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Lord Burnham: My Lords, I believe I heard my noble friend say that he hoped the Government will allow people who are HIV-positive into the forces. If I understood him correctly, did he not mean he hoped they will not allow it?
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, to clarify the position, I was saying that I hope they will not allow HIV-positive people to be in the front line where they will possibly be in a position where other members of their combat team are scratched and bruised and there could be a risk, therefore, of bodily fluids contaminating their fellow combatants.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, this is the first major defence debate in this House since the start of the new era heralded by the election victory for Labour and the country in May. It gives us the opportunity to restate with the utmost conviction Labour's commitment to the effective defence of the realm. That commitment has always been there, because we are the party of the people. As my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel reminded the last government only last year, the first duty of the Government is defence of the realm. I offer my sincere thanks to my noble friend Lord Gilbert for introducing this debate in such a clear and lucid manner.
It is said that it is a wise man who learns from his mistakes. I would suggest that it is probably better to learn from the mistakes of others. In this connection we can see that it did our defence capability no good for our industrial base to be decimated as it was by the Conservative Government in the early 1980s; we can also see that the decimation of our ship-building industry and our merchant marine fleet made us vulnerable. The poor relationship of the previous government with our European partners has meant that the rationalisation of major industries on a European-wide basis has been inhibited. It has meant that major defence collaborative projects such as the Eurofighter have suffered due to international bickering and a lack of co-operation.
There are other areas where we can learn from the errors of the previous administration. For example, there is the matter of small arms. In the late 1970s the then Labour Government realised that there was a need for a small calibre small arms system for the Armed Forces. They commissioned the Royal Ordnance factories to develop and manufacture such a weapon system. That programme was called the SA80: small arms for the 1980s. However, a Tory Government was then elected and they engaged on an ideological programme of privatisation. They wanted to sell off one of the pieces of family silver--the Royal Ordnance factories--but the Royal Ordnance factories were worthless unless they had a forward order book. Therefore, the Tory Government authorised the production of the SA80 system, which subsequently proved not to have been fully developed. I suggest to my noble friend that there is probably ample justification for determining that we should have a new small arms weapon system for the millennium.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I was the Minister who authorised the development and production of the SA80 weapon system to which he refers. His account of what happened is quite wrong.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I hold to my version of those events and I am sure that many members of our Armed Forces would agree with me. Only last night I was speaking to some members of the Royal Marines, who were very clear in their understanding of the situation.
As I was saying, we have a new Government with a commitment to effective defence, with a commitment to European collaboration, and we have the prospect of a long-term future in government. I would suggest that this new Government is best placed to initiate the necessary programme which I believe is required for a small arms weapons programme.
I have attempted to highlight how we can learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. Time prevents me from expanding at length. I could talk at length about helicopter procurement. Perhaps my noble friend would like to say a few words about that in his summing up.
Before I conclude, I shall say a few words about nuclear weapons. In my opinion, it was rather sad that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, made the remarks that he did. I can understand why he did so--because he obviously had a prepared speech and he had not listened too closely to my noble friend's introductory remarks. My noble friend was very clear in spelling out that, yes, we are committed to retaining the nuclear deterrent of the Trident system, but we also have another commitment and that is to seek the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons.
That is a new commitment which the previous government would not entertain, and that commitment I welcome. In saying that, I ought to pay tribute to the work of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The members of that campaign may feel that they have not succeeded in achieving their objectives, but I believe that the whole world owes them a debt of gratitude. If they did not exist, the risk is that we would have had the use of nuclear weapons during the 1960s and 1970s. We should all recognise that that would have been a terrible tragedy and a catastrophe for the whole world. Therefore, we owe a debt of gratitude to people like my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney for the determination they have shown in publicising the terrible barbarity of nuclear weapons.
