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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I tried to make this plain, but I failed. I think the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is worrying and troubling in vain. I suggested that my door would be open. It has been a rapidly revolving door. I had the most helpful submissions from your Lordships from all over the House—some in writing and some face-to-face. All of them, without exception, were well worth listening to.

I suggested on the last occasion that I would take soundings to see if there was a consensus for a way forward. It would have been absurd to suggest that everyone had to put their ideas forward by Friday. It would never have been accepted or put forward by me.

Because I knew that your Lordships wanted to be kept fully in the picture, I asked whether we could find a consensus about a way forward—in other words, process. I am most obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who put it better than I have.

I was hoping, if circumstances allowed—to use the words I used earlier—to be able to come back to your Lordships' House next Wednesday. I hope that reassures the noble Lord.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware how welcome the thrust of the Government's policies is? If he made a single error in what he said, it was when he referred to the fact that the issues have been discussed for the past 10 years. I would suggest it has been a lot longer than that. Many of us are absolutely delighted.

Does my noble and learned friend further agree that of course the opposition parties, particularly the Conservatives, are entitled to have a bit of political point scoring? That is all they have. Some of us are waiting to see what constructive views will be expressed by the opposition parties on these proposals. We want them and we want them quickly.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dubs put it admirably well.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords—

The Countess of Mar: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Cross Bench!

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I speak as somebody who is totally neutral politically and who is well known to be. In view of the fact that I could not

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be in the House last week and I got all my information from the radio and newspapers, perhaps I may ask the Leader of the House, whether he accepts that there was a terrible hiatus over Thursday and Friday.

Now that the dust has settled and information is coming out, that is ok. However, he must admit that there was a very bad presentation of the changes on Thursday and that we deserve to have that acknowledged instead of denied.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am so sorry that the noble Countess was not here when I made my Statement. On two occasions I said—I think I am quoting myself accurately—that there were feelings of "mortification", "disappointment" and anger and a feeling that we have not been treated with proper courtesy, and that if that were the position, I regretted it and I apologise. I do not think I can be more straightforward than that.

Defence Policy

3.56 p.m.

Lord King of Bridgwater rose to call attention to defence policy and the future of the Armed Forces; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the first defence debate that we have had since the end of the Gulf conflict and the actions in Iraq. I know that your Lordships will join me in paying tribute to the outstanding work of the Armed Forces in that campaign.

Whatever criticism there may be of the Government, the wisdom of their actions, their use of intelligence or any other aspects, there has been universal acclaim for the commitment, courage, enthusiasm and good humour of our forces during that remarkable campaign. On a personal note, and I know I speak for every Member of the House, I welcome back our noble friend Lord Attlee from his own personal involvement in that campaign.

It is in some ways a watershed in defence policy and important that this House, with its accumulated experience and, I hope, wisdom on these matters, is extremely well able to contribute. As somebody who has been increasingly critical of the lack of experience of wider fields in another place in so many different aspects, I commend to your Lordships the Hansard of Thursday's debate in the House of Commons, which included contributions from a number of recently serving officers. There is now a greater strength on the Commons Benches of people who have served recently in the Armed Forces than there was previously.

I say this is a watershed in defence policy because I understand there is likely to be a White Paper. One of the contributors to that White Paper will undoubtedly be the Treasury. My concern at this time, when there will be important analysis to be made and important lessons to be learnt, is that we may commit a similar mistake to that which we have made on previous occasions—that is, trying to make too precise an

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assessment from the analysis and coming up with what we think are very clear determinations in which the Treasury may see opportunities for further economies. The present plans are for a further reduction in the proportion of GNP going to defence.

There is a real danger. With great respect to the distinguished, gallant and noble Members here present, Armed Forces are not always their own best spokesmen. The Minister will accept that the Government are not over-endowed with Ministers with practical experience in the field of defence, although I recognise his own efforts to acquaint himself with the portfolio with which he was previously not familiar. The same is true, unfortunately, of the Secretary of State.

In that situation, there is a real danger that lessons can be misunderstood. I have fears about the Treasury because it has been said in this respect that the problem with the Armed Forces is that they always deliver. Unlike one or two of our other public services, they have a very high record of delivery. It takes place usually against the background of a complaint about shortages in budgets and difficulties over equipment and weaponry. And yet they deliver. That very easily breeds the feeling in the Treasury that those chaps are making it up, that they always over-complain and that they can always be screwed down a little bit more. It would be a very serious situation for this country if our Armed Forces were ever to find themselves in a position where they could not deliver and the Treasury was found to be wrong. That might then be too late.

We should not entertain for one moment the illusion that it is all over. I read in this morning's Financial Times of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, the Secretary of State for Overseas Development, cancelling a trip to Baghdad, as it is too dangerous to go there. She referred in that article to the daily sniper attacks, to the daily casualties among American forces, to the worry that looting, which was erratic and chaotic, now appeared to be more organised and more measured in Baghdad, and to the very dangerous situation that exists there.

Returning to the question of whether it is all over, I draw the House's attention to the measured words of the Minister for the Armed Forces. On being asked of the likely length of time that we might be required to maintain our forces in Iraq, he said:

    "A number of objectives remain outstanding in Iraq. British forces will maintain an appropriate presence in Iraq for as long as necessary to achieve our aims to helping Iraq to become once again a viable and self-standing state".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/6/03; col. 869.]

Those are admirable sentiments, but it was exactly the right answer. He expressed no idea how long we may have to be there. It was exactly the same answer as was given by a senior Pentagon official to a US Senate committee, which had asked exactly the same question about how long American forces were likely to have to be there.

One has only to look at the pressures on our Armed Forces and our commitments. It was only yesterday in this House that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, accepted the fact that many parts of Afghanistan are

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in a lawless state and that the writ of Kabul does not run. The risk of reinvolvement of our forces in one capacity or another is obviously very real.

Only last week in the House of Commons, there was a Statement of a deployment to the Congo. Admittedly, at this stage, it consists only of engineers and Hercules transports, but we have previously entered into such deployments. We went into Cyprus under UN auspices in 1964 and we are still there. We went into Northern Ireland in 1968–69. Each one of those deployments has lasted more that 30 years. They were thought at the time to be short-term assignments, but they have continued, and substantially. There was a serious report this week of a substantial bomb—not the one which may have been intended for Londonderry, but the one which was apprehended in the Irish Republic. The report suggested that it was intended for the mainland and possibly for London. That is a warning that that situation is far from resolved.

Against that background, our first lesson should be about the pressures that continue to exist on our Armed Forces and the demands that may be made on them. Our second should be about the adequacy of our resources to meet them. In May last year, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, said,

    "Recruiting targets are not being met; ships and regiments are not properly manned; training is being reduced; and equipment is ageing and often not available. As regards defence, there has been disinvestment. All that, I remind noble Lords, has been happening at a time when to many of us it appears that the threats to our security are becoming even greater.—[Official Report, 15/5/02; col. 311.]

At that time, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, had no idea that we would be deploying the scale of forces that we did in Iraq for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

With the greatest respect to the Minister, there quite clearly are serious problems of shortages in resources. They did exist in the campaign in Iraq. I would urge Ministers most sincerely and the Secretary of State, in light of his response recently to the Select Committee, that the Government discipline of instant rebuttal of any criticism that is ever made of them is not always the best approach, particularly when the forces on the ground know the true situation. Both Air Marshall Burridge and Major-General Peter Wall have indicated that there were shortages and problems. It is far better to own up—that theme was echoed a little earlier in this Chamber—and to recognise that if there are problems, it inspires greater confidence and boosts morale to admit them. My impression is that as the Select Committee continues its inquiries, a rather different story will emerge.

