Armed Forces — Debate

– in the House of Lords at 11:53 am on 30th April 2009.

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Moved By Lord King of Bridgwater

To call attention to the contribution made by British armed forces to the defence of the United Kingdom and to peace-keeping activities around the world; and to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative 11:55 am, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I start with a tribute to our Armed Forces that is neither facile nor routine, but a genuine recognition on this day, when a memorial service is being conducted in Basra to those who have lost their lives in the Iraq campaign, of the debt that we owe to our Armed Forces. Many criticisms have been made of the current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, not least in your Lordships' House, but virtually none has been made about the conduct and outstanding performance of our Armed Forces in the circumstances in which they find themselves, some of which are extremely dangerous, where the loss of life could have been extremely high but where their courage, professionalism and morale have saved the day.

It is a sobering thought that we are discussing the involvement of our Armed Forces in two campaigns, both of which have already lasted significantly longer than either of the two world wars, and it is right that we should recognise at this time the price that they have paid. In Iraq, just under 180 lives have been lost, and in Afghanistan, 150. But I include immediately those who have been very seriously and seriously injured. Earlier the Minister very properly expressed her condolences at the loss of another life, but I hope we never forget those whose lives will never be the same again. In Iraq, there have been 220 very seriously or seriously injured casualties, while during the first three years of the Afghanistan campaign, from 2003-05, there were only 10. Over the past three years, however, there have been 185. I add also another category that is of increasing significance and about which there is a real and increasing concern. I refer to those suffering from mental health problems resulting from stress as a result of the particularly difficult nature of these campaigns. Between 2003 and 2006 the number being managed for mental illness by the Defence Medical Services was 2,300, but in 2007 alone the figure rose by a further 1,900. I do not have the figure for 2008, but I fear that it will continue to increase.

Against that background, we are concerned about the situation of our Armed Forces. Many noble Lords and many Members of the other place have visited our forces in the front line and, without exception, have come back with admiration for the morale, good spirits and enthusiasm of the troops they meet. However, in a sense that is one of the great difficulties for those trying to assess correctly the morale of the Armed Forces. A tradition of loyalty to the regiment, loyalty to friends and colleagues, and the discipline of a sergeant-major perhaps listening around a corner to the answers being given to visiting dignitaries of one sort or another makes it hard to get the real picture. There is no question that we now face a very serious situation indeed.

I turn to the issue of resources in the widest context, even before the collapse of the Government's financial situation in terms of the public finances. This was clearly described by no less an authority than the late Sir Michael Quinlan, who knew about these issues as much as anyone, as the most difficult defence budget position he could remember. Given the procurement issues as well, it is an unsustainable position. We are facing serious overstretch. We have far too many "pinch points", as they are described, particularly in the Army, even among infantrymen. This means that, with the demands we make on them, we cannot abide by the manning balance—having the number of troops required to discharge their undertakings. A year ago it was forecast that the Army would not be back in manning balance before 2011. This is the challenge we face.

Distinguished and gallant noble Lords in this House will say that the Army will always rise to a short-term challenge. It will always meet short-term extra-stress requirements of that kind. If the challenge is continuous and there is no end in sight, however, it becomes a serious problem. In the Continuous Attitude Survey conducted on an annual basis, a poll of 36 per cent of those serving revealed that the majority did not feel valued, were dissatisfied with their equipment and resources and were concerned about the impact on their personal and family life. Their intention to leave had been increased. The family strain is particularly serious not necessarily for the youngest recruits and the newest members of the Armed Forces but for that key core structure of more experienced officers and senior NCOs who are the essential fabric of our Armed Forces and whose family responsibilities are a major challenge. My purpose, against this background, is to discuss what our duty is in this House and to try to impress on the Government what our duty should be to those who serve us so well, both those who serve us now and those whose contribution has already been made.

Those who talk about our Armed Forces as a force for good in different parts of the world have first to ensure that when we ask them to embark on these undertakings they have realistic objectives in a realistic timeframe. We know the challenges we faced in Iraq when we went from being liberators to an occupation force. In Afghanistan the latent hatred that has existed for hundreds of years against the foreign invader can all too easily be roused up against people whose intentions are benevolent.

We need good intelligence. I do not mean immediate intelligence, such as the issue over the dossier, but an understanding of history. Noble Lords may have noticed recently that the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology issued a paper entitled Lessons from History, which asked why should we use history for policy making. It was talking about science and technology, but why not use history also for our foreign affairs and defence? It is interesting to look at learning the lessons of history. I do not know how many noble Lords heard today the BBC reporter who was on his way to the memorial service at Basra but was actually standing in the desert beside the memorial to those who lost their lives in 1921 in another ill-fated Iraq expedition. It was all the more tragic to hear that against the background of the tributes now being paid to those who recently served in Iraq. The BBC report also said that after six years of our activities the canals are full of sewage, there is no regular supply of electricity and no clean water is available in Basra. That is a tragedy.

In the Prime Minister's Statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan yesterday he sought to adjust current policies to the realities of the situation. I wonder whether among his voracious reading he has ever read Winston Churchill's first book, The Malakand Field Force. I do not know whether noble Lords are familiar with it. I direct them to chapter 6, which is an account of the challenges faced when there is an uprising against the Government, led by tribesmen who have taken up arms under religious fanatic leaders who seek to establish an Islamic caliphate. For those not familiar with where Malakand is, it is just next door to Swat, which at this very moment has been handed over by the Pakistan Army to the kind auspices of the Taliban. The lessons from history are all before us.

One of the difficulties we have got into is that we did not drawn on the resources of history, most of all in this country, enormously well contained in the Foreign Office. We have a reservoir of experience in our former and current ambassadors. One of the tragedies for the United States and our country is that the State Department, with all its experience, was sidelined and the Pentagon took over. In our country, insufficient attention was paid to the experience and knowledge of those who could have given guidance, not least in the Foreign Office. In any activity of this kind, for us to be a force for good, diplomacy is infinitely preferable to armed force. We need to use the resources of history, which are important in determining the likely attitude of our allies. One of the biggest disappointments at present is our failure to get more help and genuine wide support from NATO allies in the challenges we face.

It is our duty to ensure that our troops are properly equipped and supported. The financial pressures that we face are inevitable. That will mean a major reassessment, whether or not it becomes a major review. There must be some shift in the resources to meet the needs of the challenges of current insurgencies, and at this stage that may be in preference to the resources for conventional warfare that might arise in the future.

There is also the duty of aftercare. We pay tribute to the dead, but I have already said that we should recognise the importance of casualties, whatever form they might take. I notice that Dr Liam Fox, the shadow defence spokesman in another place, talked about the mental health time bomb. Certainly, there are some worrying statistics. I know that the Government have recognised some aspects of this but there must be a much more proactive follow-up, not just letting people come forward in the end if they think they are suffering, but careful aftercare for all those who have served in these difficult circumstances.

I declare a slight family interest in this. I had the opportunity to speak to the Veterans Minister two days ago. One of the tragedies for the Armed Forces is that a number of our ex-service people who have come back from serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are now homeless, unemployed and facing serious personal circumstances. One imaginative approach to this, which I hope the Government will pick up in a significant and substantial way, is the pioneering work of the Community Self Build Agency. People without jobs and housing, under certain arrangements, can be encouraged to build their own homes, rehousing themselves and, in the process, rebuilding their lives. That therapy is very effective.

I am delighted at how many noble Lords wish to speak in this debate. The background is that our Armed Forces have performed outstandingly for us, but in many significant ways we have let them down. We are not giving them the support, the resources or the clear, realisable objectives that they should have been entitled to expect in return for the courage that they have shown. We have been warned that there is a real risk that our Armed Forces—the Prime Minister referred to them yesterday as the finest in the world—could be relegated to the second division in terms of all-round capability and the quality and scale of the resources and the training that are available to them. If that did happen it would have a serious impact on our standing in the world and our ability to be an influence for good in the world.

The previous Prime Minister, in a speech that he made in Plymouth towards the end of his premiership, said:

"The nation must decide what we want our country to do and then fund it".

That was a valedictory message that was not carried forward. If there is continuing severe overstretch, restrictions on adequate training and shortage of appropriate equipment there is genuinely a risk that we will be relegated. We must not let that happen. It would be the greatest betrayal of our Armed Forces who have served us so well. Governments are the trustees for the nation of our Armed Forces during their period in office. Obviously there is the prospect—it might be said the reality—that there may be new trustees in place shortly. There is no doubt that the challenges that they face will be as great as any incoming Government have faced in terms of our defence capability. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I ask the House to note that there is absolutely no leeway on the time allotted to speakers.

Photo of Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Labour 12:13 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, this is a timely and fortunate opportunity for us to debate the role of our armed services. I commend and thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for giving us this opportunity to talk about these serious issues. He and I have both had responsibility for the great office of state in charge of the Ministry of Defence and we know how complicated and difficult it can be. Since it essentially revolves round people, their welfare and consideration are high on the priority list. It is interesting that we said farewell today to Black Rod, General Willcocks, who served with me in the Ministry of Defence and then with me at NATO as Britain's military representative. He was outstanding in Bosnia and other areas of conflict, and we wish him well.

Of course, we will all pay tribute to our troops today, which is right and proper. I will certainly do so. The noble Lord, Lord King, has pointed out their sacrifices and some of the continuing problems, and I subscribe to everything that he said. We need to go beyond words. Fine debates here and in the other place do not necessarily make a lot of difference. We pay tribute to the fine professionals out there, most of whom are very young, who serve this country and the international cause. We are reminded by the death of a Welsh Guardsman this week of the price paid by them in the defence of liberty of this country and the wider world community.

I pay tribute to the civilians who also help our forces in theatre, because they share some of the dangers as part of the reconstruction element and they deserve commendation for their support of our troops. I associate my sentiments with the noble Lord, Lord King, in praising the families of our service personnel. Without their support and stoic undertakings, our troops would not be able to do the job. I remember in my period during the Kosovo campaign talking to spouses and family members. The strain is enormous and permanent. It is not easy to resolve, so they deserve commendation from us as well.

The noble Lord, Lord King, mentioned mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder, which is an increasing problem given the nature of modern war. I have a vivid memory of going to Omagh as Defence Secretary after the bomb and talking to the troops there. Hardened infantry soldiers, trained in the art of defence and used to using their arms were absolutely affected by the carnage they saw in the streets there. They may have been used to battlefield casualties, but they could not cope with babies blown apart, small children destroyed in the streets of that small village in Northern Ireland. I remember sharing the trauma with them and advising them that mental injury is as great a problem as physical injury and that they must take steps to make sure that they retain their strength and their sanity.

There are so many issues that could be dealt with here; the noble Lord has dealt with many of them and I associate myself with him. Let me make comments about three areas. One is about NATO. Our troops serve under a NATO flag in Afghanistan today, but NATO is not some amorphous organisation; it is not the European Commission, it is not the United Nations, it is simply the product of 26—about to be 28—individual nation states and it is as good or as bad as those nation states make it. To characterise NATO as some great amorphous force is to completely misunderstand the nature of the organisation. I know that Ministers are looking at NATO at the moment with the idea of reform. A new Secretary-General is about to take office, the former Prime Minister of Denmark, and we all wish him well. He has impeccable credentials. Reform must be high on the agenda. Getting NATO to operate as an integrated command, as it was originally designed, where the risks, the burdens and the credit get shared, must be high on the agenda.

I would like to say how pleased I am that France has now fully rejoined the integrated military command. The terms on which it has rejoined are a huge bonus. It appears that a French general will take over in Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia. This is a post that was created under my stewardship, replacing the old Allied Command Atlantic. Transformation command was designed to make sure that the United States and its allies would always be able to work together. A French general, committed to strong European forces as part and parcel of the alliance, is a great bonus that we can look forward to.

On British domestic defence, I conducted a Strategic Defence Review in 1997 and 1998 and I am glad that I got a lot of support and input from previous Defence Secretaries and Defence Ministers at that time. It still remains the template for what we do in the world today, but 10 years is too long. It has had additional chapters and has been refined in certain ways, but it is time now for a fundamental Strategic Defence Review, because the circumstances of 2009 are not the circumstances of 1998. This Government should start it and, whatever happens after the election, it should be continued. It should be done in the way we did it in 1997 and 1998—openly, transparently, inclusively and fundamentally, looking at every capability that we have and whether it is necessary or needs to be augmented. It has to be based on the national security interests and foreign policy of this country. Only in that way will we be able to properly deliver defence forces for the future and to justify the faith that troops have on the ground as well.

Afghanistan is a place where our troops are caught up just now. I have not got time to go into it in detail, but I simply say this—there is a disconnect between the bravery and professionalism of the people who fight out there and the people in this country who do not understand sufficiently that their safety is connected to that bravery and that commitment. We, the political leadership in this country, have an obligation and a fundamental responsibility to make sure that people understand why they are out there, why they are making that sacrifice and why it is connected to our safety and security in this country.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson for Defence, Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport , Deputy Chief Whip 12:20 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, this is one of those debates where you look at the list of speakers and tremble slightly. I do not know whether my words will add to the greater volume of knowledge by the end of this debate, but I will certainly acquire greater knowledge.

