigilation of prospective new member states into NATO to establish whether they could make a contribution. One wonders what contribution the countries which questioned such capability make themselves.

The events of 11th September suggest that we not only have to revise the SDR policy in the United Kingdom but also see a more realistic contribution to security within Europe. Those who call for the second pillar in Europe cannot expect to be listened to with respect unless they also accept that Europe must make a greater contribution. They should not continue to rely on and then ignore the fact that it has long depended and still depends on the American umbrella.

September 11th may require the Government to reappraise the situation but Britain should look at the matter in a more bipartisan way. There is today a flimsiness and sometimes an infantilism in the British media. In the past few days one would have thought that because the Taliban and Al'Qaeda did not enter into a shooting match with the Royal Marines somehow or other the situation has turned into a 21st century version of the retreat from Kabul. The fact that the Al'Qaeda and Taliban kept out of the way of the Royal Marines, and that the Royal Marines obtained and secured a very substantial amount of ordnance which the Taliban and Al'Qaeda could easily have removed if they had wished, had they not been opposed, seems to have been ignored.

I am reminded of the fact that at one of the frostiest times of the Cold War, I visited a Royal Air Force operational station to find that flying hours had been cut dramatically. Indeed, the aircraft were being flown far less than the Auxiliary Air Force flew aircraft just before the Second World War. A journalist who worked for one of the more popular newspapers said, "The story is red hot". I said, "Yes, it is, but your newspaper won't publish it", and it did not.

One should give credit to Her Majesty's Government. After all, the Jaguar aircraft have been upgraded; so have the Tornadoes; the C-17 has been acquired and has been used perhaps a great deal more than the Government anticipated not long ago. The helicopter provision has been generous. The Navy is getting aircraft carriers. Enormous steps have been taken to try to deal with the problem of poaching which, as many noble Lords have said, is a serious problem. We have to take it even more seriously. For example, I would say to the directors of any company which engages in poaching and ignores the reasonable deals that the services have offered that it will not receive any recognition or honour while their company behaves in that way.

However, time passes and I want to follow an important point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, about the red and green spear. Young men wanting to join the Army or Navy now wish to join the Paras, or the Special Air Service or the Marines. Those units attract attention. The enormous potential and the historic tradition of our line regiments—perhaps the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, will allow me to refer to regiments such as the Green Howards which recruit in my home area—are now regarded as second best. That is a very dangerous position. The line regiments are often of high quality. They may have inadequacies in manpower as a result of poaching or whatever, but we have to ensure that their standing and tradition are maintained and that they are not regarded as merely a sort of reserve should the Paras and the Marines not deliver the goods.

Recruitment is important. I believe that one way in which we could improve recruitment, apart from taking firm action to deter poaching, is to build up our cadet organisations. As I said in a debate in this House last week, I am involved in a modest way in the Air Training Corps Squadron. The youngsters whom we are sending into the services, not only the Royal Air Force, are of enormously high quality. They are already committed before they enter. They have relevant experience before they become part of the adult force. In my view we are not devoting very many resources to them. We spend vast sums of money on television advertising campaigns and yet we are then not likely to attract the same high quality young people.

I could tell the House—time does not allow me to do so—of the numbers of youngsters from my area who have joined the Royal Air Force in the past 12 months. The air force is getting a very good deal. It may not be the same in every part of the country but the potential is there. It is not only the services which benefit; the community benefits from seeing good young people made excellent because of the commitment, experience and opportunities that are offered.

We should see an enhanced effort by the United Kingdom to persuade our partners in the councils of Europe to make a more realistic contribution. They cannot expect Britain to bear burdens to which they should more equitably contribute. I hope that we shall maintain that position. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord King, has given us an opportunity to make these comments today.

Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative 4:45, 15 May 2002

My Lords, few Members of your Lordships' House have fathers alive and, I believe, none has grandfathers or great-grandfathers. Therefore, we have to rely on our knowledge and experience and on what we may have been taught by others. But none of us should doubt the knowledge, competence and background of my noble friend Lord King. It is most appropriate that he introduced the Motion today.

My own grandfather won the Sword of Honour at the Britannia Royal Naval College, served in the Mediterranean fleet, was invalided out with "Malta Dog" and then, in the First World War, wishing to help, became a private ambulance driver and a stretcher bearer. Towards the end of the Second World War, when I came back from Canada and the States, he would suddenly wake up and say, "We must go on an expedition today. It is a suitable day for an expedition". I would say, "Grandpa, what's an expedition?" He said, "It's going forth with martial intentions. It's a warlike enterprise".

The purpose of expeditions and expeditionary forces is to go out in order to create peace. I found this difficult to understand when we were surrounded near Newbury in the country by German prisoners of war, Jewish immigrants and land girls. I have thought about this. Is what we are about today concerned with peace? I am one of the most lowly members, a vice patron, of the Atlantic Council which is made up of NATO members and members of other countries. Its purpose at present is to raise money to recruit teachers and others to advise on the value of peace to those who do not know the dangers of war. It involves lecturing in schools at a time when the Government have decided to cut our funding. It builds a very close relationship with the United States.

I was moved by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Black of Crossharbour. It made me think of the serious losses suffered by combined operations in the last war, for example, at Dieppe when 60 per cent of all the Canadian forces who crossed the Channel failed to come back. I recall too the Canadians who were lost recently to friendly fire in the mountains; and our own troops who were lost to friendly fire.

This is the International Year of the Mountains. With the Swiss ambassador, I have the honour to be co-chairman of the Committee of the Year of the Mountains. I thought back to the dangers of mountain warfare and to Sun Tzu who, in the Art of War 500 BC, said,

"Do not climb heights in order to fight".

Even Napoleon advised one that in mountain warfare the assailant was always at a disadvantage.

My experience relates to Cyprus, EOKA terrorism, and friends in Kenya. Overall we have enormous historic experience which has been passed down through generations in the Armed Forces. Whether one talks about the relief of Mafeking, Thomas Cook, with whom I worked at Midland Bank—he had to arrange for the British Expeditionary Force to go up the Nile in order to try to look after General Gordon—or the troubles in Afghanistan, it matters not. That knowledge and experience remains within our Armed Forces. Our problem with expeditionary forces is that when we send them they are meant to do something expeditiously and then withdraw. The difficulty today is that when we get to the area we find it difficult to go backwards.

We have knowledge and experience which is not available to the United States. I have previously declared another family relationship. I have three nephews in the United States. My sister is there. One was in the SEALS, one was in the Rangers, and the job of the third was to get his boss, Senator Glenn, back into space. They are not the important eyes and ears of the noble Lord, Lord Black, but they are a little closer to the ground. Although they have left those forces, they say that what was best about working with the British was gaining historic knowledge.

I turn to Afghanistan. I should explain that I chaired a previous government's Committee for Middle East Trade. I would never go to fight the Afghanis. They can copy any gun in the book. Indeed, we had a major disaster in Afghanistan. But perhaps I may tell noble Lords a simple story about the time when the British expeditionary forces were in that country. At night, the tepees would be set, the guns crossed in front of a fire, and the sentries stationed on guard to look after everyone. But the Afghanis learnt the lingo. They could surreptitiously encourage a sentry, in the English language, to leave the camp. They would then take the guns away and copy them.

My Russian friends have explained that it is a dangerous area to be in; indeed, Napoleon was warned about the dangers associated with the mountains. We probably have the only forces in the world with mountaineering capability, but we must be able to get our expeditionary forces to such places. If the politics are not right, the ability to land such troops by air will be most difficult. I served in the navy. After that wonderful presentation by the Royal Navy the other day, the role of the British Army should—as Jacky Fisher said—be that of a projectile to be fired by the British navy.

Photo of Lord Inge Lord Inge Crossbench 4:51, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for initiating this debate. We are not talking about the European defence and security policy initiative this afternoon. However, when we discuss the matter on Monday, I hope that noble Lords will take note of the important remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Black of Crossharbour.

The United Kingdom appears to take great pride in its Armed Forces. They certainly score well in public opinion polls. But that pride is not reflected in the funding that they need and deserve. I found it very disappointing that there was no mention of defence in the Chancellor's Budget Statement. I agree with my noble and gallant friend Lord Guthrie that the defence Ministers give the defence forces strong support. However, that support is certainly not reflected in the attitude of the Chancellor or the Treasury.

The end of the Cold War greatly reduced the direct threat to this country. There is also a feeling that military operations in the future will be small-scale—like peace enforcement, peacekeeping, or crisis management—without people realising the complexity and danger of such operations. That has led to a complacency in government about the importance of properly funding our Armed Forces. In a way, our Armed Forces are paying the price for their own success on a wide range of operations. It would be very foolish to take that operational success for granted, because already very serious gaps are developing in our military capabilities. We might get a very nasty shock. We should never forget that, once allowed to run down, military capabilities take years to build back both in terms of people and in terms of equipment.