We still have 20,000 troops in Iraq. Some 25,000 have returned. I understand that some are still in temperate climate clothing and black boots. If that is true, it is scandalous. I was particularly disappointed to hear another comment that the food was no good. One should remember the old adage about the Army marching on its stomach. One claim I can make, from the first Gulf War, is that our food was much better

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than that of the Americans. We used to run out of supplies because of American forces joining the back of our queues to avoid eating their meals-ready-for-eating or MREs. That quality appears not to have been sustained.

The word "overstretch" has been echoed many times in your Lordships' House, but it is clear that with the pressures that exist now on our forces, and the commitments that they are being required to make, we are facing a very serious situation. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, has said,

    "If you asked us to go into a large-scale operation in 2004, we couldn't do it without serious pain. We must allow ourselves time to draw breath. If it is to be something on the scale that we have done this time, it would have to be something that the government is convinced is pretty important because I would tell them it would take a while to recuperate".

That was the previous Chief of the Defence Staff. The current Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Michael Walker, said almost exactly the same thing, I understand, to a Select Committee last week. There is a risk in our present situation. We have taken on contingent liabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we might find ourselves having to take urgent action at a time of difficulty, shortfall in Army numbers and pressures on resources.

My concern is about both the regular Army and its need not only to deploy but also to have the training and preparation for deployment, and the pressure also on the TA reservists, which has surprised your Lordships. We are still deploying fresh elements of TA reservists to Iraq. That is clearly putting considerable pressure on a number of reservists. Difficulties arise about ensuring that with the length of time that they are being asked to serve. When the Minister for the Armed Forces was challenged on this in another place, he made the point which I used to make: it is very important for people in the community to support the TA. It is very important to encourage your employees to serve and be prepared to serve your country. He gave the answer which I used to give: we are called upon at times to deal with threats to this nation. Many people believe that they joined the TA for the defence of their country.

I am not seeking to argue whether this was an improper use of the TA. However, when the TA gets involved in quite long tours of duty, it raises an impossible problem for many employers and TA reservists. In a most interesting speech, Dr Andrew Murrison, the Member for Westbury in another place, himself a former Royal Navy doctor, quoted a recent survey of Territorial Army personnel who had been sent to the Gulf. Eighty per cent expected their employers to take a fairly dim view of their deployment in the foreseeable future. Some 63 per cent of the very scarce medical and technical staff said they were thinking of resigning. That would be a very serious matter because in the recent deployments, TA reservists have been a critical and essential element and not merely an add-on. So in this challenge which our Armed Forces face, the need for adequate manpower levels is critical.

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When we looked at the Options for Change programme, issues arose about the Gurkhas. The question was asked, if we cut down British regiments, should we continue with the Gurkhas? I should like to support noble and gallant Lords today who stress the importance of keeping an essential Gurkha element which gives opportunity for further recruitment. There may be a case for seeing if they can make an even bigger contribution than they do currently. Present day actions are of a different nature from those during the Cold War. These actions are very demanding. We expect our forces to move in a seamless way from a war-fighting role into a peacekeeping role; to be policemen at one stage, soldiers another—and even to be firemen, as they were in putting out Gulf fires. These roles do not happen by chance. This country is proud of its forces because they are well trained and capable of taking on anything. If they are stretched or over-committed on operations and do not have sufficient time in which to recuperate, they will not be. Both the previous and present Chief of Defence Staff are pressing the Government to ensure that our forces are properly equipped and trained.

I should like to move to the issue of equipment. An American general involved in the Iraq war remarked that there was not much difference in weaponry used in the first and second Gulf War. What was different was an extraordinary new capability, whether it be digitisation of the battle space or real-time battlefield intelligence. It was the ability to link this extraordinary battlefield knowledge with satellite imagery that made the US contribution so incredibly powerful. They had an overview of knowledge right down to the individual battle tank and armoured vehicle giving a complete picture of the battlefield.

However, the United Kingdom cannot keep up. We are the only nation that can operate closely with the United States and we have great difficulties. I know the Ministry of Defence is trying to enhance the network-centric and digitisation capability. My worry is that this will be expensive. My understanding is that the Treasury is prepared to see that investment being made, provided that economies of manpower are made to compensate. There was a discussion in another place—not denied—about possible losses of further regiments. In the world that we are getting into, one needs both. The challenges faced by our forces are not just to do with sophisticated organised intensive warfare. They are to have boots on the ground and manpower as well. I was never an admirer of the Strategic Defence Review. I am an unashamed admirer of the work done by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent of Coleshill and the then policy director of the Ministry of Defence, Richard Mottram, who led the Options for Change exercise. The SDR was foreign-policy led, with lots of good consultation and a precise idea from the Foreign Office of exactly what was needed. What turned up was something quite different. We thought we knew exactly why we needed the TA. John Reid assured me that the Government had specific roles for that organisation—chemical and medical work—but they are needed for infantry roles as well.

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In a phrase I used 10 years ago, I believe the United Kingdom should be a force for good in a dangerous and insecure world. We are right to act in areas in which we would not previously have got involved. If we do that, there has to be a fundamental reassessment by the Treasury. It has to understand that if this is what the Prime Minister seeks of our Armed Forces, then there has to be a fundamental rethink of how we are going to invest, recruit, train and equip. We need to ensure that if we ask our Armed Forces to undertake this role, they have the capability to do it.

I believe this is a very important time. I am fearful that the wrong lessons may be learnt. My interest in proposing this Motion today was to give your Lordships the opportunity to challenge and discuss what are critical issues at a very important time for our country. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I am honoured to follow the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater. The expertise of the noble Lord in matters of defence and intelligence is unequalled. I have no military experience so I shall confine myself to things I do best: conceptualisations of the problem we have.

The noble Lord said that in the forthcoming White Paper the Treasury will make a contribution. I am sure he meant not just conceptual but a large financial contribution. I should like to highlight the economics of defence today. As the noble Lord said very pointedly, our security may be at risk, not because we are likely to be attacked by another country, but by somebody out there doing something which threatens our security. Terrorism is a very peculiar military problem. It is endemic, very often low technology, random, decentralised and hard to pinpoint. If the enemy fought with high-tech weaponry, we could track them down and confront their army with our army. But the enemy wear civilian clothes, use low-tech equipment and—this made possible by new information technology—are completely decentralised. Our security problem is therefore a worldwide and perennial one. It is, in a sense, a war that will never be completely won, but we must go on fighting.

That leads to another observation. During the past four or five years, not only has the nature of war changed; so have the tasks asked of our soldiers. I join the noble Lord in his tribute to their performance in Iraq. Those duties vary between concentrated high-level activity of a conventional kind—in Afghanistan, in Kosovo, in Iraq or in Sierra Leone—and low-level perpetual niggling small intensity activity, which currently occurs in Iraq. We must be capable of meeting both functions.

In the first activity, one may have an advantage of high-tech equipment and be able to substitute high-tech equipment for a few human souls. That is what the Americans rely on. But, for the endemic low intensity and long-run activity—as in Afghanistan and Iraq—we need bodies. I agree with the noble Lord that there is no possible substitution between bodies and equipment.

