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Lords Chamber

Volume 754: debated on Monday 23 June 2014

House of Lords

Monday, 23 June 2014.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Deaths of Members


My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the deaths of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, and of the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, both on 21 June. On behalf of the House, I extend our deepest condolences to the noble Lords’ families and friends.

Independent Schools


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of independent schools on the British economy, in the light of the report The impact of independent schools on the British economy, published by the Independent Schools Council in April.

My Lords, we have made no specific assessment of the contribution that independent schools make to the United Kingdom economy, although we welcome its reported significant size. The Government’s policy is to focus their energies and resources on raising standards for pupils in state-funded schools. We welcome in particular the contribution that private schools make to the state-funded school system, in support for academies and free schools and in partnerships with state schools.

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend has read this report with great care, even if no assessment has been formed. Would she agree that, at nearly £10 billion, the total amount provided by independent schools to our national economy is extremely impressive, exceeding that of the BBC? Would she also agree that the largest section of this report sets out the wide range of schemes being undertaken by independent schools in partnership with their local communities and state schools, a partnership that is growing in extent all the time? Would she agree, finally, that this report gives the lie to those who maintain that there is some form of Berlin Wall separating the independent and state sectors?

My Lords, I have read this report with enormous interest, and my noble friend is right to point out the contribution of independent schools to the UK economy. At £9.5 billion, it is very substantial. As we know, many of these schools are outstanding, but I also know that my noble friend is passionate about social mobility through education and therefore the role that the independent sector can play in that. It is good to see in this report that more than 80% of the Independent Schools Council member schools are involved in partnerships with state schools, seeking to improve standards and outcomes for all pupils.

My Lords, had the state in Britain taken responsibility for provision of schools and high-quality technical education, instead of leaving education to the churches, Dr Arnold of Rugby and the comfortably off, with their predilection for exclusive and expensive boarding schools for their male offspring, might we then have not thrown away our lead in the Industrial Revolution? Does not that early failure to make public provision of good schools for all, and of technical education in particular, continue to haunt our economic performance? I declare an interest as having been educated at Rugby School.

The noble Lord is a great credit to Rugby, no doubt. He will know from his history that these schools were often set up—if you look at Shakespeare—for poor boys, not girls, in the past, and they evolved over time, as he indicated. The church indeed became involved. In terms of our lead in the Industrial Revolution, it would have been astonishing had other countries not joined us in that, but clearly those countries that joined us had a stress on science that was critical to what then happened. We need to make sure that all our schools, and our state schools in particular, emphasise a science education.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister mentioned the large number of independent schools that have links with schools in the maintained sector, but could she say how those links are assessed for the purposes of gaining charitable status? Could she say, too, how many independent schools take part in teacher training—because, of course, they all benefit from state-trained teachers?

The report indicates that 80% of ISC schools are engaged in some sort of partnership with state schools. I suggest that the noble Baroness looks at that point: indeed, she probably already has. The Charity Commission looks at the contribution those schools are making to the local community, and this issue is part of that. The report mentions a number of instances of independent schools assisting in teacher training and teacher support, but it is not quantified.

In order to promote this synthesis between the maintained and private sectors of British schooling, will the Government consider withdrawing charitable status from private schools and using the estimated £100 million that would be saved annually to reduce class sizes in the maintained sector, for instance?

As the noble Lord knows, this issue has been long discussed. The previous Government chose not to do what he suggests and we have no plans to do it. However, I remind noble Lords that the private sector constitutes a very small proportion of our education system. It is extremely important to make sure that the quality of our state education system is second to none because, as the noble Lord will know, we face global competition of an acute order. We focus on that, as did the previous Government, and that is where our emphasis should be.

My Lords, I have not yet read the report in detail, but will do so, and therefore cannot say whether it gives the lie to the theory of the Berlin Wall. However, is not the perception of a Berlin Wall particularly damaging and plausible when people are becoming so disengaged from politics and are bitterly aware of the number of privately educated people at the top of it?

The noble Baroness is right about the disproportionate number of such people at the top of absolutely every profession, including politics, if you call it a profession. Therefore, it is exceedingly important that we focus on making sure that the state sector does a better job in ensuring that students are able to flourish and fulfil their potential. That is key.

My Lords, although I believe that the success of independent schools has helped our economy, what progress has been made by Teach First, whose students have often attended independent schools, and what contribution is it making to our education system? Will the noble Baroness comment on today’s news that the Government may be considering “Teach Last” as well, which would help to improve the school curriculum as regards subjects such as maths?

My noble friend’s last point is very interesting and I will feed that into the department. It is encouraging to see the number of recent graduates who are coming into teaching; it has grown enormously. The proportion with, for example, firsts and 2:1 degrees reached 74% in 2013-14, compared with 66% in 2011-12, which is very encouraging.

My Lords, in order to measure the gap in respect of the contribution that the independent sector is making to the national economy and elsewhere, can a similar study be done on the contribution of state schools so that any deficiencies can be remedied?

There are numerous and ongoing reviews as to what our education system does. They happened under the previous Government and have happened under ours. That is why we are taking forward and ring-fencing education. We will have increased schools funding by £3.6 billion, which includes the pupil premium. We are acutely aware of the importance of strengthening that. We are also aware of the foreign students who come into the independent sector, and the earnings that the UK economy gets from them.

Mental Health: Social Work


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to improve the provision of mental health social work, given the incidence of mental health problems among the population.

My Lords, the Government recognise that improving mental health services remains a significant challenge. Social workers play a vital role in delivering high-quality mental health services, and the Chief Social Worker for Adults is taking forward a number of initiatives with the sector to help address these challenges. Along with the College of Social Work, we recently launched The Role of the Social Worker in Adult Mental Health Services.

I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Does he share my concern about the shortage of good social workers who are able to work effectively in mental health settings in many places in the country? What further steps are the Government taking to address this? What specific plans do they have to ensure that social workers working in integrated health and social care teams feel valued by their medical colleagues and that their professionalism is indeed recognised?

My noble friend makes some excellent points, and I acknowledge her role as a member of the programme board for the Think Ahead programme, which is designed to attract, in particular, new graduates into social work, and specifically into mental health social work. Good-quality social work can transform the lives of people with mental health conditions. It is an essential part of multidisciplinary and multiagency working. As we move forward into new ways of working, particularly in the context of integrating care, my noble friend’s point about other professionals understanding and appreciating the value that mental health social workers can give will be key, not just in terms of earlier intervention but by building resilience, reducing and delaying dependency and ensuring that people have all the information and enabling support that they need to look after themselves better.

My Lords, I note my health interests. What is the Government’s assessment of the scale of shortages of mental health social workers? In particular, what assessment has been made of the capacity to respond to requirements under the Mental Health Act, particularly Section 135, for approved social workers?

My Lords, we need more social workers, particularly in mental health. The Think Ahead programme is certainly one way in which we hope to improve the numbers. Social work is not always seen as an attractive career option. We know that there is a growing appetite among graduates to work in mental health; unfortunately that enthusiasm has not filtered through to the social work profession. We need to focus on that. Much will depend also on finding a greater number of placements in social work, particularly relevant to mental health, so that there is on-the-job training for those trainees.

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the very least we must do for social workers operating in this very complex area of work is to ensure that they all have the appropriate training, which is not just about classic mental health problems but about the abuse of drugs and alcohol, and indeed now extends into the great impact that dementia has on patients and their relatives?

The noble Lord is quite right. The importance of mental health knowledge across social work in its entirety—adults, children, adolescents and families—is vital. Mental health is a key factor for people with substance abuse problems and other complex social and health needs that defy neat categorisation. The Chief Social Worker for Adults, Lyn Romeo, is working with the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, Isabelle Trowler, to produce a statement of the knowledge and skills required across children’s and adult services and the need for students and qualified social workers to be able to work with mental health issues in all contexts.

My Lords, what is the Minister’s solution to the situation that arises when a social worker moves from one district to another without necessarily taking their portfolio of work with them? I speak having been a Minister when a social worker was murdered when the person who killed her had changed district but the social worker had not been informed of the move.

My noble friend makes an extremely important point about continuity of care. Not only is this important in terms of sheer administration; it is vital for the health of the service user or patient, as the social worker is very often the key point of contact for vulnerable people living at home and maybe on the brink of being admitted to NHS in-patient care. My noble friend makes a very good point. If I can amplify those remarks in any way I will write to her.

My Lords, will the noble Earl join me in saying that, important though they are, it is not only patients with mental health issues who need help and support? Many young people in particular live at home with people who previously may have been inside a hospital and now quite rightly are being treated in the community. Those children and young people are in many cases coping with circumstances where adults would find it impossible to work. Will the noble Earl ensure that, in looking at this, the needs of those young people are borne in mind, not least because many of them fail in school because of the pressure they are under at home?

The noble Baroness makes a series of extremely well put points. That is why we are looking at a number of ways to bolster the services that children receive from mental health services and professionals. We have the Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme, as she knows. We are taking forward options for a new survey on how many children and young people have mental health problems, which is of course important for planning. New guidance published last week by the Government will help teachers to better identify underlying mental health problems in young people, and NHS England is currently reviewing children and young people’s in-patient mental health services so that we can see where there are pressures in the system and how money is being spent.

Mental Health: Parity of Esteem


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made to measure the success of their policy No Health Without Mental Health, which undertook to give mental health “parity of esteem” with physical health within the National Health Service.

My Lords, our commitment to parity of esteem is explicit in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. As stewards of the system, we hold the NHS to account for the quality of services and outcomes for patients through our mandate to NHS England and the NHS outcomes framework.

My Lords, I think that the picture is fairly gloomy. There has been a real-terms 1% drop in investment in mental health services for adults of working age, and mental health trusts have reported a real-terms reduction of 2.36% over the past two years. Investment across the three priority areas—crisis resolution, early intervention and assertive outreach—has seen a £30 million drop for the first time. Funding for older people in mental health services has seen a 1% real cash-terms drop, and 67% of councils have stopped child and adolescent mental health services funding. These cuts have come in at a time when more people—almost 8 million—are experiencing mental health problems. In addition, 30% are suffering from a long-term physical health problem, the number of deaths by suicide is increasing and mental health ward occupancy levels are at over 100%. This Government promised parity of esteem and we were assured that that would be in the Health and Social Care Act. Does the Minister agree that we are far from meeting our obligations on this simply because of the cuts and what has happened to these vulnerable people?

My Lords, mental health and mental well-being are priorities for the Government; I want to make that clear to the noble Lord. We have legislated for parity of esteem between mental and physical health, and we mean business on this. Our new mental health action plan, which has been well received, sets out our priorities for essential change. We have the Crisis Care Concordat, which guarantees that no one experiencing a mental health crisis should ever be turned away. We are rolling out choice in mental health, which is an extremely important step forward, and a whole range of other measures, including IAPT and the children’s mental health measures that I outlined a moment ago. I hear what the noble Lord says about funding. We have debated that matter in the House before. We are currently scrutinising local CCG spending plans to make sure that mental health gets the priority that it needs.

My Lords, I am sure that everyone welcomes the fact that mental health has emerged at last to receive the attention that it should be getting. However, will the Minister confirm that the Government are paying particular attention to the number of women in prison with a mental health problem? In previous decades, that was not addressed at all.

My Lords, yes, we are doing so. We are paying attention not just to women in prison but to women and men in prison and in the criminal justice system more generally. We have committed £25 million to introduce a new liaison and diversion scheme in England to identify and assess the health issues and vulnerabilities of all offenders when they first enter the criminal justice system, which I think is the crucial moment. We are building on liaison and diversion services to improve the quality of those services and their coverage across England, and we are trialling a core model in more than 20 areas over the next two years with the aim of moving towards comprehensive rollout by 2017.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one in 10 children between the ages of five and 16 has a mental health problem and may continue to have problems into adulthood? What are the Government doing to ensure that child and adolescent mental health services are properly funded by NHS England and CCGs?

My Lords, we are investing £54 million over the four-year period from 2011 to 2015 in the Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, CYP IAPT, programme. That, along with the measures that I referred to earlier, will, I hope, give a sense of the priority that we attach to children and young people’s mental health services.

My Lords, the Minister gave us a long list of things that the Government are doing. However, he does not mention research into mental health. Is not one of the key problems that clinicians are never able to identify the disease phenotype, and that makes further and better treatments impossible? Should there not be much more emphasis on the need to research mental ill health throughout the country?

The noble Lord is quite right about the importance of mental health research. Unfortunately I do not have the figures in my brief, but I will gladly write to him on the research that is currently under way which my department is helping to fund.

My Lords, will the Minister do what he can in government to lock in the policy of the programme that he has announced today? I remind him that—I think it was in 2004—the former Social Exclusion Unit published a seminal report on mental health and social exclusion, with 27 action programme recommendations. As Ministers come and go and as civil servants get recycled, things go off the boil and we have to start doing it all over again. That does not serve the citizens of the country on an issue such as this, which transcends all our other divisions. We need to concentrate on it so that we do not lose it as people come and go.

The noble Lord is right and I can say to him that the coalition Government have tried as far as possible to continue the good work on mental health of the previous Administration. One has to keep renewing the momentum on this. Situations do not stand still, and that is why our new mental health action plan Closing the Gap reminds everyone in the system of the most important gains to be made in 25 areas where people can expect to see and experience the fastest changes. I am glad to say that that document has been well received by all stakeholders.

Devolution and Decentralisation: Constitutional Commission


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have considered setting up a United Kingdom constitutional commission to examine further devolution and decentralisation within the United Kingdom.

My Lords, since taking office the Government have established two constitutional commissions—the McKay and Silk commissions. The Government have also noted the recommendations of the Calman commission. The Government have implemented those recommendations through the Scotland Act 2012 and have implemented the recommendations of Part I of Silk’s report for the Wales Act. Ministers are considering recommendations of the McKay commission. The Government have not at present contemplated a further, broader convention.

Is the Minister aware that all these commissions caused the problem because there is growing concern about the piecemeal nature of constitutional reform in the United Kingdom and the consequent English democratic deficit? That has resulted in the setting up of an all-party group pressing the Government to look at it in a comprehensive way. Each of the three parties seems to be moving in this direction. Would it not be sensible for the Government now to announce that a constitutional commission will be set up to look at constitutional change throughout the whole of the United Kingdom in a comprehensive and coherent way, and preferably before 18 September?

My Lords, I am a veteran. I was a young academic 40 years ago when the Kilbrandon commission, which took four years, looked at the overall balance of the United Kingdom including the Crown dependencies. It is not felt at present that a commission of that length would help. It has been the tradition in this country to move piecemeal, part by part and to establish conventions. We are moving with the English question through the city deals—the noble Lord may have noticed from this morning’s announcement on the northern hub that we are moving towards decentralisation within England. So a number of things—not just with Scotland but with Wales, Northern Ireland and, at last, with England—are beginning to move.

My Lords, should not our efforts be concentrated at the moment on maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom before any further constitutional tinkering? Does my noble friend agree that if further powers are to be devolved to Administrations throughout the United Kingdom, it is a matter for the United Kingdom as a whole, not just for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland? In that context the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has a point.

My Lords, England is the most centralised industrial democracy at present. It has become more centralised over the past 40 or 50 years. That is one of the issues that remains outstanding. Graham Allen in his debate in the other place last week suggested, as chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, that all three parties should be using this last year before the election to contemplate how we approach putting the different parts of our devolved settlement together.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that whatever the outcome of the referendum in Scotland—whether it is a yes vote or no vote—the status quo is unlikely to be the final resting point of the argument? That being so, surely a piecemeal approach is not acceptable, particularly when in Scotland the Government appear to be offering taxation powers that were recommended by Silk for Wales, but which the Government have rejected for Wales. On what possible basis can there be coherent progress when that is the Government’s approach?

My Lords, Part II of the Silk report has only just been published and the Government are currently considering it. Given the amount of constitutional change and devolution over the past few years, the idea that we are in a status quo situation is not fair. We are moving and will have to move further. The question of how we move—whether we go to a UK-wide commission or, indeed, a convention, as the committee in the other place suggested—is one we all need to consider. The Government will certainly be thinking about this in the light of the September referendum, which, as the noble Lord rightly suggests, involves the future of Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions altogether.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it will be important to move on quickly in the event of a no vote in the Scottish referendum to deliver on the cross-party consensus for strengthening the Scottish Parliament among the three parties which do not support independence? My right honourable friend Alistair Carmichael has announced a conference on the new Scotland to meet shortly after the referendum to help bring that about. Does the Minister further agree that it will be necessary for a new Government, with a new mandate and a new Parliament after 2015, to provide a holistic review of what the refreshed union will be post-referendum? That is why cross-party support for a conference on the new union, concerning the relations between the nations and Westminster and the operation of Whitehall departments, will hopefully be important in bringing about an overall review, which will serve the strength of the United Kingdom in which we surely all have an interest.

My Lords, that is an interesting idea which we should all consider debating further. The northern parts of England have interests in common with Scotland in wanting to counter the dominance of London, which is a part of the problem as well as a huge advantage for the United Kingdom in economic terms. It is a part of the dialogue that we all need to have.

My Lords, Professor Anthony King has quite rightly described the current constitution of this country as a mess. Would not a constitutional convention help to clear up the mess by clarifying the muddle over asymmetrical devolution, by clearing up the devo-max in Scotland that dare not speak its name, by reasserting the authority of the Westminster Parliament and, above all, by at long last doing something about England and showing that it is not simply a bad football team?

We will leave the football team to one side. Constitutional conventions have, on the whole, taken place after revolutions—for example, in the United States, France and elsewhere. To go as far as a constitutional convention for the whole of the United Kingdom would be a radical and rational step. I encourage the noble Lord, as a rational radical, to pursue that. However, currently there is no public demand for it and I have not yet heard any major political party suggest it.

Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2014

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft order laid before the House on 13 May be approved.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on Tuesday 17 June

Motion agreed.

African Legal Support Facility (Legal Capacities) Order 2014

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft order laid before the House on 6 May be approved.

Relevant document: 27th Report, Session 2013-14, from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on Tuesday 17 June

Motion agreed.

Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill [HL]

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, the welfare of our service personnel is one of the most important responsibilities of government. In enshrining the principles of the Armed Forces covenant in legislation this Government have signalled their determination to meet their obligations to our service men and women, their families and veterans. A fair, effective and efficient system for handling internal complaints in the Armed Forces is an essential part of our duty to service personnel, and it underpins operational effectiveness.

The unique nature of military service means that members of our Armed Forces do not have the same opportunities for redress on employment issues as civilians. For example, they cannot always make claims to an employment tribunal in the same way that civilians can. I am sure we all understand why this is so, but it does mean that we have a duty to ensure that there is a fair, effective and efficient system in place to deal with any complaints and grievances that service personnel may have in relation to their service. This is not just right as a matter of principle, it supports operational efficiency; having unresolved complaints impacts on morale and breeds discontent, which can undermine our fighting capability. Having a system that is not fair or effective could also lead to a perception that the concerns of Armed Forces personnel are not taken seriously. This could ultimately lead to problems with recruitment and retention as well as morale. A robust complaints system is therefore not a “nice to have”, but an integral part of the relationship between the society our Armed Forces serve and those who are willing to lay down their lives to defend it.

Before going on to discuss the main changes to the service complaints system which are being introduced by the Bill, it might be helpful if I set out some of the underlying principles behind the new system. First, I believe it is right that it should be the Armed Forces that are responsible for dealing with any complaints from service personnel. I cannot emphasise this point strongly enough. It is for the chain of command to ensure that complaints are dealt with fairly and that the appropriate redress is given where complaints are upheld. It is important that, where something has gone wrong, it is the organisation itself that should put it right. That is its responsibility and no one else’s. The role of the ombudsman in dealing with complaints should therefore be about making sure that the systems we have in place are working and that complaints are properly dealt with. The ombudsman’s oversight of the system will also provide us with lessons for further improvement that will benefit individual service personnel and our overall effectiveness.

Secondly, it might be worth setting out what is and what is not covered by the complaints system, and therefore this Bill. Service men and women, who include reservists when they are subject to service law as well as regulars, can make a complaint about any issue connected with their service. Although the issues that attract media attention tend to be around bullying and harassment, the majority of the complaints raised relate to pay and terms and conditions of service, so it is important to realise that complaints cover a very wide range of issues. It is also worth being clear about what is not covered by the complaints system. Matters relating to potential criminal offences such as sexual or physical assaults would be dealt with through the service justice system rather than the complaints procedure. There are also matters that are likely to be excluded by the regulations from consideration under the complaints process, as they are now, because they have their own separate procedures. This would cover things such as pensions and court martial decisions.

We want the new process to be quicker while retaining the principle that complaints are resolved at the lowest level possible in the chain of command. A new feature is therefore that a complaint will be assigned quickly to the person or group of people who have the authority to deal with it instead of it being escalated up the chain of command until it reaches that point, as is the case now.

I would like to turn to the proposals covered by the Bill. The current service complaints system was set up by the Armed Forces Act 2006. We have worked hard since then to make that system operate as fairly, effectively and efficiently as possible and many service complaints are dealt with promptly and successfully. However, the Government recognise that performance is still not good enough and have concluded that it can be significantly improved.

That view is supported by Dr Susan Atkins, the current Service Complaints Commissioner, who has frequently characterised the system as ineffective, overloaded and beset by delay. In her annual report on service complaints for 2013, which was published on 27 March 2014, Dr Atkins said that she could still not provide an assurance that the current system was working and was critical of how long it took to resolve complaints, particularly those relating to bullying, harassment and improper behaviour. She also raised the issue of the level of manpower needed to support the system.

The House of Commons Defence Committee has also taken a close interest in these matters over many years, and published a report on the work of the Service Complaints Commissioner on 12 February 2013. The report raised concerns about the workings of the complaints system and recommended the creation of an Armed Forces ombudsman.

We have been operating the current system for six years. Over that time we have developed our understanding of what works well and, in particular, what can cause undue delay. With that information, and the invaluable independent insight provided by the commissioner in her annual reports and by the Select Committee, we have worked closely with Dr Susan Atkins on the most appropriate way to reform the service complaints system. I would like to express our gratitude for her work on the current system over those six years and for the advice and assistance she has given more recently on developing a new and improved system. Dr Atkins’s unstinting efforts in support of our Armed Forces were recognised by the award of a CB in this year’s Birthday Honours.

The Government’s intentions for reform were set out in a Written Ministerial Statement on 13 March this year, and this Bill makes the legislative changes needed to take forward those reforms. The changes set out in the Bill are aimed at strengthening and streamlining the service complaints system. They are supported by the Service Complaints Commissioner and by the services. I would like to emphasise the support of the Armed Forces for these reforms because it is a concern that has been raised with me by a number of noble and noble and gallant Lords.

The services fully support the need for reform of the service complaints system and have been fully involved in drawing up the proposals in the Bill. The service chiefs’ particular concern was to ensure that the chain of command was preserved under any new system, and they are content that that is the case. The services therefore support the proposals in the Bill, which strike the right balance between creating strong and independent oversight and maintaining the authority of the chain of command.

Clause 1 creates a new Service Complaints Ombudsman to replace the existing Service Complaints Commissioner. The ombudsman will be appointed by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Secretary of State. Clause 2 replaces the existing service complaints system with a new statutory framework, while retaining important elements such as the requirement for independence in handling certain types of complaint.

A central feature of the new framework is that the Service Complaints Ombudsman will have a power to consider whether a service complaint has been handled properly, once it has completed its normal internal stages. The ombudsman will also have strong new powers to compel the production of documents or other material. This contrasts with the arrangements for the Service Complaints Commissioner, who cannot become involved in the handling of an individual complaint other than to monitor its progress. Under the new system, where the ombudsman finds no evidence of maladministration the complaint would remain closed.

However, if the ombudsman considers that there has been maladministration—and potentially injustice—in the handling of a complaint, he or she would make recommendations to the Defence Council for action to be taken to put things right. This could include, for example, reconsidering the complaint afresh or rerunning a particular part of the process.

The Defence Council would remain responsible for the decisions taken in response to the ombudsman’s recommendations, thereby maintaining the authority of the chain of command, with the ombudsman being informed of those decisions and the reasons for them. Cogent reasons would need to be given for rejecting any recommendation.

Service personnel will have a new right to apply to the independent ombudsman if they believe that the handling of their complaint has been subject to maladministration, instead of having the right to pursue further appeals within the internal complaints process. The reduction in the number of automatic appeal levels will also shorten and speed up the process while remaining fair.

The ombudsman will, in turn, be able to concentrate attention on the cases of potential maladministration, including those which may have systemic implications. The reforms also include a new process of assigning a complaint to someone who has the authority to deal with it and grant appropriate redress. It replaces a process that, under the current system, is inefficient and can add considerably to the time taken for a complaint to reach a conclusion.

The ombudsman would also have a new role at an earlier stage of the complaints procedure. Where the chain of command has decided not to allow a complaint to be considered within the service complaints system, because, for example, it is out of time or excluded on other grounds, a service person could ask the ombudsman to determine whether that decision was correct. A decision by the ombudsman will be final.

At the same time, the ombudsman will maintain the vital role which Dr Atkins performs today of offering an alternative route for a service man or woman or other person who does not wish or is not able to approach the chain of command directly to have their concerns fed into the system. This remains an important safeguard, especially where allegations of bullying or harassment are involved. Finally, the requirement for an annual report to be laid before Parliament would continue, taking account of the new functions of the ombudsman.

The proposals that I have outlined represent a significant change to the way that service complaints are handled. The aim is to reach conclusions more quickly while maintaining fairness. The creation of the new role of the ombudsman will also strengthen the level of scrutiny and independent oversight that complaints are subject to.

Clause 4 deals with financial payments to charities and other organisations which support the Armed Forces community. One of the best signs that the Armed Forces covenant is working is the extent to which groups in the voluntary and community sector are involved in supporting our service personnel, veterans and their families. Many of these groups are small, locally based and run by dedicated volunteers. They help bind the services to our communities and provide the sort of active, caring and focused support that is needed. I am sure that we would all wish to pay credit to the invaluable work that they do.

The Government need to work in partnership with such organisations and that includes providing financial assistance where appropriate. During the past four years, the Government have committed £105 million to delivering the commitments of the covenant. The Armed Forces covenant grant fund has distributed £55 million through both the community covenant grant fund, which strengthens ties and understanding between the Armed Forces and the wider community, and through funding which backs projects supporting the broader aims of the covenant. A further £10 million of the community covenant funding, and a one-off payment of £40 million in support of veterans’ accommodation, is set to be distributed this year. We are also developing proposals for management of the future Armed Forces covenant fund, which is set at £10 million per year from this year onwards. It is essential that the Armed Forces community gets the maximum benefit from these significant sums of money.