As many other noble Lords have said, the two immediate problems facing our Armed Forces are very significant under-funding and serious over-stretch, which are leading to the loss of some very important skilled people. The fundamental problem is that our Armed Forces are too small for the many operational tasks placed upon them. Severe cuts have been made in the defence budget since the end of the Cold War on the assumption that the world would become a safer place, and certainly before the threats to our security became a little clearer, although I believe that it would be foolish to predict with any certainty how those threats will develop.

I suggest that we should expect the unexpected and recognise that we need in place a wide range of military and other capabilities in order to give Her Majesty's Government the widest range of options for their use. I hope that the new chapter of the Strategic Defence Review will give thought to the spectrum of operational tasks that they might face. Each campaign is different—I have in mind, for example, the Falkland Islands, the Gulf War, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and the fight against international terrorism. Each campaign writes its own individual script. Indeed, what is around the corner in Iraq, in Somalia, in the Yemen, or in the Sudan?

The Strategic Defence Review rightly emphasised the need to improve our ability to project military power. However, it is now very clear that that review was seriously under funded. That under funding has already led to major cuts being made in the equipment programme; and there are more to come. This major funding problem has been made much worse by the 3 per cent savings demanded year upon year.

I recognise that some important programmes remain, like the replacement for the CVR series of vehicles, and the new aircraft carriers, but others have suffered. As we have seen in newspaper reports for at least six years, the Fleet will not have an effective defensive air capability. Many of the other programmes that have been cut seem small in themselves; but, taken as a whole, they add up to a very serious reduction in fighting capability, particularly for the Army. I find the public/private partnership for the Royal Air Force's air-to-air refuelling tankers a very doubtful arrangement for such an important operational capability.

Put another way, we are accepting that we are prepared to order our servicemen and women to go on operations and risk their lives without the best possible equipment. On top of that, training has been cut back, serious risks are being taken over operational logistic support, and the quality of both single and married accommodation is awful in too many locations.

I hope that the new chapter of the Strategic Defence Review will have the courage to address the gaps that there are in equipment, in training, and in operational logistic support. The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, rightly pointed out the dangers of a 1st and 2nd XI army. I should just tell the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, that I have never included my own regiment in the 2nd XI.

As my noble and gallant friend Lord Guthrie said, Ministers will have recognised the quality and worth of our special forces, and would like more—something, frankly, we have been trying to achieve for most of my military service. But like the noble and gallant Lord, I believe that it would be a fundamental mistake to reduce the high standard of probably the best special forces in the world in order to increase their numbers. Also, special forces are best employed at the strategic level, which is where the best operational results can be achieved. I hope that the Ministry of Defence will not make the mistake of using them at the tactical level.

There is much talk about new roles for the Territorial Army and the reserve forces. A key role remains the reinforcement of the regular Army, including the thousand or so men and women who they provide regularly—and very commendably—to bolster the regular Army. Following the events of 11th September, there could also be a very important role for them to play in what I would call "home/civil defence". I do not just mean a guarding role. I suggest that a very exciting role could be developed for them. "Exercise Brave Defender" in 1985 showed what the Territorial Army is capable of achieving.

In conclusion, I believe that we have much to learn from the results of 11th September, and from the other threats to our security. I am well aware that they are wider than just military. We need to consider very seriously the improvements that our Armed Forces need to meet the wider range of threats posed by international terrorism. But it will undoubtedly mean more money, and probably larger Armed Forces.

Photo of Lord Lyell Lord Lyell Conservative 4:58, 15 May 2002

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. I should like to begin by saying how grateful I am to my noble friend Lord King for giving us the chance to hear such excellent speeches—above all, the notable maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Black. Like that organ of the press Private Eye, I thought that surely there was some mistake: first, I find myself so high up the batting list; and, secondly, there is so much time available to us. When I looked at the list of speakers yesterday, I understood that we would have just three minutes each for our speeches. I hope that that is the time that my remarks will take. If there is any spare time available, I trust that other noble and gallant Lords will be able make use of it.

We have heard an enormous spread in virtually three dimensions around the world on the subject of defence. I should like to remind your Lordships, literally, of what the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, mentioned about the 2nd XI. In February of this year, the House of Lords defence group went to visit the training centre of the Royal Logistics Corps at Blackdown. We enjoyed the most fascinating visit. We met the young men and women whom I call "the unsung heroes"; namely, those training for the fire force. Youngsters are taught to be in the first line of emergency—sorting out fires anywhere within a military base—before the professional firemen arrive. Although they might be amateurs at heart, they behave in a most professional way.

We also visited the Pioneers. When I was a young soldier, I seem to remember, the Pioneer sergeant was the only man in my battalion who was allowed to grow a beard. He had crossed axes on his sleeve. What he used them for I was able to see at Blackdown. Anyone who has seen television reports of what our Armed Forces put up with, what they do and what they are able to achieve, both in military terms and for the civilian population in the Balkans, will appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, and I were able to see that day. We also saw the various other aspects of the Royal Logistics Corps.

The most interesting aspect of our visit was in the afternoon. We found that every single one of the young men and women in that corps at that depot are not there merely to get on with their training—they do their training all round the country. They come to Blackdown to become soldiers. That is the important first duty. We found young men and women doing all the things that I was trying to do 45 years ago as young platoon commander at Hythe, Warminster or at Pirbright Ranges, but they were superbly trained, keen and very articulate. As the Army advertisement on television expresses it: "Be the best". These were young men and women who were already good, and who were being turned into excellent members of the Armed Forces. Indeed, they were no 2nd XI or lower order batsman. We see what Mr Eriksson can do with his young men when team members go down with injuries. One finds that the supposed 2nd XI are the ones who save the bacon on a particular day, as we hope they will.

Last year, I was suddenly alerted to a tea party in your Lordships' Dining Room, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, invited me to join those present. I found a group of 20 young men from 800 and 801 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service, based at Yeovilton. What they told me was particularly relevant to the comments of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, about Sea Harriers. I shall not blow the trumpet of the House of Lords Defence Group, but if your Lordships care to look, you will find that there is a visit planned to the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton, directly as a result of the keenness and vigour of those young men.

They are very much concerned about Sea Harriers. As the noble and gallant Lord pointed out, there was a debate on these matters in another place a week ago. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm the following to me in writing, because we are pushed for time in this debate. Am I right in thinking that there are about 17 active FA2 Sea Harriers? How many GR7s and GR9s will be replacing them over a period of time, or perhaps eventually, possibly in 2004, when the Sea Harrier may be phased out.

I was interested to note the use of the splendid word "marinisation" in relation to the Joint Strike Force. I believe it was used by the Minister's colleague. I wondered whether this was something about which I should consult Mr Bibbiani in the Refreshment Department, but I believe it is something to do with making the Joint Strike Fighter adaptable to carrier-borne activities. Perhaps the Minister will be able to alert me to that at a later stage.

Can the Minister reassure me on a further point? Is it in the Government's plans to withdraw the Sea Harriers from active duty from 2004. Is everything to happen all at once? Perhaps the Minister can inform me—indeed, I may have missed some information given by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in another place last week—as to what might replace them? If the Minister can help me over this matter at a later stage, I shall be grateful. Meanwhile, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord King for introducing the debate and I look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour 5:04, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I contribute with some hesitation to a debate on the Armed Forces of which, apart from two years' National Service some 40 years ago, I have no direct experience. I exclude an interesting day out a couple of years ago when I was invited to join the saluting stand at an Army apprentices passing out parade at Arborfield, Berkshire, where apprentices receive training for the first 19 weeks before going on to the technical corps. I recall that 20 per cent of them were young women. The commanding officer said to me over lunch: "They get here with their rear end hanging out of their trousers, but when they leave they go to join their technical corps with great pride in the future". I was able to confirm that in conversation with them. That is one of the great pluses that the Armed Forces contribute to society.

The first point I want to make from the perspective of a non-specialist may be self-evident. Everyone who takes an intelligent interest in the affairs of the country knows that there is a tremendous question of "stretch" in the Armed Forces at the present time. Members of this House need not think that the message has not got through. It got through loud and clear some time ago—as has another point which specialists may think that non-specialists have not taken on board when indeed they have. I refer to the tremendous consciousness of the level of professionalism in our Armed Forces and the pride that the whole country takes in them.

However, a key question was left dangling in the air by the noble Lord, Lord King, in his interesting introductory remarks. In referring to overstretch, he said that there must be a limit. Must there? Is there? Can there be? What if there is not? The whole world cannot become a British protectorate. But somehow it must become a world protectorate, as my noble friend Lord Desai hinted. That is the challenging agenda we are inevitably asked to set ourselves these days.

Can we run the whole world? The Prime Minister was paid some back-handed compliments vis-à-vis his speech to the Labour conference. But it reflected a great deal of our history, going back to the British Empire. A large number of people in this country tuned in to what the Prime Minister was saying about many parts of the world and about our responsibility. We have only to think about all the charities to which we give money and all the people—from the Churches through to the trade unions—who have connections around the world. It is not surprising, given our cultural history, that that should be the case.

A further point has not been made so far but must enter into the debate. In the world system—and without a doubt in the United Nations system—there are now more and more global benchmarks for international and national behaviour. There are rules governing not merely economic questions of trade and investment but freedom of speech, good governance and so on.

