Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to open this debate on the strategic defence and security review.
First, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Senior Aircraftman Scott Hughes of 1 Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment, who died in Cyprus on his way back to the UK from Afghanistan. At this time of remembrance, when the nation keeps covenant with those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in action, I am sure that I speak for the whole House in recognising the exceptional job that our Armed Forces do, wherever they are in the world, on behalf of our nation.
This is an important debate, as the length and the quality of the speakers list recognises. My aim today is to explain the principles that underpinned the SDSR, and to outline our plans to take forward the huge amount of work that it has generated. That is because the SDSR is the start, not the end, of a process that will give us the Armed Forces that we need to face the challenges of the future while meeting the demands of today.
Much that has been said about the SDSR is reminiscent of previous reviews: that we should have taken more time; that finances should somehow be left out of the equation; that it was not strategic. The process began before the election with a Green Paper—a cross-party effort—that formulated some of the key questions and issues that would have to be addressed. The position that we found the country in did not allow us the luxury of conducting the SDSR at a leisurely pace. The Treasury would have had to decide our financial allocation for the comprehensive spending review period on a more or less arbitrary basis.
The SDSR faced some perennial issues—not least the difficulty of predicting the future—but some things are unique to this review, which is the first fundamental rethink in 12 years. We had to acknowledge: that our Armed Forces are fighting hard in Afghanistan; that we are in the midst of the biggest financial crisis in a generation; that we inherited a national debt that was growing at a rate that could fund three Type 45 destroyers per week; and that security and defence are indivisible these days. On top of this, we had to reach our conclusions without damaging essential capability, the military covenant or critical industrial capability.
We all wish that we could have started with a clean sheet of paper, without the shackles of existing contractual or operational commitments and without the financial pressures facing the Government and the nation as a whole. If we had, the results would undoubtedly have been different. Yet, if we learned anything from the Cold War, it is that our national security requires a strong economy, which in turn requires us to tackle the deficit and bring the defence budget back into balance.
The new national security strategy sets out the policy framework and for the first time prioritises security risks and tasks. Under an overarching “adaptable posture”, the SDSR provides the right capabilities and structures to respond to the highest-priority risks over the next five years, and it begins the transformation of our Armed Forces and security services to meet the challenges of the future. We specifically rejected a “Fortress Britain” posture or one that assumed that the wars of tomorrow would inevitably be like the wars of today—although it would be equally foolish to ignore the lessons of history. The adaptable posture demands that our Armed Forces become a more flexible and agile force with global reach. Given the priority that we attach to national security, the defence budget is making a more modest contribution to deficit reduction relative to many other government departments. It has been very difficult, but the SDSR protects the mission in Afghanistan and sets a path to a coherent and affordable defence capability in 2020 and beyond—our twin priorities.
Let me take those issues in turn starting with Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the top foreign policy priority for the Government and remains the main effort for defence. There is still some way to go before the Afghans are ready to take responsibility for their own security, but we believe that we have the right strategy. Steady progress is being made. This House, and indeed the people of this country, can be proud of what our brave men and women are achieving. We have protected front-line units and the equipment that they need. Where proposed changes in the SDSR had implications for operations, we have ensured that the success of the mission took precedence.
Our other priority was to chart a course to future force 2020 and beyond, which is why I stress that the SDSR marks the start, not the end, of that process. We will focus our work on two five-year phases. The first period, from now until 2015, is necessarily a period of rebalancing the strategic direction. We must tackle the unfunded liability in the defence programme, live within our means as the deficit is addressed and focus our efforts on Afghanistan.
We must also recover those capabilities damaged or reduced as a result of years of operational overstretch. The second period, from 2015 to 2020, will be about regrowing capability and achieving our overall vision. It will include the reintroduction of a carrier strike capability, with the Joint Strike Fighter and an escort fleet including the Type 45 destroyer and, soon after 2020, the Type 26 global combat ship.
We will also reconfigure the RAF fast-jet fleet around Typhoon and JSF, and consolidate the multirole brigade structure of the Army. Throughout this decade, we will reduce the number of equipment types used to provide the same or similar capability, because doing so reduces costs overall when the complex training and support requirements that each individual piece of kit requires is taken into account. It is our strong belief, shared by the Prime Minister, that the structure that we have agreed for 2020 will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget beyond 2015.
We will also maintain an autonomous capability to sustain a considerable and capable military force on an enduring basis, if required, for both intervention and stabilisation operations. That means that we will be able to conduct enduring operations with a force of 6,500 with enablers and, for a limited time in a one-off intervention, a force of some 30,000 with maritime and air support. That represents a substantial level of effort not so very different from today and shows how our measures in the SDSR limit the impact on the kinds of force that we can deploy.
Let me illustrate how we put our principles into practice. First, the adaptable posture is consistent with our deterrent posture, as both allow flexibility, and it recognises that the threat environment could well change in the decades ahead. That is why the Government are committed to the maintenance of the UK’s minimum effective nuclear deterrent. We will proceed with the renewal of Trident and the submarine replacement programme while incorporating the changes set out in the value-for-money study published in the SDSR. This programme does not in any way alter the continuous nature and credibility of the nuclear deterrent.
The adaptable posture also means that we will be investing in new technology and capabilities more suited to the likely character of future conflict while reducing our stockholdings and capabilities that have less utility in today’s world, such as heavy armour and non-precision artillery. However, we will maintain the ability to regenerate capabilities that are not needed now if threats change. We have taken less risk against those capabilities that are more difficult to regenerate, such as submarines, and we have retained capability where it fills a capability gap with our allies, such as British mine-hunting capabilities.
Secondly, because of our commitment to Afghanistan, we have made no changes to combat units involved in operations there, and we have postponed changes in other key capabilities, such as the RAF’s Sentinel ground surveillance aircraft, for as long as they are required there. That is in addition to the enhancements planned in capabilities such as counter-IED, protected vehicle surveillance and remotely piloted aircraft.
Thirdly, a key part of developing future force 2020 is taking difficult decisions now that will allow us to get there. Take the Harrier. Regrettably, we have decided to retire HMS “Ark Royal” three years early and retire the Harrier force—both next year. We are looking forward to taking delivery of the future aircraft carriers and the carrier-variant JSF towards the end of the decade. Until we do, we are confident that we can meet our commitments with the UK’s expeditionary air capability delivered by other means.
That situation is not unprecedented. Noble Lords will recall that the UK’s carrier strike capability was gapped during the late 1970s, as we transitioned from Buccaneer to Harrier. While Harrier was operating in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009, our ability to generate carrier strike was severely curtailed. We have agreed that, over the next five years, life-saving combat air support to operations in Afghanistan has to be the overriding priority. However, the bottom line was that salami-slicing the Harrier and the Tornado fleets would not save the required money nor provide the required capability. A decision was therefore needed about which fleet to cut, and military advice was sought.
The military advice, which Ministers accepted, was to retain Tornado. We were advised that operations in Afghanistan have taken their toll on the Harrier force and that, because of the cuts made in the Harrier fleet last year, Harrier numbers have been reduced far below the minimum needed to maintain our fast-jet contribution in Afghanistan on an enduring basis and without breaching harmony guidelines. Therefore, we could not sustain our current fast-jet requirement in Afghanistan using Harriers alone. Crucially, we were advised that the Tornado was the more capable aircraft to retain, due to its wider capabilities and force size, not only for Afghanistan but other significant contingent capabilities. In contrast, short-range carrier-based Harriers would provide only a very limited coercive capability beyond 2015. Our judgment was that it was unlikely that this would be sufficiently useful in the second half of the decade. It is true that deleting the entire Tornado fleet would save more money, but that is because we have three times as many Tornado force elements at readiness as Harrier, and Tornado has a longer planned service life. That also surely proves that we have made this decision on the basis of military judgment, not just as a cost-saving exercise.
This was a difficult decision to take, but tough and unsentimental choices had to be made. The SDSR is not a cosmetic exercise; it contains many tough but fair choices that are essential if we are to have a coherent and affordable strategy. The campaign in Afghanistan has been protected, and the decisions that we have made will ensure that we maintain our strategic influence and also provide us with the capabilities that we require for the future. Above all, they guarantee that the United Kingdom continues to play a proud and active role in shaping a more stable world.
My Lords, from this side of the House I add our tributes to Senior Aircraftman Scott Hughes and our condolences to his family and friends, to those expressed by the Minister. The bravery and courage of the men and women in our Armed Forces know no bounds, but we are all very conscious that when the ultimate sacrifice is made it brings grief and sorrow to the family concerned as well as deep pride in the loved one they will never see again. We hope that those feelings of pride will burn long and bright and his family and friends will be given the strength and fortitude to see them through the especially difficult coming months that they inevitably face.
From this side of the House I also wish to follow the Minister in paying tribute to our Armed Forces, which serve and protect our country and its interests and are prepared to put their lives on the line on behalf of us all. They have the unequivocal support from all sides of the House for the missions they are called upon to undertake, not least for those missions that they are currently undertaking, in particular in Afghanistan. It is crucial that those who wish this country ill and from whom our Armed Forces protect us appreciate and understand that there is no division of opinion between the political parties, but only unity of resolve and support for our Armed Forces in the exacting and dangerous operations in which they are involved.
As the Minister has said, we have a lengthy debate ahead of us, and I am sure that we are all looking forward to the many speeches from noble Lords with great knowledge and expertise in this field. We look forward in particular to the maiden speeches from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham and my noble friend Lord Hutton.
I thank the Minister for his explanation of the Government’s thinking and objectives reflected in the review. In the course of his comments, he referred to the background against which the review had been undertaken, and in particular the financial situation. There was a strong inference in his comments that the outcome of the defence review rests at the door of the previous Government. I do not share the Minister’s analysis; the financial crisis was a global one, which did not start in this country. We were hit hard because the global crisis started in the financial sector, and the financial sector is a big player in our economy. The problems have not been caused by the level of public expenditure in this country, a level of public expenditure with which the then Conservative Opposition agreed until the end of 2008. There was a clear determination by the last Government not to make significant cuts in public expenditure until the recession was over, since the way this country will restore its full financial health is through a growing economy, and not through public expenditure cuts that would have jeopardised growth. This country came out of recession in the second half of last year, and there was a significant increase in growth in the first quarter of the current financial year, and significant though lower growth in the second quarter.
This country was not on the brink of bankruptcy, as some have sought to suggest in seeking to justify the speed of the cuts that have been and are to be made. The average maturity of funding for government debt is 14 years. Neither are the difficulties that we face home-grown. If they were, and it was not a global financial crisis, then a number of other countries such as Greece, Spain and Ireland would not have to address even more serious financial issues than those that we and a number of other countries have to address.
I know that the Government are sensitive to statements that this review has been driven by financial considerations, but that view arises from the very strong impression that the need for reductions in expenditure played the biggest part in determining the outcome of the review, rather than any carefully considered strategic considerations. Nobody is arguing about the need for reductions in expenditure, but this Government seem to be proceeding with these reductions with a degree of rapidity that they have yet to justify. The more the Government pray in aid the financial situation, and in particular the dodgy assertions about the country being on the brink of bankruptcy like Greece, the more the Government are under a self-imposed pressure to make cuts at a speed that match those assertions rather than in line with a considered review of strategy. As the Defence Secretary said in his leaked letter to the Prime Minister:
“Frankly this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR and more like a ‘super CSR’”.
We then come to another matter, which the Secretary of State for Defence is fond of raising, namely the issue of the alleged £38 billion black hole in the Ministry of Defence budget. If the Government believe that that figure is a fair and accurate assessment of the situation, presumably the decisions on the cuts in expenditure and the speed of those cuts have been related in part to a belief in that figure of £38 billion. However, the only way that one can find the alleged £38 billion black hole is by assuming that there will be no increase in our defence budget until 2021—that is, a cash freeze—nor any rationalisation of commitments or programmes. That assumption, frankly, lacks credibility.
The defence review rightly stresses the significance of Afghanistan among a great many defence and security issues that we face. There has been real progress in Afghanistan in a range of key functions and activities, including law and order, civil administration and economic growth, which are vital to the functioning of a stable state and to achieving a lasting political settlement. The Government have our support in taking forward this work, which is also crucial in the light of the target of 2015 for the conclusion of our forces’ combat role. There is, as the Government have said, obviously a need for Afghan forces to take on greater responsibility. It would be helpful if the Minister could say whether the Government have undertaken an assessment of the Afghan forces’ capacity to take on those responsibilities in line with our 2015 target date. Can he say what the government position would be if it was clear, as we approached 2015, that our combat role was needed for longer?
We welcome the commitments to hold further reviews every five years; to continue to develop the previous Government’s work on addressing and combating the increasing threat of cyberattacks while investing in cybersecurity; to reduce warheads; and to continue to increase funding for our Special Forces. However, there appears to be a strategic deficit in the Government’s plans. The security strategy emphasises flexibility and adaptability for our Armed Forces, but the defence review appears to go in the opposite direction for the Royal Navy. The Government talk about taking tough long-term decisions, but taking decisions is precisely what has not happened in relation to Trident. The concern is that it has rather more to do with avoiding dissension within the coalition than with the outcome of any carefully considered strategic review.
This strategic deficit is hardly surprising. Speaking of the strategic defence and security review, the Conservative chairman of the Select Committee on Defence said in the other place at the beginning of this month that,
“it became primarily a spending review and, secondly, a defence and security review”.
He went on to say that the Defence Committee,
“wanted to look at the process of the review and … concluded that it was, pretty much, rubbish. This review took five months, whereas the highly regarded 1997-98 review took 13 months. The haste of this review meant that an opportunity to consult the wider public, defence academics, the defence industry and Parliament was missed”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/11/10; col. 1092.]
In a defence review which results in reductions in expenditure, there will inevitably be criticism of some of the decisions made. It was reported in the media the other day that the head of the Royal Navy had said at a conference:
“I am very uncomfortable at losing Nimrod. I am happy to say that publicly”.
Whether that is what he actually said I cannot be sure, and if the Minister says it was not what was said I will of course accept his word.
However, the Secretary of State for Defence had also raised similar concerns in his letter to the Prime Minister. The Defence Secretary appears to have accepted that the decision on the Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft which protect our nuclear armed submarines has required taking what he described as a calculated risk with our surveillance capabilities. Obviously, I would not expect the Minister to comment in any detail in a public arena on matters directly affecting national security, but does he consider that what has been claimed was said by the head of the Royal Navy is in reality simply expressing the Secretary of State’s own stated view, albeit in rather more forthright language?
There has also been concern over the decision to retire the Harrier force in 2011 and to give up the ability to use short take-off and vertical landing aircraft. For a decade, we will have no carrier strike capability of our own. I hope the Government have got this one right. In the light of his other comments, can the Minister say quite clearly whether the Government regard this decision as another one that involves taking a calculated risk, or do they not regard it as in that category?
Like many other departments, the Ministry of Defence will be making significant cuts in staffing among civilian staff. The figure, I believe, is a 29 per cent reduction. Can the Minister say a bit more about where these cuts will fall? There is a tendency which this Government have done little to counteract—indeed, some would say that they are its instigators—to regard anyone not on the front line, whether in the Armed Forces, the police, education or health, as unnecessary bureaucrats who are a financial burden, contributing nothing of substance or value. In reality, the overwhelming majority are dedicated and committed; without them, those on the front line could not function as effectively as they do. In asking the Minister where he thinks substantial savings can be made among civilian Ministry of Defence staff, I seek an acknowledgement of the vital role such staff play and an assurance that a proposed reduction in staffing in this area will be the subject of the same kind of rigorous examination of the consequences as one would expect in relation to any reductions on the front line.
I have set out areas of concern about the strategic defence and security review and the basis on which some decisions appear to have been made, but I acknowledge that the Minister and his ministerial colleagues have had a far from easy task in making their decisions on where and how to achieve the reductions in expenditure that they—or, perhaps more relevantly, the Treasury—consider are necessary. I know that in carrying out the exercise, they will never have lost sight of what we all acknowledge as the overriding responsibility of any Government—to protect the nation, maintain our ability to defend ourselves and protect our national interests. To enable that onerous responsibility to be delivered, any Government depend on the commitment, dedication and bravery of the men and women in our Armed Forces, and we are all at one in our support and admiration for them.
Significant cuts are being made in defence expenditure, but it does not appear from the national security strategy that the threats we face and the commitments we have can necessarily be met by that reduced capability. Only time will tell, and we shall be doing our duty as Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition in questioning and holding the Government to account for the decisions they have made.
My Lords, first, I declare shareholdings in a number of companies benefiting from defence spend. Yesterday, we observed two minutes’ silence in memory of those who fell in two world wars. Today, we have an opportunity to pay tribute to those who have fallen more recently—I join in the tribute to Senior Aircraftman Scott Hughes—particularly in Afghanistan, and to our gallant forces who are currently in action there. We owe them and their families so much.
One would have hoped that the world had learnt from earlier conflicts of the futility of war, yet we all continue to spend huge sums on defence when so many suffer from famine, poverty and multiple deprivations. We have to live in the world as it is and thus maintain our very necessary defence capabilities. The SDSR, which we debate today, has been heavily criticised for being too rushed and too Treasury-dominated; I concur with that. In May’s Queen’s Speech debate, I wryly referred to a Financial Times headline:
“Treasury to have say in defence review”—
surely the understatement of the year. However, I am not convinced that more time would have produced markedly different conclusions. Most of us, I suspect, support the broad thrust of the review and its recognition of the tiers of threat that we face: a greater acknowledgement of terrorist and cyberwarfare threats and less likelihood of major state-on-state warfare. Yet we always have to be prepared for the unexpected.
My fundamental concern is that reducing defence spend to 2 per cent of GDP on top of the inherited multibillion pound black hole will leave us still in a state of severe overstretch. Can we really fulfil all our maritime responsibilities, from anti-piracy to carrier protection, with just 19 frigates and destroyers? Of course, the current review has unquestionably been skewed by the irresponsible decision to order the two new carriers before a current defence review and when the MoD was effectively bust. Speaking in the recent Rosyth Adjournment debate in the other place, Gordon Brown said of the carriers:
“These are military decisions, made on military advice for military reasons”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/11/10; col. 742.]
History, and the National Audit Office, may come up with rather different conclusions.
This leads me to probably the most bizarre decision—to ditch our Harrier fleet and all its crew expertise, built up over so many years, to save £100 million a year on a total defence budget of about £37 billion. I do not accept that the choice was either Harrier or Tornado; surely we could have reduced the Tornado fleet further and retained a reserve Harrier force or squadron to preserve carrier strike capability. I very much agree with the recent admirals’ letters to the Times, although I acknowledge that in today’s letter the current chiefs make the point, quite rightly, that the Falkland Islands are much more robustly defended. The loss of Nimrod—the First Sea Lord said earlier this week that it made him “very uncomfortable”—is deeply worrying. How do we intend to replace this capability?
I do not wish to be overnegative; there is much to commend in the SDSR and in recent decisions. We on these Benches are predominantly Trident-sceptic; thus we welcome the deferring of Trident main gate until 2016. We also strongly support the defence treaties with France. Greater Anglo-French co-operation is something I and many others have long campaigned for. In May’s Queen’s Speech debate, I was accused by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, whom I affectionately refer to as C17, of being quixotic on the subject. I am glad that there has been a coming together on defence, but real collaboration on procurement will not come, I suggest, until there is much greater corporate consolidation between our respective defence contractors.
I welcome the extra support for our special forces and the focus on UAVs. Few appreciate the scale of the latter’s development. There are now five US airforce bases and 6,000 airmen involved in controlling flights in the Afghan-Pakistani theatre from 5,000 miles away. I strongly support the review of our Reserve Forces; we need fresh imaginative thinking here. Surely the way forward is to move to deployable formed units, more along the lines of America’s National Guard and away from fill-in deployment.
I am somewhat concerned at the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff chairing the review. I do not doubt his ability to contribute, but I would have preferred more of an outside independent chairman than an internal establishment figure who is likely to have more traditional attitudes. Have the review’s terms of reference now been agreed?
The subject of MoD procurement probably warrants a debate in itself. Clearly, radical changes are needed. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, whose maiden speech we are looking forward to hearing shortly, on establishing the Bernard Gray review. We all wish our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Levene, well with his defence reform unit, which is focused on restructuring the MoD and making it “fit for purpose”.
Defence spend sustains approximately 300,000 jobs in the United Kingdom, but this is something of a two-edged sword. Too often, jobs and politics influence procurement decisions. I remember as a Defence Procurement Minister 25 years ago being told that all our then naval requirements could probably be built at Barrow alone—we did not need all those other yards. But closing plants, facilities and bases is notoriously difficult, particularly in human terms. Could we not establish a defence variant of the old enterprise zone concept, with taxation and rates incentives, to encourage new industry to develop and thus make employment in particular areas less dependent on MoD spend?
I draw my remarks to a close by asking my noble friend two questions. Can it really take four years to install carrier, catapult and arrestor gear, as indicated on page 23 of the review document? Secondly, page 31 talks of “substantial savings on food”. What does that mean? Are we going to starve our service personnel, or give them food of a lower quality? Surely we currently buy at keenly competitive bulk prices as best we can.
My Lords, in June this year, General Patraeus spoke to us in Parliament at the invitation of the Henry Jackson Society. At the time, he was the US Central Army Commander. My father, the late Lieutenant-General Faridoon Bilimoria, was Commander-in-Chief of Central Army Command, with 350,000 troops under his command. When I asked General Petraeus about winning the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan, his explanation was that to do that, you have to be talking from a position of strength—in other words, hard power enables soft power. The two are not opposites but actually two sides of the same coin.
We know that Britain is no longer the biggest empire the world has ever known but, whichever way you look at it, we are a powerful force in this world. We may not be a superpower, but we are one of the six largest economies in the world. As my noble friend Lord Hannay said yesterday, Britain punches above its weight. When it comes to defence spending, we have the third highest military expenditure in the world, after the United States and China. How can we be termed a medium-ranking power? By any reckoning, we are a power to be reckoned with. Humility, self-effacement and understatement may be our hallmarks, but let us get real; with all our problems we are still very much a force of influence in this world.
The Government’s strategic defence and security review is an impressive document that attempts comprehensively to address all the aspects of the defence of our realm. However, there is criticism, as we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Lee, that it has been rushed through in five months when the previous review took a year. Would the Minister agree that this has been the case?
We understand the nation’s scale of debt and deficit and the Government’s desire to address it. I am really relieved that defence expenditure will not be cut but will actually go up in cash terms; however, as a percentage of GDP, it will go down. Over the past three decades, our defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP has halved. At the time of the Falklands war, it was 5 per cent of GDP; in 2009 it was 2.5 per cent of GDP; now we are talking about getting to the NATO threshold of 2 per cent. At the time of the Falklands War there was a cold war, and let us not forget that in those days, Russia was spending 16 per cent of its GDP on defence. We must not forget that in the past two decades we have had the first Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. In all that time our Armed Forces have been shrinking and shrinking. There are now 250,000 personnel, including our reserve voluntary forces. Our Armed Forces are stretched to the limit.
When it comes to United Nations peacekeeping forces—a real force for good, with which my father served with his Gurkha battalion as part of the UN forces in the Congo in the 1960s—Britain is the third highest contributor financially, but what are we doing to contribute personnel on the ground? No amount of technology can replace men and women on the ground. My father commanded a mountain division on the Chinese border, where India had serious defences in place after the Chinese war in 1962, which took India completely by surprise. He said that you could defend positions in mountainous terrain with a ratio of one defender to 10 attackers. But in the engagements in which the British Armed Forces have been involved over the past two decades, we have invariably been attacking, not defending. There comes a stage when the size of your Armed Forces does not have the de minimis critical mass. The Army is shrinking to below 100,000 personnel. That will be smaller than the strength of the corps that my father commanded in the Punjab.
We know that we can never compete with the giants; China has 2.2 million, the United States has 1.5 million and India has 1.3 million. These armies will be the largest in the world for years to come, but the Government can cut the numbers of our troops with one stroke of a pen. It is harsh and it is swift, but rebuilding these numbers cannot be done overnight. It takes years to train our service personnel, who are considered the best of the best in their professionalism, capabilities and expertise. There is no short cut to achieving this excellence, and I dread to think of the awful possibility of being caught short in the future, desperately needing trained service professionals when realistically it would take years for us to rebuild that capability. Surely the Government are concerned about the numbers shrinking too low. However, I do not think that any of us would argue about cutting the size of the defence ministry when we know there have been huge inefficiencies. I found it quite shocking when I did my research that the ratio of active troops to civil servants in the Ministry of Defence is 2:1. All the other 27 western alliance countries employ proportionately fewer civil servants in their defence ministries: France has five troops per civil servant, while in Spain the ratio is 8:1.
Our brave troops are making the ultimate sacrifice. The whole nation is proud of and grateful to them, but do we show our gratitude enough? As my friend General Sir Richard Dannatt, whom I admire greatly and who had the guts to stick up for his troops, said two years ago, one of the most cited reasons given by the 20,000 personnel who left the forces in 2007 was poor salary. He pointed out that the lowest paid soldiers at that time were on a mere £12,500, less than a traffic warden on a basic salary of £17,000. On top of this, soldiers' accommodation has also been described as “appalling”. Has the SDSR addressed these concerns enough?
I am relieved that the SDSR has rightly recognised the importance of our nuclear deterrent and will not compromise on this in the long run. On the other hand, the scrapping of the Harriers, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lee, and leaving our aircraft carriers without aircraft, seems completely illogical. Surely they could have been phased out once our new aircraft were operational. This leaves a big hole in our capability.
I am delighted that the Eurofighter Typhoon is going to play a major role in the future. I have witnessed at first hand the amazing capabilities of this aircraft, and I hope that the Indian air force will choose to procure the Typhoons to add to their existing range of British aircraft, including the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer, which is considered one of the best training aircraft in the world.
The recently signed defence collaboration with France, which has been spoken about, was not covered in the review but shows how quickly things can move, and we must seize these opportunities. However, the review does not do enough justice to the significant bridges we have built through our staff college and the Royal College of Defence Studies, international officers coming here and officers going aboard to places such as the National Defence College and the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, India, where my father was commandant. There is no better person to speak about this than our very own Yeoman Usher, Lieutenant Colonel Ted Lloyd-Jukes, who, as a major, attended the staff college in Wellington when my father was commandant. On this note, does the review place enough emphasis on the potential for closer collaboration with other countries and armed forces, including joint exercises with countries such as India?
The SDSR has correctly addressed the multitude of threats facing us today, well beyond conventional warfare, but are we doing enough to support military intelligence? As the noble Lord, Lord Lee, said, after phasing out Nimrod, what are our Government’s plans for our AWAC capability? Could they clarify their plans here?
In conclusion, during the financial crisis, Her Majesty the Queen asked:
“Why did nobody notice it?”.
Similarly, nobody predicted 9/11 and nobody predicted the Falklands War; they both happened. Sadly, no one knows what is going to happen next. We have to be prepared for the unexpected.
Without doubt, the biggest factor for us is the economy at the moment, but the most important role of government is the defence of the realm, both internally through the police force and intelligence services, and externally through our Armed Forces and intelligence services. We are a tiny island, with just 1 per cent of the population of the world. Yet thanks to the hard power that having one of the most powerful defence forces in the world gives us, we have the soft power. This is so powerful because the world knows that this hard power and soft power emanate from a country that is respected for, and has fought for, freedom, fairness, justice and liberty for centuries.
My Lords, I join others in offering condolences from these Benches on the tragic death of Senior Aircraftman Scott Hughes. At remembrancetide, as has been said, we are sharply reminded of the cost of the protection of our interests internationally and the sacrificial contribution made by Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
Living in Lincoln, as we were in 1982, we saw the Vulcans take off from RAF Scampton and RAF Waddington for Ascension Island and Port Stanley. It was a bold and courageous move and a remarkable logistical achievement. Indeed it was the only ever use of the ageing V-bomber force in anger. Its strategic impact, however, was limited. The Stanley runways were pock-marked, but not put out of action. None of this was surprising, either then or in retrospect. The Vulcans were designed first for free-fall and, later, stand-off nuclear bombing in a European theatre of conflict. For fairly obvious reasons, rarely will forces designed for one strategic purpose with a clearly defined enemy be easily adapted to an utterly different target and theatre of war.
This tiny piece of historic narrative focuses sharply for us the key issues behind the present debate. The strategic defence review is clear that we no longer face one polarised ideological enemy. No longer is it a matter of mutually assured destruction or the mobilisation of the entire nation. Indeed, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire in late 1989 onwards led to jubilant cries about the world now being a far less dangerous place. Twenty years on, however, following two Gulf wars, Serbia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, it all looks very different. That is, of course, the conclusion, too, of the recent report of the National Security Council.
Doubtless that has contributed to the discrepancy in figures between the overall 19 per cent cuts of the comprehensive spending review and the specific conclusions of the strategic defence and security review, resulting in a more modest 8 per cent reduction in spending. Despite this, the impact on our different forces will still be sharp, as reactions to the SDR suggest.
At root, we face two decisive questions. In an increasingly insecure and uncertain world, how can greater stability be secured? How can we plan to meet both our present and future responsibilities and afford to do so? The answer to these questions must lie primarily with those nations with a sophisticated defence capability working together for world peace and security. That must be the key to our own foreign and defence policy. There is, then, a responsibility placed on the powerful nations to protect those who are weaker. This may begin with enlightened self-interest, but the imperatives on us all direct us toward a wider concern for human flourishing and well-being.
What is Britain’s part to be in this broader search for international peace and security? How can that be integrated into a broader vision and strategy—a strategy that ultimately presses us well beyond the principles of those worthy statesmen who fashioned the North Atlantic Treaty? How, then, does the present defence review measure up to those questions?
As we have heard from noble Lords who have spoken, the reviewers had the unenviable task of seeking a pathway that embraced one of three contrasting responses open to government at this time. Those responses are often labelled “committed”, “adaptable” or “vigilant”. A committed response would have required long-term overseas deployment, which is now unsustainable within our contemporary financial resources. Vigilance would simply imply a withdrawal from much of Britain’s previous international engagement.
As we heard from the Minister when he opened this debate, the review has attempted to embrace adaptability. Such an approach would inevitably lay policy based on such a premise open to the criticism of muddle or lack of clarity. “Adaptability” can mean anything, especially when we remember the constraints that apply at present. The review bears the marks of such uncertainties, but it has the merit of feeling like an interim review, leaving options open for a return to these issues later. The Government could help to avoid confusion on this point by not using vocabulary that sounds as if it belongs to the “committed” stance when the chosen path is that of adaptability. To do otherwise risks repeating the mistakes of other Governments.
The principles that I have outlined, relating to the responsibilities of the powerful nations with sophisticated defence capabilities and our part in that, will, I hope, play a paramount role in continuing planning and debate. The initial reports of the Prime Minister’s meeting with President Sarkozy and their discussions about shared defence facilities are encouraging as a sign of co-operation in international security. We hope that it will become a reality.
The publication of this review, initiated by the previous Government and enacted by the present coalition, is a beginning and not an end. There are still further issues to be brought into the discussion. For example, all this has crucial implications, too, for the military covenant and for our responsibility as a nation to those who serve in our Armed Forces. The tributes that we have heard this morning reinforce that fact.
Some weeks ago, as we awaited the review, I wrote to the Times, highlighting the significance of this whole process. My letter coincided with a flood of correspondence about Stephen Hawking’s book on the origins of the universe and the implications for theism. I was castigated by a later correspondent for failing to be on task. Surely my job was religion, so why did I not stick to rebutting atheism and prescind from intervening in debates on defence and security? Had I replied, my response would have been to remind my correspondent of the French statesman Georges Clemenceau’s eloquent maxim that war is too important to be left to generals. It is also, I suggest, too important to be left to politicians alone. International peace and security, and the human flourishing that they should nurture, are the responsibility of every one of us individually and all of us as a nation.
My Lords, I declare a small interest: I am chairman of a small company that manufactures defence-related equipment, although it has no business with the UK Ministry of Defence. Like other noble Lords, I share the expressions of sympathy for those who have died recently in Afghanistan and elsewhere. This was well underlined only yesterday evening when the gallery of the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, which records some 164 holders of the Victoria Cross, was opened at the Imperial War Museum by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal.
We come to this matter in a serious financial situation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred. He explained how the serious international financial situation had led to all our difficulties, but he was not so clear in explaining why such problems were so acute at the Ministry of Defence. How was it that the Ministry of Defence was able to commit itself to huge expenditure—I will not argue with the noble Lord about the precise amount—for which there was absolutely no provision in the forward costings and was never likely to be? What were the accounting officers doing? It may be that the accounting officers were overridden by Ministers at the time. We shall never know; it is a matter for the previous Administration that is not revealed to the present one. Clearly something went wrong, in that the Ministry of Defence was able to commit itself to so much expenditure for which there was no money available.