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I hope that in the forthcoming White Paper the Government will think in a linked way about foreign policy, international development and defence. Again, as the noble Lord said, our soldiers are asked not only to perform military functions and police functions; they are often asked to perform social worker functions. They must be aware of human rights legislation; they must assist in humanitarian help. They have to be aware of local cultural sensitivities about mosques and temples and so on. They must not only be good at what they should be good at; they also need what one might call "multiple knowledge" training in order to perform their tasks. Often, it is not how soldiers act while carrying out their main tasks which leads to problems; it is that they may not have observed a certain human rights requirement or that they proceeded across a mosque in an improper way. That leads to much more fuss than it is worthwhile worrying about.

Defence policy should be thought of jointly with international development and foreign affairs. That could be put to the Treasury. I ask my noble friend one specific question; I am sorry that I have not given him notice. The Treasury made a special contribution in the case of the Iraq war. It was said that the figure might be 3 billion. It would be useful to know how much was involved and what proportion it represented of the normal budget of the Ministry of Defence. That will tell us what flexibility exists in this matter.

I want to say something about recruitment. The noble Lord spoke very tellingly about the problems that TA people experience. They are volunteers. If one thinks in terms of national security, somehow one considers the TA as a local activity. Would it be possible to devise a compensation scheme whereby if TA personnel are asked to be away from their stations for longer than, let us say, one week, employers would be compensated? It is a very simple proposition. It would apply in a number of situations, so why not when TA people are on active service, performing a valuable role and adding to the strength of regular soldiers? It saves our having to recruit a regular soldier. If the Treasury understood sensible economics—I have grave doubts that it does—it would say that that has a real economic value for us and we should compensate employers for such help.

There are difficulties with recruitment of regulars. If so, there must be something wrong with the pay or conditions. We should look at the job in comparison with similar professions, look at where young people of 17 or 18 go and find out what the comparative salary structures are and what we can do to help them be more willing to join the Army.

Furthermore—this may already be happening and I may not know about it, so I apologise if that is so—when people quit the Army I would like to know how much information is kept on file about them. It would be easier to recall to active duty, like a substitute TA, trained people in whom we have invested some capital and who possess the necessary expertise.

I welcome the debate. It always seems to be the case that more resources are required. I know that every government department thinks that more resources

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are required. There has not yet been a Minister who said, "I require less money; you have given me far too much". It is important that we find imaginative ways of organising our defence force in such a way that not only do we get a good bang for the buck, but that we really are able to meet international responsibilities in the most humane and effective way possible. I am sure that when my noble friend replies he will address some of these issues.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I begin by adding my thanks to my noble friend Lord King for initiating this debate today. I wish to associate myself with what he said about the outstanding performance of our Armed Forces in the recent conflict. He pointed out that they always do us proud, despite the difficulties with which they are confronted. The trouble is that the Chiefs of Staff always say "Yes" whenever asked about the possibility of a particular operation. One day they will have to say "No".

I have not hitherto sought to intervene in the various debates and discussions concerning the merits or otherwise of the recent conflict in Iraq. However, I did have some modest responsibility for these matters many years ago, so I hope I may be allowed a brief intervention.

The Government's principal justification for the recent operation was the apparent possession by Iraq of a considerable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. While I remain concerned that nothing of the kind has so far been discovered, that is not an issue that I seek to explore today. Intelligence information is very often less than specific and I am happy to accept, for now at least, that the Prime Minister truly believed what he then told us. But time may cast a different light on this matter. We shall see.

In making his decisions, the Prime Minister evidently attached the greatest importance to our relationship with the United States. I believe he was entirely right to do so. The strength of our so-called "special relationship" has long been the cornerstone of our foreign policy and defence policy. Without their strong support the outcome of both world wars would have been different. Indeed, the Cold War owed much to the strength of the deterrent that they were willing and able to deploy. On our own, we can field less than 10 per cent of their military might. More recently they were even willing to support us in a number of important ways during the Falklands conflict, for example, in circumstances which for them were not straightforward. So I acknowledge and recognise the pressures on the Prime Minister to ensure that we move forward very closely with the United States in these circumstances.

I would like to examine a different point. During my time at the Ministry of Defence we were often asked to give an undertaking that we would never be the first to use nuclear weapons. We always refused to give that undertaking. We would respond by saying that we would never be the first to use any weapons, save in

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response to aggression. Thus it was that we were justified in acting to recover the Falkland Islands and later on in going to the assistance of Kuwait when it was overrun by the Iraqis in 1990.

As it happens, we had the additional cover of appropriate UN Security Council resolutions in both those cases. But it could be argued that such cover was not strictly required. The UN Charter clearly makes provision for acting in self-defence. The Kuwaitis and indeed the Falkland islanders were obviously entitled to seek assistance in defending themselves and we and the other coalition partners—in the case of Kuwait—were entitled to respond to that request.

But the most recent conflict was quite different. While the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General apparently advised that the operation was lawful, he was presumably relying upon the original Security Council Resolution 1441 relating to earlier considerations. None of us outside the Government is aware of exactly what he said—that remains confidential—but while I do not seek to challenge the view of the noble and learned Lord, I have to say that had I still been concerned with these matters, I might have been difficult to persuade.

Be that as it may, whatever may have been the legal justification, it was none the less a pre-emptive strike, not a response to aggression. To the best of my recollection, we have never, for the past 100 years at least, acted in that way. So the Government, rightly or wrongly, have embraced a wholly new doctrine with regard to the use of armed force, which I fear we may come to regret. May I therefore ask the Minister the following questions?

First, is the adoption of this new policy in accordance with the advice of the Chiefs of Staff? I know that is a rhetorical question. Their advice, like the advice of the Attorney-General, is confidential. But I wonder whether noble and gallant Lords who sit in your Lordships' House will have reflected upon that matter? Secondly, do the Government now say that pre-emptive military action is part of their policy? Is it the case that we are now not willing to say, as in former times, that we would never be the first to use any weapon save in response to aggression? Thirdly, if that is so, will the Government define the circumstances in which they consider pre-emptive action to be justified? Does there need to be a demonstrable threat to the United Kingdom, or does it need only to be a threat anywhere in the world, without necessarily affecting us? Are the Government prepared to launch pre-emptive action—as it would seem—simply to remove a regime with which we may all profoundly disagree? If that is so, are there not other regimes in the world at least as objectionable as Saddam Hussein's? I have to repeat: the Government may come to realise that they have unleashed a range of terrible options which we may all come to regret.

I shall make one final point. Up to now the Government have enjoyed the broad support of Parliament and the people in this matter. But we hear, from America at least, that consideration is apparently now being given to similar action elsewhere; for

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example, in Syria or in Iran. I speak only for myself, but my continued support at least should not be taken for granted if such wider action is decided upon.

4.25 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgewater, for introducing this debate. The Motion gives us a wide remit and many of your Lordships will speak very knowledgeably on the breadth of the defence canvas. For my contribution, I wish to concentrate mainly on air power. All three services over many years have had a part to play in its development and application. The foundation of the Royal Air Force 85 years ago stemmed from an appreciation that there was more to air power than the close support, by their dedicated air arms, of ground or sea forces—important as that mission was, and of course still is.