I finish with these words. Twice within the last 18 years under the previous government we sent our young men to die in battle. They did a good job and we are immensely proud of them. However, I hope that, with the combination of effective defence capability and our ethical foreign policy, and by working in partnership and co-operation with other countries, we can help to build a new world order that prevents conflict and ensures not only our safety but the safety of our Armed Forces.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, we have already heard this evening that the Army is over 4,000 men under strength. I must admit that I thought the figure was closer to 5,000 than 4,000, but I accept the Minister's figures. One of the ways of dealing with this is retention of the more experienced servicemen. It also means that it is essential that injured or sick servicemen should receive the best treatment possible promptly in order to be returned to their units as quickly as possible.
Where service means that the health of men's families is not properly looked after, it is likely that these men will leave the Army. I understand that there are problems with the provision by the Health Alliance of care for our troops and their families in Germany. I am advised in this matter by one of our medical officers in Germany who has experience of the current situation. I hope that the Government will consider these concerns in their defence review.
I am advised that the majority of specialties are now provided by German medical consultants, with whom there is a clear cultural and language barrier. It is also clear that the German doctors, who are all civilians, have no understanding of the associated military medical interface.
I am told that certain out-patient services, notably dermatology, plastic surgery and ENT surgery, are supposedly still provided by UK civilian or military consultants. There are, however, no scheduled clinics in those specialties and Army doctors therefore have no routine access to those out-patient clinics. Due to the absence of UK consultants in Germany and the fact that the German consultant system is not organised in the same way as our familiar UK system, it is virtually impossible for doctors to access specialist opinion in difficult or complex cases. That is especially so as any
I am told that waiting times for the specialties that are provided by the Germans are reasonable. However, waiting times for the specialties such as dermatology, plastic surgery and ENT surgery are appalling as there is just no clinic available because there is no consultant. Some patients have been waiting for five months for appointments.
Rather seriously, I understand that certain garrisons in Germany have no access--I repeat "no access"--to an emergency ophthalmology service. The consequence for a soldier or dependant suffering major eye trauma that requires immediate specialist treatment out of normal working hours does not bear thinking about. I am informed that there are major differences between German and UK national drug formulas. Many drugs prescribed to our soldiers and their dependants by the German doctors are not familiar to our UK doctors. No doctor should prescribe or advise any form of treatment with which he is unfamiliar. In fact I am told that it may be illegal for one of our doctors to prescribe a drug with which he is not familiar.
Major problems therefore arise when a German doctor advises treatment with which UK doctors are not familiar, and vice versa. Again, that is especially dangerous when patients are discharged from German hospitals outside normal working hours. UK doctors are frequently put in the impossible situation of having admitted a patient to hospital for specialist care and then being unable to carry out the recommendations of the specialist because they are unfamiliar with the advice that is given. That strikes me as being thoroughly unsatisfactory. I am told that it seems clear to most of our doctors with the British forces in Germany that soldiers and their dependants are clearly unhappy with the current provision for their medical care. That is manifest by the fact that formal complaints are at an all time high. The technical service provided by the Germans is not in question; rather, it is the cultural differences, administrative indifference and apparent lack of awareness by the health authority, the Army and the MoD that such problems exist that is at the root of their concern and discord.
I suspect that if patients were aware of things such as the lack of an emergency opthalmology service, dermatology consultant and many other purely medical issues, the Army's existence in Germany would become untenable as so many soldiers with families would be leaving and moving home.
There are also problems for service families in the UK. Those problems are caused by families following husbands and fathers who are posted from one NHS trust catchment area to another. On posting, patients waiting for treatment go automatically to the bottom of the waiting list of the new area's NHS hospital. I know of one young child who is waiting for an operation to correct a squint. I believe that it is a minor, simple operation of putting a tuck in a muscle. She is on her third waiting list for that operation. I am told that her father has been warned that he is due to posted yet again
On a different subject, and one upon which I shall end, in his opening remarks the Minister indicated that the proportion of GDP that we now spend on the Armed Forces is the same or less than we were spending in the mid-1930s. I hope that he and his colleagues will study their history and remember what happened in 1939. We were not prepared and not ready for the invasion of the Falklands by the Argentine forces. Neither did we expect there to be war in the Gulf. We should have strong enough, large enough and well-enough funded defence forces to be prepared for any emergency.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, there has been much publicity recently about the Army's initiative to increase the number of ethnic minorities within its ranks. It is a subject upon which the Minister touched. In particular, the Household Cavalry, my former regiment, has been the target of some misleading press attention over its record in that regard. The issue is being addressed seriously by the Household Cavalry. The regiment regards the recruiting of members of ethnic minorities as its top priority apart from its operational commitments. The regiment is also determined to ensure that any latent racism is firmly stamped out so that those who join are treated in an equal way to other soldiers. The Household Cavalry is keen to recruit anyone of any persuasion and cultural background who is good enough.