A number of years ago, I worked briefly in Sierra Leone. At that time, many of the locals would say in private that the only time they had good governance was when the British were there. Is the implication that we have to be there again now for a long time? These questions do not go away. They will become more prevalent in the world that we must all run together.

Another contradiction in the debate relates to the problem of overstretch. I was rather provoked by the important maiden speech—I am being no more controversial than he was—of the noble Lord, Lord Black. He said that we have a great degree of commitment to the leadership of the United States. That is not in doubt. But in the context of a debate regarding the limit of stretch in our Armed Forces, would Iraq be an exception? We must have some consistency in our view as to the criteria for entering new areas.

On the politics of that, perhaps I may say—without wishing to enter into a debate about Iraq—that I was in Turkey last week as part of a delegation to Ankara. It was obvious that our friends in Turkey see the situation in Israel/Palestine as a priority. That is the view even in a very pro-Western part of the Middle East. I do not think that the American characterisation, at least as described by the noble Lord, Lord Black, would be very fair, as seen by some of those countries.

There is a certain schizophrenia about Europe in the American mindset. Obviously, we take a certain disdain from America about anything that goes on over here as quite normal. After all, it happened in 1944. We have to build up the European capability and not take a grudging attitude. I welcome the much more positive attitude that we all seem to be taking—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—to the European rapid reaction force. That point is mentioned in a Select Committee report to be debated next week. The Laeken declaration provides for a 180,000 Helsinki target capability to be sustained. That is 60,000 troops with a two-month timescale at any time.

We need to look at the GDP per head contributions of some countries. Our figure is 2.4, similar to that of France. Some countries are up with us, but the figure for the Netherlands is 1.9, for Italy 1.9, for Germany 1.6, for Denmark 1.5, for Belgium 1.4 and so on. That needs to be examined.

Finally, the report that we have just completed on the Balkans shows that the EU countries together spend £1 billion a year on aid to that region and £5 billion a year on security there. If we want to talk down security expenditure in the Balkans, we have to talk up all the other involvement. Does my noble friend agree that that message often arises in such trade-offs with regard to stretch of the Armed Forces?

Photo of Lord Burnham Lord Burnham Conservative 5:12, 15 May 2002

My Lords, it is not the convention of your Lordships' House for speakers other than the succeeding speaker to congratulate a maiden speaker, but I cannot resist doing so on the grounds that the first action of the noble Lord, Lord Black, on taking control of the Daily Telegraph, at nine o'clock on a Monday morning, was to sack me. I think he was probably right. I have been sacked regularly ever since. In that context, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandberg, for his remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Black, cannot say this as the proprietor, but the armed services owe a great deal to the Daily Telegraph and to its reporters and commentators, headed by Sir John Keegan, for their work in supporting the forces and looking into their problems.

We have heard a wide range of views. I am sorry that we have not heard from the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, on heavy lift or from my noble friend Lord Freeman on the Territorial Army to complete the picture. The most startling comments that I have heard this afternoon were the frightening views expressed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie. Those views are particularly startling and frightening in the light of all that we have heard coming out of the Ministry of Defence over the past three years.

We know that the professionalism and devotion to duty of our Armed Forces is undoubted. The Marines and the Parachute Regiment have worked magnificently, but there is a limit to how much they can do. I stress that the Government are in real danger of asking them to do too much. I entirely support the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, and one or two others in saying that there is a serious danger of inculcating a "them and us" mentality, which is bad for morale in those units that may consider themselves left out.

The Ministry of Defence needs to look at its recruiting policy. Regiments that are successful in recruiting are not allowed to keep their recruits if the number exceeds a certain low establishment figure. The Coldstream Guards are suffering particularly from that. After more than 200 years, there still seems to be a failure to recognise that men do not join the Army—they join the Coldstream Guards, the Black Watch, the Border Regiment, REME or whatever. That is what they want to do. They do not want to be sent elsewhere.

The other failure is to realise that if a man joins the Army, he wants to join it now. The concentration of almost all the initial infantry training at Catterick has meant that the facilities there are incapable of handling the numbers wanting to come in. In consequence, there is often a waiting period during which men go off and do something else. That could largely be resolved by designating one battalion for, say, three years as a training battalion. That might not be popular in some quarters, but it would undoubtedly improve the long-term manning problems of that battalion. It would be extraordinary if the sergeants did not hive off a percentage of the recruits for their own regiment, particularly if they were footballers.

The recruiting problem is serious and retention is worse. Some simple actions could improve the recruiting problem. Efforts should also be made to get the right quality of recruit. There is a serious shortage of computer-literate, IT-trained, fit men coming in. Maybe it is the fault of the general education system, but the armed services are being forced to do work that should be unnecessary to bring men up to the basic standards that they require.

I have talked largely about quality. Quantity is another matter. We cannot go on sorting out the affairs of the world without the co-operation of the Treasury. It has been said, probably rightly, that the two chief enemies that our forces have to face are the Treasury and the Foreign Office. A number of noble Lords have commented on the problems. I am afraid that it is inevitably necessary to quote Kipling:

"For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!'

But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot". The Government do not seem to realise that the guns are shooting. Apart from all the normal suspects, Sierra Leone must be likely to blow up again at any moment. The UN troops there are better than they were, but many of them do not have the necessary expertise. For example, the Jordanian forces have little opportunity to practise jungle warfare at home. If Sierra Leone blows up when the results of the general election are seen, who is likely to be called in? The British, probably. The problems in the Middle East also show no sign of abating. We must suspect that if it is necessary to bring in the United Nations, NATO or the European rapid reaction force, the British will have to oblige. We do not have the men, let alone the materials.

Closely allied to the question of men is that of materials. The Armed Forces must have the right toys to play with. They would prefer them to be home made, but the most important thing is that they should work. In the course of this debate, all the normal problems have been mentioned. It will be interesting to hear the Minister's reply. It is important that we know more about the Sea Harriers, the Type 45s, Bowman—although that is now largely a joke—heavy lift and the current situation with the Germans and the A400M, and Challenger 2. The list goes on.

Photo of Lord Chalfont Lord Chalfont Crossbench 5:19, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I must first join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord King, for introducing this debate. There are few Members of this House better equipped to initiate such a debate than the noble Lord. He has done it with his customary incisiveness and forethought. He has also given us the opportunity to have a debate which has been to some extent very geo-strategic or geo-political. It has ranged widely over a number of international matters, none more geo-political than the remarkable and refreshing maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Black. I am afraid that I shall narrow the focus a little and simply ask the Minister some direct questions about our Armed Forces.

The foundation of the Government's defence policy is the Strategic Defence Review of 1998, widely regarded—as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, said—as a positive and constructive contribution to thinking about the organisation and operational doctrine of our Armed Forces. It remained valid, with relatively minor adjustments, until the White Paper of 2001. Then came the notorious 11th September, and with it the need for another serious reassessment. The Government are undertaking this reassessment, and I understand that we can soon expect the results of that in a new chapter to the Strategic Defence Review, which will presumably set out the Government's view on whether we need to make further adjustments to our forces to meet the threats of terrorism and what are now known as asymmetric threats.

I should say in passing that I have some reservations about the need for a public discussion about this subject. Defence is a highly complex, technical and specialised matter which demands not public discussion, but the advice of trained people with professional expertise, followed by decision-making at the highest political level. However, the discussion document does have the merit of indicating how the Government's thinking is developing, and it seems likely that the new chapter will focus on expeditionary forces and the war against terrorism as important elements of future defence policy. If this is so, there are—as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, said—some serious financial implications, especially in the field of equipment procurement.

I should like to ask the Minister whether he can give the House some reassurance about this. Is the funding of the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier task force programme, which is at the heart of our expeditionary force concept, secure? It postulates some very high expenditure well into the future. I wonder whether, in the context of the current and foreseen defence budget, he can guarantee, or at least assure us, that that equipment programme is secure.

In the Royal Air Force, what is the position about the tanker aircraft? Can the Minister say whether it is true, as is widely said, that the tanker fleet will depend on a public/private partnership—which seems a strange way of funding and controlling an essential element in the organisation of our Armed Forces? In-flight refuelling was a vital part of the air war in Afghanistan, and it is likely to be a vital part of any future expeditionary force. I should like an assurance that its funding is secure.

In the Army, too, there is some anxiety about the future. Are the Government happy with the concept of the multiple-role armoured vehicle, the European concept of a tank, which does not seem to be designed for use in an expeditionary force role? Is not the MRAV as currently conceived too heavy to be air-transportable? If so, it does not seem to have much place in an expeditionary force role. Would it not be better to invest more heavily in the future rapid effects vehicle—the FRES—proposed by Vickers Defence Systems? Here perhaps I should declare an interest, although a long past one now, as a former chairman of Vickers, at the time when we built the four Trident submarines which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, defended so spiritedly today.

