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The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a great privilege for me to introduce this debate and, although I have to admit that I queried whether it was timely to hold a debate on defence issues so soon after the address on the gracious Speech, I trust that its wide scope will ensure that your Lordships can speak on any defence matter.
Before I go any further, I should like to thank the Minister for his most courteous letter of 19th June setting out the way forward for the recently announced Strategic Defence Review. I am most grateful to him for offering us the invitation to contribute to the review. Perhaps he will accept parts of this debate as a first contribution. However, I have to say at the outset that I am still of the opinion that the review is unnecessary, and I shall return to that again in a moment.
I welcome the statements about defence in the Labour Party manifesto; by Dr. Clark at his recent address to the Royal United Services Institution; in the statement in the gracious Speech itself; by the Lord Privy Seal in his reply to the gracious Speech; and by the Minister in his letter. The statement commits the Government to a strong defence of the UK by collective defence through NATO; active co-operation with our allies; strong conventional forces; and the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent. However, I have been unable to detect any recent statement in confirmation of the defence of our dependent territories, even though Dr. Clark is on record as saying:
I return to the defence review and why I believe that it is unnecessary. My main objection to yet another review is that in the past few years the Armed Forces have been subjected to far too many studies and reviews, two of which were major reviews resulting in dramatic and radical changes. There has been constant upheaval, with reorganisation of headquarters and garrisons, and the creation of many civilian agencies. New policies have produced new roles, and new commitments have been undertaken. The Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force have all been drastically reduced in numbers. One senior officer told me that his last three jobs, spread over the past six years, have involved him in consistent reorganisation.
My Lords, are these new policies and new roles, which have been subjected to such careful and detailed scrutiny, now suddenly quite wrong? What has changed so recently in the world for them to be suddenly out of date? It is hard to believe that these recent reviews, taken in such depth by the Chiefs of Staff, senior civil servants and academics, can have assessed our defence policy and roles incorrectly such a short time ago. I was interested to note that the Lord Privy Seal recently referred to new strategic realities. However, an Answer to a Written Question of mine stated that those strategic realities are the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; aggressive nationalism; international terrorism and the impact of scientific and technological developments. There is nothing new here. I do not wish to make any further comments as the review is now under way; but any review of this nature saps at the morale of the Armed Forces. The Armed Services cannot afford to lose any more personnel and yet only a few days ago a senior officer with a bright future ahead of him decided to leave. The review may turn out to be the straw that broke the camel's back.
Is there any real need to change our defence policy and roles? Currently they are to deter any threats to and to defend the freedom and integrity of the United Kingdom, its dependent territories and our allies, including the provision of military support for the civil authority in countering terrorism. It is also to contribute to the promotion of the United Kingdom's wider security interests, including the protection and enhancement of freedom, democratic institutions and free world trade. In addition to those roles, I understand that it is the policy of the Government for the United Kingdom to retain its seat at the United Nations Security Council; to retain its influence at NATO; and to be a leading member of the Group of Seven, the Commonwealth and the European Union.
We will lose our seat on the Security Council not only if we do not continue to carry out our fair share of United Nations peacekeeping, peace support and peace enforcement operations, but also if we should reduce our commitments to maritime operations with their amphibious capability and very significant carrier borne air power providing endurance and poise in support of UN interests world wide. We will no longer have any influence at NATO if we withdraw the 1st Armoured Division from Germany as that would result in the loss of the Deputy Supreme Commander Allied Powers Europe post and the loss of the Commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps appointment, to which there are committed 10 different NATO countries.
I now wish to turn to high intensity operations which are conducted by all arms formations and battle groups. In the future, it is likely that all conflicts will lead to these types of operations and we shall require at immediate notice our own well-trained and highly skilled troops who can undertake these complex operations. It is a relatively simple task to carry out low intensity operations, providing that troops have been properly trained in high intensity warfare. It takes many years to acquire the necessary skills and high standards for this type of combat and without that capability battles will not be won in the future.