My noble friend Lord Lee, whom I had the privilege of serving with in the Ministry of Defence all those years ago, complained that politics was playing too great a part in these matters. However, I seem to recall my noble friend trying himself to bring more politics to defence procurement when he and I were responsible for these matters. Of course, my noble friend has changed his views on other matters since then, so perhaps we should not complain too much.
One of the most disappointing aspects of defence policy over recent years has been a decline in the strength of the reserves—the Territorial Army, the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Naval Reserve. They represent enormously good value for money and it is a great pity that they have been allowed to decline so far. I hope that I may be allowed to reflect personally on how I came to the Dispatch Box to announce the increase of the Territorial Army to 83,000 souls. I am not sure how many there are today; I think that there are around 30,000. I came to that Dispatch Box to announce the formation, at the request of my late friend the Earl of Selkirk, of 607 City of York Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, which was to be equipped with Wessex helicopters and assigned a role in support of 2 Infantry Division, then based in York. At that time, 2 Infantry Division was commanded by a young Major General, Mr Peter Inge, now the noble and gallant Lord, Field Marshal Lord Inge, who is in his place today—and quite right too. I came to the Dispatch Box and announced the acquisition of 11 river-class minesweepers for the Royal Naval Reserve. I do not know what has happened to them but I recall that my wife launched one of them. I seem to recall that the wife of my noble friend Lord Lee launched another.
I turn to the recent letter in the Times, signed first by the noble Lord, Lord West, who is sadly not in his place today but knows what I will say. He had a long and distinguished naval career, but he blew it by becoming a Minister in the Government who have just left office. He was a much loved and successful Minister but I take the view that Chiefs of Staff, particularly the service chiefs and the Chief of the Defence Staff, ought to serve all political parties with equal enthusiasm and loyalty, or maybe zero enthusiasm and loyalty if that is how they feel. They should not become as overtly political as the noble Lord, Lord West, did. I do not complain of his work as a Minister but it sat oddly that a distinguished admiral—a former Chief of the Naval Staff, no less—should take a job as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Home Office, as he did.
I turn now to the substance of the letter to which the noble Lord, Lord West, other naval officers and one distinguished Royal Marine attached their names. They seemed to be complaining that, because of the withdrawal of the Harrier fleet and the aircraft carriers on which it would sail, we would no longer be able to recover the Falkland Islands as we did on 1982. A much better alternative is to deter somebody from attacking the Falkland Islands in the first place. Manifestly, we failed to do that in 1982. To my shame, I stood at the Dispatch Box and announced the withdrawal of HMS “Endurance”; the rest, as they say, is history. I say “to my shame” but it was a calculated and, in the context of the time, correct decision. We did not know what was then to happen. We clearly failed to deter the Argentinians in 1982 and we must not make that mistake again.
I put it to your Lordships that a squadron of Tornado aircraft, based in the Falkland Islands, together with the fleet-class submarines deployed to that region, are a much better means of deterring potential aggressors than a fleet of Harriers sitting on an aircraft carrier tied up in Portsmouth. Your Lordships must form your own view on that. Retiring the Harrier fleet was regrettable but, in the context of deterring an attack on the Falkland Islands and of needing a more effective air element operating in Afghanistan, it was the right decision. I make one further point about deterring an attack on the Falkland Islands. One of the turning points in the Falkland conflict in 1982 was the sinking of the “Belgrano”, which was carried out by one of our nuclear-powered submarines. Those submarines will play an effective part in the deterrent in the times ahead.
My final regret is over the maritime reconnaissance aircraft, which are being withdrawn. They form an essential part of our nuclear deterrent, alongside the Trident submarines. It is therefore a matter of great regret that airborne maritime reconnaissance is being withdrawn, as it is.
The strategic review that we are considering today is born of necessity. No doubt it is a regrettable necessity, but let us be clear that the Government had no alternative.
My Lords, I declare an interest as an adviser with the Cohen Group based in Washington DC which has a number of clients in the defence industry. I start by paying tribute to Senior Aircraftman Hughes, whose death has just been announced, and, indeed, to all those who have died and been injured in the conflict in Afghanistan. They died defending their country and its values. We should remember them not just this weekend but should pay tribute to them and remember them throughout time.
The mission in Afghanistan was described as crisply in the strategic defence review as I have seen for a long time. The review refers to,
“a UN-mandated, NATO-led mission of 47 nations … helping to deliver a stable Afghanistan able to maintain its own security and to prevent Afghan territory from again being used by Al Qaeda or other terrorists as a base from which to plot and launch attacks on the UK and our allies”.
That is why people are dying and that is why people are serving. We need to say that more and more often to ensure that the tributes we pay are meaningful and that the Taliban and others get the message that we are not going to give up until we succeed.
Noble Lords will know that I have reservations about the coherence and strategic nature of the review, but I wish to start by saying a few positive things about it and the process. I was asked by the Secretary of State for Defence to advise him on this matter and I was part of the previous Government’s advisory board on the Green Paper. I am grateful to the Government for providing me with the opportunity to give advice.
I thank and congratulate the staff under Sir Peter Ricketts, the National Security Adviser, on the work that they have done in a ludicrously short period. They were not to blame for the timetable but the quality of the work is still good, and they deserve our thanks. I also congratulate the coalition Government on taking up the recommendations in the report that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and I produced last year for the Institute for Public Policy Research, which advocated the strategic defence and security review, a national security strategy and the concept that defence reviews should take place on a regular four-yearly basis. The Government are to be commended for picking up good ideas when they see them. I also acknowledge that the Government are under severe constraints in the present circumstances. The Secretary of State for Defence sent me a copy of the review and wrote at the bottom:
“You will understand the constraints”.
I do. I carried out a defence review and I, too, was faced with a predatory Treasury.
I hear the ghosts of Christmas past behind me. However, I and my colleagues—some of whom are now in this House—saw off the Treasury.
I, too, faced a legacy of a 30 per cent cut in the defence budget over the previous six years. That was done without any major defence review and left us a very difficult legacy with which to deal, not least in the area of defence medical services and the defence accommodation estate.
Finally, I congratulate the Government on maintaining the deterrent and continuing with the modernisation of the Trident system. However, this review is not strategic. It could not be given the time-scale involved. It does not really follow even the national security strategy. It needs more time and it is a wasted opportunity in that context. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield said, it looks, and indeed is, an interim report, driven mainly by the Treasury’s desire to achieve cuts. I hope that it will be reviewed quickly. One of its serious weaknesses is that it is not inclusive as it has not involved everybody in the ministries concerned or those in the outside world who wanted to give a view. One of the strengths of the review that I conducted in the Ministry of Defence in 1997 and 1998 was that by the end we had built a consensus. That was the strength of the review which took it through so many years to come.
This review has led to a hollowing out of our forces and, indeed, to the same old salami slicing which weakens the case for defence. The Defence Secretary’s letter to the Prime Minister was leaked. It is interesting that a lot of noise was made about the leaking of that letter, but my whole review was leaked to the Tory Party the day before it was officially announced. Given that we accept that these leaks are bad and immoral in principle, one would have expected that the Tory Party would have immediately returned the leaked review to the Ministry of Defence, but instead it gave it to the Daily Telegraph. However, as the Defence Secretary himself wrote:
“This process is looking less and less defensible as a proper strategic review and more like a super CSR”.
“We do not have a narrative that we can communicate clearly”.
Those are his words, not mine, and I am not sure that in the following days he changed his view massively.
I wish to make a couple of serious points. One concerns procurement. There is a serious crisis over procurement. A lot of the money that the country devotes to defence is simply being wasted. My noble friend Lord Hutton commissioned Bernard Gray, who had been one of my special advisers, to report on procurement. It was a very good and thorough report that concluded with very strong recommendations. He was so frustrated by the previous Government’s response to that report that he offered his services to the current lot when they were in opposition. I hope that the Minister might be able to offer us guidance on why we have to have yet another review when there is one on the table which gives a proper diagnosis and the right prescription. Why has the noble Lord, Lord Levene, been asked to duplicate that? When can we expect him to produce his report?
Other speakers have mentioned Nimrod, as did the Secretary of State for Defence in his letter. Two things worry me about this defence review. First, it is more focused on the year 2020 than on 2012 and 2014. There are serious questions about what will happen in these years if it goes forward on the present basis. Secondly, I do not think that it says nearly enough about European co-operation. Yes, we have the 50-year treaty with the French, which is commendable and extremely good, but other countries in Europe would like to be part of these consortiums and I hope that they will be taken account of. Perhaps this mothballed aircraft carrier that has been produced might yet be seen as a NATO shared capability. That idea has been put forward. It is a wasted opportunity but that does not mean to say that in the interests of our Armed Forces and our country we cannot think again and do better the next time.
My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords and the support staff for the welcome and help that I have received from them since my recent introduction and I am glad to be able to participate in your Lordships' House so soon. I also pay tribute to the former right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford, whose retirement caused me to receive the Writ summoning me to your Lordships' House. David James’s leadership of a diverse community and his expertise in the interfaith practice of presence and engagement is a model for those who seek to practise the elusive art of cohesion.
Although the diocese of Birmingham has a very different composition from that of West Yorkshire, we have similar aspirations in seeking greater understanding across a myriad of international cultures, languages and faiths leading towards our agreed aim: a better quality of life for all. Before returning to that theme in the context of the debate on the strategic defence and security review, I set the scene in a diocese of some 1.5 million people contained in only 300 square miles, covering the whole City of Birmingham, parts of Sandwell, Warwickshire, Solihull, and even a small part of Worcestershire. This intercultural urban and suburban heartland is accompanied by a variety of former mining and present-day greenbelt commuter villages.
As a priest and bishop who has already served in the distinctive cities and regions of Hull, Coventry and Birkenhead, I, like so many new leaders coming to Birmingham and the region, struggle to describe it in a line or two. “Global city, local heart” will not quite do. It is the largest city outside London and the largest local authority in Europe, with an annual budget of £3.5 billion. The city budget is £7 billion. Birmingham flies below the radar of popular imagery, yet those who live, work, play and visit there find world-class achievement and facilities.
Given the constraints of your Lordships' debate today, I will not list all the wonderful things that happen there, but with the encouragement of the noble Lord opposite, I will mention that we have the largest shopping centre in the country, in the Bull Ring, and the most popular conference venue. Those who come to it know it as a conference venue and those who do not might like to try it. Birmingham has the greatest groups of lawyers and other professionals outside London, and three great universities. The largest, Birmingham University, has the extraordinary ambition of becoming the world's greatest university. We have culture in the Symphony Hall and the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Hippodrome. The region has four football teams in the Premier League. If noble Lords do not know what that means, I am available afterwards. In this extraordinary period of change, we are going to have a new library in the middle of the city. That will be another world-class item.
Looking ahead, we face all the challenges detailed in the comprehensive spending review. Our manufacturing base is not big enough, or perhaps not of the right sort. Our employment levels are far too low. Our housing needs renewing, and so on. However, perhaps uniquely in the context of this debate, we have a faith leaders' group drawing together the six great religions of the city in a friendship that enables us to understand some of the tensions and great difficulties that are faced not just in our own communities but around the world. Our community is about 14 per cent Muslim, 3 per cent Sikh, 2 per cent Hindu and so on. We are the youngest city in Europe in terms of the age of our population, which is expected to grow by some 100,000 in the next 15 years, and there are some 70 first languages on the local authority's register of necessary communications.
As the Minister mentioned in his introduction, most of us have been aware of the need for remembrance at this time of year. Only yesterday, as I chaired the Be Birmingham Local Strategic Partnership in a room that overlooked the Hall of Memory, we were all able, in our great diversity, to pause at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and look over that hall and remember that there is no family in the country that has not been touched by war over the past century—and, as we have heard today, even immediately in our present communities. My first act as a new bishop in that hall was to have inscribed the name of a soldier who died in Iraq and stand alongside his Muslim mother and sisters in an act of remembrance.
Recruits from Birmingham still step forward proudly today from a wide range of our diverse communities. In 2009-10, for example, 1,375 people joined the Regular Army from the West Midlands area: that was 11 per cent of the total, from 9 per cent of the population. There are currently 3,281 army cadets and 605 adult instructors in the area. Only last night, at Bartley Green high school on an outer estate, I learnt that two of its pupils have joined the first Royal Marines cadet force in the country. More immediately, Birmingham supplies the superb medical treatment at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine in the brand-new Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Here, survivors of the most severe wounds are cared for in numbers that increased from 261 battle injuries in 2008 to 467 in 2009. Some of them move on for rehabilitation at Headley Court, and many need a lifetime of support and care.
Birmingham has been intimately involved in defence and security for centuries. We have experience of every aspect of today's debate—a vigorous, patriotic history, with jobs dependent on the defence industry, recruits to the Armed Forces, weekly evidence of the ambulance helicopter flying over my house with the latest stretchered amputee from Camp Bastion, and a population from all over the world with huge knowledge of, and opinions about, our international relations.
I detect two themes from our diverse communities that I will refer to in the context of this debate. They will provide signs of whether the fruits of the sound policy that we are trying to establish for the country and the world will flourish. The first is whether, on the lawns of Edgbaston or even in the back streets of Alum Rock, there will be an understanding of what it costs to be free, and whether that understanding will make us redouble our efforts to get on with each other locally, so that all may live in peace and fulfilment. This is no soft option. What is now labelled being neighbourly or faithfully interactive requires huge intentional effort. The Feast—a joint Christian-Muslim youth work run by Andrew Smith—or the children's centre built into Springfield Church and serving local Muslim families, are examples of that cross-cultural adventure that makes a city whole and gives hope in an ideologically flawed world.
For the second and more pressing theme, I return to those who are wounded, physically and mentally. I echo the recent articles from the British Medical Association and the honourable Member for Edgbaston, arguing strongly for full, continuing help for these servants of freedom. May we, whatever we do in this review, ensure that they be fully supported both by government and the local community throughout their lives.
Birmingham, like your Lordships' House from my early experience of it, is both generous and welcoming. With a shared and fully resourced commitment to the defeat of wrongdoing and the vigorous promotion of peace, we shall together attempt to build a society that is bigger and better than we can all imagine.
My Lords, I am privileged to thank the right reverend Prelate for a most excellent maiden speech which the House listened to with great interest. The right reverend Prelate was translated from Birkenhead to Birmingham in 2006, so he has had some experience, as we have learnt from his speech, of the organisations and activities there. I was particularly pleased to note his comments about the hospital at Selly Oak. The right reverend Prelate was also a representative in China of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and went there with the most reverend Primate in 2006. It is clear that he will bring to your Lordships' House much wisdom and experience. We look forward to hearing more from him and thank him for today's speech.
I regret that the incoming Administration have spent too much time and effort castigating the Opposition over their handling of defence issues when in government. The Armed Forces serve the Government of the day on behalf of the nation. They would benefit from a non-party-political approach to their activities and requirements. We have this on the need for the nuclear deterrent. Could not the Government and Opposition try to reach greater agreement on other parts of the defence programme and requirements? The previous Administration began a review along these lines. Their Green Paper was drawn up with cross-party involvement and published in February, but clearly this has not survived the change of Government. If the present Administration had been prepared to find around 3 per cent of GDP, there would not be so deep a black hole in the defence budget. Their indignation is overdone: are not both sides at fault?
Regrettably, yet again, defence is viewed by a Chancellor as a soft option for belt tightening. That was understandable in the years of the Cold War, but unforgivable when we have had forces fighting hard in Afghanistan for eight years, with the prospect of being heavily committed there for a further four years. The Prime Minister and other senior Ministers say that they wish Britain to continue punching above its weight in the world and that they have no less ambition for this country in the decades to come. I do not cavil at this aspiration, but is it not totally wrong not to fund the forces that may be necessary to fulfil that ambition?
The withdrawal of HMS “Ark Royal” and the remaining Harriers squanders the Fleet Air Arm's future in the fixed-wing carrier role. Scrapping the Nimrods even before they had entered service and reducing frigates and destroyers to a mere 19 vessels, collectively blows an enormous hole in national maritime capability which we shall be living with, on present plans, for the next decade and beyond. This gap in capability could endanger national security more than any reduced commitment to land operations.
The chiefs of staff, I am told, accepted these savage savings and those in the Army, but have forcefully pointed out that the force structures for the 2020s will be achievable only if there is real-terms growth in the defence budget over the second half of the decade. In other words, the defence budget has to grow from the reputed 2 per cent of GDP to, say, 3 per cent or more. In his Statement in another place on the SDSR on 9 October, all the Prime Minister was prepared to say on this vital point was that in his personal view,
“this structure will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/10/10; col. 799.]
But we shall have lost capabilities and momentum.
Indeed, I foresee a hard pressed Chancellor once again pointing out that, as we have survived thus far—if we have—with these reduced capabilities, would it not be reasonable, as we free ourselves from Afghanistan, to extend the period into a rolling year-by-year programme of just 2 per cent expenditure on defence? We are close to aping the position adopted in the 1930s: that the country will not be facing a serious threat for a decade and that defence provision should be scaled back accordingly.
Finally, I give my take on the regrettable but financially driven decision to withdraw from service the remaining Harriers. All the air defence Sea Harriers were scrapped in 2006, a decision taken when the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, was the First Sea Lord, leaving a fleet of combat offensive aircraft with no radar, no long-range air defence weapon and of no significant use in an air defence role. In 2008, a cost-cutting decision halved the remaining number of offensive support Harriers. For five years, from 2004 to 2009, this small jointly manned Royal Air Force/Royal Navy force maintained a detachment of eight aircraft in Afghanistan, a remarkable achievement for such a small force, bearing in mind the distance from home-base support, the very hot climate and high terrain and serious undermanning of the Royal Navy element. This tremendous effort became unsustainable. The Harrier force had to be relieved and was replaced in mid-2009 by Tornados.
This year's greater operational tempo in Helmand required additional offensive air capability and the Tornado's contribution has been increased temporarily from eight to 10 aircraft deployed. Compared to the Harrier, the Tornado provides a greater variety of missile systems, an exceptionally accurate gun and advanced intelligence gathering capabilities, as well as better range, endurance and payload. It also provides our ground forces with real-time tactical intelligence of enemy movements, live direction of the battle, and critical support to troops in contact. The Tornado force has the capacity to sustain this operational commitment and an element, if needed, for other air operations with unique capabilities such as Storm Shadow.
In the round, the decision made back in 2008 to replace the overstretched Harriers in theatre with Tornados by mid-2009 was soundly based, if we were to maintain our combat air contribution in Afghanistan. It would also have allowed the joint Harrier force to re-train in its neglected role of delivering airpower from a carrier. But the remaining Harriers could provide no task force protection from enemy air attack. It would be foolhardy—maybe I should say bonkers—to send a carrier to Falklands waters without the air defence coverage of the Typhoons at Mount Pleasant.
Support savings are also significant when an aircraft type is withdrawn from service. The search for economies in 2008 and again this year have forced a premature end to the Harrier force. I should like to pay tribute to the iconic Harrier, to the brilliance of its concept; to the airframe and engine designers and manufacturers who brought it and its jump jet engine into service; and to all those who flew and maintained it. It is a unique and internationally renowned aircraft, very much a Cold War requirement, conceived, developed and operational for that commitment. But no one could now argue that that made it unusable or unsuitable for the non-Cold War operations in which it took part.
From the recovery of the Falklands nearly 30 years ago in the freezing weather of the distant South Atlantic, along with its maritime derivative, the Sea Harrier, to the conflict over Kosovo; and to the five hard, pounding years in the heat and dust of Afghanistan, it has demonstrated operational longevity, great global reach and role flexibility. But for the financial cuts, it had many more years of service to offer, not least embarked on the first of the new carriers.
Eurofighter Typhoon, now in service with the RAF, is too often criticised as a legacy of the Cold War and so too expensive and useless for today's or future conflicts. But Typhoon is another fine example of a multi-role operational design. It will follow the real life example of the Harrier's 40 years in the front line. It will prove to be every bit as flexible, long-lived and valuable. Criticising Typhoon as a useless Cold War relic is mischievously misinformed and monumentally mistaken. It is a very fine aircraft prized and praised by its operators, as I learnt when I had a flight in one from RAF Coningsby. We should be praising Typhoon, now deployed 8,000 miles away in the Falklands, not denigrating it.
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend the Minister has invited his military advisers to appear in uniform in our House. I have long advocated that the more the public see the Armed Forces in uniform the better. I think that Sir Neil Thorne's splendid Armed Forces parliamentary scheme over some 20 years has led to a greatly enhanced understanding of the role of our Armed Forces in both Houses of Parliament, particularly for those who have not experienced the joys of square bashing in the past.
I strongly support the Government’s attack on costs and, in particular, the need to change attitudes created by the welfare state. But I am afraid that the ring-fencing of the National Heath Service and the massive increase in the budget of the international aid programmes has led to serious distortions affecting other areas of government. In my view, the Armed Forces and the police force should have been excluded from the cuts programme. Defence of the realm and protection of our national interest is the first priority of government. Protecting the population on the streets of this country is the right of every man, woman and child and is the key responsibility of our police force. They should both have had totally separate strategic reviews, addressing our longer-term needs. Haste has been such that it is impossible to consider that the defence review, in particular, has been truly strategic.
Having said that, it should be noted that the financial outcome, although barely acceptable, would have been considerably worse if it had not been for the single-minded efforts of our Secretary of State, Liam Fox, and our Chiefs of Staff. The Prime Minister is now fully aware of what we will not be able to do, particularly in the near future, and the outlook is still pretty precarious. It is vital that the defence budget is enhanced each year, or even the 2020 plan will not be met.
To give your Lordships but one example of what is key to our interests, the waters of the Middle East, including the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf are of vital strategic importance to the United Kingdom. Do we, and will we, have the real capability to protect those vital interests? Others will say that we do not act alone, but for the United Kingdom to take the lead is often key, and in these increasingly dangerous times, with such diverse political stances, our leadership, both moral and from a position of authority and power, can be the determinant factor. Sadly, a very senior figure stated the other day that we are very rapidly becoming, from a strategic point of view, a significant irrelevance in American and other eyes, and this will not go unnoticed by those who are not our allies. What this country must decide before it is too late is that at least 3 per cent of our GDP, as was mentioned by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, must be allocated to our defence needs. That 3 per cent should exclude contingency fund provision in time of war.
Nick Butler, a former senior strategist at No 10, and I issued a joint paper on the key link of the needs of the Ministry of Defence with our national industrial capability. Of course, the Ministry of Defence must run more efficiently and its management structure be changed in order to operate effectively for the needs of tomorrow, not yesterday, but Britain's future capability cannot be made victim of past mistakes, and it is wrong to treat this department the same as other departments; it is not.
The analysis behind the 2005 defence industrial review was extended and updated by work undertaken by the Ministry of Defence, the Business Department and the Home Office before the general election. That work, commissioned and led for No 10 by Nick Butler, identified the crucial link between defence policy and industrial capability. That report also identified the extent and quality of the supply chains which underpin the strengths which exist today. Regrettably, that report remains unpublished; it should be on the table for the Prime Minister, the National Security Council, the Chancellor and both Houses of Parliament.
The dust is settling, but will my noble friend consider that there is still time for a truly measured review of our national needs which, in my view, should extend to at least 2040? After all, the life of a ship, submarine or aircraft and much other military hardware is planned for at least 30 years; 10 years is much too short a horizon. I personally also strongly advocate the case for two carriers, and hope that we do not rue the day that we dropped our Harrier capability. I also suggest that the present review of the role of the reserves is not only crucial but must be truly radical, that it must be based on thinking, not just nibbling at the edges and paying lip service to their existence.
This debate on the security of our country is above party politics. I am sure that, in the main, all here are totally bipartisan. Judging by the important debate in the other place last week, this view is shared, and the increasingly powerful Defence Select Committee chaired by James Arbuthnot is and will be addressing many of the concerns that are aired here today.
For all that, I am sure that we are in total agreement that by far the most important factor of it all is our people. The key difference between a good and a great military is not its equipment but the quality, dedication and loyalty of our men and women serving our nation all over the globe, often putting their lives at risk. They are prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice and, sadly, in many cases, face mutilation for the rest of their lives.
It is most appropriate that we are having this debate between Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday. On television this morning, I watched our Marines, one a triple amputee, complete their charity run of more than 5,000 miles across the United States. Last week, at the Trafalgar Night dinner at HMS “President”, I was talking to a Surgeon Commander in the naval reserve who had just returned from a field hospital in Helmand province in Afghanistan. He told me that on average he did 70 amputations a week on Brits, Americans and civilians. That load of students who the other day were screaming for their rights should strongly note how our splendid men and women handle their responsibilities. Do we really take all that fully into account when creating the financial package that they receive?
Indeed, following the review, many items are likely to be reduced, and I consider some savings downright petty. It is impossible to put a price on our Armed Forces, so do we account for them as a cost centre? History has shown time and time again that, in time of need, their value is priceless, and has been the saving of our global interest and, indeed, our very existence. Having read the letter in the Times this morning signed by the Chief of the Defence Staff and the other chiefs of staff, I have no doubt that, as dedicated professionals, they will do their utmost to deliver what this country demands of them, but is it too late to ensure that they have what they truly need?
Finally, there was a letter in last week's Economist, which read:
“America’s secretary of state, Dean Rusk, raged incredulously in 1968 when he heard of the British withdrawal ‘east of Suez’. Rusk could not believe that ‘free aspirins and false teeth were more important than Britain’s role in the world’. Philip Larkin, in his 1969 poem, ‘Homage to a Government’, wrote ruefully:
‘Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money …
Our children will not know it's a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money’.
A pity that Larkin is not alive to write a sequel”.
My Lords, it is an enormous privilege to make my maiden speech in this debate today. Defence has always been an issue of very great interest to me. That began with listening to stories from my grandfathers, who served in the First World War, my great uncle, who served in the American Army in the First World War and my late father, who served in the Royal Marines in World War II.
That interest in defence matters developed very significantly when I became the Member of Parliament for Barrow-in-Furness nearly 20 years ago. As has been alluded to today, my former constituency has a unique association with the Royal Navy going back more than 150 years. The shipyard in Barrow built the first of the Royal Navy submarines; today, it is completing the latest generation of nuclear attack submarines—the Astute class, which is a formidable addition to the Royal Navy.
The links with the armed services in my former constituency extend much wider than the Royal Navy. I am glad to say that there is a very strong Army tradition in my constituency, too. Initially, the local infantry regiment was the King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), which saw service in the First World War and other, earlier conflicts along with the Border Regiment. Both those great regiments of the British Army are now unified in the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.
Those who wear the uniform of our country render public service of the very highest kind. We have all noticed a rising tide of sympathy and support for our country’s Armed Forces. That is palpable and tangible. I personally believe that it owes a very great deal to the heroism, service and sacrifice of these young men and women in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think that this rising tide of support for the men and women who serve our country in this way is a profoundly good thing. It has helped our Government to focus on ensuring that we stand by them and fully discharge the debt that we owe them all. However, I suspect that there is always more to be done in this area. The primary responsibility rests with government, but the role of the service charities is hugely important, too, because they give all of us as individual citizens a practical means to show our own appreciation for the service and sacrifice of Armed Forces personnel. During my time in this House, I want to focus on that in particular.
In this context, I am concerned, as I am sure are many other noble Lords, about the front-page news story in the Times this morning. I believe that this must be an unintended consequence of the Government’s decision to change the rules about how pensions and benefits are indexed. For noble Lords who have not seen the story today, I should say that it looks likely that serving men and women who are injured on active service will see a very substantial reduction in the amount paid to them as a result of any injury that they have sustained. I simply believe that to be wrong.
Today your Lordships’ concern is with the strategic defence and security review. Like my noble friend Lord Robertson, I want to start on the positive side. There are many things in the strategic defence review that we should be positive about. I strongly welcome the attention now being paid to cyberwarfare, which is a real and sinister threat to national resilience and security. I also welcome the renewed emphasis on conflict prevention and stabilisation and on improving the capabilities of our special forces. I welcome the increased size of the Chinook fleet, which will be a great help to our forces in future. These are all sensible and welcome measures and are in the mainstream of defence thinking today, following some of the changes that have been made in the United States. Our forces are becoming more flexible and deployable, and that is absolutely right. I also welcome, as other noble Lords have done, the emphasis on ensuring success in Afghanistan. That mission is vital to our national security, and I believe very strongly that all of us in public life, in this House and elsewhere, should always remember why we are in Afghanistan and why we ask our young men and women to fight in our name there.
However, significant concerns have been expressed today about the strategic defence and security review, and I believe that those concerns are fully justified. The last time that defence spending was cut significantly in this country was about 20 years ago in justifiable response to an improving strategic and security environment. That cannot be said of this situation. This time, we are reducing defence spending in response to a worsening fiscal environment. One thing that we should all be clear about, here and elsewhere, is that spending less on defence does not make the threats that we face—which are all clearly set out in the national security strategy—any less serious. Unfortunately, it simply makes us less able to deal with them properly.
There are a number of reasons to be concerned about the strategic defence and security review. The idea of aircraft carriers being without aircraft for a decade is not an example of sensible strategy and undermines the very concept of carrier strike. The early decommissioning of the Harriers is a profound mistake. It is disappointing that Ministers have not stuck to their guns on this. For a small amount of money, the Harriers would have given much more strategic credibility to this vital part of our future force projection. If we are to have aircraft carriers, we need to be able to defend those vital assets should they deploy in an active theatre of operations. We cannot rely on others to do that for us. In this context, I believe on the basis of advice I was given when I was Secretary of State for Defence that the loss of Nimrod poses an unacceptable risk to those vital capital warships. I notice, as have many others today, that the First Sea Lord has expressed his unease about the loss of this very important anti-submarine capability.
I am also concerned about the overall reduction in our capability to deploy ground forces. It is clear from the SDSR that we will not be in a position to mount another operation on the scale of the Iraq invasion of 2003. Why we are making such a reduction from a strategic point of view is not entirely clear to me. There is a danger that the SDSR will look to some like salami slicing—the one thing that Ministers should, above all else, have tried to prevent.
If the real context for this review was the fiscal situation, it would have been helpful, as many others have noticed in this debate, to have had more clarity about the future resources required to fund even this diminished level of capabilities. My understanding is that there will need to be significant real-terms increases in spending on defence to make the books balance over the next decade, which is a perfectly laudable ambition of the Government. We could benefit from greater clarity here about the Government’s future spending intentions.
At the heart of the financial assumptions is the need for the MoD to reduce its costs, and I believe that there is ample scope for doing that. As Bernard Gray’s excellent report made abundantly clear, the defence procurement process needs fundamental reform. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Levene, well in his endeavours in this regard, but if the projected savings do not materialise it is far from clear that, without additional resources, the MoD may not have to look at even further reductions in front-line capabilities.
My final point, which has not been raised so far, is on the future of our defence-industrial base. I believe it to be of vital national significance that we retain sovereign capability in key areas. The SDSR does not say a great deal about the defence-industrial strategy, but we certainly need one, so I look forward to the White Paper that the Government are proposing.
I accept that the Government, through the SDSR process, have tried very hard, and I praise the efforts of Ministers and officials, to maintain a balance of effective military capabilities on land, sea and air. Sadly, I have to say that very few people think that the Government have fully achieved that objective. Along with many others, I hope that there will be time in future for Ministers to reconsider aspects of their strategy as we go forward.
It is an absolute delight and privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Hutton—my old friend—in this debate. I have known him for many years and, like the House of Commons, I have always respected his calm and rational assessment of difficult judgments that had to be made in a number of the positions that he held there. I also knew him as a constituent; he has the great advantage of being one of my constituents who did not come to see me to complain about everything, for which I am always grateful. The other thing that ought to be remembered is that he speaks with considerable experience of the military, not only from his own background but, as many noble Lords will know, from the book that he wrote on the history of the Royal Lancaster Regiment in the First World War, Kitchener’s Men, which gave a gritty account of the life of soldiers in the 1915-18 period. It indicates his knowledge and commitment to the area that he served so well and I look forward to hearing from him again. I also look forward to hearing more from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, who also made a helpful contribution today.
I do not want to spend too much time on some of the issues that I know will be covered by people better equipped than I am to deal with them, but I want to make a couple of broad points before going on to my main point. The first point is that we are witnessing a profound shift in the balance of power in the world. My noble friend Lord Rosser is right to point out that the economic crisis was a western-world crisis. There is a shift of power from the West to emerging superpowers. We need to be aware of that. It is one reason for the agreement with France on the use of the carriers, for which I commend the Government. That treaty ought to be extended. As my noble friend Lord Robertson said, there are other countries in Europe. Contrary to the popular opinion of some Members on the Conservative Back Benches in the other place, Europe is vital to our interests and co-operation on these areas is crucial. France also recognises that it cannot continue at the same strategic level without co-operating with the United Kingdom. I think—and I speak as a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies—that this review reduces our capabilities. We cannot escape from that. The only way in which we are going to be able to build them up in future is by co-operation with our allies, particularly our allies in Europe. I hope that the Government will have the courage to make more treaties on that, whether in the context of a wider European basis—NATO, the EU or whatever—or on an individual basis. We need to recognise the shift in power.
