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rose to call attention to defence policy and the future of the Armed Forces; and to move for Papers.
My Lords, this is the first defence debate that we have had since the end of the Gulf conflict and the actions in Iraq. I know that your Lordships will join me in paying tribute to the outstanding work of the Armed Forces in that campaign.
Whatever criticism there may be of the Government, the wisdom of their actions, their use of intelligence or any other aspects, there has been universal acclaim for the commitment, courage, enthusiasm and good humour of our forces during that remarkable campaign. On a personal note, and I know I speak for every Member of the House, I welcome back our noble friend Lord Attlee from his own personal involvement in that campaign.
It is in some ways a watershed in defence policy and important that this House, with its accumulated experience and, I hope, wisdom on these matters, is extremely well able to contribute. As somebody who has been increasingly critical of the lack of experience of wider fields in another place in so many different aspects, I commend to your Lordships the Hansard of Thursday's debate in the House of Commons, which included contributions from a number of recently serving officers. There is now a greater strength on the Commons Benches of people who have served recently in the Armed Forces than there was previously.
I say this is a watershed in defence policy because I understand there is likely to be a White Paper. One of the contributors to that White Paper will undoubtedly be the Treasury. My concern at this time, when there will be important analysis to be made and important lessons to be learnt, is that we may commit a similar mistake to that which we have made on previous occasions—that is, trying to make too precise an assessment from the analysis and coming up with what we think are very clear determinations in which the Treasury may see opportunities for further economies. The present plans are for a further reduction in the proportion of GNP going to defence.
There is a real danger. With great respect to the distinguished, gallant and noble Members here present, Armed Forces are not always their own best spokesmen. The Minister will accept that the Government are not over-endowed with Ministers with practical experience in the field of defence, although I recognise his own efforts to acquaint himself with the portfolio with which he was previously not familiar. The same is true, unfortunately, of the Secretary of State.
In that situation, there is a real danger that lessons can be misunderstood. I have fears about the Treasury because it has been said in this respect that the problem with the Armed Forces is that they always deliver. Unlike one or two of our other public services, they have a very high record of delivery. It takes place usually against the background of a complaint about shortages in budgets and difficulties over equipment and weaponry. And yet they deliver. That very easily breeds the feeling in the Treasury that those chaps are making it up, that they always over-complain and that they can always be screwed down a little bit more. It would be a very serious situation for this country if our Armed Forces were ever to find themselves in a position where they could not deliver and the Treasury was found to be wrong. That might then be too late.
We should not entertain for one moment the illusion that it is all over. I read in this morning's Financial Times of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, the Secretary of State for Overseas Development, cancelling a trip to Baghdad, as it is too dangerous to go there. She referred in that article to the daily sniper attacks, to the daily casualties among American forces, to the worry that looting, which was erratic and chaotic, now appeared to be more organised and more measured in Baghdad, and to the very dangerous situation that exists there.
Returning to the question of whether it is all over, I draw the House's attention to the measured words of the Minister for the Armed Forces. On being asked of the likely length of time that we might be required to maintain our forces in Iraq, he said:
"A number of objectives remain outstanding in Iraq. British forces will maintain an appropriate presence in Iraq for as long as necessary to achieve our aims to helping Iraq to become once again a viable and self-standing state".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/6/03; col. 869.]
Those are admirable sentiments, but it was exactly the right answer. He expressed no idea how long we may have to be there. It was exactly the same answer as was given by a senior Pentagon official to a US Senate committee, which had asked exactly the same question about how long American forces were likely to have to be there.
One has only to look at the pressures on our Armed Forces and our commitments. It was only yesterday in this House that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, accepted the fact that many parts of Afghanistan are in a lawless state and that the writ of Kabul does not run. The risk of reinvolvement of our forces in one capacity or another is obviously very real.
Only last week in the House of Commons, there was a Statement of a deployment to the Congo. Admittedly, at this stage, it consists only of engineers and Hercules transports, but we have previously entered into such deployments. We went into Cyprus under UN auspices in 1964 and we are still there. We went into Northern Ireland in 1968–69. Each one of those deployments has lasted more that 30 years. They were thought at the time to be short-term assignments, but they have continued, and substantially. There was a serious report this week of a substantial bomb—not the one which may have been intended for Londonderry, but the one which was apprehended in the Irish Republic. The report suggested that it was intended for the mainland and possibly for London. That is a warning that that situation is far from resolved.
Against that background, our first lesson should be about the pressures that continue to exist on our Armed Forces and the demands that may be made on them. Our second should be about the adequacy of our resources to meet them. In May last year, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, said,
"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. As regards defence, there has been disinvestment. All that, 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 even greater.—[Official Report, 15/5/02; col. 311.]
At that time, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, had no idea that we would be deploying the scale of forces that we did in Iraq for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
With the greatest respect to the Minister, there quite clearly are serious problems of shortages in resources. They did exist in the campaign in Iraq. I would urge Ministers most sincerely and the Secretary of State, in light of his response recently to the Select Committee, that the Government discipline of instant rebuttal of any criticism that is ever made of them is not always the best approach, particularly when the forces on the ground know the true situation. Both Air Marshall Burridge and Major-General Peter Wall have indicated that there were shortages and problems. It is far better to own up—that theme was echoed a little earlier in this Chamber—and to recognise that if there are problems, it inspires greater confidence and boosts morale to admit them. My impression is that as the Select Committee continues its inquiries, a rather different story will emerge.
We still have 20,000 troops in Iraq. Some 25,000 have returned. I understand that some are still in temperate climate clothing and black boots. If that is true, it is scandalous. I was particularly disappointed to hear another comment that the food was no good. One should remember the old adage about the Army marching on its stomach. One claim I can make, from the first Gulf War, is that our food was much better than that of the Americans. We used to run out of supplies because of American forces joining the back of our queues to avoid eating their meals-ready-for-eating or MREs. That quality appears not to have been sustained.
The word "overstretch" has been echoed many times in your Lordships' House, but it is clear that with the pressures that exist now on our forces, and the commitments that they are being required to make, we are facing a very serious situation. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, has said,
"If you asked us to go into a large-scale operation in 2004, we couldn't do it without serious pain. We must allow ourselves time to draw breath. If it is to be something on the scale that we have done this time, it would have to be something that the government is convinced is pretty important because I would tell them it would take a while to recuperate".
That was the previous Chief of the Defence Staff. The current Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Michael Walker, said almost exactly the same thing, I understand, to a Select Committee last week. There is a risk in our present situation. We have taken on contingent liabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we might find ourselves having to take urgent action at a time of difficulty, shortfall in Army numbers and pressures on resources.
My concern is about both the regular Army and its need not only to deploy but also to have the training and preparation for deployment, and the pressure also on the TA reservists, which has surprised your Lordships. We are still deploying fresh elements of TA reservists to Iraq. That is clearly putting considerable pressure on a number of reservists. Difficulties arise about ensuring that with the length of time that they are being asked to serve. When the Minister for the Armed Forces was challenged on this in another place, he made the point which I used to make: it is very important for people in the community to support the TA. It is very important to encourage your employees to serve and be prepared to serve your country. He gave the answer which I used to give: we are called upon at times to deal with threats to this nation. Many people believe that they joined the TA for the defence of their country.
I am not seeking to argue whether this was an improper use of the TA. However, when the TA gets involved in quite long tours of duty, it raises an impossible problem for many employers and TA reservists. In a most interesting speech, Dr Andrew Murrison, the Member for Westbury in another place, himself a former Royal Navy doctor, quoted a recent survey of Territorial Army personnel who had been sent to the Gulf. Eighty per cent expected their employers to take a fairly dim view of their deployment in the foreseeable future. Some 63 per cent of the very scarce medical and technical staff said they were thinking of resigning. That would be a very serious matter because in the recent deployments, TA reservists have been a critical and essential element and not merely an add-on. So in this challenge which our Armed Forces face, the need for adequate manpower levels is critical.
When we looked at the Options for Change programme, issues arose about the Gurkhas. The question was asked, if we cut down British regiments, should we continue with the Gurkhas? I should like to support noble and gallant Lords today who stress the importance of keeping an essential Gurkha element which gives opportunity for further recruitment. There may be a case for seeing if they can make an even bigger contribution than they do currently. Present day actions are of a different nature from those during the Cold War. These actions are very demanding. We expect our forces to move in a seamless way from a war-fighting role into a peacekeeping role; to be policemen at one stage, soldiers another—and even to be firemen, as they were in putting out Gulf fires. These roles do not happen by chance. This country is proud of its forces because they are well trained and capable of taking on anything. If they are stretched or over-committed on operations and do not have sufficient time in which to recuperate, they will not be. Both the previous and present Chief of Defence Staff are pressing the Government to ensure that our forces are properly equipped and trained.
I should like to move to the issue of equipment. An American general involved in the Iraq war remarked that there was not much difference in weaponry used in the first and second Gulf War. What was different was an extraordinary new capability, whether it be digitisation of the battle space or real-time battlefield intelligence. It was the ability to link this extraordinary battlefield knowledge with satellite imagery that made the US contribution so incredibly powerful. They had an overview of knowledge right down to the individual battle tank and armoured vehicle giving a complete picture of the battlefield.
However, the United Kingdom cannot keep up. We are the only nation that can operate closely with the United States and we have great difficulties. I know the Ministry of Defence is trying to enhance the network-centric and digitisation capability. My worry is that this will be expensive. My understanding is that the Treasury is prepared to see that investment being made, provided that economies of manpower are made to compensate. There was a discussion in another place—not denied—about possible losses of further regiments. In the world that we are getting into, one needs both. The challenges faced by our forces are not just to do with sophisticated organised intensive warfare. They are to have boots on the ground and manpower as well. I was never an admirer of the Strategic Defence Review. I am an unashamed admirer of the work done by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent of Coleshill and the then policy director of the Ministry of Defence, Richard Mottram, who led the Options for Change exercise. The SDR was foreign-policy led, with lots of good consultation and a precise idea from the Foreign Office of exactly what was needed. What turned up was something quite different. We thought we knew exactly why we needed the TA. John Reid assured me that the Government had specific roles for that organisation—chemical and medical work—but they are needed for infantry roles as well.
In a phrase I used 10 years ago, I believe the United Kingdom should be a force for good in a dangerous and insecure world. We are right to act in areas in which we would not previously have got involved. If we do that, there has to be a fundamental reassessment by the Treasury. It has to understand that if this is what the Prime Minister seeks of our Armed Forces, then there has to be a fundamental rethink of how we are going to invest, recruit, train and equip. We need to ensure that if we ask our Armed Forces to undertake this role, they have the capability to do it.
I believe this is a very important time. I am fearful that the wrong lessons may be learnt. My interest in proposing this Motion today was to give your Lordships the opportunity to challenge and discuss what are critical issues at a very important time for our country. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I am honoured to follow the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater. The expertise of the noble Lord in matters of defence and intelligence is unequalled. I have no military experience so I shall confine myself to things I do best: conceptualisations of the problem we have.
The noble Lord said that in the forthcoming White Paper the Treasury will make a contribution. I am sure he meant not just conceptual but a large financial contribution. I should like to highlight the economics of defence today. As the noble Lord said very pointedly, our security may be at risk, not because we are likely to be attacked by another country, but by somebody out there doing something which threatens our security. Terrorism is a very peculiar military problem. It is endemic, very often low technology, random, decentralised and hard to pinpoint. If the enemy fought with high-tech weaponry, we could track them down and confront their army with our army. But the enemy wear civilian clothes, use low-tech equipment and—this made possible by new information technology—are completely decentralised. Our security problem is therefore a worldwide and perennial one. It is, in a sense, a war that will never be completely won, but we must go on fighting.
That leads to another observation. During the past four or five years, not only has the nature of war changed; so have the tasks asked of our soldiers. I join the noble Lord in his tribute to their performance in Iraq. Those duties vary between concentrated high-level activity of a conventional kind—in Afghanistan, in Kosovo, in Iraq or in Sierra Leone—and low-level perpetual niggling small intensity activity, which currently occurs in Iraq. We must be capable of meeting both functions.
In the first activity, one may have an advantage of high-tech equipment and be able to substitute high-tech equipment for a few human souls. That is what the Americans rely on. But, for the endemic low intensity and long-run activity—as in Afghanistan and Iraq—we need bodies. I agree with the noble Lord that there is no possible substitution between bodies and equipment.
I hope that in the forthcoming White Paper the Government will think in a linked way about foreign policy, international development and defence. Again, as the noble Lord said, our soldiers are asked not only to perform military functions and police functions; they are often asked to perform social worker functions. They must be aware of human rights legislation; they must assist in humanitarian help. They have to be aware of local cultural sensitivities about mosques and temples and so on. They must not only be good at what they should be good at; they also need what one might call "multiple knowledge" training in order to perform their tasks. Often, it is not how soldiers act while carrying out their main tasks which leads to problems; it is that they may not have observed a certain human rights requirement or that they proceeded across a mosque in an improper way. That leads to much more fuss than it is worthwhile worrying about.
Defence policy should be thought of jointly with international development and foreign affairs. That could be put to the Treasury. I ask my noble friend one specific question; I am sorry that I have not given him notice. The Treasury made a special contribution in the case of the Iraq war. It was said that the figure might be £3 billion. It would be useful to know how much was involved and what proportion it represented of the normal budget of the Ministry of Defence. That will tell us what flexibility exists in this matter.
I want to say something about recruitment. The noble Lord spoke very tellingly about the problems that TA people experience. They are volunteers. If one thinks in terms of national security, somehow one considers the TA as a local activity. Would it be possible to devise a compensation scheme whereby if TA personnel are asked to be away from their stations for longer than, let us say, one week, employers would be compensated? It is a very simple proposition. It would apply in a number of situations, so why not when TA people are on active service, performing a valuable role and adding to the strength of regular soldiers? It saves our having to recruit a regular soldier. If the Treasury understood sensible economics—I have grave doubts that it does—it would say that that has a real economic value for us and we should compensate employers for such help.
There are difficulties with recruitment of regulars. If so, there must be something wrong with the pay or conditions. We should look at the job in comparison with similar professions, look at where young people of 17 or 18 go and find out what the comparative salary structures are and what we can do to help them be more willing to join the Army.
Furthermore—this may already be happening and I may not know about it, so I apologise if that is so—when people quit the Army I would like to know how much information is kept on file about them. It would be easier to recall to active duty, like a substitute TA, trained people in whom we have invested some capital and who possess the necessary expertise.
I welcome the debate. It always seems to be the case that more resources are required. I know that every government department thinks that more resources are required. There has not yet been a Minister who said, "I require less money; you have given me far too much". It is important that we find imaginative ways of organising our defence force in such a way that not only do we get a good bang for the buck, but that we really are able to meet international responsibilities in the most humane and effective way possible. I am sure that when my noble friend replies he will address some of these issues.
My Lords, I begin by adding my thanks to my noble friend Lord King for initiating this debate today. I wish to associate myself with what he said about the outstanding performance of our Armed Forces in the recent conflict. He pointed out that they always do us proud, despite the difficulties with which they are confronted. The trouble is that the Chiefs of Staff always say "Yes" whenever asked about the possibility of a particular operation. One day they will have to say "No".
I have not hitherto sought to intervene in the various debates and discussions concerning the merits or otherwise of the recent conflict in Iraq. However, I did have some modest responsibility for these matters many years ago, so I hope I may be allowed a brief intervention.
The Government's principal justification for the recent operation was the apparent possession by Iraq of a considerable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. While I remain concerned that nothing of the kind has so far been discovered, that is not an issue that I seek to explore today. Intelligence information is very often less than specific and I am happy to accept, for now at least, that the Prime Minister truly believed what he then told us. But time may cast a different light on this matter. We shall see.
In making his decisions, the Prime Minister evidently attached the greatest importance to our relationship with the United States. I believe he was entirely right to do so. The strength of our so-called "special relationship" has long been the cornerstone of our foreign policy and defence policy. Without their strong support the outcome of both world wars would have been different. Indeed, the Cold War owed much to the strength of the deterrent that they were willing and able to deploy. On our own, we can field less than 10 per cent of their military might. More recently they were even willing to support us in a number of important ways during the Falklands conflict, for example, in circumstances which for them were not straightforward. So I acknowledge and recognise the pressures on the Prime Minister to ensure that we move forward very closely with the United States in these circumstances.
I would like to examine a different point. During my time at the Ministry of Defence we were often asked to give an undertaking that we would never be the first to use nuclear weapons. We always refused to give that undertaking. We would respond by saying that we would never be the first to use any weapons, save in response to aggression. Thus it was that we were justified in acting to recover the Falkland Islands and later on in going to the assistance of Kuwait when it was overrun by the Iraqis in 1990.
As it happens, we had the additional cover of appropriate UN Security Council resolutions in both those cases. But it could be argued that such cover was not strictly required. The UN Charter clearly makes provision for acting in self-defence. The Kuwaitis and indeed the Falkland islanders were obviously entitled to seek assistance in defending themselves and we and the other coalition partners—in the case of Kuwait—were entitled to respond to that request.