In the context of the Household Cavalry Regiment, it is appropriate to note the extraordinary degree of professional skill developed in the regiments of the Household Cavalry and Royal Armoured Corps and to say something about the high cost-effectiveness of that capability. Manoeuvre warfare, which is the operational posture of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, is the most demanding of war-fighting scenarios. All elements of our mobile forces have a part in the ARRC, but the cutting edge is formed by our armoured regiments.
The tank regiments are presently equipped with Challenger 1 which will soon be replaced by Challenger 2, arguably the best tank in the world and one with demonstrated capability of hitting six separate targets all at different ranges in just 26 seconds. The training needed to enable those regiments to use such powerful equipment to its full effect is arduous and complex. Owing to the shortage of young officers, the tactical handling of tanks at troop level is often the responsibility of a sergeant or corporal. So technical skill and leadership among the non-commissioned ranks has to be of the highest standard. The result of this professionalism is that armoured troops can be and are employed across a full spectrum of military operations. They are frequently deployed as infantry in Northern
These regiments are in constant cycle, taking them from their primary employment in the ARRC through the other roles developed by necessity and circumstance. In the past, that has included such diverse employment as acting firemen on Green Goddesses and then back to their tanks and reconnaissance vehicles. It is only the very highest standards of leadership, discipline and training which make this commendable versatility possible. This professionalism is also demanded of their families, who have to cope on their own for extended periods.
We tend to think of all three services in terms of their primary equipment; frigates for the Royal Navy, combat aircraft for the Royal Air Force and tanks for the Army. That is the effect of making the tank a kind of totem or symbol of military power and thus the first target whenever cuts in defence spending are considered. The tank fleet has already been reduced by 47 per cent. since 1989.
In terms of value for money for taxpayers, and as a compliment to the oft-berated procurement system, it is worth noting that the development of Challenger 2 cost only one- eighth of the cost invested by General Motors to bring the Vauxhall Vectra into production. The reliability and durability targets for Challenger 2 are three times as great as those for Challenger 1. The operational performance measured in terms of the ability to acquire and hit a target is about five times greater. Despite this dramatic enhancement in performance, Challenger 2 costs in real terms less to develop and the same to buy as its predecessor.
Tanks may be a symbol of military power on land, but they are really an integral part of a capability enabling operations as diverse as the armoured battle to drive the Iraqis from Kuwait at one end of the spectrum to peacekeeping operations in Bosnia at the other.
What is quite certain is that the new and ultra-sophisticated equipment now available for our Navy, Army and Air Force cannot be properly used without the highest standard of prolonged training and those being so trained must be individuals of the highest calibre in terms of intelligence, courage, discipline and morale. It is because our soldiers, sailors and airmen fulfil these requirements that we can be confident that Britain's Armed Forces, despite being smaller than they have been for many decades, make our country one of the most formidable fighting powers in the world.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this has been a good but a long debate. Those of us who are winding up must be hesitant about detaining your Lordships too much longer. I hesitate to speak, having heard so many noble Lords who have served in the Armed Forces. Not only did I not go beyond my school CCF but for many years have been professionally employed as a critic of diplomacy and military forces and on occasions as a lecturer to them. I have been made most aware of the scale of the transformation of international order during
I must apologise to the House for having to spend 40 minutes away from the debate. I chaired a sub-committee at 4.15 p.m., which meant that unfortunately I missed two maiden speeches. I was particularly sorry to miss the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, who was one of the insiders who most helped me as an outside critic during the 1970s and early 1980s.