To all this must be added a requirement which is essential in modern warfare—ISR: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance—as the noble Lord, Lord King, said in opening. As military doctrine moves away from the familiar concept of the armoured division towards that of the rapidly deployable brigade combat group, armies are going to need technologically advanced and very expensive broadband communication networks. They are very, very expensive. Are the Government ready to invest in them?

A look at the 2002 defence budget does not inspire much confidence. The Budget does not pay a great deal of attention to defence, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, is one of the most important of our public services. It is true that £155 million has been allocated to urgent operational requirements, but that is pocket money in the context of long-term defence spending. I shall, if I may, mention just one of the important statistics. The Treasury's estimate of government spending for 2002-03—total managed expenditure, as it is called—is estimated at £418 billion. Of this, £195 billion—46 per cent—is allocated to health and social services, whereas £24 billion—just over 5 per cent—is for defence.

I ask the Minister whether, in the current and future international security climate, that seems to be a reasonable allocation of resources. If questions of health, education and social security have priority, they may soon become very largely academic unless we devote more resources and more money to defence. The Government's initial election manifesto promised a strategic review to,

"consider how the roles, missions and capabilities of our armed forces should be adjusted to meet the new strategic realities".

So far, the Government have fulfilled that undertaking, and they clearly intend to continue to do so with their new chapter. However, the price of implementing the new chapter will be a very high one. Are the Government prepared to pay it?

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative 5:27, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord King on giving us a chance to discuss this important topic. I shall take up the important general point which he raised about overstretch and seek the Minister's reassurance on two specific points, the first of which is the failure of the Government's recruiting policy. The persistent undermanning of our Armed Forces is adding to the overstretch which is causing such difficulty for those serving in our Armed Forces.

In March, I had the chance to visit Nepal, an unhappy country where, for some months—as more people in this country have recently begun to notice—there has been a state of near civil war. My visit included the town of Pokhara, where the British Army Gurkha recruiting base is located. I was able to visit the base itself and discuss matters with the British Army officers stationed there. They were extremely helpful, kind, courteous and answered all my undoubtedly amateurish questions, and they also told me some truly astonishing facts. The first was that, each October, as the annual recruiting season begins, the base receives the names of no fewer than 25,000 people who wish to serve in the British Army. Of those, 800 are selected to come to Pokhara for training. Of those, 200 to 250 are taken into the Army, and 550 to 600 sadly are sent away.

There are, as I understand it, currently about 3,500 Gurkha soldiers in a British Army of about 100,000. Surely there must be a case for bridging at least some of our recruitment gap by increasing the number of Gurkhas in the Army. They make soldiers of competence and ability and have been proven over many years. It is not as if there is a reluctance on the part of the Government to recruit overseas. Recruiting is going on vigorously, apparently, in the West Indies and in the South Pacific, notably in Fiji. I tabled a Question for Written Answer, which the noble Lord, Lord Bach, kindly answered on 29th April, concerning the number of Fijians who have been recruited into the British Army in the past few years. There were 472 in 2000 and 364 in 2001.

Cultural differences are much sharper for Fijians as they serve as individuals. Imagine leaving Fiji in the South Seas and becoming the only Fijian in a rifle company serving in Northern Ireland. No wonder there are anecdotal concerns about loneliness, discipline, etcetera, none of which need apply to the Gurkhas because they are unit based. But why—perhaps the Minister can tell me this—are we recruiting more Fijians now than Gurkhas?

I turn to the vexed issue of Gurkha pensions. A case led by a certain eminent lady barrister now contends that Gurkha personnel should have the same pension as British Army personnel. At first sight that may seen only right and fair. But the reality appears rather different. A Gurkha rifleman serves for 15 or, at the most, 17 years, after which he receives a pension. As he begins his service at the age of 18, he is on pension by the time he is in his mid-thirties. The pension is about £80 per month—£1,000 per annum—which by UK standards does not seem a great deal. But these people live in Nepal not the United Kingdom. By comparison, the House might like to know that a school teacher in Nepal after a full career gets a pension of £40 per month—half that of an ex-Gurkha who in any case receives it some 25 years earlier.

The impact of the money from the British Army received in Nepal by both serving and retired personnel is critical to that poor country, wedged as it is between India and China, both struggling for regional advantage. I refer also to the impact of entrepreneurial activity. Many taxi companies, restaurants, guesthouses and trekking companies are run by people who have served in the Army and have used their training to begin a business after they retire. Those people are, of course, a valuable source of technical expertise. There is a large Gurkha engineering squadron in the British Army and the skills learnt there provide expertise in road building, construction, water supply and electricity connection—all vitally needed in Nepal.

My concern is that if the pension case is successfully prosecuted, there will no doubt be a dramatic increase in the costs of using Gurkhas in the British Army. The "money men" in the Treasury—the "termites", as my noble friend Lady Park called them—will then no doubt begin to question the value of recruiting Gurkhas. That could bring to an end a relationship which has been, and will continue to be, of enormous value to both sides at both a national and an individual level. What may have begun as a well meaning gesture may have a completely different conclusion—the law of unintended consequences working with a vengeance. I look forward to hearing the Minister giving us the up-to-date position on the pension issue, on the recruiting policy as it affects Gurkhas and Fijians and on the shortage of recruits in the Army generally.

The second point I wish to deal with relates to the impact of overstretch on individual servicemen. I refer to the frequency with which emergency unaccompanied overseas tours are now having to be taken as referred to by my noble friend Lord King. It is not just a question of the frequency of tours but also of worries about the quality of recreational facilities and opportunities to communicate with home via the phone or the Internet during those tours. Those facilities appear modest and menial by comparison with those of other nations in the UN forces and are of concern.

I too have heard the anecdotal evidence referred to by my noble friend Lord King about troops being rotated between units so that the 24-month gap commitment can be maintained. That must be a distinction without a difference. When I tried a year ago to discover exactly what the position was as regards individual servicemen, I received the astonishing reply from the predecessor of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, that individual service records were not kept because the cost of so doing would be prohibitive. That is an astonishing admission and one that no company in the private sector would get away with. When I raised the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in a debate nine months later he said that,

"recording separated service for all service personnel is now a key objective of the Armed Forces' personnel strategy".—[Official Report, 16/01/02; col. 1111.]

I hope very much that when the noble Lord replies to the debate he will tell us that it is no longer a key objective as it has been done or will give us a timetable to indicate when we shall know exactly who has had to serve overseas and how frequently. Without that information we shall not be able to set to rest the rumours and we shall not be able to ensure that the specialist troops we badly need stay within the Armed Forces.

Photo of Lord Bramall Lord Bramall Crossbench 5:35, 15 May 2002

My Lords, so much that has needed to be said on defence has been said this afternoon and most excellently. Indeed, it has been said over and over again in the past few years. Where credit has been due, I like to think that praise has been generously given. But when there have been shown to be manifest weaknesses and shortcomings to be criticised, not much, if any, notice seems to have been taken particularly over the fundamental problem which has invariably been, and remains today, that of money, as so many noble Lords have said.

In the past this Government have tended to play down, if not rule out, funding aspects as not being really relevant to the solution of this or that problem. But this fallacy has been exposed by the public arguments about the National Health Service in which Ministers from the Prime Minister downwards have made it clear that what you get out of a programme is largely—not wholly, of course, but largely—related to the financial resources you invest in it. That applies no less to defence than it does to the health service.

The root of the matter of course, as we all have to recognise, is that unless something exceptional is done by a Secretary of State—and I have known it done—and, more importantly, by a Prime Minister, it is the Treasury rather than the Cabinet, let alone the department, that has the last word on defence spending. It calls the shots on the size and potential of our Armed Forces and it has a very good shot at trying to influence their shape as well.

It has been doing that since the 1920s, with dire consequences in the interwar years. Apart from World War II and perhaps a single decade after it, approximately 1978 to 1987, when a Labour government committed this country to meeting the NATO target of 3 per cent growth in real terms in defence spending and which included the Falklands War when the Prime Minister was wise enough not to include a Treasury representative in her war Cabinet, it has been doing it ever since. In so doing it has reduced the country's insurance policy for its national security and support for its foreign policy from 5.7 per cent of the gross national product to barely over 2 per cent in a period of 15 years. And all this at a time when the world is probably more uncertainly fragmented, and potentially dangerous, than at any time in the past 20 years and when our forces, as we have heard, are stretched to the limit by all the tasks that this Government, not unreasonably, have in mind for them.

Sadly, there is every indication that the Treasury is at it again and is determined to ensure that the very marginal increase in real terms promised by Ministers will never actually materialise because of the cash restraints which are even now forcing cuts in the only things that can easily be cut such as track mileage, fuel for aircraft, Territorial Army man training days, overseas and other exercises as well as early phasing out and delays in vital equipment capabilities in all three services, as my noble and gallant friends have said, all of which have a profound long-term effect on professional competence and capability and vital command experience.