However, for many years before, during and after World War II, the ambitions and forecasts of the effectiveness of independent air power proved, when tested on the anvil of war, to be rather overstated. But that is not the same as to say that air power had no part to play. Then, as today, and for tomorrow, achieving and thereafter sustaining a favourable air situation over ground and sea forces remains a cardinal requirement for success in war. That cannot be achieved solely by relying on air defence. Taking the fight to the enemy is part of that overall air supremacy battle.

With the advent of the latest smart weapons, with the accuracy achieved with the aid of GPS, laser and other guidance methods, we are now on the threshold of realising the enthusiasts' claims. The United States Air Force is transitioning to an all precision weapons force. The RAF is taking rather longer to get there, but recent steps have been in the right direction. Storm Shadow, for example, is a long-range stealthy cruise missile for use against high value, heavily defended targets. Its range is over 250 kilometres.

That allows the launch aircraft to stand well back from the target area. Guided by digital terrain profile matching, on-board GPS, and an imaging infra-red seeker for terminal guidance, Storm Shadow's double warhead's first charge makes a small hole in the building through which the main charge passes before detonating. Used for the first time by No. 617 Squadron, the Dambuster squadron, on 21 March, it has proved to be a great success and has much impressed our American friends. The precision guided bomb, Paveway, is to be further upgraded, as the MoD has just announced, and will provide a night all-weather bomb for the RAF inventory of smart weapons.

One of the most impressive features of the application of air power in the recent Gulf War was the flexibility achieved in target-switching even while the delivery platforms were en route to their target areas. The noble Lord, Lord King, touched upon that point. The latest intelligence gathering from unmanned aerial vehicles and other systems, the ability to fuse and analyse this raw material with great speed, and then put it in usable form to those who

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could act upon it, has never been so slick. Time-sensitive targets demand a special capability to find, fix, track, target and engage, and finally to assess the outcome.

These capabilities are playing and will play a growing part in modern warfare. There are enabling technologies to empower forces, and not only air forces, in this highly technical and pro-active field. I welcome the support that such systems have been receiving from the Government. I hope, that they will also realise how important to success is the GPS system upon which either the aircraft or the weapon, or both, depend. Galileo and the proposed European GPS system therefore deserve full support.

But all is still not as it should be. A Tornado and its crew were lost early in the most recent Gulf conflict to friendly fire. A mid-air collision between two Sea King helicopters led to needless tragic loss of life, as well as depriving the fleet of important protection.

Those and other blue-on-blue tragedies underline the importance of training and good preparation for war. In peacetime there is constant pressure to reduce and limit training time and related activities. Budget pressures restrict flying hours and seagoing time. Larger formation training and joint training are forgone. Those are potentially disastrous savings measures. We may pay a high price in conflict for such economies.

No amount of training can ever recreate the realities of live operations—even red flag training at its most demanding—but the obverse of that coin is that really good training will enable those involved to cope with the additional pressures of live and deadly operations in a more confident and assured way. The same applies for those on the ground or at sea as for aircrews. I hope that Ministers in the MoD and the Treasury will take that point to heart.

The most recent Iraq war was the largest deployment for the Royal Air Force since the Suez campaign almost fifty years ago. The timescale for the deployments was far tighter than in the first Gulf War, when Operation Granby deployment was spread over six months. Operation TELIC preparations were completed in a mere seven weeks. The Royal Air Force contributed more than 100 aircraft. More than 8,000 RAF servicemen took part, and nearly 550 of them were auxiliaries. They were deployed to airfields in no fewer than eight different countries in the region.

It took a remarkable degree of control and co-ordination to ensure that all those men and machines got what they needed when they needed it. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord King, and others: we should be proud of those servicemen and women, who achieved such results.

In the time available, I have dwelt mainly on the RAF's contribution, but all who took part won a remarkable victory. I hope that when the Gulf honours list is published there will be full and generous recognition of the supreme efforts made by all three services in their great military success.

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Although we sing their praises—and rightly—there are, as always, dangers in assuming that the next conflict will go just as well. Where was the Iraqi air force? Fortunately for all three services, it never materialised, so our forces enjoyed a benign air situation. Apart from surface-to air-missiles and some other short-range ground-to-air weapons, the coalition forces met no air threat. But it would be incautious at the least to assume, even as good as coalition air power now is, that the opposition would not be much tougher if there was an effective air opponent.

Our future planning must take account of that, and we must provide for the protection of our forces on land, sea or air in any future conflict. Is there not therefore a serious risk in phasing out the Sea Harriers before the next generation of fixed-wing air defence aircraft is available to defend the fleet? Treasury pressures must be resisted.

Psychological operations in the Gulf War have not received much coverage, but have an interesting and possibly important part to play in future conflicts. I was intrigued to learn that almost 32 million leaflets were dropped on Baghdad and elsewhere. One, virtually useless, statistic is that that consumed as much paper as is needed to manufacture 120,000 toilet rolls—perhaps the one essential of which the Iraqi people were not short during hostilities. I hope that, in time, the effectiveness of such psy-ops measures and others employed will be assessed.

Much can be done. Propaganda is a far from new weapon, as we are all well aware, but communications media ranging from multi-digital TV channels to mobile phones, provide an explosion of visual and aural receivers which should be exploitable in aid of one's cause, without the political concerns of collateral damage or innocent civilian casualties. Will it continue to be the Cinderella of our capability improvement programmes? It is worth the much harder look that I hope it is now receiving than it has ever enjoyed in the past.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are grateful, as I am, to the noble Lord, Lord King, for his initiative in securing the debate, although it clashes with a visit that the All-Party Defence Group was to make today. However, it is an important debate, and I am sure that the noble Lord and every other noble Lord would stress the need to understand and appreciate the skills, experience and unmatched qualities of our Armed Forces, based on operations and commitments in a wide variety of environments.

Sometimes, the press are not good at recognising those qualities. They are good at listening to the odd disgruntled individual, who sometimes offers quite inaccurate information—as with the new rifle, which the press for quite a long time seemed to confuse with the earlier version; and with the Challenger 2, which seemed to be reviewed as just the same as the Challenger 1, deployed 10 years earlier.

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But there is not, and has not been, sufficient public awareness of the various contributions that our Armed Forces have made. There is a very limited understanding of the outstanding achievement in Sierra Leone, or of the enormously successful deployment in Macedonia, which, I understand, went according to plan. That stifled conflict and made an enormous contribution to that part of Europe. It cost one life: the life of a servicemen from my former constituency—not the first one from that community; I hope that there will be no more.

There were few casualties in Iraq, considering the scale of the operation. Obviously, the problems are not yet resolved. We have not found weapons of mass destruction, but what has been found is the graves of thousands of people murdered by the regime that has been overthrown.

Perhaps the lot of our servicemen in Basra today, or of the Americans in Baghdad, would have been easier if there had not been the encouragement of the Shi'ites and the Kurds to rise in some sort of revolt in 1990, only to be put down in large and horrifying numbers. That did not help those who entered southern or northern Iraq a few weeks ago.

However, it is early days. We have not found weapons of mass destruction; we have not yet found Saddam Hussein. But we know that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He used them in large quantities against the Iranian army; he certainly used them horrifyingly in his own country. He was certainly seeking to obtain weapons of delivery; unmanned aircraft have been found. They do not need to be large to be able to carry a couple of pounds of disease or toxin of various kinds.