But the most recent conflict was quite different. While the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General apparently advised that the operation was lawful, he was presumably relying upon the original Security Council Resolution 1441 relating to earlier considerations. None of us outside the Government is aware of exactly what he said—that remains confidential—but while I do not seek to challenge the view of the noble and learned Lord, I have to say that had I still been concerned with these matters, I might have been difficult to persuade.
Be that as it may, whatever may have been the legal justification, it was none the less a pre-emptive strike, not a response to aggression. To the best of my recollection, we have never, for the past 100 years at least, acted in that way. So the Government, rightly or wrongly, have embraced a wholly new doctrine with regard to the use of armed force, which I fear we may come to regret. May I therefore ask the Minister the following questions?
First, is the adoption of this new policy in accordance with the advice of the Chiefs of Staff? I know that is a rhetorical question. Their advice, like the advice of the Attorney-General, is confidential. But I wonder whether noble and gallant Lords who sit in your Lordships' House will have reflected upon that matter? Secondly, do the Government now say that pre-emptive military action is part of their policy? Is it the case that we are now not willing to say, as in former times, that we would never be the first to use any weapon save in response to aggression? Thirdly, if that is so, will the Government define the circumstances in which they consider pre-emptive action to be justified? Does there need to be a demonstrable threat to the United Kingdom, or does it need only to be a threat anywhere in the world, without necessarily affecting us? Are the Government prepared to launch pre-emptive action—as it would seem—simply to remove a regime with which we may all profoundly disagree? If that is so, are there not other regimes in the world at least as objectionable as Saddam Hussein's? I have to repeat: the Government may come to realise that they have unleashed a range of terrible options which we may all come to regret.
I shall make one final point. Up to now the Government have enjoyed the broad support of Parliament and the people in this matter. But we hear, from America at least, that consideration is apparently now being given to similar action elsewhere; for example, in Syria or in Iran. I speak only for myself, but my continued support at least should not be taken for granted if such wider action is decided upon.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgewater, for introducing this debate. The Motion gives us a wide remit and many of your Lordships will speak very knowledgeably on the breadth of the defence canvas. For my contribution, I wish to concentrate mainly on air power. All three services over many years have had a part to play in its development and application. The foundation of the Royal Air Force 85 years ago stemmed from an appreciation that there was more to air power than the close support, by their dedicated air arms, of ground or sea forces—important as that mission was, and of course still is.
However, for many years before, during and after World War II, the ambitions and forecasts of the effectiveness of independent air power proved, when tested on the anvil of war, to be rather overstated. But that is not the same as to say that air power had no part to play. Then, as today, and for tomorrow, achieving and thereafter sustaining a favourable air situation over ground and sea forces remains a cardinal requirement for success in war. That cannot be achieved solely by relying on air defence. Taking the fight to the enemy is part of that overall air supremacy battle.
With the advent of the latest smart weapons, with the accuracy achieved with the aid of GPS, laser and other guidance methods, we are now on the threshold of realising the enthusiasts' claims. The United States Air Force is transitioning to an all precision weapons force. The RAF is taking rather longer to get there, but recent steps have been in the right direction. Storm Shadow, for example, is a long-range stealthy cruise missile for use against high value, heavily defended targets. Its range is over 250 kilometres.
That allows the launch aircraft to stand well back from the target area. Guided by digital terrain profile matching, on-board GPS, and an imaging infra-red seeker for terminal guidance, Storm Shadow's double warhead's first charge makes a small hole in the building through which the main charge passes before detonating. Used for the first time by No. 617 Squadron, the Dambuster squadron, on
One of the most impressive features of the application of air power in the recent Gulf War was the flexibility achieved in target-switching even while the delivery platforms were en route to their target areas. The noble Lord, Lord King, touched upon that point. The latest intelligence gathering from unmanned aerial vehicles and other systems, the ability to fuse and analyse this raw material with great speed, and then put it in usable form to those who could act upon it, has never been so slick. Time-sensitive targets demand a special capability to find, fix, track, target and engage, and finally to assess the outcome.
These capabilities are playing and will play a growing part in modern warfare. There are enabling technologies to empower forces, and not only air forces, in this highly technical and pro-active field. I welcome the support that such systems have been receiving from the Government. I hope, that they will also realise how important to success is the GPS system upon which either the aircraft or the weapon, or both, depend. Galileo and the proposed European GPS system therefore deserve full support.
But all is still not as it should be. A Tornado and its crew were lost early in the most recent Gulf conflict to friendly fire. A mid-air collision between two Sea King helicopters led to needless tragic loss of life, as well as depriving the fleet of important protection.
Those and other blue-on-blue tragedies underline the importance of training and good preparation for war. In peacetime there is constant pressure to reduce and limit training time and related activities. Budget pressures restrict flying hours and seagoing time. Larger formation training and joint training are forgone. Those are potentially disastrous savings measures. We may pay a high price in conflict for such economies.
No amount of training can ever recreate the realities of live operations—even red flag training at its most demanding—but the obverse of that coin is that really good training will enable those involved to cope with the additional pressures of live and deadly operations in a more confident and assured way. The same applies for those on the ground or at sea as for aircrews. I hope that Ministers in the MoD and the Treasury will take that point to heart.
The most recent Iraq war was the largest deployment for the Royal Air Force since the Suez campaign almost fifty years ago. The timescale for the deployments was far tighter than in the first Gulf War, when Operation Granby deployment was spread over six months. Operation TELIC preparations were completed in a mere seven weeks. The Royal Air Force contributed more than 100 aircraft. More than 8,000 RAF servicemen took part, and nearly 550 of them were auxiliaries. They were deployed to airfields in no fewer than eight different countries in the region.
It took a remarkable degree of control and co-ordination to ensure that all those men and machines got what they needed when they needed it. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord King, and others: we should be proud of those servicemen and women, who achieved such results.
In the time available, I have dwelt mainly on the RAF's contribution, but all who took part won a remarkable victory. I hope that when the Gulf honours list is published there will be full and generous recognition of the supreme efforts made by all three services in their great military success.
Although we sing their praises—and rightly—there are, as always, dangers in assuming that the next conflict will go just as well. Where was the Iraqi air force? Fortunately for all three services, it never materialised, so our forces enjoyed a benign air situation. Apart from surface-to air-missiles and some other short-range ground-to-air weapons, the coalition forces met no air threat. But it would be incautious at the least to assume, even as good as coalition air power now is, that the opposition would not be much tougher if there was an effective air opponent.
Our future planning must take account of that, and we must provide for the protection of our forces on land, sea or air in any future conflict. Is there not therefore a serious risk in phasing out the Sea Harriers before the next generation of fixed-wing air defence aircraft is available to defend the fleet? Treasury pressures must be resisted.
Psychological operations in the Gulf War have not received much coverage, but have an interesting and possibly important part to play in future conflicts. I was intrigued to learn that almost 32 million leaflets were dropped on Baghdad and elsewhere. One, virtually useless, statistic is that that consumed as much paper as is needed to manufacture 120,000 toilet rolls—perhaps the one essential of which the Iraqi people were not short during hostilities. I hope that, in time, the effectiveness of such psy-ops measures and others employed will be assessed.
Much can be done. Propaganda is a far from new weapon, as we are all well aware, but communications media ranging from multi-digital TV channels to mobile phones, provide an explosion of visual and aural receivers which should be exploitable in aid of one's cause, without the political concerns of collateral damage or innocent civilian casualties. Will it continue to be the Cinderella of our capability improvement programmes? It is worth the much harder look that I hope it is now receiving than it has ever enjoyed in the past.
My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are grateful, as I am, to the noble Lord, Lord King, for his initiative in securing the debate, although it clashes with a visit that the All-Party Defence Group was to make today. However, it is an important debate, and I am sure that the noble Lord and every other noble Lord would stress the need to understand and appreciate the skills, experience and unmatched qualities of our Armed Forces, based on operations and commitments in a wide variety of environments.
Sometimes, the press are not good at recognising those qualities. They are good at listening to the odd disgruntled individual, who sometimes offers quite inaccurate information—as with the new rifle, which the press for quite a long time seemed to confuse with the earlier version; and with the Challenger 2, which seemed to be reviewed as just the same as the Challenger 1, deployed 10 years earlier.
But there is not, and has not been, sufficient public awareness of the various contributions that our Armed Forces have made. There is a very limited understanding of the outstanding achievement in Sierra Leone, or of the enormously successful deployment in Macedonia, which, I understand, went according to plan. That stifled conflict and made an enormous contribution to that part of Europe. It cost one life: the life of a servicemen from my former constituency—not the first one from that community; I hope that there will be no more.
There were few casualties in Iraq, considering the scale of the operation. Obviously, the problems are not yet resolved. We have not found weapons of mass destruction, but what has been found is the graves of thousands of people murdered by the regime that has been overthrown.
Perhaps the lot of our servicemen in Basra today, or of the Americans in Baghdad, would have been easier if there had not been the encouragement of the Shi'ites and the Kurds to rise in some sort of revolt in 1990, only to be put down in large and horrifying numbers. That did not help those who entered southern or northern Iraq a few weeks ago.
However, it is early days. We have not found weapons of mass destruction; we have not yet found Saddam Hussein. But we know that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He used them in large quantities against the Iranian army; he certainly used them horrifyingly in his own country. He was certainly seeking to obtain weapons of delivery; unmanned aircraft have been found. They do not need to be large to be able to carry a couple of pounds of disease or toxin of various kinds.
Our troops were therefore deployed—all right, in pre-emptive action, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said—on the basis that, sooner or later, action would have to be taken to prevent some developing new alliance between Saddam Hussein and the forces that still threaten the civilised world today. I noted the reported comments of the head of the secret service earlier this week.
At the same time, we must recognise, as have other noble Lords, that since the first Gulf war there has been a change, in that there was a greater reliance on precision weaponry. That is essential. It is no longer tolerable in this world to be spraying weapons of gross inaccuracy and large killing power. For that reason, it is noteworthy that the Royal Air Force first deployed its new weapon, the Storm Shadow, in southern Iraq. I am sure that my noble friend would confirm that only in the past few days the Government have taken a further step in that direction, regarding the provision of the Paveway precision guided weapon, which will further strengthen our capacity.
As far as I can see, and I visit RAF and military bases fairly frequently, morale remains high despite the considerable pressures that servicemen face. I found it rather displeasing, as I am sure did many other noble Lords, to think that our soldiers, back from one overseas commitment, found themselves in draughty drill halls providing fire cover. One hopes that that will not be repeated.
Those soldiers knew full well that they were in a draughty drill hall earning lower pay, getting far less leisure, and facing the prospect of going abroad in the service of Queen and country, while other people thought that they were entitled to a great deal more. If we are to solve the problem of retention in Her Majesty's services, we have to ensure that inequity does not bite too deeply.
At the moment, the services are doing reasonably well. Fortunately, the Royal Air Force is equipped with good aircraft, and the Government had the wisdom to acquire the C-17, which made the deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq much more straightforward. Fortunately—and I do not pay tribute to them often—the Conservative government listened to advice on acquiring the C-130J, rather than listening to the blandishments of our French colleagues, who assured the Western European Union in 1990 that we could have future large aircraft in full squadron deployment by 2000. We discovered that they had not planned the maiden flight until two years later, which was rather odd.
The Royal Navy is, in practical terms, the second most powerful navy in the world today. It will have the two carriers, which will be a considerable improvement, because they will be seaworthy for longer, which will allow Britain's strategic policies to be more reasonably achieved. The Army continues to impress; and despite the deployments, the absences, the demands, morale is much higher than one might have expected.
As I said, retention is a problem. Recruitment is important, but it is better to retain trained soldiers than simply replace them with new recruits who may not serve as long as we need them to. Pay and conditions are important. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government are well aware of that. A number of initiatives have demonstrated that, for example allowing contact between soldiers and loved ones to be facilitated.
However, there are other problems. If we have—and this is not looking too far ahead—a society in which virtually half the population go to university, we may find that we get half the recruits. We may also find that a larger proportion of recruits will expect—since they have academic qualifications that were not possessed by a large proportion of the Army a few years ago—to enter at a higher level. If we had not abolished the rank of field marshal, there would probably be a much larger proportion who would be looking for the baton in the knapsack.
There is, of course, a danger that, as the population becomes more highly educated, the services will find themselves with people who believe that they should be in the ranks of the chiefs rather than the Indians, so that there would be a surplus of one, and a shortage of the other. The services are far too intelligent not to have considered these problems, and they are far more intelligent than many of us, who would not be able to find the answers ourselves.
There is one thing that we could do. I believe strongly that we should, rather more positively than we have been doing, encourage the cadet organisations. It is no use spending a lot of money recruiting unsuitable people using television advertising.
I am involved with the Air Training Corps. I know a little about the other cadet organisations, and they provide the best recruits for the services. However, we do not provide sufficient facilities and encouragement to ensure that those cadet organisations continue to be motivated. A cadet in the Air Training Corps should fly with the RAF at least once a year. They are lucky if they do that today. Similar facilities should be developed with the other cadets. If we do not encourage the cadet organisations and those who run them, we run the risk of not recruiting the best people for Her Majesty's services. That priority should be critically examined.
The new chapter of SDR, published last year, was evidence that the Government are well aware of the risks of terrorism and asymmetric warfare. It is right that we should be relatively phlegmatic, "cool" in modern parlance, because we do not want people to start having nightmares and nervous breakdowns about the possibility of disasters, catastrophes and horrors of that kind. We must recognise that, just as the civil and military authorities are adequately prepared and have the proper procedures—I am sure that they have, they certainly do in my area—we must ensure that we have adequate personnel.
We cannot suddenly expand the Armed Forces. We must handle the Territorials and the Reservists in such a way as to promote recruitment and involvement in those bodies. It may be that we must expand them in a way that would limit those serving on overseas deployment, in order to ensure that we have a number who are prepared to give more time than the normal 15 days and weekends to serve at home.
We are, and should be, grateful to the Reservists. However, we won a vote by one a few weeks ago, while the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was away. I thought at the time that it might be a good idea to encourage other noble Lords opposite to join him. Let us hope that we will not have conflicts of this kind that will require such absences.
I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord King, secured this debate. I am delighted to join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the unmatched quality and fine service of our Armed Forces. One hopes that the Treasury, in looking at the purse strings, will recognise that we need to train, retain, and maintain quality. If we do not, there will be no European country capable of fulfilling the commitments that second pillar development is supposed to achieve.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater on securing this debate and on introducing it in such a masterly fashion, covering the main strategic issues that should occupy our attention. I shall not follow my noble friend down the path that he has outlined, nor the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, because one finds oneself in total agreement with what he is saying, including, in this case, his kind comments about the C-130J, a matter close to my heart in a former job.
I shall concentrate specifically and in some detail, in the time available, on issues that concern the reserve forces. I want to support and supplement the comments made by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater. I declare an interest for the purposes of this debate as the president of the UK Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. I am principally involved with the Territorial Army.
Before I develop my points, I shall pay two brief tributes, because I do not think that they have yet been paid in the House. The first is to the late Viscount Younger of Leckie, my predecessor as president of the council. He was president of what was then called the Territorial and Volunteer Reserves Association; we have now changed our name. He was a distinguished president, and all involved in the council have already placed on record our thanks for his service. He was a distinguished Secretary of State, under whom my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and I, in a more junior role, served. He was always careful to elicit views, however misguided or ill informed. One always remembers him as a national service soldier in, I think, Korea for his valiant support for and defence of not only the Territorial Army but of units of the Regular Army in Scotland.
I also ask the Minister to convey on behalf of all my colleagues in the Territorial Army and the reserves our thanks to Dr Lewis Moonie, the outgoing Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State responsible for the reserves. We are sorry to see him go. He was always tolerant of those who asked for his time and support, and he was always interested. He was an excellent Minister. I join those who pay tribute to him and wish his successor, Ivor Caplin, the honourable Member for Hove, well.
We have just witnessed the first major compulsory mobilisation of the reserves since the Korean War. Some 8,000 have so far been involved, as my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater said. It might be helpful to draw some of the numbers involved to your Lordships' attention. For the first part of Operation TELIC, some 3,500 reservists—I am not talking about the regular reserves, I am talking about the volunteer reserves—were called up. That mobilisation was a remarkable success. In the second phase, to support 19 Mechanised Brigade and 3rd Division, who were on roulement to support and replace units of 1st Armoured Division, another 1,500 were mobilised. As the Minister indicated in a helpful answer to the House on 11th June, probably another 2,000 to 2,500 reservists are in the process of being called up in order to assist in the reorganisation of Iraq and the relief of the crisis there. That is a total of 8,000.
There are four issues that I shall touch on briefly. First, there is the extraordinary importance of support from employers. All your Lordships would wish to congratulate all the employers throughout the country who supported the mobilisation of our reservists and have welcomed them back, with very few exceptions, into the jobs that they left. That is a remarkable achievement, and we should thank them.
Although the mobilisation went well—thanks to the Reserve Forces Act 1996, introduced by the previous administration—a cautionary note should be sounded. If compulsory mobilisation on such a scale is to become not a frequent event but a regularly recurring one in the decades to come, we cannot take the support of employers in this country for granted. A new compact is required between the Ministry of Defence, the reservists and the employers. Employers need to be better informed, with better advance warning of what is required. Many of them need to have the role of reservists explained to them. We still do not have a compulsory requirement on reservists to inform their employer of the reservist's role in our forces.
