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Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Eighteen months ago, I asked the then Defence Secretary about the need for a defence review. He assured me that it was not then required. How wrong he was. What a pity that the work that should have been done on the SDR has not been done. Without that we now have these panic intentions to rein in current overspending in the MoD, really putting the cart before the horse. We should all welcome the new C17 and additional helicopters, which are clearly needed. But I must point out that all ground and naval forces can only fight effectively when their side has air superiority. Yet further major cutbacks are planned now for the fast jet force, which alone has the capability of fighting for and sustaining air superiority. The further reduction in the front line by a Harrier squadron and one or two Tornado squadrons must be seen against the earlier reductions of the whole of the Jaguar force and other Harrier and Tornado squadrons. Does today's announcement mean that the Government have no intention or expectation of ever again having to confront an opponent equipped with offensive air
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Baroness Taylor of Bolton: I am glad that the noble and gallant Lord accepts the wisdom of buying the C17 and the helicopters. I recall what he said previously about the need for a Strategic Defence Review, as have others. I think that the timing of a Strategic Defence Review must always be difficult, particularly when you are in a conflict situation, but the approach that has been adopted, with a Green Paper in advance, which will allow for the more mature debate that I would like to see, is probably a very good way forward. On his questions about air superiority, I draw his attention to the fact that we have made a very clear commitment that we will have, in the medium to long term, two fast jets, namely Typhoon and the Joint Strike Fighter, both of which have an undoubted reputation and aspiration to be the best possible available. We announced today an upgrade of Typhoon's attack capabilities, so I do not think that we are making ourselves vulnerable in the way that the noble and gallant Lord fears.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: To what factors does the Government attribute the doubling of cost of certain important defence items to which the Minister referred in her Statement? Will the defence review investigate the potential cost savings of pooling more of our procurement of defence capability with our European allies?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: Increased costs on specific defence projects can come about for a number of reasons, partly because some of the projects are extremely ambitious and it is not always clear at the beginning exactly what the end product will be, not least because the pace of change is so great. There are often many upgrades during the lifetime of a project, which might be over several years. The capability of the end product has often been significantly enhanced compared with what was originally envisaged.
As for pooling projects and working more with Europe, or indeed with other potential partners, there is scope for pooling projects, but it is not always easy. You have to have the same requirement as whoever you are working with, you have to have the same budgetary availability and you have to be working to the same timescale-that is assuming that there are no other difficulties involved. So far as Europe is concerned, there are some projects within the European Defence Agency that we are working on and that we think could help in, for example, certification of airworthiness, which could bring benefits across the board to a number of countries. On specific projects, it is often a lot more difficult than people think to get a proper alignment of the needs and requirements of all the countries involved, but this is something that we always look at, especially on some of the larger projects.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I have a very simple question for the noble Baroness. Is the survey ship referred to, which is to be withdrawn, the one that operates around the Falklands? If so, it will be sending the same signal to the Argentines as it did last time.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I cannot remember the name, off the top of my head, of the one that is there. It is not "Endurance"; "Endurance" came back for other reasons. We are not envisaging reducing any key capabilities. There are other aspects of that work and we will make sure that we are covered in the area she suggests.
The Archbishop of York: I visited Afghanistan in 2004-I went to Helmand province, Mazar, Kandahar, Herat; all kinds of different places-and wherever the British soldiers were, they were doing a very professional job. I pay tribute to them and to those who have been killed. Given the increased number of fatalities-I know that the Minister is talking about future defence; I am not asking her to prophesy whether there will be no more deaths, that is not what I am asking-can the Government, hand on heart, be certain that, in the present theatre of war in Afghanistan, all the necessary equipment is available and can be procured? During the Second World War our factories worked flat out to make sure that our forces were given the necessary equipment. In terms of the modern world, money needs to be made available now, not in the future. We may learn lessons for the future in Afghanistan, but I am worried about the number of fatalities. The future will happen, but can the Minister tell us whether we can be confident that in the immediate theatre of war in Afghanistan, our soldiers have what they need to do the job that they are doing?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I thank the most reverend Primate for his comments. I am glad that he was able to visit Afghanistan. I know that a number of Members of this House have had that opportunity, which can lead to more informed debate and discussion and a greater understanding of the nature of the conflict. I am glad that he paid tribute to those who are working there and who have worked there in the past. It is right that we should do that on all occasions.
The most reverend Primate asked me if I can be certain that all the equipment that is required will always be available and can be produced. The analogy that he drew with the Second World War is a difficult one in these circumstances because, as I mentioned earlier, the pace of change and the changing aspects of the threat that we are facing are so great that we need constant upgrading, because-to quote the noble Lord again-the enemy are very adaptable. Indeed, they have assistance from different places and have information. They are not little old men in caves taking pot-shots at us, they have very sophisticated advice and information. The kind of equipment we need for Afghanistan is very often the kind of equipment that cannot be bought off the shelf. We have to buy a core capability, enhance it and provide all the extras to try to get the best security possible. It is never possible to be certain on any of these things that a new threat will not emerge, because that is what we have seen time and time again. What I can be certain of is the commitment of everybody in the Armed Forces, in the Ministry of Defence and in industry itself to do everything possible to keep ahead in countering the threat. However, we should not underestimate how difficult that can be.
Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, can the Minister say a bit more about intelligence, which was mentioned in the Statement? Does she agree that effective intelligence is an essential ingredient in support of the fighting forces? Can she say to what extent we are getting as much support as we would wish in intelligence material from Pakistan and from the relevant authorities in Afghanistan?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, it may be known that I chaired the Intelligence and Security Committee, as did the noble Lord, Lord King. Anyone who has held that position would confirm the absolute importance of intelligence and would always want to see that getting a high priority. We talk about Reaper in the Statement and the fact that we will seriously improve the availability and capability there. I do not think that anyone can overestimate how important ISTAR is. We get support and co-operation from other partners and we are trying, in what we are doing here, to use ISTAR and whatever information we can get not only to identify IEDs but to get to the network of those who are providing them. In the long run that will be an effective use of resources.
Lord Bramall: My Lords, I appreciate that the Secretary of State has a very difficult, not impossible, balancing act, but can the Minister confirm that, however much it is dressed up, £1 billion is going to be removed from the defence budget in year 1, when we still have an all-embracing war on our hands? Will she be a little more explicit on priorities and explain what exactly is meant by,
What are those capabilities? The noble Lord, Lord Lee, asked an important question about training. It is easy to refer to training that does not affect Afghanistan, but the whole professional competence depends on all-round training. It would be nice to know exactly what training is going on. Finally, how much less will be spent on the wider defence estate? The Statement says that family accommodation and single living accommodation will be given priority. What is being affected and how will this affect the covenant that the Government and the country feel is so important? Does the Minister agree that, if these temporarily and seemingly less important items are unduly affected, they store up endless problems in the future?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, on the last point I have to agree with the noble and gallant Lord that some of these problems, if not tackled, could create unduly difficult problems in the future. Indeed, I would suggest that that is one of the reasons why we have had to spend so much on the defence estate in the recent past. The backlog of underinvestment in that area was dramatic, but I am pleased to say that we are now in a situation where 90 per cent of service family accommodation is at grade 1 or grade 2, which is a significant improvement. However, I am told that when the service chiefs have asked about this, the priority that they have identified is the project called
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The noble and gallant Lord says that £1 billion is being cut in year 1, but I have to say that I do not recognise that figure. The Pre-Budget Report said that not a single penny will be cut from the defence budget in 2010-11, which is as far as the Comprehensive Spending Review goes. He asked where we can make cuts, when we talk about priorities, in headquarters costs. Since 1997, we have reduced the number of civil servants in this area by 45,000. That has shown significant scope for reductions. We want to see that developed further, which is why we have the review under Gerry Grimstone. We will look forward to seeing what he comes up with. In our discussions on operations in Afghanistan, we have looked to slow down some projects. I hope that the whole House agrees that those projects that are important for operations should always have priority.
Lord Grocott: Further to my noble friend's reference to the civilian workforce, I warmly welcome the importance that the Statement attaches to the work being done by a very dedicated workforce. She referred to the review that is taking place. Can she give us any indication of how long that review will take and when it is likely to report?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, we hope to have the report, which will cover the size and shape of the workforce, next year. As I have said, 45,000 is a big reduction and that has taken place already. Over the next four years, 4,500 more posts are planned to go, but we have to strike a careful balance. Some of the roles of those in the civilian workforce are critical to supporting those on operations. Therefore, we cannot just say, "All military posts good, all civilian posts bad". We should appreciate that a lot of important work goes on and we should bear in mind the fact that it is much more expensive to employ military personnel on comparable jobs. We need to step back and look at that issue as a whole.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, would the Minister like to comment on the independent report that said that the procurement budget will be overstretched by £36 billion over the next 10 years? Does this not denote systematic failure of the procurement process? Does it not indicate that very large items of procurement have been ordered when clearly the funds were not available?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, there are problems with procurement, as the noble Lord will know. I mentioned earlier some of the reasons why certain projects accelerate in cost, not least because
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Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, can the Minister reassure the House that those service men and women who have been severely injured but who are able, after coming back to this country and being healed, to be reabsorbed into the armed services will be, as has been the general practice in the past, and that reports to the effect that this will not be continued in the same way are unfounded?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I think that we would all wish to pay tribute to those who have worked so hard to save the lives of those who have been seriously injured. We would always want to try to absorb those people back into the Armed Forces. It is not always possible and it is not always what they want, but the courage and determination of some of those who have managed to rejoin the Armed Forces and be active again have been quite remarkable and have impressed everyone.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I feel that it is necessary now to resume the debate. Unless the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, is here, which I believe she is not, we should move on to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York.
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, let me be clear: it is a fundamental principle of the Christian religion that all human beings are of equal and infinite worth in the sight of God. This Bill seeks to address the many occasions when that fundamental principle is violated. That is an objective which I share and which the Church of England, by law established, supports wholeheartedly.