The funding covered by Clause 4 is aimed at organisations rather than individuals. Organisations working with the Armed Forces community are based throughout the United Kingdom and we want them to be able to benefit from these funds wherever they are located. However, the use of covenant funding is currently constrained by two pieces of legislation: Section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003 confines payments to local authorities to England and Wales while Section 70 of the Charities Act 2006 limits financial assistance to charities and other benevolent institutions which provide a direct or indirect benefit to England. We have got around these restrictions on a temporary basis by making payments under the Appropriation Act but this is not a long-term solution. Clause 4 would therefore enable financial assistance to be given to organisations that support the Armed Forces community wherever they are based.

I very much look forward to the debate on the Bill this afternoon. Today’s Armed Forces are committed to ensuring that complaints from service personnel are taken seriously and handled fairly and effectively, and that lessons are learnt when things go wrong. No member of our Armed Forces should lack confidence in the system for dealing with their complaints. The proposals set out in the Bill will both streamline and strengthen that system. The Bill will support the interests of complainants and create a strong and independent ombudsman. The measures in it underline the commitment of this Government to the principles of the Armed Forces covenant and the obligations we owe our service personnel, veterans and their families. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the wide-ranging and very balanced way that he introduced the debate this afternoon. I commend the Government for listening to the wide range of voices, whether representative of the Armed Forces, the Defence Select Committee in another place or—perhaps most importantly—the commissioner in the annual reports she has given the Government since the 2006 Act was introduced. Her continual message has been that, although it is important to have complaints, the system was not and is not working satisfactorily. We owe a debt to Dr Atkins and her very small team for their work over the last years and the support they gave in drafting this Bill.

I can well understand the reservations that noble and gallant Lords might have about elements within the Bill and—perhaps—the conflict within the chain of command. However, having read the Bill, I do not think that that problem is there. Certainly, the Defence Council assures me on that. It is actually quite a narrowly drawn Bill. Had the complaints systems worked well, as we all hoped, we would not be discussing this Bill today but we are where we are. The system has not worked. As the Minister rightly said, we have to consider the welfare of our Armed Forces personnel and how they see the complaints system working for them. All the surveys confirm that it has not worked. Therefore we have the Bill today. I welcome it very much indeed. It simplifies the decision-making.

This House has a reputation for improving Bills when they come to us. I look forward to discussing a number of areas within this Bill. One or two changes may be necessary. For instance, the Bill permits those who may have left the services and are no longer covered by services law to bring a complaint within a specific time period. Is the intention within that to permit, perhaps in a situation where an individual former member of the services has died, that his or her family can bring a complaint? Would that be within the remit of the Bill? If a member of the Armed Forces makes a complaint and subsequently passes on, will it be possible for that complaint to be fulfilled to the end and a decision made on it?

Much in the Bill is left to regulation. The Secretary of State can draw up various aspects of what will and will not take place. As we all know, regulation is normally decided after the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. It leaves an awful lot to confidence that the regulations will meet what was intended under the Bill, and we need to probe that during the Bill’s stages in the House.

Independence of an ombudsman covering whatever field—whether the people covered by the complaints system see the ombudsman as independent—is very important. During the Bill’s passage, I want to probe how independent the ombudsman will be. For example, in the course of her work, she will accumulate a lot of data, a lot of information. Will the ombudsman have the authority and remit to be able to conduct research, which might be most helpful in some cases, bullying being one that comes to my mind?

The Bill provides for the method by which an individual applies to have a claim of maladministration dealt with. We would hope that it is not so complicated as to put people off—in other words that they are not required to cite this or that particular clause or article in their written submission.

The Minister dealt with financial support at the end of his presentation. I was very pleased to see that in the Bill, although one could argue that it is an entirely separate issue. It is a very good innovation to add it to the Bill, and I welcome it very much. Apart from the money that the charities raise and spend so well in supporting our Armed Forces veterans and their families, it helps to spread the message in our communities about the good work that our Armed Forces do in a way that is not “official speak”, but showing the lives that our service personnel give to their country. I very much welcome that aspect of the Bill.

I close where I started, and underline my view that the Bill will not interfere with the chain of command. That would be damaging to the Armed Forces. We must maintain that while ensuring that our Armed Forces personnel feel that any complaints they have can be dealt with fairly, in a balanced way and, perhaps most of all, expeditiously. That will enable us to discharge our responsibility to our Armed Forces, together with the annual report that will go to the Secretary of State, who will then lay it before Parliament to judge whether this method is succeeding.

I wish the Bill well and look forward to the discussions that we will have on it.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Bill. We have already heard a detailed explanation of it from the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean. I certainly do not intend to repeat what they said.

The Bill deals with three matters: the creation of a Service Complaints Ombudsman; the reform of the service complaints system; and ensuring financial assistance to charities and other organisations which support the Armed Forces community. The heads of the three Armed Forces have, as we have been told in this debate, publicly stated their support for the Bill, but I look forward to meeting the representatives of the service chiefs and the current commissioner between Second Reading and Committee, so that I and other noble Lords can have their first-hand assessment before we reach Committee on this very useful Bill. I am sometimes wary of public statements when we do not get to grips with the actual person who made the statement. There is no suspicion that what we have been told is not the case, but that would be useful.

I shall concentrate on the ombudsman and the service complaints system. I hope that my noble friend Lady Garden will deal with Clause 4, so I will leave that for the moment, and that my noble friend Lord Thomas will share with the House his vast experience of military court advocates, which have a bearing on the Bill.

The current Service Complaints Commissioner stated, as we have heard, that she could not provide an assurance that the current system was working in its present format. She was also critical of the length of time that it took to resolve complaints, particularly those relating to bullying and harassment. I am pleased that the Bill makes the legislative changes required to take forward the needed reforms. The current Service Complaints Commissioner has also stated that the Bill will bring,

“substantial improvements to the fairness of the complaints system, the time it takes for complaints to be resolved and increase the level of confidence Service personnel have in the process”.

One criticism that has been made is that the ombudsman will not apparently have the power to undertake on her own initiative a thematic inquiry into issues of the public interest. I agree that the Bill is correct in leaving the power to investigate the substance of individual complaints within the current internal system, thus not intruding into the chain of command. However, the question is: if there are substantial systemic issues, which always happen in any organisation, should the new ombudsman have the power to highlight these issues and make recommendations to the Defence Council? I hope that when he replies, my noble friend the Minister might deal with that aspect.

My attention has been drawn to the office of the Canadian ombudsman—as the old adage says, “Don’t reinvent the wheel”. Could the Minister comment on why the UK ombudsman will not have two powers held by the Canadian equivalent? First, there is the ability in compelling circumstances to deal with the substance of the complaint as distinct from only investigating the process. Secondly, there is the power to issue reports concerning any investigation considered to be in the public interest—the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, referred to that to some extent. I see that as being when the system is not working and when it goes beyond dealing with the faults in the process of any individual case.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to explain why new Section 340L makes no reference to the sanctions which would apply if the ombudsman’s investigation shows maladministration. What compensation should the aggrieved party receive? Would the complainant receive the compensation, or would the guilty party just be fined by the Defence Council? I have seen so much of this in local government, where an ombudsman may find against the local authority, or whatever, and the local authority is fined a modest sum for some maladministration but the complainant is often left high and dry and thus has to go to some other court to get some solution.

There appears to have been general approval of this Bill, which we do not often get in this Chamber, but there is a lurking fear that an opportunity may be lost by not including in compelling circumstances an empowerment to look at the underlying complaint. That is noticeably missing from the ombudsman’s powers.

My Lords, in approaching the Bill I have perhaps an unsurprising ambiguity towards it, wishing on the one hand that there was no need for it yet recognising on the other that that wish is not entirely realistic. My hope for the Bill is therefore that its implementation will be done well. Implementation will be the key to the Bill’s success. As the Minister said in introducing the Bill this afternoon, whatever happens must not prejudice the integrity of the chain of command. I am extraordinarily encouraged to hear that the Chiefs of Staff have been consulted closely for their views on this and that this particular, key point is recognised.

However, there is one lurking concern: that the ombudsman process provides an alternative route if the main complaints procedure is not followed. I would hope, first, that this route would be followed rarely and in extremis. Perhaps the existence of that alternative process might be an encouragement to the chain of command to make sure that it deals as properly as it can with complaints as they come up through that chain

Secondly, in terms of implementation, the new arrangements must be properly resourced. The current Service Complaints Commissioner has done an extraordinarily good job over the past six years and I wish to associate myself with the compliments and congratulations that have been offered towards her. However, there is no doubt that her work has been made more difficult by the very small team that she had to support her and the comparative lack of resources made available to her.

The main target for the successful implementation of the Bill is to attack delay. It is well known that in many circumstances justice delayed is justice denied, and in recent years delay has been the focus of much work within the chain of command. Many of the new powers within the Bill will allow delay to be tackled, particularly in dealing with cases at the most appropriate level. It has not been satisfactory in the past that cases could not be dealt with at what would seem to be the logical level and have been taken up higher up the chain of command than need have been.

Delay has been attacked vigorously over the past few years, and in theory has been reduced. It does not appear to be so in all circumstances, though, because the number of cases of complaint has increased. I think that is so for two reasons: first, the fact that awareness of the complaints process and procedure has increased, and therefore more people are aware of the ability to complain about something; and, secondly, the wider litigious environment in which we find ourselves. That said, delay must be tackled; that is the key to the success of the Bill and is the key point as far as implementation is concerned.

I also welcome the fourth clause in the Bill regarding financial assistance. Anything that can be done to improve the integration between the public, private and charitable sectors in the way in which we support our veterans and their families has to be welcome. People often say, “Surely the Government should do more”, to which my reply invariably has been, “The British way in looking after our veterans and their families has been for the public, private and charitable sectors to come together”. This is a recognition that the Government, the public sector, can do more in that triumvirate, that trinity of activity, and I therefore welcome the clause.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Military Court Advocates, which had the opportunity of discussing the Bill a week ago at a seminar at the Honourable Artillery Company premises in the City.

Dr Susan Atkins was right to draw attention to the scandals involving personnel in the BBC, the NHS and the police service in her 2013 report. They do not need repeating, but the lesson to be drawn is the reputational damage to a national organisation that fails to confront the problems in its midst and fails to deal with them fairly and promptly. She might have added Parliament itself and the political parties to her list.

It is very disturbing that the commissioner could not give an assurance that the service complaints system was working efficiently, effectively or fairly. A major concern of hers was the apparent increase in bullying and harassment of personnel in the Army, and she called for a system that would make the zero-tolerance policy in the services a reality. She also pointed to delay, as the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, did a moment ago, as the principal reason for unfairness in the system, particularly in the Army and the Royal Air Force, and said that problems remain in the monitoring, handling and recording of service complaints. Importantly, she drew attention to the way in which slow, ineffective and unfair systems can exacerbate the wrong complained about, including damage to mental health.

Sadly, these problems were only too vividly illustrated by the tragic suicide of Anne-Marie Ellement, who suffered bullying and workplace abuse. At the inquest in March this year, the coroner referred to the fact that her reports to the chain of command of being bullied were not investigated. The announcement of the creation of an ombudsman came only weeks after that verdict was delivered, but I assume that there was work in progress since in its report on the work of the Service Complaints Commissioner, published in February 2013, the House of Commons Defence Committee gave wholehearted endorsement to Dr Atkins’s call for those powers to be that of an ombudsman. She had made detailed proposals for such a role in April 2013.

I therefore give a very cautious welcome to this Bill because I am not convinced that the proposals meet the criticisms of the previous system, and I shall be anxious to explore in Committee the weaknesses which I believe it contains. I am grateful to the Minister for his meeting with Peers last week and for his assurance that a meeting will be arranged with Dr Atkins and with the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to thrash out any difficulties.

I very much welcome the strong powers, equivalent to those of a High Court judge, which the Bill gives to the ombudsman to call for documents and witnesses. The major stumbling block to reform is always the reluctances of the services to admit any outside interference in the running of military affairs. There was resistance to the reforms proposed to the military justice system in 2006, which are now largely accepted. It is not long since we were debating the concept of “lawfare”. I understand the high importance of the integrity of the chain of command, but, as I pointed out in our meeting with the Minister, everybody is subject to the rule of law, including the services.

The Armed Forces covenant is not a legal document, but its key principles were enshrined in law in the Armed Forces Act 2011. Under the covenant, the Armed Forces have a responsibility to maintain an organisation which treats every individual fairly, with dignity and respect, in an environment which is free from bullying, harassment and discrimination. Section C15 states that individuals must,

“have means of recourse open to them, if they believe that they are not being treated in a fair and appropriate way”.

In his report into Deepcut in 2006, Mr Justice Blake made that point. He said:

“It will be difficult for the Armed Forces to satisfy the public that they have nothing to hide in the running of their discipline and complaints system if there is a perception of unwillingness to accept meaningful independent oversight, which is increasingly seen as a necessary counterweight to the powers and prerogatives of military life”.

It must be remembered that the services compete for, and are concerned to keep, skilful and intelligent recruits in a competitive market. It is essential that those who are subject to military law and discipline should have confidence that their grievances will be properly addressed in accordance with the military covenant. As the Minister pointed out a moment ago, commanding officers control the lives of those under their command in a way that does not happen in civilian life and may subject them to punishment, and even imprisonment, for service offences. Employment tribunals have been kept at bay, save in discrimination cases, but the Armed Forces are not merely an employer; they are landlord, healthcare provider, social worker and much more.

To my mind, the most significant limitation of the Bill is that it confines the role of the ombudsman to an investigation of an allegation of maladministration in connection with the handling of a service complaint. This is covered in new Section 340H. This means that the ombudsman cannot investigate the substance of the initial incident that generates the complaint or any injustice arising out of it. His role is limited to discovering whether there are any procedural defects in the way in which the complaint was handled within the chain of command.

If the procedure was correctly followed, the ombudsman has no power to put right a decision on the merits of the complaint, no matter how perverse it appears to him to be. On the other hand, if the procedure was incorrect, the remedy is merely to return the complaint for a fresh decision within the chain of command, causing further delay and frustration to the complainant. Is it not as vital to ensure that the right decision was taken on a complaint as that it was simply procedurally correct?

Ombudsmen were introduced in the 1960s to investigate only complaints of maladministration—that is their 1960s history. However, their powers have developed. As Liberty points out in its very helpful briefing on the Bill:

“The Scottish Public Service Ombudsman, the Local Government Ombudsman for England and the Prisons Ombudsman are all empowered by statute to investigate ‘service failure’ in addition to maladministration. In its 2011 report on public service ombudsmen, the Law Commission observed that it could see no reason why the Parliamentary Ombudsman … should not have its powers increased to investigate service failure too”.

I therefore echo the thoughts of my noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, who asked whether it was possible that the Bill goes further than the individual complaint. The Minister said in opening today that the ombudsman can look at complaints that have systematic implications. Can he explain what he means by that? Can the ombudsman go beyond the individual complaint?

In its 2011 report the Law Commission also drew attention to the distinction between the findings of the ombudsman on an investigation into the facts surrounding an incident, and his recommendations. Over time, the practice has developed whereby an ombudsman makes findings of fact and of the existence of maladministration that is causing injustice to individuals, and then recommends action that the public body should take to remedy the injustice. The Law Commission concluded that recommendations should be seen in a different light. They are part of the political process, since compliance with recommendations may require the reallocation of a significant amount of public funds. However, the findings of fact are properly the province of the ombudsman.

New Section 340L deals with the ombudsman’s reports. First, it requires that the report sets out his findings, and, secondly, it requires him to set out his recommendations as a separate matter. Subsection (3) provides that the recommendations may include appropriate remedies for dealing with maladministration and with any injustice which may have been sustained. Can the Minister say whether it should be made explicit that the ombudsman may recommend compensation for the victims of maladministration or injustice? Is that to be implied in the wording of the Bill, or will it be necessary to improve and strengthen the Bill by giving the ombudsman the power to recommend compensation in an appropriate case?

In new Section 340M the Bill is silent on the issue of the ombudsman’s findings. It should be made explicit that the Defence Council is bound by those findings—it cannot open up the facts again and find differently to the ombudsman who was put in charge of an investigation. As for the recommendations, it should be made clear that the Defence Council will follow the ombudsman’s recommendations unless there are cogent reasons not to do so. At the moment, the clause is drafted in such a way that the Defence Council may quite arbitrarily reject the recommendations. Can the Minister confirm that the reasons in writing that the Defence Council may give for rejecting them may be challenged by judicial review?

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, said that the majority of complaints relate to pay and conditions. That may be so, but the public interest and concern is about allegations of bullying and harassment that fall short of criminal offences. It is important that the system deals with such allegations properly and is properly resourced with men and money to make sure that the ombudsman can do his work.

My Lords, I welcome the Bill, but have some reservations about it. First, I am surprised—although maybe there is a simple explanation—that Clause 4 is not in a separate part. It does not seem to have anything in common with complaints or ombudsmen. Nevertheless, welcome support has already been given to service charities and others from the £35 million LIBOR funds that have been allocated. I welcome the Minister’s information about further funds being set aside for future years. What assurances can he give the House that these welcome funds will not be reduced or forgone, whether they come from LIBOR or from the defence budget?

I turn to the principal issue of the Bill. There has been systemic evidence that the complaints system has not moved with the times, and a commendable expectation that complaints about maladministration and issues such as bullying and sexual harassment should be dealt with fairly and in a timely manner. As the complaints commissioner’s annual reports make clear in citing examples of poor handling of complaints, much still needs to be done to improve the way in which the Army and the Royal Air Force deal with complaints. The Royal Navy seems to be showing the way, with a reasonable recent record. What is not clear—and maybe the Minister can help us on this—is how much of the difficulties being faced by the Army and Royal Air Force are due to a lack of adequate resources or to conflicting issues that make a quick and timely resolution of a complaint unachievable. Are there barriers to better performance that lie beyond the control or decision of the chain of command? The complaints commissioner herself has reported that more resources are required within the services. Is she right on this?

Unless these problems are tackled and resolved, the changes in this Bill—the substitution of an ombudsman figure for the complaints commissioner and the reduction in the appeals process from three levels to just two—will prove not to be the answer to the problem but more expensive than its predecessor. Will it turn out to be no more than costly cosmetics, because the practical difficulties faced within the services for dealing with complaints cannot be or have not been resolved?

As has been made clear by the Minister, the Government recognise the importance of retaining the responsibilities of the chain of command, even to the extent of not giving the ombudsman the final say in the outcome of his or her investigation and report. I welcome this approach because, as I have said on other occasions in this House, the whole ethos and trust between those in command and those they command are so essential to the operation, employment and day-to-day activity of the forces.

Much of the detail in the Bill will not emerge until the many regulations specified in it are published. One in particular about which it would be helpful to have further information is the reference on page 2, on lines 18 and 19, to matters of a description about which a complaint may not be made. The Minister has given the House some indication what those no-go areas might encompass, but more information would be helpful.

Another example that would benefit from further information is the procedure for the ombudsman investigations in new Section 340I on page 7. New subsection (2) states:

“The Secretary of State may make regulations about the procedure to be followed”,

but new subsections (3) and (4) seem to give the ombudsman freedom to make up his or her mind on how to proceed, albeit constrained by whatever the Secretary of State has set out in his regulation about procedure. It would be helpful to our understanding all the intricacies of the regulations referred to in this Bill if drafts for regulations for more major issues could be made available before we reached Committee. Would that be possible?

The Bill introduces arrangements that may help to speed up resolution of a complaint by reducing the number of levels of appeal and setting out timescales for the submission and discharge of appeals. I welcome the latter and the intention to have a cut-off point beyond which claims cannot be made or continued. The downside to this is that future claimants may feel that their rights have been eroded. Provided that the new arrangements—not only those covered by this Bill but, most importantly, the improvements in service procedures for dealing with complaints—are seen to work well, the reduction in appeal opportunities seems reasonable and I for one conditionally accept it.

My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friends Lord Astor—the Minister—and Lady Jolly for the information and briefings on the Bill that they have made available to Members of the House.

Although this is a short Bill, its two parts could make a significant difference to the culture and well-being of members of the Armed Forces. As we have heard, the first three clauses—the ombudsman clauses—are in response to recommendations from the Service Complaints Commissioner, the Royal British Legion and others that not all complaints are appropriately addressed under the current system. I agree with others that, in scrutinising these clauses, it will be important to take into account the calls for increased powers for the ombudsman alongside the role of the military chain of command, which has traditionally been the main route for service complaints to be addressed. Legislation should not remove from commanding officers the responsibility and authority to deal with complaints at a local level. I welcome my noble friend the Minister’s assurances on that. However, the need for independent oversight has become apparent. The Bill looks to improve that function for service personnel and, by association, their families.

As my noble friend Lord Thomas alluded to, the Armed Forces are rare in that those serving in them often depend on their service for their jobs, homes and a range of public services. Not many other walks of life call for such a range of dependencies in personal lives, and carry such consequences if things go wrong.

Clause 4 interests me greatly. As my noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill indicated, it extends the agreement under the Armed Forces covenant for the MoD to give financial assistance to the Armed Forces community. Those of us who have worked with service charities know at first hand the enormously valuable work they do in giving financial support to those in need, but also moral support, advice and friendship. In adding to the money that they raise, this ongoing financial assistance from the Secretary of State will be welcome. I hope that the Bill will give us the opportunity to clarify how these funds are managed, particularly in relation to service charities, and to seek reassurances that the applications, selection procedures and administrative costs are proportionate and do not duplicate those elsewhere. We hope to hear from those who will be involved in implementing these measures, including the service charities, to ensure that the best possible use is made of the Secretary of State’s fund—money which is much needed by the service community.

We look forward to further briefings as we go into Committee and to scrutinising all the provisions in the Bill as we proceed.

I, too, welcome the Minister’s opening remarks about the paramountcy and importance of the chain of command. I also associate myself entirely with the remarks of my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig, including those on the importance of analysing why the Army and the Royal Air Force appear to be lagging behind the Navy in implementing the 2006 measures.

What I would like to contribute to the debate at this stage is stirred by the mention by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, of the problems of the ombudsman having statutory powers on occasion. If ever there is a clash between the chain of command and anything statutory, we have to remember that there are two conditions in which the Armed Forces find themselves—their normal day-to-day existence, when different circumstances can prevail, and active service, when there is no room for anything other than an operational chain of command if operations are to proceed correctly.

I add two cautionary tales to explain why I am opposed to the commissioner being advanced to an ombudsman. In 1992, I was Adjutant-General, personnel director of the Army, and was sitting in the Principal Personnel Officers’ Committee with my opposite numbers from the Navy and the Air Force, when the Second Permanent Under-Secretary said to us, “You have got to decide where industrial tribunals figure in the service disciplinary chains”. Naively, I asked whether they came before or after Her Majesty the Queen, who is, of course, at the summit of it all. I was told that that was completely irrelevant because the Bill instructing that this should happen had already been given its First Reading in the House. “What Bill?”, we asked.

It eventually appeared that there was a Bill about industrial tribunals that had its origins in Brussels. When a copy came, I gave it to the director of Army Legal Services and said, “Run your eye over this, please, and come and tell me if there is anything difficult in it”. Within half an hour, he was back and he said, “This is absolutely disastrous. There is a clause in here which says that if an employee is ordered into a place of danger, he can take his employer to an industrial tribunal”. If carried to its logical conclusion, that would mean that a company could take its commanding officer to an industrial tribunal if ordered to, for example, capture a hill. I then asked the Second PUS what the offices of the German, French and Italian armies had done about the Bill. He said, “They claimed exemption for their armed forces”. I said, “Why on earth can we not do so, because all armed forces do the same thing?”. I say that merely because I suspect, having read the clauses in the Bill—many of which have been outlined, particularly by my noble and gallant friend—that the implications of the proposed powers of the ombudsman in relation to the chain of command may not have been properly thought through.

My second cautionary tale concerns coroners. We all welcome the fact that inquests will now happen more quickly, because there is nothing worse than a family having to wait for years and years before the full knowledge of the circumstances of the son’s, or whoever’s, death is known. Recently—in the past five years or more—there have been examples of coroners who, rather than just doing their job, have started to interfere with command decisions and question them in court. I submit that orders given by people on the battlefield should not be a matter for public questioning by coroners in a coroner’s court. There is a danger that the business of them doing that has undermined confidence in the whole coronial system in the Armed Forces, which is thoroughly unfortunate. I sincerely hope that the chief coroner will correct this.

I mention those examples because, while I am not opposed to there being a commissioner for complaints who is absolutely committed, first and foremost, to the rule of law in the Armed Forces—and those of us who operated on the streets of Northern Ireland, armed with our yellow cards, know how intrusive that can be—we must have a proper complaints system in which everyone has trust and which functions quickly and effectively. If that is not the case, then we must see why. I am most unhappy, however, at the thought of someone being introduced into the system with more powers than currently exist, because of the possible implications for the paramountcy of the chain of command, on which the Minister opened his address.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for introducing his Bill. It is clear that the old system was flawed but, like my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, I am not convinced that the new one will cure the problem. It is of course heart-warming that the Government have found time for the Bill. Before saying anything substantive, I remind the House that I am still a commissioned officer in the TA, although I am not very active for a variety of reasons.

My worry is similar to that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in that, under the new system, the chain of command might concentrate on procedure to satisfy the ombudsman at the expense of resolving the grievance using skill and experience. For instance, one of the draft letters in JSP 831 looked to me to be rather formal. In certain cases, a more relaxed style might be more effective, and a good assisting officer could be helpful in this regard. Slavishly adhering to procedure can have serious disadvantages.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, have commented on delays in the system. There are time limits for the complainant and the CO respectively to make a formal complaint and for it to be determined. There does not appear to be any time to be disregarded as a result of being on operations, a point alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Surely when deployed a complainant will have other things to worry about—as, indeed, will other parties.

For certain types of complaint the CO has 120 days to determine the matter; that is just for level 1. It seems to me, from reading JSP 831, that there is rather too much time. There appears to be no provision to require higher authority for the CO to exceed certain time limits. Where is the pressure on the system to conclude these matters speedily? It seems to me that the CO and the chain of command have to determine bullying and harassment cases quickly, no matter how painful for the parties involved. I do not understand why it appears to take so long to gather the facts. Is it just too difficult to make the decision?

If a complaint is found to be unfounded, under JSP 831, quite properly, no record is made in the respondent’s file. As we know, many of these cases are hard to determine because it is often one person’s word against that of another. What, then, happens if a new complaint is made against the original respondent by someone who does not know the original complainant and never knew a problem with the respondent had arisen before? The new CO will investigate with an open mind. However, if the CO knew that this was not the first time that this problem had arisen with this particular respondent, a different conclusion may well be reached. How is that pitfall to be avoided, both now and in future?