It was a problem that I could find very little to disagree with in what the noble Lord, Lord King, said; virtually nothing until his last couple of sentences. The fact is that we are in an ongoing war, for which we were not prepared and for which our Armed Forces were not really designed. We have prepared on the hoof our level of equipment, design and tactics to try to meet the targets. As the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, suggested, our Armed Forces are involved in a major structural alliance that was designed for another era. The fact that NATO now includes Poland suggests that something that was designed to combat the Warsaw Pact is totally out of date. All our structures and our thinking need to be attacked from that point of view, and it is from there that we need to go on.

As the noble Lord, Lord King, said, the fact that we are fighting an ongoing conflict means that we should fundamentally deal with that conflict, because it will be a long slog. People have suggested that there might be elements of engagement there for decades, so we must make sure that our troops on the ground have the appropriate equipment and the appropriate structure to deal with this. This argument is not that new. The minute that the Cold War was seen to be over and other disputes broke out—the Balkans being the classic one—the idea of smaller, peacekeeping units trying to get between not very sophisticated armies, using cheap, mass-produced weapons with which the world is still awash, was seen to be the format in which we should be specialising. How far have we engaged in making sure that this is the case? Is our investment in the right type of technology? Main battle tanks might have been quite useful when we rolled into Iraq, but we discovered that we did not need them. Our light armour was quite sufficient for the job, because our enemy simply cannot match us. Are we liable to meet someone there? Are we going to invest in new forms and structures of defence?

Can NATO be developed into something that will enhance that role? Having read some of the NATO articles, I have come to the conclusion that it thinks that to still be relevant it must take on much more this role of peacekeeping, monitoring and helping. This role will also probably seem more attractive to its newer members. We must make sure that we do not give nationalistic politicians in Russia an excuse for going clinging back to nurse, saying "We are still being persecuted". We should try to move away from what is left of the confrontational structure.

I shall move on to talk about the support and care of our service men and women. Both noble Lords have spoken about combat stress, and I endorse what they have said. Let us not fool ourselves. Combat stress is only a part of the problem. We are discovering that those who leave the Armed Forces, particularly in the junior ranks, seem to be particularly badly prepared for civilian life. These people often join the Army young and then do not have to deal with the mundane difficulties of life, such as organising how to pay bills, where you go and what you do, and how to find accommodation. They might have low literacy skills and so on; I have discovered that the Army is one of the better employers of dyslexics. The Army gives them structure and help but they are then, after X number of years, effectively dumped on the street.

They are then told, as the noble Lord has said, that they can get help if they ask for it: "If you fill in form XBY, turn up on time, in the right place and say the right thing, you will get help". That is a recipe for only those who least need it getting the best help; only those with parents who are capable of assisting them, for instance. Let us face it: these people will not be that young when they leave. The Ministry of Defence should have a good look at the experience of, say, the department for education in getting support and help for people. The Armed Forces should take on board the idea that only the middle class, who can probably subsidise these things, get the help because it is difficult to access through bureaucracy. They should make their help available to those who need it.

I hope that the Minister can respond to that. How well does he think that the Armed Forces are doing in ensuring that their support for ex-servicemen gets to those who need it most?

Photo of Lord Bramall Lord Bramall Crossbench 12:27 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, over the course of many debates on defence and the Armed Forces, I and a number of other noble, and noble and gallant, Lords have cautioned, warned and, when that was predictably to no avail, criticised the Government fairly and not unreasonably. It is now generally recognised that, among other things, we should not have charged into Helmand province of all places, in the south of Afghanistan. We had, at first, token forces and totally inadequate weapons, vehicles and munitions. We were still committed significantly in Iraq and in pursuit of an unrealistic aim and strategy. If anything, that made the terror situation worse, not better, and a price had to be paid in significant battle casualties.

Now, poised as we are on the brink of a new strategy in Afghanistan and with an all-embracing funding problem, this may well be an opportune moment to remind the Government to face up to realities and their responsibilities. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgewater, on this debate and on introducing it with his customary penetrating clarity bred from considerable experience, all of which I warmly endorse.

Noble and noble and gallant Lords have also made some, I hope, helpful suggestions in these debates. It is to the Government's credit that, over the past two years or so, the Ministry of Defence has made strenuous efforts to get our Helmand force in better balance and provide the proper equipment and supplies to support, sustain and protect our land and air forces in that area, where they still have such a difficult job to do. However, it is equally clear that, as a result of the urgency of all this, and because of continuous cheeseparing over the past 10 years or so, they now have a fundamental funding problem on their hands, accentuated by the recent Budget, of which more in a moment.

However, we are now committed to Afghanistan and, for many compelling reasons, there can be no going back in the foreseeable future. Indeed, our best hope is wholly to support the United States, to the limit of our resources, in its new, more enlightened strategy, with a strong—albeit temporary, I hope—surge of forces to give people in that vulnerable area proper rather than fleeting protection, with less talk of democracy and more of stability. There must be meaningful negotiations and financial inducements which could help separate the moderates from the fanatics, who must then be isolated and dealt with. We must have better directed and more quickly implemented financial aid.

We must also work as closely as possible with Pakistan. It was good to hear the Pakistani president welcome the initiative of President Obama, giving us hope that we can, despite all of Pakistan's very real internal problems, work together in some common cause, to our mutual benefit and for the benefit of the peace of the world. In conjunction with our well motivated, highly professional American and Canadian friends, and with others from a still somewhat lukewarm NATO, all of that will require our best shots. At the moment, we have no alternative but to provide and sustain them, fortified by the wonderful sense of duty and esprit de corps of our Armed Forces that the noble Lord, Lord King, brought out so well.

Finally, while the Secretary of State has a significant war to oversee and manage, he has another major problem: a virtual black hole between established requirements and the resources that the Treasury is likely to make available. If the Treasury is to get its pound of flesh, as it usually does, that will require some very hard decisions, particularly if our best-shot operations in Afghanistan are to be fully supported and sustained, and those personnel matters such as medical, housing and welfare—the ones that fall off the bottom when you try to squeeze a quart into a pint pot—are not to suffer in a way that would rupture the military covenant, now so generally recognised as essential for the well-being of our Armed Forces. That means that the higher-spending items of equipment will have to be looked at rigorously.

What we really need is a proper defence review, but that will clearly not happen before the next general election. Meanwhile, a similar intellectual rigour will have to be turned on the more expensive items in the current three to five-year spending cycle. Of course, what is kept in or left out is a matter for the chiefs of staff to recommend as they, chaired by the Chief of Defence Staff, try to find that difficult balance between the most urgent operational needs and what the longer term may require if our forces are to be capable of taking part in any wider and more sophisticated conflict. That capability cannot be produced from a standing start.

We must look again in more detail at how we spend our money in the context of, perhaps, a more flexible approach to our independent nuclear deterrent and what exactly follows Trident, and when, and, certainly, with the general recognition that, since the Cold War, the world scene and the scale of urgency of future threats have changed considerably. We cannot automatically feel bound by old Cold War cries and clichés such as, "You must have four and not three nuclear submarines, because there must always be one on station". Indeed, I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, repeat that in an otherwise wide-ranging and flexible summing-up of a foreign affairs debate.

The same intellectual rigour needs to be applied to the carrier argument. The Royal Navy has tasks that fall upon it regularly in peace and war—some on every day of the week—while we should take into account the new dimension of piracy. In order for it to do those tasks, we should look at whether the Navy would prefer two less than fully equipped carriers with greatly reduced and, I would suggest, insufficient small surface ships and killer submarines or, perhaps, one fully equipped carrier with everything required to fly off it and to protect it and, perhaps, rather more ships for their everyday tasks.

There is no doubt, then, that the Secretary of State has some real problems on his hands. I hope that the Minister will give us some idea how the Government are facing up to those problems and how they are likely to be resolved in the near future, while ensuring a proper defence of the United Kingdom against a variety of eventualities, and proper support for our foreign policy and interests abroad—whether that involves peacekeeping, enforcement or something even more decisive and intense altogether.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwark The Bishop of Southwark Bishop 12:34 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King, for enabling this important issue to be debated in your Lordships' House in these troubling times. In this brief intervention I shall argue that, honoured and respected though the British Armed Forces might be, as the noble Lord, Lord King, indicated in his speech, they are presently so stretched in both personnel and resources that their effectiveness is close to being dangerously at risk.

Obviously, in the shadow of the financial crunch it is not easy to find ever more money for the Armed Forces but, following the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, I suggest that substantial sums could be released if Her Majesty's Government were to decide not to proceed with upgrading the Trident nuclear weapon system. Nor is that simply a financial matter; I, like many of your Lordships, am of the generation that grew up under the shadow of the Cold War, and it is at least arguable that in those dark days the world was, through the nuclear deterrent, spared a horrific global war which would have been catastrophic even using conventional weapons.

As your Lordships are aware, toward the end of those deeply worrying times, in 1968, the United Nations sponsored the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The signatories agreed a three-pronged deal. The nations without nuclear weapons would not seek to develop them, provided that those with nuclear weapons agreed to progressively disarm, while knowledge for the peaceful use of nuclear energy would be shared. It was also agreed that the signatories would meet at the UN every five years to review progress; I understand that such a meeting is planned for next year. Her Majesty's Government argue that they have honoured the treaty by reducing the total number of nuclear warheads and their delivery systems, but that argument lacks conviction if upgrading the Trident system results in the possession of fewer but more powerful and sophisticated nuclear weapons. The moral, and perhaps legal, case against countries such as Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and India developing their own nuclear weapons is subsequently weakened.

Some argue that the possession of nuclear weapons—whether or not they could ever be of practical use in the world of today and tomorrow—is a badge that a country like Britain needs, because it demonstrates that the nation is a world power worthy of respect. I believe, rather, that Britain is more likely to be respected if it is prepared to play its part in peacemaking and peacekeeping by supplying Armed Forces who are professional, disciplined, and well resourced with the personnel and equipment needed to respond quickly and flexibly whenever and wherever they are needed. Would the estimated £20 billion needed to upgrade Trident not be better spent in that way?

Photo of Lord Sterling of Plaistow Lord Sterling of Plaistow Conservative 12:37 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, although I have had the honour of being a member of your Lordships' House since 1991, I have rarely taken part in a debate as I was, until quite recently, the executive chairman of P&O. I have the honour of being an honorary commodore of the Royal Navy, heavily involved with the reserves over the past two decades, with the advantage of knowing and exchanging views over many years with the various Chiefs of Staff of all our defence services, particularly those presently in command.

I also have the pleasure of being chairman of Motability, which, some 25 years ago, took over the responsibility of providing adapted cars for all our disabled servicemen. At the moment some 17,000 recipients are eligible, of which today many thousands have Motability cars. I want to share an experience that I had last year, at Motability's 30th anniversary celebrations at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Her Majesty the Queen was handing over keys to newly disabled servicemen. The Queen then spoke to a young 20 year-old Royal Marine; he was accompanied by his carer and was recovering at that marvellous hospital, Headley Court. Both his legs had been blown off above the thigh. A fine athlete at school, he had passed out only seven months earlier in front of his proud family. For me it was a most poignant moment. What of his future? He could have been my grandson. This, I suppose, is the cost of war, or perhaps a more correct way of looking at it is that this is the cost of peace. I could not support more strongly the views expressed by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater with regard to casualties in the armed services and their families. There has been some improvement but it is still shaming for all of us that there has been such reluctance to get the proper support for these brave young men and women who serve their country with a total sense of duty and pride, putting their lives on the line at our behest.

In recent times our armed services have been actively engaged in conflict for some 25 years, and for its size we probably have the most battle-hardened, experienced and professional defence force in the world. Apart from our deep involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Royal Navy is leading the European Union naval force, whose operating headquarters is at Northwood, where it also runs the Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa). At this very moment oil tankers and LNG carriers are traversing the Gulf of Aden en route to our shores. Energy security is critical and a natural role for our Navy. Protecting our trade routes has always been, and will continue to be, crucial to this country.

Our Chiefs of Staff and senior officers of our defence services are highly talented and experienced, and the present Secretary of State for Defence is deeply committed to their strategic needs and is strongly supportive of their endeavours. Nevertheless, as has been said, they can do only so much with limited resources. Defence reviews have pretty well become shorthand for cuts. The most recent will have the effect of our not being able to fulfil our present undertakings and certainly will not meet the needs of the procurement programme already agreed.

Should we be Treasury-driven or policy-driven? We have reached a critical crossroads at this time and there is no way we could seriously engage in another area of conflict without reducing forces in other areas. Of course, I am more than aware of our present financial challenges, but the world moves on and in my view these cuts are hugely short-sighted and we are putting our heads in the sand. Not to play with words, I say that it is no less than appeasement. There are still many in this House who not only remember the dangers of appeasement but risked their lives in active duty because of it, of which the noble and gallant Lord, Field Marshall Lord Bramall, knows better than most. My own company, P&O, suffered huge losses in both world wars. Before it is too late, this great country of ours must have a major strategic debate on the role of our defence forces for the future—a key part of our national security. It must be a debate which I sincerely hope will come to a rapid and positive conclusion.

I believe that we have a moral duty, if that is not an outdated expression in this day and age, to have a response force of a size and flexibility that in time of need is both a deterrent and has the capability to help, for example, members of the Commonwealth. It is too easily forgotten how they flocked to help us in the past two world wars and other conflicts. Many small countries throughout the world still look to us for leadership, help and protection in these uncertain times. Sadly, the world is not only unlikely to change in the near future, indeed it is likely to become even more dangerous. If such a debate concluded that this was the right way forward but that it would take, say, 3 to 3.5 per cent of our GDP, I for one would say so be it. It is our duty. As the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said, it is vital that everybody in this country fully understands the reasons for such a decision and is strongly supportive of it.