Somehow the Ministry of Defence, with the essential backing of the Prime Minister, must take arms against this or find funding from somewhere else because if we want our Armed Forces to continue to be the most professional and respected in the world, capable of performing at the drop of a hat most complex and dangerous tasks, often with as high a political as strategic content, to which this Government in particular have shown themselves determined to commit them, gratitude as well as the national interest should demand that they be given the modern weapons, communications and fully manned organisations to do the job properly. They should be consistently trained at every level and have the leadership and motivation to face hardship and dangers and, if necessary, lay their lives on the line. All of that requires adequate funding, not constant cheese-paring and salami-slicing and being forced time and again into highly damaging programme decisions merely to keep within some severe budgetary restraint imposed by the Treasury.

I do not know what will come out of the new review. There is not time to go into that. What is needed now is not yet another unsettling reorganisation, which gives the impression of progress but which in fact saves yet more money, but adequate funding fully to implement the truly excellent Strategic Defence Review.

Finally, I turn to a different subject altogether, which was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I hope that the Government will now do all that they possibly can to help the Nepalese Government in this critical fight against terrorism. Never has this country had a stauncher friend than the Kingdom of Nepal, which gallantly, unselfishly and dramatically came to our aid in two world wars, and which still, as we have heard, provides a steady stream of volunteers for our indispensable Brigade of Gurkhas. That country is in serious trouble from blatant terrorism. We must help it to overcome that because so much is at stake.

In any successful counter-terrorist campaign in a poor country, one needs three things: economic aid to build up infrastructure and to improve the lot of those whom the terrorists threaten and try to impress; local protection for loyal citizens and their villages, and the denial of food to terrorists; and offensive military operations and ambushes against terrorists, which are based on steadily improving intelligence so as progressively to clear areas and eliminate the terrorist threat.

In all of those respects, we should be able to help. We have so much experience of this sort of situation, particularly in South-East Asia. We could build on the effective welfare and aid programmes that are already in that country to help the quality of life of those in vulnerable areas. The British-trained ex-Gurkhas might form a nucleus of a home guard to protect their local villages and to release the Royal Nepalese Army for offensive operations. We should be able to provide advice and advisers to help the Royal Nepalese Army in the intelligence and operational fields; we could even supply some specialist forces.

Naturally, we do not want to force ourselves on a proudly non-aligned country. However, I hope that any request to us from the Nepalese themselves will be considered most urgently and that no reasonable request will be rejected. They are our true friends. We must not let them down. If we can go to other parts of the world to help other people at such times, we can certainly help them. I hope that we will have some information on that point.

Photo of Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde Labour 5:43, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity for this three-and-a-half-hour debate; it is nothing less than our Armed Forces personnel deserve. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for initiating this debate, particularly in view of his background and well-respected knowledge of the Armed Forces.

It would be wrong of me not to refer to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Black. Like the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, I, too, had a professional relationship with the noble Lord, Lord Black; the difference was that he did not have the power to sack me, although he did have that power over the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. I used to negotiate with him and noble Lords will understand that I had to ensure that I was very well briefed. He would approach his negotiations with military precision. It was good to hear his maiden speech.

I have to declare an interest. I chair the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. I am joined on that body by two respected Members of this House: the noble Lord, Lord Patel—Naren Patel—and my noble friend Lord Gladwin. Our remit is to recommend to the government of the day pay awards and allowances and to give recommendations on matters such as accommodation and charges. In the process of doing so each year, we meet about 3,000 Armed Forces personnel from all three services. We see them in groups of 10 or 12 at a time when their officers are not present. Those meetings take us each year to Northern Ireland and also to the Balkans, the Falklands and, this year, to Kabul. We will meet personnel in Oman, Karachi and Kabul.

My contribution is based not on a background of Library or MoD briefing but on my personal experience of meeting, with my colleagues, personnel and their wives and families. I say "wives" not "spouses" because predominantly, still, today our Armed Forces are male, although increasing numbers of women are in the Armed Forces doing a first-class job.

The review body is unpaid and independent. I was first appointed in the early 1990s by the then Prime Minister, John Major. After a break, I was appointed chairman by the present Prime Minister. I have been in the lovely position of criticising governments of both sides. The issue before us today is not new. I have had the privilege of being in this House for nine years and I have listened to many debates on the Armed Forces. All of them took a similar line to that adopted today—pointing out that there are not enough resources, that there is over-stretch and that this or that is wrong. We should pick out the real issues in the Armed Forces, which come from the personnel concerned.

In the early 1990s, the government of the day staged a pay increase, which was very demoralising for the services and affected their pension. We criticised that. We also criticised the present Government when they continued that policy during their first two years in office. Those issues have a long history in the services and they affect recruitment and, more particularly, retention.

We can make things uncomfortable for the Government. For example, we severely criticised the previous government for what appeared to be the hasty sell-off of the defence housing stock, and we criticised this Government for not putting sufficient investment sufficiently quickly into regenerating the stock that they still have with the Defence Housing Agency. I am delighted to say that £1 billion is now committed, although I should like that to be done more quickly. That is in this year's report.

The noble Lord, Lord King, rightly referred to the problem of over-stretch. In many respects, that is exacerbated by the fact that the same groups of people are continually deployed. That is because of the nature of the work. The Strategic Defence Review provided for post-operational tour leave. That has worked and made a real difference. However, the surveys that we require to be conducted annually make it clear that service personnel are still not getting their total annual leave. They have that as an entitlement but not as a right. That does not help with retention.

Noble Lords have criticised recruitment. I say, with respect, that every single public sector in the United Kingdom currently has severe problems recruiting personnel, whether that involves teachers, doctors, dentists or nurses. The real problem for the Armed Forces is retention. We spend substantial sums of money training. I gather that we spend about £3 million on a fast-jet pilot. We need to keep personnel when we have trained them. Pay is a factor in that regard, although they tell us that it is not "the" factor. We have conducted surveys, through multi-service working, across a range of nations' armed forces. In overall terms, our personnel are at the top of the bandings in view of their remuneration packages. There are one or two exceptional areas of allowances but, by and large, their remuneration package matches any. The real issue is their rounded quality of life. There is no doubt that over-stretch impacts on that, and continues to do so.

The problem does not only affect personnel; their wives say, "I have had enough. It is good for you to go to the Balkans to do your work but when am I going to see you?". The personnel worry about their families back at home. The families' welfare package has made an enormous difference. They expect that because the Armed Forces are part of our society. Societies change and expectations change and in many respects the Armed Forces have not changed as quickly as they should have done. In terms of GDP, last year we spent 2.4 per cent and the Americans spent 2.9 per cent. In 1995 we spent 2.7 per cent, just half a per cent more. That comes from a NATO press release of December last year.

This is an important issue. In recent times, no government have got it right, but we must continue to strive to get it right. My personal view—not the view of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body—is that the elastic has been stretched so tightly that some give has to take place. I wish the Secretary of State well in the talks on the Comprehensive Spending Review. The MoD needs some easing of the situation and some extra resources. I rather suspect that whatever is given will still not be enough for some Members of this House. I wish the Government well and it will be interesting to hear how the Minister responds to this debate.

Photo of Lord Vincent of Coleshill Lord Vincent of Coleshill Crossbench 5:51, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I beg the indulgence of the House for this unscheduled contribution on my part which has occurred due to a long-standing and unavoidable commitment that until this afternoon I thought would be prevent me attending the debate. I shall speak briefly.

I speak against the background of your Lordships' consideration of the conclusions of the Strategic Defence Review on 8th December 1998. I expressed the view that the review had arrived at a strategically sound outcome—that is still my view—but with the proviso that it received adequate resources both for its effective implementation and to sustain its subsequent effectiveness.

I have no time to return to the various concerns expressed during the debate about overstretch and underfunding, but I share many of them. I want to mention one particular aspect that does not always have high visibility in terms of defence priorities, but which could have a serious effect on our future defence capabilities. It concerns our investment in long-term defence-related research and development, which lays the essential foundations for our future generations of weapons and equipment and how we should employ them operationally to best effect. Shortfalls in that important area do not immediately become apparent because the gestation period to produce new and more effective systems or even totally new ones—like radar in the late 1930s—can be as long as 10 years or more.

Today the United States is spending nearly 10 times more than we are on defence-related long-term research and development and, more remarkably, over three times more than the 17 European members of NATO combined. Coming from a single unified budget, the United States is usually able to spend that investment on defence research and development much more efficiently than we in Europe can in many different and separated areas. Surely, that reinforces the important point—certainly in that aspect of defence—made by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, about lack of European burden sharing.

The long-term effect of those trends if we do not reverse them will be that sooner or later our Armed Forces will lack the essential tools to do the job required of them. In an era when we rightly lay increasing emphasis on operational effectiveness and minimising casualties, the eventual outcome could be serious indeed unless we take action to put it right. For those reasons I hope that the Minister will take a serious and an objective look at the adequacy of the resources needed to meet the requirements of the Strategic Defence Review now and in the years ahead.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 5:54, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I welcome the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord King, and the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, and I welcome the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Black. I am sure that his contribution will help to focus media attention on this debate. Lamentably sometimes these debates do not achieve as much media attention as noble Lords wish.