Our troops were therefore deployed—all right, in pre-emptive action, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said—on the basis that, sooner or later, action would have to be taken to prevent some developing new alliance between Saddam Hussein and the forces that still threaten the civilised world today. I noted the reported comments of the head of the secret service earlier this week.

At the same time, we must recognise, as have other noble Lords, that since the first Gulf war there has been a change, in that there was a greater reliance on precision weaponry. That is essential. It is no longer tolerable in this world to be spraying weapons of gross inaccuracy and large killing power. For that reason, it is noteworthy that the Royal Air Force first deployed its new weapon, the Storm Shadow, in southern Iraq. I am sure that my noble friend would confirm that only in the past few days the Government have taken a further step in that direction, regarding the provision of the Paveway precision guided weapon, which will further strengthen our capacity.

As far as I can see, and I visit RAF and military bases fairly frequently, morale remains high despite the considerable pressures that servicemen face. I found it rather displeasing, as I am sure did many other noble Lords, to think that our soldiers, back from one overseas commitment, found themselves in draughty drill halls providing fire cover. One hopes that that will not be repeated.

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Those soldiers knew full well that they were in a draughty drill hall earning lower pay, getting far less leisure, and facing the prospect of going abroad in the service of Queen and country, while other people thought that they were entitled to a great deal more. If we are to solve the problem of retention in Her Majesty's services, we have to ensure that inequity does not bite too deeply.

At the moment, the services are doing reasonably well. Fortunately, the Royal Air Force is equipped with good aircraft, and the Government had the wisdom to acquire the C-17, which made the deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq much more straightforward. Fortunately—and I do not pay tribute to them often—the Conservative government listened to advice on acquiring the C-130J, rather than listening to the blandishments of our French colleagues, who assured the Western European Union in 1990 that we could have future large aircraft in full squadron deployment by 2000. We discovered that they had not planned the maiden flight until two years later, which was rather odd.

The Royal Navy is, in practical terms, the second most powerful navy in the world today. It will have the two carriers, which will be a considerable improvement, because they will be seaworthy for longer, which will allow Britain's strategic policies to be more reasonably achieved. The Army continues to impress; and despite the deployments, the absences, the demands, morale is much higher than one might have expected.

As I said, retention is a problem. Recruitment is important, but it is better to retain trained soldiers than simply replace them with new recruits who may not serve as long as we need them to. Pay and conditions are important. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government are well aware of that. A number of initiatives have demonstrated that, for example allowing contact between soldiers and loved ones to be facilitated.

However, there are other problems. If we have—and this is not looking too far ahead—a society in which virtually half the population go to university, we may find that we get half the recruits. We may also find that a larger proportion of recruits will expect—since they have academic qualifications that were not possessed by a large proportion of the Army a few years ago—to enter at a higher level. If we had not abolished the rank of field marshal, there would probably be a much larger proportion who would be looking for the baton in the knapsack.

There is, of course, a danger that, as the population becomes more highly educated, the services will find themselves with people who believe that they should be in the ranks of the chiefs rather than the Indians, so that there would be a surplus of one, and a shortage of the other. The services are far too intelligent not to have considered these problems, and they are far more intelligent than many of us, who would not be able to find the answers ourselves.

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There is one thing that we could do. I believe strongly that we should, rather more positively than we have been doing, encourage the cadet organisations. It is no use spending a lot of money recruiting unsuitable people using television advertising.

I am involved with the Air Training Corps. I know a little about the other cadet organisations, and they provide the best recruits for the services. However, we do not provide sufficient facilities and encouragement to ensure that those cadet organisations continue to be motivated. A cadet in the Air Training Corps should fly with the RAF at least once a year. They are lucky if they do that today. Similar facilities should be developed with the other cadets. If we do not encourage the cadet organisations and those who run them, we run the risk of not recruiting the best people for Her Majesty's services. That priority should be critically examined.

The new chapter of SDR, published last year, was evidence that the Government are well aware of the risks of terrorism and asymmetric warfare. It is right that we should be relatively phlegmatic, "cool" in modern parlance, because we do not want people to start having nightmares and nervous breakdowns about the possibility of disasters, catastrophes and horrors of that kind. We must recognise that, just as the civil and military authorities are adequately prepared and have the proper procedures—I am sure that they have, they certainly do in my area—we must ensure that we have adequate personnel.

We cannot suddenly expand the Armed Forces. We must handle the Territorials and the Reservists in such a way as to promote recruitment and involvement in those bodies. It may be that we must expand them in a way that would limit those serving on overseas deployment, in order to ensure that we have a number who are prepared to give more time than the normal 15 days and weekends to serve at home.

We are, and should be, grateful to the Reservists. However, we won a vote by one a few weeks ago, while the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was away. I thought at the time that it might be a good idea to encourage other noble Lords opposite to join him. Let us hope that we will not have conflicts of this kind that will require such absences.

I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord King, secured this debate. I am delighted to join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the unmatched quality and fine service of our Armed Forces. One hopes that the Treasury, in looking at the purse strings, will recognise that we need to train, retain, and maintain quality. If we do not, there will be no European country capable of fulfilling the commitments that second pillar development is supposed to achieve.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Freeman: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater on securing this debate and on introducing it in such a masterly fashion, covering the main strategic issues that should occupy our attention. I shall not follow my noble friend down the path that he has outlined, nor the

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noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, because one finds oneself in total agreement with what he is saying, including, in this case, his kind comments about the C-130J, a matter close to my heart in a former job.

I shall concentrate specifically and in some detail, in the time available, on issues that concern the reserve forces. I want to support and supplement the comments made by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater. I declare an interest for the purposes of this debate as the president of the UK Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. I am principally involved with the Territorial Army.

Before I develop my points, I shall pay two brief tributes, because I do not think that they have yet been paid in the House. The first is to the late Viscount Younger of Leckie, my predecessor as president of the council. He was president of what was then called the Territorial and Volunteer Reserves Association; we have now changed our name. He was a distinguished president, and all involved in the council have already placed on record our thanks for his service. He was a distinguished Secretary of State, under whom my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and I, in a more junior role, served. He was always careful to elicit views, however misguided or ill informed. One always remembers him as a national service soldier in, I think, Korea for his valiant support for and defence of not only the Territorial Army but of units of the Regular Army in Scotland.

I also ask the Minister to convey on behalf of all my colleagues in the Territorial Army and the reserves our thanks to Dr Lewis Moonie, the outgoing Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State responsible for the reserves. We are sorry to see him go. He was always tolerant of those who asked for his time and support, and he was always interested. He was an excellent Minister. I join those who pay tribute to him and wish his successor, Ivor Caplin, the honourable Member for Hove, well.

We have just witnessed the first major compulsory mobilisation of the reserves since the Korean War. Some 8,000 have so far been involved, as my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater said. It might be helpful to draw some of the numbers involved to your Lordships' attention. For the first part of Operation TELIC, some 3,500 reservists—I am not talking about the regular reserves, I am talking about the volunteer reserves—were called up. That mobilisation was a remarkable success. In the second phase, to support 19 Mechanised Brigade and 3rd Division, who were on roulement to support and replace units of 1st Armoured Division, another 1,500 were mobilised. As the Minister indicated in a helpful answer to the House on 11th June, probably another 2,000 to 2,500 reservists are in the process of being called up in order to assist in the reorganisation of Iraq and the relief of the crisis there. That is a total of 8,000.