The defence of the realm and our future role in the international world is the first duty of Government, and therefore their key priority. I hope noble Lords will agree that it is very much the responsibility of this House, and indeed of Parliament itself, to ensure that the right decisions are made. Time is not on our side.

Photo of Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde Labour 12:44 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I, too, welcome this timely debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for initiating it. It is a pleasure to see the noble Baroness, Lady Park, in her place and taking part in this debate.

This is a busy week for the Armed Forces. Many of us will have seen on television this morning the moving ceremony that took place in Basra, which was a timely reminder of the price that our service men and women pay day in and day out for carrying out our foreign policy. Yesterday, a decision was made in relation to the Gurkhas. I have no doubt that that will come up in the debate. I think that the right decision was reached in the end. I look forward to my noble friend Lord Brett repeating the Statement made in another place. I hope the Government do not become too defensive and that the Opposition do not crow too much, as I recall that when I was chairman of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body the Gurkhas were treated appallingly as a result of government policy. It was good to see the new Labour Government improve the Gurkhas' pensions and the conditions for them and their families. Earlier, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, mentioned Hong Kong. I was in Hong Kong just before the handover. The Gurkhas were extremely worried then about their and their families' future. It is not surprising that many of them did not come here, because the conditions imposed were such that they were not encouraged to do so. I am delighted at the decision reached yesterday.

During this busy week the Prime Minister made a very welcome visit to our Armed Forces in Afghanistan. He then travelled to Pakistan. Certainly, Pakistan has to be at the centre of our attention regarding what we do in the future. I am not someone who believes everything I read in the press, rather the opposite, but I was somewhat concerned to read a little paragraph this morning which said that the Prime Minister had rejected the advice of the Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of State for Defence to send 2,000 more service personnel to Afghanistan. Instead, 700 will be sent on a temporary basis. It would be helpful if the Minister could comment on that.

I wish to concentrate on the enormous contribution that our Armed Forces have made to the interface with civilians not just in a peacekeeping role but in operational theatres. I have seen this for myself and have never failed to be amazed at the work that they do. Unlike people from other international organisations and, indeed, services who stay safely in their vehicles, clearly marked with a big cross, or whatever, British troops are out on the street with civilians, talking to them and getting to know them. I was particularly struck by our troops' attitude to women. When I went to the Balkans I coincidentally met some local women. I saw 18 year-old servicemen confidently talking to young women who were ignored by the men in their own community because they had been raped. It was an enormous privilege to observe those young soldiers comforting those women and their children.

In Afghanistan, General McColl and his soldiers protected women attending the Parliament. Now 25 per cent of its members are women. That is a substantial contribution to peacekeeping for which the British Armed Forces deserve credit. Anyone who meets them cannot fail to be impressed by them. However, words do not mean very much unless we do something. Following a service that was held in the abbey and a reception in the Palace of Westminster, I was surprised by how many Members of this House said, as if they were astonished, "Aren't they wonderful?". It was as if noble Lords were not fully aware of what our Armed Forces do. That leads me to the point made by my noble friend Lord Robertson about the disconnect. We have to do something about the disconnect between what we are trying to do in Afghanistan and, I hope, Pakistan, and how we get that across to the British population because they are not swinging around in support of it. That is understandable, but we have a responsibility in that area.

Much needs to be done and more resources are needed, but let us be objective in our debates, as this House is. Headley Court was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sterling. How right he is. I was privileged to take members of the House of Lords Defence Group to visit Headley Court about 18 months ago. Headley Court's limb provision had come from being appalling, relying on the National Health Service, to being the national winner of limb provision for service men and women who had lost arms or legs in the defence of this country. At the end of that enormously uplifting visit the Defence Group said as a whole that we were quite happy to support Headley Court, and we asked what it would like us to go back and lobby for or raise. The answer was that it did not want us to ask for anything because the money that it had asked to be spent on Headley Court had been spent, as we could see. That is an area of progress.

I certainly welcome the additional resources for Armed Forces housing in the Budget, and the improvements in pensions and medical services, although I exclude entirely the support for Armed Forces personnel with mental health problems. We really have to get to grips with that issue. Perhaps we need to discuss it more than we do.

I believe that our services are overstretched. The last Strategic Defence Review was absolutely first-class. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, is in his place. I remember well not so much the debates but the consultation about it. It is easy to say that we need more resources. They may well come through a new Strategic Defence Review, which is direly needed now. If we had another, it could raise the issues and the challenge that we need more resources for our Armed Forces and the defence budget. I would support that. Where would the money come from? It would mean less for other areas. We need that debate, which will be helped by the more overt presence of our Armed Forces in our community, such as the marches when they come back. We can see how the general population respond to them. I very much welcome this debate and support entirely the call for a Strategic Defence Review. That will help us to take the necessary steps for our service men and women and their families, who deserve our support and without whom we could not do what we are trying to do.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative 12:52 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I must apologise to the House for the fact that you are about to hear a speech about the Gurkhas, because I was quite unaware of the wonderful events that were due to happen last night. I want to speak about them to urge on HMG to make a real reappraisal of their policy. I do so not only out of a profound admiration of and gratitude for the Gurkhas' loyal and courageous service but also because it is in our national interest to encourage settlement of Gurkhas in this country and to use their skills, not least in the area of civil defence.

The Command Paper The Nation's Commitment, presented by the Secretary of State for Defence in July last year, recognises that there is an important Armed Forces constituency and speaks rightly of the Government's duty not to legislate without taking,

"account of the impact on the Armed Forces' constituency and the strategic effect on the Armed Forces when making policies or considering legislative proposals".

Have the Prime Minister and the Treasury remembered that? I think they need to do so before they take decisions on troops for Afghanistan, and I hope the defence chiefs will be listening.

Without 3,000 Gurkhas, we should have been in grave difficulty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder just how carefully the Government have considered the advantage to our defence capacity that would accrue from a Gurkha presence in this country. There are the obvious ones, such as their power to play a pivotal role in response to such emergencies as flooding, the foot and mouth crisis and in helping to sustain essential public services. They are disciplined, practical and could surely form the basis of a paramilitary territorial force to deal with major civil crises, including the protection of our trade on the high seas perhaps, leaving the regular military forces free to operate abroad. We are looking at a body of men who could join the police or work for the security contractors who work for the UK Border Agency. The recent Cabinet Office report, Security in a Global Hub, makes clear what an important area this is.

We must expect, very probably, a rather disturbed society for a time, thanks to the economic crisis. That may lead to civil unrest and encourage disruptive or violent elements, including disturbed, volatile and angry young men. We already have a relentless tide of immigrants without the skills that the Gurkhas have. Many of them will take time to assimilate to our society and way of life, if they ever do. They are likely to need more from the state than they contribute. The Gurkhas, Buddhists, will form an element of peaceful integration, rather than an alien culture wishing to impose its own laws. The Rights and Responsibilities paper from the Secretary of State for Justice recognises the possibility of that more volatile society. It states:

"Our country is changing and faces new and profound challenges. At such times, people need reassurance that the structures which support them in their daily lives are robust. They need to know that their liberty and freedoms are secure".

The Gurkha community would make a positive contribution. They are disciplined, practical human beings, who will adjust to our society and form a stable element. They will be very employable. This country will be the loser if the Gurkhas are virtually excluded. We need them. I urge the Government to think again in the national interest. Why, indeed, are HMG ignoring the words in Command Paper 724, which expressly includes the Gurkhas under foreign and Commonwealth service personnel, recognises their unique circumstances and pledges action by the UK Border Agency? I believe that both honour and the nation's interest require HMG to think again.

When I wrote this speech I thought that I only had four minutes—so noble Lords are spared much. But I would like to say, as I meant to say at the beginning of my speech, that we are all deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord King, for giving us this opportunity at a critical time. I am sure that the rest of the debate will be fascinating.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative 12:57 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, it does not begin to do justice to the occasion to begin my speech with the customary reference to the pleasure that it gives me to follow my predecessor. It is a delight to welcome back to our debates my noble friend, who has just pleased us with her speech about the Gurkhas, which I hope will receive great consideration. Having sat next to my noble friend for the last 10 or 11 years, I never doubted her resolution to come back after her long and regrettable absence through disability. We welcome her very warmly.

There could hardly be a more timely moment for my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater to have given us the opportunity for this debate. We are on the verge of completing our military withdrawal from Iraq, save for a few detachments. Our troops are coming back at the conclusion of a dangerous and difficult job, most professionally carried out, as has been so warmly acknowledged. I share that acknowledgement and gratitude.

For all our Armed Forces' high reputation, I would, if I were the Defence Secretary, be a deeply troubled man, even if I had the experience and very great qualities of the present incumbent, who I happen to think is the best that this Government have produced. The Defence Secretary must often wish that he had half the number of infantry battalions as the battalions in which his sorrows come. A major concern of his surely will be for the well-being, safety and fair treatment of the young men and women who are committed to his charge in the Armed Forces. Across all three services—mainly, of course, in the Army—these young men and women are called on to place themselves potentially in the way of mortal danger, often in tours of duty that recur far too frequently, yet they have never let us down and their contribution has been immense.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, mentioned the Army in Northern Ireland. He spoke movingly of what it had to experience in Omagh. I was deeply grateful during my tenure there for the way in which the Army carried out its difficult and sophisticated tasks. In comparison with today's challenges for the Armed Forces, it is worth noting that in Northern Ireland we never had to face a suicide bomber. The terrorists there were pretty keen to preserve their own skins. Alas, that is not true in the Middle East or in Afghanistan.

If the Defence Secretary is to do his duty by the Armed Forces, he must protect them from further deployments that involve overstretch and insufficient operational support. He must protect them from what I euphemistically call today the "pinch points in manning", or the absence of proper numbers, which is what that really means in English, of skilled service people to fill important posts. That is experienced in all three services. He must also protect them from insufficient research into technology and into other areas on which future operational capabilities will depend. At the moment, all those things are brought about by a lack of resources. Stories of failure in those quarters are, unfortunately, legion and their effect on recruitment and retention are well known. They all derive from the old sin, committed by all Governments, of failing to match commitments to the resources that they are prepared to devote.

The Secretary of State also has to see that our forces are provided with what may be called a war aim that is defined clearly and convincingly and seen to be both worthy and winnable. Public support for what the forces are called on to do will always demand that, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, has frequently said. In the first Gulf War, the question that he was most frequently asked by soldiers was, "Is the country behind us?". On that occasion they could be reassured about that, but these days, in my experience, there is far less assurance of it. The Government have much more to do before there is the same measure of support for our operations in Afghanistan. To put it bluntly, there is a feeling in the country that the war there against the Taliban is unwinnable and I would be surprised if that does not also find a place among some of our service people who so loyally conduct it.

Would it not have been far more realistic first to have secured Kabul as a firm base and then to have widened the hunt and sought to enlarge the footprint of the rule of law in Afghanistan? People have always been sceptical that sound, fully fledged democratic government can somehow gratefully spring forth, but that is what we seem to have hoped for. The Prime Minister's Statement yesterday indicates that the Government know better now, which is welcome. I think that the Government are right in what they are seeking to achieve now, but it will take time to overturn the damage done to confidence, which is not good for the forces. The Government are right to perceive that the Taliban either will have to be defeated in the area of the country bordering Pakistan or will have to be defeated on the streets of Britain and so forth. Public scepticism has to be overturned.

It is not from any ghoulish desire on my part to pile Pelion upon the Ossa of the Secretary of State's troubles but, out of sympathy for him, I end by referring to a very dark cloud indeed. In the light of the appalling state of public finances, he will have to fight some lonely battles in Cabinet for what he knows the forces need. That has been foreseen by other speakers today. Unless it is the Prime Minister himself, no colleague will stand up for him; they will all recite the mantra that, if they are to make sacrifices, the Defence Secretary must make them on an equal basis. That is not so. No other department's sacrifices will foreseeably result in young men and women needlessly losing their lives while striving to make our country safe. He will have to stand and fight. If he goes down, he will know that he has done his duty; if he succeeds, the credit will extend not only to him but also to the Government of whom he is a part. I wish him well in that fight, which he will certainly have to wage.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 1:05 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I echo the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for obtaining this important debate at this appropriate time. I also echo the pleasure that has been expressed at seeing the noble Baroness, Lady Park, in her place.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord King, should have talked about the contribution made by the Armed Forces to the defence of the United Kingdom and peacekeeping. I want to focus on the ability of the Armed Forces to make that contribution in the future. There is always a danger in looking back but my plea, which I shall end with, is based on three experiences on which I shall draw. I remind the House that we are debating this matter in a week in which we have had two important Statements, one on the reserves and one on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

My first experience may well be remembered by the noble Lord, Lord King. When the aircraft crashed at Lockerbie, the first people on the scene were the crew of a Territorial Army field ambulance. They were sent away by the police because no one knew what to do with them. One of my concerns about the reserves, which I hope will be put right as a result of the review, is that at last people will think through what the reserves represent in terms of skill and application, not just in the defence of the United Kingdom and in Iraq and Iran but also in the whole spectrum of peacekeeping, to which I want to move on.