I now come to the regimental system and why it is still so essential. There is one answer to this: it is the regimental system which provides the will to win in battle; that is why it is needed and will always be needed. It only now really exists in the regiments of the Household Cavalry, the Royal Armoured Corps and the infantry battalions, but here it is essential because these are the troops that get involved in close-quarter fighting. These troops are like the Scots Guards who had the will to destroy the enemy by bayonet.
The regimental system is a close-knit family from which stems loyalty; respect for each other through long years of friendship at regimental duty; and the feeling of never ever letting one another down. It is the individual commitment for the common benefit of the regiment and the possession of immense pride by all members of that very special family. It is those in-built qualities which lead fighting troops to make the ultimate self-sacrifice to ensure success in battle and defeat of the enemy. There is no substitute for victory in war: if you lose, the nation will be destroyed. These fighting troops are the guardians of our nation and must never be taken for granted. It is the regimental system, when times get tough in battle, which ensures the will to win and victory. No one, nor any government, should ever tamper with the regimental system. Whoever does so removes the will to win in battle and imperils the safety of the nation. Will the Minister give the House an assurance that the regimental system will not be changed?
I move on now to the Army in Germany. It could be asked why we still need to station armoured forces in that country. It shows our purpose, determination and dedication to NATO by living with and closely integrating with our NATO allies. Conversely, any withdrawal of our armoured capability from the heart of NATO would make it easier for the United States of America to withdraw and thus threaten the entire cohesion of NATO, resulting in a weakened and very less effective organisation playing into the hands of our enemies. At the same time, we would lose the influential command appointments which I have already mentioned and, overall, the United Kingdom would have far less influence at NATO.
The 1st Armoured Division can be rapidly deployed or provide brigade level forces for NATO operations, such as Bosnia or world wide operations outside NATO's boundaries, which threaten its interests. Apart from the United States armoured divisions, it should be noted with some care and concern that the 1st Armoured Division is the only division manned by regular troops. It should also be noted and remembered that it is only the American divisions and our own Armoured Division that have any recent armoured warfare experience. When it comes to any operational deployment and facing up to a real enemy, it is invariably the British and the Americans who have to be committed. It would not be in the interests of Britain or NATO to rely solely on the other European armoured units, who have no battle experience and are manned by conscripts.
On the battlefield the tank is as effective now as it was in convincing an enemy that he is defeated; and, in peace support operations, a tank is reassuring to those keeping the peace, yet deterring to those who would break it. We have reduced our tank fleet over the past few years by 57 per cent. from 699 tanks in 1990 to 304 in 1997. Twenty eight countries in the world possess more than 1,000 tanks each. The most cost-effective way to destroy tanks is by using other tanks. New tanks are still being made by other countries, including Russia, and the former Yugoslavia still has more tanks than we do. Our armoured regimental establishment of 38 tanks is tactically unsound and urgent consideration should be applied to increase the numbers of tanks in each regiment if they are to be more effective. No one should even contemplate or query the effectiveness of that superb weapon system providing the kill factor and battle-winning agent in modern warfare.
I should like to spend the last few minutes of my speech on how our Armed Forces can become more closely integrated into our society, as they have so much to offer with their high standards and principles. There is much ignorance among the general public about the armed services. That point is illustrated by a great number of new Members of Parliament who have little if any knowledge of our service men and women. Very regrettably, there are signs of the nation taking our Armed Forces for granted, which can only be detrimental to the country. I have already cited our soldiers, sailors and airmen as being the guardians of our country. I believe that a greater recognition and understanding should be made by the public.
I am well aware of the great respect and strong feelings that are held by the civilian elements in the Ministry of Defence towards all our service men and women. But there should be a definitive and wide-reaching lead and example made by the Government to show their high esteem and respect for our defence forces. They should publicise more frequently the current activities and roles of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force and make greater attempts to integrate them more closely with the civilian community whenever possible. Their high standards and principles should be exposed to the general public with a view perhaps to influencing the civilian standards.