There are four issues that I shall touch on briefly. First, there is the extraordinary importance of support from employers. All your Lordships would wish to congratulate all the employers throughout the country who supported the mobilisation of our reservists and

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have welcomed them back, with very few exceptions, into the jobs that they left. That is a remarkable achievement, and we should thank them.

Although the mobilisation went well—thanks to the Reserve Forces Act 1996, introduced by the previous administration—a cautionary note should be sounded. If compulsory mobilisation on such a scale is to become not a frequent event but a regularly recurring one in the decades to come, we cannot take the support of employers in this country for granted. A new compact is required between the Ministry of Defence, the reservists and the employers. Employers need to be better informed, with better advance warning of what is required. Many of them need to have the role of reservists explained to them. We still do not have a compulsory requirement on reservists to inform their employer of the reservist's role in our forces.

I understand that we have only recently identified the employers of all our reservists, but, it is important that, in future, reservists should disclose their obligations frankly and fully to their employer. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, who is not in his place. As your Lordships will know, he is chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board, which does an excellent job.

The second issue is medical services. I regret having to say this, but I think that it is a bipartisan point, as part of the blame rests with the present Government and with past administrations. Hindsight is always a valuable commodity. We are almost in a state of crisis in recruitment—certainly in the recruitment of reservists who work for the Defence Medical Services. We are seriously under strength.

When we call up and send out reservists from National Health Service hospitals, we work on the assumption that there will be major casualties. Everyone will be greatly relieved that casualties were so light, but it is not surprising that many reservists, including nurses and consultants, coming from busy National Health Service hospitals found themselves—fortunately—under-employed. However, a change is required in our approach to the use of National Health Service staff in our medical reserve services. First, we should treat them differently from the soldiers. We should mobilise them and, once they have been mobilised, send them back to the National Health Service until the bullets start to fly. Unfortunately, many were mobilised and sent out and had to wait while, as they realised, many patients could have been treated in civilian National Health Service hospitals if those staff had been available.

There could be more "jointery" in the forces. Medical services should be purple, not just Army, Royal Air Force or Royal Navy. We could and should work regularly with coalition forces in operations, so that we share the medical services. Finally, a special agreement is required between the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and the National Health Service, indicating the circumstances and arrangements for the mobilisation, in particular, of senior consultants in National Health Service hospitals.

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The third issue is the role of formed units. It may seem to be rather an arcane point to some of your Lordships, but it is important to the morale of our reservists. In the Army, the Territorial Army trains in formed units. They train together, and they should fight together, where that is possible. In the recent conflict, in the first two tranches of mobilisation, individual soldiers were called up, often leaving behind the senior NCOs and officers. That may have been necessary because of the urgent need, after the decision was made to send our troops to the Gulf, to make sure that we had sufficient reservists. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that, in the current stages, final stages or any future stages of call-up of reservists, we will try to call up formed units, however small. That is good for morale, and, when they return to this country, they will be applauded by their local community, as they deserve to be, and recruitment will improve.

The final and, probably, the most important point is about the total size of the reserves. Between 1997–98 and 2002–03, numbers in the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Marines Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force have, by and large, remained stable. However, there has been a dramatic reduction in the size of the Territorial Army. In 1997–98, the established strength was 62,000; in 2002–03, the year that has just ended, the established strength was down to 41,000. That is a cut of one third. I hope that the White Paper promised for the autumn will deal with the central issue of the size of the Territorial Army. The role—combat support—is right, and there are many specialist functions that the Territorial Army can and should accomplish.

We need to think of the pressures that have arisen not only in the Gulf but in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. Of the Armed Forces of the Crown in those theatres, roughly 10 per cent have been reservists. As my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater said, if the pressures on our Armed Forces continue in the decades to come, we must think seriously about whether we need to reverse the cuts that have occurred since 1997–98 and increase the size of the Territorial Army. As my noble friend said, in referring to the remarks made by the former Chief of the Defence Staff, the judgment is that, when it comes to further reserves that might be available for a major conflict post-Iraq, the larder is almost bare. We used a great proportion of our trained strength from our Reserve Forces during the recent conflict in Iraq.

So I believe very strongly that we need to move back towards the 1997 levels. I think that the increases are affordable, available and inevitable.

5.10 p.m.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for initiating this debate on defence matters. As others have done before me, I pay tribute to the courage and professionalism of our armed services. Over recent years we have sent them into many hostile areas—the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. Only last week it was announced that we might well be

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sending a contribution to a multinational peace-keeping force to the Democratic Republic of Congo. And let us not forget the continuing and highly necessary military presence in Northern Ireland. At all times and in all situations, our Armed Forces are clearly at risk. The recent conflict in Iraq revealed just how incredible that sacrifice is, with 37 lives lost. We are all too well aware of the human cost of war.

While our defence expenditure rose this year, with the Chancellor adding some 3 billion to the defence budget, that was clearly in response to the situation in Iraq. By contrast, our defence expenditure has been steadily decreasing under the present Government. A decade ago, our defence budget was 5.3 per cent of our GDP. By last year it had fallen to some 2.5 per cent. The Government's plan is to reduce this even further, to 2.2 per cent by 2005–06.

Comparisons with the United States of America are stark. For the year 2001–02, US defence expenditure was 3 per cent of its GDP, while in 2000 the United States defence expenditure per capita was 981 dollars compared with a per capita expenditure of 542 dollars in the United Kingdom.

The world has undoubtedly changed a great deal since the days of the Cold War. However, while traditional hostilities may have faded and old alignments fragmented and transformed, we are clearly in no position to sit back and relax in this new era of international harmony. At the turn of the century, talk was rife of a new global order. Certainly, only a matter of months into the 21st century we saw the true nature of this order.

The Government tell us time and again of the threats we all face from international terrorism. Unfortunately, and especially for the citizens of Northern Ireland, we do not need too much reminding of the continuing threat posed by domestic terrorism both from republican and loyalist paramilitaries. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, mentioned the huge bomb recently discovered in the Republic of Ireland, which may well have been intended for the City of London.

Noble Lords who travel regularly from the regions to London will have witnessed the heightened security measures in place at our airports and ports. Even here, outside the Palace of Westminster, concrete blocks have been erected to deter terrorist activities. It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that on the one hand the Government are urging the public to be cautious, to be vigilant at all times and to be alert to potential threats, yet on the other hand, they are reducing the defence budget and aiming to disband several armed service units. I simply ask this: is this the appropriate time to cut our esteemed forces and to curtail our ability to respond quickly and effectively to any situation either at home or abroad?

Our Armed Forces are already severely overstretched, and under-investment over the past decade has led to a decline in training, to ageing equipment not being replaced and to a severe shortage of recruits. We witnessed many of the problems that arose from overstretch with the outbreak of the war in Iraq. Supplies

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were slow at getting to the troops, to the extent that many went without desert boots and mosquito nets for several weeks. We even heard reports of units having to share supplies with their American counterparts. The problem appeared to be adequately summed up by a heading in the Financial Times in April: "Army on the Cheap". Only a few weeks ago, as the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, alluded to but which is worth repeating, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, said:

    "If you asked us to go into a large-scale operation in 2004, we couldn't do it without serious pain".

