My Lords, it is one of the great privileges of my job that I am able to listen to advice from noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords with so much expertise and experience, so I will be listening very carefully to all the speeches today. I am very much looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards.
The year 2014 is a year of commemorations. Three weeks ago, we marked it being 70 years on from the D-day landings and as Defence Minister for commemorations my office oversaw these ceremonies, working with the Royal British Legion and the Normandy Veterans Association, to which I pay tribute for their very hard work towards these successful events. I also pay tribute to all members of the Armed Forces for their handling of this extremely moving occasion. A good number of noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords have told me that they watched it on the television and were hugely impressed by what they saw. There were more than 1,700 service personnel on the ground supporting veterans, attendees and carers, led by Force Troops Command. It was an enormously valuable opportunity not just to remind ourselves of that hugely proud moment in our history but to meet the veterans who made it all possible: seemingly ordinary men with extraordinary tales of courage to tell.
Thirty years before D-day, British forces were also setting sail for France to take part in the Great War. This year marks the centenary of the start of that momentous conflict. I have attended a number of ceremonies to mark the First World War, both here and on the continent, and have laid a wreath at St Paul’s Cathedral in honour of those who died in the ill fated Gallipoli campaign. The scale of the commemorations reflects the fact that almost every family in Britain was touched by those events. Our Prime Minister’s great-great-uncle died near Ypres in 1915—the first of five members of his family to be killed in the Great War. Several members of my own family also fought in that conflict; some never returned.
Commemoration is important on a number of levels. First, it is a way of preserving the memories of the millions who sacrificed their lives to safeguard our peace and prosperity. Secondly, it is a way of bringing communities together around our shared British history—and on that note, I am greatly encouraged to see thousands of schools signing up to the battlefield tours in France and Belgium. Thirdly, it is a reminder of the huge value of our Armed Forces and of the vital role played by them in keeping us safe and secure, not just in the past but in the present, too.
This year will mark another historic milestone, as we draw to an end our combat operations in Afghanistan. On
The end of our Afghan mission heralds a move from the era of enduring campaigns to an age of contingency. Yet the appalling events in Iraq and Syria and closer to home, such as Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, remind us that the world will continue to be a dangerous place, and that the importance of our Armed Forces will remain undiminished. To ensure that UK defence continues to deliver the maximum effect for its budget in future, we have had to face down the problems of the past. Our restructure has ensured that we remain a first-class player in defence, with a defence budget that is the biggest in the EU and the second largest in NATO, and Armed Forces that are the best trained and equipped outside the United States.
We are planning to spend £164 billion on equipment and equipment support over the next 10 years. That means that the Royal Navy can look forward to full-spectrum capability, including seven Astute-class submarines, six Type 45 destroyers, Type 26 global combat ships, four tankers and three new offshore patrol vessels. The force will be enhanced by a new aircraft carrier, the “Queen Elizabeth II”, the largest ever built in Britain and due to float out next month. We can also look forward to the first flights in the UK of the F-35 Lightning aircraft, one of the most capable combat aircraft anywhere in the world. That is just one of the new bits of equipment augmenting the RAF armoury alongside more investment in Typhoon, Mark 6 Chinook helicopters and the new Voyager tanker transport aircraft, A400M transport aircraft and Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft.
Meanwhile, thanks to our reforms, the Army is welcoming back into our core programme more than 2,000 protected mobility vehicles procured through our urgent operational requirement system. They include our Jackal, Coyote, Husky and Warthog platforms. Future Force 2020 will benefit not just from enhanced weapons capability but from a reinvigorated reserve force. After years of neglect our reserves are being reformed and revitalised, with £1.8 billion being invested in better training and equipment to fully integrate them with the rest of the Armed Forces. This is not a case of replacing regulars like for like; it is a core part of building the whole force concept, with regular and reserve forces fully integrated, training and in many cases deploying together, halting the neglect and the decline in our reserves experienced in previous decades.
Our restructure recognises that in an era of contingency, it makes sense to hold certain niche specialist capabilities in reserve, from logistics through to cyber. We are introducing enhanced financial incentives to attract service leaders to join the Army Reserve, maintaining a cadre of experienced personnel. Some seem to expect that increasing the trained reserve to 35,000 will happen overnight. It will not, but we are taking the right action to achieve our targets. The application process has been simplified, medical clearance procedures have been streamlined and the Army is running a high-profile recruitment campaign. The latest figures show that the reserves are now growing in size for the first time in nearly 20 years, and the programme remains on track to deliver by the end of financial year 2018.Our Armed Forces remain vital to the future of this country, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that we retain our formidable, cutting-edge capabilities to respond rapidly to situations across the globe.
At the same time, we recognise that valuing defence goes beyond the Ministry of Defence, war memorials and even homecoming parades. This is especially the case as we draw down from Afghanistan and Germany. Many veterans are making the transition from service life to civilian life. One area we are looking at very closely is the lifetime care of those few men and women who are very seriously wounded in the line of duty. We are aware that provision can sometimes be patchy for those who leave the Armed Forces, although we have been working very closely with our colleagues in the Department of Health and the NHS to provide consistent quality of care across the country. Veterans whose medical condition relates to their time in the Armed Forces are now entitled to priority access to NHS care. Millions have been invested in 24 specialist veterans’ prosthetic centres and from next summer every part of the country will have GPs specially trained to respond to the physical and mental health needs of veterans.
Giving our service personnel everything they need requires more than just joining up different bits of government. All of society has a duty to give serving and former personnel the respect that is their due. That is why we have enshrined the Armed Forces covenant in law. It is backed up by £105 million over the past four years and a further £10 million per annum in perpetuity from next year. Through our community and corporate covenants we are joining up local services and local companies to make our support tangible. More than 400 local authorities and almost 150 companies have signed up so far. As a result, members of the Armed Forces community in Wandsworth have had social housing allocated specially for them. Sheffield residents injured in the line of duty are now given priority for occupational therapy assessments, speeding up their access to support and equipment. In Glasgow, a veterans’ employment programme has been established to, among other things, help early service leavers find employment when they return to civilian life. Meanwhile, we have companies such as Barclays committing to the Army recovery programme and hundreds of wounded service personnel finding valuable new careers. The National Express Group is offering guaranteed interviews to personnel who meet basic criteria.
The Government are working hand in glove with partners right across society, not just to recognise the contribution of our Armed Forces in conflicts past and present but to preserve our military capability in an age of financial restraint and increasing unpredictability. As a result of our actions, we have retained our capacity to protect this nation whatever the future may hold, which is perhaps the most fitting memorial of all to the sacrifice of our forebears. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for this opportunity to debate the armed services. I share his views on commemoration and the importance of remembering what has been done. Indeed, two weeks ago, as president of the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel at Pangbourne, I was with veterans and the next of kin of those who brought us that victory 32 years ago. The way to avoid wars is to have strong forces. The Minister talked very positively about our forces today, and I would expect nothing less from the Minister; indeed, I would expect nothing less from the Chiefs of Staff because they are working for the Government. However, I am tempted to say, “Brave words, my fine young Jedi,” because there is a sort of hollowness there.
For many decades, successive British Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries have been able to stride the world stage, punching above our weight for Britain. Why have they been able to do that? It was not because of our economic strength, but because we had powerful military forces and have been willing to use them around the world. Countries such as Japan and Germany were not even there for the big, important debates on restructuring things, while we were able to be part of that. Yet they were economic giants. Bearing in mind our status as a permanent member of the Security Council, perhaps it is necessary and right that we should be in that position. However, our status is now changing, and our forces are being cut to the bone. One wonders whether the Government have hoisted in the implications of that change.
I have a real worry that we are becoming a different nation by default. I do not need to go into what a dangerous and chaotic world this is; the Minister mentioned that, and I am sure that other noble Lords will do so as well. We only need to look at the television or listen to the wireless; it is very clear that it is becoming more dangerous and chaotic and a worse place to be in. In the 2010 SDSR—which I think impressed very few people—we made significant cuts to our military capability, and since then several billion pounds have been taken from defence as underspend. I know that it is difficult to predict at the moment, but can the Minister predict whether there will be another large underspend in this financial year? We have had underspends worth billions of pounds in the past years, and although some of it has rolled forward, quite a lot of it has not.
Looking to the future, defence spending is on present plans due to fall to 1.7% of GDP—bearing in mind that we are withdrawing from Afghanistan, so spending on operations will drop dramatically and that is before any more cuts in the next spending round. That is not the 2% that we often boast and crow about. Can the Minister say whether we will commit to a real 2% of GDP at the NATO summit this autumn, and in the future, not counting the cost of operations and the like? What, therefore, is the impact of those continual cuts? I will focus on the Royal Navy and the maritime, as I know that other noble Lords will focus especially on the Army’s problems.
Successive cuts mean that the Royal Navy has, for example, 19 escorts—that is, destroyers and frigates. When I entered Dartmouth, which I know was a long time ago, the Royal Navy had 104. Clearly we do not require that number today—the world has changed—but if one does the sums, the need for about 30 escorts to match our security needs and commitments is quite clear and was implicit in SDSR 1997-98. I have said on numerous occasions, and do not mind saying again, that having 19 frigates and destroyers for our great maritime nation is a national disgrace. The Type 26 programme is fantastic, and I love the thought that it is coming along—but it has not been ordered yet. I am afraid that I have had bitter experiences throughout my time in the Navy. You need to see something ordered and being built; until you can stand on its quarterdeck, you have not jolly well got it.
As I speak, over 50 of our ships, submarines, squadrons and units are deployed at sea around the world. The price of unrelenting operational tempo due to too few ships and too many tasks has resulted in lack of time for basic maintenance before ships redeploy. Not surprisingly, material readiness continues to decline, and apparently some warships have had to be towed back to Britain after breaking down at sea because there is insufficient funding for maintenance and spares. Can the Minister say whether that is true? I have been told that by a number of people. Have we had to tow one of our warships back to this country because it could not get here under its own power?
The pressure is not just apparent in the surface fleet, as, notwithstanding the new Astute class submarines—which the Minister mentioned and which are very slowly entering service; that has been very protracted, and we are getting only seven of them vice the eight we had expected—the number of submarines available for operations is at an all-time low. The pressures of too few ships and too many tasks impacts on our people as well—the most important factor. Again, when I joined the Navy, it had about 104,000 people. Today, we are down to 30,000, which of course includes the Royal Marines.
The Royal Navy is a wonderful and incredibly diverse organisation, which includes nuclear submariners to fast-jet pilots, chefs to surgeons, saturation divers to chaplains, commando fighters to helicopter pilots, ballistic missile maintainers to sea-boat operators, a surface navy, a submarine force, an air force and our own maritime infantry. It is one of the most complex organisations in our country, all delivered by half the number of people who watch Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. That is impressive—but manpower has been squeezed too much and our people stretched too thinly. We need to invest more in people and in training as well as in equipment.
On the subject of people, I mention as an aside how important our cadet forces are. They are good in a national sense, but they are also good for the military as well.
The Defence Secretary said that, as we pull out of Afghanistan,
“we are reminded that we are a maritime nation and maritime power is crucially important to our security and to our prosperity”.
However, I am not convinced that we have the planned investment to ensure that we have that maritime power. The Minister mentioned the carrier programme. Yes, this is very good news; it is something that I am delighted about. However, at the time of SDSR 2010, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister were saying that the only reason we were getting these things was because they were so far advanced that they did not want to waste the money—not a ringing endorsement. I think that they now understand better how important they are as a joint force enabler, allowing the UK to maintain global reach, to use them in hot war at the very top level, right down through every level to disaster relief in all parts of the world. I have no doubt whatever that at some stage, or at many stages, over the next 50 years, our nation will be very grateful that it has possession of those carriers— 4.5 acres of British sovereign territory, capable of going 500 miles in any direction at our nation’s behest without anyone else stopping them going there.
However, on present plans, only the “Queen Elizabeth” will be operated. The “Prince of Wales”, after costing £3 billion, will be laid up or sold at a bargain basement price. I despair—and I am sure that if the nation was aware of that fact, it would despair. I beg the Government to please, for goodness’ sake, plan to run them both and make that commitment now. Can the Minister make that commitment now? I doubt it—but he would make me a very happy admiral if he could.
Our defence spending has been cut to an extent that we are balanced on a knife edge. We are still a great nation—and I know that is not something that people like saying, but we are. Depending on how it is calculated, we are probably the sixth richest in the world, as well as being a permanent member of the Security Council and a nuclear power, responsible for the defence and security of 14 dependencies worldwide. World shipping is run from London, providing the sinews that enable the global village to operate. We are the biggest European investor in most parts of the world. Global stability and security are crucial for our survival and wealth. It is nonsense to say that defence should be cut again in the next spending round like other departments. The smaller cake of public money—and I know that it is smaller—can be cut in different ways. The Prime Minister has stated clearly that defence of the nation is the primary responsibility of government, and its highest priority. Finding more money for defence is just a matter of government resolve. Without an increase in defence spending, I believe that we are on a road to disaster. Indeed, I do not believe that for the moment we can make Future Force 2020, which is the plan. Our forces will not be able to do what the nation expects of them, and the nation expects a lot of them—going back to those memories of what they have done in the past. Is that really the intention of our Government?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for the Motion, and I join other noble Lords in the comments about the commemoration of the First World War. So many of us in this House had relatives in that war; I had an uncle who died as a young volunteer at 17 years old in the First World War.
We must answer the question, “What is the purpose of our Armed Forces?”, before ascertaining the role in achieving that purpose. Over the centuries, Britain has been used to having a strong military arm and being a force within the world. I am proud of that history and have great hopes and expectations for the future, but we should be clear about the purpose of the Armed Forces. Is it purely that of pride? There is nothing wrong with pride. Is it fear of enemies, known and unknown, and preparation for conflicts, known and unknown? Is it because we cannot contemplate being defenceless? The purpose must surely include defence of the realm and use of the Armed Forces in domestic emergencies such as floods, as we have just seen, fires during firefighters’ strikes, which we have just seen, and security at events such as the Olympic Games, which we have seen. It should also include armed contributions to NATO, United Nations and European defence forces. Should it include a presence in hot spots around the world, be it policing, advising, training or, more controversially, what is described as “boots on the ground”? When we can answer those questions, we need to consider the number of personnel needed in the Army, the Navy—on which I defer to the vast experience of the noble Lord, Lord West—and the Air Force, and whether what we have, or will have, is sufficient. We need to audit regularly the equipment, vehicles, vessels and aircraft to see whether they fulfil that purpose.
I wish to comment on troop reductions, to which many noble Lords will no doubt refer. We cannot ignore the strain that our forces are under, and the insufficient number of reservists being recruited to counter reductions in regular troops. The Army will be reduced to 82,000 by 2018 but, earlier this month, the National Audit Office revealed that plans to recruit 30,000 reservists, while regulars are reduced by 20,000, are a shocking six years behind schedule. There are also, of course, reductions in the Navy and the RAF. Equally worrying is that these cuts could cost more than they save. I agree with the Government’s policy and believe that what we are doing is necessary, but I hope that my noble friend the Minister, when replying, will refute the opinion of the Commons Public Accounts Committee that the MoD is paying an additional £1 million a month to cover what the Labour chairman of that committee cited as “incompetence” in the department—something with which I do not agree. The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, whose speech I look forward to later in the debate, recently told the BBC’s “World at One” programme that confidence that Army 2020 will succeed,
“is based on a certain degree of wishful thinking”.
The noble Lord is certainly not alone; I share many of his concerns about how this plan is being implemented, the real costs of it and the likelihood of its success.
On troop care, I am proud that the Government have enshrined in law the military covenant, to which many noble Lords will refer. However, that means we cannot ignore the strain our forces are under. It also increases the onus on us to make sure that we live up to our responsibilities to our service personnel. We must make sure that everyone, from those on the front line to returning veterans, is properly looked after. I welcome the structured mental health assessments that are now routinely done on returning service personnel, and the other measures that this Government have introduced to try to combat post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues suffered by troops. In a sense, that carries on seamlessly from our previous debate on the Bill this afternoon.
