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Lord Kennet: My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will permit me to intervene. Does he recall--this may serve as a reminder to the rest of the House--that the point he has just made was made with the greatest force that could be mustered during the discussions before the decision was made by his party to have Trident missiles as our supreme deterrent?
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I recall that the matter was raised. I do not really recall the outcome. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that I have stated the current position with complete accuracy. We cannot reprocess our Trident missiles in this country. If we are to ensure that they remain efficient--as I understand it, they must be reprocessed after a certain time--these missiles must be sent to the United States. I ask my noble friend whether that indicates a basic weakness in our defence arrangements and whether Her Majesty's Government intend to do something about it.
I admit to being rather unhappy about our defence position. As I have said, twice in my lifetime we have allowed our defences to become so weak that when we have drifted into war we have nearly been beaten. It is important that our defences are strong. It appears from the speeches that have so far been made, the information contained in the White Paper and one's own knowledge of the situation that this country is not as strong and as well equipped as it ought to be. We live in a world where a nation ill-equipped for its own defence can be in very real danger from time to time.
When one reads the latest Statement on the Defence Estimates sometimes it is not easy to see the wood for the trees. Not surprisingly, much is made of those matters which bring credit on the handling of this country's defence. Indeed, there are some good stories to tell, particularly in the equipping of our forces and the tremendous variety of tasks undertaken with such distinction by our Armed Forces all over the world. Little if anything is made of those matters which still require urgent action. Two clear priorities arise out of the Government's handling of defence over the past five
However, to give full credit where it is due, in a third area of commitment--the equipping of our forces with good, up-to-date equipment--the Government have an excellent record, with the odd marked exception such as the absence of any anti-missile defence. Generally, the Armed Forces of today are very well equipped.
On the manpower side the Government's two major reviews: Options for Change and the Defence Cost Study (sometimes optimistically known as Front Line First) have--despite the rather complacent and self-congratulatory description of them by the noble Earl--revealed, as my noble and gallant friend has said, debilitating shortcomings, particularly in the medical services, Army manpower, states of readiness and sustainability. As the Chiefs of Staff are being quoted all over the place these days, I do not think it is wrong of me to suggest that the Chief of Defence Staff is incredibly worried about sustainability. Those matters will affect things for a long period of time to come.
In all these areas the manpower cuts over the past five years have been overdone. Indeed, the latest figure is 4,500--nearly 10 per cent. deficient in the infantry--which is virtually a whole company, or two platoons of a company, from an establishment which many of us feel is far too low anyway. That takes the Army's trained man figure down to about 100,000 and seems unlikely to be corrected until well into the next decade. It appears to be nothing short of a disgrace and largely--there are plenty of examples to mention--self-inflicted. It will undoubtedly have an inhibiting effect on the use of the Army if, for instance, the Bosnia commitment lasts longer than expected, or if we do have to do more to counteract the IRA or any other form of violence in Northern Ireland--which we appear already to be starting to do with the recent reinforcements--or indeed to counteract any other emergencies which, as we all know from history, can break out so unexpectedly.
In the area of stability, despite the fact that this acute undermanning has produced appalling overstretch and general uncertainty in so many military communities, the introverted studying of the military navel goes on incessantly, or--as the Defence Select Committee observed, perhaps in more formal and parliamentary language, in their 1993 report (but it is equally true today)--
I hope the Government will fulfil their promises in both these areas, applying themselves with all energy to the measures which must be taken if manning is to be put right. I realise--and Ministers must persuade the Treasury to realise--that this may require a small amount of extra resources to recover from what (egged on, indeed insisted upon, by the Treasury) should never have been done in the first place. In the interests of stability the Government must reduce to the absolute minimum any further studies and proceed with them only if they are going to be of real benefit to the morale, motivation and efficiency of the Armed Forces. Of course in all these areas it does show the tremendous importance, as indeed the Bett Report mentioned, of sensible, intelligent, sensitive personnel management.
A permanent board such as has been set up may help, and I am certainly not against that, but what is required under that board is a Deputy Chief of Defence Staff as its chief staff officer or executive who can deal exclusively with personnel matters and fight his corner on resources without other factors intruding. It is intolerable that there has to be an unholy alliance in the staff of the Ministry of Defence between personnel and programmes just because the Treasury in its ignorance refuses to allow an extra three-star officer at the centre. I should like the Minister to comment on that.