My second experience was just before leaving the Army when I was sent out to look at the United Kingdom contingent with the peacekeeping operation in Cambodia. I was disturbed to find that the commander of that contingent had been issued with a Barclaycard and told to buy what the contingent needed in the markets of Phnom Penh. That seemed to me to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of what peacekeeping operations mean, particularly in a multinational organisation such as the United Nations. On complaining, I got my comeuppance, as the Secretary of State asked me to write a paper on the management of the United Kingdom contribution to UN operations, which led to my being asked to join a group under the command of the director-general of peacekeeping in the United Nations to consider the same in the whole context.

It was quite clear that the word "peacekeeping" covered a spectrum of activities, including conflict prevention, peacekeeping under Chapter 6 of the charter, peacemaking or peace enforcement under Chapter 7 and post-conflict reconstruction. All four matters were interlinked. What was peacekeeping in one place could actually be conflict prevention in another, as could post-conflict reconstruction. If all those were to be exercised, it was essential that there should be shown to be no disconnect, to use the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, between the activities of the great offices of state in this country in deciding what the national contribution should be. That means the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and what was then the ODA and is now DfID.

Therefore, I was extremely concerned when I went to Afghanistan last year to find that there was a disconnect. The Foreign Office in Afghanistan appeared to have no link to the department run by DfID, which was sitting in a completely different building from the brigade commander. When I looked into the money available, I found that each American company commander sent to Afghanistan had not just $200,000 to spend on post-conflict reconstruction but the backing of the American Corps of Engineers. An Italian major had $2 million plus the help of the Italian Government and our brigade commander had $200,000 for the whole of Helmand, all controlled by DfID. I do not think that satisfactory peacekeeping is made unless there is a connect.

The third experience was a conversation that I had with the divisional commander who commanded the troops going into Iraq in 2003. I asked him after the event, "What was your battle-winning factor as far as equipment was concerned?". He replied, "The American Marine Aircraft Wing, which was put under my command, because it had absolutely everything we needed for operations of this kind, virtually none of which was available from the Royal Air Force or the Army Air Corps". That is a telling comment and it deserves deep examination. I entirely concur with the words of my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall questioning the cost in the current defence budget of Trident, aircraft carriers, Astute submarines and eventually the Eurofighter, all of which are hideously expensive; they have a read-back to the Cold War and distort a budget based on operations that we are required to do today and tomorrow.

In this context and based on reflections on those three experiences, I echo the calls in this House today and previously for a serious defence review to examine the capability of our Armed Forces to contribute to not just the defence of the United Kingdom but also peacekeeping. The noble Lord, Lord King, quoted the late Prime Minister, saying that we must ask "What do we want to do?" and then fund it. The question "What do we want to do today and tomorrow?" has not been properly examined and the funding will be irrelevant unless it is based on an answer to that question.

Finally, because this is a debate about the Armed Forces' contribution, as so many noble Lords have said, we must not forget that what is included in that funding is the all-important care and aftercare of all those young men and women whom we ask to carry out these operations on behalf of our great nation.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 1:12 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, it is indeed good to see the indestructible noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, in her place. These debates are simply not the same without her. Like everybody else, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for having introduced this debate and for the very reasonable, balanced and thoughtful contribution he made in opening it, which has set the tone for all our deliberations today. Of course he was right to emphasise the tribute which all of us should pay to the men and women of our armed services and to their families. I was especially glad that he remembered the wounded and maimed, who may never enjoy full health and 100 per cent physique again. I was particularly impressed by his telling references to mental illness, resulting from the experiences service people are expected to endure. It is too easy to sweep that under the carpet.

We owe it to all these people that our armed services are properly resourced, both in the numbers of people available to undertake a task and also the equipment at their disposal. None of us can have been happy with the Nimrod story or the stories about getting right the patrol vehicles our infantry are expected to use. I am glad it has been stressed in the debate that what is most important of all is that is absolutely clear to servicemen and women and their families what the objective of the engagement and the undertaking is. It must clearly be legally and morally justified. It is quite wrong to expect servicemen to undertake a task on our behalf unless we are certain that it is justified in international law and that it has the cause of morality fully behind it.

It is also important—again, we owe this to those involved—that we have thought through the implications and consequences of what we are doing. It is one thing to have the resources to fight the war, but the resources must be available to build the peace. Otherwise, we will have betrayed all those who have served and died in the cause. This brings us to the central issue of facing up to the real threat. It has been put that we must decide what we want to do and then make available what is necessary to do it. Of course I relate to that argument, but I remember thinking many years ago, when I had the privilege of being a service Minister, that it was important all the time to be clear about what the real existing and future threat is, and not be operating on what was appropriate for a threat which may no longer be relevant in the form it took in previous years.

When one is analysing that, one has to recognise that, characteristic of what we face, is the unorthodox nature of warfare now—although it has become so usual that it is probably not right to refer to it as unorthodox because, in a paradoxical sort of way, it has become the orthodox. In this our Special Forces are clearly particularly well designed to meet the needs that confront us. It is good to see that the Government are concentrating on the future of our Special Forces in the way our services are organised. It is also important to recognise, in this context, the contribution made by organisations such as the Royal Air Force Regiment or the distinguished Royal Marines. When I was the Minister responsible for the Navy—a privilege I have always greatly savoured and regarded myself as extremely fortunate to have had—I was never anything but inspired by the commitment and esprit de corps of the Royal Marines, who have been making a very important contribution. Then there are the reserves, and it is again good to see the way the Government are thinking through now how we need to integrate the reserves more completely in the total task in a way that is appropriate to the present situation.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, made some observations about the Royal Navy. I am not sure that I am totally with him in his doubts about carriers. It seems to me that, facing the kind of threat I described, carriers can be invaluable in enabling us to have flexibility and the ability to deploy our forces across the world. Where I think he is right is in questioning the whole context of the deterrent, a point also raised by the right reverend Prelate. I am not convinced that, with the pressures and demands being made on our fighting forces at present, we can see the renewal of Trident as an inescapable priority. That argument has not yet been proved.

Finally, in the nature of the task with which we are confronted, two things are true: the services are becoming more and more integrated, and increasingly we are required to operate in an international context. I would find it invaluable if, when my noble friend replies, she could tell us about how we are preparing our officers and men and women to serve in an international context and in an integrated context together with the other services. The quintessence of a high-flying officer today should be the ability to serve internationally but also to serve in the centre. I am sometimes a little fearful that we have not yet moved away from the tradition in which the person who has served in the centre comes back to their service as a bit suspect, with a doubt about how far they are really still part of the service, the Army, Navy or Air Force, to which their loyalty should be primary. Loyalty should be seen to the effectiveness of the integrated task.

The challenges are huge. All I can say is that we all owe a debt of gratitude to my noble friend and her colleagues for the tremendous responsibilities that they accept on our behalf.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 1:20 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, my noble friend's powerful and authoritative opening speech has come in a debate that is particularly well timed. As our involvement in Iraq draws to a close, that in Afghanistan appears to be expanding. It seems to me that the lesson from Iraq is that although military intervention may be necessary, military occupation should if at all possible be avoided, and certainly be ended as early as possible. It is at last being recognised that Afghanistan is now a part of a far bigger problem: the survival of Pakistan as a democratic and secular state. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a dangerous contradiction between the problem in Pakistan and the NATO military operations in Afghanistan. The NATO operations are clearly inciting the instabilities in Pakistan.

I read and reread the Prime Minister's UK policy Statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan yesterday. I fear that I found it a rather woolly, disconnected melange of military, political and social suggestions. The repeated emphasis on Britain's aid contribution to both countries made me wonder whether he had his priorities right. As my right honourable friend David Cameron said after the Statement:

"We are not in the business of trying to create a new Switzerland in the Hindu Kush".—[Hansard, Commons, 29/4/09; col. 873.]

My right honourable friend cited President Obama's strategy:

"to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future".

What a pity that we did not have such a crisp and clear statement from the Prime Minister.

In trying to influence what happens in Pakistan, the West is taking on a task of immense scale. The population is 174 million: double that of Iran and five times that of Iraq. A comparison with the population of Afghanistan is difficult because the Americans and the British disagree on the basic figure. The CIA says that it has 34 million people; the FCO says that it has 29 million—17 per cent difference. Perhaps the Minister will tell us who is right.

The deterioration in Afghanistan is epitomised by the recent agreement of President Karzai to introduce Sharia family law, with all its horrors for the treatment of women. Despite all the outrage from the West at that proposal, the best that the Prime Minister could report yesterday was to welcome Karzai's "decision to review" that law. What sort of person are our troops being asked to lay down their lives for?

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that we are fighting in Afghanistan to defend Britain. He emphasised yesterday:

"Two thirds of the attacks or plots in Britain come from Pakistan".—[Hansard, Commons, 29/4/09; col. 875.]

The problem in Pakistan and Afghanistan is so vast in relation to our UK resources that I believe that we would defend ourselves more effectively if we focused more on the protection of our UK borders. We know that there are a very large number of persons of Pakistan origin living in the UK. Many of them have both British and Pakistan passports. They can therefore use their British passports to depart from and return to the UK and their Pakistan passports for travel outside the UK. The vast majority of these people are wholly loyal and are great contributors to our British community, but the fact is that we know that there are a few who are not, and it is extremely difficult to detect and monitor those few.

There is much literature on the internal threat in Britain. One of the best books remains The Islamist by Ed Hussein—I recommend it to any of your Lordships who have not read it. Quillam, the new counter-extremism think tank, is a valuable, although chilling, source of information. The real danger is the spread of Islamist and jihadist teaching through the madrassas, to the extent that they now provide most of the education for Pakistan's poor. That is not a recent development. Many of those madrassas have been funded by Saudi Arabia. An excellent book, Three Cups of Tea, by two Americans, Greg Morteson and David Relin, sets out the evidence. To cite one excerpt:

"By December 2001 one of four major Wahabit proselytising organisations, the Al Haramain foundation, had built 1,100 mosques, schools and Islamic centres in Pakistan and other Muslim countries".

Surely Saudi Arabia should be a key member of any alliance to combat the jihadist threats from inside Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Much could be done to strengthen our borders. I hope a new Government may consider whether we need a Department of Homeland Security on the American pattern, which might help to focus our efforts—and, indirectly, contribute to the effectiveness with which we can use our very limited military resources. I would really like that to start now; we cannot necessarily wait until we get a new Government.

I have two main complaints. First, despite new Labour's phrase "joined-up government", there has been a lamentable lack of integration of our defence, foreign and homeland policies when tackling the threat from Islamism. It is high time that the policies and operations of DfID were far more integrated into the FCO—indeed, I wonder whether the time may not be approaching when DfID should be put back into the FCO. We need more joined-up thinking.

My second complaint is that our defence policy lacks the hard edge that enables our forces to be prepared for the real threats for which they are needed, rather than being allocated tasks on the basis of gesture politics. Nor am I sure that it is sensible to use special contingency reserves as the source of funding for special defence operations. That leads to huge inefficiencies, especially in procurement—referred to proudly by the Prime Minister yesterday when he spoke of the extra £1 billion that had been needed for emergency provision for vehicles in Afghanistan.

In conclusion, I fear that I must say that although the present Defence Secretary is one of the most distinguished members of the Government, I do not have confidence in the political direction of our national defence by our present Prime Minister. I believe that he has shown little interest in or understanding of the real needs of our Armed Forces.

Photo of Lord Burnett Lord Burnett Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government 1:28 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I, too, congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for calling this debate. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for his praise for the Royal Marines, which will be much appreciated in the corps.

Notwithstanding the criticisms made of the political lack of co-ordination and shortcomings in respect of the Allies' endeavours in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there can be no doubt that our fighting troops have exceeded all our expectations in terms of courage, endurance and success. This is despite the great demands made on service manpower.

The make-up of the Helmand taskforce, which recently concluded its immensely successful deployment in Afghanistan, graphically illustrates the need for more infantrymen and commandos. The taskforce was commanded by, and under, the outstanding leadership of the able and experienced Brigadier Gordon Messenger. It was spearheaded by 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines. It is worth listing the taskforce formations: 400 royal naval ratings, the Royal Navy Sea King and Lynx squadron and the Royal Navy Harrier Strike Wing. There were also the following Royal Marine formations, other than 3 Commando Brigade Headquarters, to which I have already referred: 42 Commando, 45 Commando, the Armoured Support Group, the UK Landing Force Command Support Group with the Commando Brigade Reconnaissance Force, 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, and 18 members of the Royal Marines Band Service. From the Army, there was invaluable support from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, 24 Commando Regiment Royal Engineers, 1 Rifles, 1 and 2 The Prince of Wales's Royal Regiment, 1 The Queen's Dragoon Guards and last, but certainly not least, 2 Battalion Royal Gurkhas, as well as other international elements.

This was a truly combined operation. All ranks and formations exceeded, as I have said, our highest expectations in them, with many ranks from all formations having already deployed to Afghanistan on a number of previous occasions. It is worth noting the high proportion of naval service in this deployment. I remind the House—this has been referred to by other noble Lords—that tragically this seven-month deployment resulted in 31 deaths on active service, together with 354 total recorded injuries, including 22 very seriously injured and 14 seriously injured. Were it not for the miracles of modern medicine—I pay tribute to the wonderful work of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force medical teams—there would have been many more deaths.