Given these reductions in troop numbers, the Armed Forces must make sure that they are making the best use of the talent they have available. This includes allowing women to serve in front-line combat roles, something which I am very pleased this Government are encouraging. This year, the Israel Defense Forces appointed its first female combat battalion commander, the quite formidable Major Oshrat Bachar, who I believe was promoted to colonel last month. The IDF also has the Caracal battalion, a combat unit which is 70% female, as well as female soldiers in the elite commando canine unit “Oketz”. In that country the only objection to having women on the front line is a religious one—nothing else. I hope that we can use women as combat troops when they wish it and we consider that it is necessary. Despite concerns from noble friends, we know that diverse organisations work better. As evidenced in other countries, there is no reason why that should not be the case in our Armed Forces. The words of Kipling come to mind:
“For the female of the species is more deadly than the male”.
I am sure that many other noble Lords will talk about equipment. When the Minister responds, can he comment on the problems encountered with the F-35B Lightning Joint Strike Fighter and the reports that its engine exhaust becomes so hot it can melt tarmac and potentially put the plane at risk? I understand that the
MoD is building three heat-resistant pads at RAF Marham in Norfolk, where the plane will be based. We are about to order—or we may already have ordered—the first 14 out of a total of 48 to replace the Harrier. Am I therefore correct that the planes can land conventionally but can take off vertically only from carriers—at least one of which is coming into service—and Marham? Can my noble friend confirm whether we have considered the strong runway at Manston airport, which my noble friend Lord Astor and I have discussed, although it is threatened with closure?
I trust that when the Minister replies he will include comments on how we stand on cyber warfare and cyber defence.
The Minister referred to areas of instability, and many other noble Lords will, no doubt, cover the situations in Iraq, Syria and other places. When we consider the role of the Armed Forces, we must look at the current, very worrying situations in Iraq and Syria. I know we are all very concerned, as we read of and see the brutality of ISIS. The Liberal Democrats warned of the troubles of engaging in war in Iraq and, sadly, many of those predictions have come true. While there may at some point be a requirement for targeted air raids or no-fly zones, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past by putting British boots on the ground once again in Iraq.
I support the restructuring of our Armed Forces but still have worries about the speed of increase in the reserves. I welcome the reinvigorated Reserve Forces, as my noble friend said, being integrated as a new force concept—something that is over and above just a matter of numbers. I support the full-spectrum capability.
Reference has been made to the HMS “Queen Elizabeth” aircraft carrier. It is a welcome base, and I have exchanged words on this in the past. Obviously, having one or perhaps two carriers is great for pride and moveability, and will provide the capability of a platform for our aircraft throughout the world. That is, of course, water under the bridge, if that is the right expression. What can one do? They are there: one is coming into service and the other will either come into service or be tied up at the dock. However, I refer to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord West, about there being only 19 frigates and destroyers. The carriers must be where the money is being spent, to some extent, but if that is the case, the net result will be a sad reduction into a minimal number of other naval vessels because money cannot be spent twice. However, we are where we are and I welcome the carriers as a moveable force. I only hope—given all my other comments and those of other noble Lords—that we have on those carriers the personnel and equipment needed to serve this country.
My Lords, we are within a year of a general election, following which the next Government will have to make some key choices about government expenditure over the coming years. Over the past four years, the burden of financial retrenchment has been largely borne by those departments whose expenditure has been unprotected. If that is to continue beyond 2015, we have seriously to question whether we as a country are taking a sensible approach to public policy.
There is no doubt that restoring the nation’s economic health and public finances are essential prerequisites for the provision of good public services, including our Armed Forces. This overriding priority has meant that in the short term we have faced difficult choices and painful reductions in many areas. However, our aim must be to restore long-term coherence, not to allow short-term distortions to become structurally embedded.
With that in mind, we have to take account of our national interests and aspirations. The nature of our economy and the sources of our wealth mean that we cannot responsibly withdraw from the global scene. We rely on a degree of global order and stability to pursue our goals; that means we should invest in the promotion of such order and stability. It has long been a key tenet of our foreign and security policy and I see no prospect of change in that regard. Even in the teeth of the economic challenge at the time of the last security and defence review, the Government rejected the notion of strategic shrinkage. I would have preferred a slightly different formulation. It would have been better to say that Britain was committed to sustaining its international strategic role in the long term, but that to do this we would have to suffer some strategic retrenchment in the short term. That would have been a better reflection of the reality.
Either way, we must take account of the current and likely future international situation. I will not repeat all that I said in the debate on the humble Address responding to the gracious Speech from the Throne in this regard; suffice it to say that the global threats to security, as other noble Lords have said, are many and serious. However, I will restate a key point I made in the earlier debate. I believe we are witnessing two major strategic shifts, both of which could pose serious challenges to our future security and prosperity. The first and most obvious is the rising economic might of China and its use of increasingly sharp elbows on the international scene. The major points of friction may be far removed from us geographically, but in this globalised world the consequences will certainly be felt here.
The second development is the continued unravelling of the Sykes-Picot agreement and the subsequent post-1918 arrangements that were intended to tidy up the detritus of the Ottoman Empire. The most malign consequence of this is the growth of an ungoverned space straddling the Syria-Iraq border and the emergence there of extremist Islamic groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
There is perhaps little that we can contribute directly regarding the first development, but we have friends in the Asia-Pacific region that we should stay in close touch with and support where possible. Regarding the second issue, we cannot say how things will develop in the Middle East; nor, I suspect, can we exert much direct control over the outcomes. At the least, we should do all we can to prevent the outcome of a slide into a full-blown Sunni-Shia war, which seems to me very much in prospect at the moment.
If that were not enough, we face serious challenges on our own continent, which until recently some people thought would be at peace for ever more. It has been suggested that the EU has in some way provoked Russia’s actions in Ukraine. I am certainly not going to defend all of the EU’s policies in this regard. However, I believe that Russia’s actions are illegal and wholly unacceptable, and that the chances of subsequent miscalculation on the wider European scene have grown considerably. We now face a situation where many members of NATO feel distinctly less secure than they did 12 months ago, and they understandably seek reassurance. We have allowed ourselves and NATO to grow weaker over the past few years; risks and uncertainties are greater when we are weaker than when we are stronger. We need to be stronger if we want to be more secure, even in Europe.
We will need to employ all of the nation’s means of power if we are to rise successfully to the challenges we face on the global scene, but one thing is perfectly clear to me: we will not be able to meet them through soft power alone, important though that is. We will need the capabilities of our Armed Forces—capabilities that we have progressively weakened in the name of financial retrenchment.
Life would be easier if we were able to identify the specific capabilities we will need to employ. We can certainly say that, for example, intelligence, Special Forces and cyberwarfare will feature heavily. However, the history of security and warfare tells us that we need to retain flexibility across the full spectrum of operations. Those who have predicted the demise of particular kinds of warfare have usually been proved wrong, sometimes in spectacular fashion. Even the famous horse/tank moment is often misunderstood. It was not a fundamental change in tactic, about the mobile application of power and shock action. It was, rather, about the ability of emerging technology to provide new and better ways of doing the same basic things. That is often a challenge for military thinkers. We therefore need to retain as wide a spectrum of military capability as we can manage, and sustain within it sufficient flexibility to be able to react successfully to the unexpected, because the unexpected is certainly what we will be called on to face.
Money was the overriding issue at the time of the last strategic defence and security review. The Government’s strategy was quickly to eliminate the structural deficit; everything was subservient to that aim. Defence was set a savings target of between 10% and 20% of its annual budget. The work of the defence review showed that the consequences of this would be unacceptable to the Government, even given their strategic objective. The final level of saving was between 7.5% and 8%. Even that level of reduction was impossible to achieve without introducing a degree of military strategic incoherence. The plan adopted by the Government was to restrict, as far as possible, the short-term damage, and to leave defence in a position in 2015 from which it could restore coherence. Crucially, the Government agreed—the Prime Minister confirmed this when he announced the outcome of the review—that this could be done only through real-terms increases in the defence budget in each of the years from 2015 onwards.
I want to be clear on this point. Although the required level of growth was not specified, it was quite clearly growth in the total budget. The subsequent announcement—that the MoD would assume, for planning purposes, a 1% annual increase in the equipment budget—was necessary to allow sensible long-term planning, but it was a subsidiary issue to the increase identified as necessary in the defence review. What has actually happened is that the defence budget has been reduced even further. Although in-year underspends allowed the MoD to make those savings, one has to wonder how much capability we have forgone as a result of them. Crucially, we have reduced the baseline against which future budget entitlements will be measured.
The result is that the level of defence spending in this country is already dangerously low. NATO has set 2% of GDP as the minimum that members should achieve. Most are well below this and I fear that we fail to meet the target ourselves, if one strips out the additional cost of operations, which is supposed to be funded from the contingency reserve and not from the defence budget. Even in an era of continued austerity, we cannot allow this to continue. We should bear in mind the small percentage of national wealth that we are considering here, set against what is agreed to be the first responsibility of any Government. We should be setting Europe a good example in this regard, not a bad one.
We are shortly to host the next NATO summit. I believe that, in advance of that meeting, the leaders of all the major political parties should commit themselves to spending at least 2% of our GDP on defence. That would set a much needed tone at the summit, and put the most important issue at the top of the agenda. Beyond that, the Government should face up to their responsibilities by delivering the necessary real-terms increases in the defence budget over the second half of this decade. If they do not, then they must acknowledge that the planned Future Force 2020 will be undeliverable; that there will have to be further serious reductions in our Armed Forces; that we have accepted a future of strategic shrinkage in which our international influence will be seriously diminished; and that the nature of this country will be fundamentally changed as a result. Anybody proposing such a dramatic shift in policy ought surely to make their intentions plain in advance, and to seek the specific sanction of the electorate for them.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend for the opportunity that this debate affords. In earlier defence debates I made clear my deeply held concerns that the reductions to the capability of our Armed Forces have been too draconian. A sound foreign policy can be achieved only if it is backed up by flexible and credible armed services. I fear, very much as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, has just said, that our capabilities have now become markedly depleted, and that cannot be helpful in a strategic context. Nevertheless, the skills and fortitude of our regular and reserve service men and women are much to be admired.
Today, I will concentrate my remarks on the volunteer reserves. My past and present interests as a member and subsequently as chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board, where I worked with very many of the noble and noble and gallant Lords who are speaking today, including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, whose maiden speech we look forward to, and as honorary colonel and honorary air commodore of reserve medical units, are all recorded in the register of interests.
As chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board, I played some part in early work on a forerunner of the review of reserves, which preceded the White Paper published a year or so ago. I am at one with the idea that the reserves should be incentivised and deployable and that the “proposition” to attract and retain them should be an appealing one. As we move towards 30,000 trained and deployable reserves—a tall order by any stretch of the imagination, despite my noble friend’s optimism—we need to be much more nimble in how we attract individuals. It is the individual reserve units that are mostly responsible for recruiting, aided by the reserve forces’ and cadets’ associations.
However, the reserve units themselves need improved resourcing in terms of personnel and budgets in order to make progress. The targets are highly ambitious for recruiting but there is little or no uplift in funded permanent headquarters staff to help deliver the planned growth. For example, 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, of which I have been honorary air commodore for 10 years, had manning at 64 in December 2013 against a target of 70 doctors, dentists, nurses, paramedics, professions allied to medicine, technicians and others. It faces a target of 121 by 2018. The figures may seem small in themselves but this is no small ask, not least when the NHS, from which many of these individuals come, faces its own problems. I have heard it said that budgetary disaggregation, particularly for marketing, is rarely programmed activity and is often conditional—a kind of “spend now and spend quickly” attitude—and I am bound to wonder whether this is wise or ultimately productive, even if it suits MoD and Treasury accounting.
Decent accommodation and other infrastructure are essential in attracting and retaining reservists. My squadron at RAF Leuchars, where it is based, is enthusiastic about self-help for office and training accommodation, and it is very well supported by the station—but, frankly, many of the buildings that it uses are old, tired, tatty and leave a lot to be desired. I am less than convinced that the system by which relatively minor building and refurbishment works are approved, tendered and subsequently contracted for does not lead to unnecessary MoD expense. Setting a standard, approving a budget quoted by a local firm and letting the responsible commanding officer take on that responsibility and get on with it might save the MoD a fortune.
The MoD departmental costs associated with minor works have a history of being substantial and, to my mind, very largely unjustifiable. Therefore, what assurance can my noble friend give that, when the Royal Air Force moves out of Leuchars next year, the incoming Regular Army units will give equal priority to their own and implanted reserve units to ensure modern and suitable facilities equal to those of the regulars with whom they will share the same barracks? The overall attitude by the regulars to the volunteer ethos, skills and professionalism of reservists is crucial to the success of the whole force concept, to which my noble friend referred. I cannot emphasise that fact more strongly.
Having won the enthusiasm from an individual to join a reserve unit, what can be done to encourage him or her to remain within it? We have to think much more flexibly in this. The individuals who join are just that: individuals. Their circumstances vary and we should consider how best to make it easier for them to play a flexible but full and complete part without compromising standards. For example, why not introduce a commitment to achieve a reduced annual bounty for those who have considerable experience over many years and are current specialists in relevant fields in their civilian careers—for example, in the medical world—but cannot easily commit to the full training bounty requirement of 15 continuous days per year and six weekends?
When I was honorary colonel of what was then 306 Field Hospital—later 306 Hospital Support Medical Regiment—although the 15 days’ camp was a requirement, individual specialists came together for only two weekends a year. It is a nationally recruited specialist unit, and it is from its members’ crucial clinical and related skills rather more than their military skills, albeit within a military ethos, that the patients whom they have to treat benefit. Could this perhaps be replicated elsewhere among other medical reservist units?
Why does the current pay system for reserves apparently rely on them signing a pay sheet for each day that they attend? Surely the commanding officer is accountable for attendance, and hence responsible for training and pay. As far as I know, regulars do not have to sign on. This seems to be a very simple matter. I hope that my noble friend will take away this issue and review it in order to simplify it.
There is a number of mandatory lectures that reservists have to undergo that are not about their military training or specialist skills but are much more prosaic. They relate to health and safety—inevitably, I suppose—fire, manual handling and that sort of thing. Why can they not be completed online with pay apportioned appropriately, based on time for a percentage of the work completed, as if the individual had attended in person? Why is it necessary for them to take a training day in order to complete stuff that can be done much more simply?
I believe that the MoD needs to be much more progressive in how to create an attractive offer for ex-regulars to become voluntary reservists. It should surely be seamless. My noble friend touched on this point, but can he say what is being done to help reserve units to identify those who are leaving regular service, associate them geographically or professionally and so encourage added value to the recruiting effort locally? Are there difficult data protection issues here and how might they be overcome? What is being done to ensure that incentives to transfer from regular to reserve service are uniform across the services? My noble friend referred to this but my understanding is that financial transfer rates for the Army are more generous than those for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Why should that be?
While on the subject of generosity, in an age of the whole force concept, why cannot railcards be issued to reservists in the same way that they are routinely issued to their regular counterparts? I understand that this may be under review or consideration but I hope that my noble friend may be able to impart encouraging news, either today or very shortly.
When I relinquish my appointment with 612 Squadron in a few weeks’ time, I shall certainly be sad but I shall also feel proud to have come across and been associated—both in it and in 306 Squadron—with some immensely gifted and brave individuals. Each of those units has regularly deployed individuals or groups of individuals to Iraq and Afghanistan over recent years. The clinical skills, enthusiasm and zeal with which they have conducted themselves have saved countless lives. Some of what they have had to deal with has been harrowing but their sheer professionalism has always been to the fore. With that tribute to them, I also pay a strong tribute to their civilian employers in the NHS, the private sectors of healthcare and much more widely, without whose support and understanding none of the activities of reservists would be possible today or in the future.
I shall end with a plea to my noble friend to ensure that the tri-service approach to employers is co-ordinated and not at variance, so that employers understand and do not feel confused by different service requirements or the approach that those services make to them, and so that they feel that the advantages of reserve service at least outweigh the disadvantages of reservists’ training and occasional mobilisation.
My Lords, in this wide-ranging debate I shall focus my remarks on three areas: cadets, training and war widows. The cadet forces provide unparalleled opportunities for around 140,000 young people in this country. They help to build confidence, self-respect and social responsibility as well as leadership and team-building skills. Increasingly, they also give access to educational and professional qualifications. Where they are active in disadvantaged parts of the country, they are particularly valuable in encouraging aspiration of a sort which young people may not be accessing at home or in school.
I have this morning been at an RAF Benevolent Fund reception in Speaker’s House, where air cadets were proudly and smartly acting as welcomers—a credit to their service. They were delighted to talk with enthusiasm about their flying experience. How heartening it is to see the diversity among the cadets—girls alongside boys, young people of all ethnic origins and social backgrounds all achieving and working together. Your Lordships may remember that last year we had an impressive and moving debate in this Chamber with cadets and veterans talking about the legacy of the First World War. I have to say that their confidence in speaking and their time-keeping did credit to your Lordships’ Chamber.