The other thing that I want to mention, on which my noble friend Lord Hutton touched, is the industrial basis. The position of Britain for manufacturing is far better than many people give us credit for. We are still the sixth largest manufacturing country in the world. We have, in the aerospace industry, the largest manufacturing capacity in the European area. It was, the last time I checked, still the second largest and second most advanced aerospace industry in the world. I get worried that we will not retain that position unless the Government take it into account when they make decisions on both the civil aviation side and the military aviation side.
That enables me to say also that I agree with those people who are expressing deep concern about the decision on the Harriers, Tornados and Nimrod. I recognise that the Government have a difficult problem with the expenditure balance, but they need to remember that, as my noble friend Lord Rosser said, this is about the assessment of how you handle it. If we had not proceeded with the two carriers, we would have had to look at the opportunity costs and at the economic impact on certain areas and, above all, on the industries that are required to service those aircraft carriers, which are some of the most advanced technological industries in the country. To give a final plug for another local issue—not local to me, but one that I happen to know something about—Lossiemouth is very important to the economy and the morale of the people in that area. Lossiemouth is important in all this.
A positive comment that I can make about the strategic defence review is that the Government are getting it right about the threat from cyberwarfare. I know that the Minister would be the first to accept that he is building on the excellent work done by my noble friend Lord West when he was the Minister. The idea of the new operations group to deal with this problem is excellent. Someone said recently that this is a “horse and tank moment”. I do not know whether it is or not, but it is certainly true that we are moving into a situation where not just nation states but well armed, well organised groups of one type or another can do immense damage to the economy of an advanced nation without a shot being fired or a bomb being dropped. It is a particularly big and serious threat.
I shall spend my remaining minute on something that is not in the review but to which we should give more attention—the morale of the Armed Forces. Let me say clearly that I think that morale is extremely good. Whenever I have been to Afghanistan, Iraq or other areas, I have seen that morale is high and good. I am not talking just of morale as regards pay, pensions, housing and things of that type. I am also talking about the way in which we address the problem for the Armed Forces when we are dealing with these new types of conflict, whether Afghanistan or some of the terror threats around the world.
In some of the media coverage, there is an expectation that somehow or other the Armed Forces in a state of war have to be dealt with on the same legal basis as if we were dealing with a civilian operation. For example, some of the discussions in the courts when they are dealing with coroners’ reports—I can give only one example, simply through the shortage of time—concern whether it is wise to send soldiers in a soft-skinned vehicle or a heavily armoured vehicle to a village or another area where we are trying to win hearts and minds. Let us be clear: those troops might consciously be putting their lives and safety at greater risk simply because they have made an assessment of the need to use a soft-skinned vehicle rather than a heavily armoured vehicle. In many of those cases, I do not know how you can argue in a coroner’s court that conventionally this is in some way similar to the requirements of a civilian employer.
I do not want in any way to imply that the British Armed Forces should act outside the law or that we should not support, as we do, extending the rule of law—including on war crimes—as far as possible into these situations. However, we could be in danger of assuming that everything in civil law can be applied in the military sphere, when it cannot be. I have used this example before, but I make no excuse for using it again: in the 19th century, when Britain used its Armed Forces to stop the transatlantic slave trade, the captains of ships were brought to the court here in the House of Lords and fined for interfering with trade on the high seas. The discussion in the press at the time was, “We must stop what we are doing. Bring our troops home. Bring our boys home. We are making matters worse”. The arguments were very similar to those that we hear about Afghanistan now. At some stage, we need to look at the way in which we deal with this difficult area of the legal situation relating to our forces in conflict, as opposed to civil situations.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a non-executive director of WS Atkins plc and other interests as in the register, including pro bono appointments in various service charities and organisations. I intend to concentrate on the defence part of the SDSR but, in passing, I welcome the attempt, under the umbrella of the national security strategy, to get some sort of order among the plethora of departments and committees dealing with various aspects of our security. It will certainly be good to see some tidying up of the shambolic and Byzantine network and, some might say, the spaghetti-like structure for security and defence that has been in place for the past few years.
So far as defence is concerned, I remain absolutely unable to reconcile the word “strategic” with what has emerged in the review, notwithstanding the country’s economic difficulties. This has been a cost-cutting exercise, although I congratulate the Secretary of State for Defence on his damage limitation efforts with respect to the sort of savings that some parts of the Government, notably the Treasury, were after. The Treasury’s empathy and understanding of defence are probably best captured by the Chancellor referring to aircraft carriers as “those things” in a TV interview.
With an effective cut in the defence budget of 17.5 per cent—not the headline figure of 7.5 per cent that is bandied around by those trying to cloak the true nature of the cuts—the Prime Minister’s words that the security of our country is the first priority of the Government ring very hollow, as does his expectation that we should retain a prominent position in terms of global influence. In particular, I challenge the complacency of the statement that a defence budget—it now includes the cost of the Trident replacement, thereby, by the way, unravelling the promise of both main parties in the 2007 White Paper—of 2 per cent of GDP meets NATO targets. Only a few months ago, the then Opposition rightly railed against the then Government about the inadequacy of a defence budget of only 2.3 per cent to meet our strategic security needs. The world has certainly not become less dangerous since then and there is no security justification for certain of the proposed cuts in our defence capabilities.
Turning to some of the detail of the defence review’s conclusions, I am sure that noble Lords would like to bear a thought for the 17,000 or so uniformed people who are to be axed—that is, service men and service women who have put their country first and their lives second. The fine-sounding words about the military covenant in the review sound cynical to me. By the way, lest anyone should think that only our outstanding soldiers have been in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past 9 years, I should say that there have been, and are, plenty of sailors, marines and airmen on the ground. The Royal Navy is the only remaining UK force in Iraq, for example. Next year, once again, the Royal Navy with its Royal Marines will constitute more than one-third of our commitment on the ground in Afghanistan.
I am sure that great resentment will have been felt by all our uniformed personnel about the comment in the review that manpower savings will be taken from non-front-line service personnel. Certainly in the Royal Navy everyone is required to serve on the front line. I ask the Minister for reassurance that, in the looming redundancy programme, our sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen are not going to be got rid of with the bare minimum pay-off that I am absolutely certain the Treasury would like to inflict. Incidentally, I suspect that, like me, our uniformed personnel must find it curious that the MoD Civil Service will have no compulsory redundancy programme.
Turning to capabilities, I would like to focus on maritime. I start by applauding the Defence Secretary for supporting so strongly the need to retain a balanced Navy on which we can build in better times. However, despite his best efforts, I believe that the Navy will be too depleted to be able to deliver all that history has shown might be expected of it and which can be expected again. It will be too depleted to be able to meet the aspirations of global influence that the national security strategy would have us deliver and too depleted to be able to contribute sensibly to every one of the seven military tasks laid out in the review. Incidentally, the Navy is the only service that is so obligated.
In particular, a destroyer frigate force level of 19, which I understand will be reached in just five months’ time with the paying off of our four very capable Type 22 frigates by next April, is just too small. I suspect that we will dip below that number before 2020, as Type 23s have to start paying off. Meanwhile, fewer ships should mean fewer tasks, not least because the fleet is already overstretched to meet its current operational commitments. Will the Minister say which commitments are going to be given up or, at the very least, if such details are not yet thought through, will he assure the House that the fleet load will be reduced? I should add that that reduced role will do nothing for our international standing and influence.
Let me touch on the carrier decision; your Lordships would be surprised if I did not. The disposal of Harriers, which other speakers have mentioned, will, notwithstanding my earlier comment, cause the Royal Navy to be unbalanced in the medium term. First, the underlying rationale in the review for disposing of this aircraft, which gives the carrier its strike capability until the introduction of the Joint Strike Fighter, is this:
“The Government believes it is right for the UK to retain, in the long term, the capability that only aircraft carriers can provide—the ability to deploy airpower from anywhere in the world, without the need for friendly air bases on land. In the short term, there are few circumstances we can envisage where the ability to deploy airpower from the sea will be essential”.
What a desperate expression of hope over bitter experience. The people serving on the National Security Council must have been asleep for the past dozen years or so.
We have no problem today because we have no emerging crisis. That can change in days, as it did for Sierra Leone, as it did in 2001 and as it did in 2003, to take the most recent significant examples where some so-called friends and allies, let alone neutrals, prevaricated endlessly over or even denied our overflying rights and host-nation support. We cannot even fly direct from Cyprus to Kandahar today. The review goes on to say,
“that is why we have taken the decision to retire the Harriers early”,
but that absolutely does not stand up to any serious analysis or judgment of history. The reason, pure and simple, is to save money. The Government should have the moral courage to say so and admit to the enormous gamble that they are taking.
Secondly, the Harrier GR9 is a relatively modern aircraft, not 40 years old as deviously implied in the review. It is significantly more modern than the Tornado—for all its virtues mentioned by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig—against which it is compared and which will cost around £2.5 billion to modernise. So far as the close air support role in Afghanistan is concerned, if you speak to those on the ground at the very sharp end, especially the forward air controllers, as I have done recently, there is no question but that the Harrier is their aircraft of choice, not least because of its speed of response and reliability. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Lee, was right to say that we need both the Harrier and the Tornado in the interim before 2020.
Thirdly, will the Minister explain how, without “Ark Royal” and the Harrier force, we are to retain enough of the Navy’s current carrier operators and pilots to keep alive the critical and essential expertise that will allow us safely to re-establish a UK carrier strike capability in 2020? In particular, will he provide an unequivocal reassurance that the future Joint Strike Fighter force will be manned by both Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots?
Shifting to the deterrent, I generally welcome the decisions in the paper, especially the commitment to continuous at-sea deterrence and ballistic launched missiles. Any other course of action simply will not provide a truly invulnerable and totally assured strategic deterrent. However, as someone scarred by the trials and tribulations of managing ageing nuclear submarines, I have serious misgivings about extending further the lives of the Trident class. Of course, Ministers will not have to go to sea in them when they are ancient—the submarines, that is, not the Ministers. I predict difficult times ahead when those submarines are past their proper sell-by date.
I conclude by saying that many aspects of this review have resonance with the ill fated Thatcher-Nott review of 1981, the Options for Change review of 1991 and the defence costs studies of the early 1990s. We can but hope that we are not once again assailed by events shortly after these reviews, as has happened before, showing how ill advised they were. We can but hope that we are spared the time for the Prime Minister to realise his “own strong view”, articulated in his Statement on the SDSR in the other place, that we,
“will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/10; col. 799.]
That is, as I say, assuming that we are spared until then.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this important debate on the strategic defence and security review. Although I do not have the military and service career experience of many noble Lords present, I speak not only as a service child myself but also as someone who has spent much of her political life looking at the role of the state in regard to families and children. So I would like to make a couple of observations about the effects of the review on service families.
I welcome the policies that the Government have announced to help service families, such as the educational grants for higher education for children with a parent who has died on active service, and the prospect of more stability for families with the reorganisation of brigades and bases. However, there is still a degree of uncertainty about where the bases are going to be, and about what allowances—such as the continuity of education allowance—will be continued. I am aware that Professor Hew Strachan is looking into this, but I urge the Government to make any decisions speedily so that families can plan for the future.
Making decisions on education, moving and changing jobs can be the cause of great friction within families. Many spouses of Armed Forces personnel work outside the bases and they will want to sort out their future employment. This is particularly relevant in the long-established bases such as RAF Kinloss and Cottesmore where families have been based for long periods of time. I have heard that some families in the Scottish bases are worried about finding another job for their spouse, and about moving from the Scottish educational system to the English one. Extra support for these families will be paramount.
Roughly 48 per cent of our service families have children, and the impact of service life can be very challenging for them. I would like to draw noble Lords’ attention to the excellent report funded by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Children’s Fund entitled The Overlooked Casualties of Conflict, written in November 2009. It clearly outlines the concerns and issues surrounding the children of Armed Forces personnel, such as bereavement and the bureaucratic restrictions on service children with special educational needs who have to move schools frequently.
More than 20,000 service families move each year, and I would welcome any plans to reduce this number significantly. However, if that is not possible, provision should be put into place for continuity of education in schools, and with reasonable allowances, because often these moves are made at short notice. No one would want a child in the middle of the second year of their GCSE course to have to move school. Service children have the added pressure of having a parent or, increasingly, both parents serving in a danger zone, with all the added anxieties that that involves. They may also have to deal with bereavement or disablement, either physical or mental.
I welcome the announcement of extra funds for dedicated mental health nurses to be available for service personnel. Divorce rates are higher in the Armed Services than in civilian life because of some of the pressures and strains that I have already mentioned. We need to make sure that there is support and counselling for these families. The pressures of Armed Services life can be tough, but our service personnel and their families cope admirably. However, it is more difficult to cope with uncertainty, and I ask the Minister to announce soon what provisions will be put in place for allowances and where the brigades will be located, so that our brave Armed Forces and their families can plan for their futures accordingly.
My Lords, I declare an interest in various security matters, as registered and declared previously, including a partnership in the Chertoff Group. I join with other noble Lords in the tributes they have paid to the fallen who have served this country, including this week’s tributes to Senior Aircraftman Scott Hughes.
The Minister began his introduction by referring to the strategic and financial framework. Everyone recognises the financial constraints under which the Government have been operating and the question is not whether there is a cost element in the review—there always is—but whether the primary guidance of the review is strategically or cost based. One comparator is the review carried out by my noble friend Lord Robertson some years ago, in which I declare an interest as having played some part in it. During that review in 1997-98, we spent as long considering the foreign policy objectives and strategic framework which our military power was meant to pursue and accomplish as we spent on the whole of this strategic defence review.
This is singularly unfortunate for two reasons. First, it will leave the review more open to Treasury raids—which will come—because if it is not a strategically based review, starting from foreign policy objectives and working through to the military-operational means to accomplish them, it will be easier to get rid of the military-operational means because, after careful study and consensus building, the foreign policy objectives have not been clearly identified. Secondly, the strategic starting point is more important than ever because we are in the midst of huge changes and increasing danger, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Hutton in his maiden speech. The shift of power among sovereign states from west to east; the shift of distribution from corporate organisations and sovereign states to individual groups of non-state actors; the exponential growth of asymmetric warfare and ideologically driven conflict; and the proliferation of the means of mass destruction—radiological, chemical and biological weaponry—which are now attainable by the few rather than by states, all demand a strategic review. It is therefore a pity that the Government fell short and did not spend a little longer on this fundamental starting point.
On financial implications, we all understand the need for debt reductions and, in some ways, we should congratulate the Secretary of State for Defence on his courage in putting his principles above his career prospects by standing up to the Treasury. However, it did not seem to impede either my noble friend Lord Robertson or me afterwards, so that is perhaps happy guidance for him. But a number of ambiguities remain—I shall mention only one. While it is said that the cut in defence expenditure is much less than in other departments, this will apply only if the independent nuclear deterrent remains centrally funded. If it is added to the defence budget, the figures will change quite dramatically over the next few years. Can the Minister give an assurance on that?
I ask for that assurance because we all have a common cause here. The Treasury will come back. The pattern of defence reviews over the past few decades has been quite similar: analyse and identify the needs; agree on the operational and military needs; start to implement them; and then the Treasury refuses to fund them fully. That is the nature of the Minister’s implication that, “This is just the beginning”. It certainly is in respect of relationships with the Treasury.
On finance more generally, I make one simple point. The Government should resist the temptation to place all responsibility for the cuts and our financial plight on the previous Government. It may win the minutes but it will lose the hours. I say this not because of my personal interest in the previous Government but because there is a serious strategic danger in maintaining the illusion that it was caused by the choices of the previous Government: it would completely divert attention from the role of the banking and financial sectors in our economic catastrophe and, in turn, dangerously overlook the crucial interrelationship and interdependence between economic strength and security—or, to put it another way, economic weakness and insecurity and the lack of capacity to build military power. We would be better to honestly admit that element of the conundrum that we face. This has been identified by people such as Paul Kennedy in his book about the relationship between economic strength and the potency and capability of producing political and military power. If we do not admit it, then, rather than starting afresh, we will start again the same cycle of the illusion that we have the financial means on paper, write in the military means and then face the reality of never being able to deliver but rather push it to the right.
On procurement, again the party-political blame game hides the real problem—the procurement process. This is particularly exacerbated by the fast life cycle of technological innovation. If it is the case that the life cycle of a technology is now 18 months and yet we, like the Pentagon, take 84 months to apply even a technological specification to a product because we keep respecifying, at the end of the day, even if we get the product, it will be four generations too late because of the technological life cycle. The reality is that we probably will not get the product because continual respecification means never-ending redesign, which means the product never being delivered at the end of the process. That is not a party political matter; it is intrinsic to the present system. I urge the Minister to look carefully at the recommendations of Bernard Gray, whatever else comes out of the review.
I shall say little about the carriers—the most controversial aspect—as others have done but better than I can. All I do is ask the Minister if he will at least consider some means of retaining the skill of pilots to land on aircraft carriers—which is much different from other skills—either by retaining a small number of planes, or by assuring the House that our pilots will be seconded to the United States carrier fleet in order to do that.
On operations, the main thing in Afghanistan is to send out a clear message that we will stay the course and to introduce a campaign plan which integrates DfID, our public messaging and political and military surges. If we miss out any of those elements, we will not achieve what we should.
On contingency capacity, we should recognise that, however we plan, there will be a desperate need for a surge capacity at some stage which will mean that the reserves and the Territorial Army will become even more important than previously.
Let me say few words on wider security. On terrorism, the Home Secretary has said that al-Qaeda is weaker than ever. That is half true. However, it is also true that we now face four levels of terrorism: the al-Qaeda core; its affiliates in many national states, including in the Maghreb in North Africa; its associates, who now fight under the umbrella of al-Qaeda; and self-starters, including in our own country. Although the latter are less professional, less prepared and less centrally controlled, they are thereby all the more dangerous because they are often clean skins and there is no way to trace back their connections and so on. I would have liked to have seen more on the Office of Security and Counter-terrorism and a little less complacency over the fact that we have undoubtedly been successful there.
I welcome the Government’s extra money on cyber issues but, so far as I can see, one thing is missing from the review: the cyber infrastructure is still a growing part of the critical national infrastructure but it is not in government hands. So, where is the interface that will bring together the academic, private and public sectors in order to ensure that this most serious and growing of threats is countered?
This review is good in parts. Some of it is sensible, some of it is inevitable, some of it is missing and some of it is incomprehensible. Our task is therefore surely to accept the inevitable, welcome the sensible, augment its weaknesses and revisit the incomprehensible, and to do it together. We owe that to the Armed Forces and the nation.
My Lords, when I put my name down to speak in this debate, I felt that I would probably be entering into a debate where there was a great deal more knowledge among the speakers than I have. I am afraid that has been confirmed to me on several occasions.
Having considered what should be the focal point of my contribution, I decided to talk about the problems of procurement. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, has just jumped all over what I was going to say with far bigger and heavier shoes than I have brought with me today, so all I will say is that everything that I have learnt about this subject boils down to the fact that the procurement process is definitely not fit for purpose, as he describes. The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, was the person who talked me through that.
When are we going to develop the courage to say, “Scrap this process, dump it and buy off the shelf?”. At the moment we do not do that, and things taper on. We say, “Oh, let the project bubble on and see if it catches up”, but that does not happen. That is the black hole in the procurement process. All Governments and anyone who has been involved in them share some of the blame here for saying, “We can’t have the most wonderful bit of kit going. Let’s see if we can get the bit of kit that is good enough to do the job and gives our troops in the field a decent chance of achieving that with minimal casualties”. Until we have enough courage to stop thinking like this, we are going to have problems.
The ability to buy off the shelf will mean that we have to have a balancing act between our own strategic industrial capacity and the problems in the field. If we have to structure that and admit to it, we may take some steps towards dealing with it. We cannot have a situation where we are running around and chasing our tails, keeping projects running and then saying, “This isn’t going to be ready—we need to buy something else”, thus incurring maintenance costs that are far in excess of what they would be if we said, “We’re going to do it ourselves or we will buy off the shelf”. When are we going to have something in place that says that we will do one or the other? Until we do, the great background costs—they are the great problem, rather than the upfront costs—will mean that we will never really address the black hole.
One of my noble friends asked before when we are going to develop a coherent attitude towards wars of choice—when do we fight and why? The previous Government got themselves drawn into situations where we sent the troops in. That is understandable. This is not a party political point; it is about the illusions of power—“Let’s just send something in to deal with this situation”. On several occasions the previous Government got away with it. On certain occasions before Iraq and Afghanistan, the consequences were not too bad for us and our troops, but then they suddenly got real. Unless the Government, the whole of Government, learn to say, “We cannot do things”, “We cannot intervene here”, “We cannot do it by ourselves” or “We will not go in just simply because an ally is going in”—once again, I am referring to Iraq; I forget how many undeployed American divisions there were—and build this into the structure of our decision-making process, we are going to continue to push ourselves into places where our structure for supply, troop numbers and planning will not be fit for purpose.
I will leave my comments there. Unless we are prepared to limit our posturing, given our limited defence capacity, we are going to get into serious trouble again and again.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am not surprised that the concentration on the financial situation and its driving position in the production of this review should be at the heart of what so many people are saying in this debate. Like other noble Lords, I am instinctively concerned about what appears to be a reduction in the size of the budget below what is required to do the job. Having been in the services myself, I know that their response, as always, will be to do as much as they can with what they have been given, despite those regrets. Like me, I am sure that those who have had the privilege of visiting those on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are always humbled by what they see and come back full of admiration, as well as a certain shame that those troops have not been given what they require to do the job.
Like other noble Lords who are in the services, I spent most of my career grappling with what are described in the defence review as the brutal certainties of the Cold War, as opposed to the different and more complex range of threats and myriad sources with which we are now faced. I do not happen to recognise that; the only certainty that we knew was the size of the armed force that had to be in Germany under the Brussels treaty and the length of the inner German border that we were meant to protect. Uncertainty surrounded us at all times. In particular, we knew that today’s campaign is going to be fought with yesterday’s weapons and tomorrow’s campaign is going to be fought with today’s. That reality is always with us because of the length of time that it takes to develop military equipment and the length of time that it has to be in service as against the speed of advancing technology.
One always operated in the knowledge that there were two definitions of the word “affordability”—one was, “Can you afford it?”, and the other was, “Can you afford to give up what you must in order to afford it?”. That is the question that we always felt was unanswered. I feel that very much today; while I welcome, for instance, the addition of cyberwarfare to the threats, I am concerned about the reduction in the numbers of destroyers or frigates, about aircraft carriers without aircrafts and the lack of maritime reconnaissance and about the lack of capability between the Tornado and the Apache in ground support in asymmetrical operations.
I am glad, though, that the Army is to rectify a problem that has been with it since the first Gulf War—namely, the size of operational units, which have proved to be so small that you have to go with masses of attachments from other units when you deployed on operations, meaning that those units in turn have to look around for people when they themselves have to go on operations, which causes intense disruption.
There are other aspects of the defence review on which I share the concerns of other noble Lords, but I shall concentrate particularly on one aspect. It is hinted at in paragraph 2.D.19, which talks about a sustainability review which the chiefs are meant to be completing by March next year. Like my noble and gallant friend Lord Boyce, I am extremely concerned about the thought of numbers. This takes me back to the Options for Change exercise when the one word that was on our lips all the time was “sustainability”—you must have enough to sustain operations, otherwise we will not be viable. I hope that numbers will be included in that. I say that because in paragraph 2.B.1 there is the statement that,
“these plans will only be effective if we retain and develop high-quality and highly motivated people”.
We must concentrate on them.
That leads me to the Armed Forces covenant, which has been mentioned already. It is a new concept. I do not recognise it from my service, nor, until recently, did my friends in the Navy and Air Force. The phrase “military covenant” had appeared in an Army document. I do not think that everybody appreciates what it means. The defence and security review states that it is,
“that vital contract between the Armed Forces, their families, our veterans and the country they sacrifice so much to keep safe. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to do more to support the men and women of our Armed Forces”.
I say, “Hear, hear”, to that, but what does it mean? I welcome the fact that Professor Hew Strachan has been invited to report on this to the Government. I understand that his report is to be published at the end of the month. Will the Government allow time for a proper debate on the military covenant when it is published? Such a debate will allow us to air all these personnel issues, which are so important.
Service men and women come from society and go back to society. The covenant amounts to the extra which society gives them in return for the service and sacrifice that they give. It stems from an ultimate loyalty upwards from people who know that there is going to be loyalty downwards, a loyalty that I regret to say has been stretched recently by the traducing of two senior officers, General Sir Sam Cowan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger, on the grounds that were responsible for defence cuts that contributed to the Nimrod crash. That sort of thing must stop, because once the chain of loyalty is broken you undermine the general feeling that the covenant is something that everyone supports.
At the heart of the covenant there is support for servicemen and veterans, and there are various players in it. The key player is government. I have asked on the Floor of this House in the past that there should be a Minister for Veterans not in the Ministry of Defence but at the heart of government in the Cabinet Office. The more I think of the support that veterans and families need, the more it is clear to me that it is absolutely in line with the big society. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that the Minister for Veterans should be the Minister for Civil Society, so that added responsibility is given to someone who already has a responsibility for dealing with all the ministries that have a hand in veteran affairs—the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions and so on.
Concern over pensions has been highlighted in letters today. While I do not propose to touch on that, I think that the allegation that Ministers have left letters unanswered runs counter to another aspect of the military covenant and does nothing for confidence in the system. I beg Ministers to look into this assiduously so that people can trust that their questions will be answered.
Your Lordships would expect me to say this, but I am also extremely concerned about the number of veterans who end up in the criminal justice system. There are many in probation; there are many in prison. That could and should be prevented if all the forces of law and order were ready to look after them and provide the support that they need. I commend Kent Police, which has piloted a scheme for identifying and doing something with them. I commend the Cheshire Probation Service, which has done the same in respect of probation. However, none of this can happen in isolation. It is terribly important that, in addition to government, the Armed Forces charities come together more. At this time, when we are all wearing poppies and the Royal British Legion is on everyone’s mind, I ask that organisation in particular to co-operate more with other charities. I am interested to hear that Help for Heroes is about to set up Army recovery centres and support a naval scheme in Plymouth. They are virtually one-stop shops to which veterans can come for mental health treatment, help with jobs and linking with society. That is an example of the sort of structure that society could support in the name of the Armed Forces covenant.
In a previous debate in this Chamber on the probation service, I wished that the clocks around this Chamber did not say, “0:10”, which is longer than I should have been speaking, but instead said, “PANT”, which stands for “people are not things”. If there is anything at the heart of any of this review that I would like to see on the desks of Ministers it is those four letters.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for securing this debate and privileged to be able to make a contribution to it, given that my own experience and knowledge of military matters are so limited compared with those of the many noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords who are contributing today.
I firmly believe that the maintenance of excellent Armed Forces is one of the reasons why Britain punches above its weight in the world. This is of inestimable value to our international trade and business and a prime reason, together with our strong and respected diplomatic presence around the world, for the continued prosperity of the City of London.
I spent 11 years representing a British firm in Japan. I always felt comfortable in the support that I derived from our embassy and from the perception of Britain and the kind of country it was as informed in part by my Japanese counterparts’ understanding of our diplomatic and military capabilities. I am certain that this support provides some relative business advantage to British nationals and representatives of British organisations overseas.
More directly, our defence industry comprises a significant part of our diminished manufacturing base. It will be very difficult for us to retain our technological supremacy and market share if our Armed Forces are reduced to the level of those of countries whose overseas interests are on a much more modest scale than ours. It is doubtful that defence exports can entirely make up for cancelled or reduced orders from the MoD. This will undoubtedly threaten our leading defence manufacturers’ position in the market, particularly as their American competitors are now aggressively stepping up their overseas sales efforts.
Surely, if the Government really believe, as they claim in the national security strategy, that,
“the first duty of government remains: the security of our country”,
and given that defence expenditure has already been cut by some 60 per cent as a proportion of GDP since the Falklands War, are there not now compelling reasons to freeze defence spending in proportionate terms?
The national security strategy also tells us that we are a country whose political, economic and cultural authority far exceeds our size. Surely it is therefore necessary to maintain Armed Forces commensurate with that authority in order to avoid depletion. Actually, to argue that we meet NATO's target of 2 per cent, which applies to all NATO members, most of which have many fewer international interests, is misleading. If you strip out the costs of the nuclear deterrent and the operational costs of being in Afghanistan, the future spending on core defence capabilities falls to significantly less than 2 per cent.
Worse than that, I ask my noble friend to tell the House whether he has considered the cost of the destruction of the value of military equipment already owned or purchased. The SDSR shows us that unfortunately defence is less important than deficit reduction. Furthermore, the SDSR also considers expenditure in cash flow terms. If you consider Defence plc to be a company whose shareholders are the taxpayers, the management would have looked at the balance sheet as well and taken much more account of the need to protect shareholder value. Management would surely never contemplate scrapping or selling at a discount valuable assets, quite apart from the loss of capability that results.
The SDSR admits that the resources allocated to defence over the next four years will result in the reduction of some capabilities that are less critical to today's requirements. I ask my noble friend by which criteria he judges that the retention of our ISTAR capabilities are in any way less than critical. Indeed, with changing emphasis in homeland defence and overseas commitments, the Nimrod MRA4 was destined to make a significant contribution to the fight against terrorism. The decision to scrap the Nimrod project is completely incomprehensible and wasteful, as £3.8 billion have been spent on the project to date and the fourth aeroplane out of nine is now being painted. The cost of maintaining the force amount to some £200 million a year and even if we could not afford that, will my noble friend explain why the Government did not decide to put it into a state of extended readiness similar to the second aircraft carrier where the same logic applies?
The destruction of shareholder value of Defence plc resulting from scrapping the project is serious. The serious impairment of our marine surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities that will result from it significantly increase the operational risks faced by our Trident nuclear submarines, our surface fleet, our new aircraft carrier when it eventually enters service, and indeed our merchant fleet.
As for search and rescue, the Government have claimed that the C-130 Hercules can replace the lost capability. That, unfortunately, is not true. The Hercules may be capable of throwing out a 12-man dinghy, but that is all. Does the Minister agree that it is accepted in the MoD that if we lose Nimrod’s capabilities now we will definitely need to recover them in the future and at much higher cost? Does he not agree that it is illogical to ring-fence spending on the nuclear deterrent but to scrap the capability necessary to protect it?
Other decisions that make little sense are the decision to scrap the existing carrier and Harrier early rather than keeping them until the new carriers and the Joint Strike Fighter are ready, and the decision to scrap the Sentinel ground surveillance aircraft after the end of the Afghanistan campaign, although there is at least time to reverse that decision. If it is not essential for us to have these capabilities now, why is it essential for us to replace them?
I congratulate my noble friend on his commitment to reduce waste and improve efficiency and procurement at the MoD. That is very necessary. Finally, I welcome the recognition given in SDSR to the Reserve Forces, which are increasingly integrated with our regular forces and are extremely cost-effective. In particular, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force is already configured around a range of specialist skills, which enables regular squadrons at home and in theatre to fill gaps with experienced reservists possessing the relevant training and skills. I am confident that this model will be endorsed by the forthcoming review of the Reserve Forces.
Time does not allow me to comment on many other points more ably covered by many other noble Lords. While I congratulate my noble friend on having reduced the cuts from the levels initially sought, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, and other noble Lords have said, it has been disingenuously put about that expenditure is being cut by only 7.5 per cent. Real cuts to core capabilities will be much more than this. In short, I join other noble Lords in regretting deeply that the SDSR pays insufficient attention to Britain’s strategic interests and that, if implemented as proposed, it will weaken our ability to continue to punch above our weight in the world, which will damage both the security and prosperity of future generations.
My Lords, perhaps I should start by declaring an interest as a former chairman of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body and a current vice-president of the War Widows Association. I shall concentrate my remarks on personnel issues in the Armed Forces. I regretted very much that the review, although referring to personnel, did not refer in as much detail as did the 1998 review to the issue of personnel, their careers and training and family matters.
This is the first major debate on defence that I can recall when we are missing Baroness Park of Monmouth, who was a substantial and ongoing supporter of personnel in the Armed Forces. Although we were on different sides of the political divide, we had no differences at all in the commitment and understanding, which she had, of the Armed Forces. I welcome very much the important contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Brompton.
We reflect today on the report of the loss of another one of our service personnel in Scott Hughes. That family this weekend must be trying to come to terms with the heartbreak of the loss of one of their family as a result of service to the nation. But we should bear in mind that it is not what we say about personnel that matters, but what we do and what the record shows that we have done as politicians, as government and ex-government, in support of personnel. I was considering that when I read the report in June of the Prime Minister’s commitment to have a military covenant made a legal document. I welcome that, but I would not welcome it too much until I see what is going to be in it, as it is not what you say but what you do.