We now see reports in newspapers such as the Independent on Sunday last weekend that the Ministry of Defence intends to cut up to 100,000 jobs in a bid to reduce the logistical support budget by 18 billion a year. I am pleased to note that Mr Hoon has given the leader of my party, Mr David Trimble, an assurance that the Royal Irish Regiment will not be disbanded—and I am sure that the right honourable gentleman is a man of his word. Other regiments, however, cannot be so confident of their fate; all we have been told so far is that decisions have yet to be taken.

Cuts are being proposed despite severe shortfalls in armed service personnel. As of April last year, the Army was short of some 6,000 personnel, the Royal Navy some 1,700 and the Royal Air Force some 800. Recruitment is also slow. It is clear that the Government are not doing enough to encourage young people to consider and, indeed, to take up a career in the Armed Forces. That shortage of recruits is causing problems further up the scale, in particular in the middle-ranking positions. As officers are forced to take on extra duties, their average number of hours on duty each week is now in the region of 89.5 hours. That simply is not sustainable over a long period.

Increasingly we hear of leaves of absence having to be shortened or cancelled completely. No extra resources are available to help take the strain and inevitably the stress of working under such conditions begins to take its toll. It is therefore hardly surprising that many choose to leave after eight, nine or 10 years of service. In turn that results in a great dearth of expertise, talent and experience.

I cannot emphasise too strongly the long-term nature of this problem. With a gap in middle management and an equally worrying gap in recruitment at the lower levels, along with proposals to cut back on many of our regiments, I wonder if the Government have fully appreciated the capabilities of our Armed Forces.

I shall finish by saying that it is somewhat surprising and worrying to find that our Government, who continually stress the importance of the United Kingdom's role on the international stage, want to curtail our ability to play that role successfully.

5.18 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, this country has a priceless asset, our Armed Forces. But the Government have serious problems of retention.

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An example of that is the disturbing situation in the Armed Forces medical services, as reported in the Sunday Telegraph of 15th June. It claimed that up to 17,000 members of the forces are unfit for front-line duty because injured troops are either having to wait a year or more for treatment on the NHS, meanwhile losing pay and promotion because they are medically downgraded, or must pay for operations themselves. Their pay is not such that that is lightly done. How can the Armed Forces hope to operate a successful retention policy in the face of this? I hope that the Minister will be able to give the House some reassurance on the truth or otherwise of that report.

The virtual collapse of the Defence Medical Services was precipitated by disastrous decisions under Options for Change, including the closing of military hospitals, taken by a Conservative government. However in 1997, six years ago, the present Government committed themselves to act to save the medical services. They have not been successful. We are all familiar with the sorry story of the service enclave within an NHS hospital, with the NHS having priority claim on beds so that military orthopaedic patients who should have been in them were displaced by geriatrics. We know too of the disastrous drain of surgeons and specialists with the necessary expertise to maintain the Defence Medical Services. I hope that immediate action will be taken to establish a full-time reserve secondary care medical service, with trained military doctors and surgeons paid by the MoD, and paid well, who could work for the NHS but who would owe their first loyalty to the services. It is unacceptable that the men and women of the armed services should have to wait years, or pay themselves, for treatment for injuries incurred in the service of the Crown.

But my concern is not so much retention as survival. The draft constitution for the EU provides for a European Union foreign minister who will be responsible for conducting the Union's foreign and security policy, who,

    "shall contribute to the development of the Common Foreign Policy",

and who shall apply his talents to the common security and defence policy under Article I(27) of the draft constitution.

Lest the House should think we are protected by our veto on defence from security policies we do not support, it is worth noting two things. First, the French and German foreign ministers have put forward a proposal that in the event of a national veto on a defence issue it will be the task of the EU minister for foreign affairs, who is to be appointed, to persuade the nation concerned to change its mind. If he does not succeed the president of the Council must try; if that fails, the president must take the issue to the Council for decision by QMV. We have been assured that HMG does not support this proposal. However, it is still there and it must be energetically resisted. Unfortunately, many defence decisions are the consequence of a foreign affairs decision. And foreign affairs issues, it is said, will increasingly be decided by QMV. That must be resisted too.

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Secondly, one man is to be responsible for developing and implementing both the foreign policy and EU defence. That is an unmanageable task. Nothing is said, incidentally, about his relationship, if any, with NATO.

We have an excellent and chilling example now of the dangerous consequences of the ESDP, to which our defence forces are already to be exposed in the Congo. On 8th May the EU adopted a common position supporting the peace process in the DRC. On 19th May the UN asked the EU secretary-general to study the feasibility of an EU military operation in the DRC,

    "given the urgent humanitarian need for the rapid establishment of a stabilization force in the Ituri region",

the UN Uruguayan contingent having proved inadequate either to protect the people, or to control the fighting, no doubt because of the usual inadequate UN mandate for Chapter VI action only.

A joint action was agreed on 5th June authorising the launch of the operation on 11th June. Officially its mandate is limited to a short-term peace-keeping action lasting until 1st September 2003, designed to give the UN time to deploy the next UN contingent, the Bangladeshis. That force is to have a Chapter VII mandate, which is more robust. It is expected, according to the Security Council resolution of 30th May, to,

    "contribute to the stabilization of the security conditions and the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Bunia, to ensure the protection of the airport, and the internally displaced persons in the camps in Bunia, and to contribute to the safety of the civilian population, the UN personnel and the humanitarian presence in the town".

All this in three months, starting from scratch with a force of some 1,500 soldiers including, we understand, 100 British troops, mostly in a logistical role. An advance guard of French troops began deploying on 8th June.

How is this force to operate? We need to ask these questions now, since the Government overrode scrutiny. The force is to be led, using the EU jargon, by a framework nation. The French have volunteered to be that nation, that is, to lead the operation, with the British contributing 100 men. It is believed that there will be an equally small contribution from Belgium, though not of soldiers. The operational headquarters is to be in Paris. So there is reasonable hope that urgent operational decisions will be taken there when they are needed.

However, the EU joint action provides that the Council shall approve the operational plan and authorise the rules of engagement. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether hose will be NATO rules of engagement and, if not, why not. Further the Political and Security Committee will exercise the political control and strategic direction of the operation and has the power to amend the operational plan, the chain of command and the rules of engagement. The EU Military Committee will monitor the proper execution of the military operation conducted under the operational commander and get reports at regular intervals. The chairman of that committee will be the primary point of contact with the

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operation commander. Meanwhile the presidency, the high representative, Mr Solana, the operational commander and the EU special representative for the Great Lakes Region will co-ordinate their activities in implementing the joint action. Mr Solana will also act as the primary point of contact with the EU, the Government of the DRC and neighbouring countries, and others concerned with the peace process. The force commander will maintain contact with local authorities, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) and other international actors. There may also have to be a status agreement with DRC. Finally, the force commander in Bunia will have to report regularly to the Security Council of the UN through the Secretary-General on the implementation of the force's mandate.

We are speaking here of an operation, theoretically for three months, involving a force of well under 2,000 men going to a highly volatile and dangerous place for what will certainly prove to be much longer than three months. The French force commander has already said it is more likely to be a year. The force is to be run by committees composed of foreign and defence ministers, indeed by four committees if you include the Security Council. That will be, at the beginning, in the months of July and August. When crises arise, and they will arise, usually out of hours, are all these committees going to be sitting daily in the depths of the summer break in case they are required to take a decision? Who will be available on the telephone in Brussels or New York after 5 pm on a Friday?