Cadets have the chance to engage in adventurous activities, to face challenging and exciting situations within a disciplined and well structured framework.
For some, of course, being a cadet will lead to career opportunities in the military. Many—indeed all of them I hope—will take the skills they have learnt into a whole range of civilian walks of life. In June 2012, on Armed Forces Day, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s intention to set up 100 new cadet units in state-funded secondary schools by 2015. Can my noble friend the Minister say how that programme is progressing? Of course, enabling so many young people to take part in cadet activities requires more than 26,000 adult volunteers. What active encouragement is the MoD giving to ensure that there are sufficient adults coming forward to work with cadets? The cadet forces provide valuable training for young people, but of course, the Armed Forces provide an ongoing training ground for those serving. The standards and range of military training programmes are very well known and highly respected.
We have discussed before in this House the importance of practical skills, alongside professional skills for the military. The recent redundancy tranches have highlighted the necessity for those serving to be able to make the transition to civilian life with transferable skills, and coping skills. The recent Forces in Mind Trust survey drew attention to the fact that,
“soldiers, sailors and airmen can join up as young as 17 and are cocooned from civilian life when they are in the forces. As well as missing the camaraderie and identity of the Armed Forces, they can struggle to deal with rent, bills and planning”.
It was encouraging to hear the Minister, in his opening remarks, allude to the programme of transition training for civilian life. I wonder whether there is evidence yet that those made redundant are successful in finding civilian employment. Has any evaluation been done of their move into the civilian world? Building up transferable skills and qualifications will be helped by two notable recent initiatives within the military. In April, the Defence Centre for Languages and Culture was opened by Prince Michael of Kent, himself a fluent Russian speaker. This is a state-of-the-art facility, with the language training largely residential, although with some distance learning arrangements, and access to other government departments, such as the new learning centre in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Language skills will always be useful in personal as well as professional life within the military and the civilian world. This month saw the announcement of a £250 million training college, the Defence College of Logistics, Policing and Administration, to be completed in 2018. This—another state-of-the-art facility—will focus on catering, supply, transport, human resources and will house 2,000 staff and students. These are just two examples of the contribution made by the Armed Forces to a range of skills which the country needs.
Thirdly, I turn to war widows. I declare an interest, both as a vice-president of The War Widows’ Association of Great Britain, as indeed is the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and as the recipient of a widow’s forces pension, although not within the group I am raising with the Minister today. There is a diminishing number of war widows in receipt of a war widow’s pension awarded between
In the Bill we have just been discussing there is provision for the Secretary of State to give financial assistance for the benefit of the Armed Forces community. What a wonderful use of a very small portion if that assistance could be used to correct this anomaly for a group of women who will have spent years supporting the Armed Forces and who now have to tackle life alone for many years.
The country is greatly indebted to all those who serve in the Armed Forces. Their courage, selflessness and professionalism is well known and highly regarded internationally. They and their families deserve not only our admiration, but our practical support. I look forward to the rest of this debate and, indeed, to the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, and to my noble friend’s reply.
At the outset I thank the Minister and ask him to pass on my thanks to the Leader of the House and the government Chief Whip for making time available for this important debate this afternoon and evening. During the Question for Short Debate in my name on defence manning on
What also makes this afternoon’s debate most timely is the general election next May and the quite proper defence and security review that will follow. I certainly welcome the current Government’s commitment to hold such a defence and security review once in every five-year Parliament. This is clearly a step forward and will prevent a repetition of the 12 or 13-year gap between the Labour Government’s SDR of 1997-98 and the coalition Government’s SDSR of 2010. So our eyes now should be on the review to come in 2015. That review will be conducted within the context of the international security environment within which we currently sit—an environment that has changed significantly since 2010.
Although I stress the importance of the strategic context of any defence review, it is inevitable that the allocation of resources by any Government will be a major constraining factor. Indeed, as we know in the 2010 SDSR it was financial considerations that took a higher priority than strategic considerations, with the result that the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces were constrained to provide for the defence of the realm and the safety of our citizens at home and abroad from a defence budget that was, in effect, 17% less than before.
Why do I say 17% less? I use the figure of 17% because rebalancing the then defence budget and filling in the £35 billion black hole inherited by the coalition Government itself equated to about a 10% reduction in defence spending over 10 years, and the Chancellor, of course, wanted his cut in the headline defence budget of some 7% or 8%. Hence we were in the position where the MoD had to do what it needed to do on behalf of the nation with some 17% or so less resource than previously.
In those circumstances choices had to be made, and they were. The major policy decision was to prioritise spending on defence equipment at the expense of manpower, which translated into 30,000 posts being cut from the regular manpower of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force. Such manpower reductions, even if to be mitigated by a planned and, let us hope it happens, increase in Reserve Forces, certainly in the case of the Army, could not be cut by the traditional practice of salami slicing.
The 2010 SDSR outcome required structural change and has produced Force 2020, within which Army 2020 has set out a 10-year migration plan to move from a Regular Army of 102,000 trained strength to 82,000. It is worth reflecting for a moment on the implications of that 10-year migration plan. First, it is a10-year migration plan with a large number of moving parts: withdrawing the Army from Germany; rebasing many units within the United Kingdom, in particular focusing our armoured units increasingly in the Salisbury Plain area; integrating reserve manpower with regular manpower to a greater extent than ever before; and implementing a redundancy programme while endeavouring to manage voluntary outflow in order to keep a sensible manning profile. In my view, the current Chief of the General Staff and his team have done a remarkable job to redesign the Army in order to maintain a certain level of capability from a deck of cards dealt to them which had many twos and threes and not a sniff of a picture card.
From this my second and third points on Army 2020 flow. Whereas in 2006 to 2009, when our land forces were heavily committed to major operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously, we were able to deploy as a nation nine Army brigades and the Royal Marine brigade in two five-brigade cycles, providing troops to both operational theatres. However, in future we will have only six Army brigades, some heavily dependent on mobilised reserves. Therefore, in future we could only provide forces for one operation on the scale of Iraq or Afghanistan, not two.
So, therefore, in headline terms, the potential output of our land forces is some 50% less than before, a reduction forced by an apparently modest 7% to the defence budget but one which, as I have already argued, is in reality a 17% cut. However, irrespective of whether you prefer to talk about a 7% or 17% cut, a 50% reduction in land forces capability is a fairly poor deal.
My third point on Army 2020 is that the scale of the structural reorganisation to deliver even this significantly reduced level of land force capability is such that the Army cannot implement the migration to Army 2020 should there be any further cuts to its budget. Any further cuts will inevitably lead to Army 2020 being torn up and a new plan devised, with a loss of credibility in the whole point of trying to plan sensibly for the future, not to mention the loss of morale among those serving and an unhealthy dose of cynicism about the whole government process.
Therefore, notwithstanding the Chancellor’s warning in his recent Budget speech that there will have to be further reductions in overall government spending, there is a widely held view that to remove further funding from defence will seriously call into question the Armed Forces’ ability to continue the migration towards Force 2020 and field even the reduced level of capability provided for by the SDSR.
My comments thus far have focused around the reductions to our Armed Forces which were necessitated in 2010 by the overall reduction in government spending, but the proper context for a discussion about defence issues should focus on our strategic goals within the current security environment. This should be the start point for any strategic defence and security review.
It is fair to say that we have little control over the wider security environment: events unfold, strategic shocks happen and we have to deal with the consequences. However, we do have control over our national ambition and therefore the setting of our national strategic goals. Being clear about this must be the start point for any defence and security review. However, is there an appetite to have that discussion? As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, has already alluded to, the Foreign Secretary is on the record as saying that he senses no appetite for strategic shrinkage, but is he right? If he is right, how is the UK to continue to maintain its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as a member of the G8 or G7 and the G20, as a firm ally of the United States, as the leading European military power within NATO and, of course, as the leader of the Commonwealth? We have managed to fulfil these responsibilities in the past by maintaining a good level of defence spending—yes, probably punching above our weight—taking risk where we need to and by recruiting high-quality people to our Armed Forces who see such service as an attractive career prospect.
What are the options for the future? I have already rehearsed the view that any further cuts to defence spending would be highly damaging as the Armed Forces migrate towards Force 2020. I have no sympathy with the view that the results of SDSR 2010 will produce smaller and more capable Armed Forces. As far as I am concerned, they will only produce smaller Armed Forces. Quantum has a quality of its own and smaller means smaller. I have already illustrated the reduction in our land forces’ capability. We are less capable now because we are smaller.
So do we spend more on defence? Looking at Syria, Iraq and Ukraine today, there is certainly a case that can be made for that. So should we spend more on defence if we want to maintain our current position in the world, or do we accept that the UK’s role is indeed diminished and therefore lower our national ambition accordingly, even if there is apparently no appetite for that?
Or perhaps, as we say at home in Norfolk, we should do different. There is an avenue of difference that we could embrace if we want to try to maintain our current level of influence and status on the world stage. I am not about to make the case for so-called soft power as an alternative to hard power, but I will make the case for better integration of our overall defence capability with our diplomatic skills and our determination to fund a high level of international development work. Embraced as a determined government policy, the integration of defence, diplomacy and development, plus an acknowledged role for the private sector, could retain the UK in an influential position. However, this will happen only if such an initiative is endorsed and led at the very top of government; if the strategy is agreed by the National Security Council; and if all the various government departments, at all levels, work closely with each other.
The challenge here is to get better at horizon scanning, to get better at spotting potentially failing states and engaging with them early to prevent them failing and falling prey to extremist or terrorist opportunists. It is a widely accepted truism that prevention is better than cure and our recent experiences of interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan followed by nation building under fire, which have proved so expensive in the expenditure of blood and treasure, should make the case for acting differently on the world stage and seeking to prevent conflict rather than dealing with the consequences of it.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, made reference to the role of women in combat units. Before I draw my points to a conclusion, I shall offer my views on women in combat units. I would like to make it quite clear that within the Army, the Navy and the Air Force women have an enormous role to play and that what they bring to all aspects of our life is without equal. However, there is a question that needs to be addressed, and that is whether it is correct, appropriate or right for women to serve in our front-line combat units. It is important to understand that combat units—in the case of the Army these are the infantry or the armoured corps—are the units that we commit by design to offensive operations. The mission of that unit, that battalion, that company or that platoon is to go forward, under shot and fire, with fixed bayonet and close with extreme violence on an enemy. The question I ask is this: is it an appropriate task for a woman? Is it actually an appropriate task for anyone, but in particular, is it one for a woman?
I expressed these views in either a radio or a television programme a while ago, and received a certain amount of mail, as one might expect. One lady wrote to me and described the sort of the person she thought I was. I did not actually agree with her description. She also said, “Surely we can trust our commanding officers to know when it is appropriate to use their personnel”. I am afraid that that comment completely undermined her other point. That is because the basic fighting unit of an armoured regiment is a four-person tank crew. The basic fighting unit of an infantry battalion is a four-person fire team. How can a commanding officer be expected to say, “This task is appropriate for a fire team or tank crew that includes women, but that task is not”? Frankly, as Chiefs of Staff, former Chiefs of Staff and Members of this Parliament, we have a responsibility to take that decision and say what is appropriate for men and what is appropriate for women. I am afraid that I am implacable in my view that a woman in a four-person fire team or two women in a four-person tank crew is not appropriate. We have absolutely to own this unpopular decision and take it in the best interests of our overall capability.
With that off my chest, I will draw to a conclusion.
The 2010 SDSR, in response to the national financial situation and in recognition of the inherited overdraft in defence, reduced defence spending and reduced our defence capability. It has produced smaller—not smaller and better, just smaller—Armed Forces. The international security situation as we approach the next defence review in 2015 looks considerably more challenging than it did in 2010. Cutting UK defence spending any further would send all the wrong messages to the Kremlin, to al-Qaeda and to those who do not share our British values. A modest increase in defence expenditure would signal that the UK still takes its international responsibilities seriously and would reassure both our NATO partners and our principal ally, the United States.
If no more money for defence can be found and we wish to maintain our historic level of international influence, then the alternative of better integrating our overall defence, diplomacy and development capability offers a different and potentially beneficial path. But we must remember that even if we go down that alternative path, what underpins our overall policy and our overall position in the world, and what guarantees the overall security of the British people, is a strong defence capability. SDSR 2010 weakened the UK and the world is now even more challenging, so SDSR 2015 will be a watershed. The next Government must remember first and last that their primary responsibility is the defence of the realm and the safety of our citizens, and they must not forget their duty to the well-being of the members of our Armed Forces—a relevant thought tonight as we enter Armed Forces week.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for initiating this debate. It is difficult to imagine one that is more significant. It is also a privilege to speak among such military hardware.
We have already felt the blast of the noble and gallant guns of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army. When I looked at the speakers list I did feel more than a degree of trepidation, seeing that I was almost perfectly positioned between two generals. I am also very much looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards. His military career speaks for itself, and his actions and decisiveness in Sierra Leone were paradigmatic of what it means to be a British soldier.
Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 were desperate decisions, and yet our service men and women did their duty with courage and commitment, good practice and performance. They are a credit to us all as British citizens. Over the past decade we have seen all too much of the fog of war, but what about the painful and potentially perpetual grey space of peace for those who return from conflict utterly changed? For every coffin winding its way painfully through Royal Wootton Bassett, an extended family has been blown apart as if it was also in the blast zone. For every hero who does not come home, there are thousands who return injured. They have lost legs or had arms amputated; they are burnt or blinded. They have broken bodies from battle. What of them?
In 2007, I was working as a commercial solicitor in the City. A client of mine told me about her partner who had returned from Afghanistan having lost his leg. She mentioned a fledgling organisation called Help for Heroes which I knew immediately I had to get involved with. What a journey it has been for that charity over the intervening seven years, and what a journey it has been for us as a nation. More than £200 million has been raised, deployed and allocated. That is Great Britain at its best, but if we are to continue to look after our injured service men and women, the next decade will cost around £380 million. That is the challenge. We need to lean into it and ensure that the commitment which has been shown in the early years of Help for Heroes continues.
That is why I got involved and why last month I went to Tedworth House, one of the Help for Heroes recovery centres. It is a former military establishment that has been done up to deliver everything that is required to ensure a fantastic recovery experience for our service men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is now set for decades to come and will help those who return from conflicts as yet unknown to us. The recovery centres have been founded on five pillars: medical, mind, body, spirit and family. Everything I experienced during the afternoon I spent at Tedworth House delivered on those five pillars. There was a gymnasium to rebuild the body, along with a swimming pool and an artificial ski slope. All of them have been designed to get formerly fit men and women fit again. The art and poetry activities described to me brought on tears. The descriptions and depictions did not just bring to life the horrors of war; they helped to expunge and exorcise them.
I talked to the service men and women and veterans staying there who shared their stories about the instant hell of the IED. I also heard about their hopes and dreams for the future they believe they can have post their military service. It was an extraordinary afternoon. I heard about the Band of Brothers and Band of
Sisters that have been established to bring all injured veterans together. Together, they already number close to 5,000. People are moving their families close to the recovery centres because they fully appreciate that this is not just about today and tomorrow. For many injured service men and women, it is about the rest of their lives. I urge all noble Lords to consider visiting one of these recovery centres. They demonstrate what commitment should be and is being made to our service men and women.
There are many fabulous, marvellous military charities that are doing good work across the piece. The Battle Back programme takes injured personnel from the battlefield to the sports field. There are many charities, but what is really required is increased co-ordination of the effort. The Confederation of Service Charities does a great job but the task is wider even than that: it is about the public space, private corporations and charities being aligned, co-ordinated and orchestrated. As you would expect, that is the key role for the MoD: to orchestrate, to lead and to ensure that every resource is put to the greatest effect for our wounded service men and women.
It was incredible to be in at the beginning of Help for Heroes. Seven years have flown by and we now have a defence recovery capability in good shape. But we are still on the journey. It will never end. Great steps are being taken but we need to ensure that we never fail or forget those who went to into war and conflict on our behalf. The message must be clear: we do serve Tommies here, and we serve them well, as they served their and our nation. As we commemorate the centenary of the Great War, we have an extraordinary opportunity to enable hope for heroes, through Help for Heroes and other charities, organisations, government and corporations, and to enable a defence recovery capability fit for heroes.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has set out how the Government seek to create a smaller but very well trained Army, a Royal Air Force equipped with a smaller number of very expensive aircraft, highly effective through the use of leading advanced technology, and a Royal Navy centred around a single carrier group and a submarine fleet with the Trident nuclear deterrent at its head.