In the seven-month deployment, the commando brigade and its attached ranks have seen combat of a ferocity that has not been witnessed since World War 2. Our Armed Forces now have greater battle experience that at any time since the war. We owe them, and their families, a debt of honour and gratitude which we can never repay. It is also interesting to note that the Gurkhas are, as always, playing their crucial role in this war, as they have done for centuries, in support of Great Britain. The Minister will note that, of the 31 deaths on active service to which I have referred, two were members of the Royal Gurkhas, and a number of Gurkhas were wounded. The Government must now honour yesterday's vote in the other place. Their churlish position on this matter is an outrageous insult to our most loyal and brave friends.

Our operations in Afghanistan are crucial. Nevertheless, it is equally important that our Armed Forces retain the basic skills and capability to conduct their operations. We are likely to be in Afghanistan at least until 2015 and probably longer. It is essential that our Armed Forces have the opportunity to exercise the other skills in which they are also held internationally in the highest regard. The next war or humanitarian operation that they will be asked to fight or conduct will no doubt be different from what has happened in the past. We have always to be ready for the unexpected. An outbreak of piracy off the coast of east Africa means that we are in desperate need of frigates.

In order to maximise the political choices available to the Government, it is crucial that our expeditionary capability is not only maintained but practised. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, is quite right; we need the two new aircraft carriers, one at sea and one in refit, as soon as possible. There should be no brakes put on this programme, nor any brakes put on the Joint Strike Fighter, which, in any event, is unlikely to come into service before 2016. I understand that the first steel is being cut in Govan on 7 July 2009. These ships will be needed fast and the Government should endeavour to bring forward the delivery dates for the Joint Strike Fighters.

I am continually told by serving troops that the kit is good. However, they need more helicopters, especially military and heavy lift. This demand has frequently been made from opposition Benches in this House. When she winds up, will the Minister explain to the House the likely delivery dates for more helicopters?

Finally, on the matter of manpower, our Royal Marines and soldiers, with limited numbers, are doing far more tours on active service than should reasonably be asked of them. They joined to fight; morale, I understand, is high. We need more troops. I suspect that the Army needs at least another infantry brigade with supporting arms and the Royal Marines need another commando unit. If the Government wish to expand Special Forces, we need a larger pool. That means more infantrymen and more commandos. Recruiting and retention are reasonably satisfactory. The Government should take the initiative and increase the size of the Army and Royal Marines so that our Armed Forces can more easily match the great demands that we make of them.

Photo of The Earl of Stair The Earl of Stair Crossbench 1:36 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord King, for this opportunity to debate the contribution made by our Armed Forces. Amid all their incredible achievements, however, I find it very sad that, all too often, the media tend to focus on the problem areas, be it Chinook supply, ship supply or the casualties of which we hear too many in this House. All of it must have a desperate effect on morale and recruiting.

I wish to focus on the training and equipment, without which our Armed Forces would be unable to contribute either to our defence or our peacekeeping tasks. I agree with many other noble Lords, as was said already today, that the time has come for another review. I hope it will include the provision of sufficient and suitable aircraft, particularly helicopters, and, more importantly, with spares to keep them flying, so that, in training and in war, we can have full equipment.

Defence funding peaked in the 1950s, 1960s and in the mid-1980s, all Cold War periods. It has declined since. Our warfare methods have changed from European planes with large formations of tanks. Although the Cold War may have ended, we are now fighting a less conventional war in more difficult terrain. We should have sufficient spending for proper equipment for training and for war. The time has come for another peak in spending.

Training for war needs realistic scenarios and, therefore, natural terrain. At this point, I should declare an interest; I am involved with the Ministry of Defence in the provision of land for training. Pressures have increased on traditional areas such as Salisbury Plain and Wales, particularly with troops returning from Germany. In the United Kingdom, Scotland has now become the largest formation training area, providing an ideal mix of ground and realistic training scenarios. In many places, this is a combination of Forestry Commission land, private land and Ministry of Defence land.

It has recently been estimated that approximately 70 per cent of this training is carried out on private land and Forestry Commission land. Until devolution, a licence existed between the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Defence on a 30-year rotational lease. In the next three to five years, this licence is due to expire, and although the security of tenure will exist in England and Wales, the Forestry Commission in Scotland is now under the management of the Scottish Government. Can the Minister say whether the Government have contemplated the effects of the Scottish Government withdrawing this licence, particularly on the areas around the Dundrennan and Dalbeattie training centres, which rely so extensively on the Galloway forest? Without private and Forestry Commission land, UK large formation training costs will increase dramatically because such training would be forced overseas. All this takes tight, efficient and careful management.

Currently, the majority of Scotland's training ground is run by regional forces through the 2nd Division, which is based in Edinburgh. A review is under way whereby this responsibility may be taken over by defence training estates. The 2nd Division controls and liaises on personal contact with the civilian population and helps considerably in conflict resolution. Defence training estates would be likely to regionalise this procedure based on Ministry of Defence centres reporting to a headquarters in Wiltshire. I should like to raise a slight caution here; namely, that this may lead to a loss of community confidence and withdrawal of this asset.

Our forces undertake a remarkable job on our behalf. The Government should not forget that training is as important as fighting and that they should supply full equipment for both—in particular, the now essential helicopters. The Cold War was funded properly. The theatre may now have changed, but the need for funding has not.

Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative 1:40 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I strongly welcome the opportunity to debate this vital issue, as we are currently a nation undertaking two medium-sized conflicts on a peacetime budget of just 2.5 per cent of GDP. At the outset, I state that as a Muslim leader I totally condemn the appalling protests against our servicemen by a small group of misled persons when our troops returned home to Luton last month. A fundamental distinction is to be made between the politicians who commit to war and the Armed Forces whose role it is to execute their will. It is therefore unacceptable to make political points to soldiers. Such points should be directed in a peaceful and non-offensive manner towards politicians.

The UK is fortunate to have an apolitical military, which is not a political force in its own right. We must defend against any politicising of the Armed Forces. I am proud to say that my father and members of my family fought in two world wars. My uncle served in the King's African Rifles, as did the noble Lord, Lord King, who served as an officer.

The military exists to execute the defence of this country according to the direction of the Government. Thus there must be a reciprocal relationship between politicians and servicemen. They are not allowed to go on strike or to join a trade union. Therefore, in return, we owe them a duty of care. For the Armed Forces to do their job, they and their families must be properly respected, equipped, resourced and looked after in the field and at home by us as political masters. Yet this pact or military covenant has not been properly honoured in the past decade, as the Ministry of Defence admits. It has said that our servicemen are continuing,

"to operate above the overall level of concurrent operations which the Armed Forces are structured and resourced to sustain over", time. Following an inquest, the deputy coroner of Oxfordshire has said that the Ministry of Defence should hang its head in shame.

Afghanistan demonstrates with terrifying clarity how overstretched we are. It is imperative for us to ensure that any involvement or commitment overseas must be matched by an adequate size of our Armed Forces, which need to be suitably equipped and resourced. Will the Government therefore reassure the House that any troop increases in Afghanistan will be matched by a proportionate increase in equipment, especially in suitable armoured vehicles and helicopters? I applaud the £700 million increase in funding for new armoured vehicles for Afghanistan to replace the Snatch vehicles, which have inadequate resistance to roadside bombs. Will the Minister therefore give the House a date when all the new 700 armoured Vixen vehicles should be on the ground? Will she also give an update on the delivery of the new Warthog armoured track vehicle? I have concerns that these government commitments are not reaching the front line fast enough.

The troops on the ground rely on being able to get out to the theatres of conflict easily and quickly. However, only 44 per cent of the TriStar fleet which is responsible for getting the troops from the UK to Afghanistan is considered fit for purpose, which adversely affects troop logistics, transport conditions and leave time. What are the Government doing to ensure that we have adequate transport capacity between the UK and Afghanistan?

In Afghanistan, there is a need for flexible troop transport planes, yet we are seriously short of Hercules and C-17s. Furthermore, we now hear that the replacement of the A400M transport aircraft will not be with us until 2011, having been subjected to a four-year delay. What options have the Government considered for buying or leasing more troop transport aircraft? Furthermore, what discussions has the MoD had with the contractors and Airbus Military on the viability of the A400M project and on when we can expect a final decision?

There are also important political issues which we must work through. The Afghanistan mission is being undertaken under the banner of NATO, but the troop contributions mainly come from the US, the UK, Canada and Poland. I welcome the increase in troop and police training additions pledged by Germany, Spain and France, but what further pressure are the Government applying to our NATO allies to ensure further long-term troop deployments? It is vital that everyone carries their weight in the NATO alliance, as the security of Afghanistan is vital for our security. In addition to taking military action it is important that we win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan, and build their institutions and infrastructure to achieve long-term peace. We should not be fighting there for a long time.

The security of Afghanistan and Pakistan are closely linked. Therefore, what work are the Government undertaking with the Pakistani military and the ISI to bolster military capability and aid their defensive strategy? What steps are being taken towards promoting good governance and joint working between the MoD, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development at local and district levels in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the stable blocks for regional and world peace?

It is vital that our servicemen are treated fairly and with compassion, which requires a holistic approach that encompasses a true duty of care both in the field and when they return home. On their return, it is important that our servicemen are looked after in every possible way to ensure their welfare and well-being, as well as the welfare of their families. It is essential that we provide them with financial, material, medical and psychological support. We owe it to them. Finally, I urge the Government to consider all the points raised in this wide-ranging debate. We must take stock of where we are and where we need to be heading.

Photo of Lord Gilbert Lord Gilbert Labour 1:48 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, we are all extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King, for giving us the opportunity to have this debate and, not least, for the usual balanced, thoughtful and comprehensive way in which he made his remarks. I should like to echo just about everything that he had to say.

I am delighted to see that great patriot the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, in her place. We have missed her greatly. Privately, I have always thought that she would have made a marvellous Formula 1 driver. Seeing her manoeuvre her new vehicle around your Lordships' premises today has only confirmed me in that belief.

On a more sober note, I echo the words of my noble friend Lady Dean about what is happening in Basra today. Any of us who saw that service must have been deeply moved by it. It brings home to us in the most vivid way exactly what sacrifices our young men and women are making on our behalf.

I turn to the problems facing the Ministry of Defence. I was extremely pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, say that the present Secretary of State was the best that we have had in this Government. I dare not comment on that, even though my previous boss is not in the Chamber, but I will say that in the 40 years since I have been at Westminster the present Secretary of State is only the second I knew who wanted the job. He is first one who knew anything about it before he got there, as far as I can make out. He is doing a superb job. That is enough sucking up for one day.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, said that she had various uses for the Gurkhas. She omitted one that it always occurred to me we should have contemplated: sending them to Northern Ireland. We would have had little trouble with the IRA within 48 hours of their arriving there, but that is a purely personal view.

It was interesting today to listen to the generals, neither of whom is in his place at the moment, and one field marshal telling us why they wanted all the Navy assets cut for more expenditure on the Army, although they were too delicate to put it so crudely. I do not agree. If we are going to have carriers, we need two; one is no use at all, as what would we do when one is out of action?

I am a firm believer in having a four-boat Trident fleet, even though we are told that the new submarines are going to be much more effective and efficient than the generation that they are replacing. We have come more than once close to the edge of not having a boat on patrol, even with the present Vanguard class.

I am a firm believer in the nuclear deterrent. I took on board the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, who said that he did not believe that this country should have nuclear weapons and that we should set a moral example to the rest of the world by giving them up. The great thing about nuclear weapons is that they are not only the ultimate war-making weapon but the ultimate peacekeeping weapon. That is their great virtue: they act as a superb and ultimate deterrent. I will never cease to battle to make sure that this country keeps its nuclear deterrent in good fighting order.

I think that we could redirect some of our resources quite drastically in the defence equipment budget, although my candidates would be some of the expenditure in the Royal Air Force, where we are committed. One has to recognise the extent to which Defence Procurement Ministers are prisoners of the past and of political decisions of which they themselves had no part. We are now spending huge amounts of money on a fourth generation aircraft when the fifth generation aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter, will be available to us in a short space of time.

We need to remember that we want our Armed Forces not just for peacekeeping and dealing with insurgencies; they have to be there in case we need them for serious war fighting. To that end, some of the kit that we are procuring will not be much use to us in 10 or so years' time, as other countries acquire fifth-generation aircraft. The most important thing when we are talking about serious war fighting is the need for this country to maintain its capability to communicate in the battle space with the forces of the United States of America. We are close to losing that capability and there is no other member of NATO, so far as I am aware, that has it. I consider that of supreme importance to the defence posture of this country.

Parenthetically, I want to say how much I welcome the Secretary of State's renewed emphasis on the Special Forces and his intention to deliver some resources to increasing their size and capability.

My noble friend Lady Dean said that of course we need to spend more on defence. I could not agree more. Over a few years we should increase our defence expenditure by the tune of something like 25 per cent. She also said that something would have to give way. I disagree with her profoundly on that. When we see how many resources we are finding to bail out incompetent and greedy bankers—that is a serious remark; it is not intended as a jest—I see no reason why we cannot find the resources for the Armed Forces, particularly when we are in a time of increasing unemployment and the resources are available. We owe it to our Armed Forces. It is a question of political courage. I hope that my noble friends in my Government or any successor Government will make the resources available to the Armed Forces, which we so easily could do.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Shadow Minister, Transport 1:56 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater for introducing the debate. I remind the House of my interest as an infrequently serving TA officer.