In many ways, the Territorial Army and all three reserve forces can help in that respect. Yesterday I was delighted to hear during an All-Party Defence Study Group visit to Catterick Garrison, that with great initiative careful thought has been given about how to integrate the civilian community with day-to-day garrison life. With even more initiative, planning permission has now been obtained for one of the large
Finally, it is important that no aspects of European legislation are forced on our Armed Forces with the denigrating effect of lowering their high standards and reducing their effectiveness. I expect that those matters will receive attention within the Ministry of Defence. But perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply will comment or write to me on how he envisages the integration of our Armed Forces more closely into our society.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I very much welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, in instigating this debate, which is so timely with the Strategic Defence Review work now being put in hand.
On that, perhaps I may say that I am totally opposed to recent suggestions made that now is the time to review the Royal Air Force's single service status and to split it between the Army and the Royal Navy. That idea is as old as the Royal Air Force itself. It surfaces every so often, usually at the time of a review.
If any of the supporting arguments was logical and compelling, then there might be a plausible case for examining such a proposition. But the Army and the Royal Navy have only limited air arms; they do not have air forces. On that sort of logic, one might as well advocate, because the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy have ground arms in the Royal Air Force Regiment and the Marines, that the Army should be split between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. I do not go so far--at least not yet.
Those who advocate the demise of the world's oldest and most famous independent air force do so from the most selective of arguments: for example, that missiles and satellites are now displacing manned aircraft; or that electronics can totally replace, not just enhance, the human element; or even, in a world of multi-communication, that it over-complicates matters dealing with three rather than two services.
But let us give a moment's thought to the contribution of manned Coalition aircraft to the brilliant success of the Gulf War, resulting in the mainland battle being fought and won in a mere 100 hours with minimum casualties against a numerically much larger enemy; or to the impact of the precision manned aircraft attacks in bringing the Serbians in Bosnia to the Dayton negotiating table, which ground forces could not have achieved; or to the peace-enforcing and humanitarian operations which have been mounted by manned aircraft in both theatres and elsewhere in Africa for many months and years.
A moment's reflection on such examples surely puts paid to the idea that such diverse operations can all be done with unmanned vehicles. Duncan Sandys had that erroneous idea 40 years ago when he was Defence Secretary. Even today, when stand-off weapons and
Further questions arise. How can we best achieve, in all volunteer services, the commitment and motivation to achieve and sustain such consistent, high quality performances? It can be too readily overlooked by the armchair critics that it is the people involved in the air and on the ground, working as a team, who ensure the excellence we have all come to expect and admire. Air power is the product of that single-minded, professional determination. Does it not matter to those who would destroy the Royal Air Force that division of the air into land and sea regions would be restrictive to the successful operation of air power, which has to encompass both, and in time and space?
It might be more plausible, should there be a study about the most cost-effective application of air power in that defence review, were it to concentrate on examining what the benefits would be if all the three services' air activity, their training, support and operation were under the overall direction of experts in the application and limits of air power--the Royal Air Force. But, even for this strategic review, that might be a bridge too far. I hope that the Minister will confirm the Government's commitment to a lasting future for all three services.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I too express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Vivian for raising this important debate. It is timely for two reasons. First, it provides us with the opportunity to acknowledge the vital role of the Armed Forces, both at home and abroad; and to express our appreciation to those in the Armed Forces for the valuable and sterling work which they do. They continue to deserve our thanks.
This debate is also particular timely because of the Strategic Defence Review announced recently by the Government. I should like to concentrate on two very different matters this evening: one of a somewhat philosophic nature and the other immediate and urgent.
I turn first to the issue which has occupied a good many column inches in the newspaper recently; namely, the importance of air power and the role of the Royal Air Force, to which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, has just referred. He speaks with a great deal more authority and experience than I do on those matters but I hope that I may add one or two useful points on the same theme.