I understand that we have only recently identified the employers of all our reservists, but, it is important that, in future, reservists should disclose their obligations frankly and fully to their employer. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, who is not in his place. As your Lordships will know, he is chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board, which does an excellent job.
The second issue is medical services. I regret having to say this, but I think that it is a bipartisan point, as part of the blame rests with the present Government and with past administrations. Hindsight is always a valuable commodity. We are almost in a state of crisis in recruitment—certainly in the recruitment of reservists who work for the Defence Medical Services. We are seriously under strength.
When we call up and send out reservists from National Health Service hospitals, we work on the assumption that there will be major casualties. Everyone will be greatly relieved that casualties were so light, but it is not surprising that many reservists, including nurses and consultants, coming from busy National Health Service hospitals found themselves—fortunately—under-employed. However, a change is required in our approach to the use of National Health Service staff in our medical reserve services. First, we should treat them differently from the soldiers. We should mobilise them and, once they have been mobilised, send them back to the National Health Service until the bullets start to fly. Unfortunately, many were mobilised and sent out and had to wait while, as they realised, many patients could have been treated in civilian National Health Service hospitals if those staff had been available.
There could be more "jointery" in the forces. Medical services should be purple, not just Army, Royal Air Force or Royal Navy. We could and should work regularly with coalition forces in operations, so that we share the medical services. Finally, a special agreement is required between the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and the National Health Service, indicating the circumstances and arrangements for the mobilisation, in particular, of senior consultants in National Health Service hospitals.
The third issue is the role of formed units. It may seem to be rather an arcane point to some of your Lordships, but it is important to the morale of our reservists. In the Army, the Territorial Army trains in formed units. They train together, and they should fight together, where that is possible. In the recent conflict, in the first two tranches of mobilisation, individual soldiers were called up, often leaving behind the senior NCOs and officers. That may have been necessary because of the urgent need, after the decision was made to send our troops to the Gulf, to make sure that we had sufficient reservists. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that, in the current stages, final stages or any future stages of call-up of reservists, we will try to call up formed units, however small. That is good for morale, and, when they return to this country, they will be applauded by their local community, as they deserve to be, and recruitment will improve.
The final and, probably, the most important point is about the total size of the reserves. Between 1997–98 and 2002–03, numbers in the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Marines Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force have, by and large, remained stable. However, there has been a dramatic reduction in the size of the Territorial Army. In 1997–98, the established strength was 62,000; in 2002–03, the year that has just ended, the established strength was down to 41,000. That is a cut of one third. I hope that the White Paper promised for the autumn will deal with the central issue of the size of the Territorial Army. The role—combat support—is right, and there are many specialist functions that the Territorial Army can and should accomplish.
We need to think of the pressures that have arisen not only in the Gulf but in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. Of the Armed Forces of the Crown in those theatres, roughly 10 per cent have been reservists. As my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater said, if the pressures on our Armed Forces continue in the decades to come, we must think seriously about whether we need to reverse the cuts that have occurred since 1997–98 and increase the size of the Territorial Army. As my noble friend said, in referring to the remarks made by the former Chief of the Defence Staff, the judgment is that, when it comes to further reserves that might be available for a major conflict post-Iraq, the larder is almost bare. We used a great proportion of our trained strength from our Reserve Forces during the recent conflict in Iraq.
So I believe very strongly that we need to move back towards the 1997 levels. I think that the increases are affordable, available and inevitable.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for initiating this debate on defence matters. As others have done before me, I pay tribute to the courage and professionalism of our armed services. Over recent years we have sent them into many hostile areas—the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. Only last week it was announced that we might well be sending a contribution to a multinational peace-keeping force to the Democratic Republic of Congo. And let us not forget the continuing and highly necessary military presence in Northern Ireland. At all times and in all situations, our Armed Forces are clearly at risk. The recent conflict in Iraq revealed just how incredible that sacrifice is, with 37 lives lost. We are all too well aware of the human cost of war.
While our defence expenditure rose this year, with the Chancellor adding some £3 billion to the defence budget, that was clearly in response to the situation in Iraq. By contrast, our defence expenditure has been steadily decreasing under the present Government. A decade ago, our defence budget was 5.3 per cent of our GDP. By last year it had fallen to some 2.5 per cent. The Government's plan is to reduce this even further, to 2.2 per cent by 2005–06.
Comparisons with the United States of America are stark. For the year 2001–02, US defence expenditure was 3 per cent of its GDP, while in 2000 the United States defence expenditure per capita was 981 dollars compared with a per capita expenditure of 542 dollars in the United Kingdom.
The world has undoubtedly changed a great deal since the days of the Cold War. However, while traditional hostilities may have faded and old alignments fragmented and transformed, we are clearly in no position to sit back and relax in this new era of international harmony. At the turn of the century, talk was rife of a new global order. Certainly, only a matter of months into the 21st century we saw the true nature of this order.
The Government tell us time and again of the threats we all face from international terrorism. Unfortunately, and especially for the citizens of Northern Ireland, we do not need too much reminding of the continuing threat posed by domestic terrorism both from republican and loyalist paramilitaries. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, mentioned the huge bomb recently discovered in the Republic of Ireland, which may well have been intended for the City of London.
Noble Lords who travel regularly from the regions to London will have witnessed the heightened security measures in place at our airports and ports. Even here, outside the Palace of Westminster, concrete blocks have been erected to deter terrorist activities. It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that on the one hand the Government are urging the public to be cautious, to be vigilant at all times and to be alert to potential threats, yet on the other hand, they are reducing the defence budget and aiming to disband several armed service units. I simply ask this: is this the appropriate time to cut our esteemed forces and to curtail our ability to respond quickly and effectively to any situation either at home or abroad?
Our Armed Forces are already severely overstretched, and under-investment over the past decade has led to a decline in training, to ageing equipment not being replaced and to a severe shortage of recruits. We witnessed many of the problems that arose from overstretch with the outbreak of the war in Iraq. Supplies were slow at getting to the troops, to the extent that many went without desert boots and mosquito nets for several weeks. We even heard reports of units having to share supplies with their American counterparts. The problem appeared to be adequately summed up by a heading in the Financial Times in April: "Army on the Cheap". Only a few weeks ago, as the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, alluded to but which is worth repeating, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, said:
"If you asked us to go into a large-scale operation in 2004, we couldn't do it without serious pain".
We now see reports in newspapers such as the Independent on Sunday last weekend that the Ministry of Defence intends to cut up to 100,000 jobs in a bid to reduce the logistical support budget by £18 billion a year. I am pleased to note that Mr Hoon has given the leader of my party, Mr David Trimble, an assurance that the Royal Irish Regiment will not be disbanded—and I am sure that the right honourable gentleman is a man of his word. Other regiments, however, cannot be so confident of their fate; all we have been told so far is that decisions have yet to be taken.
Cuts are being proposed despite severe shortfalls in armed service personnel. As of April last year, the Army was short of some 6,000 personnel, the Royal Navy some 1,700 and the Royal Air Force some 800. Recruitment is also slow. It is clear that the Government are not doing enough to encourage young people to consider and, indeed, to take up a career in the Armed Forces. That shortage of recruits is causing problems further up the scale, in particular in the middle-ranking positions. As officers are forced to take on extra duties, their average number of hours on duty each week is now in the region of 89.5 hours. That simply is not sustainable over a long period.
Increasingly we hear of leaves of absence having to be shortened or cancelled completely. No extra resources are available to help take the strain and inevitably the stress of working under such conditions begins to take its toll. It is therefore hardly surprising that many choose to leave after eight, nine or 10 years of service. In turn that results in a great dearth of expertise, talent and experience.
I cannot emphasise too strongly the long-term nature of this problem. With a gap in middle management and an equally worrying gap in recruitment at the lower levels, along with proposals to cut back on many of our regiments, I wonder if the Government have fully appreciated the capabilities of our Armed Forces.
I shall finish by saying that it is somewhat surprising and worrying to find that our Government, who continually stress the importance of the United Kingdom's role on the international stage, want to curtail our ability to play that role successfully.
My Lords, this country has a priceless asset, our Armed Forces. But the Government have serious problems of retention. An example of that is the disturbing situation in the Armed Forces medical services, as reported in the Sunday Telegraph of 15th June. It claimed that up to 17,000 members of the forces are unfit for front-line duty because injured troops are either having to wait a year or more for treatment on the NHS, meanwhile losing pay and promotion because they are medically downgraded, or must pay for operations themselves. Their pay is not such that that is lightly done. How can the Armed Forces hope to operate a successful retention policy in the face of this? I hope that the Minister will be able to give the House some reassurance on the truth or otherwise of that report.
The virtual collapse of the Defence Medical Services was precipitated by disastrous decisions under Options for Change, including the closing of military hospitals, taken by a Conservative government. However in 1997, six years ago, the present Government committed themselves to act to save the medical services. They have not been successful. We are all familiar with the sorry story of the service enclave within an NHS hospital, with the NHS having priority claim on beds so that military orthopaedic patients who should have been in them were displaced by geriatrics. We know too of the disastrous drain of surgeons and specialists with the necessary expertise to maintain the Defence Medical Services. I hope that immediate action will be taken to establish a full-time reserve secondary care medical service, with trained military doctors and surgeons paid by the MoD, and paid well, who could work for the NHS but who would owe their first loyalty to the services. It is unacceptable that the men and women of the armed services should have to wait years, or pay themselves, for treatment for injuries incurred in the service of the Crown.
But my concern is not so much retention as survival. The draft constitution for the EU provides for a European Union foreign minister who will be responsible for conducting the Union's foreign and security policy, who,
"shall contribute to the development of the Common Foreign Policy", and who shall apply his talents to the common security and defence policy under Article I(27) of the draft constitution.
Lest the House should think we are protected by our veto on defence from security policies we do not support, it is worth noting two things. First, the French and German foreign ministers have put forward a proposal that in the event of a national veto on a defence issue it will be the task of the EU minister for foreign affairs, who is to be appointed, to persuade the nation concerned to change its mind. If he does not succeed the president of the Council must try; if that fails, the president must take the issue to the Council for decision by QMV. We have been assured that HMG does not support this proposal. However, it is still there and it must be energetically resisted. Unfortunately, many defence decisions are the consequence of a foreign affairs decision. And foreign affairs issues, it is said, will increasingly be decided by QMV. That must be resisted too.
Secondly, one man is to be responsible for developing and implementing both the foreign policy and EU defence. That is an unmanageable task. Nothing is said, incidentally, about his relationship, if any, with NATO.
We have an excellent and chilling example now of the dangerous consequences of the ESDP, to which our defence forces are already to be exposed in the Congo. On 8th May the EU adopted a common position supporting the peace process in the DRC. On 19th May the UN asked the EU secretary-general to study the feasibility of an EU military operation in the DRC,
"given the urgent humanitarian need for the rapid establishment of a stabilization force in the Ituri region", the UN Uruguayan contingent having proved inadequate either to protect the people, or to control the fighting, no doubt because of the usual inadequate UN mandate for Chapter VI action only.
A joint action was agreed on 5th June authorising the launch of the operation on 11th June. Officially its mandate is limited to a short-term peace-keeping action lasting until 1st September 2003, designed to give the UN time to deploy the next UN contingent, the Bangladeshis. That force is to have a Chapter VII mandate, which is more robust. It is expected, according to the Security Council resolution of 30th May, to,
"contribute to the stabilization of the security conditions and the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Bunia, to ensure the protection of the airport, and the internally displaced persons in the camps in Bunia, and to contribute to the safety of the civilian population, the UN personnel and the humanitarian presence in the town".
All this in three months, starting from scratch with a force of some 1,500 soldiers including, we understand, 100 British troops, mostly in a logistical role. An advance guard of French troops began deploying on 8th June.
How is this force to operate? We need to ask these questions now, since the Government overrode scrutiny. The force is to be led, using the EU jargon, by a framework nation. The French have volunteered to be that nation, that is, to lead the operation, with the British contributing 100 men. It is believed that there will be an equally small contribution from Belgium, though not of soldiers. The operational headquarters is to be in Paris. So there is reasonable hope that urgent operational decisions will be taken there when they are needed.
However, the EU joint action provides that the Council shall approve the operational plan and authorise the rules of engagement. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether hose will be NATO rules of engagement and, if not, why not. Further the Political and Security Committee will exercise the political control and strategic direction of the operation and has the power to amend the operational plan, the chain of command and the rules of engagement. The EU Military Committee will monitor the proper execution of the military operation conducted under the operational commander and get reports at regular intervals. The chairman of that committee will be the primary point of contact with the operation commander. Meanwhile the presidency, the high representative, Mr Solana, the operational commander and the EU special representative for the Great Lakes Region will co-ordinate their activities in implementing the joint action. Mr Solana will also act as the primary point of contact with the EU, the Government of the DRC and neighbouring countries, and others concerned with the peace process. The force commander will maintain contact with local authorities, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) and other international actors. There may also have to be a status agreement with DRC. Finally, the force commander in Bunia will have to report regularly to the Security Council of the UN through the Secretary-General on the implementation of the force's mandate.
We are speaking here of an operation, theoretically for three months, involving a force of well under 2,000 men going to a highly volatile and dangerous place for what will certainly prove to be much longer than three months. The French force commander has already said it is more likely to be a year. The force is to be run by committees composed of foreign and defence ministers, indeed by four committees if you include the Security Council. That will be, at the beginning, in the months of July and August. When crises arise, and they will arise, usually out of hours, are all these committees going to be sitting daily in the depths of the summer break in case they are required to take a decision? Who will be available on the telephone in Brussels or New York after 5 pm on a Friday?
The only good thing about this project is that in practice the decisions will probably be made in Paris by men who understand the situation on the ground, the risks and the military necessities. But they will also be made, so far as the politics are concerned, according to the private agenda of the French and the Belgians, who have considerable interests in the DRC. However it is reassuring that, as the Minister told us in a Congo Statement recently, there will be five British officers in Paris to advise. That is very reassuring. However I think they will have a hard task.
I have set out those details because I have seen the UN in action on the ground in the Congo and I fear for the safety of our troops, let alone the unfortunate Congolese whom we shall be powerless to protect. I have no faith that the commitment will end neatly in September. We shall then be enmeshed in a nasty, brutish war, all to be run by committee.
In Kindu, in 1961, nine Italian advisers for the UN landed from a light aircraft and were killed by the population. Their bodies were cut up and sold in the marketplace. Local habits have not changed; nor has the UN's inability to control the situation. I am sure we have committed our troops for the most honourable intentions, but there are simply not enough in the force to contain, let alone cure, a most dangerous situation that has been endemic for many years. We must not delude ourselves.
It is the more unlucky that we have gone in under the UN because the UN had 16,000 troops in Sierra Leone for a long time and failed to make or keep the peace. The Congo is much larger and the situation in Bunia will not allow our troops to do what they do so well, to work with the people. That possibility will not arise.
This has come about because foreign policy decisions draw us into ill-thought-out force commitments. The Explanatory Memorandum actually says:
"The DRC is moving slowly towards peace".
If you believe that, you will believe anything. I also found it interesting that the Explanatory Memorandum says, under ministerial responsibilities, that the Foreign Secretary has overall responsibility for UK policy on the ESDP and on the Congo. Quite right. It goes on to say that the Secretary of State of Defence also has an interest. I would have thought he had the prime interest.
This minor operation is significant because we presumably volunteered to participate because, first, our foreign and development policy in Africa has committed us to active support of the so-called peace process in the DRC—a wholly admirable, fairly hopeless policy—and secondly because we want to be good Europeans and, incidentally, be loved a little more by the French and UN. So our foreign policy has drawn us into a military commitment so fast, and in such a way, that no veto, I suggest, would have been possible on military grounds. I strongly doubt whether any real opportunity was given to consider the operational plan, the environment in which the troops will be working or the long-term implications and the nature and value of the risk and the commitment. This is why we must be sure that the Government—and in particular the FCO and the MoD—are fully aware of the long-term defence consequences of accepting qualified majority voting for any foreign policy issue. It will have consequences beyond foreign policy.
The increasing pressures on our Armed Forces—of which a far more long-term commitment in Iraq is one—coupled with a number of problems of retention and, not least, the issue of money, make it vital that decisions to commit our troops should be taken only after careful professional consideration of the merits of the military case. The Government must never forget that our brilliant professional Armed Forces are there because they volunteered to serve—and, incidentally, to serve the Queen, as a symbol of the country—and to defend the realm. They are there because of commitment—and that must work both ways.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for initiating the debate. I also associate myself with the congratulations on the outstanding achievement of our Armed Forces. I include in that praise the wonderful achievement of the unsung heroes—the logisticians—who moved an amazing amount of equipment in a much shorter time scale than in the previous war against Iraq. I also pay tribute to the enormous contribution made by the reserve forces, who were an essential part of our deployment to Iraq.