The previous Government have taken quite a lot of criticism. It has become almost a mantra to blame them for all our ills today, and only history will put that record straight. As for the military covenant, as we are now calling it, the previous Government did a lot on school admissions and introduced for spouses credits and national insurance so they did not lose out when they went abroad with serving personnel. We also had major changes on pensions. For the first time, we treated widows as members in their own right of the Armed Forces pension scheme. Those kinds of improvements and changes make it clear that you mean what you say.
I welcome the Government’s decision to double the operational allowance for service personnel in Afghanistan, but there is much that I do not welcome. The strategic defence review of 1998 substantially covered personnel and carried through. I recall it being introduced at that time by a new Government who were looking at defence strategy and the previous Government having the record for the previous three years of giving Armed Forces personnel a split reward. That did not meet the recommendation of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, but cut it in two, which had an impact on their pay that year and an ongoing impact on their pensions from the state when they retired. That is not meeting the military covenant.
In this review, paragraph 2.B.3 states:
“We cannot shield the armed forces from the consequences of the economic circumstances”.
Why not? They are in a very special position. They are prepared to give up their lives—the ultimate price that any individual or a family can pay. Why does a group of people who are by no measure regarded as highly paid have to face those consequences? For me, the question is: do the Government intend or have it in mind, first, to change the remit of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body—a very independent body—and, secondly, possibly to stage the pay award which may be agreed and recommended by that body in a few months’ time?
Paragraph 2.B.7 says that there will be,
“a different approach to … accommodation”.
I welcome the Hew Strachan review and hope that we will be able to have a debate on it, but we know that accommodation and its quality—or lack of it, in many areas—was a thorn in the side of the previous Government, as it certainly is in the side of this Government. What does that imply regarding a change in accommodation? Certainly, that is, again, a poor area for service families. Servicemen and women go off to war, on operations or training, and their families are left living in some pretty awful conditions, much of which has been improved but with much still to be done. The previous Government invested an awful lot of money in improving accommodation.
I shall mention two other areas. Last year, we spent a lot of time in this House discussing the Coroners and Justice Bill. Within that, a number of us across the House—including the Minister on the Front Bench today—supported the changes that we sought regarding the inquests for Armed Forces personnel. The Bill was amended to provide for a chief coroner. It addressed the inquest issues that we had, about inquests taking as long as two years in some cases, and made them much friendlier to users and their families. The Government have now announced that they are abolishing the chief coroner’s role under the Public Bodies Bill which they have now brought forward. The British Legion said—I will leave it at this—that it thought that was a betrayal of what was agreed across parties by the previous Government. I want to thank the noble Lords on the Conservative Benches opposite who helped us to get those changes through, so I do not understand why the Government have now gone back on that.
My final point is in regard to the war widows. On the cusp at the end of the previous Government, it was agreed—but we never had time to implement it—that the pre-1975 war widows would not lose their meagre pension when they remarried. In fact, if their second husband died they had to go through a means test to get that pension back. It was agreed that that would finish and that they would not lose their pension. The cost was speculative, but we would be dealing with a very old age group. We were possibly dealing with £80 million over three or four decades—as low as £1 million a year, possibly, or as high as £4 million. Now the Government have said that they are not going to do that. I link that with the point which my noble friend Lord Hutton made in his admirable maiden speech about the change in pensions.
The military covenant has to be one which is enduring, which goes through the good times and the bad without impacting unfairly on our Armed Forces personnel. I close by asking the Minister whether, when we have the Hew Strachan review during the latter part of this month, we can have a debate on that. Can we also have a debate specifically on personnel in the Armed Forces, rather than the situation which we have today? I understand and welcome it, but this is about the whole review and with the concentration on the hardware and on a lot of issues which, while touching on the Armed Forces personnel, is not about their overall well-being or how we treat them. I would very much welcome indeed the opportunity to have an in-depth debate on those issues.
My Lords, may I, a bit belatedly, welcome the Minister to his job and say how grateful we are for the way in which he keeps us in touch with some of the issues being discussed? However, he will recognise from the tone of this debate all around the Chamber that there are deep concerns about the capabilities of our Armed Forces and about re-equipping them. I hope that he will take back the message that this House, certainly, is not too pleased.
I should like to concentrate on a few key issues. First, I believe that the speed with which the review was conducted meant that it was not really a strategic defence review at all. It was more about agreeing a financial settlement and trying in particular to tie down which capabilities should be kept. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, has brought up issues that clearly affect not only the Royal Navy but others as well.
I recognise that our campaign in Afghanistan must have priority. But there are no quick fixes for that campaign, and it makes me very edgy when I hear people predicting dates when drawdown might begin. Progress is being made in Afghanistan, but we have to recognise that we are in for the long haul, and I sense that we may have to reinforce rather than withdraw or cut down our commitment. At the same time, it would clearly be a strategic mistake to suggest timelines for when this withdrawal should take place.
I also appreciate that it is very difficult to carry out a fundamental and strategic defence review against the backdrop of Afghanistan. It is right that the Government are going to protect our main effort in Afghanistan, but doing that while attempting to build a military capability and force structure for the future is not easy. In fact, it is a very real challenge. Predicting likely challenges without retaining a spectrum of capabilities across the spectrum of conflict means that we will not be able to participate in some of the more complex campaigns in the future.
It has never been easy, particularly when you are heavily committed to a testing campaign in Afghanistan, to concentrate on the future. Predicting the strategic challenges 10 to 15 years ahead means that we must look at those capabilities we think we might require in the future, not just concentrating on Afghanistan. We have not been good about predicting the future, so we have to have that range of capabilities. We did not predict the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands; we did not predict the speed of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany; we did not predict the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, nor did we expect Mr Bush to invade the other way round. I am trying to reinforce the importance of maintaining Armed Forces that have capabilities across the spectrum of conflict. I am talking about all three Armed Forces. We have already heard some examples today, such as questions about keeping the Nimrod aircraft. I think it is an extraordinarily bad decision to get rid of Nimrod.
I am asking for the Government to look at those capabilities we require to allow us to take part in operations across the spectrum of conflict, from low intensity at one end right through to high intensity at the other, and then say what capabilities they believe are necessary to meet the operational challenges.
I recognise the urgent need to bring some order to the fundamentally and financially overheated future defence budget which the Government inherited and on which some tough decisions will have to be made. But there will be a high cost in cancelling some of the contracts because of the way in which they have been drawn up. I find it extraordinary that if the carrier is so critical to the future of our defence and our maritime capability, why are Her Majesty’s Government prepared to get rid of our present capability and wait 10 years for its air and carrier replacement? Ten years is a long time in this unstable world.
Let me change track and welcome the importance given to NATO. It is fundamentally important to maintain the United States link to Europe. A lot of people talk about this link but do not give it the attention it deserves. We should not be complacent about United States support for Europe. I sense in my visits to the United States a growing feeling that America is getting frustrated with Europe and, in that frustration, is becoming frustrated with NATO. It would be a strategic mistake if we lost American commitment to NATO.
Finally, I conclude with two quite small but important points. I hope that the Prime Minister will reinstitute what I believe was the longstanding tradition of an annual visit, with his staff, to the Ministry of Defence, and spend at least a morning there, ideally a day, so that he hears at first hand what challenges are facing the military. I also hope that we are going to reinstitute the command post exercise, which used to be held every other year, based on the difficult decisions around using the independent nuclear deterrent. That exercise was not only educational but also gave some key politicians and officials instruction on the realities of military power, particularly with respect to the independent deterrent. It was certainly a wonderful way of educating not only No. 10 but FCO officials and others. I believe it was started—but I may be wrong—by the noble Lord, Lord King.
Finally, the subject of people has been touched on by a number of noble Lords today. Our sailors, soldiers and airmen—and, I stress, their families—are our most priceless asset and a wonderful advertisement for the United Kingdom and the nation. The challenges they face, and the demands we place on them and their families, are at the moment very considerable. I advise the Government to handle any changes to things such as allowances and conditions of service with extreme care. Having served in the 1970s when servicemen, particularly in the Army, were leaving in droves, I say that we face a serious manning and morale problem, not least among the brightest corporals and young officers who are the future of any worthwhile Armed Forces. The operational pressure on them now is greater than it was then. The danger of people leaving early as the economy picks up needs particular attention. People are our most important asset.
My Lords, first of all, I apologise in advance to the House if I have to leave before the end of the debate. I have to be in Suffolk to chair a meeting of the Marlesford Parish Council at 7 pm which was fixed many months ago. As parish councils are the grass roots of democracy, I hope noble Lords will understand my priorities and excuse me.
I want to focus on only one point: the role of the Civil Service, particularly the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence. As we have heard from so many noble Lords, our national defence, and thus the MoD, is facing a crisis of matching resources and commitments.
There are three components to the great department of the MoD. Obviously there is the political leadership under the Secretary of State and his team of Ministers. Perhaps I may say that we are very lucky to have my noble friend Lord Astor, who was not only a regular serving officer but is of course the grandson of the great Field Marshal Haig. More importantly, however, he has devoted himself untiringly to defence matters in your Lordships' House for many years. In these days when so few Members of another place have served in Her Majesty’s forces, it is good that one of the other Ministers is my honourable friend Andrew Robathan, a regular officer in the Coldstream Guards, in which I did my national service some decades ago, and of course he was in the SAS.
Then, there is the military component of the MoD, under the service chiefs and the Chief of the Defence Staff himself. However, it is the leadership of the Civil Service at the MoD that I want to discuss. Historically, the MoD has produced some of our most distinguished public servants and has indeed provided part of the elite for the summits of Whitehall. Even I can remember great names like Eddie Playfair and Ned Dunnett.
The Permanent Secretary at the MoD has to guide, manage and inspire a vast department, with its military, scientific and technical, and intelligence components. There is also the procurement function, on which, as we have already heard, the prosperity and success of an important sector of British industry—and, therefore, much of our economy—depends. One function that the Permanent Secretary does not have is that of shop steward for the civil servants in the MoD. Perhaps the most crucial function of the Permanent Secretary is to have at all times a clear strategic vision of Britain’s defence capability, especially when Governments change.
What are the necessary qualifications for this demanding role? An obvious prerequisite is an outstanding intellect, of the sort that the Civil Service has, at least historically, succeeded in attracting. I believe that there are five other interdependent attributes for success: respect, trust, authority, integrity and experience. In the list of Permanent Secretaries over the past 30 years, three names stand out: Sir Frank Cooper, Sir Clive Whitmore and Sir Michael Quinlan. I was lucky enough to count two of them as personal friends. When I did my stint as a special adviser in the Heath Government, Frank Cooper was my immediate Civil Service boss. He had a distinguished war record as an RAF pilot. When he retired from the MoD in 1983, he was made a privy counsellor. Michael Quinlan, a fellow of All Souls and perhaps the cleverest man of his generation in Whitehall, was responsible for designing Britain’s nuclear strategy, which has served us so well. I got to know Michael Quinlan when he was director of the Ditchley Foundation.
More recent years have not been happy ones. We all remember that when the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, became Home Secretary in 2006, he famously and rightly denounced the Home Office as “not fit for purpose”. As I have previously pointed out in debate, that part of the Home Office that attracted his ire was the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, the director-general of which, until 2005, was Bill Jeffrey, who was then promoted to be Permanent Secretary at the MoD. He retired last month, leaving behind him, it appears, a pretty good mess. His succession was of vital national importance.
Last week Mrs Ursula Brennan, whom I have never met and know nothing about personally, took over as Permanent Secretary at the MoD. I looked up her career to see how it fitted with the criteria that I have set out. As to experience, she has been at the MoD for exactly two years. She had no previous experience in that department and, as far as I can see, none of a military or defence nature. Her career began at ILEA; then she was at the DHSS for 25 years, where she dealt with benefits policy and administration, and then IT. She moved to the Department for Work and Pensions and then to Defra, where she was responsible for rural disadvantage, wildlife and the countryside—all important policy areas for a farmer such as me. However, I am not sure that Defra is an obvious staff college for those destined to lead our national security. Most recently she has been concerned with reform at the Ministry of Justice. It is, frankly, a perplexing appointment. That Ursula Brennan meets the criterion of integrity I do not for one instant doubt. As to respect, trust and authority, I can only echo the late Iain Macleod who, referring to the transfer of George Brown to the Foreign Office, said, “I only hope … oh well, I only hope”.
My Lords, I became deeply involved in defence when, in 1997, I was made the No. 10 representative on the strategic defence review steering group. It was a wonderful experience. I gained enormous respect for the ministerial team that led that review, all of whom now grace the Benches of this House. My noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen led the review with tact, decisiveness and a quality of judgment that were wonderful to behold, and was very ably supported by the noble Lords, Lord Reid of Cardowan and Lord Gilbert. I also gained a lot of respect for the civil servants and military who advised him. Those military personnel were then led by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank. I ended up being an unqualified admirer of our Armed Forces, even after the Navy subjected me to the terrifying experience of making me climb up a rope ladder on to a destroyer.
I should like to reflect a little on the lessons of the past 13 years that should have been learnt by the current review. First, the Labour Government should have carried out more defence reviews. Excellent as was the 1997-98 review, we should have had another early in the 2001 Parliament after 9/11 to look at the consequences of that, and a third at the start of the 2005 Parliament to draw conclusions from what happened in Iraq and from the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Fighting two wars of this intensity simultaneously was not in our 1997-98 planning assumptions, and although the Labour Government always—despite allegations to the contrary—fully funded the operational requirements of the forces from the contingency reserve, the consequence was a hollowing out of our force structures as a result of the strains put on equipment and people who were being asked to do more than had been anticipated. This review has gone well beyond hollowing out; what we see is amputation, and this is not a sustainable solution for the long term.
The second lesson is that when Governments carry out defence reviews, they should fully fund them. Defence should not be seen as something that can be raided to fund social programmes—and I say this from the Labour side—as it fulfils a vital role for all Governments, including Labour Governments. In 1998, we fudged the money a little by claiming that there was a sort of pot of fool’s gold called 3 per cent a year efficiency savings. A lot of efficiency savings can be made in the MoD. Indeed, the proposals in the 1998 review regarding logistics and the attempt to reform procurement were intended to achieve efficiency savings. Certainly, it is clear from Bernard Gray’s excellent independent report that he produced for John Hutton that procurement has not been smart and there is a lot further to go. There will always be an element of politics in procurement decisions, and Bernard’s recommendation on setting up an arm’s-length body will not get rid of that entirely but it will make the process more transparent.
I do not believe that we should decide to build a new generation of submarine deterrents—nor do I think anyone else does—just because we want to preserve the Barrow shipyard, though, as a Cumbrian, I very much want to do that. Nor do I think we should build aircraft carriers just because they will be refitted at Rosyth. But, equally, we should not fool ourselves that free market principles of open competition can be applied simply as a dogma as regards defence. The ability to manufacture complex, high-tech equipment is something that we should want to maintain in Britain, or in co-operation with our European partners, out of a concern to maintain an advanced industrial policy and our own strategic capabilities. The review is largely silent on this issue, promising a further policy statement—but this is crucial.
Thirdly, our defence planning should be built on a clear concept of Britain's role in the world. It is becoming conventional wisdom that Tony Blair got all this wrong; that his belief in military intervention was conceptually flawed and committed us beyond our resources; and that Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated very painfully the limits of military power. The present Government do not say this explicitly, but I feel that they believe it. William Hague's talk of a stronger concept of national interest suggests the implicit rejection of a values-based foreign and defence policy. In retrospect, I have come to the conclusion—I know that other noble Lords will disagree—that Tony Blair made an honest misjudgement on Iraq. Also, the priority of Iraq over Afghanistan—which was the US’s priority in the middle of the previous decade—allowed the Taliban to rebuild its position and, as a result, now makes the war in Afghanistan very difficult if not impossible to win, at least in the nation-building terms that Tony Blair outlined in his wonderful speech to the Labour conference in 2001. I was interested in the judgment of the Institute for Strategic Studies on this in its recent report.
In these circumstances, the bravery of our service men and women, and their appalling losses of life and limb, cause me to feel intense admiration and immense distress in equal measure. However, it would be a great mistake to draw from the experience of the past decade the conclusion that humanitarian military intervention is fundamentally misconceived. The defence policy assumptions of the late 1990s were based on their own judgments of “never again”. Never again, because of lack of strategic airlift, would we find ourselves helpless to stop genocide in Rwanda. Never again would Europe, because of a lack of effective firepower when the Americans were reluctant to act, be a helpless bystander in the face of appalling atrocities in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia.
Humanitarian intervention did work in Kuwait in the early 1990s and, with eventual US support, in Bosnia and then Kosovo. British intervention saved democracy and thousands of lives in Sierra Leone. There are just wars and interventions. Tony Blair got it right most of the time. The ultimate question is one of judgment about where military power can be effective and where it cannot. However, one cannot make those judgments unless the Government have provided effective resources and forces to be deployed. We cannot allow wrong conclusions drawn from the past decade to lead to military and moral retreat.
That brings me to my final point about Britain's relations with America and Europe. The advent of the Obama Administration represented a wonderful opportunity to rebuild the transatlantic alliance between a multilateralist United States and a values-based Europe. It is a profound regret that Europe has not sufficiently stepped up to the table. However, I challenge the assumption that, because of part of Europe's feebleness, Britain must continue to design its defence posture on the very expensive assumption that we must be capable of fighting independently alongside the United States in future wars. I wonder whether this is a sustainable political concept. For instance, if we had a Tea Party-backed Republican President appealing to an angry and frustrated American public who wanted to show that they can punch their enemies on the nose, would the British public support that kind of military action? I believe better planning assumption is that we would fight with the Americans only when our principal European allies were willing to do so as well. Not only does that make great sense, but it is absolutely vital to build common defence capabilities with our European partners. I hope that will drag our partners to accept more responsibility themselves.
I congratulate the Government on their defence treaties with the French. Surely, that must be the way forward. I welcome Liam Fox and David Cameron to the world of European co-operative partnership, as they describe it—I call it pooled sovereignty but I do not see much difference. In a review that leaves so many major gaps in our key capabilities, surely, instead of being reluctant about European co-operation, the Government should now embrace it with enthusiasm.
My Lords, as a young man, I had what I consider to be the great good fortune: to have been trained and educated to become a professional engineer by what was then the Admiralty and to be prepared to become a manager in one of her Majesty's then several Royal Naval dockyards in Portsmouth, which we all know is the home of the Royal Navy. So I have great affinity with the remarks made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce. I do not want to try to emulate the considered remarks made by many noble and gallant Lords today, but I would like to look at another aspect of the SDSR, particularly the concerns about security and stability.
In the foreword to the review, the point is made that:
“We must find more effective ways to tackle risks to our national security—taking an integrated approach, both across government and internationally, to identify risks early and treat the causes, rather than having to deal with the consequences”.
In the review, the Government propose to do that by doubling DfID investment in tackling and preventing conflict within ODA rules by recognising the direct link between instability and conflict. When we fail to prevent conflicts, the military interventions which might follow cost far more.
The SDSR confirms that ODA funding is to double in real terms by 2015 for failed states. That is in recognition of the lessons that have been learnt in dealing with fragile and conflict-affected states. That additional funding brings with it additional challenges in the management of disbursements, the monitoring of audit control and, of course, the monitoring of delivery of that aid. In my view, there has to be robust oversight of the way in which taxpayers’ money is being spent. The most effective way is through accountability to Parliament. Parliament needs to know where ODA disbursement is going and it needs to see it being disbursed transparently. That delivery of aid and development for security and stabilisation has to be seen to be effectively monitored and properly evaluated.
I understand that the Government plan to achieve transparency in aid by establishing what I believe is called an independent commission for aid, by introducing what is called an aid transparency guarantee, and by the intention to press for an international aid transparency initiative. They are all very valuable concepts and strategies. To whom will the commission be accountable? For aid effectiveness to be assured, Parliament needs to have full oversight and full scrutiny of such a body, particularly when the public are facing swingeing cuts. MPs will want to be able to reassure their constituents that ODA is taxpayers’ money well spent.
The stability unit aims to be at the cutting edge of delivering the programme of stability and security in failing states, which is a very important and valuable arm of our whole approach to security. Other donor nations are following the United Kingdom's example. The stability unit is the hub which collects, analyses and disseminates the lessons that are to be based on the experience fed back from deployed personnel. I understand that at the moment stability unit personnel are deployed in about a dozen countries, five of which are in Africa, including two in the Government’s concept and designation of the most fragile states, Sudan and Somalia.
You cannot underestimate the impact of conflict on development, security and stability. Twenty-two of the world's 34 most failing states are in or emerging from conflict. The cost of conflict in Africa from 1990 to 2005 is estimated to have been $284 billion. In the past decade, there has been a 50 per cent increase in deaths from crisis situations, particularly from starvation through food shortages. To cite our Prime Minister:
“I think we are mad if we do not put money into mending broken states, where so many of the problems of poverty arise”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/10; col. 816.]
In their funding of conflict prevention in fragile states in Africa, I urge the Government not to overlook the issues and problems in the Great Lakes region. It is okay to say that Sudan is our top priority as a failed state, but there are other implications in the region that have the potential to be just as, if not more, serious. In the White Paper, Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty, the Government note that they must tackle the root causes of instability, with an emphasis on fragile states, but I want them to recognise the need for regional security and reform—regional justice mechanisms, combined with regional institutional strengthening.
There is a prime example of why we need such a regional strategy for failing states. Take, for example, the Lord's Resistance Army, which is now becoming a particular problem in the Great Lakes region. The LRA started in Uganda in the late 1980s. It was forced out of Uganda by improved security and settled in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it is now affecting South Sudan. It is estimated that the LRA has killed more than 2,000 people, abducted more than 2,500 and displaced more than 400,000. Clearly, co-ordination between regional UN missions is weak and information sharing pretty limited. According to the 2010 Failed States Index, Somalia came first, Sudan came third, but the DRC is fifth—too close to be ignored.
Can the Minister confirm that the Government's stability and security strategy will extend to include the DRC, Rwanda and the Great Lakes region? There are growing concerns over the blurring of lines between the roles, responsibilities and objectives of civilian and military participants in delivering aid and introducing stability. That threatens not only the humanitarian space but the effectiveness of aid delivery. Aid work has become more difficult and dangerous in conflict zones where we also have military involvement—in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in particular. Local aid workers—local nationals—are the vast majority in the field. As we know, they are now being targeted by terrorists where the aid that they deliver is seen to have become militarised.
In other theatres where we have no military presence—Sudan, Somalia, the DRC, and so forth—aid staff are increasingly at risk from criminals engaged in kidnapping and ransom. We have to question the competence of military organisations to deliver aid and state building programmes as an adjunct to their primary task: providing security and stability. Can the Minister shed some light on the Government’s plans to create a holistic approach to delivering aid and providing security in conflict states?
The Government have stated that their aid programme will be results-driven with full transparency and disclosure of payments and disbursements. There remains a key issue of tackling international corruption, which blights development delivery and neuters economic progress. For example, the OECD confirms that tax evasion and corruption cost more than the entire international aid programme—in fact, equivalent to four times the sum of money needed to fund the whole of the millennium development goal programme each and every year.
I recognise that this debate is long and that many people wish to make their contributions, so I will finish my remarks. I endorse the plan to support our national security by increasing aid in a range of conflict-affected and fragile countries to some 30 per cent of the official development assistance budget. I believe it is good for development and poverty reduction. It enhances national security and the long-term interest in supporting stability. It enables us to tackle foreign conflict upstream more effectively across government with diplomats, military and development experts working together to support each other.
My Lords, I very much welcome the profile that the current security and defence debate has given to the whole business of defence over recent months. The national security strategy is a very commendable attempt to look into the future and isolate the threats and risks that we face so that we are in the best place to deal with them. However, like many other noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords, I am quite clear that it is always the unexpected that happens, and it will be the unexpected that happens next time.
The national security strategy states in its introduction that:
“The security of our Nation is the first duty of Government”,
and goes on to say:
“The Coalition Government has given national security the highest priority”.
Set against being a wealthy nation and an SDSR stating:
“The Armed Forces are at the core of our nation's security”,
it seems, sadly, that these notions are patently not carried through, and I cannot help but reflect that as a country we seem to be rather bad at defence reviews. We either get them wrong because we do not resource them properly when we have come up with a good answer, or we do not think about them thoroughly enough in the first place. I fear that this defence review suffers from both those defects, and the distraction of a special alliance with France is no substitute for ensuring that our own military house is in good order.
At first reading, it seems that all three services have lost a similar number of personnel and each has lost a bit of its equipment. In terms of our envisaged deployments, the largest now is a third smaller than it has been until this moment, the brigade-sized force for deployment is equally a third smaller and we have a few less tanks, guns, ships and aircraft. An outsider looking in might well be forgiven for judging that the review is merely a salami-slicing exercise with equal pain for everybody and that same outsider might see it as a touch incoherent. If as a student at staff college I had suggested to my instructor that we would have an aircraft carrier but no aircraft to fly off it, or that we should spend £1 billion or more on a new aircraft carrier only for it to be put immediately into mothballs, or that a minuscule garrison, such as that on the Falklands, would be sufficient to stave off a surprise attack from a determined enemy, I would certainly not be standing before noble Lords now.
However, they are the easy targets. What I would like to do is focus on something that is much less visible to the readers of the SDSR but is more insidious in the longer term. It is about our men and women, who have already been mentioned by one or two noble Lords. I will have to use the Army as the example or it will get too complicated, but please read across for the other two services. The physical effect that an army can have, even when it is constrained by resources, can be multiplied by the reputation that that army has in the minds of its enemies and allies alike. The reputation of the British Army comes from the soldiers who man it, and they exhibit a very particular cocktail of characteristics. The British soldier has always been somebody seeking a bit of roving and adventure, even with the off-chance that he might have to lay down his life for his country. In the past decade alone, we have seen him in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not surprising therefore that this busy little Army is well recruited. But the soldier now reads that,
“we will be more selective in our use of the Armed Forces, deploying them decisively at the right time but only where key UK national interests are at stake; where we have a clear strategic aim; where the likely political, economic and human costs are in proportion to the likely benefits and”—
“where we have a viable exit strategy”.
Oh, that we should be able to achieve all of that when we do everything. But “more selective” than what? We may be more selective than we were about Iraq, but are we going to stop being good members of NATO or deny our friends in need a bit of help? Indeed, we have just made a new French friend. You cannot shape the battlefield from Whitehall and exit strategies will always be contingent upon events in theatre. What is more, idle hands will make Tommy a very dull boy.
The British soldier's sense of professionalism is of central importance to him. Question it, or undermine it, and you upset him greatly. His equipment too is of great consequence to him and adds to his sense of self-worth. The notion of extended readiness, for those noble Lords who read into the review, is not one that brings comfort to him. It smacks of a first and a second XI, and every time there is pressure on the budget the readiness gets extended even further, training opportunities reduce and equipment is in even shorter supply, and the second XI drops even further behind. The British soldier is the first to know that a gas rattle is no substitute for a rifle and live ammunition. He will be the first to seek employment elsewhere if he sees the Army to which he belongs becoming hollow and he seems to be losing the skills and self-esteem.
Financial reward has never been, and today still is not, his mainspring, but he expects to be treated fairly, and he wants and needs to be valued by the nation that he serves. But he now has uncertainties about his terms and conditions of service as he sees the continuity of education allowance, public service pensions, housing and post-service medical care all under pressure. As we have heard already, and as we shall see shortly, Professor Hew Strachan's report will make clear that there is a long way to go before we can be satisfied that the so-called military covenant is properly in place.
Even within the initial reduction of 7,000 in the Army, we will see people returning from operational duty to find that they are being made redundant. Many noble Lords will have seen that unedifying interview on the television of the Harrier pilot at Joint Headquarters who expressed, with suppressed anger and frustration, that he was being done out of a job. What price a fair deal?
On the wider front, the Army is coming home. But we have no real idea of how much leaving Germany will cost us. We will need to leave everything in the exact order and acceptable condition that the Germans want, and we have no real idea of the costs of rebarracking and providing training facilities for 20,000 troops and rehousing their families here. Those costs will lie where they fall, to the detriment of all of us—something that is very apparent to our commanders. We should not underestimate how damaging the cumulative effect of all of this can be on both recruiting and retention, but equally on the quality of those who seek to join the services. It may not be noticeable for several years, but it will become apparent, not least among our special forces.
Like many noble Lords, I too fear that this defence review has failed us again. It has not been sufficiently strategic; it has been done at such a speed that it has not been thorough enough; its outcome is not resourced; and, while I accept that there are some industrial and procurement handcuffs that have had to be considered, it has been driven, rather than constrained by, resources. Only time will tell, but this defence review could well be the catalyst for an irreversible outflow of quality and we may have embarked on a course in which the consequence, unintended or not, will be a steady dilution of the excellence of our Armed Forces.
My Lords, during the previous Parliament, I had an opportunity to go to Camp Bastion in Helmand and on to Kandahar. The experience left me alternatively proud and humble. I felt humble because of the easy life that I live in your Lordships’ House compared to the daily challenges faced by our men and women in Camp Bastion and, in particular, the forward operating bases. I felt proud because they were such a professional group of men and women ready to do their best for their country.
Even flying in across that huge and rugged terrain showed the danger of willing the ends without willing the means. As we held discussions at Bastion, two things became very clear: that we had, and I think still have, a persistent shortage of helicopter lift capacity; and that has there been a slow—some out there would say an unconscionably slow—development of adequately armoured vehicles for transporting personnel. Particularly this weekend, we need to recognise that a heavy price is being paid for those failures. I have my views on how such failures have occurred, but this is not the time to introduce a partisan note. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, I will leave history to be the judge.
As many other noble Lords have said, we are now a medium-size power and we have to keep this at the forefront of our mind if we are to avoid again confusing means and ends. We are a medium-size power with a population of 60 million and a power with a period of extreme financial stringency ahead that must necessarily inform and guide our actions. I welcome the document that we are debating today because it provides a reality check and some common sense.
I welcome the document in particular for two reasons, the first of which is its emphasis on cyberoperations. Last year, I had the privilege of serving under my noble friend Lord Jopling on a European Union Committee inquiry into cyberwarfare that resulted in the report Protecting Europe against large-scale cyber-attacks. The scale of cybercrime, cybersnooping and cyberintelligence was an eye-opener to me. The use of botnets, Trojan malwares and other extraordinarily named devices provides a cheap and easily disguised way of causing maximum damage. Therefore, I welcome the fact that we are putting increased emphasis on cybersecurity. However, by its very nature, that is not a national but an international problem. The European Network and Information Security Agency is inconveniently—and, in my view, unhappily—based in Heraklion in Crete, but, be that as it may, it is an international and a European response. I was disappointed that the review gives a higher priority to linking with the United States than to linking with ENISA.
Secondly, I welcome the renewed attention being paid to the Armed Forces covenant, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, have referred. I should declare an interest as chairman of the Armed Forces Charities Advisory Committee. Inter alia, the covenant provides for reasonable periods at home between unaccompanied overseas tours. I regret to say that in recent years, the line between those periods has become increasingly blurred. Putting that right is not just a matter of honour—although it is a matter of honour—but a matter of practicality. I am not a military man, but I believe that, if the practice continues unchecked, it will have an increasingly serious impact on the manning of our Armed Forces. That will not be seen at the junior recruit level because young men and women are footloose and fancy free—as they should be—but the middle ranks of officers and NCOs, who represent the backbone of our forces, have wives, husbands and children. There is a danger that they will vote with their feet.
In that connection, as the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, said, we need to get to the root of today’s article in the Times. It cannot be that a corporal who loses both legs in a bomb blast will miss out on £500,000 in pension and benefit-related payments. We must discover what the truth of that is—I have no idea whether it is true—and get to the bottom of it if we are to keep faith with our men and women in the Armed Forces.
For the rest of my remarks, I should like to turn to the second half of the strategy, which is described on page 9 as follows:
“to shape a stable world, by acting to reduce the likelihood of risks affecting the UK or our interests overseas, and applying our instruments of power and influence to shape the global environment”.
We have done less well on this part of the review than on the military side. I fear that we live in a world of increasing intolerance and, above all, of an unwillingness to compromise. We live in a world in which to compromise is to be seen to be weak and is portrayed as such, yet the readiness to compromise is the essential oil that keeps a pluralistic democracy functioning.
The challenges of Muslim fundamentalism are well documented, but we are starting to see the emergence of movements with similar certainties in Western countries, most recently with the rise of the Tea Party movement in the United States. It has been written that, for fundamentalists,
“their people are a chosen people who have a special covenant with the Creator, everything should be good in their lives and land as long as they hold to His law. Things are going wrong; therefore the covenant needs to be renewed and those that have strayed from the path must be brought back into the fold, or cast out”.