Finally, I read with great interest the section on defence in the Labour Party's manifesto, which I am sure most noble Lords would agree is highly relevant, and much of which I agree with, particularly as regards what was said about the important role which Britain has to play in promoting a wider international peace and security, on a strengthened role for the European pillar of NATO, on the strengthening and supporting of the United Nations, and particularly on the military staff and the readiness of forces which must be made available to the United Nations. I was however sorry to see that the proposed strategic review, which would always be helpful to establish foreign policy and commitments and what it is exactly that we want the Armed Forces to be able to do, is described in the manifesto as a strategic defence review, with the implication that much of this would be handled in the Ministry of Defence. Although I read on page 12 that this would not be a device by which to make cuts to defence spending, that of course--if it is handled by the Ministry of Defence--is exactly what it would become, with the review starting from the bottom upwards, and the Treasury, as soon as it gets a whiff of what is afoot, establishing cash limits or percentage reductions on every corner of the budget.
If the Labour Party has in mind to have a truly strategic review, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, has indicated, let it be clearly stated at all times and set at defence and overseas policy committee level with full input from the Foreign Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, and involving other wider aspects of British policy. Then at least we may be able to have a sensible matching of military resources to commitments; something we have lacked over the past few years.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for introducing the debate to your Lordships' House today. We live in a changing world and change will always be needed if our Armed Forces are to be kept to their prime in weapon technology and tactical operations. But change must be balanced with stability. I have never been against change but I am opposed to change for the sake of change. Change brings uncertainty, from which stems disruption and disturbance.
In this context I am not referring to the six-month operational unaccompanied tours in such places as Northern Ireland, Bosnia and the Middle East, which are the sort of operations that servicemen enlist for, train for and enjoy implementing. Nor am I referring to the change from a general war role in central Europe when we were facing the Warsaw Pact forces not so many years ago. Nor am I referring to the change in the three clearly defined defence roles in the White Paper, with commitments to more diverse tasks than ever before, covering peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, prevention of conflict and the essential retention of our ability to fight high intensity operations. All that has been brought about most successfully by the loyalty, determination and leadership shown by the Chiefs of Staff, who have had a very difficult row to hoe.
No, I am referring to changes to regulations concerning conditions of service, which provide the military ethos so crucial to high morale. The recent misunderstandings about housing and the current debate on revising service pensions are just two of the types of worry which drive our servicemen and women and their families to leave for civilian life. Members of the Armed Forces are beginning to think that they are no longer special people whom this country has always admired and they are starting to feel that they are merely civilians dressed in uniform. Changes for operational necessity should not be delayed, but changes to service conditions surely can be phased in much more slowly over a number of years and not rushed through quite so quickly. To continue to do so and apply no balance to change and stability may well result in a failure to retain sailors, soldiers and airmen in our Armed Forces.
This is not the time for any reduction in the defence intelligence staff, nor any other intelligence agencies, which are all highly efficient. Our close liaison and relationship with the United States of America must be retained and even enhanced, as America has the capability and resources, with its sophisticated satellite systems, to ensure that we can monitor our potential enemies' movements, allowing us to pre-empt them and react accordingly.
However, there is little point discovering through our intelligence organisations what challenges face us if we have no forces to deal with the eventuality. It is therefore a very welcome statement to see that the Joint Rapid Deployment Force will be operational from 1st August this year and will consist of three commando and five airborne brigades. But there is an urgent need for strategic lift by air and sea and also for the replacements of the assault ships HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid".
I turn now to Army recruiting and retention. I commend the Ministry of Defence and individual regiments and corps on the intense efforts they are making in both these fields. The Army needs around 15,000 recruits a year. More than 25 per cent. of the Army is deployed on operations--the highest figure since the end of the last war--with some 18,000 troops in Northern Ireland and around 10,500 in Bosnia. It is essential that the Army trained personnel strength is maintained; otherwise the over-stretch which is creeping back will lead to more early releases.
It is a welcome move to know that the Ministry of Defence has developed an Army vocational qualification strategy. That system should be extended as a matter of urgency to the Royal Armoured Corps, the Royal Artillery, the Infantry and any other arms where qualification gaps still exist. Another welcome step is to keep open the 36 Army careers information offices which were scheduled for closure and to open five new Army careers information offices where recruiting is buoyant.
One of the gravest mistakes made was to close the junior leaders regiments, which provided many recruits for the Army. I should be most surprised if there were a Regimental Sergeant Major from a unit in the teeth or supporting arms who had not been a junior leader. The closure of so many Army careers information offices and all the junior leaders regiments is another example of change in a hurry and closing down an up-and-running system before it can be seen that the new system to replace it will function well. I ask my noble friend to accept the case for the re-establishment of the junior entrant and establish an Army training college designed on the old lines of the junior leaders regiments.