The noble Lord, Lord King, referred to the importance of training. A number of people who took part in the war in Iraq have said, "We could not have done it without Exercise Saif Sareea"—an exercise which, as some will know, the Treasury was keen to cut because of its costs. I should add that we are a long way from seeing stability in Iraq.
I welcome the debate in general because there are important issues to be discussed. We need to reflect on the changing nature of conflict given the dramatic developments in technology; the implications of 11th September 2001; the ongoing war against terrorism; and the heavy demand placed on our Armed Forces for war fighting, nation building and peace support operations. It is easy to forget how widely our Armed Forces are deployed as we speak.
We need to debate what are the United Kingdom's vital security interests and how to support them. We need a grand strategy debate. I sense that we have lost the connection between foreign policy and the defence capabilities needed to support it. In that regard, I support the concept of pre-emptive action. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has reservations about it but, in certain circumstances, it is a very important capability that our Armed Forces may need to use in the future.
As other noble Lords have said, the Cold War was unusual because the threat posed by the Warsaw Pact was clear for all to see and our national survival and national security were synonymous with the defence of western Europe. But that has all changed. The enemy today may not pose such a direct military threat but he is ruthless, irrational, difficult to assess and has the ability to pose very significant threats across the world. That is why I support the concept of pre-emptive military action on occasions.
Although our national security covers a wider field than only the Armed Forces, it must include a significant major military element. The Strategic Defence Review rightly emphasised the need to improve our capability to project and sustain—I emphasise the word "sustain"—military power. That is easy to say but very difficult to achieve, and very expensive.
Moreover, the Strategic Defence Review focused on the Middle East. It has become clear that we now have to be able to project power more widely. At the same time, the Strategic Defence Review has shown itself to be seriously underfunded following many years of underfunding. I know that there has been a significant injection of money, but that additional money will not make up for those years of underfunding.
The current review, or White Paper—which, of course, everyone will deny is a defence review—is likely to examine significant reductions in certain capabilities to find room for other capabilities. Of course we need to increase our investment in digitalisation, information warfare and certain other high tech capabilities in order that we can operate more effectively with the Americans and, at the same time, improve our own fighting effectiveness.
In addition, the Iraq war, despite its enormous success, showed up areas of concern in our logistic support capability and our capability to sustain a force overseas engaged in combat for a longish period. The month-plus of fighting in Iraq was a very short time in military terms. I should emphasise that I am not talking only about the lack of uniforms or shoddy boots—important though they are to the morale of the fighting man and fighting woman—but about major spares, artillery, ammunition and major assemblies. The concept of the "just in time" policy for operational logistic support is, in some areas, too tight.
I am glad that the mobilisation of the Territorial Army and other reservists in the main worked well. Clearly we could not have done without their support. They played an important and critical role. But, as other noble Lords have said, some of the administrative arrangements need to be tidied up.
I recognise that some change in the balance of capabilities may be necessary. However, the Armed Forces have already been hit in recent years by major reductions. The problem is—and has been for a number of years—that our Armed Forces are far too small for the many tasks that have been laid upon them. They remain heavily over-committed. They have responded magnificently in the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland, Cyprus over many years, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, the first Gulf War, Iraq and now the Congo.
I was amazed to learn that somehow we have slipped into supporting the French in the Congo without any clear concept of operations and without any clear reinforcement or exit strategy. I hope that we are not doing so to please the French rather than to bring relief to that sad country. I realise that our contribution is small but I believe passionately that the Government have a clear responsibility for ensuring that our Armed Forces are not deployed on dangerous operations without a clear concept of operations. I would be interested to know whether the Chiefs of Staff had any reservations about that.
No doubt the review will, yet again, examine capabilities such as the number of air defence aircraft, surface warships, armoured squadrons, infantry battalions and the need to bring in some of the additional assets to which I have referred. I worry that the assumptions on which any changes will be based will prove to be over-optimistic and, in time, flawed.
Options for Change reduced the size of the Armed Forces too far. The defence cost studies added to the problem. The Strategic Defence Review had some good elements but it was followed by many years of underfunding.
My Lords, as I said, I was an unashamed supporter of Options for Change but I understand why the noble and gallant Lord is saying that. We would be in a very different situation now if we had the manpower levels that we agreed in Options for Change. The problem now is that we do not have those levels. We have fallen significantly below them, which has added considerably to the problems of overstretch.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that. The point I was trying to make is that at the time we planned Options for Change we did not envisage the world being quite as it has turned out to be and how far our forces would be committed.
Plans under both the Strategic Defence Review and previous studies for improvements to married quarters, barracks and conditions of service have slipped even further into the far distance.
I recognise that it is easy to make such remarks in your Lordships' House without being closely involved with the pressures and the planning. However, I hope that decisions will be made on realistic assumptions and not on wishful thinking. As I have said, we have not had a good track record in that respect. No sooner has one commitment gone than additional commitments have added to the pressure on our Armed Forces. I hope that we shall take a realistic view of how long we are involved in Afghanistan and Iraq, which will almost certainly get worse before they get better.
There can be absolutely no doubt that the commitments and resources of our Armed Forces are seriously out of balance with the money available and the size of our Armed Forces. Therefore, there is a danger of strategic failure at some stage in the future. I believe that it is wrong that the Armed Forces should carry that risk on behalf of the Government. The services provide a key element in support of our national and foreign security and defence policy. By underpinning those critical areas, the services provide a foundation for much of the Government's policy in the wider field of national credibility and prestige.
However, for political reasons, the Government are having difficulty deciding how important security alliances such as NATO and the woolly, insubstantial ESDP should evolve. I believe that we need greater clarity of thought and purpose. I accept that NATO has to change. Some very tentative steps are being taken in that direction. Because it will be particularly important for the new members who previously were members of the old Warsaw Pact, Article 5 will have to remain, but I sense that its importance will decline. In my view, NATO remains the only effective military alliance; and, whether or not we like it, it is in some ways being undermined by ESDP because certain European countries have a very different political agenda. Equally, NATO must recognise that it needs to take on a world-wide role.
In conclusion, I want to say a few words about something very different—ethos, which I believe is a key element in military leadership. I am not sure that it is understood in the world of political correctness and management speak and spin. I like to think that our nation takes great pride in its Armed Forces and in their style and professionalism. That professionalism is supported by military ethos. In passing, I should say that I believe our attendants and doorkeepers here reflect exactly what I am talking about.
Ethos is an important part of leadership but certainly not of management speak, and it must be relevant to any organisation that professes to nurture a corporate identity. Military ethos is difficult to define. It is the spirit that motivates the Armed Forces and in the end makes men and women put their lives at risk. It is certainly not a policy, nor is it a science. It is a mixture of emotional, intellectual and moral values. It is about comradeship and team spirit, integrity and the high quality people with whom one is fortunate enough to work and serve.
It is also about tradition. People rightly scoff at tradition, if tradition is taken to mean that you never do something for the first time—but how wrong that is if you regard tradition as a standard of conduct handed down to you, below which you try never to fall. Then tradition, instead of unsettling you, will be a handrail to steady and guide you when the going gets rough. Tradition is also about recognising the importance that human beings attach to the sense of continuity, familiarity and pride in the institution in which they live and work. In that respect, I happen to believe that the UK's Armed Forces are a wonderful example.
I end with a quote from Winston Churchill, sitting at the time as a Liberal. He was talking about the Army, but it applies to all the Armed Forces. He said:
"The army is not like a limited liability company, to be reconstructed, remodelled, liquidated, refloated from week to week as the money market fluctuates. It is not an inanimate thing, like a house, to be pulled down or enlarged or structurally altered at the caprice of the tenant or the owner; it is a living thing. If it is bullied, it sulks; if it is unhappy, it pines; if it is harried, it gets feverish; if it is sufficiently disturbed, it will wither and dwindle and almost die; and when it comes to this last serious condition, it is only revived by lots of time and lots of money".
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for introducing this debate. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, that Viscount Younger of Leckie was in my regiment in Korea. He was a fine, young platoon commander. He took a bullet very cheerfully and it did not seem to do much harm to his future.
On the question of veterans, in which, as the Minister knows, I take a great interest, I, too, was sad to see Dr Lewis Moonie move on or move away. I have not yet found him. I felt that he was just starting to get to grips with the problems of veterans. As a nation, we have a tradition of not caring as much as we should for veterans, and I felt that Dr Moonie was much on the right track.
I should like to come down to the lower deck and talk about soldiers, sailors and airmen. If the Minister does not already know it, he should understand that today there is some very definite resentment among members of the armed services that they are not getting a fair deal. The reasons are well known. Some noble Lords have mentioned them. As I understand it, the main reasons are that they are pushed around a little too much, are not given time for proper training or recuperation, and do not see their families often enough.
Furthermore, they feel that they are not provided with the best equipment. It is always being promised. Radios are always coming this year, next year, not yet. It will be wonderful to have the Eurofighter, but that is not yet here. The great airbus, on which the Government are so keen, is still on paper. Like the noble Lord, I cannot understand why the C17, a much better aeroplane, is not bought and used more often. I have never met anyone in the Royal Air Force who is particularly keen to fly the airbus.
Reference has also been made to recruitment. I was amazed to hear that recruitment had been stopped a year or so ago because the budget had been spent. There seems to be no financial flexibility to bring forward some money to ensure that recruitment continues. The Minister will probably say, "All is well now"; I hope so. But if one cannot recruit, one cannot train. I heard that one regiment had 200 or so recruits on its books and was told that it could not take them because there was no money for their recruitment or their training. If correct, that is an amazing situation. I merely bring it to the fore because recruitment is vital. I put that against technical advances. One can have as much technology as one likes—by Jove we need it—but one always needs boots on the ground, matelots in a ship and flying pilots in the air, supporting the forces.
If I were in the Minister's position, I would look very closely at some of the high-tech equipment that is on order, which is costing the earth. Do we really need 250 Eurofighters? It is true that we need a hell of a lot of aeroplanes, because we are short of them; the Government have cancelled the Harriers and the Navy now has no aeroplanes at all.
I believe that the men and women of the armed services come first. In the same way, their discontent possibly stems from this latest business of supporting the nation by putting out fires. Some 19,000 servicemen were held to ransom by a union in time of national peril. The pay discrimination between a fireman and a soldier is really quite appalling. It is even worse now, of course, with the latest payments to the fire service. But it was not that so much; it was more that those servicemen wanted to go to Iraq too. All military personnel are sensibly aware of the perils of active service, but they all want to go. This was the main bone of contention, as I daresay the Minister knows.
On the whole, from what I hear, and, as the noble and gallant Lord said, it was very sensible to have had this training in Oman to start with, but we had never really trained for war. We are generally training for other duties. So far, it has to be said, we have not come up against a really tough enemy in mass. We have had skirmishes; I do not believe we have had a real war since Korea. By that I mean a battle, as I understand it, with divisions moving. We were very lucky in Iraq: look at our lines of communication. Everyone said we will keep them open by air. Luckily, most of the enemy had gone. But you need soldiers for keeping the lines of communication open. And you need reinforcements, which has not been mentioned yet, because you could receive severe casualties.
One day we will fight an enemy who believes in what he fights for, in his leadership and in the politicians—so-called—who tell him what to do. It will be a different story then. If we do not train for war and the Treasury does not make available the funds to train for war—and we must find time to train a soldier for war—we will be imperilled, and we will not necessarily always win. That is another thing—we have been very lucky in our little wars and skirmishes. As the noble Lord, Lord King, said, they continue and we have to stay. We use all the forces we have and have to use the reserve forces. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, and I speak as a former chairman and managing director: there is a limit to how long industry and commerce will support us. The situation needs very careful handling. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, are very pertinent in this respect.
If we need servicemen for the more peaceful operations we are meant to undertake in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and so on, it does not look very good to others if we do not have sufficient regular forces, with all the things they do, and have to call on reserves to help us. We do not get very good marks for that. It is wonderful for the reservists—they have a good time and good fun.
Coming down to earth is important at this stage with our Armed Forces. There is no doubt that they are underfunded for everything that has to be done. But I believe that the main things to deal with are recruitment, training and retention. Every effort must be put into them. There is not enough carrot. Many armies, when they fight, do not have to pay income tax. I do not think that the educational allowance for officers and NCOs has been raised for many years. I am thinking of little things. A soldier today has to pay for a meal. The nation has always fed its armed services. The little cuts hitting the pay packets of soldiers, sailors and airmen are increasing.
I am interested in this feeding business. The noble Lord, Lord King, said that we talk about marching on a full stomach. That is probably right, although many of us have marched on empty stomachs for quite long distances, generally getting something a bit later. But I have always found for myself and most of the soldiers I have been with that we fight a little more fiercely and much better if we are slightly hungry. That has always been an observation in my life.
Recruiting, training, retention, along with sensible, really needed modern technical equipment, and not forgetting the families, will all prevent the Government from having to cut the Army once again and saying as an excuse, "We can't get the recruits, so we will chop two regiments". That is absolute nonsense. I do not believe that the Ministry of Defence has really been concentrating on the fundamentals of recruiting a solider, sailor or airman, training him and keeping him. That, to me, is the most important thing.
My Lords, in a debate such as this, we are peculiarly fortunate in having expertise from every corner of the subject. We have heard the survey of the noble Lord, Lord King, over the whole subject. We have heard the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, speak on the Territorial Army, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, on the Defence Medical Services and the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, on the RAF. We are particularly fortunate in this House to have such advice and expertise. I wish in particular to thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for introducing the debate.
Throughout the debate, tribute has been paid to our Armed Forces. That is more than deserved, particularly when referring to the events of recent weeks and the campaign in Iraq. I underline the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, on what a man joins the Armed Forces for and what he hopes to get out of it. A campaign such as Iraq is what a man joins the Army for.
I was talking the other day to men in the battalion at Wellington Barracks who have been on public duties for too long. Too long a period on public duties bores them rigid, and the cost of a pint of beer can destroy them financially.
Throughout the problems of the Armed Forces runs overstretch, the most dangerous of all problems. This Government seem to have no hesitation in undertaking new enterprises without taking into account the question of where to find the men and the equipment. Unsurprisingly, the remarks of Admiral Boyce have been often quoted of late. If the Armed Forces are to undertake the roles that the Government seem to wish them to, and work that must be done is piled Pelion on Ossa, there must be money to do it. Treasury priorities are altering, but it seems never to give the Armed Forces the amount they need, and the proportion of GDP has dropped consistently.
A Bowman radio will not save a single ill child, but it is a priority nevertheless; that must be recognised. The Treasury must understand that it has to pay up. The noble Lord, Lord King, commented on the need for equipment and highly technical kit—but also on the alternative of keeping boots on the ground. That is a world-wide priority, because we believe that what the Armed Forces are doing in our name all over the world is a priority for peace and goodwill to all men. There is no doubt that we need men. It is not only the Royal Logistic Corps and its hi-tech equipment that is vital.
Today's newspapers reported remarks about the shortage of ammunition for the Royal Logistic Corps. It may be that they did not in fact need more than five rounds; nevertheless, they must be treated as soldiers, with the responsibilities of soldiers.
It is particularly worrying that the line battalions are so short of men. The possibility has been mentioned that the Government may cut down the number of battalions; they have virtually done so already. If a battalion must do any active service, it will have to borrow men from another battalion to fill its ranks—a company from X regiment will join Y regiment and go to war together with it. The current shortfall is recorded as 6,510 men below the current, very low requirement of trained men, which has been falling steadily for some years.
We need to find out how to fill this void. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body records that it,
"shall have regard for the need for the pay of the Armed Forces to be broadly comparable with pay levels in civilian life".
That is not the case. The recent pay award of 3.7 per cent with average working hours of 54.5 per week is, on the face of it, respectable, but in fact, the hours worked per month do not compare favourably with the experience of firemen, for instance. The lowest ranks—privates—are paid £13,000, and they get more quite soon, but by comparison, policemen and firemen were paid much more. Hours of duty have also risen from 75.1 hours per week to 89.5, thereby reducing the effective hourly pay to a very low level, albeit above the national minimum wage. The hours that the men are working do not really matter, but it matters that they must pay so much, relative to their total income, for a pint of beer.
This problem can be divided between recruitment and retention. When recruiting, several things are required. The regiments need really good recruiting sergeants spread in and around their depots. If a man is considering becoming a recruit, he should also be able to talk to his mates who are already in the Army so that they can tell him how they are getting on. If, and only if, they say that they are happy and have decent money and things to do that they want to do, recruitment will rise.
Later, when your man has been there for several years, and might now be getting married, he is beginning to think—as the recruit may not—of his future, and the matter of living accommodation is much more important. Unless the kind of living accommodation he can offer his wife, and the price of cabbage relative to their income, add up, the wife will tell him to get out of the Armed Forces and to go somewhere he can get a decent wage and where he will be recognised. Those calculations will also involve death-in-service benefits, private life insurance, and pensions—none of which are currently adequate or give hope for retaining men. The Treasury has to throw in the money. Unless it does so, we shall not be able to provide for our forces.
I have one further point. The media's position in war is becoming extremely serious. If there is a reporter with every battalion, they will be able to relate events, and sometimes to do so in a rather curious manner. It is not helpful for the families at home to read such reports in the newspapers. Many of the reports are absolute rubbish, and that does not help. A problem encountered in the first Gulf War—the unavailability of telephones—may no longer exist because so many men now have their own mobile telephones, but a persistent problem remains—the lack of money.