Before getting into my main speech, I would like to pick up on the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, about Special Forces. The simple fact is that only a small proportion of our Armed Forces are suitable for Special Forces, whose skill set is so remarkable. It is also worth remembering that, by the standards of many countries, our Royal Marines Commandos are Special Forces.

Yesterday's policy Statement about Afghanistan and Pakistan was interesting. There was some recognition that the operation is not purely military, but we are not pulling all the levers of the state's power, both hard and soft, together in unison. Apart from the Prime Minister himself, there is no single Minister who can wield that power. The power is diluted and divided and no one controls the money. The Statement said that the number of civilian experts in Afghanistan was to be doubled. Will the Minister say what the new total will be? That is the only question that I am going to ask.

Many noble Lords have queried whether our Armed Forces are properly equipped. In effect, have we got our threat assessment wrong and, from that, our capability management? I am not sure that we have got it that wrong. The problem lies with the strategic decisions that we have made: first, operating at double medium scale plus when only resourced for one medium-scale operation and one small operation; and, secondly, the way in which we are prosecuting the campaign in Afghanistan. On that, I will be building on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. As for Iraq, I look forward to the conclusions of the inquiry into that campaign, which will start at some point.

Despite the Government's protestations, our operations on the ground in Afghanistan are primarily military in nature. Moreover, there is insufficient density of military and security staff in the difficult provinces. ISAF does not compare well to IFOR in that respect. Another difficulty is that many of ISAF's troops are located in the quiet areas and operate under significant national caveats. This also gives weight to a Taliban argument that ISAF is merely a western force of occupation.

As many noble Lords have observed, members of our Armed Forces have been prosecuting the campaign in Afghanistan with vigour and courage. They are in contact with the Taliban on a daily basis. Inevitably there can be loss of civilian life and damage to civilian infrastructure but, unlike with the Americans, reconstruction for us does not start the next day. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, explained some of these difficulties with far more authenticity and credibility than I can manage. But often the area of operations is too dangerous for conventional NGOs, and DfID does not do danger, as it appears to see itself as not having a tactical role. Thus, we can have only military and not civil effect. I am not sure how we are going to change an adverse civil culture by purely military means.

Yesterday, the Government released their policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The policy observed that most Afghans do not support the Taliban but are waiting to see who predominates. Nevertheless, they also have a cultural position. The policy paper alluded to a decisive blow against the Taliban. I think that that is illusory and there will not be one. We need to drive a wedge between the reconcilable and the irreconcilable Taliban, which has been the policy for some time. Effective reconstruction and its delivery are crucial to this, but we must also recognise and understand the cultural issues.

For instance, one of our objectives in Afghanistan is to empower women, which is an absolutely proper and desirable objective. But how does that fit in with the Afghan culture and do we understand it? Out of 8,000 12 year-old English girls, one will die from childbearing-related complications. We could do better because the figure in Sweden is one in 17,000. However, in developing countries the ratio is one in 450 and in Afghanistan it is one in nine. I repeat: one in nine Afghan women will die as the result of childbearing problems. On top of that, two in every 10 Afghan babies die before their fifth birthday. The figures are horrendous and hard to comprehend; indeed, only two other countries in the world have a worse record. However, it is not just poverty. As many noble Lords know, Afghanistan has very few proper midwives or decent facilities, but we know too that the culture is very complex and we do not fully understand it.

When our troops deploy to theatre, they undertake pre-deployment training and study the culture, but only enough for a six-month tour. Apparently, Afghan men are very poor at permitting and facilitating medical intervention into their wives' pregnancies or deliveries and they would certainly never allow a male doctor to attend. They will not relent even if their wives suffer diabolical pain or injury, or even if she bleeds to death over two days. It is very hard for us to understand why they allow such suffering, but I am afraid that it is in their culture. If we are honest, until recently the UK was a bit homophobic, but the Government changed our culture by a number of means. They did it slowly, but we have changed.

When I came back from Afghanistan two years ago, having been there with the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, I came to the view that we need either a hardened and well financed NGO or something much more akin to the old ODA of the early 1990s. It could come under either the MoD or the FCO, but in both cases it would work closely with our military at the tactical level. It would have integrated communications and individuals would be trained to have good operational skills. They would need to be able to marshal a military helicopter to an emergency landing site. But what is most important is that they would have to be prepared to accept enhanced risk and deal with danger. There is no point in taking a steady stream of military casualties and not achieving our desired end state, or to do it so slowly that it does not matter. The mission would be to provide civil effect in order to encourage local Afghans to reject the Taliban and move towards a more prosperous and healthy Afghanistan. I do not think that this is a role for the Territorial Army, but if we continue to prosecute the campaign as a purely military one, we are unlikely to achieve the desired end state.

Photo of Baroness Emerton Baroness Emerton Crossbench 2:04 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for securing this important debate and I also thank my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham and other noble Lords who have raised the importance of the care and aftercare of service personnel. I declare an interest in that I am a non-executive director of the Order of St John and the British Red Cross Defence Medical Welfare Service. The contribution of the Defence Medical Welfare Service is not well known. Its welfare officers go about their work in a quiet and effective way in hospitals in the United Kingdom, Germany and Cyprus and on deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, we believe that it is far more important that the people who need and use the service, members of the Armed Forces and their dependent relatives, know exactly what DMWS provides. Feedback from them and the commanding officers of those hospitals is overwhelmingly positive.

The Defence Medical Welfare Service is a charity contracted and funded by the MoD to provide a medical welfare service to hospitalised personnel and their dependent relatives. The service is held to account by the MoD at quarterly review meetings. We are the only civilian charity that serves on the front line and is accountable to military command while on deployment attached to field hospitals. Before deployment, all welfare officers undergo specialist training and, immediately prior to leaving, join the hospital medical team with which they will be working for last-minute training. While on deployment, they wear a functional uniform that differentiates them from the military and a name badge carrying the logo of St John and the British Red Cross.

The money invested by the MoD into DMWS is used in as cost-effective a way as possible and is subject to regular monitoring by the board, the management team and, of course, the MoD. A rigorous performance management framework enables anyone from the board to the welfare officers to see at a glance what activity has taken place in the units. However, what is not seen in those reports, but is seen only in the letters of thanks and appreciation, is how the welfare officers rise on every occasion to meet needs on an individual basis with professionalism, compassion and respect to assist those at a most vulnerable time in their lives. Personnel from other than UK units who are treated by the hospital team are also recipients of DMWS; in fact a letter recently arrived from the head of the army in the Netherlands praising the way in which Dutch personnel had been so well cared for by DMWS welfare officers.

Much has been discussed over the last 18 months on the subject of the broader provision of welfare to the Armed Forces—not only the military but also other organisations. However, the service that DMWS provides is different in that it is purely a hospital-based medical welfare service. What do we mean by this? All welfare officers hold a qualification in health and/or welfare, including counselling skills and first aid as basic requirements, as well as being given the opportunity for continuing professional development. They are fully equipped to meet the immediate needs of the sick and injured by providing the basic necessities of clothes and toiletries as well as comforts for those requiring longer stays in the form of CDs and DVDs. They also provide intensive support for the families of the injured.

Perhaps the most important part is the listening ear for hospitalised personnel, enabling them to talk in absolute confidence away from but respecting the chain of command. They often want to share their personal worries, anxieties and fears, as well as grief if perhaps they have lost a great chum. There is also an opportunity to pick up on the early signs of mental health conditions, particularly those that lead to PTSD. This can lead to early referral and prophylactic treatment. This listening ear is also available to medical support teams, most often after a very heavy day of casualties and deaths, providing a private space for reflection and the ability to unwind from the stress of the day.

This organisation, consisting of a total of 50 staff, provides a small part of the total welfare commitment to service personnel, but we believe that the delivery of medical welfare plays a very important part in providing a professional and compassionate service at times of greatest need and, in so doing, contributes to the well-being of individual service personnel, enabling them to move towards a full recovery and, where possible, to return to service duties.

I hope that the Minister, in her winding-up, will be able to give me some information as to when the commitments in the Command Paper published last July will be enacted.

Photo of Lord Lyell Lord Lyell Conservative 2:10 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I would like to breach the conventions of your Lordships' House by thanking my noble friend Lord King, who I am afraid is not in his place; perhaps he heard that I was going to speak. I and your Lordships owe him a colossal debt for giving us the opportunity to have a debate on the Armed Forces today, when we have heard so much in your Lordships' House and elsewhere this week about the huge spread of activities and duties of our enormously brave, successful and unique Armed Forces all over the world.

I shall be impudent again. It is 66 years and three days since I lost my father. He was classified as a noble and gallant Lord—if your Lordships' want to find out why, they should go to the end of the Royal Gallery— although he did not achieve high office. From the age of four I was imbued with something like military duty, if not quite that. I am old enough to be one of, I think, four speakers in the debate today who are conscripts. There may be more and certainly others may have started as conscripts and then continued to distinguished regular professional careers. As far as I am aware, four of your Lordships who have spoken in this debate have served full-time as professional soldiers or perhaps sailors, so here we can see an enormous spread of the Armed Forces' military duties.

I served two years in my father's regiment. Being, as Hilaire Belloc put it, somewhat short of sight, and what is called vertically challenged, my commanding officer decided that it might be better if I were not on the Queen's Birthday Parade on 13 July 1958. Instead, I was sent to the small arms school for weapons training in infantry weapons at Hythe. Being somewhat short of sight, I borrowed the glasses of a kind Welsh Guards colleague and stunned the staff by achieving 94 out of 100. It may considerably shake up some of my colleagues, not least the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, to know that we were the first course to use the new self-loading rifle—the .300 SLR. I thought this was a Mercedes sports racing car but was told that it was not. That was 51 years ago today. There was I, a young second lieutenant, taking that two-month course in weapons training.

On 14 July 1958 the grins were wiped off our faces. At Windsor, 1 Battalion Scots Guards were dressed in public service tunics and bearskins and marching with pipers to Windsor Castle perhaps every 48 hours. We were warned for duty in—guess where—Iraq. I was allowed by the late father of my noble friend Lord Cathcart to be in charge of the entire weapon training for my battalion. As a 19-year-old, that really shook me but I realised I had to do a professional job. There is one thing that I ask—please—the Minister to do. She knows that I have the good luck to be secretary of the House of Lords defence group. Alas the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, is not in her place, but one of my colleagues—I will not say where or who—made a reference and comparison involving her as chairman of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, Attila the Hun and a pussycat. I will leave your Lordships to draw the necessary conclusion. She is simply a wonderful chairman of our group, we are grateful to have her and she leads me and other noble Lords to learn, visit, see and discover all aspects that concern servicemen and servicewomen.

I will lightly and quietly breach one more convention of your Lordships' House. Among the speakers who alas are not in their places is a young colleague in my regiment, the noble Earl, Lord Stair. I am thinking of 13 June 1982, when he led his platoon from 2 Battalion Scots Guards at Mount Tumbledown in the Falkland Islands against the fifth battalion of the Argentine marines. He and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, might well be the only two Members speaking in the debate—there might be more— who have faced enemy action and hostile fire; we are lucky to have them. It is with that in mind that I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me today or later that the standard of training that the noble Earl, the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, others and I received will continue.

I see that I have about one minute left. Your Lordships have been kind enough to refer—I would like to join in the tributes—to my noble friend Lady Park, who has been an enormous help to me. I served in Northern Ireland for five and a half years—six summers, I will call it—and my boss was the then Secretary of State, the institutor of today's debate, my noble friend Lord King. One evening in August 1987 he had been staying with me. He moved to Tullybeagles in Perthshire where he was called from his bed at four o'clock in the morning because he had to fly across to Belfast and on to the hideous attack at Ballygawly. I cannot remember how many light infantrymen lost their lives. In April 1988 my noble friend had to fly once again to Belfast following the appalling murder of two corporals who were trapped in west Belfast. I happened to be 500 yards away—little further than we are from the other place. There was a helicopter flying above my head; I happened to be the duty Minister but that was nothing to do with me. I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, referred to what he had seen at Omagh. The fighting that our wonderful servicepeople carry out in Afghanistan or in areas of conflict is no less important and no less vicious than what he saw in Omagh and what my noble friend Lord King and I saw and appreciated on other occasions in Northern Ireland.

I conclude by thanking my noble friend Lord King for giving us the opportunity to speak today and praise each and every member of our Armed Forces. I apologise for taking a slightly personal view but I am a mere second lieutenant among noble and gallant Lords, including marshals of the Royal Air Force, and others who have spoken. It is crucial that even a mere timid, vertically challenged platoon commander of the Scots Guards should also be heard.

Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative 2:19 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, events in life can give rise to great emotions, and this is one of those days. As I stood with my wife this morning watching the services in Basra I felt that welling-up of sadness that almost leads to a tear in the eye. That, like the "Last Post", is a sad moment. Then there is another welling-up, which is when the pride takes over. As I look around at this country I see that there is a reason for great pride in our Armed Forces. They are probably the most respected institution that we have in the world at this moment—they are respected worldwide. It is sad that the Bank of England has gone downhill and that Parliament and the Government are no longer respected. But pound for pound, dollar for dollar, euro for euro, those men and women and what they represent are worth more than any others in the world. What they do today is often a result of history. What they have done has sometimes been due to the mistakes of others but very seldom has it been due to their own mistakes.