I wish to touch on four themes which appear to be underplayed in the defence review. The Minister said in opening that the defence review must be foreign policy led. Unless we have a foreign policy led defence review the military dies the death of a thousand cuts. I regret that the Government have not yet published a Green Paper setting out their foreign policy objectives because on the basis of that we could define the military forces that we need. We need a new concept of Britain's place in the world; we need a broader definition of security; we certainly need a new concept of European order; and the Armed Forces which we need should follow from those concepts.
The scale of the transformation since the end of the Cold War has been immense. We lack a national consensus, even a widespread understanding in the public outside, of what that transformation implies for Britain. It was largely taken for granted in the debate that we have a shared understanding of Britain's place in the world; that we are a great power with a global reach; and that we have particular responsibilities. The students who I teach at the London School of Economics were born between 1975 and 1980. With luck, their personal memory goes back as far as 1985, but for most of them the Cold War is an historical memory and Russia is a distant country about which the main fact they know is that it does not work. The idea that it could be a threat to us is almost unthinkable to them. We must provide for them a rationale of why Britain needs a defence policy and what we believe the threats to be.
To my great surprise, I heard my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Judd, say that it is difficult to think of any nation which is more vulnerable to world insecurity than Britain. I thought to myself, "Well, within NATO, I would say Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey for a start". If one goes outside NATO, there are a good deal more. The noble Lord also spoke of Britain's international responsibilities, which I always thought was code for "The white man's burden".
A number of noble Lords said that the threat of Chinese expansionism was something for which Britain had a particular responsibility. I must ask why. If there were severe problems with Arab expansionism in the Mediterranean, would we expect the Indonesians and the Japanese to contribute to a Mediterranean fleet?
I remember as a graduate student hearing Michael Howard give a talk at Chatham House in 1966 on Britain's role east of Suez. A lady in the audience stood up and said, "Yes, but you haven't explained how Britain is going to defend the vital trade route between the Persian Gulf and India". Michael Howard replied, "Madam, if you could explain to me why we should defend it and against whom I should be able to answer your question as to what we might need to do so". There is a danger of assuming that we should continue to shoulder our historic burdens of 20 or 30 years ago when we need to look 20 or 30 years ahead.
My good friend the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, talked about the Swiss Army. Last month I took part in the Churchill Symposium in Zurich and heard a great deal about the crisis of Swiss national identity. It is partly that they have an army which holds the nation together, but they no longer know why it exists because no one threatens Switzerland. By the time we came to the end of the evening and the Mayor of Zurich thanked Coutts for paying for the dinner because, as he explained, Zurich is now almost bankrupt and the problems of how one funds Swiss public expenditure, not to mention Swiss military expenditure, are clearly acute, I was left with a real sense that Switzerland is looking vigorously to the past and is extremely unclear where its future will take it.
Earlier this afternoon, I asked a Starred Question on the teaching of British history in English schools. That seems to me very much part of the same thing. What is our national identity? How do we explain to our younger generation who they are, and why? That is very much part of how we need to rebuild a consensus on defence and foreign policy.
We have heard a certain amount in the debate about the recruitment of ethnic minorities into our Armed Forces. I remember two years ago being with my family in the military cemetery in Monte Cassino with a British tourist party and seeing there a young Asian couple, clearly on their honeymoon, from Birmingham. They were looking lost in that cemetery which, as far as they could see, had absolutely no relevance to them. I went over and showed them that four of the 10 pillars in the middle of the cemetery were inscribed with the names of Indian regiments. They were totally unaware that there had been Indian regiments fighting in the British Army in Italy in the Second World War. That seems to me to be part of how we need to rebuild a sense of national identity on defence and foreign policy without which we cannot have a successful defence review.