What does this actually mean in terms of the United Kingdom’s military capacity? How will we contribute to future demands from NATO? How will we respond to calls to engage in further conflict in, for example, Iraq, Libya or anywhere in that region, or in the Balkans? In the first Gulf War, I understand that we had to strip the 3rd Armoured Division, based in Germany, of all its tanks in order to send the 1st Armoured Division into action in the desert. I am advised that we only just got away with it. Given that the new carrier—or, I hope, carriers—is expected to be in service with the Royal Navy for many decades, what assessment have the Government made of its vulnerability to attack from the new generation of anti-ship ballistic missiles, the ASBMs, of which the Chinese DF-21D “carrier killer” is believed to be the first in production?
Will the cost in blood and treasure of the Afghan war prove to have been a prohibitive price to pay for any similar future actions? Did the Falklands War depend on a fleet of warships that we no longer have and on requisitioned merchant ships that are no longer available? For how long can the safety of the Falkland Islanders be guaranteed by, as I understand, four ageing fast-jet fighters? This thinking has now developed to such an extent—and such a low point—that Professor Chris Brown, an international relations specialist at the LSE, believes that the UK’s lack of ability to act independently or even anything like an equal partner is something that government and politicians need to be seen to accept. He believes that they should advise the public accordingly: that the UK’s position and influence in the world will from now on rest firmly on soft rather than hard power. That is a vision that I really do not want to accept.
We are about to go into another round of sell-offs predicated on projected savings rather than service delivery. The projected buyout of the Defence Support Group land forces “green fleet” support and maintenance function by a private, potentially foreign, buyer is another case in point of an exercise almost bound to prove less effective and more costly than government advisers imagine. According to the National Audit Office, the decision to restructure the Army’s Regular and Reserve Forces was taken without “appropriate testing of feasibility”. As my noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill has already mentioned, the plan to raise the number of reservists from the current 19,400 to 30,000 by 2018 may not in fact be achieved until 2025. The head of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse, said that these measures,
“could significantly affect the Army’s ability to achieve its objectives and value for money”.
He added that the MoD,
“must get a better understanding of significant risks to Army 2020—notably, the extent to which it is dependent on other major programmes and the risk that the shortfall in recruitment of new reserves will up the pressure on regular units”.
Recruitment will need to increase substantially over the next five years if the plans are to be met. Meanwhile, the risks continue to mount. For example, what are the contingency plans for integrating Regular and Reserve Forces within a single force structure? When will we have some clarity on how employers will be persuaded to release soldiers for long periods of time, or on how the required levels of training and fitness to fight will be achieved and maintained among the reservists?
In another cost-saving plan, part of the Defence Support Group is to be sold off, apparently to realise some £200 million to £300 million in savings. The DSG’s main customer is the Army. It operates from eight main sites in the United Kingdom as an arm’s-length organisation from the MoD, servicing and upgrading the UK’s armoured vehicle fleets. Nine pre-qualified organisations have been invited to negotiate, at least half of which are foreign-owned, and the Government are clearly anxious to complete the sale before the general election.
The Royal Aeronautical Society has recently published an overview of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation by a Mr Howard Wheeldon, a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, which is a sharply focused wake-up call. The DIO was formed in 2011 as a product of the Levene defence review. The intention was to bring together all property and infrastructure development management under a single organisation, designed to optimise investment in and the strategic management of our vast defence estate—so far so good. Here I declare an interest: as a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a companion of the Royal Aeronautical Society, I was at one time engaged as a consulting engineer to the MoD’s direct works services, providing engineering management support on more than a dozen military bases throughout Hampshire, including the then Royal Naval Hospital Haslar and the Aircraft Research Establishment at Farnborough.
The DIO is the largest landowner in Britain. Worth about £25 billion, it is larger than either the National Trust or the Forestry Commission in terms of land, property and infrastructure. It has an annual budget of £3.3 billion. Yet concerns are already being raised about DIO’s performance on the ground and its inability to respond to some of the more immediate priorities of the military. For example, impacting on the Royal Air Force is the slow progress in adapting RAF Marham to accommodate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. As we know, the arrival date is planned for 2018, at which time 617 Squadron will be stood up as the primary operational unit for Lightning II. Given the large amount of infrastructure work required, clearly time is of the essence, but apart from the announcement of the intention to spend £7.5 million to build three new landing pads alongside the existing runway, there is no news of plans to provide extensive new infrastructure. This will be needed to maintain and operate the multi-role strike fighter in what only last month the Secretary of State for Defence described as likely to be the largest fleet of new jets in Europe. What progress is being made on this essential infrastructure?
A second concern is the work to adapt the Royal Navy dockyard at Portsmouth to accommodate the—I hope—two new “Queen Elizabeth” class carriers that are going to be based there. When the announcement was first made in 2002, it was acknowledged that their size would create problems in entering the base except at unusually high tides. In 2003 a scheme was announced to improve Portsmouth Naval Base in order to ease the access in and out for both the Type 45 destroyers and the carriers. It is unclear how much work has been carried out so far. I would be grateful if my noble friend could shed some light on it. In 2012, the DIO released a scope of work document setting out what would be required at Portsmouth to accommodate the carriers. It included a tidal berth and the upgrading of an existing jetty to withstand berthing, mooring and operational forces. It also included increased industrial electrical supply and navigational aids on independent marine structures. In all, it was estimated to cost in excess of £60 million and take 22 months to supply. The first of the carriers is due to be launched in Rosyth in a couple of weeks and it appears that the work in Portsmouth has yet to begin. Again, I would be grateful if my noble friend could clarify this situation.
Finally, and to echo points made by so many other learned and gallant speakers, it is generally accepted that the first duty of government is to maintain the security of its citizens and to protect them from external aggressors. Looking back over the issues that we have discussed today and that confront our nation, it seems to me that there is still some serious catching up to do.
(Maiden Speech) My Lords, little did I anticipate back in 1971 when I joined the Army as an 18 year-old fresh out of school that one day I would be standing here in this historic place as a recently retired Chief of the Defence Staff making my maiden speech. I had no such expectations of myself nor, I promise you, did my friends. I joined the Army because my father and brother loved the life, and I thought that I would, too. This proved to be so, and it was with great pride that I spent the next 42 years among some of the finest people in this country.
I thank your Lordships for the great kindness that has without exception been shown towards me since I had the privilege of being introduced here by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie. This kindness has been matched by the reception and humour shown by the staff of this great institution. I am hugely grateful. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for being such a supportive and wise partner during our time together in the Ministry of Defence.
In 500 BC, the great soldier philosopher, Sun Tzu, wrote:
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”.
Without a clear national strategy to guide decisions on what to do in places such as Syria and Iraq, it is hard to devise sound plans or detailed sub-strategies. It leads to a situation whereby we confront Iran in Syria, but seek to work with Iran in neighbouring Iraq. A reluctance to think strategically gets countries in these muddles. When people say that national strategies are outmoded and too easily overtaken by events, I retort with one word: Singapore. The reason that little nation is where she is today is that she had a clear national strategy which, while sensibly veering and hauling around its direction of travel, she has resolutely stuck to during the 45 years since that great statesman, Lee Kuan Yew, first introduced it.
I am quite clear that the prime determinant of a country’s foreign policy and its implementing strategies, including in particular its defence strategy, should be its vital national interests. Analysis based on this hard-nosed but rarely discussed calculation provides clear guidelines on when, for example, to intervene in the affairs of other nations while not, in a case such as the genocide in Rwanda, preventing intervention on moral grounds.
The biggest threat confronting the free world today is that posed by militant jihadism. All states are equally vulnerable, including many great Muslim nations. Rather than bickering, states should cohere to confront this threat through the adoption of a multidimensional strategy in which all, be it less or more, can play a constructive part. This struggle will be generational and our leaders must stop seeking short-term tactical solutions. The core of such an outcome would in the first instance be a containment strategy. Once the periphery was stabilised, one would work progressively to recover areas that had fallen under the jihadist yoke.
A key part of this containment strategy, and the biggest deduction for me from ISIL’s success in Iraq, should be a global determination to honour commitments made at the NATO summits in Lisbon and Chicago, and their non-military equivalent in Tokyo, to support the Afghan people after ISAF withdraws from the combat role at the end of this year. Eight million Afghans decisively rejected the Taliban when they courageously voted in Afghanistan’s recent elections. They, and the men and women of our Armed Forces, especially those killed or wounded in our service, deserve nothing less than that we do simply as we have promised. This is in order to prevent that country reverting to the lawless state from which—and, my goodness, our memories are as short as our wishful thinking is naive—those awful attacks on the twin towers were initially planned only 13 years ago.
Are our Armed Forces in a fit state to play their role in dealing with these and other risks to our way of life? The answer must be that their state is not good enough, but it is some consolation that it is better than that of any other allied nation’s forces except the United States. Future Force 2020, if fully funded, will ensure that our Armed Forces are effective and something of which we can be proud. However, to realise this potential, as the economy grows, routine defence spending post 2015 must increase as a minimum to 2% of GDP. If not, given the mathematics that seem stubbornly to govern defence expenditure, the size and effectiveness of the Armed Forces will inevitably deteriorate further, and this is without the need to fund new capability. We need, for example, maritime surveillance. While wishing that we had not bought two huge aircraft carriers with the opportunity costs involved, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord West, that having done so, it would be folly for us not to find the money needed to have one carrier permanently available—and, yes, we need more escorts, too.
Given the highly unstable world we live in, either the brave experiment with the Army Reserve must soon be proved to work or a new solution should be found. Any additional money spent on this must not be taken from other programmes, merely robbing Peter to pay Paul. We need constantly to improve the skills needed to defend and attack in the cyber domain if for no other reason than to ensure that we deter others from using such methods against us.
By design, we plan to go to war only with allies. It is vital that our allies start shouldering more of the burden of our collective security. It is unacceptable that the United States of America should pay so disproportionately. It is also time to re-examine our aloof attitude towards involvement in United Nations blue-helmet operations. Among other benefits, this would be a practical way to confront the scourge of violence against women in conflict, brought to our attention recently by the Foreign Secretary.
Finally, it is the quality of the people in them that distinguish our Army, Navy and Air Force from most others and allows them to achieve the great things that we expect of them. There is a societal consensus in the
United Kingdom that joining the Armed Forces is a good thing, whether you are the child of a humble artisan or the heir to the throne. This will continue only if those in the Armed Forces feel properly looked after, and in this I very much include their families. The impact of getting this wrong is not properly understood in government circles. I travelled to many countries as CDS and I frequently saw fine ships tied up alongside jetties, aircraft idle in hangers and tanks sitting in sheds or good only for parades. Those nations are not able to recruit and retain the high-quality people whom we have historically succeeded in attracting to the British Armed Forces and who are in such demand around the world as role models and mentors. If we break that societal consensus by failing to look after our service men and women, we will have an Army, Navy and Air Force, but they will not be what you and I associate with this country and they will, one day, be found wanting.
Ultimately, military effectiveness, as Napoleon famously remarked, is determined by the morale of those in uniform. It is surely one of this Parliament’s principal duties to safeguard the high morale of our Armed Forces to ensure that they can rise to whatever challenge confronts them with the skill and courage that they historically always have.
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards. It is also rather difficult. He made an outstanding maiden speech, drawing on his very considerable experience and outstanding service record. I have to try and follow that.
During the noble and gallant Lord’s time as Chief of the Defence Staff, we were conducting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under his illustrious leadership our Armed Forces exceeded our highest expectations of them. That is a tribute to him. He also served as a commando gunner and is held in the greatest admiration and affection by those in the Royal Marines who served with him. I remember listening to his “Desert Island Discs”. I very much enjoyed it, especially the Sierra Leone record. His own record in Sierra Leone was courageous and exemplary. We should heed the warnings that the noble and gallant Lord asserted. I and many others in this House wholeheartedly agree with him.
The Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill that has just had its Second Reading deals with the appointment of a service ombudsman. What reaction has this appointment elucidated from those serving in the Armed Forces? Is there a view that it undermines the chain of command? Officers and non-commissioned officers in the Armed Forces are rightly proud of those who serve under them. It is my experience that they attach the greatest importance and give the highest priority to their duty of service to the men under their command.
The main thrust of my contribution this evening relates to the study being conducted into whether women should serve in combat roles on the front line. Women already serve in many roles with bravery and distinction. A female Royal Navy medical attendant serving with the Royal Marines Commandos in
Afghanistan was a few years ago awarded the Military Cross for her bravery. She was the daughter of a very proud retired Royal Marines non-commissioned officer. Nobody doubts the great courage of women throughout the ages. Many SOE operators in World War II were women. Many of us will recall reading about the heroism of Odette Hallowes and Violette Szabo, and others. Both the ladies I mentioned were awarded the George Cross.
However, there is a world of difference between those roles and outright combat. For example, omitting for the time being considerations of decency, privacy and chivalry, would—as the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, asserted—including a woman in a four-man fire team whose task is to close with and kill the enemy add to the risk? It is aggressive and brutal work. It is a matter of the chemistry of the fire team and risk at the moment of battle—where risk is already very high.
Very few women can pass the commando course or the airborne selection and complete the tests. I have heard it asserted that the female body has to operate much closer to its 100% maximum for much longer to do so. That will be the same in battle. In these circumstances, is the result to make the individual far more prone to injury, with less capacity to cope with the unexpected and additional risks at the moment of crisis? That would lead to an increased risk of failure. We know what failure means in matters of battle.
Can my noble friend explain who is conducting the study? Will Members of this House have the opportunity to make their views known? We have a number of recently retired senior service officers here, not least the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards. Particularly, will the views of serving members of the Royal Marines, the airborne forces, infantry and cavalry of all ranks be canvassed? When the report is submitted to the Secretary of State, will we have an opportunity to debate it before any decisions are made? It would be interesting for the House of Lords defence committee to be given a briefing on this matter with an explanation of what has happened when this change has been introduced by overseas forces. I hope my noble friend will be able to assure the House that those with reservations in respect of this proposal will be listened to and that due weight will be given to those reservations.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for his thoughtful introduction to this debate and in congratulating the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, on his magnificent maiden speech.
I will focus on an issue that the Minister raised in his introduction with regard to the longer-term approach to the provision of healthcare services and the management of veterans with complex wounds. It is well recognised that Defence Medical Services has, through the provision of quite remarkable services in theatre, transformed the outlook for our service personnel who sustain injury. These services are considered second to none in the world and ensure that the immediate care provided to wounded service personnel has improved the rates of survival from some of the most horrific and complex injuries that very recently would not have been survivable.
Coupled with that, the provision of care in such institutions as the facilities at Selly Oak in Birmingham have ensured that the intermediate care provided after that immediate recovery and rescue phase is also of the very highest standard. What has been learnt as a result of the development and provision of these services to our Armed Forces has transformed the way that we have started to look at the management of civilian trauma.
Beyond that, rehabilitation provided at institutions such as Headley Court has also had a transformational impact. The quality of those services, the thoughtful way in which they are delivered and the holistic approach to the management of those brave service personnel who have sustained the most horrific injuries is again recognised throughout the world to be of the very highest standard. It is also recognised by those service personnel who have to avail themselves of those facilities.
However, there have been substantial concerns raised on repeated occasions about what will happen to those complex-wounded personnel once they have left the services and returned to civilian life. It is well recognised that care under those circumstances must return to the National Health Service, ultimately supervised by a general practitioner. In his opening remarks to this debate, the Minister spoke about some of the changes that have recently been provided for the longer-term management of these particular veterans. These are warmly welcomed.
I would like to explore a little further the actual disposition of those services. The report published by Dr Andrew Murrison from the other place laid out a framework for the provision of these services, specifically focusing on two important areas. The first was the provision of disablement services centres so that veterans injured as a result of their service could depend on the provision of services for the management of their amputation and prosthetics in the way that they would have expected to receive while serving in the Armed Forces.
The Minister mentioned 24 centres of excellence. How do those equate to the nine centres originally described by Dr Murrison in his report? How are both the quality of care and the outcomes achieved by those centres currently being assessed? What ongoing assessment will there be to ensure that these centres deliver what was expected of them—the provision of services equivalent to those that personnel had a right to and were receiving as part of their active service while members of the Armed Forces?