My Lords, once again, in Iraq, British servicemen and servicewomen have proved themselves in extremely difficult circumstances. Some have made the ultimate sacrifice. A squadron of my former regiment, the Household Cavalry, with light armoured reconnaissance vehicles, destroyed a great many T55s of the Iraqi 6th Armoured Division and the artillery of the 3rd Artillery Corps. Sadly, three lives were lost. I am aware at first hand of the enormous personal sacrifices made by families on these occasions. One of those lost was my cousin's son, Alexander Tweedie, a young troop leader, much loved and respected in his regiment.
Few would dispute that the British Armed Forces are among the very best in the world. Indeed, arguably on their back, the Prime Minister has been able to bestride the world stage again and again with such confidence. Now that the first ships, planes and soldiers are back from the Gulf, other political issues are already beginning to nudge military affairs out of the headlines, which reminds me of the words of Rudyard Kipling:
"O it's Tommy this an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy go away';
But it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins', when the band begins to play".
So before the events of the past few weeks become distant memories, with other issues increasingly taking priority for the Government's attention—and, critically, for public funding—it would be wise to ask whether, five years on from the SDR, and four years on from publication of the Armed Forces Overarching Personnel Strategy, the Government have lived up to their own rhetoric and discharged their obligations to our Armed Forces. Increasingly the answer must be, "No". The reality is that our Armed Forces are now suffering from acute and endemic overstretch; have been chronically underfunded in key areas of capability; and, worst of all, the men and women who man them are in danger of being taken for granted.
The Prime Minister has great ambitions for Britain's services to be a "force for good" around the world, but his Government have little appetite for facing the true costs. Providing for the security of their people is, however, a government's first duty; and because Britain is still a nation whose well-being depends on trade, they also have an acute interest in maintaining global stability. Moreover, as a permanent member of the Security Council, the Government have a duty to do so. Defence is not therefore an area where Britain can afford to stand aside even if it wished to.
The challenge that the Government must meet is to position our Armed Forces so that they can respond militarily to the known and unknown threats ahead of us, as well as provide us with continuing political influence with our most certain ally, the United States.
Above all, the UK must not get left behind in the RMA—the so-called revolution in military affairs—in particular, as my noble friend Lord King said, in the ability to acquire, process, analyse, disseminate and react to, often with precision-guided firepower, a mass of high-quality real-time information drawn from an array of human and technological sources. This move to network-centric or network-enabled warfare is already transforming the nature of high-intensity operations, and also has huge potential against asymmetric threats and in what is likely to be an extended campaign against terrorism.
As part of the move towards network-centric warfare, US Central Command in Qatar, in preparation for the Iraq war, deployed the global command and control system. Running over a military version of the Internet called the secret Internet protocol router network, it gave the US forces the ability to know not only where they were, but also where all US troops were in real time, as well as the location of Iraqi forces that had been observed and identified by a large range of surveillance systems.
Soldiers in front line units were able to use Internet-style chatrooms to share time-sensitive information, with these chatrooms accessible to all levels of the military command structure. If we want to fight alongside the Americans in future conflicts, we will need to keep pace with them in doctrine and equipment procurement and be able to integrate with the Americans' information network. That did not happen in Iraq.
One word of caution needs to be sounded, for there is already much talk of reductions in manpower. While there is no doubt that the balance between, and within, our Armed Forces must evolve to reflect technological developments and changes in the threat, the presumption must not be made, however tempting to those holding the purse strings, that network-centric warfare will, of itself, generate significant savings in manpower. Experience has shown that there is no automatic trade off between technology and manpower in the military domain.
Could the Minister therefore explain the Government's plans for greater co-operation and integration between our Armed Forces and those of the United States in the field of network-centric warfare? Could he explain what impact network-centric warfare will have on the procurement programme and manpower levels?
Even a cursory glance at the nature and duration of commitments taken on by British forces over the past decade suggests that they are no less manpower-intensive today than in the past; indeed, they are arguably more so. The reality is that overstretch is as much a function of duration as of intensity; and peacekeeping, in all its guises, is seldom short term.
The situation is made worse by a shortfall of more than 6,500 trained personnel. More than half the Army was deployed on operations and other military tasks in the first quarter of this year. A quarter of the 5,000 troops sent to replace units that fought in the war were reservists, yet failures in the process for paying reservists have still not been resolved. Problems with pay and rations, too little time at home between deployments and a lack of the most basic equipment are all contributing to a collapse in morale in the Armed Forces. Unless urgent action is taken to stem the impending surge in resignations of servicemen, trained at huge public expense, there will not be enough experienced people left.
If sustained overstretch is to be corrected, the inescapable conclusion is that either the size of our Armed Forces must be increased or the Government must take on fewer commitments—which the track record suggests is unlikely. Only then will a sustainable balance be achieved.
There is much else that can be done to ease the pressure. As a first step, a tangible commitment should be made to rebuilding the Territorial Army and making it more useable. The restoration of an adequate manning and training margin is long overdue and should be made a priority. Having an adequate "reserve" of people to cover for illness, extended individual training courses and ad hoc commitments is vital if gapping in front line units is to be avoided and careers managed properly. Shortages of the basics have been well, and deservedly, publicised. Those were caused not only by the MoD's policy of ordering equipment "just in time", but also by a combination of government indecisiveness and Treasury miserliness. There were 197 urgent operational requirements raised to provide the essentials for war fighting. Despite the Prime Minister's assurance that money would be released, it was not released soon enough.
The Challenger 2s were converted for desert warfare in time only because the invasion was fortuitously delayed by UN negotiations. The last armour upgrade was only fitted the day before the fighting started, thanks to the Herculean efforts of civilian staff working 18-hour days.
Body armour did not reach all the troops who needed it. Reservists deployed to HQ formations in theatre had to resort to taking their own laptop computers.
According to the BBC, the RAF resorted to deploying concrete bombs by the end of the war, because supplies of the explosive ones were running low.
A letter published in the latest Soldier magazine complains of a lack of small arms, AS90 and Challenger 2 ammunition, critical spares for aircraft and vehicles, NBC consumables, malaria tablets and anthrax vaccinations.
The lives of our servicemen and servicewomen must never be put at risk in such a way again.
Furthermore, this Government have consistently failed to address personnel issues in the Armed Forces. Damage is being done to the risk-taking culture, and thereby to fighting spirit and operational effectiveness, by the growing fear of legal vulnerability and the burden of red tape. This applies particularly to the Army, where tactical success—which increasingly has operational and strategic significance—depends on timely and bold decisions being made by junior commanders, who are often physically isolated and acting in the midst of uncertainty. Such decisions frequently involve risk—often high risk.
Mistakes will occur and must be tolerated. If they are to take these decisions, commanders must have absolute confidence that they will be supported by their superiors and by the judicial system if things go wrong; that is unless their mistakes are the result of gross negligence or their actions are palpably illegal, with full account having been taken of the circumstances in which the decisions were taken.
Families are as important to service personnel as to anybody else and there is no doubt that many service personnel feel disadvantaged in relation to people in civilian life, and they have good reason to feel that way.
The appalling state of much service accommodation has emerged as arguably the most important issue for service families, particularly in the Army, where accompanied service is more common than for the other services.
The relentless drive to reduce the number of married quarters—held empty to accommodate fluctuations in demand—has created inflexibilities, which make it increasingly difficult to ensure that families are housed in accordance with their entitlement. This, allied to the increasing, if subtle, pressure from the MoD to get service personnel to buy and live in their own properties, is in danger of creating a real crisis for accompanied service.
Things are no better for single living accommodation. Marne Barracks in Catterick has been described as unfit even for a tramp to live in. The accommodation regularly floods and has poor heating and rotten shower cubicles. Although new accommodation was promised two years ago, the Army Estate Organisation does not intend to start work on new accommodation until the 2004–05 financial year.
We have superb Armed Forces in this country but we also have a track record of taking them for granted. If our Armed Forces are to continue to attract not just the numbers required, but crucially also the quality required, we must make sure that they are trained and equipped to the highest standards and treated fairly. I fear we may be falling short.
An essential start point must be unapologetic recognition that service personnel constitute a special case by virtue of the unlimited liability that comes with their function: that they need to be different and have a right to be different. Yet taking that step, and following it through to its logical conclusion, seems to be a step too far for this Government.
My Lords, I welcome this debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for initiating it. More specifically, I should like to use this opportunity to reflect on the evolving capabilities of our Armed Forces in a changing and far less predictable security environment.
Increasingly today, as we have seen so clearly in Iraq, the outcome of military operations is dependent on the timely application of emerging science and technology, both to enhance the capabilities of our future weapons and equipment and to ensure that our forces at all levels have the knowledge and understanding required to employ them most effectively, often in unexpected circumstances.
Of course, this does not mean that the recruitment, training, leadership and professional commitment of our Armed Forces will be any less important in future. However, without the right tools to do their job and the informed judgment needed to use them most effectively, the Armed Forces could find themselves at an increasing disadvantage in future operations, not least because there is growing public and political expectation today that we will continue to minimise our own casualties and avoid unnecessary collateral damage. As regards collateral damage, we have been very fortunate indeed and should not take that for granted.
Historically, there is nothing new about this need for the right tools to do the job, at least in principle. However, I believe the ever-faster pace of emerging science and technology is giving far greater significance to this aspect of our future military capabilities.
We recognised this, for example, very late in the day in the 1930s when advanced research on aircraft structures allowed us to develop for the first time a new generation of high-performance monoplane fighters—the Hurricane and the Spitfire—which entered service in time for the Battle of Britain.
It is not widely recognised, even today, that without the advent of radar, which only became operational during the early months of 1940, those high-performance aircraft would have been far less effective, to the point where their own superiority could never have been fully exploited—possibly at the cost of the eventual outcome of the Battle of Britain itself.
Similarly, the defeat of the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic, which was so critical to the outcome of the Second World War, was ultimately dependent on their detection and destruction through the advent of radar and Asdic—the forerunner of sonar—and eventually our more effective conduct of operations which exploited those new technologies much more effectively.
Those examples, and an increasing number of other similar developments which have added so significantly to our military capability since then, have rested on a growing professional foundation of science and technology, which has been drawn on over the years to enhance the operational capabilities of our Armed Forces.
To this end, members of our Armed Forces and selected Ministry of Defence civilians have also in the past received advanced education in such matters, both to help formulate and acquire new and more capable generations of weapons and equipment and to ensure that we were able to employ them to best effect on operations.
Today, despite the increase in that element of our defence spending currently intended for our next generation of weapons and equipment, I find myself asking whether a number of longer-term trends are not now afoot that could perhaps unwittingly seriously undermine the defence science and technology base from which our enhanced military capabilities must ultimately be derived in future. For example, the former Defence Evaluation and Research Agency—DERA—has been largely sold off and transformed into QinetiC, where increasingly its research and development priorities will inevitably be determined by commercial pressures and interests, rather than our future defence needs.
In a wider context, an ever smaller proportion of young people attending university today are choosing to read science and technology-based subjects. Additionally, there is growing concern about the teaching in many of our secondary schools of subjects such as mathematics and physics, which are so important to the understanding and development of emerging science and technology today, particularly with regard to its military applications.
Within the new—or not so new now—MoD Smart procurement arrangements, which I welcome and generally support, there may also be signs of longer-term difficulties in attracting and retaining people of the appropriate knowledge and ability to serve in the Defence Procurement Agency. Under these new arrangements, projects are now controlled and directed within approved limits by about 140 multidisciplinary, integrated project teams, which have a vital role to play in delivering our future weapons and equipment programmes to time, cost and performance. Many of them have served us well since their formation, but they operate within a very flat organisational structure, with far fewer opportunities for the staff involved to develop their careers in a highly relevant way through service in our research and development establishments, many parts of which have now moved out into the commercial world.
The longer-term issue is that, having served us so well in the integrated project teams, career progression for staff will be seen to be very restricted and the teams' future manning with people of the appropriate quality and experience will be increasingly difficult.
Within the Armed Forces themselves, there is less specialisation on militarily relevant education in science and technology today. One cannot study secure and sensitive aspects of emerging military technology, such as electronic warfare, on normal university courses.
If, overall, my concerns about a declining science and technology base being unable to inform and deliver our future weapons and equipment requirements in the years ahead are justified, I fear that our Armed Forces may eventually find themselves without the capabilities needed to operate effectively in an increasingly unpredictable yet demanding security environment.
Sooner rather than later, an objective assessment should be carried out on the longer-term effects of the trends to which I have referred, so that in years ahead, we are not inadvertently left behind with inadequate military capabilities, or an inability to employ them to best effect on military operations.
Against that background, I today reflect increasingly on the fact that most of the weapons and equipment now in service with the Army had their origin more than 20 years ago when I was personally responsible for their acquisition. They may in most cases—and I claim no credit for it—have served us very well, but we need now to lay firm and dependable foundations for their successors.
My Lords, I am not going to speak to your Lordships about boots that were of the wrong type or about trousers that get wet at the seat. I am not going to speak to your Lordships about the fact that while the Guardian embedded correspondent with the Household Cavalry could speak happily to her editor in London on her cellular telephone, the squadron corporal major could not talk to the squadron leader because the wireless sets were not functioning properly due to their being 10 years out of date. I am not going to speak about the fact that the Scimitar, excellent vehicle though it was, broke down because of its age.
I am going to speak because, 40 years ago, I was a subaltern in D Squadron of the Lifeguards. Consequently I followed that same squadron's fortunes in Iraq with close attention. They were lucky to have with them a journalist of exceptional ability who sent back stories of their exploits, which I read as if I could see the events unfolding before my eyes.
Today is Waterloo Day, marking the considerable achievement of the Lifeguards and Blues in destroying large numbers of French infantry. The last horsed action of the First Household Cavalry was to walk into Damascus in 1941. Their first motorised action was to move into Baghdad in 1941 as well.
At the beginning of the war in Iraq, there was a letter in the Daily Telegraph from the commanding officer of the Fusilier battalion that had been shot up by the Americans in the first Gulf War asking what had happened and what precautions had been taken against it happening again.
I know perfectly well that blue-on-blue has been happening since the Peloponnesian War. The Prussians took up pursuit of the defeated French at the end of Waterloo because they had already shot up, I think, a battalion of the 43rd. Blue-on-blue is not new, but we should be improving on it.
In turning to the Household Cavalry blue-on-blue incident, it is worth going through exactly what happened. All one really wants to know is why it happened.
The cavalry was carrying out a classic advance-to-contact operation. The squadron was moving within its own battlefield control line, which means that all the air above it was supposed to be controlled by their embedded American air control officer. They had been warned of dug-in Iraqi guns and of soldiers who were half-demobbing by dropping their uniforms, changing into civilian clothes, climbing into white pick-up vans and grabbing the odd AK47 or RPL if the spirit moved them. The advance was going according to the drill book. A vehicle had broken down, had been recovered and was in the process of repair. The squadron leader's command vehicle had been bracketed by Iraqi artillery. The regiment went on to provide cover against the Iraqi T55s, which attempted to intervene after the air incident. I shall now attempt to describe that.
The vehicles had infra-red recognition and fluorescent panels. The third vehicle displayed a large Union Jack. The weather was perfect. Two A10 Warthogs came in extremely low. At one stage, the corporal of horse could actually see the pilot's face. The planes made two passes and shot up two vehicles and badly damaged another. There was very little excuse for that. Smoke was let off, as it should have been. The American air traffic controller was trying his level best to stop it, but it still happened.
Corporal of Horse Gerrard said from his hospital bed on the "Argus":
"All this kit has been provided by the Americans. They've said if you put this kit on, you won't get shot".
We know American Silhouette tanks. The same corporal of horse and practically every other tank commander in the British Army can recognise an American Silhouette tank at 1,500 metres. The Warthogs had come down as low as 50 feet to shoot up targets at 110 yards. I know that because my Guardian journalist friend found a Warthog website—it is a curse that the Americans have. On the website was a message from a technical sergeant in the Massachusetts Air National Guard which said, "Hi, it's Hog 166". The journalist told me that they have great pride in their achievements. They are slightly despised by the rest of the American air force because they do not fly smart and expensive planes or fly very fast or have Tom Cruise to act them. They merely fly very low and beat up tanks. When properly controlled, they are extremely good at it. What happened in this case was that they were not properly controlled.
I should like to ask the Minister for the details of the inquiry. Who is chairing it and will the results be published? If it is a British military inquiry, will it have access to American officers and the pilots concerned? If it is an American court of inquiry, will we be kept completely informed? We have to learn lessons from this. It is not good enough for the same things to happen in Gulf War I and Gulf War II. That is why we should be insistent on finding out the results of the inquiry. Hog 166 says:
"Let the guys that investigate do their job. If our guys screwed up, well then our courts will fairly be their judge along with the Almighty".
That strikes me as the attitude of a very sensible soldier.
I hope that the Minister will ensure that we know what happened and tell us the result. That way we learn all the lessons we possibly can.