One has to think now about the future. Over the past few weeks I have been writing a Green Paper. I like those sorts of things; you take useless information, put it all together and draw conclusions that you know no one else would ever accept. So I began with Her Majesty the Queen and her Crown dependencies, overseas territories and realms—three countries, 12 countries, 15 countries. Then I took the Commonwealth, 65 countries that are British-related and, to some extent, interrelated. You might say, "Well, what about these countries?". But you do not look at their population; you look at their coastlines, 44,000 kilometres of them—our territories. That is a little more, by a few hundred kilometres, than the territory of the Soviet Union, and twice that of the United States.

You then say, "Let's look at the oceans of the world and these coastlines and what they represent". The coastline around the Pacific measures 136,000 kilometres; around the Indian Ocean, 111,000 kilometres; around the Mediterranean, 87,000 kilometres. You say, "What does that all mean?". You go back into your history and say, "Why on earth did we go out into the world?". We have never been an exporting nation; we have always been an importing nation. The role of the Navy has been to protect our lives by protecting our imports. Thus, the future of our island, which was once known by the ancients as "Windmill Hill" because we worshipped the wind, is to go out and invest, develop and bring back some of the benefits from around the world.

Looking at the food crisis and at the dependent territories and others, you realise that almost all those who are in trouble had investment in development that took place because of what they had to offer and the added value that could be created. So I thought that we must look not only at the added value on the land but at the added value in the sea and what lies under it. I thought that for these territories the Government should immediately declare 500-mile limits over the oceans, or at least a limit of half the distance between the island and the next mainland, that we should then protect. The problem for the world and the defence of world peace does not necessarily lie inland; it depends upon access by sea. Inevitably, having served in the Royal Navy, I would expect this to be the Navy's prime role. Can we defend the sea routes? Can we, effectively, have access? Access for defence or peacekeeping purposes is difficult on lands that are not linked to the coast.

Of course we need the new carriers. We need other resources too, but some of them are relatively simple. Having had to serve in patrols in Cyprus where you were in inshore or coastal minesweepers that made you sick, you suddenly realise that for patrol boats in some of these territories you do not need anything much bigger than a large motor gunboat with a 40-millimetre Bofors and what they now call a chain gun.

I was thinking of how we could defend these territories. Your Lordships will remember that there are now 45 claims to the Antarctic, because of the natural resources that are underneath it. When the Russians go and stick a flag somewhere, that is them laying a claim. We should give consideration to the resources of the sea. If I were like the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, with his ships and his lateral-thinking mind, I would say, "Maybe, if we take these territorial rights, we can sell certain oil rights and other rights, which could raise significant funds that could finance further developments".

These are just slightly lateral thoughts, but if we are to have a future as a nation, it will be trade-related. We have an enormous manufacturing balance-of-payments deficit, but we have a great opportunity at the moment. The biggest single growth area of GDP, surprisingly enough, is the health service. The public sector is what it is all about today, and that is wrong. If unemployment is rising and we need to stimulate demand, let us not give people £2,000 to scrap an old car; let us spend a bit more of the reserves on creating forces. Let us not just train university students in boats on the Thames; let us put them together and send them out in gunboats. After all, I went to sea as an officer in the Navy after only 90 days' basic training, which I think was due to a technological error.

I have great respect for many people who have taken part in this stimulating debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, who is sitting there as the leading member of the household cavalry in your Lordships' House at the moment, creates emotions in me: sadness because she was not here for a while, but great pride that she is here now.

There is much that we can learn from history. I have already been forced to learn it. When you are in trade, you sit below the salt; you go to the more difficult countries and deal with the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean—all parts of the world that no one wants to go to because they are hot and dusty. Then, suddenly, you find that that is where the conflict is. The conflict is not in the Channel or in the western approaches; there are both conflicts and opportunities throughout the world, and we, the United Kingdom, have the greatest opportunity that we have had in my lifetime.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, if I may interrupt the debate, it may be for the benefit of the House for me to inform noble Lords that, as the House has had the opportunity to debate the update on Gurkhas during Questions, the usual channels have now agreed not to repeat the Statement on Gurkhas in this House. Therefore, my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown will repeat the Statement on Sri Lanka at the conclusion of this debate.

Photo of Lord Lee of Trafford Lord Lee of Trafford Spokesperson for Defence, Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport 2:26 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord King, on securing this debate. Listening to today's debate and reading carefully the Hansard of the debate on defence procurement that was held in the other place about 10 days ago, I acknowledge and appreciate the growing consensus across political parties on the whole question of defence. There is an increasing consensus that our force is severely overstretched; that there is a near impossibility, or a considerable unlikelihood, of us going to war alone in the future; that we are more likely to be part of a coalition, part of a UN force or part of peacekeeping operations; that our economic situation at present puts us under severe pressure; that we need—virtually all noble Lords who have spoken have referred to this—a major strategic defence review; and that we must match our commitments to our resources.

Where I slightly question what the noble Lord, Lord King, and some of my noble colleagues have been saying, however, is on the issue of whether we are prepared as a country to provide the resources for Britain to remain as a first-division power, or whether we have to accept the reality of our economic circumstances and accept that we are likely to be a very superior second-division power. On the one hand, we have at present what I would describe as first-division weaponry and equipment. We have Trident and the Typhoon, while soon we will have the Astute submarines. Two supercarriers have been ordered, and we have the outstanding Type 45 Daring class destroyers. That is first-class equipment. On the other hand, though, we have a shortage of troops, of helicopters—as my noble friend Lord Burnett referred to—and strategic lift capability, as well as a shortage of escort vessels, which the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, referred to.

Unquestionably, we are trying to do too much on the 2.4 per cent or so of gross domestic product spent on defence. Whichever party wins the next general election will face some difficult choices. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that the Official Opposition have for the first time acknowledged that the defence spend, as far as they are concerned, can no longer be regarded as a sacred cow and ring-fenced. Indeed, I would suggest that the debate on defence in the Conservative Party in the next 12 or 18 months will be crucial to defence in this country.

Of course, it would all be very different if we currently faced a major military threat. We would then have to put defence expenditure as a number one priority. However, this is not the case at present. On the other hand, we have a major conflict in Afghanistan, commitments in the Balkans and piracy off Somalia, all of which have to be properly resourced. It is particularly disturbing to hear that the Prime Minister is blocking the commitment, or the wish of the defence chiefs, to provide more permanent forces for Afghanistan and that he will sanction only a modest increase on a temporary basis. I think that we are letting down our forces.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat to this country. I was interested in the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, regarding a department of homeland security. We have the nuclear threat from North Korea, an uncertain Iran, a fragile Pakistan and significant increases in Russian and Chinese defence expenditure. Russia is considering using bases in Cuba, Venezuela and pushing into the Arctic. It was announced earlier this week that Russia and China are planning something like 25 joint manoeuvres. That announcement was made by Defence Ministers from what is termed the Shanghai Co-Operation Organisation, which is seen as an emerging rival to NATO. The world is still a very dangerous place and we have to keep up our guard.

What should be the strands of our defence policy in the short to medium term? First—I believe the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, referred to this earlier—we must stay close to America, our number one military ally. I would suggest that we are all a lot more comfortable with President Obama's approach of more talking, less sabre-rattling and less axis-of-evil language. Secondly—this came up at Question Time earlier—we welcome France's return to the military structure in NATO. We must work to support greater European defence co-operation and support more joint procurement. We should try to encourage greater United Kingdom corporate activity in helping to consolidate the European defence industries. One looks at what BAE Systems has achieved in the United States. It employs significantly more people there than it does in this country. The lead towards consolidation can come from our industry.

Thirdly, we must work towards a reduction in nuclear weapons. The right reverend Prelate referred to that. There is increasingly a questioning of Trident. A number of noble Lords, including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Ramsbotham, referred to Trident. Is it truly independent? Realistically, are we ever likely to press the button? Can we afford the cost of anything up to £100 billion in today's money values over a 40-year period from 2015? Can that sort of expenditure realistically be justified? Could other delivery systems such as the Astute submarines carry a more modest nuclear capability, if we judge that to be necessary? I am increasingly undecided on Trident, and increasingly Trident-sceptic. Perhaps the time has come to set up a serious Future of Trident commission, involving senior diplomats, defence experts, naval specialists and logistical and financial personnel to look seriously at all the options, however radical.

Fourthly, it is increasingly accepted that we need more mobile and a greater number of special forces. The Secretary of State referred to that in a speech earlier this week. A littler earlier today, my noble friend Lord Burnett spoke of the marines and commandos in action in Afghanistan. He also acknowledged the tremendous efforts of the Gurkhas and the debt we owe them. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, also referred to the Gurkhas. In Written Answers to my good friend Nick Harvey in the other place, the Armed Forces Minister, Bob Ainsworth, effectively conceded that 30 per cent of parachutists in our leading airborne fighting unit are not sufficiently qualified at present. A total of 11 parachuting course were cancelled in the past 12 months owing to lack of aircraft. So can we justify two new large carriers plus aircraft and escorts in our increasingly constrained circumstances? The suggestion in the other place made by Nicholas Soames and others was that perhaps we ought to be thinking about a number of smaller carriers—perhaps the development of HMS "Ocean"-type vessels which can carry helicopters. My noble friend Lord Addington also questioned the role of heavy armour. Fifthly, there is the whole question of our reserves.

We have to sensibly and intelligently handle the transition from being perhaps a superpower to being a very capable second-division player, all the while keeping up our guard and recognising that we need more mobile and lighter Armed Forces. Finally, and crucially, we have to honour the covenant with our service personnel in terms of length of deployment, training, pay, equipment, accommodation and aftercare. We must show greater awareness of mental problems that arise for those who have been in combat. We owe our brave service personnel nothing less.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Shadow Minister, Defence, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development 2:36 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord King for having arranged this important debate. I start by saying how delighted I am to see my noble friend Lady Park back in her place. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say how much she has been missed.

I also express my deeply felt appreciation to all the men and women in our Armed Forces. Daily they perform extraordinary tasks in service to our nation. As demonstrated by the death of Lance Sergeant Fasfous of the Welsh Guards, they are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, pointed out the vital role that the families of service men and women play. My sympathy goes out to them and the loved ones of those—all too many of them—who have lost their lives, and particularly to those who are injured, some with life-changing injuries.

In an eloquent speech, my noble friend Lord Sterling mentioned the Royal Marine who had lost both legs only seven months after passing out. We are doing much to help, but the questions remain. Are we doing enough? What more could we, should we, be doing? My noble friend Lord King mentioned the mental price paid because of the difficult nature of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to research published in the British Medical Journal, the longer military personnel are deployed, the more likely they are to be at risk of developing psychological disorders and experiencing problems at home. In light of continued deployments, what are the Government doing to better advertise help available to veterans suffering from PTSD, both to GPs and the veterans themselves?

We also remember the 179 British service men and women who gave their lives in Iraq. This is a timely debate, given today's very moving memorial service and the withdrawal of British troops from Basra. While the Army may be coming home, the Royal Navy is still active there and we must remember the strong presence they still have in the Gulf. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew said, we also remember those service men and women killed in Northern Ireland.

We have had an excellent and authoritative debate with contributions ranging far and wide over the tasks which our Armed Forces are expected to perform. Putting all the views together it is clear that the situation is critical.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark both mentioned the Trident replacement. As was made clear in the defence procurement debate in the other place last week, we on these Benches welcome the decision to proceed with the Trident replacement. As the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, said, this is the ultimate peacekeeping weapon. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friends Lord Marlesford and Lord Attlee pointed out that there could be no satisfactory peacekeeping while there is such a wide disconnect between the MoD, DfID and the FCO. I went to Afghanistan a month after the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—I thank the noble Baroness's department for all its help in putting the visit together—and I share the admiration of the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Burnett, for the Royal Marines I met out there, from Brigadier Gordon Messenger down. Many soldiers and Royal Marines I spoke to there wished that DfID could be less risk-averse and have a better understanding of the military outlook and culture.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnett called for assurances on the two carriers and the JSF. He will be pleased to know that we on these Benches are publicly committed to both. My noble friend Lord Selsdon pointed out the important role the Royal Navy plays for this nation as a maritime nation. My noble friend Lord Sheikh pointed out that we owe members of the Armed Forces a duty of care. The military covenant has not been honoured fully during the two recent operations. My noble friend also mentioned the problems of the air bridge. The Minister is aware of my concerns on this issue and the number of service men and women who are being seriously inconvenienced and losing leave.

The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, and my noble friend Lord Attlee mentioned the vital role that the Special Forces carry out. I agree and I give them all my support. The noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, mentioned the Defence Medical Welfare Service and I pay tribute to the very important work that it does.

Many noble Lords mentioned the Gurkhas. Having served in Gurkha brigades in Malaysia and Hong Kong, I was delighted, like the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, at yesterday's decision. I congratulate Joanna Lumley on the incredible campaign she has fought with these brave Gurkhas, coming to Parliament again and again.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for her very important work in chairing the Lords Defence Study Group and to my noble friend Lord Lyell for the work he does as secretary.