The second element was specialised commissioning, for example through the National Health Service in England. I understand that that specialist commissioning function is provided by a Veterans’ Prosthetics Panel, which receives applications from veterans who have been complex-wounded and discharged from the services, so that they can apply for the necessary funding for advanced prosthetics, which are made with remarkable technology—bionics and robotics with complex software—and can have a transformational impact on their quality of life.
I understand that the funding for the Veterans’ Prosthetics Panel for 2012-14 was set at about £11 million and was guaranteed for that two-year period. What arrangements have been made to continue the funding beyond 2014? What assessment has been made of whether that funding level is sufficient for the needs of those veterans who may have to avail themselves of the services of the panel? If, after analysis, the funding level is considered not to be of sufficient magnitude, what arrangements will be made to increase the funding, bearing in mind that the NHS itself is facing substantial financial constraint?
Beyond the provision of those important facilities, on which Her Majesty’s Government should be congratulated, there is ongoing concern about whether there is sufficient research effort to inform the longer-term healthcare needs of those veterans—who, as I said, have been wounded in horrific ways that would previously not have been survivable. Little is known about their holistic healthcare needs over the long term—not only years but decades hence—because previously such individuals would not have survived.
All good medical practice is informed by a strong research base. What if any funding from the National Institute for Health Research is directed towards that group of individuals? How is that research organised? To repeat a question that has been asked on previous occasions, are active efforts made at the time of discharge from the services—for instance, using the NHS number—to ensure that that cohort of complex-wounded individuals continues to be followed as a group, so that their clinical outcomes can be used to inform their own ongoing healthcare needs?
Beyond all that Defence Medical Services is able to provide, including the excellent facilities at Headley Court, there has been recent debate about whether further facilities can be created for rehabilitation. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, about the important work with regard to rehabilitation centres across the country. Another proposal has been to bring together a defence and national rehabilitation centre at Stanford Hall. Where do those proposals stand and what progress has been made? The proposals would bring together a defence and a national rehabilitation facility, the two informing each other and therefore driving up standards of practice and clinical outcomes not only for those discharged from the armed services who require further rehabilitation but for civilians injured in civilian life.
We have heard in this debate about the important obligation that our nation has to its Armed Forces, the covenant and therefore the ongoing responsibility we have to veterans. The provision of healthcare not only while in service but beyond for those who have sacrificed so much is a vital responsibility of government.
In case I did not do so at the beginning, I should remind noble Lords of my interest in this area as a commissioner of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and a trustee and governor of the King Edward VII Hospital.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for all the help that he gives to us as members of your Lordships’ House of Lords defence group; we owe him an enormous amount. Looking at the speakers list today, I think that there are 16 or even 18 of us who are invited on a regular basis by my noble friend to receive wonderful briefings from him and expert officials at the Ministry of Defence. We are all immensely grateful. One of the lucky duties I have is to be secretary of the House of Lords defence group. Every year, I invite all the noble and gallant Lords, the former Chiefs of Defence Staff. Everything that has been said today by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, is so much appreciated by all of us, the Back-Benchers who do not have extensive service experience. We really appreciate the tenor in which he said that. His fellow former Chiefs of the Defence Staff are exceptionally kind in giving us full and confidential briefing on everything that we might need to know.
I have spent 41 years as a member of the House of Lords defence group. We are Back-Benchers, independent with our own minds. We are extremely fortunate to have speaking after me for the second time today the noble Baroness, Lady Dean. First of all, she is my chairman, but, secondly, as your Lordships may have heard earlier, and as we may well hear again later, she is an absolute champion of the families and an enormous supporter of provision not just of weaponry but of what service personnel need. Your Lordships are very lucky to have her as chairman of our group. Among the 16 or 18, I am, I hope, the still, small voice. We have heard and will hear from noble and gallant Lords and other Members of your Lordships’ House with colossal experience.
For myself, I was a conscript. I am that old; I am in my 76th year. I served only 19 months, because I suffered a fractured leg—army skiing, actually. I shall therefore concentrate my short remarks on recruit training and further training, mainly gathered in the Army, but possibly in other branches of the service as well. One gap in my training and record, which is also a gap in the visits that we have been able to make as part of the House of Lords defence group, is that we have not been able to get down to Sennybridge, where I understand that the advanced training for members of the Army, particularly young officers and non-commissioned officers, takes place. It may be combined with Warminster and other places. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, mentioned 1971. In 1958, I was very lucky to serve under the then Earl Cathcart. He sent me to Hythe on a platoon weapon training course. I am able to tell your Lordships that the training we received there was 120% successful; it was excellent. The sympathy and assistance that I received was simply second to none.
I know that my noble friend the Minister has similar experience, but I hope that he, noble and gallant Lords and other Members of your Lordships’ House will be satisfied with what we have in our Armed Forces. First, there are the personnel. I dare not call them boys and girls; they are men and women. They are exceptional, and we are extremely lucky, first, that they wish to join the Armed Forces with some of the responsibilities and difficulties that arise in their private life, their finance, family life, and so on. They are happy to join. One lesson that I have learnt as part of our visits with the House of Lords defence group is that we need to start at the lowest level with recruit training of young members of the Armed Forces. I think it was two or three years ago that my noble friend Lord Lee and I went on board the Type 45 HMS “Daring” at Portsmouth with its excellent commanding officer, Captain McAlpine. We watched him speaking to newly joined members of his crew and he took enormous care, treating them almost like an uncle. I certainly appreciated what he was able to do by putting his talents into seeing that young men were appreciated for their talents and ability.
I hope that my noble friend can keep all of us, and your Lordships’ group, up to speed with the facilities for the Armed Forces. For myself, I recall the kit—the equipment and clothing—that I had as a young soldier. It is now exceptionally good. About 20 years ago, Lord Bramall and I went to Little Rissington, which used to be an advance base for kitting out soldiers and members of the Armed Forces before they went on an operation—maybe it still is. We noticed a great deal of kit there that was not part of the kit supplied by the Army. Members of the Armed Forces had spent their own funds on kit that they felt was the best. I believe that that gap has now been closed. On every visit that we make, we find that all the members of the Army and the other Armed Forces that we meet are really very content with the equipment that they have. On weapons and tools, I was fascinated to hear what my noble friend had to say about the Jackals. I hope that he was not referring to Members of your Lordships’ House; rather, that was one of the items he was referring to, which is a method of transport. I hope they are all right.
However, one thing that has always concerned me within your Lordships’ defence group is the families and their accommodation. I could not add anything to the wise and wonderful words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, but regarding accommodation one of the most uncomfortable times that I have ever spent as part of our group was in Colchester, where we heard of the problems with accommodation in the married quarters there. I think this was just an error; it was perhaps a gap based on a wish to use my discipline from Scotland, accountancy, to tighten up the finances but it worried me considerably. I am sure that the situation has been cleared up a great deal. This was only in the married quarters, as the young soldiers’ quarters were exceptional—really good.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to confirm that the return of the Armed Forces from Germany is being carried on timeously and to cost. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur referred to RAF Leuchars, which is my nearest Royal Air Force station, and to the members of the Army who are going to be there. Because of the geography of Leuchars, it is very well situated to have Reserve Forces nearby. In his previous incarnation the Minister has been with me and members of the group three times to Cyprus. There we saw exactly what all members of the Armed Forces are able to do, together with the accommodation there. I am very content—we were very lucky—that he was able to come.
What we see in the advertisements for the British Army is “Be the best”. Every single man and woman in the Armed Forces is doing their best. They are the best and it is up to us to give them the support that they deserve. They deserve our best and they will get it.
I conclude by saying that, when my noble friend was referring to commemorating the centenary of the First World War, your Lordships may not quite have been aware that he is the grandson of Field-Marshal Earl Haig. I think that he would have been very proud, as we are, of what his grandson has done for us.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for ensuring that we have this debate, which is not time-limited as we normally are. That is very much appreciated. It also provided the opportunity to hear the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards of Herstmonceux. His speech was a pleasure to listen to for its clarity and its big-picture approach. I also enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, but today is not the time to be drawn or distracted by being one of the two women Peers in this debate on the issue of women in front-line operations. That is for another day and time; I am sure that on that day there will not be only two women taking part in the debate.
I need to declare an interest as a vice-president of the War Widows Association of Great Britain, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal. I very much associate myself with the words that she gave us in regard to those 4,000 widows, many of them fragile and very elderly, who feel penalised—in some cases, stigmatised would not be an exaggeration—by the Government’s present costs. If the public out there knew that, if the figure is correct, it would take £70,000 to resolve this problem and that it is highly likely to be not even that much, they would be astonished at the meanness of us as a House and, more importantly, of the Government. What would be needed is not even a drop in the ocean and I hope that the Minister, if he cannot comment positively on this, will come back to it in writing after this debate.
As the Minister said in opening this debate, this has been a year of commemorations. It reminds us, day by day, of the work of our service men and women, putting their lives on the line in our name and for our protection. We have a huge debt to pay to them, both those who have gone and those who remain. I would like to address those who remain in my short contribution because it is not just about them but also about their families. Unlike any other career that I can think of, they go where they are directed, stay as long as they are directed to be there and are separated from their families, as directed. They give up many privileges that the rest of us in our community take for granted. They do that with a commitment and courage, and a lack of self, which impresses anyone who comes into contact with them. Many acts of bravery are not even heard of; we were reminded of this by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, in his address.
All that brings a great responsibility for us, as a nation, when we look at the role of our Armed Forces on behalf of our nation. We have a military covenant, which is a commitment to go some way towards meeting that responsibility. We have the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which is charged with looking after the overall remuneration and allowances package. We have a Service Complaints Commissioner—soon to be an ombudsman—and, indeed, we have a Defence Select Committee in another place, which constantly looks at issues affecting our Armed Forces. One would think that we are carrying out our responsibility to the Armed Forces of this nation. Yet one has only to look at social media, where individual Armed Forces personnel say what they really think. It is quite discouraging.
The Armed Forces Pay Review Body report for this year says, in paragraph 2.11, that:
“There had been notable drops in reported morale from Army personnel for the third consecutive year”.
The next paragraph refers to its visits,
“amidst continuing high tempo, with much operational commitment at the same time as the impact of the redundancy programme”.
Many questions have been asked in this House about that. The following paragraph, paragraph 2.13, says that:
“The continued erosion of the overall package, together with the impact of the redundancy process were felt to be adversely affecting morale, which was already considered to be fragile”,
Does that mean we are meeting our responsibility to our Armed Forces? I suggest that it brings that strongly into question.
The audit office report, issued a short while ago, expresses many criticisms of Army 2020. The Government cannot easily dismiss the comments in that report, although little has been made of it today. They raise serious concerns for our personnel about how the process was carried out and the impact on them. For instance, there have been a number of questions in this House over the months about the redundancies in the full-time services and their replacement by reserve personnel. We need to recruit 11,000 reserves in the next few years. The National Audit Office report says that on the model with which it was presented it will be 2025 before that 30,000 reserve personnel number is met. The NAO also says that the MoD was looking at an alternative model, but the NAO could not get a copy of it so could not revise or revisit that view. It is clear that there is a £10.6 billion cut from the Army budget between 2011-12 and 2021-22. We all know that many questions have been asked over months on this whole issue, and the Minister has gallantly tried to assure us in answering them. However, I suggest that not many of us are convinced.
The world is a dangerous place, as we see day by day and indeed increasingly over the past few weeks. Our Armed Forces are a major part of our protection and, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, said in his maiden speech, there will be a time when we need them. I certainly subscribe to that view. That gives us a national responsibility regarding both their role and how we view and look after our Armed Forces.
That brings me to my closing remark. The noble and gallant Lords, Lord Stirrup and Lord Richards, are right that a commitment was given by the Prime Minister, publicly and on the record, that there would be a real increase in the budget for the MoD from 2015 onwards. I have been at briefing meetings where it has been made clear that that was an integral part of the arrangement of the cutbacks that were agreed. If that commitment is not carried out, it will mean that we, on behalf of our nation, will not have played our part in that very painful process that the Armed Forces will have gone through. Can the Minister please confirm today whether the Prime Minister not only meant what he said but will deliver on it in 2015, before the general election?
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not follow on the issue of cuts and resources. I do not feel that I am qualified to add anything on this to those who have already spoken.
As chairman of the Association of Military Court Advocates, I want to refer to the implications of the withdrawal of British forces to the UK, which will happen perhaps by the end of this decade. At that point we will not have forces serving abroad, at least for any length of time. The rationale of courts martial is that they bring a British standard of justice to our serving servicemen, wherever they happen to be serving in the world, and do not open them to trial and punishment in some foreign jurisdiction. If all the forces come back to this country for any length of time, the question will be raised of whether courts martial are acceptable for dealing with civil offences under what is currently Section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006. Will there be room for a parallel system of justice?
In historic times, courts martial were regarded as administering rather rough and ready justice, both in their findings and in their punishments. I am rather proud that it was a Liberal Member of Parliament from my part of the world, East Denbighshire, under Mr Gladstone, who abolished flogging in the Army in about 1860. Reference has been made to the First World War, in which more than 3,000 men were sentenced to death at courts martial for a variety of offences. I am pleased to say that most of them had their sentences commuted, but around 350 were executed before the drawn-up ranks of their fellow soldiers and by a firing squad composed of the condemned’s troop. It is now accepted that most of the men at the time were suffering from some stress disorder or mental problems as a result of the terrible strains that they were put under; indeed, they have been posthumously pardoned.
Things have moved on, though: following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Findlay some years ago, many reforms were introduced that have markedly changed the system for the better and have introduced much more confidence in the quality of justice that is administered in these courts. Certain weaknesses remain, however, and it is to those matters that I draw your Lordships’ attention. The first is the simple majority verdict. In a court martial composed of a judge advocate and a panel of officers and warrant officers, the decision as to guilt or innocence can be taken by a simple majority, so that if in the less important court martial three sit, it is two to one; if five sit, it is three to two; if seven sit, as very exceptionally happens—for example, in the Baha Mousa case—a verdict of four to three would be enough. That is very different from the majority verdicts in the civil courts of this country.
The matter gives rise to concern, to such a degree that the Judge Advocate-General, Judge Blackett, posed questions to the Court Martial Appeal Court a few years back in the case of Twaite. It involved an officer who had been convicted of fraud—–he was claiming a housing allowance to which he was not entitled—and there were certain matters that caused disquiet to the judge advocate presiding, so the matter was brought to the Court Martial Appeal Court. The issue raised was that of majority verdicts: why should dealing with a case of fraud be different in a court martial?
The Court of Appeal, presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said that it was a matter for Parliament, and that if Parliament had chosen to have majority verdicts—a simple majority—that was it. That was the answer given by the Judicial Committee of this House in a case in which I appeared called Martin, where a 17 year-old boy was convicted of murder in a court martial in Germany. There were no service matters involved but he was the son of a serving soldier. He was remanded in custody awaiting trial in Colchester—not in the quarters to which the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, was referring—and returned to Germany to stand trial by court martial at 17 years of age, where he was convicted by a panel of officers. That was upheld with disquiet by the Judicial Committee of this House on the grounds that Parliament had so decreed. The matter went to the European Court, which held that the decision was undermined and should not stand—at least, it recommended that the principles were wrongly applied in that case.
It is said about simple majority verdicts that of course that is what happens in magistrates’ courts, which deal with cases by a simple majority. However, magistrates are not officers; they are chosen to reflect the whole of the community that they come from. They are trained, and are constantly engaged with a chairman of great experience. If in magistrates’ courts decisions of fact and sentencing are arrived at by a simple majority, that is very different from the case of a court martial where, no matter how hard they try, the officers concerned are lay people with no training or experience and are commanded to turn up for the court martial and to sit on the panel—no doubt many times wishing that they were somewhere else—where they can decide guilt or innocence in a case of murder, rape, fraud or serious theft by a simple majority. A matter for the Government to consider is whether this is fair and just and, in particular, whether, if all the British forces are brought back to this country, the system can remain.
