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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that, and I hope that he will be attending. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, asked whether Her Majesty's Government were contemplating the end of the RAF. I can give one unambiguous guarantee at this Dispatch Box tonight. Her Majesty's Government are not contemplating the end of the RAF. That does not mean that we may not see over the time horizon--the next 20 to 25 years--a considerable expansion in the use of pilotless vehicles, particularly for reconnaissance activities in the neighbourhood of the battlefield. But, as the noble and gallant Lord so wisely intimated, if we were to remove pilots from almost every cockpit, we would still need an air force and people who understood the flexibility and complexities of air power. That was a point echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne.

I follow the noble Lord about the importance of the IT revolution which impinges not just on the air force but on the other services. In the time horizon--the next 20 to 25 years--it will be one of the fundamental changes in the nature of warfare at which we shall have to have a look.

The noble Lord asked about the Fisher and Wright case. The costs of the judicial review have been awarded against the NI Office. Guardsman Wright's legal costs were funded by the public purse through the legal aid system; Guardsman Fisher's costs will be met from public funds because the review awarded costs against the NI Office. I am sure that he will recognise that neither I nor the NI Office has had time to study the judgment. So I cannot answer his question as to when the next steps will be taken in that unhappy affair.

The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, is another who touched upon the gap between establishments and what is necessary, particularly in Northern Ireland and Bosnia,

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and between turns in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. I cannot answer his specific question, but I can tell him that the average operational tour interval in 1996-97 for the Royal Armoured Corps was 25 months. I am afraid that it will suffer, as we projected, for 1997-98 with the operational tour interval coming down to 19 months. On the other hand, for the Royal Artillery, the average is likely to rise from 21 months to 36 months; for the infantry from 21 months to 23 months; and for the Royal Engineers from 12 months to 20 months. The Royal Armoured Corps will be suffering so much because it will be carrying out a higher than usual number of operational tours in the infantry role in Northern Ireland to compensate the Royal Artillery.

I turn now to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, whom I thank for his kind remarks at the beginning of his speech. If for nothing else, it is delightful to be in the House so that I can see his face again and to be able to rely on his ever-generous advice. I am delighted also that he gave a generous welcome to the review. I endorse what he said about how easy it is to lose a war-fighting capability and how difficult it is to replace it once it is lost. I can assure the House that that is something which is perfectly understood by all the defence department Ministers at this time. The noble Lord and other speakers drew attention to the fact that the medical services are particularly badly stretched. That is a matter which has our full attention and I hope that we shall be able to do something about it before too long.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, asked whether the review was another word for cuts. I can assure her that it is not the intention of defence Ministers that it should be so. If we can justify it, we have the assurance that we will be able to spend at least as much as the previous government were committed to spend for the next two years. The noble Baroness was kind enough to confirm what I said about the importance to me personally as the Defence Procurement Minister, of the maintainability of our forces. Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as just ringing up a supplier and asking for a lot more spare parts; indeed, it is a very complicated matter, especially as much of the old equipment has been run on for much longer than had originally been expected would be its useful service life. Many spare parts are no longer being made, or perhaps more spare parts are needed than was originally anticipated. Sometimes it is necessary to open up a production line at exorbitant cost in order to get spare parts for particular pieces of equipment. Very difficult decisions have to be taken as regards the balance of resources.

However, I can assure the noble Baroness that this is a matter of prime importance in the area for which I am responsible. I also endorse what the noble Baroness and other speakers said about Russia being far from a spent force, at least so far as concerns certain of its special capabilities. I have in mind in particular the ballistic missile threat and the submarine forces threat.

I was grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, who made some useful suggestions about satellite recruiting offices in remote areas. I shall certainly bring those suggestions to the attention of my honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces. I hope that the noble

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Viscount was reassured by what I said earlier about the way in which the Royal Navy is trying to tackle the problems of wastage in recruitment.