Afghanistan has, naturally, been mentioned by many noble Lords, as has Pakistan, particularly in a very interesting speech by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. On preparations for the August elections in Afghanistan and the planned increase in troop numbers, we have said that we would support an increase for the elections, as long as it was clearly justified and backed up by extra equipment, such as helicopters, and adequate force protection. Will the Minister confirm that this will be the case?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister talked about our NATO allies sharing a fairer burden in Afghanistan, as was announced at the recent NATO summit. Will the Minister tell the House when this commitment will be delivered and how many of the extra troops will be based in southern Afghanistan? Will the Minister give the House her assurance that personnel withdrawn from Iraq this year will be given sufficient rest, in line with the harmony guidelines, before they are deployed to Afghanistan? The Grenadier Guards' last tour interval, for example, between tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was only eight months.

The Government's neglect of the defence industry has been mentioned. The industry has become so concerned that the National Defence Industries Council plans to undertake a lobbying exercise to persuade Government that this sector does matter. Not only does the defence sector provide some 305,000 jobs—10 per cent of Britain's manufacturing workforce—it also contributes enormous revenues to the Exchequer. The United Kingdom is gaining a reputation as an unreliable partner. We hear that the Treasury will not sign off on the order for the 16 tranche 3 Typhoons for the Royal Air Force at a cost of £1.44 billion. What implications will there be for the maintenance of key technology skills in this country if this deal does not go through? The Government cannot presume on the continued presence in the UK market of the international investors they want to see here if they are not given work. Maintaining design teams and preparing bids is not a cost-free exercise for industry; equipment does not get cheaper if programmes are delayed or reduced in numbers. Industry must recoup its costs.

Will the Minister say something about the assessment work on the FRES Scout reconnaissance vehicle? Not stalling on this, but replacing the antiquated CVR(T)s quickly, would send a positive message to our troops. With all the add-on equipment, they have now become totally unfightable.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, have called for a Strategic Defence Review. If my party comes to power next year, we are committed to carrying this out at an early stage.

It is right that we debate the big issues of defence and security policy, but it is fundamental that, in so doing, we should always keep in mind the demands that such policies make on the people who carry them out.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (International Defence and Security), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (International Defence and Security) (also in Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 2:46 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord King, not just on initiating this debate but also on choosing a topic on which so many Members of your Lordships' House wished to contribute. I add my welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Park. We did—perhaps surprisingly to some people—agree on one issue some time ago when we mounted a little campaign together. We will not, I am sure, agree on everything, but I welcome her back to the House, having admired her resolution and determination during my presence here.

As has been said, this is a very appropriate time to have a debate on defence. Mention has been made of events in Iraq, quite rightly, but there are also some anniversaries which we might perhaps take a moment to recall. Some of your Lordships may recall that it is 40 years to the day since HMS "Resolution" set ready on 30 April 1969, beginning the continuous at-sea deterrence. I know that we have had different views in the House today on the replacement, views which have been robustly countered by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, and the noble Lord, Lord Astor. Interestingly, the Prime Minister also touched on this yesterday at Prime Minister's Questions and talked about hopes for non-proliferation and hopes for progress, but also the need for us to be careful about our own defence.

Earlier this month, we had the celebration of NATO's 60th birthday. Very few people who were present at NATO's creation would have thought that this alliance would not only outlast the Cold War conditions that brought it into being, but successfully oversee the redrawing of the map of Europe and arrive at the new situation, the post-9/11 situation, and the dramatically different security environment that we now face. I have just returned from talks with people in Croatia and Albania, NATO's newest members, and they, of course, come from an area that, only a decade ago, was actually at war.

Mention has also been made today, by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and others, of the decision by France to return to NATO's integrated military structure, something that I hope we can all welcome. Mention has been made of the need to make progress in NATO on burden sharing. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, quite rightly drew attention to the challenges facing the new Secretary-General—no doubt with some sympathy on his part—with regard to the need further to develop the transformation and reform agenda within NATO.

On 6 June, it will be the 65th anniversary of British and allied servicemen coming ashore on the beaches of Normandy, and there will quite rightly be an international commemoration. These anniversaries are important in their own right, and because they underline some of the themes that have been raised in the debate: the variety of threats that we face; the crucial importance of NATO's mission in Afghanistan; and—a unifying factor—the support that we must provide to those who are serving or who have served our nation with such distinction in so many ways.

Mention was made of the events this morning in Iraq, where the Defence Secretary attended what has rightly been described as a moving and important ceremony to mark the successful completion of the British combat mission and the transition to a close and, we hope, enduring bilateral relationship with Iraq. After a commitment lasting more than six years, British forces will now start to leave southern Iraq, with Basra transformed from how they found it six years ago. The commanding general of the coalition forces said:

"The accomplishment of the British forces across Iraq, and especially in Basra, has been nothing short of brilliant".

Brigadier Tom Beckett, commander of 20 Armoured Brigade, said today:

"We leave knowing we have done our job and done it well".

The importance of this should continue to be in our minds, which is why the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary have made a commitment to bring the Basra memorial wall home to a fitting resting place in Britain at the National Memorial Arboretum, which is an appropriate venue.

Noble Lords have talked about some of the challenges that we face, and we have had calls, not for the first time, for a defence review. Rightly, the Prime Minister has made it clear on more than one occasion that no one could have foreseen the sheer scale of the new global challenges that our growing interdependence brings; their scale, diversity and the speed with which they emerge. That is why the Government have launched the national security strategy, a new approach which is important for various reasons. It brings home the range of the threats and challenges and makes it clear that the distinction between defence and security is now more difficult to define than ever before. Security is not just about our forces in the conventional way that people think, but about the critical roles that they have to play all around the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friend Lord Judd also mentioned the importance of the role that we play in conflict prevention, helping other countries to tackle some of the serious security challenges that exist around the world which could have implications for us as a nation. That is why we in the UK have trained more than 12,000 African peacekeepers since 2004-05. We should acknowledge the contribution that they make, as well as that of those who are involved in other operations. It is important work.

I will now say a little about the work going on in operations. I have mentioned the events in Iraq today, which were important and impressive. It is right that we now move on to a new relationship. United Kingdom forces still have, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, suggested, an important role to finish there. They are now focusing on completing the task of mentoring and training the 14th division. Importantly, the Royal Navy will continue to help to provide security for Iraq's offshore energy infrastructure, as well as trying to help to train the Iraqi navy. The Royal Air Force provides essential support for Iraqi security forces as part of the coalition effort. We should commend what our troops have done in Iraq and recognise the continuing role that some will have to play.

Mention was made of the work on piracy around the Horn of Africa. The United Kingdom is at the forefront of the EU mission, with the operational headquarters at Northwood. The noble Lord, Lord Sterling, acknowledged the work that goes on there. It is important that we also acknowledge the United Kingdom's lead on international co-ordination through the international contact group, which brings together civil, maritime, NATO and EU missions going on in that area. It is a United Nations-sanctioned approach, because it is important that everyone works together in that way.

When it comes to operations, our main thoughts at the moment are with Afghanistan. Mention has been made of the importance of the Afghanistan-Pakistan dimension, of which we in this country were always aware because, as was said earlier, we have to learn from our history. Yesterday's Statement made it very clear that our main responsibility is to provide security for the area. We have to train the Afghan police and army. We have to establish the rule of law, and we have to help Afghans to tackle corruption and then to move on to economic development.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned other important issues, such as the rights of women. He had horrific statistics. That motivates us to help in many countries where there are problems of that kind. It is important to remember that we do not have a military operation there because of that. We have a military operation in Afghanistan to underpin our own security, because of all the threats that have emanated from there in the recent past. The noble Earl is right that we need a comprehensive approach to these issues, and we need to have joined-up government both here and on operations to maximise what we can do.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, suggested that our Armed Forces needed to know the answer to the old question, "Is our country behind us?". I think that the country is behind our Armed Forces, but the noble and learned Lord is right to suggest that sometimes we have to remind the public of the dangers of not participating, not taking control and not re-establishing security in that area. The origins of 9/11, the Madrid bombing and the London Tube bombings can all be traced back to that area, and we have to make progress in our own interests.

Equipment, training and support are all extremely important. On numbers, this is never a static situation, because we always keep these under review. We intend to go up to 9,000 for the election period, of course with the kind of support and force protection that is required to do the job properly. As the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday, in the region of 5,000 other troops from European NATO countries are being considered for that kind of role. Some people are looking to provide extra police training through the gendarmeries that exist in some countries, which could be very important. It is now generally agreed that we have done well when it comes to delivering equipment to operations. The £10 billion that we have spent has produced very dramatic results, and our operational experience has been an important driver in terms of making sure that we are at the cutting edge of new equipment, and it has brought new ways of working.

On the Armed Forces security commitment, we have made progress with Kestrel and Osprey, but we do not stop there. Now we want to improve that to make lighter equipment of that kind to make movement easier, especially in that climate. The subject of vehicles, on which we have a good story to tell, has already been raised. More than £1 billion of new money has been approved for new vehicles for operations, including £350 million for more than 400 new light and medium vehicles: the Coyote and the Husky—the ones with the exciting names. We also have the experience of some of those which we have developed so far, such as the Mastiff, which has been a tremendous success. They are getting into the field very quickly; I was asked about that earlier. However, I remind the House that we are not simply buying these vehicles off the shelf. They often have to be developed to meet the challenging conditions we face in Afghanistan. We must commend industry and those in the MoD working in this area. They have turned the speed of development around, which is important.

We have also made significant progress in the air. We have managed to maintain extra flying hours: helicopter flying hours in Afghanistan are now 84 per cent higher than in November 2006. There are a whole variety of initiatives for upgrading helicopters and working with other countries on them. It is significant that real progress has been made. Of course, we could always use more helicopters on operations, but it is important to realise that those in charge in the field have sufficient resources for their requirements.

With five minutes to go, it is difficult to cover all the issues. Some other equipment matters were raised. Noble Lords have discussed the wisdom or otherwise of aircraft carriers. Our problem with equipment is that we will always want the best of everything. The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, talked about which fast jet we need. However, different vehicles have different attributes. We must ensure that we get the best value for money and work with partners where we can, and learn from the urgent operational requirements that sometimes getting something relatively simple and straightforward that we can build on later can be of great benefit even though that is not often how we do things.

I was asked specifically about the A400M. That contract is causing us considerable concern, as it is for our partner nations. We are worried about this and seeking to make progress. We cannot allow a gap in our capabilities and are therefore exploring a number of options including the procurement or lease of additional C17s or C130Js, or extending the life of some of our C130Ks. The issue is causing concern, but will not be solved by this country alone.

In the few minutes remaining, I will say a word about our Armed Forces and our work on the service command paper issues. I remind the House that this was a first: an unprecedented piece of cross-government work, bringing together all the issues affecting our service personnel. It is important to remember the two key principles upon which it was based. First, no disadvantage should flow from service in our Armed Forces. Secondly, in certain circumstances, it is right and proper for our Armed Forces to be treated in a special way, particularly when they have been injured in the course of duty.

We are investing in a whole range of issues and working with other government departments and devolved Administrations. On accommodation, for example, the Chancellor announced last week that £50 million will be brought forward to build new MoD houses to tackle the legacy of underinvestment in that area, which is important. The pay review board is out, and people will welcome that settlement. Health was mentioned today. The noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, said that the Defence Medical Welfare Service was not well known. She makes it very well known on many occasions in these debates. Others have spoken of the fantastic service at Headley Court. It is significant that the chair of the Healthcare Commission said recently that there is absolutely no question that personnel injured in battle have a better chance of survival than ever before, and that this is entirely due to the efficient and innovative care delivered under exceptionally difficult circumstances.

That is something that we should be and are doing—as, indeed, we are doing more on mental health. It is important to recognise that the community-based veterans' pilot health schemes are important and could show us the way forward. As with mental health generally, this has been a neglected area in the past and a great deal of attention has been paid to it since.

Lastly, on recognition, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, mentioned the reception in the House of Lords and the fantastic response of colleagues, although she said that they were sometimes surprised. We have all welcomed the tremendous public turnout at the homecoming parades and civic receptions. That is a tangible expression of the public support and appreciation of our Armed Forces. We all have a responsibility to ensure that there is no dislocation and that the public understand that our Armed Forces are working in order to help and protect them. We also all have a responsibility to the families of our armed servicemen.

I welcome a debate of this kind. It has been timely. In many ways, it has united this House in appreciation of and respect for the work of our Armed Forces.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative 3:07 pm, 30th April 2009

My Lords, first, I express my gratitude to the Minister for the conscientious way in which she has responded to the debate. As she rightly said, it has attracted considerable interest and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. I have heard every speech except for just a couple; I will certainly read those, particularly as I have been told that they said nice things about me.

I am not surprised that a lot of people wanted to take part in the debate. That underlines our present deep concern. Many noble Lords have said that this was an appropriate time for this debate and have alluded to the events in Basra this morning, and the recent developments with the Prime Minister's Statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Statement on the reserves referred to by my noble friend Lord Attlee. Against this background, I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, launched the theme of a need for a strategic defence review. That, in different forms with different words, was picked up widely around the House. There is now absolutely no question that we face a serious situation, undoubtedly made even more grave by the current financial position. However, as I said in my opening remarks, we went into this financial problem already in a difficult situation. The challenges are there.

This debate was about our Armed Forces. Everybody has paid tribute to their courage, fortitude and achievements. In those circumstances, and in recognition of that, we owe it to them to ensure that the policies, provisions and the circumstances in which they operate are the very best that we can provide for them to do their outstanding work. Against that background, with great appreciation for all those who have taken part, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.