My Lords, the Motion so thoughtfully and authoritatively introduced by the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, refers to defence policy and the future of the Armed Forces. I am not going to follow the noble Lord, Lord King, and other noble Lords on the subjects of over-stretch and recruitment problems. My contribution is of a more technical military kind. I should like to ask the Minister what military lessons have been learnt from recent operations which might affect decisions about how the Armed Forces are organised and equipped in the future. It is the future that I want to talk about.
Since I served as an infantry officer—it seems centuries ago—much has changed. Everything now on the field of battle and in the Army is virtually unrecognisable to me and there are far more technological developments to come. We have only just begun the first phases of a military revolution which will change the battlefield and the structure of our Armed Forces unrecognisably. We have learnt a number of lessons from various operations that have taken place since the end of the Cold War. We learnt lessons in Afghanistan and in the first operation in Iraq. However, it was from the second operation—Iraqi Freedom—that there is much to be learnt not only from the successful operations of our own Armed Forces in the Basra area, but more especially from the remarkable achievement of the American Armed Forces in their advance on Baghdad. There has been much criticism of the performance of the American forces in the post-war environment in Baghdad. Whether this is justified or not, it should not detract from the fact that the military operation itself was brilliantly planned and successfully executed.
These operations were regarded by many in the United States Administration, especially in the Pentagon, as a testing ground for a completely new concept of operations. As the Minister and other noble Lords will know, this concept is referred to by defence planners and analysts as EBO or effects based Operations. This new piece of jargon has all kinds of technical aspects. It means in effect the bringing together of armed forces—navy, army and air force—with all the resources of advanced technology, especially precision guided munitions, such as smart bombs, and so on, and information technology. Some of this was already evident in Operation Iraqi Freedom. A new generation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems enabled the establishment in the theatre of operations of a joint fighting force of all arms with access to a common intelligence picture and under the direction of a real time command and control system. This is the "network-centric" operational concept to which the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, and the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, have both referred. Will the Minister confirm that our own defence planners are in close liaison with the Americans in developing this concept and analysing its effect on the organisation and equipment of our Armed Forces? As the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, rightly said, we shall not be able to fight either on our own or alongside our American allies unless we keep up with such developments.
As I have said, perhaps one of the main elements in all this is precision-guided munitions—smart bombs and missiles. I should like to give an example of the impact of this technology. In 1943 it took a thousand B17 bombers dropping 9,000 bombs to destroy a specific target. Today the same effect can be achieved by one aircraft equipped with two laser-guided bombs. But, of course, before one can attack a target, it is first necessary to find it and pinpoint its position. This is generally called, in military jargon, target acquisition. The obvious conclusion from this is that future operations will involve not only precision-guided munitions but highly sophisticated real-time battlefield intelligence.
One of the questions for defence planners, therefore, is whether we need expensive platforms such as main battle tanks and aircraft carriers or whether we need a completely new concept in the organisation, training and equipment of our Armed Forces. I would ask the Minister to confirm that this is the direction in which our defence planners are moving and also to allay some of the fears voiced by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent of Coleshill, about the extent to which our Armed Forces are being trained to use this equipment.
Another lesson from the American advance on Baghdad was in the logistics field. In the past, it has always been thought essential to stockpile large amounts of supplies before a major operation of the kind envisaged in Iraq. Sixty days is about the normal military calculation. In the Iraq conflict, US Army units fought with just a few days'—two to three days sometimes—of water, food and ammunition, replenished by sophisticated logistics systems, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, as "just in time" logistic systems, once again based on information technology and digital communication systems. Does the Minister agree that we are on the edge of a complete revolution in military affairs in which very few of the old planning assumptions and tactical doctrines are valid?
My own experience is that the Armed Forces themselves are remarkably quick and flexible in responding to new ideas. They have not always received all the political support they deserve, but we have to accept that, as far ahead as one can see, there is unlikely to be any great increase in defence budgets or in resources devoted to our Armed Forces. Indeed, the reverse might be the case. It is therefore all the more important that we should exploit all the advantages of military science, such as smart munitions and information technology, to meet the possible military operations, sometimes called asymmetric operations, of the future.
It is important also that defence planners should be looking even further into the future, beyond the requirements of immediate operations. One of the most important factors in the next phase of the military revolution is likely to be the directed energy weapon. This may be quite a long way in the future, but it is already technologically feasible. Directed energy weapons concentrate large amounts of energy at specific wavelengths and frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum and then direct the concentrated energy at distant targets. To put that in simple layman's terms: it is like being able to generate a bolt of lightning and aim it at a specific target. When this is developed it will, of course, have enormous implications for the cost of weapons and for controlling the incidence of what is sometimes called "collateral damage".
Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether he will be prepared to share with the House, as far as he can within the limits of security, some of the thinking of the Ministry of Defence about these matters. The events of Operation Iraqi Freedom have once again demonstrated that our Armed Forces—Navy, Army and Air Force—will always do what is required of them and do it with skill and commitment. It is important that the strategic doctrines and technological concepts within which they operate should take full account of the military revolution which has been developing for some time, and which had its baptism of fire in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During the course of the debate, a great deal has been said about recruiting. I should like to conclude with a word about our young men and women of today. They are a generation to whom computers and digitalised technology are second nature, as they certainly were not in my young days. The Armed Forces of the future will be an environment in which they will be completely at home. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what plans the Government have for attracting this technologically aware generation into our services.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord King for this opportunity to discuss the crucial role of the Armed Forces in their highly professional and internationally respected contribution to the defence of our nation and the promotion of freedom and justice in many parts of the world.
I wish to focus in particular on the Defence Medical Services and endorse and expand some of the concerns raised by my noble friend Lady Park. The role of the DMS in ensuring the highest possible standards of care for military personnel is vital in the promotion of their well-being and to the maintenance of their morale. The men and women who risk life and limb are entitled to the best possible treatment, both in the immediate theatre of war and in all forms of follow-up care and rehabilitation.
However, there is long-standing concern about the shortfall of staff in the DMS causing problems of overstretched medical personnel. That leads to low morale and serious doubts about their future. According to the BMA, the DMS have, overall, less than half the number of trained doctors required and in some specialities the shortage of staff is even more acute.
This is not a new problem. In 1998, the Ministry of Defence in its paper A Strategy for the Future admitted that the DMS were,
"suffering a serious shortage of both regular and reserve personnel", acknowledging that,
"we have only about 50 per cent of the doctors we need".
Therefore, the medical, manpower and retention review was specifically established to investigate these problems of understaffing and to propose remedies. However, there are still very serious shortages. As recently as July last year, of the 120 anaesthetists required by the DMS, there were only 23 in post; of 43 general surgeons, there were only 18; of 10 burns specialists, there were only three; and of 416 general medical practitioners there were only 190 vocationally trained, with a further 73 in training, but insufficient GP trainers to provide the training. Those figures are shocking and deeply disturbing.
In 2001, DMS staff were deeply involved in the Balkans, Afghanistan and in a major exercise in Oman, but to support these increased commitments there was no increase in military medical and dental personnel. There are now serious problems in the retention of medical and dental officers. The MoD's own DMS attitude survey revealed that 82 per cent of DMS doctors feel that the DMS are over-committed to operational deployments. That proportion rises to 94 per cent among consultants.
The war in Iraq involved massive deployment of medical reservists who filled those gaps with great commitment. But there must be a question as to the extent to which the DMS can continue to rely on reservists for several reasons. The first concerns the costs—professional and financial—to the reservists themselves. A recent letter in the Daily Telegraph of 10th June by the wife of a consultant surgeon described his disturbing experiences. When he volunteered for service in former Yugoslavia, he suffered financially with a reduction in salary and a loss of private practice. This March he was called up for compulsory service in Kuwait with just 10 days' notice. He appealed against that, partly on health grounds, but received another call-up notice while he was in hospital. His wife's letter concluded:
"The MoD needs seriously to consider how it uses the services of its medical reserves in the future or it will struggle to meet its objectives. My husband will be resigning his commission forthwith".
That is only one example. But it reflects concerns being expressed by many reservists, especially as the recent deployments are so extended and therefore so disruptive of their own professional careers. The BMA News of 17th May this year reports a survey conducted among reservists in the Gulf who claimed that, if the tour of duty were to extend beyond six months, 34 out of 52 of the doctors who responded said they would "probably" or "definitely not" continue to serve as reservists. Moreover, these long deployments abroad have a knock-on effect on the National Health Service which itself is suffering from staff shortages in both hospital and primary care services. The recent MoD waiting list initiative required the ministry to call on the private sector as the NHS could not meet the demand.
Therefore, questions must be asked about the extent to which the DMS can continue to rely on reservists. I ask the Minister how Her Majesty's Government intend to reduce the dependence of the DMS on this source of support which has served it so well in the past but which may be less available in the future.
Before I turn to my own profession of nursing, I raise one other issue. I must confess that I am fascinated that the United Kingdom appears to be virtually the only country in Europe which thinks it can do with so few dedicated military hospitals. Only the Royal Hospital Haslar, Royal Naval Hospital Gibraltar and the RAF Hospital in Cyprus remain. I recently had the great privilege to visit Royal Hospital Haslar and was reminded of the special value of the service hospital. That ethos also survives very strongly in the military hospital abroad. But it is that special ethos which offers such an attraction in recruiting healthcare personnel to serve in the DMS. I have also visited the Ministry of Defence Hospital Units and it seems to me that they do not offer the same distinctive traditions and atmosphere of a military hospital. Therefore, by closing so many military hospitals, there has been a serious attrition of appeal for those who now have to suffer the disadvantages of service responsibilities without the distinctive benefits.
Of course I am aware of the development in Birmingham, but to date Haslar is the only home for uniformed members of the DMS in this country where they can enjoy the kind of environment for which they joined the services. Therefore, I ask the Minister how successful the medical manning retention policy has been in recruiting and retaining staff in the DMS. Will consideration be given to bringing back one or two military hospitals to provide that special ethos, characteristic of the Armed Forces, described so well by other noble Lords? And will there be the appropriate career prospects so essential for retaining the very dedicated and highly qualified personnel in the DMS who could so easily find more favourable prospects, salaries and career opportunities outside the DMS in the National Health Service and/or in private practice?
I turn briefly to the challenges confronting the nursing profession in the DMS. One of these challenges is the apparently demeaning, penny-pinching disestablishment of the one-star Director Defence Nursing Services post within the Surgeon General's department. This disestablishment cannot be good for the morale of the nursing services. It is particularly anomalous at a time when the Department of Health's proposals in Agenda for Change represent significant enhancement of pay and career development for nurses, based on the appreciation of the key role played by nurses in the provision of healthcare. There is a serious shortage of nurses working in the Armed Forces, especially in certain specialties. There will be an urgent need to consider the impact of Agenda for Change, which is likely to increase competitiveness in the labour market, with enhanced career opportunities in the National Health Service and the private sector, compared with those remaining in the DMS.
Last year the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service celebrated its centenary year. Many tributes have been paid. I hope that those tributes reflect an appropriate appreciation of all that the QUARNNS and the other nursing services have to offer to the DMS, and that changing opportunities in the NHS for nursing staff in both clinical and managerial posts will be reflected in the DMS. Would the Minister consider the reinstatement of at least one one-star appointment to the nursing services in the DMS as a recognition of the centrality of nursing in the provision of healthcare in the Armed Forces?
Although I have highlighted the role of the medical, dental and nursing professions, I also pay tribute to the medical services officers, to other ranks, ratings and airmen without whose superb services the DMS could not function at all. All your Lordships appreciate the crucial role played by all the medical, nursing and paramedical staff in providing clinical care in and for the Armed Forces. However, the evidence shows many problems that are causing a serious haemorrhage of key personnel, which endanger the viability of the DMS. Those who remain in the services will be looking to the Government for reassurance that their predicament is understood and that effective remedies are imminently forthcoming. I hope that they may receive some reassurances from the Minister tonight—for their sake and for the sake of the Armed Forces who defend our nation, our freedom and the freedoms of many other people in many parts of the world.
My Lords, it is appropriate that at this stage of the debate I should acknowledge that I am without doubt the least informed of the most junior officers present. I hold senior officers in great awe—and the noble Baronesses, Lady Cox and Lady Park, in even greater awe.
Sometimes one reaches the moment in one's life when one is not sure which way to think or move. I begin by recalling some of my mentors from the past who said: first of all think whether one thinks in black and white or colour. I do not know. Then, if one tries to think if something is black and white and one is not sure which way to go, take a blackboard and some white chalk and take a white board with some black chalk. Write positive and negative on either of them. Write what one thinks is right on one side and what is wrong on the other. Then reverse them. One may find oneself coming to a conclusion.
I shall try today to confuse myself, as I will your Lordships, by turning a few things on their heads and asking: why is there a Ministry of Defence after what has happened? Why do we not go back to calling it the Ministry of War, or, if it is politically correct, Ministry of Peaceful Affairs? That begs the question: are we going to war or are we out to defend the realm? If we are out to defend the realm, do we need to go to war? In that case we should have a Ministry of War, and if we are going to war abroad we are "at war".
I turn to Iraq. I was brought up to believe that one did not do things unless someone knew why one was doing them. If one was a junior officer one would never be told anyway and at some time or another one would find out from the lower-deck buzz. The question I would like to ask the Minister is: did we go to war with Iraq, and now that the war has stopped, are we at peace? I thought that we could not go to war unless we declared it on a country, and one cannot declare war on an "ism". Therefore, if one has not gone to war, when hostilities cease, one is at peace. The matter is difficult, because historically—and I like the idea of pre-emptive strikes, and in previous debates I have said that one has to show force, not "Shock and Awe", force—one has to let people know that one means it.
There would have been none of the argument about weapons of mass destruction 100 years ago. We would have sent a punitive mission to take out the regime—which is exactly what we did. I rather wish that we could have said that before. I remember being told by the Benches opposite that there was no relationship between Iraq and terrorism, that we were not going to take out regimes. Yet we went ahead. That is what caused me some doubt. I was even more doubtful when I listened to that remarkable debate in the House of Commons which was, at its best, debating whether or not we went to war. Having gone to war once, there is a worry that we might go to war again. But our prime duty must be to defend ourselves. I do not believe that one goes to war on terrorism. I believe that one defends oneself against terrorists. That is another matter, because with terrorists we are dealing with one group of people or even individuals.
I do not agree with the rhetoric in the United States that talks about "axis of evil", because an axis is a straight line and axles are circles. I do not believe in the propaganda of weapons of mass destruction. Nobody has ever mentioned the "supergun". I was fairly heavily involved in that. That was a wonderful weapon of mass destruction. It was visible; it was a great phallic symbol. Nobody bothered when they went out there to find out where it was pointing. Nobody bothered to recognise that the technology which made it as long as a football field was sufficient to be able to send a shell a long way away. Instead, we sat on a group of chemical weapons. They are not weapons of mass destruction. Sarin and many of the nerve gases have been used for years.
When the Russians were advancing upon Berlin, I believe that the Nazis—or Germans as they were then called—pointed out that they had V4 and V3 rockets which were weapons of mass destruction. The Russians were worried about the nerve gases such as sarin, which in those days were called "weapons of last defence" or "last resort". One put on a paper piece of kit, wore one's gas mask for four hours a day and all night, and that was not a weapon of mass destruction but a weapon of defence—or, more importantly, a weapon of fear. But are any of the toxins on the list that were described in the anti-terrorism Bill, or in the Government's papers, any worse than SARS? They were probably less fearful and less frightening. The worry that I have raised before is that if we are not careful, we frighten our own people into a difficult situation.
Just before the war began I went to the United States, as I do regularly, and I could not believe that on an "orange alert" every 10 minutes on television people were advised, miles away from Iraq on the other side of the world, to protect themselves with plastic sheets on the windows from such-and-such gas that would be released across the prairies. The fear that came across was worrying. Every party was there. Mr Blair was a great ally. He was going to defend America from weapons of mass destruction. When one went to the airport and tried to leave, one found that there were four and a half hours of queues as everyone was searched—unless one decided to go on a national day when the level of fear was so great that one could go straight into the airport and board an empty plane. The danger of terrorism is the fear that we create among ourselves, rather than the mechanisms of defence.
So when it comes to the question of how we defend ourselves or attack, I suppose that we must first consider defence equipment. The way to address that is by expenditure. The second way is to consider people. We have total forces of, say, 200,000. The United States has 1.5 million. The rest of NATO and continental Europe has about 1.5 million. But the British Commonwealth has 2.5 million. So Her Majesty can speak for 2.7 million members of armed forces, in one way or another. It is not me saying that; it is the Swiss and others saying to me, "You are a world power. Why do you not realise it? You have more influence than anyone in the world, other than the United States, which thinks that it has influence".
When one is not sure what to do, one returns to nature. The other night, I was talking to some of my noble friends and asking about birds, because I could not remember the stories of birds. I was reminded that a swift can fly at more than 50,000 feet and can fly to the Arctic and back without refuelling. That led me to ask, "What is our bird—the British bird?" Actually, we have a lion. A lion roars, and the British lion held everyone in fear. What do the Americans have? They have a bald or a white eagle, which they regard as a symbol of freedom.
