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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Bach: I may not say that the next time the noble Earl asks me an unanswerable question.

I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, and the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, who praised and regretted the departure of my honourable friend Dr Lewis Moonie. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, when he remarked that Dr Moonie is difficult to find. I cannot think of anyone easier to find. However, I say seriously that Dr Moonie was a wonderful colleague. Both I and the Ministry of Defence will miss him a great deal. Further, the serious points made about what my honourable friend achieved are well taken. I know that he will be delighted with what has been said in this House, and is widely shared.

Thirdly, I revert to the war. I must take issue, if only briefly, with the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, when he said that this was not a real war. I think I know what he meant, but if I may be so bold as to disagree with him, I believe that he is wrong. First, he claimed that the Armed Forces are not trained for war fighting. We do not think that that is right. They are trained very hard for war fighting. Secondly, he claimed that the last real war was in Korea. Again, I do not agree. I have to say that the Falklands war, the war against the IRA throughout the 1970s and 1980s effectively undertaken by the British Army, the conflicts in Sierra Leone and the conflict in Iraq were, in my view, all real wars. Indeed, if you ask British soldiers whether there was real resistance when Basra was taken, or American soldiers who made their way up through the holy cities on their way to Baghdad, I think that they would agree that this was a real war. So yet again we compliment our soldiers on what they have achieved.

Many comments were made about the budget. Of course I must remind noble Lords—and I do so with pride—that the defence budget was increased last year by a considerable amount. It was the largest sustained increase—that is, over three years—in defence spending for 20 years: a 3.3 per cent increase between 2002–03 and 2003–04. Of course opinions can be held over whether that was enough, but note should be taken of the fact that that extra money was put into defence and that the Treasury was happy and content to do so, in spite of all that has been said.

I was asked a specific question by my noble friend Lord Desai in relation to who is to pay for the war. I shall answer by saying that the Chancellor set aside 3 billion for the cost of the Iraq war which, put crudely, is around 10 per cent of the defence budget. But defence is funded on a capability basis; that is, to be ready. As noble Lords will know, any costs arising from actually prosecuting operations are met from the Government reserve.

I shall move on. In the Strategic Defence Review mentioned at the start of the debate, now five years old, we laid out what we believed would be the most likely

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and demanding operations to which we would commit our Armed Forces, and we planned our force structures and capabilities accordingly. We believe that the SDR produced a firm policy baseline, and recent history has shown that the SDR was right in focusing our efforts on rapid reaction expeditionary capabilities and proactive defence diplomacy.

Again, in a spirit of good humour, let me take to task briefly the noble Lord, Lord King, who told noble Lords that he preferred Options for Change to our Strategic Defence Review. Options for Change was an immediate reaction to the end of the Cold War. The Conservative government of the day were obviously concerned to find a peace dividend. The fact is that those who said that it was the end of history, that in effect liberal capitalist democracy would prevail and that there would be no need for armies, for wars or even for defensive action were absolutely wrong—but I certainly do not blame the last government for taking that view—as the past number of years have shown. Indeed, last night my reading matter was not the fables discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, but the memoirs of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. In one chapter she talks about that period and mentions specifically that she herself was concerned that the "end of history", as it was phrased by certain very clever people, was not necessarily the truth. She looked to the Gulf as an area where there might be problems in the future.

The criticisms of Options for Change have always been that the peace dividend was found by a form of "salami slicing"—taking a little from all capability areas to achieve savings. We believe that we have reacted better in the Strategic Defence Review, in which we decided what it was we wanted. We wanted mobility, "jointness", deployability and sustainability, and an ability to react quickly to stabilise a crisis, but still the ability to take on high-intensity war fighting.

All that has been borne out by the forward equipment programme which, to my surprise, was criticised in the debate. It seems to me that that forward equipment programme is one of the most demanding and ambitious that any government have put forward for many years. I think you would find many in the Armed Forces who would agree with that. I mention the new aircraft carriers, the Type 45 destroyers, submarines, Nimrod, ro-ros, Apache, A400M, and there are others too. Of course many of them were begun by our predecessors, and we pay tribute to them for that; many were begun by us. I do not think that that is where the criticism should lie.

The New Chapter we set in train after September 11th, 2001, sought to ensure that the UK had the military capabilities required to meet the threat posed by international terrorism, which we take extremely seriously. We are not surprised that the Americans take it seriously—I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon—bearing in mind the experience of September 11th. We found that some additional capabilities and adjustments to force structures were required, not least in providing a greater capacity for the volunteer reserves to respond to civil contingencies. We also found that planning was required to perform

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operations beyond those three core regions that we had identified in the SDR: Europe, the Gulf and the Mediterranean.

Since the SDR we have deployed further afield to more places, more often and performed a greater variety of tasks than was previously foreseen. The pattern of operations conducted by our Armed Forces has also been much more complex than envisaged. Operations tend to be smaller, but they occur more frequently and often at very short notice. These demands need to be reflected in the way that our Armed Forces' structures and capabilities develop in the future.

It is not only the pattern of operations that has changed, but their very nature has also changed. There has been a shift away from the conventional warfare that we understood and were trained and prepared to face. The New Chapter highlighted the nature of the asymmetric threat posed by international terrorists. Such individuals, or groups of individuals, are more likely to be geographically dispersed, with loose command and control structures. This offers us just that fleeting target opportunity and requires forces that are agile and responsive and have the capability to deliver timely and precise military effect. We need to ensure that we give our Armed Forces that battle-winning capability and structure they need to meet the challenges of tomorrows' changing world. The New Chapter and the 2002 spending review gave us, we believe, a mandate to accelerate modernisation and change.

Our strike and stabilisation capabilities are major strengths but these need further enhancement, as does our capacity for rapid deployment. Strategic communications and force projection capabilities are therefore vital, especially strategic lift. Here I say how pleased we are that the A400M contract is at last signed and also, equally, how pleased we have been, because I was asked this question, about the C17s, which have proved invaluable in the last few months. Recent operations have placed enormous demands on these and other enabling capabilities that tend to be used repeatedly on every occasion, whether large or small. We have to ensure that these capability areas are strong enough to meet our needs.

One of the New Chapter's key findings was that future operations were increasingly likely to be joint and expeditionary in nature. Joint operations are a key strength of our British military capability, but we have to develop them further. This will help to maximise the impact of the resources that we have. A key feature of modernisation is that we must stop calculating defence capability purely in terms of front-line platforms and unit numbers.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in a remarkable speech, explained how we are on the verge, on the edge, even over the edge now of a new way of looking at all these matters. The potential offered by precision weapons is being opened up by new sensors and information networks. Of course we still need sufficient platforms and units to perform multiple concurrent operations and to provide resilience, but we will

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increasingly find that size really is not everything. We have to think in terms of effects—effects is the crucial word—that can be delivered by our forces in a number of ways. There are the traditional kinetic effects, which we are now able to deliver with ever-greater precision from a wide variety of platforms to attack and reduce the combat power of the adversary. Other effects that can be brought to bear are not just military in nature but are designed to influence the will of an adversary.

The key to successful effects-based campaigning lies in managing the cumulative effects and impact of such activities. The introduction of truly network enabled capabilities, NEC, is crucial to effects-based campaigning. NEC intends to link sensors, decision-makers and weapons systems so that information can be translated into synchronised military effect. Many of the components for a baseline national enabled capability already exist, or are in equipment plans. These include the sensors, such as ASTOR and WATCHKEEPER, due to enter service in the middle years of this decade, and strike assets, such as the Tornado GR4 armed with the Storm Shadow missile.

I break off to say that sometimes defence Ministers, like Ministers everywhere, have to keep their mouths shut. Just before the outbreak of conflict a very eminent Opposition spokesman from another place made the comment, how shocking it was that Storm Shadow would not be available to be used in the Iraqi conflict. How tempting it was to say something about that. I managed to resist that temptation and now we have seen just how successful Storm Shadow was in that campaign.

The network enabled capability is compatible—this was asked by many noble Lords—with the US network centric warfare concept and will continue to ensure crucial inter-operability with the United States.

Operation TELIC saw the conduct of a military campaign that has set new standards. The Ministry of Defence is actively engaged in conducting a full review of the lessons from the operation. Some initial lessons of this review will be made available in a public document before the Summer Recess. It is then intended to make a fuller report available to the public in the Autumn. We hope that this openness of approach will assist the public debate on defence.

Some of the issues concerning Operation Telic were mentioned, of course. As far as combat clothing was concerned, there were sufficient stocks of desert combat clothing ordered to meet the requirements. Let me say, taking up the hint from the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, that we acknowledge that there were distribution problems. I would have been amazed if there had not been some in theatre. That meant that we did not meet every unit's requirement for desert clothing, boots and body-armour. As a result some personnel experienced shortages. We will look, as any sensible government would, at that as part of the lessons learnt process now underway.

As far as urgent operational requirements were concerned, that was one of the great success stories of the campaign. We look at the circumstances of every

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operation to see if we need new equipment for the specific operational environment, particular threats faced and potential scenarios involved. It may involve accelerating existing programmes, such as the temporary deployable accommodation, which is now being used by our troops there, or our new procurements against short timescales, such as the Minimi light machine gun that was so praised. There is nothing wrong with using urgent operational requirements. It is not this Government who invented them; they have been there for a long time. I want to pay a compliment to British industry, which provided the essential requirements at short notice, as it always does when called on to do so, and it should be said how much we owe industry.

As far as the equipment was concerned—here I do not want to take away from the lessons learnt, and we will learn a lot of lessons—some of it was criticised unmercifully following Saif Sareea, but it turned out, more or less, to have worked extremely well. Challenger 2 was staggeringly successful, as was the AS90. The SA80 was highly successful, and can any gun ever have been criticised more often than that? Personal role radios were successful—even the Americans took some of our personal role radios—and I cannot resist going back to Storm Shadow too.

We shall have to sit down and consider what were the successes—and if there were failures we shall have to own up to them as well.

It is too early to draw definite conclusions about the lessons learnt from operations in Iraq. I cannot deny that there are areas in which improvements could be made. But it is clear that we could not have fielded a force of that size and quality in such a short time without the development of our military infrastructure that has taken place since the Strategic Defence Review. In order to continue to improve this and other enabling capabilities, adjustments to our force structures will be necessary. This will involve taking difficult decisions about the configuration of our forces and platform numbers.

However, I stress that no decisions have yet been taken on the future force structure, including decisions on battalions from either the Royal Anglian and Royal Irish Regiments, despite press speculation. Nor have any decisions been made about aircraft or ship numbers. The White Paper in the autumn—which I am sure the House will wish to debate at some stage—will provide an updated statement of defence policy and explain our plans for the delivery of an enhanced capability.

Operation TELIC represented the largest operation by the UK Armed Forces since the 1991 Gulf War. We deployed the same number of personnel and combat units, including their equipment, but in half the time. I agree with the praise given by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, of the logistic effort that was made in order to achieve that. It clearly demonstrates the impact of improvements already made to our logistics infrastructure and to our strategic lift capabilities—but we still must do better.

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The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, was good enough to give me warning of the issue he wished to raise. Two investigations are under way into the tragic incident he mentioned. First, there is an official US-led board of inquiry, with UK representation from a Lieutenant Colonel with combat recce experience and a Flight Lieutenant with combat air support experience. Secondly, there is a Special Investigations Branch investigation. Both are ongoing and the reports will be published in full when complete.

Many references were made to reservists, especially in relation to medical issues. I pay a huge compliment to all the reservists, both those who went to Iraq and have come back and those who are still there.

As to the issue of Gulf War syndrome, in the judgment last week the judge specifically did not rule on whether or not Gulf War syndrome exists. He was very clear in his judgment. He stated:


    "This court is not in a position to express any views on the merits of the dispute as to whether, according to current medical research, Gulf War Syndrome is or is not a 'single disease entity'. It has not done so by this judgment".

Our use of reservists is fully in line with the Strategic Defence Review. We are grateful for the 1996 Act, which proved to be very useful, particularly in regard to employers, whom we also thank for the sacrifices they make. I do not have time to say more about that.

We take on board the points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Park and Lady Cox, in regard to medical issues. We have acknowledged—I do so again—that there are manning and equipment shortfalls in the DMS. These issues are being addressed and we are committed to fully manning the DMS. The DMS met all the operational commitments placed on it. This was achieved in part by the compulsory mobilisation of reservists. We are well aware of the problems that still exist in this field.

As many noble Lords have said, recruitment is presently going well. I shall not go into details now. We shall have an eye on the situation and ensure that that continues.

I do not have time to react to the very interesting broader geopolitical points made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne.

I end by saying this: the Opposition have, quite fairly, criticised the Government on a number fronts, but when will the Conservative Party say how much more money it would spend on defence than the Government? Two years after a general election, we are entitled to ask that question. It is all very well to criticise the Government for not spending enough, but how much more will they tell the electorate they will spend?

Resources are finite. We need to ensure that we have the correct balance of military capability for our Armed Forces to carry out their tasks and to cope with a wide range of threats. There will be some painful decisions but as the strategic environment changes so our force mix needs to change in order to continue to deliver optimum effects—and I use the word "effects" deliberately. I have every confidence—as I know the House has—that the men and women of our Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence will be able to meet

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the challenges that lie before them over the coming years. The professionalism and dedication of the Armed Forces and of all those who backed them up contributed to an incredibly successful operation in Iraq. On behalf of the House, I congratulate them on their outstanding achievements.

8.6 p.m.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his usual careful and conscientious response to the debate. Let me answer the question that he posed at the end of his speech about the Conservative Party. I trust that any Conservative Party will provide what is needed for defence. The reason the question cannot be answered more fully goes to the heart of the debate because what is needed will depend on one's commitments. Those commitments have changed in the past week as the Government have decided to embark on supporting the French in the Congo. That goes to the heart of the problem.

I said at the outset that this House embraced many experiences. I had forgotten that it was Waterloo Day. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, and his noble kinsman Lord Astor have a distinguished ancestor who turned the French line at a critical moment. That seems a suitable beginning before Thessaloniki and the discussions on any future European foreign and defence policy.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Freeman for mentioning the military connection with my immediate predecessor, Viscount Younger of Leckie. I had not realised that he served under the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, and was wounded under him during his service with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Korea at that time.

The fascinating aspect that the Minister brought out so well is that Ministers, the Ministry of Defence, parties in government, are all trustees with responsibilities for preserving one of the most vital assets of this country. The Prime Minister made exactly the same point about the quality of our Armed Forces. It is a continuous responsibility. Most of the weaponry and equipment in the recent Gulf War deployed by the present Government was ordered by the previous government, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent, made the point that he ordered most of it 20 years ago. Whether, when we come back to government, we ensure that we preserve the quality of our Armed Forces will partly depend on the decisions that he takes, such are the lead times involved.

In case we as politicians get too carried away with the originality of our own ideas, I listened to what the noble Lord said about the Strategic Defence Review and the importance of rapid reaction, flexibility and mobility being the key discovery made by that review. If he looks at Britain's Army for the 90s, which we published 10 years previously, those are exactly the principles that the MoD in its wisdom enunciated at that time. There is, therefore, a continuity of policy. I think I speak for the whole House when I say that at the heart of what we have discussed today is the great pride that we have in our Armed Forces, great pride in what they

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have done. But the real concern—I am sure the Minister feels the same—is that there are new pressures and new challenges. The end of a war or campaign, or whatever one calls it, is a very difficult time anyway. Will the people who have had the experience of a lifetime now stay, or will they feel that that is what they joined the Army to do, and will they, as the noble Lord, Lord Vivian said, feel that now they have done it, they should have another experience somewhere else?

Against that background, this is a very challenging time for the Government. Because they are current trustees of one of the great assets of this country, very important for our national security and a force for good in the world, I am sure that the messages that have been conveyed from all corners of this debate will be taken to heart and may be helpful to the Minister and his colleagues in some of the battles that may lie ahead. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


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