For the Tea Party,
“The constitution is the new 10 commandments for God’s chosen people. It is not negotiable. The problem with this fundamentalism—as with Islamic, Jewish, Hindu ... is that there is no dialogue to be had, no pragmatic give and take with those outside the movement of the true believers … The process of democratic politics risks breaking down”.
That will have an impact on foreign affairs, too. In an interesting article in the Financial Times, Mr Gideon Rachman wrote:
“The Tea Party … are liable to interpret setbacks and frustrations, at home and abroad, not as a consequence of the inevitable and growing constraints on American power—but as a result of some sort of ‘stab in the back’, whether by ‘liberal elites’ in Washington, or conniving foreigners overseas. That, in turn, risks leading to an unstable foreign policy that is aggressive, self-righteous and self-pitying in equal measures.”
So what does a medium-size power such as the UK do to encourage the millions of non-fundamentalists to continue to believe that a pluralistic, liberal system can help maintain a more stable world for us all to live in? We should not, I regret to say, send an aircraft carrier—with or without aircraft—as such an approach will tend to reinforce mindsets rather than change them. We need now to focus on what has become known as our “soft power” assets. For various reasons, the United Kingdom is particularly well placed in this field: the English language has become the world’s lingua franca; we have world class universities and what Chatham House has described as world-class knowledge assets, including the Ditchley Foundation, the Defence Academy, Wilton Park and so on; we have the British Council; and we have the BBC overseas service. In the short time remaining to me, I shall focus on the latter.
As I understand it, the funding of the overseas service will pass from the Foreign Office to the BBC. Some argue that this is a welcome development that gives further evidence of the service’s editorial independence from the Government—the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, did so in yesterday’s debate—but the decision raises real concerns. First, the BBC is operationally hard-wired to provide news for the United Kingdom. Indeed, its charter requires that and I am not sure whether the present charter agreement even permits the BBC to fund the overseas service. My noble friend may care to look at the detail of the agreement—on page 39, paragraph 75—where the issue is laid out. Secondly, and no less important, the BBC is structurally oriented towards its domestic audience. The trust, the ultimate protector, has representatives from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but where is the champion for the overseas service?
That is not to say that the overseas service is perfect—it is not—but the ability to project impartial news to people who cannot get it elsewhere, and often to do so in their own language, is a vital contribution to the soft power of this country. We need to ensure that, in an age of financial stringency, there are adequate protections against a slash-and-burn approach to what may become an orphan service.
As I said at the outset, I support the review—but there is more to do to weld all these soft power assets into a coherent approach to the benefit of this country and the world.
My Lords, I should declare an interest as I have a stepson who is a senior engineer officer and a cousin who is a deck officer, both in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. I do not come to the debate with military experience but I do come from a background of seafarers, including master mariners, on both sides of my family. I have been closely associated with the sea and have always maintained a close interest in defence matters.
There is little more important than the security of our nation, not least when we are a maritime nation and nearly all of our goods arrive by sea. Of course, Afghanistan is the number one priority, and it is right that the Government should say that they will not do anything that will have an adverse effect on our operations there—although I find it difficult to understand, if it is correct, that there appears to be a reduction in the number of Chinooks ordered by the Labour Government. Given the excoriation of the Labour Government for allegedly not providing enough helicopters, there is now an uncharacteristic silence from the other side of the House and their friends in the press. There can never be enough helicopters to do the heavy lifting in Afghanistan. I therefore look forward to the Minister explaining why the case for more helicopters appears to have suddenly changed. Is this on military advice or on Treasury advice?
I now turn to the issue of the aircraft carriers without fixed-wing capability. We must now be a laughing stock in military and political circles throughout the world. Friends of mine in Australia and Canada certainly think it is a bit of a giggle, but it is much too serious a matter for that. Why are we getting rid of the highly versatile Harrier? Such carrier-borne aircraft can make all the difference if, for example, we have to extract British and perhaps other citizens from some war-torn or failed state. We did it in Sierra Leone. Who is to say that such a situation will not arise somewhere else? We did not foresee Sierra Leone. We certainly did not foresee the Falklands when the Government of the day were busily planning to sell HMS Invincible to the Australians and withdrawing our ice patrol ship.
The Falklands war provided a classic example of where defence planning assumptions about foreseeable problems can go horribly wrong. Planning assumptions and cuts were seen as a weakness to be exploited. For the future, it is difficult to perceive that not being able to fly any fixed-wing aircraft from an aircraft carrier for a decade or more can possibly be seen as a position of strength. The decision to scrap the Harrier is a grave mistake.
Of course, all Governments can and do make mistakes. I think that it was a Labour Government who scrapped the carrier-borne airborne early warning Fairey Gannet aircraft. This was a very effective aircraft that gave the fleet early warning of enemy aircraft attacking at low level. No doubt that was done on military advice. So we did not have the Gannet in the Falklands, and the Argentine air force was brilliantly able to exploit that gap with its low-level attacks. We lost a lot of brave sailors, troops and fine ships of the Royal Navy, the merchant navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Had the Argentines been able to correctly prime all the bombs that hit our ships, the outcome would have been catastrophic. Much of that might have been mitigated if we had had those little airborne early-warning Fairey Gannets. For the want of a few Harriers, we may make a similar mistake.
Whatever the planners plan, and whatever assumptions they make about possible flashpoints, the only certainty is that we do not know what the next few years might bring. Of course we must do our best in planning for the future, but the best plan of all is belt and braces. There is no strategic sense in not keeping some of these wonderfully versatile assets, such as the Harrier. There is no strategic sense in having flat-top ships not able to fly anything but helicopters. Will the Minister accept that this is an exercise that is in complete contradiction to the views so recently expressed by the Secretary of State for Defence? Will he accept that the gaps created by the demise of the Harrier will be an exercise in political fingers being tightly crossed for the next decade lest it all goes horribly wrong? The trouble with it going horribly wrong is that we could have underequipped Armed Forces trying to sweep up the mess, with all the possible consequences, or that we cannot sweep up the mess at all.
An aircraft carrier with Harriers on board will be a deterrent. Deterrents stop problems. The Harrier has a flexibility in expeditionary operations that the Tornado does not have, and a reach and firepower that helicopters cannot. I hope that it is not yet too late to revisit the decision to scrap the Harrier. Keep them all and a smaller fleet of Tornados, or vice versa, but some Harriers should remain, and the Navy and the Fleet Air Arm must keep the capability to fly fixed-wing aircraft from aircraft carriers at all times in this uncertain world.
Speaking of deterrents, will the Minister also tell the House what is to be done in relation to the withdrawal of the Nimrod MRA4? How are we going to protect our deterrent submarines? How are we going to deal with long-range search and rescue, where the Nimrods play a superb and vital role? How are we going to meet our obligations under the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue as well as the safety of life at sea conventions? Is it planned to buy or lease maritime patrol aircraft? If so, what are the costs compared with continuing with the MRA4, which is already paid for? How are we going to deal with airborne early warning if, unlikely as it may be, we have to reinforce the Falklands?
The headline above the letter from the chiefs in today’s Times suggests that continuing debate is “carping”. I hope that that is not the case. I hope that we can go on debating and discussing some of these matters. I am grateful that we have been able to debate this very important matter today. I look forward to the Minister's response.
My Lords, one of the most important parts of the strategic defence and security review was the establishment of the National Security Council, chaired at the highest level by the Prime Minister with his own designated staff, whose task it would be to develop and, one hoped, to oversee an updated national strategy. It was to cover, among other matters, vital interests, likely and even possible threats—international and domestic—and a range of state powers that we had to be prepared to take in the short and longer term. It would also lay down what the country might require its Armed Forces and the other complementary agencies to be able to do.
I greatly welcomed this innovation, because it should have produced the planning assumptions in terms of priorities, scale, warning time, concurrency of possible involvements, reliable allied co-operation and broad financial restraints without which no detailed review could be coherent or relevant. It also had to be the only way of trying to balance the strictly military requirement to defend the realm and its established interests, together with any other aspirations in the international arena, against the resources that Parliament would be prepared to allot and above all to sustain.
The trouble was that such a fundamental and intricate exercise needed not only considerable thought, realistic insight, vision and some grasp of history by wise, clear-headed people but also, inevitably, a reasonable amount of time to think things through properly. Yet, in parallel, there was an even more urgent exercise designed, irrespective of any strategic guidance and with a black hole of overspend to be eradicated, to secure an arbitrary cut of 10 per cent, or whatever, by certain dates from all vote holders, which often produced completely conflicting answers.
It would have been surprising if this exercise, rushed through in barely four months, came up with a blueprint that was truly in the up-to-date national interest. The fact that in the light of all the factors and pressures—political, strategic, economic and industrial—the review has come up with, at least for the moment, perhaps as good an optimum solution as could be expected owes much, I believe, to the direct interest and involvement of the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister, the urgent and compelling requirements of Afghanistan, if we are successfully to complete our vital work within five years, and a general realisation of how invariably this country has needed really effective professional Armed Forces.
As far as I can judge, the NSC, although not properly constituted and not fully effective—I hope that it will become both those things—and however rushed, has come up with some helpful strategic guidance and assumptions. The operation in Afghanistan is to have the highest priority and is even in equipment terms to be enhanced. The cost of actual operations is to continue—I hope that everyone will note this, because the Prime Minister said so—to be met out of the Treasury reserve.
The review naturally highlighted good intelligence as being all important and often by far the best way of heading off the most urgent threat to us at the moment of international terrorism. It itemised the range of state power that this country has, under various circumstances, to be prepared for. That ranges from active dynamic diplomacy through power projection for conflict prevention, humanitarian operations and peacekeeping, to limited and highly selective—and, perhaps, pre-emptive on hard intelligence—military action, and even, almost always with allies, larger-scale intervention in order properly to protect our established interests.
Secondly, in giving broad guidance on size, shape and equipment type required, the review made a distinction between what is manifestly needed now and in the foreseeable future and that which, because of the volatility and uncertainty of the international scene, is required more in the form of a firm and experienced base for expansion and equipment development in the longer term, after a degree of notice and warning time but possibly against more sophisticated opposition. Of course, because you can often get these things wrong, as we have in the past—you can back the wrong horses—there has to be an element of flexibility. The point has been made that the review must be redone at least every five years if not even more regularly.
On the review itself, I personally can find nothing to be concerned about. The decision on the exact successor to our present Trident nuclear deterrent, which after all could be extended to serve effectively for at least another 15 years, has been put off to 2015. This interim period will at least give us much needed flexibility diplomatically in negotiations on non-proliferation and multilateral nuclear disarmament. It also gives us an opportunity to examine whether there are not other cheaper, more usable and therefore more appropriate and relevant ways of, with allies, deterring and, I hope, stopping likely threats to us in the future.
Yet some misgivings undoubtedly remain. There are misgivings about the carrier muddle and the shortage of destroyers and frigates, misgivings about the heavy reductions in the size of the Army and the future of the reserves and misgivings about where the covenant exactly stands at the moment. There is also sadness and sorrow about the early retirement of the highly versatile Harrier. However, as those things have been dealt with by other noble Lords at some length, because of time I will not deal with them any further.
The Nimrod saga was clearly a disgrace and should, among other things, be studied carefully when the whole structure of the Ministry of Defence, which has been for some time strong on second-guessing and bureaucratic procrastination and very weak on dynamic and effective action, is examined by my noble friend Lord Levene. For the moment—this is what is on the table—the SDSR has left us with, and in many places enhanced, a viable Armed Forces presence capable of playing, at short notice, an appropriate role in the protection of our country’s interests overseas and nearer to home. Also, in conjunction with allies, but if necessary on our own, it can be well led, as our service men and women have been and continue to be. They will still, most importantly, be able to display that remarkable degree of motivation and dedication that sets them apart as professional forces in this troubled world. That does not happen by accident; it happens only because of the way in which they have been trained, led and organised over a number of years.
I hope that the review will be looked on in a positive way and implemented with a will. Many of us who have had a great deal of experience in this field can give it a measure of encouragement and support. There is, however, one important caveat, which I want to stress. The National Security Council took a conscious decision and announced publicly that defence and security should be cut less than the activities of other departments and, presumably, by less than the Treasury had at first demanded and that the NATO figure of 2 per cent of gross domestic product should be held to. Some might say that that is little enough in all conscience. These changes, both reductions and enhancements, must have been costed and have contributed to the 7.5 per cent in the defence budget, which is what the National Security Council agreed at the highest level. The Treasury must now be held to that and must not, as has invariably happened in the past—usually before the ink was even dry—start to undermine the whole review by further restricting the cash flow by various means. Every review over the years—some of them have been very good—has been affected immediately in this way, which has had an appalling effect. It has downgraded the expectations announced to the public, minimised political and parliamentary intentions, served up endless trouble for the future, which is partly why we have had this yawning black hole, and rebounded dangerously, not only on operational performance but very much on the lives, support and welfare of the men and women of our Armed Forces and their families—on the covenant, in fact—to whom this country owes so much.
I hope that Ministers will take heed of these words, which are based on long experience, because, with the Treasury short of its full pound of flesh, it is all the more likely that the money will not be there to pay for the changes in the defence review. The Government say that they are cutting this and bringing that down and getting rid of the “Ark Royal” and that we will be left with this, that and the other, but we will find that, if we are not careful, the money will not be there to pay for even that. That would be absolutely disastrous. This has to be fought at the very highest level in the Cabinet and by the Chiefs of Staff in the Ministry of Defence. Ultimately, we have to not just hold the line as it is at the moment but in the future do very much better with the financial resources, or the whole pack of cards will collapse and we will be in for real trouble.
My Lords, it may be helpful to the House if I say that I estimate that at the current rate of progress this debate is likely to end at about six o’clock. A number of noble Lords have told me that that may place them in some difficulties as regards trains and flights to catch. I hope that noble Lords will bear that in mind.
I note that the noble Lord made that remark just before I speak, and I shall take the appropriate warning.
At the splendid ceremony that we had last week for the Armada canvases, I found myself standing next to a heavily uniformed naval officer who was looking at the canvas showing the fleet of Drake and Howard just on the tail and about to engage the Spanish. “God”, he said, “they had it so easy”. I said that it was the first time that I had ever heard anyone say that the British fleet had it easy in beating the Armada. “No, no,” he said, “you don’t understand me, sir. They had it easy because they were all teeth and no tail”. I asked him what he meant by that and he said that the present Royal Navy had no teeth left because all the money was spent on the huge tail of administrative burden that drags us back. If we could just have our teeth back, he said, we could have a much better and more effective force for a much smaller administrative tail that we have to drag around behind us.
When I was listening to the comment from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, about the four Type 22s that have to come out of commission in five months’ time, I thought how close to the mark that was. Those four Type 22s have at present a total crew of 768. Although those vessels might not be state of the art, if naval officers and men are no longer sailing on them, how many pirates will be captured by 768 clerks and civil servants? How many tonnes of narcotics will they be able to capture in the Caribbean? How many miles of Britain’s storm-driven shores will they be able to patrol of a cold winter’s night to the exclusion of any alien influences who want to come ashore? I suggest the answer is that there will not be one hostage released, not one pirate captured and not one tonne of narcotics captured. Those ships should continue to sail with blue-water sailors on board. The clerks and the staff at the back should be the casualty, not the ships.
The British Navy has had a long record of making do very well with assets which would appear to be coming to the end of their sell-by date. The 54 year-old HMS “Victory” led a fleet with an average age of 26 into Trafalgar. At Jutland, if Beatty’s seven battle cruisers are taken out, the average age of our fleet was 18 and, although we are not quite sure whether we won that battle, at least the German fleet never dared to come out of port again—so we did to some extent. The extent to which the frigates are a problem is that even if the Type 22s are getting near the obsolescence level, they can still do a lot of very useful work which will release the burden on the Type 23s—the jewels of the frigate fleet that we have, and the vessels which we need to look to.
That point came home very loud and clear to me when recently I had the privilege of a trip to Portsmouth to visit one of the new Type 45s. It is a magnificent ship but it is wrong to describe it as the finished article. It is work in progress; notably, it is lacking in the full sufficiency of its anti-submarine protection at the moment, while it has absolutely no decoy equipment on board; there is just a blank hole on the deck. It also needs the permanent presence of a Type 23 to protect its rear against submarines in any deployment where it has a risk. The Type 22s might not be able to do that job adequately at present, but the Type 23 would. If the Type 22s were being kept and used to do the patrol work off Somalia and in the Caribbean, that would at least remove the burden on the Type 23s.
We also need to consider other issues with the Type 45s. At the moment, they are armed with a wonderful system for anti-air resistance and can knock out 48 successive incoming missiles with a high level of accuracy and reliability. One then has to ask: what happens to the 49th missile when it comes in, if that utilises the entire capacity? The answer to that is very strange: “Ah well, we can override the weapons system of another Type 45, access their weapons and fire those as well”. The question then comes: “Does that not mean that when you have used those 48 up and still have not got rid of the invader, you are both sitting ducks in the water to be eliminated and so is the ship you are supposed to be protecting”? That means in turn that you have to have a hunter-killer behind them the whole time to take out the point of attack. The only viable and reliable flotilla in which you can send those ships out is to send the Type 45 with a Type 23 behind it, then a hunter-killer behind them to do the job for them.
If we look back at the history of the Royal Navy, it has, to take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, a wonderful record of adapting to cope with the thing that nobody could foresee coming. After Trafalgar, the Royal Navy was engaged in one of the longest, most bitter and, in terms of men and equipment, most ruinously expensive engagements because it had the responsibility of implementing the suppression of the slave traders. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, referred to the criticism of their impact on trade this morning. In fact, the Royal Navy suffered the most horrendous losses of any engagement that it has ever been involved in. It lost 32,000 men in suppressing the slave trade—the highest percentage of loss in any engagement in the history of the Royal Navy. It lost them principally because it adapted to the use of very small boats, which is what was necessary. It relied on sloops, brigs and cutters to do the job. It was cold steel and hand-to-hand, but it did the job.
One hundred and thirty years later, the Royal Navy did a very similar adaptation when it had to cope with the not wholly-expected dominance of the U-boat in the north Atlantic. It did that by developing a Yarmouth fishing trawler into what eventually became the Flower class, of which it built 678 at a total cost of £22 million. That sounds like a bargain today, considering what it did for us. The Flower class was a wonderful ship. Today we have a ship called the River class, which has gone into the water as a minesweeper. It has already been spoken of very favourably this morning. I suggest that the Royal Navy is missing a trick here. If it is seeking to hold on to its Type 22s, which it should—the same arguments apply to the “Ark Royal” and the Harriers as applied to the Type 22s; we should not get rid of something which is still useful—it should be looking at an upgrade of the River class to become a fully fledged gunboat with improved kill capability and speed, which would then be able to play a very effective role in anti-piracy and patrol work. You can get two of those for the cost of a frigate, minimum, fully upgraded. You could put on board an effective GPS positioning and reconnaissance system as well and it would not be an expensive product. You could include some anti-submarine capability as well. There is real value in doing a serious redesign of the River class and producing prototypes to see what they could do for us. They might be a very cheap and effective alternative to give us the teeth we need, as that officer was saying.
The Navy has had a wonderful history of delivering against the record and at above value. Let it get back to doing some creative thinking by looking back at its history at what it has done previously and doing it again.
My Lords, on the eve of this armistice weekend, when the whole country will remember those who have sacrificed their lives in past wars and in present conflicts, it is a privilege to stand here and pay tribute to the wonderful men of Britain’s Armed Forces. Like many others in this House, and as a former Defence Minister, I know at first hand how brave, dedicated and professional our Armed Forces are. They really do represent the very best in Britain. In all that we say today, we should keep in mind how much we owe those who are willing to put their lives on the line in defence of our country, our way of life, our liberty and our security.
As a Welshman standing here in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, I pay particular tribute to the Welsh Guards, whose wristband I am proud to wear. In recent years they have served with distinction in both Iraq and Afghanistan and, in doing so, have suffered the loss of a number of very brave men. The Welsh Guards are extremely brave, tough and professional and I, like people throughout Wales, am tremendously proud of them.
If we are to honour our obligations to our Armed Forces, it is vital that we do all we can to keep them as safe as possible. That includes ensuring that we have the best kit. Despite the efforts of many good people in the Ministry of Defence, it is a lasting regret that procurement in the department continues to be problematic. I join others in this House and beyond who call for real improvements in the way we procure equipment so that we can get the best kit at the best price in the shortest time.
However, keeping our troops safe is not just a matter of giving them the best kit; it is about ensuring that our Armed Forces have the best possible training. It is quite obvious that the better trained our Armed Forces are, the better they can do the job. For that reason, the Labour Government pledged to modernise the way our forces are trained. Crucial to modernising defence training was the planned tri-service training academy at St Athan in south Wales. The plans, which were announced in 2007, would have created a more flexible, responsive and effective system of training. We would have seen a national centre of excellence for specialist training, which would have improved how our forces are trained and enabled them to do a better job in defending our country and maintaining our security. Now the Government have decided not to proceed and may even cancel the whole project, despite the Secretary of State saying that the training academy could be an “aid to recruitment” in the future.
What is certain is that St Athan would have given our Armed Forces a world-class training centre which I am sure Members on all sides of the House feel that they richly deserve. The St Athan defence training academy would have been equipped with all the latest technology and would have included top-grade accommodation that our forces are entitled to expect. More than that, it was intended that British business and industry could buy packages of training from the academy, which would certainly have offered them great advantages and benefitted our wider economy as we move out of recession. St Athan would also have provided high quality sports and recreational facilities for our forces, which is exactly what they need when they are training. It would, in short, have been a top quality facility to provide top quality training to our top quality Armed Forces. Yet this is now in jeopardy.
The Government have sought to justify the decision to scrap the training academy on the basis that it is a necessary economy in times of public spending cuts. In reality, it is just another example of the muddled economic thinking that has become characteristic of this Government. To cut back on investment in training in times of economic difficulty is equivalent to eating our seed corn. The academy would have created at least 2,000 new jobs in south Wales, thereby increasing the defence footprint. It would have been the largest defence project ever to be located in Wales. It had the capacity to help transform south Wales and deliver growth and prosperity. One thing the Government does not seem to have grasped is that without growth there can be no prosperity. How many times do the Government have to be told that we cannot cut our way to prosperity?
While the Academy would have cost around £l4 billion, spread over 30 years it was affordable. Furthermore, in considering that level of spending, we have to take account of the associated costs of maintaining and keeping the present ageing training facilities. I hope the Minister will open his mind to the logic of this case and tell the Secretary of State to think again about St Athan. I earnestly hope that, when the Government announce their future defence training plans next spring, they will have been persuaded of the case for St Athan to go ahead.
I am afraid that the way in which the Government have approached the St Athan issue is symptomatic of this defence review, which is neither strategic nor meets our needs for the 21st century. The review has been carried out in haste with the aim of cutting spending rather than protecting our interests from harm. Satirists might have had great fun with the concept of aircraft carriers without aircraft, but the defence of Great Britain is no laughing matter.
My noble friends Lord West and Lord Reid have spoken in recent weeks about the reckless decision to phase out the Harrier jets, which will leave a massive capability gap which other noble Lords spoke about this morning. A number of respected former senior military have this week said that they are concerned, and warned against scrapping the “Ark Royal”. I agree with them. What this Government are doing to the Royal Navy is equivalent to sending Nelson to the Battle of Trafalgar in a rowing boat. The defence of the United Kingdom is too important to be sacrificed on the altar of cuts based on ideology and not common sense. This review is driven by costs and not strategy, by the Treasury and not the military. This Government will rue the day that they agreed it.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a co-president of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament— PNND—which is a global network of over 700 parliamentarians in 75 countries. We work to prevent nuclear proliferation and to achieve nuclear disarmament. We aim to encourage our Governments to hold to treaties that already exist and to continue to work on them. We work closely with the UN and support the Secretary-General’s five-point plan. We do not expect miracles, and we are not expecting disarmament tomorrow.
Today, I am not going to talk specifically about Trident, or about the decision to put off that decision, for the very reason that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, mentioned: that it just buys us time to explore the negotiations further. I want to make some more general comments about the SDSR in the wider context of tackling nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
There are a few good things in the review. The Government have continued the useful steps towards greater transparency and talking openly about plans and numbers of warheads. One of the measures of progress is that nuclear-weapon states become more transparent about the size of their arsenals, stocks of fissile material and specific disarmament achievements. It is also good that the tangible steps that are mentioned in paragraph 3.6 refer, I presume, to the continued commitment to the verification programme to be undertaken with Norway, which is our partner in this work and a non-nuclear state. I invite the Minister to mention any other initiatives that would further develop these tangible steps, and seek from him an assurance that funding for this sort of work at our strong research and skills base at Aldermaston will be safeguarded. The only mention of funding in that part of the defence review is of minimising expenditure and where spending can be reduced. I would like to know about the safeguards for that verification work.
In the review there is much more negative wording: a step in the wrong direction in both the language and the aspiration. This statement is made:
“As a responsible nuclear weapon state … the UK … remains committed to the long term goal of a world without nuclear weapons”,
The very phrase “long term” implies that this work is not urgent. The paragraph goes on to state:
“We will continue to work to control proliferation and to make progress on multilateral disarmament … to take tangible steps towards a safer and more stable world where countries with nuclear weapons feel able to relinquish them”.
“Feel able” is not an adequate phrase with which to recognise the situation. It does not recognise our international commitments under the treaties that we have already signed. It does not recognise the urgent necessity of nuclear weapon removal in a world where proliferation means that dirty bomb material is easier to get hold of. It does not recognise the cybersecurity issues that Dr Liam Fox raised when he talked about the cyberattack that deactivated six Minuteman missiles. What if hackers could activate them? It does not recognise a world where near-miss accidents are horribly common. It does not recognise the feeling of all the non-nuclear states that this issue is really urgent. I hope the wording does not reflect our Government’s commitment to making further progress and recognising that such progress is urgent.
Earlier this year, I spent four days on the Japanese-sponsored peace boat with some of the survivors and children of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their testimonies of what happened 65 years ago were, of course, very moving. However, some of the knowledge that they shared with us was even more shocking, and that was the pictures of their chromosomes and the damage that was done to them. Their chromosomes are wrecked for all time. The genetic damage is there, pictorially, for all to see. It shows that the damage done by nuclear weapons is not only to the people who are killed then; it affects the human race and its genetics for all time.
That is one of the reasons why the rest of the world expects a more energetic commitment from us. However, the core reason is the deal that was made more than 40 years ago in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1968, when the nuclear-weapon states gave a commitment to the non-nuclear weapon states that they would work towards disarmament, in return for which the nuclear have-nots would not seek to acquire their own weapons. That is what we are risking now.
Last Wednesday, the Secretary of State, William Hague, gave an excellent Canning House lecture on the UK-Latin American relationship. He highlighted the fact that Latin America had given moral leadership to the region in that huge nuclear weapons-free zone. It is promising that nuclear weapons-free regions are increasing. There is a move to make the Arctic a nuclear weapons-free zone, followed by the Antarctic, and an extremely important Middle East conference is coming up in 2012 to establish—we all very much hope—a nuclear weapons-free zone there. However, as a nuclear weapons state, we should treat this as an urgent matter and should encourage our friends in the US Senate to take the same attitude towards their new START treaty.
In conclusion, the previous Government made a very good attempt to further this work—that was due in good part to the tremendous work of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby—and were seen as being seriously committed to achieving nuclear disarmament within a realistic timescale. I am sure that this Government will want to continue on that path, but that is not reflected in the wording of the strategy.
My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, has returned to the Chamber—I wonder whether that was because she saw that I was about to speak. Many of your Lordships have spoken of the very distinguished noble and gallant Lords present in the Chamber. Although reference has been made to Mr James Arbuthnot, the chairman of the Select Committee in another place, I hope that your Lordships also appreciate the incredible job done by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, on the House of Lords defence group. Indeed, I know that that work is much appreciated by my noble friend the Minister. She has assisted my defence studies throughout her time in your Lordships' House.
It might startle your Lordships to hear that somebody who, 50 years and more ago, was a conscript with the Scots Guards would want to concentrate his remarks today in this great debate on this admirable report on our air defence and aeronautical systems. I took some interest in the new Joint Strike Fighter. Alas, my office across the way required a bit of a spring clean. I heaved out a number of documents and was rather startled to find something relating to the 1994 financial year. I found an admirable little booklet on the Joint Strike Fighter, which I think is classified under the United States method as the F-35.
I found all sorts of other interesting information dated 2001. I hope that the Minister will check yesterday’s edition of the Scotsman where I noticed a reference to the possibility of having an operational-conversion unit for one or other version of the Joint Strike Fighter—I think it is the F-35C, the carrier version—that I understand is to be acquired in 2010, or later, and is to be our joint weapon with the Typhoon. I noticed a particularly favourable reference to the possibility of the operational-conversion unit being located somewhere in Scotland. Indeed, the Royal Air Force Lossiemouth was mentioned. My noble friend might be able to disabuse me if this is a completely idle rumour but I wonder where it came from. I hope that he will not dismiss it out of hand. Also, can he confirm that the controls and avionics of the Joint Strike Fighter—the F-35 that he has spoken about—are broadly similar for the versions that we are to acquire so that spare parts for avionics and control systems will be available for ourselves and our allies from manufacturers throughout the world?
I have another short paragraph in my notes labelled “Harriers and Carriers”. Virtually all my remarks were made for me by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce. I have much sympathy for the Minister, because the incoming remarks—I will not call them missiles—from the noble and gallant Lord were such that perhaps only he could take care of them. I think that he will, but they were particularly strong arguments. I would be grateful if the Minister would either tell me in writing or let me know during the debate what will be the fate of the Harriers, which I believe are classified as GR9 or GR9A and which have been updated and taken as role models for the service afloat.
Secondly, there have been references to “Ark Royal”. Will she be completely scrapped? I suspect and hope that she will be kept in mothballs and may be useful. The Minister, and the documents that we have, indicate that we will not be acquiring the short take-off and vertical landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter, but we will stick with the F-35C carrier version. I confirm to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, to the Minister and to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who will speak next, that Harriers are part of my bloodline and bedtime reading. I first visited Royal Air Force Wittering in 1975. I made a further visit in 1978 and have made at least three other visits. I also visited Sea Harriers at Yeovilton and saw these marvellous aircraft operating afloat when I was taken on a splendid firepower demonstration day at Warminster, and on days at sea off Devonport.
Apart from the avionics and electronics in these little aircraft, I understand that the companies involved are also heavily involved in other aspects of electronics, such as in training aids for Trident systems at Royal Naval Base Clyde. My noble friend and I were young soldiers at Warminster. I understand that many of the British Army simulator devices there are an integral part of the same system that is used in avionics.
I must push on. The noble Lord and I both have an interest in Scotland. Would he keep in mind any comments on the further use of the bases in the county of Moray? Royal Air Force Kinloss, which I visited in early 1974, is the base for the Nimrods. It has been announced that the base might be transferred to other use by the Ministry of Defence. Will my noble friend cast his mind, and indeed the minds of his colleagues, to other uses for it? He will be aware that Fort George, with a battalion of infantry, is no major distance away. I hope he may be able to consider putting RAF Kinloss to some other, perhaps non-Royal Air Force, use. I also hope that he will take particular care of 45 Commando, based in my lovely county of Angus. I hope that the unit will have the training areas that it needs.
In conclusion, the House of Lords defence group does not concentrate entirely on fascinating technology and extraordinary things. The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, has pointed out that there are other aspects that she in particular took care of. In 2009, our group went down to visit 16 Air Assault Brigade in Colchester. I spent a particularly uncomfortable morning listening to families there talk about their problems with married quarters and other allied subjects. I used the term “lamentable” then and I repeat it today. Things may have improved. Certainly for single soldiers they were improving greatly. Will the Minister confirm that progress is being made with 16 Air Assault Brigade’s accommodation in Colchester? Perhaps he could write to me. I thank him and reiterate how pleased we are to have him, especially, as my noble friend remarked, on account of his noble and particularly gallant grandfather.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Rosser on so effectively and so definitively refuting the bogus myth of the £38 billion deficit, about which we have heard too much. After my noble friend's refutation, I hope that no one will be so shameless as to purvey that any further. I was going to speak on that but now I do not need to do so.
I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, make the suggestion that we should have available in the House, and no doubt in the House of Commons as well, on temporary secondment, uniformed officers of the Armed Forces to keep us informed on military and defence matters. That was one of the 40 recommendations of the study on the national recognition of the Armed Forces, which I was privileged to chair three years ago, and it was one of only two recommendations out of the 40 which was not accepted by the previous Government. I hope that, with the advocacy of the noble Lord, we may have more luck with the present Administration on that point.