Your Lordships will know that when Zeus, Jupiter or Jehovah—or whatever he was called that day—was deciding who should be king of the birds, he said, "Well, it could either be the most beautiful, or I shall let you decide among yourselves". The commission of birds sat down and said, "It will be the one that flies the highest". Now, the little wren was disappointed about that, because it could not fly very high, and the eagle thought that it would win easily.
So the wren went up to the eagle and said, "Can I fly on your back when you fly high, so that I can see what is going on? I should like to be well-informed". They flew higher, higher and higher and the little wren said to the eagle, "Fly higher, get higher, get up!" As the eagle finished flapping, the little wren gave a jump of one metre. Although the eagle is called king of the birds, the little wren is called king of the nests.
That little wren can frighten an eagle, because the eagle screams when it sees the wren. I do not want to say that we or the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, are the poodle—which is not an insulting word—of the United States; or that we, the British, must be the pooper-scoopers for the Americans, but we are a form of intelligent little wren.
If the one thing to come out of this is that the Government have persuaded the United States to devote more attention to Northern Ireland and Israel, that is a remarkable achievement. The world in which I have worked has been trade and finance. Usually, because I could not be successful in important countries, that was in the beat-up parts of the world. Yes, it was in Iraq, Iran, Libya, Algeria, north Africa and all over the Congo—wherever there was British trade potential, I was sent because I was not sufficiently important. But if I learned anything there, it was to look at us as they see us.
Although many people dismiss the Commonwealth, and will not think of the English language, which 750 million people speak as their first language and 750 million people as their second language, and which 750 million are learning, we could say to ourselves: is it not strange that in such events it is the English-speaking forces—the Australians, the Canadians, ourselves and others—who seem to turn out? What is our role? If it is to defend ourselves, we must defend ourselves not from a physical military enemy, but from the covert world of terrorism. That can be done only by increasingly greater intelligence and co-operation.
I do not approve of the continual demands for opening of bank accounts and so on. That is another issue. But if, in defence of our realm we must take pre-emptive strikes or seek a peacekeeping role that must have international support and we need to go to war, I am not saying that we should split the Ministry of Defence into two—the Ministry of Defence and the ministry of war—but perhaps we should cost those two exercises.
We know that we are under-strength. That has been made clear. I have previously raised the point that when a regiment has only one battalion and that battalion consists of only 750 men, it does not really deserve to be called a regiment. Then one asks: "How shall we finance that?" Opposite me, I see on the Government Front Bench, with his wise eyes, the Samuel Pepys of the Labour Party. If it is worthwhile at this time, we should give it what it takes, no matter what it costs once we have costed it. Otherwise, we shall find ourselves in a permanent mess in which defence and war are mixed; in which fear is rampant; in which we frighten ourselves; and in which we will not know from where the danger comes.
That leads me to fables that I read last night by Aesop and La Fontaine. Your Lordships will recall that one spoke about mice. The mice were in council and said, "We must do something about that big bad cat". They said, "Yes, we have an idea. We will put a bell on it, so that when it arrives, we can run away". One of the council, the minister of defence, said, "Who will put the bell on the cat?" They said, "You; you are the minister of defence". He said, "Who will find the cat?" They said, "Ah, that is the job of the prime minister".
Where is the cat? We do not know. We are in such a period of uncertainty that I must sit down as a junior sub-lieutenant, recalling the words of that great admiral, Jackie Fisher: the role of the British Army should be that of a projectile to be fired by the British Navy against God knows whom.
My Lords, I shall try to top that. I thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for initiating this debate. Perhaps I may also apologise to the House for not being present for some speeches. I had to attend a meeting on the Licensing Bill, which is to come to your Lordships' House tomorrow morning.
I begin by echoing the tribute paid by the noble Lord, Lord King, to the professionalism and courage of our troops who took part in the recent conflict. It seems not many weeks ago that I stood up and said that I was against that conflict; I do not retract that position. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that many of the scenarios that I painted, and many of my worst fears—expressed not just by me but by many noble Lords—have, thankfully, not been realised. That is all to the good.
However, one issue about the conflict that especially concerned us on these Benches was something raised several times in the debate, and by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, although he is not in his place. That is the issue of an exit strategy. That is still undecided. It cannot be forgotten that we have about a quarter of our Armed Forces—well, of our combat forces—in the Gulf at present.
Removal of our soldiers will of course rely on winning the peace. Although on 1st May, the President of the United States declared the end of major hostilities, it is depressing that 40 American servicemen have lost their lives since then, as have a large number of Iraqis—civilians and combatants. The situation is extremely volatile. Saddam Hussein is not in power, but we do not even know whether he is dead. As has been mentioned, removal of our troops and dealing with the issue of over-stretch will rely on the formation of a political authority. Of course, that issue is wide of this debate, but it is proving extremely difficult to undertake, and we wish all those who are undertaking the process of bringing about a political authority that can allow our troops to be withdrawn and the introduction of a civil authority our best.
That is particularly poignant because Sir Michael Boyce has raised the issue of whether we can undertake another campaign or whether our troops will need rest and rehabilitation for at least 18 months. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, raised the issue of the number of our number of commitments. He mentioned particularly the issue of the Congo. I support the Government wholeheartedly in our commitment to the Congo. Obviously, there is a difficulty here. I say that from the political and humanitarian aspect of our providing troops for a conflict that has cost so many millions of lives in the past few years.
However, from a military perspective, the exit strategy also raises its head. It is to be hoped that our troops will be able to pull out when the Bangladeshi contingency from the UN is in position later in the summer. However, there is a real danger of mission creep in the Congo. I think that we will be in the Congo for a long time. It is a situation that must be ended, but it will take more commitment not just from Britain, but from a large number of European forces and other forces to bring that disaster to an end.
The role of the reserve forces was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman. It is not my place to cover the ground that he has already gone over. Has research been done on the consequences of outflow from the reserve forces; where those people who, as a result of commitments being called upon, are considering giving up? Is this having a detrimental effect on the numbers in the reserve forces?
The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, raised the important issue of the number of men currently in the reserve forces. The situation is far more serious than is painted by the figures that are on the books of the reserve forces. Anyone who has been in the reserve forces—I served as an officer with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers—knows that when one calls up one's troops for the summer camp, one is lucky if one in four, maybe one in three, or, in a good unit, one in two, actually turn out. Obviously in some units more will turn out. Nevertheless, this is a severe problem, because it leads to one of the issues that I am most concerned about. The people who we are calling on to supplement our regular forces are those trained individuals who are most valuable.
Although I understand the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, raised about formed units going out, I do not think that formed units should be sent out on these operations. Individuals are important. We should realise that these individuals are a scarce resource. In the remit, the particular individuals that the Minister will be looking at are vehicle electricians and vehicle mechanics. It takes a long time in the reserves to train those individuals up to a high enough standard. It is possible to call them out on the first time the reserves are called up. However, if we are there for the long run, I am not sure that we will have the supplies of trained personnel to fill those roles.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the issue of the state of the medical services. Is it true that the situation is worse this year than last year? We have had a number of debates about this issue. The Government are aware of the problem. However, it is becoming a real issue because it is affecting the treatment of our service personnel.
The noble Baroness, Lady Park, mentioned the article in the Sunday Times about service personnel having to pay for private health insurance to get treatment for injuries sustained on active service. Whether there is truth in the article is the subject for another debate, and I think that we will be returning to it.
Gulf War syndrome is pertinent at this time. Recently, Sean Rusling's case went to the High Court, which said that in his case there was an issue of Gulf War syndrome. The Minister is shaking his head. Obviously that was an appeal from a tribunal. The judge said that it would be up to each individual to prove that he was suffering from Gulf War syndrome. Will that affect the pension rights of those service personnel who believe themselves to be suffering from Gulf War syndrome? In earlier debates, the Minister said that those incapacitated through illness will receive Army pensions. However, if they are trying to claim Gulf War syndrome and no other, it is difficult to categorise their incapacity. Will that be a case where they would receive a pension?
I will return another time to discuss the issue of depleted uranium, about which I am concerned. We do not have time to discuss it now. There is specific guidance about depleted uranium when it has been burned and turned into an aerosol. It will become an issue, not just for service personnel, but for Iraqi civilians, that the A-10s and tanks were firing depleted uranium shells into some of the ministries. After the conflict, looters set fire to those ministries, causing large clouds of burning material. Has research been undertaken into whether those clouds of burning material would disperse depleted uranium in a form that has been set out as a dangerous contaminant for our Army personnel? That would have a major effect on the wearing of gas masks in many areas in Baghdad.
I welcome the provision of the A400M, which is a valuable step forward. The C-17 has been mentioned. Has the C-17 in its present form been cost effective? I believe that it is under service contract. The mileage undertaken by the C-17s in recent years must have far exceeded what was expected.
I was going to talk about weapons of mass destruction, an issue covered by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in his speech. However, I have run out of time, and that will be discussed in another debate. I believe that we will soon return to many of the issues that have been raised in the White Paper, and the Government will bring forward a paper on the lessons learnt from Iraq. I thank the Minister for the helpful answers he has given in the many Statements he has made.
My Lords, this has been an informative debate clearly identifying the numerous concerns of your Lordships on defence issues. First, I express my sincere thanks to my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater for introducing the debate and for drawing so clearly to your Lordships' attention current and future problems on defence. I wholeheartedly support what he said.
I congratulate all our troops who took part in the Iraq operation for their courage, bravery and determination to win and to defeat the enemy. I know that all your Lordships are immensely proud of our troops, and they well deserve full recognition of the breathtaking success that they achieved.
However, there is one aspect which did not go well. Many of us thought that the BBC was biased in its coverage of the conflict both before and during the fighting. It gave unnecessary weight to the views of the opponents of the war and it seemed to take great delight in presenting the gloomiest of views of what was going on. Its overall coverage was pessimistic to say the least. This sort of attitude not only undermines the morale of the troops, but also the morale of the families who are left behind. I can only hope that, in any future conflict, the BBC will not be so thoughtless and will show more sensitivity.
Today is Waterloo Day, the day that General Sir Hussey Vivian, my ancestor, and the ancestor of my noble kinsman Lord Astor, led the final successful cavalry charge that turned the French. Personnel matters relating to his men were uppermost in his mind. It is those matters that I shall cover today.
The Armed Forces are substantially underfunded. Unless improvements are made—especially to pay and conditions of service in the Army—there may be a dramatic departure of many officers and soldiers, even though retention and recruitment have been better this year. I shall illustrate the underfunding. The defence share of GDP shows no increase since 1997; it has decreased from 2.9 per cent of GDP in 1997 to 2.3 per cent this year.
There is serious concern about the overall balance of investment in the defence budget. Too much is spent on projected high-technology equipment and not enough on servicemen and servicewomen. Of course, we must not send our troops to war badly equipped or without up-to-date equipment, but it is essential that the Armed Forces be given fair, proper and relevant pay and conditions of service.
I am convinced that some of our servicemen and servicewomen are badly underpaid, especially when their pay is compared to the starting salaries of firemen, policemen and ambulancemen who receive around £5,000 more than the initial wage of our military personnel. For instance, a fireman receives £17,982 and a soldier only £13,045. On present planning, full manning in the Armed Forces will not be achieved until 2010. However, if significant improvements were made to basic pay, achievable if the Armed Forces Pay Review Body's terms of reference were amended to allow direct comparison to civilian occupations such as the emergency services, full manning could quickly be implemented. If that is not possible, there is an immediate case for increasing significantly the "X" factor to bring overall pay to levels comparable with those in the other emergency services.
In addition to the need for an increase in pay, there are other issues. The 5 per cent increase in the longer separated service allowance, although welcome, and a proposal to reduce the qualifying period from 18 to 12 months are not enough. Perhaps the Minister will explain why that allowance could not be increased to at least £1,000 per month tax free and the accumulated turbulence bonuses increased to £5,000. Ministers should be aware—I warn them now—that there is an intense feeling of resentment that servicemen and servicewomen are being taken for granted by the Government. They are convinced that they are not getting a fair deal. The Armed Forces are intensely loyal and will always follow their orders, but I detect that many of our servicemen and servicewomen have had enough. Unless Army pay and allowances are realistically improved, the MoD should not show surprise if vast numbers decide to leave suddenly. Urgent action is required now—not tomorrow—to remedy the problems; otherwise it will be too late. The disintegration of our Armed Forces will have taken place.
I turn now to over-commitment. The armed services have been over-committed, and recently just under 60 per cent have been deployed on operations that cannot be sustained. Those military operations for all three services have been made more difficult because they were under strength and because units have been involved in a fire-fighting role in Operation Fresco. It will be a great relief to the Armed Forces as a whole that that strike is now over, which will allow troops to return to realistic training and once again concentrate on increasing their skill levels. There are two ways of reducing over-commitment: the first is to limit strictly the number of operations to the availability of troops; and the second is to ensure full manning by improving pay and conditions.
As at 1st April this year, the Royal Navy was 910 under trained strength; the Army was 4,850 below trained strength; and the Royal Air Force was 750 under trained strength. Although recruiting and retention have improved this year, there is a need for those servicemen and servicewomen now, especially in the Army. However, a ridiculous situation has been imposed, preventing more Army recruits than the forecast figures from joining up because the training organisation is limited and funded to the forecast number of recruits who will join and there is no leeway for surge capacities. That has meant that recruits, although fit to enlist, are not allowed to do so because there are no funds to pay them. There are neither sufficient bed spaces for them nor enough instructors to train them and give them the required care and attention in the training organisation. Furthermore, because of the new policy of capping the yearly recruit intake, full manning will now not take place until 2010. Will the Minister give an undertaking to stop capping the number of recruits so that we are able to process and train as many of them as can be enlisted to the agreed establishment?
I shall speak briefly about the possibility of future reorganisation in the Army, as mentioned in the defence debate in another place last Thursday. I would not disagree that restructuring may well have to take place if the Army is to conform to required new capabilities and a future defence policy leading to a heavy element, a rapidly deployable medium element and a light element. At this stage I do not want to be drawn into the many different arguments about which units might be reduced in the future, but I wish to make one point as forcefully as I can. Although units may be reorganised, there is no case whatever for reducing manpower levels. It makes no sense to throw away expensive trained military manpower when the Army is already below its trained strength by 4,850 personnel.
If restructuring is to take place eventually, all units should be brought up to their trained strength as quickly as possible. For instance, if the basic structure of armoured regiments is to be reduced to three tank squadrons, the fourth tank squadron's manpower should be reallocated to the four armoured reconnaissance regiments for them to return to a four-squadron establishment. However, the possible restructuring should not take place until other weapon systems such as the Apache helicopter and the future rapid effects system vehicles come into service. That will not be until 2010, and that does not include slippage time.
I have no time to speak about the critical situation of the Defence Medical Services. However, members of the Armed Forces and their families feel that that is another area in which they are not being properly cared for and are being taken for granted yet again. I agree with every word that my noble friend Lady Cox and my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth said. I ask the Minister to explain what improvements are planned for the situation of the DMS?
Refurbishment and rebuild of single living accommodation and married quarters are a major retention factor in all three services. The fact that only about 50 per cent of both projects has been completed so far is regarded by the services as yet another broken promise and more evidence that they are not getting a fair deal. What is the new completion date for all those projects? Why is it not possible to bring forward the completion dates from 2012 for the married quarters in Germany and for all the remaining single living accommodation in the UK and overseas? I do not believe that it is impractical to bring forward that work and advance funding more quickly. I urge the MoD to take immediate steps to do so.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, emphasised issues relating to air power and air supremacy. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, focused, among other things, on how our Armed Forces were too small and on the importance of ethos. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent of Coleshill, expressed concern about the capabilities of our Armed Forces and the risks of lessening the importance of the scientific and technological base. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, wisely drew to our attention to aspects of the future. My noble kinsman, the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, made some telling points on realistic defence issues. They are all serious matters, and I ask the Minister to take particular note of what was said and to examine carefully what my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater said in his opening remarks.
I am aware that I have painted a rather gloomy picture, and I do not want to create the impression that morale is low. That is not the case; the opposite is the truth. Morale is high and servicemen and servicewomen enjoy the military tasks and the training that they carry out. However, I warn the MoD that there is a prevailing mood and feeling among servicemen and servicewomen that they are not getting a fair deal and that they are being taken for granted. Unless their pay, allowances and conditions of service are significantly improved and urgent steps taken to increase the defence budget, the Armed Forces may become so reduced that they will not have the capabilities to carry out their commitments. Immediate action is required. We must provide more money for personnel issues—it should be found now from savings from the equipment budget. We must limit commitments; remove the cap on recruiting; stop imposing cuts on existing trained manpower; improve the medical services; and speed up significantly the modernisation programmes for single living accommodation and married quarters.
Many noble Lords have quoted today the warning given by the Chief of the Defence Staff that we would be unable to mount a medium-scale intervention again until 2005. Now is the time to build up our forces, for the Government to be seen to care for our troops and to give them the fair deal required on the issues I have raised. That should go a long way towards providing fully manned and satisfied Armed Forces.
We have superb and outstanding Armed Forces and I thank every one of them and their families for their loyalty, hard work, dedication, determination and courage. They have risen to the difficult challenges and overcome them; they, as usual, have done what we have demanded of them. Let us now give them a fair deal and provide the conditions they need to make their lives easier.