We need also a broader concept of security, conflict prevention, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, remarked, the re-orientation of the military, in which the Secretary of State for Defence has been doing some sterling work, particularly with the Russians, democracy building, education and information. That suggests that our defence policy is part of an overall effort in which the
I should love to see a foreign policy annual White Paper and an overseas budget. That is not that radical an idea. I can remember James Callaghan, as Foreign Secretary, suggesting it in April 1974. Unfortunately, he never carried it through. Therefore, how imaginative are this new Government prepared to be? I suggest that for a successful defence review, they need to think much more widely.
Moreover, we need a new concept of European order. We are moving at rapid speed towards the enlargement of NATO by April 1999, in 18 months' time, and we have committed ourselves to a second and potentially a third round of the enlargement of NATO. It seems to me unavoidable that that will transform NATO. It cannot maintain what has been the traditional sense of a North Atlantic Treaty when it becomes much more European and when it extends its reach over what was previously Warsaw Pact territory.
The enlargement of the European Union, sadly slow and not going as fast as it should be, is also a security issue. Consolidating democracy and giving prosperity to those countries makes them much less of a threat to us. If one is talking about potential threats, it seems to me that the countries between Italy and Greece--not just Bosnia but also Yugoslavia, Albania and Macedonia--and the problem of how we handle relations with Turkey, which is a very important but not fully democratic country while being a fellow NATO member, are very much part of how we consolidate our future security. Therefore, we need to make more of European defence co-operation.
The noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, said that it has not worked very well. I wish that he had said a little more about the useful role which has been provided by the Nordic units, the Spanish and Dutch troops in Bosnia, and the Dutch troops in particular who were left high and dry in Srebenica, and now at last also the German troops in Bosnia. We must make European defence co-operation work. Britain must play a much more active part in that.
The question of what Armed Forces we need follows from that. Reading through the press cuttings, I kept coming across the phrase, "We don't want to be a pocket superpower with a bit of this and a bit of that". Clearly we want a military which is more European. As the noble Earl, Lord Effingham, said, that means more "jointery", more interoperability and more concern about how we make the best of co-operation with others.
Therefore, we need a more European and regional reach and not so much a global reach. Ocean Wave was wonderful, but I am not quite sure what they were doing in the South China sea and I am not sure that we necessarily want to get caught up in the defence of the Spratly Islands or Paracel Island, if it really came to it. Do we want a long-term professional military, or should we look rather more at a greater emphasis on part-time soldiers and reserves? I find myself readily teaching Norwegian and Finnish graduate students who have spent a year as part-time soldiers in the Middle East in various peace-keeping forces. Perhaps there is room for us to look at that sort of thing as well.
I conclude by saying--and repeat--that in the absence of foreign policy direction the review will unavoidably be Treasury led. If we cannot provide a new rationale, public support for the current level of spending on defence will shrink. Therefore, a defence review must be first and foremost a foreign policy review.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, from his long experience of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, reminded your Lordships that it is not the custom for later speakers in a debate to congratulate maiden speakers on their performance. He then proceeded to ignore his own advice and I shall do the same. I should particularly like to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his maiden speech. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, described it as constructive. I would add the word "inspiring", and I do not believe that that word is misused.
I had the opportunity two years ago of visiting the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, in the Embassy in Washington with a Royal British Legion delegation at which we discussed the problems of Gulf War disease. I believe that the change in attitude towards problems in the Gulf has arisen from the time of that visit. Belatedly, two years later, I thank the noble Lord for what he and his staff did for us.
During the course of this afternoon, my noble friend Lord Vivian produced a comprehensive and almost all-embracing review of the problems facing the defence of this country at present. There is very little I can add to that. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, on his fascinating speech. I do not agree with all he said but, goodness me, it was good to hear it. We also had the benefit of the enormous and almost unique experience in the medical affairs of our Armed Forces of my noble friend Lord Swinfen.