I want to congratulate the Government. The issue of Sierra Leone has been raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Lea and Lord Burnham, but I take a contrary view to that of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. I believe that Sierra Leone has shown what can be achieved with the judicious use of armed forces at the right time.

I was pleased to read about Sierra Leone. But, unfortunately, it was a story about violence. Due to the forthcoming elections, stone-throwing was taking place between the RUF and the government supporters. What is remarkable is that people are only throwing stones, considering the turbulent and bloody history of Sierra Leone. I was asked to take part in the monitoring process of the previous elections, although, fortunately, at the last minute I was not required. The stories I heard from people who did go there were quite terrifying. The RUF, a body that probably no one can support, is on the point of facing electoral meltdown and defeat rather than military defeat. That must be a real indicator of how well peace-keeping and peace-making can be used.

A major issue that has been discussed this evening is overstretch. It has been pointed out that overstretch refers not only to resources. I was interested to see in the statistical analysis of public expenditure that in 1984-85, £31.9 billion was spent on the Armed Forces, whereas in 2001-02 it is estimated that £23.6 billion will be spent. That shows that there has been a peace dividend to the country in defence expenditure. I concur with many noble Lords that that is perhaps pushing the limits and that efficiency is being taken to extremes in certain areas. However, the increase in resources will be a political decision, and while I could ask the Minister to pass on to his Treasury colleagues our request that more is spent, I am sure that he is already doing that.

The other issue about overstretch is the ability of finding the troops to meet the commitment. The noble Lord, Lord Vincent, who had a role in the SDR and who was able to speak in the gap, said that he was satisfied that the SDR met the requirement that the commitment should meet resources. I believe that the SDR carried out a good job on that basis. However, two issues have been raised in the debate that put the commitment to resources equation in doubt.

The first is Afghanistan. We have two forces in Afghanistan: ISAF and troops from 45 Commando. I have a couple of questions about ISAF. We on these Benches support the role of ISAF. It has achieved its goals of promoting peace and of giving the interim government a period in which to build up its own ability. First, has a definite date been set for the Turkish contingent to take over the command of ISAF? Secondly, when the Turks relinquish command of ISAF, is it correct that the British are pencilled in to take up command of ISAF if no other force has been found for that position? I do not believe that we on these Benches would be against that if no other force can be found. I believe that we have a long-term commitment to Afghanistan.

The second element of interest in Afghanistan is the work being carried out in the mountains. It is a great success that so much ammunition has been denied to Al'Qaeda fighters. The very fact that they have had to leave Afghanistan and go into Pakistan must have degraded their ability.

Another issue that was raised, and which will put a great deal of strain on our forces if we undertake military action, is that of Iraq. The major question we on these Benches would like answered is whether at present any military action against Iraq would be legal without a UN mandate. It is important not to forget that, though the regime is particularly unpalatable—I am sure nobody in this Chamber has any great love of the regime—any military action would have to take place under a UN mandate. We need a consensus on the matter.

The week before last I was in the Gulf and the questions being asked related to what happens after military action is undertaken. These questions need to be answered. Who will take over if there is a regime change? Will there be destabilisation of the region immediately inside and outside Iraq? What consequences would an aerial campaign have on the whole of the Middle East?

The first step must be UN inspectors going into Iraq. We all find it unacceptable that weapons of mass destruction could be in the hands of Saddam Hussein. The most effective way of making sure that those weapons are denied has to be weapons inspections.

A number of other issues were raised this evening, one of which was the Territorial Army. I served as a menial lieutenant in the Territorial Army in the REME. But one of the problems I faced, particularly as a REME officer, was that it was a specialist corps. It needed trained individuals who held the required certificates to undertake their duties. And one of the most unfortunate factors was turnover. A recent figure gave 30 per cent turnover for the Territorial Army, which is a massive turnover for any organisation and is especially damaging if we are relying on certain key individuals staying on for a number of years and acquiring skilled capabilities.

I particularly remember that one of the strange aspects of the way the Army was funded was that we received a consignment of new DAF trucks. However, even though we were a REME corps, we were not allowed to fix our own trucks. They were on a lease-back deal and would have to go back to the manufacturer for repair.

Another area brought out this evening, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, is the Army Cadet Force. I echo the view that this is an extremely cost-effective way of introducing young people to the Armed Forces. It is a fact of life that young people do not now look at the Armed Forces in the way they did 20, 30 or 40 years ago. The noble Lord raised the issue of poaching. I have personal experience that it does not just happen in the Regular Army. My nephew was deciding whether to join the Scouts or the ACF. The ACF was publicising around the Scout units the fact that it provides paint-balling in a deliberate effort to poach young people away from the Scouts.

I conclude on the case of the Gurkhas. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, raised this point and his comments were extremely valid. The basis under which the Gurkhas were paid was based on a historical situation that has now fundamentally changed. We now have a moral obligation to reconsider their position; to reconsider their pay structure and their pension rights. The Gurkhas are an extremely effective part of the British Army and we should look at pay scales that reflect that.

Photo of Lord Vivian Lord Vivian Conservative 6:05, 15 May 2002

My Lords, this has been a stimulating debate. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord King for moving this debate today. I agree and support the many remarks he made. Also I congratulate my noble friend Lord Black on his excellent contribution and hope that he will continue to speak on defence issues in your Lordships' House.

It is impossible not to have noted that this debate has focused on a critical issue; that is, the chronic under-funding of the recommendations of the Strategic Defence Review. Throughout this debate, time and again, your Lordships have drawn our attention to this serious under-funding and lack of resources. I ask the Minister to take note of that. Your Lordships stressed various issues which will mean that, if funding is not forthcoming, the capabilities of our Armed Forces will be so reduced that they will not be able to undertake their current strategic roles and tasks and the defence policy of the United Kingdom may well have to be changed.

In part some of the under-funding arises from the 3 per cent efficiency savings, which have become 3 per cent cuts in practical terms, and the £500 million savings being made are taking a heavy toll on the real capabilities of all three services. The impact of under-funding has resulted in shortages of personnel in all three services, amounting to a total of 9,397.

At the start of the year the Royal Navy was short of some 2,189, the Royal Air Force 1,149 and the Army 7,477. Warships put to sea without the ship's full complement, causing double workloads in some skills. On 4th March this year the frigate HMS "Sheffield" was decommissioned. The West Indies Guard Ship is no longer on all-year-round patrol, and the Armilla patrol in the Gulf has been reduced to just one ship.

On 28th February this year the Government announced the future disbandment of the Sea Harrier force, and I shall return to that subject. The SDR planned for up to three Astute class submarines, but only two have been ordered. In June 2001 the Fleet Risk Register stated that the Royal Navy cannot play its role in NATO's joint rapid reaction force because the ships were not always fully fit for task. Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to confirm whether that is still the case and whether HMS "Invincible" is to be mothballed, leaving us with only two aircraft carriers.

On 1st February the Government announced that a further air defence squadron of 12 Tornadoes was to be cut, saving a mere £2 million. In April last year the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force were short of nearly 200 pilots. Again under-funding has created a crisis in pilot retention due to a lack of flying hours, too many months on operations and pay lagging behind the private sector.

Under-funding has contributed to over-commitment, reduced individual training, caused cancellation and reduction of field training exercises, brought about a shortage of spare parts and retained the very poor standard of living accommodation which have all resulted in reduced retention.

Savings found in the Defence Logistics Organisation from reducing stocks to the extent of some £2.8 million has been at the expense of training front-line capability and reserves. The effects of that are clear. The National Audit Office found that the Royal Air Force came close to running out of bombs during the Kosovo conflict. The 2001 Fleet Risk Register states that significant Army shortfalls have meant that ships are going to sea without enough ammunition to defend themselves and they are at greater risk of being hit by air-to-sea missiles.

Some years ago MoD figures revealed that only 34 out of 90 Harrier jets, 28 out of 76 Jaguars and 59 out of 112 Tornado F3 air defence aircraft were fully serviceable. Recent MoD figures show serviceability for helicopters at around 50 per cent. SDR assumes operational availability at 80 per cent. The average rate of serviceability of helicopters for training and exercises is only about 11 per cent. Those are not savings, but cuts due to under-funding.

The training details are equally depressing. In the past 24 months, 84 exercises have been cancelled. Reduced training lowers the efficiency and high training standards in regiments' primary roles for war fighting.

Unless more funds are made available, the equipment programme will be affected even more than at present. There has been press speculation that the cost of the planned equipment programme will be reduced by £1.2 billion during 2001-05. Inevitably, that will have a highly damaging impact on the planned programme. Perhaps the Minister will inform the House whether there is any truth in that speculation—and, if there is, say which equipment programmes will be delayed or cancelled.

I now turn to the issues concerning the Sea Harrier. I noted the comments made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. We on these Benches are wholly opposed to the decision to withdraw the Sea Harrier from service—a move due to be completed in 2006. The aircraft is the only one fully operational with the advanced medium air-to-air missile, equipped with a highly advanced Blue Vixen radar and able to see some considerable distance over the horizon. The Sea Harrier is the UK's most capable interceptor fighter—the GR7 and GR9 are ground attack aircraft. The GR9 will not be fitted with the Storm Shadow stand-off missile. Even in upgraded form, it will be slower and less versatile and consequently will not operate safely without Sea Harrier cover.

