|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, so be it. The noble Lord asked me whether or not I was prepared to say that we would build the carriers. I am prepared to say that we will build the carriers. That is the commitment of the whole of this Government, and that also involves Treasury approval. We expect the very earliest expenditure on the longest lead items of research work for the carriers in the next couple of years.
The noble Lord, quite fairly, asked me which Territorial Army units and centres will be closed. I cannot answer that question today because the process of working out the implications for individual units has only just started. Noble Lords will wish to know that in principle we are hoping to enhance the roles of the specialist Territorial Army members. We will make the most modern equipment available for them for the first time for their training.
The noble Lord quite rightly said that we needed confidence building within the armed services. I quite agree with him. Had he attended the press conference earlier today to which I have referred he would have heard the Chief of the Defence Staff welcoming, unambiguously, the three-year commitment from the Treasury as giving stability for the future of the services. To quote the Chief of the Defence Staff, it will enable security planning to be carried out,
The noble Lord asked whether the Government will now get on with it. That is quite right; that is the test. Although we have sweated a fair amount of blood over the past year or so in producing this review, the acid test will be whether the Government succeed in implementing it, and that will be a matter for your Lordships' scrutiny as the months roll by.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, paid a compliment to our proposals in "jointery". I should like to pay tribute to the role played by the First Sea Lord personally and the Chief of Air Staff in overcoming old habits, customs and prejudices in both their services. I know that the Secretary of State and other Ministers are intensely grateful to these two distinguished officers and the other military chiefs for their role in helping us to reach the conclusions we did in the defence review and for selling those conclusions to the individual men and women in their services.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, also asked about Europe, the United States and NATO. All our NATO partners were consulted on many occasions in the course of this review. It remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government's to develop the European security and defence identity so long as it is clearly understood that our primary security rests with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
The main thrust of this review, in addition to its developed "jointery", has been to give our forces an expeditionary capability that they have not previously enjoyed. The noble Lord asked whether this would be used independently or with combined forces. We anticipate that overwhelmingly it will be used with other countries in combined forces. He asked whether it is likely to be used beyond the Mediterranean and the Gulf. It is not for me to predict where our forces will be deployed or where the next crisis will arise. However, we have exercised with five power defence agreement countries. We had a magnificent exercise out of the Pacific last year, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware.
In relation to the discussion with the French on joint nuclear capability, I know that my right honourable friend frequently talks with his French colleague and from time to time they no doubt discuss "nuclear questions". But these matters are conducted above my pay grade and I am sure that if I did know about them the noble Lord would not expect me to disclose the details.
Lord Bramall: My Lords, I should like, in the face of that interesting, positive and imaginative Statement, to congratulate Ministers on their brave, effective and apparently successful attempt to conduct this review largely from the top downwards, based on foreign policy commitments and required capability, and not, as so often in the past, from the bottom, regulated almost from the outset on the basis of the resources deemed by the Treasury to be necessary.
Of course it is early days, and there has been no opportunity to study the review. Obviously, not everything in it will satisfy everyone and no doubt some parts of it are better than others. However, the review, commendably, appears to have maintained in our Armed Forces a modern up-to-date combat capability for the kind of commitments, both expected and unexpected, which may well confront us as we move into the 20th century and play our appropriate part in international affairs. It has remembered our historic maritime role and has maintained a modern amphibious capability, which I have always considered to be important. It appears to be tackling our logistic sustainability, Army manpower
However, I ask for three points of clarification. Does the £600 million to be saved annually by 2001 include the amount received from the immense sales of the defence estate? If it does, it seems to me that, after a major review like this, to have held the line at that figure represents a considerable achievement.
Can the Minister enlighten us further on one area that still gives great cause for concern, and that is the substantial reduction, for very small financial reward, of our virtually irreplaceable Army reserve forces? Can he say how much of the reduced figure of 40,000 will be available for combat units of the Territorial Army infantry and yeomanry after the numbers required and earmarked for sustainability and logistic backing have been taken away; and does that figure include the University Training Corps regiments? The former point is important because if too many combat units, which represent the heart and spirit of the Territorial Army as well as the nationwide umbilical cord into the civilian population and the support for cadets, are removed the whole stuffing will go out of the reserve forces.
If this review represents, as is claimed, the most sweeping, radical and most complete review our Armed Forces have ever had, can the Minister give an assurance that uncertainty will now be removed and that they can be left to get on with their professional job, to recruit up to their maximum numbers and to build up their morale? It would be intolerable if, after all that has happened over the past eight to nine years, they were to find themselves next year or the year after going round this buoy all over again on some contrived pretext of value for money. I am sure a statement that there are to be no more reviews either in this Parliament or the next would do a great deal to restore flagging morale and to enhance recruitment.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord, whom I hold in great respect and affection, as he knows, for his kind and generous remarks about our review. He is right. Our expeditionary capability and our amphibious capability lie at the heart of our proposals. I am delighted to be able to put them in front of your Lordships.
It might be of interest to your Lordships to have a few more details of what we propose for the Defence Medical Services. We propose to procure, as a matter of urgency, a 200-bed primary casualty receiving ship, with a second one in the longer term; 800 more field beds across all three field hospitals will be brought to a higher state of readiness; the Army's regular ambulance evacuation capability will be enhanced; and an additional regular RAF aero-medical evacuation flight and 18 air escort flights will be established. We hope to recruit some 200 specialists and other medical staff into the Defence Medical Services. Within about three years we expect to be spending an additional £40 million a year on the Defence Medical Services.
I agree with the noble and gallant Lord that it is crucial that uncertainty be removed. I can assure him that it is not the intention of anyone at the MoD, or anywhere else in government as far as I know, to have another review in this Parliament, and I hope not in the next one either.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page