It is a pleasant custom in your Lordships' House for noble Lords who follow on in a debate to thank the introducer of the debate for introducing this important and relevant subject, whatever it may be, and to express the hope that the House will be better informed at the end of the debate. Realistically, in expecting a reply from the noble Lord, I can express no such hope of that, however important and relevant the debate may be. It is not the fault of the noble Lord; I do not see how he is able to reply. We are sitting here a few months before the publication of the defence review.
We had a debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Vivian in July, and last week, in another place, we had a two-day debate on defence which we are told is an annual event. However, it was magnificently mis-timed in that it took place at this moment before the publication of the Strategic Defence Review at a time when both Houses and, above all, the Ministry of Defence, are in limbo waiting anxiously for the review. Unlike the last administration, this Government never have leaks. We shall remain in ignorance of what will be in the review, though just the odd whisper is coming out.
As I said, to be fair, it is not reasonable to expect anything from the noble Lord today and, except for a statement on the employment of women and the so-called "Gulf Syndrome", those in another place heard nothing last week. They cannot have expected to. In the other place the debate was largely an opportunity for a number of maiden speeches and for honourable Members to express their concern for the defence-oriented industries in their constituencies. That concern is justified because of the unshakeable belief that we are about to see a sizeable cut in the defence budget and in defence procurement.
Ministers tell us that they are bravely fighting the defence case. The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will not be surprised to hear me quote his remark in another place last year, while in Opposition, although he may be surprised that no one else has done so during the debate. The noble Lord then said:
Nevertheless, we heard nothing--unless I was not listening; and I was certainly here--about the defence budget, nor about the foreign policy base of the review. One noble Lord spoke about weapons which will be designed in the light of the tasks that the Armed Forces would be called upon to perform. A defence policy must be designed upon a foreign policy base. As I said, we heard nothing about that and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to help in that respect.
What we have heard so far about the SDR leads me to believe that the Secretary of State has never been involved in any serious business negotiations. He has promised that it will be defence led and not controlled by the Treasury. At the same time he tells us that we cannot reasonably expect an increase in the defence budget; I hope that I never made that mistake with the trade unions. To have said that is to surrender his
Now I come to what I would call the Raymond Chandler novel, the Mystery of the £168 million, which was referred to by various noble Lords. According to the Secretary of State, this fine on the Ministry of Defence comes as a result of the previous year's overspend (the fault, of course, of the Conservative Government), which had to be clawed back. I am afraid that he will have to do better than that in explaining it; particularly as he claims the episode as a triumph--the overspend, he says, was in fact £246 million and he has brought it down to £168 million.
The Minister for the Armed Forces, Mr. Reid, has said that a large part of this alleged 1996-97 overspend is accounted for by an earlier than expected delivery of and payment for goods and services. We do not know how much this is, nor where the rest of the overspend comes from; he has not told us. The Minister believes that absorbing the reduction will be manageable. But, in his words, it will not be without pain. How much pain, and where? From a sitting position, the noble Lord replied to my noble friend Lord Rotherwick that other departments were treated in the same way; but I would ask him, again, whether any other departments which overspent have been treated in the same way? Perhaps the noble Lord could touch on that subject in the course of his reply.
The long time it is taking to get the SDR out is causing a blight in the procurement programme in particular. Those responsible will not rush to get on with a project if there is a fear that it will be cancelled. I hope that the review will lead to smart procurement, which has been referred to, and get rid of what is known as the Downey cycle. Under this, if anyone carries out a feasibility study, he has got to have an end product. You cannot get money for a feasibility study which in the end may say that the project is not feasible. You have got to produce something even if it is not what you want.
Undoubtedly, especially as regards the logistics and background area, there are savings to be made and some may be relatively painless. Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord whether one of the subjects to be considered is the closure of the naval establishments in Bath and their move to the new building being constructed at Abbey Wood, Bristol. Does the noble Lord agree that that would achieve a major saving, including probably 300 civilian staff? Further, have the unions been consulted on that point? I doubt whether they would be very happy about it.