Without the Sea Harrier, the remaining obsolescent layered air defence will be limited by the radar horizon from ships and Sea King helicopters—a defence that will not prevail against sea-skimming anti-ship missiles such as Exocet. The Type 45 destroyer and its new principle air missile system could easily be saturated by a multiple threat from many directions. The engine and avionics upgrade of the Sea Harrier are not essential to its continued effectiveness in war. It will still deter and provide early warning of attack. The Sea Harrier was upgraded to FA2 standard only in 1996. Whatever the Government say, there is no justification for its withdrawal until the Joint Strike Fighter comes into service. It is the UK's most capable fighter and plays a vital role in defending the fleet from attack. Without it the fleet is put at unquestionable risk.

Finally, I shall mention briefly two other major issues. The first is the pensions review. The MoD decision to make any new scheme neutral in cost is a grave mistake. The proposal to improve ill-health and dependants' benefits by reducing the pensions of other service personnel is unacceptable. The Armed Forces deserve a pension scheme that recognises the unique commitment that they make to the country.

Secondly, I trust that the Government will make time for a full debate on the New Chapter. I am convinced that there is a greater role for the Territorial Army, providing that it is returned to formed units, but not at the expense of reducing the regular Army.

As is customary, I pay tribute to the Armed Forces for their bravery, courage, determination and loyalty. I congratulate 45 Commando on its successful operations in Afghanistan and the British troops in the International Security Assistance Force, Northern Ireland, the Gulf, Bosnia and Kosovo for the excellent way in which they are carrying out their duties. The country owes them appropriate support and it is Parliament's duty to ensure that the Armed Forces have the necessary funding for them to have the essential capabilities to undertake successfully the tasks that have been assigned to them. Despite our support for the Strategic Defence Review, our frequent warnings over several years of the consequences of underfunding have not been heeded by the Government but disregarded.

In the 11 years during which I have been in your Lordships' House, I do not think that five noble and gallant Lords, all of whom have been Chiefs of the Defence Staff in their time, and a previous Secretary of State for Defence have spoken in the same defence debate. I draw that to the attention of the Minister and all sides of the House as it shows the depth of concern about under-funding of our services. I agree with all that they said.

Although the Ministry of Defence is attempting to ensure that the Armed Forces are given appropriate support, if under-funding continues, the Armed Forces will not have the capability to carry out their roles. There will come a time when we commit our forces to a war that may result in defeat and death to our servicemen and women. If that should ever happen while this Government are in office, the blame and the shame will lie entirely at the feet of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, despite warnings from many quarters, including the Ministry of Defence itself, have continuously under-funded the Armed Forces. The time has come to cease under-funding.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 6:15, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I start by joining in the thanks given to the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for opening this debate in such a reasoned and sensible way. I hope that he will forgive me if I also mention the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, whose idea this debate may be; I am also grateful to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Black of Crossharbour, made an excellent maiden speech full of important insights into the relationship of the United States with the outside world, which, frankly, is one of the crucial questions of this year and the years to come. The noble Lord knows that all of us in this House look forward to opening our copy of the daily newspaper with which he has some involvement. He may also understand that sometimes, defence Ministers are not as keen as others to do so. But that newspaper does a great service in that it certainly keeps the Ministry of Defence awake to the problems that it is likely to face. In any event, I very much welcome his speech. I am delighted that he made it on this subject and I look forward to hearing his contributions on many future occasions.

I welcome this debate because it allows me to pay tribute to the vital work that Her Majesty's Armed Forces are doing across the world. I know that the House will join me in congratulating them on and thanking them for their outstanding professionalism and self-sacrifice, which they show whenever they are called on. Almost every noble Lord has made precisely that point.

I shall start with a few words about Afghanistan because, unsurprisingly, the media have paid much attention to that issue during the past few days. All noble Lords know how fully involved our Armed Forces have been since the campaign began. From the start of operations last October, we have maintained a powerful naval force in the Indian Ocean. Almost from day one, the RAF has been flying vital transport, reconnaissance, air-to-air refuelling and airborne early warning and control missions. As the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, that contribution has been warmly welcomed by the United States.

We also have troops—mostly the Royal Marines of 45 Commando—engaged in anti-terrorist operations in that country. That force, about 1,700 strong with its own artillery and support helicopters, has undertaken combat operations in the high mountains and valleys of south-east Afghanistan under arduous conditions. The exercise has attracted considerable media attention. I am saddened that some who should know better have ridiculously questioned the need for British troops on the ground in Afghanistan or have claimed that we are achieving little because we have not killed enough terrorists.

Frankly, I am astonished by the suggestion that crude and simplistic statistics such as body count should be the measure of success. Surely, the only valid criterion should be whether our actions contribute to our strategic objectives. I can assure the House that the efforts of our troops have not been in vain in that regard. First, they have denied territory to the Taliban and Al'Qaeda from which to plan, train and launch terrorist attacks. That is no mean achievement.

Secondly, they have destroyed huge quantities of ammunition and collected a vast amount of valuable intelligence. The Chief of the Defence Staff made it clear that he believed that the operations had been a success. By destroying the supporting infrastructure, we help to deny terrorists the use of Afghanistan as a safe haven. That permits humanitarian agencies to operate freely in the region and, importantly, enables forces loyal to the Afghan Interim Authority to extend control to all parts of the country.

Separate to that, but representing another strand to our overall strategy, is our contribution to the International Security Assistance Force at Kabul. Nineteen countries have contributed troops to the force which today is some 4,700 strong. The United Kingdom accepted the role of lead nation because that was the right thing for us to do. It is no coincidence that the United Kingdom was selected as the first country to lead ISAF. There is international recognition that our forces have the knowledge, experience and capability to sustain such a multi-national deployment. We should be proud of the positive contribution we have made.

We must look to the future. We have reduced our ISAF commitment from a peak in-country of 1,800, with another 300 supporting, to its current level of around 1,500. The UN authorisation was originally for ISAF to deploy until June. It now seems certain that that will be extended, and we welcome the decision by the Turkish Government to take over as lead nation, with the United Kingdom remaining as a troop contributor, albeit at a reduced level.

In the context of Afghanistan, it is right that I should mention some breaking news that was, I believe, broadcast on the six o'clock news a few minutes ago. This is the earliest possible opportunity to inform the House. Thirteen military medical personnel, serving with 34 Field Hospital at Bagram in Afghanistan, have been taken ill with an unidentified feverish illness. Two are very seriously ill: one has been returned to the UK for treatment, the other is at a US hospital in Germany. The others are being cared for by the remaining medical staff at Bagram.

The exact nature of the illness is not yet known. Medical tests continue in an effort to isolate the cause. However, the illness appears to be contagious, and, as a precaution, 34 Field Hospital has been closed to all but similar cases. It will, of course, be re-opened for normal medical cover as soon as possible. In the interim, the German hospital based in Kabul will provide hospital cover for UK troops in Afghanistan. Next of kin are being informed. I thought it right that the House should know about that. We are discussing our Armed Forces, and I know that noble Lords would want to be informed. I am sorry that I cannot say more. No doubt, more information will emerge in due course.

No one can predict the future with complete confidence, but I emphasise the Government's resolve to see the campaign through to the end. The tempo of operations will inevitably vary, as may the scale and nature of our deployments, but we remain absolutely committed to defeating international terrorism, as does the House.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, referred to Nepal with some passion. He will know that our Prime Minister and the Nepalese Prime Minister met this week. I have no knowledge of what was discussed or of the matters that passed between them, but there is contact at the highest level between the two countries. The noble and gallant Lord's remarks will certainly be passed on.

Personnel issues have, in some ways, been at the heart of the debate. As noble Lords said, we cannot afford to take the excellence of our Armed Forces for granted. Our servicemen and servicewomen are a priceless asset, and their well-being and interests must always remain central to our policy. We fully recognise and accept our responsibility to support and sustain our servicemen and servicewomen.

A key outcome of the Strategic Defence Review, praised by several noble Lords, was a widespread recognition of the need for a coherent strategy, known as the Armed Forces overarching personnel strategy. I shall briefly set out the underlying themes of the strategy, and I hope that, in doing so, I address many of the points raised in the debate. If I do not answer all the questions asked—those of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, for example, to which I do not have the answer—I will, of course, write to noble Lords.

The first theme is the simple but essential requirement to create a culture of understanding, awareness and interest within the Armed Forces in order to draw good recruits, in the required numbers, into the forces. It is vital, as stated in the debate, to engage with our young people. We already have presentation teams that tour the country and visit schools to explain to youngsters the vast range of activities in which the Armed Forces are involved, both here and abroad. This September we will launch a new schools initiative designed to work closely with a select number of schools to get the message across even more effectively.

The Armed Forces are seldom far from the thoughts of all of us. We are well aware of the key role they played in dealing with the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and in responding to local civil emergencies such as flooding and rescues by helicopter. We must bring such positive activities to the attention of the wider public.