It has been said, quite rightly, so many times from different sides of the Chamber today that the strategic defence and security review was neither strategic nor a review that I do not need to repeat it. I think that has become the consensus in the country. However, I wish to comment on one very important aspect that has not been mentioned. The lack of consultation in the review process was particularly regrettable. There was no effective consultation with industry. As I have pointed out in the House before, there was only one meeting of the National Defence Industries Council between the election and the defence review. That is a terrible mistake. We now know that there is to be a Green Paper and a White Paper on defence industrial policy. In other words, the Government recognise that there are important consequences for our defence industrial structure of the defence review, but those consequences should have been taken account of in the consideration of the defence review. The defence review should have included precisely what we intended to preserve by way of defence industrial capability and structure in this country.
If the procedure was regrettable, the results of this so-called review have been utterly deplorable. I take in turn a number of the points where there have been devastating reductions in the nation's defence capability. First, I ask the Minister what are the savings from the reduction of the infantry of the AS90 and Challenger 2? My instinct is that the reduction is very small. If you reduce just part of the inventory and not all of it—thank God they did not get rid of all of it—you still have the fixed costs, such as training costs. I suspect that the actual savings—I shall bet a drink in the bar for the noble Lord on this—are very derisory and probably not much of a multiple of the 27 photographers and beauty or vanity consultants, or whatever they are, which the Government have seen fit to take on the public payroll for the benefit of the Prime Minister.
Secondly, I turn to helicopters. The Government have cut in half our order for two Chinooks. I am delighted to take full responsibility for that order. I am very proud that we made that order and that I got rid of the original future medium helicopter project and put the money into buying helicopters off-the-shelf as rapidly as possible. We have heard from the Conservative Benches this afternoon, from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that he considers that there are still too few helicopters, but I am very proud that there are now 50 per cent more helicopters on the front line this year in Afghanistan than there were in the summer of last year as a result of the measures that we took. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that we actually need more. It is a great mistake to cut that order. It is all part of the Government focusing on protecting Afghanistan, which is absolutely right and important, but at the expense of all flexibility for our future ability to respond to different threats so that we shall end up well equipped for Afghanistan and able to fight no more than the last war once we have got through the Afghan conflict. That is a classic mistake to make in defence procurement; it is not one that we made in office, but it is one that I am afraid the coalition is now sadly making.
The prolongation of the Vanguard class and the postponement of the construction of successor class submarines was dealt with so devastatingly by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, that I do not need to enter into that. I just say that it appears, since that announcement was made, that far from saving public money, the Government will end up spending £1.8 billion more on keeping the Vanguard class in the water for that extended time—with the law of diminishing returns which always applies towards the end of the life of any class of naval vessel. That was not a very intelligent decision either.
I come on to the most important issue, which is the decision about the Harriers and carrier strike. I think that the decision to get rid of our Harriers is utterly unforgivable. It is quite the wrong decision. The right decision would have been to do what we were planning to do, and what I was working on at the time of the election. That is to withdraw the Tornados well before the original date, the official date, of 2022—I queried that date when I first saw it—but to withdraw them as and when we were able to upgrade the Typhoon with a ground support capability, with a full suite of weapons, with Paveway IV, Brimstone or its successor, with Storm Shadow and with a sensor equivalent of the Raptor, which has done so well in the Tornado. That was why, last year, we put more money into the Typhoon enhancement programme. I was hoping to be able to withdraw the Tornados by 2014 or 2015. There would have been a considerable saving there, but we would have continued to have a carrier strike capability right the way through.
I think that the Government think that they are geniuses—not, sadly, military geniuses but geniuses in predicting the future precisely and accurately. What they are saying to the country in this document amounts to this: “We need a carrier strike capability. There are threats in this world to which we might have to respond in desperation with that carrier strike capability. We have to spend the money, we have to invest in that capability, but”—they are telling the nation, “between the years 2011 and 2019, those threats will not arise”. How remarkable. How do they do it? I do not know whether they do it by astrology or tarot cards, but one can only either marvel or shake in one's boots that defence planning is being conducted on that basis.
Not surprisingly, that has opened up a very useful and healthy debate about our ability to fulfil some of our obligations—to defend, for example, the Falklands. I am not going to make any judgments about this, I will deal just in facts. The Government are saying that we have the capability, without any carriers, to defend the Falklands. What do we have? We have four Typhoons in Mount Pleasant. We have a company of troops. We have one runway fit for combat aircraft. What happens if, by subterfuge, sabotage, bomb attack, missile, or whatever, that runway is taken out? Presumably, if the Typhoons happen to be in the air at the time, the crew will have to eject, and we certainly cannot expect to be able to replenish the Falklands by airlift.
The Government talk about submarines. We have not got a submarine in the Falklands and I do not think—because they have not told the nation so—that they have any intention of basing a submarine on the Falklands. Let me tell them that if they did, they would have to assign two—probably two and a half—of the hunter killer submarines, Trafalgar class and, potentially, Astute class, to that role alone. That is not provided for in the number that we plan to build—the seven Astutes. If the Government are going to put a submarine there, they had better tell the nation that they are going to do that and explain how. If they are not, if there is not going to be a submarine there, they had better stop saying that submarines provide an adequate protection against a potential invasion of the Falklands. Some very serious issues have come to light over the past few days on this and we need an answer.
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. He has been very good at describing how he thinks the money ought to be spent to defend the Falkland Islands. Does he not realise that he and his right honourable friends left the financial arrangements in the Ministry of Defence in a complete shambles: there is no money?
I absolutely do not recognise that. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Rosser has already dealt with that particular falsehood. What is more, I think that the Government are absolutely wrong to cut public spending generally, as they are doing, so far and so fast; and they are certainly wrong to take it out on defence in the way that they are.
It is only that those of us who have been in this House for more than 45 years understand modern technology. Will the noble Lord recognise that he is so close to a microphone that he is shaking our eardrums over this side? If he would step back a bit or move away from it, we might find it easier to hear him rather than dying.
I will, of course, take the noble Lord’s advice, which I know is kindly intended.
The Government have shown what their priorities are. Nothing could be more dramatic than the fact that the Government are giving about £300 million to India by way of aid. India is buying aircraft carriers and aircraft to put on them, and then the Government say that they do not have the money to continue with our own carrier strike capability. In response to the noble Lord, I think that says it all.
Finally, I take the last rag of cloth that protects the nakedness of the Government in these arguments: the Anglo-French alliance. Can we rely on the “Charles de Gaulle” being mobilised to defend the Falklands? I do not think that anybody in this House seriously suggests that we can. All my life, I have been in favour of European defence collaboration and, indeed, of a common European defence policy. I am delighted by the treaty that has been concluded, but any successful relationship of that kind requires three things. The first is that it is done out of conviction, sincerity and long-term commitment. The noble Lord is nodding his head. I hope and pray that that long-term commitment is there. I am not going impugn the good faith of the Government; I am going to assume that it is there, but I have to tell the noble Lord that, because of the background of Dr Fox and Mr Cameron, there is bound to be considerable scepticism on both sides of the channel about that, so the Government are going to have to make sure that by their every word and deed this is taken seriously. Secondly, if you are going to have that kind of relationship, you need a shared view of the world and a shared foreign policy so that you know that your partner is going to take the same decisions and will be there with you when you need him. None of that is present. Thirdly, you need some kind of coherent decision-making structure that can give one confidence that we will be able to work together effectively no matter what the threat is and where it comes from. On that basis, I see enormous scope—not just involving carrier strike but also escorts, tanks, helicopters and so forth—for collaboration and synergies with the French, but those three things are essential, and if the Government can provide them, in that matter they will certainly have my warmest support.
The national security document is important and interesting and has some good parts, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, pointed out. However, it also contains some weaknesses. I am sure that I am not the only Member of your Lordships’ House who would like to know more about the relations between the new National Security Council and the old Joint Intelligence Committee—which, so far as I know, having read the late Sir Percy Cradock's admirable history of it, has served us so well in the past.
The document is anti-historical in other ways. For example, it claims that this is the first time that there has been a national security strategy. Those with any kind of historical memory will recall many other statements of this sort—the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, has recalled some of those statements—although they may not have had the same title. I have a good historical memory and can recall the famous 1907 memorandum by the remarkable Sir Eyre Crowe which stated firmly:
“The general character of England's foreign policy is determined by the immutable condition of her geographical situation on the ocean flank of Europe as an island State with vast overseas colonies”.
The national security document has other weaknesses, in the sense that it is full of jargon. What are the Government doing telling us of emerging economies moving up “the value chain”. What is the value chain? Many of us would like to see the Government raise the standard of official writing, perhaps by using the services of experienced writers, of whom there are some in this House, to revise the texts of their publications, as is sometimes done in the United States. The 1961 United States White Paper on Cuba, for example, was written for President Kennedy by Professor Arthur Schlesinger.
So far as I understand it, we have a number of major security concerns. We should consider these concerns seriatim and see how they can be funded before deciding what percentage of GNP we can afford to spend on defence. First, there are anxieties which derive from natural disasters such as flood, earthquake or tsunami—such as the one that occurred some five years ago—as we can remind ourselves if we look at the monument at the foot of the Clive steps, next to the Churchill memorial museum, to those who have died.
Secondly, we have to consider the possibility of an old-fashioned direct attack on this country or its dependencies, such as the Falkland Islands. In view of what happened in 1982 that cannot be quite ruled out, although I accept that the current Argentine Government are of a very different nature to the one under General Galtieri. There are, however, other such dependencies.
Thirdly, we must remember our new enemy and opponent, al-Qaeda. In the strategic paper we hear something about its activities but not much about its origins, its rise or its support. We need to remind ourselves—as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, vigorously did—that we are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan because the Talibs once had, and perhaps still have, a close alliance with al-Qaeda.
I read an interesting comment in the document about al-Qaeda seeking to recreate a new caliphate, a united government for the Muslim world, based on an extreme interpretation of Islam. The old caliphate ended only in 1924 with the collapse of the Ottoman dynasty, but it had not really exercised power since the Middle Ages. We should be told more. After all, there have been caliphates in the past and not all were evil. Consider, for example, the caliphate of Abd ar-Rahman, the most gifted of the Spanish sultans—the Spanish Umayyads—or the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad. If we had a benign caliphate in the Muslim world, I am not sure that it would not be better than what we have now.
A book to which the authors of this document might have referred us is that of Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, which has lost little of its relevance now that it is four years old. It shows clearly how inspirations for al-Qaeda, especially the now legendary Qutb, were treated very roughly in their own countries. That gentleman was hanged by Nasser. I agree that that is not a justification for its present attitude, but it helps to explain.
Perhaps it is right to see al-Qaeda, in a longer historical perspective, as in the tradition of those violent movements of the 11th and 12th centuries, the Almoravids and the Almohades, both of which were inspired by Berber prophets based in Morocco and swept through Muslim and Christian Spain, causing havoc before they settled down and ruined themselves by self-indulgence.
Until that begins to happen—which, let us hope, can be arranged—we have to recognise that a great many in the Middle East, and even in our own country, look on us, Members of the House of Lords included, as “filthy infidel crusaders”, in Bin Laden's words. To see danger is not enough, said the great Lord Vansittart in his marvellous autobiography The Mist Procession; one must be prepared to do something extremely unpleasant about it.
A fourth consideration that we should perhaps consider as something which might inspire us to a sense of responsibility about defence is the concern we should have about a possible nuclear exchange between one or two of the new nuclear possessor states. An exchange between, say, India and Pakistan may not be likely, but it cannot be ruled out, nor could one between Israel and Iran if the latter achieves the status to which it aspires. In any circumstances like that, the global catastrophe would be greater than could be imagined.
A fifth consideration should be to sort out the somewhat complicated relationships we seem to be developing in respect of defence in relation to France and with the European Union. This has been mentioned by several speakers so I will not go into it in detail. In all events, we want to be certain that these arrangements can be carried through effectively and creatively without damaging our relationship with the United States. There are other unforeseeable possibilities that may affect us, as several noble Lords have pointed out. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, placed particular emphasis on the risk of a cyberattack.
When I first began to speak in your Lordships’ House, I concentrated on the danger of the Soviet threat. Along with many others I now recognise that the situation has changed completely. I remember quoting the words of the American Ambassador, Charles Bohlen, speaking in 1985 when he said that we would not cope with the Soviet Union until it had become “a country and not a cause”. Russia, however much we may distance ourselves from some of its operations and activities, has now become exactly that.
It is worth emphasising that, although we have a difficult modern world since the collapse of the Cold War, at least the threat of mutually assured destruction has been removed, and we do not live with the terrifying possibility that relations between the West and the Soviet Union might break down into an uncontrollable catastrophe. We ought therefore to be optimistic and happy about that.
My Lords, at the current rate of progress, if Members keep their contributions to seven minutes, the House will rise at 6 o’clock, some three hours beyond the 3 o’clock convention. I urge noble Lords that, wherever possible, they should keep their contributions succinct.
My Lords, on that important note I rise to join the debate. Many noble Lords have drawn attention to the coincidence of this debate taking place between Armistice Day and the Sunday on which many of us will be involved in Remembrance Day parades. I was reflecting that many of those that we will remember from both world wars and in the most recent conflicts actually lost their lives either through failures of defence planning or inadequacy of equipment. Ministers, Governments and leaders of the Armed Forces have sent people into conflict without proper preparation, and those people have made the supreme sacrifice. The brave widow of Sergeant Steven Roberts was interviewed in the paper this week. Sergeant Roberts served in Iraq and had to hand over his protective equipment. Within a week he was dead. That is an illustration of failures in the most recent events.
It is against that background that I welcome this review. There was no question that we needed a prompt review. It is most unfortunate and we are where no one would have wanted us to be, but one has only to look at the present situation in Ireland to see that a country faces grave risks if it does not show brave determination to face a grave financial situation. As many noble Lords have mentioned, essential to defence security is economic security. There was no way in which defence could have been left out of the present work.
For many years I had the privilege of working with Sir Michael Quinlan, who is a good friend of many people in this House. Three years ago, he wrote in the Financial Times:
“The defence budget is in deeper trouble than at any time since Labour came to power. But so are the general public finances, so the Treasury will not come to the rescue. In such situations, squeeze-and-postpone never suffices. Nettles have to be grasped - the sooner, the better”.
Sadly, that is precisely what the previous Government did not do nearly three years ago—I listened with despair to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Davies—because they went ahead with ordering more and more equipment. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, misquoted his noble friend Lord Rosser, who did not say that there was not a deficit but challenged whether the figure of £38 billion was correct. I do not want to misrepresent the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, but I think that that is exactly what he said. I would like to know what the Benches opposite think the deficit was because no correct observer of the present situation would suggest that there is not a substantial deficit.
It is against that background that one realises the scale of some of these challenges. The previous Government’s decision not to grasp the nettle but to postpone the carriers cost, as I understand the estimate, £1.4 billion. The total cost of next year’s Foreign Office budget was spent on one delayed item of equipment procurement within the Ministry of Defence. Given the importance of soft power in the current situation, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, and the need to turn to defence diplomacy, one should not underestimate the contribution that the Foreign Office can make.
In the review the Government are prioritising success in Afghanistan and tackling the deficit problem. Phase 2 will be to rebuild capabilities and increase spend, with a genuine real-terms growth in the period 2015-20. Generally, the review is impressive. My colleague James Arbuthnot was quoted as saying that the process was rubbish. That was his personal view—the Defence Committee has not yet come up with a formal view, as I understand it—but he then went on to say that, although the process was rubbish, the outcome was much better than he expected. I agree with that.
I welcome particularly the establishment of the National Security Council. In my lifetime we have moved from a separate War Ministry, an Admiralty and an Air Ministry to a Ministry of Defence, which at least brought those three services together in one unit. Now we are moving to a National Security Council. Obviously, in the current strategic threat situation, there is a need for the cross-departmental involvement of all those who face the challenges that threaten this country.
I think everyone agrees that a conventional military threat is remote. I was involved at the time when that threat finally seemed to have disappeared with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. There are, of course, new threats, such as Islamic extremist terrorism and cyberattacks, whether they come from sovereign states, from non-state organisations or from individuals. The noble Lord, Lord, Lord Reid, rightly referred to the threat of individual efforts in that direction as being among the most difficult to tackle. The blackmail that we may face in various ways threatens our economy, our food security, our energy security and the collapse of essential services. Against that background, I welcome the importance of the resilience established in the review.
There are to be a number of sensible changes. There has been little criticism of the proposals to reduce the Challenger fleet, to reduce the number of artillery and to withdraw from Germany. I was interested in the point that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, made, with which I am not familiar, about the reinstatement costs and what they may represent. I am delighted so see a cyberoperations group set up, the reinforcement of the Special Forces and a concentration on more UAVs. I am particularly pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Levene, returning to the scene. I hope that he will look hard at the extraordinary statement, referred to by other noble Lords, that at the end of the day a further four years will be required after 2015 to establish the arrester and catapult capabilities of the new carrier.
On the outstanding issues, I will say one thing even though I go slightly over my time. There was a letter about the carriers in the Times two or three days ago from some very distinguished people, a number of whom I know personally and much admire. One of the most ill advised inclusions in that was telling the Argentinians that they were practically invited to invade the Falklands and then adding, as I saw it reported yesterday in the Buenos Aires Herald, that if they did, the islands would be almost impossible to recover. I have heard phrases about giving comfort to the enemy. One is perfectly entitled to make arguments as strongly as one wishes on these issues, but one has to be very careful what one says because other audiences listen. I was concerned about that.
I shall simply say this. I have already quoted Michael Quinlan, who, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, knows, has not been the greatest enthusiast for carriers. He made the point that Mount Pleasant is the key to the defence of the Falklands and that, if the Falklands were lost and we tried to recover them with Mount Pleasant in the wrong hands, a carrier should not be an awful lot of use. The vulnerability of having only one carrier is an important point.
Very quickly, on the outstanding issues, let me say that there are some difficult commercial negotiations and some difficulties about the civil servants in the MoD. I agree with noble Lords that they are not all pen-pushing bureaucrats; a lot of valuable, important people are contained in that description, and they certainly need to be properly considered.
I want to make one more point. The defence planning assumptions set out what we may be able to do, but the review contains the important statement that the United Kingdom,
“will be more selective in our use of the Armed Forces, deploying them … only where key UK national interests are at stake; where we have a clear strategic aim; where the likely political, economic and human costs are in proportion to the likely benefits; where we have a viable exit strategy; and where justifiable under international law”.
If that had been more carefully observed in recent years, we might not face some of the problems that we have at present.
Those problems do not fall on us in this House. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, said—and many have emphasised the covenant—we have a duty and a responsibility, not merely to those serving now, critically important though that is, but to those who have served as well. Every decision that we take to spend more money in one way or another means an option lost in another direction. My great worry on this subject, although I am pleased about the importance that the Prime Minister attaches to the covenant, is that this should be uppermost in the Government’s mind as they proceed with their further work, in which I wish them, in a very difficult situation, my fullest support.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord King, who was a distinguished Secretary of State for Defence in an equally difficult period of readjustment in the early 1990s. The story in the MoD was that he rather expressed surprise about choosing a socialist to run the Met Office when he was there. The Government’s strategic defence review gives Parliament an opportunity to consider many fundamental questions about defence and security, which I welcome.
I want to clarify the brief remarks on page 28 on scientific and technical issues, particularly in relation to other countries and to the threats that we face. I declare an interest as an occasional consultant to the MoD and former chief executive of the Met Office, which indeed is part of the MoD. I also worked with defence colleagues in the United States. Some of the policies that were developed in the Met Office over 150 years, in what was described by the Government’s chief scientist in the 1990s as a world-class research and development organisation, could, I shall argue, be applied to other aspects of the MoD’s R&D, which, I am afraid, have become somewhat less than world-class. Indeed, some parts of the MoD regarded this as actual policy. That is questionable, though, since we are a country that still has a nuclear deterrent, and a nuclear deterrent is viable only if you are in a world-class technological position as well.
There are three approaches for gaining world-class technological capability. The first option is to develop it ourselves, which requires for a moderate-sized country such as the UK, as has been emphasised by other noble Lords, choosing niche areas of excellence and then exploiting and marketing them. In the United States, when they have marketed and developed a capability, they jolly well publish it. In this country, the publication and dissemination of our capabilities are rather weak. However, that is not the case in meteorology, which proudly broadcasts its great abilities.
The second option is to collaborate, either within the United Kingdom with other organisations, including in the private sector, with allies or even, most importantly, with competitor nations—in the Cold War, there was probably more collaboration with Russia than there is now. This requires focusing on fundamental issues, as happened then, such as underwater acoustics and fusion technology, and then ensuring that the UK applies the results more effectively than its competitors. Collaboration also enables UK scientists to calibrate those of our competitors.
Playing this rather high-stakes game in technology requires a sophisticated organisation in MoD: those pen-pushing bureaucrats criticised by some Members of the House. It requires an extremely sophisticated approach. I believe that MoD has had that capability in the past. It also requires a considerably greater effort of collaboration with the other scientific communities in our competitor nations—your Lordships can imagine whom I mean. Where the science and technology has been developed in MoD, it should also have an international framework. Whereas the Met Office had an international advisory scientific committee, the Defence Scientific Advisory Council when I was on it did not. Other countries take a different view.
Recent years have seen a tremendous development of collaboration in defence technology in Europe, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, was encouraging. There is now collaboration in aeronautical engineering, as one has seen with Eurofighter and Airbus projects and in other areas. This collaboration in Europe has not been problematic for our collaboration with the United States, as was suggested by one noble Lord. I believe that where we have collaborated strongly with Europe and developed a strong European capability, the United States has wanted to collaborate even more strongly.
The third option is to copy, purchase or obtain by other means—which we do not need to go into—the world-class technology of other countries that might not be developed here. I was in China last weekend. To develop its famous new 350-kilometres-per-hour train, it bought one train from Germany and one from Japan, put them together and got a better train. This is the economical approach which some noble Lords have advocated. The right mix of these approaches is essential for effective policy.
The review emphasises particular aspects of defence science and technology. Probably the greatest qualitative change in defence science and technology in the past 40 years has been information and systems technology. In World War II, this was developed exclusively for activities of defence forces. The breaking of the computer codes at Bletchley Park is a supreme early example of information science having huge strategic importance. Then there was the applying of such systems, analysis and operational research to tactics. The noble Lord, Lord James, is no longer in his seat, but I point out that it was operational research conducted in Edinburgh that led Nelson to know what to do at Trafalgar by changing the tactics.
Some noble Lords have referred tangentially to research into the causes of war, the areas of war, and the probabilities of war. It has been implied that all war is wholly unpredictable. That is not the view of many students of war and it is not the view of the Pentagon. I have a particular interest in Lewis Richardson, who invented numerical weather forecasting. He studied the way in which armaments developed for the First World War; he made a prediction about the Second World War in Nature; and in 1953 he even suggested how the Cold War would end—it was an extraordinarily accurate prediction about one side’s armaments overwhelming the other side’s. Research on these questions is an important part of developing a defence strategy. It is particularly important, as indeed Richardson again implied, if the countries break up into many smaller countries. You have more frontiers and more problems with wars. That is exactly what has been happening. As world conflict becomes more fragmented and the causes of conflict become more varied, research within the MoD, the academic community and internationally is needed to study that question. As the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, asked, will there be more Afghanistans and Somalias in the future?
Information technology can lead to nations moving out of poverty through increased productivity. But it also provides the wherewithal for cyberattacks on that high productivity. Cyberattacks are essentially a high productivity method of creating damage with devastating economic and social components. The point I want to make to the Minister, which I discussed with the noble Lord, Lord Reid, is that this review skirts the coalition problem of the dichotomy between information protection and personal anonymity. Many of us on this side of the House and in the intelligence services believe that we should err more on the side of ID cards and using the information that is available to protect ourselves rather than a slightly quixotic view of discarding some of the technology that enables us to protect ourselves from dangerous attacks, not to mention pollution and other things.
The review rightly identifies climate and environment, which has been mentioned before. The new National Security Committee will enable the issues of defence and national security to be combined. Ice in the polar regions melting in the summer presents a new oceanographic domain for defence issues, and research and technology in the UK on this will be very important. Similarly, in other parts of the world where there will be floods and droughts, there may be mass movements of population with considerable problems of instability. A mobile global force, as mentioned by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, is important in such situations.
Finally, I commend the review and join others in calling for intelligent help for service men and women as they retire or are invalided out. As a former school governor, I heard from the head teacher that ex-service people with teaching qualifications are highly valued. They can demonstrate the practical value of education. I wonder whether that should not be part of the government programme. School parents and teacher organisations should be encouraged to visit military establishments. There is a good deal of feeling in some that they do not want to do that, but it is an important part of understanding the military and something that we should think about this weekend.
My Lords, I rise as the fourth noble Baroness to speak in the debate tonight, which is sad when you look at the UNICEF figures which show that women and children suffer disproportionately in conflict and form the highest proportion of casualties. I am sad that so few of the sisterhood are here.
I add my tribute to our Armed Forces as the weekend of remembrance begins. I never cease to be grateful for the great life that I was given as a result of their sacrifice during the Second World War and since. Their worth was also brought home to me when I was spokesperson for international development in the other place and often went into conflict or post-conflict areas. The efficiency of our Armed Forces was praised in places as different as Kosovo and Sierra Leone—both of those places benefiting from our troops’ ability to wage peace after conflict as well as to wage war.
I was therefore instantly attracted, as was my noble friend Lord Chidgey, to sections in the review that discussed diverting development aid to fragile states to try to prevent conflict—a noble aim. I well remember getting into big trouble—not the only time—when after the horror of the attack on the World Trade Centre I called for food and aid, instead of bombs, to be dropped on Afghanistan. I had been receiving reports of the terrible famine raging in that country and could not see how bombing would catch Osama bin Laden or win over the people of Afghanistan.
I still think I was right on that occasion. We were very slow to start to improve the lives of the people of Afghanistan, which is only now just beginning to happen. Poverty causes conflict, which causes more poverty, which leads to more conflict. It is a common pattern that we see all over the world. So I welcome the emphasis on aid to fragile states and the announcement that it will be donated according to the OECD guidelines for aid drawn up in 2005. However, I note that under the previous Government DfID scaled up its aid to fragile states and more than doubled its support over the past five years, spending £1 billion, or 46 per cent, of its bilateral expenditure in 2007-08, and in 2009-10 spending 61 per cent, or £1.6 billion, of country-specific bilateral assistance in the fragile states. So excuse me for asking the Minister why it is now trumpeted that DfID will spend 30 per cent of ODA to support fragile states in conflict areas. We need some clarification; what is new here? What worries me is that DfID’s core mandate of development and poverty reduction will lose out and a large proportion of ODA will be diverted to security and defence.
Poverty, climate change and population growth all combine to cause conflict and migration as land and food resources get less and less. ODA must continue to be used for education, health and especially maternal health and family planning, which will increase the country’s prosperity and reduce the number of people that have to be fed. Assistance must not be used for military purposes, and I hope that we can get assurance on that.
Prevention of conflict also means that we must start being honest about international law and UN resolutions. It is a disgrace to us all that problems such as Kashmir and Palestine are still alienating Muslims all over the world. The treatment of Palestinians by Israel is held up as an example of how the West treats Muslims and is at the root cause of terrorism worldwide. Even Tony Blair has now admitted this publicly. Why do we let it continue? Is it Holocaust guilt? We should be guilty—of course we should. Is it the power of the pro-Israel lobby here and in the USA? I do not know. Or is it the need, maybe, to have an aircraft carrier called Israel in the Middle East from which to launch attacks on countries such as Iran? The cynic might think that that is why HMS “Ark Royal” and the Harriers can be dispensed with—we already have a static “Ark Royal” in a strategic position, armed to the teeth and ready to fight, provided that we do not offend Israel. I feel sorry for the people of Israel sometimes. Their Government’s policies have made that country the cause of a lot of the world’s problems, yet now they are seen in the middle as the remedy and the base for the West to fight back.
If we were serious about conflict prevention as talked about in the review, we must start taking action to stop Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians and to ensure that it and other countries obey international law and the Geneva conventions and respect human rights. That is the only way we shall get world order, and that would be really something—real conflict prevention.
My Lords, I very much welcome the opportunity of this important debate on the SDSR, and will confine my comments to paragraphs 2.B.9 to 11, which deal with Defence Medical Services. Much has been made in this debate, rightly, about the military covenant. One of the most important components of that covenant is the appropriate provision of medical care, not only in matters of conflict but back here at home and, of course, for veterans after discharge from the services.
The Defence Medical Services were reviewed and a report was published by the then Healthcare Commission in 2009. Defence Medical Services is quite a remarkable organisation. It provides care for some quarter of a million individuals through some 9,000 dedicated personnel across the three services. That review identified that the management of the injured patient—the entire journey, both in theatre and back here in the United Kingdom—was quite exemplary, that it should be widely publicised, and indeed that the NHS had much to learn from the Defence Medical Services in managing traumatised patients. When we look at the horrific injuries that are being sustained in recent conflicts and the fact that so many loyal and brave servicemen are being salvaged in theatre and are able to survive those injuries, we see how far advanced the services in theatre have become.
In paragraph 2.B.9 of the strategic defence and security review, there is a commitment to a “£20 million per year” increase in funding over that spending period. Can the Minister say whether the same increases by proportion in NHS expenditure over the past 10 years—a doubling in NHS expenditure—have been seen in the provision of finance for the Defence Military Services? What proportion of overall spending on medical services in the military does that £20 million per year increase represent? It is important to understand the baseline, because across this same period we expect to see a 1.4 per cent increase in overall spending by the NHS on the civilian population.
All good clinical practice is informed by a strong evidence base. It is very important that we ensure that funds that are available for research and development on healthcare in this country are in some way also targeted toward understanding the long-term healthcare needs of service personnel who have been severely injured. This is a very special population who would not have been salvaged in previous operations, so their long-term healthcare needs are not well understood. Will the Minister be able to pursue this with Ministers in the Department of Health and try to understand whether there is an opportunity for some of the large NHS budget for research and development to be targeted on understanding the longer-term healthcare needs of these individuals and what resources will be required to provide the very best healthcare, not only in the years but in the decades to come, because there will be very long-term healthcare needs that we do not currently fully appreciate?
It is well recognised that service personnel receive very good healthcare while in the services, but at the time of discharge the responsibility for commissioning their healthcare needs is no longer the responsibility of their individual service. They pass back into the National Health Service, where commissioning is currently through primary care trusts and in the future potentially through practice-based commissioning. This review identifies that there are going to be important and radical changes in the health service in the coming years, and I wonder whether this provides an important opportunity for us to solidify the military covenant with regard to healthcare.
Would the Minister pursue, with his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health, a dialogue that might focus on using the proposed new mechanisms for the commissioning of healthcare to provide opportunities for the budget for the long-term needs of the most severely injured veterans to be held by the individual services after their discharge, such that the commissioning of their long-term care needs can be informed by individuals who understand those needs? If so, we could ensure that we move towards a situation in which we are always looking to achieve the very best healthcare outcomes not only immediately, quite rightly, but in the very long-term future that is decades hence.
This is an important opportunity for us to renew the military covenant. It is also a very sensible way to utilise the opportunities that will be provided in the forthcoming health Bill that is to be presented to Parliament to ensure that commissioning for this very important group of our citizens is, once and for all, determined in a way that will help them in the long term and give them and their families the greatest confidence that as their healthcare needs change over time, so our nation will be able to deal with them appropriately.
Winston Churchill said in 1910 that the test of society was the way in which it treated its prisoners. One hundred years later, in 2010, I think it is safe to say that the test of modern British society is how we care for our military personnel and, in particular, how we provide for their long-term healthcare needs.
My Lords, like my noble friend the Minister, I am proud to have served in the past with the Life Guards. At present, I am fortunate to be part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, spending 20 or so days with the Royal Air Force. The scheme, conceived by its chairman, Neil Thorne, aims to give parliamentarians a better understanding of our Armed Forces. To date, I have had the opportunity of seeing recruiting at RAF Halton and RAF Cranwell. I have also been on a survival course at RAF St Mawgan, which heavily featured bobbing around the English Channel in a dinghy. I can only hope that in future a seasickness pill will be put in the training dinghies. This course was an example of the brilliance and thoroughness of our Armed Forces training, which is much sought after by other friendly nations’ armed forces.
During my time on this scheme, I have had expressed to me concerns that were reasonable and fair. The dedicated and committed recruits who were being trained during the SDSR were not certain that there would be a place for them at the end of the review. If they give a commitment to serve their country, the politicians should surely give a commitment that there is a place on their passing out. I was somewhat ashamed that the service recruits found themselves in this position.
The manifestos of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats set out to restore the military covenant. Service personnel putting themselves in harm’s way for their country in a far-off land should not need to look over their shoulder with concerns about their families’ welfare. Can the Minister give some reassurance on this point? When he and I were serving officers, the robust military covenant was at the heart of the British Armed Forces.
It is regrettable that we have been waiting since 1998 for this review, a period in which the world has changed substantially. I welcome strongly the Government’s commitment to undertake a review every five years. In many respects, the cause of the deficiencies and frustrations of our defence infrastructure could have been mitigated by more frequent reviews.