I turn now to the area of physical ability. The Army has recently taken a sensible approach to allow the streaming of those recruits whose physical fitness is poor and has included in training regiments remedial platoons which allow the less physically robust to develop their fitness. There is no reduction in physical standards by the time they complete their training. The overriding policy within the Army is that recruits must complete their training to the minimum acceptable standards in order to meet the operational needs of the Army. Around 5,000 additional recruits could come into the Army: 2,000 from the new type of junior leaders regiment and 3,000 from changing the system for physical fitness on entry.
I have no time to cover in any detail various aspects of training, the reserve forces and the medical services, except to say that the continuation of battle-group training in Canada and the first brigade exercise at all arms level by 7 Brigade in Poland this autumn are very welcome news. The Reserve Forces Act should be welcomed by the Territorial Army and the reservists when it comes into being next year, but it will require careful monitoring to ensure that employer and employee are benefiting from it.
I should like to touch on Bosnia, where we have some 10,500 troops committed as part of the Implementation Force. All three services are doing a magnificent job in former Yugoslavia and our troops in Bosnia are highly respected and known to be the very best of the 55,000 troops committed by 32 different nations. Sadly, 11 British troops have died as a result of hostile action and a further 12 operational casualties have taken place. The principal military objectives have been largely achieved and IFOR will continue to monitor the way soldiers are kept in the prescribed areas.
While IFOR remains in Bosnia, an immediate return to military action between the former warring factions is unlikely. However, the 24-month interval which Army units are meant to have between operational tours has been significantly reduced in the Royal Engineers, the Royal Logistic Corps and the Royal Corps of Signals. That once again demonstrates that the Army is not big enough for its current commitments and should be increased to around 130,000, which I have mentioned in previous debates in your Lordships' House.
There are some 7,500 vehicles in use by British forces in the theatre and it is excellent to hear that the Challenger tanks are providing high reliability, driving some 1,500 kilometres per month, and that the AS90, the tracked artillery gun, the Scimitar light reconnaissance tank and the DROPS supply vehicle are all working well and efficiently.
I come now to the sale of the married quarters estate. I am convinced beyond doubt that that is very much in the interests of the Armed Forces and, had I been able to speak yesterday, I should have made that quite plain. Perhaps at this stage I should declare an interest as I have a 22 year-old daughter living in a married quarter
I do not wish to re-open that debate, but I should like to emphasise four points. First, there has been renewed consultation down to unit level. Secondly, I am confident that the safeguards to that sale, which have been guaranteed, are in the best interests of the Armed Forces. Thirdly, the Chiefs of Staff have agreed that the sale is the best way forward and is in the interests of the services, which was one of the fundamental preconditions. Lastly, the families will have their married quarters upgraded and run properly at minimum cost to the taxpayer.
However, that debate is now over, but I am concerned that there may be a meddling with actual conditions of service and any change really must enhance the serviceman's way of life. Her Majesty's Government must be seen to be looking after the Armed Forces and caring for them, ensuring that their quality of life remains high. Not to do so could decrease morale to such an extent that it could trigger a grand exodus of many from the Armed Forces.
Finally, I should like my noble friend to know how grateful the All-Party Defence Study Group is to the Ministry of Defence for the many interesting visits which have been undertaken to service establishments. From those visits, members of the group keep themselves well informed, and there is no doubt that our troops implement their tasks with the highest degree of skill and professionalism. To produce such highly skilled troops has required high standards of leadership and thorough testing and training. Hardships by our Armed Forces have never been shunned, but met as a challenge and by firm resolve. Devotion to duty and loyalty are present at all times and on occasions the ultimate sacrifice is made by those brave men and women in the service of their country.
The Chiefs of Staff have shown loyalty in all the difficult times resulting from Options for Change and the Defence Costs Study. I can pay no greater tribute to all our men and women in the Armed Forces than to say that they carry out their duties outstandingly and with the greatest professionalism in the service of our country. The nation should be more than grateful and proud that we have such very special people to undertake the defence and security of the realm.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, as usual, we are indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for introducing this debate so ably and for introducing this nice glossy document which the Minister of Defence produces for us every year. But I echo the words of other noble Lords who have pointed out that it is unfortunate that we are debating such an important subject on a Friday. I see that the noble Earl is nodding his head in agreement and I hope that he recognises that.
Although there are a few paragraphs on the disposal of married quarters, there is no mention of the fact that the chances are that the married quarters will be sold to a Japanese company. If one thinks of the previous examples of privatisation, how readily would the British people have acceded to the privatisation of water if they were told that the water industry in Great Britain would be sold off to the French? How easily would they have acceded to the privatisation of British Leyland, the British Motor Corporation, if they knew that its ultimate ownership would be in the hands of the Germans? One could go on and on. But I do not think that it is very good to go down that road.