It is easy to think that officers and the chain of command are absolutely heartless. This is certainly not my experience, at all levels. I have always had full confidence in the chain of command. However, the problem is sometimes down to money. JSP 831 chapter 5 paragraph 5.2 indicates that the second PUS’s views must be adhered to by the defence council. Therefore, a situation can easily arise in which the complaint is well founded but the system is unable to correct it—in other words, the chain of command cannot resolve the problem. I have two questions for the Minister to write to me about. First, have I read that correctly? Can it be just that the second PUS can effectively direct the defence council? Secondly, if the complaint is well founded but to remedy it would not be good use of money available for the defence, can the grievance system find in the complainant’s favour but agree either that it would cost too much to remedy the complaint or that it would create an undesirable precedent? In many cases, just an acknowledgment that the complainant is right might be enough.

I wish the Minister well with his Bill and I hope that he can allay my concerns and those of other noble Lords in Committee. I hope we can meet the current Service Complaints Commissioner as soon as possible. I do not propose to speak to the next, more general debate because over the past few years I have not been so closely involved in defence matters.

My Lords, the financial assistance aspects of the Bill seem a welcome piece of tidying up. However, would the Minister like to confirm that COBSEO, the Confederation of Service Charities, has been informed about what is going on? I get the impression that it has not been cut in on the loop, so I should be grateful for an answer on that.

I am less sanguine about the service complaints part of the Bill concerning the introduction of a new Service Complaints Ombudsman to replace the existing Service Complaints Commissioner. I am unpersuaded by the Minister’s opening comments that an ombudsman vice the complaints commission is needed. I am quite sure that the £500,000 or so that I believe it is going to cost would be better spent on such recommendations as were made by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig, who talked about how he might get better resources for the Army and the Air Force to speed up their processes.

The Armed Forces are a highly disciplined organisation with their own Armed Forces Act and quite different from any other organisation because of the powers vested in the command chain. I can understand the desirability of having a Service Complaints Commissioner, but I am at a loss to understand why an ombudsman is seen as necessary, and I am very concerned about the powers that are being suggested, which seem set to undermine the command chain which is fundamental to fighting efficiency. I have a suspicion that there is more than a degree of political correctness in driving this, at the expense of the ultimate goal of our fighting services, which is to fight and win.

In my general unease at what is being proposed, I have a very specific concern about new Section 340K, which allows the putative ombudsman to cut into the command chain directly and, without any recourse to the command chain, to bring to court anyone who it feels is obstructing the execution of its investigative duties. I fundamentally disagree with the assertion of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, that the Bill does not interfere with the command chain in this respect. This role is one that, if necessary, the Defence Council can exercise already. The refusal of an order passed downwards from any part in its command chain is, in Armed Forces law, an offence which, when flouted, will see a person being subject to internal disciplinary proceedings.

I stress that that differentiates the Armed Forces from any other body where an ombudsman exists, and the adoption of the measures in new Section 340K puts the services under even further legal siege and encroachment—something that I believe the Secretary of State for Defence has previously, rightly, expressed anxiety about. In view of that, it is difficult to understand why he should support new Section 340K. It is certainly ill aligned with the Written Statement that he made to Parliament on 13 March 2014, when he said:

“The Defence Council would remain responsible for the decisions taken in response to the SCC’s recommendations, thus maintaining the authority of the chain of command”—[Official Report, 13/3/14; col. WS 188.],

and thus indicating his attachment to the chain of command.

I also draw attention to the Government’s response to the House of Commons Defence Committee’s eighth report, where they say that changes,

“cannot be at the expense of maintaining the primacy of the chain of command”.

Perhaps the Minister can comment on that and, specifically, on whether new Section 340K has the explicit support of the Chiefs of Staff. My understanding is that it emphatically does not, and absolute clarity on this from the Minister would be welcome. I find it interesting that the memorandum from the MoD for today’s debate in the House of Lords is silent on new Section 340K. Would it be reasonable to suppose that this section has been included in the Bill after consultation with the services? Perhaps the Minister would like to comment on that and reflect very carefully indeed before he does so.

New Section 340J, concerning the service ombudsman asking for documentation, seems to be right and is associated with new Section 340K. However, I most strongly and passionately believe that new Section 340K is ill advised and unnecessary. It should be deleted from the Bill.

With your Lordships’ leave I would like to speak briefly in the gap. I hesitate to speak in a debate in which so many noble and gallant Lords have spoken because my own military experience is but nothing compared with theirs. When I was a Territorial Army officer in the 1970s the idea that there would be an independent complaints process was so far away from the reality of how we saw things that people would have laughed. If you did not like what was done you would just leave and not turn up at the drill hall next time. I realise that things have moved on and that we live in a much more litigious society, and I am very well aware of that in my present honorary role as an Honorary Air Commodore of 600 (City of London) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for introducing this debate. I, too, took considerable comfort from his assurances that complaints should be heard and determined at the lowest appropriate level, and that nothing should be done that would weaken the absolute integrity of the chain of command. I readily acknowledge that service complaints panels, including the use of independent members, have been found to be useful and have provided for more transparent decision-making. Service complaints panels are generally not thought to have undermined the chain of command. Is my noble friend absolutely certain that the ability of the putative SCO—the ombudsman— to direct the Defence Council will not have the potential to undermine the chain of command? I must admit that I fear that the upgrading of the commissioner to an ombudsman does of itself seem to challenge the essential premise that the Armed Forces should retain responsibility wherever possible for handing their own complaints within the services.

The Bill changes the process in other ways. It reduces three appeals within the service to just two chances. I am persuaded that streamlining the process is necessary but I wonder whether that will be helpful. I think that it will have the effect of reducing the amount of judgment of decision-making that is done within the service and increasing the amount that is done independently outside the service. Again, on the face of it that would seem to undermine the power of the chain of command. How can a service preserve the ability to hold a service complaints panel without referral to the ombudsman or without there having to be maladministration of the service complaint? Will the service have discretion to determine the level at which a service complaint is best dealt with? Oral hearings are useful to clarify disputed facts. Will there be provision in the new system for oral hearings? The ombudsman’s costs will rise as a result of additional work necessary to enable her to determine whether there has been maladministration of a service complaint.

Clause 4 is very welcome. The extent to which the main established military charities, in addition to providing assistance to their Second World War and other veteran communities, now provide direct help to the serving Armed Forces is not widely appreciated or understood. The RAF Benevolent Fund, which I had the privilege to chair for eight years has provided more than £20 million to fund childcare centres on all the principal RAF stations. In addition, we provide substantial sums for games areas and Relate counselling for those whose relationships are under strain, often as a result of separation. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, told the House, this is a completely different subject. Nevertheless, I very much welcome it.

My Lords, while we support the Bill, a number of points have been and will be raised in this debate which will require either a response from the Government or probing further as we progress through the different stages of the parliamentary process. My noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, in particular, has already raised a number of points which I wish to re-emphasise.

The key feature of the Bill is the intention to replace the existing Service Complaints Commissioner with a Service Complaints Ombudsman. We have been calling for an Armed Forces ombudsman for more than a year to strengthen independent scrutiny of service complaints following a number of frank reports from the Service Complaints Commissioner, including in 2011 when she described the system as,

“not efficient, effective or fair”.

The system has not improved since then. We promised that we would introduce a cost-neutral reform through simplification of the present system to create a more powerful ombudsman. Following this pressure from ourselves and others, including the Commons Defence Select Committee and the commissioner—who has rightly been complimented today on the invaluable work that she has done—the Government finally announced that they would introduce a Service Complaints Ombudsman, and today’s Bill is the result.

We have also been campaigning strongly for the protection and promotion of our Armed Forces community inside and outside their service. For example, we campaigned for the military covenant to become part of UK law, giving members of the Armed Forces legal rights and entitlements. We have announced that we will increase protections against discrimination of the Armed Forces community in public through the Armed Forces (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill, and we have continually pushed the Government to tackle bullying, harassment and sexual assault in the armed services.

The Bill also includes a power to make payments to charities, benevolent organisations and others for the benefit of the Armed Forces community. This raises questions about how the current LIBOR funding has been allocated and spent, and therefore how any future funding would be allocated, and whether or not those in receipt of LIBOR funding have had to meet specific criteria, including on levels of performance. These are points on which we would welcome a response from the Minister and which we will be pursuing in more detail during the consideration of the Bill.

The Service Complaints Commissioner was established in 2008 by the previous Government under the provisions of the Armed Forces Act 2006 following, in particular, the concerns arising from the Deepcut review by Nicholas Blake QC into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four trainees at an army training establishment. The current role of the Service Complaints Commissioner is to refer complaints received direct into the system and to make inquiries if a complaint is not resolved within 24 weeks. The Service Complaints Commissioner also provides an annual assurance of the complaints system to the Secretary of State for Defence and Parliament but does not have the legal power to review the handling of individual cases.

However, the commissioner has been critical of the present arrangements and how in practice they work. Indeed, in her most recent annual report, the commissioner says that for the sixth year she is unable to give an assurance that the service complaints system is working efficiently, effectively or fairly and that delay remains the principal reason for unfairness in the system. Overall, the Navy resolved 78% of new 2013 service complaints within the 24 weeks target; the Army met the target of resolution of complaints within 24 weeks in only 25% of cases; and for the RAF the figure was 23%. The commissioner also stated that she was unable to provide an assurance that the data contained in her report provided by the Army and the RAF on how complaints were handled were reliable. She also stated that service personnel lacked confidence in the system.

The current system does not offer all complainants the assurance of an independent person overseeing their complaint outside the chain of command in any effective way. No one currently has powers to recommend necessary changes when a complaint has not been handled properly. Service personnel have no recourse to other ombudsmen on matters such as housing, medical care or police services where these are provided by the Armed Forces.

Under the terms of the Bill, the service complaints ombudsman will have the legal power to review individual cases where a serviceperson feels their complaint has not been handled properly and to report its findings with recommendations for correcting any default or maladministration found. What it appears the ombudsman, like the current commissioner, will not be able to do is instigate an investigation himself. The present commissioner has apparently never been asked by the Secretary of State to report on a particular area of concern she may have outside her normal annual reporting cycle. It is not apparently because the commissioner has no areas of concern. She told the Commons Defence Select Committee that she would look at,

“cases of bullying, which include assault, and the issues to do with mental health, access to services, race [...] and the handling of those cases”.

During visits to units, she had been informed of issues that would not come to her as complaints and thought that some work needed to be done on them. She told the Defence Select Committee that ombudsmen have this broader view, and:

“They can pull together in an informed and responsible way evidence across the piece and put it forward in a way that is very valuable to the organisation that they oversee”.

The comments and views of the commissioner, including on the failings of the current complaints system, are particularly pertinent in the light of sexual assault, rape and bullying in the Armed Forces hitting the headlines when Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement committed suicide after complaining of suffering from bullying following an allegation of rape against two male colleagues, a case to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred.

The 2013 Armed Forces Continuous Attitudes Survey found that 10% of those surveyed believed that they,

“have been the subject of discrimination, harassment and bullying”,

in a service environment in the past 12 months, but only 8% of them had made a formal complaint. The reasons given for not making a complaint included:

“I did not believe anything would be done if I did complain”.

That was given by 54%, while 52% gave the reason:

“I believe it might adversely affect my career or workplace”.

I believe that 28% cited being,

“worried there would be recriminations from the perpetrators”.

The Commons Defence Select Committee said that it believed there would be value in the commissioner being able to undertake research and to report on thematic issues in addition to her annual reports.

As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, has also said, my understanding is that the Canadian forces ombudsman can initiate thematic inquiries into problems faced by sections of the Canadian armed services. Can the Minister say whether the Government have considered giving this power to the Service Complaints Ombudsman? If not, will they consider doing so, and if they have, what are the reasons for declining to go down this road?

A complaint will be considered in the first instance by the person in the chain of command who is able to decide the case and take action to put things right. There will be one level of appeal which will continue to include an independent element, as under the current system. If a complainant believes that his or her complaint has not been dealt with properly after the appeal, the complainant can ask the independent Service Complaints Ombudsman to review the case. The role of the ombudsman will be to consider whether there has been maladministration in the handling of a service complaint. This means that the ombudsman would consider whether there has been a failing in the process by which a decision has been made in the internal service complaints system, which has not been rectified, sufficient to result in an unjust outcome. A decision that the complainant dislikes, but where he or she cannot fault the process by which it has been reached, would not count as maladministration.

The Bill provides for time limits within which complaints must be raised. We will want to look at these to see whether they are reasonable and do not unfairly limit the ability of Armed Forces personnel to pursue a legitimate complaint. The Service Complaints Ombudsman’s recommendations will not be legally binding. It would be helpful if the Minister could set out why the Government believe that such recommendations will carry weight and what will happen if they are ignored, bearing in mind that the Service Complaints Commissioner in particular has not been impressed by the effectiveness of and respect for the current arrangements. It is difficult to understand why, if collectively those at the very highest levels had felt it a priority to ensure that the current arrangements worked much more effectively than they have, that would not have been the outcome.

Where are the teeth, or who will provide the teeth, to ensure that complaints are dealt with expeditiously and that recommendations made by the Service Complaints Ombudsman have some real bite and cannot be ignored without good reasons that are openly and transparently expressed? This is important. Service personnel have to obey legal commands. They do not have the rights of an employee. They are not employees with a contract of employment. They should be entitled to have access to an effective and independent means of redress against the possibility of any unacceptable and inappropriate use of power, and to have confidence in that process and procedure.

The Service Complaints Ombudsman will retain the ability to receive complaints and pass them on to the chain of command where a complainant is anxious about approaching the chain of command directly.

Service personnel will also be able to appeal to the ombudsman if their complaint is ruled to be an excluded matter or out of time. This is particularly important for people who have recently left the services but wish to complain about a wrong they feel was done during their service life. Under the current system, if the complaint is ruled excluded because it is out of time, they have no means of pursuing the matter if they are no longer serving at the time that the decision to exclude the complaint is made. In future, if the ombudsman rules that it should not have been excluded, the services will be obliged to consider it. Can the Minister say if this change would also apply in respect of a member of service personnel who had died by the time that the decision to exclude the complaint was made?

How well the Service Complaints Ombudsman system will work, only time will tell. If it is not supported by senior military personnel and Ministers, it will not secure the necessary changes and strengthened objectives that the current Service Complaints Commissioner clearly believes the new ombudsman, if provided with adequate numbers of staff, should be able to deliver. As the commissioner says in her 2013 annual report:

“Communicating the new system across the Services and educating NCOs and Officers in how to manage complaints will be key to success”.

I appreciate that these are early days, but I hope that the Minister will be able to say something today—or if not today, during the passage of the Bill—about how the new system will be communicated and what form the education in how to manage complaints, to which the commissioner referred, will take and how extensive it will be, bearing in mind that the education in managing the current arrangements does not appear to have been as successful as it might.

I note that the commissioner also said in her 2013 annual report that, while she hoped that the new system could be implemented early in 2015, in the mean time it was necessary to ensure that people with complaints to make still got the best possible treatment, with a complaint resolved within the current 24-week target. Can the Minister say, either today or subsequently, what progress is being made in increasing the percentage of complaints being resolved within the 24-week target, particularly in respect of the Army and the RAF? An improvement here might provide some positive evidence that the ombudsman will receive the support and backing to be able to deliver a new system that is of more benefit to both individual service personnel and the services themselves.

The Bill sets out the structure of the new system, including the relevant powers, role and functions of the Service Complaints Ombudsman, the Secretary of State and the Defence Council. However, it does not provide the details, which will be crucial since they could enhance or weaken the position of the ombudsman. These details will be set out in regulations. For example, Clause 2 refers to a person being able to make a complaint about,

“any matter relating to his or her service”,

but goes on to say:

“A person may not make a service complaint about a matter of a description specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State”.

Clause 2 also provides for the Defence Council to make regulations,

“about the procedure for making and dealing with a service complaint”.

These regulations, known as “service complaints regulations”, will be vital, even though the Bill covers a number of factors or issues for which they must make provision.

Clause 2 also provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations about persons and panels deciding service complaints and about the procedure to be followed in ombudsman investigations, both of which are matters that, once again, could be of considerable significance in relation to the independence of the complaints procedure and the exercise of the ombudsman’s powers. We need an opportunity to see the proposed regulations before we reach Committee in this House, since they are such an integral part of the Bill and whether it will achieve its objectives, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give an undertaking on behalf of the Government that this will be the case.

The hope and expectation is that under these new arrangements for a Service Complaints Ombudsman, our service personnel will benefit from a simpler and faster system for resolving complaints within the scope of the ombudsman’s remit, in which they can have confidence. They deserve nothing less.

My Lords, we have had a constructive and helpful debate and I am very grateful for the excellent contributions from all sides of the House.

It is clear from the debate that there is a general agreement about the need to reform the service complaints system. I think we all appreciate the importance of having a system that is fair and effective. Although the current system is satisfactory, we can—and must—do better. It is essential that our service men and women have the confidence that any complaint they raise will be taken seriously and that it will be dealt with quickly, which is not always the case at present. Having a robust complaints system is both an integral part of the covenant and a key part of ensuring operational effectiveness. The new streamlined system proposed by the Bill will ensure that complaints are properly investigated at the appropriate level and with clear avenues of appeal. The system proposed by the Bill strikes the right balance between having strong and independent oversight of the complaints process and maintaining the authority of the chain of command, as stressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean.

The measures set out in the Bill represent a significant improvement to the complaints system. It is clear from today’s debate that some noble Lords feel that we should go further. A number of very good points have been raised and I am sure that they will provide us with a good basis for our consideration in Committee.

I turn to some of the points raised by noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords. I may not be able to answer all questions, but, where I do not, I shall undertake to respond in writing before Committee.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, asked what happens to a service complaint when the complainant dies. It is the usual practice that a complaint ceases if the complainant dies before it has been concluded, but much depends on how far it has progressed and the extent to which a complainant’s evidence has been dealt with. It is only fair that all parties are able to challenge allegations made against them; for example, in complaints of bullying. Even if the complaint has to cease, it is open to the chain of command to take what lessons it can and whatever actions might be possible.

The noble Baroness asked what alternative mechanisms are available for families of deceased servicepeople to raise issues with the chain of command. Families can approach the chain of command or Ministers at any level about any matter that is of concern to them. The welfare of all personnel is of paramount concern to all in command and they therefore take such approaches very seriously. The chain of command can then decide on the appropriate action to take, which might include, for example, conducting a service inquiry to investigate in more detail.

The noble Baroness and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, asked when draft regulations would be available. An initial draft of the regulations will be available by Lords Committee stage. As the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, implementation will be key.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, asked how detailed applications to the ombudsman need to be. We want the process to be simple for everyone to operate. The complainant will need simply to set out what they say has gone wrong in the handling of their complaint. Regulations will set out the minimum information that will need to be provided. They will not be onerous requirements. Advice and guidance published by the ombudsman are likely to be provided to help individuals, as with other ombudsmen.

My noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill asked why new Section 340L does not make reference to sanctions. The ombudsman’s role is to make findings on maladministration and injustice and to make appropriate recommendations. Their role is focused on the procedure followed rather than on the merits. It is for the Defence Council to grant all appropriate redress.

I share the hope of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, that the existence of the ombudsman will focus the chain of command’s attention more consistently on dealing with complaints more effectively. To that end, the ombudsman will have a positive impact overall.

The noble Lord pointed out that the new ombudsman needs to be properly resourced and I entirely agree. We are discussing with the commissioner how the ombudsman’s office should be structured and resourced when these changes are implemented. There will be more staff in the ombudsman’s office. We expect their number to increase from the current nine to around 20.

The noble Lord asked why the number of complaints has increased. As Dr Atkins acknowledged, we can never be sure whether the number has risen because of a greater number of incidents or wrongs, or because personnel have increased confidence in the process. However, that rise is helpful in giving the chain of command the chance to rectify matters.

My noble friend Lord Thomas asked me to confirm that the Defence Council’s reasons for rejecting the ombudsman’s recommendations can be judicially reviewed. I can confirm that, yes. My noble friend commented that the ombudsman should be able to recommend compensation. The ombudsman will have wide powers to recommend action to put right a procedural wrong if he or she finds one. That could include that compensation be made. The Defence Council will be required to consider that fully and provide written reasons if it refuses to implement recommendations.

My noble friend asked if the ombudsman could go beyond looking at an individual complaint to look at systematic issues. The ombudsman can only consider the matter raised by the complainant but, when investigating a complaint, he or she may identify wider issues connected with that complaint from which we should learn. That is a valuable benefit of this new role.

My noble friend said that the ombudsman cannot investigate the substance of a complaint, but is limited to maladministration and binding recommendations. Ombudsmen have very strong powers to scrutinise the effectiveness of the handling of service complaints. It is expected that their findings will be followed. While we expect the Defence Council to follow the vast majority of recommendations and they will clearly have some legal effect, the scope of recommendations is potentially very wide. It is right for the Defence Council to be able to decide not to implement recommendations but only where there are very good reasons: for example, where significant resource implications are involved. The Bill does not provide for this explicitly. That is in accordance with other, similar legislation. There is well established case law on the legal effect of findings and recommendations.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, asked what matters can be excluded. Matters that can be excluded will be very similar to the current list of excluded matters in the Armed Forces (Redress of Individual Grievances) Regulations 2007. That would include complaints about decisions made under the service justice system. The noble and gallant Lord also asked how much of the delay is due to a lack of resources. It is impossible to identify whether a lack of resource is an issue. What is clear is that inactivity, whether by the complainant or the chain of command, is too often the cause of delay—which we must tackle. Positive behaviours when handling a complaint are as important as the process being followed. We reinforce that continually.

My noble friend Lady Garden was concerned to ensure that administration costs for financial payments do not duplicate those elsewhere. We have an existing system in place to guard against this, and will ensure that we retain that in managing the £10 million that the Government have allocated for Armed Forces covenant commitments.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, asked for an assurance on future funding. The current scheme is purely discretionary. The requirement to report publicly on spending in support of the Armed Forces community, for example in the fields of healthcare and housing, will help guard against adverse changes.

My noble friend Lord Attlee asked whether time in operations could be disregarded from time limits proposed for the complaints system. All time limits, as under the current system, will be subject to extension where that is, for example, just and equitable under the circumstances. My noble friend was concerned that the chain of command might concentrate on procedure rather than the substance of a complaint. A complaint is a sign that something is wrong and needs to be put right. Procedure is key to make sure that complaints are handled well, but we encourage an informal approach, too, so that matters are nipped in the bud quickly. Dr Atkins acknowledged that the Army has done this increasingly in recent years, particularly for complaints about bullying.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, was concerned that the Armed Forces were blindsided on the changes. I can assure him that the Armed Forces have been fully involved in developing the changes. That was the very first question I asked when I was briefed, and I was assured that they are completely behind the proposed reforms. We are looking to set up a briefing for all Peers with the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff before Committee, and that will enable noble—and noble and gallant—Lords to hear from the services themselves their views on the Bill.

The noble and gallant Lord asked about new Section 340K—the contempt powers. The information and contempt powers in new Sections 340J and 340K are a common feature of ombudsman legislation. The ombudsman must have fully effective powers to scrutinise the handling of service complaints. It cannot be right for the ombudsman to have to rely on the chain of command to get the information they need to do their job properly. Without those powers, we would be criticised for creating a toothless watchdog.

The noble and gallant Lord asked: has COBSEO been informed and has it been consulted? The purpose is not to change the schemes by which assistance is given to the Armed Forces community through charitable or other organisations, but to ensure that there is proper parliamentary authority for such expenditure.

My noble friend Lord Trenchard and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, were concerned that the ombudsman’s role undermines the chain of command. Although the ombudsman has strong powers to make findings and recommendations, the final say rests with the Defence Council. If it has very good reasons to depart from the ombudsman’s recommendations, that will be enough.

My noble friend Lord Trenchard asked: will the service have discretion about who handles a complaint? A key reform of the process is that a complaint will be assigned to a person or group of people who have authority to grant appropriate redress. Service complaints panels as currently defined will go from the process, but their function is retained. That includes the need for independent members to be involved, for example, in complaints of bullying.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, pointed out that the ombudsman must have the power to undertake reports and investigations that would detect and deal with another Deepcut. The ombudsman is undoubtedly in a good position to spot when concerns arise about a particular location or individual. However, it does not follow that the ombudsman is best placed to investigate further. However, the ombudsman can alert the chain of command at whatever level he or she considers appropriate in the circumstances—or Ministers—so that action can be taken, and refer to the matter in the annual report, giving it public and parliamentary visibility. That has a powerful effect which should not be underplayed.

The ombudsman’s focus in producing an annual report as set out in the Bill is on the way that the complaints system has operated in the preceding calendar year and on the exercise of his or her functions during that period. The Bill also provides for the ombudsman to cover any other aspect of these areas that he or she considers appropriate—or, indeed, that the Secretary of State may direct. This gives scope for the ombudsman to report on any matter that he or she considers relevant.

The noble Lord asked: what criteria have organisations had to meet to get funding, and how is funding decided? There is a rigorous application process, with decisions on funding taken by a panel of experts drawn from the service charities and government. The specifics vary slightly for each of the funds, and each project is monitored against an agreed set of terms and conditions, so there is due diligence.

The noble Lord asked a very pertinent question: how will the changes be communicated to members of the Armed Forces? There will be comprehensive communication across all three services, delivered in ways that are appropriate to each service’s needs. I hope that I have now answered most of the questions. As I said, I will write regarding any that I have not answered.

This Bill provides the legislation that we need to reform our service complaints system and ensure we can provide financial assistance to charities that support the Armed Forces community. These measures, on which there is a large degree of consensus, should be taken forward quickly and I therefore ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Armed Forces

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

My Lords, it is one of the great privileges of my job that I am able to listen to advice from noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords with so much expertise and experience, so I will be listening very carefully to all the speeches today. I am very much looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards.

The year 2014 is a year of commemorations. Three weeks ago, we marked it being 70 years on from the D-day landings and as Defence Minister for commemorations my office oversaw these ceremonies, working with the Royal British Legion and the Normandy Veterans Association, to which I pay tribute for their very hard work towards these successful events. I also pay tribute to all members of the Armed Forces for their handling of this extremely moving occasion. A good number of noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords have told me that they watched it on the television and were hugely impressed by what they saw. There were more than 1,700 service personnel on the ground supporting veterans, attendees and carers, led by Force Troops Command. It was an enormously valuable opportunity not just to remind ourselves of that hugely proud moment in our history but to meet the veterans who made it all possible: seemingly ordinary men with extraordinary tales of courage to tell.