Trident is to be continued, thank goodness. But there is no reason why the Director General Submarines, procuring the Trafalgar class, should not be combined with the Chief Strategic Systems Executive managing Trident. That might persuade one of the services at least not to buy a weapon--Trident in this case--off the shelf
We have been told that many savings can be made by introducing different levels of readiness in the Armed Forces. We are told--indeed, as my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth said in, again, and not surprisingly, a startling speech--that Russia cannot be a threat again within the foreseeable future, certainly two years; and that commitments can be covered at a lowered state of readiness. That may be so, but is it safe?
The £168 million is one blow to the defence budget. A further potential blow arises from the fact that no word has been heard from the Treasury about the continuation of the reimbursement from Treasury contingency reserves of approximately £250 million for the costs of running the British share of the peace campaign in Bosnia. Here I am puzzled and would ask the noble Lord to clarify what seem like two contrary comments. Within 20 minutes last Monday, I heard the Secretary of State in another place and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, in this House, give different replies on the point. The Secretary of State refused to comment until the costs of the Bosnia operation were known, while the noble Baroness stated that, under the current practice, any need would fall on the contingency reserve at least until June 1998. The Secretary of State ought to be able to reach an agreement with the Treasury and his own Ministers on at least the principle of the thing. The defence budget is not expected to allow for war.
However, if I have got it right--and I am open to correction from the Minister--the defence budget is likely to be down by nearly half a billion pounds, even if the Secretary of State thinks that he has held it steady.
The Government have confirmed that the fourth Trident will be built and they are committed to the Eurofighter. Do they also commit themselves to the systems which both those weapons demand? If so, that will be a considerable chunk out of the budget, a chunk which is non-negotiable. What effect will that have on the review as a whole?
The Territorial Army is at present shaking in its boots, or rather in its non-existent Land Rovers whose absence, I understand, can be laid at the door of the noble Lord because of some problems with exhaust emissions. Also afeared are the King's Troop, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment and all who carry out ceremonial duties.
In last week's debate there was some disagreement about increasing delays in the issue of export licences for military material. To be totally fair, I understand that the problems here do not arise in the Ministry of Defence but in the Foreign Office or the DTI. I am told that the delays are largely due to the establishment by this Government of a Foreign Office ethical desk. Under the previous Government the target was to get licences approved in 20 days. The figure is now far higher and getting worse. Companies such as Vickers, which hope to be selling large numbers of tanks to Turkey, can look after themselves as they are big enough. However, small
Paynes Wessex--which I thought had its big night last night--is seeking a follow on licence for flares for life boats. That company has been waiting for 100 days. These delays are immensely damaging to the British defence industry but they are not, to be fair, the fault of the Ministry of Defence, as I have said. It is suspected that the other offices I have mentioned are being deliberately obstructive. One end user certificate was rejected because it was written in French and another because something had been written on the back of the certificate. If applications are to be rejected, so be it, but the companies concerned should at least be told what is happening.
We have heard today from many noble Lords who know much more about the requirement of the services and service procurement than I do. Some time ago the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, said that the problem in another place was that almost no one had had their hair parted by a bullet. The noble Lord has clearly had his parted by a 25 pounder. That is an important point and I hope that all Ministers and the Chancellor in another place will take note of what has been said here.
I apologise for speaking for rather too long. In conclusion, I wish to refer to a matter which has been raised by a number of other noble Lords, particularly the mafia from the Scots Guards which exists in this House. This matter is not solely regimental business but is deeply involved with the morale of the Armed Forces. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway pointed out, people in the forces are in difficulty because of the law on homicide.
Guardsmen Fisher and Wright of the Scots Guards were convicted of murder in September 1992. The murder victim who was carrying a bag and who tore out the patrol commander's radio was shot while running away from a patrol who shouted numerous warnings before firing. These events have been relayed in your Lordships' House and in another place on a number of occasions. I shall not go into them any more except to say that Wright and Fisher have now been in prison for more than five years. Last year they applied for a judicial review of the Northern Ireland Office decision that the case should not be reviewed until the end of 1998. Mr. Justice Girvan quashed that decision and ordered that the two cases should be freshly considered according to the precedents set in the cases of Privates Clegg and Thain, who were released after fewer than four years.