My Lords, first, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for having initiated this debate. It was about time that we had a proper defence debate in this House. He seized the moment, if I may put it like that. All noble Lords will be grateful to him for having done so. The debate, as such debates tend to be in this House, has been extremely wide-ranging and extremely expert.
Although in a friendly manner the noble Lord chided both myself and—more seriously, I think—my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for our lack of services upbringing, I have to remind him, in the spirit in which he made those remarks, that my right honourable friend has now been Secretary of State for even longer than he was himself the Secretary of State for Defence. The serious point to make here is that continuity is much appreciated in the military world. My right honourable friend has learnt a huge amount over the almost four years that he has been in office. For myself, I have now done two years which, if I remember rightly, was the length of National Service. So I feel as though I have begun to learn something about this field.
Secondly, I take this opportunity, from the Government Benches, to thank our Armed Forces for the absolutely brilliant way in which they have conducted themselves in Iraq. That is the most important aspect of the debate. I thank, too, all noble Lords who expressed that view. Our servicemen and women will know that this debate has taken place.
Although we have done so in his absence, let us now do so in his company. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his service to his country. He illuminates this House by the fact that he himself served in Iraq. I thank him very much for that. It is good to see him back in his place, safe and sound.
I may not say that the next time the noble Earl asks me an unanswerable question.
I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, and the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, who praised and regretted the departure of my honourable friend Dr Lewis Moonie. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, when he remarked that Dr Moonie is difficult to find. I cannot think of anyone easier to find. However, I say seriously that Dr Moonie was a wonderful colleague. Both I and the Ministry of Defence will miss him a great deal. Further, the serious points made about what my honourable friend achieved are well taken. I know that he will be delighted with what has been said in this House, and is widely shared.
Thirdly, I revert to the war. I must take issue, if only briefly, with the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, when he said that this was not a real war. I think I know what he meant, but if I may be so bold as to disagree with him, I believe that he is wrong. First, he claimed that the Armed Forces are not trained for war fighting. We do not think that that is right. They are trained very hard for war fighting. Secondly, he claimed that the last real war was in Korea. Again, I do not agree. I have to say that the Falklands war, the war against the IRA throughout the 1970s and 1980s effectively undertaken by the British Army, the conflicts in Sierra Leone and the conflict in Iraq were, in my view, all real wars. Indeed, if you ask British soldiers whether there was real resistance when Basra was taken, or American soldiers who made their way up through the holy cities on their way to Baghdad, I think that they would agree that this was a real war. So yet again we compliment our soldiers on what they have achieved.
Many comments were made about the budget. Of course I must remind noble Lords—and I do so with pride—that the defence budget was increased last year by a considerable amount. It was the largest sustained increase—that is, over three years—in defence spending for 20 years: a 3.3 per cent increase between 2002–03 and 2003–04. Of course opinions can be held over whether that was enough, but note should be taken of the fact that that extra money was put into defence and that the Treasury was happy and content to do so, in spite of all that has been said.
I was asked a specific question by my noble friend Lord Desai in relation to who is to pay for the war. I shall answer by saying that the Chancellor set aside £3 billion for the cost of the Iraq war which, put crudely, is around 10 per cent of the defence budget. But defence is funded on a capability basis; that is, to be ready. As noble Lords will know, any costs arising from actually prosecuting operations are met from the Government reserve.
I shall move on. In the Strategic Defence Review mentioned at the start of the debate, now five years old, we laid out what we believed would be the most likely and demanding operations to which we would commit our Armed Forces, and we planned our force structures and capabilities accordingly. We believe that the SDR produced a firm policy baseline, and recent history has shown that the SDR was right in focusing our efforts on rapid reaction expeditionary capabilities and proactive defence diplomacy.
Again, in a spirit of good humour, let me take to task briefly the noble Lord, Lord King, who told noble Lords that he preferred Options for Change to our Strategic Defence Review. Options for Change was an immediate reaction to the end of the Cold War. The Conservative government of the day were obviously concerned to find a peace dividend. The fact is that those who said that it was the end of history, that in effect liberal capitalist democracy would prevail and that there would be no need for armies, for wars or even for defensive action were absolutely wrong—but I certainly do not blame the last government for taking that view—as the past number of years have shown. Indeed, last night my reading matter was not the fables discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, but the memoirs of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. In one chapter she talks about that period and mentions specifically that she herself was concerned that the "end of history", as it was phrased by certain very clever people, was not necessarily the truth. She looked to the Gulf as an area where there might be problems in the future.
The criticisms of Options for Change have always been that the peace dividend was found by a form of "salami slicing"—taking a little from all capability areas to achieve savings. We believe that we have reacted better in the Strategic Defence Review, in which we decided what it was we wanted. We wanted mobility, "jointness", deployability and sustainability, and an ability to react quickly to stabilise a crisis, but still the ability to take on high-intensity war fighting.
All that has been borne out by the forward equipment programme which, to my surprise, was criticised in the debate. It seems to me that that forward equipment programme is one of the most demanding and ambitious that any government have put forward for many years. I think you would find many in the Armed Forces who would agree with that. I mention the new aircraft carriers, the Type 45 destroyers, submarines, Nimrod, ro-ros, Apache, A400M, and there are others too. Of course many of them were begun by our predecessors, and we pay tribute to them for that; many were begun by us. I do not think that that is where the criticism should lie.
The New Chapter we set in train after September 11th, 2001, sought to ensure that the UK had the military capabilities required to meet the threat posed by international terrorism, which we take extremely seriously. We are not surprised that the Americans take it seriously—I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon—bearing in mind the experience of September 11th. We found that some additional capabilities and adjustments to force structures were required, not least in providing a greater capacity for the volunteer reserves to respond to civil contingencies. We also found that planning was required to perform operations beyond those three core regions that we had identified in the SDR: Europe, the Gulf and the Mediterranean.
Since the SDR we have deployed further afield to more places, more often and performed a greater variety of tasks than was previously foreseen. The pattern of operations conducted by our Armed Forces has also been much more complex than envisaged. Operations tend to be smaller, but they occur more frequently and often at very short notice. These demands need to be reflected in the way that our Armed Forces' structures and capabilities develop in the future.
It is not only the pattern of operations that has changed, but their very nature has also changed. There has been a shift away from the conventional warfare that we understood and were trained and prepared to face. The New Chapter highlighted the nature of the asymmetric threat posed by international terrorists. Such individuals, or groups of individuals, are more likely to be geographically dispersed, with loose command and control structures. This offers us just that fleeting target opportunity and requires forces that are agile and responsive and have the capability to deliver timely and precise military effect. We need to ensure that we give our Armed Forces that battle-winning capability and structure they need to meet the challenges of tomorrows' changing world. The New Chapter and the 2002 spending review gave us, we believe, a mandate to accelerate modernisation and change.
Our strike and stabilisation capabilities are major strengths but these need further enhancement, as does our capacity for rapid deployment. Strategic communications and force projection capabilities are therefore vital, especially strategic lift. Here I say how pleased we are that the A400M contract is at last signed and also, equally, how pleased we have been, because I was asked this question, about the C17s, which have proved invaluable in the last few months. Recent operations have placed enormous demands on these and other enabling capabilities that tend to be used repeatedly on every occasion, whether large or small. We have to ensure that these capability areas are strong enough to meet our needs.
One of the New Chapter's key findings was that future operations were increasingly likely to be joint and expeditionary in nature. Joint operations are a key strength of our British military capability, but we have to develop them further. This will help to maximise the impact of the resources that we have. A key feature of modernisation is that we must stop calculating defence capability purely in terms of front-line platforms and unit numbers.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in a remarkable speech, explained how we are on the verge, on the edge, even over the edge now of a new way of looking at all these matters. The potential offered by precision weapons is being opened up by new sensors and information networks. Of course we still need sufficient platforms and units to perform multiple concurrent operations and to provide resilience, but we will increasingly find that size really is not everything. We have to think in terms of effects—effects is the crucial word—that can be delivered by our forces in a number of ways. There are the traditional kinetic effects, which we are now able to deliver with ever-greater precision from a wide variety of platforms to attack and reduce the combat power of the adversary. Other effects that can be brought to bear are not just military in nature but are designed to influence the will of an adversary.
The key to successful effects-based campaigning lies in managing the cumulative effects and impact of such activities. The introduction of truly network enabled capabilities, NEC, is crucial to effects-based campaigning. NEC intends to link sensors, decision-makers and weapons systems so that information can be translated into synchronised military effect. Many of the components for a baseline national enabled capability already exist, or are in equipment plans. These include the sensors, such as ASTOR and WATCHKEEPER, due to enter service in the middle years of this decade, and strike assets, such as the Tornado GR4 armed with the Storm Shadow missile.
I break off to say that sometimes defence Ministers, like Ministers everywhere, have to keep their mouths shut. Just before the outbreak of conflict a very eminent Opposition spokesman from another place made the comment, how shocking it was that Storm Shadow would not be available to be used in the Iraqi conflict. How tempting it was to say something about that. I managed to resist that temptation and now we have seen just how successful Storm Shadow was in that campaign.
The network enabled capability is compatible—this was asked by many noble Lords—with the US network centric warfare concept and will continue to ensure crucial inter-operability with the United States.
Operation TELIC saw the conduct of a military campaign that has set new standards. The Ministry of Defence is actively engaged in conducting a full review of the lessons from the operation. Some initial lessons of this review will be made available in a public document before the Summer Recess. It is then intended to make a fuller report available to the public in the Autumn. We hope that this openness of approach will assist the public debate on defence.
Some of the issues concerning Operation Telic were mentioned, of course. As far as combat clothing was concerned, there were sufficient stocks of desert combat clothing ordered to meet the requirements. Let me say, taking up the hint from the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, that we acknowledge that there were distribution problems. I would have been amazed if there had not been some in theatre. That meant that we did not meet every unit's requirement for desert clothing, boots and body-armour. As a result some personnel experienced shortages. We will look, as any sensible government would, at that as part of the lessons learnt process now underway.
As far as urgent operational requirements were concerned, that was one of the great success stories of the campaign. We look at the circumstances of every operation to see if we need new equipment for the specific operational environment, particular threats faced and potential scenarios involved. It may involve accelerating existing programmes, such as the temporary deployable accommodation, which is now being used by our troops there, or our new procurements against short timescales, such as the Minimi light machine gun that was so praised. There is nothing wrong with using urgent operational requirements. It is not this Government who invented them; they have been there for a long time. I want to pay a compliment to British industry, which provided the essential requirements at short notice, as it always does when called on to do so, and it should be said how much we owe industry.
As far as the equipment was concerned—here I do not want to take away from the lessons learnt, and we will learn a lot of lessons—some of it was criticised unmercifully following Saif Sareea, but it turned out, more or less, to have worked extremely well. Challenger 2 was staggeringly successful, as was the AS90. The SA80 was highly successful, and can any gun ever have been criticised more often than that? Personal role radios were successful—even the Americans took some of our personal role radios—and I cannot resist going back to Storm Shadow too.
We shall have to sit down and consider what were the successes—and if there were failures we shall have to own up to them as well.
It is too early to draw definite conclusions about the lessons learnt from operations in Iraq. I cannot deny that there are areas in which improvements could be made. But it is clear that we could not have fielded a force of that size and quality in such a short time without the development of our military infrastructure that has taken place since the Strategic Defence Review. In order to continue to improve this and other enabling capabilities, adjustments to our force structures will be necessary. This will involve taking difficult decisions about the configuration of our forces and platform numbers.
However, I stress that no decisions have yet been taken on the future force structure, including decisions on battalions from either the Royal Anglian and Royal Irish Regiments, despite press speculation. Nor have any decisions been made about aircraft or ship numbers. The White Paper in the autumn—which I am sure the House will wish to debate at some stage—will provide an updated statement of defence policy and explain our plans for the delivery of an enhanced capability.
Operation TELIC represented the largest operation by the UK Armed Forces since the 1991 Gulf War. We deployed the same number of personnel and combat units, including their equipment, but in half the time. I agree with the praise given by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, of the logistic effort that was made in order to achieve that. It clearly demonstrates the impact of improvements already made to our logistics infrastructure and to our strategic lift capabilities—but we still must do better.
The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, was good enough to give me warning of the issue he wished to raise. Two investigations are under way into the tragic incident he mentioned. First, there is an official US-led board of inquiry, with UK representation from a Lieutenant Colonel with combat recce experience and a Flight Lieutenant with combat air support experience. Secondly, there is a Special Investigations Branch investigation. Both are ongoing and the reports will be published in full when complete.
Many references were made to reservists, especially in relation to medical issues. I pay a huge compliment to all the reservists, both those who went to Iraq and have come back and those who are still there.
As to the issue of Gulf War syndrome, in the judgment last week the judge specifically did not rule on whether or not Gulf War syndrome exists. He was very clear in his judgment. He stated:
"This court is not in a position to express any views on the merits of the dispute as to whether, according to current medical research, Gulf War Syndrome is or is not a 'single disease entity'. It has not done so by this judgment".
Our use of reservists is fully in line with the Strategic Defence Review. We are grateful for the 1996 Act, which proved to be very useful, particularly in regard to employers, whom we also thank for the sacrifices they make. I do not have time to say more about that.
We take on board the points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Park and Lady Cox, in regard to medical issues. We have acknowledged—I do so again—that there are manning and equipment shortfalls in the DMS. These issues are being addressed and we are committed to fully manning the DMS. The DMS met all the operational commitments placed on it. This was achieved in part by the compulsory mobilisation of reservists. We are well aware of the problems that still exist in this field.
As many noble Lords have said, recruitment is presently going well. I shall not go into details now. We shall have an eye on the situation and ensure that that continues.
I do not have time to react to the very interesting broader geopolitical points made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne.
I end by saying this: the Opposition have, quite fairly, criticised the Government on a number fronts, but when will the Conservative Party say how much more money it would spend on defence than the Government? Two years after a general election, we are entitled to ask that question. It is all very well to criticise the Government for not spending enough, but how much more will they tell the electorate they will spend?
Resources are finite. We need to ensure that we have the correct balance of military capability for our Armed Forces to carry out their tasks and to cope with a wide range of threats. There will be some painful decisions but as the strategic environment changes so our force mix needs to change in order to continue to deliver optimum effects—and I use the word "effects" deliberately. I have every confidence—as I know the House has—that the men and women of our Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence will be able to meet the challenges that lie before them over the coming years. The professionalism and dedication of the Armed Forces and of all those who backed them up contributed to an incredibly successful operation in Iraq. On behalf of the House, I congratulate them on their outstanding achievements.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his usual careful and conscientious response to the debate. Let me answer the question that he posed at the end of his speech about the Conservative Party. I trust that any Conservative Party will provide what is needed for defence. The reason the question cannot be answered more fully goes to the heart of the debate because what is needed will depend on one's commitments. Those commitments have changed in the past week as the Government have decided to embark on supporting the French in the Congo. That goes to the heart of the problem.
I said at the outset that this House embraced many experiences. I had forgotten that it was Waterloo Day. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, and his noble kinsman Lord Astor have a distinguished ancestor who turned the French line at a critical moment. That seems a suitable beginning before Thessaloniki and the discussions on any future European foreign and defence policy.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Freeman for mentioning the military connection with my immediate predecessor, Viscount Younger of Leckie. I had not realised that he served under the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, and was wounded under him during his service with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Korea at that time.
The fascinating aspect that the Minister brought out so well is that Ministers, the Ministry of Defence, parties in government, are all trustees with responsibilities for preserving one of the most vital assets of this country. The Prime Minister made exactly the same point about the quality of our Armed Forces. It is a continuous responsibility. Most of the weaponry and equipment in the recent Gulf War deployed by the present Government was ordered by the previous government, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent, made the point that he ordered most of it 20 years ago. Whether, when we come back to government, we ensure that we preserve the quality of our Armed Forces will partly depend on the decisions that he takes, such are the lead times involved.
In case we as politicians get too carried away with the originality of our own ideas, I listened to what the noble Lord said about the Strategic Defence Review and the importance of rapid reaction, flexibility and mobility being the key discovery made by that review. If he looks at Britain's Army for the 90s, which we published 10 years previously, those are exactly the principles that the MoD in its wisdom enunciated at that time. There is, therefore, a continuity of policy. I think I speak for the whole House when I say that at the heart of what we have discussed today is the great pride that we have in our Armed Forces, great pride in what they have done. But the real concern—I am sure the Minister feels the same—is that there are new pressures and new challenges. The end of a war or campaign, or whatever one calls it, is a very difficult time anyway. Will the people who have had the experience of a lifetime now stay, or will they feel that that is what they joined the Army to do, and will they, as the noble Lord, Lord Vivian said, feel that now they have done it, they should have another experience somewhere else?
Against that background, this is a very challenging time for the Government. Because they are current trustees of one of the great assets of this country, very important for our national security and a force for good in the world, I am sure that the messages that have been conveyed from all corners of this debate will be taken to heart and may be helpful to the Minister and his colleagues in some of the battles that may lie ahead. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.