As the noble and gallant Lord said, some have even questioned the need for a separate air force. But, however clearly foreign policy is defined and however closely defence policy is aligned with it, two major uncertainties will continue to influence defence provision. First, it is impossible to predict in advance the level of intensity and nature of any operation which may arise. Secondly, unless the crisis provokes a full NATO response, we have little idea as to who our military partners may be, whatever the scope or scale of the conflict. Of course we shall often be fighting
There are three important reasons why air power brings such crucial strength in any joint services operation. First, it can shape an environment for the advantage of friendly forces, exactly as the allied air forces did for the Normandy landings in 1944, and incidentally, as the Luftwaffe singularly failed to do in 1940. Secondly, air power can provide traditional support for forces deployed at various levels of conflict intensity, including air cover, mobility, reconnaissance and fire power, all of which are particularly important when small numbers of friendly ground forces have been deployed. Thirdly, only air power can take independent action against targets far beyond the reach and capacity of surface forces. In recent times, precision munitions have transformed deep penetration operations from the old bludgeon of total war into a rapier which may be brandished, inserted or withdrawn under tight political control, with minimal casualties and collateral damage.
However, we must be careful. We can and do meet sophisticated weaponry at the lowest levels of intensity. Many countries already have small but well equipped air forces capable of inflicting heavy casualties on unprotected ground forces, and so all our Armed Forces must be able to depend upon air superiority.
It is inconceivable that the important tasks to which I have referred could be discharged by a branch of the Army or of the Royal Navy. I yield to no one in my admiration of the Fleet Air Arm and the Army Air Corp, but even taken together they could not remotely begin to fulfil all the vital roles of the Royal Air Force. Therefore, I hope we shall hear no more of these dangerous ideas, which serve only to encourage our potential enemies by casting doubt upon our determination.
I believe that I have a few moments left in which to speak. I wish to touch briefly on a quite different matter which greatly troubles me. I refer to the case of Guardsman Wright and Guardsman Fisher, both of the Scots Guards. Following an incident in Northern Ireland in September 1992, these two men were tried and convicted of the murder of a known IRA terrorist in circumstances which most of us would regard as no such thing. Naturally these are technical matters for legal experts but the sad fact is that the somewhat rough and ready arrangements which represent the legal processes in Northern Ireland have proved ill constituted for cases of this kind.
Wright and Fisher are not the first British soldiers to find themselves in this position. Not so long ago your Lordships expressed some disquiet over the case of Lance Corporal Clegg. I recall from my own experience
However, I return to the case of Guardsmen Wright and Fisher. These two soldiers have now served nearly five years--longer than any of the other cases of this kind--and in the view of many, including myself, it is high time that they were released on licence or on parole if more appropriate. I understand that this very day Mr. Justice Girvan has called for this matter to be expedited. I hope I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, when he replies to the debate to say when he expects the case of these soldiers to be next considered by the appropriate authorities. Further, is he satisfied that proper legal advice and support are available to these men, paid for if necessary from public funds? That was the case with Private Thain and ought to be the case with these two men. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Lord Lyell: My Lords, I, too, am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Vivian for instituting this debate. Your Lordships have heard from two previous speakers about the regiment of the Scots Guards. Perhaps that is one reason that I speak so early in the batting order today because 40 years ago this week I graduated from being recruit Lyell to Guardsman Lyell with the valuable help of one Coldstream Guardsman, Sergeant Kiwi Clements, who was known to many of your Lordships and many of the staff. Those weeks at the Guards depot taught me to be a soldier before anything else.
My noble friend Lord Vivian mentioned the regimental system again and again. For me this started at the age of three when my father brought a company of Scots Guardsmen to our house in Scotland. They left for North Africa when I was three and sadly many of that company, including my father, did not come back. From 1942 onwards the Scots Guards have been part of my life. It is for that reason that I am particularly privileged to speak in the debate today.