Thirty years before D-day, British forces were also setting sail for France to take part in the Great War. This year marks the centenary of the start of that momentous conflict. I have attended a number of ceremonies to mark the First World War, both here and on the continent, and have laid a wreath at St Paul’s Cathedral in honour of those who died in the ill fated Gallipoli campaign. The scale of the commemorations reflects the fact that almost every family in Britain was touched by those events. Our Prime Minister’s great-great-uncle died near Ypres in 1915—the first of five members of his family to be killed in the Great War. Several members of my own family also fought in that conflict; some never returned.

Commemoration is important on a number of levels. First, it is a way of preserving the memories of the millions who sacrificed their lives to safeguard our peace and prosperity. Secondly, it is a way of bringing communities together around our shared British history—and on that note, I am greatly encouraged to see thousands of schools signing up to the battlefield tours in France and Belgium. Thirdly, it is a reminder of the huge value of our Armed Forces and of the vital role played by them in keeping us safe and secure, not just in the past but in the present, too.

This year will mark another historic milestone, as we draw to an end our combat operations in Afghanistan. On 1 April, the UK disbanded its Task Force Helmand headquarters. Camp Bastion is now the UK’s last base in Afghanistan, which is down from 137 bases at the height of operations, and UK force levels have reduced to around 5,200. By the end of this year there will be no British forces left in a combat role in the country. However, we must never forget what our Armed Forces have achieved there, nor the selfless sacrifice of those who died so far from home or of those who have been very seriously injured. Their legacy is not just a country with millions more children now in school, over one-third of them girls, a democratically elected Government—a final election result is expected in a few weeks’ time—and capable Afghan security forces able to provide security for their own people, but a country that is neither a safe haven nor a launch pad for those terrorists who seek to destroy our way of life. Our commitment to supporting the development of the Afghan National Security Forces through the Afghan National Army Officer Academy near Kabul remains.

The end of our Afghan mission heralds a move from the era of enduring campaigns to an age of contingency. Yet the appalling events in Iraq and Syria and closer to home, such as Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, remind us that the world will continue to be a dangerous place, and that the importance of our Armed Forces will remain undiminished. To ensure that UK defence continues to deliver the maximum effect for its budget in future, we have had to face down the problems of the past. Our restructure has ensured that we remain a first-class player in defence, with a defence budget that is the biggest in the EU and the second largest in NATO, and Armed Forces that are the best trained and equipped outside the United States.

We are planning to spend £164 billion on equipment and equipment support over the next 10 years. That means that the Royal Navy can look forward to full-spectrum capability, including seven Astute-class submarines, six Type 45 destroyers, Type 26 global combat ships, four tankers and three new offshore patrol vessels. The force will be enhanced by a new aircraft carrier, the “Queen Elizabeth II”, the largest ever built in Britain and due to float out next month. We can also look forward to the first flights in the UK of the F-35 Lightning aircraft, one of the most capable combat aircraft anywhere in the world. That is just one of the new bits of equipment augmenting the RAF armoury alongside more investment in Typhoon, Mark 6 Chinook helicopters and the new Voyager tanker transport aircraft, A400M transport aircraft and Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft.

Meanwhile, thanks to our reforms, the Army is welcoming back into our core programme more than 2,000 protected mobility vehicles procured through our urgent operational requirement system. They include our Jackal, Coyote, Husky and Warthog platforms. Future Force 2020 will benefit not just from enhanced weapons capability but from a reinvigorated reserve force. After years of neglect our reserves are being reformed and revitalised, with £1.8 billion being invested in better training and equipment to fully integrate them with the rest of the Armed Forces. This is not a case of replacing regulars like for like; it is a core part of building the whole force concept, with regular and reserve forces fully integrated, training and in many cases deploying together, halting the neglect and the decline in our reserves experienced in previous decades.

Our restructure recognises that in an era of contingency, it makes sense to hold certain niche specialist capabilities in reserve, from logistics through to cyber. We are introducing enhanced financial incentives to attract service leaders to join the Army Reserve, maintaining a cadre of experienced personnel. Some seem to expect that increasing the trained reserve to 35,000 will happen overnight. It will not, but we are taking the right action to achieve our targets. The application process has been simplified, medical clearance procedures have been streamlined and the Army is running a high-profile recruitment campaign. The latest figures show that the reserves are now growing in size for the first time in nearly 20 years, and the programme remains on track to deliver by the end of financial year 2018.Our Armed Forces remain vital to the future of this country, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that we retain our formidable, cutting-edge capabilities to respond rapidly to situations across the globe.

At the same time, we recognise that valuing defence goes beyond the Ministry of Defence, war memorials and even homecoming parades. This is especially the case as we draw down from Afghanistan and Germany. Many veterans are making the transition from service life to civilian life. One area we are looking at very closely is the lifetime care of those few men and women who are very seriously wounded in the line of duty. We are aware that provision can sometimes be patchy for those who leave the Armed Forces, although we have been working very closely with our colleagues in the Department of Health and the NHS to provide consistent quality of care across the country. Veterans whose medical condition relates to their time in the Armed Forces are now entitled to priority access to NHS care. Millions have been invested in 24 specialist veterans’ prosthetic centres and from next summer every part of the country will have GPs specially trained to respond to the physical and mental health needs of veterans.

Giving our service personnel everything they need requires more than just joining up different bits of government. All of society has a duty to give serving and former personnel the respect that is their due. That is why we have enshrined the Armed Forces covenant in law. It is backed up by £105 million over the past four years and a further £10 million per annum in perpetuity from next year. Through our community and corporate covenants we are joining up local services and local companies to make our support tangible. More than 400 local authorities and almost 150 companies have signed up so far. As a result, members of the Armed Forces community in Wandsworth have had social housing allocated specially for them. Sheffield residents injured in the line of duty are now given priority for occupational therapy assessments, speeding up their access to support and equipment. In Glasgow, a veterans’ employment programme has been established to, among other things, help early service leavers find employment when they return to civilian life. Meanwhile, we have companies such as Barclays committing to the Army recovery programme and hundreds of wounded service personnel finding valuable new careers. The National Express Group is offering guaranteed interviews to personnel who meet basic criteria.

The Government are working hand in glove with partners right across society, not just to recognise the contribution of our Armed Forces in conflicts past and present but to preserve our military capability in an age of financial restraint and increasing unpredictability. As a result of our actions, we have retained our capacity to protect this nation whatever the future may hold, which is perhaps the most fitting memorial of all to the sacrifice of our forebears. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for this opportunity to debate the armed services. I share his views on commemoration and the importance of remembering what has been done. Indeed, two weeks ago, as president of the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel at Pangbourne, I was with veterans and the next of kin of those who brought us that victory 32 years ago. The way to avoid wars is to have strong forces. The Minister talked very positively about our forces today, and I would expect nothing less from the Minister; indeed, I would expect nothing less from the Chiefs of Staff because they are working for the Government. However, I am tempted to say, “Brave words, my fine young Jedi,” because there is a sort of hollowness there.

For many decades, successive British Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries have been able to stride the world stage, punching above our weight for Britain. Why have they been able to do that? It was not because of our economic strength, but because we had powerful military forces and have been willing to use them around the world. Countries such as Japan and Germany were not even there for the big, important debates on restructuring things, while we were able to be part of that. Yet they were economic giants. Bearing in mind our status as a permanent member of the Security Council, perhaps it is necessary and right that we should be in that position. However, our status is now changing, and our forces are being cut to the bone. One wonders whether the Government have hoisted in the implications of that change.

I have a real worry that we are becoming a different nation by default. I do not need to go into what a dangerous and chaotic world this is; the Minister mentioned that, and I am sure that other noble Lords will do so as well. We only need to look at the television or listen to the wireless; it is very clear that it is becoming more dangerous and chaotic and a worse place to be in. In the 2010 SDSR—which I think impressed very few people—we made significant cuts to our military capability, and since then several billion pounds have been taken from defence as underspend. I know that it is difficult to predict at the moment, but can the Minister predict whether there will be another large underspend in this financial year? We have had underspends worth billions of pounds in the past years, and although some of it has rolled forward, quite a lot of it has not.

Looking to the future, defence spending is on present plans due to fall to 1.7% of GDP—bearing in mind that we are withdrawing from Afghanistan, so spending on operations will drop dramatically and that is before any more cuts in the next spending round. That is not the 2% that we often boast and crow about. Can the Minister say whether we will commit to a real 2% of GDP at the NATO summit this autumn, and in the future, not counting the cost of operations and the like? What, therefore, is the impact of those continual cuts? I will focus on the Royal Navy and the maritime, as I know that other noble Lords will focus especially on the Army’s problems.

Successive cuts mean that the Royal Navy has, for example, 19 escorts—that is, destroyers and frigates. When I entered Dartmouth, which I know was a long time ago, the Royal Navy had 104. Clearly we do not require that number today—the world has changed—but if one does the sums, the need for about 30 escorts to match our security needs and commitments is quite clear and was implicit in SDSR 1997-98. I have said on numerous occasions, and do not mind saying again, that having 19 frigates and destroyers for our great maritime nation is a national disgrace. The Type 26 programme is fantastic, and I love the thought that it is coming along—but it has not been ordered yet. I am afraid that I have had bitter experiences throughout my time in the Navy. You need to see something ordered and being built; until you can stand on its quarterdeck, you have not jolly well got it.

As I speak, over 50 of our ships, submarines, squadrons and units are deployed at sea around the world. The price of unrelenting operational tempo due to too few ships and too many tasks has resulted in lack of time for basic maintenance before ships redeploy. Not surprisingly, material readiness continues to decline, and apparently some warships have had to be towed back to Britain after breaking down at sea because there is insufficient funding for maintenance and spares. Can the Minister say whether that is true? I have been told that by a number of people. Have we had to tow one of our warships back to this country because it could not get here under its own power?

The pressure is not just apparent in the surface fleet, as, notwithstanding the new Astute class submarines—which the Minister mentioned and which are very slowly entering service; that has been very protracted, and we are getting only seven of them vice the eight we had expected—the number of submarines available for operations is at an all-time low. The pressures of too few ships and too many tasks impacts on our people as well—the most important factor. Again, when I joined the Navy, it had about 104,000 people. Today, we are down to 30,000, which of course includes the Royal Marines.

The Royal Navy is a wonderful and incredibly diverse organisation, which includes nuclear submariners to fast-jet pilots, chefs to surgeons, saturation divers to chaplains, commando fighters to helicopter pilots, ballistic missile maintainers to sea-boat operators, a surface navy, a submarine force, an air force and our own maritime infantry. It is one of the most complex organisations in our country, all delivered by half the number of people who watch Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. That is impressive—but manpower has been squeezed too much and our people stretched too thinly. We need to invest more in people and in training as well as in equipment.

On the subject of people, I mention as an aside how important our cadet forces are. They are good in a national sense, but they are also good for the military as well.

The Defence Secretary said that, as we pull out of Afghanistan,

“we are reminded that we are a maritime nation and maritime power is crucially important to our security and to our prosperity”.

However, I am not convinced that we have the planned investment to ensure that we have that maritime power. The Minister mentioned the carrier programme. Yes, this is very good news; it is something that I am delighted about. However, at the time of SDSR 2010, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister were saying that the only reason we were getting these things was because they were so far advanced that they did not want to waste the money—not a ringing endorsement. I think that they now understand better how important they are as a joint force enabler, allowing the UK to maintain global reach, to use them in hot war at the very top level, right down through every level to disaster relief in all parts of the world. I have no doubt whatever that at some stage, or at many stages, over the next 50 years, our nation will be very grateful that it has possession of those carriers— 4.5 acres of British sovereign territory, capable of going 500 miles in any direction at our nation’s behest without anyone else stopping them going there.

However, on present plans, only the “Queen Elizabeth” will be operated. The “Prince of Wales”, after costing £3 billion, will be laid up or sold at a bargain basement price. I despair—and I am sure that if the nation was aware of that fact, it would despair. I beg the Government to please, for goodness’ sake, plan to run them both and make that commitment now. Can the Minister make that commitment now? I doubt it—but he would make me a very happy admiral if he could.

Our defence spending has been cut to an extent that we are balanced on a knife edge. We are still a great nation—and I know that is not something that people like saying, but we are. Depending on how it is calculated, we are probably the sixth richest in the world, as well as being a permanent member of the Security Council and a nuclear power, responsible for the defence and security of 14 dependencies worldwide. World shipping is run from London, providing the sinews that enable the global village to operate. We are the biggest European investor in most parts of the world. Global stability and security are crucial for our survival and wealth. It is nonsense to say that defence should be cut again in the next spending round like other departments. The smaller cake of public money—and I know that it is smaller—can be cut in different ways. The Prime Minister has stated clearly that defence of the nation is the primary responsibility of government, and its highest priority. Finding more money for defence is just a matter of government resolve. Without an increase in defence spending, I believe that we are on a road to disaster. Indeed, I do not believe that for the moment we can make Future Force 2020, which is the plan. Our forces will not be able to do what the nation expects of them, and the nation expects a lot of them—going back to those memories of what they have done in the past. Is that really the intention of our Government?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for the Motion, and I join other noble Lords in the comments about the commemoration of the First World War. So many of us in this House had relatives in that war; I had an uncle who died as a young volunteer at 17 years old in the First World War.

We must answer the question, “What is the purpose of our Armed Forces?”, before ascertaining the role in achieving that purpose. Over the centuries, Britain has been used to having a strong military arm and being a force within the world. I am proud of that history and have great hopes and expectations for the future, but we should be clear about the purpose of the Armed Forces. Is it purely that of pride? There is nothing wrong with pride. Is it fear of enemies, known and unknown, and preparation for conflicts, known and unknown? Is it because we cannot contemplate being defenceless? The purpose must surely include defence of the realm and use of the Armed Forces in domestic emergencies such as floods, as we have just seen, fires during firefighters’ strikes, which we have just seen, and security at events such as the Olympic Games, which we have seen. It should also include armed contributions to NATO, United Nations and European defence forces. Should it include a presence in hot spots around the world, be it policing, advising, training or, more controversially, what is described as “boots on the ground”? When we can answer those questions, we need to consider the number of personnel needed in the Army, the Navy—on which I defer to the vast experience of the noble Lord, Lord West—and the Air Force, and whether what we have, or will have, is sufficient. We need to audit regularly the equipment, vehicles, vessels and aircraft to see whether they fulfil that purpose.

I wish to comment on troop reductions, to which many noble Lords will no doubt refer. We cannot ignore the strain that our forces are under, and the insufficient number of reservists being recruited to counter reductions in regular troops. The Army will be reduced to 82,000 by 2018 but, earlier this month, the National Audit Office revealed that plans to recruit 30,000 reservists, while regulars are reduced by 20,000, are a shocking six years behind schedule. There are also, of course, reductions in the Navy and the RAF. Equally worrying is that these cuts could cost more than they save. I agree with the Government’s policy and believe that what we are doing is necessary, but I hope that my noble friend the Minister, when replying, will refute the opinion of the Commons Public Accounts Committee that the MoD is paying an additional £1 million a month to cover what the Labour chairman of that committee cited as “incompetence” in the department—something with which I do not agree. The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, whose speech I look forward to later in the debate, recently told the BBC’s “World at One” programme that confidence that Army 2020 will succeed,

“is based on a certain degree of wishful thinking”.

The noble Lord is certainly not alone; I share many of his concerns about how this plan is being implemented, the real costs of it and the likelihood of its success.

On troop care, I am proud that the Government have enshrined in law the military covenant, to which many noble Lords will refer. However, that means we cannot ignore the strain our forces are under. It also increases the onus on us to make sure that we live up to our responsibilities to our service personnel. We must make sure that everyone, from those on the front line to returning veterans, is properly looked after. I welcome the structured mental health assessments that are now routinely done on returning service personnel, and the other measures that this Government have introduced to try to combat post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues suffered by troops. In a sense, that carries on seamlessly from our previous debate on the Bill this afternoon.

Given these reductions in troop numbers, the Armed Forces must make sure that they are making the best use of the talent they have available. This includes allowing women to serve in front-line combat roles, something which I am very pleased this Government are encouraging. This year, the Israel Defense Forces appointed its first female combat battalion commander, the quite formidable Major Oshrat Bachar, who I believe was promoted to colonel last month. The IDF also has the Caracal battalion, a combat unit which is 70% female, as well as female soldiers in the elite commando canine unit “Oketz”. In that country the only objection to having women on the front line is a religious one—nothing else. I hope that we can use women as combat troops when they wish it and we consider that it is necessary. Despite concerns from noble friends, we know that diverse organisations work better. As evidenced in other countries, there is no reason why that should not be the case in our Armed Forces. The words of Kipling come to mind:

“For the female of the species is more deadly than the male”.

I am sure that many other noble Lords will talk about equipment. When the Minister responds, can he comment on the problems encountered with the F-35B Lightning Joint Strike Fighter and the reports that its engine exhaust becomes so hot it can melt tarmac and potentially put the plane at risk? I understand that the MoD is building three heat-resistant pads at RAF Marham in Norfolk, where the plane will be based. We are about to order—or we may already have ordered—the first 14 out of a total of 48 to replace the Harrier. Am I therefore correct that the planes can land conventionally but can take off vertically only from carriers—at least one of which is coming into service—and Marham? Can my noble friend confirm whether we have considered the strong runway at Manston airport, which my noble friend Lord Astor and I have discussed, although it is threatened with closure?

I trust that when the Minister replies he will include comments on how we stand on cyber warfare and cyber defence.

The Minister referred to areas of instability, and many other noble Lords will, no doubt, cover the situations in Iraq, Syria and other places. When we consider the role of the Armed Forces, we must look at the current, very worrying situations in Iraq and Syria. I know we are all very concerned, as we read of and see the brutality of ISIS. The Liberal Democrats warned of the troubles of engaging in war in Iraq and, sadly, many of those predictions have come true. While there may at some point be a requirement for targeted air raids or no-fly zones, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past by putting British boots on the ground once again in Iraq.

I support the restructuring of our Armed Forces but still have worries about the speed of increase in the reserves. I welcome the reinvigorated Reserve Forces, as my noble friend said, being integrated as a new force concept—something that is over and above just a matter of numbers. I support the full-spectrum capability.

Reference has been made to the HMS “Queen Elizabeth” aircraft carrier. It is a welcome base, and I have exchanged words on this in the past. Obviously, having one or perhaps two carriers is great for pride and moveability, and will provide the capability of a platform for our aircraft throughout the world. That is, of course, water under the bridge, if that is the right expression. What can one do? They are there: one is coming into service and the other will either come into service or be tied up at the dock. However, I refer to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord West, about there being only 19 frigates and destroyers. The carriers must be where the money is being spent, to some extent, but if that is the case, the net result will be a sad reduction into a minimal number of other naval vessels because money cannot be spent twice. However, we are where we are and I welcome the carriers as a moveable force. I only hope—given all my other comments and those of other noble Lords—that we have on those carriers the personnel and equipment needed to serve this country.

My Lords, we are within a year of a general election, following which the next Government will have to make some key choices about government expenditure over the coming years. Over the past four years, the burden of financial retrenchment has been largely borne by those departments whose expenditure has been unprotected. If that is to continue beyond 2015, we have seriously to question whether we as a country are taking a sensible approach to public policy.

There is no doubt that restoring the nation’s economic health and public finances are essential prerequisites for the provision of good public services, including our Armed Forces. This overriding priority has meant that in the short term we have faced difficult choices and painful reductions in many areas. However, our aim must be to restore long-term coherence, not to allow short-term distortions to become structurally embedded.

With that in mind, we have to take account of our national interests and aspirations. The nature of our economy and the sources of our wealth mean that we cannot responsibly withdraw from the global scene. We rely on a degree of global order and stability to pursue our goals; that means we should invest in the promotion of such order and stability. It has long been a key tenet of our foreign and security policy and I see no prospect of change in that regard. Even in the teeth of the economic challenge at the time of the last security and defence review, the Government rejected the notion of strategic shrinkage. I would have preferred a slightly different formulation. It would have been better to say that Britain was committed to sustaining its international strategic role in the long term, but that to do this we would have to suffer some strategic retrenchment in the short term. That would have been a better reflection of the reality.

Either way, we must take account of the current and likely future international situation. I will not repeat all that I said in the debate on the humble Address responding to the gracious Speech from the Throne in this regard; suffice it to say that the global threats to security, as other noble Lords have said, are many and serious. However, I will restate a key point I made in the earlier debate. I believe we are witnessing two major strategic shifts, both of which could pose serious challenges to our future security and prosperity. The first and most obvious is the rising economic might of China and its use of increasingly sharp elbows on the international scene. The major points of friction may be far removed from us geographically, but in this globalised world the consequences will certainly be felt here.

The second development is the continued unravelling of the Sykes-Picot agreement and the subsequent post-1918 arrangements that were intended to tidy up the detritus of the Ottoman Empire. The most malign consequence of this is the growth of an ungoverned space straddling the Syria-Iraq border and the emergence there of extremist Islamic groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

There is perhaps little that we can contribute directly regarding the first development, but we have friends in the Asia-Pacific region that we should stay in close touch with and support where possible. Regarding the second issue, we cannot say how things will develop in the Middle East; nor, I suspect, can we exert much direct control over the outcomes. At the least, we should do all we can to prevent the outcome of a slide into a full-blown Sunni-Shia war, which seems to me very much in prospect at the moment.

If that were not enough, we face serious challenges on our own continent, which until recently some people thought would be at peace for ever more. It has been suggested that the EU has in some way provoked Russia’s actions in Ukraine. I am certainly not going to defend all of the EU’s policies in this regard. However, I believe that Russia’s actions are illegal and wholly unacceptable, and that the chances of subsequent miscalculation on the wider European scene have grown considerably. We now face a situation where many members of NATO feel distinctly less secure than they did 12 months ago, and they understandably seek reassurance. We have allowed ourselves and NATO to grow weaker over the past few years; risks and uncertainties are greater when we are weaker than when we are stronger. We need to be stronger if we want to be more secure, even in Europe.

We will need to employ all of the nation’s means of power if we are to rise successfully to the challenges we face on the global scene, but one thing is perfectly clear to me: we will not be able to meet them through soft power alone, important though that is. We will need the capabilities of our Armed Forces—capabilities that we have progressively weakened in the name of financial retrenchment.

Life would be easier if we were able to identify the specific capabilities we will need to employ. We can certainly say that, for example, intelligence, Special Forces and cyberwarfare will feature heavily. However, the history of security and warfare tells us that we need to retain flexibility across the full spectrum of operations. Those who have predicted the demise of particular kinds of warfare have usually been proved wrong, sometimes in spectacular fashion. Even the famous horse/tank moment is often misunderstood. It was not a fundamental change in tactic, about the mobile application of power and shock action. It was, rather, about the ability of emerging technology to provide new and better ways of doing the same basic things. That is often a challenge for military thinkers. We therefore need to retain as wide a spectrum of military capability as we can manage, and sustain within it sufficient flexibility to be able to react successfully to the unexpected, because the unexpected is certainly what we will be called on to face.

Money was the overriding issue at the time of the last strategic defence and security review. The Government’s strategy was quickly to eliminate the structural deficit; everything was subservient to that aim. Defence was set a savings target of between 10% and 20% of its annual budget. The work of the defence review showed that the consequences of this would be unacceptable to the Government, even given their strategic objective. The final level of saving was between 7.5% and 8%. Even that level of reduction was impossible to achieve without introducing a degree of military strategic incoherence. The plan adopted by the Government was to restrict, as far as possible, the short-term damage, and to leave defence in a position in 2015 from which it could restore coherence. Crucially, the Government agreed—the Prime Minister confirmed this when he announced the outcome of the review—that this could be done only through real-terms increases in the defence budget in each of the years from 2015 onwards.

I want to be clear on this point. Although the required level of growth was not specified, it was quite clearly growth in the total budget. The subsequent announcement—that the MoD would assume, for planning purposes, a 1% annual increase in the equipment budget—was necessary to allow sensible long-term planning, but it was a subsidiary issue to the increase identified as necessary in the defence review. What has actually happened is that the defence budget has been reduced even further. Although in-year underspends allowed the MoD to make those savings, one has to wonder how much capability we have forgone as a result of them. Crucially, we have reduced the baseline against which future budget entitlements will be measured.

The result is that the level of defence spending in this country is already dangerously low. NATO has set 2% of GDP as the minimum that members should achieve. Most are well below this and I fear that we fail to meet the target ourselves if one strips out the additional cost of operations, which is supposed to be funded from the contingency reserve and not from the defence budget. Even in an era of continued austerity, we cannot allow this to continue. We should bear in mind the small percentage of national wealth that we are considering here, set against what is agreed to be the first responsibility of any Government. We should be setting Europe a good example in this regard, not a bad one.

We are shortly to host the next NATO summit. I believe that, in advance of that meeting, the leaders of all the major political parties should commit themselves to spending at least 2% of our GDP on defence. That would set a much-needed tone at the summit, and put the most important issue at the top of the agenda. Beyond that, the Government should face up to their responsibilities by delivering the necessary real-terms increases in the defence budget over the second half of this decade. If they do not, then they must acknowledge that the planned Future Force 2020 will be undeliverable; that there will have to be further serious reductions in our Armed Forces; that we have accepted a future of strategic shrinkage in which our international influence will be seriously diminished; and that the nature of this country will be fundamentally changed as a result. Anybody proposing such a dramatic shift in policy ought surely to make their intentions plain in advance, and to seek the specific sanction of the electorate for them.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend for the opportunity that this debate affords. In earlier defence debates I made clear my deeply held concerns that the reductions to the capability of our Armed Forces have been too draconian. A sound foreign policy can be achieved only if it is backed up by flexible and credible armed services. I fear, very much as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, has just said, that our capabilities have now become markedly depleted, and that cannot be helpful in a strategic context. Nevertheless, the skills and fortitude of our regular and reserve service men and women are much to be admired.

Today, I will concentrate my remarks on the volunteer reserves. My past and present interests as a member and subsequently as chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board, where I worked with very many of the noble and noble and gallant Lords who are speaking today, including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, whose maiden speech we look forward to, and as honorary colonel and honorary air commodore of reserve medical units, are all recorded in the register of interests.

As chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board, I played some part in early work on a forerunner of the review of reserves, which preceded the White Paper published a year or so ago. I am at one with the idea that the reserves should be incentivised and deployable and that the “proposition” to attract and retain them should be an appealing one. As we move towards 30,000 trained and deployable reserves—a tall order by any stretch of the imagination, despite my noble friend’s optimism—we need to be much more nimble in how we attract individuals. It is the individual reserve units that are mostly responsible for recruiting, aided by the reserve forces’ and cadets’ associations.