I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said about the need to deter aggressors. The noble Lord cited the case of the Falklands, but I should remind him that it is not just a question of whether or not you have the resources available; the importance of having accurate intelligence is vital in such matters. Indeed, although I am not criticising anyone, from time to time we have not always had the accurate intelligence that we might have had which could have told us what was going to happen with Saddam Hussein and with General Galtieri. That might have saved much anguish for us and for the people with whom we finally found ourselves in conflict. I quite agree with the noble Lord that ships, tanks and aircraft cannot be produced quickly.

The noble Earl, Lord Effingham, referred to the Ocean Wave deployment. He may like to know that we had a carrier task group exercise with nuclear powered submarines and amphibious forces--indeed, the whole operation was initiated under our predecessors--which lasted some seven months. Altogether some 20 Royal Navy warships, submarines and support vessels were involved and we demonstrated all three of the Royal Navy's core capabilities. It was a busy programme of goodwill visits from the Mediterranean to New Zealand. Not only did we produce an extremely impressive display, but also I believe it is fair to say that we surprised some of our allies at the capability for force projection that we still retain in this country. We also comforted our friends and the whole deployment was extremely helpful with our defence sales efforts.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Astor, that we have no intention of going to a gendarmerie army in which there would be no tanks at all--although perhaps I should not say that and should say that that would not apply unless the defence review produces a result which I do not anticipate. On the question of tanks, I am drawn back to what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said. I quite understand the thrust of his remarks that the United States produces one tank while Europe produces three different tanks. When I was last at the Ministry of Defence, one of the things which irritated me more than anything else was the number of different people who were producing torpedoes in NATO and we were all buying them in only penny packets. However, when I returned to the Ministry of Defence, I have to say that the same story applies today. I believe that our torpedoes are much better now than possibly they were when I was last at the Ministry.

The noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, asked for confirmation that signed contracts would be honoured. I can assure him that that will be the case. Indeed, there is no question of our repudiating signed contracts in the procurement field; nor is it intended that there should be any moratorium on procurement. However, where we are at the early stages of major projects, they will receive more detailed scrutiny under the defence review than some which are further down the procurement path.

I must be careful now because I am running out of time. Clearly, I shall not be able to reply to all the points raised by noble Lords. I hope that I shall enjoy the indulgence of

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the House if I say to noble Lords that I shall write to them about matters to which I have not been able to reply. However, I do not want to sit down this evening before confirming to my noble friend Lord Judd, and other speakers, that Her Majesty's Government will not tolerate racial prejudice and harassment in the Armed Forces. The Chiefs of Staff have our full support in such matters. Equally, we are most concerned to try to do more to integrate the Armed Forces into the community. Unfortunately I have to tell your Lordships, that, as I am briefed, the forces have not had the full support that they had hoped to receive from some of the agencies which are active in community relations in trying to explain to some of the minority groups in our society that a career in Her Majesty's Forces is a noble and worthwhile one. We hope that we can persuade them to take a more constructive view to help us along those lines.

In a few days' time, among the many hideous anniversaries that we have to go through from time to time, it will be the 80th anniversary of Passchendaele. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that the whole purpose of our having strong defence forces in this country is so that the younger generations, and those to come, will never again have to endure that sort of slaughter.

We are undertaking this review because we want to take defence out of the political firing line. I actually take comfort from the fact that defence was not a great issue in the last general election campaign, not merely because during the years when it was my party suffered very considerably due to its defence posture, with which I was never very comfortable, but because I believe that it is most important that the national consensus which I sense exists in the British public should also be extended to our national political life. That is one of the reasons why, in holding that review, we are inviting as many people as possible to contribute to it. We think that that will be the most effective way to provide our Armed Forces with the vision and direction which they must have if they are to remain successful into the next century. I wish to repeat my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for this debate.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, I shall not weary your Lordships by detaining you in the Chamber any longer except to say that it has been an excellent and interesting debate. I am grateful to noble Lords who have spared time to speak in the debate today and I am glad that the Minister has found it helpful to hear our views. I thank him very much for what he has said to us this evening.

With your Lordships' permission, I add my own tribute to a magnificent and well-trained Armed Forces. They serve us daily and frequently face danger with the utmost courage. They set a shining example to us all and are more than worthy of the respect of us all. We owe each and every one of them a vast debt of gratitude and the country is justly proud to have such professional and highly skilled Armed Forces.

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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