The second weakness I identify is sentencing. These days, sentencing is a very technical matter. A judge who sentences has to remind himself of all sorts of criteria that have to be applied in a particular case. He receives directions, he receives very considerable training from the Judicial Studies Board, he does it every day and he has the benefit of the experience of others to turn to for advice in a particular case—that is what the Old Bailey lunches are all about. That is very different from a court martial where the panel of officers—lay people—determines sentence. The judge advocate can sit in on the panel but does not have a vote. Officers decide what the appropriate punishment should be. That is fair enough in disciplinary matters. No doubt there should be an input in disciplinary matters, but when you are dealing, for example, with the minimum sentence that a person sentenced to life for murder should serve, it is a very different matter.
That brings me to the third weakness I see at the moment, which is the sub judice rule. The judge advocate cannot deal with contempt of court. There is a feeling in the media, and more widely in the public, the press and among politicians, that you can say what you like about a court martial while it is still going. For example, in January 2005, when the Breadbasket case was being heard in Osnabruck, the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, described photographic evidence that had been released while the trial was going on as shocking and appalling and he informed the other place that the court martial would prove that,
“we do not tolerate that … activity”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 19/1/2005; col. 805.]
That caused the trial judge, Judge Advocate Michael Hunter, to advise the panel to ignore completely what the Prime Minister had said the day before in relation to a pending case. General Sir Michael Jackson, who was shown the same photographs, said that he could not possibly comment while the trial was going on. There you have the difference between the general who appreciated and valued the court martial and the politician who saw a chance of an easy headline.
As recently as November 2013, in the trial of Marine A, which your Lordships will recall, a major general said on television that a five-year term as a minimum sentence would be much more suitable than full life imprisonment. Marine A had been found guilty but had not been sentenced, and that remark sparked off wild speculation in the press about what the minimum term should be. I recall being asked in the precincts of this building what I thought would be a suitable term. That is fair enough in private, but for public statements to be made by a major general, who was far senior to the panel who were sitting on the case, was clearly a breach of the sub judice rule which for some reason or other is not regarded as being very important.
Then there was the case of SAS Sergeant Nightingale, who pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment. The Defence Secretary Mr Hammond asked the Attorney-General Dominic Grieve to push for a review of that case. Dominic Grieve very properly refused. The Prime Minister was reviled by his own MPs because he was said to be refusing to back Sergeant Nightingale. The Daily Telegraph started a campaign claiming that Nightingale was a war hero and at the appeal hearing it was argued that he had pleaded guilty under pressure. This was while the process was going on. Why does the sub judice rule not apply as far as the press and politicians are concerned in court martial cases?
Those are some thoughts about the current weaknesses in the system. I strongly support the court martial system. I just want to see it improved to the point where it can stand as a parallel system of justice, even if all the forces are brought back to this country, and can hold its head up high as a jurisdiction that is worthy of the name.
My Lords, I pay tribute to our Armed Forces. Our sailors, soldiers and airmen consistently deliver an exceptionally high level of performance and are rightly the envy of all other countries’ armed forces. In such a tribute, we should particularly bear in mind those whose work it is inappropriate to discuss, such as the Special Forces—I declare an interest as Colonel Commandant of the SBS—and I include in this “exclusion of mention” the Royal Navy submarine forces, both attack and ballistic missile submarines. In the case of the latter, we should acknowledge in particular the 100th patrol by a Vanguard class submarine which was completed last year. Its contribution to the deterrent force’s overall 45 years, so far, of continuous, unbroken patrols is an extraordinary example of professionalism and engineering achievement. It is also a commitment to NATO that has been particularly recognised by the alliance’s Secretary-General.
The Royal Navy’s continuous patrols—I stress the word “continuous”—beneath the oceans are vital to deterring our adversaries and key to reassuring our allies, so I am pleased that the Government and the Opposition have in the recent past emphasised that they are committed to maintaining continuous at sea deterrence—CASD—for the Vanguard successor force when it comes into being. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that when he is winding up.
Turning to matters more general, in today’s unstable world—the situations in the Middle East and Ukraine could not illustrate that more clearly—there can be no doubt that we need effective Armed Forces for the UK’s defence and to discharge the Government’s wish to conduct that defence at range and globally well beyond our shores through influence, soft power and, if necessary, hard power. This wish has been clearly captured in past months by the Prime Minister and, among others, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary in comments such as:
“And the particular nature of Britain—our economic interests, our cultural ties, our history, our businesses, our location, our very instincts—they combine to make a country that’s not just on the map, but truly in the world … the small island with the big footprint in the world”, and,
“We cannot pull up the drawbridge, retreat to our island and think that no harm will ever come to us”.
The Armed Forces have a key role in helping to deliver such aspirations, but I have a serious concern that they are not sufficiently resourced to do so, particularly after the steady erosion of military capability over the past four years, so well exemplified by the unforgivable lack of an aircraft carrier in the Libyan crisis.
In speaking about his vision for the Armed Forces come 2020, when commenting on the 2010 defence review when it was announced—as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Dean—the Prime Minister said:
“My own strong view is that this structure will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015”.—[Hansard, Commons, 19/10/10; col. 799.]
Since we have retrogressed since 2010, even that—assuming it will be delivered—will not be sufficient. It is simply not good enough for Ministers to say that we have one of the world’s largest defence budgets. Deloitte’s Global Defense Outlook 2014 says we are not in the top six; we are well from the top, and certainly well down as regards force size. It is also no good for Ministers to say that we meet the NATO target of 2% of GDP. As noble Lords have heard, that assertion is disingenuous—and that is the mildest word I can use—since that 2% includes contingency operation costs, which prior to this Government used not to be the case.
If we are to meet vision 2020, and if our Armed Forces are to play properly their part in the Prime Minister’s comment that,
“Fortune favours Britain when we’re ambitious, when we count, when we play our part in the world”, we must be aiming for something better than 2% of GDP. We need to ensure that at a strategic level we can roll out, for example, the future SSBN and Astute-class programmes. We need to be able to exploit a UK strategic global partnership by having continuously available one high-readiness aircraft carrier from the two being built—which does not mean one in mothballs—and with a sensible number of jets. At a sub-strategic level, we need a credible Type 26 frigate to replace the ageing Type 23—credible in quality, but also in quantity. As the noble Lord, Lord West, has said, the current destroyer frigate force is lamentably insufficient for a nation with global aspirations.
Noble Lords may feel that I am being too single service—and of course, land and air requirements must also be met. However, the Prime Minister has said:
“I would say that the strategy is about Britain engaging in the world in order to protect its interests”.
I stress “in the world”. At the end of this year we move on from the much-quoted phrase about the “main effort being the Middle East theatre”; the main effort is now to be able to provide a credible input to deliver the Prime Minister’s aspiration. That will be achieved through being ready for contingency operations, through deployability, and through heavyweight partnerships, in particular with the USA, by having a high-level capability. The air and land components will of course play their part in that, but delivery will be best effected through maritime, underlining the foreword signed by the Foreign, Home, Transport and Defence Secretaries to the UK National Strategy for Maritime Security, which was published last month, which said:
“As a nation, we have always looked out into the wider world to shape and influence international events”.
There is work to be done if we are to be able to raise our game to realise the Government’s global strategic ambitions that are frequently trotted out and of which I have provided many examples. Rather quaintly, I think that the Prime Minister and other senior figures who articulated those ambitions believe what they are saying. However, those will not be realised without globally capable Armed Forces, and I am afraid that we have sunk below such a true capability. I trust, therefore, that those who are starting to prepare the 2015 defence review will make a better job of it than those who were involved in 2010.
My Lords, this is an important debate and one in which I am pleased to get the opportunity to speak. The contributions of our Armed Forces need to be recognised and respected. We have a duty to repay their courage and commitment, including after their service, and we also have a duty to their families, who also pay a price on our behalf. I record my gratitude for the risks that they bear, and have borne. We, the nation, owe a great deal to those who risk their lives and serious injury for the sake of our security.
We have a proud tradition of playing a major part on the international stage and our service personnel have demonstrated a courage and strength that have regularly achieved international acclaim. We have a duty to speak up for our Armed Forces and to champion their cause. I am a proud supporter of our Armed Forces, and I take every opportunity to support them and their work, as I know the vast majority of the public do, too. The points I would like to contribute to the debate today surround the issue of relations between ethnic minorities and the Armed Forces. That is an issue I am well placed to speak on, and one I have spoken on previously in your Lordships’ House.
In 2009, the Ministry of Defence formed the Armed Forces Muslim Association, whose meetings I have attended and spoken at several times. General Sir David Richards—who is now of course the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, was the founding patron of the association, and General Sir Nicholas Houghton is now the patron. Our Armed Forces have a long tradition of recruiting from a wide ethnic base, and that is something of which we should be proud. I am pleased to note that some Muslims now hold senior positions in the Army, the Navy and the RAF. Promotions and appointments to our Armed Forces, as with all employers, must be based on merit. However, I have been assured that the Armed Forces are committed to equal opportunities for all. It is to the benefit of our nation and its defence capabilities that our Armed Forces are reflective of our country as a whole. I do not support that being done by quotas or positive discrimination. Instead, we must work to improve relations between our Armed Forces and ethnic communities in order to allow it to develop organically.
The increasing number of Muslims in the UK Armed Forces is a natural change, because society is becoming more tolerant and young Muslims feel more able to come forward and serve. Generally, both female and BME personnel are in the lower ranks for both officers and other ranks. More recently, targeted recruitment activity has sought to increase the number of females and BME personnel in the Armed Forces, so we should see more female and BME personnel coming through to senior positions in the future. While there is a continual, long-term gradual increase in the proportion of BME personnel, problems still remain. Those are particularly prevalent in the Muslim community. After meeting senior officers of the Armed Forces on two occasions, I recently wrote a report on that subject in my role as chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, a copy of which has been sent to the
Minister. We are putting the various ideas into action in conjunction with the imams and senior members of the Armed Forces.
There are currently 2.7 million Muslims in the United Kingdom, whose heritage comes from many different parts of the world. On the whole, those Muslim communities have integrated well into British society and contribute towards a number of industries and professions. However, the number of Muslims who have joined the Armed Forces is severely disproportionate to their population in this country. Given the integral part that our Armed Forces play in upholding the pride and spirit of our country and helping to define our national identity, that imbalance must be addressed. There are opportunities for Muslims to join the Reserve Forces, as they have the knowledge and expertise. The relationships between the Armed Forces and Muslim communities are generally good, but there are problems. It is important that we strengthen and maintain the relationships. Both the Armed Forces and the Muslim community can and should do more to achieve this.
Two of the objectives of the Conservative Muslim Forum are to strive to maintain unity, brotherhood, tolerance and good will between all persuasions of Muslims and with the wider community and to work to maintain and build bridges with all communities and religions within the United Kingdom. The Conservative Muslim Forum is a robust organisation, and members of all communities are welcome to our functions. The imams and members of the Armed Forces have attended our events. The Armed Forces imams periodically lead the Friday prayers, which are held in the House of Lords. I therefore feel that the Conservative Muslim Forum could also be specifically used as a platform to strengthen the links between the Armed Forces and Muslim communities. The Conservative Muslim Forum’s involvement in building stronger links with the Armed Forces will not have any political agenda, as it is very much appreciated that the role of the Armed Forces is totally apolitical. This is not about making a political point but more putting an end to the feeling that Muslims cannot make it in the Armed Forces.
This is perhaps the most important part of increasing Muslim participation in our Armed Forces, for there are number of misconceptions, leading people to believe that a life in the Armed Forces is not compatible with our faith. There is still work to be done in Muslim communities to encourage family members to be more accepting, but the chain of command inside the Armed Forces is getting better every year at accommodating Muslims. Muslims in the UK Armed Forces are able to pray five times a day and fast, as long as this does not have a direct impact on health and safety or operational effectiveness. Female service personnel can also wear the hijab, if they wish to do so. They are provided with halal rations, can seek support from Muslim chaplains and use prayer rooms on base, one of which was recently made available on a naval warship. I recently got the opportunity to try halal ration packs for myself to see what is provided for soldiers on exercises and operations.
To Muslims, a love of your country and serving your community is an important part of our faith. For thousands of soldiers in the Armed Forces, faith features regularly in their daily lives. Conviction in their faith supports them through the arduous nature of their employment, whether it is at sea, on land or in the air, in training, on exercise or while deployed on operations, where danger is often not far away. We must increase the visibility of Muslim service personnel, both in Muslim and mainstream media, and increase attendance at awards and events arranged by the Muslim community. We must also involve a wider range of ethnic minority media in Armed Forces recruitment campaigns. I am proud that the Conservative Muslim Forum has taken a lead on this with our website now carrying links to the Army recruitment website, along with links to the Navy and RAF recruitment websites. Educational literature should also be provided for imams and mosques, explaining the role and nature of the Armed Forces. It is encouraging that we have now established a firm base from which to take this initiative forward, and I commend the work of the Armed Forces imams, Imam Asim Hafiz and Imam Ali Omar, as well as several individuals from within Army HQ and naval command.
I would like to add that an Armed Forces Muslim Forum was recently launched by my noble friend Lord Astor and Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Nicholas Houghton. The forum looks to improve relations between the Muslim community and the Armed Forces at a strategic level. My deputy in the Conservative Muslim Forum, Mr Mohammed Amin, was also in attendance at the launch. I have also spoken to a number of other Muslim leaders who are very keen that we should all, as a community, make efforts to build more harmonious relationships with the Armed Forces. I will be very pleased to be proactively involved in making this happen and increasing the role of the Armed Forces in the Muslim Community and the role of the Muslim Community in the Armed Forces.
Finally, many Muslims, including members of my family, fought in both world wars. We did this out of love and loyalty to the king and the empire. The first non-white person to receive the Victoria Cross was in fact a Muslim, whose name was Sepoy Khudadad Khan, who fought in Belgium during the First World War.
My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend the Minister for the opportunity for this debate. I congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, on his excellent maiden speech, typical of the high standards of contribution made by other noble and gallant Lords in your Lordships’ House. I have no personal experience in the Armed Forces. My father was a major in the Royal Tank Regiment during the Second World War and spent three years with the Eighth Army, driving the Germans across north Africa and up through Italy. I remember that one thing that the people with whom my father worked subsequently in civilian life said about him was that he was a man of integrity. Certainly, I have the highest regard for members of the Armed Forces and for ex-service personnel, many of whom I served alongside in the police service.
Interestingly, a young police officer who was previously in the Army said that he found a difference in culture between the Army and the police service. His experience was that in the Army, when things went wrong, people stood up and took responsibility and that it was the highest ranking officer who took that responsibility. Sadly, he found in the police service that responsibility was pushed down to the lowest possible level and that there was a tendency to cover things up. I shall not comment on whether that is correct, but that was certainly his experience.
My noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill raised the issue of women in combat roles. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, I am not going to leave it to another day to address that issue; I feel that I need to address it today. The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, talked about women being involved in infantry and the armoured corps, going forward to face extreme violence. He said that he was asking the question whether that was an appropriate task for a woman. I would not dare to argue against the experience of the noble Lord, but I would also want to raise some questions. My noble friend Lord Burnett talked about the great courage of women over the years, but wondered whether in outright combat it would add to the risk, and how it was important to canvass the views of all members of the Armed Forces.
The parallels with women in the police service are worth exploring. It was only three years before I joined the Police Service that there was a separate women’s police department. They had specialist duties; they worked fewer hours and were not allowed to do night duty unless there were particular special circumstances. They mainly dealt with missing people, women prisoners and children. It was not until 1973 that women were integrated into policing—and then there were further barriers to be broken down.
It was not until 1977 that the first female traffic officer was appointed, 1979 before the first female dog handler was appointed, and even later still before female police officers became involved in riot training. Being involved in a riot situation, as I was in 1981 on the streets of Brixton, is one of the most physically demanding and, arguably, frightening, experiences that you can have as a police officer. You work in a very small team of six officers. However, the police service has decided to include women in that role and there have been no issues with women undertaking it.
Similar arguments were raised in the police service about women undertaking certain roles as were raised about women undertaking combat roles in the armed services. I can think of any number of male police officers who would be very little use to me if I was a police officer policing a brawl in a public house. However, I can think of many female police officers who I would be very glad to see in that situation not just because they might be a calming influence but because they are physically stronger and far more capable of dealing with that situation than many of the male officers I can think of.
I remember talking to a male officer from a flying squad who believed that women should never be allowed to be part of a flying squad because he felt that in a close combat situation involving armed criminals he might be distracted as he would want to look after his female colleagues, and therefore would not concentrate on tackling those criminals. I believe that mindset is from a bygone age and should be condemned for that reason.