We all suffer from difficulties of communication. I am sorry that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, interpreted the Labour Party defence policy as envisaging what one might describe as another defence review rather than a wider strategic review, which is what I understand it to be. No doubt my noble friend Lord Howell will elaborate on that when he winds up the debate.
I welcome also the Labour Party's policy regarding the need for military advice, intelligence and earmarked forces to support the United Nations. That is something for which I have been arguing from the Back Benches for a number of years and I am very glad that the Labour Front Benches are catching up with the Back Benches in that respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned the readiness of my right honourable friend Tony Blair, the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, should he become Prime Minister, to do the business with Trident, if I may so express it. I believe that it has been readily understood for the past 10 years or more that a Labour leader, on becoming Prime Minister, would operate the defence forces in this country in the manner in which they are required to be operated.
But it is worth pointing out--and one of the reasons that I can so readily support Labour Party policy on defence--that we have an ultimate aim; that is, to see a nuclear-free world, not on a unilateral basis but on a multilateral basis. I believe that that aspiration would be shared by the vast majority of people in this country and around the world. One important thing that we need to try to do is to ensure that that aspiration is shared by everyone so that we can sit down to find out how we can achieve that aspiration. The Government seem to suggest that that is not an aspiration and therefore they see no need to even try to find ways of achieving it.
There are significant differences between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party in terms of defence. I am very pleased to suggest that the British people would do well to elect a Labour Government to see a better future for this country regarding defence and our Armed Forces.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, the Russian elections are over and General Lebed describes himself as a semi-democrat. One of his first declared intentions is to introduce tighter visa regulations with a mechanism for qualifying the status of states according to their friendliness towards Russia. He is to be one of the most powerful men in President Yelstin's government, in charge of the power-making ministries. Predictably, he is against the enlargement of NATO and for the strengthening of the CIS. He hopes to be the vice-president and to move on up. He has refreshing qualities of bluntness, if not honesty, and says roundly of Zyuganov and his merry men:
Meanwhile, another thing that has not changed is the investment being put into giving the Russian armed services (the Treasury has not taken over there) new weapons. By way of another ticking time bomb, incidentally, they have just started moving radioactive waste from the Pacific fleet, beginning with 700 fuel elements of nuclear reactors in submarines from Vladivostok to Chelyabinsk, by train for processing. The Russian Commission has ordered the finance and defence ministries to draw up schedules for reprocessing, as the decommissioned nuclear submarines "pose a danger", though General Gromov says that the move by train will be absolutely safe. I suspect that we owe that move to the information bravely given to the Norwegians by a Russian environmentalist now in prison in St. Petersburg for trying to be transparent. All this is years late, yet last month EURATOM praised the Russian nuclear stock-taking and monitoring fulsomely.
Although the Russians are concentrating on a leaner, more mobile army, they are maintaining and strengthening the strategic nuclear forces and forming new armies in the North Caucasus military district and in the Kaliningrad special region bordering on the Baltic states. They have secured bases in Georgia and Armenia. They recently won a revision of the flank restrictions imposed on them by the CFE treaty which has given them an extension until 1999 initially before they need destroy certain heavy armaments. Participants in the CFE conference on the treaty reported in June that,
Perhaps the most significant development in Russian defence, however, lies in the emphasis on naval/nuclear power. As Admiral Patrushev said on 26th June, now that the main nuclear potential has been transferred from land to sea after the START I and START II treaties, a Russian nuclear fleet had become a priority and,
Speaking of France, it is worth noting that the French and the Russians have been developing and modernising the GRAD missile system, developing a new engine, increasing the range from 20 kilometres to 36 kilometres and improving its precision. Kokoshin announced that since 1992 the Russian navy has received four nuclear submarine cruisers, seven multi-purpose nuclear and two diesel submarines, two destroyers and 12 other combat ships. The programme for 1996 to 2005 focuses chiefly on the development of the nuclear submarine fleet, the composition of the surface fleet and naval bases in particular. Can my noble friend the Minister tell me what our navy feels about that?
So much for the hardware, or some of it. What about NATO and enlargement and Russian foreign policy as it affects defence? Primakov, the Russian Foreign Minister, and ex-KGB officer with long-standing and close links with Iran, Iraq and Libya, Chernomyrdin, the Prime Minister, and General Lebed have all had the same things to say. They add up to a very simple message. First, Russia will not tolerate any enlargement of NATO. Secondly, we must accept the growing strength of the CIS, which in defence terms is a meaner Soviet Union in all but name. The Russian strategy continues to be to dilute and weaken NATO from within. Primakov was very satisfied with the Berlin meeting. He said: