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Lord Sanderson of Bowden: My Lords, I must yet again declare an interest as a trustee of the King's Own Scottish Borderers, my old regiment, which is due to be amalgamated with the Royal Scots in the recent unpopular decision, taken since I spoke in the debate on 24 November. There is no doubt that the Government's expected announcement in December, in the interests of reorganisation and modernisation, has caused considerable upset in many quarters.

Incidentally, when listening to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell talking about Wales and the Welsh regiment, I was astonished to hear about a letter that had been sent by the Chief of the General Staff to the colonel of the Royal Welch Fusiliers indicating that there was a likelihood in the future that the nomenclature for the Royal Regiment of Scotland could change to conform with the rest of infantry. I am sure that that letter will not be well received north of the Border.

I wish to comment on one aspect of the decision and hope that the Minister will respond in due course. If this debate on infantry reorganisation had taken place before June last year, I would also have had to declare an interest as a director of the National Australia Bank in Europe, the owners of the Northern Bank in Ulster. As it happens, I retired from that bank and its audit committee last June, but last month's robbery in Belfast is something that no board of directors, let alone an audit committee, would wish to be confronted with.

In the light of that massive Belfast robbery and the report, which was accepted by the Government, of the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland as to the perpetrators, I return to my remarks at col. 78 of Hansard on 24 November 2004. I said:

The Minister stated in the same debate at col. 29, that the infantry battalions committed to Northern Ireland would be reduced.

When it is clear that this massive, well planned and terrifying for the innocent families, act of burglary to the tune of £26 million has been committed in that Province, and no one yet apprehended for the theft, are we to assume that the advice from service chiefs to Ministers on the deployment of infantry in the Province is to be unchanged? I repeat my own feelings on the subject. The security of part of the United Kingdom is threatened by such flagrant and despicable crimes and reducing our military commitment there is a very high risk.

I have no wish to speak further on the decision to cut the infantry manpower at a time when the United States are increasing theirs by a considerable amount, or to enter further into the difficulties which will follow for those who are involved in recruiting for the infantry. In an election year I should be surprised if these decisions do not figure prominently at the hustings. Like the noble Lord, Lord Garden, I hope that the Government will ensure that all service men get a vote.
 
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For a moment I would like to raise another aspect of defence is in the bailiwick of the Minister, and that is procurement. Reports have appeared in the press that soldiers training for Iraq have not been able to use under-barrel grenade launchers for the SA80 rifle, as all available had to be sent to Iraq. If that is so, soldiers' first experience will be when they get out there. Is it also true that there was a failure to buy training rounds? Perhaps I should draw the Minister's attention to a book which I have been reading by Andrew Roberts about Napoleon. He writes:

If that were true then, surely it is just as true now. I echo what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, said about the very great importance of sending men into battle with proper training.

Is it true that troops from the 12th Mechanised Brigade, scheduled for Iraq in April, will spend three months training for deployment, but will be unable to use either the Minimi machine gun or the grenade launcher because attempts to cut costs mean that they will not be able to train properly on either equipment until they get to Iraq? Surely that cannot be right. Can we be sure that the Government's drive for agility in our forces is robust and that costs are not so constrained as to be a real cause for concern? It is a big question and it needs answering.

I accept that defence spending has to try to sustain a balanced force that is agile enough to cope with the difficult demands made on it. I trust that we can sustain a balanced force with the current funding level. If we aspire to lead a European force, and also provide a credible commitment to the United States-led force as in Iraq, are Ministers too much under a Treasury cosh to provide that? Above all, is our Army, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, hinted, now dangerously small?

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I should first like to join with other noble Lords in expressing my admiration for the role which our Armed Forces play in the defence and security of the United Kingdom and increasingly in peacekeeping activities worldwide. I was privileged to work closely with military colleagues throughout my career in the Diplomatic Service. But I should like to take this opportunity to remind your Lordships of the vital role which our diplomatic and intelligence services also play in the defence of the realm and in the avoidance of conflict—what the noble Lord, Lord Garden, referred to as a "joint approach to conflict prevention".

As a former head of the Diplomatic Service and before that as a member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, I am glad to know that the very close co-operation and co-ordination between the Foreign and Commonwealth
 
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Office and the Ministry of Defence, which I valued in the days when I worked closely with several of the noble and gallant Lords who have spoken in this debate, still continues. I also have warm personal memories of the close working relationship in the Joint Intelligence Committee between the armed services, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the three security and intelligence agencies.

I do not propose to talk much about Iraq today, but I am sad to have to point to the United States Administration's handling of Iraq as an example of how not to conduct a co-ordinated defence and security policy or what the Minister referred to as,

It appears that not only were highly experienced members of the State Department and the American intelligence community not consulted in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq; there is good evidence that they were positively excluded from the planning process. I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that fuller consultation with diplomats and others with experience of Iraq and the Middle East on both sides of the Atlantic might have avoided the second Gulf War, with all the casualties and political mayhem which has resulted from an inadequately planned invasion. A National Intelligence Council report issued in Washington last week concluded that the invasion of Iraq had substantially increased the terrorist threat, something of which several of us warned in this House before the invasion.

So my plea today is that we should remember that diplomacy and the armed services share a joint objective and responsibility; namely, to promote the security of the United Kingdom within a safer, more peaceful, world. This indeed was given as the first of the FCO's specific policy responsibilities in the Foreign Secretary's strategy paper of December 2003, a paper drawn up in close consultation not just with the Ministry of Defence, but also with all other government departments and agencies concerned with our international relations. As that paper put it:

with the aim of preventing conflict.

It is not for me any longer to plead for better resources for the Diplomatic Service. It is very difficult to calculate how many lives or how much expenditure may have been saved by diplomatic intervention in the India-Pakistan nuclear crisis or in the denuclearisation of Libya. But I should like to remind your Lordships of the contrast, which I suspect is still very little understood, between the £30 billion which the taxpayer rightly contributes annually to our armed services to enable them to fight wars and restore peace, compared with one-thirtieth of that sum awarded annually to the Diplomatic Service to enable it to help prevent wars.

Several noble and gallant Lords have drawn attention today to the cuts in defence resources at a time when the armed services have never faced so many commitments. The Diplomatic Service has also faced a 5 per cent reduction in staff and the closure of about 40 posts, at a time when the demands on
 
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diplomacy and the need for a better understanding of the world have never been greater. I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance that the Government are aware of the potential damage which those reductions pose for our national security and for our international reputation.


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