Secondly, we must make clear to those wishing to join what the Armed Forces require. We are looking for young men and women who appreciate a challenge, who possess the determination to carry out demanding tasks and who can use their initiative under pressure. We accept that there is a shortfall of about 9,500 personnel against the in-year requirement for the Armed Forces. As has been pointed out, unemployment is at its lowest level for many years, and more and more young people attend higher education. The Armed Forces must therefore compete in a tough market for scarce human resources. Inevitably, the best and the brightest are most in demand.

I do not have time to describe all the initiatives that we have adopted. I am pleased to say that the recruiting figures for this year are expected to at least match, if not exceed, those of last year. We are making particular progress in the Army. In 1999-2000, we had an inflow into trained strength for the first time in 15 years, and performance during the past 12 months has also been strong. We are particularly encouraged by our success in attracting more women and more recruits from the Asian, black and other communities into the Armed Forces. I pay tribute to Colonel Wayne Harber, who has just stepped down as head of the Army's ethnic minority recruiting programme after six years in the job.

I spoke about competition in the labour market. We must ensure that we recruit the best people from every sphere of British life and make our Armed Forces broadly representative of the population they serve. I am delighted to say that there has been a steady year-on-year increase in the number of recruits from ethnic minorities since recruiting goals were instituted three years ago. As of April 2001, the annual overall percentage of ethnic recruits has more than doubled. Final figures for 2001-02 are not yet available, but indications are that the Army, for example, has exceeded last year's outcome by recruiting over 5 per cent from ethnic minorities.

That achievement was favourably reflected in Business in the Community's 2001 report, which praised the Army as,

"one of a minority of organisations able to claim definitely that its programme on race equality has made a measurable impact across the organisation on a number of fronts".

That is a worthy tribute. The Army deserves great credit for an important achievement.

The third pillar is retention. That has been the subject of much discussion today. We accept that there is no quick or simple fix. We must understand what motivates individuals to leave the Armed Forces. We hope that our approach embraces a balanced and layered mix of measures, some addressing the broad issues such as pay, pensions, training, families, accommodation and diversity and others addressing issues of concern to particular high value groups such as aircrew, engineers and medical personnel.

The success is matched by what we are doing across the board in retention strategies, including improved pay arrangements, better housing and working accommodation, improved training and better education opportunities as part of the Government's wider education strategy. I remind the House that the Government have accepted in full the recommendations of the Armed Forces pay review body.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, raised the issues of aircrew retention and training. We accept that aircrew retention is a serious problem caused by the strong competition, even now, from civil airlines. We have taken a number of steps to address the situation, including the financial retention incentive package and improvements in flying activity rates among aircrews. The early signs are encouraging. As regards training, despite our current high operational tempo, the overall level for exercise and training of our Armed Forces remains, broadly speaking, at the level of previous years. We understand and take on board the concerns that have been expressed.

The fourth pillar or theme is to sustain, which includes balancing commitments with our aim to commit personnel to operations for no longer than is strictly necessary. I mentioned our reduced contribution to ISAF in Kabul. Of course, there is little point in just withdrawing people before they can be replaced or before their jobs are done—especially if it means having to return later.

We believe that we have achieved success in balancing the number of people committed to operations, although we acknowledge that there are pressure points in certain areas. I know that the noble Lord, Lord King, feels strongly that we have not necessarily reached the truth about those figures and he said so again today. Average unit tour intervals in the Army have improved. Overall, we are meeting the target of 24 months set out in the SDR for Army tour intervals and in some cases exceeding it. But let me make this concession: we are aware that some specialist units and individuals—notably in the infantry—may well have tours within that limit. We are committed to tackling the problem and I look forward to discussing the issue with the noble Lord and with others in the weeks and months to come.

That is clearly interlinked with retaining personnel. We subscribe to the motto, "Recruit the man or woman; retain the family". That is particularly significant with the Armed Forces. Some 52 per cent of those in the Armed Forces are married with many more in long-term relationships. That is an important point.

The fifth and final component of the strategy is "remember". It is about helping and supporting former service personnel and their families and bereaved families. Caring for our veterans is part of repaying the debt to our people who served this country so well. We have and are working closely with veterans' organisations. We have appointed a Minister for Veterans, a task being carried out with great sensitivity by my colleague Dr Lewis Moonie. He has assumed responsibility for the War Pensions Agency, now known as the Veterans Agency. The House will know how that is succeeding. There are and always will be issues relating to veterans and it is important that government should be pressured about whether they are doing sufficient for them. We believe that we have improved the position already.

I was going to comment on equipment. In my view, some of the criticisms made today have been slightly unfair in relation to the state of the equipment budget in the MoD. There seems to be little acknowledgement of how outstanding our equipment is, particularly when compared with some of that used in other countries. I remind the House that our current planned naval equipment project represents the largest programme of new shipbuilding in decades. Apart from orders for six new Type-45 destroyers, Astute-class submarines and a range of support and amphibious vessels, we are now well advanced with our new aircraft carrier project. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that that particular project is part of our programme. We expect to select a prime contractor for it early next year.

The Challenger 2 main battle tank is now fully in service and we are making real progress with the introduction of the Bowman combat radio. Some might say, "About time", but, with great respect, they might say that to both Front Benches. It is not a situation that has suddenly arisen since 1997. However, I can tell the House that we are determined as best we can that the in-service date for a proper communications system—the Bowman system—is 2004. We intend to keep to that if we possibly can. We believe that the strength and diversity of our forward equipment programme provides ample evidence of our continuing commitment to ensuring that our Armed Forces have the necessary resources to carry out their tasks effectively.

I want quickly to remind the House that under the current spending review the settlement for defence represents an increase in real terms of 1 per cent. That is not a large amount but it is a real-terms increase. I also remind the House, with the greatest respect to the Front Bench opposite, that that is the first sustained increase in planned defence expenditure for more than a decade.

Of course we listen with enormous interest and respect to the former chiefs of the defence staff and other experts in the field, but as regards how much or how little we should spend on defence I am not sure that the party opposite has much to tell us when one considers its record.

The results of the new spending review will not be complete until the summer and it is too early to speculate about what it might say. However, I want to welcome the Chancellor's announcement of the additional investment of £155 million to meet urgent equipment requirements for operations against terrorism and a further £204 million for defence in the spring supplementary estimates to meet operational costs in the financial year just ended.

Today we have heard remarks about the Treasury. It is easy to pick on the Treasury and I was grateful when the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, arrived in the Chamber. Apart from myself, under pressure as the Minister here today, he was the only former Treasury Minister to show his face in the Chamber during the course of the debate.

Noble Lords:

And another there!

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, there are now many others but not many were here when some of the perhaps "un-Lords-like" remarks were made about the Treasury. Some of those remarks were unfair, although a number of references to decisions made this summer were welcome.

I would have liked the time to answer the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, on what I fear has ridiculously become a party political issue; that is, the decision to retire increasingly obsolescent Royal Navy Sea-Harrier aircraft. Time does not allow for that now but the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, will be pleased to know that they are being phased out between 2004 and 2006. The fact is that that decision is sensible and capability-driven and will certainly not leave our Royal Navy in any danger. We on this side of the House greatly resent the fact that in another place that issue was used in such a politically partisan way.

Having concluded, I hope, not on a sour note, I thank the noble Lord, Lord King, and apologise to him for having left him little time in which to respond to the debate.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative 6:40, 15 May 2002

My Lords, I wish very briefly to thank the Minister for his response. I am sorry that at the end he got into a little deep water on former Treasury Ministers—he found that they were rather thicker on the ground than he had realised.

I shall start by apologising to and thanking my noble friend Lord Burnham. He initiated this debate and I am most grateful for his appreciation in spite of the mix-up over the printing. That, at least, is better than what has happened to my noble friend Lord Fowler, who as "Baroness Fowler" has been given 15 minutes to open his debate. At least we were not given a change of gender in our arrangements.

At the start of the debate I had hoped that it would be one of real quality. I appreciate all those noble Lords who have taken part. Perhaps I may pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Black of Crossharbour. He made an outstanding maiden speech. If this House means something, then it is to bring to this place people of real experience and considerable knowledge who can contribute to our debates in the forceful and interesting way in which my noble friend has done today.

I wish simply to say this to the Minister. When I was Secretary of State, there were always complaints about lack of funds. Sometimes, however, those concerns grow larger and more real. I would ask the Minister to do one thing. Will he ask his private office to ensure that tomorrow's Boxes for the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State contain copies of this Hansard? A number of people have spoken in this debate whose advice the Government used to be pleased to receive when they were operating as Chiefs of the Defence Staff and in other capacities. They have given serious warnings, along with the chair of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde.

Having served in the other place, I have to say that that House could not have matched the quality of the debate we have heard today. I hope that Ministers will not read only the Hansard from the House of Commons tomorrow, but that they will read the House of Lords Hansard as well.

Once more, I am grateful to all those who have taken part in what I think has been an excellent and most worthwhile debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.