However, the reserve units themselves need improved resourcing in terms of personnel and budgets in order to make progress. The targets are highly ambitious for recruiting but there is little or no uplift in funded permanent headquarters staff to help deliver the planned growth. For example, 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, of which I have been honorary air commodore for 10 years, had manning at 64 in December 2013 against a target of 70 doctors, dentists, nurses, paramedics, professions allied to medicine, technicians and others. It faces a target of 121 by 2018. The figures may seem small in themselves but this is no small ask, not least when the NHS, from which many of these individuals come, faces its own problems. I have heard it said that budgetary disaggregation, particularly for marketing, is rarely programmed activity and is often conditional—a kind of “spend now and spend quickly” attitude—and I am bound to wonder whether this is wise or ultimately productive, even if it suits MoD and Treasury accounting.

Decent accommodation and other infrastructure are essential in attracting and retaining reservists. My squadron at RAF Leuchars, where it is based, is enthusiastic about self-help for office and training accommodation, and it is very well supported by the station—but, frankly, many of the buildings that it uses are old, tired, tatty and leave a lot to be desired. I am less than convinced that the system by which relatively minor building and refurbishment works are approved, tendered and subsequently contracted for does not lead to unnecessary MoD expense. Setting a standard, approving a budget quoted by a local firm and letting the responsible commanding officer take on that responsibility and get on with it might save the MoD a fortune.

The MoD departmental costs associated with minor works have a history of being substantial and, to my mind, very largely unjustifiable. Therefore, what assurance can my noble friend give that, when the Royal Air Force moves out of Leuchars next year, the incoming Regular Army units will give equal priority to their own and implanted reserve units to ensure modern and suitable facilities equal to those of the regulars with whom they will share the same barracks? The overall attitude by the regulars to the volunteer ethos, skills and professionalism of reservists is crucial to the success of the whole force concept, to which my noble friend referred. I cannot emphasise that fact more strongly.

Having won the enthusiasm from an individual to join a reserve unit, what can be done to encourage him or her to remain within it? We have to think much more flexibly in this. The individuals who join are just that: individuals. Their circumstances vary and we should consider how best to make it easier for them to play a flexible but full and complete part without compromising standards. For example, why not introduce a commitment to achieve a reduced annual bounty for those who have considerable experience over many years and are current specialists in relevant fields in their civilian careers—for example, in the medical world—but cannot easily commit to the full training bounty requirement of 15 continuous days per year and six weekends?

When I was honorary colonel of what was then 306 Field Hospital—later 306 Hospital Support Medical Regiment—although the 15 days’ camp was a requirement, individual specialists came together for only two weekends a year. It is a nationally recruited specialist unit, and it is from its members’ crucial clinical and related skills rather more than their military skills, albeit within a military ethos, that the patients whom they have to treat benefit. Could this perhaps be replicated elsewhere among other medical reservist units?

Why does the current pay system for reserves apparently rely on them signing a pay sheet for each day that they attend? Surely the commanding officer is accountable for attendance, and hence responsible for training and pay. As far as I know, regulars do not have to sign on. This seems to be a very simple matter. I hope that my noble friend will take away this issue and review it in order to simplify it.

There is a number of mandatory lectures that reservists have to undergo that are not about their military training or specialist skills but are much more prosaic. They relate to health and safety—inevitably, I suppose—fire, manual handling and that sort of thing. Why can they not be completed online with pay apportioned appropriately, based on time for a percentage of the work completed, as if the individual had attended in person? Why is it necessary for them to take a training day in order to complete stuff that can be done much more simply?

I believe that the MoD needs to be much more progressive in how to create an attractive offer for ex-regulars to become voluntary reservists. It should surely be seamless. My noble friend touched on this point, but can he say what is being done to help reserve units to identify those who are leaving regular service, associate them geographically or professionally and so encourage added value to the recruiting effort locally? Are there difficult data protection issues here and how might they be overcome? What is being done to ensure that incentives to transfer from regular to reserve service are uniform across the services? My noble friend referred to this but my understanding is that financial transfer rates for the Army are more generous than those for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Why should that be?

While on the subject of generosity, in an age of the whole force concept, why cannot railcards be issued to reservists in the same way that they are routinely issued to their regular counterparts? I understand that this may be under review or consideration but I hope that my noble friend may be able to impart encouraging news, either today or very shortly.

When I relinquish my appointment with 612 Squadron in a few weeks’ time, I shall certainly be sad but I shall also feel proud to have come across and been associated—both in it and in 306 Squadron—with some immensely gifted and brave individuals. Each of those units has regularly deployed individuals or groups of individuals to Iraq and Afghanistan over recent years. The clinical skills, enthusiasm and zeal with which they have conducted themselves have saved countless lives. Some of what they have had to deal with has been harrowing but their sheer professionalism has always been to the fore. With that tribute to them, I also pay a strong tribute to their civilian employers in the NHS, the private sectors of healthcare and much more widely, without whose support and understanding none of the activities of reservists would be possible today or in the future.

I shall end with a plea to my noble friend to ensure that the tri-service approach to employers is co-ordinated and not at variance, so that employers understand and do not feel confused by different service requirements or the approach that those services make to them, and so that they feel that the advantages of reserve service at least outweigh the disadvantages of reservists’ training and occasional mobilisation.

My Lords, in this wide-ranging debate I shall focus my remarks on three areas: cadets, training and war widows. The cadet forces provide unparalleled opportunities for around 140,000 young people in this country. They help to build confidence, self-respect and social responsibility as well as leadership and team-building skills. Increasingly, they also give access to educational and professional qualifications. Where they are active in disadvantaged parts of the country, they are particularly valuable in encouraging aspiration of a sort which young people may not be accessing at home or in school.

I have this morning been at an RAF Benevolent Fund reception in Speaker’s House, where air cadets were proudly and smartly acting as welcomers—a credit to their service. They were delighted to talk with enthusiasm about their flying experience. How heartening it is to see the diversity among the cadets—girls alongside boys, young people of all ethnic origins and social backgrounds all achieving and working together. Your Lordships may remember that last year we had an impressive and moving debate in this Chamber with cadets and veterans talking about the legacy of the First World War. I have to say that their confidence in speaking and their time-keeping did credit to your Lordships’ Chamber.

Cadets have the chance to engage in adventurous activities and to face challenging and exciting situations within a disciplined and well structured framework. For some, of course, being a cadet will lead to career opportunities in the military. Many—indeed all of them, I hope—will take the skills they have learnt into a whole range of civilian walks of life. In June 2012, on Armed Forces Day, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s intention to set up 100 new cadet units in state-funded secondary schools by 2015. Can my noble friend the Minister say how that programme is progressing? Of course, enabling so many young people to take part in cadet activities requires more than 26,000 adult volunteers. What active encouragement is the MoD giving to ensure that there are sufficient adults coming forward to work with cadets? The cadet forces provide valuable training for young people, but of course the Armed Forces provide an ongoing training ground for those serving. The standards and range of military training programmes are very well known and highly respected.

We have discussed before in this House the importance of practical skills, alongside professional skills for the military. The recent redundancy tranches have highlighted the necessity for those serving to be able to make the transition to civilian life with transferable skills, and coping skills. The recent Forces in Mind Trust survey drew attention to the fact that,

“soldiers, sailors and airmen can join up as young as 17 and are cocooned from civilian life when they are in the forces. As well as missing the camaraderie and identity of the Armed Forces, they can struggle to deal with rent, bills and planning”.

It was encouraging to hear the Minister, in his opening remarks, allude to the programme of transition training for civilian life. I wonder whether there is evidence yet that those made redundant are successful in finding civilian employment. Has any evaluation been done of their move into the civilian world? Building up transferable skills and qualifications will be helped by two notable recent initiatives within the military. In April, the Defence Centre for Languages and Culture was opened by Prince Michael of Kent, himself a fluent Russian speaker. This is a state-of-the-art facility, with the language training largely residential, although with some distance learning arrangements, and access to other government departments, such as the new learning centre in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Language skills will always be useful in personal as well as professional life within the military and the civilian world. This month saw the announcement of a £250 million training college, the Defence College of Logistics, Policing and Administration, to be completed in 2018. This—another state-of-the-art facility—will focus on catering, supply, transport and human resources and will house 2,000 staff and students. These are just two examples of the contribution made by the Armed Forces to a range of skills which the country needs.

Thirdly, I turn to war widows. I declare an interest, both as a vice-president of The War Widows’ Association of Great Britain, as indeed is the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and as the recipient of a widow’s forces pension, although not within the group I am raising with the Minister today. There is a diminishing number of war widows in receipt of a war widow’s pension awarded between 31 March 1973 and 5 April 2005. This group of around 4,000 widows stand to lose their pension if they remarry or cohabit. That is in contrast to all other war widows, who are allowed to keep their war widow’s pension if they remarry or cohabit. In other words, this group is severely and uniquely disadvantaged. My noble friend the Minister stated on 21 January that it would cost around £70,000 a year to allow this group to retain their pension for life, in line with other widows. The figure could be a lot less, because it is, of course, impossible to predict how many of them will remarry or re-partner. But the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency has told us that between 2008 and 2013 only 20 surrendered their pension, so this equates to about four a year, the cost of which is less than £30,000, which by any measure is a very small sum. For many, the loss of pension is a real barrier to building a new life in a new relationship. Policing this group in search of an undeclared partnership is a deeply uncomfortable role for a liberal country to be performing, and, of course, carries a financial cost—quite possibly a greater cost than continuing the pension. Will my noble friend say what the Government could do to ensure that these widows continue to enjoy financial security whether or not they find someone to share their life?

In the Bill we have just been discussing there is provision for the Secretary of State to give financial assistance for the benefit of the Armed Forces community. What a wonderful use of a very small portion if that assistance could be used to correct this anomaly for a group of women who will have spent years supporting the Armed Forces and who now have to tackle life alone for many years.

The country is greatly indebted to all those who serve in the Armed Forces. Their courage, selflessness and professionalism is well known and highly regarded internationally. They and their families deserve not only our admiration but our practical support. I look forward to the rest of this debate and, indeed, to the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, and to my noble friend’s reply.

At the outset I thank the Minister and ask him to pass on my thanks to the Leader of the House and the government Chief Whip for making time available for this important debate this afternoon and evening. During the Question for Short Debate in my name on defence manning on Monday 7 April, many noble Lords who spoke that evening asked for time to be made available to explore defence issues more widely. I am most grateful that that opportunity has been provided today.

What also makes this afternoon’s debate most timely is the general election next May and the quite proper defence and security review that will follow. I certainly welcome the current Government’s commitment to hold such a defence and security review once in every five-year Parliament. This is clearly a step forward and will prevent a repetition of the 12 or 13-year gap between the Labour Government’s SDR of 1997-98 and the coalition Government’s SDSR of 2010. So our eyes now should be on the review to come in 2015. That review will be conducted within the context of the international security environment within which we currently sit—an environment that has changed significantly since 2010.

Although I stress the importance of the strategic context of any defence review, it is inevitable that the allocation of resources by any Government will be a major constraining factor. Indeed, as we know, in the 2010 SDSR it was financial considerations that took a higher priority than strategic considerations, with the result that the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces were constrained to provide for the defence of the realm and the safety of our citizens at home and abroad from a defence budget that was, in effect, 17% less than before.

Why do I say 17% less? I use the figure of 17% because rebalancing the then defence budget and filling in the £35 billion black hole inherited by the coalition Government itself equated to about a 10% reduction in defence spending over 10 years, and the Chancellor, of course, wanted his cut in the headline defence budget of some 7% or 8%. Hence we were in the position where the MoD had to do what it needed to do on behalf of the nation with some 17% or so less resource than previously.

In those circumstances choices had to be made, and they were. The major policy decision was to prioritise spending on defence equipment at the expense of manpower, which translated into 30,000 posts being cut from the regular manpower of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force. Such manpower reductions, even if to be mitigated by a planned and, let us hope it happens, increase in Reserve Forces, certainly in the case of the Army, could not be cut by the traditional practice of salami slicing.

The 2010 SDSR outcome required structural change and has produced Force 2020, within which Army 2020 has set out a 10-year migration plan to move from a Regular Army of 102,000 trained strength to 82,000. It is worth reflecting for a moment on the implications of that 10-year migration plan. First, it is a10-year migration plan with a large number of moving parts: withdrawing the Army from Germany; rebasing many units within the United Kingdom, in particular focusing our armoured units increasingly in the Salisbury Plain area; integrating reserve manpower with regular manpower to a greater extent than ever before; and implementing a redundancy programme while endeavouring to manage voluntary outflow in order to keep a sensible manning profile. In my view, the current Chief of the General Staff and his team have done a remarkable job in redesigning the Army in order to maintain a certain level of capability from a deck of cards dealt to them which had many twos and threes and not a sniff of a picture card.

From this, my second and third points on Army 2020 flow. Whereas in 2006 to 2009, when our land forces were heavily committed to major operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously, we were able to deploy as a nation nine Army brigades and the Royal Marine brigade in two five-brigade cycles, providing troops to both operational theatres. However, in future we will have only six Army brigades, some heavily dependent on mobilised reserves. Therefore, in future we could provide forces for only one operation on the scale of Iraq or Afghanistan, not two.

So, therefore, in headline terms, the potential output of our land forces is some 50% less than before, a reduction forced by an apparently modest 7% to the defence budget but one which, as I have already argued, is in reality a 17% cut. However, irrespective of whether you prefer to talk about a 7% or 17% cut, a 50% reduction in land forces capability is a fairly poor deal.

My third point on Army 2020 is that the scale of the structural reorganisation to deliver even this significantly reduced level of land force capability is such that the Army cannot implement the migration to Army 2020 should there be any further cuts to its budget. Any further cuts will inevitably lead to Army 2020 being torn up and a new plan devised, with a loss of credibility in the whole point of trying to plan sensibly for the future, not to mention the loss of morale among those serving and an unhealthy dose of cynicism about the whole government process.

Therefore, notwithstanding the Chancellor’s warning in his recent Budget speech that there will have to be further reductions in overall government spending, there is a widely held view that to remove further funding from defence will seriously call into question the Armed Forces’ ability to continue the migration towards Force 2020 and field even the reduced level of capability provided for by the SDSR.

My comments thus far have focused around the reductions to our Armed Forces which were necessitated in 2010 by the overall reduction in government spending, but the proper context for a discussion about defence issues should focus on our strategic goals within the current security environment. This should be the start point for any strategic defence and security review.

It is fair to say that we have little control over the wider security environment: events unfold, strategic shocks happen and we have to deal with the consequences. However, we do have control over our national ambition and therefore the setting of our national strategic goals. Being clear about this must be the start point for any defence and security review. However, is there an appetite to have that discussion? As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, has already alluded to, the Foreign Secretary is on the record as saying that he senses no appetite for strategic shrinkage, but is he right? If he is right, how is the UK to continue to maintain its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as a member of the G8 or G7 and the G20, as a firm ally of the United States, as the leading European military power within NATO and, of course, as the leader of the Commonwealth? We have managed to fulfil these responsibilities in the past by maintaining a good level of defence spending—yes, probably punching above our weight—taking risk where we need to and by recruiting high-quality people to our Armed Forces who see such service as an attractive career prospect.

What are the options for the future? I have already rehearsed the view that any further cuts to defence spending would be highly damaging as the Armed Forces migrate towards Force 2020. I have no sympathy with the view that the results of SDSR 2010 will produce smaller and more capable Armed Forces. As far as I am concerned, they will only produce smaller Armed Forces. Quantum has a quality of its own and smaller means smaller. I have already illustrated the reduction in our land forces’ capability. We are less capable now because we are smaller.

So do we spend more on defence? Looking at Syria, Iraq and Ukraine today, there is certainly a case that can be made for that. So should we spend more on defence if we want to maintain our current position in the world, or do we accept that the UK’s role is indeed diminished and therefore lower our national ambition accordingly, even if there is apparently no appetite for that?

Or perhaps, as we say at home in Norfolk, we should do different. There is an avenue of difference that we could embrace if we want to try to maintain our current level of influence and status on the world stage. I am not about to make the case for so-called soft power as an alternative to hard power, but I will make the case for better integration of our overall defence capability with our diplomatic skills and our determination to fund a high level of international development work. Embraced as a determined government policy, the integration of defence, diplomacy and development, plus an acknowledged role for the private sector, could retain the UK in an influential position. However, this will happen only if such an initiative is endorsed and led at the very top of government; if the strategy is agreed by the National Security Council; and if all the various government departments, at all levels, work closely with each other.

The challenge here is to get better at horizon scanning, to get better at spotting potentially failing states and engaging with them early to prevent them failing and falling prey to extremist or terrorist opportunists. It is a widely accepted truism that prevention is better than cure and our recent experiences of interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan followed by nation building under fire, which have proved so expensive in the expenditure of blood and treasure, should make the case for acting differently on the world stage and seeking to prevent conflict rather than dealing with the consequences of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, made reference to the role of women in combat units. Before I draw my points to a conclusion, I shall offer my views on women in combat units. I would like to make it quite clear that within the Army, the Navy and the Air Force women have an enormous role to play and that what they bring to all aspects of our life is without equal. However, there is a question that needs to be addressed, and that is whether it is correct, appropriate or right for women to serve in our front-line combat units. It is important to understand that combat units—in the case of the Army these are the infantry or the armoured corps—are the units that we commit by design to offensive operations. The mission of that unit, that battalion, that company or that platoon is to go forward, under shot and fire, with fixed bayonet and close with extreme violence on an enemy. The question I ask is this: is it an appropriate task for a woman? Is it actually an appropriate task for anyone, but in particular, is it one for a woman?

I expressed these views in either a radio or a television programme a while ago, and received a certain amount of mail, as one might expect. One lady wrote to me and described the sort of the person she thought I was. I did not actually agree with her description. She also said, “Surely we can trust our commanding officers to know when it is appropriate to use their personnel”. I am afraid that that comment completely undermined her other point. That is because the basic fighting unit of an armoured regiment is a four-person tank crew. The basic fighting unit of an infantry battalion is a four-person fire team. How can a commanding officer be expected to say, “This task is appropriate for a fire team or tank crew that includes women, but that task is not”? Frankly, as Chiefs of Staff, former Chiefs of Staff and Members of this Parliament, we have a responsibility to take that decision and say what is appropriate for men and what is appropriate for women. I am afraid that I am implacable in my view that a woman in a four-person fire team or two women in a four-person tank crew is not appropriate. We have absolutely to own this unpopular decision and take it in the best interests of our overall capability.

With that off my chest, I will draw to a conclusion.

The 2010 SDSR, in response to the national financial situation and in recognition of the inherited overdraft in defence, reduced defence spending and reduced our defence capability. It has produced smaller—not smaller and better, just smaller—Armed Forces. The international security situation as we approach the next defence review in 2015 looks considerably more challenging than it did in 2010. Cutting UK defence spending any further would send all the wrong messages to the Kremlin, to al-Qaeda and to those who do not share our British values. A modest increase in defence expenditure would signal that the UK still takes its international responsibilities seriously and would reassure both our NATO partners and our principal ally, the United States.

If no more money for defence can be found and we wish to maintain our historic level of international influence, then the alternative of better integrating our overall defence, diplomacy and development capability offers a different and potentially beneficial path. But we must remember that even if we go down that alternative path, what underpins our overall policy and our overall position in the world, and what guarantees the overall security of the British people, is a strong defence capability. SDSR 2010 weakened the UK and the world is now even more challenging, so SDSR 2015 will be a watershed. The next Government must remember first and last that their primary responsibility is the defence of the realm and the safety of our citizens, and they must not forget their duty to the well-being of the members of our Armed Forces—a relevant thought tonight as we enter Armed Forces week.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for initiating this debate. It is difficult to imagine one that is more significant. It is also a privilege to speak among such military hardware. We have already felt the blast of the noble and gallant guns of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army. When I looked at the speakers list I did feel more than a degree of trepidation, seeing that I was almost perfectly positioned between two generals. I am also very much looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards. His military career speaks for itself, and his actions and decisiveness in Sierra Leone were paradigmatic of what it means to be a British soldier.

Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 were desperate decisions, and yet our service men and women did their duty with courage and commitment, good practice and performance. They are a credit to us all as British citizens. Over the past decade we have seen all too much of the fog of war, but what about the painful and potentially perpetual grey space of peace for those who return from conflict utterly changed? For every coffin winding its way painfully through Royal Wootton Bassett, an extended family has been blown apart as if it was also in the blast zone. For every hero who does not come home, there are thousands who return injured. They have lost legs or had arms amputated; they are burnt or blinded. They have bodies broken from battle. What of them?

In 2007, I was working as a commercial solicitor in the City. A client of mine told me about her partner who had returned from Afghanistan having lost his leg. She mentioned a fledgling organisation called Help for Heroes which I knew immediately I had to get involved with. What a journey it has been for that charity over the intervening seven years, and what a journey it has been for us as a nation. More than £200 million has been raised, deployed and allocated. That is Great Britain at its best, but if we are to continue to look after our injured service men and women, the next decade will cost around £318 million. That is the challenge. We need to lean into it and ensure that the commitment which has been shown in the early years of Help for Heroes continues.

That is why I got involved and why last month I went to Tedworth House, one of the Help for Heroes recovery centres. It is a former military establishment that has been done up to deliver everything that is required to ensure a fantastic recovery experience for our service men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is now set for decades to come and will help those who return from conflicts as yet unknown to us. The recovery centres have been founded on five pillars: medical, mind, body, spirit and family. Everything I experienced during the afternoon I spent at Tedworth House delivered on those five pillars. There was a gymnasium to rebuild the body, along with a swimming pool and an artificial ski slope. All of them have been designed to get formerly fit men and women fit again. The art and poetry activities described to me brought on tears. The descriptions and depictions did not just bring to life the horrors of war; they helped to expunge and exorcise them.

I talked to the service men and women and veterans staying there who shared their stories about the instant hell of the IED. I also heard about their hopes and dreams for the future they believe they can have post their military service. It was an extraordinary afternoon. I heard about the Band of Brothers and Band of Sisters that have been established to bring all injured veterans together. Together, they already number close to 5,000. People are moving their families close to the recovery centres because they fully appreciate that this is not just about today and tomorrow. For many injured service men and women, it is about the rest of their lives. I urge all noble Lords to consider visiting one of these recovery centres. They demonstrate what commitment should be and is being made to our service men and women.

There are many fabulous, marvellous military charities that are doing good work across the piece. The Battle Back programme takes injured personnel from the battlefield to the sports field. There are many charities, but what is really required is increased co-ordination of the effort. The Confederation of Service Charities does a great job but the task is wider even than that: it is about the public space, private corporations and charities being aligned, co-ordinated and orchestrated. As you would expect, that is the key role for the MoD: to orchestrate, to lead and to ensure that every resource is put to the greatest effect for our wounded service men and women.

It was incredible to be in at the beginning of Help for Heroes. Seven years have flown by and we now have a defence recovery capability in good shape. But we are still on the journey. It will never end. Great steps are being taken but we need to ensure that we never fail or forget those who went into war and conflict on our behalf. The message must be clear: we do serve Tommies here and we serve them well, as they served their and our nation. As we commemorate the centenary of the Great War, we have an extraordinary opportunity to enable hope for heroes, through Help for Heroes and other charities, organisations, government and corporations, and to enable a defence recovery capability fit for heroes.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has set out how the Government seek to create a smaller but very well trained Army, a Royal Air Force equipped with a smaller number of very expensive aircraft, highly effective through the use of leading advanced technology, and a Royal Navy centred around a single carrier group and a submarine fleet with the Trident nuclear deterrent at its head.

What does this actually mean in terms of the United Kingdom’s military capacity? How will we contribute to future demands from NATO? How will we respond to calls to engage in further conflict in, for example, Iraq, Libya or anywhere in that region, or in the Balkans? In the first Gulf War, I understand that we had to strip the 3rd Armoured Division, based in Germany, of all its tanks in order to send the 1st Armoured Division into action in the desert. I am advised that we only just got away with it. Given that the new carrier—or, I hope, carriers—is expected to be in service with the Royal Navy for many decades, what assessment have the Government made of its vulnerability to attack from the new generation of anti-ship ballistic missiles, the ASBMs, of which the Chinese DF-21D “carrier killer” is believed to be the first in production?

Will the cost in blood and treasure of the Afghan war prove to have been a prohibitive price to pay for any similar future actions? Did the Falklands War depend on a fleet of warships that we no longer have and on requisitioned merchant ships that are no longer available? For how long can the safety of the Falkland Islanders be guaranteed by, as I understand, four ageing fast-jet fighters? This thinking has now developed to such an extent—and such a low point—that Professor Chris Brown, an international relations specialist at the LSE, believes that the UK’s lack of ability to act independently or even anything like an equal partner is something that government and politicians need to be seen to accept. He believes that they should advise the public accordingly: that the UK’s position and influence in the world will from now on rest firmly on soft rather than hard power. That is a vision that I really do not want to accept.

We are about to go into another round of sell-offs predicated on projected savings rather than service delivery. The projected buyout of the Defence Support Group land forces “green fleet” support and maintenance function by a private, potentially foreign, buyer is another case in point of an exercise almost bound to prove less effective and more costly than government advisers imagine. According to the National Audit Office, the decision to restructure the Army’s Regular and Reserve Forces was taken without “appropriate testing of feasibility”. As my noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill has already mentioned, the plan to raise the number of reservists from the current 19,400 to 30,000 by 2018 may not in fact be achieved until 2025. The head of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse, said that these measures,

“could significantly affect the Army’s ability to achieve its objectives and value for money”.

He added that the MoD,

“must get a better understanding of significant risks to Army 2020—notably, the extent to which it is dependent on other major programmes and the risk that the shortfall in recruitment of new reserves will up the pressure on regular units”.

Recruitment will need to increase substantially over the next five years if the plans are to be met. Meanwhile, the risks continue to mount. For example, what are the contingency plans for integrating Regular and Reserve Forces within a single force structure? When will we have some clarity on how employers will be persuaded to release soldiers for long periods of time, or on how the required levels of training and fitness to fight will be achieved and maintained among the reservists?

In another cost-saving plan, part of the Defence Support Group is to be sold off, apparently to realise some £200 million to £300 million in savings. The DSG’s main customer is the Army. It operates from eight main sites in the United Kingdom as an arm’s-length organisation from the MoD, servicing and upgrading the UK’s armoured vehicle fleets. Nine pre-qualified organisations have been invited to negotiate, at least half of which are foreign-owned, and the Government are clearly anxious to complete the sale before the general election.