Three weeks ago I was in the North American city of Seattle. Sadly I missed one of the high spots of my year, the Queen's Birthday Parade on Horse Guards Parade, not too far from here. I tuned in to the Komo television news in Seattle. The headlines concerned a bear that had escaped in one suburb and a bobcat that was loose in another. However, 20 seconds were devoted to Queen Elizabeth's birthday. It meant quite a bit to me to see the Colour of the Second Battalion the Scots Guards with a wreath trooped in front of the Queen in June. That may not mean an awful lot to your Lordships, but to members of the Brigade of Guards it does mean something. Why do the Scots Guards have that privilege? Fifteen years before many of those
Ten days after that parade I attended a regimental dinner. There were many Scots Guards officers at the dinner. I believe that three of them were mentioned this evening by my noble friend Lord Vivian. They were particularly loyal and honest. They wondered about a word that is dear to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall; namely, overstretch. They wondered about their personal future commitment and about the men and women who serve in the British Army. Their qualities are improving year upon year but, for goodness sake, the demands that we, the Government and the country place on them increase year by year by year. At some stage can the Minister give some indication of the actual or estimated gap between tours of duty in Northern Ireland, let alone Bosnia? As the noble Lord will be aware, it is not merely a question of sending a battalion to Northern Ireland or Bosnia. Many of these battalions, certainly in the Brigade of Guards and other infantry regiments, are under-strength. Therefore one adds a company, but many of those companies are under-strength. Therefore one adds a platoon. One unit going to Northern Ireland or Bosnia comprises three separate regiments. Thank goodness for the regimental system, which breeds unbelievable and unique teamwork.
I was lucky to obtain a commission in the Scots Guards as a national serviceman. The soldiers of 1997, and I when I was a recruit guardsman, are totally different from the soldiers of 1957. The soldiers of 1997 are not Zulu or Masai warriors who fight for 20 or 30 years and then retire. They quite rightly need the home life that many of us demand. One battalion that will be familiar to your Lordships has spent three Christmases away from home in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and on an "emergency tour" of Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister will be able to take a view on this matter, perhaps over five years or even longer. I hope that he will consider the existing demands on these soldiers. I hope that he will reject the siren voices on the peace process in Northern Ireland, and defending freedom in Bosnia, which may lead to a so-called peace dividend.
In this debate, as in every other debate, I remember Kipling's poem. We thank the Mister Atkins. But I add today: I do not know how they do it. The demands are increasing, and those people look to the Minister to adjust them.
Lord Bramall: My Lords, I add my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for initiating the debate at this crucial time in the affairs of the Armed Forces--Armed Forces which, I think most of the nation would agree, are a jewel in the national crown. Perhaps I may reiterate to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, the congratulations and welcome that I offered him in your Lordships' House last month before his introduction. I recalled that for him it was coming home
I agree that the forces now need a longer-term sense of direction in defence planning which will take into account future challenges and opportunities; and I am delighted that the Government have decided to do this from the top downwards and not, as so invariably in the past, from the bottom upwards, with the Treasury firmly in the driving seat from the outset. And I keep my fingers crossed when I recognise this worthy aspiration.
But if the macro-baseline study is to be of any value, it must try to produce definitive views on, first, whether we intend to remain a member of the Security Council--that will make a considerable difference; secondly, whether, in trying to assess our weight on the international stage at which we should be appropriately punching--to use a popular phrase, no more no less--we should as well as other factors take into account the obligations, experience and expertise which this country has proudly acquired in its national and international development; and, lastly, whether any contribution, at whatever size, we decide to make to collective defence, in particular through NATO, and/or in active co-operation with allies, but perhaps particularly with our American friends as so often in the past, should be able to compete if the need arose in terms of command expertise, organisation and equipment in what I might describe as the "first division"; or at least able to compete, better still deter, opponents with first division equipment as occurred in the Gulf. If such war fighting capability is lost, it cannot be easily or quickly replaced as we should have learned from the 1920s and 1930s.
But be that as it may, only when those broad foreign policy issues and the need for the Armed Forces to support our foreign policy have been thoroughly examined, and where possible resolved, will it be possible to assess the force levels likely to be required, and to start matching those to the resources likely to be available. And when the moment comes to move from the framework baseline study to that second, more detailed stage, I hope that the noble Lord the Minister and his colleagues will not forget how much the established defence programme which the Government have inherited has been underfunded for the past four to five years.