The appalling state in which the previous Administration left our public finances has not allowed the Government the luxury of configuring our Armed Forces under this review. I see that the noble Lord is saying something. I remind him that we have the largest borrowings of any G20 country—indeed, we are paying interest of £120 million a day just to service the debts of the previous Administration, who doubled our borrowings—so I think that it is fair to say that the previous Administration left our finances in an appalling state.
It is clear that the review has been aligned closely with the outcome of the comprehensive spending review. I am glad that the Government will not lose this important opportunity to consider the long-term configurations of our Armed Forces. If our Armed Forces are to be smaller, they need to be increasingly flexible to handle the increasingly nimble postures of our opponents.
The decision to retain the Tornado at the expense of the Harrier, both of which I have been fortunate enough to have flown in, seems to have been a consequence of the previous Government reducing the number of Harriers in recent years and the challenge of operational environments that the ongoing Afghanistan war presents. I listened to the Minister in this House the other day with sadness when he gave his reasons for the decision to retire the Harrier fleet. I believe that he has come to the correct decision. The Harrier, and those who flew in it, served this country with great distinction.
Finally, the decision not to bring the Nimrod MRA4 marine patrol aircraft into service to replace existing Nimrods, which I have seen at first hand, has caused much concern, not only because of the £3 billion cost incurred over the 14 years since the contract was awarded, but also because of the loss of this marine patrol and long-range search and rescue capability, which protects our naval ships, nuclear submarines and all our civilian shipping for the purposes of distress and diversion. The Chamber of Shipping seeks assurances that safety at sea will not be compromised by the decision to do away with Nimrod. The Government have recognised that this decision leaves a potential gap in our capability, previously assumed to be vital. I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten the House as to how the department proposes to overcome this situation. I am anxious to receive his response to this concern. Can the Minister also say what the Government’s intentions are for the distress and diversion centre at RAF Kinloss?
My Lords, we live in a totally interdependent world. We simply have to understand that, across the world, there are many millions, among them highly sophisticated and educated people, who feel increasingly helpless and frustrated at their exclusion from the power structures of the world. They are tired of being constantly told what is expected of them and what they must do. Many are particularly bitter because they see their own plight as directly linked to the relative material well-being and strength of those rich nations that, as they see it, still endeavour to manage the world in their own selfish interests. We must face it: too often, we are seen like that.
For a secure and stable world, there has to be a global redistribution of power as well as a redistribution of resources. There has to be common ownership of the agendas for international finance, trade and climate change. Enlightened paternalism by the elite will no longer suffice. There must be a reassertion of the primacy and importance of the international rule of law. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, was absolutely right to make that point.
All this is central to our future security. High-tech societies such as ours are also vulnerable societies. A handful of terrorists can cause huge damage and potentially large-scale slaughter. Nuclear, biological and chemical potentialities compound the risk. Manipulative and ruthless extremists recruit potential terrorists from the alienated. We may never be able to eliminate the dangers altogether, but we can marginalise the extremists. Human rights, economic and social well-being and social and economic investment in the communities where the dangers breed are all crucially relevant to effective security policy. Security cannot be imposed. It has to be grown with its roots in the community. Attempts to impose it repeatedly exacerbate the problem. This applies everywhere: in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
It also applies in Europe and the United Kingdom. Where there are few serious human rights issues, genuinely accountable government and demonstrable economic and social justice, extremism can be marginalised. By contrast, where there are serious human rights issues, a denial of economic and social justice and too little accountability of government, there are likely to be security challenges. People need security and hope for their future. In the cause of enduring stability, the most important battle of all is, without doubt, the battle for hearts and minds. This is why, wherever and whenever they occur, humiliation, brutality, physical abuse and torture in the employ of the British Government not only are wrong and undermine the very values that we seek to protect, but are also wickedly counterproductive, fanning as they do the flames of extremism.
Faced with the limitations on our ability to achieve what we want alone, we have no alternative but to recognise the indispensability of bilateral, regional and political groupings—of the European Union and NATO, but also of more representative global organisations. It would be foolish in the world that I have described to underrate or downplay the United Nations. Cynicism towards it could prove disastrous. There is an urgent need for a more representative, better-serviced Security Council, with a remit to recognise the economic, social, climatic and demographic dimensions of security every bit as much as the military dimensions. Migration is a global challenge if ever there was one and climate change will rapidly accelerate it.
The different operational aspects of our own UK defence programme are closely interrelated, but are they yet fully interwoven? The effectiveness of the centre is a central consideration. There should be no room whatever for any culture of inter-service rivalry or tribalism. Good and reliable intelligence is absolutely central to everything that we want to achieve. Are we yet absolutely certain that we are giving the intelligence services the priority that they deserve?
Global interdependence and global instability together must mean that flexibility and the ability to deploy from free-standing operational platforms around the world are necessary. Either we need the carriers for this or we do not. I am convinced that we do. I became convinced when I was the Minister responsible for the Navy in the 1970s, when we restarted the carrier programme because we realised that the decision to scrap it had been wrong.
What is not clear in the Government’s position when this has been emphasised is what is going to happen in the 10-year interregnum. The period will be longer; it certainly will not be 10 years in the end. If the Government are right that they can take this gap in their stride, there is no case for the carriers; if we can meet our needs without the carriers, there is no case for them. If, as some of us believe, the carriers are essential, what will happen in the interregnum? We have had no convincing answers.
Amid all the unpredictability as we strive for nuclear disarmament, which I hope we achieve, we are nevertheless right to retain a nuclear potential. To delay strategic decisions on its future form is not convincing. Do we need a renewal of Trident or do we not? We have dodged that issue. How does Trident relate to our analysis of the future? Are there more relevant economic alternatives? These questions remain urgently to be resolved. They should be central to a strategic defence review. Meanwhile, are we doing enough to protect our military and civilian nuclear activities, not least the safeguarding of nuclear waste and weapons-grade uranium?
Arms control and global disarmament are among the most far-reaching and effective contributions to security and defence. This is acutely important in the nuclear, biological and chemical spheres, but it is also an imperative for so-called conventional arms. It is therefore encouraging that the Government endorsed the importance of an arms trade treaty and recognised that the arms trade can be lethal. Economic opportunism and, yes, even employment opportunism must never seduce us into irresponsibility. The European code of conduct on the arms trade was an imaginative beginning, but it is only a start. Security sector reform, conflict resolution—not just prevention—and peacebuilding, not just peacekeeping, are first-order priorities. To succeed they must be inclusive, as they were in Northern Ireland. Preconditions should be minimal. Commitment comes within the process. Hamas or the Taliban must be part of it, just as the political wing of the IRA was. Genuine ownership by the parties is absolutely crucial if there is to be success in conflict resolution.
I will make one concluding observation, if I may. We are not just defending territory; we are defending values and quality of civilisation. Here, unashamedly, I speak as a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks. The MoD estate is part of that quality of our inheritance. Within it there is much wonderful landscape and biodiversity. It is essential to keep constantly under review how we can improve public access and, indeed, how much of that estate is genuinely required for MoD purposes.
My Lords, I declare my registered interests as a deputy chairman of a security plc and a life member of the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Page 42 of the strategic defence and security review states:
“We will: continue to prioritise the counter-terrorism elements of policing. We will maintain core capabilities in counter-terrorism policing which are crucial to countering the threat from terrorism, while introducing efficiency savings”.
The police service cannot, and should not, be exempt from the rigours of efficiency savings and budget reductions, nor should the organisational status quo of policing prevail; reform in many areas of policing is long overdue. However, I should like to raise questions and concerns about the Government’s proposals for policing and how they will contribute to the strategic defence and security of our country, particularly in combating terrorism.
The Government’s proposed delivery mechanism for policing is set out in the recent Home Office document, Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting Police and the People. At page 3, it states:
“First we will transfer power back to the people—by introducing directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners … Secondly, we will transfer power away from government … Thirdly, we will … create a new National Crime Agency to lead the fight against organised crime, protect our borders and provide”,
other national services. Today clearly is not the occasion on which to discuss the overall strengths and weaknesses of the Government’s proposed new model for policing. However, it is appropriate for me to raise questions about how the new model for policing may help or hinder the fight against terrorism and related security issues.
In essence, the Government are proposing a devolved, decentralised patchwork of policing with more than 40 local police forces, each with a chief constable and its own police authority. Very importantly, from 2012 each will have a locally elected police and crime commissioner. Overlaying this will be a new national crime agency to lead the fight against organised crime and protect our borders. However, it will not have a pivotal role in combating terrorism.
I have three interlinked areas of concern as we negotiate the transition from the current policing model to the one proposed by the Government, and how this may have an impact on the fight against terrorism. My first concern relates to the tough resource decisions that will have to be made as a result of the spending cuts. I am not arguing for the police service to be exempt from the cuts—far from it. However, the police service must make cuts of more than 20 per cent over the next four years, and they are front-end loaded, with a reduction of 6 per cent in 2011 and 8 per cent in the Olympic year of 2012. My concern is that the understandable national and local political pressure to preserve a visible police presence on the streets may well lead to a reduction in the resources available to specialist police units, which make such a vital contribution to the fight against terrorism. I refer to local special branches, intelligence units, surveillance units and so on, which are distributed up and down the country. Salami-slice reductions across the board will not deliver the savings, and very tough choices will have to be made.
This leads me to my second concern. The current police authorities for each of the police forces will oversee two-thirds of the proposed spending cuts in policing until 2012, when the new commissioners will be elected locally. The current police authorities will be responsible for making crucial spending decisions that will shape the future of policing, including the fight against terrorism locally, and, by implication, nationally and internationally. On 26 October, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary published a report, Police Governance in Austerity. The report contains two main findings. First, police authorities will have a crucial role to play over the next 18 months, but few are well prepared for it. Secondly, few police authorities are well positioned or prepared to provide proper direction and ensure value for money. I hope that police authorities will be monitored and supported in the last 18 months of their existence as they make strategic and spending decisions that could have an adverse impact on the fight against terrorism.
My third and final concern is that from 2012, the strategic direction of local policing will be in the hands of more than 40 newly elected, inexperienced local police commissioners. The arrangements for the policing of London will remain largely unchanged. I predict that, in seeking election and re-election, aspiring police and crime commissioners will produce populist manifestos that will promise physical street policing and address other very local issues. These are laudable activities and will demonstrate democracy at work. However, it is unlikely that the commissioners will focus, when campaigning or in office, on the contribution that their police areas could and should make to the fight against domestic and international terrorism.
In Policing in the 21st Century, the Home Secretary wrote:
“We want to ensure that the ‘golden thread’ that runs from local policing across force boundaries and internationally is not broken”.
I share that ambition, particularly in relation to combating terrorism. That is why I have briefly raised concerns today. I hope that the Minister, even though he does not speak for the Home Office or the Ministry of Justice, will be able, either today or subsequently, to reassure noble Lords that the combination of spending caps, police authorities—these may not be best placed to make crucial decisions in their last 18 months—and a patchwork of more than 40 newly elected, inexperienced local police commissioners will not be allowed to dilute or undermine the contribution that the police service can and must make to the fight against terrorism at home and overseas.
My Lords, this is a great day. This is one of the most extensive debates on defence that we have ever had. It would have been longer but for the intervention of the Liberal Democrat minders on the Front Bench. This is not a time-limited debate and, as we know well, if we were to follow the rules, nobody would be allowed to read their speeches, otherwise we would all say “Reading, reading”. I made a mistake today: I wore a head-dress. I had an eye operation last night, after which I had to wear a black patch. Of course, one is not allowed to wear a head-dress in your Lordships' House, so I have removed it. If I have a rather bloody eye, I apologise.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, I will base my remarks on a text. Mine is from the speech of Lord Chesterfield to the House of Lords in 1739. He said:
“These walls, my Lords, ought to put us in mind of the methods by which our ancestors preserved the trade and vindicated the honour of the nation”.
That relates to an event that I was privileged to host last week in the royal apartments. Three hundred people were there to celebrate the defence of the realm and the prosecution of overseas trade and, in particular, the installation of the Armada tapestries, which noble Lords can now see hanging. We are so short of funds these days that we could not get them lit so we had to get a job number and then ask the young electricians who came and put them up over the weekend.
We managed to find an artefact to symbolise these things: the Armada bell. If you scratch the skin of your Lordships' House you do not find blood; to my amazement I found that one of my colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, had inherited the bell of the “Ark Royal” through the female line, but it had dropped a clanger and lost its clapper. Therefore, we thought we would go back to ancient times and determine the importance of the ship’s bell. Your Lordships will note that the Armada bell is at the end of the Royal Gallery. It has a new clapper from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which in fact built Big Ben, and a frame which was created by the master craftsmen of your Lordships’ House, who are known as shipwrights. We rang the bell for the first time since the reduction of Cadiz. The artist who painted the tapestry was present and he gave four bells at the end of the first Dog Watch. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, had a bit of an argument about the end of the first Dog Watch, but we solved that because, naturally, I invited the Dog Watch to attend. We had only one dog, and he was a Marine dog. That created a little bit of fun and entertainment and it drew attention to certain issues.
I thought that we could now use the Armada bell to promote the cause of the maritime world and that I would invite the MoD, which was very supportive, to receive it and exhibit it. However, the MoD works of art department, which has assets in excess of £20 million, advised me last night that it did not have enough money in its budget to transport it from your Lordships' House to the MoD where it could remain and be displayed. That shows the shortness of money.
In the discussion the other day, I looked into a bit of history. I thought, “Let’s look at what goes wrong”. Whenever we have a war, we go bust. At the time of the Armada, the Government of Queen Elizabeth were in budget, but since then and over time we have got into difficulty. Never mind, 92 Members of your Lordships' House have served as Lord High Admirals or First Lords of the Admiralty. I have their roll of honour and they will receive special privileges hereinafter to be defined.
We looked at trade and defence because they are related. Historically, our defence was to protect and to develop our trade routes. Of course, I suppose we began much of our life in the piratical form. Let us look at what happens when you have another war. Since the Second World War, forgetting the intermediate wars, our visible trade or trading goods have gone from a balance to a deficit of £100 billion, but at the other end—what I call hot air—services have gone to a surplus of £45 billion. However, we have a deficit and as we cannot earn a living without trade, trade should be considered as an important part of our future defence strategy.
Let us look at the world: 71 per cent of it is covered with water. The coastlines of the Commonwealth are 44,000 kilometres long, the longest coastline in the world and longer than those of the former empire of the Soviet Union. It does not mean very much, but the coastlines of the pays francophones, the French territories, are 33,000. I promised the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, that I would get in the Kerguelen Islands and this is a roundabout way of doing so.
Looking at the world, you look at where the natural resources are, where the oil is, where the blockages are, and you look at everyone’s 200-mile limit and propose to extend it to perhaps a 500-mile limit. In looking at your future defence policy you have to look at the world because 1.8 billion of the world’s population are members of the Commonwealth. That is useless information, but useless does not mean useless—it is of less use than anything you can think of at the time. We have more flags than any other nation and about 40 per cent of the flags of the world. British influence, British historic dominance and our own dependence on international things are proportionally greater than that of any country with the same size of population and the same size of economy.
I turn to a solution. My family have always been involved with the sea. We come from Islay originally, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, might appreciate, but we are the only ones entitled to have a letter of marque and to fly the Scottish flag. On the other side of my family, we were fairly simple people. My grandfather made some money and thought he would like to be a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron so he bought a big boat. However, he did not realise that, in the First World War, the Government would want to press it into service, as they did. “Venetia”, as she was called, was fitted with depth charges, which blew her stern off as soon as they were tried, and went to sea with a chauffeur and a coachman—nanny was also asked. At the end of the war, the Admiralty wrote to him, promoted him to commander and gave him some gold braid, and sent him a cheque for 100 guineas, which he framed and put in the downstairs gents. It was signed by him. He wrote: “Those who sit on the seat shall for ever remember the historic meanness of the Admiralty”.
I use that as a simple turnaround. If we used to sequestrate boats, why cannot the private sector do something? I would like to buy “Ark Royal” and the Harriers and press them into service. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to do if the Government cannot finance it—we use PFI and many other arrangements. What would the Government sell “Ark Royal”, the Harriers and the pilots for? We could have discussions with other navies, whether from Chile, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, where they have a shortage of protection line and people are worried about the Spratly Islands. The world is worried, but if we have an asset like that, other people might like to share it.
I sit down now quietly, knowing that if I go on longer, I will be attacked by the Liberal Democrat Front-Benchers, but also asking why it is permitted for people to wear uniform in the Chamber, even though they sit in a position of authority. I wish the Government well, but I wish that they would pursue the idea of keeping “Ark Royal” and the Harriers and allowing me to contribute in some way to finance them.
My Lords, at the outset I declare an interest as a non-executive director of AEGIS Defence Services and as a trustee of a number of charities operating in conflict and post-conflict regions in Africa and the wider world.
There is an interest that I do not need to declare because I bear the marks of it on my body still, in that I served in the Treasury between 2001 and 2005. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I conducted two comprehensive spending reviews. I bear the marks inflicted by a number of noble friends and noble and gallant Members of this House. It is not in my defence that I speak, but I did note that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, referred to the Treasury as predatory. It is incumbent on me to spring to the defence of my erstwhile Civil Service colleagues in the Treasury to say that the defence and intelligence spending teams of Her Majesty's Treasury are dedicated public servants—indeed, the armed services and the intelligence services have no better friends in Whitehall—but they have their job to do.
I am comforted by that, and I am sure that the civil servants, who follow with great attention the debates in this House, will be similarly comforted. In response to the noble Lord, I make one observation about my time as Chief Secretary that he may find comforting. My experience is that if you are to have comprehensive spending reviews, which are necessary, and if you are to have strategic defence reviews, which are certainly necessary, it is better that the strategic defence review follows the comprehensive spending review, in this sense. The strategic defence review ought to impact on the comprehensive spending review that follows it, rather than the other way round. To have the two at the same time runs a danger—and it must be said that this strategic defence review demonstrates that danger all too clearly. As Chief Secretary, it is a help to have your feet held to the fire by the chiefs and Ministers who are able to refer you to a strategic defence review, to say that this is the commitment that the Government have made and then to expect you, as Chief Secretary, to live up to that commitment. That was certainly the approach taken during the two CSRs that I conducted and, yes, I was duffed up—Chief Secretaries always are—but at the end of the day there was a result that I think did justice to the cause, the national interest and to the service.
I fear that this strategic defence review has been unduly impacted upon by the fact that a CSR was taking place at the same time. There is too much influence of the concerns that have to dominate a CSR evident in the strategic defence and security review, but we must give it time to sink in, and we will see what emerges.
There is one very welcome statement within the review:
“Recent experience has shown that instability and conflict overseas can pose risks to the UK, including by creating environments in which terrorists and organised crime groups can recruit for, plan and direct their global operations ... A lack of effective government, weak security and poverty can all cause instability and will be exacerbated in the future by competition for resources, growing populations and climate change”.
That is true, and during my time as a high commissioner in sub-Saharan Africa, I certainly found that to be true.
One of the greatest bulwarks against that insecurity is an all too often under-remarked upon and under-recognised aspect of the Ministry of Defence’s effort: defence diplomacy. It is the soft power instrument applied by the MoD and by the dedicated band of men and women who do the business of defence diplomacy, which the MoD described in its policy paper 1 of 2000. Defence diplomacy is,
“activities undertaken by the MOD to dispel hostility, build and maintain trust and assist in the development of democratically accountable armed forces, thereby making a significant contribution to conflict prevention and resolution”.
That is a very important task, and it is conducted by very skilled and experienced service men and women who deserve credit for what they have done and are doing. However, the sad thing is that—and my own Government must take their fair share of responsibility for this—having made a very good start in the strategic defence review of 1998, which identified Africa as being a place where we ought to be applying this form of soft power, in the intervening years defence diplomacy activity in Africa and elsewhere has slowly declined. We have in fact cut back on the British military advisory and training teams, the short-term military teams and the consultancy services undertaken by security sector advisory teams. They have all been cut back as a result of the distorting influence of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I hope that this new strategic defence and security review will begin to reverse that process. I hope that the conflict pool, which is now to be increased to some £300 million by 2014-15, will not be used just to fund programmes but will be underpinned by a strategy. That is the one question I have for the Minister. Is there to be an Africa strategy? Is there to be a strategy that calls upon DfID, the FCO, the MoD and, importantly, on the very considerable resources available to DfID that are not available to the FCO and the MoD to underpin that strategy? If so, that will be welcome news in Africa because there cannot be development without security and there are no better men and women at doing it than those in our military services. They deserve credit and support, and I hope they get the resources from this conflict pool and a strategy that underpins the application of those resources. All of us across government, in both Houses and on all sides, need to be concerned about not just the quantity of our spend, but its effectiveness, and give the strength and support to the men and women of our services that they deserve in their valuable work in Africa.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Boateng. We had the honour to serve together on a number of Finance Bill committees, in which he was always generous, in the halcyon days when there was a fair bit of money around. It is a little known fact that the noble Lord is the world’s greatest living expert on stamp duty reserve tax, which he introduced.
It has been said that the strategic defence and security review should answer the question posed by the previous Secretary of State, “What sort of country do we want to be?”. Although that is a sensible question and should form part of the review process, there is another more pressing question: “What operations must we as a country be capable of conducting in our own national self-interest and to fulfil our treaty obligations?”. We have 14 Crown dependencies scattered around the world, 13 of which are islands. We are pledged to defend them. Furthermore, we as a country depend crucially on imports, not least gas and oil. Those are essential for our day-to-day lives and economic well-being. Much of our imports of gas and oil come from the Middle East. I believe that 9 per cent of our gas comes from Qatar and this will continue to grow.
It is a helpful coincidence that only last Wednesday we were debating the European Union Committee’s excellent report, Combating Somali Piracy: the EU's Naval Operation Atalanta. I read that report and was particularly interested to read the oral evidence given on 25 February 2010 by Mr Jan Kopernicki, head of shipping for Shell International. I gather that he is also chairman of the Oil Companies International Marine Forum, a group representing some 80 countries around the world. He gave helpful advice, which we should heed in planning our future defences. He said:
“Should we not now be thinking that it is a legitimate security interest for us to consider the trade routes as far as the Gulf of Aden as part of our national concern? That in turn reflects the defence agenda and the importance of the Royal Navy”.
I know that my noble friend and other Ministers in the Ministry of Defence are only too aware of the importance of naval power for the future of our defences. I understand the constraints that the Government face because of the size of the national debt and I do not underestimate this burden. Nevertheless, it is the first duty and first priority of the Government to defend this country and to stand up for its interests. I strongly support the comments made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, in his compelling and authoritative speech.
I therefore come back to the deeply regrettable decision to scrap the Harriers and HMS Ark Royal. I raised these matters in the House on 22 October and 2 November, and I make no apology for raising them again. The last complete refit of HMS Ark Royal was in 2001 at a cost of £148 million. In 2009, she completed an intermediate refit at the cost of £34 million. She is well capable of lasting a further 10 years until the new carriers and Joint Strike Fighters are available. It is reckless optimism that seeks to rely on overflying rights and friendly airbases. These rights and bases can be swept away at a moment’s notice. It is imperative for us to preserve the ability to go where we want to go and where sometimes we are not wanted. This is what our amphibious capability gives us and why I so wholeheartedly support the Government’s decision to keep our amphibious fleet and our amphibious troops capable of deployment at brigade strength. We can deploy and withdraw without anyone’s consent, and these deployments can of course be for all-out combat, for scaled-down operations and for humanitarian operations as well. The operation in Sierra Leone serves as a vivid illustration of the benign effect of this capability and the presence of air power.
The amphibious fleet gives us the greatest flexibility and, importantly, the most diplomatic options. My noble friend knows only too well the constructive effect of a show of force. Many years ago he and I witnessed this together at first hand. The one major problem, as my noble friend knows, is that in order to have an effective amphibious force, it is essential to have carrier-based fixed-wing air support. We cannot do without it. If an incident occurs, the country will not tolerate any inability to challenge the threat. Not only would it be devastating for our national morale, it would also devastate the morale of our dedicated service personnel who are charged with defending our country’s interests. They continuously exceed our highest expectations, and they and their families are owed a voice in these matters, and we owe them no less. Fighting troops should not be expected to steam into a theatre of operations, wait offshore and then be prevented from deploying because there is no fixed-wing aircraft cover to support them. I hope sincerely that the Government will reconsider this decision.
I welcome the defence reform review launched by the Secretary of State. This is aimed at making the Ministry of Defence more effective. Government Ministers rightly wish to secure management that is delegated, but that is also responsible and accountable. Given some of the appalling procurement decisions over the last years, centralisation does not seem to have worked. This is the thrust of much of what the Government are doing: to delegate in return for full responsibility and complete accountability. Serving officers and civil servants will have to get used to a culture that is antipathetic to buck-passing and encourages initiative, originality and creativity. We are looking in this country for people who are prepared to take responsibility and to take the flak as and when it comes.
This leads me finally to the matter of senior promotions and appointments within the Armed Forces, and particularly the naval service. A number of distinguished former Secretaries of State for Defence have made the comment to me that exceptionally able Royal Marine officers’ careers come to a grinding halt after they reach two-star level. There have been some very distinguished Royal Marine officers who have had three-star appointments, but no Royal Marine officers have been appointed to three or four-star Royal Navy-only appointments. This is extraordinary because, anecdotally, Royal Marine officers distinguish themselves at the highest levels on operations and are held in the highest regard not only by our own personnel, but also by those of our allies. They do extremely well on the Advanced Staff Course and the Higher Command and Staff Course and at the Royal College of Defence Studies. Without a route through the naval service, senior Royal Marine officers cannot be expected to compete for and achieve the very highest appointments, including that of Chief of the Defence Staff. I very much hope that the defence reform review will consider carefully the points I have made so that we have a fair system of promotion and appointment throughout the services, a system that does not exclude or discriminate against some of the most talented and able officers in all of the services.
On 19 October, in the other place, my honourable friend Mr Gary Streeter asked the Prime Minister:
“Does he agree that the Royal Marines will have a glorious future in serving our country and its defence as well as a glorious past?”.
The naval service and, particularly, the Royal Marines were delighted with the Prime Minister’s reply, which concluded with the words:
“The Royal Marines are here to stay. They do a fantastic job and will go on doing so—so much so that I have actually employed one as a private secretary”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/10; col. 819.]
The Secretary of State has also recently employed a Royal Marine officer as his private secretary, and previous Secretaries of State have done the same. Finally, my question boils down to this. Why is it that these officers are actively sought after by our allies at the highest levels of command, where they have often been called upon and recommended, as well as by our Prime Minister and numerous Secretaries of State for Defence, but the system continues to exclude them? Is it not time that this changed?
I welcome the review and congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the persuasive way in which he made the case for it in his opening speech. Some have questioned the five-month period given for the review and have said that it was too short. They are perhaps forgetting that the coalition Government are quick about making decisions and show decisive leadership. They managed to come up with a five-year programme for government in five days, so five months for a strategic defence review may be seen as rather generous in that setting. After all, it is not that people have not known what needed to be done; they have just lacked the courage and decisiveness to do it. We now have that leadership, the strategy is very clear and I welcome it.
Much has been made of where cost savings will be required; little has been made of where investment is being made. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, referred to the area of conflict prevention and I shall focus my remarks on that. The SDSR set out that the direct funding of conflict prevention through the conflict pool will rise from £229 million to £300 million and that the overseas aid budget, which is critical to our defence and security, will rise by £3.1 billion by 2014. This is not only honouring our commitment to the poorest on the planet and the victims of wars and disease but is a crucial way of protecting our security. As the saying goes, if you do not visit your problem neighbourhoods then your problem neighbourhoods have a habit of visiting you.
Currently, approximately £1.9 billion of the official overseas aid budget supports fragile and conflict-affected states. The strategic defence review, at page 46, envisages that this may double by 2014-15. The investment will make us safer at home and abroad. This point was made by right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who said in another place that,
“we must get better at treating the causes of instability, not just dealing with the consequences. When we fail to prevent conflict and have to resort to military intervention, the costs are always far higher”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/10; col. 798.]
He goes on to give the example of the awkward framework agreement in the conflict between the Albanian National Liberation Army and the Macedonian security forces under the previous Government, when NATO deployed a short 30-day mission to help embed the peace by monitoring the disarmament of the ANLA and destroying its weapons. It has been estimated that the international community’s early intervention cost £3,000 million but that it would have saved a potential £15 billion had the conflict escalated.
Of course, the savings of good conflict prevention work are even more significant when one considers the human consequences. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, in his excellent maiden speech, referred to the work of Selly Oak Hospital and Headley Court in the rehabilitation of members of our Armed Forces who have been injured and wounded in action. This reminds us that in the Afghanistan campaign alone there have been 341 deaths, but for every one death five are wounded in action, sometimes horrifically. These courageous men and women deserve to be cared for. They are receiving that care at those institutions and we should recognise that.
On 14 June, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in relation to Afghanistan that insurgencies usually end with political settlements, not military victories: that we need a political process to bring the insurgency to an end. I cannot understand how efforts at peacemaking and conflict resolution are sometimes dismissed as the preserve of woolly-minded idealists. More often than not, it requires more courage, and is more odious, to make peace than to make war. We know that from the situation in Northern Ireland. I am delighted that this Government have rejected that outdated thinking and are reorientating our thinking on strategic defence towards conflict resolution.
When Sir Winston Churchill, as Prime Minister, said that jaw-jaw is better than war-war, it was significant because it was in the context of a revered wartime leader making those comments in 1954 at the age of 80. He was commenting on the Cold War and reflecting on the chaos and carnage that had already cost 100 million lives so far that century.
As I walked in this morning to take part in this debate, I walked through line upon line of poppies and small wooden crosses in Westminster Abbey Gardens, each with the names of brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. War is a scourge on all sides. There are no victors and no vanquished; we all lose because each life lost diminishes us as a human civilisation and poses a threat to our survival. We should remember, though, that when the guns start, it is because the politicians have failed. Our Armed Forces serve a political leadership. We are responsible for them, and it behoves us to do everything in our power to minimise the risks of their sacrifice being required of them in future.
My Lords, I ought to start by declaring a couple of modest interests. First, I am a trustee of the All-Party Armed Forces Group, to which the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, made generous reference earlier in the debate. Secondly, I am chairman of a small IT company that has a contractual relationship with a major MoD contractor in the field of information security.
I wholeheartedly welcome the two noble Lords who made their maiden speeches today: the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham who, as I was Member for Dudley for 27 years, will no doubt have taken care of the interests of some of my constituents in the past, and above all, if I may say so, my noble friend Lord Hutton, who I am delighted to welcome to your Lordships’ House. I know that I am going to make some enemies of some of my noble friends but I consider him not only one of the most intelligent but certainly the most courageous Defence Minister I have had the pleasure of knowing, and I hope to hear his contributions many times in the future. I was delighted to hear what he had to say today.
I should disclose some of my prejudices for the benefit of those of your Lordships who have not heard them before. First, I believe that we can and should spend a lot more money on defence. The stories that are being put about at the moment are absolute nonsense. I should like to see us spending at least 2.5 per cent of our gross domestic product on defence. Secondly, in contradiction to some of the things that have been said recently—I shall refer to this later—I do not believe that our closest neighbours to the east or to the south are our best friends. I make that clear. The best friends of this country are to be found in the English-speaking world, wherever it may be and however many thousands of kilometres away. I do not resile from that and I never have done.
I shall touch briefly on one or two things that have been mentioned, which was not part of my original intention. I welcome the Government’s emphasis on cyberwarfare. It is long overdue that the House has started to pay attention to these matters. I welcome the commitment to Trident, which I think will be for four boats—it had better be, or I shall withdraw my support. I am rather unhappy about this business of delaying Trident. That is probably a false economy. In fact, I think it will end up with us spending a lot more money than we started off having to spend. I welcome the decisions on the Chinooks and on the tanks as well as the theoretical decision on the Special Forces, although I have to say that some of the Government’s decisions seem to run contrary to their professed support for Special Forces.
I have one note of criticism before I get down to the subject of procurement. I was moved to hear my noble friend Lady Dean telling us how this Government were apparently going to treat widows. I could hardly believe my ears. I confess that I had not read the relevant passage, but I give notice to the Minister that he is going to suffer a strong campaign from all parts of the House unless the Government change the way that they intend to treat war widows.
I come to one or two more controversial matters. Of course, the Ministry of Defence has wasted an awful lot of money; it is still wasting it today in a lot of the things that it is buying. I am afraid that I do not share the universal welcome that is given to Eurofighter. You will never have seen a letter signed by me saying what a wonderful plane the Eurofighter is. It is only a fourth-generation plane, for God’s sake. It is a very agile fourth-generation plane, but that is all it is. Its radar cross-section is similar to that of a London double-decker bus. I am not giving away any state secrets; everybody knows that. Who would want to fly in a London double-decker bus against a Russian S-600 surface-to-air missile system? I certainly would not want to fly in a conflict where I knew that that sort of surface-to-air system was available.