Sadly, this Bill before us is like decorating a Christmas tree. Everyone has his or her own idea about how to do it. Some favour strict colour co-ordination and others glorious variety. I myself am a Primate of glorious variety.
One cannot legislate to promote equality without constraining freedom to some extent, and because human freedom is both immensely precious and immensely vulnerable, we must proceed with great care. I am concerned that this Bill is built on an impoverished understanding of society. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds recently said in this House, we would have a much richer sense of who we are, and a better chance of tackling inequality, if we understood ourselves less as a society of strangers or atomised individuals and more as a community of communities. Individuals' rights to equal treatment only get us so far.
I am a great supporter of this country's record in fighting discrimination. Britain was well ahead of the rest of Europe in opposing discrimination on the grounds of colour, culture, religion, sexuality and ethnicity, and that is to its credit. It recognises that black people like me and other minority ethnic people have to be visible before they can fully participate, and that difference in ethnicity must be celebrated and not suppressed. You do not get equality by concealing difference, but, sadly, when this Bill turns to the question of religion and belief, it appears to take a different line. You will never overcome unequal treatment on grounds of religion or belief by silencing the expression of religion in the public square. That would be the imposition of one set of beliefs-the many "-isms"-on all others. I fear that this danger lies below the surface of the Bill and undermines its key objectives, which I wholeheartedly support.
I shall be more specific. In paragraph 2(8) of Schedule 9, the definition of employment "for the purposes of an organised religion" fails to reflect the way in which members of the church and many other religious groups understand their faith to be the bedrock of their lives. It will mean that churches and other religious communities can require an employee to observe particular standards of behaviour or not engage in certain types of conduct that are contrary to Christian teaching or their particular religious beliefs only when their work,
There are several problems with this. The movers of the Bill may be of the view that archbishops and other clergy work only on Sundays, but if one looks at my diary, you will find that most of my days and evenings are not filled with preaching or taking services. The same would go for most clergy and ministers and, I am sure, for leaders within other religious communities as well. The exemption is flawed even on its own terms.
At the height of the floods in Cumbria, I visited Cockermouth, Workington and Keswick. A major part of the relief effort in those places was being carried out by Churches Together, with Christ Church, Cockermouth, as the hub of the activity. The church had been converted into a relief centre and the rector, Reverend Wendy Sanders, and members of the churches did outstanding work which made a huge difference to the whole relief programme. They were, of course, providing help and care to all people, regardless of faith or no faith. How would the Bill classify this activity? Would it come under "liturgical or ritualistic practices" or "explaining the doctrine of the religion"?
However, my main objection to the Bill is this: we are told that the Bill is intended simply to harmonise existing antidiscrimination laws, yet we find that the provision made in 2003, for religious bodies to employ people who share their faith, is being significantly narrowed by the wording which I have just quoted. It does not reflect the reality of how churches work and it goes way beyond harmonising existing law. There is a danger here of legislation by stealth. We need to hold the line where it was set in 2003.
The Bill is in danger of combating religious discrimination by treating all religions as the same. Neutrality between beliefs is one thing, but imagining
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Not enough attention has been given to the different ways in which prejudice, unfairness and discrimination operate. We need some subtlety in order to distinguish the different ways in which prejudice and unfairness happen. In a community of communities, members of different groups will honestly disagree about what is good, what is right and what is true. By looking at equality through the prism of competing individual rights, the Bill runs the risk of silencing the fair expression of different positions, not just silencing words but preventing people living integrated lives where words and deeds go together. In many cases, the Bill appears to require Christians to separate what they believe from how they express those beliefs, as if integrity of life and faith were of no consequence. That cannot be right in my book.
As I said earlier, the Bill has become like a Christmas tree that has had too many baubles added to it and is now in danger of falling over. Schedule 9 is a bauble too many. We need to find a better way to balance these different sorts of equality so as not to put at risk the precious freedoms which underpin our way of life in this country.
I am reminded of the story of a plane that got into trouble flying across the Atlantic. The captain asked the permission of the passengers to open the hold and dump all their luggage into the ocean. "Yes, yes, yes", they all cried out and it was done. Thirty minutes later the captain said, "We are still losing altitude. We must get rid of your hand luggage". They cried out, "Of course", and it was done. An hour later, the captain said, "We still need to lose more weight. Fifty people will be safely dropped in the water with their lifejackets. The airline operates an inclusive equal opportunities policy and we shall now put it into operation. We shall use the alphabet to guide us. A-are there any Africans on board?". Silence. "B-are there any blacks on board?". Silence. "C-are there any Caribbeans on board?". Silence. A little black boy turned to his father and said, "Dad, who are we?". The father replied, "We are Zulus!".
This Bill aspires to great things. I would love to say "Yes, go for it" but, as it stands, I cannot. At the minimum we need to look again at how the exemptions for religious bodies are framed. It is a grave error to set up competing rights and then, by stealth, trump some of them. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, I beg that Schedule 9 paragraph 2(8) should be amended in the direction of the 2003 Act. If not, it should be deleted from the Bill. The rest of the Bill has much to offer and its main objective ought not to be sacrificed at the altar of "one size fits all" in matters of occupational requirements.
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