It was not primarily the structure and organisation arrived at under Options for Change and the Defence Costs Study which were to blame (although I suggest that the Army manpower ceiling was, under Treasury pressure, set 4,000 to 5,000 too low), but the continuing cost cutting and cash flow squeezes which went on concurrently between and in the aftermath of those exercises, and are still going on at this moment, which have made it impossible to implement the force levels agreed upon in an effective way. As some noble Lords have said, the result has been under-recruiting and undermanning by at least 5,000, if not a good deal more, and thus gross overstretch, in particular in the Army, which cannot be allowed to continue because of its adverse effect on the other two; and an inability to sustain even modest forces in the field for any length of time.
I believe that there is now a consensus that the medical services have been seriously and dangerously affected. Indeed, there are few unit establishments in the Army which, even if fully manned, which they are not, would be viable in any operation worthy of the name without ad hoc reinforcements from other units, all exacerbating that overstretch problem.
There is a good deal of ground to be made up urgently, whatever the outcome of the review. There may also be some gaps in what otherwise is a good equipment programme--as good as I can remember. Notably there is the absence of any element of anti-missile defence, without which the deployment of troops overseas may under certain circumstances be greatly inhibited.
I am not saying that there are not areas where savings can be made--if decisions are taken at the top--notably in NATO's top heavy command structure, which is wholly inappropriate now that the cold war has ended; and the implementation costs of joint staff training might be looked at again. The review may find some commitments which could be shed. That is the proper course of action; in fact it is the only way to go about these things. But I believe that the errors made in the past in the fields of manning, medical services and sustainability generally may require some extra resources if whatever force levels are decided upon are to be operationally effective and sustainable over a realistic period. It would be nice to have assurance from the Minister that those weaknesses, many of them self-inflicted, are to be corrected as a matter of urgency.
Meanwhile I wish the review well. Finally, I endorse what has been said about air power. I remind noble Lords that the late great and gallant Lord Montgomery of Alamein introduced a tenth principle of war to go with the other nine: in any operation, first win the air battle.
In the 1996 defence review we were told that defence spending would be down to 2.7 per cent. of GDP by 1998-99. If the defence review is, as we all fear, code for cuts, should we expect to go down to 1 per cent. by the millennium? If it is a real attempt to match resources to commitments, I welcome it, especially if it is honest and not a triple-hatting exercise. But I have to say that, of the 50 tasks grouped under the three defence roles, which were identical in both the 1993 and 1996 reviews, only one, Hong Kong, appears to be no longer a task (though in a potentially unstable area, the Far East, we shall presumably still be required to help maintain peace and stability, but now without the advantage of a base). Northern Ireland of course will not go away.
I greatly fear that any more cuts will leave us with a hollow shell consisting of 47 defence agencies, massive contractorisation commitments, budget holders with competing for quality awards, glossy management plans, all seeking PFIs, but no men and women to manage, whether front line or not. They will all have gone because they are weary of impossible tour
The last government have left--after many a struggle--reasonably hopeful prospects for equipment; and this Government are reassuringly committed to the Eurofighter and to Trident, and to facing the very real problems over maintenance and spares. I particularly welcome what the Minister said in that regard. The casualties have been morale and people and a growing perception that, as in the case of the Gulf War veterans, the MoD is sometimes, not economic with the truth, but even a stranger to it to the detriment of the interests of those it is there to represent.
I hope therefore that this review will make it the business of Ministers not only to identify the strategic needs of the country and to provide the resources to deliver them, but also to recognise the commitment of the country to its Armed Services, who are weary of seeing the MoD transforming itself into an inferior form of supermarket or a branch of McKinsey's--the notion of performance-related pay is part of that alien ethos; it was not proceeded with, I am glad to say--and seeing defence reviews couched in the language of the market. It is time that the forces were recognised not as an expensive liability but as a most valuable and irreplaceable asset, cheap at the price, without whose loyal and committed professionalism our strategic objectives cannot be achieved.