The only good thing about this project is that in practice the decisions will probably be made in Paris by men who understand the situation on the ground, the risks and the military necessities. But they will also be made, so far as the politics are concerned, according to the private agenda of the French and the Belgians, who have considerable interests in the DRC. However it is reassuring that, as the Minister told us in a Congo Statement recently, there will be five British officers in Paris to advise. That is very reassuring. However I think they will have a hard task.

I have set out those details because I have seen the UN in action on the ground in the Congo and I fear for the safety of our troops, let alone the unfortunate Congolese whom we shall be powerless to protect. I have no faith that the commitment will end neatly in September. We shall then be enmeshed in a nasty, brutish war, all to be run by committee.

In Kindu, in 1961, nine Italian advisers for the UN landed from a light aircraft and were killed by the population. Their bodies were cut up and sold in the marketplace. Local habits have not changed; nor has the UN's inability to control the situation. I am sure we have committed our troops for the most honourable intentions, but there are simply not enough in the force to contain, let alone cure, a most dangerous situation that has been endemic for many years. We must not delude ourselves.

It is the more unlucky that we have gone in under the UN because the UN had 16,000 troops in Sierra Leone for a long time and failed to make or keep the peace.

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The Congo is much larger and the situation in Bunia will not allow our troops to do what they do so well, to work with the people. That possibility will not arise.

This has come about because foreign policy decisions draw us into ill-thought-out force commitments. The Explanatory Memorandum actually says:

    "The DRC is moving slowly towards peace".

If you believe that, you will believe anything. I also found it interesting that the Explanatory Memorandum says, under ministerial responsibilities, that the Foreign Secretary has overall responsibility for UK policy on the ESDP and on the Congo. Quite right. It goes on to say that the Secretary of State of Defence also has an interest. I would have thought he had the prime interest.

This minor operation is significant because we presumably volunteered to participate because, first, our foreign and development policy in Africa has committed us to active support of the so-called peace process in the DRC—a wholly admirable, fairly hopeless policy—and secondly because we want to be good Europeans and, incidentally, be loved a little more by the French and UN. So our foreign policy has drawn us into a military commitment so fast, and in such a way, that no veto, I suggest, would have been possible on military grounds. I strongly doubt whether any real opportunity was given to consider the operational plan, the environment in which the troops will be working or the long-term implications and the nature and value of the risk and the commitment. This is why we must be sure that the Government—and in particular the FCO and the MoD—are fully aware of the long-term defence consequences of accepting qualified majority voting for any foreign policy issue. It will have consequences beyond foreign policy.

The increasing pressures on our Armed Forces—of which a far more long-term commitment in Iraq is one—coupled with a number of problems of retention and, not least, the issue of money, make it vital that decisions to commit our troops should be taken only after careful professional consideration of the merits of the military case. The Government must never forget that our brilliant professional Armed Forces are there because they volunteered to serve—and, incidentally, to serve the Queen, as a symbol of the country—and to defend the realm. They are there because of commitment—and that must work both ways.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Inge: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for initiating the debate. I also associate myself with the congratulations on the outstanding achievement of our Armed Forces. I include in that praise the wonderful achievement of the unsung heroes—the logisticians—who moved an amazing amount of equipment in a much shorter time scale than in the previous war against Iraq. I also pay tribute to the enormous contribution made by the reserve forces, who were an essential part of our deployment to Iraq.

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The noble Lord, Lord King, referred to the importance of training. A number of people who took part in the war in Iraq have said, "We could not have done it without Exercise Saif Sareea"—an exercise which, as some will know, the Treasury was keen to cut because of its costs. I should add that we are a long way from seeing stability in Iraq.

I welcome the debate in general because there are important issues to be discussed. We need to reflect on the changing nature of conflict given the dramatic developments in technology; the implications of 11th September 2001; the ongoing war against terrorism; and the heavy demand placed on our Armed Forces for war fighting, nation building and peace support operations. It is easy to forget how widely our Armed Forces are deployed as we speak.

We need to debate what are the United Kingdom's vital security interests and how to support them. We need a grand strategy debate. I sense that we have lost the connection between foreign policy and the defence capabilities needed to support it. In that regard, I support the concept of pre-emptive action. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has reservations about it but, in certain circumstances, it is a very important capability that our Armed Forces may need to use in the future.

As other noble Lords have said, the Cold War was unusual because the threat posed by the Warsaw Pact was clear for all to see and our national survival and national security were synonymous with the defence of western Europe. But that has all changed. The enemy today may not pose such a direct military threat but he is ruthless, irrational, difficult to assess and has the ability to pose very significant threats across the world. That is why I support the concept of pre-emptive military action on occasions.

Although our national security covers a wider field than only the Armed Forces, it must include a significant major military element. The Strategic Defence Review rightly emphasised the need to improve our capability to project and sustain—I emphasise the word "sustain"—military power. That is easy to say but very difficult to achieve, and very expensive.

Moreover, the Strategic Defence Review focused on the Middle East. It has become clear that we now have to be able to project power more widely. At the same time, the Strategic Defence Review has shown itself to be seriously underfunded following many years of underfunding. I know that there has been a significant injection of money, but that additional money will not make up for those years of underfunding.

The current review, or White Paper—which, of course, everyone will deny is a defence review—is likely to examine significant reductions in certain capabilities to find room for other capabilities. Of course we need to increase our investment in digitalisation, information warfare and certain other high tech capabilities in order that we can operate more effectively with the Americans and, at the same time, improve our own fighting effectiveness.

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In addition, the Iraq war, despite its enormous success, showed up areas of concern in our logistic support capability and our capability to sustain a force overseas engaged in combat for a longish period. The month-plus of fighting in Iraq was a very short time in military terms. I should emphasise that I am not talking only about the lack of uniforms or shoddy boots—important though they are to the morale of the fighting man and fighting woman—but about major spares, artillery, ammunition and major assemblies. The concept of the "just in time" policy for operational logistic support is, in some areas, too tight.

I am glad that the mobilisation of the Territorial Army and other reservists in the main worked well. Clearly we could not have done without their support. They played an important and critical role. But, as other noble Lords have said, some of the administrative arrangements need to be tidied up.

I recognise that some change in the balance of capabilities may be necessary. However, the Armed Forces have already been hit in recent years by major reductions. The problem is—and has been for a number of years—that our Armed Forces are far too small for the many tasks that have been laid upon them. They remain heavily over-committed. They have responded magnificently in the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland, Cyprus over many years, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, the first Gulf War, Iraq and now the Congo.

I was amazed to learn that somehow we have slipped into supporting the French in the Congo without any clear concept of operations and without any clear reinforcement or exit strategy. I hope that we are not doing so to please the French rather than to bring relief to that sad country. I realise that our contribution is small but I believe passionately that the Government have a clear responsibility for ensuring that our Armed Forces are not deployed on dangerous operations without a clear concept of operations. I would be interested to know whether the Chiefs of Staff had any reservations about that.

No doubt the review will, yet again, examine capabilities such as the number of air defence aircraft, surface warships, armoured squadrons, infantry battalions and the need to bring in some of the additional assets to which I have referred. I worry that the assumptions on which any changes will be based will prove to be over-optimistic and, in time, flawed.

Options for Change reduced the size of the Armed Forces too far. The defence cost studies added to the problem. The Strategic Defence Review had some good elements but it was followed by many years of underfunding.

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