This year Mr. Justice Girvan ordered the Northern Ireland Office not to wait until October but to reconsider the case immediately. This was overturned in the Court of Appeal and last month the Life Sentence Review Body gave certain advice to the Secretary of State as a result of which she ordered that the guardsmen's case should not be reviewed until October 1998. I ask the Minister to tell the House what the advice was which
Last February I was given a categorical assurance in this House by the then Minister that this was solely a judicial matter and must remain so. As things stand, this assurance would seem to be being breached, albeit by a different government. There is a widespread belief, both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, that the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland dares not, for political reasons, offend her friends, Adams and McGuinness, and the failure to release the men is part of the peace process.
The decision on whether to let them out is purely a judicial matter. I hope that Mr. Justice Girvan's judgment will carry some weight, particularly if it is supported--and I do not know this--by the Life Sentence Review Body, and that the men will be released in the near future, certainly before October 1998. I look forward to hearing the noble Lord replying to the debate. He has a difficult task and a great deal to do for which he has my fullest sympathy. I wish him luck and hope that he can give many of us much satisfaction.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, it is an extremely difficult task to reply to a debate which has run for well over five hours and has contained so many distinguished contributions on many different subjects. I am sure that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not succeed in replying to all the points that have been raised this evening although I give your Lordships an assurance that, as on previous occasions, I shall write to any noble Lord whose points I have not managed to cover in the course of my remarks.
It is an enormous pleasure to be able to welcome to this House the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. It is one of my great regrets that I was never at the Ministry of Defence when he was in a senior position there. It goes without saying that we all look forward to his regular contributions, and as one noble Lord said, not just on defence matters. I wish to pay him the compliment of starting my remarks by referring to his speech in some detail. I am glad to say that he began by welcoming the wide consultation that the Government have undertaken on the strategic defence review. He also welcomed the fact that we understand the need to maintain the ability for high intensity conflict. I agree entirely with him that it is far easier to slip down the path from high intensity to low intensity capability rather than to struggle back up in the other direction. I take his point that we need to analyse precisely what we mean by high intensity conflict. I agree also with him--I hope he does not think it is patronising that I agree with him--that much rethinking is needed because many of the old post Cold War assumptions need to be overturned and looked at afresh.
It is my second great pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, to your Lordships' House. I am doubly pleased to be able to do so in light of the Bench that he has decided to make his home during his time here. It is not for me to say anything which could possibly add to the distinction of his public service. On this occasion, I join with him in his admiration for British forces. As he said, they are the most admired in Europe. The noble Lord will know full well in how high a degree of admiration they are held in the United States. That is a matter of enormous assistance to this country's foreign policy objectives. He will know as well as I do some of the remarks made by General Schwarzkopf at the end of the campaign in the Gulf as to the quality of the contribution that our forces uniquely made--I emphasise the word "uniquely"--alongside American forces in that campaign.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord that the democracies in eastern Europe need all the help we can get. I was glad he welcomed the initiative of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in this new programme of defence diplomacy. Needless to say, I also welcome his interest in conservation matters. I think that there may be a time when I shall need his support in this House very vigorously.
I turn to the beginning of the debate. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, knows better than to expect me to anticipate in detail the findings of the defence review. But he knows perfectly well my views on the need for this country to keep a credible minimum nuclear deterrent. I should not be at this Dispatch Box if I did not think that this Government shared precisely my views on those matters.
The noble Lord raised the question of the two servicemen in Northern Ireland, as did several other Members. It has been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. I must make it clear to the House that this is not a matter for defence Ministers. It is a matter for Northern Ireland Ministers. It is in your Lordships' discretion whether you wish to make inquiries of Ministers from that department in this House. I am simply not prepared to comment on that question today, although I fully understand the concern that is felt by Members in all parts of the House.
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