We must all be concerned to ensure that the country understands--for no one talked about it at the election--that the world is still a dangerous and unstable place, with new dangers such as nuclear proliferation, but with some familiar threats, too, which have not gone away. I shall not, since our recent debate covered that, elaborate on the new threat to NATO from within, except to urge the Government to recognise that Russia's aim, which the Founding Act has advanced, is to emasculate NATO from within. We are all much too anxious to turn NATO into just another political forum. It was founded to deter; and deterrence is still necessary. Russia has succeeded in ensuring that enlargement will be hobbled and it has virtually achieved a veto. It will continue to threaten the Baltic States, and will be contained only for so long as we retain both the power and the will to deter.
It is fashionable to treat Russia as a spent force in military terms. It is true that the Russians have unpaid troops, bribery and discontent; but they also have formidable and effective strategic missile troops, a navy
Perhaps the three most important developments in Russia in the context of our defence review are: first, Russia's arms exports were worth 3.1 billion dollars last year; secondly, the Russians are concentrating on a new and far more selective blueprint of reform designed to produce a compact modern force, concentrating on nuclear weapons, the navy and the missile fleet, and promoting the military-industrial complex (the very thing they were supposed to dismantle) because they expect a strong demand for new high-tech research and development; and thirdly, the new defence Minister, Sergeyev, who commanded the strategic missile force, will drive through this programme, backed by Kokoshin, the experienced deputy Minister, and Baturin, the Defence Council Secretary.
The importance of the Armed Forces in the United Kingdom has never been, and never will be, in any doubt whatsoever. They have been the backbone of our society for generations and an integral part of our way of life. We have always had a Royal Navy, an Army and, more recently, a Royal Air Force. I shall not join in the argument as to whether we retain the Royal Air Force. Over two world wars and several conflicts since, they have fought and laid down their lives on behalf of this country. They have served and continue to serve this country brilliantly.
If your Lordships read the Defence Estimates of the previous government issued in May last year, you may have noted a paragraph on page 4 under the objectives dealing with personnel. That in essence said that the objective was,
All the most sophisticated weapons systems in the world are useless unless the manpower is in the right place at the right time and trained to do the job. For the short time available I should like to concentrate on a few remarks on Army recruiting, training and retention. After all, the Army needs by far the most men--I believe I am right in saying 1,500 last year and a further 1,500 this year, and an overall total for all the services of some 5,000. No doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand there is a big black hole in the recruiting organisation.
Recruiting over the past five years has seen constant change. Now I understand there are to be 39 Armed Forces careers offices throughout the country--an excellent move if a proper balance is achieved between the services.
For those elements of our Army which recruit on a territorial basis, there is a need for smaller, satellite recruiting offices, especially in remote areas. I do hope that these will not be swallowed up by the new Armed Forces careers offices. I hope also that the regimental recruiting teams and cadet training teams will not be lost in the interests of making savings.
Another welcome move is the reintroduction of the junior leaders' training establishment at Harrogate, albeit under a different title. That is a welcome move, as those who served in junior units will readily agree what a wonderful asset they were.
Sadly, recruiters and trainers seldom agree that the other is doing the job properly. But wastage is high--in the infantry I am told it has now risen to nearly 40 per cent. Sadly, it is caused by many of the problems that face our modern day society: unsuitability of the young to the disciplined way of life of our Armed Forces; lack of physical fitness because of the schools; loss of freedom and creature comforts of the home; and overstretch, about which we have heard a great deal.
I should like to mention one problem briefly; namely, delays in the training system. That is particularly so in the infantry, where it can take up to six months from the start of a man's training to the time he joins his unit. Surely that time could be cut.
Throughout our Armed Forces motivation and morale are generally high, particularly among those serving overseas and those with an active role to play. The service chiefs are clearly robust in relation to manpower problems. There are obviously concerns, and sometimes empty billets have to be accepted due to a lack of manpower.
I have just one question for the noble Lord the Minister. In the event of the current review identifying shortages either at unit or individual level, will the Government take urgent steps to remedy such shortages where fully justified?
We may not have the largest Armed Forces in the world, but, my goodness, we have the finest--they are well-equipped and well trained, and we are justly proud of them. They are vital to the security of our country and they deserve all the political and financial support that they need.
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