The Royal Aeronautical Society has recently published an overview of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation by a Mr Howard Wheeldon, a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, which is a sharply focused wake-up call. The DIO was formed in 2011 as a product of the Levene defence review. The intention was to bring together all property and infrastructure development management under a single organisation, designed to optimise investment in and the strategic management of our vast defence estate—so far so good. Here I declare an interest: as a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a companion of the Royal Aeronautical Society, I was at one time engaged as a consulting engineer to the MoD’s direct works services, providing engineering management support on more than a dozen military bases throughout Hampshire, including the then Royal Naval Hospital Haslar and the Aircraft Research Establishment at Farnborough.

The DIO is the largest landowner in Britain. Worth about £25 billion, it is larger than either the National Trust or the Forestry Commission in terms of land, property and infrastructure. It has an annual budget of £3.3 billion. Yet concerns are already being raised about DIO’s performance on the ground and its inability to respond to some of the more immediate priorities of the military. For example, impacting on the Royal Air Force is the slow progress in adapting RAF Marham to accommodate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. As we know, the arrival date is planned for 2018, at which time 617 Squadron will be stood up as the primary operational unit for Lightning II. Given the large amount of infrastructure work required, clearly time is of the essence, but apart from the announcement of the intention to spend £7.5 million to build three new landing pads alongside the existing runway, there is no news of plans to provide extensive new infrastructure. This will be needed to maintain and operate the multi-role strike fighter in what only last month the Secretary of State for Defence described as likely to be the largest fleet of new jets in Europe. What progress is being made on this essential infrastructure?

A second concern is the work to adapt the Royal Navy dockyard at Portsmouth to accommodate the—I hope—two new “Queen Elizabeth” class carriers that are going to be based there. When the announcement was first made in 2002, it was acknowledged that their size would create problems in entering the base except at unusually high tides. In 2003 a scheme was announced to improve Portsmouth Naval Base in order to ease the access in and out for both the Type 45 destroyers and the carriers. It is unclear how much work has been carried out so far. I would be grateful if my noble friend could shed some light on it. In 2012, the DIO released a scope of work document setting out what would be required at Portsmouth to accommodate the carriers. It included a tidal berth and the upgrading of an existing jetty to withstand berthing, mooring and operational forces. It also included increased industrial electrical supply and navigational aids on independent marine structures. In all, it was estimated to cost in excess of £60 million and take 22 months to supply. The first of the carriers is due to be launched in Rosyth in a couple of weeks and it appears that the work in Portsmouth has yet to begin. Again, I would be grateful if my noble friend could clarify this situation.

Finally, and to echo points made by so many other learned and gallant speakers, it is generally accepted that the first duty of government is to maintain the security of its citizens and to protect them from external aggressors. Looking back over the issues that we have discussed today and that confront our nation, it seems to me that there is still some serious catching up to do.

My Lords, little did I anticipate back in 1971 when I joined the Army as an 18 year-old fresh out of school that one day I would be standing here in this historic place as a recently retired Chief of the Defence Staff making my maiden speech. I had no such expectations of myself nor, I promise you, did my friends. I joined the Army because my father and brother loved the life, and I thought that I would, too. This proved to be so, and it was with great pride that I spent the next 42 years among some of the finest people in this country.

I thank your Lordships for the great kindness that has without exception been shown towards me since I had the privilege of being introduced here by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie. This kindness has been matched by the reception and humour shown by the staff of this great institution. I am hugely grateful. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for being such a supportive and wise partner during our time together in the Ministry of Defence.

In 500 BC, the great soldier philosopher, Sun Tzu, wrote:

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”.

Without a clear national strategy to guide decisions on what to do in places such as Syria and Iraq, it is hard to devise sound plans or detailed sub-strategies. It leads to a situation whereby we confront Iran in Syria, but seek to work with Iran in neighbouring Iraq. A reluctance to think strategically gets countries in these muddles. When people say that national strategies are outmoded and too easily overtaken by events, I retort with one word: Singapore. The reason that little nation is where she is today is that she had a clear national strategy which, while sensibly veering and hauling around its direction of travel, she has resolutely stuck to during the 45 years since that great statesman, Lee Kuan Yew, first introduced it.

I am quite clear that the prime determinant of a country’s foreign policy and its implementing strategies, including in particular its defence strategy, should be its vital national interests. Analysis based on this hard-nosed but rarely discussed calculation provides clear guidelines on when, for example, to intervene in the affairs of other nations while not, in a case such as the genocide in Rwanda, preventing intervention on moral grounds.

The biggest threat confronting the free world today is that posed by militant jihadism. All states are equally vulnerable, including many great Muslim nations. Rather than bickering, states should cohere to confront this threat through the adoption of a multidimensional strategy in which all, be it less or more, can play a constructive part. This struggle will be generational and our leaders must stop seeking short-term tactical solutions. The core of such an outcome would in the first instance be a containment strategy. Once the periphery was stabilised, one would work progressively to recover areas that had fallen under the jihadist yoke.

A key part of this containment strategy, and the biggest deduction for me from ISIL’s success in Iraq, should be a global determination to honour commitments made at the NATO summits in Lisbon and Chicago, and their non-military equivalent in Tokyo, to support the Afghan people after ISAF withdraws from the combat role at the end of this year. Eight million Afghans decisively rejected the Taliban when they courageously voted in Afghanistan’s recent elections. They, and the men and women of our Armed Forces, especially those killed or wounded in our service, deserve nothing less than that we do simply as we have promised. This is in order to prevent that country reverting to the lawless state from which—and, my goodness, our memories are as short as our wishful thinking is naive—those awful attacks on the twin towers were initially planned only 13 years ago.

Are our Armed Forces in a fit state to play their role in dealing with these and other risks to our way of life? The answer must be that their state is not good enough, but it is some consolation that it is better than that of any other allied nation’s forces except the United States. Future Force 2020, if fully funded, will ensure that our Armed Forces are effective and something of which we can be proud. However, to realise this potential, as the economy grows, routine defence spending post 2015 must increase as a minimum to 2% of GDP. If not, given the mathematics that seem stubbornly to govern defence expenditure, the size and effectiveness of the Armed Forces will inevitably deteriorate further, and this is without the need to fund new capability. We need, for example, maritime surveillance. While wishing that we had not bought two huge aircraft carriers with the opportunity costs involved, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord West, that having done so, it would be folly for us not to find the money needed to have one carrier permanently available—and, yes, we need more escorts, too.

Given the highly unstable world we live in, either the brave experiment with the Army Reserve must soon be proved to work or a new solution should be found. Any additional money spent on this must not be taken from other programmes, merely robbing Peter to pay Paul. We need constantly to improve the skills needed to defend and attack in the cyber domain if for no other reason than to ensure that we deter others from using such methods against us.

By design, we plan to go to war only with allies. It is vital that our allies start shouldering more of the burden of our collective security. It is unacceptable that the United States of America should pay so disproportionately. It is also time to re-examine our aloof attitude towards involvement in United Nations blue-helmet operations. Among other benefits, this would be a practical way to confront the scourge of violence against women in conflict, brought to our attention recently by the Foreign Secretary.

Finally, it is the quality of the people in them that distinguish our Army, Navy and Air Force from most others and allows them to achieve the great things that we expect of them. There is a societal consensus in the United Kingdom that joining the Armed Forces is a good thing, whether you are the child of a humble artisan or the heir to the throne. This will continue only if those in the Armed Forces feel properly looked after, and in this I very much include their families. The impact of getting this wrong is not properly understood in government circles. I travelled to many countries as CDS and I frequently saw fine ships tied up alongside jetties, aircraft idle in hangers and tanks sitting in sheds or good only for parades. Those nations are not able to recruit and retain the high-quality people whom we have historically succeeded in attracting to the British Armed Forces and who are in such demand around the world as role models and mentors. If we break that societal consensus by failing to look after our service men and women, we will have an Army, Navy and Air Force, but they will not be what you and I associate with this country and they will, one day, be found wanting.

Ultimately, military effectiveness, as Napoleon famously remarked, is determined by the morale of those in uniform. It is surely one of this Parliament’s principal duties to safeguard the high morale of our Armed Forces to ensure that they can rise to whatever challenge confronts them with the skill and courage that they historically always have.

My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards. It is also rather difficult. He made an outstanding maiden speech, drawing on his very considerable experience and outstanding service record. I have to try and follow that.

During the noble and gallant Lord’s time as Chief of the Defence Staff, we were conducting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under his illustrious leadership our Armed Forces exceeded our highest expectations of them. That is a tribute to him. He also served as a commando gunner and is held in the greatest admiration and affection by those in the Royal Marines who served with him. I remember listening to his “Desert Island Discs”. I very much enjoyed it, especially the Sierra Leone record. His own record in Sierra Leone was courageous and exemplary. We should heed the warnings that the noble and gallant Lord asserted. I and many others in this House wholeheartedly agree with him.

The Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill that has just had its Second Reading deals with the appointment of a service ombudsman. What reaction has this appointment elucidated from those serving in the Armed Forces? Is there a view that it undermines the chain of command? Officers and non-commissioned officers in the Armed Forces are rightly proud of those who serve under them. It is my experience that they attach the greatest importance and give the highest priority to their duty of service to the men under their command.

The main thrust of my contribution this evening relates to the study being conducted into whether women should serve in combat roles on the front line. Women already serve in many roles with bravery and distinction. A female Royal Navy medical attendant serving with the Royal Marines Commandos in Afghanistan was a few years ago awarded the Military Cross for her bravery. She was the daughter of a very proud retired Royal Marines non-commissioned officer. Nobody doubts the great courage of women throughout the ages. Many SOE operators in World War II were women. Many of us will recall reading about the heroism of Odette Hallowes and Violette Szabo, and others. Both the ladies I mentioned were awarded the George Cross.

However, there is a world of difference between those roles and outright combat. For example, omitting for the time being considerations of decency, privacy and chivalry, would—as the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, asserted—including a woman in a four-man fire team whose task is to close with and kill the enemy add to the risk? It is aggressive and brutal work. It is a matter of the chemistry of the fire team and risk at the moment of battle—where risk is already very high.

Very few women can pass the commando course or the airborne selection and complete the tests. I have heard it asserted that the female body has to operate much closer to its 100% maximum for much longer to do so. That will be the same in battle. In these circumstances, is the result to make the individual far more prone to injury, with less capacity to cope with the unexpected and additional risks at the moment of crisis? That would lead to an increased risk of failure. We know what failure means in matters of battle.

Can my noble friend explain who is conducting the study? Will Members of this House have the opportunity to make their views known? We have a number of recently retired senior service officers here, not least the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards. Particularly, will the views of serving members of the Royal Marines, the airborne forces, infantry and cavalry of all ranks be canvassed? When the report is submitted to the Secretary of State, will we have an opportunity to debate it before any decisions are made? It would be interesting for the House of Lords defence committee to be given a briefing on this matter with an explanation of what has happened when this change has been introduced by overseas forces. I hope my noble friend will be able to assure the House that those with reservations in respect of this proposal will be listened to and that due weight will be given to those reservations.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for his thoughtful introduction to this debate and in congratulating the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, on his magnificent maiden speech.

I will focus on an issue that the Minister raised in his introduction with regard to the longer-term approach to the provision of healthcare services and the management of veterans with complex wounds. It is well recognised that Defence Medical Services has, through the provision of quite remarkable services in theatre, transformed the outlook for our service personnel who sustain injury. These services are considered second to none in the world and ensure that the immediate care provided to wounded service personnel has improved the rates of survival from some of the most horrific and complex injuries that very recently would not have been survivable.

Coupled with that, the provision of care in such institutions as the facilities at Selly Oak in Birmingham have ensured that the intermediate care provided after that immediate recovery and rescue phase is also of the very highest standard. What has been learnt as a result of the development and provision of these services to our Armed Forces has transformed the way that we have started to look at the management of civilian trauma.

Beyond that, rehabilitation provided at institutions such as Headley Court has also had a transformational impact. The quality of those services, the thoughtful way in which they are delivered and the holistic approach to the management of those brave service personnel who have sustained the most horrific injuries is again recognised throughout the world to be of the very highest standard. It is also recognised by those service personnel who have to avail themselves of those facilities.

However, there have been substantial concerns raised on repeated occasions about what will happen to those complex-wounded personnel once they have left the services and returned to civilian life. It is well recognised that care under those circumstances must return to the National Health Service, ultimately supervised by a general practitioner. In his opening remarks to this debate, the Minister spoke about some of the changes that have recently been provided for the longer-term management of these particular veterans. These are warmly welcomed.

I would like to explore a little further the actual disposition of those services. The report published by Dr Andrew Murrison from the other place laid out a framework for the provision of these services, specifically focusing on two important areas. The first was the provision of disablement services centres so that veterans injured as a result of their service could depend on the provision of services for the management of their amputation and prosthetics in the way that they would have expected to receive while serving in the Armed Forces.

The Minister mentioned 24 centres of excellence. How do those equate to the nine centres originally described by Dr Murrison in his report? How are both the quality of care and the outcomes achieved by those centres currently being assessed? What ongoing assessment will there be to ensure that these centres deliver what was expected of them—the provision of services equivalent to those that personnel had a right to and were receiving as part of their active service while members of the Armed Forces?

The second element was specialised commissioning, for example through the National Health Service in England. I understand that that specialist commissioning function is provided by a Veterans’ Prosthetics Panel, which receives applications from veterans who have been complex-wounded and discharged from the services, so that they can apply for the necessary funding for advanced prosthetics, which are made with remarkable technology—bionics and robotics with complex software—and can have a transformational impact on their quality of life.

I understand that the funding for the Veterans’ Prosthetics Panel for 2012-14 was set at about £11 million and was guaranteed for that two-year period. What arrangements have been made to continue the funding beyond 2014? What assessment has been made of whether that funding level is sufficient for the needs of those veterans who may have to avail themselves of the services of the panel? If, after analysis, the funding level is considered not to be of sufficient magnitude, what arrangements will be made to increase the funding, bearing in mind that the NHS itself is facing substantial financial constraint?

Beyond the provision of those important facilities, on which Her Majesty’s Government should be congratulated, there is ongoing concern about whether there is sufficient research effort to inform the longer-term healthcare needs of those veterans—who, as I said, have been wounded in horrific ways that would previously not have been survivable. Little is known about their holistic healthcare needs over the long term—not only years but decades hence—because previously such individuals would not have survived.

All good medical practice is informed by a strong research base. What if any funding from the National Institute for Health Research is directed towards that group of individuals? How is that research organised? To repeat a question that has been asked on previous occasions, are active efforts made at the time of discharge from the services—for instance, using the NHS number—to ensure that that cohort of complex-wounded individuals continues to be followed as a group, so that their clinical outcomes can be used to inform their own ongoing healthcare needs?

Beyond all that Defence Medical Services is able to provide, including the excellent facilities at Headley Court, there has been recent debate about whether further facilities can be created for rehabilitation. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, about the important work with regard to rehabilitation centres across the country. Another proposal has been to bring together a defence and national rehabilitation centre at Stanford Hall. Where do those proposals stand and what progress has been made? The proposals would bring together a defence and a national rehabilitation facility, the two informing each other and therefore driving up standards of practice and clinical outcomes not only for those discharged from the armed services who require further rehabilitation but for civilians injured in civilian life.

We have heard in this debate about the important obligation that our nation has to its Armed Forces, the covenant and therefore the ongoing responsibility we have to veterans. The provision of healthcare not only while in service but beyond for those who have sacrificed so much is a vital responsibility of government.

In case I did not do so at the beginning, I should remind noble Lords of my interest in this area as a commissioner of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and a trustee and governor of the King Edward VII Hospital.

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for all the help that he gives to us as members of your Lordships’ House of Lords defence group; we owe him an enormous amount. Looking at the speakers list today, I think that there are 16 or even 18 of us who are invited on a regular basis by my noble friend to receive wonderful briefings from him and expert officials at the Ministry of Defence. We are all immensely grateful. One of the lucky duties I have is to be secretary of the House of Lords defence group. Every year, I invite all the noble and gallant Lords, the former Chiefs of Defence Staff. Everything that has been said today by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, is so much appreciated by all of us, the Back-Benchers who do not have extensive service experience. We really appreciate the tenor in which he said that. His fellow former Chiefs of the Defence Staff are exceptionally kind in giving us full and confidential briefing on everything that we might need to know.

I have spent 41 years as a member of the House of Lords defence group. We are Back-Benchers, independent with our own minds. We are extremely fortunate to have speaking after me for the second time today the noble Baroness, Lady Dean. First of all, she is my chairman, but, secondly, as your Lordships may have heard earlier, and as we may well hear again later, she is an absolute champion of the families and an enormous supporter of provision not just of weaponry but of what service personnel need. Your Lordships are very lucky to have her as chairman of our group. Among the 16 or 18, I am, I hope, the still, small voice. We have heard and will hear from noble and gallant Lords and other Members of your Lordships’ House with colossal experience.

For myself, I was a conscript. I am that old; I am in my 76th year. I served only 19 months, because I suffered a fractured leg—army skiing, actually. I shall therefore concentrate my short remarks on recruit training and further training, mainly gathered in the Army, but possibly in other branches of the service as well. One gap in my training and record, which is also a gap in the visits that we have been able to make as part of the House of Lords defence group, is that we have not been able to get down to Sennybridge, where I understand that the advanced training for members of the Army, particularly young officers and non-commissioned officers, takes place. It may be combined with Warminster and other places. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, mentioned 1971. In 1958, I was very lucky to serve under the then Earl Cathcart. He sent me to Hythe on a platoon weapon training course. I am able to tell your Lordships that the training we received there was 120% successful; it was excellent. The sympathy and assistance that I received was simply second to none.

I know that my noble friend the Minister has similar experience, but I hope that he, noble and gallant Lords and other Members of your Lordships’ House will be satisfied with what we have in our Armed Forces. First, there are the personnel. I dare not call them boys and girls; they are men and women. They are exceptional, and we are extremely lucky, first, that they wish to join the Armed Forces with some of the responsibilities and difficulties that arise in their private life, their finance, family life, and so on. They are happy to join. One lesson that I have learnt as part of our visits with the House of Lords defence group is that we need to start at the lowest level with recruit training of young members of the Armed Forces. I think it was two or three years ago that my noble friend Lord Lee and I went on board the Type 45 HMS “Daring” at Portsmouth with its excellent commanding officer, Captain McAlpine. We watched him speaking to newly joined members of his crew and he took enormous care, treating them almost like an uncle. I certainly appreciated what he was able to do by putting his talents into seeing that young men were appreciated for their talents and ability.

I hope that my noble friend can keep all of us, and your Lordships’ group, up to speed with the facilities for the Armed Forces. For myself, I recall the kit—the equipment and clothing—that I had as a young soldier. It is now exceptionally good. About 20 years ago, Lord Bramall and I went to Little Rissington, which used to be an advance base for kitting out soldiers and members of the Armed Forces before they went on an operation—maybe it still is. We noticed a great deal of kit there that was not part of the kit supplied by the Army. Members of the Armed Forces had spent their own funds on kit that they felt was the best. I believe that that gap has now been closed. On every visit that we make, we find that all the members of the Army and the other Armed Forces that we meet are really very content with the equipment that they have. On weapons and tools, I was fascinated to hear what my noble friend had to say about the Jackals. I hope that he was not referring to Members of your Lordships’ House; rather, that was one of the items he was referring to, which is a method of transport. I hope they are all right.

However, one thing that has always concerned me within your Lordships’ defence group is the families and their accommodation. I could not add anything to the wise and wonderful words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, but regarding accommodation one of the most uncomfortable times that I have ever spent as part of our group was in Colchester, where we heard of the problems with accommodation in the married quarters there. I think this was just an error; it was perhaps a gap based on a wish to use my discipline from Scotland, accountancy, to tighten up the finances but it worried me considerably. I am sure that the situation has been cleared up a great deal. This was only in the married quarters, as the young soldiers’ quarters were exceptional—really good.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to confirm that the return of the Armed Forces from Germany is being carried on timeously and to cost. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur referred to RAF Leuchars, which is my nearest Royal Air Force station, and to the members of the Army who are going to be there. Because of the geography of Leuchars, it is very well situated to have Reserve Forces nearby. In his previous incarnation the Minister has been with me and members of the group three times to Cyprus. There we saw exactly what all members of the Armed Forces are able to do, together with the accommodation there. I am very content—we were very lucky—that he was able to come.

What we see in the advertisements for the British Army is “Be the best”. Every single man and woman in the Armed Forces is doing their best. They are the best and it is up to us to give them the support that they deserve. They deserve our best and they will get it.

I conclude by saying that, when my noble friend was referring to commemorating the centenary of the First World War, your Lordships may not quite have been aware that he is the grandson of Field-Marshal Earl Haig. I think that he would have been very proud, as we are, of what his grandson has done for us.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for ensuring that we have this debate, which is not time-limited as we normally are. That is very much appreciated. It also provided the opportunity to hear the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards of Herstmonceux. His speech was a pleasure to listen to for its clarity and its big-picture approach. I also enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, but today is not the time to be drawn or distracted by being one of the two women Peers in this debate on the issue of women in front-line operations. That is for another day and time; I am sure that on that day there will not be only two women taking part in the debate.

I need to declare an interest as a vice-president of the War Widows Association of Great Britain, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal. I very much associate myself with the words that she gave us in regard to those 4,000 widows, many of them fragile and very elderly, who feel penalised—in some cases, stigmatised would not be an exaggeration—by the Government’s present costs. If the public out there knew that, if the figure is correct, it would take £70,000 to resolve this problem and that it is highly likely to be not even that much, they would be astonished at the meanness of us as a House and, more importantly, of the Government. What would be needed is not even a drop in the ocean and I hope that the Minister, if he cannot comment positively on this, will come back to it in writing after this debate.

As the Minister said in opening this debate, this has been a year of commemorations. It reminds us, day by day, of the work of our service men and women, putting their lives on the line in our name and for our protection. We have a huge debt to pay to them, both those who have gone and those who remain. I would like to address those who remain in my short contribution because it is not just about them but also about their families. Unlike any other career that I can think of, they go where they are directed, stay as long as they are directed to be there and are separated from their families, as directed. They give up many privileges that the rest of us in our community take for granted. They do that with a commitment and courage, and a lack of self, which impresses anyone who comes into contact with them. Many acts of bravery are not even heard of; we were reminded of this by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, in his address.

All that brings a great responsibility for us, as a nation, when we look at the role of our Armed Forces on behalf of our nation. We have a military covenant, which is a commitment to go some way towards meeting that responsibility. We have the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which is charged with looking after the overall remuneration and allowances package. We have a Service Complaints Commissioner—soon to be an ombudsman—and, indeed, we have a Defence Select Committee in another place, which constantly looks at issues affecting our Armed Forces. One would think that we are carrying out our responsibility to the Armed Forces of this nation. Yet one has only to look at social media, where individual Armed Forces personnel say what they really think. It is quite discouraging.

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body report for this year says, in paragraph 2.11, that:

“There had been notable drops in reported morale from Army personnel for the third consecutive year”.

The next paragraph refers to its visits,

“amidst continuing high tempo, with much operational commitment at the same time as the impact of the redundancy programme”.

Many questions have been asked in this House about that. The following paragraph, paragraph 2.13, says that:

“The continued erosion of the overall package, together with the impact of the redundancy process were felt to be adversely affecting morale, which was already considered to be fragile”,

Does that mean we are meeting our responsibility to our Armed Forces? I suggest that it brings that strongly into question.

The audit office report, issued a short while ago, expresses many criticisms of Army 2020. The Government cannot easily dismiss the comments in that report, although little has been made of it today. They raise serious concerns for our personnel about how the process was carried out and the impact on them. For instance, there have been a number of questions in this House over the months about the redundancies in the full-time services and their replacement by reserve personnel. We need to recruit 11,000 reserves in the next few years. The National Audit Office report says that on the model with which it was presented it will be 2025 before that 30,000 reserve personnel number is met. The NAO also says that the MoD was looking at an alternative model, but the NAO could not get a copy of it so could not revise or revisit that view. It is clear that there is a £10.6 billion cut from the Army budget between 2011-12 and 2021-22. We all know that many questions have been asked over months on this whole issue, and the Minister has gallantly tried to assure us in answering them. However, I suggest that not many of us are convinced.

The world is a dangerous place, as we see day by day and indeed increasingly over the past few weeks. Our Armed Forces are a major part of our protection and, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, said in his maiden speech, there will be a time when we need them. I certainly subscribe to that view. That gives us a national responsibility regarding both their role and how we view and look after our Armed Forces.

That brings me to my closing remark. The noble and gallant Lords, Lord Stirrup and Lord Richards, are right that a commitment was given by the Prime Minister, publicly and on the record, that there would be a real increase in the budget for the MoD from 2015 onwards. I have been at briefing meetings where it has been made clear that that was an integral part of the arrangement of the cutbacks that were agreed. If that commitment is not carried out, it will mean that we, on behalf of our nation, will not have played our part in that very painful process that the Armed Forces will have gone through. Can the Minister please confirm today whether the Prime Minister not only meant what he said but will deliver on it in 2015, before the general election?

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not follow on the issue of cuts and resources. I do not feel that I am qualified to add anything on this to those who have already spoken.

As chairman of the Association of Military Court Advocates, I want to refer to the implications of the withdrawal of British forces to the UK, which will happen perhaps by the end of this decade. At that point we will not have forces serving abroad, at least for any length of time. The rationale of courts martial is that they bring a British standard of justice to our serving servicemen, wherever they happen to be serving in the world, and do not open them to trial and punishment in some foreign jurisdiction. If all the forces come back to this country for any length of time, the question will be raised of whether courts martial are acceptable for dealing with civil offences under what is currently Section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006. Will there be room for a parallel system of justice?

In historic times, courts martial were regarded as administering rather rough and ready justice, both in their findings and in their punishments. I am rather proud that it was a Liberal Member of Parliament from my part of the world, East Denbighshire, under Mr Gladstone, who abolished flogging in the Army in about 1860. Reference has been made to the First World War, in which more than 3,000 men were sentenced to death at courts martial for a variety of offences. I am pleased to say that most of them had their sentences commuted, but around 350 were executed before the drawn-up ranks of their fellow soldiers and by a firing squad composed of the condemned’s troop. It is now accepted that most of the men at the time were suffering from some stress disorder or mental problems as a result of the terrible strains that they were put under; indeed, they have been posthumously pardoned.