The fifth-generation plane is another matter. It is probably the best fast jet that the Royal Air Force has ever had. It will not be nearly as good as the joint strike fighter, but it has marvellous agility. I do not know whether the figure is classified, but its ability to pull G-forces has measurements for agility somewhere in the middle teens. That would be marvellous, except that we have yet to invent a human being who can sustain G-forces above about eight and a half to nine. So what would the pilot be doing? He would be singing Hail Mary while the plane was pulling 14. It is absolutely ridiculous. With every single plane that we buy, we are wasting a hell of a lot of money. Everybody knows it and they are laughing at it. I do not find it funny at all; I have a sense of humour failure. I do not find it funny that we are spending this sort of money on a plane which has a totally otiose capability that nobody can use. Right, I have got that off my chest.
We are going to sell them. The trouble is, we are going to be selling Tranche 3, not Tranche 1. We are keeping Tranche 1, the clapped-out ones, while we flog off the really good, modern new ones to somebody who has got the sense to buy them. India says that it will no longer buy clapped-out planes from us. My view is that we should give away the Tranche 1 and keep the Tranche 3. Right, I have got that off my chest.
Now we are really getting down to the nitty-gritty: I want to talk about the A400M. It will come as no surprise to your Lordships that I regard the decision on the A400M as the most bone-stupid in the 40 years that I have been at one end or other of this building. It is an absolutely idiotic decision. We have a military airlift fleet of C-17s and C-130s. We have total interoperability with the United States, which flies the same combination of airlift planes, apart from a few clapped-out Galaxies. It is also getting something called the C-27, which is replacing the C-23 or C-25—I get mixed up with figures these days. Basically, we have total interoperability with the United States. We have total interoperability with the Canadians. We have total interoperability with the Australians, with the Indians, with the UAE and with the Qataris. This week, I put down the following Question for the Minister:
“To ask Her Majesty's Government with which countries the Royal Air Force will lose its interoperability as a result of the forthcoming replacement of the C130 by the A400M.[HL3190].
I received this absolutely unbelievable Answer:
“The Royal Air Force will not lose interoperability with any countries as a result of the drawdown of the C-130J Hercules and entry into service of the A400M”.—[Official Report, 9/11/10; col. WA 46.]
I am almost tempted to read it again because I am sure that your Lordships could hardly credit it. We are acquiring a plane for which only the manufacturing consortium has placed orders. The South Africans cancelled an order, and only one other country outside the manufacturing consortium has an order on the books at the moment. That means that six or seven countries altogether will be flying the A400M. Flying the C130, which it is intended to replace, are 60 countries, with 2,600 or so C130Js currently being used. That is the interoperability that we are losing. Noble Lords will be glad to know that there is another question on the Order Paper for the Minister. How do Her Majesty’s Government define interoperability? It probably has not reached his desk yet, but I shall be interested to see the Answer.
Why on earth are we doing this? I once described this rather vulgarly as a Euro-wanking make-work project and I do not resile from that. I hope that this time Hansard will leave that in and not take it out. It was in the next day’s version but Hansard funked it and took it out of the Bound Volume. I hope that this is all on the record.
I can tell your Lordships why we are buying the A400M because I want to pay special tribute this afternoon to the defence Minister of France, who is our new best ally in Europe. The New York Herald Tribune on 6 November states:
“The A400 M is an emblematic program which Europe could not abandon”,
Monsieur Morin said at a news conference on Friday.
“Giving it up would have meant Europe saying it wanted to be dependent on the United States in military transport”.
How pathetic. We are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a plane just to make sure that nobody thinks we are dependent on the United States for military transport.
We are told that the new arrangement we will have with our friends across the Channel will in no way dilute our relations with our best friends the Americans. Yet the defence Minister involved in our new great alliance with the French has this attitude. Another question is coming to the Minister asking whether Monsieur Morin has many other emblematic symbols in the field of defence procurement that we will have to acquire just to prove that we are not dependent on the United States for transport.
Your Lordships will be familiar with the phrase “barking mad”. A few years ago, some wit invented the phrase “Dagenham mad”. When asked what it meant he said it was three stops beyond Barking. This is not “Barking mad” nor “Dagenham mad”: it is “Upminster mad”. It is at the end of the line. You cannot go any further: it is sheer madness. The Minister responsible is sitting here. He is carefully not identifying himself and I am not going to be so cruel as to identify him either.
This is not a party point. Both parties have been involved. When I was a Minister, I was told, “You don’t have to cancel the A400M because the Germans will do it for us. The Germans have a very tight defence budget and cannot possibly buy everything that they say they will buy, so don't worry they’ll do the dirty work for you”. It was a great reassurance to my boss at the time because he was unhappy. We had just cancelled MRAV and a NATO frigate and it was more than his sensitive soul could bear to be accused by our European friends—I hope he does not mind me letting this cat out of the bag—of being anti-European. That is why we are stuck with the A400M. I asked more than one Conservative defence procurement Minister and they told me that they were told exactly the same by their officials. It is a disastrous decision. It is actually a criminal waste of public money. We will have to buy stocks and train crews and so forth, and will lose the worldwide interoperability that we currently enjoy with the C130.
When one criticises, one has a responsibility to suggest a solution. We should get together with our Commonwealth friends, particularly Australia, Canada and India, to set up a Commonwealth heavy lift force that could be available to deal with natural disasters because the C17 has a capability that nobody else has.
I have said what I think we should do about the Eurofighter. I would advise the Minister to think very carefully about the advice—
I apologise for intervening, but the noble Lord will be aware that the C17 is going out of production and that the C130 does not carry our new generation of armoured vehicles—for example, a Mastiff or a Warrior. In those circumstances, how does the noble Lord expect to replace the strategic airlift which we currently have with the C130J fleet?
The C17 is not yet going out of production and, with any luck, the order from the Indians will help to keep it going. I hope that there will be more orders of C17 around the world. The noble Lord is quite right about the Hercules not carrying the latest army kit, but the C17 has an enormously good capability on short-field runways and can be used for that task, as the noble Lord well knows.
I am glad to say that the noble Lord has reminded me of something else which we will lose when we get rid of the C17, which is support for the Special Forces. I hope that the Minister will tell us exactly what discussions he has been having with Hereford on this subject, because it is a very serious matter and the Americans place great weight on our co-operation in the field of Special Forces. We are particularly interoperable with their C130 Talon aircraft, as the Government know.
I hope that the Minister will carefully consider the recommendation that he has received that we should have five-yearly defence reviews. That would be too frequent; once a decade is often enough. We can pull things up and look at the roots far too often, and I think that the Americans suffer from having quadrennial defence reviews.
My Lords, I shall make three declarations of interest. First, I am a non-executive director of an American defence company. Secondly, I am president of the Army Benevolent Fund, a soldiers’ charity, and three regimental charities that have been formed to look after their casualties from Afghanistan. Also, I am a colonel of the Life Guards.
Perhaps the most difficult and controversial decision taken by the SDSR has been to do with the two carriers. The case for them has been made, but their construction, bringing them into service, operating them and keeping them going over the years are likely to cause huge difficulties to the defence budget. Budgets are likely to be even more under pressure in future than they are today, in what we have estimated. It will be not just the Royal Navy that is affected by this but defence as a whole. I am sure that the carrier group, when it forms, will be much more expensive than it is today.
The Royal Navy’s surface fleet is now smaller than at any time since the reign of Charles II. Our small surface fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers will not be enough to meet the many worldwide tasks and to act as escorts for carriers. As an aside, when I was Chief of the Defence Staff and needed a frigate off the coast of Sierra Leone, the same ship had two commitments at the same time. Unbelievably, it was guarding the Falkland Islands and chasing drug dealers in the West Indies. At that time, we had a surface fleet of more than 30 ships; we are now going to have 19. In reality, having 19 ships means that we will probably have about 13 or 14 available at any time. We certainly need a larger Navy and we need more frigates and smaller ships. We cannot skimp on escorts for the carriers, particularly as every year improved supersonic anti-ship missiles and more sophisticated torpedoes are becoming available.
Secondly, we should welcome the recent agreement with France. It seems sensible; we probably have more in common with the French military than with anyone else in Europe. Sometimes I do not think that we have so much in common with the Quai d’Orsay and the French Government, but as far as their military is concerned we work very well with them. In the Balkans, when necessary, we were perfectly happy to put British soldiers under French command and the French were perfectly happy to put their soldiers under our command. We have also operated in different parts of the world alongside them and that has been perfectly all right. Although savings will be possible from the French agreement, they will not be anything like as much as people think, because it is important that we are able to operate independently from the French, if the need arises, and there will be occasions when we have different goals and aims in international relations.
It is certainly right to increase the effectiveness of our Special Forces, the SAS and SBS. Their successes in Iraq and Afghanistan have been remarked on. Having been to Baghdad when I was colonel commandant of the SAS and seen them working alongside the United States special forces and what benefit there was to both the United States and to our soldiers, I am completely convinced that we need to give more modern technology—particularly, intelligence technology—to our Special Forces. I am a bit nervous of increasing the size of the Special Forces. I know that people suggest that we need more, but to produce an SAS or SBS soldier needs careful selection and arduous training. If we do not maintain those standards, there is a real danger that the two units will be dumbed down in some way. I hope that the Minister can assure me—I know that he wants to assure the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert—that the introduction of the A400M will not affect SAS and SBS operations. The C130 is excellent and the right size, while the A400M is a bigger aircraft and I am not sure that it can do all the things that the SAS will want it to do.
Lastly, I am delighted that there is to be a full and fundamental review of the Ministry of Defence. Nobody could be more suited to lead that review than the noble Lord, Lord Levene, who knows the Ministry of Defence well. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, said, when he was Home Secretary, that he felt that his department was not fit for purpose. I am afraid that many of us feel the same way about the Ministry of Defence. It lacks agility and is too big. Do we really need to have a Permanent Joint Headquarters as well as the Ministry of Defence? There is a certain amount of duplication. As people second-guess, PJHQ has constantly to refer back to the Ministry of Defence when it makes decisions. Why do we need so many people? We have 86,000 civilian staff who are there for only 175,000 service men and women. We then have a Defence Equipment and Support organisation of 26,000, to which others have referred today, and we do not seem to be able to produce all the equipment that we want in time for when we need it. The review will need to take some radical and tough decisions, some of which will be very unpopular. It is always difficult to reduce numbers; it has happened before and I know that there is a plan to do it now, but I do not underestimate the difficulties of that.
We must follow through the review. Since I have been in the Ministry of Defence—and I have spent many years there—there have been any number of reviews, yet I cannot think of one that was really followed through. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, referred in a previous debate to Mr Bernard Gray, who knows a great deal about procurement and understands the Ministry of Defence as well as anybody. I would like to know why what seemed to most of us to be an excellent report, which may have been critical of the Ministry of Defence, seems to have been shelved. Why has it not gone forward? What is happening? What is going on to put this right?
My Lords, this debate is of crucial importance to our country. The first duty of any Government is to protect their territory and defend their citizens. We have been waiting a long time for a strategic defence review and the Government are to be congratulated on having completed this review within just five months. Undoubtedly, not every decision that the Government have had to make will achieve a positive resonance with everybody.
In yesterday’s debate on the importance of diplomacy, I made reference to the heightened co-operation needed among the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This cross-departmental approach will strengthen security and provide the structure for an effective programme of international relations that takes our defence requirements into account.
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. With this debate taking place the day after Remembrance Day, it is appropriate to record our collective gratitude for the risks that they bear, and have borne, and the price that has been paid over generations by brave service men and women. We owe it to them to ensure that they are properly resourced when deployed and adequately looked after once they have ceased to serve.
The context for the strategic defence and security review has been the need, through the comprehensive spending review, to achieve improved balance in our public finances. I know that my noble friend and his ministerial colleagues have presented a cogent and credible case for defence in its widest context. That has been recognised in the settlement that has been achieved. Defence is sufficiently important to ensure that, while every government department must make its contribution to restoring fiscal balance, the defence budget has been relatively protected. As a businessman who is chairman of several companies, I feel that the present economic problems have arisen partly due to the greed of the bankers but, importantly, also because of a lack of control and overspending by the previous Government. We therefore need to take remedial action.
The record in recent times has been frustrating for those serving in our Armed Forces. Despite the changes that have occurred in the world since the last review was conducted in 1998, our service personnel have been overcommitted and underequipped in two major conflict theatres. They have performed admirably, but we should never allow the situation to arise where they have to overcome these hurdles again. I welcome the Government’s commitment to a regular programme of strategic defence and security reviews.
I also welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that current operations in Afghanistan will not be adversely affected by the approach adopted in this review. Our troops continue to provide sterling service under very difficult conditions in that country, but it is important that our Armed Forces are adequately shaped in the future and we should not forget the needs of those on the front line. Too often in recent times, the Government’s ambitions have not been reflected in the support provided to our troops. This review gives a clear and categorical undertaking to correct that imbalance.
One of the major causes of the imbalance that has affected our defence policy in recent years has been the failings in procurement. Inevitably, defence procurement projects are expensive and have long lead times. The management of public money needs to be a priority for the Government, not least as we face a considerable period of fiscal restraint, and we must make sure that we get maximum value for every penny that we spend. I hope that the Minister, in responding to this debate, will provide further detail on how he will ensure that future projects are delivered on time and within budget.
I understand that it is the Government’s ambition that future forces, although smaller in size, should retain their geographical reach. The strategic defence and security review recognises the importance of developing and maintaining strong defence relationships internationally. We saw further evidence of the Government’s commitment to this in the announcements last week on deepening our defence relationship with France and I welcome the Government’s proactive approach to developing strong bilateral relationships with our key defence partners.
I wish to develop the theme of international co-operation further. It is likely that, as in recent times, our defence objectives will be most effectively met through international partnerships and alliances. It is proper that our defence posture should be informed by our foreign policy stance. Bringing foreign policy objectives, defence engagements and international development assistance under the co-ordinated umbrella of one cohesive and consistent approach will be crucial in mitigating future threats. The review recognises that and commits the Government to ensuring that our international development programme has a focus on making sure that future conflicts can be dealt with by targeted help and support.
However, there is scope for wider engagement in defence matters, as implied by the review. I wish to enlarge briefly on the scope to do so in respect of Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Bahrain and the Gulf region. This is an area in which I have extensive experience—I have travelled widely in it and have business interests there. I also know the ambassadors of these countries. I commend the Government for undertaking their Gulf initiative as a high priority. We should be proactive in expanding our defence relationships across this region. The recent state visit from His Highness the Emir of Qatar within the last couple of weeks has provided a good opportunity to advance and deepen these important friendships.
The 2004 Istanbul Co-operation Initiative offers countries that are part of the Gulf Co-operation Council bilateral security co-operation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Britain has the potential to create a similar relationship with the Gulf states that involves mutual assistance through sharing intelligence and assistance with border security in connection with the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Such co-operation would also include activities whereby Armed Forces from each country participate in selected military education and training exercises. I would be grateful if the Minister could inform your Lordships’ House as to whether the Government have any plans to adopt the concept of the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative by strengthening our relationship with the Gulf states to the benefit of our national and international security strategy.
In conclusion, we need a coherent policy framework that provides us with an opportunity to head off future conflicts while tackling, in partnership, existing threats. The tests that we face come in a variety of guises and forms, including cyberwarfare and counterinsurgency, as well as more conventional forms of military engagement. The decisions that the Government must take are difficult but they are about striking the right balance. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this debate. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham and my noble friend Lord Hutton of Furness on their maiden speeches. I now know more about Birmingham. I have a colleague from Birmingham; we know that it is the greatest place on earth. I thank my noble friend Lord Hutton for his thoughtful remarks and look forward to his contributions, particularly on defence, in the months to come.
I also pay tribute to the front-line troops. Tonight I will dine with a friend whose son died in a bomb clearance operation in Bosnia. Last weekend I met his colleagues. I am in awe of those young men, who do tasks that I could not imagine myself doing. I am sure the sympathy of the whole House goes to my friend, those like him and the friends and relatives of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition will work with the Government as closely as possible in matters of security and defence. They are too important for us not to co-operate wherever we can to secure the best possible security and defence capability for this country. However, quite properly, just as the Government did in opposition, we will be holding them to account. There has not been much comment on Afghanistan in this debate. That is probably because of the clear assurances given in both the White Paper and by the Minister at the beginning of this debate. Nevertheless, we will watch carefully to make sure that every part of those assurances is delivered. Our troops in Afghanistan need all our support to finish the brave operation in which they are involved.
Turning to the rest of the review, we have had a long and interesting debate. Realistically, I recognise that noble Lords are not waiting for my comments about their speeches but for the Minister’s response. Nevertheless, a preponderant number of noble Lords expressed concerns about the review. The phrase that struck me most came from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, who said that he had “deep, deep concerns”. Indeed, according to the Royal United Services Institute survey, 68 per cent of those in the defence community have concerns that this was a lost opportunity for a more radical reassessment of the UK’s role in the world.
It was very easy to pick up comments from around the defence community and elsewhere in Parliament about the review but I thought it sensible to read the source documents—the two volumes. You can, I hope, only do so by reading the national security strategy before going on to read the strategic defence and security review. I got as far as page nine of the first volume and read what, at first sight, was an extraordinarily reassuring statement. The document stated at the bottom of page nine:
“The National Security Council has reached a clear conclusion”—
there is no ambiguity in that statement—
“that Britain's national interest requires us to reject any notion of the shrinkage of our influence”.
I hope that the noble Lord will explain to me how he can stand by that statement given the 14 per cent reduction in the Navy, the 7 per cent reduction in the Army, the 13 per cent reduction in the RAF, the 29 per cent reduction in civilian staff, the ability to undertake an enduring operation reduced from 9,500 to 6,500, our surge capability reduced by a third to 30,000, the abandonment of carrier strike for a decade and the permanent abandonment of our maritime reconnaissance capability.
Nevertheless, despite that setback to my enthusiasm for the document, I pressed on. Indeed, to read the two documents as a whole is an interesting experience. You would think that the first document would finish with the last page; in fact, it finishes on page 12 of the next document. It is an interesting narrative. I am not sufficiently professional to be able to criticise it in any detail; that needs to be done over time. However, at least I accept that it is an attempt to work from the risks towards a series of strategic tasks. Those strategic tasks are listed on page two of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. That document then goes into the consequences. I was hoping to see an analysis of those tasks with military content, what scenarios related to those tasks, how the newly shaped Armed Forces would fit with those scenarios and how they would work together. However, you do not see that. You move on to page 15, which really says nothing about defence, except that there is a £38 billion hole. I was not going to cover this point in any depth but the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, did, so I must return to it. Will the Minister tell me where the £38 billion figure came from? I have searched what is available in the public domain and the nearest figure that I can find is £36 billion in the Major Projects Report 2009, published on 15 December 2009. The £36 billion figure is contained in one of the most irresponsible sentences I have ever seen in an NAO document. It states:
“The Department estimate, however, that the Defence budget remains over committed by £6 billion over the next ten years; this assumes an annual increase of 2.7 per cent in their budget after the end of the current Comprehensive Spending Review settlement in 2010-11”.
It then goes on to speculate:
“If the Defence budget remains flat in cash terms after this time”—
that is, for the next 10 years—
“then the extent of the over commitment widens to £36 billion”.
If there is no better source than that, I put it to noble Lords that the source is false. Even this Government in what they are putting forward are not suggesting 10 years with a flat cash budget.
When one goes back to the review, the document moves rapidly to principles. The principles on page 17 say things which are a little bit like motherhood in the sense that you could just as easily have said it last year as this year. I think that all but two paragraphs would be more or less identical to what one would have said last year. The two paragraphs in question say that we are to have smaller Armed Forces and that they are to be more selectively used. That is the only bridging interpretation between the tasks set out on page 12 and the cuts that start on page 19.
Is this a good package of cuts? Once again, I do not know. To know this, I would have to see the logic that led from the assumptions on page 12 of the first volume to the forces that we can now deploy. Certainly, the Treasury must feel that it is a satisfactory set of cuts. One assumes—because none of them has resigned—that the defence chiefs think that it is a satisfactory set of cuts. However, I say that it is as yet unproven. Certainly there are surprising elements, such as the carriers that will be delayed for four years from 2016 to “around 2020” to fit a catapult and some arrester gear. That is a lot of years to fit a catapult and arrester gear. There is also the decision on Harriers. I have heard the argument for scrapping the whole fleet, but we in this House have asked what would be the cost of a modest core fleet to maintain the capability on our current carriers in the mean time. We are looking at retaining “Illustrious” or “Ocean”. Why can we not retain “Illustrious” and a modest fleet to maintain a deployable capability to put what history teaches us can be very small numbers of fast jets over a battlefield? We need to know the figures to know whether or not to consider that was a good decision.
Many speakers have treated the civilian staff of the Ministry of Defence as if they are fat, lazy, ineffective and inefficient, and can be slashed at will. I declare an interest: I was employed as a non-executive director on the procurement side of the Ministry of Defence before I joined the Front Bench. Noble Lords should understand what an enormous range of tasks civilians perform in the Ministry of Defence. The ministry must be congratulated on the way in which, over the past decades, it has got people out of uniform. It has had the courage to persuade service personnel that, once they are no longer needed for fighting, many can sensibly become civilians and still be employed by the ministry. These people are frequently the repositories of, for instance, safety knowledge. They man the specialist teams that keep our equipment safe. They go head to head with defence contractors, who employ extremely able people to make sure that the last penny is screwed out of every contract. These are the people that we are talking about cutting by 29 per cent, when the overall size of the services is going down by only 10 per cent. What mechanisms will we put in place to make sure that this cut is made in a way that does not seriously weaken our capability, that does not put safety at risk, that does not put our procurement capability at risk, but does allow people who in the past have served on the front line to continue to provide a service to our soldiers, sailors and airmen?
On the face of it, this is not a strategic defence and security review. Perhaps, when we have probed it, it will emerge that the theme started in the first volume and developed through it sensibly translates to the force that is described in the second volume. We the Opposition will probe this over the months ahead. We hope that we will be part of a wider debate that will be much more inclusive than it has been so far of the defence community. For our country's sake, I hope that we will find that it all fits together, and that, if it is proved that in some places it does not, the Government will have the courage to change their mind.
My Lords, this has been an exceptional debate. That is no surprise with so many former Secretaries of State, Defence Ministers, Chiefs of the Defence Staff and noble Lords who are genuinely well informed and passionate about defence and national security.
I am aware that I am standing between many noble Lords and their trains and planes home. Clearly, there is no way that I can address every point and question that has been raised today but I promise all noble Lords that I will follow up this debate by responding to all the questions that have been asked of me.
I associate myself with the compliments paid to the exceptional maiden speeches of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham and the noble Lord, Lord Hutton. I was pleased that the debate was not exclusively restricted to defence and that the noble Lord, Lord Condon, was able to speak on policing.
Like every defence review, the SDSR has been very difficult. I pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Robertson and Lord Reid, who led the last and greatly respected defence review in 1998. This difficulty reflects the complexity of defence: the variety of enduring and emerging threats that we face; the changing nature of conflict itself; and the financial situation in which we have found ourselves. Every department has had to make a contribution to the deficit reduction and the Ministry of Defence has been no exception. We have been acutely aware of the human impact of the decisions that we are making in the SDSR—not only on jobs and livelihoods but on the emotional attachment that people who care deeply about our country’s interests have to certain aspects of defence. Our decisions have had to be objective and unsentimental, based on the military advice that we have received. We have had to make a fact-led, risk-informed judgment about the likely threats that this country will face in the future, although no one should claim to be able to predict the future with absolute certainty.
Now, our work begins in earnest. There are difficult decisions to be taken, including basing decisions, the rationalisation of the defence estate and alliances. I assure noble Lords that we will take those decisions as quickly as possible to minimise uncertainty but in a way that is sensitive to economic and social pressures and to the needs of our people and their families. Three further reviews are being undertaken to bring other areas of defence into line with the new force structure: the future role and structure of the Reserve Forces, force generation and sustainability, and the remodelling of the MoD itself, overseen by the Defence Reform Unit, which will report in July next year.
I was asked about Bernard Gray’s recommendations. Most of them have already been implemented through our acquisition reform programme.
I thank the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe, for their strong support for our Armed Forces and their families, and for the fact that they will work constructively with the Government on the SDSR. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked me how we intend to bridge the capability gap with regard to Nimrod. I am happy to make the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, the opposition defence spokesman, fully aware, as far as classification allows, of any decisions and the military advice on which we made the decisions about Nimrod.
I am well aware of the concern from all corners of the House about the Nimrod MRA4. Nimrod has cost the taxpayer more than £3 billion and is eight years behind schedule, despite the number of aircraft commissioned falling by half. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said, this was a disgrace. We are determined to learn the lessons of Nimrod and other unaffordable programmes.
Ministers and service chiefs have acknowledged that the decision not to bring the Nimrod MRA4 into service was very difficult. However, the severe financial pressures and the urgent need to bring the defence programme into balance meant that we could not retain all our existing programmes, and we had to prioritise those capabilities that we could maintain.
We will continue to undertake joint maritime patrol activities with our allies, and we will utilise a range of other military assets to ensure the integrity of the United Kingdom waters. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about civilians in the Ministry of Defence. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, I pay tribute to the excellent and critical role that MoD civil servants continue to play, but the size of the MoD workforce, both military and civilian, needs to reduce in line with the overall reductions in the size of the force structure. We recognise the uncertainty that that will generate, and will keep people informed about the details of where the reductions will fall and the timeframes. Wherever possible, reductions will be achieved without recourse to redundancies.
My noble friend made an important speech about Permanent Secretaries. I can say that Ursula Brennan was appointed following a lengthy selection process run by the Cabinet Secretary. He, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister all agreed that she was the right person, together with the new Chief of the Defence Staff, to lead the department. As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said, Afghanistan has not been very much mentioned. It remains our number one defence priority. We are committed 100 per cent to ensuring operational success and to our forces having the tools to get on with the job. It should be remembered that our timetable is linked with the aspirations of the Afghans themselves, who want control of their security by 2015.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, and my noble friend Lord Sterling commented on the service advisers in the Box in uniform. This country is rightly exceptionally proud of its Armed Forces, and we encourage them to wear uniform where appropriate, as did the noble Lord, Lord Davies. As long as I am a Defence Minister in this House, those servicemen and women, who give me outstanding military advice, will be encouraged to wear their uniform. I also share my noble friend Lord Sterling's admiration for the Armed Forces parliamentary scheme, and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and my noble friend Lord Lyell for the excellent work that they do with the Lords’ defence group. I am happy to help in any way that I can. Like the noble Baroness, I very much miss Lady Park from our defence debates.
Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Burnett, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie, and my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, have mentioned Harriers. Harriers, regrettably, will be retired. Like many iconic and beautiful aircraft produced by Britain in the past—the Spitfire, the Lancaster and the Vulcan—the Harrier force has made an impressive contribution to our nation's security over the decades.
Retiring the Harrier is not something that any of us wanted to do—I am sure that that is true of all noble Lords—but tough but fair decisions had to be made in the SDSR. Retaining Tornado allows us to sustain operations in Afghanistan and maintain contingent airpower capabilities, in addition to the role of UK air defence. The Tornado fleet will gradually draw down over the course of a decade, phased to ensure that there is no impact on operations in Afghanistan and linked to the build-up of the Typhoon. It is simply not the case that decommissioning the Harrier and HMS “Ark Royal” will impact on our ability to defend territories in the south Atlantic. We are not complacent about this. We maintain a wide range of assets to ensure the defence of the Falkland Islands and are able to respond to any and all threats. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, knows very well that I cannot comment on whether we have a submarine there. The Government are unequivocally committed to the defence of our overseas territories and dependencies, but the situation is now far removed from that of the early 1980s. The Argentine is no longer ruled by a military junta that is repressive at home and aggressive abroad. Indeed, it is now a vibrant multiparty democracy, constructive on the world stage and pledged to peaceful resolution of the issues that undoubtedly remain between us.
A good number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord King, the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Judd, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, mentioned carriers. The Queen Elizabeth class carriers will simply be two of the best ships this country has ever built and a reminder of Britain’s global reach, its continuing global role, and our successful defence industry. They will enjoy an extended service life of 50 years. Their upgrade to include cats and traps will allow us to deploy the carrier variant of the JSF and promote greater interoperability with our allies. The JSF will be the world’s most advanced multi-role combat jet and, together with the modernised Typhoon fleet, it will provide us with the most capable fighter jets anywhere in the world.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, and the noble Lord, Lord Reid, asked for confirmation that we will retain skills to land on carriers. Plans are being developed with our allies to retain key skills in carrier aviation and to ensure joint Royal Navy and Royal Air Force manning of fixed-wing and rotary-wing fleets. At least one major aviation platform will be maintained up to the entry into service of the new carriers, and a study into the relative merits of keeping HMS “Illustrious” or HMS “Ocean” is currently under way.
On the A400M, I can say to the noble Lord—
Before the Minister leaves that point, I really am mystified. He is proposing immense expenditure in future on two very sophisticated ships, which must impress us all, particularly those of us who have had responsibility in that sphere. He tells us that in the interregnum it is all right because we can meet all eventualities and cover all our needs. I do not see the logic. What may happen in these next 10 years, in the interregnum? What is it that will fill the gap? If we have something that makes it perfectly all right, how can we contemplate this expenditure in future?
My Lords, I make no apology for these carriers, and we are in an alliance with our NATO allies.
As far as the A400M is concerned, the Royal Air Force had a number of concerns about it, but it now tells me that it is delighted that it is coming into service. The noble Lord raised some very important points about the A400M today. I cannot comment on the Special Forces issue, but I have offered the noble Lord a meeting to discuss the A400M. We are where we are with it. It is coming in, and I very much hope that the noble Lord will take up my offer, as I would very much welcome that.
The Trident replacement was mentioned by a number of noble and noble and gallant Lords. The Government are committed to the maintenance of the United Kingdom’s essential continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrent. The decision to extend the life of the current Vanguard class submarines, and changes in the profile of the replacement programme, mean that initial gate will be approved in the next few weeks.
The next phase of the project will commence and the main gate decision will be taken in 2016.
On finance, the additional costs over the spending review period of the programme to replace the Vanguard class, some £700 million, are accommodated in the MoD’s SR settlement, taking account of the other needs of defence. This is the usual practice. The spending review settlement provides for successive deterrent funding until 2014-15. I assure all noble Lords that my department will then enter into robust discussions with the Treasury on this issue as part of the next spending review.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, said that we should exercise the use of the deterrent. I can confirm that we conduct regular command-post exercises with No. 10 and other government departments. The noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson mentioned helicopters. With additional Chinooks, upgraded Pumas and Merlins, and the introduction of Wildcats, we should finally have the right amount of helicopter capability. However, this will be kept under review.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out the importance of international defence agreements. My noble friend referred, in particular, to the Gulf region. We are engaging widely with the Gulf countries; I was in Oman and Qatar last week. On my noble friend’s question, all NATO allies, including the UK, agreed the ICI partnership framework in Istanbul in 2004. The UK plays its part in working with the four Gulf states—Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE.
Several noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Lee and Lord Trefgarne, welcomed the Anglo-French agreement. This is not new. It must make sense to promote greater co-operation with our largest military ally in Europe, especially as we will be maintaining defence sovereignty and autonomous capability. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Davies, of my and the other Defence Ministers’ commitment to making this agreement work. The noble Lords, Lord Soley and Lord Robertson, asked whether we could widen our discussions with other European NATO members. I share the aspirations of the noble Lords and I can confirm to them and to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that Defence Ministers are constantly engaging with their European counterparts.
Several noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Sterling, Lord Chidgey, Lady Tonge and Lord Bates, mentioned conflict prevention and overseas aid. By 2015, one-third of the aid budget will be spent on conflict prevention. We will provide support for fragile states whose instability has consequences for the safety of the United Kingdom. If we do not tackle the root causes of pandemics, climate change and conflict, we will spend far more in the future trying to deal with the consequences. Delivered effectively, aid is good value for money. Each £1 spent on conflict prevention generates more than £4 in savings on conflict response.
I am running out of time and there are lot of issues that I have not been able to cover, but I will write to noble Lords on these. In my first speech to the House as a Defence Minister in May, I said that I would always do my utmost to support our Armed Forces. I also said that I am always ready to listen to advice from defence experts, whom this House has in abundance. Those pledges remain. I have held several briefing sessions with a mix of noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords, and I am very keen that they should continue. There is a difficult road ahead, but at the end of the process Britain will have the capability that it needs to keep our people safe and to live up to our responsibilities to our allies and friends, and our national interests will be more secure.
House adjourned at 5.50 pm.