Many female officers who carry arms are just as capable as their male colleagues. Indeed, some of them are better shots and, arguably, psychologically sounder than some of their male colleagues. In case noble Lords are concerned that I am talking about a very different situation, I should add that police firearms officers are trained to kill people. They are trained to aim at the biggest target area—the chest area—and are told that, if they take a shot at someone, the almost inevitable consequence is that they will be killed, yet some female officers are firearms officers and are used in these very stressful situations.
No doubt some noble Lords may argue that the situation I have described in the police force is very different from that which pertains in the armed services. However, men and women involved in the police service face life-threatening situations in front-line scenarios, some of which involve firearms. In my experience of more than 30 years in the police force, having women in those front-line scenarios has never to my knowledge caused any problems.
My father was a tank commander. What would he have thought about women in combat situations? He is no longer with us so I cannot ask him, but I believe that he would not have dismissed the idea simply on a point of principle.
My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the Minister for the wonderful series of briefings that he arranges for Members of this House, which I know are widely appreciated.
I realise that at this stage of such an important debate, in which there have been so many remarkable and well informed speeches, there is little new that I can add. In disclosing an interest as a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, I have to admit that, although that committee has a far wider-ranging remit, I will be speaking mainly about the Army and, in particular, Army 2020. I will not repeat all that has been said about the role and purpose of our Armed Forces in general, particularly as regards their future should the Prime Minister’s promised budget increase not be realised, and about the gypsy’s warnings on that given by my noble and gallant friends Lord Stirrup and Lord Richards, including in the latter’s outstanding maiden speech.
In its first review of the National Security Strategy 2010, published on
In its report on its work in 2013-14, published on
I mention this as background to the ninth report of the House of Commons Defence Committee produced this year, entitled Future Army 2020, in which it expressed its surprise that such a radical change to the Army’s structure, reflecting a reduction of 12,000 personnel from that announced in the 2010 security and defence review, was not discussed at the National Security Council, and that it was the Ministry of Defence’s Permanent Secretary who told the Chief of the General Staff the future size of the Army under the Army 2020 plan, which I hope is not a portent of things to come when there is only one uniformed member of the Defence Council. It noted that the Secretary of State for Defence had subsequently accepted that Army 2020 was designed to fit a financial envelope and it called on the Ministry of Defence to explain the apparent lack of consultation with the Chief of the General Staff in the decision-making process that has affected his service so fundamentally.
However, what seems even more peculiar to me about this whole story is that the Government continue to claim that, despite the history of what has actually happened since 2010, their overall strategic vision, expressed in both the security strategy and the defence review, has not changed. The Defence Committee hopes that a concept of critical mass for the Armed Forces will be developed. Had this been in existence, and even in its absence, it would seem only common sense for the NSC to assess and confirm Army 2020 before issuing it to the Army, not just in relation to critical mass but to the MoD’s “fighting power” doctrine, both of which could arm it with a much better informed understanding of how well the Army will be able to fulfil its obligations and contribute to Future Force 2020. As many noble Lords have pointed out, there is in addition a danger that Army 2020 could unravel if there are any further Ministry of Defence budget reductions, in which case both the UK’s vision of its place in the world and the defence planning assumptions would have to be revised.
2010. I must admit that I share the Defence Committee’s doubts as to whether SDSR 2010 can meet the needs of the United Kingdom’s national security, not least in combating asymmetrical threats. Deterrence of asymmetrical threats is much more complex than deterrence of another state. Whether it is nuclear or conventional, there is great difficulty in identifying precisely what action can be threatened or taken against whom. If I have a particular concern, it is that Army 2020 appears insufficiently resourced to enable the Army to operate in the fourth environment in which services now have to operate in addition to land, sea and air—namely, the electromagnetic or cyberspace. If both attack and defence are to be conducted, Signals is currently at about half the strength required.
My other concern is the reserves, and here I admit that I speak as an Inspector General of the Territorial Army of 25 years ago. While conscious of the enormous contribution that the reserves have made to the hectic operational years, you cannot expect employers to go on releasing people without proper reward. You must also pay the volunteers sufficiently well to encourage them to turn out. There is another dimension to the reserves, which I am afraid receives less than due recognition, which is the representation of the Armed Forces throughout the United Kingdom now that they have been withdrawn from so many places. The whole reserves issue should be re-looked at in the context of SDSR 2015 and Future Force 2020, to confirm that plans exist to expand important requirements such as medical and cyber, identified in what I hope will be a better analysis of national security needs than was carried out in 2010.
Apart from Army 2020, I have one other plea on behalf of the Army. I well remember pleading with my military masters for a period of stability for my battalion, which I took to Gibraltar after two years on operations in Londonderry, a six-month unaccompanied tour in Belize, and a hectic six months during which we had to provide a national shooting team and train for a subsequent four unaccompanied months in Belfast. Having been able to catch our breath, get some basic skills training and allow children under four to have their fathers at home for Christmas for the first time in their lives, a rejuvenated battalion was able to deploy straight to South Armagh. The Army has had far worse than that, having been involved in continuous operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere for more than 10 years, with the result that national defence skills, including essentials such as all-arms training, are almost non-existent. The Army badly needs a period of stability, during which it can become accustomed to its Army 2020 posture, including the linkage between certain formations and certain parts of the world, which is resulting in 4 Brigade, with its Middle East responsibilities, training troops from Libya and Egypt.
The Ministry of Defence failed to communicate the rationale and strategy behind Army 2020 to the Army, the wider Armed Forces, Parliament and the public—the Government are saying that it has to work and there is no plan B. The Government owe it both to the nation and the Army to ensure that Army 2020 works. If the situation changes, they must be prepared to respond decisively by providing additional resources in order to guarantee the nation’s security. I therefore ask the Minister whether the Ministry of Defence accepts the Defence Committee’s request that the Government provide regular updates to Parliament on progress of all aspects of the Army 2020 plan, the first of which would be laid before Parliament in January 2015 to allow consideration and debate before the 2015 general election and the SDSR, and regular debates thereafter.
My Lords, when one is the 20th speaker, as I am, in this sort of debate, most of the major themes have been covered. In my short contribution I will therefore put a number of questions to the Minister.
First, it has been noticeable that ever since the Prime Minister announced the withdrawal date of our combat forces from Afghanistan there has been an obvious turn-off of interest in that country both in the media and among the general public. I therefore suggest that we have a major, dual responsibility to Afghanistan and its future, and to our Armed Forces personnel, who in many cases have given their lives or limbs in this conflict. I have three questions on Afghanistan for my noble friend. First, given the current size and scale of the Afghan national forces, where is the funding going to come from to sustain this level of armed force? What is the latest allied agreement in this area? Secondly, what percentage of equipment that will be brought back from Afghanistan has actually been brought back so far? Thirdly, what are the latest plans, post the reduction or ceasing of our combat role, to give air support to the Afghan forces?
Turning to co-operation with our allies, which has hardly been mentioned today, I ask my noble friend specifically: what is the state of progress in our co-operation with France? Here we have a situation in which each country has a comparable defence budget and broadly comparable forces; yet it appears to me that we are still operating only in the margins of co-operation. Can my noble friend correct or update me in this area?
As regards the carriers, referred to in considerable depth by the noble Lord, Lord West, the last baseline figure given for their cost was £6.2 billion. It was strongly suggested that there would be an agreement to share between the contractors and the Ministry of Defence, on a 50:50 basis, any expenditure over and above that figure. Has that agreement been reached and ratified?
The Minister did not refer at all to the second carrier, HMS “Prince of Wales”. Has any decision been taken on what we are actually going to do with her when she comes on stream? I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord West, briefly touched on the potential of the “Prince of Wales” and carriers generally in disaster relief. We have in the world, sadly, horrendous refugee and humanitarian problems, and I suspect that this will continue. I suggest that instead of looking at the “Prince of Wales” in a minor role as an agent for helping with refugees and humanitarian relief, we give it almost a primary role in this area, with its military capability held in reserve. We have considerable funding pressures. The noble Lord, Lord West, pulls a face, but I suggest that if the “Prince of Wales” is involved in humanitarian operations, the revenue funding for the second carrier should come from our substantial overseas aid budget, not the defence budget.
The question of our escorts has been touched on, of which we theoretically have only 19 at the moment. How many are fully operational? On the Type 26 vessels, which we all welcome, I understand that vertical launch tubes were incorporated in the design, but that there are no present plans to give cruise missile capability to them. Could I ask the Minister what the extra percentage cost would be if our Type 26 vessels were equipped with cruise missile capability and capacity?
Turning briefly to procurement, in May the department issued a press release that said:
“The DE&S has been provided with the unparalleled freedom to manage its own business, outputs and workforce within an operating cost envelope set to drive significant efficiencies”.
Could I ask my noble friend whether these freedoms cover the salary levels of senior personnel in DE&S-plus? That obviously has an implication for recruitment of the right quality of personnel, which I believe to be vital.
Finally, I turn to the issue of training, where our Armed Forces excel. I am sure we were all pleased to be made aware that we have agreed to train 2,000 Libyan armed forces personnel. There are 325 who are already over here being trained in Cambridgeshire. Could I ask my noble friend whether this is our largest current training commitment? How many service personnel are engaged in training across the world? Linked to that, how many requests are there on the table from nations where there are unsatisfied commitments from this country—in other words, could and should our training capability be expanded?
My Lords, I too welcome the opportunity for the House to express views on defence and on the role of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. I join in the appreciation expressed for the Minister for the amount of effort he puts in to keep us informed on the defence scene. However, I fear too often with this Administration—maybe it is a feature of coalition government—there is little that gives an indication of long-term visionary and realistic thinking; I stress “realistic”. Certainly for the Armed Forces, that 2020 vision we heard about a few years ago, along with balanced manpower needs, is far from realistic or realisable given current funding projections. Indeed, as we hear more about belt-tightening and further financial stringency, there is a sense that, far from increasing the defence budget, further reductions are in the Chancellor’s mind.
However, before reviewing defence capabilities, there is a more fundamental question to answer: what is it that this country—under whatever Government—should aspire to in the field of international affairs? Do we wish to remain in the forefront of such affairs and alliances—and, if needed, punching military weight—that our place on the Security Council, our long history, NATO, our European identity and our Commonwealth membership once combined to give us that genuine status and real credibility? I hope that the next security and defence review will choose to dwell on and clarify that vision of our place in the world in this decade and the next, not just this for year and up to the next general election.
At present the impression is given that it is no longer realistic or thought right always to be active at that level of international influence. The notable absence of the Foreign Secretary at the start of international discussions about the Russia/Ukraine crisis and the almost instantaneously reactive statement at the first signs of the latest Iraq turmoil indicated that the UK would not consider the use of force. Did not that send a significant, albeit depressing, signal? Why was there not the time-honoured immediate reactions to crises, along the lines that all options are being considered and nothing has yet been ruled out? That reaction is designed to give comfort to one’s allies and friends that we are up to the necessary treaty and other commitments if all else fails, and to tell our adversaries that we do not intend to be a mere hand-wringing touch-line spectator that poses them no immediate need for concern. In the field of acquiring intelligence, for example, stand-off aerial platforms—including unmanned aerial vehicles—are available, as indeed are, if necessary, stand-off weapons from sea or air. Those are attacks without use of any ground commitment. Why are they all ruled out so quickly?
At its most elemental, lacking high-worth defence capability, as seen by others, is significant, if only as a further indicator that this country is no longer really prepared to make the effort to remain a leading power in the world of today and tomorrow. Above all, how does that read in Washington? Maybe it is not difficult to guess, if the concerns expressed by US Defense Secretary Gates and his successor Hagel are taken as seriously as they should be. The special relationship, so important to our national security, is starting to lack substance, as viewed in Washington. At a time when the United States’ strategic anxieties are focusing more across the Pacific than across the Atlantic, that may become all too obvious—obvious, that is, when your best and strongest ally just does not bother to consult you about a developing world crisis or problem.
Measures of comparison of input expenditure on defence do not reveal a true picture. The Government have claimed—perhaps it is no longer true—that their defence expenditure is the fourth largest in the world. However, output, not input, should be the true measure of defence capability. Rather than compare what we have spent in the past with expenditure today, I would prefer to use a comparison between what we had in the past—say, when we had realigned our defence posture after the end of the Cold War—and what we have now, as well as what we plan for the immediate future. Time is too short to spell this out in detail, other than to say that the Armed Forces’ manpower and inventory of war-fighting equipment are far below those of the late 1990s. Surely the world and this nation are not safer—maybe far less safe—than they were in that period.
Indeed, the Prime Minister only last week drew attention to the real threat of terrorism spawned in failed states. Defence capability, along with political, economic and diplomatic effort, will combine to tackle such threats, but the latter will lack weight without the backing of military strength and the will to use it to protect this country and its citizens. There are few, if any, quick fixes in defence capability, so a draw-down today will be as damaging in five or even 10 years’ time as it is at the present time. Equally, if in spite of recent indications we wish to retain our place on the world scene, now is the time to invest not only in capability but in numbers. This would both give an immediate indication of determination to remain at a leading position in world affairs and provide successor Governments with the wherewithal to retain that posture.
The 2010 strategic defence and security review was inevitably driven by the economic crisis and an aspiration for force levels a decade hence, in the timescale of 2020, but those aspirations are drifting far out from what was projected only four years ago. By 2020, further slippage and delay in an underresourced programme will be upon us unless significant new money is made available.
A further consideration, too often overlooked, is critical mass—in the number and trades of individual personnel, in the inventory holdings of critical major components, whether ships, aircraft or other weapons platforms, and in spares and availability of consumables. Smaller forces, too, inevitably reduce the scale and opportunities of career and professional advancement. As is already evident, this hampers the ability of the forces to recruit and retain, in particular, those with special expertise, such as engineers or aircrew.
Yet it is from those who first volunteer to join and then decide to remain in the forces for a full career that future senior commanders will have to be found. Headhunting a commander-in-chief or a chief of staff from outside their service is impossible, so the calibre and quality of those who decide in an all-volunteer force to remain and who will be the advisers to Ministers on the use and applications of military power is a further issue for politicians to ponder. Some of the brightest in the services are choosing to leave while they have the youth and skills to take up a new career in civvy street, leaving others maybe less capable to soldier on to fill the senior positions in the Armed Forces.
The next review of the defence and security of the nation must surely be more explicit about the future global posture and strategy for this country and it must be more realistically funded than at present, unless it is the intention to dumb down our standing in the world in a futile and fanciful search for a quieter life.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for providing this opportunity to discuss the role of our Armed Forces. I also thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, for his powerful and very clear maiden speech, which contained some important messages for us all.
This debate has been welcome and relevant. In a year of key and moving anniversaries of both the First World War and the Second World War, Armed Forces Day is nearly upon us. It is a day which provides us with an opportunity to remember and highlight the immense role that the members of our Armed Forces have played and continue to play in the life of our nation, defending us and protecting and furthering our national interests, all too often at great personal cost.
This debate is also relevant because of the major changes taking place, or about to take place, affecting our Armed Forces. They include the transition to Army 2020 with its reduction in the size of the Regular Forces and an increase in the Reserve Forces, the imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan, the implementation of the basing review, and the potential impact of the considerations that will determine the direction and content of the next strategic defence and security review—a pending review that should not, like the 2010 review, be driven almost exclusively by the amount of money available rather than by a determination of our strategic objectives and requirements, with the role, size and capability of our Armed Forces being geared to delivering those objectives.
We believe that Britain can play a positive role in the international community and that to withdraw from the world is not just undesirable but impossible. However, we also think that the United Kingdom should be realistic because there are no gains to be made from promising what cannot be delivered. Continued fiscal restraint at the Ministry of Defence requires a more enhanced understanding of what can and what cannot be achieved alone. We know that we must strengthen and deepen our partnerships with existing allies, and seek to cultivate new ones if we are to achieve our strategic objectives. We are also committed to the minimum credible nuclear deterrent which we believe is best delivered through a continuous at-sea deterrent and we will continue to look at ways in which that minimum credible deterrent can be delivered most efficiently.
One of the main priorities of the 2010 SDSR was to ensure that we emerge with a coherent defence capability in 2020. In their foreword to the review the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister said that they were determined to retain a significant well equipped Army in the context of a review that provided for a reduction in manpower over the following five years of 7,000, from 102,000 to 95,000, with a stated assumption that by 2020 we would require an Army of 94,000 personnel, a Royal Navy of 29,000 personnel and an RAF of 31,500 personnel. The reduction in the strength of the Army would enable savings to be made of £5.3 billion over the 10 years from 2011-12 to 2020-21. However, this was subsequently changed downwards to a Regular Army of 82,500, which is a reduction of a further 11,500 or some 160% of the reduction of 7,000 set out only a few months previously in the SDSR.