Things have moved on, though: following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Findlay some years ago, many reforms were introduced that have markedly changed the system for the better and have introduced much more confidence in the quality of justice that is administered in these courts. Certain weaknesses remain, however, and it is to those matters that I draw your Lordships’ attention. The first is the simple majority verdict. In a court martial composed of a judge advocate and a panel of officers and warrant officers, the decision as to guilt or innocence can be taken by a simple majority, so that if in the less important court martial three sit, it is two to one; if five sit, it is three to two; if seven sit, as very exceptionally happens—for example, in the Baha Mousa case—a verdict of four to three would be enough. That is very different from the majority verdicts in the civil courts of this country.

The matter gives rise to concern, to such a degree that the Judge Advocate-General, Judge Blackett, posed questions to the Court Martial Appeal Court a few years back in the case of Twaite. It involved an officer who had been convicted of fraud—–he was claiming a housing allowance to which he was not entitled—and there were certain matters that caused disquiet to the judge advocate presiding, so the matter was brought to the Court Martial Appeal Court. The issue raised was that of majority verdicts: why should dealing with a case of fraud be different in a court martial?

The Court of Appeal, presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said that it was a matter for Parliament, and that if Parliament had chosen to have majority verdicts—a simple majority—that was it. That was the answer given by the Judicial Committee of this House in a case in which I appeared called Martin, where a 17 year-old boy was convicted of murder in a court martial in Germany. There were no service matters involved but he was the son of a serving soldier. He was remanded in custody awaiting trial in Colchester—not in the quarters to which the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, was referring—and returned to Germany to stand trial by court martial at 17 years of age, where he was convicted by a panel of officers. That was upheld with disquiet by the Judicial Committee of this House on the grounds that Parliament had so decreed. The matter went to the European Court, which held that the decision was undermined and should not stand—at least, it recommended that the principles were wrongly applied in that case.

It is said about simple majority verdicts that of course that is what happens in magistrates’ courts, which deal with cases by a simple majority. However, magistrates are not officers; they are chosen to reflect the whole of the community that they come from. They are trained, and are constantly engaged with a chairman of great experience. If in magistrates’ courts decisions of fact and sentencing are arrived at by a simple majority, that is very different from the case of a court martial where, no matter how hard they try, the officers concerned are lay people with no training or experience and are commanded to turn up for the court martial and to sit on the panel—no doubt many times wishing that they were somewhere else—where they can decide guilt or innocence in a case of murder, rape, fraud or serious theft by a simple majority. A matter for the Government to consider is whether this is fair and just and, in particular, whether, if all the British forces are brought back to this country, the system can remain.

The second weakness I identify is sentencing. These days, sentencing is a very technical matter. A judge who sentences has to remind himself of all sorts of criteria that have to be applied in a particular case. He receives directions, he receives very considerable training from the Judicial Studies Board, he does it every day and he has the benefit of the experience of others to turn to for advice in a particular case—that is what the Old Bailey lunches are all about. That is very different from a court martial where the panel of officers—lay people—determines sentence. The judge advocate can sit in on the panel but does not have a vote. Officers decide what the appropriate punishment should be. That is fair enough in disciplinary matters. No doubt there should be an input in disciplinary matters, but when you are dealing, for example, with the minimum sentence that a person sentenced to life for murder should serve, it is a very different matter.

That brings me to the third weakness I see at the moment, which is the sub judice rule. The judge advocate cannot deal with contempt of court. There is a feeling in the media, and more widely in the public, the press and among politicians, that you can say what you like about a court martial while it is still going. For example, in January 2005, when the Breadbasket case was being heard in Osnabruck, the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, described photographic evidence that had been released while the trial was going on as shocking and appalling and he informed the other place that the court martial would prove that,

“we do not tolerate that … activity”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/2005; col. 805.]

That caused the trial judge, Judge Advocate Michael Hunter, to advise the panel to ignore completely what the Prime Minister had said the day before in relation to a pending case. General Sir Michael Jackson, who was shown the same photographs, said that he could not possibly comment while the trial was going on. There you have the difference between the general who appreciated and valued the court martial and the politician who saw a chance of an easy headline.

As recently as November 2013, in the trial of Marine A, which your Lordships will recall, a major general said on television that a five-year term as a minimum sentence would be much more suitable than full life imprisonment. Marine A had been found guilty but had not been sentenced, and that remark sparked off wild speculation in the press about what the minimum term should be. I recall being asked in the precincts of this building what I thought would be a suitable term. That is fair enough in private, but for public statements to be made by a major general, who was far senior to the panel who were sitting on the case, was clearly a breach of the sub judice rule which for some reason or other is not regarded as being very important.

Then there was the case of SAS Sergeant Nightingale, who pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment. The Defence Secretary Mr Hammond asked the Attorney-General Dominic Grieve to push for a review of that case. Dominic Grieve very properly refused. The Prime Minister was reviled by his own MPs because he was said to be refusing to back Sergeant Nightingale. The Daily Telegraph started a campaign claiming that Nightingale was a war hero and at the appeal hearing it was argued that he had pleaded guilty under pressure. This was while the process was going on. Why does the sub judice rule not apply as far as the press and politicians are concerned in court martial cases?

Those are some thoughts about the current weaknesses in the system. I strongly support the court martial system. I just want to see it improved to the point where it can stand as a parallel system of justice, even if all the forces are brought back to this country, and can hold its head up high as a jurisdiction that is worthy of the name.

My Lords, I pay tribute to our Armed Forces. Our sailors, soldiers and airmen consistently deliver an exceptionally high level of performance and are rightly the envy of all other countries’ armed forces. In such a tribute, we should particularly bear in mind those whose work it is inappropriate to discuss, such as the Special Forces—I declare an interest as Colonel Commandant of the SBS—and I include in this “exclusion of mention” the Royal Navy submarine forces, both attack and ballistic missile submarines. In the case of the latter, we should acknowledge in particular the 100th patrol by a Vanguard class submarine which was completed last year. Its contribution to the deterrent force’s overall 45 years, so far, of continuous, unbroken patrols is an extraordinary example of professionalism and engineering achievement. It is also a commitment to NATO that has been particularly recognised by the alliance’s Secretary-General.

The Royal Navy’s continuous patrols—I stress the word “continuous”—beneath the oceans are vital to deterring our adversaries and key to reassuring our allies, so I am pleased that the Government and the Opposition have in the recent past emphasised that they are committed to maintaining continuous at sea deterrence—CASD—for the Vanguard successor force when it comes into being. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that when he is winding up.

Turning to matters more general, in today’s unstable world—the situations in the Middle East and Ukraine could not illustrate that more clearly—there can be no doubt that we need effective Armed Forces for the UK’s defence and to discharge the Government’s wish to conduct that defence at range and globally well beyond our shores through influence, soft power and, if necessary, hard power. This wish has been clearly captured in past months by the Prime Minister and, among others, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary in comments such as:

“And the particular nature of Britain—our economic interests, our cultural ties, our history, our businesses, our location, our very instincts—they combine to make a country that’s not just on the map, but truly in the world … the small island with the big footprint in the world”,


“We cannot pull up the drawbridge, retreat to our island and think that no harm will ever come to us”.

The Armed Forces have a key role in helping to deliver such aspirations, but I have a serious concern that they are not sufficiently resourced to do so, particularly after the steady erosion of military capability over the past four years, so well exemplified by the unforgivable lack of an aircraft carrier in the Libyan crisis.

In speaking about his vision for the Armed Forces come 2020, when commenting on the 2010 defence review when it was announced—as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Dean—the Prime Minister said:

“My own strong view is that this structure will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/10; col. 799.]

Since we have retrogressed since 2010, even that—assuming it will be delivered—will not be sufficient. It is simply not good enough for Ministers to say that we have one of the world’s largest defence budgets. Deloitte’s Global Defense Outlook 2014 says we are not in the top six; we are well from the top, and certainly well down as regards force size. It is also no good for Ministers to say that we meet the NATO target of 2% of GDP. As noble Lords have heard, that assertion is disingenuous—and that is the mildest word I can use—since that 2% includes contingency operation costs, which prior to this Government used not to be the case.

If we are to meet vision 2020, and if our Armed Forces are to play properly their part in the Prime Minister’s comment that,

“Fortune favours Britain when we’re ambitious, when we count, when we play our part in the world”,

we must be aiming for something better than 2% of GDP. We need to ensure that at a strategic level we can roll out, for example, the future SSBN and Astute-class programmes. We need to be able to exploit a UK strategic global partnership by having continuously available one high-readiness aircraft carrier from the two being built—which does not mean one in mothballs—and with a sensible number of jets. At a sub-strategic level, we need a credible Type 26 frigate to replace the ageing Type 23—credible in quality, but also in quantity. As the noble Lord, Lord West, has said, the current destroyer frigate force is lamentably insufficient for a nation with global aspirations.

Noble Lords may feel that I am being too single service—and of course, land and air requirements must also be met. However, the Prime Minister has said:

“I would say that the strategy is about Britain engaging in the world in order to protect its interests”.

I stress “in the world”. At the end of this year we move on from the much-quoted phrase about the “main effort being the Middle East theatre”; the main effort is now to be able to provide a credible input to deliver the Prime Minister’s aspiration. That will be achieved through being ready for contingency operations, through deployability, and through heavyweight partnerships, in particular with the USA, by having a high-level capability. The air and land components will of course play their part in that, but delivery will be best effected through maritime, underlining the foreword signed by the Foreign, Home, Transport and Defence Secretaries to the UK National Strategy for Maritime Security, which was published last month, which said:

“As a nation, we have always looked out into the wider world to shape and influence international events”.

There is work to be done if we are to be able to raise our game to realise the Government’s global strategic ambitions that are frequently trotted out and of which I have provided many examples. Rather quaintly, I think that the Prime Minister and other senior figures who articulated those ambitions believe what they are saying. However, those will not be realised without globally capable Armed Forces, and I am afraid that we have sunk below such a true capability. I trust, therefore, that those who are starting to prepare the 2015 defence review will make a better job of it than those who were involved in 2010.

My Lords, this is an important debate and one in which I am pleased to get the opportunity to speak. The contributions of our Armed Forces need to be recognised and respected. We have a duty to repay their courage and commitment, including after their service, and we also have a duty to their families, who also pay a price on our behalf. I record my gratitude for the risks that they bear, and have borne. We, the nation, owe a great deal to those who risk their lives and serious injury for the sake of our security.

We have a proud tradition of playing a major part on the international stage and our service personnel have demonstrated a courage and strength that have regularly achieved international acclaim. We have a duty to speak up for our Armed Forces and to champion their cause. I am a proud supporter of our Armed Forces, and I take every opportunity to support them and their work, as I know the vast majority of the public do, too. The points I would like to contribute to the debate today surround the issue of relations between ethnic minorities and the Armed Forces. That is an issue I am well placed to speak on, and one I have spoken on previously in your Lordships’ House.

In 2009, the Ministry of Defence formed the Armed Forces Muslim Association, whose meetings I have attended and spoken at several times. General Sir David Richards—who is now of course the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, was the founding patron of the association, and General Sir Nicholas Houghton is now the patron. Our Armed Forces have a long tradition of recruiting from a wide ethnic base, and that is something of which we should be proud. I am pleased to note that some Muslims now hold senior positions in the Army, the Navy and the RAF. Promotions and appointments to our Armed Forces, as with all employers, must be based on merit. However, I have been assured that the Armed Forces are committed to equal opportunities for all. It is to the benefit of our nation and its defence capabilities that our Armed Forces are reflective of our country as a whole. I do not support that being done by quotas or positive discrimination. Instead, we must work to improve relations between our Armed Forces and ethnic communities in order to allow it to develop organically.

The increasing number of Muslims in the UK Armed Forces is a natural change, because society is becoming more tolerant and young Muslims feel more able to come forward and serve. Generally, both female and BME personnel are in the lower ranks for both officers and other ranks. More recently, targeted recruitment activity has sought to increase the number of females and BME personnel in the Armed Forces, so we should see more female and BME personnel coming through to senior positions in the future. While there is a continual, long-term gradual increase in the proportion of BME personnel, problems still remain. Those are particularly prevalent in the Muslim community. After meeting senior officers of the Armed Forces on two occasions, I recently wrote a report on that subject in my role as chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, a copy of which has been sent to the Minister. We are putting the various ideas into action in conjunction with the imams and senior members of the Armed Forces.

There are currently 2.7 million Muslims in the United Kingdom, whose heritage comes from many different parts of the world. On the whole, those Muslim communities have integrated well into British society and contribute towards a number of industries and professions. However, the number of Muslims who have joined the Armed Forces is severely disproportionate to their population in this country. Given the integral part that our Armed Forces play in upholding the pride and spirit of our country and helping to define our national identity, that imbalance must be addressed. There are opportunities for Muslims to join the Reserve Forces, as they have the knowledge and expertise. The relationships between the Armed Forces and Muslim communities are generally good, but there are problems. It is important that we strengthen and maintain the relationships. Both the Armed Forces and the Muslim community can and should do more to achieve this.

Two of the objectives of the Conservative Muslim Forum are to strive to maintain unity, brotherhood, tolerance and good will between all persuasions of Muslims and with the wider community and to work to maintain and build bridges with all communities and religions within the United Kingdom. The Conservative Muslim Forum is a robust organisation, and members of all communities are welcome to our functions. The imams and members of the Armed Forces have attended our events. The Armed Forces imams periodically lead the Friday prayers, which are held in the House of Lords. I therefore feel that the Conservative Muslim Forum could also be specifically used as a platform to strengthen the links between the Armed Forces and Muslim communities. The Conservative Muslim Forum’s involvement in building stronger links with the Armed Forces will not have any political agenda, as it is very much appreciated that the role of the Armed Forces is totally apolitical. This is not about making a political point but more putting an end to the feeling that Muslims cannot make it in the Armed Forces.

This is perhaps the most important part of increasing Muslim participation in our Armed Forces, for there are number of misconceptions, leading people to believe that a life in the Armed Forces is not compatible with our faith. There is still work to be done in Muslim communities to encourage family members to be more accepting, but the chain of command inside the Armed Forces is getting better every year at accommodating Muslims. Muslims in the UK Armed Forces are able to pray five times a day and fast, as long as this does not have a direct impact on health and safety or operational effectiveness. Female service personnel can also wear the hijab, if they wish to do so. They are provided with halal rations, can seek support from Muslim chaplains and use prayer rooms on base, one of which was recently made available on a naval warship. I recently got the opportunity to try halal ration packs for myself to see what is provided for soldiers on exercises and operations.

To Muslims, a love of your country and serving your community is an important part of our faith. For thousands of soldiers in the Armed Forces, faith features regularly in their daily lives. Conviction in their faith supports them through the arduous nature of their employment, whether it is at sea, on land or in the air, in training, on exercise or while deployed on operations, where danger is often not far away. We must increase the visibility of Muslim service personnel, both in Muslim and mainstream media, and increase attendance at awards and events arranged by the Muslim community. We must also involve a wider range of ethnic-minority media in Armed Forces recruitment campaigns. I am proud that the Conservative Muslim Forum has taken a lead on this with our website now carrying links to the Army recruitment website, along with links to the Navy and RAF recruitment websites. Educational literature should also be provided for imams and mosques, explaining the role and nature of the Armed Forces. It is encouraging that we have now established a firm base from which to take this initiative forward, and I commend the work of the Armed Forces imams, Imam Asim Hafiz and Imam Ali Omar, as well as several individuals from within Army HQ and naval command.

I would like to add that an Armed Forces Muslim Forum was recently launched by my noble friend Lord Astor and Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Nicholas Houghton. The forum looks to improve relations between the Muslim community and the Armed Forces at a strategic level. My deputy in the Conservative Muslim Forum, Mr Mohammed Amin, was also in attendance at the launch. I have also spoken to a number of other Muslim leaders who are very keen that we should all, as a community, make efforts to build more harmonious relationships with the Armed Forces. I will be very pleased to be proactively involved in making this happen and increasing the role of the Armed Forces in the Muslim community and the role of the Muslim community in the Armed Forces.

Finally, many Muslims, including members of my family, fought in both world wars. We did this out of love and loyalty to the king and the empire. The first non-white person to receive the Victoria Cross was in fact a Muslim, whose name was Sepoy Khudadad Khan, who fought in Belgium during the First World War.

My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend the Minister for the opportunity for this debate. I congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, on his excellent maiden speech, typical of the high standards of contribution made by other noble and gallant Lords in your Lordships’ House. I have no personal experience in the Armed Forces. My father was a major in the Royal Tank Regiment during the Second World War and spent three years with the Eighth Army, driving the Germans across north Africa and up through Italy. I remember that one thing that the people with whom my father worked subsequently in civilian life said about him was that he was a man of integrity. Certainly, I have the highest regard for members of the Armed Forces and for ex-service personnel, many of whom I served alongside in the police service.

Interestingly, a young police officer who was previously in the Army said that he found a difference in culture between the Army and the police service. His experience was that in the Army, when things went wrong, people stood up and took responsibility and that it was the highest ranking officer who took that responsibility. Sadly, he found in the police service that responsibility was pushed down to the lowest possible level and that there was a tendency to cover things up. I shall not comment on whether that is correct, but that was certainly his experience.

My noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill raised the issue of women in combat roles. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, I am not going to leave it to another day to address that issue; I feel that I need to address it today. The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, talked about women being involved in infantry and the armoured corps, going forward to face extreme violence. He said that he was asking the question whether that was an appropriate task for a woman. I would not dare to argue against the experience of the noble Lord, but I would also want to raise some questions. My noble friend Lord Burnett talked about the great courage of women over the years, but wondered whether in outright combat it would add to the risk, and how it was important to canvass the views of all members of the Armed Forces.

The parallels with women in the police service are worth exploring. It was only three years before I joined the police service that there was a separate women’s police department. They had specialist duties; they worked fewer hours and were not allowed to do night duty unless there were particular special circumstances. They mainly dealt with missing people, women prisoners and children. It was not until 1973 that women were integrated into policing—and then there were further barriers to be broken down.

It was not until 1977 that the first female traffic officer was appointed, 1979 before the first female dog handler was appointed, and even later still before female police officers became involved in riot training. Being involved in a riot situation, as I was in 1981 on the streets of Brixton, is one of the most physically demanding and, arguably, frightening, experiences that you can have as a police officer. You work in a very small team of six officers. However, the police service has decided to include women in that role and there have been no issues with women undertaking it.

Similar arguments were raised in the police service about women undertaking certain roles as were raised about women undertaking combat roles in the armed services. I can think of any number of male police officers who would be very little use to me if I was a police officer policing a brawl in a public house. However, I can think of many female police officers who I would be very glad to see in that situation not just because they might be a calming influence but because they are physically stronger and far more capable of dealing with that situation than many of the male officers I can think of.

I remember talking to a male officer from a flying squad who believed that women should never be allowed to be part of a flying squad because he felt that in a close combat situation involving armed criminals he might be distracted as he would want to look after his female colleagues, and therefore would not concentrate on tackling those criminals. I believe that mindset is from a bygone age and should be condemned for that reason.

Many female officers who carry arms are just as capable as their male colleagues. Indeed, some of them are better shots and, arguably, psychologically sounder than some of their male colleagues. In case noble Lords are concerned that I am talking about a very different situation, I should add that police firearms officers are trained to kill people. They are trained to aim at the biggest target area—the chest area—and are told that, if they take a shot at someone, the almost inevitable consequence is that they will be killed, yet some female officers are firearms officers and are used in these very stressful situations.

No doubt some noble Lords may argue that the situation I have described in the police force is very different from that which pertains in the armed services. However, men and women involved in the police service face life-threatening situations in front-line scenarios, some of which involve firearms. In my experience of more than 30 years in the police force, having women in those front-line scenarios has never to my knowledge caused any problems.

My father was a tank commander. What would he have thought about women in combat situations? He is no longer with us so I cannot ask him, but I believe that he would not have dismissed the idea simply on a point of principle.

My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the Minister for the wonderful series of briefings that he arranges for Members of this House, which I know are widely appreciated.

I realise that at this stage of such an important debate, in which there have been so many remarkable and well informed speeches, there is little new that I can add. In disclosing an interest as a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, I have to admit that, although that committee has a far wider-ranging remit, I will be speaking mainly about the Army and, in particular, Army 2020. I will not repeat all that has been said about the role and purpose of our Armed Forces in general, particularly as regards their future should the Prime Minister’s promised budget increase not be realised, and about the gypsy’s warnings on that given by my noble and gallant friends Lord Stirrup and Lord Richards, including in the latter’s outstanding maiden speech.

In its first review of the National Security Strategy 2010, published on 8 March 2012, the Joint Committee commented that it had been produced to a very tight timetable, and hoped that the production of the next one in 2015 would include a much wider public debate and an attempt at political consensus. The security strategy had been used to guide capability decisions in the 2020 strategic defence and security review, but the committee was unable to find any evidence that it had influenced decisions made since then. It called on the Government to develop an overarching strategy, a common understanding about the United Kingdom’s interests and objectives, that could guide choices on investment across government departments as well as operational priorities and crises responses, based on a realistic vision of the United Kingdom’s future role in the world.

In its report on its work in 2013-14, published on 30 April this year, the committee repeated concerns about the way in which the National Security Council operated, including: focusing on short-term imperatives and operational matters, and showing little sign of considering long-term and blue skies topics; not making the contribution it should to enable the Government to work as a co-ordinated whole; and individual departments, notably the Ministry of Defence, making major policy decisions without discussion at the National Security Council. The committee urged the Prime Minister to reconsider his approach to the next national security strategy in 2015, and to give a clear steer to his officials that they were expected to produce a radically different one that tackled the big and politically difficult questions which would guide future decision-making.

I mention this as background to the ninth report of the House of Commons Defence Committee produced this year, entitled Future Army 2020, in which it expressed its surprise that such a radical change to the Army’s structure, reflecting a reduction of 12,000 personnel from that announced in the 2010 security and defence review, was not discussed at the National Security Council, and that it was the Ministry of Defence’s Permanent Secretary who told the Chief of the General Staff the future size of the Army under the Army 2020 plan, which I hope is not a portent of things to come when there is only one uniformed member of the Defence Council. It noted that the Secretary of State for Defence had subsequently accepted that Army 2020 was designed to fit a financial envelope and it called on the Ministry of Defence to explain the apparent lack of consultation with the Chief of the General Staff in the decision-making process that has affected his service so fundamentally.

However, what seems even more peculiar to me about this whole story is that the Government continue to claim that, despite the history of what has actually happened since 2010, their overall strategic vision, expressed in both the security strategy and the defence review, has not changed. The Defence Committee hopes that a concept of critical mass for the Armed Forces will be developed. Had this been in existence, and even in its absence, it would seem only common sense for the NSC to assess and confirm Army 2020 before issuing it to the Army, in relation not just to critical mass but to the MoD’s “fighting power” doctrine, both of which could arm it with a much better informed understanding of how well the Army will be able to fulfil its obligations and contribute to Future Force 2020. As many noble Lords have pointed out, there is in addition a danger that Army 2020 could unravel if there are any further Ministry of Defence budget reductions, in which case both the UK’s vision of its place in the world and the defence planning assumptions would have to be revised.

Army 2020 represents a radical vision for the future role and structure of the British Army, departing significantly from that which was published in SDSR 2010. I must admit that I share the Defence Committee’s doubts as to whether SDSR 2010 can meet the needs of the United Kingdom’s national security, not least in combating asymmetrical threats. Deterrence of asymmetrical threats is much more complex than deterrence of another state. Whether it is nuclear or conventional, there is great difficulty in identifying precisely what action can be threatened or taken against whom. If I have a particular concern, it is that Army 2020 appears insufficiently resourced to enable the Army to operate in the fourth environment in which services now have to operate in addition to land, sea and air—namely, the electromagnetic or cyberspace. If both attack and defence are to be conducted, Signals is currently at about half the strength required.

My other concern is the reserves, and here I admit that I speak as an Inspector General of the Territorial Army of 25 years ago. While conscious of the enormous contribution that the reserves have made to the hectic operational years, you cannot expect employers to go on releasing people without proper reward. You must also pay the volunteers sufficiently well to encourage them to turn out. There is another dimension to the reserves, which I am afraid receives less than due recognition, which is the representation of the Armed Forces throughout the United Kingdom now that they have been withdrawn from so many places. The whole reserves issue should be re-looked at in the context of SDSR 2015 and Future Force 2020, to confirm that plans exist to expand important requirements such as medical and cyber, identified in what I hope will be a better analysis of national security needs than was carried out in 2010.

Apart from Army 2020, I have one other plea on behalf of the Army. I well remember pleading with my military masters for a period of stability for my battalion, which I took to Gibraltar after two years on operations in Londonderry, a six-month unaccompanied tour in Belize, and a hectic six months during which we had to provide a national shooting team and train for a subsequent four unaccompanied months in Belfast. Having been able to catch our breath, get some basic skills training and allow children under four to have their fathers at home for Christmas for the first time in their lives, a rejuvenated battalion was able to deploy straight to South Armagh. The Army has had far worse than that, having been involved in continuous operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere for more than 10 years, with the result that national defence skills, including essentials such as all-arms training, are almost non-existent. The Army badly needs a period of stability, during which it can become accustomed to its Army 2020 posture, including the linkage between certain formations and certain parts of the world, which is resulting in 4 Brigade, with its Middle East responsibilities, training troops from Libya and Egypt.

The Ministry of Defence failed to communicate the rationale and strategy behind Army 2020 to the Army, the wider Armed Forces, Parliament and the public—the Government are saying that it has to work and there is no plan B. The Government owe it to both the nation and the Army to ensure that Army 2020 works. If the situation changes, they must be prepared to respond decisively by providing additional resources in order to guarantee the nation’s security. I therefore ask the Minister whether the Ministry of Defence accepts the Defence Committee’s request that the Government provide regular updates to Parliament on progress of all aspects of the Army 2020 plan, the first of which would be laid before Parliament in January 2015 to allow consideration and debate before the 2015 general election and the SDSR, and regular debates thereafter.

My Lords, when one is the 20th speaker, as I am, in this sort of debate, most of the major themes have been covered. In my short contribution I will therefore put a number of questions to the Minister.

First, it has been noticeable that ever since the Prime Minister announced the withdrawal date of our combat forces from Afghanistan there has been an obvious turn-off of interest in that country both in the media and among the general public. I therefore suggest that we have a major, dual responsibility to Afghanistan and its future, and to our Armed Forces personnel, who in many cases have given their lives or limbs in this conflict. I have three questions on Afghanistan for my noble friend. First, given the current size and scale of the Afghan national forces, where is the funding going to come from to sustain this level of armed force? What is the latest allied agreement in this area? Secondly, what percentage of equipment that will be brought back from Afghanistan has actually been brought back so far? Thirdly, what are the latest plans, post the reduction or ceasing of our combat role, to give air support to the Afghan forces?

