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Armed Forces: Resources

Volume 728: debated on Monday 27 June 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to ensure that the Armed Forces have sufficient resources to meet their obligations in the light of recent and additional deployments.

My Lords, first, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Craftsman Andrew Found of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, serving with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys), and Corporal Lloyd Newell of the Parachute Regiment, who were both killed on operations in Afghanistan on Thursday 16 June. My thoughts are also with the wounded, and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.

The Government are fully committed to providing our Armed Forces with the resources needed to carry out operations, as has been demonstrated in Afghanistan and more recently in Libya. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made clear, the additional costs of operations in Libya will be fully met from the Government’s special reserve.

I thank the Minister for his reply and, once again, the sobering reality of what our forces are facing. However, while fully understanding the difficult financial legacy which this Government have inherited, I believe there is a growing unease in this House, in the forces and in the country that the armed services are being asked to undertake more difficult and dangerous missions at the same time as their resources are being cut. How do the Government propose to reconcile these conflicting realities?

My Lords, dealing with the economic legacy that we inherited has required us to reduce the size of the Armed Forces and cut or gap a number of low-priority capabilities. However, the SDSR states explicitly the need for an adaptable posture to defend our interests in the world. As a result, we have structured and resourced our forces to give us flexibility to conduct operations.

My Lords, we on this side also wish to extend our sincere condolences to the families and friends of Craftsman Andrew Found and Corporal Lloyd Newell, who have both been killed recently in operations in Afghanistan. We also join the Minister in paying tribute to the courage and fortitude of the wounded.

The Foreign Secretary has said that the Arab spring is a more important event than 9/11. The national security strategy, published last year, does not mention Libya or, indeed, Egypt and Tunisia. Should the Government not be looking again at the strategic defence and security review in the light of that to make sure that we have a review that has been updated to reflect what is now happening and the impact this has on our resources and capabilities to enable us to sustain our current commitments, including over Libya?

My Lords, the SDSR was a thorough assessment of the threats we face. Its conclusion, that we need an adaptable posture with flexible forces, has been validated by recent events, and it will ensure we can continue to conduct operations today while preparing our future force. Those who argue for a fundamental reassessment of the SDSR are really arguing for increased defence spending, but they fail to spell out the inevitable result: more borrowing, more tax rises or more cuts elsewhere.

My Lords, from these Benches I join the Minister in his tributes to those who have fallen. Perhaps I could also draw his attention to the fact that this month, the Prime Minister said that the military covenant will be made law. The covenant, as your Lordships know, is the state’s duty of care to its Armed Forces and will have legal force in the Armed Forces Bill. Will my noble friend the Minister explain how the UK can cope with increased defence commitments, increased defence cuts and the military covenant all at the same time?

My Lords, as reluctant as all Ministers are to make reductions, we are tackling the issues that the Labour Party refused to face up to and getting the defence budget on to a stable footing. Without healthy finances we can create neither the public services nor the national security that we desire. We must recognise that our options are constrained by the need to reduce public expenditure across the board.

My Lords, I join the Minister in his tributes to the fallen and the wounded. Some three months ago, in the first week of the no-fly zone over Libya, I asked the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether the Government had both the resolve and the resources to maintain the zone as long as was necessary, especially in light of the fact that in Iraq the no-fly zones had lasted some 12 years. Obviously it is important that Gaddafi understands that we have such resolve and resource but, in view of some of the comments that have been attributed recently to some people in the military, would the Minister like to take the opportunity today to assure the House once again that not only the resolve but the resources to maintain that no-fly zone as long as possible are and will be made available?

I agree entirely with the noble Lord. As the Chief of the Defence Staff has said, we can sustain this operation as long as we choose to. I am absolutely clear on that.

My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Reid, I am sure that the Ministry of Defence can sustain the task in Libya as long as possible. Will the Minister say what other, higher-priority tasks will have to be given up in order for that to be sustained?

My Lords, the Government will continue to provide sufficient resources to achieve operational success in Afghanistan and elsewhere as long as we are in Libya. We are quite clear that we can manage what we are being asked to do in Afghanistan and what we are doing in Libya at the same time.