The 2010 SDSR set out the new defence planning assumptions that envisage that our Armed Forces in the future would be sized and shaped to conduct an enduring stablisation operation at around brigade level—up to 6,500 personnel—with maritime and air support as required while also conducting one non-enduring complex intervention, with up to 2,000 personnel, and one non-enduring simple intervention, with up to 1,000 personnel; or alternatively, three non-enduring operations if we were not already engaged in an enduring operation; or for a limited time, and with sufficient warning, committing all our effort to a one-off intervention of up to three brigades, with maritime and air support—around 30,000, two-thirds of the force deployed to Iraq in 2003.
That is what was in the 2010 SDSR when the reduction in the Army was stated as being from 102,000 to 95,000. The subsequent reduction a few months later was made on cost grounds alone, not because of any change in the defence planning assumptions. The deadline for completing redundancies was also brought forward. It was originally 2017-18, but was brought forward by the Ministry of Defence to 2015-16, because, according to the National Audit Office, of further demands on the budget requiring the department to make staffing savings earlier. The question is that with the further reduction in the size of our Armed Forces going considerably beyond that set out in the 2010 SDSR, can the capabilities set out in the defence planning assumptions at the time, which have never been changed, still be delivered now and in 2015, and can they still be delivered through to 2020 without any increase in the size of our Armed Forces, and in particular the Army?
The recent National Audit Office report on Army 2020 contains some interesting information and robust views. It makes it clear that it does not examine whether Army 2020 will provide enough military capability for the Army to meet its required defence outputs which presumably are those set out in the 2010 SDSR. That is why I am asking this question of the Minister in the light of what has happened since the 2010 SDSR and the critical report from the National Audit Office.
When told in 2011 to make further savings of £5.3 billion, the department produced a programme of change and restructuring which led to Army 2020. Eight options to achieve the required savings were produced by the department, and a panel of senior military personnel selected three of the eight options for further development. However, the panel subsequently decided that none of the shortlist of three options avoided unacceptable risk to the Armed Forces’ ability to deliver the defence outputs required by the 2010 strategic defence and securityreview.In other words, the department had managed to put forward eight options in a bid to secure the Treasury-demanded savings, none of which would have enabled the Armed Forces to deliver the capabilities required in the Government’s 2010 SDSR.
Instead, a hybrid option was settled on which included a Regular Army supplemented by Reserve Forces, as well as proposals for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. In the words of the National Audit Office report, the panel,
“decided that the option would give enough capability, compared with the three rejected options, to provide the required defence outputs and offered a tolerable level of military risk”.
That was hardly an enthusiastic or ringing endorsement of the option.
Why the reference to the comparison with the “three rejected options”? If it is an acceptable option only when compared with three that have been rejected, it raises questions about exactly what capability the hybrid option actually does deliver. What exactly is a,
“tolerable level of military risk”, as opposed to an acceptable level of military risk? They cannot mean the same.
The National Audit Office report goes on to tell us:
“The panel did not consider whether recruiting and training the increased number of reserves was feasible as part of its assessment, or whether the requirement for reserves to undertake a substantially different role in a smaller Army would have an impact on recruitment”.
Whether the panel or someone else should have undertaken the exercise is not the question, but rather the fact that according to the National Audit Office no one did it. Presumably that means that the Secretary of State did not ask for that assessment to be made before agreeing to proceed with the hybrid option.
The National Audit Office report says:
“We have not seen evidence that the feasibility of increasing the number of trained reserves within the planned timescale, needed to provide the required capability, was robustly tested”.
To say the least of it, that seems to be something of a mistake as the essence of the hybrid option was that there needed to be a significant increase in the number of reserves, particularly Army reserves, playing a substantially different and more important role. Indeed, the NAO report specifically asserts that the Ministry of Defence did not assess whether it was feasible to recruit and train the number of reserves within the necessary timescale. If that is the case, on what basis have the Government repeatedly asserted their confidence that the required number of Army reservists would be recruited to see the trained strength increase from 19,000 to 30,000?
According to the NAO report, the Secretary of State for Defence can have had no firm basis for the statement in paragraph 1.15 of his July 2013 White Paper on Reserves in the Future Force 2020 in which he said:
“We are confident that the targets can be met”.
That statement was a statement of hope and nothing more, yet the ability of our Armed Forces to deliver the 2010 defence planning assumptions is dependent on it being achieved.
The National Audit Office report also found that recruitment targets for reserves were not underpinned by robust data and that even the working model the department now has for reserves, which contains limited historical data, suggests that it could be 2025, as my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde has already pointed out, before the trained strength of the reserves is increased to 30,000. That assessment, said the National Audit Office, assumed an increase in recruitment rates for new reserves as well as an unevidenced assumption that the percentage of reserve recruits that go on to become trained strength can be increased from the current level of 34% to 55% from 2015-16.
It seems that recruitment is falling behind. Just under 2,000 reserve soldiers were recruited in 2013-14 against a December 2012 Army demand plan requirement of 6,000, and just under 3,200 Regular Army training places were unfilled in 2013-14 from a planned allocation of 9,382 places.
It is not clear what the Government’s attitude is towards the reserves and the increase in the number of trained Army reserves to 30,000. The Government have repeatedly said that the rundown in the size of the Regular Army is not conditional on an increase in the size of the reserves being achieved, even though delivering Army 2020 involves recruiting, training and integrating an increased number of reserves into a single Army. Yet the hybrid option with its “tolerable”—not acceptable—level of military risk is dependent on that increase in the number of reserves being achieved.
I come back to the question that the NAO report did not address: namely, whether our Armed Forces, and the Army in particular, can currently meet now and in 2015, as well as in the future under Army 2020, the defence output set out in the defence planning assumptions in the 2010 strategic defence and security review. The reality is that since those defence planning assumptions appeared in the cost reduction driven 2010 SDSR, the intended size of the Regular Army has been reduced by a further 11,500, from 94,000 to 82,500. A deliberately untested and unassessed objective of a projected increase in the size of our Reserve Army has fallen well behind schedule and a senior military panel has described the present hybrid option, even if achieved through the increase in trained reserves, as offering not an acceptable level of military risk but only a tolerable one. The conclusion must be that, at the very best, the Government, through their own actions, have placed the ability of our Armed Forces to deliver the defence outputs the Government set out in the SDSR in 2010 in jeopardy, both now and under Army 2020. Frankly, to try to maintain otherwise in the light of the further reductions in the strength of our regular forces, and the continuing failure to achieve the required recruitment levels to our Army Reserve Forces without making any changes to the defence planning assumptions lacks real credibility.
Of course it is possible, although contrary to everything the Government have been saying, that in the 2010 SDSR the Ministry of Defence made provision at a time of austerity for the size and cost of our Armed Forces to be considerably larger than was actually needed to deliver the defence outputs provided for in the SDSR. If that is the case, can the Minister confirm that such an overprovision at a time of austerity was an intended part of the 2010 SDSR? The National Audit Office has done a useful job in throwing some light on what was actually going on at the time of the SDSR and what has been going on since. It indicates that the Secretary of State is somewhat removed from his image as a safe pair of hands. The significance of the next SDSR, and the need to ensure that the demands we place on our Armed Forces, who do not let us down, are matched by the resources we provide for them to meet those demands, cannot be overstated.
My Lords, we have had a very constructive debate and I am grateful for the excellent contributions from all sides of the House. I will try to deal with some of the points raised by noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords, but I am conscious that I will probably be kept very busy writing letters for the next week or two as there is no way that I can answer all the questions, or indeed acknowledge all the speakers, today.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, gave the House an outstanding maiden speech. He pointed out that we must increase defence spending to 2% of GDP. We have routinely met and exceeded 2% of GDP since 2010, even allowing for urgent operational requirements spending. We expect to meet 2% until 2015-16, but thereafter it is obviously a matter for the next spending review. The noble and gallant Lord also mentioned the patrol aircraft, the MPA. We recognise his concerns about this issue. As part of the next SDSR, we will be examining the question to see what, if anything, can be done.
The noble Lord, Lord West, mentioned the Falklands, where his service on HMS “Ardent” was very distinguished. I pay tribute to the Falklands veterans and to the veterans of so many other campaigns. It is often my privilege to meet these very special people. The noble Lord and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, commented on possible underspend. Her Majesty’s Treasury has allowed all underspends to be rolled forward and they have not been lost. The noble Lord and the noble and gallant Lord also asked whether we will commit to a defence spend of 2% of GDP. Just last week the Secretary-General of NATO praised the MoD for its commitment to a budget of 2% of GDP. We will continue to have this. We are confident that we will keep the 2% level this year and next year, but then it is for the next SDSR and the spending review to make a decision.
I must congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, on his appointment in the Birthday Honours as Marshal of the Royal Air Force and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, on his appointment as Admiral of the Fleet. Both noble and gallant Lords mentioned the in-year defence spending level of 2% of GDP. I have already said that underspends have not been lost. The Treasury has allowed us to roll these forward in order to supplement future plans. We have also met 2% of GDP even allowing for operational spend. For instance, in 2012-13 it was over 2% and that was the case back to 2010-11.
The noble Lord, Lord West, and my noble friend Lord Lee mentioned the second “Queen Elizabeth” class carrier, “Prince of Wales”. The decision on the second carrier will be made during the next SDSR. I can tell the House that the public will feel a great sense of pride on
My noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill asked where we were on cyberwarfare. The Government have prioritised this important area of new capability. We have recently created the Joint Cyber Unit, building in this country a cyberstrike capability to supplement our investment in cyberdefence.
My noble friend also asked whether the Joint Strike Fighter is so hot that it will melt tarmac. The F-35B will be able to land at all RAF bases. In addition, it will undertake vertical take-offs from the “Queen Elizabeth” carrier and at its training base at RAF Marham, where I understand that money is being spent for the day it arrives. The landing surfaces have always been factored into our planning.
My noble friend also asked about the recruitment of reserves and mentioned that the NAO suggests that it is six years behind schedule. Increasing the Army Reserve from around 19,000 to 30,000 will not happen overnight, but we are no longer seeing the decline that plagued our Reserve Forces previously. We are confident of delivering a reinvigorated reserves by 2018-19 and are investing £1.8 billion in better training and equipment and on integrating them with the rest of the Armed Forces. The model used by the NAO as the basis for its claim did not take into account subsequent improvements in the recruitment pipeline and other measures, such as improved financial incentives, the use of full-time regulars to sponsor the reserves and greater engagement with employers. I assure my noble friend that for the first time since 1996 the total strength of the Reserve Forces has risen to 22,480, which is up 470 since January, so that is good news.
I agree with what my noble friend Lord Sheikh said about Muslims in the Armed Forces. I was honoured to be invited, as my noble friend said, to the most recent Armed Forces Muslim Forum event, where I spoke alongside the CDS. During that event I met several serving Muslims as well as leaders of organisations around the UK, who were all very enthusiastic about the ongoing work the Armed Forces are doing with the Muslim community.
My noble friend Lord Glenarthur pointed out the need to attract and retain reservists. I pay tribute to him for his work with the RAF in Aberdeenshire. I hope to visit his unit when I next go up to Scotland. We are investing £1.8 billion in better training and equipment and on fully integrating them with the regulars. We have been running a major media recruiting campaign, “More than Meets the Eye”, since January, and are making continuous improvements to the National Recruitment Centre’s recruit processing. We are working across government to consider how to target specific skills, such as medical or cyber. Wider initiatives are being examined to improve financial incentives and the competitiveness of our offer.
My noble friend also asked about ex-regulars becoming reservists. We are paying a great deal of attention to ex-regulars as we boost the reserves. These men and women have long careers of experience and up-to-date training that can be brought to bear in the Reserve Forces. A range of financial incentives will encourage ex-regulars to consider the reserves, where their knowledge and experience can only improve integration between Regular and Reserve Forces.
I pay tribute to the work that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and my noble friend Lady Garden do for the war widows. I have huge admiration for what they do. Both noble Baronesses asked about war widows’ pensions. As has been said on a number of occasions in this House, the issue here is retrospection. Successive Governments have agreed that the only way to ensure that public sector pension schemes remain affordable is not to change those policies retrospectively. Any change in policy could have far-reaching economic ramifications and would require careful scrutiny.
My noble friend Lady Garden asked whether veterans are making a good transition to civilian life and finding jobs. As my noble friend Lord Ashcroft concluded in his excellent report on transition, the large majority of service leavers make an excellent transition to civilian life. This is due in no small part to a broad range of resettlement support, including grants, training and job-finding services. More than 80% of those who choose to use the Career Transition Partnership secure work within six months.
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and my noble friend Lord Burnett questioned whether women should serve in close-quarters combat. That issue was raised also by my noble friends Lord Palmer of Childs Hill and Lord Paddick. The previous review of this issue concluded that women are both physically and psychologically ready for roles on the front line. Let me be clear that women will and can be considered for these roles only if their presence will not impact on operational effectiveness. Women already command ships and serve on submarines. It is time to consider whether, by denying them front-line roles, we are denying them and denying defence.
The Secretary of State for Defence announced on
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, suggested that SDSR 10 would result in a smaller rather than a better Army. While we appreciate the concerns of the noble Lord, we maintain that our Armed Forces, while smaller, will be better equipped and able to deploy rapidly to protect our interests anywhere in the world, supported by an integrated Reserve Force. Army 2020 has redesigned the Army to be more flexible and adaptable to changing threats, as was the key objective of the SDSR.
My noble friend Lord Chidgey asked whether Portsmouth would be ready to take the QE carrier. Work is well under way to prepare Portsmouth to home it. There is no delay on this. Dredging will ensure that the port can take this magnificent ship and we are investing £100 million to see that Portsmouth is ready by 2016 and will enjoy a bright future for its ship industry. Just today, we announced that 100 jobs in Portsmouth had been protected by the £70 million contract for Portsmouth to support and maintain Type 26 destroyers.
My noble friend also suggested that DIO is not effective and too slow. We have just appointed a new strategic business partner to assist DIO in managing the defence estate, bringing private sector expertise alongside military and civilian infrastructure teams. My noble friend also mentioned the sale of Defence Support Group and said that it would be less cost-effective. DSG is going through a thorough market-testing process with a view to delivering better value for money to defence. Getting better value for the taxpayer includes making the Armed Forces better customers. Our reforms are getting results, so that no longer is procurement mired in criticism, delays and a failure to deliver for our troops.
My noble friend asked whether RAF Marham would be ready to home F-35 jets. Yes, they will be homed there, and we are unaware of any reason that that should not happen. The work will include installing landing surfaces, which has always been factored in. The public will take pride in seeing F-35B jets flying this summer.
My noble friend also asked about the risks of Army 2020 dependencies and recruitment targets. We recognise the challenge of implementing Army 2020 alongside other substantial change programmes such as the army basing plan. Working level meetings occur routinely between respective parts of the MoD. Senior responsible owners of change programmes report risk on dependencies on a quarterly basis and through the defence major programme portfolio. We are confident that the plans we have in place to increase the numbers of army reservists are robust and viable. The Army has, and will continue to introduce, initiatives to meet the target.
The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, asked what research is being undertaken on military healthcare issues. The MoD’s science and technology programme is investing approximately £10 million per year in military and personnel research. Recent examples of this work include novel wheelchairs for those who have lost their limbs and taking advantage of a sporting consortium of 40 or so SMEs to deliver innovative research. The MoD also provides funding to Professor Simon Wessely’s team at King’s College; they are world experts in PTSD.
The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, mentioned possible low morale in the Armed Forces. I completely agree that morale is important. We are doing more than ever to support and look after the Armed Forces. We want to attract and retain talented people as part of this great British institution and also want to reward them. The covenant is a key part of that. I am proud that a recent survey of reserves—many noble Lord are rightly interested in the reserves—found that 91% are proud of their role, 82% would recommend to others that they become a reserve, 77% feel well motivated and 73% are satisfied with their lives as reservists.
I am sorry but I have run out of time. I have not been able to answer a number of questions and undertake to write to those noble Lords and copy in other noble Lords who spoke in the debate. I thank all those noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords who took part in the debate and look forward to writing to them where I have been unable to answer their questions.