Turning to co-operation with our allies, which has hardly been mentioned today, I ask my noble friend specifically: what is the state of progress in our co-operation with France? Here we have a situation in which each country has a comparable defence budget and broadly comparable forces; yet it appears to me that we are still operating only in the margins of co-operation. Can my noble friend correct or update me in this area?

As regards the carriers, referred to in considerable depth by the noble Lord, Lord West, the last baseline figure given for their cost was £6.2 billion. It was strongly suggested that there would be an agreement to share between the contractors and the Ministry of Defence, on a 50:50 basis, any expenditure over and above that figure. Has that agreement been reached and ratified?

The Minister did not refer at all to the second carrier, HMS “Prince of Wales”. Has any decision been taken on what we are actually going to do with her when she comes on stream? I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord West, briefly touched on the potential of the “Prince of Wales” and carriers generally in disaster relief. We have in the world, sadly, horrendous refugee and humanitarian problems, and I suspect that this will continue. I suggest that instead of looking at the “Prince of Wales” in a minor role as an agent for helping with refugees and humanitarian relief, we give it almost a primary role in this area, with its military capability held in reserve. We have considerable funding pressures. The noble Lord, Lord West, pulls a face, but I suggest that if the “Prince of Wales” is involved in humanitarian operations, the revenue funding for the second carrier should come from our substantial overseas aid budget, not the defence budget.

The question of our escorts has been touched on, of which we theoretically have only 19 at the moment. How many are fully operational? On the Type 26 vessels, which we all welcome, I understand that vertical launch tubes were incorporated in the design, but that there are no present plans to give cruise missile capability to them. Could I ask the Minister what the extra percentage cost would be if our Type 26 vessels were equipped with cruise missile capability and capacity?

Turning briefly to procurement, in May the department issued a press release that said:

“The DE&S has been provided with the unparalleled freedom to manage its own business, outputs and workforce within an operating cost envelope set to drive significant efficiencies”.

Could I ask my noble friend whether these freedoms cover the salary levels of senior personnel in DE&S-plus? That obviously has an implication for recruitment of the right quality of personnel, which I believe to be vital.

Finally, I turn to the issue of training, where our Armed Forces excel. I am sure we were all pleased to be made aware that we have agreed to train 2,000 Libyan armed forces personnel. There are 325 who are already over here being trained in Cambridgeshire. Could I ask my noble friend whether this is our largest current training commitment? How many service personnel are engaged in training across the world? Linked to that, how many requests are there on the table from nations where there are unsatisfied commitments from this country—in other words, could and should our training capability be expanded?

My Lords, I too welcome the opportunity for the House to express views on defence and on the role of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. I join in the appreciation expressed for the Minister for the amount of effort he puts in to keep us informed on the defence scene. However, I fear too often with this Administration—maybe it is a feature of coalition government—there is little that gives an indication of long-term visionary and realistic thinking; I stress “realistic”. Certainly for the Armed Forces, that 2020 vision we heard about a few years ago, along with balanced manpower needs, is far from realistic or realisable given current funding projections. Indeed, as we hear more about belt-tightening and further financial stringency, there is a sense that, far from increasing the defence budget, further reductions are in the Chancellor’s mind.

However, before reviewing defence capabilities, there is a more fundamental question to answer: what is it that this country—under whatever Government—should aspire to in the field of international affairs? Do we wish to remain in the forefront of such affairs and alliances—and, if needed, punching military weight—that our place on the Security Council, our long history, NATO, our European identity and our Commonwealth membership once combined to give us that genuine status and real credibility? I hope that the next security and defence review will choose to dwell on and clarify that vision of our place in the world in this decade and the next, not just for this year and up to the next general election.

At present the impression is given that it is no longer realistic or thought right always to be active at that level of international influence. The notable absence of the Foreign Secretary at the start of international discussions about the Russia/Ukraine crisis and the almost instantaneously reactive statement at the first signs of the latest Iraq turmoil indicated that the UK would not consider the use of force. Did not that send a significant, albeit depressing, signal? Why was there not the time-honoured immediate reactions to crises, along the lines that all options are being considered and nothing has yet been ruled out? That reaction is designed to give comfort to one’s allies and friends that we are up to the necessary treaty and other commitments if all else fails, and to tell our adversaries that we do not intend to be a mere hand-wringing touch-line spectator that poses them no immediate need for concern. In the field of acquiring intelligence, for example, stand-off aerial platforms—including unmanned aerial vehicles—are available, as indeed are, if necessary, stand-off weapons from sea or air. Those are attacks without use of any ground commitment. Why are they all ruled out so quickly?

At its most elemental, lacking high-worth defence capability, as seen by others, is significant, if only as a further indicator that this country is no longer really prepared to make the effort to remain a leading power in the world of today and tomorrow. Above all, how does that read in Washington? Maybe it is not difficult to guess, if the concerns expressed by US Defense Secretary Gates and his successor Hagel are taken as seriously as they should be. The special relationship, so important to our national security, is starting to lack substance, as viewed in Washington. At a time when the United States’s strategic anxieties are focusing more across the Pacific than across the Atlantic, that may become all too obvious—obvious, that is, when your best and strongest ally just does not bother to consult you about a developing world crisis or problem.

Measures of comparison of input expenditure on defence do not reveal a true picture. The Government have claimed—perhaps it is no longer true—that their defence expenditure is the fourth largest in the world. However, output, not input, should be the true measure of defence capability. Rather than compare what we have spent in the past with expenditure today, I would prefer to use a comparison between what we had in the past—say, when we had realigned our defence posture after the end of the Cold War—and what we have now, as well as what we plan for the immediate future. Time is too short to spell this out in detail, other than to say that the Armed Forces’ manpower and inventory of war-fighting equipment are far below those of the late 1990s. Surely the world and this nation are not safer—maybe far less safe—than they were in that period.

Indeed, the Prime Minister only last week drew attention to the real threat of terrorism spawned in failed states. Defence capability, along with political, economic and diplomatic effort, will combine to tackle such threats, but the latter will lack weight without the backing of military strength and the will to use it to protect this country and its citizens. There are few, if any, quick fixes in defence capability, so a draw-down today will be as damaging in five or even 10 years’ time as it is at the present time. Equally, if in spite of recent indications we wish to retain our place on the world scene, now is the time to invest not only in capability but in numbers. This would both give an immediate indication of determination to remain at a leading position in world affairs and provide successor Governments with the wherewithal to retain that posture.

The 2010 strategic defence and security review was inevitably driven by the economic crisis and an aspiration for force levels a decade hence, in the timescale of 2020, but those aspirations are drifting far out from what was projected only four years ago. By 2020, further slippage and delay in an underresourced programme will be upon us unless significant new money is made available.

A further consideration, too often overlooked, is critical mass—in the number and trades of individual personnel, in the inventory holdings of critical major components, whether ships, aircraft or other weapons platforms, and in spares and availability of consumables. Smaller forces, too, inevitably reduce the scale and opportunities of career and professional advancement. As is already evident, this hampers the ability of the forces to recruit and retain, in particular, those with special expertise, such as engineers or aircrew.

Yet it is from those who first volunteer to join and then decide to remain in the forces for a full career that future senior commanders will have to be found. Headhunting a commander-in-chief or a chief of staff from outside their service is impossible, so the calibre and quality of those who decide in an all-volunteer force to remain and who will be the advisers to Ministers on the use and applications of military power is a further issue for politicians to ponder. Some of the brightest in the services are choosing to leave while they have the youth and skills to take up a new career in civvy street, leaving others maybe less capable to soldier on to fill the senior positions in the Armed Forces.

The next review of the defence and security of the nation must surely be more explicit about the future global posture and strategy for this country and it must be more realistically funded than at present, unless it is the intention to dumb down our standing in the world in a futile and fanciful search for a quieter life.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for providing this opportunity to discuss the role of our Armed Forces. I also thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, for his powerful and very clear maiden speech, which contained some important messages for us all.

This debate has been welcome and relevant. In a year of key and moving anniversaries of both the First World War and the Second World War, Armed Forces Day is nearly upon us. It is a day which provides us with an opportunity to remember and highlight the immense role that the members of our Armed Forces have played and continue to play in the life of our nation, defending us and protecting and furthering our national interests, all too often at great personal cost.

This debate is also relevant because of the major changes taking place, or about to take place, affecting our Armed Forces. They include the transition to Army 2020 with its reduction in the size of the Regular Forces and an increase in the Reserve Forces, the imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan, the implementation of the basing review, and the potential impact of the considerations that will determine the direction and content of the next strategic defence and security review—a pending review that should not, like the 2010 review, be driven almost exclusively by the amount of money available rather than by a determination of our strategic objectives and requirements, with the role, size and capability of our Armed Forces being geared to delivering those objectives.

We believe that Britain can play a positive role in the international community and that to withdraw from the world is not just undesirable but impossible. However, we also think that the United Kingdom should be realistic because there are no gains to be made from promising what cannot be delivered. Continued fiscal restraint at the Ministry of Defence requires a more enhanced understanding of what can and what cannot be achieved alone. We know that we must strengthen and deepen our partnerships with existing allies, and seek to cultivate new ones if we are to achieve our strategic objectives. We are also committed to the minimum credible nuclear deterrent which we believe is best delivered through a continuous at-sea deterrent and we will continue to look at ways in which that minimum credible deterrent can be delivered most efficiently.

One of the main priorities of the 2010 SDSR was to ensure that we emerge with a coherent defence capability in 2020. In their foreword to the review the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister said that they were determined to retain a significant well equipped Army in the context of a review that provided for a reduction in manpower over the following five years of 7,000, from 102,000 to 95,000, with a stated assumption that by 2020 we would require an Army of 94,000 personnel, a Royal Navy of 29,000 personnel and an RAF of 31,500 personnel. The reduction in the strength of the Army would enable savings to be made of £5.3 billion over the 10 years from 2011-12 to 2020-21. However, this was subsequently changed downwards to a Regular Army of 82,500, which is a reduction of a further 11,500 or some 160% of the reduction of 7,000 set out only a few months previously in the SDSR.

The 2010 SDSR set out the new defence planning assumptions that envisage that our Armed Forces in the future would be sized and shaped to conduct an enduring stablisation operation at around brigade level—up to 6,500 personnel—with maritime and air support as required while also conducting one non-enduring complex intervention, with up to 2,000 personnel, and one non-enduring simple intervention, with up to 1,000 personnel; or alternatively, three non-enduring operations if we were not already engaged in an enduring operation; or for a limited time, and with sufficient warning, committing all our effort to a one-off intervention of up to three brigades, with maritime and air support—around 30,000, two-thirds of the force deployed to Iraq in 2003.

That is what was in the 2010 SDSR when the reduction in the Army was stated as being from 102,000 to 95,000. The subsequent reduction a few months later was made on cost grounds alone, not because of any change in the defence planning assumptions. The deadline for completing redundancies was also brought forward. It was originally 2017-18, but was brought forward by the Ministry of Defence to 2015-16, because, according to the National Audit Office, of further demands on the budget requiring the department to make staffing savings earlier. The question is that with the further reduction in the size of our Armed Forces going considerably beyond that set out in the 2010 SDSR, can the capabilities set out in the defence planning assumptions at the time, which have never been changed, still be delivered now and in 2015, and can they still be delivered through to 2020 without any increase in the size of our Armed Forces, and in particular the Army?

The recent National Audit Office report on Army 2020 contains some interesting information and robust views. It makes it clear that it does not examine whether Army 2020 will provide enough military capability for the Army to meet its required defence outputs which presumably are those set out in the 2010 SDSR. That is why I am asking this question of the Minister in the light of what has happened since the 2010 SDSR and the critical report from the National Audit Office.

When told in 2011 to make further savings of £5.3 billion, the department produced a programme of change and restructuring which led to Army 2020. Eight options to achieve the required savings were produced by the department, and a panel of senior military personnel selected three of the eight options for further development. However, the panel subsequently decided that none of the shortlist of three options avoided unacceptable risk to the Armed Forces’ ability to deliver the defence outputs required by the 2010 strategic defence and security review. In other words, the department had managed to put forward eight options in a bid to secure the Treasury-demanded savings, none of which would have enabled the Armed Forces to deliver the capabilities required in the Government’s 2010 SDSR.

Instead, a hybrid option was settled on which included a Regular Army supplemented by Reserve Forces, as well as proposals for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. In the words of the National Audit Office report, the panel,

“decided that the option would give enough capability, compared with the three rejected options, to provide the required defence outputs and offered a tolerable level of military risk”.

That was hardly an enthusiastic or ringing endorsement of the option.

Why the reference to the comparison with the “three rejected options”? If it is an acceptable option only when compared with three that have been rejected, it raises questions about exactly what capability the hybrid option actually does deliver. What exactly is a,

“tolerable level of military risk”,

as opposed to an acceptable level of military risk? They cannot mean the same.

The National Audit Office report goes on to tell us:

“The panel did not consider whether recruiting and training the increased number of reserves was feasible as part of its assessment, or whether the requirement for reserves to undertake a substantially different role in a smaller Army would have an impact on recruitment”.

Whether the panel or someone else should have undertaken the exercise is not the question, but rather the fact that according to the National Audit Office no one did it. Presumably that means that the Secretary of State did not ask for that assessment to be made before agreeing to proceed with the hybrid option.

The National Audit Office report says:

“We have not seen evidence that the feasibility of increasing the number of trained reserves within the planned timescale, needed to provide the required capability, was robustly tested”.

To say the least of it, that seems to be something of a mistake as the essence of the hybrid option was that there needed to be a significant increase in the number of reserves, particularly Army reserves, playing a substantially different and more important role. Indeed, the NAO report specifically asserts that the Ministry of Defence did not assess whether it was feasible to recruit and train the number of reserves within the necessary timescale. If that is the case, on what basis have the Government repeatedly asserted their confidence that the required number of Army reservists would be recruited to see the trained strength increase from 19,000 to 30,000?

According to the NAO report, the Secretary of State for Defence can have had no firm basis for the statement in paragraph 1.15 of his July 2013 White Paper on Reserves in the Future Force 2020 in which he said:

“We are confident that the targets can be met”.

That statement was a statement of hope and nothing more, yet the ability of our Armed Forces to deliver the 2010 defence planning assumptions is dependent on it being achieved.

The National Audit Office report also found that recruitment targets for reserves were not underpinned by robust data and that even the working model the department now has for reserves, which contains limited historical data, suggests that it could be 2025, as my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde has already pointed out, before the trained strength of the reserves is increased to 30,000. That assessment, said the National Audit Office, assumed an increase in recruitment rates for new reserves as well as an unevidenced assumption that the percentage of reserve recruits that go on to become trained strength can be increased from the current level of 34% to 55% from 2015-16.

It seems that recruitment is falling behind. Just under 2,000 reserve soldiers were recruited in 2013-14 against a December 2012 Army demand plan requirement of 6,000, and just under 3,200 Regular Army training places were unfilled in 2013-14 from a planned allocation of 9,382 places.

It is not clear what the Government’s attitude is towards the reserves and the increase in the number of trained Army reserves to 30,000. The Government have repeatedly said that the rundown in the size of the Regular Army is not conditional on an increase in the size of the reserves being achieved, even though delivering Army 2020 involves recruiting, training and integrating an increased number of reserves into a single Army. Yet the hybrid option with its “tolerable”—not acceptable—level of military risk is dependent on that increase in the number of reserves being achieved.

I come back to the question that the NAO report did not address: namely, whether our Armed Forces, and the Army in particular, can currently meet now and in 2015, as well as in the future under Army 2020, the defence output set out in the defence planning assumptions in the 2010 strategic defence and security review. The reality is that since those defence planning assumptions appeared in the cost-reduction driven 2010 SDSR, the intended size of the Regular Army has been reduced by a further 11,500, from 94,000 to 82,500. A deliberately untested and unassessed objective of a projected increase in the size of our Reserve Army has fallen well behind schedule and a senior military panel has described the present hybrid option, even if achieved through the increase in trained reserves, as offering not an acceptable level of military risk but only a tolerable one. The conclusion must be that, at the very best, the Government, through their own actions, have placed the ability of our Armed Forces to deliver the defence outputs the Government set out in the SDSR in 2010 in jeopardy, both now and under Army 2020. Frankly, to try to maintain otherwise in the light of the further reductions in the strength of our regular forces, and the continuing failure to achieve the required recruitment levels to our Army Reserve Forces without making any changes to the defence planning assumptions lacks real credibility.

Of course it is possible, although contrary to everything the Government have been saying, that in the 2010 SDSR the Ministry of Defence made provision at a time of austerity for the size and cost of our Armed Forces to be considerably larger than was actually needed to deliver the defence outputs provided for in the SDSR. If that is the case, can the Minister confirm that such an overprovision at a time of austerity was an intended part of the 2010 SDSR? The National Audit Office has done a useful job in throwing some light on what was actually going on at the time of the SDSR and what has been going on since. It indicates that the Secretary of State is somewhat removed from his image as a safe pair of hands. The significance of the next SDSR, and the need to ensure that the demands we place on our Armed Forces, who do not let us down, are matched by the resources we provide for them to meet those demands, cannot be overstated.

My Lords, we have had a very constructive debate and I am grateful for the excellent contributions from all sides of the House. I will try to deal with some of the points raised by noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords, but I am conscious that I will probably be kept very busy writing letters for the next week or two as there is no way that I can answer all the questions, or indeed acknowledge all the speakers, today.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards, gave the House an outstanding maiden speech. He pointed out that we must increase defence spending to 2% of GDP. We have routinely met and exceeded 2% of GDP since 2010, even allowing for urgent operational requirements spending. We expect to meet 2% until 2015-16, but thereafter it is obviously a matter for the next spending review. The noble and gallant Lord also mentioned the patrol aircraft, the MPA. We recognise his concerns about this issue. As part of the next SDSR, we will be examining the question to see what, if anything, can be done.

The noble Lord, Lord West, mentioned the Falklands, where his service on HMS “Ardent” was very distinguished. I pay tribute to the Falklands veterans and to the veterans of so many other campaigns. It is often my privilege to meet these very special people. The noble Lord and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, commented on possible underspend. Her Majesty’s Treasury has allowed all underspends to be rolled forward and they have not been lost. The noble Lord and the noble and gallant Lord also asked whether we will commit to a defence spend of 2% of GDP. Just last week the Secretary-General of NATO praised the MoD for its commitment to a budget of 2% of GDP. We will continue to have this. We are confident that we will keep the 2% level this year and next year, but then it is for the next SDSR and the spending review to make a decision.

I must congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, on his appointment in the Birthday Honours as Marshal of the Royal Air Force and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, on his appointment as Admiral of the Fleet. Both noble and gallant Lords mentioned the in-year defence spending level of 2% of GDP. I have already said that underspends have not been lost. The Treasury has allowed us to roll these forward in order to supplement future plans. We have also met 2% of GDP even allowing for operational spend. For instance, in 2012-13 it was over 2% and that was the case back to 2010-11.

The noble Lord, Lord West, and my noble friend Lord Lee mentioned the second “Queen Elizabeth” class carrier, “Prince of Wales”. The decision on the second carrier will be made during the next SDSR. I can tell the House that the public will feel a great sense of pride on 4 July when Her Majesty the Queen attends the naming ceremony in Rosyth.

My noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill asked where we were on cyberwarfare. The Government have prioritised this important area of new capability. We have recently created the Joint Cyber Unit, building in this country a cyberstrike capability to supplement our investment in cyberdefence.

My noble friend also asked whether the Joint Strike Fighter is so hot that it will melt tarmac. The F-35B will be able to land at all RAF bases. In addition, it will undertake vertical take-offs from the “Queen Elizabeth” carrier and at its training base at RAF Marham, where I understand that money is being spent for the day it arrives. The landing surfaces have always been factored into our planning.

My noble friend also asked about the recruitment of reserves and mentioned that the NAO suggests that it is six years behind schedule. Increasing the Army Reserve from around 19,000 to 30,000 will not happen overnight, but we are no longer seeing the decline that plagued our Reserve Forces previously. We are confident of delivering a reinvigorated reserves by 2018-19 and are investing £1.8 billion in better training and equipment and on integrating them with the rest of the Armed Forces. The model used by the NAO as the basis for its claim did not take into account subsequent improvements in the recruitment pipeline and other measures, such as improved financial incentives, the use of full-time regulars to sponsor the reserves and greater engagement with employers. I assure my noble friend that for the first time since 1996 the total strength of the Reserve Forces has risen to 22,480, which is up 470 since January, so that is good news.

I agree with what my noble friend Lord Sheikh said about Muslims in the Armed Forces. I was honoured to be invited, as my noble friend said, to the most recent Armed Forces Muslim Forum event, where I spoke alongside the CDS. During that event I met several serving Muslims as well as leaders of organisations around the UK, who were all very enthusiastic about the ongoing work the Armed Forces are doing with the Muslim community.

My noble friend Lord Glenarthur pointed out the need to attract and retain reservists. I pay tribute to him for his work with the RAF in Aberdeenshire. I hope to visit his unit when I next go up to Scotland. We are investing £1.8 billion in better training and equipment and on fully integrating them with the regulars. We have been running a major media recruiting campaign, “More than Meets the Eye”, since January, and are making continuous improvements to the National Recruitment Centre’s recruit processing. We are working across government to consider how to target specific skills, such as medical or cyber. Wider initiatives are being examined to improve financial incentives and the competitiveness of our offer.

My noble friend also asked about ex-regulars becoming reservists. We are paying a great deal of attention to ex-regulars as we boost the reserves. These men and women have long careers with experience and up-to-date training that can be brought to bear in the Reserve Forces. A range of financial incentives will encourage ex-regulars to consider the reserves, where their knowledge and experience can only improve integration between Regular and Reserve Forces.

I pay tribute to the work that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and my noble friend Lady Garden do for the war widows. I have huge admiration for what they do. Both noble Baronesses asked about war widows’ pensions. As has been said on a number of occasions in this House, the issue here is retrospection. Successive Governments have agreed that the only way to ensure that public sector pension schemes remain affordable is not to change those policies retrospectively. Any change in policy could have far-reaching economic ramifications and would require careful scrutiny.

My noble friend Lady Garden asked whether veterans are making a good transition to civilian life and finding jobs. As my noble friend Lord Ashcroft concluded in his excellent report on transition, the large majority of service leavers make an excellent transition to civilian life. This is due in no small part to a broad range of resettlement support, including grants, training and job-finding services. More than 80% of those who choose to use the Career Transition Partnership secure work within six months.

The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and my noble friend Lord Burnett questioned whether women should serve in close-quarters combat. That issue was raised also by my noble friends Lord Palmer of Childs Hill and Lord Paddick. The previous review of this issue concluded that women are both physically and psychologically ready for roles on the front line. Let me be clear that women will and can be considered for these roles only if their presence will not impact on operational effectiveness. Women already command ships and serve on submarines. It is time to consider whether, by denying them front-line roles, we are denying them and denying defence.

The Secretary of State for Defence announced on 8 May a review of the exclusion of women from ground close-combat roles and this will report by the end of the year. My noble friend Lord Burnett asked who was conducting the study, whether serving members of the Armed Forces would be canvassed and whether the two Houses would be allowed to debate the issue. The review will canvass views from across defence and will consider carefully the areas of the Armed Forces most affected; for example, the Royal Marines, the RAF Regiment, the Armoured Corps and Infantry Regiments. I shall certainly look into whether a briefing could be set up to apprise Members of the House of the progress of the review. I can assure my noble friend that women would need to meet the requirements of the specific job.

The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, suggested that SDSR 10 would result in a smaller rather than a better Army. While we appreciate the concerns of the noble Lord, we maintain that our Armed Forces, while smaller, will be better equipped and able to deploy rapidly to protect our interests anywhere in the world, supported by an integrated Reserve Force. Army 2020 has redesigned the Army to be more flexible and adaptable to changing threats, as was the key objective of the SDSR.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey asked whether Portsmouth would be ready to take the QE carrier. Work is well under way to prepare Portsmouth to home it. There is no delay on this. Dredging will ensure that the port can take this magnificent ship and we are investing £100 million to see that Portsmouth is ready by 2016 and will enjoy a bright future for its ship industry. Just today, we announced that 100 jobs in Portsmouth had been protected by the £70 million contract for Portsmouth to support and maintain Type 26 destroyers.

My noble friend also suggested that DIO is not effective and too slow. We have just appointed a new strategic business partner to assist DIO in managing the defence estate, bringing private sector expertise alongside military and civilian infrastructure teams. My noble friend also mentioned the sale of Defence Support Group and said that it would be less cost-effective. DSG is going through a thorough market-testing process with a view to delivering better value for money to defence. Getting better value for the taxpayer includes making the Armed Forces better customers. Our reforms are getting results, so that no longer is procurement mired in criticism, delays and a failure to deliver for our troops.

My noble friend asked whether RAF Marham would be ready to home F-35 jets. Yes, they will be homed there, and we are unaware of any reason that that should not happen. The work will include installing landing surfaces, which has always been factored in. The public will take pride in seeing F-35B jets flying this summer.

My noble friend also asked about the risks of Army 2020 dependencies and recruitment targets. We recognise the challenge of implementing Army 2020 alongside other substantial change programmes such as the army basing plan. Working level meetings occur routinely between respective parts of the MoD. Senior responsible owners of change programmes report risk on dependencies on a quarterly basis and through the defence major programme portfolio. We are confident that the plans we have in place to increase the numbers of army reservists are robust and viable. The Army has, and will continue to introduce, initiatives to meet the target.

The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, asked what research is being undertaken on military healthcare issues. The MoD’s science and technology programme is investing approximately £10 million per year in military and personnel research. Recent examples of this work include novel wheelchairs for those who have lost their limbs and taking advantage of a sporting consortium of 40 or so SMEs to deliver innovative research. The MoD also provides funding to Professor Simon Wessely’s team at King’s College; they are world experts in PTSD.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, mentioned possible low morale in the Armed Forces. I completely agree that morale is important. We are doing more than ever to support and look after the Armed Forces. We want to attract and retain talented people as part of this great British institution and also want to reward them. The covenant is a key part of that. I am proud that a recent survey of reserves—many noble Lord are rightly interested in the reserves—found that 91% are proud of their role, 82% would recommend to others that they become a reserve, 77% feel well motivated and 73% are satisfied with their lives as reservists.

I am sorry but I have run out of time. I have not been able to answer a number of questions and undertake to write to those noble Lords and copy in other noble Lords who spoke in the debate. I thank all those noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords who took part in the debate and look forward to writing to them where I have been unable to answer their questions.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 8.52 pm.