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Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, is it not the custom in your Lordships' House for Ministers on the Front Bench to answer for the Government, not for individual departments? The noble Lord is answering as much for the Northern Ireland Office as for the Ministry of Defence in this matter.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am coming to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in a moment, if I may. I was going to thank the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, for having written to me about this. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, that when he was on his feet I had inquiries made because no message had come to me that he had wished to raise this subject. As far as I can make out, I am afraid that his advances to our Government Whip's Office seem to have become lost somewhere in the woodwork. I have had no notice whatever that he was going to raise the matter.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene. I wholly accept without reservation everything the noble Lord has said. But will the House accept that I gave specific notice to the Government Chief Whip that I was going to ask the question, and he told me that he would pass it on? It is all very well; one either cares about this situation or one does not. The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, does. I do. What are we going to do about it?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I can only apologise to the noble Lord and say that I received no communication. Of course I totally accept his assurance that he passed a message to the Government Whips Office. I hope he accepts my assurance, speaking at this Dispatch Box, that no message reached me on that account.
I turn to other matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. I am happy to confirm that the Government very much support the cadet organisations. The matter was referred to by one of his noble friends as to whether they would be part of the strategic defence review. The answer is that they are not part of the Armed Forces and they will not come under the strategic defence review.
I turn now to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Vivian. I could not agree with him more that the third world countries will be able to deploy sophisticated weapon systems. As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, the world is not necessarily a safer place than it was at the time of the Cold War, not least because, although we may not be up against the forces of the Warsaw Pact, we shall be up against other countries. They will deploy weapons of the capability that the Warsaw Pact forces used to have at their disposal and regularly modernised. It is for that reason that this country must have an equipment capability of the highest order into the foreseeable future.
The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, mentioned the lead time for new weapons being some 15 years. We hope very much to bring that interval between different generations of weapon systems down. Even more important, what we hope to do in the improvement of our procurement systems is that, instead of making huge quantum jumps in capability in weapon systems, a mid-life improvement for future generations, we shall introduce incremental improvements throughout the life of weapon systems and thereby reduce the many dislocations that the MoD, as the final customer, has in getting and keeping its weapon systems at the level of capability that the Armed Forces deserve.
I also take the noble Lord's point that you can have too high a degree of readiness because it can undermine training arrangements. I do not think the noble Lord needs to worry whether there will still be tanks available to Her Majesty's Army in 10 years' time.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked whether the defence of the realm was the overriding priority of this Government. All I can do is recommend that he reads an article in the Daily Telegraph by the Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition, just before the general election. The article makes it absolutely clear how high a priority he places on the defence of the realm. I think we shall see that reflected in the strategic defence review in the fullness of time.
I was therefore a little surprised to hear the noble Lord refer to a proposed massive depletion in funding. I am not sure exactly what he meant. However, if he was referring, as other noble Lords did, to the fine imposed on the Ministry of Defence recently, let me say this clearly. I do not wish to make a partisan point about it; it is a question of history. That fine arose because of overspending in the Ministry of Defence under the previous government. It was calculated according to a methodology that was agreed by the previous government.
The Ministry of Defence was not the only department that suffered a fine last year for those reasons. The Department of Trade and Industry also did. It was not a matter of singling out the Ministry of Defence at all; it was not a piece of opportunism. It followed almost mechanistically from the previous arrangements. The fact that the money then became available to the Treasury was extremely useful for this Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, put it, in helping to meet their commitments to the National Health Service in some of the difficulties which that department faces.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, raised the question of Trident penetration capability. I do not believe that he has anything to worry about. I can also reassure him that there is no prospect under this Government of the three services being merged, as happened in Canada a few years ago.
I was particularly grateful to my noble friend for his remarks in relation to the dangers of proliferation of other weapons of mass destruction. We often tend to focus far too exclusively on things nuclear without looking at the capabilities being developed in other parts of the world by malevolent people. With respect to both chemical and biological weapons the agents can be dispersed easily and the capabilities acquired more cheaply and secretly than the capabilities in the nuclear field. Our debates on these matters will be much better informed if we keep in mind that there are dozens of countries in the process of acquiring or which already possess an aggressive chemical capability and are hoping to possess an aggressive biological capability as well. I fully seize my noble friend's point that if we will the end, we must will the means.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Park, that one of the reasons for poor recruitment is poor public perception of the Armed Forces and their uncertain future--that is one of the matters we hope to address in the review--and their reduced status in this country. I am not sure that I agree about the perception of outdated imperial privilege, but there is a perception of the forces not being as friendly and receptive to ethnic minority groups as we would wish. That is another factor that has inhibited recruitment.
In that respect I particularly want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, who spoke of the Household Cavalry. I agree with his remarks. I am aware of what is happening and that is why I was able to stand at the Dispatch Box a little while ago and tell the House that I thought matters would improve in areas where we have not had as happy a record as we should have done. There has never been any doubt under any government about Ministers' commitment to a colour blind Armed Forces. There has never been any question that the chiefs of staff under both governments have been committed to that. The problem has been getting further down into the system to the level of colonel, company sergeant major and people like that who have the greatest influence in these matters. I am sure that the messages that have been sent in recent months, endorsed by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, will produce considerable and dramatic improvements in this area before long.
Returning to what the noble Baroness was saying, it is not a case of land disposal, which includes firing ranges, being forced by the Treasury. All these issues come to me for consideration, and I can assure the noble Baroness that we have surplus capacity of firing ranges. It only made sense operationally and financially--we must operate a tight ship--to make the savings that we were planning to make.
I am acutely aware that I have detained the House for nearly 20 minutes and I still have not touched on many other contributions by noble Lords. I can only apologise. I am sure your Lordships will not want me to stand here for a further half hour. I therefore crave the indulgence of the House and welcome to the Dispatch Box the
I want to make one matter clear to the noble Lord. The reason for this debate is that debates in both Houses were intended by my right honourable friend to offer an opportunity to noble Lords to make a contribution to the defence review. He is quite right. I did say not so long ago that the country spends too little on defence. That still remains my view and, like any departmental Minister, I fight to try to get more expenditure for the matters for which I am responsible, just as an education Minister or a health Minister would. So I make no apology for having said that.
The noble Lord talked about savings to be made in logistics. That is an area where I would disagree with him. I believe that in the recent past we have made far too many savings in logistics, supplies and maintainability. We have bought platforms that we have not been able to operate because of logistic shortcomings. I think that, if at all, the balance will have to be changed in the years ahead.
There was one other question that was asked by him about the naval officers in Bath and whether they were going to be moved to Abbey Wood. It is certainly the intention to move them, and the second phase of the move is set to be completed by 1999 with the transfer of about 900 posts from Bath and Copenacre and we are looking at the possibility of needing a new building to accommodate all the staff, so the dates may have to be revised. We expect to have a decision early in the New Year.
I must not sit down without referring to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. That would be a terrible thing to do in the light of the cosy relations which the Liberal Democratic Party has with--I do not know whether that is a term I am allowed to use in this House--the other place.
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